Imitating Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51)

There may be times in our lives when the stress of our disquiet and anxiety becomes distracting. The complexities and difficulties of life are coming at us too fast for us to deflect and to process and we are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe the issues are relational or financial or vocational, or all the above, but the net effect is a sense of being outmatched by life. How are we to pray in these situations? How do we cry out to the Lord when it feels like, “There is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul (Psalm 142:4)”?

As I look at the examples and the instructions of the Scriptures, I think the answer is to cry out to the Lord in faith with a specific request. Even when you see many threats and concerns bearing down on you and collectively creating anxiety and stress, there is usually one specific issue that is primary. That is, there is usually one issue that, if defused, would bring things back into the realm of the manageable. But in any event, whether you can identify the key issue or not, you begin by identifying one issue and then addressing that issue with the Lord in prayer.

So, having identified one specific problem or fear or threat, we can cry out to the Lord about THAT. We confess our trouble and probably our fear, and then we “pour out our complaint before the Lord (Psalm 142:2).” We are saying, “Here is my trouble and sorrow. O Lord help me! O Lord answer me! Deliver me!”

AN EXAMPLE IN THE DUST OF THE JERICHO ROAD

There was a day when Jesus was leaving Jericho (Mark 10:46). The Lord had been passing through Jericho on His way going up to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32), where He was to be arrested, beaten, and crucified. He was on His way to Jerusalem to accomplish atonement for all of God’s people for all time by His death on the cross. But as He is leaving Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting by the road (Mark 10:46), and the beggar began to cry out to Him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me (10:48)!”

It is hard to imagine a greater contrast: The Son of God on His way to Jerusalem to accomplish the mission of salvation for the whole world and a blind beggar sitting in the dust beside the Jericho road pitifully crying out for mercy. Jesus could not be bothered with such a one as this, could He?

AND JESUS STOPPED

When Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus for mercy, what happened? AND JESUS STOPPED (10:49). Think about this for a moment. The Son of God is “on the road going up to Jerusalem (10:32)” and when, above all the noise of the large crowd, He hears a cry for mercy, Jesus stopped. Jesus temporarily set aside His mission of saving the world to talk to a blind beggar. He then calls Bartimaeus to Himself and says, “What do you want Me to do for you (Mark 10:51)?”

CONSIDER BARTIMAEUS: A MAN OF ONE REQUEST

The King of kings has just called Bartimaeus to come to Him and He has given this blind man a blank check. “What do you want Me to do for you?” Now is his chance. Now Bartimaeus has the full attention of the Lord of the universe and he can ask Him for any one thing. With this incredible privilege, what will he ask for?

Bartimaeus is ready with his one request. Without hesitation he said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight (10:51)!” This is a perfect request! Not only does the request demonstrate Bartimaeus’ faith by asking Jesus for what is humanly impossible, but it also clearly identifies the one issue that is most critical to the blind man: his sight. Bartimaeus gives Jesus a specific request. What happens next?

Jesus instantly and evidently answered his “impossible” request. No one there could deny what had taken place. A blind beggar had come to Jesus and had asked Him to give him his sight, and Jesus had spontaneously done exactly that. “Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road (10:52).” Thus, Jesus was glorified as the great healer and the one who answers impossible requests asked in faith.

APPLICATION

Now if we switch back to the situation where we are feeling overwhelmed by life’s complexities and difficulties, maybe we can learn from Bartimaeus’ example. Although as a blind beggar, there is little doubt that Bartimaeus must have had many challenging issues, when it came time to present his request to the Lord, our man gave one specific request. “I want to regain my sight.” Like Bartimaeus, once we have identified our major issue, we present our one specific request to the Lord in prayer. “Lord, here is the complaint that I am pouring out before You. Here is my trouble and my sorrow. Here is THE issue. O Lord please answer me!”

A specific request makes possible a clear, specific answer. The Lord is glorified by answering our prayer request and we are blessed by His answer.

SDG                 rmb                 1/25/2021

To fear the Lord, or not to fear the Lord? (Exodus 20:20)

One of the difficult concepts to understand in our walk with Christ is the concept of the fear of God. There are times in the Bible where the believer is instructed or commanded to fear the Lord, and then perhaps in the same passage he will be commanded not to be afraid. There are many commands to “Fear not,” but then there are those that say, “you shall fear.” How do we sort these things out? Are we to fear or are we not to fear?

This post will take a brief look at this idea of “the fear of the Lord” to give us a right perspective on it.

First, the believer is commanded to fear the Lord. Consider Deuteronomy 6:13.

You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.”

The verse seems clear, but what does the word “fear” mean in this context? Am I to be fearful of God? Am I to cower before Him or hide from Him because He is holy, a consuming fire? Is our relationship based on His threats and my frightened obedience? Of course, the answer is no. Because of Jesus, the believer has received grace and full forgiveness from the Lord, so there is no cause to be afraid of His judgment and condemnation anymore. The fear that is commanded is a reverential love and a steadfast hope. This is the fear that David is talking about in Psalm 34 when he writes, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him and rescues them (34:7).” The “fear” that manifests itself in loving reverence and trust receives protection and rescue from the angel of the LORD. David goes on to say that this fear of the LORD will result in “keeping your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit; Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it (34:13-14).” So, this fear is not a cowering terror, but is a reverential love and trust that produces obedience and worship.

Second, there are times when the Scripture commands people not to fear the Lord. This is the case in Exodus 20:20 – Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” In this terrifying encounter with the LORD at Mount Sinai, the people trembled and stood at a distance (20:18). They were understandably afraid because the LORD was giving the Law and was revealing to them their sin. Moses is saying to those who will repent of their sins and will have a reverential love for the LORD and will trust the LORD have no need to be afraid of the LORD. Those who turn from their sins and obey the LORD relate to Him as a son or daughter relates to a father. So, the believer is instructed to not be afraid of the Lord, because perfect love has cast out fear (1 John 4:18), while at the same time they fear the Lord with reverential love and trust and awe.

Third, the Scripture commands the believer to not fear “ordinary threats and dangers,” because they are protected and defended and loved by the Lord. Consider these verses:

  • God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea. – Psalm 46:1-2
  • “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10. (See also 41:13, 14.)
  • But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:1, 3.
  • But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” – Matthew 14:27.

Regardless of the peril of the circumstances, the believer is not to fear, because the believer has joined himself or herself to the Lord, and the Lord is greater than all. So then, for the believer to fear anything or anyone except the Lord is a sin, because they are distrusting the Lord and are declaring, by their fear, that something is greater than the Lord. Instead, for the one who fears the LORD, “He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD (Psalm 112:7.” The one who truly fears the Lord should fear nothing else.

Finally, those who do not know the Lord and who are not covered by the atoning blood of Jesus are completely right to fear the Lord. They remain under His holy wrath (Ephesians 2:3) and under His judgment and condemnation. Whether they know it or not, they are fully “open and laid bare before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13),” and they are exactly one heartbeat away from meeting God, the consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

So, yes, believers fear the Lord with a holy reverence. We are in awe of Him because of His holiness and because of His wrath against any and all sin. He is still the God of Sinai, the God of the Law, the Holy One of Israel.

But because of Jesus and because of His finished work on the cross; because of “Tetelestai (John 19:30)” and because of His resurrection, we are now those in whom the Lord delights. Amazingly, the Lord delights in us as those who fear His name (Psalm 147:10-11; 149:4).

So, we are not afraid of the LORD God like Adam was (Genesis 3:8-10), who hid from the Lord’s presence because of his sin, but we are those who come boldly into His presence (Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 3:12) in reverential fear, cleansed from our sin by the blood of Jesus and adopted into God’s family as His beloved children (John 1:12; Romans 8:14-17; Eph. 1:5).  

SDG                 rmb                 1/19/2021

The quest for purpose (Luke 13:7)

Man is a purpose-seeking creature. Built into man’s very nature is the deep need for a purpose that gives meaning to his days. Yet even though there seem to be myriad paths available to a person, there is no obvious guide for deciding which path to choose and there is no universal, default destination for where the chosen path should lead. So, without a path and without a destination, the natural man struggles to find purpose. Sometimes we feel like Alice in Wonderland as she encounters the Cheshire cat at the fork in the road. Alice asks the cat, “Please tell me which road I should choose.” “Well,” replies the cat, “that all depends on where you are going.” “I don’t know where I am going.” “In that case, either road will get you there.”

JUSTIFY OUR EXISTENCE

Man needs a purpose because in some sense he wants to justify his existence. If someone were to ask him one day, “What are you doing here, anyway?” he would like to give some credible answer. And yet, what answer could he give? “I don’t really know what I am doing here. I just showed up one day and kept breathing.” We seek to justify our existence and are frightened to discover that our best offering is pretty shaky.

CAN I FIND A MISSION?

We would love a compelling mission for our lives that gives us a laser beam focus, but, if the truth were told, we would settle for any mission at all. The scene that opens the movie “Apocalypse Now” shows Martin Sheen sitting on a sweat-soaked bed in Vietnam as the ceiling fan slowly stirs the sultry air, and then the voice-over says, “Saigon. Waiting for a mission.” That pictures the state of every person as they begin to grow toward maturity and begin to contemplate their existence. “Here I am. Waiting for a mission.” Where can anyone turn to find an answer to the question of purpose? Jesus tells a parable about a man who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard that produced no fruit. “Cut it down!” he says. “Why should it use up the ground? (Luke 13:7)” Whether we know the Lord or not, this question haunts us. “Why should he use up the ground?”

THREE KINDS OF PURPOSE

In my observation, there are three broad categories of purpose into which people fit.

  • No purpose
  • A man-made or man-invented purpose
  • A God-given purpose

NO PURPOSE

The natural state and the starting point of all people in their quest for purpose is “no purpose.” This is the result of the Fall of man when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. One of the consequences of man’s sin is that he is separated from God and so is groping around for purpose and direction like the blind. Isaiah says, “We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes (59:10).” There may be some casual searches for meaning at different points in life, but eventually the search is abandoned, and life becomes a long and aimless chore. Often this is a life defined by random choices because they lack a compelling ‘why,’ and random choices are usually bad choices. Tragically, I think this may describe the majority of people.

A MAN-MADE PURPOSE

It has already been observed that there are myriad paths in life available to a person, but there is no clear means for deciding which of those paths to take or why, and there is no default destination toward which a man or a woman should strive. Nevertheless, there are many who, because of their circumstances in life or because of their personality and character makeup, or both, find a path that, for whatever reason, appeals to them. The choice of path or purpose is often random (I remember we were on a trip to Florida on a summer break from college when I saw a rocket engine and decided to become a Mechanical Engineer!), but, having selected that course in life, men and women pour themselves into this “man-made purpose” with obsessive energy.

Some choose a career as being their obsession. Others choose their children or their family. Making money can be the purpose. Or sexual conquests. Or sports. Or really anything. Wrestling crocodiles. Chasing tornadoes. Politics. Being a “foodie.” The man-made purpose does not need to be important or impressive in the eyes of the world (although it often is). My obsession in my twenties and early thirties was rock climbing. (Like I said, it does not have to make sense or be impressive.) I poured myself into that activity and sacrificed almost everything else to pursue cragging. It seems foolish, but that is the nature of the man-made purpose. Once chosen the choice of the purpose is rarely questioned.

The author of Ecclesiastes, “the Preacher,” had chosen man-made pursuits. Enormously successful at all that he did, he was miserable. “So, I hated life! All is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:17).” Having given his life to wisdom and pleasure and accomplishment, he encountered that great equalizer. He encountered the problem of the six-foot hole. When considering his own death, he says, “The same event happens to all of them. How the wise dies just like the fool! As one dies, so dies the other (Ecclesiastes 2:14, 16; 3:19).” All those who pursue a man-made purpose will find vexation and emptiness in this life, and judgment in the next. “This, too, is vanity and a striving after wind.”

A GOD-GIVEN PURPOSE

The best of all purposes is a God-given purpose. This is possessed by all those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Having been called by God to faith in Jesus, the believer has received the blessing of a clear purpose that pleases God, that is intensely fulfilling, that lasts a lifetime, and that receives the commendation in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21, 23).” The believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit who is a divine guide for directing him or her to the right path (Isaiah 30:21). The believer has the mission of being a witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) and of being His ambassador in the world (2 Cor. 5:20), a mission that is joy-producing and satisfying and challenging. In trusting Christ as Savior, the believer has received a purpose that justifies their existence and that is worth spending a lifetime to accomplish. This purpose is worth living for and it is worth dying for.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21 

SDG                 rmb                 1/15/2021

Making the most of the time (Ephesians 5:16)

The goal of the disciple of Jesus is to be “making the most of the time,” as Paul commends us in Ephesians 5:15-16. That goal is clear from Scripture. Moses asks the Lord to “teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).” Same idea. We are called to make the most of every day. But the question is, how do we do that? That is, who is to say what “making the most of the time” looks like? With so many ways to spend my time, who determines when I am “making the most of my time?”

PRINCIPLE: “Making the most of the time” is spending your time according to God’s priorities for life. These priorities are expressed in the Bible and are constrained by and applied through the circumstances of each individual life, with its specific roles and responsibilities.

Because the best source for discovering God’s priorities is the Bible, the better a person knows the Bible, the better they can “make the most of the time.”

            “But wait a minute” you may say. “The Bible is a big book full of all kinds of teaching and stories and songs and prayers. How do I find God’s priorities for life in all that?” A great question! While it is true that there is not a special section in the Bible that explicitly spells out God’s priorities for life, it is also true that the Bible is a book that is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). God Himself has inspired the Bible to be His word to His people, and so the Bible informs ANY life, and it informs ALL of life. The Bible is written such that it speaks to any believer in any circumstance and communicates God’s message to that believer, regardless of their circumstances. And the Bible is written to communicate God’s guidance for all aspects of life, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).”

            So, again I say, the better a person knows the Bible, the better they can “make the most of the time.”

            Practically speaking, God’s priorities gradually become our own over time as we abide with the Lord in His word and in prayer. After years spent living and reliving the many narrative stories in the Scriptures, we gradually absorb their lessons, and we see the errors and the successes of hundreds of characters, and we learn something of God’s priorities. Reading and rereading the gospels allows us to learn from the God-Man Himself, the Lord Jesus, and so have God’s priorities shape us. Repeated trips through Job and the Psalms and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes allow us to implicitly see God’s priorities as we read the wisdom literature. The point is that extended time with God in His word will gradually instill His priorities in your heart.

            So, when Paul exhorts us to “make the most of the time, because the days are evil,” He has not given the follower of Jesus Christ an impossible assignment. Diligently read your Bible, be often in prayer, and carefully examine your life to make sure that you are intentionally living for Jesus, and you will probably be making the most of the time.

SDG                 rmb                 1/14/2021

The conscience, the Law, and sin – Part 1: The conscience

In the next several days I will be writing two articles, one on the conscience and sin, and one on the Law and sin. The connection is that the conscience and the Law are two of God’s means of grace which bring our sin to our attention so that we can repent. These articles will examine how the natural man responds to these God-given means of grace.

The conscience and sin

What do we know about the conscience from the Bible? We will look at a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans that addresses the conscience and use that as our starting point. Then we will examine several other verses that further inform our understanding of our conscience and try to apply those ideas to our lives.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves in that they show the work of the Law written on their heart, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternatively accusing or else defending them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. – Romans 2:14-16

Paul writes that “Gentiles do not have the Law,” but they do have a conscience. From this we can conclude that all people are born with a conscience. This is, in fact, what the whole Bible makes plain. All people have a God-given sin-detector called a conscience. Whether Jew or Gentile, or believer or unbeliever. A conscience is part of the standard equipment for all people.

The function of the conscience

What is the function of the conscience? Since not everyone knows about the moral Law of God as written in the Bible, God in His grace has given everyone a conscience to reveal to us our sin so that we can be led to repentance (Romans 2:4). In fact, as we read the passage above more carefully, we see that the conscience does “the work of the Law.” The conscience functions as a copy of “the Law written on our heart,” and it either accuses us of sin or acquits us of not-sin as we go through our lives. Here is how this might work. As I am talking to someone, I tell them what I know to be a lie. My conscience immediately convicts me of that sin, and I know that I have lied, and thus I have the opportunity to repent. Or else I walk past a co-worker’s cubicle and see that he has left his wallet on his desk while he went out to lunch. I could steal the wallet, but I resist, and my conscience defends me because I did not steal. The conscience, then, is evidence of God’s grace, revealing to us our sin so that we can repent.

Before we leave this passage, we should also notice that there is a vitally important reason why we need to repent. You see, there is a judgment coming. There will be a day in the future when “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” On that day, all sin that has not been forgiven will receive the full wrath of God through Christ Jesus. The sins that you think are safely secret are all known to God, and you will be judged for them. The sins that are unknown to you are all known to God, and you will be condemned by them (Romans 2:12). So, the natural man needs to listen to his conscience and repent of his sin.

The limitations of the conscience

Since everyone has a conscience, we would expect that people would be aware of their sin and would often repent of it, but this is definitely not the case. Why is this not the case? It is because of the limitations of the conscience in the face of the fallenness of man.

First, while the conscience convicts of sin universally, it convicts of sin weakly. The pang of guilt from the conscience is never that sharp, so the natural man learns very quickly how to ignore and silence the conscience. The Bible says that the conscience can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2), and the conscience can be defiled (Titus 1:15). In both these cases, the convicting effects of the conscience are silenced, and the people can proceed in their sin with a feeling of impunity. The sin remains and condemns, but the conscience’s ability to convict is smothered. This is what all people learn to do as they go through life, to a greater or lesser degree.

But second and more importantly, unsaved man loves his sin. In the gospel of John, he says: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3:19-20).” The Bible is clear that the natural man is a slave of sin and he loves his slavery. The unsaved have given themselves over to the desires of their flesh and hate anything that seeks to limit their sin. Thus, unsaved people hate the conscience because they hate to be told about their sin.

Finally, while the conscience can convict of sin, it can only convict of sin. That is, the conscience can make the sinner aware of their sin, but they cannot restrain the sinner from sinning. More than this, the conscience cannot remove from the sinner the guilt and condemnation which they have revealed to the sinner. The conscience tells the sinner, “You are guilty of that sin!” The sinner replies, “Oh. How can I be forgiven of that sin?” “I don’t know,” says the conscience. In some sense, the conscience is like a fire alarm in your house. The fire alarm is good at letting you know that there is a fire in your house. Its piercing shriek is designed to basically wake the dead so that you are aware of the danger. But if you are relying on the alarm to save you from the fire, you will be sadly disappointed. An alarm without a separate escape plan is a casualty. Just so, your conscience can do nothing about your sin except to point out your guilt. If you do not have a way of being forgiven of that sin, you will surely perish in the judgment.

The answer to revealed sin

If the conscience cannot remove my sin or forgive my sin, then what am I to do? There is only one way to be forgiven of any sin, whether known or unknown, whether revealed by the conscience or by some other means.

“In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7).”

            It is only through repentance of your sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that you can have forgiveness of sins. If your conscience is bothering you and you are convicted of your guilt before a holy God, confess your sins, and repent, and come to Jesus in faith. (1 John 1:9; Mark 1:15)

SDG                 rmb                 1/11/2021

Do we seek suffering? – Part 2 (Philippians 3:10)

“that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.” – the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10

It seems that the statement is made at some point in conversations about suffering, especially among American Christians. It is usually well intended and sounds like an appropriate thing to say in response to affliction for the name of Jesus. “Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering. . .” But the more I think about that statement, the more uncomfortable I become. Is that true? Are we not to seek suffering? And if that is the case, then why do so many of my heroes in the Bible and so many Christians in history suffer for their faith? Is it normal to be a serious Christian and not suffer for my faith? And what do I do if God is calling me to a course of action that almost certainly includes suffering to some degree?

            Because of the importance of the topic of suffering for the believer, I am going to spend several posts exploring what I see to be problems with the statement, “Of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering.” The goal is to arrive at a solid perspective on suffering that makes me more useful to Jesus.

            Problem #1 (January 5) dealt with the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ effectively sought out His own suffering as the necessary means for accomplishing His mission of redemption and atonement. Since Jesus sought suffering, it seems hard to imagine that we do not. In this post we will look at Problem #2.

“Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering . . .”

PROBLEM #2

            “That’s really a trivial statement.”

Upon examination, we realize that the declaration above (“Of course, we do not seek suffering”) is somewhat trivial. What I mean is this: Of course, Christians do not seek out suffering! No one in their right mind seeks out suffering as an end in itself, so saying that the Christian is not called to seek suffering is just stating the obvious. Jesus did not call His disciples to seek suffering for suffering’s sake, but He did call us to follow Him wherever He leads regardless of any real or imagined consequences. The consequences of my obedience are the Lord’s responsibility. He determines those, and one of those potential consequences may be suffering. Another consequence could be my physical death. As a disciple of Jesus, I choose to obey regardless. The duty of obedience is my responsibility. I obey because obedience to my Master is my highest aim. I long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

When viewed in this light, the possibility of suffering is irrelevant. It is beside the point. Suffering is just one of the potential consequences of my obedience to the Lord. Why focus on one potential consequence instead of focusing on the goal or the prize of my obedience (Philippians 3:14)? Why highlight this one possible personal consequence instead of bringing all glory to Christ and focusing all my energy on proclaiming the gospel? Why think about a consequence of obedience that might cause me to shrink back from God’s appointed path (Hebrews 10:38-39), instead of running with endurance the race before me and fixing my eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2), which will spur me on?

The bottom line is that the disciple of Jesus does not seek out a path just because it offers an opportunity to suffer, but neither does the disciple of Jesus shrink back from any God-appointed path that requires personal suffering. Suffering is not sought, nor is it required, but neither is it ever avoided.

SDG                 rmb                 1/9/2021

Are we distracted, seeing the wind? (Matthew 14:30)

Our time is a time of uncertainty and distraction. Much of what was the bedrock of our existence and of our routines has begun to show alarming fractures, and we are sensing that our boat is being battered by the waves and that the wind is contrary (the disciples on the sea of Galilee in Matthew 14:24). There are storms swirling all around us – political storms, medical storms, social storms, relational storms, moral storms – and it is increasingly difficult not to be distracted by the winds and be swept up in fear.

PETER AND THE DISCIPLES IN THE STORM

Jesus’ disciples faced a similar situation one night on the Sea of Galilee, not figuratively, but literally (Matthew 14:22-33). Jesus had stayed behind on the shore while they tried to row to the other side of the lake. Their boat was being battered by the waves, for the wind was contrary (14:24). Jesus came to them, walking on the sea, and reassures them in the midst of their plight, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid (14:27).” Then (28) Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” (29) And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” – Matthew 14:30

(31) Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

As we consider how Peter responded to his storm, we will learn several things about how to respond to our own storms.

SEEING THE WIND, NOT THE LORD

Peter began to sink because he was seeing the wind, not the Lord Jesus. This is the major lesson we can learn from this. Jesus is the Lord of all nature and thus the Lord of all storms and all winds. He is the one who speaks to the winds and the sea and they obey Him (Matthew 8:27). He is the one who made the sea and the dry land (Psalm 95:5). Jesus is also the Lord of glory, the King of kings, the Son of God. This Jesus had commanded Peter to come to Him (14:29). Yet, with the Lord of glory beckoning him to come to Him, Peter was distracted by the winds. The incarnate Son of God was a short distance away, and Peter took his eyes off Jesus and put them on the wind.

Let us consider this: When we take our eyes off Jesus and are distracted by the prevailing winds, even the invisible becomes dangerous. But when we fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), our field of vision is taken up by Him who is most powerful and most lovely. When Jesus consumes our gaze, we seem to have supernatural power to attempt the impossible and are reminded that we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).

When Peter was concentrated on Jesus, he had supernatural power to walk on water, but when he was distracted by the prevailing storm and was “seeing the wind,” he sank like an ordinary man. Just so, a faithful walk with Jesus calls for us to be concentrated on Him. We are not involved in a pastime or a hobby with which we dabble from time to time. No! We are involved in a minute-by-minute faith-walk with the King of kings that involves our whole being. So, we press forward with vigor and we ignore the winds of distraction, no matter how hard they blow. Jesus is worthy of being the one who fills our entire gaze and captures all our attention.

WHEN PETER FAILED

Peter is one of only two human beings who has ever walked on water. This is a remarkable achievement. When the fishermen got together around the Sea of Galilee, Peter could stop the boasting by saying, “Well, I guess that’s impressive, but I walked on water.” End of conversation.

But we also notice from the story that Peter failed. Peter’s zeal to walk to Jesus on the water was drowned by his fascination with the invisible winds. Peter got distracted, and “seeing the wind, he became frightened and began to sink (14:30).” Has that ever happened to you? I mean, have you ever failed, despite your best intentions? How does Jesus respond to Peter’s failure? DON’T MISS THIS. When Peter is sinking and cries out, “Lord, save me!” . . .

“IMMEDIATELY Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him.”

Peter exercised incredible faith and boldly attempted something that should have been impossible. Ultimately, his attempt failed. What do we hear from Jesus? There is no rebuke, no ridicule, no chagrin. Instead, the same hand that in the Creation formed the sea and the dry land is immediately stretched out to take a firm hold of His beloved disciple. Peter cries out for the Lord to save him, and immediately the Lord Jesus does exactly that. Jesus upholds His own with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). When we pass through the waters, Jesus is with us (Isaiah 43:2). When we fail, as we inevitably will, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).

APPLICATIONS

There are basically three takeaways from this study, three applications that have emerged.

  • Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and don’t spend time “seeing the wind”
  • As an act of your will, IGNORE THE WIND. That is, IGNORE THE DISTRACTIONS.
  • Attempt bold things for the glory of God, because Jesus is our Advocate (1 John 2:1).

SDG                 rmb                 1/7/2021

Fear not and go forward (Exodus 14:15)

What are we to do when we perceive a threat that is greater than our resources to resist? There is danger bearing down on us and there is no place to hide. We see what feels like the proverbial “death star” on the horizon. How should we as believers respond to these situations?

One of the blessings of the word of God, the Bible, is that it is filled with teaching and stories that give us guidance for every circumstance in life. Because we are weak people living in a fallen world and we frequently encounter frightening threats, one of the most common themes in the Bible is that of overcoming overwhelming and dangerous situations with the power of the Lord. In Exodus 14, the children of Israel were in a dangerous situation.

SETTING THE STAGE FOR EXODUS 14

            The people of Israel have just escaped from Egypt after the LORD killed all the first-born in the Passover, and now they are heading out into the wilderness. The LORD directs the people to encamp in front of the Red Sea, intentionally making them vulnerable to an attack from behind. The LORD then hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he regrets letting the people go and decides to chase after them. So, the situation is that the people of Israel have murderous Egyptians closing in behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. The people of Israel became very frightened and cried out to the LORD (Exodus 14:10).

            Was this threat real? It most certainly was! In fact, the situation appeared hopeless. The Egyptian army with chariots and horses was bearing down on defenseless Israel and they had nowhere to run or to hide. This is the nature of our God, that the Lord will sometimes ordain situations which test our obedience and that tempt us to fear. In those circumstances, we are to continue to obey Him and to do those things He has commanded us to do.

A TIME TO ACT

            Moses tells the people, “Do not fear! Stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD. The LORD will fight for you (Exodus 14:13-14).” Moses reminds the people that the LORD is with them and therefore they need not fear. Even though the danger appears to be great, “the LORD will fight for you.” If the LORD is the one fighting for you, the danger has suddenly lost its threat.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.” – Exodus 14:15

            There is a time to cry out to the LORD and there is a time to ACT. The LORD is making clear that now is the time to obey Him with action. “Go forward!” Huh? To obey the LORD’s command, the people need to begin walking out into the Red Sea.

            Of course, the LORD has a plan. “As for you . . . (14:16)” Moses will divide the sea with his staff and Israel will walk through the sea. All Israel must do is obey and go forward.

            “As for Me . . . (14:17)” For His part, the LORD will be honored through Pharaoh and his army as He destroys them in the Red Sea. “Then the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD (14:18).” Thus, the LORD delivers Israel, destroys the Egyptians, and receives honor for Himself as He displays His power.

LESSONS

“Be strong and courageous and act (1 Chronicles 28:20).”

“Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed (Joshua 1:9).”

“Tell the sons of Israel to go forward (Exodus 14:15).”

These commands in Scripture are all given because the Lord is with His people. That is, I can be strong and courageous not because I am competent and mighty, but because my Lord who guides me is all-powerful. Because the Lord is with us like a dread Champion (Jeremiah 20:11), the believer is to have these commands as a persistent attitude and is to be ready at any time to put this attitude into action.

            This world is filled with threats and dangers, and our fallen flesh fans the flames of fear, but we are called to fear not, stand firm, and courageously go forward with the Lord.     

SDG                 rmb                 12/29/2020

Psalm 110 – Part 1: The LORD speaks to the Lord

NOTE: This post is longer than most because it is intended to teach how to interpret and understand difficult and complex verses of the Bible. So the purpose is primarily INSTRUCTIVE. rmb

Jesus is the central figure in the Bible. The more a person reads and studies the Bible, the more obvious this becomes. Jesus is the subject of the prophecies and the foreshadows and the types in the Old Testament, as the people of God looked forward to the Messiah’s coming. He is the regal King of the gospels, as He displays His deity through His miracles and His teaching, and He is the suffering servant of the Lord, enduring His passion and dying His sacrificial death on the cross. He is the Firstborn from the dead as He rises victorious from the grave, the resurrected King of kings and the one who ascends to the Father’s right hand. The New Testament looks back to His death on the cross and His glorious resurrection, but the New Testament also looks forward to His Second Coming, when He will descend from heaven as the Judge of all the earth to “tread out the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Revelation 19:15).” From Genesis to Revelation, Jesus is the subject of the Scriptures. He is the glorious one, the star of the show.

But even though Jesus is the Person who dominates the Scriptures, it is not always easy to find Him in every passage of the Scriptures. What I mean is that sometimes Jesus is hidden by the mysterious way that a passage is written. Sometimes the Holy Spirit has inspired a passage in the Bible that is loftier than our current thoughts or that stretches our concept of who Jesus is. Because the Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), there will be times when we can understand the words that are used in a passage, but we may not understand the full meaning of what is being communicated. For those passages, we must slow down and dig deeper to find the treasure hidden in the passage. Psalm 110 is such a passage. This psalm was written by King David about 1,000 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and yet it tells amazing truths about the Lord Jesus and about what He will accomplish in His advents.

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” – Psalm 110:1

ASKING QUESTIONS TO UNDERSTAND THE VERSE

            At a first reading, this verse appears to be a complete mystery. The context of the verse is unclear, and the message of the verse is even less clear. What is this verse about? But before we despair, let’s see if we can ask some questions that may give us at least some direction.

            We have already established that Jesus is the central figure of the Bible. As we answer these questions, we will learn more about Jesus and about the whole flow of redemptive history and will see that this verse has a powerful message about Jesus.

  1. Who is speaking in this verse?
  2. To whom is He speaking?
  3. When does this conversation take place?
  4. What is the significance of “sitting at His right hand?”
  5. When will the promise of this verse be fulfilled?
  1. Who is speaking in this verse? First, we observe that the English text gives the name of the speaker as “LORD,” where the name is all capital letters. Why is this? We must understand that the original language of Hebrew had several names for God. The name translated as “LORD” is the Hebrew word “YHWH” or “Yahweh.” This is the covenant name for God that can also be understood as God the Father. Our God is one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the context of this verse, we would understand this “LORD” to be God the Father. So, God the Father is speaking.
  2. To whom is He speaking? Now we encounter another Person referred to as “Lord,” but notice that only the first letter of that name is capitalized. Again, the English is attempting to capture the meaning of the original Hebrew. The name translated as “Lord” is the Hebrew word “Adonai.” This is a name for God, but it is obviously different from the LORD, who is God the Father. David refers to Him as “my Lord.” Who is this? There is only one suspect for this mystery. Amazingly, in this verse God the Father is speaking to God the Son, Jesus Christ. What the psalmist, David, is relating to us in this verse is an “inter-trinitarian” conversation between God the Father and God the Son.
  3. When does this conversation take place? To answer this question, we need to look carefully at what God the Father is telling God the Son. The Father is telling the Son to “sit at His right hand” until some future date. This means that there must have been some time before this conversation when the Son was not sitting at the Father’s right hand. When was there a time when God the Son was not at the Father’s right hand? That time was when the Son was sent by the Father to earth in His first advent. Now the Son has completed His mission and has accomplished His work (John 17:4; 19:30) and He is returning to heaven. What we see, then, is that God the Father is speaking to God the Son after God the Son, Jesus Christ, has finished His work of atonement on the cross, has been resurrected and has ascended back to heaven. Thus, we see that this conversation takes place when Jesus Christ ascends to heaven after His first advent.
  4. What is the significance of “sitting at His right hand?” We have already seen that this verse, Psalm 110:1, is telling us that Jesus Christ, God the Son, has completed His work of redemption and has ascended back to heaven. God the Father is telling Him to sit at His right hand. Jesus is to sit. Sitting is what one did after you had completed your work. To be invited to sit meant that your host was inviting you to rest from your labors. “You have earned a rest. Take a load off your feet!” Jesus had perfectly accomplished His mission and had completed His work, so now God the Father invites Him to sit down. (See Hebrews 1:3.) Jesus it to sit at the LORD’s right hand. The right hand was the place of highest honor. It was the place where the king placed his most trusted and valiant counselors. Jesus, who had always occupied that seat until His first advent, assumes the place of highest honor after His mission is accomplished.
  5. When will the promise of this verse be fulfilled? God the Father not only invites God the Son to sit at His right hand after His ascension, but He also gives the Son a promise, that He will make the Son’s enemies a footstool for the Son’s feet. Up till now we have been focusing on Christ’s first advent, but now the focus shifts to His Second Coming at the end of the age. We know from other passages of Scripture that there will certainly be a time in the future when Jesus will again rise from His seat in heaven and will again come to earth, this time as a wrathful Judge and as a terrifying warrior. All of Christ’s enemies will be trampled under His feet (Revelation 14:19-20; 19:15, 20-21).

WHAT HAVE WE DISCOVERED?

            As we have carefully and deliberately gone through this difficult verse of Scripture, we have been able to discover some powerful truths. We used thoughtful questions to dig treasure out of this mysterious verse and, by bridging between what we already knew and what careful observation revealed, we uncovered new things about Jesus and about the future of the world.

            The Bible is all about Jesus Christ, and we have learned from this one verse of this ancient psalm of David, written a millennium before Christ was born, that:

  • There is evidence of the Trinity even in the psalms.
  • Jesus will be sitting at the right hand of God the Father throughout the time between His advents.
  • There will be a time in the future when Jesus Christ will return to destroy all His enemies.
  • Jesus has perfectly accomplished His mission and His work of redemption in His first advent and is therefore worthy to sit at the Father’s right hand.

Therefore, we can be encouraged as we make our way through our walk through this life, because Jesus is at the right hand of the Father and that He is soon coming from heaven to bring us home to Him.

SDG                 rmb                  12/28/2020

God demonstrates His own love (Romans 5:8)

Today, of course, is Christmas Day. It is the day of the year set aside for giving gifts to one another so that we remember God’s most valuable of all gifts when He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to be our Savior.

Early this morning, as I waited for the rest of the family to rise and get ready for our gift-opening ritual, I considered the extravagance of God. Our God pours out His gifts on His creatures in so many ways. In His providence, God feeds all His creatures and supplies them with water and shelter. He is extravagant with the beauty He pours out onto His favored planet with sunsets and mountains and valleys and flowers and birds of every color in the rainbow. He gives us tastes and sights and sounds, and then He graces us with the senses of hearing and seeing and smelling so that we can enjoy what He has made. God is generous and patient with humans and “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).” God is patient with those who have rebelled against Him and who have broken His laws and commandments and withholds His judgment during their years of wandering and their years of rejecting Him and gives them time to repent (Romans 9:22-23; 2 Peter 3:8-9). Such extravagant patience toward those who deserve His wrath!

And then, as if that were not enough, “God demonstrates His own love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ dies for us (Romans 5:8).” God’s love toward His people is not reluctantly given or disguised in obscurity, but it is vividly and boldly demonstrated in the giving of His Son to be sacrificed on a cross to atone for the sins of His people. The sacrifice of the Son of God is the central act of the entire Bible when God extravagantly demonstrated His love through Jesus Christ. This is the God we serve, the God who demonstrates His love for His people in the most extravagant way possible.

RESOLUTIONS

As I considered how God gives gifts, and thought about how He is extravagant beyond comparison, I realized that the way I give gifts is very different from the way God gives gifts. I made several resolutions as I repented of my giving habits.

Resolved: Show people you love them in tangible ways, and do this often, not just at Christmas and on their birthday. This is a LIFE LESSON. God demonstrates His love in tangible ways. Shouldn’t I do the same?

Resolved: The best use of money is in extravagant expressions of love. This is a LIFE LESSON. Make sure you don’t die with a bunch of money you could have used to demonstrate love to others.

Resolved: Seek opportunities to tangibly demonstrate my love for people in time, gifts, hugs, smiles, money, etc. Christmas is one time built into the calendar to be extravagant. Don’t miss these opportunities.

Resolved: Because I never know when my life or any other life will end, express my love TODAY. Do not wait till tomorrow to demonstrate your love. Tomorrow may be too late, and once you are gone or the loved one is gone, the opportunities to demonstrate love are also gone.

Resolved: To regularly pray to the Lord to change me and make me into a conduit for demonstrating love. PLAN WAYS to demonstrate my love. SPONTANEOUSLY demonstrate my love.

Let’s make 2021 the year that we demonstrate our love to others. Don’t let your love be a secret. Boldly let others know you love them. Let the love of Jesus Christ flow through you in extravagantly giving yourself away.

SDG                 rmb                 12/25/2020