10. A Discourteous Host

                                                                               Photo by Henri Mathieu-Saint-Laurent

Being the host of a special event carries great responsibility.

Read Luke 7:36-50

DINNER INVITATION

Jesus received a dinner invitation from a rather discourteous host— a Pharisee named Simon. Note: This is a different host, woman, and message from the one we looked at last session. In Bible times VIP homes took the form of a hollow square built around an open courtyard. When a Rabbi was invited to a meal, townsfolk could enter the courtyard to listen in on the pearls of wisdom but not partake of the meal.

Three basic courtesies for a guest applied:-

  • The host placed his hands on the guest’s shoulder and gave him the kiss of peace – a mark of respect never omitted when the guest was a distinguished Rabbi.
  • The roads were dusty, and everyone wore sandals, so cool water was always poured over the guest’s feet to cleanse and comfort them.
  • A drop of fragrant oil of roses was placed on the guest’s head.

Yet, none of these was observed.

DISCOURTEOUS HOST

In the Middle East, the guests did not sit, but reclined,  on couches, at a low table resting on one elbow with their feet stretched out behind them; during the meal the sandals were removed. Simon was a Pharisee, most Pharisees hated Jesus—Why then had he invited Jesus to his home?

  • Like Nicodemus, Simon could have been a secret disciple. However, his discourtesy towards his “guest” does not indicate a relationship with Jesus.
  • Similarly, it could be that Simon had invited Jesus, intending to try to get evidence against Jesus on behalf of his colleagues. This doesn’t seem likely—Would Jesus’ enemy address Him respectfully as Rabbi or Teacher? (Verse 40)
  • In fact, the most likely answer is that Simon wanted to give the appearance that he was an acquaintance of this popular preacher and miracle worker. So with a rather patronizing attitude, he had invited Jesus to dinner, but out of disdain, he omitted the usual courtesies.

DISTURBING GUEST

Into this setting came a gatecrasher—a prostitute who had quite a reputation in the town. She had probably heard about Jesus. So she joined the crowds that had gathered at Simon’s home. As an unwelcome looker on she stood on the outskirts of the crowd. However,  prompted by an inner voice she ventured into the courtyard. Like all Jewish women, she wore a vial of expensive concentrated perfume around her neck. She generally used it to seduce men.  As she drew closer to Jesus she had an irrepressible desire to pour this costly perfume on Jesus’s feet. But, her emotions got the best of her – the tears began to flow, dropping in large drops onto his feet.  Now his feet were all wet!  So she knelt at his feet close enough to use her hair to dry his feet.

SCANDALOUS

For a Jewish woman to appear in public with her hair unbound was an act of immodesty. On her wedding day, a girl bound up her hair and would never appear in public with it unbound. The fact that this woman loosed her long hair in public showed that she was not concerned about what “the people thought”. Then she kissed his feet. Finally, she humbly poured out the contents of her vial upon His feet, not on His head as a token of submission.

REACTION

It’s not difficult to imagine the reaction of those present – “Can you believe it, this woman is trying to seduce Jesus, in public.  Has she no pride?”  Our human tendency is, to sum up, and judge people by outward appearances, without trying to understand the motivation behind their actions.

  • Instead of loving the undesirable, we usually label them.
  • Instead of caring, we criticize.
  • Instead of coming alongside them, we keep our distance.
  • How would you react if someone like this woman were to gatecrash your special event?

– Frog march her out the door? – Phone the police?

CONSIDERATE MONEY LENDER

Simon was scandalized – that she, of all people, was present and made such a public display of herself. He wasn’t concerned about her motivation—he felt no compassion towards her – he did not see a woman desperately in the need of forgiveness. The very fact that Jesus even allowed this outcast of society to touch him proved to Simon that Jesus was no prophet – a true prophet of God would have recognized this woman for what she was.

Jesus intervened, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”  “Tell me teacher,.,” Simon didn’t anticipate what followed.  Jesus told him a short story about two debtors who owed a moneylender different amounts of money. Neither could repay the debt. The moneylender out of a generous heart decided to cancel both debts, “…which of them will love him more?  Jesus asked. “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled”, was Simon’s response.

HUMBLED HOST

What Simon had lacked in common courtesy this “sinner” had humbly demonstrated through her actions: –

  • Simon had made no provision for his guest’s feet to be washed – she had washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair;
  • Simon had not given his special guest a kiss of peace – she had kissed Jesus’ feet constantly;
  • Simon had not anointed his guest’s head with oil – she had poured out her perfume all over Jesus’ feet.

A Pharisaic attitude like that of Simon shuts us off from God – I’m a good person. Lord, I do not steal, I do not kill, I do not tell lies, I do not commit adultery, and I do not covert. Lord, I live a good clean life.”

Francis of Assisi once said, “There is nowhere a more wretched and more miserable sinner than I.”

The greatest of sins is to be unconscious of one's sin. Click To Tweet

WONDERFUL WORDS

Jesus then spoke the most wonderful words, a sinner could ever hear, “Your sins are forgiven.” Her flowing tears and many kisses showed a real desire to be forgiven – to be different. Her long hair and perfume once used to lure her lovers were used to demonstrate her complete surrender of herself to the Saviour. She was not concerned about what the people thought or even this Pharisee; her one desire was to see the warm,  look of tender compassion in Jesus’s eyes and to hear His wonderful words of forgiveness. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

A hardened criminal in a Japanese prison once picked up a copy of the Bible and began to read the story of the trial of Jesus. He remained unmoved by what he read, until he came to our Lord’s words, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do.”  He was stabbed to the heart by those words. Later he said, “Through this simple sentence of gracious pardon, I was led into the truth of Christianity.”

BLINDED HOST

Simon only saw an outcast of society who was causing him a great deal of embarrassment. Jesus saw a woman with a deep need – a woman who had led despicable life – but a woman who wanted to be different – a woman in need of salvation. Never judge a man's actions until you know his motives. Click To Tweet The Sioux Indians of the U S A have a prayer, “Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked in his moccasins for two weeks.”

Jesus’ reaction to this woman teaches us not to take things at face value. This next week before passing judgment – Try to understand what motivates a person to do what they do. – Be prepared to make allowances for the fact that you don’t know where others are coming from.  – Look for opportunities to meet the needs of others when they become apparent to you.  – Be constantly open to being used as a channel through which God can bless others.

How we handle the out-of-the-ordinary situations that we encounter in life often reveals just how deeply we are committed to Christ. That outcast of society heard the most wonderful words in all the world. Why not sing along with the choir as they sing about the Wonderful words of life?

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.    

9. A cost to worship!

Does worship have a cost?

For King David,  true worship had a cost.

 King David was instructed by the prophet Gad to “Go to the threshing place that belongs to Araunah and build an altar there for the Lord.” (2 Samuel 24:18 CEV)

David explained to Araunah that by building an altar at his threshing place, God would bring to an end a fatal epidemic.

I wonder what God is telling us about the COVID-19 pandemic and the monkeypox outbreak?

Araunah generously offered to give David his threshing place, along with the oxen and the wood for the sacrifice.

But David responded, “No, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24 NIV)

Photo by Elina Fairytale

Open your Bibles and read: – John 11:55 – 12:11

SCENE SETTER

In our passage, we read that for Jesus, Calvary was drawing near. At a special sitting of the Jewish Sanhedrin the religious leaders “ …plotted to take [Jesus’s] life.” ( John 11:53) As the Passover Feast drew near Jews from all over the Roman Empire flocked to Jerusalem. Many asked, “What do you think? Isn’t He coming to the feast at all? ”  (John 11:56b NIV)

The Jewish leaders had given instructions that if anyone knew where Jesus was they should report it. (John 11:57)

DINNER INVITATION.

Therefore, Jesus’s life was in grave danger. Moreover, a few days before the Feast of Passover Jesus was to attend a meal arranged in His honor in Bethany of all places!(Matthew 26:2; Mark 14:1). Bethany was only just over 3 km from Jerusalem.

  • Surely the host, Simon the leper, was aware of the danger that Jesus faced. (Matthew 26:6)
  • Yet amazingly, Jesus accepted the invitation knowing that the religious leaders were out to get him.

Furthermore, His special friends, Martha and Mary were involved. Martha in her usual role of serving the meal. Their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, was the focus of much attention.

Mary, thankful for Jesus having restored her brother to life, became distressed that so much attention was being given to her brother instead of to Jesus. How could she focus attention on Jesus?

COSTLY PERFUME 

She went home and found an alabaster jar containing liquid nard. (Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:3) Jar in hand she returned to Simon’s home, where she broke the jar allowing the liquid to flow over Jesus’s head, down his beard, and onto his garments. (Matthew 26:7) She also poured some of it onto his feet. Then she wiped his feet with her long flowing hair. (John 12:3)

What did this lavish demonstration of gratitude cost her?

  1. The Financial cost

  • Alabaster jars were carved, from translucent gypsum – beautiful but very expensive.
  • Spikenard was a fragrant ointment obtained from a rare plant grown in India, also very expensive.

The amount that Mary used was worth “more than a year’s wages.” (Mark 14:5 NIV – Open Bible footnote) A small fortune in anyone’s money.

  • When last did you give someone a gift worth more than your annual income?

We are so quick to condemn extravagance.

A general attitude in church circles often is “Can it be done for less money? A colleague once mentioned the reaction of a senior minister to a congregation’s desire to build a 1000-seater church. The senior minister’s reaction was “None of our churches can seat that many.”  Yet the proposed site for that church was in an area of tremendous population growth.

Think of your own church building. Does it have a beautiful new piano? Or is it someone’s cast off when they bought a new one?

  • Have you ever thought about what it cost to build Solomon’s Temple?

170 metric tons of gold;  340 metric tons of silver;  620 metric tons of bronze;  3400 metric tons of iron. As well as precious stones. (1 Chronicles 29:7,8)

Sacrifice is only that which is given after the heart has given all that it can spare.” Source unknown Click To Tweet

  • Is your giving to the Lord is truly sacrificial?

But I’m not only talking about money. The cost to Mary was more than just money.

  1. A Future Cost

She had treasured that expensive perfume for two possible future purposes:

  • This expensive perfume may have been saved as part of her dowry for her wedding day.
  • Alternatively, it may have been put aside to assure herself of a proper burial.

Both Matthew and Mark quote Jesus’s words, “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” (Matthew 26:12, Mark 14:8)  So it would appear that this particular perfume was often used in burials.

  • Are you willing to allow Jesus to influence your plans for the future?
  1. The Femininity Cost

Throughout history, women have given a great deal of attention to their hair.  Paul wrote that a woman’s hair is her glory. “ …if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.” (1 Corinthians 11:15) Yet, Mary used her hair to dry Jesus’ feet! – She laid aside her feminine pride.

  • What takes preference in your life—personal pride or honoring Jesus?
  1. The price of Fear 

Fear of embarrassment plagues us all. We don’t like to be the center of the amusement or the scorn of a group of people. Mary may have been concerned about ‘what will people think?’ What will the people think? is often a deterrent to our launching out in faith.

I’m sure that Mary was fearful as she returned to Simon’s home with her alabaster jar of perfume. “Am I doing the right thing? How will Simon’s guests react? But she overcame her fear of embarrassment believing that Jesus would accept her love gift.

Nothing can happen but what God ordains; and therefore why should we fear? - Charles Haddon Spurgeon Click To Tweet

REACTION

Her actions electrified the atmosphere in that home. There were mixed reactions.

  • Those present were appalled at her having made an exhibition of herself.
  • Even Jesus’ disciples were indignant at her wastefulness.
  • The disciple’s treasurer, Judas Iscariot, felt that it would have been better if she had given them the equivalent value in money. (John 12:4)
  • Only Jesus had a good word to say about her costly demonstration of love.

Paul wrote “ …I urge you … to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.(Romans 12:1 NIV)  Jesus’ comment, “all over the world, the people will remember what she has done,” indicates that Mary’s actions represented a spiritual act of worship, pleasing to Jesus.  (Mark 14:9 CEV)

Jesus related Mary’s costly gift to the price that He would soon pay for you and me. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.(Matthew 26:12)

ONE LAST THOUGHT

John tells us “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:3 CEV)

  • Jesus certainly would have smelled of its fragrance.
  • No way could Mary have avoided getting the perfume on herself.
  • The smell got into the clothing of all close to Jesus.

For some time after they had left Simon’s home people who heard of the incident would have been able to know, “He/she was in the presence of Jesus.”

Mary’s gift of gratitude for bringing her brother back to life was a Christ-centered, sacrificial, uninhibited worship of our Lord. And it spilled over.

Surely we have much more to be grateful for –

  • We are assured of eternal life through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • We have a far greater motivation to offer to God Christ-centered, Spirit-led, sacrificial, uninhibited worship.

When Moses returned from Mt Sinai his face was aglow from having been in God’s presence.

“Moses came down from Mount Sinai, carrying the Ten Commandments. His face was shining brightly because the LORD had been speaking to him. But Moses did not know at first that his face was shining. When Aaron and the others looked at Moses, they saw that his face was shining, and they were afraid to go near him. The face of Moses kept shining, and after he had spoken with the people, he covered his face with a veil.” (Exodus 34:29,30, 33 CEV)

Just a thought. When did people last look at you and realise, “(S)he had been in the presence of Jesus?

We need to practice offering sacrificial worship, then the fragrance of Jesus’ presence will touch our lives and others will realize that we have spent time in His presence.

Why not end this session by joining in this beautiful song of worship?

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

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8. Are You a Doubting Thomas?

First impressions of people often produce doubt about their character.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Several years back a popular TV series was “Style by Jury”.  

A jury of 9 persons hidden behind a one-way glass was asked to give their first impressions of an unattractive person being interviewed by the program presenter.

That unattractive lady was given a weeklong makeover and then viewed by a new jury. The change that had taken place during that week was so stunning that the new jury gave a completely different first impression.

According to Mindtools.com, ‘It takes just a quick glance, maybe three seconds, for someone to evaluate you when you meet for the first time. In this short time, the other person forms an opinion about you based on your appearance, your body language, your demeanour, your mannerisms, and how you are dressed. These first impressions can be nearly impossible to reverse or undo, making those first encounters extremely important, for they set the tone for all the relationships that follow.

  • Are you conscious of judging people based on your first impression? It sounds as if we all do it to one degree or another.
  • Have you been or known a doubting Thomas?

It’s so easy to harbor a wrong impression of a person based on their reactions to a particular situation.

Doubting Thomas

Image by prettysleepy1 from Pixabay

Readings:  John 20:24-29

CLICK ON READ then return here.

MALIGNED

Our passage focuses on one of Jesus’s disciples who since that very first Easter has been severely judged. SO much so that even today, people refer to him as Doubting Thomas. Yet Jesus originally obviously saw something good in him and chose him as one of the twelve. (Matthew 10:3)

Thomas, is also known as Didymus which means ‘twin’. However the Bible does not mention him having a twin brother or sister. He was one of the twelve, but it’s only in the gospel of John that we get further information about him.

DOUBTING THOMAS

On the night after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to a group of disciples locked behind closed doors. For some reason, Thomas was not present at the time. When he heard that he had missed out, he made that statement which has dubbed him a ‘doubting Thomas’ ever since… “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Thomas was honest enough to put his doubts into words. Even as Christians, we all experience doubt at times. Is that not true? How about: Doubts

  • about our salvation
  • about the Lord’s willingness to forgive our sin
  • about God’s ability to meet our every need
  • about our ability to carry out God’s will for our life

Have you ever experienced any of these?

Doubts can be valuable if they are recognized and confessed… and if they force a man to search deeper and longer for answers.— Neil Strand 'Cover to cover God's people. Click To Tweet

  • What might be some of the reasons for Thomas missing out on that occasion?

EXCUSES

How quick we are to find excuses when we’ve let the side down.

“Old Father Morris had noticed a falling off in his little village prayer meeting. Later when he had a reasonable-sized audience he took the opportunity to tell them about this meeting of the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection.

“But Thomas was not with them,” he said in a sorrowful voice. “Why? What possible reason could he have had for staying away?

“Perhaps, [he] had got cold-hearted, and was afraid they would ask him to open in prayer; or perhaps…” Father Morris looked directly at the farmers, “he was afraid the roads were bad; or perhaps … he thought a shower was on its way.”

He went on to list some of the possible excuses the audience had for missing the prayer meeting and then added, “But only think what Thomas lost, for in the middle of the meeting the Lord Jesus came and stood among them.” (Adapted from “Thomas” ‘Cover to cover God’s people’ page 337)

  • Can you think of a time when you witnessed something great and thought, “I wish XX had been here?
  • Have you been a doubting Thomas when others believed?

After Jesus’s departure, I’m sure the other disciples commented, “I wish Thomas was here.”

RETURN VISIT

A week later Jesus made another unexpected appearance and this time Thomas was present. Jesus graciously allowed Thomas to prove for himself that Jesus was indeed alive.

Jesus did not condemn Thomas for his attitude. Instead He was prepared to meet the disciple’s terms. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

His doubts removed, Thomas made a statement no other disciple had made before, “My Master! My God!” The disciples had addressed Jesus as ‘Teacher’; ‘Messiah’; ‘Son of God’; ‘Son of the living God’ but there’s no record of any of them say, ‘my God‘ as Thomas did on this occasion.

Two previous stories involving Thomas give us a better picture of the true character of this disciple.

1. FACING DANGER

Early on in His ministry after Jesus claimed, “I and the Father are one” the Jews accused our Lord of blasphemy, (John  10:33) and were prepared to stone Him as prescribed by the Law of Moses. (Leviticus 24:16)

Jesus and His disciples then retreated to the eastern side of the Jordan River. Later upon hearing of Lazarus’ death, despite the danger of returning to the Jerusalem vicinity, Jesus was prepared to return to Martha & Mary in Bethany. In response to Jesus’ sharing His intention with the disciples, Thomas announced, “Come along. We might as well die with him.” (John 11:16)

Labeled a doubter, Thomas, showed his loyalty by being prepared to die at his Lord’s side.

A large church was packed to capacity when two men in black entered. One man took up a position halfway down the middle aisle while the other remained near the main door. Simultaneously they both produced automatic weapons and the man in the aisle announced, “Anyone who is not prepared to die for Jesus is free to leave.”

Church members, choir members, some deacons, and the assistant pastor all beat a hasty retreat until only the pastor and about twenty people remained in the church. The men then laid down their weapons and announced, “Pastor you may proceed with the service these people mean business.”

2. CONFUSED

During the week between His triumphal entry on Palm Sunday and the Last Supper Jesus taught the disciples about his imminent departure for heaven and said, “You know where I am going and how to get there.” (John 14:4 TLB)

Thomas disagreed, saying they did not know where he was going. This prompted Jesus to respond with that wonderful truth, “I am the way, the truth and the life without me no-one can go to the father.” (John 14:6 CEV)

Thomas was not being disrespectful, he was simply asking for clarification on a misunderstanding.

  • Do you believe that it is disrespectful to question God about things that to you seem wrong?

Thomas was not afraid to ask searching or probing questions of the Lord, and nor should we be.

MINISTRY

Church history and tradition indicate that the man labeled as a doubter traveled to many countries sharing the good news about Jesus possibly even as far as India where he is believed to have been martyred for his faith.

There is no doubt that Thomas was a strong believer and a powerful missionary used to the glory of God.

Was he any more doubting than any of the other disciples? He doubted  where the others didn’t, but then they had seen the resurrected Christ. Yet we also know that even after seeing the risen Christ, some of the disciples still doubted.

Matthew records for us, “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:16,17)

DOUBTFUL

While here on earth our faith can never be perfect, there will always be those times when doubt will creep in. Don’t panic! We don’t lose our salvation because doubt creeps in. Thomas did not cease being a disciple because he entertained doubt about Jesus’ resurrection. Nor will we.

Thomas’ experience teaches us that when we struggle with doubt, with Jesus’ help we can break through to a stronger faith and become fruitful followers of the Master.

What is causing you fearful doubts? Hand those doubts over to Jesus. Ask Him to remove doubt and fill you with His amazing assurance, His awesome peace, and His power to be His witness in this dark world of ours.

BEFORE YOU GO:

Click on this link and watch and listen to this challenging and beautiful song: Thomas’s Song.

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

 

7. The Need to Belong

Where are you going?  This is a question that we are often asked throughout our lives.

Dr. Albert Einstein, the great physicist, was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of each passenger.

When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached into his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached into his other pocket. It wasn’t there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it.

The conductor said, “Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.” Einstein nodded appreciatively.

The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.

The conductor rushed back and said, “Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry. I know who you are. No problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.”

Einstein looked at him and said, “Young man, I too know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.” (Sermon lllustrations contributed by Christian Cheong)

In the Bible we read of a man who found himself in a similar situation, not knowing where he was going. He lacked the assurance that he belonged to God.

Readings: – John 3:1-10 CEV

That sense of belonging – Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

DO I BELONG?

Nicodemus.  Was a Jewish religious leader. Yet he didn’t feel he belonged to God. He sensed that Jesus, the preacher from Galilee, could help him. But he was afraid of what his colleagues, who were strongly opposed to Jesus’ ministry, might think. So, Nicodemus visited Jesus one night when the crowds had gone home and his colleagues would not be around.

He was seeking an answer to a variation of our question,  How can I be sure of where I’m going?

As a spiritual leader and a teacher amongst the Jews, like many others he was looking for their coming Messiah and the setting up of God’s Kingdom. He wanted assurance that he would be a citizen of that kingdom when the time came.

THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM

He opened the conversation with a bit of small talk, “Sir, we know that God has sent you to teach us. You could not work these miracles unless God were with you.” (John 3:2 CEV)

Before Nicodemus could even pose his question, Jesus knew what was on the man’s mind. He got right to the root of the problem. “You must be born from above before you can see God’s kingdom.” (John 3:3 CEV)

Note—Jesus didn’t say “Nicodemus as a Pharisee and a Jewish leader you have nothing to worry about, you have automatically qualified to become a citizen of God’s kingdom. No! Jesus made it clear that certain steps had to be taken before one could have that assurance. “Before you can get into God’s kingdom; you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit.” (John 3:5 CEV)

A SECOND BIRTH?

Jesus emphasis was that where everyone on this earth has been born of water. Our mother’s waters broke at our birth. But to get into God’s kingdom one needs a second birth. “I tell you for certain that you must be born from above before you can see God’s kingdom!” (John 3:3 CEV)

Nicodemus was understandably confused. It’s just not possible for us to re-enter our mother’s womb and be born a second time. Some of us may also get confused by religious terminology: – you must be born from aboveborn againsavedconverted.

Jesus’ comment was down to earth. “I tell you for certain that before you can get into God’s kingdom, you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit…. Only God’s Spirit can change you into a child of God.” (John 3:5,6 CEV)

We were all born physically but we also need to be born spiritually. But it’s not something that we do it’s something the Holy Spirit does when we enter into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus.

HOW TO BELONG

Jesus explained that if Nicodemus wanted to know for sure that he belonged to God, he needed to stop relying on the old traditions and move into a definite relationship with God.

The gospel writer John tells us, “Some, however, did receive him [Jesus] and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s children.” (John 1:12 GNB) John indicates that a relationship with God requires two important steps on our part;

  1. We must believe that Jesus is the one God sent to take the punishment for our sin.
  2. But we must also receive Jesus into our lives as Saviour and Lord. We do this by thanking Him for dying on the cruel cross as our substitute and inviting Him to take control of our life.

The passage does not tell us that Nicodemus took those two important steps, so how do we know that he was converted? a.k.a. born again?

Two further passages of scripture reveal that the direction of his life was changed.

NICODEMUS SPEAKS UP

Jesus’s popularity was growing rapidly so the temple guards were sent out by the priests and Pharisees to arrest Him. They returned empty-handed with the excuse, “No one has ever spoken like that man!” (John 7:46 CEV)

This brought about a heated debate. ‘These people who don’t know the Law are under God’s curse anyway”‘ (John 7:49 CEV). Nicodemus, who was a member of the council spoke up, ‘”Our Law doesn’t let us condemn people before we hear what they have to say. We cannot judge them before we know what they have done.”‘ (John 7:51 CEV)

Nicodemus was no longer prepared to go with the flow. Instead, he openly confronted his religious colleagues with their judgmental attitude towards Jesus.

AT JESUS’ BURIAL

The clearest evidence of the change in Nicodemus is seen at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. After Jesus’ death on the cross, Nicodemus showed that he belonged to Jesus’s band of disciples by being involved in His burial.

“Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.  Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” (John 19:38-41 CEV)

God is looking for folk who are more than churchgoers. He wants us to become His children and know that we belong in His heavenly family.

A PLACE TO BELONG.

Church leaders in Minneapolis, USA met for a brainstorming exercise, to compile a statement of purpose. They were looking for something free from religious jargon but geared to the people who attended their church.

After much debate, they came up with the church’s new slogan – ‘A place to belong, a place to become.’ (Rick Warren – ‘The purpose driven life.’)

A Christian community that seeks to help people to have a sense of belonging and a realization of what they can become for God, is always going to attract newcomers.

'A place to belong, a place to become.' Rick Warren Click To Tweet

Belief only becomes true faith when you and I accept that Jesus died on the cross as the penalty for our sin. We enter into a relationship with Jesus, by receiving Him—inviting Him to take over control of our lives.

Where are you going?

Like Nicodemus and Dr. Einstein, are you uncertain of your destination?

Do you lack that feeling of belonging?

Do you need to take steps to enter into a real relationship with God through Jesus?

God, through His amazing grace, sent Jesus into our world so that each one of us can know for certain that our final destination is heaven and we can have that sense of belonging.

To have that assurance you need to believe Jesus is your Saviour and you need to receive Him into your life as Lord.

Whether you have already done this, or if it’s a first time move, how about joining in this well-known hymn. As you sing, feel yourself handing your whole self—body and spirit, over to Jesus.

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

 

6. Wedding Mishaps

There are so many potential mishaps to organizing a wedding ceremony and reception.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

A FAMILY WEDDING

As a family, we’ll never forget my brother-in-law’s wedding. It was a sweltering South African afternoon. In the sanctuary area where I was conducting the wedding, there were no fans.

During the ceremony, one of the two bridesmaids, our daughter Debbie, began to sway. I reached out my right hand to stop her from falling. The bride’s brother leapt forward and helped her to the front pew. A few minutes later there was an almighty THUD as one of the groomsmen fainted flat on his back. A few more minutes passed, and I led in a time of prayer. When I opened my eyes, the matron of honour, the bride’s sister, was now sitting alongside Debbie, her head on her knees. There were no further casualties but the bride and groom hung onto one another for dear life throughout the rest of the service. I admit to having a few qualms about how I’d proceed with the ceremony if one of them passed out!

Weddings are meant to be joyful social events, as this one ultimately was, but there are so many things that can go wrong to spoil the happy occasion.

SOME WEDDING MISHAPS I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN:

  • The bride arrived 45 minutes late.
  • The minister did not pitch up and was found by one of the elders playing tennis.
  • The best man missed his flight.
  • The guests couldn’t find the church.
  • The reception started late because the caterers got lost.
  • The professional photographer hadn’t put film in the camera.

Do you have any more to add? Please leave them in the comment section and give us a chuckle.

Our passage describes a wedding reception in Jesus’ day, which was almost a disaster.

Reading: – John 2:1-12 NIV

WEDDING INVITATION

Jesus and His first five disciples attended a wedding in Cana,  a little village about  8 km N-E of Nazareth, modern-day Kafr Kanna.

Weddings in Jesus’ day were week-long festivals. Often the whole town was invited. The Bridegroom’s father gave the wedding reception and the women generally took charge of the food. Jesus’ mother’s involvement with the catering indicates close ties with the bridegroom. Writings found in Egypt dating back to the time of Jesus indicate that Mary may have actually been the bridegroom’s aunt. 

CRISIS                                                                                

Things were going well until a crisis arose – “the wine was gone.” No, it hadn’t been stolen!  It had run out. 

The liquor suppliers couldn’t be blamed. Imagine trying to cater for such an unknown number of guests over a seven-day period. However, running out of wine could cause harm to the newlywed’s reputation. It was also a poor reflection on the host’s ability to provide for his guests.

None of the servants was sent to the ‘local’ for fresh supplies which might indicate that perhaps the finances had also run dry.

  • Can you recall a similar situation that for you or a loved was a source of embarrassment?

We all experience those times when troubles come knocking at our door. Life very rarely follows the course that we have planned.

When Mary grasped what was happening she turned to Jesus. “They have no more wine.

Her first step is a good one for us to remember. It’s wonderful to know that when those inevitable problems crop up we can take them to Jesus. 

But what did she expect Him to do? To date, Jesus had performed no miracles. She may not have been looking for a miracle. Yet she did expect Him to DO SOMETHING!

DISRESPECTFUL?

But Mary needed to learn two lessons:-

    a. She needed to begin to see Jesus as more than her son, but as her Saviour.

Jesus’s response seems disrespectful when he addressed her, “Dear woman!” But that was an accepted form of address in those days. He was trying to get her to re-assess their relationship. Although still her son, He had already started out on His ministry as her Messiah.

    b. She needed to realize the importance of God’s timing.

Jesus was very sensitive to the Father’s timing, “My time has not yet come.”

Perhaps we need to learn the same lesson today—God has a time and a place for meeting our needs.  There are times when we need to be more sensitive to the Lord’s timing.

Still, Mary remained confident. Jesus would “make a plan”. Trusting Him to do something about the crisis, Mary instructed the servants to “Do whatever he tells you.” 

When those problems arise, when troubles overwhelm us, the best thing we can do is to be guided by Jesus. 

If it matters to you it matters to Jesus! Click To Tweet

PROBLEM SOLVED

Because it mattered to Mary, to the host, and to the newlyweds, it mattered to Jesus. And so He set about remedying the situation.

Traditionally water jars stood just inside the doorway so that the guests could have their feet washed by the servants as they arrived. In anticipation of a large number of guests, “Nearby stood six stone water jugs.”

Jesus told the servants to “Fill the jars with water.”  Six water jars holding between 75 to115 litres of water (Men’s Devotional Bible footnote), filled to the brim. We’re looking at between 450 to 690 litres of water. That’s a lot of water!

They did as instructed and that’s when things got interesting. There’s no record that Jesus prayed over the water, or did anything special. He simply told the obedient servants to take a sample to the master of the banquet for him to taste. It turned out that Jesus had turned all that water into the very best vintage wine. (Bible Study Notes – Dr Richard J. Krejcir).

The master of the banquet was astounded and complimented the bridegroom for his excellent wine. The tendency in those days was to bring out the best wine first, then later, once the guests had enjoyed plenty to drink, the cheaper wine would be brought out. The groom had seemingly reversed the normal procedure.

Why did Jesus do this? Did it really call for a miracle? 

Because it mattered to those involved, it mattered to Jesus

David in one of his Psalms wrote,

“The LORD doesn’t hate or despise the helpless in all of their troubles. When I cried out, he listened and did not turn away.” (PSALM 22:24 CEV)

We may not be famous or in a position to influence thousands of lives. Even if you are not the neediest person around, if it matters to you, it matters to Jesus.

JESUS, THE UNSEEN GUEST

This incident teaches important things about Jesus:

1. Jesus is at home in all our experiences of life, if we invite Him in. He attended a wedding, and was perfectly relaxed at the wedding banquet. He fitted into other people’s homes. The home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus was always open to Him. Matthew a former tax collector held a dinner for Jesus. Simon the Pharisee also invited him to his home for a meal. 

Jesus participated in dinner parties. This miracle took place in a very humble home in a small village in Galilee.   

Jesus wants the very best for our homes. He wants to be part of your everyday life. Are you aware of Him as the unseen guest in your home?

  • Are you aware of His presence in every area of your life?

It’s a mistake to think that you can ever leave Jesus out of any area of your life. He knows every thought, word, and deed. But He longs for you to welcome His presence. If it matters to you it matters to Jesus.

JESUS TO THE RESCUE

2.  Jesus is the rescuer of every crisis. He performed this first miracle to meet a crisis, a potential source of embarrassment to the groom’s father – the host, as well as to the bridal couple. It mattered to Jesus that the festivities were threatened by a lack of wine.

Notice: Jesus did not make the first move. He did nothing in this crisis situation until invited to take action.

NOTHING BUT THE BEST

3. Jesus gave of His best.  Up to 690 litres of the very best wine! Even a highly experienced master of ceremonies remarked upon it.

Turning water into wine was a very practical miracle, but it shows that Jesus is concerned about those practical aspects of our lives. No matter your situation or your problem, if it matters to you it matters to Jesus!

No one may fully understand what you’re going through. But Jesus does! He cares about every experience in your life. (Matthew 10:29-31)

Are you finding life’s problems overwhelming you? Why not accept Jesus’ invitation right now?

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and loaded down with burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

 

 

5. Caught Red-Handed!

CAUGHT

  • Have you ever been caught red-handed? In other words, doing something you shouldn’t have done?

 Liza Summer with Pixels.com

It may not have been something wrong and sinful, something quite innocent. Perhaps you were trying to do something good for someone without them being aware. Like wrapping a gift, writing a greeting card, or arranging a surprise party.

  • Do you recall walking in on a conversation only to have the conversation come to an abrupt halt? You’ve known that they’ve been caught in the act of talking about you.

Reading: – John 8:1-11

CAUGHT AND CHARGED

One day, the religious leaders tried to catch Jesus out in the presence of His supporters. 

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.” (John 8:4 GNB )

The case was open and shut. Under Jewish law adultery was a very serious crime—one of the worst offenses that one could commit, with the penalty being death.

BETROTHED

The religious leader said, “In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman,” This seems to indicate that the woman was engaged.  

“This woman brought evil into your community by sleeping with someone before she got married, and you must get rid of that evil by killing her. (Deuteronomy 22:21b CEV)

  • 1) The woman was guilty as charged—caught in the act;
  • 2) The sentence laid down was clear—death by stoning.

The modern-day tendency is to sanction extra-marital affairs. Yet adultery has always been, and will continue to be, a serious offense in God’s eyes. “You shall not commit adultery”. (Exodus 20:14)

IN THE HOT SEAT

Why, when the case was so clear, did these religious leaders, who had obviously already passed judgement, single out this woman for Jesus’ judgment?

We see the answer in verse 6. “They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.”

If Jesus advised them to apply the sentence laid down in the Law of Moses, He would find Himself in two kinds of trouble:

  1. He would very likely lose the support of those who regarded Him as the friend of sinners
  2. The Roman rulers would be incensed because no Jew had the authority to sentence someone to death.

On the other hand, He would have given the impression that He didn’t the God-given Law seriously. The religious leaders would have been quick to point out that God condemns adultery.

YOUR DECISION

Now what do you say? Jesus seemed to turn a deaf ear to their question.

Matthew Henry, the Bible commentator says, Think twice before you speak once.

Jesus’ appeared to hesitate, so the religious leaders pressed for a response. “They kept on questioning Him.”

Jesus’ response was challenging: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Jesus underlined a principle He taught in the Sermon on the Mount—“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1,2)

Often in Christian circles we expect standards of others which we fail to keep ourselves.

Someone has wisely said, 'The more one judges, the less one loves.' Click To Tweet

According to Jesus’, not one of us should cast judgement on others—to do so is in itself a sin and puts us on the same level as the one we are judging—in need of Jesus’ forgiveness. Concentrate on improving yourself, and you will have little time to criticize or judge others.

SUSPENDED SENTENCE

We can give the religious leaders credit for their honesty—they took Jesus’ words to heart—realizing that none of them was free from sin, they withdrew,“…the older ones first”

“…Jesus was left, with the woman standing there.”

The religious leaders had gone, the crowds were still there, and the woman was still guilty of her sin. And God’s just law still required a penalty for her sin.

  • “What judgment did Jesus pass on her sin?

Jesus pronounced a sentence, often passed in our courts today—a suspended sentence. He gave her a second chance.

The Saviour is speaking to you and me today, “I know all about your sins. If you want to make a fresh new start, today can become the first day of a completely new way of living.”

AN UNFINISHED STORY

Jesus said, “Go now and leave your life of sin. —a challenge to this woman to turn her back on her sinful past and to start living her life based on God’s standards.

No matter how low you may have stooped in your life—no matter how deeply ashamed you are of the things that you have done—no matter how difficult you may find it to forgive yourself—your life can be transformed by a forgiving Saviour.

This story is unfinished—the Bible does not tell us what her choice was.

In the same way, your life is an unfinished story. This passage confronts us again, today, with the fact that we are all sinners. Our lives are under the same suspended sentence.

Join some of my favourite singing group as they sing, “A Sinner Saved By Grace.”

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Gone fishing

In the movie ‘High Society’ Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong do a duet titled ‘Gone Fishing.’

Peter would have loved to join in and sing along with them.

What does fishing mean to you? Do you enjoy fishing? Or do you feel it is a waste of time?

                  Photo by Matt Hardy:

Our Scripture reading records an occasion when Jesus came to the rescue of his frustrated disciples who had spent fruitless hours fishing but had failed to catch even one single minnow.

Readings: Luke 5:1-11

FISHING FOR JESUS?

A lady was invited by her pastor to give her testimony of how she came to invite Jesus into her life. After describing the events leading up to her conversion to Christ, she ended her testimony along these lines, “Jesus said ‘I will make you fishers of men’ and I have been fishing for men ever since.” (Saints at Work – Author Unknown)

Those who love fishing will patiently wait for hours for that tug on the end of their line. I had two uncles who were very keen fishermen. There was an occasion as a youngster when they decided to go fishing for the day and invited me along. Given a rod, with great enthusiasm, I embarked on my first fishing adventure. But the fish were not biting and I wasn’t patient. Before long, I gave up and went exploring the coastline.

AN AMAZING FIND 

Shirl and I were joint leaders of a Holy Land tour in October 1992. We spent three nights at Kibbutz Nof Ginosar on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. There we visited a museum that contained an ancient fishing boat that dated back to the time of Jesus. In 1986, when the surface level of the lake had dropped because of a drought, this boat was found embedded in the mud at the water’s edge.

AN AMAZING CATCH.

Early in his ministry, Jesus stood on the shore of Lake Galilee where a large crowd had gathered to hear Him. He asked Peter, whose boat was at the water’s edge, to “Put out a little from shore”. He then sat down and taught the crowd.

When Jesus had finished teaching, He told Peter to “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

The Sea of Galilee is teeming with fish. It seems unbelievable that those fishermen should have “…worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.”  Yet when they followed Jesus’ instructions, “their nets began to break.” because of the weight of their catch.

SUCCESS REQUIREMENTS

They would never have experienced such a wonderful catch if they had not met two important conditions:

  1. They were willing to try again.

It had been a ‘hard day’s night’. They were weary from their efforts and lack of sleep, but Peter responded, “because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

  • When things don’t work out the way you hoped, how do you react? Do you try again?

Patience and perseverance are the hallmarks of a good fisherman. Perseverance has been the hallmark of some of the great men and women of history. Perseverance ought to be a characteristic of every Christian yet how quickly we ‘throw in the towel’ when things don’t come up to expectations.

PATIENCE AND PERSERVERANCE

Jesus has instructed us to become fishers of men – to bring men and women into contact with their Saviour. This task requires patience and perseverance.

OBEDIENCE.

  1. They were willing to obey orders
  • When the Lord is directing you in a particular direction how quick are you to obey?

Some of Jesus’ disciples were professional fishermen. Before Jesus invited them to follow Him they had earned their bread and butter from fishing. Along comes this carpenter and tells them how to do their job! They had every reason to respond – “What do you know about fishing? You stick to preaching and we’ll do the fishing.”

But they were prepared to do what he told them to do. They obeyed and reaped a rich reward.

There are times when fishing is frustrating and unfruitful, but fishermen keep at it because it is their calling. As Christians it is our calling to be fishers of men. Even if at times this may seem frustrating. The task of reaching family, friends and acquaintances for Jesus is not easy. Jesus never said it would be.

CALLED

The purpose behind this miraculous catch of fish was not to merely give those tired fishermen a bit of encouragement. When Simon Peter saw what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Go away from me, Lord! I am a sinful man!” Peter had never seen so many fish caught up in a single net before.

Through this amazing miracle, Jesus gained the disciples’ attention. Then He delivered a punch line—“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

Jesus calls each of us from our daily routine to be His co-workers—fishing for His Kingdom.

A FISHERMAN’S CLUB?

An article which appeared in The Westminster Record years ago titled ‘The Fisherman’s Club” is an allegory about a club for fishermen in which every effort is made to promote fishing as a worthwhile occupation. However, none of the promoters or members actually engage in fishing. The article ends with the following challenging words:

Is a person a fisherman if, year after year, he never catches a fish? Is one really following the Master, if he isn't fishing? The Westminster Record, The Fisherman's Club Click To Tweet

This brings to mind the words of a Sunday School chorus,

“Fishing for Jesus

Fishing for Jesus everywhere

With a Bible and a prayer

Nothing can compare

With fishing for Jesus everywhere.”

Fellow Christians we have been called to be fishers of men. Our efforts to reach others for Jesus may at times seem frustrating, but I can assure you there will also be those times of rejoicing when someone you know – a relative, a friend, a colleague, says, “Yes to Jesus.”

Ask the Lord to show you how you can reach an unbeliever for Christ. And then why not listen to that fun children’s song? Click on the link and enjoy these enthusiastic young fishermen!

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

3. Dinner Invitation

Do you recall getting an unexpected invitation to some special celebration dinner?

TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME AFTER TWELVE YEARS

This photo was taken here in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, during an unexpected bonus when our daughter and son-in-law came to visit all the way from Montenegro, and our niece, nephew, and lovely great-nieces were on holiday from Northern Ireland. What a special moment!

Our passage of scripture is all about an unexpected dinner invitation.

Reading: Matthew 9:1-13

SCENE SETTER

When Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, rejected his ministry, He moved to Capernaum where he made his home base. (Matthew 4:13-16)

One day, some men brought a paralysed man on a mat to Jesus.  Jesus assured the paralysed man, “Take heart your sins are forgiven.

Some teachers of the law immediately accused Jesus of blasphemy. Jesus asked them if it was easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” than to say, “Get up and walk.” Then He went on to make an amazing claim, “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.

Jesus has God-given authority to forgive your sins and mine.

SOUL RESPONSIBILITY

The Rev Peter Marshall a Presbyterian minister, during the early part of the last century had the honour of being chaplain to the President of the United States.

“One night a friend questioned Peter Marshall about whether he really thought we shall ever have to stand before God on Judgement Day and hear the roll call of our sins.

“Yes!” the Bible makes it quite clear.” Peter answered promptly. “Someday, somewhere, somehow, there will be an accounting for each of us.”

He paused and seemed lost in thought as he stirred his third cup of tea. “I think I may have to go through the agony of hearing all my sins recited in the presence of God.”

But I believe it will be like this – Jesus will come over and lay His hand across my shoulder and say to God, “Yes! All these things are true, but I am here to cover up for Peter. He is sorry for all his sins, and by a transaction made between us, I am now solely responsible for them.” (‘A Man called Peter.’ – Catherine Marshall)

Doesn’t that sound amazing?

A PUBLICAN

As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Capernaum they encountered a tax collector at his booth. Several of the older bible translations such as the American Standard Version and King James Version, label him as a publican.

A publican is generally a ‘keeper of a public house’ (Collins English Dictionary). We may regard a public house as a pub or tavern. But in biblical terms, it referred to someone fulfilling a public office such as that of a tax collector.

Though a Jew, he had a Greek name: Matthew. The gospel writer Mark calls him Levi son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:13). So it is possible that he was a brother to James son of Alphaeus who became one of the 12 apostles. (Matthew 10:3)

COMMITMENT

Jesus simply said, Follow me and Matthew got up and followed him.

  • What do you think were the implications of his decision to follow Christ?

Matthew had a lucrative job. Employed by the Roman authorities to collect taxes from the people—his own people—you can count on it that he submitted a certain amount regularly to his bosses. But you can also be sure that he took his own cut.

Yet when Jesus invited him to become a follower, he didn’t hesitate. He left his tax booth immediately. Perhaps more than any of the other disciples, Matthew had a better grasp of the cost of following Jesus. Yet he did not hesitate. 

The disciples’ Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, and John could go back to fishing, (John 21:2) as they did after Jesus’ resurrection, but Matthew burnt his bridges. There was no way he would get his job back.

DISCIPLESHIP’S COST

  • Are you a follower of Jesus?
  • What has it cost you to become a follower of Jesus?

Some who have taken that step have been cut off from family and regarded as dead. Others have lost their lives.

I recently read a novel that deals with this very thing. A Muslim converted to Christianity who dared not return to his hometown for fear of being murdered by his own family. And this is not unique.

In my ministry, I witnessed the opposite. The son of a couple in one of my congregations fell for a Jehovah’s Witness lass. Leaders of that sect ordered him to become a member before their marriage and to have nothing more to do with his family. He refused to even chat with me. His family was devastated.

Initially, the other disciples would probably have been wary of Matthew. Jews who served the Roman authorities were generally despised by their fellow Jews.

INVITATION TO DINNER

Matthew was so excited about becoming a follower that he did an amazing thing. He set up a dinner at his home, to which he invited Jesus. He also invited his fellow tax collectors, and many others who had a bad reputation, to dinner to meet Jesus.

Not the kind of thing that I would have done. I think I would want to allow my associates and friends to gradually get the message that I had become a Jesus follower.

  • How about you? When you opened your life to Jesus did you make sure your friends, your family, your schoolmates or workmates know what you had done?

RELIGIOUS REACTION

There are always troublemakers around, no matter what group you may be part of. Unfortunately even in Christian circles.

Somehow, the Pharisees soon got wind of this gathering and confronted Jesus’ disciples, Why, does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?

I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message,

“What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy, with crooks and riff-raff?” (Matthew 9:11b The Message)

Jesus overheard and responded, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick?” (Matthew 9:11b The Message) He added “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9;13b NIV)

So Matthew responded unhesitatingly to Jesus’ invitation and held a dinner to give his colleagues and cronies an opportunity to hear Jesus.

  • Ever considered inviting unsaved friends to dinner?

TWO CHANGES

  • What major changes do you think happened in his life as a result of his decision?

I can think of two significant changes.

  1. He received a new life. Not only did he join a particular group of people. He belonged to a person – the Son of God. The despised tax collector had become an accepted person. Initially a follower of Jesus, later one of the 12 apostles.

When you opened your life to Jesus and decided to follow Him, you became a new person – one of His disciples.

  1. Matthew had a new purpose in life. The only tool from his old way of life that he was able to use for Jesus, was his pen. God appointed him as one of the record keepers of the group. Matthew was a keen observer throughout Jesus’ ministry and kept a record of the wonderful events of that ministry, which subsequently became the Gospel of Matthew.

WORK IN PROGRESS

Each of us is a work in progress. At the time of our birth, God gave us certain characteristics and abilities. When we put our trust in Jesus we received the Holy Spirit into our lives.  As we allow the Spirit to have greater control He uses those very God-given characteristics and capabilities for the work of Christ’s kingdom.

  • How are you using your God-given characteristic and capabilities to the glory of God? Are you using them?

In the eyes of many, Matthew was a nobody, a traitor to his own, but then he met Jesus, and his life was entirely transformed. You may feel like a nobody. You may feel that your life is going nowhere. But Jesus wants to make a difference in your life.

Jesus wants to use whatever you are prepared to offer him to make a difference in your life and in the lives of those you come into contact with.

You may not be able to invite unsaved friends to dinner, but what can you do to bridge the gap between them and Jesus?

As you listen to this beautiful song, identify with the words sung by Bill Gaither and the congregation, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.