What is the Basis for Judgment and for Salvation?
Judgment and Salvation
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
44Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. 45 And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.
46 I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. 47 And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.
This is a powerful passage: It identifies and equates
- Jesus with the Father, (he that seeth me seeth him that sent me) and
- His Word with the Father’s Word, (even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.) and
- His Father’s Word with Eternal Life. (His commandment is life everlasting.)
In terms of logical order, and in light of the fact that He has already been identified as the Living Word, He has just made the claim that He is Eternal Life. Later, we will see that this is a pretty close approximation of what He was getting at.
Identifying with the Father:
Jesus will increasingly identify Himself as “being One with the Father” and make statements to the effect that “If you have seen Jesus, then you have seen the Father.” He had already claimed to be deity, using God’s personal name to identify Himself, in John 8:57, when He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” The Jews correctly understood that claim and sought to kill Him for blasphemy.
But we have observed before, that if someone makes such a claim, and there is no question that this is really what they said, then there are only three real possibilities:
- They are a liar and a blasphemer, because they knowingly and falsely claimed to be God. (This is what the Jews assumed about Jesus, and they sought to kill Him.) Or…
- They are mentally disabled, in some way, so as not to be accountable for what they say. (No, they are not God, but they also cannot be blamed for their words, as they are not in their right mind. They are rather to be pitied.) Or…
- They really are God, in which case they should be prepared to prove it. And Jesus spent three years proving it over and over! So we have to respond accordingly. We have to make a choice!
Identifying His Word With the Word of the Father
“Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.”
We sing about this, every Christmas: “Word of the Father, now in Flesh appearing!” (O Come let us Adore Him!)
When we read John 1:14, where it says, “And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His Glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of Grace and Truth!”, we meditate on something almost unimaginable.
God’s Spoken Word
We tend to find the idea just too much to grasp that God’s spoken Word, who, in verse one, already had been identified as being God, could take upon Himself physical life. I try to understand the fact that God’s Spoken Word became a human child, growing up as a human man, and becoming our sacrifice forever. We struggle with these concepts, unless, by faith, we also accept the truth that , “In the Beginning, God created….” You see, in Hebrews 11:3, we read that God spoke the world into existence (including every form of life, whether spiritual or biological.)
If His spoken word can cause an entire universe, and everything in it, to spring into being, then it seems a very simple thing that His Spoken Word could be, itself, made to take on physical, biological life. (“In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of Men…”)
When Jesus Spoke, the people were hearing the Voice of the Father… He is the voice of the Father…the first and final communication of God!
God Spoke To Us!
Hebrews 1:1, 2 says, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds.”
Yes, He spoke through a variety of prophets over the millennia; but now, His final communication has been revealed! God the Son, the Living Word, has been manifested to the world, and we all have choices to make regarding that revelation.
Jesus assured His audience that He only spoke exactly what God told Him to speak. They were literally hearing the “Word of the Father, now in Flesh appearing!” So, if they believed Him, they believed God the Father. Genesis 15:6 says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as Righteousness.”
And that is how people have always gained a relationship with God, down through the ages! When we choose to believe God, rather than believing the World, rather, even, than believing our own corrupt thought-patterns and self-deceit, we embrace Him as our only Hope. And, just as He promised the thief on the Cross, we can expect to be with Him in eternity.
Romans 10:17 says that “Faith cometh by hearing, and Hearing by the Word of God.” We each had to hear His message before we could believe it. And that is what we owe to the people of the world around us, as well. That is why Paul said, in Romans 1:14, “I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise.”
Identifying His Father’s Word with Eternal Life
“Jesus said, in John 12:50, “And I know that His commandment is life everlasting…” But, this is not the only place where He makes such comments.
In John 17:3, Jesus said, “And this is Eternal Life, that they may know Thee, the One true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” The word translated as “know,” here, is the Greek word, “ginosko.” It means a personal, experiential knowledge…not just “knowing a fact.”
We gain that relational, experiential knowledge of God, initially, through believing Him, so as to receive Him as our Savior. But faith leads to more faith, and we grow in that experiential knowledge, as we learn more of His Word, and as we believe and Obey Him through His Word. And, in that way, we get to experience eternal life in the here and now.
One Promise, Two Conditions, Three Clauses
In John 5:24 Jesus said, “He that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath eternal life and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto Life.”
Do you see how precious that promise is? He said, if you Hear Him and Believe Him (those are the only two conditions,) then you have eternal life now! You do not have to “wait until you die, to find out for sure.” (There are many people who insist that “you cannot know for sure that you have eternal life;” but we see that not only Jesus says that you can know, God says He wants you to know!
1st John 5:11-13 says “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life; and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”)
Further, He promised that, if you hear Him and believe Him, you will never again be condemned by God! That is a great source of assurance for broken, damaged, and wounded spirits like ours, who have been hammered by condemnation from human disapproval, spiritual onslaughts, and self-doubt. God says, (Ephesians 1:6) that once you have entered into this relationship by faith, you are “Accepted in the Beloved!” In Ephesians 1:7, He says you have redemption, and the forgiveness of sins! All of this is present tense! In Romans 8:1, He says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus!” And Jesus said there never will be again! (…and shall not come into condemnation….)
God says, once you belong to Him, He is eternally on your side, and you are permanently connected to Him. He will never let you go! (Hebrews 13:5 says, “…He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor will I ever forsake thee.”)
And Jesus says that you have permanently crossed over from death into life. Jesus confirmed this in John 10:27, 28, when He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish!”
(That’s a pretty amazing Promise!)
Equating Jesus’s Words with Eternal Life
In John 6:63, (among other things,) Jesus said, “…the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
In that specific context, the people had been arguing with Jesus about the teaching He had just given regarding the bread of Life. They were especially upset after He told them that “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.” I can understand why they were confused and arguing: people today are still confused and arguing about that verse. Some teachers claim that it means that you gain eternal life by taking Communion. At one time, C. S. Lewis actually taught this, in his book, “Mere Christianity.” (I hope he later changed his mind.)
But the answer becomes pretty clear, when we read verse 63, where Jesus said,“It is the Spirit that quickeneth (that means, “gives life”); The flesh (anything “you can do” with your body) profiteth nothing: the Words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are Life!”
Jesus then went on to say, “But there are some of you that believe not.” (John comments, saying, “Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray Him.”)
The WORD Is Spirit and The WORD is Life!
Can you see the connection, here? Jesus said His words were Spirit and His Words were Life. And he concluded that there were some who had failed to believe…showing that their disbelief (failing to receive His Word) was what barred them from receiving the Eternal life He was offering to them.
He is the Word! Back in John 1:12, it says, “But, as many as received Him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” God chose this way for sinners to approach him. One great thing about this God-ordained path to approach Him, is that it cannot be forced by anyone else, and it also cannot be prevented by anyone else. No government (well-meaning or not) can establish a state religion and force people to believe. And no Government (or any other authority) can prevent people from believing.
What is Our Part in the Plan?
The only thing they can try to control is the spreading of the Gospel: the preaching of that message of Eternal Life. And sharing that message is our God-assigned task. That is our part in the Plan of God for the salvation of a lost world. So long as we are here on earth, we are called to be His witnesses, and His Ambassadors. We only have this one life in which to join Jesus in the work of reaching the World He died to save.
Lord Jesus, fix in our minds the urgency of telling people how they can have eternal life. Raise us up as your witnesses, and ambassadors, offering the Word, the Bread of Life, to the lost souls around us. Don’t allow us to continue in complacency.
What is the Link between “Idols, gods, and demons?”
What is the Link between “Idols, gods, and demons?”
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
Psalm 106:37, 38; 1st Corinthians 8:1-6; 2nd Corinthians 4:4
“Thou Shalt Have No Other God Before Me”
We have sometimes asked the question, “What (or who) are the “other gods?” What ere the gods which the heathen nations served, and which Israel was warned to avoid?”
The LORD (the God of Israel) repeated the warning many times, that Israel must not serve other gods. Yet, in Isaiah 43:10, and other places, that same God of Israel (YHWH, “the Great I AM,”) says that there are no other gods…there never have been and never will be!
What other gods?
So, what is going on with the various other “gods,” mentioned, (sometimes by name,) in the Old Testament? (The scriptures mention Nisroch, Dagon, Baal (Baalim, plural), and Astarte (Ashtoreth, plural.) In addition, there are Moloch (sometimes spelled Molech, or Milcom), ‘The Queen of Heaven,” Tammuz, and others, by name.)
It sometimes confuses us, a little, to see them all named in various contexts, and then to see in other contexts that God, the Creator says that “there are no other gods.” God understands our confusion, so, He explains it to us:
The Physical Idols are not the Only Issue
In 2nd Corinthians 8:1-6, we see that the physical idols themselves, at least, are nothing. They are just a piece of wood, stone, metal, plastic, or whatever. But, in that passage, Paul says that, for believers, there is another problem. There is a “testimony issue” involved, regarding the “eating of meats sacrificed to idols.”
If your host (or whomever) told you that the meat in question was sacrificed to an idol, then don’t eat it. In that way, they cannot claim that “you took part in a sacrifice to an idol.” But, he also said, “if you are not told, don’t ask.” (The meat is not hurt by the sacrifice, nor are you. But your testimony could be damaged.)
The Spirits behind the Idols
However, in Psalm 106:37, 38, God gives us another, grimmer perspective. There, we see that there is a “spirit-entity” behind the worship of those idols. The service of those spirits is what is so strongly condemned. Notice that in verse 37, it says “…they sacrificed their sons and daughters to devils (literally ‘hairy ones…goat-gods.’)” As if in explanation, in verse 38, it says they sacrificed these innocent children “…to the idols of Canaan.”
Therefore, the idols themselves were just physical materials. But, as we understood from the passage in 2nd Corinthians 8, there were spirits represented by those idols. God concludes that, in reality, the people were sacrificing their children to those demonic spirits!
The God of this World
Finally, in 2nd Corinthians 4:4, Paul refers to Satan as “the god of this world.” (Hinduism is said to have 200 million gods…it is hard for me to even to imagine it. And there are thousands of other religions.) Ultimately, the millions of idols and false deities in the world all can be traced back to Beelzebub, the “prince of the demons.” (It literally means, the ‘lord of the flies.’) The same spirit is also simply called Satan (meaning, “the adversary.”)
The adversary (also called “the devil,” as we are told, in 1st Peter 5:8) is “prowling about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” He is not omnipresent, but he has millions of “henchmen” in the persons of the demonic host. As believers, we need have no fear of him. However we are warned that he never sleeps. He is always watching for the opportunity to entangle believers in sin, so as to render them ineffective for God. So, we are admonished to be sober and vigilant, watching against such traps. (Sober means “take this seriously.” Vigilant means “be watchful.”)
Covetousness and Idolatry
As believers, we may never find “classic idolatry” (with an image we worship) to be a problem. But, in Colossians 3:5, we see something that should reduce our complacency. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:”
The usual word for “covetousness,” (Greek philargurion… “the love of silver”) is not used here. Rather, it is the broader term (Greek pleonexian…”greed” or “avarice”) used, here. God says that our constant yearning for “more,” (whether for physical things or worldly honor or whatever,) is a form of idolatry. We don’t see it that way, but God’s clear warning is there for us to read.
What Conclusion can we Draw?
We have to draw the conclusion, that, just as there was a “spirit entity” behind the idols of the ancient world, there is also a Spirit enticing us to greed. The whole pattern of Worldly pursuit draws us away from the path the Lord is walking, and in which He desires to lead His people.
There is a passage describing people who followed that lure. Philippians 3:19 says, “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.”
You see, these people had chosen an “attachment to things.” They never learned a genuine “attachment to the Savior.” And, the result is everlasting shame, instead of the glory of God. We really want to avoid any form of idolatry in our lives. Be warned: even though it is invisible to us, this is reality!
What is the Cause of Spritual Blindness?
Light and Blindness
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
John 12:35-46; Isaiah 6:9, 10; Romans 11:25
In John 12:35-46, Jesus touched again on the topic of spiritual light and spiritual blindness.
35 Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. 36 While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.
37 But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him:
38 That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?
39 Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, 40He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. 41 These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.[John is quoting Isaiah 6:9, 10]
42 Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: 43 For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
44 Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.
45 And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. 46 I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.
Light and Blindness
We should address several issues, here: the first is the concept of spiritual and judicial blindness. In the scripture, we repeatedly see that our disregard for God’s light produces a judicial blindness. That condition will last until we repent of our sin of unbelief. Isaiah predicted this in Isaiah 6:9, 10. Jesus quoted that passage, here in John 12. Paul confirmed it in Romans 11:25, saying that “…blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.”
When we were studying John 1:4, 5, we saw that “in Him (The Word) was life, and the life was the Light of men. And the light shined in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” The unbelieving heart cannot understand God’s light, and darkness cannot extinguish it.)
In John 1:14, we see that Jesus is the “Word” in this context. “The Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father) full of grace and truth.”
In John 8:12, Jesus actually introduced Himself as “The Light of the World.” We want to keep these ideas in mind, as we consider what Jesus meant. In John 3:19, He said that light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. What does that mean?
Light and the Word
In fact, since the Light and the Word are so closely tied together, we need to keep those two tied together in our own minds. When we consider light, in the scripture, we need to be thinking in terms of The Word. And when we see references to the Word of God, in the scripture, we need to consider whether that reference is directly (or indirectly) pertaining to Jesus, the Word of God.
Revelation 19:13 says one of the titles applied to Jesus, (the Messiah, the King of Kings)…is “The Word Of God.” Don’t take that lightly! If Jesus truly is the Living Word of God, then we need to Believe Him! And, if He truly is the Light of the World, hen we need to walk in His Light. Finally, if He is the light that the World is rejecting, then we do not want to ignore His Light, and neglect His Written Word.
God has not forgotten His Word. Psalm 105:8 says, “He has remembered His covenant forever, the Word which He commanded to a thousand generations.”
Psalm 119:89 says, “ Forever, O Lord, thy Word is settled in heaven.”
And Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
Why am I citing all these passages comparing the Word to the Light, and connecting Jesus to the Word and to The Light? Give this some thought! Consider how to apply them in life.
Walk while Ye have the Light
The Jews in Jerusalem were continually challenging Jesus, questioning His integrity, His character, and the truth of nearly anything He said. In John 12:34, They had just said “We have heard out of the Law, that the Christ (the Messiah) abideth forever: how say you that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”
They clearly understood that His comment about “lifting up the Son of Man” was in reference to His death. But they were so busy arguing every point Jesus made, that they failed to understand the overall message. They were so busy arguing about the character of His light that they failed to simply receive that light and walk in that light. So, Jesus admonished them (the Jews in Jerusalem) to “Walk while ye have the light.”
2nd Peter 1:19, 20 admonishes us, as believers, to use the Written Word as our source of light, by which to walk in the World. “19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:”
So, What Does that Mean for Us, as Believers?
The New Testament believers have received the whole counsel of God’s Word. We are learning to “rightly divide the Word of Truth,” so we can have a fairly good idea about which portions of God’s Word are directed to us, as New Testament believers, and which are specific to some other group. We also know that ALL of God’s Word is for us, even though not all is directed to us. So, whenever we fail to respond to His Word, God can rightly hold us accountable for what we know.
Jesus said that those who knew to do right and chose not to do it will be judged more strictly than those who did not know to do right and because of their ignorance, failed to do God’s will. The truth is, as believers, we really have no excuse: we disobey what we know God says, because we choose to go our own way. It’s that simple. Whatever excuses we make for not reading, not hearing, and not obeying God’s Word, it still comes down to a choice we make.
What about Feelings?
We say, “I don’t feel like studying, attending a class, reading, working on memorization,” etc. And we think that is an adequate cause for straying from the Shepherd. But it is not: Feelings are very seldom an accurate reflection of reality, and they are certainly not a good basis for decision making.
But we do this all the time. We make decisions on the basis of what we “feel,” rather than what God says about something. We even write songs, glorifying such things: “How can something so wrong feel so right?” and “If Loving you is Wrong, I don’t want to be Right!”
Sometimes we take it even further and declare something to be right or wrong, based entirely upon our feelings. A believing friend once told me that she felt it would be morally wrong for her to tell someone else how to be saved. She felt that it would be wrong for her to attempt to share the Gospel with another person. She believed she would be wrong to speak, hoping to lead them to eternal life in Christ. Her only reason for this belief was her “feelings.”
I was almost speechless. I tried to understand how a believer could think that direct obedience to a direct command from Jesus could be morally wrong. But nothing I said could sway her: She was directed by her feelings, and the result was her adamant opposition to the Written Word.
What about “Following your Heart?”
Nearly everyone, today, will tell you to “follow your heart.” They insist that “Your heart will never lead you wrong!” But that is the opposite of the truth! Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked!” So, from God’s perspective, there is no more sure way to go astray than by just “Following your heart.”
If you are in submission to God’s Word and His Will, then possibly the “heart” you hear “speaking” is your new nature. Your new nature confirms God’s wisdom and His directive will. But, under any other circumstances, be aware that the single most likely source for misdirection in our lives is what we call “the heart:” our feelings. I’m sorry if this offends anyone. I know it is an unpopular thing to teach, but I can’t ignore what God says about such a thing. It is just the truth.
What Happens when Believers Ignore the Light of God’s Word?
Throughout the Scriptures, we see that disregard for light eventually results in judicial blindness. We will no longer respond to His light at all: not even to reject it… we simply no longer see it. When someone attempts to confront us about the sin in our lives, we mentally dismiss it as “just their opinion.” If they persist, we may defend our actions or attitudes by accusing them of “judging us.” We forget that God is sovereign, and He sends one brother to correct another.
Another believer may attempt to share with me something taken straight from God’s Word. They have humbly, gently spoken His message, taken in the correct context. I need to take that intervention to mean that God is speaking to me through them!
That is not a light thing: I have had it happen many times. And, I knew what was happening at the time it was happening. So, rather than arguing, or defending myself, I confessed that they were correct. And, I thanked them for correcting me. (Have I always responded that way? Nope! Sometimes, initially, I have hardened my heart. But then God continued to put pressure on me until I repented.)
What Happens when an Unbeliever Ignores the Light of God’s Word?
Jesus was speaking primarily to unbelievers in the passage we are reading, in John 12. They had a wonderful opportunity to hear God’s Word directly from the Source: Jesus is the Word! If they ignored Him, there would come a time when He would be gone. Then their source of light would at least be less clear. It would be obscured by the darkness of the world.
He said that the darkness was coming. He warned that those who walk in darkness don’t know what they are getting into. They can’t see where they are going. They have chosen to become blind to the truth of the Gospel.
But in John 3:17-21, Jesus said that His purpose in coming was to offer salvation to the whole World. And then He said that the World does not want what He has to offer.
17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
In Proverbs 13:13, He says, “13 Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded.”
Is This Blindness Curable?
So, according to John 3:18, an unbeliever is “already lost.” They do not become “more lost” by ignoring the Gospel. But, they do run the risk of becoming “immune to Grace,” because they have become blind to the Light of God’s Word. They have been “innoculated against the truth.” Is it still possible that God can break through that blindness and bring them to repentance? Yes, it is! Otherwise. I would never have been saved.
2nd Corinthians 4:4 says, “In whom the god of this world [Satan] hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”
What did Jesus say was the cure for that blindness? In John 12:36 He says, “While ye have light, believe in the light that ye may be the children of light.”
For us, as believers, that faith must include obedience by faith. For an unbeliever, it simply involves a change of mind regarding Jesus. (We call that “repentance.) It involves dropping their previous arguments and simply recognizing Him as their own Savior. And then, as a newborn believer, they can begin their new life of discipleship, faith and obedience.
Lord Jesus, open our eyes to The Light of Your Face, the Light of your Word, and cause us to reflect that Light, so that we shine out the Light of the Gospel.
What Gospel do we Preach?
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
Romans 1:16; 1st Corinthians 1:17, 18; Ephesians 1:13, 6:15; Matthew 4:23; Galatians 1:6-9
As we read Romans 1:16, it is pretty straightforward: It says “the Gospel of Christ is the power of God to save everyone who believes in it.” And, in 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, Paul explains the content of that gospel (“Gospel” means “good news.”)
The Gospel is the “good news” of the:
- Death (by crucifixion,) the
- Burial (for three days and three nights) and the
- Resurrection (physical, visible, and eternal) of Christ, for our sins.
God gives these three points as being specifically for the forgiveness of our sins. We must receive them by faith alone. So, it is easy for us to see that the “bad news” of our sin is what makes the sacrificial, voluntary death of Jesus on that Cross, and His burial in the tomb, along with His subsequent resurrection, Good News!
But those three pieces of the Gospel all have to be there! If we omit the crucifixion-death of Jesus for my sins, then we do not have a Savior: The crucifixion was necessary to fulfill the prophecies!
If I leave out the fact that the people buried Him and that he remained buried for three days and three nights, then the hearers might conclude that He “wasn’t really dead,” but “just unconscious;” and the cold of the tomb somehow revived him. (Or perhaps they might conclude that he wasn’t buried at all, and that he just somehow “recovered from His wounds.” )
But, if I leave out the Resurrection, then they have to assume He is still dead, and (again) we have no Savior! (The fact is, “we serve a living Savior!”)
How Many Gospels?
So, the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What Gospel are we to preach?” There are seven true “gospels” mentioned in the New Testament, as related to human preachers. They are the Gospels of:
- The Kingdom (Mark 1:14; Matthew 4:23; 9:35, etc.)
- Your Salvation (Ephesians 1:13)
- Christ (Romans 1:16; Galatians 1:7, etc.)
- God (Romans 1:1; 15:16, etc.)
- His Son (Romans 1:9)
- The Grace of God (Acts 20:24)
- Peace (Romans 10:15; Ephesians 6:15)
The New Testament uses some of these phrases only once; and some twice, while it uses others many times. When we compare the seven true Gospels listed above, we also see that some are nearly identical:
The Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of Salvation, the Gospel of God, and the Gospel of His Son all seem to be identical, as the writer uses them interchangeably in some passages. Luke only uses the “Gospel of the Grace of God” once, but it also seems to be identical to these four. So, we can see that five of the seven on the list are essentially identical.
The New Testament defines the Gospel of God as the “good news that God sends, through Jesus Christ, His Son. It includes the promise of Salvation by God’s Grace, through Faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.” All of that fits and fulfills everything we just read, above, in Romans 1:16 (compared to 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4.) By necessity, this Gospel, the Gospel of Christ, always includes the “preaching of the Cross,” as mentioned in 1st Corinthians 1:18 and other places.
The two remaining “Gospels”, from the list above, which are not identical, are the “Gospel of the Kingdom,” and the “Gospel of Peace.”
The Gospel of the Kingdom
John the Baptist and Jesus both initially preached this “good news” in Israel, letting everyone in Israel know that the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” John and Jesus were not “preaching the Cross.” They were not “preaching salvation by faith:” Both of them were telling the “good news” that the promised Kingdom was available, then and there. And Jesus (as the King) in offering that kingdom, presented Himself to the people as the fulfillment of all the prophecies. John preached this message during his entire ministry, until Herod imprisoned and executed him. Jesus preached this Gospel of the Kingdom until the Jews firmly rejected the message.
As a nation, the Jews finally rejected the offer of the Kingdom; so God retracted the offer from that generation. After that point, Jesus no longer preached the Gospel of the Kingdom. He headed for the Cross! The Promised Kingdom is still coming, but it will come immediately after the tribulation period. And it will begin with the physical, triumphant return of the King.
The Kingdom still is “good news,” but we can’t really preach that good news today, because (a) we do not know when He will return, and (b) we do know that the Great Tribulation will precede His Kingdom: The Tribulation will be seven years of the worst news anyone has ever heard! So, God calls us to preach the Gospel of the Cross; the Gospel of Christ; the Gospel of Grace; the Gospel of Salvation. But, what about that last one? What about “the Gospel of Peace?”
The Gospel of Peace
Paul only uses the phrase, “the Gospel of Peace” twice: the first time, in Romans 10:15, he quotes Isaiah 52:7, and he summarizes what Isaiah said: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that sayeth unto Zion, Thy God Reigneth!” This was not “the preaching of the Cross:” it was the message to Israel, (to Zion,) that God was sending peace (with God and Man) to Israel, and that God was bringing salvation from their enemies to Israel.
The other time Paul uses that phrase is in Ephesians 6:15, where he tells us Church-age believers that our feet are “shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace.” These “shoes” are part of the sevenfold “armor of God.” We use that armor to arm ourselves for the spiritual battles we all experience. So…what is the “gospel of Peace,” in this context? Remember that Israel had been “at odds with God,” nationally, and as a result, they had experienced chastisement through enemy raids, invading armies, and terrible wars.
Peace With God
Each of us, (all believers, but specifically, we Gentile believers) began life “at odds with” God. We were lost sinners, and Romans 5:10 says we were enemies of God, whether we knew it or not, and whether we admitted it or not. But Romans 5:1 states the good news that, as born-again children of God, “being justified (declared righteous) by faith, we have peace with God!” Yes! That is good news! We are no longer on “God’s list of Enemies:” We are now his “born” children!
And that particular good news, the news that God is on our side, is incredibly good news. That truth should give us “firm, secure footing” in the battles of life. This is the “Gospel of Peace.” We have peace with God. This is our position in Christ. It is a positional promise. (Not the same as the “Peace of God.” That peace is a conditional promise which we are invited to experience; and it is available to us, if we walk with God in faith. It is a conditional promise!)
But there is another “gospel” mentioned, too: A false gospel.
There is one more “gospel” mentioned, in Galatians 1:6-9. It is a false Gospel: a message that turns people away from faith in Jesus. It supplants the Holy sacrifice of the Blood of Jesus with some other means by which to approach God. Usually, it supplants “faith in Jesus’s shed blood” with “Human works and religiosity:” human piety, or rituals. But it is a human-centered gospel, as opposed to a Christ-centered Gospel.
The message could include nearly anything, but it always includes “some other way to approach God.” It also always denies the full deity of Christ, saying that He is not the Almighty God: not God in the Flesh, not the Creator, and the Ruler and the Judge of all the Universe, who chose to be born in Bethlehem of a virgin mother, and who died on the Cross in our place, as the eternal sacrifice for our sins. Such false gospels also will always deny that Jesus’ blood was fully sufficient for our Eternal Salvation.
So, how does God feel about this “Other Gospel?” He condemns it in the strongest terms! And He specifically condemns those who preach it. Galatians 1:6-9 concludes, “…if anyone preaches to you a different gospel, let him be accursed!” (That is pretty strong language!)
What Gospel Should We Preach?
On occasion, I have heard a preacher say that he was going to “really give ‘em the Gospel!” But then, I listened very carefully to their message, and I was dismayed to find that they not only failed to “really give ‘em the Gospel:” they also did not even mention any portion of it!
- There was no mention of the Holiness of God,
- Nor was there any mention of personal guilt for sin.
- They made no mention of coming judgment,
- Nor did they mention the need for a personal Savior.
- There was no mention of the Cross,
- No mention of the Grave, and
- No mention of the Resurrection!
They left out every bit of both the “Bad News” and the “Good News!”
So, what Gospel DID they preach?
It certainly was not the Gospel of Christ! God could not have saved anyone through hearing that message. The preachers did not address the message of Salvation in any way, nor did they even hint at it. Their message usually was some sort of exhortation to “live a better life,” or to “avoid a particular type of sin,” or possibly expounding the “value of church attendance.” But those messages cannot save. Only the Gospel of Christ, being believed in, can save sinners.
I’m sorry to have to condemn anything people say, and I really don’t like to condemn a preacher for his message, but that is exactly what is commanded in Galatians 1:6-9. And none of those things they were preaching were part of the Gospel of Christ. When those sorts of things are allowed to replace the true Gospel, then the message falls into the category of “another Gospel:” A false Gospel!
The people who persist in bringing such messages are teaching people to approach God by some other means than by the shed blood of Jesus. And Jesus said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” We need to listen carefully to the messages we hear, and especially, we must consider carefully what message we preach.
What do WE Preach?
Whenever I share with someone, I try to remember to explain all three points of the good news, as well as at least the “core issue” of the bad news: (We need a Savior because we are Lost!)
But, quite honestly, sometimes I have looked back and realized that I accidentally left out one or more points of the Good News, and maybe all of the “Bad News.” That is not acceptable: God is not going to “condemn me” because I forgot to include some part of the Gospel, but the result in the life of the hearer may be that they cannot “place their faith in Christ,” because I did not “give them the message.” I only gave part of the message of Salvation.
1st Corinthians 1:23 says, in part, “but we preach Christ Crucified…” We know ahead of time that it will not be a “popular” message. Why? Because the majority of the people believe either that they are “too good for God,” so that they “don’t need a Savior,” or they are “too smart for God,” so that they think the message is foolish…laughable…stupid! And, in either case, they find the message either repugnant or pointless.
Jesus said that the majority would reject the message: but He also commanded us to share it with all people. Mark 16:15 says “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” (I’m pretty sure that means “all the people.”) There are those who believe that Jesus “only died for the elect:” But 1st John 2:1, 2 clearly says He is the propitiation not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world.
I have to conclude that, if Jesus accomplished that much at the Cross, not only on our behalf, but also for the whole world, then we truly are debtors to all people, to offer them that eternal life that He died to provide for them. That’s our job, and it is a Sacred Trust:
(Perhaps you don’t know this, but Angels are not permitted to preach the Gospel of Christ. Only we Humans have that privilege. The “everlasting Gospel,” in Revelation 14:6, is “preached by an Angel,” but it has no salvation content.) We need to take this privilege, this Gospel, and run with it!
Lord Jesus, fill us with the urgency of the message You have told us to proclaim. Help us to see the unspeakable privilege we have. Raise us up as Your witnesses and Your Ambassadors.
Lifting up the Son of Man
Lifting up the Son of Man
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
John 12:23, 31-34; Romans 10:11-17
Jesus said, “The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified,” In this passage, Jesus referred to his imminent death. He later said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” He told the manner of death by which He was to die: (to be crucified, not stoned or any other form of execution.)
I don’t want to wander away from that central theme, here, but I do want to expand upon it a bit. How does the crucifixion “draw all men” to Jesus? At this time (right now,) His death and burial and resurrection (the message of the Gospel) are not “drawing” anyone to Him, in places where the Gospel has never gone.
When Jim and Judy Burdett (Missionaries with Ethnos 360) carried the Good News of Jesus to the people in the Dom language in Papua New Guinea, the “drawing to Jesus” began there in that first village.
People saw that Jesus could set them free from their fear of the evil spirits. They began to see hope, beyond the grave. That hope had never been available to them before. They saw changes in their own lives as well as those around them. Those changes came as the indwelling Christ began to alter the thoughts and actions of the believers.
Unbelievers began asking questions, too. Eventually, people from neighboring villages began to ask for someone to come and share that message with them, too. You see, Jesus was drawing those folks to Himself.
How does the Gospel Work?
Turn to Romans 10:11-17
11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Paul laid out a logical series of questions, here, addressing How the Gospel can change lives. He said that it works for all people, Jews and Gentiles, because God is the same God, no matter where the Gospel goes. Paul confirmed that “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But then, he asked four questions:
- He asked, How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
- Then he asked, How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?
- Then he asked, How shall they hear without a preacher?
- And Finally, How shall they preach, except they be sent?
Those four questions, if we can answer them, will together answer the question, “How does the Gospel Work?” It also answers the earlier question, “How does the death and burial and resurrection of Jesus draw people to Him?” And the answer to all four questions is “They can’t!”
The Limitations of the Gospel
If the people don’t believe in Jesus, they can’t call on Him as their Savior. If the people have never heard of Him, they can’t hope to believe in Him. And, if no one tells them about Jesus, in language they understand, then they have not “heard” about Him. This is the truth, though some may protest, “Oh, but we broadcasted the Gospel on the Radio, for years!” There are thousands of people groups who only speak their local language…and no outsider speaks that language. (More than 6,500 languages, worldwide!)
So, someone must physically go to them, and learn that language. They must go with the express intent of telling them about Jesus in their own language. And unless they do, those people will never hear! And they will never believe…and never call on Jesus…and never be saved! Finally, if churches are not sending those committed missionaries, then they usually can’t go. Travel to some of the mission fields is extremely expensive. To live there is very difficult as well as expensive. These are just facts.
We support missionaries to remote places, because we understand these principles. But what about here at home?
The Same Gospel Works the Same Way in all Times and Places!
Romans 1:16 tells us that the Gospel of Christ is the only way God saves sinners. It says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation unto every one that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Everywhere Paul went, he first offered the Gospel to the Jews. (They were the original recipients of the promise, and had been waiting for centuries. So, they got the first news of the fulfillment.) But, of the Jews to whom he first spoke, the majority rejected the message. So, he then turned to the local Gentiles. The result?
There were a few Jewish believers. Their parents and priests had thoroughly trained them in the scriptures from childhood. And they were now training a larger group of Gentile believers who barely knew anything about the Lord. In some cases, Paul left a functioning church in as little as three weeks!
The Message is the Same
But his message didn’t change: He said ,“I delivered unto you first of all [“as of first importance”] that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the scriptures.”
That is the Message of the Cross: the message of Jesus’s death, and burial and resurrection. That message is the power of God unto Salvation! Nothing else can replace it! Our culture rejects that message, because the people see it as being “primitive and violent, and ignorant, and ugly.”
But the fact is, our sins are primitive, violent, ignorant, and ugly, as well. The Bad News of our sin is what makes the message of the Cross “Good News.” If it were not for our terrible need for a Savior, the message of the Cross would be useless and pointless, and really sad!
How can we “Lift up the Son of Man?”
God calls us to “lift up” Jesus, in another sense of the word. Jesus referred to His being physically lifted up on a Cross. They spiked Him onto that Cross by nails through His hands and feet. The Roman soldiers lifted up that cross, with Jesus on it. They dropped it into the post-hole (or the frame) that held it upright, They “lifted Him up for the world to see Jesus.” The crowds came to stare at Him, to mock Him and to revile Him as they passed Him by. But they did not believe in Him, nor did they see Him as their sacrifice for Sin. They completely rejected Him.
But He calls us to Exalt the Name of Jesus, and lift up our hands unto Him in worship and praise. 1st Chronicles 14:2 says that David’s kingdom was lifted up, because of the people of Israel. In that sense, God calls us to raise up the Person of Jesus. We lift him up in our own lives and with our own voices. We work to see that the message of the Gospel is constantly going out. It goes out by the practical testimony of our lives and by our spoken testimony, whenever people will listen.
Losing Our Testimony
Some time ago, I told you about a man where I once worked. He always wore brightly colored t-shirts with powerful Christian slogans and statements prominent on the front and back. But his behavior and words made a lie of the message on his clothing. He was not “Lifting up Jesus” by his lifestyle or his words and actions. As a result, the other people saw the messages written on his shirts as false. He once told me that people should not judge him by his harsh words, and his bad language. But they did! And they did it with God’s approval!
Jesus gave the World Three “Means by which to Judge” the Church:
- Behavior: Even if you can’t speak the language of the people you want to reach, they are watching your behavior. By the time you have learned their language, they already know whether the words you speak are true. In Matthew 5:15, 16, Jesus said, “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” If your behavior is not in keeping with your message, then the people will see the message as false: they simply will not believe you.
- Love for one another…the Agapé Love. In John 13:34, 35, Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another” If believers are cold or inconsiderate toward one another, then the dirt they can see in our lives will obscure the light of Christ in us.
- Unity of the believers. In John 17:21, Jesus said, “That they also may be one in Us, that the World may know that Thou didst send Me.” If believers are bickering amongst themselves, badmouthing one another, or striving over minor points of doctrine, then the people will also see our message as corrupt. We have lost our testimony.
Lifting Up the Son of Man
How can we change? Can we alter our behavior, our attitudes, and our priorities, to “Lift up the Son of Man” in our daily lives? How can we better glorify Jesus, and honor Him: lifting up His name as God in the Flesh; our Redeemer, and our Savior? Stop and consider: how can we “Lift up Jesus” in our daily lives? Are there things that need to change? Do we need to change our behavior patterns? Do we need to change our Attitudes?
People are watching how you treat your family members, coworkers and neighbors. They see what kind of respect you evidence toward the authority God has placed over you. they see how you act toward supervisors at work, toward the police, toward the government in general. Do you pray for them and treat them with respect and appreciation, or do you scorn them and treat them with resentment? Do you treat others with kindness, or not?
All these things are part of “letting your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.” So…it’s possible that we are failing in this regard, and thus we are not glorifying Jesus. Don’t imagine that I am pointing my fingers at anyone: As I think back over my fifty years as a believer, I can recall many times when I responded in the flesh, and shamed the Lord.
Agapé love reaches out to do what is best of the other person, regardless of how it affects you. This is the one where we have to be sensitive to God, to do what He wants, rather than just following our own ideas. But the Agapé love is not a feeling: it is action. It means putting others first, deliberately “stepping back,” from what we may consider our “rights,” to be a blessing to someone else. If you have doubts about what this is, please read 1st Corinthians 13:4-8, as it describes the Agapé Love, in no uncertain terms.
What does it mean to have unity? Does it mean “we can all quote the Lord’s Prayer, in unison?” Of course not! It means we are at peace with one another, caring for one another, and not bickering over personal preferences, or trying to claim “territory” within ministry. We are not “choosing sides” against one another. We are working to maintain the Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3) We are working to correctly understand God’s Word, to have unity there, as well, but we do not fight over small differences in understanding.
We are each called to be an ambassador… all the things we have mentioned to this point are just telling us “how we are to live as ambassadors.” But if a nation appoints a person as an ambassador for that nation, then that person also has to speak for that nation. They represent that nation to others..
Jesus called us to speak for Him. That is not a “special job” for a limited group. It is the assignment for the entire body of Christ. Jesus said that the believers are to be witnesses for Him throughout the whole World, starting with where we are. (Acts 1:8. 9)
We recognize our calling, and we accept the fact that Jesus called us to be witnesses. So now, we begin asking, “How do we do this?” (That is a good question to ask!) Please bear in mind that “evangelism is nothing more (or less) complicated than one beggar telling another beggar where to find free food.” If you really don’t know how to be saved, then you can’t tell someone else “where that free food is.” If so, then that is what we need to address! (We can change that!) Remember: All you have to do is tell them how to get that food: you can’t make them accept it.
But if you do know the message, and you are just afraid to open your mouth, that is a separate issue. We need to collectively seek to gain bold hearts to open our mouths and speak, to share the bread of Life with others. Paul expressed that need in his own life! (Ephesians 6:18, 19)
Jesus was feeding the five thousand: He told the disciples, “Give them something to eat!” In their own strength, they had nothing to offer. But Jesus multiplied the bread and fish, and He gave it to the disciples. Then they were able to give to the people what Jesus had given to them! And that is all we are doing, too: we are giving to others the Grace and Eternal Life that He has given to us. Those who believe the message, receive His Grace, and the gift of Eternal Life, the same way we did: By faith…plus nothing.
I think this is a good thing for us to be thinking about, as we begin a new year! Those are good goals to reach for, and we can work on them together.
Lord Jesus, change our hearts to beat as Yours, yearning for the lost souls around us to be saved and to walk with You in eternal Life. Embolden our timid hearts. Give us a deep enough love for others that we will not stand idle and watch people pass into eternity without You.
Christmas Thoughts, 2022: What shall we do about Christmas?
Christmas Thoughts, 2022
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
Genesis 3:15; Exodus 12; Isaiah 9:6, 7; Isaiah 7:14; John 1:1-5, 14; Hebrews 11:3;
Matthew 2, Luke 2
Usually, when we, as believers think about Christmas, even when we deliberately set aside what the World thinks is Christmas, we pretty much focus on Luke 2. The entire chapter speaks of the actual birth of the Messiah, and what immediately followed. Sometimes we mix in things that actually occurred a little later—the coming of the Magi, and the flight into Egypt, to escape the slaughter of the innocent babies in Bethlehem.
Sometimes, especially when we were young, we would mock some of the early hymns, probably because we didn’t really understand them. I remember as a child, singing, “We three kings of orient are, trying to smoke a rubber cigar: It was loaded, it exploded…Silent night!” (Lots of laughs, for an irreverent pre-teen.)
What do the hymns really say?
But let’s think about some of the scriptures that gave rise to those hymns.
Why did the hymnist assume there were three wise men? The ones he called kings? Because three gifts were named, in Matthew chapter 2, when the magi came to worship the newborn Messiah, whom they recognized as King of the Jews…and they knew something about him that no one else had guessed, yet: Those gifts, gold, and frankincense and myrrh, were prophetic in nature. The Hymnist spelled out that prophecy, in the rest of the hymn. “Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown him again, King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.”
The Myrrh also was prophetic, speaking of His ministry as the eternal sacrifice, that was to be given once for all… it predicted the death of the Lord: “Myrrh, have I; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom: suffering, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb!”
And the Frankincense, predicted the fact of His priesthood and deity. “Frankincense to offer, have I: King, and God and sacrifice! Aleluia! Aleleuia! Worship Him, God on High!”
Not so funny, after all. And, historically, it turns out that these wise men from the east were most likely the descendants of the disciples of the prophet Daniel…He had predicted the coming King, the Messiah. Though as far as we know, he said nothing about a star, somehow they had combined what they knew from Daniel’s teaching with the appearance of this supernatural star, and correctly discerned that the Messiah had been born. And they took their journey on the basis of that faith. That is not only not funny: that is pretty amazing.
What about Charles Wesley’s Hymns?
We sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and we feel good about the Lyrics. Where did they come from, though? Charles was born again in 1738, when he was 31 years old. His older brother, John was born again a few days later.
Charles began a Bible Study, at their college, trying to methodically study and teach the Bible, but not long afterward, John took it over. (Yeah, I know, elder brothers can be that way…but I am willing to assume it was a practical matter of gifting. Look what eventually came of it.)
John and Charles made a powerful team: John preached sound doctrine, turning people’s hearts to Christ, and Charles wrote powerful hymns teaching the same doctrines in musical form, so that the teachings could be repeated and stick in people’s minds. During their ministry together, they salted down all of England with the Gospel, so that while the French Revolution was raging in France, just across the channel, England was having its collective heart drawn into a strong relationship with God. During that time Charles wrote about 7,000 hymns. We still sing some of them today. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was written when Charles was experiencing his second Christmas as a born-again believer. He was eighteen months old in the Lord.
What had John preached? I can only guess at that, but the doctrines in the hymn are very clear:
Christ by highest heaven Adored; Christ the Everlasting Lord
Before the Creation, Jesus, Creator God, the Son, was worshipped by angels. And yet, he was already the designated sacrifice for a world that had not yet been created. Revelation 13:8 says that He was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
Rise, the Woman’s Conquering Seed, Bruise in us the Serpent’s Head
The first promise of that Savior came in Genesis 3:15, where God promised that the Seed of the Woman would crush the Serpent’s head. Revelation 20:2 identifies just which serpent He meant: there he is called that old serpent, and the Devil, and Satan.
Come, Desire of Nations, Come
Not all nations have looked forward to the coming Messiah, but believers have done so throughout History. Job preexisted Israel, but he said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and at the latter day He will stand upon the Earth, and I shall see him with my own eyes!” Job 19:25 That is referring to the second coming of the Messiah! After Job’s resurrection. But Jesus physically became our redeemer during His earthly ministry. Job looked forward through time as a prophet, and called out the death and the resurrection and the return of Jesus!
Late in time, behold Him come, offspring of the Virgin’s Womb!
From Human perspective, it seemed late: they had been waiting over 4,000 years since the original promise. But Romans 5:6 says He was right on time! It was at the perfect time, according to God’s Timetable! And the Virgin Birth was not an “extra detail:” it was an absolute necessity. He was the only one in History who was literally “the Seed of the Woman!” All the rest of us are the Seed of a man and a woman. Further, if Joseph had been Jesus’s father, Jesus was automatically disqualified from being king anyway, because there was a curse on one of Joseph’s great grandfathers: Jeremiah 22:24-30 said that no offspring of Coniah (also called Jeconiah, and in Matthew 1:11, Jechonias.)
Veiled in Flesh the Godhead See: Hail the incarnate Deity!
In Genesis 1:1, we saw God speak the World into existence. In Hebrews 11:3, we see it confirmed that the World was created by the Word of God. And, in John 1:1-5, 14, we see that that Word not only was the Creator, but that He (the Word) was made flesh, and that He in fact was Jesus. And Colossians 2:9 says that “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily!” I am not required to understand that fact: I am only required to accept it by faith, and to proclaim it in obedience to the God who gave it.
Pleased as Man, with Men to dwell; Jesus our Emmanuel
Philippians 2:5-8, which we discussed earlier, tells how Jesus chose to become a human. But it was not a surprise. Isaiah 7:14 told us in advance that “the Virgin shall be with Child and shall bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel.” That prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus.
Mild, He lays His Glory By: Born that Man no more may die,
Philippians 2:5-8 also spells out how He emptied Himself of His prerogatives as God the Son, and became a human for the express purpose of dying for our sins.
Born to raise the Sons of Earth, born to give them second birth!
He came specifically to offer His life a ransom for many. He told Nicodemus “Ye must be born again.” He also told him that “whosoever believeth” in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. And in Ephesians 2:6, it says that He has already raised us up as believers, to sit with Him in the throne…that we are already there with Him.
How to Receive Him
Hail the Heaven-Born Prince of Peace!
Isaiah 9:6, 7 called Him the Prince of Peace…(don’t forget that it also identified Him as the Mighty God, and the Everlasting Father!) But this line of the hymn is a command: it says, “Hail Him!” it means “Salute Him” as the Prince of Peace: Greet Him as Who He really is! Accept Him as your Savior and Master! Receive Him as your Redeemer and God!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness, Risen with Healing in His Wings!
Malachi 4:2 says, “but unto you who fear my Name, shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with Healing in His wings.” That is a direct quote of the prophecy!
The Result of Faith
Light and Life to all He brings
John 1:4 says that “In him was life and the life was the light of men” These are direct quotes from God’s Word! These are not the hymn-writer’s imagination running wild!
Come Desire of Nations, Come: Fix in us thy humble home.
In John 14:16-21, and other places, Jesus promised that whoever received Him as Savior would immediately and permanently be indwelt by the Holy Spirit; in fact, that, in the person of the Holy Spirit, the entire Godhead would dwell in each believer.
Adam’s Likeness now efface; Fix thine image in its place!
We have been recreated in the image of Christ. We now have two natures. Our new nature is sinless and created in true righteousness. Our old Adamic nature will be eliminated at death, and never plague us again.
Second Adam, from above, Reinstate us in thy love!
In 1st Corinthians 15:45-47 spells out that Jesus is the head of a new race. He is called the second Man, and the Last Adam. 1st Corinthians 15:22 says that we are either in Adam or in Christ. That is “positional truth.” If your position is still in Adam, you are still spiritually dead. If you are in Christ, you are eternally alive in Him.
Joyful all Ye Nations Rise! Join the Triumph of the Skies!
We are saved to serve! How? Every one of us is called to be an ambassador of Christ. And all the nations that have rejoiced in the Savior, have also rejoiced in Missions, at least for a time. That is how we Join the triumph of the Skies. We proclaim His birth…and His death, burial, and resurrection. We can offer the hope and Joy of Christmas every day of the Year.
With th’ Angelic Host Proclaim, Christ is Born in Bethlehem
Proclaim! That is our job! It should be our passion and our joy! In John 4:34, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work!” In that context, He was talking about Evangelism! That is the Work he wants done!
The Results of the Gospel
Peace on Earth, and Mercy Mild; God and Sinner Reconciled.
We can experience the Heavenly peace God offered in Bethlehem on an individual basis. Romans 5:1 says, “being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” If enough people share that peace with God, they tend to also have peace between one another, as we do, here in our church. But, the only lasting peace for the whole earth will come when Jesus is eternally reigning on the new earth.
The word, “Hark!” means listen! We are called to give heed to the message, and to realize that we have a very temporary privilege of serving with Jesus: Working with Him, taking the light and joy of His Gospel to the world we live in. This is our one opportunity to serve!
Hark! The herald Angels Sing! Glory to the Newborn King!
So…what are we going to do about it? If we say, “Happy Birthday Jesus! But I’m not going to do what you asked,” it seems a pretty shabby response. Let’s change that into a pattern of reverence and obedience, and share His joy and peace with those around us..… We can say, “Happy Birthday, Jesus! I bring myself as an offering to You!” We all have that gift to bring.
Lord Jesus, fill us with Your love and transform us to be like You in every way. Raise us up as your soldiers and servants. Teach us to live for your Glory.
Except a Corn Of Wheat Dies, it Remains Alone
Except a Corn Of Wheat
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
John 12:23-33; Philippians 2:5-8
23 And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. 26 If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.
27 Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.
28 Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.
29 The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him.
30 Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes.
31 Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.
32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. 33 This he said, signifying what death he should die.
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
We don’t usually associate the Christmas season with the Crucifixion. In fact, the first thought some of us may have had when Christmas came on Sunday, was “Will we still have Church?” This is what Church is about! It’s the reason we have Church at all! If we really consider Christmas to be Jesus’s Birthday, why would we not come together to celebrate His birth?
And, if we really believe that His reason in coming was to die in our place, and in so doing, to purchase eternal life as a gift for us. then how could we hesitate to give Him back the gift of honor and love and obedience that He deserves?
Connecting the Cross with Christmas
In John 12:23-33, there are several key phrases, any of which could be expanded upon to make the core message of a sermon. I do not want to do that, this morning. I want to tie together several key phrases, and connect them to a companion passage in Philippians.
When we consider the Christmas story, we remember the precious promises being fulfilled there, and we are overwhelmed by the mystery of God. Perhaps we are filled with Joy, knowing the fact of history that validates our faith.
But, as we are reading here, in John, it is easy to forget that the gory, horrible, shameful murder of that Holy Child, the King, is not only coming, but it is the purpose for which He came.
Let’s look again at some of the key statements.
In John 12:
- Except a corn (kernel) of wheat fall into the ground and die, it remains alone. (v. 24)
- If it dies, it produces much fruit. (v. 24)
- For this cause came I unto this hour. (v. 27)
- Now is the judgment of this world. (v. 31)
- Now shall the prince of this world be cast out. (v. 31)
What we just read was Jesus’s statement regarding His Birth and His Death! He said that He was born to die! He also said that His death had a specific purpose…and that purpose had several sub-clauses:
- He would bring forth fruit,
- the world is judged,
- the prince of this world is cast out.
What kind of Death?
He also gave a clue as to what kind of fruit He meant, and what kind of death He meant:
- And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me. (v. 32)
- This said He, signifying what death He should die. (v. 33)
He said that by means of the crucifixion He would “draw” all humans… The sins of the entire Human Race were judged at the Cross. He is the “magnet” drawing souls to God. We find the baby in the manger very touching, and the story of the miraculous birth thrilling. But the only means by which we can approach that Holy Child, that King, is through the Cross.
And in the midst of all that, He also let us know what we can do, if we are among those who have responded in faith. He says we are to follow Him. And He goes on to say, that those who are His servants will be where He is. He concludes that those who serve Him will be Honored by God the Father.
- If any man serve Me, let him follow Me. (v. 26)
- Where I am, there also shall my servant be. (v. 26)
- If any man serve Me, him will My Father honour. (v. 26)
How can We Respond to His Call?
When Jesus said that His servants would follow Him, what did He mean? He obviously knew that they would all be scattered before the Cross, as His own assignment was to walk through that particular trial alone.
He knew that all the disciples would eventually be martyred. He also knew which of his servants throughout history would suffer for His sake and to what degree. Obviously they have not all had the same experiences. But the call is extended down through the ages: “Follow Me!”
What does it mean, to “Follow Jesus?”
None of us have ever seen Jesus, let alone followed Him in any literal sense, but when we read 1st Corinthians 11:1, we see where the Apostle Paul (who had only seen Jesus in a vision, not in the flesh) told the Corinthian believers “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”
What was he telling them to do? He was telling them to live in obedience to Jesus. Throughout the New Testament we see admonitions to “walk worthy of the vocation where with ye are called.” (Perhaps you “don’t feel called!” Romans 8:28-30 should make you see that if you are a child of God, by Grace, through Faith, having been born again, then you are called! How you respond to that call is another matter.
Ultimately, it always comes down to a choice: Either I will, or I will not obey Jesus and daily seek to follow Him. Either I will, or I will not choose to feed on His Word, daily, and allow His Word to affect my thoughts, attitudes and actions. Either I will, or I will not look to Him for opportunities to serve Him in practical ways, serving as His hands and feet, and His voice, in this fallen World.
How Did Jesus Do It? Philippians 2:5-8
The Philippians passage we read made several statements about the choices Jesus made, in “emptying Himself” of His prerogatives as God the Son, and becoming a human child. He:
- Chose to set aside His prerogatives as Deity
- Chose a position of no reputation (a poor man in a poor family in a poor nation.)
- Chose to become a servant (Greek “doulos”…bondslave…a slave by choice.)
- Chose to become a human servant (not angelic)
- Chose to humble Himself
- Chose a lifestyle of absolute obedience to His Father
- Chose obedience through the Cross.
Can I do all of those? Obviously, the answer is “No, I cannot!” Of the seven choices Jesus made, only the last three are even open to me. I never was God, so there was nothing to let go of. I had no choice as to the place of my birth, let alone the family into which I was born.
But I can choose to honestly recognize that I am a human, not God! I can admit that I don’t know what is best, nor, often, even what is right. And I confess, that, on my own, when I do know what is right, I am liable to choose something else. I’m a sinner by nature. Apart from Jesus’s finished work at the Cross, I can’t even choose obedience. I can’t save myself.
What does the Cross have to do with Christmas?
In John 12:27, Jesus said, “For this cause am I come unto this hour.” In Luke 19:10 He said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to Save that which was lost.” His whole purpose in coming is stated there. And the means by which it had to be done is stated in Philippians 2:5-8.
All of the prophecies had to be fulfilled in that one Person: in Jesus.: Taken together, the fulfilled prophecies established His credentials as the Redeemer. So, the place of His birth (Bethlehem) the family into which He would be born (lineage of David,) the sub-line through which He must not be born (Jeconias… also known as Jehoiachin, Jeconiah and Coniah—and Joseph was of that lineage!) So, the Virgin Birth was an absolute necessity, and all the other events surrounding His birth—all of them–had to be fulfilled to the letter.
Unwrapping the Gift of Christ
The reason we get emotional about the Birth of Jesus (and we should) is that it marks the beginning of the “unwrapping” of the greatest gift ever given. John 3:16 says it this way: “God so loved the World that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting Life.”
As individuals, we “begin to unwrap that gift” the moment we believe: when we place our trust in Jesus’s shed blood as full payment for our sins. But the “unwrapping” of the gift of Eternal Life takes all of the rest of our lives. One of the points at which we tend to “stick” is this idea of actually “following Jesus.” Please don’t allow that idea to cause you to stumble.
Saved to Serve
We don’t like the idea of slavery, even when we know our only Master will be the One who already owned us by Creation, and by Purchase, having bought us by His blood. He calls us to voluntarily submit ourselves to Him, through obedience to the Holy Spirit and His Written Word. And we still don’t like it. We are rebels by nature! So, it requires that we repent of our rebellion. It means that we change our minds about our stubborn desire for self-direction, self-determination, and self-will. That’s all repentance means: Change your mind!
Jesus came with a particular purpose in mind. And He carried out that Purpose. Ephesians 2:10 says that He saved us with a purpose in mind. (It says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which He has before ordained that we should walk in them.”) Now He calls us to walk in that purpose, fulfilling it by Faith and Obedience.
How are we Called to Serve?
He says that He saved us to be His ambassadors and His witnesses. He says that we were saved to serve. We do not lose that position if we fail to live up to it…we just don’t get the rewards associated with obedience.
Jesus came as a precious baby, but not just so that we could “sigh” over how precious babies are (and they are) but rather so that we could see that God keeps His promises. Now He calls us to approach that Holy Child, the Eternal King, as our Savior and Master, and to offer ourselves as a worship gift, seeking to be the people He has called us to be.
Lord Jesus, glorify Yourself in us, Your servants. Help us to daily choose to function as your servants, not serving ourselves, but serving You in the work You have chosen for us.
The Testimony of Revival
The Testimony of Revival
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
9 Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; 11 Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.
12 On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. 14 And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, 15 Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. 16 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.
17 The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. 18 For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle.
19 The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.
When we spoke about Lazarus being raised from the dead, we saw that he was only raised back to natural life. It was a genuine, physical revival of one who was thoroughly dead…but not the same as the “resurrection.” The Resurrection is yet to come. (Lazarus could and would still die, physically.)
But his revival had an impact on the world around him. People were attracted by the “miraculous change” in his life. They wanted to meet him personally, and hear for themselves what had happened. Those who had been there in person, testified to the truth of the miracle. And, the enemies of Jesus were pretty stirred up, too. They wanted to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus. The Truth of Lazarus being raised from the dead meant nothing to them. And the implied power of God, through Jesus, meant nothing to them: they wanted Him silenced!
So, the testimony of the revival was having a definite effect, for good or for evil.
A National Revival in Israel’s History
In 2nd Chronicles 29, we see a genuine national revival in Israel’s history. They were spiritually dead, as a nation. The temple was closed, actually boarded up and heathen idols were set up, literally in every part of Jerusalem (2nd Chronicles 28:24.) The previous ruler, King Ahaz, had even sacrificed some of his children to those gods, at those altars.
But, somehow, in the midst of all that evil, God raised up a young man, named Hezekiah, who had a heart for God. He was Ahaz’s son, buthis mother was a godly woman, the daughter of a priest. The very first thing he did when he inherited the throne from his evil father Ahaz, was to open up that boarded-up temple, and repair the doors.
Then He called on the priesthood to go in and complete the work inside the temple, and consecrate it for worship once again. When they were done, he came personally, leading the rulers of the city (they had to follow him: he was the king!) They brought sacrifices for sin; for their own sins and those of the nation. Hezekiah required the priests to make atonement for the entire nation of Israel (not just Judah.)
They had a worship service, with instrumental music and singing, and public prayer and offerings. Everyone was invited, but not everyone attended. But those who did attend were filled with Joy, to see the relationship with God restored. It was the beginning of a genuine national revival. If we read the next three chapters, we see how the revival spread to the rest of the city. As the revival increased, all the heathen altars were torn down and removed. We can see how the revival spread to the other tribes, beyond Judah, and the people’s hearts were awakened.
Other National Revivals
Throughout history, other nations have occasionally repented of their collective sins and turned back to God. It is rare, but it has happened, especially in the nations in which there had once been a strong relationship with the God of the Bible.
There have also been whole denominations of churches who claimed faith, but which have been swept with a fervor for God. They have become a genuine testimony of God’s Grace and Hope in whatever community they lived. And, just as the testimony of the physical Revival of Lazarus had mixed responses, the spiritual revivals in communities, cities, and nations have had mixed responses.
There have always been some who genuinely responded to God, from the heart, and their lives were transformed. Some persevered in their walk with God for the rest of their lives. Some became distracted by the world and fell away into the temporary spiritual deadness that always results when we stop walking with God. They were saved individuals: their position was permanently established in Christ. But they were no longer experiencing the benefits of that relationship because they chose to “disconnect” at a practical level.
There have also always been those who were excited about the “movement,” but in whom the truth of the Gospel never took hold. They liked the thrill, and the feelings involved, and saw the value of the change in their community, but they failed to respond to the spiritual reality involved: they never got to know the Savior for themselves. He never became their personal Redeemer. Possibly they never even admitted to themselves that they needed a Savior.
“God saves people one by one.” The big “movements,” whether national or local, are exciting, and we are thrilled by the feelings of “belonging” and of “unity.” But the reality is that each individual member of the Body of Christ is linked to the Head of the Body: Jesus Himself. We are not only members of one another: we are specifically members of Christ.
So, comparing the actions we saw in 2nd Chronicles, where the revival began with one man making a choice to turn his own heart toward God and exerting what authority he had in that direction, we can see that personal revival begins with our will. (“The door to the truth is the will, not the intellect.”)
Every person has the right (and the responsibility) to make a decision to give proper attention to God: To approach the throne of God through the Person of Christ. We see from the scripture that He can only be approached by faith, and that the specific “pathway of faith” we are required to follow, passes through the Cross. Romans 3:25 states that Jesus is “the satisfaction of the righteousness and holiness of God (that is what the word “propitiation” means) for us through faith in His Blood.” That is pretty specific!
Jesus made it Personal
In John 14:6, Jesus Himself said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” If any ordinary man said such a thing, it would be the worst kind of arrogance and blasphemy. In Jesus’s case, it was simply the truth!
Also, we can see that the immediate response of the people, after that first step of “going back to the God of Israel,” was to tear down the idols in their lives. In their case, it was physical idols: shrines and altars to false Gods, all over the city of Jerusalem. In our case, it may be that we look over our lives and are convicted that some things in our lives, cherished by us, perhaps, are simply a contradiction to the truth of Jesus.
There may be things (attitudes, actions, habitual sins) that no longer are fitting, if we want to walk with God. So, we “tear them down:” we abandon those practices and habits and actions, and attitudes, and we strive to draw nearer to God, relationally.
What else can we see?
The responses of the people to the revival in Jerusalem spread fairly rapidly, but that was a national revival. What about the response of people to the physical revival of Lazarus? As we pointed out before, Lazarus had been dead long enough that his body had begun to decay, but his return to life was still a revival, not a resurrection, in that he still died again, physically, and he is with the Lord today. The resurrection of his old body is still yet to come.
But the responses of the people who witnessed that revival are really interesting and something from which we can learn.
- Some people came looking to see Lazarus. It was a “phenomenon” they had heard about and they wanted to see Lazarus for themselves. (What they did with that knowledge once they saw him still varied, but that is why they originally came.)
- Some came to see Jesus. They heard what was done in Lazarus’s case, and wanted to know Jesus themselves. (That is best of all.)
- Some already knew Jesus, and had known of Lazarus’s fatal sickness and his death: they testified of his revival. They publicly declared that, “Yes, he had been dead for four days, and yes, we personally witnessed his revival.” His revival became part of their own testimony.)
- Some were enemies who also witnessed the revival and they hated Jesus even more, because of it! They saw that many people were responding in faith, and they were angry! They admitted that they were losing the “popularity contest,” and they said that their only hope for “victory” was to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.
We can see varying responses to our own salvation testimony as well.
- Some may be cautiously pleased for us, as they see that it has been beneficial in one way or another: They will say, “Yes, I knew him before, and he was a real mess! Whatever he’s got, it seems to be real, and it seems to be working for him.”
- Some may see the change in our life and immediately recognize the need in their own life. They may want that same Jesus for themselves. They may see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. (That is best response of all!)
- Some, already believers themselves, may testify, because of the change they see in our life, “I know someone who was about as far from God as one could be. He was headed for hell on a greased pole! But somehow, God got through to him, and I want to tell you: his life is totally changed! Jesus Christ has miraculously transformed him into someone who is a blessing to everyone around him!” And, finally,
- Some may be disgusted and repelled. They may mock you personally, and publicly, verbally “shooting you down” in every way they can think of. They may slander you behind your back, lie about you to other people, maybe even attempt to get you fired from your job, or any other wickedness that comes to their mind. Why? They had nothing against you before (although they may have been secretly despising you.)
The Problem is Jesus!
The pharisees had no real problem with Lazarus before his revival: they almost certainly looked down on him, just because they looked down on everyone. (And, if you were friends with Jesus, you were already in trouble with the Pharisees. In John 7:49 they condemned the Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah, saying, “…these people who know not the Law are cursed.”)
They considered themselves to be the “teachers of Israel,” but they made no attempt to know the Truth, when the One Person, who was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, was talking to them face to face. Jesus said, “Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free!” And He was that Truth, who could set them free from their sin.
When He demonstrated Who he really was, by raising Lazarus from the dead, they were not “happy for Lazarus.” They did not “see the need in their own lives and want Jesus for themselves.” They wanted Him silenced! They plotted to kill Him! And the testimony of that revival was so strong that the only way they could hope to silence it was to kill Lazarus, too!
What is Our Testimony of Revival?
Each of us can testify, “I was spiritually dead, separated from God. Jesus died for me, and I trusted in His blood as the full payment for my sins. He brought me to life, spiritually, and now I want to live for Him.” That is not the Gospel: it only testifies to the effect of the Gospel.
We can be more specific:
For example, I can say, “I was an atheist until I was 18. God used various people and specific scriptures to awaken me to my need, as a lost sinner. I eventually placed my trust in Jesus Christ as my Savor and Redeemer. Now I belong to Him, and I want to serve Him with my life. I often fail Him, but He is still working in my life, to correct me and strengthen me for His service.”
You will notice that there is nothing very specific in there, except three things:
- I was lost
- Jesus saved me
- Now I belong to Him and I want to serve Him.
It can be Short
You will also notice that it was only 73 words. There was no need to go into a long history, explaining my life as a lost sinner, nor my initial confusion about the actual message of the Gospel. If someone is receptive and they want more information, I can give it to them.
If they want to know how they can be saved, I can tell them that, too. In fact, that is my only goal in giving my testimony. My testimony is not the Gospel. It testifies to the effect of the Gospel.
The Gospel can be pretty simple, too!
In 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, Paul gives it in three parts:
- Jesus died for our sins, in fulfillment of the prophecies (according to the Scriptures.)
- He was buried, really dead, also fulfilling the scriptures.
- He rose from the dead after three days, also fulfilling the scriptures.
And Romans 1:16 says, that message, being believed in, is The Power of God to save sinners!
Your testimony can have an effect on the lives around you. It will be a mixed response, for sure, but it can have an impact…if it is heard. If you hide that testimony for fear of public opinion, then it will not get a bad response from enemies, but it will also have limited effect on others.
We need to learn to live our testimony, for sure, but we also need to be ready to testify verbally, and to confirm the truth of the Gospel of Christ.
Lord Jesus, free our hearts from the prison of our fear. Allow us to joyfully, confidently tell of Your Love and Grace, testifying to the work You have done in our own lives.
The Poor Ye Have Always
The Poor Ye Have Always
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
John 12:7, 8
7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. 8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.
Compare Deuteronomy 15:7, 10, 11
7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:
10 Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. 11For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.
In the immediate context of John 12:8, if we only see the criticism of Judas and the response of Jesus, we could arrive at a wrong conclusion. It would be easy to assume that Jesus’s reply relegates the care of the poor to a lesser order of importance. And, compared to our immediate need to follow and worship Jesus (which Mary was doing, in this passage) all other things are secondary.
But Jesus was not diminishing the importance of attending to the needs of people around us. He was simply putting priorities in order. When we look back to Deuteronomy 15:10, 11, we see that Jesus was quoting His own Word, regarding the Poor. He had commanded the people of Israel to take care of their poor. It was not an option. It was also not just a “government function” such as welfare or food stamps. It was a personal responsibility, for every believer.
Why did Judas condemn Mary’s gift?
Mary, the sister of Lazarus, brought the very expensive perfume and anointed the feet of Jesus. Judas claimed to be offended that the money had not been used for something utilitarian, specifically, feeding the poor. (John gives us the inside story on that. He points out that, in reality, Judas was not at all concerned about the poor. He was a thief, and ironically, he was the “treasurer” for the group. He was jealous that the money was not being put in his own hands.)
But Jesus responded to what Judas claimed as his concern…the care of the poor. He said, in effect, “That is a constant need—no one denies it. But this is a “one-time-only” special gift. She has been saving up money for this act of worship, looking forward to my burial.”
Did Mary know that her action was looking forward to His burial? I rather doubt it. None of the disciples truly understood the plan and purpose of Jesus, in coming into the world. They simply loved Him for who He was, and what He was in their lives. That is a pretty good way to relate to Jesus, today, by the way. He does not demand that we understand all that He is doing. He wants our Faith and Love, each of which will result in obedience, which, in turn, will result in His being able to bless us even more.
What about the Poor?
As we read through the Old Testament, there is no question that God not only cares for the poor, but He expects His people to care for them as well. We should also notice that Israel was to care for their own poor. They were not told to try to meet the needs of every person in the World. They were taking care of those within their own sphere of responsibility.
Proverbs 29:7 says,“ The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it.”
Psalm 112:5-9 says, “ 5 A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion. 6 Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. 7 He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. 8 His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies. 9 He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour. “
The Church is not to turn a blind eye to the needs of people in our communities. We are to “consider” the cause of the poor: their needs and their problems. And we are to see whether there is some way for us to be a genuine help. We, as a church, continually look for ways to do just that.
As we study the New Testament, we see that this task has not changed. We are to care especially for other believers in our sphere of responsibility, and, as far as we are able, to care for unbelievers around us as well. In the same manner, God sends His rain, His sunshine, and His general supply to everyone, not discriminating between “just and unjust.” Remember, however, that we are not God, and while we can contribute, we are also limited in ability and wherewithal. We have to let Him lead us.
James 2:15, 16 underscores the responsibility of believers to other believers. In arguing the requirement that faith must carry through and produce action, James says, “15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
“Shoe Leather Faith”
We are encouraged to “be practical” in our care for one another. The entire book of James is directed toward “practical holiness.” It means “putting shoe leather on your faith.” Our faith is not only supposed to “talk the talk,” but also to “walk the walk.” James tells us to function in practical ways, and not just be “posers,” with a show of piety, but no substance.
We are to seek to reach out to those around us with the Gospel of Christ, as we are commanded to do. Paul says, regarding the Gospel of Christ, “I am a debtor….” He considered that to be the one thing that he owed to all people. But we also want to make an effort to meet practical needs. The only question we need to ask is regarding “balance” and “priorities.” Paul pointed out that his primary calling was to reach the world with the Gospel.
Priority of Jesus
Jesus demonstrated the same thing in His ministry. At Sychar, in Samaria (John 4:34) Jesus told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His Work!” (And what was that work? Was it feeding the poor? He did feed them on more than one occasion. Was it to heal the sick? He certainly did a lot of that!) But, as the Living Word of God, the primary ministry of Jesus, daily, was to lead human souls to God. And His final goal was the Cross, to offer Himself as the satisfaction of the Righteousness and Holiness of God so that the human race could approach God and be saved.
The “harvest” he pointed out to the disciples, and the work He wanted to complete as “the task at hand,” was the harvest of souls. In that same passage, He said, “Lift up your eyes! Look on the fields! They are white already unto harvest!”
We can easily see that “feeding the poor” is also within the scope of His will for us, but Jesus was not telling them to go “feed the poor.” He was telling them, “These are people who need the Savior: Let’s get busy, and lead them to the Lord! The Harvest is right there in front of you!”
What is our Priority?
Can we go too far into “social work?” Yes, I believe we can lose sight of our objective, and begin to feel that “we exist to feed the world.” Feeding the poor is only a part of what we are to do: the actual assignment was to take the Gospel to the whole world.
Consider a fireman, working in a fire department: he may be given the daily task of organizing the map box. Or he man be assigned to change the oil in the fire trucks or to cook a meal for the fire crew. But that task does not change his prime directive; his job, which is to fight fires!
Our “prime directive” is to preach the Gospel. Jesus gave His “last request” several times. It always involved taking the Gospel of Christ to the lost world. All the other “tasks” are incidental to the prime directive. If we are failing to draw people to Jesus Christ, then, no matter how many “hungry mouths we feed,” we are not doing what we were told to do!
If the fire alarm rings, and the firefighter in our example above says, “Sorry, I’m busy organizing the maps!” then he will no longer be a firefighter! We are called to reach the dying World with the hope of Eternal Life. As we go, we are to meet people’s other needs as well. The other needs are not the primary goal.
Jim and Judy Burdett, the missionaries we support, spent 40 years doing just that. The result has been three fully functioning churches, several pastors and Bible teachers and evangelists, as well as the entire New Testament translated into the Dom language.
But! Every morning, Judy got up, and, on her porch, she cared for the minor medical needs of the people. Jim helped with their physical building projects, and he provided transportation to the nearby town on occasions when people had needs. Judy taught literacy so that the people could read the portions of the New Testament as they were completed. Jim and Judy met people’s physical needs as God provided, and, in their hospitality and generosity they proved themselves to be good neighbors.
But they never forgot their prime directive. Their priorities were correct: They were there for one reason: to reach those people with the Gospel and, in doing so, to translate the New Testament into their language. And that is what they accomplished!
Similarly, we are called to set our priorities. We are not to lose sight of our stated purpose, but, as a part of that given assignment, we are to “be good neighbors,” to “love the unlovely,” to “feed the poor,” to “care for widows and orphans,” etc. Those are the “side tasks” that demonstrate the Love of Christ. They accompany the Gospel we are commanded to share. The “side tasks” are not to be ignored, but they are not to replace the preaching of the Cross.
In Judas Iscariot’s case, there was no question: The scripture tells us that he had a “hidden agenda.” He was a thief and he wanted access to the money. But we can have hidden agendas, too. We may hope to do enough of the supplemental things that we escape responsibility for the central assignment. (Sorry: that is not possible!)
Entire church denominations have become servants of a “social gospel,” as opposed to the preaching of the Cross, the message of Salvation. In fact,“Sunday Schools” were begun in England, not as a tool of the Gospel, but as a means to get children out of the factories, and educate them. They were to teach them to read and write and use arithmetic. They were schools, and the government required the shop owners to release the children from work every Sunday, to attend those schools.
Were the schools valuable? Absolutely, they were! Were they fulfilling the Great Commission in any way? Possibly, but marginally so, at best, unless the people providing the education had the personal goal of leading people to Christ. In that case, perhaps it really was a means by which to reach souls for Christ. (And. yes, in learning to read, they were also reading scripture, so probably some became believers that way.) But the goal was social reform, not evangelism. By the way, the British commonwealth schools still teach Bible classes in some places. But they are not often taught as the Bible being the Word of God.
The “public schools” that emerged as a result of that initial move toward “educating the masses” were initially run by God-fearing men and women, so they probably still had a good effect. But the public school systems have deteriorated until the government schools finally have become enemies of the Gospel.
It is easy for a missionary organization to forget their prime directive as well. Many missions have failed in that way. (Some missionaries in history have even been drawn away to become government spies!) The key to avoiding such “derailments,” is for each individual to personally remember that the Great Commission is still in force today. We are to remember that it applies to all believers individually. It is unlikely that a large group of believers who each hold that core belief could easily be diverted. Without that conviction, we can be distracted by politics or social reform and collectively forget our assignment.
There is a saying, that, “When you are up to your armpits in alligators, it is hard to remember that you originally went in to drain the swamp.” That saying is intended to be humorous. But it is still a pretty accurate assessment of why we become distracted by the various alarms sounding all around us. It tells how we tend to lose sight of our objectives.
Lord Jesus, refocus our attention on our prime directive, the Great Commission, and fix our hearts on honoring Your written Word and living in Obedience to You as the Living Word.