"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened’.
The 12th of April 2021 will be a date that will go down in English history; it’s the day of the great unlock!! Millions of people will have access to shops and services that they haven’t had so far this year. However, 12th April marks another historical event. It will be 60 years since man first broke free from the confines of his home planet and completed one orbit of the earth. It was a gargantuan achievement by a young Russian Cosmonaut called Yuri Gagarin.
To fit in with atheistic propaganda, on his return to earth, Gagarin was deliberately misquoted as saying, "I looked and looked and looked, but I didn’t see God.”. However, Gagarin was a devout Christian, having been baptised in the Russian Orthodox church. What he actually said was, “An astronaut cannot be suspended in space and not have God in his mind and his heart.” Gagarin was the first of many Christian astronauts that would make the journey into space, travel beyond earth’s orbit and eventually walk on the moon.
Astronaut John Glen, one of America’s Mercury 7 astronauts, once proclaimed from orbit:
"To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is, to me, impossible.”
Astronaut Frank Borman, Apollo 8 commander, looked at the earth from 250,000 miles away and radioed back a message to earth, quoting Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” He later explained, “I had an enormous feeling that there had to be a power greater than any of us – that there was a God, that there was indeed a beginning.”
James Irwin of Apollo 15 was a backslidden Christian when he walked on the moon in 1971. He described the lunar mission as a revelation. He said “I felt the power of God as I’d never felt it before.” He later left NASA and became an evangelical minister and he devoted the rest of his life to "spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.”
You and I may never have the privilege of finding the awesome presence of God in space, but the prophet Jeremiah said:
"Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD”. (Jeremiah 29:12-1)
God’s heart beats with a longing for His children to seek Him and find Him right here on planet earth. Over the past year, we have been stripped of a multitude of opportunities to occupy or entertain ourselves and in its place we have been given ‘time’. Time to seek God to a depth many have perhaps never done before. However, there is a danger that as the world slowly attempts to move forward to regain its semblance of ‘normality', that you let go some of the intensity of seeking the face of God that you have known. There is a danger that you will allow some of the pre-Covid activities to once again take up a disproportionate amount of your time.
Don’t let that happen; make a commitment to hold on to what you have received. 'Call upon God’ frequently; seek Him, search for Him. There’s a spiritual universe out there that Jesus Christ wants you to explore with Him.
"We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God.” C H Spurgeon
‘For the third time he (Pilate) demanded, ‘Why? What crime has he committed? I have found no reason to sentence him to death. So, I will have him flogged, then I will release him’. But the mob shouted louder and louder, demanding that Jesus be crucified’ (Luke 23:22,23)
It’s interesting how one word in English can transmit so much meaning. ‘Almost’ is one of these words.
I’ll never forget the finals of a swimming event in the 2012 Olympics. The young man who came third was beaming from ear to ear with delight as the bronze medal was placed around neck. Not so the athlete who came in second. He had been crying profusely because his medal was only silver. He had almost won the gold. But almost wasn’t good enough. His disappointment was watched by all the world.
We’ve all experienced ‘an almost’ in our lives at some time or another. For example, the time we almost passed our driving test but braked too suddenly at the end. Or the time when we thought we would pass an important exam, almost getting the desired grade, but not quite.
‘Almost’ can carry with it a sense of failure, frustration, disappointment or regret. Goals are not achieved. Dreams are not realised. In extreme cases, tragedy, sadness and loss ensues.
In Acts 26, we read about the Apostle Paul speaking passionately to Festus, King Agrippa and Bernice, Agrippa’s sister. Paul pours his heart into explaining the gospel to these three high ranking individuals. Famously, at one point, King Agrippa says to Paul, “You almost persuaded me to become a Christian.” (Acts 26:28). Sadly, it was only ‘almost’. I wonder if King Agrippa ever did place his trust fully in Christ.
However, perhaps the most tragic ‘almost’ comes hours before Jesus is crucified. As one writer has put it:
“Pilate almost performed what would have been history’s greatest act of mercy. He almost pardoned the Prince of Peace. Almost. He had the power. He had the choice. He wore the signet ring. But other voices prevailed’.*
As a result of Pilate’s ‘almost’, Jesus was crucified.
When I was a young Christian, we were encouraged to pray publicly in meetings. Our leaders knew the benefit this would be to us spiritually, but many of us found it a daunting task to begin with. I well remember the nights, as we turned to prayer, that I sat on the edge of the bench, willing myself to stand and pray. Sometimes I made it to my feet and rejoiced in the sense of God that would meet me in that act of obedience, but alas, other times, I almost made it- almost, but not quite. The feeling was not so pleasant then.
Some almosts are final; there is no going back. Pilate made his decision, and he did not go back. However, other almosts need not be the final word. Thankfully, for me, there came a day, where I was able to stand to my feet and pray publicly rather than almost getting there.
Is there an ‘almost’ in your life today? If so, take heart: ‘almost’ today can be ‘achieved’ tomorrow.
*On Calvary’s Hill, Max Lucado
“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:13)
When I was a child, I sometimes watched films that related to the Second World War. In some of these films, you would see trains arriving into stations with soldiers returning from battle. Hundreds of soldiers were on the trains. The platforms were also densely packed with mothers, fathers, wives, sisters, brothers and children waiting eagerly for a first glimpse of their returning loved one. Each soldier was a hero.
Recently I was reading again the resurrection account of Jesus in Mark’s gospel. It’s actually an account that saddens me every time I read it. I imagine you must think that this is a strange comment to make about the resurrection! Let me explain why.
We read that after the Sabbath had ended, some of the women who had accompanied Jesus went out and bought spices so they could ‘anoint the body of Jesus’ (Mark 16:1). The women who approached the tomb, approached it with no thought of resurrection in mind. They obviously had no thought of Jesus returning in triumph over death, and hell and satan. Despite Jesus telling them on a number of occasions that He would rise again, there was no-one to welcome Him back from the battle that changed the destiny of humanity.
I’m sure that after the resurrection both the apostles and the women would have loved to have turned back the clock, imagining themselves making their way through the faint, dawn light with anticipation in their hearts to the tomb where the body of Jesus lay. Alas, that’s not how it happened. Jesus returned to ‘an empty platform’.
Then, after Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to several people. Even with this evidence, the disciples didn’t believe their reports. Mark goes on to tell us that Jesus appeared to them and ‘rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief’ (Mark 16:14). Then we read some truly remarkable words. Despite their failure, Jesus said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone’ (Mark 16:15). That, my friends, is forgiveness in action!!
Jesus did not relegate the unbelievers to a back seat for the rest of their lives. He had a plan for each of them and encouraged them to move forward into it. As Billy Graham once said,
“In one bold stroke, forgiveness obliterates the past and permits us to enter the land of new beginnings.”
That’s exactly what God wants to do for each one of us when we fail Him. Life is too short to sit down and indulge in a pity party. If you have failed Him in some way recently, go to Him and confess your sin, accept His forgiveness and begin to enter your land of new beginnings.
"Let me here your voice for your voice is sweet" (Song of Solomon 2:14)
In a number of occasions in the gospels, the answers Jesus gave to his opponents’ questions left them speechless.
Mark’s gospel records that, when being grilled by the Saducees concerning marriage in the afterlife, Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” Mark 12:24. Jesus then proceeds to open scripture and truth to them.
On another occasion in Mathew 12, Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grain field on the Sabbath, picking grain as they went along because they were hungry. Confronted by the Pharisees, Jesus once again points to their own scriptures and enlighten their darkened minds.
I love these parts in scripture. The sound of triumph resonates as Jesus unveils truth. His enemies are confounded. Who among them can challenge these revelations?
However, although the Saducees and Pharisees were incensed by Jesus’ teaching, the opposite was true of the common people; they flocked to hear him. They were willing to sit down on the ground for hours on end to listen to the rabbi whose teaching brought with it something new, something vibrant; it brought a challenge and it brought hope.
In Mark 12:37 we read,
“The large crowd listened to him with great delight.”
Unlike the preaching of the Saducees and Pharisees, whose words were often harsh and accompanied by heavy burdens, Jesus’ words were liberating for those who applied them in their lives. What a feast it must have been for them spiritually! What a breath of fresh air! Many a spirit must have come alive in those sessions.
However, that wasn’t just for two millennia ago. With each new day that dawns, God is waiting to speak to us also. He knows what we need to hear each day. He knows when we need words of comfort and healing. He knows when we need a rebuke or a reminder. He is ready to give encouragement and assurance.
Friends, with such a treasure available, make sure to take time today, and every day, to hear His voice.
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)
Before the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, tens of thousands of Jews made their way three times a year to Jerusalem to attend the feasts of Sukkot (Tabernacles), Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). These are known as the pilgrim festivals in Judaism. Although there was solemnity in their worship, it was also a time of celebration, joy and feasting where the pilgrims met family members and friends that they possibly had not seen for months.
However, for Jesus, as he made His way to Jerusalem for what was to be the final week of his life, already the shadow of the cross was upon Him. There was no thought of joyous family reunions, no times of feasting and no times of refreshing. For Him, it would be false accusations, an angry mob, flogging, a crown of thorns, and finally death by crucifixion. Yet, despite this, he ‘resolutely set out for Jerusalem.’ Some may have asked, “Why set yourself on a collision course with people who want to kill you?” Well, we are told the answer to that in Hebrews:
For the joy set before him he endured the cross... (Heb 12:2)
The joy for Jesus was not in meeting up with friends and family; it wasn’t the anticipation of shared meals and companionship. It was the joy of knowing that you and I would spend eternity with Him and His Father in Heaven.
Many years ago, I was sharing with my minister, Mary Black, about a cross that I was facing in my life. It made life seem dark and lifeless. A source of joy was being sucked from me. I have never forgotten her words to me at that time. She said, “It’s at times like this that you need to believe in the resurrection.” A short time later, I joyfully discovered for myself that the words she spoke were true.
Are you facing a ‘Jerusalem’ right now, a cross that is bringing suffering and pain? Friend, don’t try and run from your Jerusalem. Do what Jesus did and set you face resolutely towards the cross. Remember that Jerusalem was also the place of resurrection. It was so for Jesus, and it can be so for you also.
“To trust God in the light is nothing, but trust Him in the dark...that is faith.” C H Spurgeon
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