My solitary place

A number of places in the Bible we see that Jesus went off to a solitary place to pray. Mark 1:35 says He did it early in the morning. His desire was to go and be alone with His Father in heaven.

I have a few solitary places I go to be alone with God in prayer. The photo above is one of the places. It is up on a Peak that overlooks our town. Depending on which way I go to get there, it can take 15 minutes or 45 minutes to walk to it. One is steep and quick and the other one is slow and winding.

Sometimes I go to this place once a week and spend some time in prayer. This is usually in the cooler months of the year. At other times it is less often, but I go up there when I need space to hear from God, especially when I need wisdom (see James 1:5).

As it is up high I can see most of my town, farming land or a forrest depending on which way I look. Not only does it get me away from work, but it slows me down. It has a way of calming me and centring my mind on God. I find it easy to hear from Him in a solitary place like this.

Every time I go up the Peak I can see why Jesus did it. It has a way of stripping the external noise away and just making it about me and God, Him and me. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I am quiet. Sometimes I just listen for an answer.

How about you? Have you got a solitary place you go to be with God? Do you have a Peak you go to? Or another place? If not, I wonder if that will help you to draw aside like Jesus did. For me, it really calms my mind and helps me to draw near to God.

Blessings,
Dave

The need for workers

In Matthew 9 Jesus tells His disciples about the need for workers to go out in to the harvest field. It says…

Matthew 9:35-38 NLT – Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. [36] When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. [37] He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. [38] So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

In this passage three things jump out at me as I read it.

1. Jesus modelled what His workers should do

We see that Jesus travelled around the region preaching, teaching and healing. He went to where the people were and met their needs, He even healed their diseases. This echoes Matthew 4:23-25. For me this shows me that we need to be out in our towns and regions doing the work that Jesus did. Jesus gave us a great example.

2. Jesus had compassion on the crowds

We see in the Gospels that Jesus always had compassion for the people where He saw large crowds. I verse 36 He likened them to sheep without a shepherd. We see in the Bible (see Ezekiel 34) God describes His people as sheep and that He wants to be their Shepherd. For us today we need to introduce people to our Shepherd Jesus. The one who cares for us, feeds us and binds up our wounds.

3. Jesus asks us to pray for workers

Jesus finishes the passage with a need and a request. He says the harvest of people is huge, but there are not many workers to bring it in. He then asks us to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers. Many times when we pray for a need we find that God softens our hearts and then calls us to help. So when you pray, be prepared that God may call you.

Reading this passage afresh today has reminded me of the great harvest of people out there who need to meet Jesus. It also reminded me of what we need to do. We need to follow Jesus’ example and be out there preaching, teaching and healing. We also have to pray for workers to bring in the harvest with the compassion of Jesus.

Blessings,
Dave

God’s fingerprints in our lives

My wife and I were talking with someone recently about how God was active in our lives as kids or teens. We didn’t know Him or go to church then, but looking back we can see His fingerprints.

I can remember in grade three at school colouring in a cross in Scripture class. I was captivated by the cross and the thought that someone would die for me. It spoke to me in a way that I didn’t fully understand. Nearly 50 years later I still remember it.

Likewise, at school my wife was fascinated by a book in the library that had Bible stories with coloured pictures. She loaned the book so often that the librarian commented to her about it. She said she liked the book so much, but she didn’t know why.

There are many other memories of how God entered our lives and gently nudged us in His direction. He brought people and situations to us to be links in the chain to find Him. It really is amazing when you reflect on it. So many things seem like co-incidences, but are actually God-incidences He orchestrated.

How about you? Can you see the fingerprints of God when you look back? I think that is worth reflecting on today.

Blessings,
Dave

Sermon: The Healing and Restoration of the Leper

Bible Readings: Matthew 4:23-25, Matthew 8:1-4

The title of my message today is the Healing and restoration of the Leper. It looks at Jesus’ amazing interaction with a Leper who approached Him and the result of what happened. This story is found in three of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. Today I am going to focus on the Matthew version.

Today I want to I will look at some of the background teachings and contexts, then I will bring out some applications points that we can reflect on for today.

Breakdown and teaching on the text

Verse 1
Jesus came down out of the hills, where the Sermon on the Mount had been delivered, the great crowds still followed Him. There would have been many reasons why people would have followed Jesus. Some would have been amazed by His teaching. Some would have dared to believe He may be the promised Messiah that the Old Testament had prophesized about. Some would have just followed to see the miracle worker in action.

Verses 2
In verse two Jesus comes in contact with the Leper. As we will see later this is the first of eight miracles in Matthew 8 and 9. The Bible uses the term Leper to describe a number of skin diseases that were contagious. In Biblical times if people had leprosy they were declared unclean by the Priests and they lived outside the town in a leper camp until they died or got better. Leviticus 13:46 says that “As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp”. As it stood, the leper couldn’t work or live or interact with other people in the city. In fact, if he entered the city he had to cover his mouth and yell unclean, unclean wherever he went. If he failed to do so, he could be stoned to death. This is so people would not become infected with leprosy and religious Jews would not become ritually unclean. If it were in Our town today, they would have to live outside the town area where no-one could come in contact with them. Maybe behind the Peak. They would not be able to come into to town, to work, to come to church, or to see their family. I couldn’t imagine being in that situation today. For most of us our whole worlds revolve around these things.

In verse 2 we see this man “knelt” before Jesus in the NIV. The Greek world for knelt in the text, (pros-koo-neh-o), can also mean “worshiped.” Some translations actually translate it as “knelt and worshiped Jesus”. We also see in the passage the man used the title “Lord”. The word in Greek (koo-ree-os) means Lord, Master, Supreme Authority or Ruler. So we can see from these two things he held Jesus in high regard. The leper both knelt and worshiped Jesus and called Him Master. It was not a casual question asking for healing.

Verse 3
In verse 3 we also see this in the statement “If you are willing”. It reflects the leper’s great faith. We saw in the first reading that Jesus had already been teaching, preaching and healing all over the region and many people had already followed Him. The leper had no question about Jesus’ healing powers. The leper knew Jesus already had the authority and power to heal, He only needed to decide and act and his healing would come.

By touching an unclean leper, Jesus would become defiled and unclean according to Jewish custom (see Leviticus 13-14). But as Christians we know that when Jesus’ touches something, it cannot remain defiled or unclean. Far from becoming unclean Himself, Jesus makes the unclean leper clean and He makes him whole. We see that both Jesus’ words – I am willing – and Jesus’ touch are effective in showing the power and authority and healing of God. The Leper was healed and restored.

Verse 4
Jesus’ command for the leper to keep quite and go show himself to the Priests was about allowing the man to be acceptable to the community as a whole again. When someone had leprosy a Priest was the one who confirmed and sentenced them to live outside the city in isolation. Only a Priest could declare them clean and restore them to community life.

Leviticus 14:1-4 says “And the Lord said to Moses, 2 “The following instructions are for those seeking ceremonial purification from a skin disease. Those who have been healed must be brought to the priest, 3 who will examine them at a place outside the camp. If the priest finds that someone has been healed of a serious skin disease, 4 he will perform a purification ceremony.” This is why Jesus told him to do this. To prove the miracle and healing took place. It is interesting to note that in the Mark and Luke versions of the story, the man went and told everyone and did not show himself to the Priest.

Summary

So we see this miracle healing was done by Jesus out of compassion for the Leper and in response to his request, but it also had greater implications for him as a person. He was restored in body, he was restored to family and community life, and he was restored spiritually as he could attend the Temple once more.

Application points

So what can we learn from this passage? What can we use today? There are two things that both encourage and challenge me.

1. We need to bring our problems to Jesus.

This miracle is the first in a series of miracles that Jesus performs. If we read through Matthew chapters 8 and 9 we see there are eight recorded miracles of Jesus.

The man with leprosy (Matthew 8:1-4) – He knelt before Jesus and said if you are willing I will be healed. Jesus was willing and healed him.

The Centurion’s slave (Matthew 8:5-13) – He asked Jesus to “say the word” and his servant would be healed from a distance. Jesus said the word and he was healed.

The calming of the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) – The disciples were terrified as the storm on the lake threatened their lives. They called to Jesus and He stilled the storm.

The Paralytic man – (Matthew 9:1-8) – Some friends brought the paralytic man to Jesus in faith that He could heal him. Jesus told him to pick up his mat and go home. He got up and walked.

The Dead Girl (Matthew 9:18-26) – A man came to Jesus and told of his dead daughter. He said if you touch her, she will live. Jesus touched her and she lived.

The Sick Woman (Matthew 9:20-22) – The woman who had been bleeding non-stop for 12 years came to Jesus. She knew if she could touch His cloak she would be healed. She did and she was healed.

The Two Blind Men (Matthew 9:27-31) – Two blind men came asked Jesus to have mercy on them. He asked if they believed He could heal them. They said yes and they were healed.

The Mute Man (Matthew 9:32-33) – A man was brought to Jesus who was demon possessed and could not speak as a result. The demon was driven out and he was healed.

Jesus intervened in all of these situations and brought a miracle. For the Leper, Jesus was able to make the man whole in an instant. He had the power and the authority and as the leper found out, He had the will to do it. Whatever we are faced with today, we should bring it to Jesus like the Leper did in today’s passage. Prayer and bringing our problems to Jesus should be our first reaction, not a last resort.

The miracles in Matthew chapters 8 and 9 covered all things. There were healings, demons were caste out, a storm was calmed, and someone was even raised to life. Nothing is impossible for Jesus. Absolutely nothing. All things are possible to them that believes. If you are struggling with something today, bring it to Jesus in prayer. Come like the leper did, come humbly to the Master knowing He can intervene.

2. We see that Jesus did not treat people like outcasts.

One of the things I love about Jesus is that He is a Saviour for all people. In the Bible we see that He spent time with and reached out to people of all backgrounds and nationalities. He didn’t treat people as outcasts, not even lepers. Many times He healed and restored them to community life.

This is especially interesting because at the time Jesus walked the earth, many people only spent time with people from their own people group. They did not mix with others because in many cases they thought they were unclean. And there is no way someone would be seen with a leper. Jewish culture saw it as a curse from God.

But as we know, Jesus spent time with the Sadducees (Matthew 22:23), the Pharisees (Matthew 12:2-6), the Herodians (Matthew 22:15-22), the Romans (Luke 7:2), the Zealots (Luke 6:15) and the Samaritans (John 4:39-42). Combine this with Jesus spending time with other social outcasts of the day like tax collectors, prostitutes and lepers shows that Jesus was a Savior for all people. He didn’t discriminate. He just genuinely loved and cared for people, no matter whom they were or what they had done. He didn’t treat people as outcasts.

Many of us have probably heard about Mother Theresa and her work in the slums of Calcutta. Daily she dealt with the poorest of the poor. She even tended to lepers. Mother Teresa said this about serving God – “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” Seeing Jesus in the face of every person helped her to keep going when many others didn’t.

This is the type of person I believe Jesus wants us to be. He wants us to really love people, to care for them, He wants us to welcome them in no matter how different to us they are. He doesn’t want us to shun people or treat them as outcasts. He wants to embrace and heal them. He wants to do it through us. Jesus wants us to be His hands and feet to serve, His mouth to speak life, His heart to love and His arms to bring comfort. This is the person I want to be. WWJD – What would Jesus do? WSID – What should I do? WSWD – What should we do? We can’t treat people as outcasts, we need to embrace them in the way Jesus did and invite them to be part of our community.

Closing

So today as we move on to a time of fellowship, let us remember these two things for the healing of the Leper…

1. That we can bring all our problems to Jesus and He can help us. Nothing is impossible for Him.

2. That Jesus didn’t treat people like outcasts, He healed and welcomed them back to community.

Amen.

Sermon: Chosen, redeemed & sealed

The title of my message today is, “Chosen, Redeemed and Sealed.” It is something that has been on my heart since I was doing my morning devotions from the Book of Ephesians.

For my devotions I was working my way through the book one heading at a time. The first one is “Spiritual blessings in Christ” and comes from chapter 1 verses 3-14. As I read and reflected three main points jumped out at me which I want to share today.

Bible Reading – Ephesians 1:3-14

Spiritual Blessings in Christ

3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

9 God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.

12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. 

Message points

Today I have three main points and a smaller one I want to share from this passage.

Point 1 – God has chosen us and adopted us

A great truth of the Bible is that we who are in Christ or Christians are chosen.

Verse 4 of the text says, “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.

In this simple verse there are four great truths.

  1. Before the world was made we were on God’s mind
  2. God loves us
  3. We are chosen
  4. God sees us as faultless in His eyes.

Paul tells us that God “chose” us to emphasize the truth that salvation depends totally on God. We are not saved by our own good works or because we deserve it, but because God is gracious and loving and chose to freely give us salvation. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross to pay the price for our sin and our faith and our faith and trust in who He is and what He has done, we are saved. And the good news is that because we are saved and in Christ, we are faultless in His eyes.

Verse 5 of today’s text tells us that, “God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure.”

Again, verse five has a number of great truths.

  1. God decided in advance
  2. We are adopted into His eternal family
  3. It was His idea to save us
  4. Our salvation gave Him pleasure

God has adopted us into His eternal family. He decided in advance to do this. We are now His children. John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.”

So, we are chosen, saved and adopted by God.

Point 2 – We are redeemed by God

Verse 7 tells us, “He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins.”

Redemption is an important word in the Christian faith. Redemption is about the buying back or release of an object or person. In the Bible redemption refers to God’s ransoming of believers through the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross and to all the benefits that this brings. So, Jesus paid the price on the cross to redeem us back to God.

Why did we need to be redeemed? We needed to be redeemed because we couldn’t save ourselves. When we talk about salvation we see that in our natural state without Christ we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and that this sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2).

Some people and some religions think they can redeem themselves by good works. They think if their good deeds out way their bad deeds, then God will accept them. The Bible tells us that salvation is not by good works, so no-one can boast. It is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This is where Christ comes in with His work on the cross. In Christ we have been freed. Through His death on the cross as a payment for our sin the price has been paid.

Colossians 1:13-14 “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

1 Timothy 2:5-6 tells us that, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time”.

Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many. It is by Christ’s shed blood that our sins are forgiven. We celebrate this each week in communion. His death opened the way to God. He is the one mediator between God and mankind. Our redemption is one hundred percent totally and completely paid for by the death of Christ.

Point 3 – We are sealed by the Holy Spirit

Verses 13 and 14 of today’s text tells us. “And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, He identified you as His own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom He promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He promised and that He has purchased us to be His own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify Him.”

Again, in these two verses there are more amazing truths.

  1. The good news of Christ saves us
  2. God identified us as His own by giving us the Holy Spirit
  3. The Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that we received an inheritance and we are His own people.

Ephesians 4:30b says, “Remember, He has identified you as His own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.”

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 also says, “It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, 22 and He has identified us as His own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first instalment that guarantees everything He has promised us.”

Romans 8:23 says, “And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as His adopted children, including the new bodies He has promised us.

The Bible describes the Holy Spirit as a deposit, a guarantee, down payment of what we will receive.

The Greek word used for sealed is sphragizō. This means to stamp (like with a signet or private mark) for security or preservation or ownership. In the ancient world seals were very important. If a letter was stamped with the King’s seal, or Caesars seal, it carried the full weight of the King. It has power, authority and ownership. Much like a letter written on the letterhead of the Queen or the Prime Minister carries weight and authority today.

The Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee, His stamp, His seal, that we belong to Him and He will do what He has promised to do in our lives. As believers we can look forward to the great day when are freed from our bodies and we will live forever with Him without pain, suffering or sin.

Because the Holy Spirit is our seal we can know we are saved. We can know we belong to God. We can know without doubt God will do all He promised.

Point 4 – Our salvation is all about God

Just before I finish and summarise my message today I want to share some points that really jumped out at me as I read this passage. These are straight from my morning devotions.

V4 – He chose us before the foundation of the world

V5 – He predestined us to be adopted

V7 – In Him we have redemption

V7 – In Him we have forgiveness of sins

V9 – And He made know salvation to us

V11 – In Him we were chosen and predestined

V13 – In Him we are sealed by the Holy Spirit

Our salvation really is about God and His desire to save us, forgive us and adopt us into His eternal family. We truly are chosen, redeemed and sealed.

Closing summary

So today we looked at Ephesians chapter 1. It is a great passage that assures us of a number of things. The three that we looked at today are…

  1. God chose us and adopted us
  2. We are redeemed by God
  3. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit
  4. Our salvation is all about God

Amen