What is the answer?

Image result for Jesus is the answer

This past weekend has left the United States in a tiff.  Ok, maybe more like a blood feud.  A video was released of presidential hopeful Donald Trump demeaning women at best, condoning sexual assault at worst; the presidential debate was a joke; and completely ignored by mainstream news coverage is the report that eleven Christians were murdered by ISIS in Syria because they had converted from Islam and refused to denounce Christ.  Included in this number was a 12 year old boy whom the terrorists tortured by cutting off his fingertips in front of his father with the hopes of convincing them to convert, and two women who were publicly raped and tortured.  Many of those who have heard of this tragedy return to the conversation about the election chanting, “We must stop ISIS” and then proclaim their presidential choice as the answer.  Trump will squash ISIS.  Hillary has more experience and a real plan for our foreign affairs.  But you know what folks?  The president of the United States is not the answer.

Jesus is the answer.

I know it sounds cliche.  I grew up singing the song, “Jesus is the answer for the world today, above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way!”  And while it sounds so simple and childlike, it is the profound truth.  No governmental leadership will provide a solution by which every worldview will be appeased.  No amount of force or murder will eradicate evil from the Middle East or the United States.  Even if we could convince our general population that love is the answer, we would all have different opinions about what love is and what love means.  Should we openly accept, condone and affirm every decision and worldview, or should we seek one another’s best by helping each other make wise decisions, even if that means we encourage change?

Our politicians, ISIS, and each of us individually, however, simply need Jesus.  We are wicked.  We are sinners.  Yes, Donald Trump tried to get a married woman to sleep with him and bragged about his ability to do whatever he wants to with women because he is “a star”.  Yes, ISIS beheaded, tortured and crucified eleven Christians.  Yes, we have treated one another with disrespect and hatred because of our individual political affiliations and choices.  And all of that is nothing more than wicked people doing wicked things – to various extents.  The Bible teaches us that we were born in iniquity (Ps 51.5), and that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2.3).  This means that apart from Jesus, all we can do is sin.  We are destined and doomed to evil deeds.

Along these lines, the Bible teaches us some pretty hard truths.  Apart from Jesus we are:
Dead in sin (Eph 2.3).
Lovers of darkness (John 3.19-20)
Haters of light (John 3.19-20)
Hard like stone (Ez 36.26, Eph 4.18)
Unable to love or submit to God (Rom 8.7-8)

What does all of that mean?  We might look pretty on the outside – like white washed tombs (Matt 23.27-28).  We might put on a good, moralistic act, but it is with wicked and selfish motives.  We all sin, and we will all continue to sin because it is our nature (1 John 1.8).

We all need Jesus.  I need Jesus.  You need Jesus.  Trump and Hillary need Jesus.  ISIS needs Jesus.  The answer is not to go in and wipe “them” out.  There is always someone else who is wicked to replace “them”.  But to see “them” fundamentally changed will save their souls and change their impact on their worlds.

Jesus found Paul – the foremost persecutor (read:  murderer) of the Church and changed him from the core, making him into the world’s most dynamic missionary and teacher.  If God can change and use Paul, He can change and use ISIS.  He can change and use Hillary.  He can change and use Trump.  He can change and use you and me.  There are, in fact, fairly regular reports of Muslims and radical extremists coming to faith and proclaiming Jesus.  Such are those who were murdered this weekend.

We spend so much time trying to separate our church and state, but the reality is that Jesus is the only hope for the state.  Even if we solve immigration, balance out our taxes and health care, and live at peace with the world, we are all still sinners and headed to an eternity of judgment and damnation.  If we, however, confess our sins and turn to God for salvation through Jesus, we will be saved eternally and enabled to die to our sins and our love one another.  We will be able to put one another first and see true and real peace.  We will be able to love.  Jesus is the answer.

When Should I Turn The Other Cheek?

Jesus rocked the Jewish world (and the world of every reader for the last two thousand years) in His unsettling commandments about loving and serving our enemies.  God Himself is just and His written Law originally stated “An eye for an eye” which is still the current objective of modern judicial systems (Ex 21.24).  Jesus, however, came to pay the punishment for our sins and thus introduced the before unheard of notion of unmerited grace.  God was always merciful and forgiving, but it was through Jesus that we could be forgiven without retribution or sacrifices of atonement looking forward to His redemption.

Because God offers us such complete forgiveness and grace, He expects us to turn around and offer the same to others.

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

– Eph 4.32

In the same measure we have been forgiven we should forgive others.  That means every single offense, every single time we are asked, no matter the gravity.  Jesus goes so far to say, in fact, that if we do not forgive in that manner we prove ourselves to not be forgiven by God.  It is by receiving God’s grace through forgiveness that we are completely changed and cannot help but love and forgive one another in the same way.  If we cannot forgive someone, it is because we have not yet been forgiven.  These words of Jesus are poignant and convicting:

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

– Matt 6.14-15

And if this expectation of forgiveness weren’t enough, Jesus sets the bar even higher!  We are commanded to love and pray for our enemies (Matt 5.44), bless those who persecute us (Rom 12.14), to offer the other cheek when the first has been hit (Matt 5.39), give more to the person who steals from you (Matt 5.40), and if someone forces you into slavery of any sort, we are supposed to serve them and even do more than they demand of us (Matt 5.41)!

Jesus, of course, gave us the highest example of all of this by submitting Himself to the will of God by going to the cross.  He never argued against His accusers, He never fought back when He was beaten, He never even tried to defend Himself but rather healed one of the men who sought his life when Peter cut off his ear (Luke 22.50-51).

Does all of this mean that Christians should be pacifist door mats who let people trample them and take advantage of them?  Should we ever stand up for ourselves?

I would argue no, Jesus is not teaching blanket pacifism, and that each situation depends primarily on obedience to Scripture, guidance of the Spirit and wisdom.

What do I mean?  Consider Jesus.  On at least one occasion (many scholars believe twice), Jesus became angry against the sin of sales within the temple, threw over the tables, made a whip and chased the vendors out of the temple – to defend the house of God and righteousness.  He had holy anger that was exemplified through authority and aggression.

Jesus also was hated and pursued many times throughout His earthly ministry by people seeking to kill Him, and instead of allowing them to kill, harm or harass Him, Jesus “slipped away”, often noting the fact that His “hour had not yet come” (John 7.30).  Only once, in fact, did Jesus submit Himself to the wickedness and abuse of man – which ultimately led to His death.

The Apostle Paul also regularly and consistently was chased out of town by people who hated His teachings.  Paul did suffer much persecution, including beatings, stonings and other tribulations, but he regularly fled town when he could no longer continue the work of the Gospel.  It was only when the Spirit directed him to go Jerusalem and prepared him that he would suffer intense persecution and death there that Paul gave that ultimate pacifistic response.  Even so, Paul defended himself in court for the purpose of preaching the Gospel all the more!

Ok, so what does all of this mean?  The key is understanding the heart and intention of the commands of Jesus.  Why do we turn the other cheek?

“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”

– Matt 5.39

The implication is that we will all encounter evil people – people who will hit us, who will use their authority to take advantage of us, people who will steal from us.  And we should not resist them – we should never return evil for evil, but always return good for evil.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

– Rom 12.21

It is a godly response to feel anger towards sin and unrighteousness.  God Himself is angry at unpunished sin, and this is why Jesus was not only justified but right to respond to the desecration of the temple vocally and even by chasing the vendors out.  Jesus, therefore, also rightly responded to those who sought to trick, tempt and deceive Him with seemingly harsh words calling them names like “brood of vipers” and stating that they were of the devil (Matt 12.34, John 8.44).

It is also imperative that we remember it is God’s place alone to exact vengeance, and He will.   All sin is primarily against Him and He alone is fully righteous.  He, therefore, will exact perfect and right vengeance and we would only dishonor it by trying.  It is by remembering this promise that we can endure wickedness.

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

– Rom 12.19

If our goal, therefore, is to overcome evil with good and to do so by loving our enemies, we can make better decisions in the moment of suffering.  If someone is persecuting, hating or offending us, can we impact the kingdom by loving them with the response of turning the other cheek?  By going the extra mile?  Or by knowingly letting ourselves be taken advantage of?  Or will we more rightly overcome evil with good by exiting the situation, like Jesus and Paul did so often?

Unfortunately there is no cut and dry, “always do this” answer, because that is not how life works.  Even if we look at the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount, we cannot apply the instructions as exclusive and normative.  For example, we do not always pray when we are alone in our closet (Matt 6.6).  We are instructed to pray when we gather corporately, and the elders are commanded to pray over a sick person for his healing (Matt 18.19-20, James 5.14-15).

Therefore, as in all decision making, we should stop and pray.  We should seek first the Holy Spirit and ask for wisdom.  God promises always to give wisdom to those who ask (James 1.5).  We should seek godly council and weigh our response against Scripture.  If our choice is in line with Scripture and by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, then we can always act confidently – whether that be to give more money to someone who has stolen from you, or to escape the situation, or to demand that someone work in order to earn his wages and food (2 Thess 3.10).

When you do sin…

shame

Christians are those holy people who live perfect lives and never do anything wrong.  Right?  Either that or they are a bunch of hypocrites who live just like the world and yet claim to have God “on their side”, or in support of whatever whacked-out thing they choose to do.  We tend to not really make room for a middle ground, recognizing the simple fact that Christians are people who should be interacting with God on a regular basis and dying to sin, yet still bound to their flesh and making mistakes and giving in to temptation from time to time.

Because of this fact – even within the Christian community – we tend to put up walls and be minimally vulnerable with one another.  Christ has given us the most beautiful community in which we should depend on one another for accountability and Spiritual sharpening, but yet we think that those around us are not falling into sin and we are too afraid of damaging our reputation to confess our struggles to one another.

But there is hope!

As long as we are in our earthly bodies, we will wrestle with our own personal sin, temptation and failure.  There are times that we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

Notice here that the flesh and the Spirit are directly opposed to one another, and by giving in to one you are suffocating the things that the other desires.  When we submit to and follow the Spirit, we are not doing the things that we would please in our flesh.  When we submit to the flesh, we are not doing the things that we would please in our Spirit.

We might be tempted to blame the enemy or Satan when we sin, but the simple reality is that our flesh wants things that are sinful, and sometimes we give in.  Yes, there may be times that we are lured by an outside force, but by-in-large we lead ourselves into those situations.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

– James 1.13-15

The simple reality is that sin looks attractive.  It feels good, at least for the moment.  And often times it starts small and snowballs or grows over time as we become immune to the conviction of the Spirit.  And sometimes we have been so inoculated by the world and our culture that we neglect to evaluate an action, word or deed against Scripture to even determine if it is sinful, and we sin unintentionally.

But it is all sin, it must all be confessed and we must repent from it as the Spirit leads and convicts.

So where is the hope?

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

The book of 1 John is a gut wrencher and convictor.  It makes statements that sound extremely black and white, cut and dry, such as:

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:  the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”

– 1 John 2.3-6

John even goes so far as to say that if you hate someone you are not saved (v 2.9).  Have you ever struggled to forgive someone?  Do you have any grudges in your life?  Or are you living perfectly at peace with everyone in your world?  The risk of that is our very salvation.

But yet John gives us this beautiful hope that when we do sin we have an advocate.  There is a heavenly court room in which the enemy approaches God to accuse us of our sin.  When we have confessed our sins and repented of them, however, Jesus stands as the defense lawyer to simply say, “Punishment paid”.  Jesus intercedes for us continually before the Father, taking the penalty of our sin upon Himself and presenting us as washed clean in His blood.

“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”

– Rom 8.33-34

“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

– Heb 7.25

Jesus has already paid the punishment and appeased the wrath of God for our sins.  When we confess them and lay them at His feet, he covers them in His blood and deems us clean before God.  We will continue to sin, as long as we are in our bodies, and He will continue to wash us clean and empower us to die to that sin throughout the Christian life.

He has also given us community to help and push us on to holiness.  We are commanded to confess our sins to one another, to pray over one another, and to push one another on to holiness:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

Repenting is two fold:  turning away from sin and turning to God.  When you are convicted or when you give in to sin, confess it to God and turn away from it in His strength.  He continues to forgive us and sanctify us.  He forgave David for rape and murder.  Salvation was offered to those who murdered Jesus Himself.  There is nothing too great for Him.  Turn to Him, find your peace and comfort in Him, confess your sins to those who will push you on to righteousness, and rely on His mercy and grace.  You will sin, let’s be prepared for how to respond.

Distinguishing Root and Fruit.

fruit

We all know the golden rule:  do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Most of us know that this comes straight from the Bible:

“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”

– Luke 6.31

If you have spent much time in the church or if you have read much of Jesus’ teaching, you will also know that He was cornered by some pious men and asked which of God’s commandments was the greatest.  Without blinking, Jesus responded:

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

– Matt 22.35-40

The greatest commandment of God, that on which the entire Bible is established is the commandment to love God with everything we have – and let that love overflow in such a way that we love everyone around us in the same way that we love ourselves.  The commandment to love is a strange one, however.  What exactly is love?  We talk about our different love languages – the ways that we express and receive love.  We talk about different cultures and how they perceive, feel and express love.  We talk about how people should treat one another when they love each other…but it is quite difficult to nail down what exactly love is.  Webster’s defines love as:

  1. a (1) :  strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2) :  attraction based on sexual desire :  affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3):  affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates>
    b :  an assurance of affection <give her my love>

  2. warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion <love of the sea>

  3. a :  the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration <baseball was his first love>
    b (1) :  a beloved person :  darling —often used as a term of endearment (2) British —used as an informal term of address

  4. a :  unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1) :  the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) :  brotherly concern for others
    b :  a person’s adoration of God

In summary of these points, it is primarily an affection that results in putting someone else before one’s self.  Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek term used for love (ἀγαπάω, agapaōas:

 – To be full of good will and exhibit the same;
– with acc. of the person, To have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of

As we enter into marriage and as we evaluate the prevalent flippancy of our culture, we regularly discuss the commitment involved and the choice to love even when our emotions fail, but we all must and do recognize the simple fact that there is and must be at some level an emotional side to love.  Miserable is the marriage that goes through the motions of matrimony without any care or affection.  Sad is the child who receives dutiful care from a mother but no emotional engagement or nurture.  Yes, there are times that we choose to do those “duties” that our love requires when our emotions are not there, but in general we recognize, expect and hope for the emotional side of love to accompany the dutiful.

Unfortunately, emotions are not quantifiable and we turn to actions hoping to gauge the presence and proof of that love.  This is not only a good thing to do, but a Biblical guideline:

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him’.”

– John 14.23

Jesus Himself stated that anyone who loves Him will obey Him.  He said it multiple times and in a variety of ways in this one discourse (John 14.15, 21, 23, 24).  We also see in other passages that the fruit of the spirit is love for one another and the keeping of Jesus’ commandments:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

– Gal 5.22-24

If we love God, then we will love one another and exemplify joy, peace, patience, and all of the other fruit of the Spirit.  If we love God, the Holy Spirit will abide within us and empower us to obey Jesus’ commandments and His fruit will pour out from our lives.  Our obedience, our changed personalities and dispositions are the fruit – the outpouring, the result of our love.  Yes, we can force some of them for a little while, but we will not be transformed and it will not be the outpouring of who we are unless we love God, abide in Him and draw our strength and life from Him.

The root is love.  The fruit is obedience.

Jesus talks about abiding in Him, remaining in Him, being grafted into Him as a branch is to a tree.  These analogies are all painting the same picture:  we love Him and that love is emotional, real, and causes in us a longing for Him.  As we come to Him, spend time with Him, reflect on His teaching and study the things He said, we are in return deriving strength from Him.  By coming to Him, we are becoming one with Him – drawing life-giving sap and nutrients from the core of the tree, being empowered by the new Spirit that has taken up residence in our lives, and being transformed into new creatures.

What does all of this mean?  First of all, it means that we do have a tangible way by which we can evaluate ourselves.  If we are not walking in obedience and exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit, then we know that we do not love Jesus and we are not walking in Him – therefore we are most likely not saved.  Yes, there are times that we will struggle with sin and there are times that we will make peace with sin and the Spirit will take time to work those things out.  But we should be very concerned about ourselves and one another if we are not seeing obedience and the fruit of the Spirit portrayed.

Secondly, we have a means of accountability with one another.  Everyone who loves Jesus will obey His commandments and be marked by the fruit of the Spirit.  We must and should keep each other in mind and in heart – part of loving our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves – making sure that they are not making peace with sin either.

Unfortunately, while it is true that everyone who loves Jesus will obey Him and be marked by the fruit of the Spirit, not everyone who keeps a moral lifestyle or attends church loves Jesus.  If we are not deeply invested in one another’s lives, then moral people will be able to self-placate and believe themselves safe from damnation within our churches, small groups and communities.  They can fool themselves and they can fool others, for a while.  There will come a time when true colors come out, however, and this is another reason we need accountability and deep investment.

Thirdly, this reality gives us great hope.  Our salvation and unity with Christ are not contingent on our perfect obedience or fruit, it is based on our love and remaining in Him.  Men naturally hate the light.  If you have an affection for or longing for Jesus, that is supernatural and it is a gift.

“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

 – John 3.20-21

In fact, Paul tells us that the very word of the Bible is foolishness to those who are not saved:

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

 – 1 Cor 1.18

Therefore we can take great hope in the simple fact that we love Jesus, long for Him and enjoy spending time with Him and in His word.  If you do not, this is the starting point – not cleaning up your life.  Ask Jesus to open the eyes of your heart, to draw you to Himself, to give you a new Spirit and a new life.  You cannot long for these things on your own.  Yes, you can long to be saved from Hell, but you cannot desire intimacy with Jesus unless He draws you and gives you faith.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 – Eph 2.8-9

Lastly, it simply means that obedience will be an outpouring of love.  Yes, there will be times that it will be hard.  But by-in-large, when we know and love Jesus, when we are being transformed to look more like Him, we will start to act like Him.  We will “obey” Him, because we want to emulate Him, because we want to please Him, because we want to enjoy Him.  The fruit will come out of us naturally, we will not have to force its growth and we will not be out picking fruit off other branches and taping to our own.  The root is love, and it supplies us with the life-giving sap that produces the fruit.

You will do greater works than Jesus.

street preacher

Sometimes Jesus said things that just rock my world.  If we are honest with ourselves, we probably tend to live with a semi-comfortable understanding of His teaching, going about our day-to-day and turning to Him when we feel as though we need Him – occasionally feeling challenged by those more dynamic or radical statements.  We justify ourselves – Jesus didn’t really mean that we are supposed to love our enemies, make disciples of all nations, and hate our mothers/fathers for His sake, right?  We can be functional pacifists and turn the other cheek and talk about our faith when someone else brings up the topic.  Surely that’s good enough.

But then Jesus makes crazy statements that throw us for a loop when we read them.  Like this:

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?  The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.  Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.  Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.  Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”

– John 14.10-14

Everyone who believes in Jesus will do the same works as Jesus
and greater works as well.  

Wait, what?!  This is not written only about the apostles.  This is not written in the abstract.  This is not written about just those super-Christians who become pastors, missionaries and the extra-spiritual.  Jesus says everyone who believes in Him will do greater works than Him.

What, however, are those works about which Jesus is speaking?  Up until this point in the book of John Jesus has turned water into wine, healed a man who has been lame for thirty-eight years, walked on water, given sight to a man who was born blind, and even raised Lazarus after being dead for four days – just to name a few.  Is Jesus saying that everyone who believes in Him will do these kinds of miracles?  Because if so, probably none of us believes in Him.  I’ve never raised a dead man or walked on water.

It is extremely important to remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture.  Jesus will never contradict Himself, God, or other Biblical writers.  And we see very clearly in the book of 1 Corinthians that not everyone will be given the gift of healing and miracles:

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.  All are not apostles, are they?  All are not prophets, are they?  All are not teachers, are they?  All are not workers of miracles, are they?  All do not have gifts of healings, do they?  All do not speak with tongues, do they?  All do not interpret, do they?

– 1 Cor 12.28-30

So not everyone will be an apostle, not everyone will be a teacher, not everyone will preform miracles and not everyone will have the gift of healing, let alone helps or administration!  Jesus perfectly and fully did all of those things.  What, then, are the works about which Jesus is speaking?

The verses leading up to this unfathomable statement help give us a little clarity.  Jesus claims that the words He speaks and the things He does are actually the Father working in and through Him – and they are all done/said to the end that people would believe.  “Otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (John 10.11).  The works are those things that are leading people to faith in Jesus – giving them grounds on which to believe in Him.

So if we cannot define the works of Jesus – the type of which we will do “greater” – we know at least it is those things that lead people to faith in Jesus.  How, then, can the words we say and the things we do be greater in leading people to faith in Jesus than what He Himself said and did?  We get a clue in the second half of the sentence:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”

Jesus was the transition point of history.  From the fall of mankind with Adam and Eve in the Garden, humanity was enslaved in sin and looking forward to a savior who would free humanity from sin, break the curse and crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3.15).  The entire Old Testament and Old Covenant between God and Israel was built upon a sacrifice system that looked forward to one final and perfect sacrifice:  Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus’ ministry was extremely unique, thus, because He was the embodiment of that transition and was teaching truth that would applied in the New Covenant, the new era and the new relationship of God to His people but yet He was still living under the Law.  It was His death and resurrection that caused the transition from one to the other.  This is why Jesus said that everyone who believes in Him will do greater works because He is going to the Father.  Once Jesus’ work was completed on the Earth, the Father sent the Holy Spirit to empower every single believer to do the work of the ministry based on the new hope that we have of purification from sins.  Up until this point, people were awaiting the purification from their sins, but with His return to the Father we can now be pardoned while still in our flesh.  We are not yet perfect, and we are continually confessing our sins and repenting, but we have been justified and can therefore enter into God’s presence personally.

We are not preforming greater works than Jesus because of any merit of our own.  We are not preforming greater works than Jesus because His works were lacking.  In fact, most of the works and deeds He preformed far outweigh any that we will preform in magnitude, in the miraculous or in dependence on God, but they will be greater by nature of having the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in them to bring about new birth and eternal life.  Jesus was not giving people new birth because He had not yet died to pay the punishment for their sins, and thus people were not yet offered eternal life through confession and repentance.  They were still exemplifying faith by looking forward to salvation.

None of us is greater than Jesus.  In fact, it is by His power alone that we can do these works of which He spoke.  But we have been given the unique gift of proclaiming the Gospel – of preaching the forgiveness of sins by the work of Jesus – which brings about new life through faith.  Any work preformed and any word proclaimed that leads to faith and new life is the greatest work possible, and distinct from even the ministry that Jesus had.

Let us not take for granted this blessing and honor.  Let us get busy about living lives that proclaim the Gospel and lead people to faith in Jesus.  That is the reason He has left us here on the Earth, and that is all that will matter in eternity.

Wiping Your Feet

shoes

For four years I lived and worked on an island which is famous for its tropical rain forests.  My job was to take groups of tourists and anthropologists out into the jungle to see orangutan, meed tribal people and see the amazing sites.  Being in the rain forest, there was always an abundance of water present – rivers, streams, springs, rain – but when you are hiking and carrying supplies, there is a very distinct aroma one develops after a few days.  Even if you go for a swim (or bath) in the river.  It is indescribably beautiful, but it is also muddy, it is wet, it is hot, and by the end of a few days in the jungle, everyone is filthy.  Arriving in a major city was always greeted by the pleasure of a cleansing shower.  Dirty clothes were sealed in air-tight bags to be washed, shoes were left in the sun to dry out, and every adventurist could not wait to be clean.

Because of the natural habitat and the worldview of the nationals, it is also cultural to take at least two baths a day.  They are exceptionally clean people.  One habit that they have, to maintain their cleanliness is to always remove shoes at the front door.  Americans take great pride in their shoes which help to “make the outfit”, but there shoes are always left outside or right at the front door in a rack so as to keep the house clean.

There was a similar habit in Jesus’ day.  Shoes were left at the door and a servant would actually wash people’s feet as they entered into the household.  The dust which gathered on people’s feet from outside was washed away so that they could still be clean and keep the house clean as well.  Jesus Himself used this as a powerful image to teach us about our personal Spiritual state in relationship to Him.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.  So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’  Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.’  Peter said to Him, ‘Never shall You wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’  Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.’  Jesus said to him, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’  For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean’.”

– John 13.3-11

Apart from Jesus, we are filthy.  We are stinky and muddy, and even if we try to clean up in the jungle river, all of our belongings still reek of sweat, rain and filth.  This Spiritual state is described in various ways throughout Scripture:  we are Spiritually dead (Eph 2.1-3), we are of the devil (John 8.44), we are enemies of God (Rom 8.7).  Dead bodies stink.  However, once we come to Jesus, He takes away our guilt of sin by placing it on Himself and washes us clean:

“’Come now, and let us reason together,’
Says the Lord,
‘Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool’.”

– Is 1.18

“The next day [John] saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”

– John 1.29

However.  Since we are still in the world and since we still have our flesh, we will continue to sin.  We will still get dirty.  When we come to Jesus, He washes us clean and makes us a new creation.  But when we go about life and when we give into temptation and when we choose to sin, we get mud or dust on our feet.  This dust needs to be washed off occasionally, as we enter into the house and presence of God.  This is what we call confession and repentance, and this is what is known as the ongoing process of sanctification.  We are not perfect, and will never be perfect until we shed our flesh and are in the presence of God.

This is why Jesus rebuked Peter, who simply did not understand what Jesus was doing.  “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”  If we have already been washed in the blood, we only need Jesus to deal with the present dirt, we do not need to be saved anew.  However, if we refuse to let Jesus wash away the dirt then we prove ourselves to be filthy and have no part of Him:

‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’

Sin is filthy and wicked and it is that which separates us from God.  If we do not allow Jesus to handle our sin problem, if we do not confess our sins, repent of them and submit to God’s definition of sin in all of our lives and worldview, then we have no part of Him.  We must continually work out our salvation by confessing sin, hating it, and allowing Jesus to wash us clean and change us so that we stop sinning (Phil 2.12, 1 John 1.9).

“And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.  You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.  No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”

– 1 John 3.3-6

Are you in the habit of letting Jesus wash your feet?  Or did you take a bath after a long trek in the jungle and now assume that you are clean for the rest of your life?  Yes, that hot, revitalizing bath did wash you spotless, but Jesus says that we must allow Him to continually wash the dust from our feet in order to remain clean and prove ourselves to have had that initial washing.  If we do not allow Him to wash our feet, then we were never clean to begin with – just like Judas – whose feet Jesus did wash, but who himself was never cleansed from his sins.  Let us confess our sins, submit to Jesus and be washed anew daily.

Look to Jesus and you will be at rest.

holocaust

In the last twelve days,  we have seen ISIS attack Istanbul’s major airport killing 45 and setting the world on edge because Istanbul serves as a sort of gateway between the western world and the Middle East.  Then gunmen linked to ISIS killed another twenty in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and then ISIS pulled off their most deadly attack killing at least 121 in Baghdad.  Droves of people are being murdered around the world and here in the states we are watching racial tensions lead us to a new level of hate where people now embrace “their killers” based on race or profession.  I have seen friends on social media post about inequality because “Our murderers are dead and your murderers receive a paid vacation”.  Really?  That is where we are as a nation?  And then at least 6,000 Turkish military personnel rise up under the leadership of an Islamic minority group in an attempted Coup of the government.

The world is in a tragic state.  As Americans, we regularly look only as far as our own backyard and we are all in an uproar about Black and Blue lives that matter wile nations are quite literally falling apart and killing one another at much more alarming rates.  Yes, I believe that black lives and blue lives matter.  I also grieve for the hundreds who have been murdered this week while celebrating their version of Christmas all around the world, and the entire nation of Turkey (and Syria and many African nations) who have lost all sense of security in their worlds.  Just consider what would change if a military coup occurred in the US.  Jobs, schooling, the banks, all of our retirement plans, all of our “rights” and expectations as fat and happy citizens would be instantaneously changed or gone.  Everything.

But that is Turkey, not here.  We will keep fighting over who has to make a cake for whom and consequently bemoan the terrible injustices we encounter daily.

Corrie Ten Boom is one of those people who exemplified the most remarkable faith and has forever impacted my life and worldview.  She, along with her family, were Dutch nationals who helped hide and rescue Jews during WWII.  The family was arrested for their actions and Corrie was imprisoned alongside her sister Betsie in concentration camps.  Betsie died in the camp.  The girls led Bible studies, worship services and continually praised God throughout their imprisonment, and after the war ended Corrie returned to the Netherlands where she began a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors. The girls’ faith was poignant and bold – praising God for even the fleas in their barracks, which they only later learned were the reason that the guards did not come in to rape and harass the women as they did the other women.  Corrie made this simple, yet profound statement:

“If you look at the world, you will be distressed.
If you look within, you will be depressed.
If you look at Christ, you will be at rest.”

– Corrie Ten Boom

Can you imagine:  quite literally starving to death, being worked with the intention of extermination, fearing for your life with no relief in sight, living in barracks with no heat and infested by fleas, having no idea the fate of your family and loved ones, and all the while being able to say, “Look to Jesus and you will be at rest”?

How can we be at rest?  Perhaps you live in fear of the police.  Perhaps you are a police man living in fear of random assassination.  Perhaps you look at the upcoming election with fear, considering both of the candidates unfit to lead our country.  Perhaps you look at the alarming rate at which ISIS is growing, attacks are being successfully carried out and governments are failing.  Perhaps you are stuck in your own little bubble – needing a job, fretting about retirement or arguing about social injustice because someone looked at you funny.  And all of these things are things worth discussing and fighting for (or against).  But these things are not eternal, and these things – if rectified – will not bring us joy and peace.  Only Jesus can do that.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

– John 16.33

Jesus has already overcome the world.  He has defeated sin and eternal death, and is delaying the end of the Age for the salvation of many.  But the war is already over, the end has already been written and we know that He will bring all of His own into His final rest.  But He also offers rest now, while we are still living on this Earth.  How?  By assurance that our eternity is secure and promising that everything that happens on Earth is working out to His glory and our Spiritual best.  God’s best for the Ten Boom family was obedience to protect Jews, incarceration in a labor camp, murder for some of them, and unthinkable suffering.  They were given faith about which most of us can only dream.  They were sustained through trials – the likes of which would send many of us into depression and abandonment of the faith.

Our eternal life has already begun in the New Birth, and eternal life is simply knowing Him:

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

– John 17.3

Do you know God?  If you do, then you have eternal life.  If you do not, then you do not yet have eternal life.  We will have worldly suffering and trials.  We have difficulties.  Just like Jesus did.  Just like the apostles did.  Just like the early church did.  But all we have to do is look to Jesus, and we will have rest.  Let’s look to Him today – while we are fighting for justice, while we are praying for our nation and the world, while we are seeking economic stability and while we are planning for the future.  Look to Jesus and have rest.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

– Matt 11.28