Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 2 August 2017

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.  And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.  Hebrews 11, verses 11-12.

The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac is a miracle.   If you aren’t familiar with it, the 50000 foot synopsis is that God tells an 80 year old Abraham that he will have a son from his similarly elderly wife, Sarah.  Abraham believes it…and God then waits another generation before making the promise come true.  Sarah initially laughs at God’s messenger when said messenger delivers the news.   Yet nine months later, Isaac is born.   Eventually, Isaac has children, and their children and children’s children become the nation of Israel.   In time, they are as numerous as stars in the sky.   In time, Abraham also blesses all people after him because one of his descendants is Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, in a day of invitro fertilization, advanced medicine, and modern sanitation, American women having children at advanced age seems like no big deal.   Janet Jackson, who is a few months older than me, just had a baby…and she and I are both in our fifties.  That simply wasn’t the case in Abraham’s day.   Thousands of years ago (in fact, only a few decades ago), if a woman was beyond her mid-thirties, it was unlikely she would even conceive let alone have a viable, healthy baby.   The risk to both child and woman was too high.   In the Third World today, that’s still very much the case, though even this is improving.

Can you imagine a woman in her eighties having a baby to a man who is 100 years old?   You might read about it in a tabloid…or in the book of Genesis.   I found a story online about a woman in her seventies in India who recently had a baby.   But she had the baby in a modern hospital and benefitted from modern practices.   Sarah bore Isaac in a tent in the desert when she was in her seventies, maybe eighties or older.

It’s a miracle.  What’s the miracle, though?  That God created life out of lifelessness?   That old people had kids?   That a nation of believers was created from a barren couple?   That the Messiah would eventually be born to this couple’s descendants?

Or was the miracle that they believed?

If you think about it, that miracle still happens every day.   In the face of a world that is still hostile to the idea of God (let alone the physical being of Him), that’s miraculous.   People in Abraham’s day rejected God en masse.  After all, Sodom and Gomorrah happened in Abraham’s day.  Of the 7 billion people here on the Third Rock today, most still reject God.   Most people reject this story of Abraham as just a fable.   Most of those 7 billion people reject Jesus as Savior, or even as a fact.

Face it:  if you believe, and if you hold onto that belief despite a world marching in lockstep to vigorously oppose that, then it’s a miracle.  It’s the Spirit of the living God taking hold of your soul.   It’s the Great I AM joining with you to help you live your life for others.   It’s the Savior demonstrating His endless love for you by redeeming you from that world hostile to Him.  Whether or not God will use you to produce a nation of His chosen people remains to be seen.   It did for many years in Abraham’s life, and then it all came true.

For further reading:  Genesis 17:17 – 18:14, Genesis 21:2, 1 Corinthians 1:9, Romans 4:19.

Lord, I praise You for the life of Abraham and the miracles You worked through Him.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 26 February 2016

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14, verses 60-62.

Words mean things, and the way, order, and even the cadence in which Jesus replies to the chief priest here matters very, very much.   Jesus deliberately said exactly what He said to state not only some powerful truths but also to offer the erring high priest yet another lifeline.

Men versus God; the age-old conflict.   Notice how the high priest talks about what men are doing. He doesn’t believe this Jesus is God, that Jesus is the Son of Man who He claims to be.   Since the days of Aaron, it had been the high priest’s life to revere God, to live his life in service to God.   Each priest had awaited and anticipated the coming of the Christ, the deliverer sent to redeem Israel from its sins. Now there came a man who said He was the Christ, who proved He was the Christ, whose followers believed He was the Christ. What does the high priest do?   He falls back on “what did these men x or y?”   Would we do the same?

I am.   That’s a powerful thing. In a way, Jesus was just answering the question in the affirmative; that’s true.   Yet this translation of the Bible says something extraordinary because, when one of the ancient Jews would answer this particular question the way Jesus did, He was (once again) proclaiming Himself to be God by taking on Himself God’s holy name.   Remember that Moses asked God what name he should use when the Israelites asked who God was and God answered “I AM.   Tell them I AM has sent you.”   In being asked if He was the promised divine Messiah, Son of God, Jesus answered not only “yes” but using I AM as His own title.   To an unbelieving priest, that would be heresy worthy of death.

You will see.   This is a promise.   Jesus knew what was happening, that this little drama was going to conclude at Calvary.   He was using what time He had now, with the authorities, to tell them what would happen.   It wasn’t just a prophecy about His resurrection. It was also a promise that they, even though they disbelieved Him, would see Him clearly revealed as who He said He is in the time to come.   It’s a promise for us as well.

Finally, “coming on the clouds,” predicting His eventual post-resurrection return.   It’s not different from how God Himself predicted Jesus’ eventual victory on the cross (now at hand in Mark) from the very instant He confronted Adam and Eve in the Garden. Jesus doesn’t give them a day; none is needed.   Instead, He tells them how to know it’s real, to understand that this is a fact and that God will reveal it in this way in His own due time.

In all of these words, Jesus spoke out of love, offering His beloved, yes the priests, a way out and the hope of salvation even as they conspired to violently end His life.

Lord, thank You for all You said and did for these people.

Read Mark 14, verses 53-65.

Practical Proverbial, 13 January 2016

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Mark 13, verses 30-31.

It’s easy to overlook the commitment that God is making with us in these two verses, yet perhaps we do so all the time.

These verses come at the end of the section that talks a great deal about the end times, reminding us to seek Jesus now.   To seal the deal of our salvation (no pun intended), Jesus gives us assurances that what He’s said is dependable.   “I’m promising you now that what I say will happen in your lifetimes.”   The world ended in the lifetime of the Disciples?   Perhaps not the planet, but the world of their upbringing did.   A few years hence, when most of them were still alive, the Disciples saw or heard about the destruction of Jerusalem, including the sacred Temple.   The Romans marched in and wiped it out, then scattered the Jews for nearly 2000 years. Many reputable Biblical scholars point to the destruction of Jerusalem as having fulfilled the end times prophecies described in Daniel, Revelation and other places throughout the Bible.   I’m not one of them; I’d advise you to Google it for yourself.   Let’s just summarize by saying that verse 30 makes the promise that those who heard it would see the end.

Then, just after making that promise, Jesus permanently seals the deal.   It’s as if He says “don’t get wrapped around the details, folks.   I keep my promises and I always will.”   Everything we know, every single thing that is, every bit of matter in the universe will go away and be destroyed; that was evident to the believers of first century Judea.   Yet when all that we know is gone, Jesus will still be.   He who is the great I AM and the Word which became flesh was and is and is to come.

It’s the only promise we can rely on.

We can’t rely on Barack Obama (or anyone in the government, actually).   We can’t rely on Stephen Hawking.   We can’t rely on the academic self-appointed intelligentsia.   Hollywood?   Can’t rely on it.   Jobs? Can’t rely on them.   Bank accounts (or the Powerball)? Your new car?   My grandson?   Your Friday night plans? The neural matter between our ears that holds our thoughts and dreams?

Zippo.   Can’t rely on them.

All those things will pass away.   All of them are perishable and deteriorating, even dying. Not Jesus.   When the knowledge and tangible things on which we’ve built our lives are gone, Jesus remains.   He will remain; He does remain; He is.

Perhaps that’s the better promise of the two given in these verses.  It’s great that we get to fulfill prophecy, but what matters more is that Jesus is.   His words are reliable, true, and life even when reliability, truth and life seem to be no more. In our worst moments of despondence, God the Father, Son and Spirit still is committed to us and committed to redeeming us from the consequences of sin.   His love is the glue that holds our world together, and even when that world seems to be falling to pieces and going away, His promise and love still remain because He is.

Lord, I thank You and praise You for being committed to me, a sinner. Thank You for remaining when all else fails.   Thank You that Your Word will never pass away.

Read Mark 13, verses 32-37.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 18 May 2015

There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Mark 7, verses 32-35.

Jesus does this thing, these steps, then heals a deaf mute in Tyre. There are dozens of stories in the Bible about Jesus healing people.   What’s so great about this one?

I submit there are two things about it that set it apart.   Jesus looks up to heaven and then sighs deeply; that’s number one.  And number two is that word: Ephphatha or, in the king’s English, ‘be opened.’   Amazing

You see, I seriously believe our sins grieve Jesus. Taking all our sins on your shoulders is tough; you and I can’t begin to fathom how tough it was (and is). That’s the rub of it: is.   Our sins, today, here and now, must grieve Jesus.   It wasn’t enough that He took on Himself all the trillions of sins of mankind up to that time.   No, He took on Himself all the sins that were to come, of billions of people not yet come to Earth. Nobody at the time would understand what was happening and some would die in vain.   Over the next few millennia, billions more would die because of sin, many never knowing Him. How could that not grieve Him?

What’s more, human suffering grieves Him.   I think that’s why He looked up to heaven, where He knew the God of eternal love resides, and then looked back at his perfect creation, the deaf mute man, who was suffering from imperfection. We don’t know how the man came to be deaf and mute, only that he was.   Jesus looked at him and loved him.   He saw that the man – the creation who had been made in God’s own image – was suffering from a less than God-like condition.   It must have grieved Him; it must have made Him deeply sad inside.

So He did something about it.   He responded to the crowd by taking the man aside, doing this little ritual, and then uttering those amazing words, “be opened.”   Do you grasp the deep beauty of what Jesus says here? “Be” is a condition and an action; it ‘is,’ which is a tense and verb in the same conjugation.   To be and in being:   they are words that describe something done to a person as well as the way they are.   Have I lost you yet?

Then consider it this way: I understand it better if I remember that, in French, ‘to be’ is the verb ‘etre.’ You learn that in first year French.   What I find amazing about it this is that part of conjugating ‘to be’ is ‘I am.’ Jesus is commanding I AM, God, Himself, to actively be with this man.   When that happens, it opens him.   Jesus opens his ears; He opens his mind; He opens his heart.   An entire world is opened to the man because the Great I AM has done so for him.

And all that out of an ancient word of Aramaic (and French). There’s a lot that’s great about that.

Lord, You are the I AM. You are being, future, and all hope.

Read Mark 7, verses 31-37.