Fully Accessible

Here we are, at the biggest celebration of the Christian year. We remember that first day of the week two thousand years ago, when some women came to Jesus’ tomb and found His body wasn’t there. Two men in shining garments tell them Jesus is alive! Luke elaborates later in the chapter and says it was a vision of angels (Luke 24:22-23). They say: “Remember what He told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that He would rise again on the third day” (Luke 24:6-7). I had never noticed that before. I always imagined Jesus talked to only His closest friends about going ahead of them into Galilee (Matthew 26:30-32; Mark 14:26-28), but no; it was the women as well.

As a blind person, I hear a lot about accessibility. So many times here, Jesus sets out to prove how accessible He is. Two of His followers have walked nearly seven miles from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus (Luke 24:13), and unknowingly talked with Him on the way. They invite Him in for the night and with the scent of bread in their nostrils, as Jesus breaks it to pieces, their spiritual eyes are opened and they recognise Him. Jesus disappears and straightaway they do the seven-mile walk all over again, going back to tell their story.

As they’re speaking, suddenly Jesus is among them. “Look at My hands. Look at My feet. You can see that it’s really Me. Touch Me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do” (Luke 24:39). Bringing in the sense of taste, He asks for something to eat and they give Him a piece of broiled fish. Then He opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. I would’ve loved to have been at that Bible-study!

Jesus wants to fill our intellect and all our senses. He’s God-with-us, who wants everyone to have access to the forgiveness He offers. “You saw these things happen – you are witnesses. You must go and tell people that they must change and turn to God, which will bring them His forgiveness. You must start from Jerusalem and tell this message in My name to the people of all nations. Remember that I will send you the One my Father promised. Stay in the city until you are given that power from heaven” (Luke 24:47-49).

Jesus gave convincing proofs He was alive, appearing to His followers over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3). Then comes the end of Luke’s gospel, and the beginning of Luke’s second book – the book of Acts. As His friends watch, Jesus ascends to heaven before their eyes, and they’re told: “Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday He will return from heaven in the same way you saw Him go” (Acts 1:11).

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, taking us through Jesus’ life in the gospel of Luke. Happy Easter, and if you’re accepting for the first time that Jesus died so you could be forgiven, welcome to the family.

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Three Things Faith Can Do

The main characters in this chapter are two men and a woman. One man had great faith, while the other’s faltered.

Character one: He’s an officer with a servant who’s ill. He’s not even Jewish, but he knows Jesus is, so he sends some respected members of the Jewish community to ask Him for help. “If anyone deserves Your help, he does, … for he loves the Jewish people and even built a synagogue for us,” they say (Luke 7:4-5). I love how Jesus could have given them a lecture, but doesn’t. Jesus’ help is never tied to performance or how much we deserve. He goes with them to the man’s house, but before they arrive, the officer sends some friends out with a message: Jesus doesn’t need to come in; the officer feels unworthy of this. He can just say the word, and the servant will be well. Wow! Jesus has never seen this – someone acknowledging that even without Him being present, a miracle can occur, and it does. The servant is healed.

Character two: He’s someone we’ve met before – John the Baptist, but as we saw in chapter 3, he’s been put in prison. He sends two of his followers to ask Jesus: “Are You the One who is to come, or should we wait for someone else?” (Luke 7:18-19). John knew Jesus was the Messiah. God had given him a sign of that. He said so himself (John 1:32-33), and yet he doubted. Jesus let John’s followers witness the miracles that were taking place, and instructed them to report back to John with the message: “God blesses those who do not fall away because of Me” (Luke 7:23). John had all the evidence from reliable witnesses, which left him with a choice: Fall away from Jesus, or have faith and stay the course?

Character three: She’s gone to the home of a Pharisee, having heard that Jesus is eating there. She’s brought with her a beautiful jar of costly perfume. In Jesus is the tangible presence of God. I think the woman must have been overwhelmed as she knelt behind Him and started to weep. Her tears washed His feet and she dried them with her hair, kissing them to show her affection and pouring out the perfume. The Pharisee is only concerned with her immorality, whereas Jesus sees how she’s surpassed His host. “When I entered your home, you didn’t offer Me water to wash the dust from My feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair” and so on. Perhaps the woman saw in Jesus the forgiveness she craved and that’s why she showed such love. He assures her of sins forgiven and then tells her: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50).

When we place our faith in Jesus, He can bring healing, as He did for the officer’s servant. He can give us the strength to persevere, and ultimately He has salvation for us: Faith to heal, faith to stay, and faith to save. Do we have that kind of faith?

What if I Destroy Their Faith?

If you’ve got any kind of long-term disability or illness, perhaps you’ve felt the same as me when it came to asking about healing. What if someone has faith to see a healing miracle, but my question weakens their faith? Or worse, what if they’ve prayed for me and when God hasn’t healed, it’s put them off Christianity altogether? I’ve been up for prayer before for my eyesight, which God hasn’t given to me. I’ve no way of knowing the reactions of other people in the room.

When recently I had some questions for my house group, several there being strong in faith, I was hesitant to say anything. Then as we worshipped, these verses came into my head: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). And another: “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).

Someone’s faith is a gift that God has given them, and God’s gifts are irrevocable. In other words, they can’t be taken away, so God showed me it was all right to ask my questions. I couldn’t destroy somebody’s faith, because it doesn’t come from humans; it comes from Him.

I hope that encouraged you as it did me.

Self-Preservation

In a magazine, I found a book called “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes”, that looked very good. It’s not on Kindle, so my mum very kindly bought it and said that when we meet up, from time to time, she’ll read me a chapter. Last weekend, we started it and I’m quite enjoying reading it together.

The introduction was much more highbrow than the book itself, but I still found it interesting. One passage it talked about was Luke 16:13, and that’s the verse I want to write about today. Here’s how the New King James Version of the Bible puts it: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Most modern translations take that Greek word mammon to mean money, and certainly someone who’s greedy for money is going to be reluctant to give God control of their entire life, including their finances. What’s really interesting, though, is that the Amplified Bible says mammon can be translated as: ‘Anything in which you trust and on which you rely’. Wow! That’s a challenge. We can’t serve two masters; either we trust God, or we trust that other thing – money, relationships, ourselves …

I wondered what to call this post. I had planned for it to be about greed, but I read God’s Word and it expanded! I suppose to hold anything back from God is really self-preservation, and the opposite of that would be surrender.

Can you give God control of your life? Do you trust Him to act in your best interests?

Doubt

I’ve heard it said that doubt and faith can co-exist. To me, it seems clear from Jesus’ conversation with Thomas that they can’t. I’m not sure where Thomas was the first time Jesus appeared to a group of His close friends after His resurrection. They were locked in a room for fear of the Jews. Maybe Thomas had braved the streets to go and get them something to eat, but anyway, he missed the big moment. They told him about it afterwards and he said: “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Later Jesus came again and specifically said to Thomas: “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Faith and doubt may not co-exist, but faith and questioning can. After all, a question Thomas asked brought us one of the most central truths in Christianity – Jesus’ statement that: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

I’m reading a book at the moment about when Christians are faced with the hard questions in life. Why does God supernaturally heal one person but leave another to cope with their disability, when we read about those wonderful miracles, and that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever? Why does one person have a supportive network of family and friends, while others grieve loved ones and appear to have very little? We really don’t understand, so what can we do? We can hold onto what we know. We know that Jesus is our good Shepherd and our admission ticket to heaven. I’ve told you before about the time this verse came into my head immediately: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

“Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it” (Hebrews 11:1). We may not see the full picture; we might still have questions, but in the midst of those questions, our faith in Jesus can triumph over doubt.

Possible

This week’s Tuesday at Ten prompt is “Believe”, and I just felt to write a little poem this time:
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When we think that God created the world – everything in 6 days – do we believe it’s possible?
When we hear that He parted the sea for His people – do we believe it’s possible?
When we picture a giant, slain by a shepherd-boy – do we believe it’s possible?
When we hear of a suffering servant, taking all our punishment – do we believe it’s possible?
When we want to be like Peter, in whose shadow people were healed – do we believe it’s possible?
When we hear of a disfigured body straightened – do we believe it’s possible?
When we seek provision for those in great need – do we believe it’s possible?
When we want a thriving church, people worshipping in spirit and in truth – do we believe it’s possible?
When we want a peaceful life, lived in a strength not our own – do we believe it’s possible?
When we search our hearts, and lift our eyes ...
Believe – it’s possible.

For Your Diary This Week

I’ve just come back from hearing Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh speak.  If you’ve read their book “Captive in Iran”, you’ll know those names.  They’re 2 Iranian women who were recently put in prison for living out their Christian faith.  I’m full of admiration for them, especially when I think that one had her 28th birthday in prison.  They’ve been through so much in less than 30 years of life.

 

If you haven’t read the book, I’d thoroughly recommend this tour, and even having read it, it was lovely to hear them in person.  Some of the stories may have been repeated, but it seemed to reemphasise to me the way God used this situation to reach out even to their enemies.  At the end, I felt like I was offering applause to God for the courage He’d given them; the love for their people; the joy at such a trying time.

 

That’s why I’m writing this – to give you the opportunity to hear them for yourselves.  Their UK-tour’s only a week long, so if you’re near Upton Vale Baptist Church, Torquay (tonight at 7:30), Rora House, Halford, Newton Abbot (Saturday 12th, 10 am to 4:30 pm, tickets £15 for the day), Emmanuel Centre, Westminster (Tuesday lunchtime), or St Mary’s Church, Loughton (Wednesday 16th at 7:30), try to contact them and see if you can get there.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Persecution for his Faith

We see in this chapter an all-too-familiar thing:  Someone doesn’t like what Amos says about the king’s family being attacked, so he meets with the king and falsely accuses Amos of making evil plans (Amos 7:8-10).  Then he confronts Amos and tries to get him out of the picture. “Seer, go back right now to Judah.  Do your prophesying and earn your living there, but don’t prophesy anymore here at Bethel” (Amos 7:12-13).

 

How does Amos respond?  Is he intimidated?  We’re not told how he feels, but he responds by stating the call God’s placed on his life, and being faithful to it. “I do not make my living as a prophet, nor am I a member of a group of prophets.  I make my living as a shepherd, and I take care of sycamore trees.  But the Lord took me away from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’  So listen to the Lord’s word” (Amos 7:14-16).

 

Sadly, we see this persecution regularly all over the globe.  In fact, we’re even promised that anyone who wants to live as a Christian will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).  It happens to people in North Korea, stuck in prison camps because they or a member of their family chose to be a Christian, and it happens on a smaller scale – people mocking or showing anger at the way someone lives their life.  How will you respond when it happens to you?

 

Jesus and Paul give us some helpful tips.  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).  “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).  “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14).

 

So, will you have confidence in God’s call on your life, and be faithful to it?

Happy to see Justice?

Status

“Those who disobey what they have been taught praise the wicked, but those who obey what they have been taught are against them.  Evil people do not understand justice, but those who follow the Lord understand it completely” (Proverbs 28:4-5).

 

How much do wickedness and unfairness bother you?  Has your faith in God changed the way you see the world and what goes on around you?

We Live … He Gives

“The Lord does not let good people go hungry, but He keeps evil people from getting what they want” (Proverbs 10:3).

 

“Good people will be remembered as a blessing, but evil people will soon be forgotten” (Proverbs 10:7).

 

“Good people are rewarded with life, but evil people are paid with punishment” (Proverbs 10:16).

 

“Evil people will get what they fear most, but good people will get what they want most” (Proverbs 10:24).

 

There’s a common theme here:  How we live affects what He gives.  We can’t be complacent and say that just because once twenty, forty, eighty years ago we put our faith in Jesus, we’ll be ok.  We have to walk out that faith; choose good over evil; live for Him every day.  Are you ready to be a Christian – a genuine follower of Christ?