One of the most powerful sections of this chapter are the opening 3 verses: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up.”
The imagery of verse 1 closely resembles that of ancient stadium competitions. Imagine the crowd seated all around you, and you are competing in a race on the stadium floor. You are in the midst of a great multitude of people cheering you on as you strive to win the competition.
While the author of Hebrews likely did not have this exact thought in mind when he wrote that “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” since the word “witnesses” does not refer to spectators but rather individuals who can testify to living by faith, there is something to be said for realizing that we are not living the Christian life merely by ourselves. What the author intends for us to get from these opening verses is that we stand in continuity with the long line of ancient believers despite not ever receiving the promise of “being made perfect” (cf. 11:39-40).
If ancient believers stood firm in their faith despite enduring much affliction and opposition as the author recounted in chapter 11, then that ought to be encouraging to us that we too should stand firm in our faith. To bring his point to a climax, the author then targets the ultimate example—Jesus.
With many historical believers from whom we can draw inspiration and encouragement from, there is none more significant than the example of our Savior. We are told explicitly to “think of him” with regard to his immense suffering at the hands of sinful people and the ultimate shame of crucifixion and to realize that he willingly endured both for the sake of the “joy set out for him.”
What joy was that? What joy could be present in having to experience such awful torment and pain? Jesus’ joy was to do the will of his Father, even if that was to suffer humiliation and an excruciating death upon the cross. Perhaps it is because there is no greater example of perseverance through hardship and an unwavering resolve to live by faith than Jesus the Christ.
This seems to be the reason why the author tells the readers that they are to keep their “eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” If we understand that Jesus endured all the horrific torture and shame because he trusted in God, then we too can draw strength from him as the greatest witness (i.e., testimony) to standing strong in our faith amidst trials and adversity. Because if we focus our attention on him as the pinnacle of a life lived by faith, then we will “not grow weary in our souls and give up.”
When was the last time you felt yourself grow weary? What were you focused on at the time? What would the writer of Hebrews 12:1-3 suggest you remember and stay focused on instead? How might that help?
What helped Jesus endure? How can that help us as well?
After numerous chapters devoted to preparing for the death and subsequent sacrifice of Christ, we finally reach the glorious reward of the Resurrection! Mark chapter 16, compared to the other gospels, is quite sparse in descriptive details of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. However, what it does depict breathes a message of hope and love for the future of the church, as well as a final instruction.
When Mary and Mary were given the message to tell the remaining disciples that Christ had risen, the disciples couldn’t believe it. “When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.” Mark 16:11. In fact, it seems like one of the things the disciples are best at is not believing something until they see it. They did not have faith that the thing they had been listening to Jesus predict for the past several years would come to fruition. Don’t worry because Jesus rebuked them for not believing when he found them again. Do you struggle to believe what Jesus has promised us? Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine a world where we all get along, where there is no longer pain. But without faith, we will never see this world; not because it won’t exist, but because we lack the faith to see it. Have faith!
The final message Jesus gives the disciples is to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15. That is our grand mission! What are you doing today to increase the Kingdom of God? Some of us are not called to verbally preach the word, and some of us are blessed with such a gift. But not being good at public speaking is no excuse to not spread the word.
Actions can speak significantly louder than words. In fact, that’s often the best way to spread the word; by living it out. To speak the message of Christ with empty words whilst living a life completely contrary is almost worse than to have never spoken a word at all. It is by watching the lives of those who follow Christ that we will be living examples of the love he provides us. In your joy, in your struggles, in your sadness, and in your blessings, praise God that you have been given this life to live. Focus on becoming the people that God has instructed us to become and devote your successes to Him. Live your life with the purpose of praising and worshipping Him, and He will reward you. As Christ commands it, do not simply speak the word; live it. Amen
2 witnesses are better than one! Today we have TWO writers for you – so below is your second devotion on Mark 16. Thank you Mason AND Jeff for writing for today. Keep sharing the good good news! Jesus is Alive!
Have you ever been a witness who was called on to testify in court? I have. It was an interesting experience. I had seen a crime committed, I reported it to the police, the criminal was arrested, I was asked to give a written statement to the police and I was later called on to testify at their trial. I will say that when you witness something that causes excitement, gets your heart pounding, and puts you in “fight or flight” mode, it affects your thinking and perspective. Everything seemed to be going faster than it really was. Normally it’s more believable when several people give their eyewitness testimony. Of course, no two witnesses agree on every detail. Each person sees different things from different vantage points. Each person remembers different details. Each person recalls the sequence of events in a slightly different order. These variations in detail are actually normal and good. If every witness testified exactly the same details in the same way the lawyers for the other side would be arguing that they were unreliable because they obviously got together and rehearsed their testimony, which is a big no-no.
When people read the Gospel accounts of Jesus they are seeing the story of Jesus unfold through the eyes of a variety of different witnesses. The Spirit of God is the inspiration behind each of the writers, but God works through human beings and through different witnesses. So it should come as no surprise when we read the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and also the writings of Paul, Peter, James, and others, that while they are telling basically the same story, they do so from different perspectives. The Gospel writers are either reporting what they themselves witnessed or what other eyewitnesses reported to them. They tell the same story with different perspectives and often emphasize different parts of the story or place the events of the story in slightly different orders in keeping with the overall theme of their account. Each story has different audiences in mind, different themes, and is not carbon copies of each other.
One very important rule that is repeated throughout the Bible is that there must be a minimum of two or three witnesses. (See Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16, John 8:17, and several other passages). We’ve already noted that there are four Gospel accounts in the New Testament which fulfill that important principle.
It is also interesting to note the background of who is qualified to be a witness. Jewish law has a list of different types of people who are not permitted to be called as witnesses: “women, slaves, minors, lunatics, the deaf, the blind, the wicked, the contemptible, relatives, and the interested parties (Yad, Edut 9:1).” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/witness . The Talmud, which is a Jewish Commentary from ancient times gives more details about who the “wicked” are who cannot testify. At one point in ancient Jewish history, shepherds were included in the list of people disqualified from witnessing. “As a class, shepherds acquired a bad reputation as being lawless, dishonest, and unreliable, above all because of their habit of trespassing on other people’s lands to graze their flocks.” https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2015/20-february/regulars/out-of-the-question/shepherds-character-reference.
Here’s what I find very interesting: two categories of people who were not permitted to act as witnesses were shepherds and women. I’m not interested in debating the fairness of those exclusions, but simply note that at the time of Jesus’ birth, life, and death, some of the people who were not accepted as reliable witnesses were shepherds and women. Why is this important? Consider, who were the first eyewitnesses who heard the angelic announcement about the birth of Jesus? Luke says it was “Shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8). It was to these “unreliable witness” shepherds that the angels appeared. And it was these unreliable witness shepherds who went and reported to Mary and Joseph all that they had seen and then went out and “spread the word” about all that they had seen. (Luke 2:17)
Now, maybe that was just a fluke… but maybe not. In today’s reading, Mark 16, we fast forward to just after the death of Jesus. Who is it who first go to the tomb after Jesus died? Once again, it was to “unreliable witnesses” – this time it was women. To whom did the angel appear announcing that Christ had risen? “Unreliable witness” women. Maybe it wasn’t a fluke after all. Maybe it’s a part of God’s deliberate plan to choose people to be witnesses of these important saving acts of God, which the world normally rejects. Does God choose to reveal His great acts of saving to the lowly people the world rejects? It seems He does. In fact, now that you know to look for it, pay attention when you read the Gospels and notice how many times the witnesses God uses come from the ranks of the supposed “unreliable witnesses.” How many times does God use women, or tax collectors (another category of unreliable witness) or slaves, the blind, the deaf, or just plain sinners to be His witnesses? You’ll find that from beginning to end, the Gospel is filled with “unreliable witnesses” who turn out to be very reliable. And in a giant flip-flop of societal expectations, it is the lawyers and religious professionals from the reliable witness class who are the ones who bring false charges against Jesus.
But the real question that each of us needs to ask ourselves today is, am I a reliable witness for Jesus? Am I willing to tell the truth about what I have seen, heard, and known firsthand about Jesus in my own life? Am I willing to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” about Jesus?
Questions for Discussion:
Why do you think God chose “unreliable witnesses” to be the witnesses to Jesus’ birth and resurrection and other key events?
When was the last time you told someone else “witnessed” what you have seen, heard, or experienced about Jesus?
Jesus, over and over again in Mark chapter 12, both evades the entrapment of those who wish him harm and enlightens his followers concurrently. In this chapter, men of simultaneous hypocrisy and high standing as well as the Sadducees attempted to either ask Jesus a question to bait him into testifying against the law of Moses or deny his Christhood. He first tells a story of a vineyard and its owner, then corrects hypocrites in their mentality on taxes, and catches the Sadducees in their deliberately poor interpretation of the word.
I highly suggest that, before reading further, you go read Chapter 12:1-12 for yourself because it caught me off guard! But anyway, the chapter begins with Jesus laying out a parable of a man who purchased a vineyard and put effort into making it a fruitful investment. He put a wall around it, bought a winepress, and even built a watchtower for its protection. Having invested this much of himself into it, he went on a rightful journey as he rented it out to some tenants. However, in their stupor, the tenants got greedy and refused to pay the vineyard owner what was due. The owner sent man after man to collect the money, all of which were returned either beaten or dead (not good). After the man had sent all his servants to collect the money, he was left with only his son. He hoped that, since it was his only son whom he loved dearly, they would finally respect him. But rather, they saw this as an opportunity to take the owner’s inheritance for themselves, and they killed the son too! Jesus then says, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this scripture: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’”
The chief priests, teachers, and elders who had questioned Jesus’ authority wanted so badly to persecute Jesus for telling this story, because it was clear that Jesus was talking about them. You see, the owner of the vineyard represents God, who built a beautiful place for the tenants, us humans, to live. He put effort into creating this world, and when He sent his only and beloved son to talk to us, man killed the son of God. But it does not end there. The scripture that he quoted stands as a retribution for the murder of Jesus. ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’ For those who don’t know, the capstone is the stone to surmount all other stones in a wall or pillar. That is, God took the stone that man rejected and elevated him to a position above the rest, and it is marvelous.
This also acts as a warning to us. Although that part is not as fun to think about, to ignore it would be doing injustice to the passage as a whole. The owner of the vineyard is to come and kill the tenants, because they killed his son. God has every right to put those who desecrate His son in their place. When Jesus comes to you with an answer or a question, do you push him away or do you welcome him?
In this passage, the son coming to the tenants is a final gift from the owner of the vineyard, that he may still have mercy on them after all that they had done. And yet, they squander this gift by killing him. Are you squandering the gift that God so graciously gave you; this life on earth blessed by salvation through the blood of Christ? We must not be overcome with greed and selfishness of the pleasures of this world that are only here because God put them here in the first place. If gratitude can be seen as a parent of all virtues, (by this meaning that we can’t truly express any other virtue without first being gracious for the current state in which we preside), then we need to be gracious for what God gave us. We are blessed to have this time on earth that we may spread the word and increase the Kingdom of God, as is our mission.
What do we learn about Jesus from this parable?
Do you accept that God has sent His beloved Son for you? How do you receive him?
What does it mean to you that, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (or capstone); the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”? (Mark 12:10&11 – quoted from Psalm 118). Do you give Jesus the place of capstone/cornerstone in your life now? What does/would that look like?
Paul starts out in Acts chapter 17 arriving in Thessalonica and speaking in the synagogues for 3 Sabbaths. He proclaims that Jesus needed to suffer and be raised from the dead. The Jews corner Paul and he is forced to leave the city after paying the officials. Paul and Silas depart for Berea. The Berean Jews listen to him and study to see if what he is saying is true and many of them believed. The Jews from Thessalonica find out Paul is in Berea and come after him there.
Paul is immediately sent away by the brothers in Berea and Paul arrives in Athens. Paul doesn’t take a break while in Athens. Paul seeing the city full of idols almost can’t help himself. Paul starts going into the marketplace and reasoning with the Jews in the synagogue and preaching to them about Jesus resurrected. They bring Paul to the Areopagus, a court of philosophy, and Paul launches into one of the most cultured speeches or sermons in the New Testament.
Paul starts out with the general declaration that God has made everything in v.24. God doesn’t live in a temple, made of human hands. He instead dwells within all of us. This is in abstraction to all the gods of Athens who needed a temple, a place for them to dwell. Our God when a house is built for him it was only supposed to represent God’s presence with his nation, Israel. It was a symbol for his people.
Paul makes his third statement about God’s sovereignty in v. 25. He doesn’t need us to serve him. For there is nothing that he needs from us that he can’t do for himself. He instead involves us and allows us to serve him for our own good. Our service to God is a matter of grace from God to us. It is letting us love him back. We are like children using the money mommy gave us to buy something for daddy.
Paul then makes a statement about the whole world’s dependence on God. He says that God gives to us life, breath and everything. Life: many of you may think of this as coming from your mom and dad; but as at least some of you may know, pregnancy is a miracle in and of itself. Either way God gave you your life. Have you had any enjoyment in it? Praise God because he gave it to you. Breath: God has provided you the air in your lungs right now and all the air you have ever used. He gave you the air you used to praise him and the air you used to sin against him. Everything: Everything you have ever interacted with – like that piece of cake or your mama. He made all that as well.
Verse 26 says that God providentially gave to each a time and a place. Verse 27 Tells us exactly why he did this. He gave us our time, place, life, breath, and everything that we have and everyone we love that we would SEEK Him and FIND Him. This statement is so significant if we look at it from Paul’s audience’s perspective. God made everything and gave everything, that we would find Him. He did it, so it would point us to Him.
The good things that he gives to non-Christians and the good things he gave to us, when we didn’t love him, were all done for us that we would seek and find Him.
We are going to skip down to verse 30. Paul tells us he has overlooked our ignorance and is telling them to repent and that he will judge the world by a righteous man. Paul then says that we have assurance of this because Christ was raised from the dead.
This is the third time in this chapter Paul talks about Christ’s resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is paramount to the Christian faith. If Christ isn’t raised we have nothing. His resurrection gives us Christ in us and God in Christ and therefore God in all of us. By his resurrection, not just his death, we are justified (Romans 4.25).
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How can you be more mindful of all that God has made and done for you today?
How will you seek Him?
Who do you know who still needs to hear about and know the “unknown God”? How can you introduce them?
While some NT letters can be encouraging and uplifting, other letters contain harsh criticism or reproof by the writer. Even though it was Jude’s original intention to write about the joint salvation that he and all God’s people share, he felt he needed to turn his attention and exhort his readers “to contend for the faith that was delivered to the holy ones once for all” (v. 3).
We can all probably think of a time in our life when we needed to be told what to do or why we should be doing something. That is essentially what Jude is doing here. He offers examples from people in the past whose ungodliness or rebellion were deserving of punishment, and then he also warns of present people among his readers who “nurture only themselves without fear” that are also deserving of God’s judgment. He reassures them that there is nothing unusual happening among them, and that even the Lord Jesus Christ predicted through the apostles that “in the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires” (v. 18).
False teachers abound in the world, and just as there were people in the past who opposed God and followed their own ungodly desires, there will always continue to be such people who work against the purposes of God. Given this fact, Jude exhorts his readers to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the holy spirit,” and as they do this, they are to keep themselves in the love of God (vv. 20-21).
This is the way that Jude encourages us to “contend for the faith.” We must continue to build ourselves up and become strong in the faith and to pray in the holy spirit so that we are not shaken by people who create divisions or who utter arrogant words and flattering speech for their own advantage. By being confident in our faith we will be strong in the Lord without doubting, ready to “save others by snatching them from the fire” (v. 23).
The world is a dark place and evil seems to be rampant, and it will continue to be that way until the day that we stand in the presence of our God, blameless and with great joy. Until then, we must fight the good fight and be on guard for those who want to “turn the grace of our God” (v. 4) into unrighteousness and immoral behavior.
Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Joel 1-3 and Jude 1
Yesterday we talked a little bit about the idea of remaining in Jesus/the vine from John 15. Continuing on in that chapter today, we see that we are called to be set apart from the world’s “garden” of goods. We are to belong to Jesus and be called out from the world. And it sounds like we shouldn’t anticipate popularity for this.
John 15: 16-19:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
Verse 19 tells us that that world will love us when we belong to it. It seems like many days it is easier to be loved by the world than it is to be set apart. If we watch what the world watches, busy ourselves with its entertainment, immerse ourselves in its news and social media, agree with its “wisdom” and ambitions, share its worries, and dedicate our time and energy to pursuits of this world, we can easily find ourselves part of it. With some pretty deep roots. We will be accepted and liked. We won’t offend anyone. We will fit in. Or at least we won’t stand out? We might have some temporary fun. People will smile at us, agree with us, boost our ego, and…..we will belong. But, we will belong to the world, and there are consequences.
Scripture speaks heavily to the idea of being “called out” or “set apart” from the world. This passage is one of those. We are currently living in a world abounding in evil and deceit. Deceit that runs so deep in so many places that anyone who follows Jesus likely will be hated at times. Looking at Jesus’s example, being watchful for times the world’s ideas contradict that example and his words, and seeking to love and obey are crucial to ensure that we are growing “out” of the world and not “in” it. I look forward to a day when Jesus reigns and is no longer hated ,when we are in God’s perfect kingdom without sin, and when this world and its problems have passed away!
Just like many of you, the familiar John Williams Olympic anthem, “Daaa…Daaa…Da. Da. Da. Da.” has already rang through my ears a handful of times as I watched the opening of the summer Olympic games. It has always marked anticipation, but more so this year, an end to a long sigh created by the indefinite postponement of the Tokyo 2020 a year ago. While there are no crowds in attendance, the athletes are masked, and there is some political drama that often surrounds countries in participation, the beating of those timpani drums and the blaring french horns help us to remember a place we’ve been before. All of this solely from a spectator’s point-of-view. How much more have the athletes participating in the games marked this moment? A year of extra training and sacrifice to compete at the highest level on a global stage, doing so maneuvering through a world experiencing a global crisis. These medals given this year are seemingly worth more because of the delay and extra challenges these athletes faced in their training.
It is fortuitous that our reading befits this moment where we are consumed with this competition for medals and crowing of our victors:
“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air” – 1 Corinthians 9:26
So, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you are not one of the 15,000+ athletes competing in the summer Olympic or Paralympic games (although, we would welcome any Olympian to read). You may be accomplished at a single sport, but you’re undoubtedly not at the next level. You may be dedicated to a fitness program, but you are not sacrificing all of your playtime or rearranging your schedule for your athletic pursuits. You haven’t hired a trainer. You haven’t shaved your legs to remove a hundredths of a second from your personal best. You may not even be inspired to any athletic pursuit simply by watching (although many future Olympians are). Yet, by being a follower of Christ (not the games), you are being called, challenged, and elicited into a training that is more demanding, more exasperating, and more punishing than any Olympian has ever faced in the context of competition at the games.
While there are several paths of metaphors we could draw from, the one that is most striking are the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians. It is the most intense description, hyperbole that could very well be made literal in some contexts. Ultimately, we must slave away at becoming the most disciplined evangelist, with the purpose of preaching and living out the gospel of Jesus Christ or plainly face disqualification from the prize.
“No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:27
This is a scary thought. That my faith must be trained and disciplined in such a way that it would be on that next-level, to compete for a prize that is longer lasting than precious metals. My evangelism could be record-setting. My ministry could be to a worldwide audience. But what stands in the way is my greatest opponent. Who is it? Me. Because I must be willing to give up the life that I could have in order to live for the glory that I am supposed to attain. I must be willing to strike a self-blow, to cut off my hand, to gouge out my eye, and to die daily. Or more realistically, get off my phone, read and pray consistently, have uncomfortable conversations, be filled with the Spirit of God, and let my coach and my God call all the shots. This is what I must do in order to make gains, receiving the strength and knowledge that comes through Christ Jesus. While it must be an incredible experience for the world to see you lower your head to receive your medal as a victor, representing your people and country, how much greater will it be to receive the crown of life which represents a kingdom and people that are far more perfect than the ideals that guide the games we currently watch? Whether you have started your training already, are coming out of retirement, or beginning your training today, take a good look at your opponent in the mirror. Size him/her up. You ultimately will have to be disciplined enough to take him/her on, become enslaved to Christ, and with the grace of God, beat yourself into submission, so God can see you through to the victory.
There is something so beautiful about watching a plant grow from a little seed to a strong healthy plant. Christians are compared to plants in this way. A spiritually mature Christian should still continue to grow in their walk with God.
Jesus often taught the crowds and his disciples using parables, which can be found all throughout the Synoptic Gospels. With seven parables in Matthew chapter 13, the parable of the sower is the only parable in this chapter that doesn’t start with “The Kingdom of heaven is like” because this parable is how the Kingdom of God is going to begin. In fact, it is already happening right now.
There are four different scenarios of what becomes of the seeds that are sown that Jesus depicts here, being eaten by birds, scorched by the sun, choked by thorns, or producing a crop. Which respectively relate to being taken by the evil one, trouble and persecution, worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth, or yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. Out of four scenarios there is only one that has roots, which leads to salvation. By having the deep roots, a foundation on God and his word, you will bear fruit. Fruit that can show God’s love and share the hope that we have with others and by doing so yield sixty or a hundred times what was sown.
To go along with the analogy, John 15:1-8 adds on to it and explains the dire need of having deep roots in God and Jesus.
John 15:5 says, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”
So how are you going to strengthen your foundation and bear fruits? Be a tree! Three out of the four groups are between a rock and a hard place. So defy the statistics. Commit your life as a living sacrifice for God bearing cherries, apples, bananas, and pears. Put in the effort to focus on your foundation. Make it a priority to spend quality time with God. Paul tells us that fruit will come as a result of our faith, so when they do, nurture them, prune, water, weed, do whatever it takes to help them grow. The parable of the sower shows the importance of how we are living our lives right now. So go, be a tree, rooted in God and overflowing with fruit!
There was a man named Korah who led a rebellion against Moses’ leadership (Numbers 16:2-3). Moses instructed them to put fire and incense in censors before the Lord to let God decide what man would be in charge. Of course, God stayed faithful to Moses and made it clear that Korah and his men were sinning.
God, to punish the rebels’ sin and rid Israel of false leadership, caused the earth to open up and swallow Korah, his household, and his rebellion. Next, God redeemed the sinful situation into a holy one by turning the censors the men used to sin with into a covering for the altar that was holy.
This is a large part of what makes the Christian faith different than other beliefs. In order to be justified, or have right standing, with the gods of many religions, one must work their way into the god or goddesses’ approval; they need to pray enough, give enough, fast enough, and do enough good all with the hope of making the cut. Our God doesn’t work like that. Instead of accepting the good or holy, he seeks the sinful and makes them holy (Mark 2:17), having exchanged our sin with Jesus’ perfection (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is a fundamental difference, that he takes the sinful and makes him holy, instead of expecting the sinful to clean himself up and work his way into his favor which is impossible for man (Rom. 3:10-12). We serve a wonderful God who can turn rebels to righteous before God.
The God of Second Chances – Numbers 17
The story of the rod of Aaron.
The rod was like a stick and these twelve men carved their names on them, out of the twelve one of them sprouted. The one that sprouted was Aaron’s rod and he became the priest. God worked this miracle to prove to the children of Israel that they had been wrong in questioning whom the priesthood rightfully belonged to. God mercifully gave Israel another evidence of his will, to correct their judgment. The miracle was sufficient to silence the complaints of the Israelites. After they realized what they had done, they were terrified and said: “Behold, we perish, we are dying, we are all dying!” God asked Moses to place the rod in front of the alter so that it served as a reminder that they were wrong in questioning God’s authority.
How many times has God given us a second chance? If you haven’t noticed, every morning is an opportunity to serve Him, love Him, give yourself to Him, reconcile with Him, reconcile with your brother, love those around you, enjoy nature, be kind, serve others. My point is, God is merciful and loving, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercies for thousands..”(Exodus 34:6-7). In His great love, he gives us second chances. However, there will come a day when we will have no more second opportunities.
One of the most important parts of being a human is making empathetic connections. I would describe an empathetic connection as finding a basis of similarity so you can start to build a relationship. These connections are crucially important to the Christian faith. As Christians we are to be ambassadors for Christ, helping people understand and live out the Gospel so they may be in the Kingdom of God. Often, I waste opportunities to do this very thing. But Paul has an easy way of reminding us by using a couple of object lessons in
Colossians 4:2-6 “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; Praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
Our empathetic connections we make with others are drastically important for when we share the Gospel. I would say Paul is using the illustration of a door and salt to describe how we are to handle people who we are supposed to share the gospel with. The door represents hospitality, welcome, and family. In other words, treat others as if you were inviting them into your home. Allow them to be comfortable. Remember we as Christians are not called to comfort, but to carry our cross (even though it’s hard sometimes). Treat them just like Jesus would have treated you. The salt represents preparedness (that which I am unqualified to talk about but here I go anyway) Salt was used as a preservative in the time Paul wrote this, therefore he is referring to our speech having been thought out and planned. Just like someone who wants to cook a steak but doesn’t know what seasoning they will cook it with, Paul calls us to be patient.
Be kind to those who are ignorant of the Gospel and those who might not live a lifestyle you don’t accept. The only way you will be able to effectively share the Gospel is through a relationship that shows them Christ’s love before they are changed.