To Believe Him or Not

John 10:17-21

[19] There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. [20] Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” [21] Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Whenever anyone makes a statement, we have two choices.  Either we believe them or we do not.  Whether it’s me telling you I can fly or Jesus saying He is the Good Shepherd, our options are that simple.

The Jews in John 10 are sharply divided.  After Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd some do not believe Him.  His claims are so incredible they call Him demon-possessed and crazy.  Others are not so sure.

We may be tempted to scoff at their unbelief but are we so different?  God consistently declares things that are difficult to understand, hard to believe, or outright outrageous.

Is Matthew 6:33 “reasonable” advice in the midst of financial crisis?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Is Luke 9:24 true when we face physical, not only metaphorical danger?

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Is the life Jesus offers us in John 10:10 actually possible or just a pipe dream?

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Is Romans 8:28 true all the time?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Jesus’s opponents were proud, selfish, and greedy, but they understood that Jesus meant what He said.  At times, we find ourselves rationalizing or spiritualizing to make it seem like Jesus did not mean what He said.  Fear, doubt, and selfishness can drive us to this.  Of course there are extenuating circumstances and gray areas, but often we are given two simple options – to believe Him or not.

May He give us the grace of faith that we might believe Him, the grace of forgiveness when we do not, and the grace of perseverance to continue to fight despite our stumbling.

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The Good Shepherd

John 10:10-15

[10] The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. [11] I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [12] He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. [13] He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. [14] I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

In fairy tales like Red Riding Hood, no one is confused as to who is the “good guy” and who is the “bad guy.” The wolf wants to eat everyone and the huntsman wants to save everyone so things become clear fairly quickly.  Unfortunately, things in real life do not always appear to be so simple.

As Jesus’s ministry becomes more prominent, opposition from the religious and political leaders of Israel grows as well.  The growing divide between them is clear and the average Israelite is confused as to who is the “good guy” and who is the “bad guy.”  Should he follow this new teacher, Jesus, or the established leaders of his nation and religion?  In the midst of this turmoil, Jesus seeks to make the situation clear by explaining that He alone is the Good Shepherd.

In John 10, Jesus explains that the Good Shepherd is completely different from the thief and the hired hand.  The shepherd comes to give life abundant.  The thief “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (v. 10).  “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11).  The hired hand flees when he sees the wolf coming (v. 12).  The shepherd knows his sheep (v. 14).  The hired hand cares nothing for the sheep (v. 13).  The difference between the Good Shepherd and all others is the difference between life and death.

The world, the flesh, and the devil work as hard as they can to confuse us as to who is the “good guy.”  The Word of God makes things clear.  No spouse or child can give us life abundant.  Money and prestige have never laid down their lives for anyone.  Comfort and security will not walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death.  There is only one Good Shepherd and His name is Jesus.

Dominion Lost

Genesis 1:28

[28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Originally, man was meant to have dominion over the earth.  We are uncomfortable with words like subdue and dominion because it sounds like humans are meant to be oppressive dictators over the rest of creation.

However, Adam was not to be a dictator, but a steward.  He had no authority that had not been given to him.  He could not do whatever he pleased with God’s creation.  With God’s intention in mind, we realize that in the beginning Adam was not called to be a gardener but a protector.  His original call was to defend the creation, his wife, and the honor of God by defeating the serpent.  Instead, he did nothing as the serpent deceived his wife.  Adam did not destroy the serpent but agreed with him and joined forces with him against God, opening the door to sin and death.

After the fall, mankind would still like to believe that we are in charge.  My children are convinced that they are in charge of our house.  No one had to teach them this and it is with great difficulty that we teach them that they are not.  We are born this way.

And that is especially sad because we are not in charge.  We are not in charge of when we are born or when we will die.  We are not in charge of what will happen to us or how exactly our children will turn out.  In fact, we are not even in charge of ourselves.

Romans 7:18b-19

…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. [19] For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Man was to have dominion over all creatures and even the earth itself.  Now, we have dominion over nothing.  We are not masters but slaves to our passions and circumstances.  This is bad news, but when we can admit that this is true, the Gospel becomes very good news.

John 8:36

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

A Sea of Glass

Revelation 4:2-6a

[2] At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. [3] And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. [4] Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. [5] From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, [6] and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

By the time the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, most of the other apostles had been martyred.  In Revelation 2, Jesus tells the church of Smyrna that some of them would be thrown into prison and others would lose their lives.  In Revelation 3, Jesus encourages the church of Philadelphia to not fear the synagogues that would persecute them.  The people of God are afraid.

So in the vision revealed to John, what does he see?  In verse 2, the first thing John sees in heaven is a throne and One seated on it.  My wife and I are expecting our third child soon.  We anticipate chaos.  This world is often chaotic, but we can know that there is a King and He is on the throne.

This King created all things and is sovereign over all things.  He is not just King inside the church or the spiritual parts of our lives.  He is the King of everything that exists and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.  He is sovereign over every molecule.

A Romanian pastor was jailed and beaten and he said this to his captors:

My God is teaching me a lesson. I do not know what it is. Maybe he wants to teach me several lessons. I only know, sirs, that you will do to me only what God wants you to do—and you will not go one inch further—because you are only an instrument of my God.

We may not always understand what God is doing, but we know that He is King and He can and He will ultimately work all things for our good.  Our God will conquer the chaos.

In verse 6, John sees a sea of water so still and peaceful it looks like glass.  In the Bible, the sea is usually a scene of chaos.  Paul gets shipwrecked, Jonah gets swallowed by a fish, and the Egyptian army is drowned in the sea.  Water is chaos, but Jesus comes on the scene calms the storm.

We serve a sovereign King.  This does not mean we will avoid suffering, but we can rest assured that the waters will be stilled, that the King is seated on His throne.

Jesus Did Not Say

John 21:20-23

[20] Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” [21] When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” [22] Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” [23] So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

Peter has just found out that he’s going to be a martyr.  When he sees his close friend, John, he asks Jesus, “What about him?”  Jesus replies,  “Why does that matter? You follow Me!”

This is absurd.  Peter is going to be crucified and John might never die?!  How does that make any sense?

People try to explain the confusion and suffering of life in different ways.  “God is testing us and making us stronger.”  “It’s punishment for sins.”  “There’s a lesson God is teaching us.”  Even if these things are true, these answers are not very satisfying.

Close friends of mine were pregnant with their first child.  At the doctor’s appointment in which they were supposed to find out the gender of their baby, they were told that their son had a terminal disease and he would likely not survive the pregnancy.  At most, he would live a few weeks after birth.

What could any of us say to them?

Well, here’s what we could not say to them.  We could not say why this was happening.  We could not say why this was happening to their child.  We could not say what exactly God was doing.  We could not talk about any of these things because we did not know.  We could only talk about what we do know.

Because of the word of God, we knew this was not happening because God does not love them or He had forgotten them.  We knew God was not punishing them and also that He was not indifferent.  We knew He was grieving for their son and for their pain.  We knew that God hates death and He sent His only Son to conquer death.  We knew that God would walk with them.  We knew that He would somehow work all things for their good.

Deuteronomy 29:29 reads, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Praise God, the baby did survive and is a wonderful little boy.  But in this life, things do not always work out the way we hope.  In the midst, all we can hold onto are the things that are certain.

We have all experienced things in the past that have made us ask, “Why?”  The honest answer is we don’t know why.  Many things in the future remain uncertain.  We have many questions.  The honest answer is we don’t know what will happen.  But what we do know is sufficient.  The God we do know is sufficient.  The promises He has revealed in His Word belong to us forever.

Follow Me

John 21:18-19

[18] “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” [19] (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Loving Jesus and serving His sheep will be costly.  If Peter follows Jesus, he will die a martyr.  We prefer to follow Jesus soaring above the storm, away from the mud, and the mess, and the ugliness of life.  But this is not the way of love.  In 1 Corinthians 4:15, the Apostle Paul says, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers.”  It’s much easier to be a guide, than a father.  It’s much easier to be a Bible teacher than a mentor, a counselor than a parent, or a manager than a shepherd.

Real love does not clock in and clock out.  We know this.  When we get married, we no longer get to do whatever we want.  When we have children, we don’t get to go wherever we want.  Will following Jesus cost us less?

Loving Jesus and serving His sheep is costly, and moreover each of us does not get to choose what cost we will pay.  Jesus does not invite Peter to submit his business plan for approval.  Peter loves Jesus but martyrdom is certainly not his personal plan.  But there is more to life than our personal plans, even our “spiritual” personal plans.

In the end, Peter does follow Jesus and he does lose his life.  Peter preaches the gospel even though it gets him crucified all because he understands that Jesus does not just say “Follow.”  Jesus says, “Follow ME.”

Wherever Peter goes, whatever he endures, Jesus will be there with him.  Peter is willing to die because he knows when he follows Jesus, even in death, he will be near His Savior.

Jesus does not send us out alone.  He is a good shepherd.  Jesus will take care of us.  He will use His staff to beat back the wolves.  He walks with us through the very valley of the shadow of death.

Do You Love Me?

John 21:15-17

[15] When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” [16] He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” [17] He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

In this passage, Jesus finally addresses Peter and his betrayal directly.

Three times, Jesus asks “Do you love me?”  Jesus could have asked Peter any number of things.  “Peter do you feel really bad?”  “Peter do you believe?”  “Peter will you go on mission trips?”  No, he asks “Peter, do you love me?”

See, Peter did not want crucified savior.  When he began to follow Jesus, he was a mess of mixed motives.  Peter was ambitious.  He wanted to be the greatest.  Peter was excited.  He wanted to see the kingdom of God and do miracles.  Peter wanted to reign, not suffer.  When Jesus spoke of His death, Peter rebuked Jesus to His face.

So Jesus asks, “Do you love Me as I am?  Merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.  Do you love Me as I am? Sovereign, just, holy, glorious.”

Peter’s response is amazing.  Three times, Peter declares “Yes Lord, You know I love You.” Of course Jesus knows everything and of course He knows Peter loves Him.  But Peter’s life has not demonstrated that love.  Peter is devastated, not because he broke a rule or is embarrassed or disappointed in himself; he hates his sin.  Peter wants his love for Jesus to be clear and unmistakable.

Finally, we come to Jesus’s reply.  Three times, Jesus tells Peter to feed His sheep.  We can be tempted to separate our love for God and our love for people.  Jesus never does this.  The inevitable result of love for Christ is love for His people.

This is the true measure of love for God.  The true measure is not how loud we pray, how many books we read, or how many meetings we go to.  These things matter but only insofar as they reflect our love for Jesus’s sheep.  Sheep are not easy to love.  Sheep are stupid and rebellious, just like us.

When I encounter extremely obnoxious people, I want to punch them but I’m a Christian, so I don’t.  Instead, I close my heart and cut them off.  Perhaps when they change, I’ll give them another chance.

When Jesus calls us to love, He is necessarily calling us to love difficult people.  Loving difficult people always involves forgiveness.  If we spend enough time with a sinner, they will sin against us.  If we are to continue to love them, we must forgive.

Paradoxically, forgiveness is not about people but about Jesus.  It is an act of worship.  When our love becomes like God’s love, it does not reflect the value of the person forgiven or our own value.  It reflects the worth of Jesus Christ.

Consider, who do you need love?  In other words, who do you need to forgive?  Jesus, give us grace to do the impossible.

Come and Have Breakfast

John 21:9-14

[9] When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. [10] Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” [11] So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. [12] Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. [13] Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. [14] This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

In our passage, we see the incredible invitation Jesus extends to His disciples, “Come and have breakfast.”  It is a simple and incomprehensible request.

In verse 9, we read that Jesus already has fish and bread ready.  He was waiting for His disciples to return from their failed fishing trip.  Remember, Jesus is the Savior of the World and He has just risen from the dead, yet He is waiting to have breakfast with His disciples.

I remember the day my nephew was born.  I was actually supposed to have lunch with one of my church members.  When I heard the news, I did not hesitate.  I cancelled my lunch plans.  Days earlier, the Son of God conquered the devil, sin, and death.  He transformed all of human history.  And here He waits to have breakfast with His people.  It is important to Him.

In verse 10, Jesus asks them to bring some fish they had just caught.  Remember, the disciples caught nothing.  Any fish they had are the result of Jesus’s miracle.  If you invited me over for dinner and I walk in, take something out of your fridge, and hand it to you, you will not be impressed.  When we eat with Jesus, we bring nothing to the table.  But Jesus does not mind.  He wants to have breakfast with His disciples.

In verse 11, we see Peter’s nervous energy.  When he saw Jesus, he jumped out of the boat and swam to shore.  The other disciples who stayed in the boat arrive at the shore at more or less the same time.  When Jesus asks for a few fish for the meal, Peter brings 153 of them.  Peter had abandoned Jesus in His darkest moment.  He is filled with joy that Jesus has risen from the dead, yet at the same time, he is not sure how Jesus feels about him.

You may be a fairly nice person, but I know I have wronged many people over the course of my life.  I regret many things I have said and done.  At times I have wondered whether it is even possible to make up for these things, and this is with man.  What can we do when we betray God?  How can we pay Him back?  What are we going to do to make things right with Him, after all we’ve done?

Peter knows there’s nothing he can do.  And then in verse 12, Jesus says, “Come and have breakfast.”  In His invitation, Jesus is saying there is forgiveness for traitors and hypocrites.  There is grace for cowards and sinners.  There is no other god like this.

In the second half of verse 12, the disciples do not dare to ask who it is that they eat with.  They are tempted to ask, but they don’t.  They do not know this strange man cooking breakfast for them, but at the same time they do know.  Jesus must have looked different.  He is in His resurrection body.  His glory is shining.  For thirty years, Jesus had been hiding His majesty.  He appeared to be an ordinary carpenter.  Now, the disciples get a glimpse of the Word who was in beginning with God and who was God Himself.  The almighty, eternal Word invites them to breakfast.

Morning by morning, day by day, the Risen Son of God invites you to simply be with him, to share a meal with Him through reading His Word and praying.  Many times we say, “No.”  But He does not grow weary in extending the invitation.  When we hesitate, He gently asks, “Why do you wait?  For what do you delay?  My cross has made a way for you to be with Me.  Come and have breakfast with Me.”

He Threw Himself Into the Sea

John 21:1-8

[1] After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. [2] Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. [3] Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

[4] Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. [5] Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” [6] He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. [7] That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. [8] The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

In John 21, the disciples decide to go fishing, and they catch nothing.  Jesus tells them to let down their nets again, and there is a miraculous catch of fish.  It must have been eerily familiar because the same thing pretty much happened when Jesus initially called the disciples to become fishers of men (see Luke 5).  The events of Luke 5 and John 21 are very similar, yet also different.

In both Luke 5 and John 21, the disciples had been fishing all night.  In Luke they are fishing because this is their career and identity.  They are fishermen.  Fishing is at the center of their lives, and they are taking a break to listen to Jesus teach.

In John, the disciples are fishing to kill time.  Some suggest they are abandoning their calling as apostles to go back to fishing, but this is very unlikely given the Lord has just risen from the dead.  At the very least, they want to see what will happen next, so the disciples are just waiting for Jesus.  Fishing is no longer at the center.  It has become a hobby.  Their first priority in this moment is to wait for Jesus and listen to Him.

Is Christian faith a break from real life for us?  Is real life work or school or family?  Is waiting on the Lord, hearing and obeying Him, a hobby or is it at the center?

Another similarity.  In both Luke and John, the disciples catch nothing and Jesus tells them to cast their nets again.  In Luke, Peter agrees to do it, saying, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Peter is obedient, but thinks he knows better.  He is saying, “Rabbi stay in your lane.  You know the Bible, but I know fishing.”  We, too, are tempted to say to God, “You know religion, but I know money, or family, or what I need, etc., etc.”  Amazingly, in John 21, the disciples just listen.  They do not even know it is Jesus yet, but instinctively, the sheep recognize their shepherd’s voice and cast the nets.  They hear and they obey.

Two final similarities.  In both Luke and John, it is the miraculous catch of fish that opens the disciples’ eyes.  Also in both, Peter’s reaction to the miracle is extreme.  In Luke, Peter falls before Jesus and cries out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

In John, when the apostle John recognizes Jesus, Peter ignores the fish, jumps out of the boat, and swims to shore.  In John 21, Peter is not less aware of his sinfulness.  Very recently, he had denied his Lord three times.  He knows his sin, but regardless, He is desperate to be with His Savior.  Usually if we go swimming, we take clothes off.  Peter, instead, puts his outer garment on.  He sees Jesus and He is going after him.  Peter does not intend to go back for anything.

God is a speaking God, and He consistently speaks to us.  The question is, when He speaks, will we weigh our options or will we jump out of the boat?

Two of the most important things in the Christian life are very simple – hearing God and obeying Him.  Not surprisingly, these are things we struggle with most.  For Peter, too, this does not come naturally, yet he still jumps out of the boat.

Peter does not jump because he is so courageous.  Peter is a coward.  Peter does not jump because he is so righteous.  His sin is clear and ugly.  He does not jump because He knows what will happen next.  He is not in control, even of tomorrow.  Peter jumps because he is convinced that Jesus is the Son of God and the Good Shepherd.  Peter simply desires to be with Him.

As the Father Sent Me

[21] Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” [22] And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. [23] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

– John 20:19-23

When you were a child, were you told that you can be anything you want as long as you work hard and believe in yourself?  If so, someone lied to you. haha

Of course, working hard is good and having ambition is good, but I cannot be anything I want to be.  A sample of things I cannot be include president of France, an NBA player, and an astrophysics professor.

There are many, many things we can be, but we can’t be anything we want.  However, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be everything that God wants us to be and God calls His followers to be things we would never dream of being apart from Him

We are tempted to think that Jesus loves, saves, and blesses us so we can do whatever we want with our lives as long as we try to be good people.  But blessing is not to be used however we please.

Verse 21, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  When the Father sent the Son to live among us, He said more than “Have fun!”  The Father had a purpose and plan for Jesus, and Jesus understood this.

John 4:34  Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.

John 5:30  “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

John 6:38  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

As the Father sent Jesus with purpose, so He send us with purpose.  The question, then, becomes what is His purpose?

Verse 23 reads, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus does not give Christians the power to say to those who want God’s forgiveness, “No forgiveness for you!  I don’t like you!”  Rather, this verse is saying that those who believe in Jesus are given the power and privilege of telling people about the way of salvation and forgiveness, the only path of being right with God.

What is the greatest thing you could ever accomplish?  Being a millionaire?  Being respected by all?  Being comfortable?  These are not bad goals necessarily, but if it’s the ultimate goal of our lives, it’s too small.  God Almighty invites His children to be in the business of eternal life, of calling people from every country, every race, every people group to worship the one, true, and living God.