In this teaching I want to link together three distinct situations that have been placing a great strain on my life. 1. Marriage crises where it seems impossible to know who is telling the truth and who is lying. 2. Trying to deepen relationships between busy pastors who automatically revert to tasks rather than being open with each other. 3. Reaching out to help men and women of God deepen their spirituality in the Word of Christ when they would prefer a “quick fix”. What is common in each scenario is a lack of heart transparency. In praying for the third group the Lord took me in a surprising direction that I believe has widespread implications for us all. I was reminded of a foundational scripture for prayer and revival, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one….that the world may know that you sent me…” (John 17:22-23 ESV); then I began to see connections I had not seen before.
Holes In the Net
The connections were to the miraculous catch of fish in John 21, but instead of seeing what John describes, “the net was not torn” (v.11), I had a picture of a frayed and broken net. This immediately reminded me of a story I heard in Argentina. Revival had swept the city and 10% of the population turned to Christ, but after a year 90% of these had fallen away. His explanation, “There were too many holes in the net.” In stark contrast to John 21, the holes stood for weak, frayed or broken relationships between disciples of Jesus.
John 21 has important differences from similar miracles that appear earlier in the Gospels. In the miraculous haul of fish in Luke 5 “their nets were breaking” (v.6), but in John 21:11 “the net was not torn”. In the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus prays before multiplying the already existing loaves and fish (Luke 9:16), but in John the bread and fish simply “appear”, apparently at his command (John 21:9-13). The John 21 miracles surpass those of Jesus earlier life because they are performed by the ascended and glorified Lord. Jesus now meets with the disciples as the one who has returned to the glory of the Father in heaven (John 17:5; 20:17). Fellowship with the ascended Christ is the key to unbreakable unity and retention of the missionary harvest; symbolised by the many fish held in the unbroken net.
As I saw the frayed net I challenged the group of pastors with whom I was meeting to share the Word with one another in a way that would lay their hearts open to deep wounding. To testify to Jesus from a deep place means that what comes out of our mouths involves a laying bare of our hearts. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt 12:34), ““The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);” (Rom 10:8). Such confession of fault, sin, weakness etc. in the presence of another believer provides an opportunity for the ascended Lord of glory to reveal God as the Father from whose presence all judgement has been taken away.
The Forgotten Key to Unity
James brings forth a promise we usually want to avoid. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16 ESV). Confession precedes healing, because the word of pardon from sin is the most powerful word that any human being can speak to another. The resurrected Jesus did not commission his disciples to pray for the sick or cast out demons , but he did say, ““If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”” (John 20:23)
In John we read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:9-10 ESV). Unfortunately, popular Evangelical piety has interpreted this to mean, “if we confess our sins to God”, but the context in 1 John is fellowship with “one another” (v.7) and the term for “confess” in John’s writings appears with the meaning of public acknowledgement before others (1 John 2:23; John 1:20; Rev 3:5). The confession of sin to one another is a God-given opportunity to receive from other Christians a revelation that we are in the presence of Jesus and his all forgiving Father. This means F/fatherly correction in a climate of absolute non-condemnation. As we are meet together in the reconciling heart of God the Father we enter into the glory of God which is the key to unity and enduring revival (John 17:22). The rarity of such regular Spirit-led confession in the Western Church is surely due to our well founded fears of judgement and criticism; but at a deeper level we must return to the foundation of confession in the cross.
Jesus Confesses for Me
When Jesus cried out from the cross, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34 ESV) he is confessing our sins before the Judge of all in a way that we never could (Heb 12:23). Christ’s unlimited anguish and absolute turning away from the darkness of evil is a reckoning that all the judgement and condemnation that our sins deserve at the hands of an angry God is fully just. As our sacrificial substitute Jesus opened his heart to every element of divine retribution so that we would never have to fear separation from the Father. “whoever…believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24 ESV). This means, “Judgement has been taken away!”
None of us would mentally deny the truth of the forgiving power of the cross but what about our lives. If an authority figure, like a pastor, prophet or boss says, “I need to see you?” do our hearts sink within us (Gen 42:28). How do you feel when you see a police car in the rear visions mirror? Fearful reactions to authority figures are a sure sign of a guilty conscience. To deliver us from such fears we need the help of our brothers and sisters to mediate to us the gospel of full forgiveness.
One of the outstanding differences between Church as we know it and the early Christians is heart vulnerability. On the day of Pentecost the hearers “were cut to the heart” so that “those who believed were of one heart” and had “everything in common”, including the confession of need (Acts 2:37, 44-45). Every mature revival movement I can think of has sprung from corporate confession of sin. John Wesley insisted his small groups were “to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without disguise, and without reserve?” An open-hearted Church that provides an opportunity for brothers and sisters to correct and cleanse each other in Jesus name us grows out of recognition that only such a potentially risky climate of openness provides an opportunity for us to learn the truth, “Judgement has been taken away.”