Men on A Mission!
(An Eight Part Devotion Series)

Men (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...

Romans 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)

Are they 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...

2 Timothy 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)


Part 1 [There's only one God] - Elijah

God has made it clear from the very beginning that there is only one God...

Genesis 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.

The 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.

Deuteronomy 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.

Deuteronomy 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)

Deuteronomy 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)

Joshua 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)

The King 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.

Imagine 450 prophets of the false god "Baal" gathered together up on a mountainside. Standing in front of them is one guy, Elijah.

1 Kings 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.

Then they 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 God!" (NIV)

What will 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.

Hebrews 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 extraordinary happens...

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 Israel. (NIV)

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...

  • 10 Million Dollars (wealth)

  • Sex (pre-marital, extra-marital, pornography, etc.)
  • Power (in business, government, etc.)
  • Fame (and popularity)

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 a resurrection..

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 Lord. (NIV)


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 kingdom. (NIV)

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 MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2002.
Feel free to duplicate as long as the source is cited.