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20. Recenzie de Carte -- Explodeaza! Ajutor real pentru mamele care au probleme cu mania

Titlul cartii: Explodeaza! Ajutor real pentru mamele care au probleme cu mania

Autor: Julie Ann Barnhill

Anul publicarii: 2001

Editura: Harvest House Publishers

Pagini: 272

Site-ul autorului: www.juliebarnhill.com

Cartea este disponibila in limba: engleza.

Ar trebui sa citesti aceasta carte daca…

Iti spui: “Nu o sa mai ma manii sau n-o sa imi pierd cumpatul cu copiii mei”. Dar din nou, te gasesti in situatia in care te pierzi cu firea si ai un sentiment de vina si disperare. Deasemenea, daca te lupti pentru a avea bucurie in cresterea si educarea copiilor sau de a te bucura de copiii tai.

Pe scurt…

Aceasta carte este jurnal sincer in care o mama vorbeste despre experienta ei in educarea copiilor si despre luptele pe care le are de dus impotriva maniei. Impartaseste, cu un gram de umor, zbaterile si greselile ei zilnice ca mama. Doreste sa asigure toate mamele ca nu sunt singurele care au astfel de zbateri cand vine vorba de cresterea unei familii. Ofera sfaturi utile pentru a lupta impotriva maniei din viata ta si cum sa faci pasi concreti spre schimbare.

Ideile Cheie…

Autoarea Julie Ann Barnhill isi imparte cartea in doua parti.

In prima parte, discuta despre diferitele motive pentru care femeile se lupta cu mania, asemuindu-se cu un vulcan. Se focalizeaza pe intelegerea “modului tau de a erupe”. Ea explica trei tipuri de eruptii. Primul tip este ca o fierbere innabusita a maniei ce se manifesta intr-o atitudine negativa despre viata. Al doilea tip este descrie ca o eruptie care varsa “cenusa de sarcasm” (Pg 35). Al treilea tip este o eruptie exploziva care imprastie abuz verbal si fizic. Toate cele trei tipuri de eruptie pot avea efecte negative asupra copiilor, astfel, ar trebui sa cautam ajutor.

Julie isi concentreaza deasemenea atentia asupra recunoasterii semnelor de avertizare si a problemelor de fond ale maniei, si deasemenea, sa realizam cand am mers prea departe. Vorbeste despre 3 semne de avertizare care ar putea duce la o eruptie. Primul este descris ca “piedici mici, eruptii mari”, care sunt lucruri mici care cauzeaza stresul. Al doilea este limbajul sarcastic pe care il folosim cand suntem iritate si al treilea este propria noastra conditie fizica care poate da nastere unei eruptii explozive. Apoi categorizeaza cele trei probleme de fond in trei presiuni cu care femeile se infrunta. Explica faptul ca presiunile din trecut, presiunile din interior si presiunea montarii pot fi sursa maniei noastre. In ultimul rand, isi spune propria parere despre aceste lucruri, spunand ca daca i-au cauzat vreo vatamare corporala copilului tau, ai mers prea departe. In mod sincer le incurajeaza pe femei sa ceara ajutor.

In a doua parte, Julie furnizeaza sfaturi practice pentru a te schimba. Prezinta 14 strategii prin care sa te mentii calma. In plus, in appendixul cartii da informatii despre depresie, etapele de dezvoltare a copilului si o lista cu carti pe care le recomanda.

Pasi spre actiune…

In fiecare capitol autoarea Julie Ann Barnes insereaza sfaturi practice pentru mame, pentru a le ajuta in lupta cu mania. Urmatoare sfaturile sunt cele mai importante zece:

  1. Vremuri ca acestea sunt bune ocazii pentru a repeta crezul mamelor: “Si acest lucru va trece”. Pg 21
  2. Cateodata poti scurtcircuita o explozie vulcanica prin concentrarea asupra reactiilor fizice. Aminteste-ti sa respiri incet si adanc…Pg 36
  3. Daca mormanele de haine sau spalatul rufelor – sau orice alt lucru din raza vizuala – tind sa te zguduie temperamental, incearca sa le iei din calea ta pana vei avea timp sa te ocupi de ele. Pg 51
  4. Invata sa recunosti semnele fizice ale maniei pentru a castiga control asupra lor si pentru a estompa cresterea gradului de manie. Pg 60
  5. In multe situatii stresante rasul te poate salva. Profita de faptul ca copiii tai sunt foarte amuzanti…si lasa ca tensiunea sa se transforme intr-un ras si nu intr-o mustrare. Pg 88
  6. Nu subestima niciodata puterea unei pareri de rau sincere. Atunci cand ai realizat faptul ca ai reactionat furios fata de copilul tau cand nu era cazul…recunoaste.
  7. Poti reduce din stresul acumulat si iti poti imbunatati relatia cu copilul tau, daca in mod constient alegi sa il ierti pe copilul care “intotdeauna” face ceva pentru a ne supara sau deranja. Pg 95
  8. Uita-te in ochii copilului tau, ia-l de mana si spune-i: “Te iubesc exact asa cum esti.”
  9. Daca un eveniment neasteptat te arunca intr-un cerc si iti cere un raspund plin de manie, ia-ti cateva minute sa planuiesti acel eveniment neasteptat pentru a preveni eruptii ale maniei.
  10. Daca conditia ta fizica este o problema, poti calma disconfortul pur si simplu reducand consumul de sare. Pg 179

Citate…

  • “Te trezesti gandind ca esti singura mama care se confrunta cu problema furiei fata de copii? Mama la care te astepti cel mai putini poate fi consumata de aceeasi problema a maniei si furiei.” Pg 26
  • “Aceasta este cea mai persistent problema a sentimentului de vina a unei mame. Este o presiune destul de mare pentru ca gandim faptul ca “orice se intampla copilul este vina mea, pentru ca eu sunt mama”. Pg 86
  • “Daca aveai idealuri inalte…si ai vazut cum multe din ele s-au daramat chiar in fata ochilor tai. Fii puternica, draga mea. Exista lumina la capatul tunelului, si de data asta nu este locomotiva! NU! Aceasta este lumina sperantei unei relatii pline de dragoste si satisfactii pe care tu si copilul tau o veti experimenta ca rezultat al recunoasterii si luptei tale cu furia.” Pg 232

Cum a schimbat modul de a-mi creste copiii…

Ca mama, in lupta mea cu furia, am fost foarte eliberata sa invat ca nu sunt singura care se confrunta cu aceasta problema. Aceasta carte m-a incurajat sa continui lupta mea cu furia, ca parinte. Pot sa imi impartasesc zbaterile mele cu prietenii si chiar sa formez un grup de sprijin, chiar daca ei nu se luptau cu aceleasi probleme. Lucrurile cele mai importante pe care le-am invatat din aceasta carte au fost sa imi admit greselile, sa imi cer scuze copiilor mei, sa ii iert pentru micile excentricitati si sa ii iubesc pentru personalitatile lor minunate. Julie Ann Barnhill a prezentat cateva strategii care sa te ajute in lupta impotriva maniei.

Primele 5 strategii preferate ale mele sunt:

  1. Ai grija de sanatatea ta: Fa-ti timp sa mergi la medic, la dentist si sa faci sport.
  2. Fa-ti un plan pentru a te disciplina: O planificare din timp va reduce mult din stress.
  3. Protejeaza-ti gura in fata copiilor: Controleaza-ti limba si gandeste inainte sa vorbesti.
  4. Schimba-ti atitudinea: Invata sa fii multumitoare pentru toate lucrurile.
  5. Incepe un grup de sprijin: Gaseste alte trei sau patru mame care au situatii asemanatoare si intalniti-va regulat.

© 2014 The Family Resource Library

Related Topics: Book Review, Parent Resources, Christian Home, Fathers, Mothers, Parenting, Women's Articles

Executive Action and The Coming of Christ

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11/25/2014

This past week the President of the United States signed an executive order which delayed the deportation of many undocumented residents living in our country without legal status. This has brought about a firestorm of protests, but it is not my intention to take sides in this piece. I would rather like to use this as a means of communicating the wonder of the salvation that God accomplished in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, through what we might call “executive action.”

Regardless of what position you might take on the President’s action, I believe that at least three questions have been raised as a result.

  • Question one pertains to the legitimacy of the action: Was the President’s action legitimate? If not, it may very well be nullified, and he will not be honored for acting in this manner.
  • Question two pertains to the efficacy of the action: Will this action really be effective to solve the problem the President set out the address?
  • Question three pertains to the long-term impact this action will have on the President’s legacy: Will history look upon this action with favor, concluding that it was both legitimate and effective?

I do not intend to answer these questions, or to debate these issues. My purpose is to call attention to these questions because I believe that they provide an appropriate vantage point from which to reflect on the saving work of Jesus.

This morning we observed communion in church, as we do each week. As we did, I thought about the “executive action” (if you could call it that) which our Lord took to bring about our salvation. We, as sinners, have no rightful place in God’s kingdom. If we could get to heaven as we are, apart from Christ, we would be expelled as undocumented aliens (our names are not in the Book of Life).

The contrast between the events of this past week and the work of Christ 2,000 years ago is striking. Consider the saving work of Christ in terms of these three questions:

  • Was it legitimate?
  • Was it efficacious (did it work)?
  • What is His legacy, having now accomplished this work?

The Legitimacy of Christ’s Saving Work

It would not have been legitimate for God to simply declare sinful men to be beyond prosecution for their transgressions. Because we are sinners, we rightly deserve God’s eternal wrath. God would not be righteous if He merely brushed aside our sin and His pronouncement of judgment upon that sin. In order for His saving work to be legitimate, it was necessary for God to become man, to add perfect humanity to His undiminished deity. It was as a man that Jesus kept the whole law. Likewise, it was as a man that Jesus died for our sins, bearing our punishment. The incarnation (the taking on of humanity) is what we will shortly celebrate at Christmas. It is the basis for the legitimacy of the saving work of Jesus. God was not only faithful; He was righteous in the way He chose to save us.

9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9, NET)1.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:23-26, emphasis mine).

I have little doubt that the debate about the legitimacy of the President’s action will be ongoing. But there is no debate as to whether the Son of God overreached proper boundaries in bringing salvation to lost sinners. The wonder of it all (and the fuel for eternal our worship) is that Christ humbled Himself in taking on human flesh, and in bearing the sins and condemnation of lost sinners. He voluntarily set aside that which was His as King of Kings and became One that men did not recognize, One that was despised and rejected (Philippians 2:3-8).

The Efficacy of Christ’s Saving Work

How effective was the saving work of Christ? Did it accomplish what He intended? Because salvation is the work of Christ alone, and not a joint effort (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-7), and because He is the sinless, perfect Son of God, the saving work of Christ did work. Jesus said as much in His dying words on the cross: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). His one intervention into human history produced eternal salvation for all who would believe.

10 By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again — sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet (Hebrews 10:10-13, emphasis mine).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was the Father’s seal of approval, an indication that He was pleased with His saving work, and that salvation was indeed accomplished.

38 Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:38-40).

24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says about him, ‘I saw the Lord always in front of me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; my body also will live in hope, 27 because you will not leave my soul in Hades, nor permit your Holy One to experience decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of joy with your presence’ (Acts 2:24-28).

4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:4).

55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 58 So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:55-58).

The Legacy of Christ’s Work

What then shall we say about the legacy of our Lord’s Saving work? He is not only constantly remembered for His saving work by the saints in this life; He will be worshipped for this work for all eternity.

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross! 9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — in heaven and on earth and under the earth — 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-11).

9 They were singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand — thousands times thousands — 12 all of whom were singing in a loud voice: “Worthy is the lamb who was killed to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and praise!” 13 Then I heard every creature — in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them — singing: “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be praise, honor, glory, and ruling power forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures were saying “Amen,” and the elders threw themselves to the ground and worshiped (Revelation 5:9-14).

Christ has made us citizens of His kingdom, through the saving work of Jesus. His work of deliverance was legitimate. It was efficacious. It will serve as His eternal legacy. He transformed us from strangers to citizens of His eternal kingdom.

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh — who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands — 12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed (Ephesians 2:11-16, emphasis mine).


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible.

Related Topics: Christology, Cultural Issues, Soteriology (Salvation)

7. Do Meu Jeito – A História de Acabe e Jezabel

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Quando esta história tem início, o rei Davi já tinha saído de cena da história de Israel há mais ou menos 135 anos. O poderoso reino construído por ele, ampliado e enriquecido por seu filho Salomão, estava fragmentado em dois reinos fracos. O reino do Sul, Judá, era governado por seus descendentes, enquanto o reino do Norte, Israel, sofria sob a direção de uma sucessão de homens perversos. Um deles foi o marido da próxima relação conjugal que iremos estudar.

Ele é apresentado nas páginas da Escritura com estas chocantes palavras: “Fez Acabe, filho de Onri, o que era mau perante o SENHOR, mais do que todos os que foram antes dele” (1 Reis 16:30). Acabe teve a dúbia distinção de ser o pior rei de Israel até seus dias. Não esperamos quase nada de um homem tão degenerado como esse e não é nenhuma surpresa quando lemos: “Como se fora coisa de somenos andar ele nos pecados de Jeroboão, filho de Nebate, tomou por mulher a Jezabel, filha de Etbaal, rei dos sidônios; e foi, e serviu a Baal, e o adorou” (1 Reis 16:31).

“Sidônios” era o outro nome dos fenícios, povo da costa do Mediterrâneo que havia ocupado as grandes cidades de Tiro e Sidom. Com a eterna ameaça da Síria e a crescente intimidação da Assíria, Acabe decidiu que precisava de uma aliança com aquela nação vizinha, por isso fez um trato com o rei fenício, o qual foi selado com seu casamento com a filha daquele rei. Foi assim que Jezabel se mudou para Samaria, capital de Israel, e só existe um jeito de descrever essa mudança – um furacão atingiu Israel.

O rei da Fenícia não era só um líder político do seu povo, ele era também sumo sacerdote da sua religião, como implícito no seu nome, Etbaal. Jezabel cresceu mergulhada na adoração a Baal e sua consorte, Astarte (ou Astarote). Baal era considerado o deus da terra. Diziam que ele era seu dono e controlava o tempo e o aumento da colheita e do gado. Astarote era considerada a deusa da fertilidade. Por isso, as estátuas de Baal e Astarote ficavam lado a lado nos templos, e eram adoradas pelos sacerdotes e prostitutas cultuais, com suas danças lascivas e orgias sagradas, na esperança de que o deus e a deusa seguissem seu exemplo e aumentassem a produtividade da agricultura e dos animais, e lhe dessem mais filhos. Em épocas de crise, como a fome, eles se lanhavam e até sacrificavam os filhos para apaziguar os deuses e implorar sua ajuda.

Jezabel era fanática por sua religião. Em comparação, o culto a Jeová devia parecer enfadonho e banal, e Jezabel estava determinada a mudá-lo. Ela era uma mulher dominadora, caprichosa e obstinada e, com um marido moralmente fraco, não tinha problemas para conseguir as coisas do seu jeito. Ela o fez construir uma casa para Baal ao lado do palácio em Samaria, bem como um “astarote”, isto é, um poste-ídolo da deusa da fertilidade. Depois ela levou 450 profetas de Baal e 400 profetas de Astarote da Fenícia para Samaria, instalou-os no palácio e sustentou-os em estilo real. O dever deles era promover o culto a Baal e Astarote em todo país.

Não satisfeita em estabelecer sua religião em Israel, Jezabel procurou também acabar com todos os vestígios do culto a Jeová e matar todos os verdadeiros profetas de Deus. Ela tinha de ter as coisas exatamente do seu jeito, e quase conseguiu. Alguns profetas sobreviveram, por abrir mão de suas convicções e se tornar “vaquinhas de presépio” de Acabe. Outro grupo de cem profetas foi escondido numa cova e sustentado secretamente por um servo piedoso de Acabe, de nome Obadias. No entanto, só Elias foi corajoso o suficiente para se opor abertamente à perversidade de Jezabel. Deus lhe concedeu uma grande vitória quando ele pediu para descer fogo do céu no monte Carmelo. Os profetas de Baal foram mortos e parecia que a nação ia se voltar novamente para Deus. Jezabel, no entanto, ainda não tinha terminado seu trabalho sinistro. Num acesso de raiva, ela jurou matar Elias e ele teve de fugir para o deserto, onde se sentou exausto debaixo de um zimbro e pediu a Deus para deixá-lo morrer. Este foi o ponto mais baixo da brilhante carreira do grande profeta de Deus. A adoração a Baal continuou a existir, arrastando a nação a novos abismos de degradação. Nos anos seguintes, muita perturbação e aflição foi causada em Israel pela voluntariosa, obstinada e teimosa esposa de Acabe.

Casar com uma pessoa teimosa e obstinada pode trazer infelicidade para todo mundo. Sua vontade indomável, que nunca se rende à vontade de Deus, raramente faz a pessoa ceder aos que a cercam. Inflexível, ela continua exigindo tudo conforme a sua vontade, buscando por todos os meios e métodos possíveis fazer ou conseguir o que quer. Essa pessoa não ouve a voz da razão, não tem consideração pelos sentimentos dos outros e não enfrenta as consequências das suas ações. Ela acha que está sempre certa e os outros, sempre errados, e está determinada a ter tudo do seu jeito. É obvio que uma pessoa assim não conhece muito o amor de Deus, o qual “não procura os seus interesses” (1 Co. 13:5), só um amor egoísta que insiste em ter seus direitos e exige tudo conforme a sua vontade. Quem convive com uma pessoa dessas acaba emocionalmente destruído. Para sobrevivência de quem está ao nosso lado, para felicidade do nosso cônjuge e para harmonia no nosso casamento, precisamos combater cada traço de teimosia persistente e clamar pela graça de Deus para lidar com isso.

É claro que Acabe era tão voluntarioso quanto Jezabel, mas com um temperamento diferente. Antes de tudo, ele deliberadamente se casou por conveniência política, contrariando cada palavra de Deus. No entanto, sua obstinação se tornou mais evidente num incidente envolvendo o rei e sua horta. Pouco depois do seu casamento com Jezabel, além de ornamentar o palácio de Samaria, de forma que este passou a ser chamado de “a casa de marfim” (1 Reis 22:39), ele também construiu um segundo palácio em Jezreel, quarenta quilômetros ao norte, numa região de clima mais ameno na época de inverno. “Sucedeu, depois disto, o seguinte: Nabote, o jezreelita, possuía uma vinha ao lado do palácio que Acabe, rei de Samaria, tinha em Jezreel” (1 Reis 21:1). Acabe resolveu que queria a propriedade de Nabote, por isso, foi conversar com ele e disse: “Dá-me a tua vinha, para que me sirva de horta, pois está perto, ao lado da minha casa. Dar-te-ei por ela outra, melhor; ou, se for do teu agrado, dar-te-ei em dinheiro o que ela vale” (1 Reis 21:2). Nabote recusou a oferta, exatamente como deveria fazer, pois Deus havia proibido os judeus de vender a herança paterna (Lv. 25:23-24). Nabote estava simplesmente obedecendo à lei do Senhor.

“Então, Acabe veio desgostoso e indignado para sua casa, por causa da palavra que Nabote, o jezreelita, lhe falara... E deitou-se na sua cama, voltou o rosto e não comeu pão” (1 Reis 21:4). Dá para acreditar que um homem crescido aja feito criança? Mas alguns agem. Pessoas fracas e volúveis como Acabe sempre querem as coisas do seu jeito, assim como pessoas obstinadas e dominadoras como Jezabel. No entanto, elas reagem de modo diferente quando são contrariadas. Enquanto os fortes gritam e esperneiam, atingindo todo mundo em seu caminho, tendo pitis e destruindo tudo, os fracos ficam emburrados, fazem beicinho e choramingam como crianças mimadas. Eles se recusam a sair da cama, e até a comer. Só querem sentir pena de si mesmos para que todo mundo saiba como as coisas são difíceis para eles. Agindo assim, tudo o que conseguem é mostrar aos outros como são egoístas e imaturos.

Uma outra forma de obstinação, a que é hostil e violenta, pode arruinar um casamento. O problema quase sempre começa quando um dos cônjuges infringe um dos direitos invioláveis do outro. Talvez o marido não deixe a esposa comprar algo que ela acha que tem de ter, ou a esposa prepare um jantar simplesmente horroroso quando o maridão está esperando o prato predileto. Em vez de deixar que o amor e a graça de Deus nos domine, nossa natureza pecaminosa assume o controle e acabamos enfurecidos ou de mau-humor, seja qual for o nosso caso. E, lenta, mas seguramente, isso vai desgastando o nosso relacionamento. A obstinação inflexível, que nunca é quebrada e se rende à vontade Deus, pode acabar levando a problemas muito mais sérios. Já ouvi algumas pessoas dizerem: “Não gosto mais dela. Não quero mais nada com ela. Só quero ser feliz e não me interessa o que a Bíblia diz”.

Deus quer quebrar nossos desejos obstinados e pecaminosos. Ele quer conquistá-los com Seu amor. O primeiro passo para a vitória é simplesmente admitir que a exigência de ter as coisas sempre do nosso jeito é desobediência à Palavra de Deus e, portanto, é pecado. Converse com o Senhor sobre isso. Seja sincero com Ele. Diga-lhe francamente que você quer as coisas do seu jeito, sem ser desprendido e pensar nos outros, mas reconheça que isso é contrário à Sua Palavra. Peça-Lhe ajuda. Então, por vontade própria, decida-se a fazer as coisas com amor. Esse passo de fé abre o canal do poder de Deus. Ele não só o ajudará na sua decisão de agir com amor, mas também lhe dará um genuíno prazer em fazer a Sua vontade.

Mas vamos voltar a Acabe e sua horta por um momento. Jezabel encontrou-o todo amuado em sua cama e lhe disse: “Que é isso que tens assim desgostoso o teu espírito e não comes pão? (1 Reis 21:5)”. Ele lhe contou como Nabote havia se recusado a permitir que ele tivesse sua horta. Ela replicou: “Governas tu, com efeito, sobre Israel? (1 Reis 21:7)”. Em termos atuais, soaria mais ou menos assim: “Afinal, você é um homem ou um rato? Dá um berro e diz logo o que quer! Você não é rei? Pode pegar o que quiser!” Com seu passado fenício, Jezabel parecia não entender que até mesmo o rei de Israel estava sujeito às leis de Deus.

Quando Jezabel disse: “Levanta-te, come, e alegre-se o teu coração; eu te darei a vinha de Nabote, o jezreelita” (1 Reis 21:7), vemos como esse homem fraco e perverso era completamente dominado pela esposa mandona. Ela tinha em mente um crime hediondo: subornar duas testemunhas para dizer que ouviram Nabote blasfemar contra Deus e contra o rei, a fim de que Nabote e seus filhos fossem apedrejados até a morte e o rei ficasse livre para reivindicar suas terras (2 Reis 9:26). Ela ia ensinar a Acabe sua filosofia de vida: “Pegue o que quiser e destrua qualquer um que fique em seu caminho”. E Acabe não teve coragem para detê-la.

Um homem faz coisas estranhas quando é insultado e ridicularizado pela esposa. “Por que você não o enfrentou?”, diz ela com escárnio ao saber da última discussão dele com o chefe. “Quando é que vai começar a agir como homem?” E, então, quando ele resolve agir como ela quer, acaba perdendo o emprego e todo mundo sofre. Por isso, o segundo round é mais ou menos assim: “Mas será o possível? Será que você não consegue nem sustentar sua família? Que raio de homem é você?” Aí ele fica com raiva dela e passa a enganar e roubar para poder pagar as despesas. Um homem precisa ser respeitado pela esposa, não ridicularizado. Desse vergonhoso incidente da vida de Acabe, Deus disse: “Ninguém houve, pois, como Acabe, que se vendeu para fazer o que era mau perante o SENHOR, porque Jezabel, sua mulher, o instigava” (1 Reis 21:25). Alguns homens precisam de um empurrãozinho nos momentos de indecisão, mas não para fazer maldade! Uma esposa crente deve desafiar o marido a ouvir a voz de Deus e viver para Ele, não induzi-lo a pecar.

Mas a história ainda não acabou. Esses dois foram obstinados até o fim. Elias encontrou-se com Acabe na vinha de Nabote e pronunciou o julgamento de Deus sobre ele e sua mulher por causa das maldades que haviam feito. Passaram-se muitos anos até o julgamento recair sobre Acabe, e esta também é uma história de birra. O incidente ocorreu em Ramote-Gileade, uma cidade a oeste do Jordão que Acabe dizia pertencer a Israel, mas que estava nas mãos da Síria. Quando Josafá, rei de Judá, foi visitá-lo, Acabe lhe perguntou se Josafá iria com ele à peleja para reaver Ramote-Gileade. Josafá concordou, mas quis primeiro consultar o Senhor. Acabe chamou suas “vaquinhas de presépio” e eles lhe garantiram que o Senhor entregaria Ramote-Gileade em suas mãos. Josafá, no entanto, não se deu por satisfeito. Ele queria outra opinião: “Não há aqui ainda algum profeta do SENHOR para o consultarmos?” (1 Reis 22:7). Acabe respondeu: “Há um ainda, pelo qual se pode consultar o SENHOR, porém eu o aborreço, porque nunca profetiza de mim o que é bom, mas somente o que é mau. Este é Micaías, filho de Inlá” (1 Reis 22:8). Assim, Micaías foi chamado e, mesmo sabendo que sua vida corria perigo, falou aquilo que Deus mandou. Israel seria disperso pelos montes como ovelhas que não têm pastor (1 Reis 22:17). Como era de esperar, Acabe rejeitou a profecia de Micaías e o jogou na prisão. Ele tinha de ter as coisas do seu jeito e fazer o que bem entendia, a despeito da vontade de Deus.

Mas as coisas não saíram do jeito que ele planejou. Ele sabia que os sírios iriam atrás dele, por isso tirou os trajes reais e disfarçou-se como um soldado comum. “Então, um homem entesou o arco e, atirando ao acaso, feriu o rei de Israel por entre as juntas da sua armadura” (1 Reis 22:34). Aquele soldado não tinha noção de que estava atirando no rei, mas sua flecha penetrou numa brechinha entre as juntas da armadura de Acabe. Bem poucos arqueiros teriam sido tão certeiros. É óbvio que Deus estava guiando aquela flecha, e a teimosia de Acabe acabou com sua morte prematura.

Jezabel ainda viveu por quase catorze anos após a morte de Acabe. No seu caso, Jeú, capitão do exército de Israel, seria o instrumento da disciplina divina. Depois de matar o rei Jeorão, filho de Acabe, Jeú foi até Jezreel. A Escritura diz: “Tendo Jeú chegado a Jezreel, Jezabel o soube; então, se pintou em volta dos olhos, enfeitou a cabeça e olhou pela janela” (2 Reis 9:30). Jezabel sabia o que ia acontecer, mas ela ia morrer como uma rainha, arrogante, obstinada e impenitente até o fim. Da janela do andar superior, ele lançou insultos sobre Jeú, mas ao mando dele, vários servos dela lançaram-na janela abaixo, “e foram salpicados com o seu sangue a parede e os cavalos, e Jeú a atropelou” (2 Reis 9:33). Foi uma morte violenta, mas novamente ilustra a gravidade da obstinação pecaminosa em oposição a Deus.

Além disso, o comportamento de Acabe e Jezabel influenciou seus filhos. Este é um triste efeito colateral de vidas como as de Acabe e Jezabel. Seus dois filhos reinaram posteriormente em Israel. O primeiro foi Acazias. Dele, Deus diz: “Fez o que era mau perante o SENHOR; porque andou nos caminhos de seu pai, como também nos caminhos de sua mãe e nos caminhos de Jeroboão, filho de Nebate, que fez pecar a Israel. Ele serviu a Baal, e o adorou, e provocou à ira ao SENHOR, Deus de Israel, segundo tudo quanto fizera seu pai” (1 Reis 22:53-54). O segundo a reinar foi Jorão. Quando Jeú foi a Jezreel, para executar a vingança de Deus contra a casa de Acabe, Jorão perguntou: “Há paz, Jeú?”. Em resposta, Jeú fez um resumo do reinado de Jorão: “Que paz, enquanto perduram as prostituições de tua mãe Jezabel e as suas muitas feitiçarias?” (2 Reis 9:22).

Acabe e Jezabel também tiveram uma filha, Atalia, a qual se casou com um outro homem chamado Jeorão, filho de Josafá, rei de Judá. “Andou nos caminhos dos reis de Israel, como também fizeram os da casa de Acabe, porque a filha deste era sua mulher; e fez o que era mau perante o SENHOR” (2 Crônicas 21:6). Foi assim que a influência maligna mudou-se para o reino do Sul. Com a morte de Jeorão, seu filho com Atalia tornou-se rei de Judá. “Era Acazias de vinte e dois anos de idade quando começou a reinar e reinou um ano em Jerusalém. Sua mãe, filha de Onri, chamava-se Atalia. Ele também andou nos caminhos da casa de Acabe; porque sua mãe era quem o aconselhava a proceder iniquamente. Fez o que era mau perante o SENHOR, como os da casa de Acabe; porque eles eram seus conselheiros depois da morte de seu pai, para a sua perdição” (2 Crônicas 22:2-4). E a influência do mal continuou!

Só Deus sabe quantas gerações serão afetadas pela nossa obstinação pecaminosa, pela insistência em ter as coisas do nosso jeito e não do jeito de Deus. Esta história chocante deve incentivar a nossa necessidade de afastar cada traço de voluntariedade e nos dispor a realizar plenamente a vontade de Deus.

Vamos conversar sobre isso

  1. Como vocês acham que Acabe deveria ter lidado com a situação quando se tornou óbvio que Jezabel queria eliminar a adoração a Deus em Israel?
  2. Como a esposa pode ter mais respeito pelo marido? Como o marido pode ajudá-la nesse sentido?
  3. Você acha que seu cônjuge está infringindo algum de seus “direitos invioláveis”? Converse com ele sobre como isso pode ser resolvido.
  4. Como sua natureza egoísta vem à tona ━ com raiva ou com mau humor?
  5. Será que parece, na maior parte do tempo, que você quer fazer as coisas do seu jeito? Pergunte ao seu cônjuge sua opinião, e então considere a resposta em oração.
  6. Vocês dois já se entregaram a Cristo como Senhor da sua vida e estão dispostos a deixá-lO fazer as mudanças necessárias para melhorar seu relacionamento? (Sua disposição para ouvir seu cônjuge, sem ficar irritado ou na defensiva, pode ser uma boa indicativa do seu estado de espírito).

Tradução: Mariza Regina de Souza

Related Topics: Christian Home, Marriage

Biblical Guidelines for Giving

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If your experience is like mine, you are continually receiving requests for donations, particularly as we approach the end of the year. These requests are so numerous there is no way we can possibly contribute to them all. And so the question arises: “How do I decide which ministries to support?” Here are a few guiding principles, which I find helpful. Perhaps they will assist you in your decision-making process as well.

1. People are a priority.

In the Old Testament the people of God did give toward the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings, and later for the building of the temple, but this was for the sake of the people – God could dwell in their midst. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find monies designated for the purchase of property or the building of structures. Interestingly, we do find property being sold to meet the needs of others (Acts 4:32-37). In the New Testament giving is directed toward people. I believe it is safe to say that meeting the needs of people should always come first. If the end result of buying property and constructing buildings is for the benefit and blessing of people, then buildings and the like may be justified, but people are always the priority. I have heard of churches that have responded to crises that have produced great human needs by reallocating their building funds to meet these needs. People should always come first in our giving.

2. The poor are a priority (Acts 2:45; 4:32-37; 6:1-6; Galatians 2:10).

This includes those in genuine need, who have no other means of support, particularly the vulnerable, such as widows and orphans (James 1:27). Often, donations are requested with the promise of receiving something in return. Giving to the poor is giving to those who do not have the means to reciprocate. We must thus give, looking to the Lord for His blessings, perhaps in the present age, but certainly in the age to come (Proverbs 22:16; Matthew 6:1-4; Luke 14:12-14).

3. “Pressing needs” are a priority (Titus 3:14).

Virtually every request for a financial gift is linked with a need. Not all needs are legitimate, and not all legitimate needs are pressing (to use Paul’s language). Greater, more pressing, needs should have priority over other needs. The Scriptures help us to prioritize needs presented to us.

4. Spiritual needs take priority over merely material needs.

In the temptation of our Lord Satan sought to make our Lord’s physical need (for food) a priority. Jesus made obedience to God’s leading His priority: “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4, NET). Thus, fasting is one way that we practice the priority of spiritual things above material things (Isaiah 58; 1 Corinthians 7:5). I should hasten to add that sometimes spiritual needs are addressed in conjunction with meeting physical needs (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Philippians 1:4-7; 2:25-30; 4:10-20).

5. Believers are a priority in our giving (Romans 12:13; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:4; Galatians 6:10).

These may be believers whom we know well (Acts 2, 4, 6), but it should also include Christians we don’t know personally, but who are commended by those we trust as being faithful servants and stewards of the gospel (3 John; Romans 16:1-2).

6. Those who teach us God’s Word should be a priority in our giving.

We are obligated to give to those who minister God’s Word to us. Notice this includes more than just money:

Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it (Galatians 6:6, NET; see also 1 Corinthians 9:1-12a).

7. The proclamation of the gospel leading to the salvation and spiritual growth of men is a priority.

Jesus clearly made the proclamation of the good news His priority (Mark 1:35-39). So did the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 9:12-23; 10:31-33). The proclamation of the gospel should be a priority, and should be prominent in the ministry of any who would look to God to provide for their ministry through others.

8. Godly motivation for giving is a priority (2 Peter 2:1-3).

God cares not only that people give, but also for why they give. There are many impure motives for giving, such as seeking material gain or the praise of men. Some employ guilt as a motivation for giving, while others appeal to greed or fleshly desires. Giving should be a voluntary act (2 Corinthians 8:3; 9:5-7) and should be viewed as a privilege, and not merely a duty to perform (2 Corinthians 8:3-5). It should be joyfully done as an expression of faith (1 Timothy 6:17-19) and of obedience to God’s Word (2 Corinthians 9:3-7). It is both tempting and easy to resort to tactics which appeal to wrong motives when seeking the contribution of others. Paul’s concern even encompassed his motivation for receiving gifts from others (Philippians 4:10-20).

9. We should give to the Lord, looking to Him for our reward.

The one who is gracious to the poor lends to the LORD, and the LORD will repay him for his good deed (Proverbs 19:17, NET).

The Lord Jesus made it very clear that giving to those in need was, in essence, giving to Him (Matthew 25:31-46). That is how we should view our giving – giving to Him, not to a dynamic, winsome, highly popular leader, but to God.

We should not give to get our reward from men. Those who proclaim a prosperity gospel promise their donors that they will receive more than what they give. This would include praise from men (Matthew 6:1-4), or some form of reciprocation (Luke 14:12-14). We look to God for our reward.

10. Proper handling and distribution of gifts is a priority.

Paul exemplified integrity and generosity in his own life (1 Thessalonians 1:9-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12) so that his own practice with regard to money was transparent. In addition, Paul was extremely careful to handle the donations of others in such a way as to avoid any suspicion or criticism (Romans 16:3-4; 2 Corinthians 8:18-23). The proper handling of funds is a crucial factor in whether or not to give to an individual or organization. This matter should be transparent and above reproach.

11. Requests for funds should be from believers.

5 Dear friend, you demonstrate faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers (even though they are strangers). 6 They have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they have gone forth on behalf of “The Name,” accepting nothing from the pagans. 8 Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we become coworkers in cooperation with the truth (3 John 1:5-8, NET).

I remember hearing of one ministry leader some years ago who said something to the effect: “I would take funds even from the devil.” Just as the priority for giving is “to” believers, it is likewise to come “from” believers. To give to organizations who fail to make this distinction is to run the risk of become partners with unbelievers in the work of God (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Philippians 1:3-7; 2 John 1:7-11).

12. Doctrinal purity is a priority.

Giving creates a bond of unity with those to whom we give (2 Corinthians 6:14-15; 9). We are strongly cautioned against unites with those who deny the faith by denying sound doctrine:

17 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them! 18 For these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the naive (Romans 16:17-18, NET).

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the deceiver and the antichrist! 8 Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not remain in the teaching of Christ does not have God. The one who remains in this teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house and do not give him any greeting, 11 because the person who gives him a greeting shares in his evil deeds (2 John 1:7-11, NET).

We should know and agree with the doctrinal position of those to whom we give.

13. The end result and goal of giving is the glory of God.

I am reminded of the story of the woman who (in the eyes of some) “wasted” a valuable resource by anointing the feet of Jesus, rather than selling the perfume for money that could be given to the poor.

6 Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfumed oil, and she poured it on his head as he was at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they became indignant and said, “Why this waste? 9 It could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor!” 10 When Jesus learned of this, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a good service for me. 11 For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me! 12 When she poured this oil on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Matthew 26:6-13 (NET1)

Jesus made it clear that in this instance, this woman’s act of glorifying the Savior took precedence over giving a gift to the poor. The ultimate goal of our actions, including our giving, is to glorify God. Thus, we should give to those individuals and ministries which best bring glory to Him:

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31, NET).

11 You will be enriched in every way so that you may be generous on every occasion, which is producing through us thanksgiving to God, 12 because the service of this ministry is not only providing for the needs of the saints but is also overflowing with many thanks to God. 13 Through the evidence of this service they will glorify God because of your obedience to your confession in the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your sharing with them and with everyone. 14 And in their prayers on your behalf they long for you because of the extraordinary grace God has shown to you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:11-15, NET)

Related Topics: Christian Life, Finance

Lesson 73: From the Light into the Night (John 13:21-30)

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November 23, 2014

I’m not a country music fan, but sometimes when I’m driving for long distances, it’s the only thing on the radio, so I’ll listen for a short time. Invariably, you’ll hear a song around the theme, “I loved her but she didn’t love me; now I’m as sad as I can be.” We may chuckle at the songs, but if it’s ever happened to you, you know that it’s really painful to love someone but not to have your love returned; or, even worse, for the one you love deliberately to hurt you.

That’s true not only for romantic relationships, but also for friends of the same sex. If you’ve ever had a trusted friend turn on you and attack you, it hurts! It’s surely one of life’s most emotionally painful experiences.

To relate to that emotional pain is to understand, in part, why Jesus became troubled in spirit as He thought about Judas in the Upper Room on the night of the betrayal (John 13:21). There were other things, besides Judas’ calloused heart, which troubled Jesus that evening. (We’ll consider those things later.) But Jesus was troubled not only with the personal pain of Judas’ betrayal, but also because He knew that Judas was leaving the Light of the world and stepping into the darkness of hell. When John states (John 13:30), “and it was night,” he means more than the fact that it was dark outside. It is always night when a person rejects God’s love and goes into the darkness of eternity without God. It was especially “night” when the “son of perdition” betrayed the spotless Son of God into the hands of evil men.

To understand our text, you need to realize that Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper, where the men are seated next to one another on the same side of a long table, is historically incorrect. Rather, the men were reclining at a low U-shaped table. They leaned on their left elbow with their feet going out from the table so that they could eat with their right hand. Jesus was at the bottom of the U. John was to His right, so that it would have been easy for him to lean back on Jesus’ chest and whisper in His ear (John 13:25), “Lord, who is it?” Peter was sitting across from John so that he could gesture to him to find out who the betrayer was.

Judas was probably at Jesus’ left, in the seat of honor, as one last gesture of love from Jesus toward Judas. After Jesus announced that one of the twelve would betray Him, Judas asked (Matt. 26:25), “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus replied, “You have said it yourself.” That conversation had to be whispered in private as Jesus leaned back toward Judas. Otherwise, the other disciples would have known that Judas was the betrayer and they would not have thought (as John 13:28-29 reports) that Judas went out either to buy food for the feast or to give some funds to the poor.

If Judas was reclining immediately to Jesus’ left, He easily could have handed Judas the morsel of bread that was dipped in a sauce and handed to the guest of honor as a gesture of love and friendship. So Jesus was reaching out to Judas right up till the end. There is a mystery here in that Judas was betraying Jesus in fulfillment of Scripture (John 13:18; cf. Ps. 41:9). In that sense, Judas’ sin was foreordained. And yet, Judas was fully responsible for his sin. He couldn’t blame God for predetermining it. He couldn’t blame Satan, who entered into his heart immediately after he received the morsel from Jesus (John 13:27). Although Satan empowered Judas to carry out the betrayal, Judas was responsible for doing it. After Satan entered Judas, Jesus ratified the evil choice that Judas had made by saying (John 13:27), “What you do, do quickly.”

Two themes emerge from John’s portrayal of these events: the light of Jesus’ glory and the awful darkness of human sin:

Judas’ betrayal of Jesus gives us deeper understanding of Christ’s glory and also of the depths of human sin.

Judas’ betrayal is like the black velvet against which the diamond of Christ’s glory shines all the brighter.

1. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus gives us deeper understanding of Christ’s glory.

There are at least five sides of Jesus’ glory that shine through in this story:

A. We see Jesus’ glory in His inscrutable wisdom in choosing a man like Judas to be one of His apostles.

In the aftermath of Judas’ treachery, the other disciples must have wondered, “Why did Jesus choose Judas to be an apostle?” Did He not know the corrupt heart and the character flaws that would cause Judas to do such a thing? If He didn’t know, it would seem to undermine His credentials as the Messiah. But if He did know, then why would He pick such a despicable character?

We know that before Jesus chose the twelve, He spent the night in prayer (Luke 6:12). Knowing fully the Father’s plan for the cross, which He came to fulfill, He picked Judas as one of the twelve. Also, we saw in John 6:70-71 that Jesus knew all along that Judas would betray Him: “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’ Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.” In John 13:18, Jesus indicates that Judas’ betrayal was so that the Scripture may be fulfilled, “He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.”

As we’ve seen throughout John’s Gospel, the Father sent Jesus to earth to do His will. At the center of that will was our salvation, where Jesus would offer Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. So Jesus’ choice of Judas as an apostle, knowing full well that he would betray Him, shows Jesus’ full obedience to do the will of the Father, even when that will led to the cross.

None of the disciples understood the necessity of the cross until after Jesus’ resurrection. So they couldn’t understand at the time why He would have chosen Judas, who played a key part in the events leading toward the cross. Jesus’ choosing Judas to be an apostle underscores the truth of Isaiah 55:8, that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. There is an application here for us: Many times we do not understand why God does what He does or allows certain trials into our lives, but we have to trust Him. Maybe a close friend or even your mate has betrayed you. Perhaps part of the reason God allowed it was so that you could enter more deeply into understanding the sufferings of Christ. Jesus’ choice of Judas displayed Jesus’ glory, even though the other apostles may not have understood it at first.

B. We see Jesus’ glory in Judas’ later testimony to Jesus’ innocence.

Judas’ defection later provided an impartial witness to Christ’s moral purity (some of these points are from A. W. Pink, Exposition of John [on monergism.com], on John 6:60-71). Judas later testified in his remorse (Matt. 27:4), “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” Judas had known Jesus closely for three years, and yet he couldn’t come up with a single reason to justify his own treachery against Him. As Jesus rhetorically asked His enemies (John 8:46), “Which one of you convicts Me of sin?” No one could because Jesus was without sin.

C. We see Jesus’ glory in His deity and humanity juxtaposed.

We see Jesus’ deity in that He was in sovereign control over all the events surrounding His death. As He said regarding laying down His own life (John 10:18), “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” He was in control over the Jews, who didn’t want to crucify Him at the Passover because of their fear of the crowd. But it was God’s will for His Passover Lamb to be sacrificed during the Passover. And He was in control of when Judas would betray Him, as seen in His words (John 13:27), “What you do, do quickly.”

But we also see Jesus’ humanity in that Judas’ defection deeply troubled Jesus (John 13:21). Even though He was sovereign over all these events, Jesus wasn’t a stoic actor, just playing a role but detached from the real emotions of what was happening. As Hebrews 5:7 says, Jesus “offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears ….” He was fully God and fully man.

C. We see Jesus’ glory in the trouble He went through for our souls.

John MacArthur (sermon, “Jesus and Judas,” on gty.org) lists many reasons that Jesus was troubled in spirit on this occasion:

He was troubled because of the unrequited love of Judas; He was troubled because of the ingratitude in Judas' heart; He was troubled because He had a deep hatred of sin and it was sitting right next to Him, sin incarnate; He was troubled because He was shrinking about from contact with the one about to betray Him; He was troubled because He knew of the eternal destiny in Hell; He was troubled because He could see with His omnipotent eye Satan moving around Judas; He was troubled because He had a knowledge of the sin of the betrayer and the terrors of his eternal punishment; He was troubled because He sensed all that sin and death meant; He was troubled because He had an inner awareness that Judas was a classic illustration of the wretchedness of sin, sin which He would have to bear in His own body on the next day, sin for which He would be made responsible, and would die for.

To make it personal, Jesus endured all of that trouble and more to secure your salvation.

D. We see Jesus’ glory in His patience and love toward Judas right to the end.

Even though Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him, He did not remove him from the apostolic circle. As I said, it’s likely that here at the Last Supper, Judas was seated in the place of honor, where Jesus honored him by giving him the morsel. Jesus didn’t reveal what He knew of Judas’ evil heart to the other disciples to try to get them to take action against him. He treated Judas with the same patience and grace as He treated the other disciples, since none of them suspected that Judas was the betrayer. Again, there is a divine mystery that we cannot comprehend, how Jesus knew that Judas was predetermined to be the betrayer (Matt. 26:24), and yet He genuinely loved Judas and held out to him the offer of salvation right to the end.

We see Jesus’ glory in the same way today. He endures the hostility of sinners against Him (Heb. 12:3) with amazing patience and love. When I see the wickedness of this world, especially the blasphemies that are brazenly spoken against Jesus, I want to cry out, “Lord, just blast these evildoers off the planet!” That day will come. As Peter points out (2 Pet. 3:10), “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” But to back up one verse, Peter explains why that day is delayed (2 Pet. 3:9): “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” If you have not yet repented of your sins and trusted in Christ, He is patiently, lovingly entreating you to come to Him for eternal life while you still can.

So as we see Jesus and Judas we should grow deeper in seeing the glory of our Savior. But there is another side to the story:

2. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus should give us deeper understanding of the terrible depths of human sin.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Darkness and Light [Baker], p. 52) observed,

It is people who have the deepest understanding of sin and what it means who have the greatest understanding and appreciation of the love and the grace and the mercy and the kindness of God. A superficial view of sin leads to a superficial view of salvation, and to a superficial view of everything else.

In a similar vein, he wrote elsewhere (God’s Way of Reconciliation [Baker], p. 201),

In order to measure the love of God you have first to go down before you can go up. You do not start on the level and go up. We have to be brought up from a dungeon, from a horrible pit; and unless you know something of the measure of that depth you will only be measuring half the love of God.

So let’s “go down” by learning five lessons from Judas’ sin so that these lessons will give us a greater understanding of God’s love and grace:

A. Judas shows us the awful nature of sin.

Before we start throwing stones at Judas and saying, “How could he do such a thing?” we need to realize that apart from God’s grace, we’re all just like he was. We all had the seeds of betraying Christ in our hearts before God graciously saved us.

Think of what Judas had witnessed in his three years of close association with Jesus! He had heard Jesus’ teaching, both in public and in private. He had witnessed most of Jesus’ miracles. He had seen Jesus’ grace and love toward the ungrateful and unlovely. He had never seen any hint of sin in Jesus, whether in public or in private. And yet he betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leaders for a few lousy pieces of silver!

James Boice (The Gospel of John [Zondervan], 1-vol. ed., p. 894) points out that Judas teaches us that sinners need more than a good example to be saved. Judas had the best example who has ever lived, but he was still dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). Unless the Holy Spirit imparts new life, sinners are not capable of repenting of sin, believing in Christ, and reforming their lives. That is why Jesus told the religious Nicodemus (John 3:7), “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

B. Judas shows us that Jesus supplies religious sinners with a solemn warning.

Judas is one of many warnings in the Bible that especially apply to religious people. Religious people are often blind to their need for the new birth. They grew up in the church. They know all the religious jargon. They can quote Scripture. They have served in various ministries. Perhaps they even have theological training. But, like Judas, they have never repented of their sins.

The apostle Paul was like that before his conversion. He took great pride in his religious heritage. He was more zealous than many of his contemporaries in persecuting the church, which he considered to be apostate from the Jewish faith. But God had to strike Paul down on the Damascus Road and bring him to see that all of his religious self-righteousness was garbage compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:1-11).

So if you grew up in the church (as I did) and are familiar with religious matters, the warning is for you: You need the new birth just as much as Judas did. You need to repent of your self-righteousness and come to God as a guilty sinner to receive the mercy that is offered at the cross.

C. Judas shows us that we can expect to find hypocrites among the followers of Jesus.

Often skeptics will say that they don’t believe in Jesus because of all the hypocrites in the church. You should answer them, “Yes, and there are hypocrites in the world, too. There was a hypocrite among the original disciples. But that doesn’t invalidate who Jesus was. The key issue is who Jesus is, not whether some of His professed followers are hypocrites. Just make sure that you’re not a hypocrite!”

Keep in mind that Judas didn’t look like a villain in a dark coat, gloating over how he was going to profit at Jesus’ expense. When Jesus announced that one of the twelve would betray Him, the other eleven didn’t all turn toward Judas and cry out, “There’s the dirty rat!” Rather, each one was deeply grieved and said (Matt. 26:22), “Surely not I, Lord?” Even when Judas left the room to do his dirty deed, the others did not suspect him. John, who had just found out, was probably too shocked to say anything. If Peter understood that it was Judas, he was too stunned to say anything. The rest thought that Judas was just going out to buy more food or to give alms to the poor. Judas had played his role beautifully!

Hypocrites can fool other people, but they never fool God, who looks on the heart. We shouldn’t be shocked, although we often are, when a respected church leader turns away from the faith. It doesn’t shock the Lord, who knows and keeps all who are truly His. He warns the disciples in advance so that Judas’ defection will not shake their faith. Keep your focus on Jesus, not on those who fall away.

D. Judas gives us a warning about our inner motives.

Why did Judas become a disciple of Jesus? Probably he thought that Jesus would set up a political kingdom and Judas would be in line for a top job in the new administration. Even James and John had aspirations about sitting at Jesus’ right and left in the kingdom (Matt. 20:20-23). But things weren’t going quite as Judas had hoped. Jesus was talking more and more about His death. The religious leaders weren’t lining up behind Him to support His claims to be the Messiah. And so in disappointment, Judas bailed out by betraying Jesus for a few pieces of silver.

The application is, “Why do you follow Jesus?” Most of us would have to admit that we came to Jesus for selfish reasons. We had some needs or desires and we hoped that Jesus would meet those needs. But what do you do when things don’t go as smoothly as you had expected? What do you do when rather than more blessings, you have more trials? What do you do when you discover that the path Jesus has called you to walk leads to a cross before it leads to a crown? Do you still follow Him and seek to glorify Him? Or, at such times do you turn back in disappointment or, even worse, turn against Jesus?

E. Judas shows us that we should never walk away from the opportunity to receive the love of Christ.

Jesus loved Judas. He washed Judas’ feet. He offered Judas the opportunity to repent right up to the end. But Judas walked away from the love of Jesus. Later, like Esau who could not find repentance though he sought for it with tears (Heb. 12:17), Judas felt remorse, but not repentance. He threw down his betrayal money in the temple, went away, and hanged himself.

Don’t reject the love of Christ! No matter how badly you may have sinned, the Lord Jesus graciously reaches out to you, even right now through this message, with His love. He invites all thirsty sinners to come and take the water of life without cost (Rev. 22:17). Let Judas teach you the bitter end of those who walk away from the love of Jesus. Come to Him now and you will be satisfied with His grace.

Conclusion

Alexander Whyte was a great Scottish preacher (1836-1921) who magnified the awfulness of sin and the graciousness of Christ in his sermons. But He was always more aware of his own sins than those of others. An evangelist once went to Edinburgh and criticized the ministers. A friend told Whyte, “The evangelist said last night that Dr. Hood Wilson was not a converted man.” Whyte jumped from his chair. “The rascal,” he cried. “Dr. Wilson not a converted man!”

Then the friend reported that the evangelist also said that Dr. Whyte was not converted. At that, Whyte stopped short, sat down, put his face in his hands, and was silent for a long time. Then he said to the visitor, “Leave me, friend leave me! I must examine my heart!” (In Warren Wiersbe, Walking with the Giants [Baker], p. 92.)

That’s the effect that the story of Judas should have on us. We should soberly examine our own hearts before God.

Application Questions

  1. When you encounter a difficult trial, what are some ways that you can more deeply see Christ’s glory in the trial? How does Satan seek to tempt you to doubt Christ’s glory (1 Pet. 5:6-11)?
  2. Has the failure of a spiritual leader ever caused your faith to waver? What lessons can be learned from such tragedies?
  3. What is the difference between moralistic religion and the new birth? How would you counsel a person who wanted be sure that he has been born again?
  4. We’re all prone to be hypocrites by saving face and by trying to please people. What are some practical ways to fight this?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Glory, Hamartiology (Sin)

Lesson 74: Loving as Jesus Loved (John 13:31-38)

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November 30, 2014

A preacher once asked a class, “What do you do with the commandments in the Bible?” A little old lady raised her hand and answered, “I underline them in blue.”

Okay, but then what do you do with them? Underlining all the commandments in blue may help you spot them as you read your Bible. But the point of the commands in the Bible is that we obey them, not just underline them in blue.

If we all were to rate ourselves on a scale of 1-10 on how well we obey the biblical command to love others, probably most of us would put down a 7 or 8. Maybe a few would dare to score a 9. A 10? Hey, no one’s perfect! But I have a hunch that most of us think, “You know, I’m a basically loving person, but I sure wish my mate (or kids or roommate) would be more loving.”

But when you stop to think about the fine print in Jesus’ command, your ratings will plummet. He said (John 13:34), “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” The “fine print” is that phrase, “even as I have loved you.” That bumps His command up to a Mt. Everest kind of command! A very few may make the summit of Everest, but no one lives up there. On rare occasions, we may succeed in loving others as Christ loved us, but none of us live there consistently. It’s the same as Paul’s command (Eph. 5:25), “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” You never reach a point where you can say, “I’ve got that one down! Let’s move on to other things!” These are commands that we’ve got to keep working on.

You may wonder, in what sense is Jesus’ command a new commandment? After all, Leviticus 19:18 commands, “… you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The entire Old Testament law is summed up by the two commandments, love God and love your neighbor. So how is Jesus’ command new? I agree with most scholars who say that the newness of Jesus’ command is the new standard that He gives, “even as I have loved you.” Jesus’ sacrificial love in going to the cross for us is the new standard. So the main idea of our text is fairly simple to state, but impossible to live out consistently apart from the power of the Holy Spirit:

Jesus commands us to love one another even as He loved us.

The crux of this command is to understand how Jesus loved us. Our text reveals five aspects of this love:

1. Jesus’ love was costly love (John 13:31-32).

John 13:31-32: “Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately.’” This statement takes us back to John 12:23, where after hearing that some Greeks were seeking Him, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” As the context there makes clear, He was referring to His death on the cross. The cross glorified both Jesus and His Father (John 12:28).

On one level, the cross was the epitome of humiliation and shame. There was no worse way to die than to be stripped naked, flogged, and then nailed to a splintery cross and hung up to suffer a slow death as a public spectacle. But in another superior sense, the cross was the epitome of glory both for the Father and the Son. To glorify God is to magnify or display His perfect attributes. At the cross, God’s love, righteousness, justice, mercy, and grace were magnified as at no other occasion in history. At the cross, God’s justice was upheld as His sinless Son bore the awful penalty that His justice demanded for all sinners. But His love and grace shine forth as He offers eternal life to all who will repent of their sin and trust in Jesus alone.

John 13:32 refers to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension: “… if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately.” The resurrection was God’s stamp of approval on Jesus’ death. Jesus’ ascension into heaven exalted Him again to God’s right hand, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21).

But the point is, Jesus’ love as seen at the cross was costly. That theme is repeated over and over in the Bible:

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Ephesians 5:2: “… walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her ….”

1 John 3:16: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

I realize that it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). Through the cross, He would bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10). But still for Jesus to go to the cross was an act of supreme self-sacrifice. It was costly.

2. Jesus’ love was caring love (John 13:33).

John 13:33: “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” We see Jesus’ tender care for His disciples here in two ways. First, He addresses them as “little children.” This is the only time that this word is used in the Gospels. It is only used elsewhere in 1 John, where the apostle whom Jesus especially loved uses it seven times (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). It was a word of tender feelings, much as a father has toward his little children who need his help and protection.

Second, we see Jesus’ tender care for His own in that He explains to them that He will be leaving them soon. They could not follow Him to heaven at that time, although, as He explains to Peter (John 13:36) and to all (John 14:1-3), they will follow later. The picture again is of a caring father explaining to his children that he has to go away for a while, and they can’t accompany him. But he promises that they will be reunited later. The point is, Jesus’ love was filled with tender feelings for His disciples.

There used to be a popular Bible teacher who emphasized knowing Bible doctrine above all else. He taught that biblical love is not a feeling, but rather a mental attitude. But in practice, he was rude, insensitive, and arrogant. Jesus’ love was not like that, and neither was Paul’s love. He wrote (1 Thess. 2:7-8), “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”

3. Jesus’ love was commanded love (John 13:34).

John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” In going to the cross, Jesus was obeying the Father’s commandment (John 10:18). Now He commands His followers to love one another, even as He has loved us.

The fact that Jesus commands us to love one another means that you can do it. There are no excuses if you fail to love another believer. You can’t do it in your own strength, of course. Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, produced in us when we walk in dependence on the Spirit’s power (Gal. 5:16, 22). But just as Jesus obediently sacrificed Himself to go to the cross for our salvation, so we are obediently to sacrifice ourselves for others’ ultimate good.

I’ve had husbands come to me and say, “I don’t love my wife anymore! We’re going to get a divorce.” But the wedding vow wasn’t, “as long as we both shall love.” It’s “as long as we both shall live”! The biblical command is, “Husbands, love your wives….” If you don’t love your wife, you’re being disobedient. Figure out some practical ways that you can show her God’s love and start doing it!

He may protest, “But I don’t have any good feelings toward her. All of the years of anger and bitterness have just drained the feelings of love that I once had.” But lacking the feelings of love is never a valid excuse for neglecting the actions of love. You’ve probably seen the train diagram in the “Four Spiritual Laws” tract. The engine is God’s Word. The coal car is faith. The caboose represents feelings. The train will run only if you put your faith in God’s Word. Then good feelings will follow. But you can’t run the train on good feelings. When we obey God’s Word and begin to love others sacrificially, feelings of love will follow. But you can’t bail out on the commandment to love others because you lack feelings for them. I’m sure that if Jesus had followed His feelings, He would not have gone to the cross! His love was costly and caring. But it also was based on obedience to His Father’s commandment.

4. Jesus’ love was conspicuous love (John 13:35).

John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus wasn’t just talking about having nice thoughts toward others, which no one else can see. He was talking about love that can be seen. It stems from the heart, but it’s seen in outward actions. It’s the sort of love that stands out conspicuously in this self-centered world. They should see the way that we Christians love one another and say, “They must be followers of Jesus!”

Sadly, the church is often known more for its fighting and divisions over petty issues than it is for its love. Back in the 1970’s some church growth gurus observed that Christians like to go to church with others who are just like they are. Whites like to be with whites. Blacks like to be with blacks. Rich college graduates like other rich college graduates. Rednecks don’t like going to church with long-haired liberals who favor gun control. Rednecks use long-haired liberals for target practice! So these church growth gurus gave us the homogeneous unit principle: If you want your church to grow, you’ve got to target the niche that you’re trying to reach and market your church to those folks.

The problem is, that principle is completely contrary to the New Testament! Paul wrote (Gal. 3:28), “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In the church (Col. 3:11), “there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.” The church is the family of God and God has designed families so that there are young and old together.

Have you ever thought about the diversity among Jesus’ apostles? He chose Simon the Zealot. Zealots were a radical political group that used intrigue, violence, force, and deception to try to achieve its goal of liberating Palestine from Roman rule. They refused to pay taxes and they attacked and murdered government officials, especially the hated tax collectors.

And then He chose Matthew, the tax-collector! The tax-collectors had sold their souls to Rome. They milked the Jewish people of their money in order to line their own pockets. You could not have put two men of more diverse backgrounds into the same group if you had tried! These are the men that Jesus is telling to love one another! That kind of love would be conspicuous!

This has several practical implications. For one thing, I refuse to have a contemporary service for young people, who prefer rock music and a casual format and a separate traditional, more formal service for the older folks, who prefer hymns with organ accompaniment. That wrongly divides the church along age lines. The older folks need the fresh enthusiasm of the young people and the young people need the wisdom and stability of the older folks.

Also, the church should reflect the racial and socio-economic diversity of our community. The world can understand when churches divide along racial lines. But our love for one another should conspicuously cross divisions that we see in the world. Flagstaff is approximately 64% white, 18% Hispanic, 12% Native Americans, 2% black, and 2% Asian. I want this church to reflect that mix and show the love of Christ to the world.

When Marla was a new Christian, she attended a church that met in a park. It consisted predominately of “hippies,” most of whom were under 30. The way the church got its start was another sad example of Christians violating Jesus’ command to love one another. A youth pastor at a Baptist church started seeing a number of young hippies come to Christ, so he started bringing them to church. But the people in the church protested. They didn’t want kids looking like that coming to their church! What would people think? For starters, they might have thought, “Those people must be Jesus’ disciples!” That youth pastor went to several churches and tried to get them to accept his group, but was turned down at every church. He finally was forced to start his own church.

So, Jesus’ love was costly, caring, commanded, and conspicuous. Finally,

5. Jesus’ love was committed love (John 13:36-38).

John 13:36-38: “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.’”

I have preached other messages that focus on Peter’s failure and restoration (“Failure and Hope,” Luke 22:31-38; “Spiritual Failure and Restoration,” Luke 22:54-62; “Hope for All Who Have Failed,” Mark 16:7; “Hope for All Sinners,” Mark 16:7, all on the church web site). I’m not going to focus here on the many lessons that can be gleaned from that poignant story, except to say that while Peter thought that he was fully committed to Jesus and in many ways, he was, his failure stemmed from not recognizing his own weakness. Trusting in his own loyalty rather than in the Lord set him up for his colossal failure.

But here I want to focus on Jesus’ commitment to Peter and to the other ten disciples in spite of their failure. Jesus knew that Peter would deny Him and He predicts it here. He knew that all the disciples would flee for their lives when He would be arrested later that night, in spite of their protests to the contrary (Matt. 26:31, 35, 56). But, He didn’t cast them off because of their failure. He loved them to the end (or uttermost; John 13:1) and He showed that love by restoring them and using them after His resurrection.

Love means being committed to the other person’s highest good. The highest good for all people is that they would become more like Jesus Christ by growing in holiness and living to glorify Him. That commitment to the other person’s highest good is the glue that holds a marriage together. As Paul says (Eph. 5:26-27), a husband’s love for his wife should aim at sanctifying her so that she would be holy and blameless. That same commitment should cause church members to work through conflicts and seek to preserve the unity of the church in the bond of peace.

Bringing together these five elements of Jesus’ love, we can hammer out a definition of biblical love: Love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment which, in obedience to Jesus, shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.

The costliness of love means that we have to sacrifice our selfishness for others. The caring aspect of love means that we should never be calloused or rude. Love is kind. The commandment facet of love means that we do it in obedience to our Savior, who gave Himself for us. The conspicuous part of love means that it doesn’t consist just of nice thoughts, but of visible actions. And, the commitment of love is to see the other person become more like Christ, which is his highest good and for God’s glory.

Conclusion

I recognize that this kind of love is the ideal and we live in a sinful world that presents us with many difficult situations that require prayerful wisdom to obey Jesus’ command. I can only offer a few seeds for thought here on how to apply this.

Does loving someone require that I like that person? Does it mean that I must become a close friend with a difficult person? By looking at Jesus’ example, I have to say, “Not necessarily.” While He loved all people, He did not give His time equally to all. He spent the most time with His disciples, but even among the twelve, He was closer to Peter, James, and John. And John is the only one called, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:1, 23).

Jesus didn’t even spend time with His half-brothers when He had the opportunity. He could have gone up to the feast with them (John 7:1-10), which would have meant several days of traveling together. He could have used that time to influence them, since they were not yet believing in Him. But He let them go alone and then He went later by Himself.

Jesus also loved His enemies, the Jewish leaders, but He constantly provoked and confronted them. He instructed His disciples to shake the dust off their feet and move on if people rejected them and their message (Matt. 10:14). Apparently, that was the loving thing to do, since Jesus never would have commanded them not to love their enemies (Matt. 5:44).

Also, since biblical love seeks the highest good for the other person, namely, that he become more like Christ, love sometimes requires confronting the person with his sin or letting him experience the consequences of his sin so that he learns to hate it (Acts 8:18-24; 13:6-12). Love does not enable a person to continue in sinful or irresponsible ways. Love tries to help a person learn to be obedient to God and responsible to “bear his own load” (Gal. 6:5).

I don’t say any of this to give you a cop out from loving difficult people, but rather, as Paul put it (Phil. 1:9), my aim is “that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” I encourage you to meditate often on the characteristics of love (1 Cor. 13:4-7): “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Then go through Paul’s letters and his actions in the Book of Acts and see how he worked out those qualities in real situations.

Growing in love requires lifelong effort. You will experience many failures. But your aim should be to love others even as Jesus loves you.

Application Questions

  1. Since God is gracious to undeserving sinners, how can we know when to be gracious to those in sin and when to confront them or separate from them?
  2. What’s the difference between loving someone and liking him? Are we commanded to like everyone? What does this imply?
  3. Love is patient and kind, and yet neither Jesus nor Paul were always patient and kind (Matt. 17:17; 23:1-39; Acts 13:6-12). How do you reconcile this? How should we apply it?
  4. What are the boundaries of visible Christian unity? When is it not only right, but necessary, to divide from erring or sinning Christians?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Discipleship, Love

Lesson 75: Comfort for Troubled Hearts (John 14:1-11)

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December 7, 2014

According to U.S.A. Today (11/16/11), “More than 20 percent of American adults took at least one drug for conditions like anxiety and depression in 2010 … including more than one in four women.” The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports (adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics, bold type theirs), “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).”

I realize that some of you have taken or are currently taking medication for anxiety or depression. I am not a doctor and I recognize that there are complex factors that affect our mental condition. I would not recommend that you go off any medication without your doctor’s consent. But at the same time, I would urge you to think carefully about whether or not you have truly laid hold of the cure for troubled hearts that Jesus promises in our text:

Faith in Christ’s person and hope in Christ’s promise will comfort your troubled heart.

You may think, “That’s overly simplistic! That’s a nice thought, but it’s impractical and out of touch with reality!” But these are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to troubled hearts. Either His words are true or they’re not. So I would ask you to consider whether perhaps you just haven’t applied these words before you conclude that they are simplistic or impractical. And I also point out that Jesus’ words have given genuine comfort to countless believers in the midst of horrible trials over the past 2000 years of church history. So before you shrug them off, consider whether or not you have truly applied them to your troubled heart.

Jesus is in the Upper Room with the eleven disciples after Judas has left to betray Him. Except for John and perhaps Peter, the others didn’t know yet who the betrayer was, but they were troubled by the news that one of the twelve would betray Jesus. The Lord has also announced that He is leaving them and that they cannot follow Him. These are men who had left their jobs and families to follow Jesus in the hope that He was the promised Messiah. They were ecstatic a few days before when He rode into Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd. But now He was talking about His death, not about His messianic kingdom. And to top it off, He had just told Peter that before daybreak, he would deny Jesus three times. So these men were anxious and troubled! And so the Lord’s emphasis in of all of John 14, not just in our text, is to comfort their troubled hearts, especially as they witnessed His brutal execution the next day. If you apply them, these words will also comfort your troubled heart.

1. Faith in Christ’s person will comfort your troubled heart (John 14:1, 4-11).

Faith is only as good as its object. Trusting in a faulty airplaine won’t make it fly! As we’ve seen repeatedly, everything in the Christian life depends on the correct answer to Jesus’ question (Matt. 16:15), “Who do you say that I am?” If Jesus is who He claimed to be and who all of Scripture proclaims Him to be, then He is absolutely trustworthy in every trial that you encounter. If He is not who He claimed to be, then eat and drink, for tomorrow you will die (see 1 Cor. 15:12-19, 32). Or, as church historian Jaroslav Pelikan said just before he died, “If Christ is raised, nothing else matters. If Christ is not raised, nothing matters.” (Cited by David Calhoun, in Heaven [Crossway], ed. by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson, worldmag.com/2014/11/the_hope_of_heaven.) In our text, Jesus makes four claims that show that He is trustworthy:

A. Jesus claims to deserve equal faith with God (John 14:1).

John 14:1: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” There are several legitimate ways to translate that verse because in Greek, “believe” in both instances can be either indicative or imperative. A few versions translate the first verb as indicative, “you believe in God,” and the second as imperative, “believe also in Me.” But most versions translate them both as imperatives: “believe in God, believe also in Me.” Since Jesus’ opening words are an imperative, “Do not let your heart be troubled,” it’s likely that He is commanding them both to believe in God and to believe in Him.

But either way that you translate it, Jesus is claiming to be on exactly the same level as God when it comes to trusting Him! What mere man could claim, “You need to trust in God, and to the same degree, you need to trust in Me”? Alexander Maclaren wrote (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker], on John 14:1, p. 257, italics his):

The peculiarity of His call to the world is, “Believe in Me.” And if He said that, or anything like it … then, one of two things follows. Either He was wrong, and then He was a crazy enthusiast, only acquitted of blasphemy because convicted of insanity; or else—or else—He was “God manifest in the flesh.”

As Jesus will go on to affirm, because to see Him is to see the Father, you cannot separate faith in God from faith in Jesus. And since Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who created all things (John 1:3), and who was in control over all the events surrounding His death, then you can trust Him in whatever overwhelming circumstances you are facing. Nothing is too difficult for Him and no one can thwart His sovereign will (Jer. 32:17; Job 42:2).

B. Jesus claims to be the exclusive way to God (John 14:4-6).

We’ll come back to verses 2 & 3, where Jesus promises that He is going to prepare a place for us and that He will come again. Then, He says (John 14:4-6),

“And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

I’m glad for the disciples’ dense comments and questions (we’ll see another one from Philip in verse 8), because they resulted in some wonderful answers from Jesus that we otherwise might not have! The word “way” is emphasized by being repeated in verses 4, 5, & 6; it refers to the way to heaven or to the Father (John 14:3, 6). Significantly, Jesus doesn’t say, “I know the way to heaven and I can point you to it.” Rather, He says, “I am the way.”

A missionary hired a guide to take him across a vast desert. When they arrived at the edge of the desert, the missionary saw before him trackless sands without a single footprint or road of any kind. He asked his guide with a tone of surprise, “Where is the road?” With a reproving glance, the guide replied, “I am the road.” Jesus is the way to heaven. We must trust Him to take us there.

This is the sixth of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements in John (6:48; 8:12; 10:9, 11; 11:25; 15:1). It’s another claim to deity. Jesus is saying that we can have access to God only through Him. Just as in the Old Testament, the only way for the Jews to come to God was through the high priest, who could only enter the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement, so Jesus is our high priest through whose sacrifice of Himself we can come into God’s very presence without fear of being consumed. He Himself is the way.

Jesus also claimed, “I am the truth.” Again, He did not say, “I can teach you the truth,” although He did that. He said, “I am the truth.” In this context, He means not only that He is totally dependable, but also that He Himself is the only true way of salvation (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 641). He alone is the manifestation of the eternal God of truth. We can only know ultimate reality through knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Jesus also claimed, “I am the life.” Again, He doesn’t say, “I can tell you how to have life,” but rather, “I am the life.” In John 5:26, Jesus claimed, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.” Having life in Himself, Jesus “gives life to whom He wishes” (John 5:21). Because of sin, the entire human race is under the curse of eternal death, or separation from God. We can have eternal life only in Christ. Eternal life means knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom He sent (John 17:3).

The three articles, the way, the truth, and the life imply the exclusivity of Christ’s claims. But His final statement cinches it (John 14:6b): “no one comes to the Father but through Me.” He is the only way to God. Peter underscored this fact to the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 4:12), “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (See, also, 1 Tim. 2:5).

Jesus’ claim to be the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to the Father, confronts our postmodern era in two ways: First, there is such a thing as absolute truth in the spiritual realm; second, Jesus only is the absolute truth; all other ways are wrong. People today don’t have a problem if you say that Jesus is a way to God or that you personally believe in Him, as long as you don’t say that all other beliefs are false. But when you claim that Jesus is the exclusive way to God; that He is the only spiritual truth, so that all other beliefs are false; and that He alone can impart eternal life—you will be accused of being intolerant and arrogant!

R. C. Sproul (in Tabletalk, date unknown) points out that the notion that all religions are valid is logically impossible because, if all religions are valid, then Christianity is valid. But Jesus said that He is the only way to God, which eliminates all other ways. So either He was right or He was wrong. Sproul concludes, “If He was wrong, then Christianity has no validity at all. If He was right, then there is no other way.”

Here’s how Jesus’ claim in verse 6 can comfort you when you’re troubled: Believing that Jesus is the way will comfort your troubled heart because you have access to the gracious Father through Him. Through Jesus you can bring all your troubles into the very presence of the God who spoke the universe into existence. Believing that Jesus is the truth will comfort your troubled heart because all else is subjective, shifting, and uncertain. You can stand securely in the truth of who Jesus is. Believing that Jesus is the life will comfort your troubled heart because trusting in Him gives assurance of eternal life and escape from the second death.

Thus Jesus claims to deserve equal faith with God. He claims to be the exclusive way to God.

C. Jesus claims to be the unique revealer of God (John 14:7-9).

John 14:7-9:

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

There is a variant in verse 7 supported by some early manuscripts, which reads, “If you have come to know Me [as you do], you shall know My Father also.” If this is the original reading, then Jesus is emphasizing the truth of John 1:18, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” To know Jesus is to know the Father. Jesus alone reveals the Father to us. Jesus’ words, “from now on,” refer to the events that will transpire shortly, especially to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The Spirit will guide them into all the truth (John 14:17, 26).

But Jesus’ comment that the disciples have seen the Father prompts Philip to ask (John 14:8), “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” He may have been thinking that if Jesus was going to leave them, some vision of God such as Moses had on Mount Sinai would sustain them in Jesus’ absence. Jesus’ reply is a rebuke that reflects some personal grief (John 14:9), “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

Again, I’m thankful for Philip’s inappropriate request, because Jesus’ reply is another clear claim to be God. As Leon Morris states (p. 644), “These are words which no mere man has a right to use.” Jesus is the visible representation of the invisible God. As Paul wrote (Col. 2:9), “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” This claim of Christ can comfort your troubled heart because often in a time of trouble, God seems distant. The fact that He is invisible makes it difficult to trust in Him. At such times, look to Jesus, who was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He reveals to us the tender mercies of the Father.

D. Jesus claims to be in intimate union with the Father (John 14:10-11).

John 14:10-11: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.”

This brings us back full circle to verse 1: To believe in Jesus is to believe in the Father, because the two are in inseparable union. God is one God who subsists in three co-equal, eternal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (John 14:10, 17). Jesus reveals the Father to us. The Spirit reveals Christ to us (John 16:13-15). To know Jesus is to know God.

Jesus gives two reasons to believe that He is in intimate union with the Father: His words and His works. Jesus says that He didn’t make up what He taught, but rather His words came directly from the Father. This is a repetition of Jesus’ earlier claims. In John 8:26, He told His enemies, “I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.” He repeated (John 8:28), “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” (See, also, John 5:19, 30.) Jesus’ words confirm that He is in intimate union with the Father.

But also Jesus’ works prove that He is in intimate union with the Father. This refers to all that He did, but especially to His miracles. Skeptics, of course, challenge Jesus’ miracles because they claim that they have never seen a miracle. But Jesus’ miracles are reported by credible eyewitnesses, most of whom were willing to lose their lives because they believed Jesus to be the truth. At the heart of a skeptic’s rejection of Jesus’ miracles is not science, but rather his love of his sin and his refusal to submit to Jesus as Lord.

Note that Jesus challenges us (John 14:11), “Believe Me that …” Faith in Jesus isn’t a vague, “I believe for every star that falls, a flower grows.” Rather, we are to believe specifically what Jesus claimed: that He deserves equal faith with God; that He is the exclusive way to God; that He is the unique revealer of God; and that He is in intimate union with the Father. Jesus adds that if you can’t believe His words alone, at least believe because of His works. Believing in the person of Christ will comfort your troubled heart.

2. Hope in Christ’s promise will comfort your troubled heart (John 14:2-3).

John 14:2-3: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

Biblical hope is closely allied with faith. Someone has described it as faith standing on tiptoe. It looks ahead to the promised, but yet unrealized future. It’s not like saying, “I hope my favorite team wins their big game today.” You don’t know whether they will win or lose. Biblical hope is like watching the video replay of the game after your team won. You know the outcome, but you eagerly watch the game unfold. Here Jesus makes two promises that are certain because He is the truth:

A. Christ is making a reservation for us in heaven.

The picture is an Oriental house where the father would add rooms to accommodate his grown children and their families so that they all lived in the same compound. There are several comforting truths in this picture. First, heaven is a real place, not just an immaterial state of being.

Second, going to heaven is like going home. It’s not like traveling to a foreign country, where you don’t know the language, geography, people, or customs. It’s like going to a familiar, comfortable place where you are welcomed by a Father who loves you and by brothers and sisters whom you know.

Third, Jesus is there right now preparing a place for us. This doesn’t mean that He is working with His carpenter’s tools to add rooms for us. Rather, it looks at His present ministry of intercession for us, of being our advocate, and of keeping us for that day.

It’s always comforting when you travel to know that you have a confirmed reservation when you arrive. Jesus promises that if you believe in Him, you have such a reservation in heaven.

B. Christ will make a return for us on earth.

He promises to come again and receive us to Himself, that where He is, there we will be also. When Christ comes or when we go to heaven, we will be reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us. But being with Jesus Himself will be the best part of His coming and our going to heaven. As Martin Luther said (cited by Randy Alcorn, Heaven [Tyndale], p. 187), “I had rather be in hell with Christ, than be in heaven without him.”

The certainty of Christ’s bodily return means terror for those who reject Him, because He will come to “tread the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 19:15). But His return means comfort for all that believe in Him, because we will always be with the Lord. Paul concludes his discussion of Christ’s return by saying (1 Thess. 4:18), “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Conclusion

Jesus’ words (John 14:1), “Do not let your heart be troubled,” mean that we can do something about our troubled hearts. It’s a command, indicating that we have volitional control over our emotions. We don’t need to be victimized by our feelings. We can do something to deal with anxiety or a troubled heart, namely, believe in Jesus as God and hope in His promise of heaven. As the psalmist told himself when he was in despair (Ps. 43:5), “Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” And, since Jesus was troubled on our behalf (John 14:21), we don’t need to be troubled by life’s problems. God is now on our side!

So the next time you’re troubled and anxious, before you do what the world does and pop a pill to calm your soul, do something radical: Believe in God; believe also in Jesus Christ. Faith in His person and His promise will comfort your troubled heart.

Application Questions

  1. What are the practical implications of the statement: “Faith is only as good as its object”?
  2. Discuss: Is it okay for Christians to take psychotropic medications to deal with anxiety and depression? Why/why not?
  3. A person you witness to says, “It’s fine that you believe in Jesus, but I have my own spiritual beliefs that work for me.” Your reply?
  4. In light of Psalms 42 & 43, is it wrong to be troubled by trials or is it just wrong to remain troubled? How does the psalmist deal with his despair and trouble?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Comfort, Faith

Lesson 76: Doing Greater Works Than Jesus (John 14:12-14)

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December 14, 2014

These verses on prayer are some of the most difficult in all of Scripture for me to understand. They occur in the context of Jesus giving encouragement and comfort to the distraught disciples, who were troubled by the news that He was leaving them; that one of them would betray Him; and that Peter would deny Him. Jesus tells them that after He is gone they will do greater works than He did and that He will do anything that they ask in His name. So Jesus’ promises in these verses should encourage and comfort us as well.

But the problem is, these verses do not seem to be true in my experience. I’d be hesitant to say that I’m doing greater works than Jesus did. He has never used me to perform a miracle. And I can’t say that whatever I ask Him to do, He does it every time. So we need to think carefully about what these verses mean. (We will encounter similar verses in John 15:7, 15:16, and 16:23-24; also, see 1 John 5:14-15 and Matt. 21:22 [parallels, Mark 11:24; Luke 16:6]).

My problem is compounded by the fact that of the 20 or more commentaries and sermons that I read on these verses, not one even mentions that there are any difficulties! I have over two dozen books on prayer on my shelf, and only one acknowledges that these are difficult verses, but he doesn’t answer my questions.

Another problem is that the “health and wealth” preachers use these verses to teach people to “name it and claim it” in prayer: “Give me a mansion and a new car!” “Heal my cancer!” They tell people to “claim it by faith.” When it doesn’t happen as the people requested, these cruel false teachers then tell the disappointed person that the reason he didn’t receive what he asked for is that he didn’t ask in faith!

The main idea of our text is easy to state (even if not so easy to understand!):

When we believe in Jesus and pray in His name we will do greater works than He did.

First, let’s try to understand the “greater works”; then we’ll look at prayer in Jesus’ name.

1. When we believe in Jesus we will do greater works than He did (John 14:12).

John 14:12: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”

Note that Jesus is the head of His body, the church. As His body, we are to carry on the works that He did when He was on earth. This is implied in Acts 1:1, where Luke refers to “all that Jesus began to do and teach…” He goes on to show how Jesus continued to work through the apostles and the early church as they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

In John, Jesus’ works include His miracles (John 5:20; 7:3, 21; 10:25, 32, 33, 37, 38; 14:11; 15:24), but extend to all that He taught and did in obedience to the Father (John 5:36). In John 17:4, Jesus sums up His ministry when He prays, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” So if we are doing the works that Jesus did, and even greater works, it would seem that we should be doing miracles, living in complete dependence on the Father, obeying Him in all things, demonstrating the Father’s love and mercy, and confronting the religious errors of our day. Jesus did all these things and more.

One clue to Jesus’ meaning in our text is His explanation of why His disciples should do greater works: “because I go to the Father.” As John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:13-15 make clear, Jesus promised that after He returned to the Father, He would send the Holy Spirit to indwell them. And so the greater works that the disciples would do were the direct result of the Spirit’s working in and through them.

But, does this mean that we should be doing the same and even greater miracles than Jesus did? A “yes” answer to that question was why the late John Wimber founded the Vineyard Christian Fellowship churches. He was convinced that we should be seeing God work miracles today as a common experience. But the fact that Wimber’s good friend, David Watson, died of cancer in his early 50’s in spite of Wimber’s praying in faith that he would be healed; and the fact that Wimber himself died of heart disease in his early 60’s; and the additional fact that none of the Vineyard Churches that I know of are seeing consistent miracles on a par with Christ’s miracles, should give us pause.

In the Bible, miracles occur mostly in clusters, mainly at times when God’s message needed to be authenticated. These include the times surrounding the exodus; the times of Elijah and Elisha; Daniel’s time; and the time of Christ and the apostles. In Acts, we see some pretty spectacular miracles, such as Peter’s shadow falling on the sick and healing them and his raising Dorcas from the dead (Acts 3:1-9; 5:12-16; 9:36-41). Acts 5:16 reports, “Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.” Note, they were all being healed.

Paul also saw some spectacular healings. Acts 19:11-12 reports, “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.” But later in his ministry, Paul advises Timothy to drink a little wine for his frequent stomach problems, but not to claim healing by faith (1 Tim. 5:23). In his final letter, Paul reports (2 Tim. 4:20), “Trophimus I left sick at Miletus.” Why didn’t Paul heal him if he was still doing the miraculous works of Jesus? And, although it would have freed him for wider ministry, Paul never claimed deliverance from prison or from execution by faith.

The author of Hebrews, writing to the second generation of Jewish believers, reminds them how God testified to the truth of the gospel by performing signs and wonders and miracles through the first generation of believers in Christ (Heb. 2:3-4). He was trying to convince them of the truth of the gospel so that they wouldn’t go back to Judaism. If those early miracles were still commonplace, the author would have had a stronger argument by pointing to the very miracles done every day in their midst.

So I conclude that while God at times does spectacular miracles to authenticate His word, we are not living at a time where miracles are as commonplace as they were in the days of the early church. We should never doubt that if it is God’s will, He can miraculously heal or do other miracles through His people. But I do not know of anyone in our day experiencing near the same or greater miracles than Christ did. So the “greater works” that Jesus promised cannot refer to greater miracles than He did.

What, then, are the greater works that Jesus’ followers are to perform? D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 496) argues that the greater works are those done on the basis of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation. The greater works point to the power of the gospel to transform lives as it spread through the apostolic witness. Through Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 were born again, probably more than Jesus saw converted during His entire ministry! The Book of Acts tells how the message kept spreading, first around Jerusalem, and eventually to the Gentiles around the Roman Empire. J. C. Ryle succinctly observes (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], on John 14:12, p. 67), “There is no greater work possible than the conversion of a soul.”

Thus as the Lord uses us to spread the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are doing the works that He did and even greater works in the sense that the new covenant is better than the old (Heb. 8:6). And our works collectively are greater in number and greater in geographic extent than Jesus did in three years in one small part of the world. I might add that there have been and continue to be times and places where God’s Spirit works in unusual ways to bring thousands of people to Christ in a relatively short period of time. These are called revivals and it is thrilling to read about them. We should pray that God would do a work of revival here and now. But, there are other times and places where in spite of faithful witnesses and much prayer, few have come to Christ. With that, I turn to the subject of prayer:

2. Prayer in Jesus’ name is the way to do greater works than He did (John 14:13-14).

John 14:13-14: “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” In these verses, we see the extent, the basis, the objective, and the result of Jesus’ promise:

A. The extent of Jesus’ promise: “Whatever you ask.”

The context is important! Jesus isn’t promising that He will do any crazy thing you ask, as long as you tack on, “in Jesus’ name, Amen” to your prayer! The context of “whatever you ask” is tied into doing Jesus’ works. So to think that you can pray, “Jesus, give me a nice mansion and while You’re at it, throw in a new Mercedes,” is to completely misapply Jesus’ promise.

John Piper argues that instead of using prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie to call in supplies for the battle, we have turned it into an intercom to ask for more comforts in the den (Let the Nations be Glad ([Baker Academic], p. 49). But prayer isn’t a means of getting God to give us what we want so that our lives can be more comfy. Rather, prayer is the means by which we ask God to extend His kingdom and do His will on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). True, there is a place to ask God to meet our needs. But the center of all that we pray should be, “Lord, do Your work through Your people! Bring sinners to genuine conversion! Sanctify Your people so that we will be faithful representatives of Jesus on earth!”

So in prayer, we are to submit to God’s will and to ask Him to accomplish His will through us and through His people. But, the difficulty is, how do we determine what God’s will is so that we pray in line with it? His will is not always obvious! God denied Moses’ request to enter Canaan (Deut. 3:23–27), even though Moses could have argued that the people needed his leadership after they entered the land. Paul prayed for relief from his thorn in the flesh, which was demonically caused and hindered his ministry, but God had a higher purpose, namely, to be glorified as Paul depended on Him in his weakness (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Paul’s prayers for the salvation of his fellow Jews largely went unanswered, not only in his lifetime, but down to the present day (Rom. 10:1; cf. 1 Thess. 2:14–16; Col. 4:7)! Even Jesus in the Garden prayed, if it was the Father’s will, to be delivered from the cross (Matt. 26:39). But He submitted to the Father’s will.

So there is a tension here: We should ask God to extend the gospel and glorify His name around the world. We should ask Him “to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). And yet, we need to keep in mind that His ways are not always our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9). He sometimes puts His greatest servants in chains or allows them to be killed for His sake (Rom. 8:36). So although we often don’t understand why God doesn’t do exactly what we ask, we should pray big prayers for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. The extent of, “Whatever you ask,” is pretty unlimited!

B. The basis of Jesus’ promise: “In My name.”

As I said, this isn’t a formula to tack onto your prayers, although there’s nothing wrong with closing your prayers, “in Jesus’ name,” as long as you think about what that means. “Jesus’ name” refers to His person and work. It refers to all that He is and all He has done for us on the cross. While we must be obedient to Christ if we expect Him to answer our prayers (John 14:15), we don’t ask on the basis of our obedience: “I’ve been really good, so You need to answer this!”

Rather, to ask in Jesus’ name means that you come to the Father through the Son as your high priest. To ask in Jesus’ name is to recognize that His name is above every name that is named, both in this age and in the age to come (Eph. 1:21). He has the power to answer! You ask what you think Jesus would want in terms of carrying out His work. You ask God to be gracious because you are in His Son and you are seeking to do His will. And, you ask submissively, acknowledging that you may not understand His perfect will. But you trust that if your request is His will, He will do it, no matter how difficult.

C. The objective of Jesus’ promise: The Father’s glory in the Son.

This is a further condition that must govern the “whatever” we ask: Our desire is to see God glorified through the Lord Jesus. This may include the salvation of a loved one or of an enemy of the gospel (such as Paul before his conversion). This extends to praying for the gospel to penetrate unreached peoples around the world. It includes praying that troubled marriages may be healed. The main objective is not that they would be happy (although they will), but that God would be glorified through Christ being seen in that marriage. God’s glory is the main objective of our prayers.

Sometimes people will ask me to pray for someone who is in the hospital and I ask, “What should I pray?” The person asking will often look at me dumbfounded, thinking, “Pray that he will be healed, of course!” But healing may not be God’s way of being glorified. What does God want to do in this person’s heart? Maybe the sickness is to teach the person the brevity of life so that he will live in light of eternity. God may be glorified by teaching the sick person to trust Him through bodily weakness. He may be glorified through the person’s joy in Christ as he dies. Our aim in prayer should be that the Father would be glorified in His Son.

D. The result of Jesus’ promise: “I will do it.”

Jesus repeats this in verses 13 & 14 so that we can’t dodge it. The result of our praying should be that Jesus does it. This implies Christ’s deity: He has the power to answer whatever we ask. But this is where it gets really difficult, because many of our prayers would seemingly further God’s kingdom and glory, but He has not done it. I have prayed for the salvation of loved ones, but they have died unbelieving. I have prayed for the healing of Christian marriages, but they have ended in divorce. Many godly parents have prayed for their prodigal children to return to Christ and to be reconciled with the parents for God’s glory, but it hasn’t happened. Many faithful missionaries have prayed and labored for the gospel to take root among peoples that are still mostly pagan after decades of labor. The list could go on and on.

So, how do we reconcile Jesus’ seeming blanket promise to answer prayers in His name for God’s glory with the fact that many such prayers go unanswered? I can’t totally resolve this problem, but I offer some concluding thoughts that may help.

Conclusion

First, the tension we experience stems from the fact that we can know God’s will of desire, but we can’t know His will of decree. God desires that all people would repent of their sins and be saved (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; 1 Tim. 2:4), but He has not decreed the salvation of all (Acts 13:48; Rom. 9:15-18, 21; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2:10). God desires that we all glorify Him by holy lives, but He also permits sin and will be glorified by His righteous judgment on sinners who do not repent. So we should pray as best we know in line with His revealed will of desire, while at the same time submitting to the fact that we don’t know His will of decree.

Second, Jesus’ promise to do whatever we ask does not undermine the many Scriptures that exhort us to wait on the Lord. Jesus doesn’t say when He will do it. God may be glorified as we faithfully wait on Him for years for answers to our prayers. He may be glorified by answering at a distant time even beyond our lifetimes for reasons that we cannot fathom at the moment. So we must join David who exhorts (Ps. 27:14), “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” God’s purposes will surely be fulfilled, but not necessarily in our timing or in ways that we envision.

Third, God often accomplishes His purposes in ways that seem backwards to us. We pray for the gospel to spread, so God sends persecution. The late Chinese Pastor Samuel Lamb spent 33 years in prison for his faith. After he was released for the final time, he called the authorities and asked them to re-arrest him. When they asked why, he said, “Every time you arrest me, my church doubles in size. I want to see my church grow.” We pray for strength, and God makes us weak so that we will rely on His strength (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Jesus told Peter that Satan had demanded permission to sift him like wheat, but that Jesus had prayed for Peter (Luke 22:31-32). I would have prayed that Peter be spared from denying Jesus, but Jesus didn’t pray that. Rather, He prayed that after Peter was restored, he would strengthen his brothers. Countless Christians who have failed have been strengthened through Peter’s failure and restoration.

Finally, we do not understand all that God is doing, so we may go to our graves not knowing why He seemingly didn’t answer our prayers. I wonder whether John ever understood why God delivered Peter from prison, but allowed John’s brother James to be executed (Acts 12:1-17). Couldn’t James have been used greatly to extend the kingdom if he had been delivered? Yes, but that wasn’t God’s will. John the Baptist’s disciples probably never understood why God allowed a drunken king to execute a godly prophet like John.

I read once about a businessman who picked up a hitchhiker and drove with him for several hours. The hitchhiker was a Christian and he shared the gospel with the businessman. Before he dropped him off, he put his trust in Christ as His Savior and Lord. He left his business card with the hitchhiker and said, “If you ever come to Chicago, drop by and see me.”

Several years went by before the hitchhiker was in Chicago. He stopped by the man’s office and handed the card to a woman and asked if the man was in. The woman’s face froze and she asked, “Where did you get this card?” The man used the question to tell the woman the story of how the man had become a Christian that day. She broke down in tears and said, “He was my husband. I had prayed for years that he would come to Christ. But he never made it home from that trip. He was killed in an accident after he dropped you off. I’ve been bitter at God all these years because I thought that He didn’t answer my prayer.”

Not all stories end that way, but the point is, we don’t have all knowledge about how God may be working in response to our prayers. So be active in doing Jesus’ works. Pray that He would do far more through you than you can ask or think. But if things don’t go exactly as you had prayed, trust Him that if not in this life, at least in eternity you will understand how He answered and used you to do even greater works than He did.

Application Questions

  1. Should we be praying for and expecting God to do miracles? Why/why not?
  2. Is praying, “Your will be done” opposed to praying in faith? Why/why not?
  3. How can we pray in faith if we can’t know God’s will of decree? Can we pray in faith that God will save a specific person?
  4. Is it wrong or is it okay to pray for things that would make life more comfortable (bigger house, newer car, etc.)? Give biblical support for your answer.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Prayer

Christmas [2014]: The Spirit of Christmas (John 13:1-17)

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December 21, 2014

Special Christmas Message

A familiar saying goes, “The spirit of Christmas is giving.” We all feel good giving to those in need. The Salvation Army capitalizes on this by having bell ringers in front of stores all over the country. But dropping a few coins in the kettle is impersonal giving. We don’t know who will benefit by our gift. And we’re okay with that.

But when it comes to those we know, giving is usually better described as exchanging. The neighbor brings you a plate of Christmas cookies, so you quickly turn it around by taking her something to even it up. It feels awkward to receive without giving in return. But I’d like to suggest that the true spirit of Christmas isn’t giving, at least on our part; it’s receiving! Here’s why: At the heart of Christmas is the wonderful news that God sent His only Son to earth to give Himself on the cross to save us from our sins. You can’t repay a gift like that! All you can do is receive it! It was infinitely costly to God, but it’s totally free to us. So,

The spirit of Christmas is receiving because at the heart of Christmas is God’s grace, which only can be received.

But people have a hard time understanding and accepting God’s grace because we all want to think that we can do something to earn our way to heaven. In fact, all the world’s religions teach that you must do something to earn heaven. Marla and I spent the holiday spanning New Year’s Eve of 2000 in a remote village on the northern border of the Czech Republic, where I was teaching a group of college students. During a break, we were walking around the village when a local man who spoke English befriended us. It turned out that he took us on a nice hike and even let us use his computer to email our kids.

During the only question and answer session that I had with the students during that conference, someone ushered this man into the room. He sat and listened for a few minutes and then he raised his hand and asked, “What’s the difference between Christianity and other world religions?” I thought, “Thank You, Lord, for such a great question that allows me to make the gospel clear!” So I told him that all the other religions in the world, including some that go under the banner of Christianity, teach that you get to heaven by your good works. But the Bible teaches (Rom. 4:5), “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

I don’t know whether that man ever responded to the gospel, but what I explained to him is what Christmas is all about: the message that God offers to forgive your sins and give you eternal life through His Son. All you can do is, receive His gift.

To illustrate this point, we’re going to look at an unlikely text for a Christmas message. Rather than looking on the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth, this incident took place at the end of His life, the night before He died. But it captures the essence of what He came to do and thus, the essence of Christmas, which celebrates the truth that the eternal Word took on human flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14). It’s the story of how Jesus got up from the Last Supper, took a basin of water and a towel, and washed the disciples’ dirty feet. It’s a parable of why Jesus had come into the world and of what He would send His disciples out to do after He left this world (read John 13:1-17). Note three things:

1. Christ came to give to those who never can repay Him.

John begins (John 13:1-2) by noting that the foot-washing took place during the Passover. Jesus is our Passover lamb, slain to spare us from God’s judgment when we apply His blood to our sins. He also notes that Jesus loved His disciples to the end, or to the utmost. Even though He was facing the most horrible suffering imaginable, Jesus was thinking about His disciples and their needs, not about His own needs.

John (13:3) also notes that Jesus had come forth from God (there’s the link to Christmas!) and was going back to God. Jesus left the glory of heaven to be born to the virgin Mary so that He could die for our sins. John also notes that the Father had given all things into Jesus’ hands. Jesus was willing to let those hands be nailed to the cross for us. But in this story, those sovereign hands laid aside His garments, took a towel and basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet.

Ray Stedman (Secrets of the Spirit [Revell], pp. 13-14) points out the parallels between Jesus’ enacted parable here and Paul’s well-known words in Philippians 2:5-11. Here, Jesus rose from supper and laid aside His garments, just as He rose from His throne of glory and emptied Himself, which means that He temporarily laid aside His glory. Then Jesus girded Himself with a towel and did a servant’s lowly job by washing the disciples’ feet, just as Paul says (Phil. 2:7) that Jesus took “the form of a servant.”

Then Jesus poured water in a basin, just as in a few hours His blood would be poured out on the cross. In Paul’s words (Phil. 2:8), He “became obedient to the point of death.” He began to wash the disciples’ dirty feet, just as the application of His blood to sinful human hearts cleanses them from all guilt and defilement. After He had washed their feet, He took back His garments and reclined again at the table. After His resurrection, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, resuming His place of glory again (Phil. 2:9-11). As Hebrews 1:3 tells us, “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” And so the foot-washing is a short drama that shows Christ’s work of redemption from glory to glory.

But there’s a twist in the story when Jesus comes to Peter. There was a stunned silence in the room as Jesus washed the other disciples’ feet. But in typical fashion, Peter spoke up (John 13:6), “Lord, do You wash my feet?” (The pronouns are emphatic, showing Peter’s shock.) Then we read (John 13:7-10):

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”

That interchange pictures God’s grace, which is at the heart of the meaning of Christmas. We begin with Christ by getting washed all over, which makes us completely clean. The Bible calls this the “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5). It’s a once and for all bath that does not need repeating. God forgives all our sins at that moment. But as we walk in this dirty world, our feet get dirty. To maintain our relationship with Christ, we need to apply His cleansing to our everyday sins. By telling Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me,” Jesus meant that if Peter could not allow Jesus to wash his feet, then how could he submit to let Jesus serve and save him at all?

We begin with Christ by receiving His grace and we continue with Christ by growing in His grace (Col. 2:6; 2 Tim. 2:1). None of the disciples did anything to deserve Christ’s washing their feet. It was a job normally done by servants, but not by masters to their slaves. But Peter was uncomfortable with Christ doing that for him. He thought that he should be washing Jesus’ feet, not having Jesus wash his feet. Later, he was ready to lay down his life for Jesus, but he didn’t want Jesus to lay down His life for him.

But the story shows that Christ came to cleanse us from our sins. To have a relationship with Him, we must begin by receiving His grace and then continue to walk in His grace. This isn’t a minor point: He says that if we don’t accept His grace and let Him wash us, we have no part with Him!

At first glance, Peter’s refusal to let Christ wash his dirty feet looks like humility. But actually, it stemmed from pride. Peter wasn’t comfortable just receiving from Christ. That leads to the second point:

2. To enter a relationship with Christ, we must judge our pride and receive His salvation with no thought of repayment.

There are two sides to this:

A. To enter a relationship with Christ, we must judge our pride, which prevents us from receiving God’s grace.

Pride wants to reciprocate. Pride is embarrassed by receiving without giving in return. Pride wants to offer something to God to pay its way. Then the proud person can take some credit for getting right with God. But to come to God, we have to recognize that we have nothing to offer Him, except really dirty feet that need His cleansing. Pride takes different forms:

Pride often hides under the mask of humility. Peter’s protest (John 13:8), “Never shall You wash my feet!” sounds humble, but it really stemmed from pride. In effect, he was saying, “These other guys may let You wash their feet, but not I! I know better than You do in this matter. I should be washing Your feet!”

Embarrassment can be a sign of pride. Peter was embarrassed by this whole thing. Maybe the other men needed their dirty feet washed, but that was beneath Peter’s dignity. Besides, his feet weren’t that dirty! Elisabeth Elliot (Love Has a Price Tag [Christian Herald], p. 39) said that one evening she overheard her young daughter singing to her cat, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like you.” Others may be wretches with dirty feet, but not me!

Discomfort with being close can be a sign of pride. To let someone wash your feet, you have to let him get uncomfortably close. When he does, he might not only discover that your feet are dirty, but also that they smell! That’s embarrassing! To allow the Lord to wash your life means that you have to let Him see all the dirt! Of course, He knows how dirty they are anyway!

An independent spirit is another form of pride. Each of the disciples was perfectly capable of washing his own feet, and probably would have preferred doing it that way. When it comes to salvation, pride says, “Really, Lord, I’d rather do it myself!” To let Jesus wash your feet is to admit that you can’t do it yourself.

Pride is sometimes the driving force behind serving Christ. Sometimes those who serve Christ do so out of the pride of thinking that they can pay Him back. They can’t accept His grace as free. They want to at least help out. But you can’t do that with Christ. Any service that we render to Him should stem from gratitude, but not from any notion that we can pay Him back for His gracious gift to us on the cross. To cite Isaac Watts’ familiar hymn,

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

To begin a relationship with Christ, you have to judge your pride. It’s a barrier to receiving His grace.

B. To enter a relationship with Christ, we must receive God’s grace with no thought of repayment.

Salvation is God’s free gift to those who deserve His judgment. It’s possible because Christ paid the penalty that we deserve. John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” What should you do when someone offers you a gift? You receive it. So, John 1:12 promises, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” God gave us His Son. You receive that gift by believing in Him, not in yourself. You never could be good enough to deserve heaven. You can’t pay back a gift as costly as the gift of God’s own Son!

Suppose that you were invited to a billionaire’s home for dinner with dozens of other guests. The chef put on a feast that was served by many waiters. As you went to leave, you put a quarter in the billionaire’s hand and said, “I know you went to a great expense to put on this meal. Here, I wanted to help out.” He didn’t need your quarter and it would only be an insult to his gift.

But our proud human nature resists God’s grace. We want to pay our own way. Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son illustrates this. The prodigal squandered his inheritance on loose living and finally hit bottom by slopping pigs and eating their food. He had no basis for deserving his father’s love. His father would have been perfectly justified to say, “You smelly, dirty, no-good excuse for a son—get out of here and never come back!” But, instead, when he returned home, his loving father ran to him, embraced him, and threw a party to celebrate his return. That’s a beautiful picture of God’s grace toward sinners who repent!

But the older brother was incensed. He had worked hard for his father and he was proud of it. He thought that if anyone deserved a party, it was he. So when his father went out and pleaded with him to come in to the party, he indignantly replied (Luke 15:29-30),

“Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.”

He didn’t understand grace. In fact, he didn’t even like grace. He thought, “I don’t need grace because I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at. You owe it to me, Dad! I don’t want grace. I want what I deserve! Grace is for no good bums, like my brother!”

But if we don’t receive God’s grace in Christ, we have no part with Him. We begin with His gracious “bath” and we continue having our feet washed by His grace. In that context and in that context only, we can then learn to serve our gracious God:

3. It’s only when we learn to receive God’s grace that we can learn to give and serve properly.

After Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He said to them (John 13:14-15), “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” Once you’ve let Jesus wash your dirty feet, then you can wash others’ dirty feet and you can let them wash your feet. It’s only after you’ve received from Christ that you can serve Him and let others serve you. We can apply this in at least four ways:

A. When we have received God’s grace in Christ, we can freely forgive those who have wronged us and ask forgiveness when we have wronged others.

Because we’re all imperfectly sanctified sinners, we cannot maintain or deepen relationships with one another without forgiving those who wrong us and asking forgiveness of those we wrong. Jesus emphasized this in His parable (Matt. 18:23-25) of the servant who was forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents, equivalent to about 150,000 years’ wages for a working man! But then he went out and grabbed a fellow slave who owed him about 100 days’ wages (a large sum, but nowhere close to what he had been forgiven) and demanded that he pay up or go to prison. The point is, God has forgiven us an incalculable debt of sin. We need to forgive those who have sinned against us. Withholding grace from those who wrong you is not a Christian option!

B. When we have received God’s grace in Christ, we can offer correction to those who are in the wrong and receive correction when we’re in the wrong.

Paul describes this aspect of “foot washing” in Galatians 6:1: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” The humility of recognizing that your feet sometimes need washing too is implicit in that verse.

C. When we have received God’s grace in Christ, we can serve others from the right motives and with the right expectations.

If you aren’t serving with the awareness that you’re a recipient of God’s grace, then you will expect some positive response when you help others. If you don’t get it, you’ll feel hurt and unappreciated. But when you realize that you’re a recipient of God’s undeserved favor, you then can give without expectation of any appreciation or repayment.

D. When we have received God’s grace in Christ, we can freely give our resources to the Lord’s work.

When you recognize that all that you have is because of God’s grace (1 Cor. 4:7), it frees you to give generously to the Lord’s work. You don’t do it to earn points with God or to gain leverage over others who now owe you one. Rather, as Jesus said (Matt. 10:8), “Freely you have received; freely give.” Or, as Paul put it (2 Cor. 9:8), “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

Conclusion

So the foundational question is, have you entered into the true spirit of Christmas by receiving God’s undeserved gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ? Have you let Jesus wash away the dirt of your sins? To do so, you must admit that your feet are dirty and that you can’t wash them yourself. All the good works in the world could never erase the debt of sin that you owe the holy God. But what you cannot do, God did: He sent His own Son to die on the cross in your place. He offers total forgiveness and eternal life to every sinner who receives His free gift. As Paul put it (Rom. 6:23), “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Have you received that gift?

J. C. Ryle (Foundations of Faith [Bridge Publishing], p. 218) told a true story of a mother whose daughter ran away and fell into a life of sin. For a long time, no one even knew where she was. But eventually that daughter returned, mourned over her sin, and trusted in Christ to forgive her and save her.

Someone asked the mother what she had done to bring her daughter back. What means had she used? She said, “I prayed for her night and day.” But that was not all. She also said, “I never went to bed at night without leaving my front door unlocked. I thought that if my daughter came back some night when I was in bed, she should never be able to say that she found the door locked. She should never be able to say that she came to her mother’s home, but couldn’t get in.”

And so it happened. One night the daughter came back, tried the door, and found it open. At once, she came in to stay, to go out and sin no more. That unlocked door is a beautiful illustration of God’s grace toward sinners. God’s door is always unlocked whenever you are willing to come home. Jesus is that unlocked door into heaven. To receive Him is to enter into the true spirit of Christmas.

Application Questions

  1. Read Matthew 20:1-16. What’s the main point of the parable? Who are the workers who worked all day? Who are the ones hired late in the day? Is God’s grace fair?
  2. Who had the hardest time accepting and living by grace: the prodigal son or the older brother? If you were raised in the church, how can you appreciate your desperate need for grace?
  3. Some argue that Christians should not view themselves as sinners, not even as sinners saved by grace, but only as saints who occasionally sin. What’s wrong with that view?
  4. Why is understanding God’s grace foundational to serving Him? What can happen when we serve for other reasons?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christmas, Soteriology (Salvation)

Christmas, the Incarnation, and Communion

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12/17/2014

Introduction

Christmas is clearly under attack, both from within and without. It is no longer legal (or at least fashionable) to display a nativity scene on public property, or to say things like, “Merry Christmas.” Christmas vacation is now more obliquely called a “winter holiday” or the like. What’s left of Christmas is less about the Newborn Babe and more about a chubby old man in a red suit.

While I am concerned about how the world views Christmas, I am more deeply troubled that all too many Christians fail to fully grasp the importance and implications of the incarnation. And beyond this, that many are willing to allow the celebration of the incarnation to be restricted to one day a year. I believe the importance of the incarnation is worthy of our attention at this season. If we grasp the significance of the incarnation as we should, then we will also conclude that the annual celebration of Christmas is inadequate, and that our celebration of our Lord’s first coming must be enhanced.

In this article I will seek to enhance your understanding and appreciation of the incarnation in a way that results in worship of the Savior (much like that which we find in the birth accounts of Matthew and Luke). To achieve this, I will begin by defining the term “incarnation” as it relates to Christmas. Second, I will summarize some of the reasons the Bible indicates that the incarnation should be important to us. Third, I will turn to the Christian ordinance of communion as God’s mechanism for remembering our Lord’s incarnation and sacrificial death for sinners. I will then encourage the reader to worship our Lord because of His incarnation, and to celebrate His amazing coming much more often than once a year through the divine ordinance of communion.

The Incarnation: What it means

The incarnation refers to the manifestation of the Second Person of the Godhead in human flesh as the Promised Messiah, yet without diminishing His deity. Undiminished deity was, once for all, united with sinless humanity. Through the instrumentality of the virgin birth, Jesus Christ became fully human as well as fully divine.

The Incarnation: Why it is important

The coming Messiah is presented in Scripture as one who is human: the seed of Eve (Genesis 3:15), the seed of Abraham (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:16), of Judah (Genesis 49:8-12), and of David (2 Samuel 7:12-13; Matthew 1:1; 22:42; Romans 1:3). At the same time, the coming Messiah is also depicted as God (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 9:6-7). Jesus presses this matter of His being God (Matthew 22: 42-46; John 5:16ff.; 10:10, 36), and His enemies clearly understood this (John 10:33; 19:7).

The incarnation was necessary in order for men to see God, and to behold how God’s perfections manifest themselves in humanity. God was unseen in the Old Testament, and because no man-made image (idol) or created thing could accurately reveal God’s likeness, worshipping these were forbidden (Deuteronomy 4:12-20). With the incarnation of our Lord in human form, God was now manifest in human flesh, so that men could see and touch Him (John 1:14-18; John 1:1-3). In the words of Scripture, Jesus was “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).

The incarnation was accomplished by means of the virgin birth, one of the greatest and most amazing miracles of all time. If the means (the virgin birth) is so significant, then surely the end (the incarnation) is meant to be perceived in a similar way. The virgin birth was necessary not only to produce one who was both God and man, but also to produce one who was without sin (Galatians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).

It was necessary for the Savior to take on humanity in order to be perfected by experiencing all the difficulties and temptations of human life. This was also necessary for Him to become a merciful and compassionate High Priest (John 8:46; Luke 4:1-13; Hebrews 2:5-18; 4:14-16; 5:1-10).

The incarnation was necessary so that the Lord Jesus Christ could become our one and only mediator. Note how Paul links our Lord’s mediatorial role with his humanity in 1 Timothy 2:5.

The incarnation was necessary to remedy and reverse the consequences of the fall of Adam, because the Lord Jesus Christ is the “last Adam” (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45).

The incarnation is the supreme example of humility (Philippians 2:3-8). The wonder is that our Lord set aside the visible manifestations of His glory and the prerogatives of His position and presented Himself as mere man, and not the most attractive of men, but as one whom men might easily disregard (Isaiah 52:14; 53:2).

The incarnation is an essential part of the gospel, by which men are saved (Acts 2:14-36; 13:16-41; Romans 1:1-4). Belief in the incarnation is essential, so much so that embracing it is a test of orthodoxy (1 John 4:1-3).

The incarnation is a prerequisite to the work of redemption. God had to come to this world in human flesh in order to take our place, dying a substitutionary and sacrificial death to bear the penalty for our sins, and to rise from the dead for our justification (Romans 1:1-4; Galatians 4:4-5).

The Incarnation: How Should it be Celebrated?

I have no objection to focusing on our Lord’s birth at Christmas, or His resurrection at Easter. But I must point out that these holidays are of human origin. Nowhere in Scripture are these days designated as times Christians must observe. But the Bible makes much of the commemoration of important events. In the Old Testament holidays were established and the Israelites were expected (commanded) to observe them. In the case of the twelve stones taken from the middle of the Jordan (Joshua 4:1-9), it was done so that the memory of this crossing and its meaning would be conveyed to the next generation.

Is there no divinely designated time and means by which the incarnation and the substitutionary death of our Lord are to be remembered? The answer is a very clear “Yes!” The answer is the celebration of communion, which the New Testament church observed weekly (Acts 2:42-47; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). There are many who suggest that such a regular observance of communion diminishes its significance. I would differ strongly. Is the remembrance of our Lord’s incarnation and saving work at Calvary ever wearisome? If so, that says much about us that is not favorable (see Isaiah 43:22-24; 1 John 5:3).

Sadly, most Christians fail to recognize the observance of communion as the celebration, both of our Lord’s miraculous incarnation and of His death. The two elements are closely related, but they symbolize two essential aspects of our Lord’s saving work. The bread symbolizes our Lord’s incarnation; the wine commemorates His death in the sinner’s place. How often I have heard it said, “This bread is a symbol of the body of our Lord that was broken for us on the cross.” This can only be based on the rendering of 1 Corinthians 11:24 in the King James Version: “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you. . . .” Virtually all modern translations recognize that important manuscripts do not contain the Greek word rendered broken. But this is not merely a matter of debate on the basis of textual criticism. It is a matter of faithfulness to the Scriptures. Consider these three lines of evidence.

First of all, in his gospel account John makes a point of the fact that Jesus’ body was not broken, and this was in order to fulfill Scripture.

32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who had been crucified with Jesus, first the one and then the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out immediately. 35 And the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe. 36 For these things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled, “Not a bone of his will be broken.” 37 And again another scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced” (John 19:32-37, NET).

Second, note carefully what Jesus Himself said as He gave the bread and wine to His disciples:

19 Then he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20, NET).

Jesus Himself did not speak of His body as “broken” at the Last Supper, but rather as “given” (Luke 22:19). The emphasis is on the fact that Jesus’ body was given for men, but it was not broken. Quite the contrary, as we can see from the contrast between the broken legs of those crucified beside Jesus and our Lord Himself.

Third, the author of the Book of Hebrews places great emphasis on the necessity of a body that is uniquely suited for a sacrifice that will deal with sin once for all:

1 For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship. 2 For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year. 4 For the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. 5 So when he came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. 6Whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you took no delight in. 7Then I said,Here I am: I have come — it is written of me in the scroll of the book — to do your will, O God.’” 8 When he says above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you did not desire nor did you take delight in them” (which are offered according to the law), 9 then he says, “Here I am: I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first to establish the second. 10 By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:1-10, NET1; underscoring mine).

The wine does symbolize our Lord’s death, but the bread symbolizes His body, which resulted from His incarnation, by way of the virgin birth. Did Jesus “break” the bread? Of course! How else was He to divide it among His disciples? He broke it just as He did in the feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:19, using the same word). The symbolism of the bread, then, is not in its being broken when distributed, but in its being unleavened -- sinless. It is our Lord’s sinless innocence which makes His death applicable to all who will receive it.

Conclusion

So here are some things to think about during this Christmas season and beyond. First, the bread at communion symbolizes the incarnation of our Lord Jesus, which uniquely qualified Him to die for the sins of men. Apart from taking on human flesh He could not die as man, for man. Unless He was God incarnate He could not be the “last Adam,” reversing the effects of the first Adam’s sin, for those who believe (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45; Hebrews 5:4-18). The bread is unleavened, and we know that leaven is often a symbol for sin in the Bible. The unleavened bread symbolizes the sinless nature of the body of our Lord. He is both God and man. He is the only “man” who can die for others, because He has no sin.

Second, the incarnation of our Lord is to be celebrated on a regular basis, every time we observe communion. The incarnation is to be celebrated in the context of the saving work of our Lord. Thus, communion is a proclamation of the fundamental truths of the gospel, truths which we dare not forget, and truths which those who are lost must embrace. Christ Jesus came to earth in sinless, human flesh, to live a life of complete obedience to the Father, and ultimately to die in the sinner’s place, bearing God’s wrath, so that all who accept His work may be saved.

Third, the perfect Second Person of the Trinity set aside the glories of heaven and His divine privileges, taking on humanity in order to come to dwell in a fallen world. The God who always kept men at arm’s length in the Old Testament has now drawn near in the person of the Son, touching and being touched (John 1:14-18; 1 John 1:1-3). And all this was in view of the cross, where the sins of men would prompt them to reject Him and to cry out for His death, preferring a terrorist (Barabbas) to the Son of God. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound to the believers ear.”

And so, as you celebrate Christmas this year, I challenge you to focus on the incarnation, that great and foundational event which made the saving work of our Lord possible. And, may I suggest that you refuse to settle for a “once a year” celebration of this incredible event. Let every communion you observe be a celebration of the invasion of planet earth by the perfect God-man, for the purpose of saving us from our sins, so that ultimately we may take on His nature (Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:1-14; 2 Peter 1:4).

Related Topics: Christmas, Communion, Incarnation

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