Overcoming Overwhelmed

Background: 2 Samuel 5:1-5; 1 Chronicles 11: 1-3

Deeper background: 2 Samuel 1-4; 1 Chronicles 10: 8-14

For thou hast been a shelter for me,

and a strong tower from the enemy.

I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever:

I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.

For thou, O God, hast heard my vows:

thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.

Psalm 61: 3-5

It had been a long and bloody two years.

Saul and Jonathan had perished in a battle with the Philistines. After travelling all night, the valiant men of Jabesh removed their headless bodies from the wall of Bethshan, burnt them, buried their bones under a tree, and then spent seven days fasting – mourning their deaths.

After he heard the news in Ziklag, David also fasted and mourned for Saul, Jonathan, and the nation of Israel until the evening.  At God’s direction, he went to Hebron where he was anointed king of Judah.  He sent a letter commending the valiant men of Jabesh for their bravery and invited them to join him in Judah.

But Abner, the captain of Saul’s hosts, had other plans and anointed Ishbosheth – the son of Saul – king over “all Israel.” After this, Abner and some of the servants of Ishbosheth met Joab, David’s general, with some of David’s servant, at a pool in Gibeon. Abner suggested that they let the young men “play.”  Joab agreed and soon a battle ensued in which Abner murdered Asahel, the brother of Joab.  

The children of Benjamin (Saul’s tribe), after losing the most men in the fight, asked for a cease-fire. The battle ceased, and Abner and Joab returned to their respective corners. Although that battle was over, a “long war” persisted between the house of David and the house of Saul.  During that time, the house of David grew stronger while Saul’s line weakened. 

The relationship between Abner and his king, Ishbosheth, deteriorated to the point that Abner decided to defect to David and bring all of Israel with him. Abner sealed the deal with David over a huge feast and started home to prepare for the transfer of power.  After Abner left, Joab returned from a battle and was furious that David had allowed Abner to leave.  Without telling David, Joab called Abner back to Hebron and murdered him to avenge his brother Asahel. 

David then declared another period of mourning, this time for Abner – fasting, lamenting, and weeping loudly at his grave. Ishbosheth lost courage after hearing of Abner’s death and was eventually murdered by two of his servants. After decapitating the would-be king, the servants brought his head to David, expecting a reward. They were swiftly executed and their maimed bodies were hung over the pool at Hebron. 

After this bloody and traumatic two-year transition, all of Israel came to Hebron to anoint David as king, and this is where this lament poem, Psalm 61, is placed. Gloom hung over the coronation. David was now king, but the many innocent lives lost in the process grieved him deeply.

As was his habit – David cried unto the Lord.  The word for “cry” in the first verse (rina – Hebrew) is different than most other places of the psalms.  It does not mean “to accost” or “call out” to someone for help but rather to make a shrill sound or shout.  It most likely was a cry or a scream of anguish –mourning over all the needless bloodshed. 

David was also praying here.  The second “cry” we see in verse two is a cry for help and he was crying “from the ends of the earth.” – it was a sorrowful cry from a very lonely place.  He wanted God to listen, pay attention, and understand what he was going through.

Leadership can be a very lonely place.  Rarely will everyone agree with your decisions.  Some may oppose you. Others may actively work to undermine you.  From what David just went through, he understood that some may even be ready to kill him if they felt it would be to their advantage.  “Palace intrigue” can be a factor in some leadership positions and requires wisdom and courage to deal with it correctly.  Add the stress of leading a troubled nation to knowing that your decisions – as well as your leadership style – will affect people for years and even generations, and you have the perfect recipe for emotional distress.

David said he was crying out because his heart was overwhelmed.  His emotions were feeble and weak.  Although he had just become the king, he was enveloped in a gloom that he could not shake, so he asked the Lord to transport him to the rock that would put him safely above his despondency.  He needed a stable and safe place where he could see clearly.  The gloom was keeping him emotionally chained to what he just went through with Saul as well as the “tit for tat” that had persisted even after Saul’s death. David knew he had to get above it, and live above it, or it would infect his own soul and style of leadership. 

He cried to the Lord because he knew the Lord would do it.  The Lord could give him the “boost” he needed to reach a higher elevation where he could see past the dark circumstances that were plaguing him. David knew God had been his shelter and strong tower, and could continue to keep him safe – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. 

So he made a commitment in the Selah in verse four – right in the middle of the Psalm.  He made two decisions that were the key to receiving God’s help.  First – “I will abide in thy tabernacle forever.” It was a commitment to keeping his relationship with God and His people his main priority.  It is so easy to let our relationship with God through Christ slip during times of gloom and stress or let “church politics” push us away from God.  David’s first commitment was to stay in fellowship with God and His people through the whole ordeal of establishing his kingdom – even if it meant losing his position as king.

 Second – David committed himself to seeking protection from the political turmoil by hiding under the “wings” of God.  He would still have Joab and his mighty men protecting him, but David knew, ultimately, his safety would come from the Lord.  Like a chick would trust his mother protecting him under her wings from predators – so David would seek the same protection from God. 

 Pause at this Selah for a while and consider what David was going through.  Although he mourned Saul’s death, there must have also been a sense of relief that he did not have to run any more.  Then, suddenly, he finds that the bloodshed, politics, and intrigue were still going on – and his man, Joab, was party to some of it!  He must have thought, “When is this all going to end?” 

 Like David, are you going through a gloom that seems to have no end? It is overwhelming. It is exhausting. Just when you seem to be past it – it returns.  Maybe it is part of a leadership position – as a pastor, a manager, a father, or a single mom.  Maybe it is a chronic illness or another lingering malady. God hears and understands your cries of anguish and, though you may not sense it, He actually “pricks up His ears” when you sincerely turn to Him in prayer. When you cry to the Lord from that lonely place, He is ready to transport you to your high place – the rock that is higher than you.  The rock that will elevate you above the gloom.  The gloom may still be there – but you will be above its effects. You will be able to see beyond it. You will be able to see clearly and make wise decisions. You only need to do two things – through Christ, be sure your relationship with God is right and keep that relationship with Him and His people as your first priority and highest commitment.  Then, when the pressure piles on, flee to Him for protection.  Take refuge in the shelter of His wings. 

Cry out to Him to help you overcome when you are being overwhelmed

Another Christian Essential

In my last post, I wrote about “The Necessary Thing” – making time to seek God every day.  It keeps our hearts in the right place – which is vital because our hearts are the fount from which all of all of our attitudes, motivations, words, actions, and even our body language, flows. 

         We need to remember that our time with the Lord is foundation of our daily walk with God. But it is only the foundation – not the whole structure. We also need to learn to obey.  James, the extremely pragmatic brother of Jesus, wrote in his letter: 

So get rid of all uncleanness and all that remains of wickedness, and with a humble spirit receive the word [of God] which is implanted [actually rooted in your heart], which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalize its meaning], deluding yourselves [by unsound reasoning contrary to the truth]. For if anyone only listens to the word without obeying it, he is like a man who looks very carefully at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he immediately forgets what he looked like. But he who looks carefully into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and faithfully abides by it, not having become a [careless] listener who forgets but an active doer [who obeys], he will be blessed and favored by God in what he does [in his life of obedience].

James 1:21 – 25 (AMP)

         Putting aside the things that are unclean, and taking the time to engraft God’s word into our soul lays the foundation for a life of obedience to God. 

         What does “obedience” mean? First, it means living in accordance with God’s moral law as revealed in the Scriptures. The ceremonial laws of Old Testament worship (the sacrifices, feasts, fasts, etc.) were fulfilled in Christ and the civil laws (hygienic practices, penalties for crimes, etc.) were specifically for the nation of Israel (although they provide useful insights for living today).  However, the moral law – the Ten Commandments and all the other laws that flow from them – which are amplified and clarified in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles – should still rule and reign in our “moral universe” as Christians. 

         We are saved entirely by God’s grace, not by the law, but His grace does not exempt us from applying His precepts to our lives (Matthew 5:17-20).  In fact, the opposite is true!  God’s grace enables and motivatesus to obey God’s precepts, not just outwardly, but from a heart of love (John 14:15-17; Philippians 2:12,13). 

         But obedience also goes farther than following God’s moral law.  It also means following Him. God has a plan for each one of our lives.  Actually, God has saved us, by His grace, for the purpose of doing specific good works that He has already chosen for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10). 

It is an amazing and humbling thought to realize that, before the foundation of the world, God chose to bring us into being – and save us– to perform the good works that He had already prepared!

However, these good works may not look like a path to personal fulfillment or self-actualization.  In fact, they may appear to be the opposite. They may first materialize as a kind of death to our dreams and aspirations – maybe even a yawning black hole. 

In other words, they may look like a cross.

Jesus alludes to this shortly before He went to His cross:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.

John 12: 24 – 26

         The road to the works God has for us is a kind of death.  A seed has to die before it can bring forth fruit and it is the same with us. Romans 8:13-15 tells us that all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. Being led by His Spirit is not always a pleasant experience.  Luke tells us that the Spirit led, or drove, Jesus into the wilderness where He was personally tempted by the devil for forty days. That was not a pleasant experience, but it was a necessary one if Jesus was to fulfill His mission.

         So, stay in the Word.  Journal the insights God gives you, and apply them to your life. As you do, you will find God giving you light to your path and a lamp for your feet. Seek godly counsel on how best to fulfill what God has led you to do. It may lead to some hard decisions, but God will give you abundant grace as you obey Him.

The Necessary Thing

Many years ago, when I first started following the the Lord, a friend excitedly shared some advice that changed the course of my life.  That moment was so pivotal, I still remember, vividly, where we were at the time. He had been struggling spiritually and had found a secret that helped him, and he wanted to share it with me. 

         What was it?

         It was making time to meet with the Lord every day for at least an hour. 

         Let’s break that down. First, it is about making time. This was not just an hour that happened to be idle.   Instead, it was about intentionally carving out an hour in the beginning of my day, every day, for the purpose of doing nothing but seeking Him.  It was an intentional act of either going to bed a little earlier or missing some sleep so I could put this important activity first. 

Putting first things first is good advice – but we need to first recognize what the “first things” are.  There is a story in Luke 10: 38-42 about two sisters, named Mary and Martha. Jesus visited them and, as it always was with Jesus, there was a crowd with Him!  With little advance notice and Door Dash being a couple of millennia away – there was a lot of work that had to be done. While Martha was scurrying around trying to get everything ready, Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet calmly listening to His words.  Martha was upset and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her.  Jesus responded this way:

Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.  (Luke 10:41b-42)

         There will always be more things that need to be done, but there is only one thing that is really needed – to stop and prick up our ears to what the Master is teaching us.  This is what is meant by “making time.”

         That brings us to our second point – what does that mean to “meet with the Lord?” All too often, we approach our devotions as a time to keep up with our Bible reading and say our prayers. Although this is good, it is only setting the stage for what God wants to do. If we are not careful, our devotions can become just another box to check as we sail through our busy schedules.

We meet the Lord in His word, the Bible.  The Scriptures are not just words on pieces of paper.  They are alive and powerful.  Their words are sharp and two-edged.  They can instantaneously cut through all the other “stuff” in our lives and pierce into the innermost part of our being (Hebrews 4: 11 – 13).  The Scriptures are likened to bread (that nourishes), a hammer (that breaks) and a fire (that consumes and cleanses) because of the effect they can have on our psyches (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4; Jeremiah 23:29).  The Word of God is the sword that the Holy Spirit uses to do His transforming work in our lives and the lives of those we meet (Ephesians 6: 17).  This is why the Word should occupy the central place in the day of every follower of Jesus.  

The great thing is that the Lord has also provided a Comforter – the Holy Spirit who comes alongside of us as we read the Word.  He is the One who “unfolds” God’s word and brings light to our understanding (Psalm 119:130).  The Holy Spirit is He who “speaks” Scripture to us as we read and creates faith in our hearts (Romans 10:17).  His work is to teach us “all things” and to bring us into “all truth,” (John 14:28; 16:13; 1 John 2:26,27). 

This is why it is important to meditate on His word.  What does that mean? It means to “turn” the portions of Scripture we hear, read, or study around in our mind – like a diamond under a light.  It also means to “ruminate” on the Word.  Just as a cow will eat grass and later bring it up to chew on it again and again, it is best practice to make time to memorize verses, sections, or even whole books of the Bible that we can “bring them up” into our minds as we go about our day. Praying Scripture (especially the Psalms) back to the Lord is another way of doing meditating on His Word.

All this is done for one reason – to give the Holy Spirit the time He needs to engraft God’s word into our hearts (James 1:21-25).

In his book, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Dr. Howard Taylor tells the story of someone traveling through China with the great missionary.  After a busy day, they retired to their beds for the night.  During the night, Taylor’s companion was awakened by a light coming from behind the curtain where the missionary was supposed to be sleeping.  As he got up to investigate, he saw Mr. Taylor on his knees, in front of an open Bible, praying the psalms.

This was his spiritual secret – and it can be yours as well.  I like to carve out my hour in the morning so I can orient myself for the day, but evening may be a better time for you. The important thing is:  it MUST be carved out. 

My encounter with my friend was a long time ago and I have never regretted an hour I have carved out since.  God has met me there many times with refreshment, correction, and wisdom for the most important decisions of my life. Every good thing I have in my life today can be traced back to those special hours with Him. I shudder to think of what I would have missed if I had not taken my friend’s advice.

What Happened at the Empty Tomb?

In a previous post (6/18/2021), we explored what happened at the tomb – or, to say it better, while the body of Jesus was still in the tomb. As we already know, it did not stay there very long.  Let’s take a fresh look at the story of the empty tomb. 

         Shortly before dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, “the other Mary,” Joanna, Salome, and some other women returned to the tomb.  They came with the sweet spices they had prepared to finish the embalming process that had been started by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea three days before. As they travelled, they were discussing how they were going to move the large stone that had closed the tomb.

         That question was answered by a great earthquake that happened shortly before they reached the sepulcher. When they arrived, they saw the stone was already rolled away and the Roman soldiers – sent by Pilate to guard the tomb – had fainted and were trembling on the ground in shock.  The reason for their fear was clear.  They had witnessed what few had witnessed and survived – the arrival of the angel of the Lord.  With his face like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow, he had just descended from heaven to roll the stone away from the tomb. 

         When the women arrived, the mighty angel was sitting on the rolled-back stone, waiting for them and keeping an eye on the Roman guards. He assured the women not to be afraid.  He knew who they were looking for. He had even rolled the stone away to show them where Jesus was not. The angel announced, “He is not here, just as He said,” and then he, like a good host, invited the women (perhaps with a knowing grin on that stern, brilliant face) to “Come and see where He was laid.” 

John’s gospel tells us that, at this time, Mary ran back to tell the disciples that the body of Jesus was gone. When Peter and John heard this, they ran to the tomb, with Mary following.  When they got there the two men entered and found it empty.  John did not record that they saw any angels.  Peter and John returned to where they were staying, probably quite puzzled. After Peter and John left, the women entered the empty tomb together.

They soon saw the tomb was not completely empty. Oh, the body of Jesus was not there, but there were two other “men” with shining garments standing in the tomb (Mark speaks of possibly a third, sitting on the right side with a white garment). At that sight, the women fell to their knees, faces to the ground, asking them where they had taken Jesus’ body. The men answered with another question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but is risen!” “Do you remember what He said to you while He was still in Galilee – that He had to be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise again on the third day?”

         Then Mary, the “other Mary,” Salome, Joanna, and the other women remembered what Jesus had told them many times before.  The angels commanded them to go quickly and tell the disciples, and Peter, that He had risen from the dead. They also told the women that Jesus had gone ahead to Galilee and will see them there. To emphasize the importance of the message, the angel said “I have told you.”

         As the women turned to leave, they met another man who they thought was the gardener.  He asked Mary Magdalene, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”  Mary, still distressed and confused answered, “Sir, if you have taken Him away, please tell me where you have laid Him and I will take Him away” and turned to leave.

“Mary” was all the gardener said.  It was the way He said her name that gave Him away. 

“Rabboni!” she gasped as she turned in amazement.  She reached out to embrace Him, but Jesus pulled back and explained that the embrace was not possible yet because He had not yet ascended to His Father.  He then repeated what the angels had said – not to be afraid, to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, they will see Him there.  When the other women saw Him, they fell at his feet and worshipped Him. 

That’s all the women needed to hear.  They ran to tell the disciples – with minds thoroughly confused but also with hearts gushing with joy. The disciples did not believe them and dismissed the news as an incredible story from some hysterical women.  Later, He did meet them at Galilee and, during the 40 days before He ascended, He met many disciples in many places – even up to 500 at a time (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

That is what happened at the empty tomb about 2,000 years ago. But what does that mean for us today?

It is a fulfillment of a promise made to the fathers of the Jewish people (Acts 13:30-38; Psalm 2:7; 16:9-11).  David wrote in Psalm 16 that God would not allow His Holy One to see corruption. When Paul was in a synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, he told his hearers that this Scripture could not have applied to David because David eventually died, and his corpse eventually decomposed.  On the other hand, Christ – the Holy One – also died but His body never decomposed, because He rose from the dead on the third day. 

Christ’s resurrection assures us that our sins are really forgiven (Acts 13:30-38; 1 Corinthians 15:16-19). Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter alone into the Holy of Holies – the innermost sanctum of the Tabernacle and later in history, the Temple. He carried with him the blood of the sin offering for the nation. When he came out alive, Israel knew the sin offering was accepted.   Paul alluded to this when he told the Corinthians, “If Christ is not risen from the dead, your faith is useless and you are still in your sins.” 

His resurrection makes it possible for us to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4, 9-11). When we are baptized, it is a public announcement that we have been born again.  When we go down into the water we are, in a figure, burying the old life with Christ.  When we come up – just as Christ was raised up to the glory of the Father –   it should be the beginning of a new walk in accordance with the new life His Spirit has birthed within us.  This is the same Spirit, by the way,  that also raised Christ from the dead (Romans 8: 11).

His resurrection assures us that Christ will be the One who will righteously judge the world at the end of time (Acts 17:30-31).  Paul had the ear of the philosophers on Mars’ Hill until he got to the subject of the resurrection.  He had told them that they should repent because God has already appointed a day when He will judge the world righteously by Christ – and he knew that was true because God had raised Him from the dead.  

We can only be ready for that judgment by believing in our heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 4:23-25; 10:9).  In his letter, Paul told the Romans that as Abraham believed God and God reckoned him as righteous, the same was true for them if they would believe on him who raised Jesus from the dead.  When Jesus died on the cross, He won the forgiveness of our sin.  When He arose from the dead he won our justification – a clean bill of moral health in the sight of a perfect and holy God. This is why Paul told the Romans later in the letter that if we confess the Lord Jesus with our mouth and believe in our hearts that God had raised him from the dead, we shall be saved.

         Everything in the “What Happened?” series is just that – events that have really happened. We can read the eye-witness testimonies of these occurrences in a document whose authenticity has been repeatedly, relentlessly, and rigorously verified – by both friends (intentionally) and foes (unintentionally) – over two millennia.  We know that document today as the New Testament.  If you haven’t already – find a good version in a language you can understand and read it for yourself.

         The main point is, everything that did happen – happened for you!  Jesus was born for you. Jesus died for you, He was buried for you and, He rose again on the third day – all done to reconcile you to God.  The next move lies with you. Will everything that Jesus did just remain on the pages of the Bible or will they become a reality in your life?  The choice is yours.

To explore further: Matthew 27: 57 – 61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23: 50-56; John 19: 38 – 42

Winning the Match

I have had my struggles with God over the years. Actually, as I think about it – these tiffs were really His struggles with me. By nature, I am stubborn and fearful. I don’t like stepping into new situations, or putting my reputation and plans at risk. The problem is – the Lord seems to delight in putting us into those situations. That is why I find the story of Jacob at Peniel so engaging.

Jacob had sailed through a lot of rough water after he cheated Esau out of his birthright. Isaac had to command Jacob to flee to Pandanaram (a region of Syria) to escape his brother’s anger. It was there he met Laban, his uncle, who deceived the deceiver into working seven years to marry Leah (his older daughter) when Jacob thought he was marrying his younger daughter, Rachel. After Jacob complained, the shrewd Laban informed Jacob he had to work another seven years to marry her.

Once married to Rachel, Jacob hatched a scheme to cheat Laban out of the wages he should have paid him. Jacob soon became much wealthier than Laban with large flocks of sheep and goats, servants, camels and donkeys. Because Laban and his sons were furious at losing much of their fortune to Jacob, he had to flee again, this time back to his father, Isaac.

Laban and his band soon caught up with them on the way and would have done them some serious harm except for God’s intervention. Jacob and Laban exchanged some angry words, but all ended well, with the two parties setting up some stones as a boundary neither one would maliciously cross. Both groups had a meal together and, on the next day, Laban blessed his daughters, kissed them and their children, and returned home with his men.

“And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him” (Genesis 32:1). The Bible does not exactly say why they met him – just that they did. What we do know is this meeting must have changed Jacob. He stopped running from Esau and sent a message asking for a meeting. Jacob’s servants quickly returned with the news that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men.

Jacob was terrified. After dividing his band into two groups for protection, he prayed to Yahweh for the first time since Bethel, many years before. He acknowledged his unworthiness and begged God to deliver him and his family from the hand of his angry brother. Jacob also “reminded” God (actually he was reminding himself) of His promise to bless him and his descendants.

Jacob then divided up his livestock in to several herds and put each into the care of some servants. He instructed the servants to drive each individual herd over the river Jabbok, leaving a space between each group. Leah, Rachael, and his children crossed the river also, bringing up the rear of the procession.

“And Jacob was left alone” (Genesis 32:24). Jacob was left in a lonely place. It was night. He no longer had his possessions. His family was not around. He wasn’t even sure if they were safe. All he knew was he was where God wanted him to be.

Then the “man” came. I have heard it often preached that Jacob wrestled with the man. It was the other way around at the start – the man (actually an angel – Hosea 12:4) wrestled with Jacob. The angel initiated the encounter. He had Jacob where He wanted him and they wrestled until dawn. Eventually, the angel realized he could not overcome Jacob’s strong will so the angel put Jacob’s hip out of joint.

Then the fight changed. Up to that point, it was Jacob who was trying to get away. After the hip incident, it was the angel. The angel had been wrestling with Jacob – now Jacob was wrestling with the angel. The angel had to ask (or command?) Jacob to let him go. Jacob’s response?

“I will not let thee go except you bless me.”

The Lord finally heard what He needed to hear from Jacob. The man who had spent his life running – from Esau, from Laban, and from Him– could no longer run any more. The self-sufficient cheat became the beggar.

So who won the fight?

Jacob did. The angel changed Jacob’s name from Jacob (“Supplanter”) to Israel (“God Prevails”.) The angel told Jacob “As a prince thou hast power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”

How did he win?

Jacob won by surrendering. He prevailed by yielding. He overcame by submitting. He gained power with God by deeply and truly realizing his need.

It is the same with us. While we may not be deceivers running from an angry brother or a furious uncle, the same God has a plan for each of us. That plan is a part of God’s master plan for the world. Our part in His plan will not be as pivotal in history as Jacob’s, but it will be pivotal for somebody, or a group of somebodies, somewhere.

As with Jacob, God’s plan for you will face resistance and, like Jacob, the fiercest resistance may come from you.

And that’s when God sends His “angel” who will not let you go until you win by yielding to His will instead of yours. Unlike Jacob, however, we can walk away from the fight by avoiding prayer, neglecting the Word, or staying away from church – trying to “plug our ears” to God’s call. Please remember – that “angel” can still land some disabling blows to your plans, your psyche, your will, or even your body to bring you back into the match. He loves you (and those He has planned for you to reach) too much to let the match end before you win by letting Him win in your life.

For more details read: (Genesis 27:1 – 32:32)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happened at the Tomb?

In this post, as part of the “What Happened at” series, I want to take a brief look at what happened during the three days the body of Jesus was in the tomb.

A lot of attention was given to Jesus’ burial in the Gospels. You might call it a record of the “chain of custody” of His body until His resurrection – proving He really had died, was really buried according to Jewish tradition, and that His body could not have been stolen. Here is the story, put together from all four Gospels. . .

Joseph of Arimathaea – a wealthy man and an “honorable counsellor” – had not approved of the Sanhedrin’s council to kill Jesus. Although a “secret disciple” up to this point, he was not afraid to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus after He had died on the cross. Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead and sent some soldiers to check. After the soldiers pierced Jesus’s side, they returned and confirmed that he was dead and Pilate released the body.

Joseph then removed Jesus’ body from the cross, wrapped it in linen and, with the women who followed Jesus, went to the place he would bury Him. Another secret disciple, the Pharisee Nicodemus, met Joseph at the tomb. Together, they quickly wrapped the body in fine linen with a mixture of aloes and myrrh to preserve the body until the women could return after the Sabbath. Then Joseph laid Jesus’ body in his own tomb – a new tomb that had been carved out of the rock. When they were finished, they rolled a huge stone over the entrance of the sepulcher. After Mary and “the other Mary” watched them close the tomb with the body inside, everyone hurried to their homes for the Sabbath. Once at home, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” prepared the rest of the spices needed to finish the burial ritual when they returned to the tomb on the first day of the week.

Shortly after Joseph left Pilate, the Jewish rulers approached him with their concerns that Jesus’ disciples might try to steal the body since Jesus had predicted that He would rise from the dead. They asked for the tomb to be sealed and a detail of guards be deployed at the tomb to be sure that did not happen. Pilate agreed, sealed the tomb, and set the watch.

While all of this was happening, the soul of Jesus was in “paradise” – along with the soul of one of the thieves who was crucified with Him (Luke 23:43). Scholars are not sure what paradise is, but the word is of Persian origin and means a garden – a kind of game preserve. The word alludes to the beauty of Eden, the very first garden (in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word is actually used in reference to Eden.)

As pleasant as it was, it was not a vacation. The Bible said that, while there, Jesus preached to the spirits that were in prison (1 Peter 3:17-20). This is an unusual passage because it is the only place that gives a description of anything that happened while the body of Jesus was in the tomb before He was resurrected. The Bible gives us no clue as to the mechanics of the event. It only tells us who (Jesus), what He did (preached, declared), and to whom He directed the action (the spirits in prison).

Who were these spirits? We know it was not a “second chance” for those who died in their sins. Hebrews 9:27 and other Scriptures makes it very clear that once a man dies, judgment is the only next step. In 1 Peter 3:20 we see these are specific spirits, not spirits in general. They were the spirits who were disobedient while God was being patient during the preaching of Noah. These are most likely the spirits who did not stay within their limits of their authority, left their dwelling place, and co-habited with the “daughters of men” at that time (Genesis 6:12; Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4,5).

Jesus Himself references this time in the grave after He reveals Himself, in His glorified state, to the apostle John in Revelation 1:17-18. John writes:

And, when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: — I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

So – what happened during those three days the body of Jesus was in the tomb? Jesus, the Second Adam, after having lived a sinless life, while being tempted just like you and I, overcame sin. By His death He overcame sin’s penalty and broke the power of sin over all who believe in Him. This victory is what He declared to the spirits in prison as He brandished the keys that He had won – showing His authority over death and the grave.

Satan, that “Prince of Darkness grim” – although still powerful enough to work his mischief – is now a defeated foe. As Luther wrote, because of Jesus’ victory – “We tremble not for him – his rage we can endure – for lo, his doom is sure – one little word shall fell him.”

Scriptures on Jesus’ burial: Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42

What Happened at the Cross?

What happened at the cross?  Easy answer – a lot.

Many books have been written and have yet to be written on all that was accomplished on the cross where Christ was crucified. It was the most significant event in human history.  The effects of what happened on those bloody pieces of wood echo throughout eternity.  I could not start to commence to begin to plumb the depths of Christ’s sacrifice in this puny post, but please allow me to hit some highlights.

Your sins were atoned for.  In the Old Testament, the word for “atonement” (kapar – Hebrew) could also mean “covering.” The blood of the bulls and goats sacrificed according to the law of the Old Testament were able to cover sins, but the blood of Christ is able to cleanse them – to erase them like they never existed (1 John 1:5-10).  Because of the blood that Christ shed at the cross, your conscience can be purged of guilt (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 9:11-15), and you can be sanctified – holy before a perfectly holy God (Hebrews 10:10). 

The door to fellowship with God was opened. In the Old Testament there was a tent structure, and then two later permanent structures, that were erected where the Israelites could meet with God.  They each had three distinct parts: the Outer Court (where any one could enter at any time to offer various offerings), the Holy Place (where only the priests would burn incense and offer bread on the Table of Shewbread), and the third section which was called the Holy of Holies.  This section was separated from the Holy Place by a veil – a symbol of sinful man’s separation from God (Hebrews 9:7-8). Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year (Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement) with the blood of a spotless lamb to make atonement for the nation of Israel. On the day Christ was crucified, the veil (layers of cloth 6 inches thick) was torn from top to bottom.  The writer of Hebrews tells us that this was a picture of Christ opening the door to the Holy of Holies through His flesh – giving us the opportunity to commune with the living God at any time (Hebrews 10:19-25).

Victory over sin was made possible.  Since the time of the fall humans have been under sin’s oppressive yoke. When Christ died on the cross, the opportunity to be free of sin was provided. The “body of sin” was destroyed, the “old man” was crucified, and sin lost its dominion over us (Romans 6: 5-14).  We were crucified with Him – crucified to the world and the world was crucified to us.  What was once a symbol of a horrible death became life to all who believe in Him (Galatians 6:14).

The wall separating Jew and Gentile was removed. There is no more any distinction between Jewish sinners and Gentile sinners, white sinners and black sinners, rich sinners and poor sinners, or “great sinners” and “minor sinners.”  The way is open to all.  As the saying goes, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross” (Ephesians 2: 11-22).

Satan was given his “pink slip.”  Until the cross, Satan held sway over every person’s life through sin and death.   Just a few days before He was crucified, Jesus made a startling statement:

Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

John 12: 30-32 (KJV)

At that time, wasn’t Jesus the one who was going to be cast out and judged? True, He would be crucified a few days after He spoke those words, but His crucifixion – by providing freedom from the guilt and power of sin – was actually a judgment on Satan and the worldwide rebellion against God that he had led.  The writer of Hebrews makes it even clearer:

Therefore, since [these His] children share in flesh and blood [the physical nature of mankind], He Himself in a similar manner also shared in the same [physical nature, but without sin], so that through [experiencing] death He might make powerless (ineffective, impotent) him who had the power of death—that is, the devil— and [that He] might free all those who through [the haunting] fear of death were held in slavery throughout their lives.

Hebrews 2: 14,15 (AMP)

Through His death, Jesus rendered the devil powerless and idle in our lives – in other words, unemployed.  Once we receive, by faith, the free gift of the salvation He purchased for us, Satan can no longer keep us enslaved by the fear of death.

That was what happened at the cross. As I said in my last post – what happened to Him there – happened for you. All He purchased there for you can be yours by surrendering your life to Him, trusting Him to save you from sin. Believe me, if you do, your life will never be the same.

The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion: Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18:28 – 19:42

What Happened At Gethsemane?

I know Passion Week and Easter are long past – but I am posting this now because it is always important to look at what happened to the people who were participants in that central week of human history.

         It is important because what happened to them all happened for you.

The events that happened in the days before Christ was crucified were significant.  We know this because all four Gospels devote a lot of attention (about one-third of their chapters) to that week.  One of those events took place at Gethsemane (“oil press” – Aramaic) – a garden, or a small farm – at the foot of the Mount of Olives.  Jesus had come there often before with His disciples when they visited the area (Luke 22:29), probably to escape the crowds for the peace and quiet they needed for fellowship and prayer.

That night, though, it was a place of agonizing testing and decision for both Jesus and those who were with Him. 

Unfortunately, the disciples did not do so well. They just had their Passover with Jesus and He had to reprove them for fighting for position during their last gathering together. Once they arrived at Gethsemane, Jesus called Peter, James and John to come apart with Him to pray.  They came apart but also went to sleep.  One of the disciples, Judas, soon arrived with soldiers and betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  In the ensuing ruckus, Peter cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. As Jesus was led away, all the disciples fled the other direction, with the exception of John and Peter – who “followed afar off.” Eventually Peter, while warming himself at the fire at the house of the man seeking to kill his Teacher, denied the Lord three times before morning broke. 

On the other hand, what was happening with Jesus? As soon as He arrived at the garden Jesus found a place to pray.  The first part of His prayer was a request – if it was possible, could His Father allow “this cup to pass?”  Many times, in both the Old and New Testament, when God is pictured as giving a cup to a person or group of people, it is the cup of His wrath (Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17-22; Jeremiah 25:15-28; Revelation 14:10; 16-19; Lamentations 4:21).  This is the cup Jesus was requesting to pass, if it was at all possible. 

Why was the only man who never sinned required to drink this cup? The answer – it was the reason He came. Jesus had to drink it because God was causing all of the sin ever committed by every human to “meet” on His head (Isaiah 53: 4-6; 10-11).  Just as the High Priest would lay his hands on the scapegoat to bear the sins of Israel, so God was laying the guilt of all humanity – past, present, and future – on Christ (Leviticus 16: 7 – 10). This wrath, this guilt, separated Christ from the fellowship He had enjoyed with the Father since eternity past.  It caused such agony that Jesus started sweating great drops of blood – even before the cross! (Luke 22:39-44; Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)

In His agony, Jesus prayed even harder. This time it was a prayer of surrender – “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.”  This was not the first time He had prayed this prayer – doing His Father’s will was Jesus’ lifestyle (John 5:30; 6:38; Romans 15:3; Philippians 2:3; Hebrews 10:7-9).  It was the theme of his life – but it was much, much harder this time. 

So, what happened at Gethsemane?  Jesus surrendered His will to the will of His Father.  It was there He entered the process of laying down His life to bear the sins of Judas, who would betray Him, as well as the sins of His sleeping disciples.  He was accepting the guilt of all of history’s greatest villains as well as ours (the lesser villains.) It is there that He also began to bear the unpleasant fruits of all that sin – our griefs, our anguish, and our afflictions. 

In Gethsemane Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath so that same God could offer you the cup of His salvation (Psalm 116:12,13). Christ became sin for you so that you might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Start drinking today – and keep drinking every day – from that sweet cup that Jesus bought for you by drinking His bitter one!

To read more about Gethsemane – Matthew 26:36-56; Mark 14:32–54; John 18:1-14; Luke 22:39-58

Equations

I grew up around math aficionados – a father and brother who were engineers, a sister who was trained as an accountant (also married to a scientist), and my late wife – who was a nurse and was very good with numbers. I was the misfit.  I could add, multiply, divide and subtract easily, but when it came to equations – it was hopeless.  I was so bad that, when my kids hit middle and high school, they begged me not to help them with their math homework!  

            It might be said that life is full of equations.  Not just the algebra, geometry, and calculus that help us understand, and interact with, the physical world – but also the complicated equations we need to work on in the more intangible parts of our lives.  Relationships, family, politics, business, work, entertainment – and a multitude of other areas – all have “equations” that present themselves to us on a daily basis.  They are multi-faceted and require careful steps. Rarely are they simple, and it is very easy to get distracted.   

            How we try to solve these equations reveals who we are. Are we simple, or cunning? Honest or dishonest?   Most importantly – are we godly or ungodly?

            What does it mean to be godly? I think the word has been sometimes defined as “pious.” For a clearer definition, let’s look at the opposite – how the Bible defines “ungodly” (rasa – Hebrew and translated as “ungodly” eight times in the Old Testament.)

The wicked [rasa – Hebrew], through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God:

God is not in all his thoughts [plans].

Psalm 10:4 (KJV) – brackets mine

            An ungodly person may look like he respects God while, at the same time, not include Him in making his plans (i.e. solving his “equations” – 2 Timothy 3:5).  He may confess there is a God, but behaves like He does not exist. He does not factor in God’s Word as he lives his daily life. 

A godly man, on the other hand is the opposite. Whatever “equation” of life he faces, God is factored in. Actually He is more than just factored in – His way, His Word, and His providence define the equations of a godly person’s life.  In Psalm 119 :133 – A godly man invites God to establish his steps in His Word.  You could even say that all of Psalm 119 – with its emphasis on God’s Word, statutes, law, commandments, and ways – describes a godly person’s attitude to all of the daily “equations” of life.  A godly man or woman will not be perfect – but when they fail God – they will feel it quickly and deeply.  Getting things right with God and others – and correcting that “equation” – will become a top priority (2 Corinthians 7:8-12.) 

This is why Psalm 1 tells us not to follow the counsel of the ungodly (rasa) but instead delight ourselves in God’s law, and meditate on it day and night.  If we do, we will be like a tree that has been transplanted to a nourishing spot by a river (Psalm 1:1-3).  If we don’t, we become like the chaff – driven away with the wind – good for nothing but the fire.

Living godly in an ungodly world sounds daunting, but the grace of God through Christ is more than able to help us. If we allow Him to, His grace trains us to be godly – just like a parent trains their child.

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

1 Thessalonians 2:8-12 (KJV)

            Also, the Bible tells us that, through our relationship with the resurrected Christ, God has given to us everything that we need to live our life by God’s “equations:”

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

1 Peter 1:2 – 4 (KJV)

            By His divine power God has given us “[absolutely] everything necessary for [a dynamic spiritual] life and godliness” and “His precious and magnificent promises [of inexpressible value]” (AMP).  It is His divine power that makes it possible for us to share in His divine nature – the way He feels and acts.  This power working in us, through His word, helps us work out those equations in our fallen natures until we take on – more and more – His image in every area of our lives.  This is what godliness is all about. 

More Scriptures on godliness to explore: Psalm 4:2,3; 32:5,6; 2 Corinthians 1:12-14; 7:8-12; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; 2:8-11; 3:16; 4: 6-11; 6:1-4; 6:6 – 11; 2 Timothy 3: 1-5; 10-12; Titus 1:1-4; 2 Peter 1:2-9; 2 Peter 3:10-13

Abundantly Available

To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth.

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed,

and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled,

though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

Psalm 46:1-3 (KJV)

Background: 2 Samuel 8:1- 18; 1 Chronicles 18:1-17

            This is a psalm attributed to the “Sons of Korah” and, in the Reese chronological Bible, it is placed after David secures the kingdom of Israel and re-possesses the land promised to Abraham. The nation of Israel, having just won these victories over surrounding enemies and secured their land, took this pause in their nation’s history to stand back and see their God for who He was – “a very present help in time of trouble.” That same phrase could be translated as an “abundantly available help” in times of distress.

            There is an important truth here.  Times of trouble are times we want to avoid.  We do not want to drift into times of want, danger, or sickness. Yet this psalm implies that God is very, if not more, available during these times than the easy times.  This is because that times of distress open up opportunities to know God in ways we could not know Him otherwise. The apostle James approaches this idea from a different angle:

Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials. Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace]. And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (AMP)

            If we were to assign a color to any of our trials we would probably pick drab, dark, and ugly colors. But James chose an unusual word (“various” – poikilos – Greek) to describe them. Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines this word as meaning “party-colored.” Our trials are not colored dark brown, olive green, battleship gray, or even disgusting “Milk of Magnesia” pink – but rather the cheery colors of bright red, shining yellow, and vibrant green!  They are times of beauty, not ugliness.

Let me explain. We can only see colors because they only reflect a certain wavelength on the spectrum of pure light.  John tells us that God is light – containing no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).  When we are hit with one of these many-colored trials, they give us an opportunity to see a “wavelength” of God’s “spectrum,” a side of His character or an aspect of His power, that we would not have experienced before.  In this way they help us grow in grace and the knowledge of Him!

            “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” During our time as missionaries, we went through several earthquakes – some quite serious and deadly.  The most frightening thing about an earthquake is that there is no place to hide or to escape it.  Everything starts moving, you feel like you are standing on jiggling, swaying, jello. All you can do is try to avoid a building crushing you.  One time, a huge earthquake hit an hour or two after a national pastor and I had just passed through a mountain pass on a bus.  The mountains literally moved! Several landslides occurred on that pass pushing some buses off the mountain and isolating those who survived for weeks.  They are something to be feared unless you have an “abundantly available help”!

            The psalm goes on to describe another terrifying sight. “Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.”  Though I never witnessed or experienced a tsunami (videos of them are scary enough) we did witness the outer edges of a storm surge.  There is something terrifying about the sea when it is whipped up and reaches out beyond its borders with such power that it washes away everything in its path.  

            Most people don’t have to face earthquakes, tsunamis, or floods – but there are other kinds of disasters that can terrify us just as much. Uncertain times, civil unrest, family problems, explosive politics, and financial uncertainty can send us reeling with fear or crush us with despair. When this Psalm was written, Israel had just captured Jerusalem and subdued the enemies that had threatened to destroy them for generations.  As they looked back they recognized they had won for only one reason – the Lord was their shelter (for protection) and strength (force to defend themselves).

            If He was their refuge and strength in all they went through – He can be yours as well.  If He made Himself “abundantly available” to them in their distress – He will do the same for you. Take some time to pause at this Selah in Psalm 46 and consider what aspect of His character God is trying to show you through the “color” of the trials you are passing through now. It may be a dramatic color like fire engine red, or a subtler pastel blue.  Whatever the distress or tight space you are going through, remember this – He is allowing you to go through that experience for the purpose of knowing Him better.  There are aspects of His power, His person, and His love that can only be seen through that “color” of trial you are going through now.  Remember – He is abundantly available to you to accomplish His perfect purposes in your life. Count it all joy!