Paul’s Example

Upon his arrival at Rome, Paul was placed in a gloomy dungeon, there to remain until his course should be finished. Accused of instigating one of the basest and most terrible of crimes against the city and the nation, he was the object of universal execration – Acts of the Apostles, p.490

Day 4 of the Great Controversy Tour.  She had decided to come on it with her friend.

A lover of Christian history and travel, it was an opportunity she could not pass up. Today’s focus was on The Early Christian Persecutions.  After a buffet breakfast, they visited the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, Titus’ Arch, the Roman Forum and Mamertine Prison.  The ancient prison is located at the foot of the Capitoline Hill in Rome.  According to the travel guide, the Mamertine Prison had two gloomy underground cells where Rome’s conquered enemies were imprisoned and died, of starvation or strangulation.  It was where the apostle Paul was confined.  She paused to take some photos before going inside.  She took a photo of the sign which read the “prison of the Saints and Apostles Peter and Paul.”

As she began to descend into the dark coldness, she thought of Paul being a sick, old man, cruelly thrown in there and friendless, except for Luke and Onesiphorus whose frequent visits cheered him up.  Luke was a great comfort to him because he enabled him to communicate with fellow believers and the outside world.

It was indeed a very gloomy place.  She shivered.  It was from there that Paul was taken to Nero’s vast judgment hall where he pleaded not for himself but for all the people who could still be reached by the Gospel.  From there he was taken to his execution.  It is believed that Peter also spent his final hours in the prison before he was taken to his execution.

As she listened to the tour guide, she tried to imagine what it would have been like for her to be in prison for her faith.  Would she languish and lose hope or would she be like Paul who wrote such encouraging letters from the prison here in Rome to the different churches.  In his letter to the Philippians, he was rejoicing as he shared his experience. He wrote, “But I want you to know, brothers, that the things which happened to me have resulted in advancing the gospel,  so that my imprisonments in Christ have become known throughout the entire palace guard and to all the rest.  And a great many of the brothers in the Lord, having become confident because of my incarcerations, have dared to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14).   He seeing the positive side to all of this.  His adversity brought more people to Christ and his attitude encouraged others.

Could she be like Paul who, although he was in chains, was not chained to his circumstances?  Would her faith hold up?  Then she remembered his words to Timothy: “At my first defense no one stood with me, but everyone forsook me. May it not be charged against them.  But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Timothy 2:16, 17).  Paul was never alone.  God was always present.  

Would God be there for her as He was for Paul?  As if in response to her lingering doubts, Isaiah 43:2 came to her mind, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.  When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Peace and comfort filled her heart. She had the assurance that no matter what she will face, God will be there with her just as He was with Paul.

 

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Sources:  Sacred Destinations; Bible Hub; Blue Letter Bible; Bible Gateway; Roma Today

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A Lesson in Humility

They were probably sitting or reclining at the table, wondering who was going to wash their feet.  They looked around, wondering and waiting.  None of them was going to volunteer to do it.  Why should they?  This was beneath them.  Not that long ago they had argued about which one of them was going to be the greatest in the kingdom.  They would never stoop to doing such a menial task as washing twelve pairs of dirty feet.  Surely, they wouldn’t mind washing Jesus’ feet, at least?  No, no one was going to volunteer.

What a shock it must have been for them when they saw their Master get up from the table, take off His outer garment, and tie a towel around His waist, fill a basin with water and then begin to wash their feet.  He didn’t use a different towel to dry their feet, He used the same one that was wrapped around His waist.  They probably looked at each other in astonishment, hardly able to believe that the Son of God was performing such a lowly task.  Did any of them feel embarrassed?

When it came to Peter’s turn, he declared, “Never at any time will you wash my feet!” It was inconceivable to him that his Lord would do something so beneath him and he wanted no part of it.  One can just imagine Jesus looking up at him as He said, “If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be My disciple.”

That response must have shocked Peter.  Then, he said, “Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head, too!” He went from not wanting his feet washed to wanting a bath.

Jesus, by washing their feet was showing them that as His disciples, they ought to be willing to serve one another.  He was teaching them a lesson in humility.  He had told them earlier in His ministry that He didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give His life for many.   As His followers, we ought to swallow our pride and volunteer for the jobs that others don’t want to do.

After Jesus finished washing their feet, got dressed and rejoined them at the table, He explained why He had washed their feet.  “Do you realise what I have just done to you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and you are quite right, for I am your teacher and your Lord. But if I, your teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you must be ready to wash one another’s feet. I have given you this as an example so that you may do as I have done.”  He was greater than they, yet He humbled Himself and took on the role of a servant.

Not many of us would volunteer for positions that involve hard work and little or no thanks or recognition but it would do us good to remember that whatever we do, we do it for the glory of God who will reward us openly.

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Sources:  John 13:1-17; Mark 10:45

Doubted

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Acts 12:13-16

Have you ever told someone something and he or she didn’t believe you?  No matter how much you try to convince that person he or she just isn’t buying what you are saying.  How did it make you feel?  Hurt?  Angry? Frustrated?

When the apostle Peter was arrested and thrown into prison, fellow Christians got together and held a prayer meeting.  While Peter was sleeping, an angel of the Lord went to the cell where he was shackled between two sleeping guards, woke the disciple and led him out of the prison.  After Peter realized that this was not a dream or a vision, he went to the house where the believers were gathered.

He knocked on the gate and a girl named Rhoda answered.  In her excitement at seeing Peter, she ran back to tell the others instead of opening the gate and letting him in.  However, her good news was met with doubt.  “You are beside yourself!”   And when she insisted, they told her that it was Peter’s angel.  Short of grabbing them and taking them outside to show them, there was nothing Rhoda could do to convince them.  Fortunately for her, Peter continued to knock and this time they heard him and opened the door.  They were astonished to see him.  

Why were they astonished to see him?  Why did they doubt Rhoda?  Weren’t they praying for Peter?  Didn’t they expect God to answer their prayers?  Have you ever prayed for something and when God answered the prayer, you couldn’t believe it?  This reminds me of when Jesus had appear to His disciples the first time after His resurrection and even though they saw Him and He spoke to them, they still didn’t believe.  They thought He was a Spirit and were terrified.  And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38).  And when the women went to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty and what the angels had told them, they didn’t believe them.  According to Luke, “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).

It doesn’t feel good when you tell the truth and people don’t believe you.  If you were Rhoda what would you have done?  Would you have admonished the others for not believing you?  Or would you just let it go?  I think if I were Rhoda, I would have encouraged the others to join me in prayer and we thank and praise God for coming through for Peter.  This was a time to rejoice and give thanks, not contend with your brethren.

Support

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Mark 14:32-42

Remember the last time you were in a really bad place or in a tough situation and when you needed your friends the most, they weren’t there or they didn’t give you the support you desperately needed? Well, it happened to Jesus.

After the Passover meal, He and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane.  He took Peter, James and John with Him and it was then that He became troubled and greatly distressed.  He said to the three men, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch.”  Now imagine that you are one of these men, and you can see that your Master is very upset and He asks you to stay there and watch” what would you do?  Would you go and sit under a tree where you end up falling asleep because you have had a long day and are tired or would you move about so that you can stay awake?

Jesus went a little farther and fell on the ground where He prayed that if it were possible that the Father might take the cup away from Him but resolved that He would do the Father’s will.  When He returned to the three disciples, they were sleeping.  He said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping?  Could you not watch one hour?”  Why did He address Peter specifically?

When Jesus had predicted that the disciples would be made to stumble because of Him, Peter had declared that while the others might stumble, he would not.  He vowed that he would not deny Jesus and would willingly die with Him.  Yet, here he is not available when Jesus needed him.  Like the other two, he was asleep instead of being awake and watchful as Jesus had asked them to be.  How is it that even after Jesus had shared with them how He was feeling at that moment, that they weren’t there for Him?

When the storm raged while He slept on the boat, they woke Him, asking “Master don’t you care that we will perish?”  What about the storm that Jesus is going through now.  Didn’t they care?  Why couldn’t they have watched with Him?  Why couldn’t they have prayed among themselves for what He was going through?  Jesus later told them, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”  He told them to do two things–watch and pray.  Be alert and pray.  Yet, when He returned, they were sleeping.  When Jesus comes again, will He find us watching and praying or sleeping?

How would you feel if your closest friends didn’t stand by you in your hour of need as the disciples didn’t stand by Jesus in His hour of need?  They were physically there but their lack of support left Him all alone in His agony.  Do you find that when you need your friends to be there for you, they are asleep?  In other words, do they seem oblivious to what you are going through?  Perhaps, like Jesus, you have to tell them what you are going through and ask them to pray for you.

I Will Lift My Eyes

This evening I listened to a beautiful song of praise by Karen Davis.  I used to play this song every Friday evening because it put me in the mood for worship.  Watch the video.

It sometimes brings tears to my eyes when I sing this song.  Jesus is worthy of our praise and adoration for who He is and all that He has done.  He left the glory of Heaven and came here to earth in flesh to live among fallen mankind.  He didn’t come to be served but to serve.  He came to give His life as a ransom for many.  He came to teach, heal and lift people’s hopes and change their lives for the better.

He broke down so many barriers.  He treated women with respect.  He had women followers and some of them funded His ministry.  He spoke to a Samaritan woman and didn’t condemn her for being married five times and living common law with the sixth man in her life.  In fact, He offered her a life of change and hope.  He spoke kindly to the woman who had the issue of blood after she touched His robe and was healed.  He called her “Daughter” and sent her away with the knowledge that her faith had made her well.  She had spent so much of her money and none of the doctors was able to help her.

Jesus was gracious to the woman caught in adultery.  He exposed the hypocrisy of her accusers and they went away in shame.  Jesus didn’t condemn the woman.  He sent her away in peace and told her to stop sinning.  He welcomed the woman of questionable character who entered a pharisee’s home to anoint his head and feet with expensive oil.  He forgive her sins even as those present condemned and scorned her.  He healed a woman who was bent over for many years on the Sabbath.  He brought joy to the parents of the sick twelve year old girl when he brought her back to life and the widow who was one minute crying because she was on her way to bury her son and the next rejoicing because he was raised to life.

Even as He hung on the cross, He asked His Father to forgive those who wanted Him dead and placed His mother in John’s care.  Jesus was always putting the needs of others before His own.  And this is why it is not surprising that He was willing to lay down His life for His friends and offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  He was the King of kings and the Son of God but He didn’t come to this earth in glory.  He was born to a young virgin in a manger of all places.  He was wrapped in swaddling cloth.  He was humble at birth and throughout His life.  He worked as a carpenter until it was time for Him to begin His ministry.  He didn’t have a place of His own.  He was always on the go, preaching and ministering to many.  He chose ordinary men to become His disciples.  He didn’t stop loving Peter because he betrayed Him.  He didn’t stop loving the other disciples because they deserted Him.  He appeared to them so that they could see that He had risen as He said He would.

He appeared first to Mary Magdalene out of whom He had cast seven demons.  What a life she must have had before she met Jesus.  The other day as I read the Bible I realized that Jesus affects people in three distinct ways after He changes their lives:

1.  They tell others – e.g. the Samaritan woman

2.  They follow Him – Mary Magdalene

3.  They serve Him – Peter’s mother-in-law (soon after Jesus got rid of her fever)

What about you?  What effect does Jesus have on you?  Have you told others about Him?  Are you one of His followers?  Do you serve Him?

This weekend, reflect on Jesus and what He did for you.  Think about the great sacrifice He made for you so that you would not perish but have everlasting life with Him.  Share His story with someone.  I personally will lift my eyes to the Lord on high and praise Him.  I will thank Him for loving me so much that He endured the indignity of the cross.