Monday, February 28, 2022

A Flourishing Believer

Psalm 92 

When planting a garden, it is important that we follow the guidelines for where certain plants should be planted, in order for them to grow best and to flourish.  Some flowers and plants need a lot of sunlight, so a place in the yard that gets full sunlight is best.  If it is a houseplant, a good south-facing window is best.  Other flowers prefer the shade, or only partly-sunny exposure, so care needs to be taken for them.  Some plants like a lot of water, some only minimal.  Different types of soil need to be considered, along with how early or late in the year the plants should be planted outdoors.  For a successful garden, much care is needed in order for your plants to flourish.  In our psalm for this week, we read about flourishing believers, comparing them with two types of flourishing trees.  We will see where best to find a flourishing believer.

As mentioned, care needs to be given where one plants their garden plants in order for them to flourish.  In like manner, where should a believer be “planted”?  Our psalmist declares that the best place for a believer to be planted is in the house and courts of God (vs. 13).  When our life is in close contact with the Lord we will flourish.  If we find ourselves planted far away from Him, we will find ourselves languishing and wilting.

The amount of sunlight, water, and good soil determines how the plant is fed.  Too much or not enough of any of these will control how well it flourishes.  Our spiritual life is determined by how we spiritually feed ourselves, as well.  In John 7:37-38 we read that the Lord Jesus Christ is living water, the only source of living, spiritual life-giving water.  When ministering to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus promised those who follow Him living water so that we would never spiritually thirst again (John 4:14).

When we forget to water our plants and gardens, the plants begin to wilt, and will eventually die.  Without the Lord Jesus, we will die spiritually, and after our physical death, be eternally lost.  Giving a plant some other liquid, other than water, can kill them.  We would never pour certain chemicals on a plant.  Even pouring sugary soda pop on a plant is not going to help it.  Likewise getting involved in other pagan religions is like pouring toxic chemicals into our liquid and drinking it.  There are some churches which will not spiritually quench the thirst of our souls, and are like pouring Coke on a plant, instead of partaking of the life-giving, living water of Jesus.

Plants also need light in order to flourish and live.  Stick a plant in a dark closet for a few days, and see what happens to it.  When you bring it out, it will either be dead or very wilted.  Plants need varying degrees of sunlight in order to perform photosynthesis in order to live.  Jesus told us that He is the Light of the World (John 8:12; John 9:5).  Without Him in our life, we are in darkness.  Scripture has often equated darkness with evil and Satan.  Some verses that show this are I John 1:5-7; John 3:19-21; I Thessalonians 5:5; and Ephesians 5:8 to name a few.  When we follow Jesus we have His light to guide us in His truth throughout life.

In our psalm, the writer compares believers to a flourishing palm tree or cedar of Lebanon tree, showing permanence and strength (vs. 12).  This is in contrast with the wicked, who are like grass, here today and gone tomorrow (vs. 7).  Palm trees generally live a fairly long life, and can grow quite tall.  The cedars of Lebanon can often reach at least 130’, and can have trunks over 8’ in diameter.  They are massive and strong.  Both are strong and immovable.  As believers, we should be the same as these trees - upright, strong, and unmoved by the winds of circumstance.  Those who place their faith firmly in God can have this strength and vitality.

A tree or plant that is planted in the Lord, not only will flourish, but it will also be fruitful (vs. 14).  Again, in order for a plant to be fruitful, it needs the proper amount of water and light.  When our lives are planted in the Lord, with living water and the light of Jesus, we will be fruitful.  We can proclaim His truth in all we do, and yield a great harvest.  Let’s be sure that we are well planted in the Lord, partaking of His life-giving water and light so that we will flourish.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Remember Shiloh

Jeremiah 7:1-15 

Many of us know someone, or perhaps several people, who feel that their position, status, wealth, or family connections give them special privileges to do whatever they feel like.  “I’m the mayor!”  “I’m the police chief!”  Or “My father owns the factory!”  We also see this inside the Church, as well.  Some people feel that their position in the Church, or their parents position gives them special privileges, even with God.  “I’m the pastor!”  “I teach Sunday School!”  “My grandparents helped found this church!”  “Without my offering this church couldn’t survive!”  These people think that their position or name gives them a free pass to act and behave any way they wish.  The prophet Jeremiah ran into similar people in his day.  His words in our Scripture passage today shows what God feels about this.  Let’s take a look at this Scripture as we begin the season of Lent later this week.

As our Scripture opens, God called Jeremiah to stand at the entrance of the Temple in Jerusalem, where the people entered and left the building.  There God gave Jeremiah a message to give these people (vs. 1-2).   Many of the people of Judah felt just like I described above.  They felt that just by having God’s Temple in their city, that just by being a blood descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that they had special privileges.  They didn’t believe that their actions each day, their sins and disobedience to God’s Word, would matter.  Even some of their religious leaders were preaching this.  God, though, said that this message from their religious leaders was “lying words” (vs. 4, 8).

Many of the people were committing sins, and breaking God’s Word (vs. 5-7).  There was no justice in their courts.  The stronger and wealthier were oppressing the weaker and poorer.  Innocent blood was shed.  And very importantly, many of the people were worshiping false gods, sometimes in combination with worship of Yahweh.  The Bible warns that breaking God’s Word will bring judgment.  The people that Jeremiah preached to felt, though, that they had special privileges.  They felt that just because the Temple was in Jerusalem, that was enough to keep them from any judgment (vs. 4).  However, Jeremiah told them otherwise.  The physical presence of the Temple was no guarantee that judgment would not come upon Jerusalem.  Today, just because someone claims church membership or position does not mean God will not judge their sin.  There must be genuine repentance reflected in one’s total life.

The religious leaders of Jeremiah’s day were bringing lying words to the people.  They preached that as long as they had the Temple in Jerusalem, as long as they called themselves “God’s children”, they would be spared His judgment, regardless of what they did, their actions and behavior.  They felt that just because they were God’s “chosen people” they could act any way they wanted, and it was okay (vs. 10).  The Lord, though, said these were lying words.  Merely formal religious attendance in God’s house is condemned (vs. 11).  Jesus also echoed these words (Mark 11:15-17).  Jeremiah called upon the people to amend their ways, change their way of acting, and return to God (vs. 3).

God then called the people to remember Shiloh, the place where the Tabernacle once resided (vs. 12-14).  Shiloh was about 30 miles north of Jerusalem.  It was where the Israelites first set up the Tabernacle when they entered the Promised Land.  Shiloh was the main center of worship from the time of Joshua until Samuel.  Because of the sins of the people, God allowed the Philistines to capture the Ark of the Covenant.  When Israel finally did recapture the Ark, it was not returned to Shiloh ever again.  It resided at Kiriath-Jearim for a few decades until David brought it to Jerusalem.  What God did to Shiloh because of their sins, and did to the northern 10 tribes about 100 years prior to these verses because of their sins, He would also do to Jerusalem.  If the people wouldn’t amend their ways, they would also face destruction.  The Temple would not protect them any more than the Tabernacle did for Shiloh.

Just like Jeremiah did millennia ago to the people of Judah, we need to be challenged to wake up and turn away from our sins.  We cannot hide behind the name of “Christian” and continue to live in secret sin.  We often boast that we are Christians and that God loves us, but we do all kinds of evil.  God is loving, but He is also a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).  He will never condone sin.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Can We Really Love Our Enemies?

Luke 6:27-38

Right now in your mind list your friends.  You will think of the friends you have in your church and at work.   You will think of some of the people you went to school with that you might still keep in touch with.  Then perhaps some people in your neighborhood who you are friends with.  These are people who you would invite to your backyard party, send a birthday present to, and would gladly do a favor for.  You are concerned if something happens to them or their family.  Now think of those who you consider your enemies.  Hopefully that is a shorter list.  But there are the people at work who undermine everything you do.  The person who has spread nasty lies about you.  The neighbor who consistently takes your parking spot that you just shoveled out from the snowstorm.  We certainly wouldn’t want to invite them to our parties.  We might be inclined to do back to them what they did to us, and perhaps even gloat when we hear that something bad happened to them or their family.  How does the Lord wish for us to treat those we consider our enemies?  As we look into our Scripture passage from the Gospel of Luke we see how Jesus said we should act towards those we think of as our enemies.

In our very first verse, we read that Jesus tells us to love our enemies (vs. 27).  Love them?!  Sometimes we find it hard not to actively hate them.  Jesus, though, tells us that He wants His children to love them, and to do good things to and for them.  With how we naturally feel towards them, loving our enemies takes an act of the will.  It takes conscious effort.  Loving our enemies means acting in their best interests, thinking of ways to help them, and praying for them (vs. 28).  When we hear that something happened to them, we pray for them, and we pray that our enemies will see God’s way.

In verse 29 we read about “turning the other cheek” to our enemy.  I believe this is to serve as a principle, not to be done literally, where we ask for more mistreatment from others.  When Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin shortly before being crucified, one of the men there struck Him in the face.  Jesus did not offer Himself to be struck again, but rather rebuked that man (John 18:22-23).  However, He did not hit the man back, or strike him down.  The principle is that one should not seek retaliation for anything someone does against them.

Jesus then continues to tell us that even the sinners of the world will love and treat those who are good to them well.  He tells us that being good to our friends is nothing special (vs. 32-34).  God loved us when we were unlovable (Romans 5:8).  Jesus wants us to do the same.

The love that Jesus is talking about here, the love that we are to show to our enemies, requires action, not just trying to tone down the angry feelings we harbor inside of us.  We are to actively show them the love of God (vs. 35).  We are to take the initiative to meet specific needs they may have.  This is easier to do for those we love, but Jesus wants us to do this for everyone, even our enemies.

God has been merciful and forgiving to us, and we are to show the same mercy and forgiveness to others (vs 36-37).  Everything we do is to be based on what He has done for us.  God has called us to forgive, no matter the circumstances, even if they don’t deserve it.  We need to show mercy to those who don’t deserve it, either.  If I want mercy for myself, I had better be a dispenser of mercy to everyone I meet, as well.

When we do so, Jesus tells us that we will be like our Heavenly Father.   Believers should show a family resemblance to God.  We should be kind and merciful, even to the ungrateful and wicked.  However, God wants us to show wisdom, and not put ourselves in a position to be abused (Matthew 10:16).  God’s children should bear the indelible stamp of His moral character.  Since He is loving, gracious, and generous, even to those who are His enemies, we should be like Him.

What Jesus taught here, He also practiced at great cost to Himself.  When we follow the example that Jesus gave us, He promises us in verse 38 that He will repay, and will repay abundantly.  Today, let’s act as Jesus would, showing a family resemblance.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Our Resurrected Body

 I Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

One does not need to be a botanist, nor even a professional gardener to know some of the basics of gardening.  I am not much of a gardener by any means, but I do know, as most people do, that the seeds of flowers, vegetables, and trees do not look anything at all like the plant that will come forth.  Acorns do not look like the oaks they become.  Nor do poppy seeds resemble poppies, or tomato seeds the tomato plant.   This is knowledge that even a child can understand.  In our Scripture passage today that continues Paul’s teaching on the resurrection, he uses that analogy to teach about a believer’s resurrected body.

For ages people have wondered about what heaven will be like, and what we will look like when we get there.  Will we look like we did when we died, old and wrinkled, or still a child or baby if someone died at that age?  Will we weigh the same as we did in life, or have the scars we got throughout our life?  As the Apostle Paul begins our passage, he immediately teaches us that just as a seed doesn’t look like the plant that will later grow, neither will our glorified body be the same as our body here on earth during our lifetime (vs. 35-38).  Since no one has been to heaven and come back to earth to say for a certain fact what we will look like, Paul could not say what our glorified bodies will look like, just that it will be different.  However, there is some indication in the Bible that we will be able to recognize others.  When Jesus was transfigured in the presence of Peter, James and John, they were able to recognize Moses and Elijah when those two joined Jesus (Matthew 17:2-4).

On a side note, there are some people who believe that when we die we become angels.  Let me say that this idea has absolutely no basis in Scripture at all.  Angels are completely different created beings than humans, and we do not ever become angels, including after death.  People say things like that their deceased mother is now an angel in heaven, or their deceased little child is now an angel.  Their mother may very well be in heaven, but she most definitely did not become an angel.  Humans and angels are two completely different created beings, and one never becomes the other.

As Paul continues on with the second half of our Scripture passage, he teaches us more about the resurrection of our bodies in heaven.  While here on earth our mortal, physical bodies age and wear down.  Then, when we die we are buried, where our bodies will corrupt.  However, our glorified body will never age, break down, or corrupt (vs. 42-44).  Our resurrection bodies will have no more sickness or death (corruption).  There will be no more shame because of sin (dishonor), no more frailty in temptation (weakness), and no more limits to time and space (natural).

Next, Paul speaks of the First Adam and the Second Adam (vs. 45).  The First Adam, naturally, is the Adam we read about in the Book of Genesis.  The Second Adam is the Lord Jesus Christ.  He came to undo what occurred at the Fall, when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, and brought sin into the world.  The First Adam had an earthly body, which would age, die, and corrupt, and which we all inherited.  While on earth Jesus had an earthly body just like Adam and each of us.  However, after He rose from the dead, He obtained a heavenly body, one that will not corrupt, and has spiritual abilities (vs. 46-49).  Those who are saved will receive a heavenly body that will never decay, just like Jesus has.  We will bear the image and have the type of body the Second Adam has, fit for heaven, just as now we have the type of body the First Adam had.

As we each get older, many of us have found that our bodies have more and more failings.  If you’re like me, you are looking forward to receiving your heavenly body, one that has no more aches and pains, no more sickness or shortcomings.  This is promised to all those who are believers and followers of the Lord Jesus.  If you haven’t taken Him as your Savior yet, do so today, so that you will not have an eternity of torment and separation from God, but instead a place in heaven with a glorified, resurrection body.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Trust, Delight, Commit, And Rest

 Psalm 37:1-11

How often, when checking up on the news, do we hear of someone who has committed a crime, perhaps several crimes, and they just seem to get away with it, over and over again?  Perhaps we know someone who is just a real rascal of a person, yet their life is just sailing along quite fine.  They get a brand new car every year.  They can afford a nice long vacation every year, and even a second home somewhere warm to go to every winter.  Yet here we are, living our life for the Lord, and we struggle just to keep a roof over our head and something to eat on the table every day.  If we aren’t careful, we may find ourselves becoming envious of the wicked, and how easy their life seems to be.  This was something that David faced, as well.  Being a believer and follower of the Lord, David allowed God to teach him some lessons, which he shares in our Scripture from Psalm 37 today.

Psalm 37 is one of the many psalms written by David, quite probably in his old age as he looked back over all that he had gone through.  Like all of us, he had seen how easy the lives of the wicked seemed to be, yet how the righteous struggled from day to day.  David must have been irritated by what he saw, yet he allowed the Lord to teach him some valuable lessons through this, and here in our psalm he shares them with us.

The Lord taught David, and us through this Scripture, that we should never envy evil people.  What they have will vanish like withered grass (vs. 1-2).  Those who follow God live differently.  We may not have a lot of earthly treasures.  We may not have the nicer house and car, the exciting vacations, and big bank accounts, but in the end, by following and obeying God, we have greater treasure in heaven.  What we get following God will last forever.  The wicked may prosper for a time, but it is only for a time.

David gives us four keys to having this peaceful and victorious life, where we aren’t stressed and worried about how the unsaved are thriving.  They are trust, delight, commit and rest (vs. 3-7).  When we trust in God, and obey His ways, He will provide us with all that we need (vs. 3).  David tells us we also need to delight in the Lord (vs. 4).  To delight in someone means to experience great pleasure and joy in their presence.  This would happen only when we got to know that person well.  To delight in the Lord means we must know Him better.  We take pleasure in discovering more about God, and following His will.  We spend time with Him, learning what pleases Him, and praying for discernment to make wise decisions.  When we make the Lord our joy, He promises to give us the desires of our heart.  With God as our delight, the desires that grow in our heart are usually the ones He puts there.  They will bring lasting peace and satisfaction, not necessarily things we think we want, or try to get apart from Him.

To commit ourselves to the Lord means entrusting everything, our lives, families, jobs, and possessions to His control (vs. 5-6).  We need to trust in Him, believing that He can care for us better than we can ourselves.  Committing our way to the Lord is allowing His will and mandates to shape our thoughts, lifestyles, and goals.

The final key is resting in the Lord (vs. 7).  We cause ourselves stress when we take things into our own hands, rather than releasing the circumstances to God.  The Lord does not need our help in getting anything done.  The age-old phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible, and it is not true.  He tells us to rest, to be still, and let Him work (Psalm 46:10).  Seek God’s ways and His timing.

As our psalm passage continues, we see that we should never turn to anger or anything else that is evil to remedy the situation, whatever our situation is (vs. 8-9).  Anger and worry are destructive emotions.  They show a lack of faith that we believe God loves and cares for us.  When we dwell on our problems, we become anxious and angry.  Focusing on God brings peace.  Relax, don’t react.  The Lord’s intervention is imminent (vs. 10).  We need to continue to trust, delight, commit, and rest.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Forgiving The Unforgiveable

 Genesis 45:3-11

The Bible teaches us a lot about forgiveness, and how important it is for us to forgive others what wrongs they have done to us.  It teaches us that we are to forgive no matter what the other person has done to us, no matter how terrible and grievous that offense may be.  There is to be no limit to our forgiveness.  In our Scripture passage for today we read the account of Joseph, a young man who had some very horrible things done to him, yet later when he had risen to very powerful heights, and had the opportunity to, did not retaliate and take vengeance.  Let’s take a look at the life of Joseph, and his example we should all aspire to follow.

As our Scripture passage opens, we see Joseph revealing to his brothers who he is.  Over twenty years earlier, Joseph’s brothers had committed a very treacherous and horrible sin against him.  While growing up, Joseph’s ten older brothers had been very jealous of him for many years.  Then one day when the opportunity arose, they stripped him of his clothes and threw him into a pit, probably having severely beaten him, and then sold him as a slave to traveling merchants enroute to Egypt (Genesis 37:18-28).  These were his brothers, yet they threw him naked into a pit, and then sold him as a slave, where he was forced to walk naked in the hot desert sun for several hundred miles into Egypt.  How could brothers do that?  Yet they did.

While in Egypt, Joseph was sold as a slave to one of Pharaoh’s chief military generals, where he became one of his most trusted servants.  After a few years, though, more treachery made its way into Joseph’s life, as his master’s wife told some vicious lies about Joseph which got him thrown into prison.  There he remained for several years (Genesis 39:1-20).  Many years after that day when his brothers threw him into a pit, through the mighty working of the Lord God, Joseph became second in command after Pharaoh, over all the land of Egypt (Genesis 41:38-44).

Now, as Prime Minister of Egypt, the most powerful country in the world at the time, Joseph is standing in front of his brothers who have come to purchase food during a great famine.  They do not recognize Joseph, as it has been about 22 years since they last saw him.  They had sold him as a slave, and would never dream that he is now prime minister, just about the most powerful man in the world.  We might think that now is a perfect opportunity for Joseph to get his vengeance.  Sold as a slave, that tortuous trek through the desert, vicious lies, put in prison.  All of that because of these ten brothers.  Nobody would question why he would have them imprisoned, or even put to death.  Nobody questioned Pharaoh, and Pharaoh trusted and admired Joseph, putting him in charge of just about everything.

What did Joseph do when he had this opportunity for vengeance?  Rather than having spent the past 22 years stewing about what had happened to him, Joseph saw the hand of God over every event that happened.  He saw that God had sent him into Egypt for a divine purpose.  Joseph knew that God controls all that happens in our lives, and that the Lord, seeing and knowing what will happen in the future, orchestrated events so that he would be in Egypt, and in a position to help before the famine even occurred.  The brothers had wanted to get rid of Joseph, but God used their evil actions to fulfill His ultimate plan (Genesis 50:20).

All through the difficult years he went through, Joseph kept a very close and personal relationship with the Lord God.  He didn’t allow anger or bitterness to grow.  He saw God’s hand in everything that happened to him.  Thus, when the opportunity came, Joseph used it for good, rather than to seek vengeance.  He used his position and this opportunity to be a blessing to those who had harmed him, rather than to retaliate.

Probably most people who read this have not gone through quite the events Joseph did - slavery, beatings, unjust imprisonment.  Some may have gone through some things that might rank up there in severity and trauma.  Regardless of how terrible the things that others may have done to us, are we willing to forgive?  Can we forgive abuse of any sort?  How about lies that destroy our reputation completely?  How about the murder of a loved one?  Joseph forgave his brothers, despite how unforgivable it may have seemed.

God calls us to have a forgiving spirit, especially knowing that He remains in control of all that happens to us.  Instead of asking why God allowed something bad to happen to us, we need to ask what God can teach us, and be looking for the good He will bring from the event.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Blessed Or Woe

 Luke 6:17-26

As we go about our lives, we see a lot of contrasts every day.  Light, dark. Hot, cold.  Sweet, bitter.  We see it with people, too - tall, short.  Fat, thin.  Pleasant, unpleasant.  In today’s Scripture from the Gospel of Luke, we read of contrasting values.  Jesus presents us with some values of His kingdom, versus some values of the world.  Which will we decide to follow?

As you read through our Scripture, you will probably notice a distinct similarity with another, probably more familiar passage in the Gospel of Matthew, where he presents the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  Here in the second half of chapter 6, Luke gives us an abbreviated version of the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew’s telling of the Sermon on the Mount was much longer, covering three chapters of his Gospel.  There is also the real possibility that Jesus told the same message on more than one occasion.  Jesus traveled all throughout Galilee and Judea, speaking to different crowds.  He may very well have given this message more than once, Matthew’s being one time, and Luke’s another.

As we look into Luke’s telling of the Beatitudes here, he gives us four “blesseds”, followed by four “woes”.  We begin with blessed are you poor (vs. 20).  This doesn’t only refer to financially poor, as there were a number of wealthy believers in the Bible.  You are blessed when you are poor in spirit, when you realize that you have absolutely nothing that you can bring to God to deliver yourself from sin.  All of our good works and deeds are worthless, and can do nothing to help us before God.  When we know that, then we are in a position to accept God’s free gift of salvation, and can enter God’s kingdom.

Luke continues with the next “blessed”, which is for those who hunger (vs. 21).  Again, this isn’t just being physically hungry.  Jesus was referring to those who hunger after God, after His righteousness, after His Word.  When we seek after God, He promises us that we will be rewarded (Jeremiah 29:13).  The next “blessed” is for those who weep (vs. 21).   This is referring to having sorrow for sin, both one’s own sins, and that of the world at large.  When we acknowledge our sin, then we are able to confess, repent, and turn our life around.

The fourth “blessed” is for those who are hated and excluded because of their faith in the Lord Jesus (vs. 22-23).  Rejection by the world and false or apostate religions is a sign that we are being true to the Lord.  The Cross is the dividing line.  To accept Jesus and His death on the Cross is to reject man’s ways, which is not going to please them.  Those who have chosen to faithfully follow Jesus, and not the world or “popular religion” have frequently had a life of poverty, hunger, sadness, persecution, isolation, and false accusations because of Him and His message.  For the Lord’s sake, these should be causes of rejoicing.

Luke follows with four “woes” (vs. 24-26).  Woe means misery, distress, and sorrow.  Luke could say “alas for you” in these verses.  Such proclamations were also often given by many of the prophets, such as Isaiah , Amos, and Habakkuk.  Jesus begins with calling woe to the rich (vs. 24), woe to those who are depending on their financial wealth for any spiritual advantage.  Woe to those who are full, who are complacent, who think that, on their own, they have all that they need spiritually (vs. 25).

There is one confusing “woe” that Jesus calls out, and that is to those who laugh (vs. 25).  I do not think that He was referring to anyone who laughs at a good, wholesome joke or comedy.  I believe this could refer more to the type of laughter that some give derisively to others in their mishaps and misfortunes, rather than a happy, joyous laugh.

Our Scripture concludes with Jesus calling woe to those who are well-spoken of by everyone (vs. 26).  When the world, when the unbelievers and the lost, have nothing but good to say of someone, they can’t truly be faithfully following the Lord.  When someone tells the world, the unsaved, what they want to hear, rather than what God wants them to hear, they will get pats on the back and honors.  Those who faithfully follow Jesus and His Word will get the hatred and ill treatment that He mentioned earlier.

As we look at our own life, which group are we more likely to fall into?  Are we more in line with the “blessed” or more with the “woes”.  Let’s be sure that the Lord Jesus can call us blessed, rather than call out woe upon us!

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

How Important Is The Resurrection?

 I Corinthians 15:12-20

Every so often I hear some people say how they admire and respect Jesus as a good man, who gave us some very great moral and ethical teachings, but they do not believe that He was anything more than a good religious leader, nor that He rose from the dead.  They say that the resurrection is not important to believe, whether it is the resurrection of Jesus or that of believers after death.  They believe that if Jesus did rise from the dead, that’s great, but if He didn’t, it’s no big deal, it’s not important.  They feel the only thing that is important is that we follow the teachings that He gave, that’s all.  However, that is not what Scripture teaches.  Not only is the resurrection of Jesus a fact, but as we look into today’s passage we see how important the resurrection really is.

Our Scripture passage today continues on with Paul’s great teaching about the resurrection in Chapter 15 of I Corinthians.  There were some people who had crept into the church in Corinth who were teaching that there was no resurrection of believers after death.  In chapter 15 of this epistle, Paul thoroughly challenges this heresy.  Let’s continue on with our examination of what the Lord says through this Scripture.

Paul tells us that if there is no resurrection of believers from the dead, then Jesus did not rise from the dead, either (vs. 12-13, 16).  If one believes that Jesus rose from the dead, then it follows that His children will, as well.  Paul continues on to teach that there would be several disastrous consequences if there were no resurrection of the dead.  The first one that he tells about is that the teachings about Jesus and salvation would be senseless (vs. 14).  If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, what would be the purpose in traveling the world to bring His message?  If there were no resurrection, then having faith in Jesus Christ would be useless.  As Paul said, our faith would be empty.  What good would faith in Him serve?

Paul continues on in saying that if there was no resurrection then all of the witnesses and preachers of the Gospel would be liars (vs. 15).  All of the apostles and other missionaries and preachers from the days of the early Church on till today would be preaching lies if Jesus never rose.  Why respect or ever believe them further?

Very importantly, without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, no one would be redeemed from sin (vs. 17).  Without the resurrection, Christianity would be like every other religion - powerless to save.  There would be no triumph over sin and death, and we would have no assurance of eternal life.  There would be no hope for us.

Without the resurrection then all deceased Christians would have perished in their sins (vs. 18).  I remember reading about something that the widow of a very famous astronomer and astrophysicist who died in the 1990’s said.  As neither of them were believers in the Lord Jesus, she said that, as much as she loved him, she knew that she would never see her husband again.  How sad and how hopeless!  If there is no resurrection of believers, that would be the case, and if that is the case then Christians would be the most pitiable of people on earth (vs. 19).  If Jesus did not rise, we have no forgiveness of sins, and no hope of eternal life.

However, Paul did not leave us with these dismal thoughts because Jesus did, indeed, rise from the dead, and with that He opened the door for all believers and followers of His to also rise from the dead, as well (vs. 20).  Paul describes how Jesus is the “first fruits” of those who died.  The term “first fruits” describes the first installment of the harvest to eternal life, which Jesus’s resurrection will precipitate and guarantee that all believers who die will be resurrected.

Because Jesus rose from the dead as He promised, we know that what He said is true.  Because He rose, we have certainty that our sins are forgiven.  Because Jesus rose, He lives and represents us to God.  Because Jesus rose and defeated death, we know we will also be raised.

Monday, February 14, 2022

What Path Will You Take?

 Psalm 1

You are walking down a path, and you come to a juncture, the path splits in two.  Do you go towards the right or towards the left?  What way you decide can make a big difference in where you end up.  The same holds true in life.  We all come to periods in our lives when we have to make decisions about which pathway we will choose.  Often at those crossroads there will be people who will try to influence us to go their way, and not the other.  Who will we listen to?  Which way will we choose?  Our psalm this morning describes such a time, and seeks to instruct us which way to choose.

Psalm 1 is a short psalm, but it is packed with much wisdom to follow in our lives, and is a very suitable one to open the Book of Psalms.  It is one of a handful of psalms that I hold as particular favorites.  The psalm describes two men, two paths to take, two lifestyles, and the results of those paths and life choices.  Let’s take a look.

Our psalm begins with a description of a blessed man.  He is a wise man, one who has decided to follow the Lord God and His Word (vs. 1-3).  As he walks through life he is careful about who he chooses to listen to, and who he chooses to follow.  As we go through life we will come into contact with all sorts of different people, many of whom will try to influence us into their way of thinking, urging us to follow them down their path.  Should we go their way?  It depends on what they are offering.  Are they followers of God and His Word, or of the world and of evil?  We have a decision to make.  Turn to the right, or turn to the left?  The blessed, or righteous man decides that he will not follow the advice and counsel of the ungodly and the unsaved.  He chooses not to go down the path with sinners, nor keep in the company of the wicked.  He decides that he will follow the way of God’s Word, and those who are believers.

The righteous and godly man not only decides to turn to the pathway that leads to God, he completely rejects the other way of rebellion against Him.  He resists compromise, and is wary of anything that might erode his commitment to a godly life.  Today many people think that somehow they can straddle both pathways, leaping back and forth between the two.  They think that they can follow God, while remaining close friends with those of the world, those who follow philosophies and thinking that is completely against God and His Word.  To remain on the path of righteousness, and be blessed by God, we must refuse to listen to ungodly advice, and the false philosophies so popular in our world.  We must not compromise with evil, lest evil become a habit of life.

When we flirt and dance around the pathway of the ungodly, we will inevitably begin to imitate the actions of the wicked, those who have no place for God in their life.  If we insist on friendship with those who mock what God considers important, we will soon sin by becoming indifferent to God’s will.  It is inevitable that we will have contact with the unsaved.  However, we must not join in or imitate their sinful behavior.  True friends should help and not hinder you to draw closer to God, not further away from Him.  When we take a stand in our life, let it be for the Lord and His ways, not for the world.

Our psalmist continues on to describe the godly, righteous man as like a tree that has been planted by a river.  It is green and flourishing, very similar to the description that the Prophet Jeremiah gave in Jeremiah 17:7-8.  The description God’s Word gives of the ungodly man is that like chaff, the empty outer shells of grain that get blown away with the wind (vs. 3-4).  Those who don’t trust or obey God have meaningless lives that blow away like dust.  Just as a fruitful tree bears good fruit, when we abide in Christ Jesus we can’t help but bear fruit in our life (John 15:4-6).  Jesus said good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit.  We can recognize people by their fruit (Matthew 7:17; Matthew 7:20).  We can produce good fruit by being in prayer and God’s Word.  The more we delight in God’s presence the more fruitful we are.

In closing, we see that there are two ways of living.  There is the way of the righteous, those who love God, and the way of the wicked, the enemies of those who love God.  The ungodly are worthless as chaff.  His destiny will be God’s judgment (vs. 5-6).  Those who delight in God and His Word will prosper.  Where do we sit?  Where is our permanent dwelling?  With the godly, or with the wicked?  There are only two paths - God’s way of obedience or the way of rebellion and destruction.  Choose your path wisely!

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Flourishing Tree Or Tumbleweed?

 Jeremiah 17:5-10

Have you ever been through a really severe drought?  Not just a few weeks or a month or so with little rain, a rain deficit, but a period of several years where there has been little rain?  I remember watching some documentaries about great droughts that brought on the Dust Bowl in the American Plains during the 1930’s.  During extended droughts, most plant life will wither and die due to lack of water.  Most plants only have a chance to survive if it is close to a water source, such as a river.  Only those trees planted by rivers, with roots that go down deep, will remain green and alive.  Our Scripture today, from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany, describes such a tree, in contrast with one withered by a drought, comparing that with the life of one who trusts and follows the Lord versus one who does not.

For many years, many generations, the people of Judah had been mixing their worship of Yahweh, the one true God, with the pagan worship of false gods and idols.  And instead of completely trusting in the Lord God for help and deliverance from the military threats of neighboring nations, they instead made military alliances with other foreign, pagan nations.  God warned the people through the prophet Jeremiah, just as He does to us today, that when troubles come, if we’re trusting in someone or something else other than Him, we will be barren and unfruitful (vs. 5-8).  Those who trust in the Lord are fruitful, like a tree planted by water.

We all face troubles in our life.  In the last few years many of us around the world have been bombarded with many serious problems, sometimes more than what we can handle on our own.  Scripture instructs us, during these times, to put our trust in God, not in man.  Trying to replace God’s help with a man’s will only result in hardship and failure.  Only God can be our strength.  We cannot find it in ourselves or someone else.

With everything that is going on in the world today, with wars and rumors of war, so much illness, hostility with people everywhere, people want to turn to something for help.  God promised that those who turned to Him would be nourished, like that green and fruitful tree by the river during a drought.  Those who turn elsewhere will wither.

During these difficult times, God is right there with us.  He knows what we are going through.  If we turn to Him, He will be our safe place, and will keep us well-watered. God, alone, is our life-giving Source. His refreshment runs so deep that we are strengthened and nourished in spite of what is taking place in the world around us.  God wants us to be like the well-watered tree, clinging close to the water source, close to Him.

Don’t be like a tumbleweed.  Tumbleweeds come off of their roots very easily.  They live in places where rain is scarce and the land is dry.  They easily dry up, snap off their roots, and roll around.  They are the opposite of the tree described by Jeremiah.  Those trees, though in drought, never dry up.  Their roots go deep and are strong.  The tree remains nourished.

As Jeremiah closes up this portion of Scripture, he gives us a description of the heart of man, a description of all of our hearts.  The heart here is describing man’s innermost being, the bent of man’s natural disposition.  Without God man’s heart is deceitful.  It is desperately wicked, incurably sick.  Just a cursory look around at the world today shows this to be true.  Our heart will lie to us.  Our feelings are not reliable.  Emotions can lead us in devastating ways (Proverbs 16:25; Ecclesiastes 9:3).  We cannot trust our heart.  It has been inclined towards sin from the time we were born.  Only God truly knows our heart, and only He can redeem it.  Only a person with a redeemed heart can live in proper fellowship with God.

If we give our hearts to God, allowing Him to redeem us from our wickedness, as we turn to Him during times of drought in our life, during days when everything around us seems to be perilous, we can be that green, flourishing, fruitful tree.  We don’t need to be a dried up tumbleweed any longer.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Let Down Your Nets

 Luke 5:1-11

Every so often I hear someone say that they are hesitant to ask prayer for a relatively minor personal issue they have.  They say that they don’t want to “bother God” with their minor problems when He has all of the “big” issues in the world to take care of, such as pandemics, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.   Do we ever feel that God can’t be bothered with our day-to-day concerns?  Let’s take a look today at a day in the life of the Apostle Peter, and how Jesus cared about the day he was having.

As we begin reading our Scripture passage, it was morning, and Jesus was by the Sea of Galilee (called by Luke with the name of Lake Gennesaret here).  In order to effectively be seen and heard by the crowds that were gathering around to hear Him preach, Jesus got into Simon Peter’s boat, which was anchored along the shoreline (vs. 1-3).  Then He proceeded to teach the crowds God’s message.

Peter, along with his brother Andrew, and his friends James and John, were commercial fishermen.  They had spent the whole previous night out upon the lake fishing.  However, they were quite unsuccessful that night, and brought no fish back.  Fishing was their livelihood, not just a hobby or pastime, so coming back with no fish in their boats was a financial loss.  One night without any fish would not mean they would likely starve, but if this happened several times in a row, it could spell a major financial hardship.  One night without a catch, though, might mean that a bill might not get paid that week, as that was like a day without pay.

As Jesus began His preaching, Peter and his companions were off to the side washing their nets, and repairing any tears or snags in them.  They were careful and serious fishermen who knew their trade well.  As Peter sat there, off to the side, he was probably listening to Jesus’s message, as well as working.  Peter was quite familiar with Him, having known Jesus since his brother Andrew introduced the two after Jesus’s baptism (John 1:40-42).  Peter, though, was undoubtedly feeling discouraged, depressed, and possibly even a bit angry or upset.

When Jesus finished His message, He turned to Peter and told him to return to his boat and go back out into the lake for a catch (vs. 4).  By now it was probably late morning, the sun higher up in the sky, and the temperature was warming up.  Peter, as an experienced fisherman, knew that during the day, when the water warmed up some, the fish would go down deeper to the bottom of the lake.  He had just spent hours the night before fishing, and had caught nothing.  Now he was tired, work was over for the day, and he wanted to go home to sleep.  Jesus’s orders did not make any sense, but Peter obeyed anyway (vs. 5).

Peter was obedient, but it was with very little faith.  However, the Lord honored his obedience, and they immediately caught so many fish that the nets were in danger of breaking.  The catch was so large that Peter had to summon his partners to come with their boat to help them bring all the fish in (vs. 6-7).  Peter’s obedience led to nets that were overflowing with fish.  By saying yes to the Lord’s plan, he experienced both material and spiritual blessings.  This was a miracle, and Peter knew that he was in the presence of the Holy One of God (vs. 8).  He was aware of his sinfulness and God’s all-holiness.

Peter knew that Jesus had healed the sick, and cast out demons.  Now he saw how Jesus cared about his day-to-day life, his livelihood, his family, and understood his needs.  His blessing to Peter wasn’t a mediocre one, or one that would just barely help out.  It was an abundant blessing, one that overflowed the nets.  God not only cared about Peter and his needs that day, He cares equally about us today.  God is no respecter of persons, and He does not show partiality (Romans 2:11).  The same love and care He showed to Peter, He will show to us.  This care isn’t just for salvation, though that is most certainly important.  Jesus cares about our daily needs, as well.  The omnipotent God is never overwhelmed with the problems of the world, and just as He cared enough to provide a boat full of fish for Peter after a night of nothing, He cares about each personal need we have today.  Let down your nets of faith to bring in the blessings that the Lord has for you today.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Witnesses Of The Resurrection

 I Corinthians 15:1-8

One type of evidence that most legal systems around the world recognize is that of eye-witness testimony.  If either side in a court case can produce some witnesses who, under oath, can testify that they saw something pertinent to the case, that is usually rather good for their side.  One eye-witness is good.  Two or three are even better.  How about a dozen?  That would be great, and most juries would be favorably impressed with that.  What if in a legal case, the defendant was able to produce over 500 eye-witnesses?  Our Scripture from the Epistles this week, takes a look at the case for the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.  Let’s look at what the Apostle Paul has to say.

Even as early as the days of the Apostles, there were some people going around the churches, claiming and teaching that Jesus had not really bodily risen from the dead.  This was in addition to the Jews, both Pharisees and Sadducees, who denied that Jesus had risen from the dead.  There are some preachers today who falsely proclaim that the resurrection is only figurative or spiritual, not a true bodily resurrection.  Throughout chapter 15 in I Corinthians, Paul gives a strong defense of the reality of the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

As our Scripture passage begins, Paul tells us that belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead is absolutely indispensable to one’s salvation (vs. 1-2).  Anything less than that will put your faith in vain.  Paul continues on, reminding the Corinthian believers that everything that he, along with the other Apostles, taught them was backed up with references from the Old Testament Scriptures (vs. 3-4).  He never taught anything that was just his own opinion.  Everything Paul preached to them came with Scriptural references to back him up, including his preaching on the resurrection.

In addition to having Scriptural evidence for the resurrection, something that the Old Testament prophets which the Jewish people in this time revered, Paul also pointed out that there were many eyewitnesses to this fact.  First Jesus was seen by Peter (here called by the name “Cephas”).  Then He was seen by the other twelve apostles (vs. 5).  Paul then gave the testimony that Jesus was seen by over 500 people at least one time between His resurrection and His ascension (vs. 6).  He said that most of these witnesses were still alive at that time, though a few had since died.  Jesus was also seen by James (vs. 7).  Most Bible scholars believe that this James was one of the Lord’s brothers, who did not believe Him during the three years of His ministry, but after the resurrection came to faith.  James was also the author of the Epistle by that name.  Then in verse 8 Paul related how he, too, saw Jesus physically after the resurrection, an event that occurred on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8).

Here we have over 500 witnesses who saw Jesus alive in the flesh after His death on the Cross and His resurrection.  This wasn’t just one or two.  If that were all there were, one might say that they reported this because they were His friends, or perhaps were coerced into saying that.  With numbers like that giving eye-witness accounts that they saw Him, along with the many prophecies given in the Old Testament, there is no reason to doubt the truth of the resurrection.

There are four vital truths that Paul teaches us here in this Scripture.  First is that Jesus Christ died for our sins (vs. 3).  This is the substitutionary and propitiatory sacrifice needed for our salvation.  Propitiation means the atoning sacrifice, the taking of the punishment due for our sins.  Secondly, Paul teaches that Jesus was buried (vs. 4).  That is evidence that Jesus truly died, not just passed out.  Except in old horror stories, nobody buries someone who is alive.  Thirdly, Jesus rose again.  He returned to life and remains alive today (vs. 4).  Lastly, Paul stated that all of this was done according to the Scriptures.  The facts of the Gospel were predicted in the Old Testament, and were each fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ.

If Jesus had not risen from the dead, we would think that the enemies of Christianity would have found even just one reliable witness to say that they had seen the dead body of Jesus after the claims that He had risen.  The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Sanhedrin claimed that the disciples came and took the body of Jesus, and hid it somewhere.  If that were the case, with all of the money and resources those groups had, one would think that they would have found the body, brought it out, and proclaimed the apostles all liars.  But they never did find or produce the dead body of Jesus.  Nobody has, because Jesus did truly rise from the dead!

Monday, February 7, 2022

The Divine Judge

 Psalm 75

Over the years I have occasionally watched legal dramas on TV, and even now and then watched Court TV, with the live or recorded broadcasts of real court cases.  One thing that you learn is that it is never wise to yell at, or be disrespectful to the judge.  Even if the defendant is completely in the right, it will never help his case to mouth off or make snarky remarks to the judge.  In our psalm today, the psalmist Asaph reminds us of our Divine Judge, who we will each one day be standing before.

As we read through this somewhat brief psalm of Asaph’s, we see that God is the Judge.  The day is coming when He will judge all mankind, everyone who has ever lived, including you and I.  No one will escape His judgment.  Another thing Asaph addresses is that God is the Judge, not any other person, not you or me.  In the first verse the redeemed are speaking.  Then throughout the rest of the psalm, it is the Lord God, our Divine Judge, speaking.

When we have a case that is to be heard in court, the judge or his office decides when that date will be.  Likewise, it is God who will decide when He will judge mankind (vs. 2).  For the believer, that will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ (II Corinthians 5:10).  For the lost, that will be the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).  As Jesus said, no one but the Father knows the exact time these will be.

In the courtroom, occasionally we see a defendant who acts very arrogantly and proudly.  They show no one any respect, nor act with any humility.  As I mentioned earlier, that type of behavior won’t help their case. Sometimes the judge has to give a stern reprimand to the defendant for his behavior, maybe even hold him in contempt of court.  Our psalmist speaks of the proud and boastful who have no fear of God in them, who act arrogantly and proudly before Him, with no fear of His eternal judgment.  The phrase “lift up the horn” in verses 5, 6, and 10 refers to someone who is exceedingly proud, like a seemingly proud and strong animal with horns.   God is warning us, and the wicked in particular here to not be too proud and sure of ourselves.  Like the smug, conceited, and disdainful defendant who is guilty, but thinks he will get off just because of who he thinks he is, his judgment will come.

People, even within the Church, look to one another for promotion or affirmation (vs. 6-7).  However the Lord Jesus is the only One who will lift our “horn”, not other people.  When we try to lift ourselves or others, it brings pride.  When God does it, it shows humility.

Jesus gave us warning that when God brings His righteous judgment upon the wicked in this world, it will be worse than any time in history (Matthew 24:21).  Asaph describes this time of His judgment as having to drink a cup of liquid down to the dregs (vs. 8).  Drinking something “to the dregs” is to drink it all the way to the bottom where any sediment may have settled.  It is drinking it completely.  The wicked have arrogantly mocked God and scoffed at His Word from the dawn of time, and He has patiently, lovingly, and mercifully sought to call them back to Him.  Now the time for mercy has passed, and God will bring judgment.  Asaph pictures it as a cup that the wicked must drink down to the dregs.

In verse 9 Asaph sings his praise to the God of Jacob.  Throughout Scripture we read of God being called the “God of Jacob”. Why the “God of Jacob”?  God blessed Jacob, even when he deserved nothing good, as Jacob was so often a rascal.  That was because Jacob turned to God and repented.  God will honor and accept anyone who repents and calls upon Him as Savior, no matter what was in their past, just as Jacob did.  If they put their faith and trust in Jesus and what He did for us on the Cross, then they will be accepted by Him, and He will be their God, just as He was the God of Jacob.

Where will we be on that Day of Judgment that is coming ever closer?  What will our attitude be?  One of contempt and arrogance, tossing our head high?  Or have we come to His throne in humility, calling upon His Son Jesus to be our Savior.  For those who have called upon Jesus, He is our Advocate, our Divine Attorney (I John 2:1-2).  He will show the Eternal Judge the nail prints in His hands, saying that He has taken our judgment for us.  Let’s make sure we are prepared for that Judgment Day.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Mighty One Of Valor

 Judges 6:11-24

Are you a “glass half full” or a “glass half empty” type of person?  There are many people who tend to see the glass as half empty, looking at the world in a more negative and pessimistic way.  Perhaps they have been dealt some rather bad cards so many times in life, that is all they can see.  In our Scripture today we read about a time in Gideon’s life when he continually saw the glass as half empty due to some very challenging times in his and the nation’s life.

All throughout the Book of Judges we read of the people of Israel’s sin, and how they went their own way rather than obey God.  Thus, the Lord repeatedly allowed their enemies to rule over them.  When the account of Gideon opens the people are under the rule of the Midianites, whose treatment of them was quite harsh.  Among many other strict restrictions that the Midianites required the Jewish people to live under, one was in controlling and overseeing their food.  The people were not allowed to freely thresh their wheat and other grain crops.  Threshing was a process of separating the good kernel of grain from the outer husk or shell, called chaff.  This was usually done in a large, open area, where the breeze could blow the chaff away.  Because of their disobedience to Yahweh, and following after false gods, the Israelites were hard put to even feed themselves, much less enjoy prosperity.  Following after sin in your life will take you further than you want to go, and cost you more than you can afford to pay.

As our passage opens, Gideon was secretly threshing some wheat in a winepress, a small enclosed area, making it more difficult, but also keeping it secret from the Midianites.  This would mean a little bit more food for his family.  It was here that the Lord appeared to Gideon, where he received his calling to serve Him, lead the people back to worshiping the Lord, and defeat their enemies (vs. 11-12).  The Lord addressed Gideon, calling him a “mighty man of valor”, in other words, a brave, courageous, and fearless man.  Gideon did not see himself in this way, and probably not many others did, either.  Here he was, rather than openly defying the Midianites, he was doing the threshing in secret.

Gideon's response back to God was very negative, discouraged, and defeated (vs. 13).  He felt that the Lord didn’t care for him or his people any longer because of their current circumstances.  Gideon, though, didn’t want to admit that the nation and people had brought this upon themselves by their sins.  He overlooked personal accountability, and blamed it all on God.  How often do we do that in our own lives?  Rather than taking stock of sin in our own life, do we instead get angry at God, blame Him, and shake our fist towards heaven?

Despite the people’s sins, though, God had not abandoned them, and when the storms of life bombard us, He has not abandoned us, either.  The storms may be to try and test us, or may even be sent as discipline, but God will never abandon us (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8).

God saw Gideon as a valiant warrior because He knew what He was going to accomplish through him.  Gideon saw himself as weak and little (vs. 14-16), because his focus was on his circumstances, rather than on the Lord.  He saw only his limitations and weaknesses.  He failed to see how God could work through him.  When we believe God, and depend upon Him to empower us, we become who He says we are.  God promises us all we need in order to do His work.

The Lord reminded Gideon that he didn’t have to rely on his own might, but on God’s.  We don’t have to be strong in ourselves because we have God as our strength.  Later in the Book of Judges, when Gideon trusted the Lord, he led an army of only 300 men, and through God's power defeated an army of over 100,000.  When we are united with God, success naturally will follow.

As we go about our day today, remember that if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, we are God’s child.  We are who He says we are.  Go out victoriously today, for the Lord is with you, O mighty one of valor!

Friday, February 4, 2022

Return To The Hometown

 Luke 4:21-30

A newspaper headline in a small village paper might read “Local boy returns as Evangelist”.  The older residents gather together and talk about this fellow, reminiscing about how they remember him when he was younger.  Now he’s back in town as a preacher?  Well, who is he to tell us how to live?  They recall everything they think he may have done as a kid, and now he’s a preacher?!  This scenario has probably happened numerous times, which is why many times young preachers often don't want to go minister in their hometown.  This is just what happened to the Lord Jesus when He returned to His hometown of Nazareth.  Let’s read how His former neighbors received Him in today’s Scripture.

As our Scripture opens today, Jesus had made a visit to His hometown of Nazareth, and on the Sabbath day, He went to the local synagogue.  As we begin reading our passage, Jesus had just finished reading Isaiah 61:1-2 aloud to the congregation, and as was the custom, they all waited for Him to make a commentary on what was read.  As He looked out to the group, Jesus said that this Scripture He had just finished reading was now fulfilled in their hearing (vs. 21).  This was a very specific claim that Jesus was the Messiah, who fulfilled the Scriptures.

The people of Nazareth did not want to hear this!  Who did this fellow think that He was?  He was only the son of the local carpenter.  His siblings still lived in the neighborhood.  Though Jesus had been educated in the local synagogue schools that all boys attended for a few years, learning to read and write, He hadn’t had any further formal education, such as with the scribes in Jerusalem.  That would have been more than His humble family could have afforded.  Yet now Jesus was back in town claiming to be somebody.  Some of them might have even been recalling a few nasty rumors that had probably circulated years ago about the mother of Jesus, and how Joseph had considered ending their betrothal due to her being pregnant (Matthew 1:18-19).  Some sitting there might have considered Jesus illegitimate, despite the fact that Joseph married Mary, which should have ended any rumors.  No special education, paternity possibly in question, working class background, and yet He wants to instruct us??Jesus knew their thoughts, and how the majority of those in Nazareth had long since hardened their hearts.  The townsfolk had heard of the miracles and healings that were done in other nearby villages, such as Capernaum, and some wondered why He wasn’t doing the same for them (vs. 23-24).  They were not accepting Jesus.  They had no faith.

Then Jesus brought to their remembrance two incidents that were in the Old Testament.  During the days of the great prophet Elijah, in the middle of a prolonged famine, the prophet went out of Israel and into foreign territory, to a widow in Zarephath.  There he stayed, providing her with a miracle supply of food, and even raising her son to life after he fell ill and had died (I Kings 17:8-24).  Jesus also reminded them of Naaman, a foreign general who the prophet Elisha healed of his leprosy (II Kings 5:1-14).  Though His congregation didn’t want to acknowledge it, both these people were Gentiles, yet God had cared for them.  Even though there had been hundreds of Jewish widows starving during the famine, and hundreds of Jewish lepers, none of them were healed (vs 25-27).  The times of both Elijah and Elisha’s ministries were times of deep and widespread unbelief in Israel.  God bypassed all the widows and lepers in Israel, and showed grace to two Gentiles.

The crowd became furious when Jesus suggested that God’s mercy and grace might be withheld from them due to their unbelief, yet extended to others.  Nazareth was showing profound unbelief in rejecting Jesus, and they would find God’s judgment upon them (vs. 28).  Now the very people He had grown up with were seeking to kill Him (vs. 29).  Instead of succeeding, Jesus walked through the mob and left Nazareth.  There were several times that Jesus escaped a premature death, a death before God’s set time.  This was one occasion, and then also in John 7:30; 8:59; and 10:39.

Have you been rejected by those you grew up with?  Maybe they recall things from your past, and now won’t accept you and the work you might be trying to do for the Lord.  Or perhaps you are the one rejecting someone you knew from years ago, and can’t believe that God would ever use that person.  Don’t be like those of Nazareth.  And if you are feeling the type of “welcome” that Nazareth gave our Lord, remember, you are in good company.  Though they had a great opportunity, Nazareth never accepted the Lord.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Finish The Race Well

 II Timothy 4:7-17

At the end of the day, I sometimes will take stock of how the day went.  Did I get everything done that I wanted?  Could I say it was a good day?  People often do that at the end of the year.  Did they finish the year well, completing all they set out to do at the start?  These questions might go through one’s mind at the end of their life.  Are they satisfied with how they lived their life?  In our Scripture today from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul was in his last days before his execution.  Let’s take a look at how he felt about his life in his final days.

Throughout his ministry, Paul had been arrested and imprisoned several times for preaching the Gospel.  Some of those imprisonments were more like house arrest, where he was able to have visitors, send letters, and accept gifts to meet his needs.  Other imprisonments were much rougher, where he was in a dungeon and chained.  This final imprisonment was like that.  This letter Paul wrote to Timothy was his final letter, and here in our passage, he gives his thoughts on how he felt his life went.

Although Paul had been beaten, stoned, and imprisoned, he never lost his faith (vs. 7).  He had been able to accomplish through God’s power, all that He had called him to do.  Paul was determined, if he had the opportunity, to continue on with the ministry God gave him.

One of the things that helped Paul carry on was knowing that God promised a Crown of Righteousness to him and all those who are eagerly looking forward to the return of Jesus (vs. 8).  Those who qualify for this crown anxiously look for Jesus’s return daily.  They live each day, loving and anticipating His imminent return.  They conduct their earthly lives with eternity’s values in view.  Those who have fought the fight, finished the race, and kept the faith will be given the crown of righteousness, as Paul received not long after this.

As Paul continued, he shared with his young, frequent companion Timothy how things were with him.  Paul was accused of preaching the Gospel message of Jesus, was arrested and imprisoned, and had to appear in court.  If ever someone has to go to court, it is a bit easier and comforting to have someone there with them, someone wishing them well, giving them moral support.  It was no different for Paul.  There were fellow Christians in Rome.  He had others who had worked in the ministry with him.  Yet at this very difficult time Paul found himself standing alone.  He mentions several names of people he would have hoped would be with him, yet they weren’t (vs. 10-12).  Demas had been, at one time, a close associate of Paul’s (Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24), but now he had turned away.  He was a fair-weather disciple, who did not count the cost of genuine commitment.  Demas loved worldly values and worldly, sinful pleasures.  He loved what the world had to offer, such as wealth, power, and pleasure.  Some others, such as Crescens, Titus, and Tychicus, Paul sent away so that they would be able to continue spreading the Gospel.

Paul wanted to see the friendly, caring face of his protégé, Timothy, again before he left this earthly life.  He urged Timothy to come, and bring Mark.  He asked that he bring his cloak in order to keep warm in the cold, damp dungeon he was in.  Even more importantly, though, Paul wanted Timothy to bring copies of God’s Word (vs. 13).  In his final hours, having a copy of the Bible to read was most important.

We will run into various people who will turn against us in life, and to try to do us harm as we work for the Lord.  Alexander was such a one as that to Paul (vs. 14).  However, rather than ask Timothy to find a way to bring him similar harm, or worse, Paul left all vengeance in God's hands.  He did warn Timothy, though, to beware of him (vs. 15).  As the old proverb goes, “Forewarned is to be forearmed.”

As Paul closed, he sadly related to Timothy that when he had to appear in court for his defense, everyone had forsaken him (vs. 16).  He was all alone.  Sometimes we may feel that way, as well.  Yet, like Paul knew, he was not really alone.  The Lord stood with him (vs. 17), and he was able to proclaim the Gospel in the highest court of the world at that time.  Though human support had fled from him, God stood with Paul.  The Lord never leaves nor forsakes His children (Hebrews 13:5).  When all else fails, the Lord stands solidly at our side, giving us strength.  We can always rely on Him.

Though friends and family may leave us, Jesus will never abandon us.  He is faithful, and will never leave us (Deuteronomy 31:8).  Knowing this, we need to focus on the finish line of our life.  Don’t quit.  Run the race with endurance, as Paul did.  God is watching, and cheering us on as we fight the battle, and strive for the finish line.