Make Room for Jesus – A Christmas Story

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:4-7).

This is such a well-known story that we may sometimes overlook what was happening here. When this story is told it is related in such a way as to make it appear that Mary and Joseph were strangers in Bethlehem and that Mary had the Baby almost immediately upon arrival. But a closer look may shed a different light upon it.

First, because of the way the story reads it is unlikely Joseph was frantically looking for a place to lodge for the night because the birth of Jesus was imminent. The text reads…

“that while they were there (Bethlehem), the days were completed for her to give birth”.

It is interesting to note that the One who would later call Himself the Bread of Life began His life in a manger in a town called Bethlehem which means House of Bread.

In all likelihood Mary and Joseph had been lodging in the stable for a few days before Jesus was born. Second, the stable probably belonged to someone in Joseph’s family. It is not reasonable to assume that Joseph just decided to pick up and go to Bethlehem with a wife far advanced in pregnancy without at least attempting to make some arrangements. Also, Bethlehem was Joseph’s hometown and as such he likely had relatives there that would put him up if possible. That they ended up in a stable with a manger as Jesus’ crib does not contradict this scenario at all.

The word “inn” used above has twice been translated as “guest room”. When the disciples asked Jesus where they were to prepare the Passover Supper near the end of His ministry He said…

“Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples”’” (Mark 14:13-14)?

Thus, the inn where there was no room for Mary and Joseph was likely the guest room of one of their relatives. Other relatives seeking a place to stay while in Bethlehem probably already occupied it, but like any good host a place was found for them – a stable.

Hospitality is a virtue underscored in the Bible. Abraham at one time extended hospitality to three men that turned out to be two angels and the Lord Himself.

“And when he (Abraham) lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, ‘My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by. Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.’ And they said, ‘So do, as you have said’” (Genesis 18:1-5).

Abraham did not know who these men were; he just knew they were travelers who needed a time of rest and refreshment. This incident is referred to in the New Testament when it speaks of the love Christians are to show to others.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

Even Job, during one of his speeches to justify himself to his friends said…

“The alien has not lodged outside, for I have opened my doors to the traveler” (Job 31:32).

In such a culture for Joseph’s relatives to turn him away would have almost been unforgivable. Of course if they had known that the Baby within Mary’s womb was the Messiah, the guest room (inn) would have likely been made available and the current occupant would have been placed in the stable. Instead, we see that at the very beginning of the Lord Jesus’ life His head was not laid upon the pillow of an honored guest, but in a manger in a stable.

It is interesting to note that the One who would later call Himself the Bread of Life began His life in a manger in a town called Bethlehem which means House of Bread.He lay where fodder was put to feed the animals. They would come to the manger expecting to be fed that they might live. This same Jesus later told the Jews…

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51).

Jesus’ purpose on earth was to save lost, dead mankind and this He accomplished through His own death on the Cross and His resurrection from the tomb. To commemorate this we now celebrate the Lord’s Supper. How fitting that the Savior of the world would be introduced to the world lying in a manger.

Just as Jesus was not welcomed into the guest room when He was born because He was not recognized as the Messiah, neither was He given the proper respect later.

In the house of a Pharisee named Simon he was treated rudely and it took a prostitute who had made her way into Simon’s home to expose his behavior for what it was.

“And turning toward the woman, He (Jesus) said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume’” (Luke 7:44-46).

The common courtesy given to a house guest was denied Jesus. This Pharisee’s home was no place for Jesus to find rest or a place to lay His head.

When you invite a friends into your home your desire is to see to their needs. You ask them to sit down. Perhaps you offer them a drink, to stay and eat, or even spend the night if they are far from home. You visit with them, ask them about themselves, and spend time sharing common interests. Your goal is to make them as comfortable as possible so they will leave refresh, rested, and looking forward to the next time you meet.
We all long for fellowship like this; to know there is a place we can go and be accepted and welcomed. Jesus would have been no different, but just as He found Himself outside the home when He was born, so He was much of His life.

His life, with all the miracles He performed and with all the crowds that followed Him, may have looked glamorous to some who saw only superficially, not realizing the loneliness that Jesus experienced day by day. This is poignantly expressed by Jesus one day as He was traveling.

“And as they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’” (Luke 9:57-58).

How sad this truly is. Here was a Man that welcomed tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners into His presence; here was a Man who healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, soundness of limb to the lame, and even raised the dead, but He had no place to lay His head. Even those who believed in Him while on the earth could not identify with Him. They often mistook what He said and twisted His words.

When you are feeling isolated because you think no one understands you remember Jesus. He too experienced loneliness, misunderstanding, and even slander. Yet, He did it willingly, but with an awareness that we often do not have.

“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).

So desperate are we for companionship or fellowship at times that we, seeking a place to rest emotionally, turn to one we regard as a close friend to pour our hearts out to, only to find he does not understand or makes light of our plight or worse, uses this knowledge of us to harm us later if he becomes angry with us.

It is no wonder Jesus was a Man of prayer. The isolation He would have experienced on the earth would have driven Him to the mountains to seek His Father’s face; for it was there that He could find a place to lay His head and rest and be refreshed.

You may be thinking that Jesus did have a place to rest, to lay His head, while on the earth. It is logical to think he stayed with Peter from time to time since we know He healed Peter’s mother-in-law once while in his home. And He certainly was welcomed into the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. And no doubt there were others willing to offer Him a meal to eat or even a room in which to sleep. After all, the Upper Room, as it is called, where He shared His last Passover meal with His disciples, was such a place. As pointed out earlier the word “room” here is the same Greek word used as “inn” spoken of at the time of Jesus’ birth. So if Jesus did have places to go to rest how could He say…

“the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58)?

Certainly Jesus had physical locations that were open to Him to stay and sleep and thus, lay His head, even though as we have previously pointed out, that rest did not include the rest afforded those who have someone close to them that they can talk with openly and honestly, expecting them to understand. Even though Jesus may have risen from sleep physically refreshed, His soul and spirit would not have received the rejuvenation they required. Only the heavenly Father could do that.

Structures made of wood and stone, even if they are covered with silver and gold and studded with diamonds and other precious stones can never be a home for the Lord. He finds no place to lay His head and find rest in such places.

Also, throughout the last two thousand years beautiful cathedrals and churches have been built with the architects no doubt sure that the Lord would find them acceptable homes for Him – a place to lay His head. But this is very superficial thinking. Nor is it a new thought. In fact it is very old.

The Jews built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem for the Lord and the took great pride in it. But a building remains a building regardless of how beautiful or brilliantly designed it may be.

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest’” (Isaiah 66:1)?

Even the magnificence of the temple Solomon built could not contain the living God. Having finished the temple Solomon saw that it was awesome and unparalleled in craftsmanship. Nevertheless he wisely remarked…

“But will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee; how much less this house which I have built” (2 Chronicles 6:18).

Structures made of wood and stone, even if they are covered with silver and gold and studded with diamonds and other precious stones can never be a home for the Lord. He finds no place to lay His head and find rest in such places.

Where then, if anywhere, has Jesus found a place to lay His head? Is He now in Heaven saying, “I have no place to lay my head”? The answer is no. Jesus now has a place to lay His head.

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He began asking His disciples, saying, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it’” (Matthew 16:13-18).

When the Lord said He had no place to lay His head, He was not referring to physically laying His head down. It goes beyond that. When we speak of laying our hands upon someone we are speaking of conveying encouragement, strength, compassion, a blessing, or even a gift upon them. Likewise, when Jesus spoke of not having a place to lay His head He was inferring that there was no place upon this earth where His HEADSHIP was recognized or accepted.

The fact some people thought that Jesus might be a reincarnation of one of the prophets revealed the blindness within them. Jesus further emphasized this blindness when He was teaching in the Temple one day.

“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?’ They said to Him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘Then how does David in the Spirit call Him “Lord,” saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet’”? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?’” And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question” (Matthew 22:41-46).

What the Jews did not understand was that the Messiah was to be God in the flesh. But because they thought the Messiah would simply be a man, albeit an extraordinary man, they could not understand how King David could call one of his descendents “Lord”.

Two thousand years later the Jews are still looking for their Messiah and they are still looking for a man. On a TV talk show some years ago a rabbi described the Messiah as someone who could fail math in the 5th grade. In other words a mere human. Because of this belief Jesus had no place to lay His head, no place He could call home because they refused to recognize His right of headship. Indeed, Jesus told the Jews…

“you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you” (John 8:37).

Though He spoke words of life to those around Him, revealing the way to be reconciled with the Father, they rejected His words. Jesus is described as the Word in John chapter one; thus, when they rejected His words, they rejected Him.

However, since the confession of Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus now has a place to lay His head and He continues to expand it. This was planned from long ago in the heart of the Father.

“Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me’” (Hebrews 10:5).

This Body that has been prepared for Jesus is the Church; not a building, for we have seen the futility of thinking the God of the universe can be limited to a physical building, but rather living stones, Christians, that are being fitted together to become the Temple of God; a Temple with Jesus as the Head.

As a Baby in the manger Jesus rested His head upon straw. Straw is that which is what remains after the heads of the wheat are harvested. Think about this. The heads of wheat that had been harvested from the straw upon which Jesus lay His head as a newborn baby had fed the bodies of those who harvested it and others. Symbolically, Jesus became the new head of wheat of the straw upon which He lay, but it was a head of wheat that was to become the Bread of Life to feed the spirits of His creation. Yet, it was not until His creation recognized Him as Lord and Savior, recognized His headship, that they could partake of this special food.

We may offer sacrifices of time, money, or talent to the Lord, in essence trying to purchase a room for Jesus in our lives, but we find the price is too high and all we have succeeded in doing is laying Jesus in a manger, away from the day to day activities that we engage in.

For too long man wandered aimlessly searching for something to fill the void within him. Yet the heart of some was full of sin and no room was found for Jesus. For others their heart was full of religion and no room was found for Jesus. For others their heart was full of good works and no room was found for Jesus.

For too long we have thought how unkind, how thoughtless, how unjust it was for Jesus to be placed in a stable at His birth when in truth we have done the same thing. Desiring to fill the void within we have rejected the One thing that could fill it and give us peace. We do not allow the Lord Jesus to lay His head upon our hearts because there is no room for Him. We have consigned Him to the “stable” of our lives so that He is close by, but not so close as to make us uncomfortable with His presence.

Speaking to the Christians in Corinth Paul said…

“Make room for us in your hearts” (2 Corinthians 7:2).

Paul desired to share his life with the Corinthians, but the only way that could happen was if they opened their hearts to him. So it is with the Lord and us. We have to make room. That does not mean we have to get everything right in our lives first and then invite Jesus in. On the contrary He is waiting for us to acknowledge our inability to clean up our heart and to acknowledge that it is full of sin. The Psalmist understood this and recognized there was nothing he could do to win God’s favor. He said…

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psalms 51:17).

We may offer sacrifices of time, money, or talent to the Lord, in essence trying to purchase a room for Jesus in our lives, but we find the price is too high and all we have succeeded in doing is laying Jesus in a manger, away from the day to day activities that we engage in. Only when our heart is broken by the Lord and we acknowledge in humility our inability to save ourselves is room made for Jesus to lay His head upon our hearts.

“For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15).

Jesus will not lay His head upon the heart of the proud, for the proud reject the headship of Jesus, preferring instead to rely upon their own ability to save themselves. It is only with the humble, the poor in spirit, that the headship of Jesus is established and a place is found to lay His head.

After Jesus had told the Jews that they must drink His blood and eat His flesh in order to obtain eternal life many turned away from following Him. They found His words offensive.

“Jesus said therefore to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom we shall go? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:67-69).

Once again it is Peter that proclaims the deity of Jesus and begins to make room in his heart for Him to lay His head there.

What about us? If Jesus were to stand before us would He be able to say, “Yes, I live in this one. I have found lodging here.” Or would He have to say, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58)? Jesus said…

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

Make room for Jesus – He has made room for you.

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Killing Fear

KILLING FEAR

What are you afraid of? What do you fear?

It has been said that God will never give us more than we can handle. But that is not true. If it were fear would play a small or non-existent part in our lives. Why fear something we can handle? Instead, what we discover is that we frequently face circumstances and situations that we cannot handle, nor can they be handled with help from our friends and family. These circumstances and situations could rightly be referred to as giants – circumstances and situations – that produce varying levels of fear deep within us as we come face to face with our helplessness to overcome and “kill” them.

We learn that God does give us more than we can handle by bringing us face to face with these giants of fear, not so we can be “killed” by them, but to learn that it is only when we humble ourselves before Him and admit our helplessness to “kill” these giants of fear by our own strength and to confess that it is only by His grace that we are saved will fear fall dead before us.

There is a story in the Bible that describes this killing of fear by God’s grace perfectly. It is a well-known story. In fact, it is so well known that it is easy to overlook many of its details, but it is in the details that we discover the secret of killing fear. It is the story of David and Goliath found in the book of 1 Samuel. Allow me set the scene before we dig into it deeper.

At the time of this story in the history of Israel Saul is king and David, who will later become king, is just a young shepherd boy. Israel is at war with the Philistines and David’s older brothers were in Saul’s army. As these armies faced each other, one encamped on one side of a ravine and the other encamped on the opposite side, a Philistine of enormous size, Goliath by name, a giant man between 9-1/2 to 11 feet tall (think about that for a moment!), walked into the ravine separating the two armies and issued a challenge to the Israelite army…

“He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, ‘Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.’ And the Philistine said, ‘I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.’ When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:8-11 ESV).

Fear gripped Saul and the Israel warriors. We are told that when Goliath issued this challenge…

“All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid” (1 Samuel 17:24-25 ESV).

It was during this time of fear among Saul and the Israelite army that David’s father, Jesse, sent David to the war front with provisions for his brothers and to check on their welfare. He is not there very long until Goliath advances toward the Israelite army and issued his challenge again. And David heard it. But his response is very different from the fear paralyzing Saul, his brothers, and the rest of the Israelite army. He said…

“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:26-27 ESV)?

There was no fear in David. In fact…

“David said to Saul, ‘Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine’” (1 Samuel 17:32 ESV).

At first, Saul tried to convince David that he did not stand a chance against the giant. But David recounted to Saul how he had saved the sheep he shepherded from both a bear and a lion by killing them and that he would do the same to Goliath because…

“he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:36 ESV).

Saul, with few options to choose from, decided to allow David to fight Goliath, probably not expecting him to live through the situation, but he helped him the only way he knew how.

“Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.’ So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.

“And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.’ Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.’

“When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

“So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it” (1 Samuel 17:38-51 ESV).

When David confronted Goliath he was fearless. This stands in stark contrast to the warriors in Saul’s army.

When David confronted Goliath he was fearless. This stands in stark contrast to the warriors in Saul’s army. Obviously, David had learned how to kill his fear, but the solder’s had not. How was David able to do that, but not the soldiers? We are going to answer those questions in just a few minutes. But in order to do that we have to figure out where fear comes from.

We will begin our search in Genesis 3:8-10…

“They (Adam and Eve) heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:8-10 NASU).

No doubt God had walked in the garden before this and Adam and Eve welcomed Him; they did not hide. They did not fear His presence. They were not afraid. But this time they were afraid to be in God’s presence. There was fear. Why? Because they had disobeyed Him and knew they were naked. The innocence that had clothed them before their disobedience was gone.

You may be thinking: “What in the world does Adam and Eve and being naked have to do with David and Goliath and killing or fears.” But I think it will become clear to you shortly.

Notice the very first thing Adam and Eve did after they had sinned and their innocence was gone.

“And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Genesis 3:7 ESV).

They clothed themselves. They used what they could to hide their nakedness from each other. And it seemed to work. We do not read about them being ashamed or afraid to be in each other’s presence after they clothed themselves with fig leaves. They had successfully killed the fear their nakedness caused them to experience after disobeying God. But their fear soon returned when God came into their presence. They learned that the clothing they had made to hide their nakedness/shame from each other, the fig leaves, did not hide their nakedness/shame from God. That is when God, after having told Adam and Eve and the Serpent what the consequences of their sin were going to be, provided them more adequate clothing than fig leaves. What was that clothing?

“And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21 ESV).

Do you see what happened? Adam and Eve tried to fix their brokenness and kill the fear welling up inside of them by fixing the problem themselves. And they thought they had. The fig leaves hid their nakedness/shame from each other, but when they heard the sound of the Lord God coming near them the fear of the their sin, their brokenness, their shame, and their nakedness being discovered rushed back upon them – and they hid.

Why? Because the fig leaves represent good works. Man believes if he just does enough good things, says just the right things, or gives enough money to charity the bad things we have thought or said or done will never come back to haunt us and will lose their power to influence our lives from fear. But it does not work. We feel good for a while as long as our fig leaves – our masks – are in place, but Goliath soon appears. And he comes toward us and says: “You call yourself a Christian, a child of God? Who are you kidding? Look at you. You’re pathetic. You’re a liar; you’re a hypocrite. You’re no child of God. He doesn’t love you and I can prove it. Come fight me. If you’re a Christian come fight me.”

And what happens when the giants in our lives challenge us? All too often we react in the way that the men in Saul’s army…

“All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid” (1 Samuel 17:24 ESV).

Why do we run? We faithfully put on the armor of good deeds each day and our fears are hidden from the eyes of those around us. But then something happens, a giant comes along – we get sick, one of our children gets sick, our spouse picks up and leaves, we lose our job, our past is exposed, our hidden sins are exposed – and fear rises up before us. We discover clothing ourselves in fig leaves – good deeds – which is the armor the world uses to overcome fear (Saul’s armor) is only effective when life is going good. But the moment something beyond our control comes into our lives we discover we had not killed fear at all, just hidden it. And we begin to lose hope and depression sets in.

But what I want you to hear this morning is that we can the kill the fear within us.

The secret to killing fear is putting on the right clothing.

The secret to killing fear is putting on the right clothing. No, I am not talking about going out and buying a 3-piece suit or an expensive dress.

What clothing did David put on to kill the giant while all the warriors ran in fear of him?

“Then he (David) took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine”(1 Samuel 17:40 ESV).

David’s “armor” consisted of a staff, 5 rocks, a pouch to put the rocks in, and a slingshot. From a human standpoint David’s weapons were totally inadequate to defeat the giant before him who was clothed in a helmet, a coat of mail that covered his body, shin guards, a sword, a spear, and a javelin. And that does not even take into account the fact that Goliath was between 9-1/2 and 11 feet tall. He could have easily tore David apart with his bare hands.

But David boldly faced that which the rest feared, confident he would be victorious. In fact, we are told that David ran toward the giant. Why?

“Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied’” (1 Samuel 17:45 ESV).

David clothed himself in the name of the Lord. He faced his fears in the power and might of the Lord. He did not rely on manmade armor to protect him or manmade weapons to fight with. David knew that he would not be able to defeat Goliath if he relied on his own strength. He knew Goliath was capable of snapping him in two like a twig. But he did not face this giant – this fear – in his own strength. He knew it was only by God’s grace that he would be able to slay the giant. And it is by God’s grace that we slay our own giants – those fears in our lives that mock us and taunt us, threatening to kill us spiritually, emotionally, and sometimes even physically.

How do I know that? Because the Bible tells me so.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says…

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2-8-9 ESV).

Paul go on to tell us in Ephesians 6…

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12 NASU).

Now, notice what David used to strike Goliath down so he could be killed – a smooth stone. Remember, as David ran toward Goliath he took one of the five smooth stones he had picked up from a brook from his pouch, put it into his slingshot, swung it around his head, and let it fly. It struck Goliath in the forehead, knocking him the ground. David ran up to Goliath, took Goliath’s own sword and cut his head off.

What has that got to do with grace and spiritual warfare – killing fear?

Goliath is described as being 6 cubits tall. Six, in the Bible represents sin and Satan. Thus, Goliath represents the demonic forces that attack us and the fears that result from this spiritual warfare. Five is the number for grace. Remember, it is by grace we are saved. David picked up 5 smooth stones from a brook and used one of them to bring Goliath down. This represents us accepting the fact that we cannot kill the fears that come against us by sheer willpower or by trying to be a good little boys and girls. Willpower, while helpful, has limits and our goodness outside of Christ is corrupted by sin. We have to accept the grace of God that He offers to us through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior if we are to kill our fears.

It is also important to note David picked up the stones from a brook and that they had been worn smooth by the running water. These were not pieces of rock with rough edges and sharp points. The running water represents the cleansing and purifying power of the Holy Spirit. When you accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of your life the Holy Spirit comes into your heart and begins to overcome, slowly but surely, like running over a stone, the evil, the fears – the Goliaths, the giansts – that live there. He begins to “smooth” out your life.

It is also significant that David was able to bring Goliath down with only one stone. He did not have to use all five stones or even two stones. He used one. Now, remember, the number 5 represents grace. In other words David did not “use up” all the grace he had. He had four smooth stones left. What this teaches us is that God gives us an abundance of grace to kill whatever giants – fears – that come into our lives. And this is exactly what the Bible tells us.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8 ESV).

This tells us God has given us all the grace we need to kill our fears and then some.

Notice also where David struck Goliath with the stone – in the forehead. The forehead represents how we think – what we believe. Satan would have us believe lies. God’s grace is given to kill the lies we have believed and replace the lies with the truth.

Thus, Jesus tells us…

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32 NASU).

If we believe God’s Word – the Truth – and continue to believe it, we will kill, by God’s grace, the fears that want to kill us. Our fears live when we believe lies. Our fears are killed when we believe the truth.

And what is the Truth?

Think for a moment. What did God do for Adam and Eve after they had sinned and began living in fear?

“And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21 ESV).

He made them garments of skin. But garments of skin could only be provided for them if a death – a sacrifice – took place. God had to slay an innocence animal, which prefigured Jesus’ sacrifice upon the Cross, in order for Adam and Eve to continue to have a relationship with Him.

And this is exactly what God does for us. We cloth ourselves with good deeds – fig leaves – and our fears live on. But God offers us the opportunity to “cloth” ourselves with Jesus Christ, giving us the power – the grace – to kill our fears.

“The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:12-14 ESV).

Jesus sacrificed Himself upon the cross that we might have the opportunity to “cloth” ourselves with Him. Paul tells us…

“In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27 ESV).

And Jesus told us…

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 ESV).

Killing fear begins with accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior because when we do that God’s grace floods our beings with the Truth and we can face our giants – our fears – knowing it is God who fights for us. All we need do is trust and obey.

Out of the Darkness

The only thing worse than having a terminal disease for which there is no cure is having a terminal disease for which there is a cure, but refusing to acknowledge you’re sick and therefore won’t go to the doctor to be healed.

While Jesus walked this earth He frequently healed people of a variety of physical illnesses and handicaps. Among those illnesses and handicaps was blindness. There are two stories in the Bible about Jesus healing two different men from their blindness. He heals both of these men, but there was a group of blind men He didn’t heal, not because He couldn’t, but because they didn’t know they needed healing; they didn’t know they were blind, so they wouldn’t seek healing from Jesus. Seems ridiculous doesn’t it? How can someone not know He’s blind? Actually, it happens all the time. In fact, it’s pandemic in our world today.

To explain this I’m going to go into depth about these two stories and what I believe the Lord wants to teach us today to lead us out of darkness into His light.

The first story is told in John chapter 9. The second story is told in Mark 10 which we will discuss later.

The first story begins when Jesus notices a blind man as He passes by Him and His disciples ask Him an interesting question.

“As he (Jesus) passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing” (John 9:1-7 ESV).

He who was born blind was now able to see. That’s wonderful. But that’s not the end of the story. Though this man who was once blind, who once lived in a world of personal darkness, could now see and experience life not only in the light of the sun, but experience Life in the Light of the Son, soon came face to face with a blindness that was willfully embraced by others, a blindness that was far darker than the darkness he had lived in since birth; for this blindness that he now became aware of after having been healed by Jesus, was a blindness of the soul and spirit. The man born physically blind came face to with the spiritually blind, those who experience life only in the light of sun, but will not allowed themselves to be healed to experience Life in the Light of Son. They are comfortable in their darkness to the point of being oblivious to their blindness and resenting anyone telling them they are in need of healing. Such were those this man who now walked in the Light came face to face with.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees – the pastors, preachers, teachers, priests, bishops, and so forth of our day – hated Jesus. They refused to acknowledge that He was the Messiah, the Son of God. They were jealous of Him because so many people began to follow Him and believe He was the Messiah, coming into the Light of Truth. That meant, among other things, that they began to lose their positions of power and influence with the people. So, they did whatever they could to discredit Jesus so people would quit following Him and follow them again.

But they had a problem; a big problem. Jesus healed the blind, the deaf, and the lame. He controlled the weather and cast out demons with just a word. They couldn’t. So, when He performed a miracle they tried to convince the people that He was demon possessed and performed the miracle by the power of Satan, the Prince of Darkness.

And some people believed that because many of His miracles occurred on the Sabbath, which was the case with this particular man born blind, He couldn’t be the Messiah. So, the Pharisees said,

“This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16 NASU).

And they tried to get this man born blind, who was now completely healed to believe that the One who healed him (he didn’t know it was Jesus at that point) was a sinner. He refused to believe that and told them so. He said,

“If this man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John 9:21 NASU).

That took an incredible amount of courage because the Pharisees and Sadducees had the power to excommunicate anyone from the Temple that displeased them. That may not sound like a major threat, but to be excommunicated from the Temple in that culture during Jesus’ time was much more serious than being excommunicated from a church or denomination today. Your life would be completely changed and even your family was likely to disown you. You would be ostracized from society, an outcast.

And that’s exactly what this man found out. His parents began to distance themselves from him when the Pharisees began to question them about their son’s healing. Instead of rejoicing with their son, they basically made it clear he was on his own. They were afraid they would be excommunicated along with their son if he were excommunicated. And because this man, who had come out of the darkness, had the courage to confront these blind religious leaders he was excommunicated.

Jesus heard about this and went to find the man again to introduce Himself. The man had lost the privilege of worshipping in the Temple and being a part of the community, but he had won the right to be called a son of God and entering into the Kingdom of God where he would worship in Light and Truth.

There was still a crowd around the man when Jesus found him, including some of the Pharisees, and as the man worshipped Jesus (noticed Jesus didn’t stop him from worshipping Him which implies Jesus was God in the flesh and no mere man) He said,

“‘For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.’ Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, ‘We are not blind too, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, “We see,” your sin remains’” (John 9:39-41 NASU).

The Pharisees and Sadducees were blind to the truth, but refused to acknowledge that fact and because they refused to acknowledge their blindness they refused to seek out the One who could and would heal them. They had a terminal spiritual disease – sin – but their pride wouldn’t allow them to admit that. Instead they told themselves and others they clearly saw the truth. But it was a lie, a lie Satan used to keep them from being healed. They refused to come out of the darkness and tried to frighten him into denouncing the One who had healing his blindness so that even if he could see with his physical eyes, the eyes of his spirit would remain blind. But the man born physically blind now walked, not only in physical light, but in the spiritual Light of the Son. The cost to him personally was great, the loss of friends and family and fellowship on this earth; a temporal loss. But his gain was immeasurably greater, the family of God and fellowship with the Lord God for all eternity.

Let’s now look at the story of another blind man. Our first story was about a man born blind and Jesus took the initiative to heal him. The second story is about a man who likely could see at one time, but through unknown causes became blind. Having once experienced living in the Light, but now living in darkness, he was desperate to regain the Light and boldly took advantage of the opportunity given to him to do so. His name is Bartimaeus. His encounter with Jesus is described in Mark chapter 10 as follows…

“And they (Jesus and His disciples) came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.’ And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way” (Mark 10:46-52 ESV).

As much as the story we just heard about the Pharisees being blind and unwilling to admit that and seek help was a story of despair, the story of Bartimaeus is a story of hope. And it’s a story of hope because Bartimaeus recognized he was blind, took advantage of the opportunity presented to him as Jesus came near by crying out to Him, refused to let those around him, including those who followed Jesus, silence him, and believed that Jesus was the One who could heal him.

It seems like a simple, straightforward story, and in one way it is. But I want to dig a little deeper into it so we can see how Bartimaeus is representative of backsliders, of those who once saw the truth and walked in the Light, but for whatever reason turned away from the Truth, accepted the lies of Satan and found themselves unable to see the Truth and sitting in the darkness.

You may wonder why I think that Bartimaeus represents backsliders or those who have turned away from following Jesus. So, let me try and explain.

Names have meaning and in the Bible the names of the persons involved can often convey a deeper sense to what’s being told. And this story bears that out.

Bartimaeus is a Hebrew name that’s made up of two parts: “ben tame”. “Ben” means “a son as builder of the family name”. That’s important considering what “Tamaeus” (“tame”) means. It means “foul in a religious sense, defiled, polluted; to be foul ceremonially and morally”. Therefore, Timaeus, Bartimaeus’ father, by definition of his name, was religious, but defiled and polluted. That means his worship of God was foul and morally corrupt. And spiritually speaking that’s what he passed along to his son when he named him Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus built up the family name. Timaeus was defiled, Bartimaeus would be more so; Timaeus was polluted, Bartimaeus would be more so; Timaeus’ worship was unacceptable to God and morally corrupt, Bartimaeus would be more so.

You see, Bartimaeus was religious and at one time walked in the light he had been given, but eventually that light was snuffed out because he began to believe lies, just like us when we refuse to walk in the light given to us. He now sat in darkness, but there was still a flicker of light within his spirit. We know that because of his response when Jesus walked by and because of where he was sitting.

We are told Bartimaeus…

“…was sitting by the roadside” (Mark 10:46).

Why is that important?

Remember the parable about the Sower? In Matthew 13 Jesus tells of a sower who went out to sow seed. What I want to key in on right now is the seed that fell beside the road because that’s exactly where Bartimaeus was sitting – beside the road.

Jesus began the parable by saying…

“Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up” (Matthew 13:3-4 NASU).

After Jesus told the parable His disciples asked Him to explain it. Concerning the seed that fell beside the road – remember that’s where Bartimaeus was sitting – He said…

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road” (Matthew 13:19 NASU).

This describes Bartimaeus exactly. Here was a man who once could see, who was religious, who had the seed of Truth spread upon his heart, but as his worship became corrupt because the truth that was given to him never found a place to take root; thus, giving Satan the opportunity to rob him of it. The result was spiritual blindness which was reflected in his physical blindness.

But Bartimaeus was about to get a second chance. In God’s mercy and sovereign grace Jesus just “happened” to be walking along the road Bartimaeus was sitting alongside of.

Hearing a commotion Bartimaeus asked what was going on. He was told the crowd was following Jesus of Nazareth. When he heard that he cried out with a loud voice…

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mark 10:47 ESV)!

The crowd following Jesus responded to this by trying to shut Bartimaeus up. I wish I had time to go into their reaction more fully, but I don’t. So, I will just say their actions were despicable. Here was a man who was crying out to Jesus for mercy and these followers of Jesus tried to shut him up. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, never be guilty of such evil.

What I what you to notice next is what Bartimaeus did when Jesus called him.

“And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus” (Mark 10:50 ESV).

He took off his cloak. Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but I believe it is for two reasons. First, it’s likely this cloak was ragged and worn and probably had very little value. But for Bartimaeus it was all he had to wrap around himself and keep him warm. Chances are if someone had tried to take this cloak from him he would have fought with everything he had to keep it. But now he willingly gives up his cloak.

The second reason I believe this is significant is because I believe Bartimaeus laying aside his cloak and leaving it symbolizes us laying aside the old man – that old fallen nature that we have wrapped around ourselves to keep us as safe and warm as possible living outside of Christ. The cloak represents safety and security.

Does that make sense? Paul tells us in Romans 13:12-14…

“Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:12-14 NASU).

And this is exactly what Bartimaeus was symbolically doing when he threw off his cloak, jumped up, and ran to Jesus. He was ready to leave his sins behind so he could be healed, so he could be brought out of the darkness into the Light of the Son.

What we are to learn from this is that we must repent of our sins and lay them aside when we approach Jesus to be saved or to establish a broken relationship with Him.

Unfortunately, too many people want to be saved in their sins rather than from their sins. Too many people come to Jesus asking Him into their hearts – in essence being clothed with Him, but want to keep their “old cloak”, their old way of life. And that’s one of the reasons many don’t experience deliverance over the sins in their lives or the power that is available to them through the Holy Spirit.

But Bartimaeus was ready to leave his old life behind. Because of this when Jesus asked him what he wanted Him to do for him; Bartimaeus revealed he knew what his need was – to see again.

Listen carefully to what Bartimaeus said to Jesus…

“Rabbi, let me recover my sight” (Mark 10:51 ESV).

This response implies, as we have suggested, that there was a time when Bartimaeus could see, when he wasn’t blind because you can’t recover your sight if you never had your sight. In other words there was a time when Bartimaeus wasn’t blind.

I believe this is also symbolic of one who had once had an encounter with Jesus and had his eyes opened to the truth, but eventually rejected it and became blind. If we don’t live in the truth God has already revealed to us we are in danger of not only not receiving deeper truth, but forfeiting the truth we do have.

Bartimaeus’ response also reveals that he knew what his need was. Jesus didn’t ask Bartimaeus what he needed from Him so He would know what to do for him; Jesus knew. He wanted to know if Bartimaeus knew what his need was. Remember, the Pharisees and Sadducees in the first story we discussed didn’t know what their need was. That is the crucial difference it takes between coming out of the darkness to walk in the Light: knowing you are blind and knowing Who can and will heal you.

That may sound trivial, but it isn’t. In fact it’s one of the most important lessons we can learn from this story.

Do you know what your most important need is? If you haven’t repented of your sins, renounced your old way of life, and asked Jesus to be Lord and Savior of your life your greatest need is salvation. And if you have done that, but fallen away from following him, in essence becoming spiritually blind, your greatest need is to repent of your sins and ask Jesus to rule and reign once again in your life.

The rent may be due next week, the kids may need shoes, the car may need fixing, there may be no groceries in the fridge – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking God to provide for those needs – but are they your greatest need?

If you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior or if you have fallen away from following Him, and He physically appeared before you and asked you what He could do for you, what would you say? Think about that.

Notice how the story ends…

“And immediately he (Bartimaeus) recovered his sight and followed him on the way” (Mark 10:52 ESV).

He began to follow Jesus “on the way”. He was no longer sitting alongside the way. He began to follow the One who once said…

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NASU).

Today, you have a choice as to whether you will continue to sit alongside the way, spiritually blind, wrapped in your sins, or throw them off, run to Jesus, and receive a new life and spiritual eyes. You have the choice to come out of the darkness and follow the One Who is the Light of the World.

#manbornblind #bartimaeus #outofthedarkness

Dressed for Heaven

Most businesses and schools have a dress code. Some schools even require students to wear uniforms. Even gangs have a dress code of sorts. So would it surprise you to learn God has a dress code for His children, both on earth and in Heaven? He does and it’s important to know what it is.

Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 22 that emphasizes just how important proper clothing is.

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”‘ But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.

“But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:2-14 NASU).

Simply reading this parable from a secular, unbiblical point of view the king appears to be ruthless, uncaring, self-centered, and intolerant of those who did not meet his fashion standards.

He sent his army to destroy those who slighted him and burn their city. That seems a little severe for what may be perceived as vengeance for having one’s feelings hurt. Just as perplexing is the punishment of the man who was improperly clothed. Perhaps it’s understandable for the king to destroy murderers, but to tie a wedding guest up for wearing the wrong clothes and throw him outside in the cold and dark where he may be in mortal danger, unable to defend himself, seems the actions of a madman.

But was the king mad; was he insane? Was the punishment he meted out to the improperly attired guest disproportionate to his “crime”? Yes, and I am going to tell you why.

According to some scholars when a person, such as a king, gave a wedding feast he supplied the necessary robes for the occasion. That would make sense in this story because the guests had been invited at a moment’s notice. It would have been very unlikely they would have had time to go home and dress even if they had the proper clothing. If this is true and the host, the king, did offer these hastily invited guests the proper clothing, the king’s displeasure becomes more understandable, and so does the guest being speechless when confronted by the king. He was without excuse for his unacceptable condition. The king had a right to be angry. He had a right to punish this ungrateful guest.

This guest depended upon the clothes he had on to be acceptable to the king. They may have been very fine clothes, custom tailored for him and worth a great deal of money. But as far as the king was concerned he may as well have been wearing filthy rags, because they weren’t the clothes provided by the king.

So, was Jesus’ point in telling this parable to warn those who have been invited to a wedding feast to make sure they accepted the clothing offered by the host? No. His message was deeper than that. It was a message that began in the Garden of Eden and ends at the Resurrection. Therefore, to more fully understand what Jesus is teaching us in this parable let’s begin at the beginning.

When God created Adam and Eve they were naked, but unashamed. However, after they had disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit they became very much aware of their nakedness. Sin had stripped them of their innocence. Therefore, they felt shame and the need to cover their bodies. So…

“They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7 ESV).

The fig leaves obviously served the purpose of alleviating their shame since the Bible does not mention Adam and Eve trying on other types of “clothing”. We are not told if they were unhappy about the color or shape of their “clothes”. They were probably just grateful they had not chosen poison ivy.

They had successfully overcome their shame by clothing themselves by their own ingenuity and handiwork. This likely caused at least a little bit of pride to swell up within them. They had disobeyed God and were still alive even though God had told them they would die in the day they ate of the forbidden fruit. The only consequence they were immediately aware of for their disobedience to God was an uneasy awareness of their naked bodies. And they quieted that with relative ease.

But a problem with the fig leaves soon became apparent. When God entered the Garden looking for them they discovered fig leaves did not meet His dress code. The Bible tells us that…

“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:8-11 NASU).

When God confronted Adam and Eve after they had sinned they hid from Him as if they were still naked. But were they naked? No. They were wearing the fig leaves they had made for themselves. So, why would Adam tell God he was naked? Because the fig leaves represent man’s attempt to save himself from the consequences of sin; the fig leaves represent man’s pride. As long as God is distant from him, “fig leaves” – man’s ingenuity, intellect, handiwork, technology, and natural abilities – hide his sinful nature from his follow man and he senses no shame within his conscience. But when God draws near man must hide because his spiritual nakedness is revealed and his shame torments his conscience.

Anytime man attempts to save himself rather than relying on God, pride is the source. But pride is exposed for what it is in the presence of God. Man may wish to justify himself, but outside of God’s provision for his salvation, Christ crucified, no justification is possible.

Adam and Eve became entangled with sin and instead of calling out to God they made matters worse by covering themselves with what their own ingenuity created. They dressed themselves in pride. Their intent was possibly good, but good works created as a consequence of rebellion may make us look good to others, but they leave us naked before God.

The presence of God in the Garden made Adam and Eve conscious of the fact they needed new clothes. Their fig leaves enabled them to be comfortable in each other’s presence, but not in the presence of the King. So, they had a dilemma. They had done the best they could to overcome the consequence of their sin, their shame at being naked, but they had failed which become obvious when God came near in the Garden. All they could do was attempt to hide from God.

Lest we judge Adam and Eve too quickly for acting from pride to save themselves rather than turning to God in humility and seeking forgiveness the Bible reveals man doing the same thing at the end of the age. With the breaking of the 6th Seal in the book of Revelation we are told…

“The kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand’” (Revelation 6:15-17 NASU)?

Indeed, who can stand in the presence of God? Adam and Eve were about to discover the answer to that question.

When God confronted Adam and Eve He passed sentence upon them and all of creation. Adam’s role of provider would now be done with drudgery. Eve’s role as child bearer would be accompanied by intense pain. Physical death was inevitable now that spiritual death had entered creation by their rebellion against God.

All seemed lost with no redemption possible. And from a human point of view redemption was not possible. They had done their best – fig leaves – to save themselves, and failed. They quickly discovered they could not stand in the presence of a holy God.

But God was merciful. Before He sentenced Adam and Eve He cursed the Serpent and while doing so He revealed all was not lost. God was going to provide clothing for Adam and Eve that would allow them to come near enough to Him to worship Him now on earth and promised to provide clothing to them and them children in the future that would allow them to stand in His very presence in Heaven. He was going to see to it that man was given to the opportunity to dress for Heaven.

How do I know that? With the curse God placed upon Man and Creation came the promise of salvation – “clothes” that would allow them to be in God’s presence unashamed. Listen to what God told the Serpent…

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV).

These words speak of Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman, triumphing over sin by the shedding of His blood on the cross and His resurrection three days later. This promise revealed that the way to stand in the presence of God was to be accomplished by the shedding of blood, not by man’s pride.

To emphasize this truth about the need for the shedding of blood, the Bible tells us that God (not man!) made garments of skin to cover their nakedness. The fig leaves, man’s pride, were replaced with clothes that required the shedding of blood. But what’s important to notice is that even with these God-provided clothes, Adam and Eve were still banished from the Garden. And the way to the Tree of Life was blocked. The garments of skin did not meet God’s dress code for Heaven, only the dress code for earth. Why? Because the promise of redemption comes through the shedding of the Messiah’s blood not the shedding of an animal’s blood. The writer to the Hebrews tells us:

“For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NASU).

I believe the garments of skin symbolize the Law. The garments of skin symbolize the sacrificial system God gave to the Israelites that required an animal’s blood to be shed for the forgiveness of their sins until the Messiah would come and shed His blood upon the cross. Israel was to clothe herself with animal blood, so to speak, but this was temporary. Listen to Galatians 3:23-24:

“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:23-24 ESV).

The garments of skin, like the Law, were given to point to something greater. The Law was…

“only a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrew 10:1 NASU).

But man corrupted this God-given covering by trying to make it a permanent solution to sin – something God never intended. The garments of skin became religious pride; they became filthy rags. Though given by God they became tainted and stained with man’s pride. Man now clothed himself, not just with good works, but good works done in the name of God. I saw a bumper sticker once that said: “Jesus Is Coming – Look Busy”. That is a classic example of filthy garments of skin.

Garments of skin were the clothing of choice by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They wrapped themselves in the Law, smug in their self-righteousness. But Jesus exposed their spiritual nakedness and said to the people:

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 ESV).

Why? Because their righteousness was on the outside of them. It made them appear righteous to those around them, much like the fig leaves did for Adam and Eve. But just as they could not abide God’s presence because their souls and spirits were still naked, the religious leaders could not abide Jesus’ presence because the temporary clothing God had provided (the Law) had become corrupted and filthy. The garments of skin that were meant to allow man to approach God on earth were never meant to be worn in Heaven. Garments of skin allowed man to have a long distance relationship with God, but as the religious leaders found out an intimate relationship with God required a new type of clothing. They needed to be dressed for Heaven.

But what is this heavenly clothing; what is Heaven’s dress code? It’s not fig leaves – man’s attempt to save himself. And it’s not garments of skin. Their purpose was to allow man to enjoy a long distance relationship with God – man being on earth and God in Heaven.

Jesus once warned His followers that at the end of the age they needed to be properly dressed for Heaven. Listen to His words…

“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed” (Revelation 16:15 ESV)!

What garments? What garments can clothe us that we may not appear naked before the Father? Paul gives us the answer.

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27 NASU).

It is Christ that replaces the fig leaves; it is Christ that replaces the garments of skin; it is Christ that meets God’s required dress code for Heaven. Christ is the only clothing that allows us to enter into the throne room of God without shame and guilt. Clothed with Christ we can enter the throne room of God with boldness. We no longer need hide when the Father comes near us; we no longer need to rely upon the Law to cover our transgressions and sins. Those who have clothed themselves with Christ are said to have been…

“circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:11-14 NASU).

There’s no room for pride here. We either freely accept Christ as our covering or, like the man at the wedding feast who refused the clothes offered to him, we are expelled from God’s presence.

Therefore, to be dressed for Heaven one must remove the fig leaves or garments of skin and put on Jesus Christ.

That’s why Paul tells us…

“But clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah), and make no provision for [indulging] the flesh [put a stop to thinking about the evil cravings of your physical nature] to [gratify its] desires (lusts)” (Romans 13:14 AMP).

Only by recognizing that we are sinners without excuse for our sins, speechless as it were (as the man at the wedding feast was speechless before the king), naked before the Lord and ashamed of our spiritual nakedness, will we humble ourselves and except the only clothing that will allow us into Heaven. A humble and contrite heart opens our eyes to see that Jesus is our wedding garment; Jesus is our hope; Jesus is our righteousness; Jesus is our salvation.

When we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we can say with Isaiah:

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10 ESV).

So, are you dressed for Heaven?

The Pursuit of Happiness

I read a book recently that said the goal most people have set for themselves and their children is to live the good life. And the good life is defined as a life of happiness. The book goes on to say that a radio talk show host had interviewed hundreds of people over the course of a few years asking the question: “What did your parents want most for you – success, wealth, to be a good person, or happiness?” Eighty-five percent said “happiness.”

Obviously, being happy is a high priority for a majority of people. In fact happiness is so important that our Founding Fathers believed that the pursuit of happiness was a divine right ranked right up there with life and liberty.

Listen to these words from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So, how’s your pursuit for happiness going? Have you found happiness? That probably depends on what you think happiness is. The modern definition of happiness is experiencing pleasurable satisfaction, feeling really good, and being stoked inside. However, when the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, about 240 years ago declaring the pursuit of Happiness an unalienable right, happiness referred to virtue and character. That means happiness involved suffering, endurance, and patience because it’s through suffering, endurance, and patience that one becomes a good person and is able to enjoy life.

That might sound contradictory. How can happiness come out of suffering or enduring hardship or being patient?

To answer that question let’s begin with how Jesus told those who desired to follow Him must live.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul’” (Matthew 16:24-26 NASU)?

Jesus Christ, the wisest man who ever lived, has revealed to us that the secret to living life as God created us to live it is by denying self.

But this is the exact opposite of what the world tells us. Books, magazines, TV shows, and movies scream at us that the way to enjoy life and get the most out of it is to do indulge in whatever activities our desires lead us to. If it feels good do it. And it anyone even dares suggest that what you’re doing is wrong just quote Matthew 7:1…

“Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1 NASU).

That will shut most people up because they do not know how to properly response those words. So, if you don’t know anything about the Bible just memorize that verse and go on with your happy life.

But for anyone who has made pleasurable satisfaction or feeling really good – the world’s definition of happiness – his goal in life it soon becomes apparent doing whatever you want to do when you want to do it sooner or later gives birth, not to happiness, but to depression, a loss of purpose in life, and brokenness. Why?

The book of Proverbs in the Bible gives us a hint. In it is a verse that says…

“Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20 NASU).

Sheol and Abaddon were names for the place of the dead. Sheol was sometimes translated as “grave” or “pit”. It was a place of gloom and darkness and shadows.

The proverb is teaching us that death comes to everyone; no one is exempt and as long as there is life Sheol and Abaddon crave to take that life because it is never satisfied.

And just as Sheol and Abaddon never get full regardless of how many people die, the eye never gets full regardless of how much it sees and the ear never gets full regardless of how much it hears.

What I mean is this: You can look at pornography one day and think you’ll never look at it again because your eye is full – so to speak. But what happens? Your eye seeks it next fix. The appetite of the mind, which the eye feeds, is never satisfied. You can listen to hours of gossip until you’re exhausted and think you will never listen to that again because your ear is full – again, so to speak. But what happens? You find yourself straining to hear the latest dirt someone is saying about others. The appetite of desiring the failure or humiliation of another in an attempt to exalt ourselves is never satisfied.

In 1870 a man named John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil. That company made him a billionaire. Relatively speaking he was wealthier than Bill Gates. Yet, he was driven to make more and more money. In an interview Rockefeller once was asked how many more dollars he needed before he was satisfied. He then answered…

“Just one more dollar”.

But John D. Rockefeller is not unique. Three thousand years before he was born there was a man who was not only as rich as he was, but he had a lot more power. That man was King Solomon, the man who wrote the Proverb we just read.

Materially speaking there was nothing Solomon couldn’t buy. For him money was literally no obstacle. And being a king he had power over the lives of his subjects; nobody told him “no”. He lived in wealth and luxury. If he wanted something he simply got it. But he wasn’t a happy man. We know that because he wrote a book of the Old Testament called Ecclesiastes.

Listen to some of what he says in this book.

“All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (Ecclesiastes 1:8 ESV).

That sounds a lot like the verse from Proverbs we quoted earlier doesn’t it? But that shouldn’t be surprising. You see King Solomon wrote both Ecclesiastes and most of Proverbs.

Solomon goes on to express his lack of happiness in spite of being unimaginably wealthy and very powerful.

“All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NASU).

When Solomon said…

“All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 2:10 NASU)…

he wasn’t kidding. This man had 700 wives and 300 concubines (legal mistresses). He allowed himself to drown in pleasure, yet he wasn’t happy. If nothing else this reveals that engaging in sex outside of God’s design for marriage – which is between one man and one woman – doesn’t satisfy the longing with our hearts for intimacy. Listen to some more of what Solomon said…

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 ESV).

“There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them” (Eccl 6:1-2 ESV).

Solomon, the richest man who ever lived, a man who indulged every desire his body or mind craved in his pursuit for happiness didn’t find it. Why? Because he believed owning things and to be free to indulge any desire his body or mind had was the path to happiness. What he discovered was such a life lead to depression and emptiness.

Living for pleasurable satisfaction, living to feel really good, or living to be stoked inside – the world’s definition of happiness – requires us to take our eyes off of others and put them on us and keep them there. But when we do that we become empty, shallow people with dried-up souls that live in perpetual pity-parties where we blame others for our lot in life. In other words…

“When we make happiness the goal of our life we live as victims rather than overcomers.

But why does this happen? Listen again to these words of Jesus…

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul’” (Matthew 16:24-26 NASU)?

As human beings created in the image of God we are wired for more than happiness as the world defines happiness. We are created by God to honor Him by becoming spiritually mature members of the Kingdom of Heaven. We do this by seeking His Kingdom first before all things and that begins by taking our eyes off of ourselves and living for a purpose greater than ourselves.

The Apostle Paul spoke of those who refused to follow this teaching of Jesus. He said…

“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19 NASU).

Did you get that? When we refuse to die to self and live primarily to satisfy the desires of our bodies and minds – pursuing happiness as defined by this fallen world – we have made our fleshly appetites our “god”. Our desires and appetites and emotions no longer serve us, but rather have become our master.

Desires and appetites and emotions make great servants, but terrible masters.

Jesus tells us in John 10:10…

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).

I like the way the Amplified Bible puts this…
“I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)” (John 10:10 AMP).

And how does one take hold of this abundant life? Obey the words of the One who came to give you this abundant life. Let’s repeat:

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul’” (Matthew 16:24-26 NASU)?

There’s an episode of the old “Twilight Zone” TV series entitled, “A Nice Place to Visit”. I encourage everyone listening to or reading this sermon to watch it because it speaks what I have been saying about the pursuit of happiness loudly and clearly.
The gist of the show is this: A man is gunned down and killed by the police while attempting to flee from them, just having robbed a business. But in the next scene this “dead” man, lying on the ground, wakes up and a man dressed all in white is standing beside him. As it turns out this robber had been killed and the man in white was there to show him to his new living quarters.

These quarters are lavishly furnished with expensive furniture, decorations, and a closet full of expensive clothes. But that’s just the beginning of the pleasures he is not just freely given, but encouraged to indulge himself in by the man dressed in white.

Soon, some women join him in his apartment. He said he now knows he’s in Heaven. Shortly after that he goes to a casino accompanied by the women, driving a brand new and very expensive car. Gambling was something that brought him happiness when he was alive.

While in the casino he can’t lose. No matter what type of gambling he engages in – roulette wheel, blackjack, slot machine – he wins – every time. He is having the time of his life, gambling and winning while the women surround him, watching him.

He returns to his living quarters a happy man. But something is beginning to cast a dark shadow over him. His happiness is beginning to fade. All of a sudden a pool table appears in his living quarters. He is ecstatic to have a new game to play. He excitedly rakes the balls, places the cue ball on the opposite end of the table, pulls back the cue stick and strikes the cue ball. The cue ball hits the other balls and every one of them – every one – goes into a pocket; one hit, fifteen balls go down. It’s a shot every pool player on earth dreams about. But not this guy, not this guy who was living in the lap of luxury, not this guy whose every desire – except one – would be fulfilled instantly. Instead of being thrilled with his miraculous pool shot, he broke the cue stick. Why? Because the one thing, the one desire that the man in white couldn’t (wouldn’t) fulfill was to let this thief fail – at anything.

The thief began to realize that having every pleasure fulfilled and instant success a certainty didn’t make him happy.

When he came to that realization, along with the realization that this was Heaven and this lifestyle would go on for all eternity, he told the man dressed in white he thought a mistake had been made. He had been questioning more and more how a person of his evil character could have gotten into Heaven at all and came to the conclusion that he didn’t really belong in Heaven; he belonged in “the other place”. Hearing this the man dressed in white sternly looked at the thief and said…

“Heaven? What makes you think this is Heaven? This is the other place.” And he began to laugh a diabolical laugh that became louder and louder as the thief realized no mistake had been made and that an eternity of “happiness” lay before him. He was right where he belonged.

While we may have an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness as we read in the Declaration of Independence we discover that that pursuit is only successful when we lay down our lives for others. You see…

“Happiness doesn’t come from looking in the mirror; it comes when we put down the mirror and see Jesus.

Lazarus Come Forth

Christians are about to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Of all the Christian holidays it’s the most holy because with the resurrection of Jesus comes forgiveness of sins, newness of life in the power of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life free from sin and corruption.

But the Bible tells us of another resurrection a few days before Jesus’ resurrection – the resurrection of Lazarus. The story of Lazarus is found in John chapter 11. It’s one of my favorite stories, not just because it has a happy ending for Lazarus and Mary and Martha, but because of the less obvious truths it contains for every believer and for creation itself. And it’s these less obvious truths that I want to bring out into the light.

So let’s begin digging through this story. I think you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of God’s love for each of you and for creation and how what looks like evil to us this side of eternity is used by God to draw us closer to Him, molding and shaping us into the image of Jesus Christ.

I want to begin by telling you ahead of time that…

Lazarus represents our spirits (conscience, intuition, ability to worship) and Mary and Martha represent our souls (will, emotions, intellect).

That’s important to remember and I pray it will make sense to you when I’m finished.

We’re going to go through the story of Lazarus a little at a time to make it easier to uncover what I believe the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us.

“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’” (John 11:1-4 ESV).

This seems simple and straight forward, but I want to break it down some and show how it’s our story. There’s nothing I the Bible by accident. So when I read and study the Bible I look at the names of the people involved in the stories as well as the locations involved and the context in which they are written.

When we do this for this story about the resurrection of Lazarus…

We discover this is a story about us.

This story begins with anxiety and misery and fear because Lazarus is deathly ill and Jesus is far away and the future is uncertain. This truth is revealed to us not just by the words we read, but by learning what the name “Bethany” means, the town Lazarus and Mary and Martha lived in.

Bethany means either “House of Dates” or “House of Misery”.

The meaning is determined by the context and what we discover is that in our case it begins one way and ends another. (Just to be clear: “House of Dates” doesn’t refer to a place where men and women go to meet. Dates come from palm trees and the leaves of palm trees were used to represent victory and peace. Thus, the laying of palm branches in front of Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.)

The story opens with Mary and Martha (our soul) living in misery because Lazarus (our spirit) is sick and about to die. They are living in a “House of Misery”. But they end up living in a “House of Dates”, a place of victory and peace and life.

This is us. We live in a “House of Misery” so much of our lives because we have blinded ourselves to the truth that if…

“anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17-17 NASU).

In other words Jesus has taken our “House of Misery” and turned it into a “House of Dates” – a house of peace and victory. But our lack of taking care of our spiritual health (Lazarus) causes us to delay remodeling our new home with what Jesus offers us and keep all the old furnishings we have bought from the world.

Why would we do this? The names of Mary and Martha give us a hint.

Mary means “bitterness”. Martha means “lady”.

These names, which represent our souls – our will, emotions, and intellect, seem contradictory. But they’re not. In fact, they are a very clear picture of my soul and very likely your soul. What do I mean?

So much of life creates bitterness within my thinking because it seems evil is rewarded and good is beaten down. I can will it to be otherwise, but nothing changes. The result is a life of emotional ups and downs. I get angry at what I see around me and the darkness that I know that lives within me. I live in fear that others will see me for who I truly am and turn away from me in disgust. So, what do I do? The same thing you do. I put on a mask for the world to see, a mask that hides the truth. Rather than the world seeing the anger and bitterness that lives within my soul I become “lady-like”. That is I present a face to the world that tells everyone I’m a good person, I have no problems, and I have everything under control. That’s Martha.

Some time ago David Morales and I were talking about some of the battles I fight and some of the things that drive me crazy. He said, “Terry, you remind me of Martha running around the house worried about so many things, when it was Mary who was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening and learning.”

What he meant was Martha was busy doing needful things, but it was Mary Jesus praised. Why? Because Martha was playing the role of “Lady” making sure everything was prim and proper for her guests. She wanted everything to look just right.

But it was Mary who recognized the importance of listening to the words of Jesus while she had the chance. She could eat physical food later – and so could her guests. Her priorities were correct.

I look around me and see all the injustice and pain and the double standards the world uses to judge right from wrong and the hypocrisy and it makes me angry – very angry. And the result is me, often than I would like to admit, trying to set the world straight by cursing the darkness rather than turning on the Light of Truth by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The next thing to notice is what Jesus says about Lazarus being sick. He says…

“This illness does not lead to death” (John 11:4 ESV).

But it did, didn’t it? Lazarus did die. But that wasn’t the end.

Lazarus’ illness did not lead to death; it led through death to life.

When my father died a few members of the family were in the room where he was along with a couple of ladies that worked for hospice. Right after Dad died someone asked me to say a pray. I only remember one thing I prayed at that time. I said,

“Father, I thank You that my dad is as much alive right now to You as he was to us an hour ago.”

You see from God’s point of view no one is dead. All are live. Lazarus was just as alive to God when his body lay in that tomb as he was when Jesus raised him up. In a sense the resurrection of Lazarus was God allowing us to see with His eyes.

Let’s continue with the story.

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him’” (John 11:5-10 ESV).

Notice here that it says Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus. This appears to be nothing more than an affirmation of verse 3 that we read earlier…

“Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:3 ESV).

But this is more than a restatement of that fact.

The Greek word used for “love” in verse 3 is phileo.

It means to have a feeling or sentiment of affection toward someone. It’s the love we have toward some family members and good friends. And this is a good love, a love that reveals itself by our kindness and compassion toward the one we love. But it’s not necessarily a love that would die for another.

There’s a different Greek word for that kind of love. It’s agape.

This is the highest form of love. It’s a self-sacrificing love, a love that will pay any price to ensure the one loved receives the highest good. It’s a love that continues to love regardless of whether the one loved deserves it or not.

We usually don’t have a problem believing Jesus loves us when we’ve been good, but we have a very hard time believing Jesus loves us when we’ve been bad. Mary and Martha and Lazarus had been good and believed Jesus had a strong feeling of affection toward them – phileo. But the Bible tells us Jesus’ love for them went deeper than that – He loved them because of who they were, not because of what they had or had not done – agage.

What this story tells us is God loves us with a love that is far greater, far deeper than anything we can imagine. And that’s the love we’re supposed to have for one another. Do we?

Agape is also a love that can cause misunderstanding.

It was because Jesus loved Lazarus that He delayed in answering Mary and Martha’s prayer. We may not understand why God doesn’t heal our friends and loved ones immediately or even let’s them die, but…

As Christians it’s not as important to understand the why of things, but the Who behind the things.

Do we truly believe God loves us with an agape type love when the storms of life are destroying everything around us?

Let’s go on.

“After saying these things, he (Jesus) said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’” (John 11:11-16 ESV).

Have you ever had a good friend, someone really close to you, question you about the path of life you are walking down as you follow the leading of the Holy Spirit? No doubt such concern is well meaning. He doesn’t want to see you hurt, nor does he want to experience that hurt with you. So he tries to give you reasons for changing course.

This is what the disciples were doing with Jesus. They knew Jesus’ life was in danger – as well as their own – if He went back to Judea. But when it became clear to them Jesus was going Thomas gives this resounding word of encouragement to Jesus and the other disciples doesn’t he? Uh, not so much.

It’s more like he takes a deep breath, looks around and says…

“Ok, fine. Let’s all die together.”

I can hear Thomas thinking…

“So what’s Jesus going to do? Raise Lazarus from the dead or something.”

Not only do we all have naysayers in our lives like Thomas, well-meaning friends who are loyal to us, but nevertheless do more discouraging rather than encouraging, there’s usually more than one of these people. That’s why I find it interesting that the name “Thomas” means “Twin”. Not only do we have a “Thomas” in our life, he’s not alone. Misery truly does love company.

And the story continues.

“Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.”’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’” (John 11:17-27 ESV).

Note that Lazarus had been dead four days. That’s significant for a couple of reasons. First, the Jews believed that when someone died their soul remained near the body for 3 days making it possible for him to be revived. But after the 4th day all hope was gone. That means Lazarus was truly dead as far as the Jews were concerned which made his resurrection all the more remarkable.

Second,

Four is the number for this world, this physical creation.

And according to tradition the world was about 4000 years old at the time Jesus walked on the earth. That means that the world, creation had been dead in trespasses and sins for about 4000 years because of Adam and Eve having eaten of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
This is what the death of Lazarus, though real, symbolizes spiritually. He became sick and when Jesus didn’t immediately intervene to heal him he died. Likewise, when Adam and Eve fell into sin creation became “sick” and when God didn’t immediately intervene to “heal” it, man’s spiritual death eventually resulted in physical death. God could have immediately “healed” creation when Adam and Eve sinned, but out of love He had Jesus wait 4000 before coming to this world to raise it from the dead.

Why would He do that? The delay was necessary to show man that apart from God there’s no way to be “healed” from sin.

The delay proved man’s knowledge and religion could not change his sinful nature.

For 4000 years man tried to rise from the dead, so to speak, by trying to be good and trying to obey the commandments given to him by a sovereign and holy God. But rather than being healed he discovered just how dead he was. At best he was a zombie.

Romans 3:19-20 tells us:

“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20 ESV).

Mary and Martha represent the bitterness of life man faced after the Fall and his attempt to fix the problem of the deadness he sensed within his spirit by living a good, moral life outwardly. But his attempt to do good by obeying the Law simply revealed how dead his spirit was – which is exactly why the Law was given in the first place.

God knew man died in the Garden of Eden, but it took the Law to prove it to him.

Let’s look at this at an individual level. Mary and Martha represent your soul – your will, emotions, and intellect. There is often much bitterness in your life, often a lot of pressure, and many painful situations. That’s Mary. But because you don’t want the world to see all the garbage and pain in your life or all your failures you put on a mask for others to see. You do all the proper “ladylike” things a Christian is supposed to do. You try to be nice to people, but inside you can’t stand them; you try to say nice things to them, but inside you’re screaming at them; you say you’ll pray God will bless them, but inside your prayer is that God would strike them with lightning.

You get frustrated because you want to be good, be ladylike, but you can’t. Why? Because Lazarus, who represents your spirit – your conscience, intuition, and communion with God – lays dead until raised by Jesus into new life. Once your spirit – Lazarus – is “born-again” and becomes “Head of the household” so to speak, and your soul – Mary and Martha – submits to the headship of your now divinely inspired spirit, you can quit trying to be good and masking the fears and brokenness that is a part of all of us.

Let’s go on.

“When she (Martha) had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying’ (John 11:28-37 ESV)?

I want to quickly point out the difference between how Martha approached Jesus as compared to Mary. Both of them said the same thing to Jesus.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32 ESV).

But notice their posture. Martha came and stood before Him; Mary came and fell at his feet. Though polite and respectful to Jesus Martha’s posture is one of dignity and emotional control. Mary’s position is one of brokenness and worship. She didn’t care what those around her thought of her behavior.

Too often the masks we wear as Christians so we will appear dignified and in control of ourselves – ladylike – comes at the expense of humbling ourselves in the presence of Jesus out of fear of being thought of as strange or radical. Much of our outward worship is tailored to meet the expectations of those around us rather than allowing ourselves to be free to express our fears, and pain, and brokenness openly. It shouldn’t be that way.

We come to the climax of the story now.

“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’ (John 11:38-44 ESV).

At this moment all the doubts and questions the disciples and Mary and Martha had about Jesus’ actions and strange – to them – behavior vanished. No longer would they ask, “Why did Jesus delay in coming to Lazarus? Did Jesus truly love him? Was He unwilling to heal him?”

All of these were replaced with the knowledge that He was willing not only to heal a sick man, but raise a dead man.

But this story wouldn’t be complete without revealing what the name “Lazarus” means. Romans 5:6 says…

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 NASU).

You know, I have never known of anyone who has a nice home, a nice car, money in the bank, a healthy family, and no problems waking up one morning and saying: “I think I’ll become a Christian today.” That doesn’t happen. It’s when we lose everything and everything begins to spin out of control in our lives and we’re helpless to fix it that we’re brought to our knees before the Lord and seek Him.

I tell you that because the name…

“Lazarus means “helpless”.

Lazarus symbolizes the helplessness creation and we face when we try to save ourselves. It’s only when we realize that we are spiritually dead and are helpless to remove the smell of death from us, it’s only when we realize we are helpless to open the door of our spiritual tomb, and it’s only when we realize we are helpless to remove the grave clothes we are wrapped that we will experience our resurrection from the dead. It’s only when we realize that our name is “Helpless” that we will respond to Jesus when He calls us out of the tomb. Because as long as we think we are not Helpless we will remain deaf to the call of Jesus which describes the majority of mankind.

Finally, notice it was Jesus who gave Lazarus new life, but He used others to roll away the stone from the tomb and it was others He used to remove Lazarus’ grave clothes. That is a picture of the mission of the Church.

Only God can bring a dead spirit back to life, but it’s up to us to open the door of their heart that they might hear the voice of Jesus calling them and it’s up to us to remove the “grave clothes” of the newly born-again that they might be clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ instead.

Fight Like a Christian

If the last presidential race proved anything it’s that Christians don’t know the rules or dress code of spiritual warfare.

The recent presidential election was the most contentious in my lifetime. Tempers flared, people called each other disparaging names, friendships were ended, family relationships were strained to the breaking point. And that was just in the Church, the Body of Christ; Christians went to war with other Christians.

And it became obvious that the Church needed to learn how to: “Fight Like a Christian”

And since every warrior needs the proper equipment to fight effectively it would be a good idea to learn what that equipment is and then learn how to use it to fight like a Christian.

Fortunately, the Bible tells us explicitly in the book of Ephesians what armor and weaponry Christians are to use in our war against evil.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV).

Now, before we go to battle as Christians the second thing we need to learn after learning what armor and weaponry we are to use is to learn that fighting like a Christian requires us to recongize who are real enemy is, and it’s not the person or government that’s persecuting Christians, it’ the demonic spirits behind the person or government. Thus, before we begin to put on the armor of God Paul tells us this truth in very explicit terms as we read above. But it’s worth repeating…

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

Briefly, to fight like a Christian includes the following points…

The world fights to hurt or destroy, if necessary, the person who opposes it. The Christian fights to save the person who opposes him.

The world fights by calling those who oppose it with vile and degrading names, yelling and screaming at the person who opposes it. The Christian fights by blessing the person who opposes him.

The world fights by using ridicule, sarcasm, and mocking to belittle the person who opposes it. The Christian fight by using words born from gentleness and humility rather than harshness and arrogance.

The world fights from a position of human strength and ingenuity. The Christian fights from a position of grace relying upon the Name of the Lord.

The world fights not knowing it’s a prisoner of war, a POW, held captive by demonic spiritual powers and is being used by those demonic powers as human shields to hide the truth that they, the demonic spirits, are the real enemy, not the human beings we see with our eyes. The Christian fights knowing his Lord has triumphed over these spiritual powers and that he has been set free, no longer a spiritual POW, which allows him to see the real enemy.

To understand this more fully listen to the sermon “To Fight Like a Christian” and you will be better equipped to recognize and destroy the evil that threatens you and those around you.

Gold, Frankincense, & Myrrh

“Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh” is a sermon I gave a few years ago, but it has proven to be popular. Therefore, I offer it again for those who are interested in delving a little deeper into the significance of these gifts given to the Christ Child.

The Christmas season is upon us again. Therefore, it is fitting for us to turn our attention to the biblical narrative of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Part of that narrative is found in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 2 verses 1-12. Near the end of that narrative we are told that the Wise Men, when they saw the Christ Child…

“fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2-11 ESV).

It’s a very familiar story, so familiar in fact, that it’s easy to just read the words without giving much thought to them. But when we do that we miss important truths the Lord can teach us. Three of those truths are revealed to us when we ask:

“Why did the Wise Men give the Christ Child gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh?”

I can tell you that each of these gifts hold special, specific meanings, meanings that deepen not only our understanding of who Jesus is, but our understanding of who we are in Him.

So, grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, sit back, turn up the volume and listen to the sermon “Gold Frankincense & Myrrh”. It is my Christmas gift to each of you.

Merry Christmas!

The Sin of Achan

In the 7th chapter of the Book of Joshua we are introduced to a man named Achan. At the time we meet him the city of Jericho had just been conquered by the Israelite army under the command of Joshua after God had caused the walls of Jericho to miraculously fall down. But with the victory came a command from the Lord that the Israelites were to take nothing from the city for themselves. Everything in Jericho was said to be “devoted to destruction” by God. In essence, Jericho was to be a whole burnt offering unto the Lord. It was to be burned with fire and those things that the fire couldn’t destroy – gold, silver, bronze, iron – were to be placed in Lord’s treasury. And if anyone dared to disobey the Lord’s command to not take anything from Jericho for themselves the consequences were death.
That’s where Achan comes in. Though the Lord’s command concerning taking things from Jericho was clear he took three things from Jericho – a cloak from Shinar, 200 shekels of silver, and a 50 shekel bar of gold.

At first his disobedience to God was hidden from Joshua and the Israelites. But when the Israelite army was badly defeated when they went up against the small town of Ai after their stunning victory over Jericho Joshua knew something was wrong.

God revealed to Joshua that they couldn’t stand before their enemies because someone in their midst had disobeyed Him by taking things from Jericho. Then God revealed who that someone was – Achan. He was subsequently executed.
Does that seem harsh? Perhaps. But appearances can be deceiving. Once one understands the significance of the things he took – the cloak, the silver, and the gold – we understand why Achan had to die. But with that understanding comes knowledge that we too are guilty of Achan’s sin and deserve to share his fate.

“But”, you say, “I’m not guilty of Achan’s sin. I’m not a thief. And I’ve certainly never taken anyone’s cloak or silver or gold.”

Really? I humbly suggest you have – and so have I. Don’t believe it? Then I invite you to listen to the sermon, “Achan’s Sin”. You may be surprised at what you learn.

You Shall Be Holy

Are you holy? What does it mean to be holy? How does one become holy?

The Apostle Peter, speaking to Christians, commands…

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:13-16 ESV).

Holiness isn’t just to be the possession of pastors or preachers or seminary professors. Everyone who names the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior is to be holy. If you are a Christian you are commanded to be holy. But, again what does that mean? And how does one become holy?

Well, there’s a story in the Old Testament that I want focus on that teaches us what holiness is and in stark terms how seriously God takes holiness and the consequences of being unholy.

The story takes place in the book of Joshua, specifically in chapters 3 through 7. It tells the story of Joshua leading the Israelites into Canaan to take possession of it in fulfillment of God’s promise to them to have it as their home.

Their first combat mission was to take the city of Jericho. And they overwhelmingly succeeded in doing so having followed God’s unorthodox battle plan with apparently no loss of Israelite life.

Things were looking good for the Israelites. So, they engaged the enemy again, going up against the little town of Ai. After Jericho, Ai should have been easily taken. But they didn’t consult God first. And the results of the battle were a disaster. The Israelites fled from before the men of Ai and ended up killing some of the Israelite solders.

Joshua couldn’t understand why they had been defeated, badly. He fell on his face before God (something he should have done before going to battle against Ai). Eventually God told him…

“Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:11-12 ESV).

Having entered the land of Canaan the Israelites consecrated themselves unto the Lord. They were committing themselves to be holy as He is holy. But the foundation of holiness is obedience and someone in the camp of Israel had disobeyed God’s commandments. Israel was no longer holy. As a consequence she could no longer stand before her enemies.

The situation Joshua found himself in was precarious and very dangerous. They were in enemy territory. And those enemies would soon learn of Israelite’s defeat at Ai. That would embolden them to consolidate their forces and wipe out the Israelites. Therefore, it was imperative that the holiness that Israel had been clothed with when they consecrated themselves upon entering Canaan be regained.

They did and went on to take Ai.

What’s this got to do with us as Christians? We are at war with the powers of darkness, Satan and his demonic warriors. It is only when we are clothed with holiness that we are able to defeat these powers. The story in Joshua teaches us what it means to be holy, what happens when that holiness is compromised, and how to regain that holiness. Though this story happened thousands of years ago by reading and studying it we as Christians can gain insight into how to fulfill the command…

“You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16 ESV).

Now, if you have ever tried to be holy by gritting your teeth, having believed your willpower is sufficient to enable you to become holy you have undoubtedly been frustrated and thrown up your hands in despair. Well, let me try to encourage you. I’ll throw a teaser out there for you to ponder (the answer to which is revealed when you listen to the sermon) revealing how you can be holy.

God isn’t just giving us a command to be holy; He’s giving us something else too. What? Listen to the sermon and find out.

“Remember, God isn’t asking you if you’re able to be holy; He’s asking you if you’re willing to be made holy.”