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Suffering

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Jesus praises Simon's acknowledgement of Who Jesus is
Image source: Lumo Project

In today’s Bible reading, as Jesus and His Disciples entered Caesarea Philippi, He asked them who people thought He was. They replied that some people thought He was John the Baptizer, Jeremiah, or Elijah.

Next, He asks, “Who do you think I am?” Simon immediately responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus praises Simon’s response and says that he couldn’t have come up with this on his own. The truth of that response was imparted by God. Jesus doesn’t tell us how God told Simon this awesome truth, only that He did. (Matthew 16:17)

Next, Jesus says that He’s changing Simon’s name to Peter (rock) and that He would build His church on this rock. Now, it’s important to note the different Greek words used in Jesus’ statement, otherwise, we’ll make the error that the Roman Catholic Church has made in attributing to Peter the title of the First Pope.

Actually, Jesus says, “You are a rock. And on this boulder, I will build my church.” What was the boulder? The boulder was Simon’s confession of Jesus’ Divinity. Jesus says that He would build His church on the confession that Jesus is God’s Anointed Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Jesus never said He would build His church on Peter — any other person, for that matter! Instead, Jesus promised that His church — built on the confession Simon made — would prevail against the gates of hell.

And just seconds later, when Jesus told the Disciples that He would suffer and die, Simon said that Jesus shouldn’t have to go to the cross. Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan for you are not setting your eyes on God, but man.” (Matthew 16:23) Within a few seconds, Peter goes from being the toast of the party to being cursed like the devil. And the only thing that changed was his mindset.

Application

All of the Disciples may have thought the same thing, but Simon is the only one who spoke up. They were ready to reign with Jesus in Jerusalem as He overthrew the Roman occupiers. They were willing to fight to keep Jesus from going to the cross and dying. Or so they thought. They thought that Jesus’ ascent to Kingship over Israel would come easy. They rejected the suggestion that Jesus would have to suffer. And die.

How true is that for Jesus’ Disciples today? How many of us follow Jesus, thinking that He’ll just bless us with everything we could ever want. And the first time we hear anything about suffering?! What’s up with that?

But suffering and persecution is part of following Jesus. Along the way, we have to give up a lot of idols — some of which we don’t know we even have — in order to follow Him more closely and walk into the destiny He is calling us.

But every idol we reject and every point of suffering and persecution is worth the all-surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:8) Not His blessings that come from His hand, but Himself, Who He is.

Do you know Him?

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Gold is purified by fire in a crucible

In today’s Bible reading, Matthew tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Most often when people talk about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, they talk about Jesus’ baptism and his healing ministry that followed.

It’s unfortunate that in 1227, Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to put a chapter break between Matthew three and Matthew four. It’s unfortunate because when you’re reading one chapter at a time, you miss the fact that the end of chapter three talks about Jesus’ baptism. Chapter four talks about Jesus’ temptations. With the chapter break, it’s easy miss the flow between chapters three and four.

I would argue that Jesus’ ministry begins with His baptism by John. I would also highlight the fact that in all three Synoptic Gospels,* Jesus’ baptism is immediately followed by His temptations, followed by his healing ministry.

Why is this important? You cannot separate Jesus’ temptations from His endorsement from His Father and His healing ministry. Jesus’ ministry includes His temptations. Why? I have heard that every leader — and especially every minister — must go through a period of testing. Not testing to see if they’ll pass the test, but testing to remove impurities like you would with silver or gold in a crucible.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts. (Proverbs 17:3)

When God tests a heart, He isn’t doing it to learn if you can pass the test. Instead, He tests the heart to purify the heart, to remove the bad things from the heart. He tests the heart, not to see if you can pass the test, but to prove/demonstrate that you can. God didn’t wonder if Jesus would pass the test in His temptations. He did it to show Jesus’ sinlessness and to provide a model for those who would pursue ministry and other leadership roles.

Application

Have you been tested? Maybe you’re going through a period of testing right now. Don’t be misled by my discussion of testing for ministry. All of us are ministers. All of us need to be tested. It’s for our good and for the good of those who we will minister to.

Don’t look at times of testing as cruelty on the part of God. Look at those times as the goodness of God to make you more like Jesus, chipping away and burning off those things that don’t look like Him, and to demonstrate to those around you how much you do look like Jesus.

* The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They’re called synoptic because they look similar in the stories they tell and their wording. They can easily be harmonized to show their similarities and differences. John’s Gospel is not a Synoptic Gospel, because he tends to be more theological in his presentation, as opposed to chronological.

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There are no short-cuts to maturity

James doesn’t mince words about suffering. He begins his book urging his readers to rejoice whenever they experience trials. And he wraps up his book with today’s Bible reading, urging his readers to be patient in suffering. (James 5:7-11) He fills in the gaps about suffering in between. In fact, James never refers to suffering and trials as a remote possibility. He always refers to it as a given. One can only wonder how the Prosperity Gospel flourishes given the enormous weight of consistent Biblical teaching against it.

In Western Society, we don’t like to wait. The coming modern conveniences promoted on commercials in the 1950s only left us cramming more into our days rather than the promise they made that life would be easier and we would have more free time. I’m still waiting for that.

Take the microwave oven for example. With a microwave oven, you can boil water in a matter of a couple of minutes and make a nice glass of good Southern Sweet Iced Tea in half the time compared to boiling water and steeping your tea on a cooktop. But how often have you impatiently screamed at your microwave oven, “Hurry!”? Personally, I’d rather not answer that question!

Application

James seems to indicate that suffering produces patience. And you won’t gain patience without having to wait, oftentimes experiencing some level of discomfort or suffering. Is it any wonder why some Bible translations use the word longsuffering instead of patience.

The bottom line is that there are no short-cuts to maturity in the Christian life. Enduring hardship develops patience and other positive character qualities. So take James at his word when he tells you to rejoice whenever you encounter various trials. (James 1:2-4) Trust that God will use those trials for your good: That you would become more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

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We finish reading through Acts with today’s Bible reading. We find Paul and his companions shipwrecked on the island of Malta. To keep the prisoners from swimming to shore and escaping, the soldiers considered killing the prisoners, but the Centurion wanted to save Paul.  Everyone survived; even those who couldn’t swim made it to shore by holding onto parts of the ship.

The people of Malta welcome the survivors and built a fire so they could warm themselves. Paul collected a stack of sticks to add to the fire. A venomous snake latched onto Paul’s hand. The Maltese believed that Paul was guilty of some kind of heinous crime and the snake bite was his punishment. But Paul shook off the snake and didn’t swell up; he didn’t suffer any ill effects from the bite so the people believed he survived because he was a god.

The chief man on the island was Publius. His father was suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul visited Publius’ father and miraculously, instantaneously healed him. Dr. Luke then tells us that others on the island brought their sick relatives and they were cured.

Dr. Luke’s description of what happened is very important for us. He distinguishes between the instantaneous, miraculous healing performed by the Apostle and the curing that he did as a physician. The Greek word Dr. Luke employed is the basis of our English word, therapy.

Application

The strong application from this story is that when we are sick, we should seek God’s healing. We should also seek medical help if God sovereignly chooses to not heal in a miraculous way. Many Believers choose to only pray, believing that God is obligated to heal His children. Many Believers choose only seeking medical help because they don’t believe that God heals in miracles anymore.

Both of these extreme positions are wrong. Nowhere do the Scriptures tell us that God will cease using miracles. So we can assume that we should pray for God to miraculously intervein. At the same time, God has given us foods and medicines as well as medical professionals who can use these to bring about therapy for restored health.

There should be no shame for seeking a miracle. And there should there be no shame for seeking medical help. If a doctor prescribes medicine or medical devices, take them and thank God for His provisions.

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Agabus warns Paul not to return to Jerusalem
Image source: Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org

In today’s Bible reading, a prophet named Agabus walks up to Paul and binds his own hands and feet in Paul’s belt. He says, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'” (Acts 21:11)

Some are frightened by this visual aid and beg Paul to not go to Jerusalem. Paul brings them back to their senses by saying, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” The people respond, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:13-14)

Paul’s friends are concerned for his well-being. This is normal. Who wouldn’t want the best for their friend? But Paul reminded them that God is in control. Nothing happens apart from His knowledge and permission.

Application

Adding to yesterday’s devotional, the best place to be is where God wants you and that the worst place to be is anywhere else. And in the case of Paul being arrested in Jerusalem, it turns out that Paul’s life was probably spared because he was in the custody of Roman soldiers. There was a great deal of confusion so Paul was taken to the barracks so the Roman tribune could make sense of what was going on. Otherwise, he may have been killed by the riotous mob. (Acts 21:34-36)

Sometimes the safest place is the last place you want to be: in the custody of Roman soldiers.

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