He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Luke 24:44-53 NIV
We know that the disciples kept missing God’s spiritual intentions because of their imprisonment to the belief that Jesus was going to lead a revolution. But here, Jesus, on the day of His ascension, made His intentions clear.
Jesus systematically and methodically walked the disciples through what the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets had to say, and this is all demonstrated in His loving sacrifice and His resurrected triumph.
The most intriguing part of this text is not Jesus’ desire for us to clearly understand who He is and who we are. This is to be expected. But what is most intriguing is when Jesus opens the understanding of the disciples so that they might comprehend the scriptures. This highlights how much Jesus wanted the disciples to know Him. He opened their minds at a deeper level so that they could come to understand Him not just in their minds but also in their souls.
This is the very thing that we need to pray for. We may already be saturating our lives in prayer and immersing ourselves in the scriptures and worship. However, what may be missing in our lives is a posture that helps us to understand everything that God is doing. We don’t want to house God’s revelation in ourselves but be unable to comprehend it.
One way to posture ourselves to comprehend the power that God has given us is to contemplate our journey. We can look at our journey and think how hard our lives have been, but when we look and see how the Lord is orchestrating our journey to perform a divine work in each one of our lives, we can see how the dry seasons have been a part of God’s revelation in our lives.
When we have access to God’s power but lack comprehension, we miss opportunities and blessings and mismanage relationships. No matter what we pray for, it is necessary that we ask God for understanding. Our understanding may be the key to our ability to offer faithful stewardship of that which we are asking God for.
Moses answered, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?" Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" "A staff," he replied. The LORD said, "Throw it on the ground." Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. "This," said the LORD, "is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers-the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob-has appeared to you." Then the LORD said, "Put your hand inside your cloak." So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous-it had become as white as snow. "Now put it back into your cloak," he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh. Then the LORD said, "If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground."
Exodus 4:1-9 NIV
The most important part of the text is the grace that God extends to Moses. God is patient in spite of all of Moses’ objections. He responds to Moses and assures him of both Moses’ innate capability and God’s divine ability to complete what He is announcing.
It is amazing that God is willing to wait on us to catch our faith up to His promises. Not only will He wait on us, but He does so without letting His promises expire or His love wane. Even when Moses is being held back by “what-ifs,” God perseveres with Moses.
Each one of us knows what it feels like to be inspired by what God says He wants to do in and through our lives but then be held back by hypotheticals. Shaking off the “what-ifs” is one of the hardest things to do. For Moses, he not only wondered if the Israelites would believe him, but He also wondered what he would do if it worked? How would he be able to lead them out of Egypt?
For us, comfortable is better than adventurous. Manageable is better than miraculous. We have been hindered and hampered by so many “what-ifs” that we don’t even consider it abnormal anymore.
But God didn’t want Moses held back by “what-ifs,” and He doesn’t want us to be held back either. God wants us to walk in faith, trusting in Him and being courageous to do what God wants us to do. Oftentimes, this means that we have to walk in the dark.
Sometimes God’s plan for our lives requires that we walk in the dark by faith. We won’t know how or if everything will work out, but we will have to trust Him and obey. When God knows that the chains of hypotheticals have wrapped themselves around us, He will give us confirmation to keep us going.
We have to learn to thank God not only in easy, comfortable times, but also as we walk in the confusion and the darkness. When we get confirmations along the way, we need to take the time to turn our attention back to God and give Him thanks that He is bringing His plans for us to completion.
Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon's Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
John 10:22-30 NIV
Jesus often used the porches that separated the areas in the temple. They provided a cool gathering spot in the summertime and a warm spot in the cold winter. Jesus also liked to teach there because it had a steady flow of people going to it.
While there, Jesus was approached by Jews who had heard all the talk that was centering on Jesus being more than just another inspiring teacher of the law. Many people were believing the rumor that Jesus was the messiah, the Son of the Living God.
All timidity and shame that these people had melted away into curiosity. So, they surrounded Jesus at Solomon’s Colonnade and said to Him, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” This implies that they believe that Jesus is intentionally leaving them in suspense. They want Him to plainly satisfy their anxious uncertainties.
Jesus responds that His words and works proclaim who He is. Everything that He has done and everything that people have said about Him ought to confirm who He is.
When we listen to His words and witness His testimony, it is clear who He is. For both us and those who met Jesus at Solomon’s Colonnade, that is precisely the problem. The issue is a matter of relationship. Jesus highlights that by saying that there is no uncertainty for those that follow Him, and that “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
Those who follow Christ do not need to settle their anxiety, because we have the relationship to know Christ. The witness that He has given us is enough to reveal the certainty of His identity. But this is a critical challenge for every generation. There is a tension between wanting to affirm Jesus and accept Him by faith. Jesus is implying that many times people have affirmed Him because of the signs and wonders, not because of the relationship. Jesus taught that true faith is reaching the point where you don’t need a sign or a wonder to testify that He is Lord.
It is important for us to come to a point in our faith that we don’t need Jesus’ signs and wonders to sustain us. If He doesn’t multiply bread and fish or pay our bills, we must still be able to testify that He is Lord. Even when we aren’t healed, don’t get a raise, or don’t get a promotion, He must still be Lord. His Lordship is not based on signs and wonders, but it is based on our faith-affirmation that in Him we have the manifestation of the Eternal God and that He is the only Son of the Living God.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Acts 9:1-6 NIV
Before the events of our scripture today, Saul had been going around, eliminating anyone tied to Christianity. Saul was a vocal and voracious opponent of Christianity, and he believed that it was his spiritual duty to fight against Christianity as hard as he could.
Saul’s concerns center around the resiliency and commitment that these early Christians demonstrated as they lived their lives for the Kingdom of God. Saul, as well as many others, know that no matter how much he oppresses these disciples of Christ, they will not just lay down and die. They keep coming back stronger and more powerful.
Saul knows that if they will not give up their beliefs under oppression, it is his duty to turn up the heat. So, he received letters from the high priest to arrest any followers of Christ that he sees on his way to Damascus. Not only does this give him boldness, but it gives him legitimacy. He now has the backing of the establishment.
But his attempts to destroy this infant movement are foiled. While he is on his way, a light shines down from heaven. This light, God’s glory, flashes all around him and knocks him from his animal. He sinks to his knees, and he hears God say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
In Saul’s mind, this is not what he is doing. In his mind, he is protecting the law and defending the faith. Saul knows that as it relates to the law, he is perfect. However, on this road, Saul’s life was changed. He had planned to stop every Jew travelling from Damascus to Jerusalem but not anymore.
Saul goes from the pursuer to the pursued. While Saul thought that he was chasing down disciples, God was chasing down him.
This clashing moment showed Saul that he was created for something more than what he was doing. God shows up, challenges Saul, and battles with Saul. In our lives, it is similar. We might say things like, “I came to Jesus,” but the reality is that Jesus chased us down.
When God appears before us and calls us, our natural inclination is to raise objections, but that clash, when we surrender and sacrifice our personal goals and desires, brings us to an assigned place, not a comfortable one.
Just as Saul found out on the road to Damascus, we are always being pursued by God. He chases us to change our outlook until our outlook aligns perfectly with His will. He is chasing us so that we can live lives that matter, not just live a life.
We are often asked to use our gifts from God to do His work.
Most of the time, we easily accept these challenges. Other times, we are a little unsure of our ability.
2 Timothy 4:2 tells us, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (NIV).
We can preach and spread the word that we know, but even pastors are intimidated at the prospect of attempting to encourage or inspire others to do the same. Such lofty goals are sometimes only met if we tap into what we have been taught about “edification” and its role in the church and as part of any Christian’s goals in ministry. Edification is, of course, the instruction and the consequential improvement of someone—morally, intellectually, or spiritually—so that he or she is uplifted and, yes, inspired. In the New Testament, there is an actual term assigned to edification as a concept, and that term literally translates as “building a house.”
When we are asked to expand or build God’s Kingdom, we do feel that we can handle the task. Yet, when we have to check progress on whether or not we have truly brought people into the fold or moved them to do the same type of evangelism that we attempt, we fall short. In Timothy, we see clearly that we must be patient, and we must use careful instruction. We also must be comfortable correcting others and encouraging them. In short, to build God’s house and lead others to His Kingdom, it takes tenacity and confidence.
When we plan special events at the church, and when we participate in community outreach, we have to remember that the most important component should be the salvation and the systematic lifestyle change for those participants. We should focus on leading them to understanding, embracing, and spreading the Word of God, thereby expanding His Kingdom beyond the initial scratch made by the interaction at the event.
In other words, we can welcome people to the church, and we can advocate for the Word of God and His Kingdom, but we have to edify and evangelize those with whom we come into contact. Heed the words of Mark 16:15 – 16, “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned'” (NIV). Go out and preach the Word of God—convince others to expand His Kingdom—but remember, in order to lead, we have to commit to changing and edifying those with whom we interact.