Psalm 27:1,5-13 God is Always There for Us

“David, your mom is waiting for you.”

David was startled at the sound of his teacher Gloria’s voice “Where?”

“At the playground,” she answered kindly.

David hurried down the stairs that led up to the home he had known for almost a whole year. He was one of thirty children who lived in the home that served as a refuge for children who needed protection.

He looked around. Nearby on a bench, watching a toddler play, was a young woman, who was apparently expecting another child soon.

“Mom!” David ran to her and gave her a big hug.

She hugged him tightly. “David, you’ve grown so much. Tell me what you’ve been doing. What have you been learning at school? Are you happy here?”

David started talking and smiling, telling his mom about his classes, his friends, and the fun activities he got to do with his foster family. He played with his little brother and held him. But, after a while, his mom got up, put her bag on her shoulder, and took the toddler’s hand. “It’s time for me to go,” she said.

Pain struck through David’s heart. He threw his arms around her. “When can I go back with you?” he asked, fighting tears.

David’s mother had a sad look on her face. It was too hard to explain her situation to her little boy. That the safest place for him was there. That she needed a safe place too.

As the door closed behind her, David turned and ran. Gloria found him behind one of the slides.

“David,” she said gently, “it’s not that your mom doesn’t love you. But she needs help too and can’t take care of you in the way she wants to right now. But you’ve been learning about a strong Father who is always there for His children. He’s with you, even if others can’t be. Who is that?”

“God,” David answered, looking up through his tears.

“That’s right. God is our refuge–our place of help and comfort. Jesus understands the hurt you’re feeling because He experienced the pain of our broken world too when He came to save us. Would you like us to pray to Him right now?”

David nodded. “Yes. And let’s pray that He will help my mom too.”

Psalm 27 reminds us that in times of joy or in days of distress, when we look for God, we will find Him when we remember what He has done for us in the past. We also find Him when we turn to the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus assures us that God has not forgotten us. God has said, “Seek my face,” and He is waiting to be found because, in Christ, He first sought and found us.

In verses 5-6, we see how David dealt with his fear and trouble; he looked to his confidence and his salvation-God. When believers encounter trouble and put worshipping God as the centre of their lives, He lifts their heads and hearts. Seeing the greatness of Almighty God changes one’s perspective on trouble.

When David prayed in his times of trouble, he realized how dependent he was on God’s provision. In humble submission, he sought the Lord’s presence, counsel, and fellowship, and then resolved to wait for and do whatever God told him to do.

In calling God by name, as David does, we enter into a direct relationship with God. David asked God not to reject him and not to be angry. David also reminded God of His goodness in the past. David did not want to be abandoned by God. In ancient Israel, abandonment by family was a death experience.

David mentioned “a time of trouble” in verse 5 and of his head being lifted above his enemies in verse 6. His prayer for God not to abandon him is also related to God’s using his enemies as instruments of judgment. David prays for God’s path and direction to be made clear. To be led in that way means to be taught by the Lord and to be guided on a smooth path through our enemies. David’s actions exposed the deception in the attacks from his enemies. If God delivered David to his enemies, that would be improper judgment upon David.

Even though the people closest to David might abandon him, the Lord would always be concerned about and care for him. Similarly, even if the people closest to us might abandon us, God will always be concerned for us. He will always care for us, and He will never abandon us.

The most serious illness today is not COVID-19 or other respiratory diseases. It is the loss of hope. With the exception of pockets of Christians there is an atmosphere of gloom in the air. We, like David, need a renewal of faith so that we may see God’s goodness, His kingdom in our day, in the land of the living.

The primary way God guides us is by reminding us of what we have read in the Bible. That’s why we read the Bible. We store its words in our minds, and the Holy Spirit helps us remember. He also guides us by giving us impressions and ideas. When we respond to impressions and ideas, He will fill in the details.

God wants to bless us, even when we face hardships. We can be confident that we will see God’s goodness in our lives here on earth. Our outcomes may not always be what we want them to be, but we can always expect God’s favour to find us because the Lord of Creation lives inside of us and His essence is love itself.

If we tear open a cocoon to set a butterfly free, the creature’s wings will be severely underdeveloped. This is because the very act of struggling to leave the cocoon strengthens the butterfly’s wings, preparing it for flight. We also have times of transition and change, but our remedy is similar to that of the butterfly. If we try to escape from God’s cocoon before He’s done transforming us, we risk undermining and delaying what He is trying to do. When we are in God’s cocoon, all we have to do is relax! In the stillness, we hear God. In the waiting, our characters are formed. If we wait upon God and allow Him to release us from the cocoon, we will be strong and prepared to fly in ways we never could have if we had left the cocoon too soon.

Fear is a powerful emotion that can take our attention off of God—if we allow it. Psalm 27 will help us overcome fear if fear has become part of our daily lives. In the words of former United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” David was able to stand firm even though he experienced some difficult and scary circumstances. Instead of giving in to fearful thoughts and feelings, he claimed God as his light, salvation, and stronghold.

When God gives us His Light, we don’t have to be afraid of the dark. We don’t need to fear the power of our enemies when we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. We can expect and trust to receive God’s help and salvation right now, in the heat of the battle with our enemies. We need to live with the same attitude David had. God directed David’s steps, and He can direct our steps. God brought the right people across David’s path when David was in trouble, and God can bring the right people across our paths when we face life’s challenges. 

Certain situations use up all of the emotional, physical, and spiritual strength we have. When we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, we can carry it on our own or we can look to God. Our burdens are light to Him. As we meditate on His promises when we face the storms of life, and listen for His guidance, He will remind us that our situation is not the end of the story. He is the God of possibilities and hope. He gives us a bright future.

We should never be downcast or sad. Christ has achieved victory over evil, our misses, and death. Our days of turmoil and our days of joy will mix and mingle with one another and add up to a lifetime. If they are lived well, they will look like Jesus.

A man was bored in retirement, so he became a Wal-Mart greeter. The customers loved his cheerful and engaging personality, but there was a problem. He was always late for work, so the manager called him into his office. He said, “Without question you are one of our best greeters, but you are always late. I know your career was in the military. What did they say when you showed up late?” The man replied, “Well, they usually said, ‘Good morning General. May I bring you a cup of coffee?’”

Do you ever think God is late? Do you ever wonder if He will show up to help you? The truth is that God’s timing is always perfect. Our waiting on Him deepens our closeness to Him. God will always show up in the nick of time, and He is always worth the wait.

Are there times when you feel alone? Have you been disappointed by people you expected to be there when you needed help or love? Even the people who love us the most aren’t able to give us all we need. People will fail because people are imperfect and we live in a broken world. But our heavenly Father will never fail us. He gave us His Son, Jesus, who is with us no matter what. His love never fails.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 723-724)
  2. Williams, D., & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 13: Psalms 1-72 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1986)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2006)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Joel Osteen, “It’s in His Hands.” Retrieved from www.goto.joelosteen.com
  6. Charles R. Swindoll, “Frozen by Fear.” Retrieved from info@insightforliving.ca
  7. Paris Renae, “Why.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Dr. Ed Young, “God is Never Late.” Retrieved from ministry@winningwalk.org\
  9.  Pastor Rick Warren, “Two Ways the Holy Spirit Guides You.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Steve Arterburn, “Time in the Cocoon.” Retrieved form Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Dr. David Jeremiah, “The Weight of the World.” Retrieved from turningpoint@davidjeremiah.org
  12. Rachel Avallone, “David’s Refuge.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org

Hebrews 7:23-8:7 Priesthood and the Old and New Testaments

In the passage we heard from Hebrews, the writer is explaining Jesus’ death on the cross in terms the Jews could understand. The writer talks about the fourth and final qualification of the high priest in the Temple-purity. Before the high priest could offer sacrifices for the sins of the people, he had to offer sacrifices for his own sins and those of his household. The writer emphasizes that Christ is superior to earthly high priests. Sacrifices were offered all the time because the people sinned all of the time. They needed a perfect priest and sacrifice to provide access to God permanently. Jesus is that permanent and perpetual priest.

Christ as the great High Priest had no need to offer a sacrifice for Himself because He is sinless. Because the eternal, unchanging Christ is the High Priest of every believer, He is able to shepherd God’s people all the way home to glory. No other priest will ever be necessary.

The Levitical high priests kept changing for two reasons. In the Levitical system, a priest could serve only between the ages of 25 and 50 according to Numbers 8:24-25. Also, the high priests died. Jesus the High Priest will never be replaced and will never die. The earthly high priests had to be without physical blemishes. They could not be lame, blind, mutilated in their faces, or have a limb too long. They could not have an injured foot or hand. They could not be a hunchback or a dwarf. No mention was made of the moral or spiritual requirements for priesthood.

Purity means cleansed and set apart for a holy use by God. Purity also involves moral purity-the primary moral quality of a person or thing which itself is pure without cleansing. One who has a pure moral quality is utterly pure in God’s eyes and will not yield to temptation. The one who does not yield to temptation is the one who knows its full power. That describes Jesus.

Jesus did not know any evil intentions. He had no false motivations. He spoke simple truths. He healed the sick and was good to all people. He was so filled with love that His reaction to injury was love. When He was on the cross, He prayed for the soldiers who were crucifying Him: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” He knows how to minister to us in the way that will most benefit us and that will best bring us to maturity in Him. He makes no mistakes and always has our best interests at heart. Because of the covenant God has made with us, we have been freed from anything the devil would try to use to keep us bound by sin. Jesus became a Man to represent us in the presence of God and to pay the price for our sin so we wouldn’t have to.

Verses 26-28 summarize everything the writer has said about Jesus as High Priest since Hebrews 5:1:

  1. He is holy, always doing what pleases God.
  2. He is innocent and blameless.
  3. He is undefiled-morally unstained.
  4. He is higher than the heavens, seated at the right hand of God.

His everlasting perfection in all these ways makes Him a fitting mediator for us. In fact, He is presently seated at God’s right hand in heaven. He intercedes with God on our behalf.

Jesus’ priesthood is superior to the Old Testament priesthood in that:

  1. He did not have to offer a sacrifice for Himself, because He was sinless.
  2. He offered up a once-for-all sacrifice-Himself.
  3. His priesthood is for both Jews and Gentiles. It is for every nation, every people…anyone who will accept the free gift of salvation by placing their faith in Jesus.

Verse 28 provides a final contrast between Jesus and the Old Testament priests. The Old Testament priests were sinful, weak humans who were appointed by the Old Testament law. Jesus, the perfect Son, was appointed an eternal High Priest. Jesus, the Great High Priest, has gained victory over sin and death for His people and intercedes before the Father on their behalf.

The word “true” is not used in Hebrews 8:1-6 in contrast to something false. Instead, it means “original,” in contrast to something that is a copy. Moses’ tabernacle was just a copy of the true tabernacle in heaven. Jesus Christ is the true High Priest who ministers in the true, heavenly sanctuary. Likewise, according to theologian William Barclay, “Earthly worship is a remote reflection of real worship; the earthly priesthood is an inadequate shadow of the real priesthood.”

The Old Testament covenant depended on words from God written in stone. Because no one could keep the Old Covenant due to human sinfulness, it was condemning. The Mosaic Covenant, the covenant of the law, was conditional: “If you will…then I will…” It consisted of commandments that revealed God’s righteous will, judgments that regulated the social life of Israel, and ordinances that laid out the requirements of Israel’s religious life. Jesus’ death and resurrection led to a new covenant in which God writes His thoughts upon the hearts of His redeemed children through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Under the old covenant, God gave specific instructions that regulated the sacrifices that were made and to whom they were to be given. In the new covenant, God has given His people instructions about how to give in response to Christ’s sacrifice. We are imperfect and He gives us perfection. We are to blame forz our sin, but He presents us blameless. He changes us to the degree that we’re no longer sinners saved by grace. In Christ, we’ve become saints who sometimes sin.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1752-1753)
  2. Evans, L.H. Jr., and Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 33: Hebrews (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 121-124,142-145)
  3. Stanly, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers: 2006)
  5. John MacArthur, “Jesus: Our Great High Priest.” Retrieved from internetministry@gty.org
  6. Bayless Conley, “For All People.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Vikki Burke, “You Have a Covenant With God.” Retrieved form dbm@dennisburkeministries.org
  8. “Once For All-the Template for Christian Stewardship.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Pete Briscoe, “Experiencing LIFE Today.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com

Ephesians 4:17-32 Forgiveness is Part of God’s Truth

“Mom, what are we having for dinner?” Clara tapped her pencil against the table.

.

Mom turned around from stirring the big pot on the stove. “Venison and veggie stew. Do you need any help with your homework?”

“I can’t focus,” Clara said with a groan. She scowled. “I keep thinking about what Emerson said to me.”

Mom sighed and headed over to the table. “Clara, your brother apologized and received a punishment–days ago. Why are you stewing over this?”

“Huh? Stewing?” asked Clara. “We haven’t even eaten the stew!”

Mom laughed. “No, it’s a homonym. Like what you’re working on in school.” She tapped Clara’s paper. “Like a dog’s bark and a tree’s bark? Stew has more than one meaning. Sometimes, it can mean you’re thinking about something with agitation or resentment–you’re dwelling on it.”

“Kind of like our food stew has been in the pot for hours?” asked Clara. “And I’ve been dwelling on what Emerson said for days?”

Mom nodded. “Here’s a question for you, Clara. What has your stewing done for you?”

“I guess it’s made me more upset…and a little distracted,” Clara admitted thoughtfully.

“When we choose to focus on forgiveness and allow God to be the Judge, it softens our hearts and gives us freedom.” Mom drew a heart on Clara’s paper.

“Even if the person who did something wrong doesn’t deserve it?” Clara asked.

Mom looked into Clara’s eyes. “We didn’t deserve Jesus’s forgiveness, and yet He died on the cross for us. When I start dwelling on what someone did, I talk with Jesus and think about what He did for us. I remember the kindness and compassion He has for me and the person who hurt me. And that allows me to forgive.”

Clara sighed. “It’s hard sometimes, but you’re right. I’m making ‘ew stew’ in my mind and heart, and I would rather be brewing something yummy.”

“Like coffee?” Mom winked.

“Oooh, yes, with extra sweet creamer!” Clara giggled. “Kindness and forgiveness coffee.”

Mom handed Clara an empty coffee cup. “Yum! I’ll take some of that, please!”

A sense of urgency marks Ephesians 4:17-32. Like most ancient cities, Ephesus was morally corrupt, and Paul wanted these believers to understand that Christianity requires a revolutionary change in their lives.  Christians can no longer live as they once lived; God calls them to a new and righteous lifestyle.

The church has placed less emphasis on the “do’s” and “don’t’s” of Christianity. Social sins have screamed so loudly in their impact on humanity that the church has had to confess its sin of uninvolvement, insensitivity, and apathy. The church has invested its energy in social concern and change. This can never leave out personal morality. The time has come to multiply places of sharing where struggle and contemplations are closely related to daily living.

In verses 17-19, the term “Gentiles” means people who actively reject the knowledge of God, not Gentile believers. Such people may consider themselves enlightened, and they may even be quite intelligent, but their separation from God makes their thinking unproductive and blind. Their lack of spiritual understanding makes them callous about morality and leads to sinful behaviour such as lewdness and greed. Their hearts were hardened, and they gave themselves to “lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” Paul says that we as believers have been delivered from this.

If we continue to deny the truth of God’s Word, our understanding is darkened. The more we deny truth, the less capable we become in understanding and appreciating truth. Every time we surrender to temptation our hearts harden their sensitivity and narrow the range of future choices. When we reject God’s Word we become alienated from Him, and we destroy the source of mental, moral, and spiritual health. We don’t ask ultimate questions, and we develop a lack of concern.

Paul said that believers “should put off…the old man,” rejecting that former way of life and its corruption. We have to make a conscious, moment-by-moment choice to depend on the Holy Spirit’s power to change us into the likeness of Christ.  Those who trust in Christ have been given a new position in His new creation, but they must daily choose to live His way. Believers can and should participate in the process of putting off the old man and putting on the new man, but ultimately the process and outcome belong to God. He is the one who changes people. Every believer can be assisted in the all-important work of being renewed in his or her mind.

A Christian’s uniqueness in the world should be apparent in his or her morality, mood, money, mouth, and manners. To avoid sinning in the heat of anger, God’s people should not nurse, rehearse, discuss, or project their anger onto others. Instead, they should control their anger and deal with it quickly to prevent the enemy from gaining any ground in their hearts. Paul also calls us to honest labour as a sign of the newness of life. This honest labour is to be used to create something that can be given to someone who is needy. We are also to be kind to each other.

Verses 17-28 explain how Christians should walk; verse 29 offers helpful advice on how Christians should talk. They need to choose words that encourage, exhort, and impart grace to others. When Paul cautions against corrupt words, he uses a Greek term that describes the decaying body of an animal. Such conversation is deadly enough among unbelievers and should never be heard among God’s people.

God’s example is the model for how we forgive others. Forgiving others is not about a feeling. It’s about a promise and obedience. When we forgive someone, we make a three-point promise:

  1. We will not bring the matter up with that person again.
  2. We will not bring the matter up with anyone else.
  3. We will not bring the matter back up to ourselves.

One scholar wrote, “Of all deeds, words are the most revealing, the most instantly available, the most freighted with personal significance.” In Hebrew, thought, word, and deed are not distinct from one another. To say something was to do something.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer discovered the truth of this saying, and he witnessed to it in the Flossenberg Prison, where he was condemned to die during Word War II for opposing Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party. He walked the narrow corridors visiting prisoners and encouraging them. He laughed and joked with them, reminisced with them, and prayed with them. His words were his main means of ministry, but his words were deeds. He wrote, “God has put His Word into our mouths in order that it may be communicated to others. The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs that friend again and again and again.”

Have you ever had a hard time forgiving someone? When we find ourselves in this situation, we can remember the forgiveness God shows us through His Son, Jesus. Forgiveness means releasing your desire for revenge and giving it over to Jesus, the good Judge who will one day take care of every wrong. If you have asked Him to be your Savior, you have His power to help you forgive.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1645)
  2. Dunnam, M.D., & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 206-215)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Dr. Paul Chappell, “New Clothes.” Retrieved from daily@dailyintheword.org
  6. Allister Begg, “The Reason We Forgive.” Retrieved from newsletters@truthforlife.org
  7. “Ew Stew.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org

Isaiah 2:1-5 Hope for the Future

A retired priest once told me that the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in the New Testament, and the reading we heard from Isaiah 2 is a good example. Isaiah talks about the coming of the Lord, which was fulfilled when Christ came to earth on the first Christmas over 2,000 years ago.

Isaiah had a vision for Jerusalem and the nation. He called for a spiritual renewal and a re-commitment to the covenant and trust in God. Isaiah saw Jerusalem and the Temple as potential beacons for all the nations. He called the people to be faithful to God, to put aside plans for a military solution to their problems and instead seek peaceful ways.

God had a vision for His world that was fulfilled when Christ came. The phrase “in the latter days” refers to a time in the future when God would visit the earth to bring judgment and salvation. From the perspective of the New Testament, this takes place at the second coming of Christ. This will mean salvation and blessing not only for Israel but for people from all the nations who will learn God’s ways and worship Him.

Does God have that same purpose for His world today? Are we as members of the contemporary church to teach the spirit of righteousness and show justice? We don’t have a choice between one ministry or the other. Our primary tasks are conversion and conscience. Jerusalem served as the centrepiece of Isaiah’s prophecy in Old Testament times, and we are called on to be the agents of God’s truth for our world.

 In front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City there is a sculpture of a man beating a sword into a plow point. Under it there is an inscription from Isaiah 2:4: “…..they shall beat their swords into plowshares…” The United Nations is a secular embodiment of the vision God gave to Isaiah. The United Nations and its predecessor the League of Nations were formed with high hopes that they would provide a forum for nations to work out their differences in a rational manner and usher in the vaunted day of world peace. The usefulness of the United Nations cannot be argued, but we are still light years away from a world where humanity lives in harmony.

While the vision of Isaiah and the framers of the United Nations is similar, the source of the vision is very different. People who put their faith in the United Nations as the means to that peaceable kingdom are placing their trust in human rationality and good will. This will meet with disappointment because it has underestimated the depths of human selfishness. For Isaiah and for people of faith, the peaceable kingdom is an act of God which God will create in His own time and in His own way. This kingdom will not be achieved until all people submit to God’s lordship.

Isaiah’s vision of peace is linked to the concept of God as Judge. Isaiah 2:4 states that God will judge between nations. There is a lesson for us here. Conflict results when we insist on judging things from our narrow, human perspective, but peace and harmony come from God and His point of view.

What would happen if the spirit and the law of God were in practice today? In the religious wars of the world, God would make judgments against aggressors and rebuke both sides for fighting in His name. He recommended three policies for world peace:

  1. Economically the nations of the world must change military spending into peaceful production in order to stimulate growth and serve the people.
  2. Politically, a peace pact needs to be signed that will stop the fighting.
  3. Militarily, the training for war must cease.

When Christ returns and sits on His throne in Jerusalem, the world will enjoy uninterrupted peaceful conditions. Warfare will continue to characterize human history until Christ returns. When we learn God’s ways we unlearn the ways of war. When we walk in God’s light, we leave behind the dark and evil places where lives and civilizations are snuffed out by war and violence. Who among us hasn’t wished and hoped deeply for peace in the midst of conflict, fighting, and war, especially with the war in Ukraine? The challenge of the future is that it is a dream. Too often peace seems to be a dream.

The reason we will turn the weapons of warfare into the tools of cultivation and agriculture is not just because we won’t need them to fight anymore. It will also be because we will  catch the wave of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We will be eager to get at the holy and divine work of growing things to feed all creatures and all people at the never-ending Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

God’s ideal for His house is that it will be “the light of the world, school of the nations, temple of the earth, seat of judgment, throne of God, and symbol of peace.” All of Isaiah’s prophecies and God’s promises are aimed at a glorious future. Isaiah’s vision points to the promise that God’s Law will one day bring the same sense of identity, stability, and moral purpose to all the world. There will come a time when all the nations and peoples will be the beneficiaries of God’s good rules that structure life so that all human beings flourish. Because God will reign and justice will come from observing the Law’s fair rules, there will be no need to fight. People will live together in peace all over the world. Isaiah gives us no timetable for this, and Jesus warns that the day of fulfillment is known to God alone, but the promise is true and the hope is real.

Isaiah’s prophecy gives us hope. We live by faith because we lean into a vision that is yet to come. We embrace God’s truth and walk in God’s ways. We believe that the day will come when Isaiah’s vision of universal peace, of the lion laying down with the lamb, will be our reality. In the meantime, we wait and watch for it, we work for it, we claim it as God’s vision for us and for all creation, and we allow this vision to give purpose and direction to our lives. When we walk in the light of the Lord we give peace a chance to happen in our lives and the lives of those around us.

Isaiah’s vision can spur people to make the vision true in their own lives and to work to see it come true in the surrounding community. It should stir us to put aside violent and aggressive ways with which we try to force our will on others; to urge us to turn the weapons of war into instruments of peace.  

Since the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, people and nations have been streaming into God’s kingdom. Jesus’ followers have gone out to spread the good news to the ends of the earth, as Jesus commanded us to do in Acts 1:8. When He returns, the words of Revelation 21:24 will come true: “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.” There will be peace in God’s kingdom.

Advent is a season of preparation, so how can we prepare for Christ’s Second Coming? We can “beat our swords into plowshares” by:

  1. Removing violent words and expressions from our speech.
  2. Not watching violent movies or TV shows or playing war-like video games.
  3. Praying for peace in other parts of the world and in our own communities.
  4. Reaching out to be reconciled with those with whom we have been in conflict.
  5. Encouraging our children to be more peaceful in language, games and behaviour with other children
  6. Praying for wisdom to see where in our personal and business lives we need to beat our swords into plowshares.
  7. Supporting individuals and groups working for reconciliation to conflicts.

So how are we to respond to Isaiah’s prophecy? The key is in Isaiah’s invitation to “come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.” We will see in God’s teaching the transforming spirit of righteousness and the wise law of justice change us and our world. We will be in the world’s foremost classroom because we will be seated at God’s feet. He teaches us His ways, so that we can walk in His paths. If we try to go it alone in our faith, we will never grow as God wants us to.

Isaiah invites us to acknowledge the darkness of our personal lives. Isaiah’s prophecy encourages us to turn to God for forgiveness and healing. We will have to “climb the Lord’s mountain”, and that is not an easy task. In fact, we can’t do this on our own. Only with God’s help can we accomplish His call to live in peace with one another. Peace can only happen when we turn to God for instruction, live under God’s judgment and respond to His arbitration.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David, The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 882)
  2. McKenna, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 17: Isaiah 1-39 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1993, pp. 68-71)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Br. David Vryhof, “God’s Promise of Universal Peace.” Retrieved from www.ssje.org
  6. The Rev. Dr. Charles Qualls, “Let Us Go Up to the Mountain of the Lord!” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  7. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 1st Sunday of Advent, -A-, December 1, 2019.” Retrieved from firstimpressions@lists.opsouth.org
  8. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 1st Sunday of Advent, -A-.” Retrieved from firstimpressions@lists.opsouth.org
  9. Anderson, Russell: Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Series V, Cycle A (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Company; 1995; pp. 17-21)
  10. Scott Hoezee, “Isaiah 2:1-5 Commentary.” Retrieved from https://cepreaching.org

Luke 1:20-28 Encounters with Angels

If an angel said to you, “Your prayer is heard,” what would it mean for you? What is the “too good to be true” news in your life? You may have given up believing God can bring it about. You may think you’re too old to start something new and exciting. Remember that people in their nineties have written plays and governed nations. Whatever it is that might seem too good to be true for you, remember Zacharias.

His reaction to all that the angel had predicted was disbelief. It was all too good to be true. He was like Thomas, the disciple who doubted the Resurrection and said, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand in His side, I will not believe.” He was given proof, and he believed.

After priests performed their temple duties, they normally came out to the people to pronounce a blessing. Zacharias’ delay signaled that something unusual had taken place-but whether a blessing or a judgment, the people did not know. Although Zacharias could not speak, he gestured to communicate. From his gestures the people realized that he had seen a vision. This was remarkable, because for more than 400 years since the close of the Old Testament writings, God was silent. He did not raise any prophets to speak to His people. Could it be that God was now ready to begin stirring up things again?

Elizabeth stayed out of public view for five months after she and her husband conceived-about the length of time it takes for a pregnancy to show-perhaps to remove herself from curious eyes until the growth of her belly revealed the truth. There is no hiding a pregnancy when it gets far enough along. There is no hiding God’s work either when it comes to the point of birth. Quiet times are normal, and it’s okay to step back and let God do whatever He’s doing with you in a quiet place and out of sight-until the day He makes it public.

It might also have been an act of devotion out of deep gratitude to the Lord. In Old Testament times, childlessness carried a reproach in a culture where blessings were tied to birthrights and family lines. Barrenness could occasionally be a sign of divine disfavor, but it was not always so. In time God removed this disgrace from Elizabeth’s life. Elizabeth kept her eyes focused squarely on God.

Sometimes there is value in taking things slowly-in simply sitting still and watching God carry out His good promises. God does things in His own time and in His own way. We don’t always have to be running, shouting, announcing what God is doing. There is a time for that, but there is also a time for praying, thinking, and rejoicing in the Lord. Elizabeth and Zechariah did that, and we can do that too.

God told Elizabeth that her son would be the one to prepare the way for the Lord. That meant that the Messiah was coming-that God was about to redeem His people from the power of evil, as He promised in the past

Gabriel is God’s announcing angel. His conversation with Mary probably took place in her home in Nazareth, a city of questionable reputation. For example, when the apostle Philip told Nathaniel that he had seen the Lord, Nathaniel replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Why would God choose to send the Messiah by way of Nazareth? Mary was a pure woman in a wicked city.  She showed that it is possible to live a holy life in an unholy place. God met Mary where she was, and God meets us where we are. We don’t have to make our own dreams come true. All we have do is be faithful and do what God has given us to do. Then, even with all things our heart may look for and long for, hope can find us like hope found Mary, Elizabeth, and Zechariah.

Mary was troubled. Perhaps because of her humility, she may have been thinking, “Why me? I’m too insignificant to find favour with God.” On the other hand, perhaps she had the innate wisdom to comprehend something at the very heart of the mystery of life and the mystery of God-that those highly favoured by God do not have a life of unbroken happiness.

Most of us have felt the same way that Mary did. We look at our ordinary lives and find it hard to believe that God-the Creator of the universe-could be bothered to keep track of us, much less be interested in us. The truth is that God is in fact watching over us. He uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He is watching over us far more closely than we may give Him credit for. In the words of a famous Christmas tune:

He sees you when you’re sleeping

He knows when you’re awake

He knows when you’ve been bad or good

So be good for goodness’ sake

Most of us don’t have encounters with angels. Our life-changing experiences are usually based on God’s Word. He changes our lives and uses us to do His will and work. In His wisdom He often does not show us His entire plan for our lives. He takes us on a journey, one step at a time. Even if we do not understand the path God is leading us on, we must simply trust and obey Him. The result might just be miraculous.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1382)
  2. Larson, B., & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 29-36)
  3. MacArthur, J.F.Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  4. Dr. Kari Vo, “On a Schedule.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  5. Dr. Kari Vo, “Things Are Starting to Stir.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  6. Dr. Kari Vo, “Vindication at Last.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  7. Dr. Kari Vo, “Taking It Slow.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  8. Raul Ries, “Rejoice, Highly Favoured One.” Retrieved form www.crosswalkcom/devotionals/somebody-loves-you-radio-w-raul-ries/
  9. Joni Eareckson Tada, “The Annunciation.” Retrieved from communications@joniandfriends.org
  10. James MacDonald, “Hope on Arrival.” Retrieved from OurJourneyOnline@WalkintheWord.com
  11. Greg Laurie, “A Thermometer or a Thermostat?” Retrieved from www.harvest.org
  12. Dr. Kari Vo, “A Quiet Pause.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org

Joel 2:23-32 Repentance and God’s “Do-Overs”

All of us have had moments when we regretted things we did or said. Many of us think that our past sins or regrets have robbed us of many good years. Many of us wish that we could be like kids on a playground who have a concept of a “do-over.” When they’re playing kickball and the ball gets stuck in a tree, or when they’re playing basketball and the ball sticks between the backboard and the rim, a chorus of “do-over” spontaneously erupts. It’s an unspoken rule that every kid knows.

In Joel 2:23-32 God tells the Israelites that they can have a “do-over” if they repent. Joel foresaw a time of plenty, when the people would acknowledge the goodness and sovereignty of God. God promises to “repay” His people “for the years the locusts have eaten.” The locusts came as the result of sin, but in God’s grace He wanted to bring restoration.  Joel prophesied that God would pour out his spirit on all humanity. We do not have to live in the past and live in defeat.

Joel takes an environmental catastrophe and interprets it as an act of God. He said that the locust plague was an act of divine judgment that called the people to repentance, renewal, and redemption. The plague devastated the land, the economy, and the people. Bark was stripped from trees, food vanished, seeds shriveled, granaries stood empty, cattle moaned from hunger and thirst, and streams dried up. Joel remembered the divine plagues of Moses and called this disaster “a day of the Lord.”

Joel cautioned Israel about God’s impending judgment for its spiritual complacency and religious neglect. When the people prospered, they abandoned God or minimized the importance of Him in their lives. God always gives His people a change to repent before He inflicts discipline. Like a loving parent, God’s purpose is not to punish but to correct and nurture.

Joel saw the natural and supernatural blessing of God as a vindication of God’s people following the ravages of the locusts, which was seen as God’s judgment. The productivity of the crops and the abundance of the rains signified God’s renewed favour. Joel predicted that these natural blessings would be followed by supernatural blessings.

Joel saw the day of the Lord as a day filled with blood, darkness, and columns of smoke. Those who called on God’s name would be saved. They would be the survivors whom the Lord had called. God’s children are not immune from pain and sorrow, but they are survivors because they call on God’s name.

God always sees us, always loves us, and is actively involved in our lives, even when terrible things happen that turn our lives upside down. He can be trusted to bring comfort in the short term and restoration in the long term. His mercy can be severe. We can get past the times of trauma and need because of the hope we have in Christ.

God brings about both the good and the bad. The seasons of famine have divine purposes in our lives. They accomplish things that only these hard things can accomplish. There is a time when those hard things have accomplished their purpose and God begins to restore.

Israel faced this dilemma many thousands of years ago. They brought a lot of their trouble on themselves by ignoring the prophets, by not worshipping God, and by breaking their covenant with God. Their land was invaded by foreigners. Their best and brightest young people were carted away to serve the king of Babylon. Many years later, the Persian King Cyrus allowed the Jews to go home and rebuild their temple.

The reasons for ceasing to fear and for rejoicing in verses 23-24 show a pattern of development that goes from very brief and general to longer and more specific. The reason given for the exhortations to the land is that God has done great things. It is a summary of God’s great acts for the people.

God’s great acts include restitution. The harvests will again be plentiful enough for the people to eat and be satisfied. The people will then praise God and recognize Him as the source of their sustenance. The people had been previously warned of the dangers of being satisfied, especially forgetting God in complacency or presumption. The picture of restoration depends on a righteous relationship with God. It is a complete orientation around the God who is with them.

The events described in verses 28-32 will follow the deliverance from the northern invader. Prophecy in Scripture often produces praises to God. Dreams and visions were customary ways that the Lord communicated special revelations in Old Testament times. The people will never again be put to shame. It recalled the shame of foreign domination and the threatened conquest.

In verse 28 Joel’s prophecy moves from the near future with its promise of agricultural restoration to the more distant future. The people will experience new wonders such as a new experience of God’s Spirit, amazing signs in the heavens and earth, and the way of deliverance from the dangers of Joel’s time. The promise is that God will pour out His Spirit on everyone. The Spirit’s movement involve the whole society, regardless of sex, age, or social status. People will prophesy, dream dreams and see visions. They are manifestations of immediate and close relationships with God where He communicates His word and understanding to individuals, who then communicate it to others.

Verses 28-32 can also be found in Chapter 2 of the Book of Acts. On the day of Pentecost, Peter came out of the upper room with the anointing of the Holy Ghost upon him. He stood in front of the crowd and quoted these words as part of his speech. This message is as important to the Church today as it was to the Church in New Testament times. It is a prophecy of what is to come.

We miss the meaning of prophecy if we think of it as foretelling the future. It might include foretelling the future, but it is better characterized as proclaiming God’s word. Our greatest need today is for authentic prophets in both the pulpit and in the pew. We need prophets who will lead the church, launch personal evangelism and social mission actions, and caring for people while obeying God’s vision for new strategies for winning people to Christ. We can use the answers to these questions to determine if people can be effective prophets:

  1. Do you have love for people? Can you care for them and help them reach their full potential?
  2. Can you see beneath the surface of people to their deepest hopes and hurts?
  3. Can you discern what God wants to say to people through you?
  4. Can you speak the truth to people in love in a winsome, winning way?
  5. Would you like to have a direct, personal experience of God’s Spirit and become a Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered person?

Any Christian who says “yes “to these questions is ready to be a prophet and receive the gift of prophecy. The needs of the people and groups before us will bring forth the gift of the Spirit from within us. All we have to do is keep on being filled with the Spirit. The indwelling Spirit gives the gift when we get into challenges that require wisdom, insight, discernment, and boldness.

Prophets are needed in the church today. We need church members who will take stands on social issues, speak out with fearlessness regardless of the cost, and become involved with their time, money, and hands-on ministry. Prophecy is also needed as pastors and church leaders lead the congregation in developing prophecy and programs. It would make a huge difference if before and during meetings leaders prayed for the gift of prophecy and then spoke forth the truth in love as God revealed it.

We are living in the new age of the Spirit, which has been poured out since the first Pentecost over 2,000 years ago. We can accept the gift of prophecy to proclaim the Gospel and state the words of Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Verses 30 and 31 reveal a new picture of the distant future-a picture of cosmic upheavals that signal the coming day of the Lord. These will not be simple indicators of the time to come. In the Bible, darkness accompanied serious events: when Jesus died on the cross, when Egypt was judged, and when the Lord came down at Mount Sinai. Cosmic upheavals will signal that a great event is about to happen, such as Jesus’ return to earth to establish His Kingdom.

Joel’s audience was devastated by the locust plague and faced the prospect of the day of the Lord with terror. Verses 28—32 are an assurance that those who repented would not only make it through the agricultural crisis but could look forward to a vibrant life with God. They could enjoy the immediacy of His presence as a whole community and not just through a few select individuals.

We need the power of the Holy Spirit to baptize us so we can have discernment, the word of wisdom, and the word of knowledge. We are living in days where we need God’s supernatural power like never before. If we do not have discernment, then sin will get into our lives and the church. When this happens, we will get infected. God will never accomplish His work that He wants to do through each one of us individually. He does not operate through dirty vessels, but clean vessels.

Like insects, our sins eat away at the fruitful life God intended for us. When we turn toward Him, and away from our past choices, He promises to remove our shame and restore us to an abundant life in Him.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1170-1171)
  2. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 22: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1990; pp. 252-263)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Tammy Maltby, “A Vision for Trauma’s Aftermath.” Retrieved from dailytreasure@markinc.org
  6. Ron Moore, “Regret and Restoration.” Retrieved from www.ronmoore.org
  7. Os Hillman, “When God Restores What the Locusts Eat.” Retrieved from tgif@marketplaceleaders.org
  8. “Life’s ‘Do-Overs’.” Retrieved from BibleGateway@e.BibleGateway.com
  9. Joel Osteen, “Restoration Mentality.” Retrieved form devotional@e.joelosteen.com
  10. Raul Ries, “Power of the Holy Spirit.” Retrieved from www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/somebody-loves-you-radio-w-raul-ries/
  11. Kristen Holmberg, “Restored.” Retrieved from donotreply@email.rbc.org
  12. Anderson, Russell F.: Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Series V, Cycle C (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Company Inc.; 1997; pp. 322-323)

Genesis 28:10-17 Jacob the Scoundrel Meets His Match

Theevents in Genesis 28:10-17took place just after Jacob cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright as Isaac’s firstborn son and after Jacob received the blessing that Esau was supposed to receive from their father Isaac. Consequently Esau threatened Jacob’s life. Jacob left home and headed out from Beersheba with the birthright, the blessing, and little else besides his own wits….or so it seemed!

At some stage of his journey, Jacob settled down for the night, picked a rock for a pillow, and tried to get some sleep. That is when God came to Jacob in a dream. In the dream Jacob was reminded that God was able and willing to maintain communications with His children even in the most desolate places and lonely times. During the dream God reiterated the covenant He had with Abraham. It described the blessing which would come through Jacob’s family to the whole world. But then God moved from generalities to specifics which were of great interest to Jacob. God promised that He would always be with Jacob. The promise of the divine presence would be both a source of encouragement and, at times, a source of embarrassment to Jacob as his life unfolded. Jacob realized for the first time in his life that he is not the centre of the universe.

Different people have different ways of waking up to God but few people ever needed to wake up to Him more than Jacob! His habits which were so clearly demonstrated in his home situation and which led to exile from his family got him into all kinds of trouble. He had no hope without God but God in His wisdom called Jacob to play a significant role in the blessing of the nations. This should remind us that God’s ways are not our ways and that no one is outside of the possibilities of a changed life through divine intervention.

God had to remove Jacob from everything that was a comfort to him in order to reveal Himself to Jacob. What began as a crisis that forced Jacob to be removed form his family and friends led to an encounter with the living God and a fresh vision of God’s purposes for his life. How often we go about our daily routing=e and fail to recognize that God is in the place where we are. God must often do radical things in the life of the servant in whom He has special plans: separation from family, removal of physical and emotional resources, an encounter with God.

God did not judge Jacob’s prior actions with regard to his brother and his father. Instead, God gave Jacob one promise after another. God transformed an ordinary stone and an ordinary place into something special-a place where God’s presence has made a home in the world. Similarly, God transformed Jacob from a trickster into a richly blessed man who served as a source of God’s blessing to others. Unfortunately, as we will see, this change did not take place immediately.

Something profound had happened in Jacob’s heart. By creating the pillar and anointing it, Jacob memorialized the place and retained it in his memory as the scene of a deep and lasting commitment to the God who had touched his life at that place. Bethel- “the house of God”-was instantly a sacred place for Jacob. It was there God met him, dealt with him, and took a special interest in his needs. The words “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” must have reassured Jacob when he was alone and on the run. Similarly, God will always stay with us and keep all His promises to us, even when we go through the storms of life. When we wonder if He is really there—He is!       

Can we see ourselves in Jacob? God gives us the free gift of salvation, and we grudgingly give God a crumb or two and then imagine we are God’s followers. That way of thinking leads to exile from God’s kingdom-just like Jacob was exiled from his father’s house. What did Jacob finally give back to God? What will we give back to God? What can we give back? What should we give back? One tenth of our lives? Everything? Who knows. The only thing that is certain is what the God who meets us at our Bethels always seems to do, which is to grant us blessed dreams, precisely when we need them, and to give us everything we have never and could never deserve.

Jacob’s story promises us to consider God’s presence in those places where we do not immediately recognize His presence. Our own experiences of the hidden God remind us that God often reveals Himself indirectly, in a seemingly concealed manner. It can be through a dream such as in Jacob’s case, or through weakness and suffering as in Jesus’ death on a cross, or in places we least expect.

God has a promise for our lives. What promise has God given you, or do you know? For starters, He promises to never leave us and that He will be with us and keep us wherever you go. God promises to always be with us. This is an awesome promise!

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 41-42)
  2. Briscoe, D.S., & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 1: Genesis (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp. 226-232
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. John Holbert, “Forgetting Leads to Exile: Reflections on Genesis 28:10-19.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/progressinve-christian
  5. Juliana Claassens, “Commentary on Genesis 10-19a.” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  6. “God’s Promise.” Retrieved from www.dailydisciples.org
  7. Shauna Hannan, “Genesis 28:10-19.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu

Luke 16:19-31 Role Reversal

In Luke 16:19-31 we see a powerful situation of role reversal. The world is turned upside-down-or rather, right side up. Mary sang about a situation like this in the Magnificat. The poor are filled with good things and the rich are sent away hungry. The powerful are brought down and the lowly are lifted up.

The Pharisees thought they were entitled. They had the strange idea that money was deserved. Money was a sign that they were blessed by God, and poverty was the result of God’s curse. Jesus said that this idea was false. All of us are stewards of what we have, and we are to use it to bless others, to bring life, to bring health and hope and joy. In contrast, the mention of crumbs, sores, and dogs made Lazarus a nobody in the eyes of the Pharisees. They saw such things as proof of divine disfavor. They saw such people as not only unclean, but also hated by God.

Jesus didn’t question how the rich man got his money or that he had it. The rich man wasn’t even necessarily a bad man. The rich man might have been a deeply caring man who was dismayed by unemployment and inflation figures, or he might have been a generous donor to charitable causes. Regardless of whatever else he was, in this story he was blind to the person in need who was sitting outside his gate. He was sentenced to eternal damnation for his casual indifference to the person right at his door.

Are the two men in this story real, or is this story a parable? If a parable, then it is the only one Jesus told in which one of the characters has a name. The text said that Lazarus laid at the rich man’s gate, but the Greek term conveys far more intensity, literally meaning that he was “thrown down” at the gate. His friends would bring him there every morning, dump him at the gate, and then go on their way. Despite his terrible circumstances, Lazarus trusted God.

As a poor Jew, Lazarus would not have been buried in a tomb. He may have been placed in the potter’s field-land often used to bury poor people. More likely, Lazarus was not buried at all but taken to the edge of the city and thrown on the dung heap of Gehenna, where the city’s garbage was burned. By contrast, the rich man, with all of his wealth, probably had a magnificent funeral.

The Bible clearly states that all people, created in the image of the eternal God, will be alive somewhere forever-either in the presence of Almighty God, enjoying endless fellowship with him, or in the torment of hell. These are the only two possibilities.

On earth, perhaps less that 20 metres stood between these two men-one at the gate and the other inside the mansion-yet in eternity the two were separated by a great, impassable gulf. People do not get a second chance after death. Humans have one precious life-a wonderful stewardship bestowed by God. The rich man had the resources to “uplift” Lazarus and the entire community but was insensitive and uncaring. Perhaps he saw his wealth as a matter of entitlement and effort and that the beggar was poor because of laziness or lack of initiative. The rich man’s failure to see and hear, to empathize, created a gulf that lasted into eternity.

There is a great chasm between the rich man and Lazarus in death because there was a great chasm between them in life. The rich man could have crossed the chasm in life any time he entered or left his home and saw someone who was sick and hungry. The rich man was condemned for ignoring the great gulf between rich and poor and not acting. He should have learned a lesson from the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Being rich toward God and having treasure in heaven is about selling possessions and distributing wealth to the poor. After he met Jesus, Zaccheus gave half of his possessions to the poor and repaid anyone he defrauded four times as much according to Luke 19:1-10. The early believers sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the needy according to Acts 2:45 and Acts 4:32-34.

Even in death the rich man showed contempt for Lazarus. He wanted Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a drop of water. Then he wants Lazarus to be a messenger to his five brothers back home to warn them what awaits them.  The rich man is so insensitive that even when he is tormented as a result of his previous callousness, he still does not see how he missed Lazarus. The poor man continues to be insignificant and the rich man doesn’t even address Lazarus directly, and Lazarus is not some anonymous butler to run the rich man’s errands in the next world.

Arrogance often accompanies wealth. The rich man was as arrogant in Hades as he was on earth. Christ described hell as a place of unspeakable torment. The rich man assumed that he could summon service. Perhaps that was part of his sin. Lazarus did not complain about his state in the world, and he did not gloat when he made it to heaven. Lazarus accepted whatever came as from God’s hand.

Jesus said there is no hope for the brothers. Anyone who is familiar with the Old Testament has missed the message if he or she is not prompted to care for a beggar at the gate. The rich man’s concern about his brothers was a form of self-justification. Miracles never make anyone believe. Romans 1:16 states that the gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation. Because unbelief is at heart a moral problem rather than an intellectual problem, no amount of evidence will ever turn unbelief to faith. Only the Word of God can make this change.

We are the five brothers of the rich man. The parable makes it clear that we have been warned about our urgent situation. We have Moses and the prophets, we have the Scriptures, we have the lessons about God’s care for the poor and hungry. We even have someone who has risen from the dead. The question is: Will we see? Will we heed the warning before it is too late?

The gate at the rich man’s home is a stop sign. It tells Lazarus and everyone else that they are not welcome. The gates tell them to stay out and not to bother the rich man or his way of life. The rich man wanted to remain separated from other people.

Jesus’ primary objective in this story was not to teach the details of the afterlife but to expose how the Pharisees were misusing the life they already had-an ostentatious, outward religion that had no lasting, inward reality. The rich man, selfish and oblivious, sinned when he looked at Lazarus and had no pity in his heart. Jesus teaches us that all of our lives are caught up with each other in ways that have consequences both now and in eternity. Jesus teaches that the more we have, the more responsibility we bear for society. Wealthy people like the rich man are bound to support the poor.

This parable has been used by God to change people’s lives, and God used this story to change the life of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Albert Schweitzer was a man from England and he was enormously gifted. He had degrees in music, medicine, and theology; he could do almost everything and anything. One day, Albert Schweitzer came to church and heard a sermon preached about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and his life was changed. For him, the rich man was Europe; the poor man was Africa, and he knew that he had to give his life to the poorest of people in central Africa. Soon he left the safety of England for the unknowns of the heart of Africa, and he gave his heart, soul, time, and abilities to the poorest of the poor in central Africa.

Not once did the rich man own up to his own mistreatment of Lazarus. Not once did the rich man repent. Not once did the rich man even talk to Lazarus, but he knows Lazarus’ name. That indicates that the rich man knew all along about this poor, suffering man who laid at his gates, hungry and covered in sores.

Do we have people who can be prophets to us, who can convict us, rebuke us, teach us and point us to a life that is worth living? The answer is yes. There are many people like Lazarus around us. We have to ask ourselves if they can help us. The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to help him, but Abraham explained that Lazarus could not help the rich man. The rich man had a chance to learn from Lazarus and he refused. We have a chance to learn from the Lazaruses of our world.

All of us are both Lazarus and the rich man. We depend on God. We can’t by our own reason and strength believe in Jesus or come to Him. We can’t please God for ourselves. Our culture, our society, every aspect of our lives tells us that God doesn’t matter. It tells us that enjoying life, having fun, partying, and filling our homes with goods until we need public storage facilities to store them are the only things that matter. We are all the rich man because we are content with our lives, indulgence, wanting to move up. Our closets are filled with clothes we hoard while others have little or none.

Places in God’s kingdom are not given out according to what we have, but according to what we give away. Solidarity and love count. Those who made names for themselves but didn’t care enough to share their wealth have no name any more. Those who could not achieve anything in life have been given names of honour. Believing in the name of Jesus is only the beginning of faith. It calls for action. It calls for healing, for our participation in God’s creation.

We are called on to confront the reality that every day we pass by people who are in desperate need and we walk right by. Jesus warns us that our time is short. Our opportunities to serve the poor don’t last forever. Our economic choices shape our deepest identities and our eternal destinies. Jesus is inviting us to repent of our ignorance of God and our ignorance of the suffering of the world and step through the gate of knowledge and radical love into the kingdom of God, where God’s will for justice and peace is done on earth as in heaven.

The choice to hear the cries of the poor and to observe our own attitudes and responses occurs all the time. It happens when we check our news feeds online or pick up the newspaper. It occurs when we pay our bills and respond to the worthy causes that present themselves to us. It occurs in the use of time and talent. Will the use of our gifts and resources bring greater or lesser beauty of experience to the world?

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1419)
  2. Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 243-246)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Barbara Rossing, “Commentary on Luke 16:19-31.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  6. The Rev. Janet Hunt, “God is My Help: Seeing Lazarus.” Retrieved from www.dancingwiththeword.org
  7. Lois Malcolm, “Commentary on Luke 16:19-31.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  8. Daniel Clendenin, Ph.D., “Poverty Reduction-Of the Soul: The Parable of Dives and Lazarus.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus,.net
  9. The Rev. Dr. Chris Tuttle, “Blindness and a Vision of Community.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  10. The Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, “The Sin of Ignorance.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  11. The Rev. Edward Markquart, “What Are You Doing Lazarus?” Retrieved from http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_c_the_rich_man_and_lazarus.htm
  12. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 26th Sunday -C-, September 25, 2022.” Retrieved from firstimpressions@lists.opsouth.org
  13. “Another Kind of Gate.” Retrieved from newsletter@christiancentury.org
  14. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost-September 25, 2022.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/burceepperly/
  15. Chelsey Harmon, “Luke 16:19-31 Commentary.” Retrieved from https://cepreaching.org/authors/chelsey-harmon/

Luke 7:36-50 Don’t Judge Others, Because God Will Judge You

Most of us have heard the old saying “Judge not lest ye be judged.” In Luke 7:36-50 we see an example of this saying. Simon judged the prostitute, and in turn Jesus judged Simon. Most of us do not need the help of others to judge ourselves. We know that we have sinned, perjured ourselves, done or said things that we should not have done or said, and not done or said those things we should have done or said.

Jesus judged the woman. He puts a face to God’s judgment, and it is a judgment of love. It is not a judgment of ridicule, or rejection, or hopelessness, or boredom, or eternal condemnation. Luke sets this story in the context of sin and forgiveness. Those who are forgiven little love little, but those who are forgiven much, love lavishly. Simon’s love is thin because he doesn’t recognize his need for grace. In contrast, the woman knows full well the extent of her own sin and the wide embrace of Jesus’ forgiveness. This is an important lesson, and Jesus teaches it beautifully in the parable of the creditor and the debtors.

This story should not be confused with similar stories in Matthew, Mark, and John, which took place in Bethany. The woman here is not Mary, the sister of Lazarus of Bethany, because Luke describes the woman as a prostitute. Little does this Pharisee know he is a sinner as well. The two figures in this story provide a striking contrast: a woman of ill repute who came to Jesus recognizing her need for forgiveness, and an upstanding religious leader who was as lost as he could be.

It would have been shocking for everyone who attended to see a woman with such a low reputation come to a Pharisee’s house. Dinners like the one at Simon’s house would have been open to spectators, but no one would have expected a prostitute to attend. Her coming took a lot of courage, but she was desperate to receive forgiveness. Her weeping was an expression of deep sorrow and repentance.

The Pharisees were lay leaders who were full of self-religious pride. They maximized everybody else’s faults and minimized their own faults. The Pharisees thought that touching a prostitute would ceremonially defile them, so they never intentionally went near such a person. Jesus allowed this prostitute not only to touch Him but to wash His feet and lavish them with kisses. This was the custom-if someone saved your life, you would come to that person and kiss his feet.

Simon was shocked that this prostitute walked boldly into the dinner party and that Jesus did not immediately rebuke her and send her away. Simon believed the Lord’s behaviour proved He was not a prophet. Jesus continually broke the norms and shocked the establishment-something He still does today.

Although he was a Pharisee, Simon was spiritually lost. The Pharisees were religious men, highly respected by the Jewish people. They knew the Law and Scriptures thoroughly. It is likely most of the other dinner guests were Pharisees. Simon could not deny the truth of this powerful parable-but his answer (“I suppose”) indicates he was not a willing receiver of it. Simon fell into Jesus’ trap.

Simon’s reaction reveals a lot about who he was and why he invited Jesus to the party. He did not invite Jesus as a social equal and he did not provide the usual amenities for Jesus. He invited Jesus as a curiosity. He heard that Jesus was a prophet and he wanted to see for himself who this questionable celebrity was.

The custom in Jewish culture, dating all the way back to Abraham, was to have a basin of water at the door so when guests walked in from the dusty streets, a servant could wash their dirty feet.  Simon apparently ignored this. He also neither offered any anointing oil for the Lord’s head nor the friendly kiss of greeting that was the ancient equivalent of shaking hands. Jesus contrasted the woman’s loving actions with Simon’s lack of them.

Like Simon and the Pharisees, many people are certain about whom God includes, who is worthy of God’s love. If we spent as much time embodying the faith of the woman as we do figuring out those who don’t do faith as they should, how much farther the church would be ahead when it comes to living and securing God’s righteousness.

The gift of ointment, her tears, and her behaviour showed that the woman’s old life had ended and a new life had begun. With His word of forgiveness, Jesus lifted her burden of guilt and she responded with overflowing gratitude. Because she had been forgiven so much, she washed His feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed His feet with expensive ointment. Her many sins were forgiven because she loved Jesus so much. If we don’t see how great our sins are, Jesus’ sacrifice will not seem large. In fact, it might seem like overkill. When we know how great our sins are, His sacrifice will inspire deep love.

God’s kingdom and the Gospel it heralds will have the greatest appeal and the greatest impact on those who know they need grace and mercy the most. The high and mighty in society are usually the last to feel that way. Simon didn’t know that his own deepest longing should have been to have Jesus turn to him and say the same thing He said to the woman-“Your sins are forgiven.”

Simon doesn’t understand the true nature of God’s love and acceptance. Simon would reject the woman and think that she was unworthy of God’s forgiveness. Although Simon no doubt heard Jesus teach, he had not accepted His message. Instead of inviting Him into his heart, Simon invited Him to dinner. Many people still have that sort of superficial relationship with Jesus. They are social believers-they would like Him as a dinner companion-but they do not want Him any closer, certainly not as Saviour.

This story is all about forgiveness. When we know we are forgiven, we don’t have time to judge people any more. All we can do is be grateful and show that gratitude by forgiving others. When we forgive others, we release a hold not only on the other person, but also on the grudge we were holding, on the hunger for the revenge we were harboring, and on a life dominated by the past.

Jesus wants us to realize that we are all like the woman. She came to Jesus with a large sin debt. When we, like the woman, kneel at Jesus’ feet and pour out our love, we will be healed. Jesus teaches us about Grace and mercy. Grace is getting something wonderful that we don’t deserve. Mercy is not getting something terrible that we do deserve.

The essence of the Gospel is the love of God. God’s love is very different. God loves us just the way we are now. There is nothing we can do that can make Him love us more than He does right now. If we respond to His love He will not leave us as we are.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1399)
  2. Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 139-142)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Lucy Lind Hogan, “Commentary on Luke 7:36-8:3.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  6. Debie Thomas, “What the Body Knows.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
  7. David Lose, “Pentecost 4C: It’s All About Forgiveness.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  8. Scott Hoezee, “Luke 7:36-8:3 Commentary.” Retrieved from https://cepreaching.org/authors/scott-hoezee/
  9. Karoline Lewis, “Your Faith Has Saved You.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  10. Edward Markquart, “The Woman With the Ointment.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com
  11. Br. Curtis Almquist, “Sin, So Tedious; Love So Enduring.” Retrieved from www.ssje.org

Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16 How to Serve a Living God

Lindsey burst through the door. “Mom, I’m back! I got paid for walking Lilly. I have enough! Can we go to the mall before I go to Mrs. Stevens’ to pack up the donations for those flood victims? Please?”

“How about some downtime instead?” said Mom. “You’ve run yourself ragged all summer earning money for those Bangle Brights. How many does a girl need?” Mom raised one eyebrow and looked pointedly at the numerous neon-colored bracelets that flashed and sparkled on Lindsey’s wrists. Each thin bangle fit tightly against another to form thick bands that ran up her forearms.

“But Mom,” Lindsey protested, “you get four in a package, along with a code that unlocks a treasure on the website! They’re worth it. Besides, won’t it be cool if I’m the only girl who has all the sets before school starts?”

Her mom shook her head a little. “Oh, Lindsey, you know cool isn’t determined by stuff,” she said softly. “You belong to Jesus, and He makes you shine brighter than all the Bangle Brights in the world.” She nodded toward the living room. “Why don’t you go rest for a while before heading over to Mrs. Stevens’? We’ll go to the mall another time.”

Lindsey went to the living room and turned on the television. But she didn’t watch it. She started thinking about stuff–all the stuff she had and what it would be like to lose every bit of it overnight.

Later that day, Lindsey peeked into Mrs. Stevens’ garage. She’d brought her new backpack filled with all her school supplies and two new school outfits. She had lots of clothes and could use her backpack from last year, and she’d replace the school supplies with the money she’d earned walking Lilly. The newest bangles could wait. These kids had lost everything in the flood.

Mrs. Stevens thanked her for her donation with a hug, and Lindsey got to work sorting donated items. Some were new, but most were gently used. She opened a box marked “Girls.” It was full of hair accessories and jewelry. She slid half the bangles off each arm and dropped them into the box. She smiled. “I know you’d say this is the cool thing to do, Jesus.”

The first readers of the Letter to the Hebrews needed encouragement in the face of persecution. They were called to follow the perfect example of Jesus, who overcame difficult circumstances. Hebrews 13:1 begins a section where the author gives readers practical examples of how they might serve the living God rather than turn away. The phrase “brotherly love” is composed of two Greek words meaning “tender affection” and “brother.” Brotherly love is a natural result of the Christian life.

The Jews considered themselves the sons of the patriarch Abraham and thus the chosen people of God. This sense of being chosen produced a camaraderie among the Jews that led them to speak of each other as brothers. Their common heritage through Abraham and the prophets, and their shared status as recipients of the mighty acts of God, created a ground in which the rich fruit found deep roots.

We as modern-day Christians are also brothers. This means that we do not look at the world with cool disdain or reserved sophistication. We are called to love one another in spite of our differences. There is nothing of a more bonding nature than our common acceptance by Jesus Christ. The brotherly love of which Jesus speaks is parallel to the love of Jesus for the suffering of the world.

The source of this brotherly love is our birth into the family of God through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. It is the same dynamic as Jews being considered siblings because of their common heritage in Abraham. It goes far beyond this. The experience of redemption is so radical that human personality is changed and drawn into a family fellowship that covers the world and includes every believer regardless of their race, nationality, colour, economic condition or political party.

It’s easy for us to fail to love the unusual. It takes something extra to engage in the entertainment of the foreigner or stranger. That extra something is the love of Christ that reaches out to the outsider and includes him or her. For example, scholars generally agree that Hebrews 13:2 refers to the time when Abraham went out of his way to help three strangers who were passing by his tent. Two were angels and the third was the Son of God Himself. Christ’s love draws the foreigner into the inner circle where we discover an individual who brings a unique blessing into our loves.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews urges his audience to extend hospitality to everyone we meet, because we might be entertaining angels in disguise. Could these angels be immigrant children, people who are being bullied and harmed by white supremacists and racial institutions? Could these angels be an opponent for someone from another country with whom we pause long enough to listen?

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews tells his readers to remember the prisoner, whether he is a prisoner for his faith, a prisoner because of his criminal actions, or a prisoner of disease. We are to imagine ourselves as being prisoners with them. It is easier to go to the persecuted one than to the prisoner. Fear of being associated with prisoners can keep us away from those in prison.  

Suffering is so immediate and can seem so permanent that we can easily lose sight of the big picture. The pain can be so crushing and our hearts can be so broken that we just don’t understand why! When that question fills our mind, we can hear God tell us to trust Him.

The phrase “the bed undefiled” conveys the idea that the Lord approves sexual intimacy between a husband and wife. However, the sins of fornicators and adulterers have particularly damaging consequences. Marriage, like any other covenant, takes a lot of work. The very costliness of marriage makes it both frightening and difficult, but also very rewarding.

One of the greatest gifts of God is contentment. It means the way we feel when we feel and act when we know that we have enough for our needs. For most people, enough is never enough. People with half a million dollars socked away in investment accounts are worried abut not having enough money. Others work like crazy to climb the corporate ladder hoping to make their jobs secure, because jobs can vanish quickly these days. Others seek the admiration and love from others-sometimes by overdoing like people in church who can’t say ‘no’ to any request.

These people will never find contentment because they are looking in the wrong places. We can turn to God and say “Please help me.” Covetousness is a sin of the mind that causes a person to lust after things that belong to someone else. The word “content” could also be translated as satisfied, adequate, competent, or sufficient. The same Greek word is used in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when God tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” God’s promise to never leave us is connected to our financial future. We don’t need to hoard our resources because we are assured of God’s presence.

Our capitalistic society is geared toward accumulating wealth. There is nothing wrong with being rich, but many Christians have lost sight of why God has blessed them with prosperity. We are called to share what we have with others. God blesses us to make us a blessing. That should be the main motivation for desiring and praying for God’s blessings in our lives. We are not to take comfort in the material things of this world.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews tells his readers to remember those who have led them. They have spoken God’s Word to the hearers. The readers are not to hitch their wagons to falling stars. In other words, they are not to listen to false teachers. If they follow leaders who are holding firm against other leaders who are falling, they will receive victory and stability. Just like His Father, whose ways are everlasting and who says that he does not change, Jesus remains the same forever.

Following Jesus has everything to do with everything in life. Since every part of our lives is affected by the presence of God, the longing that He would live in us is actually the most reasonable thing we could desire. Obstacles and struggles are opportunities for God to prove Himself faithful. The unexpected can be hard to accept and even harder to walk through, but God is always with us.

God has not promised to shield us from trouble, but He has promised to protect us in the midst of trouble. We must never forget that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, Satan is already a defeated foe-and some day the war will be over.

Hebrews chapter 13 offers many motivations for virtuous behaviour:

  1. God knows our deeds.
  2. God will judge those who are unfaithful to their spouses.
  3. God is with us and provides for our needs.
  4. Jesus remains the same, so we can praise God through Him.
  5. Sacrifices of praise and sharing please God.
  6. We live not for a present reward of an earthly holy city or temple, but for the promised future one.

Verse 6 can be translated from the original Greek version as “I will never, by no means leave you, and I will never, by no means, utterly forsake you.” Jesus said the things found in the world are not important because they won’t last forever. It’s just stuff. What really matters is who you are in Jesus. Ask Him to show you how you can share His love with someone today and trust Him to make you shine!

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2013; pp. 1764-1765)
  2. Charelle Wilson, “Less Equals More.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org
  3. Evans, L.H, & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 33: Hebrews (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 232-245)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2010)
  6. Bill Crowder, “Abide With Me.” Retrieved from noreply@rbc.org
  7. Rick Warren, “How Much More Do You Need?” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  8. Christine Caine, “God Can.” Retrieved from no-reply@christinecaine.com
  9. Anne Graham Lotz, “God Loves Even Me.” Retrieved from info@angelministries.org
  10. Billy Graham, “God Promises Protection.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost-Aug. 28, 2002.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com
  12. “Exhortations for Jesus’ Followers.” Retrieved from newsletter@christiancentury.org
  13. Dr. Kari Vo, “Contentment.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org