Strange Ways

“Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar”

Acts 21:31

Jerusalem was in an uproar because Paul had been falsely accused, and the rumour spread, that he had taken a Gentile into the temple (v 28). The reason Paul was in the temple was that he had also been falsely accused of forsaking the teaching that came from God through Moses (v 21). He had taken the advice of others to give a demonstration that he had not forsaken Moses (vv 23-24). In an attempt to appease his accusers Paul found himself on the brink of bodily death. We might view this as a tragedy and an anxious moment but as we read on we see it is God’s way of gathering the Jerusalem crowd to hear Paul’s testimony. It isn’t the way we would choose and it is doubtful that Paul would choose this way either but God’s ways are far better and more effective than ours.

If “all Jerusalem was in an uproar” then a good proportion of the population had gathered. Paul could not have obtained such a large audience by any other way. Under threat of being beaten by the Romans (v 32) before he could speak to the Jerusalem crowd, Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship so as to come under that protection. This protection led to him being able to share his testimony with the crowd of Jews and Roman soldiers and later to King Agrippa and his household (chapter 26). Later still, this Roman protection led to Paul writing the letters we now have in our New Testament.

Before going to Jerusalem Paul had been warned several times that he would end up in bonds (chapter 21) but he was determined to go even if it meant his death. What appeared to be foolish on Paul’s part (ignoring the warnings) and what was very alarming (lies and rumor) and the despair that may have arisen at Paul’s imminent death could easily cause the faith of many to shake. What we discover is that this was God’s way of bringing Jerusalem together again, possibly for the last time, to see how they would respond to the risen Christ. There will be times that the way God chooses for us seems threatening, dangerous or counterproductive but if we go on in faith He will achieve the outcome He desires. Paul understood, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).

See the Nail Prints

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”

John 20:29

This statement came from Jesus in response to Thomas’ refusal to believe until he had touched the nail prints in Jesus’ hands. For his part, Thomas has been the brunt of many less than thoughtful comments and acquired the less than honourable title of “doubting Thomas.” We should note that Jesus had shown the nail prints in His hands to the other disciples a week earlier (v 20). Jesus knew that all the disciples needed to see the nail prints in His hands in order to believe that He had risen bodily from the dead and was not just spirit. So He showed them.

Remember that even with the report that Jesus was no longer in the tomb all the disciples went home (v 10). They weren’t expecting Him to appear. Two disciples on the road to Emmaus, presumably homeward bound, on that first Sunday had heard the report that “certain women”  had seen angels at the empty tomb and were told that Jesus had risen (Luke 24:22-23). They also knew that “certain of those who were with us,” most likely Peter and John, also saw the angels and the empty tomb (Luke 24:24) yet they were on their way home. Fortunately for them Jesus met them and revealed Himself thus turning them back in time to see the nail prints that first Sunday evening. Perhaps Thomas is singled out unfairly.

It is interesting to note that the first meetings after Jesus’ resurrection were held behind closed doors and at night time for fear of persecution (John 20:19, 26). Many Christians around the world meet under similar circumstances today.

Returning to Jesus’ statement (John 20:29), He says that those who believe without seeing Him in the flesh are more blessed that those who had seen Him those two evenings. Why did He say that? The answer lies in the fact that if we haven’t seen Jesus in the flesh then we must have seen Him in some other way. Jesus gives us a reasonable explanation in Matthew’s Gospel. In response to Jesus’ question to the disciples as to who they believed He is, Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (16:17). Those more blessed than those who saw and touched the nail prints in Jesus’ hands are those to whom the Father has revealed Jesus through the eye of faith.

Belief Without Faith

“But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him”

John 12:37

As we read the Gospel accounts it becomes obvious that miracles do not of themselves lead to repentance and faith. Jesus had said that “if they do not hear Moses and the prophets [i.e. the Scriptures], neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Miracles or signs often caused people to follow Jesus but not for Himself. Rather they followed Him for perceived temporal benefits such as food, health or wealth. After feeding the five thousand Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26). It appears that He means they didn’t even associate the sign as pointing to Him being the Messiah. Those who follow Jesus for temporal reasons will be disappointed because of unrealised expectations.

Following the lead text above we read, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him” (John 12:42). These rulers believed that Jesus did the miracles in the power of God but they still did not repent, believe Him to be the Messiah, or trust Him for salvation. “They did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43). Some today believe who Jesus is and what He has done, but still refuse to trust Him for forgiveness and submit to Him as Lord. A morally righteous life, family history, baptism, or membership of a church, as helpful as these may be, cannot save. They can be idols in the place of Jesus. These rulers of the synagogues valued their position among men greater than they valued their position before God. This is evidence of an unchanged heart. No amount of flattering words to Jesus, which they sometimes tried, could alter the fact that they have not grasped what He was saying and that the signs pointed to Him being Messiah. It is Jesus’ words that will judge them and us (John 12:48). This begs the question as to why so many professing Christians choose to bend and twist His words so that, like these rulers, they may retain their position, power and the praise of men. Jesus says, “Whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:50). Not to take His words in a normal literal sense makes a mockery of this and many other statements of Jesus.

Only Jesus Gives Understanding

“He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures”

Luke 24:45

Jesus had told His disciples on several occasions that He would die and rise again as the Scriptures foretold. How could the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, allow Himself to be crucified and die? They believed He was going to redeem Israel (v21). But because they did not take His words literally they were unprepared for what was to come.

Two of Jesus’ disciples were going home very disheartened because their expectations were not met. Their expectations were wrong because they had not listened to, believed and heeded Jesus’ words. Like these two, we may believe who Jesus is but, also like them, our expectations of what that means may be wrong such that we are disheartened. Being downhearted in our walk with Jesus will be because we have not really heard, believed and heeded what He has said.

These two disciples had heard the report of the women who saw the empty tomb and spoke with the angels (v22) yet they left in unbelief. They had heard the report of Peter and John (v24) yet they left in unbelief. Not surprisingly Jesus said they were foolish because they were slow in believing the Scriptures concerning Himself so He spent the rest of the trip explaining the Scriptures to them (v27) but still they didn’t understand. As He shared the Scriptures with them their hearts “burned” but not until Jesus revealed Himself to them and opened their understanding did they comprehend and believe (v31).

Only then were they ready to return to the other disciples and tell what Jesus had revealed to them. When they arrived they discovered that, since they had left, Jesus had appeared to Peter (v34). While they were sharing about their meeting with Jesus with the other disciples He appeared in their midst. But even with all the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection the disciples were terrified and doubted (vv37,38). Jesus reminded them of the things He had told them prior to His crucifixion and what was written in the Scriptures (v44) and then He opened their understanding so that they could understand the Scriptures (v45). Two things happened; Jesus revealed Himself and He explained the Scriptures. Many people read the Scriptures but it is as a story to them. Others read it and their hearts “burn” but only Jesus gives understanding.

The Book of Life

“Anyone not found in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire”

Revelation 20:15

This may seem an inconvenient truth to those not aspiring to have their names in the Book of Life. They may use any one of a variety of ways to quench their conscience and bring false hope to their hearts. Some remain indifferent and ignore their conscience. Others, who love sin, object by opposing anything godly. They will try and coerce others to agree with them in order to bolster their own confidence.

For those who believe the verse above, having their name in the Book of Life is of the highest priority, resting only when they are assured that their name is in that Book. There is but one way to accomplish this and that is God’s way.

John writes, “He who has the Son has life; and he who does not have the Son does not have life” (1 John 5:12). In his Gospel he writes, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:14). Having one’s name in the Book of Life is by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour – but how do we receive Him? The answer is in a number of places in the Bible. Paul writes, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, and not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He also writes, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

What is the gift of God? The most memorised verse in the Bible tells us that the gift of God is not a “what” but a “who”. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Jesus is the Gift of God which is why only those who have received Him by faith have eternal life (John 14:6), and therefore have their name in the Book of Life.

The reason Jesus is the only way is because He alone has dealt with our sin. He did that on the cross at Calvary and it is to Jesus we must come, humbly: confessing our sin of not believing and receiving Him. This will mean a total change in direction – from being indifferent or rejecting Him, to believing His word and receiving Him as Lord and Saviour. This is repentance. Our joy in life comes from confidence that our names are written in the Book of Life.

Various Trials

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials”

James 1:2

James is writing to Christians who are suffering “various trials.” He doesn’t identify what those trials may be because what he is about to write applies to all kinds of trials. If we want a list we could start with Hebrews 11 or 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 but there are many more examples in the Bible. We should expect to experience tests and trials throughout our lives. In school we had regular tests to prove we had learned something and were ready to move on to the next level. The same is true in our walk of faith. Our heavenly Father allows us to experience various trials so that we might know our progression of faith in Jesus and be ready to move on.

In this chapter James gives the reasons why we may pass or fall short in any trial or test. Those who come through successfully, as God considers success, do so because, at foundational level, they have a genuine love for Jesus (v 12). Those who fall short do so because they love themselves and sin more than they love Jesus (v 14).

The evidence of love for Jesus is in doing His word (v 22). A person may profess to love Jesus but their works will give evidence for or against this profession. Love for Jesus is evidenced by love for His people. 1 John has many confirmations of this truth such as “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren” (3:14) and he tells us what kind of love this is, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (v 16). Jesus said the key evidence that we are His disciples is the expression of God’s kind of love for one another (John 13:35).

How we treat other Christians is how we treat Jesus. Saul persecuted Christians but Jesus said he was persecuting Him (Acts 9:4). Peter says that lying to Christians is lying to God (Acts 5:4). Jesus says that how we are treating His people is how we are treating Him (Matthew 25:31-46). In Hebrews 10:24-25 He says that our reason for meeting together is love expressed through serving one another, mutual encouragement and edification. If we forsake meeting together it is an indication we don’t meet with Him either.

It is sobering to realise that how I am treating my fellow Christians is how I treat Jesus – but He says it is so.

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).