From the summit of faith into the ditch of fear

“People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

When I was a child I was baffled by this idiom. I dreamed up scenarios of rock-hurling inhabitants of little forest greenhouses! (Remember that it was the pre-Google era when people actually applied their minds and imaginations to figure things out!) Eventually Webster’s dictionary clarified the idiom for me:

“People who have faults should not criticize other people for having the same faults.”

This is an apt warning against smugness as we read the story of Abram’s low point in Egypt in Genesis 12. It is easy to criticize Abram’s lapse in faith as he heads down to Egypt to escape famine in Canaan. It is natural to be shocked at his selfish schemes as he leads Sarai to become a concubine in Pharoah’s harem, all to save his own skin! What on earth happened to the bold, intrepid man of faith who followed God’s call into the unknown, the man who boldly built altars and called on the name of the Lord? How did Abram imagine things would turn out for his wife—the future mother of the great nation? Had Abram not heard that husbands should lay down their lives for their wives if the need arises? Did he forget God’s amazing promises (Gen 12:2-3)? Pity he didn’t have Matt 6 and Eph 5:25-28!

But as I hurled rocks of accusation at Abram, I noticed them boomerang right back and heard the faint tinkling of glass around me: “Have I always trusted God for my physical needs and the needs of my family? Have I never reacted prematurely when afraid? Have I never obsessed over a trial instead of praying about it? Have I never responded to danger with alarm and clever deception? Have I always remembered the promises, protection and provision of God? Have I ever been unable to feed my family?” Only when we stand in the shattered glass of our own self-righteousness can we see that the Bible is written about (and for) real people just like us. People who are prone to spiritual amnesia and self-protection. People who are by nature selfish, cowardly and unfaithful. That is why we must never focus on our ‘faith’ to get us through the great tests of life, but only on God’s faithfulness. God’s grace is the only thing that stands between our mountains and ditches of faith. Our texts today are Genesis 12:10-20 and 1 Cor 10:12-13:

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance,12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.

1 Cor 10:12-13:

12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Plans from panic

Immediately after the spiritual high of his call, Abram faced physical, down-to-earth trials and temptations. He was in Canaan– the promised land– obeying God and enjoying His blessings. But then he was faced with a serious famine, which threatened the survival of his family. When he ran to Egypt to avoid food shortages, he faced another kind of danger: Pharoah, who could perhaps covet his beautiful wife and kill Abram to have her.

Abram faced the fear of CIRCUMSTANCES and the fear of MAN, which every believer will face. Abram had a basic choice, just as we do: Trust God or trust self.

Abram chose his own ingenuity and did not exactly cover himself with glory.

Going down to Egypt

Spiritually speaking, ‘going down to Egypt’ means doubting God’s promises and running to the world for help. Isaiah describes this tendency, which I recognize in myself:

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
    that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
    without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
    and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt! (Isa 30:1-2)

The right way is not always the easiest or most instinctive way.

Difficulties are NOT always a sign that we are outside of God’s protection, will and blessing.

We know that God tests our faith through fear, scarcity and danger, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold… , may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). Testing produces ENDURANCE, proven CHARACTER and HOPE in those who persevere through it, because it teaches us to trust God in ways we wouldn’t in times of plenty (Romans 5:2-5James 1:12).

When the circumstances of life are too difficult and we find ourselves in the furnace of testing, Abram’s failure teaches us to seek wisdom. It is better to remain where God has put us and trust in Jesus, rather than trust in our own hearts. Panic and fear lead to foolish and hasty decisions.

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
    a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
    will never be stricken with panic” (Isa 28:16).

“Those who trust in themselves are fools,
    but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe” (Prov 28:26).

Plans from self preservation

The Bible often warns us against spiritual amnesia (forgetfulness). We must not forget who we are and who God is, as Abram did in his furnace of testing. Abram did not deny God’s existence. He did not curse God for the famine. But He also did not wrestle with God’s promises. He simply forgot how great God is and went about making cunning plans to save himself.

Abram failed to ask for God’s direction or protection. He went into survival mode and then hoped that God would bless his plans and schemes.

Paul reminds us not to trust in our faith or ingenuity, but to look to God, who will provide a way of escape so that we are able to endure it (1 Cor 10:12-13). No trial is an exception to this rule. It is our stubborn and proud hearts that instinctively seek shelter in the shadow of ‘Egypt’ instead of the Almighty: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps 91:1).

As with Abram, fear is a terrible driver of our thoughts and behaviour. The only antidote to fear is to continually turn God-ward rather than in-ward– before we make our plans.

A web of sin

Abram’s panic led to self-made plans. His desire for self preservation led to rash foolishness. His forgetfulness of God led to selfishness, compromise, deceit and sacrifice of his wife’s chastity. When Abram made plans that were not the Lord’s, he added sin to sin (Isa 30:1). He deliberately chose a convenient lie over the truth that Sarai was his wife. He even instructed her to lie on his behalf (Gen 12:13). Abram used the same lie again in Genesis 20, and Isaac did the same to his wife, Rebekah (Gen 26:7-10). Parents are role models to their children– for good or ill. It may have seemed like a small half-truth to Abram and his culture, which viewed women as chattels, but it was a serious offence to God (Gen 12:17).

Abram wandered into sin through the gateway of fear and compromise. The consequences were dire for everyone…for generations.

At first, it may have seemed as if Abram benefited from his lies (Gen 12:16), but the sweetness of sin never lingers long. The poison of deception must have killed Abram’s soul as he saw the line of sheep, oxen, donkeys, servants and camels wafting into his yard…but no Sarai in his house. His ill-gotten gain would have brought him no satisfaction.

We need to hear God’s heart on the sanctity of marriage today:

Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb 13:4).

There is no compromise for God. Whatever the prevailing culture says, faithlessness to the marriage covenant is always an offence against God. It was wrong even before God gave Moses the commandments: You shall not commit adultery. You shall not lie (Ex 20:14; 16). Marital faithlessness causes chaos and destroys many in its wake, including children and whole communities. Even the pagan Pharoah knew that what Abram did was wrong and deported him in disgrace (Gen 12:20).

Instead of being a blessing to the nations, Abram’s lie cursed the Egyptians and destroyed his witness there. It is likely that Hagar, (the Egyptian maidservant who bore Ishmael), was one of the gifts that came from Pharoah – payment for Abram’s marital faithlessness. Lot (Abram’s nephew) got a taste for Egypt and would later choose the plains of Sodom as his home, since the land was fertile “like the land of Egypt” (Gen 13:10). Abram’s sin affected generations to come.

Abram learned some painful lessons from Egypt: 1) Live by faith, not fear; 2) Always tell the truth; 3) The end never justifies the means, and 4) Our sins will always find us out. May the Lord help us to learn from Abram’s mistakes without having to repeat them ourselves.

But the greatest lesson Abram would have learned in Egypt is that God is faithful when we are not.

God’s grace in our unfaithfulness

In grace, God intervened and rescued Sarai from Pharoah’s harem. Yahweh had not forgotten his promises to his servant Abram (Gen 12:1-3). If God had not cursed Pharoah’s household with plagues, he may not have known anything was wrong. Pharoah did not harm Abram and sent him away with Sarai and all their goods. In mercy, God did not give Abram what his sin deserved. Despite all Abram’s wrongdoing, God worked all things together for his good and God’s glory. God never left Abram, but he did allow Abram’s sin to work itself out.

I’m sure Abram did not speak of his time in Egypt with pride. He probably lived all his life with pangs of regret and remorse—especially when he looked into the eyes of his wife, Serai, and saw those stupid animals which were a reminder of his ill-gotten lobola. But you will never find this failure mentioned in the New Testament, because God forgave Abram’s sins and kept no record of them. He chooses not to remember the faults of his repentant children, because He has judged our sin in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Despite Abram’s faithlessness, God remained faithful to his covenant with Abram. The book of Hebrews describes the covenant God has made with each and every sinner who puts our trust in Jesus:

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people…

12 For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”(Heb 8:12).

Only Abram’s faith is remembered, not his failure. Like Abram, the only difference between our faith and failure is the grace of God. That’s encouraging but humbling also.

Pray:

Father, help me to think of myself with sober judgment, knowing that even the measure of faith I have is a free gift of grace you have assigned to me (Rom 12:3). Lord, please sustain and strengthen my faith so it may stand the test of fear.  Please help my unbelief! Help me to trust you during the furnace of testing so that my faith can grow deeper and stronger. Thank you for your grace, which is the only reason I am your child in the first place and the only reason my faith will endure to the end. Breathe your faithfulness into me, so that I may give you the glory in everything. Help me to fear you, rather than what circumstances and people can do to me.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Worship as you sing “I will wait for you”, by Shane and Shane.

Abram: Faith Faces An Uncertain Future

The Wild Coast is dubbed the “graveyard of ships”. This section of eastern Cape coastline is known for its pounding breakers, cauldron currents and treacherous rocks which have smashed and swallowed thousands of ships. One was an East-India vessel called the Grosvenor on its voyage from India to England in 1782. It carried 150 people and large stashes of gold, cash and diamonds. Stephen Taylor’s intriguing book titled Caliban’s Shore– The Wreck of the Grosvenor and the Strange Fate of Her Survivorspieces together the true story of the 91 crew and 18 wealthy British passengers who made it to shore and their fate thereafter: Of the 123 initial survivors, only six eventually reached the safety of a frontier farm and a further twelve were later rescued. All 18 survivors were the strongest and fittest young men on the ship, under the age of 29. The remaining 105 wandered aimlessly up and down and eventually starved to death, drowned in rivers, disappeared in dense forests, and fell victim to animals, local tribesmen, dysentery, sunstroke, scurvy and exhaustion. Two men and at least four women and children were permanently assimilated into local Pondo and Xhosa tribes. It is believed that the latter became wives and mothers in these villages. What struck me most was that the fate of the passengers was sealed by their weak Captain, John Coxton. Owing to flawed judgment, leadership and character, Coxton caused the group to splinter in different directions. Worst of all, he abandoned the women and children under his care in an attempt to save his own skin (and bag of diamonds). In the end, he saved neither. Captain Coxton is not remembered today for his heroism.

The Wreck of the Grosvenor made me think of the ancient heroes of Hebrews 11 who were commended by God because of their faith while they lived as strangers in an inhospitable land (Heb 11:21339). Unlike Captain Coxton, these heroes of the faith are like a line of footprints in the sand for Christians to follow. They teach us not to give up or wander about aimlessly on our journey home (Heb 12:1-3). They teach us to be bold and intrepid in the face of uncertainty. They show us what “Perseverance of the Saints” looks like in the messiness of life. However, the Bible makes no attempt to airbrush or photo shop their stories. The Scripture records frankly how they fared in various tests, revealing that the heroes of the faith were not very different from ourselves. Sometimes their faith was steadfast, but often it faltered and buckled to fear, pressure, unbelief and impatience.

The flawed ‘heroes’ of Hebrews 11 show us that God is the true hero of every journey of faith.

We have already looked at Abel, Enoch and Noah’s faith. For the next few weeks on The God Walk, we will look dig into the lives of Abraham and Sarah. Our texts are from Hebrews 11 and Genesis 12:

Hebrews 11:8

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 

Genesis 12:1-12

Now the Lord said  to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.

Believe and obey—the heartbeat of Abram’s faith

These nine verses mark a pivotal point in God’s plan of salvation. God took the initiative and called an ordinary man and his wife out of idolatry. Abram and Sarai were no more holy than everyone else in Ur. God chose a liar and a future polygamist to be the father of all who believe (Gen 12; 20; Gen 16:3Gen 25:1).

God called Abram to believe his word and leave everything that was comfortable and secure–To go towards an uncertain, uncomfortable future that God would show him. Abram believed God’s promises and obeyed his call. His faith wobbled many times along the pilgrimage, but this intrepid response to God’s call is the heartbeat of his faith. Volumes could be written about the call of Abram and God’s promises to him, but I will focus on just a few thoughts regarding Abram’s faithful obedience to God’s call.

Abram’s call demanded his all.

Abram’s unequivocal obedience to leave and go was uncomfortable and costly. There was no halfway house or return ticket to Ur. God’s call took Abram right outside of his comfort zone.

So Abram went, as the Lord told him” is a stark, simple record of obedience. God had revealed his explicit instructions to Abram while living in Ur, and Abram had taken God at his word and set out for Canaan with his wife (Sarai), father (Terah) and nephew (Lot), leaving his clan behind in Ur. Terah only got as far as the town called Harran, where he died aged 205 (Gen 11:10-32).

Yahweh called Abram to give up all he had ever known to follow wherever God led.

It must have been a mighty convincing revelation! Abram’s call meant leaving the comfort and protection of his clan, job and contacts in Ur– no small sacrifice in a world ruled by raiders and wars. Abram and Sarai uprooted themselves on the basis of God’s naked word.

They sacrificed a known, sure future– for a dangerous, uncertain one. Uncertainty did not paralyse them.

They gave up the sophisticated community of Ur and its culture of libraries and learning– to pitch their tent as strangers. There would be no welcoming committee from the Canaanites who practiced child-sacrifice and public prostitution to coax blessing from their fertility gods– Baal and Asherah. Abram and Sarai left the wealth and privilege of their extended family– to trust in God’s provision alone. Their faith was bold.

Abram’s faith held tightly to what he could not see, rather than what his culture deemed important. By faith, he pitched temporary tents while building permanent altars to the Lord (Gen 12:7-8Heb 11:9).

Abram built altars wherever he went.

Abram traded the familiar lunar gods of Mesopotamia to worship Yahweh, whom he could not see. He swapped the great Ziggurat (temple) of Ur for altars he built out of stone, first in Schechem and then among the hills between Ai and Bethel (v 7 and 8).

God promised to make Abram’s name great, but instead Abram built altars to the Lord and “called” (qârâ) on the name of the Lord. Qârâ means to ‘proclaim’, ‘call out to’, ‘preach’ or ‘accost.’ It is poignant that he built altars on the southern and northern borders of the promised land of Canaan—symbolically taking possession of the land before it was given to his descendants. He boldly built an altar under the oaks of Moreh where soothsayers practiced divinations and sorcery, bringing Yahweh’s light to his dark pagan world (Gen 12:6;7).

In the previous chapter of Genesis, people had built the Tower of Babel to make a name for themselves, but Abram built altars to proclaim God’s name instead of his own (Gen 11:4).

In building altars, Abram consecrated himself and his family for God’s glory. Abram lived not for his own greatness, but for the fame of God.

Abram believed against all hope.

God’s promises seemed far-fetched and impossible.

Sarai was barren and getting on in years—but God promised that through a family of his own, Abram would become a great nation that would enjoy God’s blessing (Gen 12:2-3).

Abram was unknown – but God promised that his name would be great (Gen 12:2).

Abram and Serai were childless—but God promised that Abram would be a conduit of blessing to all families (nations) on earth (Gen 12:3).

Abram was a nomad in a land inhabited by formidable pagans—but God promised to give his descendants the land (Gen 12:7).

Abram did not waver in believing that God would fulfill his promises.

Romans 4:18-20 is a commentary of how Abram walked by faith and not by sight:

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

By faith, Abram was fully convinced that God would do what was humanly impossible. Likewise, God calls all believers to believe God’s promises to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Abram’s call announced the gospel.

God’s ‘impossible’ promise to Abram was, “In you all families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3). Later God confirms this promise in a covenant, “Behold my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen 17:4).

Our God is astounding! Four thousand years ago, when God called Abram, He knew his promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, would come to earth and ‘pitch his tent’ among us as Abram did in the land of Canaan (John 1:14). He made sure Jesus was a direct descendant of Abram (Matt 1:1). God knew that his Son would be the ultimate fulfillment of these promises to Abram, opening the way for any person, from any nation, to become a child of Abraham through faith in Jesus. He knew every man, woman and child who would become ‘heirs’ of His promises. God knew about you and me if we are believers and followers of our Lord Jesus today! Paul states clearly:

The call of Abram was the first Gospel announcement!

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (Gal 3:7-8)

God’s call to go the nations

Jesus’s call to every believer is to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation, making disciples of all nations and teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands. His promise is that He will be with us always, to the very end of the age (Mark 16:15Matt 28:18-20).

Hudson Taylor believed God had called him to China to do exactly this. In 1865 on Brighton beach he told God that he would go anywhere, do anything, suffer anything. He asked God to give him the guidance and provision He would need. He knew it was a call to a rugged life that would be hard on his body and would require complete dependence on God and not on any man. He began preparing by exercising his body, sharing the gospel and serving medically in the poorest slums of his hometown. He moved out of his comfortable home and lived among the poor, renting a cold, unfurnished apartment and existing on a very sparse diet. He embraced every opportunity to trust God for physical needs. Eventually, Hudson and his wife Maria, led the way for thousands of missionaries to proclaim the gospel in all the provinces of China through ‘China Inland Missions’. Through the Boxer Rebellion, serious illnesses, deaths of his wife and four of his eight children, Hudson continued to yield himself to God’s call on his life. In 1900 there were 100 000 Christians in China. Today there are probably around 150 million. Hudson’s statement of faith was simple:

“Depend upon it, GOD’S work done in GOD’S way will never lack GOD’S supplies.”

I ask myself today whether I am prepared to experience even slight discomfort and uncertainty to channel the blessings of the gospel to strangers, friends and family on my doorstep?

Live it out!

It is important not to read ourselves into Abram’s story, but it is also impossible to miss the features of faith that should be visible in every believer:

  • Do you obey God without hesitation as Abram did? Jesus said that obedience is the external evidence that we are Abraham’s children: “Abraham is our father,” they answered “If you were Abraham’s children,… then you would do what Abraham did” (John 8:39). Faith has nothing to do with ethnicity, church membership or being better than others. But true children of Abraham trust in God’s promised Saviour and then follow him in obedience.
  • Have you experienced a “leaving” and “going” in your life? It may not be geographical, but God’s call never leaves us where He finds us spiritually. Jesus did not invite us to a safe, private faith, but to a lifetime of denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following him (Luke 9:23-25). We are called to let go of cultural practices and thinking which do not conform to Christ.
  • Do you rely on God’s promises today and look to the future with hope? Faith is childlike dependence on God, one day at a time (Matt 18:1-4). His work in us in never finished until the day He takes us home.
  • Does your faith shine with joy and life to those in your culture? God calls us out of this world to declare his praises (1 Peter 2:9); to worship wherever we go (1 Cor 10:31) and let our light shine in our pagan world (Matt 5:16), just as Abram did in his.

Pray:

Father, thank you that you loved the world so much that you gave your only beloved Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. I hold tightly to this firm promise and I believe you when you say that we are saved by faith– in Jesus alone. Thank you for your provision and for the many wonderful blessings of life I enjoy, but I ask that you would loosen my grip on the comforts of this world so that they would not become my idols. I believe you when you say that I am a child of Abraham– your own beloved child. Today I offer you every encounter, every unique moment of my short life, and lay it down– like bread cast on the waters– to be used for your glory. I pray that when I face uncertainty for myself and my family, I will boldly obey and trust you to provide for every need. I trust you to equip me for every good work you have planned in advance for me to do. I trust that I will be in the presence of the Lord Jesus the moment I die. I believe you will return to restore the new heavens and new earth better than my wildest imaginings. I pray for grace not to hold anything back from you in the days you give me on earth. I ask for an intrepid, obedient faith like Abram’s.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Worship as you sing the hymn, Take my Life and Let it be, Consecrated Lord to Thee. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0Byp7aK2DA

A Lasting Legacy

Everyone wants to be remembered for something, but the accounts of Enoch and Noah point us to the only epitaph worth having and the only legacy worth leaving:

They walked with God.

They walked WITH God before they did any great work FOR God. They were concerned for the salvation of their households. Their legacies were not born out of natural talent, physical prowess or leadership skills, but out of a persevering FAITH which moved them to obey God in whatever he called them to be and do.

Their lasting legacies were birthed from a faith that kept walking with God through the mundane and momentous details of life… over a lifetime.

Our text today is Hebrews 11:5-7:

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

They walked by faith, not by sight

Enoch and Noah are listed in Hebrews 11 as heroes because they lived by faith, sure of things hoped for and convicted of things not seen. (Heb 11:1). Both gained God’s approval through their faith, but never saw God’s promises fulfilled in their lifetimes (Heb 11:39). We are told that both men lived lives that were pleasing to God (Heb 11: 57) as they walked with God (Gen 5:22-23Gen 6:9). Enoch’s entire story is summed up in four short verses in a genealogy, whereas Noah’s account takes up seventy-four verses (Gen 6; 7; 8; 9).

Noah’s legacy

In human terms, Noah was the one who played a pivotal role in redemptive history, not Enoch. The 600-year old man with the long white beard is the darling of Sunday school classes and Toddlers’ Bibles, whereas I’ve never seen Enoch’s story get a mention. Admittedly, nothing spectacular happens in Enoch’s life (except at its unique end), whereas Noah’s legacy was stunning: From the age of 600 to 720, Noah knocked nails into a watertight ark the length of one-and-a half rugby fields and as high as a four-storey building. Although he lived 4400 years ago, Noah built a vessel that was as large and seaworthy as a modern day cargo ship. Despite no sign of a flood for 120 years, he “did everything just as God commanded him” while a wicked generation looked on apathetically and ignored his warnings of coming judgment. He dared to stand alone as the only ‘blameless’ man in his corrupt and violent generation. For this he ‘found favour in the eyes of the Lord’ (Gen 6:8;9). While buffeted on high waters for over a year, Noah took care of all the animals on the ark– no mean feat for any zookeeper! Noah was a colossus in the arena of faith in action and deserves his spot in every children’s Bible.

For our impatient generation, Noah’s long-term commitment (121 years) to doing exactly what God told him to do is truly staggering. Because of his obedience, God saved Noah and his family from a vast flood that wiped out every other living thing on the face of the earth (Gen 7:212223). Noah’s legacy is obvious for all to see.

Enoch’s legacy

However, Enoch’s claim to fame is more subtle than spectacular. In fact, it seems that Enoch lived a common, pedestrian life. Little is mentioned about him except the gems tucked into the genealogy of Genesis 5:

21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters.23 Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.

Without a body to bury, Enoch’s funeral may have been unusual. But these four verses would be a fitting eulogy at any believer’s funeral. Unlike Noah, Enoch was not assigned a great project or pivotal role in redemption history. Nor did he live to a ripe old age for his day. (By comparison, his son, Methuselah lived 969 years and his grandson, Lamech lived 777 years!) Enoch’s lasting legacy was simply that he walked with God as he went about the ordinary business of life. His faith was an ongoing habit of life.

It struck me that Enoch walked with God from the time he was 65 years old, the year his son Methuselah was born (Gen 5:22). The birth of a child is always a momentous event. I wonder if he had a personal encounter with God as he looked at the tiny baby in his arms and saw God’s handiwork in his son’s perfect frame? Perhaps this day branded him forever as a man who walked by faith and not by sight—the day he received saving faith? After Methuselah’s birth, Enoch was a father to other children and walked with God for three centuries. At that point God considered his work on earth done.

The subtle statement “Enoch walked with God” is repeated by the inspired writer, so it must be significant (Heb 11:2224).

An epitaph worth having on our tombstone

Enoch may not have owned a tombstone in a graveyard, but he had a significant epitaph recorded in Genesis 5:24 for hundreds of generations to read. Enoch’s epitaph challenges us:

When we die, will people remember us as someone who walked with God? This is the only epitaph worth having.

Walking with God is an ongoing habit of life rather than a few isolated encounters. It hints at intimate friendship with a steady rhythm, like two pilgrims enjoying each other’s company on a long journey together.

Walking suggests a daily dependence on God through the mundane and momentous details of life.

Walking is active, determined progress towards a destination– as opposed to stagnation.

Walking with God is not a sprint, a sleep or a solo. It is not an endless quest for the spectacular, nor sanctuary from the rough and tumble of life. It is keeping in step with the Holy Spirit in the messy details of life (Gal 5:16;25).

A habit takes 66 days to install– a relatively small chunk of time out of a lifetime. There is no habit more worthwhile than an early morning rendezvous with our heavenly Father, in which we read the Bible and pray honestly to him. We cannot ‘walk’ with God unless we listen and talk with Him along life’s way.

A legacy worth leaving

When faithful Christians walk with God in the details of life, they become winsome. The grace and love of the Lord Jesus spills naturally into their demeanour. They long to pass on the gospel of grace to others. This is the lasting legacy they leave behind them.

It’s easy to overlook Enoch’s legacy as we get bogged down in the genealogy of Genesis 5 and engrossed by the flood thereafter. Enoch passed on a lasting legacy that he could not have foreseen at the time:

Enoch was the great-grandfather of Noah! (Gen 5:25-30) And Noah pointed the way to Jesus, the great Redeemer!

Noah did exactly what great-grandpa Enoch modelled for him—he walked with God. This led him to be favoured by Goda righteous man, blameless among the people of his time” (Gen 6:89). Through the INFLUENCE of Enoch, Noah learnt to treasure and obey God before all else. Through Enoch’s EXAMPLE, Noah learned to trust God even when he could not see why. That is why God entrusted Noah with the Ark.

What Noah did not see

Noah could not see beyond his immediate context, but his Ark still stands as a powerful beacon of God’s Redemption of the world. With hindsight, we can see that Jesus embodied the Ark that sheltered Noah’s family from God’s judgment:

“This is God’s message that everyone should know when they walk away from Noah’s account. The message that God is the Creator, that sin has consequences, and judgment is coming. The people of Noah’s time lived how they wanted to live up until the Flood took them. They never took the time to repent of their wickedness.

The Bible tells us there was only one door to the Ark (Gen 6:16). Similarly, there is only one way to enter into a relationship with God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). For those who believe in Him, Jesus is our one entrance into God’s redemptive grace.

The Bible warns us that a second judgment is coming—this time by fire (2 Peter 3:7). People are turning from God, rejecting Him as Creator, and putting themselves in His place. God continues to be longsuffering, as He was in Noah’s day, but there will come a time when judgment will come. During Noah’s time the question was, “Were you standing in the boat or standing out in the world?” There was no hope of survival for the people outside of the Ark, God’s means of physical salvation. In Noah’s day grace came in the shape of an Ark. Today grace comes in the shape of a Cross. The only way a person can be saved from the eternal consequences of their rebellion against God is to turn from that sin and trust in the Savior Jesus Christ—the way, the truth, and the life. Where do you stand?”

https://answersingenesis.org/noahs-ark/what-we-know-of-noah/

Enoch, Noah… and us

Enoch and Noah point us to the only epitaph worth having and the only legacy worth leaving.

No Christian is ‘just’ a mother or father, aunt, uncle, grandparent, youth leader or school teacher. Like Enoch, our EXAMPLE and INFLUENCE will have massive ramifications that we cannot see now. We are entrusted with the flaming torch of the gospel to pass on to future generations. Even if we have no family of our own, every believer is entrusted with a sphere of influence, no matter how small. To God, it was enough that Enoch was a godly husband and father who walked closely with him. His influence and example in his family was greater than he could have imagined. We do not know what else he did in his lifetime, but his faithfulness in ordinary things pleased God immensely. The writer of Hebrews calls us to follow in the footsteps of those that went before us, to pass on our faith to the next generation and keep our eyes on the end goal of history.

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,“in just a very little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith…(Hebrews 10:36-38).

Lyrics of the song By Faith:

By faith, we see the hand of God
In the light of creation’s grand design;
In the lives of those who prove His faithfulness,
Who walk by faith and not by sight.

By faith, our fathers roamed the earth
With the power of His promise in their hearts
Of a holy city built by God’s own hand –
A place where peace and justice reign.

We will stand as children of the promise,
We will fix our eyes on Him, our soul’s reward.
Till the race is finished and the work is done,
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight.

By faith, the prophets saw a day
When the longed-for Messiah would appear
With the power to break the chains of sin and death,
And rise triumphant from the grave.

By faith, the church was called to go
In the power of the Spirit to the lost
To deliver captives and to preach good news,
In every corner of the earth.

By faith, this mountain shall be moved
And the power of the gospel shall prevail,
For we know in Christ all things are possible
For all who call upon His name.

Faith Like Abel’s

In the stars His handiwork I see, 

On the wind He speaks with majesty, 

Though He ruleth over land and sea, What is that to me? 

I will celebrate Nativity, 

For it has a place in history, 

Sure, He came to set His people free, What is that to me? 

Till by faith I met Him face to face, 

and I felt the wonder of His grace, 

Then I knew that He was more than just a God who didn’t care, 

That lived a way out there. 

Now He walks beside me day by day, 

Ever watching o’er me lest I stray, 

Helping me to find that narrow way, 

He’s Everything to me.

(From the 1960’s song He’s everything to me— by Ralph Carmichael 

He’s everything to me captures the essence of Christian ‘faith’. Faith in Jesus is personal and relational. It embraces feelings and provokes warm affection. Faith is not about appeasing a distant God. Real faith cannot be kept safely in a corner of our lives, but permeates every last inch of our existence.

A person of faith lives with an all pervasive sense of God’s presence and his promises.

Hebrews defines faith as the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). For a Christian, faith is like a plait of hair made up of three intertwining strands: the first strand is a DECISIVE ACT in which we abandon all self reliance, and place our trust in the finished work of Jesus to bring us from darkness into light. That is saving faith.

The second strand of faith is the ONGOING HABIT OF LIFE whereby we believe God’s revealed word and act accordingly, no matter what we see with our eyes. That is living faith.

The third strand of faith is the HOLY SPIRIT without whom saving and living faith are impossible. He is the breath that animates* our faith.

Today, as we continue to walk through Hebrews 11, we pause to look at Abel’s witness of faith. Next week we will look at the faith of Enoch and Noah.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old were approved by God. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  (Hebrews 11:1-4)

Act in faith…or stay in the womb forever!

We act by faith from the day we are born. Every morning we eat an egg, we act on the belief that it is free of salmonella. When a toddler jumps from a Jungle Jim into her father’s arms, she trusts he will catch her. We put our hope in gravity with every step and close our eyes at night believing they will open in the morning. We believe in ‘love’ and trust a human being when we take our vows at the wedding altar. An atheist builds his life on the belief that God and the supernatural do not exist– on the conviction that there is oblivion after we die. In contrast, a Christian lives by faith that God existed before time; created the universe from nothing; spoke through Creation, his word and his Son; and will return on an appointed day in the future to judge every person and restore creation to what it should be (Psalm 19:1-6John 1:1-6Heb 1:1Matt 24:44Rev 21:5).

Most beliefs cannot be proven or seen with the naked eye, but we think and act on the basis that they are true… or we must stay in the womb forever! We consider this kind of faith reasonable. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that Christian faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. But it is faith that is rooted in God himself and his coherent message of redemption. It is a reasonable message that must be heard, processed and believed personally before ‘faith’ can be born: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”(Rom 10:17;14).

‘Saving faith’ outgrows its cradle and matures into robust ‘living faith’ as we believe the promises of God day by day and act upon them. It is the same faith.

God’s approval versus living to please God

The “men of old” listed in the Hebrews 11 had a saving and living faith in Yahweh and His promises of a future redeemer. They also believed the message God had revealed to them in whatever dim way, and that was enough. God commended them, because they relied on his mercy and took him at his word (Hebrews 11:25639). Many generations passed before God’s once-for-all Redeemer appeared and those promises were fulfilled through a cross and an unlikely King. He was the only one who could meet God’s approval. When God raised Jesus from the dead, He pronounced him, “My Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matt 17:5). Christian faith is not about us meeting God’s approval, but about being tethered to the one “in whom God is well pleased”. It is stunning that by faith we receive the same stamp of approval that Jesus did (Rom 5:1Rom 8:1). And as we continue to live by faith, we discover that God’s commands are blessings, not burdens. Those who know they are approved by God seek out what pleases Him and learn to serve him out of love and not obligation (Eph 5:10).

Abel’s faith and Cain’s offence

Hebrews tells us that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God, because it was offered “in faith” (Heb 11:4). Let’s piece the story together and see if the New Testament casts more light on Abel’s faith and Cain’s offence:

In Genesis 4:1-16, Cain murders his brother Abel after God warns him, “ Why are you so angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it(Gen 4:7).

The human heart is the front door into our lives. Sin is always crouching at the threshold waiting to be let in. The Apostle John notes that Cain’s deeds were evil whereas Abel’s were righteous, and places the story in the context of love and hatred. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:12131415).

God saw through Cain’s altar into his resentful and angry heart. That’s why his offering was offensive to God.

In contrast to Cain, Abel’s “faith” showed itself in two ways: He had a pure heart and a desire to offer his best to God. He gave the firstborn from his flock and their fat portions. God, who looks at the heart, saw Abel’s sincere desire to seek the Lord’s face as he offered his sacrifice. Cain went to the altar to win God’s favour, whereas Abel went in faith. Cain’s sacrifice was ritual and routine, whereas Abel worshipped God in spirit and in truth. The Bible warns us that God is not interested in our external acts if our hearts are not transparent and sincere. The sacrifices that please God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart God will never turn away (Ps 51:16-17). Hypocrisy and pride is an offence to God.

A pure heart

But let’s get real here. Can any of us ever have a “pure heart” as God understands purity? Can we ever be completely free of hypocrisy in our motives? Can we offer God anything He needs?

Never! We are sheep that have gone astray. WE can never settle accounts with God through external sacrifices of time, talents or works. Neither could Cain or Abel. Nor can we rectify the hidden jealousies, resentments, greed or pride that crouch at our door. We cannot ascend to God’s holiness. David realises this in Psalm 24:

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord
    and vindication from God their Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Only Jesus can trade his pure heart and clean hands for our filthy ones. Only He can vindicate us (Ps 24:5). Only “the perfecter of our faith” can help us live our lives by faith as Abel did. Only Jesus can rescue us from the tyranny of our false gods and idols (Ps 24:4). The only ‘offering’ God wants from our generation is our heart—a broken and contrite heart that is honest about our sin and depends on Jesus to redeem our past, present and future. Abel trusted in God’s future redeemer, and by this ‘faith’ he offered a sacrifice which was ‘pleasing’ to God. Likewise, you and I need to accept the gift of Christ’s pure heart, and then offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God which is our spiritual worship (Rom 12:1-2).

Pray:

Father, stir my heart to approach you sincerely as Abel did– in spirit and in truth. Thank you Lord Jesus, that you give me your pure heart and clean hands so that I may boldly approach God’s throne of grace. You are my steady anchor through every season of life and I trust you. Lord, help me to remember that you have always been faithful to me even when my eyes could not see you were there. Father, help me to believe that you are well pleased with me because I am hidden in your Beloved Son. Do not allow me to slip into worship that is shaped by duty or routine as Cain did. Give me eyes to see the subtle sins I am allowing to creep through my heart’s open door. And today I confess my sin honestly to you Lord, from whom no secrets are hidden. Give me a soft heart that spills over with affection for you, so that I may offer you the best of myselfall of my days.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Remember God’s faithfulness as you click here and listen to the beautiful old hymn, “Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor” – Matt Boswell and Boyce College Choir.

*to animate= to energize, stir, bring to life, to vitalize.

Longing for Home

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” CS Lewis.

Home is much better than camping! I am often the target of my family’s jokes because I claim to be a camper. I go crazy over the gadgets, cooking equipment and blow-up mattresses, but in reality I’m useless at sleeping in a tent and eating out of tins! I love the comforts of home too much. The reality is that Christians are a lot like campers. The Bible tells us that since this world is not our home, we shouldn’t blend in or make ourselves too comfortable here (1 Peter 2:11-12). Sometimes a campsite is an inhospitable and downright dangerous place. The tent gets leaky, is attractive to mosquitoes and the ablution facilities smell! Not to mention the noisy neighbours who play loud music all night! Do you sometimes have an indefinable longing in your soul? A homesickness for something lost? A powerful desire for all to be well, as it should be? Do you sometimes feel alienated from a culture that produces TV shows like “The Bachelor” and lives by the maxim “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die?” It is a good sign if we don’t feel we belong. It is right to be homesick for a perfect home, where everyone will walk in harmony with God, where communities are connected, bodies and minds are healthy, and souls know rest and peace. God’s image in us cries out for a home of perfect order and beauty, where even the weakest are known, loved and welcome. Most of all, we groan for a lost home where there is no pain or death– where sin (the root of all suffering) is finally ripped up and tossed onto the bonfire for good. The good news of the gospel is that death is not the end for a believer, but only the beginning of the final chapter of God’s redemptive story. God is the ultimate homemaker and is restoring a grand home where all his children will live with him forever (John 14:1-3). This is not wishful thinking but God’s firm promise to every man, woman and child who dies “in Christ.” Our permanent home is called “the new heavens and the new earth” and it is beyond our wildest imagination (1 Cor 2:9). Paradise lost will be found again. There is a great welcome for every dying believer who enters eternity with Jesus: A home free of disease, death, disorder and despair. A place where only righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13Rev 21:1Isaiah 65:1765:22). A place where we can finally take off our shoes, put down our roots and never say goodbye.

But first we must shed the tent.

Our text today is from Hebrews 11:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

Stranger in a foreign land

Abraham left a home of idol worship because He believed God’s promise to take him to a better place, a land God would give him and his descendants. It was the land of Canaan. Yet Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived as foreigners in the land of promise all their lifetimes. Although a wealthy man, Abraham’s family lived in tents and owned only a burial site, where Sarah, Abraham and later Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah were buried (Gen 23:691113). The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham’s faith was founded on a future hope: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”(Heb 11:10). All the Patriarchs were looking forward to a better country, a heavenly one (Heb 11:14-15).

“Evidently, Abraham’s greatest hopes and dreams for a homeland were invested not in earthly Canaan but in his heavenly homeland, a city without foundations. No more moving from place to place in temporary lodging—this city would be designed in God’s mind and built with his hands.” (Nancy Guthrie, Hoping for Something Better.)

Like Abraham, we are still waiting for the day when “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). It is as though Christ has paid for the house, but God’s children are still waiting to move in. Those who love him are in the period of ‘groaning’, as we wait for creation’s redemption and our resurrected bodies.

Today, we can look back in history and see that Jesus fulfilled so many of the promises given to Abraham. We see now that Abraham’s faith was justified. But, like Abraham, Christians must live and die for God’s future promises that we cannot always see clearly now.

Living and dying by faith

Today, as in Abraham’s time, believers are called to believe God’s promises and never stop hoping in his clearly revealed word. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb 11:1). Only God knows what tomorrow has in store for us, but this scene from the new heaven and new earth is what every believer can be certain of beyond the grave:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4)

It seems strange at first that the writer of Hebrews chooses to highlight the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph in the face of death, instead of choosing another act of bravery or heroism from their younger days. But the Patriarchs show steadfast confidence in God’s promise of home, right to their last breaths: As a dying man, Jacob’s faith was steadfast as he worshipped God and blessed Joseph’s sons. After living almost his entire lifetime as a stranger and exile in Egypt, Joseph ordered that his bones be buried in the promised land– his home (Gen 50:24-25Ex 13:19). It took another 400 years before Moses took those bones out of Egypt, but Joseph never stopped believing that God would rescue his family and take them back home. Even when Isaac was tied to the altar, Abraham believed that God could raise his beloved son from the dead, which is what every Christian is promised when Christ returns. Because Christ Jesus has been raised from the dead, all the Old Testament heroes of the faith, and every believer who has put their faith in Him, will be raised from the dead and clothed in resurrection bodies (1 Cor 15:20Hebrews 11:172022). When we lose the tent, we will find our home!

The King was homeless too

Are you homesick for the perfect garden where God placed the first man and woman to live, love and work? Do you long for the days of shalombefore man disobeyed, bickered and blamed—before we were banished from the Garden to wander restlessly in a hostile environment? It is good to know that Jesus himself experienced the same longings we have for home. All the fullness of the Father dwelt in Him, yet he willingly left his heavenly home to live in our fractured world. He left the “bosom of the Father” (John 1:18KJV) to be an alien and stranger on earth. He was the eternal Word who became flesh and pitched his tent among us (John 1:14). He lived as an exile, rejected by those who should have welcomed him. The world did not know him (John 1:1011). God’s Messiah had nowhere to lay his head as He ushered in the promised kingdom (Matt 8:19-20). He was “the stone” the Jewish leaders rejected, who became the cornerstone of God’s people  (Mark 12:10-11Acts 4:11-12Ps 118:22-23). In his death, Jesus was abandoned by his friends and surrounded by strangers. Worst of all, He took on our spiritual alienation when he was forsaken by His Father on the cross and cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:6Psalm 22:1). Jesus had no funeral and was buried in a borrowed grave. The King of the universe was homeless on earth in order to share his home with us.

The King’s prayer for the homeless

But, on the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for the protection of believers who live “in” the world, but are not “of” the world (John 17:1416). Like Jesus, we are homeless too. His prayer is steeped in longing and love for his Father and all believers throughout the centuries. It is a wonderful prayer for us to read when we find ourselves groaning for home. Jesus understands our longings for all to be well. He sees that our homes and families are not perfect. He grieves for our losses. Jesus promises that it will all be made right at a certain day in the future—the day he returns to earth and does his final work of restoration, renewal and redemption of the entire Creation. Jesus will come in his own time and in his own way, but he will come in glory and all the angels with him (Matt 25:31). His coming is our “blessed hope”, “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Revelation 21 gives a glimpse of what the new heavens and new earth will be like. I will leave the renovation of our future home in the capable hands of the ultimate Architect and Builder– God himself! Like Abraham, we are passengers in transit. We live in fragile tents. We are called to believe God and hope in his promises, even on behalf of believers who are unable to hope for themselves. Hebrews 11 reminds us not to grasp too tightly the things of this world, to travel light and keep our eyes fixed on the final destination. When it comes to our time to die, I pray that every person reading this devotion is ready to discard your tent and move into your new home.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)

Live it out!

  1. Do you believe the promises of God’s word are trustworthy and true, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph did? Are you sure of your ultimate destiny, or do you think the new heavens and new earth are wishful thinking?
  2. Do you know that no matter how wonderful your family or community is, you will never have all your longings for ‘home’ met on earth?
  3. Build community and friendship wherever you find yourself. Invest in people, not in things. The gathering of God’s people to worship, learn, pray and encourage one another is a dim reflection of the great community of believers who will share life in the heavenly city. In the meantime, God has told us to share our longings, hurts and hopes with fellow pilgrims along life’s journey (Heb 10:25).
  4. Invest in your relationship with God. After all, heaven is His home and you are His tabernacle in this world. He promises His presence and love until the day He takes you home (Rom 8:31-39John 15:9Ps 139:7Ex 33:14).
  5. Worship as you listen to Brooke Fraser singing the CS Lewis song (click here).

Prayer

Father, thank you for the example of these Old Testament believers who urge us to live and die by faith in your promises. We know it is only by your grace that we can fix our hearts on what our eyes cannot see, especially when we are old, sick or afraid, on the days your promises seem like a hazy dream. Lord, thank you for your promises of redemption that were fulfilled in Jesus– for your Son’s death, resurrection and ascension, and the great salvation that this achieved for believers and for the whole of creation. Thank you for your promised Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts today. As the believing Patriarchs blessed their descendants, we pray as believers that you would circumcise our hearts and the hearts of our descendants, so that we may love you with all our heart and soul, and live in your presence– today, tomorrow and forevermore (Deuteronomy 30:6). In the name of Jesus the Christ, Amen.

Useful resource:

  • Hoping for Something Better: Refusing to settle for life as usual.Book on Hebrews by Nancy Guthrie.

Keeping your head in the heat of the kitchen

“It wasn’t long before the gracious hostess in Martha collapsed and the Queen of Hearts took over, pointing fingers and screaming, “Off with their heads! Off with everyone’s head!” 

“The world clamours, “Do more! Be all that you can be!” But our Father whispers, “Be still and know that I am God.” ―  Joanna Weaver. *

The short story of Mary and Martha has always fascinated me. In just five verses, which describe Jesus’ visit to a home in Bethany in the first century, God speaks volumes to our families and homes today. The short story is like a multi-course meal which gets richer the more we chew on it. It addresses the perils of a performance-driven Christian life where activities are placed before heart attitude. It challenges the notion that we can do something to earn God’s favour before or after we are saved. It shows how an inherently good act of service can easily become a destructive thing when our attitude is wrong. It draws the link between an intimate, vital relationship with Jesus and fruitful Christian service. It challenges us to check our priorities and put first things first. It asks Christians in the digital age a pertinent question: how are you stewarding your precious attention span? The story of Mary and Martha is a cameo of the question Isaiah asked God’s people, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”(Isa 55:2).

At the Home of Martha and Mary

Luke 10:38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary,who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

It’s hot in the kitchen!

We must work like Martha with a posture like Mary.”

I heard this expression in a sermon by Alistair Begg titled “A Biblical Approach to Anxiety,” and it struck a cord with me. To be honest, I’ve always had sympathy for Martha in the story. I wondered if Mary’s posture of sitting at Jesus’ feet could survive the heat of a kitchen at rush hour. I have prayed many times, “Jesus, teach me how to work like Martha– with a posture like Mary.”

I have often heard this story squeezed into the aperture of a particular lens. Some say Jesus is advocating a life of contemplation not action. Others focus on the difference in temperament between Mary and Martha. However, this story comes after Jesus sent 72 disciples to go into the towns on foot “as lambs among wolves,” to heal the sick and preach the gospel (Luke 10:1-11). Presumably all kinds of personalities would have made up the 72 sent to ‘sow’ the gospel of the kingdom. It was hard, hot work. The Christian life is not passive, but active and fruitful. And active service is not just for extrovert evangelistic types. The story of Mary and Martha also follows Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, where he taught that loving God and our neighbour requires action, not just words, thoughts or good intentions. The man showed pity only when he got on his knees in the dirt, treated the man’s wounds, transported him and paid for the innkeeper to look after him. The Samaritan’s service involved costly sacrifice and effort (Luke 10:33-35). That is what Jesus asks of us, because it is what He did for us on the cross.

So getting back to the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus himself knows that much of life is spent sweating in the kitchen. In fact, he sends us to work in the ‘kitchen’ (wherever that may be for us)…even to the ends of the earth (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). And, as a man who experienced the extremities of human experience, Jesus knows how hot the kitchen can get.

“Martha, Martha!”

Jesus is kind and gracious in his response to Martha’s meltdown. We know from John’s gospel that Jesus loved both sisters and was comfortable in their home (John 11:5). Jesus’ rebuke of Martha is tender but straight: “You are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Martha enjoys hospitality, which is a good thing in God’s eyes. Christians are told to be hospitable and Martha takes this to heart. But her devotion to preparing a special meal for Jesus eclipses her devotion to Jesus himself. Listening to his voice is not a priority for her. Her attention is in the kitchen rather than on the words of the Saviour in the sitting room. The result is that her heart is fragmented and upset as she works. She is truly ticked off. I can imagine her sulking, sighing and mumbling under her breath!

Making a meal of it

In the text, there is no hint that the task is too much for her, but Martha has made too much of the task! She is fussing too much over less important things. She is complicating her life. Her service soon becomes a quest to live up to her own standards as the perfect hostess. Jesus has not asked for this, nor does he need it. But Martha turns her labours into a demanding duty, rather than a joy. Soon Martha is disgruntled with her sister, distracted by all the preparations and even irritated with Jesus for not paying attention to her raw deal.

“Lord, don’t you care?” is the same accusation that the disciples voiced in the boat when Jesus slept on a cushion through a storm (Mark 4:38). Jesus’ reply to the disciples was similar: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Troubled by many things

Like Martha, I have a tendency to be distracted, disgruntled and “troubled by many things.” When the kitchen gets too hot, I can easily strip off my apron and become like the Queen of Hearts, lopping off the heads of my family! I also bark orders to Jesus and everyone within earshot when I think I’m being taken for granted! Like Martha, I sometimes make too much of tasks and think I am indispensable to the world. Before I know it, my mind is fragmented and distracted. I cannot pay attention to the most important people as I feverishly labour to get a task done. Jesus gently reminds Martha, and us, to get our priorities straight (Luke 10:41-42). The kitchen of life is piping hot, and if you are anything like Martha…(or me), you need to practice the posture of Mary as you labour in the kitchen.

The attentive posture of Mary

In contrast, not much is said about Mary except that she sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him. Jesus captured her attention fully. In middle-Eastern Jewish patriarchy, this would have been an outrage for a rabbi. Jesus doesn’t love Mary any more than Martha, but he welcomes her attentiveness and posture of humility and expectation. He sees Mary as one who knows her Shepherd’s voice and follows him (John 10:3-4). Her posture shows that she is teachable.

But is it fair that Martha is left to slave in the kitchen like Cinderella? It is highly unlikely that Mary was a lazy woman who had not helped Martha with the preparations before Jesus arrived. It is also possible that this same Mary is praised by Paul for working hard for the Christians in Rome (Rom 16:6). Her work ethic is not in question here. The issue is her devotion to Jesus and attentiveness to what he says.

Empty and expectant

Mary of Bethany had previously anointed the Lord Jesus with expensive ointment and wiped his feet with her hair (John 12:1-8). It is a beautiful story that is worth reading again if we are to understand Mary. She was a woman who treasured Jesus more than tasks and activities. She was not driven or distracted. She knew that the “one thing necessary” was not the quantity of courses nor the perfection of a meal, but being where God had chosen to reveal himself.  At that moment, it was at the feet of His Son.

Seek his face

Mary of Bethany prioritized intimacy with God over a performance-driven life. She knew that she was empty and needed to be filled with the word of life so that she could live a fruitful life. She found her rest in Jesus. Like David a thousand years before, Mary lived to seek God’s face though the face of His Son:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path.


The people God employs

This story of Mary and Martha transcends hospitality, culture and gender. Your “hot kitchen” may be at school or university, in a workplace or a war zone, on a farm or factory, in a hospital or church—wherever God has placed you to live and work as a Christian. Isaiah describes the people God employs: “These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isa 66:2). Isaiah is describing a person like Mary.

In the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus challenges us to put first things first. He invites us  to pay close attention to the word of life– “a lamp shining in a dark place” (Heb 2:12 Peter 1:19).  He calls us tenderly by name, as he called “Martha, Martha,” and asks:

  • Do you have a regular time to draw near and be attentive to my word? Or is your attention always on other things?
  • Are you distracted and troubled about many things, or are you resting in me?
  • Has your devotion to tasks or technology left you with a dried-up, stressed-out attitude?
  • Do you come to me each day, empty and expectant like Mary?
  • Do you love to gaze at my ‘face’ and all I have accomplished for your life now and into eternity?

It is my experience that when we value God’s presence more than our performance, perfection or phones, we will find that we are not standing alone in the heat of the kitchen. We will look up to see our Lord labouring right beside us. Instead of stressing to get it all done in time, we will discover that it’s not up to us after all. Jesus is the head chef and we are merely the potato peelers! What a relief indeed!

“Lord, I long to serve you in a fruitful Christian life. I long to be part of your Kingdom work on this earth in all kinds of ways. But I do not want to serve you with a dry, distracted or disgruntled heart. Please confront the Martha in me today as I seek to pursue the “one thing needed” to live a fruitful Christian life. Help me to steward my attention span and save the best of it for you. Help me to find rest in what you have already done. Amen.”

Useful quote and resources:

  • “It seems so right to provide for our own! It seems so proper to attend to the duties of our station! It is just here that our danger lies. Our families, our business, our daily callings, our household affairs, our interaction with society, all, all may become snares to our hearts, and may draw us away from God.” JC Ryle.

 

 

 

Why the Christian life is more like farming than Instagram View Larger Image

We live in a self-obsessed culture that craves the extraordinary, the awesome and the epic. High self-esteem is touted as the remedy for all ills. Contemporary sages advise us to meditate on how special and lovable we are. Paul’s description of a future generation is chillingly prophetic of our times:

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Tim 3:2).

Social media breathes and feeds self love. Its platforms produce instant and measurable acclaim. It is easy for Christians also to be carried away by the tide. Comparisons spawn a mood of impatience, restlessness and discontent for young people who expect to make an impact on the world within their first year of graduating. It is very different from the portrait the Bible paints of the Christian life: A picture of humility, service and sacrifice. A picture of self-forgetfulness, self-control and gratitude. A picture of a sinner saved and sustained by God’s grace. A picture of an eternal harvest after a lifetime of diligent planting, faithful watering and patient waiting on God. As children of our culture, let us remind ourselves that we are first children of the Most High God, called to live by his grace, not by our own gifts. Called to bear one another’s burdens rather than our own trophies. Called to have a sane opinion of ourselves. Called to read and study the Bible to know what God requires of us in this world: “To discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”(Romans 12:2). If we look carefully at the Bible, we will see that the Christian life looks nothing like Instagram, and a lot like farming:

Our text today is Galatians 6:2-10:

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

On the farm

Paul compares the Christian life to the sowing and reaping of productive farm lands. The farmer is persistent and patient. He cannot farm with a remote control. His work seems ordinary and mundane, even pedantic, but the small tasks he performs day after day make the difference between a bumper crop and a complete disaster. Extraordinary returns are produced from ordinary labour over a lifetime. It’s the same for the Christian life: Although we labour in a world full of thorns and thistles, frustrations and setbacks, in Jesus Christ we can produce fruit that will last—an eternal harvest that cannot be spoilt or destroyed (Matt 6:19-21Gal 6:7;8;9). The Christian life is not about hanging in there till our perfect redemption. Redemption requires us to act positively and seize every opportunity to do good (Gal 6:105:13). It is about actively pushing back the darkness wherever we find ourselves (you in your small corner and I in mine.) This is called the doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints.”

Appearances are deceiving. The authentic Christian life is much like the growth of God’s kingdom: It germinates invisibly under the ground for a long time before it sprouts. It grows organically and gradually. It grows stronger after opposition and pruning. It produces a harvest only after the soil lies fallow and the farmer waits. It is difficult to measure the harvest until it is ultimately reaped. God works extraordinary things through the life of an ordinary Christian who gives him/herself wholeheartedly to the Lord’s service.

Our work and God’s

Jesus also uses this farmer analogy in his parable of the seed and the soils (Mark 4:26-29). In Christ’s parable, sowing is specifically related to our work of spreading the gospel, which is the ‘seed’ in the parable. We must not confuse our work with the Lord’s. We are, after all, not God’s appointed Messiahs.

Even with perfect diligence, the farmer cannot coax rain from the sky or control the inevitable hail and droughts. But often the farmer must fight an all-out war against enemies like pests, disease and weeds. Many years may seem like a dead loss. But in “due season”, the persistent farmer reaps a bountiful harvest which far exceeds the initial seeds planted. Paul tells us, “Be steadfast, immovable, give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain”(1 Cor 15:58).“In the Lord” is the crucial phrase.

No matter how talented, intentional and diligent, not one of us can produce a harvest ourselves. Nor can we measure it accurately, post it on Instagram or produce a photo to prove it. Only the Holy Spirit can germinate a seed in the human heart and bring dead bones to life. Our gifts, education and energy– even those we have led to the Lord– are not ours to brag about.

The good we sow, the wars we win and the harvest we reap are all God’s gifts of grace, but we are invited to pray and labour alongside Christ and each other, in the power of God’s Spirit.

So let’s quit worrying about the weather and fretting about the size of the crop. Let’s stop forcing God into our timetable and instead trust that his timing is always best. Let’s get on with farming and leave the rest to the Lord of the harvest!

If you are feeling weary and despondent today, this is God’s message to you:

“The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.Let us not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal 6:7-9 NIV).

An antidote to weariness is community

“Growing weary” is an occupational hazard of the Christian life. That’s why Paul repeats it in 2 Thessalonians 3:13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” Paul also tells us to admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak and be patient with our struggling brothers and sisters (1 Thess 5:14). Christian fellowship is one of the greatest antidotes to weariness. However zealous we may be, we all have faint hearts and weak bodies. We are but dust. That’s why we need to labour alongside one another like runners in the Comrade’s marathon.

Let’s get practical!

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/podcasts/tgc-podcast/snapshots-saints-endured/

  • Make sure you are connected to your local church. Serving and bearing each other’s burdens happens in community. Giving, growth groups and support groups, missions, pastoral care, gardening, prayer, children’s ministry, media, music and many other opportunities are available in local churches. Get involved, but read the three warnings below!

#1. Farming is not a celebrity business

Paul reminds us to keep a sane image of ourselves. We are fooling ourselves if we think we are something when we are nothing (Gal 6:3). Our freedom in Christ is not an excuse to indulge our human nature, but to serve each other humbly in love (Gal 5:13). Clearing bush, preparing soil and planting seeds is dirty, hard work. It cannot be delegated to a garden service! So too is service and discipleship, but it is how we practice the law of Christ (Gal 5:14). Sowing to please the Spirit is quite different from sowing for our own glory and fame (Gal 6:28). It will always produce the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22—love, joy, peace, forebearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. If these fruits are lacking in our service, we must examine our labour to see whether we are sowing to please the Spirit or to quench our thirst for glory and fame.

Platforms, posts and profiles do not impress God. But children of God who bear the Spirit’s distinctive fruit, even as they go about serving and doing good to all– will please their Father immensely.

Just as farming is done on remote lands, we are called to labour in invisible corners where no one will thank or applaud us for what we are doing. “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord, not for human masters, knowing that from the Lord you will receive an inheritance as a reward. You are serving the Lord Christ (Col 3:2324). Nothing is invisible to Jesus.

“Sowing to please the Spirit” means listening, waiting and relying on the Spirit each day, instead of just scattering wildly. As Proverbs 19:2 warns us: “Zeal without knowledge is not good, and hasty feet will miss the way.”– which brings us to our second warning!

#2. Beware of hasty feet!

It is easy to have hasty feet that miss God’s way when it comes to Christian ministry. That’s why Paul tells us to test our own work and not compare ourselves to others (Gal 6:4). Comparisons make us envious or conceited (Gal 5:26). When our eyes are on the ‘amazing’ things other people are doing, we become disheartened or discontent. Each of us has a different load to bear (Gal 6:5), a different temperament, measure of faith and calling. Comparisons are what drive Instagram, but they have no place in the Christian life (Rom 12:3).

#3. Beware of burnout!

Hasty feet can also lead to burnout! Christians are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, not half dead ones! God is not a slave driver and our bodies are not machines. We must not buy the lie that doing more and working longer will yield a greater harvest. It is not a Biblical or sustainable model of work. Every Christian should read Christopher Ash’s wise little book “Zeal without Burnout—Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice.” In his book, Ash shares stories (including his own) of many faithful Christians who have experienced burnout in ministry and the warning bells and lessons they learned. Burnout is a dangerous and deceptive condition characterized by extreme exhaustion, lack of motivation and anxiety. It is a hard place to come back from. That is why every Christian should read this book and practice Ash’s Biblical keys to a sustainable Christian ministry. I wish I’d read it when I was 21.

I will end with Christopher Ash’s reminder to himself and every disciple of Christ:

“I am—and will never, this side of the resurrection, be more than—a creature of dust. I will rest content in my creaturely weakness; I will use the means God has given me to keep going in this life while I can; I will allow myself time to sleep; I will trust him enough to take a day off each week; I will invest in friendships and not be a proud loner; I will take with gladness the inward refreshment he offers me. I will serve the Lord Jesus with a glad and restful zeal, with all the energy that he works within me, but not with anxious toil, selfish ambition, the desire for the praise of people, and all the other ugly motivations that will destroy my soul. So help me God.”

Resources to help us not grow weary:

  1. Love Not Sleep. Article by Marshall Segal on Desiring God. Read online here.
  2. Zeal without Burnout—Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice. Christopher Ash. Buy online at Takealot here:
  3. Snapshots of Saints who Endured. Podcast on “The Gospel Coalition”. Listen here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/podcasts/tgc-podcast/snapshots-saints-endured/
  4. Listen here to “Faith to be strong (Carried along)” by Andrew Peterson. Share the whole album “After all these years Collection”with a friend.

Becoming a steadfast Christian

“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence… (J.B Phillips translation of James 1:2-4)

Only a masochist gets out of bed in the morning in search of trials and tribulations. But if we live in the real world, trouble will inevitably find us.

“Man is born unto trouble, as surely as the sparks fly upwards” (Job 5:7).

Loss, illness, disappointment and discouragement are like gangsters that ambush us along the road of life, sometimes in unexpected ways. As Christians, trials have the power to rob us of our joy and hope. After many years of facing the same enemies in the ring, you may wonder whether you have the strength to go one more round. Trials may make us question whether God has abandoned or forgotten us. Right now anxiety and despair may be your only constant companions. But the Bible calls Christians to stand on the cliff top and view our trials from God’s perspective. We will see three images emerging in the fog below: First, we see a furnace that tests and proves the genuineness our faith. Secondly, we see a personal trainer exercising our muscles for the marathon of life. Thirdly, we see a painstaking builder putting the finishes and unique trademarks on his beautiful building. The power of perspective changes our response to the troubles we face. If you are a Christian, trials hurt like crazy but they are not pointless. Trials produce faces etched with grace and compassion. They develop spiritual hardiness that cannot be learned in the comfort of a lecture theatre or from a life of ease. They produce believers who do not just call themselves Christians, but cry to God as their “Abba” Father. They produce steadfast Christians. That is why trials are not intruders but friends. Sometimes we only know that the faith we profess is a living flame when the lights are turned off all around us.

Today’s text was written by Jesus’s brother, James, to scattered persecuted Christians in the first century. James 1:2-4 (ESV):

“ Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Our faith in the furnace

Trials are the furnaces into which our Christian lives are poured to test whether they are real or fake. The result is a faith that is more precious than gold and a life that gives praise, glory and honour to our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-9). Being poured into a furnace is not an intrinsically joyful experience, but a painful one. Yet James urges us to ‘regard’ or ‘consider’ that experience as joy. He asks us to change our mindset to trials.

How on earth can we “count it as joy” when all our human instincts are telling us to hide, run, suppress or escape from the pain? My first responses to trouble are always panic, fear or frustration. Joy is the last thing on my mind. How do we get to the place where we no longer resent trials as intruders, but welcome them as friends? (JB Phillips translation).

The power of perspective.

James says that there is power in perspective. When we “consider” the permanent benefits of trials to train, tutor and test us, God will change our response to them. (It’s like my exercise trainer, Coach Kusch on Youtube! She keeps giving me visions of myself in a bikini to motivate me to embrace the burning in my glutes!) Perspective enables us to see hardship as a basis of joy rather than pointless misery. Verse 3 tells us to look at our circumstances in the light of what we know for sure even when it contradicts our feelings or circumstances: “For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” And steadfastness is the only road to spiritual maturity and the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:412). Thinking with the destination in mind reminds us that this is not our home. It makes us realise that whatever suffering we endure now is working for our good. Perspective gives us the capacity to be joyful on even the hardest journey.

What does steadfastness look like? (v 3)

Think of what steadfastness looks like in your Christian life. It has to do with spiritual resilience and hardiness. It is the staying power that will get you to the finish line. It is the perseverance that develops from exercising your muscles of faith consistently day after day. Steadfastness cannot be turned on with a switch of willpower or choice. A steadfast heart is God’s gift when we place our confidence in Him. It comes to us when we stand firm in prayer, trust and obedience even when we feel disillusioned, disappointed and distressed. Don’t we all wish we were steadfast Christians who are not buffeted by every wave of life? Steadfastness can only develop when we submit to the testing of our faith, just as Jesus submitted himself to the cross with his eyes focussed on “the joy set before Him.” Jesus is the only perfectly steadfast man that ever lived.

What’s great about the Bible is that its human writers were not monks writing from ivory towers, but role models of faith lived out imperfectly in the real world. Hebrews 11 gives us an idea of the very flawed ‘heroes’ of faith who have gone before us. The common characteristic of each of them is steadfastness in their faith. They believed the promises of God would someday be fulfilled even though they couldn’t yet see or feel evidence of this. They grew steadfast by trusting in the steadfast love of the covenantal God.

Perfect and complete, lacking nothing (v 4)

A Christian will never be perfect. But mature faith and Christ-like character emerge from the furnace of trials. That’s because self deception and hypocrisy, self righteousness, selfishness and pride— get burnt up in the flames.

Faith and character bloom and bear fruit in the ashes of disappointment and tears, not in the nursery of constant success and happiness.

Those who “lack nothing” are seeking their happiness in Christ above all else. They are filled with the joy of the Lord and enabled to refresh others along the way. Don’t you long to become mature in your faith, lacking nothing?

God’s grace is sufficient for you

Paul was a man who became mature in his faith, yet he suffered more trials than any of us ever will. Paul tells us that he prayed three times for God to remove a ‘thorn’ in his flesh. We don’t know the specifics of his thorn but we know that it was painful, it had its origin in Satan, and God did not remove it in Paul’s lifetime. Yet Paul shows us what it means to “lack nothing” in his response to his thorn:

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Paul responded to his thorn by resting in God’s perfect purposes and grace (Rom 8:28- 29).

It is easy to have faith when everything is going well and our prayers are being answered just as we have asked. But trials force us to practice in real life what we know in theory. Trials show us whether we are women or men of faith. They ask us whether we truly believe that God’s grace is enough for us. Trials break the illusion that we are powerful and in charge. Temptations prove to us that we need the power and grace of Jesus to get us through even a single day. Adversity turns our eyes to look at the face of Jesus.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

If you are overcome with trials of many kinds today, Jesus encourages you to keep your eyes on Him and not on your troubles:

“I have said these things to you, that IN ME you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Only Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He showed us perfectly how to face trials of various kinds. He is the point of our lives. His grace is all we need to transform us into His image from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18). Jesus endured the shame of the cross for the joy of purchasing our redemption (Heb 12:2). That’s why we too can face our trials with an attitude of joy.

Read the story of Horatio G. Spafford (click here). He wrote the hymn “It is well with my soul” after a series of the worst tragedies imaginable. (Click here to listen to the hymn). He was not writing from an Ivory Tower or a comfortable couch. Spafford’s story helps us to understand what a steadfast Christian life looks like in reality. He inspires us to focus our eyes on Jesus so that we can see our trials in a different light. He shows us what it means to be confidently rooted in Christ even when his world disintegrated. Spafford’s life is an example of how to live out James 1:2-4 in the sweaty, bloody arena of life. Let the words written by this steadfast Christian on a terrible journey in 1873 sink deep into your soul:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Worship as you listen to “He will hold me fast”, by Shane and Shane. Click here.

“Like a Rock in the Billows”, by Barney E Warren:

Like a rock in the billows I would stable be,
Till the storm is overpast;
Then I long to harbor, Lord, with Thee,
In my heav’nly home at last

If I trust in Jesus, and obey His word,
If I lean upon His breast;
If I keep low down at His feet, I know
He will give me peace and rest.

Like a rock in the billows I would never yield
To the angry tossing wave;
I would cling to Christ, my sun and shield,
For His pow’r alone can save.

Like a rock in the billows of a boiling sea,
When its waters leap and foam,
I would rest secure, my Lord, in Thee,
Till the trumpet calls me home.

Like a rock in the billows I would fearless stand,
And defy the threat’ning blast;
For the Savior holds me by the hand,
Till the raging storm is past.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds through Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7.

Seeing is believing

The Apostle John was an eye witness to the greatest event in world history. Well, to be accurate, John wasn’t actually inside the tomb when life returned to Jesus’s broken corpse. Nor did he actually witness Jesus sliding out of his grave clothes, taking off the white face cloth from his bloodied head and folding the linen neatly beside him. In fact, those closest to the action were four Roman soldiers who had closed the tomb with the official Roman seal and were guarding it with their lives (Matt 27:64-66). They felt the shudder of the earthquake and saw the angel of the Lord who rolled back the 2-ton stone from the door before sitting on it as if it were a deck chair. I wonder if the guards fainted before or after the angel had rolled back the stone to reveal a dead man walking! Perhaps just the sight of an angel dressed in white with a shining face was enough to shake those tough Roman guards and paralyze them with fear like dead men (Matt 28:2-4). Had John actually been an eyewitness to these events, his own shocked corpse may have been added to the empty tomb!

What John saw

But John was an eyewitness of the risen Jesus shortly after He burst out of the tomb early on Sunday morning. With his own eyes, John saw the empty tomb with the stone rolled away. The moment John saw the strips of linen and the headpiece lying neatly folded in the empty tomb, there was no doubt in his mind. “He saw and believed” (John 20:8). It was a moment of revelation. An epiphany. A point of no return. This is an extract from John’s eye witness account of what happened early on Resurrection Sunday:

John 20:1-10

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there,and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.”

“Back to their homes”

On the first Resurrection Sunday in history, the disciples just went home! Verse 10 is the typical throwaway comment that only an eye witness mentions. But doesn’t it strike you as an odd response after realising that Jesus’s body was missing from the sealed and guarded tomb? Instead of looking for the risen Jesus, John clues us in on why they just went home: “For as yet they did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). They were confused and slow to see the truth that was in front of them all along.

Slow to understand

Despite great miracles and Jesus’s prophecies of his death and resurrection, his disciples were slow to grasp the truth (John 20:9).

To be honest, I don’t blame them. After all, the only person who was known to perform resurrections was dead himself and sealed in a tomb. Let’s face it, for intelligent, logical people, resurrection from the dead belongs to the realm of science fiction or madness…or hoax (courtesy of Pastor Lukau!)

Humiliated, hopeless and hiding

The disciples had no idea what Jesus meant when He foretold that He would raise up the ‘temple’ 3 days after it had been destroyed, speaking metaphorically about the “temple of his body” (John 2:1921). After their rabbi was crucified, the disciples were humiliated, hopeless and in hiding. The trauma of the crucifixion was still raw in their minds. Resurrection was the last thing they expected. It is highly unlikely that this scattered, fearful group of disciples with no preconceived idea that Jesus would rise from the grave, could have colluded and fabricated a story of resurrection. From their viewpoint, their story had come to an abrupt end and there was no next chapter.

Unlikely witnesses

What the disciples had believed about Jesus being God’s promised Saviour was in stark contrast with the mutilated, dead body they saw with their eyes. In fact, it was only women who were brave enough to go to the tomb early on Sunday morning to check on Jesus’ body (Luke 24:1). Women of the first century were not considered credible witnesses. Even the disciples accused Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary (the mother of James) of seeing “a vision of angels” and telling “idle tales”. No one believed their eye witness accounts (Luke 24:10-1123).

Last at the cross, first at the grave

The most unlikely witness of all was Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus had freed from seven demons (Luke 8:2). If John were fabricating a story, this loyal lady was not an ideal witness to put at the scene of the tomb (John 20:1). But just as Mary Magdalene was last at the cross, she is first at the grave.

Mary’s grief is palpable as she stands outside the tomb crying (John 20:11). Imagine her confusion as she sees the ‘gardener’ and asks him where he has put the body. Imagine her joy as she hears Jesus calling her name and finally recognizes Him as her “Rabboni!” Isn’t it just like Jesus’s topsy turvy kingdom to choose Mary Magdalene as the first messenger of the resurrection? Mary is not unlike the Samaritan woman at the well who sees Jesus for who He is and becomes the first missionary to the Gentiles (John 4:39). Jesus speaks her name. Mary sees and instantly believes(John 20:11-18).

Seeing and believing slowly

Some disciples take a little longer to see and believe. They need things explained, and Jesus is always patient with our questions and doubts. On the road to Emmaus, the risen Jesus says to Cleopas and another disciple,

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

Despite their knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures, the two disciples could not see that their whole Old Testament was peppered with prophecies of the death and resurrection of God’s Messiah.

Imagine the disciples’ flash of insight as they recalled a picture of their patriarch Abraham and his obedient son, Isaac, carrying a bundle of wood up Mount Moriah… Just like the stooped figure of Jesus walking up Calvary in obedience to his Father, bearing a heavy wooden cross (Gen 22:6;9John 19:17Luke 22:42).

Jesus the ram in the thicket! Jesus the Passover Lamb led to the slaughter! Jesus the atoning sacrifice of Yom Kippur and the scapegoat sent outside the city of Jerusalem to die (Lev 16:1510;21;22Heb 13:12). Jesus the Rock in the Wilderness (1 Cor 10:4)! Jesus the bronze serpent lifted on a pole (Num 21:4-9John 3:14-15)! Jesus the perfect substance of flawed shadows like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Melchizedek, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Jonah, Jeremiah…

Imagine the amazement of Cleopas and his companion as it slowly dawned on them that even Judas’s betrayal of Jesus fulfilled what was written in the Old Testament (Acts 1:16-20). They would have realized that the crucifixion was no mistake but part of God’s great redemptive plan since the beginning of time. How I wish I could have been part of that road trip to Emmaus as the Lord Jesus miraculously turned the lights on little by little!

Suddenly Cleopas and his friend connected the dots and saw Jesus for who He was. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us…while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)

Their vision finally cleared and their burning hearts believed it. It is the miracle of seeing and believing that every follower of Jesus experiences somewhere on their spiritual journey.

Believing is not blind faith

Faith in Jesus Christ is not a crutch for the gullible and blind. John’s gospel is a cameo of the last three weeks of Jesus’ life through the eyes of a credible witness. It was written for an express purpose. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31).

Believing Jesus’ resurrection is no small issue of personal preference. Life is at stake.

John asks us to believe his own testimony of the day he saw Christ’s grave clothes and folded face cloth in an empty tomb. John speaks of himself when he says, “He saw and believed” (John 20:8).

The empty tomb, rolled away stone and folded linen cloths were the basis for John’s belief.

It was not blind faith but faith based on what John saw.

Later he was even more convinced when he saw Jesus with his own eyes in the upper room and spent 40 days with Him before his ascension (Mark 16:14). John writes to convince us, who have never seen Jesus with our own eyes, that his resurrection is true (John 20:29).

If the resurrection is not real, Easter Friday is terrible news. In fact, the whole Christian faith is rubbish. Easter is a sick joke, our prayers a waste of breath, and we are naïve, gullible, deluded fools. Worst of all, we have no hope for ourselves beyond the grave. The Apostle Paul thought so too (1 Cor 15:1-20).

But John, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Paul (an enemy of Christians), James (the skeptical brother) and hundreds of other men and women who saw the risen Jesus— knew without a doubt that they were not deluded. They ate and spoke with him. It may have taken some of them longer than others, but when they believed, they were tortured, killed, disowned and exiled because they could not keep silent about what they had seen with their own eyes.

Seeing through their eyes

We too are called to see and believe in Jesus as the risen Lord. Not with our physical eyes, because Jesus is no longer with us, but by coming face to face with the eye-witness accounts of the New Testament. They show us the face of Christ in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We cannot re-play history, but we can weigh up the credible testimonies of the apostles and offer a verdict of true or false.

We must choose to believe or disbelieve, but there is no middle ground.

I believe!

I believe Jesus rose from the dead beyond all reasonable doubt. I believe He conquered every enemy of God when He died on the cross and rose as King of the universe, the Root of David, the Lion of Judah! (Rev 5:5) I believe Jesus is the Lamb who died to ransom people from every tribe and language and nation, appointing us to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God (Rev 5:9-10). And I long for the day when I will see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears and stand with the thousands upon thousands of people and angels worshipping the Lamb on the throne! (Rev 5:11;12;1314) The greatest prayer of my heart today is that you will be there too.

Live it out!

  • Have you looked at the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and do you believe it is true? If you are sceptical, you owe it to yourself to investigate this for yourself. Here are two places to start: Lee Strobel’s testimony and video The case for the resurrection and Frank Morison’s book Who moved the Stone? (click on the links). Jesus requires us to know the reason for the hope we have and to share it. Who will you share the gospel with this Easter?
  • Pray for eyes of unbelieving friends and family to be opened to see and believe in Jesus as their Lamb and Lord. No one can see it unless Jesus shows it to us.

Pray

Thank you, Jesus, for opening my heart and mind to the truth that you really died and rose to life again. Thank you that you are my own Saviour, not only at Easter but all year round. Like those disciples on the Emmaus road, please give me a burning heart to return to my friends and tell them that you have risen, that I know you and that you are our only hope. Give me the courage and the words to convince them of this truth. Thank you that you are my substitute Lamb and also the Lion of Judah who rules over the universe and will one day judge justly. Thank you that your body was broken on the cross to make me whole and that you rose again to give me life—- Life that is full, free and forever. Give me eyes to see you more clearly and a warm heart to love you more dearly each day.

In Jesus’ name Amen.

Worship and meditate on the cross this Easter!

Listen to Andrew Peterson’s Prologue and Volume 1 and 2 of The Resurrection Letters. His lyrics are amazing. Click on these links:

Elizabeth Cecelia Douglas Clephane  (1830 – 1869) was a Scottish songwriter who wrote this beautiful hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” Spot her Old Testament references as you meditate on the meaning of Easter.

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet,
O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!
As to the holy patriarch that wondrous dream was given,
So seems my Saviour’s cross to me, a ladder up to heaven.

There lies beneath its shadow but on the further side
The darkness of an awful grave that gapes both deep and wide
And there between us stands the cross two arms outstretched to save
A watchman set to guard the way from that eternal grave.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

A Curse, a Cry, a Curtain.. and a Convert

The day Jesus died was not a dark night but a dark day. At noon the sun disappeared and the sky grew dark in Jerusalem. This strange darkness is mentioned by secular historians like Thallus, Phlegon, Africanus and Tertullian.

Just as the night skies were lit up by a bright star and choirs of angels on the night of Jesus’ birth, God turned off the sun’s light on the day His Son died. Without a doubt, the darkness was an ‘act of God’ in the truest sense.

The darkness was real and not a metaphor. It was the ominous sign of God’s curse on Jesus as He bore all human sin and rebellion as our substitute. Then came Jesus’s anguished cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It silenced the mockery of the priests and hushed the insults of the passers-by and the criminals being crucified alongside Jesus. Then came another divine intervention. The temple curtain was ripped in two from top to bottom.

What was so striking about those three hours that caused a hardened Roman centurion to confess, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” What did the soldier see in Jesus that changed him so radically to make this stunning confession?

Mark 15:25-39

And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.”36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

The day the sun went down

There is no naturalistic explanation for the three hours of midday darkness recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke (Mark 15:33). Even secular historians agree that it happened. For example, Phelgon, a Greek historian in 137AD wrote:

“In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (ie, AD 33) there was the greatest eclipse of the sun and it became night in the sixth hour of the day so that star even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia and many things were overturned in Nicaea.

The problem with Phelgon’s naturalistic explanation is that an eclipse could not have caused the darkness. Jesus was crucified the day before Passover and eclipses do not occur during the full moon. The fact of the darkness is not in doubt from a historical point of view, just its cause.

The three hour darkness on the day of Christ’s crucifixion reminds us of the ninth plague when an ominous darkness settled over Egypt for three days preceding the death of the Egyptian firstborn sons. It was a sign of divine judgment to come.

Exodus 10:22  “So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days.”

Yahweh himself entered the darkness of Egypt to liberate his people who were sheltered by the blood of the lambs they had sacrificed and eaten the previous night. That was the first Passover when the angel of death passed over the Israelite homes.

The curse of the cross

As darkness hung over the cross on the Friday before Passover in 33AD, the religious Jewish leaders must have felt an eerie nudge from the prophet Amos who, in 750BC, had foretold God’s judgment on Israel for their rejection of Him. Darkness was the portending sign:

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning
    and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on every waist
    and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day.” Amos 8:9-10

Was this first Easter Friday not a ‘bitter day’ when God the Father made the sun go down at noon in mourning for His only beloved Son?

The curse reversed

Even the Roman centurion realized that the crucifixion was no ordinary death. On the cross, God’s beloved Son died as the perfect Passover sacrifice. Through his death, Jesus reversed the curse that Adam and Eve brought upon creation when they refused to live under God’s rule (Gen 3:1017-19). Paul reminds us that only Jesus is qualified to redeem us from the curse of God’s judgment.

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law”…13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Gal 3:10;13-14)

Jesus became cursed in our place, so that every sinner may receive the blessing given to Abraham, through faith in Him. His willing death reversed the curse.

A cry and a curtain

(Mark 15:343738).

The centurion at the cross must have often heard the agonized shouts of condemned men, but Jesus’s cry was different. Mark records his actual words in Aramaic to heighten the intensity of Christ’s anguish as He was separated from His Father for the first time in all eternity. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was a precise echo of David’s divine abandonment a thousand years before (Ps 22:1).

Jesus’s God-forsaken cry and the ripped curtain go to the heart of why Jesus died:

The essence of sin is that we forsake God. We reject His rule over our lives and disbelieve his word, just as Adam and Eve did. As a result of our sin, we are God-forsaken and alienated from Him, just as Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. The temple curtain was the symbol of that separation. The curtain blocked sinful people from approaching God’s presence in the Holy of Holies. But when Jesus died and took the punishment for sin instead of us, God ripped this curtain from top to bottom to make a bold statement.

Jesus is the rip in the curtain!

This is how Hebrews explains it:

“…we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Heb 10:19-20).

 “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:11-12).

The last word

God had the last word to the chief priests and Pharisees by tearing the curtain and opening up the way to the Holy of Holies.

The Jewish leaders had refused the offer of God’s Son and were desperate to see Him dead and buried before their Passover celebrations began. By ripping the curtain in half, God put an end to that Passover in 33AD, and also to their temple rituals forever. God’s message was loud and clear:

“My Son is the pure, perfect Passover Lamb who laid down his life for sinners. He is the final High Priest–the only sinless mediator between me and all who trust Him as Saviour. His broken body and blood is the ‘tabernacle’ not made with human hands. His death buys eternal redemption for sinners dressed in his perfect robes of righteousness. My Son has ripped open the barrier, so that anyone who believes in Him can approach me boldly. My Son has finished His work and fulfilled everything the temple and prophets pointed to. I forsook my Son on the cross so that believing sinners may never be God-forsaken again! The time for temple rituals and sacrifices is now over! The old has passed and the new has come (2 Cor 5:17). All I want is you—your whole life– for that is how you worship me (Rom 12:1-2). Put your faith in the Messiah I have provided and you will never be separated from me again. You will be my Temple (1 Cor 6:19), I will be your Father, and you will live with me forever!” *

A convert

The centurion who stood vigil at the cross somehow caught a glimpse of its stunning significance and confessed his belief out loud:

“Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Who knows what happened to this centurion, but his conversion is as remarkable as the thief who hung on the cross beside Jesus (Luke 23:40414243). By recording the centurion’s confession of faith, Mark sends us a powerful message:

Jesus is the Saviour of every undeserving sinner who calls to Him, no matter what you have done or where you have been. The only condition is that you look to the perfect Passover Lamb as your own Saviour and Lord.

Easter is good news for every sinner who has repented and believed in Jesus, the Son of God. Otherwise, Easter is nothing more than a season of empty rituals, just as the Passover was to the religious leaders of Jesus’s time. They trusted in their own righteousness and did not think they needed God’s Passover Lamb. They refused to walk through the torn curtain into the embrace of  God the Father.

Without personal faith in Jesus, Easter will give you false comfort. If you have not received Him as your own atoning sacrifice, you will go to your death alone and alienated from God. Only Jesus can cover for us as we walk into eternity. Jesus is the gap in the curtain that invites us to fellowship with God today, tomorrow and after the grave. I will end our devotion with Jesus’s own question to Martha at the death of his friend, Lazarus. He speaks to each of us too:

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 

Do you live today with full assurance that you will live forever?

*Roydon Frost explains how Jesus is better in every way than what went before:

http://www.christchurchmidrand.co.za/2019/03/28/reflections-on-israel-and-the-church-from-hebrews/