Astonishing People, Astonishing Men! You Might Just Be One of Them

What makes something astonishing? Have you been astonished lately? Or have you been astonishing? As we have walked through the Bible book by book, we can pause to remember that the Gospels contain some astonishing stories, like these from Matthew:
“Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:22-23, NIV)

“When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.” (Matthew 22:33, NIV)

Jesus did some things that were astonishing to everyone around him. Crowds gathered around him and followed after him to see what he would do. Before there were paparazzi, there were people from all walks of life around Jesus, waiting to see what would happen. There were miracles everyone wanted to see and sermons everyone wanted to hear.

Just a Few Samples

I think of the four guys who carried their friend on a pallet and then broke through the roof to get him close to Jesus. They were hoping he would do something astonishing!

I think of blind Bartimaeus standing at the edge of the crowd shouting out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He paid no attention to those trying to shush him. He wanted Jesus to do something astonishing.

I think of Lazarus walking forth from a tomb, still wrapped in grave-clothes, blinking in the sunlight as disbelieving observers tried to process what had just happened…

These events highlight the fact that Jesus was different. After all, Jesus was the Son of God, and it was natural that he do amazing things. He had power and connection to his Father that gave him access to miraculous possibilities. That makes sense, but as we arrive here in the Book of Acts, how do you explain this verse? “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13, NIV)

astonishing men

A Few Good Men

I love to point out (along with Dr. Luke) that Peter and John were unschooled, ordinary men, and yet they astonished those around them. Now, what on earth made them able to do that? The Bible doesn’t say that the people around them were astonished and took note that they had been to seminary. Observers didn’t note that they were busy at church, held official religious positions, or were even vocational pastors. What people noticed about unschooled and ordinary fishermen James and John was one thing: “they had been with Jesus.”

Hmmm, does that mean anything to you? You too have opportunity to be with Jesus every day. You can read his words, speak privately with him, and walk with him everywhere. Take note: go be with Jesus. Then go be astonishing!

The Secret Ingredient

If only I’d been with Jesus, maybe seen him in the flesh,
My walk would be dynamic! And my writing would be ‘fresh’!
If only I had heard him talk, or ever seen him heal,
My faith would be amazing, and I’d walk with him for REAL.
If I had only seen him laugh, or watched him preach the word,
Then I would recollect for sure the wisdom I had heard…
Well if you want to walk with Jesus, there is still a way
To see his life and hear him preach a sermon every day.
Just take your Bible, open it to Matthew–take a look–
The things that Jesus said and did are written in that Book!
You may think that only the Apostles had the power,
But when’s the last time you just sat with Jesus for an hour?
Please don’t be offended, understand I’m not admonishing–
But just go be with Jesus. Then, just go and be astonishing.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Speaking Out: As for Us, We Cannot Help Speaking about What we have Seen and Heard

After Jesus was crucified, Peter and John were out speaking in public about recent events. Not everybody wanted to hear what they had to say, and in fact their religious and cultural leaders told them they had to stop speaking. Here’s how it went down:

“Then they (the Sanhedrin) called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20 NIV)

speaking

Peter and John, whom Luke described as “ignorant and unlearned men”, were called before the Sanhedrin and told they needed to stop telling people about Jesus. If they didn’t stop, the Sanhedrin would take action: they could be arrested, imprisoned, perhaps even stoned. But for some reason they were not intimidated, and proclaimed boldly that they could not help but speak out about what they had seen and heard. I have often thought that the main reason Christianity is around today is because the followers of Jesus were so overwhelmed with the magnitude of what happened that they could not keep from telling people about it.

Tell me, what have YOU seen and heard? Has the good news about Jesus been validated in your life? Are you different because of it? We also find ourselves in many places and social contexts that make it feel uncomfortable or prohibitive to discuss our faith candidly and without reservation. We have separation of church and state. We are told that God has no place in our schools. More and more, God is being taken out of our public lives,,,

Should we pray at a restaurant? Should we mention our faith at work? Should we obey the current culture of tolerance, which suggests that we not offend anyone with our beliefs? Or should we speak boldly about what we have seen and heard? Every day, in so many little ways, we are faced with a choice– to be cultural or to be godly. As Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ”! And as he wrote to the Thessalonians, “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 KJV) If you’ve seen it, you believe it. If you believe it, speak it.

Little Choices

John and Peter were rebuked for telling what they knew;
The Pharisees commanded them to stop their preaching, too!
But they replied, “We’ve said it once, we’ll say it now again,
Should we obey the Lord our God, or listen to you men?”
The Council was surprised by John and Peter’s forceful word;
They said they had to testify to what they’d seen and heard.
This story is still relevant, although it’s very old:
John and Peter’s actions should inspire us to be bold–
To speak the truth, to testify about what God has done–
Not bowing to the many, but obedient to the One.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Marvelous Men Had One Thing in Common. YOU can Be Marvelous, Too!

Wanna Be Marvelous? It doesn’t always happen by the world’s standards…
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 KJV)

marvelous

Have you ever been marveled at? In our culture, we think people are “marvelous” for all kinds of reasons, and most of those reasons are shallow and temporary. You wouldn’t think that a couple of grubby fishermen would be marvelous, but it happened…

Peter and John were fishermen by trade, and held no advanced theological degrees or education. By all rights they should have returned to Galilee after Jesus’ crucifixion and gone back to their vocation, finding good spots and hauling up nets full of fish. Yet within days of the crucifixion, they were in the religious and cultural center of Judea, way out of their depth both politically and socially. You might say that if they didn’t fall off of no turnip truck, it was because they rode it all the way into town!

They didn’t belong in the Temple anymore than a rube from the country belongs on the red carpet at the Academy Awards; yet in Jerusalem, they boldly proclaimed the gospel without fear or hesitation, and thousands of people were responding to their message that Jesus was the Son of God.

The Sanhedrin, who were the religious leaders and seminary graduates, was alarmed by their success and took counsel about how to stop this surprising movement. Luke says that these learned religious power brokers marveled at the powerful preaching from “unlearned and ignorant men”. They thought Peter and John were, yes, marvelous. What made Peter and John so amazing? Their speech was rough and they spoke with Galilean accents that identified them as hicks from the sticks. What made them “marvelous” to the learned Rabbis of the day, who surely looked down upon these two raw preachers with an air of superiority and surprise? Peter and John hadn’t been to seminary, and they weren’t clergymen or trained experts in evangelism. They weren’t even Junior College graduates. They were unlearned and ignorant, yet they were changing the world. Their common denominator is one that YOU also share. Wanna be marvelous? Spend time with Jesus.

Marvelous Men

Peter and John had never been to college,
Yet they astounded people with their knowledge.
No seminary, no advanced degrees,
But they contended with the Pharisees.
The only thing about them folks could tell
Was that their Rabbi taught them really well;
They had no other formal education,
And fishing was their background and vocation,
But they were marvelous. As ignorant men,
Uneducated by the standards then,
They may have seemed to be a bit too rough,
But they had been with Jesus. That’s enough.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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Fearless Love Enables You to Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

Would it be good for you to be fearless? The Apostle John thought so, and I know he went through a number of dangerous situations. All of us probably have moments when we’d love to be fearless (such as when you ask someone to be your Valentine!), although there are certainly times when it might not be such a good idea…

fearless

John said this: “By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.…” (1 John 4:17-19, NIV)

On this day we tend to think a lot about love. There are a lot of notions about love, aren’t there? There is love of things (I love my car/house/video game), love of appetite (I love chocolate/beer/steak), love of animals, love of others (friends/family), romantic love, selfless love, summer love, endless love. Songs reflect that diversity with titles like “Love hurts”, “Love is a Battlefield”, “Love is a Wonderful Thing”, “Bleeding Love”, and “Love is All you Need”.

Love gets intertwined with all kinds of things in media and culture, so we allow it to have many definitions, most of which are not love at all. Sometime we can clarify what something means by stating its opposite, and most would probably say that the opposite of love is hate. But here in these verses, John infers that the opposite of love is not hate but FEAR. I don’t know that I ever think of it as the opposite of fear.

What does John mean by that? Perhaps that, unlike the transient, earthly love we so often experience, true love is dependable. True love gives absolute confidence. Why would John have juxtaposed love with fear? For one thing, he watched Jesus up close for several years, and if you think of it, none of the Gospels ever says, “Jesus was afraid”. John noted Jesus’ courage and understood its source.

In John 13:1 one he makes the observation that Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them unto the END.” To quote a praise song, John observed first hand that “your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me”. He says that love casts out fear, and the one who fears is not perfected (matured) in love. We can test that in a way by saying it in reverse: fear casts out love; but those who embrace love are fearless.

fearless dance

Tell, me, are you fearless? What are you most afraid of? Being hurt or rejected? Being marginalized? John says God’s love won’t do that. He reminds us that there is an intimacy with Christ that we carry through this world, that we are somehow united with him as we live our lives… I kinda think John’s point is that since God’s love protects us in something as big as the Day of Judgment, all the rest of our concerns are really nothing to be afraid of by comparison. You don’t need to control things to be secure; you just need to realize what love means in your life. Look up and be glad about how much God loves you today. Then, take a deep breath, ignore those little insecurities, and be “dance like nobody’s watching” fearless!

Opposites Attack

Love for some is just a sport, perhaps a game of chance;
Love can be chemistry that sparks a new romance,
With someone that you like a lot, the spark is real, the kiss is hot,
You both decide to take a shot and vow to give it all you’ve got!
But even love with such high hopes can end with a broken heart,
With bitterness that lovers feel when they are split apart.
If we describe the kind of love that goes out on a date,
Most of us would say the opposite of love is hate.
But I had never thought of love the way it’s written here:
John says that the polar opposite of love is FEAR.
Our earthly love can turn to hate, reflecting its impurity;
He says God’s love is something we can all embrace with surety,
The Father’s perfect love can give us freedom and security.
If you embrace the fearless love that God has given you,
How would your life be different then? And what would you go do?
Consider that. Consider that His love will cast out fear,
And you can dance like no one’s watching. Yep, you read it here.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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The Equation that Changes Everything in the World

As we get close to Valentine’s Day, there is an equation about love that John uses to describe the nature of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. It is simple but surprising. The equation is this:

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (I John 4:16, NIV) John claims that God is love. This makes sense from a Biblical view, and it aligns with what Jesus taught—that love is a distinctive which identifies those who follow God. You know how an equation works, right? X = Y means that everything on one side of the equation equals the other side EXACTLY. They are interchangeable because they are equal.

equation

And “God is Love” is not the only equation in the New Testament. Consider this: we are designed to be complete only in relationships, and relationships are only complete when they run on love. The equation is, two people become one flesh. Husband equals wife. Jesus said, “I and my Father are one”. The equation is, Jesus equals the Father.

When John says, “God is love”, he is saying that love is God’s makeup—it is the essence of His personality, his character, and his being. If you think about it, we know about and acknowledge several things about God’s character. He is holy. He is a Righteous Judge. He is the source of all forgiveness and grace. But John’s equation sets the baseline for who God is. What He does is motivated by love and is an expression of love. God cannot commit a purely selfish act.

When you flip that statement around (which you can always do when you juxtapose two equal objects with a verb of being, and it will still be true), it says, “Love is God.” John is saying that not only is God characterized by love, but that EVERYTHING loving is from God. Whatever love you encounter in this world comes from God—there is nothing loving apart from him or without him. We experience love in many forms, and probably every one of those forms is valid, as is anything that we perceive as love.

We experience a mother’s love, there is love in friendships, and there is the love we have for puppies and little children. There is deep, abiding love, romantic, mushy love, and there is even sexual love between a husband and wife (yes, God created sex, and in way more than fifty shades!). There are all manner of other kinds of love we feel or encounter or touch in this life.

But here’s the deal: None of them would exist without God. Some of them may seem to us to be disconnected from God, but if you look closely I think you’ll start to see in them a glimmer of God’s presence, or a fleeting glimpse of his character. And the more you look, the more you’ll see that they couldn’t exist without Him, that there is no real love apart from God, because God is love, and love is God. Good thing to think about during the month that contains Valentine’s Day.

A Different Equation: One Plus One Equals One

To my lovely wife: you’re the love of my life!
To my family and friends, may our love never end!
It is more than a fad or a transient trend.
Just remember this stuff, when the going gets tough:
Love is God; God is love, it all comes from above;
It’s the nature of God, and when push comes to shove,
It is God’s DNA, and it’s what He’s made of!
So, everything loving you happen to see’s
A reminder that God lives in you and in me:
Love’s what He gives us, and calls us to be…
Just in case I haven’t said it enough,
What you say: Love is God. What it means: God is love.

Go love somebody, and go feel loved today. In other words, be godly. Then thank God that you just saw Him where you weren’t looking before!

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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Doubting Thomas is Just Unfair! Maybe You Need to Hear the REST of the Story

“Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting, and believe.”

doubting

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29, NIV) Thomas is famous for not being sure, and has been known throughout history as “Doubting Thomas”. (I guess that rolls off the tongue in English better than “Doubting Didymus”, although I definitely think you could make a case for the alliteration with the “D’s”.)

I’m sure there was more to Thomas than doubt, but that’s what people call him, and that’s how he has been remembered throughout history. I actually kinda respect his skepticism, and it is a legitimate point of view because many thoughtful people have a hard time capitulating to faith. Doubting something can be hard to overcome. Many who claim to be scientific or rational thinkers (perhaps you?) say they can’t believe in Christ because they need more evidence and don’t take things just on faith. That is a little odd when they actually believe in any number of things based on assumption and faith. (Such as: “Big Bang”; composition of the universe; evolution as it is often taught, among others…there is no absolute empirical knowledge about any of them, but even scientists are willing to leap to assumptions at some point in every one of them)

So consider this: there is plenty of evidence about Jesus, but people often refuse to consider it. Their assumptions about other things limit what they are willing to consider, and I think they get caught up in a battle of will rather than actual evidence. It becomes an issue of firmness of opinion rather than faith, and of pigheadedness rather than proof. Remember, you don’t have 100% assurance when you get into your car that you won’t have an accident, and yet you put 100% of yourself into that car every time. You don’t have to have 100% proof to make a 100% commitment.)

Behind closed doors, Doubting Thomas saw the evidence and was able to remove all doubt. His testimony still stands in front of us today. I bet if people really looked at all the evidence, truly investigated who Jesus was, and added a little faith, they’d do the same thing. Jesus said those of us who did not see him but still believed would be blessed. He said that to me, to you, and to everyone who was not in the room to literally touch his hands and side. As for Doubting Thomas, Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed.” Maybe he should be known as “Believing Thomas”. After all, that’s really who he was.

Doubting Thomas?

Sometimes skeptics will hold out because they have abiding doubt,
Or hold themselves from faith aloof unless they have abundant proof.
Thomas would not trust in lies! He had to see with his own eyes,
And his belief was incomplete until he saw the hands and feet–
The places where the nails had been– and saw the Lord alive again!
“Doubting Thomas” then received the Risen Lord, and he believed!
Perhaps he really should be called “Believing Thomas”. After all,
That name’s more accurate because at the end of the day, that’s who he was.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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Reliable Information From a Completely Unreliable Source

You would assume that the writers of the Gospels would have taken great pains to insure that their sources were completely reliable. So why did John say THIS? “After the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene was distraught because she thought someone had taken the body. John 20:14 says, “She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman”, he said, “Why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for?” Thinking that it was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

reliable

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:14-18, NIV)

I love the honesty of this story, because it captures the full range of Mary’s emotions and confusion. A work of fiction would probably not have included details like her initial failure to recognize Jesus, and the way she thought at first that he was the gardener. If John had been making it up, he would have used a more reliable and acceptable source, and there were better literary devices he could have used to create drama and impact. After all, the story is not about Mary’s confusion but about Jesus’ resurrection!

Any normal, self-respecting Hebrew literary work from this time would not have made a mere woman such a central character in this discovery—women were not considered legal witnesses, and did not have social standing that justified her inclusion in this event. No serious Jewish reader would accept a woman’s testimony as reliable in that time and place. John actually risks all credibility by telling the truth, so why didn’t he just make up a better version of the story?

Replace Mary with a man whose testimony would be considered reliable, tweak the events just a bit, keep the central part about the resurrection, and boom! You’ve got yourself some front page news. Since he goes out on a limb by including Mary, and since a lie here would have served him better than the truth, the logical conclusion is that this has to be TRUE.

If John’s narrative was an attempt to convince others of the plausibility of Jesus’ resurrection, he went about it all wrong! He should have had someone important like Peter or James meet the risen Lord first, and he should have made it seamlessly perfect. He didn’t need to include details about Mary’s initial conversation with the supposed gardener. But Mary’s testimony is valuable because it IS true, and it has significance because it is told so simply and so accurately. John’s gospel is noteworthy because he ignores social convention. He tells the truth when a lie would have been easier. Probably a good practice for all of us.

John, How Could You?

John, the scholars tell me that your gospel might be phony!
No Hebrew writer would have used a woman’s testimony.
A woman couldn’t offer proof in matters of the law,
So why on earth did you record the things that Mary saw?
If you had used a man to see the proof, and to receive it,
The temple elders might have bought that story, and believed it!
Instead, you told the truth when falsehood might have served you better:
Since Mary saw the Lord, you wrote the truth down to the letter,
Insuring that the Word of God would not let us forget her!
Mary made the statement that just could not be ignored;
With trembling lips she told the others: “I have seen the Lord!”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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The Roman Centurion at the Cross: Same Job, Different Day

Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 NASB)

This is one of the most unsolicited and surprising eyewitness testimonies about Jesus. Take a look at the one who spoke. A typical Roman centurion: 1) was not Jewish, so he didn’t know about any of the ancient prophecies and certainly wasn’t looking for a deliverer from Rome; 2) was probably accustomed to crucifixion as part of his job, so he should have been harder to impress by any run-of-the-mill Crucifixion; 3) was a military commander based on merit, so they usually rose through the ranks and were experienced, competent men; 4) had usually been on campaigns (and was probably here) far away from home, so his level of worldly understanding was probably greater than the average villager’s.

This centurion had probably not personally seen Jesus’ miracles or heard him teach. (Why would he? He had been doing his job, occupying Judea, not following Rabbis around…) In all likelihood the only exposure he ever had to the Son of God was as a battered, humiliated criminal who was facing his last hours on earth.

He was not steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures or looking for a Messiah, and of all the people Jesus encountered he perhaps would have known the least about Jesus’ background, reputation, and wisdom. It just wasn’t in a Centurion’s job description to know. He never sat in the temple courts and listened to this Rabbi, and he never saw him turn water into wine or calm the wind and the waves…

It’s likely, though, that while doing his job he HAD seen other crucifixions: messy, drawn-out, boring events with the same inevitable outcome, where the soldiers were so bored with death that they whiled away the time gambling for the criminals’ meager possessions… Yet somehow THIS crucifixion was different. This crucifixion challenged the centurion’s view of the world, and made him look at Jesus differently as well. It may have been the earthquake and the upheaval surrounding Jesus’ death that changed his perspective, but I think it was more than that.

centurion

Perhaps it was the dignity that Christ carried with him to the cross; perhaps it was the things Jesus said to the criminals who were being crucified alongside him; or maybe it was the fact that he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Perhaps it was merely the look in Jesus’ eyes that challenged and convicted third-party observers to see him as more than a convict getting his just reward…

Whatever it was, the Roman centurion went from seeing Jesus as a common Jewish criminal to seeing him as the Son of God. Think about those days in Jerusalem, with all the different observers of the events surrounding Jesus’ death, along with all of the different players that participated in the crucifixion, not knowing it was an event that signaled the end of an empire and the beginning of a kingdom.

Surely, as they reflected later on the punishment of this rabbi from Galilee, it was something they remembered the rest of their days. They looked back at the cross and remembered his composure and his countenance. When you look back at the crucifixion, what do you see?

The Centurion’s Job

The Roman soldier watched the prisoners die;
This was just a job he had to do.
He listened and he heard a prisoner cry,
“Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
He turned to look at Jesus as he died,
And saw forgiveness written on his face;
He knew he’d never be the same inside,
Since he encountered Jesus face to face…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Sight Doesn’t Necessarily Guarantee that You Can See

Jesus restored the sight of a man who had been born blind. The man didn’t really know much about his benefactor, but he rejoiced in his healing! The Pharisees were not so happy. They saw Jesus as an outsider, and were outraged that a marginal blind man would give him credit. Why do you suppose they saw things so differently?

“A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:24-25 NIV) In this event in John 9, Jesus heals a man who had been blind since birth. The common supposition around the temple would have been that he was born in sin, or that his parents committed some heinous sin that made them deserving of such a tragedy.

sight

In the Hebrew culture, these poor parents would have lived not only with the burden of their son’s blindness but with also with condescension and judgment from the religious community. That’s what prompted the disciples’ question in verse two: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This unfortunate couple had been hearing those behind-the-back questions for years, and they lived in debilitating shame.

Jesus says the man’s loss of sight didn’t happen because he or his parents sinned, which was actually a very refreshing intellectual possibility: the parents were not being punished; bad things could happen to good people. He says much the same thing in Luke 13 when he is asked about some recent tragic events. God does not arbitrarily punish sinners with tragedy, and it is not only sinners who experience affliction.

In Luke’s story, Jesus does not attribute the man’s condition to sin or judgment. Instead he points out that our proper response to tragedy is not titillation or even relief but rather repentance, and here he says that God can be glorified even out of bad circumstances.
This is a fascinating story because so many people see a miracle take place right before their eyes, and no one expresses any JOY. The neighbors argue about whether it’s really the same man or not. Shouldn’t they have rejoiced with him?

The legalistic leaders in the Temple, the Pharisees, are more concerned with whether or not Jesus broke the Sabbath than the amazing fact that he healed a man who had been blind from birth. The man’s own parents were so intimidated by the Pharisees (and so used to being ashamed) that they were afraid to get involved, and sent the Pharisees back to question their son. Shouldn’t they have been excited for their son’s new vision and new opportunities? Instead, they stepped back and remained in the shadows, unwilling to proclaim God’s goodness.

The man born blind was then interrogated by the Pharisees, who were hoping to use his testimony not to glorify God but only to prove that Jesus had broken the law. In verse 29, the haughty Pharisees are spiteful: “We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” 30 The blind man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.”

The Pharisees, who claimed a monopoly on knowing God, could not account for this miracle. The blind man, who used simple logic based on experience, could not account for the Pharisees’ inability to see the truth. In this case, we have a blind man who gains both sight and insight; and we have religious leaders who can see the man but not the truth. They were so concerned about being right that they ignored a miracle right before their eyes… When they challenged the man, his simple statement of truth dismantled their agenda. He accepted Jesus as he was, at face value, and gained his sight. The Pharisees denied who Jesus was, and saw him through a distorted lens of religion and culture. They remained blind. Guess what? That still happens today…

I once Was Blind, But Now I See

For years I went to synagogue and listened to them preach.
They spoke of being righteous. From the Scripture they would teach
About eternal judgment, and the consequence of sin:
They made me feel unworthy from the state that I was in.
If being blind weren’t bad enough, I still could clearly see
The condescending looks they gave my parents, and to me.
I still attended synagogue, and worshipped with them there,
And still petitioned Yahweh with my one, persistent prayer!
Today my prayer was answered! Yes!! A man restored my sight!
The Pharisees seem more concerned with whether he was right
For healing on the Sabbath. Well, I’m not a Pharisee,
But I know this: The Lord is good, and somehow, I can SEE!
Maybe Jesus broke a Sabbath rule, or maybe five–
But I don’t care– I’ll follow him as long as I’m alive…

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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The Woman Whose Day Didn’t Turn Out Like She Planned

There was once a somewhat bold and saucy Samaritan woman who lived on the outer edges of social convention. As a result, perhaps, she went to the well at midday to draw water and ran into a strange man, resulting in one of the most surprising conversations in history… John puts it like this:

“Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:27-29 NIV)

Why does John point out that the disciples were so surprised? Jesus’ conversation with the woman by the well in Samaria is one of his most interesting and intriguing encounters in history. It is a passage full of surprises.

woman claim

By even having this conversation, Jesus breaks all kinds of social barriers and engages in a conversation that ends up changing the lives of an entire village. Because Samaria was considered apostate, devout Jews would often journey far out of their way to avoid going through there. Jesus walked through Samaria and even stopped to rest. Stepping outside of accepted social convention, He talked to a lowly woman, which was forbidden for a Rabbi. Not only that, but she was a SAMARITAN woman.

To top it all off, the woman had a morally questionable background (which apparently Jesus already knew), because she had had several husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. She went out to the well at midday rather than in the morning (ostensibly to avoid the other women who would be getting water); so she was probably not very popular with other women in the village.

The disciples were surprised to find Jesus talking to this woman for all of these reasons. And in the aftermath of the conversation, there is an additional surprising and interesting detail in these verses that I had never noticed before; did you catch it? The woman left her water jar! She was so excited about her conversation with Jesus that she totally forgot why she had gone to the well in the first place. Water is incredibly important in the trans-Jordan area, and water jars aren’t cheap; but she was so motivated by what had just happened that she just took off for the village and left it all behind.

When Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman, He crossed cultural boundaries and broke down social barriers. He surprised her by knowing details about her life, things for which she had been judged and scorned; yet he showed her no condescension or scorn. She responded to this remarkable man not only because of what he told her, but HOW he told her as well.

On that fateful afternoon, she couldn’t help it– she left everything, went back to her village and told everyone what she had discovered about this man! Yeah, the disciples were surprised to find him talking to a woman; but the woman was surprised even more. She snuck out to the well at midday to avoid judgment and awkward conversations, and was instead surprised by wisdom, acceptance, and love. If you have been avoiding God because of guilt or judgment, have your own conversation with Jesus. He might just surprise you, too.

The Woman at the Well

The scarlet woman snuck out to the well,
Because the other women put her down;
They’d all decided she was going to hell,
And no one even wanted her around;
Until a stranger asked her for a drink,
And told her every thing she’d ever done;
Surprised, she didn’t know just what to think,
But wondered, somehow, if he was the One…
He wasn’t prejudiced like all the rest,
And she could only look at him and nod;
He seemed to call her out to be her best,
And introduced her to the Living God.
You and I have both been there,
Struck by hatred, hopelessness and lies;
Until we looked and found an answered prayer–
Until we looked in Jesus’ eyes.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread