Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Christian Life

STEWARDSHIP

 

In His Olivet Discourse Jesus described the end times culminating in His Second Coming.  He told His disciples to look for certain signs of the approaching end, but said, “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but My Father only” (Matt. 25:36; NKJV), and then drew out the practical application: “Watch therefore, for you do not know  what hour your Lord is coming” (v. 42).  He said that “if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (vv. 43,44), and went on to say, “Blessed is that servant whom his Master, when He comes will find so doing” (v. 46).

To illustrate the point Jesus went on in the next chapter to tell His famous Parable of the Talents.  A man who was about to travel to a far country summoned three of his servants and entrusted to each of them a certain sum of money: five talents of silver to one, two talents to another, and one talent to the third.  (A “talent” was a Greek measure of weight varying anywhere from 57 to 95 lbs.  Thus a talent of silver would be equivalent to 900 to 1500 silver dollars, a considerable sum of money in those days.  Our English word “talent” is actually taken from this parable.)

The first two servants invested the money and each achieved a 100% return on the investment.  The third servant, however, dug a hole in the ground and hid the money.

After a long time had passed the master returned and summoned his servants to settle accounts.  The first two explained what they had done, and to each of them the master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matt. 25:21,23).  But the third servant said, “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went out an hid your talent in the ground.  Look, there you have what is yours” (vv. 24,25).  The master responded by calling him “a wicked and lazy servant,” and pointed out that if the servant had known that the master was always looking for ways to make a profit, the obvious thing to do was what the other servants had done – invest the money and try to make a profit.  The master then states the underlying principle: “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away” (v. 29).

The parable has far reaching implications for the Christian life.  We today are in a position analogous to that of the three servants in the parable.  Christ is our Lord and Master, but He has been away for a considerable length of time.  The temptation is to forget about Him, to go about our normal business – to eat, drink and be merry.  But Christ will return, and then we will have to give an account.

First of al, we must remember that we occupy the position of a servant (the Greek word used in the parable is doulos, which literally means “slave”) with Christ as our Lord and Master.  The Master, in turn, has entrusted certain resources to us – in our case our time, ability and money – and He expects us to make good use of them.  It must be emphasized that they have been entrusted to us – we do not possess them in our own and we do not own them outright.  We, in turn, are expected to make good use of these various gifts for the benefit of the Master – His glory and the advancement of His kingdom.

In the parable the master tells each of the good servants “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord.”  Significantly he says that they were “faithful” – they made wise and careful use of what had been entrusted to them.  He tells them that “you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.”  As we demonstrate our ability Christ will increase our responsibility and our relative importance in the kingdom.  And finally the master tells them, “Enter into the joy of your lord.”  The master is happy, and he wants his servants to share that joy as well.  We find happiness and fulfillment in life by proving ourselves to be good servants of Jesus Christ.

The question is, are being indeed being faithful?  Christ has given us talents and resources; but what have we done with them?  Did we use them to advance His kingdom?  Or did we squander them like the servant who buried his talent in the ground?  And let us remember that the object is not to seek fame and fortune for ourselves, but to seek the will of God and fulfill His purpose in our lives.

As we enter the new year (the new decade, even), let us rededicate ourselves to Christ’s service, and prayerfully consider what we can do for Him, what we ought to do, with the resources as our disposal.

Count Zinzendorf, the great 18th Century leader of the Moravian Brethren, as a young man touring Europe came across a portrait of Christ hanging in a museum in Dusseldorf, Germany.  The painting had the caption, That I did for you; what have you done for Me?”  Zinzendorf’s biographer (Christian Gottlieb Frohberger) states, “It made se deep and unforgettable impression on his soul, that he made, on the spot, the firm and unshakable resolution to do a great deal for the Lord.” And so he did!

LIFE’S PRIORITIES

 

“But seek firs the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”—Matt. 6:33; NKJV

 

As we look forward to the coming year it is natural to ask ourselves what we hope to accomplish during that year.  And that, in turn, suggests a couple of deeper questions.  What exactly are our priorities in life?  What are we, in fact, living for?

For most people the answer is likely to be their personal ease and comfort – good health, happy relationships, economic success.  For some it may be personal ambition — success in business, sports, entertainment or politics.  And for some it might even be something cruder – a life a sex, alcohol, drugs or crime.

But for what should we as Christians be aiming?  Jesus stated it very succinctly in His Sermon on the Mount: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . .”  But what does that mean in actual practice?

We ask firs, what does it mean to “seek the kingdom of God”?  What is “the kingdom of God”?  The phrase harks back to certain prophecies in the Old Testament Book of Daniel in particular.  On various occasions Daniel prophesied about a succession of human empires which would be followed by a divine kingdom that would last forever.  When John the Baptist, then, and after him Jesus, began their public ministries, what they proclaimed was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17).  Much of the Sermon on the Mount, then, is an elaboration on that message; and at one point Jesus said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will be no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20), and that our prayer should be, “Our Father in heaven, / Hallowed by Your name. / Your kingdom come. / Your will be done / On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9,10).  Our eternal destiny, then, as well as that of others, should be our overriding concern.  This means a life of nonconformity to the surrounding society, as well as the proclamation of the gospel.

There are, however, certain obstacles that stand in the way, and Jesus discusses them in Matt. 6:19-34.  The first of these is the snare of materialism.  Jesus is quite blunt about this: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24 – “Mammon” is the Aramaic word for “riches,” here used as a personification as a deity).  The plain fact of the matter is that one cannot be both earthly minded and heavenly minded at the same time.  Your attention is fixed on either one or the other.  Those who are preoccupied with success in this life inevitably lose their interest in spiritual things.

But ironically the same thing is true if we are lacking money as well, for here again we are preoccupied with our temporal, physical circumstances.  And so Jesus goes on to say, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (v. 25).  Jesus goes on to point out that “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (v. 32).

It is in this context then, that Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (v. 33).  Here we are given a promise – that if we keep our priorities straight, that if we put God first in our lives, that He will provide for our physical needs – food, clothing, shelter.  But the command requires faith – faith that God exists, that God is in control, that He genuinely cares for us.  The challenge to faith is that we cannot see that immediately.  We cannot actually see God, and we cannot always see Him working in our lives.  But we must step out in faith first, and then God promises to provide.

Our first priority for the coming year, then, must be God’s glory, the advancement of His kingdom, and the salvation of the lost.  A significant portion of our time, energy and money must be directed toward these goals.  If God is our Creator, if Christ is our Lord and Savior, then we owe everything to Them, and we should be living for Them.

The major question facing us at the start of the new year, then, is what can we do to serve Christ?

THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD

168

The stoning of Stephen

As Jesus and His disciples make their way through the streets of Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is conscious that He is literally on His way to His arrest and execution.  How did He arrive at this point?  And what does it mean for His disciples, and, by implication, for the church?

At this point Jesus give His disciples a foreboding notice: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18; NKJV).  “The world” is the generality of the human race in its lost condition.  We sometimes hear well-meaning Christians say that America is a Christian nation founded on biblical principles.  But that is not the way Christ sees it.  The United States, like every other nation on the face of the earth, is made up mostly of lost sinners who are in a state of sin and rebellion against God, and are on their way to hell.  America is a part of “the world.”

And the world, Jesus says, “hated Me.”  The great irony of the situation is that here was Jesus, the very Son of God, come into the world to save us from our sins, and He is rejected by the great majority of mankind.  He was the promised Messiah, and yet He was rejected by the Jews.  And if we are faithful followers of Jesus Christ we may face the same rejection as well.

Jesus goes on to elaborate on the position of the Christian in the world: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (v.19).  Christ’s immediate disciples were a select group of men specifically chosen by Him to be His disciples.  But in a broader sense this is true of every Christian believer.  Why do some believe and not others?  We were all lost sinners, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  But God chose some (those of us who were to be saved) to make monuments of His mercy and grace.

But in the process of choosing us He effectively separated us from the world of which we once were a part.  He chose us “out of the world.”   We are no longer a part of the human society around us.  We no longer share its values.  We have seen the light, and can no longer live the way we used to; and that puts us at variance with the world around us.  They are motivated by self-interest.  They routinely ignore God.  And when confronted with the claims of Christ they react in loathing and disgust.  And so they rejected Christ; and they rejected the apostles, and they will likely reject us if we try to bear faithful witness to the truth.  The world “hates” us, because it hates what we represent: the claims of God over their sinful, rebellious lives.

The underlying cause of persecution, Jesus says, is that “they do not know Him who sent Me” (v. 21).  Again we need to appreciate the irony of the situation.  Jesus’ immediate opponents were Jewish religious leaders.  They certainly thought of themselves as religious.  And yet in reality they did not know God, for it they did they would have embraced the One whom the Father had sent.  They had actually seen the Son of God.  They had heard Him speak.  Moreover, Jesus had “done among them the works which no one else did” (v. 24).  And yet in spite of that they rejected Christ anyway.  And the servant, Jesus says, is not greater that his master.  “If they persecuted Me, the will also persecute you” (v. 20).

One might think at this point that the situation is hopeless.  And yet we have a most valuable resource available to us – the Holy Spirit.  “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (v. 26).  The world cannot be won to Christ through natural, human means.   To overcome the intense opposition that the world has toward Christ, the Holy Spirit must transform people inwardly, opening their eyes, convicting them of sin, and drawing them to Christ.  Revival is the Holy Spirit’s work – we are merely instruments in His hands.  The disciples themselves, in their role as apostles, “also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (v. 27).  They were witnesses of the events surrounding Jesus.  They had heard His teaching; they had seen His miracles.  We have their testimony in the pages of the New Testament.  It leaves mankind without excuse.

Jesus then goes on to tell His disciples that He was telling them all of this in advance “that you should not be made to stumble” (16:1).  Had Jesus been like one of our modern “Prosperity Gospel” preachers, and had His disciples responded to Him thinking that the Christian life would be one of ease and comfort, when persecutions came their way they most likely would have experienced a profound sense of disillusionment and would have dismissed Jesus as a fraud.  But Jesus was honest and transparent with them, and forewarned them of what lay ahead.  He points out that “the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (v. 2).

“And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me” (v. 3).  Here is the irony of the situation: there will be religious leaders (and here the initial reference appears to be the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem) who will persecute Christian believers in the name of religion.  Why?  “. . . because they have not known the Father nor Me.”  Unfortunately it is possible to have an outward form of religion based purely on sociology and not on an actual relationship with God.  Thus what the leader thinks is right is not always what God wants.  This is why the genuine children of God sometimes wind up being persecuted.

Most of this is utterly alien to us American Christians.  We have never experienced anything even remotely like this before.  And yet indications are already there that we are now living in a “Post-Christian” society and the signs of persecution are already on the horizon.  Will we, as followers of Jesus Christ, be prepared to suffer for Him?

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if

need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the

genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than

gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found

to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ . . .”

(I Peter 1:6,7)

LOVE ONE ANOTHER – II

 

Jesus goes on to reinforce the command to “love one another” by saying, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16; NKJV).  This takes us into deep and difficult doctrine of election.  Jesus clearly states, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”  Some have imagined that the doctrine of election would leave to a life of lawlessness and sin.  If God is the One who does the choosing, if it is not my free will that chooses to become a Christian, then why should I exercise my will to live a godly life?  But that line of reasoning misses the whole point of election.  God had a specific purpose in mind when he chose us, and that was to redeem us from sin, set us apart from the world, and consecrate us to live lives that are pleasing to Him.  Jesus chose us, “that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”  If we have been chosen by God, if we have experienced the work of grace in our hearts, we will be people different from what we were before we were saved.  We are new creatures in Christ Jesus (II Cor. 5:17), and so we live differently.  Our aim now is to please Him.  And it is significant that Jesus specifically says that He wants us to bear fruit, and that our fruit should remain.  He wants us to be successful in the Christian life; He does not want us to be defeated Christians.

And Jesus further reinforces the exhortation by reminding them of what He had told them earlier, “. . .that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give it to you” (cf. v. 7).  One of the benefits of having a vital connection to Christ is that He acts as our intercessor.  If we pray in His name, our request carries the weight of His authority behind it, and the Father will not deny a request from His Son!  This is all the more reason why it is vitally important that we remain in close fellowship with the Son.  And so Jesus comes back to His original point: “These things I command you, that you love one another” (v. 17).

The practical implications of all of this are hard for American Christians in particular to grasp.  We are used to a plethora of denominations dominated by a professional clergy.  We accept divisions within the Body of Christ as normal, and can scarcely conceive of the existence of a universal church.  Yet Jesus is beseeching His disciples – all of His disciples – both then and now, to love each other.  That means that there are several things about American church life that are highly problematic.

Perhaps the first thing that should be mentioned is overbearing pastors.  Most churches today have just a single pastor; or, if they are large enough to have more than one, one is designated as the “senior pastor.”  This pastor, or senior pastor, is then in charge of the ministry of the church.  Unfortunately in some cases he can be an overbearing tyrant, and some churches have been brought to ruin by poor decisions made by the impulsive and stubborn personality in charge.

But the model of church life that we see in the New Testament was quite different.  All of the believers within a given geographical area were considered members of a single church, and if the Christian community in Jerusalem is any indication, one of these community-wide churches could number up into the thousands.  Within this larger church there would be smaller groups that would meet in private homes where they would “break bread” (Acts. 2:46), evidently a combination of fellowship meal and Lord’s Supper.  The large, metropolitan church was led by a board of elders which at one point was called a “presbytery” (presbyterion) (I Tim. 4:14).

But the elders were all on an equal footing – there was no “senior” pastor.  It was not until the Second Century that “bishop” and “elder” were considered two separate offices, with a single bishop being in charge of an entire diocese – what is generally known as a “monarchical episcopate.”  This became a characteristic feature of early Catholicism, and eventually led to the papacy.  But in New Testament times the terms “elder” and “bishop” were used interchangeably, and , as noted, were all on an equal footing.  And the elders were told to “shepherd the flock of God among you . . .not as being lords (katakurieuontes – exercising dominion) over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:2,3).  “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will give them repentance, so that they may know the truth . . .” (II Tim. 2:24,25).  How very different from what we so often see today!

But the larger problem in American church life today is the sin of denominationalism.  The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians and rebuked them for dividing into factions and saying “I am of Paul,” and “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas” (I Cor. 1:12), and yet we say “I am Lutheran,” “I am Mennonite,” “I am Wesleyan.”  Granted, denominational differences cannot be easily papered over.  But each of us needs to engage in careful self-examination to see how many of our beliefs and practices are really found in the Bible; and we need to strive together to achieve as much visible unity within the evangelical community as possible.  What is especially pernicious in this regard is the practice of “Second Degree Separation” – the idea that not only must we separate from unbelievers (First Degree Separation, which is Biblical), but we must also separate from fellow believers with whom we might disagree over some secondary point of doctrine.  Granted, there are serious doctrinal errors that should not be allowed within the church.  But the question should always be asked, is the other brother acting in good faith?  Can he build a solid argument for Scripture?  If so, we should be working for peace and unity, not rancor and division.

The “bottom line” is Christ’s commandment that we love one another.  Love is the evidence of a life transformed by grace, and is the most eloquent testimony that we can offer the world.  May the love of Christ shine through us as we love one another!

LOVE ONE ANOTHER – I

 

So what exactly is it that Jesus has commanded us to do?  If our fruitfulness and our joy depend on our abiding in Him, and our abiding in Him depends upon our keeping His commandments, what are His commandments?  Jesus answers the question in John 15:12: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (NKJV).  The defining characteristic of the church should be love.

The first thing that should be noted is that this love is demonstrated in the context of brotherhood.  Jesus directs his commandment to His disciples, and by extension to the church, of which the disciples were the core.  But they were to “love one another” – it was to be a mutual love.  Some people today, professing to be Christians, claim not to see any reason why they should be actively involved in a church – sometimes because of bad experiences they have had with churches in the past.  But the Christian life is not something that can be lived in isolation.  Its core value is love, and love is something which must be demonstrated towards others.  And so Christians exist together in a community of believers, and they are commanded, by their Savior and Lord, to love each other.  But in order to do that they must have regular contact with each other.  Anything less than a visible demonstration of brotherly love misses the whole point of the Christian life.

But how is this love demonstrated?  Jesus says that we are to love one another, “as I have loved you.”  And how did He love us?  “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (v. 13).  This Jesus said as He was on His way to His execution!  Love means that you care about others as much as you care about yourself: “. . . you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).  It is a self-sacrificing love.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  On the one hand it means a willingness to suffer wrong without retaliation.  “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you.  Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love, as Christ also has love us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 4:31-5:2; cf. Col. 3:12-14).

On the positive side Christian love responds readily to human need.  “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?  My little children, let us not love in word or tongue, but in deed and truth” (I John 3:17,18).  If we genuinely care about a brother who happens to be in need we will try to meet that need as we are able to do so.  Christians demonstrate their love for one another by serving each other. (Gal. 5:13,14) and by giving preference to each other (Rom. 12:10).

But most importantly, Christian love is expressed in church unity.  We are to be “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3), and Paul goes on to remind his readers that “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called into one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (vv. 4-6; Phil. 2:1-11).  When Paul says, “there is one body” he is referring to the universal church, the body of Christ.  All Christians, of whatever theological opinion, are to be united.

And then, to reinforce the message, Jesus adds a remarkable promise: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (vv. 14,15).  Jesus is our Lord and Master.  He could, if He so desires, simply assert His authority over us and demand blind obedience.  But instead He chose to His disciples “My friends,” and said that they would continue to be His friends if they continue to do what He commanded them.  The difference between a servant (or “slave” – Gk. doulos) and a friend is that a servant has to yield blind obedience to his master.  He does what he is told to do simply because he is told to do it.  No explanation is necessary.  But a friend is in an altogether different position.  Friends share information with each other.  And so it is with us and our relationship with Christ.  He is not asking us for blind obedience, but for a knowledgeable and willing compliance with His will.  It is an intimate relationship in which the reasons for the commands are made known.  Granted, in one sense Jesus is our Master and we are His servants.  But we are more than that – we are also His friends.  What an amazing way to look at our relationship with Him!

THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES – I

 

As the Passover mean came to a close, Jesus said to His disciples, “Arise, let us go from here” (John 14:31; NKJV).  And then in Chapter 19, verse 1 we are told “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.”  Where exactly along the way the discussion recorded in chapters 15 and 16, and the prayer in chapter 17, took place is anyone’s guess.  But Jesus was certainly aware that He was now literally on His way to His arrest and crucifixion.  The tone of the discussion changes.  Whereas in the Upper Room there was give-and-take, now the discussion takes the form of an extended monologue.  The fact that He was about to depart has now been established; He now focuses on their responsibilities and privileges going forward.

Jesus begins this part of the discussion by telling them a parable (John 15:1-8).  “I am the true vine,” He tells them, “and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vv. 1,2).  Here we see two different types of branches: those that do not bear fruit and those that do.  The branches that do not bear fruit “He takes away.”  The ones that do bear fruit “He prunes.”

But whom do these two types of branches represent?  Is Jesus saying that it is possible to be a genuine believer and to lose his salvation?

It must be kept in mind when interpreting a parable like this that Jesus is typically making one or two main points, but that analogy must not be pressed too far as to the details.  The main point that Jesus is making in this parable is the importance of maintaining a close relationship with Him.  The details are incidental.

The best answer here seems to be that the branches of the vine are professing Christians, but not necessarily genuinely born-again ones.  They have made professions of faith; they have been baptized; they are recognized members of the visible church.  But not all are vitally connected to Christ through a genuine experience of the new birth, and as a result these show literal evidence of spiritual life.  They are content to go through the motions.  They show up for church most Sundays.  The put money in the offering plate.  They sit patiently and listen to the sermon.  But their heart is somewhere else.

These, then, Jesus says, the Father “takes away.”  Sometimes they fall away of their own accord.  Sometimes they are excommunicated by the church.  In the end they face the judgment seat of Christ who says, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).  What a terrifying prospect!

But then there are other branches as well, ones that do bear fruit.  Of these Jesus says that the Father “prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”   Here it is evident that He is speaking of genuinely born-again Christians, in contrast to the nominal professing Christian, for He goes on to say in the next verse, “You are already clean because of the world which I have spoken to you” (John 15:8).  In the process of hearing the gospel and responding to it they have been inwardly regenerated – they have a new heart and a desire to serve Christ.  The have put the things of the old life behind them.  Yet the Father still “cleans” and “prunes” them.  Even as born-again Christians there are things that come into our lives that come between us and Christ and interfere with our spiritual growth.  This is especially true when things are going well for us outwardly.  We become preoccupied with the things of this life and let our relationship with Christ languish.  But God is a wise and caring “vinedresser,” and His concern is that we “bear more fruit”; and to that end He prunes us – He disciplines us, subjects us to trials and difficulties, but all that we might be more fruitful and blessed in the work of the kingdom.

Sometimes when we are in the midst of trials and difficulties, and God does not seem to be answering our prayers for deliverance, we must keep in mind that God has His own purposes in what He brings our way, and that His divine purpose includes our sanctification and usefulness in the kingdom.  In such circumstances we must learn to submit to His will and patiently learn the lesson He has for us.  He will eventually bring us through the trial, and we will be the better for having gone through it!

THE PEACE OF CHRIST

 

We often face trials and difficulties in life, and they are often painful to go through.  But nothing can even begin to compare with what Christ Himself was about to endure.  Jesus was conscious of the fact that within a matter of hours He would be arrested, tried and executed.  What is especially remarkable about this is that He made no effort to escape it.   He consciously walked into the trap set for Him, because He knew that it served a higher purpose.  Nevertheless it was a trauma for both Him and His disciples.  Herein lies a lesson or us all.

Jesus begins by reassuring His disciples.  “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27; NKJV).  What is this peace?  Jesus was no doubt speaking in Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew and the common language of Palestine in that day.  Very likely the word for “peace” that Jesus used was a variation of the Hebrew word shalom which means a little more than our common English word “peace.”  The noun shalom is derived from the verb shalem, which means to “be complete or sound.”  Thus the noun shalom means completeness or soundness, and by extension, peace, quiet, tranquility, or contentment.  It is that sense of peace and contentment that comes from being at rest with yourself and others around you.  It is a peace of mind that comes from a sense of wholeness.

But what Jesus is referring to in this passage is a “peace” that He would “leave” with them, a peace that He would give to them.  The apostle Paul describes this peace in Phil. 4:7: “. . .and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  It is an inward peace, the opposite of being “anxious” (v. 6), and it comes in response to prayer.  It is a calm assurance that we have been reconciled to God (Rom. 5:1), that God is in control (Eph. 1:11), and that all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28).

Paul says that this peace “surpasses all understanding.”  In a sense it defies comprehension.  Outwardly, all is turmoil and chaos; and yet inwardly we are calm and at rest.  Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said “You cannot understand this peace, you cannot imagine it, you cannot even believe it is a sense, and yet it is happening and you are experiencing it and enjoying it” (Spiritual Depression, p. 270).

Furthermore Paul says that this peace “will guard your hearts and minds.”  It stands like a sentry at the door of your heart and keeps out all the stress and turmoil.  But the condition of all this, as we said above, is prayer: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God . . .” (v. 6).

Jesus says, regarding this peace, “not as the world gives do I give to you.”  The world claims to give peace – the whole purpose of government is to make us secure in our persons and property. There is a wealth of advice on how to achieve economic security.  And yet outward prosperity is no guarantee of inward peace, and the wealthy are oftentimes just as unhappy as the poor.  And so the world offers something to soothe the pain – food, alcohol, drugs – and, if we are sophisticated enough, the psychiatrist who will prescribe the drugs for us.  But what all of these amount to is a chemical solution to a deeper, underlying problem.  They make us feel better but leave the underlying cause of our anxiety unresolved.  As soon as the medication wears off we are faced with the same circumstances that caused the problem in the first place.

The peace which Christ gives stands in sharp contrast with this.  It looks to God and strives to bring everything into harmony with His created order.  It assures that even in the trials and difficulties of this life God has a larger purpose, and in the end the believer will be richly rewarded for the sacrifices he was called upon to make in this life.  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18; cf. vv. 19-25; II Cor. 4:16-5:8; I Pet. 1:3-9).  And so Jesus tells His disciples, even in spite of what was about to happen to Him and to them, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

God never promises to keep us form trials and difficulties in life – far from it.  As we shall see later, Jesus forewarned us that the world would hate us (cf. 15:18-21).  But what He has promised us is His peace, an inward peace that will enable us to face the trials that come our way with calm assurance.  It is ours to have if we will only cling to Him.

“You will keep him in perfect peace,

Whose mind is stayed on You,

Because he trusts in You.

Trust in the Lord forever,

For in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”

Isa. 26:3,4

THE TEACHING MINISTRY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

 

Jesus had just promised us that if we love Him and keep His commandments, “My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23; NKJV); and, as we have seen, this refers primarily to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus now goes on to elaborate on what the Holy Spirit will do for us: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to you remembrance all things that I said to you” (v. 26).

The primary reference here, undoubtedly, is to the apostles.  They would be witnesses to His resurrection, and would be appointed to be His personal representatives to the world.  As they would elaborate on the meaning and significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit would give them direct revelation.  The apostle Paul, for instance, could describe the process this way: “. . .we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained . . . But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.  For the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God . . .” (I Cor.2:7-10)  “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, combining spiritual things with spiritual” (vv. 12,13). The “words” which the Holy Spirit teaches are logois – concepts, ideas which come from the mind of God Himself.

Jesus also said that the Holy Spirit will “bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”  This points to the preaching of the apostles, and especially to the writing of the four gospels contained in the New Testament.  Matthew and John were both written by apostles; Mark was written by a close associate of Peter and Luke by a close associate of Paul.  The implication is that the four gospels give us an accurate representation of what the historical Jesus actually said and did.

But the Holy Spirit’s work of “teaching you all things” should not be confined to just the apostles.  There is also work which the Holy Spirit performs in the lives of believers throughout the church as well.  Here again, when the apostle Paul prays for the Ephesians, he asks that God “may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, they eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe . . .” (Eph. 1:17-19).

The Bible is written in human language; it has a vocabulary and a grammatical structure.  Almost any educated person can read it and gain at least a general idea of what it says.  But little of it will be real and meaningful to him if the Holy Spirit has not renewed his heart and enlightened his eyes; so that he can genuinely understand the things that the Bible is describing.  These things are spiritual realities, and to gain a proper appreciation of them we must first gain an understanding of them and how they affect us personally.  Significantly Paul asks that the Ephesians would know the “hope” of Christ’s calling, “the riches of the glory” of His inheritance, and “the exceeding greatness” of His power – in other words, the subjective qualities of these things.  And this is something that the Holy Spirit must give us, the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.”  It is the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination.

This, then, is the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Without it the preaching ministry of the church cannot be successful.  Only the Holy Spirit can enlighten minds and give us spiritual understanding.  And so we must be earnest in prayer that God would pour out His Spirit upon us, and that our hearts would be quickened and we can adore and praise the Savior accordingly.

THE PROMISE OF THE PRESENCE

 

Jesus has already given His disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit (I John 14:16,17).  He has       also told them that “If you love Me, keep My commandments”  (v. 15: NKJV).   He now proceeds to link the two statements together.  “He who had My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.   And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and manifest Myself to him” (v. 21).  Here the promise that we will be “loved by My Father” is made conditional on our loving Christ and keeping His commandments.  We cannot experience the blessing unless we fulfill the condition.

There is a sense in which “God so loved the world,” but that is a kind of love that is not based on any good which God sees in us.  Rather it is the pity and compassion that a merciful God shows towards His wretched, rebellious creatures.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  Theologians sometimes call this God’s “love of benevolence,” from the Latin word “benevolentia” – “good will” or “kindness.”

But that is not what Jesus is describing here.  This is a love which God has especially for those who love Christ and keep His commandments.  He loves them because they love Him.  He is genuinely pleased with their love.  Theologians sometimes refer to this as God’s “love of complacence,” from a Latin word which means “to be pleased with” something.  And that is the kind of love which God has for those who consciously try to please Him.

God originally created us human beings to have fellowship with Him.  He created us in His image, and endowed us with intellect, emotion and will, so that we could have a personal relationship with Him.  But what ruined that was our sin and rebellion.  The relationship was severed and we were alienated from God – we had become His enemies and were therefore under His wrath and condemnation.

But that changes when we become Christians.  Christ died for our sins.  We repent and ask for forgiveness and put our trust in Him.  We are reconciled to God and can now have the relationship with Him that we were originally meant to have.  We are brought into a position in which we can appreciate Christ for all that He is and has done for us – we love Him, and want to please Him, and as a result “. . . he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

But how does Jesus “manifest” Himself to us?  Certainly not in any physical way.  None of us has ever seen Jesus physically = the pictures that we see of Him were all created in the artists’ imaginations.  But there is a sense in which we can know Jesus personally – to have real communion with Him, to sense His presence with us, and to know and understand Him better.  This happens when we spend time alone with Him in prayer and in meditation upon His Word, and the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to receive the truth.  We then come to understand and appreciate Jesus in a way that we never did before.  He as manifested Himself to us.

The disciples were still somewhat puzzled by this, and Judas (not Iscariot) asked Jesus, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” (v. 22); to which Jesus replied, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the world you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me” (vv. 23,24).

Here again He emphasizes that if we genuinely love Him we will keep His word.  But He elaborates a little further on the promise: “and we will come to him and make Our home [NASV: “abode”] with Him.”  Again, Jesus is not speaking of physically dwelling with us; He is in heaven and we are here on earth.  Rather He is speaking of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts and making His presence felt.  It is a spiritual abiding.

But Jesus makes this blessing contingent on our loving Him and keeping His word?  Does not every Christian believer have the Holy Spirit dwelling in his heart?  Yes, but not to the same degree.  While it is true that every truly born-again Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside his heart, the New Testament makes it clear that the blessings of the Holy Spirit are variable, depending on a believer’s love and devotion to Christ.  We can be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) or we can “quench the Spirit” (I Thess. 5:19).  The apostle Paul could pray for the Ephesians that they would be “strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to . . .know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19; cf. 1:15-19; Col. 1:9-11).  To be filled with the Spirit is to have “the love of God” which “has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5); it is to have “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7); it is to have “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter. 1:8).  To be filled with the Spirit is to have the fruit of the Spirit in abundance.  But Jesus emphasizes that all of this is contingent on our loving Him and keeping His word.

The modern church is not experiencing the blessing largely because our love for Christ has grown cold.  We are too preoccupied with the things of this world and have largely forgotten Christ.  Too often our Sunday morning worship is mere entertainment and the Wednesday night prayer meeting has largely been abandoned.  We have “a form of godliness” but deny “its power” (II Tim. 3:5).  We have an intellectual knowledge of the truth, but perform the outward duties of religion in a mechanical way.  Our devotion is lukewarm, and the sad result is that there is little evidence of the Holy Spirit working among. Us.

Much of the blame lies squarely at the feet of pastors.  In most churches the congregation looks to the pastor for direction and guidance in spiritual matters.  The congregations will rarely advance spiritually beyond the pastor.  And if the pastor is spiritually immature, if his own prayer life is wanting and he is not consciously seeking guidance from the Lord, it will be reflected in empty worship and dull, lifeless sermons.  The spiritual life of the congregation languishes while the surrounding world perishes.

What is at stake can hardly be overestimated.  There are human beings who are trapped in sin and are on their way to an eternity in hell.  And much of it is due to the lack of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church.

Oh, that we would heed the words of Christ!  Oh that we would claim the promise!  Oh that the power of the Holy Spirit was a living reality in our churches today!  But it will only happen when we devote ourselves completely to Christ and heed His word.

BELIEVERS NOT LEFT ORPHANS

 

As Jesus continued to reassure His disciples He tells them, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.  A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.  Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:18,19).  He will not leave them “orphans.”  Up until now they were almost little children to Him.  They enjoyed a warm, affectionate relationship with Him; not as equals, but rather like children might have with their fathers.  And now He was about to depart.  Where would that leave them?  He reassures them that even though He was about to be physically removed from them, He would not leave them orphaned.

How this will come about takes several forms.  First He tells them that “I will come to you.”  This almost certainly refers to His post-resurrection appearances to them.  They would see Him, but the world would not.  Luke tells us that “He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).  John will go on to relate three of these appearances (cf. John 21:14).

But to return to the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus mentions the significance of His resurrection: “Because I live, you will live also” (v. 19).  The disciples at this point probably did not understand that what Jesus was saying was that He was about to be put to death, but would then rise from the dead.  And what they certainly did not understand was what this would mean for them personally.  What Jesus was about to accomplish, in effect, was the victory over death.  We are fallen sinners.  We live in a sin-cursed world.  Eventually we must all die.  But is there any hope for life after death?  Or is death the end of it?

The Bible makes it clear that death is a result of sin.  When our first parents sinned they alienated themselves from God, and death was the curse that God pronounced on them as a result.  But what the death of Christ did was to make a sacrificial atonement for our sin, and the resurrection of Christ was the proof that God the Father had accepted the sacrifice.  The curse was then removed and now He could live.  And because of that we can live too, if we confess our sins, put our personal trust in Christ as our Savior, and receive the forgiveness of our sins.  “Because I live, you will live also.”

Jesus then went on to draw out a further implication of His resurrection: “And in that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (v. 20).  Here He uses the proposition “in” to describe three relationships: “in My Father,” “you in Me,” and “I in you”; and yet the relationships are not the same.  But what the preposition “in” represents in all three cases is an intimate relationship of some sort.

First He says that “I am in My Father.”  This, of course, takes us into the doctrine of the Trinity, a concept that boggles the human imagination.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three different persons, but share one substance (John 10:30).  Jesus was God incarnate (John 1:1-14; I John 1:1,2); and Jesus possessed the Holy Spirit beyond all measure (John 3:34,35).  Thus Jesus could say that He was “in My Father.”

But He also told His disciples that “you [are] in Me.”  This points to a different kind of close relationship, a legal or judicial one.  When we are baptized “into Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27) we are then “in Christ.”  As a result God the Father views us as a part of Christ and counts us as righteous as Christ Himself.  “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption –“ (I Cor. 1:30).  “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to His grace” (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).  Moreover, since we share this privilege with all other believers, collectively we form one body – the body of Christ, of which He is the Head and we are the individual members (I Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 2:13-21; 4:11-16).

And then Jesus says that “I [am] in you.”  Here He is pointing to our mystical union with Himself, which is realized through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within in our hearts.  “I have been crucified with Christ; 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 love me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  What an awesome thought this is!  That we would have the Spirit of Christ – God eternal, omnipotent and absolutely holy – dwelling within our hearts!   What an awesome privilege, and yet at the same time a responsibility!  And yet that is the blessed experience of every person who has been truly born of God!

Jesus says that “At that day you will know” all of this.  The Greek used here for “know” is gnosesthe, which means to know by observation and experience as opposed to a mental process based on an intuition or information (Abbott-Smith).  The disciples had heard Jesus teach; had a mental grasp of what He was saying.  But after His resurrection and ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they would know by actual experience.  The abstract truth would become a living reality.

The question is, is it a living reality for us?  Have we experienced the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives?  For too long the modern church has neglected prayer and tried to “go on its own,” with disastrous results.  Churches are dying and the surrounding culture is sinking deeper into a cesspool of sin.  What is desperately needed is a revival – a genuine revival – a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church.  But that will only come when we get down on our knees, go humbly to God in prayer, acknowledging our sins and our shortcomings, and ask Him to return and to bless.  It is only then that we can expect to see real spiritual life and vitality in the church – to see the word being preached with real unction and convicting power, to see believers being lifted from their spiritual slumber and apathy, and see sinners coming to genuine repentance and faith in Christ.  Even so come, Lord Jesus!

“All our knowledge, sense and sight

Lie in deepest darkness shrouded

Till thy Spirit breaks our night

With the beams of truth unclouded.

Thou alone to God canst win us;

Thou must work all good within us.”

Tobias Clausnitzer

(tr. by Catherine Winkworth)