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.

Nothing to Offer

“This Man has done nothing wrong”

Luke 23:41

Jesus was crucified between two criminals and by the admission of one of them, they deserved to be there (v 41). Matthew records that both criminals joined with the passersby to mock and ridicule Jesus (Matthew 27:44) but one of them had second thoughts about who Jesus is after he heard Jesus say “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Both criminals would have heard this statement and recognised that Jesus was claiming deity by calling God His Father. Both heard Him pray for forgiveness for the very people who were mocking and crucifying Him. They did not feel that kind of compassion.

Matthew, Mark and John all record the notice on Jesus’ cross stating that He is Israel’s King. One of the criminals mocked Jesus’ claims to be Israel’s King and deity to by asking, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us” (Luke 23:39). He understood the claims of both the notice on the cross and Jesus’ prayer to the Father. Sad to say, it appears his last words before he died were to mock Jesus.

The other criminal began to think more closely about Jesus. Was it possible that Jesus really is the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah? In the most dire of circumstances he came to the realisation that Jesus is the Son of God and the promised King who would sit on the throne of David forever. Because of Jesus’ words to the Father he also knew he could be forgiven.

Significantly he called Jesus by the name “Jesus” which means Saviour. He understood that Jesus’ death on the cross would not be the end. He believed in resurrection and that Jesus is Israel’s King. He asked, “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom” (v 42). He was immediately told that he would be with Jesus in “paradise” that very day. He had absolutely nothing to offer but himself on a cross condemned and about to die. He had no good works, no church membership, not even baptism but he received the Gift of God (John 1:12). He had fulfilled his part for salvation. He had acknowledged his sinfulness and hopeless situation; he had acknowledged who Jesus is and what He was doing and he appealed to Jesus for the forgiveness Jesus had just offered to those who were mocking and crucifying Him. Jesus then did His part and ever since that day this former convicted criminal has been with Jesus.

Watch and Pray

 “Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them”

Mark 14:10

In this chapter we read that Jesus prayed, Judas betrayed and the disciples slept. Was that situation any different to that which often happens today?

We read in Romans 8:34, “Christ who died, and furthermore is risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” In Hebrews 7:25 we read, “Therefore He [Jesus] is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus intercedes on behalf of His people. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us as well.

Judas, one of the twelve, betrayed Jesus to those who wanted Him crucified. In the professing church there have always been wolves in sheep’s clothing teaching false doctrines. As such they betray Jesus. Just as Judas was never saved (Mark 14:21) neither are false teachers who deny Christ and would crucify Him again if they could. Since they cannot, they are trying to put to death faithful and true believers so they can continue in fleecing the flock, as Judas did (John 12:6).  Paul warns Timothy of such people: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). Jesus also warned of the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:6, 12). We see that there are the “Judas’” who are betraying Jesus today by denying His words for personal gain.

The disciples slept while Jesus prayed and while Judas was betraying Him. A large part of the reason that the betrayal of Jesus by the unbelieving professing church has been successful is because the true church of born again believers has largely been asleep. By God’s grace there remains a faithful remnant who cling to Him and His word and are not deceived.

False teachers abound as Jesus said they would. Speaking of the Tribulation time He says, “For false Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24; cf. vs. 5 & 11) Jesus prayed, Judas betrayed and the disciples slept. His words to His disciples were, “Watch and pray” (Mark 9:38).

With All Your Mind

“The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.”

1 Timothy 4:1, 2

None of us like to hear that someone we love and care for has taken on board teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ that we know is false. We like it even less when that person is someone we have prayed for and shared the truth with. However, denying that they are deceived doesn’t help. It is the truth that sets people free, not lies.

We live in a world that gives false hope. Many churches that claim to be “Christian” also give false hope. The doctrines (teaching) they give is contrary to truth and no matter how moral an organisation may be, if it teaches contrary to the Bible then it is leading people into hell.

We would do well to heed Paul’s warning. Hiding our heads in the sand will not help. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy was to give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (4:13). The Bereans were commended for doing just this so as to protect themselves from erroneous teaching.

In the past few decades, in churches, there appears to have been a move away from absolute truth in favour of appeasing the ideologically perverse world or having a good feeling in “worship.” For many, worship has become an experience in which the truth of the Bible is inconvenient. The cry in many churches has been to cut back on teaching the Bible and have more bland songs that touch the emotions and not the intellect or mind. Jesus said we are to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Worship without sound teaching is not worship and it must involve the mind. Jesus said that we are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37, Luke 10:27, Mark 12:30) One of the saddest things is to see someone we care for reject the true Gospel and accept the lie. The best thing we can do for them is to cling to the truth, not water it down or compromise it. Love and truth go hand in hand and are inseparable just as worship and sound teaching go hand in hand and are inseparable. These are foundational aspects of the Divine Nature of our God and essential for our fellowship with Him (1 John 1:3).

Evaluating your Soul

“What will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Matthew 16:26

This is the one of the questions being asked of people throughout the ages. For the most part people put the question out of their minds thinking perhaps that they will worry about it at another time or that it doesn’t matter. By His words and actions Jesus always provoked people to consider eternity and the question as to who He is. He even asked His disciples who they believed Him to be just before making the above statement (16:15).

What could be of such value that it was of more value than our eternal soul? Jesus gives two possible answers in Matthew chapter nineteen.

A wealthy young man in a place of authority came to Jesus and asked Him what he needed to do to obtain eternal life (Matthew 19:16). He wanted to exchange something for eternal life. He claimed to have kept all the commandments that relate to human relationships (v 20) but then Jesus asked him to abide by the commandments that relate to his relationship with God. To obtain eternal life the young man would need to forsake all that he currently valued, earthly treasure, and follow Jesus, heavenly treasure.

At the time the young man regarded his temporal wealth and position of more value than his relationship with God (v 22). Though he wanted eternal life he was not willing to exchange his wealth for it. There are many who want heaven but not Jesus and neither will they surrender control of their lives and possessions to Jesus. Jesus gave His life for us. Can we give less to Him (Romans 12:1-2)? Others may not wish to exchange human relationships for their soul. I have heard people say they would rather be in hell with friends than in heaven with Jesus. They have no idea of the enormity of what they are saying. There is nothing wrong with love for family and a desire to be with them. We should be very thankful when that is possible; but will we give family priority ahead of Jesus? He says, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms [employment] for My names sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life” (19:29). Anything we put ahead of Jesus is an idol which will control our life. We must exchange that idol for Jesus in order to obtain eternal life. Eternal life is only found in Him (1 John 5:11-12).