Understanding Jesus & The Role Of The Holy Spirit

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John 16:5-18

5 “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

16 “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” 17 Some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

                                

It is painfully obvious that the disciples did not understand the deep spiritual truths that Jesus was trying to convey to them here.  It must have been difficult for Jesus on this last night of His life before His crucifixion to see His closest friends and followers not understand what He was telling them.  But He knew that they would one day understand, for He was able to promise them that the Holy Spirit would come after He was gone and would lead them into all truth concerning Him and His teachings.

Now Jesus does not use the name Holy Spirit here, but calls him “Counselor” and “Spirit of truth”.  We know from John 14:26 that “the Counselor” and “the Holy Spirit” are one and the same.  I believe that is quite significant these names that John uses for the Holy Spirit.  Notice that in other English versions, they translate the Greek word in verse 7 as “Advocate”.  John is using legal terminology here.  And you might be asking, “So what’s going on here, and why are these titles for the Holy Spirit important?”

Jesus knew that the disciples would soon be on their own in the sense that He would be going back to the Father in Heaven (v. 5).  And Jesus also knew that the disciples would be facing a hostile world that stood opposed to Him and to the Gospel message of salvation through Christ.  (Read John 15:18 – 16:4 and read my last article “The Cost of Discipleship”.)  Jesus knew that the disciples would need help to stand up for truth and righteousness.

    

And so He lets them (and us) know that we are not alone in this battle against sin and evil that is in this world.  Verses 8-11 say that the Holy Spirit, acting as our legal Counselor, will stand up and help us to correct the wrongful thinking of the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment.  What does this mean?

When the world says, “Do as you please, for truth is relative and morality is defined subjectively by each individual,” the Spirit of Truth will confirm within us and to the world that pursuing a self-serving life apart from God is to sin against the Almighty God.  Jesus also said that “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)  The religious leaders crucified Jesus for this, but when He rose from the dead, He proved that He was right and also innocent of their charge of blasphemy.  And so the Spirit declares Him righteous, and we as Christians can be assured of this truth also.

Jesus was challenged by Satan himself, who is referred to here as the “prince of this world”.  Satan tried to tempt Jesus to worship him and in doing so would be given all the wealth and power that this world has to offer.  (Matthew 4:8-9)  But only the True God is worthy of our worship, and the treasures of this world will all fade away and be useless in the life to come.  And so the Spirit will help us to realize these lies of the devil, and he will ultimately be judged by God as the “Great Deceiver”.

    

What is the bottom line here?  Jesus came to teach us about the truths of God and the Kingdom of Heaven which belongs to all true believers in Christ.  Sin was blocking all people though from full access to the truth and to Heaven, and so He died to open the door for forgiveness.  And after He ascended to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to live within all believers, and he strengthens us in our understanding of who Jesus is, and is able to convince us that the “prince of this world” is doomed and has no more authority over our lives.  Hallelujah!!  Jesus paid our debt of sin, and has set us free to live in Truth.  Do you believe that?

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 5

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In the article two weeks ago, I mentioned that I struggled quite a bit during my first long-term period of being a missionary.  That was when I was serving with Teen Missions and my summer experience turned out to be 18 months in length as I kept extending my time with the mission group.  There were so many new issues to deal with, both cross-culturally and in the relationships I had with my fellow missionaries.

It is now coming up to 35 years for me of being involved in mission experiences, so I guess you could say that I am a “veteran” missionary.  I think I can say that I have grown quite a bit over the years and am able to handle the hard issues that a missionary faces on a regular basis.  And yet at the same time, there are some things that don’t change.  Life is still challenging on the mission field, the Enemy does not let up on his assault, and people can still be difficult to work with.

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I just recently shared with some of my colleagues that there are times when it is good to have a focused time of prayer and fasting.  This would be true when we seem to be facing difficulties that are physically and emotionally challenging, but also when we sense that there is spiritual opposition and/or oppression that is coming against us.

I reminded the group that fasting was a spiritual discipline that was regularly practiced by God’s people throughout the Old Testament period and has continued up until today.  As you might already know, Jesus Himself did not say, “If you fast…” but rather “When you fast….”  One of my translator resources said that “the three primary expressions of piety [for Jews] were charity, prayer and fasting.” (Translator’s Handbook on Matthew for Mt. 6:16-18)

Fasting is normally considered to be a voluntary abstinence from food for the purpose of dedicating one’s self to a time of prayer and drawing close to God.  I certainly recommend this practice as a way to face the difficulties of life and the attacks of the enemy.  James 4:7-8 aptly ties two important spiritual truths together: when we resist the Devil, he will flee from us, and when we draw close to God, He will draw close to us.

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We are encouraged in Scripture to have faith in God, to worship Him and be a praying people when we face difficult times.  James 5:13-15 mentions all of these things as a means to deal with sicknesses that can hit us and sins that we may have committed.  We are also encouraged in Scripture to do battle with our spiritual enemy, the Devil.  Read Ephesians 6:10-18 to understand that many battles we face in life may be spiritual in nature and must be dealt with spiritually.

There are so many more verses that could be mentioned in this whole topic of learning how to stand strong and do battle against the forces that hit us and wear us down.  We must always be ready in our prayers to fight against sickness that disables us, sin that entangles us, and Satan who want to destroy us and our faith in God.

All of this is true, but we must not keep our attention focused solely on the negative side of this great battle that we are in.  If we were to only think about the challenges and difficulties that we face when sickness, sin or Satan come at us, then we probably would end up feeling spiritually fatigued all the time.  I believe that we must also have our focus centered in on the positive side of the victory that is provided for us in Christ.

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When we face great difficulties (whether physically, spiritually or emotionally), we need to pray like Elisha did for his servant when the vast armies of Aram were totally surrounding the city they were in.  Elisha asked God to open the eyes of his servant to see the “REAL” reality of the battle.  God heard that prayer and suddenly the servant saw the vast army of God’s angels who would win the battle for them.

We also need to have our minds opened and attuned to God’s way of thinking.  Romans 12:2 says that we must no longer be conformed to the pattern of this world.  That means that when it is natural to worry, to be afraid, to seek for power, wealth or fame, we are acting in a worldly way.  Instead, the verse says that we can be transformed people when we have our minds renewed by God, and then we will see and understand how good God’s will and God’s ways are and we will be able to follow in that path.

The third part of our selves that we need to focus in on to have a victorious life is to open up our hearts to the full measure of the love of God.  Read Ephesians 3:16-19.  Paul is praying that we all might come to understand just how broad, deep and wide the love of God is for us.  And when we do immerse ourselves into His love, accepting all that the Father has done for us and will do for us out of that love, then Scripture says that our inner being, our heart and soul, will be strengthen by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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So what am I saying in all of this?  I do understand that all of us will face difficult periods in our lives due to the effects of sickness, sin in the world, and the attacks of Satan against us.  But we must not keep our attention focused in on just these problems.  We need to open up our eyes, our mind and our hearts, not physically, but spiritually, to see the victory that God through Christ has obtained for us.  And then we need to walk in the power of that victory as a transformed person, able to overcome these discouragements by our faith.

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How To Break The Power Of Satan

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John 12: 27 – 36

27 “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

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34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36 Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

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Most of us like to do something very special to mark a significant day or event.  Just look at any calendar and you see that there is pretty much one kind of holiday or celebration within every month of the year.  Within the family, we also celebrate events like birthdays and anniversaries.  Some of these events are even more special than all the others and so we go way out of our way to mark them as being special.

I remember when we were in the village and our older son turned 12, the last birthday before becoming a teenager.  We had a group visiting us from the States at that time and we really made a party out of it.  Then we topped it off by giving our son his very own guitar, a really big thing for him.  When our son turned 16 four years later, we found 16 different ways to give him presents, and then I had three important Christian leaders who knew our son well to each individually pray with him and give him good spiritual advice.

We also made sure to celebrate and honor our younger son when he had a significant moment in his life.  Turning 21 is a big thing for young people, as that marks the day of becoming recognized as an adult.  I still remember his great joy when we gave him that special leather jacket he had wanted, but was too expensive.  But with the right sunglasses, he looked just like an Air Force bomber pilot.  (Except of course that he wanted to join the Army, not the Air Force.)

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So what do we see as being significantly special in our passage above?  Jesus spoke to God, His Father in heaven, wanting to praise God for being so wonderful (the root idea of “glory”).  And guess what?  God spoke back, and received the honor given to Him by His Son.  Others heard God’s voice, but they thought it was like thunder.

This was now the third time that God had spoken out loud to Jesus, His Son.  God first spoke out loud to Jesus at His baptism at the beginning of His ministry on earth, and then at His transfiguration on the mountain, when Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah about His upcoming death and resurrection (read Luke 9:28-36).  God made Himself known at these special and critical moments in the life of His Son Jesus.

Just a few days before this event, crowds of people had celebrated the entrance Jesus made on a donkey riding into Jerusalem.  They thought He had come to take His place as the coming King who would rule over all Israel and free them from their enemies.  They were partly right about the purpose of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, but what they did not know is that Jesus would win the victory over Satan by dying on the cross to break the power of sin and Satan.

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Even though the people did not know that Jesus only had a few more days to live before being crucified, Jesus knew what was about to happen.  He who was the “Light of the World” would lose His life at the hands of evil men.  And so Jesus warned the people that they needed to put their trust in Him before it was too late.

Praise God, Jesus did not stay buried in the tomb, but rose again three days later in majestic power and supreme authority over death, and Satan and sin.  In this way, it is never too late for any of us to put our trust in Jesus, the Creator of Life, and the Victor over Death.  None of us would like to be floundering in life in total darkness, and in a similar way, in spiritual terms, if people would truly understand that without Jesus they are in spiritual darkness, then I think more people would entrust their lives to Jesus.

And that is how we can break the power of Satan today in our lives.  We do not have the spiritual strength or authority to conquer our nature of sinfulness and the attacks of Satan upon our lives.  But if Jesus lives within our hearts, then His Light of Life will shine brightly in our lives and lead us along the path of forgiveness for sins and the power to overcome our enemy, Satan.  Take heed my friend, for you do not know when your time is over and it might be too late.  Come to Jesus now.

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What Would Jesus Do?

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John 11: 54 – 57

54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.

55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.

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Verse 53, the last verse before this section, clearly marked the “point of no return”.  It reads, “So from that day on they plotted to take his life.”  The religious leaders had had enough.  It was undeniable that Jesus had worked a miracle (no one disputed the fact that Jesus had caused Lazarus to rise from the dead).  Clearly God’s power was behind all that Jesus did, but the religious leaders could not tolerate the competition nor the threat that he posed.

Jesus was aware of this plan to kill him, and so he moved northward out of the Judean province and into a remote area on the edge of the province of Samaria.  He still had some final teaching and preparing of his disciples to do.  They did not know that Jesus would only have a few more days with them, but he knew.  And so he withdrew from the region around Jerusalem.  It was not his time to die yet.

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The story then moves toward the time of the Jewish Passover.  This was the time to remember how the blood of a pure young lamb sprinkled over the doorposts of their houses when they were slaves in Egypt 1500 years prior to this, caused the “Angel of Death” to pass over their houses and bring death only to the first born sons of the people of Egypt.  Their freedom from slavery to Egypt was bought by the blood of that lamb.

This event, the Jewish Passover, contained within it the hope of a new freedom for the people of Israel at that time, for their country had been conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire for some time.  They longed for freedom once again, and with the Old Testament promise of a coming Messiah/Savior, many people at that time were wondering if perhaps Jesus was that man.

While their hopes were justified, the expectations were not.  The people had the wrong idea about the role and character of their coming Messiah.  He would not come on a human level to free people just from slavery to other humans.  No, much more imporant than this (in eternal terms) was the need to free people from slavery to sin, and its consequences, namely an eternal separation from God and punishment as the penalty or payment for their sins.

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And so the words that kept on being whispered all over Jerusalem were, “What will Jesus do?  Will he come (to save us) or not?  What will Jesus do?”  As much as many people truly wanted Jesus to come, they were also fearful of what would happen if he came, for the word was out from their religious leaders that they wanted any and all citizens to cooperate with them and report it when Jesus would come, so that they could arrest him.  (And we know from the bigger story, that an arrest would only be the preliminary step to his death.)

And this is a good question at the end of chapter 11 of John.  This was the pivotal point in Jesus’ life and ministry.  He had done many great things over the previous 3 1/2 years.  He had taught the truth of God’s Word, revealed the heart of a loving Father God, and gave us all great insight into the nature of God and His rulership over those who love and obey Him.  Jesus had certainly touched many lives, by kind words, acts of compassion, and incredible healing miracles.

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But we will need to turn the page over (check our next article), to see just exactly what Jesus chose to do.  For those of us who are familiar with the Gospel story, we know that Jesus chose to come back to Jerusalem and square off against his enemies, challenging them face-to-face, knowing the whole time that it would lead to his death.

But Jesus knew, even as He would make that decision to turn to Jerusalem and die there, that his death would not be an empty death.  Just like the spilled blood helped to protect the people of Israel so long ago and bought them their freedom, so also Jesus would spill his blood to be the human sacrifice who would pay the penalty of death for sins for all people.  It would be through his voluntary act of sacrifice that would buy for us the choice to accept Jesus as our representative who died for the sins of each and every one of us.

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That leads us to a final obvious question, considering that Jesus would let himself die in order for God to be able to forgive you all of your sins, and thus be acceptable in God’s sight: what kind of response should you give towards Jesus?  He doesn’t ask you to “do” anything to earn your salvation.

He wants you to be sorry for your sins (to repent of your sins), to accept that Jesus death was enough to pay off your sins, and to accept Him into your life by faith, calling on Him to be your personal Lord and Savior.

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Jesus Heals To Show God’s Power

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John 9:1 – 12

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing! His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!”

But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!” 10 They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?” 11 He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!” 12 “Where is he now?” they asked. “I don’t know,” he replied.

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Chapter nine of John’s Gospel is a very long and intricately woven story, but it is still one single story.  It does reveal the power of God working through Jesus.  But more importantly, it will show us the progression of faith of the man who had been blind, as well as the progression of disbelief and rejection of Jesus’ healing ministry by the Pharisees.

It is very significant that the one who was born physically blind would end up being the one who could see spiritually.  And on the opposite side, the Pharisees, who were the primary religious teachers in Jesus’ day, are shown that they who ought to have recognized Jesus for who He really was, were in fact the very ones themselves who were spiritually blind.

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When Jesus and his disciples noticed a man who had been blind since birth, the disciples asked a question that reflects the beliefs of a great many cultural groups.  Especially in non-western countries, and in animistic societies like what we lived within Papua New Guinea, many people believe that sickness is the direct result of some sin or wrong doing.  Since this man had been born blind, they naturally assumed that either the parents or the man himself were guilty of some sin.

I found an excellent quote in the Translator’s Handbook on John which considered Jesus’ response to the question:

Jesus’ answer to the disciples then becomes a rejection of their belief that the man’s blindness was due either to his parents’ sin or to his own sin, but he makes no judgement as to the reason that the man was born blind. He simply says that the man’s blindness offers an opportunity to show God’s power at work in him, and that Jesus himself has come to reveal that power at work in history.

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Even in our modern western culture, I do not think that we have a good and proper understanding when it comes to acute sickness and suffering.  Many people ask, “How could a loving God cause, or even allow, such terrible things like the pain and suffering we see in the world?”  Jesus does not really address this question, and I think maybe we should not either.

Instead, we need to accept that part of living within a fallen world means that most, if not all people will experience some terrible forms of suffering and loss in their lifetime.  The question really is what do we do when we encounter these kinds of circumstances.  In the life of this blind man, Jesus saw that He had an opportunity to display the power of God, which is certainly greater than any kind of sickness.

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This brings me to Romans 8:28, which I have referred to in other articles:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

I’ve written in many of my articles about my older son and his journey through his cancer years of his leukemia, as well as my present journey over the last four years of my muscular disease called Mitochondrial Myopathy.  But in all these difficult years, I never asked the question of “Why did You allow this to hit my son or happen to me?”

Rather, I have taken the promise of Romans 8:28 that God will bring good out of every situation for those who love God, no matter how bad the situation might look.  If I had the time and the space, I would be able to tell you how true and real this promise is, for we saw time and time again God’s goodness and His power coming through our health situations to bless us and to bless others around us.

So what is your belief about pain and suffering?  Is God an evil and uncaring God?  Or can you see the hand of God in the midst of the suffering, revealing the power and the goodness of God towards those who know and love God.  If you have not experienced this, perhaps it is because you have not taken the first step to invite God and His love into your heart.  I encourage you to do so friend, and then I pray you would experience God’s grace and power in your life as I have in mine.

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Who Are The Children Of God?

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John 8:38 – 47

38 I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.” 39 “Our father is Abraham!” they declared. “No,” Jesus replied, “for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example. 40 Instead, you are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing. 

41 No, you are imitating your real father.” They replied, “We aren’t illegitimate children! God himself is our true Father.” 42 Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me. 

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43 Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! 44 For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. 

45 So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! 46 Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin? And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.”

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This passage is the second of three in which Jesus is talking specifically with those who were professing to say that they believed in Him.  Go back to verse 31 and you will see how Jesus switches His audience from the whole crowd of Jews gathered there in the temple in Jerusalem, to “the people who believed in Him.”

Having said that, this makes it even more shocking as we look at what it was that Jesus says to these people.  In this passage, Jesus accused these people of not being true descendants of Abraham, but rather that they were liars, rejecters of Jesus and His teachings, and doers of evil like their father the devil.  Ultimately, Jesus says that they were not true believers in Him.

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Wow!!  That sounds extremely harsh, doesn’t it?  Especially in light of verse 31 which identified them as “people who believed in Jesus.”  I encourage you then to go back and read last week’s article, “The Truth Will Set You Free.”  In that article, I suggest that while these people may have given mental assent to the truth statement that Jesus was the Messiah, they were not prepared to give their whole lives over to Jesus and move from theoretical knowledge about Jesus to experiential knowledge of Jesus.

Now before we look at the details of this passage, let us remind ourselves that just as other verses in the Gospels point out, Jesus always knew what was in the hearts of the people with whom He talked.  So let us look for clues in this passage which will help to reveal to us what was really going on in the hearts of the people.

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As I looked more closely at this passage, I believe I discovered at least four places which give us some insights into the state of their hearts.  First of all, in verse 38, see how Jesus refers to “my Father” and “your father”?  Everyone by this point would know that Jesus was stating that “His Father” was God.  So note the response of the people when Jesus mentioned “your father”.  They immediately state, “Abraham is our father.”

Sorry folks, that’s the wrong answer.  We should never place a person in the place of God.  And this obviously shows that these people were concerned more about their blood lineage to a man of faith, than being concerned about their relationship with God.  They were believing that by following the examples of Abraham, that they would be found worthy by God.

But even if rituals could win over relationship with God, Jesus went on to point out that they were not really following Abraham’s example anyways.  Scripture tells us that “Abraham believed God and was then considered righteous.”  But his righteousness was backed up with obedience to God’s words.  And these people were even thinking about killing Jesus because they could not accept His words of truth.

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So Jesus implies that they follow the pattern of a different father, meaning Satan.  The people catch that barb and throw one right back by saying, “We are not illegitimate children!”  Here again, the old rumor surfaced about the idea that Joseph and Mary conceived Jesus outside of marriage and that would make Jesus an illegitimate son.  They turned the attention off of themselves who were not obedient children of God, and they turned instead to name calling and mud slinging (false) accusations at Jesus.

Finally, Jesus makes it quite plain.  Not only were these people not really wanting to receive His teachings, and thus they find they were not even in a position to understand what He taught, but Jesus clearly pointed out that they “love to do evil things” just like the devil would have them do.

So we can now clearly see, the hearts of these people were still being ruled by sin and Satan.  There is no room in such a heart for God to do His work of forgiveness and make such a person a child of God.  No, a true child of God has turned his/her back on sin and renounced Satan and accepted Jesus and His teachings into his/her life.  And so I ask in closing, “Are you a true child of God?”

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The Truth Will Set You Free

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John 8:31 – 38

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. 37 Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. 38 I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.”

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As we begin to look at our passage above, we must remember that this portion is one small part of a larger section.  To find the extent of the larger context, we would have to go back to chapter 7 beginning with verse 14 when Jesus first stands up in the middle of the Temple courtyards and starts to teach the people during the Festival of Tabernacles.

This festival was also known as “The Feast of Lights” as people lit torches and lived in tents to remember God’s protection and providence during the time of living as nomads for the forty years as they wandered in the wilderness.  Jesus used this background and in the early part of chapter 8, He declared, “I am the Light of the world.”

Jesus’ message is not received by the religious leaders, as we saw in chapter 7.  When Jesus turns and teaches further in chapter 8, it is now to the common Jews whom He was speaking to.  He challenged His audience in verse 24 to believe in Him, or they would die in their sins.  And we see in verse 30, that “many who heard Him say these things believed in Him.”

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Now in verse 31, Jesus turned to those who believed in Him and He extended a challenge to all of them.  Notice how He says, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.”  This statement implies that there was a difference at that time between “those who believed in Him” and a “disciple”.  That causes me to ask the question, “What is it within this context that the people believed? And why did that not automatically make them a disciple of Jesus?”

I believe if we are very careful to understand the whole flow of these two chapters in John, what Jesus first presents to people is His claim to be God, the “I AM” of Exodus 6:2-3, the Jewish Messiah, the Anointed One who would come to save His people.  That is an important truth statement which must first be accepted for someone to start on the path to discipleship.

But accepting this truth statement only without a change in one’s being and behaviour is not enough.  Look at what James 2:19 says, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”  We all must go one step further to becoming a disciple of Jesus: we must “be faithful to His teachings”.  This means that we will not only seek to understand what Jesus tells us, but we will put into practice what He is telling us to do.

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All this will help us to understand properly the famous saying of Jesus in verse 32, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  The biblical word here for “know” does not mean just to have knowledge about a certain fact, but to be fully engaged in doing that which we know to be true.  It is the difference between theoretical knowledge and experiential knowledge.  And it is the daily experience of having Jesus active within our lives that keeps us safe from the grip of sin that we once were experiencing.

Unfortunately the Jewish people do not understand that Jesus is talking about this experiential knowledge of truth that would keep them free from the power that sin has on people.  Ironically, they say they had never been slaves to anyone, when in fact, they were being dominated by all the forces of Rome in that day.

Instead, the Jews looked backwards to their bloodline inheritance of being descendants of Abraham to save them from their sin.  This is still a fallacy for people today.  They say they were “born into a Christian family”, and that automatically makes them a Christian.  But as some people jokingly say, “Well, if someone was born in a barn, would that make them a horse?”  Of course not.

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You see, what it really comes down to is this: if we want to truly be a disciple of Jesus, then we must not put our trust in some external factor, such as lineage, inheritance, rituals or behaviours.  We must look to the inner person of our soul and find out if we have submitted ourselves in obedience to make Jesus Lord of our lives.

The “truth that sets us free” is not mental assent that Jesus is the Messiah, God in the flesh.  Rather, it is the experiential knowledge that Jesus is Lord, and this can only be obtained by submitting in obedience to Him in our lives.  Then, and only then, will we be truly set free from bondage to sin.

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Jesus Is The Light Of The World

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John 8:12 – 20

12 Once again Jesus spoke to the people. This time he said, “I am the light for the world! Follow me, and you won’t be walking in the dark. You will have the light that gives life.” 13 The Pharisees objected, “You are the only one speaking for yourself, and what you say isn’t true!”

14 Jesus replied: Even if I do speak for myself, what I say is true! I know where I came from and where I am going. But you don’t know where I am from or where I am going. 15 You judge in the same way that everyone else does, but I don’t judge anyone. 16 If I did judge, I would judge fairly, because I would not be doing it alone. The Father who sent me is here with me. 17 Your Law requires two witnesses to prove that something is true. 18 I am one of my witnesses, and the Father who sent me is the other one.

19 “Where is your Father?” they asked. “You don’t know me or my Father!” Jesus answered. “If you knew me, you would know my Father.” 20 Jesus said this while he was still teaching in the place where the temple treasures were stored. But no one arrested him, because his time had not yet come.

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Our passage above starts with “Once again Jesus spoke to the people…”  The event of bringing the woman caught in adultery (7:53 – 8:11) was a sidebar to the larger story which began in chapter 7 with Jesus standing up at the Feast of Tabernacles to teach the people.  We now return to some powerful teachings of Jesus while He was in Jerusalem.

From this point on, we will often come across topics and themes that have come up before within the Gospel of John.  It will not be difficult to see these major threads of divine truth that are woven through the book.  The bold statement of Jesus, “I am the light of the world” and that those who follow Him will “never walk in darkness” takes us all the way back to 1:4–5:

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

According to John, light equals life and darkness equals all that is sinful and evil.  The Pharisees who were listening heard this and immediately challenged Jesus.  They cannot accept Him as the ultimate source of light and life.  When they say this cannot be true and that Jesus is [wrongfully] speaking for Himself, they are actually challenging His authority to be able to make such a claim.

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In verses 14–18, Jesus goes on to give four reasons as to why He had every right to claim that He was the true source of Life for all mankind.  First of all, He knows with absolute certainty what His true origin is and what His ultimate destiny is.  Looking ahead to 16:28, Jesus said, “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”  As God’s Son, Jesus had a divine origin and later returned back to His divine realm united with God the Father.

Secondly, Jesus’ standards for His moral life and His teachings have always been far above human standards.  In verse 15, Jesus basically says that we all will make subjective and flawed judgments when evaluating others and spiritual truth.  In the Greek, He literally says, “you judge according to the flesh.”  And the Bible is quite clear that the human flesh is flawed by being worldly and sinful.  But Jesus was never flawed in this way, and so He could speak about Himself with such divine authority.

Jesus goes on though to say that even if He were to condemn another, just like the Pharisees were trying to do to Him, Jesus is able to do it in a fair and just manner for He has God the Father on His side helping Him to speak and to do all that He came to do.  Even though Jesus left the realm of Heaven, the Father never left His side, and so as a fourth proof of His divine authority, Jesus stated as required by Jewish Law, that two witnesses (His own and that of God’s) qualified Jesus to be One who spoke the truth, that is, that He is the source of eternal life which becomes the Light for all mankind.

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Wow!!  This is powerful stuff!  Unfortunately for the Pharisees, they had never really developed a personal relationship with God.  So when they challenged Jesus with regards to His paternity (“Where is your father?”) they thought they might trap Jesus to admit to the popular scandal that He was born illegitimately by Joseph out of wedlock, but they in fact indict themselves that they know very little about who Jesus really is and who His real Father is, that is, God the Father.

The Pharisees were spiritually blind with regards to Jesus’ true identity and authority.  Jesus is the Light of the world.  He is the source of true spiritual Life.  At some point, every person will have to make a decision as to who Jesus is.  Human sinfulness continues to keep people blind to this spiritual truth.  But it does not have to remain this way.

My friend, have you come into the light of Truth and discovered Jesus’ true identity?  I’m glad you are reading this article.  But even better would be if you would open the Gospel accounts of the New Testament and read for yourself to find out who Jesus is.  He is calling even now, “Come to Me, and come into the Light of Life.”

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Does Jesus Condemn Or Condone Sin?

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John 7:53 – 8:11

53 Everyone else went home, 8 but Jesus walked out to the Mount of Olives. Then early the next morning he went to the temple. The people came to him, and he sat down and started teaching them.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses brought in a woman who had been caught in bed with a man who wasn’t her husband. They made her stand in the middle of the crowd. Then they said, “Teacher, this woman was caught sleeping with a man who isn’t her husband. The Law of Moses teaches that a woman like this should be stoned to death! What do you say?”

They asked Jesus this question, because they wanted to test him and bring some charge against him. But Jesus simply bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger.

They kept on asking Jesus about the woman. Finally, he stood up and said, “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!” Once again he bent over and began writing on the ground. The people left one by one, beginning with the oldest. Finally, Jesus and the woman were there alone.

10 Jesus stood up and asked her, “Where is everyone? Isn’t there anyone left to accuse you?” 11 “No sir,” the woman answered. Then Jesus told her, “I am not going to accuse you either. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.”

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This is a very well known passage in the Gospel of John.  In various versions, this passage has been given a title like, “The Woman Caught In Adultery.”  In some ways, this title does summarize the main point in this passage, but I believe that this does not really capture the most important issues that are going on under the surface of this story.

The key to this whole passage I believe comes in verse 6 as John perceptively wrote, “they wanted to test him and bring some charge against him.”  We have seen in earlier chapters of John that the religious leaders were becoming more and more antagonistic against Jesus and His teachings and ministry among people.  Catching this woman in an act of adultery gave them the pretext to try to trap Jesus in what He would say about the situation.  Consider what one of my commentary sources says:

If Jesus answered: ‘Moses is right; stone her!’ they would have gone to Pilate and accused Jesus of infringing upon the rights of the Roman authority, which had reserved to itself the ‘right of the sword’ here, as in all conquered countries. If he had answered: ‘Do not stone her!’ they would have decried Him before the people and would even have accused Him before the Sanhedrim as a false Messiah; for the Messiah must maintain or restore the sovereignty of the Law.  (Exegetical Helps on John)

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As I look at the text, there are two other very subtle things that bother me besides the attempt of the leaders to trap Jesus in His words.  First of all, where was the man who also was involved in this act of sexual immorality?  Was he not guilty of sin?  And secondly, is it possible that the Jewish leaders arranged for this man to have sex with this married woman and they were all close by to “catch” them in the act?  Was it all a setup to frame and accuse Jesus of a legal crime by what he said next?

But Jesus, who was granted omniscience by God’s Spirit, knew all along what was going on and remained quiet.  He knew better than to respond to these religious bullies.  I’m sure it must have infuriated them that they could not bait Jesus into a rash response.  (Hmm… can we learn something here from the way Jesus handles those who oppose Him and all that He stood for?  I think so.)

Then Jesus speaks those famous words, “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!”  Obviously every person who has lived has committed sin.  From the time of Adam until the present day, every person has fallen short of being perfect and without sin.  And when that realization dawned on these men, they finally all left the woman alone, for to condemn her would be to condemn themselves.

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Here then is the most important question in this passage.  What did Jesus think about this woman?  It is true that she did commit adultery.  So that does mean that she committed sin in God’s eyes.  Jesus himself had not committed sin, and so He alone was in a position to condemn the woman for her actions.  Look at what Jesus said to her, “I am not going to accuse you either. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.”

It is clear that Jesus did not desire to see this woman condemned to die according to the religious rules of that day.  But more importantly, Jesus did not want this woman to continue acts of sin and thus be in a state of sin that would result in God condemning her to eternal death.  So Jesus did not condemn her, but He also did not condone her actions.

This is the crucial application for us today.  We must all be willing to bow in humility before God and admit our sin before Him.  Then we are to choose to no longer follow this path of sin.  This is an act of repentance, a true change of the heart.  And when that occurs, the door is then opened to receive forgiveness of our sin, forever.  I pray that you have made this important decision for your life.

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Jesus Suffered So That We Might Live – Pt 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 9

In John 10:10, Jesus tells his disciples (and by extension He tells all of us too) that He came into this world in order that people might truly live and have an abundant life.  Most Christians understand that this refers to the renewed spiritual life we can have with God once we accept Jesus as our Lord and have our sins forgiven.  But that is not all that Jesus is talking about.

Sadly, there are still many believers in Christ who have accepted Jesus into their lives, but also believe that there still must be something that they must “do” to really experience complete forgiveness of their sins.  This wrong thinking not only robs the cross of Christ of its full meaning and impact, but it also robs the person of experiencing the fuller life which they can live in the freedom that has been purchased for them on the cross.

    

 Max Lucado points out very well in chapter five of his book “GOD’S STORY, your story” that we tend to hang on to our faults and mistakes and that this is like putting on old clothes that declare “We are sinners!”  And since we are the ones who keep putting these old clothes back on, we think that it is also up to us to “do good” to be able to remove these old sins and faults.

Listen to how Lucado sums this up on page 83:

Welcome to the vest system.  Hard to hide it.  Harder still to discard it.  But we work at doing so.  Emphasis on the word “work”.  Overcome bad deeds with good ones.  Offset bad choices with godly ones, stupid moves with righteous ones.  But the vest removal process is flawed.  No one knows what work to do or how long to do it.

When we really understand the message of the Bible as it speaks about how we are all flawed and sinful people (see Romans 3:23), we also come to realize that there is nothing that we can do to fix this and become righteous people in God’s sight.  That is the bad news.  But the good news is that we don’t have to “do” anything, besides accept Christ and His death to be our substitution for the penalty for sin (see Romans 6:23).

    

Hooray!  Wonderful!!  We can’t take off our dirty rags of sin, but Jesus can!!!  That’s great news.  And it gets even better.  Lucado says on page 87:

You can remove your vest.  Toss the thing in a trash barrel, and set it on fire.  You need never wear it again.  Does better news exist?  Actually, yes.  There is more.  We not only remove our vest; we put on His!  He is “our righteousness”  (1 Corinthians 1:30).

How incredible and amazing is God’s love!  When we were sinners, God still loved us (see Romans 5:8), but as a holy God, He could not bear to look at us in our state of sinfulness.  If that were the end of the story, then God would have to leave us abandoned and forsaken, something that happens all too often in families today.

But as Jesus was dying on the cross, not for any crime or sin that He had committed, He took our sins upon himself (read Isaiah 53:12) and exchanged his robes of righteousness with us so that we could be considered holy by God.  In that brief but climactic moment before Jesus died, as He carried all of our sins to the grave, He exclaimed “God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Jesus allowed himself to be forsaken at that moment in order that we might no longer be forsaken by God.

    

At that moment, we passed out from under the curse of sin and death and entered into the light and life of God.  As I said near the beginning of this article, this life definitely refers to the gift of eternal spiritual life with God as people freed from captivity to sin.  But Scripture also promises us so much more richness of life while we are still living on this earth.

Perhaps the word that can sum it up best is the word “freedom”.  By placing our lives under the authority of Christ, He releases us so that we are free from sin, free from the power of Satan, and even free from self as we are so apt to keep ourselves bound to our old habits and behaviours that trip us up and end up creating more misery in our lives.

    

Once we embrace all of this, then we can truly live.  We will live to love our neighbour, to love our God, and even properly learn how to love and forgive ourselves.  It is at this point that we will then begin to really experience great family lives, great marriages, and great friendships with others.  At this point, we will be content and even prosper in our businesses and careers in life, because God’s blessings will be upon us.

And then when the end of our lives do come, we will graduate from a great life here to a fabulous life there.  As Lucado says, our names will be “written in the Book of the Lamb.  Not in pencil marks that can be erased, but with blood that will not be removed.  No need to keep God happy; He is satisfied.  No need to pay the price; Jesus paid it ALL!

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

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