Thursday of the Second Week of Easter
Reading 1 ACTS 5:27-33
When the court officers had brought the Apostles in
and made them stand before the Sanhedrin,
the high priest questioned them,
“We gave you strict orders did we not,
to stop teaching in that name.
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching
and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
When they heard this,
they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.
Responsorial Psalm PS 34:2 AND 9, 17-18, 19-20
R. (7a) The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the man who takes refuge in him.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
Many are the troubles of the just man,
but out of them all the LORD delivers him.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Alleluia JN 20:29
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me, says the Lord;
blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe?
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 3:31-36
The one who comes from above is above all.
The one who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things.
But the one who comes from heaven is above all.
He testifies to what he has seen and heard,
but no one accepts his testimony.
Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy.
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God.
He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.
The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life,
but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life,
but the wrath of God remains upon him.
During the month of January we meditated on John 3, 22-30, which shows us the last witness of John the Baptist concerning Jesus. It was a response given by him to his disciples, in which he reaffirms that he, John, is not the Messiah, but rather his precursor (Jn 3, 28). On that occasion, John says that beautiful phrase which summarizes his witness: “It is necessary that he grows greater and I grow less!” This phrase is the program for all those who want to follow Jesus.
The verses of today’s Gospel are, again, a comment of the Evangelist in order to help the communities to understand better all the importance of the things that Jesus did and taught. Here, we have another indication of those three threads of which we spoke about before.
John 3, 31-33: A refrain which is always repeated. Throughout the Gospel of John, many times there appears the conflict between Jesus and the Jews who contest the words of Jesus. Jesus speaks of what he hears from the Father. He is total transparency. His enemies, not opening themselves to God and because they cling to their own ideas here on earth, are not capable to understand the deep significance of the things that Jesus lives, does and says. In last instance, this is the evil one which pushes the Jews to arrest and condemn Jesus.
John 3, 34: Jesus gives us the Spirit without reserve. John’s Gospel uses many images and symbols to signify the action of the Spirit. Like in the Creation (Gen 1, 1), in the same way the Spirit descends on Jesus “like a dove, come from Heaven” (Jn 1, 32). It is the beginning of the new creation! Jesus repeats the words of God and communicates the Spirit to us without reserve (Jn 3, 34). His words are Spirit and life (Jn 6, 63).
When Jesus is about to leave this earth, he says that he will send another Consoler, another defender, to be with us forever (Jn 14, 16-17). By his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus obtains for us the gift of the Spirit. Through Baptism all of us have received this same Spirit of Jesus (Jn 1, 33). When he appears to the apostles, he breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit!” (Jn 20, 22). The Spirit is like the water which springs from the persons who believe in Jesus (Jn 7, 37-39; 4, 14). The first effect of the action of the Spirit in us is reconciliation: “”If you forgive anyone’s sins they will be forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained!” (Jn 20, 23). The Spirit is given to us to recall and understand the full significance of the words of Jesus (Jn 14, 26; 16, 12-13). Animated by the Spirit of Jesus we can adore God in any place (Jn 4, 23-24).
Here is fulfilled the liberty of the Spirit of which Saint Paul speaks: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Co 3, 17).
• John 3, 35-36: The Father loves the Son. He reaffirms the identity between the Father and Jesus. The Father loves the Son and places all things in his hand. Saint Paul will say that the fullness of the divinity dwells in Jesus (Col 1, 19; 2, 9). This is why the one who accepts Jesus and believes in Jesus has eternal life, because God is life. The one who does not accept to believe in Jesus, places himself outside.
Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
27 APRIL, 2017, Thursday, 2nd Week of Easter
HANDLING TENSION BETWEEN STATE AND RELIGION
“Obedience to God comes before obedience to men.” This principle seems to be quite clear and straight forward. No one would be able to fault this principle. No believer of any religion would disagree with this truth. This is because believers who are God-fearing recognize that we are not gods and we do not possess the ultimate truth. To claim that we have the truth is a lie. We do not exist by ourselves, for ourselves and in ourselves. We originate from another source. Indeed, the great falsehood of humanity today is when the world speaks of complete human autonomy as independence from God. When that happens, truth is decided by the majority and we must obey. Yet, in the history of humanity, the majority can speak so loudly that the silent minority is obliged to follow them even when what they propose is evil and based on falsehood. The decision of the majority is a double-edged sword because it can either be a consensus of truth or falsehood, of good or evil. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is deemed to be completely blind, and the blind are those who can see. Such an irony! This dictatorship of evil in a subtle way is forcing the Church to succumb to the amoral and immoral values of the world.
But what if all religions subscribe to this principle and yet disagree on what obedience to God entails? This is the fear of the State as the primary duty of the State is to ensure justice, equality and harmony in the country. If each religion would to push its own agenda, there will inevitably be tension, chaos, division and even religious wars. If we go by that route, there is no way to preserve peace and unity in the world because religions cannot agree. There is always a danger of fundamentalism, triumphalism, comparison and exclusivity among religions. We have challenges dealing with the ISIS, fundamentalist preachers and intolerant religions. If religions cannot coexist peacefully, this is the justification for secularization and a secular government that is impartial to all religions.
Consequently, this principle cannot be applied without qualification. How do we discern whether something is from God or from man? John the Baptist gave us the guideline. “He who comes from above is above all others; he who is born of the earth is earthly himself and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven bears witness to the things he has seen and heard, even if his testimony is not accepted.”
Firstly, a person can be said to have come from above if what he or she teaches does not contradict reason and morals. Faith is not against reason. So, if it were the laws of God, it does not contradict truth. To speak of truth means that whatever is taught and practiced must be rooted in justice and seek what is good. It must promote peace, unity, love, joy, kindness and compassion. If a religion seeks to destroy lives, condemn others who are different from them, shows disrespect for others’ beliefs and cultures, discriminate others who are different and causes division and hatred among peoples, it is difficult to claim that one is speaking in the name of God.
Of course, whilst faith is not opposed to reason, it transcends reason. In other words, we go beyond natural reason and human justice to divine revelation and divine justice. There are some religious beliefs like the Incarnation, the Holy Trinity and the resurrection of Christ that cannot be proven like empirical science because it has logic of its own. Revelation is required but only faith can perceive them as divine revelation. Such beliefs therefore cannot be imposed on others as there is no faith. This is dependent on grace. So religions cannot impose on others what pertains to faith. This is true when it comes to beliefs about God, life-hereafter, rituals, the institutions and the scriptures.
However, there is another level of divine love which is not contradictory to reason but goes beyond human justice. Instead of the principle of revenge, tit-for-tat, or punishment, one can go beyond basic human justice by exercising compassion and forgiveness. So the Church does not advocate death penalty because she believes that human being is as much the product of society as the work of the offender. Criminals are not born but they are greatly influenced by the evils promoted by society. Furthermore, the Church does not believe that a person is hopeless. Change is always possible when they are healed of their wounds and enlightened in their ignorance. This is an extreme case of what divine compassion and forgiveness is all about. For the justice of God is His mercy for humanity. We are all sinners but God forgives us all whenever we sin and repent of our wrong doings.
Secondly, we need to trace the source of their authority. Today’s scripture readings make allusion to this principle because at the end of the day, the origin of one’s authority will determine the truth of what we teach. For the religious leaders, their authority comes from the institution. Hence, we can see why the religious authorities were anxious and nervous that the apostles could cause disturbance and provoke the Roman authorities to step in and take control of the country. The danger is that those whose authority relies only on the institution can lack moral authority. They are simply carrying out the laws without understanding the spirit of the laws. This explains why many are skeptical about institutions, including religious institutions because those in authority teach without credibility and authenticity. They use their powers to suppress and control dissent for their own benefit instead of using their powers for service to justice.
In contrast, the apostles spoke with authority even though the authorities could not figure out where they got their authority from! They not only spoke with conviction but they demonstrated it by their fearlessness of being cowered to suppress the truth. The moment they were released by the angel, they went forth to proclaim the Good News. They could go against the institution simply because they witnessed and had seen for themselves the Risen Lord. They recounted that “it was the God of our ancestors who raised up Jesus, but it was you who had him executed by hanging on a tree. By his own right hand God has now raised him up to be a leader and saviour, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins through him to Israel. We are witnesses to all this, we and the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” The real authority of anyone must come from a personal encounter with the Lord; not from hearsay or a second source.
This authority of course is manifested by their way of life; not just by their beliefs. Like the Lord, he “turns his eyes to the just and his ears to their appeal.” He is “close to the broken-hearted; those whose spirit is crushed he will save.” In other words, he must show the fruits of the Spirit in his life, namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal 5:22f) How do we know that someone is a man of God? He is a man of integrity, honesty, peace, forgiveness, love, compassion, understanding and tolerance. With the fruits of the Spirit, there is no ambiguity.
Thirdly, respect for legitimate authority includes abiding by the laws of the State. Yet there is a distinction here. Between religion and the State, there is mutual autonomy but yet not in opposition. The laws of the country must be observed for the common good. Secular laws that promote justice, truth, and order must be complied. Only unjust laws cannot be imposed on the people. The role of the State is to promote economic growth, social order and justice. Religions cannot interfere unless the laws are unreasonable. On the order hand, the State cannot interfere in the beliefs of religions unless their doctrines cause disharmony and disorder in the country. How and what each religion believes and how they practice their faith is not the concern of the State. Freedom of worship and religion is the basic right of every person but this is not absolute if one’s practice of the faith results in causing social disorder contrary to the promotion of peace, love, unity and mutual respect.
In the final analysis, there is no real dichotomy between the State and religions because both seek the common good of all. Religions enable humanity to go beyond themselves and offer them peace, love and joy and meaning in life. The State seeks to provide human justice and the physical needs of its citizens, ensuring justice, law and order. The State seeks justice on the natural order whilst religions, over and above the natural laws, speak of the supernatural laws. The ultimate question we need to ask is whether our life is richer, fuller, happier and more liberated. Accepting Jesus for us is to go beyond what this life on earth can offer. St John said, “God gives him the Spirit without reserve. The Father loves the Son and has entrusted everything to him. Anyone who believes in the Son has eternal life, but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life: the anger of God stays on him.” By accepting Jesus, we find the fullness of life.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
To be brought before authorities and face charges is indeed a most frightening experience. Those who have gone to court to face charges or simply to witness their loved ones being tried will tell us of their harrowing experience. Indeed, just waiting for the trial or the judgment after the trial will cause anyone to lose sleepless nights. Anxiety and fear of the punishment awaiting an accused will debilitate the person long before the actual trial begins. And yet today, we see the apostles standing before the Sanhedrin without fear for their lives. Instead of compromising and humbly accepting the high priest’s warning, Peter and the apostles defiantly said, “Obedience to God comes before obedience to men.” In fact, they even incurred the wrath of the officials further by accusing them of killing Jesus who had now been raised as leader and Saviour.
My first question upon reflection of the first reading was: What was it that gave them such courage to witness to the crucified Jesus? The answer of course is their encounter with the Resurrected Lord. But this is not the complete answer. What is even more important is their theological reflection on the resurrection of a crucified man. Their conclusion of the resurrection of Jesus is that He is indeed the Saviour. How is that so? Because if Jesus had been raised from the dead, it means that the Father has identified Himself with the cause and the life of Jesus. Consequently, John’s reflection, which has probably been cast as the words of John the Baptist, concluded that Jesus must have come from above and therefore could understand God and speak God’s words, since He knew God intimately.
But most of all, the implication is that since the Father had identified Himself with Jesus in His resurrection, it means that He has entrusted everything to the Son. Everything that Jesus said and did, receive its legitimacy and verity only because of the resurrection. If the Father has raised Jesus from the dead, one who was condemned as a criminal and shamefully put to death on the cross, it means that the Father endorses the words and deeds of Jesus. Hence, John said, “The Father loves the Son and has entrusted everything to him. Anyone who believes in the Son has eternal life, but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life: the anger of God stays on him.”
In other words, the Father who gave Jesus His Spirit without reserve demands that we believe in Jesus. Since the functions of the Spirit are to witness to the Truth and lead people to recognize the truth, necessarily, to know God, one must accept the witness of Jesus. Acceptance of Jesus brings about life. This, then, is the choice given to us today. Life can only be found if we accept Jesus because in Jesus we can be certain of who God is and what life is. It is this realization that Jesus is the leader and Saviour that gave Peter and the apostles the courage to willingly risk their lives for their testimony of Jesus.
But what about us? Do we have the courage to stand up for Jesus or for our faith? The truth is that many of us lack the moral courage to do so. It is a fact that many of us do not mind living a good life by being kind, charitable and loving towards others, serving the poor and the Church. But it is another thing to demand from Catholics that they speak out for justice and for morality in the world. Many of us are afraid of being marginalized or considered old-fashioned by the world. In moral issues, many of us prefer to remain silent rather than to speak and act on behalf of the truth. When it comes to standing up for Jesus, especially for the Christian Faith, many of us, in the name of religious harmony and sensitivity, are quite ready to compromise our beliefs, suggesting to non-Christians that all religions are the same and that it is a matter of personal choice and preference and not so much based on the divine truth that has been revealed to us in Christ. Perhaps we need not even consider witnessing to Jesus’ resurrection when quite a good number of our Catholics would so easily give up their faith simply because they had a tiff with their parish priest or their ministry leader! So how can we speak about dying for our belief in the resurrection of Jesus? How, then, can we have the same faith that enabled the apostles to die for Jesus?
Firstly, we suffer from certain disadvantages. We have never encountered the historical Jesus in person. Consequently, we have nothing much to reflect about Him. At least if we have encountered the historical Jesus, we might have been able to see the presence of God in Him, just as many people today could recognize the presence of God in the late Blessed Mother Teresa. Of course, we must be fair in saying this because it does not mean that we are completely unaware of this historical Jesus. We still can come to know Him through study, reflection and most of all, contemplation. For this reason, the mystical tradition of the Church encourages us to contemplate on the humanity of Jesus. All great spiritual writers tell us that this is the path to come to know the resurrected Christ. St Ignatius, St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila all followed the same path. Our faith in Christ is not reducible to a cosmic Christ.
Secondly, while a physical encounter with Jesus can lead to a personal encounter, it does not mean that we are deprived of a personal encounter with Jesus even if we have not seen Him physically. In fact, even though many have had a personal encounter with Jesus, not all believe in Him as the Lord. So whilst it might be good to know Jesus as a historical person, it is no guarantee that we will have a deeper faith in Him. But even here, the Easter encounter of the apostles is radically different from ours. They had a special encounter with the Risen Christ which cannot be repeated. At most, our encounter with Jesus is a personal one, non-corporeal but nevertheless deeply personal. This can come through contemplation or through those who manifest to us His love. It would be worthwhile also to visit the Holy Land as it can help us to bring the gospel to life and enable us to know how Jesus lived during His time.
Even with these apparent two disadvantages, we actually have a certain advantage over the apostles. For the apostles, they were required to make an act of faith before they could see the risen Lord. For us, it is easier to make this act of faith because we have the courageous testimonies of the apostles. The apostles surrendered themselves completely to the risen Lord, placing their entire trust in Him. They were not disappointed. Like the psalmist, they have confidence that God will hear the cry of the just man. By surrendering ourselves in faith, we can be certain that we too will come to experience what they experienced. In this sense, the apostolic faith paves the way for our own personal faith and the faith of the Church. Because we know that they are reliable witnesses, we dare to take the calculated risk of giving ourselves to Jesus. But that is not all. By giving ourselves to Jesus and His message, we can verify in our own lives whether the teachings and the message of Jesus is true or not. In living out His message, the truth of the words of Jesus will verify itself. By following the life and teachings of Jesus, we too will experience true liberation and joy in our lives, which are characteristics of the risen life in the Spirit. Only with such a real experience of the effects of the Spirit in our lives, can we then testify confidently both to the resurrection of Jesus and that He is truly our Saviour because we experience Him and His saving works in our lives.
This Spirit is of course given only to those who obey Him as the apostles declared. They said, “we are witnesses to all this, we and the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” If we want to receive the same Holy Spirit that brought them into a deep intimacy with the Risen Lord and revealed to them the truth about Him, then we too must surrender in obedience to the Lord. Obedience is the expression of one’s total docility to the grace and power of God in one’s life. So long as we do not place obstacles, God will also give us the same Spirit as He gave to His Son without reserve. Through the same Spirit, we will bear witness to Christ with boldness, courage and conviction, disregarding our fears and safety but willing to risk our lives for Christ and the gospel.
The last six verses in John chapter 3 speak directly about Jesus Christ. They teach us many wonderful truths about who He is and most importantly that salvation from sin and from the fires of hell is found by faith in His name. The Bible says in the Gospel of John chapter 3 verse 31, “He that cometh from above is above all; he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth; he that cometh from heaven is above all.”
Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is the Alpha and the Omega. Your physical life began when Jesus gave you life, and at your physical death Jesus will be there to either welcome you into His arms or to say, “depart from me, I never knew you.” And your spiritual life begins when you put your faith in Jesus Christ. He is the alpha and the omega. “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Before the world began, there was Jesus Christ. Jesus is from above. This also means that His teachings are above all. They are the highest moral standards, and the greatest revelation of the eternal truth of God that we will be given in this life. This simple statement declares the Lordship and authority that Jesus Christ has over His creation, and mankind is a part of that creation. There is a contrast being made here in verse 31 between that which is from above and that which is from the earth. God sits on His throne as Lord of all the universe. He is the final authority. This is one reason God created the physical universe the way that He did. So far, from what we do understand of the universe, it is vast: filled with thousands and thousands of stars and galaxies, which span millions and trillions of miles apart.
To look into this physical heaven and see its beautiful and mathematically precise wonders, we must gaze upward toward that which is above. This physical truth about the universe illustrates to us just how far God is above us. Man has many abilities, which God has given him. And in the apparent achievements of this age man has used the intelligence, which God has given him to build rockets and launch himself into space and even to the moon. But man will never reach the end of the universe, because there is no end.
The universe is an eternal expanse that can only be crossed by God Himself. Spiritually speaking, for man to see God, he must look up to heaven; and to look up to God, man must look down on himself and see the truth that he is sinner. Next time the invisible hand of God gently guides the sun to hide behind the night’s horizon, gaze up into the sky and behold the wondrous glory of God. He that cometh from above is above all.
You could spend the rest of your life gazing into that black abyss of space, but you will never of your own will or intelligence be capable of crossing the universe and reaching God. As far away as the edge of the universe is from this earth, so too is your soul from God, unless the Spirit of God touches your life and shows you the path to Calvary. It is only faith in Jesus Christ that will bridge the distance between the earth and heaven and between your soul and God. It is faith in Jesus that will nail you to the cross along with Him and give you life anew.
Jesus said, “Whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” When God reaches across the vast expanse of space and time and touches the soul of a sinner, He not only saves that soul from his sins, but he comes to dwell inside of that person. There can be no closer relationship of any kind than to have God dwell inside of you. When you place your faith in Jesus Christ, instead of existing in a realm where the endless universes measures the distance between you and God, you will discover that you now live in a realm where the universe is your place of intimate fellowship with God every step you take throughout life.
The Bible says every knee shall bow to Jesus and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus is above all and, therefore, He is Lord of all. As Lord of all; your will, your mind, your heart, your desires belong to Him. In the absolute authority that Jesus has, He has given you the freedom to submit to Him or to rebel. But before you choose your path, make sure you are aware of where both paths lead. Repenting of your sins and giving your heart to God means eternal bliss and intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ in the eternal kingdom of God. But if you do not trust in Jesus Christ as your savior, then you will spent eternity burning in the fires of hell. And as the flames rise about you, you will spend your eternal agony confessing that Jesus is Lord of all. It’s your choice. You can choose to spend eternity confessing that Jesus is Lord of all in either eternal agony or eternal bliss. It all depends on whether or not you repent of your sins to Jesus Christ.
There is one other important truth that we are being taught here in verse 31. Just as Jesus spoke those words which the Father gave Him, so too will those who are led by the Spirit of God. Beware! There are many false teachers out there. Do not blindly listen to and accept the teachings of others, thereby many have been deceived and led astray. He that is earthly speaketh of earthly things. Jesus also taught that he that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory, but he that speaketh of God the same is true. Those that are sent by the Father and preach the truth will speak as of the oracles of God, they will speak the word and ideas of God and not their own ideas. The words of God offer freedom but the words and ideas of man will always be legalist and bind you with heavy burdens.
The Bible says in John chapter 3 verses 32 and 33, “And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.” What is the testimony of Jesus Christ? To be familiar with the testimony of Jesus Christ, you must study the life of Jesus. There is not a man who has left a greater mark in the history of humanity. Jesus said, “seek and ye shall find,” but make sure you seek in the right place. There is plenty of historical and archeological evidence to verify the life of Jesus Christ, but the ultimate and most complete source to the life of Christ is the Word of God. The Bible is the most accurate history book ever written. This should not be surprising because the Bible is written by God.
He is the Almighty Who writes the pages of history according to His will. Therefore, if you want to know the testimony of Jesus Christ, you must look to the Word of God. Jesus said in John chapter 10 verse 30, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus also said in John chapter 14 and verse 6, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” The Life of Jesus Christ in word and deed is the only example of a perfect testimony to God. Every word and deed was always done according to the will of God and led by the Spirit of God, and with complete love in heart, mind, strength, and will. How many moments of each day can you claim to have done this? Not very many.
Of all the many wonderful teachings of Christ, and of the many great and marvelous miracles that Jesus did while on the earth, the primary and most important part of His testimony to be familiar with is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The Bible says in Romans chapter 1 verses 3-4, “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh: And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” The book of Romans is considered to be the great doctrinal book on salvation. Here in the first chapter when speaking about Jesus, Paul mentions the resurrection of Jesus.
Of all of the wonderful works, miracles and acts of the power of God, the resurrection is mentioned as proof to who Jesus is. Over in the land of Palestine in the city of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified there is a tomb that to this day remains empty because Jesus is the Son of God and He rose from the grave. If you do not believe then go there yourself and you will find that that tomb is indeed empty. Jesus came into this world to die for the sins of the world that we might all have the opportunity to enter into a relationship with God by grace through faith. It’s time to ask yourself the question what do you believe?
Paul said in I Corinthians chapter 15 and verse 20, ”Now Christ is risen from the dead.” Of all the evidence that verifies the truth about Jesus Christ, the greatest evidence is His resurrection from the grave. The Bible says, in the Book of Hebrews, that without faith it is impossible to please God. Therefore, lack of faith displeases God. Most humans in the world do not have faith in God. There is nothing more foolish that a person could possible do than to not have faith in the great and infinite God. There are also many in the world who say they would have faith in God if only they were given some visible physical proof.
If you were to journey across this land or any other country, you will find that there are thousands of graveyards that stand as testimony to the power of death. The slow and steady hand of time will call all to the grave: young or old, rich or poor, powerful or weak. History will testify to this. There have been countless discoveries by archeologists of famous historical figures: King Tut for example.
If you go to the grave of Elvis or to one of the Presidents of the United States, you will find they are still there, rotting and decaying. After all, man is nothing but dust. But, if you go to the grave of Jesus Christ, you will find nothing but an empty tomb. That’s the power of God. Jesus said, in Mathew chapter 12 verses 39-40, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; but there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The greatest sign ever given to the world is the resurrection of Jesus. If you do not believe in the words of Jesus Christ and in His death, burial, and resurrection, then you will never believe.
What is the testimony of Jesus Christ? It is just as Paul said in Romans 1:4. The testimony of Jesus Christ is His death, burial, and most importantly His resurrection. What is a testimony? The dictionary defines the word testimony as a public profession of one’s religious experience. But it is also the words and the deeds that a person does in his lifetime. How effective your light will shine in this world will depend upon how consistently you follow the teachings of Christ. Verse 33 says, “He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.” When you accept Jesus as your Savior, the testimony of Jesus becomes your testimony. Just as Jesus gave His life while He was on this earth, so will a true believer make it his number one goal in life each day to follow God. And then, when the dark hand of death seeks to chain thy soul to the grave, you will be able to say triumphantly, just as Paul did in I Corinthians chapter 15 verses 55-57, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be unto God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The only testimony that a true believer has is the testimony of Jesus Christ. It is a testimony of how bad I am and how good God has been to me in spite of my own sinfulness. The emphasis is always on the work of Jesus Christ and not my work. No matter how consistent I may seem to be in living a righteous life, the only accurate and truthful statement I could ever say of myself is that my righteousness is as filthy rags. Do you think of yourself as consistent in keeping the commandments of God? One of the great challenges of the Christian life is to learn to rely upon God day by day to help you understand how great your sins are and to have faith in God and His word so that He can change you. It is a lifelong challenge. Do not strive to be perfect because you will never be perfect in this life, but seek to always improve.
For those of us who have been washed in the blood of the lamb, then we have the righteousness of Jesus Christ given to us as a free gift. Some believers make the mistake of emphasizing their ability to keep the law of God. You should always try your best to do what is right, but you will never be very consistent at it, because you’re just a sinner. Don’t emphasize your works; emphasize the work of Jesus Christ. If you do otherwise, you will become legalistic in your teachings and in your life. It’s all about understanding and appreciating the forgiveness that Christ has given you. Those who do not understand God’s forgiveness will be legalistic and entangled in the yoke of bondage. They will be quick to condemn others. And they themselves will always be plagued by the guilt of their own sins even though they may have confessed those sins to Christ. Instead of focusing on the work of Christ and the wonderful forgiveness that Jesus offers us which is revealed in such wonderful verses as Romans 8:1 which says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Those who do not understand the forgiveness of God will seek some other way to find that forgiveness and justification, most often through their own works.
The Bible says in John chapter 3 verse 34, “For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” One of the most important principles in the Christian life is the concept of being led by the Spirit of God. Being led by the Spirit of God is simply doing and saying the things that God wills you to do and say in each situation that you find yourself in. The mind of God and the mind of man are most often completely opposite in the way that both operate. The Bible says man’s ways are not of the Lord. The Bible says in Luke chapter 4 verse 18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor…” One thing is for sure: if any man is led by the Spirit of God, then there will be a right emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are several other obvious and key indicators of what actions and words are those that the Spirit of God would have us do and say. It is important to understand how the Spirit of God operates because if you are led by the Spirit then you in your actions and words will be functioning the very same way in which the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit functions in our lives.
The Bible says in John chapter 16 verse 8 about the Spirit of God, “And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:” One of the primary jobs of the Holy Spirit is to reprove the world of sin. If you are led by the Spirit of God, then you too will reprove the world of sin. This concept of reproving the world of sin is not an angry, aggressive and condemning approach to others, but most often by simply living a righteous and holy life. Our righteous deeds will shine as a light to convict the conscious of other sinners; and when we do rebuke others of sin, it is done out of love and meekness, not self-righteous pride and anger.
Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Comforter. Those who are led by the Spirit of God, when they come into contact with other human beings in the things they say and do will exhort and encourage others in their faith. Another word for exhort is to comfort. The end result is that people who have a heart that is open to God will be comforted by you in situations where God has given you the opportunity to exhort others. This is the result of being led by the Spirit of God.
Another important spiritual truth to remember is that we have all been given spiritual gifts. Learn what your spiritual gifts are and learn how to use them. If you do this, then you will have a good foundation in knowing how to look for opportunities to serve God, and also in knowing the when, where, what and how of what The Spirit of God would lead you to do in your service for Christ.
The Bible says in Romans chapter 8 verse 14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” In salvation it is the Holy Spirit which draws us to Christ. It is God that does all the work. Jesus died for our sins. It is God that did all the work in our salvation, and we merely accept the free gift. This concept that it is all of God and none of man is the same throughout the Christian life. The leading of the Spirit is the same throughout the Christian life just like in salvation. Man is weak, without strength, and ungodly. We need the comfort, the empowering, the wisdom, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, otherwise we cannot accomplish what we should for God. In other words just as in salvation, doing the work of God is all God and none of man. What is required of man is that he is submitted to the will of God and that his faith is in God. Ultimately it is the knowledge and wisdom of the Word of God that will build up your mind and make your heart sensitive to the Spirit of God. The Bible says here in verse 34, “For he whom God hath sent speaketh the Words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” Jesus Christ had the most powerful and effective ministry in the history of mankind. One of the reasons for this is simply because Jesus lived His life led and empowered by the Spirit of God. If you want your light to effectively shine in this dark and wicked world then learn what words God would have you say each day in each situation, and say them. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God, for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. This is also one reason many preachers are not effective in their preaching. Because they are not saying the words and the message that God would have them say, but rather they are saying their own ideas. It does not matter how much you think you know or understand about the Bible, what matters is that you do and say the will of God.
It’s not as hard as you think it is to be led by the Spirit of God. It does take experience and wisdom. And certainly those with a complete and fanatical determination to do the right thing no matter what the cost will do best at being consistently led by the Spirit of God. Although trying to live your life led by the Spirit of God takes more effort than to live otherwise. It makes life much easier and life will be completely satisfying. Really the secret to tapping into the vast power of the Spirit is simple. It’s just as Jesus said. Love the Lord thy God with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The Bible says in John chapter 3 verses 35 and 36, “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Here in the last two verses of John chapter 3 the basic and simple concept of salvation is repeated. This truth has been emphasized greatly in this chapter of the Bible. In fact the entire ministry of Jesus had this emphasis on the gospel as does the entire Word of God. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. “The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into His hand”: all things especially salvation. You cannot come to God except through Jesus Christ. In reality you have not ever come to Jesus unless at some moment in your life you have surrendered all. No one has surrendered and given all they are to God every moment of each day, but you must have at least one moment out of your entire lifetime. That is one necessary step in salvation, the surrendering of your will to God. It is the will of God that you repent of your sins, but it’s your choice. I Timothy 2:4 says about the will of God, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
With such a strong emphasis on how to be saved and with the concept of salvation being such a simple truth one would think that once a person accepted the free gift of Jesus that that person would then live the rest of their life in great confidence, assurance, and appreciation for the forgiveness and eternal bliss that is found in Christ. Yet this not the case. There is probably not a Christian in the world who has not had doubts about his salvation. But God is omniscient and this is the reason that He has given us so many verses in the Bible that Christians consider great verses on assurance of salvation and assurance of the forgiveness and love of God. Because God knows how weak we are in our faith sometimes, and He knows how little we truly understand.
One of the great passages on the assurance of salvation is found in John chapter 10 verses 27-29 which says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” Salvation is by grace through faith. It is the work of Jesus Christ, not my works. Those who are weak in the faith and new believers in Christ may struggle with assurance. And those who do not understand the difference between law and grace will certainly have struggles with their salvation because the law is all about your ability to keep the law and the purpose of the law is to show to you how miserably you have failed in keeping the law of God. If you focus on what you are capable of doing then you will doubt your salvation and you will even doubt God’s forgiveness. After all, to doubt your salvation is to doubt God’s forgiveness. Focus on Jesus Christ, not on yourself.
Jesus said in Matthew chapter 13 verses 31 and 32, “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches therof.” Life is a process of increasing in the knowledge of God. The knowledge of God has its foundations in being revealed through faith. Increasing faith and increasing in knowledge go hand in hand when it is God that is the source. Jesus is teaching us that the Christian life is like a tree. Trees take years and years to grow and become strong where their roots are ground deep in the earth and to where they can withstand the storms of life and also to where they are capable of producing greater amounts of oxygen to give life to the world around them. It’s the same for the Christian life. One you are saved you have not learned everything you need to learn about salvation. The reality is you have only just begun to learn about salvation. The forgiveness of God is like an ocean without a shore. You can sail those waters day and night but the forgiveness and the love of God is a sea that will never reach an end. It’s no wonder we’re all so unspiritual and unthankful. We don’t understand the great grace of God. After all we will spend eternity learning more about the wonderful grace of God. If you want to be dedicated to God, if you want to be thankful, if you want to feel the presence of God, walk close with God and have joy and peace that is unaffected by your outside surroundings then ask God to help you understand your salvation. When we understand the great grace of God and the forgiveness of God then we realize nothing else matters. That is why Paul said, for me to live is Christ and to die is gain. And it’s all revealed in the Word of God. Think about such wonderful verses as I John 1:9 which says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Or Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Or John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Think about the Word of God, read it, recite it over and over and over again in your mind each day of your life. If you do so then your eyes will be opened by the grace of God and you will see a wonderful world of bliss, peace, security, comfort, close and personal fellowship with God, a world that could never be grasped in your wildest dreams, but can only be grasped by faith.