God Tests Those Who Are His

1Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. 2Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).

 The next important lesson that we can learn in becoming a disciple is how God molds, shapes and trains us to be all that He wants us to be. It is a clear revelation in scripture that God allows and sometimes initiates times of testing to open our eyes for us to see that our character is not yet at the place where God wants us. Like we said in the last meditation, God prunes the dead wood of old fleshly habits in our lives, so that fresh life and fruit may come forth (John 15:2). Not all mishaps in our lives are God’s doings, however. God often gets the blame for such things as earthquakes, tornados and other difficulties that mankind faces. Some things are just natural tragedies, some things are attacks of Satan, and some things happen to us as a result of personal choices and choices that our nation or culture has made. We cannot explain all things this side of heaven, but let’s look at those things that God allows for our testing:

 The first thing we see about this passage above is that it was God who led the Israelites in the wilderness, the place of barrenness and dryness. Have you been going through a dry season in your life at this moment? Then maybe this is for you! The testing was for the Israelites to realize that even though they had been released from the bondage of Egypt, the ways of Egypt was still in their hearts. They were still dominated by slavery’s effects. It is similar for us; even though we have been released from Satan’s bondage of sin, sin still rules over us until we come to the place where we realize and see ourselves as God sees us, free from bondage to sin. In our thought life, we still default to sin until we come to a place where we listen to God’s Word saying that we don’t live on bread alone but that we absolutely need spiritual bread, the Word of God, for our spiritual growth and health, just as much as we need physical bread for our bodies. The test is to wake us up to see our complete dependence on Jesus. How much do you value the truth of the Word of God at work in your life?

Keith Thomas

The Pruning of the Vine

Christ wants for us to be partners and participators in the fellowship of the Godhead and the process of fulfilling His purpose on the earth. He said:

1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  (John 15:1-3).

Charles Swindoll makes several observations about this passage, which I have found helpful. In his book, Insights into John; he states:

“Firstly, this passage has meaning for believers only. Any non-believer trying to apply these truths will become hopelessly confused. Jesus was not describing how one becomes a Christian, but how one lives as a Christian after placing trust in Him. Second, Jesus draws heavily on the metaphor of a vineyard, a powerful symbol with roots running deep into the soil of Israel’s history. No illustration touched the Hebrew soul like the image of a vinedresser and his vineyard.  Third, the primary subject of Christ’s teaching is abiding (KJV) or Remaining in the NIV, not bearing fruit. At no point in the discourse is the believer commanded to produce fruit. Instead, we are promised that if we abide, fruit will result. Fourth, the illustration Jesus chose would have been familiar to every disciple and virtually all of John’s readers, but it is unfamiliar to most of us today, therefore, we must be careful not to milk every detail for symbolic meaning. Illustrations allow us to see the bigger picture; that must be our focus here. Jesus is summarizing the care a vinedresser gives to a vine… The Lord reassures the disciples that they had already been pruned. The adjective translated “clean” is based on the same verb for “prune” in verse 2. He followed this assurance with a command to “abide.” The verb means “to remain” or to “stay in place” often in reference to one’s home. Upon meeting Jesus, Andrew and John asked Him “Where are you staying [or abiding]?” “Abiding” in terms of this metaphor refers to the branch remaining connected to the vine. Branches that do not receive nourishing sap from the vine cannot produce fruit- or live, for that matter.”[1]

What is pruning a picture of? What is the Father’s motive in pruning us? How does He prune? This picture of the Father’s pruning is not indicative of God cutting unfruitful Christians off of the Vine (Christ). When you gave your life to Christ, God rescued you from the dominion of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13). He won’t throw you out because you are not fruitful enough! You are secure in God’s love and faithfulness. This passage above is about the way in which the Father goes about bringing more fruit from your life. The Father wants us to be fruitful and will exercise His rights to remove dead wood from our lives. The dead wood are wrong attitudes that need to be cut off, the kind of attitude of believers that have never become disciples, the kind of believers that only want ten cents worth of God:

I’ll have ten cents worth of God, please. I want enough to get a taste, to actually have Him, but not so much that it costs me much. I don’t want to get distracted from the things that I really want. I don’t want to be consumed by a huge dose of God. I want enough to feel pretty good about myself, enough to make my life respectable and manageable–enough to get me through the pearly gates. I’ll have ten cents worth of God, please….

[1] Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights, Insights into John. Published by Zondervan, Page 260.

Is the Kingdom of God Within You or in Your Midst?

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).

It could be that the Pharisees were asking Christ in a derogatory way as to when the Kingdom of God would come, i.e. with a sneer on their lips. They were aware that Jesus had taught from the beginning that the Kingdom of God was near (Matthew 4:17). In their minds, if it was coming, where was it? Of course, they didn’t believe that He was the Messiah. He did not fit their picture of the Messiah. Jesus replied by telling them, “The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation.” The Greek word that is translated “careful observation” is parateresis, which means to watch with hostility or to keep an eye on something closely. The Pharisees were looking for spectacular signs in the sky that would hail the coming of the Kingdom, but Jesus refutes that thinking by saying that the Kingdom does not at that time come visibly; it contains elements that cannot be observed with the natural eye like a mustard seed that becomes a tree (Matthew 13:32) and leaven that permeates through the whole bread (Matthew 13:33). The second coming of Christ will not come until the Gospel has permeated throughout the whole world (Matthew 24:14)

King Jesus, when He is invited, comes and takes up residence upon the throne of our hearts, the temple of God according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16. Jesus Himself was and is the seed of the Kingdom. Nicodemus was told by Jesus, “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). In case we didn’t catch the importance of this, the Lord says it again more emphatically in verse 7, “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:7 Emphasis mine). There must be an inward manifestation of the kingdom in our hearts, the central part of our very being, i.e. our spirit; otherwise, we will never have a part in the outward, physical manifestation and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. When a person receives Christ as Savior, something happens in the core of his being, also described by the Apostle Peter as being “born again.” He writes:

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23).

We are alive to the physical world because we have been born into it. In the same way, we become alive spiritually by receiving the germinating seed of spiritual life from the Lord Jesus. He said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The Greek word that is translated with the English word life is Zōē. The Key Word Study Bible goes into the root of the word itself, saying:

Zōē is a somewhat metaphysical term which denotes the very life-force itself, the vital principle, which animates living beings. It is used most often in connection with eternal life. This life is the very life of God of which believers are made partakers.[1]

Until this experience of being born again happens within us, the inner state of our spirit is that of being dead in our transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5). We cannot know God apart from receiving this life from Jesus. You cannot become a Christian by behaving Christianly; it doesn’t work like that. You must be born again or born from above into the Kingdom of God. There is a new-life principle that is imparted to us when we repent (repentance means a change of mind and direction) and receive the Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives. This is why Paul the Apostle writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The very kingdom for which they supposedly were searching was right under their noses in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, and they were not aware of it. Sometimes, the answers to our questions are right there in front of us, but we do not have the spiritual sensitivity to see them.

Keith Thomas

[1] Spiros Zodhiates, Key Word Study Bible, AMG Publishers, Page 1630.

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!

24Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 27Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” 28Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” 29″I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:24-30).

In his Gospel, Matthew tells us that, when the young man heard the entry requirement, “he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:22). The Lord did not go after him and renegotiate the terms. After all, a rich man coming to church could do a lot of good. Jesus watched him walk away, saying that it was a hard thing for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. “Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

There are three common explanations that will help us to understand Jesus’ words. One suggestion is that the eye of the needle refers to a small door in the walls of a city. The tour guide in Israel, for instance, will point you to a small door at Bethlehem that is called the Eye of the Needle door. They say that the small door stopped raiders riding into the city on their horses, raiding and pillaging, and then riding out again. When a merchant would come in with his camels, they had to be stripped of everything and then had to bend down to get into the city.

The second explanation put forward by Origen and Cyril of Alexandria was that kamēlon was a misspelling of the word, “rope,” kamilos. For those that hold to that view, it should read, “It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle.” One would have to unravel every strand of the rope to get it through the needle.

The third possibility is that Jesus was saying that, just as it is an impossible task to get a camel through the eye of the needle, in the same way is it an impossibility for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. This is a figure of speech from Mesopotamia. The saying there was of trying to thread an elephant through the eye of a needle. Of course, there were no elephants in Israel, so it was changed to the largest animal, the camel. What Jesus was saying was that it was an impossibility for a rich man to be saved by trusting that his riches had any merit on his spiritual bank account.

The disciple’s response was one of incredulity. They said, “Who then can be saved?” (v. 26). The rich were seen by the Jewish people as those who were blessed of God and accepted by Him. Their thought was that, if the rich could not get in, how could the poor? However, it is the same for rich and poor alike: salvation is an impossibility for men, but with God all things are possible. It is impossible for man to make it on his own terms. There is only one way, i.e. through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for you and as you. What’s impossible for man is possible with God. The good news is that God has made a way. Jesus is the way! His substitutionary death on the cross was in place of guilty man. He died for you and as you. The price of death was paid by God Himself.

Peter seems to want confirmation that they are doing enough. They had left all to follow Christ. The Lord’s encouraging word to them is that they and all who follow Him shall receive many times as much in this age and in the age to come, i.e. eternal life. For everything that the Lord requires you to give up, there is so much more of life’s true riches to be gained.

The great English cricketer, C.T. Studd, was born into wealth and luxury in the 1870s. He received the finest education that money could buy, e.g. attending Cambridge University where he became captain of the English national cricket team. Studd was considered England’s greatest cricketer. He had everything going for him, e.g. a huge fortune laid at his feet at the death of his father. However, God had a different plan for him than wealth and fame in this world. He went to hear D.L. Moody speak about Christ and, at the end of the message, gave His life to the Lord. He chose to give up his estate and his fortune, and he gave it all to mission work by even going himself to China and then India and Africa, too. To many people, that decision was a rash move and a tremendous waste of intellect and ability. However, to Studd and six others who went, it was using their ability to the fullest. They laid down their will to God’s call and purposes. “Yet not my will but yours be done.” He once said:

If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him (C.T. Studd).

Keith Thomas

The Rich Ruler Comes to Jesus

18A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19″Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.” 21″All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth (Luke 18:18-23).

Few of the religious rulers had any time for Christ, yet this man seems compelled to get an interview with Jesus. He is so serious about finding eternal life that Mark tells us that he runs up to Jesus and falls on his knees before Him (Mark 10:17). His rich robes are all muddied in the dirt while he is on his knees blurting out, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” One of Satan’s schemes to deceive a man from turning to Christ is to have him look for things he can do to please God. People hope that God will see how hard they trying to please Him and reward our work by opening the door of the kingdom to us. Satan enjoys watching people work hard at trying to please God with their good works. He is the master of deception. The rich ruler had a serious question going on in his inner man— “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 18). This man had no assurance of salvation even though he thought that he had worked hard all his young life to gain peace with God. Before a man can receive the Kingdom, he must first see how far short of perfection he has fallen. The standard that God demands is perfection:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

Our problem is that we are sinners by nature and fall far short of the standard God requires. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. It is in our very nature to sin. No matter how good a person thinks he is, just one sin makes us fall short of perfection and needful of God’s grace and mercy.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10).

The Law and Commandments was given as a means for us to see how we have transgressed over the line into sin. How would we have known what sin was without the Ten Commandments? Paul the apostle wrote: “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law, rather through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20). The importance of the law cannot be overstated. How can one have need of a Savior if he has never been convinced of his need? Presenting the gospel with no accompanying message of how a person has fallen short of God’s glory seriously minimizes the message to a person’s heart. A person loves much when he sees just how much he has been forgiven. Jesus stated it like this: “he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). The greater our perception of our personal sin to a holy God, the greater our love response when we are forgiven our sin. God is looking for a love relationship with His bride, the Church, you and me. We are given an inner conscience that tells us before we sin, that what we are about to do is wrong. It punishes us as a judge if we do not listen to that inner voice and still go ahead and sin. The Internal Revenue Service received the following letter from a conscience-stricken taxpayer:

“Dear Sir: My conscience bothered me. Here is $175.00, which I owe in back taxes.” There was a P.S. at the bottom that read: “If my conscience still bothers me, I’ll send in the rest.”[1]

This rich young man’s conscience was bothering him. John Trapp said: “Conscience is God’s spy and man’s overseer.” Jesus pointed him back to the commandments, so that he could see how far short he fell. Shrugging off his conscience he claimed to have kept the commandments since he was a boy, but still something was missing. The Lord saw his heart as only God can do and told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor.

This rich young ruler’s problem was that he loved things more than he loved God. The Lord considered this young man’s soul and saw that he was holding something back, and that it was keeping him from surrendering his life to God. Whatever crutch we lean on in life, God wants to kick away until we totally lean on the finished work of Christ. Christianity is not a crutch; it is a wheelchair—we lean our total trust on Him alone. The rich man walked away, shoulders slumped, face downcast, because his one thing that he was holding on to kept him from enjoying the spiritual rest of Christ. There is a rest for our souls when nothing is held back or kept in reserve, or leaned upon. Don’t let anything hold you back from total abandonment to Christ. He will be there to support you. That is the essence of faith. Keith Thomas

[1] 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Michael P. Green, Page 79.