I Am the Bread of Life

Topical Scripture: John 6:35

The Masters concludes today. The tournament is played on one of the most beautiful and historic golf courses in the world. However, the tournament was cancelled from 1943 to 1945 due to World War II. To assist the war effort, cattle and turkeys were raised on the grounds.

Here are some other surprising facts I discovered this week:

  • Vending machines kill more people than sharks.
  • Cockroaches can live for weeks without their heads until they die of hunger.
  • Humans share 50 percent of our DNA with bananas.
  • Under extreme pressure, diamonds can be made from peanut butter.

I was doubtful about each of these “facts” until I researched them and became convinced by what I read. Of course, the documentation I studied could have been wrong. Or I could have misinterpreted it. Or I could have communicated it incorrectly to you today.

One certainty in life is the reality of doubt.

The renowned historian Will Durant mailed questionnaires about the meaning of life to a number of famous people. After reading their answers, he published them in a chapter he titled, “An Anthology of Doubt” (On the Meaning of Life). Who hasn’t contributed to that topic?

This week we’ll begin a series on faith questions. We begin with questions about our faith itself. What do we do when we doubt our salvation or our relationship with the Lord? How can we help someone else with their doubts?

How to eat the “bread of life”

Our text is built on one of the most famous scenes in Scripture. Moses is a shepherd in the desert when he encounters a bush that is on fire but not being consumed. Here he meets the God of the universe and is told that he will lead the people of Israel out of Egyptian slavery.

Moses anticipates the Israelites asking Moses the name of this God he met in the desert. The Lord answers, “I AM WHO I AM.” Then he says, “Say this to the people of Israel: “I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14).

“I AM” translates the Hebrew YHWH, sometimes transliterated in English as “Yahweh.” It is God’s personal name for himself. The Hebrew can be translated “the One who was, is, and ever shall be” or “the ever-present God.”

Fast forward to the time of Jesus. This Galilean carpenter has fed the crowd of five thousand (John 6:1–14) and walked on the Sea of Galilee (vv. 16–21). When the crowds gather around him again, he makes this staggering statement: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

Note his first two words: “I am.” This rabbi is laying claim to the personal name of God himself. He is identifying himself as God. And he is using God’s name to explain his essence and ministry.

He does this seven times in John’s Gospel. He calls himself the “bread of life (John 6:35),” the “light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5), the “door of the sheep” (John 10:7, 9), the “good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14), the “resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and the “true vine” (John 15:1). We will study each of these in the following weeks.

Jesus’ first “I am” identifies him as the “bread of life,” literally “the bread that gives and sustains life” (Word Biblical Commentary). Clearly, he means spiritual rather than physical life, since he claims that “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” He explained further: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51).

How do we eat of this “bread”? Billy Graham explained: “This bread satisfies the inner longings and hungers of the human heart. Have you taken of that bread? You must repent of your sins, change your mind, turn your back on sin and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.”

When we do this, we will never hunger or thirst for salvation again. Once we have eaten this bread, we never need to eat it again.

Here we find the doctrine of “eternal security,” the theological assertion that those who become Christians cannot lose their salvation. We believe this, not because we can be trusted to hold onto Jesus, but because he holds onto us: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Nothing in life can separate us from our Savior: “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39). Scripture is clear: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Questions about the “bread of life”

Once we have experienced salvation, there is nothing we can do to lose it. But many of us have doubts about such certainty.

What if I don’t feel close to God?

Jesus didn’t tell us how it feels to eat the “bread of life.” Nowhere does the Bible say how it feels to become a Christian. That’s because our feelings are such unreliable indicators of reality. They can be affected by the weather outside or the latest headlines or the pizza we had for supper.

What if I’m not sure I trusted in Jesus?

If you chose to eat a piece of bread for breakfast today, you’d know it. You wouldn’t have to wonder, “Did I eat bread this morning?” It’s like getting married: I’ve met thousands of married couples over the years, but not one of them was unsure of their marital status. If you have ever asked Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and become your Lord, he answered your prayer and you ate the “bread of life.” If you’re not sure you have ever made this decision, the best advice is to be sure, today.

What about sins in my life?

Jesus didn’t promise, “Whoever comes to me shall not sin.” To the contrary, the Bible teaches, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). My sons became my sons when they were born as my sons. They may not want to be my sons, or act like my sons, but nothing they can do can change the fact that they are my sons.

Are there various ways to eat the “bread of life”?

To extend Jesus’ metaphor: there are many ways to eat bread. You can bake it, or fry it, or grill it. You can make it into a loaf, or a breadstick, or a muffin. So long as it contains the necessary ingredients to be bread, the way it is made and consumed is secondary.

So it is with trusting Christ as your Lord and Savior. Some people do this as a one-time response to a gospel sermon and invitation, such as at a Billy Graham event. Others do this through a confirmation process in their church. Some do it gradually, while others do it abruptly. The important thing is to know that you have eaten this “bread,” that you have asked Jesus to forgive your sins and become your Lord. If you have, you have eternal life.

Here’s the bottom line: once you’ve eaten a piece of bread, you cannot “uneat” it. You cannot go back and undo history. If you asked Jesus to become your Savior and Lord, he answered your prayer and gave you eternal life.

If you know you have made Christ your Lord but still face doubts about your salvation, try my favorite prayer in the Bible. After a father pleads with Jesus to heal his demon-possessed boy, Jesus says, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23). And the father exclaims, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24). You can pray that prayer today, and Jesus will hear you and help you.

Gratitude for the “bread of life”

If you have eaten of the “bread of life,” how should you respond today?

One: Share it with others.

My favorite definition of evangelism is “beggars telling beggars where they found bread.” We did nothing to earn or deserve what we have been given. But we can share with others what we have received.

Billy Graham: “A doctor in America said some time ago that more people die of loneliness and guilt and depression and insecurity and heart hunger than die of physical starvation. Bread in the Bible is the symbol of spiritual life. People all over the world are the same; they have an inborn hunger for something, and that something is Christ. People cannot be satisfied with anything less than Christ.”

When you share your faith with others, you are not imposing “your truth” on them. Rather, you are giving them what they need most, in this life and in eternity.

Two: Serve in gratitude for grace.

When I lead study tours to Israel, we usually visit an area known as the Upper Room. This is a Crusader-era building located in the vicinity of the home where Jesus took the Last Supper with his disciples.

One reason the Crusaders built their room here is that they found a very interesting sculpture in the area. It depicts a mother pelican with two baby pelicans, one on each side. The babies are eating the flesh of their mother. It was believed that in times of extreme drought and deprivation, a mother pelican would give her flesh and blood to her young. This became an early symbol of the Lord’s Supper.

What this sculpture depicts in metaphor, Jesus did in reality. He literally made his body our spiritual bread. How can we not serve him in gratitude for such grace?


Expect to face doubts about your salvation. The stronger your faith, the more likely you will be subjected to such attacks, intended by the enemy to paralyze and cripple your faith and prevent your service to God. The stronger your faith, the greater a threat you are to the enemy. Doubts sometimes come not because our faith is weak, but because it is strong.

No circumstances or events can guarantee our salvation. It takes as much faith to believe I am a Christian today as it did to become one four decades ago. I still haven’t seen God or proven my salvation in a test tube.

Either the Bible is true, or it is false. Either God keeps his word, or he does not. John 3:16 promises that whoever believes in Jesus “should not perish but have eternal life.” Present tense, right now.

You cannot lose your salvation, for you are already the immortal child of your Father in heaven. This is the assurance of God.

I Am the Door of the Sheep

Topical Scripture: John 10:7-10

Don’t look now, but an asteroid could be headed for Earth. I don’t know that one is. But I don’t know that one is not. And neither do astronomers, apparently.

An asteroid estimated to be at least 150 feet in diameter passed our planet last Sunday morning just hours after it was first observed by astronomers. It came closer to us than the moon. It could be as much as six times bigger than the meteorite that exploded over Russia in 2013. That rock sent thousands of fragments to earth, breaking windows and injuring about 1,500 people. If last Sunday’s asteroid had entered our atmosphere, it could have done that much damage, or more.

If the asteroid had in fact threatened our planet, would you have been grateful to NASA for finding a way to protect us? Or would you have demanded that the space agency devise numerous options for us to choose between? So long as one strategy worked for our entire planet, wouldn’t we be thankful for it?

Now let’s change metaphors.

Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a disease caused by tiny virus particles which attack the brain and spinal cord. Why is polio not feared as it once was? The answer is named Jonas Edward Salk. Dr. Salk, an American research scientist, announced in 1953 that he had developed a trial vaccine for polio. By 1955, his discovery was being used across the world.

In those exciting days, there were two questions no one thought to ask. First, aren’t all vaccines basically the same? They knew that all others had failed, and that Dr. Salk’s had succeeded. And second, why only one vaccine? For the simple reason that only one was needed.

No one asked these questions, because the answers were obvious. And across the world, millions of people made sure they were vaccinated, and those they cared about as well.

Unfortunately, there is another disease which still exists today and is far worse even than polio. This disease has infected every person who has ever lived and is always fatal. Fortunately, there is a vaccine which will work for every person on earth and it is free of charge.

The disease, of course, is sin, our broken relationship with God. The cure is salvation through Jesus Christ, his Son. And yet questions persist about this spiritual, eternal “vaccine”: aren’t all faiths the same? Why is there only one way to God? What does the issue say to you today?

What did Jesus claim?

Our text begins with Jesus’ proclamation: “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7). His “I am” calls us back to God’s personal name for himself (Exodus 3:14) and presents another clear claim to divinity on the part of his Son.

In this case, Jesus states that he is “the door of the sheep.” “The” points to his uniqueness as the only door of the sheep, a claim we will discuss in a moment. For now, let’s get his image clearly in our minds, then we can apply it to our culture and our souls.

In the field, sheep were collected into hillside sheep-folds, open spaces enclosed by three walls like a triangle but open on one end. When the sheep were inside, the shepherd would lie across the opening and serve as the “door” of the sheep.

In the same way, our Lord describes himself as “the” door of the sheep. The only door. He adds: “All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them” (v. 8).

The brilliant New Testament scholar D. A. Carson notes: “The world still seeks its humanistic, political saviors—its Hitlers, its Stalins, its Maos, its Pol Pots—and only too late does it learn that they blatantly confiscate personal property (they come ‘only to steal’), ruthlessly trample human life under food (they come ‘only . . . to kill’), and contemptuously savage all that is valuable (they come ‘only . . . to destroy’)” (The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John).

By contrast, Jesus asserts, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (v. 9). His promise is unconditional: anyone who trusts him as their Lord “will be saved” and will find divine provision.

Our Lord makes his claim once more: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (v. 10). “I came” points to Jesus’ missional purpose in entering our fallen world. “Abundantly” translates perisson, meaning “beyond the regular number, prodigious, extraordinary.”

To summarize: Jesus claims to be the only door the sheep can use to find eternal and abundant life. Everyone who comes through his door will find such life. But only those who make this pivotal decision for their souls.

Is Jesus the only way?

What is the logic behind Jesus’ claim to be the only door for the sheep, the only way to heaven?

A few chapters later, we find his emphatic words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Later he was even more emphatic: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

Peter would later proclaim, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul stated, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

The apostle John added, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12).

What makes Jesus so unique that he alone can be the way to heaven?

Scripture declares, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). With all due respect to other world leaders, none of them claimed to die for those they served. Not Buddha, or Muhammad, or Confucius.

The reason is simple: none of them was sinless. And only a sinless sacrifice could pay for our sins without needing to pay for his own.

Because Jesus owed no debt, he could pay our debt. He could be the perfect “Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 NIV) because he was sinlessly perfect (Hebrews 4:15).

Isn’t this claim intolerant?

Jesus’ claim to be the only door for the sheep, the only way to heaven, is politically incorrect today, to say the least. Three “isms” dominate our culture and reject everything we’ve learned so far.

The first is relativism, the idea that all truth is relative and subjective. We’re taught that language is only a convention of human power; words do not describe reality, but only our version of it. There can be no objective truth claims, only subjective experiences. It’s fine if Jesus is your way to God, but don’t insist that he must be mine.

The second word for our society is pluralism: different religions are roads up the same mountain. They’re all worshipping the same God, just by different names. It’s fine if Jesus is your road to God, but don’t make the rest of us travel it.

And pluralism typically leads to universalism, the idea that everyone is going to heaven, no matter what they believe. It doesn’t matter which God we believe in, so long as we’re sincere. We’re all on the road to God, whatever we might believe about him.

How can we respond?

First, we can address relativism with the fact that objective truth is an intellectual and practical necessity in life. To deny absolutes is to affirm them. If I say, “There is no such thing as absolute truth,” haven’t I made a claim to absolute truth? We don’t accept relativism with regard to the historicity of the Holocaust, or our doctor’s diagnosis, or the aircraft mechanic’s assurance that the plane is safe. Objective truth is an intellectual and practical necessity in life.

Next, let’s respond to pluralism with the fact that the world’s religions teach radically different truth. If one is right, the others are wrong. These cannot be different roads up the same mountain—they are different mountains.

Third, we can respond to universalism with the fact that Jesus is the only way to God we need or can trust. It doesn’t bother me that only one key in my pocket will start my car, so long as it works. And only Christianity works.

Our basic problem with God is called “sin.” We have all made mistakes and committed sins in our lives. These failures have separated us from a righteous and pure God. The only way to heaven which works is the way which deals with these sins. And only Christianity does. No other religion offers forgiveness for sins, grace for sinners, and the security of salvation. Only Jesus.


If your daughter were facing the threat of polio in 1955, would you accept a doctor’s relative assurances that she would be well? Would you try every possible vaccine, in the belief that they’re all the same? Would you complain if you were given only one proven option? Or would you gladly vaccinate your child?

What about your soul?

I Am the Good Shepherd

Topical Scripture: John 10:11-15

The 2018 NFL draft has dominated sports headlines this week. My favorite story involves a linebacker named Shaquem Griffin. He played at Central Florida, where he was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He ran for NFL scouts last month, posting the fastest forty-yard time by a linebacker since 2003.

He also has only one hand. His left hand was amputated when he was four years old due to a birth defect.

As inspiring as his story is, the bottom line is still the bottom line. Shaquem Griffin will succeed or fail in the NFL the same way every other player does: by his performance on the field. In football, and in much of life, you are what you do.

With Christianity, it’s exactly the opposite. Your status and identity are based not on what you do but on what Jesus has done. Let’s learn why that is true and what it means for our souls today.

Why did Jesus have to die for us?

This week we’re continuing Jesus’ “I am” statements, coming now to his fourth claim: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). Our Lord calls himself the “good” shepherd, distinguishing himself from a shepherd who cares little for his sheep. As he explained, “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (v. 12).

By contrast, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (vv. 14–15a). Then comes the proof: “and I lay down my life for the sheep” (v. 15b).

Scripture consistently repeats his assertion:

  • “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).
  • “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
  • “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13).
  • “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  • “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

So, we know that Jesus died for us to pay our debt and purchase our salvation. The question is, why did he have to do so? Why couldn’t God have forgiven our sins without calling his Son to die on the cross?

If I run into your car in the parking lot, I assume someone doesn’t have to die for my debt to be paid. Why did God require the death of his Son to pay ours?

The answer is that sin separates us from the holy God who is the only source of life (Isaiah 59:2; John 14:6). That’s why the Lord warned Adam that if he ate the forbidden fruit “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). That’s why “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). That’s why “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Sin leads to death. It stands to reason, therefore, that the only one who could pay the debt sinners owe is someone who has never sinned. If I have a thousand dollars in my bank account and owe that amount to creditors, I cannot use that money to pay your debt as well as mine. Since Jesus was the only sinless person who has ever lived (Hebrews 4:15), he alone could pay our debt.

As the chorus says, “He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.”

Why did he have to die by crucifixion?

So the logic of Good Friday makes sense. Now let’s consider a second question: Why did Jesus have to die by crucifixion?

The manner of Jesus’ death fulfilled the prophet’s prediction, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). It also matched David’s description, “They have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). But why did the Holy Spirit lead these writers to predict that Jesus would die in such a gruesome way?

The Jews executed by stoning (as with Stephen in Acts 7). Rome executed its citizens by beheading. Presumably, any form of death would pay the penalty for our sins. Why did Jesus have to suffer the most horrible, heinous form of execution ever invented?

I have two answers.

First: The cross shows how horrible sin really is.

If Jesus’ death had been painless and antiseptic, the sins for which he died could seem less catastrophic. As it is, every time we are tempted we can remember the thorns that lacerated our Savior’s scalp, the whip that scourged his back, the nails that pierced his wrists and feet, the spear that ruptured his heart. That’s what your sins and my sins did to Jesus. That’s what he chose to suffer for us.

No one watching Jesus writhe in horrible agony on the cross would have called the day of Jesus’ death, “Good Friday.” The Germans get closer to the historic reality: They call it “Karfreitag,” meaning “Sorrowful Friday.”

Second: The cross shows how great God’s love really is.

If Jesus had died in an antiseptic, painless way, we would still be grateful for his atoning sacrifice. But his death in the most horrific manner possible shows the depth of his sacrificial love as nothing else could.

Know that this love is shared not only by the Son, but also by his Father: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but eternal life” (John 3:16). As a father and grandfather, I cannot begin to imagine the pain our Father felt as he watched his Son be whipped, tortured, and crucified.

He did all of that for you. He would do it all over again, just for you.

Know that you are loved

You and I live in a culture that measures us by the Three P’s: performance, possessions, and popularity. We are taught from infancy that we are what we own, what we do, and what others think of what we own and do.

It’s easy to import this thinking into our theology, assuming that God loves us more if we are righteous and less if we are sinful, that there are things we can do to make him love us more or less.

The cross proves that it’s not so. If the Father could love you even though your sins nailed his Son to the cross, what else could you do to lose his love? If he could love you before you became his child through faith, what could you do now that you are his child to lose his love?

My sons will forever be my sons because they were born as my sons. They may not want to be my sons or act like my sons, but they will always be my sons by birth. In the same way, you and I are the children of God by the “second birth.” We will always be his sons. There is nothing we can do to lose a love we did nothing to gain.

At the end of the day, God loves us because he is love (1 John 4:8). He loves us because his character is to love us. Not because of anything we can do. Not because of anything we have done.

The next time you’re facing a tough place and wonder if God loves you, remember the cross. Remember that your “good shepherd” laid down his life for you. And be grateful.


What have we learned about God’s love today?

One: God’s love is inspiring.

The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We are to love God, not so he will love us but because he already does. We worship and pray and serve out of gratitude, not guilt. We love him because he loves us, at the cross and every day of our lives.

Two: God’s love is inclusive.

Scripture adds: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (v. 21). When we see the depth of God’s love for us, we are called to love others in the same way, to “pay it forward.” Jesus died for you; if you’re good enough for him, you’re good enough for me.

Three: God’s love is unchanging.

There is nothing we can do to lose or gain it. No matter what happens in your life, God still loves you.

Charles Spurgeon was out hiking one day and came across a windmill with the words “God Is Love” turning in the breeze. He asked the farmer, “Do you mean that God’s love is as shifting as the wind?” The farmer smiled and explained, “Not at all. I mean that no matter how the wind blows, God is still love.”

What winds are blowing in your soul today?

I Am the Light of the World

Topical Scripture: John 9:1-7

I was once part of a group touring Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. The park contains over 119 caves. One of its caves has been mapped to a depth of 1,600 feet. Seventeen species of bats live in the park; one count estimated 793,000 of them in the caverns.

At one point in our tour, the guide turned off the lights wired into the ceiling of the cave, then his flashlight. We were plunged into the most total darkness I have ever experienced. I literally could not see my hand in front of my face. No amount of adjustment to the dark made my eyes able to see. There was absolutely no light anywhere in the room.

Then the guide turned on his flashlight again. It was immediately and obviously visible to everyone in the cave. And it illuminated all that we could not see just a moment before.

I found my experience to be a metaphor for Jesus’ statement, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). Without his light, we are all in complete and total spiritual darkness. By his grace, all who turn to his light can see.

So, what does it mean for Jesus to be the “light of the world”? What about people who have never seen this light? What happens to them? If God would condemn them to hell for rejecting a light they’ve never seen, what does that say about God? Conversely, if they don’t have to see the light to be saved, why does God tell us to share it? Why does he send people to risk their lives as missionaries to shine a light that the world doesn’t need?

Finally, how do we share this light in a way that defeats the darkness? These are the questions we’ll discuss today as we learn how to share the only “light of the world” with those in our dark “cave,” wherever and however we can.

Opening blind eyes and souls

Last week, we began a survey of Jesus’ “I Am” statements, using them to address the perennial faith questions we all face. Today, we come to his second “I Am” claim: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

As our text opens, Jesus “saw a man blind from birth” (v. 1). This man’s infirmity meant that he could not be healed by first-century medicine. He needed not a physician, but a miracle.

Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v. 2). In the misguided theology of their day, every physical illness had a spiritual cause. If this man was born blind, clearly someone sinned. The options were binary—either him or his parents.

(It’s interesting that the disciples thought Jesus would know the answer to their question, an indication of their growing understanding of his divinity.)

Jesus exploded their wrong theology: “It is not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v. 3). Some suffering is the result of sin, but that was not the case here. Much of the world’s grief and pain is not the result of anyone’s sin or failure. Think of Job’s plight or Jesus’ crucifixion. To attribute all suffering to sin often increases the suffering of the innocent.

God did not cause this man’s blindness, but he used it: “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Our Lord redeems all he allows, something Jesus demonstrated powerfully in this man’s life.

Then Jesus brought us into the narrative: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (v. 4). “We must” points to the imperative of what Jesus calls us to do. “Night is coming” shows its urgency.

Our “work” is to share the true light our dark world so desperately needs: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (v. 5). Here Jesus repeats God’s holy personal name, “I Am.” “The” points to the fact that he is the only light of the world. All else is darkness.

The Bible says of Jesus:

  • “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).
  • “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:4–5).
  • “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life'” (John 8:12).

Now Jesus calls us to reflect his light to our dark world: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).

So, our text teaches that Jesus is the light our dark world needs. He is the light of salvation, wisdom, direction, and purpose. Our job is to reflect his light to others, so they may see our works and praise our Father in heaven.

What about those who have not seen the light?

Here’s the problem: two billion people, nearly a third of the planet’s population, have never heard the gospel. They’ve never been shown the light. They’ve never been given the opportunity to make Jesus their light. Billions more have some access to the gospel, but they live in places where it is hard or dangerous to become Christians.

What happens to them? Let’s survey the options.

One: God judges them according to the light they have.

Romans 1 states:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (vv. 18–20).

The text clearly teaches that all people are “without excuse” for rejecting God, since his “invisible attributes” can be perceived through his creation. However, this does not mean that they can be saved apart from the gospel, or there would be no need to share the gospel. We could trust that people will respond or not to the light they can see in the world, with no responsibility for giving them more light.

Two: God knows what they would do if they heard the gospel.

The Bible says that Jesus “knew what was in man” (John 2:25). God knows “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10). It is plausible, therefore, that he knows what a person would do if he or she had an opportunity to respond to the gospel and judges this person accordingly.

But if this is true, why do we need to give them the light? Why risk our lives to share the gospel with those who have not heard it?

Three: Everyone goes to heaven.

This is called “universalism,” and it comes in two forms. One claims that since “God is love” (1 John 4:8), everyone goes to heaven because he loves them.

The other claims that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for everyone’s sins, whether they know it or not. I don’t have to know about Jonas Salk to receive the polio vaccination he developed.

However, the Bible says of Jesus: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). Our Lord said of himself, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Clearly, a person has to trust in Jesus to be in heaven.

Four: All who have not heard are condemned.

This is the logical corollary to the third position. If people must trust in Jesus to be saved, and they do not hear the gospel, they must be lost. If I need to receive a vaccination to avoid contracting polio and no one tells me about this vaccination, I will get polio. The fault is not mine, but I will contract the disease nonetheless.

However, Scripture teaches that God is just: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14). He is also love (1 John 4:8). It seems a contradiction of his justice and his love to condemn people to hell for rejecting a light they have never been shown.

Five: The “elect” will see the light.

Some Christians believe that God chooses who will be in heaven (the “elect”) and who will be in hell. While this seems harsh, they note that no one deserves to be in heaven. Salvation is only by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). All who are in hell deserve to be there.

However, the Bible says that God “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Scripture states that our Father “desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). While some believe that these texts refer only to the “elect,” others (myself included) see them as applying to all of mankind.

John 3:16 is both famous and clear: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Six: God will get the gospel to everyone in the world.

Here we meet the concept of “supernatural evangelism,” the belief that the Holy Spirit is showing the light of Christ to the world, whether we participate in his ministry or not. Jesus revealed himself supernaturally to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Cornelius had a vision that led him to Peter and to the gospel (Acts 10).

Millions of Muslims around the world are seeing visions and having dreams of Jesus and the gospel. (For more, see my friend Tom Doyle’s magnificent book, Dreams and Visions or do an internet search on “Muslim visions of Jesus.”) Since God wants all people to be saved, his Spirit is bringing his light to those we cannot or will not reach.

Affirming this principle could cause us to be less committed to global missions, since God is reaching those we do not. But we can see our Lord as our missions partner. The fact that missionaries are reaching people overseas I cannot reach makes me no less responsible for the people I can reach at home. We can take the same approach with God’s global missions activity.


Whatever your approach to this question, here’s a fact we can all affirm: lost people need Jesus. Those in the dark need and deserve to see the light. And it’s our privilege and responsibility to share it with all we can, however we can.

If we could ask Paul what happens to those who don’t hear the gospel, here would be his answer: tell them. Don’t speculate about the question, but answer it practically. If we shared the light with those in the dark, the question would not exist.

You might respond, “But I cannot reach the entire world.” You’re right. But together, God’s people can fulfill God’s Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Consider this: If you were the only Christian on earth and you won me to Jesus today, there would be two of us. If tomorrow, each of us won someone to Jesus, there would be four of us. If the next day, each of us won someone to Jesus, there would be eight of us. Then sixteen, then thirty-two, then sixty-four, and so on.

How long would it take us to reach the entire planet? Thirty-three days.

By multiplication, in thirty-three days the number would be 8,589,934,592, exceeding the planet’s population by a billion people.

This is the method of multiplication Jesus intended when he spent three years with twelve men. He wanted them to reach others who would reach others, until they reached the entire world. And by Acts 17:6 they had “turned the world upside down.”

Now it’s our turn. Will you pray by name for a lost person you know? Will you ask Jesus to shine his light through your life?

Who will be in heaven because of you?

Why Did Jesus Rise from the Grave?

Topic Scripture: 28:1-10

Easter last fell on April Fools’ Day in 1956. We’ve waited sixty-two years to see the irony in their alignment.

On this day in 1996, Taco Bell announced it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. The company boasted, “Taco Bell’s heritage and imagery have revolved around the symbolism of the bell. Now we’ve got the crown jewel of bells.”

In 1998, Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper” designed for the 1.4 million left-handed customers that visit their restaurants every day. Scores of customers requested the fake sandwich.

Of all the surprises on April Fools’ Day, none could be greater than the event we will celebrate today: the resurrection of a Galilean carpenter from the grave. Here’s the question we’ll ask today: why Easter?

Why Easter?

This is my thirty-fourth year to preach an Easter sermon. In all those years, I’ve never thought to ask the question: Why did Jesus have to rise from the dead?

We understand why he had to die on the cross—to pay for our sins and purchase our salvation. But why was it important that he rise physically from the grave on the third day? Why couldn’t he go to Heaven like everyone else who has eternal life?

Jesus promised the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), but the thief didn’t have to rise physically to rise eternally. My mother went to Heaven ten years ago, but she didn’t have to rise from the grave physically to rise into God’s presence.

My first answer was: Jesus had to be resurrected because the Bible promised he would be. And that’s true: David predicted that God would not “let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10). The prophet said of the Suffering Servant, “when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days” (Isaiah 53:10).

Jesus promised repeatedly that he would be raised from the dead. For instance, he told his disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).

But why were these promises made? The Spirit didn’t have to inspire the Old Testament writers to make them or lead Jesus to affirm them. Why did his physical resurrection matter?

What’s unique about Easter?

Here’s the answer that came to me: everything Jesus did in his public ministry was something others had done before him. Nothing he did proved that he was God.

Jesus was a great teacher, but Moses gave us the Ten Commandments and the first five books of the Bible. Jesus controlled nature, calming stormy seas and walking on water, but Moses parted the Red Sea and Joshua’s people stepped into the flooded Jordan River as it stopped miraculously.

Jesus fed the five thousand, but Moses promised the people manna from heaven and Elijah provided for the widow with oil that was miraculously sustained during a drought (1 Kings 17:8–16). Jesus healed the sick, but Elisha healed the leprous Naaman (2 Kings 5). Jesus raised Lazarus and the widow’s son from the dead, but Elijah and Elisha raised the dead as well (1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4).

None of Jesus’ miracles by themselves proved that he was God. But his resurrection did.

When the women met the risen Christ on Easter Sunday, “they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:9). When Doubting Thomas met the risen Christ, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

What about Lazarus and others raised from the dead in Scripture? They all died again. They were resuscitated, not resurrected.

Jesus is the only person in history to die and then be resurrected, never to die again. His resurrection proves that he is God. If he had simply gone from the cross to heaven, we would not know that. We would not have proof that he is who he says he is: our Lord and King.

The problem of the empty tomb

You see, there’s no way around the empty tomb.

If the disciples stole the body, they then convinced five hundred eyewitnesses that a corpse was alive (1 Corinthians 15:6), somehow got it to make breakfast beside the Sea of Galilee (John 21:9–14) and appear through locked doors (John 20:19–20), then threw the corpse into heaven at the ascension (Acts 1:9). Then they died for a lie they kept so well that their secret never got out.

If the women stole the body, they faced the same problems.

If the authorities stole the body, they would have produced it. If the disciples went to the wrong tomb, the authorities and owner would have shown them the right tomb.

The “swoon theory” is my favorite: Jesus “swooned” on the cross but didn’t actually die. He then survived a spear thrust that pierced the pericardial sac around his heart and being wrapped in an air-tight mummified shroud for three days before shoving aside the stone, overpowering the Roman guards, appearing through locked doors, and doing the greatest high jump in history at the ascension.

His empty tomb shows that he was resurrected, and his resurrection shows that he is God.

Four Easter facts

Now, what does the fact of Jesus’ divinity mean for you today?

One: He is present in your pain.

David said to God, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). God promised his people, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2–3).

God is with us in our greatest pain. Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus is present in your pain. He suffered the worst torture known to man in his crucifixion. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He has been tempted in every way we are (Hebrews 4:15).

When you wonder if Jesus is with you in your sufferings, challenges, and temptations, remember Easter.

Two: He hears your every prayer.

Jesus promised, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). The psalmist testified, “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice” (Psalm 55:17).

God hears our prayers. Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus hears your every prayer. The next time you wonder if Jesus is listening to you, remember Easter.

Three: He is more powerful than your greatest problems.

The Bible says of God, “It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). God is omnipotent. Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus is more powerful than your greatest problems.

The next time you wonder if Jesus has the power to help you with your challenges and struggles, remember Easter.

Four: He loves you where you are, as you are.

The Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus loves you where you are, as you are.

The next time you wonder if Jesus will forgive your sins, if he loves you no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, remember Easter.


Can the risen Christ change any life? Can he heal any pain, hear anyone’s prayer, address anyone’s problem, and love any soul?

Alice Cooper is one of the most notorious “shock rockers” in America. Known for his heavy metal concerts, he was infamous for stage acts too horrific for me to describe. He was also known for his years of alcoholism and heavy drug use.

This week, Fox News carried a story that caught my eye: “Alice Cooper believes his faith saved him from alcoholism, temptations of rock star lifestyle.” It turns out Cooper is the son and grandson of ministers.

When he nearly died from drugs and alcohol, he says, “I grew up in the church, went as far away as I could from it—almost died—and then came back to the church.” He says that his faith saved his life and is the basis for his marriage of forty-one years.

He’s not the only surprising story of conversion in our day. David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” murderer and devil worshipper, is a sold-out Christian who ministers to his fellow prisoners every day.

Dr. Francis Collins is director of the National Institutes of Health and arguably the best-known scientist in America today. He was a staunch atheist before C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity helped lead him to faith in Jesus.

Lee Strobel graduated from Yale Law School and worked as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune for fourteen years. A staunch atheist, he was shocked when his wife became a Christian. Investigating her faith, he became a Christian. He has since published bestsellers The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, and The Case for the Real Jesus. His life story has been made into a movie; The Case for Miracles was just published.

Here’s my point: if Jesus could change Alice Cooper and David Berkowitz and Francis Collins and Lee Strobel, what can the risen Christ do in your life today?

Because of Easter, Thomas called Jesus “my Lord and my God.” Now it’s our turn.