He was an unlikely prospect to be one of a few handpicked representatives of the Lord. His resume was rather sketchy at best. His background was not one that included rabbinical school nor had he been a loyal religious participant. He had collected taxes, and his friends were as shady as he was. It was from his tax booth that Jesus invited him on an improbable journey, “Follow Me (Luke 5:27).” As shocking as the invitation may have been, his acceptance was just as surprising. Up and off he went.
There is no indication that he hesitated in his response. He didn’t ask for a week or two to think about it. Why he didn’t remains a mystery, but he left it all behind and began the adventure of a lifetime. Obviously, he knew something of this one called the Christ. His first impulse was to throw a dinner party. That was surely an eye-opener. The room wasn’t exactly filled with the town’s elite, and the critics were vocal. They always are. Religious circles seem to attract them.
Interesting, isn’t it? The Savior of sinners came and was surrounded by…sinners, and the ones who were supposed to be God’s people complained and criticized. The Son of God made one of the most obvious statements imaginable to explain, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick (Luke 5:31).” Seems pretty logical, does it not?
To complain about Jesus being surrounded by sinners is somewhat like patients complaining because a doctor is in the middle of sick people. We don’t expect a hospital to be filled with healthy people, and we sure want doctors to be there to help the ailing. The Savior came searching for those who were terminally ill with the most horrible of spiritual diseases. Satan deceives, damages and destroys God’s most treasured possession. The Son of God came with the cure.
People today are scrambling to get the COVID-19 vaccine. They fear getting the disease which can be deadly and are willing to wait in long lines to get their shots. Sin is always, 100% of the time, fatal if left untreated and we are all afflicted. How urgent is the need for what Jesus offers? Yet, the establishment criticized the Great Physician for mixing with the sin-sick. They were the very ones who needed Him. We still do.
“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).” Medicine. Turn to the Lord. The diseased cannot keep feeding their illness. The Son of Man did not indulge their sin or justify their actions. He summoned them to change. Levi (Better known as Matthew) left his past behind and followed Jesus. We do not know much more about him, but he was one of a select dozen. Some become famous like Peter. Others don’t. The Lord invites them all.
It was a fall that defies description or understanding. It was not hearsay or secondhand information. He had actually been there to hear the warning from the Lord Himself. “Deny Me and I will deny you.” Yet, he did the unthinkable and not just once but three times. How could he? Fear? Intimidation? Surely, he was disqualified for any future service in the work of an apostle relegated to be a mere footnote of forgotten history. He had violated a fundamental principle.
Jesus was not caught off guard. He warned him. Conditions had soured long before this moment as the storm clouds gathered on all sides. Religious leaders and world powers collaborated to carry out their plan. The odds were overwhelming from a human perspective. The Lord knew better. The eternal plan of redemption was unfolding, and the ultimate collision was on the horizon. The old fisherman was about to get swept away in the tidal wave that he was confident he could conquer.
It was misplaced confidence. Uncomfortable questions were fired at him. He had walked with Jesus. He was educated at the feet of the master teacher. He saw the lame walk, demons cast out and storms stilled. He had even taken a few steps on water, but nothing had prepared him for his own wobbly knees. He thought he could withstand any storm. He was wrong. The laboratory of life will surely expose our hidden weaknesses.
He failed. There is no way to sidestep that truth. He denied his relationship with Jesus with increasing volume. He sat at a distance with the enemy as they beat, mocked and spit on his Lord. Peter had wilted at the most critical time. Circumstances had led him to the point of surrender. Now, what? Where does he fit in now that he has shown that he has a breaking point and had greatly overestimated his own strength of commitment? Where, indeed?
We have the benefit of knowing the rest of his story. Jesus confronted him three times with the ultimate question (John 21:15-17), and three times he answered in the affirmative. Peter went on to preach one of the most famous sermons ever (Acts 2), to be an elder in the church and to write two books of the New Testament; impressive work for such a failure.
Everyone’s resume includes victories and defeats, successes and failures. Blood was shed to wash away the failures and defeats. Peter was right in the middle of the strategy to make that possible. It was a combination of insiders and outsiders, those who loved Jesus and those who hated Him. Some probably didn’t even know who He was. They joined forces to carry out God’s plan. Unimaginable grace in action crucifying the lamb of God to take away our sins; yours, mine and all the failures of the world. Peter still had a place. So, do you and I.
The rock star evangelist strolls to the podium with his million-dollar smile and thousand-dollar suit to assure us that God wants us to be rich like him. He packs huge auditoriums and sells books by the truckload. His private jet awaits to fly him off to his new vacation home. Life is good. He is surely a modern-day Paul…or is he?
He was known as Saul when he is introduced. He is aggressively hostile to the disciples and dedicated to snuffing out this heretical movement. On a journey to do just that, he was flattened by the floor. It was one intense encounter, and this dedicated Pharisee was blinded into submission. He had been selected by God for a special mission. This is the original Paul, and his was hardly a jet-set life.
The long knives came out immediately. Conspiracies to rid the world of this turn-coat traitor were formed wherever he went. He escaped in a basket under the cloak of darkness, suffered stonings, beatings and ship wrecks. His history is filled with drama as he flees from one threat to another until he is finally captured and confined. He was assigned the task of taking the message to the Gentiles, and that infuriated the establishment to the point of bloodshed. He perpetually lived under a cloud of death threats.
Much of his story is unveiled in his journey to Rome. He wanted to visit and had planned to do so (Romans 1:13), but it was hardly expected to be as a prisoner. In His evangelistic career he ran into failures. The Lord both sent him and hindered him. He was commissioned by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2), and stopped by that same Spirit (Acts 16:6). His plans flopped in order to get him into God’s will. That is the story of his life. What about ours? Do we see our failures as part of God’s strategy to redirect us?
He was progressing up the Jewish ranks in impressive style when the Lord interrupted with a different assignment that would turn all of his associates against him. From hero to fugitive in one eye-opening episode. He lost his prestige and gained a nation of enemies in that moment. He had been energetic in his persecution of the church, energetically wrong and the Lord turned him into an example (1 Timothy 12-17). God is good, but we must never mistake our notions of Him for what that really means.
Paul was His hand-picked man for a specific mission, and it turned his world upside down. It did not take him into a life of ease but of hardships. He suffered because he was obedient. Fancy accommodations were never his. Chains were. Confinement was. Luxury was not. Yet, he did not waver along his journey. He learned the secret to contentment in every situation (Philippians 4:12). Learning that really is our best life now.
Happy Valentine’s Day! It is a day made for expressions of love for those who are most special in our lives. It is a time of giving. Flower orders and candy sales boom in celebration of love, but no one ever showed it like our God. He sent a gift far beyond all comparison.
It is a dramatic picture that is drawn through His word. Divine hands took ordinary dust and fashioned something totally different than the cows and the birds. It was a human made in the image of the Creator. A perfect partner was provided, and they shared paradise until they were swayed by an evil influencer. The crash was dramatic. Murder within the family soon followed. Lingering behind the scenes of the deteriorating civilization was a God who never stopped loving them even in their darkest moments.
History reveals that His powerful arm of love expresses itself in puzzling ways. A worldwide flood doesn’t fit neatly into our human concept. Four hundred years of slavery seem inconsistent with an all-powerful benevolent Lord. His chosen people being ravaged by foreign military powers, not just once but on multiple occasions, can raise a lot of doubts. Is He truly a God of love?
Yes, He is (1 John 4:8). It is His essence and beyond our capacity to comprehend. Occasionally, we catch a glimpse of its greatness but fully understanding it is beyond us. It spans the entire globe and covers every soul throughout all the ages. At the perfect moment, He sent His most special gift. It staggers our minds to conceive of such a move. The deep darkness of the world was in need, and love acted. It was like nothing ever seen before.
Angels proclaimed it to…shepherds? Surely, this child should have been announced to the kings and dignitaries first. The press agent certainly blew this one. And to be born in that little village among the animals? How common. As an adult He rubbed elbows with the sleazy tax-collectors and the unsavory sinners. This kind of love sure was strange. He even talked with Samaritans and divorced ones, at that.
It is quite a demonstration of the Lord’s love. He stepped down from the throne of heaven to mix and mingle with His lost and crumbling creation. He walked into the darkness with His everlasting light and was largely rejected. He did it anyway. Love is unconcerned with high hurdles and social barriers as it extends a hand to the drowning.
Jesus dropped all the privileges of equality with God to become a servant for the needy and a sacrifice for the lost. Love simply gives whatever it has to whoever needs it. Prompted by His love, God gave His Son, and His Son gave His life. Now, it’s our turn to embrace that love and share it with a world deeply in need. Happy Valentine’s Day!
The world seems to be filled with negativity. New strains of the Corona virus are stalking the earth. Protests of various social issues are filling our cities from coast to coast. Violence follows in their footsteps. Ferocious winter storms sweep across the nation burying regions under near-historic levels of snow. The country races further and further away from God and suffers uncontrollable problems. There has never been a better time to take the Lord’s light into a dark, cold world.
We are nearing the end of our forty days of prayer, and it is time to turn it into actions. We have listened to the word of God and spent time expressing ourselves to Him. We do not want to stop either of those practices, and now we want to take our rays out into the darkness. The Lord is the true light, and the closer we follow in His steps the brighter we will shine. We can, and we must. There is a deep need.
It’s a call or a card for someone who is hurting. The virus has attacked just about everyone in some way through friends, relatives or possibly personally. A word of encouragement would lift their sagging spirits. The economy has suffered tremendous setbacks during the pandemic, and many of our neighbors are facing financial hardships. The opportunities are everywhere, and our blessing is to brighten their darkness so that our Father will be glorified.
We often think in big terms when it comes to working for the Lord, but Jesus spoke of feeding the hungry and quenching the thirsty. Individual rays of light may not seem like much but if each of us focuses on looking for and seizing those openings, we can light up our town with thirty or forty rays every day. Add an almighty God to our seemingly insignificant efforts, and there is no limit to what can happen.
We have been given a rebirth into this world and at this time. We are joined together by the Lord Himself who has created us again for this specific moment. None of us is here by accident nor without purpose. Good works were in His mind when He generated a new you. No one can take your place nor do what He designed you to do. It is a great blessing to know that we are God’s handiwork and part of His eternal plan. Jesus came into the world not because people were perfect, but because we weren’t. We desperately needed salvation from the destructive lives of sin that had robbed us of our dignity as the crown jewel of His creation. He offers us a second chance, a new birth. He resurrects us from a spiritual death in order to send us back into a dead world. It is gloomy and dark. They need the light that no one else can offer.