This week, I’m talking about some encouragement I found in one of the Lord’s parables, sharing an interesting article about some big words, an interesting resource to find some amazing resources, and then we’ll be continuing our interesting study of John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrims Progress by exploring Bunyan’s love for the Bible sustained him through difficult times.
- Article: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/dont-play-meaning-words/
- Resource: https://www.ligonier.org/
- Study: https://www.desiringgod.org/books/the-pilgrims-progress
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Once upon a time there was a grand kingdom beset by two fierce dragons. Had it not been for the dragons, the kingdom would have been a wonderful place to live. The people were strong and kind, the lands vast and fertile, and the artists, musicians, and craftsmen were some of the most creative, inventive, and inspiring there had ever been.
One day, two huge shadows came over the kingdom. A commotion that no one had seen coming, nor could have ever prepared for, broke out in the skies above them. It began as rumbles and flashes of light in the distance. Many dismissed it as thunder and lightning – a passing storm. But the wise men of the land – the lords, wizards, and clerics – were concerned.
It wasn’t long until the distant rumbles became very nearby roars. The citizens of the kingdom began to leave their homes, the taverns, and castles, wondering what was happening and why. The looked up and saw two great dragons, one fiery red, the other as blue as sapphire, locked in a ferocious battle. Over and over they would withdraw, spread their wings, extend their claws, and come together with a great crash.
The red dragon was wild, unpredictable, fierce – the blue dragon was more calculating and maneuverable – and from their mouths came blasts of fire and ice – that were so powerful they could be felt all the way to the ground – but neither dragon seemed very hurt.
The battle raged for days, and weeks, until the whole kingdom had come nearly to a standstill. The dragons battle was all encompassing. Some had lost their homes, even loved ones, as the dragons swooped closer to the ground, blasting huge, flaming scars into the land – or completely freezing any crops, animals, or people that were unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Occasionally, the red dragon would land in a field and eat whole herds of cattle…. but the blue dragon preferred people, and would sometimes swoop out of the night sky and grab two or three people with his giant talons, toss them into the air, and catch them in his great, gaping, fanged mouth. And then, once they had feasted, their battle would continue.
The dragons didn’t seem to care about the kingdom at all – all they cared about was defeating the other.
After many more weeks, the citizens were forced to try to live with the battle above them. The people were forced to adapt. Some seemed excited by it – exhilarated by the thrill and wildness of the combat, even creating a scoring system and placing bets on which dragon would win the day. Others were terrified – refusing to leave their homes. Still others – though they were a rare few – were finding ways to profit. Occasionally a scale or a drop of blood would fall, and they would venture out to find and sell it. The more practical townsfolk knew that regardless of what was happening above them, winter was coming. The crops needed harvesting, the roofs of buildings needed repair, or the dragons wouldn’t be their only problem.
For the whole winter the battle raged, and then into spring, and into summer… but as time went on something strange had started to happen. The people began to not only get used to the battle – they even started to figure out ways to use the dragon’s fire and ice to their advantage. They began to chart the patterns of the battle, watch the changes, and predict where the next blast would be. In the winter they would set up long lines of wood and meat and other objects that would be set aflame and then collected. They discovered that the blue dragon’s ice had the unique property of taking a very long time to melt, and so, in the summer, they would collect the blasts of ice and use them to preserve food, even cool their drinks.
Sure, some people, buildings, and crops were occasionally destroyed – but after so long, the people had not only adapted, but had come to see the dragon battle as normal – just part of life.
But the lords, wizards, and clerics didn’t feel that way – not at all. They knew that that the kingdom couldn’t continue this way.. Eventually, the battle in the sky would consume everything and everyone. And so they worked day and night to find a solution.
Then one day, the wisest of the wizards came to the parliament of Lords and presented something that would change the fate of the kingdom. He had been gathering dropped scales and blood, bits of ash, shards of ice, and through his magic and alchemy and science, was able to create a single arrow – one that had the power to not only pierce the hard dragon scales, but to weaken one of the dragons so much that they couldn’t fight anymore. The Lords raised a great cheer, and praised the wizard, promising lands and riches and rewards – but the old conjurer continued to look grave.
The Lords soon calmed down, an uneasiness settled over them as they looked at his furrowed brow… and then, as silence fell, the wizard looked around the room and said, “But which dragon gets the arrow?”
“Can’t you just make another?” one of them asked. “Yes… but the formula requires not only many ingredients, and many scales and drops of their blood, but must be brewed for at least two years. And, what’s more… the effect of the arrow only lasts for two years. There is no way around it. You must decide which dragon you want.”
For many days they argued the costs and benefits of fire and ice, red and blue, until one day, the wizards apprentice – who was also a very wise young man – said to them all — “Why not let the dragon’s decide?”
Soon, a party of adventurers, soldiers, lords, and wizards, climbed the highest mountain in the land. Upon reaching the top, they yelled out as one, “Dragons! Stop your battle for a moment! For we have something we must say! This is a request and a warning – you must listen to us or it will be your doom.”
Never before had either of these dragons been spoken to in this way. It surprised and intrigued them so much, that they pulled back from one another… the red dragon looked at the blue and said in a booming voice, “Hold for a moment. Let us hear what these little things have to say. It has been many years since we had a break from our battle for any entertainment – so, if only for amusement, let’s hear them.”
The blue dragon replied, his own voice incredibly loud, yet strangely pleasant – “Yes, brother… this should be interesting.”
The dragons looked at the tiny human band, turned, and flew at them. Even the most courageous of the soldiers felt his stomach sink within him, not knowing what would happen next.
But the dragons merely landed, coming to rest upon some crags on opposite sides of the mountain. The blue dragon simply said, “Speak.”
The Wizard had been chosen, and said, “Oh great and mighty dragons. Your battle has done great damage to our kingdom. Your fire and ice have destroyed our lands, houses, and people. We have grown weary of your battle and have spent many months creating a weapon against you, and have come to present you a choice – either take your terror and mayhem away from our lands, never to return – or choose from between you which of you which we shall cripple for two years, leaving the other the victor.”
The red dragon’s eyes flashed with red fire, the blue dragon’s with blue flame – and they said, in unison, “We will not leave. These skies are our sacred battle ground. We will not leave.”
And they flew up together and began to battle again – but this time it was more ferocious than ever. They tore at each other leaving gashes and scars, tearing holes their wings, and huge bite marks on their necks.
For three days they continued, devastating more of the land than ever before. Some people called the Lords and wizards foolish for ever going to the mountain, for ever presenting the choice…
And then, on the third day, there was silence. Everyone came out of their homes to see what had changed. And there, standing perched on the great city wall, were both dragons. They looked worn, beaten and exhausted. The blue dragon spoke, “This fight has gone on longer than either of us can remember. We know nothing else other than to fight one another. And no matter how hard we fight, there never seems to be a clear victor. Your threat has broken this stalemate, and for that we are thankful. Both of us desire victory as much as we desire rest. And so we have come to present our cases to you.”
The other spoke, “I am the Red Dragon. I am wild, unpredictable, fierce, and powerful. There is nothing more that I love than myself. If you let me survive, I make you no promises other than that so long as my interests align with yours, you will be well. But if they do not, I do not care if you live or die. Sometimes I feel like roaring and displaying my grandeur to the whole world, and if you do not worship me, I will become angry. Sometimes I feel benevolent, and will use my magic and flame to help you – so that you may worship me all the more. I love battle, and will often fly to other kingdoms to demonstrate my power to them – and they may become angry and fight against you, or in their fear they may cower and bring gifts, of which I will sometimes share, sometimes keep, and sometimes destroy, for that is my nature. I am the Red Dragon.”
Then the other spoke, “I am the Blue Dragon and I am not like my hot-headed brother. I too want your worship, but I am willing to work with you. If I am chosen to survive, I will use my magic and ice to help you, for you have not even begun to see the miracles my ice can do! I do not love to fight, except with my brother, and so I will spend most of my time wandering your lands, speaking well of you, basking in your adulation, and performing great tricks to excite and entertain. I have but one requirement of you. I have a great thirst for human blood – and it is your blood that gives such great potency to my magic. And so, once per week, you must bring me four people to eat – and I will make it easy on you. I do not want your warriors, wizards, craftsmen, or cooks. I will accept an old person, a sick person, a weak person, and a baby. I do love eating the babies most of all – for it is their blood that gives my magic the most potency. If you choose me to survive, I will do many good things for you – but my price is the blood of the old, sick, weak, and infant. I am the Blue Dragon.”
Then, both dragons closed their eyes, raised their heads, opened their wings, exposed their sparkling chests, and spoke in unison, “We are ready. Aim your weapon. Decide between us.”
The wizard, atop the highest tower of the castle, produced the arrow from his robe. It gleamed with magical white light. He handed it to the archer, who took it carefully, armed the bow, and looked at the wizard… which do I shoot?
The wizard replied, “That is for the people to decide.” And cried out from the tower, “Citizens of this great kingdom. Before you stands the Red Dragon and the Blue Dragon. They have made their cases. And now you must choose. Red or Blue.”
We’re back in our study of the gospel of John this week looking at the last section of chapter 5, from verse 30-47, entitled in the ESV, “Witnesses to Jesus”
Remember the context here. The Jewish leadership, Pharisees, Sadducees, and the rest of the Sanhedrin, are all upset because Jesus healed a man who had been sick for decades – but he did it on the Sabbath. After accosting the healed man for walking with his bedroll down the street, questioning him about what he was doing, and hearing that someone was going around healing people on the Sabbath, they launched an investigation. When Jesus caught up with the man he healed again to tell him who He was, the man went back to the authorities and reported Jesus.
This incensed the Jewish leaders and they ran after Jesus and started to give him trouble, asking him who he thought he was for defying their Sabbath traditions and going against their made-up, non-mosaic rules. And Jesus literally looks at them and says in verse 17, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” suggesting that he had a different, and much closer, relationship to God that other people. He was saying that He had authority over the Sabbath – the same authority God has – and implied that if God is allowed to break their dumb, unbiblical, Sabbath rules – then He is too.
This ticked off the Jews so much that they decided to kill him.
Then, in verse 19, Jesus goes into a long dialogue teaching them who He really is, what authority He has, and why they should believe him. And in our passage today, starting in verse 30, Jesus gives a list of reliable witnesses that will back up his claim to be equal in authority and glory to God.
John’s gospel is all about making absolutely clear who Jesus is and claims to be, about giving signs through story, contrast, miracles, witnesses, and Jesus’ own words – and so, in good Gospel of John fashion, as Jesus speaks, he shares a whole bunch of witnesses who can confirm his story.
See if you can spot them as we read…
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (ESV)
For as long as there have been Christians, from the very beginning two thousand years ago, people have been asking for witnesses, evidence, proof, that Jesus is who He says He is. I’ve literally heard people say, “I’ll believe if He comes down, talks to me personally, writes his name in the sky, rearranges the stars, and does some miracles right before my eyes. But until then, I won’t believe.”
If the Pharisees are any indication of how people would respond, then I don’t think what these people want would do it either. Jesus gave ample evidence for who He was, what authority he had, who His father was, why he deserved to be followed as Lord, Saviour and God, and yet these men, these scholars who knew the Bible better than anyone else – refused to believe and hated Jesus instead. Or… maybe to be more accurate… they couldn’t refute him, the evidence was too great, but believing meant bowing their knee, changing their minds, humbling themselves, admitting they were wrong, and then calling Jesus their King, Prophet, High Priest, and God – and they didn’t want to. It would cost them too much.
It would cost them their position, prestige, and power. It would be embarrassing, humiliating, and they’d have to change their lives. Their whole world would have to be taken apart, utterly leveled, and then handed over to Jesus for Him to rebuild properly. And that was too much. So instead of looking at the overwhelming evidence that kept piling up before them – and I mean lots, and lots of irrefutable signs – and believing what their eyes, ears, and spirits were saying — they, instead, got more angry, more bitter, more jealous, and crushed that part of their minds, hearts, and souls that kept telling them the truth – and chose to believe their own lies instead.
It’s like Romans 1:18–22 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…”
This is still true, isn’t it? God reveals himself in the majesty of nature, the eternity of the cosmos, the intricacy of molecules and atoms — and no matter how much their heart cries out saying, “There must be a creator behind this!” people still crush, suppress that truth – because to believe that means they would have to subject themselves to God and God might tell them to do something they don’t want to do – so they get angry, ignore the evidence, and then make up something that sounds better to them.
God reveals himself in their consciences – their innate ability to know right from wrong, good from evil, their hatred of their own sins – the sins that they keep doing and can’t stop – and the hatred of the sins committed against them – and their desire for peace, hope, joy, and a clean heart – all that is God revealing himself to them —— but they know that to admit that God exists, and that God is the author of morality, that there is a divine judge, means that they are on the wrong side of Him, and their pride can’t believe that so they crush down that thought, medicate it away, surround themselves with people who will keep telling them how great they are, and keep the noise and entertainment and distractions going so they don’t have to think about God anymore.
And, in the most ironic part of this, as they deny all the evidence before them and inside of them, they “claim to be wise”. These days, it’s a sign of intelligence that you’re willing to deny God exists. You know, it wasn’t even that long ago that to deny the existence of God was the opposite. Only a fool wouldn’t believe in God… just look around!
All the greatest scientists for thousands of years were all at least Theists, believing in a higher power that created all things. Sure, they argued about what that power was, but no one believed that the universe just popped into existence out of nowhere for no reason. That’s stupid.
But not anymore. I saw a clip a while back where Bill Nye goes on a bit of a rant saying that it’s basically impossible to be useful in this world, if you believe in God. He says that anyone who claims that the universe has a Creator, cannot be scientifically literate, is denying reality, votes wrong, thinks wrong, and can’t possibly be to be any kind of scientist or engineer. Theists can’t be biologists, or medical doctors, or astronomers, or engineers, or any kind of real scientist – or for that matter, even a person of intelligence.
That’s insane. Truly insane. It is the sign of a person who is so fully committed to a materialistic worldview, who is so entrenched in his own dogma, who is so committed to his own worldview – and probably so committed to never thinking about his own life from a moral, let alone eternal, perspective – that He will absolutely deny what most people in the world today – and most people in history – have believed as just a given.
I don’t mean to go on a tangent here, but I’m going to anyway – so hang on a bit because this is interesting and important.
Historically, going all the way back to the ancient Greeks, to get a full education meant studying the Trivium and the Quadrivium. The Trivium was Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric – or, how to think clearly and communicate. The Quadrivium was Arethmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy – or, the tools we need to grow into mature people and understand the world.
At some point in the Middle Ages, probably after the Dark Ages in the 12th Century, above all that education was added the Queen of the Sciences and her handmaiden. What was the Queen of the Sciences? Theology, the Study of God founded on God’s word. Her handmaiden? Philosophy.
How could one know how to think, how to reason, and how to understand and explore their world, if they didn’t have the foundational concepts of Theology: “There is a God who created all this”, and Philosophy: the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. God was the biggest answer to HOW and Philosophy gives the biggest answer to WHY and everything else we know comes after. And people were educated like this until about 150 years or so ago when modernism took over and, as RC Sproul said, they deposed the queen and drove her into exile along with her handmaiden. Where once theologians and philosophers were honoured and considered the smartest and wisest in the land – they are now considered useless and stupid.
And, once again, to drive this point home – and to confirm that Bill Nye is a ding-dong, Isaac Newton was educated like this, so was Marie Curie, Galileo, Nikola Tesla, Charles Darwin (and yes, Darwin believed in God as the first cause of the universe!), Copernicus, Leonardo Da Vinci… they all believed in God and studied Theology and Philosophy. And I think they did ok in science…
Anyway, back to the sermon.
Here, before Jesus, stand a group of haters and doubters, who, despite the evidence before them, refuse to believe what they see because of the consequences of that belief.
And so, Jesus gives 7 evidences to them. He begins, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true.”
In other words, “What I’m doing and saying is right and approved by God. And I’m not the only one saying this. Here’s my witnesses:”
His first witness, from verses 32-35, is John the Baptist, his forerunner, and a man who many considered to be a prophet of God.
The second witness, from verse 36, were the abundant and undeniable miracles Jesus had been performing all over the place and in public. Like the formerly sick man who had kicked this all off.
The third witness, from verse 37-38, is God the Father Himself. Even one of their own members, Nicodemus, came to Jesus in chapter 3 and said, “ “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
The fourth witness, from verse 39-44, are the scriptures. Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies and lived perfectly by every law. Every book of the Old Testament tells people what to look for, and Jesus met all the requirements. Think of the Apostle Paul, right? Super smart guy, one of the best – if not the best biblical scholar in the world. But he was totally and completely against Jesus, arresting and murdering Christians left and right – and then he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. Then, for days, maybe even years, all of that bible knowledge, all the memorization, all his studies, starts to snap into place. How did He never see it before? His heart was darkened, he refused to believe the truth, he preferred lies to the truth – but now the Truth Himself had set Him free and He finally saw the light. And every scripture in the Old Testament made sense and he knew it pointed to Jesus.
And the final, fifth witness, was Moses Himself. If you don’t believe in Jesus, then you don’t believe Moses was telling the truth – because Moses not only gave specific predictions about Jesus, but also showed all the ways that the history of salvation pointed directly to Jesus as the Christ.
So, what’s our application today? I think there are two fairly simple ones:
First, is to realize that studying and meditating on the scriptures, isn’t just an exercise, it is a way to meet Jesus. Whatever book you are in, from Genesis to Revelation, that book will not only teach you about Jesus, but give you an opportunity to meet Jesus, the real Jesus, the person of Jesus, in a new way. Cold, rigid, heartless study of the Bible – the kind that we just do and then forget, or just fills our heads with trivia – will drive us away from Jesus. But when we come expectantly before God’s word, prayerfully, anticipating Jesus Himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to meet us in that place, teach us, and meet us there, suddenly that reading fills us up with life and light like never before.
So, if you find yourself in a cold study, a heartless study, just going through the motions – then stop. Spend some time praying, asking God to send His spirit to illuminate His word again, to meet Him in it, to have a real, intimate, personal experience with Him through His word. Maybe that means dropping that study and just reading the Bible for enjoyment. Just pick it up and read through your favourite book, or through a gospel, or through Judges or Ruth, or another narrative book – and not just a verse at a time or chapter at a time, but to read it as a book. They print Bibles now that have no verse numbers or chapter numbers, that look just like books. Grab one of them and read without all the study notes and breaking up of the story with all the other stuff. Get the distractions out of the way so you can meet Jesus in His word again.
And second, remember that there really are good evidences for not only the existence of God, but for Jesus being the Lord and Saviour of the world. Our faith isn’t one based on a foundationless hope, or man-made fictions meant to just inspire. Our faith is based on evidence, history, witnesses, logic, and reality.
So, don’t be afraid to ask big questions, look more deeply into what you believe, ask whether what you think is really true, really has evidence, can really be believed. Some people are afraid – they don’t want to look into it because they’re worried that their faith is foundationless and the idea of living without God is worse than living with a fake one.
This week, I talk about my weird personal motto, share an interesting article about the evaporation of empathy, an interesting resource to teach you a little bit about church history, and then we’ll be continuing our interesting study of John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrims Progress by exploring how Bunyan’s suffering taught him that being a Christian is tough business.
Al’s 3D Printer: https://www.instagram.com/als3dprinter/
This week we’re going to do something a little different. Yes, I’m aware that I’ve only done this once and that last week I told you that we’d be going through the gospel of John, but that was before I came across this amazing clip from a John Piper sermon that I really want to share. I came across it while listening to the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, but it’s originally from a sermon he preached on Dec 17, 2000, from Romans 6:22-23 called “The Free Gift of God is Eternal Life.” I’ll put a link on the website if you want to hear the whole thing.
But before we jump into that, I think I should do a bit of an introduction.
One of the troubles with preaching Romans is that you’re almost always jumping into the middle of something. The whole book is constructed as a bunch of well-built, systematic theological teachings, arguments, and connected thoughts that really do need each other to be fully understood. In other words, we need context.
And to make it worse, not only are we jumping into the middle of the Apostle Paul’s teaching – that started, like, all the way back in chapter one – but we’re also taking just a clip out of John Piper’s sermon. So that sort of makes things doubly ripe for trouble.
But I’ll do my best.
In chapter 1 Paul presents the Gospel as the revelation of the Righteousness of God and compares it to the wickedness of man. That leads to chapter 2 and 3 which speaks of how God’s Righteousness leads to a necessary wrath against those sinners… and who are those sinners? Everyone. For All have sinned. That’s the problem. We’re sinners, we can’t save ourselves, we don’t even want to, and we are all destined to stand before a wrathful God who will condemn us to everlasting torment. That’s a real problem.
What’s the solution?
In Chapter 4 we learn about how the man Jesus Christ, the son of God, was perfectly righteous, and died in our place, and that the only way we can be saved is through faith in the risen Jesus Christ. But what about people in the Old Testament before Jesus? Paul answers that too. The answer is still faith.
Then, in chapter 5, we see that that faith naturally leads to a wonderful hope, because our faith in Jesus makes it so that we can stand before God as righteous, clean, holy, perfect in Jesus. Justified by faith, at peace with God through the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just like Adam got us into this mess and condemned humanity to the curse, so Jesus got us out of the mess, and redeemed his people from the curse. And he offers this gift for free.
Then, in chapter 6, Paul hears his detractors cry out: “What do you mean it’s free? Free? That’s madness. Then everyone will just go sin all the time, ask forgiveness, and go to heaven. That’s ridiculous. How can you go to heaven without following the law, being religious, being good, doing good things? Free salvation, this amazing grace, will lead to spiritual anarchy!
Which leads us close to our passage today…
I’ll pick up the reading in Romans 6:15 and we’ll end at Romans 6:23. Remember, the clip from John Piper is only talking about the last couple verses, but now we’ve got some context.
“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15–23)
You’ve got to love John Piper’s passion – and his illustrations – and so many quotable quotes!
“Satan is a liar – he even lies about his lies. … Oh how we should hate him. Oh how free you should want to be right now from this slave-master’s clutches on your lives so that you’re not a dupe and a lacky day in and day out like most people seem to be.”John Piper
As far as an application goes I can only share my own personal reflection and how this impacted me.
I think it’s easy to become friends with sin, to think it’s not that big of a deal, to keep a few favourite sins as pets. To make an agreement with the devil that you’ll keep on doing these things that kill your soul – if he’d just leave you alone.
I know that’s been my temptation. My last few years have been pretty brutal. I’ve felt pain and misery in every arena of my life, except my physical body. It’s almost like when God told Satan to do whatever he wanted to Job, but didn’t allow him to touch his body – except I didn’t remain upright and righteous like Job – but I did get miserable and start to complain like job.
And I could feel the compromise setting in where I’d start to think, “Ok, I know God doesn’t want me to do this, or I know God wants me to do this, but I’m exhausted, hurt, sad, afraid, wiped out – and, like Satan did to Jesus in the wilderness – he offered me an easier way. Just bow the knee a little, just compromise a little, just be a little more selfish, succumb to hopelessness, fear of man, the belief that the immediate comfort from sin is better than sitting patiently at God’s feet, that going through all this stress is a good excuse to avoid bible reading, avoid prayer, avoid worship, avoid thanksgiving, avoid other believers.
And, John Piper her reminds me that not only was I believing lies, but I was becoming Satan’s lacky – and I didn’t even know it. I was doing what Paul said in Romans 1:25 that unbelievers do. I was “exchanging the truth of God for a lie and serving the creature – Satan and myself – rather than the Creator who is blessed forever.”
Even today, as I sit here recording this, I’m still struggling with the motivation to do daily readings, study, journal, pray, listen to worship music. I was talking to a friend the other day and told him that I know for a fact that there’s a lot of stuff twisted up inside me, and it’s like I’m too afraid to sit down and let God unravel it – because in doing so, I’m afraid I’ll unravel completely.
But that too is a lie. It’s a lie to believe that coming to God will be worse than not. It’s a lie to believe that letting the Great Physician do some Soul Surgery will be worse than letting the cancer grow inside me. And those lies come straight from the devil himself.
I wonder if you’ve ever felt the same way – or if you do now. Are you believing lies about God, exchanging God’s truth for the lies of the devil, and becoming Satan’s willing slave, lackey, and dupe – instead of letting Jesus be Lord, friend, and saviour?
Ask yourself this – how would you know? Could it be that you are so deceived that you literally don’t know God’s truth from Satan’s lies? That all the excuses piled up in your brain, the ones that seem so good, and right, and reasonable to you – are actually just demonic traps for fools, keeping you from experiencing actual joy, actual freedom, actual peace, actual contentment, actual healing? Could it be that the food Satan keeps feeding you, the table you keep running to, that you think is so helpful and good – is actually poinsoning you and you don’t even know it?
Maybe it’s time to ask God to tell you the truth, to show you the truth, to invite him to shine light in places where you haven’t let him before, and to open your eyes to the spiritual reality in your life. That takes courage, sacrifice, trust – and it takes humility before God, and before other Christian leaders and friends to which God is going to have you confess your sins and get accountability from.
Do you feel that fear welling up inside? Do you feel that anxiety? Do you feel that anger that says that no one can tell you what to do, that you’re fine, and all the myriad excuses for why you shouldn’t be opening your heart, soul, and mind in that way….. that’s the devil trying to make sure you stay his. Don’t let him. And I won’t either.
This week, I’m sharing an interesting article about Hell, an interesting resource for getting a free study bible, and then we’ll be continuing our interesting study of John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrims Progress.
- Article: www.crossway.org/articles/5-myths-about-hell/
- Resource: www.esv.org
- Study: https://www.desiringgod.org/books/the-pilgrims-progress
Al’s 3D Printer: www.als3dprinter.ca
This week, I’m going talking about career vs character, sharing an interesting resource for finding out a ton of cool things, and then we’ll be continuing our interesting study of John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrims Progress.
- Article: Character Vs Career by Al
- Resource: https://99percentinvisible.org/
- Study: https://www.desiringgod.org/books/the-pilgrims-progress
Al’s 3D Printer: www.als3dprinter.ca
This week I share an interesting article about controversy, an interesting resource for answering tough questions, and continue our interesting study of John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrims Progress.
Al’s 3D Printer:
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This week’s episode is something a bit different. It’s an update on the interesting things that have been going on in my life. Thanks for your support!
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The 5th Episode of “Of Interest” talks about the Spanish Flu vs Today , an amazing blogger named Tim Challies, and how John Bunyan’s Suffering led to Pilgrim’s Progress
Please open up to John 5:1-18 and let’s read it together:
“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’
This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
A Desperate Situation
A while back I said that as you read through John, to put yourself in the place of the people that Jesus interacts with. I want you to do the same with this passage – we are the invalid and we are the Jews.
Let’s start with the first part of the story. Sometime after Jesus had healed the Centurion’s son, Jesus was headed up to Jerusalem for one of the three feasts that all Jewish males were required to attend. We don’t know which one.
While Jesus was at this feast He chose to head to the Sheep Gate. Jerusalem had all kinds of gates. The Old Testament mentions 17 different gates for the first temple, and eight for the temple that was rebuilt by Nehemiah and added to by Herod. And each gate had a different name and theme. There was a Fish Gate where the fisherman brought their catches through to be sold, the Valley Gate that opened up to the Valley of Hinnom, the Dung (or Garbage) Gate where Jerusalem had their burning waste dump. This gate was called the Sheep Gate and was historically where the sheep and lambs were brought through for the ritual temple sacrifices.
One day, Jesus, the One John the Baptist recently called “The Lamb of God who takes away the Sins of the World” (1:36), decides to come up through the Sheep Gate. Don’t miss that, because there’s a lot going on. The Lamb of God entering through the Sheep Gate where the sacrifices come through, which was about 200 meters from where Pilate would condemn Him to death, only a hundred or so more meters to the Via Dolorosa, which was the road Jesus would take to Calvary.
Near the Sheep Gate there was a pool called Bethesda meaning “House of Mercy” or “House of Outpouring” and verses 2-3 gives us a picture of what this place looked like. There was a pool there – (actually by the time of Herod there were 2 pools, one above the other) – with a series of columns holding up a roof that would provide some protection from weather. Instead of being fed by a spring, this pool system was designed to be filled up when it rained. A long time before, this pool was likely used to wash the sheep that were coming into the temple area after being herded from whatever place they had come from, but now it had become a place where sick, desperate people would congregate in hopes of getting some kind of mercy, charity, and maybe even a miracle.
If you have an ESV Bible you’ll notice something interesting in verse 4 – it’s interesting in that there is no verse 4. In other translations you’ll see a verse 4 which give an explanation that the reason sick people congregated there was that there was a superstition that sometimes an angel would come, stir the pool, and the first person to get in would be immediately healed. The reason the ESV doesn’t include this verse is because the oldest, most trusted manuscripts, actually don’t have that line. It was inserted sometime after by a scribe who felt it necessary to add an explanation. But since it’s not in the best manuscripts, a lot of modern translations leave it out. But that doesn’t mean it was wrong – in fact, verse 7 tells us that the stirring of the waters is exactly what the man was hoping for.
But the picture here is one of blind, sick, lame, paralyzed people who were living in a time when they were considered cursed, unclean, and didn’t have a way to take care of themselves. And, if they didn’t have family to take care of them, these people would often become street beggars. And as society condemned them, forgot them, and pushed them aside, they would become more and more desperate.
And desperate people tend to be more easily manipulated, more willing to believe lies and superstitions, more self-centred, selfish, and protective. Jesus walks into an area filled with hurting, forgotten, broken people who – because of their suffering and how they’d been treated – had basically given up on their neighbours, families, friends, religion, priests, and God. They were now a group of superstitious people whose whole lives revolved around waiting for some kind of supernatural stirring of some magic water, which would then lead to a mad dash competition to beat each other to the pool in hopes of some kind of miracle.
We are often no different than these people. Fear, sickness, betrayal, disrespect, being forgotten, living in pain, financial struggles – especially when it carries on for a long while – often leads to a myriad of temptations. When the trouble first starts – the pain begins, the sickness sets in, the emergency happens, the betrayal occurs – we handle it ok. We talk to friends, read the Bible, pray to God – but then it doesn’t go away, the situation doesn’t get better, and sometimes it gets worse.
So, sometimes we press in harder. We call our friends for help, tell our church to pray, spend more time in the Word and in Prayer. But it still doesn’t get better. The pain is worse and more complicated, the doctors can’t find a cause. The betrayals start to stack up as more people believe lies. The bills keep coming but the income doesn’t get better. The emergency keeps affecting you, the stress being drawn out for days, weeks, and months. The sickness doesn’t go away, and you find out its chronic and untreatable.
Then, as friends and family and the church stops calling, stops asking how you’re doing, stops giving you support, and the trips to the doctor all end with the same bad news, and people seem to move on to the next thing – you’re still stuck with the same pain – it’s easy to start to become discouraged and even desperate.
And we are tempted to do what this man did. Go away from people, start skipping church and eventually just leave altogether. Stop praying because it doesn’t work. Leave the Bible on the shelf because it doesn’t help. Start to gather with other sick, pained, miserable people… not because they encourage you, but because they feed your misery and affirm your bad decisions.
And then, as you distance yourself from God, His word, and His people, Satan starts to present you with more and more dangerous ideas on how to feel better. He dangles bait in front of you, leading you toward destruction. He offers you drink and drugs, pornography and entertainment, gambling and garbage food. He offers you loans, and new credit cards, and opportunities to steal. He helps you find people who want to commit adultery with you, hurt others with you, do illegal things with you.
And he shows you stories of people who got the miracle they wanted… through televangelists, superstitions, cults, pagan practices, witchcraft, the occult, moral compromise. Things that would have been unthinkable, ridiculous, and laughable before – start to become more reasonable. The more desperate you get, the more reasonable they become. After all – Christianity didn’t work. God didn’t fix your life when you asked. The Church left you behind. The doctors can’t help, friends can’t help… why not try… crystals, horoscopes, healing services, bank loans, divorce, chemicals, abuse, or maybe even sending money to the guy on TV who promises to send you magic spring water from Russia that will force God to fix your body and fill up your bank account. And if you don’t believe me – then you’ve probably never heard of Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, or Peter Popoff.
Now, you might be thinking, “That’s too extreme, Pastor Al. I don’t do that. I would never do that.” Well, maybe today – but that’s at least one direction the road of spiritual compromise goes. So ask yourself – what ungodly, unbiblical, unfaithful things are you doing right now because stress, fear, lack, sadness, worry, has been pressing in on you.
Are you drinking a little more? Are you distancing yourself from certain godly people because they make you feel guilty? Are you reading and watching videos about how to get miracles and give yourself special spiritual powers? Is your debt creeping up as you use money you don’t have to try to solve your problems? Do you find yourself doing little, superstitious things – wearing a cross for luck, carrying a little pocket angel, repeating special “words of power” that have worked for other people, or adding other spiritual things to your life in hopes of twisting God’s (or the universe’s) arm to make things go your way?
Those are the path to danger. You don’t start as the kind of person who believes God puts sick people in competition with one another to see who can get in the magic angel rain pool… that happens gradually as hopelessness, fear, worry, and sadness take over you faith, trust, and obedience to God and His word.
Do You Want to Be Made Well?
In verse 5 we see that this man had been an invalid for thirty-eight years – longer than many people’s lifespan back then. To everyone, even to himself, he was a hopeless case. His faith was gone, his friends were gone, his family was gone, and to him, God was gone, grace was gone, hope was gone, and he was too weak to even try to work within his own superstition.
Jesus asks a peculiar question: “Do you want to be made well?” It almost sounds sarcastic, doesn’t it? He’s standing in a place full of misery and suffering, surrounded by the most desperate cases imaginable. They were sitting beside what they thought was a magic healing pool. Why else would they be there other than to be made well?
But this man’s understanding of God and spirituality was completely warped. Remember, there stands Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the Creator of the Universe. He is God. His question forces the man to declare what His faith is in.
We read elsewhere of Jesus asking people questions before healing, and many declare their faith in Him for a miracle. The leper comes and says, “If you choose, you can make me clean!” (Mark 1:40) The woman with the years of bleeding said, “If I but touch His clothes, I will be made well.” The leader of the synagogue came and said, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” (Matt 9:18)
But how does this man answer? With nothing but negativity and hopelessness and blaming others: “It’s impossible. God’s abandoned me. People have abandoned me. The only hope I have is the magic rain water and I’m too weak to get there. For decades now, people have pushed me aside and ran before me to get the miracle. No one cares. Nothing can help me.” Bad attitude, bad faith, bad logic, bad spirituality, and bad theology.
What’s interesting is that Jesus doesn’t argue. There’s no lecture, no teaching, no correction, no sermon. Just the command, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” In fact, as we read, Jesus doesn’t even introduce Himself! At first, after the miracle, the man didn’t even know it was Jesus who healed him!
The man’s greatest expectation was that, perhaps, this stranger might stick around long enough to, maybe get him to the pool. When he answered, there was zero faith in Jesus, zero faith in God, and the thought that He was about to walk out of that place perfectly healed hadn’t even crossed his mind. He’s lying there before God Himself – and didn’t even know it.
What Does This Tell Us About Jesus?
I want to pause the story there this week, even though a lot happens after the man is healed, and I want to ask the question: What does this tell us about Jesus?
First, that Jesus is compassionate. Matthew 12:18-21 quotes Isaiah 42:1–3, which is a description of Jesus’ attitude towards hurting, abused, forgotten, hopeless people: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” He weeps with those who weep, and understands the suffering of hurting, abused, forgotten, slandered, weak people better than anyone. He has empathy, compassion, and kindness. Jesus hates pain, suffering, and sickness because Jesus hates sin – and they are all a result of sin. That’s why He came to die on the cross – to reverse the curse, to destroy the effects of sin, and to make a path for anyone who would believe in Him to be free of those effects forever. The first thing we must see here is that Jesus is kind and compassionate to people who are suffering.
The second thing we ought to see is that Jesus gives grace to whom He decides to give grace. Grace, by definition, is undeserved merit, undeserved favour. Did this man deserve to be healed? No. Did He deserve a conversation with Jesus? No. What did He deserve? As a faithless, hopeless, superstitious, sinner, He deserved nothing more than being condemned to everlasting torment in hell. That’s what he deserved.
I’ve had a few people text me lately that some of the things that have happened to me were “undeserved”. “You don’t deserve this.”, they say. My response is always, “What I deserve is Hell – anything above that is grace.” And I mean it.
This man did nothing to deserve a miracle. I think of Romans 9 which talks about what theologians call “divine election” or “God deciding who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.”
Turn to Romans 9:13–24 and let’s read it together. We’re jumping into the middle of an argument here, but the first line is a good summary, “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” Think of the Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau. Esau was older and should have gotten the blessing, but instead God worked it out so Jacob did. Neither was a particularly good person – Esau arrogant, Jacob a liar – but God overturned tradition and expectation and chose the young liar to be His chosen servant. So Paul asks in verse 14,
“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”
What is the biblical answer to “Who gets chosen for heaven and who goes to hell?” Simply, “Whoever God decides.” No one deserves heaven. No one deserves grace. We’re all vessels of wrath prepared for destruction – and some of us get plucked out of the flames and given a place of honour. Why? Because God decided to show us love and grace. That’s it.
The second thing we need to learn about Jesus is that He shows grace to whom He shows grace. He walked into a place full of sick, desperate, superstitious, and selfish people – and decided to save one of them. That’s His prerogative. He’s God, we’re not. Anyone one of us who is plucked from the flames, healed, and adopted – should spend our whole lives praising Him for His undeserved grace!
Third, Jesus has His own schedule. Thirty-eight years that man waited. Until he was utterly hopeless, forgotten, and bitter. God is not obligated to any of us. And He’s not obligated to hurry up and do things on our timeline. God allowed this many to be sick, allowed him to be hopeless, and placed him in that spot – specifically so Jesus could use Him for His glory and purposes on that day. And, as we read, that purpose was to show that Jesus claimed to be God, that Jesus had the power of God, that Jesus had the divine authority to properly interpret and apply all of the laws of scripture – which presented the option to the Jewish leaders to either turn their lives over to Jesus – or to hate Jesus so much that they wanted to kill Him all the more. God isn’t obligated to give us grace – and He always does things on His own timeline for His own perfect purposes. The only question we are asked is if we will trust His timing and His purposes?
And fourth, Jesus’ invitation is always to faith, repentance, and obedience. Jesus did everything. He came through the Sheep Gate, walked to the pool, came up to the man, and offered him healing. When the man answered Jesus’ question with bitterness and hopelessness, Jesus still healed Him. Jesus had the power and did all the work. All the man had to do was get up, grab his bed, and walk.
Every miracle Jesus did required a faithful action – sometimes before, sometimes after – but always contained the invitation to trust Jesus and obey Him. This man went from hopeless to faith in Jesus in a split second – and demonstrated that change by standing up and walking away. He didn’t even know who Jesus was! Jesus didn’t require that – yet – but in His divine plan, Jesus knew that the man would know eventually. All Jesus required at that time was for the man to stand up, grab the bed, and walk away.
That’s the Christian faith in a nutshell. As I said, we are all this man. Lost, hopeless, superstitious, bitter, forgotten, doomed, and unable to save ourselves. Then, the Lamb of God walks into our lives, unbidden, uninvited, and says, “Do you want to be made well?”. Our theology is usually messed up, our expectations confused, our testimony unimpressive, our hearts still torn by selfishness, temptations, and the effects of sin – but Jesus comes anyway, and offers to completely change our lives. But that invitation always comes with an order to believe, repent, and obey Him.
Look at John 5:14–15 again,
“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.”
It’s always the same story. Jesus comes and gives undeserved grace to a doomed and broken sinner. He offers healing and demands obedience. The person obeys and is told, “Ok, you’re mine now. Walk with me, trust me, repent from sin, and obey me.” And then we are used to tell the world who Jesus is and what Jesus does – often in ways we could never have planned or expected.
Please open up to John 4:46–54:
“ So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.  When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”  The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.  As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.  So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”  The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.  This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”
The story opens with Jesus coming back around to where this whole section had began. If you recall the outline, you’ll remember that John writes using the miracles as chapter dividers (I’m not talking about the chapter divisions that came later in the 16th century.)
This whole section opened with the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine, the inauguration of King Jesus and the start of His earthly ministry. Then we read how his mission expands geographically and by population as He meets bigger and bigger groups from more diverse places – towns to cities to crowds, Jews to Samaritans, and now we see him with a gentile. They all meet Jesus, hear the gospel, and are forced to either accept or deny Him.
Now, we see this section coming full circle, back to where it began, Galilee. John mentions the first miracle right before he closes this chapter with an encounter with the final people group – a Roman Centurion, likely serving in the honour guard of the very wicked King Herod Antipas.
The miracle of the water to wine had happened at a private wedding, but the story had apparently spread like wildfire, not only among the Jews, and not only in Cana, but throughout Galilee – even all the way in Capernaum, a day’s walk away.
I don’t need to tell you that Jews and Romans didn’t get along. The Romans had conquered the Jewish people, taxed them into oblivion, and oppressed them in myriad ways. Any Jewish person who had any partnership with Rome would be kicked out of his synagogue and treated as a pariah.
So, you can imagine the scene when Jesus, His disciples, and anyone else who was tagging along, saw this Roman Centurion, leader of a hundred Roman soldiers, clad in armour and robes, sticking out like a sore thumb among the crowd.
But this man wasn’t coming to Jesus as a representative of the King, a man of influence and power, one to whom many bowed their knee – he was coming as a desperate father with a very sick child.
Our pomp and self-importance sure does melt quickly in the face of illness, death and tragedy, doesn’t it? Most days we walk around thinking we are pretty well off, pretty in control, pretty pleased with ourselves, thinking that the problems of the world are affecting everyone else, and that our choices are why our lives are better than theirs. We look at the old, sick, tired, poor, weary, anxious, fearful, desperate – and we think, “Oh, those people. If they’d only live like me, they wouldn’t feel like that! If they’d just do what I do, they’d be so much better off.” We start to think that we’re untouchable, above the mess of the world, specially blessed, untouched by the curse of sin that weighs so heavily on others.
And then we get sick. Or someone we loves gets sick. Or an accident happens. Or a tragedy strikes – we get laid off out of nowhere, a natural disaster wipes us out financially, we wake up one day and the whole world has changed.
I remember having that experience a few years back when I woke up one day and one whole side of my face was completely paralyzed. It had sunk down like you see when people have a stroke and I couldn’t move it at all. I went to bed feeling absolutely fine – and when I woke up, I couldn’t talk, eat, or even blink. I went to the doctor and got some medication – and then the pain set in. It was excruciating. I remember reading somewhere that because the nerves in the face are so sensitive, so close to the brain, so many nerves bundled up there – that facial nerve pain is some of the worst pain a person can experience. And I can attest that it is absolutely awful. Medication wouldn’t even touch it. The only relief I got was heating up a magic bag in the microwave and, basically, cooking that side of my face. That was a miserable time. And it happened absolutely out of nowhere.
And it scared me. I looked really weird now and couldn’t talk properly. And I basically talk for a living. In a moment, my face was even scarier than usual – and my calling as a preacher was over. It was really hard.
I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience. You’re fine – and then you are humbled by sudden tragedy. It takes you down a peg or two, doesn’t it?
But that’s not a bad thing. It shows us our limitations, reminds us of our humanity, forces us to contend with death, reminds us that we aren’t God, and brings us face to face with just how powerless we really are.
That’s what this Centurion had experienced. You can hear the desperation in his voice in verse 49: “Sir, come down before my child dies.” It’s not an order from on high. It’s not a command from a military leader. It’s a desperate plea from a man who cannot do anything – to the only person he’s ever met that can. That’s the blessing of pain, struggle, sickness, tragedy, and death. It forces us to contend with ourselves, and gives us the motivation to come to God.
Jesus Tests Him
Look at Jesus’ response. Is it an immediate yes? Does He take the 20 mile walk with him? Does he even respond with anything positive? No. Jesus says, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
This wasn’t spoken merely to the Centurion – it was spoken to everyone. The disciples, the Pharisees, the followers, the looky-loos. Why? Because this was their heart. They didn’t want to believe, or follow, or humble themselves, or make Jesus their Lord and Saviour, unless He was willing to perform for them, do what He was told, meet their worldly needs.
The apostle Nathaniel needed a miracle before he believed (1:46-51). Mary wanted a miracle from Jesus when it wasn’t His time (2:4). The Pharisees demanded a miracle when Jesus cleansed the temple (2:18). Those who believed His message kept demanding signs over and over (2:23-25). We learn later, that even John the Baptist doubted who Jesus was until He heard about the miracles (Luke 7:19).
We’ve talked about this lots before, so I won’t belabour the point, but motives are super-critical to God. Doing the wrong thing for the right reason often gets filed under “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 5:8). Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, regardless of how benevolent or costly or positive the effects, is actually credited as sin.
- Proverbs 16:2 says, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.”
- James 4:1 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”
- Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
- Jesus in Matthew 6:1, during the Sermon on the Mount says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Later, in verse 5, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.” And in verse 16, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.”
- Hebrews 4:12–13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Motives are critical to God. And that’s exactly what Jesus is testing here. What are the Centurions motives? Is He coming to have Jesus perform another miracle for show? Is this a test of Jesus’ claims to godhood? Is this some kind of power play to make Jesus do what he wanted? Or was this man really coming to Jesus in desperation and faith, knowing that Jesus was His only hope?
- James 4:6, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
- 1 Peter 5:5, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
- Proverbs 3:34, “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” – which is another way of saying, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
When Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” He knew what was in the Centurion’s heart – and He knew was about to use him as an example to His followers and detractors. Sure, it was a test of the Centurions motivations – but just as much it was a teaching moment for everyone else.
The Centurions response, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”, was a way of saying, “I don’t care about all that. I’m coming to you for help, for a miracle, because I need some grace and you’re the only one in the whole world who can do this. I believe in you. I believe you are touched by God. Please, just help.”
Trust And Obey
Jesus’ response is extremely interesting and very important. What was the request? “Come down and heal my son.” The walk from Capernaum to Cana was a day’s walk uphill, so to go from Cana to Capernaum was all downhill. “Come down and heal my son.”
What does Jesus say, “Go; your son will live.” (v 50) The Centurion says “Come”, Jesus says the opposite; “Go”. What do you think of that? His child is dying, he has just walked or ridden for hours, trying to track down Jesus. He finally finds Him, humbles Himself before Him, makes an urgent, maybe tearful request, and Jesus says, “No, I’m not coming. Just go. It’s done.”
What a moment of crisis for the Centurion, right? Every doctor, every rabbi, every healer, every miracle worker he’s ever experienced or heard of had to be there for it to work.
It reminds me of the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1-14. Turn there. Let’s read it together (Keep your thumb in John):
“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.”
Ok, so super important, high up, guy. Famous, powerful, a friend of the King of the mightiest kingdom in the world. But, he’s got a problem. (Sound familiar?) He got leprosy. Like I said – sickness is sometimes the only way God can break through our pride and get our attention.
Keep reading in verse 2,
“Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ So Naaman went in and told his lord, ‘Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.’ And the king of Syria said, ‘Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.’
So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, ‘When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.’ And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.’”
Why did the King of Israel freak out? There was an uneasy truce between the nations, but Israel couldn’t hope to defeat Syria in any kind of military engagement. And here, on his doorstep, is the commander of the Syrian army with a letter in his hand from the King that says, “Here’s a huge amount of money. I want you to cure my guy from leprosy.” A seemingly impossible task, but one that if ignored could lead to war and the destruction of Israel. The King of Israel knew he couldn’t do it, but He also didn’t ask God to do it, and didn’t even think of Elisha… he had no faith, no trust, no humility – only fear.
Keep reading in verse 8,
“But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.’ So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.’”
Look at the similarity between Jesus and the prophet Elijah – because we’re supposed to see that connection. Elisha says, “Where is your faith, king? Why so upset?” Which is very similar to Jesus saying, “Where is your faith, Israel? Why do you need so much proof?”
Consider things from Elishas perspective. There’s Naaman coming down the road; this great, foreign leader parading to his house. He’s a friend of the king, a dangerous and powerful man. Just like the Roman Centurion. What does Elijah do? He doesn’t even come out to meet him. He sends a messenger saying, “Go.” Just like Jesus. “Go and wash… and your flesh shall be restored.”
Same deal, same test. What is Naaman’s motivation? Where is Naaman’s faith? Remember why Elisha got involved? So that the leader of Syria’s armies would know, without a doubt, that God was with Israel, and that there was a real prophet among them – so they’d better be careful how they treated the Israelites. But Naaman needed to see it. Naaman needed the miracle. He wouldn’t believe without the miracle.
But here’s where the stories part ways. Jesus says “Go”. Elisha says, “Go”. The Centurion obeys, leaves in faith, trusts Jesus, and meets a messenger that says “Your son is better.” What does Naaman do?
“But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage.”
Faith. Trust. Motives. Humility. He has none. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The Centurion was humble. Naaman – not so much. “Why didn’t Elisha didn’t greet me personally! Doesn’t He know who I am? I’m insulted! Why doesn’t he wave his hand and make it better? That’s what the really good prophets do. That’s how it works! What’s with this wash in this dirty, foreign river stuff? And 7 times?! C’mon if all I needed to do was take a bath, I’ve got even better rivers back home! This is stupid! I’m leaving!”
I want to tell you something important here, and I need you to see it. God doesn’t do things our way and has no problem hurting our feelings if it’s what’s best for us. I’m going to say that again: God doesn’t do things our way and has no problem hurting our feelings if that’s what’s best for us. He’s a good parent, a good friend, a good shepherd, a good leader, a good doctor, a good king. He doesn’t do things our way and will hurt us if that’s what will heal us. God will use tragedy to bring about humiliation, so we might have right motives, so we will trust and obey Him.
God wants obedience, humility, worship, deference, respect, submission. He demands it of all of us. The Bible reminds us multiple times that every knee will bow to God. (Isa 45:23; Phil 2:10-11; Rom 14:11) There is no forgiveness without repentance, there is no repentance without obedience and submission to God’s Word and will, and there is no obedience and submission without humiliation. To save you, God must humble you. If God left you proud and full of self-esteem, you would be damned. The God that modernity and liberal churches have created, and some here have created – the God that puffs up your self-esteem, only tells you how great you are, how special you are, how lovely you are, how unique you are, only dice nice, comforting, easy, soft things –is super concerned about your feelings, and would never do anything to make you upset – is a false god.
God cares more about your soul than you do. He cares more about you than you do. He cares more about your spouse, your kids, your parents, your friends, and your church than you do – and He wants them saved and holy and with Him (2 Peter 3:9) more than you do. And so, He’s willing to do more than you will do, to do the hard things you don’t want to do, to say the hard things you don’t want to say, so that they might see their true selves, their true nature, their real problem, and humble themselves before God while they are still alive on earth – so they don’t have to do it later before they are condemned to hell for all eternity.
That’s why the Bible tells us to do hard things – things that sometimes hurt people’s feelings.
- Things like Titus 3:10 where you warn a divisive person twice and then have nothing more to do with them.
- Things like 1 Corinthians 5:5 or 11 where we turn our friend and church mate “over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved” and to refuse to associate with anyone who calls themselves a Christian, but is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or idolatry, or abusive in speech, or addicted, or a liar. To “not even eat with such a one.”
- Things like Jesus says in Matthew 18:17 where if someone refuses to repent from their sin, even after being confronted by their friends and the church, to treat them like they are an unsaved person.
- Or 2nd Thessalonians 3:13-15 which says, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”
- Or Romans 16:17-18, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”
But that’s not nice! Aren’t Christians supposed to be nice? What if we hurt their feelings? How are we supposed to grow the church and gain followers and fill the offering plate if we do all this and hurt people’s feelings? Won’t that affect our reputation? Won’t that hurt the church?
That doesn’t matter. The glory of God, our obedience to His word, and our humility before Him, is what matters. The purity of the gospel, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness is what matters. Confronting sin, being truthful, and doing battle against the devil in the name of Jesus Christ, is what matters. God grows and defends the church, and has given us the Word telling us how to do it. Even if someone gets offended, even if their feelings get hurt, even if they get mad, leave, and seek revenge.
1 Peter 2:9-10, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
We proclaim God’s excellencies and live as His people by doing things His way even when it’s hard any unpopular.
Turn with me to 2 Peter 2 (but keep your thumb in 2 Kings, and your other thumb in John) and I want to read the whole chapter, because I want you to see how serious God is, how serious the apostle is, about standing on God’s truth, protecting the purity of the church, and confronting sin with some pretty serious language that will definitely hurt people’s feelings.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.’”
Sin within the church, among church members, is no small thing, and God has given us some very specific commands on how to deal with it – even though it’s hard, even though it’ll make us unpopular, even though it will hurt someone’s feelings.
Verse 10, “Bold and willful, they do not tremble…” Why? Pride. And God opposes them. And if we don’t deal with them as God has commanded, God will oppose us too. So what is the kind thing? For God to take away their boldness, break their will, and make them tremble.
Let’s finish the story in 2 Kings 5:13:
“But his servants came near and said to him, ‘My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?’”
Can you imagine how hard that would have been? There’s the greatest military leader in the world, best buddy of the king, and he’s hopping mad – literally raging. And the servant says, “Just do it. Humble yourself. Obey. Oh, great one who commands the greatest army in the world and could have me killed with a word – please humble yourself. God’s prophet told you to do something. Just do it, man. Humiliate yourself and be clean.”
In verse 14 we see the story converge again with Jesus and the Centurion:
“So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”
He humbled himself and obeyed. Elisha and Jesus weren’t doing things the way they wanted, weren’t meeting their expectations, were treating them with a sort of insensitivity, and required them to humiliate themselves and obey before they would see the miracle. For the Centurion, it was a long walk back home. For Naaman, it was washing himself over and over and over and over and over in a place he didn’t want to be.
And their humility, obedience, and faith that God’s way was right and better, led to the miracle – and it lead to even more people hearing and seeing and fearing the power of God. Obedience leads to blessing. Pride and fear of man leads to losing God’s blessing.
Let me close with this. God is asking you to do something hard right now. I know this. You have come to Him asking for a miracle because you need something. You see a bad situation and you need God to step in. You are afraid, in need, desperate, anxious, worried, sick – or someone you love is – and you need a miracle. Our church is being asked to do some hard things right now; to confront sin, division, pride, rebellion… and God is asking us to do some difficult things that are going to hurt some people’s feelings.
My question to you is: Are you willing to humble yourself before God, before God’s word, before God’s spirit, and do things His way – even if it means you’ll become unpopular, make someone mad, make someone sad, make someone lonely, hurt someone’s feelings? Are you willing to confront sin and obey Jesus, doing the hard things scripture asks you to do, even if people are going to call you mean, rude, angry, selfish, arrogant, and unfriendly? Will you take that persecution for the sake of Jesus’ name, His glory, His church? Are you willing to say, “Your way God, not mine. Your plan God, not mine. Your will God, not mine. And for your glory, in your name, for love’s sake, I’ll do whatever you ask, no matter what the consequence – because I want your blessing and to see your hand work more than anything else in the world.”
You are being tested right now. In your private life, and in your church. I hope that, like Naaman, like the Centurion, you humble yourself and pass the test.
 The Gospel and Episles of John FF Bruce – Pg 117
New episode of my “Of Interest” Podcast where I share an interesting article, an interesting resource, and we do an interesting study on Pilgrim’s Progress!