Tag: righteousness

Story 33: Abraham and Abimelech and the Power of Repentance

Genesis 20

After the mighty hand of God came in judgment on the plains of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham moved his clan to a place called Negev.  While he was there, he explained to the people that Sarah was his sister.  Once again, as he had in Egypt, Abraham feared that men would treat him badly when they saw the beauty of his wife (see Story 21).  Once again, he put her at risk.  Though Abraham was unfaithful, God would stand in resolute faithfulness to His covenant promises.  The chaos created by humanity because of our weakness cannot thwart the strength of God in our history.

Abraham’s fears were not without reason.  Sarah was a woman of great beauty.  When the king of the city of Gerar saw Sarah, he wanted her to be his own.  And why not?  She was the sister of the wealthy traveler who had come to his region to live.  He did not understand that he was in danger of committing a great sin.

The Lord came to King Abimelech and warned him in a dream.  He said, “‘You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.’”

Abimelech hadn’t touched Sarah, so he asked God, “‘Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation?  Did he not say to me, “She is my sister,” and didn’t she also say, “He is my brother”?  I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.’”

God replied, “‘Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience.  That is why I did not let you touch her.  Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.  But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.’”

Wow.  Isn’t it interesting that God protected Abimelech from sin?  Isn’t it fascinating that it was because he knew Abimelech was innocent in his heart?  God understands the complexities of life in a very messed up and complex human world.  He gets the confusion of life around us.  We don’t see a harsh, legalist God here.  He stakes his judgment on the condition of our hearts and the nature of our intentions.

What would Abimelech do now?

The Bible makes sure we know that the very next morning, bright and early, Abimelech brought together all of his officials and told them about his dream.  He didn’t wait a few days.  He didn’t forget or disregard the voice of God because it came in the form of the dream.  And when he told his officials, he explained in in a way that made them take it seriously, too.  It filled them with fear.  They each had a reverence for this God who had come to their king.  Their counsel led Abimelech to take action.

Abimelech called for Abraham and asked, “‘What have you done to us?  How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom?  You have done things to me that should not be done.’”

Abimelech and his people had a high and godly view of marriage.  The thought of violating the marriage covenant between Abraham and Sarah was horrifying.  How could Abraham have been so quick to give his wife away?

When we look at the role Abraham plays in human history, it is stunning.  Abraham was the great patriarch, the first man with whom God made His mighty covenant to change the world.  He would be described in the word of God as the great man of faith.  He would be famous for his faith for thousands of years across three of the world’s major religions.  In fact, he could be said to be the first founder of all three.  He was father of Judaism, which is the parent faith of Christianity, and Islam.  Yet in this story, as a normal man facing peril, he is righteously rebuked by a common tribal king for his lack of faith.

Abraham explained to Abimelech that he didn’t think Abimelech’s people feared the LORD.  He said that he was afraid that they would kill him so they could get to Sarah.  He told how he asked Sarah to show her love to him by telling everyone that he was her brother.

This was partly true.   Sarah was the daughter of Abraham’s father, but they had different mothers.  In those days, marriage within a family was a way of protecting and providing for their children.

In a way, Abraham was admitting that he had lacked faith.  He didn’t trust that God would watch over and protect him.  He tried to find his own way to save his life…even though it might cost Sarah greatly.  Once again, he had put the covenant at risk.  Sarah was to be the mother of God’s priestly nation, but here she was, living in the home of a foreign king.

Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham.  In some ways, he was more protective of Sarah than Abraham had been.  Then he gave Abraham sheep and cattle, male and female slaves, and he offered Abraham his first choice of his lands.  He could live wherever he wanted in Gerah.  And for Sarah, he gave a thousand shekels of silver to Abraham for the offense of taking his wife into his harem.  That was an extravagant amount of wealth.    It would pay a hundred laborers to work for an entire year.  Sarah was well vindicated for this terrible violation of her safety and dignity.

How greatly Abraham had misjudged Abimelech, as well as God.  Abimelech and his men feared the LORD and listened when God came in a dream.   They responded immediately with repentant obedience and went out of their way to lavishly make things right.

It interesting to compare how different these people were from the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Story 23 and Story 32).  There is a reason that these stories are put right next to each other in scripture.  We are meant to compare them and look at the way God responded to each.  The comparison is meant to highlight important things about what draws God’s judgment or favor…it is meant to display the goodness of His ways when dealing with a wayward race and to teach us how we are to come to Him for right relationship.

The nation of Sodom (which was probably more like what we would consider a large village in our time) had become so corrupt that when two strangers came to visit their city, the men of the city laid siege to the home where they were staying and demanded their right to rape them.  Imagine the horrors…the violence, abuse, and toxic immorality…of such a place.  What these men did not understand was that these two visitors were actually the angels of God.  They had come to warn Abraham’s nephew to leave the city before they brought God’s fiery and cleansing judgment against the despicable culture that had plunged the entire community in utter, irreversible bondage.

But this wasn’t Abraham’s first encounter with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  In fact, he had already saved their lives.  When Abraham rescued the people of Sodom and Gomorrah after they had been defeated by a foreign army, they tried to demand that he give them the booty from the war.  According to the rules of that time, the booty belonged to Abraham.  Though he was in no danger of captivity himself, he risked his life and the life of his men to rescue these ungrateful people, and the booty was proper reward.  It was a form of despicable ungratefulness to try to get it back.

The hardness of their hearts was already so complete that when God brought them a savior, they had no vision for repentance.  They could have seen the higher ways of Abraham and the strength it gave him to conquer kings.  They could have witnessed the honorable and godly relationship between Abraham and Melchizedek, the great priest of Salem, and been humbled by their dignity.  When God intervened, they could have been changed, but they weren’t, and it led to their total destruction.

Abilmelech and his officials did not make that mistake.  When God showed up, they repented.  They honored the God of Abraham, altered their behavior, and were saved from judgment.

Just as the Lord said, Abraham prayed for Abimelech and his household.  God had placed some form of curse on them, and his wife and the women of his slave girls could not have children.  God heard Abraham’s pray and the household of Abimelech was healed.  In the process, God restored not only Abimelech’s people, but the dignity and position of Abraham as the man of God’s choosing.

The faith of Abraham had failed.  When we see the heart of this godly man in the middle of his fears, it is easier to understand that he was very much a normal human.  All of the great, courageous acts and steadfast, ongoing faithfulness was done by a man who feared death and longed for peace.  His failure in this story highlights the fact that in all of the other stories, Abraham was having to make decisions in the quietness of his heart…he was having to choose faith instead of fear.

God knew about all of those hundreds of silent decisions to choose to trust Him, and He had grace and protection for Abraham when he failed.

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 14: The Flood

Genesis 6:9-16

All was not well in the world.   The members of the human race were living in malice, greed, and violence towards one another.  The people that were meant to live in perfect peace in a glorious garden had disintegrated into a society of terrors.

The descendants of Adam and Eve were in total rebellion.  They did not reflect the image of their good and holy God.  Instead, they lived in utter evil, shaming themselves and their families with their horrific behavior.  God was determined to judge them.  He was going to wipe them off the face of the earth.

This may seem brutal, but in fact, it was His right.   He made them.  He was the one who gave them energy and life every day so that they could continue to live.  Why should He make their lives longer if they would only use the time He gave them to do terrible things?

There was one man who rejected all of the sin and shame.  In the midst of that corrupt, disgusting society, Noah was a righteous man.  He was a descendent of Seth and Enoch, and he walked with his Lord.  Noah’s name meant, “rest.” Many believe that this means that the goodness of Noah gave rest to the heart of God.  How precious that out of all the people on earth, this servant could bring comfort to the Lord.  When the eyes of God were on him, He could rest from all the pain and grief that the wickedness on earth had caused.  A righteous man has the power to bring a form of rest that is like the Sabbath.  His goodness brings order and peace.

The LORD said to him, “‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.  I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.  So make yourself an ark of cypress wood’” (Genesis 6:13-14).  Then God gave him very specific instructions about how he was to build the ark.

An ark is a large boat, but this was going to be a very curious boat.  It had no sails to catch the wind and make it go.  It had no oars so that Noah and his sons could row it through the water.  And it had no rudder, so there was no way to steer it in one direction or another.  All it could do was float.  Noah and his family would have no control over where it went.  They would have to completely and utterly depend on God to bring that ark where He wanted it to go.  All God was calling them to do was stay afloat and wait on the LORD by faith.

The ark was to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high with a roof over the top.  It was huge, and that was on purpose.  Noah was told to bring his wife and sons and their wives onto the ark.  They would also bring at least two of every kind of animal and plenty of food for them all.  Then God would send a torrent of rain for forty days and forty nights.  The whole earth would be flooded.  Every human and animal would die except for the ones on the boat.  That way, when the rains stopped and the floodwater went down, Noah and his family and the animals could start the world all over again.    Noah and his wife and children could begin a new culture of human society where God was honored and obeyed.

The only problem was, the rain hadn’t started yet.  What if Noah built that massive ark and the rain never came?  He would be the laughingstock of human society!  Noah was going to have to build the ark by faith.  He believed what God said.  The Lord was going to send the rain, and so Noah began to build.

Noah’s faith in God was pretty amazing.  It is also amazing to think about what God was trusting Noah to do.  God had made a promise to Eve that one of her descendants, one of her seed, would be the one who would crush the head of the serpent.  It would fall to a human to break the awful power of the curse.  Now God was going to wipe out all the seed of humanity on earth except for one family and start over.  But what if Noah, too, rebelled?  How would God keep His promise to Eve?  What an amazing thing to have lived a life of such righteous dependence on God that the Lord could trust Noah to carry the burden of His promise with him!

Perhaps we are beginning to see a pattern in the Bible.  Even when almost every human utterly rebels, there are a few who live by faith.  They are such a dignified treasure and magnified nobility that they make it all worth it to God!  And God calls them into a rarefied partnership with Himself to accomplish His purposes.  The entire human race was an agony to the Lord because of their sin, but Noah’s faith was a priceless blessing to the Creator of the universe. God and Noah were in a covenant partnership together to bring about the will of the Lord.

Noah built the boat and waited on the Lord for over a hundred years.  All that time, the people on earth knew that a righteous man had been warned that a flood was coming.  In all that time, they could have repented.  But they didn’t.  Imagine how those arrogant sinners scoffed at him.    When the time of God’s judgment had come, only Noah and his family were ready.  This is what the Lord told Noah;

 

“‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.  Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.  Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.’”

Genesis 7:1-4

 

Everything happened just as the LORD said it would.  Noah and his family climbed on board and the animals entered.  Every kind of animal you can imagine was there.  The roars and chirps and hoots and howls must have been incredible!  After seven days, the floodwaters began to fall from the sky, and the rain did not stop for forty days and forty nights.

The scene on the ark was full of life, but the scene on the ground was very different.  Imagine thousands of people, wretched and determined to sin against God, now wailing and drowning as He cleansed the earth of them.  They would not be allowed to pollute God’s creation with their sin any longer.

Imagine their home and huts, the trees and livestock and farms all drowned under the downpour of endless water.  Imagine the children doomed by the sin of their parents.  These parents would have trained their children up in rebellion.  They would have taught them their wicked ways.  And so God protected the earth and the future of humanity from them.  He is a righteous Judge.

The Bible says that once Noah’s family and all the animals were on the ark, “…the Lord shut them in.”  Somehow, God himself shut the door to the ark behind Noah.  At that moment, a sharp line was drawn between those that follow the Lord and those who demand rebellion.  The family of Noah was the remnant of God, and the protection of the Lord was upon them.

Story 13: The Broken Image of God

Genesis 6:1-8

After having Seth, Adam and Eve had more sons and daughters.  All of them had many sons and daughters as well.  The world was filling up with these humans that were made in the image of God.  But there was a problem.  The image of God was just as broken in the descendants of Adam and Eve as it had been in Adam and Eve.  They had passed the brokenness and pollution forward.  The great, tragic rebellion against the Lord continued, just as we saw in the life of Cain and his sons.  It certainly looked like Satan was winning.

As the civilizations of humanity grew, certain men rose to power.  They were men of great renown.  They saw themselves as divine kings who ruled over the rest of the people.  They were arrogant against the Lord just like Cain and Lamech, only now they were worse.  Now they claimed to be gods themselves!  Their power and success came from the demonic forces of the fallen angels they served.  Satan and his evil servants were doing everything they could to tempt and destroy humans.  The demons must have cackled as these men gave into temptation. They became totally possessed and controlled by them.  The leaders of humanity sunk further and further into darkness, violence, and corruption.  The rest of the human race followed  right after them.

Humans were made in the image of God to bring the order and purity of God’s ways, but instead, they gave themselves over to chaos and filth.  As the power of these men grew, they began to abuse it.  The rulers took whatever women they found beautiful and married as many of them as they desired.   The children of these demonic unions were called the Nephilim, which means “fallen ones.”  They lived as tyrants, violent and foul.  They terrorized the land.  The stories of their lives grew into myths and legends, and they, too, allowed themselves to be worshiped as gods.

Society fell into deeper and darker and filthier ways.  Humanity became a race of horrific violence, cold-blooded and cruel.  The whole culture was corrupt.   This is what the Bible says,

 

“The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The LORD grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.  So the LORD said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth…for I am grieved that I have made them.’  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.”

            Genesis 6:5-8

 

Imagine what it would be like to live in the midst of and at the mercy of this evil.  Danger and abuse were around ever corner.  Imagine how difficult it would be to be a righteous person when everyone around you was doing wrong.  If everyone cheated and lied to get their desires, it would be very hard, almost impossible, to stay honest, especially if that meant you couldn’t get the things you really needed.  If everyone around you was violent and stole things, even stealing from you, it would be much harder not to be violent or steal from them!  When nobody else cared about what was right and good, it was much harder to do what was right and good.  The righteousness of Noah is truly a remarkable thing.

What was God going to do about His faithful servant Noah?  How would He wipe every other human off the planet?  And would it stop the rebellion?

 

Story 181: The Last Supper: Counselor of Hope

John 16

shining dove with rays on a dark golden background

As Jesus spent His last evening before His arrest with His disciples, He promised that He would send a Counselor to them once He was gone. The Spirit of Christ would come into their hearts and give them guidance and power to continue on the work of the Kingdom. This is what Jesus said:

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me. And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning.’’

John 15:26

If we stop and think about it, this is a pretty amazing gift. The Spirit of God Himself will empower those who put their faith in Jesus to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s salvation. It is an honor beyond imagination.

 

And yet…the gift of being the bearers of the Spirit in the world of the Curse would have consequences. The people of darkness and the demonic forces that entrapped them would be hostile to the people of Light. Jesus wanted His disciples to be ready, so that when it happened, they would understand what was going on when the tensions rose high and they were being persecuted. He said:

“‘All of this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or Me. I have told you this so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.’”

John 16:1-4

Imagine the disciples as they listened to Jesus. The things He was telling them were very different from how they had imagined their future. Just an hour or so before, they were arguing about which one of them would be the greatest. Now they were learning that the future held no immediate glory for them. Their role as the proclaimers of Jesus Christ was going to mean a life of challenge, opposition, and suffering. Through the power and guidance of the Spirit, the disciples would give bold testimony in the face of beatings, imprisonment, and death.

As the disciples learned the cost of following their Master, they were also beginning to realize that they would have to follow Him through all of it, even when they could not see Him. Jesus said:

“‘Now I am going to Him who sent Me, yet none of you asks Me, “Where are you going?” Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth; It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.’” 

“‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what its yet to come. He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is Mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is Mine and make it known to you.’”

“‘In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me.’”

John 16:5-16

This must have been confusing for the disciples. There are many things packed into these paragraphs: Jesus would go away, He would send the Spirit, the Spirit that would convict nonbelievers and believers of their sin, yet somehow, after going, a little while later, Jesus was going to come back…and soon. What did it all mean?

The disciples didn’t understand Jesus, so they began to whisper back and forth. Then Jesus said:

“‘Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, “In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me?” I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will be turned to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask Me anything. I tell you the truth, My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name. Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.’”

John 16:19b-24

We can see here that Jesus was talking about His death and resurrection. How compassionate He was for the pain His men would feel at His death. He knew how greatly they would mourn Him…but here He gave them hope if they could grasp it. After that terrible day when He would give up His life, a day of everlasting joy would come. It would bring a whole new era for the human race, where the disciples of Jesus would have an entirely new kind of relationship with God. Jesus went on:

“‘Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about My Father. In that day you will ask in My name. I am not saying that I will ask My Father on your behalf. No, the Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from the Father. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and will return to the Father.’”

John 16:25-28

These words finally did the trick. Something clicked in the minds of His disciples. They said:

“‘Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that You know all things and that You do not even need to have anyone ask You questions. This makes us believe that you are from God.’”

Finally! They got it! But notice, what they “got” was not a list of rules or position of power. They did not “get” to their own moral perfection or a perfect knowledge. What was most important was for them to “get” Jesus…to really, truly believe in Him. And we know that they really got it because Jesus agreed. This is what the Lord said:

“‘You believe at last! But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave Me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with Me.

“‘I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’”

John 16:31-33

In that moment, in the Upper Room with Jesus, those words were probably very comforting. What did those words sound like when they remembered them as He was being arrested…beaten…and hung on a cross? Did they help them hold on to hope? Did they feel empty or even deceptive? In the devastating hours to come, the disciples would have their faith tested on extreme levels. Would they believe their Master when He Himself seemed to suffer the ultimate defeat?

Story 166: Passion Week: Turning Up the Heat

Matthew 23:1-12; Mark 12:38-39; Luke 20:45-46

Segnender Jesus Christus Glasfenster

The religious leaders were mad. And they were scared. Nobody, not even the most brilliant minds in the nation, had the courage to stand up to Jesus any more. He was too quick. He spoke with a power and an authority that they had no answer to.

So they stopped their questions and took their plans behind closed doors. They plotted in secret with  murderous intent, searching with all their hearts for a way to kill the Son of God.

It was the greatest irony in the history of the world.  Out of all the people on earth, the nation of Israel was chosen to be God’s treasured possession (See Exodus 19:1-6). God said that one day, He would bring salvation to the world through them (See Genesis 12:1-3).

Now that time had come.  Every year, the Jewish people held a national feast to celebrate the magnificent salvation that the Lord gave them at the first Passover when He rescued them from slavery to Egypt.  Thousands upon thousands would converge on the city of Jerusalem for the festivities. As they poured into the city, their rulers were paving the way for the ultimate salvation that God had promised.  Yet they weren’t doing it on purpose. They were doing it in spite of themselves. God would use their malice and sin to bring salvation to the world through their murder of His Son.

In the wide and powerful flow of God’s glorious purposes for human history, these men could have had the privilege of obedience.  They could have taken part in God’s breathtaking victory over sin and death. They were meant to take part in His victory! They were meant to lead the nation of Israel to repentance when the Messiah came. They were meant to welcome the Kingdom of Heaven! But instead, they chose for themselves the petty role of jealous and power hungry men.  They would go down in history as men that allowed their malice to blind them from true glory. And as always, God would take their insidious choice and use it for the very greatest Good.

As Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, He was empowered by the Spirit in absolute obedience to the Father. He knew exactly what His enemies were up to. He was fully certain of what was going to happen…and He would lay down His life knowing that in the end, He would make all things new.

But for now, the time had come for a confrontation of the religious leaders.  In truth, it was an act of compassion. He had taught them, reasoned with them, and told stories that highlighted their corruption without directly confronting them.  He had spent three years giving them a chance to repent.  It didn’t work.  Their hearts were too hard.  So now He would come with a stronger message, turning up the heat, calling them out directly.  If they still didn’t listen, it would at least make things clear for the crowds.  This is how He began:

“‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.'”

Wow. Moses was the great leader of Israel who went up Mount Sinai and spoke with God. He brought the people of Israel the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. It was the very Scripture that the scribes and Pharisees taught the people. They were in positions of great authority, yet they were in rebellion against God. Even though they were terribly sinful, these scribes and Pharisees had positions of authority, and they were teaching from the Word of God. The actions of the leaders were completely different from the good things that they taught. Jesus told the common people in the crowd that they had to separate the sin of their leader’s actions from the righteous beauty of God’s Word. They had to choose to be like God’s Word and reject the terrible model set by the leaders who taught it. Then Jesus went on to describe exactly why the actions of the leaders were so sinful.  Notice that Jesus didn’t mention the awful way they were treating Him:

“‘They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see. They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at the banquets and the most important seats in the synagogue; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them “Rabbi.”‘”

 Wow.  Imagine if you were a member of the nation of Israel.  Imagine if the zealous religious leaders were constantly making you and your family feel like your love and faith in God were never enough?  What would that burden feel like if they kept adding more and more?  Can you imagine what it was like for the people to hear Jesus declare that the religious leaders were wrong?

Imagine these proud men, the religious leaders, walking among the crowds as if they were somehow holier and more worthy than everyone else. The phylacteries that Jesus spoke of were leather cases that held parchments of Scripture. Their tassels were a part of the clothing they wore in obedience to the Old Testament Law. God commanded the men of Israel to sew blue tassels on the corners of their garments to show that they were holy and set apart for God (see Numbers 15:40). Jesus probably wore the tassels, too. But these men didn’t wear them to honor God. They wore the tassels to honor themselves, demanding admiration and power from the common people. They were demanding the worship and honor that belongs to God alone! And then they turned around and treated the people with contempt.  Jesus was offended. He went on to explain what He desires from His disciples:

‘”But you are not called “Rabbi,” for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called “teacher,” for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.'”

Wow. The followers of Christ were to be completely different from the leaders of Israel. Can you imagine if everyone treated each other that way? Can you picture how sweet it would be to live among people with such kindness and humility? Jesus was calling His followers to a completely different way of life. It is the way of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is the way He still wants us to live.

Story 135: Unbreakable: The Son, His Love, and His Word

John 10:19-39

Fire fist

As Jesus told a story about a Good Shepherd (see lessons 133 and 134), His listeners understood that He was talking about Himself. They also knew He was claiming to be the Messiah. He was claiming that He was able to give eternal life to His sheep, and His sheep were those who listened and believed.

The religious leaders probably understood that their accusations and rebellion against Him made them the thieves and robbers in the story…and that when Jesus called God His Father, He was claiming to be God Himself.

These were radical things to say in any time of history to any people. If they were true, then it was the most important Truth every spoken. If they were not true, then Jesus was either a horrific liar, or He was completely insane. Many in the crowds, the true sheep of God, did believe. They trusted that Jesus was exactly who He said He was. But others muttered and grumbled in sullen frustration. “‘He has a demon…He’s insane,’” they declared, “‘Why do you listen to Him?’”

Then others would argue, “‘These are not the sayings of someone who is demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?’”

And so the national debate continued, dividing the people into camps. What were the people of God going to decide? Would they finally accept the magnificent gift that they had in the Son of God? Would they put an end to their sin of rebellion and doubt?

It was winter in Jerusalem, and it was the time of the Feast of Dedication. It was a huge festival that brought Jews from all over the nation to the Temple. Jesus was there, too, walking in the courtyard of the Temple named after the great King Solomon.

Imagine the massive Temple walls, thousands upon thousands of people arriving with their sacrifices and offerings, music playing, and all the high energy that comes with an important celebration. Imagine how the people stopped to listen to Jesus…watching to see what He would do next, waiting to see what the religious leaders would do in response.

Some of the Jewish leaders came up to Him with questions. “‘How long will you keep us in suspense’” they asked. “‘If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’”

Jesus looked at them and said, “‘I did tell you, but you did not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.’”

Well, now, that right there was a very clear answer for them, wasn’t it? But they did not have ears to hear. Jesus went on: “‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.’”

Wow. Isn’t that wonderful? If you know the love of Jesus, it is permanent and everlasting. He knows you. His love for you will last longer than the earth or the stars! No one can take you out of His hand! Not even death!

The true reason the religious leaders hated Jesus was not because they thought He was spreading lies. They were jealous…it was simply and petty as that. They were afraid He would gain more and more power and take over the Temple worship. They knew that if He was in control of the Jewish religion, He would fire them! They were doing everything they could to protect themselves, and one way to do that was to try to stop the rest of the Jewish nation from following Him.

The Lord made it clear that they had no power to stop true believers from coming after Him. There was nothing they could do to take them away. Jesus went on, “‘My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.’”

When the Jews heard this, they knew that Jesus was claiming to be God. That was a blasphemy…and it was punishable by death. Finally, they had something they could charge Him with in court! Finally, they could put this brazen troublemaker to death. They began to pick up stones from the ground, ready to throw them at Jesus, right in the middle of the Temple courts. They were going to try to kill the Son of God in God’s own house!

Imagine the tension in the air. Imagine how you would feel if you were His disciple. Imagine what it would be like if you were one of the people He had healed. What if He had healed your child?

Jesus stood there, facing a crowd of raging men with all of His fierce righteousness and self-possession. Against this mob Jesus asked, “‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone Me?’”

“‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’”

It was true that in the high, pure, holy Law of God, claiming to be God was a terrible crime, punishable by death. And for any regular human, that was a righteous decree. It is a repulsive and ghastly thing for a person who had been given the priceless, amazing gift of life by God to turn around and claim to be God…the holy, mighty Lord of all. To claim to be God was not just about saying a name that is not your own. It was a claim of power and a right to be worshipped. Instead of pointing to the God who truly is worthy, who truly can help, it is selfishly demanding what is not your own and getting in the way of the good that God can do.

Imagine how normal, sinful men could use the claim of being God to abuse people and force their own selfish desires in the most wicked ways. How despicable to lie about something as sacred and wonderful as God Himself! How repulsive to use something as precious as a people’s trust and hope in God to use them and manipulate them! No wonder it was punishable by death!

But you see, it was only wrong to claim to be God if it was, in fact, a lie. For God to claim to be God was the truth! Jesus had given overwhelming proof that the power of God worked through Him. He had performed miracles that could only be done by God. And you’ll notice, when He pointed them out to the religious leaders, they didn’t deny them. That should have been enough proof. If He claimed to be God, then He was! But Jesus knew that these men were not interested in Truth. They were playing a game. So He gave them an answer worthy of their game:

“‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are gods? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the words of God came-and the Scripture cannot be broken-what about the One whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse Me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe Me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe Me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.’”

John 10:34-39

Once again, in the face of their murderous threats, Jesus tried to appeal to them…He tried to persuade. But it did not good. The only thing the infuriated leaders could hear was that Jesus had once again made Himself equal with God, and that was all they needed.

They surged forward, seething with rage, and tried to seize Jesus. They were going to arrest Him, but He escaped their grasp. John doesn’t tell us how or why. It just tells us that He did.

It had become clear that Jerusalem was no longer safe for Jesus. His enemies were sure to hunt Him down. Instead of giving Him a way to preach God’s Good News to the people of their nation, they drove Him away. Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem and trekked down from the hill country. They journeyed down through the Valley of the Jordan and crossed the river to the other side.

Story 93: Commissioning the Disciples: Hope Beyond the Bars

Matthew 9:35-10:42; Mark 6:6b-11; Luke 9:1-5

Looking at a Soaring Bird Out of a Prison Window

Jesus said that His followers would face persecution and imprisonment in this world if they remained faithful to Him. But even in the darkest dungeon, a follower of Christ knows what is true. Beyond the bars of any prison made by the hands of men, God exists. He sees the faithfulness of His beloved and He will reward it lavishly. There is always hope beyond the bars.

The time had come for the Lord to prepare His disciples for when it would be their job to tell the world what God had done through the work of His Son. Jesus was going to offer His life to pay for the sins of humanity. Through His sacrifice He was going to utterly defeat sin and death. It was the best news in the history of the world, and it was His disciple’s tremendous honor to declare it. But Jesus wouldn’t be walking among them when they did it, and He needed to get them ready.

It wasn’t going to be easy. Not everyone would be happy to embrace this new work of God in the world. Many wouldn’t understand. Religious leaders and rulers would feel their power threatened. As Jesus prepared the disciples for their calling, He warned them:

“‘Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On My account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what you say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.’”

Wow. There is a lot going on here. Becoming a disciple of Jesus wasn’t going to bring them the wealth and status of the world. They would be brought before powerful rulers, but often, it would bring them the shame and suffering of beatings and imprisonment. From an earthly perspective, they would have to give up having the kind of lives most people hope for. But think about what they would gain. The Spirit of God the Father, who rules and reigns in His heavenly power with unspeakable holiness and might, would fill them with His message to the lost. They would bring the words from the Throne Room of God into the throne rooms and courts of this world. And within a few decades, the suffering and challenges of being a disciple would be over.  They would leave the shackles of this corrupt world.  They would enter into everlasting life where they would forever be honored in the Throne Room of God for the obedience they offered Him when they were here on earth. Taking all things into a consideration, it is brilliant trade.

Jesus went on to explain the kind of troubles that the message of the Gospel would bring:

“‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.’”

When we read Scripture there can often be several meanings, some are short-term and some are long-term. Scholars have different ways of understanding what Jesus means here. Clearly, the disciples and those who responded to Christ’s message were going to face painful conflict…the kind that can lead to death. It would be so extreme they would have to literally flee for their lives. Their challenge would be to stand in their faith in the midst of it all.

But what did Jesus mean when He said they wouldn’t finish preaching to all the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes? Was He talking about the epic, final Day of the Lord? Some scholars believe He was.  According to this view, Jesus was saying that throughout the ages, His disciples would have to continue to preach the Gospel to the Jews right alongside their proclamation to the rest of the world. This makes sense because it seems like Jesus’ message to the disciples is also a message for all of His disciples of all time, including us.

Other scholars believe that Jesus is talking about when He returned through rising from the dead. Still more believe it is about Pentecost, when Christ would send His Spirit to enliven His disciples with power after He ascended into Heaven.

There are several different ways to interpret this verse (Matt. 10:23), but they all carry the same hope. Whatever we go through here on earth, the suffering is limited.  Jesus is coming back.  In fact, it is kind of wonderful to realize there have been many ways the Savior has returned to us and will return to us still. He is the Lover of our souls, indeed.

Jesus went on:

“‘A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant to be like his master. If the Head of the House has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of His household!’”

When the most powerful religious leaders in Jerusalem sent their messengers to Jesus in Galilee, they did not come to accept Him. They wanted to silence Him.  But they had to do something about all of His powerful, amazing miracles…if His power didn’t come from God, where did it come from?   Imagine how many people who had been lame or sick or demonized were walking around as evidence that Jesus was no ordinary man.  The religious leaders couldn’t argue that it wasn’t happening, so they had to come up with a reason for His power that took God’s anointing out of the picture. You may remember what they decided to do. They accused Jesus of being empowered by Satan. That was the ultimate rejection. It proved the hardness of their hearts…and with that they lost their right to hear more. For well over a year of His preaching they had received many, many opportunities to recognize God’s work through His Son.  Again and again they refused to accept their Messiah.  Finally, God the Father accepted that rejection.  From that point on, Jesus began to speak in parables so that only those with ears to hear could understand. Jesus knew that He wouldn’t be the only one accused of operating in Satan’s power.  His disciples would hear that, too.  Jesus went on:

“‘Do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.’”

Wow. If we take the words of Jesus seriously, this is both terribly difficult and remarkably wonderful.  It forces us to consider the grip we have on this life and all the things we want to do to garner and preserve our own happiness here.  It also gives breathtaking assurances for what is possible for those who take hold of it.  Jesus was penetratingly clear: there is a level and grandeur of faith available to us that is so powerful that we will no longer be afraid of persecution and death. And we are meant to pursue it.   The key is to look at the bigger picture. When you align with loyal devotion to Christ, you side with the One who has the most important power. In the end, that is going to be the only thing that matters.  In the beginning it might feel like an epic loss.  Ultimately, it becomes a wildly great freedom.

Jesus understood that it wouldn’t be easy:

“‘Are not two sparrow sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’”

Isn’t it amazing? In the midst of the epic calling of a disciple, there is also a tender mercy and nearness to God. He knows how many hairs are on our heads. He attends to every falling sparrow, and we have a far greater worth.

These are the words of a deeply loving Lord. They are worth sitting with in our hearts and minds, meditating on and praying through them until we understand them in the deepest places of our hearts. They have the power to help us overcome all the fears that would stop us from being the courageous disciples that Christ is calling us to be in this passage.

Jesus was still walking around with His disciples when He spoke these words, but He understood the challenges they would face…that millions of His followers would face over the thousands of years that would follow His death and resurrection.

As I prepare this lesson, I can hardly keep from weeping. We live in an amazing time. A girl like me in California can post stories about Jesus, and they can be read in countries all over the world within seconds of their posting. It is breathtaking. Yet we also live in a terrible time. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are being persecuted all over the globe. The last century has seen more martyrs than any other time in history.

When I look at the stats for this blog, there are readers from the very countries where persecution is most intense, and I wonder who might be reading this. Are you okay? What have you endured? What will be your call? How can we pray? It shows how important this particular story in the Bible is, and how clearly Jesus understood the opposition that the Gospel would have in every age. He gives His chosen ones the dignifying role of taking up His cross. And He is worth it. May the family of Christ across the globe be faithful to our brothers and sisters who have the honored role of standing for Jesus in the darkest places. Their reward is going to be unspeakably great. And may their faithfulness cast a vision for greater faithfulness in us.

For wisdom about how to pray and support our brothers and sisters undergoing persecution of the globe go here www.persecution.com or here www.spiritofmartyrdom.com

 

Story 92: The Commissioning of the Disciples: On Becoming Harvesters

Matthew 9:35-10:42; Mark 6:6b-11; Luke 9:1-5

Wheat field against a blue sky

You may have noticed on these blogs about the life of Jesus that the stories from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John get a little mixed up. For example, when in the book of Matthew we read from chapter eight before we read chapters 5 through 7, which are the Sermon on the Mount. That is because we are reading all four of the Gospel books together at once. The writer of each Gospel had His own way of telling the story of Christ’s life. Each of them had an audience they were trying to reach with the Gospel, and so each told Jesus’ story in a way that would help that group of people understand Him and why He came.  Some of them wrote the order of the stories in a way that highlighted certain ideas.  If we want to see the clearest explanation for how the story unfolded across the three years of Jesus’ ministry, the best book to read is John.

Some people are bothered when they learn that each book doesn’t go exactly in the order and timing that it actually happened in Jesus’ life.  But if you think about it we tell stories in different ways all the time.  If you became very sick, you might tell the story of your illness differently to your doctor than you would to a child that you didn’t want to scare with the details.  For the doctor, you might select all of the different ways you have been sick in the last year.  For the child you would might tell a funny story or emphasize how you have gotten better in the past.   Each time you told your story, you would be telling the truth, but you would be choosing the details that were most important for the person you were describing the story to. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John choose different details of the same stories about Jesus in order to help their audience understand His amazing message.

We believe that Matthew wrote these stories down in a way that could be used to teach the disciples how to live for Jesus. It was a little bit like a textbook.

Matthew organized what He wrote in a special way to make it easy to teach others. Part of that organizing was to take the five main themes that Jesus taught about and write them down in five sections. The first section was the Sermon on the Mount, which teaches about how members of God’s Kingdom are supposed to live. The next section is the one we are about to read. Jesus taught how His disciples are to live as they preached the Good News of God’s Kingdom.

As Jesus continued to go out and preach through the cities and villages around the Sea of Galilee, He felt tremendous compassion for the crowds that came to Him. They were in distress, with all the pressures and suffering of life under the misery of the Curse. They were like sheep without a shepherd, fragile animals that were hunted and wounded and torn by vicious enemies. As Jesus looked around at the multitudes, He said to His disciples, “‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’”

What a sorrowful statement.  On a farm there comes a time when the fruit or grain is ready to be picked. It can be a time of great labor and celebration as the riches of plenty are brought in. Everyone has to get to work because it is important to get everything in from the fields on time.  If the harvest is taken too soon, it won’t be ripe.  If it is taken too late, it will go bad.  When Jesus looked out on the crowds that followed Him, He saw that there were many whose hearts were ready to be harvested for the Kingdom, just as wheat becomes ready to be harvested. Yet the harvesters were few.  The leadership of Israel had risen to join the Savior.  Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “‘Ask the Lord of the harvest…to send out workers into His harvest field.’”

Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus saw the tremendous need, the first thing He did was call on His disciples to pray? This was no idle request. Jesus knew that it was the truly effective, important action they could take to meet the great needs of the people. Prayers to the Living God are not simply sounds aiming at Heaven. They are heard by the Mighty Lord who created the entire universe by speaking it into existence. He has somehow linked His salvation work in the world to the prayers of His people. Our prayers are acts of power, and He wants to answer them. When we have a truly eternal vision for what it means to pray, we realize it is insane not to. Jesus made it clear that the first job of the disciples was to pray for workers who would partner with God in His great harvesting work of bringing salvation to the lost.

In the very next story we see how God answered those prayers. Jesus was going to send His disciples out into the harvest. And He had a strategy for how He was going to do it.

First, the Lord Jesus brought His twelve disciples together and put them into pairs. Simon Peter was put with His brother Andrew. James and John were next, then Philip and Bartholomew. The Lord put Thomas and Matthew together, and then James son of Alphaeus and Thaddaues. Finally, Simon the Zealot was put with Judas Iscariot. Judas was the man that would one day betray the Lord. These pairs were to go out and spread the Good News of the Kingdom, just as their Master had.  Jesus gave them authority over evil spirits. He empowered them to be able to heal every kind of illness and disease as well.

Can you imagine what that was like for the disciples? After travelling all that time with Jesus and watching Him do His wondrous deeds, they had been invited to share the same message and the same power! Their new authority was so far reaching that even the demonic beings…the fallen angels… were subject to them! This was a new commissioning. They had moved from being mere disciples to apostles. They were being sent out on a radical mission. It was an important part of God’s preparation for their lifetime ahead.

Let’s take a second to consider how brave these men were. Consider the faith that had been growing in them. Jesus was the most controversial man in Israel. He was either sent from God or He was God’s enemy. The disciples were not men of great education, power, or status. Most of them were either common workers or had been rejected as sinners or zealots. They were not well traveled. If this didn’t work out, there was nowhere to go. Everyone in the nation was associating them with Christ. Yet the disciples had watched the most powerful men in the cities and villages of Galilee condemn Jesus.  By following Jesus, they had taken on the condemnation. And now they were going to go traveling around the countryside exposing themselves even more. Except now they would be doing it without the presence of their fearless Leader.

Instead of growing weaker in faith as Jesus met with opposition, their faith had grown stronger.  Imagine what must have been developing in their hearts.

Before they left, Jesus gave them a set of instructions about what to do and what not to do. He said:

“‘Do no go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: “The Kingdom of heaven is near.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.’”

Wow. These commands of Jesus required radical trust. Put yourself in the disciples shoes. Imagine what the week ahead was going to look like. The power of God was going to flow through you to bring major healing from illness, death, and demonic oppression. The glorious power of God moving to break the destruction of the Curse through His Son was now going to work through you.

Would you be excited? Scared? Would you feel nervous about not taking extra money to feed yourself? God was going to show His disciples just how well He could use them and take care of them, but it was going to take courageous, surrendered faith to step out into His plan!

It is interesting that Jesus was sending His disciples to cities and villages of Israel. He was giving those people yet another chance to respond to the message of their Messiah.  Jesus went on:

“‘Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you to listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’”

Jesus understood the situation in Israel. There were many who wanted Jesus dead. But He also seemed to understand that there were many in the nation that would welcome His men. There were special, powerful blessings in store for them as they received Christ’s messengers. Consider the gift someone gave to his neighbors if he welcomed in the disciples. Jesus’ men would bring healing, freedom from death…and some kind of special anointing of peace. They brought the Good News of the Kingdom that the nation had been waiting on for thousands of years! It seems crazy that anyone would reject it. But that is the nature of sin and the rejection of the things of God. It doesn’t make sense. It is irrational. And those who chose it would pay a great price. From the perspective of the world, the disciples were simple men making their way along the road with a dubious message. From a heavenly perspective, they were the honored bearers of the Greatest Treasure, the golden truth that was going to change the world.

 

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?

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