Tag: trust

Story 40: Rebekah Comes Home

Genesis 24:28-67

 

Abraham sent his chief servant to find a wife for Isaac. It was important that Isaac’s wife come from the same family… those who God had set apart in a covenant in order to bless the world.  The servant travelled back to the land that Abraham and Sarah had left behind so many years before.  The Lord guided him to a beautiful young virgin named Rebekah as she took water from the village well.  He knew she was the one for Isaac, and so he gave her bracelets of precious gold and asked to be taken back to her home.  She ran ahead and told her mother everything that had happened during her time at the well.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, heard what happened, too.  He saw the expensive gold bracelets and the nose ring, and he knew that this stranger was a making a serious marriage offer for his sister.   He went out to meet Abraham’s servant at the well.  “‘Come, you are blessed by the Lord,’” he said.  “‘Why are you standing out here?  I have prepared the house and a place for your camels.’”

Nahor’s family treated Abraham’s chief servant very well.  They brought him into the house and washed his feet and the feet of his men.  As they set supper out for him to eat, he stopped them and said, “‘I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.’”  The importance of this meeting was too great!  He did not want to wait another minute until he had settled everything.

 

“‘The LORD has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy.  He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys.  My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns.  And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’”

“‘Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’

“‘He replied, The Lord,  before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from  my own clan, you will be released from my oath even if they refuse to give her to you-you will be released from my oath.’

 

Then the servant told them how he had come into their town.  He told how he had prayed that God would show him who the right girl was by having her offer not only to give him a drink of water, but by offering to water his camels.  He explained how that was exactly what Rebekah did.  God had answered his prayer very clearly.  And after journeying for days over many miles, the girl the LORD had brought him was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother!

Abraham’s servant told the whole story, making sure they understood how God had guided him to Rebekah.  Then he said, “‘Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.’”

Laban and Rebekah’s mother Bethuel said, “‘This is from the LORD, we can say nothing to you one way or the other.  Here is Rebekah, take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has directed.’”

When the servant heard that he would be allowed to bring this beautiful, chosen daughter to be Isaac’s wife, he bowed down before the LORD, rejoicing at His goodness.  This was all the work of God, who designed everything with such care for His chosen ones.

The servant got up from his praise to the LORD and began to celebrate by bringing out the great riches given to him by Abraham to pour out on Rebekah, the bride, and her family.  Rebekah was given treasures of gold and silver jewelry and beautiful clothes to wear as the wife of Isaac.  Her family received lavish and beautiful gifts as well as they prepared to say goodbye to their beloved child and sister.

The next morning, Abraham’s servant asked to leave and return to Abraham with Isaac’s new bride.  But they did not want to see her go so soon.  They knew they would probably never see her again.  “‘Let the girl remain with us ten days or so; then you may go,’” they said.

But the servant was ready to return.  “‘Do not detain me, now that the LORD has granted success to my journey.  Send me on my way so I may go to my master.’”

They said, “‘Let’s call the girl and ask her about it.’”  They called for Rebekah and asked her if she would go with Abraham’s servant right away or not.

Rebekah said, “‘I will go.’”  Wow.  What stunning faith!  While her family was reluctant, she was bold.  And so they sent her on her way.  The nurse that had raised her since she was a little girl went along with her, as did several other maidservants from the house.  She was not alone as she journeyed towards the home of Abraham and Isaac.  As she left, her family said;

 

“‘Our sister, may you increase

to thousands upon thousands;

may your offspring possess

the gates of their enemies.’”

 

Consider the courage of Rebekah!  She left everything she knew to go with a host of strange men to marry a groom she had never met!  On and on they journeyed across wilderness and desert through regions Rebekah had never seen before.  One evening, as the caravan of Abraham’s servant was getting close to home, Isaac was sitting out in the middle of a field.  It was evening, and he was meditating.  Out in the distance, he saw camels coming towards him.  It was a caravan.  He got up and started walking towards it.  Rebekah was on one of those camels, and as they crossed the field, she looked up and saw a man standing there.  It was Isaac.  She climbed down from her camel and said, “‘Who is that man in the field coming the field.’”

The servant answered, “‘He is my master.’”

Rebekah  realized that this was the man she was about to marry.  She covered her face with a veil.

The servant told Isaac all that had happened.  Isaac took her into his tent.  He married Rebekah and lifted her veil to look upon the girl that God had prepared just for him.  The Bible says: “‘She became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.’”

 

Story 30: Entertaining the Angels of God

Genesis 18:1-15

Three angels visiting Abraham by Johann Lucas Kracker (1752 – 1776) from Premonstratesian cloister in Jasov in Jasov, Slovakia.

One day, Abraham was resting out by the entrance to his tent.  It was the time of day when the heat grew to its worst. Abraham sat looking out on the glorious trees of Mamre where he and Sarah had chosen to live.  They were far from the cities of immorality and shame that his nephew Lot had found so attractive.  Abraham looked up and noticed that there were three men standing close by.  Abraham lived in a region where visitors did not come very often.  When they did, they had often journeyed long distances.  It was considered a great honor to serve them and show them hospitality.

Abraham jumped up and rushed over to the men who had been travelling in the terrible heat.  He bowed low to the ground in front of them and said, “‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.  Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree.  Let me get you something to eat, so that you can be refreshed and then go on your way–now that you have come to your servant.’”

The men agreed.  Abraham hurried to Sarah and told her to make some bread.  Then he ran to pick out the best, most tender part of meat from a calf and gave it to a servant to prepare.  He went and got some curds and goat’s milk.  These were delicacies in Abraham’s day, and showed the high honor Abraham was giving these men.  How attentive Abraham was to his noble guests.  This was a lavish meal for a nomadic family living in tents!  As they ate their banquet feast, Abraham stood nearby and waited on his guests under a tree.  The men asked him where his wife was.

Abraham said, “‘There, in the tent.’”

What the Bible says next is interesting.  These three men who came to visit Abraham were no mere humans.  Two of them were angels.  One of them was the LORD.  Wow.  Those are some pretty important houseguests.  The Lord said to Abraham, “‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah, your wife, will have a son.’”

Now, Sarah was inside the tent listening in on the conversation.  When she heard what the LORD said, she started laughing to herself.  Didn’t this Man know how old she was?  Didn’t he see that Abraham was not a young man?  It was too late for them to have children!  She said to herself, “‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’”  Oh, the precious heart of a woman.  Even as she lacked faith in God Himself, her heart longed for the treasure of a baby in her arms.

The LORD knew exactly what was going on in Sarah’s mind.  He said to Abraham, “‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?”  Is anything too hard for the LORD?  I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.’”

Oops.  When Sarah heard that, she was scared.  She lied and pretended that she hadn’t laughed.   But the LORD argued with her.  He could read her mind!  He said, “‘Yes, you did laugh.’”  God restored her back to honesty with His rebuke.  He showed her that He could read her thoughts.  He understood her doubts.  And surely the LORD who could read her mind could also give her a child.

Story 25: The Covenant: Descendants and Land

Genesis 15:1-8

Wow.  Imagine the difference in the life of Abram from the time we began his story until now.  He went from being a wandering nomad with his wife and nephew to a man of vast wealth.  He had his own private army of highly trained warriors who conquered five kings and saved the people of the Jordan River Valley from captivity.  He was now highly respected throughout the land.  But there was something far more important happening, something that made all the rest of it possible.  As the years went by, Abram’s faith was stretched further and further, and his ability to depend on God’s promises was growing into a mighty power.  It was the kind of power that God could bless.  As God expanded Abram’s influence and power, Abram kept his eyes fixed on the Lord in trust and received only what was clearly from God’s hand. Through his determined faith, Abram was exhibiting glorious righteousness to a watching world.

Yet there was still a tremendous ache for this wise and aging man.  Abram and his beloved wife were still without a child.  How would God make Abram’s descendents into a great nation if they had no son?  What good was their wealth and reputation if the life of Abram died with him and his wife?  Who would they pass it on to?  The Lord spoke to him and said,

 

“‘Do not be afraid, Abram,

I am your shield,

your very great reward.’”

Genesis 15:1b

God knew the fears on the heart of his faithful servant and pursued him, promising to be his divine protection.  This promise was a bit different from what God had given in the past.  Before, there was always a condition.  In order to receive the promise, Abram had to show his faith through obedience. Over those many years, Abram had proven his faith, and now the LORD was coming to him with the fullness of His covenantal promises.  God would uphold His side to His servant no matter what lay ahead.  Through all of history, the blessings of this covenant would be utterly unchangeable.

When Abram heard this, he came to his LORD and asked the questions that so troubled his heart.  “‘O Sovereign LORD, what can You give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus…You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir’” (Gen. 15:2-3).

Abram had trusted God with his whole future, but he and his wife were growing old, and the promises of God seemed more and more unlikely.  How could Abram’s faith stretch so far as to believe the impossible?

God’s plan for His loyal servant was already set in history.  The future was as sure as the past because God had made it so.  In fact, He had allowed everything to get to the point where His promises seemed impossible to Abram so that he would have to utterly rely on the LORD in faith.  Everyone would know that when God’s blessings came, it could only have come from Him.  His blessings on Abram would give the Lord great glory before all the nations of the region.  The holiness and power of the Most High God was being declared through the most personal longings of Abram and Sarai’s life.

The LORD knew the discouragement of His beloved servant, and so He began to explain more about the mighty, unbreakable covenant that He had made with Abram in Genesis 12.  He said:

 

“‘This man [Eliezer] will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.’  He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars-if indeed you can count them.’  Then He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’”

Gen. 15:4-5

Abram could not imagine how wide and great God’s blessings would become, so God had to bring him out into the night sky and show him the universe.   And in that sacred moment when God’s Word came to him, Abram believed what God said, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness.  Abram was righteous in the eyes of God simply because he believed the LORD.  He did what all the other nations and tribes refused to do.  He surrendered in trust to the will of the One who made him.

 

Then God said, “‘I am the LORD.’”

 

Any time God says that in the Bible, it means that whatever comes next is big.  Really big.  It means that God is sealing His next words with the integrity of His own character.  It bears tremendous power and gravity.  It is going to happen because He is permanent and eternal and He doesn’t go back on His word.  So the LORD said to Abram:

 

“‘I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the land of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it’”

 

 Once again, God gave Abram a wonderful promise.  All the land of the whole region where the Canaanite cities and nations lived would one day belong to Abram’s family.  Abram took God’s word very seriously.  Purely by faith, he was staking his whole life on this promise.  So once again, he came to his God with an honest question about his doubts and fears.  “‘O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?’”

Story 22: Parting Ways: The Foolish and the Wise

Genesis 13:1-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gen. 13:14-17

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Story 21: A Trip to Egypt: There and Back Again

Genesis 12:16-20

Abram had moved out in faith because of the promises of God. The LORD told him to leave his country and his father’s household and go to an entirely new land.  God was going to raise up so many descendants for him that they would become an entire nation.  That nation was to be a part of God’s plan to bring salvation to the entire world.  But Abram was not alone on his journey, and he was not the only one who had to show tremendous trust in what God said. His wife Sarai would have to faithfully move out into a world that was very different from her own as well. They would have to put their hope in God together, acting as obedient partners in God’s work, reflecting the image of God in their love and support for each other.

They made the long journey to the land of Canaan. They were nomads, living in tents that were easy to pick up and move. They herded their flocks and herds with them, careful to stop in places where there would be plenty of water to drink and grass for their animals to graze on. They stayed in the hill country that fringed around the land of Canaan, careful not to threaten the tribes and nations that already lived there. Along their dusty path, Abram built altars of grateful praise to his God. They were monuments to the LORD, and monuments to Abram’s faith. He did not fight, fret, or manipulate for the land. He did not try to invade them on his own. He stood in faith, believing he would receive it freely from the hand of God.

They had been living in Canaan for some time when a severe famine came. Any famine is a terrible thing, as it means that there is not enough food to go around. Perhaps the famine came because there hadn’t been enough rain for the crops of food. Or perhaps a disease had come to destroy the plants or animals of the region. Whatever caused it, it was dangerous. Many people could starve to death. Many others would grow weak and ill.

Can you imagine the sense of responsibility and fear that Abram felt? Here was his precious wife, his nephew, their servants, and all their animals, and all of them depended on the wisdom of his leadership to survive. Did he wake up in fear at night, imagining his beloved wife having to go without food? Did he picture his animals growing skinny and weak? The Bible doesn’t say exactly which horrors drove Abram to fear, but we do know that he was overcome by those fears.

Abram gathered up his tents and moved his family down to the land of Egypt. The mighty Nile River was there. When every other region went without water because the rains had stopped, Egypt could rely on the vast flow of water that constantly poured through the Nile’s riverbanks. Their farms crops and their animals were often healthy and strong in the worst of times. The Nile was so important to the Egyptians that they worshiped the river as a god. In many ways, Abram was doing the same thing. In his fear of famine, he did not trust God to provide for him in the land of promise. He left the place of God’s calling to go where there was help that he could see and understand. Faith is believing in what cannot be seen. Abram was not standing in faith.

As they traveled closer to Egypt, Abram began to worry about something else. His wife was radiantly beautiful. He knew that other men would desire her, and he knew how vicious they might become towards the man she was married to. He was afraid. Here was another chance to take his fears to God, to show his trust and faith in the LORD. Instead, he turned to Sarai and put the burden of his fears on her. He said, “‘I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.’”

Sure enough, when they arrived in Egypt, the surpassing beauty of Sarai became known far and wide. Word spread as far as the high officials of the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They went to their king and told him that a great beauty had come to live among them. The Pharaoh sent for her. When he saw her, he agreed with the rumors…she was ravishing. And since everyone had been told that Sarai was without a husband, the Pharoah took her to live in his palace.

Meanwhile, Abram was treated very well for giving the king his sister. He received sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and human servants in gratitude for giving the Pharaoh such a lovely gift. What was Abram thinking? Sarai had become a part of the royal harem! The Pharaoh wanted to come to her as a man should only come to his wife!

Abram had put his wife at terrible risk. He had put God’s promises in danger, too. God said that He would make a great nation through Abram, but in God’s eyes, Abram and Sarai were one flesh. They were married, and the promise of the covenant was to come through their united flesh. It was meant to happen through the love they shared in their marriage. Sarai had a sacred role to play that was every bit as important as Abram’s! But now Sarai was at risk to have a child from a man that was not her husband.

Imagine how Sarai felt as she sat alone in the palace, waiting for the king to come. What was she going to do? Was she mad that Abram had forced her to protect him? Did she feel betrayed that he had not protected her as a husband should? And how was God going to come through?

The Lord is patient. As Abram struggled to become a man of faith, God would help him along the way, especially as he faltered and failed. God would not let Sarai be violated by the Pharaoh of this idolatrous nation. The covenant was unbreakable. God sent a serious disease to infect every member of Pharaoh’s house. Imagine the entire palace writhing in discomfort. They all wondered what they had done to deserve this plague.  Then Pharaoh discovered that the painful infliction had come because he had taken the wife of Abram.  So the Pharaoh called for him. He said:

“‘What have you done to me…Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?   Why did you say, “She is my sister,” so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!’” (Gen. 12:18b-20)

Wow! Now Sarai was safe, but the wrath of the Pharaoh was against them…and he had every right to be angry! Abram took Sarah and everything they had and left Egypt. With all the riches given to him by the Pharaoh, Abram had become a very wealthy man. He had added great amounts of animals and silver and gold from the Pharaoh.

Story 177: The Last Supper: Betrayals and Denials

Matthew 26:21-24; Mark 14:18-21; Luke 22:21-34; John 13:18-38

Ultima cena

Jesus and the disciples were sharing their Passover dinner. Jesus knew that this would be His last meal with the men who had journeyed with him all over the nation of Israel. They labored with Him among the crowds on hot days, walked the many miles from town to town, leaving all the comforts of home and family life to devote themselves to this Lord and the proclamation of His Kingdom. They had offered to lay down their very lives in order to stand by His side. Yet Jesus also knew that one among them had already betrayed Him, and would betray Him further still. So as He told the disciples about the blessings they would receive if they washed each other’s feet, He also told of the one who would receive a curse:

“‘I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture:

“He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.”

“‘I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.’”

As Jesus said these things, He became deeply grieved in His spirit. Then He said, “‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.’”

Did Judas quiver as Jesus spoke?   The other disciples looked around at each other in shock. Which one of them could possibly be guilty of treachery? It was so hard to imagine that each one began to question themselves. “‘Surely, not I, Lord!’” they said. They were innocent, yet they were filled with fear and dread at the sin they might commit. They longed to be loyal.

How that must have touched the Lord at that moment.

Outside the doors of the Upper Room there were powerful men craving His death. But these men inside with Jesus, however flawed and weak, were true. Their love was real, and so was their faith.

Jesus said, “‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray Me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.’

As they reclined at the table, John was leaning up against Jesus’ chest. This was the disciple who described himself as “the one who Jesus loved.” Peter leaned over and motioned to John, “‘Ask him which one He means.’” John leaned back against the Savior and said, “‘Lord, who is it?’”

Jesus said, “‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’” The he dipped his bread into the dish and handed it to Judas Iscariot. As Judas took the bread, Satan entered him.

The Lord commanded, “‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’” The minute Judas took hold of the bread, he was rising to leave. By that time it was night, when his evil deeds would be carried out unnoticed. The other disciples didn’t think twice about his leaving. He watched over the money, so they figured Jesus had sent him out to buy food or to give to the poor. They had no idea that as they shared their evening with Jesus, he was making his way to the chief priests. The clock was set in motion.

As the meal went on, some of the disciples began to argue about which one of them would be the most honored.

As Jesus spoke of washing each other’s feet in God’s Kingdom, all they seemed to hear was that there was going to be a Kingdom! They hungered to know who would be the most influential and powerful among them.   They were still seeking status for themselves. They were acting like the Pharisees and scribes! In a way, they were betraying the message of Christ. They weren’t listening. They had no idea what lay before them in the days ahead. Listen to the Lord’s patient response:

“‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by Me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred on Me so that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”

Luke 22:25b-32

Wow. WOW. The disciples will not only each have honored roles in the Kingdom of Christ, they will be given positions of authority to judge God’s holy nation. Jesus will give them a portion of His royal power. Jesus was establishing a new kind of Kingdom in the place of Israel, and these men would be the leaders. But they would have to wait to receive those positions. They would not come to them while they lived on earth. They would have to look to Christ’s everlasting Kingdom to imagine that day. That required faith about a world and a time they could not see.

Jesus began to prepare His men for what was about to unfold to make that day possible:

“‘Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him. God will glorify the Son in Himself, and will glorify Him at once.

“‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for Me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you know: where I am going, you cannot come.

“‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.’”

John 13:31-38

Now it was the disciples’ turn to be troubled. Why was He leaving them? Simon Peter asked Him where He was going. Imagine the sorrow in the question.

Jesus didn’t answer. He simply said, “‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’”

Then Jesus said words that must have filled Simon Peter with even more dismay:

“‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’”

All Peter wanted to do was follow his Lord. How could Jesus be saying these things? “‘Lord,’” he said, “‘I am ready to go with You to prison and to death.’” And surely, it was true. Peter had many months and even years to think about this. As the hatred of the religious leaders grew, it had become more and more dangerous to be Jesus’ friend. The best in Peter was ready to die for the Lord. But Jesus was telling Peter things that he didn’t know about himself.

Much of Peter’s bravado and action was more about himself than from pure devotion to Christ. Now Satan was after him, longing to destroy this disciple whose dedication made him such a dangerous enemy to the Evil One. But God was going to use the sifting of Satan to purify Peter. Jesus said, “‘I tell you Peter, before the cock crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’”

When push came to shove, Peter was not going to give up his life for Jesus. He was going to save his own life by denying the Lord at His most devastating hour. Jesus understood exactly what Peter was about to do…and loved him still. For you see, the Lord knew that Peter’s denials were not about Christ Himself. They were about Peter and the work that God was doing to prepare this disciple who would become the rock of the church.

Peter was full of his own ideas about how to serve Jesus. He was convinced of his own ability to remain loyal and strong. God was going to strip him of all that misplaced bravado and false confidence. Peter was about to have his pride and presumption stripped away. But once Peter went through this terrible time, he would come out of it with a deep inner strength. Through this humiliation and sorrow, Peter would learn to depend on God.

Jesus knew that Peter was going to deny Him, but He also knew that in the end, Peter was going to follow through on his promise. He would spend the rest of  his life proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom, and hHe would suffer persecution and prison for his Lord. And one day, he would die for the name of Jesus.

Story 173: Passion Week: On Watching and Waiting Well

Matthew 25:1-30

Vintage retro effect filtered hipster style travel image of burning candles in Buddhist temple. Tsuglagkhang complex, McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

Jesus and His disciples sat together on the Mount of Olives. After several years of hearing about the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus was giving them insight into the glorious things that lay ahead for the future of humanity. He was also giving them grave warnings for those who do make the purposes of the Most High God a high priority in their lives. He did this by telling two parables.

The first parable was a tale of ten virgins at a wedding. According to Jewish custom, young unmarried girls were an important part of the wedding ceremony. In their tradition, the wedding ceremony took place at the bride’s house, and it often happened at night. The groom and his friends would join together at the groom’s house and celebrate as they made their way to the home of the bride. It was the job of the young virgins to go out and welcome the bridegroom as he came with his procession. After the wedding ceremony, the whole party would go back to the groom’s house for a great feast.

These are important things to know in order to understand the story Jesus was about to tell His disciples:

“‘Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. [That means they poured oil into them so they would continue to burn.] And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered saying, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, ‘I do not know you.’ Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’”

Matthew 25:1-13

Wow. In some ways, this story seems kind of harsh. Those poor young girls, left out of the great feast because of their forgetfulness. Yet when we think about what choices they had made leading up to this sad outcome, we see how serious their mistake was. When a person places a high value on something, they think about it. If it is an event, they might put hours into preparation, carefully considering what they will wear and how they wish to present themselves through their behavior. For an event like a wedding, the amount of value put on the event is an indicator of the value that is placed on the couple getting married.

The choice of the five virgins who carefully brought extra oil shows they had thought ahead. They had planned in case the groom was late in coming and invested their money to have extra oil on hand. By comparison, the five virgins who brought no extra oil were showing the lack of importance of this moment to them. They wanted to receive the honor of participating without giving the honor due to those who had invited them.

In the Bible, the Lord Jesus is often described as the bridegroom who will come to take His Bride up to eternal life. This “Bride” is a metaphor for the Church, or all those who genuinely put their faith in Him. In this story, the ten virgins are like the people of our time, the ones who are waiting for the Bridegroom to come. If we are wise, we will be like the virgins who planned ahead to make sure they would be ready. We will choose to place tremendous value on that great moment when the Bridegroom finally comes to take us home. We will live our lives as those who are in waiting, using our lives as a time to prepare for His return.

The Lord went on with another parable. It has many of the same ideas:

“‘For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded them, and he made talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, “Master, you delivered to me two talents, here I have made two talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered not seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Matthew 25:14-30

This story offers a great hope and a sharp rebuke. Each one of Jesus’ disciples throughout time has been given gifts that are meant to be used for the Kingdom of Heaven. How will we use them? If we use what we have faithfully, whether we have been given an abundance of gifts like the man with five talents, or less like the man with two talents, the Lord will be greatly pleased, and we will be called good and faithful servants. But for those who squander their time and do nothing with the gifts God gives them, it will be as if they did not know Jesus at all. They will be cast out with the nonbelievers as if they never knew Him. In truth, if someone chooses to believe that God is a harsh Master that takes more than He gives, then that person truly has not known Him or put his or her faith in Him.

Consider the epic promise this parable holds out for those who use their gifts for the Kingdom. They will be welcomed to enter into the joy of the Master. This is no ordinary approval by a human boss…this is the exuberant, unending, perfect joy of the Most High God. Imagine what it must mean to enter into that joy!

Consider the epic warning this story offers for those who fail to use their gifts for God’s Kingdom. Their resentment of God and their accusations against Him will seal their fate. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” is the way Jesus described Hell.

This stark contrast is not meant to drive us to despair, but to give us a dramatic comparison that makes our choice clear. In this confused and convoluted world, it is often challenging to realize the inner workings of our own heart. What is our attitude towards God? Do we give to Him wholeheartedly, striving to advance His Kingdom with the gifts He gives? Do we use them only to get what we want for ourselves? Do we see His gifts and treasures as burdens? Are our hearts full of gratefulness and trust in the goodness of the Master…or are they tightened up into bitter, toxic little wads, assuming the worst about His intentions towards us? Jesus is making it clear that the choice is ours…we can move into a life of gratitude and service, or into resentful bitterness.

Many of us have allowed our hearts to become hardened and angry. Often this is because of pain and disappointment we have experienced in life. We need to know that our attitude is a choice. We can live in the misery of toxic negativity, or we can make the agonizing choice to let go of all that…to forgive those who must be forgiven, to do the hard work of taking our thoughts captive and choosing to trust God with the outcomes of our lives…even in the midst of painful circumstances.
We can see King David, the ancestor of Christ, doing just that in Psalm 31.   One way to turn our hearts to faith is to pray through these Psalms, asking the Lord to make the words true of our own hearts:

“In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge;

Let me never be ashamed;

In Your righteousness deliver me…

“For You are my rock and my fortress;

For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me…

“I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,

Because You have seen my affliction;

You have known the troubles of my soul…

“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;

My eye has wasted away from grief,

My soul and my body also.

For my life is spent with sorrow,

And my years with sighing;

My strength has failed me because of my iniquity,

And my body has wasted away.

Because of all my adversaries, I have become a reproach…

“I am like a broken vessel…

“But as for me, I trust in You, LORD,

I say, ‘You are my God.’

My times are in Your hand;

Deliver me from the hand of my enemies

And from those who persecute me;

Make Your face shine upon Your servant;

Save me in Your lovingkindness.”

 

Psalm 31:1, 3, 7, 9-11a, 12b, 14-16

Story 156: Blind Bartemeaus

Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-19:10

 Christ healing sick and blind people. Stained glass.

The eyes of the whole nation were on Jesus, wondering what the unpredictable young preacher would do next. Everyone knew that the most powerful religious leaders in the land had turned against Him. They were looking for any excuse to get rid of Him. Yet there was such great authority in His teaching.  It was as if He took all the gross distortions and lies of humanity and made them right and true again.  What is more, His remarkable miracles seemed to fulfill the prophecies of old.  His works of healing and freedom for the broken were so powerful and beautiful that the crowds continued to be in awe of Him.  He couldn’t be silenced.

The Lord Jesus had traveled all over the nation of Israel, starting in the north, around the Sea of Galilee where He had grown up. He began by going to the synagogues, offering the religious leaders of Israel a chance to recognize that their Messiah had come. All they had to do was honor Him. And yet they didn’t. Their determination to protect their own positions of power and status and their own rules and traditions about what God meant in the Bible kept them from surrendering when God actually showed up. What an honor it would have been for them to be the generation of Israel that welcomed the Savior! But in clinging to the honors of this world, they lost the honors of eternity.

And so Jesus left the synagogues and began preaching out in the countryside, on the hills and plains where the crowds would come by the thousands to meet Him. He traveled to the towns and villages all across the land, reaching out towards those who hadn’t come to Him, preaching the Good News of His Kingdom all along the way.

Now the time of Jesus’ preaching ministry was coming to a close. The Passover Feast had come and the people of Israel would be making the pilgrimage to offer their sacrifices at the Temple.  They would bring their wheat and lambs, but Jesus would bring the ultimate sacrifice, He, Himself.  He was going to lay down His own life. Yet His sacrifice was not only for Himself or His family and it was not only for the generation in which He was living. It was for every generation that has ever lived. And for that, Jesus had to journey straight into the heart of danger…to the City of David, the great king and ancestor of Christ. Jesus would die outside the gates of King David’s city, and in doing so, He would make the way for the fulfillment of God’s covenant with David.

This is what God promised David a thousand years before Jesus came:

I have found David, My servant;

with My sacred oil I have anointed him.

My hand will sustain him;

surely My arm will strengthen him.

The enemy will not get the better of him;

the wicked will not oppress him.

I will crush his foes before him

and strike down his adversaries.

My faithful love will be with him,

and through My name his horn will be exalted.

I will set his hand over the sea,

his right hand over the rivers.

He will call out to Me, ‘You are my Father,

my God, the Rock, my Savior.’

And I will appoint him to be My firstborn,

the most exalted of the kings of the earth.

I will maintain My love to him forever,

and My covenant with him will never fail.

I will establish his line forever,

his throne as long as the heavens endure.

Psalm 89:20-29

By the time of Jesus, King David had been long dead and the king that then reigned over Jerusalem was Herod, a man of great folly and corruption. But the True King was coming to wage war on sin and death and the victory would be totally His.

Would the people understand? Would they worship the One who had come? Did they have the courage to acknowledge Him now as He journeyed towards Jerusalem?

When Jesus and His disciples arrived in Jericho, just forty five miles outside of Jerusalem, they had been joined by a great crowd on the way to the Passover Feast. How exciting it must have been to be journeying with this radical Preacher.

Imagine the sight of the energized multitudes converging on Jericho. Can you feel the hustle and bustle of people bumping up against each other, trying to get a look at Jesus, wondering to one another what He would do next?

As they went along, they came upon a blind beggar, who sat by the side of the road. His name was Bartemaeus, and he was the son of Timaeus. When he heard the crowds coming, he asked what all the noise was about. They told him that it was Jesus of Nazareth, coming his way.

As soon as Bartemaeus heard that, he began to cry out, “‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’”

People began to rebuke him harshly, telling him to shut his mouth, but Bartemaeus refused. It only made him shout out even louder than before: “‘SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!!!’” Wow! That is the power of perseverance!

Jesus heard him. In the midst of the throng and the forward motion of the crowd, He stopped. “‘Call him here,’” He said. The people called out to Bartemaeus and said, “‘Take courage, arise! He is calling for you!’”

The second he heard that, Bartemaeus threw off his cloak, jumped up, and ran straight to Jesus.

Jesus asked, “‘What do you want Me to do for you?’”

“‘Rabboni,’” Bartemaues implored, “‘I want to regain my sight!’”

The Lord Jesus touched his blind eyes and said, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.’”

Bartemaeus’ sight came back instantly. Imagine how he felt as the light came flooding in!

Sit for a minute and imagine all the ways his life would change.  He would see the blue sky again.  He would be able to look on the faces of the people he loved.  He would be able to work and provide for himself and his family.  The days where he had to stumble around and be led from place to place were over.

But that was not the only healing that took place. His faith in Jesus had brought the far greater healing of his heart and soul as well. He was saved!

As Jesus began to walk forward with the throng of people, Bartemaeus followed along, giving glory to God and praising Him with outrageous joy.  When the crowds saw the jubilant happiness of Bartemaeus and realized what had happened, they were amazed and gave praise to God as well.

There is so much richness in this story that is easy to see just by reading it through the first time. But the amazing thing about God’s stories is that we can never go deep enough…there is always more treasure to find if we only dig a little deeper. One of the tools we can use to dig are questions about the story. We can pay closer attention to what happened in the story by asking: What did each character say and do at each stage of the story? What choices did they make…and what other choices could they have made? And what were the impact and consequences of these choices?

For example, the crowd that was so excited to be traveling with Jesus were also very quick to try to shut up Bartemaeus.  Their reaction to him was very different from the response of Christ.  What do we learn about the people who showed such contempt for a blind beggar seeking the attention of a spiritual leader?  They seemed to like the idea of the radical nature of Jesus’ teachings and healings, yet in the practical outworking in daily life, they found it rather inconvenient.  But for Jesus, His radical words matched His radical way of life.

Or think about what Bartemaeus did when he learned that Jesus was in the crowd.  He immediately began crying out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Why did he choose to call Jesus the Son of David? Didn’t Bartemaeus know that it was dangerous to say that he believed that Jesus was the Messiah? What if the religious leaders found out? What if one of them was there in the crowd, taking notes? Bartemaeus could have chosen to cry out the name of Jesus instead. It would have been safer. But he chose to declare Jesus for who He was.  Blind Bartemaeus could see what so many others refused to see, and he was bold in faith and proclamation.

Jesus had many choices, too. He was bearing the greatest burden any human has ever had to carry…and He was walking towards the greatest suffering any human ever had to experience. Yet when He heard Bartemaeus cry out in faith, it compelled Him to stop. The whole force of the movement of the crowd was going forward; the people themselves thought Bartemaeus was a nuisance.  The disciples were there and they didn’t do anything to help him.  But Christ stopped everything to show him mercy.

There are many times in life when the people in our lives…the crowds…may fail to see what God is doing. Sometimes these people will be among the Lord’s most faithful followers.  But if the Lord has given us sight…if we have a chance to declare the Son of David…if there are ways we need to cry out for His mercy…then Blind Bartemaeus, the beggar, is our model. We are never too inconvenient for the Lord, and He will stop everything to respond to the cry of faith.

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 150: The Options

Luke 17:30-36

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Noah and Lot were far from perfect men, but they listened to their God (see Genesis 6-9 and 18:16-19:29). When God’s merciful warnings came, they had ears to hear and were saved. The rest of the people during their times chose their own terrible ends by treating the words of their Maker with contempt. It was the same sin that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden and that the religious leaders committed against Jesus. It is happening right now in the hearts of humanity all over the planet. It will still be happening when Jesus returns. Each person throughout history has had a choice about whether they will heed the righteous ways of God or not.

Those who reject the Lord have decided that they can make life work their own way. If they fail to repent in this life, God will honor their choice. He will give them their way. He will separate them from Himself and all the good things He provides, which is every good thing in the universe! It is pure human arrogance to believe it can be any other way.

This judgment to come is a cataclysmic, awesome, frightening thing. It should cause us to have a holy, reverent fear of God. It could draw us into our rightful place of worship and wholeness before Him…to enter into the grace He has made the way for. It could bring us to our knees, where we will know the supreme peace and joy of right relationship with the Almighty Lord! That’s if we let it. Right now, we have a choice. Will we respond to His Spirit and His transforming power?

Somehow, in a paradox that the divinely inspired authors of Scripture never choose to make absolutely clear, God holds humanity responsible for our response to Him. And yet we also know that God chose those who would respond to Him. We were chosen from before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. We are the elect (see Ephesians 1-3 for an epic vision of what it means to have life in Christ or Romans 8:26-39 for the incredible security of that gift of grace).

Yet many will not be numbered among those who put their faith in the Lord. Jesus went on to describe how it will be for the people walking the earth on the Day of the Lord, the time of His righteous judgment at the end of the world:

“‘It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.’”

Luke 17:30-36

Can you picture it? When the moment has come, somehow, the Lord Jesus will return as the Son of Man with great, flashing brilliance in the sky above. Heaven will invade earth finally and completely through the power of God’s Son. Nothing will ever be the same. This is how the Apostle Paul described that astonishing moment:

“…the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

Wow. What will you do when He comes? Will you run inside? Will you try to grasp a hold of all your worldly goods? Will you be like Lot’s wife, who looked back towards the city of sin with longing? Or will lift your arms to your Lord, ready to leave it all behind for Him?

Jesus revealed to His disciples amazing and glorious mysteries about how He was going to return in cataclysmic glory on the great and terrible Day of the Lord. But even as He spoke of how He would come flashing across the sky, He told them how to live their lives on earth. The way to prepare for His coming was by living lives of absolute devotion to Him. It is the only right response of love to the One who is Love.

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