Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Time to Wake Up

After a long day’s journey, Jesus and his disciples arrived at the town of Nain, having traveled about twenty-five miles from Capernaum. Jesus immediately encountered a funeral procession at the entrance of the town. In those days, as in many parts of the world even today, the funeral procession leaves the house and people follow the coffin to the cemetery. At this procession a lonely woman preceded the coffin which brought her directly to Jesus. People were wailing and others were making mourning sounds.

The widow woman walked alone without a husband or any other children. The heartbroken woman was on her way to bury her only son. She would be left alone with no one to provide for her. Luke says that when Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her, and he said, “Don’t cry” (Luke 7:13). Jesus was moved with compassion for the woman.

Empathy transforms moments and brings deep meaning into relationships. Jesus’ empathy transformed the moment for this woman. If a husband can grasp what his wife is going through and empathize with her, she will be comforted and drawn to him. If a mother can understand and identify with the struggle her son is having, he will be encouraged. But if this is so, then why does it happen so little in our lives? It is because we are a people of self-focus. We are inhibited because of the shame we carry, or angry because of resentment, or jealous because of a comparison, and unfortunately we cannot grasp the pain of another. If Jesus can teach us a lesson that would bring life to our families, it would be this—the ability to care deeply for each other.

When Jesus says, “Don’t cry” to the woman, he isn’t proposing that she repress her emotions. Rather he is offering her hope—a reason not to cry. She cries, for her loss and sadness is all that she has, but Jesus is about to give her much more than that. Luke continues the story as Jesus went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!"  The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother (Luke 7:14-15).

What an amazing picture this is as Jesus confronts death. He would confront it again and again, and each time he would be the victor. When Jesus spoke, the boy heard. His body didn’t, but his spirit did. The lifeless, cold body came to life as the heart started beating and the blood began flowing through his arteries again after having been dead for hours. He sat up in his own coffin and began to talk. I’m not sure what he said or if anyone actually heard him since most would have been in a complete state of shock.

That same voice—the voice of Jesus who alone can speak to death will speak to all God’s children no matter where their bodies were deposited. From millions of cemeteries around the world to the depths of the sea, even from the thin air, Jesus will call their bodies to life with his word. Hear these amazing words from John: "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice” (John 5:28).

I remember my father coming into my room as a boy and saying, “Son, it’s time to wake up.” I would open my eyes and see my father’s face. John says there is going to be a day when all of those who have preceded us in death will hear his voice. He is going to say, “Get up, Arlie. Wake up, Troy. Time to get up, Ken; it’s resurrection morning!" We will wake up and see his face. What a day to look forward to.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Speak the Word

After Jesus finished the Sermon on the Mount, Luke tells us a very instructive story about simple faith. The Synagogue leaders in Capernaum went to Jesus on behalf of a Roman Centurion. They asked Jesus to come and heal his servant. They pleaded that the man deserves to have you do this because he loves our nation and he built our synagogue (Luke 7:3-5). The Jewish leaders must have really been impressed with this soldier because they usually didn’t do anyone’s bidding.

Jesus consented to their request and was going to the centurion’s house when another delegation arrived from the centurion. They delivered this message:  "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof” (Luke 7:6). I think the centurion sent the second group because he felt he had been misrepresented by the Jewish leaders’ words. I say that because he clearly disputes their claim that he is worthy to have Jesus come.

Once, I was misrepresented to others by a friend whom I had taken a trip with when he told them I prayed at 2:00 in the morning, and he told my wife how lucky she was to have me. I corrected his words by telling them that I was praying at 2:00, but only because he woke me up with his snoring. Secondly, it’s not my wife who is lucky, but it’s me to have her. My friend’s words made me feel uncomfortable, and I wanted to correct the record, and that’s what the centurion did. He knew himself and what’s more, he knew Jesus, and he wanted to be honest with the Lord.

This centurion had understood himself as he really was. Few of us have seen and comprehend what we are capable of. We all have proclivities to think negatively and to do bad from our earliest days on this earth. He had, however, seen Jesus and come to understand that Jesus was God and that he could do anything. I don’t know if he had heard about the time he expelled the demons from the boy who was possessed or the occasion he spoke to the winds and the waves and they obeyed him, but he knew something about Jesus.

His faith was very simple, and it was founded on what he had observed or heard about Jesus. If Jesus had power over demons and sickness, then he could expel the sickness from his servant as well. He demonstrated his understanding with these words: “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it" (Luke 7:8). He had said to Jesus don’t bother to come to my house because I am not worthy, but just speak the word and my servant will be healed (Luke 7:6).

Jesus’ response was one of amazement, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel."  Luke also tells us “Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well” (Luke 7:10).

There is something valuable to learn from this centurion, and that is that we are not worthy to demand God to do for us what we want, but we can ask. We can ask knowing that Jesus has all authority—he only has to speak the word, and it will be done.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Stay the Course

The victorious and meaningful Christian life is marked by perseverance. It has always been this way. Even Jesus’ disciples were concerned with knowing when the end of the world would come and when Jesus would set up his kingdom. Jesus told them that in the last days there would be many who would be false teachers and even some would claim to be Christ. These false teachers would deceive many. There would also be much bad news of wars and natural phenomenon such as floods, tornados, fires, hurricanes and the like. In addition, there would be targeted persecution against Christians, and some believers would be imprisoned and others killed. Jesus responded to all of this with these words “but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13).

Jesus wanted his disciples to pace themselves and not be blown out of the water by the bad news all around them. He wanted them to stay the course and stay in the race. Perseverance was the needed ingredient for those who intended to finish the race like Paul: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:6-7).

Jesus, however, went on to describe the mission of the church to his disciples “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14). Jesus wanted his church to be steady and not panic when bad things happen all around us. None of these things should disrupt the most important thing—the proclamation of the gospel. Instead of stopping progress, they would be the opportunities to spread the story of Jesus. That is exactly what happened in the book of Acts. The more the church was persecuted, the more it grew. Luke tells us that despite the persecution “the word of God continued to increase and spread” (Acts 12:24).

So no matter how many messiahs appear, we are to reject them and follow Jesus. No matter how many calamities strike the world, we are to understand that these are things that happen in a broken world, but they should not discourage us. Even when we are targeted and made to suffer for our faith, we are to remember that this is what they did to Jesus, and it’s what they will do to us. We are to stay the course!