Tag Archives: fear

Today’s Scripture – March 13, 2019

Acts 5:12-16 (NIV)
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

In a very real sense, the ministries of the Church were simply a continuation of the ministry of Jesus, just expanded to work through more people. The apostles were in the vanguard, doing many signs and wonders, although these things were also being done by other spirit-filled members of the community as well (Acts 6:8).

The Church continued to gather daily in Solomon’s Colonnade, the only location in the city big enough to hold them all. There they spent time together, ate together, worshiped together, and listened to the apostles’ teachings, learning by heart the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus from those who had experienced it first-hand.

The reaction to this group included both a drawing and a repulsion, sometimes manifested in the same people. God was so palpably present in their midst that many people feared getting too close. They remembered the stories from the Old Testament about the dreadful fates of those who got too close to God’s presence with “unclean hands”. And the story of the fate of Ananias and Sapphira seemed to confirm the danger.

But at the same time, there was a tremendous draw to the Church. The Christians had obviously experienced something profound through their faith in Jesus. They were amazingly good people, often with stories of how they had been anything but good before they had come to believe in Him. And God’s power and glory were clearly visible among them when they met.

So, with fear and trembling, people listened from the edges. And, as they listened, they believed what they were hearing about Jesus, who He was and what He did for the people of the world, and they were saved, and transformed, and baptized, and finally brought into the living center of the community.

There were also those who needed a healing or release from the domination of demons, either for themselves or for others. Those who were brave enough or desperate enough came right into the center of the group with their requests and received what they needed. Others were too timid for that, and merely brought their loved ones into the streets in the hope that Peter’s shadow might fall on them as he passed by. And even among these, as timid and fearful of God’s actual presence as they were, were those who received the healing they needed in answer to the small faith that they displayed.

Father, it is encouraging as well as frustrating to see Your presence and power so tangibly present in Your Church at the beginning. Those kingdom people not only did a lot of good in the lives of those who had profound needs, but Your presence and power were such a powerful draw to those who hungered for something profoundly real, and who ultimately found it in Jesus. Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost that tangible presence and power. A spark of it flares up in the Church from time to time, but it quickly dies out as the focus shifts to the signs and wonders and away from living in Your kingdom as conduits to bring more in. Lord, bless Your people with Your presence once again. Melt us, mold us, shape us, and fill us with Your presence so that we can truly live as the people of the kingdom, not in a philosophical or theological sense, but tangibly, powerfully, and effectively, to Your glory. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – December 22, 2018

John 19:6-9 (NIV)
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.

While Pilate was contemplating what to do with Jesus, he received a letter from his wife warning him not to have anything to do with Him and telling him that she had had a troubling dream about Him – a bad omen! (Matthew 27:19) So, Pilate was unprepared and dismayed by the crowd’s reaction to the battered and bloodied Jesus, dressed mockingly as a king in a purple robe and crown of thorns: “Crucify! Crucify!”

His first response was somewhat snide and dismissive: “You take Him and crucify Him if you want Him to be crucified. I have examined Him and have not found Him guilty of any crime.” And that should have been the end of the matter.

Btu the chief priests, out of anger and fear that their plans were unraveling, tipped their hand. It wasn’t for sedition that they had brought Jesus to Pilate for his condemnation. It was for blasphemy, a violation of Jewish law. He had claimed to be the Son of God, tantamount to claiming to be God Himself. (John 10:30-33)

Pilate was stunned speechless at this. Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God? That was vital information! Why had it been withheld from him until now? His mind instantly went to all the stories he had learned as a child about the days when the gods and their offspring lived among human beings. And if they were treated badly by the people, things turned out disastrously! He wasn’t sure that he believed those old stories, but here was a miracle worker who claimed to be the Son of God just like in the stories; a man who had invaded his wife’s dreams and who had just told him minutes ago that He had a non-earthly kingdom. It all fit!

White-faced, Pilate turned and walked back inside and had Jesus brought to him. His question was direct: “Where do you come from?” After he had ordered Jesus to be beaten, and after he had allowed Him to be humiliated, he was filled with dread that Jesus would say that He really had come from heaven, and that Pilate, his family, maybe even the whole city of Jerusalem was about to be leveled by God’s wrath. But, to his frustration and dread, Jesus looked him in the eye and said…nothing.

Father, it seems that since people couldn’t understand Jesus, their darkened minds being unable to grasp His words or to see the real power behind His miracles, many of them reacted with fear rather than reverence. It was fear that determined the chief priests to destroy Jesus, to eliminate what they could not grasp or control. Pilate, on the other hand, was filled with awe that turned his fear in a different direction, making him determined to set Jesus free (John 19:12). Lord, help us to always take Jesus at face value, and to let those things we don’t understand drive us to worship, not fear. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 12, 2018

John 18:12-17 (NIV)
Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.
Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.
“You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”

Jesus’ arrest was routine. Once Jesus stepped forward and surrendered, the disciples scattered into the trees (Mark 14:50). So, the soldiers simply tied Jesus up and led Him away under guard.

But the trial process was anything but routine. Jewish law forbade trials to take place during the dark hours of the day, ostensibly to ensure transparency in the judicial process. But most of Jesus’ trial process happened in the dark of night, even if these “mini trials” were framed as mere “hearings.” The first hearing in this multi-stage affair was at the home of Annas, the former high priest and father-in-law of the current high priest, Caiaphas.

After Jesus was taken away, two of His disciples, Peter and John (who, as usual in his gospel, is conspicuously unnamed) followed at a distance. When they saw that Jesus was being taken to the house of Annas, John, who knew Annas personally, marched right into the courtyard at the rear of the group. But Peter held back and was left outside when the gate was shut. When John realized what had happened, he went back and talked to the young woman who was acting as the gatekeeper, so she opened the gate and admitted Peter.

No sooner had Peter passed through the gate than the gatekeeper asked a simple question: “You aren’t one of His disciples too, are you?” The woman knew that John was a follower of Jesus (thus the word “too”), and John seemed to have no problem being identified as such. But the form of the woman’s question anticipated an answer of “no,” which instantly turned Peter’s mind to the negative implications of being closely associated with Jesus on that night in that place. So, Peter folded, giving the first of the three denials of Jesus that He had foretold earlier in the evening.

Father, we see two models here. The first is John who, though acquainted with the high priest and his family, was nonetheless completely committed to Jesus. John had no problem being identified as Jesus’ disciple, even when the times seemed dangerous and the circumstances unsure. Peter, on the other hand, was timid. He had his antenna up, sensing the mood of the moment, and decided that in view of the uncertain times and the potential danger, it would be better, safer, to not identify himself as a follower of Jesus. Better to put his light temporarily under a bowl than to let it shine too brightly in this dark place, attracting unwanted attention. But once that first step is made into compromise, each subsequent step becomes easier, more natural, and the harder it becomes to backtrack on earlier denials. Lord, help me to never take that first step into denial, but, like John, to simply live unambiguously as Jesus’ disciple, no matter the circumstances. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

 

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Today’s Scripture – December 1, 2018

John 16:29-33 (NIV)
Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
“You believe at last!” Jesus answered. “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The lights were finally starting to come on for the disciples, at least in one area, and they were feeling better about that. They now understood that Jesus would be taken from them, but they also understood that it would be a temporary, even short-term separation. He would come back to them soon. They looked forward to the Counselor that He would send to them. They had already experienced His presence and power in their lives when Jesus had sent them out in pairs (Luke 9:1-2), but now they were being promised His presence as a permanent part of their lives.

They were also amazed that Jesus not only seemed to truly know what they were thinking but was able to easily address their every question. To them, this confirmed that Jesus had indeed come from God.

But Jesus didn’t allow them to become smug in this new awareness. Despite what they were feeling now, in just a short time the trap would close on Jesus, and His closest followers would scatter, leaving Him without human support. However, He also knew that He would have divine support through the entire ordeal, and he was fine with that.

The key reason Jesus had told His followers all these things in advance was so that when they did happen the disciples would not entirely lose heart, but would have hope and peace, knowing that it was all happening exactly as expected. Even though they did freak out in the moment and fulfilled Jesus’ worst predictions of betrayal, desertion, and denial, they weren’t completely scattered, but stayed holed up together until everything could be fulfilled for them.

But Jesus’ predictions went far beyond the immediate future. His prediction that, “In this world you will have trouble,” looked to the time when all the force of the world system would come against the disciples as they faithfully shared the good news of the kingdom. And His statement that they should “take heart! I have overcome the world” would remind them in that time of suffering how to stand firm in their faith, just as Jesus had done.

Father, it is easy for us to buckle in the face of opposition, to back off, be silent, or even retreat from the threat as the disicples did. In those times, we instead need to remember Jesus words in Matthew 10:24-31 (NIV): “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” And in the knowledge that we can overcome just as Jesus did, because we have the same Spirit who strengthened Him, we need to stand firm, continue in obedience, and keep moving forward, knowing that, in the end, You have us. Thank you for that sure knowledge, and for the presence of Your Spirit to confirm it. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – July 2, 2018

Luke 24:36-43 (NIV)

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.
He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

Those who had heard the news that Jesus had risen from the dead from reliable witnesses (Mary Magdalene, Peter, Cleopas, and his companion) believed their testimony, believed that Jesus really had risen from the dead. But they believed it in the abstract. But when Jesus suddenly appeared in the room with them, despite the fact that the doors were locked (John 20:19), they abandoned their new-found belief, and thought that they were seeing a ghost!

Jesus was troubled by this lack of acceptance of the truth of His resurrection. After all, He had told them several times exactly how all of this would play out, in enough detail that they should have simply received Him with joy when He showed up very much alive.

But Jesus was also patient and loving with these followers whom He had chosen to bear witness to the reality of the things that they were now seeing. Despite the fact that He had suddenly appeared in the locked room with them (after He had suddenly vanished in Emmaus!), He invited the whole assembly to not just see Him and hear Him, but to actually touch Him so that they would know that His body was not a phantom, but real flesh and bones.

He even showed them the nail holes in His wrists and ankles in an effort to prove that it really was Him in the flesh. But when they were still keeping their distance, joyful at the possibility that this was all true, but at the same time terrified at the sheer miraculousness of it all, He asked for something to eat. They gave Him some broiled fish left over from their supper, and He ate it in front of them, final proof that He was not just a ghost, but had actually risen from the dead.

Father, sometimes we are very much like these disciples. Sometimes we pray for a mighty miracle, but we are filled with a terrified awe when You actually answer and work in the situation in ways that we can’t explain. But still You are patient with us, helping us to receive the miracle and deepen our faith in You and in what You are capable of doing. Thank You for Your power, and thank You just as much for Your love and grace that continue to draw us forward to You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 29, 2018

Luke 24:28-35 (NIV)

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Cleopas and his companion, both disicples of Jesus, although they were both prevented from recognizing Him as He walked with them and taught them on the road to Emmaus, were completely fascinated with what He was teaching about the Messiah directly from the Scriptures. So, when they reached their house in Emmaus, and when Jesus simply said good-bye and started to continue down the road, the two disciples begged Him to stay with them for the night. Such hospitality was common in Israel, and He agreed to stay.

The first order of business was a simple evening meal, bread and vegetables, with maybe a small portion of meat or a cup of soup. They put the food out, then all gathered on cushions around the low table to eat. Before they started, Jesus picked up the bread, lifted it high, and chanted the prayer of thanksgiving. Then He broke the bread in half and gave it Cleopas and his friend.

As he chanted the prayer, the two disciples could feel goosebumps start to rise on their skin. The sound of His voice and the rhythm of the chant were eerily familiar. And when He broke the bread and leaned forward to hand it to them, He looked each directly in the eye for the briefest moment.

Suddenly they both recognized who it was that they had been walking with and talking with. It was like scales had fallen off their eyes so that they could see. They both leaped to their feet while shouting in unison, “Jesus!” And, at that moment, He simply vanished, leaving only a dent in the cushions where He had been sitting.

The room was as silent as a tomb for several seconds as their minds spun rapidly, trying to make sense of what had just happened. Then they looked at each other, each seeing their own dumb-struck wonder reflected in the other’s face. And then, finally, the words came, spilling out all at once: “That was Jesus! It had to be Him! That was why His words had such a powerful effect on us! He really has risen from the dead!”

In seconds they had grabbed their walking sticks and thrown their cloaks across their shoulders. But their sticks never touched the ground as they set off at a dead run in the fading daylight back toward Jerusalem. The others had to know about this!

When they arrived breathless in the city, they headed straight to the upper room, where they found the whole place already abuzz with excitement. Not only had Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:10-18), He had appeared to Simon as well! They listened closely as the stories were told, their excitement steadily growing as the ramifications of all this sunk in. Then they shared their own experience with the risen Jesus while the rest of the people in the room sat in silent wonder.

Father, it strikes me as I witness these scenes that none of these men and women had taken an evangelism class, and I’m pretty sure none of them had had advanced theological training either. But when it came to sharing about Jesus, none of that slowed them down a bit! All they did was to share their own experience with the risen Jesus. And, in a very real sense, that’s all that You have called us to do as well. Lord, forgive us for allowing a lack of “credentials” to keep us silent. Our only necessary credential is experience with You. And forgive us for allowing ourselves to be intimidated by the idea of being a witness. We don’t need memorized presentations, lists of verses, and answers to commonly asked questions. All we really need is a life-transforming experience with You that we can share. Help us to just rely on that, and on Your loving presence, to help us. Amen.

 

For those of you who enjoy my meditations on the Scriptures, I have compiled, updated, and reformatted the meditations on the entire book of Mark in a single volume. Entitled “When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on Mark,” it is available on Amazon.com (Search for William S. Robertson When We Listen) or on eagerpress.com (no search necessary – it comes up on the front page of the site!).

God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – June 5, 2018

Luke 22:39-44 (NIV) Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Jesus knew that His time was very short, measured in minutes, not hours. He had done His best to prepare His closest followers for what was coming, but He knew that they were nowhere near ready. He even felt His own heart pulling back from the anguish that lay immediately in front of Him.

What was needed was prayer, both by Him, and by His disciples. Not prayer for safety, but for the ability to stay in the center of God’s will when things got hard. So, Jesus first urged His disciples to pray that they would not fall when the inevitable temptations came. Then he went a short distance away to pray Himself.

Jesus’ prayer was not what many people would expect. His first petition was that if any other way existed to accomplish the work, that the other way be used. Jesus was no coward, but His humanity quailed at the pain, suffering, and humiliation that was racing toward Him, and He wanted to make sure that there was really no other way before He stepped purposefully into the trap. But if there really was no other way, if this way of suffering and death really was God’s will, then he was completely game.

It was not long before He knew with absolute certainty that His suffering and death on the cross, and all the pain and abuse that would precede it, really was the only way for mankind to be saved. Only the complete sacrifice of the Lamb of God could really take away the sins of the whole world (John 1:29). And once he was certain of that, He prayed more passionately and earnestly, the exertion of which caused His perspiration, despite the cool of the early April evening, to roll from His face and body so profusely and in such large drops, as large as drops of blood, that it rolled off of Him and fell to the ground all around Him.

It is important to note that Jesus did not feel abandoned – God was not far from Him in this moment of deep distress. Instead, an angel from God’s presence appeared to Jesus, affirming for Him God’s plan and His role in it, and encouraging and strengthening Him as He prayed.

Father, sometimes we, too, can see pain and suffering approaching as we walk the path of Your will. And sometimes our humanity also quails at that pain and shrinks away from the suffering, just like Jesus. But here we can see that the solution is not retreat, because that would turn us aside from Your will. It is not reason, trying to talk ourselves out of our fear and trepidation, because fear is not an intellectual problem, but an emotional and spiritual one. The only real solution is simple, heartfelt, passionate prayer, surrendering ourselves completely to Your will, and allowing You to encourage and strengthen our hearts before the trial arrives. Help me to always remember this, Lord. Amen.

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