Christmas 2022. Jesus makes the difference

The annual open-air Carols by Candlelight service had been disrupted by a thunderstorm. Everyone moved into the Church. The service required the participation of a number of folks to take the scripture readings.

The minister welcomed everyone and opened in prayer. At the end of the prayer, he quietly moved into the background, without introducing the first reader, who silently came forward to take the reading.

A little boy in the front row of the congregation opened his eyes and in shocked dismay turned to his mother and said, Mummy, where’s God gone?”

When we think of how highly commercialized Christmas has become, one might well ask, “Where has God gone?”

Carol Service – Photo by Blue Ox Studio:

Matthew 1:18-25


Because of God’s amazing love for our fallen world He sent His Son Jesus Christ, to invade our world. His coming made a significant difference to the lives of many at the time.

  • To a young engaged couple – Joseph and Mary.

The news of Mary’s miraculous pregnancy threw Joseph’s life into turmoil. Our loving God put Joseph’s mind at rest about marrying Mary, by sending an angel to explain Mary’s pregnancy.

Mary probably dreamed of a happy married life, with Joseph, her carpenter husband, in a comfortable furnished home. Her unexpected pregnancy certainly changed things.

Emperor Augustus’ census forced Joseph and his young wife to make the long tiring journey to Bethlehem at the height of her pregnancy, where there was no accommodation available at the local inn.

The pregnancy, birth and infancy of Jesus certainly made a difference in the lives of his earthly parents.


  • There were the Shepherds

Out in the fields the  shepherds received a glorious heavenly visitor with the news that a Saviour had been born.

Later in Bethlehem they found the couple with their special child. “As the shepherds returned to their sheep, they were praising God and saying wonderful things about Him. “ (Luke 2:20 CEV)

For some time into the future their lives would have been different as they excitedly told their story.

  • Also the Magi

They spotted a new star, which for them indicated the birth of the king of the Jews. They put everything on hold. Packed their bags and headed for Jerusalem to worship this newborn king. A journey from the east which would have taken them almost two years.

For the Magi the birth of Christ made a huge difference. It called for a sacrifice of both time and treasure.

He also made a difference for: Simeon,  and Anna as we saw in Advent 1.

Christ’s coming definitely made a vast difference in the lives of all of the folk involved in Christ’s birth and infancy.


 Throughout His three year ministry Jesus continued to make a difference in the lives of those He came into contact with. Sick were healed, dead were restored to life, and many demon possessed were set free.

The fishermen, Peter, James and John and others, became “Fishers of men”.

Tax Collector, Matthew was transformed from the writer of tax records to the recorder of Jesus’ teachings and miracles.

Another Tax Collector, Zacchaeus promised to give half of his possessions to the poor and return fourfold any money that he had extracted dishonestly.

A prostitute, Mary Magdalene turned from her sinful lifestyle and became a faithful follower of Jesus.

Christ’s coming made a difference in the lives of many who met Him during His earthly ministry.


Down the years Jesus has made a difference in the lives of  many others.

A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Erickson Tada a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. Through faith in Jesus she has overcome her handicap.

Niki Cruz, a former gang leader opened his life to Jesus and now has a successful ministry to gangland youth.

Charles Colson jailed for Watergate-related charges. Became a committed Christian, a leader in the Christian right movement, and author of at least 20 books.

As they have opened their lives to Jesus as Saviour and Lord, Christ has continued to make a difference down the centuries  


How about you?

  • Is He someone you acknowledge or greet only once in a while?

  • Is He someone you perhaps only call out to in times of trouble and crisis?

  • Are you a truly different PERSON because of Him?

God has not gone, as the little boy thought, God has come! He came into our world in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ – Emmanuel – God with us! He continues to ring the changes in the lives of those who put their trust in Him.

As we move on from Christmas, make sure that the celebration of  Jesus’s birth has made a difference in your life. In the year that lies ahead don’t  live  your life as if He had never come.

26. A Man Called Peter

Did you ever read the book ‘A man called Peter’?

 “A man called Peter” was written by Catherine Marshall about her deceased husband Peter Marshall, a Presbyterian minister who had been chaplain to the President of the United States.

Our readings this session focus on another man called Peter.  There are three major highlights in his life, although there are many other passages that mention him.

Matthew 16:13-20; Luke 22: 54-62; John 21:15-22

The Apostle Peter – Photo by Marina Gr:


Like a number of other disciples of Jesus, Simon Peter was a fisherman.

Andrew, his brother was a disciple of John the Baptist. One day Jesus approached as John was baptizing folks in the Jordan River at Bethabara. John proclaimed to his followers, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36b) Andrew and John, another of John’s disciples followed Jesus and spent the rest of the day with Him.

Andrew then went and found his brother Simon and introduced him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter) (John 1:42).

Although from the outset of his gospel John calls him Simon Peter it would appear that his name was actually Simon until Jesus renamed him Peter.

Like many others, I have been puzzled at the seeming clash between John’s account of Peter’s calling as above and what we read in Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew states, “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.   And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18,19 ESV)


In an article with the title immediately above, Charles Spurgeon explains the dilemma. He points out that John’s account is of Peter’s initial conversion and calling to become Jesus’s disciple.

Then in Matthew, we have an account of a second, later calling. After a miraculous catch of fish along with Andrew, James, and John, Jesus called them to become evangelists—fishers of men.

Spurgeon sees Peter’s third calling as when he was called to be a leader—one of the twelve Apostles who would become the founders of a new religion—Christianity.


On one occasion when Jesus and His disciples were able to get away from the crowds, they were in the area of  Caesarea Philippi. Jesus took the opportunity to cross-question the disciples. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  His disciples came up with several answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.

Then Jesus made it personal, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15 ESV)

It was Peter who came up with the reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  

To which Jesus responded, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!” (Matthew 16:17 NET)


The twelve were gathered together with Jesus in the Upper Room for the Passover meal. During the meal, Jesus washed their feet. Jesus then announced that one of them would betray Him and the others would desert Him.

Jesus informed Peter, “Simon, Simon! Listen! Satan has received permission to test all of you, to separate the good from the bad, as a farmer separates the wheat from the chaff. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you turn back to me, you must strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31,32 GNB)

Peter’s immediate  response was, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you and to die with you!” (Verse 33 GNB)

But Jesus answered, “The rooster will not crow tonight until you have said three times that you do not know me.” (Verse 34 GNB)


After the Passover meal, the eleven of us along with Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent time in agonizing prayer. We were so tired we fell asleep. Suddenly Judas was there with a number of temple guards who promptly arrested Jesus.

The other disciples fled, but John and I followed at a distance. Jesus was taken to the home of the high priest. I was outside at the gate until John fetched me.

I went to sit with the servants and temple police, who were trying to keep themselves warm in front of a charcoal fire. Three times someone accused me of being part of Jesus’s group. Each time I denied this.  After the third time. a rooster crowed and I noticed Jesus turn and give me a long look. Then I remembered what he had said about me denying him. I felt awful. I went away and wept.

Although I heard what was happening to Jesus,  I couldn’t bring myself to go to Calvary. I couldn’t bear to see them crucify him.


After Jesus’s resurrection, the disciples were told to meet Him in Galilee. Peter’s spirit was still wounded by his denials, so Jesus deliberately reconstructed a whole series of events to bring that troubling memory to the surface. (See session 12 – Deja vu.)

Then after breakfast, Jesus singled Peter out and began His healing therapy.

  • How many times did Peter deny Jesus?

Three times Peter denied knowing Jesus.

Three times Jesus asks Peter the same question, “…do you truly love me?” ( John 21:15,16,17)  Twice Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” (Verses 15,16)

The third time Peter responded, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.” ((John 21:17 The Message)

Three times he tells Jesus “I love you.

By this threefold challenge not only was Peter assured of his restoration but he was also re-commissioned by Jesus. In effect, Jesus said, “Love me… go and care for my flock”

Then Peter heard again those wonderful words, he first heard years before alongside that same Galilean Sea, “Follow me!” (John 21:19)

Peter went on to become a faithful and influential leader in the New Testament church.


We’ve all failed our Lord. Like Peter, we need the assurance that all is forgiven.

Just as Jesus went to amazing lengths to restore Peter our Lord wants us to be assured of forgiveness and restoration.

Until those hurtful memories of your failure are dealt with, you can never be the person that God intends you to be. Share on X

In closing, I suggest you bring any areas of hurt to Jesus in prayer and ask Him to bring about a healing. Pray along with this song.

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

25. He stoops to conquer

What is the most surprising thing that has happened to you?

Our reading describes an occasion when Jesus washed His disciples’ dirty feet.

I’m sure that took them by surprise!

John 13:1-17

Photo by Luis Quintero:

The scene was a large upstairs room on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The atmosphere was uncomfortable and unpleasant. There were two reasons for the unpleasant atmosphere


The Palestinian roads were dirty and dusty. The disciples wore sandals.  Although the owner of this upstairs room had provided for the rest of their needs, he may have been unable to afford servants to wash their feet upon arrival. But none of the disciples was prepared to wash those smelly, grimy feet.


In his account of the Last Supper, Luke gives us a hint that another contributing factor to the uncomfortable atmosphere was an argument over who was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Not the first time this debate had raised its ugly head (Luke 9:46-48; Matthew 18:1-5; Mark 9:33-37).

Jesus and His twelve disciples were eating the Passover meal. The tense atmosphere increased as all eyes were fixed on Jesus who suddenly—unexpectedly—rose from the table. Discussion ceased. You could have heard a pin drop. Was there something wrong with the Passover preparations?


Without a word, Jesus got up and moved across the room to the large water jar standing near the front door. He stripped off His outer garments, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Jesus was about to act out a parable. “Having loved his own…He now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1b). Clad only in the garments of a slave, Jesus began to wash His disciple’s feet.

Peter reacted: “No way Lord—you shall never wash my feet!”—“Lord, I’m not fit to have you wash my feet.”—I can’t let you be my servant.”

Jesus’s reply shook the disciples. “Peter, If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be my disciple” (John 13:8b GNB).

Typical of act-before-you-think Peter, the fisherman replied, “Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head too” (Verse 9).

Jesus use this everyday practice of foot washing to teach His disciples a spiritual truth. “Anyone who has had a bath is completely clean and does not have to wash himself, except for his feet” (Verse 10).

We who trust Jesus have been washed clean of all past sins. Yet, we are constantly contaminated through our contact with the sinful practices of the world. We need Jesus’s continual washing of those daily sins that attach themselves to our lives. “Having loved His own…He began to wash His disciple’s feet” (John 13:1a, 5).


Several lessons can be learnt from Jesus’s actions that evening.

True greatness

Jesus gave them a demonstration of true greatness by humbling himself and washing their feet.

Jesus said, “The greatest one among you must be like the youngest, and the leader must be like the servant” (Luke 22:26 GNB).


None can serve Jesus meaningfully until we have let Him serve us. Until we allow Jesus to wash us clean of all sin, our good works count for nothing. We need to allow Jesus’s act of sacrifice to impact upon our lives.

Only once we acknowledge His sacrifice and surrender our lives totally to Him, can we begin to serve others effectively for Him.


What Jesus did physically that evening He wants to do spiritually today. He cares for you and me. He wants to meet our needs. Jesus wants to serve you—to wash those who have. . . . .

Tired feet

You feel weak and worn out. Battling to cope. Things are getting you down. Jesus wants to restore your strength.

Dirty feet

Things have crept into your life that ought not to be there. Skeletons are in your cupboard that Jesus wants to help bury today. He died on that cross to set us free from these things.

Wounded feet

Wounded at some time, in some way

  • in childhood by the actions of a parent or relative.

  • by someone who betrayed a trust we placed in him or her.

  • through the unfaithfulness of a marriage partner.

  •  as a result of words or actions of a church leader.

  • due to bad, crippling experiences which have left you confused and bewildered.

Our wounded spirit needs inner healing. The scars will always be there. But the hurting , the raw wounds can be healed. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. He was wounded for us so that our wounds may be healed.

For many the problem is Busy feet.

  • Too busy to spend time with the Lord.

  • Too many things going on in your life.

  • A constant need to keep busy and working. Maybe we can identify with Martha.

Don’t forget, Jesus told Martha that she was losing out by being too busy and not spending more time with Him like her sister, Mary. Busyness does not necessarily equal effectiveness.

Let Jesus bathe your busy feet as you admit your business and ask Him to show you where to cut back to make more time for Him.

Finally, some have Ugly feet.

  • Are you discouraged and disappointed in yourself?

  • Do you seem to be lacking in gifts to use to serve Jesus or others?

  • Have you thought, If you could look behind my mask, you would have nothing to do with me. I am not a pleasant person to be around. I’ve got ugly feet!

Jesus says to you, “Allow me to wash those ugly feet. I want to make them beautiful!”

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation...(Isaiah 52:7 ESV) Share on X

No matter which category of feet you identify with today, remember that Jesus died to give you abundant life. He came to save sinners, to heal the wounded, to restore the brokenhearted.

Admit that you have tired—dirty—wounded—busy—or ugly feet and ask Jesus to wash them for you today.


After washing the disciple’s feet Jesus said, “I have set an example for you so that you will do just what I have done for you.”

Jesus did not mean that we’re to literally wash one another’s feet, but serve one another. Serving  is a two-way street. I need to come alongside you and allow you to be open with me. But in return, I must be open with you, and let you come alongside me.

Once we have been washed by Jesus, He commissions us to make ourselves available to wash, to minister to, to come alongside, those who need to be washed clean of the things that have contaminated their lives.

Praise God that Jesus came to save us and make our lives beautiful for Him. Now we can confidently proclaim “Our God reigns” in the words of this song, ‘How lovely on the mountains’ based on Isaiah 52:7.

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



24. Famous last words

The famous last words of some of the world’s great people are an inspiration to us:

  • Sir Walter Raleigh shortly before being beheaded is recorded as saying, “It matters little how the head lies if the heart is right.”

  • Joan of Arc, claimed to have seen visions and heard angels instructing her. She was condemned to death by burning. Amid the flames, she cried out, “Yes, my voices were from God. My voices have not deceived me – Jesus!”

  • The great Italian painter and sculptor, Michelangelo’s last words were, “Throughout life remember the sufferings of Jesus.”

Jesus’s life and ministry were rapidly drawing to a close. For a third time, He warned his disciples of his impending death (Matthew 20:17-19). With time running short, what important last words did Jesus have for His disciples?

During those last few days, Jesus told a series of five parables.  Our reading covers one of them.

Matthew 21:23-32

Image by Pexels from Pixabay


While Jesus was busy teaching in the temple court, “the chief priests and the elders of the people challenged Him, `By what authority are you doing these things and who gave this authority?'”

In Jesus’s day as in ours, people looked for an outward sign of authority—education, title, position, and connections. But Jesus’s authority came from who He was, not from any outward superficial trappings.

If Jesus had said that his authority came from God they would have accused Him of blasphemy. If He had said that He was acting under His own authority, the crowds would have believed in the Pharisees.

Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees by asking a seemingly unrelated question, which exposed their real motives (Matthew 21:25). Whichever way they chose to answer His question, would put them in a poor light with the crowds, so they answered “We don’t know.”

Jesus saw this as an opportunity to tell another story.


The parable of the Two Sons is a very human story. We all know of children who have responded to instructions in a similar way.

There was a great deal of work to be done in a vineyard, so the owner approached his first son for help. He flatly refused to do the work, but had second thoughts later and got stuck in. Upon being turned down by the first son the man asked his second son, who very politely said, “I will sir,” but went away and forgot about his promise.

“Which of the two sons did what his father wanted?” Jesus asked.


The answer to Jesus’s question may seem perfectly clear to us.  Although the religious leaders answered correctly, this was not the usual attitude amongst the Jews.

A missionary in Israel told this parable and then asked the question, “Who did the will of his father?”  To his great surprise, the crowd unanimously answered, “The man who said he would go and did not.”  When he asked them why, they said, “A day’s work in the vineyard is a little thing, but to say `No’ to your father’s beard is a grievous sin.”

The teaching of Jesus is the exact opposite. He maintained that lip service could never be a substitute for action.


In this story, the first son represented the tax collectors and sinners such as Matthew and Mary Magdalene. Their lives at first indicated a direct refusal to have anything to do with God. Yet when Jesus came, they listened to Him and their lives were transformed.

The second son represented the very people who had questioned Jesus’ authority—the Scribes and the Pharisees.  They professed to serve God and obey His commandments and yet when He sent His Son they didn’t accept His authority.

Jesus was in effect saying to them, “All your lives you have been making a great profession of your love and devotion to God, but your attitude undermines your profession. The people that you brand as sinners have repented and turned back to God and been accepted into His kingdom but you choose to remain outside the Kingdom.”


This parable underlines the saying actions speak louder than words. Neither son’s actions supported their words, but their actions did reveal the extent of their love for their father.

These two sons stand for different kinds of people. The second represents those who say one thing but their lives tell another story.


Open-air preacher Dick Sheppard once said, “the greatest handicap the Church has is the unsatisfactory lives of professing Christians.”

I heard it once said of a person who claimed to be a Christian, “I cannot hear what he says for listening to how he acts.”

  • Do you claim to love the Lord Jesus? Do you live up to it?


The opposite is also true. There are people like the first son, whose actions are better than their  words. They make no claim to being a Christian and yet they live good clean lives.

I once knew a man who was a friendly, clean living, man of integrity. He would have nothing to do with shady deals, but he wasn’t a Christian.


The reaction of neither of the sons was ideal. Both of them caused their father heartache.

  • Having said “Yes” to Jesus are you doing what He wants you to do?

The son and daughter who really bring joy to their heavenly father are the ones who willingly hear and gladly obey the instructions He gives.

Amongst Jesus’ last words to His disciples were words of encouragement to be doers of His word. “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 7:21)

In closing think about, what are you doing to grow the kingdom of God?

The words of this popular hymn remind us that we need to both trust and obey.

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

23. Turning failure into success

Do you rate yourself as a successful Christian or are your failures dragging you down?

 Several years back for the first time in many years a South African won the Comrades Marathon. However, he was disqualified days later for having used a banned substance.

Many have made great strides in politics, business, the theatre, society, and even in the ministry, only to have their success crumble as a result of something they’ve done or failed to do.

In our readings for this session, we read of a man who had great potential for success but whose life ended in failure.

Read the following two passages – John 12;1-6;13:18-30

Image by yogesh more from Pixabay

  • What determines success or failure?

A dictionary definition of Failure is ‘the non-occurrence, non-performance, neglect to do something’.

Success is ‘the attainment of one’s object’


The Word of God is very honest in its record of the successes as well as the failures of its chief characters. Even some well-known Bible heroes have made the transition from success to failure. Both Kings Saul and David, come to mind. God chose them both to become king of Israel.

Initially, King Saul was God-fearing but he disobeyed God’s instruction to totally annihilate the enemy (1 Samuel 15:3,9). Then God told Samuel “Saul has stopped obeying me, and I’m sorry that I made him king.” (Verse 11)

King David had so much potential—an accomplished musician, poet, herdsman, and marksman, and chosen to replace Saul as Israel’s king. He had everything going for him, but in a weak moment or days, he sinned. He neglected his troops, committed adultery, and had his lover’s husband murdered.

Although Saul and David were chosen by God, they both fell short of God’s standard for living a God-glorifying life.

Paul reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). That includes me, and it includes you.

  • Are you achieving your potential for God?


Jesus did not make his choice of the Apostles lightly; he spent a whole night in prayer before choosing his twelve-man team. (Luke 6:12-16) One of the chosen twelve was Judas son of Simon Iscariot.

Along with the rest of the team, Judas was appointed to “announce that the kingdom of heaven will soon be here.  Heal the sick, raise the dead to life, heal people who have leprosy, and force out demons.” (Matthew 10:7,8 CEV) So not only did Judas hear Jesus’s amazing teaching, and witness the miracles that Jesus performed, but he actually experienced the wonder of being personally powerfully used by God.

Our first reading informs us that he was the treasurer of the group of Apostles and inclined to pocket some of the proceeds for himself (John 12:6). But the fact that he was appointed treasurer, indicates he started off well. He was a successful team member. Yet like so many other followers of the Master, he had a wrong concept of Jesus’s mission here on earth.


His final act of failure showed up at the Last Supper. When Jesus did not fall in line with his expectations, Judas tried to force the Lord into setting up a coup against Rome, by betraying him to the religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat to their authority.

Jesus gave him every opportunity to turn from his godless plan, but he didn’t. His plan failed miserably. Instead Jesus was arrested, put on trial, and condemned to death. When Judas realised what a dreadful mistake he’d made, it was too late. And he committed suicide (Matthew 27:5). How sad. For a man who started out with such potential.

  • Are you achieving your potential for God?


Could Judas’s failure have been reversed? Yes! I believe it could. If only he had accepted the olive branch Jesus offered him at that last supper. If only he had repented and sought God’s forgiveness and returned the money. If only he had not betrayed his Lord.

Could God possibly still have work for David to do after his adultery with Bathsheba? Yes God graciously restored David after he pleaded for forgiveness in that wonderful Psalm of repentance: Psalm 51. Despite his failure, the shepherd, soldier, singer, sinner, and sovereign went on to become a successful, dedicated servant of God.

Of the twelve men Jesus chose, his right-hand man denied him, Judas betrayed Him, and nine of the others deserted Him—a 91% failure rate. Only John was present until the end. Yet after Jesus’ resurrection and the Pentecost anointing, eleven of them became a success in their witness for Christ, laying a firm foundation that has enabled the Gospel to be spread worldwide.


Becoming a Christian does not automatically turn us into perfect people. We are all still sinners—forgiven sinners. We are banded together to try to serve God.

Perhaps you have tried to live a successful Christian life but find that so often you fall short. So often you lapse back into doing things your way, not God’s.

You only have one life to live here on earth. There is no second opportunity to serve the Lord. Share on X

You need to make your life count for God. 

Admit your failures. Ask God through Christ’s sacrifice to cleanse you, and to show you what He wants you to do for Him today.

In closing let’s celebrate together that we can be successful Christians through the singing of this beautiful hymn: My Life is in You Lord!

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



22. No longer empty

  Life is full of special times and occasions.

Life would be empty without special events to celebrate:  Engagements, marriages, baby births, birthdays,  graduations, anniversaries, etc.

But life also has its setbacks that cause one to feel empty: Physical handicaps, debilitating diseases, marriage breakups, and death amongst a host of other problems.

In this session, we’re going to briefly look at an occasion when Jesus converted an apparent setback into a miracle

Read the story in  Matthew 14:13-21.

Photo by Leah Kelley:


We all experience those times when, because of circumstances, life seems to be empty and meaningless.

  • What emptiness have you been experiencing lately?
  • Some may have lost loved ones. A brother or sister, a parent or child, a spouse or some other beloved family member or friend. The emptiness left by the one who has gone is traumatic.

I lost Arthur, my only brother, to cancer on 23rd December several years back. Christmas still holds an element of sadness for my wife, Shirl, and me. It’s hard, isn’t it? People try to comfort and say, “He/she has gone to a better place.” That’s true – but Arthur didn’t take me with him. He is no longer a part of my life and I miss him.

  • Many of you have had to say goodbye to your children as they’ve left the nest.

Shirl and I will never forget the day we said goodbye to our daughter Debbie who, with her husband Craig and two small children, took off for the mission field in Venezuela. That was hard. Knowing that it was right because it was the Lord’s will, didn’t make it any easier for us. We still felt that feeling of loss.

  • Perhaps severe illness has brought about emptiness in your life. You can’t do what you used to do before.
  • Some may be experiencing the emptiness of a broken relationship. Perhaps your marriage partner or the love of your life found someone else to love.


In today’s passage we encounter another form of emptiness caused by being without food for a long period.

It had been a long tiring day and it was getting late. Jesus’s disciples tried to persuade Him to send the people off to the villages to buy food. Jesus responded, You give them something to eat. (Matthew 14:16 NIV) Five thousand people and Jesus expected the disciples to feed them all. Come on!

“But Master all we can muster is five loaves of bread and two fish. That will never feed this crowd.”

“Bring them here to me.” (Verse 17) Jesus said, “Bring me what you’ve got.”

The disciples could have reacted, “Forget it! No way. We’re not going to look like fools. We don’t have anything like enough food.” Then the crowds would have gone home hungry. And the disciples would never have witnessed an amazing miracle.

Jesus went on to feed that massive crowd of five thousand from the very tiny offering the disciples had to offer.

We all go through periods when we feel that we have nothing to offer, don’t we? Times when we feel empty—drained of joy, enthusiasm, strength. Empty. So what does He want us to do?


He asks us to bring Him what we have.

All the disciples could muster was in effect one person’s picnic lunch. John tells us that it was a lad’s lunch (John 6:9). Yet from it Jesus fed that massive crowd, with leftovers.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why Jesus over-catered?

Paul tells us that Jesus loves to do – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! (Ephesians 3:20a – The Message)

The disciples only had “five small barley loaves and two small fish’ (John 6:9 NIV). Jesus not only fed the crowd of 5000 men (not counting the women and kids!) yet there were twelve baskets of left-overs.

Why?? Far more than we dare ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20 CEV)


What area of your life feels empty today?

What can you bring to Him so that He can use it to work a miracle in your life?

  • Do you have an empty home?
  • Is your life lacking companionship?
  • Do you have lots of love to share but no-one to share it with?
  • Have you got time on your hands—through illness, or bereavement?

The disciples had no clue how Jesus would feed that large crowd with five small loaves and two tiny fish, but He used what they gave Him.

His (Jesus's) power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine. Ephesians 3:20b CEV Share on X

You may not know what Jesus can do in your life. But if you don’t offer Him what you have, you may never know.

As we bring this session to a close, whatever the cause of your emptiness bring it to Jesus. Bring Him whatever you have, whatever you’re capable of doing.

Do what He shows you and may you experience many happy surprises seeing Him by means of his power working in you … do so much more than you can ever ask for, or even think of (Ephesians 3:20  GNB).

May you experience the joy of seeing how He uses what you offer Him in an amazing way. He may not do as you expect; He rarely does. But give Him what you have anyway.

Listen to this beautiful rendition of Give Them All by the Gaither Group.

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

21. Moving mountains

Have you noticed how mountains are often featured in scripture?

  • Can you name any biblical mountains and describe what took place there?

Our passage today is one of three in which Jesus gave his disciples the assurance that they would be able to move mountains.

Matthew 17:1-20

Imagine the chaos we would cause if we were to command Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain with its cable car,  restaurant, and everything else, to move into Table Bay.

Oil Painting of Table Mountain commissioned by my son and his wife


To celebrate his defeat of the Parthians, King Herod the Great built a mountain palace called Herodium. Before he built it, there was no mountain.

How can you build a mountaintop palace without a mountain?

Simple, Herod had a mountain built. As the article Herodium, indicates, he took earth from another site to create his very own personal mountain palace/fort.

Jesus doesn’t call His disciples to shovel dirt around as Herod seems to have done. He was obviously not referring to moving mountains physically.


We find Jesus’ promise that if His followers have enough faith they will be able to move mountains in three verses from the gospels (Matthew 17:20;  21:21 and Mark 11:23). However we’re going to concentrate on the incident recorded in Matthew 17.

Briefly Matthew 21:21 and Mark 11;23 both relate to Jesus cursing of the unproductive fig tree. The People’s New Testament states, ’the cursing of the fig tree was a parable in action, illustrating how the fruitless Jewish nation should wither away. It had leaves, but no fruit.’

The Jewish religion with its temple sacrificial system was already in a state of decline. “This mountain,”- the temple, all that it symbolized with its collection of sacred furnishings would soon be destroyed. This happened as Jesus’ predicted in 70 AD.

But surely there is more to Jesus’ words than a declaration that the mountain of Jewish worship was about to be moved.


In our passage from Matthew 17 we have a different scenario to the other two references—Jesus was transfigured, probably on Mt Hermon, before Peter and the brothers, James and John. Coming down the mountain, Jesus urged them to secrecy until after His resurrection.

At the bottom of the mountain, they were met by a crowd of people. As they approached, a man fell to his knees begging, Sir, have mercy on my son! He is an epileptic and has such terrible attacks that he often falls in the fire or into water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” (Matthew 17:15,16  GNB)

Jesus ordered a demon out of the boy and he was healed. When the disciples had Jesus to themselves, they asked, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?”

Jesus response was, “Because you have so little faith. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move

On this occasion Jesus’ words followed on the disciples’ inability to cast out a demon from that young boy. Yet earlier on in Jesus’ ministry the disciples had been able to cast out demons. (Luke 10:17) Why not now?

The mountain Jesus appeared to be speaking about was the mountain of their failure because of their very little faith


Taking a step in faith and opening one’s life to Jesus for the first time is a truly wonderful experience. But being a follower of Jesus is by no means easy. We all face mountainous problems and difficulties.

Contrary to our human nature,

  • We are called upon to deny self, take up our cross and follow Christ.

  • To die to sin—put down those sinful lusts, words, actions, etc.,—a very difficult and painful task.

  • Obey God in all things.

  • Willingly forsake all for Christ and the gospel—that’s a really big sacrifice to make.

  • To top it all, in our effort to live a faith-filled life we are constantly hampered by our adversary, the devil.

  • And because we are deeply committed Christians does not free us from mountainous difficulties and hardships – relationship problems, health problems, financial problems, social problems, work problems, hurtful words, harmful actions, crime and violence, the list seems endless.

  • What mountains that you are facing at this moment?


A closer look at those three passages where Jesus said we would be able to move mountains reveals a common phrase—’you can say to this mountain’ (Matthew 17:20; 21:21) or ‘if anyone says to this mountain’ (Mark 11:23)

In all three passages Jesus instructed His followers to speak to the mountain.

In 2 Corinthians 4:13 Paul wrote “The scripture says, “I spoke because I believed.” (GNB) In the same spirit of faith we also speak because we believe.

Jesus told the disciples to have faith and “say to this mountain”.  In a nutshell believe and speak to the mountain.

This concept has been grossly abused by the ‘name it, claim it’ movement. But we must take care that, because some abuse it, we don’t set aside an important biblical concept—believe and speak to those mountainous problems and needs.

Under Christ’s umbrella, we do have authority to move certain mountains –

  • A time consuming personal conflict;

  • The spiritual progress of a family member or friend being hampered by some obstacle;

  • Our being unable to fulfil a God determined plan by some form of delay.

  • The need for healing in order for God’s work to continue.

Whether we have the faith to tell a mountain to move or whether we actually ask God to move it is not the issue.


The same Jesus who told His disciples to say to this mountain ‘Move from here to there’ also taught them to ask for what they needed in prayer. (John 15:7)

In Mark’s record of Jesus’ response to the disciple’s question “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” he adds “This kind can come out only by prayer.”(Mark 9:29)

Our spoken Christ-centered prayer has the power to remove the mountains in our life. Share on X


What if despite fervent believing prayer and speaking boldly to that the mountain, it won’t move?

I think Beth Moore has the answer. So…if you pray that God will move a mountain and He doesn’t, or you have the faith to tell the mountain to move and it won’t, assume Christ wants you to climb it instead and see Him transfigured. (Believing God – Beth Moore)

Peter James and John went up with Jesus to a higher level and saw Jesus transfigured before them. Who knows what Jesus has for us if we are prepared to respond to His call to “Come up here” to a higher level of commitment to Him.

In closing please make this your sincere prayer: Christ Jesus, you spoke boldly to your disciples with the promise, If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20) Lord, develop in me the kind of faith that moves mountains by the power of your Holy Spirit.

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

20. Agents for Change

Have you ever wished that you could go back in time and change your life or even just a particular part of it?

Our passage this week is about someone who was able to make such a change.

Luke 19:1-10 The Message

Sycamore tree – Image by Hans from Pixabay


The name Zacchaeus means ‘pure’, but to the Jews he was ‘impure’ – a traitor to his own people.

  • He was employed by the despised Roman rulers to collect taxes from his own people.

  • According to the Easton Bible Dictionary, Zacchaeus was probably the collector of customs in Jericho. Jericho at that time produced and exported a considerable quantity of balsam. So Zacchaeus was an important man. He was also a rich man.” (e-Sword – Zacchaeus – Easton)

  • As the head tax collector he supervised the other tax collectors in the area. There was a lot of wheeling and dealing, and Zacchaeus doubtless extracted his ‘cut’ from whatever they brought in.

Jesus, the miracle man from Galilee, was approaching Jericho. Zacchaeus was keen to get a good look at this man. However, he had a problem—he was short. There was no way that his fellow citizens would allow him to push his way to the front in order to see Jesus.

So Zacchaeus came up with a plan. He worked out what route Jesus would take. He ran ahead of the crowd, and then—of all things—he climbed a sycamore tree!

Not the place one would anticipate encountering the taxman. It certainly reveals how anxious Zacchaeus must have been to see Jesus.


Imagine his surprise when Jesus stopped at the foot of the tree and looked up at him. Imagine his embarrassment when Jesus said, “You silly little taxman what do you think you are doing up that tree?”

Is that what Jesus said?

No! “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.”

This stunned Zacchaeus. He wasn’t used to being treated with respect by a fellow Jew. What was more amazing Jesus wanted to visit his home. This is a wonderful thing about Jesus. No matter who we are, what others think of us, or even what harm we may have done to others, Jesus wants to be made welcome in our lives.

Jesus’s acceptance of Zacchaeus had a life-changing effect on this man. There and then this tax collector decided to change his attitude towards his job and the people.

“Master, I give away half my income to the poor–and if I’m caught cheating, I (will) pay four times the damages.”

Note that Jesus hadn’t pointed out his faults! By merely being in Jesus’ presence, Zacchaeus saw the need to change.

He committed himself that in the future he would claim a fair tax. He even went so far as to say that if he erred in his assessment, he personally would reimburse the person he wronged.

Jesus wants to be an important part of your life. Jesus not only wants to make a difference in your life, He wants to transform others through you. How Zacchaeus handled his customers from then on would have had a major influence on their lives. How we handle the people around us can make all the difference in their lives too.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay


There is a well-known fictional story about a boy called Teddy Stoddard. I encourage you to read the  story here, but  basically the story is about a little boy whose life is turned upside down by the death of his mother while he was in Junior School.


Teddy Stoddard’s teacher found him to be a major challenge to teach. He arrived at school shabbily dressed and unkempt. His fellow classmates tended to laugh and jeer at him. He sat with a sullen expression on his face and showed no interest in what the teacher was teaching. There was no way he would pass at the end of the year.

His teacher Miss Thompson was at her wits end, until she read the reports of his previous teachers and discovered that he was actually a bright lad, but the passing of his mother had brought about a deep depression. She decided to put all her effort into encouraging him and helping him to cope. By the end of the year, Teddy had caught up with the majority of the class.

From then on, as he continued his schooling, from time to time she received a short note from him giving an account of his progress. Eventually, years later, she received a longer letter to inform her that he had graduated from university as Theodor Stoddard M.D. He had met a lovely girl whom he was about to marry. Theodor invited Miss Thompson to attend the wedding and sit where his mother would have sat if she were alive.

What an honour! All because she had been an agent of change and made an amazing difference in Teddy’s life.


That’s what Jesus does for you and for me. Jesus makes the difference.

Zacchaeus decided to take Jesus at His word, and welcomed Him into his home. When Jesus came into Zacchaeus’s life that day, He made a difference. He transformed that little man’s attitude towards all those around him.

As we mix with people God will give us—you and me—many opportunities to become agents for change

There will be those who are easy to like. There will be others who are oh so difficult. But in each case, God is giving us a chance to make a difference.

In closing, won’t you ask God to help you spot the opportunities He brings your way today? Openings where you can make a difference in someone’s life.

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