miracle

God With Us

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25 ESV

In this section of Matthew’s Gospel, he takes his defense of Jesus’ messiahship one step further. Not only was Jesus the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, but He was also the Son of God. Right from the very start, Matthew establishes Jesus as being divine, referring to Him by the name pronounced by the angel of God: Immanuel. And, just to make sure his readers understand the significance of that name,  Matthew provides them with its meaning: “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV). 

In announcing the coming birth of Jesus and declaring His name and identity, the angel reiterated the words of God recorded by the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

As with many of the prophecies found in the Old Testament, this verse from Isaiah passage had a now/not yet aspect to it. In its original historical context, this message from God was delivered by Isaiah to Ahaz, the king of Judah. It spoke of a child being born during the days of Ahaz and this birth would give evidence that the military alliance between Syria and Israel against Judah would be unsuccessful. The essence of the message was that life would go on in Judah, while the northern kingdom of Israel would suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians.

“Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
    give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
    strap on your armor and be shattered.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
    speak a word, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us. – Isaiah 8:6-10 ESV

Matthew picks up on this prophetic vision, recognizing its future fulfillment in Jesus. The primary focus of the message delivered by Isaiah to King Ahaz was that God would be with the people of Judah. The Assyrians would come upon the northern kingdom of Israel like a river that has overflowed its banks. They will devastate and destroy everything in their path, even making their way into the southern kingdom of Judah. But they will fail in their efforts to defeat Judah. Why? Because of the presence of God.

And Matthew, knowing that the angel of God had designated Jesus as Immanuel, “God with us,” understood that His birth signified that God had determined to dwell with His people once again. In the darkness that cloaked the land of Israel, a light was shining. The apostle John picked up on this imagery.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

And John went on to describe Jesus, the Word of God, as dwelling among the people of God. The Greek word John used is σκηνόω (skēnoō ), and it literally means “to fix one’s tabernacle.”

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1, 14 ESV

Jesus was God in human flesh, pitching His “tent” among His people once again. But rather than a tent made of animal skins, this tabernacle would be that of a human body in which God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, would take up permanent residence. Jesus became the God-man, and rather than the Shekinah glory that hovered over the mercy seat in the tabernacle in the wilderness, Jesus would become the glory of God living and walking among men. Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV) and “he has made him known” (John 1:18 ESV).

The birth of Jesus was both ordinary and extraordinary. He would be born to an obscure Jewish couple who hailed from the nondescript town of Nazareth. But Joseph would not be the father of Jesus. No, Jesus would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, which meant that His birth would be anything but ordinary. Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, had not yet consummated her marriage to him. This is clear by Joseph’s response to the news that she was pregnant.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:19 ESV

Joseph was shocked by the news but, out of love for Mary, determined to keep the situation under wraps, doing all that he could to protect her name. But the angel of God let Joseph know that his worst fears were unfounded. Mary had not been unfaithful to him. She had been chosen by God to bear the Savior of the world.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

“Jesus” is the Latin form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς  (Iēsous). It is the same as the Hebrew Yeshua (Joshua), which means “Yahweh saves.”

This entire section is intended by Matthew to convey the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth, but it’s also meant to support his premise that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Matthew declares that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

As we have seen, this prophecy was originally fulfilled during the days of King Ahaz. But Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is letting us know that there was another aspect of this prophecy that had long-term ramifications. God was looking far into the future and declaring that another birth would take place and another son would be born, whose arrival on the scene would signify that “God is with us.”

Matthew’s primary purpose has been to establish Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. And he has done so by presenting three powerful proofs: His fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant promises made to Abraham and David, as evidenced by the indisputable record of his genealogy, and the miraculous nature of His birth. Jesus was the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, and the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us, the very image of the invisible God, who came to earth in order that He might redeem a lost and dying world cloaked in the darkness of sin. And, as the apostle Paul explains, God shattered that darkness by sending His own Son as the light of His glory.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Blind and Mute.

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” 31 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” – Matthew 9:27-34 ESV

This particular story opens up much like one in chapter eight. On the earlier occasion, Jesus found Himself confronted by another two men, but they happened to be demon-possessed, not blind. But like the blind men, they cried out to Jesus. 

And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” – Matthew 8:29 ESV

Notice the difference? These two men were crying out, but it was the voices of the demons or spirits inside them that were doing the talking. Yet, they acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, a clear reference to His deity. They knew He was God, and we know from the story, that they were, in essence, asking Jesus for mercy because they begged Him to cast them into a herd of swine rather than face an early and inevitable judgment at His hands. Now, take note of the words of the two blind me in this story. They too cried out for mercy from Jesus, but in their own voices. And they also addressed Jesus with a title, but the one they used was “Son of David.” This is a Messianic title and it reveals that this two men believed Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah and that He had the power to heal them. It’s significant that they did not call Him Son of David, because it indicates that they, like most Jews, did not view the coming Messiah as a part of the Godhead. He would be a God-appointed king, like David. So, these two men are not worshiping Jesus as God, but simply indicating their belief in Him as Messiah. But it ironic that these two blind me were able to “see” who Jesus was in spite of their lack of physical sight. Their desperate need gave them a spiritual vision that others with full use of their physical sight lacked.

When Jesus asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?,” they replied, “Yes, Lord.” Then, Jesus, touching their eyes, said, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29 ESV). And Matthew records that they were immediately healed. Their sight was restored. They had not asked for the restoration of their sight, but Jesus had clearly understood what they meant when they had asked for mercy.

But what did Jesus mean when He told them “According to your faith be it done to you?” Was He saying that they had been healed in proportion to their faith? Was it the degree of their faith that resulted in their healing? A more accurate translation of Jesus’ response might be, “since you believed.” It was not the strength of their faith that healed them, but the very fact that they had placed their faith in Jesus’ ability to bring their healing about. They had come to Him with their need and believed that He could do something about it. The point of the story is not the amount of faith they displayed, but the one on whom their faith was focused.

And as with the leper he had healed earlier, Jesus commanded these two men to tell no one what He had done. Unlike some of Jesus’ other healings, this one was done indoors, in relative privacy. But why would Jesus command these men to keep their healing a secret? I think a big reason for Jesus’ stern warning was His concern that, should the people recognise Him as the Messiah, they would attempt to force Him to abandon His primary mission from God and fulfill their false expectations of the Messiah. They were waiting for a savior, but one who would deliver them from the oppression of the Romans and restore the Jews to power and prominence once again. But that is not why Jesus had come. His God-given assignment was to suffer and die at the hands of men, giving His life as a ransom for man (Matthew 20:28). There will be a day when He establishes His Kingdom in Israel and rules from the throne of David, but that will not be until His second coming. Jesus will repeatedly warn those He has healed to keep His designation as the Messiah a secret because He was determined to complete the task assigned to Him by His Father in heaven.

Matthew follows up this story with yet another healing of a demon-possessed man. But there are some interesting contrasts in this particular scenario. First of all, the man is described by Matthew as mute. He is not only demon-possessed but stricken with a physical disability. And if you recall, when Jesus had been approached previously by the two other demon-possessed men, they had cried out to him. But the demons had used the voice boxes of the two men they were possessing. In this case, the demon was unable to address Jesus. It could not cause the man to speak. And it was not until Jesus had cast the demon out, that the man’s voice was restored. Jesus performed two miracles at one. He cast out a demon and restored the man’s ability to speak. But what is significant is that the demon lacked the power to produce sound from the man’s damaged vocal chords. The demon, while powerful, was incapable of replicating the works of Jesus.

And upon seeing what Jesus had done, the crowds responded with amazement, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel” (Matthew 9:33 ESV). This is an interesting reaction, because it is clear from Matthew’s account, that Jesus had performed many other miracles of equal, in not greater, significance.

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. – Matthew 8:16 ESV

But their reaction indicates the growing degree of amazement among the people as they watched Jesus perform His miracles. They were witnesss to something never before seen in Israel. And yet, Jesus was simply fulfilling the very role the prophets had attributed to the coming Messiah.

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert… – Isaiah 35:5-6 ESV

But the Pharisees, reflecting their growing jealousy of Jesus and the spiritual hardness of their own hearts, retort that Jesus “casts out demons by the prince of demons” (Matthew 9:34 ESV). They didn’t deny that the miracle had happened, but declared that its source was demonic and not of God. They accused Jesus of being in league with Satan. And this will not be the last time they make such an accusation. Matthew will later record another encounter between Jesus and a demon-possessed man. And when Jesus heals him, the people will ask, “Can this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 11:23 ESV). But the Pharisees will once again respond, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” (Matthew 11:24 ESV). They cannot bring themselves to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. These men, with full use of their physical sight, were blind to the reality of who Jesus was.

John records a rather heated exchange between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. In it, Jesus reveals that these men, while heavily steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures, were ignorant of who He was. They studied the Word of God, but failed to recognize the Son of God when He was standing right in front of them.

36 But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, 38 and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.

39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.

41 “Your approval means nothing to me, 42 because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. 43 For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me.” – John 5:36-43 NLT

They rejected Jesus. They were spiritually blind and incapable of seeing Him for who He really was. And while they could speak, they used their voices to falsely accuse Jesus of operating in the power of Satan. They could see. They could speak. But they missed the one who could have given them spiritual insight and the ability to verbally praise God for His mercy and grace.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Will…Part 2.

5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. – Matthew 8:5-13 ESV

Matthew follows up the story of Jesus healing the leper with another surprising account of His healing of a Roman centurion’s servant. While we typically make much of the centurion’s display of faith, which Jesus does as well, we too often overlook the more subtle, yet equally significant statement made by Jesus in verses 11-12:

11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. 

The centurion was a Roman and, thus, a Gentile. He was a commander over 100 Roman soldiers, and it is likely that his servant, who was paralyzed, was also a Gentile. As Jesus entered into the city of Capernaum, He was accompanied by His 12 Jewish disciples and, more than likely, had a sizeable crowd of other Jews tagging along in hopes of seeing Him perform yet another miracle. So, Matthew sets up an interesting confrontation as this Roman military commander, a Gentile, approaches Jesus and requests the healing of his paralzyed servant. The 12 disciples and the other Jews in Jesus’ entourage would have been shocked at the centurion’s boldness. How dare he, a Gentile, approach Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, with a request of this nature. The Jews despised Gentiles and weren’t exactly fond of the Romans either. They viewed Rome as an occupying force that kept the Jewish nation in subjection through their military presence and economically stifling taxation requirements.

The Jews would have been appalled at the audacity of this Gentile’s request and eager to hear what Jesus would say in response. After all, he was a pagan, Gentile, Roman, and a member of the occupying military force. And he was requesting the healing of his Gentile servant. It’s likely that the Jews fully expected Jesus to turn down the man’s request. And later on in Matthew’s Gospel, he records an encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman, who came to Jesus asking that He heal her daughter.

22 “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” – Matthew 15:22-23 ESV

Notice that the disciples begged Jesus to send the woman away, fully expecting Jesus to turn down her audacious request. And, at first glance, it would appear that Jesus agreed with them.

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” – Matthew 15:24-26 ESV

Jesus confesses that He had come to be the Messiah of Israel, having been born a Jew and a descendant of David, the great king of Israel. He even suggests that it would be inappropriate to give to a Gentile what had been intended for the Jews. But look carefully at the woman’s response:

27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” – Matthew 15:27 ESV

She recognizes and fully admits her unworthiness, but appeals to Jesus’ mercy, begging Him for nothing more than the healing of her daughter. And Jesus responded:

28 “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:29 ESV

Like the centurion, this woman had come to Jesus out of desparation. Her need was great and she had nowhere else to turn. These two Gentiles, a Canaanite and a Roman, had heard of the miraculous works of Jesus and took the chance that He might use His power to their loved ones. And both displayed a faith that Jesus commends. The centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant with just a word. He somehow knew that Jesus had authority, given to Him by God, that would allow Him to heal from a distance. The Canaanite woman believed that Jesus was gracious and good, and would be willing to use His God-given power to heal her daughter. And in both cases, Jesus answered their requests. 

But back to verses 11-12. As surprised as the disciples would have been at Jesus agreeing to heal the centurion’s servant, they would have found this statement absolutely shocking. But Jesus was simply quoting from the Old Testament, reminding His Jewish followers of what God had already said would happen.

11 For from the east to the west my name will be great among the nations. Incense and pure offerings will be offered in my name everywhere, for my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord who rules over all. – Malachi 1:11 NET

2 It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
3     and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.” – Isaiah 2:2-3 ESV

Yes, Jesus had come to the Jews and He would continue to minister among them, declaring Himself to be their Messiah and Savior. But He knew there was a day coming when the message of salvation would be made available to all, Jews and Gentiles. With His coming death and resurrection, the offer of salvation through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone would be opened up to all men, regardless of their ethnicity. And the day will come when people from every tribe, nation and tongue will stand before God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son, in the eternal Kingdom.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. – Revelation 7:9 NLT

In the early days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was focused primarily on the Jews. But every now and then, He gives His disciples a glimpse of the future agenda of the Kingdom. He had come for all. The Jewish people, chosen by God, had always been intended to be a light to the nations, but they had failed. So, Jesus came to be a light to the world.

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 ESV

The Jews would end up rejecting Him as their Messiah, convincing the Romans to crucify Him. But Jesus would rise again, being restored back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it would be this message of Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples would one day take to the nations. The apostle Paul summarized the Gospel message quite succinctly in his letter to the Galatian believers.

3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NLT

A Gentile came to Jesus requesting the healing of his servant and Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” But even more significant than that statement was Jesus’ claim that Gentiles would be present in the Kingdom of God. He came to give His life for all men of every tribe, nation and tongue. And while it would be a long time before the disciples got their heads around that concept, the day would come when they fully embraced the divine plan which made the Gospel available and accessible to all.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 2 he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors. 3 So Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” 5 Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it.

6 And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, “Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us.” 7 So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. 8 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” 9 So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. 10 And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who[c] struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. 11 And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.

12 At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,

“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
    and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
    until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.

15 So Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal. Joshua 10:1-15ESV

The reputation of the Israelites was rapidly spreading throughout the land of Canaan. News of their destruction of the cities of Jericho and Ai gotten out, as well as the they had made with the people of Gibeon. And Joshua was about to find out that his decision to swear allegiance to the Gibeonites brought with it an added responsibility to protect them in the event they were attacked by hostile forces. It seems that the Jebusites assumed that the Gibeonites, a powerful nation, would had allied themselves with the Israelites, were now a potential threat to their national security. So, Adoni-zedek, the king of Jerusalem sent a message to the kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon, saying, “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel” (Joshua 10:4 ESV). This five-nation alliance joined forces and surrounded Gibeon, intent on destroying them. But the people of Gibeon sent word to Joshua, demanding that he honor his treaty with them and come to their aid. Due to his ill-advised decision to accept the Gibeonites deceptive offer of an alliance, Joshua had unwittingly committed the nation of Israel to their protection. He was now obligated, by an oath to God, to come to their aid. He had sworn by the name of God and could not go back on his commitment without violating his word to God.

Back in chapter nine, we were left with the impression that Joshua’s treaty with the Gibeonites was simply a commitment to let them live.

18 But the people of Israel did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. 19 But all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. 20 This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them.” – Joshua 9:18-20 ESV

But now, we discover that the Israelites had actually become the protectors of the people of Gibeon. Not only were they obligated to let them live, they were committed to keeping them alive. Their oath was going to be more costly than they had imagined.

And yet, God stood with Joshua and the people of Israel, promising to go before them and provide them with a victory over the five-nation alliance.

“Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” – Joshua 10:8 ESV

Joshua had sworn to the Gibeonites by the name of God and God was not about to let His name be denigrated or His honor be marred. His reputation was at stake. So, He acted and “threw them into a panic before Israel” (vs 10). Joshua and his troops chased their panic-stricken enemies as they fled for their lives. But this is when the story gets really interesting. Because Joshua had sworn an oath by God’s name, God was going to make sure that the Israelites, Gibeonites and the Amorites knew that this was His battle, not theirs. He got directly involved in the action, providing a miraculous display of His power to destroy the enemies of Israel.

…the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword. – Joshua 10:11 ESV

What makes this event even more significant is that Baal, the false god of the Canaanites, was worshiped as the god who controlled the weather. He was in charge of the rain, hail and floods. And yet, Yahweh, the God of Israel rained down hail on the worshipers of Baal, destroying them while sparing the Israelites.  And as if that was not enough, God honored a request from Joshua to make the sun stand still, so that the Israelites could have more daylight to capture and destroy the remaining forces of the Amorites. The Canaanites, a term used to refer to all the people living in the land of Canaan, were also worshipers of the sun and moon, considering them to be deities. So, when God affected the sun, He was revealing His superior power over the false gods of the Canaanites.

But that begs the question: What exactly happened here? Did the earth really “stand still” as the text suggests? There has been much speculation and even more debate regarding this issue over the centuries. There are those who argue that God caused the earth to rotate on its axis or slowed the earth’s rotation in order to lengthen the day. This would have been a world-wide phenomena. There are others who believe it was a localized event, whereby God somehow altered atmospheric conditions in that region, creating a refraction of the sun’s light as it set in the sky. And then there are those who speculate that God simply provided a separate source of light that gave the appearance of sunlight. The bottom line is that we don’t know how God accomplished this miracle, we just know that he did. The text matter-of-factly states, “The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day” (Joshua 10:13 ESV) and then, as if to clarify that this was a God-ordained miracle, reads, “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:14 ESV).

While we can easily find ourselves debating and doubting the how surrounding the events in this passage, we must not lose sight of the who behind it all. While it is easy to find this story difficult to believe, it is intended to stress the supernatural power of God. The God of the Israelites is not like Baal or Molech. He is a living, all-powerful God who fights on behalf of His people. He is not some kind of distant deity who sits up in heaven, watching helplessly as His people struggle living their lives on this planet. He is intimately involved in their lives, interjecting Himself into their affairs in miraculous ways that defy explanation. The Amorites had good reason to fear the Israelites, but it had nothing to do with Joshua and his military forces. It was because the Israelites were the chosen people of God Almighty.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Healthy Fear of God.

15 And the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” 18 And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.

19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” 

1 As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel. – Joshua 4:15-5:1 ESV

On the tenth day of the first month. The placement of that calendar notation may seem a bit odd or out of place, but it is actually quite significant, providing us with an important time marker. It lets us know that it had been 40 years to the day since God had told Israel to prepare to take the Passover, in preparation for their departure from Egypt.

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household.” – Exodus 12:1-3 ESV

This day was already a memorial for the people of Israel, commemorating their deliverance from slavery in Egypt by the hand of God. God had told the Israelites that their keeping of the Passover each year on that day was to act as a reminder and a teaching opportunity.

26 “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” – Exodus 12:26-27 ESV

Now, they would have another reason to remember the tenth day of the first month, and another story to tell their children about the greatness of God. Not only had He delivered them from captivity in Egypt, He had brought them into the land He had promised to give them. They were no longer slave, but freemen. Rather than live as captives, they were to be conquerors, possessing the land promised to them by God by the power of God.

Notice the similarities between what God told the people of Israel regarding their keeping of the Passover and what Joshua told the people about the stone memorial.

21 “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over…” – Joshua 4:21-23 ESV

In Egypt, God passed over the houses of the Israelites. At the Jordan, Israel passed over the border of Canaan on dry ground. In Egypt, God had spared the Israelites from death because of the presence of the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. At the Jordan, God had provided a path to a new life through the presence of the ark, the symbol of God’s covenant faithfulness. And as soon as the feet of the priests stepped out of the Jordan and onto the western shoreline, the waters returned and overflowed their banks. God had faithfully kept back the waters until each and every Israelite had passed over. He had delivered them safely into the land of promise.

And Joshua provides two important reasons for this miraculous provision by God. First, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” This was to be a witness to the nations who occupied the land of Canaan. News of this miracle would spread. The drying up of the waters of the Jordan would not have gone unnoticed by others who lived in the land and who depended upon its waters for their well-being. We are not old how long it took the Israelites to cross over the Jordan, but however long it took, those living downstream would have noticed that the river had dried up at a time of the year when it should have been overflowing its banks. And in the very next chapter we see that the news of this miracle had its intended impact on the inhabitants of the land.

…their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel… – Joshua 5:1 ESV

But Joshua lets the people know there is a second and even more significant reason for the miracle they had just witnessed: “that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” God had just revealed His power. He had displayed His sovereign control over the elements. Just as He had dried up the waters of the Red Sea 40 years earlier, He had dried up the waters of the Jordan. Nothing was too difficult for Him. And they were to fear Him. But it’s essential that we understand what this fear of God entailed. It was not to be a fear of Him, in the sense that they were to cower in His presence or live in fear of His wrath. The fear of God is an expression that communicates faith in God. It is a experiential understanding of His power and provision. God had just done a miracle on their behalf. He had just performed an inexplicable act of divine deliverance, and it was to produce in them a healthy reverence for Him and an emboldened faith in Him. So that, the next time He spoke, they would readily listen and quickly obey. Their God was powerful. Their God was faithful. And there was no other god like Him. The gods of the Canaanites and Amorites would prove no match for God Almighty.

Many years earlier, long before the Israelites had made it into the land of promised, Moses had given them a powerful concerning the fear of God.

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 ESV

The fear of God was to have an outward expression. It was to be visible and tangible in nature. And it was to be characterized by obedience and faithfulness.

20 “You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” – Deuteronomy 10:20-22 ESV

The Israelites were to fear God, because He was their covenant-keeping, miracle-working, grace-bestowing God. The Amorites and Canaanites would learn to fear God, but for completely different reasons. They were going to learn that He was God, and they would come to fear His power and presence, but they would never bow down and worship Him as their God. But for the Israelites, their interactions with God were to produce a reverence for Him that would increase their dependence upon Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Why Do You Wonder?

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon's. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” Acts 3:11-16 ESV

When reading the book of Acts, it is easy to focus on the miracles that are described within it: The tongues of fire and the sound of roaring wind that accompanied the coming of the Spirit, the disciples speaking in foreign languages, and the remarkable acts of healing and casting out of demons that took place on a regular basis. In this chapter, Luke records Peter’s healing of a man who had been unable to walk since the day he had been born. He had been relegated to begging for alms at the Temple gate. But, in the name of Jesus, Peter restored this man’s ability to walk, right in front of the crowds gathered for the hour of prayer at the Temple. And as the news of this incredible miracle spread and the crowd grew, Peter took advantage of the situation. He used the miracle of the man’s healing as an opportunity to speak to the crowd that had gathered, and this becomes the real focus of Luke’s retelling of this event.

The context is extremely important. Luke makes it clear that they are on Temple grounds, and that Peter delivers his message in Solomon’s Portico. This is important, because it clearly establishes the fact that the makeup of the crowd to which Peter is going to speak is predominantly, if not, exclusively Jewish. There may have been Gentiles in the audience, but the majority would have been converts to Judaism. Solomon’s Portico encompassed what was called the Court of the Gentiles, a large open area the surrounded the Temple precinct. Gentiles, or non-Jews, were allowed in this area, but were forbidden to enter the main Temple area, under penalty of death.

Luke states that Peter, recognizing the huge crowd that had gathered, and their astonishment at the news of the lame man’s healing, spoke these words: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” (Acts 3:12 ESV). His entire attention was focused on his fellow Jews who, like him, had come at the ninth hour for prayer. They had come at the regularly scheduled hour to offer their prayers to Yahweh but, instead, they had witnessed the unexpected. Their normal habits and daily duties had been interrupted by something miraculous and out-of-the-ordinary. And Peter knew what they were thinking. He was fully aware that the crowds were whispering and pointing at he and John, wondering who they were and how they were able to heal the lame beggar. But Peter makes it clear to the crowd that the miracle they had just witnessed had not been their doing, but God’s. He refers to “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers” (Acts 3:13 ESV), attributing to their own God the power behind the miracle. And he reminds them that this same God had “glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him” (Acts 3:13 ESV).

Peter takes an abrupt, but fully intentional turn in the focus of his talk. He gets the attention off of the healing of the lame man on onto the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. And, it’s at this point, we must recall another occasion, when Jesus and His disciples found themselves at this very same spot in the Temple grounds, speaking to a gathering of Jews,

22 It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. 23 He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. 26 But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

31 Once again the people picked up stones to kill him. 32 Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?”

33 They replied, “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy! You, a mere man, claim to be God.” – John 10:22-32 NLT

Jesus had proved His claim to be the Messiah through the many miracles He had performed. But the people of Israel had refused to accept Him as their Messiah. He had accused them of not being His sheep. He had declared that only those whom God had given to Him would receive eternal life. And this had infuriated the crowds that day. So much so, that they had picked up stones to kill Him.

And the amazing thing is that they eventually did kill Him, but not with stones. They turned Him over to the Roman authorities and had them do their dirty work for them. And Peter pulls no punches in accusing the Jews in the crowd standing before him that they were guilty of killing their own Messiah – “you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15 ESV). The crucifixion of Jesus would have still been fresh on the minds of all those in Jerusalem. It had been a well-documented and well-attended event. Jesus had become a popular and well-known figure throughout the land of Israel. And news of His triumphal entry and subsequent death would have spread to every corner of the city. There would have also been plenty of rumors regarding the supposed resurrection of Jesus. News of the mysterious disappearance of His body would have circulated and the claims that He had been seen alive by His disciples would have spread like wildfire. And Peter takes advantage of the situation to boldly claim that Jesus was indeed alive and it was by the power associated with His name that the lame man had been healed.

“And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” – Acts 3:16 ESV

Do you see what Peter is doing? For the Jews gathered in Solomon’s Portico, Jesus had been exposed as a fraud and a fake. While they may have at one time believed He was the Messiah, those beliefs had died along with Him as He hung on the cross. He was not what they had been expecting. He didn’t come in power and set up His kingdom on earth. For all intents and purposes, this Jesus had been nothing more than a man who made bold, even blasphemous claims, to be the Son of God. But He had died. And Peter reminds them that, “you denied the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14 ESV) and “you killed the Author of life” (Acts 3:15 ESV).

And yet, here were Peter and John, two of this dead man’s disciples, performing the very same kind of miracles He had done. Here they were, standing in Solomon’s Portico, where Jesus had been accused of blasphemy and threatened with stoning for claiming to be God. And Peter and John must have recalled the words of Jesus, spoken to the crowds that day.

36 “why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. 37 Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. 38 But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” – John 10:36-38 NLT

Jesus had proven who He was. His miracles had given ample evidence of His deity. He had adequately proven His divinity and God-given role as the Messiah. But the Jews had refused to believe. They had put Him to death for being exactly who He had claimed to be. And Pilate had prophetically ordered that a sign be placed over His head on the cross, that read, “King of the Jews.” Jesus had been put to death for being the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But Peter points out that God raised Him from the dead. He restored Jesus to life and glorified Him by returning Him to His rightful place at His Father’s side. And it was because Jesus had gone that the Spirit had come. And because the Spirit had come, the disciples had received power from on high. They were able to perform the same miracles Jesus had done while He lived on this earth. They preached the same message of repentance. He was not gone. He was alive and well, revealing His presence and power through the lives of His followers. 

Peter asks the crowd, “Why do you wonder?” He wants to know why they are surprised at what they had just witnessed. This was nothing more than a continuation of the works of Jesus that He had performed while He had lived among them. And it was all in keeping with Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, the living fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. One day, in the city of Nazareth, reading from the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus spoke these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Then, Jesus had made this bold claim: “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). He was the Messiah. And Peter and John were once again providing ample proof that Jesus was exactly who He had claimed to be. He was alive and His name alone provided power to comfort the poor, provide release for the captives, healing to the blind, freedom for the oppressed and the favor of God among men.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Greater Expectation.

1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3:1-10 ESV

The last chapter ended with an upbeat description of how things were going just days after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:46-47 ESV

Now, in chapter three, we are given a glimpse into what one of those typical days looked like. Because the early church was made up predominantly of believing Jews, these individuals, including the disciples, were still attending the Temple and practicing their Jewish faith as they did before. As this chapter opens, we find Peter and John going to the Temple at 3:00 p.m., to take part in the prescribed prayer time held at that hour each day.

Luke tells us that Peter and John entered the Temple compound through “the Beautiful Gate.” This was evidently meant as a description, not as the actual name of the gate. There were three primary gates into the Temple grounds: The Shushan Gate, the Corinthian Gate and the Nicanor Gate. We are not sure which of these three gates Luke is referring to, but at this particular gate Peter and John come into contact with a lame man. Perhaps Luke uses this description as a way to emphasize and contrast the man’s impoverished and physically hopeless condition. He had been born with this infirmity and, each day, he had to be carried to the Temple in order to beg for alms. Alms-giving was a common practice in those days, involving the voluntary gift of money or goods to those in need. It was not an obligation or part of the Mosaic law, but giving to the destitute was seen as a righteous act. In fact, Jesus addressed this very topic in His Sermon on the Mount.

2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. – Matthew 6:2-4 NLT

This lame man, upon seeing Peter and John entering the Temple, asked them for alms. He had chosen his spot well, because those entering the Temple were there to worship and would have been predisposed to generosity. The first thing Peter said to the man was, “Look at us!” Most likely, the man made a habit of keeping his eyes down, a sign of his humble estate and in keeping with the Jewish mindset that those suffering from infirmities were being punished by God for their sins. Poverty, disease, physical infirmities and even widowhood were seen by most Jews as signs of God’s punishment for sin. On one occasion, Jesus and His disciples encountered a blind man, and one of the men asked Jesus, “‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?’” (John 9:2 NLT). And Jesus answered them:

3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. 4 We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. 5 But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:3-5 NLT

Then John records that Jesus performed a miracle, giving sight to one who had been blind since birth. Jesus revealed the power of God in the life of this man, doing for him what he could have never accomplished on his own. The blind man, like the lame man in Luke’s story, was relegated to begging for temporary relief from his suffering. But Jesus came to give something far more lasting and life-changing than alms. He gave sight to the blind. And when the lame man begged Peter and John to give him money, Peter responded, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” (Acts 3:6 NLT). And Luke records what happened next:

7 Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. 8 He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. – Acts 3:7-8 NLT

Peter and John both must have recalled the words of Jesus: “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.” They had received a commission from Jesus and they had received the power of the Holy Spirit, so they knew they had work to do. Peter gave the man something of far greater value than that for which he had asked. The man had begged for the gift of spare change, but Peter gave him a changed life. Notice what Luke writes, “Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.” He was a changed man. For the first time in his life, he was able to go into the Temple to worship. In his previous condition, he would have been banned from entrance into the Temple. That’s why he was forced to sit at the gate each day, hoping for some form of financial relief to assist him in his daily struggle with his physical disability and the social ostracism it caused. But now, his disability was gone. He was running, jumping and worshiping with abandon. Not only that, once the crowd recognized him as the lame man whom they passed daily outside the Beautiful Gate, they were blown away.

When Jesus had healed the blind man, it had also caused quite a stir. The people could not believe what they were seeing. And the Jewish leaders were incensed, especially because Jesus had chosen to heal on the Sabbath, breaking their religious codes. So, they had confronted the man and then his parents, demanding to know what had happened.

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” – John 9:24-25 NLT

A blind man could see. A lame man could walk. That was as deep as either man’s theology went. They had been radically changed by an encounter with Jesus. The blind man had been touched by Jesus. The lame man had been healed in the name of Jesus.

This unnamed man had come to the Temple that day expecting nothing more than a handout from some generous stranger. Perhaps he had regular contributors, who knew him and made a habit of giving to him each day. He probably had a vague idea of how much money he could expect to take home by day’s end. But there is no way that he came to the Beautiful Gate expecting to walk home on his own two legs. He never dreamed he would be leaping, dancing and worshiping in the Temple when he woke up that morning. His would be a day just like any other day, filled with the same old tasks of getting up, begging a lift to the gate and beginning his humiliating day of begging for coins from those who viewed him as little more than a sinner who deserved his sorry state in life. But his less-than-ambitious expectations were shattered that day. He came to the Temple, lying on a mat, but went home leaping on his own two legs. He came a beggar, but became a worshiper. He showed up a sinner, but suddenly found himself free to walk into the Temple grounds unhindered and unafraid of God’s judgment.

It’s important to note that Peter and John saw this man as more than a nuisance or a common sinner to be ignored. He was an opportunity for the power of God to be revealed and the name of Christ to be lifted up. While Jesus had been in the world, He had been the light of the world. Now it was the disciples’ turn. They had work to do. As far as Peter was concerned, this man was there for a reason: That God might be glorified and the gospel of Jesus Christ might be proclaimed. Just as the miracles of Jesus validated His claims to be the Son of God and the Messiah, the signs and wonders performed by the disciples would prove that they had been sent by God and had the authority to speak on His behalf. And they would take advantage of this opportunity to tell the good news regarding Jesus Christ to all who had gathered. The man’s miraculous restoration would become a platform to share about salvation. The same power that made a blind man see and a lame man walk, could bring the spiritually dead back to life.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Bewildered, Amazed and Perplexed.

5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” Acts 2:5-13 ESV

The Feast of Pentecost took place 50 days after Passover, and Jews from all over the known world of that day would have made their way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. But they would have stayed in town to participate in the Feast of Pentecost, also known as the Festival of Harvest. This was one of the three times during the year that all male Jews were required by law to make the journey to Jerusalem.

22 “You must celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the first crop of the wheat harvest, and celebrate the Festival of the Final Harvest at the end of the harvest season. 23 Three times each year every man in Israel must appear before the Sovereign, the Lord, the God of Israel. – Exodus 34:22-23 NLT

As is evident from the text, there were Jews present in Jerusalem from all over the Roman empire.

9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians… – Acts 2:9-11 ESV

And many of these very same people had been drawn by the sound of the mighty wind that had filled the room where the disciples had been gathered. Evidently, that roaring sound had been loud enough to be heard in the streets, and at some point, the disciples had made their way down from the upper room and into the crowds that had gathered. And Luke tells us that those in the crowd were “bewildered” by what they heard. Each of the, regardless of their nation of origin, was hearing the disciples speak in his own language. Luke uses the Greek word, sygcheō, which can mean “to be in an uproar.” So, in essence, Luke is saying that at the sound of the uproar from the upper room, the Jews were in an uproar. They were confounded and confused. They had never seen or heard anything like this before. And Luke makes it clear that what they heard was the disciples “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11 ESV). Luke gives us no indication of what it was the disciples were saying. But it is likely that they were telling of Jesus’ death, resurrection and His appearances to them over that 40-day period before He ascended back to heaven. Whatever it was that they were saying, we can safely assume that it was under the inspiration and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus had told the disciples that the day would come when they have the Holy Spirit to help them speak. In fact, He would speak for them.

“…do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 13:11 ESV

We can only imagine the excitement and enthusiasm of the disciples as they got caught up in the moment, realizing that they were able to speak in languages they didn’t know or understand. Whether they were speaking Aramaic and the words were coming out of their mouths in a different language, we don’t know. But the whole affair must have been amazing to watch and even more remarkable to be a part of. Two separate times in these verses Luke  describes the audience as “amazed and astonished” and “amazed and perplexed”. The word “amazed” in the Greek is existēmi and it conveys the idea of slack-jawed wonder. They couldn’t believe their ears or eyes. What they were witnessing was extraordinary and bewildering. And it left them “astonished” or in a state of wonder as they marveled over what was taking place right in front of them. But in verse 11, Luke describes the crowd as “perplexed” or diaporeō, a Greek word that can be translated as “at a loss.” They were amazed, but also confused over what was going on. They couldn’t figure out the meaning behind what they were witnessing. It made no sense to them. And some asked, “What does this mean?” They were hearing the wonders of God spoken in their own languages. But why? What was the purpose? And why these Galilean disciples?

It’s important to remember that these people were in Jerusalem for Passover and the Feast of Harvest. They were there on a religious pilgrimage, but they most likely had not expected anything like this to happen. The normal aspects associated with their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the holy city, had been suddenly rocked by these unexpected and inexplicable events. What they had just witnessed was out of the ordinary and out of their comfort zone. While Passover was meant to commemorate and celebrate God’s miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem that day were not expecting anything miraculous to happen in their midst. They had not come to town expecting to hear or see the wonders of God. But that’s exactly what had happened. And sadly, some simply concluded that the scene they had just witnessed was the result of drunkenness. Using human reason and logic in an attempt to explain the miraculous, they simply wrote off what they had seen as nothing more than the result of a handful of inebriated Galileans. “But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, ‘They’re just drunk, that’s all!’” (Acts 2:13 NLT). It reminds me of Paul’s warning to the Ephesian believers: “Don't be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 NLT). The 120 disciples had been filled with the Spirit of God and, as a result, had been completely under His influence. They were speaking in languages they didn’t know. There were declaring the wonders of God to all those who could hear them. They had been transformed from timid followers sequestered in that upper room into bold witnesses for Christ, shouting the glories of God out in the streets of Jerusalem.

Any thoughts about the religious leadership looking for them, or fear that they could suffer the same fate as Jesus had, were gone. The Spirit had come and they were no longer the same, and everyone, including them, were bewildered, amazed and perplexed. Astonishment and wonder accompanied the Holy Spirit’s arrival. His coming was anything but pedestrian in nature. The “devout” Jews who had gathered in the holy city to celebrate the Passover and Pentecost suddenly found their regular religious rituals turned upside down by the Spirit of God. They had come to Jerusalem to celebrate God, but had not expected to encounter Him. They had arrived in town fully expecting to honor Him for all He had done in the past, but never dreamed He would show up in the present. For the, the power of God was past tense. Any deliverance by God was the stuff of ancient history, not current events. They were devout and willing to keep the rules established by their God, but they were doubtful that their God was ever going to keep the promises He had made to them. The practice of religious rituals had long ago replaced any expectation that their God was present and powerful. The centuries they had waited for the Messiah to show up had caused their faith to fade and their hope of deliverance to become little more than wishful thinking illustrated by a religion that had become little more than rote rituals and habitual practices devoid of heart.

But they were in for a surprise. God was not done yet. The Holy Spirit was not finished and the disciples had far more to say. For those who were wondering what it all meant, the answer was just minutes away.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Logical Vs The Impossible.

And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” – Genesis 17:18 ESV

Back in chapter 15 of Genesis, Abraham had expressed some concern with God regarding His plan to make of him a great nation. As far as Abraham was concerned, God's plan had a couple of significant flaws: He and his wife, Sarah, were old, and she was barren. So he had suggested Eliezer, his servant, as a possible stand-in for the heir-apparent. But God would have nothing to do with it. That was not His will and He made it quite clear. “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir” (Genesis 15:4 ESV). So there would be no substitutes accepted. Then, to drive home His point, God had taken Abraham outside and had him look up at the stars. God then said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV). Point made. Case closed. And we're told, “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 ESV). Abraham got the message. He knew that God was going to give him a son, an heir, and from that son would come a great nation. Abraham believed the promise of God and was considered righteous by God for doing so. He expressed faith in God even thought he could not see the outcome of the promise. He had no proof, no evidence, other than a glance into the nighttime sky and a word from God. But that was enough.

Which brings us to today's passage. Time had passed. Abraham and Sarah had gotten older. Sarah was still barren. Little had changed in their circumstances. Other than the fact that God had made a covenant with Abraham and told him that his offspring would end up living in a foreign country where they would be slaves, but then would return to live in the land 400 years later. In the meantime, Sarah had come up with her great plan to give Abraham a son through her handmaid, Hagar. The result of this less-than-godly plan, which Abraham wholeheartedly endorsed, was the birth of Ishmael. The logic of Sarah and Abraham was sound. God had promised to make of them a great nation. He had said that it would be through a son born to them. So they decided to help God out. By Abraham having a son through Hagar. But once again, this was NOT God's plan. And God would patiently reconfirm His plan with Abraham. He told him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:4-8 ESV). God went on to reassure Abraham that He was going to give him a son of his own. “And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her’” (Genesis 17:15-16 ESV). God made Himself perfectly clear. He was going to give Abraham a son through Sarah, not Hagar. He was going to do the impossible. And what was Abraham's reaction? “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” (Genesis 17:17 ESV). None of it made sense to Abraham. It sounded ridiculous, far-fetched, impossible. Even for God.

It was at this point that Abraham uttered his small, seemingly innocent prayer. “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” It was as if Abraham was saying, “Won't you reconsider?” He believed God was going to bless him and make of him a great nation. He even believed God would do it through one of his own offspring. He just didn't believe God could do it through Sarah. But God had made Himself clear. He had said He would bless Sarah. He had said that Sarah would bear a child. And then to make sure Abraham got the point, God said gave Abraham an answer regarding Ishmael. “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (Genesis 17:19 ESV). God had a plan and He didn't need Abraham's help. He simply needed Abraham to trust Him. Sarah's barrenness was not a problem for God, it was simply an opportunity for Him to display His power. Rather than trying to convince God to settle for Ishmael, Abraham needed to be praying that God would bless Sarah. Instead of wasting his time trying to get God to accept the logical, Abraham needed to be asking for and expecting the impossible. Jeremiah the prophet wrote, “Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17 ESV). Abraham believed God could bless him and make of him a great nation. But he struggled believing that God could do it through an elderly, barren woman. Too often, our prayers are based on human reasoning and bolstered by logic. We limit our expectations of God based on what we can see and understand. But as God would eventually tell Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:14 ESV).

Stop. Stand. See.

 Exodus 13-14, Mark 4

Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV

This story has always fascinated me. In it we have a wonderful glimpse of the mysterious ways of God. He had been working behind the scenes, orchestrating His master plan to rescue and redeem the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and take them to the land He had promised to Abraham all those years ago. After ten devastating plagues and the institution of the Passover celebration, God was getting ready to do His greatest miracle to date. But He would do so in such a way that, from the perspective of the Israelites, it all made no sense. He was going to pull off one of the most incredible rescues, but it was going to require some moments of sheer terror and faith-testing uncertainty.

What does this passage reveal about God?

These two chapters in Exodus are all about God. He makes it perfectly clear to Moses and the people that all that is about to happen is focused on and the result of Him. They were to consecrate or set apart the first born of both man and animal to Him. All so they might never forget that "by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place" (Exodus 13:3 ESV). This entire series of events all points to God's sovereign hand over all that was going on. This was not going to be about the Israelites, but about their all-powerful God. When they left Egypt, Moses makes it clear that "God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near" (Exodus 13:17 ESV). In other words, God did not have them take the short route, but a longer, more round-about path. "But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea" (Exodus 13:18 ESV). Not only that, God stopped them right in the middle of their journey and told them to back track, commanding them to set up camp by the sea. It is very clear from the passage that this circuitous journey was God-directed. "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of could by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people" (Exodus 13:21 ESV). This was a fail-safe GPS guidance system. So when they found themselves camped on the shore of the Red Sea, they were right where God wanted them to be. It was all part of God's plan. Their seemingly aimless wanderings had given Pharaoh time to rethink his decision and, with some help from God, he changed his mind and set out in hot pursuit of the Israelites, with every intention of forcing them back into slavery. And when the people saw that Pharaoh was bearing down on them and the sea was behind them, they panicked. They cried out to God and the screamed accusations against Moses. Driven by fear, they expressed their regret that they had ever listened to Moses or left the land of Egypt. But again, God had them right where He wanted them. They were helpless, hopeless, completely defenseless and at a complete loss as to what to do.

Then Moses gave them the most perplexing, but perfectly appropriate advice a follower of God could ever receive. He said, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today" (Exodus 14:13 ESV). Everything about what he said sounded illogical and suicidal. It made no sense. Here they were with an unbeatable army in front of them and an impassable sea behind them. Their condition could not have been worse. And yet, they were right where God had led them. They could have run, but they would have been chased down and died. They could have tried to swim, but most of them would have drowned. So Moses gives them the one option that made the least amount of sense and required the greatest amount of faith. They were to stop fearing, stand their ground and watch God work. They were going to have a ring-side seat to one of the greatest shows on earth. Moses told them, "The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent" (Exodus 14:14 ESV). They just needed to shut up and look up. And when they did, God showed up. He parted the sea. He delivered the people. And He defeated the armies of Egypt. As a result, "Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses" (Exodus 14:31 ESV). Fear had to be replaced with faith. Faith in God and His power. Faith required that they stand in midst of the very circumstance that created their fear in the first place. And their faith and firm stand resulted in belief in God, because they were able to witness His power in a real and personal way.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When the Jews made their way out of Egypt, the Bible tells us "the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle" (Exodus 13:18 ESV). That phrase, "equipped for battle" could be translated "in battle array." They were marching out in well-ordered groups. And they were probably a little bit full of themselves. After all, they were leaving with full pockets, having been inundated by the Egyptians with gold, silver, jewelry and clothing. After the ten plagues, the Egyptians wanted them to leave so badly, they were literally paying them to get out of town. There were probably over a million people in the crowd that made its way out of Egypt that day. But their pride and arrogance would soon turn to fear and, had it not been for Moses, their fear would have quickly turned to flight. But to see the hand of God, they were going to have to stay right where they were. By the time God was done, it was going to be the Egyptians who would fear and attempt to flee. God would turn the tables and literally turn the tide in favor of His people. What had appeared to be a hopeless situation would be turned into one of the greatest miracles any man had ever seen.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the book of Mark, we see Jesus speaking in parables, attempting to instruct His disciples about the reality of the Kingdom of God. So much of what He said was a mystery to them, making no sense and even His answers seemed to leave them as confused as ever. His stories about seeds and soils, mustard seeds and lamps, planting and harvest, left the disciples scratching their heads and questioning their meaning. It was not what they expected. But later that day when they found themselves in a boat on the Sea of Galilee caught in a storm, all thoughts of parables and their meaning disappeared. They were in trouble. A severe storm with massive waves was filling their small boat with water and threatening them with possible capsizing and possible death. Jesus was sound asleep in the boat, and they woke Him up, screaming over the wind and waves, "Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38 ESV). And Mark records that Jesus calmly said, "'Peace be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:39 ESV). Then Jesus spoke words that apply to each and every follower of His who has ever found himself in a difficult situation and full of fear. "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" (Mark 4:40 ESV).

Like the Israelites in the days of Moses standing at the shore of the Red Sea, and the disciples in that boat on the Sea of Galilee, I have more than enough reason to know that God is powerful and that He saves. I have seen His power in my life over and over again. I have been witness to His deliverance time and time again. But each time I find myself in a difficult spot, I tend to forget what He has done, and to doubt what He is capable of. The Israelites had seen ten plagues. They had witnessed the miracle of the Passover. The disciples had seen Him heal the sick and cast out demons. And yet, when the unexpected storm came, they feared. How easy it is for me to do the same. They also jumped to the conclusion that somehow their predicament was unplanned and out of God's control. They were NOT where they were supposed to be. And yet, Jesus was calmly asleep in the boat. No panic. No fear. No doubt. He was in God's will and had perfect peace. The storm was just an opportunity to watch God work. The armies of Pharaoh were there, not to conquer, but to be conquered by God. The Red Sea was there, not to be a barrier, but a means of escape and a way of deliverance. Oh, that I could learn to stop fearing, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord! I must continue to learn to let fear turn to faith and not flight. I must allow God to do the impossible so that my belief in God will become immovable.

Father, thank You once again for this incredible story and reminder of my need to trust You with the impossible in my life. There are NO circumstances that are out of Your control and No situations that are not within Your ability to provide a way of escape. You are leading me every step of the way. May I learn to see Your hand in every phase of my life, so that I might learn to wait for Your salvation in every situation of life. Amen.

Good and Angry.

John 11

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up withing him, and he was deeply troubled. – John 11:33 NLT

Chapter 11 of the Book of John contains the well-known and often recounted story of Jesus' miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. This wasa watershed moment in the life of Jesus and was going to set up a dramatic shift in emphasis for His ministry. The end was drawing near. Jesus knows that He is entering the last part of His mission as God's servant. He has one last thing to do before that mission is accomplished and it will require Him to go to Jerusalem one last time. It there that He will be betrayed into the hands of His enemies, be beaten, mocked, unjustly tried, and undeservedly crucified. The event recorded by John will help set up all that is to come in the days ahead. It will help explain much of what we see happen as Jesus enters into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. But we must look closely if we want to see some of more hidden or difficult messages contained in this story. While the raising of Lazarus from the dead is spectacular and worthy of our wonder and attention, there is so much more going on that is often overlooked.

Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha. They were friends of Jesus and He had been in their home on other occasions (Luke 10:38). They lived in the village of Bethany, which was about two miles outside the city Gates of Jerusalem. This village and, more than likely, their home, would become Jesus' base of operations during the final week of His life. During the Festival of Passover, which was coming up in just a few days, Jesus would return to Bethany each evening after having visited in Jerusalem all day. The path from Jerusalem to Bethany would have taken He and His disciples through the Mount of Olives on the east side of the city. This would become an important venue in the days ahead.

Jesus received an urgent message from Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus was sick. They begged Jesus to come to His aid, believing that if He came, Lazarus could be healed by Jesus. But interestingly, upon hearing the news, Jesus delayed His departure for an additional two days. Then He informed His disciples that it was time to return to the region of Judea. Jesus and the disciples had been ministering in the region east of Judea called Perea. When they heard Jesus say it was time to return to Judea, they tried to talk Him out of it, because just days earlier the people of Judea were ready to stone Jesus to death. But Jesus waves off their concern, knowing it is necessary for Him to go. He also had a reason for His delay. Jesus knew full well that Lazarus would have died by the time they arrived. He even told the disciples so. "Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I'm glad I wasn't there, for now you will really believe. Come, let's go see him" (John 11:14-15 NLT).

When they arrived, they found the entire village in a state of mourning. Mary and Martha were beside themselves with sadness and could not process why Jesus had not come sooner. He could have saved their brother, but now it was too late. While they believed in Jesus' power, they didn't think He could do anything about their brother's death. What happens next is significant. I'm not referring to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It was what John tells us just before that miraculous moment. Jesus saw the tears and agony of Mary, and looked at the other people sadly mourning the death of their friend Lazarus, and "a deep anger welled up within him" (John 11:33 NLT). While some translations simply say that Jesus "groaned in His spirit" and was "deeply troubled," I think there is far more going on here. The New Living Translation gives what I believe to be a far better feel for what is really going on. Jesus wasn't just troubled, He was angry. The word used here in the Greek is from a root word that means to "snort with anger." Jesus is not just sad, He is angry. Why? Jesus knew that Lazarus would be dead, so I don't think He is upset about that. His anger seems to be related to the tears, agony, sorrow and sadness He sees displayed before Him. Death has brought that about. And death is the direct result of sin. Jesus is having to watch the byproduct of the very thing He came to eliminate and eradicate: Sin and its residual effects. I believe Jesus is angry at the devastating impact sin brought on the world that He Himself had created. Jesus is watching people who have had to live with the reality and permanency of death all their lives. But He had come to change all that. Which is what He told Mary when He arrived on the scene. "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die" (John 11:25-26 NLT).

Jesus wept when He arrived at the tomb. But why? He knew He was going to raise Lazarus to life again, so why would He be crying? Was it simply out of sympathy for the people? I don't think so. He knew their sadness would be turned to joy in just a matter of minutes. Once again, I believe Jesus is angry and upset because of the dominion death had over the lives of those He came to save. He knew that in that crowd that day were countless people who would never believe in Him and as a result, would never receive everlasting life. Death would end in their eternal separation from God the Father. John says that Jesus was still angry when he arrived at the tomb. He was good and angry. He was going to give Satan and death a small glimpse of what was about to come in the days ahead. He would raise Lazarus to life. But in just a short period of time, God the Father would raise Jesus to new life, conquering sin and death once and for all. Paul reminds us of what Jesus' death and resurrection accomplished: "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NLT). This moment at the graveside of Lazarus was a galvanizing moment for Jesus – not that He needed anything to encourage His obedience to the will of His Father. But He would leave the town of Bethany more focused than ever at the task at hand. News of this event would spread like wildfire. Many people believed in Jesus because of what they witnessed. But when the leading priests and Pharisees caught wind of what happened, they began to plot Jesus' death more vigorously than ever.

Jesus' anger at sin and death would soon culminate with His own death on the cross. He would defeat sin and death by taking all the sins of mankind on Himself and dying a sacrificial death on the cross – once for all. Jesus was good and angry, and it would result in good news for mankind.

Jesus, You had a right to be angry that day. You were watching the devastating effects of sin on the very ones You had created. You were having to watch what sin had done to those whom You loved. But You did something about it. You dealt with it. You conquered sin and defeated death once and for all. And I think You that I am the beneficiary of Your righteous anger.  Amen.

He Healed Them All!

Matthew 15:29-31; Mark 7:31-37

“A vast crowd brought to him people who were lame, blind, crippled, those who couldn't speak, and many others. They laid them before Jesus, and he healed them all.’” – Matthew 15:30 NLT

There are so many recorded incidents of Jesus healing people in the Bible that they can easily become almost non-events to us. We just expect Jesus to heal people. At least we expect Jesus to heal people in the Bible. We're not quite so confident when it comes to real life. But when it comes to reading the Scriptures we have gotten so used to the stories about blind people receiving their sight, lame people suddenly being able to walk, and mute people gaining back the ability to speak, that they no longer shock or surprise us. But in Jesus' day, these miracles were anything but expected, and the people had not become complacent about them. When Jesus showed up, the sick and needy showed up as well. And Jesus rarely, if ever, disappointed. Matthew records an occasion where Jesus, having returned to the shore of Galilee from the region of Tyre and Sidon, sits down on a nearby hillside and suddenly finds Himself surrounded by a crowd. They had brought with them all kinds of people with all kinds of needs, and they laid them all at the feet of Jesus. Imagine the scene. People unable to walk, crippled by disease, birth defects or injury, are hobbling or laying at the feet of Jesus. Some are on mats, some are on crutches, but all are in need. They can't work or make a living. Some are probably in great pain. Next to them are the blind. These people live in a constant world of darkness, unable to see the faces of their own family members or enjoy the beauty of the world around them. There are probably young and old alike. Some have been born blind, while others have lost their sight due to injury, disease, illness or just old age. But each of them suffers the same fate: A life marked by certain poverty, constant darkness and little hope. Mixed in with these two groups were the mute. For whatever reason, these people found themselves unable to speak, trapped in a world where their thoughts, ideas and emotions had to be communicated through hand motions or scribbled notes. They were incapable of expressing words of love, affirmation, encouragement, joy, or praise. They couldn't sing, shout, whisper, laugh or tell another living soul what they were thinking, feeling, or needing.

What a sad scenario. It reminds me of a scene from the recent movie, Lincoln, where President Lincoln tours a makeshift hospital filled with Union soldiers who have been injured in battle during the Civil War. Many have had their limbs amputated. Others have been permanently blinded by the fragments of exploding bombs. None will ever be the same again. Many will not live to see old age. And all the president can do is walk among them, issuing words of thanks and encouragement. How helpless. How hopeless. How frustrating.

But Jesus did not face those same limitations. He could do so much more, and He did. He healed them all. Matthew does not tell us how Jesus did it. He could have made His way among them, touching each one and speaking to them individually. Or He could have simply healed the entire group in one single, magnificent moment. I tend to believe that is what He did. And Matthew tells us that the crowd was amazed. They were blown away! And we would have been too. Suddenly there were people who had never walked before, running and jumping, shouting and screaming for joy. There were blind people covering their eyes from the blinding light of the sun, then slowly taking in the sights around them. They were grabbing the faces of spouses, children, family members and friends, perhaps seeing them for the first time in their lives. Their were tears being shed, sounds of laughter and shouts of joy. But the loudest group was probably those who had once been unable to speak. Suddenly, they are able to shout, scream, sing, and praise God. And I'm sure they did. Most of them probably shouted themselves hoarse!.

What a scene! I think it's safe to say that none of us have ever experienced anything like it. But the truth is, every time we get together with a group of other believers, that is just the kind of experience we should have. Each of us who have received salvation through Jesus Christ have been healed of the greatest disease plaguing mankind – sin. We have been taken from death to life. We have been set free from slavery to sin. It reminds me of the lyrics from that great old hymn, Amazing Grace. "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see." Our salvation is no less amazing than what happened on that hillside that day. In fact, it is more amazing. Those peoples' conditions, while improved physically, remained the same spiritually. While they praised the name of the God of Israel for what had happened, there is no indication that they believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They received physical healing, but not spiritual healing. They were still condemned because of their sin and lost without a Savior. But for those of us who are recipients of the amazing grace of God through placing our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we have much to shout about. Our lives should be marked by joy, singing, excitement, excitement, anticipation and grateful appreciation.

Jesus, You have healed my life and made me whole. You have taken away my sin and replaced it with Your righteousness. I was once dead, but You have made me alive and well. I was once helpless and hopeless, but You have given me eternal life and a life free from condemnation and the fear of death. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!. Amen.

The Storms of Life.

John 6:15-21

“Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough.” – John 6:18 NLT

John's account of this event is short and sweet. He leaves out a lot of the details that Matthew and Mark provide. He simply tells us that the disciples, having waited for Jesus, went ahead and started to sail back across the Lake. According to Mark's account, Jesus had insisted that the disciples go ahead and return to Bethsaida, on the other side of the lake. Jesus had intended to get away by Himself for some time in prayer. But it would appear that the disciples decided to wait for Jesus. When it became dark, they finally did what Jesus had told them to do. About halfway across the lake, a sudden storm blew in. They had been here before. But this time Jesus was not with them. While several of the disciples were seasoned fishermen, the majority of them were landlubbers. They were out of their element and way out of their comfort zone. They were at the mercy of the waves and the wind. There was little they could do about it but continue to row and try to make shore.

In the midst of all the chaos and confusion, there suddenly appeared a form moving across the surface of the water. With the blowing mist and the darkness, it was difficult to make out what it was. But it appeared to look like a man walking on the water. The very sight of it terrified them. Their fear of the storm was replaced by the fear of this apparition. Little did they know at the time that it was Jesus. According to Mark, Jesus had seen their predicament while standing on the shore. This in itself is a miracle, because they were three or four miles away and it was dark. But Jesus saw the clearly. And Mark says, "He saw that that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard, and struggling against the wind and the waves" (Mark 6:48 NLT). Jesus saw what was happening. So what did He do? "Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, but when they saw him walking on the water they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost" (Mark 6:48-49 NLT). This is an important point. Jesus intended to go past them or pass them by. But John says, "suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat" (John 6:19 NLT). It seems that Jesus had every intention of them seeing Him. He wanted them to see and sense His presence in the middle of the storm. He could have calmed the storm while standing on the shore. But instead, He literally walked out to them in the midst of the storm. He was in the storm with them. And He was in a seemingly worse spot than they were – He had no boat!

Jesus called out to the disciples over the wind and the crashing waves. He said, "Don't be afraid. I am here!" (John 6:20 NLT). I think it's interesting that He didn't say, "Waves be still! Wind be calm!" He didn't speak to the storm. No, He spoke to the disciples. And He assured them of His presence. He was right there with them. He was in the middle of their storm. If He could walk on the waters of their storm, certainly they could row over them to safety. But that wasn't enough for the disciples. John tells us that "they were eager to let him in the boat" (John 6:21 NLT). They wanted Jesus in the boat with them. And I think they also wanted Him to calm the storm around them. But we have to remember that Jesus had seen their situation from a distance. He knew what was happening. And He didn't seem shocked or overly concerned. They were three to four miles away and Jesus decided to walk that distance to them. We don't know how long it took. But it does not appear that He was in any rush. He didn't suddenly appear to them. He didn't just show up in the boat. He walked to them. He saw their circumstances and then calmly revealed Himself in the midst of them.

There is nothing that happens in our lives that Jesus is not fully aware of. As God, He can see everything. And there is never a point in time that He is caught off guard or shocked by the circumstances and storms of our lives. Not only does He see, but He shows up. At just the right time. And He tells us, "Don't be afraid. I am here!" There is no storm great enough to keep Him away. He simply walks into our situation and shows Himself to us. Smack dab in the middle of the storm. There were going to be other storms for the disciples. Their lives were going to be filled with dark and difficult days. Jesus had already told them, "But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with ships in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers" (Matthew 10:17-18 NLT). The storms were coming. But Jesus would be with them. He was not going to abandon them. And we have that same assurance today. We are not promised a storm-free life, but we are promised the presence and power of Christ. He will never leave us or forsake us. And He will always show up in the difficult times. He will reveal Himself to us. And we will see Him if we look for Him.

Father, thank You for the constant abiding presence of Jesus in my life. Forgive me for the many times I allow the storms of my life to convince me that He is nowhere to be found. But nothing could be farther from the truth. He is there. He is always there. And that constant presence should provide me with overwhelming peace – even in the middle of the storms of life. Amen.

You Feed Them.

Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17

“Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.’” – Mark6:35-36 NLT

This is a very familiar story for most of us. But most of us don't know its context. Over the years it has become an isolated event – a Sunday School story – floating on its own, somehow removed from the timeline of Jesus' life and isolated from the immediate context of all that was going on both before and after. But in reading and studying the Scriptures, context is critical, especially when studying the life of Jesus. The context surrounding this event is that Jesus had just recently received news of the death of John the Baptist. As a result, He had spent some time alone in mourning while His disciples were away on their first official assignment. He had sent them out "two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits" (Mark 6:7 NLT). Luke tells us that Jesus had given them "power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases" (Luke 9:1 NLT). They had returned fired up and excited to tell Jesusall the wonderful things they had done. Their faith should have been at an all-time high. Jesus attempts to get them away for a little R&R, but the next thing they all know, the crowds have found them once again. There were so many of them, Jesus and the disciples didn't even have time to eat. Jesus felt compassion for them "because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things" (Mark 6:34 NLT).

But as the day got late, the disciples, still worn out from their short-term mission trip, came to Jesus and told Jesus, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat" (Mark 6:35-36 NLT). They were tired and hungry. They were also probably a little sick and tired of the constant presence and pressure of the crowds. This would have looked like a good time for Jesus to get rid of them. It was dinner time. But instead of sending the crowds away, He turned to the disciples and simply said, "You feed them." Now this is where context becomes important. They had just returned from an assignment given to them by Jesus where they personally experienced the power and authority of God in their lives. They had been able to cast out demons – just like Jesus. They had been able to heal all kinds of diseases – just like Jesus. But when faced with this statement from the lips of Jesus, they didn't know what to do. And I have to think that part of their problem was that, while they had experienced the power and authority of Jesus, they still did not have the mind of Jesus. They did not yet have the heart of Jesus. When Jesus looked at the crowds, He felt compassion. When the disciples looked at the crowds, they saw a problem. Jesus saw an opportunity. They saw an impossibility. Just look at their response. "‘With what?’ they asked. ‘We'd have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!’” (Mark 6:37 NLT). Remember, they had been given power and authority. Their capabilities were limitless. It was their imaginations that posed the problem. In their minds, what Jesus was asking them to do was impossible and illogical. It made no sense. It was out of the question.

But Jesus simply responded, "How much bread to you have? Go find out." (Mark 6:38 NLT). Reluctantly and without much confidence, they did as they were asked and returned with the bad news that they only have five loaves of bread and two fishes. Their doubts were confirmed. Not enough food for so many people. They had been right all along. Jesus was going to have to send the people away to find food somewhere else. But instead, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them a valuable lesson. He would show them how He sees things. He would reveal to them His though process when confronted with what appear to be insurmountable odds. Jesus took what little they had and did something unbelievable. He used His God-given power and authority to meet a need. He fed the hungry, rather than send them away. He provided for their need, rather than demand that they fend for themselves. And what is important is that Jesus used the disciples as the means by which He distributed the food to the people. They became the conduits of blessing as they took the fish and the bread from the hands of Jesus and distributed it among the crowds. They would have had to have looked at all those faces. They would have seen their hunger and heard their words of thanks and amazement. And they would have noticed that every single person had more than enough to eat, including themselves. And surely it's no coincidence that there were exactly 12 baskets of food left over when it was all said and done.

When I read this story, I can't help but think about the words of Paul: "Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had" (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT). We must have the mind of Christ, the attitude of Christ. Paul goes on to describe Jesus' humility and servant's spirit. Jesus loved others to the point of death. In his famous "love chapter" Paul reminds us "If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT). The disciples had experienced the power and authority that Jesus possessed. But they still lacked love. They did not yet share the heart of Jesus. To be able to cast out demons and heal all manner of diseases would be wasted if it could not be done with love. Jesus did all that He did out of love. He was motivated by love. He was empowered by love. He fed the 5,000 because of love. He died because of love. Before we long to experience the power of Christ, we must learn to love like Christ.

Father, thank You for the lives of the disciples. We are so much like them. Their transparency is refreshing, because it reminds me of how often I can lose sight of what makes Your heart beat fast. Continue to teach me to have the same attitude that Jesus has. May I grow more and more in my love for others. May humility and servanthood mark my life more and more. Help me to view the world and others through the eyes of Christ. Amen.

A Transforming Touch.

Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56

"But Jesus said, 'Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.'" – Luke 8:46 NLT

Jesus and His disciples had just sailed back across the Sea of Galilee to the village of Capernaum. Before they could get out of the boat they were surrounded by a crowd of people who had been waiting for Jesus to return. Among them was Jairus, a leader in the local synagogue. He made his way through the throng of people surrounding Jesus and fell at His feet, begging Him to come and heal his 12-year old daughter, who was near death. As they made their way to the man's home, the crowd followed, pressing in on Jesus. They were all there for a variety of reasons. Some were simply curious. Others hoped to receive healing. Still others, influenced by the rhetoric of the religious leaders, were there because they hated Jesus. But one woman in the crowd was desperate and determined to see if this man called Jesus could help her with a very serious problem. Imagine the scene, as hundreds of people crowded around Jesus, jostling Him, bumping up against Him. Everyone wanted to get a close look at Him. And somehow this very ill woman was able to make her way to His side, close enough to touch the hem of His robe. That was all she dared do. She didn't dare do what the leader of the synagogue had done. She probably did not feel worthy. But she was driven by hope. She had heard about Jesus. And Mark tells us, "she thought to herself, 'If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed'" (Mark 5:28 NLT). Driven by need, motivated by desperation, and encouraged by hope, she touched the robe of Jesus and was immediately healed. After 12 long years of suffering and countless trips to doctors that had left her financially destitute and worse off than when she started, she was healed. With just a touch of the robe of Jesus, she had received the miracle of healing. And Jesus knew exactly what had happened. He had felt healing power go out from Him. So Jesus asked, "Who touched me?" (Luke 8:45 NLT). Interestingly, the word Jesus used for touched is one that can be translated, "to fasten oneself to." It carries a sense of intimacy and closeness. Her touch was different than all the others who were bumping up against Jesus, even reaching out to touch Him just to say they had. Some in the crowd had viewed Jesus as a celebrity. This woman saw Him as a source of hope, help and healing. And when she touched Him, she did so fully intending for something unbelievable to happen. And it did.

There are so many times that each of us come into touch with Jesus. We read about Him in the Word. We hear about Him through a sermon, Bible study lesson or small group study. We spend a great deal of our lives "bumping" into Jesus, but never expecting anything to happen as a result. We are part of the crowd that follows Him and even says we believe in Him, but we rarely receive anything from Him. Maybe it is our seeming lack of need or our failure to believe that He can do anything to help us. We come into contact with Jesus, but walk away unchanged. And the problem lies not with Jesus, but with us. We don't reach out to Him expectantly, because we fail to believe He has the power to heal us or help us. The woman in the story had spent twelve years of her life reaching out to everyone but Jesus, and now she was desperate enough to try Him instead. Jesus told her that it was her faith that made her well. Yes, it was His power that healed her, but it began with her belief that simply reaching out to Jesus would make a different in her life. Her touch became the conduit of healing. Her faith as expressed through her intentional touch of Jesus changed her life forever. She chose to "fasten herself" to Jesus. So should we.

In the time it took for this miracle to happen, a tragedy occured. Jairus' daughter died. A servant arrived with the news, but Jesus was not deterred or downcast. He simply said, "Don't be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed" (Luke 8:50 NLT). Like the woman in the crowd, Jairus had a choice to make. He could have doubted Jesus' words and given up all hope. But he chose to believe and then put that belief into action by walking alongside Jesus to his home. Matthew records that Jairus, upon hearing of his daughter's death, told Jesus, "you can bring her back to life again if you just come and lay your hand on her" (Matthew 9:18 NLT). Which is exactly what Jesus did. He took the little girl by the hand, commanded her to get up, and she did – fully alive and fully restored. Jairus had chosen to believe. He ignored the circumstances and "fastened himself" to Jesus. He counted on Him to solve his pressing need. And Jesus did. He always does. He longs to feel healing power go from Himself in response to the faith of His followers. He longs to respond to the faith of His disciples when they choose to fasten themselves to Him even in the face of insurmountable odds. Are you willing to reach out and touch Jesus today? He is waiting.

Father, the power of Your Son has not diminished. He is just as powerful as He has always been. He still longs to transform our lives. But we must be intentional about fastening ourselves to Him. Give me the faith to believe like these two people did. Help me to see my need and to reach out to Jesus in desperation, but also expectation. He still helps and heals today. Amen.

Go and Tell.

Luke 8:26-39

"The man who had been freed from the demons begged to go with him. But Jesus sent him home, saying, 'No, go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.' So he went all through the town proclaiming the great things Jesus had done for him." – Luke 8:38-39 NLT

After the demons left the two demon-possessed men and fled into the herd of pigs, sending them running wildly off the edge of a nearby cliff, that's when the real action began. The disciples stood amazed and afraid. The herdsmen, who just watched their livelihood get wiped out, took off at a run for town in order to tell everyone what had happened. In no time, Jesus was surrounded by villagers eager to see for themselves what had happened. They wanted to verify that what they had heard was true – the two men (at least according to Matthew's account) were no longer demon-possessed. These two men had been a fixture in the lives of these people for years. They feared them and stayed as far away from them as possible. Both of the men were more than likely from the nearby village and their neighbors had seen them make the transition from normal, healthy boys to crazed, demon-possessed lunatics living in a graveyard and terrorizing the community.

When the villagers arrived, they found the man who had the many demons and was known as Legion, "sitting at Jesus' feet, fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid" (Luke 8:35 NLT). Not amazed, but afraid. A similar response to that of the disciples when Jesus calmed the sea just a few hours earlier. Luke records that when the disciples had seen Jesus calm the waves and the wind, they "were terrified and amazed" (Luke 8:25 NLT). At the witness of the power of Jesus, the villagers and the disciples reacted in fear and terror. They didn't know what to do with what they had seen. In this case, the villagers wanted Jesus to leave, "for a great wave of fear swept over them" (Luke 8:37 NLT). Rather than worship, they wanted Him to leave. They wanted life to go back to the way it was before. It didn't matter that there was a miracle sitting in their midst in the form of two totally healed, demon-free men. They wanted Jesus gone.

But there was at least one individual who reacted in faith and not fear. One of the men who had been healed asked Jesus if he could go with Him. His life had been radically, unalterably changed by an encounter with Jesus, and he wanted to spend the rest of his life serving and following Him. But Jesus denied his request. Instead, He told the man to "go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you" (Luke 8:39 NLT). Jesus made him a missionary to his own people. The area in which this all took place was on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, in a region that was primarily Gentile. So Jesus commissions this man (and more than likely, his companion) to return home and spread the news of what God had done for him. This man had had an encounter with God Himself – in the form of Jesus, the Son of God. Now he was to go and tell what had happened. And he did. Mark tells us, "the man started off to visit the Ten Town of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him, and everyone was amazed at what he told them" (Mark 8:20 NLT). There is no greater tool for proclaiming the power of God than the lips of the one who has experienced that power first-hand. Our testimony of transformation at the hands of God is undeniable and irrefutable. Yes, people can doubt it, but they can't disprove it. There were probably those who would deny that this man had ever been demon-possessed, but he would always know the truth. His zeal and unwavering knowledge of what had happened to his life would always be there. And the same should be true of us. Our greatest witness of the power of God is what He has done in our own lives. Jesus is telling us to do exactly what He told this man to do: "Go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you." Go and tell. Just share what Jesus has done. Give testimony to the fact that you have been and are being transformed by the power of God. And this testimony should be an ongoing and a growing one. Each day, we should have new news to share regarding God's power in our lives. It is not just about a point in time when we accepted Christ as our Savior. That is just the beginning. Our testimony is a work in progress. God is always doing something in our lives. His power is always available and at work behind the scenes. Sometimes we just don't see or recognize it. But we must look for it and then tell everyone we meet about it. Go and tell – spread the news of "everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been" (Mark 8:19 NLT).

Father, too often I fail to recognize Your power in my life. And as a result, I fail to tell anyone else about it. First of all, help me to see it. Secondly, help me have the boldness to talk about it to others, regardless of how they might receive it. I want to go and tell more regularly and faithfully. You have done so much for me and shown me so much mercy over the years. I have a story to tell that is growing with each passing day. May I begin to tell it to all with whom I come into contact. Amen.

Terror On the High Seas.

Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25

"But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger." – Luke 8:23 NLT

Imagine the scene. Jesus and His disciples have gotten into a fishing boat. Their intent was to sail across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus, exhausted from another day of ministry to the masses, has fallen asleep. Suddenly a severe storm blows in, whipping up the sea and creating waves big enough to break over the relatively small fishing boat and fill it with water. While a good portion of the men in this boat are professional fishermen, this storm even has them scared. And Luke records, more than likely from eyewitness accounts, that they were in real danger. The boat was taking on water and close to capsizing. For the non-fishermen in the boat, like Matthew, who was just atax-collector, this had to have been a terrifying experience. This was an intense situation that had the disciples petrified. But there was Jesus, soundly asleep as if nothing was going on at all. So they wake Him up, crying, "Teacher, don't you care that we're going to drown?" (Mark 4:38 NLT). They begged Him to save them. To them, this was a real, life-threatening situation that required His immediate attention. They were shocked that He could so callously sleep through this entire ordeal.

It's interesting that each of the Gospel writers records a different response from Jesus. Matthew has Him saying, "Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!" (Matthew 8:26 NLT). But it was said prior to Him calming the storm. Mark writes that Jesus said, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" (Mark 4:40 NLT). But Mark has Him saying this after He had calmed the storm. Finally, Luke records that immediately after Jesus calmed the storm, He asked the disciples, "Where is you faith?" (Luke 8:25 NLT). What's going on here? Do we have what are seemingly contradictory records of this event? Where the Gospel writers suffering from poor memory or simply utilizing creative license?

Because I believe the Word of God is divinely inspired, and these individual records of this event are accurate and true, what we really have is a three dimensional view of a single historical event. Each records a slightly different part of the same story, because each is writing to a different audience and has a different objective in mind. But when you piece them all together you get a well-rounded picture of what was really going on that day in the boat. There is no doubt that this was a life-threatening event in the minds of the disciples. They were scared to death. There is no argument that Jesus was asleep in the boat while all this was going on. It would be safe to conclude that the disciples, in their fear, woke up Jesus from a sound sleep to see if He could do anything to help them. I'm not sure they knew what He could do, but they were desperate. All three texts make it clear that Jesus miraculously calmed the storm with just a word. He spoke and the wind stopped, the sea calmed, and the rain ceased. The real question seems to be what Jesus said to them and when. It would appear from Matthew's account that Jesus questioned their fear and lack of faith immediately prior to calming the storm. Mark and Luke both have Jesus calming the storm, then asking the disciples about the condition of their faith. It would seem likely that Jesus did both. The fact is that the disciples, fearing for their lives, woke Jesus up and had no real expectation of what or how He could do anything to help them. They were fearful and faithless. So He addressed those two problems with a question. Then He showed them the unnecessary nature of their fear and faithlessness by calming the storm. With just a word from His mouth, the storm ceased and they were saved. But they had been in no real danger all along, because they were with Him. The calming of the storm was simply a proof of His power and protective presence. Matthew records that the disciples were amazed at what they had seen Jesus do. Mark picks up the story post-storm and, evidently, the disciples are still struggling with what they had just seen happen. They are probably slack-jawed and dumb-founded. They can't believe what they have just seen. It was not the outcome they had been expecting. So Jesus addresses their fear and faithlessness again. But this time, He is talking about a different kind of fear. Rather than fear of their own deaths, they fear Him. They are petrified at what they have just seen and who it is that has just done this miraculous thing right before their eyes. But Jesus looks into their hearts and sees their lingering faithlessness. He asks rhetorically, "Do you still have no faith?" He is asking them why their faith is still weak in spite of what they have just witnessed. The word Jesus uses for fear here is a word for timidity. They are cowering. Not before the waves and the wind, but before Jesus. And interestingly enough, Mark records "The disciples were absolutely terrified" (Mark 4:41 NLT). The word for fear here is more intense. It is abject terror. It conveys the idea of fright and flight. They want to run. What they have seen Jesus do scares them more than the storm did. They are absolutely blown away by it all. They even ask among themselves, "Who is this man?" They had seen another side of Jesus that they had not seen before. Even the waves and the wind obey Him. He has power over the elements. He controls nature itself.

But the real issue in this story is their faith. When the waves had calmed and the wind had died down, Jesus asks them, "Where is your faith?" (Luke 8:25 NLT). You would think that their faith would have been at an all-time high after what they had witnessed. But according to Jesus, that doesn't seem to be the case. What Jesus really seems to be asking them at this point is, "In what is your faith placed?" He is questioning the focus of their faith, not the effectiveness of it. They had been putting their faith in the wrong thing. Peter, Andrew, and Simon, as fishermen had grown up putting their faith in their boats and their own ability to handle the high seas of life. But on this day they had learned that their faith had been misplaced. Jesus is asking each of the disciples to consider in what or who they are placing their trust. Their circumstances had revealed the true nature of their faith. They weren't trusting God. And even after Jesus had calmed the storm, they were still wrestling with trust in who He was and why He had come. Jesus hadn't come to calm storms, but to conquer sin and death. He hadn't come to make their lives easier or danger-free, but to equip them to fight spiritual battles and wage warfare with the enemy, armed with faith in the power and protective presence of God. As long as Jesus was in the boat, they had been safe. As long as the Son of God was in their presence, they were well within the will of God. The severity of their circumstances should not have changed the intensity of their faith. But like each of us, they were learning. They were growing. And their faith in Jesus Christ was increasing with each passing day.

Father, there isn't a day that goes by that You can't ask me that same question: "Where is your faith?" I misplace my faith all the time. I doubt and fear. I put my trust in the wrong things. I fail to learn from my circumstances and grow in my faith in You. I see You do the miraculous and, rather than rejoice in Your power and abiding presence, I find myself fearing again as soon as things don't go quite the way I want them to go. But thank You that You are constantly working on my faith and teaching me to trust You more. Amen.

The Son of God.

John 5:1-47

"You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” – John 5:39 NLT

In this passage, Jesus encounters a man who had been sick for 38 years. Every day, this man somehow made his way to the pool of Bethesda, near the wall of the Temple. The waters were thought to hold healing properties and, when they were stirred up, if you could be one of the first to get in the water, you would receive healing. This man's problem was that, after 38 long years of suffering, he had no hope of ever getting in the water in time. Jesus asked him a question with a very obvious answer. "Would you like to get well?" (John 5:6 NLT). To which the man replied, "I can't, sir, for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me" (John 5:7 NLT). In response, Jesus tells the man, "Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!" (John 5:8 NLT).

And immediately the man is healed and does just as he is told. It was an amazing moment. This man's life was changed forever. But John reminds of us one small detail in the story. It is the Sabbath. And when the Pharisees see this man "working" on the Sabbath by carrying his mat, they are appalled. And when they find out Jesus told him to do so, they begin to confront Jesus about breaking the Sabbath. But it would be Jesus response to them that would turn their anger into thoughts of murder. Jesus said, "My Father is always working, and so am I" (John 5:17 NLT). Here lies the greatest disconnect between Jesus and the religious leadership of His day. He claimed to be the Son of God, and in so doing, He claimed to be deity. According to their standards, that was blasphemy, a crime punishable by death.

And this is still the disconnect most people have with Jesus today. Most have no problem believing that Jesus lived or that He was a powerful and influential teacher. Many have little or no struggle with the idea of Him doing miracles. But where the problem comes up for most is with the concept of Jesus as the Son of God. This remains a stumbling block for most people today. Even for many church-going, Bible-believing, so-called Christians today. Like the Pharisees, they search the Scriptures, thinking that in them they will find eternal life (John 5:39). In other words, the secret to having a right relationship with God is through discovering His requirement as found in His Word. So they read the Scriptures trying to decipher the rules and requirements God has set out so that they can keep them and make God happy. But Jesus reminds us, "the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life" (John 5:39-40 NLT). Jesus' miracles were simply to act as proof of who He claimed to be. They were evidence of His deity. The power He displayed came from God and so did He. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that God had given Him the power to provide eternal life to any and all who would believe that He was God's Son. "I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life" (John 5:24 NLT). It was essential that they believe that Jesus was sent from God and was the Son of God. And not only has God given Jesus the life-giving power to provide eternal life to those who would believe He came from God, He has given Him the power to judge all men at the end of the age. With a word from Jesus, all the dead will rise and face judgment – some to face eternal life and someeternal death. The Pharisees saw the miracles of Jesus. They heard the powerful teachings of Jesus. But they could not handle the claims of Jesus to be God. That was beyond their ability to comprehend or consent to. And as a result, they missed the point. They were so busy trying to work their way to eternal life that they missed the very one who could give them eternal life.

Jesus was and is the Son of God. He is the second person of the Trinity. He was God's means by which the world might be saved and men might be reconciled to a right relationship with Him. But it is essential that men believe Jesus was who He claimed to be. The miracles and messages of Jesus mean nothing if they do not point us to His deity. The words of Scripture will mean nothing if we do not find within them the message that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to save the world from the judgment of God. Jesus was more than just a man. He was more than just a prophet. He was more than just a faith-healer. He was more than just a teacher. He was the Son of God. Yet Jesus can still say to so many, "For I have come to you in my Father's name, and you have rejected me" (John 5:43 NLT).

Father, it was Jesus' claim to deity that became the stumbling block for so many. They couldn't comprehend it, so they simply rejected it. They couldn't explain it, so they refused to believe it. But to those who believed through a simple act of faith, He gave eternal life, and I am so grateful to have been included in that number. Thank You. Amen.

Fishing For Men.

Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11

“Don't be afraid! From now on you'll be fishing for people.” – Luke 5:10 NLT

Some unwanted advice from an unlikely source. That's what Simon received that day when Jesus instructed him to "go out where it is deeper and let down your nets to catch some fish" (Luke 5: 4 NLT). Think about it. Here was Simon, a seasoned fisherman, who had fished the waters of the Sea of Galilee all his life alongside his brother, Andrew. Along comes Jesus, a thirty-year old carpenter from Nazareth who had never fished a day in His life. But He gives Simon some well-meaning advice on how to fish. At first, Simon attempts to offer up an excuse as to why he can't follow through with Jesus' tip, but he thinks better of it and decides to do as Jesus suggests. The result is, well, overwhelming. They find their nets so full of fish that they are literally ripping apart at the seams. They have to call for another boat to assist them and eventually, both boats are so full of fish that they are about to sink from the sheer weight of their catch. Suffice it to say that Simon and the other fishermen had never seen anything like this before. They were shocked. So much so, that Simon fell to his knees before Jesus and fearfully confessed his sinfulness and unworthiness to be in Jesus' presence. He knew that something miraculous had just taken place. He was aware that Jesus was more than just an ordinary man. At this point, it's not exactly clear just who Simon believed Jesus was. But he knew enough to know that he had just witnessed a supernatural event that was like nothing he had ever seen before, and it was all the result of the words of Jesus.

The next words out of Jesus' mouth had to have been confusing and cryptic to Simon and the others. "Don't be afraid! From now on you'll be fishing for people!" Of course, because we're looking back on the story and know how it ends, we get it. But for Simon and Andrews, this statement had to be a bit perplexing. What did Jesus mean by "fishing for people?" What kind of career path was He suggesting? But in spite of any questions or doubts Simon may have had, he followed. Not only that, he left everything and followed Jesus. That means he not only walked away from all he had ever known – his career, family, and friends – he also walked away from the single largest economic boon he had ever experienced. He walked away from two boats filled with fish that represented a sizable boost to his income.

It seems, that at times, Jesus gives us advice and counsel that appears illogical and a bit ridiculous. He tells us to do something that makes no sense and goes against our better judgment. Like Simon, we want to rationalize and reason our way out of doing what He says. We want to make excuses. But obedience brings blessing. And obedience requires faith. Simon had no guarantee that anything would happen when he pushed his boat back out into the water. If anything, he expected more of the same – empty nets and wasted effort. But this time out was going to be different, because it was under the direction of and in obedience to the Son of God. And what Simon was able to witness was not only an eye-popping haul of fish, but the power of God unleashed in daily life. The mundane suddenly became miraculous. The ordinary became extraordinary. And as a result, Simon's life would never be the same again. Catching fish became unimportant to him. Following Jesus and obeying His commands became the calling of his life. While he might not have know what Jesus meant for fishing for men, Simon was willing to do whatever Jesus told him to do. He had witnessed a miracle. He had seen the power of God revealed in his life through this man, Jesus. And so he followed Him. A move that would change his life forever.

Father, I want to witness Your power in my life more often. But I know that it requires obedience and faith. I have to listen to what Your Son is calling me to do, and then do it, even when I feel like it makes no sense. Too often, I want to figure out if it makes sense first, or try to determine if it will work before I step out. But that's not faith. Give me the strength and determination to respond as Simon did, "But if you say so." Amen.