Men on A Mission!
(An Eight Part
(people) on a mission (pressing on!). Throughout the Bible there are
examples of many people that had a purpose in life. Some will come as
quite a surprise. In these devotions we're going to consider just a
few of them and the impact and outcome of their lives. While these
accounts (stories) were written thousands of years ago, God had them
recorded (written down) for a specific reason...
15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach
us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope. (NIV)
true stories? Yes, one hundred percent! The God, who told us He
cannot change (Malachi 3:6) and that it's impossible for Him to lie
(Hebrew 6:18), made sure that everything recorded was fully accurate...
3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,
rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the
man [literally "person"] of God may be thoroughly equipped
for every good work. (NIV)
[There's only one God] - Elijah
made it clear from the very beginning that there is only one God...
1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (NIV)
And has He
made clear throughout the remainder of the Bible, that this one God
has always been three in one, namely Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Three distinct personalities yet indivisibly one God. [Genesis 1:2
speaks of the Holy Spirit being there at creation, John 1:1-3,14 tell
us that the son, Jesus, was there at Creation (Hebrews 1:2 also)]
It's because of this one God being three in one that God even refers
to himself as "us" in Genesis 1:26.
Israelites, God's people, were taught virtually from birth to recite
this passage (what they called the "Shema") reminding them
that there was only one God and that they were to worship Him alone.
6:4-5 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the
LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all
your strength. (NIV)
One of the
problems people have had all along, is that some have made up other
gods that they want people to worship. Some follow just one other
false god, others have a bunch of them. By the time a prophet by the
name of Elijah was around, the Israelites had started copying all the
nations around them. These nations around them worshipped a number of
false gods, and God himself had warned His people to be careful to
not be led astray by these nations.
4:15b-19 Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16 so that you
do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of
any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, 17 or like any
animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, 18 or like any
creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.
19 And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the
stars --all the heavenly array-- do not be enticed into bowing down
to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to
all the nations under heaven. (NIV)
18:9-13 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do
not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let
no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the
fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages
in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or
who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable
to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your
God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless
before the LORD your God. (NIV)
23:7-8 Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do
not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not
serve them or bow down to them. 8 But you are to hold fast to the
LORD your God, as you have until now. (NIV)
and Queen of Elijah's day even worshipped these false gods and wanted
to kill Elijah for saying that they wrong. Elijah felt that he was
all alone because so many had been killed or had started following
these false gods (1 Kings 19:10). Yet, God reminded him that there
were still others that had stayed true (1 Kings 19:18 -- 7000
people!). No wonder Elijah felt a little bit alone. Just before this,
God had Elijah issue a challenge to a large group of false prophets,
because God was going to do an amazing thing to show that He alone
was the only real God. To the people watching, this was going to look
like one against many. In fact it was going to be ONE real God
against a fake one.
450 prophets of the false god "Baal" gathered together up
on a mountainside. Standing in front of them is one guy, Elijah.
18:21-39 Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will
you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but
if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing [likely
because they were afraid]. 22 Then Elijah said to them, "I am
the only one of the LORD's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred
and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for
themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood
but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on
the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your
god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by
fire-he is God." Then all the people said, "What you say is
good." 25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one
of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you.
Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire." 26 So
they took the bull given them and prepared it.
called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "O Baal,
answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response; no one
answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. [Can a
false god hear? Of course not!] 27 At noon Elijah began to taunt
them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god!
Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy [the actual Hebrew words imply
gone to use the toilet.], or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must
be awakened." [Do you think Elijah was making fun of their false
god?] 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords
and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. [Many
people think that it takes pain for God to hear them. But our God
hears and sees everything] 29 Midday passed, and they continued their
frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But
there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. 30
Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come here to me." They
came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in
ruins. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes
descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying,
"Your name shall be Israel." 32 With the stones he built an
altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large
enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the
bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them,
"Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and
on the wood." 34 "Do it again," he said, and they did
it again. "Do it a third time," he ordered, and they did it
the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even
filled the trench. 36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah
stepped forward and prayed: "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and
Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I
am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37
Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O
LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again."
38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the
wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the
trench. [This was serious fire. Far greater than simple lightning as
it burned up everything!] 39 When all the people saw this, they fell
prostrate and cried, "The LORD-he is God! The LORD-he is
it take for you to believe there's only one God? These people saw
something awesome that struck fear into them. Some probably truly
placed their faith in God that day, others probably tried to explain
it away or ignore it as the days went on. God wants people to believe
without looking for special signs and wonders. Jesus clearly stated
that when He more than once said, "A wicked and adulterous
generation asks for a miraculous sign! (Matthew 12:39a). Even for
those who doubted in regards to himself, until they could see
"proof," Jesus warned "Because you have seen me, you
have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have
believed." (John 20:29) The bottom line is that it takes faith
to believe in the one true God.
11:1, 6 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of
what we do not see. (6) And without faith it is impossible to please
God, because anyone who comes to him must (first) believe that he
exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (NIV)
Part 2 God Cares for People - Jonah
Almost everyone knows the story of Jonah and the big fish [not
whale]... Well, at least part of the story anyway. Jonah was a real
person who lived in the area of Nazareth [about three miles from
where, hundreds of years later, Jesus would grow up]. Jesus
identified with him directly. When people kept asking Jesus to
perform a miracle on demand (in other words, signs and wonders), He
told them that the only sign he'd give them was that of Jonah.
Matthew 12:39-41 He answered, "A wicked and adulterous
generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it
except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days
and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will
be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men
of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and
condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one
greater than Jonah is here. (NIV)
Jesus' words actually jump to the end of the story. We'll get back to
this in a bit, but first let's look at the story from the Bible...
Jonah 1:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2
"Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because
its wickedness has come up before me." 3 But Jonah ran away from
the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he
found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went
aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. 4 Then the LORD
sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the
ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each
cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to
lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down
and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said,
"How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will
take notice of us, and we will not perish." 7 Then the sailors
said to each other, "Come, let us cast lots to find out who is
responsible for this calamity." They cast lots and the lot fell
on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, "Tell us, who is responsible for
making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come
from? What is your country? From what people are you?" 9 He
answered, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of
heaven, who made the sea and the land." 10 This terrified them
and they asked, "What have you done?" (They knew he was
running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.) 11
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, "What
should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?" 12
"Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied,
"and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this
great storm has come upon you." 13 Instead, the men did their
best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even
wilder than before. 14 Then they cried to the LORD, "O LORD,
please do not let us die for taking this man's life. Do not hold us
accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done
as you pleased." 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him
overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly
feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made
vows to him. 17 But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah,
and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. (NIV)
Imagine being Jonah for a minute. He likely thought that in being
thrown overboard he would get out of everything (because he'd be
dead). Sure he had admitted that he was running from God, but he
wasn't really ready yet to do what God had wanted. God was about to
teach Jonah the lesson of his life, and so He sent the ultimate
transportation: the fish.
In life or death, you can't hide (or run away) from God. Jonah
finally realized what David wrote:
Psalms 139:1-8 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You
know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with
all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely,
O LORD. 5 You hem me in-- behind and before; you have laid your hand
upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me
to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from
your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make
my bed in the depths, you are there. (NIV)
Consider for a moment what got Jonah to this point. God had wanted
him to go the city of Nineveh and preach that because of their
wickedness they were in imminent danger of being judged. So what's
the big deal? Why wouldn't Jonah just hop a camel (or whatever) and
go do what God told him to do? For starters, Jonah knew who these
people where. This Assyrian city was the capital city of a fierce
nation of people who attacked, pillaged, and cruelly destroyed people
and nations surrounding them. Israel, itself, had been at the
receiving end of their conquests. While fear of these people may have
played a part, it's more that Jonah didn't want to go warn them, to
tell them to repent (or turn from sin), he just wanted God to judge
and destroy them. But God had something else in mind.
Jonah 2:1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. 2 He
said: "In my distress [You think maybe! He's inside a fish!] I
called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave
I called for help [He likened it to being in a grave], and you
listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the deep, into the very
heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves
and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, 'I have been banished from your
sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.' 5 The
engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was
wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up
from the pit, O LORD my God. 7 "When my life was ebbing away, I
remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.
8 "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that
could be theirs. 9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice
to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the
LORD." 10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah
onto dry land. (NIV)
From inside the fish, Jonah calls on God for help. He was now willing
to do what God wanted him to do. He realized that serving the one
true God actually means obeying Him, doing what He wants you to do
and going to where He wants you to go. God had the fish barf Jonah up
on a beach. Do you think that Jonah would have been relieved? We
don't know for sure, but it's likely that the acids inside the fish's
stomach would have bleached Jonah's skin and hair, not to mention his
clothes. Imagine what he might have looked like as he showed up in
Nineveh, finally doing what God had commanded him to do. Nineveh was
a huge multi-part city that would take three days to cross on foot.
The ruins of this ancient city were only found a few generations ago
and only a small part of it has been excavated to this day; because
of it's immense size! Jonah walks for one day into the middle of this
city and starts calling out...
Jonah 3:4b-6 "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.
[destroyed by God in judgment]" 5 The Ninevites believed God.
They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the
least, put on sackcloth. 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh,
he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself
with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. (NIV)
It didn't matter how bad the people had been in the past, because
they were now willing to believe God and turn from their sins, God
was willing to forgive.
Jonah 3:10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their
evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the
destruction he had threatened. (NIV)
This is perhaps the greatest revival recorded in history, with
hundreds of thousands of people coming to know the Lord. Do you think
that Jonah was happy?
Jonah 4:1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. (NIV)
Jonah got mad at God because he still really thought that God should
punish these people. Remember how bad they used to be! Jonah ends up
leaving and camping a ways away from the city, watching, and still
hoping that God would destroy it (Jonah 4:5). But, God showed him and
told him that Jonah had no right to be upset, that God had every
reason to care about the city and all the life within it.
Jonah 4:11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand
people who cannot tell their right hand from their left [infants and
young children], and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned
about that great city?" (NIV) [Even if Jonah thought that the
adults should be judged, God points out the other life, namely
children and animals]
God cares about all life, and especially about people (Matthew 10:29-31).
God cares about you!
Ezekiel 33:11 Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the
Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but
rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your
evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?' (NIV)
Part 3 God is Holy, wants a Holy People - Moses
Moses' beginnings are quite a story. Born at a time when the
Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, he was born with a death sentence.
All the male children where supposed to be destroyed by Pharaoh's
orders. Yet his mother worked to keep him alive until finally she
entrusted him to God's care, placing him in a waterproof basket along
the edge of the Nile river. God enabled Pharaoh's daughter to find
him and have compassion on him, so that He would grow up, cared for
by his own mother as a child, and then ultimately in the palace of royalty.
Even though he had everything, wealth and status, Moses cared about
his people who were enslaved. His human attempts to help them
resulted in his killing a man and having to flee for his life. Once
again, he was under a death sentence of Pharaoh. (Exodus 2:1-3:1)
Now, hiding out in the wilderness, working as a shepherd, something
Exodus 3:2-7 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of
fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire
it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see
this strange sight --why the bush does not burn up." 4 When the
LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within
the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I
am." 5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take
off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy
ground." 6 Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the
God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this,
Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. 7 The LORD
said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I
have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am
concerned about their suffering. (NIV)
God tells Moses that He has chosen him to be the one to lead the
people out of Egypt. Even though Moses is reluctant, he finally goes
back to Egypt and performs many miracles as signs for Pharaoh to let
the people go. God enabled Moses to do all these special miracles so
God could show the people that He was far greater than all the false
god's of Egypt. The final sign, that got Pharaoh's attention, was the
death of all the first born children in Egypt. Only those that had
believed God and marked their door posts where spared. Remember,
Pharaoh himself taught and believed that he was a god. The people of
Egypt believed that he was a god, and his son would be a god after
him. Now their god's son was dead, because he was just a man.
After crossing the Red Sea on dry land (Exodus 14:21-22) -- another
awesome miracle -- God led the people back to the mountain in the
wilderness, where God had gotten Moses' attention. While you might
think that Moses' whole mission in life was to rescue the people from
Egypt and get them to the Promised Land (Israel), it really was far
greater. God wanted Moses to teach the people what He had shown him
years before at the burning bush -- that God was a Holy God. And as a
Holy God, He is to be held in reverence (fear), honor, and to be obeyed.
At the mountain (in the Sinai Wilderness), God told Moses that He
would speak to him in front of all the people. The people were warned
to stay back from the mountain because it had become a Holy place and
they would die if they even touched it without God's permission.
Exodus 19:16-21 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and
lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud
trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the
people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot
of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the
LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like
smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19 and
the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and
the voice of God answered him. 20 The LORD descended to the top of
Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses
went up 21 and the LORD said to him, "Go down and warn the
people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and
many of them perish. (NIV)
When God finally began to speak, the people where so afraid they
weren't really even listening...
Exodus 20:18-20 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and
heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with
fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, "Speak to
us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we
will die." 20 Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid.
God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to
keep you from sinning." (NIV)
So God told Moses to come up on the mountain and He wrote down what
he was telling the people on stone tablets. These became known as the
ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)...
20:1 And God spoke all these words: 2 "I am the LORD your God,
who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
[#1] 3 "You shall have no other gods before me.
[#2] 4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of
anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters
below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the
LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin
of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate
me, 6 but showing love to a thousand [ generations] of those who love
me and keep my commandments.
[#3] 7 "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for
the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
[#4] 8 "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days
you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a
Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work,
neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or
maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and
all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the
LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. [One day in every
seven to rest and worship God]
[#5] 12 "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live
long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
[#6] 13 "You shall not murder. [Matthew 5:21-22 murder of the
heart, angry without cause]
[#7] 14 "You shall not commit adultery. [Matthew 5:28 adultery
of the heart]
[#8] 15 "You shall not steal. [size of what you steal is not the question]
[#9] 16 "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
[#10] 17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall
not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his
ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
All these commandments God gave to show people how Holy He was and
how sinful we are. How many of these commands do you think we can
keep? In fact, we can't keep any of them on our own. All through the
Bible, the stories show that people keep on breaking these commands.
If you think about people you know, and even yourself, you'll have
plenty of examples of how hard it is to keep these commands. The
problem is, that because God is so perfect, so Holy, he has to judge
all sin [little or big] and the penalty is the same... death.
Romans 6:23a For the wages of sin is death [in other words, if I sin
I'll be paid with death]
If the story just stopped here, we'd all have a big problem. We'd be
no different than the people who were afraid of God around the
mountain, knowing that they'd die if they got too close to God. Even
though God was (and is) so Holy, He loved his people enough to give
them a way to be spared from God's punishment. It was through
believing in God. The rest of the story shows that not many of the
people really believed and follow God. Yet, Moses -- though he messed
up a few times and had started out as a murderer -- was one who
followed God by faith.
Hebrews 11:24-28 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be
known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated
along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of
sin for a short time. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ
as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was
looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing
the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.
28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that
the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of
By faith Moses knew that he could look forward to eternal life, being
spared the penalty [wages] of sin. All who live by faith can
experience eternal life and come into the presence of God. God still
wants a Holy people...
Hebrews 12:14b ... without holiness no one will see the Lord. (NIV)
Part 4 What is the Meaning of Life? - Solomon
Many people think that life is meaningless. Others believe that the
meaning of life comes from the pleasures we can enjoy and the things
we can accumulate [he who has the most toys wins]. Some even think
the meaning of life is found in people, friends, family, a husband or
wife and even children. When something -- or anything -- goes wrong
with their pursuit of happiness, it's often quite easy for them to
end up joining those who think life is meaningless.
Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in
Jerusalem: "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher.
"Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." (NIV)
King Solomon found life to be meaningless. Using Solomon's search for
purpose, we can find out the reason why so many end up in despair.
Early in Ecclesiastes (1:4) Solomon points to a universal problem of
man, that we come and go while the earth remains and that life is for
such a brief time (1:11). If life is so short, what reason do I have
for living in the big picture? Solomon set out on a life's journey to
find a reason for living, something to give meaning to his life.
Ecclesiastes 1:13, 16 I devoted myself to study and to explore by
wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has
laid on men! (16) I thought to myself, "Look, I have grown and
increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem
before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge." (NIV)
Solomon's first endeavor was to find meaning in learning. He set out
to examine and to study everything around him. His conclusion is very
telling, "For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more
knowledge, the more grief (1:18)". All the knowledge in the
world cannot give purpose and, as well, examining the things others
have done sheds no light on the reason for living that they have
found (1:14). For those who would question Solomon's endeavors in
knowledge, perhaps saying that he just wasn't smart enough, consider
the gift he had been granted by God.
2 Chronicles 1:7-10 That night God appeared to Solomon and said to
him, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you." Solomon
answered God, "You have shown great kindness to David my father
and have made me king in his place. Now, LORD God, let your promise
to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a
people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me wisdom
and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern
this great people of yours?"
Unlike a lot of people's view of God, who see Him as being some
Cosmic Santa Claus who will (or should) give whatever they ask, this
passage is unique in Scriptures. God did something very special in
asking Solomon what He could give him... Imagine how you would have
responded. Solomon, understanding the position of authority that God
had placed him in, rightly asked for wisdom and understanding to lead
the people. God granted that request and even more...
2 Chronicles 1:11-12 God said to Solomon, "Since this is your
heart's desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor,
nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a
long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom
I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given
you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no
king who was before you ever had and none after you will have." (NIV)
As for how much human wisdom and discernment God gave him, consider
this other passage of Scripture...
I King 4:29-31 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a
breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.
Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the
East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than any
other man... (NIV)
The wisest man, who ever lived, had found that seeking purpose in
learning was futile and so will everyone else who seeks purpose there
as well. As is often common, when one quest fails, people turn to
something else. So too did Solomon. His next stop was pleasure.
Ecclesiastes 2:1a I thought in my heart, "Come now, I will test
you with pleasure to find out what is good."
Surely living to have fun, to enjoy all the pleasures of life is a
reason for living. For those that seek purpose in these pursuits, a
common cry is that they lack the finances to really have the fun that
will truly make them happy. "If I could just have more money, I
could live life to the full". Our society's rich and famous
become role-models for these pleasure seekers... surely they are
having fun, they've got the means! Solomon surely had the means to
find pleasure in anything and everything -- the wealth of an entire
kingdom. But he still couldn't find purpose...
Ecclesiastes 2:1b But that also proved to be meaningless. (NIV)
When conventional means of having fun lose their luster, the logical
conclusion is to enhance them. Chemical highs. Drugs of choice.
Perhaps the most common and sociably acceptable is the most widely
available -- alcohol. Solomon got there as well.
Ecclesiastes 2:3 I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body
with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold
of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to
do under heaven the few years of their lives. (NAS)
Chemical dependent "fun" is just as meaningless. In fact,
these substances cloud the mind and pervert wisdom. When the high
wears off you need more and it takes more and more to get there. This
is not, and can never be, a reason for living -- rather it binds the
participant as a slave to a hopeless cause.
Solomon's quest for pleasure didn't end with wine. In fact the one
area that likely consumed more of his time than any other was lust.
We have surveyed teens and adults as to their reason for living and
many teens (especially guys) have written "sex". No
surprise. The message of our entertainment is that everyone is doing
it -- and all the time -- so, of course, this has to be a good reason
for living. Once again, Solomon had the means to out do everyone in
this area as well.
I Kings 11:1-3 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women
besides Pharaoh's daughter-- Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians
and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told
the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they
will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless,
Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of
royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.
One thousand women, talk about living out the fantasy of many. Yet,
even in the charade of marrying many (700) of them, he couldn't find
happiness. He wanted (and got) more. He was willing to compromise
principles and beliefs to get them and to keep them happy. Solomon
effectively became a slave to his passions (lusts). And the objects
of his affections caused him problems all of his life (and not just
because he had 1000 mothers-in-law!). All who would find pleasures in
forbidden relationships also will suffer the consequences (whether in
premarital, extramarital, homosexual, or other forms as talked about
in scriptures. God designed sex as something pleasurable and
desirable but only within the confines of marriage to one person).
Sex is not a reason for living, apart from marriage it's merely
another form of bondage.
Solomon, who had great wealth, worked to amass even more. Here too he
looked for purpose in his work and the things he could acquire.
Ecclesiastes 2:4-9 I undertook great projects: I built houses for
myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted
all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves
of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other
slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks
than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for
myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and
women singers, and a harem as well-- the delights of the heart of
man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me...
Yes, Solomon had even acquired fame. He had fans that came from all
over the known world (1 Kings 10:24). He was living out the dream of
millions. Yet he had found no meaning...
Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I
refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work,
and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all
that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything
was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under
the sun. (NIV)
Solomon, mercifully, never came to the point of despairing of life.
Though he rightly called all of these worldly pursuits,
"meaningless", in regards to giving a person a reason for
living he did finally find the truth. It appears that Solomon
wasted most of his life, in the futility of these common life causes,
and that it was only late in his life that he found the real reason
for living. His solution...
Ecclesiastes 12:1 Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will
say, "I find no pleasure in them"... (NIV)
Solomon spends the next few verses describing the effects of growing
old, but don't miss the heart of what he discovered. The only reason
for living is to worship and serve our Creator. He especially warns
people to not wait until they are old to find this out, to not waste
their lives in the pursuit of things that are meaningless. How
Solomon ends his book is a far cry from the despair of his opening
proclamations of meaninglessness...
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion
of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the
whole [duty] of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (NIV)
The only real reason for living is found in knowing and follow God.
Only in finding life in Jesus Christ can anyone have hope and
purpose. It's no surprise that Jesus, after warning of the Devil's
schemes, contrasts the life that is found in Himself.
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have
come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)
Now that's real life and real purpose! For those who have found
salvation in Jesus Christ (John 14:6), we have been given hope, hope
that extends to eternity.
Part 5 Ultimate Love! - Jesus
The man with the ultimate mission was far more than just a man. This
man was the eternal son of God, the second part of the trinity (or
triune God) -- fully God (Colossians 1:15-20), equal with the Father
(John 10:30) -- who came to earth to be born as a human being. Even
his birth was miraculous. He was born of the virgin Mary (Luke
1:34-35), announced by angels (Luke 2:9-15), visited by shepherds
(Luke 2:15-20) and wise men of foreign lands (Matthew 2:1-11) -- all
this before he was a couple years old (Matthew 2:16). Some would
think that Jesus' mission began with his birth (while others try and
place it much later). In fact, Jesus' mission began before the
creation of the world. That's right, before Adam and Eve were
created, before they first sinned, before Jesus was even born, God
planned for the mission that Jesus would go on.
Ephesians 1:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every
spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the
creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (NIV)
Not only did God chose to save us before creation, quite specifically
it was determined that Jesus would be the one who would come.
1 Peter 1:17-21 For you know that it was not with perishable things
such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of
life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the
precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was
chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these
last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who
raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and
hope are in God. (NIV)
Everything in Jesus' life on earth was focused around one thing...
John 18:36-37 Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If
it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.
But now my kingdom is from another place." 37 "You are a
king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in
saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this
I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side
of truth listens to me." (NIV)
Jesus, on an earlier occasion, was even more specific about His
earthly mission; to show the Truth of God's love for us in going to
the cross to die...
John 12:27 "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?
'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I
came to this hour. (NIV)
Could Jesus have stopped the people from arresting him? Easily! A
number of times before, the people had tried to kill Jesus and the
rulers had tried to arrest Him. Each of those times, Jesus easily
escaped their clutches.
Luke 4:16-21,30 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up,
and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.
And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was
handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom
for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the
oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 Then
he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.
The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he
began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in
your hearing." [The people didn't like Jesus applying this
prophecy of Scripture to Himself, even though it really did apply to
Him, so] 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they
heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him
to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to
throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd
and went on his way. (NIV)
John 7:30-34, 45-46 Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him.
They said, "When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous
signs than this man?" 32 The Pharisees heard the crowd
whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the
Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him. 33 Jesus said, "I am
with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me.
34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am,
you cannot come." [Jesus continued to talk about Himself being
the only one who can give life] 45 Finally the temple guards went
back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why
didn't you bring him in?" 46 "No one ever spoke the way
this man does," the guards declared. (NIV)
These examples showed that Jesus could supernaturally evade any one
He wanted to, physically or even through His spoken words. This was
no ordinary man! Even at the point that Pilate had Jesus on trial,
Jesus made it clear who was in charge and that it had been Jesus'
choice to be there.
John 18:36 Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it
were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But
now my kingdom is from another place." (NIV)
John 19:10-11 "Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said.
"Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify
you?" 11 Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me
if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed
me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." (NIV)
Even the Roman soldiers, temple guard, and the rest of the mob that
came with Judas, to arrest Jesus in the dark of the Garden of
Gethsemane, had seen just a touch of the power Jesus had.
John 18:2-8 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because
Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas came to the
grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the
chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and
weapons. 4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went
out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" 5 "Jesus of
Nazareth," they replied. "I am he," Jesus said. (And
Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said,
"I am he," they drew back [as in staggered backward] and
fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, "Who is it you
want?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." 8 "I
told you that I am he," Jesus answered. "If you are looking
for me, then let these men [the disciples] go." (NIV)
Jesus went willingly to His own murder, all the way to the cross.
Why? Because He knew that He had to die as the perfect sacrifice for
our sins (1 John 4:10) -- not His own sins, because Jesus remained
perfectly sinless his entire life, even while He was tempted in every
way that we are (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus fulfilled His mission. He died a cruel death on the cross.
Truly Jesus did not just come to "save us from our sins.
(Matthew 1:21)" But to save us from God. Without Jesus'
sacrifice we would justly deserve the wrath of God.
Ephesians 2:2-10 All of us also lived among them at one time,
gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its
desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of
wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in
mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in
transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised
us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in
Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the
incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in
Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through
faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by
works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in
advance for us to do. (NIV)
Jesus rose again from the grave after three days, proving He was God
and could free us from sin and death! (Luke 18:31-33, 24: 1-8). You
can partake of the free gift of salvation, that He purchased with His
shed blood, through believing in Him...
John 3:16-19 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one
and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have
eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to
condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever
believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands
condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's
one and only Son. (NIV)
As a believer you can now say...
Galatians 2:20 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.
Part 6 The Wrong Way - Judas
Some people are on mission that is not good and the Bible gives us
many examples of this as well. One stands out because of the visible
outcome of his actions.
Judas was one of Jesus' closest disciples. While Jesus had many
disciples, He had some that got to spend more time with Him than
others. One group included seventy-two disciples (Luke 10:1) but the
group most spoken of was the twelve (Luke 8:1, 9:1, 18:31). Judas was
one of the Twelve (Luke 22:3). The Twelve were the ones that had been
with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry. They heard Him speak
and they saw Him perform many awesome miracles. Jesus specifically
had chosen each of his disciples -- even Judas.
Mark 3:13-19 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those
he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve-designating
them apostles-that they might be with him and that he might send them
out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These
are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter);
17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the
name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, Philip,
Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon
the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (NIV)
Image being with Jesus on a day to day basis! Notice that Jesus had
even given them all (including Judas) the ability to preach and even
drive out demons. Judas was not, in some way, the shifty nasty
looking inferior disciple that Hollywood always portrays him to be.
Externally he was like the rest of them, doing the same things,
hearing the same lessons. Yet, on the inside where God looks (1
Samuel 16:7), he was different. Luke records, that just after the
commissioning spoken of in the passage above, that Jesus spoke these words...
Luke 6:20-22 20 Looking at his disciples, he said: "Blessed are
you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you
who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep
now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when
they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because
of the Son of Man. (NIV).
Judas didn't get it at all. But then, to some degree none of the
disciples did at first. They looked for Jesus to overthrow the Roman
occupiers and establish an earthly government of Israel. I'm sure
they all felt they could share in some of this glory to be close to
the One they thought would do this. Even as they argued over who
would be greatest, Jesus showed them that even as He came as a
servant, they too were to be humble servants.
Luke 9:46-48 An argument started among the disciples as to which of
them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a
little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them,
"Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and
whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least
among you all-he is the greatest." (NIV)
Jesus taught them that his kingdom was not of this world (in a
physical sense), that it was in the hearts of believers scattered
among all the people of this world. The earthly physical kingdom of
God would not come until much later, when Jesus visibly and in great
power comes again from heaven.
Luke 17:20-25 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, 21 nor will people say,
'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within
you." 22 Then he said to his disciples, "The time is coming
when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you
will not see it. 23 Men will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he
is!' Do not go running off after them. 24 For the Son of Man in his
day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky
from one end to the other. 25 But first he must suffer many things
and be rejected by this generation. (NIV)
Judas, it appears, grew increasingly impatient. He completely missed
the message of self-sacrifice and giving up all to serve God. For
him, the worldly wealth and power, that he was looking for, was
something that he would get at all cost. Jesus, who had so little
money that he had to send a disciple fishing to get money to pay
taxes (Matthew 17:27), entrusted what little was given to them to
Judas. This shows how trusted Judas was amongst the disciples, they
obviously had no concern over Judas carrying any money they had. His
hunger for money was clearly shown in an event that happened a week
before the crucifixion.
John 12:1-8 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany,
where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a
dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was
among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a
pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet
and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the
fragrance of the perfume. 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot,
who was later to betray him, objected, 5 "Why wasn't this
perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's
wages." 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to
help himself to what was put into it. 7 "Leave her alone,"
Jesus replied. "[It was intended] that she should save this
perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor
among you, but you will not always have me."
Perhaps this was the breaking point for Judas, seeing someone - in
his eyes - "waste" expensive perfume on Jesus, who had now
clearly taught that He would suffer and be rejected (Luke 17:25).
Maybe it was the sudden realization that there would be no earthly
power, or maybe it was the realization that following Jesus was no
sure way to get wealthy (rather the opposite). Either way, Judas came
up with a plan in his mind...
Mark 14:10-11 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the
chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted to hear
this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity
to hand him over. (NIV)
At the Passover supper a few days later, Jesus even noted, out loud,
that not everyone there was a follower, but that He had intentionally
chosen one who would betray Him.
John 13:18-22 18 "I am not referring to all of you; I know those
I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares
my bread has lifted up his heel against me.' 19 "I am telling
you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will
believe that I am He. 20 I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone
I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent
me." 21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and
testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray
me." 22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know
which of them he meant. (NIV)
Mark 14:19 And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by
one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I? (KJV)
Notice that the disciples had no idea that it was Judas, actually
doubting themselves before someone else. Judas had sold out, in his
heart, making him a willing pawn of Satan.
John 13:27-30 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into
him. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told
him, 28 but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.
29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was
telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give
something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he
went out. And it was night. (NIV)
The rest is history. Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver
(Matthew 26:15), an exact fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 27:9) --
actually less than what the expensive perfume was worth, that he had
seen poured out a few days before. There's some indication that Judas
thought that Jesus would just merely escape, remember he had seen
Jesus do it a number of times before. Or maybe he though that it
would provoke Jesus to actually setting up that long hoped for
earthly kingdom. Either way, Judas the betrayer, had sold out One who
was innocent, One who had treated him as a friend.
Matthew 26:49-50 Going at once to Jesus [to betray him], Judas said,
"Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. 50 Jesus replied,
"Friend, do what you came for." (NIV)
What will you do with Jesus? You know of his love for you, the gift
of salvation He offers. Will you sell Him out for thirty pieces of
silver? Let's ask it this way. Would you deny Jesus for...
The issue is not how much it would take for you to sell out, it's
merely that you would. Some of you may have already sold Him out.
Jesus is willing to forgive, if you are willing to turn away from sin
and follow Him. He was willing to forgive Peter for vocally and
repeatedly denying him (Luke 22:34, Luke 22:59-62, John 21:15-19),
and even Judas if he had sought it. Judas had only worldly sorrow
that leads to death.
2 Corinthians 7:10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to
salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (NIV)
Judas was sorry, mostly because of the outcome -- Jesus was condemned
to die. He threw back the money and admitted he betrayed an innocent
man (Matthew 27:4-5a). He really wished that everything he had done
could have been undone. But being sorry for the outcome or
consequences of sin isn't enough. All it did was fill him with guilt
and he wasn't willing to seek out the One who could forgive him. So
Judas went out and hanged himself (Matthew 27:5b), obviously from a
branch that gave way letting him hit the ground and spill his guts
(Acts 1:18). His horrible mission was done and the consequences will
haunt him for eternity.
Matthew 26:24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him.
But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better
for him if he had not been born." (NIV)
What's your mission?
Part 7 Living to Tell - Paul
The apostle Paul was the most unlikely person you could image
becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. True, he was a religious zealot,
trained at the temple under a great Jewish teacher, and he was
someone who followed directly in their footsteps. Even as they had
sought to have Jesus crucified, to silence Him at all cost, so too
Paul wanted to silence all believers in Jesus. He was willing to do
just about anything to get these Christians to renounce their belief
in Christ, literally hunting them down and having them thrown in jail.
Paul, who was originally called Saul, began his quest for the
destruction of Christianity by assisting in the murder of one
believer, named Stephen. This early persecution likely was prompted
by a large number of the temple priests actually coming to faith in
Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 6:7). It shouldn't really surprise us that
so many of the priests would come to faith, they even -- more than
the people -- would know the Scriptures and had seen the direct
fulfillment of so many Old Testament prophecies in the events
surrounding Jesus' death and resurrection. Paul, as a young student
of the religious rulers (Pharisees), was not shown to be the
instigator of what was done to Stephen, just merely a consenting spectator.
Acts 6:8-12 Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did
great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9 Opposition
arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it
was called) -Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces
of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10 but
they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he
spoke. 11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, "We have
heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against
God." 12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the
teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the
Sanhedrin [court of the religious leaders]. (NIV) [The trial they
held for Stephen was as rigged as the one they held for Jesus,
complete with false witnesses, except that they did let Stephen speak
for a bit to his own defense. As they cut him off from speaking, we resume..]
Acts 7:55-8:1 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to
heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand
of God. 56 "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the
Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." 57 At this they
covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all
rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.
Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young
man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed,
"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he fell on his
knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against
them." When he had said this, he fell asleep. 8:1 And Saul was
there, giving approval to his death. (NIV)
It didn't take Saul long to move on into actually zealously
participating in the following persecution...
Acts 8:3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to
house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (NIV)
It was in this quest to track down believers, that Saul headed to a
foreign city, Damascus. And on the road to that place had an
encounter that would change his life forever...
Acts 9:1-15 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats
against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2 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. 3 As he neared Damascus on his
journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell
to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do
you persecute me?" 5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. [Notice
that Jesus personally identifies with his followers. To be
persecuting them was to be persecuting Jesus.] 6 "Now get up and
go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." 7 The
men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound
but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he
opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand
into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or
drink anything. 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias.
The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes,
Lord," he answered. 11 The Lord told him, "Go to the house
of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul,
for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come and place his hands on him to restore his sight." 13
"Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports
about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in
Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief
priests to arrest all who call on your name."
Ananias got over his fear of Saul, and obeyed God, giving Saul back
his sight. Saul now quickly began to boldly preach that Jesus was the
Messiah. Do you think that people would have been more than a little
surprised, if not confused. This Saul had become a different person,
a Christian! Remember who called Saul, it was Jesus himself, willing
to forgive and make him a new creation.
Paul spent the rest of his life traveling and being persecuted
himself, for the cause of reaching others with the good news that
salvation is found only in Jesus Christ (John 14:6). The following is
just a bit of what he endured...
2 Corinthians 11:23b -27 I have worked much harder, been in prison
more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to
death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the
forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I
was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day
in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been
in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own
countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger
in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I
have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have
been cold and naked. (NIV)
1 Corinthians 4:11-13 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we
are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work
hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are
persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly.
Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of
the world. (NIV)
Why would Paul want to live like this? Because, out of love for Jesus
Christ (Matthew 22:36-38), he now cared about other people (Matthew
22:39). He was willing to give up everything for the sake of getting
the gospel to others. He even once expressed how much he would be
willing to give up for the sake of his own people...
Romans 9:1-4a I speak the truth in Christ -I am not lying, my
conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit- 2 I have great sorrow and
unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were
cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of
my own race, 4 the people of Israel. (NIV)
Now that's real love for people! Paul knew that whatever he suffered
here and now, it was only for a time, with a heavenly (eternal)
reward to follow (Romans 8:18). He was absolutely sure of this future
hope and resurrection. As he once told people that doubted there was
1 Corinthians 15:19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we
are of all men most miserable. (KJV)
Even though Paul hoped for heaven and longed to spend eternity with
the Lord (Philippians 1:21-24), he also was persuaded that life, even
with the trials, was far better than living in sin...
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have
come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)
And what makes it "to the full" (or "more
abundant")? Forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7), freedom from
guilt (Romans 8:15-16), and knowing that Jesus is always with you and
will never leave or forsake you...
Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall
trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger
or sword? 36 As it is written: "For your sake we face death all
day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No,
in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved
us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels
nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be
able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our
Part 8 What would you do? - Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah
What would you do when no one else is looking? Do you serve the Lord
only when your pastor, or parents, or friends, are around? What would
you do if you were taken away from them to a far away land where
everyone else didn't worship God? Would you still follow Him?
That's exactly the test that our four people underwent, that we are
about to consider. When Israel (Judah) fell to foreign invaders, they
carried off many of the people to that foreign land. These people had
no expectation of ever returning home again. Many of them were young
people (likely early teens). These people would never see their
temple (church) again, never get guidance from their Bible teachers
again, never be corrected by their parents again.
Daniel 1:1-4 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of
Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged
it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand,
along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he
carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the
treasure house of his god. 3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of
his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the
royal family and the nobility- 4 young men without any physical
defect, handsome [these are things the world looks at God looks at
the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7b], showing aptitude for every kind of
learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve
in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and
literature of the Babylonians. (NIV)
Some would say that these guys had it made. They were now living on
their own, and they could do whatever they wanted to do, and work to
become a success in their new location. Most of you at sometime in
your life will experience the exact same thing. No, it's unlikely
that someone will carry you off. But, you'll likely head off to
another city to go to college or university, or perhaps for work. For
some of you, that will be the first time that you'll be away from
everything that normally influences you. If you are a believer in
Jesus Christ (truly a follower of Him), what will you do now? Let's
consider the first test our Bible guys underwent...
Daniel 1:5-20 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine
from the king's table. They were to be trained for three years, and
after that they were to enter the king's service. 6 Among these were
some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief
official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to
Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
[All their original names were in honor of the one true God, the king
changed them to honor his gods. For example, Daniel's name meant
"God's prince or judge" and his new name's meaning was
"Bel's (a pagan god's) prince."] 8 But Daniel resolved not
to defile himself with the royal food and wine [because it would have
been offered to idols], and he asked the chief official for
permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the
official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, 10 but the official
told Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned
your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the
other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of
you." 11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official
had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12
"Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but
vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance
with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your
servants in accordance with what you see." 14 So he agreed to
this and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of the ten days they
looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who
ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and
the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
God blessed these guys for following Him, in spite of the opposition
they faced. Maybe more so, in spite of all the earthly rewards that
compromise might have seemed to have given them.
Daniel 1:17-20 To these four young men God gave knowledge and
understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel
could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. 18 At the end of
the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official
presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and
he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they
entered the king's service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and
understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten
times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole
This was not the only test they would experience. In a Christian's
life you are called on over and over again to stand firm for what you
believe (or should I say, in Whom you believe). Jesus said it this way...
Matthew 10:32-33 "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before
men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33
"But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before
My Father who is in heaven. (NASU) [Consider for a moment, what it
means to confess or deny -- is it only with words, or do actions make
a difference too?]
Perhaps the best known of the tests Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and
Azariah would face are these next two. First, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah...
Daniel 3:1-28 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet
high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the
province of Babylon. 2 He then summoned the satraps, prefects,
governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the
other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he
had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers,
treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial
officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King
Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it. 4 Then the
herald loudly proclaimed, "This is what you are commanded to do,
O peoples, nations and men of every language: 5 As soon as you hear
the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds
of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King
Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship
will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace." 7 Therefore,
as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre,
harp and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of
every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King
Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 8 At this time some astrologers came
forward and denounced the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar,
"O king, live forever! 10 You have issued a decree, O king, that
everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp,
pipes and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of
gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be
thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you
have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon - Shadrach,
Meshach and Abednego - who pay no attention to you, O king. They
neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set
up." 13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach,
Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14
and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach
and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of
gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn,
flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are
ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if
you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing
furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?"
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O
Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this
matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we
serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your
hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O
king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold
you have set up." 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed.
He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and
commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing
furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and
other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The
king's command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames
of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and
Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing
furnace. 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement
and asked his advisers, "Weren't there three men that we tied up
and threw into the fire?" They replied, "Certainly, O
king." 25 He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in
the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of
the gods." 26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the
blazing furnace and shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,
servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" So
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the
satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them.
They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of
their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no
smell of fire on them. 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be
to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel
and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's
command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or
worship any god except their own God.
Second, under the rule of a later king, Daniel...
Daniel 6:1-24 It pleased [king] Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule
throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, one of
whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that
the king might not suffer loss. 3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself
among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities
that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this,
the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges
against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were
unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was
trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men
said, "We will never find any basis for charges against this man
Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God." 6
So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and
said: "O King Darius, live forever! 7 The royal administrators,
prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the
king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who
prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O
king, shall be thrown into the lions' den. 8 Now, O king, issue the
decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered-in
accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be
repealed." 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing. 10 Now
when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home
to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three
times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his
God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group
and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 12 So they went to
the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: "Did you not
publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to
any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions'
den?" The king answered, "The decree stands-in accordance
with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be
repealed." 13 Then they said to the king, "Daniel, who is
one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to
the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day."
14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was
determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to
save him. 15 Then the men went as a group to the king and said to
him, "Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes
and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be
changed." 16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel
and threw him into the lions' den. The king said to Daniel, "May
your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!" 17 A stone
was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed
it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that
Daniel's situation might not be changed. 18 Then the king returned to
his palace and spent the night without eating [fasting] and without
any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep. 19 At
the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions'
den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an
anguished voice, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your
God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the
lions?" 21 Daniel answered, "O king, live forever! 22 My
God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have
not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I
ever done any wrong before you, O king." 23 The king was
overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when
Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he
had trusted in his God. 24 [Just in case you thought the lions really
weren't hungry.] At the king's command, the men who had falsely
accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions' den, along
with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of
the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. (NIV)
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, He's provided everything you
need to stand as firm, even as these four guys did. Most of all, on
the inside, God himself lives within you to strengthen and teach you
(John 14:23-26). On the outside, He's provided supernatural armor...
Ephesians 6:10-18 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty
power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your
stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against
flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual
forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full
armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to
stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,
with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet
fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In
addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can
extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet
of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers
and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying
for all the saints [all believers!]. (NIV)
Written by Brent
of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2002.
Feel free to
duplicate as long as the source is cited.