How Many Times? ( by Carley Evans )

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus' description of himself "I am the Good Shepherd" (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows a vertical section focusing on Jesus. The memorial window is also captioned: "To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The disciples want to know how many times they must put up with the offenses of others?

How many times, Jesus, do I have to turn my cheek so as to be struck again? How many times must I allow the thief to take my cloak or my shoes or my purse? How many times do You expect me to walk an extra mile?

Jesus’ answer is straightforward — an infinite number of times!

“Then Peter comes to Jesus and asks, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’

Jesus answers, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

Jesus also warns the disciples that if they are unwilling to forgive others, then they should not expect God to be willing to forgive their many sins against Him.

Think carefully on this — Jesus is actually saying that if we are capable of forgiving an infinite number of sins against us, God is even more capable and definitely more willing to forgive an infinite number of sins against Him.

What I Have, I Give (by Carley Evans)

A man lame from birth is carried every day to the gate called Beautiful so people entering the temple complex are able to see him; and he is able to beg. Seeing John and Peter, he asks for help. Peter commands, “Look at us.” (Acts 3:4, HCSB) The lame beggar looks at Peter and John expecting a hand-out. Instead, Peter tells the man, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have I give you: In the Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” (Acts 3:6)

I can imagine the man looking at Peter with some disgust and certainly disappointment. He may know the Name of Jesus the Nazarene; he also may be thinking only of his empty stomach and his aching body. Notice he does not take Peter’s hand or even reach up for him; rather Peter takes the lame beggar by the right hand, and raises him up. “At once his feet and ankles become strong.” (Acts 3:7) When the man realizes his legs are strong, then”he jumps up, stands, and starts to walk, and he enters the temple complex with [John and Peter] — walking, leaping, and praising God.” (Acts 3:8)

Recall it is “by faith in [Jesus’] Name; His Name makes this man strong.” Peter tells the crowd gathering in the temple complex, “So the faith that comes through [Jesus] gives [this man] this perfect health in front of all of you.” (Acts 3:16)

So what does Peter give to the lame beggar? Healing? No. In a sense, Peter loans him faith. Through Peter’s belief, the man’s body is made whole. Once healed, the man finds a faith of his own, leaping and praising God for himself.

“I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you.” (Acts 3:6)

You Don’t Have Any Fish (by Carley Evans)

Part 2 of this morning’s post: A Mighty Big Piece of Wood.

Jesus calls out to Peter, “Twin,” the sons of Zebedee, Nathaniel, and two other disciples who are out in a boat on the Sea of Tiberas, fishing. Jesus says to them, “You don’t have any fish, do you?”

Fishing is what Peter does for a living — well, what he does for a living before he becomes a fisher of men. At any rate, Peter is skilled at catching fish. Likely Peter has fished since he was a toddler with his father or uncles or brothers.

Jesus is telling His disciples what they ought to know already — they don’t have anything.

Once back on shore, Jesus offers them a breakfast of fish and bread, both of which He provides. The 153 fish Peter and the others catch on the right side of the boat — once Jesus tells them to drop their net on that side — are extra provisions provided by none other than Jesus.

So, the fish on the fire and the fish in the net are not from the efforts of the fishermen. As Jesus rhetorically asks, “You don’t have any fish, do you?”

Thank You heavenly Father for providing everything we need for our salvation, our sanctification, our glorification. You are all we have and all we need. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

God Loves the Communal Giver

Imagine “the full number of those who believe” being “of one heart and soul” with “not a needy person among them.” (Acts 4:32,34; ESV) No one among them says “that any of the things that belong to him is his own.” Instead “they have everything in common.” (Acts 4:32) If any one of them is an owner of land or house, he “sells them and brings the proceeds of what is sold and lays it at the apostles’ feet, and it is distributed to each as any has need.” (Acts 4:34,35)

God loves the cheerful giver; not that the one giving should then find himself in need, but that each person is able to meet his obligations.

Within this context of sharing one’s personal property among the body of believers, Ananias and his wife, Sapphira sell a piece of property and rather than give the entire purchase price to the apostles for distribution, they secretly withhold a portion for themselves. In doing this, Ananias and Sapphira “lie to the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 5:3) They are free to not sell the property, and even to keep part of the proceeds; what they are not free to do is lie to God.

When Peter confronts Ananias, Ananias “falls down and breathes his last.” (Acts 5:5) Three hours later, Sapphira comes to the apostles, “not knowing what has happened.” (Acts 5:7) When Peter asks her about the purchase price, she also “tests the Spirit of the Lord” by lying. (Acts 5:9) Sapphira joins her husband in death.

“And great fear comes upon the whole church and upon all who hear of these things.” (Acts 5:11)

Father God, thank You for Your enormous generosity. Help us to be willing to give to one another above and beyond. Keep us honest, Lord with You, with ourselves and with one another. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Stay Awake, Pray; Get Up, Let’s Go

Today — still exhausted from my trip and lack of sleep last night — I kept thinking about Peter and the two sons of Zebedee falling asleep while Jesus agonizes in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus has asked them to “sit here while I go over there and pray.” (Matthew 26:36, HCSB) I can imagine Peter sitting down on the ground, perhaps leaning against a tree while Jesus grows ever more “sorrowful and deeply distressed.” (Matthew 26:37) About this time, Peter and the sons of Zebedee must be somewhat bewildered. Why is the Son of God so distressed?

Jesus says, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow — to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38) Such deep sorrow is imaginable for us, who have experienced the loss of a child, a parent, a dear friend, a spouse — these sorts of sorrows we understand. Jesus is facing utter isolation as well as intense physical suffering. No wonder He “falls facedown and prays, ‘My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.'” (Matthew 26:39) No wonder He is disturbed when He finds Peter and the others asleep rather than keeping watch with Him. He commands, gently I am certain, “Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation.” (Matthew 26:41)

He goes away to pray again. When He returns, He finds Peter and the sons of Zebedee asleep, “because they can not keep their eyes open.” (Matthew 26:43) Right now, I can barely keep my eyes open. I understand physical and mental exhaustion. Peter doesn’t fully grasp what it is that they are doing in the garden. Why are they sitting there? Why is Jesus in such agony? The third time Jesus goes away and comes back to find Peter and the disciples asleep, He tells them, “Look the time is near. The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up; let’s go! See, My betrayer is near.” (Matthew 26:45-46) I imagine Peter and the others scramble to their feet right quick at that message from Jesus.

And when Judas appears to kiss Jesus, “one of those with Jesus reaches out his hand and draws his sword. He strikes the high priest’s slave and cuts off his ear.” (Matthew 26:51) Now the disciples spring into action when earlier they are unable to remain awake to watch with Jesus even for an hour.

Notice how “get up, let’s go” is easier than “stay awake; pray.” Such is human nature. Doing is easier than watching. Keeping busy seems more desirable than sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening. Won’t you keep watch with Jesus for an hour.


All, Not Some

At Peter’s house, Jesus finds Peter’s mother-in-law sick with fever. He touches her hand, and the fever dissipates. She gets right up and waits on Him. Maybe Peter is a little frantic at this point; his mother-in-law is very ill, now she’s up serving drinks and dinner to God! Nevertheless, she’s healthy again and ready to work.

Many are brought to Peter’s house — some with demons, others with sicknesses. “With a Word” Jesus “heals all who are sick” and “casts out” the oppressing spirits.

In some accounts of healing, Jesus says, “Go, your faith makes you well.” But in this account, Matthew reminds us that Jesus heals all who come or are brought to Him. With a touch or with a Word, Jesus heals all, not some.

“He has no form or majesty that we should look at Him. He is despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He is despised, and we esteem Him not. Surely He bears our griefs and carries our sorrows; yet we esteem Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He is wounded for our transgressions; he is crushed for our iniquities; upon Him is the chastisement that brings us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep are gone astray; we are turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord lays on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:2-6, ESV)

Together Atop Waves

I’ve been pondering Peter as he tries to return to the boat during the storm — as I wrote in my previous note, I presume Peter and Jesus walk together atop the waves. Of course, the key word here is “together.” Peter likely would not have made it back to the boat without Jesus. At the very best, he would have had to swim against wind and current, putting himself at risk to drown.

But, walking together with Jesus, Peter has no trouble joining the other disciples in the relative safety of the boat. And, not until they are safely in the boat does Jesus decide to calm the wind.

Heavenly Father, thank You that even in the midst of turmoil, we are able to rely on You. You may not eliminate the difficulties we are experiencing, but we know that as long as we walk with You, we are not alone. You get us to the boat. Thank You. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

If It Is You, Lord

During the storm, Peter doesn’t recognize Jesus from the boat; as a matter of fact, Peter and his companions are terrified, thinking Jesus is a ghost. This ghost is walking atop the waves.

Jesus has been praying. He’s told the crowds to disperse, and has gone “up on the mountain by Himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:23) We aren’t certain how long Jesus prays, but Matthew’s account indicates “when evening came, He is there alone.” (Matthew 14:23) And in the time He has been on the mountain, the boat has traveled far from land. Peter and the other disciples are “a long way from land” and “the wind is against them,” meaning they can’t return to Jesus. He must come to them. (Matthew 14:24) And, of course, Jesus does walk out on the waves to join them in the boat.

At some distance, however, Peter and the disciples see Jesus and believe He is a ghost, a disembodied spirit likely planning them harm. They are terrified, shouting out their false belief. Jesus hears their fear. He reassures them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)

Peter takes the lead. He tests, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) Jesus goes along with Peter’s request, and commands him to come out of the boat and walk to Him on the water. Peter obeys. He steps out of the boat and walks all the way to Jesus. Again, we don’t know the distance but it can’t be extremely far — Jesus has heard His disciples shouting over the wind. When Peter becomes aware of the wind and the storm, his fear overwhelms his faith and he begins to sink. Peter intelligently asks Jesus to save him. And, of course, Jesus saves Peter. Jesus also points out Peter’s lack of faith. When Jesus and Peter get into the boat, presumably by walking together across the wave-tops, the wind ceases. Then, the other disciples exclaim, “Truly You are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:33)

Lord God, we thank You that You are willing to save us even when we are too terrified to even recognize and know You fully; that You are able and desirous to rescue us from our fear and from the danger of sinking even when we show such little faith in Your power to save us. Help us Lord to know You, to know Your love, its depth and faithfulness. In Jesus’ Name, amen.