Authority, who has it and how they use it is a massive topical issue right now.
In the USA, we have sadly witnessed the murder of George Floyd by a man supposedly in authority. In shocking moments like this, countries look to people in all the various realms of authority (politics, community, business, churches…) to say something or do something. In addition, we have witnessed that if a country or community believe those in authority have misused their authority – they are prone to rebel against all authority.
In our own South Africa, late yesterday, we heard that the judicial authority in our country had declared our Government’s authority in promulgating Level 3-4 regulations unconstitutional as the Bill of Human Rights has been compromised. Here we have Government trying to use its authority for the good of our nation, but citizens appealing to the judicial authority to resist or reform the Governing authority.
Authority! It’s a big issue and always has been. In Mark 1:21-34, we see real authority on display, good authority being exercised, the authority that blesses individuals and a community.
Jesus walks into ‘church’ (a meeting in the Synagogue actually) and stands up to teach the congregation who are present. Those who teach from the Scriptures have some authority as they help people to understand and apply the authority of God’s word for their lives.
But when Jesus starts preaching, which is something very normative in this context, all those present that day are astonished. There is something very different about this teacher; Jesus is unlike those they are used to hearing. Their position or role, their activity is the same as Jesus’, but He is preaching ‘with authority.’ (vs22)
I’m so glad this wasn’t my church. The contrast drawn by the congregation that day was between Jesus and their normal teachers – gulp. And, the contrast was notable as Mark’s Gospel records; ‘And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes’ (vs22)
Good authority used well isn’t repulsive to human beings, quite the contrary. These people were drawn to Jesus’ authority even though the things He was saying weren’t all affirming and cushy! Remember what Jesus was preaching; “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” (Mark 1:14-15)
Jesus wasn’t a people-pleaser saying what people wanted to be said, that’s not what drew people to Him. Real authority often has to make decisions or lead in ways which are for the good of those they are leading but won’t always be liked.
When we encounter good authority, I believe that we are drawn to it, and it brings us peace and security. These people willingly gave themselves to Jesus’ authentic authority and therefore listened to His teaching.
In a church context, church leaders (elders) have authority;
- If they have been called & gifted by God to lead.
- And if that local congregation have recognised that calling and gifting as God’s gift to that local church and their personal lives
- If they teach and always lead from the fountain of authority that is everlasting – Scripture
- And if those elders use the authority that God’s entrusted to them for the benefit and blessing of God’s people and not for any personal gain
Pray for your church, pray that God would bless your church with leaders who are truly called not just placed in their position by some organisation, but hand-picked by God and called by God to lead and to teach and to love and care for your church. Pray that they would not say what itching ears want to hear, but that they would stand on the authority of God’s Word, always faithful to the Scriptures and in so doing will protect and bless that church for generations to come.
Lastly, a short exhortation from Scripture to anyone who is in a church; “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
The demonic realm and demonic influence
Those present on that day didn’t just hear a great sermon which came with authority because it was rooted in Scripture; they witnessed power over the demonic realm.
I have always been fascinated by this guy sitting in ‘church’ with a demon influencing his life. He was sitting there not entirely free but in some form of demonic influence or bondage. How did this demonic influence manifest itself in his life? Was it a perpetual fear or a constant struggle with depression… What we know is that it doesn’t seem to have been too obvious otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been welcome in the meeting.
But on this day when Jesus, the King of kings, walks into the room immediately that under-the-radar-demonic-influence in his life suddenly surfaces! The guy who’s probably never said a word in ‘church’ (Synagogue actually) suddenly shouts out; “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
Yikes! I have had a few moments like this in church when someone blurts something out that is socially not cool in what suddenly becomes a very public and awkward moment. I wonder whether this guy was the most surprised of everyone!
Authority. The demon or demons influencing this guys life know who Jesus is, and they know that Jesus has real authority. The people listening to Jesus’ teaching have just encountered His authority in His bold proclamation, but the demon(s) knew Jesus and knew his power.
We know this because of what they say to Jesus. They know who Jesus is, they know where He came from, they; know Jesus has the power to destroy them; they know that this man standing teaching these people is GOD! They know that He is the King of kings with absolute and total authority over them.
And so Jesus uses His authority to bless this man under the influence of the demonic realm and sets him free with just these words; “Be silent, and come out of him!” (vs25) Real authority doesn’t have to shout.
I love the fact that there is no show-down here, no titanic battle. Jesus’ authority so far outstrips any power of the demonic realm that they have to obey and leave the man alone – free at last.
There is so much we could say about the demonic realm and Jesus’ authority which He has now invested in us His followers to relieve people from demonic influence but time & space doesn’t permit.
However, in summary, may we see how much authority we have in Jesus’ name to set people free from all forms of demonic bondage and influence (John 14:12-14). May we not be blind to the demonic realm, and may we not be fixated on it either. May we simply be in awe of Jesus and ready to proclaim Jesus’ authority in lives and situations that need it for people to be free indeed.
Lastly, in Mark 1:29-34, we see Jesus’ authority over sickness as He heals Peter’s mother in law and then many in the town of Capernaum.
News of Jesus’ teaching with authority and Jesus’ act of supernaturally and simply setting the man free from all demonic influence spread like wildfire so that by the time evening came ‘the whole city was gathered together at the door’ (vs33)!
What drew them? Fascination no doubt, but I believe that for the sick and struggling and those suffering under the various physical and psychological maladies resulting from demonic influence what really drew them to Jesus was hope. Hope that was awakened because Godly authority was present. They had hope that they could be freed from their sickness and bondages.
Mark’s Gospel records what must have been amazing scenes. Just imagine the whole city outside a house, a gathering of onlookers and those suffering greatly. Picture Jesus, coming out the house, and speaking to people one by one simply with no histrionics but with his real authority as King of kings being displayed for all to see. Picture the tears and exclamations of joy as MANY are set free from their pain and sorrow and oppression.
What a joyful time it must have been! This is a moment when we see the coming Kingdom breaking into the present. This is what we ought to pray for an expect every day, people being released from pain and suffering in the authority of Jesus name. Amen
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.
Ten people all in a desperate situation. All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions. Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition. They all needed God.
One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives. Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?
“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?” “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?” “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”…
It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like;
“Guys this is our moment! If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!” And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)
Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith. There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment. But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.
Jesus sees them. Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society. Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help. Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them. Jesus is amazing!
Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter. I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal. A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa). He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say. In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness. Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!
Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14) They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)
It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith. Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him. Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you. Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed. They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.
All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.
Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years. We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear. God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).
But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received. May we be like this guy! May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)
May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him. After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come. Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.
Three passages, three encounters that Jesus had with three different people who all had different struggles with the demonic realm. The constant is Jesus Himself and that the result of each of the people struggling under some demonic influence or another, was that they were instantly freed by Jesus!
There are two equal and opposite errors we tend to make regarding the demonic:
- We give the devil and his demonic minions too much focus, fascination and airtime
- Or we effectively deny the existence of the devil and demonic influence
May we always be way more focused on Jesus and His glorious victory on the cross, focussed on His resurrection and the resultant victory in which He defeated sin, Satan and death and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:13-15)! You and I as believers have no need to remain in fear, we ought not remain in a state of being influenced by or even bound by demonic forces since Jesus is our Lord.
On the other hand, to deny or to ignore the reality of the existence of Satan and the demonic realm and its ability to influence believers is to foolishly ignore clear warnings and exhortations of Scripture and to potentially allow the enemy to keep impacting you or those you love.
These three encounters in the Gospels are so helpful as they are all so different. Because of this, together they help us to have a balanced understanding of the whole range of types & degrees of demonic influence (‘demon possessed’ is an unhelpful translation in the NIV Bible translation as it indicates total control and has no room for degrees of influence) that is evidenced in Scripture.
The Mark 1 man (subtle under the radar influence): It seems likely that this man was influenced by the demonic to a limited degree. I say this because he was there in synagogue seemingly unbeknown to those around him, seemingly behaving himself in socially accepted ways, until he suddenly cried out because of Jesus’ presence! He had a demonic presence influencing him but it was undetected until the man came into close proximity with Jesus. There are lots of things we don’t know about how this influence worked itself out in his life, did he battle with fear, depression, a destructively low-self esteem, panic attacks…….? We don’t know, but he is helpful to us in that Scripture is clear that he had some form of demonic influence in his life – and so his example helps us to see that some demonic influence could be ‘under the radar’ because it doesn’t appear too bad, or isn’t too socially obvious. Are there maybe things we just accept as ‘normal’ or ‘this is who I am’ but in fact it is an area in which we as believers are just not free? The great news is that one encounter with Jesus and this man was delivered and set free from that influence.
The Mark 5 man (overt control and intense demonic influence): This man probably fits your prior notion of what a person with a demonic influence would present like. This is an extreme case of demonic influence, even a destructive one – the great news though is that one encounter with Jesus and this man is set free and left ‘clothed and in his right mind’ (Mark 5:15) – what a contrast to the description of him just moments sooner! No demonic influence is beyond Jesus’ instant transformation.
The Luke 13 woman (sickness attributed to demonic influence): Jesus healed many people of sickness and most times it was not attributed to demonic influence, it was just sickness as a result of the impact of the fall on all of humanity. However, in Luke 13, Luke (a medical doctor) recorded very specifically that this woman’s ailment had its source as being spiritual not medical, “And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.” (Luke 13:11) Jesus Himself said; “ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16) In our secular society and in the minds of many believers in the church today – her symptoms would not have been even considered as having a potential spiritual source! But that is exactly what Jesus and what Scripture attributed her symptoms too a demonic influence. The great news is that Jesus loosed the hold that this demonic influence had held over her body for these many years in an instant feeing her from her disability and the bondage brought from Satan (Luke 13:16).
Never be looking for a demon under every bush, never get fascinated with the demonic – be enamoured and amazed and secure because of Jesus. But also never underestimate or deny the ability for demonic influence and the spiritual realm at work in lives, in minds, in bodies. Know however that regardless of what influence their might be – we have been given all of Jesus’ authority to set people fee (Matthew 28:18-20) just like Jesus did.
Let’s re-cap for a moment the story thus far… Jesus spoke to the disciples just before His ascension, ‘wait for the Promise’! Then the promised Holy Spirit came with a remarkable manifestation of joy & power which resulted in a boldness in the disciples that catapulted them onto Jesus’ mandate and mission for their lives.
Peter preaches the first sermon and 3000 people put their faith in Jesus on that first day! The new community formed through the Gospel is a radical one which starts sharing life and possessions and devotes themselves to God in prayer and to one another.
In the days that follow, Peter and John then meet a paralysed man begging at the temple. However, rather than meeting his financial need they decide to give him the very best that they have to give – faith in Jesus! They pray for him and this man crippled for 40yrs is instantly healed in public which creates a crowd and a context for Peter to preach again about who Jesus is and what God did through Jesus on the cross in fulfilment of myriads of Old Testament prophecy.
All the commotion, the big crowds and the multitudes professing faith in Jesus (now about 5000 men so more like 10 000-15 000 women children!) raised the ire of the Jewish religious authorities who subsequently arrest Peter and John.
The next day they are hauled before the council and questioned about under what authority are they acting – Peter full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8) stands up and preaches again proclaiming with razor sharp clarity the Gospel crescendoing with;
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
The Jewish council are dumbstruck! They remark at the incredible boldness and clarity of these everyday men, who are unlearned fishermen and yet proclaiming with clarity and boldness regarding the Scriptures. They can’t deny the miracle of the healing of the crippled man standing before their eyes and witnessed by the multitudes. But they want to shut this movement down and so call Peter and John in again and try to intimidate them commanding them to stop speaking about Jesus as if He was Messiah and in authority.
Peter and John boldly refuse to be shut down, and so reply to this command saying effectively; ‘you decide whether we should obey you or obey God! We cannot stop speaking about Jesus and all we have seen and heard!’
The council threatened them again and then had to let them go because the multitude was praising God for this miracle God had done.
It’s so important to hear the assessment of the Jewish council, Peter and John were ordinary men! However they had been ‘with Jesus’ (Acts 4:13) and we know that they were now also filled with the power of the Holy Spirit & full of faith in Jesus. Incredible things are possible if we will walk closely with Jesus in our daily lives, if we will be full of faith in the power of the name of Jesus and if we will be continuously full of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit!
- What’s God saying to YOU through this passage?
- What are you going to PRAY for as a result?
- What do you want to START doing more of?
- Is there anything you feel you need to STOP?
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.
It’s been three years since Elijah told Ahab and Israel that there would be no rain until he said so… God tells Elijah to go to king Ahab.
On seeing him Ahab exclaims; “Is it you, you troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17) This is an important little moment – who is responsible for the suffering in the land? Is it Elijah’s fault because he spoke and the rain stopped? Or is it Ahab’s fault because of his sin?
Elijah greets Ahab back with the following retort; “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.” (1 Kings 18:18). Scripture makes it clear, the famine is the result of God’s judgement on the gross sin and idol-worship of Ahab, his foreign wife Jezebel and his predecessor’s.
Ahab might be king, but Elijah is calling all the shots! Elijah instructs Ahab to gather all of Israel and the 950 prophets of Baal and Asherah who eat at his wife’s table (1 Kings 18:19) at Mount Carmel. Elijah inspired by God, wants a showdown to help Israel choose whom they will worship.
Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Kings 18:21)
Compromise and double-mindedness is massively offensive to God. The Ten Commands start; “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments…” (Exodus 20:1-6)
God wants His people to choose. Either God is God, or Baal is God but they can’t both be God, because God makes an exclusive claim on being God and so makes a rightful jealous call for devoted and exclusive worship and trust. Elijah asks the people to choose therefore, but they remain silent, they say nothing, refuse to choose (1 Kings 18:21).
The stage is set and Elijah (still calling the shots and making demands on the king) tells the 450 prophets of Baal to make an altar, place an offering on it and then to pray for fire… The prophets of Baal cry out for Baal to answer them for hours from ‘morning to noon’ for Baal to send fire.
“But there was no voice, and no one answered” (1 Kings 18:26) “And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation (evening sacrifice), but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:29)
Poignant! No reply, nothing because Baal like all other false-gods is nothing, man made nonsense that can say and do nothing.
Then Elijah makes an altar like theirs, but does even more than them by dousing his altar and offering with copious amounts of water to underline the sign and wonder that’s about to happen.
Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:36-39)
The One true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Israel and Elijah is personal, He speaks and guides and instructs and answers prayer – He alone is God and worthy of trust & worship. He is the God they should have chosen when Elijah challenged them to make up their minds. Now, on the evidence before them, with this contrasting display of power and God’s responding to the prayer of his servant – the nation fell on their faces proclaiming the truth about God.
Baal worship has been exposed as futile, Baal’s ‘prophets’ exposed as charlatan’s and therefore executed.
What relevance does this have for your life and mine?
Confidence – God alone is Almighty God awesome in power & majesty and ready to respond to prayer!
Consider – Am I in any way compromising by being double-minded effectively, putting my trust in anything or anyone other than God?
Repent – If you’ve doubted God in any way or been dabbling with the worship/trust of anything other than God, repent and turn back to exclusive worship of God alone.
What an introduction! There is no mention of Elijah prior to this point, we don’t know anything about him, his upbringing, his faith journey up to this point. In that sense, he is not like David who is introduced as a shepherd boy learning God’s ways and in preparation for the moment he stands before Goliath. Elijah just arrives on the scene but does so with remarkable courage and faith.
I am intrigued. What lead to this man’s remarkable faith and courage in the gift God had given him? What multiple little steps of faith had he climbed to get to this place of faith?
He goes to the despicable king of the northern tribes, Ahab and declares;
“As the LORD, the God is Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (1 Kings 17:1)
Don’t you love that God-inspired boldness! To go before a wicked king who could kill you in a flash but to be so much more aware of God than him that you pronounce what God tells you to with conviction. This is not arrogance but godly obedience. This is God’s man declaring to this wicked king where the authority really lies – in God alone.
Baal-Hadad (or just ‘Baal’ for short) was the god of storms and rain and so people at the time were tempted to worship Baal, falsely hoping that Baal would provide the much needed rain to make the land fertile. This prophetic announcement is a direct attack on the falsehood and futility of Baal worship which is what Ahab had allowed to proliferate in Israel.
Having spoken God’s word to Ahab about the coming drought, God leads Elijah to an inhospitable ravine in the mountains with a little brook in it presumably to wait for the drought he had prophesied to begin having its effect.
But think about it. God said through Elijah that there would be no rain, and yet God sends Elijah not a city with water reserves but to a ravine in the mountains with a little stream – that then dries up! Elijah must have felt both relieved and concerned by the brook. Relieved that God had withheld the rain (1 Kings 17:7) in a display of his power over Baal – just as Elijah prophesied and yet concerned in that his life-support was drying up too.
God spoke again! ‘At last’, he might have a thought – ‘…time for a big meal and comfy room.’ However, this time God leads him to a town on the coast in the midst of Baal-worship territory (Zaraphath) where he meets his host – a widow with no food in her house who is about to eat her last meal and then die (1 Kings 17:8-12). ‘Great!’ I can almost hear him saying under his breath.
Elijah had followed God to the brook (1 Kings 17:5), Elijah followed God to a widow in Zarapheth with no food at all (because of his pronouncement of no rain). Sometimes following God leads you right into hardship or scarcity in the natural realm. We make a mistake when we assess whether we’ve been lead by God on the basis of circumstances being good/easy assuming hard/lack = not the will of God….
Why did God send Him here?
Did God send him to a foreign land to show him the extent of God’s power over not just Israel but all nations? Did God send him here to experience the stress and strain of another person and to bring relief to her as maybe she had prayed to God? We don’t know…
Elijah tells her to make a cake for him first and then for her a her son and then promises to her that God says that her little flour and her jug of oil will not run out until the drought is over because God ends it (1 Kings 17:13-14)! And so a miracle of provision is recorded because she believed the word of God through Elijah.
Faith is believing God when we can’t see, when there is no evidence but miracles reside on the ‘other-side’ of faith and obedience.
Is there something God is telling you to do, to trust him in? Do you, will you?
There is a crowd large gathered, after all Jesus has been doing signs and wonders. Jesus was seeking out some down-time but as the crowds gather Jesus chooses a grassy hilltop on which to teach them.
Seeing approximately 10 000 – 15 000 men, women and children gathering to hear Him Jesus leans over to Phillip and essentially says; ‘How are we going to feed all these people?’. Philip is astounded. I can imagine him thinking; ‘This is unreasonable, this is not our problem, we don’t have the resources for this, Lord what are you suggesting?’
Can you empathise with Philip?
Have you ever felt like God was being unreasonable?
John doesn’t record Philip ever recovering from his feeling limited by their apparent available resources – in South African currency Phillip estimated that it would have cost R20 000 to buy enough bread to go around.
What is going on here?
Why would God ask us to do what only He can do?
John 6:6 contains the key to the answer to questions such as these.
He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. (John 6:6)
Jesus is not scatterbrained, hasn’t lost the plot, isn’t unaware of realities and constraints. No Scripture pointedly reveals Jesus’ motive in the scenario; ‘He said this to test him’. Jesus was not uncertain as to how He was going to deal with this dilemma of so many people and feeding them, John records; ‘for He Himself knew what He would do.’
There is a difference between what we think we believe, what we say we believe and what we do believe. What we truly believe is revealed by our responses to situations and our actions.
I know this feeling. It’s easy sitting in your room with your bible or sitting in church listening to preaching or in a small group discussion thinking or saying what you believe… And then it happens! Something arises in real life and that belief is tested, is it real, do I really believe?
Philip no doubt has just been with Jesus, heard Jesus’ clear claims to being the divine Son of God, has seen Jesus do amazing miracles – but did Phillip truly believe?
Jesus sets up a scenario that will test him, will squeeze out of Philip and the other disciples whether they truly believe that Jesus is God, that Jesus has authority over all things.
Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers in such a way that it is clear that he can empathise with Phillip, Paul knew what it felt like to have God test his faith, test him to see what was really in his head and heart. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
Likewise, James urges believers to consider it pure joy when we are tested, when our faith is put on trial because such tests from God give us the opportunity to see steadfastness grow in us so that we might mature in our faith not. (James 1:3)
What’s happening in your life that might be God testing you?
Is there anything God’s asked you to do that you think is unreasonable?
Friend. God’s not malicious, He’s not having fun with you. No, your heavenly Father wants to test the genuineness of your faith, wants your faith to grow and to mature.
Andrew did better than Phillip in this moment. Philiip doesn’t manage to lift his thoughts above the challenges and constraints and reasons why he can’t do what Jesus is suggesting he do.
Andrew at least thought about what they did have and believed Jesus could do a miracle. He probably didn’t know what Jesus would do, didn’t know the magnitude of the miracle Jesus would do, but his actions do reveal that he did believe Jesus was able to, was going to do something astounding and miraculous.
What do you have in your situation?
Focus on what God had entrusted you with.
Give that to Him for His purposes mixed with faith.
And watch Jesus grow your faith and reveal His majestic power and purposes.
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)
John records 7 signs in his gospel that all point to Jesus’ being the Messiah. This one is the first of those. It happens in a quite unique context, the context of a party, no mourning, no suffering mentioned, no demonic influence needed to be overcome.
Jesus and His disciples have only been together as a band of brothers for about 3 days by now. They must have still been getting to know one another, working out relationships, who’s who, and probably thinking; ‘what are we going to be doing together and what does this all mean’?
Jesus gets invited to a wedding, along with some of His other family members and the disciples get invited to join in. They get there and at some point in the wedding the wine runs out. Jesus’ mother who knows that the angel’s promised about Jesus, maybe sensing that its time for Jesus to get into the limelight hints to Jesus; ‘They have no wine’.
Was she just a busy-body, after all it wasn’t her responsibility, was she just compassionate for the host, or was she wanting a stage for her son? Jesus’ response to her seems to hint towards Him feeling like it was the latter! ‘Mom; it’s not my time yet!’ back-off please…
And yet on the quiet, in full view of the servants and His freshly chosen disciples Jesus reveals His power over physics and chemistry turning water into choice vintage wine by the gallons.
Jesus doesn’t take centre stage, isn’t looking for fame or notoriety but what He has just done doesn’t go unnoticed by his new followers. In this moment John records that Jesus, ‘manifested His glory’ and the result was that ‘his disciples believed in Him’ (vs11).
The miracle was a sign, one that pointed to Jesus’ true nature and His purpose. When those men saw what Jesus did – they believed.
After the wedding John records that Jesus and after a few days off at Capenaum go into Jerusalem and Jesus goes into the temple and in what must have been a surprising act to the disciples and those there in the temple – rebukes those who are selling and trading in the outer courts of the temple; “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” (vs16)…
Who did Jesus think He was?
By what authority was He doing these things?
Why was He calling Almighty God His Father?
Some Jews in the temple challenge Jesus effectively saying; ‘On what authority are you doing these things – show us a sign that you have authority to say and do this here?’
The disciples saw the sign in Cana at the wedding, they had believed and yet they must have felt awkward in this moment, is what Jesus is doing appropriate? Now those who didn’t know who Jesus was and didn’t believe they want a sign…
Jesus answers them with what is essentially a riddle that the disciples only got after Jesus’ death and resurrection; “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”” (vs19)
The sign these Jews should have seen was that Jesus was doing what He was doing in the tempe because of who He was – the Messiah. But it was a veiled sign at this point not even abudantly clear yet to His own followers.
From our vantage point in redemption history we can see that even Jesus’ actions in the temple were actually a sign of His authority of His passion for His Father’s house.
We have the advantage of the New Testament, we know the whole story now of Jesus’ life death and resurrection, we have the greatest sign of Jesus’ nature, identity and purpose (the cross). The question is do you believe like Jesus’ disciples did?
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 ]