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The Minor Prophets Part 1

The Minor Prophets include the following:

• Hosea, whose name means “salvation,” and whose book was written mostly to the Northern Kingdom of Israel for the purpose to encouraging them to repent or face certain destruction. This eventually happened when the Assyrians invaded and took away most of the inhabitants of Israel as slaves.
• Joel, whose name means “Yahweh is God.” His book of prophecy is all about the coming of the “Day of the Lord,” with all its judgements and destruction.
• Amos means “carried by God,” and his book is a collection of messages directed at the Northern Kingdom, which had become wealthy and arrogant and sinful.
• Obadiah, or “servant of God,” preached to Judah, the Southern Kingdom, to reassure them that Edom’s vicious attack against them would be avenged by God.
• Jonah’s name means, “peace” or “dove,” and teaches us that nobody can outrun God, not even His prophet.
• Micah means “who is like God?” and deals with the gap between rich and poor and how one group teaches another.
• Nahum, whose name means, “comfort,” wrote to bring peace, relief, comfort, and joy to the oppressed.
• Habakkuk, meaning “embrace,” was a man consumed with a burning desire to proclaim the joy of the Lord.
• Zephaniah means “hidden by God.” His book begins with the declaration that judgment is coming quickly and that some of Israel and other nations will be saved when the Lord returns.
• Haggai is an odd sort of prophet. His name means “festive,” a paradoxical name for a prophet. But then Haggai was an optimistic kind of guy who wrote about his hope that God’s people would repent and rebuild the Temple, at which time God’s presence would return.
• Zechariah, whose name means “remembered by God,” wrote all about the Second Coming, reminding the people that God had by no means forgotten them.
• Malachi, the last Minor Prophet, means “my messenger.” His book, the last in the Old Testament, serves as a kind of final warning – a last word – to Israel that the great Day of the Lord is coming.

These are the 12 minor prophets, yet they aren’t minor in any way. Their messages resonate with meaning for us today as surely as they did thousands of years ago. We’d do well to pay attention to the Word of the Lord through His “minor” prophets.

Hosea and his wayward wife

First among the minors is Hosea. Of this book, George Adam Smith, Scottish theologian and academic, wrote:

There is no truth uttered by later prophets about the divine grace which we do not find in germ in him…He is the first prophet of grace, Israel’s first evangelist.

God had a habit of using the experiences of His people to reveal Himself progressively in the Old Testament. Bit by bit, piece by piece, God showed Himself to His people until the coming of Jesus Christ, the fullest and final expression of Himself. Hosea is good example of this; through Hosea’s experiences with his wife, we catch a glimpse into the love God has for sinful man.

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.  (Hosea 1:2 NIV84)

This paragraph is fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is what God told Hosea to do. Would God have commanded His prophet, a holy man, to do something that was forbidden for priests to do and frowned upon for Israel in general? Should this incident be taken literally or figuratively? Augustine refused to believe God would ask a holy man to do this, so he viewed Hosea’s experiences as allegorical.

The old axiom, “the literal sense makes the most sense,” holds as much for Hosea as for the rest of the Bible. What we are reading here should be understood as an historical account written long after the fact. Hosea’s wife and children and their circumstances were real but symbolic warnings for a wayward people. Hosea was fully aware of the kind of woman God wanted him to marry – she would become a prostitute. Her name was Gomer, an unlikely name in our time, but meant, “to end,” “to come to an end,” or “to complete.” Hebrew names are always significant in the Bible. Keil thought that Gomer would be brought to “completion” or “made perfect” through her prostitution. It’s not that becoming a prostitute did her good, but that her horrible experience would parallel Israel’s own unfaithfulness to God.
The prophet would have two children, the bitter fruits of his adulterous wife. Verse two doesn’t necessarily mean that these children weren’t Hosea’s, but rather they shared the taint of unfaithful Gomer’s character. Therefore, God wanted Israel to understand that the coming judgment would fall not only on the nation as a whole, but also on each individual within the nation for each individual shared the sin of the entire nation.

Jezreel: God’s judgment is imminent.

Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel. ” (Hosea 1:4, 5 | TNIV)

The event at Jezreel took place back in 2 Kings 9:21 – 37, long before the child Jezreel was born. It was in Jezreel that the house of Ahab was massacred by Jehu, who claimed to have done the deed for God. In reality, Jehu’s motives were completely political. God promised to make things right in His time:

The Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” (2 Kings 10:30 | TNIV)

Because Jehu acted with such cruelty, judgment would fall on his descendants. It was a heinous sin whose bill was coming due. Hosea lived long enough to witness the fulfillment of this prophecy when Israel’s military (Israel’s bow) was decimated by Shalmaneser in the plains of Jezreel.

But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil, you have eaten the fruit of deception. Because you have depended on your own strength and on your many warriors, the roar of battle will rise against your people, so that all your fortresses will be devastated—as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children. (Hosea 10:13, 14 | TNIV)

The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes. (2 Kings 17:5, 6 | TNIV)

It took a long time, but the chickens came home to roost. Israel was scattered throughout the world.

So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left… (2 Kings 17:18 | TNIV)

Lo-Ruhamah: God’s mercy withheld.

Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the Lord their God. ” (Hosea 1:6, 7 | TNIV)

This unfortunate child’s name may suggest she was illegitmate – born without a father’s love. Symbolically, Lo-Ruhamah was named so to show that the Lord would not continue to show love or compassion towards a nation, Israel, that steadfastly rebelled against Him. God’s mercy had come to an end. He would step in and save no longer. Once Israel was taken captive, she would never come back. The so-called Northern Kingdom would never be restored, as the Southern Kingdom was. Israel would learn the hard way that at long last, God’s patience had run out and the Covenant had dissolved. He would no longer be her God – she would be forever an adulterous and idolatrous nation.

But, God would continue work with Judah. However, notice the odd wording of verse 7:

Yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the Lord their God.

The prounoun “I” is replaced with “the Lord their God.” Even though Judah was not free from the curse of exile and punishment, it would be saved from final apostasy through God’s favor.

Lo-Ammi: God’s love removed.

After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God. (Hosea 1:8, 9 | TNIV)

With this third child, God’s judgment would be complete. Jezreel had promised the scattering of the people. Lo-Ruhamah meant the end of God’s love and mercy. Finally, with Lo-Ammi, God would be forever finished with Israel – the Covenant would end. The people who were once referred to as “my people” by God, would no longer be His people.

Hope for the future

It’s pretty depressing so far. But when we read about God’s judgment and punishment, there is always hope. The hope is found in these verses:

Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.”

“Say of your brothers, ‘My people,’ and of your sisters, ‘My loved one.’ (Hosea 1:10, 11; 2:1 | TNIV)

There are centuries upon multiplied centuries of history in between verses 9 and 10. Even though God’s message to His people through Hosea is negative and depressing, God does allow a glimmer of hope to be seen. In all, there are six specific blessings mentioned in verses 9 and 10 –

• The nation will increase in number, “…like sand on the seashore, which cannot be counted…”
• A great spiritual revival, “…they will be called the children of the living God.”
• A re-gathering of the nation, “the people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together…”
• Messianic leadership, “…they will appoint one leader…”
• Victory of all enemies, “…will come up out of the land…”
• A full restoration of the Covenant, “say of your brothers, ‘My people,’ and of your sisters, ‘My loved one.’”

Just Say Yes, Part 7

Many people in the New Testament said “yes” to Jesus, and none of them regretted it. Saying “yes” to Him is essentially what faith is all about. These people said “yes” to Jesus and they got what the needed because saying “yes” to Jesus is not only an expression of faith, but it is also obedience to God’s Word. When we say “yes” to the Lord, we are creating the conditions necessary to receive the promises of God and answers to our prayers.

We’ve looked at six people who said “yes” to Jesus:

• A couple of blind men gave the “yes” of faith to Christ’s offer of mercy and healing, Matthew 9:28;
• Some disciples said to “yes” to Christ’s question of teaching, Matthew 13:51;
• The Syrophoenician woman replied, “yes” to being a dog – a lost soul in need of healing and salvation, Matthew 15:27;
• Martha, Lazarus’ sister, said “yes” to Jesus being the Resurrection, John 11:27;
• In all, three times Peter said “yes” to the Lord when asked, “Do you love me?”, John 21:15, 16;
• While on the island of Patmos, John said “yes” to Jesus’ statement that He is coming soon, Revelation 22:20.

Fine examples all of people who said the right thing to Jesus. But I’ve saved the best “yes” till the end. It wasn’t just followers of Jesus who said “yes” to Him, He said “yes” to Somebody, too.

Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matthew 11:26 | NIV84)

That’s Jesus saying “yes” to the Heavenly Father. It’s actually a very rare glimpse into one of Jesus’ prayers. Tasker wrote,

Here recorded is one of the most precious pieces of spiritual autobiography to be found in the synoptic Gospels. It shows that the dominant characteristic of His Incarnate life was obedience to His Father’s will.

A discouraged prophet

It all started with a question:

Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2 | NIV84)

A very discouraged John the Baptist was losing faith. He sent some of his friends to Jesus to ask that very question. He had been stuck in prison for a while and he heard some puzzling things about the Man he introduced to the world as The Messiah. If Jesus was the Messiah, why was he still in prison? Why was Jesus showing no signs of Messianic activity, like judgment of the wicked that Jesus Himself had promised to do? He had some serious doubts and Jesus.

It’s hard to believe that a man like John the Baptist could ever have doubts. He was tough. He lived an austere life. He was devoted to his singular mission: to pave the way for the Messiah. If a stand up guy like John the Baptist could have his doubts, don’t be too hard on yourself or fellow believers if doubt floats into your heads. Even the most courageous and faithful of God’s servants experience doubt from time to time. But we can take a lesson from John: He essentially confessed his doubts to Jesus; he didn’t keep them bottled up inside. Doubt is the very beginning of faith, if you play your cards right.

If John the Baptist had his doubts about Jesus, Jesus had no doubts about John!

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist… (Matthew 11:11a | NIV84)

But our Lord said more than that. He reassured John that He was the Messiah, not by giving him the “proof” he was asking for, but evidence. Faith is NOT about proof; it’s about evidence. God is His own proof and faith is accepting that fact. Here’s the evidence Jesus gave John:

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 11:4 – 6 | NIV84)

It may not look like it to you, but Jesus is paraphrasing Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1 as evidence that He was the promised Messiah. The evidence was that He was fulfilling the ancient prophecies about what the Messiah would be doing when He arrived on the scene. The Messianic Age had arrived because Jesus was doing exactly what the promised Messiah would be doing!

After giving John comfort; reassuring His cousin that He was truly the Messiah, Jesus paid him the highest compliment in front of everybody: Nobody was greater than John the Baptist. But then, Jesus says this:

yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11b | NIV84)

That’s a highly contested verse. Chrysostom and Luther believed that “the least” refers to Jesus Himself. Jesus was “least” in the sense that He was younger than his cousin, that John came first, that it was John who baptized Him, and that for a while, John was more famous thanHe. That could be what Jesus meant. Or it could be that Jesus was referring to the “least” Christian. The “least” Christian is greater in privilege than John because John was still part of the Old Testament dispensation.

What Jesus said next is startling:

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (Matthew 11:12 | NIV84)

That’s a powerful verse, and it would have been something John the Baptist needed to hear. The kingdom of Heaven is coming; nothing can stop the Kingdom from advancing – from taking over this world of ours, and only those who are determined and devoted and committed can “lay hold of it,” or enter it, or be a part of it. Sitting in prison, feeling sorry for himself, John the Baptist was not the “forceful” man he should have been; the “forceful” man he always had been. This is Jesus trying to buck up his cousin. John the Baptist was better than this and he knew it.

The essence of verses 12 and 13 is found over Luke’s Gospel, but in the opposite order:

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. (Luke 16:16 | NIV84)

It takes an effort to keep the faith. You can’t be lazy in walking the road of faith which leads into the Kingdom of Heaven. There’s no room for people sitting around watching the grass growing.

Jesus’ estimation of the world around Him

To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” (Matthew 11:16, 17 | NIV84)

A lot of people found fault with John the Baptist; they thought he was a little weird. But these same people thought Jesus was off His rocker, too, even though His way of life was drastically different from that of John.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ’ (Matthew 11:18, 19 | NIV84)

There was literally no way anybody could please these immature child-like adults. The people of Jesus’ day were like kids playing around at life; they were not serious people. They didn’t take John the Baptist seriously and they didn’t take Jesus seriously, either.

Not only the Jews, but the rest of the world was lost.

Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. (Matthew 11:20 | NIV84)

A person pays a high price when they witness the evidence that Jesus is Lord but then refuses to do the right thing. Their’s was a singular privilege; Jesus was living among them. His headquarters was there. He was preaching and teaching in those cities. He was performing miracles there. Yet they rejected Him. Verse 24 is one of the harshest statements ever made by Jesus Christ:

But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you. (Matthew 11:24 | NIV84)

This whole paragraph stands forever as a warning to all who have witnessed and experienced the presence of God and seen His power manifested but who refuse to repent. People like that, and make no mistake there are many of them, will be doubly condemned for their rejection of the light they have received.

Jesus is talking about godless cities, but John the Baptist was still on our Lord’s mind even as He rebuked and denounced the people who saw the evidence with their own eyes but still rejected Him. Jesus didn’t want His cousin; His friend; His co-worker to end up like the cities He rebuked. John the Baptist’s doubts couldn’t become more; they couldn’t take over the Baptist’s heart and soul.

Jesus and the weary

And that gets us almost to Jesus’ “yes.” Here’s what He said to God the Father just before He said “yes”:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Matthew 11:25 | NIV84)

Even though Jesus was rejected by these proud cities, He was accepted by what we might call, “the common folk.” This is the first time in public that Jesus referred to God as His “Father,” but He also refers to Him as “Lord of heaven and earth.” That takes us right back to the beginning, to the book of Genesis, where we see that God is the Lord of heaven and earth; He created all that exists and He is the Father of Jesus Christ! And Jesus Christ is the revealer of God the Creator. And the only people who saw what Jesus was revealing – what John the Baptist began to reveal – were “little children,” that is, just simple, regular folks. They got it! John the Baptist got it!

And that was God’s plan all along, and that’s what Jesus said “yes” to:

Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matthew 11:26 | NIV84)

This was something Paul understood well. He was a highly educated rabbi and theologian, but he completely missed the Messiah. He never noticed Jesus until the risen Lord confronted him.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18 – 25 | NIV)

Jesus said “yes” to all that. But John the Baptist was still on His mind. This was what John, sitting in prison, needed to know; what he needed to remember. Even in prison, John was the privileged one, not his jailers. John the Baptist was tired. He was weary. He needed strength outside of himself. Everything Jesus said and did here were with His cousin in mind. Even this passage:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28 – 30 | NIV84)

John the Baptist needed to hear those words. And maybe you do, too. Maybe you feel overcome by the world. Maybe you feel squeezed and pressured into a corner by circumstances of life. You know Jesus. You love Jesus. But, like John, maybe a doubt or two have rushed into your head. God’s got everything under control. Jesus has more than enough strength to keep you strong. All you have to do is go to Him, says “yes,” and accept the rest He offers.

Just Say Yes, Part 6

In the New Testament, a significant number of people said “yes” to Jesus Christ. We’re looking at a handful of them in this series, and so far, we looked at five of them:

• A couple of blind men, followers of Jesus both, said “yes” to Jesus and were healed of their blindness, Matthew 9:28;
• Some disciples replied “yes” to the teachings of Jesus, even though they weren’t quite sure what He was talking about. In their case, “yes” was a statement of faith, Matthew 13:51;
• That Syrophonecian woman – a foreigner – agreed with Jesus’ designation of her as a “dog,” and immediately received exactly what she needed from Him, Matthew 15:27;
• When her brother Lazarus died, his sister Martha said “yes” to Jesus, as the Resurrection, John 11:27;
• Peter, the impetuous apostle, said “yes” to Jesus not once, but three times, pledging his love and devotion to the Lord, John 21:15, 16.

Saying “yes” to the Lord is showing Him and others that you have faith – faith in Him and in His Word and abilities. As we learn to say “yes” to Jesus, we are living in obedience to God’s will and we are creating the conditions in which God will bless us and answer our prayers.

Not only that, from the moment you said “yes” to God’s gracious invitation to salvation, at least four simple blessings began to flow into your life:

Peace

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… (Ephesians 2:14 | NIV84)

Jesus Christ has “made the two one.” In other words, by saying “yes” to Jesus’ gift of salvation, He has immediately made peace between you and God. God’s not angry at you anymore. His wrath, previously directed at you because of your sin, is gone in a moment when you said “yes” to Him.

Purpose

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 3:10 | NIV84)

When you start living for God, He gives your life purpose. Once you lived for yourself – and that’s the loneliest way to live – but now you live for Him, and that means blessing others as God has blessed you. It means planning your days and nights around HIS will for you. It means consciously looking for all those “good works” God has prepared for you to do.

Fellowship

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household… (Ephesians 3:19 | NIV4)

Saying “yes” to God put you in a whole new family! You are now members of God’s family; and it’s a huge one! You are bound to believers from all time from all walks of life by the blood of Jesus. Not only that, when you said your first “yes” to God, you became a citizen of Heaven and enjoy all the rights and privileges that citizenship gives you.

Focus

For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 3:18 | NIV84)

Do you realize the profundity of that single verse? Because we said “yes” to God, we can enter His presence by His Spirit. We can pray with assurance that He hears our prayers. We can be guaranteed that He knows our needs and our desires. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are able to focus on God because we are in His presence and we are made aware that He is our Sole Provider.

Peter wasn’t the only apostle who said “yes” to Jesus; John also said “yes” in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible:

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20 | NIV84)

Not only is that verse from the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, it also contains the last promise of the Bible and the last prayer of the Bible.

And, actually, there are two “yes’s” in that verse. Jesus said “yes” and John said “amen,” which is essentially as saying “yes” to what Jesus had just said “yes” to. Let’s take a look at John’s very consequential “yes.”

A profound book

The book of Revelation is truly profound. We call it a book, but really it’s just a long letter to seven churches, which are named for us in the first three chapters. This letter, or book, contains admonitions to those seven churches and it contains something else:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1, 2 \ NIV84)

When we read chapters 4 – 22, we are reading “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That’s just a fancy way of saying that we are reading something that God showed Jesus, which He in turned showed to John, and John in turn showed to us through what he wrote to these seven churches. What God revealed to Jesus was nothing less than what the future holds for Jews, Gentiles, and the Church. It’s a book of prophecies concerning certain events that will take place, including the Second Coming of Jesus, and how those events will touch the lives of God’s people.

Every book in the Bible is just as important as the other, but Revelation is the climax and consummation of God’s Word to man. God has told man everything he needs to know to live the “good life,” and Revelation simply confirms everything the previous 65 book of the Bible said.

John put Jesus’ revelation from God to paper. John was an apostle, who also wrote the Gospel of John and three other letters. He was also a prophet and a leader of the churches in and around Asia Minor. He was the son of Zebedee and he and his family were very successful and prosperous fishermen. John was particularly close to Jesus, along with James and Peter. Even though he was mentioned only three times in the whole book of Acts, John was a key figure in the early Church. Tradition says that John eventually settled in Ephesus, where, under the reign of Domitian, he was arrested and banished to a small island known as Patmos to work in the mines there.

Revelation was one of the last parts of the New Testament written, some time in the 90’s. When you read the first three chapters, you can get a sense of how complacent the church had become during its second generation. It’s sad that most of those seven churches had already forsaken the beliefs and convictions of their fathers.

There are different ways to interpret the book of Revelation, and the purpose of this study is not to teach those differing schools of interpretation. Instead, I want to focus solely on the last few verses of the last chapter, which make the epilogue of the book.

The last words of the angel, 22:6 – 11

The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” (Revelation 22:6 | NIV84)

This angel had been with John throughout the book and among his final words are words of reassurance John had heard before, and likely needed to hear again. The “words are trustworthy and true,” that is, the amazing things John had seen and heard are dependable – these incredible prophecies may be counted upon to take place.

God had given His Son His program for the future of mankind and Jesus gave that program to John to give to the churches. That program is profound and far reaching and so phenomenal, we need this reassurance that God will, as He has always done throughout history, keep His promises.

Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Revelation 22:10, 11 | NIV84)

The angel told John not to “conceal” or “hide” what he saw. It’s interesting that, given the dramatic similarities between this book and the Old Testament book of Daniel that Daniel was told to do exactly the opposite!

The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future. (Daniel 8:26 | NIV84)

Why? In Daniel’s day, the things he saw – essentially the same things John saw – were a long way from being fulfilled. But now, in John’s day, “the time is near.” Many of the things both Daniel and John saw concerned the early church. Some of those prophecies have already come to pass, in part or in whole, during the days of the Roman Empire. And yet, there are other prophecies that have a continuing fulfillment throughout the centuries. There’s a reason why history repeats itself. As Sherlock Holmes said in “The Valley of Fear,”

Everything comes in circles. The old wheel turns, and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again.

That’s the way it is with some of the prophecies of Revelation and Daniel. But all the prophecies of Revelation, the partially fulfilled ones and the ones being continually fulfilled, will be completely fulfilled in the future, by the time Jesus comes back.

The time of man’s dominance on the earth will draw to an end; the age of grace that we are presently enjoying, the long probationary period, will be over:

“Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Revelation 22:11 | NIV84)

That’s a curious verse. What it simply means is that even in the very end of days, people will continue to live as they always have. Good or bad. And for those not repenting, it will be too late. That’s a scary thought. There will be a day when God’s patience and grace will run out.

The last words of Jesus, 22:12 – 16

“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (Revelation 22:12 | NIV84)

That’s Jesus talking and it’s exciting. We all know about salvation by grace. We all know about the Second Coming. But now we hear about rewards He will be bring with Him when He comes back! Salvation is entirely a work of grace, but rewards are based on our works.

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:11 – 15 | NIV84)

We don’t talk much about that, but rewards are a pretty big deal that should be talked about; they are a great motivation for living right. Don’t you like gifts? Jesus is coming back and He’s bringing rewards with Him.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16 | NIV84)

There you have it; that’s how we got this book of Revelation. Jesus sent that angel who was hanging around John all the time, to give the apostle “this testimony,” or the revelation to the seven churches. Everything John heard and saw came from Jesus. None of the visions or prophecies came out of John’s head.

This is Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man. He’s the “Root and the Offspring of David,” thus the true and promised King of kings; the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Israel. He’s the “bright Morning Star,” because Jesus Christ IS the new day and the new dawn. To every believer, Christ is the Promise of new day. He shines today as brightly as in the day of John on Patmos. Jesus Christ: He doen’t set and He doesn’t fall.

The last words of the Spirit and the Bride, 22:17

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17 | NIV84)

Those are the words of the Holy Spirit and of the Church, collectively, crying out for the Lord to return, and crying out for those who are in need to come and receive the “free gift of the water of life.” Only Jesus can meet the needs of your heart. His gifts, His ‘water of life’ always satisfy; always give you what you need.

The last words of John. 22:18

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:18 | NIV84)

John quotes Jesus; the Lord is coming soon. To everything that he has seen and heard, John says “Amen,” he says “yes.”

• “Yes” to the last words of the angel: everything in the book of Revelation is true, reliable, and dependable. In fact, ALL of God’s Word is true, reliable, and dependable!
• “Yes” to the last words of Jesus: He IS coming soon; He IS bringing rewards for His people; He is the genuine, long awaited King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
• “Yes” to the last words of the Spirit and the Church: Come Lord Jesus! Come all who need Him! Jesus Christ, the soon coming King is also the Source of everything you need – everything you will ever need!
• “Yes” was John’s final word to everything he saw and heard and to the promise of the Second Coming.

Yes! Amen! Those should be our final words, too.

Just Say Yes, Part 5

Martin Luther King famously said this:

Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.

Of course, he’s right about that. And what is true about forgiveness is also true of our ongoing commitment to God. Our faith must be lived daily, wherever we may be. Every day, in many small and big ways, we need to be manifesting our commitment to God before an unbelieving world. Being in a committed relationship with God is not unlike being in a committed relationship with our spouse. When I think about my marriage, it’s obvious that when the minister asked me to say, “I do,” he should have said, “Say I do, I did, and I will! All the time!”

Part of that commitment to God is learning to say “yes” to Him. I say “learning to say ‘yes’” because it’s not natural for us. And it’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes saying “yes” to God means saying to “no” to ourselves or other people, and most of us are not predisposed to do that. It takes a lot of practice to get it right, but developing the godly habit of saying “yes” to God does two very important things in our lives:

• It reaffirms our commitment to Him.

If I as a Christian husband always said “no” to my wife, what kind husband would that make me? What if I always did what I wanted to do at the expense of doing what my wife wanted? How would that make her feel? The more we say “yes” to God, the more we are telling Him and showing the world how seriously we take our commitment to Him. It demonstrates to God that He is important to us and that our relationship with Him is more than just a “word-only” relationship.

• It shows that we are available to Him.

If you’ve invited somebody to some important event and they never showed even though they said they would, you know how most Christians treat the Lord. We declare our love for Him and we promise Him the world, but then we don’t bother to show up when He needs us the most. What does that tell God? That we have better things to do? That other people are more important than He? Before you say, “I’d never do that,” stop and think about how many times you’ve skipped church lately. Can you imagine? You’re too busy to give God an hour or two one day a week! That’s despicable. But a lot of Christians do that without giving it a second thought.

Saying “yes” to God is part of the faith that we claim to possess. And living in obedience to God’s Word is saying “yes” to Him. So far, we have looked at four people in the Bible who said “yes” to Jesus:

• In Matthew 9:28, two blind men said “yes” to Christ’s mercy and they were healed.
• In Matthew 13:51, some disciples said “yes” to the teachings of Jesus.
• In Matthew 15:17, the Syrophoenician woman said “yes” to being a dog; a sinner in need of the kind of help only the Savior could give.
• In John 11:27, Martha said “yes” to Jesus being the Resurrection.

In each and every case, the people saying “yes” to Jesus were manifesting their faith to Him and to others.

Peter is our fourth example of somebody who said “yes” to Jesus:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” (John 21:15 | NIV84)

In fact, in the story, Peter said “yes” to Jesus three times. Let’s take a closer look at why Jesus asked Peter what appeared to have been the same question three times and why Peter said “yes” three times.

An odd chapter

John chapter 21 is an odd chapter. Some Bible scholars don’t even think John wrote it. It seems almost out of place. These “scholars” point to chapter 20 as being a more fitting end to the Gospel.

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30, 31 | NIV84)

Well, they may have a point; a slender one, no doubt. Those verses do seem like a good way to end a story – a biography of Jesus. But do they really? There is a handful of threads of “unfinished business” in the life and afterlife of Jesus that chapter 21 ties up.

Seven of the disciples had returned to their previous lives. That’s almost anticlimactic when compared to what came before.

Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21:2, 3 | NIV84)

Why wouldn’t they go fishing? These men who had been through so much in recent weeks needed time to think; time to work things out. Sure, Jesus rose from the dead; that worked out good for Him. Sure doubting Thomas isn’t doubting any more. But what do they do next? It’s human nature to do what’s comfortable when you don’t know what you should be doing. That’s why people eat to feel better. Or they crank up the heat when it’s drizzling outside even if it isn’t all that cold. These men knew fishing. They understood fish. So, with Peter as the default leader, they all went fishing. How familiar were these guys with fishing? How comfortable were they with going back to their former lives? John refers to “the boat,” not “a boat.” This is the boat they used, perhaps, dozens and dozens of times before.

So that sets the scene. After the incredible events of the death and especially the resurrection of their Lord and after fellowshipping with Jesus after He rose from the dead, these men beat it back to the boat to catch some fish.

A long night

They fished all night and caught exactly no fish. It’s not that they were bad fishermen. Henry David Thoreau hit the nail on the head:

Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.

These men weren’t looking for fish. They were looking for some direction. Maybe they forgot something Jesus had mentioned earlier, or took it the wrong way:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 | NIV84)

Perhaps they thought they were apart from Jesus, or He was apart from them. They, like a lot of Christians, weren’t bad guys or rebellious men. All they needed was a nudge to get them moving. Well, here comes the nudge:

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. (John 21:5, 6 | NIV84)

Jesus showed up, giving them the direction they needed. John was the first to recognize the Man on the beach, but impetuous Peter was the first to get out of the boat:

As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. (John 21:7 | NIV84)

It would have been so cool if Peter had actually walked on the water to get to Jesus this time, but apparently he didn’t. No doubt Peter was excited to see Jesus, as all the disciples would have been, but maybe Peter was hoping for something. He’d let his Lord down badly. Maybe he was looking for some kind redemption.

Instead of that, Jesus made breakfast for the boys. A careful reading of the story reveals something fascinating:

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. (John 15:9 – 12 | NIV84)

There are all kinds of allegorical interpretations of this passage floating around. Early Church Father Jerome taught that this was truly a miracle catch. At that time, there were only 153 varieties of fish in the world, and these fellows caught one of each. The net remained intact, symbolizing the unity that must characterize the church as they fish for men. But to me, the most interesting part of the story is that Jesus had cooked breakfast for them before they brought Him the fish. In other words, He didn’t use their fish. He fed His friends the way He fed the hungry crowds. He did it His way, with His own resources.

Redemption and Restoration

As soon as breakfast was over, it was time for Jesus to finish some unfinished business; to tie up some dangling threads. Turning to Peter, our Lord asked Peter some questions.

• First Question

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 | NIV)

To this first question, Peter answered “yes.” But I have a question about the question: What did Jesus mean by “these?” Did He have in mind the disciples (“Do you love me more than these disciples?”) or did He have in mind the fish, the boats, the nets, and life in general? Perhaps Jesus was being ambiguous for a reason. What our Lord was looking for from Peter was complete consecration and dedication. That’s what Jesus wants from all His people.

• Second Question

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21:16 | NIV84)

Jesus wanted Peter to know the seriousness of the question. Not just love, “true love” is what Jesus demands of Peter.

• Third Question

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:17 | NIV84)

This last question did it for Peter. He was “hurt.” Wouldn’t you be, too? Jesus did indeed know the man; He knew Peter’s heart but He also knew Peter by he did: He had actually denied Jesus three times. Therefore Peter’s restoration needed to be complete, hence the three denials demanded the three affirmations of love and service. Peter declared his love and loyalty and Jesus accepted his confession.

But a positive confession of faith is not enough. Following each affirmation of love, or confession of faith, Jesus gave Peter a commission:

• Feed my sheep
• Take care of my sheep
• Feed my sheep

Part of Peter’s redemption and restoration involved his doing something for His Lord that had nothing to do with fishing for fish! Henceforth, Peter would care for of Jesus’ sheep: feeding the young ones, shepherding the stubborn ones, and caring for the old ones.

Peter’s healing was complete when each time he said “yes” to Jesus.

And your healing will be complete when you learn to say “yes” to Jesus, too.

The Risen Christ, And the Power to Serve

Just in time for Easter, the media are pushing a new survey that says nearly one in four Christians don’t believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. From the Telegraph:

Nearly one in four Christians do not believe in the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, a poll has claimed. Fewer than one-in-three Christians in Britain believe “word-for-word” the Biblical story of Jesus rising from the dead, with another 41 per cent believing some sections should not be taken literally. But the Palm Sunday poll for the BBC found 23 per cent of those calling themselves Christians “do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” at all.

Can you be a Christian and not believe in the Resurrection? Apparently so. It’s easy to blame our “post Christian society” for such a poll result, but a cursory glance at Church History tells us that the Resurrection has frequently been doubted. And the doubt started very early on.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16, 17 | TNIV)

Not too many years later, a large church in Corinth had a big problem accepting the Resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of believers. Paul’s explanation went like this:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others. (1 Corinthians 15:12 – 19 | TNIV)

Verse 19 is a verse that all those so-called Christians who don’t believe in the Resurrection of Christ should get to know. Think about what Paul is saying in it:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ

That phrase speaks to all those people who claim to believe in Jesus as “the good guy,” the “loving rabbi” who taught about love and went about doing good. These people love the Beatitudes but don’t have any use for the divinity of Jesus Christ or of His literal Resurrection from the dead. There are plenty of people who have great respect for the Jesus of the Beatitudes. But the second phrase tells us that’s just not enough:

We are to be pitied more than all the others

In other words, it’s pitiful – pathetic – to have such a limited view of Jesus Christ. It’s not enough. The moral teachings of Jesus, as powerful and life changing as they may be, can’t save you. Simply living according to the Beatitudes would make our sick society relatively healthy, but not result in any souls getting saved and would offer no hope for the future. Indeed, hope for the future is grounded in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

History of the Crucifixion

The Crucifixion of Christ is a historical event. We can read about in the Bible and in other sources. For example, Cornelius Tacitus (55 – 120 AD), Rome’s greatest historian, wrote this:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…

Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

And according to the Talmud, a collection of Jewish writing from 70 – 200 AD, we read this account:

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.

That the Crucifixion of Christ happened is indisputable. But it’s the Biblical record that gives us details of how it happened. When our Lord finally died on the Cross, a number of strange events took place:

• The heavy curtain of the Temple was torn in two, Matthew 27:51;
• There was an earthquake, Matthew 27:51;
• Many graves of Old Testament saints were opened up, Matthew 27:52;
• Some of the resurrected saints were seen in Jerusalem after the Resurrection of Jesus;
• A Roman centurion, no less, declared Jesus was truly the Son of God, Matthew 27:54

The burial, Matthew 27:57 – 66

Some time before sunset, shortly before the Sabbath was about to begin, one Joseph of Arimathea took it upon himself to secure the body of Jesus Christ in order to bury Him. For the body of a fellow Jew to go unburied was considered a terrible thing.

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. (Mastthew 27:57 – 60 | TNIV)

What do we know about this man, Joseph of Arimathea? He was born to Matthias, and had at least one brother, Jonathan, and was intelligent and well-thought of by those who knew his family. He was born about eight years before Jesus Christ, and by the age of 17 had a strong desire to learn about the laws and customs, both religious and civil, of his people. He studied the teachings and philosophies of the Pharisees, the Saducees, and the Esseans, in order to choose the best Jewish sect to join.

Young Joseph would eventually join the Pharisees, but did not become obsessed with power and authority, as many of his peers did. His heart remained pure, and it was Joseph’s hope that through his efforts, the Jewish faith would grow in strength and purity and remain devoted to the teachings of Scripture. And just like when he was a young boy, all who knew this Pharisee were impressed with his sincerity and integrity and devotion to the faith.

But when Jesus Christ burst onto the scene and gained fame for His teaching and miracles, he caught the attention of the Pharisees, and some like Nicodemus and Joseph understood that there was something different – special – about this Jesus Christ. In time, Joseph became a convert and a disciple of our Lord’s.

It took a great deal of courage for this Pharisee to approach Pilate and ask for the body of Jesus, but Joseph did and his request was granted.

Burying Jesus had to be done quickly, and so there was no time for extensive preservation. Our Lord’s Body was wrapped up in linen and placed in a brand new tomb. The two Mary’s, who had been utterly devoted to Jesus for such a long time, were there, silently watching carefully where their Lord was buried.

Christ’s Resurrection, Matthew 28:1 – 10

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1 | TNIV)

This visit recorded in Matthew is probably the same one we read about in John 20, but there only Mary Magdalene is mentioned. And only Matthew mentions this:

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2 – 4 | TNIV)

The angel’s words in Matthew are similar to Mark’s record.

Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” (Mark 16:6, 7 | TNIV)

It’s interesting that none of the Gospel writers even tries to describe the Resurrection of Jesus, yet it makes sense: There were no eye witnesses to the actual event. Our Lord left His tomb quietly, after the Spirit gave Him life in a moment.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18 | TNIV)

The fact is, as much as we wish the Resurrection took place like some of the paintings portray it, nobody saw it happen; Jesus didn’t come out of the tomb with shocked guards watching Him. Silently, miraculously, and gloriously, our Lord simply rose up and passed through the stone with no fanfare.

For their part, the women didn’t linger at the tomb. They had a job to do; a witness to share. The angel kept the women from discussing how it all could have happened or speculating about things they couldn’t hope to comprehend. He ordered them to go and spread the news. On their way, who should they meet? None other that their risen Lord:

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:9, 10 | TNIV)

This first appearance of Jesus was important given what He told them: “Do not be afraid.” It sounds like the women were afraid at that moment, but the Greek suggests they were living in a state of constant fear. The command of Jesus looks more like this: “Stop being afraid.” These precious women were afraid of many things this day, the least of which was the appearance of the Man they loved and worshipped. Fear had no place in their hearts this happy day.

The challenge, Matthew 28:16 – 20

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16, 17 | TNIV)

The disciples were obedient to the word of their Lord. They went north to Galilee. We’re not told what mountain they were to go to, but in spite of their doubts, they went. A word of explanation and encouragement about Matthew’s account would be good right about now. For those of you who know your Gospels, it’s clear that Matthew has left out a lot material. He doesn’t mention all the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, but remember what the angel told the two women back in verse 7: “He is going ahead of YOU into Galilee.” In other words, in spite of Matthew’s rather truncated account, the women as well as the eleven disciples were present in Galilee. In fact, it’s entirely possible that this encounter in Galilee was mentioned years later by Paul:

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:6 | TNIV)

Galilee was the perfect place for this meeting. It was probably near the end of Jesus’ 40 days on earth, given the familiarity of His words. In spite of everything, though, some doubted. I have always said that “doubt is the beginning of faith,” and I believe that to be true. These doubters, and we have no idea how many there were, still went IN FAITH. Their faith was far from perfect; who’s isn’t? The main thing is that in spite of their doubt, they still obeyed the word of the Lord. And we should too. We can’t let out doubts – our imperfect faith – keep us from living lives in obedience to the Word of God. In due time, the Lord will give us certain victory over those doubts.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18 – 20 | TNIV)

That’s what we call today, The Great Commission, but at the time they were simply words of instruction given by Jesus to His followers. Edward Blair, in his excellent book “Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew,” wrote that this commission from Jesus is the whole point of Matthew’s Gospel. In these three verses, we see the absolute, final authority of Jesus Christ, but also, as Blair called it, “its derivative authority.” With authority from Jesus, His followers were to go and evangelize the whole world. Not only that, we also see what discipleship is all about: teaching those evangelized the Word of God and not abandoning them at the very moment of the spiritual rebirth. And we have the promise to Jesus’ continued presence.

One of those who heard this Great Commission could possibly have been Joseph of Arimathea. It’s speculation, of course, but when you consider what became of this man, it seems more than probable. For some time after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, he lived a solitary life. Eventually, but he joined with Peters 72 disciples, according to tradition, and began to fulfill the Great Commission. As Roman persecution of Christians dialed up in intensity, and with martyrdom looming on the horizon, Peter’s followers dispersed, including Joseph of Arimathea, taking the Gospel with them.

Joseph travelled all over Italy, preaching and teaching the Gospel, and very often his life was in peril. Eventually he returned to Jerusalem, after the threat of persecution had died down, reporting to the church there all that he had done. The church, impressed with his missionary zeal, ordained Joseph of Arimathea and commissioned him to take the Word to what would become England. He would end up, as tradition has it, in Glastonbury, some three years after Jesus ascended to heaven. Still only in his yearly 40’s, Joseph had a long and powerful ministry of preaching and performing miracles by the power of God, and in one day he baptized 18,000 people. There’s surely a hint of exaggeration there, but there is no doubt that Joseph of Arimathea is an unsung hero of God’s Word.

You have to feel sorry for those who doubt the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. They will never exceperience what Joseph of Arimathea and countless followers of Jesus have experienced:  The continued presence of Christ in their lives and the power given them to fulfill the Great Commission through the Holy Spirit.

Just Say Yes, Part 4

Faith may be defined as saying “yes” to Jesus.

Most of us are familiar with the old nighttime prayer said by children, written by Joseph Addison in The Spectator, dated March 8, 1711:

When I lay me down to Sleep,
I recommend my self to His care;
when I awake, I give my self up to His Direction,
Amen.

Now, if that sounds the slightest bit off, you’re probably thinking of the version that would appear a little later in The New England Primer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

That’s not a bad prayer if you mean it when you pray it. Otherwise it’s collection of words that are easily said because they are easily memorized.

But I prefer the words of Gerhardt Tersteegan. Not sure who he is? You’re in good company. Tersteegan was born was born in Moers, Germany in 1697. As a young man, he was a very successful merchant, but gave it all up to move into an isolated cottage to search for God.

In 1727 a revival took place and Tersteegan’s time of solitude took a new direction as people from all over began coming to him for spiritual guidance. Before long he was giving personal counsel from morning to night. The numbers seeking his guidance grew to the point that he was forced to move out of his small, isolated cottage and into a large house that suited his ministry. Thousands came to Tersteegen for spiritual counsel, many traveling great distances and sometimes waiting for hours in order to hear his words for a few minutes. One of his teachings was glommed onto by Kierkegaard, who popularized it and it’s simply this: Christians are simultaneously great and small, rich and poor at the same time because they are in a relationship with God. Our greatness, our wealth, our wisdom, our righteousness comes from Him.

In 1731 he published his first collection of hymns, The Spiritual Flower Garden. These hymns were so popular that they were sung at weddings, social gatherings, and even spoken as greetings. Here are some lines from one of his classic hymns, “Thou Sweet Beloved Will of God”:

Upon God’s will I lay me down,
As child upon its mother’s breast;
No silken couch, nor softest bed,
Could ever give me such deep rest.

Thy wonderful grand will, my God,
With triumph now I make it mine;
And faith shall cry a joyous Yes
To every dear command of Thine.

And that pretty much sums up the idea of saying “yes” to Jesus; “yes” to God’s will. You can’t go wrong when you say “yes” the Lord.

Previously, we looked at the blind men, followers of Jesus, who said “yes” to God’s mercy (Matthew 9:28); the disciples said “yes” to the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 13:51); and the foreign woman said “yes” to being a dog! In other words, she said “yes” to Jesus’ estimation of her: she was a Gentile – one who needed Him and was in desperate of what only He could do for her (Matthew 15:27).

The fourth person who said “yes” to Jesus was a hard-working woman whose name was Martha:

Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27 | NIV84)

That’s something you and I would have no trouble saying. It’s obvious, after all. Jesus Christ IS the Son of God. We all know that. But Martha didn’t. She didn’t have 2,000 years of Christian culture to fall back on. She didn’t have hymns and sermons to remember and she didn’t have the Bible to read or K-LOVE playing in the background to constantly remind her that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. She came this conclusion all on her own. And she came to this conclusion after the worst week of her life: Her brother had just died.

The death of Lazarus, John 11:1 – 16

We all know about Lazarus. Every kid who ever went to Sunday School knows the old, old joke: “Jesus called out: Lazarus, come forth! Well, he came fifth and lost the job.” That was James Joyce’s paraphrase of the story. It’s funny but not at all accurate in the case of the Biblical Lazarus. He did come forth, but he came forth a winner; he came forth alive after being dead for days.

This has been described as the greatest miracle of Jesus’ life and career and it illustrates perfectly what our Lord Himself said in the previous chapter:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 | NIV84)

The story is found only in John; none of the other Gospels records it. In fact, Lazarus, who was apparently a good friend of our Lord’s, isn’t even mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. Of course, Jesus raised other people from the dead during His earthly ministry: Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son, but here the stakes were high.

Having heard about the dire circumstances of Lazarus, Jesus’ reaction was, to say the least, curious indeed:

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John 11:5, 6 | NIV84)

Lazarus is what Alfred Hitchcock might have referred to as “the McGuffin” in the story. He’s totally passive; the only reason he’s mentioned is because he was sick and died! His sad end was merely an excuse for Jesus to teach an important lesson, which had nothing to do with Lazarus, but everything to do with Jesus and the two sisters, Mary and Martha. It’s all about them.

The dreadful sickness of Lazarus is really the condition of every single human being without God. The sickness of the human race is sin and everybody is afflicted with it.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23 | NIV84)

Every human being without God is dying, and there is no hope for them.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in a Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 | NIV84)

Some people with tender hearts have real difficulty with what seems to be a paradox. If Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus so much, why did He not rush off to see him? We are people who are mired in sentimentality, but our Lord was not. Everything Jesus did and said were designed to teach people something. One scholar noted this and remarked:

Because the Lord loved the family He went at the exact moment when His visit would be most fruitful, and not just when He was invited.

God’s timing is always perfect. When we pray about something, we expect God to hop to it and answer it, post-haste! But that’s not how He works. God knows the beginning from the end and He knows what you don’t. For example, in this story, Jesus knew this:

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4 | NIV84)

But of course, Lazarus did die, didn’t he? So what was our Lord getting at? Simply this: Jesus knew the death of His friend was merely temporary for He knew what God would do. Second, Lazarus was sick and would die temporarily to glorify God. And, lastly, the cure administered by Jesus would result in the people seeing God in action, giving Him the glory.

Another tidbit about this incident, and it’s only noted here in John’s Gospel, is this:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place c and our nation.” (John 11:47, 48 | NIV84)

The raising of Lazarus was a catalyst for the occasion of Jesus’ trial and death. There’s a big picture we never see. We may have our needs and offer up our prayers – as we ought – but there is a much bigger picture that we can’t see, but that God sees.

Saying “yes” when you don’t want to

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. (John 11:17 | NIV84)

Jesus finally got there, but by all appearances He was too late. His friend was long dead and Martha was not happy, but she still had faith.

Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:21, 22 | NIV)

Martha had faith – even though Lazarus had died, she knew that he would rise again at the resurrection. That’s the equivalent of saying, on the occasion of a loved one’s passing, “I know I’ll see him in heaven.” It’s one of those sentimental elements of faith we bring up at the right time, but we otherwise don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s not real to us most of the time. But to Jesus, all elements of our faith are important. For Martha, her faith exceeded her grasp. In other words, she knew the words – she knew the right thing to say – but it wasn’t real to her. In a few days, she’d stop thinking about Lazarus like that and accept the fact that he’s gone.

Jesus, though, wouldn’t let this go, though. And that’s the whole point of the story.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25, 26 | NIV84)

Jesus needed to make Martha’s faith real. She needed to know that she was in the presence of the Resurrection. Martha thought the resurrection was an event that would happen at some time in the future; an event at which everybody would be passive participants; that the Lord would do the work of bringing us all back. But the resurrection is not just an event. The Resurrection is also a Person, and He was standing right beside her. It is impossible for death to prevail in His presence. This is not a doctrine or an idea or a hope. It is a personal reality. Anybody, Lazarus included, who has faith in Jesus Christ, is living eternally already. He may pass through something called “physical death” but it is impossible for him to die eternally because of Jesus Christ. As Godet wrote,

Jesus means: In me the dead lives, and the living does not die.

The question Jesus put to Martha penetrated to the heart of the matter. Like so many others, she may not have grasped the total meaning of what Jesus had just said, but she accepted Him. She confessed that Jesus is the Christ.

Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27 | NIV84)

So while we give Martha credit for giving the right answer, Mary and the others weren’t quite there yet, as evidenced by what happened at the tomb:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. (John 11:32, 33 | NIV84)

Jesus wasn’t upset that Lazarus was dead. He shuddered and was full of grief and even anger because of what He saw: All of Lazarus’ friends and Mary, weeping and full of sadness and sorrow and grieving for no good reason. He was standing face-to-face with people who had no hope because of unbelief. Jesus didn’t cry because He loved Lazarus so much. He knew Lazarus was on his way out of the tomb, alive. He cried because of what unbelief had done to these people.

Unbelief is what kills hope and robs faith of its power. Lazarus fared well. He left that tomb alive. His sisters and his friends realized who Jesus was. For Martha, all it took was a simple confession of faith and saying “yes” to Jesus.

Just Say Yes, Part 3

Doing the will of God is saying “yes” to Jesus. Obedience is the “yes” of faith to God’s Word. The more we say “yes” to the Lord, the more prayers He will answer. Don’t believe me? It’s true. Here’s just one example:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7, 8 | TNIV)

Many of the blessings of God are conditional – some aren’t, but most of what God promises to do for believers depends on them doing something to receive them. Being obedient is the very least condition we should be fulfilling.

We’ve looked at the case of the two blind men who were following Jesus. They asked for mercy; they responded “yes” when Jesus asked them if they believed He could show them mercy, and in a moment their eyes were opened and they could see (Matthew 9:28).

Jesus had been teaching a group of His followers some things about the Kingdom of Heaven. He asked them if they understood His teachings, and some of them answered, “yes.” It’s incumbent on all believers to accept the teachings of Scripture. You may or may not understand them all the time, but by faith you need to accept them and practice them.

Those first two examples of saying “yes” to Jesus are pretty easy to accept. This third example is a little more difficult to swallow. It’s found in Matthew 15:27 –

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (NIV84)

The part that’s difficult to swallow is that she was saying “yes” to being a dog! What’s worse is that it was Jesus who called her a dog! Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof:

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matthew 15:26 | NIV84)

Our Lord would probably be sued today for calling a woman a dog! It would be headline news on CNN: Jesus Calls Foreign Woman Dog. But, as usual, something else is going on behind the scenes, so let’s take a closer look as just why Jesus called this woman a “dog” and why she agreed with Him.

The context

The key to understanding Matthew 15 is a verse back in the Old Testament:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13 | NIV84)

It all began with a conflict between Jesus and some religious leaders who had come to see and hear Jesus. They weren’t fans, they were on a fact-finding mission to check out this popular rabbi – His teachings and His activities. Here’s how they began their investigation:

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matthew 15:2 | NIV84)

It’s not that these religious teachers were concerned about personal hygiene. They weren’t. They were perplexed that Jesus’ followers seemed to ignore the ritual hand-washing before eating. Jesus’ answer to their criticism was nothing less than breathtaking:

“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3 | NIV84)

Jesus accused them – these stalwart religious leaders; these guardians of tradition and decorum – of breaking the law of God with their tradition; their made up rule about hand-washing. Is it possible to make up religious laws that actually go against the teachings of Scripture? According to Jesus, it is! Religion is man’s way to reach God. Obedience to the Bible is God’s way for man to reach Him.

To help them understand where He’s going with His accusation, Jesus gives an illustration about how honoring one’s parents, which is a Biblical admonition as old as the earliest teachings of the Old Testament, includes financially supporting them:

For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:4 – 6 | NIV84)

These clever religious folks got around God’s Word by concocting a “work-around.” To get out helping out their parents financially, all they had to do was deem their money as a “gift to God.” That’s despicable. They invented a pious way out of honoring their God-given responsibility of taking care of their parents.

In case you think that doesn’t happen in the Church, you’d be wrong. It happens all the time. Not just with money, but Christians are experts at justifying doing things contrary to what they know God wants. We invent all kinds of clever ways to get out of doing God’s will, all while claiming to love Him. For example: How many Christian students use “studying for an exam” as an excuse to get of going to church? How many Christian parents obsess over getting their kids to football practice or dance class but can’t be bothered to get them to Sunday School?

If that’s the way you live your Christian life, Jesus’ estimation of you is about as bad as it gets: You’re a hypocrite. That’s a terrifying word in the Bible. There’s no appellation equal to it. In Jesus’ day it was used to describe somebody pretending to be somebody else. We’d use the word “actor.” So people that invent clever ways around obeying God’s Word are actors – people playing at being a Christian.

But Jesus isn’t finished with this bunch yet. He goes even further:

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ” (Matthew 15:10, 11 | NIV84)

This is a spiritual principle here that a lot of people miss completely. The disciples did, so Jesus continues to push the knife of offence in even further:

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:13, 14 | NIV84)

Of course Jesus isn’t talking about botany here any more than He’s been talking about washing your hands and eating the right foods. The word “plant” here means “system,” as in “religious system.” So what Jesus told His followers, including the religious leaders listening, is that every religion or religious system not founded upon the Word of God will be exposed for what it is, and destroyed as one would destroy a weed.

And to twist the knife one more time, Jesus referred to the religious leaders as “blind guides.” They weren’t just “actors,” but “blind guides.” In other words, these religious leaders were not only useless but dangerous.

Did Jesus really insult a foreigner?

The disciples were dull people. That’s not my assessment, it’s what Jesus called them. They just didn’t get what their Lord was getting to. Giving it one more go, Jesus said this:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ” (Matthew 15:19, 20 | NIV84)

That’s why the key to understanding this part of Matthew is an ancient verse from Isaiah:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13 | NIV84)

This was what those religious leaders were doing and what they were encouraging religious people to do. And it’s what religious people do to this very day. Their worship and devotion to God is a show – it’s a drama they perform for public consumption. Like the second of our “Just Say Yes” messages and our brief look at the Kingdom parables of Matthew 13, not everybody in the Kingdom of Heaven or not everybody who goes to church is what they claim to be. Anybody can call themselves a Christian; anybody can hold a hymnal and sing a hymn; anybody can bow their head in an appearance of humble prayer and contrition, but those are not the things that a believer genuine. Going to the right church or reading the right books does not make the Christian. Jesus is teaching here that a person is not defiled by what he puts in his mouth. He’s not defiled by the music he listens to or the clothes he wears. The primary source of evil is what’s in the human heart. A man may “do” all the right things; obey all the right man-made rules of his church, but moral purity and spiritual soundness begins with the state of his heart, which determines the state of his thoughts and will, which leads to his actions, which are, as we are discovering, manifestations of his faith.

After His go-around with the religious folks, Jesus traveled northward to the region of Tyre and Sidon. These two cities were in Phoenicia, which is now Lebanon, which was purely Gentile territory. Ostensibly He took His disciples up there to get a little privacy to teach them some more, but in reality a woman there needed His help.

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” (Matthew 15:22 | NIV84)

Mark, in his account of the story adds little bit more detail about this woman: The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. (Mark 7:24a | NIV84)

So this woman was not only a Gentile but a foreigner and a heathen. Yet she came to Christ for help, addressing Him by His Messianic title, “Son of David.” Quite a contrast to the religious folk who came to Jesus, not having a clue who He was; who didn’t think they needed His help at all; and who only wanted trap Him by twisting His words around.

Even if you don’t, Matthew’s intended readers would have immediately recalled another Gentile woman in that very area whose child was healed by God through the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17. But Jesus’ disciples were simply annoyed by this woman’s persistence. He, apparently, didn’t want anything to do with her and they wanted rid of her. What they didn’t know was this whole thing was a set up; an encounter designed by God to drive home a point these thick-headed, dull-witted followers of Jesus needed to learn. Carr correctly observed,

Jesus, by His refusal, tries the woman’s faith, that He may purify it and strengthen it.

Amazingly, this woman does the unthinkable:

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. (Matthew 15:25 | niv84)

In the face of the disciple’s arrogance and Jesus’ seeming indifference, she went beyond merely asking Jesus for help. She worshipped Him. She took the position of humility and worshipped this Son of David.

And then it happened. In response to her simple worship, our Lord, full of compassion and mercy, said this:

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matthew 15:26 | NIV84)

On the surface, it sounds like Jesus is simply insulting this poor woman. But remember, He’s trying to teach something to His followers. In this verse, Jesus is saying that it wouldn’t be proper to take “the children’s bread,” referring to what He was bringing to His people, the Jews, and give it to “their dogs,” that is, to Gentiles. In other words, What Jesus was saying is this:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 | NIV84)

That’s all Jesus was saying to this woman, and to His disciples, using the vernacular of His day. It was very common for Jews to call Gentiles dogs. Of course, Gentiles called Jews bad names too. But the point is, Jesus was behaving coolly toward this poor woman to prove a point to His disciples and to stretch this woman’s faith. Jesus DID come as “King of the Jews,” but that title meant nothing if there was no compassion behind it. Yes, He was the Messiah; He was the Messiah of all people. But He was so, not because this woman said it but because He acted like it.

This precious woman would not be put off. She seized on Jesus’ words. She didn’t deny them, she embraced them and turned them back upon Jesus. You have to admire what she did. What she did, in effect, was to take Jesus’ words and use them against Him to get what she needed. She did what the Pharisees and religious leaders could never do because her heart was right. Recall what Jesus had just said to His disciples:

Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? (Matthew 15:16 | NIV84)

He’s not talking biology here. Jesus is talking theology – theology of the highest order. Elsewhere our Lord put it this way:

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45 | NIV84)

Only evil spewed from the mouths of the so-called, self-proclaimed religious leaders. But this woman, who from all appearances was a lost soul, in fact, spoke the truth because that’s what was in her heart. Appearances could be so deceiving. The disciples needed to learn this: It’s what’s in the heart that counts.

In answer to her faith – her “yes,” our Lord said this:

Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matthew 15:28 | NIV84)

She was a dog – a Gentile – and she knew it. But that didn’t stop her from practicing her tenacious faith; a faith that Jesus marveled at.


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