We have all had this type of experience. We planned for X, but Y happened! Or we intended this, yet this turned to that…
After a remarkable miracle in which thousands got fed with food only enough for an average teenage boy’s lunch, Jesus out of compassion for the disciples sends them before Him to their next destination.
They get into the boat headed for a port town called Bethsaida while Jesus remains to dismiss the crowd after they have eaten their fill.
We know the story, a strong wind arises, and the disciples struggle for hours until Jesus does a miracle in calming the storm, but by the time He does they are nowhere near Bethsaida but rather land on the shore by Gennesaret about 10-12km away from where they had intended to be.
This sounds remarkably like 2020! How many people planned one thing for this year, only to have the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic scupper those plans – they set sail for Bethsaida but landed in Gennesaret!
And yet Jesus was there with the disciples even in Gennesaret. There is no place we can go that God will not be there with us! No life-storm can remove us from God’s presence. We might not be where we intended to be financially, economically, health-wise, church-wise… but God is with us!
Note how with Jesus leading them, the disciples don’t busy themselves with plans trying to get to Bethsaida – their original desired destination.
Rather, Jesus carries on with the will of His Father where He finds Himself. People instantly recognise Jesus (vs54) and Jesus continues with His Father’s mission, healing and ministering to the people He encounters.
I have no doubt that 2020 has blown you to your own Gennesaret in some way or another. What with national lockdowns, and their corresponding cataclysmic economic consequences, not to mention the health risks and grief being faced by so many.
But consider this; is Jesus with you? Yes!
Has the Father’s mission for your life changed? No!
So I urge you today, to serve God in your Gennesaret you find yourself in. Keep serving God all through life, through hard times and good times, through planned times and unplanned times.
Every day you and I live is a grace gift from God, so make the most of it doing everything you can to serve God in all you do whether you wake up in Bethsaida and Gennesaret.
Be like Jesus and minister God’s love and in so doing usher in the Kingdom of God wherever God takes you or the storms of life blow you!
Imagine the scene, Jesus has told a man He never met; ‘your sins are forgiven’! No one spoke like that; the scribes from the Synagogue are fuming – after all, only God can forgive sins. Outrageously, Jesus then says to them and the whole crowd that is listening and watching on;
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
In these early moments of His ministry captured in just the first two chapters of Mark, Jesus is revealing His authority over all created things. His redeeming power and love to overturn the effects of the curse of sin on people by granting people freedom from oppression and remarkable displays of healing from physical suffering with just His words. Jesus teaches with authority like none other, grants people forgiveness of sins, is feared by the demonic realm and rules over sickness and disease.
In the small fishing town of Capernaum, it is hard to think of anyone who hadn’t heard about Jesus and what He was saying and doing yet. Much like today’s opinions about Jesus, the opinions must have ranged from thinking;
- Jesus was a delusional madman with a blasphemous illusion of divinity,
- Or that Jesus a conman trying to trick people
- While others must have remembered what John the Baptist had been saying about Jesus, and what had happened when the heavens opened when Jesus was baptised, and a voice was heard; “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) wondering is this truly the Messiah?
What was universal was astonishment. Astonishment at the things Jesus was doing and saying and so a crowd followed Jesus like moths drawn to a light. Jesus walks away from the scene of the healed paralytic man and goes down to the sea of Galilee, maybe because it’s calm and peaceful there.
As he walks to the sea, Jesus passes the booth of the tax collector, Levi. This is a man who would have been despised by his community since he is a Jewish man working for the Roman state, enforcing its taxes and using the position to personally profit as well. This is a man that has made a choice that has benefitted him financially but has left him ostracised, separated out from his community as an outcast.
Jesus passes this despised and probably ruthless man who probably keeps thugs as friends to impose his authority, and Jesus does something unpredictable to the crowd of onlookers. The crowd knows that Jesus has an inner-circle of followers (disciples), but they can’t predict what’s about to happen.
Jesus calls out to Levi and invites him to follow Him just like He did to Simon, Andrew, James and John! The crowd is as stunned and perplexed as Levi. Levi is such an unlikely candidate for Jesus to invite into His inner circle of disciples.
In the first chapters of Mark’s gospel, we have witnessed Jesus’ authority, supernatural power and magnetism, but here we encounter Jesus’ grace and mission. Levi is not deserving of love and acceptance according to the crowd. Levi hasn’t seemingly even been with the crowds drawn by Jesus; he is still at his post collecting taxes. And yet Jesus graciously invites him to join Jesus’ inner-circle with the same life-transforming words; “follow me” (Mark 2:14).
Sidebar thought: I am fascinated by Jesus’ choice of who was going to become His 12 disciples. So far we have four fishermen, and the man who’s tax booth by the sea probably meant that he had been the one taxing them and their fishing businesses! The taxed working class and the tax collector on the same team – remarkable diversity unified in Jesus. Those gathered to Jesus have always been diverse people who would not have associated if it were not for Jesus who transforms them into beloved brothers. What hope we have for our divided world struggling with racism! Jesus is the only One who can bring true unity out of diversity.
Amazingly, Jesus’ gracious invitation sees Levi (Matthew) immediately dropping everything as Levi rises and follows Jesus (Mark 2:14). As Levi gets up to follow Jesus he is leaving all he has known, leaving his income generation behind, Levi doesn’t even know where he is going, and surely doesn’t know what will happen next.
As they walk and talk Jesus surprisingly leads Levi to his very own home. When Jesus invited Levi to follow Him, I doubt Levi thought they would be going to his house. I wonder why Jesus takes Levi from his place of work, his place of oppression of people and corruption and takes him to his home?
Was Levi’s house bought or built with the proceeds of corruption? Was Jesus confronting Levi with his sin and compromise and yet graciously loving and accepting him despite it? We don’t know, but what we do know is that Levi throws a great party (Luke 5:29) for his friends who were ‘tax collectors and sinners’ (Mark 2:15). Jesus is unlike any other religious leader, and the church is to be like Him.
Jesus loved to socialise with people who were ostracised by society; Jesus is drawn to them. And in this account Jesus tells us why that is so;
16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus announces His mission here in Mark’s Gospel, His purpose. Jesus came for messed up people, for those who acknowledge they are wrong, that they have an incurable problem. Jesus didn’t come for pious religiously proud people who think they are ok!
As we survey the Gospels, we see that Jesus was almost magnetically drawn to people like Levi, broken, sinful people, and they were drawn to Jesus too. It is remarkable that broken messed up people weren’t reticent to come to Jesus despite His teaching with authority with a challenging message that was calling people to acknowledge and to turn from their sins and to believe in Him; “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15)
These people knew that Jesus would accept them and love them, despite His uncompromising message. Jesus was a compassionate truth-teller. True love doesn’t skimp on truth. May we Jesus’ followers, may we the church be more and more like Jesus was. May we be accused of being friends of sinners, may broken people feel magnetically drawn to us not judged by us. May we also be compassionate truth-tellers for that is true love. May we love people in such a remarkable way that even though we don’t join them in compromise or sinful actions may those around us experience Jesus’ love for them so that God can do something radical in their lives because of our close proximity to them.
Thank you, Jesus, that You came for those who know they don’t have it all together, thank you, Jesus, that you came for people like me! People who are broken, people who have made mistakes, and people who still make mistakes and still disappoint themselves and others, people who’ve got a shameful and chequered past like Levi. But thank you, Jesus, that Levi’s story is our story, and that just like you called him to follow You, so too You are calling me to do the same and just like You helped Levi to reach his broken friends I pray that You Jesus would help all of us to reach ours too. That we would become more and more like You, ridiculously compassionate truth-tellers. Amen
We all have moments when we wonder what our purpose and reason for being are. Why did God create me? For what am I here on this earth?
These are great questions to ask because it would be such a shame to live our lives, not knowing where we are heading. In Mark 1:36-37, Simon has gone out looking for Jesus because everyone was looking for him. Jesus’ response is one of someone who knows his mission and reason for being because he tells Simon in verse 38 that he needs to go to the other towns to preach as well because that is why he came.
God created us to love him, to know him, and to glorify him. That is our reason for being. The Bible also tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that God created us for good works that he planned for us to do. I have always loved that verse because we can become overwhelmed by all the need around us and not know where God wants to use us, but this verse tells us that God has specific things he wants each of us to do. By doing the things God has planned for you to do, you will be loving him and glorifying him. The result will be that you will get to know his voice as he leads and guides you along the path he has set.
The key to knowing your purpose is in Mark 1:35. They had to go looking for Jesus because he was in an isolated place, praying to his Father. He came out of that time confident; knowing what he needed to do and not pressured by others to do what they thought was best.
The Bible tells us that we have a purpose, but we need to spend time with our Father, asking him what he wants us personally to do. I encourage you to spend time thinking and asking God to show you what it is he has created you to do. He has placed you where you are for a reason. In your job and in the place you live, God has a purpose for you being there. Perhaps you are sick at home, God knew you would be there and even has a job for you to do. If you are struggling with feeling insignificant, know that God has a reason for creating you and having you in the season you are currently living.
Imagine the impact we as Christians would have on the people around us if we all did the things God planned ahead of time for us to do.
Decide every morning that you will ask the Holy Spirit to lead you and show you what he has planned, and prepare to be amazed.
As we reach the end of this combined study of 1 & 2 Timothy, there is so much to say. I need a blog for each point in this section! There is a lot to be said for the relational dynamic in the gospel advance as seen in verses 9 to 16 and in 19 to 21. There is a lot to be said about the continual need to believe that God will help you persevere in the faith in the face of overwhelming challenges, as seen in verses 16 to 18. I also think there is much to say about our agency in the mission of God – as Paul is so clearly aware throughout this book and this chapter that the gospel advance will continue long after him, and its spread is not dependent on any one person for its success.
However, I think that all of these topics fall under Paul’s words in verses 6-7, as we see the heart of the man who gave everything he had for the mission of God.
I grew up reading stories of “wide eyed radicals” and “dreamers of the day”; men and women who would give up their whole lives for the mission God had called them to. Whether it was reading books like ‘Jesus Freaks’ and ‘The Heavenly Man’, or various biographies from giants in the faith such as Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor or Olaudah Equiano; these stories of radical living and lifelong sacrifice stirred my faith in a simple truth; Jesus is worth everything we have to give.
Paul fits this mold of “wide eyed radicals”. Perhaps the original in the early church movement. 2 Timothy 4 constitutes his final words, in the final chapter of his final book, in his final moments this side of glory. It is a summary of a lifetime of service to God and His bride, and as we lean in, we will discover some amazing truths to fuel our perseverance in the mission…
“6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
– 2 Timothy 4:6-7
Paul here is drawing from Old Testament sacrificial language to convey the summarizing thought of his earthly life. There was nothing left, no reserves, just a complete emptying out of everything Paul had to give to the mission of God, because of his passionate devotion to God. It’s not a sacrifice to earn the Father’s approval, or to attain spiritual salvation. Paul’s sacrifice is joyfully and enthusiastically offered up precisely because his approval and salvation has already been graciously given! He lived with a sense of joyful significance, as he was included in God’s gloriously good purposes for all creation. It’s the response to salvation, not a prerequisite for salvation.
Paul also draws from his own writing from earlier New Testament letters, as well as these two letters to Timothy, and he uses military and athletic language to claim that God’s mission was worthy of every sacrifice he ever made. The military language fits the pattern set throughout 1 & 2 Timothy, and in using the metaphors of “fight” and “race” Paul is intentionally using very active and energetic language. His life is an example of what it looks like to be wonderfully consumed with the dreams and endeavors of gospel advance.
If you listen to the tone of the text, you can almost hear the joy and relief in verse 7, as Paul marvels in the wonderful preservation of God in every act of service Paul had ever done. The passive verb in verse 6, “I am being poured out”, is Paul’s way of communicating God is the one who was at work in Paul’s life, empowering every moment and preserving his faith until the end.
Earlier this year I heard two older pastors, at a similar phase of life to Paul, quoting Colossians 1:29, where Paul says “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Paul, in both Colossians and 2 Timothy, shows a total dependence on God for his own preservation. It would be arrogant to think that any of his achievements were his own. Paul spends 2 Corinthians reminding us how just how unimpressive and dependent he truly is. There is a great truth here, that Paul has spent his whole life demonstrating. Our perseverance is only possible through Gods preservation. He keeps us. He empowers us. And He gets all the glory.
From these two verses, we can almost picture Paul running through the gates of heaven, hands lifted high, proclaiming the goodness of the Almighty to the roar of all of redemption. Don’t you want that same magnificent moment? No reserves. No regrets. Completing your life on the mission that is worth everything you have to give.
 Phrases from Simon Guillebauld’s excellent book, “More Than Conquerors.”
 “Ray Ortlund and Sam Storms on Finishing Well in Ministry”. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/churches-planting-churches/id1069930513
*Authors Note: We have been looking at the Christmas story these last few days, so it might be worth going back to our last devotional on 2 Timothy 2 so you are familiar with the book again. Paul is writing his final words to Timothy, and is discussing themes of leadership, suffering, perseverance and holiness.
Ever looked in a mirror and not liked what you saw? Ever had that flow of dread run through your body when you saw something that you wish wasn’t there? Maybe your hair was having a crazy day, or the pimple quadrupled in size, or that smudge you thought you’d rubbed off was actually still there.
Reading 2 Timothy 3 is ugly and painful. It is painful because it sounds eerily familiar. In the previous chapter we saw Paul urging us Timothy (and us) to pursue a holy perseverance in the midst of challenges around him, and now in this chapter we get a striking description of those challenges. With surgical precision, Paul exposes societal sin that feels like a modern day commentary of our own cultural moment.
“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”
Do you feel the awkwardness of these verses? I visibly shrunk lower on my chair when I read this. It grieved me in my heart, because these are the sins so clearly seen in the world around us. People who care only for their own self-advancement in life. People passionately pursuing money that corrupts the soul. People so desperate for pleasure that they will participate in self-destructive patterns of behaviour. We should not be surprised; the outworking of sin has a familiar historic pattern. Furthermore, we are not facing any new version of sin today that has not challenged the church before. Sin is sin, and godlessness is destructive wherever it goes.
Let me pick up on one of these societal sins that Paul is exposing, and demonstrate why it feels like it is a critique of our society today. “For among them are those who creep into households and capture women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions…” In verses 3 & 4 we see the seeds of violence (“abusive”, “brutal”, “without self control”), but verse 6 seems like contemporary resistance against Gender Based Violence. A society without God is a society in sin, and in a society infected with sin we will always find the sinful pursuit of evil desires, such as we have right now in this country. This passage is hard to read, just as every new story of the abuse of women by men becomes more and more painful to digest. We must connect the current crisis of Gender Based Violence with the spiritual degradation of our society. Look at how Paul exposes and challenges the societal sins of his day. This is a charge and a challenge to us to do the same – we should not stay silent.
Paul’s immediate response to the societal sins that threaten to compromise our holiness is to “avoid such people” (v5), having followed his godly example (v10) and to continue living out the truth that we believe (v14) by relying on the bibles power and relevance in all situations (v16). This correlates with Paul’s deliberate and fatherly concern for the holiness of believers that runs throughout 1 & 2 Timothy.
I have been so struck by the way Paul exposes societal ungodliness that I want to suggest that we should have a similar understanding of our cultural moment. In John 17:14-16 we read that as believers we have been intentionally sent into the world by God to make Him known by proclaiming the gospel. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 has made this our core purpose. Therefore, as we pursue this great aim, part of our proclamation must involve a cultural analysis of what societal sin the gospel must confront.
As we consider the society around us, where is the brokenness? Where are people hurting? What patterns of sin are there? What self-destructive behaviors do the people in our communities regularly pursue? What ideologies/political thoughts/worldviews/perspectives of morality to people claim to? Where must the church challenge cultural norms? Who is being marginalized and cast aside?
In our cultural milieu, we must learn from Paul and use the gospel to challenge Gender Based Violence, the ongoing injustice caused by the legacy of Apartheid, politically divisive rhetoric, growing inequality, a pursuit of sinful and self –destructive passions as well as the elevation of the individual before all other things.
For the gospel to transform people of any culture, the church must endeavor to study and participate in that culture. The gospel can only be good news to the people around us when it is seen as the answer to all brokenness and sin in their lives. Trevin Wax states: “As we learn to identify the prevailing worldviews of society, we look for ways to present the gospel of Jesus in ways that are more likely to resonate.”
Study the world around you. Participate in it. It will increase the effectiveness of your gospel proclamation to it.
As 1 Timothy 1 draws to a close, lets imagine being Timothy for a moment.
He was a young man who was given an intimidating mission. He had to challenge and oppose existing leaders with no assurance of how they will respond. Paul calls Timothy to “wage good warfare”, which suggests that he will experience trials, opposition, and sacrifice. Paul states that he is on mission to another place, so there is no backup to call upon. Finally, in 2 Timothy 1 we see Paul encouraging Timothy to not be shy or ashamed of the gospel; an encouragement only needed if Timothy was feeling the pressure of his charge. In light of all of this, perhaps we can understand if there was any trepidation in Timothy.
However Paul provides some wonderfully encouraging reasons for Timothy to be of good courage as he steps onto the frontline. Lets look at them together, and draw fresh confidence in the midst of our own challenges:
- Paul trusted Timothy
As Timothy fought on battleground of gospel advance, he would have read the words “… I entrusted to you…” and I’m sure it would have brought instant assurance. Assurance that would have strengthened him to persevere, because the one who knew him the most had entrusted him. Paul writes affectionately of their intimate relationship, and he also writes of the confidence he has in Timothy to carry out this task. I’m certain this vote of confidence would have warmed his heart and strengthened his resolve.
- Timothy could rest on prophesies
After this statement of fatherly trust, Paul then reminds Timothy that God has already spoken and equipped him for the mission he was on. Clearly Timothy had received prophetic words at a young age, and Paul says that the mission Timothy had in Ephesus fitted the words that God had previously given him. God was guiding Timothy, empowering and encouraging him into church leadership, and Paul was reminding Timothy of the great assurance this brings. As someone who also received prophetic words at a young age, I feel that I can emphasize and speak for Timothy when I say that prophetic words can excite and energize us to attempt things on the mission field that we know are beyond ourselves. God has intervened – God has spoken – God’s power is inside us! We will not falter and His purposes will be accomplished!
- Timothy already experienced gospel power himself
Finally, Paul references the ‘faith’ and ‘good conscience’ that he first states in verse 5. The purpose of the repetition is to remind Timothy that he has already experienced the awe-inspiring power of Gospel transformation! This transformation produces attributes in us that wouldn’t otherwise be there, and this is God equipping us for what He has called us to. Timothy’s faith and conscience is proof of God’s Spirit working in Him, and Paul says, “by them you may wage the good warfare.”
One of the many, many reasons I find Jesus compelling is that Jesus doesn’t sell us an unrealistic view of life. He clearly prepares us for the various challenges we face in a fallen world, and for Timothy this looked like arrogant teachers shipwrecking their own faith and causing others to wander away from gospel truth. However God, through the words of Paul, provides various sources of encouragement that increases our confidence and empowers us to face our challenges head on.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- What mission / purpose has God given you in your current season of life?
- What challenges are you going through right now as you try to live out this mission?
- How does the gospel truth found in Paul’s words build confidence in you?
- From this passage, what do you think is the purpose of God encouraging you to greater confidence?
Paul doesn’t boost Timothy’s confidence by talking about his qualities and strengths. Fresh from recounting his own unimpressive and humbling testimony, Paul only speaks of what has happened to Timothy. God has given Timothy a loving father figure to mentor him, prophetic words to guide him and gospel transformation to empower him. Confident leaders are NOT confident in themselves. Confident leaders are confident because DESPITE of themselves, God is gracefully working through them for His great glory.
I love the remarkable inclusivity & certainty of Romans 10. Paul is determined to make two things abundantly clear;
1. That ‘everyone who believes’ (Romans 10:4), ‘everyone who believes in Him (Jesus)’ (Romans 10:11), that ‘there is no distinction’ (Romans 10:12) between various groups of people ‘for the same Lord is Lord of all’ (Romans 10:12), that God will ‘bestow His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13), for ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’ (Romans 10:13) will be saved!
It could not be clearer; the Gospel is the good news to whoever believes in Jesus. The Gospel is the most significant unifying force in the world! Nothing else unifies human beings in this way. We all have a common problem (sin), and God has made His solution to our problem available to everyone who will believe. Which leads to the second matter Romans 10 makes abundantly clear…
2. That everyone who believes in Jesus ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:9), the one who confesses this belief ‘is saved’ (Romans 10:10), such a person who believes in Jesus ‘will not be put to shame’, but God will respond to their faith by ‘bestowing His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13) for those who call on Jesus’ name ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:13).
What assurance! What confidence and clarity the apostle Paul is writing with. There is no uncertainty, no qualifying statements such as “if…” just absolute pronouncements of what God will do in response to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ.
No wonder Paul was not ashamed of this Gospel; no wonder he believed that it really was the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16). Do you share his conviction? The conviction that the Gospel is for all people and that you can share the Gospel with confidence knowing that anyone who simply believes in Jesus will be saved by Jesus from their sin and will be welcomed by God into eternal life with Him?
How assured are you of your salvation? God wants you to be assured and at peace if you have put your faith in Jesus if you have believed the Gospel that’s on display in the book of Romans. Do you battle wondering whether you genuinely are accepted by God or not? Read Romans 10 again and again, be fortified by the inclusivity and certainty.
Because it is clear that the Gospel is for everyone who will believe in Jesus, and because we have certainty regarding the power of the Gospel to save completely all those who believe in Jesus we can and should share the Gospel with an incredible confidence knowing that it is the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16).
People will not believe unless someone shares the Gospel with them (Romans 10:14-17), and it is the responsibility of every generation to reach their generation with the good news about Jesus.
So, who are you investing in relationally, reaching out to, living in proximity with so that you can share the Gospel with them? How will they be able to believe the Gospel without you sharing it with them at some stage? Remember that ‘faith comes by hearing’ the word of Christ (Romans 10:17) and God has placed you in the lives of people, in proximity to people who God wants you to share the Gospel with so that they can hear and believe.
Don’t hide behind the often quoted nonsense that says; “preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necesary”; when Scripture makes our words necessary! “It’s simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behaviour.” – Duane Liftin
The Gospel is the announcement about the good news of WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do and offer to all those who will believe in Him. That announcement, those words of life must be shared by people living out transformed lives which put that Gospel power on display through their lives, but the power to save people is the good news about Jesus not the good news about your behaviour.
May the Gospel’s clarity & certainty fortify us giving us the confidence to take up our responsibility to share it will all those God has sent us to in our everyday lives.
Every person on the planet has to answer that question at some point in their life. Jesus is the central figure of all of human history, Jesus is the one person of whom it is not possible to have no opinion of or to ignore forever.
Those around Jesus in the crowds and amongst the pharisees, even the disciples themselves were all trying to work Jesus out! A man claiming to be God’s Son, the promised Messiah? Could it be? And if you think about it for even a moment, I believe that the vast majority of us would have been the same quandary.
Jesus knows this, and so probingly He asks the disciples; “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13) The answer is diverse because the theories were diverse – no one really had a good handle of who Jesus was.
Some said Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead (Matthew 14:1-2), some thought Jesus was the fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy (see Malachi 4:5) or maybe Jesus was in fact Jeremiah or one of the other prophets..?
All those responses were interesting but Jesus, getting right to the point then asks His disciples; “But who do you say that I am?” There’s no wriggle room here, they are on the spot…
All of us will face a moment just like this one at some point in our lives – “Who do you say that I am?”. In that moment there will be no referencing others, just the need to give an account for what we have believed about Jesus for ourselves.
I am certain there was a moment of silence before the disciples all felt a wave of relief wash over them as they heard Peter limbering up to speak first…
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” – Peter said to Jesus (Matthew 19:16)
Nailed it! Peter in a moment of revelation given to Him by God Himself (vs17) sees Jesus in splendid clarity. Jesus is the Messiah (the meaning of ‘Christ’), Jesus is the begotten Son of God. Truly God, truly man – what a mystery revealed. Peter didn’t just see Jesus in that moment, but Peter also believed what He saw about Jesus.
Who do you say Jesus is? You can delay your answer for a period of time. But in the end of the day, everyone of us will have to answer that question ourselves before Jesus.
So, what’s your answer?
I pray that you might have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that You may know Jesus fully (Ephesians 1:17) and I pray that you might have power to grasp the magnitude and magnificence of Jesus and His love for you. So that you like Peter would be filled with revelation knowledge of Jesus, and that as a result you might be filled to overflowing with the fullness of God in your life! (Ephesians 3:14-19)
Jesus is the Messiah, the only One worthy of all our worship and adoration. May you see those truths, may they transform you from the inside out, may they impact your life 24/7 and forevermore.
Lastly, if you already know Jesus as Messiah and Lord of your life, why don’t you choose three people in your life who wouldn’t yet answer Jesus as Peter did. Why not beginto pray for them. Start by praying the prayer I’ve prayed for you in the paragraph above. Pray that they would come to know and love Jesus. Then in addition to praying, invest in their lives relationally, and look then invite them to contexts that would help move them towards faith in Jesus.
Life is a sequence of many moments isn’t it? Yet not all moments are equal in their importance for our lives. Some of the moments in our lives are what one could call; ‘God-moments’. These are moments, which are often unexpected in which radical change can happen, faith can be birthed or strengthened, in which we can learn something new about ourselves, God or others.
Today, God wants to bless you. This devotion could be a God-moment in your life. God wants to bless you, to encounter you, change your view of Him, to change you, to pour His love into you, wants to heal and restore you…
Back to the story, this woman at the well is about to have an unexpected God-moment in her life as she comes to draw water at the well but finds Jesus there! After some interaction about Jesus’ thirst, Jesus’ offered her water that would satisfy her thirst forever, she then asked Jesus to give her this water so that she would never thirst again.
Jesus knowing everything about her, asks her about her husband, asks her to call him. She didn’t want to talk about these things, it’s too personal, she tries to cover up this sad aspect of her life. We are often like this woman aren’t we? At first she resisted God’s loving, kind advances, and she tries to hide from the King of Glory. But He’s all-knowing, He knows about all 5 of her previous husbands & He knows of her current sinful relationship with the man who is not her husband but whom she is with.
At this point you might expect Jesus to draw back. After-all, she has been exposed and it’s messy. Yet,
amazingly, graciously, God still pursues her as He pursues you and I. Amazingly, what God knows about you and I doesn’t cause Him to re-coil and run from us.
Yet Jesus stays with her keeps pursuing her in this moment and reveals to her that He is the Messiah (vs26). God accepts us as we are, warts and all, God wants to transform us from who we have been and who we are today into worshippers who will worship in Spirit and truth!
And so in this God-moment the woman has a revelation of God, a revelation of the grace, mercy & forgiveness of God. What she thinks about God, what she knows is re-written in a moment as God reveals His true character to her in this God-moment…
You might have thought that her past and her present disqualified this lady. And yet actually her mess strangely qualified her to speak to others about who God is and what God is like! Having slinked out of town to come and get water, ashamed, at a time when not many others would be there.
Having met Jesus though she runs back into town effectively shouting; ‘Come and see a man who told me everything that I ever did, I think He is God!’ This woman’s shame actually became her proof of who God is! Her shame was what qualified her to testify to who God is and what God is like. In that God-moment, her sin became her God-story of redemption which in turn then showed off the grace, love & mercy of God to her whole town.
In one sense, you and I can’t be entrusted by God to share with others about Him until we have received, encountered, grace from God towards us first. Receiving grace from God qualifies us to tell others about God’s grace and mercy.
God’s grace is that He accepts us, just as we are, warts and all. God accepts us not on the basis of our merit but on account of His goodness and His lavish grace and kindness to us in Jesus. Although Jesus knew every sordid thing about this woman, He still accepted her and forgave her! Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He didn’t come for those who think they’re doing just fine, stuck in their self-righteousness, He came for sinners like me, like you…?
The end of the story is amazing. One woman’s God-moment, one woman encountering Jesus as the God of grace, results in her sharing her God-story with her town so that Scripture then records that; “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:39)
So what are you ashamed of? What do you feel disqualifies you from being used by God, from being God’s agent for change, His channel of grace and blessing to people? Can your sin potentially actually become a God-story which ends up showing off the God of grace?
Ask Jesus to forgive you, to pour His grace and mercy into your life right now and then go and tell the world how great and good and loving Jesus is! Needing grace, doesn’t disqualify you, it qualifies you to share with others about the incredible grace and mercy and love of God.
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.
In what is a long section of brutal narrative…
Exactly what God promised through Elijah in response to Jezebel and Ahab’s killing of Naboth for his vineyard in 1 Kings 21 is now fulfilled and Ahab’s sin and Jezebel’s sin and evil is punished by God in 2 Kings 9-10 by Jehu.
What can we learn from this for our lives?
Sin is extremely serious. If we don’t recognise the seriousness of sin before a Holy God we are deluded, we cheapen grace and ultimately we don’t need a Saviour to rescue us from our sin or to forgive us for our sin.
“Salvation shines forth brightly when it is seen against the dark background of divine judgment. We cheapen the gospel if we represent it as a deliverance only from unhappiness, fear, guilt and other felt needs, instead of as a rescue from the coming wrath.” – John Stott
Don’t prematurely decide that just because people don’t seem for the moment to be accountable before God for their sin and their rejection of Him that they won’t be held accountable by the Holy One.
All people’s only hope is Jesus Christ who was the propitiation for our sin! That means, Jesus was the sacrifice that was paid in our place for our sin, the sacrifice which took away the wrath of God;
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)
Another feature of this section and all through 1&2 Kings are the little cameo’s in the BIG STORY of human history and salvation by often unremarkable individuals who did the work and will of God in the midst of a crooked and evil age.
Little cameo’s like;
- The little Jewish girl who was carried away by Syrians and served in the house of Naaman who believed God could heal her master (2 Kings 5:2-3)
- The unnamed servants of Naaman who helped him not miss his healing because of his reaction to Elisha’s instruction (2 Kings 5:13)
- The four lepers (2 Kings 7) through whom God ended the brutal siege of Samaria
- Princess Jehosheba who hid Joash from Athaliah for 6yrs in the house of God with the priest until the priest anointed him as king at the tender age of 7yrs old.
- Joash the young 7yr old who listened to Jehoiada who discipled and instructed him and so he did amazingly good things reforming Judah and dealing with sin and Baal worship and repaired the temple.
What can we learn for our lives?
You never do know when you are going to do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, or whether you have just done it! – Michael Eaton
God’s kingdom advances through people just like you and I doing often what might not seem like extraordinary things. Live every day as if it is the day you will do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, live on the edge in anticipation and serve God with whatever and whoever God puts before you, disciple, reach out, love, speak the words of God….
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)
Burk Parsons said; “God calls us out of darkness and into his marvelous light and then calls us to walk right back into the darkness and shine.”We are God’s agents in the world!
Scripture describes us as God’s fragrance, ‘the aroma of Christ’(2 Corinthians 2:15) amongst unbelievers and Jesus called us ‘the salt of the earth’(Matthew 5:13) and Scripture also describes us as ‘ambassadors for Christ’(2 Corinthians 5:20). More than all of these you and I are also the sonsand daughtersof our heavenly Father (1 John 3:1)!
In all three of these passages we are not likened to these things but rather described as being them. These things are not something that’s merely metaphorical or just aspirational but is in fact a statement of what is true of us, it is in fact who we are.
And for that reason Colossians 4:5-6 instructs us to walk with wisdom, to really think about how we live out our lives and interact with those who are not yet Christ followers. It is assumed here that the church will not be some holy huddle excluding itself from the world, we are to engage with live amongst, reach out to people who are not Christ followers. We are those to whom God has entrusted the message and ministry of reconciliation – the good news that God wants to reconcile all people to Himself through faith in His Son, Jesus!
We have a high calling, we represent God in the world. In politics or business, an ambassador for a country or a brand has a real responsibility to represent his/her nation/brand well in all they say and do. Such a person is not just a free agent, they have responsibility, how they live and talk really matters.
Similarly, for us as Christ followers we are urged here to deeply consider our lives and our speech and to consider whether we are living and speaking as we ought to – with wisdom and with grace. Our ‘salty’ speech should preserve peace and should point people to Christ. God wants us to be able to answer people’s questions about life or faith or God – to give dignity to them by really considering their question and giving answers that serve them and illuminate the path to faith in Jesus.
These are easy things to write, easy things to read about yet difficult to do! I am freshly convicted of my need to wake up each day and to mentally put on this role God’s given – ambassador, representative! What an honour we have. May I, may we serve those who don’t yet know Jesus as Lord and Saviour by the way we live and speak – may we truly be the aroma of Christ and salt and light in the world for His sake and the sake of those who don’t yet know Him.
What can change today if you go into your day with this fresh realisation?
The Gospel explained in three verses. Verses 16, 18 & 36 of chapter 3 of John’s gospel present a full and clear picture of the Gospel hope that we have in Jesus and the desperate situation of those who reject Jesus.
‘For God so loved the world’ (vs16)
The good news Jesus introduces here is news that would have been radical to the Jewish hearer – that God so loved, not just Israel but the whole world. God had foretold of this widening of His blessing to encompass the whole world when He covenanted to bless Abraham and that Abraham in turn would bless all the familes of the earth. The prophets had prophesied about this too like when Zechariah prophesied about the future incarnation of Christ and the impact this would have on the nations not just Israel;
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. (Zechariah 2:10-11)
‘that whoever believes in Him’ (vs16)
The offer is as wide as can be, it is to anyone, to whosoever. But the offer is not without condition. The condition for all people, whoever they are, is that they must believe. They must have faith in or put their trust in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
‘should not perish but have eternal life’ (vs16)
The result of believing in Jesus is that the believer can be assured that they will not be die/perish or be destroyed in the judgement to come but will enter into perpetual/eternal/everlasting/forever life!
‘Whoever believes in Him is not condemned’ (vs18)
All those who believe in Jesus are not and will not be condemned. They will not be judged or damned by God the righteous judge.
‘but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God’ (vs18)
In sharp contrast is the current and future position anyone is in who does not believe in Jesus. There is no nuetral ground here. Our post-modern pluralistic world likes to make space for and validate every perspective but that is not the teaching of Scripture. As inclusive as the ‘whoever’ is positively in vs16, that same ‘whoever’ is now inclusive of all who do not believe.
All who do not believe are at this very moment condemned by God! They are in the most dangerous position imaginable right now and will be into eternity if there is no change. They will be damned by God because they rejected God’s only Son whom God lovingly sent to save them from their sinful condition and consequences.
‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.’ (vs36)
Re-iterating what He has already said, Jesus repeats the wide offer that anyone may believe in Him and that those who believe already have in this life entered into the eternal life only He can give us. The Christ follower is not waiting for something that is only future but enters into real life now in this present age already.
However, again in sharp contrast whoever disbelieves/not believes/is disobedient/obeys not/is unbelieving will not experience this life that’s possible now or into eternity because their position is that the justifiable righeous indignation of the Holy One remains on them now and forever.
All are invited to believe, all who believe will be forgiven and be given life eternal now and forevermore all because of Jesus’ life, death & resurrection, because of the love of Father God. And yet not all will believe, and those who reject Jesus are right now in this present moment condemned already and have the wrath of God focussed on them.
May we who have already believed, tirelessly take this kind offer God’s made to ALL so that whoever believes will be forgiven, saved & will receive everlasting life now and forever.
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 ]