“The Son can do nothing by himself” – meaning?

When Jesus said (in good old King James language) in John 5:30 that “I can of mine own self do nothing,” I always thought he was referring to his helplessness, or admitting he didn’t have the strength or ability to fulfill God’s will on his own.

That isn’t what Jesus was saying, though. In context he’s showing the Jews he wasn’t acting on his own. Everything he did was completely in tune with his Father, and that’s why they could trust him.

He gave several examples. He never sought to do his own will, for instance, only his Father’s will (verse 30). He only did what he saw his Father do (verse 19). His judgement was his Father’s judgement (verses 30), his powers were his Father’s powers (verse 21) and his Father never questioned his judgement, either (verse 22). The Jews could rest assured, then, that Jesus wasn’t acting by himself, or doing his own thing. He simply couldn’t, and wouldn’t, do that. “The Son can do nothing by himself,” verse 19, meaning he would never act on his own.

Jesus gave more examples, too. What he spoke were his Father’s words (John 12:49), what he did were his Father’s works (John 14:10), and what he taught was his Father’s doctrine (John 7:16). He never did anything of himself. It always had the Father’s full authority and backing. There was power and authority behind his words, then, when he said, in John 5:24, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

Jesus didn’t shy away from the fact that he had extraordinary powers. He could give eternal life “to whom he is pleased to give it.” verse 21, he’d been entrusted with “all judgement,” verse 22, he had “life in himself,” verse 26, and it’s his voice we hear if we wish to live for ever, verse 25.

These were incredible claims Jesus was making, which, understandably, the Jews were having trouble accepting. It sounded like he was saying he was God. But that’s not what Jesus was saying. He said “I can of myself do nothing.” In other words, he wasn’t setting himself up as God, or setting himself up as a great authority, or acting on his own. Absolutely not; everything he did came from the Father. It had his Father’s approval, the Father’s backing and the Father’s authority behind it. Jesus would never step outside his Father’s wishes.

Everything he did was his Father’s doing. That’s why they could trust him, and so can we.

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Expectations, the great killer of love

I was watching an advice program on TV on sex, and it was tragic seeing what happens with couples. A wife rations her husband’s quota of sex each week; a husband loses interest if his wife doesn’t initiate sex, they blame each other, and on and on it went.

As I watched, the problem became all too painfully obvious. Each husband and wife had entered their marriage with high expectations. One wife, for instance, expected her husband to provide her with a better life than she had as a child. A husband expected his wife to be sexy at all times. And when a partner didn’t come up to expectations, that’s when the relationship began to crumble, and as soon as that happened, the couple lost interest in sex together too.

I had trouble watching the program because I learnt some time ago that the quickest way to wreck a relationship is to enter into it with expectations. Or, put positively, that the best way to build a relationship is having no expectations. I learnt that from God, who proves his love for us by dying for us while we were yet sinners, Romans 5:8. In other words, he began his relationship with us with no expectations on his part. He loved us at our worst. And that’s why, eventually, we come to love him in return, 1 John 4:19.

If only parents realized that too, that the way to build a relationship with their children is to love them “as is.” But what happens instead? They expect their children to get top grades in school, expect them to excel in sports, expect them to keep their rooms perfect, expect them be on their best manners with adults, expect, expect, expect. The child is hit from every angle with the parents’ expectations.

No wonder kids give up, get sullen and want to leave home. They can never be good enough for their parents, and eventually they reach the point they wonder, “Why bother? What’s the point in trying? Even if I do well, I’ll be told I could have done better. I give up.”

It sounds like many marriages are going the same way, too. Husbands and wives are giving up on their relationship because they can never live up to their mates’ expectations. They could, therefore, do themselves a world of good if they tried loving each other like God loves them. It’s a revolutionary love, because it’s love with no expectations. But it’s love that creates love in return.

Joy inexpressible

Adam and Eve could have experienced joy inexpressible but the only route to such joy is faith. Joy comes through trust. So their faith was tested. Would they trust God, no matter what reason they were given for not trusting him?

Years later, Peter talked of the same thing, that joy comes through faith, 1 Peter 1:8-9. We are filled with “an inexpressible and glorious joy,” he writes, “for you are receiving the goal of your faith.” That’s where joy comes from. We trust, and because we trust, we’re receiving what we’re trusting God for, and when that happens it gives us joy beyond words.

So that’s why our faith is tested, just as Adam and Eve’s faith was tested. Do I believe without flinching, for instance, that I’m being “shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time,” verse 5? Do I trust that God will get me through this life to the glorious life beyond? Because “In this you greatly rejoice,” verse 6. I experience joy when I have that kind of faith, when I know with absolute certainty that my life is safe in God’s hands all the way to eternity, no matter what’s happening in my life at the moment.

Joy comes from such certainty. So we’re tested through “grief in all kinds of trials,” because testing proves our certainty. And on that point, a lady phoned me recently in deep distress. She was so weak she could hardly stand, but resting only filled her lungs up and she couldn’t breathe. She hated hospitals because of previous bad experiences, but she couldn’t look after herself. What should she do? So I asked her, “Do you believe you are safe in God’s hands, no matter what’s happening to you?” “Yes,” she said. “Then call an ambulance, go to the hospital and trust him,” I said. I imagine her reaction was, “Oh no, does it have to be that?” Yes it does because it proves her certainty that she’s “shielded by God’s power” even in a dreaded hospital! Is she certain? Because joy comes with certainty.

And here was the chance to experience what she was trusting God for – the “salvation of her soul,” verse 9. Joy comes from receiving the goal of our faith. And what is the goal of our faith? The certainty that our soul, our entire being, is safe in God’s hands in every circumstance in this life all the way to eternity. Where does such certainty come from? From being chucked into situations beyond our control and preference and trusting God – no matter what reason we’re given for not trusting him.

It only takes a whisper

I’ve often wondered why we try to save the lives of African babies, Haitian children, or even disease-ridden, poverty-stricken adults, when there’s little for them to live for. They live in dreadful countries, racked with poverty, AIDS, polluted water, crop failures, tribal warfare, religious fanatics and cruel, mad leaders. Many children will be forced to kill or be killed, and others face rape, genital mutilation, amputations and never-ending fear. It’s a tough thing to say, but aren’t these people better off dead? Better dead than a life of endless misery, surely?

What, then, stirs Christians to seek out these people, even those they know have no hope of a normal life, to help them? What possible purpose can there be in trying to save a life that has nothing but misery and suffering ahead? There’s the obvious response “while there’s life there’s hope,” yes, but it has to be more than hope driving Christians because for many of the people they’re trying to help there is no hope.

Love is the driving force, and while there’s still life in a person, giving him and showing him love is all that matters. It could only be a few moments of love for a dying baby, but to hold that child and try to seep into that child’s mind just a whisper of God’s love is enough. Why? Because that’s the first and greatest step toward their eternity; it’s knowing God loves them (1 John 4:19). No matter, therefore, how small or brief the touch of God’s love is, there is nothing more important in a human life than that.

But what about children and adults who are so damaged they’re impossible to reach? Why bother trying to work with a child who’s been so abused, so brainwashed and so mangled by his culture that he’s become reclusive, unresponsive or uncontrollable? Why try to show God’s love when a person can’t respond to it? What possible impact can God’s love have in a situation like that?

But to a Christian that doesn’t matter, because salvation begins at the same place for everyone. It always begins with God’s love. It is only because of God’s love for us that we love him. Who knows, therefore, how much of God’s love a person understands? Who knows how much God is helping them understand his love too, where to our eyes it looks like nothing is happening?

And how else does God show his love? For now it’s through his people, scattered throughout the Earth seeking out the dark places, because they know it only takes a whisper of his love to put a person on course for eternity.

Please close the door behind you

“Please close the door behind you.” What a final statement that is. The interview’s over. There’s no more to be said. You walk to the door, open it, walk through and close it behind you with a click, leaving behind whatever happened inside the room forever. But it’s the closing of the door that seals it. It’s like an impenetrable barrier to the past. There’s no going back.

And that’s exactly what Jesus’ death accomplished for us. It closed the door. Whatever happened in our lives before that moment was sealed behind that door of his death, never to be seen again. So when Paul said that Jesus “set me free from the law of sin and death,” Romans 8:2, he meant completely free. The door had closed on sin and death. Sin and death were on the other side of the door, left inside the room, and Paul could walk away from them never to see them again. Sin would still be a powerful influence in his life, yes, but never again could it kill him because Jesus had taken the death penalty of sin on himself.

That wasn’t all Jesus’ death closed the door on, either. Up to the time of closing the door, Paul “lived according to the sinful nature,” verse 5, meaning his mind was completely controlled by it. He had no choice in what he did, he simply did whatever his sinful mind wanted to do, the result being, he was “hostile to God,” verse 7, he didn’t want to obey God’s law, and he couldn’t please God, verse 8. But he could close the door on that too, because Jesus “condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit,” verses 3-4.

So that’s two things – the power of sin to kill him and the power of sin to control him – that Paul could close the door on. They could throw themselves at the door like rabid monsters in a horror movie, but the door would stay firm in its frame. From now on, verse 9, Paul would be under the complete and wonderful control of the Spirit, full of “life and peace,” verse 6, and never again would he be controlled by his sinful nature. Because once that door closed, that was it, Jesus’ death was an impenetrable barrier to the past.

I imagine Jesus saying to Paul, then, “You just leave those two monsters with me. Now go, and please close the door behind you.”

Is it wrong of God to let Christians die young?

A friend of the family is dying of cancer in her fifties – but she’s a Christian, so why would God let her die so young? Doesn’t he promise to heal those who trust in him?

Yes, he does, James 5:12 – “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” That’s a promise, based on a prayer of faith. Faith in what, though? Faith that God heals. But is God’s healing limited to just the physical? No. He wants to raise people up from the ravages of sin in all aspects of life, verses 15-16, because sin is the greatest killer of humans, and it’s that death God is saving us from, verse 20. Sin not only kills us forever, it kills us while we’re still alive too, so it’s healing of sin we’re after most, verse 16. At the root of all our problems lies sin in some form or other (either one’s own sin, verse 15, or someone else’s), and illness is a very effective way of showing it.

Illness also has a way of making sin real, especially a terminal illness, because nearing death can be a horrible experience at any age. It brings to mind the injuries and diseases we brought on ourselves, the stress and worries we allowed to prematurely age us, the hurt we caused ourselves and others by our selfishness, the love we could have given but didn’t, the idiotic things we said to people that crippled their confidence – and it all floats back in miserable detail.

But God promises to heal us of all that junk in our past and make us well. He lifts us up, frees our minds and gives us peace beyond all understanding, Philippians 4:7. I saw it happen to another Christian lady I knew, also in her fifties, who was reduced to utter helplessness by Parkinson’s disease. You’d think she’d be devastated dying so young, but she was at peace. It was remarkable.

She showed me that the greatest healing of all is to be at peace with God, knowing we’re saved from the death of our sin and our eternity is secure. And if that healing includes physical healing, which James seems to imply as well (so does the Greek), great, but extending one’s physical life isn’t the ultimate goal for a human being, because we all have to die. So, is it wrong of God to let Christians die young? Not when it’s eternity he’s preparing us for, and he’s not only healed us already of the one thing that stands in eternity’s way – our sin – he’s also healing us of sin’s effects on us every day too.

“I don’t like your God”

A man I’d never met phoned and told me, “For the next hour you are going to listen to me as I show you why I don’t like your God, and why I do not believe in the God of the Bible.”

Because, he said, look at the horrible things God has done – the Flood, for instance, and wiping out Jericho, ordering the genocide of Amalekite women and children, and helping the Israelites kill thousands of people. And what about the horrors in the book of Revelation, and Jesus threatening people with eternal hellfire? And on and on the list went.

So I asked him (after his hour was up), “What shall we say then? Is God unjust?” Romans 9:14. Is God wrong in all this stuff he’s done? “Not at all,” Paul replies, because “what if God did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory,” verse 23?

The man on the phone saw God as horrible but what Paul saw was God making his “glory known.” How? Through his mercy, because if it wasn’t for God’s mercy we’d ALL be destined for destruction, verse 22. If God had left everything up to us, we’d all be dead and gone forever – BUT, fortunately, the glory God prepared us for from the start (verse 23) does “not depend on MAN’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy,” verse 16.

Our efforts only made us “objects of God’s wrath,” verse 22, and deservedly so after rejecting God for a serpent and spitting on our birthright. God had every right, therefore, to reject us in return, but “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction?” Oh yes, God had every right to “show his wrath and make his power known” – and he has shown it too (as the man on the phone pointed out) – but NEVER to our total destruction. We deserve total destruction but God has made us “objects of his mercy” instead, verse 23, because in the end it will help us see his glory.

It’s only by God’s mercy and unending patience that we’re alive at all. And fortunately, in the meanwhile, he’s only given us a taste of the wrath we deserve. Yes, it’s involved (and will involve) some horrible things happening to people, but it’s nothing compared to the total destruction God could have unleashed on us. And when we’re all finally IN the glory God “prepared in advance” for us, what are we going to complain about then?!