Mid-Week Devo: Jonah 4:11-16 “No Accidents”

Jonah 4:11-16

 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”– for the sea was growing more tempestuous. And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them. Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, “We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.” So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.

 

“No Accidents”

 

Today’s portion of the text shifts into the response of the sailors once they discover the cause of the calamity at hand. The sovereign hand of God is certainly holding all things in tension, not letting Jonah loose from serving Him nor the sailors from beseeching Him for mercy.

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Isn’t it interesting that Jonah’s flight away from Nineveh inevitably led him into testifying about God to pagans who followed false gods? What he didn’t want to do (in essence) towards the Ninevites still took place on the ship going to Tarshish. It reminds me of the childish prank of writing “Turn this over” on a card only to find written on the other side, “Turn this over.” Jonah could not wash his hands of his calling or being used, despite his reluctance and despite his failing attempt to discount himself from God’s desires for him. We could also liken God’s calling of Jonah to a piece of cork in water, perhaps trying to be held down but inevitably rising again to the surface.

 

Perhaps we would do best to recognize the work of God in this passage, for the initial response of the men to Jonah was, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?” Following Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he concluded his lengthy statement to the surrounding audience by saying, 

 

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36-38)

 

Unfortunately for Jonah, there seems to be an indifference towards the real need of the men on the ship with him. He was content to get on board and leave them unaware of his identity and intentions until a great storm nearly overtook them. Even in declaring who he was, why he was running, and that he was the cause of the chaos, he failed to point them to the Lord. All he directed the men to do was, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” 

 

Notice that the men on board the ship did not necessarily heed his advice initially. “Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.” Identifying himself was not enough to end the opposing winds and waves; these men were showing mercy to the man that brought them calamity. 

 

It may not be so obvious at first, but consider this: the crew knew by Jonah’s own admission that they were undergoing a near-death experience and yet even in their fear, they didn’t respond to him with coldness nor a quick, harsh response by immediately dumping him off the ship. If we step out just a bit further, we must see that God moved pagans to show mercy to Jonah if even but for a little longer. In great irony, the men aboard the ship seemed to show better character than the man representing God.

“Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.’” Had these men simply followed Jonah’s instructions, tossed him overboard and watched the sea’s violence abate, they very well would have missed the dire plea with God for His mercy, and that would have been an even greater calamity. We must never forget that though temporal pains may subside, if spiritual needs are never addressed, the greater problem still remains. 

 

It’s interesting here, too, that their theology actually doesn’t seem so far off. First, they recognize the Lord as Sovereign. Second, they recognize that God can hold us accountable for our behavior before Him. Finally, they recognized that God acts in accordance with His pleasure, too. 

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“So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.” It is something to be pondered on here that Jonah was witnessing repentance in the hearts of people he neither cared for nor intentionally engaged on a spiritual level. Perhaps God intended to minister to Jonah through working in others despite Jonah’s heart, that Jonah might be shown mercy when he should have been released for his attitude alone. Neither party in this whole book, that being Jonah or any audience, is really any better than the other; both need grace and both have a lot of flaws. Sometimes it’s our connection to God that our pride gets a hold of, telling us that we’re better than others because of our association when really we’re just as much imperfect sinners in need of the grace of God still.

 

“Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.” Though it may seem a bit murky at first sight, there is good reason to believe that salvation came to the men on board the ship, despite the fact that they had pagan backgrounds. They did not seek God but were found by Him as a running prophet of the Living God intersected with their lives. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The sailors began the act of wisdom by fearing God, but went further by offering him sacrifice and committing themselves unto Him. Though Christ would not come for a long time beyond the days of Jonah, the fact of the matter was that these men expressed faith in God and obeyed with what little they knew. 

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Salvation, biblically speaking, is always a matter of looking to the Christ, believing upon Him for His perfect, holy sacrifice on the cross as a means of removing the wrath of God while also having the righteous record of Jesus Christ accredited to one’s own account, God viewing the person expressing faith in Him as justified. Sometimes I’ve heard it spelled out in a sense, “Just as if I’d never sinned.” It’s not a personal performance issue, but a matter of faith relative to the God-Man Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life by God’s standards and died a sacrificial death on the cross that all believing on Him might have the certain hope of eternal life. 

 

Well, are there any further practical applications to be drawn from this passage? Let me highlight a few:

 

  1. God does as He pleases and there are no accidents in the plans of God. For all that people do, they can never suppress God from His free will. No one and nothing can act outside of His permission and determination. This is cause for praise!
  2. God can save anyone at any time through any means. The hope of repentance still ultimately rests in His hands. Therefore, serve Him but do so in reliance upon Him for the outcome. Genuine change never comes apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. 
  3. God does not give up on His children because He is faithful to His promises. They may at times kick and scream, even try to discount themselves, or go as far as to try running from Him (among many poor responses) and while this is never okay, thank God that the hope of our relationship with Him rests in the foundation of His faithfulness. The hope of our relationship with God day after day is bound to His grace towards us. In his mercy, He does not leave us to our own devices for long, but may for times as He allows. 
  4. God knows what He’s doing. Preach that to yourself in 2020, right? 

 

I hope this short devotional has been a help to you, and if you’ve gleaned anything of usefulness to your Christian walk, or it’s stirred up in you a desire for salvation, I praise God for that. Thank you for your time! God bless you.

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Mid-Week Devotional: Jonah 1:4-10

Jonah 1:4-10 NKJV

“But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.” And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.”

There is a great contrast between Jonah 1:3 and Jonah 1:4. Jonah did all that he could to run from God’s presence in v. 3: he went to a harbor town, found a ship going about as far away from Ninevah as one could go, paid a fare and boarded the ship. Jonah took every step possible to ensure that he could try to drown out the voice of God in his reluctancy to heed God’s calling.

It is interesting that with all of Jonah’s planned steps that he took, the next verse (v.4) begins with the words, “But the Lord.” It’s almost as if nothing more needs to be said in the verse, because the contrastive word “but” tells us that regardless of all that Jonah did, God took exeption to Jonah’s plans. In similar vein to Joseph’s statement to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, where he tells his brothers “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good,” the plans of Jonah could not trump the plans of God, but only succumb to them.boat on body of water at daytime

Jonah’s plan of running away did serve a missional purpose in the hands of God. Consider this: Jonah’s only intention was to run away; he really had no spiritual concern for the men aboard the ship. We know this, because later on it will finally come out who he is to the others on board the ship and what his intentions were in taking the voyage with them. Nevertheless, we will see later on in v. 18 that the men inevitably feared the Lord, offered sacrifices to Him and took vows in relationship to Him. Even in running, God would not allow Jonah to get away from being part of His activities. Before I get ahead of the passage too much, let’s return to verse 3.

“The Lord sent out a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.” While nature is always a servant to God, there are certainly times where He directs it to accomplish His purposes. Even the great reformer Martin Luther had a similar course, with a thunder storm scaring him while caught out in it only to cry out and offer himself for the priesthood (later, while a priest, he would come to believe in salvation alone by grace alone, and this is when he got saved).

Not only did God know how this would result in relationship to Jonah, but He also knew this towards the sailors. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.” Superstition has been a part of many different social spheres over the course of time, and the sailors on Jonah’s boat saw the storm through the lens of an angry deity causing the tumult. Not everyone tends to look at the violence of nature as though it is the result of offending a deity, but that’s entirely how this crew responded to it.

“But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.” There appears to be a parallel taking place here that is seen in the New Testament with Jesus and his disciples. In fact, the events occuring in Jonah 1 share a lot of similarities with Matthew 8:24-27:

“And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing! But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” 19 Copyright Free Images Sites (You'll Fall in Love With) - PSD Stack

Both passages see a boat full of people extremely terrified, crying out for rescue while the “hero” on board is asleep.  When God (or the Son of God) responds, nature immediately is calmed, and worship ensues. (We can also see a similar incident in Matthew 14:24-33).

“So the captain came to him, and said to him, ‘What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.’ And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.” In the case of Jonah, men were crying out to false gods to no avail. They then woke up Jonah in demand that he also call upon his God. It’s not certain whether he did or not, but the way the passage is written, it seems that they didn’t even wait for a response. They quickly turned to the casting of lots, looking for a sign of the culprit. God once again worked by accommodating disbelief with His sovereign hand guiding the events.

“Then they said to him, ‘Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?’ So he said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.'” Notice that the sailors were driven greatly by fear in this passage, and from their point of view, they were going to die if something didn’t change. When the lot fell upon Jonah, they demanded answers and quickly, for they had no idea who it was that they had allowed on their ship. Jonah’s response could have been dismissed, but all things as they were, the men on the ship were primed to believe every word that he said and to be captivated in fear with Jonah’s God. The Lord, being maker of the sea and dry land, had absolute control over their circumstances.

“Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, ‘Why have you done this?’ For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.” It’s a great question that these men asked Jonah, isn’t it? “Why have you done this?” It’s perhaps a very complicated answer if he was to be completely honest. We must see here that their concern regarding Jonah’s disobedience wasn’t necessarily out of interest for him, but out of self-preservation as his disobedience brought pain into their lives, too. Disobedience to God has a way of doing that: when we live in sin or drag our feet with God, oftentimes it’s not just us that suffer, but those around us, too.

Perhaps today we should consider our relationship with God as not just something that affects us, but everyone around us as well. When we’re close with Him, others benefit. When we’re resistant to Him, unwilling to accept His plans or to obey, others will feel the effects, too. This is an incredibly important lesson for us to learn about relating to God: we affect others by our relationship with God.

Near or far, loving or apathetic, worshipful or selfish, who we are and how we are rubs off on those in our company. Our values do indeed give direction to others about what is to be valued. Please keep this in mind: reading your Bible, praying, going to church, serving, etc. are not just about us, even though that’s how most Americans look at spirituality. Attitudes towards God create a culture and a climate, neither of which come out of a vacuum. The people, families, and churches that we are becoming do have a profound connection with our relationship to God.

God has given us a high calling if only in knowing Him. See it not only as an act of worship, but also an act of service to others when you pursue Him. Jonah may have gotten on boat for his own reasons, but everyone with him felt the weight of his reluctance soon enough. Keep seeking the Lord!

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional–Jonah 1:3

Jonah 1:3

But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”

 

Last week, we began this devotional series on Jonah by looking at the first two verses of chapter one.  If I might sum up the first two verses once more, we could understand them best by the concept of God’s rights with the subcategory of God’s mercy.

God is always completely in His right to do as He pleases; we don’t have to agree, understand, or (especially) allow Him to have those rights. Being God, by nature, He is above all things created and is the only being with pure free will, that is, the ability to choose and to do exactly as He pleases without any constraint.

God has the power and the right to show mercy to whom He wills and to harden whom He wills.  Romans 9:14-16 states: What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” We could simplify v. 16 by saying, “It depends on God.” The received treatment from God is not dependent upon the person in His sights but the God behind the “eyes” through which He sees the person. All of creation is dependent upon God, but God is dependent upon no one; He is self-existent, self-sustaining, self-contained, and self-fulfilled among many of His attributes. 

Stepping into verse 3 today, we actually are looking at a verse that should be a crisis of theology for Jonah, but Jonah’s response often to lesser degrees has been attempted by many Christians. It’s amazing how believers have a propensity for learning Scriptural truth on one hand and yet have practiced beliefs on the other. No matter what we may claim to believe in doctrine, we are always limited by what we are willing to put into practice either in acts of obedience or in how we think, despite what we know.

Every Christian, in a sense, is given large shoes to fill that they are growing ever so slowly into when they are given biblical truth. We often don’t add up to what we believe, and just because we know to have faith, to live by hope, to trust God for the outcome, to practice obedience and to die to sinful desires, it doesn’t mean that we necessarily do. Biblically speaking, it is a process that we are both called to work out but that God Himself is also working out in us (and there’s great hope in that). Nevertheless, God has a way of taking truths we know and forcing us to see just what we truly want to believe; they don’t always align.

With this backdrop of thought in mind, let’s look at our verse. The first part of v. 3 says this: “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” The word “but” is a contrasting word; God gave a command (v. 2), but Jonah chose to run from it. Not only did he run from the command, but his heart was to run from the presence of the Lord.

This is where that theology crisis should immediately kick in, because there is no place in all of creation that one can flee from the Lord. David would say in Psalm 139:7-8: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in [f]Sheol, behold, You are there.” (I’d recommend reading Psalm 139:1-12 for a more full picture of what’s captured in vv. 7-8.)

There is no escaping the presence of the Lord, but that is what Jonah’s intention was. He could have gone to Ninevah. He could have stayed put where he was. Jonah went above and beyond in his response by going the entirely opposite direction from Ninevah (Tarshish would be over in modern Spain). Jonah was trying to go as far away as he could, literally to the edge of the Europe near the Atlantic Ocean when Ninevah was thousands of miles the other direction.

Notice, though, that the story of Jonah doesn’t end with his boat ride, a frustrated God putting His hands up in the air and saying, “Guess I’ll have to find someone else.” No, God knew who He was calling when He asked Jonah to do this, and knew that Jonah would buck, and that this calling was going to not only be a work on the people of Ninevah, but also a work on a reluctant prophet who had a lot of rough edges to smooth out. He still has a way of calling us into places that will rough out the edges of both the ministered and the minister.

Service to God is not just about changing others, but also being changed in the process. He provides grace to serve, but the pressures that we may undergo in the process have a purpose in refining us. No one serves God without also being radically changed in the process; it’s one of the gifts (you read that right) that God blesses us with in obedience: transformation. This is why many folks would gladly accept the offer of grace and mercy but shun the notion of serving God for the potential pain incurred or dreams dismissed in favor of God’s plans. Obedience to God always brings the discomfort of submission, but then again, is it really all that comfortable to be at the helm of your life without God at your side?

“So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” Can we draw something from this portion of verse 3? I would surmise that it’s highlighting how calculated Jonah was in his determination to run from God. He first went to a port town (intentionally), found a ship going to Tarshish (intentionally), paid a fare (probably not small as it was one of the farthest destinations to go) and then went down into the ship to go with the sailors. Jonah did his research, took his trip, and spent his time and money all in an effort to distance himself from God to serve his own interests.

We have to wonder if sometimes the best way to drown out the sound of God’s voice is to continuously take steps to ensure a path we know He’s not in. Jonah didn’t get to Joppa and then turn around, nor did he find a ship going to Joppa and then change his mind. He didn’t pause on the payment (that we can see) but took steps to cement his journey out of the presence of God. Sometimes we do similar things: we may choose to willingly not do things we know God wants us to do, but have to go to great efforts to keep not doing them. Additionally, we may choose to willingly do things we know God does not want us to do, and yet again have to go to great lengths to keep doing them when that quiet voice keeps trying to talk. The inner awareness that comes with God’s activity can sometimes only be dealt with by noise, but even noise can only keep God silent as long as He chooses to not overpower it.

It’s safe to say that Jonah’s response to God sought to downplay God’s right in calling him to serve God as He saw fit. God has the right to show grace and mercy to whom He will, but sometimes the harder calling that finds more resistance is in God’s right to call whomever He wills to serve Him. Service doesn’t necessarily mean going overseas or being in the ministry; every believer is called to honor God by doing what He is calling each of them to do individually. We may give Him 1,000 reasons for why He can’t use us, and other people may give Him 1,000 reasons more. Neither party matters when speaking of human reasons being thrown in the face of God; what He wants, He rightly should get. Still, this doesn’t mean we won’t have times of throwing up a fight of resistance or being like the child who would not sit down until the force of demand, at which the child responded, “I’m still standing inside.” Thank God that He doesn’t wait for us to determine if He can use us, but calls us to serve Him and on the way makes us more useful.

The beauty of this little verse of defiance (Jonah 1:3) is that God doesn’t give up on those He bestows His love upon. Both the Ninevites and the prophet Jonah were in need of God’s grace and mercy, and the glory of this book of the Bible rests not in the people portrayed but the God who, in His right, showed grace and mercy for His pleasure. Even Jonah’s reluctant unwillingness did not ultimately discount him from God using him; while in the moment he resisted, inevitably God would bring him around, though he still had much to work on even by the end of the book.

I pray for you today that whether you’ve been near or far from God, you’d be caught up not in your own reflection at the thought of Him, but in the image of a God who is glorious and kind, loving and forgiving, whose character when seen properly draws us in like a bug to a light (with a better end). See Him again for how good He is, and let that goodness infect your soul that you might grow in holiness before Him. God’s character is always on display in the Scriptures, whether people are behaving righteously or sinfully. How He responds to them teaches us much about who He is.

It all starts with salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, because if that hasn’t happened, there is no growing in holiness and spiritual maturity. The Gospel message itself tells us how great God is to be so kind to humanity when no one has been good enough to earn or keep the favor that He offers. If Christ is your Savior, take a moment to thank God for how good He has been to you recently.

Wishing you God’s best,

 

 

“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Mid-Week Devo: Jonah 1:1-2

Jonah 1:1-2 (NASB)

 1The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 

 

I’d like to start this short devotional by beginning in the book of Jonah, what is a short book of the Bible but still a powerful lesson indeed. Jonah was a reluctant prophet of the Old Testament, and while there may definitely be moments of reluctance on the part of multiple Bible characters, even the heroes, perhaps Jonah would be best defined by his disinclined nature at preaching the word of God to a nation that he had no heart for.

Have you ever considered why Jonah would not want to go to the Ninevites? There are numerous reasons; primarily, the Ninevites were known not just for wickedness on a spiritual level with God, but also for being a violent, oppressive group that horrendously tortured those that they captured. Some of the most gruesome forms of torture could be attributed to the Ninevites, who were one group that practiced the “art” of flaying people while they were still alive: that is, removing their skin with the purpose of causing unspeakable pain. They also practiced sticking people on poles and leaving them to die if they hadn’t already. If you’d like to see a document recording some of this, here’s a link to an article detailing their atrocities.

Not only this, but those cities that they captured were burned and the people carted off. They struck great fear in the hearts of those that they fought against, and this obviously would have caused a great deal of psychological defeat in their enemies far before there was an actual battle. Who wants to fight those that are merciless and calculated in their infliction of pain on others?

It has been speculated that some of Jonah’s own family may have endured such violent and tragic ends. Even if not his own family, certainly his own people. Even if not his own people, certainly the fact that anyone had such terrible injustices done against them would cause great pause in ever showing kindness on his part. Jonah was not uneducated in the ways of the Ninevites, and he, like many, only wanted them to suffer for their deeds.

This kind of background gives the book of Jonah an interesting perspective on God. Let’s draw our attention to three places found in today’s text that we ought to focus on:

  1. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah.”  Why would God even care to send a word towards such a group and to give it to Jonah, an unlikely prophet to be sent? God is in His right to offer mercy to whomever He pleases and to overlook whomever He desires. He is not obligated to show kindness to the most morally upright of individuals, nor is He obligated to pour out wrath upon those who have done everything possibly wicked in their power. This is a plug for the Gospel: salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favor; it is not earned by our works nor is it dismissed by our works. Grace must function in both directions to be grace, else it becomes a matter of law-based righteousness. Unfortunately, there is no one good enough in relationship to God in His perfect holiness to ever be counted worthy in themselves of His righteousness; therefore, it is always and only a matter of God’s grace should a person come into a right relationship with Him. Additionally, He has the right to ask any of His children to go and to serve Him in whatever capacity He should desire. He has the rights, and even if we do have pain and weakness towards certain places, His grace is sufficient and He knows what He’s doing. He does not fail when He moves any of His children to serve Him in the capacities that He does. Consider that the book of Jonah has much to do with the rights of God.
  2. “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it.” It is an act of mercy for God to ever let people know before eternity that they are living in sin. It is an act of mercy when He moves one of His servants to go and to make that known. Every time we witness, whether people respond positively or not, it is an act of mercy in that truth is being relayed and people are being made aware, whether they like that or not. God could let any person on this planet live and die without ever having any awareness of His righteousness, their sinfulness, and the judgment to come without a Savior. Even in Jonah’s time, the people would have to respond to his message in faith, taking God at His word through the prophet Jonah and essentially believing upon the Messiah that was to come.  You see, Old Testament or New, the Savior was always the one people had to look to, and it was just a matter of whether He was to come or whether He already had. Regardless, when God sends a witness to decry the sins of the people, even that act is part of His gift of mercy. It’s not all that a people need for salvation, but it’s certainly a part of the package. 
  3. “Their wickedness has come up before Me.” The deeds of the Ninevites, that is, the sin of this people, caught God’s attention. We will see that Jonah’s first response is to run, and why is that? He will tell us eventually that he suspected God would show kindness and that was the last thing that He wanted. Had he thought that God’s intentions were only to bring down wrath, perhaps he would have gone. Then again, if God only intended wrath, perhaps there would not have been a need to send a message, but just to pour out that wrath. God’s kindness to humanity, in part, is to let them be made aware of what is to come, whether they accept it or reject it, believe it or mock it. He has the right to save and the right to pass over. He has the right to let people be made aware and to not follow through on breaking their hearts in repentance to Him. God can do as He pleases.

I hope we think about this truth of God’s rights in this world in which we live. A lot is happening and while we may petition God to change things, it’s always His right to answer right away or to let things continue on. He knows what He is doing and He has a plan for what He allows. Sovereignty must be something that we rest in with the world in which we live. Pray, preach, teach, love others, but rest in God’s control over it all.  Sometimes we just need to remember that God is always good and always right to do as He pleases, even if we don’t always like it. Rejoice in knowing that He still sits on the throne, every moment of every day.

Thank you, and God bless you this evening.

Romans 14:1-4 “On The Issue of Opinions and Conscience”

Today I am just going to put up the basic outline of the sermon from yesterday. I think you can read through and follow quite well and hopefully it could be a help to you in your Christian walk (or understanding a Christian mindset if you are observing). Thank you for your attention.

Romans 14:1-4 “On The Issue of Opinions and Conscience”

With all that is going on in our country right now, the question as it relates back to the church is, “What is the greatest threat to a church through all of the pressures we are facing?” Is it a virus? Is it the danger now of social unrest? Is it politics? Is it economic? Is it the rapid changes in society and even technology? 

It sure seems to be changing by the minute, doesn’t it?  I would submit to you that the greatest challenge facing the church right now from within is the matter of conscience.  Opinions are deeply intertwined with the conscience, and we will see this in the text of Romans 14.  There are a multitude of opinions floating about in our circumstances: opinions towards how things should be handled, if they’ve been handled rightly or wrongly, whether to be very concerned or that people are concerned too much; practically everything has the potential for tension as a matter not only of opinion, but furthermore, conscience: the rightness or wrongness of any choice.  This tension of conscience was an issue in New Testament times, too.

If we are not careful, we will cling more to our opinions than to our Lord, and this is where divisions will tend to rise.  Opinions, as will be mentioned below, are not matters of black and white (clearly sin, clearly righteousness), but often those gray areas that may evoke strong emotions but lack a certain degree of conclusiveness. On such issues there is great variance even among people who would claim Christ through salvation by grace through faith.

The conscience is best dealt with as a matter of principle, not specific details like a cookie cutter.

There are three primary principles to consider when dealing with the conscience.  Our primary text today will be Romans 14:1-4.  If you have a Bible or want to look it up, look up that passage to begin with before proceeding.

 

  • Principle #1: The matter of good and evil.
    • Genesis 3:1-8
      • “Eyes will be opened”-awareness=knowledge
      • Two sidenotes:
        • 1. Eve added to the command by saying “or touch (the fruit)” when responding to the serpent
        • 2. Eve was created after God gave the command originally (Genesis 2:17 is the command; 2:18 she is created)
        • Adam very likely informed Eve of the command as her husband; this may be why she was approached; Adam was on hand
      • Good= refers mostly to usefulness (kalos, agathos)
      • Evil=refers mostly to worthlessness (kakos)
      • One thing Satan didn’t say=we’d see things to be good or bad somewhat subjectively (from person to person)
      • Informants of rightness/wrongness: conscience, OT Law (10 Commandments), Bible, but also what we’ve been taught as well as our personal experiences
    • 1 Corinthians 4:3-4
      • A clear conscience does not mean we are righteous in the sight of God
      • Justification (to be declared righteous by God) functions in part to inform the conscience that we are not guilty
      • If we fail to understand our justification, fail to understand our freedom in Christ, we will struggle with knowing where we stand with God, as to whether we truly are forgiven or not
      • Think of the statement: “I know God says I’m forgiven, but I can’t forgive myself”– our opinions or feelings towards ourselves don’t determine where we stand with God, but God’s judgment, so get in His word
  • Principle #2: The matter of weakness vs. strength.
    • Romans 14:1 “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.”
      • Receive= to welcome in, to invite into either an abode, a community, or one’s own heart (core)
      • Weak in the faith=
        • weakasthenos –having limitations or restraints.  Think of a dog who wants to chase squirrels but is held back by a leash.  While there may at times be a desire to be free, the conscience can cause an internal “yanking of the leash” towards the choices we make. We can only go as far in clarity of conscience as we feel justified in our choice. We cannot go further without defying our personal conscience.
        • In the faith—refers to a believer, but also is in relation to justification
          • Think of having structure but lacking integrity, like brittle bones, formed but easily broken
            • failing to understand the fullness of God’s forgiveness but claiming Christ as Savior produces a person who looks like any other Christian in confession, but is easily thrown into doubt about their faith over choices or the standards of others
          • Just because we’ve trusted in Christ doesn’t mean we’re necessarily confident in our salvation; it doesn’t mean we are confident about standing before Him one day.  Confidence can only come from resting in His objective promises, not our subjective performance.
        • Weakness (once again, limitations or restraints)
          • Can exist because of a poor understanding of justification—leads to legalism and denial of eternal security
          • Can exist because we seek to be justified before others more than God—leads to anxiety; too many voices speaking in to our lives that don’t agree with their estimation of who we are
          • Can exist because we fail to see that forgiveness does not negate obedience, but empowers it—often a weakness of arrogance (Romans 6:15-16) “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
    • (Receive them) “but not to disputes over doubtful things”
      • “Disputes” refers to verbal harassment, quarreling–an intention to harm with words
      • “Doubtful things”—an easier way to put it is matters of opinions
        • Opinions are conclusions based on the use of reason
        • Different people have different lines of logic, therefore a variety of opinions
          • sometimes opinions align, but it is doubtful that any two people carry all of the same opinions
          • having the same opinion is not always the goal on disputable issues; having the same focus of mind, Christ, is the goal
          • Romans 14:1 is commanding us to welcome in those who have limitations in the faith but not to quarrel with them over opinions. It is implying therefore that we are welcoming them in to help build up their faith, to reinforce their justification and forgiveness in Christ or to call them up to the standard of living as justified.  This is one of the greatest ministries one believer has to another.
        • Opinions over what? Romans 14:2 “For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.”
          • “Believes” means to be persuaded that something is true
          • Consider the New Testament background of many believers in the Greco-Roman world—love feasts in honor of demonic idols coupled with sexual immorality among many with pagan backgrounds; there was much potential for shame from participation
          • Conscience has much to do with association, either through having been taught or asuming associations with objects, styles, etc. or as a result of experience, whether that experience is negative, positive, or neutral
          • Consider a simple illustration: you are offered a knife at lunch for cutting your food. No problem, right? Then you are told that the knife was used as a murder weapon. Does it alter your opinion towards this particular knife? Now, what if you were taught that all knives were only used for killing people.  Would you avoid knives by association? This is how the conscience works.  It associates feelings either of justification or condemnation with objects, activities, styles, etc.
          • One’s associations are sometimes but often not always the associations of others towards the same things
          • Love means taking this into consideration and doing what we can to not distract another believer from God; sometimes this is an issue that must be addressed rather than simply accommodated and we must use discernment
  1. Principle #3: The Matter of Justification
      • Romans 14:3– “Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.”
        • “Despise”—to treat as worthless, either by putting down or dismissing as unworthy of acknowledgment
        • Judge—to condemn, to determine someone else is sinning
        • Both despising and judging come as a result of projecting our opinions onto others; assuming they should associate in the same manner as we do
  • The solution is to rest in justification, that we each answer to God, not each other
  • Romans 14:4  “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.”
    • Stands—think of standing in confidence before God (multiple times in the NT the call is essentially “having done all to stand”)
    • Falling—thinking of falling in fear, doubt, uncertainty; perhaps falling away, receding, shrinking back
    • “God is able to make Him stand” (this is optimism based on truth)
      • A parallel to this phrase:  Phil. 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
  • 1 Corinthians 10:31-“Whether therefore you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God”
    • This is the goal of our choices
    • This must be the litmus test of what we do
      • Can I do this to the glory of God?
      • If I’m not sure I can do this to the glory of God, would this choice draw me away from giving God glory?
      • Given my social atmosphere, even if I feel confident, will this cause others to stumble? (This may at times only be known after a choice is made.  Would I stop if I was made aware that it caused another to stumble in glorifying God?)
      • Note that in all of this questioning, it’s not a matter of never causing offense. Living for the glory of God will cause offense. It’s whether that offense would draw away from God’s glory or whether the offense may give Him glory when appropriate (done in love and consideration), such as confronting sinful behavior.

Wrapping this all up, what is the basis for strength as a believer (to be the stronger brother)? Three suggestions:

  1. Confidence in justification comes from growing in our grasp of how salvation has affected our standing before God. (Paul’s confidence in Romans 8:31-39 summed up essentially says–“nothing can separate me from the love of God”–the book of Romans, from which Paul’s words come, is intended to help grow the reader in an understanding of salvation, its implications and its applications)

  2. Confidence comes from trusting God’s words more than trusting the opinions of ourselves or others.  

  3. Confidence comes from resting more in God’s acceptance of us than self-acceptance or the acceptance of others.

 

Prayer:

Father, as we face the truths of Your word, help us to consider their gravity for our lives. Help us to center ourselves under the Scriptures while many voices come and go. Help us to love one another, to be considerate, and to be obedient to You towards them. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thank you and God bless you today.

 

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional–“For Even His Brothers Did Not Believe in Him” (John 7:1-6)

 

Scripture Reading: John 7:1-6

 

Did Jesus ever have family problems? That question might sound a bit silly, but the answer is yes. Not that Jesus ever sinned, but Jesus was part of a rather large family by today’s standards and as we will see in John 7:5, even his own brothers did not believe in Him, at least during the time recorded in this passage.

One of the most interesting dynamics in the Scriptures is that holiness has a way of uncovering sinfulness. The negative treatment of Jesus, as severe as it got from the various parties involved, was because of the sin in them. As we go through today’s passage, we may actually be hearing words spoken from insecurity, jealousy, perhaps even a bit spiteful; tone is not necessarily conveyed in words on a page, but there are always tones embedded in the conversations of the Bible.

Starting at John 7:1, we read: “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him.” As large of a parenthesis as it was, John 6 fills in a time gap between chapters five and seven, when Jesus healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda and the fallout that ensued. Jesus Christ was on the move a lot, and never just a short jaunt around a local area. The region of Galilee was the site of His hometown, Nazareth, where His family lived. His visit was in timing with the coming Feast of Tabernacles.

Going through this Gospel, we can see that feasts came up on multiple occasions throughout the book, and when those feasts were at hand, Jesus would seek to be in Jerusalem. The Feast of Tabernacles was also known as Succoth (the name means huts) and comes from the call for feasts in Leviticus 23:33-44. It was one of three pilgrimage festivals, and knowing this should help understand why Christ and others would need to be in Jerusalem for a feast. Even Paul would mention hoping to make it to Jerusalem for feasts in the book of Acts. The Jews at this eight day celebration would remember the days of being led in the wilderness and living in temporary dwellings on their way to the Promised Land. This festival forms the backdrop of the conversation with Jesus’ brothers.

“His brothers therefore said to Him, ‘Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing.’” There are perhaps three directions that we can go with the words of Jesus’ brothers to him: they are either hoping to thrust Him to the forefront, they are hoping to trip Him up, or they would just like him to leave from their presence. The crux of all of their words will be summed up in v. 5, that they did not believe in Him. If they did not believe in Him, why would they support His promotion? There is an eerie tinge to their proposal, reminiscent of Satan’s words in the temptation in the wilderness. As Satan would repeat, “If You are the Son of God,” the temptations were each meant to have Jesus prove Himself in the three challenges suggested but ultimately to fall from obedience. The parallel is found in pressuring Jesus to do something that was out of its time by being outside of God’s will for the moment. 

“For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world. If Jesus wanted to be known, he’d have to go public, at least in their suggestion. What did they think He was doing all of this time? We’ll find that He did go, but not because of their pressure. It’s hard to know whether they were aware of the hostility Jesus faced in Judea (John 6), but He tells them of being hated in verse 7. If they did know what could happen, then these words of encouragement become questionable as more of a plot to diminish Jesus. More than likely, they never would have wanted Him to die. The envy of the brothers of Joseph found in Genesis 37 is called to mind in reading this passage. Regardless as to their ultimate intentions, we should keep in mind that the potential for betrayal existed even with Jesus’ own brothers. His interactions with them in His ministry were relatively few but not necessarily positive.

“For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” What a strange summary to the things they said. “Make yourself known!” is highlighted by disbelief. There was a motive behind these words, and the verses are trying to reveal that. This is a great place to insert Luke 4:24:
“Then He said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.'”

The four brothers of Jesus are mentioned in Matthew 13:55:  “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?” Matthew 13:56 tells us that he had sisters, too, though they are not named or counted. At the least, Jesus came from a family with four other brothers and two sisters, seven children in total. This closeness very well caused them all to stumble, familiarity shaping how they related to Jesus.

We need to remember that Jesus grew up in a family of sinners, even though He wasn’t one Himself. His mother, often elevated to a status of pure perfection and worshiped in the Catholic church as “Mary, Mother of God”, was a sinner, too, who needed salvation by faith in the Son that she at one time carried. His siblings, who were conceived by Joseph and Mary, did not have miraculous origins of a virgin birth.

Surely, we might suppose, the family of Jesus must have a leg up on heaven, right? James and Jude are historically attributed with writing two of the New Testament letters. James would write in his rather brief letter that “faith without works is dead” and explained that further in the latter part of James 2.

Jude would write in Jude 3-4, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Neither of these two brothers assumed righteousness; they affirmed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as a necessary prerequisite to eternal life. Something had changed in how they viewed Jesus some time beyond the disbelief recorded in John 7.

Finally, another instance of Jesus and his siblings is found in Mark 3:31-35: “Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” Jesus drew a distinction between His earthly family and His spiritual family. His loyalty was to the Father’s will above all else, and despite their closeness, He would not abandon His ministry for anyone.  

John 1:10-13 says, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Just a few applications to be made today:

1. We must keep your priorities in check. Who are we trying to please? Is it God, or someone else?

2. Pray for loved ones that may not believe. Live a life of faith before them, and as opportunities arise, have those necessary conversations.

3. Wait on the Lord. You never know when someone who has no interest today in Christ may change their course. Be confident in God’s power to save.

Prayer from Pastor Sam:

Lord, help us to keep our eyes on You. Grant us wisdom and grace today, and guide us in the choices we make. Help us to evaluate our priorities and to live for You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional–Following in Faith (John 6:60-71)

Scripture Reading:  John 6:60-71

As the crowds would begin to depart, Jesus would turn to His disciples and give them an opportunity as well. “Do you also want to go away?” might strike us as a bit of a strange question, since they’d now been with Him for a  while, well before the whole event of the feeding of the five thousand occurred.

Why would He ask such a question? John 6:60-61 indicates where their hearts were before the mass exodus: “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’ When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’” The word for “offend” implies shock or anger; it comes from the Greek word skandalizo, in which we derive the word scandalous. We must remember that though the disciples followed Jesus, there were sayings of His that were hard for them as well. The dividing line of this difficulty for His disciples, as well as every person who claims they are a follower of Christ, is whether or not there will be persistence in following Him or deviation on account of confusion or disagreement.

What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? If all of this was hard to take, certainly it would be hard for them to fathom that Christ would die, resurrect, and not much later ascend back into Heaven as it records in Acts 1. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” What Jesus is connecting here is that these words that He speaks are spiritually discerned, though the words are naturally observed by all who hear. He has spoken many things already, difficult as they were, to the Jews and to His own disciples who heard the same things. Jesus equates these words of His both to spirit and to life; they tell the truth and if heard for what they are, are perceived through the work of the Holy Spirit.

No one can perceive what Christ says in a deep sense of understanding and security without the Holy Spirit’s enabling; it is the Spirit of God who confirms truth to the heart (see Romans 8:16). Consider, therefore, that without such confirmation the reading of Scripture and the hearing of the word of God is an entirely different experience for those devoid of His presence. There will always be some degree of uncertainty in examining the Bible without the supernatural act of God reverberating the veracity of His word within the heart of the regenerate.

“‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.” The word know will come up so often in the Gospel of John that we may be prone to overlook it for as much as it shows up. Jesus inherently knew who those who did not believe, and Judas Iscariot was always one of those people (His allusion to Judas is displayed in both v. 64 and v. 71). We might be tempted to think that He would not choose a disciple that He knew was not drawn by the Father, lacking belief, but it was not lost on Him.

What can we learn from the selection of Judas Iscariot as a disciple? Even those who have had immense closeness with Christ, seeing a multitude of works done by the power of the Holy Spirit and hearing words spoken with the authority that comes from Heaven, are still just as capable of disbelief despite all that is seen. There is not a person on this planet today, no matter how well read they are in Scripture, who has seen as much evidence for Jesus being the Messiah, the Son of God, as those who lived and ministered with Him. They saw the impossible being done and they saw a Man full of grace and truth, who handled Scripture like no one else. The only beings that have seen more of God than those who lived day to day with Jesus Christ were the angels, and even some of them would not maintain their obedience despite their witness of His glory.

Without God working in the heart, there is no amount of evidence that will ever win a person over to Him; arguments and logic may be how God engages certain types, but the desire for Christ can only come from the activity of God. “And He said, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’” It gets very hard to deny this necessary precondition to faith the further we listen to the words of Christ; ignorance is one thing, but when it does become clear as to what He is saying, rejecting certain teachings often takes place to maintain harmony with others we respect or to avoid inconsistencies in how we have learned to interpret Scripture. The foundation of faith according to this verse is that the Father must first grant the ability to come to Christ before that will ever truly take place. No matter how free the offer of the gospel is, the chasm separating man from believing in God can only be spanned by the Father’s will; no one truly believes until God gets a hold of their heart.

“From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” A disciple is a follower, a pupil, a student, a learner from and of a particular teacher. It does not imply that a person is convinced of what they learn that they should follow another person. Belief is not ingrained in the meaning of discipleship; if one believes, they must by nature follow, but if one follows, it does not necessarily translate into belief. In reality, people are often followers of Jesus before they are ever believers, and that is far more appropriate than the paradigm of conversion and discipleship thereafter. The disciples of this passage, also appropriately labeled “followers,” followed no more. Therefore, they were no longer disciples; we ought to be wary in our discernment that the Scriptures never did imply that they believed, but that they listened to Christ for a season.

“Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’” Sometimes the proving of an individual isn’t so much in doing what we can to keep them, but seeing what it would take to get them to walk away. Those who are committed to Christ will have difficulties in this life, but they will also have a difficulty in defecting despite their hardships. This is not a reflection of the character inherent to them; they are acting in alignment to a new nature and the Holy Spirit of God who has made His home within them. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10:

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 

A Spirit-indwelt believer cannot depart from God without taking Him with them, and because of this, find that there is often a wrestling within that occurs should they deviate from obedience. If they were of one accord within, a desire to disobey and a slavery still to sin, they would succeed in defecting. The pressures of life and the hardness at times of following Christ reveal the excellence of the power of God in keeping His own until the day of glorification.

“But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Peter’s verbal testimony came from the Holy Spirit’s testimony within him. He recognized that there was no other place that he could go, no matter how hard it might get. We know that when Christ would be betrayed, it would be Peter who would deny Him three times, and after Jesus’ resurrection would attempt to go back to a life of fishing but to no avail. God would not let him succeed in resuming the life God had called him out of. God, in His grace, gave Peter confidence that Jesus was the Son of God and in this confidence He would confess that Jesus was both the Messiah and the Son of God.

“Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.” It is likely that Jesus says this in response to Peter because Peter had assumed that all of those close disciples of Jesus were all believers. “To whom shall we go…we have come to believe and know…” The truth was, when Peter said “we,” he had declared an assumption that because of their close association to Christ there was spiritual life in them all. Proximity to God is not the same as spiritual life.

Don’t we run into this same problem today? Just because we go to church and claim Christ does not mean we are believers in our heart of hearts; it means to our peers that we are followers, but God knows our hearts. If anyone places their faith in anything outside of Jesus, including attending church, knowing Scripture, giving or sacrificing in any fashion, or even believing in their own sincerity, they are yet to be saved. Spiritual life starts with faith in Christ alone.

The spiritual barrier of New Testament times has not disappeared; pray that God would help us to discern our own hearts and to carefully examine His word, making sure that what we tell others is in line with the intentions of God’s word. Pray that we would be marked by discernment.

Prayer:

Lord, grant that we walk circumspectly, attendant both to ourselves and to the souls of those around us. Guide our minds to thoughts of You and fill our hearts with a praise for Your glory. Give us a joy in You and flush out the selfishness and self-seeking to which our hearts are so easily given. Help us in discerning ourselves before You in light of Your word. Lay hold of us in the depths of our souls that we might be lovers of You and not merely people who look the part. Lord, we need wisdom tremendously in these days, so please give us wisdom in accordance with Your grace. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional – Unless the Father Draws Them (John 6:31-59)

 

Scripture Reading:  John 6:31-59

There is a hardness at times to the recorded conversations of Jesus. His sayings are sometimes difficult for at least two reasons, the first being the hardship for His audience of discerning His message and the second being that they are difficult to digest even when understood.  Make no doubt about it that there are teachings from the Bible that even many Christians still have a difficult time accepting. 

One of the themes of Jesus’ conversations through John’s Gospel account is the inability of man to perceive heavenly things without being spiritually enabled. It’s as if Jesus was “throwing out a bone” with His statements that only the Holy Spirit could pick up on were He present in or impressing upon the listening party. Being born again, partaking of living water, and feasting upon the Bread come down from Heaven are all concepts that function as stumbling blocks unless and until those hang-ups are removed within the individuals.  It has little to do with the difficulty of His sayings and everything to do with the ability on their parts to perceive the spiritual nature of what He is saying. 

Verses 31-33 compare Jesus with the manna provided to the Israelites in the wilderness. The people, in completing their thought of “What sign or work will you do that we may believe?” from v. 30 have now associated a continual provision of physical needs as the necessary grounds for their belief in Christ. What we are seeing here is their stipulation of belief, conditions being laid down for a sufficient foundation to respond to in faith. That humans decide what God ought to do to woo them and win their faith is not how God operates, but when disbelief is present, people often like to try handing Him the rules as they see them. 

Whether or not we could see it when we became aware of the story of the Israelites being fed manna in the wilderness back in Exodus 16, there was a foreshadowing to Christ in the manna that became apparent when He related to Himself as the Bread which had come down from Heaven. This whole conversation would keep hammering upon the picture of His identity as the Bread of Life, the resource that they needed for fullness and true spiritual fulfillment. 

Just as the Samaritan woman in John 4:15 would say, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw,” the people would respond to Jesus’ statement in v. 33 with their response in v. 34, “Lord, give us this bread always.” The difference in the scenario of the latter part of John 6 is that the people didn’t end up believing and flocking to Him as did those in Samaria; they departed from Him to follow Him no more (John 6:66). 

C.H. Spurgeon, the great English preacher of the 1800’s, was quoted as saying, “The same sun which melts the wax hardens the clay. And the same gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.” We will soon see even in John 6 that the positive response of any person to the gospel has everything to do with their eternal predestination by the Father (Romans 8:30). This is not to say that God has predestined some to glory and some to damnation; rather, it is to say that all people would move to their own destruction were God not show mercy to any of them in His elective purposes.

The term “hardening,” which Romans 9:14-18 discusses, is the result of a lack of God’s determined intervention in a person’s life (think of His mercy as restraint or prevention, a blocking off of a certain path). When God hardened Pharoah’s heart (see specifically Exodus 7-13), He set up the circumstances to be persistently adverse towards the Egyptians and yet left Pharoah’s heart unrestrained, thus causing a hardening towards God and His people.

Each of the plagues should have brought about humility and brokenness, but what actually came forth was a great unwillingness to yield to God despite the unprecedented calamity that obviously came from God and not chance circumstances. These concepts certainly apply to the passage of John 6 in the people seeing unprecedented miracles only to feel that the grounds for belief were insufficient.

Moving on, notice that Jesus’ response to their continued desire for bread begins with the words, “I am.” They completely missed Him as the focal point of His words; He wasn’t unclear in distinguishing Himself from food, but they were not listening. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.” They were not convinced that He was the solution to their problems but perhaps at best the carrier of the solution to their problems. 

The miraculous signs of Jesus ironically were not the real fix people needed; being fixed temporally by way of a miracle was meant to shine the light on a deeper spiritual need and a perfect solution to that need in Jesus Christ Himself. As this conversation further develops, we may begin recognizing that Christ doesn’t make the sayings easier, but harder. He doesn’t back down from making further statements that keep reiterating the same point: He is the Bread of Heaven come down from the Father who brings eternal life to those who accept Him. Though they would emotionally spiral, He would not give way to their perplexity.

Where then was the tripping point? When Jesus declared Himself to be what they truly needed, rather than further physical blessings, they “complained about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ And they said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven ‘?’” We see then that the greatest problem they have with His offer is that they see Him as merely a man like them, having earthly parents in Mary and Joseph; likely, therefore, they believed that Joseph was the father of Jesus, a child of scandalous origin rather than the Holy Son of God born of a virgin. Who was He to make Himself out to be from Heaven? They saw Him as gifted, but not necessarily The Gift of God.

If we watch the crowd that Jesus speaks to, we will notice a downward progression taking place: imploring (6:34), complaining (6:41), and quarreling (6:52). Eventually v. 66 would be the culmination of their emotional response by desertion. The reason for this departure, despite numerous healings and an immense feast drawn from only five loaves of bread and two fish the previous day, is embedded in Christ’s words in vv. 44-45:

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” 

We will focus on three words from v. 44: can, unless, and draws. “Can” speaks to ability or capability; it comes from the Greek word dunamis, which is where the modern word “dynamite” comes from. It is speaking of power; dynamite has the power to move rock and earth, but the drawing power of God has the power to move people to repentance and faith. 

Secondly, we will look at the word unless. In the Greek, it generally comes across under two words, “if not” which we translate as “unless.” The word “unless” is a condition of regeneration: no one can come to God unless God pulls them in to Him, like a magnet attracting metal. Jesus said this to a group of people who stood around Him, confounded as to why He wouldn’t give them what they wanted and how He could say that He was from Heaven or that He was that Bread. It was as if He were speaking behind a glass wall; they could see Him but they couldn’t receive Him without the work of God in their hearts.

Finally, the word “draws” (Greek “helko”) is a dragging motion. It might be easiest to think of a bucket drawing water from a well, or a magnet attracting metal to itself. It is often an offensive idea to many people even in the church to think that they would have to be “dragged” into following Jesus. We should recognize the idea of being pulled by attraction into Christ is an act of mercy, not an act of belittlement.

James 1:14 may help shed some light on the idea of being pulled by attraction to Jesus when James speaks about the issue of temptation: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” The temptation to sin and an attraction to Christ share some similarity in that the deep desires within us are enticed to pursue what we think is in our best interest at any given point in time.

If you’ve ever heard the Calvinistic term “irresistible grace,” the phrase is not referring to some kind of choice against one’s will to embrace the grace of God; rather, as God causes us to see the beauty of Christ beside the ugliness of our own sin, we are moved to choose what seems best to us. In that moment, we have been enabled to see clearly and to pick in alignment with this perception.

Should the Father choose not to remove the “blinders,” every person when left to themselves will pick what seems best to them, and Christ will never make sense as the best choice. The idea of submission to God never leaves a good taste in our mouths because of sin, not because it isn’t good. As Jesus said, though, no one can come to Him unless the Father draws Him; we must never forget this statement in ministering to a child or an adult, whether they be family or a complete stranger.

Now, without an inclination to see Christ as the Bread of Life, all any person will see Him as is a conundrum as it relates to their felt needs. This is exactly what takes place in this group; nevertheless, Jesus speaks the most difficult words as His last authoritative words to them: 

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven– not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.’”

At this point of the passage, either Jesus is recommending the cannibalism of His own body to His audience or He is referring to spiritually partaking of Him as the fulfillment of their needs.. We as believers know that He is not advocating cannibalism, but they could no longer bear the difficulty of His sayings. Why would He speak like this? It seems so counter-intuitive to winning people over in evangelism. The Lord knew their hearts and He knew that all that the Father had given to Him would come to Him, no less and no more. The more intense the words and the calling, the more the process of spiritual filtration would inevitably occur. 

If someone offers health, wealth, and prosperity, there is no question a large crowd will form; were they to offer pain, oppression and uncertainty as a result of following, the crowd would certainly thin out. Jesus spoke as He did because even if He spoke to them as to children, it would not have pierced their hearts. The signs were obvious and yet all we continue to read about in this passage is a hardening of hearts in response to blessings. 

The Christian life is full of difficulty along the path to glory and we will see many people rise and fall over the course of a lifetime in following Jesus, and that’s got to be one of the hardest parts of the path. Eager interest in Christ today may wane into apathy and rejection tomorrow if not for the steadying hand of God in a person’s life.

Is our attraction primarily to Jesus, to the removal of the negatives (mercy) or the addition of the positives (grace)? Followers of lesser things than Christ will not endure in their journey if the only thing keeping them close to God is blessing or ease. One of the greatest things about following Jesus is that He will go with us through the ups and downs of life, and though difficulties arise and moments of despair attend our way, the anchor of Jesus Christ will hold us fast in the billowing waves. Sadly for many, that’s not the offer they’re looking for.

We need to remember today that God loves us, that He is working out an eternal plan, and He is guiding every one of His children towards glorification. Speak truth to your heart, not emotional interpretations of your circumstances, whether they be healthy or poor. Finally, remember that effectual ministry is built upon the work of God and not merely the winsomeness of man; our ministering in particular ways is God-designed, but there is no hope of any heart-change outside of the work of God in His timing.

God’s blessings upon you today.

Prayer:

Lord, please give us wisdom as Your people to handle ourselves the way You want us to. Help us to be loyal to You and guide the decisions that we make during the times we are in. We thank you for those who have served this country and given their lives for our freedoms and pray also for their families. God, we pray for our country and our world, that there would be repentance and a turning to You. Magnify Your Son today and shine the light upon the gospel message. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Devotional–Video of Dr. Ravi Zacharias

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Dr. Ravi Zacharias passed away this week on Tuesday, May 19th. He passed after a battle with cancer. You may have been exposed to his teachings; he was a Christian apologist that was very intriguing. I myself have enjoyed listening to Ravi over the years and came upon his lectures and sermons as a teenager . His talks have been broadcast all over the world for quite a while, so if you’ve listened to Christian radio in the past, it’s very possible that you’ve heard him, too. His messages have always been engaging and timely. The church at large has been greatly blessed by his ministry (RZIM) and I’m sure that many came to Christ through his insightful handling of the truth in many intellectually hostile venues. He did not waver on preaching the gospel message of salvation by grace through faith; it was where his messages led. If you think of it, pray for his family and close friends in their grief mingled with joy in the truth. Every time a key Bible teaching figure passes away, my first thought is always that they are now fully realizing and experience what they’ve been teaching over the years, and I await that day as well. If you’ve placed your faith in Christ, I hope you do, too.

 

 

Prayer from Pastor Sam:

Lord, thank you for the truth of Your word and the gift that it is. I pray that many more people would rise up proclaiming the truths of your word unashamedly and with great conviction. Pierce the darkness with the light of Your love and use your servants as You see fit in any fashion You choose. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thank you and have a blessed day.

 

 

Devotional: What Will it Take? John 6:22-30

Scripture:  John 6:22-30

The day after the feeding of the 5,000 and the windy night at sea is followed with a change in the relationship of the crowd to Jesus. He had sent them away the day before; we see here that they came back initially to where He had been, hoping to continue on with what had happened on the previous day.

“When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.” The term for seeking is not all that informative at face value (“to look for”) but the usage here implies that the group was seeking what they thought they had possessed and now had lost (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks). What does this imply but that they hoped in a sense to keep Jesus to their benefit, having laid claim to Him. It is like having a friendship for the perks but not necessarily because of the friend; no one wants friends only for what they can get out of them, but there are plenty of people who seek friendships for this end and there are people who think that others would only like them for what they have. The relationship Jesus offers is not simply about blessings and eternal life; we have to realize that the greatest gift He offers in salvation is Himself. Unfortunately, the gears often started turning in people’s minds at the miracles of Christ, some seeing Him as a golden ticket to a better life.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” Jesus’ response to their inquiry about when He came touches upon the word seek again. They did not seek Him because of seeing Him for who He was; they sought Him because of their experience of being fed and the great possibilities of what more He could do for them. They did not see the feeding as a sign but as a luxury. His reference to the bread in v. 27 will reflect His offer to the Samaritan woman of living water. “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” Laboring for food which perishes means that their mindset was on the temporal, not the eternal. Their desires were earthly desires, and their will for Him was bound to fleeting lives in this world. 

In the Old Testament passage of Deuteronomy 10:8-9, it says that “at that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to Him and to bless in His name, to this day. Therefore Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God promised him.” Compared to the other tribes that got their portions of land, it may seem to the reader that the Levites got the “short end of the stick.” Didn’t all of the tribes have some access to God? The call to minister to the nation of Israel on the part of the Levites was an incredible inheritance; they got a closeness with God others would not get because of their roles. In similar fashion, it is not hard to imagine many, many people struggling if they found Heaven to be summed up in accessibility to God rather than the typical portrayal of a better, pain free life with no end in sight. Sadly, what we often are looking forward to as Christians is secondary to what we already have in our access to God through His Son.

“Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” This statement is reminiscent of another comment made in the book of Acts by Simon found in Acts 8:17-19:

“Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’”

The people were asking for the power to do the works similar to what they had seen Jesus do. What do we need to do to make bread and fish multiply like You did? What do we need to do to be able to heal others like You, Jesus? Just a thought: if Heaven could be had but God was erased from it, how many people would still want it? They were missing the point, that it wasn’t about an ability to do miracles, but that miracles were meant to highlight the Savior. Belief in Him, not the power to do what He did, would have been the appropriate response. The desire to do the works of God themselves apart from Him shows us how much they actually followed Jesus, or rather, followed His power.

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’” The work of God was defined by the people as the miraculous abilities they saw in Jesus. Jesus says that the miraculous work in them essentially would be belief, something spiritually dead people are incapable of doing apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. It still is the work of God when a person places their faith in Christ even now.

The last verse that we’ll look at today is the saddest indictment of the hearts of the people in this passage: “Therefore they said to Him, ‘What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do?’” This statement is like a flood light shining upon their blindness. He had healed many sick among them; He had fed 5,000 if not more (whether women and children were included in that number); the baskets were filled far beyond their needs and He had shown them great compassion. Despite these miracles, they still asked what He would do for them to believe in Him. 

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, the passage concludes with the rich man being convinced that if Lazarus were to be made alive again, certainly the rich man’s family would believe and would avoid such a terrible end themselves. A person rising from the grave would cause people to believe, right? The passage concludes in vv. 29-31, “Abraham said to him,`They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said,`No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him,`If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'”

In referring to “Moses and the prophets,” Abraham is speaking of the Old Testament. The fact of the matter is, no one will believe in Jesus even if the most amazing miracles have happened, nor will they believe the Bible itself, unless God should work in their hearts. We fail to see so often how reliant we truly are upon the work of God to cause change in others or ourselves. It is no accident that the Bible records both those moments of faith and those places where we as readers wonder how on earth someone could not believe in Him with what He had done. People are not at the mercy of their free will, but the mercy of their mastery, and if slaves of sin, the slavery must be seen for what it is as the Lord comes calling with His offer of life. What more could Jesus do what with all He had done? Aside from the work of God, there is no amount of information or provision that will bring a person around. 

It’s sad that a day of amazing blessings would pan into a following day of disbelief, but that is exactly where this passage is going. We will see the crowd clear out so much that Jesus will even ask His own disciples whether they want to leave, too. This passage leaves us having to face our own soul examination. Do we want Jesus or just the things of Jesus? Do we relate to Christ as followers or as freeloaders who could toss Him to the side? There is no other way to get behind Jesus than to follow Him as Lord. There is nothing more for Him to do than what has already been done. If the love of God in sending His Son to die on the cross and offer life isn’t enough for us to believe in God’s love, nothing else will do.

 

Prayer from Pastor Sam:

Lord, thank You for the access you give us to You. Thank You for the Holy Spirit, who guides us into truth, convicts us of our sin, and leads us in the paths You have laid out for us. Thank You for Jesus and for the death He died on the cross in our place. Thank You for the gospel, offered freely and fully to us. Give us wisdom in the decisions we make today as we seek to honor You and draw us back in Your time should we wander. I pray that the people would keep your word close to their hearts. Thank You, Lord for all of the blessings we lay claim to today, whether it’s the possessions You’ve granted us or the promises You’ve given to us. I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.