Summary of People

Bartimeaus.
Barnabas.
Lot.
Nebuchadnezzar.
The Dying Thief.
Samson.
Rahab.
Nicodemus.
Legion
Judas.
Josiah.
Joseph – the father of Jesus.
Joseph of Arimathea.
Ham.
Bathsheba.
Baruch

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Bartimeaus

BLIND BARTIMAEUS.
Mark Ch 10 v 46-52. Mat ch 20 v 29-34. Luke ch 18 v 35. Psalm 146. Isaiah ch 42 v 1-13.

This short passage describes an event, which took place nearly 2,000 years ago. There are only seven verses – 167 words. Yet it has so much to teach. The Bible is like a tutorial. As a man listens to the words and puts himself in the situation, he finds that he is thinking about how he would react, how he would handle the situation or how guilty he would feel. Imagine being one of the crowd that day, as Jesus left the northern gate of Jericho on His way to Jerusalem. Jericho, a city with a proud tradition – one of the oldest cities in the World. Then 5,000 years old, now 7,000 years old. Jesus was there in this city.

It is interesting that Matthew records that two people were healed that day. Mark and Luke record just one person healed. Sometimes people, looking to criticise, point to this situation and say: “How can you believe the Bible, which is full of inaccuracies?” Is it? If a man goes down town and meets two people he may return and relate meeting one of them. Later when speaking to another person he narrates meeting two people. There is no untruth there. Both accounts are true. Why Mark and Luke mention only one and not two is not know, but it does not detract from the truth. The meeting between Jesus and Bartimaeus. Bar is the same as Mac and means son of – Son of Timaeus.

Imagine being in the crowd wanting to hear what Jesus has to say. Everyone is quoting Jesus and talking about the miracles, the confrontation with the religious leaders of the day, the countless people who have been healed. Will there be a healing today? Will a Pharisee turn up and ask some trick question? Maybe there will be an opportunity to speak to some of His closest followers later on. Did anyone notice that there was a blind beggar sitting by the roadside? Suddenly he called out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Who was it who told him to be quiet. He was disturbing the meeting. Was it right to tell him to be quiet. Jesus was speaking. The Son of God, in human flesh was speaking and naturally the people wanted to hear His every word. Was it a surprise that Jesus Himself stopped walking and talking and asked some of the crowd to call the blind beggar over? The blind beggar did not need to be asked twice. Although he was blind, there was nothing wrong with his hearing or with his legs.

It is comfortable to be in a group where everyone knows the others. What if someone brings in a lonely person, with big problems? It will never be the same again. Is it right to deny others the life, which Jesus offers? What would happen if, during a Church service, someone was to call out to be healed. Would it be embarrassing? Are Church members too busy to take the time to meet a lonely or disturbed person at their point of need? Jesus did just that. What was the point of talking, if it did not lead to action and did not help someone in real need. After all, it was the same Jesus who said: “It is the sick who need a doctor, not those in good health. My purpose is to invite sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend time with those who think themselves already good enough.”

Believers cannot afford embarrassment or concern about what others will think. If they see a need, will they respond in the name of Jesus and with the compassion of Jesus? “Well done good and faithful servant.” It has to be one of the objectives of a group of believers to meet people at the point of their need – whether that is physical, emotional or spiritual.

It is interesting that Jesus did not call the man Himself but asked someone else to be involved. It is the same today. Jesus would ask believers to call people to join Him. The Holy Spirit may be at work in the life of another. Indeed without the work of the Holy Spirit nothing will happen. But then He usually works in conjunction with a human being. Perhaps a particular believer is the one He wants to use to issue the physical call to come to Jesus. It is also interesting that Jesus did not approach Bartimaeus. Jesus healed all who came to Him. Was it a coincidence that Jesus passed by that way? Did He see Bartimaeus at the side of the road and slow down, giving Bartimaeus the opportunity to call out? Perhaps the two were not the only blind beggars there that day. There is a mystery why some respond and others do not.
There is another mystery. How did Jesus heal the man? When there is healing today, how does the healer believe that there will be a healing? What makes it different from just wanting the man to be healed, however honourable that may be? Jesus said: “I only do what I see my Father doing?” Did Jesus ask His Heavenly Father; “Do you want to heal this man?” Did He then hear the word of God from Psalm 146 v 8. “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.” Perhaps it was from Isaiah ch 42 v 6-7. “I have given you to my people as the personal confirmation of my covenant with them. You will open the eyes of the blind.” Knowing what His Father wanted to do, in faith, Jesus spoke the words and the man was healed. Could that be the way it happened? Is that the way for believers to act, when it comes to healing?

Bartimaeus was not only blind. He was also lonely. Blindness was not uncommon in these days. Because of his blindness, he could not earn his living and had no alternative but to beg. That was his daily routine. What else could he do? If he had had family or friends, he would not have had to beg. Just another day, until Jesus met him at his point of need.

The World is full of lonely people. Loneliness is capable of hurling the heaviest weight the human heart can endure. Only those who have really been lonely will know the anguish it can cause. A prison inmate, an elderly person, who closes the curtains at 4 o’clock in the winter and does not see another person until the following morning. There can be children at school who are lonely – who have no friends – and have to hide themselves, pretending to be busy, so that their loneliness does not show. Perhaps when they go home on a Friday, it is simply to continue their lonely life, busying themselves with their video games and hidden away in their rooms, wishing that there was some way out of their lonely existence. Do not be too occupied with the words of Jesus in meetings and Bible study, to miss the lonely people, who are desperate to be involved in real life.

In a sense this man is a helpful picture of those who, the Bible says, are blinded by the god of this age. They do not know Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour. Bartimaeus was helpless and hopeless, with no prospect of improving his lot in life. He was just waiting out his days on Earth. Those who are spiritually blind are just moving relentlessly to the day when their physical life will end and they have no hope of a life after death. Indeed they do not enjoy life to the full right now. So often people say that they are doing something to help pass the time. Time is a gift from God to mankind to be used for the glory of God. A man only has so much time and ought to use it and not let it pass by. Look what Jesus packed into three short years and learn from Him how to use the time available to effect. Do not waste it. Use it. The enemy comes to rob, steal and destroy. He will steal a man’s time and encourage him to fritter it away. There is a worldly attitude of doing as little as possible. In light of the gift of eternal life, believers cannot do enough for the Lord. God’s children should not do as little as possible but as much as possible.

For a blind beggar, who relies on the generosity of people, a crowd passing by increased the possibilities of a better than average day. But this was no ordinary crowd. In the crowd was Jesus. This incident took place near the end of Jesus’ three-year ministry. He was on the way to Jerusalem where He would lay His life down for the sins of the World. Bartimaeus must have heard talk of the miracles of Jesus, the healings of Jesus and the difference Jesus had made to lives of other people in deep trouble. He had plenty time to think and reflect. Would Jesus heal him if he asked Jesus? “If some are healed, why not me?” Faith feeds on facts and Bartimaeus had heard the facts. What had he to lose? This might be his only opportunity. Jesus may never pass this way again. In fact Jesus never did pass that way again. A man’s opportunities to be in touch with Jesus are always today and never tomorrow. The Bible says – today is the day of salvation.

It is clear that Bartimaeus had been thinking. He knew about sin and the need for forgiveness. Maybe he harboured envy and bitterness in his heart because of his condition. Mercy was what he needed and he was not too proud to let it be known in public. On another occasion Jesus said: “Forget about yourself.” That is the key. Realising that man is a creature. He is the Creator. A man is nothing in His glorious sight. Many people cannot see past their own interests. It is not difficult to find someone worse off. Satan became Satan because he put his interests before God’s interests. A blind person has little room for pride.
There was no great dialogue – nineteen words by Jesus and six by Bartimaeus. “What do you want me to do for you?” “O, Teacher, I want to see.” “All right, it is done. Your faith has healed you.” There is a lesson about prayer there. K.I.S.S. Keep it simple Saint. Believers beat about the bush so often, never quite getting to the point. God knows what a man wants, before he asks Him. A man should make sure to ask the Lord for what he wants.

So many people get close to God and let the moment slip by. Perhaps when they are in hospital undergoing surgery, they realise that they might have died and they were not ready to face God. They say to themselves: “When I get home, I am going to do something about this.” Others hear of a tragedy – a plane crash and realise that they might have been on that plane. Some hear the Word of God preached and go home poised to make a decision. They meet someone on the way and the moment is gone. Others want to keep an open mind. There is a danger that, if a man keeps his mind open too long on any matter, his brains will fall out.

This passage has something to say about physical healing. The problem of loneliness challenges believers about their attitude to the needs of others and the compassion of Jesus. It also has something to say about the difference between knowing about God and knowing Him personally. The main distinction is between deists and theists. The idea that a person can know God personally is ridiculous to most people. Yet that is what the Bible offers.

Religion v Christianity. Ideas about God abound. Usually they are the ideas of man transferred onto God. The mark of error in religion is that its gods are scaled down to a size, which the human mind can accommodate and its demands encourage the idea that man’s religious practices can contribute to his own salvation. Jesus said: “I am God.” Did He? “Before Abraham was, I am.” The religious leaders said of Jesus at the trial: “You, a mere man, make yourself out to be God.” They understood His message.

How well a man knows someone depends on how much of himself that person chooses to reveal of himself. When a man knows someone, he does not know all about him. If a man loves another he wants to know everything about that person. Heb ch 1 v 3. God has spoken through the Bible and His Son Jesus to reveal Himself.

It is one thing to talk about Jesus. It all comes down to one question at the end of the day – “Does a man want to know God personally.” Only those who want to know God personally and are interested in His interests, will be in Heaven. The real question is not – “If you die tomorrow, will you go to Heaven?” It is – “If you live tomorrow, will you live in Heaven under the authority of God?” The Kingdom of Heaven is the rule of God in the hearts of men.

Bartimaeus obviously knew about Jesus. That was essential if he was to call upon Him as he did. “Jesus, Son of David.” The title meant the anointed one. The one who was to come from Heaven. Batimaeus knew about Jesus but did not know Him personally – until that day in Jericho. There he met with Jesus personally. His life was clearly changed. Not just physically but after the meeting he followed Jesus on the way. Once a man knows someone special he wants to know all about that person. That is how it is with popular idols – pictures, autographs, magazines, and so on. So it is with Jesus. When a man has met Him his desire for knowledge about Him should increase so that he can get to know Him better. There is also this idea. Jesus needed people like Bartimaeus. He did not court popularity but in His humanity Jesus needed human company. It is a truth found throughout the Bible that God works though people. In one sense God needs no one to accomplish His purposes. He is all-powerful and can do anything. But given that His plan for this World has been shown to be worked out through people, He does need people. He delights in the company of His adopted children. There is a story (not a true story) of Jesus’ return to Heaven. When asked by an angel what arrangements He had made for His Church on Earth the reply was: “I have left it all in the hands of twelve Disciples. No other arrangements have been made.”

The people saw in Jesus a great leader. They, who had physical sight, were blind spiritually. Bartimaeus, who had no physical sight, had spiritual sight. He recognised this man as God.

Just 167 words, but this encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus has a lot to teach.

Luke ch 18 v 35. Bartimaeus cried out for Jesus. The disciples told him to be quiet. He was disturbing the meeting. It is not those who hear my words but those who do it. The Disciples were wanting to hear the words but for Jesus it was time for action.

Barnabas

BARNABAS.

Barnabas first appears in Acts ch 4 v 36-37. His real name was Joseph but, as often happens, he acquired a nick-name – Barnie the preacher. He lived in Cyprus. He had a reputation as a preacher. The opposition to the new Church – not yet even called a Church at the time – just those who followed the ways of Jesus and did what He had done – was on the rise. There was great poverty amongst certain of the believers and the people were of one mind, that they ought to collect money to meet the needs of their brothers. At this point Barnabas sold a field, which belonged to him, and brought the money to the Apostles, putting it at their disposal. He was under no obligation to do so. God will not force a man but He delights when a man responds to a need to help others and particularly to serve His purposes. Barnabas was working out Gal ch 6 v 10. In the World, which clamours for money on every occasion, mostly for nothing, it is revolutionary to give it away. Even when that happens, there is the suspicion of an ulterior motive.

Money is still essential to the response of a human being to the call of God on his life. Money represents resources and is the way one person can share the resources at his disposal with another person. Tithing is an essential principle of the Scriptures – both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. The value of the field in relation to the other assets of Barnabas is not known. Perhaps it was all he had. Perhaps it was only one field of many. That was not so important. What was important was that Barnabas saw a need and took decisive action to meet the need. He was man of action. – a doer of the word, rather than one who hears the word and thinks about it. Barnabas was a preacher but he was also a man who was prepared to practise what he preached and to commit his money to a worthy cause. That represents a challenge to all believers. Are they prepared to open themselves up to the needs of others or do they shut their eyes to those in need, because they recognise the cost to them personally?

Barnabas next appears in Acts ch 9 v 26-31. Here is another aspect of his service to the Lord. He introduced the Apostle Paul to the Disciples. He was a peacemaker. This is a dangerous occupation. Paul had a reputation as a killer of the followers of Jesus. Then he was converted in a dramatic way. Because he knew so much of the Scriptures, Paul was a powerful witness for the Lord. However, the Disciples in Jerusalem were naturally suspicious. Was this a trick of the enemy? Was Paul an imposter? Barnabas had taken time to check it out and get the facts straight. He purchased truth. He was satisfied from the evidence that Paul was truly born of the Spirit of God and was a believer. He took courage in both hands and went to the Disciples in Jerusalem to introduce Paul to them. There was a division in the body and there is nothing Satan likes better than division in the Church. Barnabas took it upon himself to deal with the matter. He did not wait for anyone else to stand with him. As a result the Church throughout Judea and Samaria had peace and was built up. Barnabas had done the right thing. He was in step with the Holy Spirit. When sceptics ask questions, is a believer able to answer them? Has he checked out the Scriptures for himself so as to be absolutely sure of the situation?

Barnabas saw that there was a job to be done for the Lord and he was prepared to get involved. He was successful in this task. The others accepted Paul. The rift was healed and the work of the Lord progressed. Jesus commended the role of the peacemaker. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” God the Son made peace between a holy God and fallen mankind. He restored man to a relationship with God the Father. Those who make peace in this way are doing the work that Jesus did and so are called the sons of God. It is a role, which brings grace into a situation Barnabas was a man for the situation. He made himself available and responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Acts ch 11 v 19-30. There were developments in the growth of the Church outside of Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen. Those in Jerusalem wanted to make sure that the Gospel was being preached and that no heresy was creeping in. Who could be relied on in this situation? Someone who had a good grasp of the Scriptures and who could distinguish heresy when he came across it. Barnabas was the one who was qualified in this respect. He was sound in doctrine and had a concern for the truth. A historian must study history. A scientist must study science. A dentist must study medicine. A believer, who is to be of use to the Lord, must study the Scriptures. Bible study has to be an essential part of the life of a believer or else he will never grow in maturity. It is not an optional extra.

When he arrived Barnabas saw that the teaching was correct – it was about the grace of God and he set about encouraging them. He recognised that this was the work of God. Barnabas was quick to recognise that God was opening up His Gospel to non-Jews and he immersed himself in the work, while others were slow to grasp what God was saying and they missed out. It is important to walk in the Spirit and to keep in touch with the Holy Spirit. If God is doing a new thing with the Jewish people after 1,900 years are believers to recognise this and support it or will they like many other genuine believers withdraw from the situation and regroup within established traditions? As a result Barnabas worked with Paul to establish a chain of predominantly Gentile Churches far into Asia Minor. He stood with them. It was their work and not his work. He did not attempt to use his position to assume command and take over the leadership role. Barnabas was not a status seeker. He was not one to put himself forward. His concern was that the work of the Lord was advancing and the name of Jesus was being lifted up. If that was so, he was satisfied.

So often believers are guilty of being interested in the work of the Lord only if there is a position for them. A large company was being added to the Lord. Barnabas had fulfilled his task and was satisfied he did not linger in order to be praised but set off to hunt for Paul. Perhaps he could see by the Spirit that, with new believers coming in, there was a need for excellent teaching of the new converts. Perhaps those who had been preaching were evangelists, full of the Holy Spirit but evangelists and teachers have different gifts from the Holy Spirit and different roles to play. Barnabas obviously saw another need – the need of a teacher to teach the converts. He set about meeting this need also. It was a significant occasion in the life of the new Church for it was there at Antioch that believers were first called Christians – little Christs.

Another problem arose in the Church. A prophet spoke a word from the Lord and said that there was a great famine coming on the land. The Church responded and they looked for a reliable pair to take the money to Jerusalem to meet the need. Barnabas was reliable and could be trusted with money. It is a sign of maturity that a man can have money and not spend it. There are believers who are very enthusiastic but are not sufficiently mature that they could be trusted with the money. Barnabas was a solid dependable believer. The pastor must be one who can be trusted not to talk about the problems of others for any reason and indeed ought to be able to forget the personal information he learns about a member of the flock.

Acts ch 15 v 1-21. Another problem arose in the Church centred on the question of circumcision. Should Gentiles be circumcised as true Jews? There was much debate. Barnabas fought his corner with those who shared his understanding of the Scriptures and the Gospel. There are equally important debates from time to time in the Church. The ecumenical debate is one. Should believers in one Church join with non-believers in another Church? Some say that it is a good opportunity to convert them. Others warn that they should keep clear. What has light to do with darkness? The debate rages on. Believers can only contribute to the debate in an effort to find the will of the Lord, if they have a good knowledge of the Scriptures and have the mind of the Lord. Barnabas spoke from his experience in the Lord’s work and from a position of love for the new converts. It was not an academic debate for him. A man can only speak from his own experience.

Acts ch 13 v 1-12. After being available to the Lord for some time in various ways, including teaching, the Holy Spirit intended to send out a team to new parts to extend the Kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit set apart Paul and Barnabas. The Scripture says that those who honour the Lord will be honoured by Him. Barnabas had served the Lord faithfully in many ways and now, when there was an important task, the Lord honoured Barnabas. He was sent with Paul to Cyprus. The Church leaders laid hands on the two men and sent them off with their blessing. In Worldly terms it was promotion for Barnabas. Right away they were involved in spiritual warfare, when they were confronted by a magician. It is said that if a man has never encountered the Devil in his walk through life, he must be going in the same direction. If these men had not been mature believers and well versed in the Scriptures their mission could have floundered at the very start. The enemy was not slow to engage in battle. They were invading his territory. The enemy is territorial. Satan had been in control there for centuries and he did not welcome two of the followers of the Lord Jesus coming into his territory. Warfare was the result. The enemy will try to kill off a new believer at birth. He will attack the leader. This is normal tactical warfare. Kill the leader and the troops will disperse. Only a fool would take on the enemy without training and experience.

Acts ch 15 v 36-41. Barnabas had a sharp disagreement with Paul. Was that a black mark on his character? It is possible to disagree in love. It is important to be able to express a view without confrontational words. “This is the way I see the situation and these are the reasons for my view. I realise that you see it from a different point of view. Let us choose to differ and part.” Believers are all at different stages of growth and experience. One need not have the same vision as another. Paul felt let down by Mark on a previous occasion as recorded in Acts ch 13 v 13 and had lost confidence in him. Perhaps he was right not to venture into a new mission with Mark – a man in whom he had no confidence. Barnabas saw the situation from a different perspective. It is essential that if believers are to work together they must share the same vision and have confidence and trust in one another. Paul did not have that in Mark. Barnabas felt that he could deal with Mark. Perhaps Mark needed more encouragement and patience that Paul was prepared to give him. Some men like to work alone and are not good team members. Perhaps it is because Mark was a cousin of Barnabas. Col ch 4 v 10 confirms this. It is not always possible to work with everyone in the Lord’s work. However, it ought to be possible to disagree and go separate ways without acrimony, recrimination, hostility and bad feelings. God can make many loaves from the same lump of dough. Paul spoke about Barnabas later in 1 Cor ch 9 v 6. There was no bitterness or hardness in his words. They had parted – but as friends.

Lessons to be learned form the life of Barnabas.
1. Service is a costly business. Unless believers are prepared to put their resources of money, time and ambition at the disposal of the Lord, they will not be involved in the action. Others will be called instead.
2. Believers will be more useful to the Lord, the greater knowledge they have of the Scriptures. It is the most rewarding exercise for any human being to study the Godhead.
3. If believers are sensitive to the moving of the Holy Spirit, they may be the ones chosen, ahead of others who lack the courage or insight to move ahead. God searches to see if His children have a heart to serve Him or if they are looking for status and position.
4. Barnabas played the role of peacemaker. There is a great need for peacemakers in today’s divided World. It is a dangerous occupation but it is a mark of being a son of God. It is a godly thing to do. It is the very opposite of one who stirs up trouble. That is one of the seven things the Lord says that He hates. Prov ch 6 v 19.
5. How prepared are believers to enter into spiritual warfare? They will make no inroads into the Kingdom of darkness, if they are not trained and equipped to engage the enemy in spiritual warfare.

Lot

LOT. Genesis. Ch 13. Genesis Ch 19. Luke Ch 17 v 28 – 30.

In this story of two men and their progress through life’s circumstances, there is a glimpse something of the grace of God, the providence of God, wisdom or lack of it, the judgement of God for sin, the role of angels in the purposes of God, the control of principalities and powers, the dangers of compromise with the Word of God and the outworking of the plan of God.

The grace of God. Abraham was described as the friend of God. A friend is someone who is really committed to another and gets involved in his life – its joys and difficulties. Abraham believed in God and their friendship was born. The two men Abraham and Lot faced a difficult decision. They could not go on as before. The pasture was not enough for the two herds. Tensions and strife were breaking out between the two families. Abraham sought a peaceful solution and offered Lot the choice of land. They had to divide and go their own ways. God in Abraham freely gave the choice to Lot. It is a sign of grace, when a believer lets others choose first and does not seek his own advantage. It takes self-sacrifice to release grace into the situation. Abraham had every right to choose first. God gives man free choice. He will not force man. Life is all about facing choices and reaching decisions. Sometimes they are forced on a man. When King Saul was leader of the army of Israel he was challenged by Goliath. He was forced to make a decision. He said: “This is not a situation of my choosing nor to my liking.” He fudged the issue.

Lot accompanied his uncle Abraham and Abraham’s father from Ur in Babylon to Canaan. Ch 13 v 5. Lot was the nephew of Abraham. Ch 13 v 5. Lot was quite wealthy. The family unit was too big. The members were falling out with one another. Sometimes a Church is too big and needs to be split. Abraham and Lot talked it over. It is good to talk over problems before they develop into a crisis and not sweep them under the carpet. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ cannot afford to fall out. Ch 13 v 8. Close relatives must present a united front. It is a disgrace for believers to fall out in public.

Abraham gave Lot the choice. What motivated Lot in making his decision? v 10. Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the River Jordan. These were the better and more profitable lands. His motivation was money and profit. There was a risk involved, because in that valley lived the Sodomites. They were unusually wicked and hated God. It is reasonable to assume that Lot knew that. If not, he should have made enquiries before reaching such an important decision. Nearly all decisions involve a degree of risk or uncertainty. A man can never be sure exactly how things will work out following the decision. The decision is made in light of the facts known. It is the same when a man makes a decision to follow Jesus. Who would ever have imagined the consequences? If a man travels abroad, it is a simple matter to make enquiries as to the dangers in any of the lands where he proposes to go. Travellers today are advised to avoid certain countries. There is no evidence that Lot sought the guidance of God before reaching his decision. He lacked wisdom. The beginning of wisdom is reverence for the Lord. In all major decisions the believer should seek the will of the Lord for his life. Lot reckoned the risk was worth taking in view of the fertility of the land. Jesus advises people to weigh up the consequences before making decisions. Lot had to live with the consequences of his choice.

Lot took the best land but the people there were unusually wicked and hated God. Was that a good choice? Choose carefully. God gives man free choice but he lives with the consequences. Ch 14 v 11-16 and v ch 18 v 20. Destruction was coming to Sodom. Believers are not immune from punishment when a nation comes under judgement. There is no point in a believer feeling hard done by. Abraham, by faith, looked to the city with Heavenly foundations. Lot looked to the city with Earthly foundations. He was living for today only. C. S. Lewis said: “Some things are worth doing, if we are going to live forever.”

Ch 19. v 1. Angels are used by God as His instruments of destruction and as his messengers to bring salvation and blessing to those who are being saved. The men of the city had no shame. There were many of them. Many people today have no shame. Heb ch 1 v 14. How many believe in angels? How many believers take the role of angels seriously? There was but one righteous man in Sodom. The angels soon found him out. Wickedness was universal in the town.

v 6. Was Lot brave or foolish in going out to speak to them? What should a believer do in the circumstances, when people want him to become involved in their sins? Speak out or keep silent?

v 8. Lot offered his two daughters to the men, rather than let them touch the angels. Did Lot know that they were angels? Should Lot have offered up his own daughters? Perhaps they were not of great repute as v 34 seems to imply. Even so they were his daughters. The men were under Lot’s protection. Perhaps it was the culture, which demanded a greater loyalty to visitors than family. These men were under the protection of Lot. There are countries today which practise polygamy, where fathers are quite happy for daughters go and live with a man who already has several wives – to save him looking after his own daughter.

v 9. Strangers are not expected to speak out in their early days. “Who are you – a newcomer – to tell us what to do?” Lot was in real trouble. He did not really belong to the community. He was not one of them.

v 10. The Lord gave Lot an opportunity to escape. He temporarily blinded the men of Sodom. What grace, despite the way Lot had ignored God. God’s mercy is very deep. The angels temporarily blinded the men of Sodom. Perhaps it was physical or just confusion of purpose – arguing amongst themselves. God may even have used a supernatural situation to assist Lot in making an escape. Note the urgency of making the decision. If a believer is involved in an area of life where he should not be, he should get out as quickly as possible, before he becomes engulfed in the snare of the enemy. Peter warns about giving the Devil a foothold. How many in life find themselves saying: “I never thought that it could happen to me.” They had given the enemy a foothold and he took full advantage. Lot had given the enemy a foothold by living in Sodom. Now he was paying the price.

v 12. If a believer is in deep trouble with enemies all round, there is a time to beat the retreat. The battle is not lost, if a man retreats for a while. It is an exercise of warfare. The believer can let the enemy have a round, until he re-gathers his strength.

v 13. The angels would destroy the place. Does God use angels to bring about earthquakes? Rev ch 16. The angels poured out the bowls of wrath on mankind. Often the timing of an earthquake is an act of grace – not at a time of great movement of people, when the consequences could have been so much worse. God always comes to man with a word of judgement and a word of mercy.

v 14. Those who are being saved ought to do what they can to help rescue others from what they know is about to happen. Judgement day was coming to Sodom. The young men looked at Lot as if he had lost his mind. They made a jest of his warning. Homosexuals look in disbelief that anyone accepts the Bible as the Word of God. There are some who just want a good laugh in life – even at the most serious of questions – “What think you of this man Jesus?” How do people today respond to the question of judgement? Tell people today that the World will come to an end one day and they too will look as if the questioner has lost his mind. The people of Noah’s day laughed at him – building a ship in the desert. The idea that the World will end is met with scorn today. By faith believers believe that it will. There are 318 references in the New Testament alone referring to the public return of Jesus.

v 15. Note the word of urgency about the situation. “Get out of the World before it is too late.” Then they grabbed Lot’s hands and pulled him away. God had been merciful to them. Do believers see the urgency of the situation in their land? Will people listen to them? Satan is out to rob, kill and destroy. It is real.

v 17. Do not look back. A believer should leave the old life and its sins well and truly behind or he will get caught up in them again. They will be snares to him and he will die spiritually. There is a battle within a believer between the old nature and the new creation. Part of a believer longs for the old life, with its security and ways of the world.

v 18. Lot did not want to go the whole way. He was afraid of the seriousness of the situation. “Let me go some way only and not the whole way.” Is that the response of a believer? Jesus warned about someone putting his hand to the plough and looking back. He is of no use. To compromise is deadly. The one who compromises falls out with both parties. He is not accepted within the family of God, because he is not fully committed and he is not welcome in the World, because he makes the people of the World feel uncomfortable. Joshua ch 24 v 15. “Choose this day whom you will serve.” God uses this story to impress on believers the urgency of doing to death the old self and the ways of the World. It is a very vivid picture to portray the urgency of the situation.

v 26. Lot’s wife looked back – longing for the old life in Sodom. Perhaps it was her lovely house and furniture or the garden or her car or her neighbours. Women tend to be more attached to home and possessions – perhaps they find security in them, especially if they are unsure of the loyalty of their husband. Luke ch 17 v 31 – 33. Jesus gives a clear warning from the life of Lot’s wife. She clung to her old life and lost it. She was caught up in the volcano and covered in ash. Local tradition in that area today refers to salty crags by the name of Lot’s wife. A man’s physical actions betray what is in his mind. Satan is concerned to control a man’s mind, so that he can control his actions. If he can fill the mind of a man with hate, then he can use that man to plant a bomb or kill a child. Man is called to love the Lord God with all his soul and with all his heart and with all his mind. It is essential that a man guards what thoughts he allows to enter his mind. There was after the day when the thoughts and imaginations of the people were evil continuously and God was sorry that He had made man. Gen ch 6 v 5. Television is the greatest instrument for influencing the minds of human beings. If a man allows it, it will brainwash his mind. Satan put a thought into the mind of Lot’s wife and she stopped to look back, lingering in her mind for the old way of life. That led to her being overtaken by the eruption and she died there and then.

v 29. The pleas of Abraham had saved Lot. That very morning Abraham was praying for Lot, just when he needed it. The prayers of a believer matter. He can make God change His mind about judgement. The prayers of the believers release the angels to spring into action and carry out the purposes of God. How many angels are standing idly by, because no believer has prayed about the situation?

v 30. Zoar does not seem any better than Sodom and Lot was afraid of the people there. He should have gone to the mountains in the first place. It is always better to go the whole way and be done completely with the old life than go part of the way and keep one foot in each camp. God had prepared a place for Lot as he escaped from the World of sin. That place for the sinner is the Church or Fellowship – called sinners anonymous – a family, where there is rest from the stresses and pressures of the World in which believers have to earn a living. Lot had to learn from his own experiences that God’s plan is best after all. Zoar was not a failure but a learning experience for Lot.

v 32. Proverbs ch 22 v 6. Train up a child the way he should go and, when he is old, he will not depart from it. What sort of training had Lot given his daughters that they thought up that plan? They had become immersed in the sexual climate of Sodom and had only one thing on their minds. Drink again played a part – as with Noah. When a man is drunk he surrenders his will to someone else – anyone who wants to use it for their own purposes – Satan would like to control a man’s will. Drunkenness is a great sin in itself, but it also allows other sins to have free operation in the life of a believer. 95 % of crime is committed under the influence of alcohol. Look at the result of the plan by the two girls. Their children were the founders of the Moabites and the Ammonites, who were long-term enemies of the Israelites. For 3,500 years the children of Israel have been molested by the Moabites and the Ammonites. Sin can have long-term consequences. Unless dealt with it can lead a soul into eternal darkness.

The moral life of the whole nation had sunk to an all time low. Decency will not preserve a rotten society. Lot had collapsed morally. Lot hesitated. Perhaps he loved his possessions. Perhaps he was ashamed at what he had done to Abraham. Perhaps his disobedience had robbed him of grace and wisdom as well as fortitude. There are a lot of fine people who are moral slobs.

It seems that Abraham believed in God. Lot was close to him and no doubt had heard Abraham speak of his relationship with God in the cool of the evening in the tent – but was Lot also a righteous man? 2 Pet ch 7 confirms that Lot was a righteous man. He was not comfortable with his environment in Sodom. There are degrees of relationship with God. Abraham was in closer contact with the Lord than Lot. That situation is always capable of change. The providence of God. Even though Lot had free choice, he chose the land, which left Abraham with that area God had already promised him. God knew the end from the beginning, while allowing Lot free choice. It was not a question of God electing Abraham at the expense of Lot. The two truths of free choice and election have to be held together.

Ch 18 v 20. God told Abraham what He was intending to do to Sodom. God has told His people about the judgement, which will take place when Jesus returns. Amos ch 3 v 7. God always tells man through the prophets what He plans to do before He acts. That is kind of God to give man advance warning, so that he has an opportunity to repent. Destruction was coming to Sodom. The destruction of an island like Montserrat is a clear picture of how through an earthquake or volcano, God can empty a place or area and claim back the territory, which the enemy has had under his control. Lot and his family were in deep trouble. Lot was living for today only. The horizon of his life was limited by what he could see. As God’s friend Abraham talked it over with God, as friends do. How many righteous men would God find in any town, if the time was right for judgement?

The situation in Sodom seemed unthinkable – until recent times. This story is understandable for the people of Britain. The men of the city had no shame. When Lot intervened on behalf of the visitors, they were rude and abusive to Lot. They lunged at Lot. The city was ripe for destruction. There were many of them. Many people today have no shame – some are prepared to appear naked on television before the whole nation. Some are streakers at sporting events. Few people are shocked. Some government ministers admit to be homosexual. There are many things happening in the World, which previously seemed unthinkable.
In Argentina mothers were dropped out of planes alive, while the soldiers took their babies for their own.
In Switzerland the money of the Jews was accepted and then secreted into the vaults of the bank.
In East Timor the nation was captured by Indonesia without a word of protest by the powers in the World, who knew very well what was going on.
There are instances of sexual abuse of children in a home run by religious people when those in authority knew what was happening.

What lay behind this unnatural lust of men for other men? Paul explains that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. The principality of homosexuality was controlling the areas of Sodom and Gomorrah. This was from the very pit of Hell. Perhaps the best evidence that homosexuality is from Hell is the fact that all these people want to talk about is themselves, their sexual activity and their right to do exactly what they want, without any regard for anyone else. That is their sole topic of conversation. When things are unnatural and illogical, the problem is usually spiritual at source.

What a lesson Lot had learned. Not so long ago he could not find enough room for all his cattle and sheep as well as his servants, and now he is glad of a hole in the rock where he can barely turn round. It took God 40 years to strip Moses of all his Worldly ways, so that he was fit to be used by God. Lot was stripped of everything he once had. It is not known what became of Lot? Perhaps Abraham set him up again in life. Perhaps he drowned in the sea of self-pity and drunk himself to death. What is important is the lesson to be learned from his life. The Bible poses many questions. What will become of a believer, if he reaches that place where the only thing he can do is to throw himself on the mercy of God? The Bible does not paint a good picture of the people of faith. But it uses their experiences to teach succeeding generations truth.

ABRAHAM. Genesis chapter 20 – 26. All a man’s actions – even sensible ones – have spiritual consequences. There is always a tendency to repackage the truth in an attempt not to tell a lie. Blessings are not necessity immediately recognisable as desirable. Abraham found out that God wants obedience rather than sacrifice. But sometimes obedience leads a man to sacrifice.

Genesis ch 13 v 1 – 18. It is essential to ask the Lord: “Where are you going?” Otherwise how is it possible to be walking within His will? The best life is to be totally within God’s will. A man needs a vision or a dream and needs to see it fulfilled in his lifetime. The runner heads for the tape at the start of the race. So it is in the spiritual life. Whatever a man looks at or focuses on will be his goal. That applies in both the material and spiritual realm. What a man sees is what captivates him. That is why advertisers seek to captivate a man’s thoughts and motives by what he sees in their adverts. The adverts are often linked with a deep emotion within the heart – such as success or sex. God asks a question: “What is the focus of your life?”

There was a choice set before Abraham. When God touches a man’s life he is never the same. The things of the World are never so attractive again. A believer knows of the dangers inherent in them – that they will draw his affection away from God. Whatever impregnates a man will be what he gives birth to at a later date. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in both the secular and spiritual realms. If there is a seed of adultery planted in his life it will bring forth the fruit of adultery. The spirit will pass through the generations. The sins of the father will be visited on the sons, unless it is confessed and broken. It is the father’s sins, which are passed on. The father is the head of the household and as such responsible to God. Lot was too close to Sodom. He chose the fertile valley of Jordan despite the presence of Sodom. He was blinded by profit and material gain and paid too little attention to the dangers of immorality in close proximity. A man has to choose his company carefully. A man’s friends will lead him into the ways of the World, if he is not careful. Lot became impregnated with the ways of the World and in the end lost everything – including his wife. Lot looked and chose what he thought was the best for him. God invited Abraham to look in all directions and gave him the whole land.

It is necessary for a man to know who he is and where he is going in life. If God lets a man have his own way, he will destroy himself. When the Holy Spirit is driven out of a life or person, there is danger. The enemy is given a free run. A believer should let God decide. God ensured that Lot made the wrong choice and Abraham the right one.

It takes everything to fulfil a man’s dreams in God. Abraham left everything behind him. It was dangerous going into the new land. Strangers were not welcome and there was no human agency to assist him. Abraham should not have taken Lot. That was Abraham’s decision and not God’s decision. A believer should make sure that his companions are chosen by God. “I shall build my Church.” Abraham called on the Lord every day for guidance.

The Church cannot cope with strife any more than an individual or business or political party. A Kingdom divided against itself will fall. Strife is opposed to the atmosphere of peace, which is necessary for growth. Unless there is peace in a home or a marriage or a business there cannot be growth and success. The Holy Spirit is love, joy and peace. If there is no peace, there is no Holy Spirit. A dove is a picture of the Holy Spirit. A dove will not nest in a dirty place, such as a rubbish dump. It likes quietness, peace and calm.

Be careful. A man will tend in the natural to go for what captivates his heart. A believer should think well on it before making the decision. Is it within the will of God for his life?

Nebuchadnezzar

There are 2,930 characters in the Bible. Each one is a real person in a real situation. God brings out certain aspects and experiences of their lives in order to teach truth. There are no fictitious or mythological characters. Adam and Eve are real. The very words recorded as spoken by Adam and Eve are words actually spoken by them. If Adam and Eve were not real people, the Bible would not be a book of truth, which it holds itself out to be. There are people mentioned in the parables – like the Good Samaritan – who are not real people. But a parable is a figure of speech, not based on true stories. There was not a real Samaritan who bound up the wounds of a Jew. It was obviously a story to illustrate a point of truth. God generally teaches truth through the experiences of real people in real situations.

 

Nebuchadnezzar was an emperor of the greatest empire the World had known up till that time. “How could he possibly relate to my life?” One reason why he is relevant today is because of Saddam Hussein, who called himself Nebuchadnezzar II. The same demonic principality, who controlled Nebuchadnezzar I, also controlled Saddam Hussein, longing to be the greatest leader in the Middle East, prince above the other demonic princes, using and abusing people to achieve his own ends. In the Spiritual World there are structures of government and power struggles going on in the unseen World.

 

Nebuchadnezzar was King of his little World. It was a big World in one way and yet a small World in God’s eyes. No one dared question his authority. The World revolved around him. Each man has his own little empire, whether it is his classroom, his office room, his business or even just his bedroom. This is where “I am in charge. No one is going to tell me how to run things within my little empire. It is my domain. I rule here. I am king here. Who dares to interfere!” Is there not an element of that attitude in every life? The very concept that the personal domain is in existence by the grace of God – as a gift from God to be used for the glory of God is not often evident. God had to teach Nebuchadnezzar something about grace and his dependence on grace, which man needs to learn for his life. Nebuchadnezzar had risen to the most powerful position in the World by the grace of God and yet, as a result, he did just as he pleased.

 

Within the thinking of Nebuchadnezzar the people around him were there to serve his purposes. The idea of a verse like Galatians ch 6 v 10 – “never cease doing good to everyone you meet, especially your brothers in Christ” – just never entered his thinking process. But it should enter the thinking process. Then man begins to realise that everything he has is at the disposal of Jesus, if it can serve his fellow human beings. That might mean giving up the treasured room, or business or even sharing the most treasured personal possessions, if they are needed for the purposes of God.

 

Nebuchadnezzar was in the habit of manipulating people and cajoling them and, if necessary, threatening and even killing them to get what he wanted. Is man guilty of doing that sometimes? Maybe not killing them physically – but socially – dropping people who are of no use or manipulating them. Believers do not do a good turn to use it in the future to get something back, when it is needed. If a believer does a good turn, he does it because of the grace and mercy of God to him a sinner. He does not expect to be repaid, even though God does say that He will honour those who honour Him. If someone wants to return the good deed, that is acceptable but it should not be expected as repayment for the initial good deed. In this area of life the believer should have a quite distinctly different attitude to life from those in the World.

 

Nebuchadnezzar even demanded of others more than he expected of himself. He demanded that the astrologers tell him the meaning of a dream, which he could not remember. He was not asking them to make bricks without straw. He was asking them to make bricks without even clay. That was not fair. Does a man sometimes expect and demand of others standards, which he is not prepared to live up to himself? A man expects others to look after him on the roads and show a high degree of care towards his vehicle, but is he as careful towards others? A man is indignant if others gossip about him, but is he always careful in what he says about others? In Mat ch 7 v 1 Jesus points out that in the same way as a man judges others, so shall he be judged. A man sets the standards he requires of others, yet fails to match that himself. So a man is his own judge. A man condemns himself by failing his own standards. Often people quote the verse to say that man should not judge others. That is not what Jesus was saying. He was saying two things. First, the standard a man sets is the standard, which will be applied to him on judgement day. Second, others will treat that man as he treats them. If he criticises them for failing the standards, which he set for them, they will be very quick to criticise him when he fails the same standards. There is a saying: A whale only gets caught when it spouts. By spouting off man is in danger of bringing himself under judgement. Jesus goes on to warn about a man taking the speck out of a neighbour’s eye, while ignoring the log in his own eye.

 

God came to Nebuchadnezzar in the person of Daniel. There was no written Bible in these days, so God spoke through a man. In times of trouble, where does a man turn? Nebuchadnezzar tried everything he could – his wise men – the occult – and as a last resort, he tried the word of God. He called for Daniel. When a man hits trouble, is God his first port of call or does he try friends, the doctor, his family or the Bible? Nebuchadnezzar was interested in what God had to say through Daniel but it did not change his life. Often a man is interested in the Bible but it does not change his life. God must be first in a man’s life. There is a great contrast in the story between Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar. Faith needs a crisis to walk on. Daniel faced a few crises in his life and he turned to God for help and guidance. In a crisis it is not at all clear which way to proceed. Daniel found God helped him by faith. By faith Daniel shut the mouths of the lions. Heb ch 11 v 33. He believed the word of God, which came to him, that he would not be eaten by the lions. Psalm 37 v 39. He believed that word and it came to pass. Nebuchadnezzar, for all his wealth and power, had no faith in God. If a man is in the habit of turning to God in every situation in life, it should be natural to turn to Him in difficult times, welcoming the difficulties and seeking a way through to glorify God. All men face trouble and difficulties, even the rich are not immune. Every human being faces death and must be ready for that moment. Wealth is no safeguard to difficulties in life.

 

When Nebuchnezzar had his dream – it frightened him very much – he found that only the man of God, speaking the Word of God in his situation, could solve his problem. Ch 2 v 46. Nebuchadnezzar might have thanked God for His intervention. He did not do that. He honoured Daniel. He gave Daniel high honours and great gifts. He had not really grasped that it was the grace of God working through Daniel, which was inviting Nebuchadnezzar to know God for himself. Sometimes a man is guilty of elevating a human being, who has been used by God to bless him. Instead God should get all the glory. Isaiah ch 48 v 11. Always make sure that if God intervenes to help someone, He is given all the glory. God will not share that glory with another. Jesus teaches the same thing. Mat ch 6 v 3. “When you do a kindness to someone, do it secretly – do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.” If a man tells others, it shows that he is looking for the praise of men and, that way the man gets the glory and not God.

 

Nebuchadnezzar had never fully understood that it was God personally who had intervened and told him the meaning of his dream. He had been a worshipper of polytheism – many gods – the idea of a personal God, who intervened in the affairs of man, did not occur to him. As a result he could only think to honour the man. It is obvious that God was not real to him, because the next thing he did was to build a golden image to be worshipped. His actions betrayed his thinking and understanding. “Bow down and worship the image.” A man’s actions and words give away what is in his heart? If man has been in the presence of God – really aware of His holiness – should his conversation so easily revert to the mundane? Should there not be a longer period when he is awe-struck by the holiness of God? Believers think about the Word of God during Bible study. How long does it last in their thinking? Is it still real the next day or has it been relegated to the subconscious – or dismissed altogether. Nebuchadnezzar did not believe the Word of God. The word of God through Daniel had made no lasting or significant impression on Nebuchadnezzar. How often does God need to tell a man to mend his ways, before he falls into obedience? How many sins are believers still committing, which they should have abandoned years ago?

 

God turned the world of Nebuchadnezzar upside down. He sent him out to graze in the fields, like an animal. What stupidity to ignore the Word of God. The Lord banished the Children of Israel from the Land, when they abandoned Him. A Church can be closed down by the withdrawal of the Holy Spirit. Nations are brought to nothing, when God withdraws His Holy Spirit. Nebuchadnezzar was struck down from the heights of Emperor to live like an animal. Often people are described as being like animals. That is an insult to the animals. Man, without the grace of God, lives well below the standard of an animal, losing all social relationships, cleanliness and care for his own body and wellbeing. No animal ever stoops that low. Learn the lesson from Nebuchadnezzar. It is deadly serious to walk out on God. God had a purpose in that He wanted to win his affection and show how much Nebuchadnezzar depended on God’s grace. It worked for a while but it did not last. Many make promises but do not keep them. Nebuchadnezzar ascribed the grace of God to himself. Think what he could have done for others with the resources God had put at his disposal. Nebuchadnezzar was so concerned for himself that he never thought about others. It was meism on a grand scale. But it is the same with any human being whose world centres on himself. A man can so easily be set in his ways that there is no room for others, let alone the Holy Spirit.

 

Just as there is a deep lack of awareness of sin in the society, there is just as great a lack of awareness of grace. Nebuchadnezzar had no awareness of grace. He looked over his garden and said: “I did that.” If it had not been for the grace of God, he would have achieved nothing. Grace sustains a man’s very existence. Grace is undeserved favour to sinners, who deserve nothing but condemnation. He was proud of his achievements. Is a man sometimes proud of what he has achieved and put it down to his natural abilities? It is all grace – every breath is a gift from God. A man’s special abilities are a gift from God, whether that be musical ability, mental ability, strength, the ability to play well at sport, the ability to run a business – it is all grace from beginning to end. Most men cannot even grow food to feed themselves but for grace. It is God who makes the plants grow, by sending the rain. It is one of the greatest sins that a man ascribes the grace of God to himself and declares himself righteous – good enough for God – as if God should be so very grateful to have the company of that person in Heaven. What judgement awaits the proud person! Proverbs ch 6 v 16. There are several things the Lord hates. Top of the list is pride. The proud man only looks down and not up. In fact it was pride, which blinded Nebuchadnezar and led him to condemn three of his best ministers to the fiery furnace. Pride can blind man to the truth. The truth is that a man relies on grace each day. There is a song, which starts: “Every hour I need you.” Pride can deceive a man into thinking that he is not too bad as a sinner. Pride caused Nebuchadnezzar to threaten with death anyone who questioned the correctness of his opinion. Is a man ever so confident about his opinions that he kills others – not physically, but with his looks or words. Sometimes looks kill, because of a man’s pride.

 

The amazing thing is that Nebuchadnezzar was very unimpressed by the miracle of the deliverance of the three men from the furnace. After that there was another dream and again Nebuchadnezzar called for the magicians and astrologers. Can believers ever stop praising God and thanking Him for the gift of eternal life? There were those who followed Jesus for the miracles – something to talk about. “Were you there that day the loaves and fishes were multiplied?” “Do you remember the day the blind man saw and the religious leaders doubted it?” It can very easily be all talk and no action. Where is the change in character – where are the people of integrity? It is after all the only thing a man can take into eternity. A man can easily be caught up with the action and not the business of holy living.

 

Nebuchadnezzar had no relationship with God, despite all his interest in the Word of God through Daniel. It is easy to be talking about God and never to trust Him. There is a great contrast between Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel had wealth and lost it. Nebuchadnezzar had wealth and hung onto it. Daniel used the loss of his wealth and position to develop his service to God. Nebuchadnezzar probably never got round to it.

 

It is extraordinary how many of the situations facing the life of the World’s top man in his day face people today as they live 2,500 years later in a modern, technological day. The Bible is full of questions. Often it leaves a story or a character with an unanswered question. Dan ch 4 v 34 – 37. What happened to Nebuchadnezzar? Did he finally repent or was he still tossing the ideas about God around in his mind? Many people think about God, but never make a commitment. That is why Jesus stressed that it is not those who hear His words, or admire His words, or think about His words, but those who obey His words, who find eternal life. Whether Nebuchadnezzar is in Heaven or Hell is not known.

The Dying Thief

Luke ch 23 v 32-56. Psalm 22.

Three crosses stood starkly against an eastern sky. Two of the three men crucified were dying. The one in the centre was already dead. His death was unique. There had never been a death like this before and there never would be again. Other deaths make only a slight impact on the course of history. The death of Jesus was crucial for mankind. All other deaths are largely local and of temporary interest. The death of Jesus had cosmic and eternal implications. Other deaths involve only a personal and individual struggle. The death of Jesus was the meeting point of the mighty forces of divine wrath on the one hand and Satanic fury on the other. At the moment of death all the power of God and all the malice of Satan were exerted to the full. The malice was borne by the one on the centre cross. This was to the satisfaction of God and the defeat of Satan. This was the death, which overcame the power of death.

Of course the man Jesus on the central cross is the focus of the World’s attention. What about the man who said to Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

We do not know very much about this man. We do not know his name. We do not know his age. We do not know if he was married. We do not know if he had children. We do not know what he did for a living. We do not know for what offence he was sentenced by the Romans to die by way of crucifixion. We can assume that he stole something because he is called a thief. We do not know the value of what he stole. Perhaps he only stole a loaf of bread to feed his children. We do not know if he was from Judea. We do not know for sure that he was a Jewish man. There are indications that he felt a kinship with Jesus as a Jewish man. We do not know what happened to his body after he died.

What we do know is this. The thief on the cross was saved at the very point of death. Jesus said that it is appointed for a man to die once and then the judgement. This incident established a principle that as long as a man can repent, he can receive forgiveness. A man can be saved right up until the moment of death. He can receive the gift of eternal life as long as he can still breathe. This man was on the point of death. A crucified man could last several days hanging on the cross before life ended. But for this man it was the last day of his life. John says that shortly after Jesus died the soldiers came to break the legs of the three men on the crosses – because it was the day of preparation – the day before the Passover. The soldiers found that Jesus was already dead and they did not break His legs. The Passover Lamb of God had just been sacrificed. Presumably the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves. If the legs are broken the prisoner can no longer push up to take in breath and so he suffocates.

Of course it was not Luke’s intention to suggest that a man ought to leave off conversion until the last moment of his life. At the end of Ecclesiastes (ch 12 v 6) Solomon encourages a man to remember his Creator in the days of his youth.

One evangelist makes the point that statistically few older people receive salvation. He bases this on this fact. Every time a man hears the Gospel and turns away, his heart becomes hardened. This is what happened to Pharaoh. His heart became hardened every time he rejected the miracles of Moses. However Jesus does not subscribe to that teaching. He spoke of some coming into the vineyard at the eleventh hour. His miracles included not only healing for some who were dying but even resurrection of some from the dead. The Scripture says to men of all ages: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.”

There is much in this story other than the lateness of the repentance of the thief. Shortly after he was raised up on his cross the thief joined the other thief in reviling Jesus. Mat ch 27 v 44. It is clear that this man was unconverted at the moment he was raised up on the cross. It is clear that at some point as he hung on the cross he was converted. He received salvation. He came to believe that the man hanging beside him was the Son of God. Jesus was the only man who had walked the Earth then or now who could forgive sins. Nobody preached a sermon to the thief. He never read a book. No evangelist spoke to him from the foot of the cross. He had no opportunity to read the Scriptures at that time. There is no evidence that anyone prayed for him. Yet he became a sincere believer in Jesus. Jesus promised him that he would go to Heaven.

Many go through life hearing about Jesus but never make a profession like this man on the cross. Many children live with parents who pray for them daily. They attended Church as a child and heard many messages about Jesus. Some are married to a believer and witness at first hand a different life style to the one they live. Many hold a new baby and never ask: “Where does life come from?” How many funerals have they attended when the Holy Spirit has gently enquired of them: “What will be your position when you are in a box like that?” For such people this story of the dying thief accuses them of a wasted life. “Why do you live so long in unbelief?”

What caused this man to accept Jesus as his saviour? About 60% of communication is by body language rather than words. Did the thief observe the conduct of Jesus as they travelled in the execution party to Calvary? As he passed along women were weeping for Jesus. Would anyone weep for him? Crucifixion was for criminals. People do not often weep for a criminal. Sometimes crowds shout at criminals as they make their way to and from court. Did the thief hear Jesus say: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for men, but for yourselves and for your children.” Did the thief wonder: “What sort of criminal says a thing like that?” He must have been aware that the man close to him in the execution party was a superior kind of man. Fear must have been coursing through the thief’s body. But the man next to him seemed to show no fear. Had he ever heard the teaching of Jesus that: “Perfect love casts out fear.” Did he observe that Jesus never complained or uttered a curse or a swear word? What happened as the execution party made its way up the slope of the Via Dolorosa? Why was Jesus looking intently at the shopkeepers standing at the doors of their shops in the Via Dolorosa. They were just a few feet from Jesus. It was as if Jesus was asking them: “Who do you say that I am?” The whole city of Jerusalem had heard about the presence of Jesus. Surely the thief had heard the cries that morning; “Crucify Him!” This was no ordinary criminal. The body language had been challenging the dying thief on his way to Calvary. It is true that a man will not care how much you know until he knows how much you care. The thief saw Jesus cared for the people He passed. Maybe the thief had never really cared for anyone in his whole life and the emptiness of his life passed before him.

The thief had felt the nails being hammered into his own body. It had probably brought forth a mouthful of abuse towards the soldiers. But when it happened to Jesus, there was no word of curse or complaint from Jesus. What were the thief’s thoughts as he heard Jesus say: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.” The thief was probably a Jewish man. In all his days in Judea he had never heard anything like this. No ordinary man could pray a prayer like that. There was something different about the man hanging next to him. Did it seem to the thief that the words were coming from the lips of a divine being? Maybe the word “forgive” challenged him. He was a thief – a sinner. Didn’t he need to be forgiven? This man next to him was asking God to forgive people. Maybe Jesus could forgive him also. All sorts of thoughts must have been going through the thief’s head as he listened to and observed this man Jesus at close quarters.

From his position could the thief see the words inscribed above the cross on which Jesus was hanging? Pilate had insisted that certain words be written in Greek, Hebrew and Latin –“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” If he could see these words did he think to himself: “Is this the Messiah? Maybe the words of Isaiah came to him: “He is despised and rejected of men – a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” As he looked down from his cross, there were men reviling Jesus and rejecting Him. There were some hissing and hooting at Jesus. The thief actually heard the Gospel from the mouths of the enemies of Jesus. The rulers scoffed: “He saved others but He cannot save Himself.” The soldiers also mocked Jesus offering Him vinegar and saying: “So you are the King of Israel, are you?” There it was again – the King of the Jews. In his pain did the thief study the face of the Son of God and see something unique in that face splattered with blood? This man did not look like a king but there was something about His demeanour. It distinguished Jesus from anyone else he had ever met. Perhaps he looked again at the inscription Pilate had insisted be placed above Jesus’ head. There was another cry: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross and we will believe you. Others said: “Did He not say: ‘I am God’s Son?’” This man beside the thief fitted these words perfectly. Is He truly the King of the Jews? Did He save others? Why should He not save me?

What did the thief think when he heard Jesus call out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If the thief was a Jew, which he probably was, he would have known Psalm 22 and been able to recite it. If he thought through the Psalm the scene would have been exactly as he saw it from his vantage point. The Psalm describes three categories of people around Jesus as He hung on the cross – dogs, bulls and wild oxen.

 

“Dogs” is the name the Jews gave to the Gentiles. It was a derogatory name for their neighbours. So the thief saw Gentiles around Jesus. Soldiers and political figures who were not Jews were there mocking Him. It was the Roman soldiers – Gentiles – who had nailed His body to the cross.
Bulls of Bashan represent the religious leaders – the chief priests and Pharisees and the Sadducees, smiling, as they watch what they thought was a success. They had plotted for years to be rid of Jesus. Now they watched as His life ebbed away. The Beast from the land in the book of Revelation represents organised religion. A beast is a strong and powerful thing. Bashan was an area renowned for its excellent strong cattle. Therefore the Psalm was speaking of the religious men round the cross – smiling and quietly jeering. “You claimed to be God. Look at you now!”

 

Wild oxen probably represent Satan and his hoards. They have sharp pointed darts to fire at a man like the sharp points of wild oxen. The three great enemies of man are – the state or political powers – the religious powers and the satanic beings. These are your enemies. All three were ranged around Jesus on the cross. As the demons screamed angels wept.

 

The thief heard Jesus cry out and ask for a drink. Psalm 22 says: “My strength is dried up – my tongue cleaves to my jaws.” Intense thirst is one of the results of crucifixion. The thief would have experienced that as well as Jesus.

What did the thief think as he saw the soldiers casting lots to divide up the few clothes belonging to Jesus? Surely they could have waited until He was dead! This seems to have been a bonus of the job – making off with the clothes of a dead man. The thief had probably seen people crucified before – even if only from a distance. Crucifixion was commonplace under the Romans in Judea. Now he was experiencing it for himself. Did his situation cause him to think – “How can we human beings with all our wealth and intelligence actually do this to one another?” How can people buy a luxury cruiser while others are starving to death? How can Western politicians turn a blind eye to brutal persecution of Christians and others in Islamic countries without a word of protest? Why is the Church silent when 7 million babies in Britain have been murdered since 1967? What sort of people are we? Did the Holy Spirit probe the thief to ask himself: “What sort of man am I?”

The thief called Jesus “Lord” when he saw Him hanging there naked on a wooden cross. That took some faith. At that time all of Jesus’ Disciples had fled and left Him. John stood some distance away. If the thief had heard about all the countless people Jesus had healed he might have wondered why there was not even one who stood to testify – not one to say that he had been miraculously healed by the man on the cross. Many people have been surrounded by believing parents and family members, received love from other Christians but never profess faith in Jesus. The thief was totally alone when he called Jesus “Lord.” He professed Jesus as Lord before men and in particular before a fellow criminal. It is particularly difficult for a prisoner to make a public confession before his fellow inmates. He was certainly not in any physical danger from the other criminal in the particular circumstances. Nobody said: “Amen” to the thief’s words. It has to be remembered that the thief was not in a comfort zone at that moment. His whole body was racked with pain. The most tender nerves were tortured. To forget about self at such a time takes amazing faith. His whole life was lost. It was like rubbish. There was nothing worth preserving, even if he could have preserved anything. The presence of Jesus had opened up a new unseen World ahead of him. From Psalm 22 he believed that Jesus would have a kingdom in which others would share. The thief wanted to share in it.

How long did the thief have to move from reviling the Son of God until Jesus died? Jesus died at the ninth hour – 3 p.m. Mark says that Jesus was crucified at the third hour – 9 a.m. So he had six hours to think the matter through before exercising that amazing faith. It was not a prayer of any breathtaking beauty. The words were simple. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He did not ask for release from pain or for freedom from the cross. Jesus could have asked an angel to come and lift the thief off the cross. But the thief asked for the kingdom of God – the rule of God in the heart of man. And he heard the response of Jesus: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” He did not have long to contemplate what Paradise or Heaven would be like. Most people have years to reflect on that promise – but do they?

Some may be encouraged to question the salvation of the thief in so short a time. The thief was never baptised. He never joined a Church. He never participated in communion. He never gave any money for the kingdom. Maybe he had never read the Tanuch the Old Testament. Some may ask: “Was he truly saved?” What is the evidence that the thief was born again?

Firstly, he confessed Jesus as Lord. Jesus had said to Pilate that His kingdom was not of this World. The thief recognised that as King of the Jews Jesus had a kingdom and he asked to be part of it.

Secondly, he also confessed his sin. There was a deep sincerity on the part of the thief. He told his fellow thief: “We deserve to die but this man has done no wrong.”

Thirdly, the thief may well have been instrumental in leading the centurion to come to the conclusion that this “Truly was the Son of God.” A testimony from a prisoner can have a profound effect on others. Perhaps there was a further influence the thief had for the Kingdom of God. It is said that Joseph of Arimathea was a secret Disciple. He had never made his commitment to Jesus public. It is clear that he was around the cross at the time of Jesus’ death. He went to Pilate and asked for the body. Was it the thief’s request to Jesus to “Remember me when you come in your Kingdom” which challenged this secret Disciple? A public confession may be heard by another person who is unknown to you. Revelation ch 12 v 11 says that a believer overcomes the Devil by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony. The thief’s testimony – as the very blood of Jesus dripped onto the stony ground below the cross – may have changed the live of Joseph. Did Joseph think: “If a naked thief on a cross close to death can do that, the least I could do is to go to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body for burial.” That sounds simple. But what if Pilate had resorted to type as a cruel and brutal man. He was so fed up with the Jewish leaders he might have clapped Joseph in prison for interfering? Was that a real risk for Joseph? It had not been one of Pilate’s better days. Under pressure he had just convicted to death on a cross a man he knew was innocent. A man does not do that and walk away with a clear conscience. The atmosphere in Jerusalem was charged with tension. How did Joseph know what would happen when he went to Pilate?

Fourthly, the thief defended his Lord. He recognised that Jesus had been falsely accused. He acknowledged Jesus before the assembled crowd within hearing distance of his voice. He stood by Jesus in that dark hour. When all was silent apart from abuse it must have been a comfort to Jesus to know that He was not entirely alone at that moment. His Disciples had fallen asleep in the Garden when He needed their company most. They were silent again but this thief identified with Him and spoke out on His behalf. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” The thief had probably never heard Jesus say: “If you confess me before men I will confess you before my Father.” But he had done just that. “If you believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord and confess Him with your lips you will be saved.” That is exactly what the thief did. He spoke salvation to himself. Perhaps these were the last words he spoke on Earth. What important words.

Jesus responded to the thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” There is no record of Jesus saying these words to anyone else. Suddenly the whole of the thief’s life had changed. He now had a future, which that morning he did not have. The thief breakfasted with the Devil on Earth and dined with Jesus in Heaven. His mind must have been flooded with thoughts and questions. Perhaps these were not enough to cancel out the extreme pain in his body. But his time for thoughts and questions came to an abrupt end within a few hours at most.

What a lot that nameless thief has had to contribute to the World. This incident asks of us: “What have I – what have you – contributed to this World?”

Samson

SAMSON.

Samson’s life is a story of failure into success. Samson had a powerful conversion and a good start in his spiritual walk. His name means sunshine.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He was called by God as a judge. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit as a judge. He had a responsible job to do.

In Judges ch 13 v 24-5 it says that Samson was blessed by God and that God’s Spirit stirred within him. Samson had the Holy Spirit overshadowing him. In the Old Testament it was an anointing Spirit who touched the men for a time rather than the indwelling Spirit who remained with them. Samson was a judge. The judge was meant to be concerned for justice within the nation. The judges were local leaders, commanding the loyalty of groups or tribes but not uniting the nation. God called him to deliver His people. In ch 14 v 1 God states that He was in the situation to deliver Israel. He was setting a trap for the Philistines who at that time ruled Israel.

Ch 14 v 6. Samson tore a lion apart with his bare hands. He chose not to tell his parents not wishing to show pride before them. They would probably have talked about the incident.
v 11-14. In giving the riddle Samson seemed to be gambling. It is easy for a man to ask a question when he knows the answer. The situation was a shambles and Samson insulted the Philistines. There was no wisdom there. The thirty men adopted the ways of the Devil threatening to kill Samson’s wife and her father. Samson killed thirty Philistines and abandoned his new wife. One minute he wanted her desperately and within a week he left her. Later Samson went back to her but it was too late. The thirty men killed the former wife and her father. One act of aggression leads to another. The lesson of Obadiah is that as a man does to others so it will be done to him. Today the Palestinian Authority kills those informants who pass on information to Israel. (The Palestinians are waiting to get the Jewish people and secure a two state solution. Then they will be able to destroy the Jewish state from the hills of Samaria.) When he was rejected Samson carried out wanton destruction. When Jesus was rejected He continued to bless the people.

There is a danger that believers allow things to bring them down and be side-tracked. Repentance gives power over the circumstances and the enemy. It is possible to spiral downwards with discouragement. The enemy piles on the hurt with condemnation. In Samson’s days everyone did what was right in his own eyes. There were no excuses. Samson’s mother had been barren. There are certain areas over which man has no control, e.g. weather. He is left to trust in God. Israel was delivered out of the hands of the Philistines. God had led the Philistines into the land of Canaan from the west at the same time as He led the Jewish people into the land from the East. They were there to test the character of the Jewish people. God often allows difficulties and tests and trials to come into a believer’s life to test and refine his character. Samson did that – except that it was God who did it. He was empowered by God for the task. He was a Nazarite and called to walk in certain ways. Believers need faith and not power. Are they struggling to survive? Why are some believers not hungry for the Bible? Why are they not growing? Is there an obstacle in the way? Have the ways of the World entered the Church?
Why is the Church not impacting on society? Believers do not know what tomorrow will bring and therefore must encourage one another.

There is a danger when God blesses His people that they settle into their comfort zones and no longer need God. God has Satan under His control. Samson played around with Gentile women. Sex pulled Samson down. This was a besetting sin for Samson. Samson was using God’s power to promote himself. Samson had no prayer life. He was no longer abiding in God. He was to watch and pray but ignored the warning. He had lost his spiritual eyes long before he had lost his physical eyes. Pride had got in due to his success and power.

The good news is that a comeback is always possible after true repentance. Believers need to wake up to the enemy and his work. Samson’s enemies had gloated over him – “Where is your God?” Can believers answer such a challenge? Finally Samson defeated his enemies and thousands were killed in that day. v 30. 3,000 “innocent” people were killed when Samson brought down the temple of Dagon. It is a good thing that the BBC and CNN were not present to report this vicious attack on innocent people. Other people of the World would ask: “Where is the God of love in that disaster?”

Samson is a type of Christ. He effectively died and was resurrected. Judges ch 16 v 4. In chapter 14 Samson got into trouble with a woman. He married a non-Israelite against his parents’ wishes and against the principles of the Bible. His marriage broke up before the honeymoon. Why could he not have found a Jewish girl? In Deut ch 7 the Jewish people were forbidden to intermarry with the local girls. There was a severe warning of the consequences. He did it again in chapter 15 and then again in chapter 16 v 1. It was Samson’s begetting sin – the sin, which so easily besets. It was his achiles heel. Heb ch 12 v 1 speaks of besetting sin. These are sins, which wrap themselves around a man’s feet and trip him up. Believers are personally responsible. They need to repent and cannot blame others for their sin. Repentance is standing up and sating: “I am responsible.” Samson had physical strength but a weakness of character. Yet God used him.

When a man goes into a woman there is a picture of the trinity – three in one – the father, the mother and the offspring. To “cleave” means to bond. Sin is like superglue. It bonds with a man. Superglue cannot be rubbed off. When superglue is finally off part of the skin goes with it. When a man joins himself to another part of him goes with her. He enters into a soul tie. Something of him goes into her. There is a glue or bond, which passes between the parties. This is good in marriage. The enemy lay in wait for him. The bait was placed before Samson and the trap was laid in place for him. He was surrounded. Sexuality is one of Satan’s best ways of enticing a person. Everybody has some area of weakness. It does not matter what it is. Every believer has one stupid thing to which he returns time and again. Whatever it is God knows, the enemy knows and the person knows. For some it is tobacco. Insurance companies know that as soon as a person is a smoker he is put into a higher risk category. On average for every minute a person smokes a cigarette there is one minute less he will live. For others it is alcohol. For many it is sex. Internet chat lines entice believers to commit adultery in their heart.

Chapter 15. Samson went to visit his wife but her father would not let him in to see her. The father gave his wife to a friend. Samson attempted to get even with the Philistines. Samson thought that he was standing on the moral high ground. However he should never have been there in the first place. Samson was bitter. Bitterness is like a man preparing a cup of poison for the enemy and then drinking it himself. Samson spent a lot of time and energy catching 300 foxes. Then he set fire to the crops of the Philistines. One act of aggression leads to another and enmity increases. The Philistines burned Samson’s wife and her father to death. Hamas kills informants and sympathisers with the Jewish people. Samson’s own people did not want to get caught up in this enmity and tied Samson to deliver him to the Philistines. With a jaw bone of an ox Samson killed 1000 Philistines. This was bad enough. By chapter 16 Samson was surrounded. Satan uses sin to lay a trap with the intention of destroying him. Samson knew that he was in a trap and had to do something immediately. It is dangerous to be comfortable in the area of sin. Then the man is a very vulnerable target. It is easy to get into a mess but there is only one way out – the cross.

Samson got away with it twice. The Philistines were waiting to get him. Satan set a trap to destroy Samson. Delilah was a prostitute. The love of money enticed Delilah. (The families of suicide bombers are paid by Fatah to entice people to act as suicide bombers.) Then Samson did it again. The dog returned to its vomit. Satan can deceive believers. Other humans can deceive them. There are occasions when a man deceives himself. Sin itself also can deceive. It is part of the nature of sin. Samson knew that Delilah was attempting to destroy him. He should have known. Sin is like a game. Despite all he knew Samson was playing around with his sin. He even played games with the sin. Samson played a game of Russian roulette. He thought that he could get away with it. He was further in than he realised. Samson was blinded to the consequences of continuing in his sin. Delilah used every trick in the book to catch Samson and destroy him. “You don’t love me, if you don’t tell me your strength”. He was deceived by sin. He let her know that it was something to do with his hair. It was almost as if he wanted her to find out. She tugged at his emotions. “How can you say that you love me?” God had helped him out on previous occasions but he went back. Wisdom went out of the window. Proverbs chapter 5 is a similar picture.

Hebrews ch 6. It is impossible to raise to repentance once a believer has gone too far. How far is too far? No one knows. The warning is there. Believers do not know when God will leave. The solution is to go to the cross or the doorposts where the Word of God was written on the doorposts.
v 17. Samson gave the game away. He began to share things from his heart. God had left him. He had grieved the Holy Spirit. Samson did not know that the Holy Spirit had left. Delilah had nagged him into it. Spouses and children can nag a man until they get what they want. Satan tempts a man to go too far. Samson became a back-slidden believer. He lost his sight – spiritual sight. It is dangerous for a man to feel no guilt when committing the sin. Previously the man had been aware of guilt. The conscience has become seared in that area.
v 25. The people mocked the man of God. There was not a hint of compassion in them.
v 28. God gave Samson one last opportunity. Samson did more for his people in the last five minutes of his life than he had done throughout his life. God does not want to leave His child. Samson lost his blessing and his calling. In 1 Cor ch 5 v 1-5 there was incest at Corinth. Like Samson, the man’s body was destroyed but his soul was saved. He lost his inheritance. God does not save a person to lose him. Samson died before his time. He could have been a great man of God but he lost it all. He lost his life but because of the doorposts his soul was saved. The human mind cannot come to terms with either the love of God or the depravity of Satan.

It is dangerous to feel comfortable in sin. Samson should have learned the first time or the second time or the third time or the fourth time. How long is this thing going to last? Finally he called on the Lord. God will not turn a believer away no matter how far he goes into sin. The words: “Great is Thy faithfulness” are found right in the middle of the Book of Lamentations. There is a way out of whatever mess a believer is in. God loves the Jewish people. Despite their sin of rejecting a saviour God will meet them at their point of need when they call on Him.

Rahab

RAHAB. Joshua ch 2.

She is commended in Hebrews ch 11 v 31 for her faith in giving a welcome to the spies. James ch 2 v 25, speaking of faith apart from works being dead, also commends Rahab for what she did in saving the Hebrew spies.

Joshua sent out two spies to spy out the land. Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. Why did the spies go to her house and what sort of house was she running? The spies went to find lodgings there. Her house is somewhere the spies could go with no questions asked. Perhaps it was a good place to pick up information. The spies had been seen going to Rahab’s house and the king sent a message to Rahab to bring the spies to him. Was it a coincidence or providence that the spies went to Rahab’s house? The cities all had walls for protection against their enemies. Houses were built within the walls with exterior windows in the wall itself. It was a dangerous thing to hide the spies. In v 4-5 Rahab told the king’s messenger a lie. That was also a dangerous thing to do. Is it ever right to tell a lie? She saved their lives as a result. Does that make it right? Nowhere in Scripture does it suggest that it is right to lie. Ex ch 20 v 16. Deut ch 5 v 20. Mat ch 19 v 19. Rahab was a new believer and still had to learn and put into practice the command: “You shall not lie.” Mostly people tell lies to protect their character.

Ch 2 v 10. Certainly Rahab had heard about the God of Israel and what had happened to the Hebrews in Egypt and the amazing deliverance from there by their God when He divided the Red Sea. Caravans travelled across the area bringing news. Most in Jericho had also heard but did nothing about it. Faith comes through hearing. The concern of the people in Jericho would have increased in intensity as the Israelites came closer to Jericho. There was time to consider the facts. Many today including politicians hear about the persecution of believers in many lands but do nothing about it. Many people hear about Jesus but do nothing about it. How many people seriously inquire about the person of Jesus? The indications are that there are few. God through His Holy Spirit had spoken to Rahab by His works of power. The presence of the spies forced Rahab to make a decision about what she had heard. God had revealed Himself through these works. Jesus spoke to people about God by the works, which He did.

Rahab had made a decision to assist the spies. Did she do it because she had a deep sympathy for the Hebrews and what had happened to them in Egypt? Did she do it because she was convicted that the God of Israel was the true God? Verse 11 suggests that this was the reason. Did she want to help the spies out of concern for them? Was she acting in self-preservation, seeking to save herself and her family? It is not clear from the passage what her thoughts were but God knows the thoughts of each man. Job ch 21 v 27 and Mat ch 9 v 4. God tests the motives of each man. Rahab’s faith is seen in the immediacy of her actions and in her dealings with the spies. There is a Hell to shun as well as a Heaven to gain. Rahab showed that whatever those around her in Jericho believed thought or said her hope and that of her family for the future was in the hands of the God of Israel. Her faith would have to wait for fulfilment. It was only when Joshua arrived that her faith would be proved.

If people today want to help the Jewish people in the World, what is their motive? Are they sorry for the Jewish people and all the persecution they have face and are facing? Are they doing it in obedience to the command of God to pray for the peace (salvation) of Jerusalem and seeking the salvation of the Jewish people? Are they supporting Israel because God says that He will bless those who bless His people and thereby seeking to receive a blessing from God? Again God tests the motives behind the actions.

God knew Rahab’s name. Using the name of a person is a mark of respect. It is a sign of a relationship. God was not ashamed of Rahab – or of His people. Joshua did not know her name. Rahab made a good bargain. In return for the lives of the two spies, she saved the lives of all 24 members of her family. She was a harlot but by the grace of God she was loyal to her family and probably thought of well by her family. She was a good business-woman and very astute. She saw an opportunity and grasped it.

v 14. “Our lives for yours.” A deal was struck. The spies must have known that they had authority from Joshua to make such a deal and that Joshua would implement the agreement made by the spies. God offers to make a deal or covenant with a man. “Give up your life and I shall give you eternal life.” Is this the same? The spies were confident about getting the land, which God had promised to His people. They were in a strong bargaining position and yet were in a dangerous position. Those who are saved are aware of their sin and their need of God. They are astute enough to grasp the offer of salvation. They do not deserve to be saved but that does not prevent their accepting the offer of eternal life. There are risks involved in salvation. Jesus made it clear that, if people persecuted Him, they would persecute His followers.

Rahab may have been more sinful, but how is one sin to be weighed against another. God knows the heart of each man. A man can hide his sins from other men, but not from God. For the decent and honest people the need is not so obvious. But Rahab had faith in her heart. Jesus would have commended her for her faith. Rahab heard, believed and acted. She had heard about the Red Sea crossing and believed in God. She confessed her faith. Others also heard but did not believe. Anyone who has ever attended a wedding or funeral has heard about God. No one will have any excuse on the day of judgement. Rahab trusted God. It was a risky business in doing the deal with the spies. She had no guarantee but trusted God by hanging out the red cord. The red chord is a token of the blood of Jesus, which appears throughout Scripture. Rahab is listed alongside Abraham. She had faith in God. God loves the sinner but hates the sin. He wants all to be saved and does not want any to perish. Ezekiel ch 18 v 32.

God is always seeking to make a way out of pending disaster. This was an unexpected move of grace. Rahab was one of the least deserving in society. Faith is no respecter of social standing. God is not too particular about whom He will use in His great plan of salvation. Mat ch 21 v 31. Rahab took the men at their word. She trusted the spies with no guarantee that they would stand by their promise. Instantly she thought of others – in this case her family.

Did she succeed in her deal? Joshua ch 6 v 17 and 22 -25. God is faithful to his Word. He expects His people to be faithful to their word. At the end of life the Book of the Covenants will be opened. God fulfils all His promises and He is looking for His children to fulfil their vows and promises. These people are His witnesses. In v 26 Joshua placed a curse on any man who raised up and rebuilt the city of Jericho. Nothing is known of what happened to Rahab and her family after the destruction of Jericho. She would have had to find a different way of making her living. God through the spies made a promise and He kept it. Man today lives in a World, which God has destined for destruction. Faith in Jesus is the only way to escape from the destruction, which is to come. Rahab did not know how it would work out but she trusted the God of Israel. Each man today has the same choice to make. God used Joshua to remember the promise and act upon it.

Matthew ch 1 v 5. Rahab married Salmon and their son was Boaz, who married Ruth. They had Obed, who was the father of Jesse and he was the father of King David. So Rahab was a direct ancestor of Jesus.

Nicodemus

NICODEMUS.

In the Gospels the Pharisees are not regarded highly and usually appear opposed to Jesus. However in John ch 3 v 1-2 one of the Pharisees called Nicodemus went to Jesus at night. The presumption is that he did not want anyone to see him speaking to Jesus. It may be that he wanted Jesus’ undivided attention. This shows that the influence of Jesus was not restricted to the poor and obscure. His words and works awoke enmity and fear among the higher classes and struck a chord in the hearts of intelligent and more thoughtful people. Jesus calls for public and decisive acknowledgement before men. Nicodemus demonstrated an air of caution and timidity. Perhaps like the Disciple Thomas Nicodemus wanted to be sure of who Jesus was before he went further. He carefully felt his way forward. It is not clear what his motives were in seeking a meeting. However Jesus knew what was in his heart and mind and what was his real need. At once Jesus struck at the heart of the man. “Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” This was a term, which was usually applied to men who were Gentiles, wanting to become Jews. Nicodemus was a son of Abraham, a Pharisee and a ruler. How come that he must be born again? Jesus made it clear that entering the kingdom of God – the rule of God in the heart of man – was as dramatic as a Gentile becoming a Jew. There must be an inward change and an outward profession – a regeneration of affections and a renunciation of pride. Being born again was a stripping away of all the reliance of formal righteousness and of the position of birth and social position.

Nicodemus was a religious man. What did that mean for him and what does it mean for each man today?

1. Some seek religion in rituals and sacraments. The tendency of man has always been to complicate matters rather than to simplify them. Eccles ch 7 v 29. In all ages men have shrunk back from simple dialogue with God and introduced ceremony. Isaiah ch 58 v 6. “I hate your ceremonies.” Traditions gain the upper hand and real conversation with God is the victim. The ultimate consequence of traditions is that God will only communicate through certain ordained men, who have extra knowledge. There are those for whom the position of an altar, the design of a building and the colours of clothing are more important than simple dialogue with God. The ordained men, whose preaching may have led to the conversion of an individual, are often elevated to a position beyond contradiction.

2. Some find themselves able to express themselves towards God only through forms of worship, which have helped others for centuries, using language and music, which are out of fashion with younger people. They revere their Church – the one where they were baptised as an infant, in which they were married and in which they hope that their funeral will be conducted.

3. That Jesus instituted the sacraments cannot be denied – baptism and communion – but true religion cannot exist only on the basis of rituals and sacraments. Anyone who relies solely on the forms of rituals and sacraments may be serious and sincere but is as yet only a seeker. To such a person the words: “You must be born again” come as a challenge.

4. There are some who seek religion in philosophy. They believe in God by a course of reasoning. They want to be good because it is useful to be good. Others think well of them. How they appear to others matters much to them. They dare not trust to feelings and they show little enthusiasm. However, while philosophy speaks of virtue, true religion speaks of holiness.

5. There are some who seek religion in works and morality. They practice self-righteousness by being proud of their honesty, industry and prudence. It is their idea that man is religious, if he is an orderly citizen, a good neighbour, and a charitable giver. They keep their promises, do good works and mind their own business. Religion cannot exist without morality but there is a formal morality, which exists without religion. It is the motive, which makes the deed good or bad. When from a right motive one man with effort and sacrifice helps a weak and poor man he enriches his spiritual being. If, however, he acts from a gush of feeling, he receives no spiritual benefit. If he acts from a bad motive, he impoverishes his heart.

6. There are some who lift up hands in worship to God but never think to help a fellow man in distress. They may be loud in profession and poor in performance. Jesus warned about those who hear His words but do nothing about them. They never turn the words into reality. True religion for them is not a steady pulse of divine life.

7. There are some who seek from religion entertainment and excitement. Theirs is a religion of experience. Like the Athenians they are ever seeking something new. They enjoy a fresh heresy, enjoy being titillated by new prophecy while ignoring the great un-fulfilled prophecies in the Bible and they love to hear of controversy. They seek Jesus by night because they hope to learn something new or wonderful and not for whom He is.

These words of Jesus would startle those who find their life in ritualism, philosophy, morality, sentimentalism or curiosity. They demand of man a deeper relationship with his Maker and a change of heart. John ch 19 v 39. At the end of the life of Jesus it was Nicodemus who accompanied Joseph or Arimathea to take the body of Jesus to the tomb. It was a public statement of his acceptance of Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. Jesus did not regard the Pharisees as wrong in their theology. He called them hypocrites. He accused them of not practising what they preached. They were not far away from the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus proved that was the case.

Legion

LEGION. Mark chapter 5.

Legion was a non-believer in Jesus living in a Gentile region. After being rescued he was not taught and made a disciple to any great extent and sent away into a pagan region with a testimony and little else. Maybe God would put him in touch with other believers in that area. At some point in time the first demon had entered Legion and then brought his friends.
Jesus was intolerant of evil. Today people are encouraged to be tolerant of every view-point.
Where did Jesus get the clothes for legion? Where did Jesus get clothes when he rose from the dead? Jesus said: “I only do what I see my Father doing.” His Father provided clothes for Adam and Eve. Did Jesus just command the clothes for Himself when he rose and for legion? How long did Jesus spend with Legion? He spent enough time for the men to go to town and come back with the people from the town. The people preferred the value of the pigs to the health of the man. Demons and death go together. Hence the graveyard. What was legion to do to earn a living after being healed?
Many people today are bored, depressed and alone. Legion was crying out for something. Many are seeking a meaning to life.

A believer must face the challenge facing him today and not run away from it. Jesus confronted the enemy head-on.
When a person cuts himself, it is a sign of demonic activity. It is not natural. Eph ch 5 v 29.
Anger is a sign of spiritual power trying to frighten man and intimidate him. Name the demons. Jesus knew the demons. He had created them as angels before they rebelled.
Demonic forces are linked to the area. They have territorial control.
Man is in danger of putting animal rights before people. Man is the pinnacle of God’s creation. Kick the kids and stroke the cat. There is something wrong when a person spends more time with a pet than with another human being.
The people were guilty. They were biblically illiterate and knew that they should have done for this man what Jesus had done. Jesus showed them up. Darkness enfolded them and they asked Jesus to leave. They loved money more than people.
Jesus left. He never forces Himself on anyone but left the people to their own devices.
There are certain things, which a believer should not touch or look at. God knows what they are.
There is a contrast between the people who had money and were in danger of losing it and the woman with bleeding who had lost all her money to the doctors and had nothing left to lose.
When going to raise the dead, do not take along anyone with no faith. They have negative faith. “It is no use.” Jesus took positive people with Him. Did Jesus hear the Word of God, before He raised her from the dead? Jesus put out the spirit of unbelief.
The passage invites a believer to take the problem to Jesus.