When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, He imparted one final lesson. It began when He asked Peter whether he loved Him. He posed this question to the disciple three times, and every time Peter answered yes. In turn, Jesus responded each time, “Feed My lambs—tend My sheep—feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17).
The word for love that Jesus uses here is the Greek agape, indicating selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. This kind of love says, “If you despise me, I will give to you. If you reject me, I will still give to you. And if you hurt me, I will keep on giving to you.”
Yet when Peter answered Jesus, he used a different word for love. Each time he pledged his love to Christ, he used the word phileo, indicating brotherly love. This kind of love is mutual—it receives as well as gives. Peter was saying to Jesus, in essence, “As You give to me, I’ll give to You.”
That response wasn’t sufficient for Jesus. It’s why He answered Peter each time, “If you love Me, feed My sheep.” He was saying, “My people need help, Peter. Tend to them. Feed them. Give your life for them.”
Jesus was commissioning Peter to a giving life. He knew the disciple was up for it because in the preceding weeks Peter had been broken deeply. What Jesus tells him next describes the very crux of the giving life— brokenness: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21:18-19).
With this final teaching, Jesus led Peter from a blessed life to a broken, giving life. In so doing, He handed Peter the very keys to the kingdom. Pain, anguish and sorrow awaited Peter in the giving life God laid out for him. Yet, as John’s gospel tells us here, even Peter’s death brought glory to God.
You and I may not get to do what we want in this life but we can have a life that reflects the glory of our Lord’s giving nature. By giving your all for others with agape, you may find yourself being poured out painfully, like communion wine. But in doing so, you will become others-centered, powerful, influential—and the world will see the difference. Your giving life will reveal God’s own glory—a witness to the world of His generous, loving nature.
During the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples—the students who had learned from Him and been friends with Him for three years—that He was going away. Imagine how upset the disciples must have been to hear such a thing! He was their leader. He was a miracle worker. He was the one with the perfectly wise response when the Pharisees verbally cornered them. When He spoke, He spoke with an authority unlike any they had ever heard. No one had taught like that before.
How could He leave them now when they needed Him most? And more confusing, He said that His leaving would benefit them. “But truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away” (John 16:7, emphasis mine).
That statement must have flabbergasted the disciples. How could it be good that Jesus was going away? This was the teacher they had eaten with, walked with, traveled with, watched and learned from. Any benefit from His leaving had to be impossible for them to understand.
Fortunately, Jesus explained the reason why. “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). Then again He said, “But verily I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (16:7).
Now the whole picture began to unfold. The Father sent the Son to accomplish a specific work, to attest to God’s love. “For God so loved the world that he have his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God would show that love by sacrificing His Son on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. And after the Son accomplished His work on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, the Son would send the Spirit.
Although the disciples couldn’t comprehend it at the time, it was better for them to have the invisible Holy Spirit in them than it was to have the physical Jesus with them. The divine Person who was coming would help them understand everything He had said.
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.
Does there yet remain a small remnant who will fight to rekindle the flame of God’s righteousness? A people who remember the Lord and are willing to take a stand for His name?
The Lord has said, “If I see a wick that’s smoldering, I won’t snuff it out. The flame may be gone, with no appearance of fire, but if I still see embers burning, I will not allow it to go out. As long as I hear even a faint cry from faithful servants somewhere, I will not allow that bruised reed to break” (see Isaiah 42:3).
God has not yet given up on us. But the fact is, we are living on “tender mercy time.” I see this everywhere I travel, especially in Europe. That continent is far more secular than the United States, a land that by its own choice has become absolutely godless. As you walk through the streets in some countries, you sense a spirit of antichrist and arrogance toward God.
Sweden is now one of the most affluent European nations, and the richer it grows the more apostate it becomes. At the same time, the evangelical church there is in danger of growing apathetic in its walk with Christ. Ireland, a nation that for decades suffered crushing poverty, is now becoming more prosperous. Yet the spiritual climate there is also one of apathy, with secularism creeping in.
The whole attitude in Europe seems to be, “So what if judgment comes? Let’s live it up, eat, drink and be merry.” There is no sense of urgency, no need of God.
I believe the Lord is speaking a clear message to the whole world right now. He has the power to stop any potential terrorist attack at any time. He could merely speak a word, and angels would bring down every evil power. Instead, He has chosen to send or permit international calamities, and all are signs that we truly are experiencing His tender mercies.
“A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth” (Isaiah 42:3-4).
When Christ came to earth, Israel was living under the crushing rule of Rome. The Jews were heavily burdened by Roman taxes and laws. Meanwhile, a greedy priesthood was taking advantage of widows and the poor. The downtrodden were mocked and ridiculed, and the people were blinded by corruption. All of this is why so many of the prophets said Christ would come in an hour of darkness, bringing great light.
Jesus came into a society plagued by hypocrisy and rampant with sin. As He beheld the nation’s condition, He wept over Jerusalem (see Luke 19:41), prophesying that its house would become desolate. Yet He gave that society seventy more years of gospel preaching. And those years were filled with Spirit-anointed witnesses preaching hope and repentance, performing miracles, and issuing a powerful call to the kingdom. Jesus simply would not break the bruised reed that Israel had become.
Right now, that is a picture of America: a society completely bruised in its morality. We are also a nation that is depressed and disturbed, with people living in fear and mental agony. There are more psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors than ever in history, yet they can’t keep up with all the people begging for just a single hour of help. This is true even in the Church: Christian counseling teams across the land are overburdened by the press of people needing help for their problems.
Our children are being bruised by broken families, abuse and molestation. Teenagers are being bruised by immorality, materialism and numbness. Satan has unleashed a flood of evil upon the land, and it has left in its wake a bent and bruised people.
Much of the Church itself has this same bruised spirit. In letter after letter, I read of Christians drying up in megachurches where sin or righteousness is no longer preached. They’re bewildered, wondering, “Where can I find true worship? There’s no sense of Christ’s presence here. There’s no brokenness.” Pastors also write, confessing, “Brother Dave, I’m backslidden.”
The New York Times ran a story recently about a Pentecostal church of 10,000 whose message is, “We’re here to make you happy.” But that message is bringing false hope and only temporary relief.
“The smoking flax shall he not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Somewhere in this nation, God sees wicks that are smoldering—wicks that once were on fire, aflame with fervor for His purposes and concerns. But now they’re barely smoking.
Many believers today are asking, “Why hasn’t God turned America over to judgment? Why hasn’t He dealt with us according to our sins? He gave Noah’s generation 120 years of warnings, but after that He said, ‘Enough,’ and brought a flood. God has suffered America’s sins for a long time now, so why haven’t we seen His righteous judgment on us?”
I love this country, and I for one don’t want to see God’s final judgment come upon America. Like many, I am completely amazed at why God’s judgment has been delayed.
I do believe we are seeing the beginnings of judgment. I see the terrible calamities taking place in the world as warnings. Yet, because America’s economy hasn’t collapsed, and our nation is still able to function as it has, we seem to stumble along from crisis to crisis, being given chance after chance.
I’m convinced there is only one answer to this perplexity: it’s all because of the tenderness and longsuffering of our Savior. We find the proof in Isaiah’s prophecy: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). America has become a nation of bruised reeds!
A reed is a tall stalk or plant with a hollow stem, usually found in marshy areas or near a supply of water. It’s a tender plant, so it bends easily when high winds or swift waters strike. Yet the reed can bend only so far before it finally breaks and is carried away with the flood.
Like a reed in calm weather, America once stood proud and tall, full of purpose and promise. Our entire society honored God, and the Bible was held up as the standard for our laws and judicial system. Even during my lifetime, school textbooks consisted of lessons and stories from the Bible. Jesus was acknowledged as the Son of God, the One who gives our country favor and untold blessings.
Yet, in our prosperity, we became like ancient Israel: proud and unthankful. And we’ve fallen a long way in a short time. God has been pushed out of our court systems, out of our schools, His name mocked and ridiculed.
Our society has totally lost its moral compass and as a result, the America that once stood tall is now crippled, like a bruised reed.