Today You Will Be With Me

Despite the current state of the world, and life here in the UK, I actually quite enjoyed the Easter celebrations. Of course, I was disappointed not to have been able to meet with family or friends, or to gather as a church, but we made the best of it.

I have been thinking about the two criminals who were crucified with Christ – well, one of them in particular.

As I mentioned on Good Friday’s post – Seven Sayings of Jesus at the Cross– we learn that one of the criminals turned in faith to Jesus in his dying moments. Yet Matthew’s Gospel records both of the criminals having hurled insults at Him. This is quite the turnaround for one man, and look at the reward Christ offers him.

Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:43 (WEB)

I know that I said this on Friday, but it is worth repeating. It is never too late to turn to Jesus. No matter what you have done, and no matter how far short you fall, God will never turn you away if you sincerely surrender yourself to His Son.

Yesterday I heard of a family friend who sadly passed away from COVID-19. The man was not old, nor particularly unhealthy (although he did have a condition which made him more vulnerable to this virus). The illness started off rather mildly but has now led to his death. It is very sad, but a reminder that none of us know how long we have on this Earth. Whether COVID or not, we must all die some day and we must make sure we are ready to face God.

Are you?

I’ve digressed slightly, but hopefully that is an important reminder for us all.

So, the criminal turns to Jesus and Jesus says these words: “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

English Bibles are translations of the original language. For the New Testament, that was mostly Greek. To emphasise a point, sometimes we read a repetition such as “Truly, truly…” or “Mary, Mary…” This is to catch our attention such that we really take in what Jesus is about to say.

Likewise, here, Jesus says “Assuredly…” Assuredly. Absolutely. Definitely. I guarantee… Jesus is assuring this man in no uncertain terms that he will join Christ in Paradise. Comforting this criminal in his last moments, Jesus confirms on him salvation and a place in eternal life.

Scholars have debated what Jesus meant by “today” here. Does it imply that at Jesus’ and the criminal’s death, they both entered straight into Paradise? Some suggest that Jesus descended into the abode of the dead – Sheol in Hebrew – and still others say into hell itself. If so, how could He or the criminal be in Paradise “today?”

Let me give you my thoughts, for what they are worth!

Today is a subjective term. If I say to you, “I’ll meet you later today,” then we both have a reasonable idea of what I mean. But what if I am in a different time zone? Then “Today” becomes slightly more blurred.

It boils down to physics, and what Einstein called “relativity.” Time is relative to your perspective. It is a physical property dependent on gravity and so when we leave these physical bodies, time no longer applies to us.

God is infinite. This doesn’t mean He has lots of time on His hands, but rather that He is outside of time. The criminal arrived at Paradise that same day to him, but from our point of view, time has carried on as before. It may even be that when each of us die, we all arrive in eternity at the same “moment” because there are no moments on the other side.

Anyway, I don’t want to get bogged down in this, but just want to point out that “today” is a relative thing.

Moe important are Christ’s words after “today” – “…you will be with Me…”

There is no greater thing than being with Christ. There are so many blessings to being a part of God’s family, and yet all pale in comparison to actually knowing Jesus.

Yes most certainly, and I count all things to be a loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ

Philippians 3:8 (WEB)

These words are truly, truly humbling to me. I love the Bible, and thirst for knowledge of it. I love being part of a church, and certainly love knowing that I will go to heaven when I die. But can I really say, as Paul does above, that I count everything else as refuse (sometimes rendered “dung”) in comparison to knowing Jesus? Not nearly enough.

Let’s spend our isolation doing fruitful things. Let’s make the most of this time. Let’s spend it getting to know Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

What will you do “today?”

Are you ready for the bridegroom?

When writing this blog, I sometimes prepare a post in advance and schedule it for release. This is particularly useful on days when I know I am going to be busy and probably won’t get the time to write. Since posting daily over the last couple of weeks, this is increasingly important.

Today was a day when I had a post already written and scheduled, yet as I was praying this morning, I had the sense that I needed to write something different.

The pre-written post will come out another day of course, so won’t go to waste, but I felt especially pressed to share on the parable of the ten virgins today.

Jesus told a story about ten virgins. This sounds a little odd to our ears, but what He was referring to was ten young women who were prepared for marriage. In His day, betrothed women would await the coming of their bridegroom. They would not know when exactly he would come, so they would have to keep watch and be ready.

The parable comes from Matthew’s Gospel, and goes like this:

Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.[a] 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘What if there isn’t enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Most certainly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

Matthew 25:1-13 (WEB)

Jesus is deliberately contrasting the five wise virgins with the five unwise ones. The five who were wise went out well prepared. They took sufficient oil with them, ready for the potentially long wait. The other five were not well prepared and so came up short. While they were away getting their oil, they missed the coming of the bridegroom and were locked outside.

There is a clear warning for all of us here. We must prepare and be ready for the coming of the Bridegroom. That is, we must be ready for when Jesus returns.

We must not only prepare once, but live prepared. We do not know the day or the hour when He might return, and so we must treat every day like it is the one where we see His coming.

When I look at my life, I sometimes try to imagine Jesus returning. What will HE find me doing when He appears? I hope He finds me being a good witness, living in obedience and I’m not wasting my time on pointless TV or worse sinfulness.

My point is to simply tel you to be ready for His appearing. Make sure you are right with Jesus, and that you have trusted your life to Him. Time is finite for us, and we will all only have so many opportunities to respond to God’s call. It really will be too late one day, so don’t put it off.

I could end the post here, but the parable has more to say than this. What I have said above is not untrue, but let’s look at it again.

All ten virgins were awaiting the coming of the bridegroom. Verse one tells us that all ten took up their lamps and went out. The way I describe the warning from the parable above sounds more like a warning to those outside of the church – that is, those who don’t know Jesus. Yet, maybe this parable is meant for the church itself, and not those outside.

The church is described as the “Bride of Christ,” and so this parable is indeed fitting to be applied to it. The virgins, wise or otherwise, all went out to meet their bridegroom. The whole church went out to meet Christ, but some were not ready. This parable may in fact be a warning to those in the church that we should not lapse in our readiness for Christ.

We do not want to be counted among the unwise virgins, locked out of the wedding feast because we were not ready.

Whichever way you apply the parable – to the world or to the church, the message is the same. Be ready for Jesus.

How can you do that today?

You must start and continue to trust in Him. Your good works cannot save you. The only thing that can deal with our sin once and for all is the precious blood of Jesus. He shed that blood on the cross so that you could go free.

If you are part of a church, yet have not made a commitment to Jesus, then you are one of the unwise. Church attendance does not save you, only Jesus does. That is not to say that church is unimportant of course, but it is not enough.

Set aside some time to pray to the Father. Don’t wait until tomorrow; do it today! Talk to God about where you are spiritually. Confess your sins, and ask Him to forgive you. He is so willing to do so! Ask Him to help you prepare for the coming of Christ. Whether it is one hour, one day or one century away, there is no better time than now to be ready.

Where do you stand?

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. 36 I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’

40 “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[c] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’

45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46 (WEB)

I know this is a long passage to start this post with, but I wanted you to be able to read the whole thing and let its challenging words sink in. 

Where do you stand? On the left, or on the right? And I don’t mean politically…

When the news about the corona virus first broke in the early part of this year, I’ll admit to being a little flippant about it. I never imagined it would impact the lives of us all in such ways. 

Reading the news and various social media feeds, I see a rather bleak picture and many individuals who are very scared right now. I thank God that this virus is no worse than it is, but certainly appreciate the heavy impact it will have on many families – particularly those who are vulnerable or elderly. 

It makes you think, doesn’t it? Some doctors are urging we discuss and prepare for the fact that this virus may take the lives of those we love. Are we ready for that? 

I mentioned in my post the other day – Coronavirus – that some had claimed this virus was a sign of the End Times. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, the Bible teaches that one day Jesus will return for His people. There are many diverse views about exactly how this will happen, but essentially all Christians agree HE will return sooner or later. There are certain signs which precede His coming and perhaps this virus is one of them. You can do your own study on that. 

Either way though, the Corona virus gives us pause. It is an opportunity to face the big questions in life. What happens when we die? Are we prepared for the return of the Lord Jesus? Where can we turn when it feels like the world is falling apart? 

Do you have adequate answers to these questions? 

The passage above from Matthew’s Gospel is often called the parable of the sheep and the goats. It depicts the end of time when we will all stand before Jesus’ throne and He will judge us. This is known as the Great White Throne judgement. I’m not entirely sure it is right to call this a parable, as it may not be an illustration at all, but precisely how it will be. 

There is much we could say about this passage. One of the scarier elements is that those who thought they were doing well, were not, and those who did no think they were doing so well, were commended. 

So, where do you stand? Are you a sheep or a goat? It is a question we must all ask ourselves, and answer honestly. Ignoring the question is not an option. We must not wait until we get there to find out, as it will then be too late. 

How can you be sure? How can you know whether you will be counted among the sheep or the goats? The passage itself suggests it is not about what we do, as those who did “spiritual” things were counted as goats. 

The answer does not lie in the activities we participated in, nor in our own “good works.” Our best works are going to look rather shabby when we stand before the Throne of God. 

There is only one way to heaven, and His Name is Jesus Christ. The difference between the sheep and the goats is that the sheep put their lives in the hands of the Good Shepherd. The goats went their own way. 

If you want to find out more about the way to heaven, then check out my post – One Way. 

For the vast majority of people, this Coronavirus will not take their life – praise God. But the questions posed above are still important. None of us can beat the clock, and every one of us will – sadly – die one day. Even if we are the generation to see the return of Jesus Christ, then we sill need to be prepared. Are you? 

So what will it be? Are you a sheep or a goat?

Faith and Unbelief

I want to draw this mini series on healing to a close by thinking about a passage from Matthew 17. There is, of course, much more to say about the subject of healing and this was not meant to be an exhaustive study.

One of the major questions people have is, “Why was I not healed when I asked?” Great question! Some will say that it is not always God’s will to heal, in which case, that is one possible answer. I personally don’t hold that view, but understand I am perhaps in the minority.

There are some things we can learn from Matthew 17, which says:

As they approached the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, knelt down in front of him, 15 and said, “Sir, have mercy on my son, because he is an epileptic and suffers terribly. Often he falls into fire and often into water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

17 Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverted generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me!” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him, and the boy was healed that very hour.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

20 He told them, “Because of your lack of faith. I tell all of you with certainty, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”

Matthew 17:14-21 (ISV)

These events happen shortly after the Transfiguration of Jesus. He and the chosen disciples returned from the mountaintop to the unfolding scene described above.

A man approaches Jesus, seeking healing for his son who is described as an epileptic. He had first gone to the disciples, and the text clearly states that they (the disciples) were not able to heal the boy.

Before we dig into this, look at Jesus’ reaction… was He pleased by this turn of events? Clearly not! In fact, He had some rather strong words to say about it.

Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverted generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me!”

Matthew 17:17 (ISV)

Jesus was clearly not impressed with this situation. He did not react with comforting words, or reassure the disciples that it was not their fault. Instead, He rebukes them! Obviously Jesus was here expecting them to be able to minister to this young boy. If not, He would have said so – “Don’t worry lads, this was too difficult for you to achieve. I’ll have to do it myself.” No, instead He criticises them for their unbelief.

Jesus healed the boy immediately. Don’t miss that fact. He clearly wanted this person well, and delivered him from this sickness.

Verse 19 is important. The disciples ask a similar question to what we often ask, “Why couldn’t we heal him?” Or rather, “Why didn’t it work when I prayed?”

The very fact that they asked this question shows that they expected him to recover from this sickness. If they didn’t expect that, then they would have just moved on. It also shows that they had prayed for and healed others, but for some reason this time it had not worked.

What is Jesus’ answer?

He told them, “Because of your lack of faith. I tell all of you with certainty, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (ISV)

Let’s read these same verses in other translations so we get a proper picture.

The NIV says:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (NIV)

The ESV says:

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (ESV)

And the KJV says:

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Matthew 17:20-21 (KJV)

So, put simply, Jesus says you couldn’t heal this boy because of “something”. This “something” is translated slightly differently in the verses above. I think the differences are critical to understanding what Jesus was saying.

The “something” is:

  • Little faith
  • Lack of faith
  • Unbelief

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Little Faith

If this is correctly translated, then I struggle to understand this verse. Jesus says, you couldn’t do it because of your “little faith” and then says, “You only need little faith to move a mountain.” This is an apparent contradiction. On one hand, little faith is not enough and the other it can move mountains.

Lack of faith

This, if correct, makes more sense to me. Jesus says they lacked faith to heal, but points out they only need faith the size of a mustard seed to perform a miracle.

The issue I have with this is reflected in some of the comments I received in earlier blog posts on this subject.

An individual seeks prayer for healing, does not immediately receive it and is then told they “lack faith” for healing. They come away feeling condemned, unworthy and offended. It leaves them in a worse state than they were before.

Let me say this categorically. If you seek prayer for healing, and the individual or church tells you that you lack faith for it, they are letting you down and you should walk away. Such a person is not ministering to you, but judging you. They lack compassion and beyond that, I think they lack understanding of what the Bible teaches.

Am I saying you don’t need faith to be healed? Of course not, clearly having no faith in healing would prevent healing, but that is not the situation above. When a faithful believer seeks healing, they do so “in faith”. If they lacked faith, they would not come forward to ask for prayer in the first place! Something else is happening here.

Unbelief

The KJV translates this as “unbelief” rather than “little” or “lack” of “faith”.

In the Greek, we see that “unbelief” is the word – apistia – and “faith” used here as in “mustard seed sized faith” is – pistis. They are two different words – although clearly connected. This leads me to conclude that actually the KJV is probably the more accurate translation here, and even that “unbelief” is something different to little or no faith.

Many suggest that faith and unbelief are somehow mutually exclusive. If you have faith, then you have no unbelief, and vice versa. I don’t believe this to be true however, and don’t take “unbelief” to mean the same thing as “disbelief”.

In Mark 9, a man approaches Jesus seeking help. Jesus tells him not to doubt, and to only believe.

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

Mark 9:24 (KJV)

 

Jesus did not correct this man, saying, “You’ve got it all wrong! You can’t have belief and unbelief at the same time!” So it seems possible to me that we can both believe and “unbelieve” at the same time. That, in my mind, is distinct from “believing” and “disbelieving”, which clearly cannot be done at the same time.

I think that this man believed, but that he also had unbelief. We might use the word “doubt” instead.

It is entirely possible that we should have faith in God, and yet have doubts at the same time. We don’t question God’s existence, or our salvation, but perhaps we do have doubts about God’s will to heal, or our ability to receive. Many feel unworthy and so have faith that God heals, but doubt God heals them.

I believe that a sufficient amount of doubt can hinder our faith. So how do we deal with it?

We lack space here to truly deal with the matter at hand, but here are a few ideas of mine.

Focus on the right things

Our minds generally guide the direction of our lives. IF our minds are focused on the wrong things, then that can certainly increase our doubts. If we focus on the problem, rather than the solution, which is Christ, then we cannot help but have doubts.

If you are seeking healing, are you spending time with Jesus and understanding what His Word says about the subject? Or are you googling the symptoms you have and telling everyone how terrible you feel? Don’t misunderstand, i’m not saying you cannot talk about your problems or gain understanding of things through research, but we must try to do these things in a positive way.

Paul says in Colossi ans 3 that we must keep our minds set on the “higher things” that is, the things that are above and not on the things that are below. I’m not talking about “positive mental attitude” here, as that alone saves no one. Rather, I’m saying we should train our minds to focus on the things of God – His promises – instead of the garbage this world offers.

And finally…

What I have said over the last few posts is by no means definitive evidence of guaranteed healing. Nor was that my intention. The subject of healing is more complex than we have had time to really get to grips with .

Some of you will disagree with much of what I have said, and that’s ok. I, like all of us, am still growing and learning. If nothing else, then I hope that what you have read has given you pause for thought. If you disagree, then that’s fine, but I have tried to evidence my points from the Bible and offer alternatives to the traditional views.

I state simply that I believe God wants His people to be well. The healthier we are, the better we can serve Him. The longer our lives are, the more opportunity we have to share our faith with others. That’s not to say anyone who is sick cannot do these things, but what more could we do if we were not hampered by ill-health.

If nothing else, then please pray about these things and seek the Lord for yourself. Pray for me also, not only that I would have a deeper understand of God and His Word, but that I too may be in good health. Thank you.

Live for Eternity (PoW#17)

Pearl of Wisdom #’17

We ought to spend our time here, preparing for there

In our society, which is largely anti-God, anti-Christian and promotes evolution, humanism and secularism, it is hardly surprising that people think very little about eternity – life after death.

If you take a Christian worldview, then you believe and understand that this world is not all that there is. There is an eternity, and what we do here on the Earth determines what that eternity will be like.

We live in a physical world, and must of course live our lives. Rather than living just for the here and now though, spend more of your life preparing for the world to come.

After a thousand years in eternity, you really won’t care quite so much about the problems of this life.

If you do not know Jesus Christ, and aren’t sure of your eternal destination, I encourage you to put your trust in Him. Jesus is the only way to heaven, and none of us know how much time we have left to make that choice.

Read these relevant posts to find out more – “Resurrection Sunday” and “One Way