“Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day.”
The purpose of setting up a rudimentary stone altar was to remind the generations to come of the faithfulness of the Lord. Whenever someone walked by the area and saw stones stacked upon one another, it would be clear that it was not caused by nature, but by design and with a purpose. When they asked about the stones, the older generation would recall the stories of what God did, as a means of teaching the works and the ways of God. As time went on, these stone altars were scattered in many places throughout the land. The one we read about here is unique, not because of the way the stones were stacked, but because these stone would never again be seen since they would be covered by the flowing waters of the Jordan river. Why build an altar of remembrance that no one would ever see?
Paul alluded to Israel’s passing through the waters as a picture of baptism. Baptism illustrates the work that was done for us when we believed in Christ. Our sins were washed away, never to be seen again. These stone, buried under the flowing waters of the Jordan, serve as a reminder of the work that is done when we believe. Israel could look at the water and remember the faithfulness of God to keep His promises. In the same way, you and I can look back at the waters of baptism and remember the faithfulness of God. Perhaps you were baptized in the past and have since wandered from the Lord, and grown distant in your relationship with Him. Look back on those waters, think back to the joy you had when you were following Jesus, reflect upon what it is that led you away, and return to the Lord who loves you, died for you, and wants to work out His plans in your life.
“‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
The sermons from Haggai and Zechariah stirred the people to return to the work of rebuilding the Temple. Because of their dedication, it did not take long before walls were erected and priestly ministry restored. The completed Temple had a dual affect upon the people. Some celebrated, while others wept. Those who wept did so because they remembered how glorious Solomon’s Temple had been, then they looked at the rudimentary structure they had built to replace it. Haggai’s message was directed to them. He declared, this new Temple was actually more glorious than the one it replaced. It’s glory was not in the expense required to build it, or in its intrinsic value, but in what would take place within it.
Five hundred years after Zerubbabel completed the Temple, Jesus was born. It was this refurbished Temple upon whose steps Jesus taught. It was from here, he declared that anyone who comes to Him will have living water flow out of them, like a spring of everlasting life. It was just outside this Temple where he would be arrested, beaten and crucified. And it was the veil of this Temple that was torn, giving us access to God when we receive Christ.
As glorious as the first Temple may have been, the glory of the second outshines it in every way. What a joy to know that we no longer need a building in order to access God. It is through the work of Christ, that we can have an intimate relationship with God.
“So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.”
Ezra and his company were traveling hundreds of miles without a military escort and carrying the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold, silver and bronze. Had word got out of their precious cargo, they would no doubt be the target of thieves, and their lives would be at risk. Caravans have been attacked and lives taken for far less than they were carrying. In their desperation, Ezra made a calculated decision not to ask the king for protection, but to gather the people, proclaim a fast and seek the Lord. In the end, they not only made it safely to their destination, but they were able to see God accomplish the miraculous. This story reminds me of a statement made by Gideon when he was hiding in a cave from the Midianotes. He said,
“…where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about?” Judges 6:13
We hear this sentiment repeated over and over today. Perhaps we have even thought it ourselves. We read the Bible and see God doing things for people, and we look at our own lives and wonder where the hand of the Lord is in our circumstances. Allow me to suggest that part of the reason we do not see God intervening, is that we do not ever want to find ourselves in a position where we are desperate for Him. We do everything we can to not have to depend on God. If we were making the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, carrying a boat load of cash, wouldn’t we do everything in our power to ensure our own safety, and the safety of our cargo? Or would we gather the people, proclaim a fast and seek the Lord? I wonder if a fraction of the time we spend ensuring that we are not dependent on God was spent seeking after God, what miraculous stories we might have of His intervention in our lives?
We are all facing something that occupies a great deal of our thought life, and that we struggle not to worry over. Whatever this current issue is, why not follow the example of Ezra and dedicate it to God. Determine that you are going to seek Jesus to intervene, no matter how long it takes. Perhaps it is time to make ourselves more dependent upon Him so that we can see His hand intervene in our story.
“Gideon said to Him, ‘O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about…?”‘
Gideon voices a sentiment vey common among believers today. He looked at the conditions of his world and began to wonder where were all the miracles. If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, why was he not seeing great and miraculous changes happening in his lifetime? I find it very interesting how the Lord responds to Gideon’s accusations.
“Then the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?'”
The response from heaven seems to imply that if Gideon wants to see the miraculous, he will have to get out of his hiding place, step out in faith, and allow the Lord to work in and through his life. What follows for Gideon will be a bold and courageous stand against the idolatry in his own life, his home, and his community. Shortly following this incident, he will step into the battlefield with a handful of ill-equipped and untrained soldiers, in an attempt to drive the Midianites out of Israel.
As the pages of the calendar turn, the methods of God do not change. Just as in Gideon’s day, God is seeking to stir the heart of people who will be willing to commit themselves completely to Him, and step out in faith to see what God may want to accomplish through them. If we want to see great things done by God, we have to get out of our caves of security. It is time to stop allowing fear to keep us from the amazing things God may want to do through us. Just like Gideon, we will not be left alone once we make those first courageous steps.
“And the Lord said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.'”
“Then Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have, . . .'”
Peter makes reference to a simple rule of life. We can only give away what we personally possess. By his own admission, Peter had no money to give this man. It is interesting to note that from an economic standpoint, Peter’s condition was no different than the beggar’s. In the world’s estimation, a man in his thirties who is too broke to share his change with a beggar, is of very little value. Peter would not make a who’s who list in the 1st Century. However, if we look more closely, we see that Peter possessed something far greater than riches that tarnish and fade. Peter said,
“. . .what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Acts 3:6
Flat broke, jobless, and in a city that was not his home, Peter had more to offer this world than Pilate, Herod, and all the powers of Rome combined. Peter knew Jesus.
I wonder about you and me. What do we possess? If we were stopped on the street and searched, would they be able to find that Jesus resides and reigns in our heart and lives? It is when we allow Jesus to take possession of us, that we find we possess Him. It is when we allow Him to have all of our lives: our thoughts, actions, dreams, possessions, and futures, that we find, like the Psalmist of old, “Our cup runs over.”
What do you possess this morning? Is it Jesus? Could you give Him to the stranger on the street, or the person sitting near you at church, or the family member who is struggling to find meaning in life? Let’s determine together to make it our aim to know Jesus better so, through our lives, the lame may walk and the lost be found.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest.'”
Moses was given detailed instructions regarding the offerings required for a person who was healed of leprosy. This passage of Scripture, though somewhat tedious, is remarkable when we consider the fact that leprosy was incurable in the ancient world. The law of God contained provisions encouraging the people to expect Him to do the miraculous. A person diagnosed with leprosy could find hope in the power and promises of God. We often face difficulties in which there seems to be no hope. Rather than living in despair, or grasping at straws, we must learn to look into the Word, and trust in its promises. The hope Scripture brings is like an anchor for the soul; providing stability in troublesome times. The cleansing of the leper is also intriguing when we consider, the only Old Testament reference to a leper being healed was of Namaan the Syrian. He was a gentile soldier from Syria, who was known for his bravery. When it was discovered he was leprous, the king of Syria sent word to the King of Israel, requesting the God of Israel heal Naaman. When Elisha the prophet, heard of the request, he invited Naaman to his home. However, rather than meeting with him, Elisha sent a servant to instruct Naaman to go wash seven times in the Jordan River, and he would be healed. This great general was humiliated by the way he was treated, and started to leave. He was unwilling to follow Elisha’s instructions, until a servant exhorted him that he had nothing to lose. Upon following the prophet’s instructions, his leprosy was healed. Once healed, Naaman renounced his pagan religion and devoted himself to Jehovah. This story is a remarkable picture of salvation. Like sin, Naaman’s disease had no cure, yet God provided a solution. The solution involved laying his pride aside, and humbling himself under the mighty hand of God. Once Naaman approached God, His way, he was restored and became a follower of God.
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
We are introduced to a man facing one of life’s greatest obstacles, the illness of his son. We have little glimpses into the great love he had for his child. We are told the father cried out with tears, and although the boy had been suffering from childhood, his father stood with him, even risking his life to rescue him. When he finally came face to face with Jesus, he was given a great promise; “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” This man’s response is both practical and poetic. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” It seems to me, this man had many reasons not to believe. His son, whom he loved, was tormented; this had been going on his whole life. He implies that time and time again, his son was at the point of death, only to be rescued by his father. It seems clear, nothing medically could help him. To make matters worse, he had come to the disciples, and they were no help. It is not difficult to understand why he was filled with unbelief. Love, medicine, and religion were of no help in overcoming the great obstacle he was facing. It is easy to see why his faith had waned.
I think it is important to note, that in the midst of this dilemma, he also had much reason to believe. He had been hearing of the great things Jesus had done for others. He had heard of the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the possessed, all being transformed by simple faith in Christ. On top of that, he had a promise from God; “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” One of the great lessons from this man’s experience, is while he was being squeezed (on one side by doubt and the other by faith), he chose to act in faith. He made a decision. He would not allow his doubts to keep him from trusting in the promise of Christ. The result, his son was healed. We are much like this man. We have life obstacles that cause our faith to wither. In those times, we are being pressed by doubt on one side, and by the promises of God on the other. In those times we have a choice to believe life or believe Christ.
The great lesson from this man is that with all of his unbelief he chose to believe.
What will you do?