Who hasn’t felt the pain of being misrepresented or misunderstood? Many leaders have known the uncomfortable feeling of not being trusted or feeling confident in your leadership slip or even being challenged. Added to the pain and pressure of such moments are your own internal struggles and doubts which only get amplified by the enemy.
Times of pressure, moments when there are delays, setbacks or significant obstacles often heighten these dynamics. The context leading up to Numbers 17 was that God’s people had grumbled against God and His appointed leaders for bribing them out of Egypt, they had doubted and feared rather than trusted God, there had been internal leadership squabbles and outright rebellion and questions raised continually about who should lead.
In moments like these, it is often inappropriate and ineffective, trying to vindicate yourself. Managing the perceptions of others is not only exhausting; it is impossible in the long run. In a wise, lucid moment the apostle Paul reflecting no doubt on some situations from his own life and ministry said this with fatherly wisdom;
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’.” (Romans 12:19)
RT Kendal reflecting on this passage advises that we often want to vindicate ourselves, take revenge, make our point, and we could choose to do so, but that is very unwise. It’s like God then says; ‘Oh you want to vindicate yourself! Go ahead and try but you’ll mess it up and end up sinning.’ Rather Kendal says God’s wisdom is to leave vengeance and the desire to vindicate oneself to Him and to His timing.
In Numbers 17, we see God doing exactly what Romans 12:19 promises He will do, as He vindicated Aaron’s ministry as head of the priesthood in a remarkable, public and miraculous way! God’s intent was to stop the discontent & grumbling which doesn’t help those leading or those following;
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. 4 Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.”
The key thing to notice here is that this is God’s initiative, God stepped in to vindicate Aaron, to silence the discontent. Moses and Aaron were not trying to vindicate themselves (although no doubt they were glad for what God was doing) – God did it. God chose how, and God chose when it would happen – and so it was effective. A right reverence returned to the camp, respect for those God had appointed (vs12).
Remember, when we try to vindicate ourselves, we are likely to mess it up! Not the least because we should be slow to think that we have an accurate perspective on ourselves, our own heads and hearts or the situation we find ourselves in.
Wisely, Paul was cautious about judging himself as he wrote to the Corinthians, some of whom were challenging his leadership;
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)
So, if it is God’s prerogative to vindicate, what ought you to do if you feel unjustly treated, misrepresented, falsely accused…?
Three things come to mind in sequential order:
- Lament – “A passionate expression of sorrow and grief” – Christina Fox. The Psalms are full of this processing raw emotions to God and leaving it with Him.
- Forgive – Because we have been forgiven much because this is the only pathway to health and not bitterness & because it honours God.
- Leave it to God – Remember that Jesus died without being vindicated! As did many of the heroes of the faith. Vindication is hardly ever on our time scale and is quite likely to be only seen in full at the return of Christ.
If you think about it, this is quite an introduction we have to the blind man who cries out to Jesus in Mark 10. As Jesus is leaving Jericho with a large crowd and His disciples in toe, Jesus encounters a man who is introduced in Mark’s gospel as; ‘Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus’ (vs46).
A little digging reveals that this is not a flattering introduction at all. This man’s name means ‘son of the unclean or foul one’! What’s the story behind that name? Now this extended family was seemingly not into uplifting names as Bartimaeus’ dad’s name means ‘foul or impure’. And if that’s not enough Mark’s gospel records that this man who is son of ‘the unclean one’ is also tagged as a blind beggar! He is disabled in his body, and due presumably to his condition he is one who makes a living by begging from others.
How terrible to have names such as these, tags such as these attached to a person’s identity! How damaging must that have been to him, how degrading, to feel like all you can do is to sit on the side of the road and call out to people you hear walking past, asking daily for their mercy and alms.
What’s your name? Do you have a derogatory name or nick name, or a name that tells a sad story that has somehow become your story?
Well for this man, that day recorded for us in Mark 10 is going to be no ordinary day. That day Jesus the son of God was going to pass by Bartimaeus. He couldn’t see Jesus but he could hear the commotion, and when Bartimaeus was told who it was passing him by Bartimaeus began to cry out; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)
We know from Jesus’ own assessment (see vs52) that this cry of Bartimaeus was a cry of faith in Jesus. Faith is “believing God”, and Bartimaeus believed that Jesus in that moment was worth risking calling out to. There were crowds with Jesus, self-important scribes and Pharisees. According to those around Jesus, Bartimaeus did not warrant Jesus’ attention, he was not worthy of bothering Jesus. But Bartimaeus believed that it was worth pushing through the opinions of others, if it meant he could get Jesus’ attention. And so Bartimaeus reaches out to Jesus, believing that Jesus can transform his situation and believing that Jesus maybe saw him differently to all the others who could not get past his name, his upbringing, his disability or his way of scrapping a living…
Sometimes we have to overcome obstacles in our heads to get to really encounter Jesus. When you are in a meeting and you feel like you want to respond for prayer during the worship or after the preached word, you face something milder but similar to what Bartimaeus faced. “What will other people say or think?” or “I am embarrassed, and I don’t want anyone looking at me.” And so often it is possible to feel Jesus’ presence in the room in the moment and to feel like you want to encounter Jesus but you hold back for fear of others and what they will say.
But not Bartimaeus! Those people who were trying to shut him down and keep him quiet only served to make him louder, insistent and more urgent; “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48) And because Bartimaeus pushed through, Bartimaeus stopped the Son of God, got Jesus’ attention (vs49) and had Jesus ask him; “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs51)
Bartimaeus was healed because he did not allow the thoughts of others to dissuade him. Bartimaeus was more interested in encountering Jesus than bothered about caring what other people thought of him.
Resolve today to be like Bartimaeus, to press through the thoughts of others or even just your perception of the thoughts of others – don’t let anything stop you from encountering Jesus, calling out to Him, for He loves to stop for those who seek Him out like Bartimaeus did. And next time you have an opportunity to be prayed for – take it, take it with both hands, encounter Jesus and have your life transformed like Bartimaeus did.
We are meaning-makers. We want to know, love to know, try to know – why? We look for cause and effect, we are inquisitive. Now this is mostly good, but it can get us into trouble too! As we all too often from our limited finite human perspective reach the wrong conclusions!
The man in John 9 was born blind. The meaning-makers wanted to know why? Who’s fault was this? Was he blind because God was punishing him or punishing his parents in some way? Sound familiar?
As a pastor, I often encounter people who have had something hard happen to them and often the big questions are something like; ‘Why did this happen?’ or ‘Why has God done this to me or allowed this to happen?’
Jesus answered their question with an emphatic “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3) This will not always be the reason for sickness or suffering, but it was the reason given by Jesus in this instance. ‘This man is blind SO THAT I can show God’s power over sickness and suffering’ – Jesus essentially said.
Jesus’ answer wasn’t one of the potential causes they had thought of. And maybe there is a hint there for us: we often will not know. And so the trite little answers like those of the people surrounding this blind man, are often just unhelpful as they don’t help us to know the ‘why’. It’s tough for ‘meaning-makers’ but it is true, we will not always know or be able to answer the ‘why’ questions fully. However there is a grid that might be helpful:
The 3 possible sources of pain/hurt/suffering:
In my experience and from Scripture, I believe that one can understand there being three potential sources for pain/hurt/suffering:
1. Our own sinful actions
One of the sources of pain and hardship in our lives is in fact ourselves, our own actions. We do at times bring pain upon ourselves! We make bad mistakes, we have character flaws, we make bad/ungodly/unwise decisions and do sometimes suffer the natural consequences thereof.
So many of the pastoral issues we end up dealing with as a church leadership are the result of ungodly decision-making and the mess that inevitably follows. But, think about this for a moment. This is the one source of pain and suffering/hardship over which we have some control. There is not a lot you can control in your life, but you can seek to grow in godly wisdom and it will have a direct positive impact on your life.
2. The Age we live in
Much of what is hard in our lives can simply be put down to this BIG category in which a number of sub-categories or sources of pain fit. This age we live in post-Fall & pre-Jesus’ Second Coming:
- Is an age in which we have a very real enemy who can bring suffering (Job is an example)
- Is an age in which the systems of this world are impacted by sin and so cause inequality, poverty, oppression, injustice
- Is an age in which the natural world itself is impacted by sin and so there are things like erosion, pollution, natural disasters…
- Is an age in which our bodies are decaying (death, sickness is part of the curse), and so in this age we are struck down by sickness & disease battling scourges like cancer and HIV…
- Is an age in which the sinful actions of others impact us; hijacking, robbery, relational hurt, rape, abuse…
3. God’s loving Fathering of us
Hebrews 12:5-11 teaches that part of the plan of our loving Heavenly Father is to produce holiness & Christlike character in us and to use us to fulfill His good purposes on the earth and to ultimately bless us in eternity. Sometimes, God is at work in the trial or the pain in order to accomplish something in us or through us. The John 9 man is an example of this potential source of trials, as Jesus Himself declared that to be the reason for his suffering up to that point.
Knowing the potential source of the pain, should inform our best response to that pain. If it’s self-imposed then stop it, repent and change. If it’s the age we live in, you might need to pray more for God’s guidance as to how best to respond. If it’s potentially your loving Father at work in some way, you need to ask Him to help you know how best to respond or what to do or pray.
The John 9 man gets healed miraculously and his previous disability becomes his powerful testimony to the rulers opposing Jesus!
After the rousing sermon that followed the remarkable prayer meeting and the incredibly deep fellowship of the early church all recorded in Acts 2, Acts 3 has an air of normality about it as it starts.
Peter and John are about to enter the Temple complex at around 3pm in the afternoon which was the time of prayer. The earliest believers had been raised all their lives up to the present of Jews, and the earliest church assimilated it’s new revelations about Jesus with their habitual rhythms (like daily prayer here in the Temple complex).
At an the entrance was a man who was lame, who had been unable to walk since birth. He was seated at the gate asking people for money considering his state.
What do Christ Followers do when faced with human needs like; this man’s physical, emotional, financial & spiritual need?
They SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.
Like Jesus with Bartimaeus (see Mark 10:46-52) who stopped for Bartimaeus, Peter and John stop for this crippled man. They SEE him, they LOVE him enough to acknowledge his presence and this action of SEEING and STOPPING must have communicated value to him.
They didn’t just toss some coins in the dust although he would probably have been happy with that. Rather they stopped and looked at him saying; “Look at us… Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
They loved him enough to stop and to see him, to recognise him as a person but then they met a deeper need than even the need he would have identified as his need. He was asking for money, they saw past that need and saw how being crippled would never allow him to do anything except beg for money and so they reached out and acted with faith speaking life, healing & health into his body all in the name of Jesus!
Having spoken with faith, Peter then reached out in faith with his hands to lift the man up and as he did Dr Luke records that the man’s feet and ankles were immediately made strong. Peter and John, SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith when confronted with this man’s need.
The way Dr Luke records this miracle and the sequence of events, I can’t help be wonder whether the man would not have been healed unless Peter had had the faith to pray believing God would heal, and then also having the faith to stretch out his hand to lift him up so as to take his first steps ever as a person born cripple.
What life transforming things are passing us by every day?
What would God have you do, small or large that can transform someone else’s life?
Are your ears and eyes open to the leading of the Holy Spirit?
Dr Luke knows this condition was congenital, knows it had lasted 40yrs (Acts 4:22), and so he records the medical evidence of this wonderful instant healing in response to Peter and John’s faith and their stepping out in faith. Dr Luke tells us three times that this man was now walking, in fact more than that he was walking and leaping!
Thomas Walker comments, ‘the power was Christ’s, but the hand was Peter’s’. Peter and John saw, loved and acted on their faith in Jesus and this man’s life was transformed!
What does God want to do through you in the life of others?
May we be those who SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith. Amen.
Elisha is the one true God’s representative. In a nation divided and filled with the worship of false gods, the call on Elisha is not just to bring messages for God but to reveal who God is through his everyday life, actions and interactions.
In this chapter we see God revealed in numerous ways through a collection of short stories which all put on display God’s nature as the one who sees, a personal God, involved in the intricate details of people’s lives, who is not indifferent to the cries and the pain that individual people endure. These stories reveal God as the one who is able to miraculously suspend or overturn the normal with His supernatural inbreakings of power at any time on people’s behalf.
Short story 1: Debt (2 Kings 4:1-7)
A poor widow in crisis is struggling with mounting debts and the ongoing challenge of providing for her two children as a single woman has the debt collectors at her door threatening to take away her children as slaves as payment for her debt! Crisis. She asks God by asking Elisha and God provides miraculously an abundance of olive oil which she sells and pays off all her debt and as able to live off the rest. God is the miracle working, prayer answering, need-seeing God who intervenes in remarkable ways for poor or rich people.
Short story 2: Deep Longings & Despair (2 Kings 4:8-39)
A wealthy woman is hospitable and honouring of God’s servant, she was rich but used her wealth to bless Elisha & Gehazi not to gain anything (vs13-14). Elisha discerns the true longing in her heart, one she is not even willing to express for fear of her longing being dashed again, and so promises her a child. She is so shocked she can’t receive this good news (vs16) but she does conceive and a son is given to her. Many years later the child falls suddenly ill and dies will in the fields with his father. She rushes straight to Elisha in deep despair, she would have rather not had a son than have one and then loose one like this! Elisha goes with her, and raises the son from the dead and gives him back to her alive. God knows the deepest longings in our hearts, even the ones we dare not speak of for fear of being hurt or disappointed again or opening up the wound… God is able to bring back to life people, marriages, finances – God is good and is so whether you are rich or poor.
Short story 3: Deadly Stew & Multiplication (2 Kings 4:38-44)
There is a famine in the land, Elisha is hosting around 100 of the prophets. He wants to cook for them, but Gehazi is a bad cook or one of the prophets is injudicious in his produce selection and the stew being cooked is bad, so bad it is like death warmed up. They complain. Elisha miraculously cures the pot with a little flour and the food becomes edible to them all. While they are all there, a man brings to Elisha some of his first fruits offering to supply food for Elisha. Elisha tells Gehazi to set it before the men to eat (but there is not enough – vs43). Elisha tells him to proceed and they all ate and yet there was excess and they had food to spare. God is hospitable, able to throw feasts of abundance in the midst of a famine, able to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19).
Our God heals, answers long-lost longings, provides financially and materially. This all makes me think of the song we sung on Sunday;
You’re my author, my maker
My ransom, my Saviour
My refuge, my hiding place
You’re my helper, my healer
My blessed redeemer
My answer, my saving grace
You’re my hope, in the shadows
My strength, in the battle
My anchor, for all my days
And You stand, by my side
And You stood, in my place
Jesus, no other name
No, only Jesus, no other name…
So, cry out to him now! Tell your Father in Heaven your deepest longings, know that He is good and when you can’t join all the dots of your confusing life, He can and He does and so having asked Him trust Him.
Dallas Willard said that people are ‘meaning-makers’. We look for and or even assign meaning to things that happen in our lives. We want to know, ‘why?’ and when we don’t know why we create our own meaning.
This is what was happening in John 9. A man was born blind. Jesus’ disciples wanted to know; ‘why?’ What was the cause, did this man’s parents sin in some way and that is why this happened or did the man himself sin – why?
I had an accident – why?
I got sick – why?
I lost my job – why?
………… – why?
All too often our desire to know why, combined with our very limited knowledge, leads us towards unhelpful or inaccurate conclusions. We add 1 + 1 and end up with 22 not 2!
This man was born blind, but it wasn’t punishment or the result of some sin that he was blind, no his tough life-circumstance was simply that God’s work could be displayed in him according to Jesus (John 9:3). Something much greater than his own life/behaviour was in play here, something that he had no control over.
God was going to use this moment to reveal the divinity of Jesus to him (vs35-38) and cause him to believe in Jesus as a result. God was going to use this to show his authority, glory and power to those who would take note of what Jesus did and said.
Is there something in your life right now that you are grappling with?
Is there something that you are trying to work out, trying to find meaning in?
I urge you to put down your theories as to why this is happening or happened, and simply ask Jesus to reveal to you what He was doing, or is doing through this thing.
The man born blind, gets healed miraculously, encounters Jesus personally and believes in Jesus and worships Jesus as Lord and Saviour in this story. He must have spent his life up to this point resenting his ailment, but in this moment his ailment became the very thing that lead Him to Jesus, to forgiveness, healing & belief in Jesus and therefore salvation!
May you stop making your own meaning and may you rather ask the King of kings, Jesus to give you His meaning. And may you, trust Him when there is no answer yet, may you accept the mystery, may you trust Him that He is good, and that He loves you and that what you can’t see or know or understand – He does see, know & understand!
Having died forsaken by all, and then having risen remarkably, showing Himself to a few and then to the whole group of His disciples Jesus then tells them what’s next. We know from other gospel accounts that Jesus told them about His imminent ascension.
But what next?
What were these followers of Jesus supposed to do now?
Go home? Go back to their old lives?
Is this the finish line or is it in fact the start line?
Jesus clearly commissions these ones who had given their lives to follow Him. Jesus tells them to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”.
There is no going back home, no retreat, this is not the finish-line or the end of the road! This is the start of the rest of the great adventure, the beginning of the church of Jesus Christ proclaiming what Jesus HAD DONE for anyone who believes in Him.
And whoever believes that message about Jesus will be saved, and those who are saved should be baptised. These believers (and all believers that were to follow) get equipped with authority over sickness and any demonic influence – to set people free so that they can believe in Jesus. They are promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the gift of speaking in tongues, they will do miraculous things in Jesus name… Jesus will empower them to do remarkable even miraculous things to confirm the message they carry about Him.
These last words are not just their mandate alone, but our mandate too. It is what the church of Jesus Christ is commissioned to do, what our individual lives ought to be taken up with (Jesus’ mandate to proclaim the good news about Him) and should be characterised by (demonstrations of kingdom power that authenticate the message).
Let’s live out this great adventure!
Believing in Jesus is just the start-line for us all, it’s not the end of the road, it’s the beginning of living the rest of our lives for Jesus and for His mission to reach the whole world.
Are you on-board?
[Theological Sidebar: Does this passage (vs16) teach that you must believe and be baptised to be saved? No. Note how although Jesus says whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, it goes on to only say that those who do not believe are condemned. Jesus does not say that those who do not believe and are not baptised are condemned. Baptism in water as a believer is a visible sign of the ]