FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
Calming Troubled Hearts
Don't you wish you could turn anxiety on and off like a faucet? Wouldn't it be great if you could worry from 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and then shut it down so that you could get a good night's rest?
Unfortunately, we cannot control anxiety; anxiety arises from within and is not subject to reason or the dictates of the human will. Rather than playing the role of a humble servant, it comes to take charge over the whole person. Like most dictators, it refuses compromise. We need a power greater than ourselves to bid it adieu.
When Christ told His disciples that He would be leaving them, they were filled with anxiety and fear. Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You shall seek Me, and as I said to the Jews, Where I am going, you cannot come,' now I say to you also" (John 13.33).
Peter asked for more details. "Lord where are You going?" Christ replied, 'Where I go, you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me later" (v 36). Peter's response was to promise Christ that he was willing to die saying, I will lay down my life for you " (v 37). Christ was unimpressed; He predicted that Peter would deny Him instead.
Fear gripped the hearts of the disciples when they realized that Jesus was leaving them. The thought of coping with hostile religious leaders on their own was more than they could bear. What is more, Christ had woven His way into their hearts. They loved Him.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox once heard the comment that the same wind that blows a vessel west can also blow one east, depending on how the sail is set. Out of that bit of information came these fines:
One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow
'Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
Which tell us the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate
As we voyage along through life
'Tis the set of the soul
That decides its goal
And not the calm or strife.
Christ was saying to the disciples, "You can weather the winds of loneliness and adversity if you adjust your sails!" The promises He would give them would enable them to ride out the storm.
When Christ washed the disciples feet, He gave them an object lesson on how to keep their hearts clean; now they needed some instruction on how to keep their hearts calm. If they remembered who He was and if they knew who they were, they would manage even though Christ was leaving them.
'Let not your heart be troubled, " Christ began. Troubled hearts -- the world is full of them. A woman suspects she has cancer but can't bring herself to go to the doctor for fear that he will confirm those suspicions. A man is frightened believing he might lose his job; and another is wrenched knowing that his child is running away from God; and still another that his marriage is about to break up. An accident kills a marriage partner and the shock, disbelief, and loneliness is overwhelming.
Many people are terrorized by anxiety but cannot identify the object of their fears. In fact, anxiety has been called the official emotion of our age and the basis of neurosis. Like a blip on a television monitor, anxious thoughts can flit across our minds without permission.
The disciples were about to sink beneath the waves. That's why Christ turned their attention toward the certainty of their final destination. When everything is going well, heaven seems distant and even irrelevant. But when the big winds blow -- when the doctor tells you that you only have three months to live, or when you are overcome by loneliness -- heaven becomes ever so welcome. It's then that we are keenly aware that the losses we experience here on earth will be made up to us. His peace will guard the hearts and minds of those who pray.
A young woman who lost her father in an airplane accident said, 'What keeps me going is the knowledge that I will see my dad again." Most of us think the worst that could happen to us is an untimely death. If we can overcome that fear, the lesser ones will take care of themselves. But sometimes, between our life today and eventual death, all kinds of other storms cross our path. So Christ, knowing what's going on in the hearts of the disciples, pours a healing balm on troubled hearts.
"Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me" (John 14. 1). Christ linked Himself directly with God; He asked His disciples to trust in Him just as they trusted in God. He discussed His own departure to heaven and assured the disciples that someday they would join Him there. Christ knew that His followers become controlled by what they gaze at. So He turned the attention of the disciples to the glories of the future.
"In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you, for Igo to prepare a place for you" (14:2). Heaven is a special place. The King James translation, many mansions, elicits the vision of a ranch-style home with a fifty-acre front yard and limousines parked in the driveway. But the word mansion really means "dwelling place" and is used only one other time in all the New Testament -- in verse 23 of John 14: 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. " That word abode is the same word translated "mansion" or "dwelling place." Christ's point is that heaven has sufficient room for us all. Yes, it will be beautiful, but the disciples were not concerned about that -- being reunited with Christ was uppermost in their minds.
Nor should we think that Christ has been working for 2,000 years getting heaven ready for us. It has been facetiously suggested that since Christ was a carpenter on earth, He's been exercising the same skill in glory
He is working to finish the rooms in time for our arrival!
As God, He didn't have to get a head start. He can create our future home in a moment of time. Christ's point is simply, "I am leaving, and while I am gone, I will be preparing a place for you" (v 3). Just as a mother prepares for the arrival of her son who has been at sea, so Christ is preparing for our arrival. Even now, it is ready for us.
Christ stresses that it will have plenty of room. The size of the New Jerusalem given in the Book of Revelation is 1,500 miles square and 1,500 miles high (21:16). If we take this literally, heaven will comprise thousands of stories, each one having an area almost as big as the United States. Divide that up into separate condominiums, and you have plenty of room for all the people who have ever lived since the beginning of time. The Old Testament saints -Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- they shall be there. Then we think of the New Testament apostles and all the redeemed throughout 2,000 years of church history -- heaven will be the home for all of them. Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of the world's population will not be there. Heaven, as Christ explained, is a special place for special people.
Perhaps you think you might be lost in the crowd, or you are afraid you'll get stuck on the 1000th floor when all of the activity is in the downstairs lounge! No worry. If heaven does literally have the length and width given in the Bible, we will be able to travel in a moment of time just as Christ did after His resurrection. All you will have to do is think about where you'd like to be and you'll be there! Everyone will be equally important; we will all be given individualized attention. As someone has said, there will be a crown awaiting us that no one else can wear; a dwelling place that no one else can enter.
Are you weary of moving around the country? Some families move every two years. Wives don't know whether they should unpack. It's too hot in Arizona, too cold in Chicago, and too rainy in Seattle. But when you arrive in heaven, you can unpack. It's your final home.
A special place, yes. But our focus in heaven will be on the Special Person, Christ. 'And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am there you maybe also" (v 3). Those are the words the disciples wanted to hear. Heaven is the place where all human needs for fellowship and security are fully met.
When Christ said that He will return, it is probably best to understand this as a reference to His return to earth. Though that event is still future, the bodies of the disciples themselves shall be resurrected at the rapture; and the disciples, together with us, will rejoice with the Lord in the air. His return is explained more fully in passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.
As children, we probably thought that heaven might be boring -- one eternal church service. You begin on page one of the hymnal and sing your way through. No matter how exciting it may be at the beginning, it will eventually become monotonous. Someone has said that the popular conception of heaven would picture it as spending a rainy weekend at a summer camp! You may have heard the story of a preacher who asked all those who wanted to go to heaven to raise their hands. All hands shot up, except that of a man sitting in the front seat. "Don't you want to go to heaven?" the preacher asked. "Sure," he said, "but I thought you were getting a group together to go right now!"
Heaven means the personal presence of Christ and the splendor of God the Father. Every church on earth has its faults. All of us worship imperfectly; our theology is not always as accurate as it should be. We sometimes don't get along with each other, and even have harsh words between us.
But in heaven, we will be in a state of perfection. We will worship God the Father and God the Son. Our anxieties will be over forever; God will be dwelling with His people, and He shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. All negative emotions will vanish, and there will be no trace of sorrow or its effects. We'll walk and worship with the King. Someone has written these words that have been set to music:
Just think of stepping on shore And finding it heaven, Of taking a hand And finding it God's, Of breathing new air And finding it celestial, Of waking up in glory And finding it home!
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
When Heaven Is Your Home
Most of us remember the words of that old song,
This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through
My treasures are laid up Somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me From heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home In this world anymore
Walk through a hospital today, and you will find bodies that are deteriorating. A young woman is dying of cancer; a middle-aged man is struggling with heart disease, his wife and children bent over him in quiet anxiety. An accident victim is rushed through the hallway, his face disfigured.
When Christ wanted to calm the hearts of His troubled disciples He said, "Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in me .. in my Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. " Yes, He was leaving them, but only to prepare a place for them and return at a future date.
Just visualize heaven: New bodies not subject to disease, pain, or old age -- that's what we have waiting for us. A body that can travel through space and that needs no sleep.
Will a baby still be a baby in heaven? No, physically we will all be like Christ. Those who are deformed in this life will most assuredly be without defect in the life to come. The resurrection body will be created out of preexisting material but will not be limited by present handicaps (1 Corinthians 15:42-").
Yes, you will still be the same person in heaven. Your mind, with all of its history and memories, will be a part of that new body. The real you will be fully present.
Will your mother still be your mother in heaven? Yes, we will know each other for who we were on earth. But there will be a difference: Rather than being a member of a small family, you will be a member of an extended family. The same affection and love you have for your family on earth will be extended to the larger family of God. No one will feel alienated; no problem with rejection or inferiority. One family, with Christ being accessible to all.
Will we know each other in heaven? Of course. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John knew Moses and Elijah. I doubt whether they had to be formally introduced. We'll likely have an intuition or instant knowledge of one another -- not omniscience but very active and bright minds.
This knowledge sustained the disciples in the moment of distress. Knowing that they would eventually be with Christ would help them through the period of separation and sorrow. They could have a calm heart though sailing a stormy sea.
Thomas was confused. So he asked, "Lord, we do not know where You are going; how do we know the way?" (v 5). In answer to his specific question, Christ give one of His famous "I Am" pronouncements. Read it carefully: I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (v 6).
The way. Christ is the route to God the Father and to the heavenly city He had just been talking about. He is the beginning and the end of our journey. Neither the alcoholic nor the religious man can make his path to God. Christ alone is the way to a new kind of life, ready to lead men and women to God.
Christ knows the Father; indeed, He said to Philip, 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" (v 9). You don't have to know everything about the trip as long as you have a reliable guide. We've all been lost in a strange city, and when asking for directions have heard, "Sorry, I'm new here too!" What a difference when you are with someone who knows the whole trip from beginning to end!
One day a tourist walking across a desert asked a guide, 'Where is the path?" to which the guide replied, "I am the path." Someone has said that Christ is the way from the place of man's ruin all the way to God the Father; all the way from the city of destruction to the heavenly city.
If you are not fussy about your destination, then the road you take does not matter much. In fact, if you don't know where you are going, any path will get you there.
Christ is both the travel agent and the means of transportation. He is the One who takes bookings for heaven. He has the ability to bring the most unworthy sinners to God. Yes, He is the way.
Christ is also the truth. He is the essence of all truth -- truth which exists objectively and eternally.
Years ago, I knew a Christian student who sat next to a bitter atheist in a university classroom. This young foe of Christianity wrote a ten-page paper which derided Christianity for its belief in truth. His bottom line: There is no truth; thus Christ was wrong in claiming to have some! The Christian woman who sat next to him gave me a copy of the paper to which I wrote a short reply. I pointed out that if there is no such thing as truth, then we could discard his ten-page paper immediately -- obviously it contained no truth! In fact, I challenged him to be consistent: He should never speak again, because whenever he did, we would know in advance that what he was saying could not be true!
The world says there is no truth, but Christ is the One Who claims to be truth. He is both consistent and reliable. He is a dependable source of revelation. Even the psalmist recognized that truth resides in God. "Teach me Thy way, 0 Lord, I will walk in Thy truth, unite my heart to fear Thy name" (Psalm 86. 11).
In some cases, the character of a man might no have direct bearing on what he teaches. But think of the inconsistency of a greedy man pleading for generosity, or a bitter man waxing eloquent on the need for forgiveness and love. In teachings regarding moral and spiritual issues, we expect the teacher to practice what he preaches. Christ did. His life and lip were consistent.
Jesus explained to His followers, 'You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Truth is liberating because we are beset with falsehoods; we are by nature prone to accept the lies of the devil. Truth leads to victory. He is "the truth. "
What does it mean for Christ to be the life? He has resources for those who see the insufficiency of their own strength. He can give life and give it more abundantly.
Christ may be thinking about physical life, but more important, He is speaking about spiritual life -- that is, Page 6
bringing believers into direct contact with the Father. The world speaks about "living it up" when actually sensual pleasure is nothing more than a slow form of spiritual death; it is "living it down." Christ said, "The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; therefore He adds, "No one comes to the Father but through Me" (v 6). This clear statement of the exclusivity of the Gospel message shows the complete uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Thomas thought he did not know the way-, but if he knew Christ, he did know the way after all. It's not the way of the proud or the so-called broad minded. It's the way of the cross, the way of faith and repentance. Someone has said, "Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living."
What was the effect of all this on the disciples? They could rest in the confidence that Christ's departure would not be permanent. He had gone to heaven but would come again to receive them. They were on the right road; they were on the side of truth and blessed with eternal life.
Such knowledge would give the disciples the confidence needed to transfer the ownership of their lives to God. They could make heavenly investments that would eventually greet them in the life beyond.
A man who entered heaven was surprised to find that he was not given a beautiful home, but just a comfortable apartment. When he voiced a complaint, he was told "This is the best we could do with what you sent up here." This fictitious story is a poignant reminder that what we hold to ourselves, we shall, lose forever; and what we give to Christ, we shall meet again.
Today I'm speaking to someone who is lonely; someone who has said goodbye to a loved one for the last time. Just as the disciples, we can be confident that our separation is temporary.
The troubled waters were calmed by the soothing words of Christ's promises. They believed in God, and they could also believe in Him. No matter how many storms they would encounter, their sail was set to make it to the other side.
Many people live their lives crucified between two thieves -- the regrets of yesterday and the anxieties of tomorrow. In washing the disciples' feet, Christ illustrated how He could wipe out the regrets of yesterday. In talking confidently about heaven, He proved His ability to rid them of the anxieties of tomorrow. They could endure the separation and fear much better because of the assurance that everything would end all right.
In a World War 11 prison camp, shouts of joy broke out one morning amid the smell of disease and death. The emaciated prisoners, though weak from starvation and suffering, found cause to laugh. What could possibly induce elation in the face of depression and hopelessness? One of the prisoners had an old transistor radio and that morning heard the news that the war was over. Though their circumstances had not changed, the prisoners could now endure the suffering, because they were confident that freedom lay just around the corner.
Let me encourage you to measure your problems in light of our final triumph in heaven. A few days, months, or even years of affliction cannot be compared with eternity. 'For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4.17-18).
Yes, many storms awaited the disciples. But they were relieved to know that they would arrive safely on the other side. They could set their sail toward heaven regardless of the direction of the winds of hostility and misunderstanding.
It's not the direction of the wind, but the setting of the sail that determines your destination. No matter how far you venture out on the sea, your heart need never leave the port.
Gazing at the promises and only glancing at the waves is God's way of keeping us calm until we reach the other side.
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
Carrying The Torch
During World War 11, bombers destroyed the Kaiser Wilhelm Church in Berlin. As the rubble was cleared away, workers found a statue of Christ with the hands missing. A sculptor agreed to restore the statue, but the church leaders decided to keep it as it was, a vivid reminder that we are Christ's hands.
While other men's work is interrupted by death, Christ told the disciples that His work was to continue after His departure. His deeds would be reproduced and perpetuated without interruption. What He began, others would complete. He was handing the torch to them.
The disciples were hardly ready for such an awesome responsibility. To take over after Christ was gone was like a midget trying to fill the shoes of a giant. How could their work be even a pale copy of the miraculous ministry of Christ?
Christ would give them some pointed teaching about their resources. But when He said that He was the way to the Father, Philip asked for more details. 'Lord show us the Father and it is enough for us" (v 8). We commend Philip for his desire to seek God, His desire to see the Father. Apparently, he was expecting a theophany, a spectacular revelation such as those given during Old Testament times. Jesus gives a startling reply, 'Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father'?" (v 9).
Christ taught that there was an unbreakable unity between God the Father and God the Son. To see Him is to see the Father; indeed, the very words that Christ speaks are spoken by the Father's initiative. Christ and the Father are One.
Put yourself in the sandals of the disciples. Knowing that Christ was a man, yet also believing He was God, was difficult to grasp. The most important commandment was, 'You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3). The basic doctrine of Judaism was, "Hear, 0 Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4). The concept of the Trinity had simply not occurred to the disciples. They knew it was blasphemy for a man to claim to be God -- yet, this Man made such claims repeatedly. That's why they were so puzzled when Christ said, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father. "
In university I took a course in philosophy which stressed that God could not be known. He is too invisible, inscrutable, and inaccessible. But thanks be to Christ, God has been brought down to us. The God who appears to be far away has come near.
With that word of encouragement, Christ now hands the disciples the torch in what would become a relay that will last two thousand years. He said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it" (vv 12-14). In His absence, His work would be carried on by the handful of disciples He had trained. His work would not be interrupted by His departure.
Imagine the startled looks on the faces of the disciples when Christ gave three promises: 1) They would do the same works as He; 2) they would do greater works; and 3) whatever they asked in His name, they would receive. Let me explain.
What did Christ mean? Should His words be taken literally? If so, what is the link between His power and our performance?
To do the same works as Christ was breathtaking enough. The New Testament biographies of Jesus tell of thrilling miracles; people were healed of incurable diseases, storms were calmed, and bread multiplied in the hands of the disciples so that more than 5,000 people were fed with a boy's lunch. Then if that were not enough, demons were cast out and the dead were raised! Someone has said that our Lord passed through the land as a river of life. Before Him were hopeless sufferers; but after He walked by, there was healing and hope.
Yet, Christ said His followers would do the same works. This was literally fulfilled in the Book of Acts when the apostles did the works of Christ. 'And also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits; and they were all being healed" (Acts 5.16). Yes, the apostles even raised the dead! But historically, the miracles later tapered off and occurred only sporadically as the centuries unfolded.
If we are surprised by the promise of Christ, "The works that I do, you shall do also," we are even more startled by a second category of works that He refers to: "Greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father" (v 12). Even the disciples in the Book of Acts did not do greater miracles than those of Christ. Faith healers today, even if found to be authentic, do not do greater works than those on the pages of the New Testament.
That's why many Bible scholars believe these words are being fulfilled by the world-wide missionary endeavors of the church. The works of Christ from heaven, done through multiplied thousands of His followers, are greater in two ways.
First, they are greater in kind. The skin of the leper whom Christ healed would again be wrinkled with age; Lazarus, though resurrected would have to die again. But when a sinner is turned from his ways, it results in everlasting life. It's been said that eternity is greater than time just as the ocean is greater than a creek. The pain from which salvation delivers men is greater than that which a disease could ever inflict. As F.B. Meyer wrote, "The soul is greater than the body, as the jewel than the casket. All work, therefore, which produces as great an effect on the soul-life as miracles on the physical life, must be proportionately greater, as the tenant is greater than the house, as the immortal than the mortal."
Patrick Henry had his priorities straight when he said in his will "I have now disposed of all of my property to my family. There is one more thing I wish I could give them and that is faith in Jesus Christ. If they had that and I had not given them one shilling, they would be rich; if they had not that and I had given them all the world, they would be poor indeed." Page 10
Here is a wealthy man who understood that the eternal soul is of much more value than our decaying bodies. The torch he bequeathed to his posterity was not finances, but faith; not wealth, but wisdom. Blessed are those who understand that the salvation of the soul is a greater miracle than the healing of the body.
The miracles of conversions are also greater in extent -- that is, evangelization takes place around the world. Christ stayed within the borders of what we call Israel. The geographical scope of His ministry was incredibly small, perhaps 100 miles from north to south and 40 miles east to west. All that He had to show for His few short years was the 120 in the Upper Room gathered after His Ascension. But the disciples and their followers would carry the Good News up and down the highways of Asia Minor and eventually across the seas to other parts of Europe and finally the world. The mighty Roman Empire would be permanently changed by the impact of the message.
What is more, Christ spoke only Greek and Aramaic. His ministry was so limited that David Hume, the famous agnostic, said that it was immoral for God to expect the whole world to believe a revelation that was limited to such a small area of the world, given in such a short span of time, and in only one culture. But through the work of the disciples, the message of Christ would eventually get to every country of the world. A stone was thrown into the pond and its ripples would be felt on every shoreline.
Today, thanks to such organizations as Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Bible is available in more languages than any other book. Millions of believers have lived in hostile regimes under Communism, or Naziism, but the Church has continued to grow. Just think of the mighty growth of the Church in China, a country where freedom is limited and persecution of Christians still is common. When my family and I visited back in 1984, the growth of the church was evident. What has attracted many Chinese to the Gospel of Christ is the joy that is evident in the lives of Christians. Joy is, after all, one of the unmistakable marks of the presence of God.
That statue of Christ without hands in a church in Berlin indeed packs a powerful message. The Savior is gone, but His work goes on uninterrupted. The two hands of the Man of Galilee are exchanged for the tens of thousands of hands of His followers who go throughout the world proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.
Rather than having the eyes of the blind opened, the eyes of the soul would be opened to the reality of Christ's message. And so Christ, the Head, directs His followers from heaven as they do greater works than He. Our hands hold His torch. Rather than two hands, now there would be thousands, all taking their direction from the Head in heaven.
In the days before electricity, oil lamps were used for lighting. But to have them work to the maximum, the wicks had to be carefully trimmed to spread the flame evenly and the globes had to be cleaned so as to be clear and shiny. Just so, we must be trimmed and clean to radiate Christ.
Sin is to the light of Christ as water in kerosene affects a camp stove. The flame will sputter and eventually go out completely. The torch Christ lit two thousand years ago is still shining through the lives of His followers. We must hold it high and then pass it on.
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
The Power of Prayer
Dr. Charles Weigle, who is probably best known for writing the song, "No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus," was preaching at a Bible conference in Pasadena California. One evening when he returned to the conference center, some of the people asked how he had enjoyed the lovely gardens of Pasadena. He was surprised at the question, wondering how people knew where he had been. The response was, "You have brought the smell of roses with you!"
During those closing hours Christ had with His disciples on earth, He gave them the assurance that they would have enough resources to represent Him, even though He was returning to the Father. They would carry the fragrance of the Gospel to the world of their day. People would know that they had been with Him.
Last time we considered Christ's amazing words -- that the works which He did, they would do also -- we concluded that through preaching the Gospel in many different cultures and languages, the disciples did do greater works than those of Christ.
Today we consider the sweeping promise that has often startled us, 'And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it" (14:13-14).
On the surface, at least, this statement appears to be untrue. We can all think of requests that have gone unanswered. And here, Christ seems to be giving the disciples carte blanche -- anything they request, they will receive. How can we unravel this promise?
Some have suggested that these words apply only to the apostles and not to their followers. In the church age following the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul, who gave much instruction about prayer, never mentions such a general promise. Rather he exhorts us, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7). He gives no promise that our requests will be fulfilled, but just that we will have the peace of Christ and the ability to accept whatever Christ gives us. On this basis, some have concluded that this promise simply does not apply to this church age.
Another way to interpret Christ's words is to limit the scope of the promise. First, Christ says whatever you ask "in My name. " That means the request must be consistent with the character of Christ. To do something in the name of another is to act as his representative. As an ambassador speaks in the name of a king, so we must be subject to the will and purposes of Christ.
Occasionally, I've been asked to lend my name to an organization to help it receive recognition or credibility. I'm much more careful than I used to be, because at least once I let my name be identified with a group that did not five up to my expectations. I've determined to have my name linked only with those whose beliefs and stated goals are consistent with mine. Page 12
Christ doesn't lend His good name to just anyone. Of course, some take it to themselves without His approval. They even do miracles in His name, yet eventually are disqualified from eternal life. But to pray in the name of Christ means that we live near enough to Him that we ask the very petitions that He would desire. As F.B. Meyer says, "Let the living water, which has descended from the eternal city return back to its source through the channel of your heart. This is praying in His name and according to His nature."
Second, Christ says that we should ask "that the Father may be glorified in the Son. " Our prayers must be subject to the will, approval, and glorification of God. In fact, that's the way the Father evaluates everything -does it glorify His name or does it not? God is particularly concerned about His glory, and whether or not His name is honored.
The main purpose of prayer is not to get us out of bankruptcy or to lessen the pain of an inflated tumor. God is interested in these problems and often does do just as we ask. But His primary purpose goes beyond our immediate needs. His glory is Number One.
Prayer in the name of Christ and for the glory of God is difficult. It excludes our selfishness, our own temporal perspective, and it forces us to trust the wisdom of God. But when the character of God and the purposes of God come together, we know the request will be granted.
To understand this more clearly, let us consider the example of Christ. He lived to please the Father, and God was glorified at Christ's expense. To unfold the plan of God, to reveal the Father to men -- that was Christ's bread and butter. To this day, His cherished purpose is to make the Father loved and adored.
Though Christ met all of the requirements for effective prayer, He did not use prayer as a means to rid Himself of the physical and emotional pain of Gethsemane and the cross. The closest He ever came to asking the Father to exempt Him from the torture that lay before Him was when He said, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me, yet, not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (Matthew 26.39). But when He prayed a second time, His will was now resolute and in wholehearted submission He said, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I &ink it, Thy will be done" (Matthew 26.42). Prayer was the means He used to gather His strength to go through with His assignment it was not the means of delivering Him from it.
Prayer is not always a substitute for pain; sometimes it is the preparation for it!
Some people try prayer just once, like the little girl who prayed earnestly that the doll she held would become a real baby. When the anticipated miracle didn't happen, she became so disillusioned that she didn't pray for several years. But prayer is not asking for what we want; it is developing trust that can persevere during those difficult trials when there is no miracle and when life itself seems to fall apart. Look at Christ in Gethsemane, filled with emotional turbulence yet submissive to the relentless pain that He would endure on the cross.
Prayer is not like putting a quarter into a slot machine -- a gambler is willing to part with a bit of money hoping the return might be worthwhile. When nothing comes out, he looks for some other quick fix that appears to have a better chance of success. In contrast, prayer is hard work; it is getting to know God well enough that we can discern His mind and intentions. And in those instances where we are baffled, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid and through us prays with groanings that cannot be put into human words.
The need of the hour is for prayer, but too often this alarm falls on deaf ears. Why don't we pray more when we know we should? Marriages are falling apart; tragedies happen in rapid succession. Many believers have no victory at all over these circumstances. A visitor from another planet would never guess that we had secret resources that are unavailable to the general populace.
Most of us remember George Mueller as a man who founded several orphanages and sustained them without asking for funds. But according to his testimony, he did not do this primarily for the benefit of bereft children, but to demonstrate that God, even in his day, could still answer prayer.
There were three categories of believers who troubled Mueller. First, there were those of old age who feared that their savings would not sustain them until the end. They lived with the anxiety of anticipating fife in the poorhouse. When he spoke to them about faith in God, they countered by saying that God no longer did miracles in our day.
Second, there were Christian businessmen who felt they had to carry on their transactions in the same way the unconverted did. They contended that the competition was such that they could not be expected to make money if they did not operate on the same basis as the world.
Third, there were those who continued in doubtful professions, but feared to resign lest they should not be able to get another position elsewhere.
Rather than lecture on prayer, Mueller decided he wanted to strengthen their faith by showing that God was completely trustworthy. He would begin an orphanage with this simple rule: He would never let its financial needs be made known. As God supplied by one miracle after another, even the skeptical would have to admit that the living God was as good as His word.
In his book Answers to Prayer, Mueller catalogs a long list of miracles. Children were ready to sit down to eat, oblivious to the lack of food in the house; but after prayer was said, there was a knock on the door with a meal adequate for all of them! Sometimes God seemed to let him dangle out on a limb and would come and rescue him and the children in the nick of time. He also learned the folly of trusting other human beings.
Mueller urged believers not to think of him as an extraordinary believer who had privileges that others lacked. No, he was just taking the promises of Christ seriously and invited other believers to test the reliability of God.
Notice that Mueller's first objective was the glory of God -- that was even more important than the orphans. Yes, the glory of God must supersede the temporal needs of fife. Second, he prayed in the name of Christ, consistent with the character of our Savior. And he persisted in that praying regardless of how God tested him, that he might still see the miracles of the Lord.
Greater works, greater promises, and a-greater example -- all these were given to the disciples that evening. Although the look of Calvary was already on the face of our Lord, He knew that when it was over, His disciples Page 14
would carry on. With such an arsenal of promises, they would soon be ready to take on the world.
Friedrich Nietzche, the atheistic German philosopher, made this surly remark to some Christians one day: "If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, then you've got to look more redeemed."
The redeemed should emulate the Redeemer. Prayer is the link between His power and our performance. And the more time we spend with Him, the more likely that the fragrance of His presence will spread to those around us.
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
The Nearness of Christ
It's frightening to walk alone into unprotected darkness. How much better to be with someone who has the ability to defend you from the hazards of the unknown path; somebody who promises he will be with you no matter what.
For three years, the disciples could depend on Jesus for everything. He would still the storm on Galilee, multiply food, and answer His critics with logic and wit. It was easy to be Christ's disciples standing next to Him; they could weather many blows with the strong Son of God at their side.
But now they would be alone. Jesus would not be there to talk with; He would not be there to bail them out of a mess. It's not just that they'd miss His friendship; they would be without the intense moral and spiritual strength His presence generated. Already they were beginning to feel like orphans. Lonely, weak, and without direction. And those feelings made them vulnerable to the world. So Christ gave them some welcome reassurance. V will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you" (John 14.18). Today we will meditate on the nearness of Christ; a nearness brought to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
In our society, parents have been known to abandon their children. New mothers have left their babies in alleys or on doorsteps, or even walked away from older children at home. In contrast, Christ doesn't abandon His children. When you're a member of His family, you'll never be an orphan; you'll never be lost in a child custody battle. In fact, Christ is saying to His disciples, "I'll be closer to you than ever before!"
Specifically, the Holy Spirit was given to take the place of the physical presence of Christ in our lives. When Jesus says, 'And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever" (v 16), we should notice that in Greek there are two words for another. One definition means "similar"; another means "identical." It's the second word that Christ uses here. "When I leave you, I am sending One who is identical to Me to take My place," He is saying.
We often exalt the privileges of the early disciples who personally walked with Christ. We think of how great it would have been if we had been on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus calmed the storm; or how thrilling if we had been one of the disciples when He fed the multitude. Tourists who go to Israel today often want to find some place where they can say with authority, "I stood exactly where Christ stood." We are absorbed by the thought that He actually was on this earth, and we would like to be able to identify with that experience.
But surprisingly, Jesus said, it is to your advantage if I go away" (16:7). The gift of the Holy Spirit multiplies His presence in the fife of every believer. When Christ was here on earth, He could not be in Galilee and Jerusalem at the same time. But by means of the Holy Spirit, Christ can now be with every individual believer in any part of the world. The Holy Spirit enables Christ to be with all believers simultaneously. Our problem is that we confuse "bodily" with "real." Of course, Christ's body was real -- but the Holy Spirit is not "less real" because He is invisible. In fact, through the gift of the Spirit, Christ is even nearer to us than He was Page 16 to the disciples 2,000 years ago. Sometimes they had to be separated from Him. We are never separated.
Those of you who have been brought up in an orphanage know the meaning of the word orphan. Or maybe your own parents treated you as if you were an orphan. You have felt as if you never belonged. Take heart, knowing that Christ is there with you; His presence does not replace your need for the approval and love of other human beings, but it does give you the companionship you need to face tomorrow. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, Christ is as close to you as He can ever be.
Let me emphasize that the Holy Spirit is a Person. Have you ever tried to play chess with a computer? You can receive some satisfaction when you beat the machine. Even though you may feel great about winning, the computer isn't impressed; it does not feel the sting of the loss. It has the advantage of never being discouraged because of defeat, but it also is never elated because of victory. The only emotion involved in the game is what you bring to it. That kind of relationship is not very fulfilling if you live in a lonely apartment.
A second level of interaction can take place with an animal. Those of you who have become fond of a dog or cat know how much you can get attached to such creatures. Yet, animals can never take the place of another human being.
We reserve the word personality to refer to people, or other intelligent beings. Beings that can communicate on our level -- mind, emotion, and will. That is precisely what the Holy Spirit is: a Person Who has a mind, emotions, and will. He is just as real as any friend you may have. What special duties did Christ assign to the Holy Spirit? What does He delight to do in the lives of God's people?
Let's take another look at Christ's promise in verse 16: 'And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever. " That word helper is sometimes translated "comforter" or "counselor" and also "advocate." Literally, it means "one who is called alongside to help." Perhaps the ambiguity of the word emphasizes that the Holy Spirit helps us in many different ways. It's not just that He consoles us in our sorrow, but He also makes us strong in the face of opposition.
As an advocate, the Spirit defends us against the attacks of Satan. When we find it difficult to pray, He "intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26). Though He convicts us of sin, He does not accuse us. He becomes whatever we need at the moment to live a successful Christian life.
Alexander Maclaren, in stressing the Holy Spirit's continuation of Christ's ministry, points out that the Holy Spirit is really like Christ "so all that that handful of men found of sweetness and shelter and assured guidance, and stay for their weakness, and enlightenment for their darkness, and companionship for their solitude, and a breast on which to rest their heads, and love in which to bathe their hearts -- all these this divine Spirit will bring to each of us if we will." There you have it: The Holy Spirit becomes whatever we need moment by moment. He is the Helper called alongside so that we might not walk alone through the valleys and dark nights of our experience.
Although the saints of the Old Testament enjoyed the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we have an even more intimate relationship with Him. Christ explained, "That is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you" (v 17). Here, Christ in a single statement differentiates between the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the New Testament eras. The Spirit was with the disciples but after He came at Pentecost, He would be in the disciples. Although some people in the Old Testament enjoyed the indwelling of the Spirit, their numbers were limited. Only a few had this blessing.
Later Christ said, "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" (v 23). As Meyer wrote, "God is willing to become the mansion of the soul that believes in Christ, but asks in return that such a one should prepare a guest chamber and become a mansion in which He may dwell. As He steals with noiseless tread into the loving, believing heart, I hear Him say, 'This is My rest forever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it."'
That God should be willing to indwell our bodies with our limitations and sinfulness is proof of His amazing condescension! We stand amazed, not that He pities our race, but that He should love us as He loves His Son and that both the Father and the Son should abide within us -- this is more than we can understand. He does not indwell unbelievers, for Christ says that the Comforter cannot be received by the world.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul says, "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God and that you are not your own?" (6.19). One Greek word for temple refers to the outer courtyard; another Greek word means the inner shrine, or the holy of holies. When Paul says "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit," he uses the second word which specifically refers to the place where God dwells. This means that God's presence which is no longer in the physical temple in Jerusalem has been moved into the body of every Christian.
A mother told her daughter that she should not bring a trashy novel into the church sanctuary. This woman, like many today, apparently thought that the sanctuary of God was the church building. But actually, the dwelling place of God is within our physical bodies. We are the shrine where God dwells. If we have reading material that should not be brought into the church building, it most certainly should not find a home in our hearts. Nothing should defile the place where God really fives -- namely, the bodies of believers.
Just think of the implications. Christ is closer than a friend who is at your elbow looking over your shoulder. When you take the subway, He goes with you. When you watch an impure television program, the Holy Spirit must suffer through the entire experience. For the Holy Spirit does not leave the sinning Christian, but is grieved through such disobedience. The Spirit, who thinks, feels, and knows, experiences hurt. 'And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of Go4 by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption " (Ephesians 430). His companionship is as real as taking a shopping trip with your favorite friend.
There was a guide who was known for his ability to go through the desert and never be lost. He didn't carry a compass, but he did have a homing pigeon with a string on its leg. When the guide was confused, he put the bird in the air, and it circled for a few moments, then headed toward home. At that point the man would bring Page 18 the bird back, knowing what direction he should be walking. In the same way, God has given us the Holy Spirit who always points in the direction of Christ and home. He's our helper, companion, and teacher who keeps clarifying our relationship with Christ and, of course, He is our guide who is with us each step of the way.
We can be grateful that Christ loved the disciples too much to leave them orphaned. Though He left them, He sent the Holy Spirit to take His place.
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
There Is Joy In Abiding
Perhaps you've heard of the speaker who said that his most difficult speaking assignment was an address given to the National Conference of Undertakers, titled "How to Look Sad at a Twenty-Thousand-Dollar Funeral."
But an even more difficult assignment would be to speak on the topic: "How to Teach the Early Christians to Be Sad." Though their enemies tried to put a lid on their joy, it just bubbled up again and again.
Henry Wingblade used to say that the Christian personality is hidden deep inside us. It is unseen, like the soup carried in a tureen high over a waiter's head. No one knows what is inside unless the waiter is bumped or trips.
When a disciple of Christ is bumped, joy should spill out. After all, Christ promised a constant supply of joy for all those who believe in Him.
The world says that joy can be found through a change in circumstances: Take a vacation, earn more money, spend more money, or save more. Or even more popular today is the notion that we should change ourselves. Self-help books tell us to "discover the new you," and be enlightened regarding the resources that are already latent in every human being.
Jesus has a different formula for joy. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be MI" (John 15. 11). Most of us don't have enough joy for ourselves, much less enough to share with someone else. "Some Christians are like a cup half-filled, trying desperately to spill over," a friend of mine said. But Jesus said it is possible to have enough joy for yourself and still enough to share.
What is the source of joy Christ talks about? It's learning to abide in Christ so that we become fruitbearing Christians. Let's consider some of the relationships given in the popular metaphor of the vine and the branches.
First, joy depends on fruitbearing. When Jesus said, "These things I have spoken unto you, " He was talking about becoming a fruit-bearing disciple. What is fruitfulness? It's the outward expression of the inner nature. Some people can walk through a forest and identify the kinds of trees just by looking at the bark and the leaves. I can't do that. But if I see some oranges growing on a tree, it does not take me long to conclude that I must be looking at an orange tree. There's an outward expression of the inner nature.
The fruit of Christ's life in us is, therefore, the outer expression of His inner power. Fruit isn't just other Christians. No, it's the inner nature of Christ that eventually will bring about the new birth in the fives of others. Fruit is the product of what God can do and not what you and I can manufacture.
Just think about the fruit of the Spirit, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5.22,23). What strikes us most about these inner qualities is the obvious fact that we do not have them naturally. Page 20
These "fruit of the Spirit" come in clusters. We cannot say, "I have love, but don't expect me to have any patience." If we have one fruit of the Spirit, we will have all of them to at least some degree. We might have some more than others, but eventually God wants us to have them all. There is growth in our development. Bearing fruit does not happen naturally-, it is the result of a process.
Christ said, I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear ftuit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit. He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit" (vv 1-2). The Father has a knife that cuts and He uses it to make us more fruitful. Grape growers cut back young branches so they will expend their energy in becoming more firmly entrenched in the vine. Just so, God the Father cuts the leaves away so that we might become even more fruitful.
When you look at a vineyard just after the branches have been cut back, it looks as if the vinedresser has been absolutely ruthless. Scattered on the ground are bright green leaves, and bare stems almost appear to be bleeding from the sharp knife. To the untrained eye, it seems wasteful; but not one stroke was done at random. As one writer said, "There was nothing cut away which was not loss to keep and gain to lose; and it was all done artistically, scientifically, for a set purpose -- that the plant might bring forth more fruit."
And how does the Father cut back the branches? He uses the Word of God and the circumstances of life. 'You are already clean because of the Word which I have spoken unto You" (v 3). If we allow the Word to prune us, some of the bitter chastisement that we experience from time to time might be needless. To quote Spurgeon, "The Word is often the knife with which the great Husbandman prunes the vine; and, brothers and sisters, if we were more willing to feel the edge of the Word, and to let it cut away even something that may be very dear to us, we should not need so much pruning by affliction. It is because that first knife does not always produce the desired result that another sharp tool is used by which we are effectually pruned."
"God loves to hurt his children!" a missionary used to say. This was not said in bitterness, but rather the expression of one who had been deeply wounded because of his own sin. Often the consequences of our sin is proof enough that God really does love His children. The chastisement hurts, but it is necessary if we wish to be fruit-bearing Christians.
And what about those branches that don't bear fruit? There are several different explanations for the branches that are taken away and burned in the fire. Some teach that they represent the unconverted who make professions of faith but are not genuinely joined to Christ. Like Judas, who appeared to be like the other disciples, these people have never been converted. God eventually removes such branches from the vine and burns them. They await the fire of hell.
A second interpretation says that this passage teaches that true believers (i.e., those who are genuinely "in Christ") can eventually be lost. Although these branches are at one time "in Christ," they are at a later time separated from Christ and burned. This interpretation, however, is difficult to reconcile with other passages in John's gospel that teach unequivocally that Christ loses none of those who are truly His.
A third view is that these branches represent genuine Christians, but they are removed by God's discipline because of carnality and disobedience. Yet, they do not lose their salvation; the fire spoken of is not hell, but the fire at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ when some believers' fives will be consumed, yet they shall be "saved so as by fire."
Regardless of how we understand the worthless branches, we cannot lose sight of Christ's central point: As far as God is concerned, there is no reason for you to live, except to bear fruit. If you are not fruitful, God says your works are worthless. God still loves us; in fact, He loves us just as much as if we were fruitful, but He is nevertheless displeased with us. His love is wounded because of our double-mindedness.
The text talks about "fruit," but also "more fruit," and again Christ speaks of "much fruit." We should begin with bearing fruit, and then each year we should be increasing in "being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." God is concerned about one thing in your life -- fruitfulness. Since the wood of the branches of grapes is worthless, it is simply taken and burned.
If you thought the purpose of your life was to earn a decent living, you are wrong. Or if you thought the reason for your existence was tied to your own happiness and personal fulfillment, you are wrong again. Fruitbearing is God's single overriding concern for you. And if you don't bear fruit, you are worthless to Him.
Joy is dependent on our fruitbearing; fruitbearing depends on our relationship with Christ. Consider these words, 'Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me" (v 4). The key to fruit-bearing is relationship -- it's dependent on the life of the vine. To put it clearly: It is not the responsibility of the branch to bear fruit, the responsibility rests with the vine. A branch, as someone has said, is just a grape rack -- just a vehicle of the vine's life.
Let's suppose you lead someone to Christ. Who gets the credit? Of course, we know that Christ receives the glory, for He alone can beget life. But now let's suppose that you have prayed, you are filled with the Holy Spirit, and you share the same Gospel with another person. Is it your fault that they do not believe? Of course, Christ hasn't failed, but it is His responsibility and not ours to bring about eternal life. Whatever God's ultimate purpose in the life of that individual is, the fact is that it is up to God, and not us, to grant men and women the gift of eternal life. What I am saying is this: If you have prayed and are submitted to the leadership of Christ and you present the Gospel, He must be the one to bear fruit; we of ourselves cannot. This frees us in our witnessing, because we realize that responsibility rests with the vine and not the branch.
And precisely how much can the branch do without the vine? Nothing! Christians who concentrate on good works rather than their relationship with Christ are missing the point Christ is teaching here. It's not a matter of what we do, but a matter of Who works through us that determines whether we are fruit-bearing Christians. John MacArthur writes, "Even strong branches cannot bear fruit independent of the vine. Cut off from the vine, even the strongest branches become as helpless as the weakest; the most beautiful are as helpless as the ugliest; and the best are as worthless as the worst." That's why learning to abide is absolutely essential in our quest to please God. Whatever we do independently of Christ is just so much dead wood.
God will use His sharp knife until we bleed, so that our worthless deeds are laid bare. We will stand before Page 22
Him impoverished, so that we might learn once for all the need to receive our strength and motivation from Christ alone. Are we willing to pray, "Lord, cut me if only my fruit for You might increase?"
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
How To Abide In Christ
The great composer Josef Haydn, when asked why his church music was so cheerful said, "When I think upon my God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap, as it were, from my pen, and since God has given me a cheerful heart it will be pardoned if I serve Him with a cheerful spirit."
Our topic is joy. Last time we considered Christ's words, "These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you and your joy might be full." He explained that such joy could come only if we were fruit bearing Christians who learned to "abide in Him."
In this series of messages we are meditating on the final words of Christ, thinking about what He regards as most important. He left the disciples with a powerful metaphor of His relationship with him -- the vine and the branches.
Today we want to answer the question: What does it mean to abide in Christ. It's hard to improve on the definition of Godet: "It is the continuous act by which the Christian lays aside all he might draw from his own wisdom, strength, and merit to desire all from Christ by the inward aspiration of faith."
Perhaps the best way to understand what abiding in Christ means is to grasp Christ's relationship to the Father: "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (v 10). Repeatedly Christ said, "I do nothing of Myself." Just as Christ did nothing apart from the strength of His Father, so we can do nothing apart from Him. The same dependence, faith, and humility that characterized Christ must be ours as well.
But how do we strengthen that relationship with Christ so that we can bear much fruit? To abide in Christ means "to dwell in Him." It means that He is the very air we breathe and the world we five in. He becomes the focus of our thoughts. It involves yieldedness, availability in prayer, and actually praying. For if we abide in
Him, we shall ask what we will and it shall be done unto us.
First, we abide by having the Word of God dwell richly within our minds. We must fill our minds with the promises of God so that our anxieties and temptations will be squeezed from our minds. Also, the Scriptures
beget faith in our hearts so that we are able to draw near to Christ. I know we all wish there were a shortcut to Scriptural meditation, but there just isn't. Recall the promise to those who meditate, 'And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, "Which yielded its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers" (Psalm 1:3). We should begin each day by meditating in the Word before nine o'clock in the morning.
Second, we must learn to rest in Christ despite the pressures of life; we must "abide in Him." There are so many interruptions and irritations that edge us away from Christ. We may begin well at the start of the day but by mid-morning, abiding is far from our minds. Let me quote at length from the experience of Hudson Taylor: I knew that if only I could abide in Christ all would be well, but I could not. I would begin the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye off Him for a moment, but the pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, and constant interruptions apt to be so wearying, cause me to forget Him.
There was nothing so much I desired as holiness, nothing I so much needed; but far from in any measure attaining it, the more I strove after it, the more it eluded my grasp, until hope itself almost died out, and I began to think that -- perhaps to make heaven the sweeter, God would not give it down here .... I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Savior, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase.
How shall I get my faith strengthened? Then the Lord showed me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before. My faith could be strengthened not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One. "Ali, there is rest," I thought. "I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I'll strive no more. For has not He promised to abide with me, never to leave me, never to fail me?"
Nor was this all He showed me, nor one half. As I thought of the vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul! How great seemed my mistake in wishing to get the sap, the fullness out of Him! I saw not only that Jesus will never leave me, but I am a member of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. The vine is not the root merely, but all the root, the stem, the branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, and fruit. And Jesus is not that alone -- He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we ever dreamed, wished, or needed.
The sweetest part is the rest which full identification brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will and His will is mine.
Hudson Taylor discovered that he was indeed already in Christ, but he had to simply rest in the sufficient Savior. His experience, though dramatic, can be ours if we remember that abiding is not dependent upon our feelings, or the mood we happen to be in at the moment. It's a matter of faith. Even in the most trying circumstances we can focus our mind on Christ and be strengthened by knowing that we are one with Him, sharing His life and experiencing His grace.
When you become a fruit-bearing Christian, you inherit many blessings. First, you experience answered prayer. If you abide in me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you" (v 7). Christ speaks here of a reciprocal relationship -- we abide in Him, and His words abide in us.
We all struggle with such a sweeping promise but must realize that a person who carefully abides in Christ will always -ask according to the will of God (as we noted in a previous message). We must see His mind and delight ourselves in His purposes. As Hudson Taylor said, "His will is mine."
A young Christian woman died of cancer this past week. She was hoping for a miracle, a healing that would bring the glow of health back to her cheeks. The miracle did not come. How she wished to live; how her parents wished that she would live. And yet before she died, she had resigned herself to the will of God. She was abiding in Christ and therefore could say with the hymn writer,
My Jesus as Thou wilt: 0 may thy will be mine!
Into Thy hand of love I would my all resign.
Through sorrow or through joy, Conduct me as Thine own,
And help me still to say, "My Lord, Thy will be done."
Only those who abide in Christ can experience such resignation. Abiding means that our will and Christ's become one. Our prayers are answered because we desire only what Christ does. Even our unanswered prayers are not wasted when we abide in Christ. Our relationship is just as important as our results.
Second, we will experience fulfillment and joy. Christ said, "These things I have spoken unto you ... that your joy may be full" (v 11). This statement stands in contrast to many Christians whose lives are filled with complaining and bitterness. The focus of their attention is circumstances, not the pure and trustworthy words of Christ. For Christ promises joy in the midst of the hardships of life. As Don Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor, said, "The joy Jesus promises is not some cheap glow dependent on outward circumstances."
Abiding in Christ releases the fruit of the Spirit in our lives -- love, joy, and peace, to name a few. It's a life of intimacy that gives the power of Christ the opportunity of expressing itself through individual believers.
There is nothing wrong with seeking joy as long as we find it in God. C.S. Lewis said that our desire for happiness was not too strong, but rather not strong enough. He writes, "Indeed if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are too easily pleased."
We've already learned that joy must not be sought directly, but through our focus on fruit-bearing. When we develop our relationship with Christ, the joy will follow. The more fruitfulness, the more joy. David wrote, Thou hast put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound" (Psalm 4.7). It's just as simple and profound as that. C.S. Lewis says, "The ultimate purpose of God in all His work is to increase joy." Bernard of Clairvaux wrote:
Jesus Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
Friendship With Christ
A famous British actor left a suicide note which read, "I'm taking the only way out of this hell of loneliness."
Loneliness exists not only in the world but within the church as well. Consider the words of one older woman: "I sit in the pew next to a warm body every week, but I feel no heat. I'm in the faith, but I draw no active love. I sing the hymns with those next to me, but I hear only my own voice. When the service is finished, I leave as I came in -hungry for someone to touch me, to tell me that I'm a person worth something to somebody. Just a smile would do it, or perhaps some gesture, some sign that I am not a stranger."
No one can live happily without friends. Those who find friendships difficult often isolate themselves from those who would be their friends. If you've been hurt in the past, you might be afraid to risk a close relationship again. Yet we all need friends, and they need us. As Mary Hughes put it, "A friend is the first person who comes in when the whole world has gone out."
Friends are necessary, not just for emotional support, but also because there are some responsibilities we simply cannot handle alone. If we want to have a whole heart in a broken world, we need close friends who can help us in our struggles and rejoice with us in our victories. An active alcoholic isn't helped by another active alcoholic; a thief will not come clean when he is in the company of thieves. We can scarcely exaggerate the benefits of a good friend who will lift us up rather than drag us down.
Jesus, on the eve of His crucifixion, elevated His disciples to the stature of friends. We choose our friends on the basis of compatibility, whether they have the same interests as we do. Or perhaps we are attracted by their personality. But Christ made friends by winning His enemies over. For while we were still helpless, at the fight time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). More than 100 years ago, poet Edwin Markham described the determined power of love in winning an enemy over. He drew a circle and left me out, A heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the will to win; We drew a circle and took him in!
Christ drew a circle that included His disciples and us as well. Think of the honor of being chosen to be the friend of a monarch! Powerful leaders often have many acquaintances but few friends. As one wealthy man put it, "People always want to see me to get something .... Nobody cares about me as a person." But here, Christ invites us in to the inner circle. It's not just that we come because we need Him; there's a sense in which He needs us as well!
We should be surprised that Christ is unafraid to be so closely identified with His people. Though we are fundamentally distinct from Him, yet He embraces us. We will never understand the gulf Christ bridged when he called us His friends. His holiness does not cause Him to withdraw into isolation from sinful humanity, but because of His impending death, He is able to reach out and bring His followers into the family. Elsewhere, we read, "He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Hebrews 2. 11).
One day when there was a discussion about the identity of Christ's brothers, the Lord answered, "`Who is my mother and who are My brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward the disciples, He said 'Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever shall do the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother"' (Matthew 12.48-50).
Friends, brothers -- these are words that Christ used to identify His true followers. Someone has said of Him, "The Prince makes a friend of the beggar."
We've all had the experience of being criticized for befriending someone of doubtful reputation. Christ was ridiculed on earth for eating with publicans and sinners. And even God has been accused of impropriety because of His close association with sinful humanity. A society for the spread of atheism issued a leaflet that mocked God because of His close relationship with Old Testament heroes. The tract correctly noted that Abraham lied, being willing to sacrifice the honor of his wife, Sarah, to save his own skin. Yet, it was pointed out that Abraham was called "a friend of God." Jacob was a cheater, and yet in the Bible he is also called "a prince with God." Moses was a murderer, and yet God used him to give the Ten Commandments, one of which said, "Thou shaft not kill. " The atheists pointed out that Moses was a hypocrite, preaching a message that he himself did not five up to. David was correctly identified as one who had committed adultery and murder, and yet the Bible speaks of him as "a man after God's own heart. "
In their own perverse way, the atheists were right in asking, "What kind of god would associate with these people?" And when we see the weaknesses of the disciples, we might also ask what kind of savior would call these men, with all of their failings, his friends!
The answer, of course, is that Christ would soon give His life as a sacrifice for sin. As a result, God would maintain His honor and, at the same time, justify sinners. Therefore, Christ can be perfectly exonerated in calling His disciples "friends." Despite their imperfections, His grace could reach across the infinite chasm between the holy God and sinful man.
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
What are some of the characteristics of friendship with Christ? We do have a name to live up to. But fortunately, Christ gives us the resources to be credible members of His special circle of friends.
"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (vv 12-13). Here, Christ gave the world the right to judge whether we were His followers by our love for one another. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13.35). Our assignment is to love one another as He loved us. Page 28
What kind of love did He display? Christ was obedient in saving us regardless of the cost. He came down from heaven not to do His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him. It was a costly love, and one that He expects to reproduce in us. Someone said, "I asked Jesus how much He loved me. He stretched out His arms and said, 'This much,' and died." He loved us so much that He died for us.
To love one another is not Christ's suggestion, but His commandment. We might think it inconsistent for Him to command us to love. Love, we are told, cannot be turned on or off like a water faucet. But we must come back to the biblical concept of love: It is an act of the will by which we choose to be sacrificially involved in the lives of others. In fact, we cannot really say that we love someone until we have made some sacrifices in his/her favor.
There are three kinds of love. Eros is sexual love that often takes but never gives. Phileo is affection that gives and takes. Agape is love that gives and then gives some more even when there is no return. Four-year-old Linda, hugging a doll in each of her pudgy little arms, understood agape love when she said, "Mamma, I love them, and love them, and love them, but they never love me back." And when asked why she loved the ugly, ragged doll the most, she said, "If I didn't love her, who would?"
Calvary was less than twenty-four hours away when Jesus said we are to love one another as He loved us. No man can have greater love for another than to lay down his life for a friend. In his novel A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens tells of a young Englishman who was caught trying to flee France with his family during the French Revolution. Because of the French hatred for the English, the young man was sentenced to death on the guillotine. An hour before his execution, a guard and a French friend visited him. After the guard left, the friend ordered the doomed man to exchange clothes with him. "I cannot do it," the Englishman protested. "You must," he said. "Your wife and child are waiting for you in a carriage at the door." Moments later, the guard came, and unknowingly escorted the Englishman safely to his waiting family. An hour later, the Frenchman was executed in his friend's place.
Christ calls us to strong friendships. Yet, how easily our relationships are broken when they become demanding or when we are asked to sacrifice. But the better our friendship with Christ, the easier it will be to love God's difficult children. A leader of the early church, Tertullian spoke about the impact of the church in the world of his day. "It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving-kindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. 'Look!' they say, 'How they love one another! Look how they are prepared to die for one another.'"
Let's not confuse love with sympathy. We can sympathize with people who are starving in another country, but we cannot say we love them until we have been sacrificially involved in their need. Christ can say authoritatively that He loves us because He laid down His fife on our behalf.
There is, of course, a condition for our friendship with Christ. 'You are My friends, if you do what I command you" (15.14). This should dispel the notion that our friendship is on an equal basis. Christ stresses two ideas that are not incompatible: submission and friendship. When we submit to Him, we are His friends.
And obedience first and foremost demands that we love one another.
Why not thank God for that person He has brought into your life whom you are finding difficult to love? If love were easy, it could hardly be the badge of friendship. It's because it is difficult that our credentials as Christ's friends really mean something to other believers and the world. Why should we accept an easy mark of friendship when Christ so clearly spells out a more difficult one? A false friend, it has been said, is like your shadow. As long as there is sunshine, he sticks by. But the minute you step into the shade, he disappears. We are Christ's friends, and He stays with us no matter what.
He is available for fellowship. Are you?
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
Exchanging Secrets With Christ
If we were Christ's slaves we would be satisfied. To serve in the presence of the King, even if we were denied an audience with Him, would be wonderful indeed.
But Christ told His disciples that they should not think of themselves as slaves, for a slave does what he is told whether he understands the purpose of the work or not. Often they were not considered intelligent enough to appreciate what their master was planning. Thinking of life as we know it today, imagine working in an automobile factory, and being responsible to tighten just one bolt in each passing car without ever seeing the end product. Rote obedience without any understanding of ultimate purposes is slavery indeed.
Listen to the gracious words of Christ, "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (15.15). The disciples were not simply subjects enlisted to follow the path of blind obedience; they were to move into the inner circle.
The distinction between being a slave or a friend is great indeed. Slaves were not permitted to eat at the same table as their masters. Often slaves had separate quarters and were never invited to participate in family discussions. But now Jesus has taken down the walls that separated slaves from their masters. They could put up a chair and sit with Christ for enjoyment and fellowship.
A king would be insulted if his waiter asked questions about the details of his personal life or responsibilities in the kingdom. Yet a close friend could ask the king the same kind of question and not be out of place.
Over a period of years, I have befriended a man who is notoriously difficult to "get next to," as the expression goes. Yet, because of our friendship, I have earned the right to ask him about his troubled marriage.
It's friendship that makes the difference. Christ, by drawing the disciples into the inner circle, was now free to share His secrets with them, and they could do the same. Of course Christ did not tell them all that He knows, for His knowledge is infinite. And, of course, we wish He had told them much more. A bereaved mother would like to ask Him about the destiny of little children who have yet not known enough to believe in Him. All of us would like to know why God allows children to starve when some rain sent to parched ground could alleviate the suffering. The problem of human need vexes us, and God's purposes are often shrouded in mystery.
David understood that special relationship with God. "The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant" (Psalm 25:14). My wife and I received a letter from a teenage girl who had been experiencing emotional turbulence because of difficult problems in her home. She wrote, "I like to tell my problems to Jesus because He doesn't tell anyone else what I say to Him." Here was a young girl who discovered that Christ is a friend to be trusted.
Christ is a friend who will never betray us. Furthermore, He is not far off; He need not be called into our living room or closet but is already available. Blessed are those who have special secrets with Christ who invites us to call ourselves His friends.
George Elliot said, "0 the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts or measure words, but to pour them all out just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away." Christ invites us to that kind of intimacy.
Do you feel comfortable in Christ's presence? If our Lord seems distant, it's not because He is trying to play hide-and-seek. He's waiting for us to make some hard choices that will make friendship with Him a priority.
Such privileges could beget pride. So Christ reminded them that their reciprocal relationship was based on His choice, not theirs. 'You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give it to you" (John 15.16). Friends must be chosen. And Christ made it clear that He chose the disciples and not vice versa. Often new believers, in giving expression to their faith, will say, "I found Christ as my Saviour." Though such language is understandable, the reverse is actually true: Christ found us. Our choice of Him is but a response to His initiative and work. We can't take credit for our salvation. "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4.19). As the songwriter put it:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew,
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me:
It was not I that found, 0 Saviour true;
No, I was found of Thee.
Christ chose us for the purpose of doing His work on earth and to bear fruit, a kind of fruit that would remain. Nothing perishes more quickly than fruit, even if it is kept cool and dry. Yet, Christ says that we can bear a different kind of fruit that will withstand the test of ages. We can serve God in such a way that what we do will last forever.
Recently, I spoke with a man who is bitter at God because he is going blind. He says that in the past he was "a self-made man." Now he's been humbled, unable to do countless things that he once did. His ministry is over, and he sees no reason to continue to live. I encouraged him to bear fruit even if he must do so in obscurity.
Some people have the privilege of bearing fruit out in the open where others can watch; others bear fruit in the shade. And of course, as we know, it takes more of the life and the power of Christ to be faithful in the invisible matters than it does in the visible ones. Regardless of our lot in life, we can bear fruit if we serve the Lord in joy and faith.
What does it take to develop friendship with Christ? First, there is time. It is impossible to live a successful Page 32
Christian life without meditation in the Word and prayer -- and for most of us it must be done before 9 a.m. That sets the tone for communication with Christ for the rest of the day. But we will never spend quality time with Christ unless we resist the other voices that call to us, begging for attention and involvement.
Friendship with Christ is not a once-a-week arrangement, but a daily relationship where sacrificial choices must be made in Christ's favor. The use of our time separates the sheep from the goats. Here we can distinguish between those who want the benefits of Christ's friendship without the effort to cultivate the relationship.
Then there is trust. Most of us think that friendship with Christ is impractical because it involves a relationship with an unseen Being. So God sends difficulties into our lives to give us opportunities to share our burden with the One who elevates us to the status of friends. Yet, so often we balk at the opportunity to trust Christ in the little matters of life as well as the big ones. The trust we exercised at the time of salvation must be extended to every area of our lives. If we can entrust the destiny of our souls to this Friend, why do we find it so hard to give Him the details of our schedules, problems, and difficulties? Trust must be developed or else we cannot claim intimate friendship with our Lord.
Finally, there are trials. That's where growth in trust takes place -- it's when we find ourselves without any recourse except to appeal to Christ, the Lord. Barbara Martin wrote an article about the difficulties her grandparents had in the Great Depression of the 1930s. In midwinter, her grandfather had been injured in a coal mine accident and was unable to work for many weeks. The food supply nearly disappeared and they knew no one who could help them. One morning, as the grandmother watched her offspring devour their breakfast biscuits, she calculated how many more days it would be before the flour would be gone, and no food would be left in the house. "0 God," she murmured, "must I watch my children starve?"
That day she didn't say the blessing and when reminded of it, they bowed their heads and Grandma recited, "God is great. God is good. And we thank Him for this -- " The prayer she had quoted every day for years stuck in her throat. As she looked at the faces of her hungry children, she cried out, "I'm not thankful, and I will not lie to You any longer, God!" The children were astonished as tears streaked down Grandma's face. "How can I be thankful when my children suffer? Don't You hear the growls of their empty bellies? You gave these children to me. Help me feed them!"
With that Grandma snatched her coat from the wall and slammed out the door. She ran from the house, trying to escape the pale, thin faces she had left behind. She tripped and fell into the snow where she lay still, feeling too weary to rise. Through the tears that blurred her vision, her eyes slowly focused on something on the ground a few feet from where she lay. Incredulously, she realized she had literally stumbled upon a twentydollar bill. With that, she went to the grocery store and came back loaded with food. Barbara ends by saying, "Years later, as Grandma told the story, her eyes glistened with emotion. 'I have never prayed a more urgent prayer,' she said, 'and I have never received a more glorious reply."'
Who can deny that Christ did a miracle for a friend? There is, after all, a Friend who sticks closer than a brother, and He was there in the time of need. As we draw near to Him, He draws nearer to us.
You may remember the story of the couple who was driving through a beautiful wooded area. The woman said to her husband, "Years ago when we drove through such beautiful scenery, we sat close and held hands." The man looked at her out of the comer of his eye and said, "Remember, I haven't moved."
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
Standing With Christ
If you were to stand on a street comer in Chicago, or any other American city, and ask, "What do you think of Christ?" most people would say that He was a teacher, a leader, or one who displayed loving concern for people.
Laudable as those answers may seem, they are actually an insult to Christ. If that's all He was, He was a liar.
Remember this basic axiom: The better the world understands the biblical Christ, the more the world hates Him. If they speak well of Him, it's because they don't understand Him. The secular musicals, movies, and books that are favorable to Christ inevitably misunderstand His message and work on earth. To quote one writer, "What we believe to be precious it [the world] regards as of no account. What we believe to be fundamental truth, it passes by as of little importance. Much which we feel to be wrong, it regards as good. Our tools are its tinsel, and its jewels are our tinsel."'
Christ and the world represent two conflicting philosophies that have no common ground between them. By world I am, of course, referring to greedy materialism, selfishness, and the pursuit of illicit pleasures. John defined it as "the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life,... is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever" (I John 2.16-17). This world system is diametrically opposed to Christ. If you have any doubt about whether the world opposes Christ, watch a few hours of prime-time TV, which, incidentally, is becoming more perverse. You'll see that the values promoted are contrary to the purity and righteousness that Christ taught. In fact, some television programs are deliberately designed to break down our resistance to incest, immorality, and homosexuality. That is the world that stands in opposition to Christ.
The time has come for us to cheerfully accept the antagonism of the world system. In fact, the more outspoken you are about your faith, the more the world will oppose you. At root is the conflict between Satan and God. As F.B. Meyer wrote, "Between such irreconcilable opposites as the church and the world, there cannot but be antagonism and strife. Each treasures and seeks what the other rejects as worthless. Each is devoted to ends that are inimical to the dearest interests of the others."!
Christ has just told the disciples about their new status as His friends. He explained the special relationship of the true Vine and the branches; the disciples know that they are precious to the Saviour. But now is the time to explain the darker side of commitment to Christ. Someone has said that Christ never hid His scars to win a disciple. Just as He went the way of agony and humiliation, so the disciples must follow.
'If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you are of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15.18-19). The world hates a nonconformist especially one who brings sin out into the open.
The clearer the line between us and the world, the more likely we will attract antagonism. Christ was hated because He exposed the world. When light comes, the darkness does not receive it. The world is tolerant of religion as long as it appeals to pride and self-effort; but the world becomes antagonistic when Jesus Christ penetrates beneath the outer shell and exposes the inner world of humanity. Someone has said that Jesus is so pure that dirty men either get cleaned up or else they must loathe purity. And, of course, as His followers pursue righteousness, people of the world will despise their friendship. In the manner of Cain, who killed Abel "because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous" (1 John 3.12), so the world hates to be next to someone who is a true follower of Jesus Christ.
Liars do not like friends who speak only the truth; alcoholics are bothered by those who do not have to drink; the man who swears feels uncomfortable in the presence of a Christian who speaks wholesome words. Standing before Christ, we cannot hold our heads high with pride, but rather we must kneel to receive His mercy and salvation.
Christ was hated by the world because He made the religious leaders look bad. He spoke with authority, He had insight into human nature, and He did not flatter His listeners with pious words about human good. He talked about the sinfulness of the heart, and judged the hidden motives of the pious. His followers, if they are indeed His disciples, must do the same.
What is more, Christ judges the world. "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin " (v 22). Jesus is not saying that men would have been innocent if He had not come. The world was already sinful and rebellious before He appeared in the manger at Bethlehem. Christ's coming highlighted sin in human hearts: He pointed it out so people had less grounds to claim ignorance. And therefore, to reject Him brings greater condemnation. Ever since the Fall, the world has been sinning against Light, but never had the world sinned against so much Light! The world is robbed of its excuses when it confronts Christ.
The better the world becomes acquainted with Christ, the more difficult it is to receive Him. And what is true of the Master is true of His followers.
Are we prepared for such hatred? Christians today often appear to be as angry as the world. We complain when our rights are violated just as if we were the first generation to suffer for our faith. At other times we are more concerned about what the world thinks of us than we are of what God thinks of us. The serious follower of Christ will have to choose between fear of man and the fear of the Lord. It is not possible to have both!
Christ says, "Remember the word that I said to you, A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word they will keep yours also " (v 20). Christ was persecuted by the Herodians and Sadducees; and the Pharisees sought Him as a hawk seeks its prey. His followers cannot expect better treatment.
In fact, Christ, taught that those who would persecute His followers will actually think they are doing God a favor! "They will make you outcasts from the synagogues; but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you Page 36
to think he is offering service to God" (16:2). This, of course, was fulfilled in the days of the early church, when the Jews believed they were on God's side though they put Christ to death and persecuted the disciples. Most of the early apostles died violent deaths -- Paul was murdered by Nero; Peter, according to tradition, was crucified upside down; and James was beheaded. All that done by leaders who claimed to be doing God a favor.
Though Christ's words have immediate application to the disciples, persecution has happened throughout church history. During the Inquisition, the teaching of the church was assumed to be correct and often true followers of Jesus were put to death. All kinds of atrocities have been justified in the name of Christ.
Today, there is a myth that the world is more tolerant than it used to be in accepting "both points of view." We pride ourselves in pluralism, the teaching that all different kinds of political and spiritual views can be held in a society such as the United States. It's easy to be deceived into thinking that the world is less antagonistic than it used to be. But the rise of contemporary secular humanism has proven this to be false.
By stressing the rigid separation of church and state, there are many in our society who would take away our freedoms. Some are lobbying for laws that would make it illegal to meet for prayer on a university campus; others want religion totally expunged from all areas of political and moral life. When humanism is in the minority, it pleads for tolerance and pluralism; but when it is in control, it attempts to stamp out all religion, particularly Christianity.
In America, Christians pride themselves in being "law-abiding citizens." That is a compliment only in a country whose laws reflect biblical values. But as our culture moves from its Christians foundation, it will soon become necessary for us to be lawbreakers. Christians have always been compelled to break laws. Whether it be Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English, or Bunyan, who was jailed for preaching the Gospel, these and thousands like them found it necessary to break laws. Like the early apostles, they said, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19-20).
Since humanism and Christianity have coexisted in America for 200 years, many expect that they will continue to do so. But as humanism becomes stronger, it will become more intolerant. Hitler, Stalin, and China's Mao are good examples of secularism brought to its ultimate conclusion. When the state becomes a substitute for God, this false god will attack the true and the living God.
Please don't conclude that we should walk around with a persecution complex! We in America have not yet known the meaning of the word suffering. And if we did we would be blessed; for Christ said, "Blessed are you when men persecute you..."
To those who think they would be fired from their job if they lived for Christ; to those students at university who think they would fail if they were to let their true views be known I say, "Never bypass an opportunity to suffer for Christ. It is an honor indeed."
Christ promises He will walk with us even, if need be, through the fire!
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
Choosing Between Christ And The World
One of the most inspiring examples of courage in the history of the church was the martyrdom of Polycarp who was arrested by Roman authorities and brought to the arena for execution in front of a cheering crowd. The proconsul pressed him and said, "Swear and I will release you. Revile Christ." Polycarp replied, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong; and how can I now blaspheme my King who has saved me?"
As of now, we need not fear such physical persecution in the United States. But often the true Christian will attract the disdain, hatred, and contempt of the world in other ways. You may be ostracized from your peer group, denied a promotion, or ridiculed for being a relic from previous generations. You will personally be disliked if you five with meticulous integrity and separation from worldly values. Although we may be exempt from torture and death, the basic contempt of mankind for Christ comes to the surface in every culture where the church shines brightly in the world. 'And indeed all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12).
Christ says, 'A slave is not greater than his master. " If we think we have the right to live without persecution, we are lacking humility; we are actually placing ourselves above Christ. Should we escape the antagonism that He incurred because we are greater than He? I think not. The brighter our lamp burns, the more the world is repelled. Rather than feel sorry for ourselves, we must rejoice that we have the privilege of being identified with His name.
Back in 1971, a revival came to many churches in Western Canada. It made news in the secular press because of the number of people going to stores and other businesses to make restitution for past wrongdoing. Whether it was paying unpaid income tax, or admitting dishonesty in business dealings, or going to the Canadian border to confess they had lied about goods brought over from the United States -- hundreds of people were willing to do anything to be fully right with God and man. When these Christians displayed such a desire for righteousness, the world both admired and hated them. On the one hand, the people of the world were thankful that the Christians had the courage to make past wrongs right; but on the other hand, they deeply resented such integrity. For in the process of seeing righteousness at work in the lives of others, they saw their own hidden sins. The holiness of Christians reveals the sin of the world.
Why would the world hate Christ? In Christ's farewell discourse He explained, 'A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me they will also persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me" (15.21). The world hates Christ because it is ignorant of God. If they had known God the Father, they would have recognized Jesus Christ as His Son. As Carson says, "If people knew the Father before Jesus came in history, then they would recognize Jesus upon His arrival. Failure to know Jesus, therefore, testifies to ignorance of God before Jesus' arrival." Now that Christ has come, we can say with equal authority that if a person does not know Christ, he does not know God the Father.
Don't be misled by the sentimentality the world has about Christ. Yes, they love the baby in the manger; or they speak about their admiration for Christ's teaching and his love and sacrifice. But the better they get to know Him; the more they understand about why He came to die, the more they are repelled by Him. They back away from a Christ who taught that we are such sinners that only a sacrifice of the God-man could reconcile us to God.
When hard-pressed, the world often cannot really explain why it despises Christ. "They hated Me without a cause, " Christ says (v 25). Why would anyone hate Christ, Who went about doing good? Think of the number of people He healed, the sermons He preached, and the good work His disciples were trained to do. Yet, they hated Him, not because He was evil, but because He was good and showed them up for who they really were.
Yes, they hated Christ without a cause, but even this fell within the circle of God's providence. For Christ said, "But they had done this in order that the Word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, 'They hated Me without a cause' " (v 25). Christ makes an apparent reference to Psalm 69:4. The hatred of the world is to be expected, and fits into God's larger plan.
These disciples would soon be traveling in the Roman world that believed political unity could be maintained only by loyalty to Caesar. Once a year, every citizen was required to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar and to confess "Caesar is lord." As long as he worshiped the Emperor, he could worship any other god he wanted. But the Christians throughout the Empire couldn't do that, and they paid for it with their lives. Today, we still have the same challenge, though it may not appear as dramatic. Even today we must yet choose between Caesar and Christ.
Let's summarize Christ's teaching about the world. First, His followers and the world are irreconcilable. There is no common ground between them. There must be antagonism and strife. The world stands in opposition to everything that Christ holds dear. As one writer put it: "However it may be covered over, there is a gulf, as in some ... American canyons; the towering banks may be very near only a yard or two seem to separate them; but they go down for thousands and thousands of feet, and never get any nearer each other, and between them at the bottom a black, sullen river flows."
As already emphasized, let's not be deceived into thinking that the world is getting more and more tolerant. It definitely is not. As worldly values gain in power, the world will attempt to crush the teachings of Christ and His followers.
Second, believers cannot be friends with both Christ and the world. As James put it, 'You adulteresses, do you not know that ftiendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (4:4). You can have the friendship of Christ or the friendship of the world but you cannot have both at the same time! The kingdom of the world which is passing away, and the kingdom of Christ are heading in two different directions, led by two sovereigns who are antagonistic to each other. You cannot serve both, nor can you benefit from both at the same time.
Third, if we have not felt the antagonism of unbelievers who touch our lives, isn't it likely because we are lacking in our Christian commitment? A Christian who is popular with the world is a contradiction in terms. If we have not attracted the scorn of the world, it may well be because we have muddled our Christian witness. As F.B. Meyer says, in the dim twilight one is easily able to mistake friend and foe!
Joy comes in being persecuted for the cause of Christ. "Blessed are YOU when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on "count of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you " (Matthew 5:12).
One of the reasons that the early church was so invincible was the exhilaration of joy they experienced in persecution. They were thrilled to think that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ. Little wonder that the church and the world were two distinct entities in those days. There was night, and then there was day; there was no twilight in which friend or foe could be mistaken.
Someone has written that to be hated is uncomfortable but it is "infinitely more damning to be blandly ignored and overlooked, contemptuously dismissed as a set of children playing their futile childish games -doing no good, of course, but not much harm, and so left to amuse themselves with their innocuous pastimes." Likewise, we should not be obnoxious, yet we should live in such a way that we cannot be ignored!
In America, we are often blandly ignored. We arouse no opposition; or if there is opposition it is because of our politics and not because of Christ. We must always remember that representing Him is our first priority. We must confess that we have not caused the world to see itself for what it is. As lightning is attracted to those objects which best conduct electricity, so the hatred of the world is aroused by Christians who are attuned with God.
Of course in a democracy Christianity is tolerated. But believe me, the world has an ample supply of hatred stored up that will be unleashed at any time we seek to be true followers of Christ. Back of this hatred is the power of Satan, who hates Christ and does everything he can to trip up His followers. But as Paul says, we shall only reign with Christ if we suffer with Him!
Here in the intimacy of the Upper Room, Christ effectively puts an end to the widespread belief that success and wealth are the inevitable results of living a committed Christian life. The gospel of prosperity deceives people who cannot distinguish between pursuing God and pursuing their own personal happiness. Christ promised that in the world we will have tribulation.
Maybe you are one who has been bypassed for a promotion; someone who has endured gossip and false accusations; someone who has been ostracized by his or her family, all because of Christ. You, my friend, are privileged.
In 1635 BC an Arab nicknamed "Faras the Horseman" was traveling thought the desert with a large herd of horses. Suddenly far in the distance, a body of water came into view. The herd, crazed by thirst, broke into a stampede, racing toward the stream. Faras tested the obedience of the animals by blowing loudly on his and returned to obey the call. These five mares, the story goes, became the stock of the world-famous Arabian horses.
Today Christ has sounded the alarm for battle. He looks for a few to return and stand for Him at great personal cost at this hour of great need. He wants us to be willing to stand with Christ; we must be identified, not with a political agenda, how ever important that may be, but with a loving witness for Christ. We need greater boldness; greater love for Christ, a greater joy to suffer with Christ.
Bravery for Christ is the only indisputable proof of our love for Him. It comes to a matter of simplicity: Do we love Him more than the opinions of men? Or, to ask it differently. Do we love Him more than our own advancement and personal ambition?
A servant is not above His master.
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
The Holy Spirit And The World
This little jingle is still true:
Convince a man against his will,
He'll be of the same opinion stiff.
Have you ever tried to change someone's opinion about religion? You'll soon find that prejudice, narrow mindedness and sheer stubbornness will surface. And it doesn't matter whether you are Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish!
Consider a young eighteen-year-old boy who accepted Christ as his Saviour. All of his guilt is gone; peace comes to his heart. He can hardly wait to share the Good News. When he arrives home, he tells his parents that they also can become Christians by repenting of sin and by faith, receiving the gift of fife from Christ. He's surprised when they do not share his enthusiasm. They believe he has become a strange fanatic. Or they might say, "Just get over this nonsense because we are Christians already."
He can't believe it! It's like finiding gold and telling others where they can find. some too, and yet being greeted with a cold stare. Instead of coming to Christ, the boy's parents tenaciously hang on to their religious beliefs, such as they are. They don't see themselves as sinners needing a personal Saviour.
This young convert must understand a basic truth: no man comes to Christ without the power of the Spirit drawing him. Nothing is as inflexible as the human will. Unless God does a great work in the life of a person, no one would ever receive the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
However, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit cannot be received by the world; He will, however, have the responsibility of drawing the unconverted to Christ. 'And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment" (John 16:8).
What does that word convict mean? Does it mean that the Holy Spirit will prove the world guilty? No, the world is already guilty before God. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3.36, KM. But the Spirit will awaken the world's consciousness of guilt, and people will be brought to the point of personal faith. In effect, the Holy Spirit takes on the role of a prosecutor-, He enables men and women to see themselves in God's courtroom and recognize their need of His mercy before it is too late.
Of what will the Holy Spirit convince the world? Christ specifies three distinct areas of truth.
The Holy Spirit will convince the world "concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me" (v 9). That is, the Spirit will convince people of the reality of sin. Many people don't believe they are sinners because they compare themselves with someone who is worse than they are! But God judges us by what we think, by what we are deep inside. If we could see the hatred, doubt, blasphemy, and lust in the human heart, we would all be disillusioned. But it's those inward thoughts that God judges, whether we act the in out or not. And unbelief is the greatest sin. Only God can give us the grace to believe!
The Spirit also convicts, "Concerning righteousness because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me" (v 10). Perhaps the best way to translate this is to say that the Holy Spirit will convince the world of its need for God's righteousness by making the world realize the poverty of its own righteousness.
There are two kinds of righteousness -- God's and man's. 'For all of us have become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment" (Isaiah 64:6). The Apostle Paul spoke of the Israelites: 'For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10.3). It's not only that God has more righteousness than we do; He has a different kind of righteousness. And God only accepts His own! That's why we need to have the righteousness of Christ credited to our account.
In a restaurant, I asked a woman what she would say if God were to ask, "Why should I let you into heaven?" She replied, "My husband and I run an honest business, and I earned more than $1,200 for our church in a bake sale." Very gently, I assured her that human righteousness has never been accepted by God and never will be. All of the human goodness that has ever been done on the earth since the time of Adam and Eve, all added together, will never change God's mind regarding a single sinner!
Only the Holy Spirit can convince her that she needs a different kind of righteousness! Christ adds, '"Because Igo to the Father and you no longer behold Me. " When He was on earth, He was convicting the world of sin, but now the Holy Spirit would take over that responsibility. The Holy Spirit would bear witness of Him.
Aren't you glad that our sin was credited to Christ so that His righteousness could be given to us? In the words of the hymn writer: Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress.
Yet, there is more work for the Spirit to do. He will also convict "conceming judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged" (v 11). Once again, the Holy Spirit will convince the world of its false judgments and will help people understand the true judgment of God.
How ever much men and women may protest against belief in God, they innately believe in a day of reckoning. If there was no coming judgment, Stalin and Hitler would go unpunished and the universe would remain fundamentally unjust. Something within all of us says there is an appointment with the final judge. No one will be able to post bond, escape across the border, or plead insanity. All of the facts will be brought out with clarity in the presence of the searchlight of God's holiness. Someone has said that the day of Judgment will be so bad that, for some, hell will be a welcome refuge from the presence of the Almighty.
The disciples were encouraged to learn that the hostile world was not formidable. The Spirit would do what they couldn't. As Barclay says, "When you think of it, it is an amazing thing that men should put their trust for all eternity in a crucified Jewish criminal." This can be brought about only by the work of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the work of the Holy Spirit can be resisted, but ultimately those whom God has chosen will be
drawn to Christ. As Christ said, 'All that the Father gives me shall come to me. " Our responsibility is to share the Word of God, believing that the Holy Spirit will use it as He wills.
The Holy Spirit is sovereign, but He does not work in a vacuum. Christ taught that the Holy Spirit would work through the disciples to do His work in the world. 'And you will bear witness also, because you have been with Me from the beginning" (15:27). Unmistakably, Christ says that the Spirit will work through you and me.
God expects us to be active in our witness; we must be the ones to share the Good News so that the Holy Spirit can make the truth come alive to those who have heard. We do not have to argue or to prove the truth (though presenting evidence may be at times appropriate); rather, we simply have to "bear witness." The Spirit is to do the work.
During the summer of 1984, 1 visited China along with my wife and our children. Though there were only about one half million believers when Communism took over in 1949, the church has grown to somewhere between 25 and 50 million today. All that, despite harassment, persecution, and death for those who were found to be Christians. During the cultural revolution, believers were incarcerated, Bibles burned and churches closed. And yet when Communism had done it's worst, God was doing His best.
Without Christian television or radio; without Christian literature, the Church grew through the witness of individual believers. Often, they would take risks not knowing whether the person to whom they spoke was friend or foe. They duplicated what we read in Acts, '77terefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the Word" (8:4). Satan tried to blow the fire out through persecution, but in the process he blew it all over the landscape!
No wonder it is so important that we pray for one another! When we are what we should be, the Holy Spirit is free to do His work of convicting. God's best method is still to work through devoted and holy men and women.
Let's not draw attention to ourselves without pointing men and women beyond ourselves to Christ. Like the person who lamented his breakdown in communication by saying, "I pointed to the moon, but all you saw was my finger." We give people an explanation of who we are and why.
Many people today are restless, angry, and dissatisfied, not knowing that the Holy Spirit is trying to reach them. They may go to a psychiatrist, take tranquilizers, and do all they can to quiet their uneasy feeling within. It's been said that there are people whom psychiatrists are trying to make comfortable while God is trying to make them uncomfortable! They don't recognize their discomfort as the voice of God.
Some time ago, I read about a miser who stored all of his money in the cellar of his cottage, and from time to time would take it out and count it (apparently he liked the feel of it). Two thieves watched him through the window one evening as he counted his money and finally put it in a safe place beneath the floor. Then the man took a drink and laid down to sleep. A few hours later, his dog began to bark violently. The an became angry with the dog and told him to be quiet. Once again the dog barked, and the man cursed him and told him to shut up. When the dog continued barking, the man became so irritated that he shot the animal. Then while he slept, the thieves broke in and stole his money.
Don't stifle the only voice that can save you! If you do not respond openly to the Spirit's prompting, you will be damned. Without His gracious work, no one can be saved. Don't stifle the prompting of the Spirit through alcoholism, drugs, pleasure, and selfish pursuits. Only Christ can save you and only the Spirit can draw you to Him.
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
The Long Range Point of View
Somewhere I read a story about a boy reading a novel in the living room. His mother called to him, "Come help me in the kitchen." But he responded, "No, Mom ... right now the villain has the hero down and is about to kill him, so I have to see how the story ends." His mother persisted, "I said you are to come right now to help with the dishes." Knowing that he had to go, he flipped to the last page of the book and read it. There he discovered that the hero didn't die after all; the villain was killed, and the hero won. When the boy walked into the kitchen, he said, "That villain is doing OK in chapter five, but is he ever in for a surprise when he gets to the last page!"
When Christ was saying his "goodbyes" to the disciples in His farewell to them, He urged them to read the last page before they made up their minds about their present predicament. 'A little while and you will no longer behold Me, and again, a little while and you will see Me .. Truly, Truly, you will weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and you will be sorrowful but your sorrow will be turned into joy. "
The disciples were to see the big picture. One of the marks of spiritual maturity is the ability to judge matters by long-term consequences rather than immediate rewards. It's easy to misinterpret who is winning and who is losing without a long-range perspective.
What appears to be success could be failure in disguise. What we call "good" sometimes turns out to be a curse.
A good rule to follow is that we should base our conclusions on long-range consequences and not shortterm pleasures. Freud is quoted as saying that the mark of maturity is to be able to postpone pleasures. That's sound advice, regardless of whether you respect the source.
Let's take sexual sin as an example. The person who tastes fleeting sexual pleasure fights against a whole series of frustrating immediate rewards that are in competition with later rewards. The mature Christian is willing to postpone immediate pleasures for long-term ones. He is also willing to wait for eternity to vindicate His present commitment to what is right and good.
Christ contrasted the opinion of the unbelieving, unregenerate world with that of His disciples. Yes, the disciples would weep and lament; the world would rejoice. But later the tables would be turned. The disciples would rejoice and the world would be condemned. God's interpretation of events gives us the reassurance that obedience to His will has long-term results. To quote Christ, 'Therefore you, too, now have sorrow, but I will see you again and your hearr shall rejoice and no one takes your joy away from you " (16.22).
Understandably, when Christ was on the cross, they said, "Good riddance!" Now they could go back to their own comfort zone attracting attention with their piety without surrendering anything that was truly costly.
So the world rejoiced. But it was too soon for a party.
They saw Christ's death as good news, but they were blinded to the bad news. Yes, Christ was dead; but not for long. And in the end, they will have to meet Him one more time when He returns as judge.
The world looks at life through the wrong end of a telescope. People who are laughing should be crying. Like a criminal who rejoices that he is above the crowd but doesn't know that he is actually on the gallows, so unbelievers of the world think they can ignore God. They don't know their doom is just around the corner. The verdict of the future reverses the verdict of the moment.
In the Book of Revelation, there is a story of the devil's Christmas. Two of God's witnesses (possibly Moses and Elijah) have just been killed and their bodies laid out on the streets. At last, the world has snuffed out the lives of those who were spoiling their fun. It's party time: 'And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those that dwell on the earth" (Revelation 11:10).
But three and a half days later, God gives their bodies life and they stand on their feet. Then we read, 'And in that hour, there was a great earthquake and a tenth of the city fell, and 7, 000 people were killed in the earthquake and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven " (11. 13).
The party is over.
Christ told the disciples not to be deceived by the interpretations of the world. The world would rejoice over His death, but this one scene was not the whole act. Tomorrow the curtain would rise again. What a shock when they get to the last page.
As for the disciples, Jesus predicted that they would "weep and lament." Christ did not chide them for the sorrow they would show. There is nothing particularly spiritual about taking the hurts of life with emotionless stoicism. Jesus was their closest and best friend. Their relationship with Him had been forged on the anvil of sorrow and the rejection of the world. You may forget those with whom you have laughed, but you will never forget those with whom you have cried.
The disciples would be like sheep without a shepherd; orphans bereft of their best friend, or so they thought. The One whom they had trusted at great personal cost would be dead. They believed that the earthly kingdom predicted by the Old Testament prophets would be established immediately. None of the disciples understood clearly that Christ's death and resurrection plus 2,000 years of church history would precede the kingdom era. So when Christ died, the disciples faced an uncertain future. Their hopes died with Him.
The two who walked on their way to Emmaus after Christ's death were living through an emotional earthquake. They said to the stranger, "But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel Indeed, beside all this, it is the third day since these things happened" (Luke 24.21). They saw their hero insulted and forsaken. What is worse, they now believed that they had been misled. Their sorrow was intense, and there was no reason for them to think that it would vanish.
But Christ's followers would learn that they had not been led astray. In the end, Christ was as trustworthy as He seemed to be. Their temporary sorrow would be turned into permanent joy. It's not just that joy would follow their sorrow; the event that caused them sorrow would give them joy. Christ adds, 'Whenever a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come, but when she gives birth to the child, she remembers the anguish no more, for joy that a child has been born into the world" (John 16.21).
This pregnant woman is a picture of the church throughout its 2,000-year history. When you read the history of the church, you find it is a story of pain and grief. There has been persecution, plus doctrinal and moral deviations. There have been times when paganism crept into the church and when the issues of the Gospel were blurred. Even redeemed humanity has the imperfections of our fallen nature. The sorrow of the church will continue, but eventually turn into blessings and joy.
Perhaps the best way for us to explain God's ability to take evil and turn it into a blessing is to look at the cross once more. Let me ask: Was the death of Christ evil or was it good? In one sense, it was the greatest crime that was ever committed. Wicked hands crucified the sinless Son of God without any reason except that He revealed the evil in their own hearts. Yet Paul said, "But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6.14). From this great evil, the blessing of the Lord came. To quote Alexander Maclaren, "The same death which, before the Resurrection, drew a pall of darkness over the heavens, and draped the earth in mourning, by reason of that Resurrection ... became the source of joy. A dead Christ was the church's despair; a dead and risen Christ is the church's triumph."
Perhaps God will eventually treat A evil as He did the cross -- He will use it for a greater good. That which caused us the greatest grief on earth may give us the greatest joy in heaven. As Paul said, 'For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comprehension, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). If we could have a measuring tape that would go from the earth to the farthest star, our years on earth would be but the width of a pencil line. In comparison, the rest of the measuring tape would extend billions of light years into the universe.
Our sorrows will be turned into gladness; the gladness of the world will lead to permanent distress. The world can never dispose of Christ. Though they may consistently ignore Him, eventually every human being will have to contend with Him.
While on earth, Christ was summoned before Pilate, but in that day Pilate will be brought before Christ: For after all, it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted, and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed for our testimony to you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:6- 10). I encourage you to read the last page of the book. Read every line of God's last chapter and you will be strengthened in your confidence that in the end your faithfulness will be rewarded.
It's not today but eternity that really matters. Your sorrow will be turned into joy.
FINAL WORDS. Christ's Farewell to Those He Loved
Some Closing Thoughts
When I was a boy of about 10 years of age, my father often took ill though his sickness was never really diagnosed. One day he called us to his bedside to say "goodbye" quite confident that he was about to die. As it turned out, he lived and is still living even as I write this draft. God has seen fit to give him a long and blessed life.
But I've never forgotten the trauma of that event which we believed would be his "farewell" to us. He urged us to take good care of our mother. He told us to be faithful to Christ. Needless to say, for us children it was fearful, painful and tearful!
Though his words to us were not his last, the fact that we thought they would be has made them special. Last words are always important. When we say "goodbye" for the final time, all trifles are cast aside. The chaff is blown away and only the kernels remain.
In the closing verses of John 16, Christ summarized His teaching to the disciples. He reviewed one more time those truths that would help them through the days ahead.
First, he reminded them of the power of prayer. The disciples did not understand that Christ would return to them after His death and resurrection. But our Lord wanted them to be aware that a day is coming when they would be able to pray effectively to the Father. He also promised them renewed understanding, 'And in that day you will ask Me no question. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name. Until now you have asked nothing in My name; ask and you will receive that your joy may be made full" (John 16.23,24). The kind of questions they have been asking will become unnecessary. The illumination of the Holy Spirit along with fellowship with the risen Christ will clarify the nature of Christ's mission. In that day they will ask in His name, and they Will receive that their joy may be made full.
When Christ goes on to say, "These things I have spoken to you in figurative language," He is referring to veiled speech in contrast to the plain speaking that He will have with them after His resurrection. In that day, they will know that the Father also loves them and that they can pray to Him directly in Christ's name. Until now, the disciples could not have asked anything in the name of Christ because His mediatory work was dependent upon the Cross.
Christ makes a close association between joy and their new privilege of prayer. DA. Carson says, "If obedience to Christ makes us warm with joy, and if fruitful petitionary prayer to our loving God and Father completes our joy, then we are approximating Jesus' expectation of what His followers should experience this side of the cross."
Just imagine what this promise must have meant to the disciples. They had become accustomed to speaking with Christ whenever they wished; they asked him questions, they discussed their doubts and struggles. Now He assures them that this kind of fellowship would continue even though He was leaving them for the cross and later would ascend to heaven. Prayer would bring heaven down for them; prayer would bring them into His presence. Prayer in His name would cause the Father to respond on their behalf.
Spurgeon was right when he said, "Prayer pulls the rope down below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly; others give only an occasional jerk at the rope. But he who communicates with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously with all his might."
Yes, the disciples would have strength if they held on to the rope called prayer. If they understood Christ's promise, they would continue the same fellowship with Him as they had before. These were parting words that gave them hope for an uncertain future.
Second, Christ reminded them that although He would die, this was not the end. "I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world, I am leaving the world again and going to the Father" (v 28). The disciples respond by saying that they finally understand what Christ is saying. 'Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God" (16.29-30).
Christ is pleased, but not so sure that they understand sufficiently to overcome the hurdle of the Crucifixion which lay ahead. "Behold an hour is coming and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home and to leave Me alone, and yet I am not alone because the Father is with Me" (v 32). At the time of the crucifixion, they will not yet have the Holy Spirit who would give them the strength to be identified with Christ at this crucial hour. Christ lets the disciples know that they will fail Him so that when it happens they will know that it did not take Him by surprise.
His concluding words, "These things I have spoken to you that in me ye may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (v 33). Yes, the persecution was about to begin. But if they looked at fife from the long-range point of view, they would overcome the world.
Here then, is the final example of the two opposing perspectives. For the moment, the world seems to be better off than the disciples, but all of that will change. The world has the advantage of clinging to values that are comfortable, predictable, and lead to fulfillment. For a time, the world can go on without the painful experience of having its sin exposed. From its pedestal of self-congratulatory knowledge, it can ridicule the followers of a Man who made a nuisance of Himself by asking probing questions and doing miracles. Seen through one set of glasses, it appears as if the people of the world have taken the safe and most pleasant route.
But there will be a great reversal; their joy will be turned into sorrow. They will be encountering storms that will terrify and eventually end in an excruciating day of judgment. In contrast, the disciples are to be pitied for the moment. They have chosen the lonely path fraught with unexpected peril, but God is with them. They can overcome the world because Christ has.
If we want to be committed followers of Christ, part of the price we will pay is faith that His perspective is more accurate than that of the world. We will have to continue to believe even in the midst of sadness and the confusion of conflicting purposes. God's will may often appear to be dark; the path of holiness may lead to gloom. But in the end, Christ has promised us joy.
And so, what is to be said for Christ's final words? Suffering with Him was to be expected. We should beware when all men speak well of us. Salvation is free, but following Christ will cost something. Today when we are asked to pay a price for our faith, we are prone to whine and complain. But love among Christians and hostility from the world have always been the twin badges of Christian discipleship. If we can look at life from the standpoint of eternity, we will be able to endure.
Some time ago, I read a story about a missionary couple who returned from a foreign country on board a ship. Journeying with them was a tour group of celebrities who partied the whole route, drinking, and engaging in sensuality. When the ship arrived at the harbor, a delegation met this distinguished group, but no one was there to greet the missionaries who had given five years of their lives to serve the King of kings.
One day the missionary poured out his heart to God about the matter. He rehearsed the facts: the people of the world were treated with more appreciation than he and his wife. After his talk with the Lord, he returned to his wife radiant with joy. The burden had lifted.
What made the difference? He explained how he had told the Lord that the people of the world were welcomed home, whereas he and his wife had not been welcomed home. But then, he said, "It was as if the Lord said, 'Wait a moment; you're not home yet!"'
In a few moments Christ will leave the upper room and walk across the Kidron Valley to pray for the disciples in what is often called his high-priestly prayer. Ahead of Him lay Gethsemane and of course, calvary. His relationship with His disciples would be changed forever. Never again would he have a natural human body. His would be transformed into a glorious, eternal body, a prototype of the one we shall have some day.
He wants His disciples to remain faithful. He tells them that they must always remember that they are not home yet. He will go to prepare a place for them, a place with many mansions; a place where He would be with them forever. Though many events in this fife would appear to be against them, in the end He and His Father would demonstrate faithfulness toward them. If they endured, they would reign with Him.
If the government should take away our freedoms; if it should become illegal to witness at work; if you cannot be a doctor without performing abortions; if you must withdraw your children from the public school system because of an immoral or occult curriculum -- for these and other signs of anti-Christian bias, we should rejoice. Rejoice because we have been counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.
Although we like to quote all of the positive words Christ gave us, let us never forget these words must also be numbered among his promises, "In the world you shall have tribulation... "
Today Christ speaks to your heart and mine. His parting words to us are that we should be faithful to Him no matter how dark our world becomes. In the end, our deepest sorrows will become our greatest joys.
The discerning heart knows that the last page has yet to be written. The "goodbyes" of today are but preparation for the "welcomes" of tomorrow. It's just a matter of perspective.