Blessed

When God commanded Abraham to leave his country and family behind to go to a land that he had never seen before, God promised him “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). The Hebrew word translated blessed, barak (baw-rak’) has to do with the world’s dependence on God for its continued existence and function (H1288). God’s blessing meant that he would provide for Abraham’s needs and protect him from harm. Because of his relationship with God, “Abraham’s family became a divinely appointed channel through which blessing would come to all men” (Note on Genesis 12:1-3).

Paul referred to the message Abraham received from God as the gospel. He stated, “And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham the man of faith” (Galatians 3:8-9). Paul connected God’s blessing to faith and indicated that believers are blessed in the same way that Abraham was. Paul explained the gospel in more detail in Galatians 3:15-16 where he stated, “To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”

The Greek word that is translated Christ in Galatians 3:16, Christos {khris-tos’) means “anointed, i.e. the Messiah, an epithet of Jesus” (G5547). Paul explained that, “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).

Jesus talked about the believer’s inheritance in his Sermon on the Mount. He began by stating, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The Greek word translated blessed in Matthew 5:3 is makarioi (mak-ar’-ee-os), which means to be “fully satisfied” (G3107). “In classical Greek, the word referred to a state of blessedness in the hereafter. In the New Testament, however, the term is used of the joy that comes from salvation. This satisfying joy is not the result of favorable circumstances in life but comes only from being indwelt by Christ. Therefore makarioi denotes far more than ‘happy,’ which is derived from the English word ‘hap’ and connected with luck or favorable circumstances” (Note on Matthew 5:1-12). Jesus pointed out that the poor in spirit will receive the benefits of the kingdom of heaven before they die (Matthew 5:3). In other words, if a believer realizes that he is spiritually destitute and he is willing to beg for God’s help, he will get his prayers answered.

An example of this kind of faith in action can be seen in the situation of Abraham sending his servant to the land of his relatives to get a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham instructed his servant to go to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor and said, “The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there” (Genesis 24:7).

When Abraham’s servant arrived at his destination, the first thing he did was pray this prayer:

“O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’ — let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” (Genesis 24:12-14)

Abraham’s servant asked God to do something that only he could do, identify the woman that Isaac was supposed to marry.

The Hebrew word that is translated appointed in Genesis 24:14, yakach (haw-kahh’) means to be right (H3198) and implies that Abraham’s servant was allowing God to decide who the right woman was. One of the reasons the servant wanted God to decide was so that he could be assured of success. He said, “By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master” (Genesis 24:14). God’s steadfast love or chesed (kheh’-sed) in Hebrew “refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship” (H2617). Chesed encompasses every aspect of God’s favor: love, grace, mercy, faithfulness, goodness, and devotion.

When Jesus spoke of the poor in spirit being blessed (Matthew 5:3), he indicated that God’s favor was not linked to individual circumstances, but was shown through his sovereign rule over believers’ lives. The kingdom of heaven refers to God’s presence in the hearts of believers. When a person is born again, the Holy Spirit enters and remains in the believer’s heart permanently. This is referred to as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which happens as soon as an individual accepts Jesus as his or her Savior.

God didn’t say anything to Abraham’s servant, but Genesis 24:15-21 indicates that his prayer produced immediate results.

Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. When the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the LORD had prospered his journey

Rebekah’s actions might have been perceived as coincidental if she had not been acting so extremely kind and thoughtful toward a complete stranger. It was as if Rebekah was trying to impress Abraham’s servant for no apparent reason.

The phrase “gazed at her in silence” indicates that Abraham’s servant was stunned by Rebekah’s behavior. The fact that Rebekah arrived before he had even finished praying and did everything exactly as the man had prescribed made the incident not only astounding, but almost too good to be true. That may have been why the servant waited to see whether or not the LORD had “prospered his journey” (Genesis 24:21). In other words, Abraham’s servant started looking for confirmation that it was God’s will for Rebekah to marry Isaac.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount may have been intended to explain why believers often mistake God’s will for being cursed. The traits Jesus identified; poor, meek, and merciful were not desirable attributes and yet, they were promised to bring God’s blessing. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the pure in heart…Blessed are the peacemakers…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:4-10) and then, concluded with the statement, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).

The phrase “Rejoice and be glad” suggests that Jesus expected his disciples to do the opposite of what their normal response would be to adverse circumstances. What Jesus was probably getting at was that he wanted his followers to look at things from an eternal perspective rather than a temporal one. Believers should rejoice and be glad not because they are being persecuted, but because their reward in heaven will be great if they do so (Matthew 5:12). Jesus went on to say that believers should not be foolish or deceived by appearances (Matthew 5:13-16), but should strive to be examples of God’s high moral standards (Matthew 5:19-20). It is clear that Abraham’s servant was looking for a hard-working, but also kind and generous woman for Isaac to marry because he asked that the woman God had appointed would offer to water his camels even though they had just traveled hundreds of miles and would likely need more than 100 gallons of water to quench their thirst.

Abraham’s servant waited until his camels were finished drinking before he approached Rebekah and asked her about her family. When she told him she was “the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor” (Genesis 24:24), Abraham’s servant “bowed his head and worshipped the LORD, and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen” (Genesis 24:26-27). The phrase “led me in the way” indicates that Abraham’s servant was being guided in the right direction as he attempted to do God’s will. Because he found the person he was looking for right away, Abraham’s servant concluded that God had blessed his effort and was responsible for his success.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount pointed out that certain sins could keep believers from being blessed by God. Jesus talked about anger, lust, divorce and retaliation in the context of the standard that had been set forth in the Mosaic Law (Matthew 5:21-48). He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:21-24).

The Greek word that is translated liable, enochos (en’-okh-os) can also be translated as “in danger of” (G1777). Enochos is derived from the word enecho (en-ekh’-o) which means “to hold in or upon, i.e. ensnare; by implication to keep a grudge” (G1758). What Jesus was most likely referring to when he said a person would be liable for his anger against his brother was that the person’s internal state or spiritual well-being would be affected by his feelings. In other words, God couldn’t have led Abraham’s servant in the right way if he was still upset about something that had happened to him previously. Jesus said if you want God to help you, you must first be reconciled to your brother (Matthew 5:24).

The Greek word that is translated reconciled in Matthew 5:24, diallasso (dee-al-las’-so) means “to change thoroughly” (G1259). What this may suggest is that Jesus wanted believers to have a completely different attitude about the wrongs that were being done to them. Instead of getting upset about every little thing that was done to offend them, believers were to focus on improving their relationships. Regarding retaliation, Jesus said that we should not resist the one who is evil. “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloke as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39-41).

Jesus’ final example of believers acting in a way that was contrary to human nature was to love one’s enemies. He stated, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). The Greek word ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) suggests that Jesus was referring to spiritual development and that he wanted believers to do things that would cause God to bless them. The phrase “so that you may be sons” could also be translated as make yourself into a son, in the same way that you might make yourself into a husband by getting married. In other words, if you love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, God has to recognize you as his child and will bless you accordingly.

When Abraham’s servant told Rebekah’s family about his prayer and what happened afterward, it says in Genesis 24:50-51, “Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, ‘The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.” Laban and Bethuel recognized God’s involvement in the circumstances that brought Abraham’s servant to their doorstep. They didn’t resist letting Rebekah go because they knew that she had been selected by God to be Isaac’s wife. The final confirmation came when Rebekah was asked to leave immediately with a man that she had just met and go with him to a land she had never been to before in order to marry a man she had never even seen. Rebekah confidently responded, “I will go” (Genesis 24:56-58).

Jesus told his disciples, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word that is translated perfect, teleios (tel’-i-os) means complete and has to do with growth in mental and moral character (G5046). Another way of looking at teleios would be spiritual maturity, one who has attained the moral end for which he was intended, namely to be a man or woman in Christ. Rebekah’s decision to go with Abraham’s servant indicated that she was willing to submit herself to God’s will and she was blessed because of it (Genesis 24:60).

Jesus said that that our heavenly father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). By that he meant that God completes or finishes everything that he does for his children. In the instance of Abraham’s servant seeking a wife for Isaac, everything worked out perfectly because he asked God to be involved in what he was doing. When Isaac and Rebekah finally met, it says in Genesis 24:67, “Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her,” indicating that Isaac was fully satisfied with the woman that God had appointed to be his wife.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Confidence

The result of being born again is an absence of guilt in the believer’s heart. It says in Hebrews 10:2 that sacrifices are no longer necessary “because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.” The fact that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for every sin of every person from the beginning of time until God establishes his kingdom on Earth, means that “He has made perfect forever all those who are being set apart for God-like living” (Hebrews 10:14, NLV). Therefore, the writer of Hebrews concludes, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

The Greek word translated full assurance in Hebrews 10:22, plerophoria (play-rof-or-ee’-ah) means entire confidence (G4136). The writer of Hebrews indicated that we can be frank or out spoken when we interact with God because our sins have been pardoned (Hebrews 10:19). This is important to note because prayer is essentially the only way we are able to communicate with God and therefore, what we say in our prayers to God matters. Hebrews 10:35-36 states, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (NKJV). Casting away our confidence basically means that we lose our nerve or hold back our true emotions when we talk to God.

The way that we talk to God should always be rational and respectful, but we do not have to pretend that we are happy when we are not. King David, who wrote many of the psalms that are recorded in the Bible, communicated in a very open and honest way when he was praying. Psalm 17 which is titled “A prayer of David” begins with these words, “Hear a just cause, O Lord, attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips.” (Psalm 17:1, NKJV). David asked for divine protection and prayed, “Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You from those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings, from the wicked who oppress me, from my deadly enemies who surround me” (Psalm 17:7-9, NKJV).

The writer of Hebrews suggested that boldness and confidence are essential for receiving the promises of God (Hebrews 10:1, 35). This might be true because our faith is activated through prayer and does not work without having genuine interaction or more specifically, a relationship with God. Communication is essentially the vehicle that enables a relationship to go somewhere. The more open and honest two people are with each other, the more deeply they get to know each other and become committed to their relationship. God doesn’t expect us to blindly follow his instructions. He wants us to grow closer to him through a process of ongoing communication that results in a deeper understanding of his way of living and a conscious choice to do what pleases him rather than alienating him through sin.

Patience

James letter “to the twelve tribes which were scattered abroad” (James 1:1) was meant to be a lesson on the topic of patience (James 1:2-4). Apparently, Jesus’ promise to return to Earth was being questioned and the delay of this event was causing believers to be filled with doubt. James encouraged Christians to wait patiently in his statement, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (James 5:7-8). The phrase “stablish your hearts” has to do with the way we think about our lives. It is likely James was referring to the commitment believers make when they give their lives to Christ. James was pointing out that even though the primary function of salvation was to secure God’s forgiveness and eternal life, Christians should expect to go through a difficult and sometimes long process of transformation before they go to heaven.

The return of Christ was misunderstood to be an event that would happen in the near future, perhaps before the first generation of Christians died. The reason it was so important to believers was likely because the persecution that was taking place was very difficult to handle. The return of Christ may have been used as a coping mechanism to get through the horrible circumstances Christians had to deal with. The problem with that approach was that it didn’t leave room for the possibility that suffering was to be expected and embraced rather than avoided in the Christian life. James wanted believers to understand that spiritual development was counter intuitive and shouldn’t be thought of as a quick and easy process that anyone can get through. His analogy of the precious fruit of the earth (James 5:7) being like the faith that Christians are developing throughout their lives suggests that the cultivation of spiritual fruit (love, joy, peace, etc.) is the outcome that we need to focus on in order to survive the trials and temptations that we all have to go through.

I think patience is often misunderstood because we associate it with things that are unpleasant. I believe James’ opening statement, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2) was meant to teach us that joy and patience actually do go together. The key to understanding this strange concept may be James use of the Greek word hegeomai (hayg-eh’-om-ahee) which is translated “count it” in James 1:2. Hegeomai means “to lead, i.e. command (with official authority)” (G2233). Hegeomai is also translated as “have rule over.” You could say that exercising patience means that you take control of a situation, you don’t let your circumstances determine how you are going to behave. Another way of describing patience is long-spirited. From this perspective, you could say that patience is letting yourself be stretched spiritually. In other words, your spirit is dominating your flesh or human nature. One way of doing this is through prayer. James encouraged believers to pray about their difficult circumstances (James 5:13) and stated, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

The power of prayer

The first of Jesus’ twelve apostles to be killed for his involvement in spreading the gospel was James the brother of John (Acts 12:2). “This event took place about tens years after Jesus’ death and resurrection” (note on Acts 12:1). Herod, the king responsible for beheading John the Baptist, appeared to be trying to increase his popularity with the Jews. It says in Acts 12:3, “And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to take Peter also.” The hostility between Jews and Christians seemed to stem from a political agenda that promoted peace at any cost. The reason Jesus was killed was because Jewish religious leaders thought his ministry would lead to Roman persecution (John 11:48). Caiaphas, the high priest that condemned Jesus to death, said it would be better for the Jews if Jesus’ ministry was terminated than to have the nation of Israel cease to exist (John 11:50).

Peter’s imprisonment seemed to signal that an end to Christianity in Jerusalem was approaching. After his arrest, it says in Acts 12:5, “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” Peter attributed his miraculous escape from prison to the Lord, who sent an angel to deliver him out of the hand of Herod, “and from the expectation of the people of the Jews” (Acts 12:11), but Luke’s account of the situation made it clear that prayer was the force behind Peter’s deliverance (Acts 12:12). The interesting thing about Peter’s release was that it was completely unexpected. When he arrived at the home of Mary where many were gathered together praying, he was mistaken for a ghost. Luke reported:

And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.

The Greek word translated astonished, existemi (ex-is´-tay-mee) suggests that the people who saw Peter probably thought they had lost their minds or were actually in a state of shock as a result of seeing him standing in front of them (G1839). It wasn’t until Peter explained how the angel of the Lord had physically removed his chains and led him out of the prison past all the guards that the people praying for him realized their prayers had been answered (Acts 12:17).

Peter’s escape from prison was the impetus for Herod returning to Caesarea and looking for entertainment elsewhere. Herod focused his attention on Tyre and Sidon, perhaps as a way of distracting himself from the frustration of not being able to stop the spread of the gospel. Luke’s account of Herod’s death showed that the prayers of the church were having a significant impact on the Roman empire. He said, “And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (Acts 12:21-23).

Confidence

It could be said that Jesus was the most confident man that has ever lived. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a significant event because it demonstrated that Jesus’ claim to be God had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The prophet Isaiah said of Jesus Christ, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). A key prophecy about the arrival of Israel’s Messiah was that he would be identified as the “King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:11). Zechariah said of this man, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on what is now referred to as Palm Sunday.

Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was a noteworthy event because he was defying the religious authorities that were planning to kill him. Everyone was paying attention to what Jesus was doing and probably knew something spectacular was about to happen. Many of the people that met Jesus in Jerusalem had seen him raise Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17-18). Even the religious leaders said among themselves “behold, the world is gone after him” (John 12:19). The key issue at stake was Jesus’ authority (Mark 11:28). If Jesus was God, then he had the right to rule over the nation of Israel and was accountable to no one but his heavenly Father. The Apostle Paul later described Jesus as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” and said of his authority, “for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:15-17).

In the midst of all that was going on, Jesus let his disciples know that his human needs still had to met. Matthew tells us, “Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he was hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the tree withered away” (Matthew 21:18-19). Jesus used this opportunity to teach his disciples about the power of faith and about the authority they had received from him. Jesus said:

“Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:22-24, ESV)

Jesus’ command pointed out that believing was an essential element of answered prayer. The only thing that could keep his disciples from getting their prayers answered was doubt. The Greek word Jesus used that is translated doubt diakrino means to separate thoroughly (G1252). Jesus was probably telling his disciples that doubt was going to be the result of being separated from him. The reason Jesus was able to act with complete confidence was because he and his Father were one, spiritually there was literally no distance between them. The Greek verb translated received in Mark 11:24, lambano actually means to take or objectively “to get hold of” (G2983). This may mean that our confidence in receiving what we pray for comes from a recognition that we are just as close to Jesus as he was to his Father. Jesus prayed that all believers would be united with him just before he was arrested. He said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:20-21).

Prayer

Jesus used the parable of the widow and the judge to teach his disciples the importance of persistence in prayer and told them, “that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Jesus viewed prayer as a sign of faith and made it clear that God acts quickly to vindicate his chosen people (Luke 18:7). When the widow asked the unjust judge to avenge her of her adversary, Jesus said of the unjust judge, “he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (Luke 18:4-5). The Greek word translated weary, hupopiazo (hoop-o-pee-ad´-zo) means “to hit under the eye (buffet or disable an antagonist as a pugilist)” (G5299). In other words, the widow acted like a prize fighter and gave the judge a black eye.

Jesus pointed out that the difference between God and the unjust judge was that God wanted to avenge his children, but no one was asking him to do it. Jesus’ next parable showed that pride was the main reason why God’s chosen people were not receiving his forgiveness. He said:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week: I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!'” (Luke 18:10-13, ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that the tax collector was justified or declared innocent rather than the Pharisee because he humbled himself before God. Jesus then used a half grown child as an example of our dependence on God and said, “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter in” (Luke 18:17).

Spiritual treasure

Jesus told an innumerable multitude of people that he referred to as his friends to “beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops” (Luke 12:1-4). The warning Jesus gave was directed at those among the crowd that wanted to kill him. Even though the multitude of people were interested in hearing what Jesus had to say, there was probably only a small percentage of people that actually believed and intended to follow his teaching. It says in Luke 12:13, “And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus rebuked this man and went on to say, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:14-15).

Hypocrisy and covetousness were deep seated problems that Jesus had to deal with in order to reach the people that appeared to be hungry for the spiritual truth he came to share with God’s chosen people. Some of the things Jesus said were most likely meant to weed out the people that were trying to trip him up or start an argument. It says in Luke 11:53-54, “the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.” As Jesus neared the end of his ministry, he had to be careful about inciting riots and stirring up the crowd because the Jewish religious leaders were looking for a reason to arrest and kill him. One of the tactics Jesus used was teaching in parables so that his words couldn’t be misconstrued or taken out of context. Jesus used the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21) to focus people’s attention on the topic at hand, monetary versus spiritual treasure.

Speaking directly to those that he considered to be believers, Jesus said:

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment…And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. (Luke 12:22-30)

Jesus’ instruction had to do with the believer’s focus of attention and prayers to God. The point he was trying to make was that it wasn’t necessary for a believer to be concerned with material resources. Jesus went on to say, “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things will be added unto you” (Luke 12:31). The Greek word translated seek, zeteo (dzay-teh´-o) means specifically to worship. In other words, the time one dedicates to God. Jesus assured his followers that God would take care of their physical needs if they focused their attention on and prayed for spiritual resources. In his final admonition, Jesus challenged believers to risk everything for the sake of his kingdom. He said, “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in heaven that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33-34).

Relationship with God

One of the things that was radically changed when Jesus came to Earth was a person’s ability to have a relationship with God. Because God had never been physically present with them, it was very difficult for the Israelites to understand his way of doing things. Probably, the most difficult barrier Jesus had to overcome was the preconceived ideas the Jews had about their Messiah and his mission to save the world. Reconciling the differences between God’s intentions and the expectations of his people took a significant amount of Jesus’ time and became one of his primary goals during his three year ministry. As he prepared to return to heaven, Jesus focused on leaving a lasting impression on his disciples and preparing them for the time when they would once again be physically separated from him.

A direct benefit of Jesus being present with them was that his disciples could ask him questions and get his opinion about things that were difficult for them to understand. Although many things were still confusing to them, Jesus’ disciples were given private lessons that could help them decipher God’s will and his plan of salvation for the world. One of the things his disciples noticed was Jesus’ constant communication with his heavenly Father. Because they were aware that Jesus was praying for them and was asking God to do certain things that he couldn’t do himself, the disciples understood that prayer was a vital part of having a personal relationship with God. They also knew the time was coming when they would have to carry on without Jesus, so one of his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1).

And he said unto them, “When ye pray, say, Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so  in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” (Luke 11:2-4)

A key aspect of this prayer was the way Jesus instructed his disciples to address God. When Jesus referred to God as “Our Father,” he was in a sense making his disciples equal with him because they were all on the same level from a relationship standpoint, God’s children. The three things Jesus instructed his disciples to ask for: daily bread, forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from temptation; showed them that their relationship with God was meant to be a way for them to benefit from his divine resources and sovereign control over the universe.

After sharing his template for prayer, Jesus told his disciples that they could depend on God and shouldn’t hesitate to ask him for the things they needed. Jesus explained that God is more reliable than a neighbor that has extra resources and told them, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened: (Luke 11:9-10). The progressive verbs Jesus used; ask, seek, and knock, probably had to do with the enhanced quality of a relationship with God over time. You could say there was a certain amount of boldness that could be expected the more intimately one got to know his heavenly Father. Jesus suggested that God would never say no to anything his children asked for, but then he clarified what he said with this statement, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:13). In other words, we should be asking God for spiritual, not physical resources.

Compassion

Unfortunately, it’s true that we sometimes don’t cry out to God until it’s too late. The destruction of God’s temple in Jerusalem had a devastating effect on his people. For those people that believed it was necessary for them to worship God in his temple, they saw the destruction of the temple as the end of their relationship with God. At the very least, the temple was a place for God’s people to gather together. It was a representation of the community of believers being united as one. Without the temple, there was no way for believers to connect with each other.

Psalm 74 was written some time after the Babylonians destroyed everything in Jerusalem, including the temple that was built by king Solomon. The Psalmist prayed that God would come to the aid of his people and pleaded with him to “remember thy congregation, which thou has purchased of old, the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, where in thou hast dwelt” (Psalm 74:2).

In Psalm 74:2, the Psalmist’s reference to “thy congregation” meant the people that had been delivered from slavery in Egypt. The Psalmist was reminding God of the work he had done to bring the nation of Israel into existence. The Psalmist was disturbed because it looked like all God had done was ruined and his enemies had succeeded in destroying God’s kingdom. He said, “Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; they set their ensigns for signs” (Psalm 74:4).

What the Psalmist was implying was that God’s people no longer belonged to him. Because Nebuchadnezzar had taken the captives of Jerusalem to Babylon, it seemed as if they were no longer citizens of God’s kingdom, but God promised to visit or look after them until the time when he would return them to the Promised Land (Jeremiah 27:22).

Psalm 79 opens with a description of the wasteland that Jerusalem had become after the Babylonians destroyed it. It says in Psalm 79:1-5:

O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them. We are become a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us. How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry for ever?

It is likely Psalm 79 was written at the same time or shortly after the fall of Jerusalem. The Psalmist requested that God would show compassion to his people and declared, “for they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling place. O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us” (Psalm 79:8).

The Hebrew term translated as tender mercies, “racham expresses a deep and tender feeling of compassion, such as is aroused by the sight of weakness or suffering in those who are dear to us or in need  of help (7356). At the time the citizens of Jerusalem were taken into captivity, they didn’t know if they were going to live or die. The  Psalmist asked that God would “preserve thou those that are appointed to die” (Psalm 79:11).

God’s compassion toward his people was evident in his repeated warnings to them that destruction was coming. Even though Jeremiah made it clear that all who surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar would be kept alive (Jeremiah 15:11), the people didn’t believe him, and as a result, many were slain when Nebuchadnezzar’s army entered and destroyed Jerusalem (Psalm 79:3). Ultimately, the Psalmist’s prayer was answered because God did prevent the nation of Judah from being destroyed permanently and he did preserve the remnant or congregation of his people that were taken into captivity.

The power of prayer

You may wonder, Can one person make a difference in the world? Is it possible to change the course of history? Hezekiah, king of Judah reigned from 715 B.C. to 686 B.C. during a critical time period when the Assyrian empire was spreading rapidly throughout the middle east. In 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by Sargon II, king of Assyria and its people were taken into captivity. In 701 B.C., Sennacherib, king of Assyria attacked Jerusalem, the capital of the nation of Judah. Shortly before this, Sennacherib led a campaign against the strongholds of Judah and took them (2 Kings 18:14).

It says in 2 Kings 20:1 that “in those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die and not live.” Isaiah’s use of the words “thus saith the LORD” indicated that God had sovereignly ordained Hezekiah’s death. In response to the news, Hezekiah cried out to the LORD. It says in 2 Kings 20:2-3, “Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.”

In the early years of his reign, Hezekiah had instituted many reforms in Jerusalem in order to counteract the evil behavior of his father, king Ahaz (2 Kings 18:4). Much to his credit, it says of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:5, “He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.” Hezekiah’s relationship with the LORD gave him the confidence he needed to ask God to change his mind. It says in 2 Kings 20:4-6:

And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the  God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears:  behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.

Based on the LORD’s message to Hezekiah, “I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 20:6), it appears that the  LORD intended to give Sennacherib victory over Jerusalem after Hezekiah’s death. It could be that the LORD planned Hezekiah’s death in order to spare him from going into captivity in Assyria. Whatever his intent, the LORD saw Hezekiah’s sincerity and decided to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrian army instead.

An interesting aspect of Hezekiah’s situation was that he asked for a sign that the LORD would actually do what he said he would. “‘Signs’ are attestations of the validity of a prophetic message” (226). In essence, Hezekiah’s request for a sign meant that he doubted what Isaiah said was true. Perhaps, because he knew he could not defeat the Assyrian army. Isaiah gave Hezekiah two options. “And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?” (2 Kings 20:9).

The only miracle recorded in the Bible comparable to what Isaiah suggested the LORD would do for a sign to Hezekiah was when the sun stood still while Joshua and his army fought the Amorites. In that instance, it says, “the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day” (Joshua 10:13). Since we know now that the sun does not revolve around the earth, but the earth around the sun, what actually happened was the earth stopped spinning for about 24 hours.

In Hezekiah’s case, what Isaiah was suggesting was that the LORD could make the earth rotate in the opposite direction, equivalent to 10 degrees of movement, so that the shadow would go backward instead of forward as it usually did. Based on what we know today, this was scientifically impossible. The amount of time that would have been gained or lost would have been about 20-40 minutes, a somewhat insignificant amount of time compared to the whole day that Joshua gained. Therefore, the evidence of the shadow made it possible to verify that is actually happened.

Hezekiah’s response indicated that he wanted God to do the impossible. “And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz” (2 Kings 20:10-11).