PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a teacher of His Word, Senior Pastor at Calvary Bible Church of Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti, Michigan. I am a husband and father of three.

I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Bible, as well as Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Ministry degrees.

John 10

Read John 10.

There have been so many religious leaders throughout human history and they have spawned so many different religions. Some of these are connected to Jesus in some way, denying some biblical doctrines about him while claiming to follow Christ.

How does someone know that they have found the truth?

A big answer to that question is given to us here in John 10. Jesus described to the religious leaders (v. 1–“you Pharisees”) many truths about himself and his followers. Using the metaphor of shepherds, sheep, and the pen those sheep are kept in, Jesus taught that the true sheep know the difference between him–the good shepherd (v. 14) and false leaders (vv. 1, 8, 10, 12-13). Because they are true sheep, they know Jesus, Good Shepherd (vv. 3, 14). Because they are true sheep, they enter through Jesus, the true gate (v. 9).

All of this describes the spiritual life that God gives to those who genuinely come to Christ. Following Jesus is not a matter of rationally choosing him over other leaders and instead of other religions. It is the result of the new life that God gives by faith. That new life–we call it regeneration–causes us to recognize Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only way to the Father (to paraphrase 14:6).

Do you ever wonder why some people follow Jesus intensely for a time, then are diverted by the voice of another shepherd?

It is because they are not really sheep.

Do you ever wonder why some sincere people don’t receive Jesus as the one the Bible describes him to be?

It is because they are not true sheep.

Anyone you meet who tells you that they are spiritual, that they love God, and/or that they like Jesus but don’t think he was really God is telling you that they are not part of God’s flock (vv. 25-26).

One of the benefits of being part of God’s flock is eternal security, which is taught here in verses 27-30. Verse 28b says, “they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” The reason is given in verse 29, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

There is no need to worry about losing your salvation. Your salvation is not up to you because salvation is a gift given by God that makes you a sheep. It is not dependent on you to remain saved because Jesus and the Father are holding on to you. So, take joy in the gift of eternal life and follow the voice of the shepherd. Continuing to follow him–the doctrine we call preserving in the faith–is evidence of your genuine nature as one of his sheep.

Like literal sheep, you may stray at times, but when the shepherd calls you in repentance, you will listen and follow him. This is how you can know that you have eternal life. Let it give you confidence and joy as you serve him today.

John 9

Read John 9.

Peer pressure–the desire for social acceptance–is a powerful driver of human behavior. Sometimes that is a good thing. When something that is evil is also unacceptable socially, the fear of being exposed and shunned will help people to resist temptation and make good moral choices. But peer pressure is often a bad influence in people’s lives. It suffocates righteousness by embarrassing someone for doing the right thing.

This is what we saw in John 9. Jesus healed a man born blind (vv. 1-17). Because the Pharisees had their own moral and political reasons for rejecting Jesus, they pressured the man and his parents not to glorify God for this miraculous work but to be quiet about what Jesus did.

His parents submitted in fear (vv. 20-23) but the man himself did not. Ironically, the Pharisees told him, “Give glory to God by telling the truth.” But then they told him the “truth” they wanted to hear: “We know this man is a sinner.”

That is what pressure groups do. They create their own version of “truth,” spinning out lies that empower them and using the natural human desire to fit in against everyone.

We see this happening in our society as well; more and more, powerful pressure groups seek to silence our witness for Christ and get us to back down from what we know is right. They will be successful with many people, too, because it is hard to resist the flow of social pressure.

But those who trust the Lord instead of conforming to the expected in this world have Jesus with them (vv. 35-38). There is a cost to following him, but the freedom and benefits of knowing him are far more valuable.

John 8

Read John 8.

This chapter presents to us an extended argument between Jesus and the Pharisees (v. 13a). The argument began with a promise of Christ in verse 12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Think about the implications of that promise. Without Christ, very little in this world makes sense. Why are we here? What happens after we die? Is this life all that there is? If so, why should I do anything other than what I want to do? Why should I do anything for others if it does not benefit me? Why should I respect their rights and avoid hurting others? But, if I just do what I want, then do I feel unfulfilled, even guilty? If this life is not all that there is, how can I know that?

Life is maddeningly strange without Christ and nothing really matters but your own pleasure. However, living for pleasure is ultimately unsatisfying. Jesus came along and said, “Whoever follows me… will have the light of life.” Why? Because he is “the light of the world.” Knowing him, believing him, receiving his teaching and obeying it give you hope for the future and purpose for this life.

But how can you know if Jesus’s promise is true before you commit to it? There are several ways but the main one in this passage is the witness of the Father (vv. 14-30). Those who knew God (like Abraham) looked forward to the coming of Christ and prophesied about it (vv. 33-41, 54-59). Those who know God now recognize the authentic word of God in Jesus the Son (vv. 42-47). This is why the gospel brings conviction of sin and stirs the heart of those who hear it, even if they don’t receive it. It is the witness of the Father to the light-giving person of the Son.

If you’re reading this and, for some reason, have never received Jesus, this is God’s offer to you. Trust in Jesus, follow him, and he will give you the light that brings life (v. 12c). Only he can do this because only he is “the light of the world” (v. 12b).

For those of us who have received Jesus, this is why we must continually remind ourselves to trust God’s word in obedience instead of believing the lies of the devil and the world around us. They are not legitimate sources of light; following them means “walking in darkness.” Jesus rescued us from that, but we must continue to follow him to have his light illumine our path through this world.

John 7

Read John 7.

People often become skeptical when what they “know” (actually, what they believe or assume) to be true is challenged. You and I have assumptions that seem true to us and seem to have served us well throughout our lives. Those assumptions seem “true” to us and they affect how we process anything that we hear and see.

When someone challenges those assumptions, we respond defensively with skepticism. Skepticism rises because it seems to conflict with something we think has already been proven true. The more important the principles are to you, the more skeptical and defensive you get when they are challenged.

John 7 shows us this over and over again. Jesus’ brothers are skeptical about him (vv. 1-9), the common people tended to be more open to Jesus (v. 12a, 40-41a) but many of them had suspicions about him (v. 12b, 15, vv. 25-27, 42b-44). The religious leaders were very threatened by Jesus and his teaching, so they were looking for him (v. 11) and were desperately trying to discredit him (vv. 20, and silence him (vv. 19-20, 30-32).

What was Jesus’ answer to all of this skepticism? “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (v. 17). In other words, the skepticism of the people indicated an unbelief in God. Those who were seeking God genuinely, eagerly trying to know him and serve him would instantly recognize Jesus and believe in him. But to eagerly seek after God requires his grace. He must lift the blindness of unbelief from one’s eyes in order to see the light of God’s glory in Christ.

This is why we must pray for those we want to see saved, in addition to giving them the gospel. The gospel is an immediate, direct challenge to anyone’s belief about God, about the world, about their own right and ability to choose. So, we must pray.

It also reminds us of our absolute need to submit to Christ always in all things. Many things the Word commands us to do are a direct challenge what we want, what we believe, and what we think we need. Our skepticism about believing, obeying, and living by faith in God is an expression of unbelief. So put aside your unbelief and just trust God–then you will find out that Jesus is the truth, not the other way around.

John 6

Read John 6.

This passage records two of Jesus’s better known miracles–the feeding of the 5,000 in verses 1-15 and his walk on water (minus the part about Peter) in verses 16-21. When Jesus multiplied the bread and fish, he met an immediate need to eat that he, his disciples, and the crowd had. Many of the people he fed lived near the edge of starvation. One big drought or natural disaster would put many lives in peril and make a hard life even more difficult. When they saw how easily he could meet their need to eat, they “intended to come and make him king by force” (v. 15b).

Surprisingly, Jesus withdrew (v. 15c) instead of embracing their monarchial intentions. That was a surprise because Jesus came preaching a kingdom and offering it to people, so why would he withdraw when they seemed ready to accept his offer?

The answer comes later in verses 26-27: “Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Instead of seeking that eternal life, however, they asked for a sign in verses 30-31 which demonstrated their unbelief. They did not want a genuine relationship with God; they wanted an easier, more prosperous life.

Many people come to Jesus like this today. They want to be prospered not to give praise. They want revenue instead of wanting to repent. Even genuine believers can, at times, fall into the temptation to look to God for health, wealth, and happiness instead of seeking his glory and to become holy like he is.

Do you find yourself there today? Are you looking to Christ to give you something, instead of thanking him for the eternal gift he’s already given you?

Remember that God cares more about your eternity, your holiness, and your walk with him than anything else. Seek those things and, as Jesus said in another context, the rest “will be added to you as well” (Matt 6:33).

John 5

Read John 5.

Every year, some of the funeral homes in our area drop by the church building at Christmas time and leave me a gift. The one that does this most consistently gives me a tin of mixed nuts. I snack on them in my office for weeks–it’s a big tin–and I’m grateful that they brought me something healthy and not just more Christmas cookies. Or shudder fruit cake.

I guess it is good business for them to keep in touch with pastors. The truth is, however, that they are in a recession-proof business. People are dying all the time, so there are always needs to be served in their industry. Everyone likes referrals, as weird as that sounds when talking about funeral homes, but they’re going to get “customers” no matter what.

Doing funerals and attending funerals that I’m not involved in are part of the life of being a pastor. I am always grateful for the opportunity to serve families when they have a funeral. But, I hate the pain and sorrow that death brings. I also hate that many families only get together and reminisce about old times when someone dies. That’s the reality of busy lives and people who live in different parts of the world, but it is still sad.

Jesus promised to end all of this here in John 5. He promised life to those who believe in God through him (v. 24). “Eternal life” is such common terminology in our faith that we sometimes go numb to what it means. Jesus’s promise to us, however, is that God will raise the dead and that all believers will live with him forever.

Visualize this promise: “…a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live…. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”

There is an end to death coming and it will be a great day for those in Christ and an absolutely horrid day for everyone else. Each of us will be judged according to what we have done: “those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (v. 29b). All of us would be in that latter category and would rise to be condemned if it were not for the perfect righteousness of Christ credited to us by faith (v. 24) and the payment that his death made for our sins. This is the hope of the dying, the living who will die someday, and those who live who have lost someone they love in death. Because of Christ’s mercy and grace, death will end and eternal life will reign forever.

The funeral business may be recession proof, but it will be disrupted and made obsolete by the final resurrection. Are you ready?

John 4

Read John 4.

Who knows what was on her mind when she came to the well that day. The Samaritan woman (aka “the woman at the well”) certainly knew that she needed water. What else was she thinking about? We have no idea.

Jesus was thinking about her and in ways that were different from most of the men (v. 17b) she had encountered in her adult life. She came seeking water and what she received was internal, spiritual life that was satisfying to her and life-giving to others (v. 14, 23-26, 29-30).

Notice, though, the attitude Jesus had while he waited for her to return with the people of her town. There was more than enough time for him to eat and strengthen himself physically as the disciples wanted him to do (v. 31). But Jesus was so energized by the spiritual life he was about to give that he had no interest in food at the moment (vv. 32-34a).

He shared this excitement with the disciples and tried to wake them up to the reality of the spiritual harvest around them (vv. 35-38). His words were an invitation to be part of what God was doing, gathering in new believers by his grace. They saw Samaritans–whom they were taught to hate–who had mundane lives with daily needs like water. If they had known about the Samaritan woman’s romantic life, they would have rolled their eyes and thought, “Typical ungodly pagan.” Their inability to focus on the spiritual work going on around them caused them to miss out on the harvest Jesus enjoyed.

Do we find ourselves in the same place as the disciples? We’re busy gathering food and daily provisions and see others doing the same around us, but we’re unaware (and unconcerned?) about the spiritual hunger of those around us that makes them ripe to be reaped for God’s kingdom.

I don’t start spiritual conversations with people because I’m afraid I will say something awkward or won’t know what to say. I also don’t do it because I’m preoccupied with my own life, my own schedule, my own responsibilities, needs, and desires. If that describes you, too, then Jesus wants to open our eyes. People around us need God and God is working on many of them, getting them ready for harvest day. When we wake up to the eternal opportunities in front of us, we’ll be ready to talk to people who need desperately to hear some Good News.

John 3

Read John 3.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Actually, it is a big ugly secret but I don’t think most Christians know about it. The secret is: envy and jealousy are not sins that church members struggle with only. Pastors and ministry leaders struggle with them, too. I have–more often and more recently than I would like to admit.

On the outside, we pastors are glad for the ministry success of others. And, when we’re thinking biblically, we are genuinely glad for God’s blessing on other churches. I really don’t think that we are in competition with other churches. Our competition is entertainment, relaxation, sleeping in, working extra weekend hours, materialism, secularism, and all kinds of other noise that distracts people from church attendance and, ultimately, from the gospel message.

I want all my friends in the ministry to succeed and I want other gospel preaching churches in our area and elsewhere to be reaching people in salvation, baptizing them, discipling them and, therefore, growing in numbers and in spiritual life.

But I want our church to prosper as well. I want us reaching people and baptizing them. I want to see the people who attend and are members of our church to be showing up enthusiastically ready to worship and grow on Sunday. I want to see you bringing friends, too, and to see others coming for the first time.

So, when our church attendance is up and down but others I know are adding additional services to accommodate all the growth, it is hard not to want what they’ve got. So the latter half of John 3 is just for me today. John the Baptist’s disciples were concerned about Jesus’s success. They were alarmed that Jesus was preaching and baptizing and that “everyone is going to him” (v. 26d).

John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived–apart from Jesus, of course–had a godly response: “To this John replied, ‘A person can receive only what is given them from heaven’” (v. 27). Jesus’s success–anyone’s success–results from God’s blessing. John was happy to see Jesus doing well because he understood who Jesus was (vv. 28-30). John served faithfully in the role that God called him to fill. Now that role was nearing completion (v. 30) and John couldn’t have been happier about the attention Jesus was receiving.

Are you jealous of anyone, or envious of anyone else’s life? There is a lot that could be said about that. On one hand, appearances are not always reality and, when that’s true, reality always emerges eventually. Also, there is the whole matter of “sowing and reaping” and sometimes our struggles result from what we’ve been sowing.

But we all need to remember the sovereignty of God over this life. He has different purposes and plans for each of us. If we are faithful to what God commands us to do and calls us to become, if we are sowing good seed and doing it consistently, then we need to trust God with the results.

John 2

Read John 2.

This chapter shows us two sides of Jesus’ power. The miracle in Cana shows his miraculous power (vv. 1-11) and the cleansing of the temple shows his authoritative power (vv. 13-22).

Jesus’ first miracle, “water to wine,” was different from the others he performed. Jesus’ other miracles relieved the suffering of others through healing or provided for their human physical needs (such as the feeding of 5000). But this miracle merely saved a young couple from social embarrassment. To run out of wine as they did (v. 3) was bad form in Jesus’ society. It indicated either poor planning or poverty or stinginess–none of which was good. This miracle saved the couple from losing social status but it didn’t restore anyone’s limbs or life.

So why did Jesus do it? His mother (indirectly) asked him to do it (v. 3) so it honored her. But, more importantly than that, it “was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (v. 11b). Disciples were already following Jesus (v. 2a); this miracle–which was mostly private (v. 9)–showed his miraculous power to the disciples. This display of power authenticated Jesus’s message and called for faith from those who were following Jesus.

That was the purpose of all the miracles–to show the truth of Jesus’s message. Those who had already believed his message (or were getting close to believing it) saw divine power that matched the inner conviction in their spirits to his message. Those who disbelieved Jesus’ message also discounted his miracles. Their choice to reject Jesus would not be overturned, even in the face of great, miraculous power.

Although we don’t expect to see miracles ordinarily today, have you seen God work in your life in powerful, unexpected ways? Others around you might explain that work of God as coincidence or be unaware of it altogether. But if you’ve seen God answer specific prayers you’ve prayed, you know that he is real and powerful.

The same is true if you’ve seen God act in some other way in your life. Have these works of God in your life stimulated in you to even greater faith?

John 1

Read John 1.

I have often puzzled over and even lamented John’s use of “Word” in John 1:1. It is clear to me that John 1:1 and 14 indicate that Jesus is the “Word” and therefore “was God” (v. 1). But some people do not see that connection clearly. I have talked with enough of those people that, at times, I wish John has written something else. I wish he’d written something like, “In the beginning was the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Son and Spirit were with God and each of them is God.” That phrasing would help us with the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

But, that’s not what John wrote. Instead he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Why did John use the title, “the Word” to refer to Jesus?

First of all, “Jesus” refers to the man–the human named Jesus. The Son of God was not called “Jesus” until he was born, so it would be incorrect and improper for John to say, “In the beginning was Jesus….”

Although John did want to establish the deity of Christ, that purpose–in this passage, at least–was secondary to describing the function Jesus performs in the Trinity. By calling him “the Word,” John taught us that Jesus’ role was communication. This is why he was the one who created (v. 3) and why he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14a). He did these things because his “job” in the Trinity is to communicate, to reveal God.

That’s a very important role because verse 18a says, “No one has ever seen God….” We know the Moses saw God and that Isaiah saw a vision of God. Jesus himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9). So what did John mean in verse 18 when he wrote, “No one has ever seen God…?”

The answer is that no one has ever seen God in his essence, as he truly is, in his unobscured self. God is invisible (Col 1:15), so anyone who “sees” him has seen only a manifestation of God, a presentation that God has chosen to make, not the true essence of God. Nobody has seen that.

Except Jesus, for verse 18 goes on to say, “the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

It would be impossible for us to know God or understand a thing about him on our own. Unless God choses to reveal himself, all we can do is see the result of his existence–creation and his power–not God himself.

But God has chosen to reveal himself “at many times and in various ways” (Heb 1:1) and Jesus is the ultimate expression of that.

Want to know what God would say about anything? See what Jesus said about it.

Want to know what God would do in any situation? See what Jesus did in that situation.

Anything that is true about God is true about Jesus because Jesus is God and he came to reveal God to us. So, give thanks for God’s personal, powerful revelation of himself in our Lord Jesus. And, watch as we read through the Gospel of John to see what God reveals about himself through Christ.

Jude

Read the book of Jude

Jesus has atoned for our sins. Nothing can separate us from God’s love and we are fully and finally forgiven. So why not sin and live it up?

Some people think we should. They might not put it that directly, but they encourage us not to worry about giving in to our sin nature or striving for holiness. Like a player in Monopoly who draws the “get out of jail free” card, we have a permanent fire escape from hell and it can’t be lost or voided. So, some say, don’t worry about how you live because it will turn out fine in the end.

Jude taught us in this chapter/book that those who teach this way are “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” In what way do they “deny Jesus Christ?” They deny that he is “our only Sovereign and Lord.” In other words, they discount that he is king and, as his redeemed citizens, we live under his rules and are accountable for our lives.

Fortunately, Christ’s “rules” come with a new nature that desires holiness, the Holy Spirit that stimulates holiness within us, and a community of others to help us grow. This is why Jesus said that his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (Matt 11:30). But if we fall under the false influence of ungodly teachers, we can do much damage to ourselves and others by living in ungodly ways.

Our defense against this corruption of the gospel is to “keep yourselves in God’s love” (v. 21a). How do you that? “By building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit.” It is so important to cultivate spiritual growth by daily learning the word, obeying what it says, and praying.

You’ve made it this far in our trek through the New Testament. I hope it has helped you grow stronger in your faith. But keep going “as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (v. 21b)–a reference to the return of Christ.

2 Peter 3

Read 2 Peter 3.

A key promise of our faith is that Christ will return and he will do so “soon.” Yet it has been over 2000 years since Christ was born, so where is the return he promised?

That skeptical question has been thrown at us in each passing generation since the original disciples of Jesus lived. Here in 2 Peter 3 Peter warned us that we would face it, too. Peter called the people who asked this question “scoffers” (v. 3) and accused them of “deliberately” forgetting the creation of the earth and the flood that destroyed everyone except for Noah and his family (vv. 5-6).

Even though they “deliberately forget” these things, Peter urged us not to “forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Although it is true that many generations have passed since Christ lived, that is evidence of God’s mercy, not that he doesn’t exist or keep his promises. As Peter said in verse 9: “…he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” It is God’s saving grace, his abundant mercy, that has led to such a long (from our perspective) time between the two comings of Christ. However, Jesus will come and, when he does, people will be surprised (v. 10a) and everything will be destroyed (v. 10b).

If you lived in a house that was going to be razed to the ground any day now so that a new road could be built through it, would you spend much time repainting the trim outside?

Would you save up to replace the old carpeting with wood floors?

Would you care if there were cracks in the sink?

Of course not.

Given that this world, as we know it, has been condemned and slated for destruction by God, “…what kind of people ought you to be?”

Should we waste massive chunks of our time each week watching television?

Should we obsess over our handicap in golf or work 100 hours per week to make as much money as possible?

Verse 14 advocates a different way to spend your life: “…since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” We may live out our entire lifespan on this earth but, when measured against thousands of years, 70-90 years seems like very little. Wouldn’t be wise to be careful about how we spend the precious life we have from God?