Who are “the Dead?”

Who are “the Dead,” in John 5:25-29?

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 5:25-29

Introduction:

Some of the passages we have read in the Gospel of John have required some thought, and even some “digging into the rest of God’s Word,” to arrive at a reasonable level of understanding. Some are very straightforward and clear. (John 5:24, which we read last week, is one of the “very clear” variety: No one need have any question about his or her eternal destiny, or how to have assurance of Eternal life.)  But: the next five verses do give cause for some careful thought and for asking some questions:

John 5:25-29

25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. 26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; 27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. 28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

What is happening, here?

Taken as a whole, that passage could be pretty confusing: It rather sounds as though Jesus is planning a “preaching tour among the graves,” that some of the dead would hear him and live, that ALL would hear and exit the tombs and that the “good people” would have eternal life, and the “bad people” would have eternal condemnation.

There are several problems with that assumption:

  1. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is given unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment.”
    1. (That pretty much excludes a “second chance.”)
    1. Luke 16:19-31 tells of a man who clearly “believed” from the tomb, and it did him no good at all! There was no “second chance.”
  2. Romans 3:12 says “there is none that doeth good: no, not one!”So, whatever we think about “good and bad” people means very little.
  3. Luke 23:42, 43 tells of a man who definitely did evil with his life, and was in the process of being executed for his crimes. But he placed his trust in the living Christ, and was given eternal life, as a gift.
  4. Ephesians 2:8, 9 says we are not saved by good works: that it is always a gift, and
  5. Galatians 2:21 says, if it were possible  to be justified (declared righteous) by works, then Jesus died for nothing!

So, perhaps there is more than one type of “dead” in this passage. Perhaps the preaching is not done “among the tombs,” but among the “dead.” That alone would make the last verse easier to understand, but there is still a problem with the “Works” issue. So, let’s examine the passage:

Who are the Dead?

The first question we really need to answer, then is “Who are the dead, to whom Jesus was calling at that time (and to whom He still is calling today?) The best place to find answers about questions in God’s Word is in God’s Word!  So, let’s see what we can find out about the “dead” to whom Jesus is “calling:”

  • Ephesians 2:1, speaking to the Gentile believers at Ephesus (and us!), says “You hath He quickened (brought to life) who were dead in trespasses and sin.”
    • They were dead in sin (spiritually separated from God. (Ephesians 2:11, 12)
    • Jesus brought them to life.
    • They were living believers when Paul’s letter reached them.
  • Colossians 2:13, speaking to another Gentile church, says, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
    • They once were dead, but now were alive, through the forgiveness of all sins.
    • And we already saw that Ephesians 2:8, 9 says it was by Grace, through Faith.

So, from these passages, what answer can I give to the question, “Who are the Dead to whom Jesus called?”

25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.

We Were Dead in our Sins

The “dead” to whom Jesus calls are the unbelieving people of the whole world. We were all dead in sins until we heard the Gospel: we somehow heard the call of Jesus, over the noise of this dying world, and we placed our faith in Him, at whatever level of understanding we then had.

The Example of the Thief on the Cross:

The thief on the Cross was surrounded by the howling, mocking crowd, and filled with his own agony, as well, but he somehow saw the Holiness of Jesus and His Forgiveness and Love, and he repented of his earlier arrogance against God. He cast Himself upon the Mercy of the Living Christ. He died a short time later, just after Jesus did, and he entered Paradise with His Savior.

He was (literally) dead in his sins, and being executed for his crimes! He was dying as a condemned criminal. But: he heard the voice of Jesus, and lived! The only sense in which his condition differs from each of ours is the degree of immediacy: he knew he was dying and he had no hope of respite or reprieve. He was looking at Jesus face-to-face. He cast his only, desperate hope on someone he had only moments before been mocking along with the crowd. So, how does that compare with my own experience?

My Own Example:

  • Had I seen Jesus face-to-face? (Nope!)
  • Did I know for sure when I was going to die? (No, but I was pretty sure that I would die.)
  • Was I aware of my sin and the consequences of sin? (Theoretically, yes, but certainly not to the same degree as that man was. I had a growing conviction that I was a condemned sinner, and unable to please God.)
  • Did I know what Jesus could do for me? (In some ways I knew more than the thief on the Cross, but not much more: I knew that I was lost, and that Jesus was my only hope.)

How Did Jesus Call us to Himself?

Our individual stories vary a little, from person to person, but really only in the “details.”

For example, Abraham believed God and God declared him righteous (Genesis 15:6.) That is the core truth: God speaks, we place our faith in Him, and He declares us righteous.

In the New Testament, the believers heard the Gospel (the good news of the substitutionary sacrifice Jesus made for us: His death, and burial and resurrection,) and they believed God, that He was the true Savior, promised from the beginning of the world. And they were not only declared righteous (“justified,”) but were assigned a permanent position in the Body of Christ.

The only thing God names as His power to save us, the sinners, the spiritually dead of this world, is the Gospel of Christ. Romans 1:16 says “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the Power of God to save them that believe!” And it is the only thing so described in Scripture. He offers no other hope.

How does He call?

In Abraham’s case, He evidently called in an audible voice. (Abraham never saw a Bible.) In other biblical cases, He sometimes called in a vision, sometimes in person, face to face.(None of those people had a Bible, either, though some had seen the Torah scrolls.)

But after the apostolic age, increasingly, the primary way has been through the written Word of God. The epistles circulated widely during the first century, and there were tens of thousands of copies made, during the first few centuries. Each was laboriously hand-copied onto Papyrus sheets. Some of the copies were pretty poor quality, as the people who painstakingly wrote them out were only barely literate. But they valued the written Word enough to risk their lives for it, so they certainly were trying to be very careful. And, overall, the record is very good, partly because of the many thousands of surviving copies still extant today.

How did He call You?

So…in your case; did you hear the Gospel from a friend? Perhaps from a neighbor, or a family member? They were quoting (or at least referring to) the authoritative Word of God. They were not “making things up as they went.” Perhaps you believed on the spot: perhaps you required dozens of repeated contacts (as I did,) before you changed your mind (that’s called “repentance“) regarding who Jesus is and was.

Regardless of how the message came to me, it was through the Word of God. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” And, of course, when we began this study in the Gospel of John, in the very first verses we found that Jesus is the Word! He is the Living Word. And, how you respond to the Written Word reveals the reality of how you respond to the Living Word.

How do we Respond?

Pastor Richard Banham once attempted to share Christ with an older woman, but she angrily replied, “I don’t care what the Bible says! I have my experience!” Her response to the Written Word was utter rejection. Specifically, she utterly rejected the Gospel of Christ.

And God says that the Gospel, being believed in, is His only power to save sinners. Jesus calls, and they who “hear His voice” shall live. What does it mean to “hear his voice?” In John 15:3 Jesus told the eleven remaining disciples (Judas had already left) “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” But two chapters earlier, in John 13:10, 11, He had said they were not all clean, and it says he was referring to Judas Iscariot.

Judas “heard” all the same words the other disciples had heard: why was he not clean? Because he rejected what he was “hearing.” He heard the sound and understood the words, but he rejected the message. The other eleven “heard Him,” and received what He said as being from God. Jesus had “called to the spiritually dead” and some had responded in faith. Those who responded in faith were made alive. Those who did not believe, simply remained dead, unless (as in my own case) they later repented (changed their mind) and believed.

The Authority of Life and Judgment

26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; 27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.

Philippians 2:5-8 shows us that Jesus was the eternal God: He was God the Son, but He did not cling to that position with all its privileges. He was born into our world as a baby, grew up as a man, and lived out a perfect life before God. But, through all that experience, He never set aside His Holiness as God, nor did He set aside His wisdom.

He mostly chose not to use His limitless power, but He occasionally revealed it through the incredible miracles He performed. Though I am usually most impressed by His stopping the storm, the greatest miracle, of course, was when He raised the dead. He physically raised the dead on several occasions. The most exciting example was Lazarus, in John 11. In all these things he proved the truth of this verse. He has the authority of life, and of Judgment. He is specifically our Judge, because of His Humanity.  We are being judged by a righteous God who has lived with all the restrictions of a human life, and has been victorious. But He also is our Savior, offering a free pass through the judgment, by His Grace, through Faith.

But, What about the Graves?

Remember, He also mentioned “those in the Graves:”  What about them? He said, 28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

So, all those in the graves when Jesus gives that final call, will come out! We can read in the book of the Revelation how that will happen: the call will first involve the righteous dead. The Old Testament saints are already with Jesus, today, but at that time, their old physical bodies will be raised, perfect and incorruptible.

The same goes for all the New Testament believers as well: their bodies are currently wherever they ended up. Some were buried, and were consumed by various creatures of the earth. Some were lost at sea, and digested by various types of marine life, large or small. Some were burned, and their ashes were blown away by the wind. But God will bring all of them back to life, to face eternity!

Job knew all about this!

In Job 19:25, Job said that he knew that “after his death, though worms would consume his old body, yet he would see his Redeemer face-to-face, with his own eyes and not another.” The fact is, at the resurrection, ALL those who are physically dead WILL come out to face Jesus, either as their Savior or as their Judge. All their bodies will be restored, regardless of what had become of them, and regardless of whether they are saved or lost. There are no exceptions.

But, the resurrection of the unrighteous dead is described in Revelation 20:12-15 They will receive their old body, eternally renewed, just in time to spend eternity separated from God! Jesus spent a fair amount of time and effort warning about this resurrection. In fact, He spent more time warning about the coming Judgment and the Lake of Fire, than He did telling us about what Heaven will be like.

(Christian preachers are often accused of “spending too much time preaching about Hell.” But, if they want to follow Jesus’s example, they will do it more, not less!) The Good News of the Gospel would not be good news at all, if it were not for the bad news of human sin and the coming judgment. (What do you think we are being saved from?)

But, What about the “good deeds?”

Jesus did say, “…they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.What “doing good” was he referring to?

In John 6:28, 29, the people asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” He answered, “This is the Work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.

That is the only “good work” that results in salvation: placing your faith in His Sacrifice: Jesus’s finished work at the Cross.  In John 3:18, Jesus said, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Don’t We Need Good Works?

Are there “Good Works” subsequent to salvation, which might apply, here?  In a way, yes! Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are His workmanship, created unto good works which He hast before ordained that we should walk in them.”

As long as we recognize that the only “good work” which can result in salvation, or affect it in any way, is the work which Jesus did for us at the Cross, then we can talk about the eternal rewards God promises for our obedience to Him after we are born again. But those rewards are not a gift: they are rewards. Salvation is truly a gift, given freely by Jesus.

Conclusion

We will talk about rewards at a later time. For now, I think it is enough that we understand that we were the “dead, who heard the voice of the Savior and responded in faith.” As we share the Gospel with others who also are dead in their sins, Jesus continues to call them, through His Word, inviting them to eternal life and to peace, and to joy.

And, eventually, (if the Lord’s return does not come first) we all will be among “those in the graves,” who answer the call to the resurrection of the just: to see our Redeemer face to face! We have that Blessed Hope, by His Promise!

Lord Jesus, fill us with Your Joy, as we contemplate the absolute security we have in You. Fill us with the knowledge that you have called us to be your voice, on earth. We are to call to the spiritually dead, and to offer them eternal life. Fill us with Your compassion for the lost, and send us to do Your will.

Eternal Life, Now!

Eternal Life is Available “Now!”

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 5:24 etc.

Introduction:

Last week we delved extensively into the fact that Jesus is the Judge of all the Earth: We camped out on the scriptural evidence that this statement is not “hyperbole,” nor a misunderstanding of Jesus’s words. He really is the Judge!

But we also pointed out what had gone before: in John 3:14-19, we saw that He is also the only Savior offered: and that faith in Him was the only requirement for salvation.

There is a persistent pattern of human thought, however, suggesting that the “eternality” of “eternal life” is somehow dependent upon me, rather than depending on the Eternal truth of the Eternal Word of the Eternal Judge of all the Earth. Do you see the flaw in that reasoning?

There is nothing eternal or even reliably “long-lasting” about my works, my attitude, my thoughts, or my “Aptitude for Good.” If my eternal destiny is in any way dependent upon my persistence, my faithfulness, or any other human attribute, then I literally have no hope.

What Does Jesus Say?

Ultimately, I want to depend upon what Jesus says, in this and any other concern. Even in the Old Testament, we are instructed to set aside “self-help”, and our “do-it-yourself” plans and schemes, because “All of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” We are told to “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

So, it was no great surprise to hear Jesus tell Nicodemus (who was a good man and a righteous man, by all human standards, and specifically by Orthodox Jewish standards) that he could not hope to enter heaven without being born again. But it was quite a shock to Nicodemus! He needed some explanation: and that explanation is what we read in John 3:14-19.

We saw Jesus standing as God’s only solution for the Sin of the Human Race, just as in Numbers 21, the bronze serpent on the pole stood as God’s only salvation from the deadly snake-bites.

We saw that whoever places their faith in His sacrifice at the Cross will not perish, but have eternal life. Finally, we saw that the faith was not only the requirement for eternal life, it was the only hope for eternal life: that those who do not believe in Him are already condemned: but they still have the option to change their minds (that is what “repent” means) and believe in Him.

What else does Jesus Say?

In John 6:29, Jesus says the only “work” God is looking for in regard to salvation, is to believe in Him. And He said this in answer to people who were definitely looking for something They could do to please God. They were not looking for what seems to us an “easy way.”

But Jesus completely “leveled the playing field” for all people, by making faith the only requirement: You see, Faith is a choice! Faith is a choice that anyone can make, and it is always by the person’s own free will. I cannot force anyone to believe anything: they have to choose. Nor can I prevent anyone from making the choice to believe something. This is the ultimate in “Human Rights and Freedom:” The right to believe.

Who draws us to believe?

In John 6:44, we read that “No man can come unto me except the Father draw him.”  That is what Jesus said, and I believe it without question. But I join with it what He said in John 12:32, regarding His own agency for faith: “And, I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.”

This passage, along with a variety of verses in both Old and New Testaments, teaching that the Father and Son are at least on the same team, and evidently so nearly the same person that we can’t tell the difference, collectively assure me that every single human is being “drawn” to believe.

Does Jesus “Reject” Anyone?

Well, there are plenty of human commentators who adamantly insist that “if we sin enough or if we sin badly enough” (or some other such failing) then, in spite of His ‘gift of eternal life,’ God will definitely kick us out!” Odd…that does not seem to reflect well on the nature of either a gift, or the integrity of the One who gave it, since He describes it as “eternal.” (Last time I looked, the word, “eternal” meant, “It will last forever!”) But what does Jesus say about this idea?

John 6:37 says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” “In NO WISE…” If you have come to Him in faith that His blood is the full payment for your sins, then under no circumstances will He cast you out!

Personal Example:

I had a long-running conversation with an elderly woman who absolutely believed that if she failed to “hold up her end of the bargain,” then God would renege on all His promises and condemn her. I knew she had a number of children, some adopted, so I asked her under what circumstances would she quit caring for and renounce her children. She was adamant that her love for all of them was unconditional, and that under no circumstances would she disinherit or disown her children. So, I asked “Why do you think that you are a better parent than God is?”

She was shocked, and insisted that she had said no such thing. I reminded her that she had said that if she wasn’t “Good” enough, or if she “Sinned” too much, then God would deny her a position in His family. That seemed to silence her for a while…she had to reconsider what she believed. Sometime later, she affirmed that God’s promises were solid…and that her salvation was secure. She died in peace, knowing that Her Savior was with her.

In John 10:27-30 Jesus says, 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and my Father are one.

That is quite a statement!

What truths can we find in this short passage? Here are seven to consider:

  1. My sheep hear my voice (faith? Romans 10:17)
  2. I know them (regardless of what other people think of them. Romans 14:4)
  3. They follow me. (This is what should characterize all believers. There have been and will continue to be exceptions.)
  4. I give unto them eternal life and They shall never perish.
  5. Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
  6. No man can pluck them out of My Father’s hand.
  7. The Father and I are One.

Possibly someone might see this differently, but, let’s have a look at those seven statements:

  1. Jesus counts His sheep as those who hear His voice…those who believe Him…take Him at His Word. I can see this in Genesis, where it says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. And, in the New Testament, we find that his nephew, Lot, was also counted righteous: Why? Surely not for his works: he was such a mess that even his sons-in-law didn’t believe him. Evidently it was also by faith.
  2. Jesus knows His sheep, even when others do not. Lot, again, is a prime example; but there is a whole list in Hebrews 11, which, taken one by one, turn out to be a fairly rough bunch of people.
  3. As a rule, these people follow Jesus. To one degree or another, they see Him as their true Lord. There are so many counterexamples, that it is actually hard to find one which really fulfills this. The best two I can come up with are Daniel and Joshua. But, in Romans 7:17  and in Ephesians 4:22-24, we get a hint of how God may see this: In Romans seven, Paul points out the sharp distinction between the old and new nature… and that God no longer sees your old nature as “you.” He is only working with the new nature, making no attempt to straighten out the old nature: it is incorrigible, irreparable and unredeemable. God says so.
    In Ephesians 4:22-24, we see how God sees your new nature: It is created in His likeness, in righteousness and true holiness. From that viewpoint, every single one of His sheep “follow” Him! It is just that every single one of them also has an old sin nature, and that old sin nature will never follow Jesus!
  4. Jesus gave us eternal life, and He says that means we will never perish. Whatever “ifs, ands, or buts” people try to add to this promise, it all adds up to “I don’t believe Jesus!” If I try to add, “so long as you keep walking with Him.” then I am negating His promise. If I even add “So long as I keep believing.” I am negating His clear promise. Think carefully before you try to change His words. This is a serious issue.
  5. No man can pluck them out of my hand. (That includes you, my friend: I have heard people say, “They can’t ‘pluck you out,’ and He won’t ‘cast you out,’ but you can surely ‘jump out!’” (Sorry: Romans 8:39 says “no created thing can separate me from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” I’m a created thing. I can’t do it, either!)
  6. No man can pluck them out of my Father’s hand. This sounds redundant, until you consider the mental image of two hands, enclosing the otherwise helpless soul. We are completely enclosed in the Grace and the Faithfulness of God!
  7. The Father and I are One. There’s the bottom line: Jesus, as God the Son, is so completely in unity with God the Father, that their purpose is completely united…and both of them insist that we are safe in Christ!

What relief and what peace, I can feel, knowing that my security in Christ is not dependent upon my feeble attempts to walk with Him!

 When is it available? NOW!

So, here in John 5:24, Jesus makes an amazing promise which covers my past, my present, and my future. The question may still arise as to when that promise will be fulfilled. I have actually had people read this promise out loud and (whether consciously or unconsciously,) add a word, changing the tense: They read it, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my voice and believeth on him that sent me, will have everlasting life and will not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”

How very different that is from what the promise actually says! Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my voice and believeth on him that sent me, has everlasting life and will not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”

Do you see the difference? One idea promises “pie in the sky when we die.” That leaves open to the imagination all the possible restrictions and caveats and possible failures on our side. The actual promise offers eternal life now. It goes on to guarantee that that person will never be condemned by God. And it concludes that this person, through that single act of faith has permanently been transferred from death into life! And the person who is making the promise is the Eternal Judge of all the Universe! He just got done explaining that one, in the last verse!

Just in case you think I am “stretching the scriptures,” here in John 5, let’s turn to the back of our Bible and read 1st John 5:11-13.

11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Not only did He make the promise that you can have eternal life now, but He states that He wants you to know you have it! We have frequently heard it taught that “you can ‘hope,’ but you cannot ‘know‘.”

Jesus says you can know that you have eternal life and that He wants you to know it!

Believe His Promise and Rest in Him!

Lord Jesus, teach us to rest in You, knowing that Your righteousness has been imputed to us, and that Your Grace is what saves us, and that our faith, regardless of how weak and faltering, was all you required in order to begin walking with You. Give us the faith to rest in your promise and to follow you more faithfully.

Jesus: The Judge of All the Earth

The Judge of All the Earth

© 2022, C. O. Bishop

John 5:15-23

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Gospel of John, and we have come to a place where a fairly heavy doctrinal question is posed: “Who are we really dealing with in the Person of Jesus?”

In the context, here, Jesus had healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda, and the man had responded by “turning Jesus in” to the Jews…probably the religious rulers. So, in verses, 15 and 16, we catch the initial sense of “what is happening.”

15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole. 16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

The man identified Jesus as being the one who had healed him (more specifically, the one who had told him to take up his bed and walk) and we see that the immediate response of “The Jews” was to persecute Jesus and seek to kill him. I always have inferred that the passage referred to the religious leaders, but, as I read it over again, I see that it does not specifically say that. It just says, “the Jews.”

However, we want to remember that this happened in Jerusalem, and the Jews in Jerusalem seem to have had a different response than did the Jews of smaller cities and villages, as a rule. And Jerusalem was ultimately the key response for the entire nation. Bethany received Jesus as the Promised King and Savior, but Jerusalem clamored for His death!

The Initial Accusation

So, the first accusation they made was that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath. This is apeculiar thing, as He seemed to deliberately heal on the Sabbath to further challenge His accusers. The word “Sabbath” means “rest!” And Jesus was giving the sufferers Divine Rest, through the healing He provided.

He delivered them from the bondage of their illness, paralysis, or demon-possession, and He gave them rest! In Hebrews chapter 4, we will eventually see that Jesus is our Sabbath: And, having received Him as our deliverer, we now “labor to enter into His Rest,” on a day-by-day basis.

Jesus did not try to explain any of this to His accusers. He simply stated His claims and continually demonstrated His authority. What incredible authority; to speak and cure paralysis! To speak and cast out demons (who recognized Him and called Him by name!) To speak, and raise the dead! To speak, and calm the storm! And their only response was to try to kill him! What an amazingly wrong-headed response! It was bad enough that they continually argued against Him, but to want to kill the only one who had the power of life seems incredibly short-sighted!

Jesus’ Reply, and the Second Accusation

Jesus’ spoken reply to His accusers made them even more determined to kill Him:

17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. 18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

You see, now they really thought they had him cornered: He was convicted by His own words! They correctly understood that He was claiming Deity. He was not saying, as a person today might say, “My Heavenly Father (in contrast to my biological or human father) is watching over me.” They correctly understood that He claimed to be the Heir, God in the flesh!

The odd thing to me, there, is that in their own Scriptures they had that express promise made to them. In Isaiah 7:14, God said that “The Virgin shall be with Child and shall bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel.” The name, “Immanuel” literally means “God with us!” That sounds like a pretty precious promise, to me!

So, if someone came along, claiming to fulfil that promise, wouldn’t the logical response be to “check His credentials?” There were lots of prophecies they could turn to, to check Him out, but they did not bother to do that. They just assumed He was lying, and they attacked Him.

19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

He pointed out the illogical character of their response, saying, in effect, “Look at the Works!” He later said, “if you don’t believe my words, believe for the sake of the works!” He showed that the works themselves had to come from the One who had the authority to heal! At the very least, they should have been able to see that He was sent from God.

In John chapter 9, we see that this precise argument was raised by the man who had been born blind, and whom Jesus healed. He said, “No man can do such things unless God is with Him! From the beginning of the world, it has not been heard that a man received sight who had been born blind!” And, again, the response of the Jews was only to accuse the man who was healed, and to cast him out of the temple, rather than confess the strength of his argument. They were not willing to see Jesus for who He truly was, even when confronted with irrefutable truth.

Jesus went on to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son:

20 For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. 21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.

He described the Love relationship between the Father and the Son, and further said that the miracles were about to increase, specifically so that they should “marvel”—be filled with amazement. And raising the dead was what he said was coming up.

Now, they had not yet seen Jesus raising the dead, but He offered a preview, of what was going to happen: speaking to those who were His sworn enemies, He offered the resurrection! He claimed the authority to raise the dead at will. What proof could He give of that authority? They would see the proof, but, so far, He had not done such things. In John 11, he publicly raised to life someone who had been dead long enough to begin to decay. And, in John 12, their response was still to want to kill him!

If someone who has already demonstrated that He could heal people who were completely wrecked by disease, makes the claim that He can raise the dead, He should at least be given the opportunity to prove His claim. But that was not their response. Nor is it the usual response today. I have had someone declare to me that if they saw someone raised from the dead, they would have to believe. But, in Luke 16:31, Jesus said that is not true, either: He said that “if they will not believe Moses (God’s prophet…God’s Word) then they would not believe, even if they saw someone raised from the dead.”

The Universal Response

So, what is the usual response of Humanity to God? We see in scripture that the Jews’ response was not unusual for the rest of the World either. So, we should be cautious about condemning the Jews for their response. Jesus taught that very few would actually enter in by faith…that most people would choose the path toward destruction.

Keep in mind that their response is by their own choice. Even in the Old Testament, God says that the voice of Wisdom calls to the simple and the foolish, to turn from their ways, and also that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. But the depravity of the Human race is universal. Our egos war against God, by nature.

In Psalm 14:2, 3, God said, The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

We want to “re-write” such a passage to say, “…not very many…” but God says, “No, not one!” Collectively, we have rejected God. He has pursued us with His Grace and Love and Kindness and attempted to reconcile the World to Himself. Also, that passage from Psalm 14 is quoted verbatim in Romans 3:9-12.This is not an “Old Testament problem.”

God’s Solution

God saw that Human reasoning and Human “wisdom” would never result in a right relationship with God. (1st Corinthians 1:21 says, for after that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” ) So, He chose, before the foundation of the World, to receive a specific group: those who would respond in faith to the Good News of God’s Grace.

Jesus said in John 12:32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” He gave Himself as the “magnet” to which people would either respond in faith or not. Some may respond with indifference. Others may be “attracted,” but still unwilling to believe, because of the offensive nature of the Cross. Some may respond in ridicule, saying that the entire message is utter foolishness. Still others may respond in anger, claiming that they are “Good People!” They see no need for a Savior and are insulted that we would suggest they need one!

But, still others will respond in faith, choosing by faith to lay their hands upon God’s chosen sacrifice, and see Him as their only hope. Faith is a choice. To those few who choose to believe God, He gives eternal life and eternal forgiveness of their sins.

So, Jesus has named Himself as the one through whom the resurrection is to be had. He has named Himself (back in John 3:16-18) as the only Savior, and said that the only requirement is faith. He said that those who believed in Him (as their Savior) would not be condemned, but that those who refused to believe were already condemned, specifically because they do not believe. But what else does he say, here in John 5:22, 23?

Jesus, the Judge of all the Earth

From Human perspective, we have been told that God is the eternal Judge: and so He is! But we frequently fail to consider the triune nature of the Godhead. John began to investigate this truth, way back in John 1:1 – he said that “the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Now, in any other context, that statement alone is contradictory—paradoxical: Something (or someone) cannot be with another being, and simultaneously be that other being.

So, we had already begun to see that this “Word” who was later identified as Jesus, was in some mysterious way to be seen as being God, Himself. That is an important point to grasp. Later on, Jesus brought it to everyone’s attention that only God can forgive sins, and that, while a human may say “your sins are forgiven,” it becomes the ultimate in “cheap talk” unless they can prove that they have the authority to forgive sins. So, He proved His authority to forgive sins by demonstrating His authority to heal a paralyzed man. (He simply spoke, and healed him!)

But what else does that suggest about Jesus? If He has the authority to forgive sins, does He not also have the authority to not forgive? That makes Him the Judge! And Jesus confirmed that truth, in the next two verses; also warning the hearers of the consequences of unbelief:

22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: 23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.

Here are four points to grasp from that statement:

  1. God the Father does not judge.
  2. God the Son does judge…and all judgment has been committed unto Him.
  3. The goal of God is that people will honor the Son as they honor the Father who sent Him.
  4. Whoever does not honor Jesus in the same way as the Father, does not honor the Father!

Where does this leave the people who say that they believe in Jesus, but see Him as somehow less than God in the Flesh? Many people say they believe Jesus is the Son of God, but deny that He is God. This is a stumbling block to all the cults: they want to appear to honor Jesus, but they balk at admitting His deity. And, the person they are dishonoring is the one who is their Judge.

Old Testament Evidence

What evidence do we have that I am not just misinterpreting Jesus’s words? Genesis 18:25 sees Abraham pleading with God in the Flesh (to whom he had just served lunch…beef, bread, butter and milk…and who had eaten it) and addressing Him as “the Judge of all the earth!

Well, so long as I see that person as God (and it is) there is no information there to support what Jesus said…except that, there is one more New Testament passage that caps it: John 1:18 says “No man has seen God at any time: the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” So, yes, that was God, but not God the Father!  Abraham called God the Son “Judge of all the Earth!”

If I compare the two passages, where Jesus claims to be the only Judge, and where Abraham called Him that to His face, then I begin to see that the person the Jews were hating and seeking to kill, was literally:

  • God in the Flesh
  • The only Savior who would ever be offered on their behalf, and
  • The Eternal Judge before whom they would stand if they rejected His offer of peace.

It is hard to imagine being so hard-hearted as to not see the joy of the people Jesus healed, and to not hear the pure wisdom He taught. But to be confronted with the reality of His authority, and to deny it as though he were only a political rival, seems insane. And yet, that is where we all have stood, originally, and it is where the vast majority of the world still takes its stand, today.

How can we apply this truth?

So, what can we do with this knowledge? If we have already received Him as our Savior, then perhaps it will remind us of the importance of daily seeing Him as our Lord: our Master. Perhaps it can give us greater drive to share with others our hope of redemption, our only hope of forgiveness and eternal life.

Remember that evangelism is nothing greater (nor less than) one beggar telling another beggar where to find free food and shelter. We came to Christ as beggars, condemned and unclean. He gave us a new life, completely holy before Him. But we still have nothing, outside of what He gives us. So, we offer that gift freely, without any condescension… we are just saved sinners ourselves. We aren’t looking down our noses at anyone. But the one we serve is the true Master of all things…the only Savior and the Eternal Judge. Take it seriously and pass that Grace to others!

Lord Jesus, change our hearts to truly see You as the only hope for the world, and more specifically, the only hope for every individual sinner in the world. Help us to see through Your eyes, and care with Your heart. Make us to serve as Your hands and feet and to speak as Your voice.

Unpacking the Gift of God

Unpacking the Gift

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

2nd Corinthians 9:15; 2nd Peter 1:3-11

Introduction

Yesterday was Christmas. We watched a small boy open the gifts he was given. As he opened each one, he dutifully recited ‘Thaaannk youuuu!”, even when, occasionally, it was obvious he really did not know what the gift was.

The adults cautioned him to “look at it more carefully,” and they helped him read labels, so that he knew this little kit (for example) included parts to build three different projects, each of which was an exciting toy, but which could be deconstructed and rebuilt into yet another toy. But since there were other gifts to open, he did not get to actually unpack the gifts and learn to use them. And, I recall that, when I was a child, I often had more fun playing with the wrapping paper and the boxes in which the gifts arrived. I was distracted from the real gifts.

Each of us here has received a precious gift from God. In 2nd Corinthians 9:15, Paul gives thanks for that gift, saying, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” But, I would venture to guess that without having “unpacked” that gift at least a little, we would have a difficult time explaining why it is an “unspeakable gift.” The child, in the story above, said “thank you” very politely,  but he had no idea what the gift really was. So: how well do you understand the Gift God has Given?

The Gift

The gift is Jesus: each of us received that gift, the moment we trusted his completed work at the cross as the full payment for our sins…God’s chosen sacrifice in our behalf. We read about that gift in John 3:16, and many other places: “God so loved the World that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

We received that gift by faith, and each of us has thanked God many times for that gift. But have we really “unpacked it?” You see, the truth is, Jesus includes a great deal more than “just” eternal life.  He offers more than “just” forgiveness for our sins.

He offers abiding Grace by which to live in troubled times. He offers Joy to look beyond the sin-ravaged landscape of this world and to see the secure promise of His coming, His inevitable victory, and the Eternal Kingdom of light and joy and righteousness which will unfold thereafter. I have to admit that the portion of His gifts beyond that promise is quite dim in my mind. But the portion we are supposed to be unpacking now is fairly clear…and I am still working on it.

How do we “unpack” that gift?

One thing we can do is to read about it in God’s Word, the Bible. 2nd Peter 1:3-11 gives us a beginning “outline” by which to begin unpacking God’s Gift.

The Gifts and the Goals

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue

God has already given us a number of gifts: some He gave to the whole human race, whether believers or unbelievers. Life and the Creation around us were given to all. He gave Himself at the Cross for all humans as full payment for our sins. Some gifts He gives specifically to believers, irrespective of whether they are actually walking in obedience…all those gifts are theirs because they are in Christ, and, whether they are aware of them or not.

But there are some gifts He wants to “add to the mix,” which must be diligently pursued by a believer, in order to appropriate them. They are still gifts, but in a matter of practical application, they are goals. So… What is the difference?

Verse three says that God has already given us all things that pertain to life and Godliness. No believer is re-born a “spiritual cripple” who is “lame from re-birth.” In your new self, you have been given the ability to choose to walk with Jesus. You have come to know Him, so you have access to all the rest. Verse four tells us how we are to see these realities worked out in our lives:

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

How? “Exceeding Great and Precious Promises!” Peter says that by means of those promises in God’s Word, we have the privilege of beginning to partake in the character, and nature of God, Himself…and that in so doing, we escape the corruption that is in the World through the ungodly desires of our old natures. In reality, this is part of our inheritance in Christ: we are His real children, and we should expect to grow into His likeness. If we are unpacking the Gift of God’s Love and Grace, then that is one of the things we should be finding.

Collectively, the desires of the World and those of our old natures are completely in opposition to all that God is. His Righteousness and Holiness are utterly repugnant to them. We escape the corruption of the world and the flesh through the application of God’s Word to our lives.

Diligent application of His Word produces further results: We could think of them as goals.

The Goals

We could read this as “following the directions to see what the gift can do.” When that little boy opened his gift kit, there were three toys the kit could build. But they were not to be built by random experimentation. If he wants to achieve the specific three toys promised, he will have to carefully follow the directions.

Diligence in applying the “exceeding great and precious promises” (as well as the rest of the admonition and correction and encouragement in God’s Word) will produce the following things:

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

So, there are seven things to look for:

  1. Virtue
  2. Knowledge
  3. Temperance
  4. Patience
  5. Godliness
  6. Brotherly kindness
  7. Charity (Agapé love)

Please note that all of these things are still under the condition Jesus spelled out in John 15:5, saying “apart from me ye can do nothing.” Is it possible to produce a “cheap imitation” of each of these things by our own efforts? Certainly, it is! But all these things, if produced by the flesh, (our old sin nature) are contaminated by the flesh. The Old Self is not only corrupt, but is continually being corrupted. So, for the realities of each of these values to be born in us, they have to be coming from an ongoing walk with Jesus, in full fellowship with Him. Let’s look at each of them individually:

  • Virtue: (Greek: arête…force or strength) It is strange: all my life, I thought that the word “virtue” meant something similar to “piety… being a “goody-two-shoes”.” But it doesn’t mean that at all: it means “strength of character.” God wants to produce that strength of character in each of our lives.
  • Knowledge: (Greek: gnosis…experiential knowledge: not just “stuff to know and tell.” This comes from an ongoing relationship with Christ, on a daily, moment by moment basis.)
  • Temperance: (Greek: ephrateia…self-control, or continence. We are not to just be tossed around, by every thought, or circumstance, but we are to be controlled by our new nature.)
  • Patience: (Greek: hupomonē… endurance…pressing on. It doesn’t mean just “waiting,” but rather, persevering, in the face of hardships and disappointments.)
  • Godliness: (Greek: Eusebiapiety or reverence. This is the person and character of Christ “seeping out” all over the life of the believer, so that we literally “smell like Jesus.”)
  • Brotherly kindness: (Greek: Philadelphianactually, this is the “brotherly love” word. This is the general friendliness and kindness and care that we are to have toward others.)
  • Charity: (Greek: agapé…Agapé love…the unconditional, committed love expounded upon in 1st Corinthians 13:1-8.) Not feelings, but actions, in every case.

So, the idea is that by diligently applying God’s Word to our lives, these changes should be the result: and that all of them (the real thing) are from God, not “drummed up” by self-effort or self-improvement schemes.

The Results

For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The idea behind all of these virtues in a believer’s life is to make us fruitful. Orthodoxy only means “having right opinions.” If right opinions is all I have, and these character traits are missing, then the “correct opinions” have never gotten out of the “library” into the “living room.” They have not become a practical, living reality. A person may have strict adherence to a creed of some sort, and even a form of godliness, but Jesus warned that this can be counterfeit. The Pharisees had all of that and they hated Jesus. James pointed out that the demons are “monotheistic,” too! They know there is “only one God!” They have seen Him face-to-face! So, can see: “having all your doctrinal ducks in a line” is not the real issue: Having an ongoing, faith-based, obedient walk with Jesus is always the issue, and it is evidenced by the fruit of that relationship: the agapé love which coats and fills all aspects of our lives.

We can see two possible extremes in life: Both are tragically real.

  • one who is not a believer, but whose opinions and behavior patterns are really pretty good: they seem to be a good person!
  • one who actually does know Jesus as his Savior, but whose life does not reflect that reality, nor is he well-schooled in theology. They may seem a really bad example, but they are genuine, and quite common in scripture as well as in life.

The one individual is convinced because of his good works that he does not need God’s grace. Especially because he compares himself with those who claim the name of Jesus, but do not live for Him, he is convinced that he must be “good enough!” And, even more sadly, some of those he points to may themselves be deceived, thinking that “somehow, they slipped into God’s family, and their troubles are over!”

We need to see that in this passage, Peter is addressing those who definitely are believers, and who have begun to grow in their faith: He exhorts them to press on and grow more! He also gives them things to look for in their own lives to see whether the “growth” is genuine.

James did much the same, giving us clues by which to recognize Godly wisdom, as opposed to the wisdom of the world, the flesh, or the devil. (James 3:13-18. “13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. 14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. 15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. 16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”)

These seven fruits are what we should look for to see how we are progressing. He also warns that a believer who lacks these attributes has forgotten that Jesus purged him of his old, sinful way of life, and has become judicially blind, through the willful disregard for God’s Word.

But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

We really do not want to be blind to God’s Word, or deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

So…if we know that we have received the Lord, then we need to give diligence to be “digging in” and growing in Him. God’s Word is what will make us grow: remember 1st Peter 2:2 “…desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby.”

This is the constant invitation (and command) from God: that we draw near to Him in Bible-study and prayer, so that He can draw near to us, by His indwelling Holy Spirit, and help us to walk with Him in obedience. We know that!

As believers, we eventually will be in the new heaven and earth with Jesus. (We know that, too!) But He asks that we enter in now: not being lax, and just figuring that all of it will eventually happen. Hebrews 10:19 calls us to enter into the holy place now, by faith, through the person and work of Christ. This is not about Salvation: it is an invitation (and command) to believers: people who are already saved.

The unspeakable gift we have already received is Jesus Christ. As you continue to “unpack” that gift and get to know Him, and learn to understand what He has provided for you, then all the things we have discussed here will become a regular part of your life.

You can enjoy the daily privilege of entering God’s presence by faith, through the avenue opened to us by the blood of Jesus at the Cross. You can enjoy the overflowing consciousness of the presence of God in your daily life: knowing He is there and being confident in His Grace and Love and Guidance.

You can experience His Spirit reaching through you to others around you, touching their lives with His Grace, and drawing them to Christ. Your growing understanding of His Word will protect your mind against false teaching or “pious-sounding nonsense.” You will see a growing sense of stability in your walk with God. And, best of all, you will be increasing in your personal, experiential knowledge of God. You will be able to say with Paul, “Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!”

Please: if you have received Him as your Savior…get moving on getting to know Him… really “unpacking the gift of God!” Don’t be distracted like a little child, by “the wrapping paper and the box it came in!”

Lord Jesus, please stir up the spirit within each of us, to daily seek your face and learn to truly know you!

Finding Comfort and Joy in Christmas

Finding Comfort in Christmas Throughout the Year


© C. O. Bishop

All in reference to Luke 2, comparing with other scripture.

How do we really feel about Christmas?

To those of us who have recently lost loved ones, and to those of us who suffer from depression, or have experienced the loss of a job, etc., Christmas is not “the most wonderful time of the year.” It’s the very worst. Our society has taught us to expect sunny feelings of joy and happiness, and to expect to give and receive wonderful gifts, and that everyone will love one another, and politicians will all tell the truth… and that “Santa Claus is coming…” and it is all these unfulfilled expectations that cause the feelings of disappointment, grief and depression that frequent the holiday season for many people; especially those grieving the loss of loved ones. There is a reason why police and emergency medical personnel refer to this season as the “suicide season.” There are more self-inflicted deaths in the country during this season than at any other time of year. And it is increasing as our nation has turned it’s collective eyes away from the Christ who is the person of Christmas, and the source of real joy.

To those of us who hurt, or who have suffered loss, all of the above seems a cruel hoax. And in some ways it is, even if those who are responsible really meant no harm. We have been given false expectations, and we have been taught to turn our eyes away from the real truth. Let’s see if we can turn that around, just for a moment, today….

The Birth of Christ:

Let’s go back and consider the first Christmas…the real one…the one no one really noticed except some farmer types…shepherds, in fact. It happened in a barn; a stable, if you want to be specific. There was no tree, no tinsel, no eggnog. “No crib, for a bed…” the only “gift” in sight was a baby. “For God so loved the World, that He gave his only begotten son…” (We don’t think of it very often, but the wise men showed up quite some time later—not that day…probably not that year. But when they did arrive, remember; they brought gifts to HIM, and not to one another.) But those who were there—those shepherds— were overwhelmed with joy. Why?

How is it that without any of the things we think ought to be there, the partakers of that first Christmas were filled with joy? Mary was having her first baby…do you think maybe she would have liked to have her Mom, or an Aunt, or someone like that to help her? How do you suppose Joseph felt about the accommodations? Do you think a stable would have been his first choice as a place for his young wife to give birth? And the shepherds? They still had to go back to those sheep, and the smelly, hard job that was their whole life. They got no day off for Christmas…no bonus; no free turkey, or whatever. Just… great joy. Why??

Do you suppose they understood a little about what had happened? They were all orthodox Jews, and they, with their forefathers, had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years. The promises were there, for anyone to read. And the angels that showed up clearly told them that this was it: The real fulfillment of God’s real promise. Did they understand all of it? Nope. They almost certainly did not. In fact, they may have had some real disappointments a few years down the road. They thought he was come to be a king (He was!), and a deliverer (He was!). But they also thought he would throw the Romans out of Israel, and reign there in Jerusalem in their lifetimes. (He did not, and He never said he would.)

Their later disappointments were based on false expectations, just like ours. But those who remembered could look back with wonder and recall the voices of the angels, praising God, and announcing the Holy birth. They did not cease to believe in the goodness of God, and his faithfulness.

So, What was the Promise?

We have forgotten what was really promised, and how we are to take part in it. There is no promise to us, that we will “live lives free of pain.” Quite the opposite: God says that it is given unto us “…on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29) Not what we really hoped to hear, is it?

So what really was promised, and how do we take part in God’s real Christmas? How can we find Comfort in Christmas?

To begin with, immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin, as recorded in Genesis, God prescribed a plan of redemption. He said that a person would come, called the “Seed of the Woman”, and this person would undo Satan’s work, done through the serpent. We discover later, in the New Testament, that the plan was actually laid before the Creation: God knew what was going to happen, and He prepared in advance.

The promise was repeated, with more and more details, until just before the time of Christ (actually, the last detail was given right about 400 years before his birth), so that if they were actually reading and studying God’s Word, they pretty much knew all that was supposed to happen regarding the Messiah. They did not understand it all, any more than we can claim to understand it all today, though (as we do) they had all the information.

But the believers, mostly Jews, had come to believe in the character of God, and they believed His Word was true. They believed his promises. When he told them to place their trust in His redemptive plan, and it involved a blood sacrifice, they brought that blood sacrifice, as directed. Did they understand it? Did they really know that all those little lambs were “pointing forward” to the One True Lamb of God? Somehow I doubt it.

When John the Baptist introduced Jesus, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” some understood the intent; though most did not. But many believed that He was the fulfillment of God’s Promise. We can look back and see that they were right. He fulfilled God’s Word to the letter…even that thing about being the “Seed of Woman”. (Who else in history has only one human parent?)

Jesus was born in obscurity, with shepherds rejoicing, and few others even taking notice. He preached in a tiny nation, for three years or a bit more. He had twelve devoted followers, about ten times that number who were part-timers, and thousands who claimed allegiance to him. But he was betrayed by one of those “inner-circle twelve” (Judas Iscariot) and he died a criminal’s death, condemned by Jew and Gentile alike. He was attended at His death by only one of his twelve disciples, and a few women, including his mother. (We don’t know the names of the few who stayed and watched, but He does.)

He was lent a tomb by a rich man (Joseph of Arimathea) who secretly believed. It turned out Jesus only needed it for three days and three nights, just as predicted. He was physically resurrected that third day, in spite of efforts aimed at preventing such an occurrence, and he showed himself to all his close disciples, and on one occasion to 500 people at once. He ascended back to God, physically; bodily. And He promised to return in the same manner: PhysicallyBodily.

We, who do find comfort in Christmas, whether Jew or Gentile, do so because that day was the beginning of all that was to follow. We find hope in the Christ, in the Cross, and in the empty tomb. We find hope in his resurrection, and in his promised soon return.

We find hope in His written Word, where He promised, personally, that “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)

We look back to that first Christmas and the unspeakable gift of God’s Son, and we find comfort in the Goodness of the God who gave the Gift. When we suffer losses, we look back to what our redemption really cost our Lord, and our Heavenly Father. We trust in Him to do all things well. We trust in Him to give what is best, even when we think things ought to proceed in a different way.

How do we Receive that Promise?

How can we take part in God’s real Christmas? Jesus said “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed over from death into life.” (John 5:24)

Notice the tenses there—he covers my present, saying that because I have heard his Word, and believed the promise of God, I have eternal life now…I don’t have to wait ‘til I die to see if I got “good enough grades”. He covers my future, promising that I will never be condemned by God: He is never going to give up on me, even if I fail miserably in my attempts to serve Him. He covers my past (perfect tense), saying that I have permanently crossed over from being spiritually dead, to being spiritually alive.

This is the hope of all believers. And those of us who believe, and who have lost one or more believing loved ones, have the sure hope of seeing them again. There are some we are not sure of, because we can’t see their hearts, but God knows, and His justice is perfect. He loves them more than we ever could; and we rest in hope, assured that he has done right by them.

Christmas, the way the World presents it, can be very depressing, quite honestly. But the way God presents His gift it is a never-ending source of joy—it is not “seasonal” at all. We simply have to choose to rest in that gift, rest in His character, and to experience the peace, hope and joy He brings.

So, to each of you, in the name of the Christ of Christmas, I wish you a truly joyous Christmas season that will last throughout the year.

Blessings upon you all.

What Happened at Bethesda?

What Happened at Bethesda?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 5:1-18 compare John 9:34-38

Introduction:

Last week, we talked about the situation (John 4:46-53) in Cana, where a man’s son was healed from 16 miles away, and another in Mark 5:21-43 where a woman was healed by touching Jesus’ garment, and a child was raised from the dead. We were able to see that the healings happened by the will of Jesus, and often in company of the faith of the sick person…but not always. (The little girl’s faith was never in question: Jesus told her father to believe, but only commanded her to “get up.”)

So, in the next chapter, there is a strange situation: Jesus went to the pool at Bethesda, where it says that there was a “great multitude” of people seeking healing.

In the situation in Mark chapter five, we decided that the reason only the one woman was healed was that she alone had come there for healing, in faith that touching the hem of Jesus’s robe would provide her with healing. We observed that none of the others were there for that purpose, except the man to whose house Jesus was going, in order to heal his daughter. OK…that seems evident, because Jesus confirmed that “thy faith hath made thee whole!” But at Bethesda, there were many present: and evidently every single one was there because they believed that if they could get into the water FIRST after the angel disturbed the waters, then they would be healed. So what actually happened?

What actually happened at Bethesda?

1After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.

And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

So, the first and most obvious question would be “Why heal just the one guy? They were all there in faith, right? And Jesus never even confronted that particular man about faith: just whether he wanted to be healed.”

And my next question would be, “Why that particular guy?”

So, let’s look at the facts, as laid out in the scripture, and try to discern what happened:

  • There was a pool called Bethesda, meaning “House of Mercy.”
  • At certain times an angel went down and disturbed the water in that pool,
    • People try to make this just a “fable,” or a “superstition,” attempting to explain by natural means what happened at Bethesda. The scripture does not allow for that possibility: It flatly declares that an angel did disturb the water, and that whoever jumped in first after that disturbance, was healed. We do not have the option to say that it was just a subterranean spring that occasionally “burped” and disturbed the water. We do not have the option to say that “the healings were psychosomatic.” God says they were real, and that it was an angelic action, not geological. He also says that whatever disease they had, the healing was available. To deny any of this is to deny God’s Word. Further, if it had not been observably true, then there would not have been a crowd there, knowing that only one would be healed each time. (Sad, really.)
  • There was a great multitude gathered there… a crowd of people, all believing that, if they could just be the first one into the water, they could be healed.
  • Jesus asked one man, who had been there a long time, “Do you want to be healed?”
    • That seems a rhetorical question: he wouldn’t be there if that was not his desire: But Jesus did ask. However, there was no question regarding faith. Nor did God mention anything about his faith or lack of it. Jesus just questioned his desire, and the man responded as to why he was not getting healed. (He could never get there first, because he couldn’t walk, and had no one to put him into the water.)
  • Jesus commanded the man to “ Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” And the man didn’t question it: he just obeyed! (Odd thing, here: there was no “walking and leaping and praising God,” in this account. There is not even a mention of gratitude, or joy.)
  • Finally, It was the Sabbath. (This may actually be the key fact in the whole account.)

What was the Result?

10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. 11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? 13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.

It was completely predictable that the other Jews (especially the scribes, pharisees, priests, etc.) would accuse the man of breaking the sabbath: even the common man was aware of this law. They seemed especially good at accusations of this kind. And rather than saying, “Yes, I know! I was just healed after 38 years of paralysis! I will go to the priest and bring a sacrifice!” he shifted the blame to Jesus, saying, “The one who healed me told me to carry my bed!”

So, they wanted to know who told him to carry his bed, not, apparently, who healed him. But, as it happened, he couldn’t tell them because he himself had never focused on Jesus even enough to recognize him, let alone get his name so he could thank him properly. He just plain didn’t know! And that didn’t seem to bother him very much, until found that he couldn’t point him out to the accusers. What an odd response to having been granted instant relief after 38 years of disease! I am grateful to get well after being sick for even a few days!

The “Second Chance” Meeting

 14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. 15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.

The man had a “second chance to get to know Jesus,” there in the temple: Jesus found him again, (notice that it is God who seeks us, not the other way around: see Romans 3:11) and He told him, in essence, “you need to get your priorities straight, so something worse doesn’t happen to you!” (Was Jesus threatening the man? No: the man evidently did not have a saving faith at all, and Jesus was simply warning him of the coming Judgment.) Bear in mind: There was another (later) healing where the healed individual also did not know who Jesus was, but it was because he had been blind from birth, and had never seen anyone, let alone Jesus. And when Jesus found him, and identified Himself, that man fell at the feet of Jesus, and worshipped Him! (John 9:38)

So, what did this man do with that warning? He departed! He left Jesus, and found Jesus’s enemies, and pointed out Jesus to them! (Real gratitude, there!) Now, nothing more is said about this man. I can’t tell you what ended up happening to him. Did he later repent and become a believer? We are not told, and I will not speculate: But his responses seem to be those of an enemy, not a grateful recipient of a blessing. Keep that in mind.

How did the Jews Respond?

16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

Their response was not, “seek to question Him as to His authority, and investigate whether He was, in fact, the Messiah:” Nope! Their first response was to try to kill Him! And they were persistent about it, too. This response occurs repeatedly during Jesus’s earthly ministry.

Notice, also, that the priorities of the Jews did not include finding the One who could heal them of all diseases, but rather seeking to kill Him, because he healed on the sabbath day. (How strange!) It specifically says they initially sought to kill Him because he had healed on the sabbath. This actually comes up over and over, in the Gospel accounts, and this particular incident just seems to be the “opening round.”

How did Jesus Respond?

17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.

Jesus simply stated the source of His authority: “My Father!” We are going to see this challenge made to them over and over, as well. All the religions of the World run head-on into this barrier: The Deity of Christ! And what is their response?

 18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

Even more vehemently, they now desired to kill Jesus because He claimed to be deity! Consider: We might simply have thought that Jesus was “claiming God as His Heavenly Father,” as anyone might say today. But they understood that the issue went much deeper: Jesus was not claiming to be “A” child of God. He was claiming to be “THESon of God. And they knew it! They also knew that if it were true, then He was quite literally equal with God, as the Heir!

Isn’t it interesting, that in the various parables where Jesus talked about a King, or a landowner, sending emissaries to receive the tribute due Him as the owner of the land, the people beat those emissaries, stoned them, and killed them. But when He sent His Son, they said, “This is the heir! Let’s kill Him, and then WE will own the land!” (What?? How do you figure that? All that would do is make you all guilty of a capital crime, as murderers!)

But that was their response! And the parables were referring to these very people whose forefathers had killed the prophets God sent, and who now sought to kill Jesus, the author of life and healing, as well as the ultimate authority in the Universe!

Now: do I understand the Trinity? Nope! I freely admit that I do not! Isaiah 9:6, 7 tells me that “the Son … shall be called…the Everlasting Father!” And yet, Jesus said “My Father is greater than I!” I cannot make those two statements agree, by human reasoning: I would have to alter the truth to make them somehow “fit.” From Human perspective, it seems paradoxical, at best. But both statements are clearly taught in the scripture, and both are equally true. I am not required to understand them, nor to explain them: but I am required to faithfully teach them. And, I do not have the authority to change the truth of God, to make it more palatable to human reasoning. God says it, and it is true. Deal with it! (And, next week, we are going to see just how far the Authority of Jesus reaches.)

I happen to believe that Jesus “handpicked” that man at Bethesda, knowing how he would respond. The Jews were only beginning to see what they were up against: The conflict began right here in John 5! (But then…)

How Should We Respond?

I doubt there is any chance that any of us will respond to Jesus in the way the man at the pool of Bethesda did, or at least not to the extent that he did. And I think there is even less chance that any of us will respond with the animosity that Jesus’s enemies displayed.

But I do think that we should take a lesson from the sharp contrast between the response of the man whose sight Jesus granted, and the one who had been unable to walk for 38 years. The one wanted to know who Jesus was, and immediately gave Him worship, let alone ordinary gratitude! He saw Him as God in the Flesh! The other showed zero gratitude, and only wanted to know who Jesus was so that he could shift any blame for his having broken the sabbath onto Jesus. What a contrast!

Now, it seems to me, that as God’s born-again children, those already redeemed from among the dead, and guaranteed Eternal Life, through the promise of God, our response ought to consistently be more like the man who received his sight.

I know that I tend to take for granted the blessings of God, and to not fully contemplate His supply, let alone the enormity of His saving Grace at the Cross. I want to respond in genuine gratitude, not with a casual, “Oh, that’s cool!” and then immediately forget what was done for us. But today is especially not a good time for any of us to take a casual attitude toward God: For one thing, we are in a time of social upheaval; of serious health threats, as well as the political turmoil of our times.

But, even more importantly, as we approach Christmas, it seems especially important that we not forget what that tiny child in Bethlehem came to do!  He didn’t just come to be a cute, precious baby. He didn’t come to just live a perfect life, nor just to be a perfect example for us, nor even the powerful teacher and prophet that the Jews were struggling to deal with: He came to die!

This was God the Son; Immanuel…”God with us;” the “Word made Flesh:” The Lamb of God, chosen before the foundation of the Earth for ONE eternal purpose: to be the substitutionary sacrifice for the entire Human race.He cameto satisfy forever the Holiness and Righteousness of God, by His blood at the Cross.

That is why we refuse to replace Jesus Christ with any of the World’s ideas about Christmas. But in the midst of that mental and spiritual conflict, we also need to “pull back” from the struggle and give our heartfelt thanksgiving and worship to the Christ who came to give His life for us. Are we thankful for healing, when it happens? Absolutely! Are we thankful for His abundant supply? Surely, we are! But apart from everything else, even when things are hard, we need to be thankful for Who He IS, as our God and Savior!

You see, even if the man at Bethesda was grateful to some degree (and it doesn’t appear that he was,) his desire to clear himself before other humans evidently superseded whatever gratitude he may have felt.

The other man, who had been born blind, went far beyond simple gratitude, and recognized Jesus as the Creator God. How do I come to that conclusion? He was a Jew: he knew the very first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve!” So, for him to offer worship, he had to be sure that Jesus was that one God! How did he know? It must have been by revelation: Jesus only called Himself the “Son of God” in that passage, but that man clearly made the correct connection: he had already seen the proof, and now he knew the source!

We know the source, and we are constantly seeing the proof! I hope we will learn to consistently respond in gratitude, worship and praise!

Lord Jesus, lift our eyes out of the pit of this world, above the dirt and struggle and bickering strife that we see daily in this life. Lift up our eyes to see You: heal our diseased spirits, the eyes of our hearts, and raise us to a clean worship and thanksgiving before Your throne. Fill us with Your Joy and Peace. Amen!

The Nobleman’s Son

The Nobleman’s Son

© 2021  C. O. Bishop

John 4:46-54; compare Mark 5:21-43; Proverbs 3:5, 6

Introduction

Once in a while (perhaps more often than we care to admit it) we encounter situations where we are praying, and it seems as though God is “not listening.” We are forced to either wait on His timing, in faith believing in His eternal wisdom and goodness, or fail to do so, and become frustrated and bitter.

Now, it is always possible that there is something amiss in our walk with God, and that he effectively really is not listening, as Psalm 66:18 warns that “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.” But let’s assume for this conversation that there is no unconfessed sin. Is it OK for God to answer “No” or do we insist that the only thing qualifying as an “answer” is Him complying with our wishes? And what about “wait:”  is that also not acceptable? Of course, God reserves the authority to answer within His own will. And we still need to learn that humility and faith, to accept His will as the BEST answer.

Please Heal My Son!

In the account, here in John 4:46-54, there is a touching story of a nobleman, humble enough to come to where Jesus was, and approach him as a supplicant: not ordering him, or claiming some authority or reason for special treatment. Jesus was a poor, itinerant preacher, at that point: all this nobleman knew was that others had been healed by Jesus. He came in faith and humility, begging for help. 46Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, …And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum.  47When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death.

There are several points to notice, here:

  • The man was from Capernaum, but he approached Jesus at Cana. The distance is a little over 16 miles.
  • The man was a “nobleman”…we are not told his rank or office, or position…just that he was a nobleman. That is not a normal part of our lives, so it is hard for us to appreciate what it meant to that culture. (They had a caste system: we don’t.)
  • He had heard of Jesus, and knew that Jesus had already proven His ability to heal…and that now he was nearby… “only a 16 mile walk away!”
  • He came personally, not sending a servant.

But Jesus tested him a little, saying “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” Now, notice that it is plural: the KJV “ye” is the plural “you.” He wasn’t accusing that particular nobleman personally: He was making a general statement about the Jews at large, and possibly the entire human race. We have a long history of unbelief.

So, Jesus was effectively testing the motives of the father. But the man didn’t quibble about the apparent indictment of unbelief; he only repeated his plea: Sir, come down ere my child die.

Jesus could have “heaved a sigh, rolled his eyes,” and started the long walk back to the fellow’s house: But He didn’t. He gave what was simultaneously the answer the man needed and  a chance for him to demonstrate the reality of faith.

50 Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.

What? He just said, “Wow, thanks, Jesus,” and headed back down the road to home? That is exactly what he did! I think I might have begged Jesus to come with me. I would likely have balked at such a command, too! (What?? I just walked sixteen miles to talk to you , and all you are going to do, now, is turn me around and tell me to go home?… that my son is already healed? Like, you don’t have time for me, or what? What kind of deal is this?”)

The key we need to see, here, is very simple:

  1. Jesus did answer! He said that “the man’s request was granted,” and then,
  1. The man believed Jesus! And,

And we can see the long-run result of the whole exchange. The man was hiking back down the long hills to get to Capernaum: it was sixteen miles, descending more than 1000 vertical feet. (Cana is at 330’ above sea level: Capernaum, at the Sea of Galilee, is about 690’ below sea level!) …which reveals that he had walked 16 miles uphill to find Jesus!)

And we read, in the following verses, 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth.52 Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.

53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house.

There was nothing more to say: He had all the “proof” he would ever need. He told his household, (his family, the servants, etc.) what had happened, and how Jesus, instantaneously, from miles away, and never having met (let alone touched) the sick son, had healed him. He could now testify that at the time Jesus said, “thy son liveth,” the son had begun to mend, and was healed. The result? The entire household believed in Jesus.

Now: did Jesus actually do what the man expected? No! Remember what the man asked: he asked, twice, that Jesus “Come down” and heal his son. But Jesus saw the man’s heart: he wasn’t looking for special treatment (“Come down so I can brag to my neighbors that I’ve got a celebrity in my home.”) Jesus saw that his only desire was to save his son. So, He granted the man’s real desire, and simply ignored the side-issue of “taking a hike with the guy.”

The real desire of the nobleman’s heart was granted. The means by which it was granted became irrelevant: He thought Jesus would “obviously” have to go to Capernaum to grant his petition. But Jesus demonstrated His true authority: He could command from any distance and accomplish His will!

Mark 5:21-43…The Woman with the “Issue of Blood.”

This story is a “story within a story.” A ruler of the synagogue ( named Jairus) had come to Jesus asking for healing for his little daughter, who was near death. As Jesus went to his house, a sick woman intersected his path, in the middle of the crowds following Him.

The woman had suffered a bleeding problem for 12 years, and had spent all her money on doctors, and only got worse. Her spiritual life was affected, as well as her health, since, with such a disease, she was ceremonially unclean, and could not go to the temple at all. But she somehow discerned in her own mind that “Jesus held healing for her,” and that, if she could just touch the hem of His garment, she would be healed! (How did she come up with that idea? We are not told, but personally, I believe God told her, prompting her to act in faith.)

So, she pushed her way through the crowd, and finally got close enough to touch him. She did not “grab onto Him,” or try to “cling to Him” in any way: She did exactly what she had planned…she touched the hem of His garment. The result was that she was instantly healed, and the bleeding stopped. She was able to feel the instant change: she knew she was healed;  and she was “making her getaway,” when Jesus turned around, saying “Who touched me?” (It turned out that He had “felt it too!” He felt the power go out of Him to heal her and evidently wanted her to publicly bear testimony to that fact.)

But she evidently thought she was in trouble…she was afraid to speak up. Everyone else (including the disciples,) thought He was asking a ridiculous question: they said, “Everyone is touching you! We are packed in this crowd so tightly that everyone is jammed against you: How could you ask such a thing?” But Jesus kept looking around to see who it was.

Then the woman came and fell at his feet, scared to death, and confessed that she had touched Him and was healed. He not only did not scold her, but He congratulated her for her faith, and sent her home, happy, healthy, and blessed by Jesus!

But this raises the question…if everyone was touching Him, why were healings not just “leaking out in all directions?” The answer to this question is very similar to that of the question ,“Why was Judas not cleansed by the same words that cleansed the other disciples, in John 15:3?” In Judas’s case, it was very simple: he did not believe those words!

In the woman’s case it was a little more obscure: she had come to Him specifically for the healing she believed He offered, but was afraid to approach Him directly, so she tried to reach out by faith and just touch his robe. Sure, there were others touching Him: but everyone else was just “there:” They had conceived no such plan, and they only wanted to “be where the action was,” so to speak: “Hey, man! Jesus is gonna go heal the Rabbi’s daughter! Let’s go watch!” It was entertainment. It was exciting! They wanted to get close to the show! But this woman, having been healed, was only trying to get away. Jesus wanted to make sure she got the full effect of His blessing: He called her back so that He could verbally confirm her faith.

(And then, yes, He went and raised up the little girl who had evidently died in the interim. And the result was that his message was validated by His miraculous works and people were drawn to Him.)

What about Today?

God wants us to reach out by faith and “touch His robe,” so to speak: He does not guarantee physical healing, although evidently, He had prepared her heart for just such a thing, and she acted in faith. But He does offer us eternal life by an even simpler manner: “Look to Him for Salvation—believe His promise and receive eternal life!” You don’t have to “force your way through a crowd,” nor can you “sneak up on Jesus.” He has been “knocking at the door of your heart” from the day you were born, offering you spiritual healing and peace. He offers eternal Life as a gift, beginning the moment you believe His promise; and it will literally last for eternity.  He has never rejected anyone who approached Him in that way: John 6:37 says, “…he that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out!”

Does He promise “physical comfort and safety?” No, as a matter of fact, He doesn’t! He says, “These things have I spoken unto you that in me ye might have Peace: in the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.”

Does He promise “a life free from suffering?” No; as a matter of fact, God promises almost the opposite: Philippians 1:29 says, “…unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for His sake.” (“Come and suffer?” What kind of invitation is that?!)

Well, in fact, Hebrews 11:36-40 describes a group of people who believed God and died without having received the promise they were expecting; but it specifically stated that God had something better to offer…and that is what they got in place of the promise they had looked forward to. These people were tortured, they were stoned to death, and some were sawn in half…all their goods were confiscated, so that they were literally destitute of all their belongings including food and clothing. And God’s comment regarding these suffering saints is that “the world was not worthy” of them.

What about Us?

Last week we commented that It is OK to pray and die!” These who suffered martyrdom are prime examples of that principle. It is also OK for God to answer “No, My Child!” when we beg for release from our pain and turmoil. However, He does offer His Peace in the midst of the trials and pressures of life.

I remember a young woman named Jeannie Nance, who had been engaged to be married in 1974 (as I recall.) She was physically present, and standing there watching, when her fiancée’s plane crashed, and he was killed.

Her immediate response was to praise God, just as Job did, knowing that God had made an irrevocable choice, and that she, in turn,could either rail against Him or accept His will, along with His Grace and Peace. She chose to believe God, and she was filled with His Peace, as a result: and she went on to serve God with her life.

I only met her after the fact, and only because she began Bible School at the same time I did, in 1975. But God had another man for her, named Dennis O’Keefe. Dennis and Jeannie served together as missionaries for 35 years in the Philippine Islands. Their lives will count for eternity, and they have no regrets, regardless of all the costs and trials of their service.

Can I always respond in faith? Perhaps a better question would be, “Do Ialways respond in faith?” And, the answer is, “No!” Sometimes I am fearful or even angry at God, and He has to re-teach me the same old lesson: (Proverbs 3:5, 6) “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding! In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy path.”

If you can learn to trust God, and to lean on His Grace, then, regardless of the circumstances, you can experience His Peace, and know His blessing.

Lord Jesus, draw us along to grow in our faith and to trust Your Grace in all things: whether life or death, whether Joy or Grief; whether in good times or bad. We know that You are the Master in all things. Teach us to live as Your disciples.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

Thanksgiving and Prayer

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 5:16-18;

Introduction:

We are called to thanksgiving and prayer, throughout the Bible. It is important to realize that the call to thanksgiving is in spite of circumstances, not because of circumstances. The call to Prayer is similar, in that we are not guaranteed to get what we want: We may be those who ask, but it is God who replies. And, because we ask in our ignorance, and our relative blindness, He, in His sovereign knowledge and infinite wisdom, sometimes must refuse our request. We must remember that His knowledge, His wisdom and His purpose not only all are higher than we can hope to understand, but also all are better from the perspective of eternity.

In ancient Israel, particularly in Judah, even after the nation had been split by bad leadership, occasionally a king, desiring the mercy and blessing of God for his nation, or, desiring the direction and protection of God, for an upcoming challenge or threat, would proclaim a National day of Prayer, and usually a fast, as well. As far as I can recall, in every single case, God answered those prayers; not always in the way they had hoped, but He always answered.

He has left those histories for us to learn from them, but we don’t want to “learn the wrong lesson,” so to speak: There were a few to whom God gave special authority, and what came out of their mouth really was His will, and it really did occur. It was not that they were “special saints,” but that God put them in a special position. Moses called for the ground to split and swallow up some rebels in the camp: and it happened exactly as he said. But it was for God’s purpose, not that of Moses. God uses miraculous intervention, as a rule, to draw attention to and to validate His message: and Moses, right then, was the messenger of God.

Thanksgiving was Part of the History

The times when God stepped in and rescued Israel, at least for the moment, usually resulted in national giving of thanks. But they soon forgot the blessing, and began to grumble again, or, worse yet, they turned to other gods, the heathen idols of the nations around them.

We have the history of Numbers 21:5-9, when they were scarcely out of Egypt, and were already forgetting the Salvation that was poured out upon them while the Judgment was being poured out on Egypt.

They grumbled and were very ungrateful toward God, failing to appreciate His supply in their lives, and He sent Judgment on them in the form of venomous vipers, migrating across their desert path, and killing many of the people. But God used even this calamity as an opportunity to demonstrate His Grace, in a prophetic “picture”—the bronze serpent on the pole, represented the judgment for their sins, and God’s solution for sin: The Cross, where our sins were judged forever, and Jesus’s blood served as the eternal satisfaction for God’s Justice and holiness, for the sins of the Whole World, forever! In regard to that particular history, Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the Serpent in the Wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

So, even our ingratitude and our unbelief are under the blood of the Cross.

In Romans 1:21, we see the nature of God’s judgment for sin: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened.

Humans fail to recognize the authority and Grace of God. We fail to Give Thanks…and because of this, our hearts are darkened, and we fail to see the truth that, when God’s reply to our prayer is “NO,” it is just as worthy of thanksgiving as when He gives us the desire of our hearts. We need to thank Him for His wisdom and grace in those times, too.

What about Prayer?

In Luke 18:1, Jesus taught that we “ought always to pray and not faint.” The apostle Paul reiterates this command in 1st Timothy 2:1-4, saying that we are not only to pray for ourselves and for one another, but for unbelievers as well, and especially for national and civic leaders, so that we might reap the benefits of “a quiet and peaceful life.”

Today, we live in the only nation in the history of the world which was originally founded upon specifically Christian values, and grounded in the whole truth of God’s Word, the Bible. It was not founded upon greed, or nationalism, but upon humility and public awareness of our utter dependence upon the Almighty Creator God. Perhaps the unbelieving world around us has forgotten this, but we as believers have no excuse: We are to remember; we are to pray, and we are to give thanks, regardless of the circumstances.

We live at a time when those Christian values upon which our Nation was founded have largely been set aside as “old-fashioned,” or “outmoded,” or “irrelevant for the realities of today.” However, the Word of God will stand for all time and Eternity, and does not depend upon the opinions of humans for validity. The Law of Gravity will cease to exist before God’s Word will fail to be relevant. In Ps 119:89, the psalmist says, “Forever, O Lord, thy Word is settled in heaven.” In light of eternity, the values of the humans of today are merely a passing aberration, while the values of God are the principles upon which the very Universe is founded.

The Prophet Daniel was ordered by a heathen king to cease praying to his God: he immediately went to his balcony, opened the doors, and in public view, prayed toward Jerusalem, as was his habit. You know the rest of that story, from Daniel chapter 6: Daniel “spent the night at the zoo,” as it were—specifically, in the Lion’s Den. But in the Morning…in the morning, he was released, and his enemies took his place. He had been under the protection of God—they were not…(It was feeding time at the zoo!)

We have a “Morning” coming, too! The Apostle Peter tells us in 2nd Peter 1:19, that we are to focus our attention on the written Word of God as the only light in this dark world, “until the day dawns!”

King Jehoshaphat, under threat of an invading army, declared a national day of prayer and fasting, and God answered through a local prophet. The troops of Judah went to the battle, all right, but they were led by the national choir, singing, and praising the beauty of holiness. They were giving thanks in advance, and worshipping the God of their salvation! The resulting battle was fought by God alone. The people of Judah never lifted a weapon. And every single enemy soldier died that day.

Today we are still called to prayer, by God Himself. It is possible today, as always, in times of trouble, that some of the human leaders who may make that call are not believers, themselves. We should not be deterred from the privilege of prayer by those who do not know the God who answers prayer. Let us continue in prayer, undismayed. We also should remember that while prayer can “change things,” prayer definitely does not “control things!” Believers under fire are praying, but many of them die.

It is OK to pray and die!

An American missionary in the Philippines (Martin Burnham) was kidnapped along with his wife (Gracia Burnham) by Islamic rebels, there. They prayed daily for deliverance, and they prayed faithfully for their captors as well. But the day finally came when a firefight broke out between the national army and the rebel force. Martin threw his own body across that of Gracia, trying to shield her. Both were praying, but only Gracia came home alive. Martin was shot and killed, protecting his wife.

How do we respond to that sort of answer to prayer? Can I give thanks when the result was not what I wanted?

God’s Command

1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice evermore; pray without ceasing; in every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning YOU!”

God says His will for us is that we should rejoice evermore, that we should pray without ceasing; and that in every circumstance we should give thanks.

Let’s look at that passage, point by point:

  1. Rejoice evermore,
  2. Pray without ceasing, and
  3. In every thing give thanks
  4. For this is the Will of God, in Christ Jesus, concerning YOU!

Rejoice Evermore

Notice that He did not say, “Feel happy,” or “feel Joyful!” He said “rejoice!” This directly ties into what Jesus commanded in John 16:33These things have I spoken unto you that in Me ye might have peace: in the World ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the World.” Joy is a choice: Habakkuk chose joy in the face of the sure knowledge that his nation was about to fall to foreign invaders in judgment as a result of Israel’s sin. He said, Yet will I rejoice in the LORD: I will joy in the God of my Salvation!” It was an act of the will, not a result of emotion. His emotion was grief at the collapse of Israel, but his choice was Joy!

Pray without Ceasing

This is a clear command, that, as Jesus commanded, we are not to give up on prayer: we are to “press on,” praying in the face of devastating news, in the hope that we will be delivered. And as the young Hebrew men under the threat of the furnace replied, “God IS able to save us: but even if He does not, we will not worship your idol!” They knew they faced death. They did not know that God was going to deliver them.

Martin and Gracia Burnham knew they potentially faced death, and did not know that only one of them would be delivered. But they prayed and they chose the Joy of the Lord in response to their trauma. Afterward, Gracia shared her story in a book: “In the Presence of Mine Enemies.” Perhaps we can learn from her example, and seek to find the “table” God has prepared for us in the presence of our enemies, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Perhaps we can choose to rejoice, in the presence of our enemies, by faith, because of His supply. Perhaps we can choose to pray faithfully, in recognition that His supply is perfect, even when we fail to understand it.

In Every Thing give Thanks

Notice that He does not say “for everything give thanks!” but “in every thing give thanks.” Martin and Gracia Burnham surely were not “happy and satisfied” to be the prisoners of a murderous band of Islamic terrorists…but they chose to rejoice IN that reality, rather than deciding that “God must have ignored their needs.” We are called to do that, as well.

Was I “happy” that my mother had an incurable disease? Absolutely not! But could I rejoice in her testimony and the legacy she left behind? Yes, I really could, once I quit whining and crying to God, insisting that He change His directive Will for the benefit of my desires. But it took a while. (We can grieve; that is OK. It is OK to hurt, but it is not OK to allow the hurt to make us bitter.) Mom simply graduated early. Odd thing: she was valedictorian in both high school and college. She was the eldest of her siblings and the rest all lived well into their eighties, while she died at 65. So, once again, she “graduated at the head of her class!” We were grieved to lose her, but she blessed all those around her, by the overflowing Grace of her walk with God.

Is Martin Burnham unhappy today with God’s decision to take him home and leave Gracia here? Nope! He is rejoicing before the Lord, as we speak! Is Gracia unhappy with His answer to prayer? Not today: at that moment, she was filled with grief! But she was healed of her grief, and once again walked in the sure knowledge of God’s Grace.

We are called to do the same: we are not told that we will always understand God’s will, nor, obviously, that we will always get what we desire. There have been times when I was certain that I was praying according to the will of God, but my hopes were dashed. There have been other times when I gave up hope, because of the circumstances, and God delivered, anyway.

It would be easy to “learn the wrong lesson,” here, and decide that “there is no point in praying, as God is just going to do His own will anyway.” But that attitude ignores that fact that we are commanded to pray; and, to “not faint”…not give up on prayer; and to “pray without ceasing:” How can it be within the will of God for me to disobey those clear commands?

The fact is, we simply have to admit that we do not know what is best. And, if we truly want what is best, then we need to subject ourselves to the will of the One who not only knows what is best, but desires to bless us to the utmost.

The final word in that passage is very personal: He says, “For this is the Will of God, in Christ Jesus, concerning YOU!

Don’t succumb to the temptation to “shuck that aside,” thinking, “Well, that was to the believers at Thessalonica!” Of course, it was! And it is also to you, personally, just like the rest of the epistles! Take this personally, and apply it to your life: the result will be a greater sense of peace and joy, as you learn to trust the Savior and Judge as your Shepherd and Friend.

Lord Jesus, please draw us close enough to you that we can feel your arms supporting us and hear your heartbeat for the lost around us, and be transformed into your likeness, sharing that care for the lost world.

John the Baptist: “He must increase; but I must decrease.”

John the Baptist: “He must increase; but I must decrease.”

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 3:22-36 (Compare John 1:6-8, 19-34, 36; Luke 1:12-17, 67-80) 

Introduction

As we study through the first few chapters of the Gospel of John, the prophet John the Baptist shows up several times. Taken as a whole, the scriptures that involve him tell us something about his character. Over in Luke 1:12-17, we are told why he had that character: He was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb…before he was born. And that state continued through his whole life. In John the Baptist, though we are told very little about him, we can see what a spirit-filled life looks like. There are many other examples, of course, but in John the Baptist, we see some specific traits that could easily be missed in some of the other accounts.

Who is John the Baptist?

John the Apostle introduced him simply as “a man sent from God, whose name was John.”

Luke gives the full background, including the miraculous intervention by God, to bring about his birth, and the fact that he is Jesus’s cousin, and approximately six months older than Jesus. But it concludes that he was growing strong in spirit, and lived in the desert until the time when he was to be shown to Israel.

One of the prophecies concerning this man (Luke 1:17) was that he would going before God “…in the spirit and power of Elijah, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” There were a lot of specific prophecies, including the fact that he would not drink wine nor strong drink. So, neither the ordinary wine, of which virtually everyone partook, nor the stronger liquors which were also common. But when he was revealed to Israel, (Matthew 3:4) he was eating a very strict diet, limited apparently to locusts (what we call grasshoppers) and wild honey…and water, evidently. (And, because of his diet, his detractors accused him of being demon-possessed.) He was dressed oddly, too—in camel hair, with a crude leather belt…one passage just says a hide belt. (Camel hair was not seen as a luxury item in those days: this was not a “camel-hair suit.”)

John came as a forerunner for Jesus the King: a herald. He announced the coming Messianic Kingdom, reiterating the Holiness, Righteousness and Judgment of God, and warning those who hoped to enter into God’s kingdom to behave accordingly. Those who believed and agreed with his message, he baptized in the Jordan, as a sign of their identification with the coming King. (That is what baptism is about: it is for identification.)

But, like many thrilling and convicting messages, as people flocked to the messenger, it became a “movement” and others came, just to be seen as part of the movement. John recognized them for who they were, and called them out on their hypocrisy, warning them that their lives had better match what they were claiming to believe! (Matthew 3:7-12) He warned that while he himself only baptized with water, the one who was to come after him would “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” We frequently ignore the rest of the passage, where he specifies that the fire to which he refers is hell-fire. The believers would eventually be baptized with the Holy Ghost at Pentecost: those who proved to be His enemies would end up in unquenchable fire. This has nothing to do with the “cloven tongues” that looked like fire, landing on the disciples at Pentecost. John was warning of eternal damnation for those who defied the coming King. There is no mistaking his intent in that message, unless we ignore the latter half.

What Sort of Man was John?

It would be easy to see John as a real “fire-and-brimstone preacher…” and, in a sense, he was just that. But he also gave some sound teaching, all within the context of the coming Messianic Kingdom, which both he and Jesus preached. John preached it until he was executed: Jesus, up until the time when Jerusalem rejected Him, accusing Him of serving Satan. After that event, Jesus was headed for the Cross, and He never again offered the kingdom.

The Church was not in view, and it was not revealed in its fulness until more than eight years after His ascension. But by the end of the book of Acts, the Church was well established, and in the book of Ephesians the doctrine is clearly spelled out, and is rather pointedly said to have not been known by any of the Old Testament Prophets. (Ephesians 3:8-12)

So, John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, as Jesus and John both lived out their entire lives under the Law…the Old Covenant. (Jesus said that the New Covenant was the Covenant in His Blood: so, it began after His death, and from a practical viewpoint, it began on the day of Pentecost.)

We see John as a “fire-breather” because of how he confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees, and again, later, as he confronted Herod the tetrarch. But if we look at how he talked to the ordinary people, he seems quite down to earth: He told them to share with one another, care for the poor, don’t cheat other people, don’t abuse your authority.

Even the soldiers, he only told to be satisfied with their wages and to not abuse their authority. Same to the tax-collectors. These both were unpopular people in that society: The soldiers were the “law-enforcement” of that day, and the tax-collectors the IRS of that day. Things haven’t changed a lot: the average person still thinks evil of such government agents. But John gave them sound counsel: he did not tell them to quit their jobs, but only to do their jobs honestly and not to abuse their positions.

One result of his sound teaching (and his prophecies concerning the coming Kingdom and the coming King) was that people began to jump to the conclusion that perhaps he was that king. (Which is very odd…he had already told them very plainly that the King was someone else!)

So, then they wanted to know whether he was Elijah, since they knew that there was a prophecy that Elijah would come before the great and terrible day of the Lord. And John told them plainly that he was not Elijah, which was perfectly true. (Elijah will come during the great tribulation, just before Jesus returns in Glory. But John is John.)

John made no special claims regarding himself. He did not attract attention to himself except as he spoke and acted to direct people’s attention to the Messiah. He claimed nothing for himself, declaring that he himself was not worthy to untie the sandals of the coming King, nor even to carry his shoes.

He sought no glory for himself. When he eventually rebuked Herod for taking his sister-in-law as his wife, Herod shut him up in prison. We can’t be sure what Herod would have done, but we do know that eventually, he put himself in a position where he felt obliged to have John executed.

From prison, John began to wonder about the ministry of Jesus, whether He really was the Messiah: (Luke 7:19-23) So, he sent messengers to ask. Jesus had them hang around and watch: He cast out demons, healed the sick, and preached to the common people…the poor. Then he told the messengers to go on back and tell John what they had seen: He knew that the fulfilled prophecies would answer John’s questions more fully than a simple “Yes!”

What was the nature of John’s ministry, as compared to that of Jesus?

Initially, John’s ministry drew a lot of attention, just as it was intended to do: People publicly confessed their sins and were baptized in repentance, choosing to believe his message. When Jesus arrived, and was baptized by John, John knew who He was for the first time: John did not want to baptize Jesus, and protested that he himself needed to be baptized by Jesus. Jesus told him, “Allow it to be so for now, that we may fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus needed to be identified with the message of John, because John preached the coming Kingdom, and Jesus was the King!

John was completely humble: his ministry was designed to be eclipsed by that of Jesus. So, when he pointed out Jesus to the crowd (more than six weeks later, after Jesus’s fasting in the desert) he said, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the World!” He did not say anything to connect himself to Jesus, even, or try to “share some of the spotlight,” so to speak: He simply pointed people to Jesus.

The day after he had announced Jesus to the crowd, he gently “nudged” two of his own disciples, directing their attention again to Jesus. They responded by leaving John the Baptist, to follow Jesus. In this matter alone, we begin to see what it means to be a man filled with the Holy Spirit: Over in John 16:13, 14, we see that the Holy Spirit does not speak of himself, but speaks to glorify Jesus. So, John the Baptist, under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, behaved just as the Holy Spirit behaves: He glorified Jesus, and directed others to Him!

Very few modern preachers would willingly turn their own proteges away, to deliberately send them to follow someone else. But John did exactly that, and then continued his preaching of the coming kingdom.

Was there a Conflict? No!

But the time came when Jesus’s ministry began to overshadow John’s ministry. John’s protégé’s were offended for his sake, evidently, as they came and told him that Jesus was baptizing more people than John was (although the scripture points out that Jesus Himself was not baptizing at all—his disciples were.)

John 3:22-36 tells us the rest of the story:

22 After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. 23 And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. 24 For John was not yet cast into prison. 25 Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. 26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. 27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. 28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. 29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. 32 And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. 33 He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. 34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. 35 The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. 36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.


Remember, this is John the Baptist telling his own disciples the difference between himself and Jesus. Apparently, thus far not all of them had understood.

Verse 30 is the key verse, here: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” That is actually the key to the life of a disciple of Christ! It is not about you or me: it is about Jesus! The less people see of “Me,” and the more people see of Jesus, the better my service will be.

John had a ministry similar to that of a comet: A comet is there in the sky, temporarily, reflecting the light of the sun, and catching the attention of all the people of the earth, as a rule…and it passes rather quickly, and then, after a few days, it is gone. But the Sun continues to shine.

John reflected the light of the Son of God, for a short time, and some were attracted to him alone, not recognizing that He only reflected light. John 1:7, 8 clearly says that “John himself was not the light, but he bore witness of the light.” And John verbally confirmed this truth on several occasions. Some of his disciples eventually transitioned to become believers in Jesus. Some (including the Pharisees and Sadducees, whom John had warned about being fakes) probably did not. It is relatively easy to join a movement, join a church, go to meetings, sing songs, pray prayers, etc. and to fool people around you. That is what the Pharisees and Sadducees were doing.

But there are no counterfeits in the Body of Christ, proper: the Holy Spirit sees our hearts, and takes the believer at the moment of faith, and plants them in the Body of Christ. It is impossible to fool the Holy Spirit: He is God! He knows our hearts. No one fools God!

John called his disciples to bear witness, saying “Remember, I said ‘I am not the Christ!’” Then he said something really interesting: this is the first mention of the “Bride and the Bridegroom:” He said, “He that hath the Bride is the Bridegroom!” He pointed out that the friend of the bridegroom who stood and heard his voice (we might call him the “best man” today) rejoices to hear His voice. Then he said, “This my joy, therefore, is fulfilled!” His greatest joy was to see the Bride beginning to accumulate to Christ, the Bridegroom! That should be our Joy, as well!

John’s testimony regarding Jesus: (John 3:33-36)

John went on to say that Jesus came from Heaven, and that He testified of what He had seen and heard. He said that those who willingly receive the testimony of Jesus are setting their seal to the fact that God is true. He concluded that whoever believes on the Son has everlasting life (present tense) …and that he who does not believe the Son, not only does not have the life, but shall not see life; but rather, the wrath of God abides upon him!

What a stern warning! And it is exactly what he had said from the beginning. John was completely consistent in his teaching. He always pointed people toward Jesus, and he always told them very plainly the results of belief and of unbelief. He never “sugar-coated” the truth.

Our Testimony:

We frequently try to persuade people by “sweet words.” Perhaps sometimes that bears fruit, especially with little children: but Jesus did not do that, nor did the Apostles, and John the Baptist certainly did not. Jesus was usually pretty gentle, it is true…but not always. He said very clearly that the way into eternal life was narrow and tight, and that few would enter therein. He went on to say that the way into eternal destruction was broad and easy, and that many would go there.

But I have heard preachers teaching exactly the opposite: One in particular told me, “I always assume people are already saved unless they give me reason to believe otherwise.” Another, from the pulpit, stated that “No one has ever been saved by being told that they are a sinner!”

The fact is: Jesus said, “no one comes to the Father but by me.” That is pretty narrow, all right! And He had already taught that the majority will reject His Grace and be lost. So, why would I ever assume that people were “already saved?” And finally; no one has ever been saved without finding out that they are a sinner: What do you think they are they being saved from?

We need to think carefully about what it is we are telling people. And we need to think carefully about our motivation: If I am attempting to get more people to attend this church, I have wrong motives. If I am attempting to “have a bigger following,” then I have wrong motives. Paul warned the Ephesian elders that leaders would arise within the flock who desire to “draw away disciples after themselves” and “not considering the flock.” We need to point people to Jesus. That is what John the Baptist did, throughout his ministry. We need to maintain the concept that “He must increase, but I must decrease!” Otherwise, the reverse is very likely to occur: We will puff ourselves up, to the dimming of the Cross.

Lord Jesus, we want to direct people’s attention to You: to turn their eyes to You as their Savior and to turn their hearts to You as their Lord. Help us to step out of the way and allow you to pour your grace through us to the dying world so that You can save those who will believe. Cleanse our hearts and make us clean channels for Your Love and Mercy.

This is the Condemnation

This is the Condemnation

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 3:17-21

Introduction

We have been studying through the Gospel of John, as most of you know: Last week and the week before, we twice read that Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world. And, we saw, briefly, that most people would reject Him anyway.

But the question comes to mind, “If all their sins are paid for, how can anyone be condemned?”

A partial answer, in the form of an analogy, was proposed last week, pointing out that Jesus wrote out a “check” in the amount of “Eternal Life,” to be deposited to the account of “Whosoever Will.” And we pointed out that, in order to have that eternal life, one does have to “endorse that Check” by faith. Each person has to respond personally, believing that Jesus’s blood is the sacrifice for their own sins…it is not just “generic.”

So, the next few verses (17-21) explain why people can still be condemned, even though Jesus truly has paid for their sins:

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

God’s Will: Restoration and Reconciliation

Verse 17 clearly states the purpose of God toward man at large: He sent Jesus “…that the World through Him might be saved.” The invitation is to “whosoever will!” (God so loved the world!) This is not a selective Grace, except in the sense that only those willing to “endorse the check by faith” will enter in. The invitation is there, but many refuse to heed the call to faith.

2nd Peter 3:9 supports this idea, saying that the Lord “…is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

1st Timothy 2:3, 4 says “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God, our Savior, who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

As members of the Body of Christ, we have the general assignment to function as ambassadors of Christ. 2nd Corinthians 5:20 says that we are to function “…as though God did beseech you by us…be ye reconciled to God!” That is our collective job! That is our Job! We may all have different tasks, but the job is evangelism and discipleship.

During all the years when I worked at Gunderson, Inc. our collective goal, or “job” was to build high-quality railcars and barges. The Engineers, the supervisors, the forklift drivers, the painters, the welders, and even the janitors had that collective “job.” We all made our living by the successful pursuit of that one collective “job.” But all those different people had completely different tasks.

I’m pretty sure the nurses in the medical office did not really see their job as “producing rail cars.” The medical staff probably saw their job as being “to provide medical oversight and triage, to keep the crews healthy, and avoid liability lawsuits.

(Well…yeah!) But, had the company not been producing railcars, then their goal of providing medical oversight would have been a moot point. They would have had no one for whom to provide care! And the same is true for every other skill or discipline within the company. We did not sell paint—we sold painted railcars. We did not sell pieces of steel: we sold steel railcars, and we did not get paid for just shuffling pieces of steel around in the plant with cranes and forklifts: we were paid for the completed, painted, inspected and fully functional, brand-new, flawless railcar that went out the door after all the shuffling, welding and painting was done!

If anyone forgot that main goal, they rapidly descended into non-productive and even counter-productive behavior, squabbling amongst themselves, supervisor against supervisor, and department against department. That was highly unprofitable behavior, but it frequently went on for years, uncorrected.

We need to keep God’s purposes in mind: we do not want to be counterproductive, or unprofitable as believers. We want to behave in a manner that is profitable for the cause of Christ.

This is the Condemnation

So…if God’s will really is “…to save everyone,” why isn’t it happening? It turns out that God has an eternal standard: though He desires to save the world, His standard has always been to save “through faith in Him.” There has never been an exception. Every single person who has ever been salvaged from the wreckage of the Human race has been saved through faith in God’s plan of redemption. All the way from Adam to the thief on the cross, and all the way to the end of time, the statement Jesus made is true: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me!

Jesus made it very clear, in verse 18, that “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

We may balk at what seems to be such a limited, narrow path, but in reality, this is the most “equalizing” prerequisite possible. It has to do only with a personal choice, not one’s personal ability or character. Gifting, skills, intelligence, physical strength, or emotional fortitude are not on the table: Wisdom and philosophical stance are not a factor. Wealth, health, or moral purity are never considered. Being perceived as “good” is not a requirement (again, witness the Thief on the Cross, or the Woman at the Well.)

One thing only has been required: that we “believe in Him whom God has sent.” The people asked Jesus, in John 6:28, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” Jesus replied, in the next verse, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent!” Had there been any other prerequisite or any other agenda, He could have stated it right there; But He did not! The way was open to whoever would believe.

As the saying goes, this “levels the playing field,” more than anything else could do. Anyone can enter; because no one can “forbid you to believe.” And no one can force you to believe, so it is always a matter of coming by your own free will.

But there’s the rub: not all are willing! Jesus went on to say, “This is the condemnation, that light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

How do we respond to Light?

How we respond to the light of God simply shows the state of our heart. Even a true believer, if they are out of fellowship with God, may turn from that light, because it shames them: it hurts them to hear God’s voice, because they know they are not in fellowship.

On a human level, we may choose to avoid contact with someone whom we have wronged…or who has hurt us. I once was avoiding a man who I thought had behaved treacherously toward me, but he noticed my behavior and sought me out, saying, “Chet, are you avoiding me?” I confessed that I was, and I expressed my observation that he had been part of a group that had wrongly condemned me. But he explained that while he had been there, by invitation, he had not agreed with what was going on, and really wanted my fellowship. I accepted his words as truth, and fellowship was restored, at least to the point that I did not feel the need to avoid him.

J. Vernon McGee shared how the different animals in the barn at night responded differently to the light of the lantern when he walked in. The livestock knew they were about to be fed: they were the servants of the light, and the man who brought it. The rats on the barn floor ran for cover, fearing the light and the man who carried it, because they recognized him as an enemy. But the birds in the rafters mistook the light for sunrise, and began to sing! They knew nothing about the man who carried the lantern. They were responding to the light itself. Each response revealed character of the animal as it revealed their relationship with light.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.


Adam and Eve fled from the voice of God: they fled from the Living Word as He walked in the Garden in the cool of the day! They fled from the One True Light of the World. Why? Because they had sinned, and had instantly become spiritually dead! They fled the Light of God because they had become creatures of darkness…just like us! They regained a secure position with God through faith, as we see in the rest of that chapter. But we are their progeny by nature: every one of us was born with a sin nature, inherited from Adam.

Romans 5:12 confirms that, saying, “…through one man, sin came into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…” The result is that, by nature, we were children of the darkness and, by nature, we fled the light.

But there came a moment in each of our lives where the light broke through upon us and we actually understood that light enough to consider the claim of Christ on our lives. John 1:4, 9 show not only that Jesus is that light, but also that He “…lights every one who comes into the world.” The light is for everyone, but we can’t see their hearts. We don’t know when they might respond, nor whether they ever will respond. That is something only God can see.

Drawn to God by the Cross

In John 6:44, Jesus said, “No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him,” and, in John 12:32, speaking of His impending crucifixion, He said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” He is the “magnet,” if I may use that illustration: all we see is a “pile of dust” on the floor. Some looks metallic, as it reflects light: some looks like dirt, and some is in particles so small they are impossible to characterize: but Jesus passes the “magnet of the Cross” over that dust, and regardless of all other properties, metallic or nonmetallic in appearance, only the “iron content” of faith responds to the magnet.

In general, other metals will not respond to magnets. Brass, tin, gold and lead have zero attraction to a magnet. Copper can affect the behavior of a magnet, but the magnet cannot pick it up. Plain dirt may have sufficient iron content to be picked up by a magnet, without our recognizing it by other means. Stainless steel, on the other hand, may have enough nickel in it to completely nullify the magnetic quality of the iron, though it still has very high iron content.

Only Jesus can see the hearts of people and know “who they really are” inside. All we can do is to present the “magnet” of the Gospel, and shine the light of the Word, and pray for God’s Spirit to make an impact in their hearts.

Coming to the Light as Believers

Coming to the Light is not a “one-time” experience: Initially, we “came to the light,” because we were drawn by Jesus, and we placed our faith in Him. Perhaps some portion of His Word shined on our lives and made us see a need. Perhaps initially all it did is make us angry, as we thought “Well, who are you to judge me…”

But then the Word continued to echo in our minds as we saw the truth of our guilt reflected in our own behavior, or, we saw it in someone else’s life, and finally realized that what we saw in their life was also true in our own. In every case, eventually we had a decision to make: we would either respond in humility and confession, seeing that God’s Word was true, and that we were truly lost sinners, or, we would reject the truth and turn away, perhaps claiming to have our “own” truth, or simply declaring that God’s Word is irrelevant.

But, as a believer, who has once come to the light, being drawn by the Savior, and having once been born again into the household of God, our position in Christ is secure. However, we still must choose how to respond to His light: We can see the green plants reaching for the sunlight: will we daily, moment by moment, seek His face, just as they so? Or will we treat His Word casually, indifferently…still preferring to stay in darkness, for the most part? We want His blessing, but not His dominion, and we fail to see that the one is not accessible without the other.

How we respond to God’s Word as believers is an indicator of our spiritual condition. God says we should hunger for his Word as a newborn child hungers for milk: He says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby.” (1st Peter 2:2) Milk does not make a baby a baby: It makes a baby grow! They desire that milk as part of being a baby…if they reject it, we know there is something wrong!

We may be uncomfortable with some portions of God’s Word, because it points out things in our lives that are not pleasing to God.

Conclusion:

There is a story about a man who was very proud of the huge old oak tree in his front yard: It was centuries old, and was admired by all who passed by. He felt very privileged to have such a treasure near his house. But one day, he saw a squirrel run partway up the trunk and disappear: He was puzzled, so he walked closer to get a better look. Then he saw the hole into which the squirrel had vanished. He became worried, and called an arborist to tell him what was wrong. It turned out that his precious tree was hollow, and completely rotten inside: it was not only no longer an asset, but it threatened to fall and destroy his home. Finally, he sadly said, “I wish I had never seen that squirrel!

That is “rejecting the light!” That is what we are doing when we are offended by God’s Word. We wish we had not seen that light. But ultimately, like the man with the tree, we have to make a decision: Will we cut out the rotten parts of our life, which threaten all that is of eternal value, or will we go on enjoying the very temporary pleasure of cherishing that sin, whatever it is.

You see, we can do that same thing as the man with the tree: As a believer, you are secure in Christ. That is not the issue! Your position in Christ is secure forever: but your condition requires constant attention from God. He has to continually correct and “prune” our lives so that they do not develop fatal flaws which can render us useless to His service. We are in no danger of being rejected by Him, but we can certainly become unprofitable.

So, by faith, we make a choice to feed on His Word, respond in obedience, even when it is uncomfortable or runs counter to our natural inclinations and desires. And the result is that we grow in Godliness, as He re-shapes us into His likeness.

I’m grateful to see the Lord at work in each of your lives. I rejoice to see people voluntarily feeding of God’s Word, and growing closer to Him as a result. Let’s press forward together, and be transformed by His Word.

Lord Jesus, we see Your face in the scriptures, and we see our own faces reflected in its light. We realize that apart from You, we have nothing to offer a Holy God. Pour out your Spirit in our lives, and supply us the will and the ability to serve You.