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Ministry

Jesus often withdraws to deserted places to pray.
Image source: Lumo Project

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus’ secret to overcoming temptation. In today’s Bible reading, we see the secret to Jesus’ life overall.

Simon and his business partners, James and John have been fishing all night. They have caught nothing. It happens occasionally. When you make your living fishing, some days are diamonds and some days are coal. Last night was stone hard, dirty, black coal and the men are discouraged and tired. But at Jesus’ suggestion, they cast their freshly-cleaned nets and haul in two boats full of fish! There are so many fish that both boats begin to sink! This was a diamond of a day! Completely overwhelmed, Simon cries out to Jesus, “Get away from me. I’m a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

Jesus simply responds, Simon, James, and John, your fishing days are over. This is the fishing story of all fishing stories! You’re retiring at the top of your game. From now on, you’ll fish for the souls of men. Immediately, they drop everything and follow Him.

Wait! What? They don’t even take their catch to the market! They just leave the fish and the nets in the boats and walk away. Obviously, they saw that Jesus was worth more than the value of two boatloads of fish!

As Jesus travels, news about Him travels faster. He finds Himself being greeted by large crowds of sick people, desperately asking Him to heal them. And He does.

Next, Dr. Luke tosses in a nugget of information that we might otherwise overlook. “Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 (CSB)

One might think that Jesus was successful because of all that he accomplished. Or maybe He was successful because of the miraculous things that He did. But Dr. Luke’s little piece of information speaks volumes. Yes, the ministry was great. The numbers were growing. Yet, Jesus often withdrew to secluded places to pray.

Some people are energized by the crowds and rubbing elbows with lots of people. But as an introvert, I can relate a bit to Dr. Luke’s statement. Sure, I can be “out there” with people. I can speak to lots of people. I can greet lots of people. But it takes a lot of energy. I have to withdraw from people to recharge my batteries.

Application

Note that Dr. Luke doesn’t just say that Jesus withdrew to pray. He points out that Jesus often withdrew to pray. It wasn’t just once a week. It wasn’t just once a quarter. It wasn’t every seven years for a sabbatical. No, Jesus often withdrew to pray. It was his habit, his normal mode of operation. A.T. Robertson says,

The more the crowds came as a result of the leper’s story, the more Jesus turned away from them to the desert regions and prayed with the Father. It is a picture of Jesus drawn with vivid power. The wild enthusiasm of the crowds was running ahead of their comprehension of Christ and his mission and message. [1]

Do you often withdraw from your activities to pray? I’m sure that you’re not as busy as Jesus. I know I’m not. But if Jesus needed to take some time to pray, we do, too! And we need to do it more than He did!

So… When was the last time you spent some extended time praying? Extended time…. like more than a couple of minutes? Like more than ten minutes? Like an hour or more?

Simon and his business partners knew that being with Jesus was worth far more than whatever they would get from selling their catch, their nets, and their boats. Do you? Do you see that being with Jesus (yes, now, on this side of eternity) is worth far more than anything you could do with your time? That’s what Christian Hedonism is all about: seeing Jesus as being worth way more than anything else.

Maybe you and I need to get away (not together) for a little while to spend some extended time in prayer.

Often.

[1] Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Print.

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Today’s Bible reading includes Jesus’ “Great Commission”. Jesus has spent about three years with his disciples and is commissioning them for their ministry. Grammatically speaking, there is one command with several participles that describe how the command is to play out.

He begins with “As you go”. He assumes that His disciples will go. Because He has all of the authority, He gives them this great commission.

Next is the command to make disciples.

The next set of participles describe how to make disciples:

  • by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, fully identifying them with the Trinity.
  • by teaching them to obey Jesus’ teachings. Jesus gave a lot of commands. But in John 13:34–35, He gives them a new command: Love each other. Jesus’ new command wasn’t really new, he was just giving the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36–40) a new emphasis. In John 13:35, He says that people will recognize His disciples by their love for each other. This isn’t to discount so many other things about them, but their distinctive was to be love. Not an ooey-gooey squishy love, but a real — almost tangible love that Paul describes in 1Corinthians 13:1–13.

That’s it! That’s all it means to make disciples. The Great Commission is simple. But it isn’t easy. Teaching people to obey Jesus’ teachings is a life-long journey.

When Jesus linked teaching with how the command is to be applied, He isn’t talking about taking something from one person’s brain and transferring that to someone else’s brain. In the New Testament times, a disciple wasn’t just a student of a teacher. A disciple was a learner, much like an apprentice under a mentor who poured his life into the apprentice’s life.

Jesus’ commission isn’t to get people to make decisions. The commission is to make disciples. There is a world of difference between these two!

Unfortunately, a lot of leaders in the church at large don’t get this. It’s much easier to get someone to “bow your head and repeat after me” than it is to make a disciple. Decision-making is very quick. Disciplemaking takes time. Unfortunately, churches are full of decision-makers, and lacking on disciples.

In 2Timothy 2:2 Paul adds another dimension to disciplemaking: Make disciple-making disciples. Until a disciple passes his/her own walk down to a younger (in the faith) believer, we haven’t completed the task to make disciples. Unfortunately, most church-goers have never been “discipled” and are therefore incapable of making disciples.

Application

Have you ever been discipled? Maybe you need to talk with your pastor about growing deeper in your faith by meeting regularly with a more mature believer who can pour his/her spiritual life into yours.

Have you made a disciple? The commission wasn’t just for Jesus’ immediate disciples. The commission is for us, too!

I once heard someone wisely say that every Christian needs a Paul (a more mature believer who is discipling you), a Barnabus (someone on about the same spiritual growth level as you), and a Timothy (someone you are discipling).

Indeed!

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Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
He has conquered sin and death!
He has made a way for us to be made right with a Holy God.

foundation, support

Last month, I mentioned Matthew 7:21-23 in my devo on Hebrews 4. Well, we’ll take a little deeper dive into Matthew 7 in today’s Bible reading. Jesus concludes his Sermon on the Mount. In these final moments, he talks about judging other people: don’t do it, but realize that you will be able to judge people by their fruit. (Matthew 7:1, 20)

He also talks about prayer: keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking and you’ll receive, find, and doors will be opened for you. (Matthew 7:7-8) Notice the continual emphasis in his statements; He doesn’t say that we should just ask, seek, and knock once, or even a couple of times.

Next, He tells us that the broad road leads to destruction, but the Narrow Gate leads to the Kingdom of God. In this section, he talks about the necessity of judging people by their fruit. He says that not every “believer” will enter the Kingdom of God.

Finally, Jesus says there are two ways we can build our lives: On the solid rock of His Word or on shifting sands of everything else. If we build our lives on His Word, we’ll have a solid foundation when storms come. But if we build our lives on anything else, we won’t have anything to stand on when storms come.

When crews begin construction a high-rise building, they don’t build up from the ground level. First, they spend a lot of time digging down to bedrock before building up. A skyscraper needs a deep, solid foundation to support the entire structure. Houses — and even streets — have to have a good foundation, with iron rebar woven through the concrete slab.

According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one is to be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. 5If anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved—but only as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:10–15 (CSB)

Application

We need to read this chapter as one continuing, developing thought and not take the individual parts on their own. The bottom line is that everything that we say and do is to be built on God’s Word. Everything.

And Relationship with God is everything. The worst thing any “believer” will ever hear is, “I know you called yourself a Christian and you even did a lot in my name, but we never had a relationship”. You can do marvelous things, miraculous things and still miss everything.” As someone once said, “You can climb the ladder of success and then learn that your ladder’s leaning on the wrong wall.”

Notice: the people who were condemned in Matthew 7:21-23 were just nominal “believers”, average church-goers. These are people known for their outward displays of their faith. These are people who are “doing God’s work”. If Jesus condemns people who are “doing the deal”, do you really think He will overlook you if you merely “believe”. Jesus’ half-brother says that even demons believe! And yet, they are awestruck by the One they recognize as the God Who is. (James 2:19)

Are you awestruck by the God Who Is?

Don’t miss this or you’ll miss everything! Build your life on God’s Word. Spend time reading it. Spend time studying it. Spend time memorizing it. Not so that you will know stuff. Do it so that you will know Him. Because knowing and being known by Him is everything. (John 17:3)

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anointing with oil

Today’s Bible reading from James 5 includes a verse that people frequently read incompletely. When someone quotes James 5:16, they are referencing the second half of the verse regarding the power of prayers from righteous people. Again, read the context. In the first half of the verse, James links the prayers of righteous people with the possible cause of their illness, hence the need for righteous people to pray.

James says that if anyone is sick and needs healing, call the local church leaders and have them anoint the sick person with oil. Then he says that the sick person should confess their sins to others and pray for them. That’s the part we miss.

In this case, I don’t think the verse divisions are the cause of the problem; I think our problem is our theology. Protestants, like myself, don’t believe we should have to go to a priest to confess our sins, so we bristle at the thought of confessing our sins to anyone but Jesus. And that’s a problem. And that may be the reason believers aren’t healed.

Now, before you brand me with a “heretic” label, let me say that God is still in the healing business. Not all sickness is caused by sin. Sometimes God uses miraculous means and sometimes God uses therapeutic means to heal people. (Acts 28:8-9) And sometimes God heals through physical death.

Application

If you’re sick or suffering from any physical or mental ailment, by all means, seek medical care. There is — or there should be — no shame for a believer to take medicine or have surgery. And by all means ask God for healing, enlisting others to join with you. Both of these healing methods are mentioned in Acts 28:8-9, where Paul instantaneously healed Publius’ father and Dr. Luke used medical therapy to restore others to health.

But don’t neglect asking if yourself if your sickness may be sin-related as well. Faithful believing friends may be able to help you determine if you may be blind to your sin. If you see that your ailment is sin-related, confess your sins to your brothers or sisters, have them pray for you. Ask someone to anoint you with oil.

And trust God for healing by any of the three methods I listed earlier.

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