Everyone is born for a purpose. We all play a role in the grand scheme of things. Let’s look back to remember times when our involvement meant something to someone. Some of us will be involved in great things; while others, feel they never participated in anything noteworthy. An example would be Pharaoh who was born to fulfill God’s plan in a negative sense (Rm. 9:17). And then think of Jesus’ birth (Mt. 2:1); He was born to fulfill God’s plan of redemption. Had it not been for that, “we are of all men most miserable” (1 Co. 15:19).
In the reading today, we find four primary characters: Abram (later Abraham) in Genesis 15, Esther in chapter 4 of the book bearing her name, Jesus in Mathew 14 and Paul in Acts 14. In each case, they were the person of the hour. Think on the wise. Had not Abram said yes, and trusted God, the Abrahamic Covenant would bear a different name. Think of Esther, had she not stood up, the Jews may have been annihilated. Consider our Saviour and had He not gone to the Cross, we would be doomed. Moreover there is Paul. No Paul; no fourteen books of the New Testament.
In the above cases, someone took a stand for God. We may never get to read of our own accounts of goodness this side of Heaven, but neither did these folk. However, we will know the good we have done when we get to Heaven (let me caution that good works do not open the doors of Heaven; only forgiveness through Jesus unlocks them Rm. 3:10, 10:13). God will reward us accordingly; albeit, this is not our motive. We do these things because we are to emulate our Master.
We are not all as noteworthy as the aforementioned and we may feel as a grain of sand in the desert. But we are all significant in the work of God. But you say, what have we done? How about that friendly smile, those words of encouragement, that amen to the preacher, the meal with a shut-in or those prayers for someone or the work of God in general. We could go on and on! Some of these may not appear gallant or significant in God’s plan, but anything properly done for God has significance.
Many folk are taking a stand and we need to take a stand with them. A good place to start is alongside a pastor and the members of a local church. God’s man (and his family) have been sent to stand in a gap. Often it is far from home and friends. We need the faith of Abram, the courage of Esther, the character of Jesus and the zeal of Paul. We were born with a purpose and “who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Es. 4:14)? Onward Christian soldiers!
Imagine you are reading Genesis 11 for the first time. Man is trying to get to God. Man is making a concerted effort to reach God. If this was the first time you had read this, you would think man is on the right track. Then God comes down and looks at man’s efforts and is far from pleased. Not only that, but He goes so far as to thwart their efforts! Imagine you have never read the Bible before and you come across this passage. You might think that God wants nothing to do with man.
Then you get to Matthew 10:20 and Jesus says that God cares about the smallest of birds, and you are far more important to God than that. So does God like man or not? It seems that there are either two very different sides to God, or maybe this is a different God altogether.
On the contrary. God loves His creation, and desires a relationship with man. But there’s something that stands in the way. Man is sinful. Man is inherently rebellious. We find man’s rebellion illustrated in Ezra 10. Israel had been told not to marry pagan women, but that’s exactly what they proceeded to do. It wasn’t just the common people either. The doorkeepers (porters) of the temple, the musicians, the Levites, and even the priests were involved. Sin permeates every part of society: every ethnicity, every age, every social status, every occupation, every income bracket. Sin is everywhere because we are sinners.
But in Acts 10:34 and following, we find out that God does not hold any person in higher regard than another. We are all equal in His sight. That means equally valuable, but as sinners, equally guilty. The only way to receive favor from God is through Jesus Christ.
Maybe you look at this and say, “That’s just a simple Gospel presentation.” And you would be completely right. But that’s the context and content of the Scriptures! If we don’t see how each passage points us back to this one truth, we don’t understand the main point of God’s Word.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and with them, He created man. Man rebelled against God, but God provided a way to reinstate that relationship with Him, by Jesus dying on the cross to pay for our offenses. God doesn’t just like man, He loves man!
Going back to Genesis 10, God does have one stipulation though. You can’t get to God on your own terms. In John 14:6, Jesus, twice, makes it abundantly clear: “I am the way…” and in case you still thought there was another way to get to God, “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” God desires a relationship with mankind. He desires a relationship with YOU! As you read through the Bible this year, let me challenge you: see how each passage of the Bible fits into the overall concept of God’s redemption of rebellious man. With time, you will see the Gospel in a much fuller light.
There is a lot of discussion that goes on in Christian theological circles relating to some distinctions that go by terms such as “dispensationalism” or “covenant theology”. While I would in no way pretend to understand all that goes on in those discussions, I do know the basis these discussions (or arguments as the case may be) deal with how God dealt with certain groups of people in different periods of human history. In our reading today we see a wonderful shift, particularly for those of us who are Gentiles, of how God opened up his offer of salvation from the Jews to the entire world.
In Matthew 10 we read about Jesus commissioning and sending out his disciples to preach that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand”. We see specifically that Jesus wanted these 12 men to target only the Jewish people and to “not go into the way of the Gentiles” (vs 5). While we do see exceptions throughout the gospels, generally speaking Jesus’s earthly ministry, as well as the ministry of his disciples, was centered on the children of Israel.
However, as we skip ahead to Acts chapter 10, we are introduced to a Gentile man named Cornelius. We see that this man, though lost at the time, was described as “devout” or one who followed God to the best of his understanding. As we read through this chapter, we see that God visited the Apostle Peter, one of those sent out in Matthew 10, and challenged his thinking of the Jewish dietary laws by offering him animals to eat that Peter had always considered to be unclean. God then supernaturally directs Peter to the house of Cornelius where he preaches the Gospel to him and those in his house. Peter starts his “message” by indicating that God had changed his thinking. Indeed, the message of salvation was not just for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. You can almost imagine how surprised Peter must have been when he confessed he had come to understand that “God shows no partiality” (vs 34) and that He accepts people from any nation who fear Him (vs 35). For a devout Jew like Peter, what a dramatic shift in his way of thinking! And we rejoice to see Cornelius and others believe the gospel as Peter preached.
So while most of us would agree that the Jewish people are still God’s chosen people, in today’s reading we are able to see the shift of the spreading of the gospel to include all peoples of the world. May we be thankful thankful that the “whosoevers” of the Bible truly does include Gentiles as well as Jews.
Do you want to grow in the Lord this year? To dismiss such an aspiration would be pagan! Of course, you desire to grow in the Lord this year.
What makes growth possible? Dr. Randy Ross and David Salyers in their book Remarkable! astutely note, “The oil that makes growth possible is humility…humility is an acknowledgment of our humanity. It is the awareness that we are not perfect…Unfortunately, many people are stunted in their growth because they are self-deluded, believing things about themselves that simply are not true.” In our reading for today, you will find the origination for this wisdom in Scripture.
After washing the world of belligerent evil, God desires a restart with Noah, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 9:1). He sets a rainbow in the heavens as a symbol of peace in this new chapter of the saga of man’s relationship with God. Like a “sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire,” man cannot help but return to sin. Noah, maybe innocently, grows a vineyard and becomes intoxicated. Wrong on its own, but the pattern of volitional sin arises when Ham “saw the nakedness of his father.” The language of cursing reappears as you see in the Fall in Genesis 3. Man’s nature is cursed!
Ezra receives the same disappointment. The promises of pursuing holiness eroded so quickly. The people had failed to follow through on their commitment to be consecrated to God. The world had taken residence in their lives. Instead of issuing curses, Ezra becomes an advocate for the people as he offers up prayers of repentance.
The age-long nemesis met its match in Matthew 9 where Jesus demonstrated his authority to forgive sins. He says to the paralytic man, “Thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matthew 9:2). As easily as he reverses the physical infirmities, Jesus heals our spiritual infirmities. The necessary ingredient in the man’s life was humility.
You couldn’t find a drop of humility in Saul as he was tearing through the province persecuting the church. He was trying to cut a straight line with bent scissors. he was truly self-deluded “believing things about himself that were simply not true.” The perversion of his nature meant anything done in his strength was inevitably skewed. Jesus confronted him, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5). Peace was achieved only through humility.
In order to be in God’s way this year, in order to grow and realize your potential in the wisdom and strength of the Lord, you must anoint your life with humility. Stop the delusion. Stop believing things about yourself which are simply not true! “Submit yourselves therefore to God…Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:7, 10).
“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” is a hymn that has its origin in Assam, India. In the mid-1800s, there was an influx of Christian missionaries into Northeast India. This region of India was known to be a hostile place for any missionary as they ministered among very primitive and aggressive people, some of whom were head-hunters. Despite resistance from the tribal people, the Gospel went forth and was accepted by a man, his wife, and their two children. The tribal chief caught word of this and brought the family before the tribe and told them to renounce their faith or die. Upon receiving this threat, the man boldly replied, “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back.” The chief ordered his archers to kill his children. As his children were dying on the ground, the chief gave him another chance to renounce Christ, upon which the man replied: “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.” The chief was enraged and had his wife killed next. The man, however, continued to refuse to deny Christ and said: “The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back.” The man sealed his testimony with his blood after refusing to deny Christ. This man was able to stand for Christ because he had counted the cost of following Christ.
In the Gospels, many followed Christ for the wrong reasons. In Matthew 8, we see Christ explaining to two individuals what was involved in truly following Christ. The first man who came to Christ was a scribe who said, “Master, I will follow thee withersoever thou goest” (v. 19). You would think that Jesus would commend this man for his overwhelming dedication. However, Jesus does the opposite. Jesus replied, “The foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (v. 20). Jesus realized that this man had not counted the cost of following Him and had not realized the difficulty that would come with that decision. Jesus warned that following Him might be uncomfortable and difficult. Nothing more was heard from this scribe.
The second man was a disciple of Christ who came to Him and said, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father” (v. 21). Christ made a point to him by responding, “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (v. 22). Christ gave a particular answer for a particular person that is in every generation. This man had a reluctant obedience and lacked urgency.
We must remember that following Christ is costly but urgent. Later in Matthew, Christ said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (16:24). Christ never portrayed the Christian life as a “walk in the park.” He was up-front with men about the reality of following Him but was also urgent with men to follow Him without delay.