Not Perfect, but Protected

The disciples of Jesus were far from perfect. Yet John 17 says they had been given to Jesus out of the world. Jesus had given them the true knowledge of God. Jesus said that his disciples had “accepted” his words about God. They “knew with certainty” that Jesus had come from God. They “believed.”

But they were not perfect men. They had the same shortcomings as we have. For example, we  can remember how the disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest. The brothers James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn up some Samaritan villages. Thomas had a skeptical attitude and seemed to question everything.

Jesus knew that they would fail him. They would be scattered and leave him at the time of his death. He predicted that their most outspoken member, Peter, would deny him three times before the rooster crowed the next morning. In the upper room at the last supper he patiently put up with their questions and interruptions. They did not grasp the seriousness of Jesus’ last words to them before his death.

Yet he looked upon them with love and he prayed for them to be kept by the power of the Father’s name. “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name” (John 17:11). Jesus is going away and leaving the disciples in this world. So he prays to the Father in heaven for their safe keeping. His prayers for them assure them of their eternal security. “They are yours,” Jesus prays.

Their assurance of eternal life did not come from their faithfulness. Their faith and obedience were often weak and faulty. But Jesus prayed for their preservation (“protect them” — v. 11), and their sanctity (“sanctify them” — v. 17). This fact (Jesus’ prayers for us) is also the basis for our assurance of salvation as well.

The book of Hebrews has a lot to say about Jesus’ present ministry of intercession for his people. It is called his “High Priestly Ministry.” Unlike the imperfect priests in the Old Testament who had to offer repeated sacrifices for their own sins, Jesus’ priesthood is perfect because he is perfect and his sacrifice is perfect.

His priesthood is permanent. “Now there have been many of those (Old Testament) priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:23-25). Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. His permanent priesthood means salvation is forever.

The security of salvation is Jesus’ perpetual intercession for believers. John MacArthur said, “We can no more keep ourselves saved than we can save ourselves in the first place. But just as Jesus has power to save us, he has power to keep us.”

Does the Father answer the prayers of his beloved Son? I cannot imagine our heavenly Father ignoring or dismissing a prayer of Jesus. The Son would never ask for anything outside of the Father’s will. If our Lord asked the Father to protect and guard his people, that request would surely be granted.

Those first disciples and believers today (v. 20) belong to God and also to Jesus. “They are yours,” Jesus prayed. “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine” (John 17:9-10). If we are Christ’s by faith, we are included, not excluded. We are secure in him, not because of our perfect obedience and faithfulness, but because of his perfect sacrifice on the cross, and his present ministry of intercession for us at the right hand of God.

John 17 pictures this. Read it to see how Jesus prays for those who are his own.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Quotes from John Newton

The famous author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” John Newton, died in 1807 after a long and fruitful ministry as a pastor. The epitaph on his gravestone in Olney, England, reads as follows;

“John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”

His “Letters,” written to instruct inquiring converts, have long been a source of theological and pastoral counsel. Here are a few quotes from Newton’s letters. I hope you find them as edifying as I did. This post continues one begun last week.

Though we can do nothing spiritually of ourselves . . . yet there is a part assigned to us: resist the devil, purge ourselves from the filth of the flesh and spirit, give ourselves to reading, meditation and prayer, watch, put on the armor of God, abstain from every appearance of evil.

Faithfulness to light received will result in increasing measures of light and strength.

On loving Christ: What trifles are capable of shutting Him out of our thoughts!

Jesus is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption. The more vile we are in our own eyes, the more precious He will be to us.

Though sin wars, it cannot reign; though it breaks our peace, it cannot separate us from His love.

(Believers) are not considered as in themselves, but as one with Jesus, to whom they have fled for refuge, and by whom they live the life of faith. They are accepted in the Beloved, they have an Advocate with the Father, who once made atonement for their sins, and ever lives to make intercession for their persons. Though they cannot fulfill the law, He has fulfilled it for them; though the obedience of the members (of the Body) is defiled and imperfect, the obedience of the Head is spotless and complete; and though there is much evil in them, there is something good, the fruit of His own gracious Spirit.

But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, ingratitude, and insensibility, they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ, Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much because much has been forgiven them.

There is the unshakable ground of hope: a reconciled Father, a prevailing Advocate, a powerful Shepherd, a compassionate Friend, a Savior who is able and willing to save to the uttermost.

With respect to the past (the Christian) knows all things are become new. With respect to the present and the future, he leans upon the almighty arm and relies upon the word and power which made and upholds the heavens and the earth.

Avoid all that is incompatible with the gospel and the mind of Christ.

Resist the devil and he will flee. If he were to tempt you to anything criminal, you would . . . renounce it with abhorrence. Do the same when he tempts you to question the Lord’s compassion and goodness.

If we could go to heaven without suffering, we might be unwilling to desire it.

Moses could not have persuaded the Israelites to leave if they had been comfortable and prosperous in Egypt.

We are never more safe, never have more reason to expect the Lord’s help, than when we are most sensible that we can do nothing without him.

If we seem to get no good by attempting to draw near to Him, we may be sure we shall get none by keeping away from Him.

By affliction our prayers are quickened, for our prayers are very apt to grow languid and formal in a time of ease.

Many graces are impossible apart from affliction: patience, meekness, longsuffering, pity, self-knowledge.

We judge things by their present appearances, but the Lord sees them in their consequences.

Let us cast down the load we are unable to carry, and if the Lord be our Shepherd, refer all, and trust all, to Him.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Wisdom from John Newton

John Newton (1725-1807) may be best known as the author of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” His life story is a vivid illustration of the power of the Christian gospel to rescue and transform  a ruined life. The hymn is his personal testimony.

I invite you to read about Newton to learn more about him. (Wikipedia has a summary of his career.) In his pre-Christian life he was a navy seaman, captain of slave ships, and investor in the slave trade.  After a spiritual struggle leading to his conversion to faith in Christ, he became a minister in the Anglican Church. He served in the country parish of Olney for sixteen years. During those years he wrote many hymns which are beloved by Christians worldwide.

As an evangelical, he was committed to the proclamation of the gospel. He wrote his own life story to magnify the gospel  and to influence others to believe. He wrote tracts and an introduction to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Later as a pastor in London, he became an influential leader in the movement to abolish the slave trade.

His greatest contribution was his pastoral ministry in the lives of the people he served. His preaching pointed them to Jesus as savior. His personal counsel was a help to many who were troubled and tempted. It has been said that “They found in him one who had been a worse sinner than themselves and who could enter into their experiences with tenderness and sympathy.”

One of his ministries was correspondence. He wrote long replies to the many who wrote to him with questions about the Christian life and faith. He said, “It is the Lord’s will that I should do most by my letters.” His letters reveal the belief that the Christian faith is a personal experience of God through Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, not just an abstract system of doctrine.

The letters also show that the Christian life is practical, leading to a healthy spiritual condition.  He demonstrates how it is only through knowledge of and obedience to the written Word of God that we can practice Christianity as it is meant to be lived. His letters are marked by practical wisdom and sanctified common sense.

I recently read The Letters of John Newton published by Banner of Truth. I want to share with you some quotations from the letters. I am sure that his desire would be, not that we would admire his wisdom, but the truth and beauty to be found in his Savior.

The law entered that sin might abound, not to make men more wicked, but to make them sensible of their sin.

The law reveals the glory of God. We see the perfection and excellence of the law in the life of Jesus.

If opposition has hurt many, popularity has wounded more.

Truth is a sacred thing.

National concerns are no more affected by our remonstrances (arguments), than the heavenly bodies are by the disputes of astronomers.

Plead for the country in prayer

“Dipping” into scripture, ignoring the context, is an unreliable guide, contrary to the intentions of the text and contrary to common sense.

The Word of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, furnishes just principles to regulate our actions and decisions.

On frequency of prayer: Those whom we love, we love to be with.

Some temptations of Satan are permitted by the Lord to humble and test his people.

By discontinuing prayer we give the enemy the greatest encouragement possible.

There is no fool like the sinner who prefers the toys of earth to the happiness of heaven.

 Cultured men try to polish the manners without improving the heart.

I’ll pass along more of these next week.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Good News for a Hard Day

Today I received distressing news about a friend’s medical complications. I am praying for him. This has prompted me to meditate on Psalm 23.

I have spoken on this psalm many times in the past, mainly when presiding at funerals. It never ceases to be a support and comfort to those who are grieving. But today I am thinking of my friend and, frankly, of my own mortality.

Nobody knows for sure when David wrote this psalm. Was it as an old man, looking back over his life? Was it in his youth, surrounded by his father’s sheep? Was it in midlife when he was beset by threats to his life and kingdom by Absalom? Did he sing this psalm to King Saul to ease his emotional torments?  Maybe the psalm came out of his experience in the Valley of Elah, where he faced Goliath.

Psalm 23 is David’s description of a contented life, a courageous death, and a confident eternity. Read in the light of Jesus’ words it helps believers live with assurance of the Lord’s provision, presence, and protection.

A contented life

“The Lord is my shepherd,” David affirmed. The Lord is the one who identified himself to Moses as the I AM, the eternally self-existent God, known as Jehovah, or Yahweh. Jesus freely took this title upon himself when he declared to his detractors in the religious community, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” He was stating clearly that he is the  Jehovah of the Old Testament and that to know God one must believe in him.

David knew God. He made it personal when he said, “The Lord is MY shepherd.” Jesus said he himself is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. It is one thing to see a sentimental picture of  Jesus the shepherd holding one of his lambs and to believe that he is a good shepherd. It is something else to believe that he is your personal shepherd. Can you say that by faith?

“He restores my soul” is another way of saying “He brings back my soul.” That is the point of Jesus’ parable of the shepherd who goes out into the wilderness to find his lost sheep. He returns with joy having rescued the sheep. The Lord compared this with the rescue of a sinner who repents. Jesus came to earth on that kind of rescue mission, “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). He is the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep.

Because of this relationship, David could express contentment: “I shall not be in want.” Or as the little girl in Sunday School misquoted it: “The Lord is my shepherd and that’s all I want!”

A courageous death

“I will fear no evil,” said David as he contemplated death. It was because of his assurance that the Lord would not forsake him but would be with him. The New testament puts it this way: “To go and be with Christ is better by far.” To be absent from the body in death is to “be present with the Lord” for the Christian.

The last and greatest enemy is death. In the presence of death the believer has the promise of the Lord’s provision of every grace that is needed for that hour. The Lord will be there with his rod to ward off every enemy of our souls, and with his staff to shepherd us safe home to the Father’s house.

A confident eternity

The Lord’s goodness and mercy mean that God is faithful to his promises. Mercy is steadfast love, or covenant love, which binds God to his commitments. That is why David (and you and I) can be so sure about eternal life. God’s covenant love never fails. There is no end to his faithfulness to his word.

“I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” makes us think of Jesus’ word that he is preparing a place for his people in the Father’s house. He is coming again to take us there, either by death or by rapture.  Paul summed it up: “I am persuaded (confident) that neither death nor life . . .  will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


Pastor Randy Faulkner