Love is the Willingness to Change

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13

In America at least, it is highly unlikely that any of us will be called to physically lay down our lives.  But all Christians are all still called to die to ourselves.

One of my mentors would say, “Love is the willingness to change.” Myers-Briggs personality tests, love languages, and descriptions of who we are today do not determine who Jesus intends for us to be. Parts of our character, personalities, and preferences are not suited for love or holiness. If we are to become like Jesus, these things are temporary and they will be transformed. The only question is whether we will surrender these things now for love or wait until Jesus returns.

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Fear and Pride

The God Who is There Leader’s Guide
D.A. Carson

[3] Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

– John 3:3

Jonathan Edwards asserts that a high percentage of all virtue is common virtue, i.e., the fruit of common grace.  These must be distinguished from gospel grace and gospel virtue.  Two motives commonly lie behind common virtue: fear and pride.  The fear may be of God, law, parents, what others might think, and more; the pride says, in effect, “I am not as others are.”  Individuals who learn not to commit adultery or not to lie refrain from adultery and lying not because of a transformed heart but because of fear and pride.  They do not commit adultery and do not lie, not because they love sexual purity and truth-telling, or for God’s sake, but for their own sake.  They do not have transformed hearts and minds but restrained hearts and minds.  The irony is that a person may lie and even commit adultery out of fear and pride – and another may refuse to lie and commit adultery equally out of pride.  In short, the line between committing explicit sins and the works-righteousness of not committing those sins is very thin: both common vices and common virtues may be nourished by fear and pride.  To preach and teach mere morality may actually strengthen fear and pride within the congregation of the living God.  But where the gospel takes hold of people, where both justification and regeneration have taken place, we understand that we have been accepted and remain accepted out of sheer grace, we receive this by faith, and our ethics springs out of gratitude for this grace.

As Charlotte Bronte wrote in Jane Eyre, “Conventionality is not morality.  Self-righteousness is not religion.  To attack the first is not to assail the last.  To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.”

Regret

John 11:45-53

[45] Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, [46] but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. [47] So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. [48] If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” [49] But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. [50] Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” [51] He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, [52] and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. [53] So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

When I was a teenager, I would drive very fast.  When I was pulled over once for speeding, I immediately regretted breaking the law.  But why did I regret it?  I regretted getting caught.  I regretted the possibility of a fine and traffic school.  I regretted that I would be yelled at by my parents.  But to be honest, I didn’t really regret endangering other people.  I didn’t regret my “offense.”

The Pharisees were amazingly disciplined in their religion.  They fasted and prayed, they studied the Scriptures, and they established meticulous rules in order to obey the Law of Moses.   The Pharisees did this because they deeply regretted that Israel had been conquered by empire after empire.  They profoundly felt the shame of exile and the loss of the Promised Land.

But did they regret offending God?  Did they regret that their sin had separated them from their God?

In our passage, we find that the Pharisees love their status.  Jesus is threatening because He is drawing away many people to Himself.  The Pharisees also love the honor of men.  This is why they do not want to offend the people by openly rejecting John the Baptist or arresting Jesus in broad daylight.  The Pharisees also love their power.  They do not want to offend the Romans because they could take away their authority, their status, and their nation.

The Pharisees love many things other than God.  They do many religious things for reasons other than the love of God.  For clearly if they loved God, they would not violently reject His Son and shed innocent blood by killing their own Messiah.

According to verse 53, the Pharisees plan to put Jesus to death.  But their plan does not precede the plan of the Father.  We, like the Pharisees, rarely regret offending God.  We regret consequences of our sin like guilt, shame, and judgment.  We, too, love many things more than God.  We are willing to sin as a means to an end.  Yet, the Father sends His Son to die for sinners like us, that His people from every tribe and nation would not perish.

May our regrets and our hopes no longer center on our punishments or rewards, but may we regret all that separates us from God.  Let us put our hope in Him who restores us to the Father.  The Son of God has paid the price that we might become children of God and live now and forever with and for Him.

Knowing and Being Known

John 11:1-16

[1] Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. [2] It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. [3] So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” [4] But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

[5] Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [6] So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. [7] Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” [8] The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” [9] Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. [10] But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” [11] After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” [12] The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” [13] Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. [14] Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, [15] and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” [16] So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Love can be described in many ways, but our culture tends to define it in terms of safety and pleasure.  A loving spouse will do everything in his power to provide security and positive emotions.  A loving parent will do everything in her power to reduce the risk of injury or pain.  Of course safety and pleasure are related to love but they do not define love.  God does.

Lazarus is the one whom the Lord loves (v. 3), yet Jesus does not visit him when he is very ill.  Jesus loves Martha and Mary and Lazarus (v. 5), yet He allows the sisters to weep and grieve and Lazarus to die.  Jesus loves His disciples, yet He risks their lives by traveling to Bethany.

Jesus knows that happy circumstances, safety, and pleasure bring only fleeting joy.  Eternal joy and eternal life cannot be found in such things.  In John 17:3, Jesus declares, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

As the story unfolds, Thomas realizes that being with Jesus is better than life itself.  Martha clings to her faith in Jesus and finds a hope in the resurrection that cannot be shaken even by the death of her brother.  Lazarus is raised from the dead.  The disciples see that Jesus reigns over even life and death.  In His love, Jesus desires for His people to have more than safety and pleasure.  He wants us to know Him.

The world, the flesh and the devil would have us believe that we can only be happy if we live in a particular place, have a particular kind of family, or work at a particular kind of job.  We are led to believe that there is nothing greater than a lack of danger and a lack of pain and this is not true.  Knowing and being known by the Lord of Glory is greater.  Jesus works all things for this ultimate good.

 

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.

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.