116. Getting healed – the package deal.

 

The human body is a wonderful thing. We are aware of our own bodies since the day we are born. Providing for the body is the main concern of parents of a new born. Getting a baby clothed and fed, changed and bathed are the most important care activities of the day. Slowly it shifts to communication, interaction in play and the discovery of the world introduced initially only through the parents. The baby grows into an adult for whom looking after the physical body takes second place over the development of the mind.

Most of the hours of our adult life are spent on applying our mind to work, entertainment and caring for our physical activities. It is our mind first and foremost that determines the care for our bodies.  When we are healthy and physically active, we seldom consider every unseen part of our body. When sickness focuses our mind on a malfunctioning part, we are suddenly aware of an organ or vein or other previously unrecognized part whose purpose is obstructed by disease.

Disease occupies our thinking and activities especially shortly after diagnosis. When we have to live with a handicap in our bodies when most other people take the functioning of that body part for granted, we compensate in so many ways for our less-than-perfect body. Just imagine being born blind. Not having been able to see a tree or water or any other human, impacts life in a profound way. The healing of sight changes everything. Our thinking, perceiving of and responding to the world changes into a different approach altogether.

One cannot be born blind, receive sight in a moment and stay the same person. A touch from God will change your whole being. The healing of the body changes the mind and the spirit.

Healing from blindness in the time of Jesus was mostly an impossibility. The medical science was not developed to even begin to find a cause for blindness.

Blindness was widespread in the ancient Near East.

Theologically speaking, all cases of blindness are attributed to God (Exodus 4:11), just as the restoration of sight is credited to Him (Psalms 146:8). However, outside of the specific cases mentioned, blindness in general is nowhere stated to be a punishment for sin, although it was a widespread superstition.

Blindness is used with several metaphoric meanings in the Bible. Frequently it refers to the lack of intellectual or moral understanding (Isaiah 29:9–10,18). Judges are warned that bribes, or gifts, blind the eyes of the discerning (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19). Isaiah is told that his mission is to besmear the eyes of Israel so that it will not “see” and repent and be healed (6:10). In Isaiah 56:10 blindness refers to negligence, while in Numbers 16:14 putting out the eyes is usually taken to mean deceiving.

Blind persons are naturally helpless in many ways. Blindness in the ancient world was assumed to be a ticket to misery, a curse, or a sentence to second-class status. The blind enjoyed few opportunities and lived out their days in poverty as beggars or as wards of their families.

The healing of the blind man was a reason to rejoice and celebrate. The whole community would have been aware that there is one less beggar on the street. He would have been able to look after himself and start a whole new life.

But…the healing took place on the Sabbath. Jesus had broken the Sabbath law. By making clay he had been guilty of working on the Sabbath when even the simplest acts constituted work.

We have already mentioned how many instructions surrounded the work ban of the law on the Sabbath. For example a man may not go out on the Sabbath with sandals shod with nails. The weight of the nails would have constituted a burden, and to carry a burden was to break the Sabbath. A man may not cut his fingernails or pull out a hair of his head or his beard. A man may not light or extinguish a lamp on the Sabbath.

It was forbidden to heal on the Sabbath. Medical attention could be given only if life was in actual danger. Even then it must be only such as to keep the patient from getting worse, not to make him any better.

Don’t laugh – do you have any little laws, little superstitions that keep you captive? Do you touch wood when something good happens? Are you fearful that something bad will happen when everything is going smoothly?

The Pharisees thought that their way was the only way of serving God.

This blind man is quite a character. The Pharisees irritate him. Just read the dialogue between him and the church leaders. He was not able to fit Jesus into their theologically correctness and he didn’t care. His miracle forever set him apart. Jesus was in his heart and nobody could get Him out even if he could not explain his healing with his mind.

We love Jesus, not theories around Him.

The blind man was brave. He confronted the church leaders. Maybe he was not so aware of their stranglehold on society being a blind beggar and an object of pity.

The man’s parents were scared. The leaders were powerful. They could shut them off and out of the community. Property could be forfeited and socializing banned. Jesus warned his disciples against them (Luke 6:22, John 16:2, 12:42).

Excommunication was serious. A person was cut off from God and the people and publicly cursed. For a Jew it was terrible, even when it was only temporary. The Pharisees would use the “church” for their own goal – hatred of Jesus.

The Pharisees suspected some fraud.They did not believe the man to be born blind. They suspected the miracle was bogus.False prophetsmade up fake miracles to their own advantage (Deuteronomy 13:1).

“Give the glory to God,” was a phrase used in cross-examination, which really meant: “Speak the truth in the presence and the name of God.”

They were annoyed because they could not meet the man’s argument, which was based on scripture.  The miracle meant that Jesus has done a very wonderful thing. The fact that he has done it means that God hears him. God never hears the prayers of a bad man; therefore Jesus cannot be a bad man.

The fact that God did not hear the prayer of a bad man, is a basic assumption in the Old Testament.(Job 27:9, Psalms 66:18, Isaiah 1:15, Ezekiel 8:18, Psalms 145:19, Proverb 15:29)

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry.  (Psalm 34:15)

Their argument was weak so they resorted to abuse; then insult with the statement that he was born in sin. Then they threatened force and ordered him out of their presence. Their argument becomes a contest of bitterness full of wild words and hot threats. It proves their case to be disturbingly weak.

Jesus found the man being put out of the Temple. Separated from fellow men, God will find you.Great revelation followedhis faith and stance. The Son of God was revealed to him – greater is not possible. He knelt and received Jesus; the wonder that was in his heart was now in his mind as well.

He was healed from spiritual blindness.

The man who is conscious of his own blindness is the man who will see. The man, who thinks he can see, is truly blind and beyond help. To admit weakness is to be strong. To realize sin is to be forgiven.

Knowledge can condemn, if the truth cannot be recognized.The Pharisees had all the knowledge and failed to recognize their Messiah.

The blind man met Jesus. He grew in his knowledgeand revelation. He called Jesus a man (9:11). He began by thinking He is supreme among men.  Then he called Him a prophet (9:17). A prophet is somebody who brings God to men. (Amos 3:7).

Then he confessed that He is the Son of God– the result of revelation knowledge.

This is true healing – the package deal. To be forever healed from the blindness of our hearts, is to know who Jesus really is and to receive the revelation of Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God, in the true conviction of the Holy Spirit.

 

 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

(Matthew 16:15-17)

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By the way…words of life.

Dear Pebble pals,

I would like to share something very personal with you.

I would like you to think about the following. We will continue our study of the Gospel of John next week.

We are in the midst of the most important weekend of the Christian calendar. For years I have asked the Lord to teach me something new about the Cross every Easter. This year and the end of last year has not been smooth sailing and many things happened that I could never have foreseen.

For many reasons I have been more away than home since we celebrated the start of 2018.

I would like to share one event with you and the circumstances around it, as a testimony of the work of God in our lives and especially His perfect timing. I am deeply convinced that next to the Word of Scripture itself, the most powerful words in this world are those of a testimony of grace and outcome.

On February 11 this year my sister died. She is much older than I am, but we were very close. I am the youngest of four siblings. We had two brothers. My one brother died years ago in a freak accident at the age of 31. My eldest brother is closer to my sister in age and I know he misses her very much. We all serve God with conviction and commitment. Sometimes when we got together it was like a blessed church service as we shared the wonder of God’s work and grace in our lives.

My sister had several health challenges in her life, amongst others breast cancer at the age of 35 when her two boys were just seven and five years old. She fought bravely and with radical surgery that left her quite scarred, she has lived cancer free to the age of 75.

Throughout last year we noticed that she walks slower and becomes more and more inactive. It was worrying and I know she tried to walk more and move more to fight the tiredness and sluggishness that she was experiencing. She lost her husband in 2011 and was living alone in a cottage in a beautiful retirement village where she could take walks, close to shops where she could shop for herself.

One day towards the end of September last year she went to the Mall nearby to do grocery shopping. She said she decided to walk through the whole Mall for exercise and then do the shopping and drive home. She did it all and was approaching her car with a supermarket cart in the undercover parking garage when everything went black.

The next part of the story has to be told by the two testimonies that I am going to include for you. It is written by people who are called angels in our family, sent by God to be at the right time at the right place to do what it took to save my sister’s life for an extension of only four months, during which she could enjoy all her children and the rest of her family over Christmas and New Year.

The first account is the husband and the next one is that of the wife of the same event. He is writing the letter to my sister’s sons.

I am writing this letter to record something that can be passed on to your children and your children’s children.

 This is not a mystical story of fantasy but an account of how God works in our lives, and if you doubt there is a God then try and analyze the possibility of this account being coincidence. Your mother and my wife were players in God’s plan that you all would have the time over Xmas to get together as a family almost like there was unfinished things God wanted answered.

 I am a Scot and was brought up leaning slightly to the right as a “Presbyterian” with both my feet planted firmly on the ground and definitely not belonging to the group who analyze our daily living looking for miracles, and God’s signs, so it is only fitting that I should write this account.

 Starting at the beginning, and looking at the events leading up to my wife and your mother getting together, has to be looked at in detail to begin to understand the exquisite timing and finite detail that was in place.

I am not a lover of modern technology and my fancy I-phone was giving trouble. I had to revert to shouting as no one could hear me. My wife insisted I get it seen to, and as there was a I-phone shop in the Mall, off I went. The Mall is a real mess and the underground parking is badly lit and very, very confusing and I ended up parking miles away from the shops which did nothing to alleviate my already short fuse. I patiently stood in a queue like a lost sheep. When I eventually got to the front of the queue, I was told that I needed to make an appointment.

 Needless to say this did not end well and I stomped out telling everyone who was prepared to listen that I was moving my loyalty to Samsung.

 It took me over an hour to find my car and by that time I was a wreck.

Where are we going with this screed well have patience and all will be revealed.

 The next afternoon my wife insisted that I go back and get my phone repaired. I was not prepared to admit that to go back to that hell hole was bordering on me going insane and I asked her to please come with me. We have a mature relationship and I was told in no uncertain manner that she had better things to do than hold my hand in the underground car park.

 In the next few moments the power drops out at the house. My wife is interrupted in her work and I haven’t left. We stay in a fancy estate and seldom have power problems but on this occasion we had two in quick succession and after the second one it didn’t come back on.

 Once again I ask in a pleading voice for her to consider my plight and come with me to which she concedes providing I behave myself.

 Normally a trip to the Mall is solid traffic and takes up to 50 minutes, but on this day and at this time there was no traffic and we flew there. We had stuff to deliver to our daughter, which I wanted to deliver first but my wife insisted we go the Mall. To try and make her understand why I was gone the whole afternoon the day before I wanted to show her exactly where I went in to the underground car park and just how confusing it is.

 As I went down the ramp your mother was pushing her shopping trolley along in front of me and as I looked she fell. Of all the people in the Mall to be in the right place at the right time my wife is by far the person you want as she takes over and has a God given talent for knowing what to do in a stressful situation.

 Both of us were concerned about security as these circumstances lend themselves to unscrupulous criminals taking advantage. My wife had started CPR, which she is very proficient at, and I was trying to get help from the centre. After 10 minutes plus and no life signs I told my wife that I thought it was over and nothing could be done. Still she persevered and one of the highlights of my life was to see your mother come back to life, flicker her eyes and the colour come back into her cheeks.

 No words can express when you are in the presence of God and the crowd gasps at the miracle we were witnessing. Time stood still for me as I looked in wonder as my wife and your mum started to talk. When you read of the miracles that Jesus performed it doesn’t quite sink in but on this day it really sunk in and all of us felt the presence of God.

 To finish this account of one of the most beautiful things that I have been privy to see, I feel it was a privilege and honour. I know that whatever the reason for the extension of her life for a few months, it was God’s desire that she spend the time with you.

 She now is by God’s side.

 Finally try and work out the odds leading up to our meeting your mum at that exact time with all the background. You cannot rationalize it and let the doubting Thomas’s try and fathom it out.

 We thank you for inviting us to the funeral and I could not but help thinking that this was a joyous occasion and that she would have agreed whole heartedly with the gathering of the family with fond memories.

 What a pleasure it was to be a small part in God’s plan.

 

The following is his wife’s account of the same event.

God has a PLAN!

Sometimes God uses us in really amazing ways.  I was used by God just recently.  And trust me, I was worse than Jonah.  I ran and ran.  God won the battle with me and this is the story.

It was a Monday last year in late September.  My husband has an I-phone and every day I marvel that a person more unsuitable to this type of technology was persuaded to think he could master this device.  Shows how branding and advertising really pay off!

To get to the story.  His phone was giving him a really hard time.  I suspected a software upgrade was required.  Anyway the whole of the Monday he yelled into his phone.  I suffered this throughout the day.  Eventually, I said ” Sweetie, please go into town and get it fixed.” If you know anything about our nearest Mall, it is a nightmare. The road from our house to the mall is around 24 kilometers of which six kilometers were under construction for the past two years.

So off he went.  After about two hours I got a frantic phone call.  (He had used my car).  “What is your car registration number?”  I gave it to him.  “I have lost the car” he said.  “The parking is chaos and under construction and I have been walking around for the last hour and I can’t find it”

Now there are six brand new parking levels, none of which are marked or signposted and no entrances are yet marked.  It is still under construction.

“Call the security guards and they can help you,” I suggested.  Around 7 pm that night he arrived home. He was in a truly foul mood.  And, you guessed it, the phone was still not working.  That is a story for another day.

Tuesday he yelled into the phone.  Actually he couldn’t hear anyone and they could not hear him.  Wednesday was unbearable.  He yelled and yelled.

On Thursday morning I woke up to no electricity.  This is a very rare occurrence where we live.  I was not in the best of moods as I had listened to yelling for three days solidly and now I could not do my work.  This was really the last straw.  I did all the tasks that did not require any electricity.  (Walk the dogs, make breakfast on a gas stove, make beds, dust, mop etc.).

By 9am the electricity was back on and I could get onto my computer and work. I also had curtains to finish for my daughter who was expecting her first child.   So I worked solidly with my husband yelling around the house.

We have lived here for five years and we have never had two power failures in one day.   It just does not happen.  I had finished my work on my computer and I was just settling down to do my work on my sewing machine.  My husband appeared behind me.  “Please come with me to town”, he said.

“I need to sew and finish these curtains,” I said.  Just as I said it the power went out again.

“Well,” said my darling husband.  “Now, will you please go with me”.  “All right,” I reluctantly agreed.

We loaded washing into the car that I had done during the week for my other daughter whose husband had an accident and broke his neck a few years ago.  She and her husband are always so cheery that I love to help them in these small ways.

The ride to the Mall would always be around 50 minutes to one hour because of the road works.  We flew to the Mall in under 20 minutes.  As we turned into the road for the Mall, my husband asked;  “Shall we drop off the washing first”.  “No,” I said.  “Go straight to the Mall and we can drop off the washing afterwards”.

We turned into the Mall and he went to the same entrance where he had parked on the Monday. In the far distance, I saw a lady pushing a trolley.  She was walking extremely slowly.  I admired the beautiful way she held herself and she was beautifully dressed.  Then my attention was drawn back to assist in looking for a parking bay.

“The lady has fallen,”  yelled my husband.  I looked forward and she had indeed fallen straight backwards and was lying immobile on the road.  Two security guards rushed up, grabbed her by her arms and started dragging her along the road.  I jumped out of the car and raced up to them.  “Leave her,”  I yelled.  They put her back down on the road.  When I reached her, she was clearly dead.  Her eyes and mouth were open. Her pallor was dreadful.  She was a deathly grey colour.

My husband, who had pulled the car alongside got out and looked down as she lay there. “She is gone,” he said.

I knelt down and felt for a pulse. Nothing.  I put my ear on her face to feel for breath. Nothing.  I don’t know what made me do it.  I pulled her head back gently, pinched her nose and gave her a deep breath.  I then started pressing down on her chest doing compressions.  I was counting.  At about 20 compressions, I breathed again.  Still nothing.  I carried on. By this time a crowd had gathered around.  They were all watching.

I saw one man in the crowd filming me as I came up to give her another breath.  “Stop him,”  I asked my husband.  He walked over and spoke to the man.

Another man sidled in on his haunches.  “Give me her jewelry and I will look after it,”  he said.  “Sir,” I said.  “If you can’t help me, go away”.

I gave her CPR for about 15 minutes.  She was completely unresponsive.  My husband kept telling me that she had gone.  Suddenly a light came on in her eyes and she gave a very gentle little sigh.  “I have her back,”  I said.  I carried on the compressions as her heart was still very fluttery.  I was then asking about the paramedics.  Nothing.  I could hear sirens but they were a long way away.

A little lady came along to me and said: ” I am the hairdresser from the shop above, can I help.” I asked her to look for the lady’s cell phone in her handbag which was next to me.  “Take it up outside” as there was no signal in the parkade.  “Look for any number that she dials a lot and call it.”  Ask for her details.  My husband was nowhere to be seen and I presumed that he had gone out to get a signal to call the paramedics.

I continued with the compressions.  When I felt her heartbeat settle down, I turned her into the recovery position.  I had been talking to her all the time.  I continued talking to her but she was unresponsive for about another 10 minutes.  I remember saying things like “don’t worry sweetheart, you are going to be all right”.   I had kept talking.  Now with her eyes closed I saw the tears on her cheeks.  She whispered:

“Where am I, am I at the airport?”

” No” I replied,  “you are in a parking lot.”

“In Canada” she asked.

“No” I replied ” In the Mall.  What is your name?”  I asked her.

She gave me her name.  She opened her eyes and stared into mine.  I continued talking to her softly telling her the ambulance was on its way.  I could hear sirens blaring.

By this time my husband was back and I asked him to get me something out of the car to put under her head, which was at a very strange angle to the ground.  He got me some of my daughter’s washing.

Then finally the paramedics and ambulance arrived.  I immediately got up and told them that she had had no vital signs for approximately 15 minutes and that I had continued CPR for the entire time.  I told them that she had collapsed about 45 minutes before. They nodded and took over.  They put her on a defibrillator and oxygen.  My husband and I moved off and went to our car.  We waited and watched from a distance.

A young woman who had been watching the whole thing came over and grabbed me and gave me a huge hug. “I have never seen anything like that.  Are you professionally trained?” she asked.  “No,” I said and did not elaborate.  “You saved her life.  It is a miracle.” She stood there with her arms around me crying.  I really felt small.

God was the only way that she survived this.  Yes I knew what to do, but if God did not have a plan for her life, I could not have saved her.

The paramedics were busy with her for a long time.  In the meantime her cousin who had been called by the hairdresser arrived.  Such a really lovely person.  I asked her where they were going to take her.

My husband and I left and went upstairs and got a cup of coffee.  I was emotional, filthy from the parkade and I was doubtful that she would make it.  So very sad.  I phoned the hospital the next day and asked if she had survived.  Yes, was the answer.  I asked if I could visit her and they told me she was in ICU but that I was welcome.

I went to visit her in the hospital that day.  When I walked in she said to the doctors and nurses.  “This is my angel I was telling you about.  She saved my life.”

Now I really felt small.  ” No, I said, I am flesh and blood and worse than Jonah and the whale. I did not want to go to town, but God even put the lights out to make me go and be at your side.”

We both smiled.  “You are my angel” she insisted.

Tragically she passed away four months after the incident.  However, she did spend wonderful quality time with her family who all flew in and spent Christmas with her.

I visited her a number of times in hospital where she underwent major heart surgery.  She was a truly beautiful soul and I will always think of her with love in my heart.

 

 

My dearest readers,

Isn’t this story something wonderful and beautiful? From my side, God gave me the privilege to be with my sister often during this time of illness, even though I live overseas. We always buy our tickets on sale and plan far ahead. I was with her through her surgery and again in January this year for three weeks before she died. I was less than 12 hours home, when I received the news of her passing.

Through all the tears, I felt the grace and the peace that surpasses all understanding. Our God reigns.

 

In that day sing to her,

A vineyard of red wine!

I, the Lord, keep it,
I water it every moment;
Lest any hurt it,
I keep it night and day.             (Isaiah 27:2,3)

 

 

 

 

 

106. Little is much…abundance.

We so love the success stories of this world – the rags to riches type of thing. Ordinary people becoming rich and famous, commoners marrying royalty to live the fairytale life so many yearn for. Dreams of big money, luxury lives and desirable possessions drive the mad rush towards achievement, life at the top and maybe some rest and peace after all.

Very soon in the ministry of Jesus He was famous and known throughout the land. People talked about Him. He was controversial and He fully recognized His divisive message. In His own words:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

People flocked around Him to admire and to judge. Is it not the same with earthly fame? I sometimes think people yearn for fame, as it is a sure sign of success when their name is on the lips of the masses, without having any idea of the sacrifice to their personal life. Famous people’s lives are in the public domain, unfortunately not just the good, also the mistakes, bad judgment and failures. It is outright cruel.

When life hits hard, it is no fun to read media interpretations of vicious envy and a good measure of “schadenfreude” (joy in the misfortune of others). The man in the street judges and throws the stones, all from the safety of anonymity. Media attention has challenged many people, their strength of person and above all their core values. Living a life of fame should be carefully approached with God’s wisdom for guidance through the volatile and brutal desert of public opinion.

And what about us? We are the man in the street with the stone in our hand. We feel free to gossip and dissect the scandals with no fear of personal sacrifice. If we want to live a life of excellence, gossip on all levels must be confessed and banned from our discussions. The very important principle of Luke 6:31 applies here.

And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

When we gossip, we will be the subjects of gossip. I believe there is a spirit of lying and deceit in every piece of tittle-tattle. My attitude and tone of voice in retelling a story can make it a lie. If we are not careful and fearful before God, we can wound and hurt with the violence of a swinging knife. (James 3). I picture some words in the image of a dagger to the heart, turning it now and then to inflict more pain.

Let us then step up and leave the judgment of famous people to God, lest we are judged by our own harsh words.

In the first verses of John 6 Jesus is found at the Sea of Galilee with a multitude following Him. He retreats to the mountain with His disciples. Jesus getting away from the people implied that He made time for His disciples for in-depth discussions. He made time for prayer. He deliberately avoided arguments with the authorities. Alone time is not defeatist. It is a vital part of living a public life, crucial for straight and God-centered thinking.

From Capernaum to other side of Galilee was about six kilometers. People followed Him. They were astonished about His teaching and yearned for more. They followed on land. The village Bethsaida was near the fords of the river on a plain where the grass was smooth. It became the setting for a miracle.

People made haste to find a good spot. There were bigger crowds as the feast of the Passover was near and everybody was travelling. Pilgrims on their ways to Jerusalem were also among the crowds, choosing a route to avoid Samaria.

The sight of the crowd stirred sympathy in Jesus’ heart. They were hungry and tired. Philip was the man to ask as he came from Bethsaida (John 1:44). Where could they get food? It would cost more than 200 denarii to feed the vast crowd. About four pence made one denarius and that was a day wage for a labourer. It would cost more than six month’s wages to feed the crowd.

Andrew came with the boy carrying five barley loaves and two little fishes. Andrew was always bringing people to Jesus. Barley was the cheapest of all bread and was held in contempt, regarded as the bread of the poor and animals.

The fishes were probably the size of sardines. Pickled fish was staple in Galilee. Fresh fish was a luxury unheard of. Fish could not last without preservation and therefore it was dried and salted.

The people had to sit down, Jesus blessed the food. He was acting as the father of the family and prayed a prayer of thanks for the food. He acknowledged God as the Source of food for the family.

Take a minute to think about your table prayers. When Jesus took the bread and the wine at the Last Supper with His disciples before the crucifixion, He said: remember Me. I believe we pray at the table to remember Jesus and what He has done for us. We should build a unique prayer of gratitude and remembrance for blessing at every meal and not mechanically repeat a senseless rhyme to get it over and done with.

The people received from the disciples. The disciples were an interesting bunch, from a variety of backgrounds. I am sure they distributed the bread in very individual ways, each one with a different approach. They represent the variety in the church of Jesus today. We minister culturally and individually as the situation demands.

The foremost consideration is that we minister the bread from Jesus’ hand.

 The people ate enough. They were filled. The word used for filled means to be filled to repletion, to be completely full after a meal.

 The fragments were gathered. At Jewish feasts it was regular practice to leave something for the servants. The people would have known. Twelve baskets, bottle-shaped baskets without which no Jew left his house were filled with leftovers. The food was more than enough.

There are interesting ways to look at the miracle:

Of course Jesus is the maker of the miracle and multiplied the loaves and fishes. It reminds us of the widow and the oil in 2 Kings 4 where she was set financially free by miraculous multiplication.

Pilgrims and labourers usually carried food with them for kosher requirements. It is very possible that every person had some food with him or her that day. The people were selfish and human. While travelling the food would have been carefully planned for a few days for personal use only. It would have been reckless to share and much safer to keep it for own use. Sharing of food would have been miracle in itself, with no regard to provision for the days to come. To share the food could have been a fearless abandon of the worry and planning where tomorrow’s provision is going to come from. A crowd of selfishness became a sharing feast. The change of heart and freedom from anxiety about provision made the miracle so much more intense.

The meal with divine provision became a sacramental meal with the words of Jesus. Later in the same chapter He speaks of drinking His blood and eating His body. The wonder of His presence made the food different. Ordinary food became spiritual food.

Let us consider the people instrumental in the miracle:

The contrast between Philip and Andrew is distinct. Philip spells out the impossibility of the situation. Andrew brings what he has.

This is SUPER important. What happens if we bring what we have to Jesus with our heart’s cry? Jesus would do what is necessary to provide what is lacking. We provide the material for a miracle.

The boy brought his ridiculously small contribution. Anybody looking at the crowds and his lunch would have laughed at the silly, absurd thought of feeding a multitude with a boy’s lunch.

Jesus only needs what we can give. Are you denying yourself a miracle because you think what you have is not worthy?

 Little is always much in the hands of Christ.

Are you problem orientated? Do you see the complete desperateness of the situation under the banner of realism? People, who do not like miracles, compliment themselves with realism.

Have you thought of the people you brought to Jesus? Do you think of your children and what they might become in the Kingdom?

 

[There is a tale of an old German schoolmaster who, when he entered his class of boys in the morning, used to remove his cap and bow ceremoniously to them. One asked him why he did this. His answer was: “You never know what one of these boys may some day become.” He was right – because one of them was Martin Luther.]

 

 

104. An old, old story for the new year.

Let us go back. To our birth? No further back. To the time of our forefathers? Even further back. Well okay, to the time of Jesus on the earth because we are studying the book of John. No, wrong again. Let us go back to the beginning. The beginning of what? The beginning of everything. Let us take our lesson today from the story of Genesis that gives us the believer’s account of Creation, the creation of everything in the mighty Hand and by the majestic Word of our Father.

Why would we go so far back? Is there anything there to learn that could be applicable to modern living? Let me quote our ancient friend and poet David.

Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law. (Psalms 119:18)

Let us look with enlightened eyes to one of the most liberating principles of ancient times with a prayer to apply it to our life this year in order to experience new things from God.

We have discussed the principles of a miracle in our previous piece. Jesus heals the man at the Bath of Bethesda in spite of his 38 years of illness and his focus on a useless superstition. This amazing miracle takes place on the Jewish Sabbath, which is meticulously observed by the church leadership.

We have talked about it in Pebbles before and I quote from: A royal encounter [95]:

An example of this meticulous law observation by the Pharisees, was the rules on the Sabbath, when no work was to be done by man or servants or animals. The definition of work was developed over generations. The Mishnah is the codified scribal law and it contained 24 chapters on the Sabbath alone. The Talmud is the explanation (commentary) of the Mishnah. On the subject of the Sabbath the Talmud runs 64 columns of fine print. In the Babylonian Talmud it runs 156 double pages. One rabbi spent more than two years to study one chapter of the 24 of the Mishnah on the Sabbath.

Just a quick example: To tie a rope knot was sin, to tie a woman’s petticoat was legal. If you needed to let the bucket down in the well for water on the Sabbath, you couldn’t tie a rope, but you could tie it to a woman’s underwear – fully legal and pleasing to God in their opinion!!

The Scribes worked out the details; the Pharisees dedicated their lives to live by it. Even in the deception of following the law so strictly, it must have been a special kind of man to dedicate his life to pleasing God. The word Pharisee meant: the separated one and so they lived: separated and away from ordinary life to keep every detail of the Law.

With that background let us look at the reaction on the miracle in John 5. The healing of an incurable disease should have been an occasion for joy and gratitude. The news was met with bleak judgment because it took place on the Sabbath. Apart from Jesus “working” in the healing process, the man carried his bed. The law said the Sabbath should be different from other days. The Jews set out thirty-nine different classifications of work, one of which was that it consisted in carrying a burden.

Jeremiah talked about the Sabbath (17:19-27) and so did Nehemiah (13:15-19). In Nehemiah it is clear that he wanted to prohibit trading on the Sabbath. The Rabbi’s (around the time Jesus came) argued that carrying a needle in your robe or walking with false teeth, or your wooden leg is not permitted. Every petty detail was escalated to a matter of life and death.

The healed man under cross-examination said the man who healed him told him to do it and he did not know his identity. Later he met Jesus in the Temple and told the authorities it was He. The poor man’s miracle joy was robbed in an instant as he was trying to save his life from stoning – the punishment for breaking the law. He wanted to say it is not his fault that he broke the law.

The accusations came to Jesus – the verb is in the imperfect tense (5:18), which shows repeated action in the past. John used this story as a sample of what Jesus habitually did.

His defense: God did not stop working on the Sabbath and neither does He.

Another writer said: “The sun shines; the rivers flow; the processes of birth and death go on the Sabbath as on any other day; and that is the work of God.”

 True, according to the creation story, God rested on the seventh day; but he rested from creation. His higher works of judgment and mercy and compassion and love still went on.

Even on the Sabbath God’s love and mercy and compassion act. Jesus is God – it was the most natural thing for Him to reach out and heal in the time of need. How can we live if our compassion and acts of love are suddenly suspended on the day of the Lord? Can it ever make any sense at all?

The Jews reeled in horror – Jesus was putting Himself equal to God. Jesus was teaching that a human must always be helped. There is no greater task than relieving pain and distress. Our compassion is God-like and 24/7. Other work is to be laid aside on the Sabbath – never compassionate work and relieving suffering.

What do you think about the Sabbath here in our 21st Century? Is it applicable to modern living? Are you willing to incline your ear and hear the voice of God speak afresh on this matter? What do you hear?

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13,14)

Just HEAR how The Message makes the case:

“If you watch your step on the Sabbath
    and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
    God’s holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,
    making money, running here and there—
Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!
    Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all.
I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.”
    Yes! God says so!

Remember, we live in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. Your Sabbath does not need to be on a Saturday or Sunday specifically. It can even change often as it is practical to observe this joyful weekly feast about the goodness of God.

The underlying principle is that God wants to bless you with rest and for that you need to set apart your time. If you do not enjoy a day where you can “pull yourself together”, sit back and reflect on life and God, do yourself a favour this year and build it into your week.

This might be one of the greater challenges for “something new”.

Jesus told the man to sin no more in case something worse happens to him. For the Jews sin and suffering were connected. They always sought first forgiveness then healing.

To be healed by God in a miraculous way of illness or any other affliction, brings great responsibility to live the life of one who has been richly forgiven. It is not “business as usual” after such a magnificent divine intervention. We do not deserve anything and is given everything in the grace in mercy of our loving Father.

Our life is forever changed to live the grace that has been extended to us miraculously.

Very important: we should never connect sin and suffering in the way the ancient Jews did. We live in a broken world and much suffering comes from the sin and brokenness around us. We are not carrying the burden of the sin of this world; Jesus did that on the cross. We are merely affected by our living space and do not “earn” sickness through our personal sin.

We never “explain” suffering and illness. We ask God to reveal Himself in every situation.

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3)

There were those in the church who used their liberty as an excuse for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). There were those who sinned in the confidence that grace would abound (Romans 6:1-18).

There have always been those who have used the love and the forgiveness and the grace of God as an excuse to sin. But we have only to think what God’s forgiveness cost; we have only to look at the Cross of Calvary, to know that we must ever hate sin because every sin breaks again the heart of God. [William Barclay]

Healing comes in the humble prayer of the one who bends his knee before God and Christ. Divine healing is not cheap – Jesus warns the man to live responsibly in his healing and not regard it as a ticket to sinful living.

After the miracle Jesus withdrew; quite literally it meant to turn aside, to bend the head aside, to shun, to avoid. He was slipping away to avoid applause and argument. Sometimes it is good to just walk away. Take your Sabbath.

We are not the “fixers” of wrong living and wrong thinking.

 

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

 

103. Time for a party – of course!

 

The whole world throws a party! It is New Year. If one would like to sit glued to the television you can observe the celebration by fireworks in the various time zones, countdown upon countdown. Lots of bottle popping, elegant parties, drunken parties, dance parties, dress up parties and a public holiday to pick up the pieces and start the year which was so welcomed a few hours previously. Many a heavy sigh is heard in the unseen as the burden of life descends and weighs on the minds and hearts of people.

Has anything changed? Is anything new?

New could mean two things. It could mean: neos – more of the same depicting quantity as in a new pencil but many others already exist or: –

kainos – unique, has never been, depicting quality as in one of a kind.

Is this year going to be the same as always? Are you looking forward to something that has never been; never seen in this world before?

John 5 states that Jesus attended the feast.

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem…

There were three Jewish feasts that were an obligation to Jews living within a fifteen mile radius of Jerusalem: Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of the Tabernacles – two in Spring and one in the Fall. Passover was mid-April and Pentecost seven weeks later. Jesus delighted in the Feasts. Every feast is fulfilled in Him.

The Hebrew word for “feasts” (moadim) literally means “appointed times.” God has carefully planned and orchestrated the timing and sequence of each of these seven feasts to reveal to us a special story. “God’s parties” remind us of His lovingkindness, His provision, His unmerited grace throughout the calendar year. God’s year is marked by seven parties.

The seven feasts of the Jewish calendar all found fulfillment in Jesus. The Feast of the Unleavened bread depicts Jesus’ sinless life, the Passover depicts the Lamb that was slain and the Firstfruits depict the resurrection. Just as the first sheaf of the harvest is waved before the High Priest so Jesus was glorified in heaven after the resurrection as the first fruit of the Church. Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.

The Feast of the Trumpets depicts the announcement through the prophets and the Church of His atonement and second coming), the Atonement (Yom Kippur) depicts the character of the Church as a repenting and forgiven people and the Feast of the Tabernacles depicts the reign of joy and peace through the Church and the wedding feast of the Second Coming).

Feasts are anointed parties, consciously celebrating blessing. We should build them into our year and if we have children or family with us, we should include them when we dish up something special. Just a meal together is marked by the testimony of God’s grace. Blessed is he, who distinguishes between the holy and the ordinary. Make the ordinary holy. Holy means to set it apart for a specific purpose. It is not something falsely elevated to be boring or unreachable. Just go ahead and declare an ordinary meal a celebration of blessing. Say it with joy and praise God in the process.

Psalm 90:12:

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Jesus enters Jerusalem through the sheep gate. It is the gate through which the lambs entered, destined to be slaughtered at the Temple at Passover. He fulfills the symbol of the slain Lamb.

Bethesda could mean House of Mercy or Bethzatha, which means House of the Olive. The pool was deep enough to swim in. Beneath the pool was a sub stream that bubbled now and then. According to the superstition it was believed that an angel stirs the water and the first person to jump in would be healed.

Sound like superstition, but such beliefs were rife in those days. Ancient people were impressed with holy waters. Water was precious and the people held a certain reverence for water.

Jesus was the friend of the friendless. The man had nobody to help. He did not lecture him on his belief in the useless superstition. Jesus just went ahead and healed him.

Events unfolded and words were spoken:

  • Jesus asked if he wanted to be cured. 38 years – maybe his hope died and left him passive and despairing. When healed he had to take up living. Some people are so comfortable in their affliction that they do not want to live normally with all the responsibility of caring for oneself. He responds with a big YES.

 

  • Jesus told him to get up. The power of God never overrules the power of men. Miracles happen when we cooperate with God.

 

  • He had to attempt the impossible. Getting up was probably not the words he was waiting to hear. He lived in defeat for 38 years – for some people a lifetime. What would you like to hear?

 

  • On the word of Christ our own effort becomes the miracle.

 

  • Superstitions are agreements with evil. It is words of defeat spoken over yourself by yourself in words or thoughts.

Let us note very carefully what takes place. This man of defeat and disease agrees with the words Jesus speaks to him and walks away in victory. A moment before he was still in the grip of wrong thinking and negative dependence on evil agreements in false promises of outcome. His meeting with Jesus changes everything. He agrees in thought and responds to the question of Jesus as an expression of his desire for a miracle. In raw faith he attempts the impossible.

Do you believe Jesus when He says He will do something new this year?

Will you attempt the impossible?

 

 “Do not remember the former things,

Nor consider the things of old.

Behold, I will do a new thing,

Now it shall spring forth;

Shall you not know it?

I will even make a road in the wilderness

And rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19)

 

[This story could also be interpreted as an allegory:

The man = people of Israel, the five porches = the law. People are sick under the law. They find shelter but no healing. For 38 years they were wandering in the desert, waiting for the promised land, waiting for the Messiah. The stirring of waters = baptism – rising up healed and redeemed.]

 

John writes it as the truth of actual events. Every story has so much more…

 

 

102. Have yourself a miracle – it is time.

Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work
Among this people,
A marvelous work and a wonder. (Isaiah 29:14)

The festive days are now much closer. We need to do some things – pack to travel, prepare for guests, shop the fridge full, pick up the turkey or whatever your fare may comprise.

Christmas is special, that’s for sure. Christian or secular, these are days that interrupt the normal schedule. Days of relaxation, days of family, days of joyous reunions and also days of old wounds, buried anger and deep disappointment.

Where are you this week before Christmas? Are you in a frenzy of activity with a load of things to do and quietly panicky? Are you alone with nothing to look forward to? Is Christmas a mountain of pent up bitterness that has not moved for you? Is this the first Christmas after heartbreaking tragedy? Is it the first Christmas with a new baby in the family?

Wherever and in whatever circumstances you may find yourself in, take time to reflect and experience a miracle. Some or other time a tray full of niceties may be offered to you this Christmas. Even if you cannot look forward to something wonderful in the physical world, God has the miracle tray all ready. We may be very sure of it based on that baby’s birth so long ago in the calculation of earthly time. He is waiting for your call.

Will you be quiet with me for just a little while? Please join the true Feast to hold on to as an anchor for the days to come. The majesty of the miracle in a simple cave or barn in Bethlehem so long ago, echoes to this day.

In this moment of prayer, there is one aspect of the greater message that God calls attention to in my heart to write. Above all else, Christmas is the earthly telescope to see the Father’s heart. His heart is set on this broken world and His eyes are looking for a heart to respond to. His response is a miracle in your life.

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

His eye is on you this Christmas. He is actively involved in your private feasting in His presence. He wants to be. Hear how the Psalmist expresses this desire of God (32:8):

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
    I will advise you and watch over you. (NLT)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye. (NKJV)

We have talked about the rainbow in previous Pebble-pieces. Do you remember we said the rainbow is always there; it depends on how we look? We need a prism, some Godly eyeglasses, to see. Christmas is a miracle prism. If we look through the Christmas prism, we see the rainbow – the full content of the Covenant promise that was made to Noah. The Covenant is the heart of our great God promising to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts choose Him.

Choose Him in this quiet moment we have together and have yourself a miracle. How does it happen?

Let us go to our Bible study in the Gospel of John – not to the nativity story, but to the story of an active Jesus amongst the needs of the people. John 4:46 and further:

And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum…

The man who came is a courtier (basilikos), the word used for a royal official and somebody of high standing at the court of Herod. Jesus was the village carpenter. Jesus was in Cana and this man lived in Capernaum, some twenty miles away. It took him some time to get home.

The scene is odd to say the least. An important man coming over to see a village carpenter was not very likely. Lots of pride is swallowed. It is obvious his need was deep. He gave no thought of what the people would say.

He refused to be discouraged. Jesus’ statement is not very encouraging:

“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”

Jesus was probably talking to the crowd that inevitably collected. He was making sure the man was serious just like He did with the Syro-Phoenician woman in Matthew 15:21-28. If the man turned away in anger it would have been his loss. His faith proved to be real.

His faith transcended his feelings – it is super-important.

This is a nobleman, a high official displaying surprising faith. Was it easy to turn back and just believe the word of this simple carpenter? I think not. He was like a drowning man clutching to hope given to him.

This encounter illustrates the powerful impartation of peace in the words of Jesus. His hope fuelled his faith. Jesus’ promise of healing just had to be true.

He surrendered. He and his whole household believed. He didn’t receive healing and just forgot. It was a complete “revolution” in his house. It could not have been easy around Herod. The news of the healing was bound to get out. He would have had to withstand mockery and accusations of madness.

He faced and accepted the facts. He surrendered to the miracle. His need was met and he honoured the man through whom it came. This is the true Christian life.

We live in the days after the resurrection. We know the power of God. Will you trust Him and surrender to your miracle?

Go ahead and ask Him. 

His eye is already on you. Receive the peace in these words:

 For there is born to you this day in the city of David

a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

 

 

 

 

92. Wine, wedding and song.

This title rings a bell, doesn’t it? Yes, you are right of course. It is not correct. The title of the beautiful waltz written by Johann Strauss junior in Vienna many years ago in 1869 is: Wine, women and song. Well, both titles are an accurate description of one of the oldest events we still celebrate today. Customs have changed over the course of history, but love is still and will ever be a reason for feasting.

A wedding is such a magnificent occasion. It is the official merriment of love discovered in private, going public. Weddings these days are so full of traditions and expectations that I always feel honoured to be invited. All the many requirements make it expensive and often stressful. Our global village brings guests from far away places to be accommodated and entertained, often in events over more than one day. Still, it is a life-event to be dreamed of, planned in detail and remembered forever. Be careful how you respond to that elaborate invitation privileged invitation; it will be in the memory of the main players for years to come.

One thing that thrills me about Jesus, is that He never shunned a party. Reading through the Gospels I could come to the conclusion that He was a popular and honoured guest to many occasions. Quite a few of the stories take place in a party or dinner party setting.

Here in the first eleven verses of the second chapter, John sets the scene for Jesus’ first miracle – the wedding in Cana.

Jesus and his disciples were invited and it looks as if Mary, his mother, was involved with the arrangements of what was most probably a family event. She was very worried that the wine ran out and she had authority to tell the servants what to do.

A village wedding was really important. A virgin wedding took place on a Wednesday and the feast lasted several days. After the ceremony the couple was escorted under a canopy to their home on the longest route possible, so that many people could wish them well. They had no honeymoon. They stayed home and kept open house for a week. For the whole week they wore crowns and were treated like a king and queen. They were addressed that way and could request anything. They were most likely awaiting a life of constant hard work; therefore the wedding week was a festival of joy and relaxation.

Jesus arrived with five disciples. Wine was essential for any Jewish feast, although drunkenness was considered a shameful disgrace. The wine was diluted with water – two parts wine and three parts water. Hospitality in the East is a sacred duty. For the provisions to fail at a wedding like this would be a terrible humiliation for the bride and the bridegroom.

The translation of Jesus’ words to his mother make his words seem disrespectful. Jesus opens with a common conversational phrase. It was spoken gently and meant:

“Don’t worry; you don’t quite understand what is going on; leave things to me, and I will settle them in my own way.” Jesus was simply telling Mary he would have his own way of dealing with the situation.

The word for woman is gunai. In our ear it might be misunderstood. It was used for a well-loved woman and well known in the Greek language.

The jars used were very large, probably 75 liters each. John had to explain it was the jars that were used for the purifying ceremonies of the Jews. Washing of feet and hands were very important in a dusty, dry climate and needed lots of water. Hands were washed several times throughout the meal.

The jars were filled under supervision to make sure they held clean water. Then the contents were taken to the head waiter (the maître d’). The bridegroom was responsible for the wine that it why the headwaiter addressed the bridegroom and joked about serving the best wine last. Usually inferior wine was served last, when the wine drinkers cared less about the taste and more about the feasting.

This was the first glimpse for Jesus’ disciples of who He is.

He participated in a joyous occasion of ordinary people, helping the feast along, spreading the joy.

This momentous miracle happened in the humble home of a villager. It was not presented to vast crowds. Jesus manifested His heavenly glory in a home with no pretence in the lives of a small circle of friends and family in the village of Cana.

Jesus stepped out to save the host embarrassment. He exercised His power and heavenly authority for the benefit of a lowly villager in sympathy and kindness to the simple folk. He did not save the big thing for a big occasion; rather, he did a big thing on a small occasion.

Mary had faith in Jesus. One might think that she had seen His power before. She instinctively turned to Him when things went wrong. Even when she did not understand what He was doing, her response was obedience. She had faith to trust without understanding.

Jesus says to her: My hour has not come. [John 7:6,8, 12:23, 17:1. See also Matthew 26:18,45 and Mark 14:41.]

Jesus knew the miracle would thrust Him into public life. Maybe He was aware that Mary did not fully comprehend the full consequence of His revelation through the miracle.

All his life Jesus knew of His specific reason for living. It was not a life in terms of His wishes; only for God’s purpose. His life was lived with an eye on eternity, not real time. He lived in the deep and permanent truth: every detail counts.

There were six water pots filled with water. Seven symbolizes completion and perfection. Six symbolizes imperfection and incompletion. Six shows the imperfection of the Jewish law. Within the imperfection, Jesus pours His new wine of the Gospel of grace. Old pots have good wine after He touched them.

He made a lot of wine. He filled all the pots. It was enough to last throughout the wedding and a lot to spare. Grace never runs out. This miracle speaks of glorious superabundance.

 John is telling us that in Jesus the imperfections have become perfection. Grace has become overflowing, sufficient and more than enough for every need.

The Greeks also had a story about three empty jars sealed in the presence of the priests, then miraculously filled with wine at the beginning of the festival. John is saying: Bring your stories about your gods; you know it isn’t true. I have the real thing. He is the dream come true. Everything you thought your gods would do, Jesus can and will do for you.

John is teaching that Jesus does not do a miracle as a once off. He is forever doing His miracles. He will always fill your jars with new wine and new life for feasting. A changed life is the miracle. The impossibility becomes possible. We are testimonies of the glorious impossible!

I am always very aware and overjoyed at the sighting of a rainbow. To me the rainbow is the symbol of God’s faithful covenant love, supporting and confirming all the covenant promises. You know how often one sees a rainbow just in the reflection of a shiny object, or in the shower when the sun hits the right spot. It struck me one day – the rainbow is always there. We need to look at the right angle with sunlight and we will see it. It all depends on how we look.

God taught me that day. There are always miracles. It depends on how we look. Do we see His hand moving with Holy Spirit anointed eyes or do we look through the dark veil of politics, negative circumstances, broken relationships or wounded lives?

Oh pebble pals – let us call out the prayer of the blind man again and again. Lord, that I can see…

Fill up your jars. Jesus is here to make wine.

 

25. It’s not easy – let’s do this.

Life is hard, unfair and sometimes overwhelming. Do not be discouraged. Be strong and very brave says the Lord to Joshua before Jericho and the Jordan in flood. [Joshua1] You can do it, even if it looks impossible. God calls us to greater works and impossible tasks. John 14:12:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.

This is the challenge of the Christian life – an adventure in the miraculous. He calls us to overcome the stumbling blocks and rejoice in super-natural solutions with deep, inner joy. Come with me on a journey, way back to the exiles returning home – around 500 BC.

Complete ruin, devastation and overwhelming destruction await the returning exiles. Their pride and joy, the heydays of 24/7 worship in the most spectacular building of the glorious Hebrew nation called Israel under King Solomon, are long forgotten, wiped out by the hardship of slavery and arrogance of the pagan power under whom they served in exile. They return to Jerusalem under the godly inspiration of Darius the Great (522 – 486 BC) around 536 BC. They need to do what it takes to rebuild and restore and they quickly loose courage and inspiration. The task is huge, the enemy active and their own interests become priority.

It is in circumstances like these that God’s Word is suppressed by disinterest, discouragement and dissatisfaction. God reveals Himself through His prophet that comes with prophetic encouragement for short and long-term solutions.

The nations of the ancient world had a very pronounced idea of God and gods. The pagan nations worshiped many gods, but strongly believed that they were all territory bound to an exact measure of earth. Many wars were fought to gain territory for a god. The people of Judah and Israel [the two kingdoms that contained the people of Israel after Solomon] also clung to this heathen deception about their God. They cursed the day that Ahab, the king of Israel, built a temple for Baal worship in Israel to please his Phoenician bride Jezebel. They believed he “imported” Baal into Israel.

Many prophets warned the backsliding kings and people of Israel to turn back to God after the reign of Solomon and after the kingdom was split into Judah and Israel. God’s grace and forgiveness were emphasized and illustrated in the ministry of numerous prophets. The exile was the result of stubborn persistence in idolatry and sin, despite clear and constant prophetic messages of warning.

Foreign forces came with mighty armies to conquer and take captive. Israel was resettled as captives by the Assyrian empire, located in the upper region of the Tigris River and Judah was taken by Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians after a long, cruel siege of Jerusalem. They were taken far away from their own territory and into the land of foreign gods. When the word of God reached the exiles through prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel in Babylon, they realized that their God is not territorial and present in their midst, looking out for them, even while in a foreign country. The words of Jeremiah 29 [vv 5,6 and 7] have comforted so many people far away from what they regarded as home through all the ages.

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

The exiles rejoiced in this news. On the long, harsh journey into exile they were convinced God has forgotten them. The famous song of Boney M [By the rivers of Babylon] echoed the words of the exiles. Psalm 126: [The Message]

1-3 It seemed like a dream, too good to be true,

    when God returned Zion’s exiles.

We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune.

We were the talk of the nations—

    “God was wonderful to them!”

God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.

Daniel was amongst the exiles as a teenager and served no less than four emperors after Nebuchadnezzar II – a miracle in itself as so many new rulers killed the administrators of the predecessor because of mistrust, especially the Persian conquerors of Babylon, Cyrus the Great and his son-in-law, Darius. His jealous advisors who wanted to get rid of Daniel, tricked Darius into signing a law that he alone should be revered in Persia. This led to Daniel being thrown into the lion’s den and miraculously saved from death. [Daniel 6] Darius rejoiced in Daniel’s miracle.

Daniel realized the exile was almost over and started praying for the deliverance and return of the exiles. During Nehemiah’s service to Darius the Great of the Persian Empire, God moved in the heart of this pagan emperor to be astonishingly generous in his resettling of the exiled Judeans to Jerusalem, most propbably because of his dealings with Daniel. He even restored to them the valuables taken from the Temple in Jerusalem by Babylon and freed Nehemiah from service to set up the restoration of the ruins of Jerusalem. The exiled returned in 536 BC.

God will look after you and your belongings. He knows what you need. Surrender to Him and do not waste your worry on stuff. If you are dependent on Him, He will spoil you with the best, more than you can imagine.

The people returned rejoicing and started the rebuilding of the wall and temple with great enthusiasm. Sixteen years after their return, the work was not done. Construction ceased as enemies mocked their efforts.

For four months in 520 BC the prophet Haggai was called to renew their zeal. Through the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah, the work is completed in five years. The rebuilt temple was dedicated in 515 BC.

Haggai addresses three problems common to all people at all times.

  1. Disinterest [Haggai 1:1-15]

The people lost their enthusiasm for the temple and built beautiful houses for themselves, probably to blot out the memory of hardship and slavery. [1:4] They feel deserted by God as they struggle to rebuild the ruins of their lives, unable to build wealth. True and lasting wealth and prosperity are not possible without God’s blessing. Hear the words of Psalm 127:

Except the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; except the Lord keeps the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to take rest late, to eat the bread of [anxious] toil—for He gives [blessings] to His beloved in sleep.

God answers through the prophet:

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

     2.  Discouragement [Haggai 2:1-9]

Some of the exiles remembered the magnificence of the temple of Solomon and was discouraging a “second class” rebuilt. They did not have the superior materials of the previous building. The older people discouraged the use of inferior materials. The wood of Judah could not compare with the cedars of Lebanon and the gold of Ophir. To this Haggai responds with God’s words:

Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the Lord.

God expects nothing you do not already have. Use what you have and He will bless and multiply it. You do not have to wait for “better days” for your tithing, giving and service.

Other sources of discouragement can be negative people, your own body that is tired or ill and the enemy in attack mode to discourage your efforts. Consciously identify the source of discouragement and address it with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 6:33:

 33 But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.

God will strengthen you. He promised in Isaiah 40: 28:

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not faint or grow weary; there is no searching of His understanding. 29 He gives power to the faint and weary, and to him who has no might He increases strength [causing it to multiply and making it to abound].

30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and [selected] young men shall feebly stumble and fall exhausted;

31 But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired.

Be aware of your noble calling. You are unique and the task assigned by God to you, only you can do. The Word always emphasizes the variety of ministries. We are a team. You are an irreplaceable member of the high calling of this team.

Hebrews 10:35

35 Do not, therefore, fling away your fearless confidence, for it carries a great and glorious compensation of reward.

36 For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away [and enjoy to the full] what is promised.

For your immediate problems – be strong and work. Haggai 2:4,5:

Yet now be strong, alert, and courageous, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; be strong, alert, and courageous, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, alert, and courageous, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work! For I am with you, says the Lord of hosts. According to the promise that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit stands and abides in the midst of you; fear not.

This is the encouragement for the long term. Look to the future. The content of our future is God’s promises [2:9]

 The latter glory of this house [with its successor, to which Jesus came] shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place will I give peace and prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

  1. Dissatisfaction [2:10-23]

 Do not expect immediate results. Sometimes the reversal of years of inactivity and neglect takes some time to turn around. Holiness is acquired. Uncleanness is infectious – holiness not. [2:11-13]

The Word from the Lord in 2:19:

 19 Is the harvested grain any longer in the barn? As to the grapevine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree—they have not yet borne. From this day on I will bless you.

Blessing is not earned. You do not have to be good to be blessed. Grace is the unmerited favour of God. It comes from our gracious, giving, good God.

Ultimate blessing is God’s Son in person as the prophecy is given to Zerubbabel – [2:23] In Jesus we have the full measure of the riches of God.

Rejoice and shake off your disinterest, discouragement and dissatisfaction.

Vivit! He lives!