Step by Step Vision

We are continuing to think on the life and call of Abraham. When God originally spoke of the step of faith that He was requiring of Abram, He gave large brush strokes on the canvas of the vision. The initial call in Ur of the Chaldeans was to get up and leave the area that is now in South East Iraq. They travelled northwest following the Euphrates river until they came to Harran, a city in Northwest Mesopotamia, now Iraq. The distance to Haran was about 2000 miles. We don’t know how long they stopped in Haran but this was where Abram’s father Terah, died. Abram was seventy-five years old when God spoke to him to leave Harran and go the 800 miles further to the land He would show him. Imagine being seventy-five years old and God speaking to you to leave the comfort of Haran to go to Canaan. Most of us just want the comforts of home at that age.

It is natural for us to want to know the details of the vision before we take the first step, but that is not the way God leads. If God would show you the end at the beginning, you may not be ready for it, or it may scare you, causing you to drift along the path rather than being propelled by faith. God gives us just enough vision to propel us forward. A boat can never be steered when it is drifting. It is only as it is going through the water that it can be easily steered by a small rudder. Begin to step out in faith and allow God to operate the steering mechanism of your life. Remember Psalm 119:

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119:105).

Where does the Lord shine His light? He shines the light of revelation, His Word, on where the next step is, at the feet. We don’t see far ahead, just the next step. You just have to trust Him for the next step.

Only when Abram arrives in Canaan does God give more specifics concerning the future (Genesis 12:7), specifically that to his offspring God would give the land that Abram was walking on. He was told that God would make a great nation from his seed and that He would bless him and make his name great, and that those who bless him and his descendants, will be blessed in return. We are also told that those who curse his descendants will themselves be cursed of God. We should be careful about our attitude towards the Jewish people for the Lord says that He, “has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:8). We might not agree with all the policies of the government of Israel, but the people of Israel and the seed of Abraham are precious to God. His Word is eternal, and He still stands by it. We are called to bless those whom God is blessing and the faith of Abraham is what we Gentiles have been rooted into: do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you (Romans 11:18).

Can you look back and see that God has grown your faith step by step? I’ll bet that there are things you are doing now which you never dreamed of doing in your younger years.

Keith Thomas

This Man Welcomes Sinners

1Now 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 far away 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 ways 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. 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

The Way of the Cross

23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:23-27).

In the year 771, Charlemagne became king of the Franks, a Germanic tribe in present-day Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and western Germany. He had gained an empire, but yet in his dying days, he had found out the truth that to live for oneself and to gain an empire without Christ seated on the throne of one’s life was to die a miserable death. One hundred and eighty years after the death of Charlemagne, about the year 1000, officials of the Emperor Otho opened the great king’s tomb where, in addition to incredible treasures, they saw an amazing sight: the skeletal remains of King Charlemagne seated on a throne, his crown still on his skull, and a copy of the Gospels lying in his lap with his bony finger resting on the text, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”[1]

Too many people rush about seeking for fame and fortune, desperately putting all their time, energy, and money into climbing the ladder of success, only to find at the end of their lives that their ladder has been against the wrong wall. Life is too short to have regrets about how you have spent your years in frivolous things. He tells them, and us, that if we really want to follow Him, to be His disciple, there are three things we must do: deny self, take up a life of cross-bearing, and do it daily.

There are some that feel that to deny oneself would be not to do anything pleasurable, not to ever eat chocolate, or go see a movie. They say that to deny oneself means to do nothing that would be fun. However, Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). If to follow Jesus means to never enjoy life or never to have fun, it sure doesn’t sound like it would be a life of living to the full. So what does it mean?

  • To deny ourselves. I believe that this means that pleasing our Lord is to be a higher priority that pleasing self. We must put His will first and foremost in our lives.  If we can imagine a throne room in the temple of our hearts (1 Corinthians 3:16), Christ needs to sit there, and not ourselves. He must rule and reign. The Greek word translated as deny means not only to say no to something, but also it is used to refuse someone. William Barclay, the Bible commentator, further defines it, saying:

Ordinarily we use the word self-denial in a restricted sense. We use it to mean doing without something, giving up something. For instance, a week of self-denial is a week when we do without certain pleasures or luxuries, usually in order to contribute to some good cause. But that is only a very small part of what Jesus meant by self-denial. To deny oneself means that in every moment of life to say no to self, and to say yes to God. To deny oneself means to obliterate self as the dominant principle of life, and to make God the ruling principle, more, the ruling passion, of life. The life of constant self-denial is the life of constant assent to God.[2]

  • You and I, as disciples, need to take up our cross daily. A cross was an implement of death. When a man was seen carrying a cross, people knew he was on his way to death. A life of purpose (a life of dedication to Christ), i.e. real life, has a way of coming to us when we dethrone self and place Christ as the center focus of our lives. This life that we have on Earth is but a seed to be sown into the lives of others. Selfishness is gone when an attitude of heart that is dead to self reigns. Paul the Apostle was a great example for all of us in his words: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). To be crucified with Christ is to live with the purpose of doing God’s will daily, even when our flesh life craves the opposite. This is a Spirit-controlled life.
  • We are to follow Him. Many seem to follow the way of self. They bow at the shrine of I, Me, Mine, Myself. To the follower of Christ, his heart is to be like Jesus in every way that He lived His life. We are to follow His example. He modeled to us how we are to live. Christ Jesus has bought us, not with silver or gold, but with the most valuable thing that He had: His blood, His life in this world. Jim Elliot, one of five missionaries who died seeking to reach the Auca Indians of South America with the message of Christ, said this: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” (Shadow of the Almighty, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Page 15).

These notes are taken from the Bible study on Luke in the middle column, the study called 20. Peter’s Confession.

Keith Thomas

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word, Luke Volume One, Printed by Crossway Books, 1998. Page 342.

[2] William Barclay.  The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.  2. The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster Press, 1958) p. 167.

Why Did Christ Die Brutally?

Why was it so necessary for Christ to die such a brutal and violent death? Surely God could have planned an easier death for His Son? The answer, I believe, is this: only a violent death could have exposed sin in the way it so sorely needed revealing. One preacher said, “Could Jesus have exposed sin in all of its foul horror if He had died in His bed, or by accident, or by disease?” It is one of the tragedies of human life that we fail to recognize the sinfulness of sin. God’s plan was for Christ to die as a substitute for all those who would put their faith in Christ’s death as their own death, thereby showing the sinfulness of sin and the just punishment placed upon it. Out of God’s love for man, He came in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus, to take man’s place and bestow mercy and grace upon us. Another example of this kind of substitutionary legality is found in history:

During a war between Britain and France, men were conscripted into the French Army by a kind of lottery system. When someone’s name was drawn, he had to go off to battle. On one occasion, the authorities came to a certain man and told him he was among those who had been chosen. He refused to go, saying, “I was shot and killed two years ago.” At first the officials question his sanity, but he insisted that was indeed the case. He claimed that the military records would show that he had been killed in action. “How can that be?” they questioned. “You are alive now!” He explained that when his name first came up, a close friend said to him, “you have a large family, but I am not married and nobody is dependent on me. I’ll take your name and address and go in your place.” And that is indeed what the record showed. This rather unusual case was referred to Napoleon Bonaparte, who decided that the country had no legal claim on that man. He was free. He had died in the person of another.[1]

In the viewpoint of God, when Christ died, He died as a substitute to release you from the legal claims that Satan had against you because of your sin. Christ died for you and as you. God sees Christ as taking your place just as the one man went to war in another’s place.  When Christ died, God sees you as having died too:

20Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules (Colossians 2:20).

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-3).

The Lord Jesus, through His death, burial and resurrection came to give us His life. We received physical life from our forefather, Adam, but Christ came to give us the life of God, and this life is imparted to us when we wholeheartedly put our faith and trust in Him. When we believe, our sins are washed away and the Spirit of God baptizes us into the spiritual organism of the Body of Christ. The life of God flows into each of us that are connected to Him by faith. God loves you and wants to invite you to abandon your sin and walk the rest of your life in freedom from the bondage of sin. Will you give Him your life? Pray a simple prayer from your heart asking Him to forgive your sin and come into your life. Receive the gift of God—salvation in Christ.

Keith Thomas

[1] 1500 illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Edited by Michael P. Green, Printed by Baker Book House, Page 360.

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.