Fitted for Hard Times (3 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:19-20, 26-33, 40-42.

Fitted for Hard Times v_03 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

REVIEW:

Part One: The Conditions of Discipleship

Part Two: The Cost of Discipleship

NEW:

Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

I imagine all of us has experienced driving behind someone who is driving another car ahead of us, showing us the way.  This experience was much more intense in the olden days before cell phones to ask questions and smart phones to find your own directions, so bear with me if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you.

Anyway, the person you’re following is your lifeline between where you are and where you want to be.  At some point a traffic light comes between you.  True to their usual form, the leader speeds through the yellow light, leaving you behind at the red.  Distance and cross-traffic cars coming between you cause you to lose sight of the leader.  You can hope to catch up or you can hope they pulled over to wait for you, but those are pretty much your two options.  What sounded like a simple trip has now become more complicated.

That’s a little window on what following Jesus can feel like.  Sunny days and good times can make discipleship seem easy.  But then difficulties emerge and we feel separated from our Savior.  In those moments, courage is needed.  Here’s good news: Jesus provides courage for His disciples!

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

  1. We can have courage because God supplies us with the right words (vs. 19-20).

Jesus warned we would face persecution and informed us these were opportunities to witness.  As we saw last week, facing persecution was one of the costs of discipleship.  Jesus warned it would be present in all levels of society: at the family level, city government, regional government, and across the Roman Empire.

Surprisingly, the result of persecution at all levels could be DEATH.  Jesus spared the disciples none of the truth, warning about the worst-case scenario.

He promised to supply the words when witness opportunities arise.  This is kind of ironic because several years ago, public speaking was supposedly the number one fear people had, with death being number two. (Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s take on those survey results: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” (Jerry Seinfeld, retrieved from https://www.gingerpublicspeaking.com/article/do-people-really-fear-public-speaking-more-than-death on 28 May 2020.)

So here we have Jesus directly addressing the so-called number one fear, saying, “When you have opportunity to witness to the authorities, don’t worry about it, the Holy Spirit will be talking through you.”  Wow.  OK, now that we have the number one fear dealt with, let’s move on to number two; being put to death by those guys.

But seriously, Jesus told His Apostles, “Of all the things you may worry about, don’t let the fear of WORDS stop you, because we’ve got that covered.  It’ll be our words, not yours.”  Or, as Matthew recorded Jesus’ words, “IT WILL NOT BE YOU SPEAKING, BUT THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER SPEAKING THROUGH YOU.”  You will be God’s “mouthpiece!”

This is an excellent perspective to have on all of life, so let’s put it on a bumper sticker: “Life is not about me and now, it’s about God and eternity!”  Use that as your “north star” and life will be a lot easier and more productive.

  1. We can have courage because the secrets of our persecutors will be revealed (vs. 26-27).

Evildoers prefer to do their evil deeds under the cover of darkness.  The first fear to be overcome by courageous disciples was fear of words.  The second fear is fear of the dark.  Unlike a childish fear of the dark, this might be a fear of being swept under the rug; of having one’s witness made ineffective by a cover-up.

We do not fear their darkness because it will all come to light.  Jesus overcame the fear of words with a promise to supply words.  He overcame this fear of darkness by promising that the evil deeds done in darkness will be made known; they will be brought into the light.  More than that, their witness will not be in vain.  Instead, the words Jesus gives them in secret they will proclaim in the DAYLIGHT from the rooftops!

There is a third way to understand this promise.  The Gospels tell us (Matthew 8:20; John 14:26; 16:12-15) that there were times the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching.  After His Resurrection, however, the meaning became clear to them and they proclaimed those truths.

  1. We can have courage because we fear God, not man (v. 28).

God has complete power over everything that might make us afraid.  This is the third fear Jesus discussed w/t Apostles.  Here is where fear of death is addressed.

People of faith realize death is not a fearful thing, but is our release from this world.  Neither death nor dying are to be feared, because our faith focus is on God, not evil people.  It is natural to dread dying; the physical pain and loss of health that precedes death.

But Jesus is not talking about death in general terms, as we have been.  He is talking about MEN who will use pain and the threat of death to cause the disciples to recant their faith.  Such individuals are not to be feared because their power is limited to the BODY only.  They cannot harm the SOUL.

Here again, the matter is one of perspective: keep your attention on God, who is capable of destroying both BODY and SOUL in hell. Don’t worry about what people can do to you; their worst is still only temporary.  As it is written in Proverbs 29:25 = FEAR OF MAN WILL PROVE TO BE A SNARE, BUT WHOEVER TRUSTS IN THE LORD IS KEPT SAFE.

Even death is not the end of our witness.  This fact is implied in the survival of the SOUL who shows respectful fear of God.  The SOUL who does not respect God has no place in eternity: as v. 28 plainly says, it is destroyed, not “tormented.”

  1. We can have courage because we’re very valuable to God (vs. 29-31).

When we are frightened, it is natural to feel God’s “absence.”  Some call these “wilderness experiences,” times we feel as if God has abandoned us in the wilderness, left us to fend for ourselves.

But the Bible is clear that God’s character and His will do not change.  So if we feel as if God is distant, it’s not because He moved!

This fourth fear Jesus addressed is fear of abandonment.  When we are in the throes of it, the feeling of God’s distance can seem very real.

As God is in the details, He is also in charge of the “big picture.”  When we feel abandoned, we need to remember God is in charge and He is still with us, working His will in our lives.  Jesus offered two examples of God being involved in both the details and the big picture.

Example #1: sparrow flight.  SPARROWS were the food of very poor folk because they were cheep (pun intended)!  Jesus said two of them were sold for a PENNY – an asarion – one-sixteenth of a working man’s daily wage.

We assume FALL TO THE GROUND as a reference to a sparrow dying on a tree limb and dropping to the dirt.  Actually, it pictures a routine flight from the limb to the ground.  How many times a day does that happen?  Wouldn’t this be the very example of “the small stuff?”

It’s as if Jesus said to them, “Listen, guys, a sparrow doesn’t travel from branch to ground without your Father knowing it.  I think you can trust Him to keep track of YOU!”  “After all,” He continued, “you’re worth more than MANY pennies!”

Example #2: scalp census.  Jesus assured the Twelve that God knew them so intimately, He knew the number of hairs on their heads.  (Some of us make it easier for God to keep track of that number!)  It is funny.  When we’re having a “pity party, table for one,” we think, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.  Nobody sees or cares how much I’m suffering.”  False!  Jesus reassures us God knows us and keeps track of us, even down to a useless statistic like the number of hairs on our heads.  Psalm 40:12 is interesting in connection with v. 30.

FOR TROUBLES WITHOUT NUMBER SURROUND ME; MY SINS HAVE OVERTAKEN ME, AND I CANNOT SEE.  THEY ARE MORE THAN THE HAIRS OF MY HEAD, AND MY HEART FAILS WITHIN ME.

In these two examples Jesus may be using exaggeration to make His point, but in any case, He’s assuring us we are not abandoned.  Just the opposite; God knows us intimately and cares for us completely.

  1. We must have courage because these days have eternal significance (vs. 32-33, 40-42).

Our discipleship in this world reveals our eternal destination.  We need to be careful here; on the surface it seems Jesus is teaching we can earn salvation by acknowledging Him and that we can lose our salvation by disowning Him.

The truth goes deeper than this; our salvation is not so easily gained or lost.  In fact, it is not by any works of ours gained or lost.  It is God’s gift; His grace to us.

Instead, what Jesus teaches here is two-fold. First, acknowledging or disowning is not just a verbal act and it is not a single action.  Rather, it is the course of a person’s life.  Our character, the general trend of our days is in view.

Second, it is the testimony offered by our day-to-day decisions that gives evidence of our salvation.  People headed toward acknowledgement before the Father will behave in faithfulness to His teaching. People headed to being disowned will behave in ways that deny God to the world.

Jesus has just candidly addressed four fears and offered promises to encourage His followers to remain faithful in the face of those fears. Here he describes the outcome of those who give into fear (disowning) and those who resist fear (acknowledging).

Our discipleship in this world determines our reward in the next (40-42).  These verses are actually more for the people who will assist the Apostles than for the Apostles themselves, but they are instructive for all of us.

Judgment Day will settle two important issues for each person.  The first and most important is the salvation.  Persons who receive God’s gift of salvation are true disciples and will be welcomed into God’s presence for all eternity; the receive immortality.

The secondary determination is related to works; the kind of things we did in our time on Earth.  For the unbelieving, those who will be destroyed in hell (v. 28), any revelation of their works simply proves God’s condemnation; the evil they did proves they deserve the Second Death.

For the believers, an inventory of each disciple’s good works is the basis for heavenly reward.  In the Bible these rewards are pictured as CROWNS.  It is true that eternal life with God in heaven is reward enough.  But God, in His extravagant grace, further rewards good deeds.

Jesus states the principle in v. 40, elaborates on it in v. 41, and offers an example in v. 42.

The Principle.  The Apostles were to be encouraged, because the people who receive them peaceably (vs. 11+12) have, by proxy, actually received God the Father.

The Elaboration.  The person who receives a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN has received someone whom the Lord is using to represent Himself to the world.  They will receive the same REWARD the Lord has prepared for the PROPHET and the RIGHTEOUS MAN.

The Example.  Receiving a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN need not be a complicated matter; a simple act of kindness like sharing a CUP OF COLD WATER is sufficient to merit a reward if the motive for the act is recognition of his discipleship.

The REWARD referred to in v. 42 is not the primary REWARD of salvation, but the secondary REWARD given to the saints upon their admission to heaven.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

As we’ve seen, this passage takes a long view on the subject of discipleship.  It encourages us to be disciples by reminding us that what we do in our daily lives has repercussions into eternal life.

Writing in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra Nathan C. Schaeffer took a similarly long view and wrote the following: “At the close of life, the question will not be, ‘How much have you gotten?’ but ‘How much have you given?’  Not ‘How much have you won?’ but ‘How much have you done?’  Not ‘How much have you saved?’ but ‘How much have you sacrificed?’ It will be ‘How much have you loved and served,’ not ‘How much were you honored?’”

(Retrieved from https://bible.org/illustration/life%E2%80%99s-close on 28 may 2020.)

It takes courage to be Jesus’ disciple.  In the verses we surveyed today we saw Jesus address five fears that would be very typical in the experience of those who genuinely want to follow Jesus.  He addressed fear of words, fear of the dark (evil), fear of death, fear of abandonment, and fear of failure.  In each case, He taught that our response must be trust in God and that our response matters.

Jesus did not promise to relieve us of those fears or help us to avoid them.  Instead, He offered courage through the Holy Spirit and a perspective on fearful circumstances that is faithful to see and follow-through on these opportunities to witness.  Our courage for discipleship, like our status as disciples, is Jesus’ gracious gift.

 

RESOURCE: Message #1323

 

Fearful Heart or True Heart?

 

Get and keep the kind of heart God has for you.

Some folks think courage is something like adrenaline: it will be there when you really need it. That makes for a good story, but it is rarely true.

The fact is, courage is like a muscle you build through constant exercise.  Like all character traits, it must become a functional part of us through repeated practice.  I realize words like “practice” and “exercise” are not popular words and they do not make for a dramatic story, but they are the means by which character is built.

So, in order to have courage when you need it most, you have to exercise it every day.  It’s the little decisions, the daily tests that develop more courage in us.

  1. Fear God only; do not have an anxious heart (see Leviticus 26:36-37).

In a lengthy section detailing the warnings of penalty for disobedience, God said, “AS FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE LEFT, I WILL MAKE THEIR HEARTS SO FEARFUL IN THE LANDS OF THEIR ENEMIES THAT THE SOUND OF A WIND-BLOWN LEAF WILL PUT THEM TO FLIGHT.  THEY WILL RUN AS THOUGH FLEEING FROM THE SWORD, AND THEY WILL FALL, EVEN THOUGH NO ONE IS PURSUING THEM.  THEY WILL STUMBLE OVER ONE ANOTHER AS THOUGH FLEEING FROM THE SWORD, EVEN THOUGH NO ONE IS PURSUING THEM.  SO YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO STAND BEFORE YOUR ENEMIES.’

An anxious heart can be a sign of disobedience.  Among all the warnings in this section, this one has to do with a state of heart.  If they won’t fear God and respect Him, then He will ironically send a fear so strong that they will retreat from shadows; worry over nothing.  The picture here is rather comical; like Abbot and Costello or “Dumb and Dumber,” these characters are going to be falling over one another to retreat from things that are not actual threats.  Though is mocking or comical, it’s not a funny situation.  The outcome will be constant defeat: YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO STAND.  This truth is also expressed in the form of a contrast in PBS 28:1; THE WICKED FLEE THOUGH NO ONE PURSUES, BUT THE RIGHTEOUS ARE AS BOLD AS A LION.

An anxious heart can be a sign of discouragement.  Ten times in the Old Testament fear and discouragement are directly linked.  God repeatedly said to His people; “Do not be afraid or discouraged.”  There were different threats at different times, but always His message was the same; “do not be afraid or discouraged.”  Based on human nature, fear and discouragement are typically our first responses when we have to face setbacks.

  1. God does not want you to have a fearful heart (see Isaiah 35:3-4).

STRENGTHEN THE FEEBLE HANDS, STEADY THE KNEES THAT GIVE WAY; SAY TO THOSE WITH FEARFUL HEARTS, “BE STRONG, DO NOT FEAR; YOUR GOD WILL COME, HE WILL COME WITH VENGEANCE; WITH DIVINE RETRIBUTION HE WILL COME TO SAVE YOU.”

The context of this Scripture is a word of encouragement first given to the Jews who were captives living in the nation of their conquerors.  The people of God spent 70 years in captivity before these promises were fulfilled.  These promises are also for us, for our encouragement in anxious hours.

A fearful heart needs to be strengthened.  We can strengthen our human nature by means of reason and emotion, but we can receive spiritual strength only as we rely on God.  Prayer and knowledge of the Word are used the Holy Spirit and are the ways we begin the process of receiving this strength from God.  The process continues with the encourage-ment God’s people give to one another.  Fear in one’s heart weakens not only one’s resolve but also one’s hands; our physical strength is sapped when fear takes over.

We are strengthened by trust in God.  There are two specific promises in this passage.  When He appears, God will bring about completion of all the woes of creation.

He will bring about perfect justice.  This is indicated twice in our text: HE WILL COME WITH VENGEANCE, and WITH DIVINE RETRIBUTION.  These promises have a negative ring in the ears of some.  However, we need to be reasonable; the only way perfect peace can be achieved is by the destruction of all evil.  This isn’t negative at all; it is God keeping His promises and rewarding the faith of His people.

He will save you.  He will save His people from all their enemies, all evil doers.  He will save them for eternal fellowship with Him and with one another.

The two sides of the ultimate victory of God are the eternal life given to His people and eternal destruction visited upon those who refused to be His people, choosing evil instead.

3. Follow Joshua’s example to have a courageous heart (see Joshua 1:5-9 + 18)

God promised Joshua complete victory over his enemies.  There were a lot of them and the territory they occupied is described in v. 4.  Let’s note all God’s promises:

– “I WILL GIVE YOU EVERY PLACE YOU SET YOUR FOOT, AS I PROMISED MOSES.” (3)

– “AS I WAS WITH MOSES, SO I WILL BE WITH YOU; I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU OR FORSAKE YOU.” (5)  Moses occupied a unique and important role in God’s salvation plan, but the grace of God did not end with him; it continued with Joshua as Moses’ replacement.  What is noteworthy here is that it is the presence of God that makes all the difference.  Military power or any kind of earthly advantage is nothing compared to the works of God.

– “YOU MAY BE SUCCESSFUL.” (7)

– “YOU WILL BE PROSPEROUS AND SUCCESSFUL.” (8)

– “GOD WILL BE WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO.” (9)

– “GOD IS GIVING YOU YOUR OWN [land].” (11)

God repeatedly commanded Joshua to be “STRONG and COURAGEOUS.”  Moral strength and courage are part of this command.  As God repeated promised His people, doing the right thing is a key to achieving the right result.  This is important because people can be stubborn or in some similar way display something that looks like strength or courage.  However, it is the strength and courage that come from God that matter.  These we receive by faith and obedience.

 

Biblical courage can be defined as “following through on your faith-based decision to obey God’s will.”  This results in doing the right thing without regard for earthly support or opposition.  Courage is built by consistently choosing God’s way in the daily and seemingly trivial daily decisions we all make.

For example, why do bullies prosper?  It’s because their victims are not prepared to exercise courage from the beginning, when the stakes are comparatively low.  Instead, they give into their emotions early and repeatedly until their emotions get out of control and they explode from pressure.  The result is sometimes very unpleasant and always avoidable.  (Think of “Ralphie” teeing off on “Scot Farkus” in the movie “A Christmas Story.”)

One other example.  Some of the most courageous acts we do is to have an open mind and trust others.  The person who insists on “my way or the highway” is a bully whose mind is closes and is distrustful.  Courage is manifest in the undramatic and ordinary circumstances where we obey God in His timing.

Wait Gain

(This is a topical message on patience.  I will be citing the NLT in the article below, but please read your favorite version of the Bible.)

Continuing our celebration of a Year of Jubilee, we turn in April to the Spiritual Fruit of Patience.  I suppose I could give you an opportunity to demonstrate patience by giving 40 minute sermons…  Instead, let’s examine what the Bible teaches about this virtue and assume that life will hand you opportunities to exercise patience.

            (Newser) – “At New Zealand’s National Aquarium, workers thought Inky the octopus had settled in nicely after he was brought in by a fisherman who found him in a lobster pot in 2014. Turns out he was just biding his time. Staff at the Napier aquarium believe that after the lid of Inky’s tank was left slightly ajar one night, he climbed out, slid across the wet floor, and escaped through a drainpipe that led to the sea, reports Stuff.co.nz. The football-sized, freedom-loving cephalopod would have had to squeeze through a pipe six inches diameter for more than 150 feet to make his escape.

“’Octopuses are famous escape artists,’ aquarium manager Rob Yarrell tells the Guardian. ‘But Inky really tested the waters here.’ He says Inky—who had games, toys, and three hand-fed meals of fish a week at the aquarium—is an ‘unusually intelligent’ octopus who was ‘very friendly, very inquisitive, and a popular attraction here,’ with more personality than Blotchy, the other resident octopus. After the amazing escape, ‘the staff and I have been pretty sad,’ Yarrell says. ‘But then, this is Inky, and he’s always been a bit of a surprise octopus.’”

(Retrieved from http://www.newser.com/story/223515/octopus-breaks-out-of-national-aquarium.html on 4/14/16.)

Inky was such a smart octopus, in fact, that he learned to unlock a box to get at the shrimp treat hidden inside.  If an octopus can be patient, why can’t beings with a backbone – like you and I – be patient too?

            Patience is a virtue commanded and commended throughout the Bible.  As is the case with all virtues, you will find that the practice of patience will make your life more enjoyable! This is the case because impatience creates crankiness and ruptures relationships.

Today we’ll see that patience is a virtue that God has shown to us in abundance.  He commands His people everywhere to follow His example and be patient.  Next Sunday we’ll examine how patience works in our relationships with one another.

  1. Wait upon the Lord to deliver you from trials (Psalm 27:14).

CONTEXT: Psalm 27 is arguably one of the most hopeful, upbeat psalms attributed to King David.  V. 14 ends this psalm with a realistic note that some time may pass between promise and fulfillment; we must be prepared to wait patiently for the Lord to act.

COMMENT: Two phrases stand out.

The first is WAIT PATIENTLY FOR THE LORD.  To WAIT for the LORD to act is to exercise faith; it is to demonstrate trust in God.  It is easier to WAIT PATIENTLY if you are certain the Lord’s promise will be fulfilled.  Patience and certainty are two sides of the same coin.

– Certainty comes from experience – try God and you will find Him faithful.

– Certainty comes from knowledge of the Bible. The more you know God’s word, the more certain you are.

– Certainty comes from a personal relationship with God. The more you pray, the easier it is to trust Him.

The second is BE BRAVE AND COURAGEOUS.  Circumstances and emotions will sometimes conspire to test our patience.  Fear can set in and make us impatient.  This is why bravery and courage are so important.  The world and the Enemy will try to distract, discourage, and destroy your faith – don’t allow it!  Waiting on the Lord requires resisting temptation and fighting discouragement. The Lord’s promises are worth the wait!

  1. Wait upon the Lord for strength to endure trials (Isaiah 40:28-31).

CONTEXT: Isaiah 40 emphasizes the divine power of God at work on behalf of His people.  It was a comfort in the trying time of their captivity in Babylon.

COMMENT: We’ve already talked about fear, but during the time between promise and fulfillment, when faithful waiting is required, weariness can also set in. All four of these verses mention the weariness of life in one way or another.

These verses encourage us to depend on strength from God to empower our patience. After all, the LORD never GROWS FAINT OR WEARY (28); He is perfectly dependable.  He gives POWER and STRENGTH to people who find their circumstances exhausting (29).  In this life, even young & vital people experience weariness in body and soul (30), so depending on your own strength is not a good idea.  Promises of restoration are made to those who WAIT on the LORD (31).

– NEW STRENGTH

– We find three encouragements to keep moving forward:

— FLY HIGH ON THE WINGS OF EAGLES

— RUN AND NOT GROW WEARY.

— WALK AND NOT GROW FAINT.

As this encouragement was first given to the Jews who’d been held captive in Babylon, it seems likely that the movement motif is to lift up the hopes of the returnees.  God is saying, “The journey is long and a lot of work awaits those who return.  But don’t quit; I will strengthen you for every step of the journey back and for every stone lifted to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and the temple within.”

These promises remind us that patience is not merely a version of endurance; there is more to waiting than passively standing by until something happens.  Patience is the virtue in which we surrender the illusion of control.  We learn by experience to depend on God for the strength we need to wait upon Him.  If we fail to be patient, it is a failure to be faithful.

  1. Wait upon the Lord as He waited upon you (1 Peter 3:9).

CONTEXT: Peter’s second letter attempts to provide some perspective.  He’s trying to show us WHY these things are important.  What we believe and what we do based on those beliefs have eternal consequences, which is as important as things get.

COMMENT: In v. 8, Peter tells us something important about God – He is eternal.  That means He is not stuck in any one moment in time like we are. Because that is so, He is not SLOW about keeping His promises just because we perceive a long time between promise and fulfillment.

Peter wrote that SOME PEOPLE (v. 9) use this as an excuse to be antitheists.  He had earlier (v. 3) identified them as SCOFFERS.  People will find lots of excuses to reject and mock the truth, and to persecute the faithful: the seeming slowness of God is one of them.

God is not SLOW.  Instead, He is being PATIENT with the human race.  He is giving everyone MORE TIME to REPENT.

Why?  Because, at this moment, the love of God moderates the holiness of God: HE DOES NOT WANT ANYONE TO PERISH.  It is never God’s will for anyone to go to hell.  That outcome is the product of their will, not His.  It is God’s will that everyone should REPENT and live eternally (see Ezekiel 18:23 and 1 Timothy 2:4). Rather than being evidence of God’s non-existence, impotence, or indifference, it is yet another sign of His mercy.  The point is, God is PATIENT (see Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Psalms 86:15; Jeremiah 15:15; Romans 2:4; 9:22) and His children are identified by patience.

At a time of His choosing, the Father’s holiness will take precedence over His love and judgment will be served (10).  Because we don’t know when that time will be, TODAY is the appropriate time to be saved.

Vernon McGee tells of a southern pastor who preached a powerful sermon on Isaiah 40 and concluded it in this way; “Brethren, this church, it needs to walk.” This comment was met with a chorus of “amens” from the deacons’ bench.

Encouraged, the preacher continued, “Brethren, this church, it needs to run!”  This comment was met with an even larger number of affirmative “amens.”

His voice reaching a crescendo, the preacher said, “Brethren, this church, it needs to fly!!”  Several people said, “amen and hallelujah.”

Then the preacher said, “Well, it’s going to cost money to make this church fly.”  One of trustees said loudly, “Let her walk, brother, let her walk!”  (Through The Bible, Vol. III, p. 287.)

Let me introduce you to what may be a new word:            ENNUI.  It is defined as a” lack of spirit, enthusiasm, or interest:  a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction.

“The French loanword ennui comes from the very same Late Latin word that gave us ‘annoy’ – ‘inodiare’ (‘to make loathsome’). We borrowed ‘ennui’ several centuries after absorbing “annoy” into the language. ‘Ennui’ deals more with boredom than irritation – and a somewhat specific sort of boredom at that. It generally refers to the feeling of jadedness that can result from living a life of too much ease.”

(Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ennui on 4/14/16.)

I believe the word “ennui” sizes up one of our problems in the American Church.  We’ve been complacent, bored, and asleep at the wheel.  We’ve allowed secularists to define our culture and push us to the margins of political and public consciousness.         Then, ironically, our complacency turns to impatience with one another and petty differences cause deep divisions.  This does not honor God and is properly understood as SIN.  God has been patient with you and I, so we should exercise the same patience toward one another.

Patience is a virtue commanded and commended throughout the Bible.  Hasty words are as destructive as hasty actions; they both make life unpleasant. To sum it up, we’ll be happier and more holy if we remember to slow down and be patient.

It Involves More Than Your Backbone

(Please read Deuteronomy 31:1-8.)

THESIS = God calls us to follow Him with a courageous faith.

Courage is needed in times of change.

        The people of God were changing leaders: from Moses to Joshua.

MOSES…SPOKE THESE WORDS TO ALL ISRAEL, “I AM NOW A HUNDRED AND TWENTY YEARS OLD AND I AM NO LONGER ABLE TO LEAD YOU.” 120 is WAY past the mandatory retirement age!  The text literally says, “I am no longer able to go out or come in,” a way of saying, “I can’t work any longer.”

Moses was guilty of his own personal rebellion against God at Meribah.  The details don’t matter at this time; the point here is simply that Moses was done and Joshua was going to be taking his place. “JOSHUA ALSO WILL CROSS OVER AHEAD OF YOU, AS THE LORD SAID;”  the implication is that no one individual is indispensible; God can use anybody, even YOU to accomplish His will.

In verse seven it is written, THEN MOSES SUMMONED JOSHUA AND SAID TO HIM IN THE PRESENCE OF ALL ISRAEL. This was the ceremony of Joshua’s commissioning. God commanded Joshua to BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS here and in Joshua 1:6+9.  This word is not just for leaders, but for all of God’s people.

Human nature has not changed in all the time we’ve existed outside the garden. We need to be lead and we want strong leaders up until the moment they say “no” to us.  God raised up leaders for his people, men who made their own mistakes too.  What was needed to succeed was trust and obedience in God and in the men He had chosen to lead.

The people of God were also changing locations: from the wilderness to the Promised land. They were in this mess only because the previous generation had stood at this very spot 40 years ago and had “turned yellow.”  They refused to go in and by their disobedience, condemned the nation to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until that disobedient generation had died off. They are reminded twice of the promises of God concerning this land; “HE WILL DESTROY THESE NATIONS BEFORE YOU, AND YOU WILL TAKE POSSESSION OF THEIR LAND” (3). “THE LAND THAT THE LORD SWORE TO THEIR FOREFATHERS TO GIVE TO THEM AS AN INHERITANCE” (7).

Having moved three times in the last 13 months, I can speak to the difficulties of changing one’s location.  I appreciate the courage it takes to be faithful in transitional times.  It is courage based on nothing less than trust in God that gets us through.

If the people lacked courage, these changes would be crippling, not creative.  The same can be said for us, on our walk.  We may not be in the process of forging a new nation, but we are always in some kind of process, countenancing some kind of change.

Courage is based on trusting God.

        We normally think of courage as being something like willpower; based on what I can do.  Instead, true courage is based on trust that God will do as He has promised. In this text we can discern at least three divine promises.

Promise #1: God will act in advance of His commands; He will prepare for your obedience.  As Moses said, “THE LORD YOUR GOD HIMSELF WILL CROSS OVER AHEAD OF YOU,” (verse three), and “THE LAND THAT THE LORD SWORE TO THEIR FOREFATHERS TO GIVE TO THEM AS AN INHERITANCE” (verse seven), and in verse eight; “THE LORD HIMSELF GOES BEFORE YOU.”

Promise #2: God will act decisively and on your behalf. Moses told the people, “THE LORD WILL DO WHAT HE DID TO SIHON AND OG, THE KINGS OF THE AMORITES, WHOM HE DESTROYED ALONG WITH THEIR LAND” (verse four; see also 2:26-3:11) and “THE LORD WILL DELIVER THEM TO YOU” (verse five).

Promise #3: God will act alongside you. To all the people Moses said, “THE LORD YOUR GOD GOES WITH YOU; HE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU” (verse six). He repeated this promise to Joshua, “HE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU” (verse eight).

Be obedient to His commands. Even when you don’t understand God’s purpose, methods, or timing, be obedient ANYWAY!  Moses passed this message on from the Lord, “YOU MUST DO ALL THAT I HAVE COMMANDED YOU” (verse five).

How did the fledgling nation of Israel do? Looking ahead to the book of Joshua, we recall that the first city the Israelites faced was Jericho. Remember how that city was taken?  Was it by military might or strategy?  Were any human powers at all responsible?

The only human agency at all was obedience.  In order to prove His point, God had them do something no one had done before or would do since. He commanded them to march around the city once a day for six days.  As He did on the six days of creation, God would be at work.  Though there would be no physical evidence of His work on this occasion.

If they were faithful to parade around the city – a procedure that had absolutely no military value whatsoever – God would deliver the city on the seventh day. The Israelites were faithful, the walls tumbled down, and for all time we have this wonderful example of how courage is trusting God even when what He wills or does makes no earthly sense to us.

Courage, then, is not based on our will.  It is based on our faith.  More than that, it flows from God, the object of our faith.  Courage is acting in obedience to the will of God and with assurance that He is guiding us on precisely the best path.  Our will and knowledge and foresight will certainly fail us.  We succeed as we look to God.

Be Brave Until the End

(Please read Matthew 24.)

           Imagine the General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches in the USA, Roy Medley calling a meeting of all the regional Executive Ministers. When they have all assembled at the national office, Dr. Medley begins the meeting with, “I have some really fantastic news and some very terrible news.” 

          Of course, all the executive ministers want to hear the good news first, so Dr. Medley tells them, “Jesus Christ has returned to the world. The time of judgment is at hand, and our faith in his existence is justified.” 

          There are happy cheers all around the room – the moment we’ve been waiting for!  After the commotion dies down a bit, one of the executive ministers speaks up; “After that, how can there be any terrible news?” 

          Dr. Medley replies, “He was calling from Salt Lake City.”

          That would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it?  Fortunately, it’s not going to go down that way.  When He comes again, Jesus is going to appear to all people, all around the world, all at once.  And He won’t be using the ‘phone to call.

          But His appearing will vindicate our faith following a time of judgment. so that much was not hard to imagine.

          Here we are, our last Sunday to take a look at what may be the most significant passage in the Gospels about the last things, Matthew 24.  As we conclude, my prayer is that this series has helped you get a handle on a difficult chapter and has also replaced all your doubts and fears with confidence and faith so we look expectantly for the Second Coming.

REVIEW:       1. The End is near but unclear. (1-3, 32-34)

                      2. Sign #1: False Christs will appear. (4-5, 23-28)

                      3. Sign #2: The world will be in turmoil. (6-8, 29)

                      4. Sign #3: The Church will be persecuted, but will be triumphant. (9-14)

5. Sign #4: The Holy Land will be attacked.(15-22)

          In this passage, Jesus switches back and forth between predictions about the temple and predictions about His Second Coming.  With verse 15, He turned His attention to the temple.  As this prophecy concerns the temple, this section was fulfilled by the Jewish followers of Jesus who escaped when the Romans took Jerusalem.

         What is “THE ABOMINATION THAT CAUSES DESOLATION” to which Jesus refers? It is a phrase that came from the Old Testament prophet Daniel. The point is, this phrase refers an abomination (an awful, evil event) that results in desolation (God’s abandonment of the temple). This is the sign that God has judged Israel & His plans will now be centered on the Church.

          Daniel 9:27 = AND ON A WING OF THE TEMPLE HE WILL SET UP AN ABOMINATION

          THAT CAUSES DESOLATION UNTIL THE END THAT IS DECREED IS POURED OUT ON HIM.

          Daniel 12:11 = “FROM THE TIME THAT THE DAILY SACRIFICE IS ABOLISHED AND THE

          ABOMINATION THAT CAUSES DESOLATION IS SET UP, THERE WILL BE 1,290 DAYS.”

          In history there were at least three occasions when the temple was desecrated. In 168 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes erected an altar to the Greek god Zeus in the temple. Or this may refer to the time members of the Zealot party took over (November 67 or spring of AD 68). They allowed crime and criminals in the temple, – even in the holy of holies.  Or this may refer to the desecration done by Emperor Titus when the temple was taken and Roman flags – with their pagan symbols – were brought into the temple courts.

          “LET THE READER UNDERSTAND” is a phrase that is difficult for us to understand because we do not have the inside information Matthew assumed his readers possessed.  However, what is clear is that this is a warning.  Jesus is saying, “When the sacrilege happens, the faithful are to flee Judea, for its destruction is imminent.” Since it is that serious, in verses 17+18 Jesus warns against making any worldly preparations, just run away. Jesus foresaw that time will be worse for the most vulnerable and immobile people; pregnant women and those who have newborns (v. 19).

          They are to pray it doesn’t happen in winter (v. 20) is because of the rainy weather; also because in winter the streams were swollen and hard to cross.  Jesus also warns them to pray that it doesn’t happen on a Sabbath because fleeing while carrying anything  would be work and that’s forbidden on the Sabbath.

          Verse 21 speaks of a previously unknown severity of suffering and persecution.  Even so, the Greek grammar in v. 22 makes something plain that doesn’t translate into English.  It implies that what Jesus is describing here an unreal condition. The people of God are not really in danger because God will cut short those days of distress.

          In spite of all these troubles, Jesus wants His followers to keep their minds on their witness for Him. God will not allow His people to be harmed by persecution or deceived by false messiahs. The purpose of this chapter is to warn Jesus’ followers about all these things so they’ll be prepared & understand t significance of these events.

6. We have nothing to fear. (30-31, 34-51)

          Starting in vs. 30+31, Jesus further develops His teaching about His Second Coming.  The cosmic signs Jesus gleaned from OT prophets will appear in the sky to indicate the end of reality as we know it & the coming of the Son of Man. This image of the Son of Man riding on a cloud with POWER AND GREAT GLORY is like various OT descriptions of God’s coming. The Son will come to judge all people, which, as is developed in chapter 25, will have 2 outcomes:

– He will recognize His faithful ones and gather them from all parts of the earth.

– He will not recognize those who have refused Him, condemning them to the Second Death.

          As the angels are God’s messengers, they will collect God’s people from the four corners of the earth and from one end of heaven to the other (see Deuteronomy 30:4-5;  Isaiah 60:4ff; Micah 4:1ff.). No one will be overlooked in God’s search for the faithful.

          Verse 35 is Jesus’ assurance that the world will fail before Jesus fails to fulfill all these promises.  His word is more reliable than the seemingly unending universe in which we live.

          Some people have a problem with verse 36 because it asserts that there is something Jesus didn’t know. They shouldn’t think that way because the point of verse 36 is the same point Jesus made throughout His ministry; to direct attention to God. If the master does not know the timing of His Second Coming, neither do His disciples and they should not speculate on when it will happen.

          Verses 37-39 illustrate the suddenness of the Second Coming with the way in which Noah’s neighbors were overwhelmed by the flood (Genesis 6:5-24; 2 Peter 2:5; 3:6).  Prior to the flood, people carried on with all normal activity, right up to the point Noah entered the ark. They were unprepared for what happened. Similarly, nonbelievers will be unprepared for the Second Coming.

          The phrase “took them all away” in verse 39 is the context that clarifies the language about one “taken” and one left in verses 40-41. Contrary to our usual understanding of the passage, the “taken” ones are the unfortunate ones because they are swept away by judgment. The ones left standing are the fortunate ones, like Noah.

          The parable in verses 42-43 is the story of an unexpected break-in and how it might’ve been prevented.

          Verse 44 makes plain what v. 32 made implied—Jesus is talking about being alert and prepared when the crucial moment arrives.  Similarly, the parable that concludes the chapter (verses 45-51) is about a wise servant who is prepared for the return of his owner.  The servant who is found doing his job wisely will be blessed when the master returns. The reward is greater service and more responsibility. The foolish servant goofs off and is wicked because he thinks the master will gone for a long time, and so he has time to misbehave. The punishment of the wicked servant will be swift and unsparing—he’ll be dismembered and assigned a place with the hypocrites, where there is weeping & gnashing of teeth.  The unknown timing of the return motivates wise behavior. The issue here is not knowing the timing of the master’s return, but faithfulness & preparedness whenever it happens.

          From the following website http://www.nowtheendbegins.com/pages/israel/the-coming-third-jewish-temple.htm I learned that rumors I’d heard about preparations being made to rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem have been underway for over two decades!

          “It Will Be Built In Time For The Fulfillment Of Daniel’s 70th Week!  Dare To Dream – Dare To Build. The 3rd Jewish Temple is fast becoming a reality in Jerusalem.

          “Daniel was given a vision far into the future, pointing to a time when the Jewish Temple would be rebuilt. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and for nearly 2,000 years now it has laid in ruins, with just parts of the Temple walls and some of the foundations remaining.           “Watchers of end times bible prophecy have long speculated as to whether or not the Temple would be built for a third time. But Daniel, verse 27, clearly sees that there is a rebuilt Temple.  How can you have sacrifice and oblations ceasing if there is no Temple from which to have sacrifices and oblations? Clearly there needs to be a working, functioning, rebuilt Temple, and the only place where God would allow a Temple to be built is exactly where the ruins of the last 0ne stand.

          “People have said that since all the various items need to stock the Temple would take so long to recreate according to the Bible’s exacting standards, that 7 years is just not enough time to complete that mission. And they are correct. It would take years, decades, to rightly create all items needed for proper Temple worship. Items like these:

Oil Pitcher for Replenishing the Menorah

Small Golden Flask

Silver Libation Vessels

Menorah Cleaner

Gold-Plated Shofar

Silver-Plated Shofar

The Crown for the Copper Laver

Modeling the Priestly Garments

The Golden Tzitz

Golden Frankincense Vessels

          “The Temple Institute, in Jerusalem, has been working since 1987, recreating the items that will be needed and used in the about-to-be-built Third Temple. Now, you can argue all you like about what will happen to the Muslim mosque that’s there now, and all the other points.”

          These are NOT the kind of end-times preparations Jesus called us to make.  Based on verses 17+18 especially, material preparations are useless.  The material world as we know it will soon end.  What counts is spiritual preparedness, a vigilant holiness that looks forward to the literal, physical return of Christ, but realizes that loving God and others as self is the best state of preparedness.

The Courage to Love

(Please read Ruth 1:1-18.)

 The Vocabulary of a Mother

  • Dumbwaiter: One who asks if the children would care to order a dessert.
  • Feedback: The inevitable result when the baby doesn’t appreciate the strained carrots.
  • Full Name: What you call your child when you’re angry with him.
  • Grandparents: The people who think your children are wonderful even though they’re sure you’re not raising them right.
  • Independent: How we want our children to be for as long as they do everything we say.
  • Puddle: A small body of water that draws other small bodies wearing dry shoes into.
  • Show Off: A child who is more talented than yours.
  • Whodunit: None of the children who live in your house.
  • Bottle-feeding: An opportunity for Daddy to get up at 2 am.

Dermot’s Story

          Dermot McCann forgot his lines in a Sunday school play. Luckily his is mother was in the front row especially to prompt him.

          She gestured and formed the words silently with her lips, but it did not help. Dermot’s memory was completely blank. Finally, she leaned forward and whispered the cue, ‘I am the light of the world.’

Dermot beamed and with great feeling and a loud clear voice announced, ‘My mother is the light of the world.’

          The time is generally set during the period of the Judges, the history of which is set forth in the book preceding Ruth.  “Bethehem in Judah” is distinguished from “Bethlehem in Zebulun,” which lay further north.  The name means “house of bread,” referring to the fertility of the land.  This was the place where Isaac buried his wife Rebekah and where King David and Jesus Christ were born.

          As farming methods were more primitive, they were even more dependent on proper weather in its season.  Unseasonable weather and wars naturally caused famine to be a too-frequent disturbance in the ancient world.  They left Bethlehem in search of a better life and intended to live temporarily in Moab.

          Unfortunately tragedy struck the family, and over time, all the men of the family were lost.  Left without a male head under which to organize her family, Naomi (whose name meant “pleasant” or “lovely”), naturally decided to return to her home town.  She was in grief and in trouble; she set her face toward home.

 

The paradox of pain: we want to be left alone and we want to be comforted.

          This is human nature and the source of a lot of our relational and psychological problems. We want to be alone because of pride, shame, tend to our own wounds, or because we hope to avoid further pain. On the other hand, and often at the same time, we want to be comforted and loved.  We need sympathy and a human touch. Because they’re contradictory, these two states cause stress until they’re resolved.  Truth be told, we need both in balanced amounts – mixed to suit our individual tastes – to deal with grief.

          You may not appreciate this example, but I understand dogs exhibit a similar behavior when they bark and whine.  The whine means “come here,” and the bark means “stay away.”

          Naomi is an example of this paradox. Naomi’s pain can be seen in her grief over the loss of her husband and sons, as any wife & mother would be. She shared this grief with her daughters-in-law; though they were foreign-born, Naomi had come to love them. The loss of all the men left their household destitute; these three women had no rights of ownership or inheritance.  Socially and economically, they had nothing. All this left Naomi understandably upset.  In v. 20, she said that no one should call her “Naomi” any longer, but to call her “Mara,” which means “bitter.”

          Naomi’s reactions to her pain demonstrate this two-fold dysfunctional situation that needs to be resolved. Her actions say “Leave me alone.” In our passage, she attempts to send her daughters-in-law away.  (True, this is economically sensible, but it’s also an attempt to handle grief through solitude.) Later, when she returns to Bethlehem, Naomi keeps her kinfolk at arm’s length.

          On the other hand, her actions say “Comfort me.” Returning to Bethlehem is as much an emotional decision as it is an economic necessity.  There was food there (verse 8), but there were also Naomi’s family and friends. While she allows Orpah to leave, Naomi allows Ruth to stay with her.  It’s not hard to imagine that she was glad to have her daughter-in-law’s company.

          Ruth’s actions reveal that she is utterly, stubbornly devoted to Naomi. In demanding to go with Naomi, Ruth gave up her family, friends, homeland, religion, & any serious prospects of remarriage. It was a big sacrifice.

          When it says that Ruth CLUNG TO Naomi, it uses a word that described the ideal state of closeness between man and wife in marriage.  It is not just a physical state, but also an emotional one.

          The climax of the book is 1:17-18. It is one of most profound expressions of love in any language. Ruth swears a covenantal oath to Naomi, making a very serious commitment.

 

We must have courage to work past the pain to offer healing and help to others.

          Naomi was right.  In that moment, she had nothing to offer her daughters-in-law. In terms of her circumstances, she would probably have to rely on the charity of others for the rest of her life.  There may have been a home for widows, but likely she returned to live with family. Emotionally, Naomi was consumed by her own pain and had little support to offer Ruth.

          But she did help Ruth later by bringing her and Boaz together. Eventually, Naomi chose to be better instead of bitter and found a way for the two of them to survive; for Ruth to marry Boaz and create a new home in which they could live. She advised Ruth and contrived ways to bring the two together until Boaz finally took the hint and asked Ruth to marry him.

          To choose to be bitter over what we suffer is to choose to remain helpless and alone. Bitter people refuse to let go of their hurt, they refuse to cope in positive ways.  Whether they seek solace in a bottle or fall into illness, their self-administered poison takes its deadly toll. The result is that our isolation deepens because our unwillingness to cope in a positive way pushes others away from us.

          To choose to be better because of what we suffer starts us on the journey to healing. The very first step toward victory is being willing to receive comfort.  Self-defeating notions that keep God and others at a distance keep us from making progress.

          We must keep our need for comfort and our need for solitude at our own personal balance, recognizing both are necessary for healthy living. We must, by faith, open our eyes to what God is doing in our world and join Him in it.  As Naomi found, giving sacrificially to benefit others is one of the best forms of therapy we can get.

 

          This account of Naomi and Ruth records one of the most beautiful relationships in Scripture.  We can learn a great deal from the examples both women set – positively and negatively – of how we’re to find healing in having the courage to love.  The loyalty and faithfulness and mutual devotion these women show one another ought to inspire us to be grateful for our family members and eager to love them.

          Edward, a big-game hunter, goes on safari in Kenya with his wife, Frances and his mother-in-law, Agnes. One evening, while still deep in the jungle, Frances awakes to find her mother, Agnes, has disappeared. Rushing to Edward, she insists on them both trying to find her mother.

          Sighing heavily, Edward picks up his rifle and starts to search for Agnes. Soon, in a clearing not far from the camp, they come upon a frightening sight.

Agnes, the mother-in-law is backed up against a thick, impenetrable bush, and a large male lion is standing facing her. Frances cries out in panic, Edward, what are we going to do?’

          ‘Nothing,’ explains Edward calmly. ‘Absolutely nothing, my dearest. The lion got himself into this mess, let him get himself out of it.’

          Why make all this fuss over what seems to be a minor incident in Old Testament history?  Well, apart from what we have learned from the example set by Naomi and Ruth, there is an importance to this story based on what follows.  Ruth, the Moabitess, is used by God.  She is part of the ancestry of King David.  And, after many other generations, part of the ancestry of Joseph, the man who raised Jesus as his son (see Matthew 1:5).

          This makes the story of Naomi and Ruth pretty important as well as very instructive.

 

(Joke retrieved from http://www.guy-sports.com/humor/saints/mothers_day_jokes.htm on May 9, 2014.)

 

Faces Around the Cross – #2 – The Women and John

Read MARK 15:33-47.

          For various reasons, The Bible has a bad rap among some women.  Feminists believe it encourages a masculine culture that oppresses women.  The fact is, it was written in a masculine culture without approving it at all.  Those who know history can see that the Bible practices a much more respectful attitude toward women than was in use among the cultures of the day.

          Even so, there’s no pleasing some people.

          Consider the husband who         was advised by his psychiatrist to assert himself.  “You don’t have to let your wife henpeck you.  Go home and show her you are the boss,” the good doctor suggested.

          The husband took this advice to heart.  He hopped in his car and rushed home.  There he slammed the door, shook his fist in his wife’s face, and growled, “Woman, from now on, you’re taking orders from me.  I want my supper right now, and when you get it on the table, go upstairs and lay out my best clothes.  I’m going out with my friends and you are going to stay home where you belong.  And here’s another thing.  Do you know who’s going to comb my hair, adjust my pants and tie my bow tie?”

          “I certainly do,” the wife said calmly, “the undertaker.”

(Joke from Healing through Humor, Charles & Frances Hunter, Creation House, 2003, p. 21.)

          As we continue our look at the faces around the cross, we will see a group of women and one man standing at a distance. Their presence is significant and instructive for us today.

Who were these women?

          Mary the mother of Jesus (see John 19:25).

          Jesus’ care for His mother, even while dying, shows His love for her. Her caring for Jesus is demonstrated in being present at this awful moment. This is a moment of tenderness in an otherwise brutal and violent scene.

          An entire book could be written about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and several have!  Sufficient for our purpose is to note that Mary’s presence at Jesus’ crucifixion is the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy 33 years earlier that a “sword” would pierce her heart.

          Mary Magdalene (aka “Mary of Magdala”).  (See Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25.)

          Magdala was a fishing village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, named from the Hebrew word for “watchtower;” migdol.

          Luke 8:2 tells us that Jesus cast seven demons out of her.  For that reason and because Mary Magdalene is often identified with the unnamed woman in Luke 7, a woman described as “A SINNER,” people assume Mary Magdalene had an unsavory reputation, but it isn’t really justified.

          Mary, mother of James (aka “the Younger”) & Joseph (aka “Joses”). (See Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40.)

          Matthew 13:55 lists the half-brothers of Jesus as being James, Joseph, Simon and Judas.  Because two of the four names are the same as these verses, some suppose this Mary is the mother of Jesus. 

          This is what I believe, but I am more convinced by another reason.  If this is not Jesus’ mother, then, according to Matthew and Mark, Mary did not witness her son’s crucifixion.

          The mother of Zebedee’s sons (aka James and John).  (See Matthew 27:56.) This is the woman who approached Jesus and asked Him to grant that James and John sit at Jesus’ right and left hand when He came into His kingdom, the ultimate “stage mom” in  Matthew 20:20-28.

          Salome in Mark 15:40.

          Some believe Salome is the name of the mother of James and John.  This seems like the most reasonable explanation as it harmonizes Mark with Matthew and John.

          Salome was also the name of the daughter of Herodias.  It was her dancing that got her mother’s wish for the head of John the Baptist.  I doubt this was her, but wouldn’t it be interesting if it were?

          The Gospels have only this one reference to Salome, but she becomes a major figure in later documents that were not included in the Bible.

          Mary the wife of Clopas in John 19:25.

          The language here is unclear (it literally says “Mary of Clopas”). Is this Mary is the wife or daughter of Clopas?

          Many assume this Mary is the third Mary on our list, the mother of James and Joseph. Others identify her as Mary’s sister, which would make James and Joseph His cousins.

          Mary’s sister/Jesus’ aunt in John 19:25.  Bible commentators identify this woman with Salome and/or the mother of James and John.  Which, if the latter were the case, John would have been Jesus’ cousin.

          Luke names 3 of Jesus’ female followers in 8:2-3; all of those named had been cleansed from demons. In his crucifixion narrative, Luke only notes that the women witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion from a distance; he does not name them there.  Matthew and Mark point this out too. The reason for this may have been modesty, safety, and/or custom.  John wrote that they stood near the cross.

          The women thus named were clearly not the limit of Jesus’ entourage.  He travelled with more men than the Twelve and more women than these seven.  These women were last to leave T cross & T first to arrive at the tomb; both honorable demonstrations of courage & devotion to Jesus.

         

Where were these women during Jesus’ ministry?

          Mark 15:41 = IN GALILEE THESE WOMEN HAD FOLLOWED [Jesus] AND CARED FOR HIS NEEDS.  MANY OTHER WOMEN WHO HAD COME UP WITH HIM TO JERUSALEM WERE ALSO THERE.

          Luke 8:2-3 names 3 of these women as part of a larger group and explains; THESE WOMEN WERE HELPING TO SUPPORT [Jesus and the Twelve] OUT OF THEIR OWN MEANS.

 

Why was John there?

          He is the only one of the Twelve courageous enough to be present at the crucifixion. Referred to here as THE DISCIPLE WHOM [Jesus] LOVED, his presence may indicate one of the qualities Jesus loved about John; his loyalty.

          Another book could be written about John – and several have! For our purpose, it is enough to note John received Mary INTO HIS HOME.  This phrase literally means “the things one owns.”  John provided comprehensive care for the mother of Jesus.  She became part of his household.

          It seems clear that Jesus’ adoptive father Joseph has died before this time.  As eldest son, the responsibility for His mother’s care would traditionally belong to Jesus, the male head of the household.  He saw to this responsibility before surrendering His life.

 

What happened later?

          Mark 15:47 names two of these women as following behind to see where Jesus was buried.

          Four of the seven were identified as going to the tomb on Resurrection Day.  I believe these four women need to be distilled from the previous list of seven as the four women who were named as attending the crucifixion of Jesus. Mary Magdalene in Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 20:1. “The OTHER MARY” in MTW 28:1. I doubt Mary, the mother of our Lord would be referred to in this flippant-sounding way.  This makes me think that this is “Mary of Clopas.” Mary the mother of James is mentioned in Mark 16:1 and Luke 24:10.  This is a guarded way of referring to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Salome in Mark 16:1. as I stated earlier, this is the mother of James and John.

          On Pentecost, the birth of the Church. ACS 1:14 names only Mary the mother of Jesus among the women followers of Jesus.

 

How can we follow the example of these women?

          We can show our devotion to Christ.

          Though we call it “Good Friday,” there’s no doubt this was the worst day in history.  It was gory, violent, brutal, frightening and heart-breaking.  BUT – these women and John SHOWED UP. Showing up is always the first step, isn’t it?  It was devotion to Jesus that motivated these women and John to show up.

          We can have courage in spite of opposition.

          Crucifixion was the worst  opposition to Jesus’ teaching. It took courage to face that. Thankfully, you and I will never have to face anything this bad.  But we do live in a time when the Church is becoming increasingly irrelevant and in a culture openly hostile to the Christian message.

 

When opposition comes, are you going to be faithful and courageous?

          No one knows how they’ll do when the heat is on. BUT, it is unwise to wait until that moment to find out.  It is wise to prepare today; work in advance to strengthen your faith before opposition arises.

          1 John 4:18 = THERE IS NO FEAR IN LOVE. BUT PERFECT LOVE DRIVES OUT FEAR, BECAUSE FEAR HAS TO DO WITH PUNISHMENT. THE MAN WHO FEARS IS NOT MADE PERFECT IN LOVE. SO – if you want to increase your courage, start by loving more.  Love banishes fear because fear is excited self-interest while love is exalted interest in others.

 

          Courage and devotion can be manifest in a variety of ways.  If they appear when you need them or expect them, that doesn’t make them any less real.

          For example, courage was demanded of my wife and I on one occasion when we were on a sabbatical in England.  We decided to visit Harlech castle, a medieval castle on the northern coast of Wales.  Little remained of the place except the outer walls and four towers.  The keep, the inner part of the castle, was overgrown with grass.  Honestly, it looked like a garden with impossibly high fences.

          We climbed one of the towers to the top of the wall, because the travel guide said it was a great view. They did not exaggerate.  The wall was situated at the top of a cliff that dropped 250 to 3000 feet to the rocky shore below.

          Of course, I was scared witless.  I briefly contemplated saying, “Yeah, what a view! “ and then hurry down the way we came, down the winding stone stair case within the tower. But one of my mottos is “Never backtrack.” 

          So we walked along the top of this wall without any railings to the next tower, only to find that the stairs down were gone – the tower was basically hollow!

          With my motto still influencing me, I led my family to the third tower.  My four year-old daughter complained I was holding her had too tight, but I explained it was only out of concern for her safety.

          Both of the walls on which we walked tumbled down to the sea.  We discovered that the third tower was in a similar state of disrepair – no stairs here either.

          I couldn’t believe the British people would be so inconsiderate as to have only one means of getting up and down from these terrible high walls, so we proceeded on to the fourth tower.  Fortunately, this wall ended in only sixty feet in good solid ground.

          You guessed it.  The fourth tower had no stairs either.  My opinion of England suffered immensely.

          We had to go back the way we came!  To this day, about all I remember of Harlech castle is how far down it was to the pounding surf.

          Courage was needed and God provided it.

          On a much greater level, the same could be said of the women and John standing near the cross of Jesus. And, I trust, of you and I when our faith is needed.