Tag Archives: Christ

Lessons from a Leper

If you had been there, you would have ridden an emotional roller coaster.  The Sermon on the Mount was over.  The large crowds were so blown away by  the authority of Jesus’ teaching that, when He walked down off the mountain, they just had to follow Him.  They could sense it; they were in on something big.  Jesus was going to be really famous and popular. But then:

A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:2-4)

It’s hard for us to appreciate how jolting it would have been for the people following Jesus, to suddenly discover a leper in their midst.  People with leprosy were so horribly disfigured that they were severely ostracized and shunned.  They were considered unclean, spiritually dangerous to be near.  And here comes a leper, right up to Jesus.  It was shocking and revolting.  But then Jesus touched him, making Himself  unclean by the rules of their day, and risking catching the disease.  Jesus went from being the grand winner of “Galilee’s Got Talent” to making Himself unfit to be near.  You can imagine how the crowd’s emotions were tossed back and forth.

Before anyone could recover from the shock of those two things, the leprous man was instantly healed!  Fear and revulsion would have suddenly turned into amazement and awe!  Let’s sound the trumpets!  Jesus can stand up now and loudly proclaim His Divinity.  He can bask in the glory of His great power.  The crowd would have gone wild…

But that’s not what He did.  Jesus told the man not to tell anyone.  Instead, He said, he should follow the customary procedure for someone who was healed – get checked out by a priest and bring an offering.  Why would Jesus tell this man to keep it a secret?  Why would He set it up for the priests to get the credit?   Confused?  So were all the people in the crowd.  Jesus didn’t say why and Matthew doesn’t tell us.  He just let them ride the roller coaster.

Maybe you have felt a little like the leper – too much like damaged goods to be able to get near Jesus.  Maybe you see all those Christians crowding around Jesus and think, “I’m not like those people; they wouldn’t want me to come in and ruin the celebration.”  Maybe you are wondering if Jesus would reach out and touch you, if He would heal you from whatever kind of moral, spiritual or physical “leprosy” that afflicts you.  If so, carefully consider three things about how he brought his request:

1.   First,  he kneeled before Jesus and called Him “Lord.”   Mathew used a word for prostrating oneself as an act of wholehearted worship.  The leper approached Jesus with humility and reverence, with a deep sense of how needy he was and how Holy Jesus was.

2.   Secondly, he acknowledged Jesus’ power and authority.  He said “… you can make me clean.”  This was a profound statement of faith.  “You can do it.”  Trusting Jesus means believing He is able.

3.   Finally, the leper accepted that Jesus would only heal him if He was willing.  He left the decision up to Jesus.

We would do well to remember these three attitudes whenever we bring a request to Jesus.  Remember his attitude of humble reverence before the “Lord,” His faith in Jesus’ great power, and how he submitted himself to what Jesus willed.   Jesus, Himself modeled these 3 attitudes in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

When you approach Jesus, don’t come with the crowd.  They can be easily confused.  Instead, come with the leper.  He knew what to do.

The God of Jesus

The pictures of my dad as a boy and as a young man do not look exactly like the guy I remember who rode me around our back yard on his shoulders.  They don’t look exactly like Dad did as an old man, either.  But I am sure that those pictures are of the same man.  There is a basic identity revealed in those pictures – the set of the eyes, the shape of the hands – and there is no doubt about who they are.  If someone asked me to prove it, I could go on and on.

It seems like I’ve been “going on and on,” showing how the identity of the Old Testament God is the same as the God revealed in the New Testament.  Once you look for evidence of that, there are many ways to prove it.  But, before we leave this topic, let’s reflect on how Jesus saw the God of the Old Testament.  Did He recognize Him as the same God He called His Father?   Even in answering this question we could “go on and on.”  But consider how Jesus answered the angry accusations and questions of the Jewish leaders of His day.  When they asked Him:

“Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word.” (John 8:53-55, NIV)

There it is, in Jesus’ words.  The God of the Jewish people in the 1st century, the God Who called Abraham, back in Genesis 12, is the same God. Jesus refers to as His Father.

Wanting a Better God

“I don’t want that kind of a dollhouse; I want the one like on TV!”  That scene in the movie, Babe, ripped my heart out.  The old man had spent hours in his shop, lovingly crafting a dollhouse for his granddaughter, his snot-nosed, spoiled-rotten, twisted-by-TV granddaughter.  But she didn’t want that kind of dollhouse.  I still get mad and frustrated, just thinking about it!

That scene reminds me of the many times I have heard people say something like, “If God is so good, how come there are starving children?”  Or, “I can’t believe in a God who would allow wars to happen.”  Although I understand those thoughts, have had them and expressed them myself, what they really amount to, is, “I don’t want that kind of God; I want the one like in my imagination.”  “I want the right to say what God should be like, what He should do and say.”   Does that sound a bit spoiled or presumptuous?

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2)

‘Nuf said…

The Same God

The woman of my fantasies whispered in my ear. I had spent the night at the college infirmary and she woke me with the most seductive voice.  “It’s time to wake up, Honey.”  But when I opened my eyes, all my adolescent hopes were dashed.  I’m pretty sure that old lady knew what she was doing to us.  She could have sold alarm clocks with that voice…   But when you only hear a voice and can’t see the face, it’s easy to get the wrong idea.

That’s why so many people have screwy ideas about God – even people written about in the Old Testament.  Because they could not see God, they imagined all sorts of distorted things about Him.  But David – King David – had the right idea.  God said he was a man “after His own heart.”  David knew God.

Question is, was David’s God the same God portrayed in the New Testament?  You know how the 23rd Psalm starts out: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”  But take a closer look at how David ended that Psalm:

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

David’s God was the God of goodness and love, the God Who kept track of His people (He followed them…  probably not yet on Twitter) and cared for them faithfully.  This concept of God is nothing like how pagan gods were imagined to be.  It sounds right to us because it is a New Testament idea, but in David’s day it was fairly radical stuff.  Jesus reaffirmed the goodness and faithfulness of God in all His teachings.

But David’s final thought, the hope of living “in the house of the Lord forever,” is inconsistent with what the Bible teaches for those whose souls are dead, disconnected from God’s Spirit.  Without the redeeming work of Jesus, without being forgiven by God and reborn by His Spirit, no one can “live in the house of the Lord forever.”  Jesus made this clear when He spoke with Nicodemus:

“In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  (John 3:3)

“Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:5-6)

Without being brought to life by God’s Spirit, our souls are dead and cannot “live in the house of the Lord forever.”  God had given David a peek under the tent to glimpse a mystery that would not be revealed until the coming of Jesus.  It  was the mystery of how dead souls are brought to eternal life.  Here’s the third verse of Psalm 23:

“He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)

Here’s how Jesus said it:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:13a)

Maybe you have wondered if the Old Testament God is the same as the God described in the New Testament.  He is.  Scroll down through the previous posts.  Adam knew Him; Job knew Him 3500 years or more ago; Abraham knew Him; David knew Him; Isaiah knew Him and Jesus knew Him.  He is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

Ancient Wisdom

I found a 110 year-old book, “The New Idea,” that summarizes everything known in 1904.  It’s a fun read.  We’ve learned a bit more since that book was published.

What is the oldest book you have ever seen? The most ancient book in the Bible may well be Job not Genesis.  Genesis, the first book in the Bible, was written by Moses.  The folks that study these things tend to believe Job came before Moses, probably even before God called Abraham.  If so, then Job’s understanding of Who God is, and what God is like, is as early as it gets.  Was Job’s God the same as the God of Jesus?

Consider what Job said:

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

Whoa…   When I grapple with these words and ideas, the small hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention!  Not only did Job know God, but He knew God’s future plan:

–  He would send a Redeemer (One Who would purchase us from slavery)

–  This Redeemer was already alive in Job’s time and would still be alive “in the end.”

–  Job’s Redeemer is God.

–  Job knows that, after he has died, after his body has decayed, he will see his Redeemer.

–  Job knows his “seeing” will be a physical reality – that he will see him with the eyes a restored body.

– In the midst of his worldly trials, he yearns for this future certainty.

All those assertions, convictions of this most ancient witness, are truths taught by Jesus in the New Testament.  Ponder how long-lasting and unchanged those ancient concepts of God have been!  Job must have had a sense, when he uttered those words, that he had tapped into a deep, eternal truth.  Because he preceded them with this urgent appeal:

““Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever!” (Job 19:23-24)

He got that right, too…

Could God be That Cruel?

What kind of god would command a father to kill his only natural son?  In Genesis, we read how God told Abraham,

…“Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:2b)

Some say there is no way this God could be the same God described in the New Testament, the God of Jesus, the God of love.  In their opinion, there is no way a “good” God would even suggest child sacrifice.  Makes sense, unless you know the whole story…

First, we must understand that it was not unheard of for pagan gods to require child sacrifice.  Abraham’s unquestioning obedience gives a strong indication that he had been aware of such practices.  Secondly, as you read through the account, just before Abraham stabs his son, Isaac, to prepare him as a sacrifice, God puts a stop to it.  Instead, God Himself provides the sacrifice.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:12-14)

God’s purpose, He said, was to test Abraham’s faith.  Even as a test of faith, however, this seems unnecessarily cruel.  Why would God put both Abraham and Isaac through such torment?  But there is more going on here.  God tells Abraham:

“I swear by myself, … that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you … and through your offspring [literally seed] all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:16-18, excerpts only, for clarity)

God’s plan to redeem and rescue “all nations” is reaffirmed after Abraham’s act of faith.  How will His plan be accomplished?  “Through [Abraham’s] seed.”  Who is that “seed,” that descendant?  It is  Jesus.  How do we know it is Jesus?  Because through Jesus, God fulfilled the plan.  How?  By sacrificing His One and Only Son as a sacrifice for our own sin.  Where did this happen?  On the same mountain!  Do you see the beautiful symmetry?

With that information in mind, reread this:

So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The God of the Old and New Testament does not require sacrifice from us.  This same God provided the necessary sacrifice, for us.  (If you don’t understand why the sacrifice was necessary, click here.)  Jesus, God’s One and Only Son, went to the cross on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, to pay for our sins.  Here’s how this was foretold by the prophet, Isaiah:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:5)

This profound gift of grace, given to redeem and rescue all those who will receive it by faith, is perhaps the most compelling evidence that God has not changed.  He is the same God throughout the whole Bible.

The Same Plan

There was no Plan B.  God’s plan in choosing Israel was to bless “all peoples” (Genesis 12:3).  There is evidence throughout the Bible that this plan has not changed.  It is a strong theme that ties the Old and New Testament together.  Here is an example of that from the prophet, Isaiah, who lived roughly 1000 years after Abraham and 700 years before Jesus:

” This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:1-3)

Isaiah used the word, mountains, to symbolize nations or people groups.  Notice that the plan was for “all nations” to be attracted to “the God of Jacob” (Israel) and to learn “His ways, so that we might walk in His paths.”  God’s blessing comes to those who discover that life works best when they follow the “Manufacturer’s instructions.”  God’s plan is for “many peoples,” “all peoples,” to recognize this simple truth and live by it.  When this plan is fully accomplished, Isaiah foresees international peace!

“…They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4b)

And, with that goal in mind, that he urges the people of Israel:

“Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2:5)

They could not do it.  Despite being chosen and uniquely blessed, Israel could not bring themselves to “walk in the light of the Lord.”  Nevertheless, God’s plan continued, unchanged, through Jesus.  Born to the people of Israel, He was the “word of the Lord” that would go out from Jerusalem!  Amazing…

Which God is the Real One?

Is God bipolar?   Can the same God be gracious and angry, forgiving and strict?  A comedian said, “My wife likes to play a game with me every morning: Guess what mood I’m in today?”  He said, “I always lose that game…”  Is God like that?  Does He flip back and forth between warmth and wrath?  Or, is the Old and New Testament written about two different Gods?

Mr. Bigelow taught math at my high school.  Best teacher I ever had.  He could draw a perfect isosceles triangle or circle behind his back without looking while keeping his attentive and steely gaze fixed on the whole classroom.  If you wanted to learn how math worked, there was very little that Old Man Bigelow would not do for you; he’d spend hours with you, making sure you saw how interesting and elegant the complexities of math could be.  But if you were in his class to disrupt it in any way…   watch out!  Same guy – two very different responses.  He was not bipolar; he was passionate to teach.

After God rescued the descendants of Abraham from slavery in Egypt, He gave them a choice:

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)

Much of how God seems to be portrayed in the Old Testament is due to those people repeatedly making the wrong choice.  The Old Testament is a record of how hopelessly rebellious we humans tend to be.  If you feel angry to read that, ready to argue and say that we are not rebellious and that God should not act like that, your attitude proves the point.  We are hopelessly rebellious; we tend to want to decide for ourselves what is right to do.  Inevitably, we make the wrong choices.

But God still reaches out for us, ready to forgive us and fix us.  But even the way in which He reaches out to us through Jesus may seem a bit bipolar.  That is because God’s character is a perfect mixture of love and justice.  In justice, He requires full punishment for our rebellion.  In love, He pays the penalty for our rebellion Himself!  He accepts the curse, to give us the blessing.   (For a fuller explanation, see: What’s Love (and Justice) Got to Do With It?)

If we refuse His offer to pay for our sin, we experience God’s wrath and justice.  But if we accept His gift and receive His forgiveness, the same God pours out His love and grace upon us.

Where Are You?

My friend was really worked up at my naivete and ignorance.  He said it was stupid to believe the God of the Old Testament was the same God portrayed in the New Testament.  He said he could never believe in a God Who was so angry and vengeful.  This was a primary reason he said he couldn’t trust the Bible.  His comments have caused me to reflect on the character of God, specifically on His heart toward humanity as revealed in the Old Testament.

It begins in The Garden:

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”” (Genesis 1:26)

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”” (Genesis 1:28)

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)

Perhaps you have made something that turned out “very good” and satisfied you.  Perhaps you poured yourself into it and your creation reflected who you are.  Felt pretty good, didn’t it?   If you have also had a child, can you remember how excited, happy and hopeful you were when your child was first born?  Mix those two emotions together, dwell on them and you have a small taste of God’s heart at the beginning.

Now, consider the heart of God after the humans He made rebelled and turned away from Him.

“But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”” (Genesis 3:9)

The night my daughter ran away is still a tough one for me to think about.  I had never experienced that kind of pain.  I spent hours looking for her.  If I had found out she was being held captive, I would have done anything to bring her home.  She eventually returned, and now has her own teenagers to worry about.  We have been fully reconciled for many years now.  But I still ache when I hear God’s cry: “Where are you?”

That is the heart’s cry of God, the same God of both the Old and New Testaments.  He did more than call; he sent Jesus to bring us home.  Where are you?

Directly From God

What’s the deal with all those yellow books in a lawyer’s office?  Those collections of “case law,” decisions and precedents established by judges over many years, carry a lot of weight in how a new case gets decided.  A lawyer refers to those precedents to back up his case in a trial.  That is how the Bible was taught in Jesus’  day.  A priest or teacher might have said, “A long time ago, Rabbi So and So gave this passage this particular interpretation and so I tell you, based on Rabbi So and So’s reputation as a wise man, this is what it means today.”

But not Jesus.   Over and over again, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said…   But I tell you…”  It is hard for us to hear how blasphemous or heretical such a simple phrase sounded in those days.

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. “ (Matthew 7:28-29)

In effect, Jesus said, “All these opinions about what the Scripture means, all this human tradition you’ve been hearing, is misguided and weakened by ignorance.  I speak directly for God!

He still does.

That’s why the Sermon on the Mount retains its power after 2000 years.  It comes to us directly from God.  These words still challenge us, trouble us and  shake us up.  They also give us hope in the midst of life’s chaos and our own weakness.

Listen to Jesus’ teaching.  Be amazed!   Be humbled.  Be drawn to Jesus.