His Cup, Our Cup

“At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25

Paul and Silas have not been the only faithful men of God to find themselves in prison as a result of their obedience and faithfulness to God. The Holy Spirit had directed him to Macedonia (vs 6 & 7). It was at Paul’s word that a young woman was delivered from the power of a demon resulting in their being beaten almost to death and imprisonment (vs 22-23). In that state of immense pain they were also put in stocks but they were not bitter with God. Instead they prayed and sang His praises.

We should not expect things to go smoothly, as we perceive them, just because we are faithful to the Lord’s leading. Paul and Silas were surrendered to whatever the Lord brought their way and trusted Him with all their circumstances, even beatings to the point of death or death itself.

On this occasion it pleased God to miraculously release them from the stocks and open the prison gates (v 26). Paul and Silas could not have foreseen this or what would happen next. They made no attempt to leave and neither did any of the other prisoners (v 28). The jailor knew that if prisoners had escaped he would be put to death. Paul interrupted his attempt at suicide and the jailor’s question gave Paul the opportunity to preach Christ (vs 31-32).

From that moment the jailor was a changed man as was his family and household (vs 33-34). Paul and Silas waited until they were released so that no harm would come to the jailor or his family and household.

We won’t be forewarned of the trials of life that the Lord will lead us into but they will be for reasons we cannot perceive prior to the event. Like Paul and Silas our part is to be obedient to the word of the Lord and the leading of the Holy Spirit and accept with praise, prayer and worship what becomes of it. Bitterness and complaint did not cross their minds and should never cross ours. Like Jesus we will say, “Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11).

Timothy was on this trip with Paul and Silas. Paul would later write to him, “Yes, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12) and “endure afflictions …  fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

His Hour

“So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them – walking, leaping, and praising God” Acts 3:8

This man had been lame from birth (Acts 3:2) and he was now forty years old (Acts 4:22). This was his hour in which God would be glorified through him. He had been at the temple gate every day of his adult life enduring this affliction and begging for daily sustenance. Peter, John and even Jesus would have passed him many times before. He could have asked why he had to put up with years of lameness and begging when he could have been healed earlier.

He didn’t think about what might have been or accuse God of being unfair. He had been delivered from his lameness and was now free to rejoice in his new liberty. What a ridiculous sight it would have been if he had returned to his begging clothes and mat to beg again. No longer would he rely on the generosity of others. Now he would be able to work and provide for himself.

We who have received the Lord Jesus Christ have been set free from a much greater affliction, that of sin that binds us under Satan’s power and the inevitable consequence of death. We have no reason to accuse God. It is for this hour that we are here to glorify God and our history has brought us to this hour. Mordecai said to Esther, “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

Instead of concerning ourselves about what might have been we can walk with Jesus and leap in faith praising God that we are in His time. The hour of our salvation may now be some time in the past and we have experienced many things that have been either pleasant or unpleasant; but through them the Lord has brought us to this hour. All that is passed in our lives has brought us to this hour for God’s glory. We won’t return to the begging mat of sin but we will do what we could not do before – serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

The lame man did not know that his hour to glorify God had come until it came – and neither will we.

When other people recognised this man walking, leaping and praising God as the one who had been lame they were ready to hear Peter proclaim Christ. This unnamed man who endured forty years of lameness became the opportunity for the Gospel to be proclaimed. His hour came. He is not complaining. He is still praising God.

Captive of Love

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as we are.” John 17:11

We are very grateful that John has recorded the words of this prayer of Jesus. So much is packed into just one prayer such as the glory of God to be restored to Jesus and revealed in His disciples. The relationship between Father and Son is also revealed as is equality of person of the Father and Son with differing roles within that equality. Our focus for now is the keeping of Christ’s disciples.

Whenever we have a doubt about our possession of eternal life it is because we believe that our salvation and favour with God is in our hands. It is not! As Peter also wrote, we “are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

The words “keep” and “kept” in John 17:11-15 have the meaning of being protected from an outside force and of being held captive for one’s protection. On the one hand Jesus is praying that the Father will protect His disciples from Satan’s power and influence (v 15) and on the other hand Jesus is saying that He will keep His disciples as a captive of His love in Himself (v 12).

Both aspects of this reveal that we who have trusted in Jesus Christ are absolutely secure. Any thought that causes us to doubt that security comes when we start thinking that our salvation is obtained by our own effort or faithfulness and not as the free gift of God in Jesus Christ and His faithfulness.

As we read through the Gospel accounts we frequently note the disciples’ lack of belief and understanding and yet Jesus kept them all (v 12). We will have areas of doubt and unbelief from time to time – but Jesus affirms that He will lose none who are His. As Peter affirmed, we are kept by the power of God – and not by our own ability or strength of faith. If our salvation, and being kept saved, was by our own effort then there would be reason for grave concerns.

Jesus has prayed that the Father would set watch over His disciples and protect them from all enemies, including Satan (vv 11, 15). When we fear what Satan or people may do to us we are forgetting this prayer of Jesus. We are protected from all enemies and kept as captives of Christ’s love by Him.

Receive Him Joyfully

“[Zacchaeus] sought to see who Jesus was…” Luke 19:3

Unlike the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees who came only to condemn Jesus (Luke 20:19-20), Zacchaeus really wanted to know who Jesus is. In response to his genuine inquiry Jesus came to his home and spent time with him (19:5). The religious leaders came judging Jesus, but Zacchaeus humbled himself in Jesus’ presence. The outcome was that Jesus revealed to him who He is. The proud and arrogant will never discover who Jesus is.

The evidence that Zacchaeus understood and accepted who Jesus is is revealed in his response. He made good fourfold of all that he gained illegally and gave away half his wealth to the poor. He didn’t do this to gain forgiveness and eternal life but because he had already been forgiven and gifted eternal life. This is the evidence of a truly repentant heart changed by the power of God through Christ.

Zacchaeus didn’t come to Jesus without first hearing about him from others who had seen and heard Jesus. He had heard reports of the teaching of Jesus and seen evidence of changed lives in those who had received Him as Lord. Within his heart he knew he was under condemnation and he greatly desired to be delivered from it.

Not many people follow Zacchaeus’ desire to know who Jesus is. One of the possible reasons may be that they haven’t heard what Jesus had been saying or seen the changed lives. We have a privilege and responsibility to tell them. In a recent quiz show a contestant was asked who said, “Let there be light.” The answer they gave was “Moses.” For the past three or four decades we have lived in an increasingly biblically illiterate society. Even many Christians stumble in knowledge of their Bible and the Person they claim to follow.

Christianity is a restored relationship and fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. It is not a set of rules and rituals to be followed. In response to Zacchaeus’ genuine inquiry Jesus came to and stayed in his home. Zacchaeus received him into his home “joyfully.” He didn’t feel the need to tidy up and clean up first because Jesus had already cleaned up his heart.

If you haven’t already, seek to discover who Jesus is – and when you do, receive Him joyfully. Perhaps you have received Him before but the joy has diminished. Review who He is afresh and receive Him joyfully again.

Plead for Your Child

“There came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue And he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying” Luke 8:41-42.

Few of us would have any difficulty identifying with Jairus’ grief over his only daughter suffering to the point of death. Emergency departments of hospitals are frequently visited by parents with this kind of grief. Some children are born with life threatening conditions such that their parents endure ongoing grief. Sometimes the condition can be rectified but other times it cannot. Most of us would know someone in this situation or have experienced it in our own family. Those who have had this experience will know how this man felt.

Jairus had heard that Jesus had healed people from all kinds of illnesses so he came to Him. Before Jesus could walk to his home the report came that his daughter had already died. He would have been grief stricken but Jesus also heard the report and encouraged Jairus to have faith that He could raise her even though she had died (v 50). There was no doubt that the girl was dead (v 53) and the family and friends watching on saw with their own eyes that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He is revealing once more that He is God who created Adam.

In the past as a parent, and now as a grandparent, I have pleaded daily with Jesus to lead my grandchildren to the place of faith in Him and that they continue in faith in Him. While we can’t look into the hearts of others and observe the presence or lack of anguish over the salvation of their children we should be concerned that many parents, even Christian parents, don’t share grief like that of Jairus over their child’s eternal state. Perhaps they are unaware of the consequences or have a vague hope that somehow their child will come to faith in Jesus. Jairus brought Jesus to his daughter. That is a privileged role that parents have.

It is no surprise when the pleading cries of a father and/or mother for their lost son or daughter are answered and the child responds to Jesus in faith. That is cause for rejoicing beyond anything else in their child’s life.

Let us all who have unsaved children and grandchildren continually plead with Jesus to come to them and give them life. They are our “Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8; cf. Luke 11:5-8 John 10:10, 28).

Image

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Mark 12:17

The chief priests, scribes and the elders in the temple (11:27) could see that their authority was under threat. They sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus with a view to discrediting Him and not to discern the source of Christ’s authority (12:13). Paying taxes to Caesar was a sore point in Israel. Their view was that taxes should go to the temple not Caesar. If Jesus answered their question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not” (v 14) with either a yes or no it would have been incorrect and provided an opportunity to discredit Him. Neither yes nor no was the correct answer.

Jesus’ answer agrees with scripture that we should pray for and support earthly governments but that we also have the privilege and responsibility of providing for His ministry on earth.

In focusing attention on the image of Caesar on the coin He confirmed that obligations to human government should be met. It is God who raises up and puts down kingdoms. It was the Roman Empire that had provided the circumstances for Messiah to enter the world and fulfill scripture at that time.

Where there is Caesar’s image that object belongs to Caesar. The extrapolation of that is that where God’s image is, that belongs to God. We read in Genesis 1:26-27 that mankind was created in God’s image. Jesus said that the coin which bears the image of Caesar should be rendered to Caesar and therefore man, created in and bearing the image of God should be rendered to God. This is what Paul was thinking when he wrote, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1) and “You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

That we are created in God’s image means that we belong to Him to serve and worship Him. This is the basis for Jesus’ demand of supreme love, supreme loyalty and supreme devotion to Him without which we cannot be one of His disciples (Luke 14:25-32).

The image of God in man was corrupted when sin entered the world but when Jesus, “the image of the invisible God,” (Colossians 1:15) came into the world and suffered the cross He opened the door for the image of God to be recreated in any person who will receive Him (John 1:12-13; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Waiting for the Kingdom

“Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” Mark 15:43

At His birth, during His earthly life and at His death, Jesus had men and women prepared for roles in His life and mission. For his birth he prepared Simeon and Anna; for his death he prepared Joseph and Nicodemus. These people had several things in common. They took the Old Testament scriptures literally and believed the prophecies contained therein. They were ready for Jesus’ appearing. Jesus later warned Israel to be ready (Matthew 24:44) and told a parable to that effect (Matthew 25:1-13). It was biblical prophecy, taken literally and believed, that prepared them and many others for their roles and service to Jesus Christ. We do a great disservice to Jesus if we do not do the same. If we don’t take God’s word literally and believe it, we will be unprepared for what is to come and unable to serve Him.

How we receive biblical prophecies will affect how we respond to personal situations and world events. Joseph of Arimathea was ready for the coming kingdom because he believed the prophecies concerning Messiah and Israel. His faith in God’s word led him to put his life on the line by presenting himself to Pilate asking for Jesus’ body. Faith in God’s word will always produce actions that demonstrate that faith (James 1:22; 2:14-26). James tells us that “faith” that fails to produce acts of faith is non-existent (2:20).

It seems reasonable that if we continue to read and believe God’s word and live our lives in accordance with it, then we will be prepared by the Holy Spirit for what is to come and for our role day by day. The Bible reveals that before Jesus returns to establish His earthly reign certain events must take place. If we don’t believe what God has given us in scripture, life will be like groping around in an unfamiliar room in total darkness. We will stumble and fall and this may lead to despair. However, if we believe the prophetic scriptures we will be prepared for those events prophesied by God through Jesus Christ and the prophets.

Throughout the New Testament we have testimonies that God’s faithful people expected the literal fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham. Examples of this include Mary (Luke 1:55) and Zacharias (Luke 1:72-73); and they are not alone in this.

Our View of God Challenged

“Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” Job 2:10

Job had lost all his possessions. His ten children had been murdered. While in this destitute state he also had his health taken from him. His view of God was challenged to its core even further when his wife abandoned any notion that God was good or loved him and told him to “curse God and die.”

It is not uncommon to hear unbelievers challenge the goodness and love of God by pointing to the many tragedies and the horrendous suffering occurring around the world. We are particularly challenged when it is close to home. The years of severe drought in vast areas of eastern Australia, bush fires and floods in other places have served to bring a lot of pain and suffering to many people. What is particularly overpowering in emotional pain is when crops are near harvest and they are wiped out by flood, fire or frost. Months of hard work, financial expense and high expectations wiped out in a moment. Christians who experience this would have a strong sense of how Job felt.

In such a situation our view of God is severely challenged. We may be inclined to doubt God’s goodness and His love in such times but the remedy and response is readily available when we reflect on the cross of Jesus. John wrote, “By this we know [God’s kind of] love, because He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16). Paul wrote, “God demonstrates His own [kind of] love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Job did not understand why he was enduring such pain and loss. His friends made matters even worse and more confusing. But even though he was at a loss as to why he was in this situation he was not at a loss as to the nature of God. “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22) and “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).

Paul wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” And, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:18, 28). God’s aim is to conform us to the image of His Son (v 29). What we experience is the expression of God’s goodness and love to achieve that end even though it may be painful at times.

Jesus Moved On

“They were astonished at His teaching, for He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes” Mark 1:22.

In the synagogue they were astonished with the manner of Jesus’ teaching for He spoke with authority and did not appeal to the writings of men. In this He was quite different to the scribes. The essence of Jesus’ preaching and teaching at this time is recorded in verse fifteen, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” That He had this authority is revealed in the rebuke of an unclean spirit (v 25), healing Peter’s mother-in-law (v 31), the many healed and demons cast out (v 34) and the healing of a leper (v 42). All these, and the many other miracles of Jesus, serve to reveal who He is.

At first the teaching got the attention of people but that was soon overridden by the miracles. Word quickly got around and Jesus was virtually mobbed, not for His teaching but for miracles (1:32; 3:7-12). For this reason Jesus departed. He is not a travelling circus. He has a message for people (v 15) and when people are distracted and not listening to the message, He moves on (v 35) to other places to preach His message (v 38). Even though there were many more sick people and demon possessed people, He moved on. The Gospel message is far more important than physical healing. He still moves on when our churches are distracted by clamouring for temporal miracles.

When Jesus healed the leper He asked him not to spread it around. The leper did not obey and soon Jesus was mobbed again (1:45). People mobbed Him not for the message but for healing. With the change of focus the message was lost so Jesus moved on.

There is a clamour for healing in many religious circles including many Christian churches today. When people are distracted by the potential for miracles they do not give attention to the Gospel message. Satan has been counterfeiting Christ and corrupting His message for two thousand years and isn’t about to give up this successful distraction and diversion (Mark 13:22; Matthew 7:22-23). We are all glad when God does heal someone or delivers a person from demonic influence or possession – but we must be careful that we don’t lose the message of the most important deliverance, “Repent and believe the gospel.” The miracle of new birth is the only one that matters (John 3:3; Ephesians 2:1, 8-10).

When He Comes

Jesus said to His disciples, “You shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Matthew 23:39

Jesus told His disciples on at least three occasions that He would die and rise again. He now says to them that this will be His last Passover with them until He returns. John also records Jesus telling His disciples that He is going away but that He would return for them (John 14:2-3). Now that His departure is imminent the disciples have a couple of questions for Him: When will He return and what sign will accompany His return?

Matthew 24 and 25 record Jesus’ response. He doesn’t give a date but He does describe conditions in Israel and the world more generally. The only date He relates is that which Daniel informs us is mid-tribulation (24:15 cf. Daniel 9:27).

The conditions during the first half of the tribulation are recorded in 24:5-8. They are similar to what we are experiencing now but during the tribulation they will be more intense and more frequent. It is possible that we are observing the prelude and build up to these conditions. Just as Noah warned people, we have God’s faithful messengers today warning people. Sadly most people reject the warning, as they did Noah’s warning, and carry on in ignorance (Matthew 24:37-44). Fortunately God is still rescuing people who will receive His word. They will be delivered just like Noah and his family.

At the mid-point of the tribulation the Antichrist will stand in the newly built temple in Jerusalem and declare himself to be the Christ (24:15). From that day Israel will suffer unprecedented persecution (24:16-21). The world will be at war and Jesus says that war would end in annihilation of all mankind if He did not intervene (24:22). In order for God to fulfil His covenant with Abraham and King David, Israel must survive. This is why Satan has repeatedly attempted to destroy Israel. This last attempt will also fail.

The only sign that will precede Christ’s return is given to us in 24:27 & 30. This will be at the end of the tribulation and reminds us of Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul saw his experience as foreshadowing Israel’s experience when Jesus returns to establish His kingdom in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 15:8).