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Monday, February 24, 2014

Lessons from God through a Father-in-Law

Exodus 18:7-24
7 Then Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and he bowed down and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. 8 Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, all the hardship that had befallen them on the journey, and how the LORD had delivered them. 9 Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians. 10 So Jethro said, "Blessed be the LORD who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 "Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people." 12 Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses' father-in-law before God. 13 It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. 14 Now when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?" 15 Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 "When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws." 17 Moses' father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you are doing is not good. 18 "You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19 "Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people's representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, 20 then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. 21 "Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. 22 "Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 "If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace." 24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.  
            In our previous study, we encountered Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. Jewish history says Jethro was a priest of many gods. Other historians say Jethro was a priest of the LORD (Yahweh/Yehovah) since he was from the line of Midian, Abraham’s son. We will not know exactly whom Jethro worshipped before Exodus 18:9-10. Verse 11 invites us to believe that Jethro was not a priest of Yahweh before since he was now convinced “Yahweh is greater than all the gods.” What we do know is that from verse 10 Jethro worshipped the Yahweh of the Hebrews. Let us now look at this passage closer.
            The Hebrews left Egypt a few days or weeks before Exodus 18. They learned the LORD cared enough for them that He provided food (manna) and water. Yahweh also provided a pillar of fire before them and a cloud behind them. In chapter 18, we meet them at the “mountain of God,” Mount Sinai/Horeb. The Hebrews were in the Sinai Peninsula. They were in the area where Moses shepherded Jethro’s sheep before and where Moses met the LORD in the burning bush (Exodus 3).
As the Hebrews and Moses camped there, Jethro sent word to Moses saying he would soon arrive at the camp with Moses’ wife and sons. In our day, that might not have been a meeting to look forward to since Moses put his wife aside, basically, divorced her. Yet, we find in this chapter Moses greeted Jethro with honor and love. He bowed down to and kissed Jethro. Moses humbled himself before his father-in-law and, thus, recognized Jethro’s superiority. Readers of the Bible read of these actions also occurring with Joseph and his brothers and parents in Genesis 37:7, 10; 42:6, 9; and 43:26, 28. It occurred when Laban met Jacob (Genesis 29:13), Esau met Jacob (Genesis 33:4), and Aaron met Moses (Exodus 4:7). Bowing and kissing a person in greeting showed respect, humility, and love in their culture. Before retiring to their tents, Moses and Jethro asked each other of their welfare. This word “welfare” comes from the Greek word “shalowm,” meaning completeness in number, safety, and soundness of body, welfare, health, and prosperity. It included peace within themselves, with others, and with God (their relationship with God).
In verse 8, Moses told Jethro all God did for the Hebrews. Yehovah (the proper name of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible) proved His might and majesty to Pharaoh and his advisers by sending plagues and killing first born children (Exodus 4:23, 7:4-5) for Israel’s sake. Moses told Jethro of the hardship – toil, distress, and weariness – they encountered on the journey. He told him how Yehovah delivered them, how He rescued and saved them. (Moses and Nehemiah recounted these stories for the Israelites for generations to come in Numbers 20:4 and Nehemiah 9:32.) Moses told Jethro how the people sang praises to Yehovah (Exodus 15) declaring God’s power and His creating terror in their enemies. During and after Moses relayed these stories about Yahweh to him, Jethro realized the size of this powerful and compassionate God. We find this to be the case in verses 9 and 10.
Jethro rejoiced over the goodness of the Lord for what He did to and for Israel. Jethro took notice of what God did and rejoiced over all the goodness the Lord did for Israel. God brought Israel from the Egyptian army, provided food and water, and loved the people. Jethro recounted God’s goodness to the people. He also blessed the Lord. The word “bless” in the Hebrew means to bless and kneel, which means to praise and pay homage to someone. Jethro praised and paid homage to Yahweh because He delivered them from a foreign land, slave drivers, and oppression.
Jethro kept declaring God’s goodness and blessing Him; he declared the “LORD greater than all other gods” (vs. 11). God showed His goodness and love. He also showed His power and greater knowledge when He dealt with those who “dealt proudly against the people.” Pharaoh (who declared himself a god), his magicians, under-rulers, and priests could not explain away what they thought was magic by Moses. God proved their pride in knowing all things as ignorance and folly. They could not do what God did and could not explain it. When Pharaoh made life harder for the Hebrews, God did not stop proving to them in even greater capacity that He is God almighty. God dealt with the leaders and showed them His strength and majesty. God could not be ignored and must be praised. Since Jethro acknowledged that other cultures and, possibly, he worshipped other gods and since he declared the God of the Israelites more powerful and majestic, this said much to his people – his family, tribe, and culture – as well as to the Israelites. Yehovah is the greatest who overshadows all other gods as if they are no gods at all. There are no other gods, which Yehovah proved.
What occurred next, in chapter 12, reminds us of Melchizadek, the priest to whom Abraham gave a tithe in Genesis 14. Remember, the time of Jethro and Moses occurred before the Ten Commandments and before God set aside a tribe of Israel to be priests for Him. Jethro took burnt offering and sacrifices for God and ate a meal with Aaron and the elders of Israel before God. Look at this carefully. The “burnt offering” in Hebrew is “olah” which means a whole burnt offering not meant as a sacrifice, but solely for God. Jethro gave it as a devotional offering to God to honor Him. This offering also signified complete surrender to God’s service. Jethro signified his complete submission to God’s will. Jethro cast aside all other gods to recognize and serve the one true God. The term “sacrifice” used in this verse comes from the Hebrew word “zebach.” A zebach sacrifice was an offering of peace as thanks to God. People offered it freely, often after making a vow to God. This sacrifice had nothing to do with sin. Jethro declared God’s goodness and greatness then burned an offering for God’s honor and gave a sacrifice to make a vow to God offering himself in submission to Him. Jethro’s priesthood according to the order of Melchizadek arose from this action. He offered himself and a sacrifice to honor God and place himself in God’s will for His service.
The remaining verses of this study give glimpses into how societies and cultures arrived at their form of government. Jethro saw Moses at work the following day. He saw Moses judge disputes between the Israelites, as well as, lead them by teaching everything Yahweh told to him. In essence, Moses was legislator and judiciary. He proclaimed God’s words, taught them God’s ways, and judged their disputes (vs. 16). “Judge” in the Hebrew meant to govern, vindicate, punish, and decide controversy. This kept him very busy. Verse 13 says, “The people stood about Moses from morning until evening.” Moses spent the productive hours of the day judging between people. When Jethro saw this, he asked Moses, “What is this thing you are doing for the people? Why do you do it alone?” Historians figure the Israelites numbered over one million, 600,000 men plus women and children. Jethro cared for Moses’ health, concerned that he would become worn out (“nabel” means to be made senseless and foolish) by the task of being the sole leader for so many people (vs. 18). He, being older and more experienced, imparted wisdom to his humble and loved son-in-law.
Jethro counseled Moses by suggesting a seemingly commonplace method. His advice appears to be common knowledge to us in the 21st century, yet, for Moses, it came as a new idea. Did Moses ignore Jethro’s advice? We do not read that occurring. Instead, we read that Jethro advised Moses to be the representative before God for the people and bring the big disputes before God. Moses discussed matters with God that affected all the people. In essence, Moses listened to God, brought disputes before Him, and then taught the Israelites God’s rules, laws, and statutes. Moses had a relationship with God. He recognized God’s voice. Moses approached God humbly and in submission. He obeyed God. They knew each other already and how their relationship worked. Jethro continued his counsel. He told Moses to select men from all the people who feared God, were truthful, and hated dishonest gain. These selected men were to lead groups of people - thousands, hundreds, and tens. Jethro said they were to lead and judge the people in every minor dispute (vs. 22) so that it would be less of a burden for Moses to bear. By doing this, Moses would be less worn out, justice would be meted out quicker, and Moses could focus more on God and His plan for the Israelites. This brings to mind the old adage, “Many hands make light work.” This passage also reminds me of the New Testament parable of the talents. The master gave to each servant a trusted sum of money in the amount he thought the servant could manage (Matthew 25:14-30). In the end, the master’s impression of each man proved correct.
In Exodus 18, Moses would have to decide which men could rule the larger numbers and which the smaller numbers of people. These kinds of decisions are made best with wisdom, insight, and experience with people. One other factor shows itself here. By choosing leaders for smaller groups, leaders train people to become leaders. If Moses did all the work himself, he would be worn out and others would not have been trained to lead. What would have happened when Moses died if he had not appointed and trained other leaders?
This concept of training future leaders is worthy of note today. This story is not only about governments; it is about training others to become future leaders. The leader whom God appoints must stay in a living relationship with Him. He must know God’s heart, His plan, and His laws. This leader must also share these things with other potential leaders and, with God’s guidance, using His principles, appoint and train new leaders to lead God’s people to go out and bring people to Him.
Jethro gave Moses a life lesson so that he would not become worn out. He also gave a lesson we can apply today and tomorrow. Being a child of God means we follow God and tell the world about Him. In that going, we are teaching and growing others; therefore, we are training others to go out to preach and teach, to be leaders. To do this, we must have a living relationship with Yahweh. We must know Him, His plan, His heart, and His laws. This makes us humble and submission servants of God’s going into the world preaching, teaching, and training others to be humble and submissive to the one true, great, and good God. This is what Jethro proclaimed after hearing what Yehovah did for the Hebrews. Today we proclaim this and the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah to redeem and save the world.
Moses listened to Jethro. He heard God’s lesson for himself through His father-in-law’s wise teaching. Moses was an obedient child of God. He recognized God’s voice and the humility required of him. He obeyed. He learned. He led and taught. At what part in this process are you? Have you stopped to hear and recognize God’s voice? Have you listened to and obeyed Him? Have you learned from Him? Maybe you are in the stage of preaching and teaching. Are you training others to lead? Moses learned much from Jethro that day, all God-appointed learning. What is God teaching you today?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Holy Ground

Exodus 3:1-9

1 Now, Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. 3 So, Moses said, "I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up." 4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." 5 Then He said, "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 6 He said also, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 The LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. 8 So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 9 Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.”

I began reading the book of Exodus this week. At the beginning of Exodus, Moses, the writer, introduced himself as the son of a Hebrew woman and raised by the Egyptian princess to be a prince of Egypt. This story is very familiar to Jews and Christians. The story is a very strong example of the power and love of God. From a young age, Jews and Christians teach their children this history. This week, I delved deeper into the story. There are several things we should acknowledge and understand, things Moses learned, which we need to learn today. The main question, though, for this story is - Will we recognize God and what He sets apart for His purposes?

Before we study this passage in depth, remember that Moses was a Hebrew from the tribe of Levi. His mother laid him in the Nile River in a woven wicker basket coated with tar to save him. The Pharaoh mandated at that time that midwives kill male Hebrew babies because of the increasing number of Hebrews in Egypt. God had a plan for Moses and led him in his basket to the arms of the bathing Egyptian princess. While he was nursing from a wet nurse, who happened to be his biological mother, he learned of his Hebrew heritage. Once weaned, Moses was educated as an Egyptian. For forty years, Moses lived as an Egyptian, until one day he saw a slave driver beating a Hebrew worker. This enraged Moses and he killed the slave driver. Moses fled for his life and arrived in Midian. He traveled about 10,750 miles (6,719km) to arrive in the current lower Saudi Arabia. He traveled from Egypt on the Nile across the Sinai Peninsula then across the Gulf of Aqaba to a land inhabited by the descendents of Abraham’s son, Midian. Moses arrived at a well there and met seven daughters of the priest Reuel (Jethro) whom he defended from the shepherds. Jethro was not a priest of Yahweh when Moses met him. Jewish tradition says Jethro worshipped many idols before he believed. He offered a benediction to Yahweh in Exodus 18:9-10; this is when we recognize his acceptance of Yahweh as the true God. From Jethro’s daughters, Moses chose Zipporah to be his wife and for forty years, Moses tended Jethro’s sheep.

After Moses shepherded Jethro’s sheep for forty years, he saw a bush burning, but it was not consumed. This captured his attention. Where was Moses when he saw this burning bush? He was in the Sinai Peninsula, the west side of the wilderness as verse 1 says. Why he traveled so far from where Jethro normally kept his sheep we do not know. We do know Moses encountered God on Horeb, another name for Mount Sinai. What the writer of Exodus (Moses) told his readers is that an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush. God chose to use a weak, small thing, a thorn bush, instead of something grand, such as a cedar. He chose to use a shepherd and humbled man, Moses, instead of a trained leader of the Hebrews, like a priest. We need to realize, too, that in the Bible, people often recognize God as a fire, consider the pillar of fire that led the Israelites. The Old Testament identifies the “angel of the LORD” with God in many passages.

Moses said in the passage that YAHWEH God appeared to him in the fire. Moses turned from his path and went to examine this unconsumed burning bush, and that is where God called to him. Here is where my enquiring mind began to dig deeper. How did Moses understand it was the LORD speaking? How did Moses recognize the voice of the LORD? In retrospect, by the time Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch), he had a history with Yahweh and could recognize His hand out of hindsight. The question remains though, how did Moses recognize God’s voice when he was trained and had lived as an Egyptian for forty years and then lived with a priest of false gods for forty years? My answer, from personal experience, is when a thought or idea comes to your mind that is not in your line of thinking at the time or in your inclination, and is not contrary to the laws of God, you should consider it to be from God. Jewish teaching, Midrash, says when the voice you hear is like your father’s or mother’s voice – authoritative, calming, giving confidence, and giving hope – you hear God’s voice. Jewish teachers teach this to their students. The teaching makes sense, too, when you think about it. Moses understood God was speaking to him.

The remaining verses in this passage show us how else Moses realize God was speaking to him. Upon following his instinct, Moses turned aside to examine the bush. God told him not to come near the bush and to take off his shoes because the ground he was standing on was holy. He identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, too. God taught Moses three things here. Humankind cannot be too near God for His glory is too great for a sinful human to bear. When in the presence of God, you are on holy (set apart) ground. He is Yahweh, the One his mother spoke of to him when he was a toddler. Moses surely was overawed and humbled. The God whom his mother spoke of was speaking to him, one who had not followed Yahweh. His immediate reaction must have been to humble himself in the manner he understood from his days as a receiver of reverence, hiding his face and bowing low to the ground. Moses could have chosen to hear God calling him, but chosen not to acknowledge Him. Many people do that today. They realize God wants to lead them in their moral and life choices, but they choose not to recognize God’s glory and power and, instead, follow their own plans. Moses’ curiosity led him to the bush. His recognition of a voice not from himself led him to follow God. His humility led him to acknowledge God’s majesty and obey. Moses spirit spoke to him to recognize, acknowledge, and obey God. God’s presence set the place apart as holy. He called Moses for His purposes. From this point, God set Moses apart as His instrument of power, freedom, guidance, and provision.

Let's take a closer look at this encounter between Moses and Yahweh. Let's consider God's command for Moses to remove his sandals. This was a common custom in the Middle East and Asia at the time and continues today in places. It is a sign of reverence and respect for the persons of the house. With respect to God, this action is a token of respect and submission. Removing one’s sandals is the expression of inward reverence through outward behavior. By taking off one’s sandals before entering a holy place or holy ground, it keeps the dirtiness of non-holy ground from the holy and sanctified place. God taught Moses to prepare himself to be in His presence. We must understand, too, that the ground was no more holy than any other until God chose to meet with Moses at that moment in time at that place. The ground was holy because of God’s presence. Any place can be holy. God can meet people anywhere. The question is - are we prepared to acknowledge God anywhere and anytime. What would it take us to be in that position?

Moses learned quite a bit that day. He learned how God’s voice sounded. Moses learned how to approach God. He learned that anywhere God is He makes holy. Moses learned God uses the humble and weak to show His power and majesty. He learned God had a plan for Him. Moses learned to adjust his life to follow God’s plan.

We should learn the same three lessons - 1) recognizing the voice of God, 2) knowing that where God is is holy ground, and 3) knowing how to approach God.  We should be prepared at all times to be in God's presence, hear His voice, and obey Him. How do we do that? We should always recognize our sinful, finite, powerless selves. We should be humble, confessing our sins and need for God, and looking always to see where God is at work, seeking Him. If we keep an attitude of humility and realize God is near and may at any time reveal Himself and His will to us, we will be able to recognize, hear, and obey Him.

Do you need to adjust something in your life to hear God speak to you? Are you too self-focused and busy to see and hear God? Is God trying to get your attention? When He has our attention and we are listening, we are on holy ground. To be in a relationship with God, we each must attend to Him, by recognizing, listening, and heeding Him.

Be prepared for God to speak to you. Be humble and recognize God’s voice. Give reverence to Him and listen to Him. Be ready to obey what God tells you, even if just to “remove your sandals.”

God can make any place holy ground.

Are you willing to recognize Him and what He sets apart for His purposes?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Jesus Meets Us Where We Are

Luke 24

In my readings this week, God brought me to Luke 24. Upon first perusal of the chapter, I recognized it as the last chapter of Luke and the chapter, which tells us about Jesus Christ’s resurrection. This is the great news of the Gospel; Jesus is the Son of God who died to pay the penalty for our sin and He was resurrected. Many of us know this. Many of us have heard it so often we jump around it to progress. We need to remember and recall that if Jesus had not been resurrected and received His glory, we would not be saved from our sins and have eternal life in heaven. This is what Luke wanted us to make sure we know and remember. The end of Luke is the end of Jesus on earth, as He went to His glory outside of Bethany. It begins the rest of the story that Luke told: the beginning of the spread of the Gospel and the beginning of the Christian Church. In the midst of this, the entire big story, Luke paid particular attention to details before Christ’s ascension. Luke showed us one of the important things about Jesus: He meets us where we are. Let us consider this as we read Luke 24.

To understand the beginning of Luke 24, we must understand Jewish burial rituals somewhat. The Jews believed that to deny burial was the greatest indignity because the person became prey for the animals. The Jews based this custom on the criteria in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 not to leave a corpse of an executed person on the tree overnight. Three examples of immediate burials in the New Testament are Jesus, Ananias, and Sapphira (Acts 5:6-10). Burial was so important that, unless a ruling authority, i.e.the Romans or Assyrians, prohibited it, the dead were buried by sundown. Josephus, the great Romano-Jewish scholar and historian noted that it was an inhumanity to let anyone lie unburied. In addition to this, the family or close friends were to wash the body in aromatic water and oils.

This brings us to Jesus’ burial. Jesus’ death occurred on the day before the Jewish Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea gave his tomb as a burial place for the body of Jesus so that he could be buried before sundown. From sundown on that Friday until our Sunday, the Jews worshipped on their Sabbath. When their Sabbath was over, the women who were followers of Jesus went to perform part of the burial rituals, which went undone before the Sabbath began on Friday evening. They performed their religious duty as any good Jew, considering only their beloved teacher’s body, Jesus’ body. They wanted to bury Him with dignity. What He had taught them and what they saw while He was alive had not filtered into their routines and lives. What they understood was that their loved one was dead and they wanted to honor Him.

Here is where Jesus meets everyone, in his or her daily routines and lives. Until Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection affects us at the core of who we are and affects what we do, think, and believe, we have not truly believed in Him. This changing of life is what Luke showed us in chapter 24. Let us consider each of the encounters in this chapter.

As stated above, the Jewish women disciples went to bathe and anoint Jesus’ body with perfumed water and oil. When they arrived at the tomb, they found the covering stone moved, the tomb open, and Jesus’ body gone. Luke said they “were perplexed” in verse 4. “Perplexed” comes from the Greek word “aporeo” and means to be in doubt and not know which way to turn. They did not know how to decide or what to do. Flummoxed is a good word for this feeling. Two men in dazzling clothing appeared and the women, terrified, bowed to the ground. These women never experienced anything like this before and never considered this happening to them. It was beyond their grasp. The awe took over, though, from their religious training; they bowed to the ground. The angels spoke to them. They recalled to their minds Jesus’ teaching about Himself, His death and resurrection for the salvation of humankind. When the angels recalled this to their minds, “they remembered His words” (vs. 8). The angels reminded and the women remembered what Jesus taught them. Remember this; it is important. At their point of questioning, quandary, and desiring to understand, God’s messengers met them. Mary, Joanna, and Mary Magdalene hurried back to report what they experienced to the apostles. They were renewed and no longer sad. These women were excited. How did the apostles receive the message? Their words appeared as nonsense and they would not believe them (vs. 11). Nonsense can be translated as “idle talk.” The apostles and disciples took what the women said “with a grain of salt.” There was one among them who learned not to doubt the Lord, Peter. Peter wanted to see for himself and ran to the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings with no body and went to his home, marveling at what had happened (vs. 12). “Marveling” means “to wonder at.” Peter considered for himself and sifted he held true. The other apostles may not have wanted to accept the story of the women, but Peter carefully weighed this news for himself.

Luke next told of the two disciples walking to Emmaus. He said they talked to each other about the things that had taken place. From verse 15, we find it was not chitchat. They were discussing and debating trying to understand by examining what happened in Jerusalem then. “Discussing” is the Greek word “suzeteo” and means to seek and examine together, to dispute and question/debate. They did not pass the time of day; they examined and debated what happened. Another traveler approached them, whom Luke identified for us is Jesus, but whom the two disciples did not recognize. Luke stated in verse 16, “Their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” The word “prevented” is “krateo” in the Greek and means to have power over someone. God kept them from recognizing (being thoroughly acquainted) with Jesus. We do not know why God chose not to show Jesus’ presence to them yet. Jesus asked them what they were discussing. He did not ask this question because He did not know. He asked them because He wanted to meet them where they were, at their doubt and questioning. They and we are important to Jesus. They looked sad (vs. 17) and expressed amazement that He had been in the near Jerusalem and did not realize what happened in Jerusalem. Jesus wanted them to explain what happened as they perceived it and as it affected them. He wanted them to identify for themselves what they believed and where their belief became doubt. Jesus will meet a person at their point of need and wanting to know.

When Cleopas spoke, he spoke of a teacher, prophet, and human who came from Nazarene (vs. 19), not the Son of God. These disciples listened to Jesus’ teaching and saw His miracles. They had a hard time accepting the idea of Jesus’ resurrection, but hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel. They wanted to accept it, but it was three days since His death then (vs. 21) and no one had seen Jesus alive. The men hoped Jesus was the Christ, but were doubtful of a resurrection. They wanted Israel delivered/redeemed from the hands of their enemies and oppressors. These disciples remembered Jesus said He would return in three days after His death, but they had a hard time believing without seeing. Yet they had hope because of the women reported with amazement seeing the angels at the tomb and found no body lying in it. On top of that, men went to the tomb, Cleopas said, and found the tomb empty just as the women said. After this, they wanted to believe. Jesus told His disciples before His crucifixion He would return in three days. The women told of their encounter and the empty tomb. The men returned from the tomb and found it empty, too. They still doubted though. They expressed their thoughts, feelings, and pointed out their need. Jesus met them at their need.

Jesus explained to them from the writings of Moses (the Pentateuch) and the prophets what was spoken about the Christ. He told how it was necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into His glory (vs. 25-27). Jesus explained God’s plan from the beginning of time for salvation to everyone by using these writings. They learned again that God announced this Messiah through the prophets and Moses and the Jesus is this Messiah, this Christ. Notice, when they arrived in Emmaus, the disciples eagerly listened more and urged Jesus to stay with them. The Greek word for “urged” is “parabiasomai” and means to prevail upon or beg. Were they this adamant because they had begun to feel stirrings in their hearts that they did not yet recognize? Upon being brought food to eat, Jesus took the bread and blessed it. He broke it and began giving it to them, and then their eyes were opened (vs. 30). Jesus took control of the supper as if He were the host in the house. His authority resonated with the men. Aauthority over humankind was natural for Jesus. Could it be that the act of Jesus breaking the bread rang familiar to them and they recognized Jesus from their remembrance? Acts, smells, and sights often remind us of another time, person, or place. Jesus' recalling the words of Moses and the prophets, telling them how God prepared a salvation for them from the beginning of time, combined with this remembered action of breaking bread and then opening their eyes created what was necessary for them to understand and accept Jesus was not just a prophet, but the resurrected Son of God, the Christ. We would like to say that they recognized Him when they first met Jesus on the road, but verse 16 says they were prevented from seeing Jesus. So, we can say Jesus opened their eyes after He reminded them of what they were taught about the Messiah. So, their mental knowledge of Him (their knowledge of His teachings and life) was now in tune with their spiritual knowledge of Him.

These two men expressed their excitement in conversation. They recognized the stirrings in their hearts that equated with their knowledge of Jesus Christ. As disciples of Jesus become more familiar with Christ, they recognize when He is speaking them. These disciples were new to following the risen Lord, though they had known Him as a prophet and teacher. Where once reason and belief collided, Jesus brought clarity with His presence, words, and actions. Now they trusted and accepted Him as the Son of God and Savior. This news was too great to let darkness and fear of road bandits stop them from sharing it with the other disciples and apostles. The revelation compelled them to return to Jerusalem and share the facts of Jesus’ resurrection. Excitement and exhilaration is what new believers experience; they MUST tell others about Him. When these men arrived in Jerusalem and met the others, they received more confirmation of this truth. Jesus had appeared to Simon Peter, too. Christ had shown His resurrected self three times now. There must have been much excitement and emotion as they compared stories. Prior to this, the two disciples on the Emmaus road were perplexed. They wanted to trust what Jesus taught them before His crucifixion, but He was dead, they thought. Now with each of these stories of encounters with the risen Jesus and their own meeting with Him, they desired to believe and follow Him.

With such a large gathering of Jesus’ followers, would it not be great if they could experience the risen Jesus together? Luke told us, “While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be to you’’ (vs. 36). There was much chatter occurring and, with that, individual thoughts of who Jesus was and is being reconciled to what they had experienced. Jesus came into this cacophony of thought and sound and declared peace, a heart and soul peace, to His loved apostles and disciples. Jesus startled and frightened them (vs. 37). They feared they were seeing a spirit, a soul of the departed Jesus. See, they still were not completely sure what they believed concerning Jesus and His teachings. It had not affected their everyday life and thinking. Jesus asked why they were troubled. Why did they have inner commotion and no calmness of mind? Why were they doubting and deliberating amongst themselves. Next, Jesus gives them three ways to know He is real - to know His body was resurrected and He is not just a spirit as they feared. Jesus told them to see His hands and feet; they are flesh and bone. Jesus told them to touch Him. Finally, He asked for food and at it in their presence. Three times, He proved He was standing in His body. He did these three things for emphasis. We must understand, too, lest we be too harsh on the disciples, that for Greeks, the idea of resurrection was not appealing. It did not make any sense and the Greeks were people of logic and reason. So, Jesus made sure they realized He was resurrected. When Luke wrote His gospel, he wanted to make sure Greeks understood this person was the resurrected Jesus. Jesus met these followers at their point of need. He showed them His resurrected body and made sure they accepted without doubt He was real and not a spirit. Jesus reminded them of what He taught them during His three years of ministry, too. He reminded them how the scriptures from Moses, the prophets, and Psalms spoke of God sending a Messiah. He made sure to remind them He told them He is the Messiah. Next He helped them understand how His birth, life, death, and, now, resurrection fulfilled all the Scriptures. Jesus had to become a man to be acquainted with man. He had to suffer and die so that He could relate to humankind and them to Him. He became the offering for sin to provide salvation. Jesus had to be resurrected and enter His glory to have power over death and give us eternal life. The disciples may not have understood this when He was alive walking with and teaching them. They listened, but did not grasp what that meant. Jesus was there in that room explaining it from the past tense so they could grasp, trust, and accept it. 

One other thing had to occur now. Luke stated it in verse 45, “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” He taught them the Scriptures and they believed. Now, He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. This is what the Holy Spirit does for us now that Jesus has returned to heaven. Jesus re-taught the disciples on the way to Emmaus and in Jerusalem together. The angels re-taught the women at the tomb. Now they are all together in the room with the apostles and Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scripture so they can be commissioned for His service. This is what Jesus does for each of believer when He calls them to be His own. He teaches them, makes them strong in Him, opens their minds to Him completely, and then sends them out to bear witness of Him. Jesus told them, “You are witnesses of these things” (vs. 48). They witnessed His birth, life, death, and resurrection. They learned from Jesus directly. He opened their minds to understand Scripture. They were eyewitnesses, not just the students of the rabbi or teacher. They are heirs of salvation.

We each are eyewitnesses of God’s working in the world. We each are taught, had our eyes opened, and are commanded to go out to the world proclaiming that forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available through Jesus Christ. Christ sent forth those disciples armed with His promise, the Holy Spirit. He sends His disciples from every generations armed with His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us, remind us, and guide us on the journey to be witnesses to the world of God and His Son, Jesus the Christ. Lest we consider this the end of the story, we must remember that with the ending of Luke’s Gospel and Christ’s ascension is the beginning of the church and the call to everyone to come, hear, see, and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah of God from the beginning of time.

Jesus meets people where they are, whether they have known Him for a long time or never met Him. He met the women doing their Jewish burial duty. He met the two travelers at their point of debate and confusion. He met the apostles and disciples as they relayed with amazement these things and wondered if they were real. Jesus continues to meet people at their need, be it physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. Jesus comes to where you are, where you are walking, living, and searching. He is not a scheme or trick. God’s plan to give salvation came before time and was told throughout time, as seen in the Old Testament and New Testaments. God’s plan to be in a relationship with you came before He created the first man and woman. He created you to be in relationship with Him. Jesus is the way to our fulfillment, to be in a relationship with Him.

What will it take for you to believe?

He is with you now. Will you see Him, accept Him, and believe?

Jesus wants to meet you where you are right now.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How Much Do You Give to God?

Luke 21

            Have you heard of the story of the widow’s mite? I heard it enough so often  that I lost count. Because of this, I was tempted to skim over the story and move on to another passage when I read Luke 21. One verse stopped me, though. Verse 19 says, “By your endurance you will gain life” (NASB). The NIV states it, “By standing firm you will gain life.” Does this mean we can earn our eternal life? Certainly not! We must read this in relation to Jesus’ teaching on the widow’s mite and the prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction, the end times, and the second coming of Christ. Jesus implied a question with His teaching about the widow’s mite. He strengthened the question with verse 19. He asked, "How much of your life did you give to God when you decided to follow Jesus?"

            The widow, as Jesus stated, gave more than the other people. She gave everything she had. The other people, Jesus said, gave out of their surplus. They gave only a part. This reminds me of the parable of the seed and the sower in Luke 8 and Matthew 13. Remember that the seed sown on the path, thorny ground, and rocky ground did not take root and died quickly. Wind, weed, and thorn unsettled the proper grounding for the seed, like cares, trials, and troubles come for people, including people who profess to follow Christ. The widow, who follows with everything she has, is most like the true believer. Jesus meant this when He said, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” In the midst of talking about the destruction of Jerusalem that was to come, which we know occurred in 70AD, Jesus warned them to continue growing in their faith so they would stand firm and endure. Jesus ventured further into the future and spoke of the end times – death, fear, destruction, desolation, and hatred. He spoke of His return to Earth after these desolations, when He will come in power and glory, fulfilling the hope of His followers because He brings in God’s kingdom and their redemption.

            These four parts of Luke 21 are not isolated. They entwine and hold promise for the true followers of Christ. Let us look at verse 19 closer. Luke 21:19 says, “By your endurance, you will gain your lives.” Enduring is not a passive verb, as if any verb could be. Enduring, though, requires mental and physical strength. For Christians, whose spirituality reflects in their lives, enduring also shows spiritual strength, which comes from spiritual growth, growing deeper in their faith daily and becoming more Christ-like. Spiritual growth comes from God’s love and from a person’s absolute essence, their soul. These four are the areas of a person that Jesus spoke of in the greatest commandment and God told the Israelites, found in Luke 10:27 and Deuteronomy 6:5, respectively. These passages say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might.” Jesus added the element to love God with your mind. Jesus knows actions come from inside a person, from his or her mind and desires. Added to these, Jesus often told His disciples they would be hated because they follow Him. However, Jesus said, the one who has endured to the end will be saved (vs.19). He stated this in Matthew 10:22 and 24:13. “Endurance” in these verses comes from the Greek word “hupomeno,” which means to preserve under misfortunes and trials; to hold fast to one’s faith. The “gain” in verse 19 is “ktaomai,” which mean to acquire or get. “Lives” is the Greek word for “souls.” When put in context with the other things Christ told the people that day, it means when we persistently and steadfastly endure, we will acquire and get from God our souls. When we apply endurance to our Christian belief in Jesus, we grow stronger in our belief and prove we are true followers of Christ.

 As we continue to grow more Christ-like, the seed He planted within us shows in which soil our faith grows. If when we go through tribulations and trials we persevere in our belief in Jesus Christ, we grow and produce character and hope (Romans 5:3-5). James and Peter spoke of this as well. James carried it further and said to count it joy that you do encounter trials because it tests your faith and grows your endurance, which produces perfect results, your salvation in God’s kingdom. Peter in 2 Peter 1:5-8 showed the progression of Christian growth – applying diligence to your faith (purposely relying on what you are taught), growing moral excellence, increasing in godly knowledge, attaining self-control, persevering, acquiring godliness, becoming kind, and sharing love. Peter stated if you possess these qualities, then you are not useless or unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus.

            Obvious and active faith is the point. If you hear the Word and intentionally, with determination, step out on what you heard, your faith will grow as James and Peter stated. If you hear the Word, saying you are a follower of Jesus, but do not act upon this supposed faith you claim, you are not a follower. You do not have an eternal reward, eternal life with God in heaven. The widow enacted her faith when she gave her small offering of a mite. It was all she had and she trusted God to give all she needed, physically, spiritually, and eternally. She believed with all she had - her heart, soul, mind, and hand (strength). By putting into action the faith you claimed when you heard the Gospel message, you develop and grow in your faith. Faith is like that old saying, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Those who step out intentionally holding onto the spark of faith God puts within them are the ones who will gain eternity. They are the ones who will grow, show God’s love, and prove their faith to themselves and others. These believers, too, will be the ones persecuted for following Jesus, for being Christians. The trials and persecutions Christians endure come because of their obvious faith. These trials and persecutions also make the believer stronger. Non-believers will not taunt or persecute minor followers because they have not proven they are true followers of Christ yet, to themselves or to others. When believers venture their lives to follow Christ, when they step out on their faith, they prove their Christianity. If a person decides after that first step into faith that the Life is not for him, then he never was a Christian anyway. These kinds of people are the seeds that fell on rocky or thorny soil. Seeds sown in rocky and thorny soil, upon meeting trial, do not endure. These people represented as the seed in rocky and thorny soil will not gain their lives/souls, because they were not true believers. They were only hearers. God stirred the minds of these people, but they chose not to let it affect their hearts and souls for Christ.

            Jesus gave one final admonition to His followers at this point in time. He said, “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). Jesus said, "Remember, pray to me, call upon me, so that you will have the strength to stay strong during these trials now and through the end of time." Christians do not have to stand in their own strength. Jesus came to give life abundantly. He has all authority and power in heaven in earth (Matthew 28:18). Growing in Christ means we follow Christ with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It means we rely upon Him. If we could have saved ourselves, Jesus would not have been necessary. However, the power of Satan bound us to our sinfulness and only the power of God is greater. Because of God’s love for us and by His power, He provided the only way we can be saved from the sin by which Satan entangles us. We cannot defeat Satan in our own strength just as we cannot save ourselves. We call upon Jesus to save us when we hear of His grace, love, and mercy. We must call upon Him for His strength to help us stand strong and endure. He is our strength and shield. He is our salvation. David said these in the Psalms. Jesus reminded His followers in verse 36.

            We have heard it said, “It will all come out in the wash.” This thought carries over into our faith. When we hear the Word, do we dig deep roots and steadfastly endure because it has become our faith, what we hold tight and in what we have our hope? Or, do we, when trials come, step back, rethink it, and let go of a tentative possible faith? During the wash of trials and persecutions, people see the faith we have, be it in Jesus Christ or in something else. I urge you; do not throw away that initial confidence you had when you heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not, having walked this early path, decide that believing in Christ is not for you, that it is not a real faith in your life. Endure. Step out for Jesus, one step at a time. Keep going forward with Him. As you do this, your tentative, beginning steps develop into a stronger faith, not just a spark of possibility. From this, true belief comes, along with patience, trying, testing, and persecutions. By your endurance through time and testing, your faith grows and is proven and you will receive what God promised, eternal life.

We return to Jesus’ implied question to His listeners:

How much of your life did you give to God when you decided to follow Jesus?

Did you give Him only a part from your surplus or did you give Him everything?