Mao-Tse-tung had a vision of China remade in his own image. To achieve that end he gave his life; he planned, worked, schemed and, if anyone resisted, killed. At the end, however, he could be assured of little permanent change among his people. When, in their meeting in 1972, President Nixon praised Mao for his writings and efforts which, Nixon declared, had moved the nation and changed history, Mao shrugged it off. He replied, with sadness, that he had been able to change only a few places in the vicinity of Peking. The vast majority of his people went on in the time-honored ways of their ancestors. (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1063)
As Isaiah envisioned the Servant’s ministry, 61:3, he predicted effective implementation of the changes God desired. In a series of contrasts, the prophet dramatized how vastly different and superior the people would feel once the Messiah had come.
Faith in God makes a difference in life. When we become aware of his Presence and power, we change for the better. Old habits perish; new virtues appear and grow in us. Temptations lose their power, and we find ourselves growing comfortable with prayer and talking of God. All this is due to God’s desire to express his glory through our lives. He demands improvement in us precisely because he aims to come and live in us.
Most importantly, his Presence inspires us to change because we decide to change. Seeking to please him, we have within us the reason we want to persevere in Christ-honoring behavior.
The battles of Forts Mercer and Mifflin produced some of the most dramatic action of the Revolutionary War. Four hundred Continental soldiers in each fort successfully defended their positions against powerful, repeated attacks by British cannon and Hessian infantry. No Americans in that war gave better account of themselves. General Washington’s reports of their valor glowed with gratitude and admiration.
Why then did the battles receive so little attention at the time, and less since? One of the participants felt he knew the answer: there was no famous general present; just common soldiers and officers, with no one to sensationalize their valor. Page Smith, A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 2, 998.
Isaiah’s prediction in 61:1 of God’s Servant held a surprise for everyone. He would stand squarely in the corner of the downtrodden, humble, enslaved and abused. He would wear their clothes, live in their homes and be daily in their company.
The leadership expected something else from their Messiah and felt bitterly disappointed when Jesus didn’t oblige them. Instead of cultivating them, he paid attention to the poor, the physically unattractive, the anonymous. He came to give dignity to the ordinary person, to raise his importance by assuring him of God’s care. The Father loved all children, the Master emphasized—not just a few “generals,” who got the credit for victories their soldiers gained. We know that God’s single answer to the terrible problems we face is acceptance of Christ. But he still possesses the deepest sympathy for anyone who suffers. We must continue the Master’s ministry of helping those less fortunate than ourselves.
Colonial Americans had a love affair with the law. Other than devotional literature, Americans purchased more volumes on law from England than any other subject, even buying nearly as many copies of Blackstone’s commentaries as the English. This led to a litigious society, for even the most rural people prided themselves on knowing how the law related to their lives.
More importantly, such knowledge led to an awareness of what was right and wrong; what could be reasonably demanded of people by their ruler, and what was impermissible. Thus the Bostonians refused to allow General Gage to billet his troops there in 1775. The law protected them from such impressment, they asserted. In his report to Britain Gage sulkily remarked that the law was studied by everybody.
In writing II Timothy 3:14 to his protégé, Paul encouraged his continued Bible education. Timothy would need to study the Scriptures, both Old and New, to reach conclusions in his belief. Once educated, he needed to stand there, whatever opposition he faced.
How frivolously most Christians have disregarded the apostle’s encouragement. The best-selling is often the least-read volume in the house. Yet, how much we need the information the Bible gives on every subject. It provides a touchstone of authority, a bedrock of fact on which we can build our life, value and goals. Only its truth replaces the meaningless nonsense so evident everywhere in the media, newspapers, magazines. textbooks, and everyday life.
Those who leave themselves uninformed about Bible teaching will find themselves open to all the misinformation available in a world glutted with misinformation. We need to know Bible teaching, be convinced of this truth and stand on it, whatever challenges, disputes and doubts we experience in doing so.
After watching a TV movie about a young man whose life was extended by receiving a heart transplant, a 15 year old boy in Kilgore, Texas decided he wanted to donate his organs when he died. Tragically, his wish was realized a week later. A truck struck and killed him while he was riding a bicycle on the highway. Yet, from his death came new life to five patients in three cities: his heart to a person in St. Louis; his kidneys to a pair of Dallas recipients and his corneas to patients in another Texas city. Death made him part of all of them.
When Andrew and Philip brought the Greeks to Jesus, John 12:20-26, they couldn’t have known how deeply Jesus would be affected by their request to interview him. Jesus understood, however, for it fore-shadowed his death and the projection of Christianity into the whole world.
Unlike other kingdoms, which almost always disintegrate with the death of their leaders, Christ’s kingdom only began with his sacrifice. A single Messiah of the Jews while he lived, Jesus became the Universal Savior by dying. And, consequently, he not only rose from the dead, and goes on living forever; he also lives again in every believer in every age since. His death keeps extending his life to all who accept him.
That’s why Christians glory in the cross, abhorring its shame. Christ died there, which really means that he goes on living. In the act of giving himself away, he became a single seed perishing, only to rise again, multiplying himself, reproducing untold millions in his own image.
Mark Twain had enormous story-telling skill. To this day millions enjoy the wit of this master of the art. But he failed to translate his writing talent into his business ventures. Modestly successful in one investment, he mistakenly indulged his ego in ever-larger projects, only to see them fail. In one scheme he invested $180,000, with no return at all. By 1895, due to his outrageous investments, he declared bankruptcy, being $100,000 in debt. At age 60 he returned to the lecture circuit to do what he did best—tickle the humor of humanity.
No single person, however brilliant, has all talent. When in John 12:20-22, the Greeks came to Philip, he didn’t now the next step. So he took them to Andrew, who did. Accustomed to bringing people to Christ, Andrew took the Gentiles there. Which may have reflected his confusion as much as his intention. He may have wondered what to do with the strangers, but he knew Jesus would have the answer.
Many situations exist where a Philip needs the services of an Andrew. God has made human inter-dependence an inevitable necessity by making human isolation virtually impossible. We live poorly when we live alone, away from others. Our very association with others enriches us, offering a cross-fertilization of ideas and values. Even the brightest and best have limitations that the dullest and least can fill.
We can properly value our talents if we as honestly admit our deficiencies. Our giftedness can be used to compensate the lack others feel while their strengths can compensate for our weaknesses. In this way we need neither be proud of our possessions nor ashamed of our incapacities. God has made it necessary, in society, the work place and the church for all to live together, with one’s abilities complementing another’s failures.
On Easter morning, 1865, William Seward lay in his bed, stabbed, horribly wounded, shattered. He had not been told of Lincoln’s death. He asked to better see the trees just blooming. With the curtains drawn back, he looked out and roved his eyes…and saw a flagstaff at the War Department, the flag at half-mast.
He stared at it for a moment and then murmured, “The President is dead!” When a nurse tired to offer an explanation, to save his feelings, Seward refused to listen. He’s dead, he insisted. He knew it because if Lincoln had been alive he would have been the first to personally call on him. He hadn’t been there and hadn’t even sent to inquire of Seward’s condition. That could only mean he was dead. And there was the flag at half-mast! He said no more, but great tears suddenly rushed from his eyes and soaked into the bandages that covered his gashes.
When Martha rushed out to meet Jesus, John 11:21, she had only one thought on her mind: if Jesus had been present, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Jesus was known as the man who always controlled any situation. Things went right with him around. He always inspired confidence in those who knew him, especially among those fortunate enough to be on intimate terms with him.
How Christians need to pray to develop a solid, positive reputation among others. People need to know what kind of people we are, and will be consistently. We need lives others can trust. Jesus lived that way. True disciples will follow his example.
Mary Chestnut wrote a well-known Diary of her experiences in the South during the Civil War. Among her many stories, she told of her father-in-law’s resolute refusal to give thanks for his food before eating it. Yet, as he left the table, he was often heard to audibly thank God for a good dinner. When asked why he would behave so strangely he explained that it was simply a matter of policy to be sure of a thing before he returned thanks for it. (Mary Chestnut’s Civil War, p. 770)
In John 11:41-42, before Jesus raised Lazarus he thanked God for always hearing him. He didn’t ask God for power to raise Lazarus, for Jesus had that power. He prayed in gratitude for God’s constant and intimate fellowship that made such miracles possible. Jesus could offer thanks this way because of his assured relationship with God. He and the Father were completely one with each other.
Pity the creature who won’t offer thanksgiving to God, when even the most beatific gratitude falls abysmally short of God’s Glory. Pity even more the creature who must have his “bird in hand” before he’ll thank God. That attitude works well in a business relationship, for it’s better to never bank money till it’s made. But God’s children can always thank God in advance. His benefits will always be greater than we anticipate. For God is able to do, not just all that we ask; and not just more than all we ask; and not just abundantly above all that we ask; and not even just exceeding abundantly above all that we ask. God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Ephesians 3:20
The believer can, and must, always trust God, and never doubt him. As Hebrews 11:6 says, we must believe God, not doubt God. Part of that faith means we anticipate God’s willingness to answer our prayers: whether with little or much, so long as it’s within his will. For being in his will rewards us infinitely beyond any possession or gain he gives.
In 1982 energetic, hard-working people inhabited and built Sunburst, a 5,000 acre commune in Santa Barbara, California, into a $16 million enterprise. They sold produce to restaurants and grocery stores and operated vegetarian restaurants throughout the state. They maintained high moral principles and a community relationship, with decisions made by the group. All these admirable traits were marred by their theological concepts, however. Spurning an evangelical, Biblical base for their religion, they tried to create an amalgam of all the world’s religions, Christianity among them. They sought to pool their visions and beliefs to develop common goals with the single motive of getting closer to what they call “the creator.”
That view is nothing new in the history of the world. It’s the same old Satanic lie under modern guise: “one religion is just as good as another.” And Jesus still rejects it. When in John 10:16 he said that he would be the single shepherd of a single flock, he put the kiss of death on any effort to combine him with anyone else and Christianity with anything else. He stands alone, above all others. He is not one of many. He is not one of a few. He is the One and Only of his kind. Consequently, Christianity cannot be mixed with anything else. All else falls before it. Nothing can ever stand in its presence.
In their practices the people of Sunburst fell into Satan’s trap. For it isn’t the multiplication of gods, goddesses, doctrines, dogmas, lords and saviors that he abhors. No. It’s the concentrated intensity of the One God and his One and Only Son that consternates and petrifies him. Little wonder that Satan works overtime to arouse competition for Christianity! And, given the colossal ignorance of Bible teaching, it’s no wonder he succeeds so mightily.
While visiting a South American village, a missionary was amazed at the memories of the Christians. They knew many songs by heart, even after hearing them just once. When studying the Bible, they painstakingly read New Testament passages syllable by syllable. It sometimes took half an hour to read one chapter. The pace crawled so slowly that the missionary feared they’d forget the beginning by the time they got to the end. To his astonishment the people then began discussing the passage word for word. Remote villagers they might be, deprived of the cultural advantages civilization offers, but they still possessed the ability to read, study and understand God’s Word.
In John 9:34, the Pharisees wouldn’t allow that the blind man had such ability. They even ridiculed him as one born in sin, meaning that his blindness had been caused by his sin. To them, it wasn’t possible that such a commoner could understand the Teacher.
What repeated preaching in every country of the world has proved is that the Gospel enlightens as it instructs the most advanced or, most primitive, minds. It can be discussed and understood by the most brilliant, or most rudimentary, intellects. The child can grasp its basic meaning, while the scholar never plumbs its depths. It’s far beyond our technological society, but simple enough for a Peruvian villager.
God’s purpose in sending Christ was to forgive our sins and, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, make all the purified scholars of his didache.