Palm Sunday. What kind of palm do we think of? Coconut? Desert? In Israel, the vast majority of palm trees are date palm trees. The photos I took when I was in Israel show them in a variety of different places. It is also highly probable that when the Bible talks about Israel being a land of milk and honey, the honey refers to date honey, not bee honey. The milk probably refers to goat/sheep milk since they have been in Israel since practically the beginning. It is also of note that, as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, the people took date palm branches and their cloaks to welcome and praise Him like a returning war hero. But then, less than a week later, these same people were shouting, “Crucify him!” They thought He was coming as a warrior to overthrow the Roman government, but His first act was to overthrow the tables of the crooked money changers and sellers profaning the temple. The first of a string of unfulfilled expectations for the crowd. The leaders of the time were upset with Him, not only that the crowds were following Him and not them, but also that He exposed their hypocrisy. So they undermined Him among the people, made false and misleading accusations, and finally got the Roman government to crucify Him. Yet, as we know, three days later He arose. That limited earthly warrior the people had hoped for is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all. And none of what happened to Him was a surprise. It was prophesied about over and over in the Old Testament, He was born to die, and He told His disciples over and over that He would be given over to the authorities, crucified, then rise again. A beautiful, and at the same time sad proclamation He makes to His followers is this: “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” (John 10:18) I hope we can think of these things and really search out how to apply them to our own lives today.
Early morning view of the Sea of Galilee from Magdala
During my time in Israel, I also spent a few nights in Magdala, on a slope just above the Sea of Galilee, the probable home town of Mary Magdalene. A number of times since being there I have come across the false narrative that she was a prostitute, for which there is no Biblical evidence.
Jesus had followers of every type of background, and that included a number of former prostitutes He had forgiven, individuals He said were closer to submitting to God’s reign than the Pharisees. The point of what I am saying here is that Mary Magdalene is not mentioned as being one of them. The Bible says she was a Jesus follower and that He cast out seven evil spirits from her (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2). The main other place she is mentioned is as an eyewitness of the crucifixion and the resurrection.
The unproven idea she was a prostitute is a later tradition. In the middle ages (591), Pope Gregory the Great equated Mary Magdalene with the woman Jesus forgave in Luke 7:36-50, partly because Mary is first mentioned as a Jesus follower in the next passage, Luke 8:1-3. And even here, it just mentions she was healed of having seven evil spirits.
In The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown propagated the conspiracy theory that she was called a prostitute by the Catholic church to try to dismiss her because of the idea held by a few that Jesus had a “special” relationship with her. But at least Brown did get one thing right. There is no evidence she was a prostitute.
Despite the fact that the Bible talks about her as a Jesus follower and witness to the most important events in His life, it is sad that so many “Christian” films and sermons still portray her as a prostitute. Jesus did a great thing in her life, freeing her from seven evil spirits, and she followed Him the rest of her life and was a witness to the resurrection, telling others about Him. So the fact is that she is a wonderful example for us to follow.
This is a continuation of my series on the problem of evil in the world, how to understand it and remain faithful to God no matter what happens to us. This section deals with what the Bible teaches about the Kingdom of God. Links to the previous blogs: The problem of evil in the world, part 1. God’s attributes Having hard times and suffering is normal. Or, You need more faith to suffer than to experience miracles (2nd part of “The problem of evil in the world” series) The error of blaming God (3rd part of “The problem of evil in the world” series)
The Lord’s Prayer. Almost all of us know how it starts out. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by the Name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” As a model prayer, it starts out with praise, first stating the amazing fact that God is our heavenly father, and praying that He will be treated with the utmost respect, that no one treat Him, nor His name, in an unpraiseworthy manner. It reminds us of the fourth commandment: “Do not blaspheme/misuse/disrespect God’s name,” but in the positive vein. We live to bring honor to Him by what we say and what we do, or don’t say or do. The last thing we want is for Rom 2:24 to be true of us: No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.”
What follows in the Lord’s prayer is a combination of praise and supplication: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This sounds beautiful, but may be a little deeper than we have previously thought. These two supplications are closely tied together, a couplet, two phrases which cover the same basic meaning. Psalms is filled with these type of restatements, common in Hebrew poetry, a poetry style something akin to using rhyming in English. So the meaning is that the realization or equivalent of God’s Kingdom coming to earth would be for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
This encapsulates the idea of the two major aspects of the Kingdom of God, God’s will being done here on earth, as it is in heaven. In fact, each time we find Kingdom of God, we could replace it, in some form or another, with “God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven” and come up with the same meaning. Kingdom of God also involves the idea of people submitting to God’s authority, His reign over them. So, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” can be understood as: “Seek more than anything to submit to God and do His will (and promote that His will be done) here on earth as it is in heaven, which includes living and promoting His righteous ways, and He will provide for you in all the aforementioned ways.”
Kingdom of God, as used in the New Testament, contrary to what many people think, is almost always referring, not to heaven itself, but to people under God’s authority, under His reign, submitting to Him and doing His will in this world. It can be understood as God’s people, God’s servants, God’s army, or even His “special forces” under His authority, under His direction, under His guidance and protection. “Thy Kingdom come” is God’s kingdom actualized in the hearts of people, slowly changing the world through these servants doing His will, empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit, expanding His kingdom here on earth, through His power.
But we also know that His Kingdom finds its perfect fulfillment in heaven. It is heaven, as we have seen, where His will is always being done. There are a number of verses in the New Testament that refer to the Kingdom of God in heaven. For example, when all of Jesus’ followers will be eating together in the Kingdom of God, or as Jesus says in Matthew 26:29: “Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”
While God’s will is always done in His Kingdom in heaven, His Kingdom here on earth is, through the work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, in the process of expanding. God has one kingdom. It has eternally existed in heaven and He is moving so it will be more of a reality here on earth. Jesusꞌ miracles herald and confirm this new Kingdom arriving here on earth, as does His teaching. The point of several of His parables is that the Kingdom of God began small here on earth and is growing, as in the parable of the mustard seed, from Mark 4:30-32: Jesus said: “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” Using the language I have proposed so far, we can restate the verse this way: “How can I describe God’s reigning over people and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven. What story can I use to describe it. It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all the seeds we plant (first only Jesus, and then later Jesus “planting” the disciples, who begin doing God’s will), but it becomes the largest of all the garden plants (by the Holy Spirit more and more people began doing His will); it grows long and birds can made their nests it its shade.” The book of Acts relates how His kingdom here on earth grew even more. More and more “kingdom people”, led by the Holy Spirit, were doing His will here on earth.
Praying, “Thy will be done” implies that God’s will is, for the most part, not being done here on earth as it is in heaven. An honest look at our own lives will reveal that we do not always follow God’s will, and even a cursory look at the world reveals that many people do not follow God’s will. A lot of bad things are happening. So much so that many question God, His power and His love, even His very existence.
So what does “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” fully entail and why should we pray for that? Isn’t God already the king of this world?
Throughout His ministry Jesus contrasted the kingdom of God with the kingdom of this world and it is within this context that we can get a fuller understanding of His Kingdom. In fact the book of Matthew uses the phrase “Kingdom of heaven” instead of Kingdom of God with this contrast in mind. (It is also possible that Matthew also used heaven out of respect, not wanting to over-use the word God.)
If God has full reign over this world, why did Jesus say He came to “establish” and “set up” the Kingdom of God? In each of these blogs I have emphasized that in order to understand why this world has so many problems and bad things happening, we need to understand what is going on in the background, what the apostle John refers as a contrast between things above and things below, a contrast between God’s way, His Kingdom and will as opposed to the ways, will and kingdom of this world. Kingdom of God, Part 1 video from facebook
The apostle Paul also makes a clear distinction between the power/kingdom of God and the power of Satan/darkness/this world/ when he states the mission God has given him in Acts 26:18: “to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.” In Colossians 1:13 he states: “For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son.”
Paul then describes in more detail the battle we face in Ephesians. First he says this in 2:1-4: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” Then in 6:12: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
Understanding that the Bible describes the world in this way is basic to knowing why, since Genesis 3, it does not call the world the Kingdom of God. God is King and He is all powerful, but there is another force, a darkness, Satan, who has been given certain rights and authority because of sin, and who is exerting an evil influence over this world. We see the will of the world, of Satan, being done too many times as opposed to the will of God.
The passage of Scripture which makes this most clear is found in Luke 4:5-8: The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”
Notice the deal the devil tries to make with Jesus. First he shows Him “all the kingdoms of the world,” then he says “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” According to this, the devil has been given the authority over all the kingdoms of the world, and he can give them to anyone he chooses. But isn’t God the one with the authority over all the kingdoms of the world? Not according to this. The devil does not seem to be lying to Jesus since if he were lying, Jesus would know it and it would not be much of a temptation.
But the good news is that there is a “new” kingdom coming to town. It has always been in heaven, but here on earth the devil has taken significant control as many people are under his authority and doing his will. But Jesus is now on the scene and confronts the devil, saying, “‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'” Jesus has come so people will no longer “worship” and serve the devil, but will worship and serve the one true God, do His will, serve His Kingdom, be His people. Jesus is here to rescue people, to turn them “from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.” Early on here in Luke Jesus informs the devil that his time of mostly unfettered rule over people is short.
Scripture clearly reveals to us that the devil has vast authority and power in this world, which needs to be destroyed. 2 Cor. 4:4 says this about him: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Three times in Jesus’ final teaching to the disciples in the Gospel of John He calls the devil “the prince of this world”: “Judgment will come because the prince of this world has already been judged.” (John 16:11). I John 5:19 is another powerful verse about the devil: “We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one.” There are many more verses along this line, but I will share more about them in a later blog.
Since this world is given over to sin, the devil has a just right to do what he wants with this world. He has justly taken hold over many things in this world. The world is under the kingdom of the devil. Many people are doing his will, whether they realize it or not.
The Bible equates being “of” the world as being under the devil’s authority, in his kingdom, which is opposed to being part of this new kingdom of God Jesus started. Yet while Bible paints a picture of the world as being in opposition to God, let us be clear that this is not a cosmic struggle between too equal powers. God is all powerful, but He limits Himself because of His justice, so when the devil has a just claim over someone or something….
God is still God and He is working mightily in the world, yet Scripture makes it clear that the vast majority of the world remains under the kingdom of the devil, and as such, remains under his authority and power, and under his powerful delusion, for he is the father of lies.
The Good News is that Jesus came to undermine the authority of the devil, so more and more people will “worship the Lord God and serve him only.” John 12:31 says: “The time of judgment for the world has come, when the prince of this world will be cast out.” Col. 2:20a: “You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the evil powers of this world.”
So through what Jesus did on the cross, we have victory. Since we are still in the world, we will still be greatly affected by the sin all around us, suffer and even die, but let us be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world. We have power from above, as Paul states in Phil. 3:10: “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death….”
For those of us who have accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord and are new creations, we are in the world but not “of” the world. We have that resurrection power. As people of God’s kingdom we are under His authority, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our hearts are set on the things of God, of heaven, and not on the desires of this world. We seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, doing His will, and truly lack nothing. We have hope, we have peace, we have joy, we know without a doubt that God loves us unconditionally, He is with us and will never leave us, He is good all the time and we can deal with any circumstance through Jesus who gives us strength. We have spiritual gifts and the privilege to be used by Him to influence and change the place in the world where He has placed us. To do our part to propagate His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven. So we pray and do our part for His Kingdom to come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
It is obviously clear to us that “this world is not heaven.” We live in a fallen world. While we are to live a life promoting Godꞌs will on earth as it is in heaven, that true realization of His Will will not ultimately come until we get to heaven. I John 3:2 tells us: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.” We set ourselves up for disillusionment if we think that our life here on this earth should be only wildflowers and butterflies. Jesus tells us clearly what to expect in this world, in John 16:33: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
We cry (but not as those who have no hope), we may get discouraged, be “out of it” for a while in the middle of a very difficult situation, we can even question why (we are human!), but no matter what happens, let us not let it shake our faith and hope in God. As Paul says in Phil. 4:13: “I can do (put up with, endure through) all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
We must never forget the fact that we are in spiritual warfare. We will face a lot of spiritual and “worldly” opposition as we seek to advance the Kingdom of God and serve Him wholeheartedly in our life. Satan will oppose us as he tries to maintain his hold on his kingdom in this world. He is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.
But since he is a vanquished foe, let us not grow weary nor be discouraged. Let us put on the full armor of God to defend us against his fiery darts, so that after the battle we may be able to stand firm. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, it is against these powerful spiritual forces in the heavenly realms that can only be defeated through the power of God living in us. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. “Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” (Eph. 6:13-18)
“For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.” (1 Cor. 4:20)
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the One who enables us to first become God’s kingdom people, then gives us the power to live out our lives as Kingdom people, doing God’s will.
John 3:3, 5-6: Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.” In other words: You cannot become part of God’s kingdom (submitting to Him and doing His will) unless the Holy Spirit transforms you into a new person. I assure you that no one will submit to God’s authority and do His will on earth as it is in heaven unless they are not just born of water (naturally) but also born anew by the Holy Spirit. For humans can only produce human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual (God breathed, God-inspired, God-led, God-changed) life.
Jesus later goes on to say a lot of things the Holy Spirit does to guide and empower us to be His people in this world:
John 14:16-17a: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.” John 15:26: “But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.” John 16:13-14: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me….” Matthew 10:19: “When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
Then in Acts (also known as the Acts of the Holy Spirit), we see the Spirit moving in the lives of the Apostles confirming the truth of the Gospel and the growing of the Kingdom of God. In Acts 2, during the Passover feast, when up to a million Jewish people from all over were present, the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to speak in over 15 different languages, as Acts 2:11 says, “we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” As a result of them hearing the message in their own language, and the incredible impact that had, thousands of people came to know Jesus and many went back to their homes with a message in their own languages direct from the Holy Spirit. As a result, the Kingdom of God began growing and expanding exponentially. See my post about Acts 2 here.
Quite a few times in Acts it says the disciples were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit as they guided in the founding of a Spirit-led, growing group of believers there in Jerusalem. They spoke His words to the authorities, Stephen was filled with the Spirit as he spoke of God’s plan from the beginning, the Spirit spoke to Peter that Gentiles need to receive the Gospel, and there are many other instances in Acts of the Spirit leading as the apostles preach, preform miracles by the Spirit’s power and set up guidelines for the emerging church. A beautiful example is how the Spirit guided Paul, in Acts 20:22-24: “Now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”
In Paul’s letters he teaches how essential the Spirit is in the lives of God’s people: Rom 5:5: “For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 8:2: “And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:5: “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.” Romans.14:17: “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” 1 Cor. 4:20: “For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by Gods power.”
I could list many more verses talking about the Holy Spirit, but it is clear that He is the one who changes us and empowers us to live as God wants us to live, to be His Kingdom people in this world. Kingdom of God, Part 2 video from Facebook.
To give yet a fuller understanding concerning what the Bible teaches about the Kingdom of God, let me finish up by looking at a series of Scriptures. There are over 100 verses (with quite a few parallel passages) talking about different aspects of the Kingdom of God. I will attempt here to highlight the different aspects which are crucial to understanding its meaning. For one or two in each category, I will also share how the verse(s) are worded in Mixtec (BT=backtranslation). It was the challenge of working with the Mixtec people to translate Scripture into their Mixtec language which led to much of my thinking about this subject, seeing Scripture anew through the eyes of another language. I will also restate a few using the Kingdom of God equivalent, submission to God and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven. These will be indicated by using an *.
Jesus as personification of the arrival of the Kingdom, it is “near”
Luke 17:20-21: One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”
Mixtec BT: Jesus said: “No one can see with their eyes how God is reigning over His people. No one can say that it is here nor say that it is there, for God is already reigning in the hearts of His people.”
Mat. 10:7: Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
*Go and announce that the time when God’s will is more and more being done on earth as it is in heaven (and more and more people are submitting to Him) is near.
Mat. 12:28, Mat. 3:2-3, Mark 1:15, Mark 12:34, Luke 10:9-11, John 18:36
Ways to enter the Kingdom, those who are “of” the Kingdom
Mark 10:14-15: When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”
Mixtec BT: Allow those children to come to me. Do not hinder them, for the people who trust in Father God like these children trust in their fathers, these type of people are those who are under the authority of God. Truly I say to you that whoever does not allow God to reign over them like these children allow their fathers to reign over them, they are not submitting to God’s reign.
Mat. 13:52: Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”
*Every teacher of religious law who submits to God’s rule in their life, doing His will on earth as it is in heaven, is like a homeowner….
Jn. 3:5-6: Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.”
*I assure you that now one will submit to God’s authority and do His will on earth as it is in heaven unless they are not just born of water (naturally) but also born anew by the Spirit. For humans can only produce human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual(God breathed, God-inspired, God-led, God-changed) life.
Mat. 5:3, Mat. 5:10, Mat. 6:13, Mt. 7:21, Mat. 13:37-38, Luke 13:24, John. 3:3
People who will find it hard to become part of the Kingdom (to submit to God’s rule in their lives)
Mat. 19:23-24: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
Mixtec BT: Truly I say to you that it is very hard for a rich person to enter/submit to the authority of God. I repeat that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter/submit to God’s authority.
Mat. 21:31: Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.”
*I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will submit to God’s authority and do His will before anyone of you will.
Mat. 5:20, Mat. 22:2-3, Mat. 23:13
The Kingdom is of extreme value and deserves our all
Luke 18:29-30: “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”
Mixtec BT: Truly I say to you that whoever leaves their house, brothers, sisters, wife, father or mother o children because they want more people to submit to God’s reign over them….
Mat. 13:44-46: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.”
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!”
*Becoming someone whom God reigns over and is thus able to do His will is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field.
Again, becoming someone whom God reigns over and is thus able to do His will is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls.
Mat. 6:33, Mat. 19:12, Mark 9:60-62, Rev. 1:9
Being great in the Kingdom of God
Mat. 11:11: “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is!”
Mixtec BT: Truly I say unto you that John, the one who baptizes people, is greater than all other men born of a woman. But the least of those who submit to God’s reign over them is greater than John.
Mat. 5:19: “So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
*So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least among the people whom God reigns over to do His will. But anyone who obeys God’s law and teaches them will be called great among those whom God reigns over, who are doing His will.
Parables on different aspects of the Kingdom of God.
The following 8 examples illustrate aspects of the way God reigns over the people who submit to Him, how He deals with those who submit to Him, how more and more people are submitting to Him, of how He is accomplishing His will on earth as it is in heaven)
1. The Kingdom is growing and affecting its surroundings
Mat. 13:31-32: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.“
Mat. 13:33: Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”
2. Devil’s opposition to the Kingdom
Mat. 13:19: “The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.”
Mat. 13:24-26: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.”
Mat. 13:38-39: “The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil.”
3. Forgiving one another:
Mat. 18:23ff: “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.”
4. Shows grace to all who come:
Mat. 20:1ff: “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.”
5. We need to be prepared to receive it:
Mat 25:1ff: “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”
6. It deserves our best:
Mat. 24:14ff: “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone.”
Mat. 25:34ff: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry…..”
7. It is growing in ways we do not understand or sometimes even perceive:
Mark 4:26ff: Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.”
8. Different responses to the teaching about the Kingdom/Good News
Mat. 13:3ff: He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one: “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds.”
Peter as a leader among people who have submitted to God’s reigning over them
Mat. 16:19: “And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”
Kingdom given to those who believe, not just because you are a descendant of Abraham (God’s wants to reign over the people of Israel, but now is opening the door so that Gentiles can also submit to His eternal reign. This is the point of Romans 9)
Mat. 21:43: “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.”
Mat. 22:2ff: “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son.”
Some Jewish people were waiting for it
Mk. 15:43: “Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.)”
Once Jesus is risen, the Kingdom of God and the Good News about Jesus is practically synonymous
Acts 8:12 “But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”
Acts 19:8: Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God.
Acts 28:23: “So a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening.”
Rom. 14:17: “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
1 Cor. 4:20: “For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by Gods power.”
Kingdom of God in heaven (the place where God’s perfect will is being done)
Mat. 8:11-12: “And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. 12But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Mat. 26:29: “Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”
Lk. 22:28-30 “You have stayed with me in my time of trial. And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Lk.23:42-43: Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
2 Tim. 4:1: “I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom:”
2 Tim. 4:18: “Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.”
2 Pt. 1:11: “Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
“Inheriting” the Kingdom of God (Indicates becoming part of the ones who submit to God’s reign over their lives, which of courses extends into heaven)
1 Cor. 6:9-10: “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.”
1 Cor. 15:50: “What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.”
Gal. 5:21: “envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
Eph. 5:5: “You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.”
A lot of people are angry at God. This ABC report details why pretty well. People blame God for all sorts of things. Whenever something bad happens, somehow God is the culprit. Earthquake? God shook the earth. Fire? God lit it. Flood? God made it rain. People die? God killed them. Kids have cancer? God infected them. A terrorist kills a lot of people? Folks blame God seemingly more than the killer. A terrible car wreck caused by a drunk or texting? God somehow made the cars run into each other. No money? God took it away.
I cringe every time I hear people, even Christians, blaming God for this bad thing and that bad thing, so I felt moved to write about the subject. Many of the statements I have heard blaming God are unbiblical and represent a profound misunderstanding of the Bible. I have written a previous blog about why there is evil in this world. A second one here says that suffering for believers is normal. I suggest you look these over if you want even more context related to what I am writing here.
Those who do not believe in God also do not believe in the devil
People who are atheists especially like to blame this God they don’t believe in. They blame this imaginary God and demean those who do believe in Him. If God does not, as they insist, exist, then He cannot be the one causing all these tragedies. But there is another implication of not believing in God. Most of these folks don’t believe in anything that could be called “supernatural.” Things just happen. All that exists somehow created itself out of absolute nothing (very logical!), and just goes haywire and leads to chaos with alarming frequency without any rhyme nor reason. Since they dismiss all possibility of the supernatural, that also implies they do not believe in the devil. So a devil which does not exist cannot be causing all these problems.
I sometimes wonder why people who do believe in God would rather blame God than the devil. Why don’t we say that the devil sent the earthquake, the flood, the fire, the death, the terrorism, the cancer, the wreck, the financial ruin, etc? It seems to come from a misunderstanding that people have regarding God’s sovereignty. It also ties into the false logic that says that either God is all-powerful but doesn’t care what happens to us or that He loves us but is too weak to stop the evil in this world. So, they say, if God loved me He would not have let this or that bad thing happen.
What the Bible says about the devil’s authority in this world
If we ask about the devil’s role in all this, many people will respond by saying that since God is much more powerful than the devil, He should be able to stop any evil that the devil may try to do, that is if it is truly the case that the devil is behind some of the bad stuff. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this is not about a power struggle between two opposing, equal powers. It is about justice and the devil having a just claim over this world.
The Bible obviously does not portray the devil as the red animal-like person with horns and a pitchfork. Knowing what the Bible does say about the devil can help us understand why it is not correct, even heresy, to blame God for the evil in this world. There are many, many verses about the power the devil has over this world, but the key verse I like to focus on is Luke 4:5-8:
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
Notice the offer the devil makes to Jesus. First he shows Him “all the kingdoms of the world,” then he says “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” According to this, the devil has been given the authority over all the kingdoms of the world, and he can give them to anyone he chooses. But isn’t God the one with the authority over all the kingdoms of the world? Not according to this. It is wrong to say that the devil is lying to Jesus since if he were lying, Jesus would know it and it would not count as a temptation.
We also know the devil is not lying because there are lots of verses which confirm his claim. Verses which say the devil is the “god of this world”, “the prince of this world”, “the god of this age”. There is the well known verse from Ephesians 6:12:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
How many of us have 1 John 5:19 as our worldview verse?: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”
In John 14:13 Jesus Himself says: “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me.”
In Acts 26:18, Paul says God gave him his mission: “so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.”
Hebrews 2:4 states: “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,”
The world’s way vs. God’s way
Another theme of the Scriptures is the contrast between God’s way and “this world.” Study the Gospel of John for the majority of these contrasts. Paul also contrasts God’s way from this world and the flesh. This verse from 1 John 2:15-17 says it well:
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
Colossians 2:20a says, ““You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the evil powers of this world.” I could go on and on as there are many verses showing the authority of the devil in this world. He has this authority because of the sinfulness of the people of this world. Every time someone turns their back on God or just ignores Him and lives as if He is not there, the devil gets more and more of a foothold in their life. He has a just claim over them. This started with Adam and Eve and has been snowballing ever since.
But in the midst of this, God has been working in the lives of people who open their hearts to Him. The Old Testament tells how He calls out an entire people group, who became the Israelites, to communicate His message to the world. Here we see lots of “Old Testament tough love” as God tries to teach them His eternal truths, and actually sends earthquakes and fire and death to help them understand and realize His holiness and their sinfulness. But then through their linage came Jesus, the one who offers salvation to the whole world, who takes away our sin and makes us holy before God.
The Kingdom of God
There are now some new children of Abraham. Jesus said he came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The “Kingdom of God” does not just refer to heaven, but establishing God’s Kingly rule over the lives of people in this world. Calling out a special people to follow Him and be His light among the darkness of this world. People you might call His Special Forces to undermine what the devil has a right to do in this world because of sin. It all started out small. like a mustard seed, but the influence of His people has been growing and growing since those first disciples began following Him.
There is a great delusion in this world, what the Bible calls being “of” the world, which translates to being under the devil’s authority, in his kingdom, which is opposed to being part of this new kingdom of God Jesus started. For those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord and are new creations, they are in the world but they are not “of” the world. They are under the authority of a new kingdom, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, their hearts are set on the things of God, of heaven, and not on the desires of this world. Since these people are in this world, they will suffer all the evil side-effects of this world caused by the power of the devil. They may suffer or even die in earthquakes, fires, floods, tornadoes, wrecks, cancer, murder, the same types of things that happened to most person who followed the will of God in the Bible.
But these people know, as Hebrews 11 states, that this world is not our home. This is not heaven. The heroes of the faith mentioned were looking for a heavenly city. While we are in this world, we will have suffering, but we can be of good cheer, for Jesus has overcome the world. Times now can be rough, even horrible, but Jesus says He gives us a peace that passes all understanding. He says we have a hope that is sure. He says that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will comfort us. There are lots of worse things that can happen to us besides dying or being sick.
So let us not blame God when bad things happen to us, or happen to those around us, or happen in this world. All these same types of things happened to the most faithful people in the Bible, and they stood firm. The devil has a just claim over this sinful world and so bad things happen and will continue to happen.
When God does or doesn’t intervene
I do not disagree that it is a mystery sometimes as to why God does or doesn’t intervene. I do know that when He does intervene, it requires major spiritual warfare with the devil. A good example of this is Daniel 10:12-14:
“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”
Then in verse 20: So he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come.” There is an “invisible to us” spiritual warfare few of us can imagine or understand.
Spiritual Warfare and the final victory
Frank Peretti has written several books on this subject, especially “This Present Darkness”, which, while a bit overdone in imagery, is actually very close to what the Bible seems to imply is going on all around us, a spiritual warfare battle between God and the devil. Let me emphasize again that this is not a struggle between two equal powers. God could crush the devil in a millisecond. But it is a struggle in regards to justice. The devil has a just claim over this world. But the good news, as we read in the book of Revelation, is that the time will come when God will justly remove the devil and cast him into the lake of fire and will set up His perfect Kingdom for ever and ever. Remember and think about the book of Revelation when thinking of spiritual warfare, since it is the most detailed vision of the type of warfare that is currently happening all around us. To watch a video I made for my local church of this section of the article, you can find it on facebook at: Blaming God
Job. Faithfulness during times of great trouble
A final thought. Who caused the suffering of Job? Did God send all those calamities into his life? The Bible says the devil caused it all. But someone might say, “Well God let the devil do it.” So are we now blaming God for the tragedies the devil causes because we think it is God’s fault since He allowed it? Hopefully this study has helped us see that the devil has authority and the right to cause all kinds of problems in this world. But God never left Job, and Job, though complaining, stayed faithful to God. He could not understand why God, whom he loved, would let these things happen to him. 13:15: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him, I will surely defend my ways to his face.” Job could never figure out what he could have possibly done to cause his suffering, but in the end God showed him that no matter what happens, the most important thing is to keep trusting in Him, for He continues to have the ultimate power and will never leave nor forsake Job.
Complaining without blaming
So Job complained to God, but he did not come to the point of blaming Him. In Psalms David commonly is complaining to God about his enemies, and asking why he is going through such difficult times. But I do not see a blaming spirit coming from David. The Bible makes it clear that it is okay to bear our heart and soul to God, to question Him, to plead with him, to let Him know we just don’t understand why things are happening. But despite all their complaining, Job and David stood strong in their faith and their love for God.
Let us follow the example of these people. We can open our hearts to God, tell Him our fears, our doubts, our issues. But let us not fall into the error of blaming Him and introduce cracks in our faith in Him which can lead to crippling doubt. When we express such blame we are also perpetuating a great misunderstanding of His Word and the role of the devil in all this. This is not heaven. We will go through some terrible things, just like all the faithful ones in the Bible did. But let us remain faithful, remain in love with God. He gives us His peace, He gives us Hope, He gives us comfort and He will never leave us nor forsake us. He loves us unconditionally. And one day we will see Him face to face and live with Him forever.
February 6, 2018 marked 32 years since I went to a small village in southern Mexico to learn their Mixtec language and help them translate God’s Word into their mother tongue. A number of years ago I wrote the following so others might know the incredible way God was working in that place. My 12 page book starts out with an intro, then shares this story. There is also a Spanish version of it. There is an abridged version of Sebastian’s life in one of my first blog entries on this site. (See the August, 2015 archive.)
This is a true story. It is an amazing and inspirational account which tells how God worked in the life of Sebastian so that the Mixtec people might hear His Word in their own language. Sebastian left school during the second grade to take care of the family goats. He was an alcoholic from an early age. He had never seen his language written down, but after he became a Christian, Sebastian read his Spanish Bible over and over to learn more about God and to re-teach himself how to read. Soon thereafter, at the age of sixty, seeing that his wife and others weren’t understanding the Spanish Bible studies, he bought a notebook, invented his own alphabet of this previously unwritten language and began to write.
This account shows just how much God wants people to have His Word in their own language, and so He used this man in such an incredible way. Today the people of this region have the New Testament in their own language in print and audio form. This makes us think of the passage from Acts 2:6-8 y 11b: When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? …We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
God preformed such a miracle in Acts so that this multitude of people from many different places could hear the Good News about Jesus in their own language, and in this way began a movement of God that continues to this day. This is also what happened among the people of this village. God used this man so that these Mixtec people could hear His Word in their mother tongue.
There are still many towns in Mexico and throughout the world where people still do not have the Word of God in their own language. Please consider how God might want to use you to meet this immense and critical need.
Betty, a public school teacher in Mexico, didn’t know what she was getting herself into. She had been assigned to this small village by the education authorities. It was not her first choice; a three hour dusty bumpy trip from “civilization” in the back of a truck. Ten hours from the city she lived in. Seven hundred people in the village, few who spoke much Spanish. They spoke Mixtec, one of over sixty major indigenous language groups in Mexico. They were dreadfully poor; subsistence farmers somehow growing crops out of the rocky ground, barely enough to feed their families. Their houses had dirt floors and one light bulb. They cooked over an open fire and made their own tortillas. They had given her a small room, also with a dirt floor, next to the school.
Despite their poverty the people were generous. They shared what little they had with her, happy that she had come to teach their children, many who came to school knowing little or no Spanish. She spent as much time teaching them Spanish as she did all the other courses combined.
Everything about living in that village was hard. She had never seen such big fleas. But Betty was not one to give up easily. When first told she had been assigned to this far away place she resisted. But after praying about it, she felt God calling her to go. So despite the hardships she knew she was where God wanted her. This was especially brought home to her as she realized that the people, though devout Catholics, understood almost nothing of the Bible. The priest, who came just once a month, served mass and did other ceremonies related to the church but did not expound on the Bible.
Betty had been preceded by a Christian man who had planted seeds by preaching the Gospel as he went around selling shoes. She started teaching the school children Christian choruses and held a Bible study for the adults. Many people began to attend. They were starved to hear about God’s Word, knowing it was a good thing. However, few understood much of what was being taught since Betty could only explain it in Spanish. There was one man, Emilio, who had traveled around and knew more Spanish than the others. He had become the first believer in the village. She had him translate what she was saying into Mixtec. This was hard for him, not knowing how to say in Mixtec so many of the Biblical concepts she was teaching. He sometimes had to use a mixture of Spanish and Mixtec words, and so this life-changing message was still not getting into the depths of their hearts.
Soon Emilio’s elderly father, Sebastian, began attending the studies and accepted the message of salvation. Here was a man who had drunk himself into oblivion countless times over the years. His drinking buddies were fellow musicians who played at parties. Despite his new confession of faith, Sebastian just could not resist the temptation of playing his fiddle and getting drunk with the others at these parties. But one day Emilio confronted him during a hangover and said if he was really going to follow Jesus, he would have to make a break with the past and sell his instruments. Painfully realizing this was the source of his problems, Sebastian parted with his beloved instruments, and never drank again.
As time went along and his faith grew stronger, Sebastian felt sorry for his wife and others who didn’t understand Spanish. He read his own copy of the Bible over and over to help himself relearn to read Spanish. But his heart burned to be able to help the others. He felt they needed the Bible in Mixtec, not just an off-the-cuff translation like his son was giving them. But what could he do? His Mixtec language did not even have a written alphabet.
Sebastian lived a hard life. He woke early and went to bed late. He made hats and baskets out of palm to earn extra spending money. He worked hard plowing his rocky fields with a team of two steers and a plow he had made himself. He participated in town work, such as helping to build the first village school or fixing up the streets. He had served as a town official several times. He had been working since he was small, having had to drop out of school to take care of the family’s goats beginning at the age of seven.
He had five living children. Five had died in infancy. His diet consisted of tortillas, beans and herbs. Rarely did he ever taste meat unless he went hunting. His evenings were now filled with attending the studies or reading his Bible over and over. Such wonderful things in it that his wife and others were missing. Sebastian prayed to God about what he could do to help them.
One day he went to the store and bought himself a little notebook. Using Spanish letters he began to translate Luke 24, the resurrection story. Such good news! But it was so hard. So many sounds in Mixtec that Spanish didn’t have. So many Biblical concepts that he didn’t know how to say in Mixtec. How could a guy with a second grade education do this?
Sebastian now held a notebook which had several Bible chapters translated into Mixtec. He felt as if it had been the hardest work he had ever done in his life. Harder than plowing through the fields which were practically bedrock. Harder than carrying firewood down the mountain trails back to the village. Harder than spending ten to twelve hours a day making palm hats and baskets. But God had helped him. He had figured a way to write it, at least a way which he could read.
Still he felt inadequate. Who was he to translate God’s Holy Word? What if he had really misunderstood some verses and told the people something wrong. He read in Revelation that those who add to or subtract from the Word are cursed. So even though he took his beloved notebook to the study each time, he never read from it.
But one night was different. Sebastian felt a stirring in his heart. A fire in his soul. He could not sit still any longer. People were falling asleep. Their minds were wandering. Several spoke quietly among themselves. A few just didn’t come anymore. What was the point when they understood so little? So he threw caution to the wind, stood up, and said he had something to share. With trembling hands he opened up his notebook and positioned himself beneath the lone light bulb in the room. Taking a deep breath he began reading. Slowly, haltingly at first. He heard several gasps as they realized he was speaking, that is, reading Mixtec, their heart language.
He continued, gaining strength and confidence as he read on. Looking up he could see several ladies crying. No one was sleeping or nodding off anymore. No more talking quietly to one another. No more getting up and moving around. They were all focused on him and what he was saying. He continued. The light of understanding shone in their eyes. He read on for a long time. These people would never be the same. And neither would he.
Betty was not there to rejoice in this amazing fruit of her work for the Lord. After a little over two years, the education officials had decided to transfer her to another place. She had left with a heavy heart, yet content with the fact that she had planted seeds. But she could not have imagined the marvelous things God would do with the seeds she planted.
Time passed and Sebastian’s notebook was filling up. Despite great personal sacrifice he continued to translate more chapters. His basket and hat production went way down. Money was at an all time low. But he would not be stopped. God’s Word was more important. God always provided enough to meet his needs.
He was now reading in almost all of the five services they had each week. Some ladies also came to his house every week to listen to him read. The great barrier of Spanish was being destroyed. God was no longer a “foreigner”, an outsider. He now spoke Mixtec. His Word was going straight to their hearts, instead of in one ear and out the other.
The more Sebastian translated, the harder it was. So many hard concepts! So many things he didn’t understand very well. So hard to write down certain words which didn’t seem to have any of the same letters as the Spanish alphabet. But none of this stopped him for God was helping him. He was a man on a mission.
Betty helped the people build a church with the support from other churches of her denomination in that region. Her home church then decided to take the little church on as their mission. Ministers were sent out to the church to preach, not realizing that their Spanish would be little understood. Not all of them were receptive to Sebastian and his notebook, and so weeks would go by when he didn’t have a chance to read from it during a service. But this did not stop the four or five older ladies who regularly came to his house to listen to him read it. Most of these ministers didn’t last long in the village. The language barrier and the living conditions sent many of them home disillusioned.
One day a Christian linguist from the United States visited the village with the goal of helping the people make books and translate the Bible into their Mixtec language. On his first night in the village God led him to Sebastian and he was overcome with emotion when he found out what was inside that notebook. Sebastian immediately began helping the young linguist learn his language. He also began dictating to him his translations. They began to talk about concepts Sebastian was having a hard time translating and others that he was misunderstanding. As the years went by he and the linguist worked together on the Scriptures. The Gospel of Mark became the first published Scripture ever in that place. Thirteen years after the linguist’s arrival Sebastian held in his hands a draft of the whole New Testament.
But life had been hard on Sebastian, and the liquor of the past had taken its toll. Not long after finishing that draft, he began spitting up blood and the linguist took him to the hospital over an hour’s drive away. The doctors unsuccessfully tried to remove his gall bladder. His children, who had moved to the more modern city where the hospital was, tried to get him to stay there. But Sebastian wouldn’t even think of it. He loved his village and he loved reading from his notebook to the people. So he returned, but one day he suddenly collapsed in a field near his house. He’d apparently had a stroke. He lost consciousness, his liver shut down and he passed on into glory. The linguist, who got to say a few words at his funeral, explained that while the people may have not realized it, a hero had been living among them.
It was Sebastian’s dream for his people to have the Scriptures in their own language. The dream has continued. The whole New Testament was recorded and is available to the people. On March 15, 2008, the published Mixtec New Testament was first made available to them during a joyful celebration event.
Betty, who still makes visits to the village, is pleased. Her Bible study had grown into this. From a seed planted in the elderly man’s heart to a quantum leap as he read from his ragged notebook to the people and now this. She had suffered a lot during those early years. So had Sebastian. But this makes it all worth it. She thanks God. Only He could pull off something like this.
Go to Google Play and search for Mixteco de Tezoatlan for the app which contains the text and audio of the New Testament.
A search of Mixteco de Tezoatlan Cantos on Youtube finds a page of videos of Mixtec songs and Scripture portions.
A search of Tezoatlan Mixtec NT on Youtube finds a video of the New Testament Dedication Celebration.
A wonderful site is called Scripture earth, which has Scripture audio and video for over 1000 languages all over the world. The part of it referencing Tezoatlan is: http://www.scriptureearth.org/00i-Scripture_Index.php?sortby=lang&name=mxb&ROD_Code=00000&Variant_Code=
Tezoatlán SIL site: http://www.mexico.sil.org/language_culture/mixtec/mixtec-mxb
This account is based on talks with Sebastian, Emilio, Betty, her father, people of the village, and living over 20 years in village.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Several of the Vacation Bible Schools I went to growing up dealt with that question, and at least one implied it was the egg. People seem to think this is an impossible question to answer, though to me it was always pretty straightforward. When God created the animals, He created a hen and a rooster, and once they got together and did what a hen and a rooster would be expected to do, the hen ended up laying an egg. Despite that, people still use this question when referring to other hard questions about which of two thing existed first and which causes the other.
Another question that is very hard to answer is how can God be three-in-one, the Trinity. In fact, this is such a complicated concept that it caused a major split among believers way back, at least as far as the year 325, when there was a schism between people who believed that Jesus is God and those who did not, and this division still exists today.
One very unfortunate thing about the way the Trinity was thought about and taught was the lack of focus on the Holy Spirit. Early theologians tried very hard to emphasize that God the Father and Jesus are One, to the point that they didn’t talk much about the Holy Spirit. This was made worse by the fact that in earlier times, icons and paintings were used to illustrate to the masses the events and people of the Bible, and it was not easy to draw or make an image of the Holy Spirit. plus the whole concept of the Spirit (Holy Ghost) tended to be kind of spooky. A very sad note in history is Muhammad, a man from a pagan area who amazingly believed that there was only one God. When he visited some Christian areas, he thought Christians believed in three Gods, and because of the emphasis on Mary in the 600’s, Muhammad thought these three gods were the Father, the Son and Mary! So he returned to his homeland and became the founder of a new religion which focused on there only being one God.
Over the years, people have tried to explain this complicated idea of the Trinity usually using one of two different comparisons. One has to do with an egg, since it has a shell, a white part and a yellow yolk part. Three parts, one egg. The most common one, though, has to do with water. Water can be liquid, solid (frozen) or steam. So water, being one thing, can take three different forms. There are some things about these two comparisons, especially the water one, which are helpful, but the deeper we think about it, and compare it with what the Bible says, both comparisons leave a lot to be desired.
The Bible itself uses a much more accurate and easy to understand comparison of how to understand the Trinity, and I think it would be better to use this Biblical model when thinking about and talking to others about the nature of God.
Jesus is called the Word of God, the living Word, the Truth. The actual word for the Holy Spirit in Greek is wind or breath. Imagine God the Father as the person speaking, Jesus as the True Word coming forth from Him, and the Holy Spirit as His breath, the life-giving breath coming from God. This imagery is the way the Bible talks about the relation between God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
How can we separate the person from the words they speak and the breath they breathe? Especially when talking about God who, the Bible says over and over, never lies. God is the definition of truth, and so the Word that comes from Him is Truth. There are many verses which teach us about Jesus, The Word, being One with God and the essence of truth. Here are there main ones:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
These are verses related to Jesus as the Word and being truth. There are, of course, many other verses which point to Him being One with God, which I will put at the end.
Concerning the Holy Spirit, He is God’s breath and He gives Life. Here are a few verses, among many, about the Holy Spirit giving life. At the end I will put more verses of His Oneness with God. As already mentioned, the Greek word for Spirit is breath/wind and even though wind/breath is a “neuter” word and grammatically should translated as “it”, the authors in Scripture regularly break this rule and use a personal pronoun.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:63)
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)
(Note: I believe here that “water” refers to natural birth, then “spiritual” birth through the Holy Spirit. We are born naturally, but later we need to be born spiritually, believe in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. There is no context for baptism here, and John’s style is to use contrasts, fleshly birth, spiritual birth, life, death, light, darkness, etc.)
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)
And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:22-3)
See also Romans 8 sharing about the life-giving work of the Spirit.
When you think or talk about the relation between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, consider how the Bible itself uses these terms to help us understand the intimate, oneness relationship between the Speaker, His Word and His Breath.
A sample of verses proclaiming Jesus is One with God:
Matt. 1:23: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
John 5:17-18: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Therefore the Jews sought to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”
John 8:58: Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
John 10:30-33: Jesus answered them, “I and My Father are one.” Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”
John 14:9-11: Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
John 20:28: And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Philp. 2:5-7: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men.”
Col. 2:9: For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
Heb. 1:8-9: But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated
lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
Rev. 1:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
A sample of the many, many verses showing that the Holy Spirit is God. These also show the “person-hood” of the Spirit:
Luke 1:35: The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”
John 4:24: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
John 15:26: “But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
1 Cor. 2:11: “For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
Ephesians 4:30: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Heb. 2:4: “God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”
2 Peter 1:21: “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
Christmas (the birth of Jesus) was necessary because of something that God could not otherwise do. Now that sounds like a strange statement. Isn’t it true that nothing is impossible for God? Not really. Is it heretical to say that? If we look at what the Bible as a whole says, it tells us about a number of things that God cannot do. He cannot lie. He cannot sin. He does not tempt anyone nor can He be tempted. Once you really think about it along those lines, there are quite a number of things that God cannot do.
So what is it that He cannot do which ties in with Christmas?
To understand God, we must understand His attributes. Most of our own ideas and society’s understanding of what is good, just and true comes from the fact that each of us have been made in the image of God (though that image is darkened because of sin and is thus warped in many cases). The two most important attributes of God I want to focus on in relation to Christmas are His justice and His love. See this previous blog for a more in-depth discussion of Godꞌs attributes.
God is just/fair
God is 100% just. God could never just let someone who has committed sin to escape punishment. Why? Because He is “obligated” by His attribute of justice to always do the just thing. Obligated is not a really the best way to describe it because it is His very nature to do what is just all the time. The fact that we have sinned at all makes it impossible for us to enter into the presence of a holy, perfect God. God’s own justice prevents us from “coming to the father” as sinners. And the only alternative to being God’s people is to be the devil’s property.
One of the themes of the Old Testament is the holiness of God. There are 613 laws in the books of the law. God knew that we could not keep them all, so he set up a complicated sacrificial system to help “cover” people’s sin and abate His punishment. Theses laws set up a standard that we could never attain to. Its main purpose is to show us how holy God is and how much we fall short of being perfect like Him. God is very strict with people in the Old Testament, partly because His holiness and justness demands it, but also so that they might be “examples” for us, as Paul says in 1 Cor 10:1-12. Paul also explains that the law was not given so that we could attain holiness through it, but so that we could better understand the absolute holiness of God. He says in Galatians 3: 19, 21b-22: “Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised.” “If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. ” (NLT)
God is love
Realizing that we could never obtain the holiness that God requires, it is here that the great message of salvation in the Bible comes into play. “God gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) As sinners, God’s attribute of justice will not allow us sinners into His holy presence. But His attribute of love has made a way, through the coming of Jesus, Who gave His life for us, the Substitute Sacrifice, Who lived the perfect life, Who was worthy to die in our place, for “God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all.” (Rom. 8:32). God, out of His great love for us, satisfied His justice through Jesus dying in our place so that we could be justified and forgiven and be able to enter into His presence sinless, without any blemish, and thus snatched us from the devil’s claim over us as sinners.
“Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past.” (Romans 3:25-26)
It was a high price to pay, and it was not easy. Christmas shows us that one of things God cannot do is that He cannot just let anyone into His Holy presence. He cannot just declare us sinless and set aside His justice. He “had” to provide a 100% perfect sacrifice, and His attribute of love moved Him to do that by sending and sacrificing His beloved Son. The devil can no longer claim that we, God’s people saved by grace, are sinners and therefore justly belong to him and deserving of hell.
God fulfilled the requirements of justness through Jesus. The devil could have justly “objected” that God was not acting justly had He not paid a just price for us. Satan means accuser, and he not only accuses us, he accuses God if He does not act according to His attributes, mainly God being just since Satan “profits” from people getting what they deserve and being under his power. But the Good News is that God did the just thing and out of love paid the perfect price. “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” 1 Peter 1:19-19. And He absolutely had to pay that price, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
He made a way where there was no way
So that is the miracle of Christmas. God loves us, but could not justly allow us into His holy presence, stained as we are with sin, filthy rags. “A wretch like me” says the song, “Amazing Grace.” Jesus says “no one comes to the Father but through me.” It is impossible for God to just let us sinners into heaven. So He made a way where there was no way. His Son became a person in this world, leaving perfect heaven, suffered as a man, and gave His life as a substitute sacrifice, dying in our place, taking our punishment. “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)
So now, if we put our faith, our trust in Him, and He becomes our all, God no longer looks at our grave imperfectness, He instead sees the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, and accepts it on our behalf. For “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2) Once we do this, we are no longer on the path that leads to destruction, to hell. Because of His coming, His sacrifice, His resurrection, His mercy, we have been snatched from the devil’s power and are new creatures with a sure hope that we will live eternally with Him.
The following are more “Christmas verses” which give more Biblical context and teaching about what was talked about above.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:16-19)
“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:46)
Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. (John 12:27)
But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:3-4
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-10)
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. (1 Tim. 1:15)
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Tim. 1:9a-10)
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb. 1:1-3)
But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb. 9:26b)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (1 John 1:1-3)
Note: There is an updated version of this article which overlaps a lot with this one but with a different focus, called: No matter what has happened to us, is happening to us or will happen to us, God loves us. Trust Him.
Joni Erickson was 17 years old when she dove off a pier in a lake, hit a rock underneath the water, and was paralyzed from the shoulders down. She was a Christian and this shook her faith. As time went on, many Christians prayed for her to be able to walk again. She believed God could do that, but it never happened. She was filled with doubt as many people communicated to her that her lack of healing was caused by a lack of faith, or hidden sin. She just didn’t believe hard enough that God would heal her, they said.
Were they right? Is that what the Bible says about suffering, that if we just believe enough, we can basically “make” God heal us or deliver us from hard times? Did Joni just lack having enough faith?
I would like to help answer that by sharing some examples of people in the Bible and a few of the many verses that touch on this subject. The world has experienced so many disasters, storms, earthquakes, etc., especially in the second half of 2017, so it is a question on many people’s minds, and generates lots of questions.
Does the Bible really teach that our lives here on earth should be one big rose garden? Are all people, especially Christians, to be exempt from suffering? Why is there suffering in the world in the first place? See my November 16 blog, The problem of evil in the world, part 1. God’s attributes, for a basic treatment of this question. But for now, let’s look at a few examples in the Bible.
Did Jesus lack faith?
When we are in the middle of difficult times, we may be able to relate to Jesus’ statement that it is like “a cup of suffering.” What was Jesus’ cup of suffering? He was about to suffer greatly over the next 24 hours, the mocking, beating, abuse and inhumane crucifixion. One of my professors once commented that His greatest suffering was revealed when He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” All the sins of the world were placed on Him, He died in our place, and since He “became sin”, for a short time He became an anathema in the sight of His Father God. So much more I could say about that. But Jesus knew what lie ahead while there in Gethsemane, and Mark 14:35-36 shares with us how He faced the situation: “He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Jesus prayed that those awful coming hours would be taken away. But they were not! Did He lack faith? Didn’t He believe God enough so that God would change the course of history and take that cup of suffering away? He prayed that it be taken away and still ended up suffering! If we applied the common misconception about suffering and applied it to Jesus, we would be tempted to say He just doubted too much. His doubt expressed in the phrase, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” I have heard people say that praying something like what Jesus prayed, “your will to be done, not mine”, expresses a lack of faith. “No!”, they say, “Don’t say that. Believe and claim your deliverance!” In that moment they seem to be telling God what to do. So you have to ask, Who is the Master and who is the servant? I would rather follow Jesus’ way of praying! James 4:15-16 also shows us what our attitude should be: “What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.”
So what do we do when faced with difficult situations, or when the ones we love face hardships? Yes, we ask God for deliverance, we yearn for it, cry for it, plead for it, we pray over and over about it. But in the end, whether it comes or not, we keep loving God. We keep following Him and trusting Him. Jesus told his disciples to prepare for such things, saying in John 16:33: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
It takes more faith to not receive the miracle, the healing, than to receive it!
Did you read that right? More faith to not be healed? More faith to not receive the miracle, the deliverance? Yes! Is our relationship with God strong enough to withstand hardship? Apparent unanswered prayer? This is the time when “the rubber meets the road” in regards to our faith. Are we really insanely in love with God or not? Will we trust Him no matter what?
God has promised us His love, joy, peace, hope, eternal life, His presence (you are not alone!). He does heal, He does do miracles, but how do we respond when it doesn’t happen? This is when we need the most faith. This is when keeping our relationship “alive” with Him before the fact bears much fruit. Praying without ceasing, regular study of His Word and fellowship with like-minded believers, having a lifestyle of sharing Him with others, constantly looking at situations and pondering, “What would Jesus do, think, say?” A mature relationship with God will not be upended when awful things happen to us. For when the hard times come, it will stand true like the house built on the rock, and not fall like the house built on the sand. It will stand firm now and then after the problem is over.
Did Paul lack faith?
Paul is an amazing example of keeping faith in God no matter what, and he shows us that there is nothing wrong with wholeheartedly asking God to remove the suffering, to pray about it over and over. What happened to Paul is another instance of where a great pillar of the faith asked for something, pleaded for something, but did not receive the answer he was hoping for.
“I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7b-10)
Jesus compared His coming trials to “a cup of suffering.” Here Paul calls his a “thorn in the flesh.” We have all had what have felt like “thorns in the flesh.” Paul asked three times for his thorn to be removed. It wasn’t. Was it because he doubted God? Did he lack faith? Did he have some hidden sin! No, those so often used pat answers are just not Biblical. How did God respond to Paul? “My grace is sufficient for you. My power works best in weakness.” Not the normal response most are seeking when they are praying for deliverance. Then Paul says a remarkable thing. “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amazing. As mentioned above, when you have a personal, intimate, alive relationship with God, after the praying and crying, this is where we need to end up. Having a faith that He is there, that He loves me, that I am not alone. No matter the circumstances.
The New Testament is full of Paul having this attitude as he serves God. Take Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Content in whatever circumstance! What a Biblical standard to follow! A by-product of what is said a few verses earlier “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Notice that these “whatever circumstance” verses are the context of the famous vs. 13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A verse usually taken out of context. Another way of stating this verse is, “By Jesus power/help, I can put up with/endure anything.” Cold, hot, full, hungry, in jail (as he was when he wrote this letter), free, sick, well, living, dying, rich, poor, married, single. Whatever is going on in my life, God will help me through it.
For Paul, even death is not the worse thing that could happen to him. (The worse thing that can happen to us is knowing the truth about Jesus and turning our back on it.) Look at what he says in this same letter: “For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. (1:20-24)
So even if your suffering seems to be leading to your death, keep trusting God. A number of times I visited friends who ended up dying within a month. I went to try and be an encouragement to them and they could not stop trying to encourage me, to be a blessing to me. In each case, I left so much more blessed and inspired by them than I was able to bless or encourage them. That shows me that their relationship with God before the trial was strong and so their faith in God was strong no matter what was happening to them.
Did the disciples lack faith?
Eleven of the twelve disciples, tradition says, died as martyrs. The Book of Acts shares with us how much each one suffered, just as Jesus said they would. John, the one who apparently died a natural death on the island of Patmos, tradition says he was thrown into a pot of boiling oil, but somehow escaped.
Acts 12:1-5 gives us pause to consider what happened to two of the disciples. “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration. Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.”
James the brother of John, whom we read about so much in the Gospels, a man Jesus invested so much of His life to teach and disciple, was suddenly killed by Herod. No miraculous deliverance, no instant resurrection. Dead. Then Herod grabs Peter with the idea of killing him in front of the crowd on Sunday. but in Peter’s case, God sends an angel and saves him. So how is it that God “let” them kill James but He intervened to save Peter? Did James lack faith? Did he have some secret sin? Obviously it has a lot to do with Herod being evil and having him killed. It is a natural consequence of sin. In a future blog I plan to talk about the contrast we see in the Bible, especially John, between “the world”, governed and controlled in so many ways by “the god of this world”, and heaven. This is not heaven. My first suffering blog gives some basic insight into what is happening in the world. Rev. 21:4 says of heaven: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” That assumes that tears, death, sorrow, crying and pain are a part of “this world.” God gives us peace, inner joy, hope, His presence, etc., but being His child does not exempt us from the suffering in this world.
Peter did not die in Acts 12. We see prayer as a pivotal part of that, as well as what we now know about what God had planned for his life. So much of living, dying, suffering, etc., is a mystery. We can learn so much by really digging into the Scriptures, letting them teach us and not the doctrines of men. I am sharing some insights here, but much of what goes on is difficult to understand. But even that should draw us closer to God, not farther away.
Faithful in suffering
Of the many other examples of godly people in the Bible suffering and not always finding deliverance in this world, let me finish this section with Hebrews 11:35a-40, the chapter which tells us about the heroes of the faith. This list by itself should dispel any notion that suffering is caused by a lack of faith. Note what it says near the end, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith.”
“But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”
Does God send the calamity, does He “kill” people?
One more very important point I want to make in relation to the theme of suffering and especially calamities and death is the “heresy” of saying that God sent the calamity, storm, earthquake, etc. People blame Him for these disasters or blame Him for the suffering in our lives. I again suggest you read my earlier blog on the why of suffering, but to say God sends all these bad things is not Biblical. The short answer is that the world is under the curse of the devil and he is the culprit behind much of the suffering we see. Other suffering comes as a natural result of sinful actions. We ourselves may suffer the natural consequences of our sin. But it is unbiblical to say that God might hit me with a lightening bolt if I do such and such a bad thing.
It also pains me to hear people say, trying to comfort others, that God needed another angel, or some such thought, and that is why He “took” such and such a person. The author of death is the devil. God does not “kill” people, so that He can take them to heaven. Because of sin and the devil, bad things happen to us and we will all die, some dying what seems way too young. As we saw with James and Peter, there is some mystery about this, but it is wrong to say that God took the life of such and such a person. It is fine to say that after the person who loved Jesus died, they will be (were?) received by God into heaven. But to imply He caused the death is not Biblical.
A quickie illustration of natural calamities is found in Mark 4:37-40: “But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
So did Jesus send the storm so that He could then calm it? No. Storms are a part of this natural world. How we respond to the storm is the more important question. Will we let the storms blow our trust in God away, or will we cling even closer to Him, trusting him with our lives, be it that we live or die. Jesus, who calmed the storm, can calm our fears.
Storms will come into our lives. May we be prepared for them by keeping a close loving relationship with God at all times. Let us not allow others or our own hearts to question Him, doubt His unconditional love for us, or accuse others or ourselves for lack of faith. For to do so would be to question the faith of Jesus, Paul, the disciples, Stephen, who was stoned, the Old Testament heroes of the faith, etc. Let us instead stand with them, trusting God and being in love with Him no matter what our circumstances are.
Joni Erickson eventually turned her suffering and confusion into a life-changing ministry to thousands upon thousands of people, both disabled folks and those who are not. As she says, “I would rather be in this chair knowing Him, than on my feet without Him.” http://www.joniandfriends.org/television/id-rather-be-wheelchair-knowing-him/
I will end with a few Scriptures Pastor Eric Young recently shared that are good to meditate on as you go through storms and tough times:
Isaiah 41:10: Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
Psalms. 46:1-3: God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
Daniel 10:19: “Don’t be afraid,” he said, “for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!”
I learned many fascinating things during my thirteen days in Israel in 2014. On the tenth day there, we visited the Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (inside it includes the traditional places many think Jesus was crucified and buried) and walked the Via Dolorosa. We then walked outside the current walls of the city and came to the place seen here in this picture I took.
One of the most well known Good Friday songs starts out, “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross”. We also talk about Mount Calvary. But it should be pointed out that the Bible never says Jesus was crucified on a hill. Matthew 27:33 and other parallel passages say this: “And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”)”. The traditional interpretation is that Golgotha is a hill that looks like a skull, kind of like the hill in this picture. But our guide (who teaches at the Hebrew University) told us that right around where the bus and cars are parked is probably the spot of one of the most important crossroads at the time of Jesus, where the main north south route crisscrossed with the main east-west route, a very busy intersection. As a result of excavations and research, it is now thought that the Romans picked this place to crucify people, as a terrifying example of what happens to people who disobey them. Because so much killing was done here, it seems that it became known as the place of the skull, and as such, it is very possible that Jesus would have been crucified there. (It is also just outside the walls. Hebrews 13:12 says: “So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood.”) Of course the most important thing to remember is that Jesus died in our place, took the punishment we deserved, and of course rose again a few days later. Whether it was a hill or not is not all that important, but it is an interesting notion, and would change the scenery of many movies if it were taken seriously.
Another thing in favor of this as the place where Jesus was crucified is the nearby garden and tomb. Mark 15:46 says: “Joseph bought a long sheet of linen cloth. Then he took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in the cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance.” So it sounds like the tomb was close to where He was crucified. In this place, now known as the Garden Tomb, is a garden. Remember that Mary first mistook Jesus as the gardener.
Another interesting thing about this tomb is that there is ancient (100 AD?) “graffiti” in it, which basically says, “Jesus Christ was here.”
The resurrection of Jesus has been called the most verified event of ancient history. Of all the recorded history we have of ancient happenings, there is no other which is based on more evidence and eye witness testimony. As with the place of the crucifixion, the exact location of the tomb where Jesus was buried, where He walked out on death, is not of great importance. What is important is the we believe it and that we let it transform our lives, and fill us with the hope that just as He rose, so shall we, to be with Him forever.
The following is an excerpt from my book, The Just Friends Syndrome: Memoirs of a shy guy’s search for true love. It is just a couple of examples of the many times God has helped us during our lives. In the book I call my wife Judith “Lisa” since I changed the names of all the other people in the book as well.
Like most guys, when I was faced with a difficult problem, I usually tried to solve it myself. Lisa sometimes took a different approach. One time our old car died in the middle of the road. I tinkered with it but couldn’t get it to go (I guess I should have paid more attention when I helped out my dad work on cars.) When I told Lisa it still wouldn’t start, she said, “We need to pray about it.” With my “I gotta solve this problem” attitude, I hadn’t thought of that. We prayed and it started right up!
Years later, on a trip up to the U.S., we pulled over at a rest stop in Texas. When we got back into the car, it wouldn’t turn over. A guy in a car parked nearby gave us a jump. A trucker was also helping us out. After our car started, he leaned in the window and saw the alternator wasn’t charging. He told me I’d better stop at the next mechanic I could find. We were only a few hours from our destination, so while I thanked him for his help, I just wanted to keep on going. We weren’t but a few miles up the interstate when the car jerked and stalled. As we drifted over to the shoulder, Lisa immediately began praying out loud. After she was done, I realized that these newer fuel-injection, everything-electronic cars need the alternator in order to run. While we were still sitting in the car trying to decide what to do, a big eighteen wheeler pulled off in front of us. I got out of the car wondering what was going on, and then recognized the driver was the trucker who had helped us out at the rest stop. As he neared me, he said, “Didn’t get too far, did ya?”
When he asked me what I planned to do, I said I would probably leave Lisa and the kids to watch the car and walk to the next exit to try and find a mechanic. He didn’t think much of my idea. He said it was too hot to walk all the way there—it was over a hundred degrees—and that it was dangerous to leave my family on the side of the interstate. We should lock up the car and he would give us a ride, and help us find a mechanic. I was a little wary of all of us getting into his truck but, following Lisa’s example and saying a silent prayer, we all piled into the cab and off we went. He offered us snacks and pop and drove us to a hotel at the next exit. He asked the person behind the desk for the name of a good mechanic and we called him. He said he would send a tow truck right out. We profusely thanked the trucker for all his help. He then said, “Let’s go, I’ll take you back to your vehicle.” I felt we had imposed on him too much already, but he insisted, saying it was too hot for me to walk back.
On the way back, he asked what we did for a living. I told him we lived in a little village in Mexico, helping the people make literacy books and translate the Bible into their language. He said that he had gone on a mission trip to Belize once, and had really enjoyed helping the people with a church construction project. As we neared my car, the tow truck was already there. As I shook the trucker’s hand, thanking him, he handed me a hundred dollar bill. Taken aback, I told him I should be the one giving him money, and that I couldn’t take it. He bluntly replied, “It’s God’s money. Now take it!” I again thanked him, and as I got out, reflected on the wonderful way God had answered our prayers. The trucker was such a good Samaritan, though as it turned out, the mechanic wasn’t quite as generous.
With Lisa’s good example, I began to pray more and more about things which I would have previously tried to accomplish in my own strength. A dramatic example of this happened while we were at Lisa’s mom and dad’s home on Ocracoke Island, years after we were married. I had found a sandbar rather far out in the ocean where the water only came up to my knees. Several days later, I went looking for that sand bar again. I swam around for quite a while, but never did find it because of the constant shifting of the sand on the ocean floor. I finally decided to swim back to shore, already a bit tired.
It seemed the more I swam, the farther I got from the beach. Something in my mind sensed I was in danger and I began hyperventilating, though I didn’t feel that much fear. I tried to float on my back for a while so I could rest and slow down my breathing, but the waves kept washing over me and filling my mouth with saltwater. I again tried to swim towards shore, but began to get more desperate as I never got any closer and I was now completely exhausted and gasping for air. I finally waved for the lifeguard, but since I could hardly see him, I couldn’t tell if he saw me. I realized I could no longer tread water, and went under several times.
Forcing myself to stay above water, I began thinking about my family, and how, if I drowned, Lisa would be a widow (Should I hope she never marries again?) and my kids would have no father. I prayed to the Lord, saying, “God, I’m in your hands. If you want to take me, here I am.” Just as I felt I was going down under the water for the last time, the lifeguard arrived and pulled me to safety. He told me I had been caught in a rip current. Getting to shore, I thanked the Lord for saving me, and giving me more time to be with my family and the Mixtecs. I was also thankful that Lisa had insisted that, because of the children, we only swim at a beach with a lifeguard.
Doubters of God say that evil exists in the world because God is either all powerful but doesn’t care, or that He cares, but is too weak to change things. This is false logic. It represents a misunderstanding of true reality and what the Bible says about God and the world. Over the next few blogs I plan to go into detail about why the above phrase is wrong, and share my understanding about what the Bible says about evil in the world.
To get a general understanding of why there is evil in the world and why God apparently is not doing enough to prevent it, let us think of a scene in a courtroom. Let us imagine for a moment that a man is on trial for the rape and murder of a young child. The judge of the trial listens as the evidence is overwhelming as to the guilt of the man. There is no doubt that he did what he is accused of doing, and besides that, he is seemingly unrepentant about it. The prosecuting attorney makes an airtight case. The defense is weak and basically just asks for mercy. At the end of this trial by judge, the judge makes the ruling that while what the man did was despicable and wicked, he has decided to let him go free, and orders that his record be expunged.
Now can you imagine the outrage at this decision? How the family of the child would be devastated and call this an outrageous miscarriage of justice? Everyone would wonder if the judge had been paid-off to do such a thing. He would be branded an unjust judge, unworthy to be a judge for the rest of his life. There would most likely even be threats on his life.
But why the outrage? If this judge truly has authority over the outcome of this trial, isn’t he powerful enough to let this man go? The point is that even though he has the “power” to do it, it is not the “just” thing to do. If this judge were good, he would subject himself to the laws of the land and to justice and render a verdict fitting the crime. He would “subject” himself to doing what is just.
So what does this have to do with God? To understand how God works, we must understand the attributes of God. Most of our own ideas and society’s understanding of what is good, just and true comes from each of us having been made in the image of God, (though that image is darkened because of sin and is thus warped in many cases).
The two most important attributes of God in relation to this question are His justice and His love. God is 100% just. In the above courtroom example, God could never just let someone who has committed such a grave action escape a punishment which fits the crime. Why? Because He is “obligated” by His attribute of justice to always do the just thing. Obligated is not really the best way to describe it because it is His very nature to do what is just all the time.
The prosecuting attorney in the above case would be doing all he could to get the judge to do the just thing. The devil is the one standing before God insisting that He do the just thing. He is trying to make sure that God remains true to His just nature, ready to accuse God if He doesn’t. The devil has a vested interest in doing this since, because God is holy and we are sinners, the devil has a claim over us. He has this claim because while we may have never come close to the gravity of the crime the man in the example committed, the fact that we have sinned at all makes it impossible for us to enter into the presence of a holy, perfect God. God’s own justice prevents us from “coming to the father” as sinners. And the only alternative to being God’s people is to be the devil’s property.
It is here that the great message of salvation in the Bible comes into play. God gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. As sinners, God’s attribute of justice will not allow us into His holy presence. But His attribute of love has made a way, through the death of Jesus, the substitute sacrifice, who died in our place, for He did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all (Rom. 8:32). God satisfied His justice by Jesus dying in our place so that we could be justified and forgiven and be able to enter into His presence sinless, without any blemish, and thus snatched us from the devil’s claim over us as sinners.
It was a high price to pay, and it was not easy. There are things God cannot do, and one of them is that He cannot just let anyone into His Holy presence. He cannot just declare them sinless or set aside His justice. He “had” to provide a 100% perfect sacrifice, and His attribute of love moved Him to do that by sacrificing His beloved Son. The devil can no longer claim that we, God’s people saved by grace, are sinners and therefore justly belong to him and deserving of hell. God fulfilled the requirements of justice through Jesus, therefore the devil no longer has a just claim over us. The devil could have justly “objected” that God was not acting justly had He not paid a just price for us, but the Good News is that He paid the perfect price.
The courtroom analogy covers the essentials of the dynamics involved for God to be able to erase our sins so that we, though faith in Him, can be forgiven and justly come into His presence. But how does it also explain why there is evil in the world? In this scenario, we still have God as the just and loving judge, and we still have the devil as the prosecuting attorney. (The word Satan means accuser.)
There are an amazing couple of verses found in Luke, during the temptation of Jesus: The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:5-7) I have put in bold letters the devil’s amazing claim, something most of us are seemingly unaware of. The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said that they had been given to him, and he can give them to anyone he likes. Wow. Really? Does the devil really have authority and power over the kingdoms of the world? Are they really his? I do not think this is an empty boast, for if it was, the devil knew Jesus could see right through it. The devil could only say this to Jesus if he actually had the power to deliver on it.
In a later post I will share many different verses throughout the Bible which basically say that what the devil is saying here is true. There are verses which say the devil is the god of this world, that the world is under his power. He has an incredible amount of authority over the world. The book of John especially is constantly contrasting “this world” and “above.” Throughout His ministry Jesus contrasted “the kingdom of God” with the “kingdom of this world.” If God has full reign over this world, why did Jesus say He came to “establish” and “set up” the Kingdom of God”?
So the devil has vast authority and power in this world. In fact, since this world is given over to sin, the devil has a “just” right to do what he wants with this world. Sin has given it over to him. He has justly taken hold over many things in this world. Much of the world, according to the Bible, is under the kingdom of the devil.
So while God is still God and is working mightily in the world , the fact remains that the vast majority of the world remains under the kingdom of the devil, and as such, remains under his authority and power, and under his powerful delusion, for he is the father of lies.
The devil stands before God and makes his just claims over many people and happenings in this world. You can name any type of evil and suffering in this world, and it is a direct result of sin and of the fact that such a majority of this world has not submitted itself to the kingship of God through Jesus. God is powerful, He is working, but He is constrained by His attributes to act with justice, and that unfortunately involves giving the devil his due, recognizing that the devil has a just claim over those who have turned their backs on God, and to let the consequences of sin be fully played out.
Now I do not pretend to understand all the dynamics of God’s love, justice and power and what limits He puts on the devil and exactly how He works out His justice in this world, and how that all works itself out through our petitions and how He lovingly protects His people. But what I am sharing here is what I believe to be the basic idea of how to begin to grasp and understand what we see happening.
Job was a just man who loved God, and the devil apparently had a right to work behind the scenes in this world to cause Job all kinds of problems, though God did not let the devil kill Job. A lot of dynamics are going on there too, not all of which we fully understand. What I do know is that this is not heaven. This is “the world” and the Bible paints a picture of it as being in opposition to God. But as believers and people of faith, we put our hope in God and know that He can give us perfect peace, in Him is our only hope, that He loves us and will always be with us. We also know from Revelation that God will put everything right in the end. He wins!
This is not a cosmic struggle between too equal powers. God is all powerful, but He limits Himself because of His justice, and when the devil has a just claim over someone or something….
We who follow Jesus are His people and under His kingship. He loves us unconditionally. He give us a peace that passes all understanding. He is with us and will never forsake us. But that does not mean we or our loved ones will not suffer. In this life, we may get sick, suffer and even die “before our time.” It happens everyday to people in this world of sin and we live in the midst of it, being in this world but not “of” this world. Almost all of God’s people in the Bible: the prophets, the apostles, etc., were either killed or suffered greatly, but kept the faith despite all that (Hebrews 11).
It is important to keep in mind that these hardships are not the worst thing that can happen to us. The worse thing that could happen to someone is if they went through all these hardships and then died without having given their lives to God through Jesus. That is the greatest tragedy. So let us ever forget His no-holds-barred love for us. Allow God to release you from the claim the devil has over you. To see a video I made about this article for my local church, on Facebook: Why is there suffering?
This world is not heaven, but when we do get to heaven, all will be perfect, His will being done in all things. As Paul says in 2 Timothy, chapter 4: 6-8: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
In many ways this is a fight, not against people, but against the devil and his cohorts, as Paul says in Ephesians 6:12-13: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
In Mixtec the word used for “salvation” is a word that basically means “rescue.” Before the Gospel came, it was commonly used when someone was rescued from danger, like drowning.
As a Christian, I am thankful that I have been “saved”, rescued from the deserved penalty for my sins as a result of what Jesus did on the cross, and to eternal life. One summer a number of years ago, I learned what is was like to be rescued from drowning.
During the summer of 1999 we were at my wife Judith’s mom and dad’s home on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. Going to the beach was our main reason for being there. However, because of rip tides, swimming was not allowed most days at the life guarded beach. We usually went to this beach because of the children.
When we went to the beach on that July 5th, the “No Swimming” signs had been taken down. We were planning to leave the next day and I decided to take a last swim. Seven days before, I had swum out rather far and found a sand bank, where the water was only up to my knees.
This time, however, I couldn’t find it. I swam around for quite a while, but never did locate it because of the constant shifting of the sand on the ocean ﬂoor. I ﬁnally decided to swim back to shore, already a bit tired. It seemed the more I swam, the farther I got from the shore. Something in my mind sensed I was in danger and I began hyperventilating, though I didn’t feel that much fear. I tried to ﬂoat on my back for a while so I could rest and slow down my breathing, but the waves kept washing over me and ﬁlling my mouth with saltwater. I again tried to swim towards shore, but began to get more desperate as I never got any closer and I was now completely exhausted and gasping for air. The harder I swan, the farther from shore I seemed to be getting.
I ﬁnally waved for the lifeguard, but since I could hardly see him, I couldn’t tell if he saw me or not. I realized I no longer had the strength to tread water much longer, and went under several times. Forcing myself to stay above water, I began thinking about my family, and how, if I drowned, Judith would be a widow (Should I hope she never marries again?) and my kids would have no father. I prayed to the Lord, saying, “God, I’m in Your hands. If You want to take me, here I am.”
Just as I felt I was going down under the water for the last time, the lifeguard arrived and pulled me to safety. He told me I had been caught in a rip tide. My dad was there and had seen me wave. He raced to the shore, but the lifeguard beat him to it.
Getting to shore, I thanked the Lord for saving me, and giving me more time to be here on earth. I am thankful to the LORD for rescuing me once again. The first time He saved me, I gained eternal life. Because of not drowning, I could continue life and by His help keep serving Him and the Mixtec people. I was also thankful that Judith had insisted that, because of the children, we only swim at a beach with a lifeguard.
Salvation implies one of two things (or sometimes both); that we are saved from something or for something. In the ocean, I was saved from drowning and death, and to life. In the Mixtec translation of the Scriptures, the word salvation (dakaki meaning rescue) is many times made complete by adding saved/rescued “from our sins” or “from the path of evil and wrongdoing,” or the more explicit meaning, saved “from the just punishment we deserve for sinning”. In other contexts, being saved from hell is the focus. But in Scripture, many times the idea of being saved focuses on the positive effect. We are saved for good works. We are saved so we can have eternal life. We are saved for God’s glory. It is His good will and pleasure to do it.
In Mixtec, and even in most languages, such as English, if you think about it, just saying “I’ve been saved” has very little meaning unless you are already “versed” in Christian lingo and beliefs. “I’m saved” implies many of the things just mentioned, and more. There is the major implied information that Jesus is the One who saved me. Even then, you need further implied information that God is holy, we are sinful and we cannot enter into His presence unless we too are holy. Therefore Jesus came into the world 2000 years ago, lived a perfect life, died in our place (here it helps to know about the Old Testament sacrificial system) and because I accept what Jesus did, have repented of my sins and am born anew; I am saved. Saved from the punishment I deserve from a holy God, saved from a life of sin, and saved to serve Him and receive eternal life.
Since the Mixtec people usually do not have all this background information, plus the fact that the grammar of the language itself requires saying what you were either saved from or to, it is necessary to say something, and it depends on the context of the verse in question.
It is the same for something like faith. In Mixtec you cannot just say, “I have faith.” I suppose you “can” but the idea is incomplete. Faith in what? So I suppose you “can” say, “I am saved” in Mixtec but the idea is incomplete. Saved/rescued from what or for what, or to what.
So when we think about salvation (or faith or other such concepts), and especially when we are sharing with others about it, it is good to not just use the Christian “lingo” but to really share what God has saved us, rescued us from, and what He has saved, rescued us to. It will help the people we are sharing with understand better and it will help us understand things better too.
That is one of the cool things about working in Bible translation. You really have to think about these things and really get a handle on them in order to help others translate them in a natural, understandable and impactful way in their language.
The account of my almost drowning is a slightly edited version of the telling found in my book, The Just Friends Syndrome, pages 217-218.
Who, or what, is really our G/god? If we are a follower of the One True God, the Creator of the world, I AM WHO I AM, we would probably say that He is our God. He is our first love. We say we only worship Him.
There is a very interesting account in the Bible of Jesus having an encounter with a young Jewish fellow, apparently a ruler. Before this encounter I’m sure he would have claimed vigorously that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was his God, that he only worshiped Him. But after talking with Jesus, he may have had second thoughts about this.
Let us set the scene of the account we find in Mark 10. Jesus was near the Jordan, and by this time His fame was reaching a high point. He had fed 5000, then four thousand with just a small amount of food. He had healed people from many types of sicknesses, and had shown His power over the evil spirits. He had even raised people from the dead. Besides all the never-before-done miracles, His teaching was completely different from the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Teachers of the Law, etc. He taught with an authority and power and reason which was far above anything they taught. Therefore a number of people are recorded as asking him hard questions. Some to test him, others to find the truth.
At the beginning of chapter 10, the question of divorce comes up, and the answer Jesus gives points out the weakness of the teaching on this subject by the teachers of the Law. Next He compares the trustfulness of children to those who submit to the rule of God in their lives. Then this happens: “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:17).
You can just feel the enthusiasm of this man. The text states that he runs up to Jesus, and then, drops to his knees. Luke says that he is a ruler. It is also stated that he is rich. But despite his apparent high social status, he humbles himself before Jesus, drops to his knees, addresses Him in a respectful way, and asks Him a question he felt that, from listening to Jesus’ amazing teaching, he could get an answer for. The man could obviously tell there was something special about Jesus, something he had never seen in another person or teacher before. So he asks Him the ultimate question, maybe the most important thing one can ever know, how to receive/inherit eternal life.
However Jesus did not immediately answer the man’s question, as He did, for example, when someone asked Him what the greatest commandment was. Jesus first addresses the respectful greeting, “good teacher” by responding in what many have seen is a puzzling way. A way which some have taken to mean that He is implying that He is not God, for the text says: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone” (vs.18).
Is Jesus really implying here that He is not good nor God? No, what He is doing is trying to help the man realize with whom he is speaking. As the blind man in John 9 said in response to the Pharisees questioning him about what he thought about the man who had healed him: “No one has ever before healed a man born blind. If He is not from God, then He could not have done such an impossible miracle.”
Now we have this man kneeling before Jesus. Maybe the act of kneeling itself shows he knows he is in the presence of Someone worthy of honor. This man had apparently heard Jesus teach. Mostly likely he had seen Jesus do miracles. But the man still did not realize with whom he was speaking. Peter had a revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised One come from God, but this man had not yet come to that point. He did not realize that he was talking to the Word Who had become flesh, the one John proclaims as the One who was with God and who is God. In fact, no one on earth fully understood this, even the disciples who lived closely with Jesus for three years, until after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. So Jesus gently corrects this man, a man who thinks he is speaking to another man, a “good” teacher, yet still just a man. Jesus is basically saying: “Don’t call me good until you come to the point of knowing who I really am, that I am God in the flesh, realizing that if you have seen Me you have seen the Father. Only God is good, so don’t call Me a good teacher until you know that I am God, and thus am truly The Good Teacher.”
This is important because, firstly, the man did not realize that he was asking about eternal life from the One from whom all life springs, the One who is the Way the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him. It is also important because in a few moments Jesus is going to ask the man to do something that He could only ask if He is either God or one sent directly from God.
Though this man does not realize with who he is speaking, Jesus knows this man through and through. He knows his heart. He knows his life. He knows the importance of the Law in the life of this Jewish person. He knows what God requires of people. He knows the two greatest commandments. With this in mind, Jesus says the following: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother” (vs. 19).
The commandments listed here are key. Some have said it is just a random list of commandments, but that is far from the truth. As I mentioned before, Jesus knows this man’s heart. He knows this man has done pretty well keeping the “love thy neighbor” commands, which together are known as the second command. This man has not killed anyone. He has not committed adultery, which is saying something. He has not stolen. He has not lied. Wow. He has defrauded no one and he loves his Mom and Dad. Now that is what we would call an upstanding citizen. A model for society.
The fact that he is rich and can say, with apparent sincerity, “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy” (vs. 20), is absolutely amazing. Which of us can say this and be 100% sincere? We get another clue that he is sincere when Mark adds, “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (vs. 21a). Jesus was not thinking that this guy was a fraud or a liar. He knows the fellow had done all he could to keep these commandments.
But there is a big detail here that sometimes gets lost when this account is talked about. The list Jesus gives contains only half the commands. I think by now you know which ones He left off this list. 1) Do not have any other God before me. 2) Do not make any graven images. 3) Do not take the name of God in vain. 4) Keep the Sabbath holy. The big 4 which epitomize loving God with all your heart, you soul, your mind and your strength. Now why did Jesus leave these out when He asked the man about his obedience to the commands of God? And what about that other one, usually cited as number 10, You shall not covet?
What Jesus says next helps us answer this question. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Vs. 21b).
Ouch. Jesus says he lacks just “one” thing. But what “one” thing it is! This man is rich. Just sell all you have, give it all away. Once you do that one thing, then you must do what I call all others to do, Come, follow me. Jesus looks into the man’s heart and sees the thing that is deeply negatively affecting his relationship with God. In fact, it has become his god. The man’s money and possessions, though apparently gained in an honest way, are his real god, the real love in this man’s life. Will he be willing to give them up if the True God tells him to? Or will he “covet” them so much, love them so much, that they will keep him from taking that first big step which, once he follows Jesus, will lead to eternal life, which was the question he came running to Jesus to find out about in the first place?
What follows is one of the saddest verses in the Bible. “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (vs. 22). The man who had run up to Jesus and knelt before him, who had come to Him with so much enthusiasm and hope, goes away in sorrow. He was probably in shock. The belief at that time was that people were rich because God favored and blessed above all others. That is partly why the disciples were so confused a few verses later when Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to submit himself to God’s rule. So the rich man could not quite understand why he had to get rid of this blessing from God. So in the end, the man probably came to believe that Jesus really was not a good teacher, that He did not speak the words of God. For if he did think Jesus was from God, and still walked away, what a big god his riches were in his life that he rejected eternal life, rejected following Jesus, just so that he could keep his stuff.
Now, another question comes up. Is that all this passage is about? Riches? Or can we apply it to anything that, when Jesus looks deep into our hearts, He sees is the god of our life? Who or what is our true love? I believe we do this passage a great disservice if we only apply it to rich people. Yes, riches was this man’s issue. But the universal truth of what Jesus is saying boils down to the question of who is our G/god.
We know so much more about Jesus than this man did. We know the whole counsel of God. We have all four Gospels, we have Paul’s explanation of all that Jesus has done, and how He makes us right with God and provides us with eternal life. We can read Revelation and know that in the end God wins! We should know that Jesus is truly God in the flesh, the Almighty Prince of Peace, The Everlasting Father, etc., But despite all this, do we still, at least in our hearts, turn our back on Jesus in favor of all the little gods in our life that we do not want to let go of? Is it money? Is it pride? Is it not fully submitting to God for fear of what it might cost us? Do we not go where we feel God is leading us for whatever reason? Are we fearful of denying ourselves, taking up that cross and following him? Do we put our children ahead of him? Our sex lives? Our work? Our entertainment? Our comfort? Our relationships? Inappropriate relationships? Our body image? Our happiness? Our being able to say, “I did it my way”? If we, like this young man, were to come before Jesus, what “one” thing would He say that we lack? And when He calls us to give it up and follow Him, will we count the cost and still follow Him, or will we try and hang on to it. Or just turn our back on Him and keep following our trivial, worthless gods?
Let us examine our hearts. Let us acknowledge that He is who He is. And may God help us to give up anything in our lives that is or is becoming more important to us than Him. In our own power we are weak, but in Him, and through the power of His Holy Spirit, we can make that commitment to serve and love Him with our whole heart, to truly make Him our first love, the God of our hearts and lives, and to follow Him in all that we do.
Romans 7:7-24 has been interpreted in a number of different ways over the centuries. Some have seen Paul’s treatise on his struggles with sin, wanting to do good but then doing what is bad too much, as 1) the normal Christian life, b) describing a back-slidden Christian, or 3) someone who is not a Christian. The struggle to understand what he means is compounded by his use of “I” and the present tense. So is Paul describing the norm for his life after he became a Christian? Is he describing his day to day struggles? Or was this just how he felt when he did sin? Or is it how he felt before he became a Christian? And whichever it is, how do we apply it to our own lives today?
I believe a key to understanding this section begins with looking at how he begins talking about it. Romans 7:7-8 says: “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.”
To follow what Paul is driving at here, it is important to have a correct view of the law. We know that the law is good, as Paul says in vs. 12: “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” Then in vs. 14: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” The law is good, but we are sinful. The law was given by God in part to show us how holy He is and how sinful we are. This is the theme of the book of Galatians. We need a savior because we simply cannot, with our own strength, obey the law as God wants.
So what happens when we do try and follow the law with our own strength? I believe this is what Paul is describing in Romans 7:7-24. It leads to real frustration when you have a person, like Paul, a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee, who studied the law under the famed teacher Gamaliel, who in his heart wanted to do what the law said, but as a sinner simply could not even come close to its standard of holiness. Vs. 21-23 describe his frustration point blank: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”
The majority of the Jewish people did seem to try and follow the law, but they could not keep it. God already knew this would be the case, and that is why He set up the sacrificial system, which in itself was actually pointing to the need for a better sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice, who is Jesus. This is the message of the book of Hebrews.
Too many times when we think of the law we think of the Pharisees Jesus spoke about, who seemed to try and keep the law mostly for show, but as Jesus said, their hearts were far from God. I think they were the exception, for many, like Paul were good-hearted, including the Jewish people in Rome reading this letter. They wanted to do what God wanted, but they failed more than they succeeded.
To get more to the point, when Paul is using “me” and “I” throughout this passage, I believe that he is focusing on his Jewishness, and how he felt before his heart was transformed by Jesus. He was “religious”, he wanted to be a good Pharisee, a good Jew, he wanted to do what was right, but his own sinful nature got in the way, his “best” was just not good enough. The Jewish people who did not yet have Jesus in their lives are on Paul’s heart. He knows his people, and he knows their frustration in trying to serve God, but failing miserably to live up to the impossibly high standard of the law. He therefore uses his own “before Jesus” experience to relate to their frustration.
But he has good news for the religious Jews. He comes to the end of the section, in vs. 24 and 25 and reveals the only way to change this path of frustration: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Here is the real point. Paul could not live up to the law’s standard on his own. But Jesus bridges the gap. He becomes Paul’s perfection and transformed his life, as he expands on in chapter 8.
Paul continues his great conclusion of how the Jews, and all people, are to become right before God. It is not the ability to obey the law perfectly, but the answer is in Jesus. 8:1-2 says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Trying to keep the law perfectly is impossible, so if that is your only way to God, you will fail and it will lead to death. But through Jesus, the condemnation of the law over us for not being able to keep it perfectly is wiped out. We are made clean through the blood of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice.
Paul is saying to the Jews, and to all religious people: “I know how you feel. I felt it for most of my life. I loved God, I wanted to do His will, but I just couldn’t do it on my own. But through His power I am no longer under condemnation. I have experienced the transforming work of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is living within me. I am now sinless before God because of the sacrifice of Jesus and now have the power to live a life pleasing to Him.” As 8:5 says: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” The law is good, but it does not change our heart. Jesus, and the Holy Spirit living within us, is what changes us through and through.
So in conclusion, the way we can apply this is to know that no matter how “religious” we are, if we have not given our lives to Jesus, we will find ourselves living a psychotic, bi-polar life which Paul describes in chapter 7; wanting to do good but simply unable to do it with any consistency. We do not need to be more “religious”, we need the transforming power of Jesus in our lives and in our hearts.
You may be a Christian and sometimes feel the same way. The Bible deals with this as well, and so we can apply, in regards to this part of Scripture, chapter 8 to our lives when we are failing even though we are a Christian. Chapter 8 says that through the power of the Spirit we can overcome sin. The Bible talks a lot about how to redirect our lives, and I’m sure we have heard lot of sermons on the importance of daily personal devotions, prayer, counsel of fellow Christians, regular fellowship, filling our minds with Godly things in the middle of all the “trash” we are bombarded with in this world, etc. It is a daily battle, but the most important thing is to not to try and fight it on our own. Let us surrender our lives to Jesus and let His Spirit direct us. Without this, we have no chance.
In a book full of famous phrases, one of the best known in the book of Romans is, “Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ/God.” It is an amazing promise and one many of us lean on, especially in tough times. But I wonder if we truly grasp the full meaning of this phrase, especially as it relates to the context in which it is found in Romans 8. It is so easy to hear a lovely phrase like this without really realizing how super-practical it is.
So let us look at the last five verses (35-39) of chapter 8 and see it in that immediate context. There is context before it, but let me just focus here on these last five verses.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul begins with a list of things that people might think could possibly “separate us from the love of Christ/God.” So how could tribulation, the first of the list, separate us from God’s love? Is the focus on me, that I might turn my back on God and therefore be separated from His love? No, I don’t think that is what it means at all. In fact, the focus is not on us, it is on God. I would like to posit that it makes much more sense to understand this as, “Even if we find ourselves in the middle of tribulation, God still loves us.” It doesn’t matter what is going on around us, God still loves us. There is a heresy taught sometimes that when we are going through tribulations or other bad things are happening to us, it is somehow our fault, and God has turned His back on us. (I am not referring here to tribulations of our own making, like getting a girl pregnant which can lead to a divorce or all other kinds of tribulations, though even in this case, God still loves us.) What I want us to always remember is that no matter what is happening to us, to loved ones or if there is chaos all around us, God is with us, He is still loving us, He has not abandoned us. It may seem like it or feel like it as times, but Paul proclaims that it is not true.
- He still loves us (and has not abandoned us) when we are in the middle of tribulations.
- He still loves us (and has not abandoned us) in the middle of our distress.
- He still loves us (and has not abandoned us) when we are being persecuted.
- He still loves us (and has not abandoned us) when we don’t have anything to eat.
- He still loves us (and has not abandoned us) when we are homeless or don’t have any clothes to wear.
- He still loves us (and has not abandoned us) even when people are threatening to kill us, and He still loves us (and has not abandoned us) even if were are killed. You can ask Jesus about all these things. He was never outside the love of God, though when He carried the sins of the world, God momentarily turned His back on Him.
Paul starts another list in verse 38.
- Death cannot do anything to stop God from loving us, since death is far from the worst thing that can happen to us. In fact, Paul says in Philippians 1:20-24 that death is in some ways better than life, since we will be with the Lord.
- Nothing that happens to us in this life can stop God from loving us. A lot of crazy and even terrible things happen to a person over the course of their lifetime, but there is not a single one of them which can cause God to stop loving us.
- Angels are powerful beings and even with their intimate knowledge of God, a third of them turned their back on God. There are now evil angels, but there is nothing they can do to stop God from loving us.
- Rulers can refer to the ungodly rulers of this world, like when Jesus told His disciples that they will be brought before rulers(arrested) as a result of being His people. Even during this hard time, He is with them and will give them words straight from the Holy Spirit. This word also sometimes refers to the evil, unseen forces of this world, but “greater is He who is in me than he that is in the world.” God is greater and more powerful, and His love is greater and more powerful.
- Nothing in this present world, anything that happens to us now, can cause God to stop loving us. I know it seems at times that God is far away and has forgotten about us, but it is simply not true. He is still there, and He still loves us.
- There is nothing in the future which will happen to us that can stop God from loving us. This gives us great hope, for He holds our future in His hands, and He has the ultimate control of what will happen to us.
- Powers, height nor depth are also apparently referring to unseen powers that could squash us in a millisecond or which have the power to deceive the smartest worldly person in the world. Since we are under God’s grace, He is greater and He will keep on loving us. Satan is called the god of this world, this is currently his kingdom. Luke 4:5-7 says: “And the devil took him(Jesus) up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom, to form a people living under His authority, because the majority of the world is under Satan’s hand. We live under a worldly, anti-God system which is opposed to us who have Jesus as our Savior and Lord. This world is not heaven, far from it. So we should not expect for things to go smoothly. In fact, we should expect significant problems. But He has not and will not abandon us. His love is unconditional. God can put heaven/peace in our hearts and keep us until that day.
- For good measure, Paul, in case he has left out anything, adds, “nor anything in all creation.”. This basically states again that it is impossible that anything could ever happen to us to cause God to stop loving us. So in our darkest hours, in our deepest desperation, when we lose loved ones or it seems that all hope is lost, we must cling to this truth. God still loves us, He has not abandoned us and He will work it all out in our lives for His glory.
After much study and thinking about what different Mixtec phrases implied, we translated “what can separate us from the love of Christ/God” as, “What can cause God to stop loving us?” Nothing! And at the end of the passage, “And nothing that God has made is able to cause that God stops loving us, for He shows His great love for us through what Jesus Christ, our Lord, did for us.” Video of this article on Facebook.