Tag: Lord

Story 24: Melchizedek

Genesis 14

In the dead of night, Abraham and his men went after the four kings. The kings had decimated the corrupt cities of the Jordan River Valley, and now they had taken his own nephew captive.  It was time to act.  Under the cover of darkness, Abram divided his soldiers into two groups and attacked the four kings from two directions.

Imagine Abram’s men moving in deft silence, sneaking up on the clueless soldiers. Imagine the cry of attack and the roars of Abram’s men as they descended on the armies of the four kings.  How terrifying their fury must have been.

Abram’s men utterly defeated Kedorlaomer and his allies that night.  They claimed Lot’s freedom along with all of his possessions.  They also brought back all of the men, women, and children from the five kingdoms that had been plundered.  They had rescued them all from abject poverty and enslavement.

Abram and his men were the great heroes of the entire region.  They had utterly saved the day.  And because they were the ones who won the battle, all of the booty that was taken now belonged to Abram.  According to the rules of their day, all of the animals and gold and silver and even the people that the four kings had captured were now Abram’s.  What would he do with this lavish new wealth?  Would he use this turn of events to rule over the region?  Would he grasp for power or trust the Lord?

The King of Sodom came out to meet with Abram along with a man named Melchizedek.  Melchizedek’s name meant “my king is righteous.” He was the king of Salem, a region that would one day become the home of another great city:  Jerusalem.  He was also a priest of the Most High God.  When the Bible tells of this mysterious and righteous man, it is the first time a priest is mentioned.  He had come to bless Abram for the wondrous victory he had brought to the people of the land.  He had come to celebrate the warrior who fought by faith.  He said:

 

“‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

Creator of Heaven and earth.

And blessed be God Most High,

Who delivered your enemies into your hand.’”

Genesis 14:19-20

Let’s stand here for and think upon this high and holy moment.  Here was a man whose position before the LORD was so great that he could bestow blessings down upon Abram, God’s chosen servant!  This priest of God came to place the name of God on Abram.  We might be in danger of thinking that this blessing was just a polite way to honor Abram.  It was much, much more than that.  This blessing was powerful and potent to effect the life of Abram and to cause great good to move forward into his future.  God’s blessings move in history and make things happen.  God was moving in power to take the divine blessings that Noah had blessed on Shem’s line and focus them in on Abram and his descendants!  The line of Japheth would one day find salvation through Abram’s descendants.  The line of Ham through the Canaanites would one day become Abram’s slaves.

These blessings were from the one true God, the Creator, who made all the wondrous things of the entire universe burst out in a dazzling array by speaking words.  He is the one that continually brings life and newness to the hours of each day by His powerful Word.  God’s Words are a magnificent, effective force, and now His Word was being spoken through Melchizedek.  He declared that Abram had the blessing of God.  The same God Who made heaven and earth promised before kings that His creation power would move on Abram’s behalf.

After Melchizedek’s splendid blessing, Abram gave him a tenth of all the plunder.   This priest was a king to his Lord, and he would pay him his dues.  What a meeting of greatness this was!  These were two men of incomparable honor and nobility, and they stood together in the midst of the cursed and chaotic world with the dignity and blessings of God’s divine hand.

But the king of Sodom was an entirely different story.  He ruled over a land of wickedness and horrific sin, and Abram would have nothing to do with him.  This contemptible king came to Abram with a command.  His entire city had been plundered in the war.  His cowardly men had run from the battle scene and allowed an army to invade their city.

By the courage of his men and the work of his God, Abram brought all of those things back, including the men, women, and children of Sodom.  He saved them all.  He was their true hero.  But the king of Sodom did not come with a grateful attitude or a humble spirit.  He came with arrogant demands.  It would have been right for him to wait and listen to Abram, the man to whom he owed so much.  Instead, he jumped in and told Abram that he could keep all of the plunder, but asked him to return his citizens to him.  He had no right to give any instructions, it was not his role to tell Abram what he could keep or not.  He had lost the privilege of rule.

Abram looked at the despicable king and said, “‘I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even the thread of a thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, “I made Abram rich”’” (Gen. 14:22-23).

Wow. Abram knew that the King of Sodom was not a man of honor.  This king’s promises meant nothing; only a fool would trust him.  He was a ruler who led his own people into filth and shame.  Abram wanted to make sure that the glory of all his victories and his wealth went to the LORD.  This horrific man would have no chance to take credit.  Abram was willing to give up any fortune or wealth to protect the honor and image of God.  The blessing of Melchizedek was worth far more than the gold and silver of Sodom!

Abram’s righteous life would continue to reflect the strength and character of God to all the nations that knew his name.  By now, every city and nation of people far and wide would have heard of the righteousness of God’s servant.  Their eyes would have been watching his life.  They would have known his ways.  God was giving the wicked nations of Canaan a bright example of His goodness in Abram.  Would they turn from their wickedness and sin?  Would the king of Sodom think twice about the violence and perversion of his city?  Would Abram’s rebuke cause him to repent and change?  Or would the rebellion continue?

Story 22: Parting Ways: The Foolish and the Wise

Genesis 13:1-18

Abram was a chosen man.  Adam and Eve, the first humans, had plunged the world under a terrible curse by rebelling against God in the garden of paradise that he had provided with him.  They had sided with his enemy and given the enemy power over them and all of their descendants.  Yet God had a solution already prepared.  From those descendants, God promised that one of them would one day crush the power of God’s enemy (Gen. 3:14-15).

One of the most significant stages in the unfolding of God’s plan was the covenant he made with Abram (see Gen. 12:1-4 or Story 20).  God was going to make Abram’s descendants into a great nation, and somehow he would bless all the other nations of the world through them. God brought Abram out of the land of his own people and brought him to the land of Canaan, the Land of Promise, that he would give to Abram’s children.  Abram was called to stay there and live by faith in what God promised he would do.  Yet at the first sign of trouble, Abram took his wife and nephew, all his flocks and servants, and left the land.  A famine had come, and they fled to Egypt.  That didn’t turn out too well (see Story 21).

After a coming against a crazy situation in Egypt, Abram moved his family back to Canaan, to a place called Negev.  They returned to the region near Bethel.  This was the place where Abram had built his second altar to God.  That moment was a high and holy moment for Abram; it was a place of great remembrance.  Perhaps Abram felt the need to seek a recommitment of faith to the covenant that had come to him there.

As Abraham was traveling about, his nephew Lot went with him.  Both of them had huge herds of cows and goats and sheep.  There were so many animals that they were eating up all the grass.  There wasn’t enough for all the animals to eat. The herdsmen and shepherds of Lot and Abram began to fight with each other over the land and the grass.

So Abram said to Lot, “‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers.  Is not the whole land before you?  Let’s part company.  If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left’” (Gen. 13:8-9).

Wow.  That was very generous of Abram.  He had already raised Lot.  Now he was giving his nephew first choice of the land.  Yet Abraham was the elder man, and the covenant promise had been given to him.  He had every right to claim the best of the land for himself.

What does his choice show us about Abram?  He did not need to grasp with greed.  He was demonstrating with his actions that he put his trust in the Lord.  He believed his future was in the hands of God.  That gave him freedom to give lavishly and graciously to his nephew.  His desire to keep peace with his nephew was greater than his desire for the security and honor of wealth and property.

Lot looked out over the land and saw the plain of the Jordan River.  It was lush and green with well watered plants.  It was perfect ground for farming and raising crops.  His livestock would have plenty to eat.  It was like the garden of the LORD.  Lot claimed the very best for himself. His decision was based on what he could see.  It was not a decision made by faith in God.  Abram honored Lot’s choice and moved on to the land of Canaan.

Lot’s first selfish choice was almost as unwise as his second choice.  Of all the cities on the plain, he chose to pitch his tents next to the city of Sodom.  It was known to be a place of great wickedness, where the people lived lives of filthy immorality and despicable sin.  The wrath of God was filling up against them.  They were not wise people for Lot to befriend.

After Lot left, the LORD spoke with Abram once again:

 “‘Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west.  All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.  I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.  Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you’”

Gen. 13:14-17

Isn’t it interesting that God waited for Lot to make his choice and leave before He continued with the promise?

The LORD was rewarding Abram’s faith with assurances of His promises. Abram was to go out and walk along the land, knowing it was truly set apart for him by God.  As a king surveys the realm of his kingdom, Abram walked his land and saw with his own eyes this good place that God had prepared for him.

When Abram was done with his tour, he and Sarai moved with all their servants, flocks and herds to a place with beautiful trees called Mamre.  It was in the region of Hebron. This area was not like the place where Lot chose to live, where rivers provided a constant flow of water.  It was not like Egypt, with the never ending Nile.  Hebron was an area that depended on rain for water.  The people who lived there were at greater risk for drought or famine.   There was no river to go to when things got dry.  Abram was well aware of the danger of drought, but he also knew that his God was the Lord over the rain systems of the earth.  He trusted these gifts from God’s hands more than the safety of living in larger numbers near a constant water source.  He could trust God as he separated his family and servants from the sins and temptations of the city.   This was the faith that was growing in our hero.  Think of how he had changed from the man who fled to Egypt!   Abram showed his devotion and gratitude to God by building an altar of worship to him.

After Lot left, the LORD spoke with Abram once again:

 

 “‘Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west.  All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.  I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.  Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you’” (Gen. 13:14-17). 

 

The LORD was rewarding Abram’s faith with assurances of his promises. Abram was to go out and walk along the land, knowing it was truly set apart for him by God.  As a king surveys the realm of his kingdom, Abram walked his land and saw with his own eyes this good place that God was preparing for him.

When Abram was done with his tour, he and Sarah moved with all their servants, flocks and herds to a place with beautiful trees called Mamre.  It was in the region of Hebron. This area was not like the place where Lot chose to live, where rivers provided a constant flow of water.  It was not like Egypt, with the never ending Nile.  Hebron was an area that depended on rain for water.  The people who lived there were at greater risk for drought or famine.   There was no river to go to when things got dry.  Abram was well aware of the danger of drought, but he also knew that his God was the Lord over the rain systems of the earth.  He knew that he was safe in God’s hands.   This was the faith that was growing in our hero!  How different he was from the man who had fled to Egypt!   Abram showed his devotion and gratitude to God by building an altar of worship to him there.

 

Story 164: Passion Week: Judgment…God’s Job and Ours

Matthew 21:18-22 ; Mark 11:19-26

Silhouette of dead tree at sunset

The coming of Christ to Jerusalem was like a rush of wind, blowing through the hustle and bustle of the Passover Feast, disrupting everything and turning it upside down. As He walked in upright, steadfast obedience to His Father, He shook the settled pretenses of false worship and the malice of the corrupt leaders. The favor of the people was being called out. Would they choose the ways of man or the ways of God? Would they be on the right side of True History?   Would they give their loyalty to their Lord?

As everyone watched to see what the radical young preacher, this Jesus, would do, nobody seemed to realize that they were the ones being tested. They thought it was Jesus who was under scrutiny, but in God’s reality it was their time for choosing. Meanwhile, Jesus stood in the straight, iron strength of God’s mighty power against the churning mess of sinful men. It was up to everyone else to realign themselves with Him.

One way to think about this is to compare our need for God to our need for oxygen. We can’t survive without oxygen. It is ridiculous to reject air.  It is pointless to argue or complain about having to breath. It is far better to be grateful that the oxygen is there. On a far deeper level, we need God.  Every culture has formed some faith system in their reach towards Him.  But Jesus declared that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  We can’t get around what He said…either He is wrong and He was a horrible liar, or He is right, and we ought to give all that we have to follow Him.  There is no other option for eternal hope. He is the Source, and without Him, when the human race rejects Him, we plunge ourselves into horrible defeat.

This defeat may take time.  The religious leaders certainly thought they were going to get away with killing Jesus.  But today, the names of the high priests are only known to history because they murdered the Son of God, while Jesus has been worshipped with great devotion since the day He rose again.  In the end, Christ will have the total victory, and those who do not align their hearts and lives to Him will face absolute devastation.

The second day of the Passover week had come and gone. Jesus journeyed with His disciples on their nightly path to Bethany. It was a small village on the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from the city. It is the place where He raised Lazarus from the dead. It is also where Mary, Lazarus’ sister, had anointed Christ with perfumed oil. Jesus and His disciples slept there through the watches of the night to regain their strength. As the sun rose, they could look across and see the formidable walls of Jerusalem. How it must have glimmered in the sun.  As morning came, Jesus journeyed with His disciples back to the Temple.

Along the way, they came across the very same fig tree that Jesus had cursed the day before. Only now, the bright green leaves were gone. The entire tree, from the roots to its highest branch, was shriveled and dried up. It was shocking. Something that had seemed so vibrant and alive the day before was completely dead.  As we look at the stories in the book of Matthew and Mark, we can see that the fig tree was a symbol.  The nation of Israel had not responded to their Savior…they had not produced the spiritual fruit they were made for.  And because of this, there would be judgment.  Somehow, the Jewish people would be cut off from life. Today we can look back and know that this prophecy came true.  Within the lifetime of the disciples, the nation of Israel was totally decimated by the Roman Empire.  It would be another 2,000 years before Israel became a nation again.

When Jesus’ disciples saw the tree, they were amazed. “‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’” they asked.

Then Peter remembered what Jesus said. “‘Rabbi,’” he said, “‘behold, the fig tree which you cursed has withered.’”

Jesus responded, but you’ll notice, He didn’t say much about the fig tree.  He simply used it as an example to offer His disciples a rather astonishing promise:

“‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go throw yourself into the sea, and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours'”

Mark 11: 22-24

These words of Jesus are so grand and great that they are difficult to believe. When we read them… and I mean really read them, do we take His words seriously? Is there doubt, reluctance? Are we carrying some fear that He won’t answer?   Do we sincerely believe our prayers can have that kind of power? And if we don’t…what does that tell us about our faith in Jesus?

These words were a challenge to the disciples. Jesus knew they had faith, but He also knew there was greater faith to be had, and until their faith was so great that it could move a mountain…truly and completely believing it is possible in the power of God…then they were meant to keep on pursuing greater faith.

These words were not just a challenge for the disciples. They were meant for all who belong to Jesus. As we seek to live by faith, to follow Him on the path of faith, what it is that He is putting in front of us to pray for? Do we have the faith to ask without doubting? Surely as we start to pray those prayers, Jesus will lead us into deeper realms of faith…to the place where He will answer them. He will remove the barriers and brokenness in our hearts so that we can wholeheartedly embrace fullness in Christ.

Jesus knew that we all have those barriers to faith, so He explained an important one to His disciples:

“‘And whenever you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive your sins'” 

Mark 11:25

Imagine how this all looks from Jesus’ perspective. God is all powerful, all knowing, totally able to do anything He chooses.  And He is full of love and desire to work in power through His children. Yet unforgiveness is toxic. If we are full of anger, unforgiveness, and malice towards each other, what will we do with His power? We will abuse it…use it as a way to compete and tramp down others…allow our own darkness to taint God’s work in the world. Even as we seek to love God, we will misrepresent Him because we haven’t chosen to forgive.

This may seem like a small thing, and because we treat it like a small thing, we live smaller lives for God.  Forgiveness is a big deal in the eyes of God.  It is important to quiet ourselves and take time to listen to our hearts. Who have we not forgiven?  Who has hurt you? Ask yourself this and be still. Listen to the answer inside you. Who do you feel hurt by? Who makes you feel angry when you think about them? Who do you have accusations against? Whose success is threatening to you? Whose failure would you enjoy?  Who do you avoid?

We were created for a perfect world of perfect love. We were not meant for this petty, selfish world where we do so much to hurt each other. There is much to forgive. Pray through forgiveness with the Lord, even for things that seem small to you: “Lord, I forgive Susie for ignoring me and favoring Sally…Lord, I forgive Jack for mocking me in front of our colleagues…Lord, I forgive my husband for leaving his clothes on the ground so I have to pick them up.”

Pray also through the big things, so great and painful that they are hard to think about… “Lord, I forgive my mother for abandoning our family…Lord, I forgive my neighbor for slandering me and destroying my reputation…Lord, I forgive my husband for abusing our child.”   These are agonizing pains…the horrors of a world under a terrible curse. Jesus does not require that we allow sin to continue, and we are meant to protect the innocent. We should not agree with abuse and slander and abandonment, and we should stand with Jesus against evil as we are able. But when sin comes against us, we are still required by God to forgive. It removes the toxic power of unforgiveness from our souls and allows us to draw near to God.  We can trust…we must trust…that He will apply His perfect justice and mercy in His perfect time.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree, it was a symbol of God’s coming judgment on the nation of Israel. They refused to repent and put their faith in their Savior. Yet when Jesus answered His disciples about that curse, He did not tell them to do the same. They were not to curse the nation. They were to pray in faith for big things, and they were to forgive.

 

New 129: The Pursuing Love of God

Luke 13:1-21

いちじく

As Jesus continued to preach, He kept untwisting the horrible distortions and lies that kept the people living in fear and false belief. How offensive it must have been to Him that these lies were being told about His Heavenly Father!

At one point, some people told Jesus about something terrible that Pontius Pilate had done. Pilate was the Roman ruler who held power over Jerusalem, and the Jewish people hated him for it. He was a murderous, cruel man, and he despised the Jewish people and their religion. His oppressive rule extended all the way to the inner courts of the great Temple. One day, when some Jews from Galilee were offering sacrifices to God, Pilate sent in his soldiers in to massacre them. The blood of the holy sacrifices of animals was mixed with the blood of the Galileans who had brought their offerings . What an evil invasion of death and malice, right into the inner courts of the palace of God!

The people wondered why this had happened. They thought that perhaps the people that Pilate killed were guilty of some horrific sin. They must have done something to deserve it! Jesus set the record straight:

“‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will perish.’”

Luke 13:2-5

As Jesus saw those terrible events befall a small number of the Jewish people, they were like a mini picture of the terrible things to come if the nation didn’t repent of their rebellion against the Messiah. The people that died were no worse than the rest of the Jews. Their death was simply a part of the great evil of a world under a curse.  But the fate of those people was a warning. The same thing was going to happen on a much greater scale against the Jewish nation, and nobody would escape. Jesus went on to tell a parable to show them that there was still time:

“‘A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now, I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.  Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”

“‘“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’”

Luke 13:8-9

In this story, the man is like God, and the fig tree is like the Jewish people. For three years, Jesus had preached to the people, and like the fig tree, they bore no fruit. There was no widespread repentance or belief. God’s hand of judgment was threatening, but it had not fallen against them yet. He would hold off for one more year…and that is not all…

Consider what would happen in the year that followed this story. Jesus would be crucified.   The people would feel the great earthquake that came at the moment of His death. They would learn about how the veil in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom at the very same moment. Then Jesus would rise again. Hundreds of Jews would see Him and testify that He was living and breathing. Then mysterious rumors would flow all over Israel about how He ascended into Heaven. Ten days later, at the great festival of Pentecost, the followers of Christ would boldly flood the streets of Jerusalem, speaking foreign languages with perfect clarity, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom. The Spirit of the Lord would be upon them, and thousands would put their faith in the risen Christ. The prophecies of the Old Testament would come alive before them, giving the nation of Israel yet another chance to put their faith in Christ.  All of this was part of God’s lavish pursuit of His beloved people…and the beginning of His pursuit of you and me.

Story 90: The Healing in His Hands

Matthew 9:27-34

Wonder of Jesus: healing the blind in stained glass

In this story, Jesus was continuing to give His faithful witness of the Gospel in the region Galilee in spite of the hard-heartedness of the people. Where was the repentance that should have marked the children of God when their Savior came?   The hostility of the Jewish leadership against the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ pressed their hearts into new levels of hardness and rebellion.  It provoked God’s judgment and sealed their eternal fate. Now the proclamation of the Gospel would not be given to the nation. It would be given in the quiet places, to individuals, cloaked in parables. The miracles would be done in private for those who showed true faith against the powerful voices of the religious leaders.

As Jesus left the tender healing of the ruler’s daughter and headed to Peter’s house where He was staying, two blind men began to follow him from behind. They cried out, “‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’”

When they called Jesus the Son of David they were declaring that they believed Jesus was the Man who fulfilled God’s divine promise to King David. They believed He was the Anointed One of Isaiah, the mighty warrior who would restore the nation of Israel to her golden years when King David reigned in power! These men did not understand that their Messiah had not come to bring a war. They didn’t understand the remarkable, heartbreaking way Jesus would bring in the New Covenant. But they did believe He was sent by God.

The Lord went into Peter’s home and the blind men followed Him right in. Jesus had a lot of choices at that moment.  He could have been annoyed.  He could have said He was tired.  He could have asked them to show some manners.  He could have kicked them out or treated them as unworthy, just as the rest of their society likely did.

Instead, Jesus said, “‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’” Interesting.   He asked if they believed He was able.  They both said, “‘Yes, Lord.’” So He touched their eyes and said, “‘According to your faith it will be done to you.’”  Again, interesting.  He empowered their healing according to the degree of their faith in a sort of two way interaction between His abundant capacity and their belief.

Right then and there, the sight of both men was given back to them. Imagine their awe as they stood in Peter’s house and looked around. Imagine how that moment had changed their lives! They had probably gone through great personal anguish grieving the fact that they would never see again.  How would you feel if it happened to you? No more sunsets, no more independence, no more gazing on the face of your beloved.  The whole visual world was restored to them in an instant.  It is hard to imagine a greater gift apart from salvation.  Before they left, Jesus warned them, “‘See that no one knows about this.’”

Why in the world not?

Well, the Jewish world was already hostile against Him. The leaders had already offended the Spirit of the Living God. Their had hardened their hearts over and over again against the amazing teachings and miracles of Christ.  When they used their power to accuse Christ of being from Satan instead of acknowledging Him to the nation as the Messiah, they turned a corner.  God confirmed the hardness of their hearts with judgment.  The miracles would not serve to soften their hearts…it would only harden them.  The Lord Jesus would not give them one more way to sin against His Father.  As Christ’s compassion continued to compel Him to set the broken of Israel free from their bondage, it was no longer a part of the proclamation of the coming Messiah.

You would think that these men would be so grateful that they would do whatever Jesus asked. You would think that they would obey the one they had called “Lord.” But they didn’t. After they left, they went all around the region of Galilee telling everyone what Jesus had done for them.  Whatever tiny amount of faith it required for them to access Christ’s healing power, it wasn’t significant enough to draw their loyal obedience.  What a merciful Lord.

Even as these men were leaving the house, another man was brought to Jesus. This man was under the oppressive power of a demon. He wasn’t able to speak at all. Jesus drove out the demon, and the man was able to talk. The crowds that were always surrounding Jesus were amazed. “‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.’” But the Pharisees were saying, “‘It is by the prince of demons that He drives out demons.’”

It is breathtaking how these religious leaders continued to blaspheme the work of the Holy Spirit!  Let’s review the big picture here for a minute. If it seems like we are doing that a lot in these stories, know that it is not an accident.  It helps us be mindful of the ongoing context that Christ was constantly bearing.  That is important for the way we read the situation.  It will also help us grasp anew the magnitude of the terrible and devastating error these religious rulers were making.

Everywhere Jesus went, He displayed magnificent power to undo the horrible effects of the curse. This curse had come on humanity at its very earliest age. The sin of Adam and Eve, the parents of every human, rebelled against God, and so they invited sin and death into the world and into the lives of all their descendants. For thousands of years the human race proved how wicked the heart of man is by their constant decisions to sin against the Most High God.

To look at human history, it would seem that all was lost. The most vicious rulers paved their road to victory on the backs of the weak. The glorious peace and perfection of the Garden was no more than a sweet fantasy in the memory of the human race as they toiled under the sun to grow enough food to eat. It was all they could do to survive the storms and drought and famine that the curse brought into the world. Sin distorted the depths of the heart of humanity as well. The wonder of marriage between one man and one woman was constantly violated through the sin of men and their perverse, distorted rejection of God’s intention for true love. Nation warred against nation and neighbor warred against neighbor in a never-ending cycle of selfishness. Sin was a weight that pulled humanity into filth and shame that Adam and Eve could never have imagined when they sought the knowledge of good and evil from that tree.

The Most High God was not going to leave His creation to the dark tragedy that Satan was working so hard to mastermind. He chose a nation to exhibit the right way to live for the whole world to see. He chose the descendants of Abraham to be His holy and treasured people. They would not destroy sin and death through their law, but they would show how to pursue the Most High God in a world tainted by sin and death.

From the midst of His holy nation, God sent His own Son into the world to be the Savior. He would walk the earth and live a perfect life, absolutely free from sin. He would live His life as the human race was meant to live in the Garden, in perfect communion with God and in total obedience to Him. Through Him, the goodness of God would flow, and the terrible pain and suffering that the curse brought would be turned back into health and wholeness.

This was the Old Testament promise of the Messiah. This is what the Jews should have seen when they watched the miracles of Jesus. Everywhere the Lord went, glorious miracles happened and captives were set free from the power of demonic forces. The lame could walk, shriveled hands stretched out to perfection, the dead were raised, and long-time diseases fled weary bodies. As Jesus journeyed through Galilee month after month, the people had time to think about these wondrous things that were happening among them. They could have search the Word and seen how Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophets. They could have bowed at His feet in reverent awe, just as Peter had in the boat when he saw his first miracle.  They could repented of their prior sin and false ways of leading the people. They could have seen the work of Christ and announced to all the world, “THIS IS THE ONE! Come to Him!” like the woman at the well or the man who was set free from a Legion of demons.  Except when they did it, the religious leaders would have done it on behalf of a nation…of the nation that God had set apart for the task.  This was the amazing, epic, glorious role that the Lord had given these religious leaders. When they failed it was a failure on epic, historical and spiritual proportions.

Many did not fail.  We know the story of quiet Nicodemus as He snuck to meet with Jesus in the dead of night. The Spirit of the Lord was working among the quietly faithful. But the established position by those who wielded power was set. Their proclamation was that Jesus was operating out of the power of Satan, and they would use their power from the Temple and the synagogues to turn God’s people away from Him with all their might.

As the households and villages and cities of regular Jewish families discussed this Jesus and all the amazing stories that came flowing out of Galilee, they were beginning to form their opinions about Him. It was becoming more and more established that they were going to have to either side with the national religious leadership or side with Christ.  The middle ground was shrinking.  And God the Father, who searches every heart, understood the exact measure of faith in the people He called His own. As He offered His magnificent grace and compassion through His Son, the Lord God was offering them the finest gift He could bestow. The people of Israel would have to decide which way to go. Would they follow their leadership at the Temple in Jerusalem and the synagogues in their rejection of the Messiah? Or would they allow the Spirit of God to speak and reveal the greatness of Jesus Christ? What would you decide?

Story 85: Parables of the Kingdom: For Eyes that Will See

Mark 4:26-29; Matthew 13:31-32 and Mark 4:30-32; Matt. 13:33-35 and Mark 4:33-34

Vienna -  Holy Trinity in Altlerchenfelder church

When Jesus started His preaching ministry, He warned the people about the Day of the Lord, the final stage of The Great Battle over human history. It is the time when Christ will return to complete His total and utter victory against the curse that Adam and Eve had brought into the world.

Someone needed to do something about the world as it is, with all the toxic poison of humanity’s sin, and the terrible systems of the world that arise from it, and the powerful forces of evil that urge the darkness on. Someone would have to do something about the broken natural system of the earth that Adam and Eve invited in the world. If things were gong to get better for the human race, someone needed to come and destroy death itself. Humans were helpless to do this for ourselves. We needed someone beyond us, greater than us, with far more power, to come and make it happen. The only One who could pull it off was God Himself. And He did.

Jesus has already won the victory in total, absolute completeness with His death and resurrection. But some day He is going to to come and bring that victory to it’s final conclusion.

When Jesus finishes crushing the power of sin and death, He will inaugurate a new era of everlasting goodness. There would be no more sorrow or tears because everything will change. The whole natural world will be free from the grip of the curse. We will no longer do the things that bring so much suffering to ourselves and others because we will be utterly free not to sin. We won’t even want to!

Think of the things about yourself that you struggle with. Think of the things you do that cause you shame. All of that will gone. All the bad things that other people do will be gone, too. We will live with the perfect joy and peace that comes when God’s goodness is followed without wavering at all times. And we will get to be with our beautiful Savior, the One who loves us with perfect love. Forever.

That promise is so epic that it is hard to grasp. It is so great that wrapping your head around it takes time. You have to ponder it. But it is worth it. In fact, it is worth setting all of your hope upon it. That is what it means to live for the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul said:

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sites on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all His glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).

As He preached throughout the countryside of Israel, Jesus warned the people to repent of their sin. This repentance was not simply about feeling bad about the wrong they had done. It meant radically turning away from a sinful way of life in order to give their total, whole-hearted commitment to the things of God.

But the Jewish people did not repent. In fact, even as He healed the sick with amazing miracles and taught about love so generous and beautiful that it makes the heart yearn, they accused Him of working in the power of Satan.

As we read the Gospels we can see that at that point in His ministry, there was a shift. To those who had rejected His method, the message became veiled. They would not longer be given truths that they would only manipulate and abuse. But to those who showed true repentance from their sin, Jesus began to reveal new insights about the Kingdom. These lessons were no longer about the final coming of the Day of the Lord. They were about what the Kingdom would look like before that final day comes…and what it meant to live in those days.

Once Jesus died and rose again, there would be a time when the Kingdom would grow throughout the world. His disciples would be an important part of that growth. They would take up the message of the Good News and proclaim it to every nation.

The Lord Jesus understood that the friends that were journeying around Israel with Him would become the new heralds of the Kingdom. The time had come to train and teach His true followers the ways of the Kingdom of God while humanity still lived in a cursed world. What would it look like?

Well, we have already learned that the Kingdom is like a seed. If it is planted in a heart with good soil, it will grow up to be a hundred times that first seed. But the cares of this world, misunderstanding, and Satan were very bad soil, and when seeds land hearts infested by these things, then the seed of the Kingdom would not grow. We learned from the next parable that the Kingdom is wherever the Spirit is in God’s faithful believers. But Satan will come and bring his own followers and plant them among those who love God. They will try to corrupt the love and purity of God’s people as they lived together for God’s Kingdom. Until the harvest, the great Day of the Lord, the true people of the Kingdom would have to take care, for there would be enemies of God among them.

Jesus first told these parables as a warning to His disciples, but they are also a warning for us. As we seek to follow Jesus in our lives, we need to be ready. Many will hear the truth and fall away, and there will be false people who claim to love Jesus, but they are really out to destroy the Kingdom of God.

Jesus began to tell parables that explain the mysteries of how the Kingdom of God works in the heart of those who truly believe:

“‘The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows-how, he himself does not know. The seed produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the crop has come.’”

This parable is very simple. The messengers of the Kingdom go out and spread the Word of God, and when they do that, they are being faithful. Just as the farmer does not know exactly what energizes his little seeds to grow into a beautiful plants, the heralds of the Kingdom don’t know exactly how the Word of God works in each heart to bring people to faith in Jesus.

It is a mystery to us. It is not a mystery to God. He can be trusted to make His crops grow, and they can trust that He will grow and harvest His own children at just the right times.

Jesus went on:

“‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.’”

What is Jesus saying about the Kingdom here? How does it start out? Teeny tiny. Jesus didn’t pick a big seed as His example. He picked one that is notably miniscule. And in fact, when Jesus was crucified, He was alone. His small group of faithful followers had deserted Him, and only His mother, John, and Mary Magdalene were at the cross for the unimaginable moment when Jesus conquered sin and death. But now look at the Kingdom of God across the world. That common Jewish carpenter who was crucified in a small, unimportant outpost of the Roman Empire is now worshipped as the Son of the Living God all over the planet.

With each year, His Kingdom continues to expand to farther reaches and new languages. You’ll hardly ever hear about it on the news, it isn’t something the big and powerful institutions of this world want to recognize. The social sciences purposely look the other way and pretend it isn’t an important, world changing phenomena having far greater influence than any psychological theory. But if you hang out with the lovers of Christ, you’ll get to see glimpses of the massive underground currents of God’s Spirit working throughout our world. Look at South Korea, India, China, and whole sections of Africa and South America that have seen amazing transformations in our lifetime.

As the heralds of God’s kingdom go out to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, the seed often starts out small. Often when the lost are given a powerful testimony, few believe, and those who proclaim the Gospel are often persecuted. Yet these faithful ones can still have hope that even if they do not get to see those tiny mustard seeds of faith grow into a full grown plant in the lives of others, God will be faithful. The High King of Heaven reigns over all, and one day, He will establish His rule and reign over everything that is!

Jesus told another parable. He said:

 “‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.’”

Have you ever used yeast to make bread? If you take water and flour and salt, you can make dough for delicious flat bread. But a little bit of yeast changes everything. If you mix that yeast in and leave it alone for a few hours, the yeast will fill the dough up with little pockets of air. When you bake it, it will become light and fluffy bread.

The Kingdom of God is like that. When the Good News reaches into a heart, it changes every part of that person’s life. It spreads out! And then, because that person is changed, they become a source of God’s transforming work in the people around them. They spread the Kingdom of God to others.

The authors of the Bible said that these are just a few of the parables that Jesus gave to teach about the Kingdom as He spoke in front of the crowds. Then He would explain the parables afterwards to His disciples. The book of Matthew points out that this was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. It read:

“‘I will open my mouth in parables,

I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’”

This prophecy is from Psalm 78:2. This Psalm was first written to warn the nation of Israel against repeating the sins of their nation in the past. They were to remember God’s faithfulness and honor His covenant with obedience. Jesus came about a thousand year later, and the nation of Israel was failing to do this once again.

God was moving in new, epically important ways. The Son of God Himself was among them. He was revealing how the Kingdom of Heaven was going to break into the cursed world and transform it. These secrets had been hidden in the heart of God for thousands of years. Now the mystery was being unveiled to those honored few who had put their trust in Him. Will we do the same?

Story 68: Where Treasures Lie

Matthew 6:19-21

Precious treasure

An important way that members of Christ’s Kingdom show devotion to God is in our attitude about money and the way we spend it.   This is what the Lord said:

“‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal and destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where you treasure is, there you heart will be also.’”

Matthew 6:19-21

 

What do you think Jesus is talking about when He says, “treasures on earth”? What are the treasures in Heaven? What are some ways to gather those treasures?

With our devoted service to Jesus, we are gathering glorious rewards in Heaven that will last forever. Wow. Our acts of kindness to the poor, our fasting and prayer, our hungering and thirsting for righteousness, all of these things are building up for us a treasure trove in eternity.

It can be hard to imagine as we live on this earth how magnificent Heaven is going to be. We look at nice homes, fancy cars, or expensive clothes and they seem so precious and wonderful. But when we get to Heaven, things like phones and televisions are going to seem shabby and cheap. In the glorious, living light of Jesus, only the truly worthy things will seem wonderful to us.

When we desire the things of earth more than God’s heavenly blessings, it is like we are starving people, scrambling to get a morsel of moldy bread. Instead of waiting on God and obeying so that we can have the delicious eternally satisfying food God offers, humans strive to grasp hold of toxic things that might taste good in the moment, but give us food poisoning in the end. Even good things…like the love of family, a rewarding job, or a safe home, become poisoned treasures if they become the things we worship.

In many ways, we don’t have to wait to enjoy the treasures of Heaven. We can enjoy them now. As the richness and joy of seeking after righteousness takes hold in our lives, the pure peace of God’s ways will give a happiness that the darkness of the world cannot understand. As we respond to our Lord in love, He creates deeper wells in our hearts to receive deeper love in Him. Our times of prayer and praise and worship become far more precious and filled with clear, bright joy than any other activity on earth can bring. And our ability to love others becomes stronger and more whole. We receive the gift of greater love between our family members and those in our church as we press on for the treasures of Heaven. And once we arrive in God’s eternal Kingdom, all of those things will be even more filled with His goodness and light. It will be a life of everlasting bliss!

Now, for people that don’t have faith or believe in Heaven and the rewards of God, these promises don’t mean very much. But for those who believe what Jesus said, these are some of the most remarkable promises ever given in the history of humanity.

As Jesus challenged His listeners to make God their treasure instead of the things money can by, He was not telling His listeners that money itself was bad. He was telling them that the love of money is wrong, especially when getting money and things becomes more important than the Lord. The decisions of true followers of Christ will be based on doing everything for the sake of his Kingdom and for Kingdom rewards. Money becomes just another way to serve God. He is the great treasure, and He is worth everything.

A lot of what we treasure has to do with what we long for with our eyes. Jesus said:

“‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!’”

Matthew 6:22-23

Have you ever looked at something and wanted it, even if it didn’t belong to you? Have you ever been absolutely certain you were right about something, only to learn that you were totally wrong? Have you ever done something in anger and felt very good and triumphant at the time, only to feel terrible about it later? Those were moments when your eyes were darkened. When we see things wrongly, everything else about us follows us into that darkness! It effects how we think and act.

That was the problem of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were so sure they saw with clear light, but they really saw everything through the darkness of their sin. Their folly is a warning for us all. It is a very terrible danger for all humans…one person cannot serve both the light and the darkness at the same time.

The warning of Jesus should give us all a reverent fear, longing to avoid that mistake. The best protection against darkness is to continually come to the Light! When we have the humility to go to Jesus with honest repentance about every sin, we are cleansed, and He makes our eyes bright with the light of His Son.

Story 39: Forgiveness

Matt. 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-2; Luke 5:17-28

Worship

Can you imagine watching your friend, paralyzed and unable to go anywhere without your help, rise and pick up the mat that you carried him on? Can you imagine the conversations you would have on the walk home? The new plans he would have for his life? The happy gratefulness he would feel towards the One who gave him healing? Everyone who has received Jesus into their heart has received a far greater healing…has more healing to receive…and will see a day of utter and complete freedom from all that has held us in bondage. Happy is the person who believes in those promises so deeply that he or she can begin to live in that happy sense of gratefulness today.  It is one of those prayer requests He is sure to answer.

The times that Christ lived in were very different times from our own. There were no news cameras or newspapers. It wasn’t possible to take a picture with a cell phone and post it on the internet. In those days, news travelled mouth to mouth or through messengers that would run or ride on horseback to deliver important information. Yet the human race was still very much the same as we are now. They cared about the same kinds of things and spread the same kind of gossip. Sometimes that worked for the good. Sometimes it wasn’t helpful at all.

Jesus had performed an amazing miracle. He had healed a man with leprosy. Word about it spread far and wide. The popularity of Christ was growing. Even though His ministry was far in the north of Israel around the Sea of Galilee, people down south in Jerusalem were hearing more and more about Him. The priests were getting curious. Who was this Jesus who had been so bold in the Temple? What were these rumors of miraculous healings in Galilee all about?

A few days after Jesus healed the leper, He got into a boat and crossed the Sea of Galilee back to His own town of Capernaum. It didn’t take long for everyone to learn that He had come home.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law had come from all the villages of Galilee. But it was not only the local religious leaders that were there. Pharisees from Judea and Jerusalem had been sent as well. They wanted to check out this Man who presumed to preach the Kingdom of Heaven to the masses. They wanted to test His healing power to see if it was real. And if necessary, they planned to put a stop to His ministry if it didn’t fit their idea of what it should be.   These men saw themselves as protectors of the faith. But would they try to protect the Jews from their own Messiah? Would they recognize Him now that He was finally here?

On the day of this story, Jesus was teaching in a home. So many people came to hear Him that the house was packed. People were crammed in every doorway, and there was no room for anyone else to come in.

As Jesus spoke, there came a noise from the roof. Some men had heard about Jesus’ remarkable healing power, and they thought He might be able to heal their friend. He was a paralytic, and it was painful to watch him struggle. How they wanted to see him walk again! What excellent friends.

The room was so full that they couldn’t get in through the door, but there was another way. The roofs of homes at that time in Israel were flat. They were made with tablets of clay. There was usually a staircase on the outside of the house leading up to it. These devoted friends carried their friend up to the roof of the house and began to move the clay tiles out of their way! They were going to lower their friend down to Jesus if they had to!

Imagine what is was like to be sitting in the room, listening to Jesus. Imagine hearing the footsteps of these men over your head, the clay tablets shifting and scrapping and lifting up, and the light streaming in! Now picture a mat lowering down from ropes right into the center of the room. Can you see it in your mind as the shriveled, paralyzed man on the mat came down to rest right at the feet of Jesus? What was Jesus going to do with this interruption?

He could have gotten mad at the interruption of His important message (for surely it was important.) He could have said, “Not now…not in front of these guys from Jerusalem. They want to take me down!” He could have ignored the man and kept on going, or refused to heal Him because it would be one more wearying exertion of His power.

Jesus was moved by the faith of these bold friends and this broken man. He turned to the one at His feet and said, “‘Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.’”

Wow. The Lord had just wiped away every bad thing the man had ever done. He was totally clean in the eyes of God.

When the Pharisees and teachers of the law heard this, they knew exactly what He meant. They thought, “‘Who is this man who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”

That was a good question. It is true that only God has the right to forgive sins. If Jesus claimed to do so, He was claiming to be God himself! That was blasphemy! It was the worst sin someone could do. It offended the majesty and glory of God himself! Either Jesus was the worst of sinners, or He really was God! He didn’t leave room for any other explanation! These religious authorities were going to have to make some decisions. They either had to curse Him as a blasphemer, which was a sin worthy of death, or accept Him as Lord.

When the religious leaders heard Jesus claim to do something only God could do, they could have chosen to believe. The evidence was there. Stunning miracles seemed flow from every direction wherever He went. They could remembered their prophets who said this would happen when the Messiah came. They could have rejoiced at seeing people set free from their suffering. Instead, they stood there, accusing Jesus and raging against Him in their minds.

Jesus knew exactly what these Pharisees were thinking. The Spirit of the Lord was with Him, showing Him everything He needed to know. So He said to them, “‘Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, and walk’? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has Authority to forgive sins…’”

Then Jesus did something very bright and bold. He turned to the paralytic and said, “‘Rise, take up your bed, and go home’”*

The man did just as Jesus said. What faith it must have taken to rise up in front of all those people! But he did. His shriveled legs that had been useless were now strong and whole.   He picked up his mat and walked right out of the room! Can you imagine his joy as he walked home with his friends? How many years had it been since he could take himself anywhere? The Lord Jesus had given this man strength that the terrible Curse had robbed him of, and now he could step out into a whole new life!

You would think that everyone who saw this amazing miracle would be out of their minds with excitement! You would think that it would convince even the hardest heart that this Jesus was truly from God. But the religious leaders were full of their own pride. They had their own ideas about what the Messiah should be like, and their hearts were not open to anything else.

What a tragedy to miss His glory! Think about what they were missing! The Maker of the earth was standing in the room with them, and all they could do was fester about their own small ideas about God! Would they continue in their deception? Would they ever have eyes to see?

The rest of the Jews in the room were not so hard hearted. They saw the beauty of what happened for the paralytic and they were filled with amazement and wonder.   They began to give glory to God, praising Him and saying, “‘We have seen remarkable things today!’”

*quotes are from the NASV Matthew text

 

Story 37: Leaving Everything You’ve Known for Everything You’ve Needed

Matt. 4:23-25 ; Mark 1:35-39; Luke 4:42-44

Jesus Christ preaching on a boat on the sea of Galilee

Peter, Andrew, James, and John left their jobs and followed Jesus. They were called by a Man that they were growing to love. He had truth, an internal strength that they trusted, and He did amazing things that showed that God cared about this world and the suffering in it. How do we grow in that same confidence in Jesus…to believe He is as strong and good as we say we believe He is?

How different were the people of Capernaum from those in Nazareth! They heard the words of Jesus and believed! Many were healed of their suffering. Can you imagine the excitement the people felt as they watched people being set free?

Early the next morning, before the sun began to lighten the eastern sky, Jesus went off to a quiet place of solitude where He could pray to His Father in Heaven. Pretty soon, the multitudes of people from the towns were up looking for Him. Imagine them coming to pound on Peter’s door! Simon Peter and his brother and their companions went out to look for Jesus. When they found Him, they said, “‘Everyone is looking for you.’” They might have thought that this would make Jesus hurry back to the crowd. Hadn’t He come for that very reason? They were to be fishers of men!

But Jesus said, “‘Let us go somewhere else-to the nearby villages-so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’” The other cities and towns needed to hear about the Kingdom of God, too!

So Jesus set out with his disciples. They travelled all around the Sea of Galilee. The Lord would teach in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven. He healed the diseases of all the people who came and cast out demons. Can you picture these glorious days when so many were being set free from their burden and pain?   Imagine how the region must have been turned upside down with stories of this miracle worker! Did they also talk about His Words? Did their fascination end with the things He could do, or did His messages about the Kingdom of God sink in?

After touring the region of Galilee and preaching in the synagogues of all the Jewish villages and towns in the area, Jesus returned to Capernaum with His disciples. Peter and Andrew and James and John all returned to their fishing business. But the people did not stop coming to Jesus. One day, a whole multitude of people had gathered by the shoreline of the sea. They were pressing up against Jesus, listening to Him as He taught the Word of God. Simon and Andrew were standing nearby washing their nets. Their empty boats were lying beside them.

Jesus got into one of the boats and asked Simon Peter to take Him out into the water. Jesus began to teach the crowd again from the boat. When He was done, He turned to Peter and said, “‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’”

On this day, Simon Peter was a very weary man. He was also discouraged. He had already spent hour upon hour throwing His nets into the water, but they hadn’t caught anything. He said, “‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at your bidding I will let down the nets.’” What respect Peter had for this teacher of his. What willingness to obey. Already he had grown into a man of faith, but soon, his faith would grow even more.

They pushed the boats out on the water threw their nets back into the sea. As he watched the network of ropes sink down in the water, do you think Peter had any hope of catching something? He knew the Sea of Galilee like the back of his hand. It was where he grew up. How many nights had he fished on its waters? How many hours did he sit under the stars, praying for a catch so he could take care of his family? How many days were spent under the burning sun washing nets? He would obey his Master, but he knew the patterns of the life of the Sea. It would take a miracle to catch a fish that day.

As Peter and his men watched the nets, something remarkable happened. The empty sea was coming alive with slippery shining little creatures! Suddenly, their nets were full of fish! As they tried to drag the bulging nets onto the boat, they realized it was impossible! The catch was too big! Imagine their shouts of laughter and excitement!

They called out to James and John, who were still on the shore. They were Peter’s partners, so they jumped into their boat and came out to help. They pulled the bulky nets onto both boats. As the fish poured out, they began to fill the boats up and weigh them down. They became so heavy that the boats started to sink! What a wonderful problem! Did the people on shore stand and laugh with delight at the abundance?

But as Peter stood in the boat, knee deep in fish, he wasn’t laughing. He understood the Sea, so he understood the impossibility of what happened. He had already seen that this Master of his had power over evil spirits and diseases. He was a brilliant teacher who spoke with commanding authority. But now it was clear that he had power over nature, too. Peter was filled with the kind of purified awe that made him totally aware of his own shame and lack of faith. He turned to the Lord in the boat. He fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’”

Peter’s fellow workers were all just as amazed as he was. They watched on as Jesus looked down at Peter and said, “‘Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.’”

Jesus was calling these men once again. Would they follow Him as He proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven? Would they give up their lives as fishermen to walk with Jesus wherever He went? The men brought the boats to the shore of the sea. From that day on, they left everything to follow Jesus.

Story 36: Signs of the End of Suffering: The One with Healing in His Hands

Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-28; Luke 4:31b-37

St Pierre guérissant un paralytique

Imagine watching a man stand when he could not walk before. Imagine someone weak and shivering suddenly strong and shining. What would you say to the Man who brought these beautiful things about? What would you do to be near Him?

In the early days of Christ’s ministry, He spent His days preaching and teaching in the northern region of the nation of Israel around the Sea of Galilee. One day while Jesus was in Capernaum, He went for a walk along the edge of the water. The sea was surrounded by beautiful rolling hills. All along the shore there were clusters of little buildings showing where the towns and villages huddled up to the water. Even in our time a light breeze usually flows along the surface of the Galilee, fresh and clean. Only for Jesus, the air probably lingered with the smell of fish as well. As Jesus walked along, He saw Simon, who was called Peter, and His brother Andrew. They were fishermen, and they were standing on the shore casting their nets into the sea, working to get their catch for the day. Jesus called out to them, “‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!’”

Andrew and Peter had already met Jesus at the Jordan River. John the Baptist, the great prophet and preacher of their time, told Andrew that Jesus was the One.  Andrew went to get his brother and they went to meet Jesus.  They walked with Jesus on the road from the Jordan up to Galilee together. They saw the power of God’s Word in Samaria when Jesus spoke with the woman at the well.  The whole village believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony.  When Jesus said He would make them fishers of men, they knew what He meant.  Jesus was inviting them to rescue the lost people of the world from the mire of sin and death and capture them for the Kingdom of God.

When they heard the words of the Lord, Peter and Andrew stopped what they were doing immediately. They left their nets on the sand and followed after Him. The three men continued on their way along the shore. Imagine the glistening, calm water.  As they went, they came upon another fishing crew. They were out on their boats mending their nets. It was James and John. Their dad was Zebedee, and they ran his fishing business with him. They were also Jesus’ cousins.  Jesus called out to them, too. Immediately, they left their father and the hired servants on the boat and followed after Jesus.

It is important to realize that these guys didn’t understand this as a temporary decision.  These men were not leaving their jobs to spend time with Jesus for the day. They were choosing to become the disciples of the Lord. They were committing to a new life with a new purpose. How exciting it must have been to be chosen. Were they a little nervous, too?  Where was this path going to lead?

The men went into the town of Capernaum. This was where Jesus stayed now that Nazareth had rejected Him so completely. They tried to throw Him off a cliff after He preached in their synagogue! (See Story 34.)  Consider the bravery of Jesus that He went to Capernaum’s synagogue on the next Sabbath and began to teach.  But the people of Capernaum were different. They listened and were amazed. He spoke with such authority! He wasn’t like the scribes who taught everything based on what other humans said. He spoke directly from the wisdom of God and it was full of rich, textured truth that resounded in their souls.

On that particular day, there was a man in the synagogue that was possessed by an evil spirit. An evil spirit is what we would also call a demon, and though a lot of people in the world don’t believe they exist, the reality is that they do, and they are vicious creatures. They are fallen angels who rebelled against the goodness of the Most High God in Heaven.  They are the followers of Satan, and they long to destroy anything that God loves.

In the modern world, people often scoff at the idea of evil spirits or angels. But they also can’t explain why every religion in the world talks about dark spirits that go around tormenting and possessing humans. From the spirit houses in Thailand, the djinns of India and the Middle East, to the worship of Satan and the occult in the West, there is a consistent phenomenon that science cannot explain away.  Some have tried to chalk these things up to mental or physical disorders, and sometimes that is true. But sometimes there is much more to the problem than that.  The pervasiveness of it across the world is evidence that something exists that science has yet to fully understand.  In fact, when Christians tell people in many countries of the world stories from the Bible about demons, they don’t have to explain what they are…the people already know.  Their cultures are well aware of their presence.  It is the arrogance of the West (and its ignorance of its arrogance) that assumes it can discount their experiences and knowledge as mere superstition and ignorance.

The Bible makes it clear that demons are real beings with real power…and they do real damage.   Jesus could take them on directly because He was alive with the power and authority of the Most High God.

As Jesus was preaching in the synagogue, one of these malicious demonic spirits had power over one of the men who was listening to Him. The demon understood exactly who Jesus was, and he didn’t like it at all. He used the man’s voice to cry out against the Son of the Living God:

“‘Ha!’” he yelled out. “‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-the Holy One of God!’” The evil spirit knew exactly who Jesus was and why He came. It knew that with the coming of the Messiah, the power of all demonic forces would be brought to an end. But it wasn’t going to go without a fight. With these words, the demon was trying to wield power over the Son of God who had become a man. These evil beings work through dark powers with strange rules they feel they have to obey to get them to work. By proclaiming Jesus’ name and exalted rank, it was trying to claim control over Him. In order for this to work, it had to state an accurate description of who Jesus was, but to do that, it had to reveal Christ’s status as God himself!

Jesus had no fear of the nasty being. Magical incantations and manipulation are nothing against the immensity of the all powerful, Most High God. He rebuked the demon with a strong, stern voice, “‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’” He demanded.

The demon threw the man into a convulsive fit and cast his body to the floor. When he was gone, they took care of the man and found that he hadn’t been injured.

Imagine the silent tension in the room as everyone watched the dramatic scene! Imagine how chaotic the world would have felt as the demon disrupted everything with his strange, evil voice? Imagine how the strength of Christ’s power and authority would have filled the room as He cast the evil spirit out. Imagine the relief and freedom of the man who had been taken over by it’s power!

The rest of the people in the synagogue were stunned and amazed. They murmured to each other questions like, “‘What is this teaching? With authority and power He gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!’” The murmurings in the synagogue spread like wildfire to excited discussions in the homes and villages all around Galilee. What was happening to the order of the world?

The people of Jesus’ time understood the power of these evil forces. Evil spirits were able to curse their victims with terrible diseases. They could bring confusion and even insanity to the mind, and they could provoke a person to violent acts of rage. But worst of all, they worked to deceive people into rebellion against the Most High God. The people of Jesus’ time understood when they or their loved ones were being oppressed by evil spirits. Who was this man that had no fear of them? What did it mean that He could command them with a word? And could He bring them freedom, too?

When Jesus left the synagogue, He headed for Peter’s home. James and John were with Him. When they arrived, they learned that Peter’s mother-in-law was very sick. She had a high fever. When Jesus arrived, they asked if He could help. The Lord went bent over her and took her hand. He rebuked the fever and raised her up. Immediately the fever left her. She got up from her bed and began to serve them. Jesus hadn’t just taken away the disease, He had restored her strength! He gave her life and energy so that she could do what she loved. How delighted she must have been to be able to serve her guests, especially the One that healed her.

Meanwhile, more and more people were hearing the story of Christ’s power in the synagogue. By nightfall, they were coming in droves to the door of Simon Peter’s home. It was the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, so they waited for the sun to go down. Everyone who had loved ones suffering from diseases or demonic possession wanted to bring them to this new hope for healing.

Pretty soon, the whole city was standing at Peter’s door.   Jesus went out to them and began to heal them one by one. Some came with terrible diseases, but when they spoke with Christ, they felt their pain disappearing, their weakness go away, and their sores clear up. Imagine their relief! Imagine how grateful you would feel if you watched the suffering of someone you love change to health and strength! It must have been awesome to behold! What a wholeheartedly joyful assembly that must have turned into on the doorstep of Peter’s home…what wonder and outrageous delight.

The authors of Scripture explained that as Jesus healed, He also caste out many demons. As they left their victims, they would scream, “‘You are the Son of God!’” just like they had in the synagogue.  These demons knew who Jesus was, too.

Sometimes it is important to ponder these things for a little while because they are so grand, strange, and profound that our minds can’t quite wrap around it all.  Before the beginning of human time, demonic creatures had once been holy angels. They had been given the unimaginable gift of living in Heaven and serving God in perfect peace. They recognized the Son of God because they knew Him before the creation of the world. They knew Him as the One exalted on the throne of Heaven!

When Adam and Eve turned away from God and gave their allegiance to Satan, they gave the Evil One and all of his demonic followers great power over the human race. This had gone on for thousands of years. But something new was afoot. The Son of God was the power behind the whole universe and now he had become a man (See Colossians 1:15-20).  The evil spirits didn’t even try to pretend that they could ignore the commands of Christ. As He demanded that they leave their victims, the only damage they could do was declare Him to the people and reveal His true identity before His time had come. Perhaps they could even destroy His credibility by making it look like they were His heralds. Perhaps they could confuse the people by linking Him as a partner with Satan!

Jesus would have none of it. He ordered them not to speak, and they had to obey. And all of this showed, once again, how Jesus was indeed the coming Messiah. Not because of what the demons declared, but because of what His works of compassions showed. For Isaiah the prophet had written: “He himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases” (Isaiah 53:4).  God had promised through the prophet Isaiah that He would send an Anointed One who would come to change the world (Isaiah 61)…and eight hundred years later, that time had come.

%d bloggers like this: