The Wise and Learned Of This World Will Never Understand
Unbridled joy in the face of unspeakable tragedy, heart-healing forgiveness for those who have taken what cannot be replaced, open-armed fellowship offered by the victim to the transgressor—only God can do that! It makes no sense apart from God; it cannot happen apart from a powerful work of the Holy Spirit. And only child-like faith can embrace something so humanly illogical! The wise and learned of this world recoil at the notion, but among those to whom God has revealed the kingdom, even something so mind-boggling as this becomes a sign of his presence and a token of his grace.
The Journey: Matthew 11:25
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children.”
A few years ago, I saw something that will stick in my mind forever. It was a scene that made no sense—except in God’s economy. I stood in a twenty-by-fifteen foot building in a rural village in Ethiopia. It was a church, made out of mud and sticks. The back wall was nothing more than a ratty and ripped plastic tarp. There were perhaps twenty people there when I walked in, most of them were under the age of 15, obviously very poor, and they were worshipping Jesus with such a passion that I rarely witness in my own country—or my own life.
One of the most amazing things about this rag-tag fellowship was that it was only five months old in the Lord at the time. Five months—and the joy in their hearts and the praise that flowed from their lips was at once profoundly moving yet at the same time deeply convicting as it revealed a spiritual lassitude in my own walk with Jesus.
Yet, even more amazing than the vibrancy of this young congregation was the horrible ordeal they had just endured. Just thirty days prior, the Ethiopian pastor who planted this church was shot and killed by an enraged husband upset over his wife’s conversion to Christ. The beloved shepherd of this fledgling flock, Gire Daba, was martyred for his faithful witness, leaving an infant congregation to makes its way in a hostile community.
In the small, dark sanctuary sitting among the worshippers was Pastor Gire’s widow. A mother of four and seven months pregnant with her fifth child, this grief-stricken woman had decided to stay within the very village where her husband gave his life to make a new life for her family. I and the team that traveled with me prayed over her, asking God to take what Satan had meant for evil and turn it into something outrageously good. After we were done, she simply thanked us for our prayer and our pledge of support.
Sitting less that ten feet away was the wife whose husband was now in jail for murdering Pastor Daba. Like Gire’s widow, she now has no means of support, not to mention an unbearable load of shame for her husband’s despicable act. When she surrendered her heart to Jesus, her husband savagely beat her in order to force her to recant her newfound faith. She refused, saying, “I cannot deny him—I love Jesus now!” We prayed with this young woman as well, asking God to turn her husband’s evil act into a testimony of grace in her life. We prayed that rather than living under the shame of her husband’s awful crime, she would be embraced by her new church family—including Gire Daba’s widow—and that this act of forgiveness, acceptance and reconciliation would be an irresistible testimony in the community.
Unbridled joy, heart-healing forgiveness, open-armed fellowship—only God can do that! It makes no sense apart from God; it cannot happen apart from a powerful work of the Holy Spirit. And only child-like faith can embrace something so humanly illogical! The wise and learned of this world recoil at the notion of a widow embracing the wife of her husband’s murderer—but among those to whom God has revealed the kingdom, even something so mind-boggling as this becomes a sign of his presence and a token of his grace.
Only God can do that!
A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:
God, give me a child-like faith that opens my heart and my mind to the mystifying ways and means of your kingdom.
Your Uneasiness Is A Sign Of Life
We’ve all had times of doubt, questions, disappointment and perhaps even anger with God when he doesn’t live up to billing. Maybe that’s where you are today. That’s okay—God is big enough to handle your upset—provided you own up to your upset. God won’t give you a holy beat-down if you’ll come to him with a humble and honest heart. He’ll simply reaffirm your inestimable value and remind you of his everlasting love, then invite you to trust. And at the end of the day, you’ll never be disappointed when you trust God.
The Journey: Matthew 11:2-3
John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
Let’s be honest—we’ve all been deeply disappointed with God. Sometimes he doesn’t live up to our expectations: a prayer didn’t get answered the way we wanted or when we wanted, a healing didn’t occur, a job was lost, a relationship went sour, a marriage wasn’t saved, a loved one refused salvation, a child died…
That’s when faith really gets tested. It is easy to believe in the good times—when things are going great, prayers are getting answered, and God is obviously on our team. But just cut off the flow of blessing, squeeze our faith a little, push us out of the comfort zone, let God get outside of our happy little theological box we like to keep him in—then take our spiritual temperature and see if we’re still aflame with faith.
John the Baptist was there. He had obeyed the call of God early in his life as the forerunner of the Messiah. He had arranged his whole world around announcing Jesus as Israel’s Christ. He had lived an austere life, preached his heart out, courageously confronted the religious establishment, boldly challenged sinful hearts, and called Israel to national repentance, all to prepare the way for Jesus. He expected his faithfulness to God and obedience to the call would usher in the Kingdom of God when Jesus showed up and launched his messianic ministry.
But now he was in jail. He was in a pretty serious situation that in a few days would lead to his beheading. And Jesus was out there preaching to small crowds, doing a few miracles here and there, and not taking this Messiah thing very seriously. John was disappointed, to say the least.
Did you notice how Jesus handled John’s disappointment and doubt? Not with a brow beating, not with a scolding, not with anger, but he simply reaffirmed John and spoke about his value in God’s eyes. Jesus understood where John was coming from.
Jesus also understood that God’s timing was way different than John’s. John wanted the Kingdom now, and when it didn’t happen, he questioned. So Jesus redirected John’s faith—he encouraged him to take his eyes off circumstances and put them back where they belonged:
Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, “God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.” (John 11:4-6)
Jesus is inviting John to keep his eye on the undeniable evidence of God’s activity; to stand firm in the unshakeable hope God’s Kingdom; to lean into the unbreakable promise of God’s Word; to never let go of the irrefutable goodness of God’s character. And then, when it’s all said and done, John is just to fiercely trust!
We’ve all had those kinds of doubts, questions, disappointment and perhaps even anger with God when he doesn’t live up to billing. Maybe that’s where you are today. That’s okay—God is big enough to handle your upset—provided you do as John did: own up to your upset. God won’t give you a holy beat-down if you’ll come to him with a humble and honest heart. He’ll simply reaffirm your inestimable value and remind you of his everlasting love, then invite you to trust.
And at the end of the day, you’ll never be disappointed when you trust God. The Apostle Paul, who knew a fair amount about suffering, wrote these encouraging words in Romans 5:3-5,
We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Have you been honest with God about the doubts you are having—especially when they concern your confidence in him? He invites you to pour out your thoughts, worries and concerns—so right now is a great time to talk to him. And to listen. And then, to fiercely trust!
A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:
God, I turn my doubts about you back over to you. .While I have been disappointed in how you have handled things in my life, I confess that your ways are higher than mine, your wisdom is impeccable, and your will is unstoppable. So today, I choose to fiercely trust in your competence and your care.
Counted Worthy To Suffer For His Name
Jesus said that in our suffering, we are to “rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:23) We can leap for joy knowing that if we lose everything on earth—even our lives—we will inherit everything in heaven. We can leap for joy knowing that persecution is our certificate of Christian authenticity, since the persecuted simply belong to a noble succession. (Matthew 5:12) But mostly we can leap for joy knowing that we are suffering on his account. When we can grasp the nobility of suffering for the cause of Christ, we can be like the apostles who, having been worked over by the Sanhedrin, “left rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
The Journey: Matthew 10:24-25
Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master. And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names!
I receive reports regularly from my church planting partners in Africa that include requests for prayer because of the persecution they are enduring. They are mocked, threatened, beaten and marginalized socially and ostracized economically. The spiritually dark and unreached villages that they have invaded usually hate them.
Jesus predicted as much: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18-19)
Obviously, we don’t see much persecution in the United States, not of that variety, and not at this time, although we may not be that far away from it. Yet according to the World Evangelical Alliance, over 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith. The International Bulletin of Missionary Research reported in 2009 that approximately 176,000 Christians around the world were martyred during the previous year. And that is a pretty typical year analysis.
Notice Jesus words in Matthew 10:23: “when you are persecuted…” He didn’t say “if” but “when”. Persecution is happening right now, and it will continue with increasing regularity and intensity right up until the time he returns to set things right on Planet Earth. Of course, we should not meet that eventuality with passive acceptance—we need to use every means possible to appeal to our governments to protect us, we should pray for peace (1 Timothy 2:2) and by all means, we should be praying regularly for the persecuted church.
But on another level, we are “to rejoice and be glad” when we are persecuted. (Matthew 5:12) We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever. We are not to sulk like a punished child. We are not to lick our wounds in self-pity and hunker down like a dog. We are not just to grin and bear it like a Stoic. We are not to pretend to enjoy it as a hyper-spiritual masochist. No, we are to “rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:23)
We can leap for joy knowing that if we lose everything on earth—even our lives—we will inherit everything in heaven. We can leap for joy knowing persecution is our certificate of Christian authenticity, since the persecuted simply belong to a noble succession, “for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12) But mostly we can leap for joy knowing that we are suffering on his account. When we can grasp the nobility of suffering for the cause of Christ, we can be like the Apostles in Acts 5:41, who, having been beaten and threatened by the Sanhedrin,
They left the council, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
They had learned what I hope I can learn—and you, too: wounds in Christ’s cause are our medal of honor. Or as it was so profoundly stated by Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Suffering then, is the badge of true discipleship…In fact, it is a joy and a token of his grace.”
A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:
God, while I am not suffering physical persecution like so of your children around the world, I nevertheless want to somehow identify in their hardship by praying for them. So I pray for the persecuted church today. I pray that you would be present with them in such a way that they know they are being held in your arms. I pray that you would extend your hand of grace and mercy upon them. Grant them courage and joy to suffer for your name. And if it be within your divine plan, deliver them from the evil that is pressing down upon them.
Today, I'm Claiming Your Promise
Nothing but the Spirit-filled life will equip the believer with words—and courage—to stand before hostile people to fearlessly declare what the world does not want but so desperately needs to hear: “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
The Journey: Matthew 10:18-20
You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
The New Testament writers spoke often of the Holy Spirit. Jesus directly spoke a great deal about the Spirit as well. For the first century Christians, a relationship with the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was just as normal and expected a part of their faith experience as was their relationship with Jesus.
It is unfortunate that what was fully embraced in the first century has become so controversial in our day: The infilling of the Holy Spirit. We now quibble over if one is Spirit-filled at salvation or if the infilling comes when one is baptized in the Spirit as a separate and distinct event. We argue over whether speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence of being Spirit-baptized or if the Spiritual language is even valid in the 21st century.
Theological lines have been drawn, denominations have been formed, preachers take their stand on one side of the issue or the other, position papers have been issued, and all the while God longingly waits to give the Holy Spirit to all who ask (Luke 11:13).
Jesus often referred to the “promise of the Father,” which was—and still is—to send the Holy Spirit to be with us, in us, and to work through us in ways that are beyond human replication. It doesn’t take too long reading in the New Testament to understand that God’s deep desire for his children is that they would live as Spirit-filled people.
For the believer, the Spirit-filled life is not an option, but a divine expectation. It is an act of faith and obedience that will enable the believer to experience dimensions of the blessedness that the Acts 2 believers experienced. Nothing but the Spirit-filled life will empower the believer for mission in the world. Nothing but the Spirit-filled life will enable the believer to live the kind of holy and honoring life God calls for—and deserves. Nothing but the Spirit-filled life will equip the believer with words—and courage—to stand before hostile people to fearlessly declare what the world does not want but so desperately needs to hear:
God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
The Father is still waiting to deliver His gift to those who ask. “Ask and keep on asking…for how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!” (Luke 11:9-13)
We may quibble over the mechanism of Spirit infilling, but the bottom line is, by whatever means, be filled and keep on being filled with God the Holy Spirit. You and I need his empowering presence now more than ever!
The Father promised it. Jesus declared it. The Holy Spirit is ready for it. Are you?
A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:
God, through you Son, I was promised a baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Just as Jesus breathed on his disciples and invited them to receive the Holy Spirit, I ask you to breathe on me and baptize me in the Spirit afresh today. Fill me from the center to the circumference of my life—truly take over every square inch and every split second of my life. I want to be a living example of a Spirit-filled, Spirit-formed, Spirit-led disciple.
Don’t Forget: It’s Not The Healthy That Need A Doctor
The very fact that I find this contemporary portrayal of Jesus below hanging out with beer swilling gang-bangers offensive—and my guess is that it does you, too—tells me that I would have been right alongside those Pharisees questioning the kind of invitations to dinner Jesus had been accepting. Perhaps Jesus would say to you and me what he said to the Pharisees, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Never forget: it’s not the healthy that need a doctor!
The Journey: Matthew 9:10-11
Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
I love that about Jesus, don’t you! He didn’t come to impress the religious elite or hang out with spiritual celebrities. He didn’t set up shop in Jerusalem and buy airtime on JBN (Jerusalem Broadcasting Network). He didn’t write a book about himself or put on a leadership conference or lead a church growth seminar.
He hung out with sinners!
The reason? He explains in the next verse: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” (Matthew 9:12, NLT) It would have been a complete dereliction of duty and an abject failure in his mission if he would have done anything else. People were lost—they needed to be found. People were in bondage to sin—they needed to be delivered. People were sick and dying—they needed a healer. People were confused and hopeless—they needed a Lord. People were beat down and harassed by a religious system that squeezed the life and joy out of them—they needed a champion. What champion they got in Jesus—and then some!
What a hero! Jesus was exactly what the poor, outcast, marginalized and hopeless needed. That was the purpose for which he came and he fulfilled his purpose brilliantly. That is why I love this story so much.
Yet that is why this story makes me extremely uncomfortable. You see, if Jesus were to come today, would he feel comfortable in my church? Would he want to hang out with my friends? How would he fit in my social circle?
The very fact that I find this contemporary portrayal of Jesus in the introduction hanging out with beer swilling gang-bangers offensive—and my guess is that it does you, too—tells me that I would have been right alongside those Pharisees questioning the kind of invitations to dinner Jesus had been accepting. Perhaps Jesus would say to you and me what he said to the Pharisees, Matthew 9:13,
Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.” For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.
Ouch! I’ve got to be honest: there are not a whole lot of “other disreputable sinners” hanging out in my world these days. Something tells me that really ought to change if Jesus if going to fit in my world—or more importantly, if I am going to fit in Jesus’ world.
Take a glance at how Phillip Yancey puts it, then take a longer glance inside your heart to see if you need to start making room for the kind of people Jesus did:
When Jesus came to earth, demons recognized him, the sick flocked to him, and sinners doused his feet and head with perfume. Meanwhile he offended pious Jews with their strict preconceptions of what God should be like. Their rejection makes me wonder, could religious types be doing just the reverse now? Could we be perpetuating an image of Jesus that fits our pious expectations but does not match the person portrayed so vividly in the Gospels?
Now if you don’t have any “other disreputable sinners” in your life, your assignment is simply this: get some!
A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:
God, touch my heart with the things that touch yours. Give me the compassion for the people who you are calling into your kingdom. Make me living proof of a loving God to a world full of disreputable sinners. Change me—make me like you.