And Jesus Stopped

And Jesus stopped. Luke 18:40

Mark gave him a name, Bartimaeus. On the Jerusalem side of Jericho, he plied his trade, begging. Honest begging is hard work. And Bartimaeus was an honest beggar. He was blind. Yet, rather than have others bring him a piece of bread, he took such measures as he could. By the side of a well-traveled road, he made his own case for the charity he needed.

On a particular day, and aren’t they all particular, he heard the rumble of an unusually large crowd making its way toward him. If it was a religious crowd, it might well be fruitful for him. There was always one in such a crowd who needed to impress others with their compassion. A little competition among the self-righteous never hurt a beggar’s feelings at all.

Then Bartimaeus caught wind of a name. Jesus. And a place. Nazareth. Men who can’t see do well to learn to listen. Bartimaeus had been listening to the chatter about this Jesus. From north to south, the rumor of him had run the length of the land.

Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was the son of David. That wasn’t just any title. It was a title of the Messiah. Concerning him, they all knew that “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2)

“Have mercy on me.” It was the simplest of prayers from the most desperate of hearts. And it moves God like no other. And Jesus stopped…

To be continued…

What a Savior he is!

Vision

Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (ESV)

I have a vision problem. My right eye does not focus with my left eye. Unnoticed and uncorrected, this condition led to a curious act on the part of my brain. Faced with perpetual double vision, my brain favored the stronger signal from my left eye and began to ignore the weaker signal from my right eye.  By the time anyone noticed I was either too old or too ornery for correction.

Imagine my predicament if my brain could no longer sense which signal was stronger and processed both signals all the time! Two roads! Two trees! Four ditches! Two wives and twenty-four deacons! Vision matters.

Jesus said (Matthew 6:22-23), “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”  Jesus was speaking of a spiritual condition, not a physical one. The KJV strikingly translates “if thine eye be single.” Single, as in whole or clear, not confused by multiple signals.

The writer in Proverbs believed that God’s Word provides people with the kind of vision that guides them into his blessing. Without it, each one does what is right in his own eyes. It doesn’t take much vision to see that each one doing their own thing is bound for conflict and ends in tragedy.

Even so, our world’s rejection of God’s Word is bound for tragedy. But you don’t have to go with it. You have the prophetic vision called the Word of God. Don’t let the signals to your brain get confused. Let the ‘prophetic vision’ be first and strongest. The other signals will take their proper place or perhaps disappear altogether.  Then blessing will be your destiny.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

A Reading Lesson

 

Luke 6:9 – Have you not read…

Sometimes I read without comprehending because I am so distracted. At other times I am just too tired to comprehend. Whatever the cause, I have often looked up only to realize I had no clue what I just read.

But there is another way to miss what we read. It is possible to read in search of one thing and thereby to miss the thing that is truly there. The men to whom Jesus spoke in Luke 6:9 were of this last type. They searched the Scriptures to prove the rightness of their deeds. They looked for themselves and they found themselves. They looked into the divine mirror, not forgetting what they saw, but actually liking what they saw. They were not looking for God. Little surprise then that they did not find him.

Jesus asked an important question. Have you not read the Scriptures? And did you read them as another exercise in justifying yourself, a kind of celebration of your own holiness? Or were you hungry to find him who alone is holy? When we approach the Scriptures to hear rather than to prove or to tell, we begin to discover that he who alone is holy is also full of the most amazing grace.

I cannot know what those men saw when they read the passage about David eating the sacred bread reserved for the priests. But I do know what they did not see, what Jesus saw so plainly, that God’s compassion for his servant was far, far greater than man’s mistaken idea of what constitutes holiness.

God’s laws are designed to lead us to him, not to separate us from him. They do indeed shine the light on his holiness and our sin. They do so in order to drive us to the cross. There we may fall down in adoration of a heart so pure, a grace so complete, and a love so enduring that we may rise to think less of ourselves and more of him.

For what a wonderful Savior he is!

 

 

 

 

Ought

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness (2 Peter 3:11)

There are two worlds, the world that is and the world that ought to be.

Nearly every person on the planet believes there is right and there is wrong.  The handful of stragglers who claim not to believe in right and wrong will prove themselves liars as soon as their wallet is stolen.  Suddenly, as if be revelation, they will know what is right and who is wrong.  If we are nothing more than a collection of atoms, right and wrong are foolish notions.  Yet nothing could be clearer to most of us than the truth that there is right and there is wrong.  There is a world that ought to be, but is not.

Here, then, is the real dividing line of the world, not whether the world ought to be different, but what the difference ought to be.  Even the foolish one who claims there is no such thing as right and wrong believes the world ought to be different.  If nothing else, he believes the world ought to be rid of people like me who keep insisting that there is a God, that he has spoken, and that he and he alone defines what OUGHT ought to look like.

Who defines OUGHT?  That is the question.  The western world has spurned God as the one who defines right and wrong.  In so doing, it has undermined the very foundation that made it great.  If God is not allowed, then what is left to define what ought to be?  A vote?  Social media?  A handful of leaders whose guidance is the limits of their own minds?  Frightening, isn’t it, this life without God?

But God is not mocked.  We are already reaping the bitter harvest of the folly we have sown.  And we are not finished, for we have not turned back.  And did I mention that God is not mocked?

That little word ‘ought’ is one of the biggest signs you will ever see that there is a God.  How is it that people groan every day over what ought to be and yet cannot see him?  But in spite of our blindness, God looked upon these two worlds, the world that is and the world that ought to be, and God chose to make the two into one.  He sent his only begotten to do the job.  On the cross, what is and what ought to be came together.  Jesus, who was ever and always what ought to be, took the world as it truly is into his death.  Resurrected, he offers himself as the reconciliation of what is to what ought to be.  What no vote could accomplish, what no social media could shape, what no gaggle of leaders could coerce from the world, Jesus did in one mighty act of obedience to what ought to be.  For what ought to be is God.  Nothing less.  And certainly nothing more.

To God be the glory!  What a Savior!

The Lord’s Song

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?  Psalm 137:4

The exiles in Babylon hung their lyres on the willows. Their broken hearts could not sing the songs of Zion in a strange place. The taunts of their enemies only made their silence more certain and their resolve grow deeper. They would not forget and they would not sing.

The New Testament faith is built solidly upon the old, but here is one striking difference. Old Testament faith was attached to a specific piece of geography. When separated from that parcel of ground, hear how the heart mourns!

By contrast, stand outside a jail cell in Philippi and listen. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, (Act 16:25) Faith is alive and the servants of God are singing. The disciples’ hearts were not fixed on a city in this world. Rather, they were like Abraham whose heart was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)

And the prisoners were listening to them. Take your lyre down from the willows, O believer, and sing your song. You are not home and the prisoners are listening!

What a Savior!

Unless

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  Psalm 127:1

The Lord blesses that which is built upon his word.  There is a pressure no foundation can stand and an enemy no watchman can see.  Only the Lord can preserve us.  Only he can protect us.

For a generation that delights in being on “the right side of history,” we seem to know very little of it.  History is lavishly supplied with the tumbled houses and stunned watchmen of those who abandoned the ways of God.  Their number is not just plentiful but complete.  Apart from God, it is only a matter of who gets to the finish line first.

Unless…  Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. Matthew 7:24f

What a wonderful Savior he is!

From Thimbles to Vats

“…the pagan philosophers wretchedly blundered… some asserting the world’s eternity and self-existence, others ascribing it to a fortuitous concourse of atoms…”

I read these words and thought what a perfect description of the assumptions of twenty-first century humanity. You could rewrite the sentence in this way. “Modern philosophers… assert the spontaneous generation of the universe (Stephen Hawking), others ascribe it to evolution” (a fortuitous concourse of atoms if there ever was one!).

It is a perfect description of modern man. But it was written four hundred years ago about men who lived a thousand years before that. Incredible, isn’t it! The more things change, the more they stay the same. So, how does a person writing four hundred years ago get such far reaching insight? How does someone look back a thousand years with such clarity and unknowingly describe a world four hundred years down the road?

The beloved and pious Matthew Henry was contemplating the biblical account of creation in Genesis. He was living as the psalmist had directed. “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2) Pondering the word of God, he saw what was eternally true and therefore knew what was eternally false.

Modern man, on the other hand, takes a thimble full of science and makes a vat full of stupidity. Just five minutes ago, I watched a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ fly by the church with lights flashing and sirens blazing. I sent up a prayer for another ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ who was probably hurting and not feeling especially fortuitous. Perhaps they will make it to a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ called a hospital, where a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ called a doctor will help them.

Genesis 1:2 records that the earth was ‘formless and void’ or ‘a waste and emptiness.’ Here are two resounding Hebrew words: tohu and bohu, waste and emptiness. The mind of modern man has become tohu and bohu, waste and emptiness, a very unfortunate concourse of atoms.

Here is the real inconvenient truth of our age.

The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. (Psalm 24:1)

I’m so glad the owner is also a Savior! And what a Savior he is!

Silent Joseph

We are blessed with words from those who were so closely connected to the birth of Jesus. Zacharias said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people.” Mary said, “For the Mighty One has done great things for me.” Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” The shepherds said, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” Simeon said, “For my eyes have seen your salvation.” The magi asked, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?” We have no specific words from Anna, but we are told that she began “giving thanks to God and continued to speak” of the Christ.

Not a word do we have from Joseph. When Jesus’ parents found the twelve year old in the Temple engaging the teachers, it was Mary who chided him, not Joseph. We feel certain that Joseph talked, but we do not know. We believe the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. We must take it that the Holy Spirit had nothing to reveal to us regarding the words of Joseph.

Ah! But look what the Holy Spirit was pleased to reveal through Joseph. Joseph took the miraculously pregnant Mary as his wife. He had no relations with her until the child was born. He took her on an arduous journey to Bethlehem for he was unwilling to relinquish her care to anyone else. He was there for the birth of the Savior. He obeyed the summons of God and hustled his young family away to Egypt, safely avoiding the murderous Herod. He waited patiently for the summons to return. He brought his family back to Nazareth in safety. He attended to his father’s role for the growth of the child. He was there when Jesus could not be found and he searched until the boy was found. He brought them all safely back to Nazareth again.

When Jesus began his ministry around thirty years of age, his mother is still around, but we do not see Joseph. Some think that Joseph died in that span of Jesus’ life from twelve to thirty. But we don’t know. As quietly as he came, Joseph left. Not one word. But, oh, what a life!

Joseph was there, where he needed to be, doing what he was appointed to do, caring for what God cared for, not shirking but embracing hard things. Maybe this is where James, the brother of Jesus, got the idea for “be ye doers of the word and not hearers only.” Maybe James learned his wisdom at the feet of Joseph who taught him that God had given him two ears and one mouth, and therefore “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak.” (James 1:19f) Perhaps it was the quiet Joseph who taught his boy James that a loose tongue is like a hellish fire (James 3:1f) and that genuine faith is proved by loving deeds. (James 2:14f)

Words are important. Very important. Too important to expend so carelessly as we often do. Silent Joseph stands right at the heart of the advent of the Savior. Far from diminishing his role, the lack of words make his deeds shine the brighter and by his life the Holy Spirit convicts us when we are long on words and short on deeds.

Silent Joseph. I can almost hear him. Can you?

Appointment

Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.  By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. (Psalm 119:90-91 ESV)

By his appointment, we have today.  So long as there is a thing called ‘today,’ it is by appointment of God.  His appointments are always kept.  We, too, shall keep his appointments.  Hebrews 9:27 says that there are two: one is death and the other is judgement.  May I not be so hasty to keep my own appointments in the world that I forget about my appointments with him.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV)

What a Savior!

Sorry about the W53.21XA

“Sorry to hear about your W53.21XA.  What were you doing messing with a squirrel anyway?”

Perhaps you have heard about the new coding system required by the health care law.  The codes health care providers use to describe the patient’s diagnosis have jumped from 14, 000 to 68,000.  One doctor said the code book looked like the Philadelphia phone directory.  A W53.21XA, by the way, is “bit by a squirrel.” Imagine if we started using these codes in everyday talk.

“Haven’t seen you for a while.  Where have you been?”

“Oh, I just got out of the hospital.”

“Really?  What happened?”

“V95.40XA”

“What?  I didn’t know you were an astronaut!”

“I’m not.  Actually I was coming out of the coffee shop when I was blindsided by this dude who wasn’t looking where he was going. They couldn’t find a code for a coffee shop accident.  We figured that since the guy who knocked me down was pretty spaced out, he qualified as a spacecraft.  And since I didn’t find out his name, presto, W95.40XA, ‘unspecific spacecraft accident.'”

“Oh, I see.”

I am not at all sure that these codes will help us ‘see.’  Codes by nature are not designed to help us see.  Indeed, they are sometimes designed to do the opposite. They hide things. Pictures, on the other hand, are especially designed to help us see.

‘Revelation’ means unveiling.  The book of Revelation is not a code book but a picture book.  God wants us to see.  Consider this picture.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

It is a word picture, but what a word picture it is!  I remember the hand fans in the hymnal racks at the church of my childhood. With no AC and windows wide open, those fans were the first line of defense against gnats on a summer Sunday morning.  On each fan was a picture and the one picture I remember most was of Christ standing at the door knocking.  As often as I picked up that fan, he was still there, still knocking, still waiting for an answer.

That one picture is so crammed with outstanding theology, with such splendid glory, and with truly amazing grace, that it takes an entire Bible to explain it!

So, before your neighbor has a W53.21XA which gets infected, or worse, out of the blue, he experiences a W95.40XA and leaves us altogether, pray that he experiences a rev.3.20 and opens the door.

Anything we do to make that happen will have benefits out of this world.

What a Savior!