Follow by Email

Popular Posts

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bible Passages Foretell the Saviors' Birth

Bible Passages Foretell the Saviors’ Birth

God sent the mighty angel Gabriel to the little town of Nazareth to give a message to Mary. When the angel appeared before the astonished Mary, He announced that she would become pregnant and have a baby who would be the Son of God. “…the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” (Luke 1:26-27) Mary was startled and bowed before the angel. “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34) she asked.

“The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore; also the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:35)

The angel Gabriel is telling Mary that her baby would have no biological father but would be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would be the Son of God. Mary is the only virgin to ever become pregnant. Jesus could not have saved us from our sins if He had been just an ordinary man. He is the sinless Son of God and Son of man.

We took a trip to Israel recently and visited the town of Nazareth where the angel gave Gods’ message to Mary so many centuries ago. A large Catholic church, the Church of the Annunciation, stands in the center of town, in honor and memory of the event that took place there. Thousands of Christians from around the world visit Nazareth each year to see the town where Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and given the message that she would be the mother of the Son of God.

Can you imagine how difficult it might have been for Mary to explain her pregnancy to her fiancé, Joseph? As you might imagine, Joseph didn’t believe Mary when she told him that the mighty angel Gabriel had announced that she would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. He decided to put her away quietly. But while Joseph was thinking about it an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said; “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1: 20b-21)

There were hundreds of ancient prophecies in the Old Testament foretelling the future life and reign of Jesus, the Son of God. The whole 53rd chapter of Isaiah graphically told of Jesus’ suffering and death hundreds of years before it came to pass. Many other scriptures foretold of His coming glory and His victory over sin. And still others just spoke about the details of His future birth. One of them, Isaiah 7:14 reads: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” The name ‘Immanuel’ means ‘God with us’. This prophetic sign was given to King Ahaz in around 700 B.C. to encourage him and his people during a difficult time in their history. King Ahaz and the Jewish people could look forward to a Son that would be given for them. We can also be comforted and hopeful in our times of trouble when we remember that God gave His Son for us: this is the Christmas message.

Old Testament scriptures foretold where Jesus would be born. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:1-2) We all know that that prophecy was fulfilled since Jesus indeed was born in Bethlehem.

A passage in Jeremiah written around 620 B.C. foretells that the Lord of Righteousness will come from the line of David. “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness, a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called, The Lord our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:5) Jesus did come from the line of David as Scripture foretold. Matthew chapters 1 and 2 record His lineage.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem the angels announced His birth to the frightened shepherds in the fields. The wise men followed the bright star that led them to His cradle. Along with the many Old Testament prophecies, there also were many signs and wonders surrounding Christ’s birth as well as healings and miracles accompanying His ministry. The proofs that Jesus had been sent from God were there for all to see. But some people didn’t want to see. Some didn’t want to believe the evidence.

The Bible tells us that when Jesus came to Nazareth, many of the citizens there didn’t want to believe in Him. The sad part is that most of these folks were Jesus’ family and relatives. In speaking about His experiences in Nazareth Jesus said; “…A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” (Mark 6:4) Even though Mary must have described the angel Gabriel’s visit many times to her family, they must not have taken her seriously. And even when both she and Joseph told the story of the angels’ visit again and again, the relatives must not have been listening. Maybe they didn’t want to believe.

Mary and Joseph and their family lived in Nazareth when Jesus was a boy. After Jesus grew up and began His ministry, He tried to visit Nazareth twice and twice His relatives and neighbors threw Him out of the town. Once the townspeople got so agitated that a group, wanting to kill Him, surrounded Jesus and drug Him to the top of a nearby cliff. They were planning to throw Him over the edge, but since it wasn’t His time to die, Jesus was able to get away.

The town of Nazareth is nestled in a bowl with hills and steep cliffs surrounding it.

When we visited Nazareth, our bus passed by the steep cliffs that were just outside the town. These cliffs were about a hundred feet high and it was humbling to remember that those cliffs were probably the place where Jesus’ relatives and neighbors tried to kill Him.

Scripture tells us that most of the citizens of Nazareth did not believe in Jesus. “And He (Jesus) marveled because of their unbelief. …” (Mark 6:6) The Bible says that Jesus came to the people in Nazareth to bring them life, but because of their unbelief He couldn’t do very much. “Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” (Mark 6:6)

He had so much to give to His loved ones in Nazareth but their unbelief stopped all of that. They missed out on so much. Jesus comes to us too with His hands open and much to give. If we harbor unbelief we can stop His gifts and His mighty works in our lives. We have to do our part and believing is our part. Believing in Him makes it all happen. Let’s believe in Jesus.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead and the Pharisees are Furious

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead and the High Priest and Pharisees are Furious

Journeying through John (John 10-11)

By the time we get to the tenth chapter of John we find that Jesus has infuriated a large influential group of Jewish religious leaders with His teachings, healings and miracles. This powerful mob has taken up stones to kill Him. They won’t rest until He is dead. But wait, this is the very group that should have accepted Jesus! These are the priests and Pharisees who have spent their lives studying the Scriptures, the very Scriptures that foretell the coming of their Messiah and Savior. Shouldn’t they have been waiting and looking for Jesus? What is happening here?

Even though Jesus knows that these prestigious men of God are out to get Him, He continues on with His ministry. In chapter 10 Jesus has dodged several attempts by the religious leaders to stone Him and He is off teaching the people that He is our Shepherd and the Door of the sheepfold. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:7-9) And, “…, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1) “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish: neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28)

Jesus is telling us here that there is just one Door into the fold and just one Way to salvation. Jesus is the only Door and the only Way. Other ways to eternal life are fake and invalid. Christians down through the ages have been comforted by Jesus’ words here telling us that He is our Shepherd and that He will lead us and keep us. We are able to hear His voice in our lives because He gives us His Holy Spirit when we believe. Isn’t it wonderful that He speaks to each of us today just as He spoke to His followers so long ago? Isn’t it amazing that He knows each of us intimately and we can hear His words spoken just for us, giving us directions and comfort for our own personal journey? I try to hear His voice, but sometimes unfortunately I don’t hear the same voice that some of my fellow Christians hear.

During this Christmas season a church in our area has started a war against local businesses that aren’t displaying Christmas decorations that honor Jesus. The good church members have been patrolling the streets of the city checking for businesses that aren’t displaying either a manger scene or a religious message as part of their

Christmas outdoor lighting displays. One little store nearby our house has a lighted “Happy Holidays” sign out this year. “How dare they put up a secular greeting?” Our good church members reported the business in the newspaper with a photo of the offending “Happy Holidays” sign. The name of this store along with a list of other unlucky businesses that didn’t measure up to their “Jesus-centered” Christmas standards were written up in the newspaper for all to see. They labeled it their “naughty” list. Good Christians were encouraged to boycott these “naughty” businesses. Maybe if we all stop buying from these stores, the owners will start putting “Jesus” into their Christmas displays!

Jesus tells us that we will hear His voice. Maybe I’m deaf but somehow I can’t hear Jesus’ voice or sense His spirit in this boycott by my fellow Christians of stores that don’t display “Christ centered” decorations. Jesus said; “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, ...” (Matthew 11:29) I can’t picture my humble Jesus putting people on a “naughty” list and boycotting them for not using His Name at Christmas. He will never force anyone to choose Him. And we shouldn’t either. Jesus calls us to freedom and we are free to choose Him or not. This proud political brand of Christianity scares me. It doesn’t represent the Jesus I know and love. I almost feel like going out and buying a “Happy Holidays” sign for our front yard this year!

As we continue reading in John we find that Jesus is called to the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, his beloved friends. Lazarus is very sick and Mary and Martha send Jesus an urgent message asking that He come quickly. But by the time Jesus gets to their house, Lazarus has been dead for four days. Martha comes running to meet Jesus and she says, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give you.” (John 11:21-22) Jesus assures Martha, “…Your brother will rise again.” ((John 11:23) And Martha answers: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:22)

And then Jesus proclaimed: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) And Martha says yes, she believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus goes to the tomb and Martha warns Him that Lazarus’s dead body has started to decompose and stink. Jesus doesn’t listen but He prays and then calls Lazarus out. Immediately Lazarus walks out of the grave with his hands and feet bound with grave clothes and with his face wrapped up like a mummy. After his excited sisters and friends pull his grave clothes off, Lazarus goes home excited and amazed that Jesus has given him back his life. The word gets around that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and many people believe in Jesus as Lord. But, as usual word gets back to the Pharisees that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.

Again, instead of rejoicing in this good news, the religious leaders are freaked out and try to do a cover up. These miracles of Jesus’ were more than they could handle! The high priest, chief priests and the Pharisees call for a council meeting and put out a command that if anyone knows where Jesus is that they must report it so that they might seize Him. Caiaphas, the high priest insists that killing Jesus would be for the good of the whole nation. They needed to get rid of Him quickly for political reasons, he decides. The clock has started ticking and it’s just a matter of time before these so called men of God will catch Jesus and put Him to death.

We ask again, why did this happen? Why were Jesus’ murderers the very religious ones who claimed to know the ways of God? Did this phenomenon just happen in Jesus time or has it happened in other generations? Can people who call themselves Christian today still not recognize Jesus? Can religious legalism triumph over love today like it did back then? Can religious groups today still pit their power against our Lord and His kingdom of love like they did back then? Has Christianity today become a political power that has idolized the very wealthy and put down the disenfranchised and the sick, all in the Name of Jesus?

It was so easy for the Pharisees in Jesus’ day to reject Him. They were so dedicated to their religious institutions and to their traditions. They quoted Scriptures against Him and tried to catch Him up in their legalistic traps. They found fault because He healed on the Sabbath and because He claimed to be one with God.

If Jesus had come in all of His power and glory and impressed them, they would have acknowledged Him! If He had come the way they had expected their Messiah would come- with riches and might and shock and awe- then they would have recognized Him. But Jesus came as a simple man without status or education and he hung around with plain ordinary folk. He wasn’t impressed by the wealthy and He was even seen talking to women and sinners. They overlooked Him because they were expecting their Messiah to play their game and He didn’t.

These men of God had given their lives to their religious institutions and to the wealth and status they had gained from them. They would have had to change some of their ways of doing things if they had acknowledged Jesus. And perhaps the bottom line was that they didn’t want to change! They didn’t want to pay the price. They didn’t want Jesus to shake up their system. And when Jesus comes in He most often shakes things up!

Could we make the same mistake they did? Have we dedicated our whole lives and reputations to our institutions and our ways of doing things? So much so that if Jesus were asking us to change around some things would we block out His Voice? If Jesus doesn’t play our game, will we still listen for His Call ? If He comes to us in the guise of the poor or afflicted, would we still recognize Him? Can we let Him shake up our way of doing things? Let’s pray and ask Him if we are missing something? Let’s not let anything get in the way. Let’s not allow our most beloved project block us from hearing what He is trying to tell us? Let’s not be so set in our ways that we won’t allow Him to change us around. Let’s be willing to pay the price to follow Him. It is the most important thing that we can ever do.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jesus Proclaims that He is Lord and Savior and is Rejected by the Religious Leaders

Jesus Proclaims that He is Lord and Savior and is Rejected by the Religious Leaders

Journeying Through John (John 8-9)

Last week we ran into a friend who was talking about the fact that Jesus is Lord. This truth is the very cornerstone of our Christian faith. Our friend said that Thomas Jefferson, (who was a Universalist and not a Christian) insisted that Jesus never said that He was God incarnate, or the Son of God. Was Thomas Jefferson correct that the Bible didn’t record Jesus declaring that He was Lord? Our friend seemed bothered and confused by this. But of course this is a lie. Thomas Jefferson was wrong.

This lie – that Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God or God in the flesh - is just one of many lies against the faith and a lie that keeps reappearing. All one needs to do is open the Bible and read it to see that Jesus indeed proclaimed Himself Lord and Savior and Son of God over and over again. We need to be on guard and know what the Bible says in order to be able to stand against the many deceptions that will be used to try to undermine our faith. Satan has an arsenal of weapons to use against us and against our precious faith. Lying and twisting the truth about Jesus being the Son of God and Savior is tops on satans’ list. He will use any distortion to keep us from believing that Jesus is Lord. And satan will sink to any depth to keep us from believing in Jesus as Savior God and receiving His new life.

In John chapter eight, Jesus is being attacked by the Pharisees. They want to kill Him because He had said that He and the Father are One. The Pharisees believed that Jesus had committed the sin of blasphemy. The Jewish law taught that the punishment for blasphemy was stoning. (Lev.24:16) So Jesus had gotten Himself into serious trouble with the very priests who instructed the people into the ways of God. The very reason that these “men of God” eventually put Jesus to death was because He was telling the crowds that He was Lord and Savior and thousands were believing and following Him.

Jesus tells the Pharisees : “…if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:21) During this same time period Jesus announces to the crowds, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) And He repeats to His followers: “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” ( John 8:51) How could the Pharisees and Sadducees tolerate all of this? Jesus was threatening their legalism and their religious status and power. He must have a demon, they reasoned. They began to plot and plan His death.

But these religious leaders didn’t wait, but picked up stones to stone Him on the spot when Jesus mentioned that Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing His day. The Jewish leaders were outraged that Jesus spoke as if Abraham had looked forward to seeing Him, since Abraham had lived in 2,000 B.C. When they chided Jesus that he wasn’t fifty years old yet so he couldn’t have known Abraham, Jesus replied: “I tell you the truth, Before Abraham was born, I Am!” (John 8:58) Jesus is expressing the eternity of His being, His own unchanging timelessness. Jesus didn’t just live 2,000 years ago, but He lives today and forever and His Spirit lives through those of us who believe in Him. Jesus is the great “I Am” and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is Son of God, Savior. The Jewish leaders were livid with rage at this statement but they were also furious that Jesus called Himself “I Am”. God had instructed Moses many centuries earlier that the Israelites could call Him, “I Am”. (Exodus 3:14) So now the Jewish religious leaders immediately recognized that Jesus was calling Himself by God’s Name, “I Am”. They shouted their accusations of blasphemy at Jesus while picking up stones and trying to stone Him!

As we move on to chapter 9 in John, we read that Jesus heals a man who had been blind since birth. And wouldn’t you know, Jesus meets and heals this blind man on the Sabbath! Instead of rejoicing that this man in their congregation was healed and could see, the religious leaders excommunicated the man who had been healed from their synagogue. The synagogue was the center of Jewish community life, so excommunication cut a person off from many social relationships. The religious leaders refused to learn from Jesus’ healing and instead responded with judgment and criticism because the healing had been done on the Sabbath. They tried to discredit the miracle and doubled their efforts to trap Jesus and put Him to death. And all the while hundreds of people were following Jesus and listening to His teachings and believing on Him.

Jesus found the man that He had healed from blindness and told him that He was the Son of Man. The man who had been blind believed in Jesus and worshiped Him. (John 9:38) Then Jesus told him: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (John 9:39) It would seem that Jesus is saying that those of us who are proud and think we can see on our own and refuse help are really spiritually blind. We have allowed our pride and reputations and status to keep us from spiritual sight. But if we can acknowledge our spiritual blindness and that we need help, and that we need the Savior, then He gives us spiritual sight.

We read in John that wherever Jesus went teaching and loving and healing, the crowds were divided by His message. People were either for Him or against Him. They either accepted His message or rejected it. But the people who rejected Him the most were the very ones that we would have thought would have accepted Him! By far, the religious leaders, the men who knew the Scriptures by heart, the ones who had given their lives to lead Israel to God; these were the ones who hated Jesus the most and the ones who were responsible for putting Him to death. “He came unto His own and His own received Him not”. (John 1:11)

Why did this happen? Why were Jesus’ murderers the very leaders who claimed to know the ways of God? What can we learn from this? Did this phenomenon just happen in Jesus’ time or is it still happening today? Can religious legalism triumph over love today like it did back then? Can religious groups today still pit their power against our Lord and His kingdom of love like they did back then? If we follow Jesus and live humbly, can we also be persecuted by the church that we think we belonged to? Are churches now becoming political in nature and leaving behind a concern for the poor and the alien, the very ones that Jesus spoke so much about? What can we do about it? I don’t have the answers. Do you?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Travel Light

Travel Light

Scripture tells us that a rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered him by telling him to keep the commandments. The rich young man replied that he had kept the commandments since his childhood. Then Jesus made this surprising statement: “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow Me.” ( Luke 18:22)

When Jesus told him to give all of his money to the poor, the rich young ruler went away disappointed and sad. He wasn’t willing to give up his fortune for Jesus because “he was a man of great wealth.” ( Luke 18:23)

What was Jesus saying to this rich ruler and what lesson can we learn from this story? Jesus was not saying that salvation is gained through good works. Scripture never tells us that. Salvation is a gift from God and cannot be gained by our good works or bought with our money. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Jesus spent time with other wealthy people during His earthly ministry and He never told any of the others who had property and earthly goods that they had to give away all of their money to inherit the kingdom.

Jesus could see into this rich young man’s heart and He must have seen that this young ruler wanted to remain in control of his life. He had it all and he loved being wealthy and important. He received comfort and security from his fortune. His reputation and status were built on his wealth. Of course he couldn’t give all of that up to follow the Lord! He couldn’t put Jesus first when his wealth came first. What was Jesus thinking?

But Jesus wasn’t giving this rich man an unusual command. God wanted the young ruler to surrender his life to Him and God wants us to surrender our lives to Him also. We read this same message over and over again in Scripture. God wants us to give up control of our lives to Him. God wanted to be the rich young ruler’s first love and He wants to be our first love too. He won’t take second place.

The first commandment of the Ten Commandments is: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). You see, God wants it all. He wants all of your heart, not just a little bit. Scripture tells us that: “No one can serve two masters, either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) God wanted to be first in the rich young ruler’s life and He wants to be first in ours too. God wants us to love Him with all our heart and soul and mind and He doesn’t want anything else to get in the way. (Matthew 22:27)

You may be thinking that you don’t have a problem because you aren’t wealthy. You may not have a lot of money that can stand between you and God like the rich young ruler had. But money isn’t the only thing that can keep us from completely surrendering our lives to God. Our jobs or our ambitions can become more important to us than God. Our reputations or the control we have over other people can so easily take over our lives and push God out.

As we grow older we can sometimes add more baggage on the journey and it’s harder to follow the Lord as we struggle on under the added weight. God loves us and He knows that we aren’t strong enough to carry these burdens. He asks us to give them all to Him to carry. There are narrow spaces on the way and we can’t fit through them if we are full of ourselves with all of our extra baggage. We can only follow Him when we travel light. We need to learn to lose it. “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 11:38)

Perhaps our life hasn’t turned out the way we think it should have. We didn’t get the job promotion we should have gotten. Our friends and family don’t give us the recognition that we know they should. Our children have messed up their lives even though we trained them to do better. It’s hard to forgive when all of these people have let us down.

And then the Lord speaks to us and tells us the same thing He told the rich young ruler. He tells us to give it all up and come and follow Him. Maybe it’s not money that He is asking us to surrender. But perhaps it’s our reputation, or our need to be right, or our pride and our status. We need to give all of these things to Him. They are too heavy for us to carry. We can’t forgive the folks who have hurt us and we can’t surrender completely to Him when we keep holding onto to these things. They get in the way and drag us down. He’s is calling to us to lay these things at His feet and travel light.

Friday, November 19, 2010

One Way - Jesus

One Way --Jesus

Jesus said: “I Am the Way…No One Can Come to the Father but Through Me”

John 14:6

John 14:1-12—Jesus is speaking to His disciples:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in Me. There are many rooms in My Father’s house: If there were not, I would have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you. And after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with Me; so that where I am you may be also. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said,

“Lord, we do not know where You are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus said:

“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through Me. If you know Me, you know my Father also. From this moment you know Him and have seen Him.”

Philip said,

“Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.”

Jesus replied:

“Have I been with you all this time, Philip and you still do not know Me? To have seen Me is to have seen the Father, so how can you say, ‘Let us see the Father.’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?

The words I say to you I do not speak as from Myself: it is the Father, living in Me, who is doing this work. You must believe Me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me: believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.

I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in Me will perform the same works as I do Myself, he will perform even greater works.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

We will not be able to publish a devotion next week, however we will continue our weekly posts on November 21st. 

Jesus - The Bread of Life Journeying through John

Jesus, The Bread of Life (John 4:46-7:37)

Journeying through John

The gospel of John was written that we might believe. (John 20:31) This book follows Jesus through His life. Since John was right there with Jesus, he describes His healings and records His teachings. As we continue on in John we read that Jesus healed a nobleman’s son. The boy was dying in Capernaum and the father was desperate when he traveled to Cana to find Jesus. Jesus spoke the word and the boy was instantly healed. (John4:46-54)

Next Jesus went to Jerusalem and healed a man at the pool of Bethesda. This man had been crippled and sick for thirty-eight years, and with one word Jesus healed him instantly. Then Jesus told him to take up his bed and walk home.

All of this happened on the Sabbath, and the man who was healed got in trouble as he walked home carrying his bed. The religious Jews saw him and accused him of breaking the law by carrying a load on the Sabbath. They demanded to know who had healed him so that they could prosecute the offender.

Instead of rejoicing that this crippled man had been miraculously healed, these religious leaders were angry that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath and broken their Sabbath laws. The Messiah had come and He was threatening the religious control and authority they held over the people. These legalistic Jews had given their lives to their religious establishment and now Jesus was upsetting it. And to make matters worse, Jesus had become immensely popular with the people and large crowds were following Him everywhere He went. What could they do to stop Him?

Jesus continued his ministry and thousands of people followed after Him because of His teachings and healings. At one point Jesus fed five thousand men and all of the women and children that were with them. A little boy had given Jesus his lunch of five barley loaves and two fish and Jesus had used this little boys’ gift to feed these thousands of hungry people. Can Jesus multiply the small gifts we bring Him and use them for great purposes also?

After Jesus fed the more than five thousand He later preached to the crowds and told them that He is the bread of life. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) Jesus continued: “This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever: and the bread that I shall give is My flesh which I shall give for the life of the world.” (John 6:50-51) “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.” (John 6:53-58)

Jesus has identified Himself as the bread of life. He is life and He imparts life to those who come to Him and who believe on Him. The flesh of Jesus, His actual corporeal existence, was to be given for the life of the world. This teaching that He gave pointed to the cross. Jesus is speaking of the Eucharist or communion when He speaks these words to His many followers. When we take the communion bread and wine, we are taking the body of Christ which was broken for us and the blood of Christ which was shed for us. Christ communicates life to those who feed on Him and will bestow on them immortality.

Scripture tells us: “From this time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” ( John 6:66) Why did these many followers of Jesus turn away so quickly when they didn’t understand one of His teachings? Couldn’t they have asked Jesus to explain, or wait awhile and trust Him with whatever the meaning might be? Had their faith been superficial and pseudo? The crowds loved Jesus when He healed their sick or miraculously fed them. They ran after Him when they thought He might become their new political leader and free them from the hated Roman rule. But they turned away from Him when He gave His teaching about his followers needing to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Was He asking them to become a part of Him, to lose themselves in Him? Many who heard these words of Jesus weren’t sure what He meant and they weren’t willing to stay around and find out. They had wanted to get something out of Him but not if they had to give their hearts to Him.

The religious leaders became more and more upset as Jesus’ ministry continued. They plotted to kill Him when they heard Him refer to Himself as coming from God. The Pharisees believed that Jesus had committed the sin of blasphemy by teaching that He was the Son of God. At one point Jesus said: “…but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” And “…I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me.” (John 7:18b and John 7:28b-29) These words drove the religious Jews crazy! They considered Him dangerous and purposed to have Him arrested and get Him out of the way.

Those who hated Jesus insisted that His teachings were false and not from God. But his followers believed that His teachings were from God. There was a division back then as the excited crowds followed Him and the angry leaders planned His demise.

Jesus spoke and said: “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” (John 7:17) It seems that Jesus is telling us here that if we determine to obey the Lord and align our will with His will, we will receive understanding of His Word, and know the truth. Obeying God frees up the Holy Spirit to teach us.

Jesus was a lightening rod back then and He is still a lightening rod today. He divides people. In Scripture there are either sheep or goats at the judgment. A person either accepts Jesus as Lord or rejects Him. We believe in Him and receive eternal life or we refuse to let Him change us. It’s as simple as that. Each of us has a choice. What do we do with Jesus? What will it be?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ask for the Living Water Journeying Through John -John 3:22-4:45

Ask for the Living Water John 3:22-4:45

Journeying Through John

John tells us that his gospel was written so that “…you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) So the book of John is written so that we might believe and that our faith in Jesus might be made stronger.

The book of John describes many of the people who met Jesus and were changed by Him. John the Baptist was one of these people. John the Baptist’s mission in life was to point people to Jesus. He is quoted as saying: “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life: and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:35-36)

John the Baptist went through the countryside with his disciples teaching and baptizing, with large crowds following him. Jesus also went about the same countryside teaching and healing. At one point John the Baptists’ disciples came to him complaining that many of the people were leaving his ministry and flocking to Jesus. (John 3:26) Perhaps his disciples were jealous that Jesus’ ministry had taken away from theirs.

John the Baptist quickly reminds his disciples that Jesus is the Christ and their job is to send people to Him. “Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled, ” he says. John the Baptist was a humble man and he tells them: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:29b-30)

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” How many of us could say this along with John the Baptist? How many of us want Jesus to be more important in our lives and our own reputations and our personal agendas less important? Scripture tells us that no one is greater in the kingdom than John the Baptist. (Matthew 11:11) I believe that one of the reasons he is given this honor is because he wanted Jesus to take over and receive all the glory while he would fall back. He was humble and we also need to learn to be humble.

John continues on in chapter four describing the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well and becomes a believer. It happened as Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Samaria. The group comes to the town of Sycar and Jesus sits down by the ancient well outside the city. The well had been dug many centuries ago by Jacob and was called “Jacob’s well”.

A Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water and Jesus asks her to give Him a drink. The woman is surprised that Jesus is speaking to her and asks Jesus why He is asking her for a drink. In that culture it was improper for a man to speak to a woman in public. According to the purification laws, Jesus would be profaning Himself just by taking water from the woman. And also at that time the Jews didn’t have anything to do with Samaritans.

But of course Jesus is Lord and He breaks all of the norms. Jesus answers her: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

The Samaritan woman thinks that Jesus is talking about the water in the well and asks if Jesus is greater than their ancestor Jacob who dug the well. And Jesus answers her: “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14)

The Samaritan woman is now very interested but still confused. She doesn’t know what Jesus means by this “living water”. So Jesus tells her that she has had five husbands and that the man she is living with at the present time isn’t her husband. The woman is amazed that Jesus knows so much about her life and she recognizes that Jesus is a prophet, a man of God.

They continue talking and finally the Samaritan woman mentions that someday the Messiah will come. At that point Jesus says to her, “I who speak to you am He.” (John 4:26)

The Jews and the Samaritans were looking for a Messiah. A Savior had been promised throughout Old Testament Scriptures and the faithful were waiting. So when Jesus told the Samaritan woman that He was the Messiah, the first thing she wanted to do was to share Him with her relatives and neighbors. Overcome with excitement, the woman left her water pots at the well and rushed back to share this amazing news with her whole town. She ran from door to door breathlessly telling everyone she saw that she thought she had found the Christ! Her enthusiasm succeeded in influencing her townspeople. A large number of them ran out to the well to find Jesus and checkout for themselves if He really was the Messiah.

And they were not disappointed. John tells us that many of the Samaritans believed in Jesus and urged Him to stay with them and teach them more. Jesus agreed and stayed two more days and “many more believed because of His own word.” (John 4:41) These Samaritan said, “…we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42b)

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that He was the Christ and that He would give her the living water so that she would never thirst again. Scripture says that Jesus baptizes us with His Holy Spirit, which is the living water. The Holy Spirit gives us the victory over sin. He gives us His righteousness. The Holy Spirit blesses us and teaches us and leads us in the way we should go. We never thirst again because when we have Jesus we have everything we need or want. We’ve got it all. He is the living water!

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the water that He gives her “will become a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:14) The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, faith, hope, goodness, longsuffering, gentleness and meekness. (Galatians 5:22-23) Love, joy and peace will bubble up in your soul when you believe in Jesus. There will be a river of life flowing out of you!

The living water brings salvation and salvation belongs to Jesus alone. The Spirit flows into us and re-creates us into His image. We become the children of God. The water springs up eternally in us from the well that never runs dry. Jesus said: “Whoever believes in Me, rivers of living water will flow from him.” (John 7:38)

Jesus was welcomed and received by the Samaritans who were considered impure and undeserving by the religious Jews. Many Samaritans believed in Jesus and received His gift of the living water. But most of the religious Jews from Jesus’ home town and His country, the ones that should have recognized their Messiah, rejected Him and never knew what they were missing. Jesus said: “A prophet has no honor in his own country.” (John 4:44b) Why did this happen? What lessons can we learn from this? How can we not make this same mistake?

It is easier to hear our Lords’ call when we keep a humble spirit and when we don’t think of ourselves as better than others. Pride comes before a fall. Rebellion and disobedience can also keep us from recognizing our Lord and thirsting for His living water. Jesus will come to each one of us desiring to impart His gift of living water. But we need to believe and be open to Him. May our souls thirst for His living water. May our lives overflow with the rivers of life.

Monday, October 25, 2010

That We Might Believe In Jesus - John 2-3:21

John (Chapters 2-3:1-21)

(That We Might Believe In Jesus)

John tells us that his gospel was written so that “…you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) Since John traveled everywhere with Jesus as one of His disciple, much of what he writes has to do with the miracles and healings that Jesus performed and the teachings Jesus gave during His ministry.

Chapter two begins with the first miracle that Jesus performed, the one where He turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Mary, his mother had asked Jesus to help out, since the family hosting the wedding party had run out of wine. The act of Jesus creating the fine wine for the ongoing celebration demonstrates His power and glory. When we have Jesus with us today He continues to turn our water into fine wine and our ordinary into the extraordinary.

Next John describes how Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple in Jerusalem. Most of the religious Jews traveled to the temple in Jerusalem during the Passover each year. This was a solemn celebration where worshippers brought sacrifices to God. A noisy marketplace had sprung up in the house of the Lord with animals and birds for sale. As the worshipers arrived at the temple they could buy the animals to use as sacrifices for sin. Tables had conveniently been set up with sellers and money changers loudly haggling over prices and overcharging the faithful coming to worship.

Jesus turned the tables over and scattered the money. He got a whip and drove the sellers with their birds and animals out of the temple. “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (John 2:16) Jesus was angry. Is this story teaching us that we are not to sell goods or services in our churches, or take advantage of worshippers in order to profit financially? Should we not use Gods’ name for political profit? Are we sure He is on the side of big business? Would Jesus be angry today? Does this mean that a pastor should not “fleece the flock”? Scripture tells us: “…You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24b)

John 3:23-34 says: “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men.” These verses in John tell us that many people were attracted to Jesus because of his miracles. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them. Why not? What does this mean?

Perhaps believing in Jesus mean more than just running after Him for his miracles or for what we can get out of Him? We need to want Him for Himself. Some will follow Christ when times are good but will turn away when they are persecuted for their faith. And Scripture says that we will have persecutions if we follow Him. Following Jesus means that we need to be there through thick and thin --through the persecutions as well as the blessings.

Jesus said,” If you love Me you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) We all fall short of keeping the commandments! But God looks at our hearts. If we want to obey the Lord and if we really try to follow His commandments, I believe that that is what He wants. His Spirit will help us and lead us. Believing in Jesus is more than saying the right words. It’s walking the walk. Jesus will commit Himself to us if we commit ourselves to Him.

We read on in the book of John and come to the story of Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who came to Jesus at night. Some think Nicodemus came under cover of darkness so that none of his friends would see him with Jesus. Because of the healings and miracles that Jesus had performed, Nicodemus knew that Jesus was from God and he wanted to know more. Jesus told him: “…unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3b) Nicodemus was troubled by this. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mothers’ womb and be born?” (John 3:4)

Jesus answered: “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. …The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5b6,8)

Jesus is telling Nicodemus that it isn’t enough to be born once. We need to be born of the Spirit as well as of the flesh. The law of reproduction is “after its’ kind.” Flesh reproduces flesh and the Spirit reproduces spirit. Flesh is inadequate. We aren’t good enough on our own. We need to be born again by the Spirit of God. Jesus will give us His Spirit if we believe in Him. The Holy Spirit will guide us and teach us and will breathe new spiritual life into us like the wind Jesus spoke of. Scripture often uses wind as a description of the Spirit.

Jesus sat and talked with Nicodemus for awhile. Jesus told him that He was the way to eternal life and that it is important to believe in Him. Jesus said: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

John 3:16 is the most famous verse in the Bible and it was spoken by Jesus. It tells us that Gods’ motivation in giving His Son to save us is love. His love was turned into an act of giving. He gave His very best! He gave His only begotten Son. (So we must also give our best.) God’s deepest desire is to have us restored to Himself. Our salvation wasn’t cheap. It cost Jesus His life. It shouldn’t be cheap for us either. Our salvation costs us repentance from our sins and the giving our selves and our lives to God. Believing in Jesus means more than just an intellectual belief. Believing in Jesus means a personal commitment to try to follow Him. When we believe in Jesus we are baptized with the Spirit and we are born again.

Jesus continued teaching Nicodemus with these words. “For God did not send His Son into the World to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned: but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:17-19G

Jesus makes it clear in these passages that He did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it. And He didn’t come to condemn you but to save you too. But we have to accept Him and His gift of salvation. He will not force us to take it by following Him. Every lover knows that it is impossible to force the loved one to return that love. Love and commitment must be freely given. And so it is with our love for our Lord. Jesus won’t force us to love Him. We have free will and we must decide to love Him on our own. The importance of believing in Jesus cannot be missed here. Our salvation is so simple. If we believe in (follow and love) Jesus we are not condemned and if we do not believe we are condemned already. Scripture makes it pretty straight forward.

But why do some not believe? These passages in John tell us why. Jesus is light and righteousness and people stay away from that light and righteousness (from Jesus) because they enjoy darkness and sin and prefer to live their own way. They don’t want Him to change them. They have free will and they use it to decide against the Light. But they miss out on so much! Let’s make sure that we don’t love our sinful habits and let them keep us from choosing Jesus. Let’s not let anything keep us from being born again and following Jesus and having eternal life`.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Journeying Through John (Written that we may know Jesus)

Journeying Through John

(Written that we may know Jesus) - John 1

John belonged to the “inner circle” of Jesus’ followers. He had such a close relationship with the Lord that he was known as “the beloved disciple” (John 13:23,20:2) And John tells us why he wrote: “But these words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) The book of John is inspired by God and by reading and believing it, we can know Christ. By knowing Christ we have eternal life.

The book of John starts out by introducing Jesus to us as the “Word”. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” ( John 1:1) “And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) In these passages the Word is Jesus Christ. The Word (Jesus) is with God and the Word (Jesus) is God. Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity. The Word (Jesus) became flesh and lived among us. And Verse 14 tells us that those who walked and talked with Jesus could see His glory as the Son of God. They could discern grace and truth and righteousness in His Person.

John continues introducing Jesus to us as the One through whom we came into the world. He is our Creator, and also as the Creator of every living thing. “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:2-4) “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” (John 1:9) This means that our lives were not an accident! Each of us was given that light of life through Jesus Christ before we were born.

John introduces Jesus as part of the Godhead, as Life and Light and the Word. The Bible never speaks of Jesus Christ as being just a great man! If Jesus was a sinful man like the rest of us He could never have been our Savior and taken away our sins. If we believe this heresy it can keep us from eternal life. The Incarnation (Jesus being the Son of God and the Son of man) is a holy mystery that we cannot understand. But the God who created our world and proclaims that He loves the world, can also find a way to redeem that world. Scripture tells us that we are not only created through Jesus but we are redeemed (bought back) through Jesus, to whom all authority has been given. (Matthew 28:18)

Then John introduces Jesus as the rejected One. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:10-12) And Jesus warns us that if we follow Him we will be rejected and persecuted too. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember, ‘a servant is not greater than his master,’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you,…” (John 15:18-20) Remember if you really follow Jesus that there is a price to pay!

Here in the first chapter of John, Jesus is introduced as the life giver. Scripture says that Jesus changes those who believe in Him into children of God. Jesus is the One who brings us into the kingdom, the One who gives us our second birth. He gives His Holy Spirit to those who believe in Him. When we believe in Jesus we are truly “born again”. “But as many as receive Him, to them He gives the power to become children of God, to those who believe in His Name. Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) A miracle indeed!

Further on in this first chapter Jesus is introduced to us as “the Lamb”. John is describing how John the Baptist sees Jesus and points Him out to his followers with this introduction: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) For several thousand years the Jewish people had brought lambs to the temple as sacrifices to cover sin. God had instructed the people in Exodus 12:3 that each household should bring a lamb. The sacrifice of a lamb to cover sin in the Old Testament was a type of Christ, and was pointing to Jesus, the Perfect Lamb, that would take away the sin of the world. John the Baptists’ followers, as good religious Jews,` knew exactly what he meant when he referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Reading on we find Jesus introduced as the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. He not only creates us and redeems us, but He baptizes us with His Holy Spirit. John 1:33 describes Jesus’ baptism. John the Baptist baptized Jesus. God had impressed on his heart that the person who the Holy Spirit descended upon would be the Messiah, the one who would baptize with the Spirit. So when John the Baptist saw the Spirit come down on Jesus in the form of a dove he said: “this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33b)

Before the first chapter of John comes to a close, five men have become disciples of Jesus. John the Baptist sent several of his followers to Jesus. Andrew and John, Simon Peter, Phillip and Nathaniel were all looking for the promised Messiah. They followed Jesus because they hoped that He was the One they were looking for. As the chapter closes Nathaniel addresses Jesus: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” ((John 1:49b) and Jesus answers him: “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)

Jesus introduces Himself here as a link between earth and heaven. Angels are ascending and descending upon Him. In the Old Testament Jacob had been given a vision of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28:10-22) Here it would seem, Jesus is describing Himself as Jacobs’ Ladder.

In this first chapter of John, Jesus is introduced to us with many names. He has been called the Word, the Son of God, God, Creator, Redeemer, Light, Life, Rejected One, Lamb, Baptizer with the Spirit, and the Son of Man with angels ascending and descending upon Him. The reason the gospel of John was written was that we might “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing we may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) God will give us the faith to believe if we want it. Believing in Jesus is the most important thing that we can do. Let’s believe and have life in His name.


Monday, October 11, 2010

All About Faith - Hebrews 11

All About Faith ---Hebrews 11

Having faith in God makes all the difference in our lives between life and death. Scripture tells us: “Without faith it is impossible to please God,…” (Hebrews 11:6a) And “we are made righteous by God because of our faith.” Not because of our works! (Hab.2:4, Rom.1:17,Gal.3:11) Since it is all important to God that we have faith in Him, let’s learn all that we can about what this faith is and how we can obtain it. Hebrews chapter 11 gives a definition of faith and then gives examples of many believers down through the ages who lived lives of faith. This eleventh chapter of Hebrews has sometimes been referred to as the “faith chapter”.

The “faith chapter” starts right off with a definition of faith. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith as described here is to believe what we hope for (what has been promised in Scripture) and to have an expectation of future rewards. Faith relies on Gods’ promises and “anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He will reward those who earnestly seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6b)

Scholars write that the Greek word “substance” means “a standing under”. The word was used to mean a “title deed”. We are to have assurance in Gods’ promises, (stand under them). And our faith is the “title deed” of things hoped for. Faith is counting on God to take care of us. We need to have faith in God, not faith in faith. Jesus said that all we need is the faith of a grain of mustard seed, (Luke 17:6) and a mustard seed is the smallest of seeds. So we don’t put our faith in how large our faith is but in how large our God is.

One of the “champions of faith” mentioned in Hebrews 11 is Noah. Noah’s obedience in building the ark far inland was physical evidence of his trust in God’s Word. Other believers mentioned for their faith were Abel, Enoch, Abraham and Sarah. We read in verses 13-16 that although these champions of faith received only a partial fulfillment of what God had promised, they maintained their faith that God would do what He said. Also these faithful could not feel at home in earthly surroundings. They looked for something better, and because of their longings, God gladly acknowledged them as His own people.

Hebrews 11:13a states: “”These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them…” It would seem that the key to their faith was that they were persuaded that Gods’ promises were true. They “embraced” them and greeted them, even though they could see them only by faith and not by sight. Only a real faith can see the invisible. Faith’s walk does not depend on answered or unanswered prayers on this earth. A believer looks beyond earthly surroundings to heaven when all of their prayers will be answered.

Hebrews 11 goes on to tell about many believers who have overcome tremendous obstacles by their faith. “By faith they (Israelites) passed through the Red Sea…” “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down…” “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish…” (Verses 29, 30, 31) Many more champions of faith are mentioned who “through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” (Verses 33-34)

After reading the first half of Hebrews 11 we might begin to believe that miracles occur for everyone who has faith and problems disappear for all that trust God. Certainly many are mentioned here who overcame tremendous obstacles by their faith. But then we continue reading and come to a description of other champions of faith who had a different experience. “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourging, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented.” (Verses 35b-37 This “faith chapter” ends with “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” Hebrews 11:39-40)

It would appear that faith does not provide an automatic exemption from hardships and tragedy. And people who suffer trials and illnesses do not have less faith than those who don’t. Faith is believing God and whether mountains are moved by our faith or whether with that same faith we must bear personal tragedy, we will still receive Gods’ promises even if we have to wait for them. So some of our champions of faith received marvelous miracles because of their faith, and others did not receive what God had for them during their lifetime. It was all with the same faith, and one group was not better than the other. Our part is to have faith in God and His part is to lead us to Glory by whatever way He sees best.

How do we get this miraculous believing faith? Romans 12:3 tells us that God gives each of us a measure of faith. And Romans 10:17 reads: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” The Bible, Gods’ Word isn’t just another book. The Bible is inspired by God and it has life giving power. That is why we are told to go out and spread Gods’ Word to others. The good news of Jesus our Savior brings new life when it is received with faith.

The parable in Scripture of the sower of seeds tells us that Gods’ Word is like seed and our hearts are like soil. When Gods’ Word is planted into our hearts, the seed germinates and produces a harvest, but only if the soil is good. If the seeds fall on hard or thorny or rocky ground, often they can not take hold and grow into fruitful plants. (Matthew 13:3-9)

In order to receive this saving faith, we need to keep our hearts open to the seed of Gods’ Word. Our hearts, the soil, can become hardened by disobedience. Thorns can grow up and crowd out the seed of the Word when we put other things before God. We need to always watch and pray that we don’t fall into temptation.. The Holy Spirit whispers God’s Word into our ears. We will need to take time to listen if a harvest is to be produced in us. Since Scripture says that faith comes by hearing Gods’ Word, we need to read it every day and receive it into our lives. We need to allow the seed of the Word to take root in our hearts and build up our faith. Our faith in God is alive and powerful. If we could see it with our eyes we would be amazed! Let’s do everything we can to take care of it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hosea -(Prophecies that the ten lost tribes of Israel will be restored)

Hosea – (Prophecies that the ten lost tribes of Israel will be restored)

The book of Hosea begins with God telling Hosea to go out and marry a prostitute. “Go take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2b) The date was approximately 750B.C. and even though the northern kingdom of Israel enjoyed prosperity and lived in peace, they had a big problem. They had been living in open rebellion against God for a very long time.

Hosea was Gods’ prophet and messenger to the ten northern tribes of Israel. His name, “Hosea” meant “salvation”. He was to live out Gods’ message by marrying an unfaithful woman, to portray God’s relationship to an unfaithful Israel. Hosea obeyed God and went out and married Gomer, a prostitute.

Gomer and Hosea had three children and God named each child. God continued speaking to Israel through Hosea’s children’s names. The first child was a boy and God named him, “Jezreel” which meant that God will “bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel” (Hosea 1:4b) The second child, a girl, was named “Lo-Ruhamah” which meant “I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel”. (Hosea 1:6b) And the third child, another boy, was named “Lo Ammi” which meant, “”You are not My people and I am not your God.” (Hosea 1:9a)

God’s charges against Israel are many. “By swearing and lying, killing and stealing, and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed. (Hosea 4:2) “ ‘She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, and went after her lovers: But me she forgot,’ says the Lord.” (Hosea 2:13b) “Though I redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against Me.” (Hosea 7:13b) And, “None among them calls upon Me.” “Though I disciplined and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against Me: they return but not to the Most High: they are like a treacherous bow,…” (Hosea 7:7b and 7:15 -16a) “…For you have played the harlot against your God. You have made love for hire on every threshing floor….”(Hosea 9:1a)

God calls the ten tribes of Israel back to Himself through Hosea and warns them that He will put them away if they continue being unfaithful to Him. Hosea proclaims God’s warnings: “Israel is swallowed up. Now they are among the Gentiles, like a vessel in which is no pleasure.” (Hosea 8:7b) “My God will cast them away, because they did not obey Him: and they shall be wanderers among the nations.” (Hosea 9:17) “but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to repent.” (Hosea 11:5B)

Even though God continued calling out to His wayward children, history records that the peoples of the northern kingdom of Israel refused to listen. A day of reckoning finally arrived. The Assyrians attacked the ten tribes of Israel and carried many away into exile in 733B.C. And then they made a final raid in 720B.C. and took the rest off into slavery. Their punishment had finally come. Their national identity was no more. The twelve tribes of Israel no longer lived together in their Promised Land. Only the two tribes of the southern kingdom of Judah remained. God’s dire warnings had finally come upon the northern kingdom. His patience had come to an end. “I will hedge up her way with thorns. And wall her in. So that she cannot find her paths. She will chase her lovers. But not overtake them: Yes she will seek them but not find them.” (Hosea 2:6)

After Hosea had been married to Gomer for awhile, Scripture seems to imply that she went back to her old lifestyle of sexual sin. God came to Hosea and spoke once more. “Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.” (Hosea 3:1)

Hosea writes about how he dealt with his unfaithful wife: “So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley. And I said to her, ‘You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man-so too will I be toward you.’ For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice of sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim.” (Hosea 3:3-4) .

Just as Hosea was to love his unfaithful wife and take her back after she had a cooling off time spent alone without any lovers, so God was giving a picture lesson of His relationship with the northern tribes of Israel. He still loved His unfaithful wife, Israel and He will buy her back, like Hosea did his unfaithful wife. But first Israel will spend time among the nations, alone without her temple and unable to make her religious sacrifices.

It has been more than 2,700 years since the ten northern tribes of Israel were taken away by the Assyrians as Hosea had warned. They have been scattered and have wandered with no homeland for millenniums. God must have forgotten them. I once asked a Jewish rabbi what had happened to the ten tribes, and he assured me that they were no more. Naturally these tribes from antiquity must have intermarried and assimilated into the countries of their captors. Surely after 2,700 years, ancient Israel has been lost forever.

But Gods’ message throughout Scripture is that He will bring the northern tribes of Israel back. Like Hosea did, God will re-claim His wife after a waiting period. “”And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people.’ There is shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together,…” (Hosea 1:10b) and “They shall walk after the Lord. He will roar like a lion. When He roars, then His sons shall come trembling from the west: They shall come trembling like a bird from Egypt. Like a dove from the land of Assyria. And I will let them dwell in their houses, says the Lord.” (Hosea 11:10-11)

“I will heal their backsliding. I will love them freely …I will be like the dew to Israel, He shall grow like the lily, Ephraim (Israel) shall say, What have I to do anymore with idols? I have heard and observed him, I am like a green cypress tree: Your fruit is found in Me.” Who is wise? Let him understand these things. …For the ways of the Lord are right: The righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” (Hosea 14:4a,5,8,9)

God also spoke to the prophet Ezekiel regarding the ten tribes of Israel and the two of Judah and how they would all be reunited. They have been apart for over 2,700 years now, but God promises that that will change. “As for you son of man take a stick for yourself and write on it: ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel his companions:’ Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim (Israel), and for the house of Israel, his companions. Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand.” (Ezekiel 37:16-17)

There it is. Scripture clearly says it. God has not given up on the ten dispersed tribes of ancient Israel. He will yet bring them back to join the remaining two tribes of Judah. But if that is true, why has it taken so long? Isn’t there a time to finally give up? How can we believe what seems so impossible?

We can believe God’s promises because things that appear impossible to us are not impossible with God. And we can trust God to hear our prayers even if we don’t live to see them answered, because God’s timing is not our timing. Do we have big problems that we’ve prayed about for years but nothing ever seems to change? Do we have a lost dream out there, or a lost child? Have we waited so long that we are about to give up hope?

God will keep His promise. He will restore the lost tribes, even after 2,700 years or longer. He will answer our prayers too through Jesus Christ our Lord, even if it takes longer than we think it should.

When God finished giving Hosea the promise concerning the ten tribes being restored, He followed up with these words: “For the ways of the Lord are right. The righteous walk in them.” (Hosea 14:9b) God seems to be telling Hosea here to trust Him even though it may not make sense. And these words are for us too. God is telling us to walk in His promises and to believe them even when we can’t understand how they will work out. And God is reminding us that He is in control, even when our problems seem impossible and our prayers don’t seem to be answered. God’s mysterious ways are right. Let’s learn to walk in them. Let’s trust Him no matter what!


Monday, September 27, 2010

David - A Man After Gods' Own Heart

David - A Man After Gods' Own Heart

Scripture tells us that David was beloved of God, a man after Gods’ own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14) and (1 Kings 9: 3-4) But during his lifetime his committed the sins of adultery and murder. And he was quick to lead Israel into unnecessary wars with neighboring countries when he could have opted for peace. Since he wasn’t free from serious sin, why did David’s life give God such pleasure? What did he do to earn this special place in God’s heart?

Let’s check out several scenes in David’s life to see if we can find some answers. Back when David was just a young boy tending his fathers’ sheep he had developed a deep longing to know the Lord. David was the youngest of eight brothers and by the time he was a young teenager his three oldest brothers were soldiers in King Saul’s army. The date was around 1,000 B.C. and the Israelites were at war with the Philistines. David’s father Jesse asked him to walk the distance to where the fighting was taking place (about 14 miles) and bring food to his brothers.

When David arrived where the battle was taking place he was surprised to find his brothers and the rest of the Israelite soldiers cowering in fear. One of the enemy soldiers, a giant named Goliath, from the Philistine camp, was intimidating them with taunts. “I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.” (1 Samuel 17: 10) Goliath was big and tall, about 9’9” and he was covered from head to toe with heavy armor. The staff of his spear was like a weavers beam with a huge iron spearhead. And a shield bearer went before him to protect him with a heavy shield. He was a mighty man of war and he shouted out his angry jeers at the Israelites day and night.

Young David completely trusted in his God and he was amazed by the cowardice of the Israelite soldiers when Goliath came out to challenge them. Since God had promised to be with the armies of Israel, how could they be afraid of Goliath? With God nothing is impossible! David was asking the soldiers why they didn’t volunteer to fight Goliath since God would be with them. His oldest brother Eliab grew angry with David for his foolish talk and told him to go back to his sheep. When little David came before King Saul he bravely volunteered to fight the giant Goliath. He assured the king, “He (God) will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1Samuel 17:37b) “seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” (1 Samuel 17:36b)

Young David went out to fight Goliath without protective armor or a sword or a spear. He picked up five small stones from the brook to use in his sling shot. When Goliath saw this young boy coming out to fight him he roared; “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” (1Samuel 17:43) And Goliath cursed David in the name of his gods. David shouted back: “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (1Samuel 17:45) “Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.” (1Samuel 17:47)

David didn’t fear opposition even when it was strong and overpowering. He didn’t overvalue size and strength. He believed that God was with him and could take care of any obstacle. The giant Goliath came roaring towards the boy with his drawn sword. David put his hand into his little pouch and took out a stone and put it in his slingshot. He held the slingshot over his head, spun it around, and then let go. The little rock shot out striking Goliath right between his eyes, which was the only place on his body that hadn’t been protected by his thick armor. Goliath fell down and died on the spot. That day all of Israel was reminded again that their God was in their midst. He will save them from their enemies if they will follow David’s example and completely trust Him.

Along with his life-size faith in God, David also had a life-size love for God. He loved God with all his heart and he loved God’s Word. And we wonder why he was so special to God? David wrote many of the Psalms that are used in our worship today! David blessed God and taught all of Israel to bless God. (1 Chronicles 29:10-20) And even though during his life David committed serious sin, he repented immediately with fasting and tears. His relationship with God can be clearly seen by reading the Psalms that he wrote. He leaned on God, delighted in God, and he ran after God.

After David had been crowned king he brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. The Ark had been stolen in battle by the Philistines in 1050 B.C. and now David was thrilled to have it back. The Ark was brought up to Jerusalem with great religious celebration. David was so excited that he went before the procession of priests that were carrying the Ark “dancing before the Lord with all his might and wearing a linen ephod” (2 Samuel 6:14) All this was done with shouting and the sounds of trumpets. David’s joy for God couldn’t be missed. And God took great pleasure in his joy.

David’s wife Michel looked out of her window and watched her husband whirling and leaping with uncontrollable enthusiasm. Scripture tells us that Michel was disgusted and “she despised him in her heart.” (2 Samuel 6:16b) A king should be wearing fine royal robes but her husband was wearing a linen ephod which was what a common man would wear. What a fool he was for not behaving in a proud kingly fashion in front of his subjects! When David returned home Michel met him at the door and made fun of his undignified appearance and his unbridled enthusiasm for God.

We are still criticized today when we show excitement for the things of God and love and follow Him unconditionally. There is a price to pay when we go all out for the Lord. But that is what David did. (1Kings 14:7-8) David’s extreme devotion for God is why he has the been called “Beloved of God” and “a man after God’s own heart”! God isn’t pleased with a lukewarm faith or with a tepid love. He asks us to love Him with our whole heart and our whole mind and our whole soul. (Matthew 22:37) The first of the Ten Commandments commands us not to put anything in our lives in front of God. (Exodus 20:3) God desires to take first place.

Since David loved God extravagantly and trusted Him completely, God promised him that his kingdom would last forever. (1 Samuel 7:12-13) (Jesus Christ is in the lineage of David) Let’s follow David’s example and learn to trust God all the way and believe His Word. Let’s put God first in our lives and love Him with all our hearts and souls and minds like David did. Let’s give God pleasure the way David did. Let’s not be lukewarm. Let’s give it all we’ve got!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hope for the Depressed (Zechariah chapters 1-6)

Hope for the Depressed

The Book of Zechariah (chapters 1-6)

Zechariah was one of Gods’ prophets to Judah and a contemporary of Haggai. His ministry began in 520 B.C. just two months after Haggai had finished prophesying. A prophet does not deliver his own message, but he is faithful to give only the message that God gave him. God used these two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to bring hope to His people.

The Jewish people had recently come back to their homeland after spending seventy years in Babylonian captivity. Their city, Jerusalem, had been destroyed by the Babylonians along with the temple of the Lord. But those dark days of captivity were behind them and now they had returned to their homeland ready to rebuild.

After they got back to their homeland it didn’t take long for problems to arise and discouragement to set in. First of all the temple builders realized that the new temple they were building would never compare with the old one that had been destroyed. God had blessed their forefathers with gold and riches so that they could build a grand temple. But these returning Jewish exiles were poor and struggling. Why wasn’t God there with more provisions for them to build?

And secondly their neighbors, the Samaritans, made trouble for them by influencing the Persians to pass laws forbidding them to continue rebuilding the temple. (Ezra 4:5) The Israelites became depressed and quit building. It was hard to keep the faith and build the temple when so many forces were arrayed against them. The Israelites believed that the hindrances that came up with the building of their temple meant that God was not into their rebuilding. Obviously if God had been with them everything would have gone smoothly, wouldn’t it?

It was into this mix that God gave a prophetic word to His people through Zechariah. God comes to Zechariah by night and gives him eight visions to give to his discouraged people. The visions of Zechariah (Zechariah 1:8-6:7) brought hope for his fellow Israelites, but they also bring hope for us and speak of the Hope at the end of the age. Bible scholars believe that some of these prophecies have a double fulfillment. Zechariahs’ prophecies were fulfilled back then for the people of Judah. They did rebuild their temple and God prospered them. But Zechariahs’ prophecy also gives us hope for a time when wickedness is removed and Christ, the Messiah will come again and a new glorious temple will be built.

Basically the meaning in the eight visions that God gave Zechariah for his people is that God will save them and bring judgment on the nations who are trying to harm them. God promises Zechariah and his people that He has chosen them and will bless their rebuilding. He will be a protective wall of fire around Jerusalem. God will judge their enemies and He will send “The Servant, the Branch, to save”- Jesus Christ. (Zechariah 3:8:9) In the fifth vision of the golden lamp stand and the olive tree, the Lord promises that He will empower His people and give them His Spirit. (Zechariah 4:6) Four of the eight visions foretell ridding individuals and the whole earth of sin. The fourth vision shows Joshua, the high priest, standing before God in filthy garments. His sin is removed from him and he is given clean rich robes to wear. The sixth vision shows that dishonesty will be cursed, the seventh that wickedness will be removed and the last vision tells that the spirits of heaven will execute judgment on the whole Earth because of sin. (Zechariah 6:5,7) The importance of the fact that sin is taken away before God brings in a new day of blessing is an important part of Zechariahs’ message in these visions.

The sixth vision of the flying scroll is particularly graphic! It is a vivid picture showing how dishonesty is cursed by God. “I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits and its width ten cubits” says Zechariah. Then God interpreted, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth: ‘I will send out the curse,’ says the Lord of hosts: ‘It shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of the one who swears falsely by My name. It shall remain in the midst of his house and consume it, with its timber and stones.’” Zechariah 5:2b, 3a, 4) According to Biblical scholars, a roll or scroll is employed in Scripture for a pronouncement of judgment.

After Zechariahs’ visions God shows him that Joshua is being crowned, but then the language changes and the one being crowned is the Lord, and He is building the temple. Here is that double meaning again. – a promise for the present and a fuller promise for the end of the age. Zechariah 6:15a reads: “Even those from afar (believing Gentiles) shall come and build the temple of the Lord.” You see, we have a part of this too.

These Israelites from long ago were given hope by Zechariahs’ prophecies. Now they knew that God was with them, even when their problems seemed so big. Do we sometimes make the same mistake they did? Do we wonder where God is when our problems overwhelm us? These Israelites questioned whether their efforts in building Gods’ new temple would ever be worth anything. They compared their temple to the grand temple of their forefathers and it didn’t measure up. Do we have those same problems? Do we sometimes wonder if our lives really matter? Do we fear that our efforts don’t compare with someone else’s? When we have prayers that don’t seem to be answered, do we think that God doesn’t care? The comforting words that God gave through Zechariah are for us too.

God tells us not to be discouraged if our work seems small (or unimportant). (Zechariah 4:7-10) “For who has despised the day of small things?” (Verse 10) We give importance to the size of things, but God doesn’t see things that way. His ways are not our ways. Zechariahs’ prophecy also reminds us that what God has begun in us He will complete. And our prayers will be answered even if it isn’t in our time frame. We are to depend on the Holy Spirit to accomplish the things that God has called us to do. And we are called upon to remember that our gift is important to building God’s church.

Gods’ message to Zephaniah is a double message. The promises of victory are for Christians as we live our lives today. But these promises are completely fulfilled for us at a later time also. Only at the end of time when Jesus has come again and all sin is completely removed, will we have the total victory through Christ.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Book of Haggai (When God feels left out)

The Book of Haggai (When God feels left out)

The book of Haggai is just two chapters long and was written in approximately 520 B.C. Haggai was one of Gods’ prophets to Judah and his short ministry covered a period of three or four months. As one of the Jewish exiles, Haggai had returned home with his people from Babylon.

When the book of Haggai was written the Jewish people had recently returned to their homeland after spending seventy years in Babylonian captivity. It had been a dark period in Jewish history. The Babylonians had attacked Judah in 605 B.C. and had sacked and pillaged Jerusalem. Solomon’s’ magnificent temple had been destroyed and the arch of the covenant was taken away and lost forever. The city walls had been torn down and the people of Judah were carried off to Babylon as slaves. Scripture tells us that this Jewish exile to Babylon was the result of their sin and rebellion against God over a long period of time. The citizens of Judah had lost so much because of their disobedience to God, but now they were back in their homeland and ready to rebuild.

A group of nearly 43,000 Jews had traveled back with Ezra and Zerubbabel promising to rebuild the temple of the Lord. For the first year or so they worked on the altar and the foundation of the temple. But then, realizing that the new temple they were building could never compare to the one that had been destroyed, they became discouraged and apathetic and stopped working on Gods’ house altogether. They turned their energies to building their own new designer homes with paneled walls. Sixteen years passed and their commission to build Gods’ temple had been completely forgotten. God was not pleased. The Lord spoke to Haggai and gave him a message to give to the people.

Haggai obeyed God and delivered His Word to his fellow citizens. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and built the temple that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified. You looked for much, but indeed it came to little: and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house.’ Haggai 1:7-9

Clearly God feels left out of the lives of His people as they rebuild their houses and neglect His. He misses their fellowship. Without a temple they are not worshiping the Lord as they had. God longs to take “pleasure” in their worship and be glorified in their praise. Like a rejected parent or lover, He seems jealous. (Exodus 20:4-5) Phillip Yancey in his book “Reaching for the Invisible God” p. 201 writes: “Reading the Old Testament convinces me that this human tendency – indifference taken to a lethal extreme – bothers God more than any other. Gracious to doubters and a pursuer of willful unbelievers, God finds himself stymied, and even enraged, by those who simply put him out of mind. God reacts like any spurned lover who finds his phone calls unreturned and his Valentines tossed aside unopened.”

Does God feel hurt and angry when we forget to put Him first in our lives? Is He jealous when our personal agendas and ambitions come before our relationship with Him? Do we build up our own “houses” and leave His “house” unfinished like the Jews did in Haggai’s time? Perhaps we forget how important we are to God! We know that we are supposed to obey His laws. But do we remember that He takes pleasure in us when we come to Him and He is glorified in our worship and our praise? Isn’t it amazing that our modest faith means so much to God and the imperfect love we offer brings Him such joy? Isn’t it incredible that our little actions can have an affect on the God of the universe?

When Haggai came and told the returning Jews that God wanted them to finish building His house, they stopped and listened. Haggai 1:14 reads: So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, …and the spirit of all the remnant of the people: and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.” And when the people obeyed, the Lord spoke again through Haggai encouraging them: “I am with you.” Haggai 1:13 and “”But from this day I will bless you.” Haggai 2:19. And also more rallying: “be strong,…be strong…be strong…and work.” Haggai 2:4.

Some of the older people in the band of the returned Jewish exiles had seen Solomon’s temple when they were children. The workers had become discouraged when they realized that the new temple they were building would never be as large and grand as the old one that had been destroyed. Haggai 2:3 reads: “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?”

But God gave them encouragement and great expectations for the temple they would build. Because His Spirit and glory would fill this temple, it would end up being even greater than the last temple! Haggai 2: 7 and 9 reads: “”and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord of hosts. …The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, says the Lord of hosts.”

God is giving Haggai’s fellow citizens such expectations for the temple they have resumed building. The Lord will take the work of their hands, this smaller temple, and make it so much more than they could have imagined. Since His Spirit is with them as they work and since He promises to fill their new temple with His glory and make it better than the last one; then what can they be discouraged about?

When God promises the “Desire of All Nations,” He is referring to Jesus Christ. And when the Lord speaks about “filling this temple with glory,” He is probably speaking about the end times when Christ will reign in victory and we will all be victorious through Him.

Do we share any of the same challenges to faith that these Jewish exiles had so long ago? Are we discouraged when the Christian ministries we invest our lives in don’t seem to compare to those of a previous generation? Do we become disillusioned when our work for the Lord goes unnoticed, or our prayers appear to go unanswered?

I believe that God has the same message for us that He did for the Jews in Haggai’s time. God would have us seek Him first and not get discouraged with our efforts. The glorification of the work of our hands happens when the presence of God is with us in our work. And God has promised to be with us always. Even if we don’t see the fruits of our labors now, God calls out to us with encouragements. Be strong…keep working…have faith.

Our prayers will be answered, even if we don’t see the answers here on earth. God will take our labors for Him and make them so much more than we could have imagined. When Jesus Christ, the Desire of All the Nations comes again, we will be changed. In Gods’ Hands our work for Him will be transformed. The last temple will be more glorious than the first. Through Christ we will be victorious. It doesn’t get any better than that!