That’s Ridiculous!

“If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy”

2 Kings 5:3

These few words from a young Jewish slave girl led to the salvation of a leprous commander of the Syrian army, Naaman. Eventually the leprosy would make it impossible for him to hold this position or he might be killed in battle.

The young girl’s words to her mistress were passed to her husband. Naaman then spoke to the king of Syria. Surprisingly each person along the line believed the words of a young slave girl. Perhaps we underestimate the power of a word spoken in or out of season. This girl apparently spoke out of compassion and may not have thought more would come of it.

It may be that we think evangelism means sharing the whole Gospel story at one time. If the opportunity affords that is great but such occasions may be rare. It may be that we sometimes say nothing because the circumstances don’t allow for a full explanation at that time. This young girl shows us that our part may be just a few words of hope at a time of perceived or real need.

Naaman was without hope regarding his leprosy. There was no known cure. He was a proud man so the Lord took him through steps that humbled him until he knew that the only God is the God of Israel (v 15). Sometimes a little nudge is all that is required to get the ball rolling. We may only have a moment to say one or two sentences but that may be enough.

These few words triggered a whole series of events that reveal so much about our God, about people and the way of salvation. Eventually, not without hesitation, Naaman humbled himself and obeyed the word of the Lord even though it seemed ridiculous in the extreme. When, in limited faith, he obeyed God’s word, God healed him. Then he glorified God.

Moses asked the people to look in faith at a serpent on a pole (Numbers 21) and Joshua asked the people to march a total of thirteen times around Jericho (Joshua 6). These also seemed ridiculous but God was, and always will be, faithful to His word.

We may make just a comment or two and then God will send it on its way. The present circumstances may stir some to seek the only effective remedy. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “Ask and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7).

Christ’s Patience

Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Luke 9:54

Jesus and His disciples had entered a Samaritan village but they were apparently refused hospitality. James and John were incensed that they and Jesus should be treated this way so they asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to destroy those people. They thought they knew Jesus but in fact they knew only their idea of Jesus. Jesus rebuked them quite strongly: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55-56).

We live in a world that has largely rejected Jesus Christ and governments that make decisions and pass laws that are contrary to God’s nature and will. Those who refuse to receive Jesus are becoming more hostile toward Him and His people with words and actions of hatred. The temptation for us is to think like James and John and want Jesus to bring down fire and judge the world now. It isn’t uncommon for an unbeliever to question God’s existence by asking why God doesn’t intervene. Of course God has and will intervene – but first He is saving all who want to be saved. John records, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). The next verse makes it clear that the world was already condemned (John 3:18).

Concerning the promise of the coming judgment in the Day of the Lord Peter writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The troubling times we are experiencing are the Lord’s provocation for people to seek Him. This is an opportunity for Christians to share the Gospel of Christ to more receptive hearts. Wickedness in the world should not provoke us to call down the fires of heavenly judgment but to show compassion. One of the symptoms that reveal that we have the same attitude as James and John is that we will cease sharing the Gospel and making disciples. Paul warned the Thessalonian Christians against this behaviour (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). For now we have an open door to make disciples of Jesus and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus gives us the assurance “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Take Comfort

“But of that day and hour no one knows … But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be”

Matthew 24:36, 37

Jesus wants His disciples to understand that there will be no warning of His Second Coming. People will be eating, getting married and all the things that people do when unaware of imminent judgment. When it comes it will be totally unexpected by the world’s population in spite of the warnings in God’s word. Those of us who have believed God’s warning and are prepared will not be here. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 that all believers will be caught up to be with Jesus in “the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). This will leave a confused and fearful world in which there are absolutely no believers.

For the second time in human history for a while there will be no believers on earth. The first time was after Adam sinned until he was restored by God. This removal of all believers is what Paul speaks of when he wrote, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Without the Holy Spirit’s presence in Christ’s church, corruption and wickedness will be unrestrained. Paul gives detailed descriptions of what that will be like in Romans 1:20-32 and 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Jesus gives the days of Noah as a partial description of those days. “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:6, 11). Believers are salt and light and by the Holy Spirit act as restrainers on the sinfulness of mankind.

Though we don’t know the day of our departure we do know that it is imminent. That is, it is the next thing to happen on God’s prophetic calendar and it will be without warning. In Paul’s description of that event in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 he says it should bring us comfort. We will only be comforted if we actually believe what Paul has written and our desire to be with Jesus is greater than our desire for this world. God told Abraham what He was about to do because Abraham took God at His word (Genesis 18:17). Those, and only those, who take God at His word will be comforted.

First and Last

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus”

Revelation 22:20

This is the last recorded prayer in the Bible. In difficult and stressful times we are inclined to desire His coming just to be away from our current circumstances but that is just one side of the coin. The other side is a desire to be with Jesus and His righteousness. He is coming to bring an end to sin and death and to take His own to be with Him forever. Just as He did in His first coming Jesus will do so at just the right time, not early and not late (Galatians 4:4-5). Our desire is for Jesus to reign in righteousness and peace but that will only happen when Jesus returns and establishes His earthly kingdom. Then the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). From the beginning it has been God’s desire to dwell with and in His creation. Our desire is to dwell with God just as it is His desire to dwell with us.

The above prayer, the last recorded, contrasts greatly with the first recorded prayer in the Bible: “So he [Adam] said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:10). Instead of desiring God’s presence Adam and Eve fled God’s presence. Disobedience will always do that. More than once I avoided my parents as long as I could because I had been disobedient to them. It is the nature of fallen man to not want to face his disobedience and guilt but to try to escape the presence of God. This is the exact opposite of what he should do. Jonah, one of the more notoriously rebellious men in the Bible also wanted to escape the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3, 10) but God kept after him.

Between the first recorded prayer (the desire to escape the presence of the Lord) and the last prayer recorded in the Bible (the desire for God’s presence to return) something of tremendous significance happened. That something was Jesus Christ’s first coming to save mankind from sin and death and to restore his proper relationship with God. At Easter we give time to remember and reflect on just how He accomplished that. Instead of fleeing His presence we should draw near to Him because His forgiveness is the only way of taking away our sin and restoring our relationship with God. The book of Revelation reveals that many would rather die than seek forgiveness. However, there will be many who seek and receive forgiveness through Christ.

Healing the Spiritually Deaf

“The day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night”

1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10

Thieves do not forewarn their intended victims because they know that if they do they can expect a reception that would prevent their objective. In the unlikely circumstance they did warn the intended victim and the warning went unheeded they might still be successful.

The Day of the Lord – Jesus’ Second Coming – is presented in the Bible as coming like a thief. That is, His coming will not be expected by mankind. It will be a surprise to most, but not all. Paul writes, “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4). At this point I believe Paul is directly addressing believing Jews in the Tribulation period that culminates in Jesus Christ’s return but it certainly has application to believers today.

Unlike an earthly thief, the Lord has given clues in the Bible as to the timing of His coming (e.g. Matthew 24:32-35). No exact time is given or even suggested but conditions in the world at that time are described and, while some have always been observed the confluence and intensity of all descriptions can be observed now.

Paul (1 Thessalonians 4:15) and Peter (2 Peter 3:11f) believed Christ’s coming could have been in their lifetime so how much more us today? Peter goes on to say that this prospect should affect our daily lives as we “look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). This will affect how we live.

Jesus (Matthew 24:43), Paul and Peter all attest that Jesus’ Second Coming will be unexpected by the general population but a few will be prepared (cf. Matthew 25:1-13). The difference is that some hear the warning and believe it. The problem in the world is that we have not heeded the Father’s admonition in Matthew 17:5, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” This is also a problem for the church as Jesus tells us in each of His letters to the seven churches recorded in Revelation 2 & 3, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” We don’t hear God speaking because we are not listening. We are not listening because we do not believe God has spoken. Only Jesus can cause the spiritually deaf to hear (Mark 7:31-37). Come to Him!

God With Us

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel.”

Matthew 1:23

It may be that I have shared something like this with you before but I cannot stop having joy in my heart over this name given to the Lord Jesus Christ. “Emmanuel” means God with us. The name Jesus which means that He takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) and Emmanuel has the promise of His permanent presence with us now by the Holy Spirit and forever by His physical presence.

On that first evening in the Garden of Eden God came down to meet with Adam and Eve. He had spoken to Adam earlier in the day and given the one restriction to his freedom but now He came to socialise with Adam and gave him the responsibility of naming all the animals and birds. As I read the Bible the theme of Emmanuel (God with us) is consistent and insistent. God wants to dwell with man who He created in His image (Genesis 1:27).

Sin had made that impossible but God had a perfect plan to make an end to sin. He would send His Son. In order to deal with mankind’s sin His Son would have to take on humanity. This was accomplished through His birth. Mary was the mother of His humanity and she is a physical descendant from King David. Jesus is the eternal Son who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-4).

Jesus’ presence on the earth was Emmanuel, God with us, but until the cross, empty tomb and resurrection it could never be as intimate as God intended. That is now possible and when He returns He will dwell with His creation forever.

There are many things people give as the reason for Christmas but the only real reason is, “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).

We do not worship a baby as the shepherds did nor a young child as the men from the east did. We worship the risen Saviour and as part of this we remember how He entered the world. In the process we do not forget why He “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He took on humanity in body to “take away the sin of the world.” The giving and receiving of gifts reminds us that God gave His Son in order that we might receive His Son as a gift with thanksgiving (John 1:12).

Testing Our Faith

“Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”

Matthew 8:26

Fear and anxiety are in direct opposition to faith in Jesus Christ. Oswald Chambers writes, “There are stages in life when there is no storm, no crisis, when we do our human best; it is when a crisis arises that we instantly reveal upon whom we rely.” When all is well we may think our faith is strong but then the Lord allows a test to come. Usually it will be unexpected and sudden. That is when we discover in what or whom we trust. Fear or anxiety may lead to panic and worry. Faith and trust in Jesus will keep us at peace through the test or trial even though it may mean a measure of suffering.

Jesus and His disciples had boarded a boat to travel across the sea. Having followed Jesus on to the boat the disciples would have felt safe and confident of reaching their destination. “And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves. But He was asleep” (v 24). The disciples had followed Jesus into the boat; He was with them in the boat but asleep and they panicked thinking they were going to die (v 25). This sudden and unexpected life-threatening experience tested their faith in Jesus and found it lacking. However, they still had a measure of faith on which they acted by going to Him.

When we are in a situation that has the potential to provoke panic through fear or anxiety we must immediately turn to Jesus. He is the only One who can truly deliver us. When He does, as He did the disciples, our faith will be rewarded by a stronger faith and peace in our heart. Notice that the whole experience caused the disciples to ponder more deeply who Jesus is. That is what such experiences are meant to do. It would be very sad if they turned us away from Jesus. During our lives there will frequently be times when our faith is tested. Sometimes it may seem that Jesus is asleep or not caring but nothing could be further from the truth. Had Jesus been awake the disciples may not have panicked but only been fearful. That Jesus may seem asleep or uncaring is itself a test of whether we believe what He has said. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 11:6). “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). When the test comes reach out to Jesus who alone can save and keep us. He rewards faith with more faith (Hebrews 11:6).

Thorny Days

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure”

2 Corinthians 12:7

The intent of this part of Paul’s letter is not given so that we can rack our brains trying to work out what his “thorn in the flesh” was. Let us take it in its context which clearly identifies it with the temptation to pride and God’s means by which he assured Paul remained humble. Paul had been privileged to see special visions and receive special revelation from the Lord which had the potential to provoke pride. In God’s wisdom and grace there was some temptation remaining to Paul that reminded him of his past life in opposition to Jesus Christ (Acts 9:5; 22:8; 26:15).

It may be that temptation to particular sinful thoughts and behaviour were brought to a sudden end at the time we came to faith or at some time later when we finally abandoned all to Jesus. For this grace we should be extremely grateful daily. However, it is possible that God does allow Satan to test us periodically in an area of sin that we would rather not still have. Like Paul, our requests to have the temptation removed seem to go unanswered (2 Corinthians 12:8). We can take encouragement from Paul’s experience and learn that this is God’s way of keeping us in the realm of humility and not being swallowed up in that powerful sin of pride.

We might ask how being tested can glorify God? Being tested is not a sin. Jesus was tested/tempted without sin (Matthew 4; Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). The Lord’s answer was given to Paul and he recorded it for our benefit: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (v 9). Paul acknowledges this by writing, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v 10). God’s grace is magnified in that though we are tempted, He gives grace and strength to resist yielding (1 Corinthians 10:13). In Romans 6 Paul gives an extended explanation. For our own benefit God may have chosen to allow a “thorn in the flesh” to remain for each of us. The purpose is clear – that we might remember where He brought us from and to keep us from being overcome with pride resulting from the glorious revelation He has given us and to keep us humbly walking with our God (Micah 6:8).

Fully Persuaded

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

Romans 8:35

It isn’t unusual for new believers and sometimes people who have been Christians for a long while to question their faith. There are a number of triggers that the accuser may use to set raise doubt in our minds. He is the accuser so when we stumble in our walk and sin he is quick to accuse us to our spirit, our conscience and to God with a view to creating doubt in our minds. He did that with Eve in the Garden of Eden; “Has God indeed said …” (Genesis 3:1) and has been at it ever since. Jesus gives us the correct response to this; “It is written …” (Matthew 4:1-11).

There will be occasions when we sense the biting accusations of Satan more acutely but God allows them for His purpose and our benefit. He may let us remember past sin to humble our hearts and remind us of His grace and forgiveness. That will produce a thankful and worshipful heart in one with a right spirit toward God. Quite likely we have all done something immensely foolish and/or sinful at some time, perhaps many times. The memory of these is intended to restore humility before God and a thankful heart. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We are as secure in Christ as Christ Himself is in God.

If Satan’s accusations bring doubt or a sense of failure then they are God’s means of bringing us back to that place of reaching out to Jesus. Peter was able to confidently step out of the boat and walk on water but when he was reminded of the circumstances around him he began to sink and would have drowned. He reached out to Jesus and Jesus was immediately there with a strong arm to lift him out and walk him to the boat.

When a Christian continues in doubt it likely means they have not really reached out to Jesus and trusted Him to deliver them. They may want Jesus to deliver them from the circumstances but He may wish to show His strength and faithfulness by delivering them through the circumstances. Paul is convinced that tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, poverty, peril and the sword cannot separate him or us from God’s love because we are in Christ (v 35). We share in the life of the Conqueror (v 36) and nothing above or beneath can separate us from the love of God (vs 38-39). We can have this same assurance if we will choose to believe what God has said in His word.

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.