Tag: fear

Story 42: Like Father Like Son: The Choices of Abraham and Isaac

Genesis 26

In the early days of Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage, long before they had their twin boys, they went through many trials and struggles.  At one point, a great famine came upon the land, and it grew more and more difficult for families to find enough to eat.  It was getting dangerous.  The lives of God’s chosen family was at risk.  What was Isaac going to do?

Well, he packed up his family and his servants, his tents and his livestock and all of their valuable treasures. They began a journey to Egypt, where the Nile River poured out an unending water supply.  It brought plentiful harvests to feed the Egyptian people and their animals.  Along the way, Isaac and Rebekah passed through the land of the Philistines.  While they were there, Isaac heard from God.

The LORD told Isaac not to go down to Egypt.  Isaac was to stay in the Land of Promise.

Wow.

That would take tremendous courage and faith.  It might mean hunger for his clan.  It would probably mean the death of many of their animals.  Yet Isaac was faithful.  He went to the region ruled by Abimelech, who live in the midst of the Promised Land.

Abimelech is a name we have already heard before.  Abraham and Sarah met a man of that name in their travels.  He was a king, and Abraham was afraid of him.  Sarah was so beautiful that Abraham feared the king would kill him if he learned that Abraham was her husband.  So he told the first Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, and Abimelech took her into his house to become his wife.  Wow!  Can you imagine what that was like for Sarah?  But God saved the day.  He came in a dream and told Abimelech that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, and Abimelech sent her back to her husband.

Now Isaac was face to face with another tribal leader.  Some scholars suggest that he was probably the grandson of the first Abimelech.  This king called himself the king of the Philistines in the land of Gerar.  God told Isaac not to journey any further, but to rest in Abimelech’s land with his family.

Then something amazing happened.  God appeared to Isaac in a grand theophany.  “Theophany” is a fancy word to describe when God appears to a human.  God showed himself to Abraham in a theophany three times, and each time it was a great marker in the life of his chosen servant.  God came to communicate his covenant promises to Abraham, which should tell us how incredibly important those promises were.  Now the LORD had come to Isaac to pass the covenant of Abraham on to him. The Lord said to Isaac;

 

“‘Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you.  For to you and your descendents I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.’  So Isaac stayed in Gerar.”

Genesis 26:2b-6

 

Wow. What an awesome moment.  For all those years, Isaac had learned about the promises of God from Abraham and Sarah.  Now God had appeared to him, and Isaac heard the words in person.  This was not just a gift to his parents, he was a critical part of the covenant himself.  His descendents would be as many as the stars, and every nation would be blessed through him.  The fate of all humanity was tied up in the fate of Isaac and Rebekah.

It is interesting that God said these promises were given to Isaac through Abraham.  There was a wealth of blessing stored up from Abraham’s obedience that was pouring out onto Isaac.  Abraham kept the whole of all that God desired from him.  His relationship with God was a righteous partnership so abundant that it flowed to the next generation!

God gave Isaac great and precious promises of abundance, but Isaac had to believe in them without seeing them.  God gave them in the middle of a great famine, and he would make Isaac and Rebekah wait for twenty years to have their twins!  Isaac was being called to live by the same faith that Abraham had.  He was called to live by the same righteous standard and the same immediate obedience, too!  He showed his immediate obedience by settling his vast clan down in Gerar!  He chose the hardship of famine and faithfulness to God over the abundance of bread and ease in a place that was outside of God’s will.

The men of Gerar were very quick to notice Rebekah.  She was a woman of remarkable beauty.  Isaac was afraid to admit she was his wife.  What if they wanted to kill him so they could have her?

And so he lied.  He told them that she was his sister.  Hm.

Who else does that remind you of?  Isaac was acting just like his father.

Now, these lies might seem a bit strange to us, but we need to remember that they lived in very different times.  There were no police officers to come and protect a family when others came to attack.  There was no court system to try a man if he murdered someone.  It was a dangerous and almost lawless land, and men were vicious and corrupt.  The most powerful men often determined the law of the land, and Abimelech was very powerful.  When Isaac weighed his options, the crisis of his own death might have seemed a lot less than facing the problem of a local man claiming Rebekah for his own while they were resting in Abimelech’s land.

There were good reasons for Isaac to be afraid if he was merely living according to the rules of this world.  But Isaac wasn’t meant to live as this world is all there is.  He was a man of God’s sacred covenant.  He had heard the stories of how God provided for his father.  He himself was one of God’s great provisions.

But God had a discipleship for Isaac just as surely as he had for Abraham, and Isaac was in the midst of one of the twisting points.  Isaac had already avoided one of Abraham’s mistakes…he didn’t go to Egypt.  Now he had another choice.  Did he believe more in the fear of the power of men, or in the promises of God?  Did he trust that God would protect his marriage, that Isaac could protect his wife and trust God with the results?  What would happen if one of the local men wanted to take Rebekah and marry her?  What would happen to the covenant if Rebekah’s children no longer belonged to Isaac?  Would Isaac let her go?  What would happen to the promises of God?

 

Story 145: Journeying to Lazarus

John 11:1-16

The Jordan River looking towards Bethany, the town where this story took place.

Jesus and His disciples made their way towards Jerusalem from the region of Perea. Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Him. The religious leaders were plotting to have Him killed, but the Lord was responding to the will of His Father, and so He set His face like a flint to the City of David (check out Isaiah 50).

Meanwhile, in the town of Bethany, about two miles away from Jerusalem, a man had become very ill. His name was Lazarus, and he was a good friend of Jesus. Lazarus’ two sisters lived with him, and they loved the Lord as well. We have met them before. Their names were Mary and Martha (see Story 122).

Lazarus’ illness grew more and more serious, and finally, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus. “‘Lord, He whom You love is ill.’” When Jesus heard the news, He understood more than what the messenger told Him. The women and the messenger could only see things from a human’s point of view. Jesus listened through the power of the Spirit, and He understood God’s will perfectly. He said, “‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’”

It is interesting what the author, the Apostle John, wrote next. He said that Jesus greatly loved Martha and Mary and their brother, so He stayed away from them for two more days. Instead of going to His sick friend immediately, He stayed out by the Jordan River. Doesn’t that seem strange? If He loved them, why didn’t He rush to their home as soon as possible? Why didn’t He heal Lazarus right then and there so that he wouldn’t have to suffer? He had healed others, like the centurion’s servant, from far away.

But Jesus didn’t choose to do any of these things. Instead, it says that because He loved them, He stayed away. Why?

After two days, Jesus told His disciples that they were going back to Judea. They were finally going to visit their sick friend. The only trouble was, that meant they were heading back towards Jerusalem. All of his enemies were there, ready to kill Him! It was very, very dangerous.

Hadn’t Jesus stayed away to avoid the danger? And if so, why go now?

His disciples said, “‘Rabbi, the Jews are just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?’” It must have seemed crazy! They would all be risking their lives if they went with Him. Imagine how terrifying that would be. What would you do?
Jesus said, “‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’”

Jesus often used light to describe Himself. If the disciples trusted Him, that also meant they had His light. They could go wherever He went and know that they would not stumble. The religious leaders were living apart from Jesus, and so they were like those who stumble around in the dark. In other words, the Lord and His disciples had nothing to fear from them. The only thing they needed to worry about was obeying God. God wanted them to go to see Lazarus in Judea! So Jesus said, “‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’”

For you see, the Lord knew that Lazarus had already died. God had prepared a great miracle for Jesus to perform. He was going to raise Lazarus to life. The Lord Jesus already knew exactly what the Father had planned, and He was totally confident that God would do it through Him. But His disciples didn’t understand at all.  They couldn’t imagine that Lazarus was already gone. Even after seeing all the miracles, it didn’t cross their minds. “‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, then he will recover.’”  So Jesus told them plainly, “‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’”

Why did Jesus say He was glad He wasn’t there? Well, if He had been there, He would have healed Lazarus before he died, and then the miracle wouldn’t have been so clear and obvious. He wanted His friends to see the greatness of His power so they would believe in Him. They could not only be free from fear of the power of their religious leaders…they could be free from the power of death.

It wasn’t as if His disciples had no belief in Jesus at all. They were already willing to risk their lives for Him! When they first started walking with Him, they had no way of knowing how famous He would become and the breathtaking miracles He would perfrom. They also didn’t know that the religious leaders would turn on Him, and that following Him would mean becoming their enemies as well. They already believed…but had room to grow deeper still. True belief is something that keeps growing deeper and more certain over time. In God’s discipleship of those who follow Him, He crafts situations and circumstances in life that grow their faith.

As Thomas listened to Jesus, he still didn’t understand. He knew that heading back to Jerusalem was dangerous. He also knew that he was willing to risk his life for the Lord. So he declared to his fellow disciples, “‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him!’”

Wow. The disciples were convinced that going back meant certain death! Yet they all agreed to go with Jesus anyway. They still didn’t have faith to believe Him when He said he was in control of time and life. They didn’t believe Him when He said there was nothing to worry about. But they believed in Him enough to offer up their lives for Him.

Imagine if you were living in that moment with Jesus. Here He stood, your beloved Teacher…the perfect One who spoke words of such beautiful truth that you were willing to cast everything aside for the sake of His calling. Imagine knowing that there were powerful people who wanted to destroy Him and His message. Imagine having to decide if you were going to let Him go down among those wolves alone…or if you were going to go there with Him and take a stand, right beside Him.

When the time came, would the disciples really be able to do it? Would their courage stand or fall?

There are people all over the world this very minute who are having to make that decision. They are being persecuted for their faith, losing their jobs, homes, family, and sometimes, even their own lives for the sake of their devotion to the Lord Jesus.

If you are one of them, please know that your brothers and sisters stand with you and pray for you.

If you would like to know more about how to pray for the persecuted Church, you can go to Voice of the Martyrs to get your start.

All of us have ways that we can decide if we are going to stand with Jesus or with the world that hates Him. We take a stand every day by the way we treat others, whether we choose to soak our minds in His Word or in the things of this world that act like a toxin to our souls, in how we spend our finances, in how we choose to spend our time…the Spirit of the Lord wants to draw us into deeper, richer, ever-growing depths of Christlikeness. This surrender is the way we are meant to stand with Him…it is the simple surrender of faith in every aspect of our lives. Do we want to be like the religious leaders that attacked Him?  Or the people that stood by and watched?  Or like Thomas who chose in that moment to stand with his Lord regardless of the cost?  The choice we make about this is the most important choice we make each day: Will use our time for Jesus…to be with Jesus..in His eternity, constant goodness and presence with us?  Or will we spread our focus out all around, on broken and deceptive things, and choose that which is untrue, unlovely, or meaningless…the Kingdom of Darkness?

Story 87: Jesus Calms the Storm

Matt. 13:53; 8:18, 23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25

Jesus Calms a Storm on the Sea

Evening had come, and the Lord was tired. Jesus was fully God, but He willingly laid aside the privileges of His divine powers and took on the form of a man when He came to save us (Phil. 2:5-11).   That included taking on our human frailties.  He leaned on the will of His Father with perfection and the Holy Spirit for His empowerment, just as we are called to do. Jesus truly became one of us and is our example, and on this particular day, He was exhausted.

The massive crowds continued to press around Jesus. There was no escaping them in Capernaum. So the Lord told His disciples, “‘Let’s go to the other side of the lake.’” The disciples left the crowds and they all got into a boat. There were other boats that came along, too, full of His faithful band of friends.

Jesus went to the stern of the boat and laid His head down on a cushion. But then a wind started to blow. It rose and rose into a fierce wind, and soon, a tremendous storm was upon them. Large waves hit the boat and shook it, filling it with water. It was getting dangerous.

When the disciples looked to see what Jesus was doing, they saw that He was fast asleep! Why wasn’t He trying to help them? So they woke Him and said, “‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’”

Jesus woke up to the terrified faces of His disciples, the wild screaming of the wind, and the waves battering and rocking the boat. He rose to His feet, looked out upon the waters, and rebuked the wind and the waves saying, “‘Hush, be still.’” Instantly, the wind slowed to a calm and the rushing waves laid back down in the deep waters. The thundering storm came to perfect rest.

Can you imagine the magnificence of that moment? Can you imagine the surging power and authority behind the strong and confident command of Christ? He was completely certain of His mastery as the Son of the Living God.

For a moment, the Man that the disciples walked with every day was revealed for the mighty Lord that He is, far above the powers of this world, and perfectly able to wield complete control with a simple command.

He turned to His disciples and said, “‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’”

The disciples were in awe. What would you do if your teacher stood up in front of you and showed mastery over the forces of nature? The disciples looked at each other in wonder, and a kind of deep, reverent fear. There was power in this Man that they had not imagined. “‘What kind of Man is this?’” they asked each other, “‘Even the winds and the wave obey Him!’”

The disciples had shown faith in the Lord already. They had chosen to get in the boat with Christ just as it was becoming certain that the most powerful religious leaders of their nation were going to come against Him with a vengeance. But He had called His disciples family. He said they were His brothers and sisters. They belonged to Him, and they had chosen to follow Him all the way.

As a result, much had been given to the disciples. The Spirit gave them eyes to see and ears to hear the glory of what was happening in Jesus. And because they followed that leading, they witnessed something nobody else got to see. They got to watch Christ wield power over nature.

It is interesting to think about what other choices the disciples could have made. They could have walked away from Jesus when the powerful religious leaders from Jerusalem came against Him. They could have been offended that Jesus didn’t go with His family. They could have questioned Jesus about why He was leaving the crowd when there were still people in need. Instead, they obeyed. They got into the boat and headed for the other side of the Galilean Sea.

Jesus had traveled all over Galilee, but this time He was headed for the region of the Gerasenes. It was an area where a lot of Gentiles lived. These people were not a part of the nation of Israel, and the Jews considered them unclean. They wouldn’t even sit down with them to eat.

In the Old Testament, the Lord had commanded the nation of Israel to keep separate from the surrounding nations. God wanted His people to be pure from the idolatry and wickedness that polluted the daily lives of others. But He also spoke to His people about how they should treat foreigners in their own country. Foreigners are usually vulnerable in a land where a different language is spoken and where prejudice and bigotry can be oppressively cruel. But according to the Old Testament, foreigners in Israel had the protection of God.

From the very beginning of the first covenant that God made with Abraham, Israel was supposed to be a blessing to all the nations of the world. They were to act as the priests of the earth, teaching and training the cursed and burdened human race about the ways of the Most High God through their own holy lives. Throughout their long history, they had often stumbled and failed, but now they had met their ultimate failure. They had rejected their Messiah. Now the Lord was going to begin to take salvation to the Gentiles Himself. The nation of Israel had rejected their opportunity to honor the Messiah, but God would not allow that to stop His plans to bring redemption to humanity.

As Jesus and His disciples got in the boat, they sailed away from the Jewish shore and moved towards the region of the Gentiles. Christ was taking his message out to the lost, crossing out from God’s covenant with the nation of Israel through Moses and into a new era…a new covenant. As they went, a fierce and raging storm came against them, but it held no real power. All He had to do was speak, and by His absolute authority, the storm was over.

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