Tag: servant

Story 39: Isaac’s Beloved

Genesis 24:1-27

Abraham was getting older, and he had lost his beloved wife.  Yet he had been greatly blessed by God in every way.  His mind turned to thoughts of Isaac, his son, and the future that lay ahead of him.  Isaac would inherit all of the vast wealth that Abraham had received from God’s hand over the years.  He would inherit his father’s power and reputation.  Most importantly, he had inherited the promises of God.  As Isaac moved into these high privileges and responsibilities, he needed a wife of his own.  Who would God choose for him to carry on the promises?

Think about how important it was to find a good wife for Isaac.  She would be the mother of all of Abraham’s descendants, the nation that God had promised.  Abraham had hundreds of servants, but for this job, he went to the one whose wisdom and decisions he trusted most.  This was his chief servant, the man whom Abraham had put in charge of everything he had.

Abraham said to him, “‘Put your hand under my thigh.  I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac’” (Genesis 24:2c-4).

This might seem like a strange thing to ask for, but that is simply because we don’t understand the culture of the Ancient Near East.   Abraham was having his most trusted servant take an oath.  They didn’t have cheap pens and paper or computers to create contracts with. There was no overarching governments to enforce the law in Canaan.  Things like spoken oaths and covenants took on an importance that is hard for us to imagine.  A sign of the seriousness of this oath was that the servant made his promise while laying his hands on the very body of Abraham himself.  This oath was binding.  It was a huge responsibility.  If the servant did not carry it out, it was not only a violation against Abraham, the great prince.  It was a violation against God.

Abraham knew the customs and lifestyles of the Canaanite people.  The women of Canaan would bring false worship that violated his sacred faith.  They had ways of living that would bring trouble and strife to their home.  Marrying a Canaanite would bring the family of Abraham and Isaac into allegiance with people who were idolatrous and corrupt…and their wickedness was stubborn.  They sacrificed their children to the gods as a trade to receive blessings from them.  Prostitution was often an integral part their worship practices.  The deeply imbedded habits, cultural customs, and beliefs would not go away because a woman married his son.  In times of pressure, these practices were seen as the answer to the problem.  But Abraham’s answer was to trust his God, to wait on him and pray.  Abraham wanted a woman who was part of the same clan as he and Sarah had been a part of, whose deeply felt beliefs and ways of life would honor their God and bring Isaac honor and peace.

You may remember that Abraham had a brother named Nahor.  He had married Milcah, the daughter of Abraham’s other brother.  In those days, marrying widows who had been married to a brother was common.  It was protection for the family.  It insured that the women in the family were taken care of in a vulnerable land.  Over the years, Milcah had given birth to seven boys, and those boys had grown and begun to have children of their own.  Perhaps a good wife could be found for Isaac from among the grandchildren of Nahor.

Abraham and his great tribal clan were many miles from the family he had left behind.  His servant would have to travel long days on camels to reach there.  He would have to bring a magnificent dowry with him that would display the wealth of Abraham and please the family of the girl.  But he would not bring Isaac.  The family was going to have to decide to give their daughter to Isaac without ever having met him.  The girl would have to leave her family far behind before she ever met her husband.  Abraham’s chief servant was worried that once he had found a wife for Isaac, she wouldn’t want to come with him!  He asked, “‘What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land?  Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?’”

“‘Make sure that you do not take my son back there,’” Abraham said.  “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me an oath, saying, “To your offspring I will give this land”-He will send His angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.  If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine.  Only do not take my son back there.’”

Genesis 24:6-8

 It is interesting that Abraham defined his life by the promises of God.  He understood the meaning of the events of his life according to God’s leading…and through his acts of obedience and response to God.  It was the LORD who brought him out of his father’s land and into the land of promise.  Not because of some psychological tweak in Abraham’s makeup.  Not because circumstances drove him there.  It was because of the hand of God on his life.  And now he saw that hand on Isaac’s life as well.

Abraham had great faith that God truly had prepared a woman to be the wife of Isaac.  The servant put his hand on Abraham’s thigh and swore to bring her back without the presence of Isaac.  Abraham had left that land long before.  It would not do for the family of God to return.

The servant swore an oath on Abraham’s thigh and ventured out for his task.  Some of Abraham’s other servants went along with him.  He took large amounts of gold and silver to bestow on the future bride of Isaac and her family.  He took ten of Abraham’s camels with him.  Camels were very expensive and a sign of great wealth.  If a family were to give their daughter to this servant, they would want to know they were sending her to a life of prosperity.  It was dangerous to travel through the wilderness with so many valuable treasures, but just as Abraham believed, the angel of the LORD was with them.

Abraham’s chief servant journeyed over the miles for many days.  He crossed back through all the lands that Abraham and Sarah had left behind.  It was evening when he arrived at the well of the town where the sons of Nahor lived.  He had the camels kneel down nearby.  As the sun lowered and the heated earth began to cool, the women began to come out to the well with their jugs.  They filled them up with water to use for washing and for cooking food for their families. As they each waited their turn, they chatted with the other women and discussed the day.

It was the perfect time for the servant to see the women of the town.  But there were so many of them!  Abraham’s servant prayed to God for help.  He believed that this task was an important part of God’s plan and that the Lord would guide him in it;

 

“‘O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.  See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water.  May it be that I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too-let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac.  By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.’”

 

The servant gave the LORD a way to show which girl was the one that God had specially chosen to marry Isaac.  Now, it was very normal for a member of a town to offer to give a stranger a drink from the town well.  But offering to draw water for camels was a totally different story.  Especially if those camels had just come in from a long journey.  A camel can drink up to twenty-five gallons at a time.  The largest clay pots in that time would have held three gallons of water.  The girl would have to fill her heavy clay jug up eight times for each camel.  There were ten camels!  That means the right woman would have to offer to lift three gallons of water and carry it to the animals eighty times!

That was a very generous thing for Abraham’s servant to hope for! But the servant wanted to be sure that the one he chose for Isaac was truly the will of the Lord.  Any woman who would offer such help was not only kind and generous, but hard working.  God could work through the character of the right girl so that she would do this lavishly generous work for a total stranger.

And sure enough, before God’s servant had even finished praying his prayer, a young woman came out to the well with a jar on her shoulder.  Her name was Rebekah, and she was the daughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother.  But the servant had no way of knowing that.  She was also very beautiful, and she was a virgin, a pure young woman at just the right age for marriage.  She let her jar down into the water and brought it back up again.

The servant saw her as his prayer ended and rushed over to her, asking for some water. She gave him her jug and said “Drink.”  She must have seen all of his camels, because then she said, “‘I’ll draw waters for your camels, too, until they have finished drinking.’”  Then this beautiful girl set to work, filling up her jugs in the well and pouring out the precious water into the trough for the thirsty camels.  Abraham’s servant watched her as she worked to see if she would truly do as she had said.  If she did, then his trip was abundantly successful.  She was the one that God had prepared for Isaac!

Rebekah filled the trough with water over and over until all ten camels were done drinking.  When she finished, she must have been tired!   But she was rewarded for her humble service to the visitor.  Abraham’s servant went to her and gave her a golden nose ring.  He took two golden bracelets and slid them on her arm.  Each bracelet weighed ten shekels each.  They were worth far more in gold than many farm workers could earn in a year.  They were valuable treasures indeed.    This was an act of great faith by the servant.  He didn’t even know who she was!  He just knew that God had answered his prayer!

“‘Whose daughter are you?’”  He asked her.  “‘Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?’”

“‘I am the daughter of Betheul, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor.  We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.’”

Wow!  The LORD had guided Abraham’s servant right to Nahor’s beautiful granddaughter!

The servant was overwhelmed at how perfectly God had answered his prayer.  He bowed down and worshipped the LORD, saying, “‘Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned His kindness and faithfulness to my master.  As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.’”

 

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 155: Heading Towards Jerusalem

Matt. 20:17-28; Mark 10:35-45

Jerusalem

Jesus was headed for Jerusalem. As they walked along the road, He strode with determination to move towards His task ahead. The disciples were amazed and full of fear. Everyone knew the rumors about the plans of the Sanhedrin. Jerusalem had become a dangerous place. Something seemed to loom over them as they drew nearer and nearer to the City of David. The national tension was building as everyone waited to see how the story of the radical young preacher would play out. In the midst of it all, Jesus set His face like a flint towards the capitol and journeyed on. How could He face such danger so steadfastly?

At one point in their journey, Jesus took the twelve disciples aside. Once again, He tried to warn them about what was going to happen. For Him, it was clear as day. He said:

“‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled…

“‘…He will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death.

“‘He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him. On the third day, he will rise again.’”

Wow. Jesus knew exactly, exactly what was about to happen. How? Well, He read the Word and understood the prophecies. He also had the Holy Spirit guiding and leading His understanding. The Spirit revealed the plans of His Father to Him, and He trusted His Father to carry them through. God was entirely in control of the unfolding situation. The Sanhedrin and all of the other characters that would play a part in the story were moving to accomplish God’s will, whether they meant to or not.

The Lord was going to use even the darkest evil in the hearts of men to bring about His good and perfect plan.

But even as Jesus explained the coming events in detail, His disciples didn’t get it.

Was the thought of Jesus’ death too terrible to think about? Or was His declaration that He would rise from the dead too strange to comprehend? All the disciples could seem to grasp was the vision of the conqueror, the Messiah who would come to rule and reign. THAT was the mission they wanted to join! That was the Son of Man they wanted Jesus to be.   They could think of little else.

Imagine the chatter between the band of disciples and faithful followers who went everywhere with Jesus. Were they guessing how Jesus might take His seat of power? Were they hoping for even grander miracles than the ones they had already seen? How did they think He was going to squash the Roman Empire?

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to go back in time and join them for a mile or two as they walked towards Jerusalem?

At some point in their journey, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus. Now, this woman was not only the mother of two of Jesus’ closest disciples. She was also Jesus’ aunt. As she and her two sons came to Jesus, she got down and bowed before him. It was a sign of request. For you see, she was about to ask Jesus for something big. Her sons said, “‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’”

Wow, that was a bold. What could they possibly be seeking? “‘What do you want me to do for you?’” Jesus asked.

Their mother answered, “‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your kingdom.’”

Ah. So that was their goal! They were trying to secure positions of honor for themselves for the day when Jesus established His realm. And since they were headed for the nation’s capitol, it probably looked like that time was coming soon.

As Jesus spoke of His Kingdom, they assumed that He was talking about a day when He would sit on the throne of David. And Jesus never denied this, for some day it is going to happen. He will fulfill all the prophecies that tell of a day when a descendent of David will sit on an everlasting throne. But that time was thousands of years in the distant future! There was much work to be done in the meantime.

John and James and their mother had no eyes to see the things that would come before the glorious time of Christ’s absolute rule. All they knew was that if the twelve disciples were going to sit on thrones and judge the nation of Israel, these two wanted to be the ones sitting on the thrones of highest honor.

Surely John and James had good reason to believe that they would be so highly chosen. They were His cousins after all! And while Jesus had His twelve disciples, He had an even closer, inner circle of three, and these two brothers were a part of it. Yet this grasping ambition was far from the ways of Christ. They were busy seeking the way to be first. They did not hear Jesus when He said that the last will be first and the first will be last.

Jesus answered them, “‘You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’”

One way the Bible describes God’s sovereign work is through the symbol of a cup. The cup holds God’s divine plan for a person or a group of people that He pours out on their lives. Sometimes it is a cup of blessing. At other times it is the cup of God’s wrath against sin.   Jesus knew what was ahead on the cross. Before He became the crowning glory of God’s Kingdom, He knew the cup of God’s wrath would pour out on Him, bringing Jesus unimaginably great suffering. The agony we should rightly bear for our rebellion and rejection of God would be bourn by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. It would be the most stunning victory in the history of humanity…but in the days ahead for James and John, it would look like a devastating defeat. Would James and John want to follow Him there?

They answered, “‘We can.’”

Jesus knew their great weaknesses. But He also knew what would happen after His great conquest. His death and resurrection would win the way for His Holy Spirit to come to James and John and empower them. They would be given the strength to sacrifice the things of this life in order to live for God. He would make the way so that they could become like Him. So He said:

“‘You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.’”

Wow. Jesus knew what His life and death would mean for His disciples for the rest of their lives on earth. They would drink His cup of suffering. John alone would live on to be persecuted. He would watch the Church grow even as all of the other disciples lost their lives for the sake of the Gospel. John would end up exiled on an island because of His loyalty to Jesus. He would write five books of the Bible before the Lord took Him home, including the last one that tells us what happens when Christ returns.

As you read the words of Jesus, do you sense how He had a much bigger picture than everyone around Him? They were confined to the smaller landscape of things that were happening in their own time. But through the power of the Spirit, Jesus could understand His purposes for all time, and even beyond! He lived with the constant awareness of a far better life ahead in eternity. He was returning to His Father to sit on an everlasting throne, and His disciples would join Him. His Father had purposes for each of them in this life. He also has a plan for each of them in their everlasting life, but those plans are still hidden in the mystery of His wonderful will. The amazing thing is that we will be there to see it!

When the other disciples found out what James and John had asked for, they were annoyed. All of their competitiveness and pride came roaring to the surface. James and John had tried to get an upper hand over them in the Kingdom…and they tried to use their family ties to Jesus to get it! How quickly the disciples descended into the ways of grasping, sinful men. Surely if God could be trusted, He could be trusted about this! Yet they did not trust. And now they were divided. Was this how the leaders of God’s people were meant to act? They were starting to look like the Pharisees! Jesus said to them:

“‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’”

Matthew 20:25b-28

Wow. Everything in God’s Kingdom was upside down! Actually, everything in God’s Kingdom is right side up, and the things of this world are upside down. In most societies, servants and slaves are constantly laboring to care for everyone else, but they receive the least pay, have the lowest status, and often receive very little kindness.   Anyone who lives with that kind of humility in Christ’s Kingdom is the very greatest of all. And as Jesus prepared to lay down His life for the world, He became the perfect model of that greatness.

Story 143: On Treatment of the Poor

Luke 16:1-13

Mendicante

As Jesus continued to go about the countryside of Israel healing and teaching and offering the Good News of God, the religious leaders were becoming more and more offended.  Some of them wanted Him dead.  Others were nitpicking at everything He did. The latest critique was that He was spending far too much time with the tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus knew what they were thinking, and so He addressed it by telling them stories to break them out of their rigid mindset and help them see the bigger picture of God’s love.  He told the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin to show the lengths that God will go to reach the lost…and the rejoicing that happens in Heaven when they are found.  He told the story of the Prodigal Son where the father sees his reprobate son returning home in rags and goes running…imagine the undignified act of running!…to him and throws his arms around him.

Jesus had another story, and so He began to tell His disciples:

“‘There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.”

“‘The manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.”

“‘So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?”

“‘ “Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,” he replied.

“‘ “The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.”

“‘ “Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?”

“‘“A thousand bushels of wheat,” he replied.

“‘“He told him, “Take your bill and make it eight hundred.”

“‘“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

“‘“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

“‘“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.”’”

Luke 16:1-13

As Jesus said these things to His disciples, the Pharisees were listening in. They loved their money, and as the story unfolded, they began to sneer at Jesus. So the Lord turned to them and said, “‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of man, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.’”

Wow.  

Then Jesus went on to tell another parable.  This one would highlight what He was saying in the last one:

““There was as rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury ever day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“‘The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”

“‘“But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received our good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”

“‘“He answered, “Then I beg you Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”

“‘“Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to them”

“‘“No, Father Abraham,” he said, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”

“”He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.”’”

Luke 16:19-31

 The wonderful thing about stories is that they can show so much truth as it plays out in the dynamics of real life.  Jesus could have told the Pharisees that they weren’t compassionate enough, that they loved money too much, or that they were ruining their chances to be with God for all eternity.  He could have said that their ways of greed and hard-heartedness towards the poor was destroying them, and that God would not allow them to force their way into the Kingdom by obeying their own notions about the Law. They allowed all sorts of things that violated the heart of God, yet put oppressive burdens on the people about Laws that were not important to God at all.  And what was worse, they were rejecting the Giver of the Law.

Jesus was God…He was there when Moses received the Law, but now as He was among them, they were rejecting what He said about it.  Yet they thought they could have all of its blessings.    This story highlighted all of those truths in a way that Jesus never once said directly to the Pharisees.

 

 

 

Story 109: Coming as a Child

Matt. 18:1-14; Mark 9:33-50; Luke 9:46-50

Jesus blessing a child

An argument had started to rise up between the disciples. They were debating over which one of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. In the Jewish culture, rank and status were very important. Everyone knew their place in society. They knew who they owed honor to, who it was a shame to be seen with, and everything in between. Jesus was going around breaking all of those rules.

He came to the earth as the son of a carpenter. The friends He chose were fishermen and tax collectors. Much of the Lord’s ministry was to the poor, the broken, and the diseased. Jesus showed them the honor of His careful attention and care…far more than He was giving to the elite religious leaders of His day.

The signs of Jesus’ amazing miracles meant He was receiving great honor and power from God. Yet this same Jesus rejected the ways of the Sadducees and Pharisees. He didn’t seem to care whether they approved of His ministry or not. He even seemed to think He had authority to tell them when they were right or wrong!

The religious leaders weren’t used to that. They were used to holding the places of unquestionable honor and praise in their nation. Their hearts were not devoted to the God of the Old Testament, they were devoted to their own positions. How enraging Jesus was to them! He had no regard for their status or power, and spoke in ways that shamed their leadership before the people of Israel.   The truth hurt.

The disciples had spent all their lives in Jewish society, and so it was natural that they would slip back into the ways of the leaders of their nation. They had been their role models. As they discussed life in the coming Kingdom, they longed to know who would be held up for honor and prestige. Was it Peter who had stepped up to answer the Lord’s most challenging questions? Jesus had already said He was going to build His church on the rock of Peter’s faith. Or was it Peter and James and John who were invited to see the Transfiguration? Who would be the greatest of the disciples in the Kingdom Jesus was going to bring? As they headed towards Jerusalem, they were beginning to expect that something new was going to happen. What was Jesus going to do? And who would He honor when He did it?

When they came into the house together in Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they had been talking about. None of them wanted to say anything. Jesus already knew. He called a little child to Himself and held him by His side;

“‘I tell you the truth,’” He said, “‘Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.’”

Ouch.  Jesus didn’t just teach a good idea here.  He told His disciples directly that they had to change.  They were developing all sorts of competitive ambitions in their hearts. Jesus wanted them to come to Him with the trust and openness of a child that knows nothing about worldly posturing over rank.

Then John said to him, “‘Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’”

Jesus said to him;

“‘Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in My name can in the next moment say anything bad about me. For whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in My name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.’”

 John attempted to stop someone that was doing a work for Jesus, but Jesus stopped him. He could have asked John to introduce him to the man. He could have gone to the man and questioned his theology to make sure it was correct. Jesus had a kind of wild freedom to allow things to stand as they were. As long as the miracles were in His name.

Yet there was something that Jesus said He was very careful to watch over. If anyone took care of one of His servants, Jesus would make sure they would receive their reward. What kind of wonderful world might it be in Christendom if all the servants of God sought to serve and protect each other rather than find ways to correct each other and tear each other down?   It seems that this, too, was part of the question of who is the greatest in the Kingdom. Rather than elevating the best critique, Jesus will reward the meekest servant.

Jesus went on:

“‘But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’”

 A millstone is a large, heavy rock that has been rounded into a circle so it can be rolled over grain. They are used on a farm to grind the grain and prepare the harvests. If someone had a millstone tied around their neck and they were thrown into the sea, they would sink very quickly into the water and would never rise again. That is an extreme punishment. It is an image to show how serious God’s anger is against people who treat “little ones” poorly or who lead them to believe things about God that aren’t true. These are terrible sins, but in this world, the powerful “big” people often forget this because nobody on earth will punish them. But God will. There is no better example of this than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.

Who do you think the “little ones” are? Are they actual children? Or do you think maybe Jesus meant anyone who was a child of God, no matter what age they are or how wealthy and powerful, poor or weak?

Jesus was trying to help His disciples understand the tremendous value that His followers have to Him. It doesn’t matter how much power or influence someone has, they never have the right to hurt a “little one.” And if they do, it means they have come against the goodness of the Most High God, Who sees all things.

Story 74: The Outsider Enters In

Matt. 8:1, 5-13; Luke 7:1-10

centurion

It is hard for us to imagine the power and authority that a Roman centurion would have held at the time of Christ…not only over his men, but over everyone. People simply did what he said. What if we responded to God that way…what if we trusted that He has the authority to accomplish His will absolutely?

Matthew wrote the Sermon on the Mount to show us all the things Jesus taught as He went about the countryside in Galilee. It gives us the big picture of what He said about life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Many of those ideas are also told in the book of Luke, but they are scattered throughout his book as Luke showed how Jesus was teaching those things along the way. As He came into new towns and new areas, He would share His message over and over again, giving each community in the nation of Israel the chance to respond to their Messiah.

Jesus challenged His disciples to do more than listen to His teaching. They had to put it into practice. And that is exactly what Jesus was doing as He travelled. As we continue to read the story of Jesus’ life, it is like we are watching His Sermon come alive.   The Sermon teaches how to honor the Law of God with perfection, and that is what Jesus did. The Lord said that the disciple who is blessed is poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and pure in heart. They will mourn sin and evil, act as peacemakers, and accept persecution for the cause of his Kingdom. As you read the stories of Christ’s life, try to point out when you see these qualities in our Savior. He is our model.

The Lord came down the mountain and headed for the town of Capernaum. The great masses of people followed right along as He walked. In the midst of the crowd there were some Jewish elders. They were men of high honor and dignity, but they came up to Jesus with earnest looks on their faces. They desperately wanted His help, but not for their own need. They had come out of concern for someone else.

There was a Roman centurion, a high ranking soldier, who was facing something terrible. He had a devoted and faithful servant who was suffering. He was paralyzed and in great pain. They were sure he was about to die. When the centurion heard about this Jesus who had the power to heal, he went to the Jewish elders. He asked them to go to Jesus and ask Him if He would heal his servant.

The elders had a deep respect for the centurion. So they went out to find Jesus. When they met Him on the road, they pleaded with Him, saying, “‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.’”

Now here was something new! Jewish men were honoring and serving a Roman soldier! When Jesus heard this, He understood that this was a remarkable situation. He said, “‘I will come and heal him.’” He started to go with the elders to his house, but as he drew near the house, they were stopped. The centurion had sent his friends out to meet them with a message:

“‘Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and that one, “Come,” and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it’”

Luke 7:6b-8

 Wow. This man understood what it meant to have power. He worked for an army that gave him authority. His men were quick to obey and serve. The centurion understood that Jesus had authority, too.   He believed Jesus had power over illness. He even had faith that Jesus could command healing from far away!

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at this centurion. He turned to look at the multitudes of crowds that were following him through the streets. “‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith in all Israel.’”

Wow. The Gentile, the non-Jewish person who was considered unclean by most of the Jews, had more faith than anyone Jesus had met so far! How ironic…and how sad for Jesus. How He must have longed to see that simple, strong belief in His own people!

Jesus said, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.”  At that very moment the servant was healed.  Imagine what it was like for the servant to feel his body change.  What was it like for his family…what if he had kids?  Imagine the kind of awe and celebration in the centurion’s household that night.  Their day had gone from deep sorrow to astonished joy, from the weariness of mourning to relief and dancing.  But that is how our Lord is.  He is the God of reversals.

Then Jesus said:

“‘And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’”

Matt. 8:10b-12

 Any time the Bible talks about “gnashing of teeth,” we are being given really intense imagery. What makes you so angry or miserable that you actually begin to gnash your teeth together?

What Jesus said was also offensive. He didn’t let that stop Him. The Jews believed that the salvation belonged only to them. They thought that because they were Abraham’s descendants, they automatically inherited God’s covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were born to be members of the Kingdom of Heaven. But Jesus said this wasn’t so. Abraham’s true descendants were the ones who shared in the faith of Abraham, like the Roman centurion.

Jesus also said that one day, at the end of time, anyone who shared in that righteous faith would dine with the great heroes of the Old Testament. Wow. That is amazing news! Can you picture yourself there, sitting with Abraham, feasting away?

But Jesus was also giving a very stern warning. He was showing that the Kingdom of Israel was not the exact same thing as the Kingdom of Heaven. Everyone who was born a Jew was a member of the nation of Israel, but only those who had faith in Jesus would be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. The rest of Israel would be left out in the land of torment and pain…it would be so bad that they would gnash their teeth. They had been given the Word of God. The Son of God Himself had come to their rescue. Those who reject Him were choosing separation from God. And in the end, if they didn’t repent, God would let them have their way for all eternity.

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