Friday, February 23, 2024

A Glorious Glimpse of Grace

As the Gospel Story unfolded after Jesus' resurrection, God arranged for Jesus to meet two men on a road, and we're told that "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:47). 

Who were those guys to whom Jesus explained all that? That episode happened at a time in the story of the early church when Jesus' 11 remaining disciples were main characters, and yet Jesus chose to reveal himself to two unknowns. That matters. That tells us that when God wants to make himself known, he includes those who may not feel noticed by God, or worthy of a visitation from him. It tells us that he doesn't just show up to walk alongside those we view as spiritual superstars. He loves to visit ordinary people. That's an illustration of God's grace.

And that thought of God's grace revealed takes me way back in time to a story in the Scriptures when I believe Jesus revealed himself in an extraordinary way to ordinary people. And it's a story that reveals God's grace on a scale I find difficult to comprehend. Let's travel back in time to a story that gets very little attention. You may not even remember it's in the Bible. 

Shortly after God had delivered his people from Pharaoh, God said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar" (Exodus 24:1). It sounds like God was keeping his distance here, because in a sense, he was. This was just before the time when "the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel" (24:17). But even with the glory of the Lord about to cover the mountain, God called 70 unnamed people to “Come up to the Lord."

In fact, it then says that "Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank" (24:9-11).

Those 70 unknown men "saw the God of Israel"!  "They beheld God"! Or at least we know they saw his feet! Is this one of the stories that Jesus told those other two unknown men about when he told them "what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself"

Jesus said that "God is spirit" as he described his Father (John 4:24), and therefore doesn't have a body. That's why I believe that when those men saw those feet walking on sapphire, they were seeing the beautiful feet of Jesus before he "emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). But this unexpected unveiling of what sounds like a glimpse of heaven wasn't only for Moses to see, the way most Bible-readers may recall, but it included 70 elders of Israel who represented all of God's people as they were invited to come and behold God. 

And though those men wouldn't have known it, the feet they saw would one day be pierced for the sins of the people they represented, as well as for their own sins. After all, God knew how quickly Aaron and these 70 elders would create a golden calf and worship it with all the people (Exodus 32:1-10). God knew that in a matter of mere days or weeks, while Moses remained on the mountain, those men who God had graciously invited to behold him, and who "ate and drank" in his holy presence would soon sit down "to eat and drink" before a golden calf (32:6). God knew it all. He knew they'd make that calf, and that they'd feast at its feet, and yet we're told that "he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel." Perhaps that's because God's reason for inviting them to behold him was so that he could reveal the precious feet of Jesus, thereby foreshadowing what Jesus would do when "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). 

God the Father revealed God the Son to those 70 unknown, unnamed men because they represented a whole nation of ordinary people who were prone to sin and in need of a Saviour. We're no different, and God still loves to visit ordinary people. It's also impossible to measure the grace that's revealed in those feet that would step from the sapphire streets of heaven to the dusty roads of Judea, and to then be nailed to a tree for our salvation.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Do You See Who I See?

I have selective vision. I see what I want to see. 

My wife, Fiona, has been known to place fruit in prominent places to try to get me to make better snack choices. She figures if I see it, it'll occur to me to eat it. For example, she began to place apples and oranges in a clear glass bowl on the kitchen table, and then she waited in hope as she wondered, "Do you see what I see?"

I initially noticed it, but because fruit doesn't appeal to me, I eventually stopped seeing it. On the other hand, I never stop seeing chips or chocolates, if there are any in the house, even if they're hidden at the back of a pantry. I see what appeals to me.

As accurate as that description may be, I don't ever want it to affect who I see around me. If Jesus places a person in front of me, hoping, "Do you see who I see?", I want to be alert and responsive to that person. And you never know who that person will be.

To illustrate this, I'm intrigued by how two stories appear, one after the other, in The Gospel of Luke, making it clear who Jesus took notice of as he lived life in this world. When Luke wrote his account of Jesus' life, there were no chapter numbers separating the stories, so nothing separates the story at the end of chapter 18 from the story at the beginning of chapter 19. And take a look at some of the similarities and contrasts between these stories. I wonder if they're intentional.

Luke 18:35a says, "As he drew near to Jericho..." Luke 19:1 says, "He entered Jericho and was passing through." 

Luke 18:35b says, "...a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging." Luke 19:2 says, "And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich."

Luke 18:40 says, "And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him..." Luke 19:5 says, "And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him..."

Jesus took notice of them both. But look at how the people around Jesus responded...

Luke 18:39a says, "And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent." Luke 19:7 says, "And when they saw it, they all grumbled, 'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.'"

People around Jesus rebuked the poor man, and resented the rich man. They didn't think Jesus would want to waste his time with a poor beggar, and nor did they think he'd want to associate himself with a rich robber. But Jesus saw and spoke to them both as each of them were looking for Jesus.

The result? Luke 18:43 says of the blind beggar that, "he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God." And Luke 19:6 says of the rich robber that "he hurried and came down and received him joyfully" and then he said to Jesus, "Lord... half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” (Luke 19:8).

Jesus stopped for a person others were annoyed by, and reached out to a person others were offended by. Is it possible that with Jesus now in heaven, and with His followers on this earth as his hands and feet, that Jesus is asking us as his followers, "Do you see who I see? Do you see the people who are looking for me?"

Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds of people in this world, "he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36). Jesus then described the crowds as a plentiful harvest. He saw them that way because of their need for a Good Shepherd, not because they were were rich or poor. All of them were helpless, regardless of their social status.

So as we live life in this world, may we see who he sees, and may we see people the same way he sees people. Don't overlook those who seem unhealable, nor those who seem unsavable. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and he saved and sent us so that we would go and tell the lost about him.

The question is, do we have selective vision or do we see the people he sent us to see?

Friday, February 2, 2024

Sparrows and Watchbands

It could happen in the lunchroom at work, or with someone on your street, or in school. Maybe it’s already happened to you. It has to me. As we follow Jesus, we’re bound to end up in a situation where we’re uneasy about mentioning Jesus in front of someone who might be hostile to the very idea of Jesus. Nobody likes rejection.

That’s not a new thing, which is why Jesus addressed it with his first disciples. He spoke of being bold amidst opposition, but as he did, he included an encouraging thought. He emphasized God’s care for us. He made it clear that we matter to God. Jesus’ antidote to fear before opponents was to emphasize our worth before God. If Almighty God truly treasures you, what can some guy with an attitude do to you?

Jesus said in that context, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).

He’s speaking about Almighty God taking notice of the flight trajectory of a solitary sparrow. It’s estimated that there are 1.6 billion sparrows in this world, and God notices when any one of those 1.6 billion sparrows happens to crash land.

Jesus also mentioned the hairs on our heads. That number varies greatly from person to person, but the average number of hairs on our heads is about 100,000. God literally has them numbered.

Does all that mean that sparrows and head-hairs are of the utmost importance to God? No. It means that if God is that attentive to sparrows and head-hairs, how much value must God place on those for whom his Son Jesus died? His attentiveness toward us is immeasurable.

I was once in the West Edmonton Mall wave pool with my three children. We were frolicking in the water in the middle of the pool as big waves washed over us. But as we splashed in the water, suddenly my waterproof watch felt loose on my wrist and about to fall off. As I quickly reached for it, I saw that the metal watchband had separated from the watch, and when I held it in my hand I could see that one of the tiny pins that connected the watchband to the watch was missing. The pin was now lost in a vast pool of water. We’re talking about a tiny cylinder of metal about 1 centimeter long and 1 millimeter wide. I started walking toward the shallows of the pool with my head down as I examined the watch in my hand.

Then I had a thought. Perhaps it was a thought from the God who sees sparrows fall. Maybe, just maybe, I could find that tiny pin somewhere in this wave pool of 3.3 million gallons of turbulent water.

So I turned around, and guessed at how many steps I’d taken from where I’d been when the watch fell off. After taking those steps, the water depth was about up to my rib cage. I then took a breath, swam to the bottom, and lay my hand flat against the bottom of the pool. I immediately felt something small pressed against my palm. It was the pin from my watchband.

God’s attentiveness toward us truly is immeasurable. It’s seen by how he notices birds in flight and tiny pins on pool bottoms. And it's obvious by how he paid a much higher price to have you with him for eternity than for either of those things. That's why he wants you to be certain that when you feel vulnerable when speaking with people about Jesus, he is there with you, with his arm around you, and with his Holy Spirit to help you.

That is the reason we can be bold about the love of Jesus. And that’s the reason some people will believe you. Go ahead. Give it a shot. There’s someone in your life waiting to hear about him.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Immovable and the Undefeatable -- What a Team!

Picture what's generally considered an immovable object. ...Something we'd consider permanent in our lifetime. You might think of a mountain – a huge, solid mountain of rock. 

The picture above is one I took of Mount Hood in Oregon after I had hiked up to a high point near the mountain. Mount Hood was entirely hidden from my view until all of a sudden, as I stepped out from the forest in which I'd been hiking, it suddenly filled my gaze. I nearly gasped. That massive mountain truly seemed an immovable object.

Now imagine that huge, solid, immovable mountain of rock to be completely surrounded and protected by an undefeatable never-departing army. It's an army so massive and well-equipped that there's not even the slightest gap in its defenses, and it never departs from its place around that mountain. The army is as immovable as the mountain itself. 

An immovable mountain surrounded by undefeatable defenses. ...Sounds fairly secure, doesn't it?

Well, imagine that YOU are that mountain, and GOD is that army. Because that is the truth of our reality when we put our trust in the God of the Bible.

It says in the Bible, "Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore" (Psalm 125:1-2).

As we begin 2024, I don't know what might be disrupting your sense of security. Are there circumstances that are causing you to feel uneasy or anxious? Whatever our situations may be, let's shift our gaze to the image above – because that mountain is us when the Lord is our God. 

The Lord God's divine Son Jesus said, "I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20), and then he sent his Spirit to fill us so that "by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13). I like to think of abounding in hope as being the same as being surrounded by the undefeatable God of Hope, because God surrounding his people should certainly fill us with hope. And the God who surrounds us offers us strength for every situation we face. That's the only reason we could ever be accurately likened to a mountain "which cannot be moved". We are an immovable mountain because we are surrounded and helped by a loving and powerful and undefeatable God.

Let's focus on that the next time troubles try to move us.

© 2024 Ken Peters