Why Can’t I Follow My Heart?

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, RSV).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

LATELY, I HAVE BEEN obsessed with whether I have a heart for God. It is a critical question for all of us. Unbelievably, there are many Christians in the church today who don’t question their heart. An assumption is made: “I go to church. I believe in God. I trust in Jesus Christ. I’m saved so I’m good.” There is a huge danger to having this illogical thought. Whenever we assume anything when it comes to our salvation or our theology, we risk loosing our way. It’s as if we’ve decided to “think” of ourselves as “Christian,” and then walked out the door to go about our lives.

This thought started pestering me in 2009 when my sponsor in a 12-step program told me, “You need to get God out of your head and into your heart.” I was puzzled. It made absolutely no sense. But I’m “saved,” I thought. How can God not be in my heart? When I became a young Christian at thirteen, I was told that Jesus had “come into my heart.” So if He did this, then He must still be there, right? I was later told by my then-current pastor in 2011, “I don’t think you have a heart for God.” Whoa, what? Rather than see a pattern, I became defensive. I was so mortified that I cannot remember the rest of the conversation. It’s as if I decided on the spot that my pastor was wrong. He wasn’t!

What it Means

What does it mean to have God in our hearts? It is important that we know and understand this if we hope to grow in Christ. First, to grow in Him involves allowing Him in us; but this means to allow Him to become greater while we become less. Yeah, I know; that sounds ridiculous, right? Why would we think less of ourselves? It is a matter of humility. Something I have never come to naturally. I am one of those who, for whatever the reason, has to build myself up. Make myself worth something. In doing so, I have led a life of duplicity. Lacking the power to overcome, and the “armor” with which to protect myself, I chose to lie about my feelings of inadequacy. I hid my failures. I permitted life-limiting habits to rule over me. The moment I did that, I chose to live the life of a hypocrite. 

If we’re going to live according to a Christian worldview, we must decide to surrender all of our heart and let God have access to every room in our “house.” This should be an exciting proposition because something greater is coming. It presents us with the opportunity to “clean” our house. Jesus warns us, however, that if we clean house (ask Jesus to come into our heart), but let the rooms remain empty, we are putting ourselves at great risk. Matthew wrote in his Gospel that Jesus said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Matt. 12:28-29). Jesus then adds, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. So shall it be also with this evil generation” (Matt. 12:43-45).

Can you imagine someone choosing a life of failure on purpose? Does that make any sense at all? What could possibly be at the root of deciding, time after time, to fail? To make choices that risk your life, your health, or your career? That destroys marriages and breaks the hearts of everyone in your family? That costs you countless tens-of-thousands of dollars in lost income and other financial losses? That shuts you off from the very God you claim to love and worship? Why would a “Christian” who is born-again and has invited God into his heart willfully disobey the God he loves? Why choose to be cut off from the Sunlight of the Spirit, going it alone? Why would a theist, especially a Bible-believing Christian, risk (or maybe unconsciously choose) to spend eternity in Hell? The answer to these questions is both complex and simple. Complex because we make it so; simple because the Word of God is clear about why. These were difficult questions to ask myself, but I could no longer put off asking them.

Where Your Treasure Is

I am sure most Christians have heard Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” One reason I rejected the comments of my sponsor and my pastor is because I did not think about this verse for one second. I responded intellectually and pridefully, taking “offense” rather than advice. A huge part of my reaction had to do with a complete lack of humility. I was clueless how prideful I was being. Humility, after all, does not mean thinking less of ourselves; it means thinking of ourselves less often. Throw in a pinch of IQ and an ounce of denial, stir in two-parts manipulation and one-part of shifting blame, and you’ve got a recipe for the most sour peach pie you’ve ever tasted. Metaphor aside, it’s a plan for ultimate failure and self-destruction. My self-destruction came in the form of addiction.

One of my most favorite biblical study tools is Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Regarding the section of Matthew 6:19-24, He says, “Worldy-mindedness is a common and fatal symptom of hypocrisy, for by no sin can Satan have a surer and faster hold of the soul, under the cloak of a profession of religion.” [1] If we confess Christ with our mouths, yet take no action to assure we are walking as He has called us to walk, we become the very hypocrites He warned about. Our soul chooses what it will look upon as the “best thing,” and then go after that thing with our whole heart! This “object” of our heart will most likely have intense pleasure, and, perhaps, offer us some reward we find most appealing above all else. It becomes the very thing we’re living for. Perhaps more accurately, it is something we’ve become dependent upon to live. This is what Christ refers to as a “master.” Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Trust me, when it comes to serving a master that delivers great fleshly rewards, we will not even realize we are enslaved!

Matthew 6:20-21 discusses the “treasures in heaven,” indicating they are forever exempt from decay and theft. Luke tells us, “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Luke 12:23). This is what Matthew is discussing in chapter six. Whatever is of good and eternal significance comes out of what we do here on earth. Doing righteous deeds, suffering for Christ’s sake (which includes denying ourselves and taking up the cross), dealing truthfully and faithfully with one another, forgiving one another, being kind, willing to share—all of these things have the promise of reward. These become the treasures stored in heaven. Conversely, consistent unrighteous, disobedient behavior stores up much judgment and wrath. For the unbeliever, it ultimately leads to damnation. For the believer, Paul says, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor. 6:9-10).

When we fail to see the basic biblical truth of Matthew 6:22-23, as I did for decades, we see life with “bad eyes,” walking in darkness. These verses tell us such darkness is all the more disastrous and defeating because we fail to recognize it for what it is. This has metaphorical implications; the “eye” can be considered equal to the “heart.” Psalm 119:10-11 says, “With my whole heart I seek thee; let me not wander from thy commandments! I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Here we see the tremendous benefits of Scripture. Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. When we hide Him in our heart, we hide that which He embodies, including the commandments of God the Father. Doing this allows us to watch our feet; the path we’re on. Christ becomes the Light by which we walk.

The psalmist says in Psalm 119:9-16 that we are to pray and meditate on God’s Word. When we do this, we are able to participate in the judgment and discernment of God. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Matthew 6:24 is saying the results of our choices are being stored in Heaven for the day we stand before Christ. We have to ask ourselves if we are storing up treasures in Heaven. That depends on our actions, which are directly influenced by where we decide to set our eyes. How we see the world, ourselves and others, and what we choose to do. It’s really that simple.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). When church leaders challenged Jesus, asking “Are we also blind?” He said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (9:41). In other words, knowing the truth, they chose to ignore it and decide for themselves what was true. This is what Jesus referred to when He said we cannot serve God and mammon (John 6:24). This is a rather strange phrase. In the Greek, mamona, which is a literal translation of the same word in Aramaic, can refer to virtually anything of value: “wealth,” “property.” The root in both Aramaic and Hebrew (mn) means that in which one has placed their confidence or reliance. Both of these are compared—God and “other than God”—not as employers but slave owners. In other words, either God is served or “other than God” is served.

A Hard Lesson to Learn

We now see clearly the vital importance of Matthew 12:22-30. When we’re under Satan’s power and led captive by sin, we are blind to the things of God. Divided loyalty does not merely lead to a partial commitment to discipleship; it is an indication of deeply-rooted commitment to idolatry. Admittedly, this has been a very hard lesson for me. It made no sense during my active addiction that I was actually choosing to serve “other than God.” In this instance, my “god” or “idol” was alcohol, oxycodone, cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines. Because we “see” out of the abundance of the heart, my life of active addiction amounted to a continual walk in darkness, even while attending church, reading Scripture, teaching Bible study at two county prisons, sharing at 12-step meetings—sadly, even during much of the early years of this blog. Pride and fear has kept me from admitting this those of you who follow my blog, or anyone else. Walking in darkness also caused me to mistake the path I was on. This is precisely why my sponsor and my former pastor were absolutely correct. I did not have God in my heart. More tragically, my siblings were correct when they said I was being a hypocrite. I could be nothing less at that time, for I was putting on the appearance of being a Christian while walking in denial and disobedience.

What I was failing to see is that when we meet Christ, at a time predestined by God Himself, we will be held accountable to Him (from the day of our salvation) for every word and deed. Take a second and read that last sentence again. Yeah, I know! So let’s get this straight. Becoming “born-again” is not a get-out-of-judgment-free card. I have grown in Christ considerably over the past five or six months. Still, it was not until God put this lesson on my heart this morning that I was able to get to this moment, right now, when I saw a glimpse of what it’s going to feel like staring at His scars, remembering what the last twelve hours of His life were like, having to give an answer for every sad, dirty, low-down, manipulative, deceitful act I’ve done from the moment of my salvation, when I was given the power to dwell in the Holy Spirit and grow in the righteousness of Christ, until the day I draw my last breath. And there is nothing I can do to escape it.

So Now What?

First, anyone in this position must realize that when we finally decide to stop, drop, and roll, putting out the fire that is consuming us, we need to repent and turn over to Christ everything we’ve done. But that’s not the end of it. I have come to see the importance of “letting it go” (allowing the past be the past) and forgiving myself as I have been forgiven. If we fail to do this critical step, we will never be able to consistently see ourselves as a new creation. We will not be capable of seeing ourselves as God the Father sees us: clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Of course, the true “180” must come first or any degree to which we “shine” in Jesus will be dulled by sin and guilt. It is impossible to change if we live in shame. We’ll talk to ourselves with condemnation, forgetting there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).

After settling the matter in our hearts that we are regenerated in Christ, we must then pray and meditate on God’s Word, learning everything we can about who we’ve become. It is crucial to remember a fairly universal warning: Satan will not let go willingly. The finest example we have regarding resisting temptation is presented to us in Matthew 4:1-11. Satan appeared to Christ in the dessert and essentially attacked His “Sonship.” This is quite accurate to what Satan tries to throw in our faces, but he is far more subtle and crafty with us. He challenged Jesus by saying, If you truly are the Son of God then change stone to bread; throw yourself down from the top of the temple and let the angels save you; renounce God and the universe is yours. Does this not sound a lot like what happens in our lives once we accept Christ and confess we are the sons and daughters of God?

There is only one way to defeat these challenges, which is exactly what Christ did. He knew the Scriptures because He had them hidden in His heart. Yes, He was part man and part God, likely giving Him a greater moral infrastructure than we have; however, He defeated temptation by saying what the Scriptures say. Then, standing firmly on the Word of God, He told Satan who He truly was and shouted, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written, serve the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Matthew 4:10). Decide for yourself who you believe you are, seek proof in the Scriptures, turn from your old path, and walk toward the Light of the World. The only way to change our sinful behavior is to see the path we’re on with open eyes and decide to go in an entirely new direction.

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 I want to start encouraging more feedback so we can open a dialog. Presently, in order to leave a comment you need to scroll back to the header and click on LEAVE A COMMENT, but I’m in the process of figuring out how to move the COMMENT bar to the end of each post. Thanks for reading. God bless.

Footnotes

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 868.

 

The Gospel of John (Part One)

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

THE GOSPELS OF Matthew, Mark, and Luke are remarkably similar, while John is quite different. This does not mean there are four “versions” of the Gospel. Through the four gospels the Good News is told from the perspective of four different writers. Why four unique explanations of the Gospel? Each of the writers had a specific audience in mind as they addressed the ministry of Jesus. Also, each gospel shows a unique relationship or experience with Christ. The writers expressed that element through targeted arrangements of the historical data of Jesus’s life. Given the immense amount of information in the Gospel of John, I will divide this article into two parts.

A Brief Look at The Synoptic Gospels

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are considered synoptic, meaning they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence, with similar or sometimes identical wording. The Greek word for “synoptic” is συνοπτικός, which means “seeing all together.” Regardless, the priority of each of the gospels was to focus on the message of the Good News. For example, Luke’s gospel correlates with the Book of Acts. There are seven corresponding themes in Luke and Acts: (1) salvation to the Gentiles; (2) progression of the Gospel throughout the ancient world; (3) the Holy Spirit; (4) the importance of prayer; (5) wealth, poverty, and marginalized society; (6) Christianity as the true Israel; and (7) treatment of Christians under the Roman Empire.

Why Did John Write His Gospel?

The Gospel of John presents an amazing exposition on Jesus Christ, and is perhaps the most succinct and elevated view of God found anywhere in literature. John presents a record of our Savior’s profound teaching, convincing arguments, and declarations of His divinity and relationship with the Father. This differs from Matthew, Mark, and Luke in that there is no genealogy of Jesus’s birth or childhood; nor does John list the numerous miracles, parables the ascension, or the Great Commission.

While some New Testament scholars believe the purpose of John’s gospel was to combat Docetism—the doctrine, important in Gnosticism, that Christ’s body was not human but either a phantasm or of real but celestial substance, and that therefore his sufferings were only apparent—and to oppose those who retained loyalty to him. John clearly states, “…but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (20:31, RSV). John tells about how Jesus dealt with individuals, what He preached to the crowds, how He trained the disciples, His debates with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and a wonderful explanation of the gift of eternal life. John also describes the gathering storm Jesus would face soon as a result of his confrontation of “established religion” and its leaders. John’s gospel account has been received by believers worldwide as the best recitation of the way of Jesus—not just the way in which we are able to come to the Father, but also the way we are to interact with the fallen world in which we live.

At the outset, John chose to introduce Christ as the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3, RSV). John tells us, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (v. 4). He is clear that Jesus is the Word incarnate who brings truth, grace and salvation. Jesus is God.

John was a personal witness to the ministry of Jesus. His gospel is an inspired record of the teachings, miracles, and crucifixion of Jesus as he saw them. His purpose was to set forth the evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, and that it is only through faith in Christ alone that we are saved. John repeatedly cites events that support this claim, often using words such as “witness” and “testimony.” He identifies many who can corroborate the acts of Jesus: Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, Thomas, and Nicodemus to name a few. John’s gospel also provides details on Jesus’s arrest, trials before Pilate and Caiaphas, the scourging, His crucifixion and resurrection, and accounts of those who saw the risen Jesus before His ascension.

A Detailed Exposition

The first eighteen verses are sometimes referred to as the prologue—a somewhat misleading designation in that it tends to suggest the material covered in these verses is more introductory than substantive. John’s presentation of the Logos in the opening paragraph serves as an historical and theological summary of the entire book. He tells of  Jesus’s preexistence (prior to creation), His work in Creation, His incarnation, and His rejection by the world. John teaches of Jesus’s gift of eternal life to all who will receive Him. The Gospel of John is a sound and critical foundation on which to begin building our relationship with Jesus. The prologue is a poetic overture that combines the major theological principles that form the foundation of the entire Gospel.

In The Beginning

John begins with a majestic announcement regarding the very essence of Jesus Christ: “In the beginning was the Word.” Jesus was, is, and forever will be the Word—existing before time itself. The Word was not a created being. Rather, the Word is God and was with God at the moment of Creation. Heraclitus of Ephesus mentions “the Word” in his secular writings. He lived near Miletus, the birthplace of philosophy, and is best known for his belief that things are constantly changing (universal flux), that opposites coincide (unity of opposites), and that fire is the basic material of the world. He stated that God was always present: “Having harkened not to me but to the Word (logos) it is wise to agree that all things are one. Greek philosophers specifically believed that logos was the principle of reason or order in the world” [emphasis added]. This dovetails quite nicely with the doctrinal principle that Jesus was the Logos, co-creator with God the Father, and that He sustains (orders) all things.

John states that it was through the Word that all things were made. Remember, Genesis 1 tells us “God said” and it came to be. Words were spoken. Jesus (the Word) was the active agent in Creation. Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-17 that Jesus is is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; that in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, adding, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (RSV). Hebrews 1:2 reminds us that through Jesus God created the whole world. Life (zôê) is one of John’s favorite words. Zôê refers often to the supernatural life that comes from God, and which Christians share through faith in Jesus Christ. John says God (in His relationship with believers) is both the “bread of life” (6:35) and the “light of life” (8:12). John wants us to see Jesus as the light of men.

The True Light

It is important that we see Jesus as the light of men. It enables us to see God at work in the world. God gives “light” in the sense that He has endowed mankind with reason, intelligence, and the ability to discern between right and wrong. But the coming of the true Light has a far more important purpose. This light is given that we might comprehend the difference between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. Had Jesus not come, bringing light to all, the human race would still be wandering the earth in spiritual darkness, cut off from fellowship from the Father following the expulsion of our first parents from the Garden of Eden. Some biblical scholars believe the primary meaning of “bring to light” includes illuminating man’s true nature outside of Christ.

John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (RSV). This a remarkable assertion of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. I would not be surprised if this is the point where most secular philosophers of the First Century took exception. Although these learned men believed in logos as a representation of eternal Reason, a claim that this eternal concept became flesh would give them much pause. By declaring that “the Word became flesh,” John answered the Docetics who, while acknowledging that Jesus was divine, could not bring themselves to accept the fact that He was also fully human. They would claim that Jesus only appeared to be a real man.

There is a critical explanation in John 1:18—”No one has ever seen God.” Jesus made Him known. The Old Testament states that God appeared to man at various times, but such appearances were always partial and incidental. God said to Moses in Exodus 33:20, “No one may see Me and live.”) While no one has seen God Himself, John tells us that Jesus is “at the Father’s side.” Some scholars see this verse as “close to the Father’s heart” or “in the intimate presence of the Father.” This is precisely why Jesus could say that when the disciples saw Him they saw the Father. Jesus was a living interpretation of the Father—the means by which the heart and the will of Father was made known.

Initial Ministry

The second chapter of John’s gospel brings us to a wedding in Cana of Galilee where Jesus turns water into wine. This act has become a bone of contention among many atheists, scoffers, and doubters. They see it as a cheap parlor trick. This miracle is provided to set forth a sign—Jesus performed a wondrous deed that points beyond itself to reveal some aspect of the person of Jesus and to evoke faith on the part of those to whom it is given. The Greek word sêmeion (“sign”) indicates that the miracle at Cana showed Jesus’s “self-manifestation.” Hillsong Worship performs a song called “New Wine.” I believe some of the lyrics provide an insight regarding Jesus’s miracle at the wedding. Lyrics include, “In the Crushing, In the Pressing, You are Making New Wine… Make Me Your Vessel, Make Me an Offering, Make Me Whatever You Want Me to Be… Cause Were There is New Wine, There is Power.”

John retells the day when Jesus cleansed the temple. Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple courts. The Greek word hieron used by John refers to the entire temple area with its buildings and courts. This is where He found men selling animals for sacrifice (undoubtedly at a profit) and exchanging foreign money so visitors could pay the temple tax. This seems to be a type of forced tithe. In comparison, when the pastor at my church announces the collection of offerings and tithes, he says, “If you are visiting with us today for the first or second time, this is not for you. We just want you to enjoy your visit with us today.” Tradition during the First Century, however, was that, for any Gentile who came up to the temple to worship, prayer had to be offered in the middle of a cattle yard and money market. This entailed purchasing an animal to be sacrificed. Jesus was appalled by the commotion connected with the marketing of these animals and the changing of currency in His Father’s house. Accordingly, he chased the men and their animals from the temple and set their birds free.

The New Birth and Living Water

In the third chapter we are introduced to a Jewish Rabbi called Nicodemus. This Rabbi was among many who were attracted by Jesus’s miracles but not openly committed to following Him. The religious leaders saw Jesus as a heretic rather than the central figure of Christianity. Nicodemus was likely an honest seeker who wanted to know more about Jesus. He could have chosen to see Jesus at night because he didn’t want other rabbis to see him talking to this so-called heretic, or perhaps he wanted to meet with Jesus away from the pressing crowds in order to have His undivided attention.

Nicodemus addressed Jesus with the honorable title “Rabbi.” Regardless of his personal doubts about the ministry of Jesus, Nicodemus chose to be respectful. He correctly saw Jesus as a teacher sent by God. He intended to ask Jesus how he could inherit eternal life, but Jesus broached the subject first. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:5, RSV). Nicodemus was confused. This did not make sense. How could a man return to his mother’s womb and be born anew? Jesus explained, saying that which is born of flesh is flesh, but that which is born of Spirit is spirit. He told Nicodemus that man must be lifted up to the Father as the Son is lifted up. He told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (v. 16). Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand that the heart of the Gospel was not a philosophical observation about God’s character, but a declaration of redemptive love in action.

John sets forth further insight regarding eternal life in chapter four. When Jesus arrived at Sychar (possibly at ancient Shechem or the village of Askar), He stopped at a well where He met a Samaritan woman who was drawing water. Jesus asked the woman for a drink from her container. She was shocked that He would drink from her vessel because Jews were not to associate with Samaritans. They were considered to be “unclean.” Ignoring the woman’s comment about custom, Jesus said that if she knew who He was she’d have asked for “living water.” He spoke of “streams of living water” that will flow from within the believer, which we also know is the Holy Spirit we receive when we accept Jesus as the Christ.

Jesus’s Healing Ministry and Other Miracles

Jesus encountered a royal official in Capernaum whose son lay sick. When this man learned that Jesus had come to town he went and begged Jesus to come heal his son who was at the point of death. Jesus challenged the man, saying, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (4:46). The man insisted that unless Jesus came to his home right away his son would die. Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live” (v. 50). The man believed the words of Jesus and headed home. Amazingly, the man professed his believe (v. 51) to his servants before he saw evidence that his son was well. As a result of his faith, his son was healed.

John recalls Jesus’s healing of a paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (5:1-18). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead at Bethany where Mary and her sister Martha lived (11:1-44). Mary is the same woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with perfume. Admittedly, this is an incomplete listing of the healing and miracles of Jesus.

The account of Jesus feeding the five thousand (6:1-15) has been deemed as a “miracle” that took place in people’s hearts. They overcame basic human need and selfishness, choosing instead to share what they had. This meal is also considered by some New Testament scholars to be sacramental in nature. Each person received a fragment of the bread and fishes. It constitutes a miracle—something wonderful that actually happened. Those who are uneasy to accept this event as a genuine miracle are likely an example of the natural mind denying God as Creator’ One who has absolute authority to act within His own creation as He chooses.

Some time after the feeding of the five thousand the disciples set out for Capernaum by boat (6:16, 21). The trip was said to be about five miles. The crossing was extremely difficult. The Sea of Galilee lies approximately six hundred feet below sea level. Cool air often flowed over the Sea, displacing warm moist air hovering over the water. Violent weather conditions occurred rather quickly. The original Greek for the phrase “started across the sea” (6:17, RSV) is êrchonto, and is translated “they were trying to cross the lake” [emphasis added]. Jesus appeared on the water “during the fourth watch of the night” (Mark 6:48), which is between the hours of 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. The disciples had been attempting to sail the rough seas for at least nine hours. They had rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking toward the boat on the surface of the raging sea. His appearance frightened them—they did not recognize Him immediately and perhaps thought He was a ghost. Jesus said, “It is I; do not be afraid” (John 6:20, RSV). Scripture tells us that immediately after Jesus declared His identity the boat reached its destination without further incident.

We’re told in John 21:25, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (RSV).

Jesus Claims Divine Authority

Jesus said in John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise” (RSV). He added, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (verse 21). Jesus said He only did what He saw the Father doing. This does not mean that He merely imitated the Father. Rather, it shows the continuous relationship that exists between the Father and the Son. Jewish leaders believed the prerogative to raise someone from the dead belonged solely with God, and they did not see Jesus as God. Jesus claimed that the Son makes anyone live whom He chooses. This was not arbitrary, but is consistent with what we read throughout the New Testament (see Romans 9:18). Jesus later commissioned the disciples, and indeed all believers, to go forth and do these same things in the Name of Jesus.

Jesus said the Father had given to Him the authority to execute judgment. He adds, “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, His form you have never seen” (v. 37, RSV). God turned judgment over to the Son because through His incarnation Jesus learned what it means to be human, faced with temptation. In addition, He had been given the authority to judge because He is God’s Anointed One. Jesus noted in verses 28 and 29 that the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

Opposition in Jerusalem

It is clear from Scripture (7:1-52) that Jesus was aware the Jews wanted to take His life. We read in chapter five that the Jewish leaders held an intense hostility toward Jesus, and were eager to kill Him. Their indignation stemmed from Jesus’s claim that God was His Father, thereby equating Himself with God (5:18). The disciples thought that if Jesus wanted to carry out a public ministry He should go to the capital city and make Himself known (7:3-5). In response, Jesus said His time had not yet come. The word “time” in this verse is from the Greek word kainos, meaning “a right or favorable time.” It was not necessarily a moment in time from a chronological standpoint.

The Feast of Tabernacles began in Jerusalem (7:1). As crowds gathered, there was an undercurrent of discussion about Jesus. Some called Him “a good man,” and remarked that they believed His teachings were positive and helpful. Others claimed Jesus was a heretic who was deceiving the people and leading them away. Gonzalez (2010) said that Christianity was not deemed a new religion in the early days, but a heretical sect within Judaism. After the crucifixion of Jesus, many Jews believed Christianity was a heresy that was spreading from town to town, tempting “good Jews to become heretics” (p. 42). Sentiment among the Jewish population was that Christians might once more bring the wrath of God upon Israel. This attitude had really root during the latter part of Jesus’s ministry and played a part in His trial and execution.

Jesus waited until the Feast was well underway before He went into Jerusalem (7:14). It is possible He waited several days until the initial excitement of the Feast had subsided so His followers would not be as likely to put on a ceremonial demonstration. Such display would have been met with serious consequences, and it was not yet time for Jesus to be taken and tried. In any event, the crowds at the Feast marveled at the knowledge Jesus had concerning Scripture, especially because He had not received formal teaching. He publicly stated that His teaching came from God, adding that anyone who speaks on their own authority does so for their personal benefit. Of course these words came as a stinging rebuke to the Pharisees and high priest. Jesus reminded the crowd that even Moses did not speak for himself, but was a representative of God the Father.

We see in verses 21 through 24 that Jesus continued to speak out against the established “religion” of the day. He saw the Pharisees as hypocrites. John reminds us that the Jewish leaders were outraged when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, telling him to pick up his mat and walk (5:8). However, these same religious leaders were known to break the Law when it suited them. For example, they performed circumcisions on the eighth day after the birth of the child (the age at which the procedure must be done) even if it fell on the Sabbath. Because the law regarding circumcision was given to the Jews as part of the Abrahamic Covenant, the church leaders thought circumcision took precedence over the regulation regarding “work” on the Sabbath.

It was on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles that Jesus boldly announced, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (7:37-38). This remark about the thirsty recounts Isaiah’s ancient summons: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost… Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David” (Isaiah 55:1,3, NIV)). Jesus’s claim that He could supply those who were spiritually thirsty with streams of living water. This made quite an impression on the crowd gathered at the temple. When some in the crowd said Jesus must be a prophet, someone said, “‘This is the Christ.’ Still others were saying, ‘Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?'” (7:41). It was believed that nothing good could come from Galilee (see John 1:46).

Jesus Offends the Religious Leaders

When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12, RSV). This remark was made before a group of religious leaders. John 8:3 notes that the Pharisees brought before Jesus a woman accused of adultery. The NIV footnote indicates “the people” is an arbitrary interpretation of the Greek word autois, or “them.” The RSV translates autois “them,” referring to the Pharisees present when the woman was brought forth.

The Old Testament contains many examples  of “light” as a metaphor for spiritual illumination and life. Psalm 27:1 says, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (RSV). Darkness was often thought to represent ignorance and death. Jesus essentially told the Pharisees, “I have come to be the light of the world.” The religious leaders decided that they must discredit the godly claims of Jesus. One of them said, “You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true” (John 8:13, RSV). In other words, they said Jesus’s claims were nothing but his opinion. Perhaps they were been concerned that Jesus might be right—stating a theological truth—but they believed He could not possibly prove it. This might be why Herod and the religious leaders taunted Christ: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (Luke 23:37, RSV).

When Jesus said, “I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me” (8:19), the Pharisees began to use ridicule to discredit Jesus. One of them sarcastically asked, “‘Where is your Father?'” Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my Father; if you knew me, you would know my Father also'” (v. 20). In essence, they told Jesus, You’re living in a fantasy world. They did not understand that Jesus spoke to them of the Father (v. 27). Jesus further riled the Pharisees when He claimed to be the One who will set men free from the wages of sin (v. 31). He tells the crowd, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me (v. 42). To know God as Father is to love the Son who was sent by Him. The religious leaders could not allow Jesus to stand before the temple courts and declare His divinity, so they challenged His pedigree. They said, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (v. 48).

The Pharisees thought it was incredulous that Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:10-11) [emphasis added]. He was basically stating that His entire life was sacrificial. Jesus was saying He was “the perfect sacrificial lamb.” This caused great division among the Jews, both the religious leaders and the crowds.

Jesus encountered His Jewish adversaries at the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem. The crowd asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (10:24). In response, Jesus said the works He does are done in the Father’s name, and they bear witness to Him [Jesus]. He told the crowd they do not believe Him because they are not His sheep. He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (v. 27-28). Certainly, this enraged a number of Jews, especially the Pharisees. Jesus boldly remarked, “and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (v. 30). The crowd took up stones to stone Him. He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John at first baptized, and there he remained for some time.

Please join me in the next day or two for the second half of this crucial topic;

References

Gonzalez, J. (2010). The Story of Christianity Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

 

 

 

 

A Plague of Darkness

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived” (Exodus 10:21-23, NIV).

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Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

The plagues of Egypt in the story of the Exodus are ten calamities inflicted upon Egypt by God in order to force Pharaoh’s hand to free the enslaved Hebrews. Pharaoh’s stubborn resolve caused Egypt to suffer extreme devastation because of the ten plagues. The Egyptians ultimately lost nearly everything, including their crops, potable water, livestock, their first-born sons, and even their army. One would think Pharaoh would get the message after seeing his land and its people suffer plagues of blood, frogs, lice (or gnats), flies, livestock, boils, hail, and locust infestation. Yet he remained defiant, refusing to free the Hebrews.

The LORD instructed Moses to call darkness down upon Egypt. Eugene Peterson’s translation of Exodus 10:21-23 states, “GOD said to Moses, ‘Stretch your hand to the skies. Let darkness descend on the land of Egypt—a darkness so dark you can touch it.’ Moses stretched out his hand to the skies. Thick darkness descended on the land of Egypt for three days. Nobody could see anybody. For three days no one could so much as move. Except the Israelites: they had light where they were living” (MSG). According to the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, in the footnote, God created darkness, and He can use it against His enemies. This pervading darkness is also referenced in Joel 2:2a: “…a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (NIV).

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Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible notes this plague as “darkness which might be felt, so thick were the fogs. It astonished and terrified. It continued three days; six nights in one; so long the most lightsome palaces were [as] dungeons” (p. 87). The Egyptians literally sat in a soup of darkness, unable to see anything or do anything. Pharaoh’s bullheadedness regarding God’s demand that he free the Hebrews brought upon Egypt a physical darkness that nothing could penetrate. Matthew Henry’s commentary states, “…never was [a] mind so blinded as Pharaoh’s, never was [the] air so darkened as Egypt”[emphasis mine].  If three days of utter, palpable darkness were so dreadful, I wonder what everlasting darkness will be like 

This darkness was specifically calculated by God to effect the spirit of the Egyptians, whose chief object of worship was Ra, the sun-god. Its suddenness and severity mark it as a preternatural withdrawal of light. No matter how you interpret the mechanism by which this darkness developed—thick clammy fog, vapors, a sandstorm, or chamsin—it was such that it overwhelmed the senses, and so protracted as to continue for three days. Seventy-two hours of sheer madness. The symbolism is uncanny given that the sun was an object of Egyptian idolatry. This calamity correlates with Revelation 16:10: “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness…” (NKJV).

The darkness that fell upon Egypt when Pharaoh refused to set the Hebrews free was not just darkness. Rather, it was a pervasive physical and metaphysical darkness so great and total that the Egyptians could not even safely walk through their houses without danger. Amazingly, the antithesis of this darkness is the miraculous Light of the LORD that shined in the homes of each Jewish family throughout the duration of this plague. God was not simply amusing Himself through the ten plagues. Rather, it showcased the cumulative effect of a complete and pervasive manifestation of God’s glorious justice—a literal example of the punishment God dishes out for complete and continual disobedience.

Darkness followed the plague of locusts without warning or pronouncement, signifying God’s relentless resolve. Its substance created conditions that were physically unbearable. Massive and considerably burdensome. This plague had a repressive impact on the mind and spirit of the Egyptians. Imagine having no physical reference point. No indication that anyone or anything existed. The nagging question would be, Where did everyone go? Even if the Egyptians could have moved, they would not have been able to outrun the darkness. It would have chased them down. It was the utter absence of life-giving light. Nothing can grow in darkness. All that is real and alive is choked off.

I cannot imagine darkness so thick it can be felt. The only event in my life that comes close to putting “utter darkness” in perspective involves a trip to an anthracite coal mine with my sons when they were younger. While 300 feet down in the mine shaft, the tour guide gave us a warning and then shut off the lights. You cannot fathom sheer darkness unless you experience it. I literally could not see my hand in front of my face, and lost all sense of where I ended and the darkness began.

The Amplified Bible expresses Exodus 10:21-23 as follows: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky, so that darkness may come over the land of Egypt, a darkness which [is so awful that it] may be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and for three days a thick darkness was all over the land of Egypt [no sun, no moon, no stars]. The Egyptians could not see one another, nor did anyone leave his place for three days, but all the Israelites had [supernatural] light in their dwellings.” The Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible says “…darkness which could be felt was so dense that no light could penetrate it enough for anything to be seen. No one could move from his place. This could be a picture of the outer darkness of hell.” The footnote regarding Moses stretching his hand toward heaven, although a simple gesture, showed the powerful result of Moses obeying the LORD. In other words, God said, “If you do this, I will do that,” and it came to pass in a flash.

WHEN GOD SPEAKS, WE MUST LISTEN AND OBEY

Malachi 2:2 states, “If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name, says the LORD Almighty, I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me” (NIV). Frankly, we can only “listen” to the LORD when we have prepared our hearts to hear Him. If you want to hear Him speak, you must be quiet, focusing on what He is saying. Listening for God’s voice requires having a desire to actually hear Him. Not surprisingly, this also requires making a conscious decision to block out the chaos around you and focusing your thoughts on Him. David said this in Psalm 143:8: “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life” (NIV).

God Uses Darkness to Lead Us to the Light

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I love Isaiah 9:2, which says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (NIV). It’s no secret that we are living in a fallen world; one marred by sin and disobedience, resulting in servitude, misery, illness, deceitfulness, hatred, bigotry, stubbornness, and countless calamities. It is rather easy to get discouraged under such circumstances. Worse, it is likely most of us forget the fallen nature of mankind and all of creation. Many believers today get ensnared by the devil, blaming God when bad things happen to good people. This is a sure sign that we’ve gone “heart blind.” This is a kind of spiritual sickness in which we give up and give in, expecting nothing but doom and gloom. We become accustomed to existing in a broken world, no longer able to see the Light.

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It cannot be denied that where there is sin there will be darkness. Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:19-21, NIV).

Jesus: The Light of the World

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12, NKJV).

“I am the light of the world,” is rooted in Jesus’s relationship with the Father. He speaks from God and for God and as God. Apart from Jesus, we live in darkness. We have limited (human) capacity to understand who we are in Christ. We cannot accurately interpret or explain what we see in the world. Aimee Joseph puts it this way: “The beauty of our humanity is still evident, but ugliness abounds.” In her blog post The Lack of a Loom she writes, “Without a loom, without what is called a meta-narrative, we end up with disconnected piles of threads and yarn and fabric. Sure, we can organize them into neat piles, putting sweet silky feelings and experiences in one pile, grouping commonplace day-to-day experiences and emotions in another and gathering the itchy, scratchy strands of suffering into a discard pile. But, living without a loom leaves us with lives and hearts and societies that are divided and compartmentalized at best, and schizophrenic and purposeless at worst.” In other words, without Christ, our beauty remains incomplete and unexpressed.

The light of Christ is the brightness of God shining on the scrim of our human soul. Life can be wonderful on earth—as it often is—but not fully complete without Jesus. In other words, it is not “abundant life.” We are all created to crave the Creator, our Father, and we’re given access to the Father through a relationship with Jesus. When we come before the Father through our Great Intercessor, we begin to see even the darkest corners of our hearts brighten. But it is only through coming to the end of us that we find Jesus. We begin to see ourselves as God sees us: clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Only then are we set free to run to and cling to God. Only then can we hope to escape the darkness of sin.

References

Baker, W., Zodhiates, S. (2008). Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

Dake, F. (2008). The Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing, Inc.

Henry, M. (1997). Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Joseph, A. (January 17, 2019). “The Lack of a Loom.” [web log comment].  Retrieved from: https://aimeejoseph.blog/2019/01/17/the-lack-of-a-loom-3/