These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“… what is man that thou are mindful of him …” (v.4) RSV
“What is man?” is a question put to God in the face of our great insignificance. When the Psalmist looked around him at all that God has created, such vastness, such magnificence and beauty, he is amazed that God has time for little, muddling and sinful people.
Yet, he is reminded that despite human physical weakness and spiritual weakness, man is nevertheless the peak of creation. The two differing stories of creation put man first as the peak of creation (Genesis 1:26-31), and secondly as the purpose of creation (Genesis 2:7-17).
Over this week we shall learn more about our species, but today we need to get it firmly fixed in our minds that we are the high point of God’s activity on earth. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm. 139:14). Whilst on earth we are ”little less than God” (v.5)! We have been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Now if we are tempted to despise ourselves or others, we need to remind ourselves that in God’s sight we are precious.
Indeed, God thought us so precious that even “while we were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Our value is not found in our intricate physiology, astounding though that is, nor is it found in our great intellect for we all know very little and as Paul says, “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Our value is that God has made us, made us in his own image, and he loves us. He loves us as individuals and he loves us as a community.
We are not just of the earth, earthy. We are not just an evolved animal. We are that, but we are also inspired by God. We are a living soul. God breathed into Adam and he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
Thank you Lord for the great mystery that makes me/us great in your eyes. May I love myself as you love me. Amen.
Thomas was a doubter, but so are all of us. We all have many questions that lie unanswered. But faith does not depend on answered questions. It depends on sufficient evidence together with the internal verification of the Spirit. It is the word of God combined with the internal witness of the Spirit that gives assurance. Because of that we can live quite happily with doubts.
Thomas’ problem was that he allowed his doubts and his scepticism to dominate his faith. He could not and would not believe until his questions were answered. Well, God in his mercy acceded to his request. Living proof stood before Thomas in the person of the risen Christ. He was even invited to touch and see. Did Jesus then tell him to stop doubting? No. He told him not to be faithless. Faith is an act of obedience. There is no evidence that Thomas actually needed to touch Jesus’ body. It seems that the challenge to believe was sufficient.
The response of Thomas was perhaps more than that of any of the other disciples. He said, “My Lord and my God!” (v.28). Let this be our response too. The resurrection proves the uniqueness of Jesus. Surely God had been in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and now has risen fully vindicated and victorious. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
But Thomas had failed to believe based on the witness of others. He had to see for himself. Jesus firmly said that that should not be necessary. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (v.29). Let our belief be based upon the witness of the Apostles in scripture.
Thank you Lord for the lessons I can learn from Thomas. Keep me from presumptuous and arrogant unbelief. Grant me a humble and teachable spirit that will shout: “My Lord and my God!” Amen.
What does Peter say about not seeing, and yet believing?
“… did not our hearts burn within us …” (v.32) RSV
Last week we saw how the Breaking of Bread opened the eyes of the two whom Jesus had met on the Road to Emmaus. Now we see the other great impact that Jesus had upon their lives. As he had walked with them “… beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (v.27). Some of us find many things in what we commonly call the Old Testament hard to understand or even objectionable. But the rule for Christians is that Christ can be found in “all the scriptures” (v.27).
In those sacred scriptures we can read of prophets, kings, priests, sacrifices, laws, obedience and acts of faith. All these things find their fulfilment in Jesus. He embodied all truth. So if the Old Testament is truth, then we will find it fulfilled in Jesus. What a bible study it must have been for those privileged two! No wonder they later explained, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he … opened to us the scriptures?” (v.32).
This is what God’s preachers and teachers should be aiming to do; to open the scriptures so that Jesus is seen. I remember a pulpit in a church that had a plaque on it for the preacher to read before he started; it read: “Sir. We would see Jesus.” Such Christ centred sermons will by the Holy Spirit quicken the Spirit within us, and make our hearts burn. We will be hungry for such teaching and instruction. “Lord, to whom else can we go?” said Peter, “You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).
Let us pray for preachers and teachers. And let us take up our bible and read with renewed enthusiasm the sacred word that leads us through to the Living Word, even Jesus Christ himself.
Thank you Lord for the words that you have spoken to me from time to time. May I love your word and read with expectation, knowing that you will guide me into all truth. Amen.
1. What does Paul say a preacher or teacher should do?
“… their eyes were opened and they recognised him” (v.31) RSV
The story of the couple on their way home from Jerusalem to Emmaus is most beautifully and suggestively told. Their dejection and negativity is turned into an energetic return journey. As they had been walking home the risen Jesus drew alongside, engaged in conversation and then taught them that the scriptures (Old Testament) foretold his life, death and resurrection. Their spirits were excited by this cracking open of the scriptures. They were later to acknowledge, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he …” (v.32).
But it took more than a sermon to open their eyes to the presence of Jesus in their midst. Fortunately their hospitable attitude caused them to compel Jesus to stay over with them. If they had not pressed him he would have gone on and the moment of revelation would have been lost. As it was he stayed. At the moment of ‘fraction’ (the breaking of bread) their eyes were opened.
Was it the scars in his hands or (more likely) the familiar action of breaking bread and giving thanks? Something triggered recognition.
Many of us may have heard great sermons (see next week’s reading), yet sometimes it is not words that speak to us, but rather it is actions. The sacrament of Holy Communion (the Breaking of Bread) can bring the risen Christ to us in a special and unique way. Not every believer’s church offers Communion often, and some not at all. But all of us should try, whether in home of church, to meet with others and break bread together in remembrance of him. We shall then meet with him through that action: our eyes will be opened.
Thank you Lord for the gift of the Bread and Wine. May I never take these gifts for granted but avail myself of the opportunity to meet with you in that special way. Amen.
“… they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered …” (Luke 24:41) RSV
Each week we are observing how people have difficulty recognising the risen Jesus. No longer is he recognised purely by his outward appearance. Each person knows him by faith, not by sight. Our passage is no exception. In Luke, it says, “… they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered …” (v.41). Why should there be any reason to “disbelieve”?
Certainly, they were not expecting the resurrection of their dead hero. They had not believed his prediction that he would rise on the third day. To see him standing before them was a wonder, since the impossible had happened. But they also “disbelieved” (v.41) because they had no idea that their God could do such wonderful things for them. How often are our minds filled with what we expect God to do and what we think he can do? We can so easily limit God’s goodness. He really can do impossible things for us. They are not too good to be true.
John gives a more definite response from the disciples: “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20) What a joy and gladness it was that all was well. The end of Jesus on the cross was not the end. The death of Jesus had become the gateway through to something far better. This applies to our lives, both in this age (on earth) and in the age to come (in heaven). God’s nature is to break through and do wonderful things that make us glad, oh so glad!
No one is too bad or too lost, and no situation is too far gone that God cannot turn it around. “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
You are a great and mighty God, doing more than I can ask or think. Increase my faith and trust, and let me see you work. Amen.
Note the three occasions that Jesus predicted his resurrection.
Peter arrived first at the tomb. He and John had run there in response to the women’s message that the tomb was empty. When he arrived, he went in but didn’t know what to think. Now we read of him fishing on Galilee, hearing from John that “It is the Lord” (v.7), and consequently plunging into the sea in order to reach Jesus as quickly as possible.
All the disciples in the boat saw Jesus, and yet it took one of them, John, to recognise him with certainty: “It is the Lord” (v.7). There is a significant sentence that sums up this ambivalence of faith, “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord” (v.12). What was their problem? Quite simply the evidence of their eyes was not sufficient. With their minds they questioned, but with their spirits they believed.
What had opened the eyes of their spirit? It was the miracle: the catch of fish. They recognised the Lord by what he did. They saw the ‘finger of God’ (Luke 11:20) at work.
We too have to live by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). We do not see God and yet we recognise his presence by his activities. This what Jesus said about the Spirit; his presence is like the wind – felt and effective but unseen (John 3:8)
The catch of fish was not a coincidence, but a result of hearing the word of the Lord and obeying. The catch could be explained no doubt in many ways, but to the believer it was a direct activity of God. It was proof that it was “the Lord” (v.7).
It took one person to see and to have faith: John. The others caught his faith and his conviction. We thank God for people who inspire faith, and long to be such people ourselves.
Sometimes I long to see you, Lord, and one day I will. But now help me to see you in your handiwork and in your people, and to come running to you in gratitude. Amen.
Peter and John arrive at the tomb. The women had told them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (v.2). They have to run to check it out; they have no anticipation that Jesus has risen from the dead. On their arrival John pauses outside seeing that the stone has been taken away from the entrance, and peers in – the grave clothes are still there. Hmm. Peter comes after and blunders straight in. He also saw the evidence that the body of Jesus had not been stolen, but he couldn’t work it out beyond that. Finally John goes in and “saw and believed” (v.8).
The words that John uses for “saw” are most significant. When John arrived first he saw (or, looked). The Greek word, blepo, simply means the ability to see with the eyes. He has no particular thoughts or understanding. Peter then goes in and theorises, theoreo; he scratches his head and thinks, but comes to no conclusions or insight. Finally John goes in and “sees”, hodeo.
The light dawns and he understands the significance of the grave clothes. Jesus’ body has not been stolen, but has dematerialised through them and risen to new life. God gives the faith to John that is able to understand and believe, even though he may not be able to explain.
Within a few decades there would be no eye witnesses left. Future generations would only have the written testimony of those first witnesses. They will have the scriptures. John records how “they did not yet know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (v.9). Nowadays we do have those scriptures, and they are sufficient to believe. Yes, Jesus has risen from the dead, and as a result everything has changed.
Thank you Lord for the scriptures which bear witness to your glorious resurrection. May your Spirit confirm their truth to me. Amen.
In what sense did Mary see the Lord? As she stood weeping outside the tomb she saw with her human eyes someone that she mistook for the gardener. We shall see as we go through the following weeks that the risen Jesus was not recognised by his outward appearance. Something else was necessary. Jesus was actually recognised and known in the observer’s spirit.
As Paul would say, “the Spirit witnesses with our spirit …” (Romans 8:16). Thus it was not until Mary Magdalene heard her name spoken by Jesus, ‘Mary’ (v.16), that she recognised him. It must have been something about his tone of voice, or the familiarity of the way he said her name that witnessed with her that despite the conflicting evidence of her eyes, it really was her Lord and Master – “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher) (v.16).
No unbeliever is recorded to have seen the risen Jesus.
They may have seen him with their eyes but not known him or who it was. Only believers were able to recognise him. Today he can still be known in our spirit.
Our other senses may be riddled with doubt or uncertainty, but deep within ourselves we KNOW it is the Lord.
The risen Christ may not appear to our five senses yet we can know his presence with us and in us. And yet he also comes to us in or through other people who have his Spirit. He is especially evident when his people meet together in his name – “… there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20).
Thank you Lord that you rose from the dead. Help me to see you today even when you come in unexpected ways. Grant me the faith to believe. Amen.
“Demas, in love with this present world …” (v.10) RSV
Demas is not your best known character in the New Testament. He was one of Paul’s team of missionaries. What we know of him is a cautionary tale for us. In all the previous readings over these last weeks we have seen wasted or lost years effectively restored, but today we do not know what happened to Demas; his life is an unfinished story. It serves to remind us that we may be in the midst of wasting our lives. And the question is, what are we going to do about it?
Until Demas left Paul, because he had fallen “in love with this present world” (v.10), he had been a regular member of Paul’s team. In the letter to the Colossians Paul writes: “Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you” (Colossians 4:14); he also mentions Mark, Epaphras and others. Demas was plainly one of Paul’s trusted workers. He is again mentioned when Paul writes his short letter to Philemon: “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers (Philemon 1:24).
Even keen and committed Christians can lose their vision, their calling and their cutting edge. This can happen for many reasons: lust, laziness, neglect of spiritual disciplines, false teaching, etc. Demas seems to have grown weary of fighting the good fight. He wanted some of the pleasures that the ‘world’ could offer. The ‘world’ doesn’t necessarily mean immoral or sinful activities; it may simply mean that he preferred the innocent pleasures of this world, to the costly discipleship and the high calling to follow Christ.
Some of us may have let our faith slip over recent years. We are now in danger, not only of being lukewarm but of growing cold. Perhaps we didn’t realise it, but now the Spirit is beckoning us back. Our desire is to love God with “all our heart, soul, mind and strength” (Matthew 22:37). Now is the time to act. The past is past. Let us look to the future with our Lord – he will renew us.
Lord, resuscitate me from compromise and lack of spiritual edge. Restore my first love and commitment. Amen.
1 Who did not know that the Lord had departed from him?
“David … escaped to the cave of Adullam” (v.1) RSV
Now you might think that David, the greatest king of Israel never had a ‘Lost Year’ in his life. When he was young he minded the sheep and practiced using a sling. When still a youth he slew Goliath and became King Saul’s resident minstrel. And once he was anointed King he ruled with great charisma and success.
However, from his point of view he could well have viewed his years in the wilderness as lost years. He had been anointed King by Samuel while Saul was still on the throne (1 Samuel 16:13). Yet before long Saul was wildly jealous of David and feared that he was going to usurp the throne. He hounded him from pillar to post, so that David was compelled to live like a fugitive in the wilderness. During that time he accumulated a band of 400 malcontents (v.2).
It must have been very frustrating for David to have these ‘wasted’ years in hiding, while the incompetent Saul continued to reign. However when it seemed that God had delivered Saul into his hands in the cave of Engedi (1 Samuel 24:4-7), David spared his life; it was neither God’s time nor God’s way. His wilderness were not yet over. Eventually the time was right for David’s accession to the throne. Saul had been defeated by the Philistines and decided to end his life by falling on his sword (1 Samuel 31:4).
Those years in the wilderness and a fight for sheer survival were not wasted. God used all the experience and wisdom that David had derived from the experience. He had become a natural leader of men and had grown tough. He was now fit for the task for which he had been anointed.
God too will incorporate our past life and experience, however odd, or dull or wrong it was. He redeems all that we have gone through and transforms it into usefulness from now on. Praise God!
Thank you Lord that ALL THINGS word together for good to those who love you. Here am I, send me. Amen.
“… if I have defrauded anyone of anything …” (v.8) RSV
Zacchaeus, unlike the Prodigal Son, had not squandered his wealth, but had exponentially increased it. To some extent he was like our modern day bankers. His riches came out of the pockets of the people. He was a tax collector on behalf of the Romans, so he was doubly unpopular: i) because he worked for ‘them’, and ii) because he extracted far more tax than he should in order to line his own pockets.
As far as he was concerned he was a highly successful businessman, and yet he was to discover that he had been wasting his life. After his encounter with Jesus he learned the meaning of the proverb: “What does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mark 8:36). He suddenly realised that his life was worthless. All he had achieved was materialistic and selfish.
Jesus had opened his eyes to re-evaluate his accumulation of wealth. He had given nothing away to charitable needs, and much of what he had gained was through defrauding innocent people. He wanted to make amends, to make a clean break and have a new start. He therefore announced (always a good thing, since there is no going back on it!), that “the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (v.8).
Zacchaeus’ repentance, like all true repentance, is not merely remorse or regret, it is a change of mind. He made restitution where possible, and would live a different life from then on. If we mean business with God, and we feel that we have wasted our lives in materialistic gain (say) then we too will need to repent, reassess our values and start to live differently.
Zacchaeus may have been financially poorer but he was richer within himself. He was alive. He had been “lost” (v.10), but he had now received “salvation” (v.9).
Lord I (and probably others too) had not realised that my life, though prosperous, was selfish. Forgive me and show me what I must do, for your name’s sake. Amen.
1 What did Jesus do and say to thieving traders in the Temple?