Only Jesus

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith… And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment.” Matthew 8:5-10,13

A centurion was commander of a hundred soldiers, presumably having risen in the ranks, very capable, brave, holding sway with tough men. But this one was remarkable in his humility, tenderness of heart, and deep compassion. He had an uncanny understanding of worthy, and is commended by Jesus for his unmatched faith. He respected authority both above and below him, yet for him, the source of all authority and goodness and strength was only Jesus. He was unworthy to have Jesus come to his home, yet he knew Jesus was worthy to be called upon for this supernatural act of healing.

IMG952296

In contrast, Peter always wanted to add something, do something, contribute something, be in on everything. At Jesus’s transfiguration, Peter’s enthusiastic impulse was arrested by God’s voice saying, ‘This is my Son, listen to Him,’ then he ‘saw Jesus only.’ The centurion never presumed to make a fuss over Jesus or erect a shrine for Jesus; he didn’t even need to rub shoulders with Him as an inner-circle confidante. He simply knew Who He was and what He was capable of, and implored Him to have His marvelous way with his beloved servant. And so He did. (Matthew 17:1-8; John 20:3-6; 21:7) 

Do my eyes dart to and fro as I spend energy wanting or getting a special ‘public’ audience with Jesus, making much over a spiritual show for others to notice, telling Him how to answer my prayers? Or do I know Him well enough to appeal only to Him, and trust His power and goodness with the issues concerning me? Do I have to contribute my words, or will I take Him at His? Where I need healing in a relationship, my outlook, my habits of thought and practice, will I determine to see Jesus only?

“Spirit of the living God,… when You speak, when You move, when You do what only You can do, it changes us; it changes what we see and what we seek.” ~Vertical Worship (2015)

You alone, my Lord, know the burdens and needs of my heart. My eyes are toward you. Teach me, change me, that in every situation, I seek and see You only. (Psalm 141:8)

A Friend to the End

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said,.. ‘One of you will betray me.’ And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ He answered, ‘He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.’ Judas, who would betray him, answered, ‘Is it I, Rabbi?’ He said to him, ‘You have said so.’ When [Jesus] had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas. After he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’ So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 

“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives… to a place called Gethsemane. Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of me this night.’ Then he said to [the disciples], ‘Sleep and take your rest later on… Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.’ While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. [He] had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.’ And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you came to do.’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.” Matthew 26:20-23,25,30-31,36a,45-50; John 13:26-27,30

How prone we are to turn from, even against, those who hurt us, deceive us, do not agree with us. We put up walls of protection, justifying our fortresses with rights and our resentment with self-absorbed reason. We cut off communication so we can sit comfortably and preach to the choir while criticizing those who sing a different song.

Jesus betrayed with a kiss, 18th century Dutch Delft

Yet Jesus was prone a different way. He nurtured, valued, maintained to the end His friendship with the one who would betray Him unto death. He knew Judas would turn from Him, yet He welcomed him at the table, warned him, offered food to him, looked in his eyes and said, ‘Go ahead and turn Me in,’ and allowed him to leave, in the darkness of his soul, into the night. He kept loving.

Buffeted by hurt when the other disciples then fell asleep, burdened by the agony of the impending cross, Jesus’s wound of betrayal by Judas through a poisoned sign of affection gave Him every reason to hate this man in whom He had invested so much. Yet, He loved on, even after the kiss, and called him friend.

Would I boldly be such a friend to those who mistreat me? Can I? Indeed, my Savior has so loved me, though I betray Him in my will, attitudes, words, and actions. (Matthew 5:44; 11:19)

“Jesus! What a friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.”  ~John Wilbur Chapman (1910)

My Lord, thank You for loving me and calling me friend. Make me more, wholly, like You. (John 15:15)

The Folly of Self-Assurance

Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” Peter answered him, ‘Though they all fall away.., I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!’ Then Jesus went with them to Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’  And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he.. said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful; remain here, and watch with me.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you mean.’ And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ And again he denied it with an oath: ‘I do not know the man.’ After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” Matthew 26:31,33-38,40-41,69-75

Peter knew he was no betrayer, as Jesus had just announced (of Judas) at the Passover, and he was adamant he would never deny his Lord. He was zealous, committed to the One he had left everything to follow three years before. After all, he was in Jesus’s inner circle, privy to the transfiguration, and this night, to His prayer in Gethsemane. (Matthew 4:18-20; 17:1-8)

IMG_2885

As it was, Peter’s bold impulsiveness was ‘open mouth-exchange foot.’ His confidence was in his determination, and Jesus, Who knew his heart as well as his flesh, warned him about relying on his will alone. Promising instead of praying, dozing instead of watching, are a poor substitute for vigilance in resisting temptation. Peter closed his eyes not only in sleep, but to the danger of his self-assurance, and he blatantly denied his Lord.

When do I gloat, ‘I can handle it, I can resist this time,’ then relax in false confidence that has no spiritual tethering or fortitude? Am I playing light with my tongue, unhealthy relationships, expenditures, emotions? When we do fall, our Savior offers grace and redeems us, as He did Peter, to full assurance in Him. (2 Peter 1:1-4)

My unchanging Strength and Salvation, I cannot be sure of myself, but only of You. May I not lean on my own understanding, but in all my ways acknowledge and rely on you. (Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 12:2)

Advanced in Years, Firm in Faith

A long time afterward, when the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years, Joshua summoned all Israel,.. and said to them, ‘I am now old and well advanced in years. And you have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the LORD your God who has fought for you. Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. The LORD your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the LORD your God promised you… The LORD has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God… And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.'” Joshua 23:1-5,9-11,14 

I imagine, if Joshua had another heart, that idleness after years of military pursuit would have lent itself to much gloating, stories of great victories grown greater, exaggerated brags of his stellar strategizing, his remarkable leadership, his well-deserved rest. But Joshua was not as so many others; he was God’s man, through and through, and when advanced in years, he showed himself advanced in gratitude to and love for his LORD. His faith was firm in Him, his words exalted Him, his life was hid in Him.

Clouds of summer, grey w light, vertical

While God had temporarily given rest to Israel, Joshua knew the land that was still to be conquered had already been claimed. He would not rest on his laurels, but with confidence in this Commander and Victor he knew so well, and with every last breath would remind God’s people of God’s greatness, power, mercies, and promises. His every I is swallowed up in the LORD.

As we advance in life and experience, what, or who, consumes us? In what place are we resting, the boundaried-camp of self, or the high sanctuary of the LORD? Do we feed our personal image so that I grows bigger than my Maker? Do I relish the praises of others instead of turning them to the Deserving One? Why are we prone to take a call from God, but then take credit, upon its achievement, for ourselves?

My covenant LORD, You are faithful and will not fail. May my advancing years advance Your glory, honor, and praise.

Hear, Hence Heed

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God. And the Lord said to me, ‘Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not. They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them.'” Jeremiah 11:3-4,6-8,10

How interesting that this curse pronounced by the Lord is first for those who do not hear, who refuse to listen; then He says, ‘and obey.’ While our obedience is a matter of will, it stems from what we take into our minds and allow to influence our thinking. Input affects output, and the Lord is teaching that listening to and understanding God’s word, allowing it to take root and grow in us, shapes our thoughts and attitudes, permeates our will, and is our impetus to think rightly, accept truth, and thus obey.

“May the mind of Christ my Savior
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and pow’r controlling
All I do and say.
”  ~Katie Barclay Wilkinson (1859-1928)

What noise fills my days? Much is available, some unavoidable. But to what do I willfully incline my ears? When I tune in to listen, really listen, what is my source? How am I deciding who to consult for knowledge, insight? Whose opinions matter most to me, and should they? How do I determine which news is real, what experts are right, whose advice to value? Would I first go to the Way and Truth to seek His counsel? Will I consult the Bible as my perfect text? When I soak in God’s revelation of Himself, His promises and good plans and instruction for His children, His word grows in my spirit to bear fruit in my living. With warmed affection for Him, and a heart of reverence and gratitude, my desire becomes God-ward, my will wants to obey. (Proverbs 2:1-11; John 14:6)

“Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.”  ~Stuart 
Townend, Andrew Christopher, Keith Getty

Yes, Lord, speak, and tune my heart to hear, my will to heed. Amen.

What Happens in Prayer

They went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry… So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.’ And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias.  And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:13-17,21-26

Returning from the Mount of Olives where they had just seen their risen Christ ascend to heaven, the remaining eleven apostles, along with others, including Jesus’s siblings, gathered for prayer. What did this all mean? How should they process the recent happenings and how were they to move forward? It strikes me that they hid themselves away together and did not chat it up, pooling their ignorance or speculation or opinions,  did not try to figure the most advantageous spin on events for social media, but prayed.

 

IMG_4310

They devoted themselves to prayer. They wrestled, asked, listened, with one voice, knit together in Spirit, sought wisdom and understanding, and God answered, marvelously. He brought to mind the passages of Scripture recent events had fulfilled. He shed light on Judas’s betrayal. He reminded them of Jesus’s instructions to go out two by two. They received His insight and moved to the next step. (Psalm 41:9; 69:25; 109:8; Zechariah 11:12-13; Mark 6:7)

Peter announced that they would need to replace Judas among their twelve, and gave the qualifications needed. Once again, they prayed, this time over their identified potential recruits. And once again, mighty God answered. He heard their plea for clear guidance and orchestrated the resulting lot to land on Matthias, who then joined their ministry of establishing churches in Jesus’s name all over the known world.

The Lord not only welcomes our earnest prayer, He beckons us come. Our time of worship, of surrender and dependence, avails much; He replies in gracious, bountiful ways according to our needs, His truth, and His good will. (Psalm 3:4; Jeremiah 29:13; James 5:16)

Oh God, my Shepherd, may my first response in every situation be to look up to You. Keep me devoted to prayer, and fully devoted to You.

Always Mercy, Always God’s Presence

So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah… These were the cities [of refuge] designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation.” “So by command of the Lord the people of Israel gave to the Levites… cities and pasturelands out of their inheritance… The cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the people of Israel were in all forty-eight cities with their pasturelands. These cities each had its pasturelands around it… Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” Joshua 20:7,9; 21:3,41-45

What a beautiful ribbon around all the warfare, conquering, and possessing by the Israelite tribes in Canaan is the establishing of cities of refuge and allotments to the priests! Everywhere and always, no matter our place, is the mercy of God and His abiding presence.

The Lord went before these warriors to give them the land, hill and vale, rock and pasture, interior and coast, but He didn’t then just withdraw His hand and say, ‘Get on with life, go at it alone from now on.’ He determined cities where unintentional killers could find reprieve, be heard, and eventually win their freedom, and He sprinkled throughout the nation His anointed priests to permeate their homes with His presence, to serve His people and lead them in the word and worship. He was to remain enmeshed in their lives, and they in His.

DSC_1115

Sometimes we ask for guidance, seek the Lord for direction in job, work, ministry, then after acting on His help we settle in and forget Him. We make our move, plant our fields, decorate our spaces, embark on our plans, and neglect the deeper opportunities of spiritual growth, increased knowledge of the divine, richer worship, compassionate service to others. The Lord intends that everywhere we settle, both physically and spiritually, His presence abide as our light and impetus for decisions, and treating others with mercy and grace. We must not forsake His ways when given the freedom to establish our own.

Would I to be settled with peace of mind, to have true rest on every side of my heart, I must trust my Savior’s word to me, hold fast to His good and sure promises, and acknowledge His ever-present power and grace.

Lord on high, thank You for promising to be with me always, to the end of the age. May my life be marked by, and with, Your merciful and glorious presence. (Matthew 28:20)