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.

Devotional – At Whose Mercy? John 6:16-21

Scripture:  John 6:16-21

It is important to remember when we read the various Gospel accounts that they are each equally inspired by God but at the same time present the perspective of the individual author on the accounts of Jesus. The authors have different backgrounds, different emphases, and at times will seem to move forward and skip significant details that other Gospel accounts address. This is good, because it reinforces that the accounts are different and not merely four copies of the same narrative. While they don’t address all accounts the same way, all Gospels corroborate on the life of Jesus and the truths concerning Him.

Aside from Luke, who does not speak of this night on the sea, Matthew, Mark and Luke mention in varied detail the night, no one saying that a storm was blowing, but simply that it became very windy. John’s account gives the least detail, Mark builds upon that, and Matthew gives the fullest account. Mark 6:46 says, “And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray.” Matthew 14:23 will say essentially the same thing. Jesus got alone to pray, even more alone than He was when He departed with His disciples to the deserted location. 

Rather than seek to harmonize all accounts, we will focus on the Gospel of John and ask why John would be so concise. Looking at the whole of John 6, the emphasis is mostly on Jesus and the crowd that He showed compassion to. John provides us with more of a bridge between the healing and feeding of the large crowd and their return to Him the next day for more healing and more food (and their eventual departure from Jesus). They had concluded He was the Prophet, but they did not believe on Him. Clearly, salvation is not simply based upon acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the Lord; it is entrusting one’s self to Him and not just identifying Him.

“And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.”  Matthew 14:22 will further explain that Jesus sent them ahead of Him to meet up with them, but the consistency of the passages shows that He intended to go before the Father in prayer. From all the writings, it does not seem that the disciples were expecting Him or that they were waiting for Him; they set out to go back and meet Him when He came over. 

“Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.” Late in the dark hours of the night, probably tired and weary not only from rowing but also from an eventful day with a multitude of people, the wind began to blow, something they had no control over. While it probably would be different today with technology, there really wasn’t a way for them to greatly foresee the strong winds coming. They got in the boat and they intended to get back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The word for “great” refers to intensity; this wind was fierce. 

What does this night portray but men made vulnerable for many reasons who had little if any control. The crux is whose mercy were they reliant upon. The initial inclination would be that they were at the mercy of nature (the wind, the sea, the dark, their own weariness).  This lack of control would compound with another unfolding: the Lord walking on the water within their view. So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.” There were many reasons to be afraid, though there were fishermen on this boat who had probably had seen their fair share of storms and darkness on the water. Mark 6:49 says that they thought Jesus was a ghost; clearly none of them were materialists at that moment, saying there was no such thing as ghosts. They all felt great fear.

“But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Jesus identified Himself in the midst of strong wind and darkness while walking on the sea that was so upset. What is likely being pictured here? The fact is, He is not subject to any of it, and that’s the point. He was not subject to darkness as He just walked on the sea and came right to where His disciples were. He was not subject to the sea itself, calm or tempestuous, but walked upon it as Master of it. He was not bound by nature; He was Lord of nature. He was not at the mercy of nature like His disciples

There is a big lesson to be learned here: we are not at the mercy of circumstances; we are at the mercy of God. We are not at the mercy of a pandemic or our government or time or money; we are at the mercy of the Lord. While any element out there can put great pressure upon us, it is God who actually holds all created things in check. He can calm any wind, any person, any vulnerability, any unrest inside of us at any moment He so desires. When the winds blow and the night is dark, or when we find ourselves a bit lost with knowing what to do, it is the Lord who is controlling the chaos. Fear often accompanies a desire for control. Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-7, Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Taking our concerns and placing them in God’s hands is the path to peace and the taming of anxiety according to these verses. We are at His mercy every day and this is why it should make most sense to cast ourselves at His mercy in seeking His aid.

“Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.” A tumultuous ride was brought to a calm in an instant; Jesus was in the boat now with them, the wind ceased at His presence, and they quickly got to where they were going. Where were they going? A physical destination, yes, but they were going where He wanted them to go. You see, we don’t know where God is trying to take us, and He uses all sorts of good and “bad” to bring us to where He wants us. In fact, we can’t get to where He’s taking us without the course that He’s laid out for us. It doesn’t mean that He delights in pain or fear, but what He delights in more than anything is what He produces within us through all the ups and downs. We are at His mercy; nature, people, systems, etc. are never the ones truly in control, but at times winds and darkness are allowed to help put us exactly where God wants us and how He wants us to be when we get there. 

David says in Psalm 27:13-14, I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!” The hope of every believer still rests in waiting on the Lord, mounting up in confidence upon the belief in His sovereignty and providence over whatever we may face. No, we shouldn’t check out, but we also should never believe that the results ultimately ever rest in our hands. God is in control and He is growing us to trust Him more, because strong faith isn’t developed in an instant, but through a lifetime of moments of trust that He brings us to and brings us through.

Prayer from Pastor Sam:

Father, help us to trust You. Help us to rest today in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross and to glory once again in the justification we have before You as believers by faith in Jesus Christ. Lord, the news is ever developing but You are in control of all people and circumstances. Help us to be people that recognize Your mercy as our greatest need whatever may continue to transpire. Lord, keep us close to You and dependent upon You. Glorify Yourself today. Help us in giving our allegiance most to You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

Parallel passages:

Mark 6:45-53 NKJV

Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there.

Matthew 14:22-34 NKJV

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret.

Devotional – Source of Our Needs

Scripture:  John 6:1-15

The Bible tells us many things about Jesus, but there never does seem to be any account of Him being surprised. The more we will go through the Gospel of John and watch Jesus, the content actually seems to strongly support that He knew always what He was doing and what would transpire. 

It would really be best to start the passage on the feeding of the 5,000 with the conclusive statement of the immediate scenario in verse 15: “Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” Perhaps the most interesting part of many of the accounts of Jesus is how a particular scene wraps up or what causes Him to move on. Verse 15 is not the end of his interaction with the people that He fed, but it is the end of “Scene 1”; they will come to find Him again starting in John 6:22 and He will speak to them until v. 66. We must recognize that while the feeding of the 5,000 is a beautiful Bible story, it grows in being tainted with disbelief the further we get.

In backtracking to John 6:1, we recognize that He left Jerusalem sequentially after healing the man on the Sabbath and responding to those up in arms over His “breaking” of the Sabbath in John 5. The synoptic Gospels can throw us off sometimes if we don’t harmonize the various texts, so the best passage to show a further parallel would be in Mathew 14:1-17 that will lead right into the five loaves and two fish:

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.” And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus. 

When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.”

Matthew 14:13 says that when Jesus heard about His cousin John the Baptist, whom He loved very much and thought very highly of, He left by boat to go to a deserted place. Why did He get away? Most likely it was grief. Nevertheless, with the crowd following Him, He didn’t turn inward but saw them and felt compassion. Food for thought: a heavy heart may rebound best by serving others. Often the inclination we feel most in heartache is to isolate, but it is in loving others and serving their needs that we may find medicine for our souls.

“Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.” In Matthew 14:14, it says that He “healed their sick.” Whether it was the advantage drawn from His miracles or watching those miracles happen, Jesus had a big calling card that more and more people became aware of over the course of His ministry years. Given the benefit of His works, it is more likely the former (being healed or having a loved one healed) that drew them to Him. Let me say once again in the midst of reflecting upon this passage that His grief over John the Baptist may have been part of the reason for His incredible generosity on this particular day.  Despite His pain, He saw people and felt compassion for their needs. 

Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.” Passover is highlighted at least three different times in the Gospel of John for three different occasions (2:13, 6:4, 11:55). It is of great interest that Jesus felt compelled to feed the people who came to Him; it’s one thing for Him to heal their sick, but another that He would desire to feed them

“Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” The BDAG Greek lexicon defines “testing” as used here in this way: “to endeavor to discover the nature or character of something by testing” (Bibleworks). Vv. 7-9 go on to say, “Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” The nature of this event is multifaceted: compassion for the crowd, generosity, testing of the disciples’ faith, and a proving of the hearts of the crowd at large later on.

“Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.” Most of us are familiar with this part of the passage, as it is typically the children’s story book portion of John 6:1-15. I would draw our attention to “as much as they wanted.” Every person had as much as they wanted of the bread and fish and the source of their fulfillment was not food, but the Distributor of the food that made it turn into more than enough. The disciples most likely were as astonished in handing out the food as the people receiving it. Much like the Samaritan woman’s story in John 4, Jesus showed Himself again as the Fulfillment of need, the Bread of Life. What the people needed was Him, not simply the food or the healings.

Verses 12 and 13 show that He didn’t just give enough; He gave in abundance of need, far beyond what they needed but in accordance with His desire. “So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.’ Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.” There would be no mistaking that this was a miracle when everyone ate to their desire and there were twelve basketfuls left over. God Himself gives to each of us not necessarily in accordance with our felt wants or even our perceived needs, but in correlation to His desire to bless. He can bless as He sees fit and He is never wrong for the gifts He gives, though they may vary from person to person. Every gift also has a way of affecting the recipient, whether it’s postponed, given in small amounts, comes differently than how we would have seen it, or comes in mighty abundance. Gifts in part should be understood by the outcome they produce in the recipient and the glory they give to God.

Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” What do we do with the gifts of God? Many people interpret the reasoning for God giving them something, or begin to foster a heart of entitlement rather than gratitude. If we got everything we wanted, we would abuse our relationship with God and we’d only keep Him close for the benefits. When this group concluded Jesus was the Prophet, the Messiah, they immediately wanted to bring to pass something that was not in God’s timing. Jesus wasn’t ready to be made King; He was simply ready to show compassion, and He did. Sadly, rather than recognize Him as Messiah and seek submission to Him, they intended to take Him by force to make Him king. He didn’t need people to take Him by force to make Him king; He would do that Himself.

We need Jesus, period. The gifts He gives, the healing He provides to our brokenness, the comfort and hope He supplies are all wonderful blessings, but nothing can top having access to Him. The Gospel of John repeatedly makes it clear that Jesus is always the Source of everything we could ever need. Don’t get sidetracked with desire for blessings so much that you lose sight of the Savior.

Prayer from Pastor Sam:

Father, give us compassion for others in their burdens. Help us never to negate their need of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ in our care for them. Grant strength to those who are tending to the needs of others today. Move many people to cry out to You today for mercy and to find You in Your word. Give us a passion for Your glory again today I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

What Did You Expect? – John 5:19-47

Scripture:  John 5:19-47

In C.S. Lewis’ book God on the Dock, he wrote: “Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable…If you think of this world as a place intended simply for happiness, you find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.” (Lewis, C. S., and Walter Hooper. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Eerdmans, 1970), p 41.

God has established in His word that man does not see as God sees (1 Samuel 16:7); to further the complexity, man does not see God as God clearly and fully sees Himself. Man’s perceptions of God often create very wrong expectations of Who God is, what God wants, what God values, and what God rewards (for starters). Were God to come in the flesh, and He did, He would be hard to accept as God for all that people entertain God to be, and He was. God, and more specifically the Son of God, was never the problem; sinners with unrealistic expectations and demands have been the problem since sin came into this world.

There is very little about the entire story-line of Jesus’ life on this earth, from birth to death and resurrection, that lines up with how people think the Messiah should have come, should have looked, should have handled Himself, and should have taken charge. Right now, we are all still very prone to hold God to ungodly and unrealistic expectations, holding back on Him when we feel unloved, rejoicing in Him all too often only when we feel pleased to do so. We want His help every moment of every day and we find little if any time to listen to Him or to talk with Him. We want grace but we are prone to thinking we deserve better in this life. 

In Jesus’ day, He would face opposition numerous times and His identity would be questioned time and time again. In following the wonderful, gracious miracle of healing the lame man on the Sabbath, all that the majority of outspoken people in the vicinity could think of was how audacious it was that someone would work on the Sabbath. They didn’t just disapprove, though; John confirms that they wanted to kill Jesus on account of healing on the Sabbath and secondly for claiming God was His Father.

A man laid sick for thirty-eight years and the first inclination of his fellow Jews was murder. This should sound ridiculous to us, because it is ridiculous. Not only were their additional laws a complete failure of reason, they had just proven that God had no place within the righteousness they were trying to attain. They had made the rules, they had set the rewards, and they would determine the worth of a person to inherit eternal life.

Jesus had the absolute right to tell someone to be well. The lame man now healed would not have been getting up and thinking first of the many ways “work” was defined; he would have gladly carried his bed home. Then again, what if a bed was all that he had?

One of the greatest problems that was left out in the uproar was that the rules of the Jews gave them with no place for love. They were not concerned with the man or his interests, but that his actions defiled how they thought a Sabbath should be kept. For Christians, the issue is whether we designate our love to others or to our ideals. Over the years, there have been many individuals and families that have entered into churches never to be seen again for an unkind word, a dirty look, or the most common failure, which is for them to visit without ever being approached. Sure, there are people who enter into churches with false expectations themselves, but don’t let them leave because we didn’t care. Every believer and every church has to wrestle with loving and considering others more than just embracing their own preferences.

 

Today, we will overview the remainder of John 5, looking at verses 19-47, and supply a bit of an outline to understand why Jesus responded with this particular monologue to the Jews who stood in opposition to Him after His working of the miracle. What He is doing here is essentially speaking into the ways they have failed to see Him as the Son of God. Once again, their expectations, even down to working on Sabbath and how that was defined, “disqualified” Him from living in His own world and ministering within His authority. 

Let’s look briefly at Jesus’ appeals to what the Son of God is like.  Their expectations would be spoken to head on with a brief but thorough explanation of the truth regarding the Son of God. We will put them under the categories of Ministry Alignment, Interpersonal Roles, and Testifiers of His Sonship. 

  1. Ministry alignment (vv. 19-20). As the Father does, so does the Son. Their activity should be parallel to each other, overlapping, the heart of the Father mirrored in the Son. They are not perpendicular, the Son’s activities simply touching at times upon the Father’s, two ships merely passing in the night. This is because they are a part of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Three Persons, one essence. If Jesus is not equal with the Father, His actions would be out of sync. This is what He is referring to in vv. 19-20. Perhaps the key term of these two verses would be “in like manner” from the Greek homoios (pronounced hom-oy-os) referring to similarity of likeness. John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” Some translations will say “expressed Him” as Jesus expresses or declares the essence of God the Father to humanity.       
  2. Interpersonal roles (vv. 21-30). Throughout Scripture, different roles are attributed to the Persons of the Godhead. One role distinction, for instance, is the Spirit praying on our behalves, the Son interceding for us, and the Father upholding His promises as it relates to the believer. In verses 21-30, Jesus shows in various ways that it is the Father who has committed authority to the Son. Authority to judge; authority to be honored and authority to grant life to whom He will. The Son acts in accordance with the Father’s wishes, bringing judgment, offering life, raising those who have believed on Him from the dead and bringing condemnation to those who would not believe. Jesus would tell the disciples in Matthew 28:18 that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” Who gave this authority to Him? God the Father.       
  3. Testifiers of His Sonship.                                                                                                                                                                                                      
    1. The Holy SpiritJohn 5:32 speaks to the testimony of the Holy Spirit when Jesus says, “There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.” Behind all of the testimonies of Jesus being the Son of God, the greatest Testifier was the Holy Spirit, who came upon Him like a dove at His baptism in Luke 3:22: “And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” The Trinity is all on hand in this verse to signify Jesus as the Son of God at the outset of His ministry. It is the Spirit who prompts hearts at the hearing of the word; it is the Spirit who was behind the signs of Jesus. The connection drawn between Christ and His people is done through the work of the Holy Spirit, “who testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).                                                                            
    2. John the Baptist. There is a distinction drawn from verse 32 and verse 33, which clarifies another witness, John the Baptist.  John is labeled a prophet by Jesus in Matthew 11:9-11 as he was sent by God to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist was baptizing in this area and the people Jesus was speaking to in John 5 had all become aware of it: John 4:1-2 shows Jesus leaving the area when the Pharisees heard He (His disciples) had been making and baptizing more disciples than John the Baptist.                                                                                                                                           
    3. Works/signs/miracles. Verse 36 shifts to the signs of Jesus, done in the power of the Holy Spirit, which attested to His identity as the Son of God. By this point in time, He had already done a handful of miracles, but even if this group hadn’t seen or heard of the other miracles, they still had seen enough in seeing the lame man walking. Miracles were called signs (Greek “semeion”) because they were intended to draw the focus upon the Worker of the miracle, not the miracle itself. Many would believe on Jesus in seeing these signs; some would only ask for more works to their own benefit, and some would blaspheme the power behind the works, attributing Satan to the miracles rather than God.
    4. God the Father’s testimony (37).

      At the baptism of Jesus and following His transfiguration, a voice came forth from Heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). Peter would refer to this in 2 Peter 1:17-19:

      “For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

      Notice that Peter describes this act of God as a confirmation of prophecies regarding the Son, establishing Him as such in His statement of approval and identification.                                                                                                                                                                                                               

    5. The Scriptures(38-47). Finally, the Jews should have recognized Jesus in alignment with the reading of the Scriptures. This issue should teach us how incapable anyone is of coming to faith in Christ without the work of God in their soul. Jesus fulfilled prophecy and acted as the Messiah would. Though they knew the word, they did not have His word abiding in them. Jesus’ testimony of them overall was that though they sought the Scriptures, they missed Him. It is very possible to be an upholder of Scripture while failing to trust in the Savior of which it speaks. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Scripture is one of our greatest allies in the modern world; it teaches us the truth and reveals to us the thoughts of God. It presents our need for salvation and provides the solution in Jesus Christ with deep explanation. I love the Bible, and in my opinion there isn’t a church worth its weight out there if it does not hold the Scriptures in all its inerrant content central to its heart and mission. 

It isn’t told how this conversation ended. We know that the desire of the opposing Jews was to kill Jesus but it’s evident that they did not accomplish that in this exchange because John 6:1 says that he departed and went over the Sea of Galilee, where soon he would feed the 5,000. What Jesus accomplished was speaking truth into false expectations fueled by poor perceptions of the character and nature of God. It’s very hard to say whether any of the people who were outraged with Him in this passage ever came around to believing, and that would be very sad. There is plenty of evidence in the Bible to show us that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and we can believe in Him with confidence. I challenge you to know what you believe when it comes to the Lord, and if you’re still unsure about believing on Jesus, continue reading on in the Bible, ask good questions, and pray as you go that God might help you see Jesus for who He really is.

Jesus’ Prayer from John 17:20-26:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

Thank you for your time and I pray that we can get back together soon.  Every day is a little bit more restless than the last but pray that we seek God and follow His lead. Don’t forget to pray for those working in healthcare and for families that are hurting. Uphold each other in your prayers and follow the Lord every day. Each day, no matter what the context is, is a gift from God.

 

 

 

 

Should a need arise or a prayer request need to be made, please don’t hesitate to call, text, or email me. Thank you!

Kids Devotional – Joshua

God’s Word is full of amazing accounts of how God worked and blessed different people who are just normal people just like you and me. This is a story about Joshua, but it’s also a story about God Himself! Watch this video and we will read the account directly from God’s Word, then we’ll watch a video just for kids about it to help you understand!

This is a super fun song, Veggie Tales style! Let’s sing it together!

Would you like to learn a Bible verse today? This one is from the book of Joshua, just like our story!