Why Did You Doubt?

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. – Matthew 14:22-36 ESV

The apostle John provides us with an important detail to this story that Matthew chose to leave out. It seems that Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the crowd had left quite an impression on them.

14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. – John 6:14-15 ESV

Having had their physical needs met in such a spectacular way, the people were ready to crown Jesus as their king. Perhaps they envisioned a welfare state where their newly crowned king would use His miraculous powers to eliminate all hunger and disease. One can only imagine what went through their minds as they considered the endless possibilities of Jesus as their Messiah. But they were not thinking of the same kind of king or kingdom Jesus had in mind. Their focus was fixed on an earthly kingdom where their physical needs would be met and all their problems taken care of by “the Prophet” turned king.

The prophet to whom they referred was the one Moses had predicted would come.

15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…” – Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV

18 “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” – Deuteronomy 18:18 ESV

Moses had been the prophet who had led the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt, using miraculous powers to defeat Pharaoh and his armies. He had fed the people with manna from heaven and an endless supply of quail. He had provided water from a rock. Under his leadership, the clothes and sandals of the Israelites had never worn out. And when the crowd had watched as Jesus had fed more than 10,000 of them with nothing more than five loaves of bread and two fishes, they couldn’t help but make the connection.

But Matthew records that Jesus “immediately” sent His disciples away and dismissed the crowds. He wasn’t interested in becoming their king – at least not the kind they had in mind. He had far greater aspirations based on the will of His heavenly Father. So, having dispersed the crowd and sending the disciples away by boat, Jesus spent time alone in prayer with His Father.  We are not told the content of Jesus’ prayer, but the High Priestly Prayer found in John 17 provides us with some idea of how Jesus communicated with the Father. It was personal and intimate, yet it also communicated His concern for His disciples. Jesus focused on finishing the task assigned to Him by the Father. But He also prayed for those who would carry on the ministry after His work was done.

While Jesus had been praying, the disciples had been caught in the middle of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. While many of these men were seasoned fishermen, this storm proved to be severe and the winds had driven them far out to sea. Sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., in the darkness and as the wind and waves raged, Jesus appeared to them, walking on the water. He could have simply spoken a word and the storm would have subsided, but in this case, Jesus chose to do something even more spectacular. Rather than proving His power over the elements by controlling them, He simply showed their lack of influence over Him. The waves, the wind and the water had no effect on Him. In the midst of a raging storm, Jesus simply walked, calmly and casually, free from fear and displaying a kind of faith that His disciples did not yet possess.

Upon seeing Jesus walking on the water, their immediate response was fear, not faith. In their terrified state, they could only shout, “It is a ghost!” But Jesus called out to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” In essence, Jesus told them to stop fearing. He commanded them to replace their fear with faith – in Him. But Peter, revealing his lack of faith, responded, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28 ESV). He wasn’t convinced it was Jesus. But that doesn’t explain why Peter made this strange request. Why did he ask Jesus to command that he come to Him on the water? What was going through his mind? Keep in mind, the wind was still blowing and the waves were still rocking the boat, but Peter was asking Jesus to command that he step out of the boat and walk on the water. And Jesus obligingly said, “Come.”

Amazingly, Peter obeyed and made it all the way to where Jesus was waiting. But then something happened. Matthew records, “he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me’” (Matthew 14:30 ESV). He took his eyes off of Jesus and began to focus on the circumstances around him. Remember, Jesus had not calmed the storm. He had walked to them in the midst of it. And when Peter attempted to do the same thing, he found that his faith diminished when he focused on the problem rather than the solution.

But Jesus was there, and He reached out His hand and rescued Peter from his own faltering faith, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31 ESV). Peter had displayed enough faith to step out of the boat and walk all the way to Jesus. But he had taken his eyes off the prize. It would seem that Peter had been more interested in walking on water than walking to Jesus. He had been enamored with the idea of replicating Jesus’ miraculous feat and, seeing that he was actually pulling it off, he had probably taken a look around him, amazed at what he was doing. He became cocky and over-confident. But seeing the wind, he became fearful. His faith turned to fear. And it’s interesting to note that wind is invisible. You can’t see it. But the author of Hebrews reminds us that faith is invisible too.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 ESV

You can’t see faith, but you can see the fruit it produces. The wind, while invisible to the human eye, is powerful enough to turn calm water into powerful waves and turn a boat full of seasoned fishermen into helpless, hopeless victims of a storm. The invisible faith that drove Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water was more than enough to get him to Jesus. But his mistake was allowing his conviction that Jesus was enough to be replaced by the fear that the wind was too much. And he sank like a rock.

And as soon as Jesus and Peter stepped into the boat, the wind and the waves ceased. The storm was calmed. Their fear subsided and was replaced with worship. What they had just witnessed convinced them that Jesus was the Son of God.

In the midst of the growing storm of opposition that swirled around Jesus and His ministery, He walked on in faith. He weathered the wind and waves of apathy and anger that battered Him on a daily basis. He kept His eyes on the will of His Father and the task He had been assigned to accomplish. The storms of controversy were going to rage. The tsunami of public opinion would blow this way and that, but Jesus would remain committed to His mission – walking in faith in the face of the storm.

And when the boat arrived at the other side of the lake, He went about His Father’s business.

35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. – Matthew 14:35-36 ESV

Why did Peter doubt? For the same reason we all do. He focused on the wind, the invisible source of the storm; when he should have kept his eyes on Jesus, the visible source of His faith.

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

The Death of a Generation.

29 After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being 110 years old. 30 And they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash.

31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.

32 As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.

33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim. Joshua 24:29-39 ESV

Joshua lived to the ripe old age of 110. He had served Israel for many years and had led them into the promised land, but also in their efforts to conquer and possess it. Under his guidance, the Israelites had gone from a rag-tag assemblage of former slaves to a powerful force in the Middle East. They had successfully and, in most cases, miraculously defeated the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, taking over their cities, villages, pastures and fields. By the end of his tenure as Israel’s spiritual and military leader, the Israelites were well-established in the land promised to them by God many centuries earlier. But as they say, all good things must come to an end, and Joshua’s life-span reached its allotted course. He died, leaving the people of Israel without an appointed leader. Joshua had not followed the example of Moses, who had passed on the mantel of leadership to him before his own death. Perhaps Joshua assumed that each of the 12 tribes, now established in the land with their own inheritance to manage, would appoint their own leadership. After their renewal of the covenant at Shechem, each of the tribes had dispersed to their own cities and villages, and they were to have begun the final stage of God’s command to eliminate the Canaanites from the land. There were no longer going to be any joint military efforts combining the forces of all 12 tribes. Instead, each tribe would be expected to police and possess its land allotment on its own. And one of the things that will become increasingly clear as their story unfolds is that, without proper leadership, the people of Israel tended to lack follow-through.

In the opening verses of the book of Judges, which chronicles the next chapter in the story of the Israelite’s conquest of the land of Canaan, it becomes clear that the tribes are attempting to follow the example for them by Joshua. They seek the counsel of God in order to determine their next steps.

1 After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. Then Judah went up and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. – Judges 1:1-4 ESV

They begin to form some strategic alliances among themselves in order to improve their chances of success against the Canaanites. And God gave the tribes of Judah and Simeon success in their efforts. But there is a nagging pattern of incompleteness that permeates the opening chapters of Judges. They enjoyed success, but it seems that it was always marked by a failure to finish what they had started.

And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:19 ESV

Notice what this verse says: The Lord was with Judah…BUT. God was fighting alongside the people of Judah and Simeon and they had enjoyed numerous victories as a result. But the presence of chariots of iron had stopped their progress. They had come up against a superior force that had somehow stymied their efforts. But years earlier, long before the Israelites had made it into the land of Canaan, God had told them:

“When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 20:1 ESV

Their inability to stand against an enemy with chariots and horses was due to a lack of faith on their part, not a deficiency in God’s power to deliver. And their failure to trust God would become a pattern that would repeat itself in the story of each of the tribes.

But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. – Judges 1:21 ESV

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. – Judges 1:27 ESV

And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them. – Judges 1:28 ESV

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them – Judges 1:29 ESV

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out. – Judges 1:31-32 ESV

Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. – Judges 1:33 ESV

The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. – Judges 1:34 ESV

These are not just statements of military failure or incomplete conquest. They are a reflection of the state of Israel’s spiritual health. They were failing because they were no longer trusting God. They were making compromises and concessions. Allowing their enemies to remain in the land was easier than stepping out in faith and eliminating them completely as God had commanded them to do. And God reprimanded them for their lack of faith, accusing them of not only disobedience, but of failing to keep the covenant they had made with Him.

1 Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” – Judges 2:1-3 ESV

Their disobedience to God was going to be costly. They were going to learn just how difficult spiritual warfare was going to be without God’s help. And the book of Judges provides us with an important detail concerning the leadership of Joshua and its impact on the people of Israel.

…the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. – Judges 2:7 ESV

But this is followed by a sobering caveat, a all-telling addendum that will set the stage for all that comes later in the book of Judges.

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10 ESV

The final chapter of the book of Joshua chronicles the deaths of Joshua and Eleazar. It also provides details concerning the interment of Joseph’s bones, brought back from Egypt. But it really paints a bleak picture concerning the death of an entire generation. Those who had come from Egypt under the leadership of Moses had died in the wilderness because of their failure to enter the land the first time. And all those who had played a role in conquering the land under Joshua’s leadership would eventually die as well. Their days in the land would be numbered, just as Joshua’s had been. And as long as he was alive, they had served the Lord. But with his death, they began to falter and fail in their commitments to God and their capacity to trust His word. And by the time they pass off the scene, the next generation had long forgotten who God was or any of the great things He had done.

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. – Judges 2:11-13 ESV

It happened just as God said it would. They had failed to do what God had commanded and, as a result, their hearts were led away from Him. The failure of a single generation to maintain their covenant faithfulness to God resulted in an entire spiritual meltdown on the part of their descendants.

The book of Psalms provides a stark reminder of just how different things should have turned out, had the people of Israel done what they had been told to do.

What we have heard and learned—
that which our ancestors have told us—
we will not hide from their descendants.
We will tell the next generation
about the Lord’s praiseworthy acts,
about his strength and the amazing things he has done. – Psalm 78:3-4 NLT

so that the next generation, children yet to be born,
might know about them.
They will grow up and tell their descendants about them.
Then they will place their confidence in God.
They will not forget the works of God,
and they will obey his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors,
who were a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation that was not committed
and faithful to God. – Psalm 78:6-8 NLT

But, sadly, there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

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

March. Madness.

1 Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.” So Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord.” And he said to the people, “Go forward. March around the city and let the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord.”

And just as Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord went forward, blowing the trumpets, with the ark of the covenant of the Lord following them. The armed men were walking before the priests who were blowing the trumpets, and the rear guard was walking after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. 10 But Joshua commanded the people, “You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.” 11 So he caused the ark of the Lord to circle the city, going about it once. And they came into the camp and spent the night in the camp.

12 Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. 13 And the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord walked on, and they blew the trumpets continually. And the armed men were walking before them, and the rear guard was walking after the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets blew continually. 14 And the second day they marched around the city once, and returned into the camp. So they did for six days. Joshua 6:1-14 ESV

Joshua and the people of Israel stood on the western banks of the Jordan River, camped at a place called Gilgal. They were just a few miles from the city of Jericho, which would be the site of their first attempt at taking possession of the land provided to them by God. The men of Israel had followed the Lord’s command and been circumcised. The nation had just celebrated their first Passover in the new land. And Joshua had received a reassuring visit from the captain of the Lord’s armies, the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ Himself. Now, Joshua received news that they were to take the city of Jericho, but the battle strategy given to him by the Lord was anything but conventional. In fact, it was outright strange. They were preparing to attack one of the most formidable cities in the entire region, an 8-1/2 acre walled fortress guarded by, according to the Lord’s own description, “mighty men of valor.” And yet, God’s battle plan involved the army of Israel walking around the circumference of the city, following the ark of the covenant as it was carried by the Levitical priests. They were to do this for six consecutive days, then on the seventh and final day, they were to march around the city seven times, and after their final lap, the priests were to blow their shofars, the people were to shout, and the walls would fall. That was the plan.

And the truly amazing thing is that there is absolutely no indication in the text that the people showed any signs of dissent or disagreement with this plan. In fact, it tells us that Joshua commanded the people, “Go forward. March around the city and let the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord” (Joshua 6:7 ESV), and “just as Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord went forward…” (Joshua 8:8 ESV). They simply obeyed. What a stark contrast to the day, 40 years earlier, when the people of Israel stood on the eastern shores of the Jordan, poised to enter the land of promise, but they refused to do so. They heard the reports of the spies and listened to their warnings about giants in the land, and they stood their ground, disobeying the expressed will of God and threatening to kill Moses and Aaron.

Yet, on this occasion, the people responded with willing obedience. And it is important to consider just how strange this battle plan must have sounded to them. They were an ill-equipped and inexperienced band of former farmers and peasants who had spent the last 40 years wandering around the desert. They were not seasoned soldiers and they lacked any of the weapons of modern warfare that the troops inside the walls of Jericho would have had. Not only that, they were going up against a city that had a virtually impenetrable barrier around it. They had no siege engines. They lacked any kind of trebuchet or catapult that could bring down the walls of the city. No, all they had was a strange-sounding battle plan that involved a great deal of walking and waiting.

Imagine what it was like that very first evening, as the men made their way back to their camp in Gilgal. They had walked the circumference of the city wall, in silence, as the priests blew their shofars and the enemy soldiers on the walls hurled taunts and ridicule their way. These men must have questioned the wisdom behind this bizarre tactic. That night, around the camp fires, there must have been whispered discussions regarding the credibility of the Lord’s battle plan. But they obeyed. They got up the next morning and did it all over again.

And the people of Jericho must have scratched their heads in wonder as they watched, day after day, the inexplicable ritual taking place just outside their walls. What were these crazy Jews doing? What did they hope to accomplish by walking around the city in some kind of strange parade? The people of Jericho must have felt comfortable and safe inside their city, surrounded by their walls and protected by their superior army. But little did they know that God Almighty was the one behind all the events taking place just on the other side of their impregnable walls.

And, the people of Israel kept walking. For six days, they did what God had told them to do. In the face of opposition, in spite of their own doubts and in direct contradiction to all common sense, they obeyed. God had promised to bring down the walls. But that promise was directly tied to their faith and their faith was to be displayed in the form of obedience. Partial obedience would not suffice. A single trip around the walls was not going to bring them down. Half-hearted commitment was not going to result in an all-out victory. They were going to have to take God at His word, and obediently follow His directions – down to the very last word.

God’s will doesn’t always make sense. His ways are sometimes strange and illogical to us. But Joshua seemed to know that their capture of Jericho was going to require complete dependence upon God. He knew they were undermanned and poorly equipped for the job of taking the city of Jericho. He realized that any hope they had of conquering the land of Canaan was directly tied to their reliance upon God. The captain of the Lord’s armies had appeared to Joshua with a sword in His hand, and He had claimed, “I have come.” He was there to do battle on behalf of the people of Israel. And He had a plan. His was not a normal, run-of-the-mill battle plan, but a divinely ordained strategy that was going to unleash the power of heaven through the willing obedience of ordinary men. The greatest effort required of the people of Israel was not their daily walk around the walls. It was their faith. It was their continued confidence in God’s plan and their faithful reliance upon His promise: “the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Joshua 6:5 ESV). Their faith in God, while demonstrated by their obedience to the will of God, was going to ultimately manifest itself in the miraculous display of the power of God. The walls would fall. Their faithful walking and waiting would turn impenetrable walls to rubble, an unconquerable army to fallen foes, and a ragtag group of wandering Israelites into a powerful force led by the captain of the Lord’s armies.

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

 

A Healthy Fear of God.

15 And the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” 18 And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.

19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” 

1 As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel. Joshua 4:15-5:1 ESV

On the tenth day of the first month. The placement of that calendar notation may seem a bit odd or out of place, but it is actually quite significant, providing us with an important time marker. It lets us know that it had been 40 years to the day since God had told Israel to prepare to take the Passover, in preparation for their departure from Egypt.

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.”Exodus 12:1-3 ESV

This day was already a memorial for the people of Israel, commemorating their deliverance from slavery in Egypt by the hand of God. God had told the Israelites that their keeping of the Passover each year on that day was to act as a reminder and a teaching opportunity.

26 “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord‘s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” – Exodus 12:26-27 ESV

Now, they would have another reason to remember the tenth day of the first month, and another story to tell their children about the greatness of God. Not only had He delivered them from captivity in Egypt, He had brought them into the land He had promised to give them. They were no longer slaves, but freemen. Rather than live as captives, they were to be conquerors, possessing the land promised to them by God by the very power of God.

Notice the similarities between what God told the people of Israel regarding their keeping of the Passover and what Joshua told the people about the stone memorial.

21 “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over… – Joshua 4:21-23 ESV

In Egypt, God passed over the houses of the Israelites. At the Jordan, Israel passed over the border of Canaan on dry ground. In Egypt, God had spared the Israelites from death because of the presence of the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. At the Jordan, God had provided a path to a new life through the presence of the ark, the symbol of God’s covenant faithfulness. And as soon as the feet of the priests stepped out of the Jordan and onto the western shoreline, the waters returned and overflowed their banks. God had faithfully kept back the waters until each and every Israelite had passed over. He had delivered them safely into the land of promise.

And Joshua provides two important reasons for this miraculous provision by God. First, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” This was to be a witness to the nations who occupied the land of Canaan. News of this miracle would spread. The drying up of the waters of the Jordan would not have gone unnoticed by others who lived in the land and who depended upon its waters for their well-being. We are not told how long it took the Israelites to cross over the Jordan, but however long it took, those living downstream would have noticed that the river had dried up at a time of the year when it should have been overflowing its banks. And in the very next chapter we see that the news of this miracle had its intended impact on the inhabitants of the land.

…their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel… – Joshua 5:1 ESV

But Joshua lets the people know there is a second and even more significant reason for the miracle they had just witnessed: “that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” God had just revealed His power. He had displayed His sovereign control over the elements. Just as He had dried up the waters of the Red Sea 40 years earlier, He had dried up the waters of the Jordan. Nothing was too difficult for Him. And they were to fear Him. But it’s essential that we understand what this fear of God entailed. It was not to be a fear of Him, in the sense that they were to cower in His presence or live in fear of His wrath. The fear of God is an expression that communicates faith in God. It is a experiential understanding of His power and provision. God had just done a miracle on their behalf. He had just performed an inexplicable act of divine deliverance, and it was to produce in them a healthy reverence for Him and an emboldened faith in Him. So that, the next time He spoke, they would readily listen and quickly obey. Their God was powerful. Their God was faithful. And there was no other god like Him. The gods of the Canaanites and Amorites would prove no match for God Almighty.

Many years earlier, long before the Israelites had made it into the land of promise, Moses had given them a powerful reminder concerning the fear of God.

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 ESV

The fear of God was to have an outward expression. It was to be visible and tangible in nature. And it was to be characterized by obedience and faithfulness.

20 “You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” – Deuteronomy 10:20-22 ESV

The Israelites were to fear God, because He was their covenant-keeping, miracle-working, grace-bestowing God. The Amorites and Canaanites would learn to fear God, but for completely different reasons. They were going to learn that He was God, and they would come to fear His power and presence, but they would never bow down and worship Him as their God. But for the Israelites, their interactions with God were to produce a reverence for Him that would increase their dependence upon Him.

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

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

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

The Living God Is Among You.

And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”

14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.Joshua 3:9-17 ESV

In every generation, one of the saddest realities of life is how often the people of God fail to recognize His presence among them. Those who claim to be followers of God and who express faith in His power end up wondering if He is really there. They read the Scriptures and hear stories about His faithfulness in the past, but they fail to see Him at work in and around their own lives. But, when it comes to our failure to see the handiwork of God, the problem lies with us, not God.

As the people of Israel prepared to cross over the Jordan River and enter the land of Canaan, they must have been filled with excitement and anticipation, but also a bit of fear and trepidation. They had no idea what was going to happen next. They knew that God had promised to give them the land, but this day had been a long time in coming. And they knew that the land God had promised them was not uninhabited. It was filled with nations who would likely take strong exception to Israel’s claim to have a God-given right to the land. These nations would be sure to resist any attempts by the Israelites to walk in and take over their cities, fields, and homes. But Joshua gathered the people together and told them:

“Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.” – Joshua 3:10 ESV

He was letting them know that this entire venture was going to be God-led and God-empowered. God had promised to do wonders, and now they were about to see the first of many wonders He would perform on their behalf. And, as a result, they would know that He was among them. This is an interesting statement, because God had been among them for generations – guiding, leading, protecting and delivering them. He had regularly displayed His glory in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. His divine presence had been visible, hovering over the tabernacle and leading them as they had made their way through the wilderness and to the shores of the Jordan. But Joshua seems to be telling them that this new phase of their journey was going to be marked by a new manifestation of God’s presence and power. This was not going to be another day of walking in the wilderness. This was to be the fulfillment of the long-awaited promise of God, and it was going to require an extra measure of trust in God.

Joshua refers to God as “the Lord of all the earth” (Joshua 3:11 ESV). This is the very first time we hear this designation used, and it seems to be Joshua’s attempt to stress God’s sovereign control over the planet. The people were going to see just how truly powerful their God was. And it’s no coincidence that what God was about to do at the River Jordan was very similar to what He had done for the Israelites all the way back at the Red Sea when they had first left Egypt. That miraculous event had marked their exodus and escape from slavery and oppression. This event would mark their entrance into God’s promise of freedom, rest and blessing.

Joshua instructed each tribe to select a man as their representative. This 12 men were to accompany the priests who would carry the ark of the covenant. And Joshua tells the people that when the feet of the priests enter the waters of the Jordan, “the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap” (Joshua 3:13 ESV). Just as the waters of the Red Sea had split apart and allowed the people of Israel to cross over on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan would be held back by the hand of God, providing a path leading from the wilderness to the promised land. Like a door swinging on a hinge, the waters would literally open up, providing a way for the people to enter the land. The Hebrew word used by the author is karath, and it means “to cut off.” But it is the same word used when speaking of cutting or making a covenant. When a covenant was made between two parties, an animal was sacrificed, then cut up or divided in two. The two covenanting parties would then walk the path between the divided sacrifice, signifying their commitment to keep the covenant or face a similar fate. As God “cut off” the waters of the Jordan, He was signifying His commitment to keep the covenant He had made to Abraham. And the people were entering into that covenant, passing over the path that God had provided for them.

It is also a picture of Christ, the one whom God provided to be the doorway or gate into His promise of eternal life and rest. Jesus once said, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7 NLT) and “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. ” (John 10:9 NLT). He also boldly claimed, “No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). That day, standing on the shores of the Jordan, the people of God were only going to be given a single, solitary path to take. It would be a God-given, divinely orchestrated path that was miraculous in nature and based solely on the grace of God. There was to be no other way. There was to be no workaround or alternative route. And the same is true when it comes to God’s path to salvation. There is no other way but Christ. There is no other door or gateway into God’s presence or a path by which men might find peace with God.

God did a miracle. He performed a wonder and displayed His power, proving to the people that He was not only with them, but for them. He was going ahead of them, leading the way into the land of promise. And just as the waters of the Jordan parted before them, the nations that occupied the land would melt away in front of them. Nothing would be too difficult for God. He would lead, but they would need to follow. He would provide a path, but they would have to walk along it in obedience and faith. And once they had crossed over, those very same waters would close behind them, signifying that there was no going back. They were in the land and the promise had been fulfilled. But now, they would have to occupy the land. They would have to take what God had given them and make it their own. The presence of enemies in no way negated the reality of the promise. The land was theirs. God had given it to them. But fully experiencing the promise of God was going to require their complete dependence upon the power of God. He was among them, but they would have to trust that He would go before them, each and every day they lived in the land.

 

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

Inquiring Minds Want to Know.

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 ESV

Solomon was on a quest. He was a man on a desperate search for the meaning to life. Blessed by God with remarkable wisdom and abundant wealth, he found himself in the seemingly enviable position of having all that his heart could desire. But that was the problem. He was discontent, lacking any sense of fulfillment or satisfaction. So, he used his wisdom to investigate all the options available to him, and because of his great wealth and influence as king, there was little he could not acquire. And in this chapter, Solomon provides us with a glimpse into the somewhat hedonistic experiment that became his life.

One of the things that likely led to Solomon’s dilemma, was the peace that marked his reign. Unlike his father, David, Solomon ruled during a period in Israel’s history when they enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity. The book of First Kings describes the situation.

20 The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They were very contented, with plenty to eat and drink. 21 Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River in the north to the land of the Philistines and the border of Egypt in the south. The conquered peoples of those lands sent tribute money to Solomon and continued to serve him throughout his lifetime. – 1 Kings 4:20-21 NLT

24 Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. 25 During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.1 Kings 4:24-25 NLT

David had spent the entirety of his reign fighting the enemies of Israel and extending the borders of the nation. And his son inherited the kingdom he had established. That left Solomon with little to do, other than maintain what he had been given. So, he built. He constructed an opulent palace for himself that took 13 years to complete. He also built the temple, in fulfillment of his father’s dream. But Solomon was not done.

1 It took Solomon twenty years to build the Lord’s Temple and his own royal palace. At the end of that time, Solomon turned his attention to rebuilding the towns that King Hiram had given him, and he settled Israelites in them.

Solomon also fought against the town of Hamath-zobah and conquered it. He rebuilt Tadmor in the wilderness and built towns in the region of Hamath as supply centers. He fortified the towns of Upper Beth-horon and Lower Beth-horon, rebuilding their walls and installing barred gates. He also rebuilt Baalath and other supply centers and constructed towns where his chariots and horses could be stationed. He built everything he desired in Jerusalem and Lebanon and throughout his entire realm. – 2 Chronicles 8:1-6 NLT

Solomon built. But none of these massive construction projects satisfied him. So, he pursued pleasure.

I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. – Ecclesiastes 2:1 NLT

This wasn’t a case of Solomon running headlong into a life of unbridled hedonism, but the well-thought-out efforts of an inquiring mind. He wanted to know the source of man’s satisfaction and significance. Being king was not enough. Having great wealth and unparalleled wisdom didn’t do it. So, he sought out all the ways he might bring pleasure to his life. He tried wine, architecture, horticulture, and ranching. He purchased countless slaves to serve him and meet his every desire. He surrounded himself with concubines, literally hundreds of them, whose sole purpose in life was to meet his sensual desires. He filled his vaults with gold and silver and his palace with the sounds of singers. Solomon was on a never-ending quest for meaning in life. And he lived with a motto that said, “Enough is never enough.” In fact, he stated, “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors” (Ecclesiastes 2:10 NLT).

But none of it satisfied him. He describes it as vanity, as profitable as chasing the wind. All his efforts were getting him nowhere. His accumulation of material goods had left him surrounded by all the trappings of success, but he still had a huge void in his life. He had hundreds of wives and concubines, thousands of slaves and servants, and countless admirers and courtiers, but he was still lonely.

It would be a mistake to assert that Solomon received no pleasure or satisfaction from the many things listed in this passage. He most certainly did. The sex was satisfying, for the moment. But it didn’t last. The gold and silver made his extravagant lifestyle possible, and brought him short periods of happiness, but no lasting joy. The palace in which he lived provided all the comforts he could ever desire, but it couldn’t make him content. Solomon was learning the difficult life lesson that acquisition and accumulation were lousy substitutes for a vital relationship with God. Only He can satisfy our deepest longings and desires. The blessings of God are never intended to be a substitute for God. Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of his father’s warnings. Nearing the end of his life, David had given his son some final words of wisdom, encouraging him to remain faithful to God.

“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’ – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

And while the early years of Solomon’s reign would be marked by faithfulness, it didn’t take long before he began to allow his wealth and power to turn him away from God. He became self-sufficient and self-reliant. He had all he needed and he filled his life with everything but God. He even worshiped other gods, the sad result of his marriages to hundreds of women from other cultures who brought their pagan idols with them. Solomon forgot God. He lost sight of the fact that his wisdom and wealth had been gifts to him from God. And the minute he began to think that he was a self-made man, he began his descent toward self-destruction. Yes, he maintained all the outward signs of success, portraying to all those around him the visible manifestations of extreme affluence. To everyone else, he looked like the man who had it all. He was handsome, wealthy and powerful. He was admired and envied by all. Kings and queens found themselves jealous of his success, looking on in awe-struck wonder at his many accomplishments and extensive political influence.

But it was all a facade, a house of cards. It all added up to nothing and provided Solomon with no lasting satisfaction. This great king, like everyone else who has ever lived, was learning the painful lesson that our possessions always end up possessing us. What we hope will deliver us, almost always ends up enslaving us. And thousands of years later, Jesus would speak these powerful words of warning:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

And the apostle Paul would echo the words of Jesus when he wrote to his young protege, Timothy.

17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NLT

Solomon had taken his eyes off of God. He had placed his hope in anything and everything but God. And he found himself mired in a never-ending cycle of accumulation and acquisition that always ended in dissatisfaction. In his quest to know the meaning of life, Solomon forgot what it meant to know God, the author of life.

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

Take Courage.

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.

33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea. Acts 27:21-38 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

Earlier in the voyage. Paul had warned the ship’s officers of a bad premonition he had regarding the outcome of their voyage if they proceeded. And Paul had minced no words, saying, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well” (Acts 27:10 NLT). But the soldier in charge of Paul and the rest of the prisoners on board had listened to the advice of the ship’s captain and crew, who had all agreed to keep sailing, in search of a safer port. Now, they found themselves in a predicament. They had sailed for days in violent seas, their ship battered by the waves and wind. The storm was so intense that it blocked out the sun during the day, thrusting Paul and his 275 shipmates into a perpetual state of darkness. For days on end, the sailors had battled the storm, unable to eat or sleep, and Luke indicates that they finally abandoned all hope. 

But in the heat of the storm, Paul addressed the crew, reminding them that they should have heeded his initial advice. All that he had predicted had come true, and now they were on the brink of disaster. Things were out of their control. They had done all they could do, but the storm had proven too great and their attempts to save themselves, too small. Yet, this wasn’t a case of Paul telling them, “I told you so.” He wasn’t rubbing their noses in their failure to heed his advice. He was letting them know that His God was greater than the storm.

22 “But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ 25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” – Acts 27:22-26 NLT

Right in the middle of what was probably the worst storm any of these sea-hardened sailors had ever experienced, Paul stood up and told them to take courage. He encouraged them not to fear. Can you imagine how ludicrous his words must have sounded to those men? Here was some Jewish prisoner and landlubber, attempting to calm their fears and assure them that none of them would die. All would turn out well. And, even more incredibly, this man was basing his words on a dream he had received from his God.

Paul had faith, and his faith would prove contagious. He had heard from God and he believed what he had been told. So, he told the men, “euthymeō” – take courage. They were to be of good cheer. Now think about what Paul was saying. The storm was still raging. The waves were still crashing against the side of the boat. The rain was still pouring down. The noise must have been deafening. But Paul was telling them to take courage and he clearly stated why they should. “For I believe God. It will be just as he said” (Acts 27:25 NLT). Paul trusted God. Even in the midst of the storm. Nothing had changed. Their circumstances had not improved. Paul was telling them to trust a God they didn’t know and couldn’t see, while everything was crashing down around them. Paul had learned not to focus his attention on immediate circumstances. What was happening around them was not proof of what was going to happen to them. While they had abandoned all hope, they had not been abandoned by God, and Paul told them as much. “God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you” (Acts 27:24 NLT).

This story reminds me of a poem written in 1774 by William Cowper.  

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

All the sailors could see was the storm raging around them. They were drenched from the incessant rain and weakened from going for days without food. They had lost all hope. They had probably called out to their various gods, begging for salvation. They had thought about their wives and children at home and the likelihood of never seeing them again. They had exhausted all their mental and physical resources trying to save themselves. And now, Paul was telling them that his God had everything under control. They would be safe. There would be a shipwreck, but not a single man would be lost.

As the storm progressed, the sailors determined that their best hope of salvation was to abandon ship. Under the pretext of setting out additional anchors to keep the ship from running aground on the rocks, these men attempted to lower the ship’s skiff or lifeboat. But Paul warned the guards who were watching he and the other prisoners, that if the sailors did not stay on board, everyone would die. So, the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat, allowing it to drift away in the storm. Now, they had to trust God. There were no other options. For the sailors, the lifeboat had become an idol, a false hope of salvation. But Paul knew that it would have failed them. They would not have survived the storm in a boat so small. Their best hope for salvation was to remain in the ship and under the watchful care of God Almighty. But their actions reflect those of every human being who, when caught in the storms of life, attempts to find a way out. They seek a way of salvation and escape. Rather than place their trust in a God they can’t see, they rely on something more tangible in nature. When the Israelites had been set free from slavery in Egypt and found themselves in the wilderness, they began to wonder about this God of Moses. While Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, the people determined to make their own god, an idol made of precious metal. They sought to create a god of their own making, something they could see. Their leader had disappeared. He had gone to the top of the mountain and they had assumed he was not returning. And the God that had rescued them seemed to have bailed on them. So, they took matters into their own hands and fabricated their own source of salvation.

Paul wanted everyone to know that the best course of action was to remain right where they were. They were to stay on the boat, not to abandon ship. What they believed was going to be the source of their death, would actually play a vital role in their salvation. They were going to have to trust Paul, who had placed his trust in God. And Paul was so confident, that he encouraged the men to eat so that they could regain their strength, assuring them, “For not a hair of your heads will perish” (Acts 27:34 NLT). Then, Luke tells us, “everyone was encouraged and began to eat—all 276 of us who were on board” (Acts 27:36-37 NLT). The faith of Paul had infected the entire ship. When everyone else on board had abandoned hope and the sailors had tried to abandon ship, Paul had remained confident in the faithfulness of God. Instead of fear, he had exhibited faith. When everyone else was panicking, he was trusting. While the crew had grown weak and abandoned all hope, Paul had remained strong. He was exhibiting the very characteristics he had encouraged the Corinthians to have. “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV). And his courage had made an impact on all those around him.

 

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

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

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

Let the Will of the Lord be Done.

1 And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.

When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day. On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, 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.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

15 After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge. Acts 21:1-16 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

 

In his gospel account, Luke records the following statement regarding Jesus: “Now when the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set out resolutely to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 NLT). Jesus had begun to reveal to His disciples the fate that awaited Him in Jerusalem. He told them, “Take these words to heart, for the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men” (Luke 9:44 NLT). As time went on and the day of His betrayal and death drew closer, He became more specific regarding the details surrounding what awaited Him in Jerusalem.

31 Then Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; he will be mocked, mistreated, and spat on. 33 They will flog him severely and kill him. Yet on the third day he will rise again.” 34 But the twelve understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what Jesus meant. – Luke 18:31-33 NLT

Jesus had been resolute and steadfast in His commitment to carry out the assignment given to Him by God the Father. He knew why He had come to earth and His work would not be complete until He had finished what He had been sent to do. And, at one point, He spoke the following statement in the hearing of His disciples and to those who had claimed to be His followers, but who had been distracted by worldly concerns: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 NLT).

Here in Luke’s retelling of the history of the church, he seems to be comparing the determination and dedication of Jesus to that of Paul. We see in this passage, some striking similarities between the two men, as Paul, making his way to Jerusalem, displays a strong sense of calling and commitment to complete the journey, even in spite of the warnings of those who loved him. Paul had no idea what awaited him in Jerusalem, but he knew from experience that the potential for death was a reality everywhere he went.

22 And now, behold, j, 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. – Acts 20:22-24 ESV

Paul wanted to finish well. He wanted to be faithful to the assignment given to him by Jesus. And his attitude was that, as long as the Lord allowed him to live, he would share the gospel faithfully and boldly. His goal in life was to please the Lord, whether in life or in death.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 ESV

And Luke, using geographic locations as a sort of measurement device, tells of Paul’s unwavering commitment to return to Jerusalem as the Spirit had directed him. Luke describes their journey from Miletus to Cos, then to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. Their next stop was Phoenicia and from there they sailed to Tyre, passing by the island of Rhodes on the way. There are not stops mentioned. At no point does he describe Paul taking time to minister along the way. This was not normal behavior for Paul. You can sense in Luke’s description of this leg of their journey that there was a certain determination on the part of Paul. Like Jesus, he had set out resolutely to go to Jerusalem.

It was only when he had arrived in Tyre that Paul took time to meet with the disciples there. He stayed for seven days, but this was only because he was forced to wait for this ship’s cargo to be unloaded. During the delay, Paul was once again bombarded with dire warnings from those who cared deeply for him. Luke records that the brothers and sisters, under the influence of the Spirit of God, “were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4 ESV). This begs a question: If these believers, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem, why did he do so anyway? Was he being disobedient to the Spirit? Does this just display a stubbornness on Paul’s part? It is important to remember that Paul had also received word from the Spirit of God. In fact, he had made that plain when he had said, “I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit” (Acts 20:22 ESV). It would seem that some of the disciples in Tyre had been given a divine insight into Paul’s fate, provided to them by the Holy Spirit. Upon hearing the news, their natural conclusion had been that the Spirit was telling them these things so they could warn Paul and keep him from going. But it much more likely that the Spirit was simply confirming what He had already told Paul. Out of their love for Paul, they were trying to prevent any harm from coming to him, but what awaited Paul in Jerusalem was the sovereign will of God. What what we seen happening here is the very same thing that happened when Jesus had informed the disciples about the fate awaiting Him in Jerusalem.

21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” – Matthew 16:21-22 NLT

Peter had meant well. He loved Jesus and was simply trying to protect him from what he believed to be an undeserved and unnecessary death. He didn’t understand what was going on, but was seeing things from his limited human perspective. And what Jesus said to him provides us with a telling and sobering warning.

23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” – Matthew 16:23 NLT

The disciples in Tyre were guilty of the same thing. They were setting their minds on their own interests, rather than those of God. They couldn’t bear the thought of losing Paul. It made no sense to them that God would allow anything to happen to someone so vital to the well-being of the church. But that kind of attitude was dangerous. Jesus described Peter as acting like Satan, attempting to stand in the way of God divine will for the redemption of mankind. And the disciples in Tyre, while trying to keep Paul from having to suffer, were unwittingly doing the same thing. They had no idea what God had planned for Paul and what was going to happen as a result. They could not see into the future. All they knew was that something dire was waiting for Paul in Jerusalem and they wanted to prevent it from happening.

But Paul remained determined. He departed from Tyre and made his way to Ptolemais and then on to Caesarea, where he and his traveling companions stayed in the home of Philip the Evangelist. While there, Paul was once again confronted and warned about the fate that awaited him in Jerusalem. This time, it came from the lips of a prophet named Agabus, who had come all the way from Judea. Using a visual illustration, he revealed to Paul that he would arrested by the Jews, bound up and delivered to the Gentiles. It is obvious that Agabus had also received a word from the Lord. And the text does not indicate that Agabus tried to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem. He simply presented the facts as given to him by God. It was the disciples in Philip’s house who heard this news and attempted to persuade Paul to change his plans. And Luke, out of love for his brother, Paul, included himself among those who tried to change Paul’s mind. “When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12 ESV). 

What they failed to realize was that their passionate pleas for Paul to refrain from going to Jerusalem were actually making things more difficult for Paul. He responded: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 ESV). What Paul needed were words of encouragement to stay the course, not emotion-filled pleas to disobey the will of God for his life. His friends meant well, but they were operating out of a sense of selfishness. They were not seeing the bigger picture. For Paul, the plans of God far outweighed any personal aspirations he might have. He was much more interested in seeing the sovereign will of God accomplished than doing whatever he could to keep his life as trouble-free as possible.

Luke, along with all the others who had tried to dissuade Paul from his seemingly ill-fated plans to go to Jerusalem, resigned himself to the inevitable. He simply stated, “Let the will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14 ESV). There is a certain sense of failure in Luke’s words. He doesn’t sound convincing. He even admitted that “since he would not be persuaded, we ceased” (Acts 21:14 ESV). They had tried, but had failed. So, they were forced to accept what happened as the will of God. But is that the way we should face the future? Does God want us to simply give up hope and face what may happen with a sense of resignation? What a contrast we see between the words of Luke and those of Paul. “I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 ESV). The will of God didn’t intimidate Paul. It didn’t depress him. He didn’t feel compelled to resign himself to it. He willing and eagerly embraced it as preferable to any other alternative, because he was fully convinced that God knew best. Paul lived his life in keeping with the words of Peter: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7 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

 

What Sort of People Ought You To Be?

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV

The false teachers Peter has been exposing were guilty of denying the promise of Jesus’ second coming. Because it hadn’t happened yet, they assumed it wasn’t going to happen at all. And they had been purposefully contradicting the teaching of Peter and the other apostles, trying to persuade the believers to whom Peter was writing that waiting for Christ to return was pointless. He wasn’t coming back. Which is what led Peter to point out that God’s seeming delays are not to be interpreted as proof that His lack of involvement in the lives of men. Just because God had allowed sin to run rampant on the earth during the days of Noah, didn’t mean He was approving of it or indifferent to it. Because He eventually brought judgment in the form of a devastating, world-wide flood. To deny that “the day of the Lord”, as Peter refers to it, even exists, is a risky proposition. Jesus return is going to be associated with judgment. The apostle John, in his Book of the Revelation, gives a powerful description of Jesus as He appears at His second coming.

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

He is coming again. And this time, He won’t be coming in the form of a helpless baby, born in obscurity in some backwater village in the land of Israel. No, He will be coming in might and power, and as a powerful, conquering King. He will come as the Judge of the world. And just because it hasn’t happened yet does not mean it is never going to happen. God has His timing and He has not divulged it to anyone, including His own Son. Jesus made this point clear when speaking to the disciples regarding His return for the church.

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. – Matthew 24:36 NLT

Even after His resurrection, on one of the numerous occasions when He had appeared to His disciples, they asked Him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6 NLT). They were thinking that this must be the day. He had been murdered, but had come back to life. Surely, this was a significant sign that He was truly the Messiah and was going to set up His Kingdom on earth. But Jesus simply replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know” (Acts 1:7 NLT). They were worrying about things that were above their pay grade. So, Jesus told them to set their minds on what was going to happen next. He wanted them to know that they had work to do. Rather than worry about when He was coming back, they needed to prepare themselves for what was about to take place. So He told them, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NLT).

God has a plan and He is working that plan to perfection. There are things that must happen and they must take place in the order God has established for them. Jesus was soon to leave and the Holy Spirit was to come in His place. And it was the coming of the Spirit that empowered the apostles to become the men who radically changed the world through their spreading of the gospel “to the ends of the earth”.

The coming of the Holy Spirit inaugurated the beginning of the church age. We are living in the last days, as Peter and the apostles referred to them. How long will they last? We have no idea. Peter and his compatriots lived as though Christ could return at any moment. So should we. But the longer time goes on and we don’t see Him coming back, it becomes easy to doubt whether He is ever going to do so. And there will always be those who will try to convince us that His return is neither eminent or relevant. They will present this life as the only life. They will try to sell ideas like “Your Best Life Now” when Jesus talked about the abundant life to come, life everlasting.

Peter pointed out an aspect concerning God that we must never fail to remember. God is not bound by space and time. He is eternal. So, time as we know it, means nothing to Him. Which is why Peter states: “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day” (2 Peter 3:8 NLT). What appears to us as a lengthy delay, is nothing more than the blink of an eye to God. This lengthy timeline on which we track the decades and centuries of mankind’s existence and see no sign of His Son’s return, is meaningless to God. He sees tomorrow just as we see today. Past, present and future are all one and the same to Him. In Psalm 90:4, Moses penned a prayer to God in which he too acknowledged God’s timelessness.

For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.

And Moses goes on in that same Psalm and expresses His desire that God would end what appears to be His delay.

13 O Lord, come back to us!
    How long will you delay?
    Take pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,
    so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
15 Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
    Replace the evil years with good.
16 Let us, your servants, see you work again;
    let our children see your glory.
17 And may the Lord our God show us his approval
    and make our efforts successful.
    Yes, make our efforts successful! – Psalm 90:13-17 NLT

But Peter would tell Moses to stop worrying about when God is going to come back and start concentrating on how God would have him live in the meantime. God has left His people here for a reason. He has a divine purpose behind the seeming delay of His Son’s the return. And here it is.

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:9 NLT

What appears to us as a delay is really a sign of God’s mercy. He is providing time for all those who are going to come to faith to do so. He is not going to send His Son back until all those who have been chosen by Him for salvation are gathered in. There seems to be two returns of the Lord mentioned in these verses. The first concerns Jesus’ return for the church, which is referred to as the Rapture. This event will bring an end to the church age and usher in the period of the Tribulation. In his letter to the Romans, Paul states, “Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ” (Romans 11:25 NLT). Notice that it says, “the full number”. There is evidently a quota or number of those who are going to come to faith and only God knows what that number is. In other words, there is a fixed number of individuals who will come to faith in Christ. And when that number is reached, Jesus will return for His bride, the church. Paul describes this day in his first letter to the Thessalonians.

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NLT

But there is a second coming of Christ. Peter refers to it in verse 10.

But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

This coming will take place at the end of the seven-year long period of the Tribulation. This return will be associated with judgment. But it will also involve Jesus gathering His chosen ones, the people of Israel, who have come to faith in Him during the days of the tribulation. He spoke of this day to His disciples.

30 And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven. – Matthew 24:30-31 NLT

Then will come to final judgment of the world. “On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames” (2 Peter 3:12 NLT). But Peter tells his readers to not worry about all that. Instead, he encourages them, “But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13 NLT). We don’t know when Jesus is coming back. We have no idea when the Rapture will be. We have no clue when His second coming will take place. And we don’t need to worry about either. We just need to trust God and rest in His promises. And in the meantime, keep our minds focused on what sort of people we ought to be.

 

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

All You Need.

1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.2 Peter 1:1-4 ESV

In verse one of chapter three, Peter refers to a previous letter he had written: “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved.” It is assumed that this second letter was written to the very same group he addressed in 1 Peter. This was a mixed congregation of both Gentiles and Jews who were spread throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. And Peter states his reason for having written both letters: “I have tried to stimulate your wholesome thinking and refresh your memory. I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:1-2 NLT). We’ll unpack that passage when we come to it, but suffice it to say, that Peter was trying to foster a deeper understanding of who Jesus was and how He had fulfilled all that the prophets had written concerning Him. He really was the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah and the Savior of the world. And, once again, Peter refers to himself as one of His apostles. He had personally called and commissioned by the resurrected Christ, and given the task of taking the good news concerning Jesus to the Gentiles. 

Peter addresses his letter to “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours” (2 Peter 1:1 ESV). Paul is setting himself up as the standard of faith, but simply stating that faith is the common bond we all share. His faith, as an apostle, is no better or greater than that of anyone else. His audience shared a common faith, the same as himself and all the other apostles. And Peter makes it clear that this faith was made possible “by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1 ESV). The apostle Paul provides us with insight into what Peter is saying.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. – Romans 10:3-4 ESV

Peter wants his readers to know that their faith is in the righteousness of Christ, not their own poor attempt at living righteous lives. They must continue to believe that their right standing with God is not based on their own human effort, but on what Christ accomplished for them on the cross.

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption… – 1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV

Our faith is in the righteousness of Christ. And Peter, Paul, the rest of the apostles, the recipients of Peter’s letter, and every other individual who has placed their faith in Christ has no reason to think they earned their right standing with God. Paul went on to write, “so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:31 ESV). And it is our growing understanding of the incredible gift we have received that will result in increased grace and peace. And that was Peter’s prayer.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. – 2 Peter 1:2 ESV

That grace and peace grows as our comprehension of God and the gift of His Son, increases in our lives. Rather than worrying and wondering about all that we must do for God, we are to be focused on what He has done for us through Christ. Our salvation was by faith, so is our sanctification – our growth in Christ-likeness. We don’t become more like Christ through human effort, but by faith in the transforming power of God made possible by His indwelling Holy Spirit. And Peter speaks of this power.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. – 2 Peter 1:3 ESV

Let that sink in. God has done it all. In his first letter, Peter pointed out that God had chosen them. Their salvation had been His doing, not theirs. God had sent His Son to die for them and God is the one who had chosen them to receive eternal life through His Son. And now, Peter reminds them that all that they will need for living godly lives on this planet comes from God. It comes “through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). Godly living is directly tied to our knowledge of Christ. Paul writes, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ” (Colossians 2:9-10 NLT). In Christ, we have all we need for living godly lives. We don’t have to manufacture anything. We don’t have to muster up the strength to follow Christ’s example. All that we need comes from and through Christ, which is why Paul could say, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT). Paul fully believed that reality. He lived by it. And he would not allow himself to fall back into the trap of trying to live out the Christian life through human effort.

20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. – Galatians 2:20-21 NLT

And Peter says virtually the same thing, reminding his readers that God has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). But what are those “precious and very great promises”? What has God communicated through His prophets and apostles that we can count on and place our hope in when it comes to experiencing an ever-increasing divine nature? One of those promises can be found in Peter’s earlier letter:

3 …because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now 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 have the promise of an eternal inheritance. It is based on the righteousness of Christ, not our own feeble attempts at living godly lives on our own. Not only that, God has promised to protect us by His power until that inheritance is fully realized.

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

God has promised to give us the “divine nature” of His Son. But it is a gift to be received, not to be earned. The only way we can become more like Christ is because we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire”. In other words, we have been freed from captivity to sin. We are free not to sin, for the first time in our lives, because of what Christ has done for us. We can live godly lives. We are capable of living like Christ. “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). The point that Peter is trying to make is that our dependency upon God increases over time. He didn’t send His Son to die for us, so that we might then try to live for Him according to our own human effort. His power has been and always will be the key to our spiritual transformation. The apostle Paul points out the non-negotiable nature of this Christ-dependent life:

10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. – Romans 8:10-13 NLT

The Spirit of God lives in you. The same incredible power that raised Jesus back to life is available to us each and every day of our lives. But we must live according to that power, not the feeble, sin-marred power of our flesh. Peter wants his readers to look for God for everything they need. It has already been given to them in the form of the Holy Spirit. And it is theirs because of the righteousness imputed to them by Christ that led to their full acceptance by God. The Christian life is not about sinful man attempting to live up to some moral standard on his own in an ill-fated attempt to achieve divine status. It is the work of God. He called us. He saved us. And He is the one who will transform us. All by His divine power. As Paul put it, “I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 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