I think most people when they’re young have grand aspirations. “When I’m older I’m gonna change the world” they may think to themselves. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this sort of thinking if it’s truly the desire to see good happen and not the desire of fame and recognition that leads one to this kind of idealism.
To give this a Christian perspective, perhaps you can remember back to that feeling you had right when you were saved. That moment when Christ took you from dead to alive and your whole perspective on the world changed. Perhaps you were more zealous and ready to do anything and go anywhere; bright-eyed and bushy tailed.
We read stories of Peter standing before the High Council with bold proclamations of Christ. Stephen standing before his executioners preaching the gospel. Paul going from city to city starting churches and patiently suffering so that, “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” (Philippians 1:20)
However, I think we sometimes miss the more common story; those who may not be remembered the same as Peter, Stephen, and Paul- but those who were just as effective where God placed them.
People like Lois and Eunice- the grandmother and mother of Timothy, respectively. Because of the strong testimony of these women Timothy was raised in a household of faith and became a particularly important character of the New Testament.
Or Ananias- a man in Acts 9 who was given an odd calling. After Saul was saved on the road to Damascus he was blinded and for three days and nights stayed in Damascus with no food or drink. God called Ananias, a “certain disciple at Damascus” (Acts 910) to go to the notorious Saul and put his hand on him to heal his sight. Ananias knew well the stories of this man, yet he went, placed his hand on Saul, and called him “brother Saul” (Acts 9:17). God used the faithfulness of this man to heal the blindness of Saul so that that Saul could go and do the things for which he’s known.
The bible is full of these “common” stories; people simply being faithful where God has placed them. There’s no doubt that God does call some to go and do many great and mighty things, however, I would submit that the world as a whole will be changed not usually by the mighty few- but the faithful many. Not usually by the Elijah’s (which are far and few between) but the 7000 who refuse to bow the knee to Baal. (1 Kings 19)
After Jesus removed the legion of demons from the demoniac of Gadara, this man was understandably thrilled. We read in Mark 5:18, “And when he (Jesus) was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him.” This man wanted to be with Jesus- and we can imagine the zeal that he had to go and change the world for Jesus who had just done a miracle in his life.
However, Jesus had a different course for this man. The very next verse reads, “Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” More often than not, these are the people God calls us to reach. I think it’s imperative we understand this principle and we don’t miss the opportunities to reach those around us because we’re dreaming of being a Paul when perhaps God has called us to be a Lois, Eunice, or an Ananias.
There’s obviously a lot of talk about disease right now. Disease has always been something terrifying to mankind; you can’t see it and you usually don’t know you have it unless it has already begun its attack. It truly is the silent assassin, better than the most highly trained covert ops team our military could ever produce.
The way in which our world has panicked due to this virus may be new, but the panic in of itself is nothing new. Disease has been around since the fall of man; for millennia people have watched those they love die from disease with little to nothing they could do to stop it. Whether it was leprosy, the plague, smallpox, or some new disease we haven’t even heard of yet- they have been around, and they will continue until Christ returns.
However, there is good news. We serve a Savior that has power over any disease, any sickness, any malady we could imagine. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus prove His power over the human body.
Matthew 4:24- “And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.”
Mark 6:56- “And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.”
Now, contrary to many so-called “healing ministries” today, we don’t see God working like He did in the gospels. But does that mean He’s not still healing? I believe God still moves and works in the lives of those who are sick just as much today as He did then, however, I believe He uses different means to do so. In His providence, He can guide a doctor to a proper diagnoses or prescribe the right medicine just as easily as He can supernaturally heal.
However, the real problem is not a physical disease, but a spiritual disease; not a sickness that can kill the body but a sickness that can kill the soul. In the book of Mark, Jesus had gone to the house of Matthew to have fellowship. The Pharisees were mad that Jesus would dare go to the home of a sinner, to which Jesus replied, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17)
The fact is we are all sick with the deadliest disease- sin; and we all have need of the only Physician that can cure us. This particular disease can’t be cured with medicine or surgery but only by the blood of an atonement sacrifice. Of course, God loved us enough to send that sacrifice in the form of His only Son.
For those cleansed by His blood, we have been, “quickened (made alive), who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). He is the Great Physician indeed- the only one who can take those who are dead and make them alive like they have never been before.
God gave us senses in order to learn about and experience the world around us; this is something we usually learn about from a very young age. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch are the building blocks of our information intake.
Two of the more complex aspects of our anatomy are our eyes and ears. To give a very basic description of the functionality of our eyes, we see when the light reflecting off whatever we are looking at enters our cornea. However, since our eyes are curved, it bends the light and our eyes actually receive an upside-down image in the retina. The only reason we don’t see everything upside-down is because our brains flip the image for us to see correctly. An even more basic description of the ear, sound waves enter the ear canal causing bones to vibrate. These bones are so tiny that even when bundled together they are still collectively smaller than a dime. These vibrations stimulate what are called hair cells that send nerve impulses to the brain allowing us to hear.
God is truly a master when it comes to design. Our ears and eyes are so complex that it caused even Charles Darwin to say about the eye, “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” He did, however, go on to say, “the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.” Even though it didn’t cause his faith in his theory to waver even Darwin had trouble when it came to the complexity of the eye.
When it comes to our eyes and our ears, they work exactly how He intends for them to work. However, functioning eyes and ears don’t really mean you can see and hear. A common phrase of Jesus you will see when reading through the gospels is “if any man have ears to hear, let him hear”. It seems odd that Jesus would say something like this; unless they were plugging their ears if they were functional, they would hear what He was saying. This must mean something else.
Here’s the truth; eyes to see and ears to hear don’t necessitate seeing and hearing. God gives Ezekiel the answer, “Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 12:2). To have eyes and ears that don’t work is not natural, therefore, to have eyes and ears and not see and hear is also unnatural. Ezekiel takes it further and says it is rebellious.
We can read the Word of God with our eyes, and we can listen to the message of God with our ears, but to truly see and hear goes further than simple basic understanding and acknowledgment. If I give my kids instruction that they hear, but don’t obey, have they truly listened? This was the problem in Israel. They had every advantage- they had the prophets, they had the priesthood, and they had the temple; all showing them the truth of God’s message. They could hear and see the truth- but they didn’t obey and follow that truth.
In Mark chapter four (vss. 13-20), Jesus gives the parable of the sower and the seed. He said some hear the Word and Satan steals it away, some hear the Word and receive it but have no root, they don’t endure hardship, some hear the Word but they bear no fruit, however, others hear the Word, receive it, and bear abundant fruit. All “heard” but only those that had “ears to hear” brought forth any fruit.
To truly see and hear necessitates believing and obeying. To truly see God is to believe Him, to truly hear God is to obey His message. God made us with incredible wisdom, our eyes and ears are marvels of creation. We need to use them to see and hear the message of His love and grace; for our understanding and for His glory.
Having kids has definitely changed my perspective on many things. There are things that I see differently now, not necessarily because I am wiser (although I hope I am) but because experiences can shape the way you view things.
One thing that I have a new understanding on is the Passover lamb. We read in Exodus 12 that each family had to pick their lamb and bring it into their homes for four days. This is an interesting part of the Passover tradition that isn’t talked about as much.
Having kids has made me think about this in new ways. I know that all my kids generally love animals- especially April. I can remember taking the kids to a zoo before April could even walk and with each passing animal she would ooh and aah. There’s not a doubt in my mind that if I brought a young lamb into our house for four days our kids would grow very attached.
Four days of feeding, protecting, and making sure that lamb stays fit to be the sacrifice it needs to be. However, one can only imagine at the end of those four days the tearful questions of “why” as the lamb was about to be taken for that sacrifice. Fathers and mothers all over Israel would have the chance to explain to their kids about the events of Egypt. They would tell them that the Lord came through the land that night and would only pass over the homes that had the lamb’s blood on the doorpost. They would be able to explain, “Child, this lamb is a substitute- only by the blood of the lamb was life offered where there should have been death.”
Obviously, this brings us to roughly 2000 years ago around this same time of year that another Passover lamb was getting ready to be sacrificed. The countless number of lambs that were killed from the Exodus to Jesus were only a picture of a greater sacrifice to come.
John the Baptist testified to this- “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Peter wrote of it- “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
John saw it- “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6)
Easter is a time when we celebrate the resurrection of this lamb. This is as it should be, 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 show us how important this is. However, we must never stop celebrating the life of the lamb as well, for if His life was not what it should have been, there would not have been a resurrection.
When we think of the life of Jesus, the only innocent life that has ever been lived, it might by easy to have tearful questions of why. Like a young Israelite child who had grown to love the lamb wondering why it must now be taken to be killed. Allow the Word of God to explain, “Child, this lamb is a substitute- only by the blood of the lamb is life offered where there should be death.”
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the works Thy hand hath made; I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder, Thy pow'r throughout the universe displayed. When Christ shall come, with shouts of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! Then I shall bow in humble adoration, and there proclaim, “My God how great Thou art!”. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee, “how great Thou art! How great Thou art!” Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee, “how great Thou art! How great Thou art!”
These are lyrics that have no doubt been loved by millions since it was written in 1885 by a Swede named Carl Boberg. For me, however, when I think of this song I always think of Lonny Merriott. Lonny was a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Muleshoe Texas where my dad has pastored for the past 20+ years. Lonny was an old country farmer whose dad actually started the church. To make a long story short, Lonny got saved under my dad’s ministry and he really did become a new man. Like clockwork, Lonny was faithfully at all services, he was the first one to arrive, and he would wear his coveralls (his nice ones).
But the most indelible memory I have of Lonny was when he would sing. Lonny had an incredible baritone voice that would simply resonate through our building as he would inevitably sing, “How Great Thou Art”. If he ever sang a different song I simply don’t remember- but I didn’t mind. Lonny was not anything anyone would consider a modern man in touch with his emotions- he was hardened after decades of hard work. He wasn’t a rude man by any means, but not one you would ever expect to express his feelings. But when he would sing that song- almost every time- that great baritone voice would crack with emotion. As Lonny would think about the great God that saved his soul it would bring that old farmer to nearly weep in front of a whole congregation.
The Psalms are full of references to God’s greatness. Just to give a few:
Psalm 31:19- “Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!”
Psalm 47:2- “For the LORD most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth.”
Psalm 71:19- “Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high, who hast done great things: O God, who is like unto thee!”
Psalm 86:10- “For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.”
Psalm 119:156- “Great are thy tender mercies, O LORD”
Our God certainly is great and worthy to be praised. It was only a great God who could crush the pride of Lonny (the son of the founding pastor) to cause him to come to the current pastor (a man much younger than him) to admit he was living a lie and ask him to take him through the plan of salvation.
It is only a great God who could have the wisdom to create this plan of salvation and the power to carry it out. It is this same great God, with His great mercy, His great grace, and His, “great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7) Lonny loved this great God and this great God deserves and is worthy of our love and adoration resulting in our faithfulness and obedience.
As the years went on, Lonny’s voice begin to diminish. That once strong baritone was weaker, and he struggled with minimal range. However, from time to time, Lonny would still get up and sing about his great God; and even though his voice was cracking from age, it was still obvious when it began to crack because of emotion. A few years ago, I had the privilege of being one of six men who would carry Lonny’s casket and place it on the pedestal above his freshly dug grave. His time on earth had ended but his eternity had just begun; and what gives me great joy when I think about Lonny Merriott is to picture him now bowing in humble adoration and proclaiming, “My God How Great Thou Art”!
Paul was truly an incredible man. His passion and zeal seemed to be unmatched in whatever it was he set his mind to do. In the verses directly before our text he speaks of his life prior to his conversion. In the eyes of the world this man was destined for greatness- he had everything he needed to be one of the greats of Israel.
However, something drastic happened. Saul seemed to be on the fast track towards being a high-ranking Pharisee; until Jesus stepped in. In Acts 9, Saul was on his way to destroy the church while Jesus was on His way to change the church forever. Jesus took a man the world thought was destined for greatness and made him great in ways the world could never imagine.
He went from being revered in the eyes of man to being, “in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)
However, this was as it should be in the eyes of Christ, and that was all that mattered to Paul. He could honestly look at all he gave up to follow Christ and say, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ”. He was willing to give up everything and more to grow deeper in his relationship with Christ. He was willing, as he said, “That I may know him”.
One thing that I pray happens as a result of this virus is for Christians to see there are likely things in our lives we could easily sacrifice and count as “loss for Christ”. For far too long people have given excuse after excuse as to why they couldn’t serve Christ, or come to church, or even read their bible. God has certainly taken those excuses away for a significant portion of the population.
I don’t know how long this will last and I’m sure it will eventually come to an end and people will go back to their busy schedules; but for the time being use this time to take an account of your life and see if there are things that could, or should, be changed for the cause of Christ. Perhaps this is helping some see there are things that could be given up to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ; and I pray that we are all willing that we may know Him.
Uncertainty is a fact of life; one doesn’t have to live long to know the truth of that statement. Still, the uncertainty we are facing now, not just as city, but as a nation and a globe, is unprecedented.
This pandemic is unlike anything we have ever experienced, the fear that surrounds it is unsettling. Uncertainty is abounding- when will the disease stop spreading, how many will die, when will they develop a vaccine, will it actually be effective, when will the quarantine end, when will we go back to any sense of normalcy?
All of these questions led me to a specific story in the bible that is quite similar to what is happening in our nation right now. A mob had just crucified Jesus, and the disciples are frightened. It’s not hard to see why, if you know anything about mobs, they are like sharks- once they get a taste of blood, they want to devour everything around them. The natural thought of the disciples would be “are we next”?
Our verse shows us the similarities to our situation today. “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.”
First, they were quarantined. They had shut themselves off from the world. Any sense of normalcy was out the window. The world as they knew it was significantly different now.
Second, they were scared. As was stated, they feared the mob was coming for them next. They might not be panic buying toilet paper, but they are scared nonetheless.
Third, and not exactly mentioned, but they are also facing uncertainty in their future. For three years they have studied and followed their Messiah, their Rabbi, and their friend. Now, He’s gone, and they must figure out life without Him there with them in the flesh.
We too are quarantined, many are scared, and we are facing uncertain days. Allow the words of Jesus to His disciples speak to you now in new and fresh ways, “Peace be unto you”.
Nothing is truly different now than it was then:
Jesus is still reigning.
Speaking of Jesus 1 Peter 3:22 says, “Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”
Jesus is still in control.
Colossians 1:16-17- “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
When Jesus told His disciples to have peace, the same rings true for us today. We have no need to fear something that is within the power of God. (Romans 8:35-39)
Philippians speaks well to this issue, “Be careful (anxious) for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). We have no need to be worried or anxious about anything going on in the world right now, coronavirus or otherwise, because the peace of God, the same peace Jesus offered His disciples, is available to the child of God who goes to God in prayer.
The amazing thing about this peace is it surpasses our ability to comprehend. It might not make much sense why Christians can go about life, even in the most extreme of circumstances, with peace- but we don’t have to understand it to experience it.
Lastly, just like the disciples, the fear that has been displayed, especially by Christians, is unwarranted. We can face uncertainty with certainty- certain that God is in control and our faith in Him should be enough to calm the fears. (Mark 4:35-41)