I remember having a conversation a long time ago with a building contractor and we were talking about another builder with whom we both were familiar with. He made the comment that “Jeff trips over a dollar to save a quarter.” For some reason, that line has stuck with me many years later and I’ve actually used it a few times myself. I’m not sure how many readers may have heard that phrase before, but the meaning has many applications. It refers to people who are focused in on one particular issue or cost that they miss the big picture of what is going on.
In our Scripture reading today, we read about a group of people who had their mindset way out of proper spiritual focus. In Mark 3 we read about Jesus entering the synagogue and encountering a man who had a withered hand. At the same time we see a group of Pharisees who were watching to see what Jesus would do. Their focus was not on the supernatural act of Christ potentially healing someone, but instead on whether or not he would break their rule of literally doing no work on the Sabbath. They had taken God’s law of having a day of rest to the extreme, even to the point of missing the fact that Jesus was actually performing a miracle right in front of their eyes. Instead of standing in awe of God’s power, they were focused in on the audacity of Jesus daring to break their rules. Wow, how out of focus were they?
That said, I’m sure we can at times be guilty of falling into this same trap as well. Instead of seeing the big picture of what God might be doing, we sometimes have a tendency to get hung up on little issues. Maybe it’s something a pastor or a Sunday School teacher might say that we disagree with. I’m not talking about a major doctrine, but instead a minor issue that sometimes people have a real hard time looking past and getting over. Or maybe a decision is made in the church that we might not see eye-to-eye on. Or maybe even an overly critical spirit towards another ministry that might not do things the way we do but does preach a clear gospel message. May we not be guilty of having our focus so locked in on little details that we miss the big picture of what God is doing.
It is a great concept—Justice for all. As Paul says, “For there is no respect of persons with God,” and there should not be any with us either (Romans 2:11). The cry for justice erupts from the pages of Scripture repeatedly. Jacob demands justice because Laban changed his “wages ten times.” Although he was beaten at his own game as a shyster, Jacob’s cry for justice was answered as “God suffered him not to hurt” him (Genesis 31:7). Esther arranged the second dinner party and she is poised to call for justice. At the king’s invitation, she pleads for her life and the life of her people. Justice is served as “the adversary and enemy this wicked Haman” is hauled away to the gallows (Esther 7:6).
It has been said, “Let your love of justice be exceeded only by your love of mercy,” and this is what you find in Christ’s ministry. The religious leaders were consumed with justice, but they forgot the other three parts of pleasing God, “Do justly, and to love mercy, And to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8). Someone else said, “Always seek justice, but love only mercy. To love justice and hate mercy is but a doorway to more injustice.” After the spectacle of tearing open the roof, the paralytic man’s friends lower him before Jesus. Justice had been served in the religious leaders’ minds. This man was afflicted because of his sin or sin in his family. Then Jesus shatters their justice system when he says, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5). What about justice? “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).
Remember as you cry for Justice, she who answers to that name bears the doubled edged sword. “And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God” (Romans 2:3)? Every one of us stands guilty in one way or another. Jacob challenges Laban without knowing he was not entirely blameless in the situation since Rachel had taken her father’s idols. Esther most likely earned her way into the palace with less than virtuous actions. The same religious leaders who condemned a helpless paralytic and an ostracized tax collector had after their hard and impenitent heart treasured up “wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds” (Romans 2:5–6).
We do need justice and it is our government’s divinely appointed responsibility to uphold it. However, “in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ,” your salvation is “built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” (Romans 2:16).
“Not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).
Bertrand Russell was a famous atheist philosopher who was once asked what he would say to God if he found himself standing before Him after he died. Russell said that he believed that he could charge God with not giving him enough evidence to believe in Him. Russell’s argument, however, goes against a fundamental truth found in Romans 1 that explains that God has revealed Himself to all of mankind so that they are all without excuse.
Romans 1:18 states that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The wrath of God is revealed against men because they choose to suppress the truth of God’s existence. All of mankind knows that God exists (whether they claim to or not) because “that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (Rom. 1:19). An atheist denies with his words what he knows to be true in his heart. The Bible states that “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead…” (Rom. 1:20). God’s wrath is revealed against all the ungodly who suppress the truth of God’s revelation of Himself so “…that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20b). Wrath comes because of rejected revelation. There are two ways in God has revealed Himself: 1) General revelation 2) Special revelation. In general revelation, God has made Himself known through creation and man’s conscience (Rom. 2:14-15) to all of mankind. The Bible declares that “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). Through the observation of nature’s order, complexity, and design, one is left without excuse that there is a Creator. Romans 1:20 states that God’s eternal power and Godhead are “clearly seen” and “understood” from all that has been created. God’s special revelation is the Word of God.
There is enough evidence in creation and conscience to condemn all men for rejecting God. However, general revelation alone can never save a person. It takes the special revelation of God’s Word applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit and received by the person to bring salvation to one’s soul. Whether men have heard the gospel or not, they are all “without excuse” and under the wrath of God. That is why it is imperative that we go to all men and bring them the truth of salvation as revealed in God’s Word. Romans 10:14 says “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” We must be active in sharing God’s special plan of salvation to all people. We must support missionaries to go to foreign lands with the gospel. We must always be preaching the gospel!
Real heroes are being replaced by make-believe characters today. True heroes are the people keeping us safe as we sleep at night or go about our business daily. When I was young, boys and girls wanted to emulate soldiers, teachers, nurses, cops, good parents or firemen. My how our heroes have changed.
Not many consider a pastor or missionary a hero. They’re the unsung heroes. These callings include arduous hours, anguish of soul and not much recognition. How about Bible characters as heroes? The first to come to mind is our Saviour Jesus Christ. He gave His life for us! “…I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen…” (Mat. 28:5-6). A truer hero one cannot have then someone who gave their life in our stead (Jn. 15:13).
Consider the Apostle Paul. Here’s a man who fits the criterion of a hero. Look at his accomplishments for the cause of Christ. How many of us could claim, “… I am more; 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. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2Co. 11:23-28).
As bad as all that was, look at the last sentence. We are told the daily care of the church is sometimes worse than being lost at sea with sharks! If applied to our individual pastors we will be able to see what heroes they truly are. These men (and ofttimes their families) bear the brunt of Satan’s attacks as our leaders. They are often depressed and tired. Many feel as though they have been beaten. It is our duty to them, as their congregants, to lift them up in prayer and encouraging speech. If we do, we will reap the benefits and bolster our pastor. Read carefully- “… And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage” (Ac. 28:15). This led to Paul, “Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Ac. 28:31). ”Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Pr. 27:17).
In the well-known story by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits: the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. From each, he observes key lessons that, in turn, transform the crotchety old man into a generous patron of all things Christmas.
In today’s passages, we can see in each the presence of difficulties. Some past from which to learn, and some future, for which to prepare. Both can, and should, help us as we deal with difficulties present.
In Genesis 26, we find the patriarch, Isaac, dealing with a famine in the land. Verse 1 tells us that this wasn’t the first famine, and we know that Isaac’s son Jacob and his family dealt with a major famine, from which they were saved through God’s providence. Nevertheless, this famine was a major difficulty. In our society, we don’t feel the effects of drought like these farmers and herders did. Water was their very existence, and without it, they could lose everything! Isaac is diligent though and has his servants dig wells looking for water. They do eventually find some, which looks like a happy ending. But then the shepherds of Gerar fight with him over the land rights. The same thing happens the second time, and finally, with the third well, they don’t fight over it. Isaac called the place “Rehoboth” meaning, “The Lord has made a place for us.”
Sometimes in difficulties, it feels like every success is met with adversity. That every open door is slammed in your face. God will open the correct door at the correct time, even if it seems that all else has failed.
Esther seems to have the opposite problem in Esther 2. She literally has the door to the kingdom opened to her! Imagine, the most powerful man in the world is looking for a wife and he chooses you. Sounds pretty amazing right? Well, look at her predecessor. That didn’t turn out so great, did it? Esther’s problem wasn’t that the door was closed, but rather that an unwanted door was opened. Sometimes, God leads us through difficult and unwanted situations so that we can be where he needs us later (as we will see in Esther 5-7).
Paul’s adversity in Acts 25 is somewhat self-inflicted. His bold stand for the Gospel had actually caused the Jews to appeal to the Roman government to kill Paul for insurrection. Paul stands trial before Felix, Festus, and finally Agrippa. At the trial with Agrippa, the governor declares that Paul has not done anything worthy of death. Sounds like a great “told ya” moment for Paul. Not so fast though. Paul as a Roman citizen had invoked his right to appeal to Caesar. Had he not done so, he likely would be a free man at the end of Acts 25, but instead, he is still imprisoned in Acts 28 in Rome, where he later dies. Some of us might look at that and say, “Paul messed up there.” But Paul disagrees! Look at what he said to the church at Philippi in Philippians 1:12-14: “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” Paul said that his current trials were helping to expand the reach of the Gospel, not by him only, but as it encouraged others to be bold for Christ as well. You never know how your trials may encourage someone else.
Finally, Matthew 25 tells us of events yet to come. The unprepared virgins and the lazy servant both face adversity because they were not invested in the Master’s cause. You can save yourself from future difficulty by preparing now for the Bridegroom’s soon return!
So whether you face doors slamming in your face, an undesirable current situation, or maybe even a situation brought on by your own choices, remember that God doesn’t leave your life up to chance. Each success, each difficulty, each joy, and each pain are part of his perfect plan. Dedicate yourself to His plan and He will reward that dedication in the end.