Feeding the Whole Person on Easter

Feeding the Whole Person on Easter

© C. O. Bishop 4/13/17 THCF 4/16/17 revised 4/14/22

1st Thessalonians 5:23

Introduction:

One thing we learn in the Bible is that every human consists of three parts… not a triune being, as God is …but tripartite. My body is not the real me…and, even my soul is only part of me. And my spirit is not meant to exist separate from a body and soul. I am a tripartite being. Three parts. God knows the difference between the soul and the spirit of Man. We believers are to be preserved complete—body, soul, and spirit—until the coming of the Lord. (1st Thessalonians 5:23   “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”)

So, though we have some confusion about the differences, God does not. He will give us new, immortal bodies, and our spirits and souls will be eternally in tune with His Spirit. We look forward to the fulfillment of these promises. But we show our current confusion about the invisible portions of a human in that we sometimes say, “follow your heart,” when God says our heart (soul) is deceitful…that it is not to be trusted. In James, where God gives us some New Testament truth about wisdom, he specifically says that the soul is not a good source for wisdom.

James 3:13-15

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation (way of life) 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.

The word translated “sensual” there, is the Greek word “psuchikos,” meaning “soulish:” coming from the soul. We are easily deceived by our own souls, even as believers. People say things like “Eat chocolate! It’s good for the soul!” when they really only mean “it makes you feel good about life.” After open-heart-surgery, the doctors gave me oxycodone—that made me “feel good about life,” too; but it was deceitful, and potentially addictive. I needed genuine healing, not just medicine that made me “feel great for a while!” As soon as I could, (just a few days) I got off that medicine; but it was hard, because, just like everyone else, I like to feel good. My body needed physical nourishment and healing, not just to “feel good.” But I am not just a body: I am also a soul, and a spirit. So, how do we feed the whole person: body, soul and spirit…especially at Easter?

Feeding the Body

Feeding the body is no great trick, but it can be done well, or it can be done badly. There are tribal people in the jungles of South America who chew certain leaves because they stave off hunger and thirst, and make them have a lot of energy. I’ll bet you can guess what those leaves are: (Yep, they are coca leaves!) Those people know they really need food, water and rest, but on a long hike through the jungle, they take those leaves along, knowing that they will “feel better” as they travel. It is a pretty mild dose of cocaine they are getting, but still not a healthy choice.

So, we make healthy choices in food as best we can, in varying degrees. Some people are simply thinking “basic food groups,” and some not even that. But with some folks, if you aren’t a trained dietician, you won’t even understand what they are doing when they plan a meal! And still others just eat whatever they like, whenever they are hungry. But we all feed our bodies. We get hungry, and we seek nourishment. This morning, for instance, we began with a “fellowship breakfast” downstairs, and everyone “fed their bodies,” and felt satisfied. But what about our souls? Perhaps our souls were being fed, too, if we actually engaged in spiritual fellowship.

Feeding the Soul

How do you feed a soul? Our souls look for peace, and happiness, and feelings of fulfillment. Fellowship with other believers can provide that. Some folks enjoy the “catharsis” of a good cry, so they watch a tear-jerker movie. Some people thrive on adrenalin, so they either take risks themselves, or watch videos of those who take such risks… they watch action movies, or horror movies, thrillers, chillers, or something similar. They like the feeling of drama, so they read books or watch plays or movies that fill them with the sensations they crave…the feelings.

Are these healthy diets for a soul? Well…depending on the subject matter or the activity, actually, yes, they could be. Engaging in sports, whether running, whitewater rafting, or skiing, could be quite healthy, physically. Making things that require skill and patience, whether in stitchery, carpentry, or other skills can “feed the soul” on the satisfaction of a job well done. Enduring the daily drama of rearing children, and seeing those children grow to be productive members of society, then feeling the satisfaction (and relief) as they mature, is a healthy sort of “drama.”

But there are unhealthy forms of drama, too, and some people feed their “desire for drama” on social conflicts, politics, and gossip, or even bullying and manipulating other people. That is bad food for the soul, and addictive, as well, as it feeds our sin nature’s desire for power.

Can we have unhealthy food for the soul in church? We could have an especially heart-rending story in a sermon, or a testimony that leaves us emotionally wrung-out, and moves us at a soul-level. That could be perfectly healthy…or not. The problem is that emotional drama is addictive, too, and we mistake it for spiritual food. On a once-in-a-while basis, there is nothing wrong with emotional drama, but as a matter of habit, it tends to take the place of healthy food, just as the coca leaves took the place of healthy food, water, and rest, for those jungle tribesmen. But they knew not to do it all the time. We don’t seem to know the limit…we look for more and more emotional highs, and hope for more “signs from God.” We want sensationalism.

But God says that such things are not necessarily from Him, at all. The false prophets in Jeremiah’s time had dreams and visions, but God says that they caused the dreams, themselves. They deceived themselves and others. He was not their source! (Jeremiah 23:25, 26)

We have all read sensational books and watched dramatic movies about Jesus, which itemized every blow, every wound, and every drop of blood during the crucifixion, and stressed the emotional impact on the lives of the disciples, as well as on Jesus himself. We agonize with Jesus at Gethsemane, and cringe at the deadly pain he endured for us. All of these things are true, and, to some extent, they are healthy soul-food, so long as we equally rejoice at the resurrection, and are galvanized to action by His ascension, His final commands, and His indwelling Holy Spirit.

But if all we want is the emotional “drama,” then, in the long run we are not much better off than the folks watching sad movies, and such. I am covered by the blood of the cross: I don’t need to continually “have my nose rubbed in it.” I remember His sacrifice, and I am still overwhelmed that He chose to die for me. I don’t see myself as someone that would even be attractive to God. But for some reason, “God so loved the World….”

You see, I don’t have to understand it…I don’t even have to “feel” it. I only have to choose to believe it by faith, and receive His gift of eternal life. My soul will be fed as I walk with Jesus. I will experience all the reasonable, valid emotions just as He did, without any false drama, or any self-induced emotional turmoil or ecstasy. But then we should ask: How do we feed the spirit?

Feeding the Spirit

When we each placed our faith, individually and personally, in Jesus’ shed blood at the Cross, as full payment for our sins, we were born again, as children of the living God. And He says, that, as His babies, we need to develop an appetite: He says we should sincerely desire… what? Not emotional upheavals and turmoil of the soul, but rather, He says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word” of God, “that we may grow thereby.” (1st Peter 2:2)

So, what part of us does God’s Word primarily “feed?” It primarily feeds the spirit. We are born again with a new nature, and our spirits are alive to God, and hungry for His presence. Can it also feed the soul? Absolutely! As we read His word, we can be thrilled by the exquisite joy of seeing God at work. We are grieved at the hardness of the hearts of humanity. We are fearful of the judgment of God, and desire to be freed from our sins and guilt. All of that feeds the soul.

We feed our spirits by taking in God’s Word. When we consider the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, we need to apply our attention to what God actually says about it, so that our Spirits are fed: not just “how do we feel about it”, which excites the soul, but leaves the inner man un-nourished.

So, What Does the Scripture Say?

  • To begin with, it says that the entire human race fell into sin with Adam. He was our representative, and when he fell, we fell with him. (Romans 3:23; Romans 5:12)
  • Then it says that the result of sin is death: separation from God. That was our natural state…and, had we died in that position, we would have been eternally separated from Him. (Romans 6:23a)
  • But, it also says that God reached out in Love, to save the whole human race…he offered a free gift of salvation to anyone who trusts in Him. (Romans 6:23b)
  • That gift is offered in the person of His son. God says the eternal life he offers is in His son. Whoever has the Son has the life. Whoever does not have the Son, does not have life. (1st John 5:11, 12)
  • He says that Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies, and that he came specifically to do that, in the course of offering us eternal life. (Luke 24:25-26)
  • God says the good news (the Gospel) of salvation is of first importance, and that it consists of the following truths:
    • Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.
    • He was buried in fulfilment of the scriptures.
    • He rose again the third day, also in order to fulfill scripture.

The Gospel

The Death and Burial and Resurrection of Jesus are the core issues of the Gospel, which, being believed in, is the power of God, to save those who believe. (Romans 1:16) And it is the only way that God has ever saved anyone!

We understand the death of the Savior, that it had to happen, or we would still be in our sins; unforgiven, and hopelessly lost. We see, too, how the burial at least gave testimony that Jesus really died—he was not just “playing possum”, or in a faint. He was dead. And he spent three days and three nights in the place of the dead, fulfilling His own prediction that He would spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth: not just in the grave.

But, what about the Resurrection?

Here’s what the Apostle Paul said about it:
1st Corinthians 15: 17 “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

So, the resurrection had to happen too, or we would still be in our sins, just as surely as if he had never died for us. But he’s Alive! He is Risen! Not only He is alive, but He has ascended to the throne beside God the Father, and eternally represents us there, as our advocate.

Folks, these are facts!  I honestly don’t care whether you are “moved”, or “stirred” by these words: what is important is that you believe them! That you choose to place your dependence on Jesus’s shed blood at the Cross as full payment for your sins, personally!

Make it personal

Sometimes I ask people, “Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?” and they reply, “Oh, I believe He died for the sins of the whole world!” So, I ask again, “But did He die for your sins, personally?” And they repeat their “creed” that he “died for the sins of the world.” Do you see the problem? They know the facts, but they’re not willing to apply those facts to their own case. Perhaps they don’t believe they need a Savior. Maybe they feel that they don’t understand it all. (Well I don’t either!) We are not required to “understand it all.” We are required to accept it by faith, apply it to our own life, and receive the gift of Eternal life. It’s that simple! That’s Faith!

 So,  here is a quote from an unknown author:

How does the thief on the cross fit into your theology? No baptism, no communion, no confirmation, no speaking in tongues, no mission trip, no volunteerism, and no church clothes. He couldn’t even bend his knees to pray. He didn’t say the sinner’s prayer and, among other things, he was a thief! Jesus didn’t take away his pain, heal his body, or smite the scoffers. Yet it was a thief who entered Paradise the same hour as Jesus did, simply by believing. He had nothing more to offer other than his belief that Jesus was who He said he was. No “spin” from brilliant theologians. No ego or arrogance. No shiny lights, skinny jeans, or crafty words. No haze machine, donuts, or coffee in the foyer. Just a naked, dying man on a cross, unable to even fold his hands to pray.

That is a “moving thought,” isn’t it? But, without the Resurrection, even that story would just add yet another layer of tragedy to an already hopeless-sounding story.

Without the resurrection, we are all utterly lost!

The Resurrection is God the Father’s “stamp of approval”, showing us that Jesus really was who He said he was, and that His death and burial really accomplished all that He intended. And we are resurrected with Him, by Grace, through Faith, to live our lives for God! Let’s embrace the Resurrection in our daily lives, and live because He lives! …And He is Risen!

Lord Jesus, strengthen us to do your will, and to follow you in our daily lives. Help us to embrace the full value of the Resurrection!

What kind of Bread do we seek?

What kind of Bread do we seek?

(What do we hope to Gain?)

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 6:22-27; John 6:28, 29; Colossians 2:6; 1st Peter 1:23; Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 5:16

Introduction

We have arrived at an important transition in John chapter 6. We already saw how Jesus fed the five thousand men along with their wives and children. We already saw that some of those men were so stirred up that they wanted to take Jesus by force and pronounce Him to be King. But Jesus eluded them and eventually left with His disciples. But the people caught up with him near Capernaum, and asked, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” That’s where we are today: verse 26.

26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. 28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? 29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

As we read through this (or any) passage, we do well to consider the context in which the verses are found. In this particular context, obviously, the people to whom Jesus is speaking are the ones whom, on the previous day, He had miraculously fed with the five loaves and two fishes, given by that young boy in the story. So, if all of them had caught up with Him, He again had an audience of over five thousand people. However, Jesus ignored their questions, and only pointed out why they had really come: He revealed their motives. (“You just want more free food!”)

And He reminded them of a passage from Isaiah 55:1-3, where God spoke through Isaiah to tell the people of Judah that their motives were flawed…that they were putting all their efforts toward things that had no eternal value. He told them, effectively, that they were wasting their lives! No one really likes to hear such a rebuke, even if it is given in love and gentleness, but that is what they were hearing from Jesus, in this passage, here in John’s Gospel.

Compare The Isaiah Passage:

Isaiah 55:1-3 

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.

Remember two things, here:

  1. The people to whom Jesus spoke were Jews: they all were familiar with the words of Isaiah. This was not an obscure idea to them: they knew the passage to which He alluded.
  2. Jesus is the Author of the writings of Isaiah. He is the “Lord” whom Isaiah saw on the throne, in the vision of Isaiah 6:1, and whose “train filled the temple.”So, for Him to “springboard” from the Isaiah 55 passage to their time, making it directly applicable to the lives of His audience, was entirely within His authority and completely appropriate.

What shall we do, to Work the Works of God?”

The people evidently understood that Jesus was citing that passage: So, they immediately asked, “What shall we do, to work the works of God?” They apparently assumed that they could earn God’s Favor. This is the World’s error: and the idea is prevalent in all World religions. Each religion has collections of “things a person can do to win God’s approval.” That list varies, slightly, from one religion to another, but there are usually a lot of similarities; at least in regard to how you are required to treat your fellow believer, and how you are to approach God.

Religions are NOT all the same.

From the World’s perspective, most religions are OK to live by…but from God’s perspective, they are Hell to die by! The people with the bumper stickers that call all the worlds religions to just peacefully “Co-exist” are either ignorant of (or are denying) the fact that several of those religions are mutually exclusive, and that at least one of them demands the extermination of all others who do not submit themselves to it. And the adherents of that religion are the ones called to do the extermination! So, they can’t very well just “Co-exist!” And they do not “all lead to God.”

When we examine all the world’s religions, we can see a lot of similarities in the “nice” parts of each religion, and three major groupings as to how they deal with Sin:

  1. Some claim that there is no such thing as sin: that all such ideas of “right and wrong” are strictly of human origin, and that the impersonal “Force” or “Deity,” in which they believe, has no interest in such things…we are to pursue a denial of self and ego, in order to be united with this impersonal force, or deity.
    This teaching is not at all common: it usually “rings false” to people, because we all have an inborn sense that “there is such a thing as right and wrong!” And we at least recognize it when someone has wronged us!
  2. Some religions agree that sin exists, but they claim that God is so high above, and so kindly disposed toward humans, and so loving, that he is not concerned with such things, and certainly intends no judgment of sin. He simply pleads with us to “be nice to each other,” and that we will “all get to heaven by and by.” (Along with this, they usually claim that “all paths lead to the same God,” so all will eventually be reunited with God.)
    This one is more common, but still “rings false:” We also have an inborn sense of justice, calling for retribution. We believe that sin calls for punishment; that “wrongs should be made right,” so it is difficult tor us to believe that God does not share this opinion.
  3. Far more common…(almost universal, in fact,) is the teaching that “Sin is very real, and God hates sin, so you had better do lots and lots of good things to counteract the effect of all the bad things you have done (and continue to do….)” Most religions teach this idea.
    This belief completely fits our views as humans, and is exactly where Jesus’s audience was coming from. They hoped to earn God’s favor through good works of some sort.
    But Jesus alerted them to a fourth perspective—the one belonging to the Living God:
  4. “There is such a thing as Sin, and God hates sin, and there is nothing you can do to counteract your guilt!”

25 years ago, I shared with a young man at work these four views of what to do with sin, and he listened carefully: then he asked, “So, where does ‘Jesus dying on the Cross’ come in?” (I was delighted!) I said, “I’m glad you asked that!” Then I shared with him the Gospel: the message of “Salvation by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ.” (Grace is unearned Favor.) There truly is nothing you can do to save yourself. God has to do it for you!  (Shortly thereafter, that man moved away to the east coast of the United States, so I have no idea what his ultimate response might have been. But I do know he heard and understood the Gospel: if he wants to know the Savior, he knows how to approach Him!)

And that is where Jesus found His audience: they wanted to know “how to know God.” More specifically, they wanted to know how to earn God’s approval. They asked, “What shall we do to work the works of God?”

Jesus responded with the very clear statement, that faith in the Messiah is what God wants from us: He said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.

Today, those of us who have already received the Lord might say, “Well that is how I was saved, yes! but how do I work the works of God after salvation? What shall I do, now?

What shall We do?

This is where Jesus’s earlier admonition seems to fit in: He said,  “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.”

Let me assume for the moment that we already have received eternal life through the promise of Jesus (which we read in the previous chapter, in John 5:24.) Is there application, here, to the eternal aspect of the “food” we gain or the “wages” we hope for, in working according to God’s standard today? Yes! Jesus teaches that our labor for God has Eternal rewards: He is an Eternal God, who has given to us Eternal life, and has commanded us to “lay up treasure” for ourselves in Heaven…so there has to be an “Eternal value” to our works.

But, does our “faith” begin and end at the Cross? When I was a brand-new believer, I had an older Christian woman tell me, “Well, you are saved by faith, but you are kept by works!” What a crippling lie to tell a new believer! She was effectively saying, “You have been born into this family, but if you aren’t good enough, your Father will disown you!” That is a lie from the pit!

What does God say about our new birth?

He says, you were born again by faith: John 1:12, 13 promises, “But to as many as received Him, gave He power (Greek, “exousia”…authority) to become (Greek “gennesthe” …to be born) the sons (Greek “teknoi”…the offspring…literally, “born-ones”) of God, even to them that believe on His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” You are born of God! You got that way by believing in His Name! You placed your faith in Him! And as a new believer, you are His legitimate child! He will never “kick you out!” He will never disown you! He is your real Father!

1st Peter 1:23 says, Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”

You were born again by the Word of God. This applies to the written and spoken Word of God, whereby you heard the Gospel and believed, (thus fulfilling John 5:24) and to the Living Word, who shed His blood for you and who lives today, in you! And it says, He lives and abides forever! So, if the One who lives in you lives forever, and abides in you forever, I’d say you are pretty secure in His promises!

But: How do we Work for Him?

Colossians 2:6 says, As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.”
How did you receive Christ? By faith! That is what we just read in John 1:12 and 1st Peter 1:23. We are now called to Walk in Him by faith.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.God prepared the works for us already: all we have to do is walk in them: Do what he leads us to do…be obedient to His Word and His Spirit. Walk by faith!

Galatians 5:16 says, “This I say, then, walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh,” We have pointed out in the past that the Christian life is not “difficult:” It is impossible, apart from the Holy Spirit living through us. In John 15:5, Jesus said “Apart from me ye can do nothing!” We don’t like to hear that, because our flesh wants to believe that we can do things on our own to please God. But Jesus says we cannot.

That is exactly where these people were, whom Jesus was admonishing to change their aim in life. To stop the “self-effort treadmill,” wherein, regardless of how hard you try, no matter how well you run, you can never gain any eternal value. He wanted them to take up His yoke and serve with Him. The “yoke” in Matthew 11:29 (where Jesus said, “take my yoke upon you and learn of me”) is a yoke worn by two workers, or by two oxen. Jesus is asking us to “join Him in double harness,” and so to learn from Him. He invites us to labor with Him, and learn from Him, not just work for Him.

Ephesians 1:14; 4:29 each make it clear that we have been sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit, until the day of redemption: But the scriptures we read today ask that we serve with Him. He has work for us to do: He says so. But we have to voluntarily “show up” to do the job for which He has already chosen us. Romans 12:1, 2 makes it clear that we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, as an act of worship. That is always a voluntary sacrifice, even though He has ordained the work for us to do before we were born.

We still have to choose to walk with Him…by faith!

Lord Jesus, we ask that by Your Word and by Your Spirit, you would turn our hearts to follow You in cheerful, faithful obedience. Transform us by the renewing of our minds, by Your Holy Spirit, to be the men and women you have called us to be.

Are You “Out of Uniform?” What does the “uniform” look like?

Are You “Out of Uniform?”

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 13:34, 35; John 17:21; Matthew 5:15, 16; Galatians 5:22, 23

Introduction

Sometimes, we hear about someone impersonating a police officer, and trying to assert the authority of the badge. Invariably, they are caught, arrested and either fined or imprisoned, depending on what they were doing while impersonating a Law-enforcement officer.

What is worse, is when we hear of someone who actually is a member of the organization whose uniform he is wearing, but abuses his position to commit a crime. Fortunately, it is not a common occurrence, but it does happen. There is a compounded evil, here: the public hears of the crime, and either grieves that the integrity of that organization has been damaged by a criminal in uniform, or, tragically, they jump to the conclusion that the entire organization is corrupt.

During and after Hurricane Katrina, the whole world saw videos, captured by surveillance cameras, of two uniformed officers in New Orleans, looting a store, loading the stolen goods into a marked police car, and driving away. There was no question what happened: it was undeniable. But, is this evidence that everyone in Law Enforcement is inherently corrupt, or is it evidence that, just as in every other human endeavor, criminals canput on the uniform? Obviously, the latter is a more reasonable conclusion. To choose the other option and to use it evenhandedly, we would have to conclude that anyone in any official capacity anywhere is automatically suspect.

Then we must ask ourselves, “Since so many people NOT serving in any official capacity are dishonest, immoral, or violent, mustn’t we then conclude that all who do not serve in any official capacity must also be corrupt? It’s odd: no one in the general public takes that stance, though I have met a few Law Enforcement officers who were so jaded as to feel that way. But both assumptions are wrong, unless we simply agree that all humans are sinners. (And we are!)

What is The Purpose of Uniforms?

What about military uniforms? They are to identify the troops that are on “our side.” It is always illegal to impersonate a member of the armed forces, wearing that uniform falsely. (Incidentally, anyone impersonating a member of the armed forces in times of war is liable to be shot as a spy!) But a true member of those military organizations, who has the right and the duty to wear that uniform is also responsible to wear it correctly. If he is wearing it incorrectly, he is said to be “out of uniform” and he or she is subject to discipline of one sort or another. But it does not change the fact that he or she is part of that organization: it just causes am unpleasant disruption in the relationship between the individual and the organization. They are “in trouble” to one degree or another; but the impersonator, with a perfect uniform, is in far worse trouble: possibly so much as to be imprisoned, or even executed.

Is there such a thing as a Christian “Uniform?”

Yes! The World is given three means by which to recognize a real believer:

  1. John 13:34, 35  the Agapé Love: Jesus said that is the means by which the World is to recognize us as His disciples.
  2. John 17:21 Supernatural Unity: Jesus said this unity, demonstrated in the lives of His disciples, is the means by which the World is to know that He was sent from God.
  3. Galatians 5:22, 23 The Fruit of the Spirit…the Holy Spirit produces this in us.
    1. Matthew 5:15, 16 Good works because of the Holy Spirit in us: Jesus said they are to reflect well upon God the Father, and bring Him Glory. (Where? “Among men”…it is reaching the World, again. This is an integral part of our testimony!)

Do you notice anything odd about these three items? They don’t usually lend themselves to “Impersonation.” You can’t just go “buy a Christian uniform” and put it on, and then go out to be seen as a member of the body of Christ. The outward reality is based upon an inward change, and a continuing inward relationship which transforms the outward life. We recognize each other that way, too. Sometimes it seems that the indwelling Holy Spirit in one believer simply “bears witness” to the indwelling Holy Spirit in another, and instant fellowship is established.

Can it be faked? Do some people put on a façade of “piety,” and pretend to be “good, god-fearing people?” Surely, they do! But usually, it only goes so far before someone sees “wolf-tracks” behind and beneath the “sheep’s clothing,” and unveils their true identity. The problem with that situation is that those observers may assume that “all Christians are phonies.” Humans all tend to make generalizations; some turn out to be accurate, others do not.

Is it possible for a real Christian to be “out of uniform?”

Absolutely, it is possible! Look back over the “Uniform parts,” and consider: which parts can be missing without our being “out of uniform?” The simple answer is, “None!

If I am not behaving in accordance with Agapé love, or if I am allowing (or causing) disunity between myself and other believers, or if the Fruit of the Spirit is not evident in my life, then I am out of fellowship and “out of uniform.” (Examine your heart in this “self-inspection:” How are you thinking?) If I am blatantly “out of uniform,” then the World has no reason to believe my testimony, and every reason to suspect my motives when I attempt to do the good works that have become a regular part of my life. My heart isn’t in it anymore because I am out of fellowship with Jesus. And (believe it or not) people are remarkably good at spotting that!

Remember: Jesus said that these are the means by which the World is to identify the real believers. We need to be careful about our associations as well as our own testimonies.

People judge us by several things:

  1. What we do,
  2. What we say,
  3. Who our friends are, and,
  4. Who our enemies are.

Hopefully, what we do will match what we say: That is pretty fundamental to integrity. But the people we associate with—who are seen as being those with whom we are really comfortable, will also register in people’s minds. And, if they see that the people who despise us are themselves despicable, well, that is one thing. But if they discern that good, honest wholesome folk want nothing to do with us, then our testimony is shot, and we have become useless as a tool in God’s hand. He cannot use us in that condition.

What happens to Believers who are “out of Uniform?”

So, what happens to a believer who is habitually out of fellowship with God; “out of uniform,” so to speak? We can look at the scripture and clearly see that he or she does not lose his or her position in the body of Christ: salvation and eternal life are gifts, not something we can earn. But they do lose the rewards they could have gained.

Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is a great Old Testament example of someone who was “blessed with every blessing, along with faithful Abraham:” but he lost it all in Sodom and Gomorrah. He was saved, but barely so: He literally lost everything in that judgment.

1st Corinthians 3:11-16 tells us that our spiritual reality is similar. A believer can waste his life in such a way that his rewards are effectively non-existent, “but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” (Some newer translations read “…as one escaping through the flames.”)

Ephesians 1:3 says that we, too, have already been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, in Christ.” Can we “squander that blessing” by wallowing in the World, just as Lot did in Sodom and Gomorrah? You’d better believe we can!

Further, we need to recognize that, just as Samson was drawn away into captivity and physical blindness by his own foolishness and sin, we also can be drawn away by our sin until we are blind to God’s leading, and, ultimately, end up working for our enemy, just as Samson did.

We will not lose our position in Christ, but we will lose the Joy, and Peace, and the sense of purpose that is ours when we walk with Him.

What happens to Unbelievers who are “in Uniform?”

Obviously, it is impossible to misappropriate a “uniform” that is only given by the indwelling Holy Spirit, but there is certainly such a thing as counterfeit “spirituality.” In the Old Testament, we saw it in the false prophets, and even among the people who pretended to be responsive to God’s Word, but only used it for entertainment, as we read in Ezekiel 33:30-33. In the New Testament we saw the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were all very respected in their religious circles, though they hated one another. The Pharisees were the religious conservatives of the day, and the Sadducees were the religious liberals of that time. They were opposed to one another, but they were completely united in their rejection of the Messiah, and their desire to kill Him.

Jesus warned against “wolves in sheep’s clothing” in Matthew 7:15, saying that they would seem to be true believers on the outside, but inwardly they were “ravening wolves.” Paul warned of false teachers, using those same words, saying that “grievous wolves” would arise within the church, specifically from among the leadership, and would lead the church astray. We may find it difficult to recognize such predators, but Jesus sees right through their disguise.

In Matthew 7:22, 23, Jesus warned that those who “claim His name,” and even do “good works” in His Name, but who are not His sheep, face condemnation. John 10:27, 28 says He knows His sheep and He gives eternal life to them. Obviously, He also knows those who are not His people. He does not say to those pretenders, “I once knew you, but you didn’t serve well enough, so I kicked you out:” He says, “I never knew you: Depart from me, you that work iniquity.” And, in Luke 13:27, He reiterated that just being part of the nation of the Jews wasn’t enough. He said that the unbelieving Jews would protest at the judgment, saying “You preached in our streets; we knew you!” And He will respond, “But I don’t know YOU!”

“Vaccinated against the Gospel”

You see, putting on the false robes of Human righteousness and piety will quickly convince you that you don’t need Jesus: that you are “just as good as anybody else,” and that you do not need Forgiveness and Grace. It will inoculate you against the Gospel, rather than leading you to faith. That’s why I don’t usually try to persuade unbelievers to “come to church.” I will instead invite them to “come to Jesus.” I share the Gospel: they don’t need church; they need Jesus.

But, if they really don’t want the Gospel, then they really don’t want Jesus. And if they don’t want Jesus, then the worst thing they could possibly do is to start acting as if they were His followers. They will become convinced of their own righteousness, and stand at the final Judgment without Hope. They were “impersonating a believer,” and Jesus will tell them, “Depart from Me, ye Cursed, into everlasting Fire.” What a sad ending for those who very likely thought they were doing “good things!” And yet, Jesus said it is extremely common.

Wasted Works—Useless coverings

This is the pattern of the World. As unbelievers, we declare ourselves righteous, and we claim to be sufficient unto ourselves. But God says we are poor, and blind, and naked and lost. Whatever we hold up as our “uniform” will be utterly ineffective, just as the Fig-leaf garments produced by Adam and Eve proved useless. Remember: the garments “covered their nakedness,” when only the two of them were involved. But when God entered the picture, the garments did nothing. They fled from the voice of God because they knew that they were naked, in spite of their works. Good works accomplish nothing toward gaining a right standing before God. Faith in Jesus’s finished work is the only path to God.

“DO vs DONE”

The biggest snare to the souls of humans seems to be human religion: specifically, works-based religion. The religions of the world all say, “DO these things and God will accept you!” But the Mosaic Law was given specifically to prove the impossibility of that task! Romans 3:19, 20 states that the purpose of the Law was to make every soul guilty before God. Paul concludes that by works of the Law shall no flesh be justified (declared righteous) in God’s sight.

The Voice of God says the Work was completed at the Cross: “It is finished!”  And we are called to place our faith in His finished work. Someone pointed out that the World says, “DO!”, but Jesus says, “DONE!” The work was truly completed right there at Calvary.

What about the Uniform, then?

What value does it have for us? At the very least, it is a “litmus test” for us: we can inspect ourselves according to God’s Written Word, and ask God, by His Holy Spirit, to search our hearts and reveal our sin to us.

Ultimately, though, we must desire to walk with God. If we are so calloused that we are satisfied to just stay out of fellowship, and wallow in our sin, then we are in far deeper trouble, and the “uniform” is so tattered as to be unrecognizable to anyone but God.

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son is a good example of a believer who wandered away from God, and was deeply embroiled in the World. During his descent into the filth of the World, he was pretty smug: He was living the high life! He had drinking buddies! He got attention from women!

But when the money ran out, so did all his buddies. And then a famine came, and he had nothing upon which to fall back. He ended up getting a job feeding pigs, and the pigs were better fed than he himself was. Here is the point: He was a son when he took his leave from the father. He was a son when he was acting like a winebibber and a lecher. He was a son when he was in the pigpen. And, finally, had he died in that pigpen,he would have been a dead Son, not a dead pig.

But somehow God got through to him, and he realized the mess he had made of his life. He repented (he changed his mind about his values and his lifestyle: that is what “Repent” means) …and he went back to his father’s house. He only hoped to be received as a servant: But he was received as a Son!

Look in the Mirror!

Don’t allow yourself to ruin the blessings God has given you! Take a look in the mirror of God’s Word and check out the Uniform that Jesus gave you. Ask God what needs to change. Then submit to His call and change the things that are wrong. We are encouraged to use God’s Word as a mirror, for precisely this purpose: to examine ourselves before God and look to Him to change us into His likeness.  

Ephesians 4:29-32 tells us some things to look for:

  • How we talk, and the motive of our hearts when we speak.
  • Whether we are willing to grieve the Holy Spirit who, ironically, is the very One who keeps us saved, sealed in Christ!
  • Whether anger, or malice or bitterness, and any evil speaking are part of our lives.

In contrast, Kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness are to be the normal behavior for believers.

Go ahead and take the time to look in the Mirror of God’s Word.

Then, check over your uniform, and see how Jesus leads you.

Lord Jesus, we freely admit that we spend a great deal of time out of fellowship with You. We are so self-centered that we don’t even want to walk with You…we want You to bless our Sin, when our sin is what took You to the Cross. We ask that You create a genuine repentance in our hearts and change us into Your likeness. Enable us to serve You with our lives, and fill us with Your Joy.

He that cometh unto Me

He that cometh unto Me (Security of the Believer)

© 2022 by C. O. Bishop

John 6:37-47; John 10:27-29; 1st John 5:11-13; [Matthew 20:16, 22:14]; Romans 8:28-33; Ephesians 1:4; John 12:32

Introduction

We spoke some time ago about the Bread of Life, as compared to the physical food of this world. We saw that the folks Jesus miraculously fed with the loaves and fishes had followed Him to His next stop, hoping to get more of the same. But Jesus challenged their thinking, and so they began to argue with Him, in John 6:30, asking for yet another sign. We will spend some more time on that passage later, but there is a specific passage, here, which we will address this morning:

John 6:37-47

37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. 38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. 39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

 41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. 42 And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?

43 Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. 44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. 46 Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. 47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.

He that cometh unto Me (v. 37)

37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

Jesus added no qualifiers to this promise: In fact, He eliminated the possibility of any qualifiers: He said, “…I will in no wise cast out.” Under no circumstances will He cast out one who comes to Him in faith. Some may argue that “You can’t know that you are one of the “chosen” whom the Father has given to Jesus, the Son.” Then, perhaps, that is where we need to begin:

It is true that Jesus said, “…many are called but few are chosen.” He said it in two separate places: Matthew 20:16, and Matthew 22:14. In both cases, he was warning the unbelieving Jews that the call has gone out to the whole world, including the Jews and the Gentiles. The fact that the Jews were the “chosen people” did not mean that each of them was guaranteed a place with God in eternity. Nor, (in the Matthew 20 account,) did it the privilege of service with Him. In both cases, he pointed out the possibility of the “chosen people” losing out, even though they had seen themselves as being “privileged” and as already being “accepted with God” as a nation.

But, here, Jesus made an unqualified, unconditional promise, that “whoever comes to Him would never be cast out.” He seems to redefine who are “the chosen.” Whether in terms of salvation or service, it is possible to be “chosen”…or not chosen! In Matthew 20, the context is service, not salvation: Everyone in that passage was called for service, and they all served. But some were chosen for special treatment. God has the authority to make that choice.

So…Who are “the chosen” in terms of Salvation?

I had a young man at work—a believer—tell me, in very somber terms, that “We can accept the call of Jesus by faith. But we can’t know whether we are ‘one of the chosen’ until we die.” What a sad falsehood to teach in a church! I tried to allay his fears, by showing him from scripture how he could know today that he was “One of the Chosen.” But I’m not at all sure he accepted it.

We can see that, in Matthew 22, the question does apply to eternal life: the one “cast out” was doomed to eternal darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth! That would definitely contradict Jesus’s promise, if that person had ever been a believer. But he evidently was not: What we see in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, is that a person who approaches God in faith—believing that God’s promise is good, and that God’s chosen Sacrifice is sufficient to secure a full pardon from God—is completely safe in Him. (Remember that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were prophetic, looking forward to the sacrifice of the Messiah, at the Cross)

The example of Abraham

Abraham believed God, in Genesis 15:6, and God says that his faith was counted to him as righteousness. God calls this “Justification.” and confirms it, in Romans 4:1-4. We have had the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, by Grace, through Faith. We are eternally clothed in His righteousness.

The example of Lot

In contrast, we see Lot’s faith very dimly in Genesis 19, where he made his only known stand for righteousness, flawed and feeble though it was. And the last things we see of him are very bad indeed.  However: in 2nd Peter 2:6-8, we see that God saved Lot out of Sodom and Gomorrah, as a righteous man, whose righteous soul had been vexed daily by the filth around him! (How could Lot be called righteous? The last thing we saw him physically do was (in a drunken stupor) to impregnate both his daughters, bringing into existence two nations, the Moabites and the Ammonites. Those people are bitter enemies of Israel still today!)  According to God, the only way a person can please God is through faith. (Hebrews 11:6) Evidently Lot had that faith, though it surely was not easy to see.

The teaching of the New Testament

In Ephesians 1:1-14 Paul addressed the Ephesian believers. But all the truths listed there are true of every believer in Christ, regardless of their condition as a believer. They are all positional truths, having nothing to do with “how I am doing” in terms of faithfulness, obedience, piety, holy living, etc. They are unconditional truths. And: verse 4 says that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. But…who was called? And, How were we chosen?

Who are “The Called?” And, among them, Who are the Chosen?

In John 6:44, Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Jesus later said, in John 12:32, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” Jesus stands as God’s invitation to an eternal relationship with God. Many (the whole world) are called. Those who respond in faith are comparatively few…Jesus said so. (Matthew 7:13, 14 says, 13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. But those few are the chosen in Christ.

God chose before the Creation to make Jesus the Sacrificial Lamb; His only Plan of Salvation. (In Revelation 13:8, Jesus is called the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth.”) He invites us (calls us) to respond in Faith: we can choose either life or death. If we choose to receive Him as our Savior, placing our faith in Him (just as the Thief on the Cross did; just as Abraham did, just as every saved person since the beginning of time has done,) then we have chosen life, and we permanently belong to Him. 1st Corinthians 12:13 says that the Holy Spirit places us into the Body of Christ, and, from that moment we are permanently in Christ. And so, collectively, we have been chosen, in Christ.

Our Daily Choice: Faith is a choice.

As believers, then, (moment by moment) we can choose either faithful service and obedience, or unbelief and disobedience… failure to serve. And the resultant rewards (or lack of rewards) will be justice…we will have reaped what we have sown. This is the Law of the Harvest. We reap what we sow. But Salvation is not a reward: it is a gift. We cannot earn it.

Jesus did all the work, there at the Cross, and we cannot add to it. He completely satisfied God’s Holiness and Righteousness through His death at the Cross. His Blood completely took away the sins of the World. But, as sinners, we can partake in His salvation only by simply believing in what HE has done as being complete and effective. Having made that choice, Romans 1:6 says we are the called according to His purpose. Ephesians 1:4 says we were chosen in Him, before the foundation of the World, that we should be Holy and without blame before Him in Love.

Jesus concluded His statements (John 6:47) saying “ Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” Notice the tense: He did not say, “He that believes on me will have everlasting life:” He said you have it now, just as He promised back in John 5:24.

But: maybe you think His promises are only “good” so long as you keep believing: You need to ask yourself, “How long is everlasting?” Jesus says that the moment you believed, you received an eternal gift: “everlasting life!” And, in John 14:16, He said that the Holy Spirit will be with you forever. Finally, over in John 10:27, 28, He said “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish.” Those are pretty solid promises! There really is no way around them!

So, Who will You Believe?

You have to decide, personally, whether to believe Jesus or to believe the arguments of the World. Whether to believe Jesus, who gave you an unconditional promise of Eternal Life, or to believe your Flesh, the old sin nature, arguing, “That can’t be right! You haven’t earned it!” (True! It can’t be earned!) Ultimately: will you believe Jesus, or will you believe the whispering voice of that ancient enemy of your soul who desires to destroy your faith, quench your love, and crush your Joy, so as to make your life fruitless in Christ?

You have to choose, day by day, and moment by moment, who you will believe.

This is why Ephesians 6:10-18 commands us to “put on the full armor of God,” so that:

  • Our loins are girded about with the Truth of God’s Word…we are secure in His Word.
  • Our feet are shod with the preparation of the good news that God will never again view us as His enemies: we are permanently at Peace with God.
  • Our hearts are protected by the Breastplate of the Righteousness of Christ which was imputed to us the moment we believed His promise.
  • Our minds are protected by the Helmet of Salvation: the secure knowledge that we are already saved for eternity.
  • And, when our Enemy attacks us with the doubts and lies and accusations that are his primary weapons, we can use the Shield of Faith to quench those “flaming darts” of guilt and fear. We choose to Believe Jesus!
  • Now we are arming ourselves daily with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and
  • We are empowered inPrayer: We enjoy the privilege of entering into the Holy place and bringing our praises and our petitions to the Eternal, Almighty God who loves us, who accepted us in the Beloved, and who chose us in Him before the creation of the Earth.

You can Know that You have Eternal Life!

This is how you can know you are “one of the Chosen:” If you have believed the promise of Jesus, then you are in Christ, by faith! And Jesus keeps His promises! If you believe His promise, then:

  • He promised that you have eternal life now.
  • He promised that you will never again be condemned by God.
  • He promised that you have permanently crossed over from death into life.
  • He promised that the Holy Spirit would be with you forever.
  • He promised that under no circumstances will He ever cast you out!
  • He promised that His sheep (those to whom He gave eternal life) shall never perish.

God says He wants you to KNOW that you have eternal life: 1st John 5:11-13 says so!

You just need to decide who to believe.

Lord Jesus, raise us up as men and women of God who trust in you day by day, and step by step as we walk with you and serve you as lights in a dark world. Teach us to believe You in all things and to obey You as a result of our faith in you. Make us to be Your hands and Your feet, and Your voice in this dying world.

Getting out of the Boat: Can You Walk on Water?

Getting out of our “Boats”…our comfort zones.

© February 2022 C. O. Bishop .

Matthew 14:22-33; John 6:15-21

Introduction:

Last week we asked whether Jesus is “in the boat with us,” as believers… we were able to see that the answer is “yes,” in terms of eternal perspective, but in terms of everyday practice, the real question is whether we are “in the boat.” Peter, and the other disciples were “in the boat” because Jesus told them to get in the boat and cross the Sea of Galilee. We applied that passage as a metaphor for our own experience. But the physical reality, in their case, was quite clear:

We saw in John 6 that they were physically rowing in the dark, against a strong headwind, against big waves, and that, from their perspective, Jesus was physically not in the boat. Then they saw Jesus, gaining on them, from astern, physically walking on the water. They were terrified, thinking it was a ghost. Jesus spoke, and calmed their fears, and they physically received Him into the boat. And suddenly the boat was at its destination on the other side of the lake. This was a physical reality.

We compared that to our own experience and saw that the reason the disciples were in that particular boat was that Jesus commanded them to go… and they went. They obeyed, and things got rough. That is a common experience for believers: Jesus  told us to expect it. There is no “health and wealth” promise to church-age believers.

Getting out of the Boat

There is another story, hidden within the account we read last week. You see, the account we read was in John 6:15-21…but the parallel passage, back in Matthew 14:22-33, tells us a detail which John left out. Peter walked on water that night!

For Peter’s experience, although the physical reality was the same, we need to consider a different metaphor when it comes to application. The physical reality was that Peter and several of the other disciples were commercial fishermen. They knew the physical dangers of the lake, the Sea of Galilee. They depended upon the physical seaworthiness of that boat as well as their mastery of small boat handling, and their own physical strength at the oars, to survive a storm on the lake. They were experts in this environment. But the Boat was the central critical ingredient, as life-vests and helicopters and radio locators did not exist. So, let’s consider that aspect of “the boat.”

As a new Creation in Christ, I am “In the Boat with Jesus”

In 1973, I believed the good news that Jesus Christ died for my sins, that he was buried, that he was resurrected the third day, never to die again; and that somehow, in taking my sins on Himself, he had set me free. I believed that. I put my trust in His finished work at the cross. I was placed into the Body of Christ, by the Holy Spirit, though at the time I was unaware of it. I was “in His boat,” forever! And I was excited about this new relationship: I told other people about it. I wanted to serve Jesus with my life.

The Storms of Life

But very soon, I saw there was something wrong. I was still sinning, and I was more keenly aware of my sin, now, than I was before I was saved, so it seemed worse. The joy and confidence I had felt earlier collapsed: I tried to control my sin by willpower, by self-denial, by prayer, by avoiding tempting circumstances, by fasting, by sacrificial giving, by confessing to others…and none of these things brought freedom. I knew I was “in the boat with Jesus,” but things seemed pretty rough.

The Fact is, Saved People Still Sin:

Paul fought the same battle

Paul understood the “rules” better than we ever will. He was raised in the best possible environment: He studied God’s Word. He believed it. But then he discovered that it condemned him, and he died inside—he saw that he was lost. And later, even after his conversion, truly desiring to obey the Lord, he couldn’t do it. (Read Romans 7:7-25)

You see, Paul discovered (Romans 7:17) that he had a sin-nature living inside him that could never obey God, nor submit to His Lordship (Romans 8:7, 8). In Ephesians 4:22, he says the old Man is being corrupted: (It’s still getting worse.) Paul couldn’t stop sinning: he couldn’t live a life pleasing to God. And the next point is really hard:

That old Sin-Nature is the Offspring of Satan himself.

We don’t like to hear this, but, in John 8:39-44 Jesus told the Jews it was true. He knew them by the character of their works. He said their works revealed their parentage. In Galatians 5:19-21, I can see that my old sin-nature is even more easily identified than theirs! Besides, in Ephesians 2:1-3, it clearly tells me that I am by nature the child of wrath, and a son of disobedience. That’s who I am, by birth!

So, how hopeless could I get? I was trying to please God using my old nature; the very thing that offends Him. I was “bringing an offering” that was the “fruit” of the ground He had already cursed. (Does that sound familiar? That’s what Cain was attempting, back in Genesis 4.)In Isaiah 64:6, God says all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. We can offer Him our best, but it is contaminated with sin. I simply can’t live the Christian Life! It isn’t hard; it’s impossible! I can’t do it…and neither can you! So, what hope do we have?

Jesus said, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing”

In John 15:5, Jesus told his disciples, “Apart from Me ye can do NOTHING”. We don’t like to hear that verse the way it actually reads—we want to modify it just a little—we want  to read, “…you can’t do much,” or “not as effectively.” Or …anything other than “Nothing.”  We don’t want to believe that we can’t please God on our own. But it’s a fact. Christians still sin. And it is not OK: God says “Be ye holy, for I am Holy”. That’s a command: If you want to toss that one out, you’d better toss the rest of your Bible with it.

Paul proved that the desire to do Good is not enough. He desperately desired to live in such a way as to please God, but he failed miserably.

Jesus said self-effort isn’t enough either. He warned His disciples they could accomplish nothing without Him. But Paul certainly tried it. So have we all.

One other thing to notice in that passage: Jesus does not say He will take our half-baked ideas and efforts, “pat them into shape,” use them, somehow, and bless our efforts. He says, “I am the Vine, ye are the Branches.”  The genetic information, the life direction, the sustenance, the growth and the fruit all are dependent upon the Vine. The branches don’t get to say, “Hey, I’ve got anidea, and I’m sure God will bless it—let’s pray really hard, and then grow Cornflakes to go with the grapes and raisins everyone else is producing.”

No: The Vine determines the kind of fruit, and the season in which they will grow. We go to God’s Word to find out what kind of fruit He intends, then we go to prayer, and ask that He direct us, and make us fruitful in His service. Hudson Taylor once said, “God’s Work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.” But the rest of that idea is that He does not guarantee His support for our ideas. He guarantees support for obedience to His Word.

So, Let’s talk about Walking on Water

47 years ago, in Bible School, I knew a young man named Dennis O’Keefe, who told me how, years before, he had attended a Christian camp, on a lake. Late one night, he was in prayer, and he desperately desired to have some proof that his faith was real, so he asked God, just as a sign, to allow him to walk on water. He stood alone on the shore, and prayed for a long time, then finally stepped out: he took another step! And another…when he got up to his knees and hadn’t managed to make a single stepon top of the water, he gave up, and waded back to the beach. He was pretty sad about that experience.

But, the next day, it occurred to him that it requires no real faith to step off a flat, sandy beach into shallow water: If he was serious, he should step off the end of the dock. So, late that night, he stood on the end of the camp dock, and prayed for a long, long time, and finally took that first step: He swam back to shore, this time, and when friends asked what happened, he lied, and told them he fell off the dock.

Now, that is an amusing story, but: What was Dennis’ problem? Wasn’t he “seeking by faith to please God?” (Incidentally, he and his wife, Jeannie, later spent 35 years as missionaries in the Philippine Islands. I think he must have “caught on,” eventually.)

What is Faith? Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.

Dennis was not “obeying a call from God to walk on water”—he just desired a sign, and God said NO! There was no faith in this story—just presumption, and immaturity. But no real harm was done, except to his pride, and he learned by the experience. Let’s read another, similar, story. Turn to Matthew 14:28-33. Peter asked Jesus almost exactly the same thing Dennis asked. But in his case, Jesus said “Come!” Peter was in a boat, in a storm, at night, on the sea of Galilee. That was the physical reality.

Peter was not on a comfortable flat beach, asking to walk on water. He was in a storm and his only “Comfort zone” was the Boat he was in and the oars he was using. He asked Jesus for a command to do something which otherwise would be nearly suicidal. Getting out of a boat at night, in a storm at sea, with no lifeline or floatation, was a guaranteed way to die! So, Peter asked for Jesus’s authority to do something impossible. If Jesus had said, “No, wait, I will come and get you, and then we will walk on the water,” then that would be the authority, and the story would have been different.

Now consider: if I had asked Dennis that night, “Dennis, can you walk on water?” he would have unhesitatingly said, “No.” (Especially after that second attempt.)  And what would Peter have said? I’m sure he’d have said the same thing. But he had a different circumstance. He said, “If it is you, Lord, bid me come to you on the water.” And Jesus said “Come”. All Peter provided was an obedient response to a revealed truth.  Peter got out of the boat, and started walking. That was faith! Dennis was being presumptuous!

(Now, hadPeter “practiced” only on calm water? Is that why he got scared when he saw the big waves?) No, of course not! He had no practice at all. There was nothing he could do to prepare himself for that night, except to learn to believe Jesus, and obey Him.

Before or after his experience, if I had asked, “Hey, Peter! Can you walk on water?” He’d have said “NO!”  But after his experience he might have qualified his response, saying, “Only under two conditions—first, Jesus has to command me to do so, and second, I have to keep my focus on Him: if I’m distracted, I sink. The fact is, He has to do the walking.”

Did Peter desire to walk on the Water? Sure! Was there self-effort involved? Only as it was directed by God: and just the fact that he personally, physically got out of the boat. So, No: it wasn’t “self-effort.” But at some point, it did become self-confidence, I think: The waves didn’t just “appear,” after he got out of the boat. They had been there to begin with. But initially, Peter had only obeyed Jesus, not thinking about how impossible it was. When he saw the waves, he evidently thought “I can’t do this!” and then he sank.

When God says “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” we want to say,  “I can’t do this!” and quit before we start. But, God never asked you to do it on your own—in fact, He took pains to tell you that you can’t do it on your own. He even said that if it were possible for you to live the Christian life on your own, then Jesus died for nothing. (See Galatians 2:21)

Galatians 5:16-23 says we have a war going on inside. And the only way to win is to “walk in the Spirit”. God says if we will allow Him, through our faith, moment by moment, to do the impossible job of living the Christian Life, then He will accomplish it through us. He will produce the fruit of the Spirit in us. And we will not fall prey to the old sin nature.

In the Boat through Faith and Obedience.

Now: let’s think about Peter again…why was he in the boat in the first place? In Matthew 14:22, Peter and the other disciples were told to get into that boat and head for the other side. Peter was where he was supposed to be, and he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. Jesus approached the boat, adding a new dimension to their circumstances by walking on the water. If Peter hadn’t been obedient in the first place; if he had not been out there on the lake in that boat, already, then none of these things would have happened.

When Jesus said, “Come!”, Peter had two choices: he could have stayed in the boat, making excuses, and mouthing “good intentions,” or he could get out of the boat. Had Peter stayed in the boat, none of this lesson would have been there for us. And had he not taken his eyes off Jesus, we might have missed the point anyway…the point is, the Christian life is NOT HARD—it’s impossible. Walking on water is not natural. But Jesus commands us to do it, every day, all the time. It will never become “Old Stuff”.

It will always demand our trust and obedience. And when we fail (as we often do) we don’t lose our spiritual life: we simply fall prey to the wind and the waves, just as Peter did.

What does it mean, to be “in the Boat,” in this case?

We need to be where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing, so God can call us to special service. And when He calls, we have to “get out of the boat, in terms of our self-confidence:” We can’t stay comfortable in our usual life, and expect to see the blessing of God in our lives. For example, since I know from scripture that I am supposed to be fellowshipping with other believers, and specifically in a local church, then I need to be there, doing that! And if I am not there, then I cannot use my gifts to bless the rest of the body.

When the Lord calls us to do something “out of our comfort zone” like sharing our testimony, or sharing the Gospel with a specific person, or serving God in some other way we have not done before, then we need to “get out of the boat, and walk!”

Galatians 5:19-23 shows me what to look for, in terms of being able to see whether I am walking with Him. He tells me what the works of the flesh include. And He tells me what the fruit of the Spirit should look like.

If I can see I am not bearing the fruit of the Spirit, I need to stop, and confess my sin, whatever was holding me back, and begin again to do what He says to do. Some of those things are, “Rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning YOU” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I can start there, after confession. I can worship Him for the glory of His creation around me, and thank Him for the blessings he has already given, pray for the other believers, and for opportunities to share with the lost.  I can ask Him to make me usable in His hand, and finally, ask what He wants me to do now. (Don’t be surprised if it is something pretty ordinary.) Then I can go do what I know to do, and look to Him for directions after that. This is all just “being where we are supposed to be and doing what we are supposed to do.”

If you have already received God’s gift of eternal life, then please don’t rest until you determine how to walk with Him. Look in the “mirror” of His Word, and see yourself clearly. Then ask Him how to change, to be made over in His likeness. Self-effort won’t work. Presumption won’t work. Desire, alone, no matter how sincere, won’t work. You need to learn to walk in the Spirit, by faith, and allow the Lord to choose your path, direct your steps and live the Christian life through you. 

Apart from Him, you can do nothing. But if you are walking with Him in all these things, then you’ll recognize His voice when He calls you to do something uncomfortable, and you will already be prepared to step out and obey.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the path before us and direct our steps to walk with you. Give us the faith to follow you and obey your will.

Is Jesus in the Boat?

Is Jesus in the Boat?

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 6:14-21; Matthew 14:22-26; Mark 6:45-52

Introduction:

Transition from feeding the 5,000 to teaching the disciples

Last week we saw that Jesus and the Disciples had desired a “break:” a retreat. But that desire had been thwarted by the crowd that followed them to the place they had gone.

There, Jesus fed the 5,000 men along with their wives and children. He also taught His disciples a lesson regarding feeding the flock: that, in every case, we are to receive the food from Jesus, and distribute it to others. We saw that this could apply to teaching or to blessing, or sharing, or whatever gifting that we have, as individuals. And we also saw that there was a special blessing for those who gave from their heart so that the Lord could multiply that gift. The young fellow who donated his lunch put himself in a great position to be blessed by God.

But we did not see the immediate result, beyond the fact that everyone got a full meal. The next thing that happened was not so good:

14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. 15 When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.

The men (who now had full stomachs) realized that a true miracle had occurred, and declared among themselves that Jesus was surely “the Prophet” that was to come into the world. Probably they were thinking of Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, where God said he would raise up a prophet to lead Israel. Probably that is what the Jews had asked John the Baptist about, as well. And, in regard to Jesus, they were correct, so…that is not a bad thing…BUT! Their response was not good.

Jesus knew their hearts, and saw that they were about to grab him by force and pronounce Him king, by their own will (essentially staging an uprising against Rome.) That was not part of His plan, so, Jesus got out of there, and went up on the mountain, alone, to get out of their hands.

Change of Context

16 And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea, 17 And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them.

If I only read the John account, I would think that the disciples ran out of things to do, and didn’t know where Jesus was, so they just decided on their own to get into the boat and go back across the lake. Somehow that does not sound like a logical decision:

  • They came here with Jesus
  • They served at Jesus’s command
  • They were taught by Jesus, but
  • They don’t know where Jesus is, So…now
  • They are going to leave without Jesus?

There is no rebuke made, here, but, if I am reading only in John, here, it just seems that they were “running off the rails” a bit, here: If He was their “master,” or “Teacher,” and they considered themselves His disciples, then why would they take off without Him?

Under what circumstances would you simply shrug your shoulders and say, “I don’t know what happened to our teacher, the central figure in our new lives…so let’s just leave without Him!”? It would be different if He had told them, “If I’m not back by sundown, head back to Capernaum, or Bethsaida, or somewhere, without me: I will catch up later.”

And, you see, if we read the parallel passages, over in Matthew 14, and Mark 6, it turns out that He had said something of this kind: He had “constrained them” to get into the boat and leave. (They didn’t even want to go. They did so because He told them to leave.) That explains why there was no rebuke for their having “abandoned” Him. Either way, they chose to leave without Jesus, and, as illogical and uncomfortable as it sounds, as it turned out, it was what they were told to do. So that is simply what they had to deal with. And it turned out to be a rough trip.

Rowing against the Wind, and Rough seas, in the Dark

18 And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew

When I first read this, only in John, I couldn’t tell which way the wind was blowing (Twenty-five or thirty furlongs is between three and four miles, using the modern conversion of one furlong  = 1/8 mile. So, is that a “good” distance or a “bad” distance?) But that is what happens when we only read one passage: we have lots of questions and few answers. But, in Matthew 14, it says “the wind was contrary:” it was against them. They were rowing against the wind!

Also, remember, in verse 17, it says that it was now dark. So, how were they navigating? By the stars? We are not told. But if there was any cloud cover, the stars were no longer available, and there were no lighthouses or magnetic compasses back then.

And, regardless of all these other issues, we see in verse 18 that the waves were getting quite large, because the wind was very strong. So: “No Jesus, big waves, strong wind, and full darkness.” Frankly, that sounds like a recipe for a bad night! The only thing they really had going for them was the fact that they truly were doing what Jesus commanded them to do. As rough as things were, they could always remind themselves that they got there by following Jesus, and by obeying His command.

Jesus Entered the Picture

19 So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship:

In the midst of what was rapidly becoming a bad situation, they looked and saw Jesus coming near the boat, gaining on them, walking on the water. (Remember this is not a stroll on a placid pond: There was a strong wind and big waves. If one actually had the ability to walk on water, I could imagine “strolling along” on flat calm water, but walking on rough seas sounds even more impossible.

People are not able to walk on relatively flat ground if it is in irregular motion because of an earthquake. They fall down because they can’t walk. But Jesus was walking on rapidly moving waves. Did He have to do a lot of “hopping from wave to wave?” Or was His authority such that the waves simply flattened out, where He was walking, to offer Him a smooth surface? Somehow that seems to fit better!

In Mark 6:48, it says that He not only was catching up, but would have simply passed them by, leaving them to finish the trip without Him. But, when they saw him and were frightened by Him, He responded to their fear, and reassured them.

The Disciples in the Boat.

“…and they were afraid. 20 But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid. 21 Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.

The disciples were aware that their situation was less than optimal: They were commercial fishermen, and had been in storms before. They all knew the potential hazards. So, very likely, they were already “feeling a little nervous,” as things were starting to “pile up:” (No Jesus, Big

waves, Dark night, Strong Wind…) And now, they saw, gaining on them, a strange figure, walking on the water, and getting close! (Remember that when one rows a boat (as opposed to paddling a canoe or kayak) one faces toward the stern. So, they were already looking in that direction, and suddenly realized that they were being followed: they saw a man, walking on that rough, rapidly heaving water, and making better time than they were!

“…and they were afraid.” (Yeah, I’ll bet they were!) This was turning out to be a rough night all the way around! Didn’t they have enough problems without “seeing a ghost,” on top of everything else? In Matthew 14:26, it says they thought they were seeing a ghost…(a “spirit” in King James English.) Now, we are not going to address the rest of the Matthew account, here: It gives the account of Peter walking on the water. We will talk about that at another time.

What I want to look at, here, is how the disciples responded to the fact that Jesus was not in the boat…and how things changed when He joined them, in the boat.

They were working at getting across the big lake, the Sea of Galilee. And it was pretty rough going. They were being obedient, but not making much progress. In fact, everything seemed to conspire against their having any success at all.

When Jesus joined them in the boat, things changed:

  1. Initially, they were afraid, but,
  2. When He spoke to them, they willingly received Him into the boat.
  3. When He joined them in the boat, the rest of the circumstances ceased to matter.
  4. When Jesus joined them in the boat, they arrived at their destination!

In the lives of Believers, Is Jesus “in the Boat?

If I look at the lives of believers, I could apply this to a wide range of ideas: I want to be careful not to apply it wrongly.

  1. We often are afraid, initially, when facing the assignment Jesus has given us. There seem to be all sorts of barriers, obstacles, and threats that could hold us back from the goals He has set for us…provided we even know what the goals are.
  2. He speaks to us, as He did to them, but we do not always listen. When Jesus spoke to the disciples in that boat, they all were completely focused on Him, because they were afraid, and they were not sure it was Him. But, when He spoke, they willingly received Him into the Boat. They were at peace! They were glad to be there with Him! And where did they find that Peace and Joy? By hearing His voice: accepting His Word, believing His Word. We have those same options:
    Hear His Word,
    Recognize His voice,
    Accept His Word as first and final authority.
    Believe His Word.
  3. Trust His Word. As we recognize that Jesus is here among us, in the boat with us, the other circumstances cease to matter. The wreckage of politics and international relations cease to terrify us, and the gross immorality of the Human Race ceases to surprise us. We lift up our heads, looking to Jesus, and knowing that our redemption is drawing near!
  4. And, at least in some sense, the moment we each first believed Him, and trusted His Word, trusted His promise…we arrived at our destination. God says you are already seated with Him in the heavenlies! You are already blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, in Christ. You are already accepted in the Beloved! You already have eternal Life, and He wants you to begin experiencing it on a daily basis.

On a daily basis, we can choose to place ourselves under the authority of Jesus. We can put on the armor of God, and give thanks that we are already home with Him, rather than continually wanting to Go Home. We can give thanks that He has given us an assignment…that He wants us to plunge in as if we had to go it alone, but do so in faith, trusting that, in reality, He is there with us. We can rejoice that He is “in the boat with us,” and move with confidence to do what He has sent us to do.

Lord Jesus, Speak to us in the darkness and wind of our lives! Awaken us to the spiritual reality of our position in You, that we are eternally seated with You and blessed by You. Help us to trust that You truly are with us in our fears and hardships, and that our lives are truly bound up in Your Love, forever. Guide us to live in such a way as to join You in Your work.

Bread and Fishes

Bread and Fishes

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 6:1-13; (compare Matthew 14:15-21, Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17)

Introduction

The sixth chapter of John has a number of very interesting exchanges: some between Jesus and the disciples, others between Jesus and the Jews in general. Some were fairly simple teaching, while others involved serious miracles. Some of the people responded favorably, some did not. Some believed His Word, others did not.

The feeding of the five thousand happened here. One of the occasions in which He walked on water is also here, as well as some very serious teaching about the nature of salvation.

Some interesting words come up, too…words which are the same in English, but different in Greek… so, let’s take a look at the first narrative in John 6.

1 After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?

And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?

10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. 12 When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. 13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand

In verses 1-4, we do not have a specific place named…in all four Gospel Accounts, it is simply called a deserted place, on the coast of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias.)

In every account, Jesus and the disciples had attempted to get some rest, by departing in a boat, and going to a place where they expected no crowds. But the people figured out where He had gone, and they ran on foot to catch up.

The core facts are there in all four accounts: Jesus and the disciples attempted a “retreat.” It backfired, as the people followed them, because of the miracles of healing they had either seen Jesus do, or had heard about: In John it says they had seen the miracles. In Matthew, it says that Jesus was moved with compassion, and healed their sick in that place as well. In Mark, it says that Jesus felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began teaching them many things. (He didn’t waste a good teaching moment!) In Luke, it says He spoke to them regarding the Kingdom of God and healed those who needed it.

But in all four Gospels, it says the day was far spent and no one had eaten, so food became a priority. In John’s account, He asked Philip, “How are we going to feed these people?” And it says it was a test. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the disciples pointed out the need, and wanted to send the people away to find food. But in all three of those accounts, Jesus commanded them to give the people food: “You give them something to eat!” Why did He say that?

How they came up with the five loaves and two fishes varied a bit as well: no disagreement, but, as is often the case, we have to read all four accounts, to get the whole picture. In the John account, Philip answered that two hundred denarii worth of bread (“200 pennyworth in KJV”…in either case, eight- or nine-months wages) would only buy enough for all of them to have a little. In Mark, the same number came up, as possibly a group estimate…perhaps they just agreed with Philip.

A boy’s lunch, freely offered

In all four accounts, Jesus took what they had (the five loaves and two fishes (in the John account, we see where they got it) and multiplied it to feed the crowd. There is a detail here in John that is easy to miss: These were a small barley-bread loaf—not a big loaf of Italian white bread, or any such thing. It was a boy’s lunch. (Apparently, he volunteered it, as Andrew gave him credit in John 6:9…Two small fish, and five fairly small barley loaves.)

The next thing we miss is because of the problems with translation: In translating Greek to English, it is perfectly accurate to translate “anthropous” as “Men”…but it is a non-gender specific noun, used of “men” to indicate “humans”…men as opposed to angels or animals. But there is another word used here, as well… the Greek word “andres,” specifically meaning “male adult humans.” So, when Jesus told the disciples “Make the men sit down,” He used the word “anthropous”, literally meaning, “Make the people sit down.” But after everyone had been seated John says, “there were about five thousand men:” but this time John used the word “andres,” meaning specifically men. So, If I were reading only this passage, I might guess that no women or children were there. Or I might assume that each man had a large family with him. In either case, I would be guessing or assuming, and that is a dangerous way to build understanding. So, lets turn over to the other accounts to get a clearer picture:

In Mark and Luke, all it says is “they that ate” were “about five thousand men” (again using the gender-specific term, andres.) But, in Matthew 14:21, we get a little more information: he uses the same gender specific noun to describe the five thousand men, but then points out that this was not counting the women and children. We don’t have to assume: There were women and kids present, and they all got fed! No guessing was needed! (But we don’t know how many.)

Finally, when they picked up the baskets of fragments there were twelve basketsful of fragments of both fish and bread (Mark 6:43), left over from the meal which had started off all fitting in one basket or bag…a young boy’s lunch. Incidentally, the Greek word for “basket” here, “kophinos” means a “handbasket.” There is another word which speaks of a larger basket.

You give them Something to eat!

What was Jesus getting at when he told the disciples “You give them something to eat”? He knew they had nothing to offer. He also knew that the youngster was going to offer his food. John’s account says that the whole conversation was a test; He knew what He was about to do.

But the command was that the disciples were to feed the flock. What did they feed them with? The Bread that Jesus provided, miraculously multiplying the gift of that youngster. (I wish I could find out what became of that boy. He isn’t named, but he stepped up and offered what little he had. The disciples commented that it was “too little to matter, with such a crowd.” Jesus made it feed them all. Remember there were five thousand men, not counting women and children. So…how many? I don’t know: possibly far more than five thousand. We have no way to know whether there were many beside the men. But Jesus commanded His disciples to go feed them.

What about Us?

What “bread” do we have to offer? What has God provided us, that could be multiplied to His glory and our joy? A number of you have been gifted to feed the flock from the written Word. It is not a “comfortable” gift. It takes us “out of our comfort zone,” as the saying goes today. We may not really want to bear the responsibility. I sometimes feel pretty overwhelmed by the burden.  But this is what God has called me to do, so, I do it: Not because I get a bang out of it, but because that is the task God has given me to do!

Jeremiah was quite reluctant to do the job he was called to do. And his was a very difficult ministry. He is often called “the weeping prophet,” because he spent so much time grieving over Judah and Israel. As far as we can tell from scripture, only a couple of people actually believed him during his ministry. Ezekiel didn’t have a happy assignment, either. Nor did Daniel or Habakkuk: But all of these servants of God went ahead and obeyed and found their joy in the person of their Savior.

Use what You have been Given!

If the Lord has put some loaves and fishes in your hand, no matter how small, in terms of gifting, please don’t let it go to waste. And, if God is calling you to feed the flock, to “give them something to eat,” then look to Him to hand you the food and get moving! Where do we find “sheep food?” We find it in the Word of God. Jeremiah 15:16 says, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them: and thy word was unto me the joy and the rejoicing of mine heart, for I am called by thy name, O Lord, God of Hosts!” Every single believer is called by the name of Jesus, as we are part of His body…and we are all to feed upon His Word. 1st Peter 2:2 says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby.”

The shepherds are still commanded to feed the flock: that is their specific task within the body. But every believer can take that command and apply it to his or her own gifts, knowing that every member of the Body of Christ has the task of reaching out to bless those around us. We do it in different ways. And that is fine. The parts of a person’s body don’t all do the same thing. But the parts of any body, including the Body of Christ, are made to work well together as a team, to carry out the desires of the Head, for the blessing of all.

What about that Boy who gave His Lunch?

What if that young fellow had believed the “general consensus,” that his gift was “not big enough to help?” Or, what if he had reasoned that “Mom gave this food to feed me! If I give it away, it will not accomplish what she wanted to happen!” You see, in reality, that was all he had! He did not offer one loaf and one fish, or four loaves and one fish: he offered it all.

Everything I have can be offered to Jesus, to be used the way He wants. And, what did the boy get out of the deal? Well, to begin with, he got what everyone else got: He got to eat his fill! (Possibly he ate more than he had actually brought: everyone else certainly did!) In the second place, and more eternally relevant, he was mentioned in the Gospel accounts, and everyone who ever reads God’s Word finds out about that youngster who gave what he had to Jesus, and the results of his offering.

But the earthshaking thing that he got out of it, is that he was privileged to be a part of one of the most famous miracles of Christ! He was an integral part of the feeding of the five thousand! In a way, he was more involved than the twelve disciples were: all they did was to distribute the food. He gave his food to Jesus and saw it multiplied to meet the needs of a multitude, including the disciples and himself.

What about you?

You have the privilege of offering the bread of life to everyone around you. Jesus bought it for all of us at the Cross. He provided Himself, as the true Bread of Life, as He points out later in this chapter. But you and I have the incredible privilege of passing on that food to others, and watching it multiply. No matter what other gifts or values you may add to the Body at large, every single one of us has this specific privilege. You can feed the hungry. You can offer the Bread of life and the Water of life to anyone willing to take it. And if they receive it, and are born again, we have the joy of seeing them grow to a point where they begin leading others to Christ as well.

What if someone else acts as though your contribution is too small to be worthwhile? Remember the boy who gave his lunch? His small contribution has had eternal results!

Whoever it was who took the trouble to lead Billy Graham to Christ has a whole lot of spiritual grandchildren today! You don’t know how far God will take your gift of love and worship and obedience to His Word. All we have is what Jesus gave us. And all we can do is offer it back to Him as an act of worship.

Lord Jesus, teach us to follow you and to make our lives a living sacrifice to you as an act of worship. Help us to see the hungry people and to feed them with your Grace.

The Divine Witnesses

Four Divine Witnesses

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 5:31-47

Introduction

Jesus listed four witnesses apart from His own testimony. He said that if His own testimony was the only one, then it would not be true: all the other witnesses, all sent from God, had to agree.

31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. 32 There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true. 33 Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. 34 But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. 35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. 36 But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. 37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. 38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. 39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. 40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. 41 I receive not honour from men. 42 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. 43 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. 44 How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. 46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

Four Witnesses

John the Baptist

There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true. 33 Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. 34 But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. 35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.

Jesus listed John first, as they had all listened to John, and had (at least at the beginning) seen him as a messenger from God: a prophet of some sort. Jesus confirmed that John had told the truth about Him, when he identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God” who was to take away the sin of the world, and when he said that the One who came after Him was greater than he himself; that he himself was “not worthy to carry the shoes” of Jesus, nor even to unlace them.

And truly, some had responded to John’s testimony and recognized Jesus as their Messiah. Some of John’s disciples had left John and gone to follow Jesus with John’s encouragement.

But Jesus immediately pointed out that, in spite of John’s status as a prophet, and as a burning, shining light for God, he was still a fallible human being…so Jesus went on to list three other witnesses to His identity and credentials:

The Works

36 But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.

The works that Jesus did in their presence (and continues to perform today) should have been adequate testimony to His authority. Remember that, to some it truly was sufficient. They recognized His authority through relatively small demonstrations of His power.

Nathanael recognized Him as the Son of God when all Jesus had done was to reveal that He had seen Nathanael from an impossible distance, prior to Philip’s having called him to “come and see” Jesus. And Jesus said he would see much greater works.

Nicodemus at least recognized that He was sent from God, because of the miraculous works. Others recognized him by His works as well. Later, in John 14:11, Jesus encouraged His own disciples to believe for the works’ sake if nothing else. This was when Jesus was on His way to Gethsemane, and He knew that the disciples’ faith would soon be tested to the limit. So, He reminded them of the truth that He was in the Father and that the Father was in Him, but then said, in effect, “if you are having trouble with that idea, just believe in Me because of the works you have seen Me do.”

The Father

37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. 38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.

We already saw, back in John 1:18, that “No man hath seen God at any time…” We concluded that the few times, throughout history, when God had appeared in human form, it had been God the Son. Jesus is confirming that, here: saying you have not heard His voice nor seen His shape.

But: John the Baptist at least, had heard the Father’s voice, in Matthew 3:17, at the Baptism of Jesus, and the assembled people in John 12:28-30 got to hear it but seemed to hear it differently: some thought they heard thunder, others said an Angel spoke to Him. In Matthew 17:1-8, Peter, James, and John heard the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration, too, so, evidently Jesus was telling this particular group, his antagonists, that they had never heard God’s voice.  

He went on to confirm this, observing that because God’s Word was not “abiding” in them, they were rejecting the One whom the Father had sent. (That is an interesting concept: remember, these were still under the Old Testament covenant. Did Old Testament believers have “God’s Word abiding in them?” Evidently, they must have, because Jesus seems to be saying that is what believers had in common. Today we all have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and we are told to continually receive His Word as well.)

The Scriptures

39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. 40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. 41 I receive not honour from men. 42 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. 43 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. 44 How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. 46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

This is the heaviest accusation: they had the testimony of Moses and the other prophets!  They were rejecting God’s Word! Today, we have the testimony of John 1:1-4, 14 that the Word is Jesus, but they did not know that yet. On the basis of the scripture they did have, Jesus made several indictments against them:

  1. Ye will not come to me that ye might have life.
  2. I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.
  3. I have come in My Father’s Name, and you have not received me.
  4. If someone else comes in their own name, you will receive him.
  5. You cannot believe, because you honor one another and seek honor from one another, rather than the honor of God.
  6. Moses will be your accuser: he wrote of Me, and you did not believe him.

Based on these indictments, Jesus concluded that they were not going to be able to believe His Word. He would receive no honor from men, because all of these indictments against them were true.

What has to change?

At some point in time a person hears the message of Jesus and becomes convinced that it is true. Or, at least, they believe some small portion of it, and then they have a choice to make: will they “Change their mind” regarding the rest of the message and admit that it is all true, or reject the portion to which they had begun to respond?

The word usually translated “repent” in scripture, is the Greek word “metanoia.” It simply means “change your mind.” If you believed that Jesus was a great teacher, but not literally God in human form, then Jesus is calling you to change your mind. If you believed that you were “doing your best” and were thereby accepted by God, Jesus is calling you to change your mind, and realize that you truly are a sinner, in need of a Savior.

  • They were not willing to Come to Jesus and receive eternal life. This is a common stance, today, too: people are not sure what they do need, but they are convinced that it is not Jesus! That will require a change of mind, before they can believe.
  • They did not have the Love of God in them. That could not change until they received Him.
  • They did not receive the One who came in the Name of the Father. Their forefathers had also rejected the prophets who came in His name.
  • He said that they would receive one who comes in his own name. This will prove to be true in the person of the antichrist, and has proven true down through the ages: Humans look for dynamic leaders, and will follow them right into destruction.
  • Because we are so focused on each other and what others think, we are trapped and unable to break free and just believe God. We may say that we want honor from God, but the reality is, we really want honor from other humans.
  • Believing the word of Moses is foundational to believing the Word of Jesus. If you don’t believe Moses, you also won’t believe Jesus. I have frequently had people tell me that they liked Jesus just fine, but they rejected the Old Testament God. Sorry… that was Jesus, too!

In our Wednesday night services we are working our way through the books of Moses. (And it is work!) It is difficult for us to keep in mind the context of the Law, and the historical context of Israel’s recent exodus from Egypt and the terribly evil practices of the people in the land they were about to enter. When we keep all those things in mind, it is easier for us to understand the Law. And when we remember that the same Jesus whom we love in the New Testament was the One giving the Law in the Old Testament, then we can more easily accept that fact that the Law was not only “necessary,” but it was Good.

We can see that, even back then, the heart-issue was faith. The people who believed God gained His approval and backing. The people who did not believe God were rejected because they rejected Him!

This idea ties in directly with the warning that Jesus gave in John 3:18 “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.”

The Key to Faith is the Word

So, then: what is the key to faith? Romans 10:17 says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

There is a threshold, here, then: is there any portion of God’s Word that we accept as being unquestionably true? Or, which we see as being “From God?” If we can begin there, and recognize that the Author of that one portion is also the Author of all the rest, then perhaps we can begin to change our minds (repent) about the rest of His Word.

If we feed on His Word, as believers, it opens our hearts to believe more and to respond in faith and obedience. The people to whom Jesus was speaking were not believers: but the answer is still the same: they will either respond to the Word in faith or they will not. Did Jesus’s accusation that they did not believe the Word of Moses convict them? Then possibly they later repented and believed. Sometimes it takes that sort of self-realization before we see ourselves as a lost sinner.

I have known people who had been in church for years, happily attending, giving, praying, singing, etc.: but they suddenly came to the realization that they had circumvented the Cross: They had never trusted Jesus’s sacrifice as their own substitute. They had never placed themselves under His blood to escape the judgment of a righteous, Holy God. They were not yet a believer, because they had omitted the first step of faith: confessing that “I am a sinner, in need of a Savior!1st John 1:10 points out that if we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His Word is not in us! And that is where they found themselves.

But, when they saw that, they repented! They did not continue to deny their sin. Romans 3:25 says, speaking of Jesus, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” That is what God requires. So, when they placed their trust in His blood as full payment for their own sin , they were born again, and they began eternal life in Him that very moment.

The woman I am thinking of was 78 years old, and had been in church her whole life, but had never heard that she needed to be born again. Since then, she has gone on to be with her Savior, but she left these lessons for us to learn:

  • Going to church cannot save us!
  • Earnest service and religious works cannot save us!
  • Years of good behavior cannot save us!
  • Faith in Jesus’s Word, and His shed blood, alone, is the only response God will accept.

Keep this in mind when you share your faith with others: Jesus is who they need: not the church, not good works, nor becoming a follower of some human teacher. They need Jesus! Give them Jesus!

Lord Jesus, help us to see you clearly, and to follow you faithfully. Give us the heart of love and compassion that will enable us to offer your Love to others and to share your Grace with them.

Why Two Resurrections?

Why are there Two Resurrections taught in the Bible?

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 5:28-30; 1st John 2:2; 1st Corinthians 3:10-15;

Introduction:

Last week, we touched on the fact that there are two resurrections, and that the resurrection of the believers is prior to that of the unbelievers.

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. 30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

So, while most of us may simply accept the Divine Order as just being “how it will all work out,” perhaps the question might arise as to why there are two resurrections as opposed to just a general resurrection wherein all the “sorting” can happen at once. Perhaps the best way to begin would be to address the various “judgments” in the scriptures. In Hebrews 9:27, it says that “It is appointed unto Man once to die, but after this the judgment.” So, we need to think that through, and ask, “What judgment is in view?”

How many Judgments?

  1. The Judgment of Sin (the sin of the whole Human Race) was carried out at the Cross.
  2. The Judgment seat of Christ, where the works of believers are in view, will be carried out after the rapture, but before the physical return of Jesus.
  3. The Judgment of the Living Nations (the survivors of the tribulation) will be carried out at the physical return of Christ, at the beginning of the Kingdom age.
  4. The Final Judgment (of all the unrighteous dead of all time) will be carried out at the Great White Throne, after the Kingdom age, after the destruction of this earth, and immediately before the revealing of the new Heaven and new Earth.

Judgment of Sin

As we have learned in the past, all the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament from Genesis 3:21 onward, were all “looking forward to” the one all-sufficient sacrifice Jesus made at the Cross. Since He became sin for us, dying as a substitute for every human who would ever live, His blood literally satisfied God’s judgment upon the sin of the whole human race. (1st John 2:2)

In John 3:18, Jesus said that those who believed in His Name (placing their trust in His finished work) would not be condemned, but that those who did not trust Him as the substitute for their own life, and their own sins, were not “going to be condemned,” but are already condemned. So, as a rebellious young atheist, I was already condemned, and effectively “on death row:” I was headed for Hell, and without hope, until I became convinced that I was lost, and that I needed a Savior. Finally, I placed my trust in Him, and was permanently placed under His blood. I have no other offering…there is nothing to be added to His Grace.

Judgment of our Works: The Judgment Seat of Christ

(Only Believers are at this Judgment.)

Works have zero effect on salvation, but they have great effect on our ongoing relationship with God in this life, and our reward in the next. 1st Corinthians 3:1015 tells us how God will “grade” our works: our works will be judged “by fire.”

Anything showing “eternal value” by surviving that “Refiner’s Fire” will result in reward. All the works that “looked good,” during our lifetimes, but turned out to just be something we did on our own initiative, and which did not originate with the Spirit of God, will be consumed in that flame, but the believers will not be harmed. They will simply be “as one escaping through the flames.” They will have lost what they thought they had gained, but they themselves are safe.

What are the Rewards?

I really don’t know. There are five different “crowns” (Greek, “stephanos”…victor’s wreaths) which are named, but not clearly described. There are also places where a reward is described as “ruling over a city.” So, that would evidently be a reward of authority and responsibility. But the conclusion I would have to call the “bottom line,” is what Paul said: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what the Father hath in store for them that love Him.” (That’s it! He says we don’t know! So, I’m going to drop it right there.)

Judgment of the Living Nations:

(Living Believers and unbelievers: “What did you do with Jesus and His Family?”)

This Judgment is described in Matthew 25:31, ff.  This is the one where, immediately after the Tribulation, and Jesus’s physical return, His throne is set up on earth, and all the living nations (Gentile nations) are brought before him for judgment. The Judgment seems to be based upon how they treated the Jews and the Gentile believers during the tribulation.

One could make the mistake of thinking that this describes a works-based salvation: But what we are seeing, here, is proof that “works are the result of faith.” They all acted upon their beliefs:

  • Those who denied Jesus’s authority and who despised His Grace, and sought to destroy His people are revealed by their works as being unbelievers.
  • Those who took the risk of either siding with, or at least helping those persecuted people of God, are also revealed by their works, as being believers.

The result of this judgment is peculiar, in that, since the people being judged are not dead, the passage in Hebrews 9:27 is not directly applicable. Those who were judged to have been believers, as revealed by their works, are admitted into the Kingdom age (along with the remnant of the Jews, and the believing Gentiles who survived the purges of the tribulation.)

Those who were judged to have rejected the Savior, as revealed by their works, are sent into the place of the dead, (called “Sheol” in the Old Testament: “Hades” in the New Testament, (mostly translated “hell,” in both Testaments.) All it says in Matthew is “everlasting punishment.” (The reason we know that it is not the Lake of Fire, is that Revelation 20:11-15 tells us about that specific judgment, and hell will be cast into the Lake of Fire.)

The Final Judgment: The Great White Throne

(Only unbelievers are at this Judgment.)

This judgment occurs at the very end of the Kingdom age, after a final rebellion has been put down by God the Father. The old “heaven and earth” have just been destroyed, as seen in 2nd Peter 3:10, 11. A Great White Throne appears in space…it says, “heaven and earth flee away from the Face of Him who sits on the throne.”

The old Heaven and Earth are evidently destroyed in this moment. All the remaining dead stand before the Judge. (The righteous dead are already eternally with the Lord.) Who is the Judge? In John 5:22 we see that it is Jesus! We have a hard time with this: We have been taught to think of Jesus as such a tender, forgiving person that it is difficult to imagine Him in this role. But He is the only Judge, and always has been!

All the dead are seen as being checked in God’s Records (the “books are opened”…) and they are judged accordingly…and all of them end up in the lake of fire. Are there “degrees of punishment?” Evidently there are: Jesus said so! How does that work? I really don’t know. Different writers have hypothesized at different times, sometimes quite famously (e.g. Inferno, by Dante Alighieri, in 1320.) But God does not explain this at all, except to say that it is so.

Why Different Resurrections?

Given the huge difference in destination, it seems pretty sensible to me to arrange the resurrection in two waves. In 1st Thessalonians 4:11-18 (along with 1st Corinthians 15:51, 52) we see that the resurrection of believers (their dead bodies being restored to life) will come at the same time as the Rapture. The dead believers will receive their bodies back, immortal, and in the next instant, we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds, as it says in 1st Thessalonians.

All of them, together, receive their “resurrected” or “transformed” bodies at that time. The “Awards ceremonies” as we might consider the “Judgment Seat of Christ” to be, will happen after that point, but before His physical return to Earth. However, there is another group, in Revelation 20:4, who were beheaded during the Tribulation for the sake of Christ. They will be resurrected at the end of the Tribulation or beginning of the Kingdom age, and will reign with Christ for the duration of the Kingdom: 1,000 years. Together, this group with the ones resurrected at the rapture, seem to comprise the “first Resurrection.” (Revelation 20:5, 6)

After the First Resurrection:

The Judgment of the living nations, at the end of the Tribulation, doesn’t involve a resurrection at all: they are all living people, who either will live on the restored earth for the next 1,000 years, or will be summarily dropped into Hades, to await the resurrection of the lost.

Finally, after the Kingdom age, and the crushing defeat of Satan and his army, the only people left to be resurrected and judged are the unbelieving dead. We may feel that “They weren’t all bad,” but Jeremiah 17:9 says that the human heart is “desperately wicked.  God’s view of their hearts is the standard by which they will be judged, not our opinions.

What follows is the Final Judgment of the unrighteous dead. Some had just recently died by fire in the rebellion which had just been crushed. Some had died in the wars during the tribulation. Others had been dead for thousands of years, just awaiting final judgment. In either case, we need to remember that Our Savior, Jesus, the Messiah…is the One seated on that Great White Throne. Jesus has never misjudged anyone. And He never will.

Time Lapse Between the Resurrections

According to Revelation 20:5 there is a 1,000-year span between the end of the first resurrection and the beginning of the second. Also, (apparently) time ends right then. The eternal state has begun and there is no further need to measure time. (We saw in Genesis 1:14 that the reason for the Sun, Moon and stars was partly to give light, but primarily to tell time. And the sun and moon will be gone, in the new heaven and earth!)

So, how long do the judgements take? I don’t know. God is sovereign, and omniscient (all-knowing) so, He could complete it all in an instant, and it will have been done perfectly. Or, He could carry on individual conversations simultaneously with every single person who ever lived! (No waiting!) But, since He doesn’t tell us any details, we must choose to be satisfied with His Word, and trust His perfect character, wisdom, and justice. No one will be misjudged.

No Confusion Needed

It would be easy to be confused by the account in Matthew, revealing the Judgment of the Living Nations: we have not had much teaching along those lines, so we tend to think of this as being the final judgment. But it’s not! This is the judgment of living people: Some (the righteous) will enter the Kingdom (not heaven) in their natural bodies, in whatever shape they are in after surviving the Tribulation. They will live in that glorious world in peace, for 1,000 years, where Jesus is ruling, in person.

The rest, who are condemned in that judgment, will join those already in the place of the unrighteous dead (not the lake of fire), and wait for the second resurrection. In Revelation 20:14, at the culmination of the Great White Throne Judgment, we see death and hell (Hades) will be cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the final Judgment—the Second Death.

Separation:

God has moved to keep His people separate from the lost, throughout the ages. During our lifetimes, we are only separated spiritually: he sends us among them as ambassadors, as lights in the darkness of this world. But, once we are released from this world, we are separated permanently.

So, the only Judgment in which the saved and lost are together and being separated, is the Judgment of the Living Nations in Matthew 25. All those who have died are kept entirely separate. There is no more mingling after that point. So, the final reason for two separate resurrections is the completion of our eternal separation from sin. The resurrection of the believers is past: all the righteous dead of all ages are finally home with God, and in their eternal, glorified bodies.

There is no further outreach to those who have rejected God’s offer of Grace. That door is closed. If we remember the Ark, in the Genesis Flood, we recall that the building of the Ark evidently took 120 years. During that time, God says Noah was a preacher of righteousness. But the day came when God closed the door to the Ark. The Flood came and all outside the Ark were swept away.

The Deadline is Coming:

Jesus reminded his hearers of that account, in Matthew 24:37-39. He was using it to warn of a different “deadline,” but the principle is the same: the day is coming when God will close the door. After that time, no further decisions will be offered or accepted. Those in the second resurrection, the resurrection of damnation, will be eternally separated from God and from us. That is the bad news: The Good News is that there is still time for us to offer God’s Grace to anyone who will hear.

Jesus is still in the business of reaching out to the Lost, and offering them eternal life. And He only does so through His people: It always requires that we take the time (and risk) of sharing His Grace with others. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by Hearing, and Hearing by the Word of God.” You may be the only source of light in someone else’s darkness: Don’t deny them that light! Open your heart to care enough to open your mouth and offer them the Grace of God and eternal life, through the Gospel.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to allow Your compassion to flow through us to the people around  in our lives. Give us the compassion to care and the courage and conviction to speak. Fill us with Your Spirit and allow us to serve.

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.