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Such Great Faith (the key to having great faith)

February 20, 2016 1 comment

faith

“Such Great Faith” (Luke 7:1-10)

Prayer: “We thank you, Lord, for Your Word and its eternal value. Every word of this Bible is breathed out by You and everything that is contained in it is exactly what You meant to say, exactly as it’s stated. So we pray that the ministry of the Holy Spirit might be real to our hearts and minds as we study this great incident from the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Compassion has been defined as “your pain in my heart.”

I love that definition! And in this chapter, Luke chapter 7, Jesus is confronted with much misery and He is compassionate in every case (reference from Pastor and Author Warren Wiersbe). There is the misery of the dying servant, the misery of a grieving widow who has lost her son; there were the difficulties of a perplexed prophet, and at the end of the chapter, the grief of a repentant sinner … imagine this, as she worshiped Jesus she had to face the scorn of the religious leaders. And Jesus helped all of them. He was (and is) a compassionate Savior.

Now the incident before us this morning occurred in the city of Capernaum. It’s important to remember that, and the fact that Jesus had been there before. In fact, Jesus had previously talked about the things He would do in this city of Capernaum, as He was being rejected by the people of Nazareth, which was His hometown, the place where He was raised.

He said to those people in Nazareth “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your own country.’” And then Jesus warned those people as He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.” (Luke 4:23-24)

What we’re going to focus this morning on is the first incident recorded in Luke 7. It’s a situation where Jesus marveled. There are only two times in the gospels are we told that Jesus marveled:

The first is recorded in Mark chapter 6, where He marveled at the unbelief of the people in His hometown of Nazareth. It was said that He could not do any mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Their unbelief hindered His ability to do anything much for them.

Two, Jesus marveled about a man who exercised such amazing faith that He would say, Jesus would say “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Luke 7:9). He was amazed by the faith of this centurion.

So our focus this morning will be upon the great faith of this man; why it was great, and what we can learn from it in relationship to our own lives.

  • The narrative reads like this from Luke 7:1-10:

Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. {2}  And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. {3}  So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. {4}  And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, {5}  “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.” {6}  Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.  {7}  Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  {8}  For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” {9}  When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” {10}  And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.

Here we are told that Jesus, after He had finished teaching the things He’d taught in chapter 6 (the “sermon on the plain”), now enters Capernaum. He’s coming back into the city … the name of the city is Kfar Nahum, “Nahum’s village.” It was a fishing village on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, a place where Jesus often found Himself.

And it tells us in verse two that this centurion who is introduced to us, had a servant who was dear to him. This servant was sick, ready to die. So when this centurion heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Jesus, pleading with Jesus to come and heal his servant.

This certain centurion is mentioned here. He was a military servant of the powerful Roman Empire, and was there to keep the peace. They called this peace of Rome the Pax Romana (Latin for the peace of Rome). This period of peace lasted just a little longer than 200 years (approximately 206 years—27 BC to 180 AD, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica). The military strength of Rome was so formidable that they had been successful in conquering all of their enemies, the result being that there was peace and stability within the empire. During this time of peace they were able to build roads, able to further the Greek language as the lingua franca (the common language) of the people, and were able to govern each and every province. A relative peace existed under Roman rule.

This centurion was in Capernaum for that reason, to assist Rome in keeping the peace. Questions we have about this centurion: Had he ever experienced combat? Had he been part of other’s deaths? The scripture doesn’t tell us, nothing is said about that.

But what we do know is that he had a servant, which was very common in that day, to own slaves. Perhaps as many as 15% of the entire population of the Roman Empire was made up of slaves (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_ancient_Rome). But his servant was not merely an object to this centurion, the centurion cared about him. He was dear to him—valued by him, precious to him. This tells us that this centurion had a heart.

I had the privilege of pastoring for 27 years in Monterey … near the Defense Language Institute, near the Naval Postgraduate School, and near the former Fort Ord. Some of the greatest men I’ve ever met were in the military; Colonels, Generals, Captains, Commanders, Master Sergeants, and enlisted. I have great respect for them. This centurion was in their class. He was like them in many ways.

As a side note, a subject that has become interesting to me, is that in the original Greek text of this passage, Luke refers to this servant by the term doulos. You’ll recognize that term as it’s translated in the epistles by the word bondservant. But in v. 7, as the centurion refers to his servant, he refers to him as his pais (a Greek word a boy or a girl; a child or children, or a slave or servant; it’s used 24x in the New Testament).

For some reason, Jay Michaelson, in an article published by the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-michaelson/when-jesus-healed-a-same-sex-partner_b_1743947.html), states that pais does not mean “servant” here in this passage but rather it means homosexual lover. And so the argument is made by Michaelson that this servant was the centurion’s younger homosexual lover. It should be noted that his viewpoint comes without any supporting documentation from ancient Greek sources, and without regard to each and every time pais is used in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) and in the New Testament (see http://thebiblicalworld.blogspot.com/2012/08/did-jesus-heal-centurions-same-sex.html).

But just for discussion’s sake: (and I completely disagree with Michaelson’s conclusions) what if pais did mean homosexual lover? Would Jesus have healed the servant? There is no reason to think He would not have, because His mission was to heal the sick and the brokenhearted. He came to seek and save that which was lost. He came, not to destroy men’s lives but to save them. We have to remember that many, many people were healed in the days of Jesus’ ministry. Not all of them received eternal life, but each and every one of them received something of the goodness of God. Some theologians call this goodness of God to pre-believers or unbelievers prevenient grace (aka “common grace”). It’s the grace of God which precedes and is part of the Lord drawing people to Himself, whether or not they eventually believe and make a commitment to Christ. The Lord healed many people who came to Him, because His mission was to seek out lost people and reach them. The healings were indications of God’s love, and evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah … giving the people a choice to believe.

I write all that to write this: that our calling as believers is not to decide people’s worthiness or unworthiness to receive benefit and blessing from Jesus. Our calling is to love them. Our calling is to minister the good news, to be loving and gracious disciples. We are free to do that, because of Jesus in our lives and because of the gospel.

Going on, this servant of the centurion was near death due to some sort of illness. Notice that the centurion “sent” elders of the Jews to Jesus. This could have been a command to these elders, so that what they would do would be out of sheer obedience … after all, he was a man of great authority in that region. But instead we get the distinct impression that there was more to the relationship between the Jews and this soldier. In fact, it appears that they wanted to plead with Jesus on behalf of the centurion and his servant.

It tells us in verse 4 that when they came to Jesus they begged Jesus. They begged Him earnestly, and they even said that the one for whom He should do this was deserving. “For he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.”

It was sincere. They begged Him earnestly. They thought very highly of this centurion, because he did love their “nation” (their ethnos, their people, their nation). They meant the term ethos in the sense of people, not nation, because that would have been unlawful under Roman rule. To say it again, this centurion loved the Jewish people.

And, he’d also built them a synagogue. If one travels to Israel today, they can visit the ruins of the city of Capernaum. Among those ruins is a synagogue … dated at about the 4th century. That means that the present ruins are not of the same synagogue that had been built in Jesus’ day. However, archeologists have discovered that under the present ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum is the foundation of a 1st century synagogue … likely the very synagogue built by this centurion.

synagogue

Ruins of the ancient great Jewish synagogue at Capernaum or Kfar Nahum at the shore of Galilee lake northern Israel

 Notice that the Jewish elders told Jesus that the centurion was “worthy” — they said this because they operated under a system of works. In that system, in their minds, one deserved blessings, they earned them. A person’s deeds merited their blessings in their thinking. That was the way they thought … and their whole religious system was geared that way. 

This is contrary to the doctrine of the New Testament, by the way. This is what God’s word says about that approach.

Romans 4:4-5 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…

See if I work for my blessing, then when blessing comes it’s really not a blessing—it’s really a wage that is paid for my works. But God is no man’s debtor … He doesn’t pay wages to people for their good works.

The one who doesn’t work for right standing before God and for blessing, and doesn’t believe that they can earn it or deserve it, but simply believes on the message of the gospel that came to us through Jesus Christ, that person’s faith is accounted for righteousness, and God is able to give salvation as His gift. Because it is by grace that we are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, notof works, lest anyone should boast.

So we see that the plea of the Jews stirred up the compassion within the heart of Jesus. The pain of the centurion and his servant went right into the heart of our Lord. Therefore, as it says in verse 6, Jesus went with them. It tells us that when He was not very far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him with his request: “Don’t bother Yourself to come. I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. And I didn’t even think myself worthy to come to You and to greet You face to face. But just say the word and my servant will be healed. So Jesus went with the elders and was near to the centurion’s house … the centurion sent some of his friends to Jesus, men who would represent his heart. And the centurion, through them, says that he is not worthy.

The centurion’s heart was to tell Jesus that he didn’t consider himself worthy. It’s vital that we notice the huge difference between the Jewish elders’ view of the man and his own view of himself. Their view of the centurion: he is worthy for Jesus to do this for him, because of the things he has done for us. But the man himself, the centurion, said “I am not worthy, that You should come under my roof, and I’m not worthy even to have come to You.” The centurion, Pastor David Guzik writes, was a remarkable man.

“The centurion was a remarkable man. The elders said he was worthy; he said he was not worthy. They praised him for building a house of worship; he felt unworthy that Jesus would come to his house. They said he was deserving; he felt himself undeserving. Strong faith and great humility are entirely compatible.” (Pastor David Guzik)

This was the one about whom Jesus said, “I’ve not seen faith like this, not even in Israel.”

Pastor Warren Wiersbe adds another comment. He said, Imagine a Roman officer telling a poor Jewish rabbi that he was unworthy to have Him enter his house! The Romans were not known for displaying humility, especially before their Jewish subjects.”

Yet this Roman centurion has this attitude of humility before this Jewish teacher, this itinerant preacher from the nondescript town of Nazareth.

The request was, just “say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Now something we’ve passed over so far at this point in the story—was that this centurion had “heard about Jesus.” The things that Jesus had previously said and done in Capernaum (and possibly elsewhere) were known by him (Luke 4:31-43 records these things): things like teaching with the kind of authority no other Jewish religious leader had ever displayed. Perhaps he’d even heard excerpts of Jesus’ messages from the mouths of others. He had heard that Jesus was commanding unclean spirits to come out of people and they immediately obeyed. He had no doubt heard about Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law, and then later that same evening healing everyone who came to Him of any kind of disease. Demons had come out of many, and as they were driven out, they were crying out and saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!”

Something like 1,500 people lived at Capernaum at the time, and since news travels very quickly in a small community, these things came into the ears of the centurion. And the things that Jesus had said and done had been heard by him … and all of that led this man to come to certain conclusions about the Lord Jesus.

His understanding of who Jesus was and is was based upon the things that he had heard that Jesus had been doing and saying. And so he drew conclusions about Jesus. If He can do this, then He must be like ______. If He has this kind of power and authority, then He must be this kind of an individual. And that is how he thought it through. So we see in verse 8, For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.

And this is the statement that captured Jesus’ heart, and caused Him to be amazed. He marveled at this man’s faith. (23:15)

Notice that the centurion’s statement begins with the phrase “For I also am a man placed under authority…”

The word also is key here He recognized in Jesus something that was true of himself; he was under authority … he was a centurion (over 100 men), but he wasn’t a commander over other centurions. What he did was due to the fact that he was under authority. That’s where he received his own credentials and position, from the authority place over him, under which he operated.

The centurion recognized that Jesus Himself was under authority, that He received His authority from another.

Now if Jesus could do all the things this centurion had heard about Him doing, then how great must be the Authority above Him? You might say, “Now wait a minute here; I thought that Jesus is God; doesn’t the Bible teach that Jesus is God? What’s going on here? How could Jesus be God and be under authority.

To answer the question, let us not forget that Jesus was made for a time a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7). It’s called the incarnation, He came in flesh, He was incarnated, He came to live with us, He humbled Himself to live His approximately 33 years as a human being, without ever ceasing to be God. At the same time not only has He always been God, in the incarnation He added a nature, He became one of us. Now He is God who is man, and man who is God. He is the God-man, to put it that way.

Jesus specifically said that the Father is the One who had sent Him. In John 5:36 He said “But I have a greater witness than John; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish; the very works that I do bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.”

These works that I have done tell a story, Jesus was intimating … they give witness to the fact that I have been sent by the Father, and what I am doing I am doing at His command, and by His authority and power.

And the centurion recognized something of that. “I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me,” he said. This centurion was saying of Jesus “I recognize that You are a man under authority but I also recognize the authority You have. And the authority You have is like my authority … whenever I command anything of anyone within my jurisdiction they always obey. They have to. They do what I say. ‘Soldiers, come here or go there’; ‘Servants, do this or do that.’ At my command all I have to do is say it, and they will do it. That’s the authority I have. And Lord, You have that same kind of authority. I’ve heard about You; I’ve heard about what You do, about Your power … Your authority over unclean spirits. I’ve heard about the fact that You can heal any kind of illness that exists. I’ve heard about Your authoritative teaching, which is completely different from the religious leaders that are common in Israel today. You speak as those these words and truths came directly from You, that when God speaks, they are actually Your words. And so I know that You have authority, just like I have authority. And whatever You say, in the spiritual realm or in the physical realm, that is what MUST happen, because You said it. And that is why I’m saying to You, all you need do is speak the word and my servant will be healed, because that is the kind of authority You have. Within my authority as a centurion, my orders are always obeyed. With Your authority, Your orders are always obeyed as well. I’m only asking of You, Jesus, that You exercise the authority that You have in relationship to My servant.”

And this is what Jesus reacted to. In verse 9 it says that when He heard these things, He marveled at the centurion’s faith. He’d never seen such great faith, not even in Israel. And Jesus felt it necessary that everyone know about this kind of faith. He turned around to the crowd, and it was to them that He announced that this faith was amazing … superior to any faith He’d seen. It became a teaching lesson for everyone that was there and listening. This is what faith looks like; this is what great faith look like. This is how the Son of God ought to be trusted, ought to be believed. This kind of faith is worthy of Him.

Nowhere in Israel had Jesus seen such faith, and this faith is coming from a Gentile. Verse 10 tells us that when those who had been sent to Jesus returned to the house, they found the servant well who had been sick. 

Jesus did it; He simply spoke the word. We didn’t hear it, His exact words are not recorded for us here in the gospels; but presumably, He spoke the word. The same One who in Genesis 1:3 said “Light, be!” and light came into existence … that same One spoke healing into the body of this dying servant. He didn’t actually need to speak anything. His thought alone would have brought the same result. His will, on whatever level, became His command which had to be obeyed. And the healing of the servant proved that Jesus had the authority the centurion had said He had. 

So what was unique about the centurion’s faith? First of all, we see that he realized the kind of authority Jesus possesses over sickness and all things. That made his faith special, unique.

He had strong faith in Jesus because he had a good and proper concept of Him. When we have a proper concept of God in our minds, faith flows much more naturally. When we have an improper or inaccurate concept of God in our minds, faith is pretty much impossible. The real challenge for us, therefore, is that we gain a proper concept of God in our minds; a proper concept of Jesus and His authority. That’s the key.

It’s like the guy that’s standing on the edge of the cliff, and there’s a very deep chasm below him. On the other side of the chasm is another cliff. Strung across the chasm is a rickety old bridge. He knows he needs to get to the other side, but he looks at the bridge and sees that it has tattered ropes and broken planks. It doesn’t look stable or strong at all. He wonders whether or not he can make it across. So he psyches himself up, gives himself a pep talk, gets himself motivated and begins. He tries to keep his faith as strong as he can make it. But the bridge isn’t strong enough and he falls down into the chasm.

Contrast that man with another man who stands on the edge of that same cliff. He too must cross the divide, and is wondering whether he can make it. In front of him is a bridge designed and built by the same engineers and construction company which built the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. And he’s thinking, “Wow, that’s an awfully deep chasm, and I’m not sure about this. I’m really struggling; emotionally, I’m a mess … terrified, really. Logically, I can’t wrap my mind around it. Can this bridge truly support me?” In spite of his apprehension, he goes ahead, and makes it easily to the other side. Why was he able to make it across?

Because one can have strong faith in a weak bridge, but that will only put you into the chasm below. Or, you can have weak faith in a strong bridge and make it to the other side. In other words, it’s not the strength of the faith that is the important thing; it’s the strength of the bridge that matters!

The centurion had a concept of Jesus in his mind that made Jesus a very strong bridge. And his faith was great, not because he as a man was great, but simply because he’d allowed the truth of who Jesus actually is to enter into his mind and heart. He had strong faith in a strong bride. He had both.

Great faith comes from knowing a Great Savior. Knowing His attributes, thinking about who He is and what He is capable of.

I once had the privilege of teaching a Bible college course on the Attributes of God, describing His characteristics. The students loved the class, but it seemed like their favorite attribute of God was His infinitude … that is, God is infinite or without limit. The students learned how to connect God’s attribute of infinitude with every other thing that is true of Him. God is faithful, and is unlimited in His faithfulness. God is love, and is without limit in His lovingkindness toward us. God is merciful, and there are no limits to His great mercy. God is powerful, and is without limit in His power. There is nothing that is impossible for Him; with Him all things are possible. God is without limit in any characteristic that is true of Him. They also learned how God’s attributes work in complete harmony. Not only is He sovereign, He is also good. Not only is He just, He is also gracious.

This is where faith begins, this is how our faith is strengthened, by getting to know God accurately and well. One of our greatest spiritual errors is that we spend far too little time getting to know God, in just contemplating Him.

Warren Wiersbe adds this thought:

“If this Roman, with very little spiritual instruction, had that kind of faith in God’s Word, how much greater our faith ought to be! We have an entire Bible to read and study, as well as nearly two thousand years of church history to encourage us, and yet we are guilty of ‘no faith’ (Mark 4:40) or ‘little faith’ (Matt. 14:31). Our prayer ought to be, ‘Lord, increase our faith!’” (Weirsbe)

How then can we increase our faith? How can our weak faith become strong faith like this centurion?

I have two suggestions.

Number one, know the Bible; and get to know the God of the Bible. Read the Bible, read every book of the Bible. And constantly ask yourself the question, what does this teach me about God? What do I learn about Him by knowing this Bible story or reading about this Bible truth?

When I read about the children of Israel in Egypt for 400 plus years, and how they went from being a people of 70 souls to a nation of 2 million or more, what does that tell me about God and who He is? When I read the messages of the prophets, messages through Isaiah or Jeremiah or the others; what do their messages tell me about who God is? When I read the gospels and understand the profound gospel truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19), what does that tell me about the nature of God as being merciful and gracious? 

You see, we trust only those that we know. And we only trust implicitly those whom we know accurately. The wisdom is this: know God well, you’ll trust Him more. Remember that the Bible is God’s revelation to us, that we might know Him and His will. It’s impossible to know Him well without the Bible.

For example, we can acknowledge God as the Creator of the Universe. This is the most foundational, bottom line truth we can believe. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And Hebrews tells us that it is by faith that we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

The second suggestion is, ask God to do things. It’s so simple, isn’t it? The centurion, upon learning of his servant’s illness, could have remained quiet about it. Had he remained quiet, there would have been nothing asked of Jesus. After if there had been no request of Jesus, perhaps his servant would have eventually died. But he asked. He asked Jesus to do something, and Jesus did something.

In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus was very plain. He said “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Please ask! Jesus is begging us … ask, ask, ask. As James puts it, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). It’s so simple: ask a lot.

If you have someone you’re working with, and you find out they are sick, or someone in their family is sick, ask God for a healing. Ask them, “Can I pray for you?” Not many will refuse prayer! They may not even believe in God, but pray for them. Maybe pray for them right then if the situation calls for it and it’s fitting to do so; or maybe later. Then tell them, “I prayed for you.”  And watch what God will do. He’ll do stuff when we ask!

But we have not because we ask not; that’s one of our big problems, we just don’t ask enough.

How can we increase our faith? Get to know the Bible and the God of the Bible, and then ask Him to do things. Not just for our own personal lives, but for all kinds of situations everywhere around us. It’s amazing what God can do!

Pastor Chuck Smith used to say something like this: “the difficulty of any task is measured by the capacity of the one doing the work.” So we’re looking at an illness, and we’re thinking, this is way beyond doctors, this is way beyond the medical professionals, this is way beyond anything I know or understand. But who am I talking to when I ask? I’m asking the One who created the universe, the One who breathed into our nostrils the breath of life so that we became living beings … He is the One I’m asking. And the difficulty of any task is measured by the capacity of the one doing the work. I’m asking the Creator to do something that for Him, is not difficult at all.

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

Does God ever get tired, because He’s exercised so much of His power that day? No! God never gets tired or is ever weary. He never runs out of power, because He is limitless in His power. Therefore, He can be asked.

So here it is, Jesus was amazed at this centurion, He marveled at his faith. God, give us faith like that!

Amen.

 

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2015 … it was very good year.

2-Poimem Ministries-Logo Final

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to read the Holdridge 2015 Summary Newsletter.

May the Lord bless you this year, and may you bear fruit to the glory of God!

John 15:8 “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

Thanks for your prayers, support, and encouragement. It means so much to Sheri and me.

Love in Christ,

Bill Holdridge

The Groaning of the Spirit

January 11, 2015 Leave a comment

gift_of_the_holy_spiritLikewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

It is not always easy to admit our weaknesses, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. It is only through the realization of our weakness that we are likely to rely on the Holy Spirt, who is the Divine Helper. It is true that weaknesses are the doorway to strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). 

Here we see a specific weakness that we all share, which is weakness in prayer. We are stumped concerning the how of prayer, and often about the content of our prayers. We even struggle with the motivation to pray. 

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is able and willing to give us what we need so our prayers will be heard, and thus be effective (1 John 5:14-15). 

His groanings (sighing) cannot be uttered; that is, they cannot be spoken in words that we understand. Our part is to believe God … to believe Him that the Spirit is praying this way as He intercedes for us. 

The Father is searching our hearts for the prayers of the Spirit, and He knows the Spirit’s purpose in His groanings. The Spirit’s prayers are always spot on. Our part is to just flow with it, to believe the Spirit is helping us, and to trust the outcome of the Spirit’s intercession. 

Through it all, we become better pray-ers as we trust God in our weaknesses.

For Further Review

1.  Think about some of the difficulties or struggles you have had in your own prayer life. How have you dealt with them? What have you learned?

2.  In your own words, describe the meaning and experience of the Holy Spirit making intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered.

3.  Take some time right now to ask God to help you in your weakness in prayer, and then make it a point to specifically trust the Holy Spirit to be the answer to that prayer.

 

Biblical Hope

January 10, 2015 Leave a comment

No God No Hope Know God Know HopeFor I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. (Romans 8:18-25) 

When counting the cost of following Christ, one must consider what it means to suffer with Him. Will we do it … are we willing to suffer according to the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2)? Can we do it … shall we stand in suffering’s face, or will we stumble and fall? 

Answering our own self-doubts is easier when we look at things from the perspective of future, eternal glory. When present sufferings are compared with what God has in mind for His sons and daughters, any and all present sufferings seem like nothing. They vanish in the light of what God has promised to us. Yes, it is true … a future glory beyond all description awaits faithful believers, therefore we do not lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). 

This hope is the key in dealing with life as it is in this fallen world. Hope is confident expectation. The believer confidently expects God to fulfill His promises. Why even the material creation hopes for a far better day, even though it suffers the futility and groaning of the present bondage which resulted from the curse of sin (Genesis 3:17-19). 

The groaning of the believer is due to the weakness of the flesh. He longs to be delivered, to receive his new body. When this happens, the redemption of the believer is complete (1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 2 Corinthians 5:1-4). Right now, the only unredeemed part of his existence has to do with the body. 

Our confident expectation of our future redemption came to us when we were saved. We were born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), a hope which is invisible to us now, and for which we patiently wait with complete expectation. Like a child waiting for the family trip to Disneyland, there is no doubt that it will happen. It is just a matter of time. 

For Further Review

1.  In your own life, have you considered the cost of suffering with Christ? How does God motivate us to go through with it?

2.  Think about and briefly describe some of the ways the creation groans, and then the reason believers groan within themselves. What does creation and believers have in common re: the way this groaning occurs?

3.  What is hope, Biblically speaking? How does Biblical hope differ from mere wishful thinking? What is your hope based upon?

4.  What are some benefits of hope? How does Biblical hope help us in our present lives here on earth?

 

Fleshly Effort Cannot Produce Spiritual Results

September 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Live by FaithNow Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes. Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The LORD judge between you and me.” So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence. (Genesis 16:1-6)

What does one do when God has promised something that seems like its completion is either an improbability (at best) or an impossibility (at worst)?

It would seem that in such a case, there are only a few options:

  • Do not believe God’s promise, and go forward trying to create your own blessings and fulfill your own purposes without His involvement.
  • Take God’s promise literally, and believe that it is true and will indeed happen. Then wait for Him to perform His promise, in His timing (Habakkuk 2:3). While waiting, pray according to the specific promise and ask God to fulfill it, and confirm to Him in prayer that you are waiting for Him.
  • Believe God’s promise, but instead of waiting only for Him, take matters into your own hands and attempt to help Him fulfill it.

In the story of Genesis 16, Abram and Sarai received that kind of promise. Abram was about 85 years old at the time, Sarai about 75. They had no children, and Sarai was not pregnant … apparently she had not been able to conceive. In the light of these circumstances, Sarai suggested to Abram that he bring about the promised son through her handmaiden, an Egyptian girl by the name of Hagar.

This was an accepted practice according to the Code of Hammurabi and the culture of the Canaanites. It could even be regarded noble for a mistress (Sarai) to offer this. Handmaidens were considered the personal property of their mistresses, and if they were asked to do such a thing it was not thought of as a shameful act. The child to be born would be the property of the mistress.

We may attribute godly motives to Abram and Sarah, and we may even suggest that they believed God’s promise. But their method of fulfillment was not of God.

The child born to Hagar would be named Ishmael, who became the father of the Arab peoples. Many centuries of conflict between his descendants and the Jewish people are evidence that Abram and Sarah’s plan was not the plan God had in mind for the fulfillment of His promise to them.

For Further Review

1.  Think of a promise God has made to you. Which of the three options for responding to that promise did you choose?

2.  What was the outcome of the option you chose? How did things work out? Jot down anything in the results that will help you see that doing it God’s way is the best way.

3.  Take time to confess past areas of failure in waiting upon God and His promises. Allow Him to cleanse you (1 John 1:9) and renew you by His Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

Tried and True Commitment

September 2, 2014 Leave a comment

downloadAnd the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him.  Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all. Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, “that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’; except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.” (Genesis 14:17-24)

This remarkable passage tells the story of Abram’s return from the heroic rescue of his nephew Lot, after he and his men recovered everything that had been taken by four victorious and powerful kings.

Two men met Abram that day. The first one mentioned was the king of Sodom, the king of that horrifically wicked city. The second was Melchizedek, described as the king of Salem, and the priest of the Most High God. This is the only historical reference to him in the Bible, although he is referred to in Hebrews chapter 7 as proof that there is a priesthood far superior to the Levitical priesthood of the Old Covenant. Of course the author of Hebrews is referring to our Lord Jesus Christ and His eternal, unchangeable priesthood and intercession on behalf of those who are His (Hebrews 7:1-28; Psalms 110:4). The priesthood of Jesus Christ is infinitely superior to the priesthood under the law of Moses.

In this encounter Abraham would face a very powerful temptation. Many have said that the temptations of pride, money (mammon or wealth), and women (sex) are the temptations that are the greatest dangers for kingdom leaders; here, Abram faces the temptation of wealth. If he received the offer of possessions from the king of Sodom, he would have no doubt been one of the richest men in that part of the world. This was not just a temptation for Abram, it was also a test. Would he keep His oath that he had made to the Most High God? Would he wholly trust the God who owns everything to give him what he needed? Thankfully, Abram passed this test with flying colors.  

Abram had Divine help. Melchizedek had brought him bread and wine (symbols of communion), and had blessed him with a spiritual blessing. In response, Abram paid a tithe of everything to the priestly king. Armed with strength from God, Abram was able to keep his word and stand strong against temptation.

For Further Review

1.  Note that in Genesis 14 Melchizedek fulfilled the function of a priest, operated in the power of a prophet, and held the title of king. How do these positions compare with the offices and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ?

2.  First Abram was blessed by Melchizedek, then he went face to face with the king of Sodom. Why is the order of these two meetings important?

3.  How important is it to you to stand against temptation, or to pass a test from God? What is at stake in either case?

A Study in Meekness

abraham-lotLot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents. Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD. And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are; northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the LORD. (Genesis 13:5-18)

As the LORD had promised, Abram became a very blessed man. And no doubt because his nephew Lot was linked with him, Lot was also greatly blessed (Genesis 12:2-3).

Possessions can sometimes produce problems, however—problems between people. Such was the case with the herdsman of the two clans. Abram took the high road, not wanting the strife to continue. Motivated more by the desire for godliness than the desire for greater gain, he gave Lot his choice of the land. Abram would take what was left to him.

In this act, Abram demonstrated the beautiful quality of meekness. In contrast, Lot demonstrated more of a self-seeking attitude. Lot saw the bountiful land before him, and chose for himself all the plain of Jordan.

Abram trusted God to give him all He wanted to give him; Lot trusted in the opportunity to have as much as he wanted. The result of Abram’s faith was that he was abundantly rewarded … God would give Abram everything his eyes could see, and innumerable descendants. The result of Lot’s choice was that he grew accustomed to a life of comfort and ease, eschewing nomadic life and enjoying city life. Later, this would land him in big trouble.

When a person truly trusts the Lord as Abram did, he/she arrives in the land of contentment. A contented person can allow others to have their space. They can make room for others and step out of the way. They are in control of the self-life, so that it’s not about them. This is the meek person, the one who inherits the earth (Matthew 5:5).

For Further Review

1.  Look up and define the trait of meekness. How was this train exemplified in the story of Genesis 13?

2.  What do you think is required for a person to act in meekness? Suggestion: think of the progression of beatitudes number one through three (Matthew 5:3-5). How do the first two beatitudes help you form your answer?

3.  Think of an area in your life right now that requires you to truly trust the Lord. What promises in the Bible can you lean on to jumpstart your faith?