Choose Life

“We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God”

John 19:7

There are some who say that Jesus never claimed deity – but that is not what the religious leaders in Israel at the time understood. There are a number of occasions when they believed Jesus was claiming deity for Himself and each time they sought how they might put Him to death (e.g. John 5:18; 7:29-30, 32, 44; 8:58-59; 11:49-53). At no time did Jesus try and correct them which confirms their understanding of what He was saying. Some have claimed that “Son of God” is not equal to being God but if that were so, the response of the chief priests would make no sense. They clearly understood that only deity could be the Son of God.

Under the law, anyone falsely claiming deity was to be put to death – so Jesus would be very foolish to falsely claim deity. Ultimately this was the only true accusation that they could make against Jesus. What they, and many since, have not grasped is that He is God in flesh (John 1:14; 1 John 1:1-4), an essential fact in redemption.

Each time Jesus was asked if He was the Messiah or Son of God He affirmed that He was (e.g. John 9:25; 18:37). Throughout His ministry He provoked, through His words and miracles, people to query who He is. This was repeated several times in regard to the Sabbath.

In John chapter 19 it is interesting to observe the banter between the chief priests and Pilate on this question. Pilate referred to Jesus as “the Man” and the chief priests said that Jesus claimed to be “the Son of God” making Himself equal with God. The Jews then demanded His death by crucifixion. Pilate, knowing he was trapped showed his hatred for the Jews by calling Jesus, “your King.” This he also put on the cross in three languages (v 20) to publicly humiliate the Jews and yet unwittingly declare the truth. In the exchange the chief priests uttered their final renunciation of Jesus demanding His death by crucifixion (v 15). We live in a world that is rejecting Jesus’ words and thereby rejecting Him. We are observing a rapid rising of opposition to that which Jesus taught and attempts to silence His word through laws befitting the spirit of antichrist. Nations and people who reject Jesus and His word, and refuse to accept His love-gift of salvation will be judged by His word and rejected by Him (John 3:16-18, 36; 1 John 5:11-12).

Choose life; choose Jesus.

The Bread of 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”

John 6:26

It wasn’t long after Jesus had miraculously provided meals for five thousand men plus women and children from a boy’s lunch that many of the same crowd caught up with Him again. Jesus perceived that their desire was for another free lunch and not to hear His teaching. Sadly, their desire was only for what would fill their tummies and not their hearts.

We need to be on guard of our own hearts to ensure that we don’t default into only wanting what Jesus gives without wanting Him. This is one of the reasons many human relationships break up. People often enter a relationship with expectations of what they will receive. When those expectations are not realised or are no longer met, the relationship collapses. If we come to Jesus with incorrect expectations, when they are not met, we will cease to follow Him. We must be careful how we present the Gospel so as not to give incorrect expectations.

There are many temporal benefits Jesus Christ brings but they are all inseparable from Him. John wrote, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). The “life” is Christ’s life in us, that is, eternal life. Many people want heaven and eternal life who do not want Jesus but that is absolutely impossible.

To evaluate whether we really want Jesus or just the benefits He brings it would be profitable to evaluate our prayers. They may reveal that our main concern is for temporal matters such as food, clothing, comfort and health but not for the benefit of Christ’s kingdom or for Christ’s glory.

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). When we are with Jesus in heaven we will realise the foolishness of many of our earthly pursuits and anxieties. Our highest priority is to know Jesus Christ. In contrast to pursuing Jesus for these earthly needs Jesus encourages us to pursue that which will never be taken from us. Following His lament that the crowd only followed Him for food He said, “Do not labour 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” (John 6:27).

Jesus Moved On

“They were astonished at His teaching, for He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes”

Mark 1:22

In the synagogue they were astonished with the manner of Jesus’ teaching for He spoke with authority and did not appeal to the writings of men. In this He was quite different to the scribes. The essence of Jesus’ preaching and teaching at this time is recorded in verse fifteen, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” That He had this authority is revealed in the rebuke of an unclean spirit (v 25), healing Peter’s mother-in-law (v 31), the many healed and demons cast out (v 34) and the healing of a leper (v 42). All these, and the many other miracles of Jesus, serve to reveal who He is.

At first the teaching got the attention of people but that was soon overridden by the miracles. Word quickly got around and Jesus was virtually mobbed, not for His teaching but for miracles (1:32; 3:7-12). For this reason Jesus departed. He is not a travelling circus. He has a message for people (v 15) and when people are distracted and not listening to the message, He moves on (v 35) to other places to preach His message (v 38). Even though there were many more sick people and demon possessed people, He moved on. The Gospel message is far more important than physical healing. He still moves on when our churches are distracted by clamouring for temporal miracles.

When Jesus healed the leper He asked him not to spread it around. The leper did not obey and soon Jesus was mobbed again (1:45). People mobbed Him not for the message but for healing. With the change of focus the message was lost so Jesus moved on.

There is a clamour for healing in many religious circles including many Christian churches today. When people are distracted by the potential for miracles they do not give attention to the Gospel message. Satan has been counterfeiting Christ and corrupting His message for two thousand years and isn’t about to give up this successful distraction and diversion (Mark 13:22; Matthew 7:22-23). We are all glad when God does heal someone or delivers a person from demonic influence or possession – but we must be careful that we don’t lose the message of the most important deliverance, “Repent and believe the gospel.” The miracle of new birth is the only one that matters (John 3:3; Ephesians 2:1, 8-10).

Little Faith

“You of little faith”

Matthew records four occasions when Jesus made this statement to His disciples: 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, and 16:8. In the latter three references it is because they had not joined the dots concerning what Jesus had said and done with regard to their circumstances. His first recorded statement in 6:30 is part of the Sermon on the Mount.

It may be easy for us to join the mockers of the disciples for their little faith – but this would be a great error. We consistently reveal that we are little different. It has been said that we can either worry, or stand in faith in Christ. That is the main subject of Matthew 6:25-34. Any time we worry about our circumstances it is because we are not trusting Jesus Christ in that circumstance. In the storms of life we are likely to worry or panic just like the disciples, and we need Jesus’ rebuke.

It is easy to say we have faith in Jesus when all seems well; but when the storms of life come, what then? In Matthew 8:23-27 we have the record of the disciples and Jesus in a severe storm that threatened to drown them all. The disciples panicked in worry. Jesus slept. The disciples would learn that Jesus had power over all creation including the storm. In the storms of life Jesus is always at hand with more than adequate power to save.

Later they were in a storm again, but without Jesus in the boat (14:22-32). Jesus came to them walking on the water and Peter asked Him to command him to also walk on the water. He did so until his eyes were distracted by the storm; he panicked and started to sink. Even then, Jesus was there to save him. We may mock Peter; but remember, he was the only disciple to have faith to get out of the boat. He may have had only a little faith, but it was sufficient to walk on water because Jesus was the object of his faith.

Not long after Jesus had fed the five thousand men plus women and children with a boy’s lunch, the disciples were concerned about the absence of bread. They had misunderstood what Jesus had said (Matthew 16:5-12). In spite of what they had seen, they worried.

The matter for us is not the amount of faith. Even a little faith may command a mountain to move (Matthew 17:20) or permit one to walk on water. What matters is the object of the faith. Knowing Jesus personally and intimately will increase our faith in Him. Faith comes from knowing Jesus and God’s word (Romans 10:17).

The Greatest Miracle

“Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”“Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”

Luke 10:20, 23, 24

The disciples had returned from their first ministry trip and were astonished at the miracles that they had seen. Even demons were subject to the delegated authority Jesus had given them (v 17). The disciples were rejoicing over the authority they had exercised but Jesus brought them back to reality. The greatest miracle ever performed, infinitely greater than authority over demons, is that by God’s grace a person is saved. Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of god, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Throughout history, even to this day, there are people clamouring for miracles of various kinds but few seek the miracle of the new birth. The incarnation of Jesus Christ foreshadows the incarnation of Jesus in the believer by the new birth and the Holy Spirit. Jesus reveals Himself to those of humble heart who seek Him and not just some physical miracle.

Jesus reminds His disciples that many who prophesied His future coming never saw Him. Kings desired to see Him but did not see Him. Perhaps Moses and Elijah were the exceptions (Matthew 17:3). Simeon (Luke 2:25f) and Anna (Luke 2:36f) also desired to see their Salvation (Luke 2:30, 38) and they saw Him.

We may not have seen Him in bodily form as Simeon and Anna had but we have seen Him through the eyes of faith witnessed to us in the Bible and confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

We should not be surprised that the first public announcement of His birth would be to shepherds. King David had been a shepherd and Jesus will sit on his throne forever. Also Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep (John 10:11; cf. Psalm 23).

This Christmas our rejoicing would best be focused on the wonderful fact that Jesus has opened our ears to hear Him and our eyes to see Him. Second only to Jesus’ incarnation this is the greatest miracle ever. Jesus came to save sinners. That He saved you and me is the greatest miracle. Let us pray that He will open other eyes of the spiritually blind and other ears of the spiritually deaf and perform the greatest miracle of all – the new birth (John 3:1-7).

Well Meaning

“It shall be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”

1 Kings 17:4

There have been occasions when I have asked my wife a question but, instead of answering the question I asked, she has answered a question she thought I meant to ask. We are quite different people when it comes to conversation. This can be very helpful or, as in this case, a little frustration to me. My usual response is something like, “Please just answer the question I asked.” My wife’s response to that is something like, “Well I thought you really meant ….” Perhaps we cause a little frustration for the Lord when we treat His word that way.

Imagine if Elijah had done that with the word of the Lord on this occasion in 1 Kings 17? He would have said that the Lord could not have meant what He said because a raven could not sustain him with enough food. It’s impossible! Later the Lord sent him to a widowed Gentile woman who, with her son, was on the verge of starvation. How could she provide for him? It’s impossible!

The Bible is replete with these kinds of situations where people received a word or command from the Lord and they must take His words in the normal literary sense even when what He was asking seemed impossible. What if Moses had refused to return to Egypt because he interpreted the Lord’s command on the basis of what he thought possible? What of Joshua being commanded to march around Jericho thirteen times to bring down the walls. No, the Lord couldn’t mean that because it was illogical and impossible. When Jesus sent men to obtain the colt of a donkey that was ready and waiting for them they could have decided that a donkey already broken in would be better and safer risk for their Master. Well meaning but wrong.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews mentions many men and women who took God at His word and acted upon it without interpreting it through a grid of what is logical and possible, or that there may be a better and safer way.

Seven times in his letters Paul writes to the effect that he didn’t want his readers to be ignorant of some truth, so he wrote plainly. That is how God writes. Twice in 1st Thessalonians he writes for his readers to be comforted by what he has written (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11). Unless his words were intended to be taken in their normal literary sense there would be no real comfort at all. God wants to communicate truth not confuse the truth.

Exercise Your faith

“If you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and cast into the sea,’ it will be done” Matthew 21:21

When I was younger I was physically active and had no need to give special attention to my fitness but later my life became more sedentary and it was necessary to actively seek out physical activities in order to try and keep my body reasonably fit and strong. The fitter and stronger we are the better we are able to enjoy life. I sought out appropriate sports, activities and even joined the local volunteer fire service with a view to keeping physically active. When these were not an option I attended a gym.

We all know that if we want better physical capabilities we must exercise our muscles. That usually means discomfort and perspiration but the end result from regular exercise is a stronger and fitter body to enjoy life.

I have heard it said that the brain works like a muscle. If we don’t use it we lose it. The same can be said of faith in Jesus Christ. If we do not exercise our faith it will become stagnant and shrivel. Many of us desire a stronger faith and God has provided the way – faith exercises! Generally we don’t like exercising, unless it is in the form of a sport, but we do enjoy the results. In order to exercise faith we must live in circumstances where faith in Jesus is tested regularly. As we read the Bible we see many examples of God taking people through circumstances where they needed to trust Him. The result was that their faith increased.

Job’s faith in the Lord was tested; Abraham and Isaac’s faith was tested (Genesis 22) and many others. In each case, when their faith in God was proven, their faith increased. Paul wrote in his letter to the Christians in Rome, “For in [the Gospel of Christ] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (1:17). The way to more faith is to exercise the faith one already has.

Don’t be confused by the untrue cliché, “faith can move mountains.” It can do no such thing. It is the object of faith, Jesus Christ, who moves the mountain. When we are exercising faith it must always be faith in Him to perform it if the mountain is to be moved. It is not the amount of faith that matters; it is the object of our faith that matters.

Jesus is not a miracle worker to do everything we want but He delights to respond to faith placed in Him. He will send us many tests and as we act in faith we will grow stronger in faith. If our faith is weak there are two closely linked possible reasons – hearing (Romans 10:17) and heeding His word. It is necessary to first know and understand God’s word and will and then to act faithfully on it. If we don’t use it we will lose it.

Covenanting with God

“They entered a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul” 2 Chronicles 15:12

We don’t hear very often of people, either individually or corporately, entering into a covenant with the Lord. God has revealed Himself as one who makes and keeps covenants so we would expect that His people would do likewise. Fear of failure or an unwillingness to commit may be major reasons we don’t covenant with the Lord. King Asa failed later in life and is an example from which we may learn.

King Asa started out well by doing what was right and good in the eyes of the Lord. In the early years of his reign over the Southern Kingdom the Ethiopian Zerah came against him with an army more than twice the number of his army. Asa cried out to the Lord and the Lord routed the Ethiopians apparently without any effort on the part of Asa’s army. It was at this time that Asa and the people entered a covenant with the Lord. The Lord gave King Asa “rest” from war until his 36th year as king. Then King Baasha of the Northern Kingdom came against him with an army.

Instead of turning to the Lord for counsel and deliverance King Asa turned to the king of Syria for help. The prophet Hanani was sent by the Lord to make him aware of the change in his relationship with the Lord but King Asa refused to repent. Instead, he became angry at Hanani for exposing his sin and had him imprisoned.

What happened in the 35 years of “rest” from war that allowed king Asa to have such a change of heart? There are several observations we can make:

  1. The miracle of the Lord destroying the Ethiopian force did not guarantee Asa’s continued loyalty and reliance on the Lord
  2. A long period of time of prosperity and things going well with the people did not guarantee loyalty and reliance on the Lord
  3. In reality it would appear that the miracle and the extended period of peace and prosperity led to complacency and/or presumption with the result that the King no longer turned to or relied on the Lord

Peace and prosperity do not provoke reliance on and loyalty to the Lord. However, they do not of themselves provoke disloyalty. When things are going well we need to pay double attention to maintaining intimacy with the Lord. The history of God’s people in the Bible, in church history and in living memory of many of us, teaches us that miracles, peace and prosperity do not close the door of disloyalty and unfaithfulness.

Peter wrote, “Brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things (mentioned in the preceding verses) you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10).

When we make a covenant with the Lord it needs to be on the basis of the cross and God’s, gracious enablement and faithfulness otherwise we might follow Asa’s example in which pride welled up within him so that he no longer relied on the Lord.

The Menial and the Miraculous

"Jacopo Tintoretto - Marriage at Cana - WGA22470" by Tintoretto - Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

“Fill the water pots with water” John 2:7

Our fallen nature usually wants us to do something of importance that will engender the praise of men or of God. At this wedding, to which Jesus’ family and His disciples had been invited, the supply of wine had been exhausted. Jesus’ mother Mary seems to have had some authority at this wedding and told the servants to do whatever Jesus asked of them.

The need was for wine but Jesus asked them to fill pots with water. The servants could not supply wine but they could supply water. They could have ridiculed Jesus because the master of the feast would get upset if his servants filled the drinking vessels of his guests with water. But the servants did as Jesus asked. The question for us is, “Would I draw water when wine is needed?” We would prefer to perform the miracle rather than the ordinary.

In all the sign miracles recorded in John’s Gospel Jesus asked someone to do what they could with what they had. Then He performed a miracle. The nobleman was told to go home and he would find his son alive (4:50). A man with an infirmity was asked to get up and walk (5:11). To feed 5,000 men plus women and children the disciples were asked to seat everyone (6:10). The disciples had only to let Jesus into their boat for a storm to cease (6:21). At Lazarus’ tomb they were asked to remove the stone and when they did so Lazarus emerged (11:39).

When our eyes are fixed on the need rather than on Jesus we might respond by trying to provide the ultimate need ourselves. We want to supply wine when we only have water. We should expect that He will ask us to do the ordinary thing, the unglamorous thing, something anyone could do, like filling pots with water, so that he can do the miraculous, that which we cannot do. Anyone can roll a stone aside but only He can give life.

It will be well for us when we are able to discern the subtleties of pride in our hearts. We need to be careful that we don’t confuse His role with ours. As servants of the Lord Jesus Christ we have the privilege of assisting others to look to Him. Anything that causes others to look at us will be a stumbling block and a loss for them. We can live Christ and share Christ but only Christ can give new life.

Caution Advisable

“They are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” Revelation 16:14

People usually follow those who perform miracles whether real or illusionary. The reason is that they want the benefit of the miracle. They have no other interest in the person who performs such miracles. Sometime after feeding the five thousand Jesus said, “You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26). Jesus knew their heart and saw that they wanted what He gave but they didn’t want Him. Neither did they see any purpose in the miracle apart from their need.

Though Jesus did many signs, wonders and miracles, and multitudes followed Him at first, when they realised that following Him would cost everything they deserted Him. They left Him because they wanted the miracle and not Jesus himself. The miracles drew followers because they sought their own pleasure not because they had any interest in spiritual truth or in Jesus.

Signs, wonders and miracles will attract a large following. What the followers may fail to realise is that Satan and demons are also able to perform miracles. They counterfeit Jesus and the prophets in order to deceive and bring people into bondage. The sorcerers of Egypt, leading up to Israel’s exodus, were able to deceive Pharaoh and the Egyptians by duplicating the miracles of Moses (Exodus 7:11-13, 22; 8:7). False prophets could perform signs (Deuteronomy 13) and God’s people needed to be able to discern the origin of the signs.

In the New Testament there are several references to the satanic or demonic origin of miracles. Jesus affirmed it in Matthew 7:22; 24:24 and Mark 13:22. Paul also affirmed that Satan could and would perform signs and wonders in 2 Thessalonians 2:9. Apparently Judas who betrayed Jesus was able to perform miracles (Matthew 10:1-4) and the Pharisees believed that Satan could perform miracles (Matthew 12:24). In Revelation 13:13 we read that the demonic power behind the second beast is able to perform signs including bringing down fire from heaven.

The majority will follow the miracle worker seeking their own benefit. They will not give attention to the nature or purpose of the one performing the sign and will be deceived and brought into bondage. People who demand God perform signs or miracles are already in bondage. In the verse above (Revelation 16:14) we have one of the last expressions of this. Demons will perform signs with the result that people will follow them in a battle against God. The outcome is certain. Only the few who choose Jesus Christ and are discerning will not be deceived.

We must be able to discern the origin of miracles – or risk being deceived. Miracles do happen, but we should be careful in attributing origin; and we must be careful as to whether it is the miracle or Jesus Christ that we really want. In the tribulation those who attribute the signs of the demons to God will find themselves fighting against God. If we attribute miracles of satanic or demonic origin to God we will also find ourselves fighting Jesus Christ. Do not automatically attribute every miracle to God, be discerning!