What is God Like?

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When Jesus was being criticized by religious people for spending time with those that were far off from God, He told them a story to describe what God was really like. Here’s the story He told:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons.12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate (Luke 15:11-24).

Some call this story the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but the parable is more about a prodigal Father in my opinion. Now before you start writing me an email to throw me an electronic stone, let me explain what I mean by saying that the word “prodigal” is not mentioned in the text and dictionary.com says that it means:

Rashly or wastefully extravagant”: as in prodigal expenditures on unneeded weaponry; a prodigal life. Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse: prodigal praise.” 

Yes, the parable does tell us of a younger son who was wastefully extravagant in his sin, but the father was even more extravagant in his acceptance of the son when he came to his senses. Jesus tells this story to illustrate just how the Most High God actually is in His essence—God is love (1 John 4:8), and very extravagant with His grace, mercy and love for His children.

When the younger son began to reflect on his wasted life and how he had grieved his father, verse 17 says that he came to his senses and started thinking of how to get it right between himself and his father. He thought that he would be much better off than being in the pigsty if his father would accept him as a servant. His sin, he felt, no longer made him worthy of being a son. This young man began practicing his words and  “got up and went to his father” (v.20).

We are told that the son had gone to a distant country (v.13); certainly there was no need in Israel for pigs, so he was probably amongst Gentiles (non Jews) in an adjacent country. Wherever he was, we are to think that he was several miles from home. This father, a picture of the Father that loves each of us, was also a long way from home, looking and waiting for his son to turn.  As soon as the father saw his son he ran to him. There was no anger within the father; his heart was full of compassion. What is compassion? Dictionary.com says that compassion is: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. This father, a picture of God, had been in pain for his son while he had been away from home.

This father was so ready to forgive that he does not even give the young man a chance to speak his words. He is so in love with his son. After running to his son he is unrestrained in kissing him. The Greek tense says that he threw his arms around him and kissed him again and again and again. The father expressed his kindness before the son expressed his repentance. This speaks of God’s kindness and his readiness to be reconciled to those that have been apart from his love. Finally, the young man, in the midst of sobs, I’m sure, manages to get out part of his speech that he had prepared. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father cuts him off, and speaks to his servants to bring some things.

They were told to bring the “best robe.” There is a double emphasis here in the Greek text. It speaks of the robe, that principal robe. We are not talking about a coat here; this robe speaks of the son being restored to a place of honor. It speaks to us of a robe of righteousness that covers over our pigsty of sin. The ring speaks of authority and power of attorney. In that day, rings were used to sign official documents. Often the ring had an impression on it that, when pushed into hot wax, was the official seal of the family. Pharaoh gave Joseph such a ring when he was elevated to second in command of Egypt, after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:42). We too are given authority by our God to do the works of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). The son was given shoes. No slave ever wore shoes, and the father would not let his son go barefoot. He was a son, not a slave. Our feet are shod with the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). We have been made sons of God. The servants were told to kill the calf that had been fattened ready for this day. This father had been slowly fattening the calf that he may celebrate when his son would come home. These were all gifts of grace lavished on the slave of sin returning home to be restored to son ship. How extravagant is the Father! He is so ready to receive you as soon as you turn toward home. How about going home today?

Keith Thomas

Why Did God Forsake Jesus?

F45From 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 God would forsake Jesus, His beloved Son, while He hung on the cross? 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). If He had never sinned, why would God forsake Him while He hung on the cross? Jesus Himself had said that He was sinless (John 8:46). 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).

How could Jesus be different from you and I and not sin? This was the very reason that He was 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 Homo Sapiens race. Jesus was 100% God, but also 100% man. 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 Him from us. He came to this planet in the person of His Son being born of Mary in order to, as man, take upon Himself the 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. 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?” He took your debt of sin, the very thing that separates you from God, upon Himself. 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 the point of 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

Believing is Seeing!

1-FrontJesusLeper11Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.  17Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:11-19).

In this passage, we read about the kind of faith that God is pleased with. We’re not talking about faith in faith—that has nothing to please the Father. Faith in God and the One He has sent is what pleases the heart of God (John 6:29; Hebrews 11:6). Lepers, having a communicable disease, were commanded to stay at a distance outside the city and community and either ring a bell or cry out, “unclean, unclean” when a clean person came near them (Leviticus 13:45-46). The only way that they could re-enter the community and social network inside the city was for them to receive the all-clean stamp of approval from the priest (Leviticus 14:2).

We are told in verse 12, that they stood at a distance shouting to Christ to have pity on them. It’s interesting to see that Jesus required them to act upon His Word and do what a cured leper would do even though they were not healed yet. He asked them to take steps of faith and trust in His Word. He didn’t lay hands on them, even though He had healed lepers before by touching them (Luke 5:13). He didn’t give them much instruction as to why they were to go to the priest. He just told them to present themselves to the priest to get checked out. This required faith in His Word even though they were not yet seeing what they were believing for. They were only healed as they were on the journey. It must have seemed illogical to them as they started on their way to get a healing certificate when their faces and limbs were contorted with Leprosy. Sometimes faith in God will seem illogical. One of them was a Samaritan, a person that the Jews did not normally associate with, although we find them together in their misery.

What do you think was on the mind of the Samaritan as he started on the way to the Temple? Don’t you think he might have been a little bit suspicious of Jesus? He knew Jesus was a Jew by His clothes. The Samaritan leper must have wondered to himself as to why this Jewish preacher would want to heal him, a Samaritan? I wonder if he thought that the healing would not work for him, due to the animosity between the Jews and Samaritans. At what point did the miracle start to happen to him? Wonder of wonders! As they were on their journey the miracle healing happened! Imagine their surprise that as they are walking, their fingers start to grow, their toes suddenly begin to fill their shoes, and they can feel the skin on their faces become soft and their noses growing out again! One of them, the Samaritan, was ecstatic with praise to God and could not contain himself. He left the company of the others for he had to find Jesus and thank Him. This man ran back and when he found Christ, he knew how to give thanks! He gave vent to his emotions as he shouted loudly to God. He approached Jesus and threw himself on the ground (Verse 16) lavishly shouting praise and thanks to God. He acted according to His belief and trust in Jesus’ Word and he saw the power of God at work in his life as a result. How his thankfulness must have warmed the heart of the Lord! Let’s never forget to thank God for all He does for us.

Let me issue you a challenge: Think of a situation in your life which needs resolution, it may be an impossible thing to you, but dare to believe that God can work through your simple faith. Is anything too hard for the Lord? (Genesis 18:4). Call out to Him and ask Him for faith to believe that He will accomplish what you ask of Him. Then praise Him, loudly!

Keith Thomas

Zacchaeus The Tax Collector

Zacchaeus-11Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ” 8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:1-10).

Zacchaeus had a problem in trying to see Jesus–he was small of stature. The crowd along the road would not let him push through. I am sure that when people saw who was pushing to get through the crowd, that there was an elbow or a kick designed to hurt him, but his curiosity could not be satisfied until he had seen Jesus. He ran ahead along the road to the place where there was a large Sycamore Fig tree and hastily climbed up the short trunk and hid in the wide branches. Which one was Jesus? Zacchaeus did not know Jesus but Jesus knew him. Perhaps Christ had come this very way because he knew exactly where Zacchaeus would be waiting.

Jesus could have gone directly to Jerusalem from Galilee but chose to go by the longer route past Jericho, no doubt to call Zacchaeus. Do you think he knew which one was Jesus as he looked down from the tree? I’m sure his heart skipped a beat when the crowd stopped as the Lord looked up into the tree, and said: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

I am amazed at the condescension of Christ. Not only did He look down from heaven but He also came down and entered into our painful world. Furthermore, here He is looking up to Zacchaeus and asking him to come down. God always humbles a soul before he brings him to heaven. We must let go of every bough that we hold on to and come down. There is a need for all of us to come down in our own estimation of ourselves. John the Baptist had the right attitude when he said, speaking of Christ, “He must become greater, I must become less (John 3:30). As we become more mature in Christ, we will live more for others and not so much for ourselves. The cause of Christ becomes much greater in our estimation than our own personal agenda for happiness. Zacchaeus would have felt very humbled that the Lord knew him by name. He had lived his life climbing to the top of the ladder and realized that the ladder was against the wrong wall. He had chased money all his life but had become hated by the people around him. He had lost all self-respect due to the way he had treated people, yet Jesus valued him so much that he would come to his house!

Do you realize that the God of the universe knows your name and values you highly? He wants to come and live inside your house. He said, “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).He values us so highly that He calls each one of us individually in the midst of our own circumstances. Zacchaeus was singled out by Jesus and directly called by name. He is told by Christ “I must stay at your house today.” There doesn’t seem to be any act of faith that brought Christ to his door except perhaps his curiosity, the fact that he wanted to see Christ. Jesus deliberately came to the place where Zacchaeus was and initiated the conversation that brought a saving response. The phrase “must stay” (NIV) or “must abide” (KJV) is used. It uses the Greek word dei, “It is necessary by the nature of things.” One must, one has to. It denotes a compulsion of any kind, such as unavoidable, urgent, compulsory necessity.”[1] It seems that it was all written into God’s plan, the calling of Zacchaeus.

He directly calls each one of us. “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The Bible tells us that God has ordained (To prearrange unalterably; predestine: by fate ordained)[2] beforehand those who would be saved. We may think that we are the ones searching for God, but He is the Shepherd, searching for His lost sheep. God orders our circumstances to cause us to call out to Him. We cannot say that the depths of sin that we got into were ordered by God, our own choices were involved, but the Bible declares that God uses all things to work together for our good to bring us to Christ (Romans 8:28). What do we mean by the word election? Wayne Grudem in his book, Systematic Theology, defines election as “an act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any unforeseen merit in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure.”[3] Zacchaeus and all those of us that have been born again, were called and chosen before the foundation of the world to be His elected ones.

4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Ephesians 1:4-6).

What wonderful grace God has lavished on us! It boggles the mind to think that He has planned you and me out before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless, adopted as His sons and daughters. Zacchaeus and you and I were called before the beginning of the world ever took place. He had us on His mind and heart. He was one of the last that people would think would be saved. Jericho was a cursed city (Joshua 6:26), yet Christ came there and called Zacchaeus. He called the worst of sinners from the worst of cities with the worst of trades. Maybe He’s doing the same for you today!

Keith Thomas

 

[1] Key Word Study Bible, AMG Publishers, Notes on Page 1604.

[2] Dictionary.com

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Published by Zondervan, page 670.

Jesus Heals the Man Born Blind

80_jesus-heals-a-man-born-blind_1800x1200_72dpi_21As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7“Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing (John 9:1-7).

In the previous chapter Jesus had stated that He was the great I AM (John 8:58), the name God had told Moses that He was to be called by (Exodus 3:14). To the Jewish people, to make such a declaration was unthinkable! How dare He say that He was God! They were so angry at His statements about Himself that they began stoning Him for blasphemy (John 8:59). He had also stated in the previous chapter, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12). He said this about Himself while up in the Temple Courts (John 8:2), more than likely before the four big giant candelabra’s symbolizing God as the One who had been their light leading them in the darkness during the wilderness wanderings. Notice that He didn’t say I am a light, but I am the Light of the World. He claimed exclusively to be Israel’s Light. Now He is set to prove it as He is leaving the Temple precincts. Often beggars would be sitting near the gates to the temple area, ready to hold out their hands to any worshippers whose hearts were softened by worshiping the Lord. Even today, although there is no temple there, people can often be found begging near one of the gates to the Old City. Please consider coming on tour with me some time to Israel. How life giving it is to walk in this city that is so loved by our Lord!

Put yourself in the shoes of the man born blind. He could hear the conversation between the Lord and his disciples, but didn’t know what was going on. He more than likely heard Jesus collecting spittle in his mouth and spitting it on the ground. I would think that the Lord told him He was about to put something on his eyes. Did he know Jesus before the mud was put on his eyes? I think not. He explained later on, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see” (verse 11). If he would have known Jesus he would have said, “Jesus told me to go to Siloam and wash.”

Sometimes the Lord tests our obedience to His voice. He will offend your mind to reveal your heart. How would you feel about someone rubbing mud in your eyes? Was he offended as he stumbled about with mud on his eyes trying to find his way to the Pool of Siloam? I’m sure there were a few on the way that probably offered to give him water to wash off his face while he was going. I’m sure there were a few that laughed at his obedience to Jesus. Was someone leading him on the way? We do not know, but no matter what was on the way or who was leading him, he was determined to do just as Jesus had said. He was well rewarded when he found his way down the steps to the pool of water. He washed and was instantly healed!

How determined are you to hear His Word and do the will of God? What if he had washed his eyes before He had got to Siloam? I don’t think he would have been healed and we wouldn’t be reading about his obedience to the Lord. Can I encourage you today not to compromise your faith in Christ? Hold on to Him in the midst of the darkness as we stumble towards Siloam. We might not see everything that we would like to see but obedience to Christ pays big dividends! The end of our faith is well worth listening and trusting His Word.

This study was taken from the study of John 9:1-41, Jesus and the Man Born Blind. It’s found in the middle column under the heading of the Book of John.

Keith Thomas