The Message

Peter.1A Sinful Man #2

A study in Jesus’ dealings with Simon, brother of Andrew, who became the Apostle Peter.

Unlike some who continued to cling to John the Baptist after he identified “the lamb of God,” Andrew left John to follow Jesus as soon as John identified him as the Messiah. Andrew’s understanding of John’s message kept the evil one from snatching away the word sown in his heart and the seed grew into an even greater understanding.[1]

Andrew and Simon had good reasons for believing and embracing the gospel John and Jesus preached. An examination of the passage John the Baptist pointed to when the priest and Levites questioned him revealed John’s true identity.  John was not the Messiah but he was not “the voice” either. The passage in Isaiah 40 that began with the words “the voice of one calling” concluded with the words “For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” The “voice” was God’s voice giving John his calling.

A voice said, “Cry out.” And he [John the Baptist] said, “What shall I cry?”[2]

The voice, which is God’s voice told John to “Cry out.”  John the Baptist knew he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy.  John’s mother, father and maybe Mary told him about prophesies spoken about him before he was born.  John knew Isaiah spoke of one that would announce the arrival of the Messiah and identify him to others. But he did not act upon the word of people of flesh, or even the written scriptures. He waited for a voice he could trust. Gods! That may be why John chose to live in the wilderness. He was waiting for the voice of God, so he could ask a question. “What shall I cry?”

This is where we get to the meat of John’s message to Judah, which encompassed more than pointing them to the Messiah. Isaiah gives us the voice told him to preach.

“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass.  The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”[3]

Isaiah identified the fading flowers scattered by the breath of the Lord as the rulers of Israel and Judah. These rulers had no regard for the deeds of God and had no respect for his word. They had become wise in their own eyes and called evil good and good evil. They were drunkards who acquitted the guilty for a bribe and denied justice to the innocent. Their roots will decay and flowers blow away like dust because they “have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.”[4]

Simon a.k.a. the Apostle Peter later quoted Isaiah 40:5-8 as a warning in his first letter to the Jewish Christians who had been driven out of Jerusalem.[5] The God we call upon judges each person’s work impartially. What he did to their ancestors, he will do to them if they allow themselves to become corrupt like their ancestors did. This warning also applies to the Gentile Christians. If anyone thinks they can become corrupt like the rulers of Israel and Judah without withering and being blown away, they are deceived. God’s word is good and stands forever. He will judge those who pervert justice and oppress the weak.

James also referenced Isaiah when he wrote the rich will fade like a wildflower.[6] But he was not talking about everyone who is rich. You can be rich without being corrupt. God is rich. Abraham, the father of our faith, was rich. James was talking about the rich who exploit us, drag us to court and slander the name of Jesus.[7] The rich who hoard wealth instead of helping the less fortunate, refuse to pay their workers, live in self-indulgence and condemn the innocent will wither and blow away.[8]

Andrew and Simon followed Jesus because they understood John’s message and believed Jesus would bring an end to tyrants who abuse their authority and exploit us. Their purpose in following Jesus transcended obtaining something for themselves. They sought a better world for everyone.

The senseless man does not know,

fools do not understand,

that though the wicked spring up like grass

and all evildoers flourish;

they will be forever destroyed.

Psalm 92:6-7

___________________________________________________________________________

[1] Matthew 13:18-23

[2] Isaiah 40:6, NKJ, John the Baptist is not in original text, added by author.

[3] Isaiah 40:5-8

[4] Isaiah 5:1-24

[5] 1 Peter 1:1 “The Jewish Christians driven out of Jerusalem and scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia Minor, and Bithynia.” The Living Bible; 1 Peter 1:24

[6] James 1:9

[7] James 2:6-7

[8] James 5:1-6

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Prepare the Way

Peter.1A Sinful Man #1 

A study in Jesus’ dealings with Simon who became the Apostle Peter.

Simon’s path to becoming the Apostle Peter began with the ministry of John the Baptist.  John, a descendant of Aaron, was a maverick among Priests. He spent his time in the wilderness instead of the polished halls of the Jerusalem temple. Wilderness living made camel’s hair clothing preferable to the traditional priestly garments. Before his conception in the barren womb of his mother his father, Zebedee, had messed up his once in a lifetime opportunity to burn incense and pray the Messiah would come. He exited a mute unable to fulfill his duty to bless the people and offered a surreal explanation. He had been praying for the Messiah to come when an angel appeared declaring his prayer had been heard. His wife would give birth to a son who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Zachariah did not believe the angel. The angel responded by taking away his ability to spew his unbelief. A disgruntled high priest, without doubt offended by this country bumpkin from the hills of Judea who disrupted the service, permitted Zachariah to complete his duties. Zachariah returned home but the dramatic events of the day and speculation about what really happened to him in the temple continued.

One day, just as the angel had said, Zachariah’s barren wife announced she was pregnant. About six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy cousin Mary arrived. Elizabeth and Mary were filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesied. Elizabeth assured Mary there would be a performance of the things the Lord told her. The Lord had told Mary she would give birth to the Messiah. Mary responded by praising God for remembering his promise to Abraham.

Three months later, John was born. His parents traveled to the Jerusalem temple to circumcise him and a dispute about the child’s name arose. Zachariah settled the issue when he wrote on a tablet “His name is John.” That act of obedience released his tongue. Zachariah who had not spoken a word for months suddenly prophesied that the oath God swore to Abraham will be fulfilled.

Mary returned home full of information she did not know what to do with and hid everything in her heart. She became pregnant just as the angel told her and gave birth to Jesus, the Messiah. The night of his birth astonished shepherds arrived talking about angels singing praise to God. Their arrival offered more confirmation she had given birth to the Messiah. The shepherds left the presence of Jesus and “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:17-19). According to their laws and customs, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple to be circumcised. In the temple, devout believers spoke more prophesies about their son’s destiny.

Jospeh and Mary remained in Jerusalem for more than a year but no one arrived to crown their son king. They waited until Jesus was a toddler and some wise men from the east arrived looking for the King of the Jews. The wise men had learned from a trouble government and city that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Then a star led them to Jesus’ home.  The Magi worshiped the toddler, gave him expensive gifts and left. The only people to treat Jesus like a king were foreigners.

Mary and Joseph remained in Bethlehem until an angel announced their government wanted to kill Jesus. At the angels instruction they fled to Egypt. After Herod died, the angel told them it was safe to return, but not to Jerusalem to assume King David’s throne. They returned to Nazareth and settled into the normal routines of life wondering when their son would become king. Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, shepherds, Simon, Anna and everyone they told knew Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, but the government wanted the child dead and the religious leaders are oblivious that the one they worshiped with such zeal had arrived.

Aside from an incident when twelve-year-old Jesus astonished religious leaders with his understanding and then wondered why his parents did not know he must be about his father’s business nothing unusual happened. Jesus grew up to become not a king or even a religious leader but a humble carpenter.

The heavens were silent until Jesus’ cousin John began preaching, “Repent the Kingdom of Heaven is near” stirring up memories of prophecies, dreams and promises that lay dormant in curious hearts for three decades. Most of the people who knew and believed the Messiah had arrived were elderly and may have been dead by the time John started his ministry. Mary’s husband, Joseph, is never mentioned again suggesting he had died. That left Mary and a large number of people who may or may not have believed, but knew what happened at the birth of John and Jesus. At the minimum that group included:

  1. The people who Zechariah was unable to bless when he exited the temple. He was still able to write on a tablet and without doubt relayed the dramatic message that their prayer for the Messiah to come had been heard.
  2. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s family and neighbors. Elizabeth’s pregnancy would have been widely discussed because she had passed the age of childbearing.
  3. Mary and Joseph’s extended family and neighbors. Her pregnancy was a family scandal that shamed Joseph and her family. Mary’s “apparent” delusion that God had impregnated her would have been whispered about for years. Jesus would have been aware of his “apparent” illegitimate status in the family.
  4. An unspecified number of shepherds, who angels visited with the message the Messiah had been born and everyone the shepherds told.
  5. Everyone in the temple who heard Simon praise God for showing him the Messiah.
  6. Anna, the first female evangelist, was well known in the temple. She publically gave thanks to God and spoke about Jesus to the multitudes looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
  7. The Magi, King Herod and all Jerusalem. King Herod believed the Messiah had been born and sought to kill him resulting in the slaughter of every male two years of age and younger in Bethlehem. Everyone who worked in government and everyone in Bethlehem and Jerusalem knew what Herod did and why.

Rome brutally oppressed the people of Judah and their religious leaders had lost touch with the God they worshiped. The hope that the Messiah had finally arrived kept the stories of angelic sightings, the angels’ message and the strange circumstances that surrounded the birth of two boys alive. When John began his ministry priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem to ask him if he was the Christ. When he replied, “I am not the Christ,” they went down the list. Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet Moses said would come? No and no. The frustrated priest exclaimed, my paraphrase, “Who are you? We need to bring an answer back to the temple.”

John pointed them to the writings of Isaiah.

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3, NKJ [1]  

The common knowledge that the Messiah had been born and subsequent investigations by the temple into the ministry of John the Baptist stirred up a man named Andrew, brother of Simon. The Bible does not tell us why Andrew and Simon were in Judea. We only know that Andrew investigated the strange ministry of John the Baptist. At some point, Andrew accepted John’s message, repented and was baptized in water.

There is no indication in the Bible that his brother Simon responded to John the Baptist message. Ultimately, Andrew’s decision to follow John the Baptist in pursuit of the Messiah prepared the way for a sinful man to accept Christ as the Son of God and become the Apostle Peter.

[1] All Scripture in this series NIV unless otherwise noted.

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How Did the Disciple Obey?

For most of my Christian life, which encompasses all of my life except the first fifteen years, I have obsessed over the things I didn’t do. There are times I didn’t obey God, at least by my standards. I would have saved myself some wasted days devoted to depression if I had measured myself by Jesus’ standard.

Three words leaped off the page in Jesus’ prayer before he died. Not the prayer at Gethsemane when he asked God if there was another way to save humanity. The one he prayed after he told his disciples they would abandon him. Those three life changing words were “they have obeyed your word” (John 17:6).

What gave Jesus the audacity to tell his father that his disciples obeyed! His disciples quarreled with one another and forbid children from approaching the savior of humanity. They tried to silence blind Bartimaeus lest he disturb the healer. They failed to heal the son of a desperate father. James and John jockeyed for the number two spot in God’s kingdom causing the rest of the disciples to be indignant. They gloried in the power to command spirits instead of glorying in God’s love for them. They wanted to destroy an entire city by calling fire down from heaven. None of them had a clue Jesus would die a tragic death even though he told them how he would die more than once.

These are the same disciples Jesus knew would abandon him when he suffered. Jesus knew Peter would deny him. He also knew they would forsake their calling and return to their fishing boats. Yet, Jesus said, “they have obeyed your word.”

Jesus told us in his prayer what gave him the audacity to say his disciples obeyed.

I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.  (John 17:8, NLT) 

They accepted the things Jesus taught and believed God sent him. Using Jesus’ standard of what it means to obey I have obeyed as well. Have you?

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A Subtle Suggestion

We were visiting a church in another city when my son announced that he wanted to return that evening for the youth meeting. He is a young adult more than youth but the topic, music, interested him. We returned thinking there would be a discussion. Instead, the youth minister played a DVD. My son immediately wanted to leave. I vetoed his request. We should have left.

The entertaining minister on the DVD told an interesting story. He started his message with King David, the man after God’s own heart. David’s music drove away evil spirits from the wayward King Saul. Since music could drive evil spirits out Craig reasoned music could drive them in.

Skepticism immediately surfaced. A person can invite an evil spirit into his life. Disobedience may open the door for an evil spirit to come in. But I had my doubts God left us so helpless that listening to music would deposit evil spirits into our lives without our consent.

Craig’s story became dramatic. A well-known musician and friend of Craig’s decided to leave the music industry. The musician’s devils, 42 of them, were not willing to release him. The musician’s wife made a 911 phone call to Craig’s house pleading for help. He reluctantly drove to his friend’s house to cast the devils out.

Craig successfully cast out 41 devils in the name of Jesus. The last devil proved stubborn. Apparently, Jesus’ name was not enough to conquer this devil. Craig asked the Holy Spirit what to do. Allegedly, the Holy Spirit told Craig that this devil was played in and would have to be played out. Craig, also a musician, ordered someone to play music. The wife played a song Craig had written and recorded. You guessed it. The song he wrote had more power than the name of Jesus.

This powerful story of deliverance awed some people in the church. I wasn’t among them. I didn’t understand why the name of Jesus failed to cast out devil #42 when God gave Jesus “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth . . . (Philippians 2:9-11, NIV)

I seriously doubt Craig meant to suggest that his music contained more power than Jesus’ name, but that is exactly what he did. These kinds of messages undermine our confidence in a loving God and instill fear. Wouldn’t it be better to fill us with the knowledge of God?

I’ve seen more than one minister with a crusade regarding a specific subject fall by the wayside. One minister built his ministry around saving marriages. For twenty years, his conferences proved helpful at salvaging many a shipwrecked relationship. Apparently, he didn’t follow his own advice. Divorce ended his marriage and ministry.

Another minister focused his ministry on preserving the messages and biographies of famous preachers. He believed clergy could learn how to have a successful ministry studying the success and failures of these men and women. He was wrong. His homosexual affair ended his ministry.

“Pray one hour a day” reverberated throughout Christendom in the 1980s. The man who lead this crusade had proof. He prayed one hour a day and became the pastor of a large church that sprang up practically overnight. Was his church a beautiful flower in God’s garden or a weed uprooted when his church fell apart practically overnight?

Okay. Enough examples! I’ll leave you with a question.

When will Christians learn that it’s not what goes in us that defiles us but what comes out of our mouths?

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An Education in Human Behavior

A decision to leave a writer’s group I had attended for five years gave me an education in human behavior. I owe a debt of gratitude to the man who started the meeting. My writing improved dramatically during my time with them.

The first meeting I attended comprised three members. I wrote non-fiction. They wrote fiction. They made an exception. I wrote about God. The Lutheran did not mind. The pagan was not pleased but tolerated me. Even though the leader intended the group to consist of one genre, he decided the purpose of the meeting was to encourage the craft of writing and swung the door open for all genres.

We met weekly to refine our craft. The rules were sparse. A common goal of helping one another held us together. “Suck it up” became the golden rule. When the members commented on our work, we could not reply until we had been sliced, diced and roasted. Was it difficult to remain quiet while people pointed out every detrimental item in your writing? Yes, indeed, but it worked wonderfully.

Everyone’s writing improved except our leader who rarely submitted work for a critique.  He seemed content to sit among us as a shepherd who provided a place for the flock to graze as we found our own way. If he was late, or didn’t appear at all, we started without him. We were adults, not children who needed someone to hold our hand.

Over the years, writers came and writers left. Some left in wonderment we did not perceive their genius. Some left in anger when we suggested their writing needed improvement. Others left upon the realization they would not be an overnight success depositing a million dollar royalty check in the morning.

We developed into a core group of writers who rarely missed a meeting.  Our writing steadily improved until some among us were paid for our finely crafted work. We rejoiced and high-fived the proud authors. The playwright among us won a competition. We attended the sold-out opening night when a local playhouse produced her play.

We were happy until strangers appeared desiring what we had. Fear invaded the group.  No longer were we reviewing one to three members work per meeting. We had to wait weeks for a critique, and then we had to wait months. Grumbling rumbled through the group.

“This group is too big,” said one of the members. “Something needs to be done,” affirmed another member. “Patience,” I cried. “Nothing happens fast in publishing, so what does it matter if we have to wait.” Some scowled in disgust. We discussed new rules but the submissions that came in like a flood subsided and the group breathed a sigh of relief.

Our relief was short-lived. The bookstore that nurtured us blessed us with advertising. More strangers arrived wanting what we had, but the group no longer wanted to share. If we share, we have to wait. Our needs required instant gratification. None of us had a publishing deadline or even contest deadline, but we had a rule. If someone had a deadline, his or her work would move to the top of the list.

“Why can’t we welcome these strangers and wait if we must,” I inquired.

“These new people will destroy our group,” someone huffed.

Our leader shed his shepherd clothes and crowned himself sovereign king. He extended his scepter and decreed that the strangers must prove their worth first. They must wait for weeks and then we will read their writing to see if they are worthy to sit among us.

I don’t think the minority within the writing group realized what they did. They saw the strangers as loss. I saw them as gain. What did we have to fear – new ideas, fresh perspectives, more talented writers giving helpful critiques? Unfortunately, the minority had the power to determine which path the group would take.

Instead of encouraging writers new writers, we nitpicked about the rules. The strangers did not destroy us. The rules did. I knew from many years of Bible study that the letter of the law kills; the Spirit gives life. But my opposition to the influx of unnecessary rules fell on deaf ears. I didn’t want to quarrel with people who had become my friends, so I moved on hoping to recapture what I once had. A group of writers with a common goal of encouraging one another.

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Just What You’re Looking For

When my baby started college a car became a necessity. The last thing he needed was unending car repairs sucking up his limited funds, and I wanted the impossible – a new car at a used car price. God is able to do the impossible, but I don’t expect him to do the unreasonable. I prayed he would lead us to a reliable car that fit our budget with less than 30,000 miles thinking that is the closest we would get to a new car.

Before we left the house, my husband called from work and said he wanted Tim to look for a new car. I didn’t think he could afford a note for a new car, but dutifully drove onto the new car lot. Tim test drove a car and wanted to discuss the price with the salesman. I reluctantly consented. He had saved a substantial down payment, and I was present to guide him, not choose the car.

When the salesman assured us a $200 a month car note, Tim was ready to buy. The note was reasonable, but I reminded my eager son, “You have to pay insurance too.” The salesman smelling a sell offered to call our insurance for a quote. He dialed the number and turned on the speakerphone. The secretary recorded the information and then informed us we could not get a quote today but someone would call us tomorrow.

The salesman looked up from doodling on a piece of paper in shock. “We call this agent all the time. I’ve never had that happen.”

At this point, I took over the negotiations. “My son won’t commit to a car until we know how much the insurance will cost.” Feeling the sale slipping through his fingers, he spun the phone around and quickly dialed the national office of the insurance company.

“How may I help you,” said the secretary.

“I’d like an insurance quote,” I said.

A voice squawked over the speakerphone, “You’ll have to contact your agent for a quote.”

My son and I patiently waited another forty minutes while the frustrated salesman labored in vain to find someone who would give us an insurance quote. I finally thanked the salesman for his efforts, and we left the dealership.

“Don’t worry,” I told my son. “Our agent will call tomorrow with a quote, and we’ll come back if it’s affordable.” He nodded in agreement.

This time I pulled onto a used car lot. “What do you have for about $10,000, I asked the salesman. He led us to a car with 44,000 miles on the speedometer. “Do you have anything with less mileage?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment. “I think I have just what you’re looking for.” He made us comfortable in his office, and then left. The wall was covered with awards for best salesman. Next to the awards were photo’s of him with a former mayor of New Orleans and a famous boxer.  I was reading a prayer tacked on his wall when he returned with a key in his hand.

“We just got this car in and haven’t cleaned it up yet,” he warned, “but it’s has 15,000 miles.”

Tim took the car for a test drive and liked it as much as the new car. “How much?” I asked the salesman. He led us back to his office. I sighed. Why couldn’t he quote a price while we stood outside?

He jotted numbers on a sales order and then handed the paper to me. When I saw the bottom line, I tried to keep my jaw from hitting the floor – $9,995 including tax, title and license. The price and mileage exceeded our expectations.

Tim had saved $8,000 to buy a car. I could put the balance on my credit card, and he would have the car paid in full before he attended his first college class. I studied the figures again and concluded this offer was too good to be true. There must be something wrong with the car.

“May I see a Carfax report,” I inquired.

A few moments later, the salesman returned with the report: one owner, personal use and then sold in an auction to the present dealer. Carfax guaranteed no problems with the title, no reported mechanical issues or accidents and no recalls listed.
The salesman left his office while I called my husband. We decided Tim could buy this car if he so desired. I motioned for the salesman to return and Tim proudly announced, “Sold.”

The salesman smiled and said, “Before I left for work this morning, I asked God who I could help today.”

His comment reminded me of my prayer for guidance. “I believe he just answered your prayer,” I said, “and mine.”

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God Did

The Children’s Bread 12/12

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know…(Acts 2:22, KJV, emphasis added)

In Acts Chapter 2, Peter is speaking to people perplexed by the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. He quoted from Joel to prove God’s promise to pour out his Spirit on all flesh had been fulfilled. Then he makes an amazing statement. Jesus did not do the miracles, wonders, and signs that marked his ministry. GOD DID. God did the miracles to confirm that Jesus taught them the truth.

Our faith does not control nor dictate the miraculous power of God because the intent of miracles is to confirm the truth. Have you ever noticed volumes of teaching on how to “get a miracle” yields few and questionable miracles. I’ve known more than one person who believed God healed them of cancer. I’ve also attended their funeral when the cancer returned and nothing could be done to save them. The truth is the cancer went into remission. God never healed them.

If we shut our eyes and ears to the truth, we will never see true miracles, because we will never correct our doctrine. We don’t need someone to teach us how to get a miracle. If we worship God in Spirit and in truth, God will work with us performing the miracles people need.

Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10, NKJ).

If God’s sinless son refused to speak his own words, we should follow his example.

Heavenly Father, Please forgive your ministers for spreading error about you and send laborers who speak your words that you might visit us with the miracles we need.  Amen

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