The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Passing by with Purpose and Perspective

“Now as Jesus passed by, He saw. . .” – John 9:1


We live in a very busy world. Our lives are filled with tons of stuff and nonstop activities. We’re like high strung Chihuahuas or flitting about mosquitoes. We’re spread a mile wide and have become inch deep shallow people. We’re running so fast that we’ve missed many of God’s sovereign stops. And as we’ve passed by those stops, we’ve missed out on opportunities to minister and the blessings that accompany them.

If anyone ever had a justifiable reason for being too busy to stop and minister it was Jesus.  And yet, when we look at the gospel accounts, we see Jesus was never too busy to stop and meet a need. Jesus literally had the weight of the world on His shoulders. But Jesus always had an eye to see a need. And He made time to meet the need.

The Gospel of John chapter 9 begins with the words, “Now as Jesus passed by, . . .” (John 9:1a). The previous chapter ends with Jesus declaring Himself to be “I Am” in the Temple precincts of God. This was a clear association with the most holy name of God. Therefore it was a clear declaration that He was and is God (John 8:58). His religious listeners, knowing exactly what Jesus was affirming, “took up stones to throw at Him” (John 8:59a). Jesus then, because His mission focus was the cross and not to be stoned, left the dangerous crowd departing from the temple. He didn’t make a scene. He didn’t call down angels to defend Him. He simply departed from there, “going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” This is the context for the transition from John chapter 8 to John chapter 9.

Now notice, it was “as Jesus passed by,” that what follows happens. It was “as Jesus passed by” that “He saw a man born blind from birth” (John 9:1b). There is a valuable truth principle to be gleaned here. Jesus didn’t let attacks, disruptions, difficulties, not even the threat of death (i.e. stoning) deter Him from His mission purpose. Jesus didn’t allow His attention to be diverted by self-preservation or self-pity related to His detractors and attackers. Jesus pressed on, even when physically threatened. Jesus just kept literally “passing by” (Greek paragon: Present/Active/Participle) on the journey of His mission no matter what.

Can you say that? Are you easily distracted from God’s mission for you, His purpose for you, or His will for you? Have you even cared to determine what God’s mission, purpose and will is for you? If not, you’ve already been diverted off course. We need to be like Jesus and keep “passing by” through attacks, trials, tempting distractions, difficulties. We must follow His steps (1 Peter 2:21) and walk as he walked (1 John 2:6) in life.

The apostle Paul followed in Jesus steps and exhorted others to do the same. He was inspired to write: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you” (Philippians 3:13-15). Press on to Christ’s higher calling for you! No matter what!

What was Jesus method to fulfill His mission? Someone has said, “Methods are many, principles are few; methods always change, principles never do.” In principle Jesus came to redeem the world from sin. In principle Jesus took time to minister to people. Those principles never changed. His methods to fulfill those mission principles were many. He took time to feed people God’s word. He took time to feed people miraculously with meager morsels. He took time to walk on water. According to principle Jesus took time to minister. On a number of occasions His principle method was to provide signs testifying of who He was through healing.

Jesus, even though deeply involved in ministry, still “saw a man who was blind from birth.” This blind man caught Jesus’ eye. Jesus always had an eye for those in need. He always had time for those in need. Jesus is never too busy to see us in our time of need. Jesus has His eye on us. Jesus arrives at our point of need. Jesus has time for us.

This blind man wasn’t even looking for Jesus. But Jesus showed up to change His life. And like this blind man, Jesus shows up when we aren’t even looking for Him! That is grace! That’s getting what we don’t deserve. Jesus came to redeem us from our sin when we were still lost in our sins (Romans 5:8). Through Isaiah God states, “. . . I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by My name. I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts” (Isaiah 65:1b-2). Just as this blind man didn’t have the capacity to see Jesus coming, apart from God’s prevenient grace (i.e. the grace that goes before to draw us; to make us aware of our sin problem and God’s salvation solution in Christ), we are blind to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But Jesus has His eye on us and comes to help us. If it weren’t for Jesus taking the time to minister to us, we’d all be lost.

Jesus took time for us. We need to steady our pace. We need to stop lagging behind in our earth-locked perspective. But we also need to stop lunging ahead with a stiff necked self-serving focus. We need to be circumspect and alert to God’s divine appointments. When trials, difficulties, hardships arise they are not mere obstacles, they are opportunities. One commentator observes, “Misery always opens the door for ministry.”[1] Jesus was on a mission, but that mission included ministering to those in misery.

“Misery” is a state of suffering or distress of one form or the other. If we see someone around us in some kind of misery we need to see that as a potential divine appointment God has scheduled for us. God is the One who is putting us in that situation and bringing the misery to our attention. It is an opportunity for God to use us. It is an opportunity for us to be His ambassadors of grace, comfort, hope, and salvation.

If we are the ones personally experiencing the misery then we need to understand we are being given an opportunity to learn the “fellowship of His suffering”; the fellowship of Jesus’ suffering (Phil. 3:10). It is an opportunity for us to experience the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Cor. 12:8-10). It is an opportunity for our faith to be tested so that it can be trusted. A faith untested cannot be trusted. A faith tested true, is a great weapon in God’s arsenal for reaching the lost and bringing glory to Him. The testimony of one whose faith has been tested true is an unstoppable weapon in the spiritual battle. The enemy has nothing to resist a faith tested true.

We are so unlike Jesus. Jesus sees misery and seeks to minister. We see misery and if we don’t callously turn away, we frequently compound the pain of the afflicted by pointing an accusing finger at them. The disciples had that kind of mindset. “And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). The disciples saw a man blind from birth and associated it with either the man’s or his parent’s sin. By asking if the man’s birth defect of blindness was due to his own sin they were expressing the possibility of attributing his deformity to personal sin. Some in that day believed that it was possible for a child to sin in the womb! By attributing this man’s blindness to his parent’s sin they were further expressing the possible cause for the blindness as willful sin. Either way, the disciples associated physical deformity with personal sin.

Jesus speaks of an alternative reason for this affliction. “ Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” (John 9:3a). Jesus throws the disciples a curve. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” If the cause of this man’s blindness was not personal sin, then what might it be? There are life trials such as disease and deformity that are due to personal. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, addictions, and various illnesses due to ingestion and consumption of unhealthy things are examples of the consequences of personal sin. If you smoke, the probability of getting lung cancer is far greater than for a non-smoker. If you drink alcohol or do drugs and drive the likelihood of you getting into an accident that results in bodily injury for yourself, your passengers or others is greatly increased. Some physical pain and suffering is due to our sinful willful decisions to disregard God and break His laws and scripture. The same can be said of many heartaches and psychological problems. Having said this, not all physical or psychiatric difficulties can be attributed to willful sinning.


Some physical and/or psychiatric (i.e. biological brain disease that affects thoughts and behaviors) pain and suffering are due to planetary sin. The Bible states that the creation itself was impacted by sin at the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden. “For the creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20a). When Adam and Eve sinned somehow the effects were not merely spiritual but they were also physical/material. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). All of creation’s DNA and composition was thrown out of whack by sin. “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:22). Those “groans and labors with birth pangs” consist of diseases and abnormalities God never intended to be a part of His creation. These abnormalities entered the world through sin. And these distortions of God’s creation sometimes effect innocent people.


The idea of planetary sin does not to remove human culpability. No one is righteous, not one; all fall short of Gods’ glory (Romans 3:10, 23). Whatever state we are in, we are products of God’s grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). We may think we are pretty bad even with God’s grace. But it is only by God’s grace that we are not far worse! By God’s grace He provides the way and means to survive (1 Corinthians 10:13). But we must take the escape route He sets before us.


There are people who have never smoked a day in their life and never ingested anything harmful to their bodies who contract cancers of various kinds. We live in a fallen state where planetary sin or the all encompassing effects of sin on creation are at work. Paul well describes this state of being when he is inspired to write, “For we who are in this tent [i.e. our physical bodies] groan, being burdened” (2 Cor. 5:4). He writes, “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven” (2 Cor. 5:2). In other words, though we live in a fallen physical body that wears out and develops pains, we can press on victoriously in the hope that one day, as God has promised, we will be given glorious heavenly eternal bodies. Heavenly bodies are bodies without the ill effects of sin. That’s why they are called “celestial” or “spiritual” glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:40-44).


When these fallen bodies begin to break down and betray us, we need to look to the Lord for sustaining power. Paul said it like this: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).  The weight of pain can tempt us to look down. But it is then, when the pain is most intense, that we must look up for the sustaining empowering heavenly perspective.


Our focus should not be on the pains of the physical body. Physical pain can be intense and distracting. But as bad as such pain can be it is only temporary. We need to look up for heavenly perspective. God has promised to provide a sufficient amount of grace to get through the pain (cf. 2 Cor. 12:8-10). God will also use painful situations to deepen us spiritually (cf. 1 Peter 4:1-2). Trials and suffering prove, temper and strengthen our faith (1 Peter 1:6-9). God can, does and will bring good even from suffering (cf. Romans 8:28). And when we suffer for His glory or suffer in a way that gives Him glory our suffering then is, “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”


As we live in our fallen bodies our attitude should be, “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8). We need to bolster ourselves with a heavenly perspective. “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). That perspective provided by God’s grace is to His glory. And that perspective will lead to tested true faith.


Jesus goes on to clarify the purpose of this particular man’s blindness. Sin, personal or planetary, was not the primary point God was planning to make through this man’s blindness. Jesus said, “but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3b). This blindness of this man had a purpose; “but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” The immediate purpose and work Jesus refers to here is that He would be healed to the glory of God. Jesus’ healing was a punctuation mark on who He was; Jesus was and eternally is, God. But for all who are born with or who suffer disease or illness due to planetary sin, it can also be said that a purpose can be fulfilled, “that the works of God should be revealed in him.Pain can serve a purpose.


There are some who say it is never God’s will for someone to suffer or be sick. But if that were the case no one would ever get sick or die once they accept Jesus as Savior. The Bible says life is a vapor (James 4:14). The Bible states very clearly that everyone will at some point die and then face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus died. The Apostles died. Everyone dies because death is the consequence of sin (Romans 6:23). What we can affirm though is that Christians don’t die as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). We have a living hope in Jesus that we will be resurrected from the dead! (1 Peter 1:3-5; 1 Cor. 15).


But what about sickness? Is it always God’s will to heal someone? God is always able to heal, but God does not always choose to heal. Sometimes His plans require people to suffer. For instance, we might look at this fallen dark world and wonder why God hasn’t simply intervened and put a stop to it all along with all the pain and suffering. But if He were to do that multiple millions would end up in a Christ-less eternity sentenced to eternal torment. Why does God allow the present fallen state to continue? “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is willing to suffer long with us if it means more people will have opportunity to be saved. And God does suffer with us when we suffer.

God grieves more than anyone about the present state of affairs. He is grieved because He knows things will get even worse before His appointed end. God knows allowing this world to continue the downward spiral it is on will mean people (even His beloved children) will have to suffer longer. But God counts this a necessary cost to provide extended time for people to hear and hopefully receive Jesus as Savior. Only God is in the Sovereign position to ordain this. And He does ordain it in mercy and according to His truth.


There are times when suffering is God’s will. Peter was inspired to write, “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). Sometimes pain and suffering are a part of God’s plans. We may not fully understand why that is. We most likely won’t like that pain and suffering are being allowed in a given circumstance. But what we do know is that God is good and gracious and His plans are for the best. In all circumstances, even in painful ones, we must commit our souls to Jesus. With Peter we must pray, “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10-11).


There is particular evidence that not everyone is healed. On one occasion Paul said, “but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick” (2 Timothy 4:20). It’s inconceivable that Paul would not have prayed for Trophimus’ healing. But having prayed Trophimus was not instantaneously cured. He had to be left behind while Paul went on. Sometimes when we pray people will remain sick. Sometimes it is God’s will not to heal.


Personally, Paul prayed three times for a “thorn in the flesh . . . a messenger of Satan to buffet me” to be removed. But instead of removing it the Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” And to that Paul’s response was, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:7-10). The words “weakness,” and “infirmities” in these verses are translated from the same Greek term astheneia which refers to physical weaknesses, physical sicknesses, and physical distresses. All of this, whatever situation we find ourselves in that involves pain and suffering, our objective should be to glorify God. In everything we need to trust Him. Trust Jesus in and through the pain and suffering. Let your faith be tested true.


Jesus went on to say, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4). Jesus points out that time is limited. Life is a vapor (James 4:14). Jesus would soon be going to the cross. Death is a certainty for all (Heb. 9:27). Sin brings the curse of death (Romans 6:23). But Jesus is the cure for that death (Romans 5:8). He died physically that we may live eternally. Life is a vapor, death is sure, sins the curse, Christ is the cure. Remember that. For once you die your eternal destiny is fixed; no one will be able to do anything to change it.

If we are going to follow in the steps of our Savior Jesus, then we must be alert to every opportunity to minister. That is especially true for times of misery. Every situation and circumstance of our personal lives is an opportunity to be used by the Lord for His mission purpose and glory. And every situation and circumstance we encounter with others is an opportunity to be used by the Lord for His mission purpose and glory. Whether in us or in others, we need to have the same mindset and determination Jesus had, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” Pass on by; persevere. But keep your heavenly perspective. Misery is an opportunity to minister. All to the glory of God.


[1] Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 514). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

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