Tag Archives: prison

MARK’S GOSPEL – GOD IS HERE!

GOD IS HERE!

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus Calls His First Disciples Mark 1:12-1

How could Jesus be so sure of His message, “God is here?” He had seen it, felt it, heard it, tasted it, experienced it in the worst possible environment. He has been cushioned and cocooned in the Father’s presence for forty days; heat, cold, hunger, thirst, rocks, cliffs, scorpions, snakes, spiders, prowling wild beasts – any one of these could have taken Him out – and He had to trust, lean on, hold on to the Father until He was perfectly at peace in the midst of all this. He had to move from enduring to embracing and enjoying His wilderness experience because it meant total reliance on the Father.

This was Jesus’ first “Gethsemane” experience and it prepared Him to run the gauntlet of life out there in the jungle of humanity. He had to learn to recognise and rebuff every alien voice until only the Father’s voice was clearly recognisable. “Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered…” (Hebrews 5:8).

Jesus was not proclaiming a theory: He was declaring a personal, powerful, practical reality. “God is here!” He was offering to His people the renewal of the experience as a “here and now” God. For 400 years they thought He had left them. Jesus wasn’t saying, “God is back.” He was saying, “God is here.” He was rekindling the awareness in them that God was always there, with them; but they had lost that awareness.

How can I offer that same awareness to people out there? And more so, to God’s people who struggle in their own “wilderness” experiences? First – I have to know it for myself, not just an intellectual assent to what is written in the Word, but a knowing that comes from leaning and listening to the one who is closer than my breath, the one who envelops me, surrounds me, saturates me and undergirds me until I am more sure and more secure in Him that in my own environment. I need my own wilderness. 6

THE BOOK OF ACTS – ATTITUDE DETERMINES OUTCOME

ATTITUDE DETERMINES OUTCOME

“Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose.

“Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: ‘Don’t do that! We’re all still here. Nobody’s run away.'” Acts 16:25-28 (The Message).

Paul and Silas had every reason to be angry. They had been falsely accused, unjustly treated, brutally beaten without a trial, thrown into a maximum security cell and shackled in leg irons like criminals, and that for releasing a slave girl, a nobody from demonic oppression! Where was the justice in that?

They could have been just as mad at God. They were serving Jesus. They had given up everything for Him, hadn’t they? They were deserving of better treatment than that. Why did He allow it to happen to them? Why didn’t He protect them?

Can you hear your own voice mouthing these objections? The voices of your family, your friends? ‘Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Where was God in all this?’

Paul and Silas couldn’t sleep. Their backs were torn and bleeding; their legs were fastened in heavy iron shackles; the floor was cold and hard; the air was dank and smelly. They had two options — stoke the fires of anger and bitterness or pray and sing away the hours until daylight. It all depended on their attitude.

They knew that suffering was included in the package and they were also aware that, no matter how tough it was for them, Jesus suffered more. They could be angry with God, but that wouldn’t get them anywhere. The Israelites got mad when things were tough, and the consequences were not what they bargained for; God was angry and they felt it! Paul and Silas weren’t about to follow their example.

These men were steeped in the Word of God as devout Jews. It was as much part of them as their breath. They prayed it, they sang it, they lived it, every day. How natural for them, then, to fill the long, cold hours with the Word that was so precious to them! Where would they turn in their distress? To the psalms which so accurately expressed how they were feeling right then.

Others before them had suffered and trusted God, and written, prayed and sang about it for their own comfort and for the comfort of those who followed them. These two men unashamedly proclaimed their trust through the words of men who had gone before them. And the other prisoners marvelled. It was not cursing and complaining that they were hearing but praise and confidence in a God they did not know.

God also heard — and responded with earth-shaking results! How could He leave His servants in that situation when He had opportunity to show the whole jailhouse what He could do for those who trusted in Him? Would He have done the same for them had they spent their time moaning about their plight? I think not.

It’s easy to trust in God when the sun is shining and the birds are singing. Real faith is only valid when the light goes out and we can see nothing. What’s inside is only revealed under the pressure of unbearable circumstances. Why does God allow things like this to happen? He wants us to know what’s inside.

Paul and Silas passed their test with flying colours! And God gave them their reward — more freedom and greater confidence in the God who proved Himself to be utterly trustworthy.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – FAITH AND UNBELIEF

FAITH AND UNBELIEF

“Still shaking his head, he went to Mary’s house, the Mary who was John Mark’s mother. The house was packed with praying friends. When he knocked on the door to the courtyard, a young woman named Rhoda came to see who it was. But when she recognised his voice — Peter’s voice — she was so excited and eager to tell everyone Peter was there that she forgot to open the door and left him standing in the street.” Acts 12:12-14 (The Message).

Peter was free but vulnerable. How long would it take for the Roman guards to rouse from their stupor and realise that Peter had disappeared? He had to get off the street and quickly. A lone man wandering around in the dark would be suspect, to be sure. Of course, there were no electric street lights and many dark corners, but daylight would soon reveal the fugitive when the soldiers were sent out to comb the neighbourhood, and they would be ruthless in their search.

Peter made a beeline for Mary’s house knowing he would be safe there for a short while. Although he did not know it then, many of his friends were assembled there, praying up a storm for his release. His urgent knocking was answered by a young servant girl who was obviously very much part of the praying.

Luke adds a human touch and a little humour to his story. Rhoda recognised Peter’s voice and was so ecstatic about the miraculous answer to their prayers that she left him outside and rushed into the prayer meeting with the news that Peter was free. Unlike the “holy books” of other religions, little incidents like these link us to the sheer humanness of the story. This is God’s story, but it is about people just like us.

“But they wouldn’t believe her, dismissing her, dismissing her report. ’You’re crazy,’ they said. She stuck by her story, insisting. They still wouldn’t believe her and said, ‘It must be his angel.’ All this time poor Peter was standing out in the street knocking away.” Acts 12:15-16a (The Message).

It seems strange that the believers were praying for Peter’s release but, when it happened, they could not take it in. One wonders what they were expecting to happen. Perhaps they had some prescribed notion of how it would happen instead of letting God do it His way.

Aren’t we just like that? Instead of letting God be God, we tell Him what to do and how to do it and then we put our faith in our expectation instead of in God to do what He wants to do His way. So much of our disappointment with God is tied to our expectations of what He will do and the way He will do it instead of putting our trust in Him and His wisdom and love. How often I hear this statement: “I’m trusting God for….” instead of “I’m trusting God,” period

Somehow we have the capacity to turn faith into unbelief when we limit God to our way of thinking and our way of doing things. What if, instead, our heartfelt confidence in the will of God frees Him to act when, how and where He chooses so that our insignificant concerns become a part of the bigger picture of His kingdom?

“Finally they opened up and saw him — and went wild! Peter put up his hands and calmed them down. He described how the Master had gotten him out of jail, then said, ‘Tell James and the brothers what happened.’ He left them and went to another place.” Acts 12:16b-17 (The Message).

Having told his story and concluded their mission to pray him out of jail, Peter left Jerusalem, putting distance between himself and the murderous intentions of Herod. From here on, Luke turned his attention to Paul and his commission to take the gospel to the whole Roman Empire. Peter appears briefly in Acts 15, but for the rest, Paul and his companions are the focus of the missionary enterprise.

If we take a step back for a moment and take in the ebb and flow of the infant church, it’s a story of vulnerable human beings caught up in the cosmic war between God and His arch-enemy, the devil, with human beings the prize. There is suffering and victory, death and life, pain and joy, but all the while the church inches her way across the empire, person by person, city by city, through the courageous witness of men and women who were not afraid to pay the price for their faith in a living Saviour.

It’s Still Good News!

IT’S STILL GOOD NEWS!

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ He said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:14-15).

Mark was specific about the timing of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. There was no clash or competition between John and Jesus. John’s ministry was short and sharp. He had a job to do and he did it well. He was to introduce the Messiah and then get out of the way so as not to interfere with the greater work of Jesus. He would not to be a part of it. Jesus did not make him His first disciple. John was a prophet and his job was to declare the word of God.

God saw to it, through circumstances, that John was permanently removed and taken out of sight. John had given King Herod a very blunt message: “You are an adulterer!” and Herod was not impressed.  He had shacked up with his brother Philip’s wife. Whether he was actually married to her or not is not clear but, for argument’s sake let’s assume that he had married her.

Herodias, the adulterous wife, was a vicious woman. She had her knife in for John for telling it like it was. You see, what they had done was wrong whether they were believers in God or not. God’s moral law is not only for those who acknowledge Him. He has written His law into the conscience of every human being because His word is a reflection of who He is and a requirement for everyone. Herod imprisoned John and left him to rot in prison until Herodias’ moment came to move in for the kill.

Once John was out of the way, Jesus was free to step into the gap and pick up where John left off. The transition was smooth. John had announced that the rule of God was right there. Jesus declared it too but what did the people understand by this announcement?

For four hundred years there had been no word from God. There was no prophet to interpret the historical events in which His people were caught up. Israel had become sandwiched between the territories of two of Alexander the Great’s four generals who had inherited the Greek Empire after Alexander’s untimely death. They were continually harassed by their Greek overlords. They tried to throw off the oppressors and paid for it time and again. Eventually the influence of Greek culture and customs had infiltrated God’s people.

After Greece came Rome; and the people of God had to bend low under the oppression of Roman rule. Their land was overrun by Roman occupants – soldiers who ruthlessly kept the Israelites in check. They were well and truly under the rule of a godless and ruthless government. God, to them, had abandoned them. He was just not around any more.

First John and then Jesus stepped in with the “good news” that God was back. What did they make of this? Naturally they thought that He was either going to build up an army and lead a successful revolt against Rome or, if He were really the Messiah as John had insisted, He might even supernaturally get rid of the Romans and set up God’s kingdom in Israel again, just as in the days of David and Solomon. After all, hadn’t He supernaturally wiped out the Assyrian army in one night, all 186,000 of them?

Excitement rippled through Judea and even farther afield. The people flocked around John, willing and eager to identify with him and join his movement. Then John disappeared off the scene but the man he had baptised in the Jordan whom he declared to be the Messiah, took up the refrain: “God is back. He is here to rule again. Change the way you think. Stop being pessimistic and defeated and listen to me.”

What they did not hear was that Jesus was there to get rid of Rome. Did He ever say that? But that’s what they expected Him to do. God’s kingdom to them was Israel and they believed that Jesus had come to establish Israel as the greatest nation on earth again.

How sad that the expectations we put on God which, by the way, come from what we want and not from what He has said, lead to bitter disappointment. Instead of trusting Him for what He wants, we blame Him for not answering our prayers and we turn away from Him, disillusioned and frustrated.

What if we just trusted Him, full stop instead of trusting Him for what we demand? We would untie His hands and leave Him to free us from far greater bondage than our personal “Rome”.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Have you read my new book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (copyright 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!

Available on www.amazon.com or www.kalahari.com in paperback, e-book or kindle format, or order directly from the publisher at www.partridgepublishing.com.

Check out my blogsite at www.learningtobeason.wordpress.com

The Gospel Makes the Difference

THE GOSPEL MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering (Heb. 13:1-3).

As Jewish people, these readers were required to be kind to strangers. They were to treat the foreigners among them with generosity because they had been aliens many times in the course of their history. Abraham was an alien in the land of Canaan; Jacob and his family were aliens in Egypt; the Israelites were foreigners in Babylon. They, in turn had opportunity to show kindness to those who were not of them because it was the right thing to do.

God even made provision for foreigners within their economic system. After every harvest, they were to give the firstfuits to God, and bring a tithe of the remainder to the temple where it was stored and distributed to the priests and Levites to support them and their families. They also set aside another tenth to celebrate God’s goodness with their families. Every third year they brought their “family” tithe to the temple to be given the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien because these people had no inheritance of their own and no one to support them.

In all their dealings with people – family, fellow Israelites or foreigners – they were required to treat people with mercy and compassion. This was Jesus’s issue with the Pharisees and religious leaders. They were such sticklers for the law as they interpreted it, that they ignored the spirit of the law which was mercy. This was the difference between Jesus’s interpretation of Torah and the rest of the rabbis whom they followed.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter without neglecting the former (Matt.23: 23).

The writer reminded his readers that taking care of strangers had a hidden blessing. They never knew if and when they had actually been generous to an angel.

Abraham had the unique opportunity of being host to God Himself. Three men came to his tent and he welcomed them and prepared a sumptuous meal for them, not knowing that one of them was God visiting him in human form, and that the other two were angels. What if Abraham had sent them on their way without showing kindness to them?

The angel of the Lord had a message for him that he had been longing to hear for twenty five years.

“I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son” (Gen. 18: 10).

God had promised the childless couple a son. God had promised Abraham offspring as numerous as the sand on the sea shore and the stars in the sky, but it did not happen. Was God having him on? Abraham had begged God for a son but twenty five years went by and no baby boy arrived. In any case the elderly couple was way beyond having kids. They knew the drill!

But God came when all hope was gone – a stranger materialising out of the summer heat to announce that it was time. What if Abraham has missed the cue?

“Suffer with those who suffer,” was the next instruction. Why? We should be grateful that we don’t have to face what some of our fellow believers are facing at the hands of religious barbarians who think they are pleasing their god by being murders. What kind of a god is that? But that is not enough. Our writers says, “Don’t forget them. Identify with them.” We can’t physically be with them and suffer alongside them but we can pour our energies into praying for them. What will that do?

Aside from God supplying grace to them in their time of need, being aware of their suffering will not only soften our hearts towards those in need, but also towards their persecutors. Have you thought about that? Are we to hate them? No! Jesus did not hate those who crucified Him. He prayed for them. They were in line for God’s judgment. Jesus said that we are not to fear those who can only kill our bodies. We are to fear God who has the power to throw both bodies and souls into hell.

When we think of the terrible consequences of their actions, our hearts should go out to God in prayer for His mercy to be revealed to them. “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.

It’s the power of the gospel that transforms us from revenge to forgiveness and from hatred to compassion.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Have you read my new book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (copyright 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!

Available on www.amazon.com or www.kalahari.com in paperback, e-book or kindle format, or order directly from the publisher at www.partridgepublishing.com.

Check out my blogsite at www.learningtobeason.wordpress.com