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New Year's 2019


John 5:33-47 - "You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. [34] Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. [35] He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light [speaking of John the Baptist]. [36] But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. [37] And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, [38] and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. [39] You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, [40] yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. [41] I do not receive glory from people. [42] But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. [43] I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. [44] How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? [45] Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. [46] If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. [47] But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?"

John 12:42-43 - "Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; [43] for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God."

Proverbs 29:25 - "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe."

Proverbs 27:21 - "The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise."

Romans 2:29 - "But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God."

If you are going to fail the Lord in some overt fashion this coming week, or month, or year, the most likely reason for that failure is found in these verses. Let me try to quickly pull together some of the important thoughts:


John 5:44 - "How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another ["receive" - passive - effortless] and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? ["seek" - effort - conscious work]."

One of the outstanding features of the Gospel is its revelation of God's love to the most unworthy people. Jesus didn't just embrace good people. He showed a particular interest in bad people - undeserving people - people like you and I.

With the coming of Jesus there was linked the coming of fresh hope for all. He didn't hob-knob with proper people. He reached out to improper people. While He never excused their sin, He reached out to thieves, prostitutes, swindlers and low-lifes and made them all candidates for the forgiveness of Father God.

In fact, this was what was so upsetting to the religious crowd of Jesus' day. He had time and compassion for people they didn't think qualified for His grace. The religious officials didn't have time for these wicked people. And if Jesus was truly God, He wouldn't have time for them either.

Jesus just reached out to them anyway. Nothing could stop Him from His eternal quest to put broken lives back together again. And that's why it should be very significant to us when Jesus labels anyone as being hopeless - unable to find help in Him - totally incapable of believing in Him in any saving way. Jesus rarely spoke words that sounded so hopeless.

Listen to the desperation in His voice as He throws up His hands and asks, "How can you people ever believe in Me?"(John 5:44)

Think of it. There was hope for the woman caught in adultery, for the crook executed on the cross, for Peter who would deny he knew Him and curse His blessed Name. There was hope for the demon possessed. All of these could be reached and salvaged with the incredible sin-bearing grace of God the Son.

But here, Jesus addressed a group of people whom He puts in a totally different class. Imagine. He actually said there was nothing He could do for them. He rather boldly told them they didn't have His "word abiding in them" (38), and they didn't have "God's love abiding" in them either (42).

In wrapping up, Jesus said these people didn't have the capacity to really believe in Him (5:44). What had gone so wrong here? They were more concerned about what people thought of them than what God thought about them. What Jesus meant by that was these people would change their behavior to please people long before they would change their behavior to please God. They would walk over hot coals to please people but wouldn't get out of bed to please God. They wanted their boss to be proud of them. Or their spouses to be proud of them. Or their friends to like them. But they could continue for long stretches of time ignoring the voice of the Lord.

So you get a feel for the urgency in Jesus' words here. This matters to Jesus. These aren't light, unemotional words. They're deeply passionate ones. He says the fear of man keeps people out of the Kingdom of God. And by "fear of man" He doesn't mean afraid of them like people are afraid of disease. Jesus meant they were afraid of others in the sense of not being admired and accepted and, most of all, approved by them. There's another strong point in these verses:


Humorist Mark Twain would frequently battle it out with publishers over material he wanted to write. At the end of one written correspondence he said, "These words represent my convictions. However, if you don't approve, I have others."

John 12:42-43 - "Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; [43] for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God."

We're meant to take note of those two comparative words - "more than"(43). Now, these were all good people. The text makes it clear that these were people who believed in Jesus. Not just one or two - "many" leaders believed in Him. But they had a love for Jesus that never got off the ground. They had dreams and aspirations that never materialized. They wanted to live for their Lord, but never put legs on their convictions. They lived with the gnawing awareness they weren't deeply authentic before the one they claimed to "believe" in.

Here's what did them in. They had good positions in society. They were leaders. They were up there on the upper crust. They were respected, at least by those who counted.

Yet for all of that, they were very small people in one sense. They were so influenced by the opinions of their associates that they would go against the demands of loyalty to Christ. They would snuff out the inward voice of the Spirit of Christ when it meant saving face.

Here's the life lesson here: The one you seek to please has the power over your life. Always. And that's the issue Jesus drills down into in these verses. The issue in these verses is the control of your life. These are words from Jesus about your freedom. They're about what causes half-baked discipleship.

The "fear of man" - the love of praise from any source other than God - the propping up of your own image in the eyes of the crowd - will keep you from receiving the glory that comes from God alone.

You'll be led around by the crowd. Your own convictions won't keep you spiritually sane. Your Bible knowledge won't filter into your actual life-style. You'll know all about the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but nothing of walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.

All of God's good influences - prayer - His Word - the fellowship of the church - the accumulated wisdom of friends who try to help you out spiritually - none of those things has enough counterweight to over-rule the fear of man.


Proverbs 29:25 - "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe."

Notice the polar opposites in this single verse. The fear of man lays a snare. Trusting in the Lord brings safety. And the kind of safety listed here isn't just safety from flood or fire or disease. It's the safety of being kept from the huge spiritual blunders that you don't see yet (that's why these dangers are likened to a snare). You'll be kept safe from the kind of carelessness that you will regret down the road far more deeply than you can possibly know right now.

But here's the rub. To walk before the Lord in safety you have to pay for price of relinquishing toe praise of all others right now. And here's the rub. It's initially easier to delight in the approval of others than to honor the Lord. That's because the crowd gives applause and approval right now - in front of everybody. You get the approval and smiles and the admiration right now. And all of those things feel great. You never have to work through the embarrassment of having your own convictions stand out. You don't lose any friends. Not now. That's what makes this snare so deadly in our present walk of discipleship.

Imagine people who right now are caught up in some kind of immoral conduct in any church. Maybe they've been involved for weeks or months. Suddenly they're found out. They start to feel the weight of their sin. Then they want to repent. Then they want the church to rally round in love and support.

It's not that their sin suddenly became wicked. It was destroying them all along. But the sin that didn't trouble them last week suddenly hurts them. Their sin troubles them when the crowd knows. And the person feels broken by the embarrassment of that. But God knew about it all along. That didn't trouble them at all. The fear of the Lord would have kept them safe all along. The fear of man hollowed out their character.

Or think of a person who lies and twists the truth. But the secret gets out. The truth starts to come out in spite of all their deceitfulness. Then they start to feel embarrassment and remorse. They finally come clean and admit their guilt.

But until they were found out they were perfectly happy to sing and pray and worship. When the truth comes out it leaves everybody else in the church wondering, "Does this person suddenly feel bad because they grieved the heart of God or because they've lost face in front of their friends?"

If they feel badly because they grieved God, then why did they only repent when people found out? God was grieved a long time ago.

The writer of Proverbs says the fear of man works like a snare. It's effective because it's hidden. Nobody sees the damage or the bondage until it's too late. The fear of man is a sin that cuts down below the outward actions to the root that feeds those actions. It has as much to do with my motives before it has to do with my outward actions.

Please consider this. There will be people here today who will find some area of their walk with Jesus falling apart August, 2019. But it didn't have to happen. And nobody but the Lord will trace the spiritual collapse back to the fear of man that started tightening around the heart - not in August, but in January.

This sin - the fear of man - gets as close as you can get to the kind of inward purity Jesus was looking for in these searching words - Matthew 23:25-26 - "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self indulgence. [26] You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean."

Notice the way Jesus calls on people to deal with this inward motive sin first. This is the only hope for an outwardly clean life. Jesus tries desperately to open us up - to expose to us the inward source of outward compromise and weakness.


Proverbs 27:21 - "The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise."

"This is a test." Whose approval gives you the most delight? That's the issue. That defines your spiritual condition. This is the place where spirituality is tested. This is the laboratory. But let's be clear what the test is and what it isn't. The test is not professing I believe in Jesus. The test isn't even professing love for Jesus.

No, the real test, the furnace that melts down the gold and exposes its purity, is my readiness to lay aside the esteem of my peers, my friends, and my image in their eyes and actually live only for the smile of my Father in heaven. The test is whether I'm willing to please God at the expense of self and the acceptance of others.

That's the test. Do you live all of your life before God alone? Is every decision you make geared to His pleasure alone? Is radiating His glory the dominant concern in all your actions?

Whose praise do you live for? If God is the only one who knows about my sin, is that enough to make me forsake it in shame? And if God is the only one who smiles at my lonely trust in His will and way, is that enough to bring my whole being its deepest joy? That's the test of spiritual life.


Here is one of the great life lessons for all of us. It's not what I say that marks my truest worship. It's the relationship I'm least willing to betray that marks who I am in Jesus Christ. This is the point Paul makes in Romans 2:29 - "But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God."

The whole Old Testament pointed to a blessed day when the law of God - His holy will for my life - would not only be some external set of rules I tried my best to follow. Rather, my heart would actually be transformed by the Holy Spirit to delight to please Him and walk in His ways. In other words, my greatest joy would be found in pleasing my Lord. In fact, I would gladly displease anyone else rather than grieve God's heart in any way.

In this verse, Paul writes of the bestowing of that new, circumcised heart. We don't use language like that anymore and it's sometimes hard to put a specific meaning on them. Paul's whole point is this new heart is what makes a person a true child of God. It's not just a matter of being a descendant of Abraham. It's possessing a new heart.

Then, very clearly, in the last phrase of that verse, he earmarks a very specific evidence of that new heart - "....His praise is not from man but from God." And there it is - the flowering of new life. The new heart beats for God's smile alone. The new heart isn't bribed. Its security isn't rooted in this world. It lives here, but it doesn't live for here.

Now let's apply all of this. Smart Christians are constantly on the lookout for the beginnings of this snare in their hearts. They're careful about it. They constantly check their motives. They monitor what delights and inspires them most in life - Galatians 6:14 - "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

It's important to stop and check how you're hearing the words of familiar Biblical texts. It's the words that matter, of course, but it's never just the words. Never make the mistake of thinking that those are the words of a sad man who feels he's sacrificed everything good and fun. Those are the words of a man who found the long, lost secret of freedom - the fountain of spiritual youth. Live all of your life, in public and in private, for the smile of God alone.