HOW CAN I KNOW THE TRUTH?

Bible Reading: John 7:9-24; Joshua 5:13-6:20

Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” 

[John 7:16-17 NKJV]

The crowd who heard Jesus teach were puzzled as to how He had such knowledge, because they knew that He had no letters after His name and had not studied at one of the official and prestige rabbinic schools of Shammai and Hillel. Our verses for today are the reply of Jesus to that question.

Jesus said that His doctrine [the Greek word is ‘didache’ meaning instruction or teaching] was not something that He made up but came from His Father who had sent Him [v.16].

Tragically, for many people theology [the knowledge of God], has become something that is studied academically in a college. This may have some value but that is not how Jesus said that we would understand truth.

There is an old conundrum, “What comes first, the chicken or the egg?” In knowing the truth the question is, “What comes first studying and believing or believing and knowing?”

To understand the truth begins with desire – Jesus said that the first step to knowing the truth is a desire to do God’s will. Those who focus on the world, by contrast, are not receptive to Christ. However, important as desire is, that alone is not enough. It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We need more than just desire.

The second step is to take a leap of faith. Augustine, one of the early church Fathers, said, “Taking a step of faith comes before knowing.” Desire must become action. Those who truly want to do the will of God receive by faith and accept Jesus, and His teaching [see also John 5:42-47]. Faith is a doing word and is always accompanied by obedience. We have to start doing what God’s Word tells us. As we desire to do God’s will, accept His Word, and obey it, then we will know the truth! Understanding is the reward of faith not of academic study!

Many years ago a young man asked a question of a well-known Christian minister, “How can I know the truth?” The speaker answered by saying, “The very next thing that God tells you to do, do it, and continuing doing everything that He tells you, until the day he takes you to heaven!” Does that seem too simple? If you want to know the truth you must first desire it, then take a step of faith and obey His Word, and as you do that you will know the truth. It will become crystal clear to you.

A Question:  Paul was concerned that we don’t depart from the simplicity that is in Christ [2 Corinthians 11:3]. Why do you think we have made something that is so simple to be so complicated?

BE CAREFUL WHOM YOU LISTEN TO

Bible Reading: John 7:1-8

Many years ago someone said to me, “Be careful whom you listen to.” That was good advice because it is so easy to make a mistake, and miss God’s will by listening to wrong advice. People may speak with good intentions but still be wrong. It may even come from close friends or even family members, and yet still send us in the wrong direction if we are not careful.

The Feast of Tabernacles was approaching and under normal circumstances Jesus would have gone to Jerusalem, but he knew that it was the wrong time for Him to go. The Jews in Judea wanted to kill Him, and it was not yet His time to go back to Jerusalem. The brothers of Jesus were going to Jerusalem for the feast and tried to persuade Him to go with them. They did not believe in Jesus and their motive for trying to persuade Him to go to Jerusalem was totally wrong. They scoffed at Him and goaded Him with three wrong suggestions. “Go where your followers can see your miracles.” “You can’t become a public figure if you hide yourself.” “If you can do such wonderful things prove it to the world!” Jesus rejected their suggestions and resolutely remained in Galilee. Can you catch the spirit of the brother’s suggestions? Their words have the same feel about them as the words of the devil as he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. The words of his brothers did not come from the Holy Spirit but a wrong spirit. Be careful whom you listen to!

In a small prayer group in the Church of Scotland in Dalry, Ayrshire, someone approached me and gave me a prophetic word. He said, “When you go to the country to which God is calling you, your mother will give you her blessing!” It seemed impossible. Six weeks before we left for Indonesia we felt it right to go and say goodbye to my stepfather and mother. My stepfather’s last words to me were, “Say goodbye to your mother. Go, and never come back. You are not part of this family!” Three weeks later he had a brain haemorrhage and died within twelve hours. Following the funeral, and before we left for Indonesia, we brought my mother back to our home in the Midlands of England for a few days. Each night she pleaded with me not to go to Indonesia, and each night I had to say to her that we must go because God had called us to go. On the last night before we took her back to her home, my mother said to me, “I don’t understand why you have to go, but go with my blessing.” Eight years later my mother gave her life to Jesus Christ in a Salvation Army open-air meeting, and on a visit to see us in Indonesia told me that if I had not gone to Indonesia she would never have come to Christ, and surrendered her life to Him! It is important to be careful whom you listen to!

Questions:

How can you recognise the difference between wise counsel and wrong advice?

Jesus knew that one day it would be the right time to go to Jerusalem, but that time was not yet. Why is timing so important in our walk with God?

Why is it important that our primary motivation is not the needs and requests of people but hearing God’s voice and obeying Him?

WHERE ELSE CAN WE GO?

Bible Reading: John 6:41-71

Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God” [John 6:68-69 The Message]

In many circles in the United Kingdom it is becoming increasingly not politically correct to speak about Jesus. We hear of people censored in their employment for wearing a cross. A Christian health worker is disciplined for giving a Bible to a Muslim colleague and praying for her even though it was at the request of the Muslim. A Christian student is made to leave university for saying on Facebook that he supports a Biblical view of marriage. These and many other cases could be quoted from recent news broadcasts.

People were equally turning against Jesus in our Bible reading today. As Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum, the politically [and religiously] correct Jews did not understand how He could say that He had come from heaven. They could only see Him as the son of Joseph, and not the Son of God! They complained [“grumbled” – NIV] about what Jesus said. They had still not learned the lesson of the wilderness that complaining and grumbling blocks God’s presence and brings His judgment!

Jesus’ responded to this opposition by refusing to compromise truth. Instead He told them that unless they eat of His flesh and drink of His blood they could not have life that is eternal. The same people who were excited by the signs and miracles were offended by His words and, “went back and walked with Him no more” [verse 66]. Many who had become His disciples were among those who now rejected Jesus [verse 60].

Jesus turned to the twelve and challenged them, “Do you also want to go away?” In response to Jesus’ question, Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter had come to recognise that Jesus was the only One who could give him eternal life. Not only did he recognise this, but also it led to a commitment. Peter called Jesus, “Lord.” The Greek word here is ‘kurios’ from the root word ‘kuros’ meaning ‘supremacy,’ or ‘controller’ and by implication means “Master.” Peter is now fully committed to Jesus as his Master, and, contrary to the opinion of most of the Jews is fully confident that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

Questions:

Why does grumbling, complaining and murmuring make God angry? What is the antidote to these wrong attitudes in Philippians 4:4,6,8 and 11?

What did Jesus do when people’s reactions to Him became negative and they rejected Him?

What three reasons does Peter give as to why he and the disciples remained faithful when many others went back and no longer followed Jesus?

What does it mean for Jesus to be Lord and Master of your life?

THE PASSION OF THE GOD HEAD

Bible Reading: John 6:35-40

Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me. This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.

[John 6:37-40 The Message]

Although I have my favourite Bible translation I often turn to modern and paraphrased versions for insight, and this morning I was especially blessed by this passage in the Message Bible.

When Isaiah saw the Lord [Isaiah 6:1-9], his life was totally changed. After his sin had been forgiven he heard the Lord’s voice, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Similarly, in Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man in our image.” Notice the plural words, us and our. Elohim, one of the Hebrew names for God, is also plural! It is not that there are many gods, but One God, in three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and they work together in perfect unity. Their passion is our salvation! Isn’t that astounding – the passion of Almighty God is our salvation.

God, the Father planned our salvation. Jesus, the Son bought our salvation. The Holy Spirit executes our salvation. The Father chooses us, and yet we have the right to accept or refuse His love. The Father gives those who will be saved to the Son, and yet equally the Father wants everyone who sees the Son to believe in Him. A well-known preacher said that over the doorway that we enter for salvation are written the inviting words, “Whosoever will may come,” but looking back we see over the doorway the words, “Chosen of God”! The Father knows who will accept His love, because He is all knowing, and knows the end from the beginning. He has chosen us and then gives us the privilege of accepting or rejecting His offer.

There are three wonderful promises in this passage. Firstly, Jesus promises that those who come to Him will certainly not be cast out or rejected by Him [v.37]. Secondly, Jesus promises that He will take care of those who come to Him. Not one of them lost [v.39]. Thirdly, Jesus promises that He will raise up those who come to Him on the last day [v.39]. His children, who chose His will be “together, upright and whole!”

Something to Do:

Will you praise the Lord for His wonderful plan and purpose for your life? That He is passionate about you and your eternal safety. Praise Him for His promises. Speak them out and repeat them over and over again. Through today continue to praise Him.

THE BREAD OF LIFE

Bible Reading: John 6:22-54

We should remember that the purpose of John’s Gospel is “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” [John 20:31]. Throughout John’s Gospel the deity of Jesus is the clear focus. There are seven testimonies of different people affirming the deity of Jesus Christ. There are seven signs that point to His deity, and there are seven “I am” sayings that point to the deity of Christ. The first of these sayings is “I am the bread of life” [John 6:35,48,51].

Bread is a staple food, and a basic dietary item, and therefore synonymous with food in general and necessary food. By equating Himself with bread Jesus is saying that He is essential for life. The bread that He gave to the five thousand was physical bread that perishes but Jesus is the spiritual bread that brings eternal life. In this sense it is different to the manna in the wilderness. The Israelites ate the manna but still died. Those who eat this bread shall never hunger [v.35], and those who eat it shall live forever [v.51].

The people must have thought Jesus was crazy to say that they must eat His flesh. Obviously it does not mean to physically eat His body, so what then does it mean? Here are some clues:

But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. Believe in the one he has sent” [John 6:27,29 NLT]. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me (in faith) will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” [John 6:35 NLT]. “For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life” [John 6:40 NLT].

I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life” [John 6:47 NLT].

Each of these verses speaks of believing on Jesus and thus receiving eternal life. Jesus also says that unless we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man we cannot have eternal life, and that anyone who eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life [John 6:53-54]. What Jesus is saying is that eternal life is only received by believing on Him. Our faith is in His death (the sacrifice of His flesh) and in His resurrection! It is more than to believe about Him; it is to depend upon Him, to trust Him and adhere to Him. That is likened to eating His flesh and drinking His blood. We are to come to Him, believe on Him, feed on Him, and be united with Him. His life becomes our life. Through faith Christ now lives His life in us!

Questions:

How would you answer someone who asked you if it is true that Christians eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus?

In what way does the phrase, “I am the bread of life” express the fact that Jesus is God?

Why was the crowd so excited by the sign when Jesus fed them with the loaves and fish but became upset when Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life and offered them spiritual bread?

LEARNING IN A STORM

Bible Reading: John 6:15-21; Mark 6:45-52

It is helpful to read this story together with Mark’s account, because Mark makes it clear that Jesus told the disciples to cross the sea, whilst He went to the mountain to pray. The Sea of Galilee was well known for its sudden and fierce storms. The disciples had rowed three or four miles, and were halfway across the sea when the storm blew up. Mark clearly states that Jesus was alone on dry land, and yet at a distance of three to four miles, He clearly saw the disciples straining at rowing against the wind. Jesus knew exactly what was going on, and decided to come to them. It seems that Jesus coming to them walking on the sea ignited an even greater fear than the storm itself, because they cried out thinking that it was a ghost!

Jesus said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid’ [v.20]. The New Living Translation correctly translates from the Greek, “Don’t be afraid. I am here.” It is literally, “The I AM is here” and refers back to Exodus 3:14 where God says that His Name is “I AM.” Jesus is saying to His disciples in the storm, “Don’t be afraid. God, that is who I am, is with you.” Whatever the storm that you are going through right now Jesus knows about and is with you! Notice that the disciples willingly received Him into the boat and were immediately safe. It is one thing to know that Jesus is with you but even more a blessing that we can invite Him to bring us safely through the storm, and in the process learn from Him.

No one is free from the storms of life, and we actually tend to learn more in those times than in the easy times. When I was going through cancer I knew that God was not the source of the cancer, but He did so much in my life at that time. God uses problems to DIRECT us. Sometimes it is hard for Him to get our attention, but in the problem we tend to cry out to Him. God uses problems to INSPECT us. People are somewhat like tea bags! If you want to know what is inside of them just drop them in hot water! It is trials that test our faith, and teach us patience [James 1:2-3]. God uses problems to CORRECT us. Some lessons are only learned through pain and failure, and sometimes we only learn the value of something, health, money, a relationship, by losing it. God uses problems to PROTECT us. A friend of mine refused to do what his boss told him to do because he knew it was wrong. He complained to me of the hurt of losing his job and his salary, but today God has blessed him, and his former boss will serve ten years in prison for fraud. It was a trial but God was protecting him. God uses problems to PERFECT us. Problems are character builders. As we experience trials we learn patience, faithfulness, develop strength of character, and learn that as we trust Him, God’s grace is sufficient [see Romans 5:3-4].

If you are in a tough place right now, rejoice, because Jesus knows what you are experiencing, He is with you, and He will not let you be tempted above that which you are able to bear. In the storm invite Him into your boat.

A Question:

In a few words what does this word today mean to you personally? What do you think are the lessons that the disciples learned in the storm?

MOTIVE IS ALWAYS IMPORTANT

Bible Reading: John 6:1-14;

When you sincerely offer to Jesus something that is costly to you, He will always use it for His glory and cause it to multiply. The excitement is not so much in what is multiplied, but the sense that He graciously uses what we offer Him. Can you imagine that excited little boy running home and saying to his Mum, Jesus fed the whole crowd with my loaves and fish? It is amazing that Almighty God chooses to honour us as we honour Him [1 Samuel 2:30].

The response of the crowd to the miracle of the multiplied loaves and fishes was to recognize that Jesus was the Prophet who was to come into world [v.14]. The people remembered that Moses had said that a Prophet would come [Deuteronomy 8:15], and tried to make Him king by force. They had a perception of Jesus but did not have a true spiritual understanding. They were looking for an earthly king who would overthrow the Romans, but Jesus later made it clear that His kingdom is not of this world [see John 8:36]. Aware that this was a dangerous moment, Jesus departed again to the mountain to be alone. He never courted popularity, and He recognised that to do so would have endangered His mission and His purpose for coming to earth.

In contrast to the faith and generosity of the young boy we see the crowd, whose motive was not so much to give but to get. The morning following the feeding of the five thousand, the multitude was looking for Jesus and crossed the Sea of Galilee to look for Him in Capernaum, but they only really followed Jesus for what they could get out of Him. Their motive was basically selfish. Jesus told them that they wanted Him because He fed them, but they did not understand the miraculous signs. They were spending all their energy on perishable things but had no real spiritual hunger. Our motives must be pure. We don’t follow Jesus to become prosperous, gain prestige or simply for our own comfort. True believers follow Jesus simply because they know that He has the truth and His way is the way to life.

We are prone to selfishness. In a recent prayer meeting we were asking the Lord to send the fire of the Holy Spirit. I was reminded of the words of Amy Carmichael, who wrote: “Let me not sink to be a clod; Make me Thy fuel, O flame of God.” As we prayed I found myself asking, “How much do you want it, Michael?” How much is your passion for Jesus, and not just what He can give you or do for you? Let’s seek the pure heart of the young boy who gave his loaves and fish, and guard against the selfishness of the crowd.

Questions:

What does it mean in practical terms to honour God?

What specific spiritual lessons have you learned from today’s word? Why are our motives in following Jesus so important?

What can we learn from Jesus about avoiding popularity and getting alone with His Father? Why should we always be careful of men’s opinions and of politically correct opinions? How can this be a problem for Christian leaders?

A BOY, FAITH AND A MULTITUDE

Bible Reading: John 6:1-14

Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee and because of the signs He performed and the healings that took place great crowds followed Him. Even when He went up on a mountain, to be alone with His disciples, the crowds followed.

Jesus had an outrageous and extravagant idea to feed the crowd. There were 5,000 men, and Matthew adds in his Gospel women and children. Including the children there might have been 15,000-20,000 people, and Jesus wants to feed them! Although Jesus already knew what He was going to do, He tested Philip, who came from the nearby city of Bethsaida, and asked him, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” [Verse 5].

Can you imagine a more impossible situation? Wanting to feed up to 20,000 people and not having any food! Now that is impossible but Jesus is going to do the impossible. It is interesting to see the reactions of three different people to this situation.

Philip decided to try and work it all out logistically and from a human angle. One denarii was about a day’s wage of a labourer. He estimates that to feed the crowd would cost two hundred denarii, which would be nearly seven months wages! You cannot solve impossible situations with human logic!

Andrew tries to come to Philip’s rescue and makes the most ridiculous suggestion. A young boy has with him his packed lunch! Why did Andrew and the other disciples not offer what they had? I suspect that they thought they had not got enough so why even bother to offer! They had never learned the secret that a little with God is enough to perform a miracle! Ask the widow woman with the jar of oil how much God needs [see 2 Kings 4:1-7]. “The need is not great faith in God but a little faith in a great God” [Corrie ten Boom].

A young boy sacrificially gives away his lunch believing that he can help to feed a multitude! He didn’t come from a wealthy home. His barley loaves were cheap food, eaten by the poor, and not the wheat loaves eaten by the rich! It seems incredible that while Philip was trying to work it out, and Andrew was not offering anything, that a child believed that Jesus could feed a crowd with his packed lunch. That was all that Jesus needed to perform the only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospels.

I have learned over the years to hate the word impossible! Many times I have heard Christians say it is impossible, but God’s Word says, “With God nothing will be impossible” [Luke 1:37; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27].

Questions:

What is the impossible situation that you are facing? What lessons can you learn from this story in facing your impossible situations?

What does the phrase, “Outrageous and Extravagant service for Jesus” mean to you? What do you think was Jesus’ motive in wanting to feed the multitude?

IT’S NOT WHAT YOU KNOW….

Bible Reading: John 5:31-47

You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life”                                                                                             [John 5:39-40 NLT]

There is a well-known phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Knowledge about God is good but it is not the same as knowing Him. Jesus was speaking to religious leaders who searched the Scriptures but refused to come to Him to receive salvation. Although they knew the Scriptures they were as blind as any other sinner who was far from God!

A young man from our church came to me for advice before going to Bible College. I advised him to guard his relationship with God, because in an atmosphere of constant study and handling the Bible it is very easy to become presumptuous and to lose touch with God and instead fill the mind knowledge.

The apostle Paul’s heart cry after many years of serving Jesus was that he might know Him better. This knowledge of God is not so much a head knowledge but of knowing Him experientially. Paul’s longing was so clearly expressed when he wrote his letter to the Philippians, and the Amplified Bible makes it particularly clear and challenging: “[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly]” [Philippians 3:10 Amplified Bible].

The religious leaders to whom Jesus spoke studied the Scriptures, but they refused to come to Him that they might have real spiritual life. They did not understand that the knowledge of God begins with a right heart attitude towards Him. Solomon wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” [Proverbs 1:7]. The fear of the Lord is to reverence and respect Him, honour Him [see v.44], and love Him. This is the motive for our obedience and faithfulness to God, and it is this experiential knowledge of God that is the source of wisdom and of all true spiritual understanding. It is this that should control all our attitudes and actions in the world.

Sadly, the religious leaders who Jesus spoke with knew the Bible, but were as blind spiritually, as any lost sinner who lived far from God. They were blinded by their knowledge and this kept them from true faith and knowing God personally. It is not enough to know about God – we must know Him!

Questions:

Why do you think that people can study the Bible and yet live without a personal faith in God? What are the barriers that hinder such people coming to faith in Christ?

In the light of what we have learned today, how much knowledge is necessary for a person to come to Christ? What are you personally doing to become more intimate in your walk with God and better acquainted with Him?

DON’T SEEK MEN’S APPROVAL

Bible Reading: John 5:31-47

In the middle of our Bible reading today there is a short but very meaningful verse. Jesus said, “I do not accept praise from men” [v.41]. The word translated as “praise” is the Greek word doxa. This word is often translated as glory, but can also be translated as “approval.” Jesus speaking in the context of men who do not have the love of God in them [v.42], and who are not willing to come to Him for life [v.40], is saying that He does not need their approval. Literally, “Your approval means nothing to me” [John 5:41 NLT].

There is a massive difference between encouragement that we all need at times, and the need for approval. In her book, “Approval Addiction,” Joyce Meyer says, “A sense of security is something everyone needs and desires. Security enables us to enjoy healthy thinking and living. It means we feel safe, accepted and approved of. When we are secure we approve of ourselves…. We don’t necessarily need approval from others to feel confident.”

Rejection can be defined simply as the denial of love, acceptance and approval, and one of its side effects is the desire for people’s approval. Rejection is the source of much self-effort to please others in order to gain their approval and feel accepted. To desire men’s approval is linked to the fear of man, and the Bible clearly states that the fear of man brings a snare [Proverbs 25:29]. The Hebrew word used for a snare also means a trap or noose. A trap is used to trap someone and a noose used to kill!

One of the reasons why people struggle to believe God is that they long for the approval of men instead of seeking God’s favour and approval. When a person is secure in their identity they will not need men’s approval but will be satisfied to know that God approves of them. Jim Elliott, the missionary martyr to Ecuador wrote in his journal that the only degree he was looking for was an A.U.G. – Approved unto God!

God has been healing me over a period of many years from the effects of rejection. Because of rejection in childhood I experienced deep insecurity and desperately longed for people’s approval. There were various times when I knew that God had met with me and dealt with an issue relating to that insecurity. One of the most vivid moments was when I read a comment by Oswald Chambers, “Maturity is having nothing left to prove.” As I read that statement I felt a great weight was taken off my shoulders. I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone – not to people, not to my family and not to God!

Questions:

Why do you think that the desire to have men’s approval is an indication of an area of weakness in our understanding of our identity?

Read Galatians 1:10. Why is it impossible to serve Jesus Christ and at the same time have a motive to please men?

Has God put His finger on an area of insecurity in your life as you have read this word? Why not come to Him in humility and ask Him to heal you?