Learning to Trust God

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs. And Moses deposited the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the testimony.

On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his staff. 10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” 11 Thus did Moses; as the Lord commanded him, so he did.

12 And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. 13 Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, shall die. Are we all to perish?” Numbers 17:1-13 ESV

The Israelites had become first-class, professional whiners. They could grumble with the best of them. Over and over again, since the day they left Egypt, they had found reasons to complain – about everything from the food to the leadership of Moses. Most recently, it had been God’s decision to have only the Levites serve as priests in the tabernacle. God had given them the responsibility that was supposed to belong to the first-born males of every tribe. The Levites had been divinely chosen to serve as substitutes.

But the people had decided they didn’t like this plan. Under the leadership of Korah and a few other leaders, the people had risen up against Moses and Aaron, demanding their version of equality and inclusion. But their demands were met with the discipline of God. He destroyed all those who instigated the rebellion against Moses and Aaron and then brought a plague against those who blamed Moses and Aaron for the deaths of their friends. Only the quick action of Aaron, who offered an atoning sacrifice for the people, spared even more from death that day.

In light of all the complaining, God came up with a plan to bring it to a close once and for all. He knew the people were far from done. It was just a matter of time before they found something else to stir them up and cause them to lash out at God and His chosen leaders. So God instructed Moses to have each tribe select a branch from an almond tree and inscribe on it the name of the prince or head of their tribe. These 12 rods were then to be placed in the tabernacle before the Lord.

The next day Moses went in and discovered that the rod bearing Aaron’s name had budded, blossomed, and bore fruit. Miraculously, it had gone through an entire growing season in one evening. Devoid of water and the benefits of the tree from which it had been taken, Aaron’s rod evidenced a supernatural capacity for fruitfulness. This amazing visual display was intended to show the people that God had selected Aaron and his sons to serve Him as priests. Case closed! There was no more reason for the people to question or complain. God had settled the dispute once and for all.

Or maybe not. Because immediately after this, the people crank up their complaining once again. This time it was about their physical well-being. They said, “We are as good as dead. Everyone who even comes close to the Tabernacle of the LORD dies. We are all doomed!” (Numbers 17:12-13 NLT). Instead of praising God for what He had done with the almond rod, they focused their attention on their own well-being. They were so busy pitying themselves, they had no time to think about God’s miraculous demonstration of power and His clear endorsement of Aaron and his sons.

God’s divine display had been intended to settle the dispute about leadership. He had unquestionably reaffirmed His selection of the Aaronic priesthood. He even commanded that the rod be placed alongside the Ark of the Covenant. It was to serve as a perpetual reminder that God had spoken and the matter was settled. His will was not up for debate and He expected His commands to be obeyed at all times.

But the people saw His actions as a statement of judgment and feared further retribution from God. They had just witnessed the earth open up and swallow the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then they stood back and watched as the fire of the Lord consumed the 250 leaders who had joined in the rebellion. Finally, they had seen 14,700 of their fellow Israelites die from the plague that God had sent upon them.

So, they viewed the budding of Aaron’s rod as a further indictment of their guilt and reacted with fear.

“Look, we are doomed! We are dead! We are ruined! Everyone who even comes close to the Tabernacle of the Lord dies. Are we all doomed to die?” – Numbers 17:12-13 NLT

Rather than glorying in the greatness of God, they cowered in fear. Instead of repenting for their rebellion against Him, they accused Him of being a vengeful, bloodthirsty deity. They display no remorse. They exhibit no signs of sorrow for their sins. They simply express their fear of God’s judgment and wrath. After all the time they had spent in His presence and enjoyed His power and provision, they still had no idea who He was and how they were to respond to Him.

But isn’t that what we do? We can get so consumed with our dissatisfaction with our lot in life that we fail to see the miracles of God taking place all around us. We whine and moan, and spend all our time grumbling to God that we never see all that He is doing around us. Yet God patiently endures our rejection of Him. He continues to shower us with His grace and unmerited favor.

We turn our backs on Him, but He never abandons us. He disciplines us, but He never stops loving us. He is faithful, even when we are unfaithful. He provides us with leadership, direction, sustenance, and everything we need to survive in this hostile environment. Yet we continually turn our backs on Him. Or worse yet, we end up fearing Him rather than basking in the love He pours out on us. Like the Israelites, we live as if God is out to get us, not to bless us. We view Him as a cosmic killjoy, not a loving Father who wants to meet our every need in Christ.

Sin is ultimately self-centered. It always has been. It ends up being all about me. And when I focus on myself, I lose sight of Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

God Will Be Faithful

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you, and you offer to the Lord from the herd or from the flock a food offering or a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering or at your appointed feasts, to make a pleasing aroma to the Lord, then he who brings his offering shall offer to the Lord a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil; and you shall offer with the burnt offering, or for the sacrifice, a quarter of a hin of wine for the drink offering for each lamb. Or for a ram, you shall offer for a grain offering two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a third of a hin of oil. And for the drink offering you shall offer a third of a hin of wine, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And when you offer a bull as a burnt offering or sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or for peace offerings to the Lord, then one shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three tenths of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with half a hin of oil. 10 And you shall offer for the drink offering half a hin of wine, as a food offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

11 “Thus it shall be done for each bull or ram, or for each lamb or young goat. 12 As many as you offer, so shall you do with each one, as many as there are. 13 Every native Israelite shall do these things in this way, in offering a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 14 And if a stranger is sojourning with you, or anyone is living permanently among you, and he wishes to offer a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord, he shall do as you do. 15 For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the sojourner shall be alike before the Lord. 16 One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you.”

17 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 18 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land to which I bring you 19 and when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall present a contribution to the Lord. 20 Of the first of your dough you shall present a loaf as a contribution; like a contribution from the threshing floor, so shall you present it. 21 Some of the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord as a contribution throughout your generations. Numbers 15:1-21 ESV

Even though God had condemned an entire generation of Israelites to wander in the wilderness for 40 years as punishment for their rebellion, He would not abandon them. The Lord would continue to guide them, provide for and protect them, and even give them further instructions regarding their eventual occupation of the land of Canaan. While that generation would never experience the joy of crossing over the Jordan and experiencing God’s rest, their children would. And God used the four-decade-long detour through the wilderness as a training opportunity for the next generation of Israelites, providing them with detailed instructions for their eventual entrance into the land of promise.

Though the adult population had allowed the fear-laden advice of the ten spies to deter them from keeping God’s command to enter and conquer the land of Canaan, God refused to renege on His promise. He remained committed to the covenant He had made with Abraham and assured Moses that the offspring of the rebellious generation would inherit the land.

God had made it perfectly clear that the adults in the room had blown their chance.

“…not one of these people will ever enter that land. They have all seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they have tested me by refusing to listen to my voice. They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will ever see it.” – Numbers 14:22-23 NLT

Yet, despite their blatant display of disobedience, He would not hold the children responsible for the sins of their parents. During the 40-year delay, things would continue just as they had since the Israelites departed Egypt. The tabernacle would remain in the center of the camp with the Shekinah glory of God located above the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. The sacrificial system would continue just as God had prescribed it on Mount Sinai. Sacrifices would be offered and sins atoned for. Life would go on as it had before. And each year, children would be born into the Israelite community and members of the older generation would die off. There would be a slow but steady changing of the guard as the infants grew into adolescents who eventually became adults.

And God provided Moses with the assurance that a new group of Israelites would eventually enter the land.

“Give the following instructions to the people of Israel.

“When you finally settle in the land I am giving you, you will offer special gifts as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. – Numbers 15:2-3 NLT

The faces and names of the people would change, but the covenant would be fulfilled. And this message from God must have been a painful reminder to the older generation that their disobedience had been costly. They would never have the joy of crossing the Jordan River into the land of promise with their children and grandchildren. Their lives would end in death in the wilderness. They were close but yet so far. Canaan was within reach but completely off limits because of their refusal to obey God.

This chapter contains additional instructions regarding the sacrificial system and it focuses on the changes God would require once they entered the new land. It is interesting to note that this addendum includes additional sacrifices involving grain, oil, and wine. When the people arrive in the land, they will be required to supplement their meat offerings with “a grain offering of two quarts of choice flour mixed with one quart of olive oil” (Numbers 15:4 NLT). And for each lamb offered, they would add “one quart of wine as a liquid offering” (Numbers 15:5 NLT).

This appears to be a reference to the fruitfulness of the land of Canaan. When the spies had returned from their expedition within the borders of Canaan, they reported that it was “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27 NLT). It was rich and bountiful. In fact, they had brought back “a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs” (Numbers 13:23 NLT).

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses describes just how bountiful the land of promise will be.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-11 NLT

For people who were living in the wilderness, surviving off of manna and quail, this description must have been highly attractive. The prospect of enjoying the comforts of a real house over the cramped confines of a tent would have been difficult to imagine. Ever since leaving Egypt, they had eaten no fruit, raised no crops, baked no bread, or enjoyed any of the comforts of “home.” They were nomads wandering through a godforsaken wilderness.

But God assured them that upon entering the land of promise, all that would change. They would have plenty of grain, oil, and wine. So much so, that these bountiful resources would become a part of the sacrificial system. According to the book of Exodus, the Israelites had left Egypt with “great flocks and herds of livestock” (Exodus 12:38 NLT). So, animal sacrifices had always been plentiful, even in the wilderness. But they had no access to grain, oil, and wine. The only bread they had to eat was in the form of the manna which God miraculously provided. Since there were few olive trees or vineyards in the wilderness, oil and wine were in short supply. But things would be different in Canaan.

This entire passage is meant to emphasize God’s faithfulness and to assure the Israelites of His unfailing commitment to providing for all their needs. And their response to His faithfulness was to be one of gratitude, expressed through the offering of meat, grain, oil, and wine. These gifts were intended to honor God for His goodness and grace – “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Numbers 15:3) for all that He had done.

It’s important to remember that these instructions were given long before the people entered the land and long before they had access to the oil, grain, and wine. But God was assuring them that the day would come when the bounty of the land would become readily available. In fact, He was guaranteeing its availability.

“When you arrive in the land where I am taking you, and you eat the crops that grow there, you must set some aside as a sacred offering to the Lord. Present a cake from the first of the flour you grind, and set it aside as a sacred offering, as you do with the first grain from the threshing floor. Throughout the generations to come, you are to present a sacred offering to the Lord each year from the first of your ground flour.” – Numbers 15:18-21 NLT

To the rebellious generation who had decided that the conquest of Canaan was impossible, this word from God must have been difficult to hear. They must have been filled with regret when they considered all that they had sacrificed when they made their fateful decision to disobey God. Not only would they fail to enter the land, but they would never enjoy its fruit or experience the joy of standing alongside their children and grandchildren as they offered God gifts of gratitude for its bounty.

But God underscores His own faithfulness when He states that these offerings will take place “throughout the generations to come” (Numbers 15:21 NLT). The next generation will conquer and occupy the land. The land will provide for all their needs. And the people will be expected to offer up their thanks to God for His goodness and graciousness – for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

15 And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants. 1 Kings 3:5-15 ESV

Early on in his reign, Solomon was a man who loved and honored Yahweh. His devotion to God shows up in the regular trips he made to Gibeon where the tent or tabernacle was located. There he would offer burnt offerings to God, sometimes as many as 1,000 at a time. The divine regulations concerning these sacrifices are found in the book of Leviticus, where they are described as “a burnt offering, a gift of a soothing aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:17 NET).

One on such occasion, after a day of offering unblemished sacrificial animals on the altar to Yahweh, Solomon went to bed that evening and had a dream. In his dream, he was visited by God, who made Solomon a gracious and magnanimous offer: “Tell me what I should give you” (1 Kings 3:5 NET).

Solomon had spared no expense when giving to God the thousands of unblemished animals from his royal flocks and herds. He had willingly offered the best of what he had as a way of expressing his gratitude and devotion to God. And now, God was offering to give Solomon a gift in return. As a blessing for his faithful obedience, Solomon was being extended a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask for whatever he wanted from God. He was being given carte blanche, a literal blank check from God, to name his own blessing. The God of the universe was opening up the doors to His royal treasuries and telling Solomon that he could have whatever he wanted.

The gravity of this moment should not be overlooked. In a sense, Solomon was being given a test by God, designed to reveal the true nature of his heart. He could ask God for anything, and whatever he ended up requesting from God would expose his hidden desires and priorities.

What would we do if faced with the same opportunity? How would we respond? What would we request from God? Would we ask for wealth, power, popularity, good health, long life? The problem is that many of us already think of God as some kind of cosmic genie-in-a-bottle, an all-powerful, divine being who exists to fulfill our wishes. We would relish the thought of being in Solomon’s sandals, faced with the chance to tell God our one request for Him to fulfill. But this was Solomon’s dream and, when given the opportunity to make his request known to God, he didn’t hesitate for a second.

First, Solomon expressed his gratitude to God for everything He had done already.

“You showed great and faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued to show this great and faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne. – 1 Kings 3:6 NLT

Solomon was grateful for God’s faithfulness and unfailing love. He was well aware of the many ways in which God had blessed his father, David. And now, he was sitting on the throne of David because it had been ordained by God. His newfound position of power and authority had been a gift from God. He had not deserved it. If anything, Solomon felt ill-equipped and unprepared for such an important role.

“I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted!” – 1 Kings 3:7-8 NLT

When faced with a situation that could have easily exposed his greed and opportunism, Solomon displayed remarkable humility. His mind was not immediately filled with thoughts of riches or glory. His first thoughts were not of a new royal wardrobe, a faster chariot, a bigger palace, or a larger kingdom. His mind focused on his inadequacy and inability to do the job he had been given by God. So, he asked Yahweh for the one thing he knew he lacked: Wisdom.

“Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:9 NLT

Solomon already possessed unsurpassed power and tremendous wealth. He didn’t need more of either one. In the short time he had ruled over Israel, he realized that what he lacked was the wisdom to govern God’s people. It had been said of David, that he shepherded the people of Israel with “integrity of heart” and he had “guided them with skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72 BSB). Solomon wanted to do the same thing but knew he was deficient. He did not have what was required to govern wisely and well. So, he asked God to provide what he lacked, and it pleased God to do so. 

“Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!” – 1 Kings 3:11-12 NLT

In essence, God said, “Good answer!” He liked what He heard and was more than willing to give Solomon exactly what he had requested, and more.

“And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!” – 1 Kings 3:13 NLT

God blessed Solomon. First, by giving him what he needed most. God provided this newly crowned king with wisdom that would set him apart from every other king on the planet. Solomon would become world-renowned for his wisdom. And, even today, he is often referred to as the wisest man who ever lived. But God also gave Solomon something he didn’t request and didn’t really need. He blessed him with riches and fame. But those unrequested gifts would actually come as a result of Solomon’s wisdom. God didn’t suddenly fill Solomon’s royal treasuries with gold and silver. His great wealth was a byproduct of the wisdom given to him by God. One of the proverbs later collected and compiled by Solomon personifies the voice of wisdom, declaring its many residual benefits.

Riches and honor are with me,
    enduring wealth and righteousness. – Proverbs 8:18 ESV

Solomon would grow wealthy and he would become famous. But those were side benefits. The gift of wisdom, given to him by God, would allow Solomon to govern his kingdom according to divine principles. Every aspect of his decision-making was divinely influenced and inspired. As long as he relied on God, he would experience the blessings of God that accompany the wisdom of God.

God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite and the sons of Mahol—Heman, Calcol, and Darda. His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. – 1 Kings 4:29-34 NLT

Fame and fortune were not the gift. Wisdom was. And as Proverbs 8 clearly points out, the wisdom of God is of far greater value than any residual benefits it may bring.

Take my instruction instead of silver,
    and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
    and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. – Proverbs 8:10-11 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Gratitude At Great Cost

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” – Matthew 26:1-13 ESV

Jesus_Anointed_by_Mary_Magdalene.jpgJesus ended His discussion regarding the Kingdom of Heaven with a jarring reminder to His disciples of His upcoming crucifixion. Not only was the inauguration of His Kingdom going to be delayed, but He was also going to die. And while Jesus had made it clear that the coming of His Kingdom would not happen for some time, His death would take place in just a matter of days.

What a rude wakeup call for the disciples. And what an unpleasant reminder that things were not as they had hoped or supposed. Their king had come, but not as they had expected. His Kingdom was not of this earth. And, as they would soon discover, the crown He was destined to wear would be made of thorns, not gold. He would hang on a cross, not sit on a throne. And yet, it was all part of God’s sovereign plan.

And so was the plotting and planning of the religious leaders. Their role in the entire affair was not in opposition to God’s will, but an essential part of it. They were nothing more than instruments in His hands, unknowingly accomplishing His will even through their disobedience and rejection of His Son. What they did, they did in secret. They plotted behind the scenes. They hid their intentions from the people, because of Jesus’ popularity. But God was fully aware of their every move. And He was in total control of the entire timeline of events. From the clandestine collusion of the religious leaders to the self-serving plans of Judas to betray Jesus, nothing escaped God’s divine attention or threatened the outcome of His redemptive plan.

And this includes the anointing of Jesus by Mary. This has always been a fascinating story to me. It is full of interesting twists and turns and raises more than just a few questions. One of the most intriguing things about this passage is a statement made by Jesus. It is one that I overlooked for years.

After having been anointed by Mary and hearing the protests of Judas about the wastefulness of this action, Jesus responded by saying, “I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed” (Mark 14:9 NLT).

I can’t help but read that statement and ask, “Was He right?” Have the actions of this woman been remembered and discussed wherever the Good News has been preached? There is no doubt that this passage and the events contained in it have been preached, but have Mary’s deeds been discussed throughout the world? I am not saying that Jesus was wrong, but I am suggesting that we may be missing the significance of the moment as Jesus saw it.

His statement suggests that the actions of Mary were not to be overlooked or misunderstood. The disciples, especially Judas, saw what she did as wasteful and unnecessary. It seemed extravagant and a tad over-zealous on Mary’s part. But Jesus said that what she did should be remembered and discussed among all believers everywhere and for all time. But why?

I think there are several things going on here. First of all, it is just days before Jesus’ trials, crucifixion, and death. He had told His disciples what was going to happen in Jerusalem, but they had refused to believe it. Jesus had His attention focused on the task at hand – His sacrificial death for the sins of all mankind. The disciples were focused on something altogether different: Jesus becoming the King of Israel. They were still anticipating that He was going to establish His earthly Kingdom, where they would rule and reign at His side. They had no room in their plans for a suffering Savior or a martyred Messiah.

Yet, Jesus was fully aware of all that was about to happen to Him. He knew about Judas’ plans to betray Him. He was painfully aware that Peter was going to deny Him. He knew that every one of the disciples would eventually desert Him. So, when He walked into the home of Simon the leper in order to attend a special dinner held in His honor, His mind was on the events that faced Him in the days ahead.

But this dinner was meant to be a celebration. Simon, the host of the event, had been healed by Jesus from leprosy. In attendance was Lazarus, who Jesus had miraculously raised from the dead just days earlier. Along with him were his sisters, Mary and Martha. This was a joyous occasion, and all in attendance were celebrating the life, health, and wholeness of these two men: Simon and Lazarus. And Jesus was the center of attention because He had made it all possible.

It was a feast, complete with fine food and good wine. And then, in the middle of it all, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, stood up and took a bottle of costly perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head and feet. This would have been a stop-down moment. The smell would have been overwhelming, as the pungent aroma of nard filled the room. All eyes would have been riveted on Mary as she knelt at Jesus’ feet, weeping and wiping up the excess perfume with her own hair. Jaws would have dropped. Whispers would have been passed back and forth. Mark tells us that some at the table were indignant at what they saw. Judas, the acting treasurer for the disciples, spoke up and commented on the wastefulness of it all. “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor” (John 12:5 NLT).

But what was Mary’s motivation? Jesus seemed to indicate that Mary knew what she was doing. He said, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial” (John 12:7 NLT).

But I don’t think that was Mary’s intent. I don’t believe she anointed Jesus, aware that He was going to be dead in just a few days. Her action was purely out of gratitude for what He had done for her brother. He had raised Lazarus from the dead, and she was overwhelmed with appreciation. So, she took the best that she had and gave it to the Lord. She blessed Him for having been a blessing to her. Unknowingly, she was anointing Jesus for burial – while He was still alive.

The fragrance of that perfume would have been with Jesus even as He hung on the cross. The oil from the essence of nard would have mixed with His blood as He was scourged by the Roman guards. It would have mingled with His sweat as He hung on the cross, enduring the physical pain and the verbal abuse of the religious leaders. And as Jesus breathed His last breath, the smell of that perfume would have filled His nostrils.

This selfless, sacrificial gift would last much longer than the meal or the accolades of the guests. Even the shouts of “Hosanna” that had accompanied Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that previous Sunday would die away and change into screams of “Crucify Him!”

The people at that dinner were there because they had seen or heard about Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was a celebrity. He was a rock star. But none of them went out of their way to sacrificially thank Him for all that He had done. Except for one individual. Mary took the time and sacrificed her resources, to express gratitude to Jesus for His ministry in her life. And her thankful actions were seen by Jesus as a preparation for His coming death.

Jesus was on His way to die – on their behalf. The disciples were busy planning for the Kingdom, even debating who would have the highest positions in Jesus’ new administration. The people were thinking that things were looking up. The Messiah had arrived and, once He claimed His rightful throne, He was going to get rid of the Romans once and for all. But Mary could think of doing nothing else but expressing thanks for what Jesus had already done in her life. She showed Him her gratitude.

Jesus made a point of saying that what Mary had done for Him would be remembered and discussed among believers everywhere and for all time. Why? Because she alone expressed the proper response to Him. She was not asking for more. She was not demanding that He set up His Kingdom. She was not wanting Him to perform more miracles or prove Himself in any other way. He had already done more than enough for Mary and she showed Him just how grateful she was. And in doing so, she helped prepare His living body for His coming death. Her action of gratitude would have more impact than even she intended. She did what she could. She gave what she had. She showed how she felt. And she should be remembered and serve as a model for us all.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Beautiful Thing.

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” – Matthew 26:1-13 ESV

Jesus_Anointed_by_Mary_Magdalene.jpgJesus ended His discussion regarding the Kingdom of Heaven with a jarring reminder to His disciples of His upcoming crucifixion. Not only was the inauguration of His Kingdom going to be delayed, but He was also going to die. And while Jesus had made it clear that the coming of His Kingdom would not happen for some time, His death would take place in just a matter of days.

What a rude wakeup call for the disciples. And what an unpleasant reminder that things were not as they had hoped or supposed. Their king had come, but not as they had expected. His Kingdom was not of this earth. And, as they would soon discover, the crown He was destined to wear would be made of thorns, not gold. He would hang on a cross, not sit on a throne. And yet, it was all part of God’s sovereign plan.

And so was the plotting and planning of the religious leaders. Their role in the entire affair was not in opposition to God’s will, but an essential part of it. They were nothing more than instruments in His hands, unknowingly accomplishing His will even through their disobedience and rejection of His Son. What they did, they did in secret. They plotted behind the scenes. They hid their intentions from the people, because of Jesus’ popularity. But God was fully aware of their every move. And He was in total control of the entire timeline of events. From the clandestine collusion of the religious leaders to the self-serving plans of Judas to betray Jesus, nothing escaped God’s divine attention or threatened the outcome of His redemptive plan.

And this includes the anointing of Jesus by Mary. This has always been a fascinating story to me. It is full of interesting twists and turns and raises more than just a few questions. One of the most intriguing things about this passage is a statement made by Jesus. It is one that I overlooked for years.

After having been anointed by Mary and hearing the protests of Judas about the wastefulness of this action, Jesus responded by saying, “I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed” (Mark 14:9 NLT).

I can’t help but read that statement and ask, “Was He right?” Have the actions of this woman been remembered and discussed wherever the Good News has been preached? There is no doubt that this passage and the events contained in it have been preached, but have Mary’s deeds been discussed throughout the world? I am not saying that Jesus was wrong, but I am suggesting that we may be missing the significance of the moment as Jesus saw it.

His statement suggests that the actions of Mary were not to be overlooked or misunderstood. The disciples, especially Judas, saw what she did as wasteful and unnecessary. It seemed extravagant and a tad over-zealous on Mary’s part. But Jesus said that what she did should be remembered and discussed among all believers everywhere and for all time. But why?

I think there are several things going on here. First of all, it is just days before Jesus’ trials, crucifixion, and death. He had told His disciples what was going to happen in Jerusalem, but they had refused to believe it. Jesus had His attention focused on the task at hand – His sacrificial death for the sins of all mankind. The disciples were focused on something altogether different: Jesus becoming the King of Israel. They were still anticipating that He was going to establish His earthly Kingdom, where they would rule and reign at His side. They had no room in their plans for a suffering Savior or a martyred Messiah.

Yet, Jesus was fully aware of all that was about to happen to Him. He knew about Judas’ plans to betray Him. He was painfully aware that Peter was going to deny Him. He knew that every one of the disciples would eventually desert Him. So, when He walked into the home of Simon the leper in order to attend a special dinner held in His honor, His mind was on the events that faced Him in the days ahead.

But this dinner was meant to be a celebration. Simon, the host of the event, had been healed by Jesus from leprosy. In attendance was Lazarus, who Jesus had miraculously raised from the dead just days earlier. Along with him were his sisters, Mary and Martha. This was a joyous occasion, and all in attendance were celebrating the life, health, and wholeness of these two men: Simon and Lazarus. And Jesus was the center of attention because He had made it all possible.

It was a feast, complete with fine food and good wine. And then, in the middle of it all, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, stood up and took a bottle of costly perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head and feet. This would have been a stop-down moment. The smell would have been overwhelming, as the pungent aroma of nard filled the room. All eyes would have been riveted on Mary as she knelt at Jesus’ feet, weeping and wiping up the excess perfume with her own hair. Jaws would have dropped. Whispers would have been passed back and forth. Mark tells us that some at the table were indignant at what they saw. Judas, the acting treasurer for the disciples, spoke up and commented on the wastefulness of it all. “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor” (John 12:5 NLT).

But what was Mary’s motivation? Jesus seemed to indicate that Mary knew what she was doing. He said, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial” (John 12:7 NLT).

But I don’t think that was Mary’s intent. I don’t believe she anointed Jesus, aware that He was going to be dead in just a few days. Her action was purely out of gratitude for what He had done for her brother. He had raised Lazarus from the dead, and she was overwhelmed with appreciation. So, she took the best that she had and gave it to the Lord. She blessed Him for having been a blessing to her. Unknowingly, she was anointing Jesus for burial – while He was still alive.

The fragrance of that perfume would have been with Jesus even as He hung on the cross. The oil from the essence of nard would have mixed with His blood as He was scourged by the Roman guards. It would have mingled with His sweat as He hung on the cross, enduring the physical pain and the verbal abuse of the religious leaders. And as Jesus breathed His last breath, the smell of that perfume would have filled His nostrils.

This selfless, sacrificial gift would last much longer than the meal or the accolades of the guests. Even the shouts of “Hosanna” that had accompanied Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that previous Sunday would die away and change into screams of “Crucify Him!”

The people at that dinner were there because they had seen or heard about Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was a celebrity. He was a rock star. But none of them went out of their way to sacrificially thank Him for all that He had done. Except for one individual. Mary took the time and sacrificed her resources, to express gratitude to Jesus for His ministry in her life. And her thankful actions were seen by Jesus as a preparation for His coming death.

Jesus was on His way to die – on their behalf. The disciples were busy planning for the Kingdom, even debating who would have the highest positions in Jesus’ new administration. The people were thinking that things were looking up. The Messiah had arrived and, once He claimed His rightful throne, He was going to get rid of the Romans once and for all. But Mary could think of doing nothing else but expressing thanks for what Jesus had already done in her life. She showed Him her gratitude.

Jesus made a point of saying that what Mary had done for Him would be remembered and discussed among believers everywhere and for all time. Why? Because she alone expressed the proper response to Him. She was not asking for more. She was not demanding that He set up His Kingdom. She was not wanting Him to perform more miracles or prove Himself in any other way. He had already done more than enough for Mary and she showed Him just how grateful she was. And in doing so, she helped prepare His living body for His coming death. Her action of gratitude would have more impact than even she intended. She did what she could. She gave what she had. She showed how she felt. And she should be remembered and serve as a model for us all.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Model Prayer.

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. – Matthew 6:9-15 ESV

Jesus has just told His audience how not to pray. They were not to pray hypocritically, pretending to be concerned with God, while actually trying to impress those around them with their prayerful piety. And He told them not to pray lengthy, repetitive prayers, in the hopes that God might see them as more holy, and answer their prayers more readily. Jesus knew there was a lot about the practice of prayer that was misunderstood by His listeners and causing them to misuse and abuse it. They had turned prayer into little more than an outward display of their own apparent righteousness. They prayed to impress and to gain the approval of men. So, what should proper prayer look like? That is the question that Jesus answers in these verses. He opens with the statement: “Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).  What follows is a model for prayer. It was not intended to be a stand-in for your own prayers or to become some kind of daily recitation that we pray routinely and mechanically. In these verses, Jesus provides us with a model to be followed, not a prayer simply to be recited. It contains the key elements that should be found in every prayer we pray. It provides a simple, easy-to-follow outline for proper prayer.

First of all, Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as child to Father. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants and desires within His will. So, Jesus begins His model prayer with the words:

Our Father in heaven…

Jesus sets up an interesting juxtaposition. He refers to God as our Father, but reminds us that His residence is in heaven. The term “father” communicates intimacy. We are to come before God as a child, recognizing that He loves and cares for us. Realizing that He is our provider and protector. He is responsible for us. Which is why Jesus would have us never forget that, in prayer, we are talking to the transcendent God of the universe. He is in heaven. We are on earth. The word, “heaven” is intended to remind us of God’s divinityand our own humanity. He is eternal and we are temporal. He is holy, while we are marred by sin. And yet, we can come before Him and talk with Him. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT). But we must always remember that God is both good and great. He is approachable, but we must never come into His presence flippantly or disrespectfully. One of the problems that can develop from the father/child relationship is a spirit of over-familiarity. Children can become too comfortable with their parents and begin to treat them like peers. A parent who refuses to maintain their proper position of authority may end up with a child who becomes demanding toward them, even demeaning. The old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt” can become true of the parent/child relationship. It can produce an attitude of flippancy and disrespect. And the same thing can happen in our relationship with God the Father. We are His children, but that relationship should not cause us to forget about His sovereignty over us. We should never fail to remember that it is Christ who provides us with access to God. Jesus would later boldy claim, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). And Paul reminds us:

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. – Ephesians 3:12 NLT

But let us do so respectfully, honoring Him as both God and Father. We must not let our newfound familiarity with God breed contempt for Him.

Next. Jesus provides us with an interesting way to address our Father God:

…hallowed be your name…

Now, why would Jesus insert this line in His model prayer? Think about what this statement is saying. The word translated “hallowed” is from the Greek word hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” The English word “hallow” means “to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate.” But why would we need to say to God that His name be treated as holy? Isn’t His name always holy? One of the things we must understand is the extreme importance a man’s name held in the Hebrew culture. An individual’s name was tied to his character. So to say to God, “hallowed be your name” was a statement of desire. We are not asking God to keep His name holy, but that we, as His children, might live in such a way that we do nothing to profane His name. To say, “hallowed be your name” is to express to Him our desire and intention to live in such a way that we bring honor and glory to Him. We are pledging to treat His name as holy, and we do so by our actions. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children, we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet.

The next part of Jesus’ model prayer states:

…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

Notice the emphasis: His kingdom. His will. Not ours. Prayer is not to be focused on us, but on God. Despite what we may believe, prayer is not primarily an opportunity to tell God things all the things we think He doesn’t know and when we get to provide Him with a lengthy list of things we think we need. Jesus has just said, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). Prayer is an opportunity to align our will with His. It is a chance to remind ourselves that we exist for the good of His kingdom, not the other way around. And to ask that His kingdom and will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” is to say to God that we want His rule and reign to permeate every area of our life, just as it does in heaven. It is a willful submission to His authority over us.

One of the things Jesus seems to want us to know is that prayer is about sharing our hearts, not information. Prayers allows us to…

…realign our perspective

…refocus our attention

…reveal our sin

…refresh our commitment

…request His assistance

Prayer should focus on His kingdom, not ours. It should stress His will, not ours. But that does not mean we are unable to make requests of God. But Jesus provides us with a sobering reminder of just what we should focus on when we do.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Here is the interesting thing about Jesus’ model prayer. Wanting God’s will to be done should change what we ask for. If we truly believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving and fully capable of providing for us what we need for life, we will trust Him to do so. Our priorities will change. Rather than seeking significance and satisfaction from those things the world offers, we will be content to trust God to meet our daily needs. Thomas L. Constable describes our daily bread as:

“the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition

The next request Jesus makes in His prayer is that of forgiveness.

…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…

But weren’t all our sins paid for on the cross? Why do we need forgiveness? Because we still have sin natures. Because we still sin. And sin creates a barrier between God and us. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with salvation, but with restoring fellowship with God. Sin indebts us to God. When we confess those sins, it brings forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Confession restores fellowship. Fellowship with God should mean more to us than anything else. But is Jesus teaching that our forgiveness from God is tied to our willingness to forgive others? To refuse to forgive others shows open disregard for the forgiveness of God. To refuse to forgive is sin. It is against the will of God for His children.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

The next part of His prayer is intriguing.

…and lead us not into temptation…

Is Jesus suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us? If so, He would be contradicting what James would later write, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). Paul seems to muddy the waters even more:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

The Greek word for “temptation” is peirasmos and it can mean a trial or testing. It can refer to an inner temptation to sin, but also to a trial that tests the character. So what is Jesus suggesting? That we have an awareness of our dependence upon God. That we recognize that God’s way never leads us to sin. That doesn’t mean we WON’T sin. It is to ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. We need His help not to sin as He leads us. Following God’s leadership will not be easy. There will be trials along the way. Which is what Jesus is referring to when He adds:

…but deliver us from evil…

God will not only lead us, He will deliver us. He can keep us from committing evil. He can protect us from the evil committed against us. Remember what Jesus prayed in the garden:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. – John 17:15 ESV

Jesus ends this section by revisiting the issue of forgiveness. It was obviously important to Him. An unforgiving person has never fully understood or appreciated the forgiveness of God. How can we, who have been forgiven so much, be unwilling to forgive others? The key to receiving God’s forgiveness is confession – an acknowledgement of our sin. To not forgive others is to sin against them. And we can’t just confess that sin, we need to rectify it. We need to forgive, as we have been forgiven. In fact, we demonstrate whether we have been forgiven by whether or not we will forgive others.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Grave Discussion.

1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity. Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 ESV

Solomon ended chapter 11 with an appeal to young people:

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. – Ecclesiastes 11:9 ESV

And he begins chapter 12 in a similar fashion, addressing the same group of individuals: The young. And it would appear that, because of Solomon’s advanced age, he views everyone as younger than he is. But he warns them, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1 ESV). It is as if he wants them to recognize that spiritual wisdom and a God-focused perspective are not attributes that simply come with age. In other words, don’t make the mistake that old age will bring with it a new excitement about and interest in the things of God. That kind of focus begins when you’re young. That’s exactly why Paul told his young protegé Timothy, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT). He gave similar advice to Titus, telling him, “…encourage the young men to live wisely. And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching” (Titus 2:6-7 NLT).

So, in a similar way, Solomon shared his words of wisdom with the young, encouraging them to make the most of their youth because, like everything else in the world, this season of life would come and go. And Solomon uses some very poetic words to describe the not-so-subtle signs of aging. As an old man himself, he describes that phase of his life as “evil days” that have little to no pleasure associated with them. For Solomon, old aged was marked by increasing physical weakness due to the diminishing capacity of the human body as it slowly decays. He describes a scenario in which “the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain” (Ecclesiastes 12:2 ESV). His words portray life as seen through the eyes of someone who suffers from the effects of cataracts and failing vision. The sun, moon and stars appear darker than they really are. The contrasts and clarity of normal vision are replaced with the flat grayness of a cloudy day.

Solomon writes from the perspective of someone who knows what he is talking about. He describes what it is like when “the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent” (Ecclesiastes 12:3 NLT). The “keepers” are a reference to his legs, the means by which his body stands erect and makes it way in the world. As old age creeps in, the legs tremble, making mobility an issue. And when the legs shake, the whole body follows suit. The “strong men” are his shoulders, bent over and devoid of the youthful strength and vigor they once held. We see these images lived out right in front of our eyes on a daily basis as we watch the elderly among us shuffling their way along, bent over and shakily attempting to manage life in their diminished capacity. 

And for someone who put a high priority on fine food, good wine and a lifestyle built around culinary delights, the next description most likely left Solomon more than a bit frustrated. He states that “the grinders cease because they are few” (Ecclesiastes 12:3 ESV). An obvious reference to his own teeth, which had begun to fall out, leaving him with just a handful left in his mouth, making some foods off limits and his diet more than a bit bland and unappealing. Notice what Solomon is doing here. He is describing the loss of those things that were necessary for him to enjoy all the things around which he had built his life. He’s already mentioned the eyes, but he adds, “those who look through the windows are dimmed” (Ecclesiastes 12:3 ESV). The eyes become glazed over, incapable of seeing the beauty of all the things with which he has surrounded himself. He can no longer see and enjoy the beauty of the palace he built. He can’t take in the natural beauty of the gardens he designed and planted. Even the 700 wives and 300 concubines he had chosen because of their physical beauty were indistinguishable from one another.

“The doors on the street are shut” seems to be a reference to his loss of hearing. He could no longer hear what was going on outside his own room. Life was taking place all around him, but he couldn’t hear it or enjoy it. Even “the sound of the grinding is low” (Ecclesiastes 12:4 ESV). In other words, you can’t even hear yourself chew your own food. How frustrating to a man who was used to hearing fine music echoing through the halls of his palace. And the real irony is that this same person, unable to sleep, finds himself waking up with the birds singing outside his window, but him being unable to hear them. The “daughters of song” is a reference to musical notes, no longer audible or distinguishable to the one whose hearing has faded with old age. The beauty available in this life becomes increasingly off-limits and unattainable to the elderly. It is inevitable and unavoidable.

On top of that, the aging process comes with increased fears of all kinds. The fear of falling. Fear of harm. Fear of being alone. And fear of death. Along with all the physical changes Solomon has already described comes the reality that the hair on his head had grown both thin and grey, like the white blossoms of an almond tree. And to make matters worse, there were days when Solomon felt like he was dragging himself along like a dying grasshopper on its last legs.

The next comparison Solomon uses is incredibly insightful and probably represents one of the most dreaded aspects of old age for him. In the original Hebrew, he refers to ‘abiyownah, which is a word for the Capparis spinosa fruit which was eaten as an aphrodisiac in the ancient Near East. Solomon is bemoaning the fact that the aging process had robbed him of all sexual desire. And for a man used to availing himself of the hundreds of wives and concubines in his harem, this loss had to have hit him hard. There is little doubt that Solomon tried any and all of the known cure-alls available in his day. He was known for experimentation and innovation, so it is likely that he would have checked out every available aphrodisiac and sexual enhancement drug on the market, all in a vain attempt to prolong this aspect of his life.

Notice that Solomon’s focus in all of this is death and the grave, not eternal life. Dying is a slow, inexorable process that ultimately and inevitably results in death, with man “going to his eternal home” (Ecclesiastes 12:5 ESV). The literal translation is “house of his eternity.” This is an idiom for the grave, not heaven. It was also a Hebrew euphemism for a burial ground or cemetery. Solomon has his dim eyes set on the grave because he has no idea what happens next. It was all a mystery to him. In verse six, he uses a series of visual illustrations to help convey the abrupt end of life. He refers to the silver cord that is snapped, the golden bowl this is suddenly broken, the pitcher that ends up shattered at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern. All of these images conjure up the sudden cessation of life. It just stops. And like a snapped cord, a broken bowl, a shattered pitcher and a broken wheel, death is an irreconcilable condition.

And Solomon soberly summarizes his view, stating, “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7 ESV). The body returns to the earth, where it will decay and turn to dust. The soul returns to God. But notice that Solomon doesn’t state this last fact as if it is good news. There is a finality to his words and a sense of loss. Because for Solomon, the body was the means by which he had enjoyed what life had to offer. With the body gone, he had no way of knowing what would be left for the soul to experience in the afterlife. Which is why he sums up this section the same way he has throughout the rest of his book. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 12:8 ESV). So, what Solomon could assess, from his vantage point as an old man, was that young people should enjoy life while they had it. But they should also recognize that it is God who has given them life and the capacity to enjoy all that it has to offer. The sad reality, for Solomon, was that life passed so quickly. It was as if he was looking back, wondering where all the time had gone. He could remember being young. He could recall the pleasures he had enjoyed. But he was also well aware of all the moments he had missed. He had been so busy building, buying, accumulating, experimenting, working, learning, and trying to discover the meaning and purpose behind life, that he had failed to truly enjoy the life given to him by God. And now, his life was about to end. You can sense the regret in his words. You can feel the remorse in his self-revealing description of old age. He would have done things differently. He would have approached life more gratefully and taken his walk with God more seriously. We have a lot to learn from the wisdom of Solomon.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Living Sacrifices.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2 ESV

Here Paul makes a transition, from talking about God’s relationship to the Jews in general, to the conduct of believers in particular. He has been addressing the issue of justification, being made right with God, based on the grace of God and not the efforts of man. Whether Jew or Gentile, every man or woman is justified before God by faith in Christ alone. Human effort has nothing to do with it. But Paul would not leave his readers with the false impression that behavior or actions are no longer a part of the equation. The salvation that God offers through the death of His Son should result in a dramatic change in the way we live. Paul has already addressed this on two different occasions.

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. – Romans 6:13 ESV

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. – Romans 6:19 ESV

When Paul uses the word, “therefore,” he is telling us, that in light of all that God has done, our response should reflect our deep gratitude. In chapter five, Paul told us, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Romans 5:1 NLT). Because of the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf, giving Himself as our sin substitute on the cross, we have been restored to a right relationship with God. And God is the one who made it all possible. He sent His Son. He sacrificed what was most precious to Him so that we could be given new life and a right relationship with Him. And as Paul stated in chapter eight, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 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 8:1-2 NLT). We no longer live under the Damocles sword of sin’s condemnation. Eternal separation from God is no longer a threat for us. It is also no longer to be a motivation for right behavior. We don’t attempt to live righteously to earn favor with God. That is a thing of the past. We live righteously out of thankfulness for all that God has done for us, including giving us the capacity to live righteous lives by virtue of His indwelling Holy Spirit.

Our desire to live for God is no longer to be motivated by fear. It is not to be based on some kind of hope that what we do scores us enough points with God to make Him accept us. Our behavior in this lifetime is not about earning our way into God’s good graces, but about living according to the grace He has extended to us through the death of His Son. He has given us new life. He has and is transforming us into new creations. We are already His children, adopted into His family and heirs of all that is His. We don’t have to make God love us, He already does. The gift of His Son was the greatest expression of His love. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). So Paul urges us to present our bodies as “living sacrifices.” Our death is not required, because the payment for our sins has already been made in full. Our motivation for offering ourselves to God is the mercy of God. Unlike most sacrifices, where the one making the sacrifice is attempting to obtain mercy from God, we are offering ourselves because of the mercy we have already received from God. God has shown us mercy by delivering us from condemnation. Rather than giving us what we deserved, He showered us with His grace. And for that we should be eternally grateful.

So what does our “living sacrifice” look like? How are we to conduct ourselves in this world as a result of all that God has done for us? Paul gives us a negative and a positive aspect to our behavior. First of all we are NOT to be conformed to this world. The Greek word, syschēmatizō means “to conform one’s self (i.e. one’s mind and character) to another’s pattern, (fashion one’s self according to)” (Outline of Biblical Usage). We are not to pattern ourselves after the ways of this world. When Paul refers to the “world,” he is speaking of the mindset that is prevalent in our culture that seeks to exclude God from life. It is a man-centered way of thinking that diminishes God and deifies man. We make ourselves the center of the universe and live according to our own self-centered passions. We are not to live like this world. We have been separated by God from this world. As Jesus said, we are to live in it, but not be a part of it. We are to live separately and distinctly different lives. But how? Paul gives us a critical and non-negotiable requirement to pulling of this kind of life. It entails the “renewal” of our minds. We are to undergo a complete transformation in the way we act and think. Paul speaks of renewal, which is the Greek word, anakainōsis. It refers to “a renewal, renovation, complete change for the better” (Outline of Biblical Usage). It begins in our minds – how we think. We must constantly remind ourselves of all that God has done for us. We must repeatedly dwell on the fact that our transformation is as much the work of God as our salvation was. We must seek to eliminate our self-help mentality and lean on the assistance of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is as we live with this constant dependency upon God and His transformation power that we will begin to see what His will for our lives is all about. And as Paul so succinctly puts it, “God’s will is for you to be holy…” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). That is His overarching objective for our lives. Nothing more. Nothing less. And as we present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, we are telling Him that we want what He wants. We desire to be used by Him however He sees fit – for our good and His glory.

We Are Debtors.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. – Romans 8:12-14 ESV

There is a sense in which, as Christians, we relish the idea of redemption. And we should. After all, the overwhelming debt of our sin has been paid for by Christ’s death on the cross. We have been released from our indebtedness and that is good news, because the wages or payment for our sin was our own death. But Jesus Christ became our sin substitute, taking our place on the cross and bearing the righteous wrath of God as our unblemished, sinless sacrifice. As a result, Paul tells us, “we are debtors, not to the flesh” (Romans 8:12 ESV). We have had our debt cancelled. Our sin ledger has been reconciled, and it now shows a zero balance. No sin. Nothing owed. But wait. Even as good as that news is, there is something missing. Our sin debt has been paid, but we need righteousness. Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 ESV). The absence of sin is not righteousness. Having our sin debt paid was just part of the equation.

Justification1Justification

Paul gives us the rest of the good news. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV). Earlier in his letter to the Roman believers, Paul states that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 4:25-5:1 ESV).

You see, in verses 12-14 of Romans, Paul was careful in his sentence structure. He said “we are debtors”, but not to sin. The Greek word he used was opheiletēs and it means “one who owes another, one held by some obligation, bound by some duty”. Yes, we are free from slavery to sin. Our sin debt has been cancelled in full. But we “owe” Christ for our righteousness. He has deposited into our account the righteousness we could never have produced on our own. We are debtors to Christ. And we will never be able to pay Him back for what He has done. But we can live according to the Spirit. We can show our gratitude for all He has done for us by living our lives in obedience to the His Spirit who lives within us. Paul states that it is by the Spirit that we are able to put to death the deeds of the body. We should want to distance ourselves from our old way of life – our sin-controlled, debt-filled life before Christ. We have been given the righteousness of Christ and are therefore, justified in the eyes of God. He sees us as righteous and just. And we owe it all to Jesus.

Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul states, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:22 ESV). Peter provides us with a similar admonition. “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves” (1 Peter 2:16 NET). We tend to overlook the fact that God paid a high price for our salvation. He gave His only Son as the payment for our sin. Peter reminds us, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV). Which is exactly why Paul unapologetically tells us, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV).

We are sons and daughters of God. Not only have our sins been paid for and our debt forgiven, we have been adopted by God and placed into His family because we have had the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. And we have had the Spirit of God placed within us. So we are to live according to our new standing as God’s children, with the help of God’s indwelling Spirit. We are debtors to God. Our lives belong to Him. Our righteousness is not our own, but was made possible because of His Son’s death on the cross in our place. We have eternal life secured for us by virtue of Christ’s sacrificial death. We can’t lose it. We can’t do anything to un-earn it, because we didn’t earn it to begin with. But we can live with a sense of gratitude for all that God has done to make it possible. We can choose to live like children of God and not children of this world. We can choose to live according to the Spirit rather than according to our old sin nature. While we can never repay God for all He has done for us, we can express our appreciation through the way we live our lives.

Worthy of Praise.

Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me! – Psalm 66:20 ESV

Have you ever stopped to consider the unbelievable reality that God hears your prayers? Not only does He hear them, He answers them. Maybe not in the way you would like or were expecting, and perhaps not on the schedule you were hoping for, but He always answers. But the even more amazing fact is that God hears our prayers to begin with. Think about that. Why should He? What have we done to deserve the attention of the holy, righteous, sinless God who created the entire universe. He is the one who made us and yet we have returned the gift of His creation with sin, rejection of His authority, indifference to His Word, and a constant love for creation instead of the Creator. So why does He listen? Because for those of us who are in Christ, He sees us as righteous because of the sacrificial blood of His Son. God no longer sees us as rebellious sinners, but as saints, sons and daughters. We are His children and, as a good Father, He listens to our calls for help, our pleas for direction, and our cries for mercy. The psalmist praised God because his prayers had not been rejected. He praised the fact that God was still in love with him in spite of him. He was able to say, “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19 ESV). 

The sad fact is that we take that reality for granted. God listens to our prayers and the unbelievable nature of that thought doesn’t even seem to register with us. God chooses to hear me when I call out to Him. Not because I deserve it, but because His Son has paid the price for my sins so that I can come into the very presence of God the Father with no fear of condemnation or rejection. He hears me and He listens to me as His child. He loves me and answers me like a loving Father would one of His children. And I take it for granted. So do you. We have given God plenty of good reasons to reject our prayers and ample cause for Him to fall out of love with us. But He continues to hear and listen to us. He continues to love us unconditionally and unwaveringly. So why don’t we praise Him more? David did. He got it. He appreciated God’s love and the fact that He heard his prayers. Read the following words of David and ask yourself when was the last time you felt the same way.

Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things. – Psalm 103:1-5 NLT

God hears you. He answers you. He loves you. So why doesn’t that amaze you? Why doesn’t that produce an attitude of gratitude and praise in you? If you’re anything like me, it is probably because we don’t pray and truly believe He hears us or answers us. Or it could be that we pray and then fail to recognize His answers when they come. David said, “He fills my life with good things.” We have lost the sense of God’s goodness in our lives. We no longer see all the good things that He is doing in our lives every day. Instead, we have boiled down the proof of His activity in our lives to the list of things we ask of Him and expect Him to deliver. We are like a child who wants a new bike, but fails to appreciate the bed in which he sleeps, the food he eats, the clothes he wears, and the room full of toys he already enjoys. We want and demand more from God, while failing to appreciate and show gratitude for all He has already done. God is worthy of our praise – all the time. The very fact that He hears us when we pray and loves us even when we sin, should amaze and astound us. It should produce in us an overwhelming sense of thankfulness. Our attitude should be that of David. “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’” (Psalm 66:1-3 NLT). Praise Him. Not because of what you are waiting for Him to do for you, but for the very fact that He loves you enough to hear you when you call. Praise Him for all He has already done. Praise Him because He provided His own son as a sacrifice for your sins and has made it possible for you to enjoy a relationship with Him, free from fear and condemnation. He is worthy of our praise. So let us praise Him. Shout for joy to the Lord. Sing His praises. Let Him know just how grateful you are that He hears you and loves you.