Wednesday, February 28, 2024

God Is For Us

Romans 8:31-39

There have been times when some of us might feel that the whole world is against us.  Sometimes that may be related to our jobs, perhaps with relationships, maybe even in our own family.  We feel all alone.  What is even worse is if we might feel that God is against us, that we are separated from Him, that the circumstances in our life have brought a giant gulf between ourselves and the Lord.  Perhaps these feelings have been brought on by war, dire personal problems, or persecution for the Faith.  Are these feelings true?  Have your circumstances or your enemies succeeded in turning the Lord away from you?  The Apostle Paul went through some very distressing times in his ministry, and the temptation to feel that way may have come.  In our Scripture today from his letter to the Romans, we read the truth that he knew, and which we should take to our hearts, as well.

Throughout the years of Paul’s ministry we read that he went through some very difficult times, even to where his life was threatened on several occasions.  We see that as we read through the Book of Acts in the Bible.  Just like he does to us when we are going through bad times, Satan most assuredly whispered discouraging thoughts in Paul’s mind.  Satan knew the work Paul was doing, and if he could get Paul so discouraged and depressed that he gave up, that would be exactly what the devil would want.

Paul was shouted down while he preached the Gospel.  He was thrown out of the synagogues because of his message.  He was frequently run out of town, with an angry, bloodthirsty mob at his heels.  Quite possibly he might have had to leave so quickly that he didn’t even have time to go back and collect his belongings.  There would be times on the road that Paul would miss meals, and have to sleep underneath a tree.  Paul was arrested and held in prison on many occasions.  And numerous times the Apostle was beaten, flogged, and even stoned.  Not only did Satan orchestrate all of these tribulations in Paul’s life, but he tried to use them to get him feeling so hopeless that he would give up.  However, Paul never did, and the truth that we read in our Scripture is why.

Many of us have gone, or are currently going through some rather difficult times, and Satan tempts us, too, to get discouraged, feel hopeless, and even feel like giving up.  There are Christians in some parts of the world who are persecuted today just as harshly as Paul was, and they may feel like God has abandoned them.  Paul, though, reminds us here that even if the whole world is against us, God is not.  Would God do less for His children then He did for His enemies?  He died for His enemies, but now we are His children (vs. 32).  He will give us all things which pertain to life and godliness, because Jesus paid for them on the Cross.

Who can successfully accuse someone whom God has declared righteous? (vs. 33).  Satan tries to, just like he did with Job.  Some of our enemies may also try to by bringing up all of our faults.  However, when we place our trust in Jesus, God declares us righteous, and their accusations fall flat.  God has acquitted us, and removed all our sin and guilt.  God doesn’t accuse us, only Satan does, and we should never listen to him.  Jesus is our Advocate, our divine Defense Attorney, standing at God’s right hand (vs. 34).  He is in God’s presence right now defending us, standing up for us against the accusations of Satan.

No matter what happens to us, no matter where we are, we can never be lost to God’s love (vs. 35-36).  God’s Word says that we are “more than conquerors” (vs. 37).  That means that if we are in Christ, we conquer completely, without any real threat to personal life or health.  Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33).  Those who have put their faith and trust in Him are now more than conquerors through Him.

Our trials and tribulations may cause us to feel abandoned by God, but we can know it is impossible to be separated from God (vs. 38-39).  Nothing can stop His constant presence with us.  Paul lists several things, including “principalities”, which are fallen angels or demons, and “powers”, which are people in positions of authority.  Nothing in life’s path, from beginning to end, can separate us from Jesus’ love.  In case Paul felt he left anything or anyone out, he said “any other created thing”, so that covers everything but God, Himself.

The world may be filled with darkness, our lives overflowing with difficulties, but in everything, we will ultimately enjoy Jesus’ great and final victory.  God’s love is eternal.  His care is unconditional.  He promises to be with us always (Hebrews 13:5).  Remember your risen Savior.  Keep your eyes always on Him!

Monday, February 26, 2024

Dissatisfaction And Discontent

Psalm 16

What is one cause of mild depression?  I’m not talking about serious, long-term depression, where one might need to be hospitalized, but instead mild depression that many feel every now and again.  One cause could be dissatisfaction, the feeling of discontent, not being satisfied with one’s life and circumstances.  One may be dissatisfied with their job, their house, their spouse, etc.  Our psalm for today is one we can meditate on to help us break free from such feelings of discontentment.

Psalm 16 was written by David.  He is someone who experienced both high points and low points in his life.  He had spent his youth watching sheep and probably sleeping outdoors.  A shepherd was a lowly position.  Later he became king, living in a grand palace.  David had low points when he had to live on the run from both King Saul, and later from his own son Absalom.  He also had high points, such as when he had victory over Goliath and other battles, and making all the plans for the Temple.  During his low times, he learned what to do to keep from being discontent and dissatisfied with his life at the time.

David learned through his experiences that our peace does not depend on our present situation (vs. 2).  Yahweh is Lord.  We have no good beyond and apart from Him.  He is our highest and only good.  We can be content, no matter our circumstance, when we draw our ultimate satisfaction from God.  Our well-being is entirely dependent on Him.  When all we have is God, we have all we need.

Some people who easily get discontent and dissatisfied with their life think that life is determined by fate or chance.  They feel that life is a gamble.  Pagan culture at the time believed their gods were often bloodthirsty, and often massacred their worshipers (vs. 4).  Yahweh is not like that.  The Lord holds our future in His hands with love (vs. 5-6).  In Jesus we have a beautiful inheritance.  Life is no gamble, it is a gift from God.

Unbelievers have a sense of hopelessness about life, and confusion over their true purpose on earth.  Believers can move ahead confidently with what we know is right and important to God (vs. 7-8).  He will keep us on His chosen path.  By continually thinking about the Lord and His way of living, we will gain insights that will help us make right decisions, and live the way He desires.  When God is our focus, it is easier for us to hear Him when He speaks.  Listening to God is essential to walking with Him.

True joy is deeper than happiness.  We can have joy in spite of any troubling circumstances we are in, rather than falling into periods of discontent and dissatisfaction (vs. 9).  Happiness is dependent upon our circumstances.  When our circumstances and life are going well, we are happy.  When they aren’t, happiness disappears.  However, joy depends on God, and we can have joy no matter what is going on around us.

As Psalm 16 draws to a close, David gives a prophecy concerning the Messiah, and the resurrection.  He prophesied how the Messiah would not undergo corruption when He died, but instead, would rise again (vs. 10).  This is an important prophecy about the resurrection, which was quoted by Peter in Acts 2:27, at the Apostle’s first sermon on the Day of Pentecost.  Since David died, and his body decayed and saw corruption, it had to apply to the Messiah, Jesus, who rose from the dead (Acts 2:25-36).  Jesus saw no corruption in the grave.  He atoned for all sin, and there is no doubt that He was raised from the dead.

So how can we lose dissatisfaction and discontent in our lives?  David shows us that it is by following God’s path through life (vs. 11).  We find that in God’s Word, where He clearly shows us the paths that we should take in our life.  When we do we will have fullness of joy.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Abraham's Testing

Genesis 22:1-14

Have you ever had to pass a difficult test?  I’m not referring to a test in school or at the university, but one of your character, a difficult test to see how strong your character is.  Did God ever call upon you to do something that you would rather not have done, and if so, did you obey?  In our Scripture for today we read of someone who had to face just such a challenge, obey God and give up the most precious thing in life for him, or disobey God, and keep what he loved the most.  Did he pass this test?

Abraham is one of the major characters in the Bible, as he was the physical father or ancestor of the Jewish people, and is the spiritual father of all believers.  As we read of his life in the Book of Genesis, we see how he and his wife were elderly, and had no children.  God made a covenant with Abraham, promising him a son through his wife, and that his descendants would be more than the stars of the sky, or sand on the earth.  Within the appointed time, his wife Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac.

Our Scripture opens several years later.  God spoke to Abraham, and told him to take his son Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice to Him (vs 1-2).   To do so would mean killing his beloved son, the son of the promise, thus ending the covenant that God made with him.  Would Abraham do this?

As we read this, we wonder why God would ask such a thing of His faithful servant Abraham, especially something that was so wrong, something that God condemned in His Law, later given by Moses (Leviticus 20:1-5).  Pagan nations practiced human sacrifice, but Yahweh condemned it.  What God was asking Abraham was not a temptation to do something sinful.  God was examining Abraham’s heart (James 1:13).  He didn’t test Abraham just to watch him fall.  God wanted to deepen his capacity to obey Him, and to develop his character.  Just as fire refines ore to extract precious metals, God refines us through difficult circumstances.

Abraham obeyed God without any reluctance.  He could have told God no, no way was he going to harm his beloved son Isaac.  Instead, he immediately left and headed with Isaac to Mt. Moriah, which was where the city of Jerusalem would later be, and where the Jews claim was where Solomon built the Temple.  Obeying God is sometimes a struggle, because it may mean giving up something we truly want.

Abraham traveled this three day journey with his son without wavering or questioning the purposes of God.  His faith in God remained strong, as when he instructed his servants, he told them that they both would return (vs. 5).  In Hebrews 11:17-19 we read that Abraham was so certain of the permanence of God’s promise, that he knew that if Isaac were killed, God would either raise him from the dead or He would provide a substitute, which He did.

As Abraham and Isaac prepared to climb Mt. Moriah, Isaac asked his father where the lamb was for the sacrifice.  This must have torn at Abraham’s heart, but in faith he answered that God would provide (vs. 7-8).  John the Baptist answered that question when he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29).  Isaac was not a little child at this time, but probably at least a teenager or young man, and he could have easily overpowered his elderly father.  However, he trusted both God and his father.

Abraham piled the wood, then bound Isaac, laid him on the altar, and pulled out the knife to offer him as a sacrifice to Yahweh.  Just at that moment, God called out to him, stopping him from harming his son (vs. 9-12).  Abraham did not have to kill Isaac to prove himself to God, but he had to fully intend to do so, and that he did.  Abraham passed the test  He demonstrated the type of faith that God responds to with justification.  God did not want Isaac to die, but He wanted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in his heart, so it was clear that he loved God more than anything, even His promises and his son.  When we give to God what He asks, He returns to us far more than we could dream.

As Abraham looked up, he saw a ram caught in a thicket, and took that animal, and offered him instead (vs. 13).  This is substitutionary atonement, with the ram offered on the altar as a substitute for Isaac, and Jesus, offered on the cross, as a substitute for us.  God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, but He did not spare His own Son!

For the salvation of humanity a blood sacrifice was demanded.  However the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away our sins (Hebrews 10:4).  It would have to be the sacrifice of One who is perfect.  As we know, there is no one of us who are sinless, only the sinless Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.  God provided the substitute sacrifice for Abraham and Isaac, and He also provided the substitute sacrifice for us and our sins, the Lord Jesus.  The Lord will always provide.  He may make us wait, just as He did for Abraham, providing only at the last moment, but He will always provide exactly what we need, when we need it.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Baptism And Temptation

Mark 1:9-13

Our Gospel reading for this first full week of Lent brings us to two important events that occurred right at the start of Jesus’ ministry - His baptism, and then immediately following, His temptation in the wilderness.  Mark’s Gospel moves along at a fairly quick pace, and he doesn’t dwell on these two for more than a few verses each.  But as they are important occurrences in Jesus’ life, let’s take a closer look.

Mark begins his Gospel by introducing John the Baptist, whose ministry was to announce the coming of the Messiah, and he also preached a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4).  Before Jesus began His ministry, the first thing He did was go to where John the Baptist was preaching, and He was baptized by him (vs. 9-10).  But wait!  Why would the sinless Son of God want or need to be baptized by John, as his was a baptism of repentance?  Jesus had never committed any sins that He needed to repent of, nor have sins that needed forgiveness!  Why did He submit to being baptized?

One major reason that Jesus was baptized was because He had come to earth to save sinners, and by doing this He was identifying with those He came to save.  Though He had never sinned, and did not need a baptism of repentance, He did so on behalf of sinful mankind.  Jesus was confessing sins on their behalf, identifying with our humanness and sin, yet remaining without sin.

Another reason that Jesus was baptized was to provide an example to us in being obedient to what the Father tells us.  He didn’t argue with God, saying that since He had never sinned, why should He be baptized for the remission of sins.  He obeyed, and we should also.

By His baptism, Jesus was showing support to John the Baptist and his ministry.  The Pharisees and religious leaders all had questions for John, but didn’t really accept his preaching, message, or baptism.  However, Jesus, the Messiah, did support John and his ministry.  This baptism pictured Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it marked His first public identification with those whose sins He would bear.  Right after the baptism of Jesus, God gave a public affirmation of His Messiahship by testimony directly from heaven (vs. 11).

Immediately following His baptism, Jesus headed into the wilderness to the east of the Jordan River, and there He was tempted by Satan (vs. 12-13).  Mark did not go into the details that either Matthew or Luke did about the temptations, but there are still important lessons we can learn.  It was during His temptation there in the wilderness that Jesus confronted Satan and took the first steps towards overthrowing his evil kingdom.

Sometimes people feel guilty when they face temptation, as if they need to confess that as being sinful.  However, temptation, on its own, is not a sin.  It becomes a sin when we give in.  Jesus was tempted by Satan, as we read in the Scriptures, yet He did not give in to those temptations, and remained the sinless Son of God.  God never tempts anyone (James 1:13), but sometimes He allows Satan to tempt His people.

Through temptation, God can strengthen our character and teach us valuable lessons.  Jesus also went through this to further identify with mankind, which He came to save.  Jesus gave us an example to follow when tempted.  He is a Helper who fully knows what we need, because He went through the same experience, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:16). 

Though we may not think of these two events in the life of Jesus as showing His love for us, they do.  They show His willingness to completely identify with mankind, and give us an example to follow.  Let us praise the Lord for His great love for us, in coming to earth to save us from our sins!

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Jesus Has Triumphed

I Peter 3:18-22

Occasionally we run across in the Bible a verse or couple of verses here and there which bring up something odd or unclear which might intrigue us.  One example is in Genesis 6:1-4, where the Scriptures talk about the “sons of God” marrying the “daughters of men”, whose offspring were “mighty men”.  Bible scholars have debated about who these were for a long time. In our New Testament Scripture for today, from this week’s Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer, we have another couple of verses that Bible scholars have pondered over.  Let’s take a look.

None of the verses that have puzzled Bible scholars have ever been ones that are essential to the faith, “fundamentals” of the faith, if you will, those verses that lead one to salvation.  The “puzzling” verses in today’s Scripture are not ones highlighting an essential doctrine.  In the Apostle Peter’s epistle, he mentioned what some people have wondered over the centuries, and that is, what did Jesus do, where did He go during that time between His death on the cross and the Resurrection?

Peter gives us an answer in verses 19-20, but one that also raises some other questions.  As we read, the Apostle states that Jesus went and “preached to the spirits in prison”, ones who were “disobedient” while Noah was building the ark.  Who were these ones in prison?

There are two main theories that people believe as to who these are.  One is that these are the lost souls in Hades who rejected God.  The mention of Noah would indicate that these spirits are the souls of those who heard and rejected Noah’s preaching while he was building the ark.  Jesus announced His triumph on the cross, which sealed the fate of these doomed souls.

Another theory is that these are the fallen angels who tried to corrupt the human race by cohabiting with human women (Genesis 6:1-4; II Peter 2:4; Jude 6-7).  This happened right prior to the Flood.  These demon spirits were cast into the Abyss.  Those who hold to this theory believe that Jesus went and announced to them that in spite of His death, He has triumphed over them.

There is a lot more teaching in this Scripture passage than just theories that Bible scholars have about what Jesus did during the time between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  In verse 18 we have further Scripture of Jesus being the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of mankind, the “just for the unjust”.  Jesus was the perfect Sacrifice, the One who was born without original sin, and who lived a perfect life, never failing in even one point.  He, alone, was the “Just”.  Jesus’ mission is complete (vs. 22), and His sacrifice was accepted.

The last two verses of our Scripture speak of baptism (vs. 21-22).  These verses are not saying that water baptism is essential for salvation, because it is not.  We are saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, not through any works we do, including baptism.  It is not the ceremony of baptism which saves us, but faith in Jesus’ Resurrection.  Baptism cannot wash away the “filth of the flesh” - sin.  Instead, it shows the “answer of a good conscience toward God” (vs. 21).

Baptism is the symbol of the transformation that happens in the hearts of those who believe.  Baptism is a conscious testimony to one’s faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, because it symbolizes our resurrection with Him.  In baptism we identify with Jesus, who separates us from the lost, and gives us a new life.

The Apostle Peter uses Noah and his family as a picture of salvation.  Those who believe in the Lord Jesus experience salvation by being in Christ, Who is the Ark of our salvation.  When we are in Him, we are safe from the judgment of God, just as Noah and his family were safe while in the ark from the judgment of God on the earth that He brought through the Flood.  The words “through” water in verse 20 should better read “because of”, “on account of” or “for this reason”.  Noah and his family were saved because of, and on account of the water, and for the reason of the Flood.  The water didn’t save them, the Ark did.

Are you in the Ark through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?  It is faith in Him, alone, that saves us.  Nothing that we can do, including being baptized, will save us.  Put your faith and trust in Him, alone.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Teach Me Your Ways, Lord

Psalm 25

Have you ever been given the wrong directions on how to get to some destination you were trying to reach?  Today we have GPS in our cars and on our phones.  Years ago we had to depend on maps or on someone’s verbal instructions. In either case, we sometimes got the wrong information and ended up far from our destination, and maybe even in a pond!  Perhaps at one time or another you needed instructions on how to do something and you turned to someone who claimed they knew what to do, and yet the instructions they gave you were wrong.  Often that can end up landing you in a mess, sometimes even serious trouble.  David knew this could happen, which is why he wanted to be sure of where, and from whom his directions and instructions came.  Our psalm today contains a prayer for this guidance.

David, like us, was living in a world that was difficult to navigate.  He needed God’s direction, just as we do.  With his life frequently in danger, getting the wrong advice or direction could have been fatal for David.  This is why he prayed to the Lord for Him to show him His ways, teach him His paths, and to lead him in His truth (vs. 4-5).

What decisions do you have to make in your near future?  Perhaps a new job or job change, or whether or not you should go to college, and if so, where.  Maybe you are thinking of moving to a new location.  Or possibly you are looking to find a potential spouse.  We also make much less important decisions every day, such as what we wear and what we eat.  In those important decisions, though, we should not just leave them to chance.  We should not decide them by checking the horoscope page or consulting a psychic.  We should also be very careful about who we ask advice from, too, that they are good, strong Christians, well grounded in God’s Word.  Most importantly, like David, we need to take any decisions we are facing to the Lord in prayer, asking for His direction and guidance, and then read and study the Bible.  God’s primary guidance system is in His Word.

Sometimes we complain that we don’t hear anything from the Lord when we pray for His guidance.  There are two things that can hinder us from hearing God’s Voice when we need to make a decision (vs. 12).  The first could be because we have sin in our life (Psalm 66:18).  Make sure that any known sin is confessed and taken care of.  The second could be because our own strong desires get in the way.  We go to God in prayer for His guidance, but we have already pretty much made up our own mind one way or the other.

We also need to have a humble spirit when seeking God’s guidance, so that He can teach us His ways (vs. 9-10).  This means recognizing God for who He is, and who we are.  We need to exercise patience, and not rush ahead.  To hear from God, we need to persist in prayer and search the Scriptures.  Trust His leadership, and be obedient to the Lord.

When seeking God’s ways and paths, we need to always keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus (vs. 15).  Have you ever tried to walk in a straight line across a field that has a fresh covering of snow on it?  A fun little experiment you could do before winter is over is find that newly snow covered field and try to walk across it twice in a straight line, once with your eyes on your feet, and the other time with your eyes firmly fixed on an object off ahead.  The path is anything but straight when your eyes are on your feet, but it will be fairly straight when you are focused on something ahead.  That is the same with life.  When we are focused on Jesus, He will show us His ways, and will lead us in a straight path (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Some of God’s paths for us through life may be rough and rugged.  Others may be a bit dull.  But all of them are filled with His love and faithfulness.  When we come to the end of life’s journey, and will know what we then will know, we can say that God’s path was the best one for us.  Our path may have obstacles that we have to conquer, but with Jesus by our side, we can conquer them.  He will always lead us.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

God's Promised Rainbow

Genesis 8:20-22; 9:8-17

When we make a promise, sometimes we back it up with a token that shows we mean what we said, that our word is good.  A child may give a favorite belonging to another to show their promise of friendship.  In legal or financial matters one puts up a bond or collateral to show your promise to pay the debt.  In marriage ceremonies the bride and groom usually exchange rings as a symbol of their promise to love, care for, and be faithful to the other.  In our Scripture passage today we will read a promise that God made to mankind, and the symbol He gave to remind us of that promise.

The background to our Bible passage is the account of Noah, which we all are familiar with.  After the flood waters had dried off of the earth, Noah and his family, along with the animals, came off of the ark.  Noah then took some of the clean animals, (animals that were suitable for sacrifice), and offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord, thanking Him for preserving their lives in the Flood.  When God smelled the odor of the sacrifice, He made a covenant, a promise to Noah and all of his descendants that He would never destroy the earth or all mankind again with a world-wide flood (vs. 8:20-21; 9:8-11).  This is the Noahic Covenant, the first covenant that God made with man.

God then proceeded to give mankind a symbol of His promise to them, and that symbol is the rainbow (vs. 12-17).  God intended and He specifically designed the rainbow to be a sign, a symbol of this covenant promise that He made.  He told us that whenever we look into the sky and see the rainbow, we will be reminded that God promised never to destroy the whole earth again with a flood.  Today the symbol of the rainbow has been twisted by the culture of the world to mean something totally different, something which God did not at all intend, and something that is not from Him.  However, believers, those who follow and know His Word, know that the rainbow was a gift from God to remind us of His promise.

Some people may question whether this promise has been kept, as there have been numerous devastating floods throughout history.  There have been floods that destroy large areas of cities, of properties and homes, and which have killed multiple hundreds, even thousands of people.  Flooding can be some of the costliest and deadliest of natural disasters.  However, if we take a good look at what the Scripture says, we will see that God has kept this promise.  There are all sorts of local floods, but God promised to never destroy the whole world with a flood again.  The next time God destroys the earth, it will be by fire (II Peter 3:10-11).

As we look at this covenant that God made with mankind, we see that there are three parts, each of which have not ceased since that day when Noah and his family disembarked the ark.  The first is that God promised to never again flood the whole earth (vs. 8:21; 9:11).  The second part is that as long as the earth remains, the seasons will come as expected (vs. 8:22).  I may really dislike winter, but I know that it will come every year, just as I know that it will not last forever.  Springtime will come.  The last part of the covenant is that a rainbow will be visible when it rains.  The rainbow was created as a sign to all that God keeps His promises.  That is what the rainbow means.

This is an unconditional promise that we have from God.  There are two kinds of promises in the Bible - conditional and unconditional.  Conditional promises are that if we fulfill our part, God will keep His part.  If we do this, God will do that.  An unconditional promise is that God will keep His promise, no matter what we do or don’t do.  This was one of God’s unconditional promises.

The next time it rains, when a thunderstorm comes by, look up into the sky as the storm is ending, and look for the rainbow.  When you see it, don’t think of anything else, but remember what the rainbow really stands for.  God keeps every one of His promises to us.

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Leper

Mark 1:40-45

It all started several years earlier, when he had noticed unmistakable changes in his skin, such as the discoloration, and the thickening of the skin, and the loss of sensation in his fingers and toes.  Then the rabbi had come and declared that he had leprosy, and his life, and the life of his family turned upside down.  The whole community immediately banished him to way outside the village limits, out into the wilderness to live for probably the rest of his life.  It’s not that his family and friends really wanted to, but they had to, as leprosy was contagious and a death sentence.  He was all alone, and had been for several years.  He had lost track of how long.  He could only see his family from a great distance, with food and an occasional change of clothes dropped off some distance away.  And lately it seemed that they were slowly forgetting about him.  No one to talk to, no one to hug him and say they cared.  That was the way it would be for however long his miserable life would last.  Bitter tears fell down his deformed face.  Until one day when a sliver of hope came!

This is where our Scripture from the Gospel of Mark brings us today.  Leprosy, or today sometimes called Hansen’s disease, is a horrible disease.  Old Testament law required that the lepers live away from society until they were cured, and without modern medication, that was extremely rare.  The leper was even required to call out “Unclean!” if someone were to come anywhere near (Leviticus 13:45-46).  Lepers could go years without any human contact at all.

The tragic man in our Scripture account today had been in this condition, away from family and loved ones for who knows how long, until one day he heard that Jesus was nearby.  He must have heard some people talking a distance away from his haphazard tent that Jesus was passing by.  From what he had heard from people’s conversations in the distance, Jesus was a great preacher and healer.  He believed what he had overheard, that Jesus cured the blind, the sick, the crippled.  He believed that Jesus could heal him, but would He?  Nobody had come anywhere near him in years.  What about this Man of God?

This was his only chance, and as Jesus was passing by, the leper must have called out to Him.  Timidly he took some steps closer.  Jesus did not back away, even when he called out “Unclean!”  So the leper came closer and closer, till he kneeled down before him.  With tears probably coursing down his face, he begged Jesus, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” (vs. 40).

What did Jesus do?  Did He flinch back in revulsion from the man’s horribly disfigured body, in fear because of the contagion?  No!  He was moved with compassion, and He touched the poor man (vs. 41-42).  He was willing, and His touch immediately healed the man.  Jesus’ touch was the first touch from another he probably had in many years.  His touch assured the man that he was not alone, but accepted.

God is not some uninvolved deity, out in some place in outer space, who doesn’t care what happens to man here on earth, as some denominations, religions, or philosophies claim.  If that were the case, God would not have cared what happened to some disfigured leper.  However, Jesus specifically said that He was willing, and brought the man healing.  He shows all of us love and compassion, especially when we are at our lowest.  The real value of a person is from the inside of them, not from the outside.  Although a person’s body may be diseased or deformed, the person inside is no less valuable to God.  No person is too disgusting for God to touch.

In Scripture leprosy was symbolic of sin.  In that picture, we are all people with leprosy, because we have all been deformed by the ugliness of sin.  God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to touch us and give us the opportunity to repent, receive forgiveness, and be healed.

After the man was healed of his leprosy, Jesus told him, like He sometimes did, to not tell others what happened (vs. 43-45).  This man was so happy, though, so overjoyed with his healing, he couldn’t help but tell others.  He was healed!  He could return to his family!  He could return to society!  However, because of that man disobeying, Jesus was not able to enter that city due to the crowds that swarmed Him, and He was forced to minister to people from a spot outside the city.

Do you feel like someone who has been cast out, rejected, and living on the fringe of society?  Do you have some illness, or has something happened in your life to make you feel loathsome?  Have you some sin on your soul that needs the touch of the Lord’s forgiveness?  Come to Jesus!  He will never turn away from you, but instead will reach out to you and wrap you in His arms.  Remember His words: “I am willing. Be cleansed.”

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Precious Blood Of Jesus

I Peter 1:15-21

Have you ever had to buy back an item of yours that was valuable and dear to you, but was no longer in your possession?  Perhaps you were financially strapped, and had to pawn something of yours.  Or maybe you sold some furniture to an antique dealer, or some artwork to an art dealer, and now you desire the item back.  Usually, though, in order to redeem the item, you have to pay more money than you initially received, sometimes a lot more.  So you ask yourself, is it worth it to you?  You gave the pawnbroker an item, received some money, and now he is charging you double, maybe triple the amount to redeem it.  The furniture you sold to the antique dealer is selling for triple the amount he gave you.  You must ask yourself if it is really that dear to you to spend that much to get the item back.  In our Scripture today we read about something that was redeemed, and the price that was paid for that redemption.  Let’s look at what St. Peter has to say in this passage from the Bible.

To redeem is to buy back something which is held by someone else.  In Peter’s Epistle we read that we have been redeemed.  We might wonder why we needed to be redeemed, and by whom.  When mankind sinned, and each of us have sinned personally, we came under the power of sin.  We became slaves to sin (Romans 6:16).  In ancient times, a family member or a friend could buy back someone who had become a slave, but the price was certainly not cheap.  We had become slaves, held under the bondage of sin.  God redeemed us from the tyranny of sin, not with money, but with the precious Blood of His Son, Jesus Christ (vs. 18-19).

Imagine if you went to the pawnshop or antique dealer to buy back your item, and the dealer said that it would cost you your blood!  I don’t think anyone would pay that price, even for an item they loved!  Maybe a high cash price, but not blood!  What about at the slave auction?  There’s a slight chance that someone might pay with their own blood to redeem someone they loved dearly, but certainly not someone who had treated them terribly, maligned them, spat upon them, and trod their love into the dirt.  That is what Jesus did for us, though.  The most precious commodities on earth could not redeem fallen man.  Only the Blood of the sinless Son of God could.  We sinned terribly against God, and were in bondage to sin, and yet Jesus shed His Precious Blood to purchase our redemption.

Our redemption was not an afterthought, something that God came up with when the world spun out of control.  It was a plan set in motion by God, long before the creation of the world (vs. 20).   God made this plan of the redemption of sinners through His Son, Jesus Christ, before the creation of Adam and Eve, long before they even sinned.

Since the price for our redemption was the Blood of Jesus, Peter instructs us to live a holy life (vs. 15-16).  Holiness means being totally devoted and dedicated to God.  We are to be set apart for God’s purpose and use, and set away from sin and its influence.  We are to be different in the quality of our lives from the world, and not blend in with them.  Our focus and priorities must be His.

God is holy, and He wants His children to be so, too.  Unlike the pagan gods, Yahweh does not have any character flaws.  He is not promiscuous, blood-thirsty, prone to rages, or drunken,  like the pagan gods were said to frequently be.  He is holy, a God of mercy and justice, and cares for His followers.  We are to imitate His high standards.

Many churches have erased all mention of the Blood of Jesus from their worship services.  They feel it might be offensive to a visitor, and don’t want a “bloody religion”.  However, that Blood is essential to salvation!  Without it there would be no salvation!  Without the Blood of Jesus we would all be lost and on our way to hell.  When we understand the cost of our salvation, we learn to be truly thankful.  Salvation is infinitely costly, but absolutely free.

Monday, February 12, 2024

When Depression Hits

Psalm 42

Multiple millions of people around the world have suffered from depression at one time or another in their adult life.  One could say that it is a worldwide epidemic.  For many of these people, their depression is caused by feelings of hopelessness, or loneliness, feeling there is no one to help them in whatever trial or problems they face.  They feel that their problems are never ending, and they are at the end of their rope, but no one is there to catch them.  Many psalms in the Bible are written from a point or time of depression by their author, and our Scripture today is one such psalm.

The psalmist, one of the Sons of Korah, alternately prays to God and also talks to himself in this psalm.  We don’t know the exact reason for his depression and discouragement, but this is a very low time for him.  Even his friends and associates, people he saw daily, came to him wondering where God was in his life (vs. 3).  They told him that things looked so bad in his life that it looked like God had abandoned him.  That’s a rather sad state to be in, when others think that our situation is so bad that God certainly can’t be paying attention to us!  He was, as we say, at the end of his rope.

When we feel the same, we have two choices.  We can turn away from God in anger and frustration, or we can turn to God and step up our faith.  Our psalmist did the latter.  He turned to God.  He knew that God was his only true and reliable hope in coming out of this state.  Perhaps for a time he had strayed from God.  Perhaps that is what got him in the state to begin with.  We don’t know.  But now he wants a renewed relationship with Him.  He thirsts for God, like an animal searching for a cool water brook (vs. 1-2).

When we want to overcome discouragement we need to take some steps.  First we need to look and see if we can identify what is causing our depression and discouragement.  Maybe there is something in our life that we can or need to change.  Then we need to look to the Lord, and put our hope and trust in Him.  People can, and often do, let us down, but the Lord God is faithful.  He is there to help us.

God can handle our real emotions.  It is not like He doesn’t already know how we feel.  The prophet Jeremiah was one person in Scripture who turned to the Lord, crying out to Him in raw emotion.  We see that especially in the Book of Lamentations.  Job was another.  These godly men unburdened themselves to God from intolerable pain, grief, and agony, and He did not chastise them further for doing so.

Sometimes we may even need a change of friends or companions, as they can frequently pull us further down.  Whoever the psalmist seemed to be hanging around with brought him even more discouragement, as they kept questioning where God was when he needed him (vs. 3, 10).  Similar words were hurled by the Pharisees and religious leaders at Jesus while He hung on the cross.

Another thing to help us get out of depression is to remember all that God has done for us.  We need to remember His past care and provisions for us.  Our psalmist knew that remembering God and His love and care was one key, along with singing songs of joy and praise (vs. 4, 6, 8).  Remembering God’s faithfulness in the past, along with uplifting songs of praise will encourage our soul.

Are we finding ourselves spiritually dehydrated?  If so, we need to spend more time with God.  When we don’t, we begin to feel empty, lonely, dissatisfied, and then downright depressed.  We find there is no joy in our life.  The answer is turning to the Lord, crying out to Him.  Remembering His past blessings, and giving praise.

Be full of hope, for God will not fail you.  God still loves us in the midst of all of our trials.  We can rejoice while passing through the furnace, for as Paul said in II Corinthians 4:17, this light affliction will soon be over.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

The General And The Slave Girl

II Kings 5:1-15

A powerful general and a slave girl.  One with much power and authority, and the other with none.  What would they have in common?   They are two key figures in our Old Testament Scripture for this week.  One who had great faith and belief in Yahweh, and one whose pride almost made him miss out on the greatest blessing in his life.  Let’s take a quick look to see what we might learn from their lives.

As our Scripture opens, we are introduced to Naaman (vs. 1).  He was the commander of the army of the Kingdom of Syria, north of Israel, and lived during the 9th century BC.   The Kingdom of Syria should not be confused with the Assyrian Empire which took the northern Kingdom of Israel captive approximately 100+ years later.  Syria would frequently harass the northern border of Israel, pillaging and looting northern villages, and often taking hostages to serve as slaves.  It was on one such raid that a young girl was brought back, and she became the servant to Naaman’s wife (vs. 2).

This young girl is worth taking a close look at.  It is quite possible that she might have seen her parents murdered and her home burned to the ground.  Did she become angry and bitter?  Was she filled with hatred for other people, especially the Syrians?  No.  Her strong faith in Yahweh remained.  When she saw that Naaman had a bad skin disease, she told her mistress that the prophet of Yahweh in Israel (Elisha) would be able to heal him (vs. 3).  Many people in her spot would have been bitter, and rejoiced in his illness, thinking they were justified in their feelings.  “Why should I tell him about God when I have to run and fetch for him and his wife all day?  I wouldn’t care if he got worse and died!”  That was not her attitude!  She showed the love of God to others, even those she served.  This slave girl was also not afraid to speak up in witness and testimony for the Lord.  She showed a wonderful attitude, a real heart for God.

Next let’s look at Naaman.  As mentioned, he was the commander of the army, a great position.  He also had a bad skin disease.  In the Bible, the term “leprosy”, or “sara at” in Hebrew, covered a lot of malignant skin diseases, not just present day Hansen’s disease.   The fact that he was not quarantined away from everyone indicates that his disease was not likely Hansen’s disease, or what we today refer to as leprosy.  However, it was still bad, undoubtedly painful and irritating.  When he heard from the servant girl about the prophet who could heal, he got permission from the king to go and seek healing (vs. 4-7).  At first they went to the king of Israel, but naturally he had no power, as none of the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel believed in or worshiped God.  The maid’s faith, and Naaman’s quest contrasted with the stubbornness of Israel’s king.  Naaman, a Gentile, sought Israel’s God, but Israel’s own king would not.

Elisha heard of Naaman’s quest for healing, and told the king to send the general to him, so that all would know that Yahweh was the only true God (vs. 8).  When Naaman arrived, Elisha did not come out, but instead sent his messenger to the door, telling him to go dip in the Jordan River seven times, and he would be healed.  This infuriated Naaman (vs. 11).  Because of his personal greatness, his huge gift and diplomatic letters (vs. 5-6), Naaman expected personal attention to his needs.  Plus, why should he dip himself in some puny Israelite river when the rivers of Syria had better, cleaner water!  Naaman’s pride almost made him lose his healing.  Fortunately a servant spoke some logic, and Naaman obeyed, and was cured (vs. 13-14).

God could have healed Naaman immediately without dipping in the Jordan.  However, in order for Naaman to recognize Yahweh as Lord, he first had to submit to His authority.  It was obedience to God’s Word that was the issue, not the quality of the water.  Naaman was a proud man, and he had expected special treatment.  Obedience to God begins with humility.  God’s ways are better than our own.  Don’t ever let your pride and stubbornness keep you from the blessings from God you need the most!

The little maid’s name is never known, but her great faith is.  Her speaking up as a witness to God brought a great Gentile general to faith and salvation.  She had a wonderful attitude in spite of all she had probably already gone through in her few years.  Your attitude will determine your altitude.  With a good, positive attitude, you can soar like an eagle.  With a sour, negative, angry attitude, you will stay on the ground with the turkeys.  Fortunately Naaman’s changed, he was healed and saved, and began to soar!

Friday, February 9, 2024

Time To Pray

Mark 1:29-39

Have you ever had one of those days when you are so busy you hardly have time to eat or even sit down and relax for a minute?  Most of us have.  Our schedule is packed from the minute we roll out of bed to when we finally can get back into bed late at night.  Maybe we even have a long stretch of weeks, maybe even months or years when we were extremely busy.  Perhaps when we might be both working a job and going to school.  When we’re that busy, sometimes important things get taken out of one’s schedule.  Unfortunately with some Christians, it frequently is time spent with the Lord, whether in church, or personal prayer and Bible time.  Jesus was an extremely busy Man, but as we read in our Scripture today, we see that He made a point of taking the time to spend with God in prayer.  Let’s look at our Scripture passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus was thirty years old when He began His public ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing (Luke 3:23), and that ministry lasted only about three years before He was crucified.   Being that He is the Son of God, He knew how little time He had, and wasn’t about to waste any of it just idling around.  When Jesus would preach and teach, the crowds would get so large that He could barely move around.  This especially happened when people came to be healed.  Jesus would get so swamped by the crowds, so much that He sometimes couldn’t even eat.  There were times when His brothers and family began to think He was a bit crazy because of how busy He was, and tried to take Him home (Mark 3:20-21).  Yet as busy as He got, Jesus did not allow that to cut into His time spent in communion with the Father.

As our Scripture begins, Jesus had spent the good part of the day teaching in the synagogue, and in addition to teaching, He had cast some demons out of a man.  After a busy time there, Jesus went to the home of Peter and Andrew.  When He got there, the Lord was told that Peter’s mother-in-law was quite sick, including having a high fever.  He touched her and brought her healing.  Afterwards she made the Lord a meal (vs. 29-31).

Word got out that Jesus was at Peter’s house and that He had healed his mother-in-law, so that evening multitudes of people descended around the house, bringing Jesus the sick and demon-possessed for Him to heal (vs. 32-34).  After a long day at the synagogue preaching and teaching, He wasn’t given the privilege of relaxing during the evening, just to sit and leisurely talk with His disciples.  Instead, the whole city, as mentioned in verse 33, was there demanding Jesus’ attention and healing.  As we read through all four Gospels, we see that this wasn’t a rare or unique occurrence, but something that happened on a regular basis.  It was probably late at night when the people dispersed, and Jesus had the opportunity to say goodnight and go to bed.

As tired as He probably was, one would think that Jesus would stay in bed until the smells of breakfast would wake Him up.  However that was never the case with the Lord.  As we read further in our passage, Jesus woke a long while before daylight (vs. 35).  Sunrise in Jerusalem is between 5:30 - 6:30 am, depending on the time of year.  Scripture says He was up a long while before daylight, so that could easily have been around 4 am.  As busy as He was each day, Jesus took the time to go off by Himself and pray.

Jesus made a point of taking time to be with His heavenly Father.  He had much work to do, preaching, healing, restoring, and reaching the lost, and only three short years to do it in.  However, He always made time every day for prayer, even if it meant getting up early every day, even after a hectic night, to do that.  Jesus would end His day in prayer, too (Matthew 14:22-23).  When the crowds started to form again in the morning, the disciples needed to go looking for Jesus (vs. 36-38).

The Savior knew that He had another busy day, filled with preaching and healing, along with the spiritual attacks of Satan and from the Pharisees, and He would need to be well “prayed-up”.  When we rush through our day and bypass time spent in prayer and the Bible, we will face disappointments and pressure beyond our ability to handle.  We are then an easy target for the enemy of our souls.  Jesus made sure to carve out some time, both at the start and at the end of His day, for prayer and communion with God.  We should follow His example.  When our day is hemmed with prayer, it is less likely to unravel!

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Consider Your Audience

I Corinthians 9:16-23

There is a saying that is important when both giving a public speech, or when writing an article, and that is to consider your audience.  Who will be reading what I write, or listening to the message I bring?  If someone was going to give a talk to a group of senior women, their introductory, warm-up paragraph might not best be talking about the latest hockey statistics.  Nor would it be ideal when talking to high school guys to talk about various knitting and crocheting techniques.  Neither would be big hits with those audiences.  It’s always best to consider the various demographic groups when speaking, and Paul knew this when he brought the Gospel to various cities around the Mediterranean.  In our New Testament Scripture for this week, the Apostle Paul explained how he considered who he was with, who he was witnessing and preaching to, with how he approached them, something that would make it easier and more productive when presenting the Gospel.

As our Scripture opens, Paul briefly explained to the Corinthian church that he was compelled to preach the Gospel, he had a calling, a commission (vs. 16-17).  God chose Paul for this work.  It was a valuable stewardship.  He felt driven by the desire to do what God wanted, and to use his gifts for God’s glory.  However, Paul was not proud, as if this were his Gospel.  Nor was he proud about the way he preached it, as if it were his ability.  Paul preached from a divine compulsion.  He felt that he had no other choice, as he knew that God had chosen him for this service.

Paul also did not put a price tag on his ministry.  He did not charge the churches he preached at, nor ask for a salary from anyone.  He believed that the Gospel of Jesus was for everyone and needs to be told, and he was not going to attach a fee to that.  A price must never be put on the Gospel (vs. 18).  A preacher should make sure that he does not exploit people, but rather he should edify them.  Just because Paul didn’t charge a high fee, or take a salary, though, didn’t mean that he didn’t give it his very best.  The preaching of the Gospel must never be looked at in any manner except that we give it our very best.  Otherwise we will lose the reward.

As our Scripture continues, Paul went on to explain something that many had given him a lot of argument about, and that was how he acted, how he behaved, how he presented the Gospel in different groups and settings.  As we see throughout the Book of Acts, when Paul went on his missionary journeys, he usually would search out a synagogue in whatever village he was in.  Then on the Sabbath he would go and teach from various Old Testament Scriptures about the Messiah, and how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies.  However, that wasn’t always how he operated.  For instance, when Paul went to preach in Athens, a much more Gentile audience, he opened his message with quotes from some of their poets.  A different tactic to reach a different audience.  The more Jewish the audience, the more Jewish his approach.  The more Gentiles there were, he would use a different style (vs. 19-23).

This also carried over in his day-to-day life.  He did not want to cause any offense with anyone he was staying with or eating with.  Though as a Christian, Paul was not bound any longer to Jewish ceremonies and traditions, when witnessing to them, his love compelled him to give no offense, such as kosher laws, keeping the Sabbath, holy days, etc. (vs.20).  He knew he could eat whatever he wanted, but his love for others told him it wasn’t charitable to bring a pork sandwich, topped with bacon to eat in front of the Jewish people he was with.  This was the same when he was ministering to a Gentile group, as long as none of God’s moral laws were violated.

Paul never compromised his convictions or his calling, but he was willing to find common ground, and meet his audience wherever they happened to be.  Within the pounds of God’s Word, Paul did not want to offend Jews, Gentiles, or those weak in understanding.  Without compromising the truth, Paul would condescend in ways that could lead to understanding.  Paul’s foremost desire was to see people saved.  Whatever it took in terms of loss of personal freedom, he was prepared to pay the price.

When we look for opportunities to tell others about Jesus, (which should be all believer’s desire), we should follow Paul’s example, and seek to find common ground with those we talk to.  Try to make others feel accepted.  Be sensitive to their needs and concerns.  Concentrate on things that encourage peace and assist other’s growth.  Will it encourage peace, or hurt and offend?  Is our goal the same as the Apostle’s?  Paul’s greatest object in life was to see people saved.  He sought to glorify God and bring people to Christ.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Hiding In A Cave

Psalm 142

How would you like to live in a cave?  When my two, now adult children were much younger, we went through several large caves in the state of Kentucky.  They were quite spectacular.  However, I don’t think I would want to spend any length of time living in a cave.  For one, they tend to be chilly.  The average temperature of a cave year-round is between 48 - 54 F (8.8 - 12.2 C).  That can be momentarily refreshing on a hot summer day, but no one usually keeps their homes that chilled!  Also, frequently caves are damp places, with moist walls.  I don’t think of that as being a pleasant environment to live in. Today’s psalm was written by David when he was hiding out in a cave, living there for a while.  Let’s take a look at what he wrote.

Those who are familiar with the life of David know that for several years he was on the run for his life from King Saul.  Saul had given him a position in his court as a musician, and also knew of his great military skill leading the army against the Philistines.  Saul quickly became very jealous of David, and being mentally unstable, tried to take David’s life, causing the young man to flee and live in hiding.  There were at least two occasions when David hid in caves.  One was in a cave of Adullam (I Samuel 22:1-2), and another was in a cave of En-gedi (I Samuel 24:1-7).  Our psalm could have been written during either of these occasions, or perhaps even another occasion in a cave.

These must have been times of desperation for David, for hiding in a cave can be rather risky.  In order to effectively hide, one must go a ways into the cave.  Unless you know the cave fairly well, that can be dangerous, as you never know where a sudden drop-off might be.  Without modern caving equipment, and only having a burning torch for light, it could be hazardous.  With his enemies hot on his tail, David felt that the cave was his only place of shelter and safety at the time, so he trusted in the Lord, crying out to Him for help, which we see recorded in Psalm 142.

Are there situations in your life when you are feeling desperate?  Maybe you have literal, physical enemies attacking you in one way or another.  Or perhaps the desperate situation may be a financial crisis or health crisis.  You feel trapped, like David did, and you are backed into some type of “cave”.  When we feel cornered by whatever enemy or hopeless situation we are in, only God can keep us safe.  Without His intervention, our situation is hopeless, but with Him we find a refuge (vs. 5).

It seems that during this time, David was alone, or perhaps with just very few companions, as when he was praying and crying out to God, he indicated that he felt abandoned by everyone (vs. 4).  He turned to his right, to his left, and there was no one who would acknowledge him, and take up his side, his cause.  “No one cares for my soul.”  That is a cry of a very depressed and discouraged person!  Have you ever felt like that?  That is a terrible way to feel!  His relationship with his blood family wasn’t so great, no one at court seemed willing to take up his cause with King Saul other than Jonathan, who was nowhere around now.  Several times he had been betrayed, and now he was hiding in a cave.  Maybe any “friends” you had have all turned their back on you, and you feel like you have to crawl into a cave like David did.  If so, do what he did, and cry out to God, putting your trust in His love and care.  He is your refuge and your portion (vs. 5).

As mentioned above, many years ago my children and I visited several caves in Kentucky, which were very amazing.  David, though, was not on a vacation tour of the cave he was in.  In addition to being potentially dangerous, he was also trapped.  He couldn’t just walk out, or risk being caught and executed.  This cave was like a prison to David (vs. 7).  Sometimes we are stuck in a situation we cannot get out of on our own. This can sometimes happen due to the oppression of others.  Then there are times when we put ourselves in bondage through sin, or are held captive due to a wrong attitude.  In either case, only God can set us free from our captivity, and He will if we trust in Him.

Do you find yourself in a “cave” today, all alone, with no one to turn to for help, feeling imprisoned either from your enemies or your own failings?  Do not give in to despair.  In the midst of his loneliness and seeming hopelessness, David did not lose sight of God.  Turn to Him, and find your refuge in His love and care.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Shunammite Woman's Faith

II Kings 4:8-37

Have you ever been in a situation where you wonder what God is doing in your life?  You’ve done your best to live for Him, to obey Him, to serve Him, and then the walls of your life come crashing down.  The worst blow of all hammers down on you.  Why would God allow what He did?  What did you do to deserve this?  In our Old Testament reading from this week’s Lectionary tells the account of a woman who was a faithful follower of Yahweh, when tragedy happened in her life, and how she handled it.

The events of our Scripture passage take place during the 9th century BC in the northern Kingdom of Israel.  The prophet Elisha had taken over the ministry of Elijah, who had been transported to heaven in the fiery chariot.  The northern Kingdom of Israel had long since fallen into great apostasy.  None of their kings followed or obeyed Yahweh, and the majority of the population were deep into the worship of pagan gods and goddesses.

Elisha frequently criss-crossed the country preaching the message of the Lord, admonishing the people to return to the worship of Yahweh.  On one of his preaching trips, an unnamed wealthy woman, who was also a believer and worshiper of Yahweh, invited the prophet to come to her home after his preaching, and have a nice home-cooked meal.  She lived in the village of Shunem, which was basically in the heart of the northern kingdom.  Whenever Elisha passed through, which would be fairly often as he crossed back and forth across the country, she invited him to stay with her and her husband.  This happened frequently enough that the couple made a special room in their home for Eisha to stay in (vs. 8-10).

This was a way for this unnamed couple to do something for the Lord.  They were two of a very small minority of believers in the now extremely pagan northern Kingdom of Israel.  They gave of what they had, a comfortable room in a nice home for the prophet to spend some time, good food and fellowship, whenever he would frequently pass through the country bringing God’s Word.  Her kindness and generosity to Elisha would ultimately return again to her in an even greater blessing.  As we read further, God blessed the previously barren woman with a son (vs. 14-17).

The Scripture passage then skips several years into the future.  The boy is older, old enough to be able to help his father out in the fields, harvesting the crops.  The boy collapsed, possibly from heat stroke, and was brought by servants to his mother, where a few hours later he died (vs. 18-21).  Here the Shunammite woman’s faith was tested, and she came through admirably!  She could have screamed out to God, that after all she had done for Him and for His servants, after having true faith in a pagan culture, this was how He repaid her?!  That was not what she did.  She did not start planning the boy’s funeral, either.  Her strong faith compelled her to lay the boy in the prophet’s room, and saddle up her donkey to go in search of the man of God, Elisha (vs. 21-22).

The Shunammite woman reasoned that if the Lord, through Eisha, could give her the child, through Elisha the child could be raised from the dead.  This showed great faith in the Lord, not anger or bitterness.  In the whole of the Old Testament there were only three instances of someone being raised from the dead - Elijah raising the widow’s son (I Kings 17:17-24), this instance here, and then a dead man when his body landed on Elisha’s bones (II Kings 13:21), which happened years later.  Rather than wallow in her sadness and anger, she put action to her faith and sought out Elisha.

When the Shunammite woman found Elisha, and was asked how things were, she answered with faith, “It is well.” (vs. 26).  How could she say that when her son lay dead in a bedroom at home?  She had faith!  Her faith believed that if God gave her the boy, He would give him back to her.  Only faith could answer that it was well!

Faith also does not let go, nor will it be put off or discouraged.  When the woman found Elisha she would not let go until the Lord answered her (vs. 30).  Nor was the prophet discouraged in his faith.  He returned to her house, and went into the room to pray for the child.  He was in prayer for the child for some time, with the laying on of hands, and the Lord heard and answered their prayer, rewarding their faith (vs. 32-35).

We might wonder why God would allow this to happen to this godly woman, a woman who honored the Lord and His servants, one who remained faithful to Yahweh, even when her country had rejected Him.  He blessed the Shunammite woman with the child, then why take him away?  Life is not an unbroken string of joyful events, even for godly believers.  This is contrary to what the “Prosperity Gospel” people claim.  We live in a fallen world, where bad things happen, even to good people.  God calls us to trust Him with the end of the story, as well as the beginning.  Trust in Him and have faith, just as the Shunammite woman did.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Even Demons Must Obey Him

Mark 1:21-28

No one likes a heckler when they are giving a talk.  It’s rude and it’s distracting.  There you are, up in front giving your talk, or maybe you might be performing, and in comes someone who shouts out rude things to you.  All you want is for that person to shut up and be removed.  Something similar happened to the Lord Jesus in our Scripture today.  It wasn’t exactly a traditional heckler He faced, but He was loudly and rudely interrupted in His teachings one Sabbath.  Let’s take a look at what happened that day.

As our Scripture opens, Jesus and His disciples were in the village of Capernaum.  Capernaum was a prosperous fishing village along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.  It was located along a major road that led north out of Galilee, which made it profitable for trade.  Capernaum also had a Roman garrison, making it an important location for the occupying Romans.  As was customary, men other than just the rabbi were invited to speak and teach in the synagogues on the Sabbath.  Jesus was becoming known in the area as a religious leader and teacher, so He was invited that Sabbath to teach (vs. 21).

The group gathered in the synagogue that Sabbath noticed right away that Jesus’ teachings were different from what they were used to hearing from various rabbis and scribes who usually taught.  He taught with authority (vs. 22).  Most other teachers would frequently cite comments and opinions of other rabbis from the past, referencing their commentary on spiritual matters. These comments, opinions, and traditions later became the Talmud, which Jewish religious leaders would rely on, often even more than Scripture.  However, the Lord Jesus did not cite any human teachers.  His authority was the Word of God, not traditions and others’ opinions.

While He was teaching, a man possessed with some demons entered the synagogue, and began to cry out.  This unfortunate man had more than one demon possessing him, as when they spoke, they referred to themselves in the plural.  The demons wanted the Lord Jesus to leave them alone, and proclaimed exactly who He was (vs. 23-24).  These evil spirits knew at once that Jesus was the Holy One of God, the Messiah.  The demon spirits knew who Jesus was, but the religious leaders of Israel did not know, or rather, they refused to know.

The demons screamed out to Jesus for Him to leave them alone, and “what have we to do with You?”  These evil spirits knew that they and Jesus were in two different kingdoms, and had nothing in common.  Those who are in league with the devil and his kingdom have nothing in common with Jesus and His followers.  Believers should have nothing to do with the occult, its practices, and those who follow and practice such.  These demons affirmed Jesus’ sinlessness and deity when they called Him the Holy One of God, truths which many in Israel denied, and still deny to this day.  Though they were the minions of Satan, they definitely knew exactly Who Jesus was.

After the loud and angry outburst from the demon-possessed man, Jesus immediately rebuked the demons, telling them to be quiet, stop their talking, and to come out of the man (vs. 25).  Why did Jesus tell these demons to be quiet?  After all, they were telling the truth, they were proclaiming Who He was.  Why wouldn’t Jesus want that proclaimed?  Jesus did not want any testimony to the truth from the demonic realm to fuel any charges that He was in league with Satan.  This was a charge that the Pharisees frequently brought against Jesus throughout His ministry (Matthew 9:34; Matthew 12:24).

Jesus had superiority and authority over these evil spirits.  He has authority over Satan and all of his kingdom of darkness.  Jesus didn’t need to perform any elaborate rituals or ceremonies to try and coax the demons out.  His Word was enough to send the demons out (vs. 25-27).

Nothing outranks Jesus.  He speaks and the demons are silenced.  They come out of the man.  They must obey the Son of God.  Are we as obedient to the Lord Jesus as they are, we who say we love Him, and have taken Him as our Savior?  We should be!