Archive for the ‘love’ Category

COMPASSION

 

God often chided the Israelites for adhering to ritual worship while foregoing the far more important compassion and mercy embedded in the spirit of the law. In Proverbs 21:3, Isaiah 11:1-17 and Malachi 3:5, for a small sample, God speaks about this issue:

“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me? Says the Lord; I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination to me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot bear; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they are a trouble to me, I am weary of bearing them. And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; but away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil. Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

“And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, and widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, says the Lord of hosts.”

Jesus displayed His honor of compassion in His parable of the good Samaritan, recounted in Luke 10:30-37. He added further depth to the account by having the compassionate person a Samaritan, one who was looked down upon by the Jews, contrasting him with Jewish religious elites, who failed to follow the spirit of Jewish law.

“And Jesus, answering, said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the next day, when he departed, he took out ten dollars, and gave them to the host, and said to him, Take care of him; and whatever you spend above that, when I come again, I will repay you.

“Which, now, of these three, do you think was neighbor to him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He who showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus to him, Go, and do you likewise.”

Jesus, of course, honored mercy and compassion in His own doing as well as His speaking by offering His own body as a substitutionary atonement for the wrongdoings of a helpless human race. He also showed compassion in other ways, such as His mercy toward Peter, who had denied Him three times during His incarceration. In John 21, Jesus forgave Peter three times for that, and Peter went on from there not only to fulfill Jesus’ parting commandment to feed His sheep, but also to become a giant of a Christian in the process.

The account of Joseph in Genesis 37 through 45 is an early portrait of Jesus’ compassionate nature. It foretells in detail the tender love that Jesus showed, even toward those who hated Him.

“Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them who stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brethren. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard. And Joseph said to his brethren, I am Joseph; does my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were terrified at his presence. And Joseph said to his brethren, Come near to me, I ask you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.

“Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here; for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years has the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in which there shall neither be plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me here, but God: and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”

But the account of Joseph involves more than this central character. Joseph’s revelation of himself before his brothers was triggered by another compassionate event that pointed to Jesus as well, the offer of Judah, Jesus’ forefather, to offer his substitutional enslavement in place of his youngest brother Benjamin, just as Jesus died in our place on the cross.

God’s focus on compassion often links it with selflessness. But there is another factor in compassion: in its concern for others, it involves love of pure selflessness.

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SELFLESSNESS

 

In Israel’s confrontation with the Philistines, David demonstrated a selfless nobility that was highly pleasing to God. The account begins in 1 Samuel 17:1-14:

“Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at Socoh, which belonged to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and encamped by the valley of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on a mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on a mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.

And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was almost ten feet. And he had a helmet of bronze upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was about one hundred pounds. And he had shin armor of bronze upon his legs, and carried a javelin of bronze between his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed ten pounds of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him. And he stood and cried to the armies of Israel, and said to them, Why are you come out to set your battle in array? Am not I a Philistine, and you servants to Saul? Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants,; but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall you be our servants, and serve us. And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.

When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.

Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Bethlehem-judah,whose name was Jesse, who had eight sons; and the man went among men as an old man in the days of Saul. And the three eldest sons of Jesse went and followed Saul to the battle; and the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab, the first-born, and next to him, Abinadab, and the third, Shammah. And David was the youngest; and the three eldest followed Saul.”

David was kept back from the challenge because of his youth and size. Instead, he was told to tend the family sheep. In modern terms, it was like he was told to stay in the car. But at one point Jesse told David to take some food to his brothers at the battleground, where Goliath held forth for forty days mocking the fearful Israelites, none of whom wanted to do battle with the giant of Gath. While he was with his brothers, Goliath was indulging in trash-speak about the Israelites and their God, while the Israelites continued to cower. The account continues with Saul offering a reward to anyone brave enough to face Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17:26 David responds:

“And David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

When Saul heard of David’s response, he sent for him, whereupon David volunteered to face the giant. When Saul told him that he was too inexperienced to go against Goliath, David told him about how, during his shepherding duties, he had killed a lion and a bear that had threatened his flock. The record continues as David addresses Saul and then takes to the field in verses 36-50:

‘Your servant slew both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. David said, moreover, The Lord who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said to David, Go, and the Lord be with you. And Saul armed David with his armor, and he put a helmet of bronze upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword upon his armor, and he attempted to go; for he had not tested it. And David said to Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not tested them. And David put them off.

“And he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones out of the brook; and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a wallet; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near the Philistine. And the Philistine came on and drew near to David; and the man who bore the shield went before him. And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance. And the Philistine said to David, Am I a dog, that you come to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.

“Then said David to the Philistine, You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day will the Lord deliver you into my hand; and I will smite you, and take your head from you; and I will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day to the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands.

“And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew near to meet David, that David hastened, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took from there a stone, and slung it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sank into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David.”

Some unbelievers are fond of pointing out what they think is a discrepancy in this account that renders it a fable, the mention of five stones when David only used one. Why five stones, they ask in contempt of the Word. The reason why David picked up five stones is because Goliath had four brothers. David was arming himself to do battle with all five.

In this account, David surely exercised his faith, and demonstrated an abundance of courage as well. But he did something else besides: he kept his eye on the Lord instead of himself, taking offense at the ease with which the Philistine denigrated his beloved God. In modern-day accounts of the recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor for their valor on the field of battle, there continue to crop up the medals awarded posthumously to those who knew that they were to die in the process of saving others, but who did so willingly, their minds focused on their brothers’ peril rather than their own.

Jesus spoke in John 15:13 of this selfless nobility:

“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

COURAGE

 

To fear the Lord is to understand His reality, and the greatness of His Being. That fear however, is tempered with a companion knowledge of His goodness, permitting that fear to banish from the mind the fear of anything else. According to Proverbs 1:7, it fosters wisdom.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Fear of the Lord supports courage. God treasures that quality of character, as exemplified in Joshua 1:5-9, where God speaks to Joshua as he replaces Moses as leader of the Israelites in their journey into the land promised to Abraham by God.

“There shall not any man be able to stand before you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you, nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage; for unto this people shall you divide for an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be you strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law, which Moses, my servant, commanded you; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. Have not I commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be you dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim was given that position of leadership upon the passing of Moses because, through his faith in God, he stood with only Caleb of Judah in support of their entry into the Promised Land out of the twelve tribal representatives who went into the land to spy it out. When they returned from their venture, only Joshua and Caleb had the courage to recommend that they go into it and conquer it.

Two years into their wilderness wanderings, the Israelites stopped over at Kadesh-Barnea while the twelve tribal representatives went into the land of Canaan to spy out the produce and the people who inhabited it. They returned with news that the land was lush and productive, but the people there were giants. While Joshua and Caleb stood firm in their trust in God, the other ten were afraid and, weeping in abject terror, convinced the nation to hold back from entering the land. God did just that – He kept them in the wilderness for another thirty eight years, waiting for a full forty years from the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, until the last of that generation died out save Joshua and Caleb. For his valor God awarded Caleb Hebron, the final resting place of the Patriarchs and their primary wives, and the location of David’s first throne. For the valor of Joshua, God awarded him leadership over Israel upon the death of Moses.

The journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan was a real event; it also was a type of every Christian’s personal journey from sin to salvation and fellowship with God. Our individual journeys involve our development of character from the secular traits of self-service, avoidance of trouble, greed and indifference toward others to the more noble qualities set before Christians. This process of growth demands the heavy involvement of the Holy Spirit, but also asks of the individual personal courage and eventually results in the Christian’s own possession of valor.

Jesus Himself set the standard for courage. Knowing that He was God and understanding with excruciating clarity what lay ahead, yet for our sakes He submitted Himself to disgrace and great suffering. In the Garden of Gethsemane, according to Matthew 26:36-39, He revealed His knowledge of the horror to come upon Him.

“Then came Jesus with [His disciples] to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, Sit here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very depressed. Then he said to them, My Soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death; stay here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Faith and courage are very close in nature, but there is a subtle difference. Faith involves a willingness to believe, even in times of stress when it might be thought of as beneficial to give up that belief. Courage involves faith to the extent of casting out fear, but also requires the ability to do something unpleasant, of which the flesh protests.

Persecuted Christians everywhere must exercise courage to stand fast in their faith.

FAITH

 

Faith is the ability to understand that the God of Judeo-Christian Scripture truly exists, to want that God to exist, to the point that enough Scripture is read and digested to understand intuitively that God does, indeed, exist. Faith also accepts as real and welcome the work of the Holy Spirit, who indwells all believers. Moreover, faith involves the ability to appreciate that a better world exists, the spiritual one in which God plays such a vital and loving part. Faith includes the ability to value valor over wealth. Faith is explained in a noble manner in that great Hall of Faith chapter, Hebrews 11:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders received witness. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he being dead yet speaks. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.

“By faith Noah . . .By faith Abraham . . .By faith Isaac . . . By faith Jacob . . . By faith Joseph . . . By faith Moses . . .

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets. Who, through faith, subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again, and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

“And these all, having received witness through faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

Abel’s offering to God was more excellent than Cain’s because of his more noble understanding of what would be pleasing to God, which came from his greater faith. Even back then, Abel understood that God Himself would have to die sacrificially in the place of fallen and helpless mankind to bring him back into fellowship with God. He knew that and sacrificed an animal, one of God’s creations, in honor of that future event, long before Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac and Moses instituted the Passover in commemoration of that same great sacrifice that Jesus made.

Cain failed to understand that same helplessness of man; he thought that he could please God through the fruit of his own labors. There are sects that attempt to do that today: storm the gates of heaven through their own efforts.

Enoch pleased God through his faith. His translation from Earth into Heaven without death was equivalent to what we look forward to today: the rapture of the Church, as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

“Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“But I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus God will bring with him. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not precede them who are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”

Jesus Himself stressed the importance of faith, often attributing the faith of those whom He healed to their restoration. In Luke 18:42, Jesus heals a man, and then tells him that he was saved through his faith:

“And Jesus said to him, Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”

IN THE BEGINNING

 

Near the very beginning of Scripture, in Genesis 1:26 and 27, God asserts that man was created in His image:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Commentaries on this passage commonly interpret the likeness of man to God to involve qualities of character. That they do not include gender and gender-based love in their descriptions, despite the obvious intent of Scripture to include this feature, is a deliberate and unjustified attempt to equate purity with chastity, as I’ve noted elsewhere. They simply don’t address the most important underlying issue, which is that man’s character at his creation reflects the character of God.

The Reformation Study Bible, for example, describes the similarities between God and man at his creation as possessing intelligence and creativity, the ability to communicate and relate to others, and moral uprightness. Regarding man’s morality, the commentary does not go into details, other than to acknowledge that this faculty was diminished in man’s fall from grace. Other commentaries are similarly vague.

The details are important. The regenerate man, he who has been born again upon his acceptance of the selfless act of Jesus Christ on the cross, and has received the indwelling Holy Spirit as Jesus promised to His followers, is capable of much more than the moral uprightness commonly thought of as being peaceful, avoiding “sinful” behavior, and not indulging in troublemaking. The more important qualities of his regenerated character as aided by the Holy Spirit include faith, courage, selflessness and compassion for others.

These four qualities sometimes occur together in events so profound as to define the person. When they do, they display nobility of the high order associated in wartime with recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The reading of the recipient’s deeds that led to the receipt of that medal often causes weeping in the audience due to the extraordinary greatness of the heroic action that is being cited.

That is the greatness of God’s character, and the character in His image with which He endowed us at creation.

Psalm 22 describes the agony of crucifixion; Isaiah 53 describes the humility and suffering imposed on Jesus for our sins; and the Gospels affirm these forecasts.

The Gospels and the various letters of the New Testament place the same expectations on the followers of Jesus. In John 14:12, Jesus claims that some will do even greater works than Him:

“Verily, verily, I say to you, He who believes on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to my Father.”

Jesus was able to make that assertion because after His resurrection and the subsequent Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given by the Father in great measure to Jesus’ followers in the Upper Room of Acts 2. The Acts of the Apostles bears witness of the amazing healings, resurrections and transmission of the Gospel message performed by Peter, Paul and others. That they managed to do so under severe persecution is even more remarkable.

Or is it? Are the acts of the Apostles remarkable despite the persecution they were forced to endure, or are they remarkable because of that persecution? There has been talk in some Churches that many of those first gifts of the Holy Spirit no longer apply, for one very flimsy reason or another, the excuse most often put forward being that the gifts ceased at the final canonization of Scripture, and the establishment of Churches throughout the known world, rendering that Power from God no longer necessary. This point of view is called cessationism, for the cessation of the gifts. It is most prominent in those Churches having no outreach and whose attendance has been limited to Sunday services of a ritualistic flavor. Here there is no challenge requiring faith or courage, nor any exercise of selflessness or compassion. Here there is no manifestation of the Holy Spirit, not because the gifts have ceased, but because the Church has abandoned its fervent love of God.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are as necessary today as they were in that Upper Room. Societies that have suppressed Christianity for decades and even centuries are re-awakening to Jesus’ message. Their need to hear the Word of God is just as urgent as those societies of the First Century that had never heard the Gospel. In Africa and China, for example, the underground Church is spreading like wildfire, and multitudes of these repressed people are being harshly persecuted. But the Holy Spirit is working signs and wonders there, just as in the Book of Acts, and Churches continue to grow.

And the multitudes who are coming to God in the midst of their persecutions are growing in faith, courage, selflessness and compassion. They are well-pleasing to God and worthy of their future spiritual marriage to Jesus Christ.

We in societies in which Christians are comfortable may not be as fortunate as we think. Perhaps we should ask, even plead, for the Power of the Holy Spirit, even if it means our physical discomfort and danger. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:24,

“The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.”

If Jesus had to suffer for our sakes and was hated by the world, how should we expect not to encounter those same conditions? Perhaps, over the centuries, many sincere Christians were able to live out their lives in comfort and security. Perhaps they were fortunate, or perhaps not. But I know that personally, I’d like to have some things in common with Jesus. Provided, of course, that I am able to maintain my faith.

SHOWERED WITH BLESSINGS

 

Christian news outlets seem to have a common theme these days – a lamentation over the decline in Church attendance. This same theme can be seen in the frantic way that some Churches are trying to keep their flocks: daycare, latte machines, happy messages. Given the manner in which the Church seems to be falling away despite the almost hysterical attempts of pastors to stop the outward flow, it’s natural to wonder whether the exiting masses really ever understood what they had signed up for. Maybe those who evangelized them didn’t give them the big picture. Maybe the neophytes expected to get some blessings out of the deal, of the material kind.

Jesus’ parable of the sower comes to mind. In Matthew 13:18-23, Jesus explains this parable to His disciples:

“Hear, therefore, the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he that received the seed in stony places, the same is he that hears the word, and immediately with joy receives it; yet has he not root in himself, but endures it for a while; for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he is offended. He also who received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received the seed in the good ground is he who hears the word, and understands it, who also bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

I see this falling away as a good thing. Those who had accepted a materialistic Jesus, expecting Him to come promptly down the chimney bearing goodies or handing them a check from Publishers’ Clearing House, were worshiping a different god than Jesus anyway. I’ve seen Church spokespersons leading such people astray with blatant misrepresentations of who Jesus actually is, and what He actually represents. You can still see them on television hawking their wares. I once attended a Church where a young couple participated with fervent prayers for the removal of a cancer that was afflicting the wife; when she eventually died, the husband refused to come back to Church.

Jesus never promised such things; rather, He treated the material world with disdain, focusing instead on the spiritual world to come. In John 18:36 and Matthew 6:24, Jesus made this clear:

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from here.”

“No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Those who received the Word of God in good soil are of a different sort. After the pseudo-Christians have left the fold, these others will remain, whatever the circumstances that try to draw them back into secular society. They see a more noble Jesus, and in their staying the course God in return is developing them into a people having a common trait, the possession of valor.

God will indeed shower them with blessings, but of a more spiritual nature. God will clothe them in riches of character, endowing them with an abundance of faith, courage, selflessness and compassion, those qualities that Jesus will treasure in His Bride, the Church. Just like Jonah, they will enjoy the spiritual companionship of souls that they have rescued with a true knowledge of God.

“And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the preaching that I bid you. So Jonah arose, and went to the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes . . . And God said to Jonah . . .And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, in which are more that one hundred twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”

GOD’S MERCY TOWARD PETER

 

I’m grateful to God for Jesus’ having selected Peter to be a disciple. I can’t speak for anyone else, but before the Holy Spirit got hold of him, Peter was a lot like me – willful, impetuous and slow on the uptake. With some spectacular exceptions, he never quite seemed to get the point of what Jesus was saying. Worse, he denied Jesus to save his own neck. Not just once, but three times. It’s there in the Gospels in all the sordid details. In Matthew 26:33-35, for example, Peter, as usual, thinks that he’s good enough to follow Jesus on his own merit. He can do it all himself without help from God. Jesus rebukes him for that, saying that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed. Sure enough, as Jesus was being abused by the religious “authorities”, Peter denied any association with Him three times. At the sound of the rooster, Peter realized what he had done and was devastated by his own lack of faith.

The lesson, of course, is that without God we can’t do anything, even come to Him. Peter’s failure of faith was made all the worse by Jesus statement in Matthew 10:33,

“But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father, who is in heaven.”

After that Jesus was crucified and died, leaving Peter to fret, and continue to do so as he thought, for the rest of his life over what he had done. But Jesus didn’t leave Peter in that state. Instead, the resurrected Jesus came back to Peter, as recorded in John 21. Three times He asked Peter if he loved Him, each time following Peter’s affirmation of love with the command to feed His sheep. In those three exchanges, Jesus forgave Peter three times for his denials, thus canceling out the terrible consequences of what Peter had done. But it didn’t end there.

Beyond the forgiveness, Jesus also was sharing with Peter something of immense importance. He was including Peter in His own acts of speaking His Word to mankind, in that act increasing the Church. The first account of Peter’s fulfillment of Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, after he has been filled with the Holy Spirit, is given in Acts 2:22-41. In that account, Peter’s bold exhortation resulted in the salvation of three thousand souls. It may be seen in that first fulfillment of Jesus’ command that when Jesus talked about feeding His sheep, He wasn’t talking about material food. Instead, the food of importance was the spiritual one, speaking the words of the Gospel to the salvation of souls. Having followed the prophet Jonah in ducking away from God, Peter was now following that same prophet in voicing God’s displeasure with sin and exhorting the people to righteousness.

In the second instance of fulfilling Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, Peter again spoke before a crowded audience, this time bringing five thousand souls to salvation through the Word of God.

In the third instance, Peter became involved in dialogue with the Italian Cornelius. This act, of course, involved the mighty, loving Arm of God, the Holy Spirit, who had to overcome Peter’s Jewish attitude of repulsion by Gentiles to accomplish that task.

In fulfilling Jesus’ commandment to feed His sheep, the first time Peter speaks the Word of God to the salvation of three thousand souls. The second time Peter feeds Jesus’ sheep with the Word of God, five thousand souls are saved. Until this time, the Church was pretty much limited to Jews. (Even the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized by Philip was probably a Jew, Ethiopia having enjoyed a long Jewish history extending back to Solomon and the queen of Sheba.) Now comes the third time that Peter, empowered by the Holy Spirit, obeys Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, as described in Acts 10, and this time, after healing another lame man and raising Tabitha back to life in the name of Jesus Christ, Peter through the Word of God extends the Church, and salvation with her, to the entire Gentile world.

The immediate importance of this fulfillment by Peter of Jesus’ threefold commandments to feed His sheep, beside its obvious demonstration of God’s merciful love, is the support it gives to the assertion that God not only welcomes but desires the active participation of Peter, and consequently of mankind itself, in the sharing of His grand plan of salvation. Man is thus a participant, albeit with the necessary input of the Holy Spirit in the process, of his own salvation. Can anything demonstrate more fully than this the loving intimacy of sharing with which God relates to mankind?