Talk given by Walt
Hong Kong, March 2004
When our Lord Jesus was here on earth, He came for the purpose of giving His life for us. He could have spent Himself on anything He wanted, but He said, “I’m going to spend myself for you.” Jesus gave His life for
people, because in the economy of God people are more precious and more important than
things. And then He said to His disciples, “I want you to do as I did. I want you to give your life for
people.” Now every one of us can give our lives for whatever we want. Everybody has 168 hours per week. We can spend them in any way we want to spend them. We can give our lives for
things. We can give our lives for fame. Jesus said, “I want you to give your life for
Now, when our Lord Jesus was with his disciples the night of His betrayal, He had dinner with them. We call it the last supper. It was the feast of the Passover. Evidently, it was in an upper room, because they call it “upper room” [Luke 22:12]. In John 13 through 16, our Lord talks to His disciples in preparation for His death. His objective was to prepare them. These are the last words of our Lord to His disciples that we are aware of. From the upper room they went to the garden, and there He was betrayed, and from there He went to the cross. Of course, He talked to the disciples after His resurrection, before His ascension, but while He was with them before His death, we find His last words in these chapters, 13, 14, 15 and 16. What I want to call your attention to are the
last words of the last chapter. These are the final words of our Lord before He goes to the cross apart from His prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.
So He says in John 16:31-33 …
Let me back up for a moment and tell you … the disciples are trying to understand why it is that He has to leave, and He explains it to them [John 13:31-33]. They don’t get it. So He explains it again. They
still don’t get it [14:1-4]. So He explains it again [14:6-7, 9-21, 14:23-16:16, 19-28], and finally they say, “Ah! now we get it!” [16:29,30]. But I think … can’t be dogmatic on this … but I think why they said, “Ah! Now we get it,” is they were too embarrassed to admit for the umpteenth time they still didn’t understand. So when they said, “Ah! Now we believe, now we understand,” Jesus said to them, in verse 31 He says,
“Do you now believe? Really? I mean, do you
really believe? I want you to know that the hour comes, yes, it is already here, when you’ll be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave Me
alone. And yet I’m not alone, because the Father is with Me”
[16:32]. And then He closes with these words, “These things I have spoken unto you that in Me you might have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer for I have overcome the
I want to draw five observations which I think are important for us to understand from these words of our Lord Jesus.
first is, when the disciples said to Him, “Ah! Now I think we’ve got it,” He said to them,
“Do you really?” He saw through the façade. Any time we pretend with God, we are in trouble. There were two times in the upper room that the disciples boasted. The first was Peter in John chapter 13 when Peter said, “Everybody may forsake You, but I’ll never do it.” And Jesus said, “Is that right? I want to tell you that before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times.” That was so devastating to Peter that
these were the last words of Peter in the Upper Room Discourse. Other men talk. Other men ask questions, but Peter was closed down. He never said another
word. That so completely devastated him. And this is the second time.
The disciples said, “Ah! We’ve got it now." And Jesus said, “Do you
really? I want to tell you, you don’t have it at all. As a matter of fact, the hour is already here when you’re going to abandon Me and leave Me to
Myself” … Boasting in what we are able to do finds no place in our relationship with the living
God - none at all. The man who thinks he’ll be faithful to God is the man who is in the process of failing.
And one of the most important things we must understand as we seek to follow God is that we can never be confident of our own faithfulness.
The second observation that I want to make is, in John chapter 17, which is the next chapter, Jesus is talking to the Father about the disciples. In John 13-16, He’s talking to the
disciples about the Father. But now He goes and talks to the
Father about the disciples. And when you read those words in John 17, you discover that there is no doubt in Jesus' mind that those disciples will be used
mightily by God in accomplishing God’s will. Knowing full well that the disciples would be scattered and leave Him alone, He says, “Father,
nevertheless, I’m confident that You’ll do with them as you want. They’ll be faithful.” So the second important lesson I want us to understand is
this: you will be God’s chosen instruments in accomplishing His will
… in the spreading of His gospel … not because of your faithfulness, but because of
His. Your faithfulness to God, my brothers and sisters, in the final analysis is due to God having a hold of you rather than you having a hold of
God. And so this teaches us our abject [lacking
all pride] dependence upon Him. As the psalmist says, “Except the
Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it”
[Psalm 127:1]. God, if you let go, I’m dead. There is no way in the world, in the storms of life, I can have a firm grip on
You. We must never forget that.
Third, if you wish to be a follower of Jesus Christ,
understand that it does not matter how committed you feel you are to God, only the power of God can keep you from
failing. Interesting ... after three years of intimate fellowship with the Savior, sitting at His
feet, eating at His table, listening to Him talk, watching Him perform
miracles…after three years of this, in the hour of crisis, they abandon Him. Don’t suppose for a moment it will be any different for you.
Number four, Jesus says, “Every man shall abandon Me and leave Me alone, and yet I’m not
alone, for the Father is with Me” [16:32]. Know that as you get closer to the Savior, the more alone in the world you will be
… even alone when it comes to being understood by the people with whom you feel
the most intimate … and yet you’re not alone, for the Father is with you. But that’s the
price you pay for being drawn to the Father, and that is, being
misunderstood and being alone. The closer you walk
to Jesus, the more sincere you are in your walk with Him, the more marginalized and
isolated you’re going to feel from the world about you
… even those who are your closest friends. That’s the
price you pay. And I suspect that as we move in that direction, that is the reason why most people are unwilling to pay the price. They don’t want to feel that
alienation on the horizontal [relationship with
people], even though it brings about intimacy on the vertical
[relationship with God]. So you have to make a decision.
And then finally, Jesus said, “In the world you will find
tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” In John 14:27 He said, “Peace be with you. My peace I leave unto you, not as the
world give I unto you.” The peace of our Lord Jesus is different from the
peace of the world, because the world says
that you have peace in the absence of war and
tribulation. God says you have peace in the midst of war and tribulation, so the peace
I leave with you is a different peace than the world offers. “In the world you shall have
tribulation, but I’ve overcome the world”
[16:33]. And when you pass through the waters, God says I’ll be with you.
And when you pass through the fire God says you will not be burned [Isa.
43:2]. But you will pass. You will go through the troubled waters, and you’ll go through the fires of adversity. It’s not a question of if, says the prophet Isaiah. It’s a question of when you do. If you stay close to Jesus, then the knowledge that He’s overcome the world will give you the peace that you need to survive.
Q & A
Q: Walt, on point number 4, the closer you get to Jesus the more alone you become, does that pertain to your relationship to the unbelieving world, or to the body of Christ as well, and if so, what are some illustrations or examples?
I would suggest to you that if it were the world you could understand it. But if truth be told, you will find that it is true of the people that you ostensibly feel you are closest to. Because when Jesus said, “Will you really stand with Me? I tell you the hour is coming, and has already come when you’ll abandon Me, every man to his own and leave Me alone, and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me."
See, He didn’t talk about this about the Philistines or the Pharisees or the Sadducees. He’s talking about His disciples. They’re the ones that abandoned Him. That’s what makes it difficult. I can’t guarantee that that will happen to you. I just simply suggest you shouldn’t expect it to be otherwise.
Well in the case of the disciples, was it lack of faith, or lack of understanding of who He was?
I think that the disciples loved Him dearly, but they never understood Him. He was always an enigma to them. Jesus never spent time on instructing the disciples on the reason why He had to die. So their understanding of the purpose of His death took place after the fact, not before. If He had explained it before the fact, their response probably would have been different. But therein lies our problem with God. It’s like Job. If God had come to Job beforehand and explained, “Now Job, understand that Satan and I had a conversation regarding your faithfulness, and you are our test case. So hang tough, my friend, I’m counting on you,” I think Job’s response would have been entirely different. But the problem is that in so much of life, God is silent. He doesn’t speak like we want to hear Him. And that’s the reason why.
So what advice would you give us?
Someone once said that every man and every woman has a price. It’s just a matter of figuring out what the price is. So I would invite you to take time to reflect…what would it take for you to abandon your faith in Christ? What price do you fix on that? If you have a price, in all probability Satan will pay it. It’s just a matter of time. If you have no price…if you say, I care not…I will not!...then understand tribulation is your lot in life. It can be no other way.
Didn’t Peter say that?
A: He sure did. Hubris. Pure hubris. Count on me, Jesus. I’m your man. We never go there…God, by your grace, I will not. That’s the balance. I’m dependent upon You, but I’m nevertheless responsible…But I have to say this to you, my brothers and sisters, the closer you get to Jesus, the less understood you’ll become. That is axiomatic.
Is that what happened with Paul?
For sure, that’s what happened with Paul. And it will happen with you.
Walt, your last point, peace in the midst of tribulation. I can understand that, but do you mean that every believer will have to go through trial and tribulation in order to experience the peace coming from our Lord?
No. Not for that purpose, but for the purpose of purification. We know in the physical arena that strength comes by resistance, that if I do not exercise, I atrophy; so also in the spiritual. Tribulation makes us spiritually strong. But because the tribulation has purpose – it is not arbitrary and capricious – therein gives us a sense of peace. It may not lessen the pain, but it does give the peace. Understand, my brothers and sisters, that you have a higher commitment to your own well being, and absence of
pain, than does God. God is like the surgeon. And when the surgeon goes to work on you, he’s not concerned about whether or not it hurts. He’s only concerned about helping you. And God is the Great Physician. And He will hurt you, count on it. He will hurt you and He will hurt you badly.
One more question, Walt, on tribulation. At a time of tribulation, how can one be sure that this is the work of God. Or was it not the work of the enemy?
Yes, good question. The enemy is never the first cause of any tribulation. He’s only an agent of God. And it’s instructive to note that in all of Job’s tribulation, he understood that. He never blamed Satan. He never blamed the Caldeans or Sabeans, never blamed the weather. He said, “God, my problem is with you.” And God said, “Exactly. I am the One. You picked the right problem.” Satan can only be the agent. He can never initiate anything. So if Satan is after you, my friend, it’s because God sent him. God does not delegate your destiny to anyone, and certainly not to the forces of hell.
So is it safe to say God would never subject me to anything which is beyond my limit to tolerate. We can all take comfort in that promise.
That is correct. That is His promise. But remember that promise is only valid for the one who wants to submit to God. It is of no value for the individual that is looking forward to sinning.
I wonder if you can give us some practical tips to prepare for when testing comes, and when it comes, how we might best respond to it? And maybe some warnings on how not to respond to it.
A: I think that a posture of perpetual surrender and dependence is an absolute essential. Ask yourself, do I really believe that I exist for God rather than vice versa, and if I exist for God and He does not exist for me, then do I affirm His right to do with me as He pleases? If that is the case, then I won’t argue with Him when He does it. Only people who think that God owes them have difficulty in tribulation…Understand that God has given me the gift of encouragement. I’ve just never exercised it.
Walt, can you explain a little more about the peace that God gives?
Yes. I think peace is the by-product of purpose. I may not understand the purposes of God. But I know that God is in control and that He is good. And so there’s where I have my peace. When the surgeon goes to work on you, those are the two things you assume, that he’s in control of the situation – knows what he’s doing – and that he’s good. If you didn’t believe those two things, you’d never submit to his knife. And though you don’t get a choice with God – He’ll come after you with His scalpel whether you want Him to or not - If you want to survive the ordeal, you’ve got to ask yourself those two questions. Do I really believe that He knows what He’s doing, and that He is good?
So Walt, sometimes if we do when we are doing our ministry and if we face opposition from other
believers, then how does this peace come into the picture?
I think the first thing that we must do is ask ourselves, to what degree, if any, did I bring this on myself? But if your heart doesn’t condemn you, then you accept it as part of the price you pay for being His obedient servant. But Joseph…how shall I say it…we don’t waste our ammunition on secondary targets. We only give our energies to things that are important. We only confront people when it comes to the biblical absolutes. Everything else is unimportant. Therefore it becomes clearly obvious as to why people get angry at you. You have to decide that’s the price you’re going to pay to be His obedient follower. As the body of Christ drifts further and further away from the biblical absolutes, this is going to become increasingly your lot in life if you want to remain faithful. Am I making sense?
So, comfort is not a good thing? If you’re comfortable, then you’re in trouble?
Well, not necessarily. But I would say enjoy the experience because it’s the lull before the storm. You just happen to be resting momentarily in the eye of the storm.
You mentioned that the body of Christ is drifting away from the Bible. Do you see this as an irreversible trend, or is there something that could be done to stop it from a further drift?
I’m not so pessimistic to say that it’s irreversible. I’m simply suggesting to you that it would require a miracle from God. But there are precedents. He does perform miracles. It won’t be because of anything you and I do.
You mentioned that we should invest in people. Many of us are business and professional people. How do we, as Christians invest in people? How do we learn to conduct our day to day jobs to better invest in
God, when He evaluates you, it will not be on the basis of production. You produce nothing in the first place. He doesn’t need you. He will evaluate you on the basis of intent. So if you see your job behind a computer as the reason for having a job, you’ve missed the mark with God. But if
you see your job behind a computer as an environment for investing in the lives of people, then irrespective of the opportunities you may or may not have, God is well pleased. If the focus of your life is eternal, then the temporal is spiritual. Spiritual doesn’t have anything to do with vocation. It has to do with purpose. The vocational Christian worker, or pastor, whose objective is to build monuments to man is in secular work. The man who is holding down a job whose purpose for being there is people is doing the work of the Father.
So, if you’re a pastor or vocational Christian worker who works for
a living or looks for the salary to support the family, then the biblical focus becomes the temporal
(secular) focus and vice-versa.
Absolutely. He’s no different than your Philistine neighbor.
Then how would I dovetail [combine neatly] this concept together
with point number two, which was not to be confident in your own
ability as a faithful follower but rather to be dependent, which
[... means that] it is the faithfulness of God that works out His
purpose in you. How do I put those two ideas together?
A: Paul says we have the sins of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raised the dead. We begin every day by acknowledging before God that if the day is spent in a manner that is pleasing to Him, it will be because He worked in us both to will and do of His good pleasure. So it’s in abject dependence that we start every day, and we live it out day by day, moment by moment. I have no will of my own. My will is to do
Your will, Oh God. But if you allow your heart to drift in the direction of living for things rather than for people, you get into trouble. The axiom of Scripture is use things to get people. You never use people to get things…My friends, God will never allow us to put it into a formula. Because once the formula has been created, we lose our sense of dependence. Like the disciples, “Yeah, I think I’ve got it now, Jesus. Thanks, I’ve finally got it now.” “Do you really? Do you really have it? I want to tell you, you’ve missed it by a country mile”
Well, thank you very much