"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt 26:41)
Have you ever read a Bible story and tried to picture what would have happened if someone had done something differently from the way they did? For example, picture the rich ruler in Luke 18 who ‘became very sad’ (Luke 18:23) when Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. I’ve tried to picture him, like Zacchaeus, willingly handing over his fortune and following Jesus. Could he have been another Apostle Paul, Apostle John? Charles Spurgeon said, ‘trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil, and let us see what we are made of.’ This trial showed the rich ruler what he was made of.
I was thinking along these lines earlier this week when I read about Peter’s denial of Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion.
I picture Peter looking back at that fateful night with a longing that he had acted differently. He pictures himself again in the courtyard of the High Priest. The servant girl says,‘ you also were with Jesus of Galilee’ (Matthew 26:69). He pulls himself up to his full stature and strongly affirms that, yes, he was with Jesus. He then pictures himself telling everyone in the courtyard that Jesus was an innocent man; a good, kind, compassionate man, so why was he arrested? He then champs at the bit and struggles to keep himself from entering the house of the High Priest to defend Jesus.
But Peter knew, and we know that that’s not how it happened. We know that Peter’s hour of trial came, and he saw what he was made of.
However, although Peter’s flesh failed him in a dark hour, the truth is that his faith did not fail him. He repented with tears over his failing and moved forward, as Christian tradition tells us, to eventually die a martyr’s death for Jesus.
I think that we can all take great comfort and encouragement from Peter’s life. Unfortunately, we don’t always get it right. Sometimes, also, our flesh fails and we ‘see what we are made of’. However, here’s the bit I love, our faith can rise again, in-fact not just rise, but soar! Spurgeon also said, ‘Victory needs conflict as it’s preface’.
Maybe the devil has been taunting you, telling you that you are a failure. Remember that there is a difference between being a failure and failing. Peter failed, but he was not a failure. He saw what he was made of....and he soared again!
It’s time to repent; to put the failure behind and to begin to soar again.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
In many countries of the world, people’s names mean something. For example in Hindi, Rani means Queen and Raja means king. In Tamil, Pū means ‘flower’ and ‘Anpu’ is one of the words for love.
In the Bible, we learn that Hebrew names have a meaning also. In Luke’s gospel, chapter 19, we read about a man called ‘Zacchaeus’ whose name means ‘the righteous one’. You could be forgiven for thinking that we are about to read the tale of an upright, noble, heroic man, but we read that Zacchaeus wasn’t quite living up to his name! Zacchaeus had leased a particular region from the Romans, the oppressors of the Jews, and became the overseer of all the tax collectors. He had subordinates from whom he collected commission. This made him wealthy, but his dishonesty also made him extremely unpopular with his fellow countrymen.
Zacchaeus was very rich, but we see that he was feeling that something was missing in his life. Maybe he was beginning to realise that he hadn’t lived up to his name and that doubts, and maybe even regrets, were creeping into his mind.
These niggling convictions caused him to cast aside his dignity and climb a tree as Jesus was passing by. He wanted to see Jesus but he didn’t want Jesus to see him!
When Jesus saw him, he started by calling him by his name, Zacchaeus (the righteous one). Jesus saw something in Zacchaeus that no one else saw. He saw that upright, noble, heroic man that hadn’t quite surfaced...until now!
Within a short time of being in the company of Jesus, Zacchaeus had made a decision that he now wanted his name to become his nature. He put right the things that he knew were wrong in his life and Zacchaeus became ‘the righteous one’.
Sometimes in life we, like Zacchaeus, can get these uncomfortable niggles too; these convictions that we’re not living up to the person that God wants us to be. Somewhere along the way we’ve not been as obedient, loving, forgiving or honest as we should have been. If we’re honest, we know that we’ve not been living up to the name ‘the righteous one’ either.
Friend, if this is where you find yourself today, then take encouragement from this wonderful story, the sense of the forgiveness of God, and the desire that there is in His heart to draw you back to Himself. You may be trying to hide from Him, but He sees you and, just as He lavishly poured out forgiveness on Zacchaeus, He wants to do the same for you.
“Your eyes will see the king in all his splendour." (Isaiah 33:17)
A number of weeks ago before lockdown and social distancing, a friend was telling me how, as a child, she always loved going to a midnight church service on Christmas Eve. She wasn’t a Christian at the time, but there was just something that she felt that she couldn’t explain; a joy, a happiness, a sense of wonder.
For me, it was Easter Sunday. Long before I ever became a Christian, I woke up with an excitement each Easter Sunday morning. It wasn’t the kind of excitement you associate with birthdays and Christmas. This was more like an expectation, an anticipation. I never questioned it; I never wondered about it; I just loved and enjoyed it.
It wasn’t till many years later, after I became a Christian, that I realised that, like my friend, what we actually were experiencing was something spiritual. It was as though God had opened a window in Heaven for us and something of Heaven spilled to earth and splashed upon our unawakened spirits.
In her book, ‘All the way to Heaven’, Elisabeth Sherrill explores this truth that, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we can experience something of Heaven even as we are journeying toward it. As the author writes:
‘Heaven has become more real to me than the ground beneath my feet.
Real in the past, real for the future, and best of all, real right now’
(All the Way to Heaven by Elizabeth Sherrill,
published by Eagle Publishing Ltd).
Although I still wake up each Easter Sunday morning with that same sense of joy and expectation, these experiences are no longer confined to one day a year. As the scripture verse tells us, ‘Your eyes will see the king in all his splendour’. This is what God wants to do for us; He wants to reveal His splendour to us; not just today, not just tomorrow, but all the way to Heaven!
Have a blessed Easter.
“Designate six cities of refuge for yourselves, three on the east side of the Jordan River and three on the west in the land of Canaan. These cities are for the protection of Israelites, foreigners living among you, and traveling merchants. Anyone who accidentally kills someone may flee there for safety.” (Numbers 35:13-15)
Shortly before the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land, God gave final instructions to Moses. Among these was the designation of six cities of refuge to protect innocent people form blood revenge. There are two points here that are of particular relevance to us today.
1. God is our Refuge
The definition of the word ‘refuge’ is, ‘a place or situation providing safety or shelter.’
Have you ever noticed, how many scriptures speak about God as a refuge?
“The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you”. (Deuteronomy 33:27)
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalms 46:1)
What a timely reminder for us! Now, perhaps more than ever in recent decades, the world needs a refuge, a safe place to retreat to from fear and anxiety in this current pandemic. I thank God that He has shown us that the place of refuge for us is Jesus Christ.
I’m reminded of the words of the beautiful hymn...
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
A few days ago, I began to feel fear creep upon me, as many of you will have experienced. I found it difficult to think straight, to concentrate, to get on with work. I knelt down and prayed and as I turned my eyes upon Jesus, a stillness and calm crept over me. Peace came into my heart and with it came a right perspective.
We who know Jesus, can run to him for refuge in these days and find a place of safety and shelter there.
2. Available for all
We see in this week’s scripture that the protection being offered was not just for the children of Israel; it was for it’s ‘foreigners’ and ‘travelling merchants’. In other words, a place of refuge is available to all. Doesn’t this speak to us so clearly of the deep love, care and compassion in the heart of God for His creation?
This is a message for your families, your friends, your colleagues (if you’re still working), your neighbours (over the balcony or fence). God is available to us all. All we need to do is ‘come’.
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