Thorn Thursday

A few years ago, a friend sent me a very good talk by Hal Lindsey called “The Week that Changed the World”. What Hal basically says is that rather than Jesus dying on Friday, He actually died on Thursday because there were two Sabbaths in a row that week – the Passover Sabbath and the regular, weekly Sabbath. I’ve been reading Mark’s gospel recently where we have an account of Palm Sunday, Monday, and up to Tuesday night, then it jumps to the Passover meal Jesus eats with His friends. Why shouldn’t that have taken place on Wednesday, followed the next day by His crucifixion?

There’s another reason I believe this – because Jesus Himself said: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Three days and three nights? Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and on Sunday He rose again. It all makes sense, but we can witness to His death any time we like. The important thing is that we remember it. I have no problem doing that with other Christians on the Friday, even though I think it’s a day too late.

Because He wore that crown of thorns for us, maybe instead of Good Friday, we could have ‘Thorn Thursday’.

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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.

Peter the People-Pleaser

In my last post, you heard that Peter went back to his old way of living, but Jesus met him there, talked to him and restored him. You almost want to put a little sentence after that: “And they all lived happily ever-after.” Except Peter was a human being just like us, and when we become Christians, we don’t all live happily ever-after. We can have some amazing moments; Peter certainly did. I think particularly of the day the Holy Spirit filled him, he preached a sermon and three thousand people put their faith in Jesus, but he also had a deep-seated prejudice to iron out along the way.

You see, God’s kingdom wasn’t exclusively Jewish; it was open to all. We read in one of Paul’s letters that through His death, Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and non-Jews/Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14). As a Jew himself, Peter would have been brought-up with all their preconceptions. Jews didn’t associate with Gentiles (they believed doing so would desecrate them). In fact, many held the view that their Messiah’s coming would herald victory for them and judgment for everyone else, so this was a big lesson God had to teach Peter. He did it by sending him to the house of Cornelius, a non-Jew, to tell him about Jesus, but first He had to prepare Peter’s heart. He showed him a vision of animals, all of which were unclean by Jewish standards, and told him to kill and eat them. “God has made these things clean, so don’t call them unholy” (Acts 10:15). Peter soon discovered his vision concerned more than food; it was about people. The servants Cornelius had sent took him to the house and God’s Holy Spirit filled them all, Jews and non-Jews alike. Peter had learnt his lesson … or had he?

Paul later wrote about an incident in a place called Antioch. Peter had been happily eating with the other believers, whatever their backgrounds, until some fellow-Jews came along. (It’d be a bit like me ambling along at my own pace, until someone I admire pays a visit and I shift myself up a gear.) Peter wanted the approval of these men and immediately conformed to their expectations, associating only with the Jewish believers. Paul saw his hypocrisy and challenged him because he was trying to follow a set of man-made rules, when in fact he already had right standing with God through his faith in Jesus Christ. Peter was being a people-pleaser, putting the approval of men before the approval of God. It’s good to have someone like Paul in our lives, who’ll put us right when we’re going off-track.

What lessons has God been teaching you? Maybe you’re a bit like Peter. He’s taught you something, but you’ve tripped up and He’s had to teach you all over again. If that’s true, don’t be discouraged. The main thing Peter’s remembered for is being a close friend of Jesus. Stay close to Him, and He’ll make sure you get to the finish. “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end” (Hebrews 12:2).

Peace

Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace
, the Christmas carol says. Had that been sung over Him when He was born, it could have been prophetic. Jesus was able to sleep in heavenly peace not just when He was an infant, but throughout His earthly life. Even when a storm swamped the boat He travelled in, Jesus could sleep (Matthew 8:24).

Jesus isn’t just some historical figure; He’s an example to His followers, so we can expect that kind of peace to be available to us. He said these words the night He was arrested: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). This world’s peace is an absence of war; an absence of conflict; an end to turmoil, but Christ’s peace comes in the midst of difficult circumstances. Psalm 127 tells us God “gives sleep to those He loves.” “When you lie down, you won’t be afraid; when you lie down, you will sleep in peace” (Proverbs 3:24). Why would God say ‘You won’t be afraid’, if there was nothing to be afraid of? What He wants is for His people to be set apart – to lie down and sleep in peace, despite what’s going on around us. Knowing that God’s in control of everything makes a difference. “Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered for ever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD” (PSALM 112:6-7).

Oneness

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). As God’s Son, Jesus was at one with His Father. He even said: “I seek not to please Myself but Him who sent Me” (John 5:30).

This is awesome in itself – the fact that God and Jesus are one and the same, but even more mind-blowing is the standing it can give us. Jesus became one of the human race. He came into the world, and this is what He says about it: “‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You. For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him” (John 17:1-2). Jesus’ prayer for all those He has authority over, present and future, is “that all of them may be one … I in them and You in Me so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (John 17:21, 23). Not only is Jesus God’s beloved Son – at one with Him, He wants us to have that same status! Adored children at one with our Father, as our hearts become His heart. The things He desires become the things we desire – justice for the poor; companionship for the lonely; comfort for the sorrowful. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

Messiah

“A man named Simeon lived in Jerusalem. He was a good man who was devoted to God. He was waiting for the time when God would come to help Israel. The Holy Spirit was with him. The Holy Spirit told him that he would not die before he saw the Messiah from the Lord” (Luke 2:25-26). Messiah is a Hebrew word. Christ is its Greek equivalent, and both mean the same thing: Anointed One.

In the time before Jesus was born, the Jews used anointing oil. It was a sign that God had chosen someone (or something) for a task and they were fit for purpose, but the anointing oil was just that – a sign. Now, we no longer need oil to be anointed because we have the Holy Spirit.

We’ve seen that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, so from day one, Jesus was anointed, but when He was baptised by John, His anointing became visible. “I also did not know who the Messiah was,” says John. “But the One who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘You will see the Spirit come down and rest on a man. He is the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen this happen. I saw the Spirit come down from heaven like a dove and rest on this man. So this is what I tell people: ‘He is the Son of God’” (John 1:32-34).

Nowadays, although the Holy Spirit anoints Christians, oil is still used within the church. “Anyone who is sick should call the church’s elders. They should pray for and pour oil on the person in the name of the Lord. And the prayer that is said with faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will heal that person. And if the person has sinned, the sins will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15). Oil, and a prayer said in faith. In other words, we’re acting as people have for thousands of years. The oil is a sign that we welcome the work of God in someone’s life. When Jesus taught His followers to pray, one thing He said to ask for was that God’s kingdom would come on earth, as in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

Jesus, I welcome You and Your kingdom. I welcome You as my Anointed One – my Messiah.

Holy Spirit

When Joseph’s emotions are in turmoil thanks to Mary’s pregnancy, an angel reassures him in a dream: “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

When Jesus touched someone, people could see Him touching them. But when God’s Holy Spirit’s at work, something always happens on the inside and flows out – the total opposite of two people having sex, which is an outward, visible act. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was integral to His existence, as my parents are to mine.

When Jesus died, His Spirit could work in every one of His followers. “But the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these kinds of things” (Galatians 5:22-23). That’s one reason we’re instructed to be filled with the Spirit – so our lives can display this fruit for all to see. I’ve learnt that verse in Ephesians about being filled with the Spirit is a continuous tense in the Greek, so it doesn’t mean be filled only once; it means be being filled. Be filled; flow out; be filled again. That’s what God wants for us.

Cornerstone

When Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, he tried to bring home to non-Jewish believers the difference Jesus had made. No longer was it a case of the Jews being blessed as God’s chosen people and them being far-off; the blessing was for them too. “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief Cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

I don’t know much about buildings, but I’m told the cornerstone is the crucial one, holding all the others in place. Paul makes a similar statement in a letter to another church: “In Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

If you’re anything like me, you might sometimes feel as if you’re falling to bits, physically or emotionally. It’s very comforting to be able to go to Jesus knowing He holds everything together and ask for His help.

Darkness

It surprises me every year – the amount of Christians who involve themselves in Halloween, dressing their kids up in costumes etc. When Compassion had its own website for sponsors, I asked one of them why she did it. She wrote back with a link to an article by someone I’d never heard of, which I found sad because I was genuinely interested in her thoughts – not somebody else’s. I don’t want to let some article by someone somewhere justify my actions; only the Word of God. I’ll be honest and admit I was brought-up in a home where we did go out trick-or-treating our neighbours and grandparents, but I think this was probably done in ignorance. The only parts of the Bible we read as a family were the famous stories – Adam and Eve, Noah … We certainly didn’t study or consider it when living the rest of our lives.

As a Christian though, I became more interested in how God wanted me to live. The first year, I went to a Halloween party. I thought as long as I didn’t actually do anything evil, it would be all right. I didn’t know this verse: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). By going to a Halloween party, I was involving myself in that celebration, whereas God says have nothing to do with it.

Galatians 5:19-20: “The wrong things the sinful self does are clear: Committing sexual sin, being morally bad, doing all kinds of shameful things, worshiping false gods, taking part in witchcraft” … This is why I can’t understand people going round dressed as wizards and witches, as if God’s ok with that.

I would avoid a murder mystery night for the same reason. If we really are made to glorify God in whatever we do, then why have fun celebrating things that He (a holy God) can’t even look at? The idea of murder hadn’t entered anyone’s minds before Adam and Eve did wrong. Their son committed the first murder, and that wasn’t something to be celebrated. He had to leave God’s presence and live in the land of Nod – a Hebrew word that means ‘Wandering’ (Genesis 4:13-16). Can you imagine wandering aimlessly on the earth, knowing your home was with God but you squandered that by killing your brother?

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). What about a praise party? If we believe in Jesus, we’ve been freed from the power of darkness, so let’s do as Peter suggests: “Declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

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.