Personal Faith

Don't Be Afraid!

We’re told there are two responses to fear—fight or flight. But Jesus tells His followers a third response—Don’t be afraid! He tells them this more than once—even the night He was betrayed and arrested (John 14:1, 27).

Jesus says this to His disciples in the midst of a storm. Many of these men were experienced fisherman who spent long hours on their boats and this sea. They knew the dangers of sudden squalls on the Sea of Galilee.

But fear came upon them for a different reason—they saw Jesus walking on the surface of the sea. In other gospel accounts we’re told they thought Jesus was a spirit—a ghost. This wasn’t the first time Jesus told them not to be afraid while out on the sea in a storm.

Previously, He was with the disciples when a strong storm sent waves breaking over and filling their boat. But Jesus slept through it all until they woke Him because they feared for their lives (Mark 4:35-41). He calmed the storm and they were amazed. But this miracle was different. It was intended to prepare them for the future.

Scripture

When evening came, his disciples went to the sea. They got into a boat and started to cross the sea to the city of Capernaum. By this time it was dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. A strong wind started to blow and stir up the sea.

After they had rowed three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea. He was coming near the boat, and they became terrified. Jesus told them, “It’s me. Don’t be afraid!” So they were willing to help Jesus into the boat. Immediately, the boat reached the shore where they were going. [vss 16-21]

On the next day the people were still on the other side of the sea. They noticed that only one boat was there and that Jesus had not stepped into that boat with his disciples. The disciples had gone away without him. 

Other boats from Tiberias arrived near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord gave thanks. When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into these boats and went to the city of Capernaum to look for Jesus. [vss 22-24]

(John 6:16-24 GW)

Key phrase—

It’s me. Don’t be afraid!

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What do Jesus’ disciples do when evening comes?

  • Where were the disciples headed in the boat and what happens while they’re on the sea?

  • Who do the disciples see walking on the water and what is their reaction to this?

  • Who else looks for Jesus and the disciples and when do they arrive where the Lord and the disciples are?

Reflection...

When Jesus calmed the storm that threatened to sink their boat, Jesus was with them and they were amazed at Him and His power over the storm. But in this situation, the disciples are on their own in the boat until they see Jesus walking on the water.

This is the fifth miraculous sign of Jesus in John’s gospel. It directly follows the fourth great miracle where 5,000 people were fed and illustrates two important assurances and truths. The power Jesus had over nature—His omnipotence—and His faithful presence in the disciples’ lives—His omnipresence.

Jesus reassures them—”It’s me. Don’t be afraid!“ He’s preparing them for the time after His resurrection from the dead when they need to walk by faith rather than sight. That is, is spiritual presence instead of His physical presence.

His power over the storm and their immediate arrival at their destination (Capernaum), reinforces the Lord’s power over the physical world—creation— because He is the Creator. These are assurances for the present and the future—while He leads them as their rabbi and after His resurrection from the dead as their Lord.

While the disciples are learning to trust Jesus in preparation for walking by faith, the crowd of seekers are focused on themselves. This becomes more clear as the story continues to unfold in Chapter 6.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • What does Jesus say to the disciples in the boat and how do His words seem surprising to them in these circumstances?

  • What do the crowd of people seem to be focused on and how does it seem to be in contrast to the disciples and Jesus?

  • Imagine yourself in the boat when the disciples see Jesus walking on the water—Do you understand their reaction?

  • When life circumstances seem threatening or challenging—Do you have the assurance of the Lord’s presence and power with you?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— It may seem trite, but in the midst of the fears and storms of life Jesus assures us of His presence and power to help us through or overcome them. We need to be confident He is all-powerful and ever-present regardless of our emotions or circumstances.

Prayer Focus— Daily prayer, praise, and worship, along with reading and meditating on God’s Word, are important for preparing us to move forward in faith when facing overwhelming and threatening situations in life. These disciplines are valuable for developing assurance of the Lord’s presence and power in our life.

©2019—Word-Strong

5 True Testimonies of Jesus

In a day and age where knowledge is plentiful—even overwhelming—the existence and prevalence of ignorance is amazing. Why does ignorance prevail in the midst of a rising tide of knowledge? For a myriad of reasons.

Some ignorance is born out of laziness. We can be too lazy to verify whether or not something is true. Or too lazy to think deeply about something. How many times have you heard people repeat an opinion as factual, as if it’s beyond question? Have you done this yourself?

Bias and prejudice contribute to a developed ignorance. An ignorance numb to the truth. This could range from racism to politics to religion, even in the sciences which is self-contradictory in itself. A developed ignorance is born out of self-interest and resistance to the truth.

One of the ignorant things I’ve heard people say about Jesus is—He never claimed to be God. This is untrue. He did. This is a major reason He was condemned to die by the Jewish leaders. The primary focus of John’s gospel is to declare the divine nature of Jesus as the Son of God. In the following verses, Jesus gives five truthful testimonies to verify who He is.

Scripture

“If I testify on my own behalf, what I say isn’t true. Someone else testifies on my behalf, and I know that what he says about me is true. You sent people to John ⌊the Baptizer⌋, and he testified to the truth. [vss 31-33]

But I have something that testifies more favorably on my behalf than John’s testimony. The tasks that the Father gave me to carry out, these tasks which I perform, testify on my behalf. They prove that the Father has sent me. The Father who sent me testifies on my behalf. You have never heard his voice, and you have never seen his form. So you don’t have the Father’s message within you, because you don’t believe in the person he has sent. 

You study the Scriptures in detail because you think you have the source of eternal life in them. These Scriptures testify on my behalf. Yet, you don’t want to come to me to get ⌊eternal⌋ life. [vss 36-40]

“Don’t think that I will accuse you in the presence of the Father. Moses, the one you trust, is already accusing you. If you really believed Moses, you would believe me. Moses wrote about me. If you don’t believe what Moses wrote, how will you ever believe what I say?” [vss 45-47]

(John 5:31-47 GW) [full text]

Key phrase—

You study the Scriptures…These Scriptures testify on my behalf

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What does Jesus say about testifying on His own behalf?

  • Who does Jesus say gave a true testimony about who He is?

  • What else and who else testifies on behalf of Jesus?

  • What are the last two sources of testimony of Jesus and why should the Jews know this?

Reflection...

The five testimonies Jesus gives are an indictment against the Jewish leaders. They understood John the Baptizer’s testimony. This was made clear earlier in John’s gospel. Though the Jews knew John was a prophet sent from God, their leaders rejected what John said.

They rejected John’s testimony for the same reason they didn’t accept the Father’s testimony of Jesus and the signs and miracles Jesus did. Why? Because it wasn’t what they wanted to hear or believe. Their minds and hearts were numb to the truth of the Scriptures because they clung to their own interpretations of the Scriptures.

This is the real issue—in spite of all their religious fervor, their hearts were hardened towards God. This is the problem for many people regardless of their religion or rejection of religion. When our mind is set on what we want to believe, it makes it hard to hear or accept the truth.

In reading through all the gospels, especially John’s, it may puzzle you how resistant the Jewish leaders were to Jesus, His teaching, and how His authority was confirmed by the signs and miracles. And yet, it’s the same for all of us. It’s a matter of control. Our natural default is to want to be in control—to determine our own destiny—to be our own god.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Why do you think the Jewish leaders either ignored or did not accept John’s testimony?

  • What does Jesus point to as the reason why these leaders don’t hear the Father’s voice or accept Jesus as the Messiah?

  • What does Jesus say they could receive if they would come to Him personally and believe in Jesus?

  • Do you believe Jesus was sent by God the Father? If not, are you willing to consider this is true?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— When confronted with the truth, we all have a choice to consider and weigh what we hear or read. If we have a genuine desire to know the truth, we need to be willing to understand it with an open heart and mind—free from bias or self-interest.

Prayer Focus— When you have difficulty accepting what the Bible says, especially when it comes to who Jesus is, be honest about it with God. If you’re willing to approach God with an honest heart, He will help you understand it by His Spirit. Just be open and honest with Him!

©2019—Word-Strong

Like Father, Like Son

One of the difficulties people have with the Christian faith is Jesus being in God in nature. It was something I struggled with in my journey of faith. How could Jesus be both God and human? How could He have two natures at the same time?

The gospel of John begins with this truth. The purpose of the apostle John’s account of the gospel is to reveal who Jesus is through what He said and did (John 20:30-31). The Pharisees—the religious elite—struggled the most with Jesus’ declarations as the Son of God.

One simple reason the Pharisees didn’t accept Jesus as the Son of God was their religion. Not Judaism as established by Moses but the complicated and restrictive system of religion they developed over the years. I believe the reason most people struggle to believe and trust in Jesus is because of opposing religious beliefs and traditions.

Humanity tends to turn the relationship God calls us into by faith and make it a religion—a set of rules and expectations. We try to deconstruct what is eternal and infinite, then reconstruct it in a way that fits our finite and limited understanding. And so, we struggle to accept what God makes simple by creating barriers and restrictions Jesus removed through His life and death on earth, and His resurrection from the dead.

Scripture

The Jews began to persecute Jesus because he kept healing people on the day of worship. Jesus replied to them, “My Father is working right now, and so am I.”

His reply made the Jews more intent on killing him. Not only did he break the laws about the day of worship, but also he made himself equal to God when he said repeatedly that God was his Father. [vss 16-18]

Jesus said to the Jews, “I can guarantee this truth: The Son cannot do anything on his own. He can do only what he sees the Father doing. Indeed, the Son does exactly what the Father does. The Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. The Father will show him even greater things to do than these things so that you will be amazed. In the same way that the Father brings back the dead and gives them life, the Son gives life to anyone he chooses. [vss 19-21]

“The Father doesn’t judge anyone. He has entrusted judgment entirely to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him. I can guarantee this truth: Those who listen to what I say and believe in the one who sent me will have eternal life. They won’t be judged because they have already passed from death to life. [vss 22-24]

(John 5:16-24 GW)

Key phrase—

The Son does exactly what the Father does

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What are we told the Jews begin to do?

  • What are two reasons the Jews treated Jesus as they did?

  • How does Jesus describe His relationship with His Father?

  • What does Jesus say about judgment? How is this relevant and important for those who do trust in Him?

Reflection...

Many people—even those who don’t claim to be Christians— see the life Jesus led as exemplary—a model life. Indeed, Jesus lived His life on earth as an example. One of His primary goals was to disciple those who trusted in Him to live by faith.

The core element of Jesus’ life of faith was His relationship with His Father. Is this something every believer can do? Yes, absolutely! How Jesus prayed, spoke, and acted are all the ways believers—those who trust in and follow Him—are to live.

But following the example of Jesus isn’t about holding to a set of beliefs and practices in a religious sense. True disciples are to live by faith as Jesus did—relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us each step of the the way.

The followers of Jesus are not called to set up a religious way of life and judge others who don’t hold to their same ways. This would make us more like followers of the Pharisees. We’d become modern-day religious elites. Jesus calls His disciples to follow Him by faith so we may be free of judgment and pass from death into life—eternal life.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • What great blessings does the Lord give those who honor Him as the Son of God?

  • What type of life is guaranteed those who listen to and believe (trust) in Jesus?

  • How can a person who believes in Jesus as the Son of God pass from death to life while on earth? What do you think this means?

  • Are you living by faith with assurance of eternal life? Is this life Jesus promises already present in your heart?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Following the example of Jesus isn’t about holding to a set of beliefs and practices in a religious sense. It’s a life of faith—relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us each step of the the way.

Prayer Focus— If you don’t have assurance in your heart of the promise of eternal life Jesus extends to all who trust in Him, ask God to give it to you. Ask in faith—accept His promise by trusting in Him by faith.

©2019—Word-Strong

A Pitiful Man

The gospel of John is different than the other three gospels. It only has 8 miraculous signs while the others recount many. Each miracle in John is a sign illustrating the Lord’s ministry—why God became human (John 20:30-31). Each one is part of a larger story and context.

As with many stories of Jesus’ interaction with people, some deeper insight is needed to understand all that takes place. The Mosaic Law and religious cultural restrictions are a major part of this story, along with Israel’s history. It revolves around a sick man laying beside the pool of Bethesda who encounters Jesus.

This man was part of a crowd gathered around the pool to receive healing. These people believed the first person to enter the pool when an angel came from heaven and stirred up the waters would be healed. Their hope was in a legend.

Jesus saw this man who’d been sick for 38 years and approached him with a simple question—Would you like to get well? But the man doesn’t answer Jesus directly. Instead, he gives Jesus an excuse for why he can’t be healed. His response is the first indicator of how pitiful this man is, which becomes more clear as you read the whole story.

Scripture

Later, Jesus went to Jerusalem for a Jewish festival. Near Sheep Gate in Jerusalem was a pool called Bethesda in Hebrew. It had five porches. Under these porches a large number of sick people—people who were blind, lame, or paralyzed—used to lie. 

One man, who had been sick for 38 years, was lying there. [vss 1-5]

Jesus saw the man lying there and knew that he had been sick for a long time. So Jesus asked the man, “Would you like to get well?”

The sick man answered Jesus, “Sir, I don’t have anyone to put me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I’m trying to get there, someone else steps into the pool ahead of me.”

Jesus told the man, “Get up, pick up your cot, and walk.” The man immediately became well, picked up his cot, and walked. That happened on a day of worship. [vss 6-9]

So the Jews told the man who had been healed, “This is a day of worship. You’re not allowed to carry your cot today.” The man replied, “The man who made me well told me to pick up my cot and walk.”

The Jews asked him, “Who is the man who told you to pick it up and walk?” But the man who had been healed didn’t know who Jesus was. (Jesus had withdrawn from the crowd.)

Later, Jesus met the man in the temple courtyard and told him, “You’re well now. Stop sinning so that something worse doesn’t happen to you.”

The man went back to the Jews and told them that Jesus was the man who had made him well. [vss 10-15]

(John 5:1-15 GW)

Key phrase—

“Would you like to get well?”

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What stands out to you about the beginning of this story?

  • Who is gathered at this pool? Who does Jesus approach and what does he ask this man?

  • How does the man respond to Jesus’ question and why do you think he says this?

  • What does Jesus say to the man and how does He say it? What takes place immediately?

Reflection...

Over the years, Jewish rabbis reinterpreted the fourth of the ten primary commandments of the Mosaic Law, as they did many other laws. Successive interpretations added restrictions to what a person could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. These added laws distorted God’s original purpose for the Sabbath.

When Jesus spoke healing to this pitiful man, it came in the form of a command to do three things—get up, pick up his mat, and walk. Not long after his healing, the pitiful man is rebuked for carrying his mat as Jesus directed him to do.

Imagine you’re this man—what would you do? Whose command would you follow? Here we see the pitiful state of this man and his weakness. His response and actions illustrate the weakness and futility of following religious laws.

Religion itself has no power to transform a person compared to God and His power. It comes down to where a person puts their trust. Do we trust in our own efforts to transform ourself through religion? Or…do we trust in God Himself and His transforming power?

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Do you understand all the dilemmas this man faced?

  • Can you see how and why this man is so pitiful?

  • Have you found yourself in paradoxical situations where you don’t know what to do?

  • Do you get caught up with what others expect of you? Do you struggle with trusting God with the dilemmas of your life?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Our confidence needs to be in God rather than our own efforts or religious regulations. The Lord calls us into a personal relationship of trust rather than following a rigid set of rules. God intended the Sabbath to be a restful blessing not a restricted religious day.

Prayer Focus— As you consider present or previous dilemmas you’ve faced, ask God to give you insight and direction for how to move beyond these struggles by trusting in Him. Be honest and specific in your prayer and spend time listening and waiting for His guidance.

©2019—Word-Strong

Becoming Believers

What does it take for a person to become a believer in God? Is it a certain understanding? How is a spark of faith ignited in a person’s heart?

I don’t know of one specific answer. In fact, when you ask a hundred different people how they came to believe, you may get a hundred different answers.

If you ask a theologian, they may give you one specific answer. But if you ask several different theologians and philosophers, you’ll probably get a myriad of answers.

This story at the end of Chapter 4 of John tells of a second miraculous sign done by Jesus. Once again, Jesus was in Cana of Galilee where He turned water into wine. This time, a little boy is healed and his father becomes a believer.

Scripture

After spending two days in Samaria, Jesus left for Galilee. Jesus had said that a prophet is not honored in his own country. But when Jesus arrived in Galilee, the people of Galilee welcomed him. They had seen everything he had done at the festival in Jerusalem, since they, too, had attended the festival. [vss 43-45]

Jesus returned to the city of Cana in Galilee, where he had changed water into wine. A government official was in Cana. His son was sick in Capernaum. The official heard that Jesus had returned from Judea to Galilee. So he went to Jesus and asked him to go to Capernaum with him to heal his son who was about to die.

Jesus told the official, “If people don’t see miracles and amazing things, they won’t believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come with me before my little boy dies.” Jesus told him, “Go home. Your son will live.” The man believed what Jesus told him and left. [vss 46-50]

While the official was on his way to Capernaum, his servants met him and told him that his boy was alive. The official asked them at what time his son got better. His servants told him, “The fever left him yesterday evening at seven o’clock.” 

Then the boy’s father realized that it was the same time that Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” So the official and his entire family became believers. This was the second miracle that Jesus performed after he had come back from Judea to Galilee. [vss 51-54]

(John 4:43-54 GW)

Key phrase—

The man believed what Jesus told him

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • Where do Jesus and the disciples travel after being in Samaria?

  • Who comes to Jesus and what does he ask of the Lord?

  • What does Jesus say to this father the first time? How does the father plead with Jesus for his son?

  • What does Jesus tell him and how does the father respond?

Reflection...

Believing in God is personal. It’s neither logical nor illogical. Belief is not the result of some spiritual dynamic or impersonal force, it’s a matter of trust.

The story of this father’s request of Jesus includes insights to the spiritual climate of that time. As Jesus said, “If people don’t see miracles… they won’t believe.” This father—a government official—was an exception.

He believed Jesus could and would heal his young son. He personally trusted Jesus to do this. How can we know this? When Jesus told him his son would recover, the man believed Jesus. Another Bible version says, “The man took Jesus at his word….”

Later, as the man traveled back home, his servants brought news of the boy’s recovery and when it happened. Realizing the power of Jesus’ word of assurance, he and his family became believers.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Why do you think Jesus says people won’t believe unless they see miracles?

  • How is it clear the government official was trusting in Jesus rather than looking for a miracle?

  • When did the man know his son was healed by Jesus and how did it change his life?

  • If you’re a believer, when did you become a believer and what was your turning point?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Faith—believing and trusting in God—is personal. It’s neither logical nor illogical or the result of some spiritual dynamic or impersonal force, it’s a matter of trust. When you are willing to take Jesus at His word, then faith becomes personal and genuine.

Prayer Focus— Choose to interact with the Lord in a personal way when you pray. Start by being thankful and reflecting on God’s faithfulness. Pray from your heart as a child who trusts in her parents. Trust is the key to authenticity as a believer in God.

©2018—Word-Strong