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“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” Matthew 4:23-25
The disciples followed Jesus simply because He called them. While He taught in the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath and at open air gatherings during the week, many others came to follow Jesus because of the miracles He performed.
In these verses we see that almost all of the inhabitants of the original Promised Land had representatives following Jesus’ ministry. Strangely missing from the list of followers, though, is Samaria. Another mixed-culture people group looked down on by the orthodox Jews of the south. No doubt Jesus noted their absence and, out of His love for them, willfully passed through the taboo region, bringing them the good news [John 4].
Medical care in the Roman Empire would have included herbal remedies, some doctors and surgeons, folk-practices, superstitions and temple rites. Complete and immediate healing was more than anyone could ask or imagine [Ephesians 3:20]. Yet that is exactly what Jesus did.
He preached. And He healed all who were brought to Him. No ailment was too great. And none was too small.
And for this simple ministry, the masses followed Him. He didn’t have high tech visuals or catchy music. He didn’t offer amusement or entertainment or interest groups. He didn’t promise wealth or prosperity or power or protection. Because all of that is false. All of it insincere, destructible and corruptible. All of it will pass away.
Even the physical healings people received from Jesus were temporary–everyone who experienced supernatural healing still aged and died naturally. Because this life is temporary. This world is not our home [Hebrews 13:14; 1 Peter 2:11-12]. We’re only passing through.
But the word of the Lord–the good news of His kingdom come–will stand forever [Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25].
Have you simply come to Jesus? Are you drawn by the mere truth of Him? Or does something else court your affections?
“After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.” Matthew 2:19-22a
Again, God faithfully protects His Son Jesus and Mary and Joseph. But it is not a physical intervention.
He didn’t give Jesus super human strength like Samson or the fabled Hercules. He didn’t give Him magical powers as pagan cultures purported their gods would do. He didn’t even physically send angels to fight off Herod and his troops so that Mary and Joseph could take Jesus to live in their homeland of Israel.
Though He could of done all of these things, God protected Jesus by His divine wisdom. He intervenes by warning through angels and dreams of angels. And, incredibly, Joseph not only believed the dreamed warnings. He acted. He obeyed.
Joepsh stayed in tune with the Holy Spirit and kept thinking. He didn’t park his brain or spiritual sensibilities, returning to Israel blindly. But he also didn’t need God to dictate every step. Joesph stayed true to the directive to protect Jesus’ physical life.
Herod was a mean old king by the time Jesus was born, not too many years later, he died. But his sons sniveled after the Romans with the same fervor. Archelaus ascended to his father’s throne. He was so ruthlessly cruel, that Archelaus only ruled for ten years before being deposed. And he was the last king in Israel. After him, Rome only appointed governors to the province.
But again, God knew from the Creation of the world what Herod’s son would be like. He knew that sending Joseph and Mary home at this time would lead them, in their earnest obedience to protect the Christ child, to live in a part of the land that was not their hometown. Nazareth in Galilee.
God knows everything about you and me as well. He hasn’t decided for us, but He knows exactly what we will face, the motives that will shape our decisions and how we will respond. Even still, He entrusts us to keep the gospel, the good news of His Son Jesus, safe. To study and show ourselves approved. To keep the doctrines sound. To pass on the truth of His Word to each subsequent generation.
And He intervenes in our life with wisdom, first and foremost.
In what specific way is God calling you to minister the gospel? Are you living true to your God-given directive? Are you living in tune with the Holy Spirit as your guide?
“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Matthew 1:18-19
In Greek and Roman mythology, gods–likely stories of fallen angel exploits [Genesis 6:4]–had physical relations with men and women all the time. And they did so for their own corrupt pleasure. God Almighty, however, is holy. He treats human beings with the respect for which He created us. He did not create women to sate some physical lust of His own. He created woman for man alone [Genesis 2:18-24].
So when His Holy Spirit overshadows her, God is respecting Mary’s person and her future marriage union. The babe, Jesus, is miraculously conceived without any physical union [Luke 1:35].
In those days, even engagement was considered a part of marriage [Deuteronomy 22:24]. Once you were engaged, that was it. That was your spouse for life even though you weren’t yet permitted to live and sleep with them until the official wedding.
Mary and Joseph were both God-fearing people who honored the marriage covenant. Because of this, Joseph knew it was wrong to marry someone who was having another man’s child. No matter how much he himself loved Mary, living a holy and upright life was most important to him. Before God intervened, Joseph decided to protect Mary with a private divorce–the only way to break an official engagement in his day–so that she would come to no harm [Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:23-24].
Wow! Look at how important guy-girl relationships are to God. It isn’t just because we’re reading about how Jesus’ holy birth came about. God desires such holiness and righteousness in all of our dating, engagement and marriage relationships. He desires people to honor His design for us–one man and one woman for life.
So much of TV and media teaches us to experiment with physical pleasure seeking. The world says just do whatever feels good and don’t worry about God’s standard. They’ve redefined everything about everything when it comes to a Godly marriage and intimate relationship–time frames, people involved, longevity–everything! But God transcends all cultural corruptions of couplehood. He is constantly good and holy and sets a moral right that continually imparts goodness and holiness to its adherents–aka BLESSINGS!
It’s like playing with fire. If you start a fire in a hearth, then it will burn and give warmth to the house without danger. But start the fire in the middle of the living room floor and you’re going to have a problem. Physical relationships belong only in a marriage between one man and one woman for life. That’s God’s moral standard, the intention with which He designed us.
Are you treating your future marriage with the goodness and holiness that God intended? Are you keeping your body pure and waiting for the blessings that God has for your marriage?
“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
God is love. He loved us first. He loves us most. He loves more than we could ever ask or imagine. Constantly. Faithfully. Mercifully. Full of grace, pressed down, shaken together and running over [Luke 6:38].
His love for us is holy. We are set a part as children [1 John 3:1], not the human toys purported by pagan mythologies. We are prepared as His spotless bride [Revelation 19:7-8], not exploited as harlots like in the mythological pantheons.
His love for us is sovereign and transcendent. That’s why His anger stirs when we continually and blatantly sin against one another [Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 6:1; James 2:13]. And when we sit in judgment on other people’s sins while disregarding our own [Matthew 7:2-5; Luke 6:41-42].
His love for us is righteous and good. It wills only for our eternal best. It treats us only with rightness–that which is infinitely and precisely correct according to God’s moral law. Never impatiently or unkindly. Never enviously, boastfully or arrogantly. Never dishonoring us or using us for His own gain. We do not easily trip God’s temper, and our reciprocal love toward God covers over the multitude of our sin. His love does not delight in evil. Period. But it rejoices when a sinner finds the truth, the way and the life. God’s love eternally protects as we trust in Him. His love eternally hopes we will choose to repent, though, He already knows whether or not we will. His love perseveres from the beginning to the end of human history, pursuing our hearts to return to Him–our first love, who first loved us.
In His eternal wisdom, His love will never fail us [1 Corinthians 13].
But our finite human love will fail us every time. Unless we deny our flesh and take up the cross of Christ [Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23], our sin-warped love will fixate on another thing, like money, and become the root of all evil [1 Timothy 6:10]. Or like physical and material desires, temptations that will grow into full blown death [James 1:15]. It will fixate on finite, sinful human beings and fail to meet our self-absorbed, insatiable expectations. Leaving us with the sense of being robbed and cheated rather than whole.
God’s love for us is holy–wholeness itself.
His love for us is just. It respects our freewill even when it hurts God’s heart [Deuteronomy 5:29]. He will give to each as each has chosen–the righteous to everlasting life and the unrighteous to everlasting condemnation [Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:15 & 21:27].
Do you know the depths of the riches of God’s love for you? Do you realize that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all Creation will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus [Romans 8:38-39]?
It’s true. The only thing that can separate you from God’s love is you.
“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis 6:8 KJV
Modern Scripture translations have exchanged the word grace for favor. Favor is a more readily understood term in present-day, though it still lends to miscommunication. After all, it is the root word of favoritism.
Favoritism has a negative connotation–giving unfair preferential treatment–while favor is positive–an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual. Favoritism is a corruption of favor because it expends one to elevate another. While favor is an approval or support that any can attain.
Favor is one facet of divine grace. Noah found favor–he proved himself acceptable–in the eyes of the Lord. God tells us that, Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God [Genesis 6:9 & 7:1; Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 2:5]. He proved himself acceptable by living a blameless, morally right life–morally right as defined by God’s standard. That is not to say that Noah did not sin. All of us are sinners [Romans 3:23]. Only Jesus lived a sinless life [2 Corinthians 5:21]. But Noah believed God and lived for Him. And God approved!
Moses found favor in God’s sight. He obeyed God, leading His people out of bondage in Egypt. He sought God’s counsel, leading humbly for God’s glory and honor not his own [Exodus 14:1-31]. He asked God to personally and physically be with him and with the whole nation of Israel as they followed to the promise [Exodus 33:15-17]. Again, it’s not that Moses was without sin–he disobeyed and lost the opportunity to cross into the Promised Land [Numbers 20:12-13]–but He heard God’s voice and obeyed Him. And God approved!
Abraham was God’s friend [2 Chronicles 20:7]. Though he tried to fulfill God’s promise in his own strength, he loved God and believed God would keep His promises no matter what [Hebrews 11:17-19]. And God approved [Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6]!
God considered David a man after His own heart [Acts 13:22]. God approved of Abel’s offering [Genesis 4:4]. God saw Hagar [Genesis 16:13]. God heard Hannah [1 Samuel 1:20]. God spoke audibly to Samuel [1 Samuel 3:10-14]. He sent the Christ child through Mary [Luke 1:26-38].
Throughout scriptures we see God actively bestowing His favor on those who believe that He exists and live Godly lives because of this belief.
But God does not show favoritism [Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11].
He provides everyone with a testimony of Himself [Romans 1:20]. He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross so that everyone had the opportunity to choose eternal life [John 3:16]. He patiently waits, not wanting anyone to perish [2 Peter 3:9].
God is not interested in expending atheists or Hindus, pantheists or Buddhists, mystics or Muslims. He loves everyone. He sent His Son to die so that He might reconcile everyone to Himself. He is preparing a place in heaven for everyone–but only those who believe in Him alone will find this favor. By God’s grace–His infinite favor–we all have the same opportunity to accept or reject the One True God and, thereby, eternal life.
Have you found favor in God’s eyes?
“‘There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One who owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’ And He said to him, ‘You have rightly judged.'” Luke 7:41-43
Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
Unmerciful gods with limited powers riddle the pantheons of many mythologies–Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Norse to name a few with which I am familiar.
The One true God, however, is all-powerful and He is Sovereign–that is He has all authority over everything. As sinful human beings, we break His commands and His laws. We break the pattern of His image in us. And we break His heart.
While we are in sin, we are enemies of God–because we are at war with Him [Romans 5:10]. As sinners, we continually rebuff Him, and yet He steadfastly pursues reconciliation rather than penalty.
God is merciful–despite our sin He loves us and freely offers all forgiveness and peace with Him [Micah 7:18; Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21; Romans 5:2; et al].
When we come to the place where we recognize that we are sinners and God is holy, sovereign and good, then we must make a choice: accept God’s merciful forgiveness or reject it. Accepting forgiveness restores our hearts with love for God. And the more we love God and recognize the depth of the sinful state from which He lifted us, the more we love Him for His mercies.
It becomes an ever-deepening whirlpool. The more we love Him, the more we understand our sin nature. The more we understand our sin nature, the more we enjoy His mercy. The more we enjoy His mercy, the more we love Him.
How tragic that many will not examine themselves to understand their own sinful heart [2 Corinthians 13:5]. And more tragic still that they will never reciprocate God’s unfailing love [Psalm 32:10 & 33:5; et al]. But even these will one day bow their knee to God and confess the Lordship of Christ before Him [Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10]. By then, however, the time for mercy will be passed [Revelation 20:15].
What’s in your heart? God’s love and mercy? Or sinful self?
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17
God is omnipresent, that is, He is everywhere present. There is nowhere that we can go out of His presence, nowhere we can hide from Him.
Many other cultures, having the seed of eternity in their heart [Ecclesiastes 3:11], vaguely remembered this truth about God, but re-presented the idea through pantheism.
Pantheism comes from Greek word roots that translate everything is a god. The trees are each a god, or at least a manifestation of His physical presence. The rocks are gods. The water is god. The air we breathe. The ground we trod. Sun and moon and stars. All is god. And god is all.
Except that it isn’t so.
As we have already seen, God is distinct from His Creation. While He is omnipresent–ever here with all of us–He is also transcendent, or equally separate from everything His hands have made. Created things are not God, and God is not in any way created. While all things hold together in Him, He Himself has no need of sustenance from His creation.
Not only so, but the Creation is meant to draw our understanding back to God the Creator [Romans 1:20]. It groans under the strain of sin, longing for the return of our Savior just as we ought [Romans 8:19-23]. And if we refuse to acknowledge God and praise Him, then the Creation will do it for us [Luke 19:40].
Here it is so important to remember that God loves the pantheist, just as He loves you and me. And that the pantheist has a heart seeking after eternity, a heart waiting for the good news of Jesus Christ, but lost in a half-truth. Satan is happy to keep them spinning in their partial-understanding, but God is not willing that any should perish [2 Peter 3:9].
Are you ready to give an answer for the hope that you have within you [1 Peter 3:15]? Can you be a light to the pantheists of this world?