He Deserves Death!

 57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” – Matthew 26:57-68 ESV

CaiphasJesus had been arrested and His disciples had fled into the night. Even Peter, the one who had earlier boasted, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33 ESV). Their fear had gotten the best of them and they had resigned themselves to the fact that it was all over. Matthew even records that Peter, having followed the guards who were taking Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest, did so, “to see the end” (Matthew 26:58 ESV). It was all over. Their dreams of Jesus being their Messiah and the one to sit on the throne of David were about to be dashed. Jesus was as good as a dead man and there was nothing Peter or any of the other disciples could do about it.

Jesus was dragged before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. Annas had been high priest at one time and still held sway over the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council. It was Annas who questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. And Jesus had responded:

“I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” – John 18:20-21 NLT

Taking Jesus’ statement as a sign of disrespect for Annas, one of the guards struck Him in the face. Then Jesus was taken to see Caiaphas.

It’s important to note that all of these gatherings were being conducted at night and in secret. These men were not conducting a trial, but an inquisition. They had already determined the guilt of Jesus and were simply looking for concrete evidence or proof to justify their predetermined plan to have Him put to death. They had made that fateful decision immediately after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. John records that, as a result of that miraculous event, “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus” (John 11:45 ESV). And when the Sanhedrin had gotten word of what Jesus had done, they were disturbed by the news, asking, “What are we going to do? This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation” (John 11:47-48 NLT). But it had been Caiaphas, the high priest, who had calmly laid out the solution to this vexing problem.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” – John 11:49-50 NLT

So, by the time Jesus was dragged in front of the Sanhedrin, His fate had been sealed. The so-called trial was a sham. And these religious leaders, in an attempt to find proof against Jesus, resorted to hiring false witnesses. And as Matthew makes perfectly clear, their intent was to put Jesus to death. But because the Jews were forbidden by the Romans of practicing capital punishment, they would need proof that Jesus was a threat to national security and worthy of death. They would have to convince the Romans to do their dirty deed for them.

But the false witnesses proved to be no help at all. They couldn’t get their stories straight. But then, two came forward who remembered the words Jesus had spoken immediately after He had overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. When Jesus had been asked by the religious leaders who had given Him the authority to do what He had done, He had responded, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 NLT). And these two witnesses had been there. So, they related this incendiary statement to the high priest and the members of the high council. But they had missed Jesus’ point. In his gospel account, John clarifies what Jesus had meant. “But when Jesus said ‘this temple,’ he meant his own body” (John 2:21 NLT).

But when Jesus was given an opportunity to respond to the testimony of these men, He didn’t clarify His meaning. He didn’t attempt to qualify His original statement. Matthew records that Jesus remained silent. Unlike in His encounter with Annas, Jesus chose not to respond to Caiaphas. And His actions were in direct fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

Jesus was not interested in defending Himself – either physically or verbally. This entire evening had been preordained by His heavenly Father, and Jesus was fully committed to doing what His Father had commanded Him to do.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

But Caiaphas was not satisfied. He needed Jesus to commit blasphemy – to claim to be God. That was the evidence the high priest needed to justify the death of Jesus. So, he said to Jesus, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 ESV). This was not a case of Caiaphas expressing hope that Jesus was the Messiah, but a last desperate attempt to get Jesus to blaspheme by claiming to be God’s Son and, therefore, divine.

On an earlier trip to the city of Jerusalem, at the Feast of Dedication, and in the temple courtyard, Jesus had made the bold claim, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). That statement had incensed the Jews and they had taken up rocks to stone Jesus. But Jesus had expressed confusion, stating that He had performed many good works that proved He was from God. He asked, “for which of them are you going to stone me?” (john 10:32 ESV). And the people shouted, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV).

That was what Caiaphas was looking for. He needed Jesus to claim to be God. And in response to the high priest’s question, “are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus said, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64 ESV). The true meaning of this statement escaped the high priest and the members of the high council. But it was exactly what they had been waiting for. Accusing Jesus of blasphemy, Caiaphas asked the Sanhedrin for their verdict and they wasted no time in declaring their decision: “He deserves death.”

Think about that statement. From their earth-bound, sin-soaked perspective, they saw Jesus as the one deserving of death. And yet, as the Scriptures make perfectly clear, it was mankind that deserved death at the hands of a righteous, holy and just God.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. – Romans 3:23 NLT

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

No one is righteous–not even one. – Romans 3:10 NLT

Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! – Psalm 53:1 NLT

And Scripture tells us that the God-ordained penalty for our sin and unrighteousness is death.

…the wages of sin is death. – Romans 6:23 ESV

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

Yet, in spite of mankind’s guilt and the looming sentence of death, God chose to provide a way of escape, a plan of redemption that would make equital possible and righteousness available. God’s solution? The sacrificial death of His own Son.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 3:13-14 NLT

Jesus did not deserve to die. We did. So did all the men in the room that night. Yet, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). But rather than see Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior from sin, the members of the Sanhedrin spit on Him, slapped Him and mocked Him. They abused the one who had come to save them. They ridiculed the only righteous man in the room. And it was all part of God’s plan.

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

Abandoned Hope.

1 And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.

13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. Acts 27:1-20 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

Back in chapter 19, Luke reported that Paul had been compelled by the Spirit of God to visit Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. Paul was constantly receiving input from the Spirit, providing him with direction and even preventing him from going to certain places. His ministry was motivated by his desire to obey the commission given to him by Jesus, but it was directed by the Holy Spirit. In chapter 16, Luke records just such an occasion.

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. – Acts 16:6-7 NLT

And somewhere along the way, Paul had been given what had to have been a Spirit-inspired desire to go to Rome. Acts 19:21 reports Paul’s impassioned statement: “I must go on to Rome!” And now, after his hearing before King Agrippa and Festus, he was on his way. But this journey was not going to be an easy one. He was still a prisoner and he was on his way to stand trial before the emperor of Rome, still facing charges that could result in his death. Nothing about this phase of Paul’s life was easy or trouble-free. It seems that with every step he took, the difficulties increased in number and intensity. And yet, he was innocent of any wrong-doing, a fact with which both the governor and the king concurred.

Luke spends a great deal of time chronicling this portion of Paul’s life. He provides a lot of detail, describing each phase of Paul’s journey to Rome with what appears to be keen interest. But why? It seems that Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was trying to show that Paul’s desire to go to Rome, while Spirit-inspired, was not a guarantee of a trouble-free journey. God was sovereign and orchestrating each step of Paul’s trip to Rome, but that did not exempt Paul from difficulties or trials along the way. Paul’s confrontation with the Jews in the temple courtyard and eventual arrest by the Romans, had stretched into more than a two-year delay. He had been moved to Caesarea for a hearing before Governor Felix, but had remained in confinement when Felix found himself unable to arrive at a decision as to Paul’s fate. And Paul had remained there for two years, until Felix had been replaced by Festus. It was to Festus that Paul had demanded a trial before Caesar and now, he was on his way.

The beatings, imprisonment, false accusations, threats, and plots against his life had just been the beginning. His trip to Rome was going to prove equally as intense and full of inexplicable trials and tests. But it is essential that we read this account as Luke intended it to be read: With a knowledge that God is in control. None of the events described in this chapter happened outside the sovereign will of God. And no one understood that better than Paul himself. We must give careful consideration to the attitude and actions displayed by Paul throughout this story. There was no sense of panic or fear. At no time does Paul seem to consider the troubles surrounding his life as an indication that he was somehow out of God’s will for his life. From the moment he stepped foot on the ship to the day he arrived in Rome, Paul was content and at peace with the knowledge that his life was in God’s hands.

In verse four, Luke gives a short, but telling glimpse into what was to come: “…the winds were against us.” The entire journey will appear to be marked by a supernatural, spiritual-based conflict. There is little doubt that much of what Luke describes is meant to convey the battle taking place in the heavenly realms, as Paul himself described it. 

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Paul was being led by God, but being opposed by Satan every step of the way. Luke does not provide us with a step-by-step description or blow-by-blow account of how this battle unfolded. He does not attribute the storm to Satan. He doesn’t even mention him. But his narrative provides us with a foreboding sense of the spiritual warfare going on behind the scenes.

We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. – Acts 27:7 NLT

Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens… – Acts 27:8 NLT

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous – Acts 27:9 NLT

Paul advised them, saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” – Acts 27:9-10 NLT

…soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. – Acts 27:14 NLT

we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat – Acts 27:16 NLT

fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. – Acts 27:17 NLT

Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. – Acts 27:18 NLT

When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. – Acts 27:20 NLT

All hope was abandoned. Or was it? There was at least one man on the boat who seemed to know that there was still hope, because there was still a God who had all things in His hands and under His control. Nowhere does Paul express fear that he had been abandoned by God. He did not view the storm as a sign that God was punishing him or somehow preventing him from arriving in Rome. His Spirit-inspired desire to go to Rome had not diminished. And as we will see in the next section of verses, God will provide Paul with clear confirmation that he will make it to his final destination without the loss of a single life. The storm was going to prove no match for God. And Julius, the Augustan Cohort in charge of delivering Paul to Rome; Aristarchus, the Macedonian traveling with Paul; and all the sailors on the ship, were going to get a first-hand display of the power of God. They may have lost hope, but Paul hadn’t. They may have feared for their lives, but Paul had an assurance from God that not a single life would be lost. Paul was headed to Rome. The winds would blow, the waves would crash, the boat would sink, the sailors would panic, but Paul would rest in the sovereign hand of God. His faith was in his God. His eyes were on the One who had called and commissioned him, not on the storms of life. And this story brings to mind a similar scene from the life of Jesus, when He and His disciples encountered a storm while sailing on the Sea of Galilee.

37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:37-40 NLT

Paul experienced the same storm the sailors did, but without fear. Paul had faith. He trusted God. And it seems that Luke is silently asking us whether we will do the same.

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

The Incredible Non-Shrinking Man.

13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Acts 20:13-27 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

After having miraculously raised Eutychus back to life, Paul and his traveling companions left Troas. Luke indicates that he, Timothy and the other six men who were accompanying Paul back to Jerusalem, took a ship from Troas and headed for Assos, while Paul determined to go by land. Traveling by ship required that you sail around Cape Lectum, which added considerable time to the journey. It was only 20 miles by land from Troas to Assos, so Paul’s decision to take the overland route allowed him to extend his stay in Troas. But eventually, he and the others met up in Assos, where he joined them aboard their ship and continued the journey, arriving some days later in Miletus. For whatever reason, Paul made the determination to sail past Ephesus, perhaps worrying that it would present too lengthy of a delay in his travel plans and prevent him from reaching Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost.

Paul still had a concern for the well-being of the church in Ephesus, so he came up with an alternative plan, sending for the elders of the church and inviting them to join him in Miletus. It had been in Ephesus that the gospel had made a huge impact, transforming the lives of many who once worshiped false gods and dabbled in the occult. Luke records:

19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect. – Acts 19:19-20 NLT

These changes had not set well with all those living in Ephesus. The local tradesmen, who made their living selling statues of the god, Artemis, had whipped the people into a frenzy, inciting a riot and causing “no little disturbance concerning the Way” (Acts 19:23 ESV). The situation for the believers in Ephesus had become intense and potentially dangerous. So, Paul had invited the elders to come and meet with him so that he might encourage them. But Paul used an interesting tactic to accomplish his goal. He most likely knew that those in Ephesus might have viewed his leaving of them as a form of abandonment. Just when things had gotten hot, he had bailed on them. So, Paul reminded the elders that he had spent a great deal of time in Ephesus, ministering to them, even in the face of the hostile threats of the Jews, who opposed his teaching.

19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. – Acts 20:19-20 NLT

It’s important to remember that, at this point in his ministry, Paul had already been stoned and left for dead. He had faced tremendous opposition and intense hatred. But he had refused to shrink back. Even in the face of adversity, Paul had stood his ground and remained faithful to his calling by Jesus.

21 I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus. – Acts 20:21 NLT

That had been Paul’s persistent passion and he had pursued it with an unwavering commitment. And his departure from them had not been driven by fear or self-preservation, but by the Spirit of God. He was convinced that Jerusalem was the next stop on his itinerary, and he was going there, even though he had no idea what awaited him when he arrived. He knew that the Judaizers, those Jewish Christians who had been demanding that all Gentiles be circumcised and adhere to the Mosaic Law, would be there. He was well aware that they would still be questioning his ministry and accusing him of violating both the law and the religious heritage they held so sacred. Paul informed these men that “the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead” (Acts 20:23 NLT). If you recall, when Jesus had instructed Ananias to go to Paul, then known as Saul, and minister to him immediately after his conversion, He had said:

15 “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” – Acts 9:15-16 NLT

Paul was well aware that his ministry was to include suffering. He had experienced it. And he knew that every trip he took could be his last. He had been an eye-witness to the stoning death of Stephen. He had been stoned himself. And, on more than one occasion, he had been forced to flee for his life, sneaking out of a city in the dark of night, like a common criminal. And in the very next chapter, we will see Paul receive numerous warnings from others, prompted by the Holy Spirit. When he met with the disciples in Tyre, Luke records that “through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4 ESV). While in Caesarea, a prophet from Judea named Agabus, came to visit Paul and warn him. Luke writes that he “took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, “This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles”’” (Acts 21:11 NLT). The disciples who witnessed this event begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but he responded: “I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 NLT).

Paul told the elders from Ephesus, “my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24 NLT). Paul was more than willing to suffer for the cause of Christ, and he already had. He was also willing to die, if necessary. He would later write to the believers in Philippi:

16 Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. 17 But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God – Philippians 2:16-17 NLT

And Paul would encourage the Philippian believers to have the same attitude, seeing their relationship with Christ as of more value than life itself.

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. – Philippians 3:8-9 NLT

10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

Paul had no regrets. He felt no compulsion to apologize for his efforts or to excuse his actions. He had been faithful.

26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. – Acts 20:26-27 NLT

If someone died without knowing Christ, it was not Paul’s fault. He had done his job. He had faithfully declared the gospel and clearly articulated God’s plan of salvation. He had preached the Word of God unapologetically and fearlessly. And now, he was going to be heading to Jerusalem knowing that he might never see these brothers in Christ again. He had no idea what the future held. He lived with a sense of dependency upon the Spirit of God, that allowed him take one day at a time. He took nothing for granted. He savored every moment and made the most out of every minute given to him by God. Paul’s views regarding his ministry can best be summed up in the words he wrote to the believers in Philippi.

20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:20-21 ESV

Paul was encouraging these men by sharing with them his personal outlook on life. He knew that their ministry would be difficult, just as his had been. He realized that they would face times of uncertainty and fear. He had as well. He was well aware that they would be going back to Ephesus where they would face opposition of all kinds, both inside and outside of the church. But he was well acquainted with these things. These men were the God-appointed leaders of their local congregation. They had a huge responsibility and Paul wanted them to take it seriously. And his words would echo those of the apostle Peter, who also delivered strong words of encouragement and exhortation to the elders of the churches to whom he had ministered.

1 And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. – 1 Peter 5:1-4 NLT

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

 

An Open Door of Faith.

19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples. Acts 14:19-28 ESV

Popularity is a fickle and fleeting thing. Paul and Barnabas had found themselves the unwilling recipients of the worship of the people of Lystra. After having seen Paul and Barnabas restore a lame man’s ability to walk, the crowds had mistakenly declared them to be gods come to earth. They even tried to offer sacrifices to them. And, even though Paul and Barnabas vehemently denied any claim to deity and tried to point the people to Yahweh, it did no good. But then, a contingent of Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, who stood opposed to the teaching of Paul and Barnabas, convinced the crowd that they had been deceived. They pleaded with the people of Lystra to see Paul and Barnabas as what they were: Fraud. These individuals had traveled a long way, just to keep Paul and Barnabas from doing what God had called them to do. They so opposed the message of these two men that they had plotted to stone them when they had been in Iconium, but Paul and Barnabas had left before they could do it. So, these men had followed them all the way to Lystra and now, they turned the crowds against them. We are not told how long it took them to persuade the people of Lystra that Paul and Barnabas were dangerous heretics and not gods, but they must have been convincing. The very same people who had lauded praise and honor on Paul and Barnabas and tried to lay wreaths at their feet, picked up stones and hurled them at Paul. Luke tells us that their efforts were so thorough that they believed Paul to be dead. And yet, Paul miraculously survived. Luke states that “he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts 14:20 ESV). Luke’s description of this entire scene comes across as so matter-of-fact, almost flippant. It begs for more detail. We want to know more. Did God somehow heal all of his wounds? When Luke says that some of the disciples gathered around Paul’s broken body, had they prayed for his healing? Did they lay hands on him? Luke doesn’t elaborate. He simply tells us that Paul stood and and went back to work. He entered the city, and then he and Barnabas went on to Derby. There’s a question that naturally arises out of this story. Why did Stephen have to die as a result of his stoning, while Paul was allowed to live? Neither Luke or God provide us with an answer. But we have seen time and time again, that God always has a reason for what takes place. Obviously, God was not done with Paul. He had more for him to do. And Paul would learn a great deal from this experience. In fact, after having ministered in Derby, Paul and Barnabas would make a return trip through Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch, where they gathered all the believers and encouraged them “to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 NLT). Paul would become a living example of the trials and tribulations that come with faithful service to God. He would even provide a detailed description of his many sufferings on behalf of Christ.

23 “I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT
And Paul would go on to conclude that all of this, the pain, the suffering, beatings, and deprivations, were valuable because they revealed his own weakness. Which is what led him to say, “I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am” (2 Corinthians 11:30 NLT). And in the very next chapter of that same letter, Paul would clarify his thought even further:
9 “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT
Paul would suffer greatly, but he would also believe strongly. He would find strength in his weaknesses. He would discover the reality that His God was greater than anything he might have to suffer or endure. Paul was not motivated by success or popularity. He didn’t measure his effectiveness by how big the crowds were or how well his message was received. What is really fascinating about this story is that Paul never asks God the “why” question. He doesn’t shake his fist at God and demand an explanation for why he had to be stoned almost to death just for doing what he had been told to do. You don’t hear Paul complaining or whining about his circumstances or wondering why Barnabas escaped without a mark. No, instead, Paul saw his suffering as a privilege. Which is why he could tell the Philippian believers: “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (Philippians 1:29 NLT). No doubt, Paul had been told by his fellow apostles about Jesus’ sermon on the mount and had heard the words He spoke that day.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. – Matthew 5:11-12 NLT

And Paul, who would go on to suffer a great many trials and tribulations on behalf of Christ, would become an expert on the topic, providing him with the right and responsibility to instruct other believers about this vital topic.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. – Romans 5:3-5 NLT

When Paul told the disciples in Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch, that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”, he knew what he was talking about. But what was he teaching? Is he saying a person must undergo suffering before they can become a Christian? Is he teaching that suffering is a necessary part of our salvation? The answer to these questions would be, “No.” Paul believed in salvation based on God’s grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. There was nothing we were required to bring to the table. Our salvation is, completely and entirely, the work of God, But between the point at which we come to faith in Christ and when we stand before Him in heaven, there is that period in which we are required to live out our faith in this world. At the point of our conversion, we become citizens of heaven, but we remain inhabitants of this earth. We have a inheritance reserved for us in heaven, but are required to live as aliens, strangers and sojourners in this land. And Jesus Himself told us, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT).]

Living as a believer in this world is not easy. Paul knew that truth well. And he wanted all those who came to faith in Christ to understand that this world is not our home. We are on loan here by God, with an important task to perform: To share the good news of Jesus Christ with all those who find themselves living in darkness. We are to be ambassadors and witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 NLT

Our goal is to please Him, not ourselves. Our ambition should be to do His will, not our own. Paul saw clearly that God “had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27 ESV). And he realized that God had chosen to use Barnabas and himself to lead countless Gentiles to that open door. If they had to suffer in the course of doing their part, so be it. If it meant they had to endure some pain and rejection along the way, it was worth it. Paul had a long-term perspective. He was in it for the long-haul and realized that his reward would come in the future, not the present. He didn’t seek or expect accolades and rewards in this life, but in the one to come. He wasn’t surprised by trials and tribulations, but fully expected them. In fact, he actually rejoiced in them. They became proof that his efforts were not in vain. He had the enemy’s full attention. He had smacked the beehive and upset the order of things. And he would gladly do it again.

 

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

Rejoice Like It.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:12-19 ESV

As Christians, the natural response to the “fiery trials” that come our way because of our faith, is surprise. We ask, “Why is this happening to me?” We see trials as anomalies or abnormal experiences. We don’t expect them as believers, somehow having convinced ourselves that our relationship with God, as His children, makes us immune or not susceptible to the difficulties of life. And yet, Peter provides us with a three-word statement regarding the purpose of trials in our lives, He simply states that they are there “to test you.” The Greek word Peter uses refers to a proving or testing of someone or something. It is the same word used to refer to the testing of gold or silver to check its purity. The word, in this context, means, “adversity, affliction, trouble: sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s character, faith, holiness” (G3986 – peirasmos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV). Retrieved from https://www.blueletterbible.org). These trials or tests are not meant to defeat us, but to define and refine us. They reveal the true content of our character, exposing our doubts, fears, love for the world, and our dependence upon things like health, money, security, comfort and convenience. These “fiery trials” are like the furnace of a smelter, and are intended for our good. The heat burns away the dross and impurities that remain in our lives. We are blind to them. We don’t even know they exist. So, God turns up the heat in our lives in order to bring these impurities to the surface where they can be removed. James wrote about this very same thing in his letter, even encouraging his readers to rejoice over the trials of life:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4 NLT

He adds the incentive that this process of purification through trials results in spiritual maturity. The process of having our faith tested by trials produces endurance and perseverance, which ultimately lead to Christ-likeness.

And Peter echoes the words of James when he writes, “be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:13 NLT). We don’t find joy in the trials themselves, but in the realization that they are perfecting us, and that one day our perfection will culminate in our glorification, when we see Christ face to face. We are willing to suffer in this life, because we know that Christ did. He was raised to new life and, one day, we will share in that same experience. The apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth: “We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you” (2 Corinthians 4:14 NLT). This became a theme in many of Paul’s letters.

22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

23 But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. – Colossians 1:22-23 NLT

We have been justified before God. In other words, our faith in Christ has resulted in God declaring us righteous in His eyes. He sees us as righteous because Christ is righteous. But not only that, we will one day be glorified by God, receiving new bodies and a resurrected life freed from the affects of sin and death, just as Jesus did. And that is the truth we are to continue to believe in and rest on as we experience the trials of life.

Peter states that if we suffer or are insulted because we bear the name of Christ, we are blessed. That sounds so strange, doesn’t it? And yet, that is exactly what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. – Matthew 5:11-12 NLT

Followers of Christ don’t go through trials alone, like the rest of the world. We have a heavenly Father who loves us and who longs to bless and pour out His favor on us. And, He is especially pleased when He sees His children standing up for His name and defending His honor by enduring the pain and ridicule that comes with bearing His name. Jesus told us that the world would hate us, because of Him. It hated Him, so it is only natural that they hate us. He said, “They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me” (John 15:21 NLT). “All of this” refers to the hatred and persecution the disciples were to experience. The world, because it doesn’t know and understand God, rejects the Son of God. And, as a result, it rejects and hates the children of God. It is our relationship with Christ that brings the suffering we experience. And that should bring us joy. Paul was even willing to say:

10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

Peter reminds us that, while there is plenty of reason to feel shame for doing the wrong things and we should expect to suffer as a result, there is no shame associated with suffering for Christ. No, we should see it as a privilege for getting to suffer for His name.

One of the things Peter would have us understand is that our “judgment” is now, and it is a far different kind of judgment that the lost world will one day face. We’re being judged as to our character in this life. We are already justified before God. He sees us as righteous because we have been covered by the righteous blood of Christ. We face no future judgment regarding sin. That is why Paul was able to say, “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NLT). The trials we face in this life can be seen as a form of judgment, not to punish or condemn us, but as a means of exposing the lingering remnants of sin within us. When we go through trials, our patience, faith, dependence upon God, and our love for Him, are tested. We learn where we are weak. We are reminded that we are weak. Which is exactly why Paul could say:

So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT

Peter states that, “the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT). Our time of judgment is now. We are having our sins exposed in this life. And, as believers, we should be willing to judge the sins in one another’s lives, refusing to tolerate falsehood, immorality, or sin of any kind in our midst. Listen to these sobering words of Paul:

11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. 13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 NLT

Our judgment is now. But what about the lost? They will face a future judgment that will expose their sins, illicit God’s judgment and result in eternal condemnation. While they can freely get away with their sins in this life, they will pay for them in the next. We are having our sins judged and purged from our lives now, but we do not need to fear judgment for our sins in the future. So, Peter encourages us to keep doing what is right. If we suffer for it, so be it. He simply states, “trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you” (1 Peter 5:19 NLT). We suffer in this life, but it has a purpose. We face trials in this life, but they are proof of the Father’s love and the means by which He purifies and perfects us, transforming us into the image of His Son. So, we are to rejoice like it.

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.

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

Blessed Is God.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. – 1 Peter 1:3-12 ESV

Having introduced himself and having identified his audience, Peter now turns his attention to God. After all, his identity as an apostle of Jesus Christ and their position as the elect of God, are both directly attributable to God alone. Peter had not made himself an apostle. His readers had not made themselves children of God. He had been appointed and they had been adopted. Peter begins his address with a reminder of the sovereign role of God in the redemption of mankind. He is the one who is and is to be blessed. He is worthy of praise, glory and honor, because He is the instigator and provider of our salvation. And the apostle Paul would echo that sentiment.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

But—When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. – Titus 3:4-5 NLT

It was God who provided His Son as the payment for man’s sin. It was God who showed mercy to sinful mankind, offering His sinless Son as a substitute, a stand-in, who took the sins of the world upon Himself, so that the righteous wrath of God mighty be satisfied. And Peter makes it clear that, had Jesus not died, and had not God raised Him from the dead, there would have been no salvation possible for mankind. In fact, in the Ephesians passage above, Paul makes it clear that God provided us with a means of salvation while we were dead. He brought us from spiritual death to spiritual life, all because He raised His crucified Son back to life through the power of the Spirit.

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4 ESV

Peter wants his readers to understand that , beyond a shadow of a doubt, their salvation was the work of God. And it was accomplished through the obedience of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ obediently followed God’s will and gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He willingly gave His life, suffering a humiliating death on the cross in order that we might have new life (Philippians 2:8). It had been Peter who preached the following words to the crowds gathered during the Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples.

32 “God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. 33 Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today. – Acts 2:32-33 NLT

And Peter reminds his readers that there is a huge benefit that comes as a result of all of this.

3 …we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. – 1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

We are, as Paul says, “his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory” (Romans 8:17 NLT). All because God chose us. All because Christ died for us. All because the Spirit indwells us. But not only has God saved us, He is preserving and protecting us. Our salvation is completely in His hands. Which means, according to Peter, it is permanent and beyond even our ability to lose or screw up. Peter reminds us:

“God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.” – 1 Peter 1:5 NLT

Our salvation is not ours to lose. It is God’s and He finishes what He starts. Paul told the Philippian believers: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 2:6 NLT). He told the believers in Corinth the same thing. “He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns” (1 Corinthians 1:8 NLT).

This was an important detail to Peter and he went out of his way to make sure his audience grasped its full import. He knew they were facing significant issues in their lives. They were suffering for their faith. They were experiencing difficulties in the form of persecution and trials. So, he tells them, “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while” (1 Peter 1:6 NLT). There were going to be bumps along the way. They were going to face hard times. But they could rejoice in the fact that they were saved and that status was not up to them. It was God’s doing. The trials they faced were not signs of God’s disappointment with them or discipline of them. No, Peter reassures them, “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold” (1 Peter 1:7 NLT). The trials were not intended to raise doubts regarding their salvation. They were meant to purify and strengthen their faith as they watched God work in and through the trials. The difficulties of life would make them increasingly more dependent upon God. Paul had learned this invaluable lesson, which is why he was able to say:

“So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

And Peter tells his audience that there was a day coming when they would be able to look back and see that their faith had remained strong, because they had endured to the end. But even that endurance would be the gift of God. It would not be self-manufactured or the result of their own inner-determination. By constantly trusting in God and His saving power, they would be able to endure anything and everything the world could throw at them. And one day, they would stand before God Himself, and receive “much praise and glory and honor.” Not because of what they had done, but because they had kept their faith firmly planted in what Christ had done for them.

Peter makes an interesting observation. He tells them, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy” (1 Peter 1:8 NLT).  That is the essence of faith. They had placed their hope and trust in someone they could not see. They were returning love to one they had never met. And they were learning to rejoice, even in the midst of trial and difficulties, because their faith was in someone who was not limited or restricted by time and space. His salvation has a future and a present aspect to it. He has saved us, is saving us and will one day, permanently and completely save us. He who began a good work in us will complete that work. He is not yet finished. But we can rejoice as if it is already done. What Paul told the Ephesians applies to the recipients of Peter’s letter, and to us as well.

For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:6-7 NLT

Peter points out that the Old Testament prophets had written about this incredible gift from God, long before it ever happened. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, they had prophesied concerning the coming Messiah, not fully understanding the significance of their own words. They wanted to know more about the coming Messiah. They longed to know when He was coming and how He would appear. But that part remained a mystery to them. But, Peter points out, “now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen” (1 Peter 1:12 NLT). We have not only heard the Good News, we have been the beneficiaries of it. We have been chosen by God, and been given new life in Christ. The suffering Peter’s audience might be experiencing was nothing compared to the glory they had received in Christ. And the apostle Paul fully concurred with Peter’s assessment of the situation.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
 – Romans 8:18 NLT

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.

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

Why?

Righteous are you, O Lord,
    when I complain to you;
    yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
You plant them, and they take root;
    they grow and produce fruit;
you are near in their mouth
    and far from their heart.
But you, O Lord, know me;
    you see me, and test my heart toward you.
Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,
    and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
How long will the land mourn
    and the grass of every field wither?
For the evil of those who dwell in it
    the beasts and the birds are swept away,
    because they said, “He will not see our latter end.” Jeremiah 12:1-4 ESV

Jeremiah was a confused and conflicted man. One minute he is weeping for his people, longing for God to spare them the coming destruction he knows they so fully deserve. But here, we find Jeremiah praying that God would give the wicked exactly what they deserve – dragging them off like sheep to the slaughter. Jeremiah, though a prophet, was still human. He had feelings just like anyone else and he felt confident and safe in expressing those feelings to God. He was angry at the people of Anathoth for plotting his death. He was frustrated with the stubborn and persistent refusal of the people of Judah to listen to his words of warning and call to repentance. And though he knew that God was righteous and just in all his actions, Jeremiah still had questions for Him.

“Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” – Jeremiah 12:1 NLT

Why? It’s a common question aimed at God by His people. We can’t help but ask why, because we don’t understand the ways of God. From our perspective, things seem illogical and even unjust at times. He doesn’t appear to be acting fairly or with integrity. We look at our life circumstances and see injustice, but then wonder how that can be if God is just. Jeremiah looked around him and saw wicked people who were happy and prosperous. With all that he knew about God, that seemed difficult to understand or explain. So, he asked God to provide him with answers. And Jeremiah would not be the first or the last human being to have questions for God. Job, in the midst of all his sufferings, expressed similar words to God.

“Why do the wicked prosper,
    growing old and powerful?
They live to see their children grow up and settle down,
    and they enjoy their grandchildren.
Their homes are safe from every fear,
    and God does not punish them.” – Job 21:7-9 NLT

He went on to say:

“They spend their days in prosperity,
    then go down to the grave in peace.
And yet they say to God, ‘Go away.
    We want no part of you and your ways.
Who is the Almighty, and why should we obey him?
    What good will it do us to pray?’” – Job 21:13-15 NLT

It was Asaph who wrote in his psalm:

“For I envied the proud
    when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
They seem to live such painless lives;
    their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don’t have troubles like other people;
    they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.” – Psalm 73:3-5 NLT

The prophet Habakkuk expressed his confusion and complaint to God regarding His seeming indifference to the Babylonians and their treatment of the people of Israel.

“But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil.
    Will you wink at their treachery?
Should you be silent while the wicked
    swallow up people more righteous than they?” – Habakkuk 1:13 NLT

Things don’t always turn out like we think they should. Our expectations of God are sometime dashed on the rocks of reality. We expect deliverance and find ourselves suffering pain. We anticipate victory, but end up experiencing defeat. We attempt to follow God faithfully and then find ourselves inexplicably going through difficulties and trials. And like Jeremiah, we end up asking God, “Why?” We demand answers. From our human perspective, we see those who give God little but lip service seemingly prospering and skating through life unscathed. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t seem fair.

Jeremiah is incredulous. He can’t believe what he is seeing. He even tells God, “But as for me, Lord, you know my heart. You see me and test my thoughts” (Jeremiah 12:3 NLT). Jeremiah was no hypocrite and he was confident that God knew so. And yet, he was the one who was suffering, while his opponents were prospering. Nothing about that scenario seemed just, right or fair. How could God let that happen? Why would God let that happen?

Jeremiah suffered from a malady common among God’s people. It was a false assumption that community with God equaled immunity from suffering. As the children of God we too often assume that our lives will be trouble-free and painless. But the Bible paints such a different picture. We have the stories of Joseph, who was used by God to preserve a remnant of the people of Israel from starvation and provide them with food and shelter in the land of Egypt. But in order for that to happen, Joseph had to endure countless trials and repeated acts of injustice against him. It was all part of God”s plan for his life. Generations later, Moses was God’s chosen instrument to deliver the people from their captivity in Egypt. But first he had to run for his life, guilty of murder and a wanted criminal. Then he had to spend 40 years living as a common shepherd in the wilderness until God issued His call for Moses to be His deliverer. David was anointed by God to be the next king of Israel, but spent years running for his life in an attempt to escape the wrath of Saul, the current king who had placed a bounty on David’s head. Time after time and all throughout the Scriptures, we see the people of God suffering as part of God’s divine plan. Jesus suffered at the hands of the religious leaders of Israel, accused of crimes He had not committed and executed like a common criminal. The apostles suffered constantly as they took the gospel to the nations. Paul described his life as a faithful messenger of the gospel in less-than-glamorous terms:

“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

Paul would later tell Timothy: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV). And it was Peter who wrote: “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT). Jesus Himself told His disciples: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). The life of the believer is not for the feint of heart. Jesus told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:24-25 NLT). Following Christ requires daily death to self. It demands a giving up of our rights and expectations in order to submit to the will of the Father. Jesus never promised us a trouble-free life. But He did promise abundant life – a life filled with the peace that passes all understanding. A life marked by the promise of God’s persistent presence. A life characterized by joy in the midst of sorrow, hope even in times of sorrow, strength when we are weak, comfort when we are suffering, and the promise of an eternity free from sin, sorrow, pain and death. It was Paul who reminded the believers in Rome: “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT).

We are more than free to ask God, “Why?” But we already know the answer. He knows what is best. He has a plan. He can be trusted. And while His ways are not our ways and His methods may seem nothing short of madness, we must trust that He knows what He is doing and has a perfectly good reason for our suffering.

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

Yet I Will Rejoice.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV

Things don’t always turn out like we expect or desire. The circumstances of life have a way of showing up in surprising forms, both good and bad. Difficulties can appear suddenly and stay long past their expiration date. These are all truths we know from experience. They are part of the reality of life on this planet. They come with having to lie in a fallen world, mired by sin and under God’s curse and condemnation. But the one thing we tend to forget is that the very same God has provided a way for men and women like us, to escape the long-term effects of the curse and be exonerated from the just condemnation of God. God sent His own Son. He sent a Savior. And those who place their faith in that Savior, believing that He came, He died and that He rose again, are provided with the assurance that their sins are forgiven and their future is secure. They are guaranteed abundant life here and now, and eternal life to come. And it is that promise on which they are to hope as they endure the pain and suffering that comes in this life. Salvation does not provide us with escape from the difficulties of life. It is not some kind of spiritual immunization, inoculating us from trials or suffering. But it does provide us with a new perspective, a radically different way of looking at our time on this earth. The apostle Paul puts that new perspective in words for us:

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT

But what about Habakkuk? What was he to put his faith in as he wrestled with the news that God was going to judge the people of Judah for their sins and send the Babylonians as the means to accomplish that task? The Messiah had not yet come. The Savior had not yet been sent to redeem mankind from its sins. And yet, Habakkuk displayed saving faith. He knew that He could trust his God. His God had promised to provide for and protect the people of Judah, and Habakkuk took God at His word.

The closing lines of Habakkuk’s prayer contain some of the most powerful statements regarding faith in God that are found in the Bible. They are spoken by a man who has boldly, and somewhat dangerously, expressed his frustration with God over what appeared to be His lack of action. The prophet was frustrated with the unrepentant nature of the people of Judah. They refused to listen to his message. They were wicked and rebellious and Habakkuk wanted to know when God was going to act. And when God told Habakkuk that He was going to send the Babylonians to enact His judgment on the people of Judah, Habakkuk had the temerity to question God’s will and wisdom. And yet, once God explained Himself and reassured Habakkuk of His unwavering faithfulness to the people of Judah, Habakkuk had a change of heart. He literally sang God’s praises. This entire last chapter of his book are a song, composed to promote the goodness and greatness of God. And nothing had changed. Habakkuk’s circumstances had not been altered one iota. The people of Judah were still in rebellion against God. The Babylonians were still on God’s divine schedule to destroy Judah and Jerusalem. But in spite of all of that, the prophet was able to say:

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation – Habakkuk 3:18 ESV

And Habakkuk wasn’t talking in a future tense. The rejoicing he mentioned wasn’t some kind of post-salvation joy that would show up once God had destroyed the Babylonians and put everything back the way it was supposed to be. No, Habakkuk was talking in the present tense. He qualifies his statement by saying:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! – Habakkuk 3:17-18a NLT

Do you catch what he is saying? In spire of the circumstances, the negative circumstances, of life, Habakkuk was going to rejoice in the Lord. He was going to praise the God of his salvation. Before the fact. That is the essence of faith. The apostle Paul provides us with one of the most succinct definitions or descriptions of faith found in the Bible: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith shows up in the form of assurance or certainty in a good outcome, long before the outcome is clear. It is a conviction regarding events that have not taken place. It is a trust in God, a reliance upon His promises and a confident assurance in His goodness. Once again, the apostle Paul gives us some insight into what true faith looks like.

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:24-25 ESV

Habakkuk had hope in God, and he was willing to wait for God’s deliverance with confident patience. Even is the figs failed to show up or the vines were bare of fruit, he would keep trusting. If they ran out of olive oil or experienced a drought because of a lack of crops, he would keep patiently waiting. Why? He tells us:

The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the heights. – Habakkuk 3:19 NLT
God would be his strength. His faith in God would give him the energy to endure whatever came his way. His trust in the goodness of God would provide him with the strength he needed to walk the paths of life with confidence and sure-footed stability. He knew God would not let him down. The Babylonians were coming. God had assured it. But Habakkuk was not worried. He knew God was in control and that He had promised to restore His people and remove the Babylonians. The days ahead were going to be difficult and full of unpleasant experiences, but Habakkuk was able to say, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord!” What a timely reminder for those of us who are Christ-followers, as we wait for our Savior to return. We too, live in difficult days. We are surrounded by those who would love nothing more than our destruction. The world hates us. The enemy is out to destroy us. And yet, we can rejoice in the Lord. We can have an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not yet see. All because we trust in God.

 

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

Light In the Darkness.

Now Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him. And when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, came to Absalom, Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” And Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?” And Hushai said to Absalom, “No, for whom the Lord and this people and all the men of Israel have chosen, his I will be, and with him I will remain. And again, whom should I serve? Should it not be his son? As I have served your father, so I will serve you.”

Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your counsel. What shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof. And Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom. – 2 Samuel 16:15-23 ESV

Absalom entered Jerusalem. His carefully and patiently planned coup had come off without a hitch. Without lifting a sword or shedding a drop of blood, Absalom had stolen his father’s throne and elevated himself to the highest position in the land. And yet, from God’s perspective, nothing had changed. David was still the anointed king of Israel. God had not chosen Absalom to replace David. But God was using Absalom to fulfill the words He had spoken against David for his sins of adultery and murder. The prophet, Nathan, had given David the bad news:

“This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel.” – 2 Samuel 12:11-12 NLT

And in keeping with His word, God saw to it that this was exactly what happened. Based on the counsel of Ahithophel, Absalom took the ten concubines who had been left behind by David to maintain the palace, and had sexual relations with them. This was intended to be an insult to David, showing that Absalom had not only taken David’s kingdom and palace, but everything that had once belonged to him. And this final slap in the face to David was done in public view so everyone would know exactly what was happening. A tent was erected on the roof of David’s former palace and the news was of what Absalom was doing was spread throughout the city. But it is essential that we recognize this all part of God’s will. He had warned David this very thing would happen. From that very same roof top, David had spied Bathsheba bathing and lusted after her. He had sent for her and slept with her. Then to cover his sin and the unexpected news that she was pregnant, he would have her husband executed. David’s sin had been done in secret. But God’s discipline of David would be for all to see.

Like so many other times in the Scriptures, God was using an enemy to teach His child a lesson. God was using an unexpected source as a means of discipline in the life of one of his children. And it would seem that the counsel Ahithophel provided to Absalom came directly from God Himself. God was using this former counselor of David, who had treacherously aided Absalom in his overthrow of the kingdom, to accomplish His divine will concerning David’s punishment. This was all part of God’s plan. At no point was God out of control or up in heaven shaking His head in surprise at all that was taking place. God was using these events to accomplish His will and He had more in store for Absalom than his surprising ascension to the throne. While, from a human perspective, all looked lost, God was in complete control of every single aspect of this entire affair. As demoralizing and humiliating as all of this was to David, God was at work. He was simply fulfilling what He had promised and accomplishing all that He had planned. What appeared to be an unmitigated disaster was actually part of God’s sovereign will.

There is an invaluable lesson in this chapter for each of us who claim to be children of God. When we encounter difficulties and trials in our lives, it is so easy for us to automatically assume that God is somehow out of control. We have somehow convinced ourselves that the presence of difficulties in our lives is a proof of the absence of God. When we see our enemies celebrating their victories over us, we jump to the conclusion that God doesn’t care. It would have been easy for David to assume that God was now with Absalom. After all, he had won the hearts of the people. And David could think of plenty of reasons why God would want to replace him as king. But David didn’t have access to the mind of God. He had no idea what God was doing behind the scenes. And one of the hardest things for the child of God to do is to trust God, regardless of what we see happening around us. From a human perspective, it all appeared as if Absalom’s plans had succeeded. But the Scriptures would have us remember that God’s plans trump those of men each and every time.

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 NLT

The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has spoken – who can change his plans? When his hand is raised, who can stop him? – Isaiah 14:27 NLT

Absalom believed his plan had succeeded. And it had. But only because God had a greater plan in store for all involved. While Absalom gloated over his victory from the throne in Jerusalem and David mourned over his fate somewhere along the banks of the Jordan, God was working His plan. He was orchestrating affairs in such a way that both men would be in for a surprise as to how this whole affair turned out. God had chosen David to be king, and nothing Absalom did was going to change that fact. He could take over David’s throne temporarily, but not permanently, and only because God had allowed it. David found himself defeated, dethroned, and demoralized, but God was not done yet. He was still God’s choice to be king. His son, Solomon, would be God’s handpicked successor, not Absalom. And while things looked bleak, God was in full control.

When our circumstances create uncertainty and leave us in a state of doubt and confusion, we are to look to God. He is always on His throne. His power is constant. His will is unavoidable. His plans are unstoppable. His love for us is inescapable. It was during this difficult time in David’s life that he penned the words of Psalm 3. They reflect his trust in God’s unfailing love for him – even in the darkest moments of life.

O Lord, I have so many enemies;
    so many are against me.
So many are saying,
    “God will never rescue him!” Interlude

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
    you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
I cried out to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy mountain. Interlude

I lay down and slept,
    yet I woke up in safety,
    for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
    who surround me on every side.

Arise, O Lord!
    Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face!
    Shatter the teeth of the wicked!
Victory comes from you, O Lord.
    May you bless your people. – Psalm 3


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

King Class 101.

The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice.

Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them. – 1 Samuel 18:10-16 ESV

Saul had his eye on David. He didn’t trust him. He viewed David as a threat to his crown and resented this young upstart’s growing popularity among the people. While he had been grateful for David’s victory over Goliath and the Philistines, it had actually made things much worse for Saul. And it wasn’t long before his oversensitive ego and the “harmful spirit from the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:14 ESV) ganged up on him and produced some less-than-normal outcomes.

At one point, Saul was having one of his “fits” and David was playing his usual role as musical therapist, when the king grabbed a spear and attempted to pin David to the wall with it. Not once, but twice. The text tells us that Saul feared David. He knew that the same Spirit of God that used to dwell on him, was now on this young man. And Saul knew that fact did not bode well for him. He was crazy, but sane enough to remember what the prophet, Samuel, had said.

And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” – 1 Samuel 13:26 ESV

And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. – 1 Samuel 13L28 ESV

Saul had put two and two together and reached the conclusion that David was the one who would be replacing him as king, and it scared him. He knew his days were numbered. So to deal with the frustration created by David’s constant presence, he Saul decided to send him away. Part of his reasoning behind this move was likely out of his love for David. He genuinely loved this young man, and regretted his inability to control his anger against him. So by sending David away, he removed any temptation to harm David and provided a distance between the two of them that acts as a buffer of protection.

Saul made David a commander over a thousand men. But this new role did little to solve Saul’s jealousy problem. It seems that David was quite successful as a leader and continued to impress the people with his skills as a soldier. Verse 14 tells us, “And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him.” This phrase is very reminiscent of statements made regarding Joseph during his stay in Egypt. It seemed that wherever Joseph ended up, God was blessing him and all those associated with him. God’s presence assured Joseph’s success, and the same thing proved true for David. His success and subsequent popularity only served to drive an even greater wedge between he and the king. We’re told, “when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him” (1 Samuel 18:15 ESV). All Saul could do was stand back and watch in wonder as David’s stock continued to rise as his own fell. The prophesy of Samuel was coming true right before his eyes. God had rejected him as king. He was ripping the kingdom our of his hands and giving it to someone better than him. This was a difficult pill for Saul to swallow and he would prove to be a lousy patient, refusing to accept God’s remedy for his own disobedience.

And yet, David was loved by all. He was young, handsome, successful and extremely popular. God was with him and all the people were for him. And all Saul could do was wait for the inevitable to happen. But Satan, the arch-enemy of God would not this change in leadership lying down. He was not about to relinquish Saul’s hold on power. Saul was just the kind of king Satan wanted ruling over Israel. He was disobedient to God. He was self-centered and egotistical. He had proven adept at twisting the words of God and blaming everyone but himself for his mistakes. Watching Saul get replaced by a man after God’s own heart was not something Satan was eager to experience. So he would do everything in his power to resist the will of God by influencing the king God had rejected.

The following years of David’s life would be marked by ongoing and increasing animosity between himself and the king. His path to the throne was going to be a rocky one. This would prove not to be a smooth transition of power. But God was in control of the entire process. None of the events recorded in David’s life reflect a flaw in God’s plan or an inability on His part to control the situation. This was all part of the divine strategy for preparing God’s anointed king for his role as the shepherd of Israel. David was going to learn that being in the will of God does not necessarily guarantee a trouble-free life. Becoming the kind of man God intended him to be was going to require painful lessons in failure, defeat, loss, and abandonment. But he would also learn to recognize his own weakness and trust in the power and presence of God.

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.