Tag Archives: Holy

24. The Healing of the Man at Bethesda- part 1

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This is a striking passage about a rather dull man. I don’t mean he was boring,.. I mean dull as in not smart. He’s just not the sharpest tool in the shed, if you ask me. Let’s read about Captain Wonderful. The passage is found in John:

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. (John 5:1-15)

This is actually part of a much larger section, 47 verses to be exact. I am going to break it up into two or three studies so as not to overwhelm anyone, myself included. Now if you notice I left the verse numbers in for you to read. I normally take them out so you can read it without the distraction of verse markers but there is a reason I left them in this time. Reread verse 4. Go on, I dare you! Can’t find it, can you? Ah, and we come to our first observation of the text and a point of controversy.

The reason there is a place marking for verse 4 is because there used to be a verse 4 but more recent translations have edited it out. Why? Excellent question. First we need a basic understanding of how Scripture became accepted as God’s word and how the Bible as we know came to be. The best answer I can give you about the validity of the books in the Old Testament is that Jesus accepted them as truth… and so should we. There is very little disagreement among scholars as to the authenticity of the Old Testament books. But the New Testament was written after Jesus so we can’t rely on Jesus’ stamp of approval on these books. How then did these books become canon and who said so. The easiest answer I can give is that over time and by way of several meetings, holy men decided which books were thought to be the inspired Word of God. The more complicated answer requires noting that different faiths accept different books as inspired because not everyone could agree on everything. For example Roman Catholics accept an additional 7 books over the ones that protestants accept and they also include additions to the books of Esther and Daniel.

In general there were three main standards that had to be met when deciding if a New Testament book was to be Scripture. Number one, it had to be inspired by God. “Now how do you know that?” you may ask. It must not compete or deny anything else that is accepted as Scripture. In other words the Bible can’t argue with itself. Nor can it be contrary to any of Christ’s teachings. Number two: It had to be written by either someone who had been with Jesus or by someone who was close to his apostles. Number Three: the book had to be widely accepted and used for teaching by a wide number of churches. The old “strength in numbers” adage applies here. The idea being that if a bunch of teachers had accepted it as inspired and useful for teaching then it was probably inspired and useful for teaching. Now remember this is just a very basic overview of how books became Scripture, there are whole books written about this topic and I encourage you to read some if this is interesting to you.

Back to our discrepancy over verse 4. Some of the texts that were originally used included a verse 4 that read “—and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.” They were the only copies of this text that early translators had to go on so they translated verse 4. But as archeologist uncovered other earlier copies of this text, they didn’t have this line included. And these newly found copies of Scripture were believed to be older in origin than the copies that did have a verse 4. So what are we to make of this? Somewhere along the line as ancient people copied these stories, someone inserted verse 4 to help make sense of verse 7 which says, “I have no one to hep me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Most likely this idea that angel’s wings stirred the pool waters and the first person to get in would be healed was a Jewish wive’s tail. And this is why more modern translations of the Bible leave this phrase out, though they usually mark it with a little [4] so you know that it used to be there. Some people would use something like this to invalidate the Bible. But I think it just goes to show the commitment of scholars to refine the Bible as new and better evidence comes to light. It is something that could easily have been swept under the rug, but no one is trying to hide this. If it were hidden, then I would suspect shady dealings but this is out there for the world to see- it was there and now it is not. Big deal.

Alrighty then, let’s get back to the text itself. Jesus was in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the main city for Jews. It was the site of the great Temple in which sacrifices and rituals occurred. In fact, Jesus was there for one of the Jewish festivals. Jewish men were required to trek to Jerusalem for 3 annual feasts: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. I forget the reason why but scholars believe it was the feast of Pentecost. The feast of Pentecost was celebrated 50 days after the feast of Passover. It was a time of thanksgiving for the harvest and was also believed to be the day on which God gave Moses the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

I don’t know much about the Sheep Gate other than it was located near the Temple. I found a video you can watch that shows an excavation site of which they think they found this Sheep Gate. The actual site is between :55 and 1:29 on the video if you don’t want to watch the whole thing. It is also called the pool of Bethesda or the pool of St. Anne so don’t let the title of the video confuse you. Basically the pools were trapezoids with steps descending into the water at the 4 corners.

Laying by the pool was an invalid. We don’t know what his malady was exactly but we know he had a hard time getting around and he had been this way for 38 years. That’s a long time to be impaired. Jesus picked him out of a crowd- there were apparently a bunch of other people there with ailments. Jesus, upon learning how long he had been impaired asks him a simple question, “Do you want to get well?” The correct answer to the simple question is a simple, “Yes.” But this guy starts giving excuses as to why he can’t get well. He has obviously put his faith into the wive’s tale about the waters and says that he can’t get in fast enough and that’s why he’s not well. In all of that he never answerers Jesus’ question. Yet, even though this man apparently does not have faith in Jesus- heck, he doesn’t even know it is Jesus- Jesus heals him. Up until now, all of the people we see Jesus healing have been healed by their faith. This guy can’t even answer a question right yet Jesus heals him. I think it was probably the faith of a family member or friend that enabled Jesus to heal him. This brings us to an application. Sometimes, the prayers of the faithful cover the unfaithful. Have you ever prayed for an unbelieving friend or family member? It’s the same idea here. Sometimes God blesses the unfaithful because of the faithful.

So Jesus heals the man and does it by telling the man to, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Now all this occurred on the Sabbath and remember, the Pharisees had very strict rules about what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. Carrying a mat was considered doing work by the Pharisees. Working on the Sabbath was prohibited, therefore this newly healed man was breaking the Sabbath laws. Instead of focusing on the healing miracle he had just been a part of, he sells out Jesus. I mean, come on! I don’t think he did this to be nasty, I think he is just that dumb. Then later, after he finds out who it was that healed him, he went back to the Pharisees and told on Jesus. Again, I don’t think he realized what he was doing. He didn’t even know it was Jesus who healed him at first (verse 13). In fact it was Jesus who sought him out, “Later Jesus found him at the temple…” (verse 14). All I can say about this guys is, “Duh!”

When Jesus found him in the temple, he gave him a stern warning, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Once again, I think the man was dense and needed Jesus to tell him this. I don’t think he would’ve made this connection on his own. Obviously this man’s sinful life caused his invalidity but I don’t think Jesus is saying to stop sinning or you could be even more physically hurt or even die. I think he is saying, “Listen, man- straighten up or your soul is in danger of hell.” This brings be to a couple of points. One, We can not escape the consequences of our sins, except by the grace of God. I’m not talking about going to heaven. Yes, the biggest consequences of our sin is eternal separation from God. However, I’m talking about the consequences we experience in this life. For example, the consequences of divorce or the consequences of stealing or the consequences of driving drunk or the consequences of speeding… etc. etc.  These sins have very serious consequences here on this earth even if we don’t “get caught.” It is within God’s prerogative to remove or keep the consequences for these and other sins. I don’t know how he picks and chooses. I just know that he does. Two, if we receive God’s favor and he removes the consequences and we still choose to remain in sin… well, something worse may happen.

Wow, this was quite long. I’m glad we are breaking this section up, aren’t you?

The End.

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Revelation Song- Devo 2

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Holy, Holy, Holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Who was, and is, and is to come
With all creation I sing:
Praise to the King of Kings! 
You are my everything, 
And I will adore You! 

We already talked about what holy means in Revelation Song – Devo. Let’s take a look at the phrase “Who was and is and is to come.” This phrase is used to describe God four times throughout Revelation (Rev. 1:4; 1:8; 4:8; 11:17). In Revelation 4:8 the 4 crazy looking creatures I talked about yesterday constantly repeat this phrase over and over while the 24 elders fall down before the throne of God. It is a constant act of worship! It means that God was before anything or anyone existed, God still is existing in the same capacity today and he will continue to be forever. He is outside of time (if you can imagine what that is like). It also speaks to the unchanging nature of God. God is always Good, Perfect, Love, Just, etc. I don’t know about you but I am so glad that God is faithful even when I am not. This alone is reason enough to worship God! Think about how awesome it is that even in this human, changing world that God is the same; that even though we don’t always act like we love God (via sin) that God always loves us and always lovingly acts towards us despite us. To me, this thought is amazing!

One of the best pieces of descriptive literature is found in Revelation 19:11-21:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen,white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.”

 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

Goosebumps, I tell you! I included a lot here just because I wanted you to get a picture of the whole passage but what I want to focus on is the “king of kings and lord of lord” line. It simply means that Jesus, is coming back again and this time he is not coming as a slain and broken lamb. No, sir! This time he will return as the powerful King over all the kings of the earth and mighty Lord over all the lords. There is no one greater and he will come riding in on his white horse, his eyes blazing like fire and dressed in his kingly clothes. He will come back to judge us according to whether or not we accept him as Lord and Savior.

My question is this: How will you be judged? Will he welcome you into his kingdom? Or will he toss you into hell with with beast and his prophet. Harsh? Yes, it sounds harsh but it is justly deserved because of our sin. One of these two things will happen to you and I don’t know when. What is holding you back from asking Jesus for forgiveness for your sins? What is worth going to hell over? I pray that if you are not a Christian that this will serve not as a mere warning but as a call to repent, to turn away from your sins and embrace Jesus. I pray that if you are a Christian that you will use this not as a comforting story about how we win in the end but as a call to not waste time in telling your friends about what Jesus has done for you! Tell your story, it is yours to share and your story is powerful! No one can argue about the validity of your story because it is your story. God has written it for you. Be a life changing story teller!

The End.

Revelation Song- Devo 3

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Clothed in rainbows, of living color
Flashes of lightning, rolls of thunder
Blessing and honor, strength and
Glory and power be
To You the Only Wise King,

We already looked at the first verse and chorus of this song in Revelation Song- Devo and in Devo 2. In them we discussed a lot of heavy stuff found in the book of Revelation. This one should be a little lighter because the references in the rest of the song aren’t directly related to Revelation. In fact the first part is from another vision of the end times found in the book of Ezekiel.

Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.

This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:25-28)

Can you imagine seeing the Lord with your own eyes and then having the responsibility to describe it for posterity? What an impossible task! And yet that is exactly what Ezekiel tries to do. Think about the dreariness of  a dark, rainy day and the beauty and brightness of a rainbow in the midst of the storm. This is how Ezekiel explains the sight of God. It is so terrifying, amazing, awe-inspiring, (insert your own word here) that he literally can not bear the sight and falls on his face. What a glorious sight that must have been to see God, himself!

And speaking of rainbows and stuff in the sky, what does “flashes of lightning, rolls of thunder” refer to. We have all witnessed the power of a thunderstorm. They can be magnificent and terrifying all at once. And so it is with God. I can’t even to imagine what it will be like the day I get to view him with my own eyes! The splendor, the glory, the holiness and the sheer terror of it all! I imagine it will be too much for me to bear and me hiding my eyes from the magnitude of it all like Ezekiel. The power of God is also often described with thunder and lightening. It is a synonymous with his presence, power and glory. For example when God met Moses on the top of Sinai, there was thunder and lightening covering the mountain (Exodus 19:16; 20:18). I don’t know about you but I tend to think about God’s presence as calming and reassuring, not powerful and scary. Yet, think about what it would be like to meet someone here on earth that you admire. You would probably be nervous at the very least and maybe even scared. Now, imagine your imperfect, guilty, sinful self in front of a powerful, perfect, almighty judge. Does it make your knees knock? It should. It’s called having fear of the Lord. It’s knowing God has the power to zap you to Hell if he wanted but he chooses to pardon you. It’s a fear that does not come from being afraid, it’s a kind of respect that comes from acknowledging the holiness of God.

If God truly is as magnificent as the writer of Revelation describes, it is no wonder that we today sing, “Blessing and honor, strength and glory and power be to you  the only Wise King!” I wish we spent more time focusing on the glory of God instead of our own lives. How much more fulfilled would our lives be we if viewed our existence through God-colored glasses that showed us his pure glory? Instead I find myself taking off the glasses and getting distracted by the little things of life. These little things steal the joy I should be finding in Christ. I am reading a book by John Piper called “Desiring God.” In it he describes man’s purpose as this, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” He is right on! We were created to glorify God by enjoying God. I love what The Message says of 1 Chronicles 16:23-27:

Sing to God, everyone and everything!
Get out his salvation news every day!
Publish his glory among the godless nations,
his wonders to all races and religions.
And why? Because God is great—well worth praising!
No god or goddess comes close in honor.
All the popular gods are stuff and nonsense,
but God made the cosmos!
Splendor and majesty flow out of him,
strength and joy fill his place.

Read this twice- once with joy and exuberance, and once with no feeling. Which do you think is the emotion meant to be behind it? One of joy or no emotion at all? Of course, it is meant to be joyful! This doesn’t mean we have to be happy all the time. Joy is something deeper that goes beyond just mere feeling. It is a deep state of being. It is having on those God-colored glasses and viewing life how he sees it instead of how we see it. It is enjoying God for who he is and not just what he has done for us. It is choosing to praise God regardless of the junk of life because, “God is great– well worth praising!” I was thinking about it tonight as I was driving: Even if God didn’t save us he would still be worthy of praise, even if God didn’t love us he would still be worthy of praise. Why? Because he is Good, Holy, Perfect, Awesome, Power… the list goes on and on. He is all of these things despite the stuff he does for us. Of course that stuff he does is pretty awesome and deserving of praise also. How much more should we long to joyfully praise God because of our salvation! And it shouldn’t be just reserved for Sunday mornings either! We can praise God through serving others, through sharing our salvation stories, through loving others, basically anything we do to reflect his glory is a way of praising God. We miss out so much in our relationship with Christ because we fail to long for the joy we can experience in Him. Instead we find joy in things that don’t last… the latest singers, clothes, friends, books, food, music, etc. We trade ultimate joy for shadows of joy. We trade God for idols.

What do you find joy in? How do you express that joy? When you find a new pair of shoes that you just love, you show them off and tell others about them. When was the last time you got that excited about God? When was the last time you were so joyful about him that you just had to share him with someone else? Take time to explore the beauty of God, not because of what he has done for us, but because of who he is! Take time to rediscover God! Read Psalm 19 and reflect on the glory of God!

Psalm 19

God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.

Their words aren’t heard,
their voices aren’t recorded,
But their silence fills the earth:
unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.

 God makes a huge dome
for the sun—a superdome!
The morning sun’s a new husband
leaping from his honeymoon bed,
The daybreaking sun an athlete
racing to the tape.

That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies
from sunrise to sunset,
Melting ice, scorching deserts,
warming hearts to faith.

The revelation of God is whole
and pulls our lives together.
The signposts of God are clear
and point out the right road.
The life-maps of God are right,
showing the way to joy.
The directions of God are plain
and easy on the eyes.
God’s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold,
with a lifetime guarantee.
The decisions of God are accurate
down to the nth degree.

God’s Word is better than a diamond,
better than a diamond set between emeralds.
You’ll like it better than strawberries in spring,
better than red, ripe strawberries.

There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger
and directs us to hidden treasure.
Otherwise how will we find our way?
Or know when we play the fool?
Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
Keep me from stupid sins,
from thinking I can take over your work;
Then I can start this day sun-washed,
scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.
These are the words in my mouth;
these are what I chew on and pray.
Accept them when I place them
on the morning altar,
O God, my Altar-Rock,
God, Priest-of-My-Altar.

The End.

Cleansing Fire

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I feel a need to follow up the last post with another one that speaks to how God sometimes chooses to cleanse our lives of junk. Let me start with a story about a guy named Isaiah. He lived a very long time ago, before Jesus. He was chosen by God to speak to the nation of Israel about their disobedience to God. I bet that was like working the lost baggage counter at the airport- you never really have a “good” day at work. Even though he was not participating in the blatant sinning of the general population, he (as I said previously) was a sinner. He was a good man, so to speak but not perfect and remember, God demands perfection, even from his first round draft picks. In chapter 6 of Isaiah we read about a pivotal moment in Isaiah’s life. Isaiah writes:

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another:

Holy, holy, holy is the LordAlmighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LordAlmighty.”
6Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8)

It is often called the Commission of Isaiah. He sees a vision about seeing God on his throne. (I get that some of you may not buy the whole vision thing. I’m not here to argue with you about whether it actually happened or if it was a dream just stay with me here as there is a valuable lesson.) He sees God and cries, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty,” (Isaiah 6:5). Basically he realizes right then and there that he is so unworthy to be in the presence of God that he thinks he is ruined or about to die. But he doesn’t die, instead, something remarkable happens. It is one of my favorite parts of the Bible. The angel of God comes to him and cleanses him from his sin. He writes, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for,” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

There are lots of things that are fascinating about this chapter but the thing that sticks out to me is how God chooses to purify Isaiah. He could have just snapped his fingers, or said a magic word but instead, he has an angel take a hot coal to his lips. Nice, right? Notice, the angel wasn’t dumb enough to use his fingers. Instead he uses tongs. I think part of the reason Isaiah adds this detail is to emphasize what was about to happen. When you touch something hot you are going to get burned. God uses the coal as a way of burning away Isaiah’s impurities.
Burning. It doesn’t sound like a good time to me. I think this story points out something very important. Sometimes when God is changing our lives, it hurts or at the very least is uncomfortable. When I was making changes in my life from old to new, I had to make some decisions that were difficult and some of them hurt. Could God have just snapped his fingers and magically changed me and my circumstances? Yes. Do I wish it had worked that way? Yes and no. It would have saved me a lot of pain and uncomfortableness in my life but the lessons probably wouldn’t have been seared into my heart the way that they were.
What does this mean for us today? I don’t claim to be a Bible scholar and there is a lot in this chapter that I glossed over but I do think there is a take away here. Yes, God can change us. Yes, sometimes it hurts. Yes, we are made better for it despite the pain. The very next verse describes Isaiah as becoming willing to do God’s work presumably because of his cleansing. Imagine what the Church of God could accomplish if only we quit trying to hide our imperfections and instead faced them, allowed God to sear our hearts and became willing to go where ever He was willing to send us and do whatever he wanted us to do. Imagine a Church on fire because of the burning, cleansing purification that can only come through Christ.
For those of you out there who may not be Believers, let me tell you that I know that this all sounds scary. A face to face confrontation with God can be terrifying, even, but it it is always worth it. It’s not easy to let go of all we think we know and trade it for something that is new and unfamiliar, especially when it can be painful. All I can say from experience is that God can work miracles in our lives if we let him.
The end.