The Main Thing

5671097175_23230697a5-2I have spent a lot of time at sea being a commercial fisherman in my younger years. When you are out there in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, the Dover straits of England, you get to see all kinds of boats and ships designed for all kinds of jobs. But for us as fishermen, our purpose was to catch fish. It could have been easy to waste time doing all kinds of things out at sea that we were not designed for. Now that God has called me to work on His net, I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I invested myself doing things that wasted a lot of time, energy and money. The main thing must be the main thing! What is the main thing the church of Jesus Christ is called to spend herself on? Paul says that it is the gospel: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16). The gospel of Jesus Christ, when it is presented correctly and believed, brings about a radical change in the very core being of the believer. Paul, in the passage above, called it the power of God. Without this encounter with Christ, there is no change within:

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Every effort of the Church is to preach the gospel to bring about this change in the hearts of people all over this world. Some people believe that if they work hard at reforming their lives and live like a Christian, that is being a Christian. Let me tell you something important: You cannot become a Christian by living the Christian life. To live the Christian life, you have to have the Spirit of Christ living in you. He is the only One that can live the Christian life. Here is how Merrill Tenney put it,

 “Christianity is not a system of philosophy, nor a ritual, nor a code of laws; it is the impartation of a divine vitality. Without the way there is no going, without the truth there is no knowing, without the life there is no living.”

You must have Christ in you, living and seated on the throne room of the temple of your life. God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

We can help feed people, we can teach them to have better marriages, we can bring them into community with others, but if we do not help them to see that they need the main thing—to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20), all our efforts are for nothing. The main thing is to help each person we can to be born-again of the Spirit and living the life of Christ. This is not the job of the professionals or the gifted leaders; it is the job of all that name the name of Christ. I am convinced that if we can help each Christian to learn how to share the gospel, a revival will break out that will be world wide.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15).

As Christians, we should be ready and prepared at any time to share the essence of what the gospel is, and how the person interested can know peace with God through what Christ has done for them. This is the main thing!

Keith Thomas

This Man Welcomes Sinners

140104238377228375_kdympbxt_c1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2).

The way the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were mouthing these words was with much venom and disgust. They muttered together about him. The Greek word diagongyzō is used, a stronger word than the simple Greek word gongyzō, which is used more often in scripture, and it meant to complain or grumble (aloud). They were voicing their disdain so much that those that He was seeking could hear them. I’m sure Christ’s heart went out to the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ that he was seeking to reach, that they might know God’s heart towards them is one of love and mercy extended.

The Jews saw tax collectors as being turncoats. They were making money hand over fist working for the Romans in taxing their Jewish brothers and sisters. They were sometimes ranked with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32), being thought of as the lowest of the low. The religious elite uses the word ‘Sinners’ to describe those who were held in bondage to a sinful lifestyle. The Greek word translated is harmartolos. It speaks of one not careful at all about the observance of ceremonial duties, an irreligious person. The term was used of either an immoral person or a person whose occupation was not ceremonially clean.

There were many of the population that had given up on trying to keep all the rules and regulations that the Oral Law, the traditions of the elders, had imposed on the general populous. It is the same today in many countries—it is just different religions these days. The rules were so numerous and nonsensical that it became a heavy burden to the people. Many felt alienated and estranged from God. When Jesus came preaching about God’s love for lost and unloved sinners, they were drawn to Him like flies to rotting fish. We don’t know what Jesus looked like, but his personality was and is attractive, He is altogether lovely (Song of Solomon 5:16). When those who were caught in their sin looked at the Scribes and Pharisees, their scowls showed no godliness or grace at all. There was no accepting attitude. They did not see God’s love in the religious leaders. People know when they are loved. When they looked at Christ, He had an inviting heart and welcomed sinners eagerly. The orthodox Jews had written off the tax collectors and sinners as worthy of the fires of hell, but God is gracious and extends kindness to men. He takes the initiative in seeking those that are alienated from Him.

But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him (2 Samuel 14:14).

What a beautiful truth the above passage communicates. The creator of the Universe has devised a way of reaching out to each of us. I believe that God has arranged situations in your life and mine so that through the painful trials we undergo, God reveals Himself to us as the substitutionary sacrifice to take upon Himself our sins. The trials you are experiencing are used by God to shake you out of spiritual lethargy, forcing you to wake up to the reality of a God who is seeking to draw you closer to Himself. How far will you go before you turn to the One who welcomes sinners?

Keith Thomas

Why Did God Forsake Jesus?

3_cross-why-forsaken45From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Matthew 27:45-46).

Have you ever wondered why Jesus, the one and unique Son of the Almighty God, could be forsaken of God, His Father? If you have ever had the opportunity to read through the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, one is struck by the majesty of the purest person to ever walk this planet. Even those that lived with Jesus, His disciples for three years tell us that they had never seen this man commit any sin (1 Peter 2:22). Is it possible that there was a person that walked this earth and was sinless? The Bible records that there is not a man that has not sinned:

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

Jesus was the only one who was ever born sinless.  How could Jesus be different from you and I and not sin? This was the very reason that He had to be born of a virgin. The Holy Spirit had come on His mother Mary and she conceived in a different way to the rest of the human race. Jesus was 100% man but also He was 100% God. Adam, the one who first sinned, had passed on to all of us this default in our nature to be disobedient to our Creator, what the Bible calls sin. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they were told,

16And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die(Genesis 2:16-17).

This death that they were warned about was spiritual death, which is separation from God and, of course, physical death too. After they ate the fruit Adam and Eve did not fall down dead, but something happened within their inner nature that made them hide from God when He came to enjoy their company (Genesis 3:8-10). Sin causes a barrier between God and us:

2But your iniquities have separated you from your God; 
your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear (Isaiah 59:2).

God has gone to extraordinary lengths to take this barrier of sin that separates us from the God who loves us. He came to this planet in the person of His Son, being born of Mary in order to take upon Himself the debt payment of sin that we owed because of our sin. In His justice, God cannot weigh some in the scales and say you have done more good than another. The problem is deeper than that. All of us have sinned (Romans 3:23). There is not a person on Earth who is good enough to live with a Holy God. The wage that we receive for our life of sin is to be separated from God for eternity, what is called death. But God in His love for us chose to come to earth and pay our penalty of sin Himself:

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 2:19).

When Christ hung on the cross, He was loaded down with your sin and mine, the just for the unjust to bring us to God. That was why He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The sin bearer, the Lord Jesus Christ, took your sin upon Himself at the cross—the just punishment of your sin was paid for at the cross. That was why He could shout a victory shout right at death, “It is finished!” The Greek words that are translated into English as “It is finished” literally mean, “Paid in full.” This is the Good News! Your sin and mine has been paid for! To become a Christian is to receive the full pardon for your sin that was paid for by Christ. Will you give your life over to Him and believe the good news of your deliverance from the penalty of sin, and ask Him to come into your life? There’s no better day than today.

Keith Thomas

Why Was Jesus Born in a Stable?

cross-shadow-on-manger-jesus-16016320-698-507I found it interesting when I was learning Hebrew at a school in Jerusalem that the town named Bethlehem is composed of two Hebrew words, “Beit” and “Lechem,” the words house and bread. Jesus, who called Himself the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35), was born in a town called House of Bread. Have you ever stopped to wonder why God arranged for Caesar Augustus to announce a census to be taken for tax purposes at the same time that Jesus was to be born? Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth, a distance of 80 miles from Bethlehem. The promised Messiah was prophesied as being of kingly seed of the line of King David. Where was David from? Not from Nazareth in Galilee, but Bethlehem. To prove that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He arranged that a census to be taken and for Jesus to be born at the time of the census and that Jesus, the descendant of David, to be on the town records of Bethlehem.

It’s an 80-mile trip to Bethlehem. Imagine what it would have been like for Mary to travel 80 miles on a donkey while in the last week of her pregnancy. Of course, we do not know that Mary traveled the distance on a donkey, scripture does not tell us. We pick that message up from Christmas carols. If it were on a donkey it would probably have taken around 4-5 days to get there. When you consider that she had to make such a journey at the worst possible time in her pregnancy, do you think she questioned God’s sovereignty?

On the four or five day journey, I wonder if Mary had thoughts of God arranging somehow for her son, the future King of the world, to be born in a palace? Every expectant mother starts to plan ahead as to the birth of her child, but Mary was forced to go on an eighty-mile journey over the hills of Israel carrying her son at the worst possible time of her pregnancy. How hard it must have been to find out that there was no palace, no hotel, and no one to even let them stay in a spare room or floor space. There was no place for the Son of God to be born. If you had been in Joseph’s shoes and couldn’t find a room what would you have done? The Bible does not say where the Son of God was born; we presume a stable because he was laid in a manger. William Barclay, a noted authority on Palestine in the time of Jesus says:

“The accommodation for travelers was most primitive. The eastern khan was like a series of stalls opening off a common courtyard. Travelers brought their own food; all that the innkeeper provided was fodder for the animals and a fire to cook. The town was crowded and there was not room for Joseph and Mary. So it was in the common courtyard that Mary’s child was born. The word that is translated manger means a place where animals feed; and therefore it can be either the stable or the manger, which is meant.[1]

What reason could there be as to why the Lord of the Universe should be born in a stable and not find a place in the Inn? That there was no room at the inn for Jesus was symbolic of what was to happen to Him. There was no room for Christ in Herod’s kingdom so He was hunted. No room for Him in Rome’s plans so Pilate washed his hands of Him. No room for Him in Israel’s thoughts, so He was rejected and despised of men (Isaiah 53:3). As we look around the world as a whole there are many churches that have no room for Him in their plans. Revelation 3:20 says that the Lord stands outside the door of the church, knocking to come in. The only place where there was room was on a cross. Why did God allow His Son to have no room? I put it to you today that it was for a reason. That He might identify with the very lowliest of us on planet earth. No one can ever say of the Messiah, “you just don’t know what it is like.” He knows exactly how it is. He bore it all for us. What a wonderful Savior! May your Christmas be one where He is invited into your home.

Keith Thomas

[1] William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Luke, page 21.

The Great Invitation

408698_10151155622175895_2081552083_n15When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” 16Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ 22” ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 23“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet’ ” (Luke 14:15-24).

How lovely to us is the thought that eternity with Christ is pictured as a great banquet where all are invited. You are not left out! All are invited to the feast in the Kingdom of God. No matter what you have done, or where you have been, God offers a free pardon to you on account of the substitutionary work of Jesus on the cross for you and as you. Of all the fun things that we get to do in this world, is there anything better than eating with friends, conversing, laughing and enjoying one another’s company? It certainly is my favorite thing to do, and no doubt yours too. In another place in the scriptures Christ is pictured as standing at the door of your house, perhaps typified as the house of your inner man, your heart, and asking to come in and enjoying eating with you, suggesting deep intimacy with Him:

20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20). 

The above passages suggest eternal bliss and satisfaction. Parties and banquets are all about fun, laughter and joy. To be around Jesus, to gaze upon His loveliness and laugh with him, seeing His glory and grace, and enjoying heaven with others that also love Him, what joy that will be! How humbling to realize that the God of the Universe wants to enjoy our presence over a meal that He has prepared.

Jesus had been teaching concerning humility and reaching out to the poor and disabled when one sends out invitations to a banquet. A man responds to Him by saying, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Verse 15).

It seems that the words issue from one of the Pharisees that was reclining at the table where Jesus had been invited and was eating. It is difficult to judge the man’s motivation for saying such a thing. Was it a request to find out what makes a person worthy of being invited to share in the Kingdom of God? It’s even possible that he was saying, “I can’t wait for us to recline at God’s table together.” The Pharisees considered themselves as righteous; after all, they were meticulous about keeping God’s commandments. They could not conceive that there would be Gentiles or even Jews that did not keep the law at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9). Jesus shared a parable with them that shook their thinking on just who would be in attendance at the feast in the Kingdom of God. He said that God invites the poor, the lame, the blind and the crippled into His kingdom, but those who made excuses would be shut out. Christ makes it clear that there is a free invitation to this Banquet. Nothing to do to deserve a seat at all.

There were no fixed price tickets to the best seats. It was by free invitation only. If you are a Christian, you have come to Christ at His invitation. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44). If you are not yet a Christian, today you have heard of the invite! You have been called and invited. The very fact that you are reading this study is proof that the Spirit of God has been drawing you to Christ. Some people are upset by the fact that the entrance to God’s Kingdom is by a free invitation only. They find it hard to receive grace or undeserved favor. Part of the reason is pride. They feel that they must accomplish something in order to earn their entrance fee, but no one gets into eternity by what they have done. It is only by God’s grace and mercy. Now that is something to receive and party about! Trust Him today, and if I don’t see you this side of heaven, I will see you inside the Eastern Gate when He comes (Ezekiel 44:1-3).

Keith Thomas