My Hour is not yet come, but yours is always ready!

My Hour is not yet come, but yours is always ready!

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 7:1-9; John 7:25-30; John 8:20

Introduction:

Sometimes we wonder why things happen, and how they fit into God’s “Wonderful plan” for our lives. I used to use the “Four Spiritual Laws” tracts, written by Bill Bright, but I eventually quit using them for several reasons:

Problems with Tracts

For one thing, the central premise, (“God Loves You and Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life) is technically true, but, from most people’s perspective, it is seriously flawed: Yes, God loves you and Yes, He has a wonderful plan for your life, but it may or may not feel or look very wonderful to you. And you may not always be conscious of His loving care in your life.

For example: every single one of His apostles (with the possible exception of John) were eventually executed. How wonderful was that? Millions of His followers, since that time, have been persecuted, had their children taken from them, their belongings confiscated, and have suffered imprisonment or other forms of persecution for their faith in Him. Millions have died horrible deaths, rather than disown Him. How wonderful does that sound? So, that was one problem: I was uncomfortable with the core message.

The real issue though, which caused me to quit using that tract entirely, was that it left out the core issues of the Gospel, and its message centered on “how much better things would be if you knew Jesus,” and it finally concluded, “Pray this prayer and receive Christ.”

What is the Gospel?

That is not what the Gospel says! The Gospel says, “Place your faith in His blood sacrifice for your sins and be saved.” There is no mention of “praying a prayer:” the issue is faith: place your faith in the death and the burial and the ressurection of Jesus Christ!

The result of the Gospel is also described: “It has been given unto you in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29)

You see, that sort of thing doesn’t find its way into very many tracts. It is not attractive-sounding! The fact is, as a newborn believer, you have already “chosen a side” in a spiritual war that, previously, you didn’t even know existed, and now life is getting worse, (maybe) not better, in certain areas. Hopefully, you have grown in your faith at least a little, and are able to enjoy your relationship with the Savior, regardless of circumstances. That, alone, is the key to Christian Joy.

But, if you were thinking that your circumstances were supposed to improve, and that “nothing bad would ever happen to you again;” then, you were in for a very rude shock! Probably, you got through the early disappointments as part of the “learning curve,” but maybe other people have been pestering you with questions, like: “How could a Loving God allow these things to Happen?” Perhaps you have asked that question yourself.

Let’s read what Jesus said about some of these things.

My Time is not yet Come

John 7:1-9

1After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jew’s feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world.

For neither did his brethren believe in him. Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast: for my time is not yet full come. When he had said these words unto them, he abode still in Galilee

One of the first things we see in that passage is that the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus. Jesus knew that, and (as we see later) it was common knowledge in at least some circles, though it was denied by the ones who actually conspired against him.

Jesus’s physical half-brothers (they were the offspring of Joseph, by Mary…listed by name in Mark 6:3)  were urging Jesus to go up to Jerusalem and show Himself to the general population at the Feast of Tabernacles.

Worldly Counsel

In a way, this made good sense, from a human perspective: IF Jesus wanted (and He did not) to make himself “known openly” (i.e. “get famous”) then there could be no better time: All the serious Jews in the world would be at that feast. If you wanted to get noticed by the Jews, that was the time and the place to do it!

But fame was not Jesus’s primary motive. He had a job to do, and it involved walking a very narrow path (think “tightrope”) to the Crossnot to fame and fortune. He hinted at this, earlier, in John 4:34, saying that His primary passion was to do His Father’s Will. He confirmed this later at Gethsemane, saying “Not My will but Thine be done.”

The other thing as we already saw, was that Jesus already knew the Jews wanted to kill him. It seems that his brothers were not yet fully aware of this. And, as John points out, in verse 5, they also did not yet believe in Him, themselves. He was just their “eldest brother, “and He was not behaving as they thought an “eldest brother” should behave. (Evidence in scripture suggests that Joseph had died, and that Jesus was now the head of the household.) They thought He should be “leading the charge,” and making their family more successful.

Jesus’ Counsel

His reply to them was that they could head on up, but that He would not be leaving yet. He explained, “My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast: for my time is not yet full come.”

This isn’t the only place He made such comments. You may remember, He told Mary nearly the same thing, in John 2:4. “…mine hour is not yet come.” And there were other times, later on, when the comment was made that, “his hour was not yet come.” (John 7:30; 8:20)

What was Jesus telling them?

Let’s break it down a little. He said four things:

  1. My time is not yet come
  2. Your time is always ready
  3. The World cannot hate you
  4. The World does hate me; because I testify of it that its works are evil

Why did He say, His time had not yet Come, but theirs was always ready?

Jesus is perhaps the only person in History whose every step was choreographed. It was impossible for Him to do other than the directive will of God, because He, Himself, was God in the Flesh! Every step he took, and every word He spoke was exactly what He was directed to do by God the Father, because He was God the Son! And the two were in perfect agreement.

When we say we want to do God’s Will, we often simultaneously express the regret that we don’t always know what He wants us to do. All I can do is fall back on the Written Word, to see the general assignment for the church-age believers, and then trust Him to lead me as I seek to follow Him. Jesus didn’t have that problem: He knew His Father’s will!

Jesus Knew The Will of God

So, Jesus knew the Jews wanted to kill him, and that they were watching for him at Jerusalem. The brothers didn’t believe, yet, that He was the Messiah. Possibly they would have been in danger, there, just by being with Him in Jerusalem. Also, He knew it was not yet time for him to be glorified in death, so his entrance was going to be quiet, this time.

But, in contrast to His “choreographed” life, our lives can be shut down at any time. We are not on a tightrope, as He was. God gives us a great deal of latitude, in decision making. He also gives us a whole Bible full of directions as to how to make good decisions and how to gain wisdom so as to correctly apply knowledge. He also warns us that bad decisions can be fatal. James warns us, too, saying that our lives are like a vapor, and they can disappear in an instant, even if we are making the best decisions we can. We have no promise of tomorrow.

But Jesus knew exactly how long He was going to live, and He knew exactly what to do at all times. None of us can say that about ourselves.

Why would He say, “The World Cannot Hate you?”

He told His natural brothers, “The world cannot hate you,” but later, through John (1st John 3:13) He said, Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.”

Is that a contradiction? No, it isn’t! Jesus’s physical, biological half-brothers had not yet believed in Him, so they still “belonged to the World.”

In John 15:18, 19, speaking to the Eleven, Jesus said, “18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

So, as long as we were unbelievers, we were accepted by the World (to one degree or another) as being one of their own: but now that we have placed our trust in Jesus, we no longer belong to the World.  Now, they see us as enemies! We smell like Jesus, now, and they don’t like that!

Jesus’s brothers still fit in just fine, but Jesus’s disciples didn’t fit in at all! (And we don’t!)

Why does the World Hate Jesus?

Back in John 1:4, we saw that Jesus was the only source of light and life to the Human Race. The next verse says, “and the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.”  (in this context, the word translated “comprehend” is better understood as “overpower.” Yes, it is true that the darkness does not “understand the light,” but the connotation is that “the darkness has never been able to extinguish the light.”)

We are given to understand that this light is more than just physical light: photons, light waves, etc. It is the Moral light of God’s Presence. 1st John 1:5 says, God is Light and in Him is no darkness at all.”

The World Hates Light!

So, in John 3:19, when Jesus said, “This is the Condemnation, that light is come into the World, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil,” we have no trouble understanding that Jesus was not referring to “people whose eyes are hurt by bright lights,” but rather, the pattern of evil in the world, that hates to be exposed.

Jesus is the Light of the World: (He says so in John 8:12!) So, as physical light dispels darkness because it is in its character to do so, Jesus has exposed the evil of the World from the beginning. And the World hates Him for that, alone. They don’t hate him for healing people: they hate Him for exposing them as sinners. They don’t hate Him for doing Good: they hate him for exposing the fact that they are doing evil!

But He was on a time-table—a schedule! Notice what happened when He went up to Jerusalem, later:

John 7:25-30

25Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill? 26 But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? 27 Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is.

28 Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. 29 But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me. 30 Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.

Six points:

  • The people recognized Jesus as the one whom the authorities were seeking to kill.
  • They marveled that Jesus taught openly, and the authorities did nothing.
  • The people speculated that possibly the authorities knew that He really was the Messiah.
  • They did not know the Word very well: they thought no one would know the Messiah’s origin: But the scriptures are very clear as to “Where He would come from.”
  • Jesus told them, “Yes, you do know me…but you don’t know the One who sent Me!
  • Then they all tried to take Him, but they failed: “because His hour was not yet come!”

It is an interesting little story, isn’t it? He knew when His “hour” was, and they did not, but they still could not take Him, “because His hour had not yet come.” (It almost looks as though God was in control, doesn’t it?)  And, the same thing happened in the next chapter, when Jesus taught about His own testimony and that of His Father.

John 8:20 says,

20 These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.

It seems we are not in control of what happens around us! All His enemies wanted to arrest Him and wanted Him dead, but they couldn’t do it! In John 7:32-46, we see that officers were sent to arrest him, but they hung back, and listened to him. They eventually went back empty-handed, and the chief priests asked, “Why have ye not brought Him?” But the officers could only reply “Never man spake like this Man!” The authority of God was shining through Jesus in such a way that humans (even the officers His enemies had sent to arrest Him) were awed by Him!

So, “Who is in control, here?”

This passage should begin to teach us of the authority of God over all things, including our own lives, and it should help us to submit to that authority, rather than constantly protesting against it, saying that “it is not what we wanted.” (We argue with God a lot!)

If we can accept that this is the honest Word of God, and if we can see that nothing could be done against God’s Messiah, except as it completely fit His timetable, then it should give us a sense of confidence about our own future.

Our Confidence

As Romans 8:31 says, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” And, in that case, Romans 8:28 also becomes a reality. We love to quote the first half of that verse, saying, “And we know all things work together for good….” But we seldom quote the last half: “…to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

We can rest easy in God’s Will, if the latter half of that verse is true about us, but without it, the first half is very questionable. Jesus said, “…your time is always ready.” We don’t know how much time we have left to serve the Lord. We can keep wasting time, and thinking we will “catch up tomorrow.” But we are not promised tomorrow. I am directing this at myself as much as anyone else. We need to use our time wisely.

Lord Jesus, draw us along to number our days, and to recognize how short our lives are in light of eternity. Help us not to waste the opportunity You have given us to work beside you in your field, and to serve as Your ambassadors in this life.

Separating believers from unbelievers

Separating believers from unbelievers

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 6:60-66 (context; verses 52-59); John 5:24; John 10:27, 28

Introduction:

We have come to a “crisis,” in John chapter 6: Jesus had just taught that His flesh and blood were necessary for people to have eternal life. Earlier, we explored why this was such a hard thing for the Jews to accept. But there are different options in how we respond to hard teaching. Knowing that a teaching is either true, or partly true, or false, we have to decide how to respond. We can compare against God’s Word to see if it is true. That is what the Berean believers did in Acts 17:11. But, even after we know it is absolutely true, we have to decide how to respond.

Balking at Hard Teaching

60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? 62 What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. 65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. 66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

We already read the context for this passage: the verses immediately before: That was a hard passage to understand. But, for two reasons, this is also rather hard to grasp, even for believers today: The first reason is the sadness we feel, as we read that many of Jesus’s disciples abandoned their devotion to Him. They walked no more with Him! Yes, that is sad…and it still happens today! The other thing that makes it a hard passage, is that we tend to equate salvation with discipleship, and the two are not the same.

Salvation and discipleship are not the same

This is a hard concept, but let’s consider Judas: he was a disciple, but was not a believer! Jesus pointed this out in John 13:10, 11, when He said “ye are not all clean.” And after Judas left, in John 15:3, He said to the remaining eleven “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” All twelve had heard the same words…the difference was that Judas had not believed in Jesus as his Savior.

There are others in scripture who were believers, but who were not disciples. Lot was a saved man, but did not walk with God: he did not “follow Jesus” (that is what a disciple is…a follower.) And there were many others. Why might someone fall into that category?

Other Biblical Examples

Are there Biblical examples of real believers “balking at hard teaching?” Are there Biblical examples of real believers who “ran away from God?” Sure, there are!

  • John the Baptist initially refused to baptize Jesus, saying that he himself needed to be baptized by Jesus. But he changed his mind, and he went ahead and obeyed.
  • Peter initially refused to have Jesus wash his feet…but he changed his mind and obeyed.
  • Jonah initially refused to go to Nineveh, but (with some convincing) eventually he changed his mind and went…(still in a bad frame of mind, but he went and he obeyed.)

Do you see a pattern there? These were genuine believers who stumbled over the command of God, but they repented. (That is what “repentance” is…changing your mind: turning around, going back, and doing what you should have done.)

Believers or Unbelievers?

So, as we read John 6:60-66, are we reading about believers or unbelievers? Notice that it says they were disciples. Remember that the word “disciples” only means “followers.” They were following Jesus, but their reasons for following varied wildly. He had just taught that his flesh and blood were necessary for their eternal life. That specific teaching was difficult enough that people still struggle with it, today.  But they had a choice to make:

  • They could accept it (and accept the fact that they couldn’t fully grasp His meaning),
  • They could argue about it, trying to force it to “make sense” to human minds, or
  • They could flatly reject it as unthinkable.

Some argued, and complained that it was a hard saying; difficult to grasp. But Jesus knew their hearts: He knew who believed and who did not. He also knew who would eventually betray him. If we sneak a peek at the verses ahead, we see that Judas was there, as one of the Twelve: He stayed with Jesus when others left! But he still was not a believer. So that is not necessarily the dividing line. So how did Jesus respond to their complaint that this was “a hard saying?”

Jesus had just told them that His flesh and blood (as pictured in the Passover Lamb) were absolutely necessary to their salvation, and that faith in Him was the only entrance into eternal life. They had a hard time with that statement. There are many, still today, who struggle with the concept that Jesus is the only way God offers for Salvation. They argue against it, saying “all the billions of people who do not believe in Him cannot all be wrong: they could not all be lost!”

Is there anything “wrong” with Jesus being the only way of salvation?

This is an emotionally attractive, but completely illogical reply: As far as we know there is only one “cure” for many deadly diseases. What shall we say of all the millions who have died from malaria, the plague, polio, or any other deadly disease? “Well, it just isn’t fair: there must be another way!” No, the hard truth is: they either get the medicine to save their life, or they die.

There is a new treatment available that can cure Hepatitis C: it is effective on a high percentage of people, but it is extremely expensive, so it simply will not be available to all those who suffer from that disease. (Lesser treatments can hold it at bay, but cannot cure it. But this cure is financially out of reach for most people…The Gospel is free, to all!)

Today, there is a single, “collective antivenin” which is effective for about 85 of the 140 different species of venomous creatures in Australia. The government has tried to make it as widely available as possible, so people who are bitten have a chance to get it and save their lives: but if they can’t get to where it is, or, if they refuse to accept it, they will surely die! There is no other way! That is just reality! Romans 5:12 may not sound “fair,” either, but it is a fact: “Sin came into the world through one man, and death by sin, thus death passed upon all, for all have sinned.”

The Blood of Jesus was shed, once for all, as God’s only solution for the lost state of the Human race. The Church has tried, over the years, to make that Salvation available worldwide. There are only two barriers: our reticence to share it with others, and their unwillingness to believe in it. And that’s the teaching they stumbled over, in John 6:31-51.

Jesus Tested the Character of their Faith

Jesus asked, “You think that was hard? What will you think when you see Me physically ascendback into Heaven where I came from?” Why is that a test? They already balked at the “hard teaching” that “faith in His blood is our only hope for salvation.” Now He pointed out why He was their only hope: He is God in the flesh! He was the Deity they claimed to worship.

You see, so long as we see Jesus as “strictly human,” no matter what else we may attribute to Him, we will struggle with His authority, we will question His unique, exalted position, and we will resent the fact that other people are actually worshipping the Person we see as a man. I once had a pastor tell me, “I don’t want people praying to Jesus!” (Why did he say that? Evidently he did not believe Jesus was the true God, in human form.)

Can a true believer deny the deity of Christ?

Is it possible to be a believer and not know that Jesus is God in the flesh? Yes, it is, and there are many who do struggle with that concept, but it requires that one be seriously ignorant of God’s Word, to miss that point.

On the other hand, some do see that truth in Scripture: but they struggle with it, and eventually rebel against it, denying His Deity. In their case, I question the reality of their faith in Him as the Savior, since they reject the fact of His Person; the fact that He is truly God in the Flesh. Is it possible that they are really believers, and just badly deceived? Yes…I believe it is possible. But I would be very concerned about how they arrived at that point.

The Jews, who heard Him, actually should not have had a struggle with that idea: They had the prophecy from Isaiah 9:6 saying that “the Son” who was promised to them, would be called “The everlasting Father!” Give that some thought! I cannot “explain” how the Son should be called the “Everlasting Father!” But there is no argument: It is simply stated as a fact, and it is to be simply accepted! (Or…you can reject it, and walk away. And that is what many of them did.)

The Question of the Deity of Christ

The fact that Jesus truly is God is a core teaching of the Bible. (John 1:1, 3, 14, 18)

  • He was the Creator God who made all things material or immaterial. (John 1:3)
  • He was the Speaking God who walked in the Garden in the cool of the day, and spoke with Adam and Eve. (John 1:18)
  • He was the Promising God who ate Abraham’s food, and talked with him face to face.
  • He was the Judging God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 18, 19)
  • He was the Miracle-working God who judged Egypt and rescued the children of Israel.
  • He was the Creator of all things, the Eternal Judge of all things, and the Promised Savior. (John 1:3; 1:14; 5:22; 5:24; 10:27, 28)

Either this is all true, or the Bible is not true. Either this is all true, or Jesus is not the Savior. That is a simple fact. There are no “degrees” of truth here.

Why reject this doctrine?

All of the cults speak highly of Jesus, calling Him a Mighty Spirit Being, a Great Teacher, a Prophet, even a “lesser god,” in some cases, but they can never admit that He is literally the Sovereign, Almighty God!

You see, if they admit that Jesus is truly God, then they also have to admit that they, themselves, are not the servants of God. And they have to face the facts: they, themselves, are under His Judgment. Jesus hinted at that, by stating that they were going to see Him ascend back into heaven. And they decided that was just too much! So, they quit!

How can I know I am saved?

I have known people who apparently were genuine believers, but who abandoned their faith. Their lives reflected that loss. They were sad wrecks of what once had been a glorious reflection of God’s Grace. Are they still saved? How can we know for sure, in our own life?

If there has ever been a time in your life when you placed your hope in Jesus’s blood as your only hope for salvation, trusting in Him alone for forgiveness of sins, and eternal life, then you are saved, and you cannot be lost. (John 5:24 says If you have believed in Him, then you have eternal life, and you shall not come unto condemnation, but have crossed over from death unto life”)

1st John 5:11-13 clearly teaches that God wants you to KNOW that you have eternal life.

What happens if I don’t follow Jesus?

Even if I truly am “one of His sheep,” if I do not walk with the Shepherd, I am in constant danger of attack by my enemies and I cannot avail myself of His protection. I am “enlisted in His army,” but I am refusing to wear the armor He commanded me to put on!

Jesus said, “My Sheep hear my voice, and they follow me, and I know them, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”

“Following the Shepherd” is the normal walk for a believer. Failing to follow Him does not negate His promise of eternal life, but it does “void the warranty” on his guidance and protection.

There are consequences!

If I fail to follow Jesus, then the very least I can expect is unfruitfulness. The next thing I can expect is the absence of Joy and Peace. You see, even though I am a believer, if I am no longer walking with Jesus, then I am not benefitting from the relationship “in the here and now.”

That is what happened, here in John 6:60-66. Some of those disciples may have been true believers…but some were not. Jesus knew which were which. We do not. But we can examine our own hearts and see where we stand with God…and decide where we ought to be, and what we need to change, to get there.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to our own condition as believers and encourage our hearts to change, to repent, to go back and follow you.

What kind of Bread do we seek?

What kind of Bread do we seek?

(What do we hope to Gain?)

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Compare The Isaiah Passage:

Isaiah 55:1-3 

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

Remember two things, here:

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

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

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

Religions are NOT all the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What shall We do?

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

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

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

What does God say about our new birth?

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

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

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

But: How do we Work for Him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You “Out of Uniform?”

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

What is The Purpose of Uniforms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People judge us by several things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens to Unbelievers who are “in Uniform?”

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

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

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

“Vaccinated against the Gospel”

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

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

Wasted Works—Useless coverings

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

“DO vs DONE”

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

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

What about the Uniform, then?

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

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

The Prodigal Son

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

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

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

Look in the Mirror!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© February 2022 C. O. Bishop .

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

Getting out of the Boat

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

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

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

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

The Storms of Life

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

The Fact is, Saved People Still Sin:

Paul fought the same battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, Let’s talk about Walking on Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Boat through Faith and Obedience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bread and Fishes

Bread and Fishes

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Feeding of the Five Thousand

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

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

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

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

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

A boy’s lunch, freely offered

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

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

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

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

You give them Something to eat!

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

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

What about Us?

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

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

Use what You have been Given!

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

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

What about that Boy who gave His Lunch?

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

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

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

What about you?

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

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

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

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

Unpacking the Gift of God

Unpacking the Gift

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction

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

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

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

The Gift

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

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

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

How do we “unpack” that gift?

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

The Gifts and the Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goals

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

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

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

So, there are seven things to look for:

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

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

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

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

The Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nobleman’s Son

The Nobleman’s Son

© 2021  C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction

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

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

Please Heal My Son!

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

There are several points to notice, here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Today?

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

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

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

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

What about Us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving and Prayer

Thanksgiving and Prayer

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 5:16-18;

Introduction:

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

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

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

Thanksgiving was Part of the History

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Prayer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is OK to pray and die!

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

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

God’s Command

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

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

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

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

Rejoice Evermore

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

Pray without Ceasing

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

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

In Every Thing give Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction

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

Who is John the Baptist?

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

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

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

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

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

What Sort of Man was John?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was there a Conflict? No!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Testimony:

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

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

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

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

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