Acts 5:33-42 – Worthy to Suffer Disgrace

The Apostles by Russian artist Peter Gorban (1923-1995)

When the council members heard this [God raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a tree] they became furious and wanted to kill the apostles. One council member, a Pharisee and teacher of the Law named Gamaliel, well-respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be taken outside for a few moments. He said, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you intend to do to these people. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and some four hundred men joined him. After he was killed, all his followers scattered, and nothing came of that. Afterward, at the time of the census, Judas the Galilean appeared and got some people to follow him in a revolt. He was killed too, and all his followers scattered far and wide. Here is my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you will not be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!” The council was convinced by his reasoning. After calling the apostles back, they had them beaten. They ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, then let them go. The apostles left the council rejoicing because they had been regarded as worthy to suffer disgrace for the sake of the name. Every day they continued to teach and proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ, both in the temple and in houses. (CEB)

People talk about things which are important to them. Even quiet and introverted individuals will speak at length, barely taking a breath, if you get them on a topic for which they are passionate about. 

Today’s New Testament lesson has the Apostles speaking incessantly about someone they love to talk about.  In fact, the original disciples of Jesus chattered so much about who they loved, Jesus, that the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin) wanted to shut them up by killing them. But a wise member of the council saw the foolishness of this approach and persuaded the Sanhedrin against it. Instead, the council gave the Apostles a thorough whipping, warned them to stop talking all the time about Jesus, and let them go.

There is a time to listen, and there is a time to speak.  The Apostles could not keep silent.  They considered their beating an act of solidarity with their Lord Jesus and went right on talking. Every day they spent time in the temple and in one home after another. They never stopped teaching and telling the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

The joy of knowing Jesus – crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again – is such a rich experience that one cannot help but be a chatterbox with joy about him. Even in the face of persecution, the ecstasy of knowing Christ transcends physical pain and suffering.

Today, there are places throughout the world where the scenario of continual discourse about Jesus is taking place with joy, despite the presence of persecution.  There are also places, mainly in America, where talking about Jesus does not even take place in the church building where believers gather to worship, let alone out in the public square.

One of the great tragedies of the contemporary Western church is that one can talk freely and openly about the weather, the latest sports, political happenings, and get away with never speaking or dialoging about Jesus.

The Apostle Peter, having learned the hard way, exhorted believers in his epistle that suffering is inevitable. So, the real issue is whether one suffers because of Christ or because of their own wrongheaded decisions. If others reject us, let it be for holiness, love, and hospitality – and not for babbling a bunch of unbiblical nonsense. Peter said:

Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude… Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice because you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 5:1, 12-16, NIV)

Today, allow two different emotions to arise and sway your prayers and speech.  First, allow the joy of the Lord Jesus to fill you and give you freedom to speak his Name and the grace he gives.  Second, allow a sorrowful lament to come forth from your heart, and speak it out loud before God concerning the great silence of the church in the West.

Loving Lord Jesus, you save completely those who come to you by faith.  Thank you for the work of forgiveness and healing that takes place in your Name everyday in the world.  Yet, I also lament the many confessing believers in your Name who never speak of the good news in their everyday conversations, even within the church.  Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy and grant us peace.  Amen.

Psalm 46 – Divine Help

Psalm 46:1 by Connie Van Huss

God is our refuge and strength,
    a help always near in times of great trouble.
That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,
    when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,
    when its waters roar and rage,
    when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.

There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city,
    the holiest dwelling of the Most High.
God is in that city. It will never crumble.
    God will help it when morning dawns.
Nations roar; kingdoms crumble.
    God utters his voice; the earth melts.
The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!
    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. 

Come, see the Lord’s deeds,
    what devastation he has imposed on the earth—
    bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world,
    breaking the bow and shattering the spear,
        burning chariots with fire.

“That’s enough! Now know that I am God!
    I am exalted among all nations; I am exalted throughout the world!”

The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!
    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. (CEB)

We possess the unconditional presence of God. Yes indeed, the Lord of all creation is always with us. What a wonderful and radical thought!  But that is not all. What is more, God helps us. The Lord does not stand by idly to watch us squirm in tough situations. Because God is present with you and I, there is divine assistance which can help us in troubling times.

Something we can all seem to agree on is that we are in times of trouble and hardship. Everyone is collectively experiencing adversity. COVID-19 has punched us in our worldly gut and caused us to bend over, writhing in pain. We need the Lord. We require Divine help.

The psalms, as Hebrew poetry, were designed with a certain structure. Unlike the way we arrange things with a thesis statement said right up front, Hebrew poetry has the most important statement smack in the middle of the psalm. What comes before that statement is a growing crescendo meant to highlight the central idea. Everything that comes after is the decrescendo pointing back to the main idea.

What we have in the middle of today’s magnificent psalm is the important truth that the Lord of heavenly forces is with us. This reality is meant to drop its weight on us so that we will feel the impact of God’s presence and power. Consider some of English translations of the Hebrew statement:

The Lord All-Powerful is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress. (CEV)

The Lord of Armies is with us. The God of Jacob is our stronghold. (GW)

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us. (MSG)

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (NIV)

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress. (NLT)

Yahweh of Armies is with us. Jacob’s God is a turret for us. (FT)

Today (and everyday) is a good day to use the statement, “The Lord of heavenly forces is with us,” as a point of thought, contemplation, and deep consideration. God has the back of those who do right and seek to be just in all things. Whenever you are waiting, driving in the car, in-between scheduled stuff, or just sitting at home, repeat this biblical statement many times to yourself and to the Lord. Then, allow God’s Spirit to bring the truth of it home to the depths of your soul. There is no better security, no better hope than to know God is with us.

God Almighty, great upheaval in this world does not make you nervous because you are above it all.  Thank you that you are with me in all the great churnings of my life, as well as all the small things of trouble.  Even if all around me changes, you do not; through Christ my Savior, I pray. Amen.

Mark 1:14-20 – “Come, Follow Me”

Welcome, friends! The call of Jesus to his disciples two millennia ago remains the call for us, as well. Click the videos below and let us orient our lives around the gracious call of God…

I Will Follow by Chris Tomlin

May the Spirit of truth lead you into all truth, give you grace to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and strengthen you to proclaim the word and works of God; and may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

Come, Follow Me

Come Follow Me by Argentine painter Jorge Cocco Santángelo

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:14-20, NIV)

This Gospel lesson is straightforward with two main points:

  • The call of Jesus on our lives.
  • The message Jesus gave us to proclaim.        

The call of Jesus is to pursue him, and he will develop us. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”  The simple truth here is that this is neither a suggestion nor really an invitation but a command. Jesus did the same with James and John, and all the original disciples.  They listened to Jesus, dropped everything they were doing, and immediately followed him.

I am wondering what would make you drop everything to pursue an entirely new life. I am curious what could cause you to follow Jesus without any conditions attached. I am impressed that Peter and Andrew immediately obeyed Jesus. They did not question Jesus as to whether this was a short-term project or a long-term assignment.  They did not seek a contract with Jesus or ask how he would impact their stock portfolio. 

The first disciples simply dropped everything and left with Jesus. I suspect they followed Jesus for the same reason I originally decided to follow him – because Jesus is such a compelling person, so gracious, interesting, and loving that it was really no decision at all.  Everything else pales in comparison with Jesus.

Read all four Gospels and the book of Acts in the New Testament and you will find that believers in Jesus follow Jesus; and those who do not follow Jesus are not believers.  It really is that simple.  Followers follow, and those who do not follow are not Christ’s disciples.

Jesus calls us, commands us, to follow him and he will make us fishers of humanity. You might be concerned and retort, “I have no idea how to fish for people.” The good news is that Jesus said he would make us fishers of people. Jesus is not looking for people with skills he can use. Instead, Jesus calls people and develops them into fishers. Christ forms people with the ability to follow his call. 

Jesus will train us, which means we only need to answer the call to follow. When I was five years old my Dad took the training wheels off my bike and told me to ride it.  I told him I couldn’t.  He told me to get on the bike and he would run beside me.  I got on the bike and started to ride with him holding it.  When I began to panic approaching a tree I started talking to my Dad.  He didn’t answer… because he wasn’t beside me.  He dropped out from shagging me a long way back.  The same thing happened with learning to swim.  I insisted that I needed to be supported or I would drown for sure. Dad didn’t keep his hands underneath me. Yet, I’m still here – I didn’t drown.

We are not called to follow Jesus based on our skills, but on the lack of them so that Jesus will do in us a work of total allegiance and loyalty to the kingdom of God.  Jesus will make sure to develop the competence we need to do what he has called us to do. We only need to hear and answer the call of Jesus to follow and to make us fishers of people. 

The Fishermen by Cuban sculptor Rafael Consuegra, Petrozavodsk, Russia

The following is a parable about the church and being fishers of people:  “Now it came to pass that a group existed who called themselves fishermen.  Week after week those who called themselves fishermen met in meetings and talked about their call to fish, the abundance of fish, and how they might go about fishing.  They discussed the importance of fishing and that fishing is the task of every fisherman.  They listened to special speakers talk about fishing and they promoted fishing and looked at all the latest equipment for fishing.  They built large buildings called ‘Fishing Headquarters’ so that they could tell as many people as possible about fishing.  They organized boards of people to send out fishermen to other places.  They offered teaching and classes on how to fish and the best and latest fishing methods.  With much training a good many persons got their fishing licenses and became upstanding members of Fishing Headquarters.  There was just one thing that they did not do: they didn’t fish. When one person dared to suggest that those who do not catch fish are not really fishermen, the group became angry and kicked that crazy person out their group.”

The call is not for a few but for everyone to embody and proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. Therefore, we are to repent and believe this good news. Even though this is a simple straightforward message, it deserves some attention because we do not typically use this kind of language. Instead, we tend to say something like “Accept Jesus into your heart and someday you will go to heaven.”  That sort of language you will not find Jesus saying.  So, let’s stick with what he did say.

For Jesus, the word “kingdom” means God’s intentions and will for this world to come true. When Jesus said the kingdom is near, every pious Jew understood. They anticipated a coming Ruler (king) with themselves as the ruled (subjects) and a realm (land).  They thought beyond a mere spiritual kingdom and did not use kingdom as a synonym for heaven. Instead, Christ’s disciples considered Jesus as King, ruling his followers over the sacred space of the entire world. 

Thus, Jesus was saying he is creating a new society, thoroughly biblical to the core – which meant Caesar was not Lord and that people’s loyalty was not ultimately to the Roman Empire.  It is the kingdom of heaven, God’s dream society, which will eventually spread across the entire earth so that the whole world is God’s sacred space, devoted to love, shaped by justice, living in peace, and abounding with wisdom. Jesus encouraged us to pray consistent with this idea by encouraging us to pray, “May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

If we find ourselves not really working toward Christ’s idea of kingdom, then we need to repent and believe the good news that God is working toward restoring all things to their original beauty and luster. “Repent” means a change of mind which leads to a change of behavior. “Believe” means to put all our eggs in God’s kingdom basket.

None of this is a suggestion.  It is a forthright call to follow Jesus in his kingdom building enterprise on this earth. And so, it would be a travesty to just think about the message for a while and follow Jesus if we feel like it or get around to it whenever.

We are being called to live for Jesus continually each day by fishing for people – and to make this our life’s work. Wherever you are, Jesus wants to make you a fisher in your family, workplace, neighborhood, and all the places within your normal sphere of living:

  1. Go where the fish are. Fishing would be easy if we could put a basket by the water and have the fish jump into them! But that is not how it works. Rather, we need to intentionally choose activities that put us in contact with people in our communities.
  2. Cast the nets. Peter and Andrew did more than take their boat out to the middle of the lake. To catch fish, they threw their nets into the water. Here is what I believe this means for us: We do what is fair and just to our neighbors. We extend compassion to them and are steadfast in our love, even when others are unlovely. And we do not take ourselves too seriously—we take God seriously, instead.
  3. Obey Jesus and walk with him. After Christ’s resurrection, Jesus came to some of the disciples, who had fished unsuccessfully all night. He told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat – which seemed like nonsense, but they did it anyway. It brought a great catch (John 21:1-14). During the three years of Christ’s earthly ministry, the disciples did everything with him – they walked, talked, and ate with Jesus. And when he ascended to heaven, they acted on the Great Commission given to them by Jesus to make other disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

May God cleanse our lips and our lives so that we might proclaim the good news of Christ’s kingdom with glad and sincere hearts to the glory of Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.