Living for Christ is hard…there’s no way around it. The moment you say “Yes” to Jesus, the world labels you as “One of those crazy religious people”. But it’s by those troubles we encounter that we learn perseverance and are forged into a willing vessel for God . And with each difficulty, we go from wounded to winner. As Oswald Chambers once said, “Do we appreciate the miraculous salvation of Jesus Christ enough to be our utmost for His Highest – our best for His glory?” Yes, the way is narrow and filled with difficulties, but just look where it leads.
Next to the Resurrection, the feeding of the 5,000, is the only story found in all four Gospels. Even though they all come from a little different perspective, the miracle was the same, and important enough to be recorded numerous times. On the disciples part, they’ve been traveling with Jesus and witnessing countless miracles, but when Jesus challenged them to feed the throng of people milling around, they froze. With a total lack of faith and vision they told Him, “We have only five loaves and two fish. We can’t start to feed this many people!” But Jesus then takes matters into His own hands, gives thanks for what they already have, and multiplies it. So what important lesson did the disciples learn that was significant enough to be recorded in all four Gospels? Jesus took what they already had and increased it a 1000 times over. He didn’t focus on their lack, but rather on how it could be multiplied and used for His glory. When God calls you to something, He’ll use what you already have…and as you move forward in faith and trust in Him, it will be multiplied.
Lepers were the most reviled of human beings in Jesus’ time. They were considered utterly unclean physically and spiritually. They were shunned and outcast…required to avoid others, staying at least six feet away from anyone, and forced to yell “unclean! unclean!” when approaching crowds. So what gave this leper the brazenness to walk right up to Jesus in the middle of a crowd and ask for healing? He knew he was breaking every law in Leviticus 13. But he also knew deep in his soul that this man he had watched from afar could cure him of this devastating disease. He took a huge risk, but he had nothing to lose, and everything to gain if Jesus would oblige. The crowd was probably stunned by the sight of this leper dropping at the feet of Jesus…but they were even more startled to watch with their own eyes the skin on this man return to normal when Jesus touched him.
Some later manuscripts show this verse as saying, “Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you.” Either translation is a tall order to fill. For we are a people who retaliate at the slightest notion that we’ve been wronged. Taking revenge and repaying evil with evil is touted and even celebrated in today’s social media. But this verse tells us to do the very opposite. And our example should be Jesus, who in I Peter 2:23 demonstrates, “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate, when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” Taking the high road in the face of cruelty may be a clenched fist, gritted teeth type of grace under pressure, but allowing God to fight your battle is worth it in the end.
Jesus was explaining to Simon Peter that the number of times we need to forgive one another is just arbitrary. It’s not about keeping a score card on that other person…for the act of forgiveness not about them at all. Forgiveness stems from the unlimitless capacity to forgive that Jesus first showed us while we were still sinners. So as Christians, we are compelled to show each other the same kind of forgiveness…for forgiveness comes out of love for the Lord and each other. The act of forgiveness is for our benefit, not others. For if we allow unforgiveness to fester inside, blame escalates, and with it, growing bitterness, which leads only to spiritual blight.
Healthy trees produce lots of fruit, so when they don’t, the orchardist looks deeper. The trees may look perfect from the outside, but hide disease within. Their roots may be withered and gnarled from lack of water or fertilizer. We too can look good on the outside, but be stunted within. We can act very spiritual in Church, say all the right things at Bible Study, and still be very withered inside. The Lord wants us healthy and productive – inside and out, for just like strong, hardy trees that produce lots of fruit… so should we.
Baptism…just as during the time of John the Baptist, is a public action, for an internal, personal decision for Christ. It symbolizes the spiritual cleansing through the forgiveness of sins to those who repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Baptism is part of the Great Commission that Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:18, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” As a new Christian, you don’t have to be perfect before you can be baptized…you don’t have to have it “all together” and cleaned up prior either. Baptism is a public “Just as I am” coming to Jesus moment.