She heard the whispers all around her. It was nothing she had not heard before, and her cheeks burned with shame, but she would not be deterred. She made her way through the crowd, daring not to make eye contact, until she could contain her tears no longer. She fell to His feet, weeping, washing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. And then she opened her gift: a precious box made of alabaster and filled with costly perfume. And she poured out every drop upon Jesus.
Suddenly, the whispers changed. Now they called her different names: wasteful, inconsiderate. But Jesus saw what they could not: He saw the gift and the giver, and He accepted her offering for what it was: an act of worship. He saw her sins, which were many. He saw her guilt, shame, and past. But He focused on her worship. He didn't ask for her to be perfect or to bring Him her perfection. He saw her broken offering and said, "She has done what she could." He went on to tell His disciples that her story would endure long beyond that moment...and it has.
When it comes to choosing the perfect gift, we face all kinds of social pressure these days. Some people are tough to buy for. But I cannot imagine the stress of trying to find the perfect gift for a King...and yet this is what I do every time I come into the presence of God. I know what He deserves, but I can only offer what I have: my worship. And the beauty of it is that this is exactly what He wants from me.
He had heard Jesus was coming to town, and so he rushed to meet Him. He had a pressing need that brought him into the path of the Master. When he approached Jesus, a withered left hand tucked safely away inside his cloak, Jesus simply said, "Stretch out your hand."
The man was faced with a choice. Jesus did not specify which hand. He could offer his right hand, his strong hand. No one would laugh. No one would whisper or judge him. He could save face by giving Jesus his best. But the man did the unthinkable. He reached into his garment and pulled out his left hand. His withered hand. His powerless hand. He stood before the King of Kings and offered Him not the best, but the absolute worst that he had.
So often we are told that God wants our best. And, indeed, we should want to offer Him the best we have. But there are times when Jesus stands before us and asks that we give Him not our strengths but our weaknesses. For so many of us, this is the hardest gift we will ever give because it means we not only come face-to-face with our flaws but that we offer them up to the King of Kings. He deserves our best, but He asks that we give Him even the parts that we are most ashamed of.
The man may have approached Jesus with a withered hand, but because he chose to offer the King the most unconventional gift he had, he left the Master's presence healed, with two strong hands.
They were skilled in the diplomatic practice of gift-giving, no doubt. When the wise men loaded their camels for the ultimate desert road trip, following a mysterious star to Bethlehem, they made sure to bring three special packages.
The first gift was gold. Gold was not only associated with great wealth in biblical times, but it was often given in royal gift exchanges as well. Visiting dignitaries would honor the kings they visited by bringing gold with them. By offering Him gold, they acknowledged Jesus as their King.
Frankincense, the second gift, was used as a fragrance to perfume the air. However, because of its costly nature, it was reserved as an aroma sent up in the practice of ceremonial worship of a deity. By bringing Him frankincense, they acknowledged Jesus as their God.
Myrrh, the final gift, was also a fragrance, often used in worship, but it had another important job: it was used to prepare a body for burial. In the temple, myrrh was used to prepare instruments for sacrificial offerings. By bringing Him myrrh, they acknowledged Jesus as their Sacrificial Lamb.
The first official gifts we read of Jesus receiving were gifts that pointed to who He is and what He came to do. In the following articles, we will explore some of the gifts Jesus received during His ministry on earth.
It had been a tough life for the Samaritan man. His people were already looked down upon in Jewish society, but then came the fateful diagnosis: leprosy. It not only meant a slow death, but also quarantine. Not just rejected, he was now cast out of society entirely.
But then everything changed when the man called Jesus came to town. With his fellow lepers, he cried out to the Master. Jesus not only heard, but He responded. He healed them and sent them to the priests. And, awed at their healing, they rushed away -- all but one.
When he saw he had been healed, the Samaritan immediately rushed back. The man who had faced so much rejection could help himself no longer -- he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and worshipped Him, filled with gratitude. When Jesus saw his thankfulness, He acknowledged the fact that he was the only one who had returned to give thanks. And then He said the most incredible words: "Arise, go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole." (Luke 17:19).
The Samaritan leper's story is such a powerful example of what thankfulness can do in our lives. All of the lepers were healed of leprosy, but the disease had left its impact on them. Their bodies still bore the marks, even though the disease had been cast out. But when the Samaritan's heart overflowed with gratitude, he was made whole. It was more than healing. It was a step beyond. Healing can bring an end to pain, but gratitude has the tremendous power to restore and to make us feel whole, even in the midst of trials.
2 Kings 18:21 “…You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it.”
Rabshakeh the Assyrian told King Hezekiah that trusting in the king of Egypt was like leaning on a “bruised reed” that would crumble and wound his hand. Life has many “bruised reeds” that may look inviting to lean on, but in reality, they are neither stable nor reliable.
The Apostle Paul warns Timothy not to lean on “science [knowledge] falsely so called.” (1 Timothy 6:21) Truth is a very stable foundation but false knowledge is a “bruised reed.” In verses 9 and 10 Paul warns of the fallacy of riches and the “love of money,” these too are “bruised reeds.” He continues in verse 17 with a warning against the “bruised reeds” of pride, arrogance and “trusting in uncertain riches.”
Carnal pleasure, another “bruised reed,” is very temporary and may come with unexpected, unwanted, and unpleasant baggage, such as disappointment, guilt, shame, and sometimes the chains of addiction.
In Matthew 24, Jesus shares with His disciples an outline of the chaos and destruction at the end of this present world. Then in verse 35 He reminds us that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
God, His truth, and His righteousness are a sure foundation, offering unfailing and eternal, stability in a world of “bruised reeds.”
“Roll away the stone.” It was a simple command, but Lazarus's friends gave the usual protests: “He’s already dead.” “He’s been in there too long.” “He’s pretty smelly at this point.” But Jesus would not move forward with the miracle until the stone was rolled away.
On the surface, it seems like an odd request. If you know the story of Lazarus, as soon as the stone was rolled away, Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth,” and a man who had been dead for three days came walking out of the tomb. If Jesus could bring Lazarus back to life, why did He need Lazarus’ friends to roll the stone away? Couldn’t He have moved the stone with His little finger? Or with just a look or a word? But Lazarus’ friends were the ones who sealed the grave, and so they had to be the ones to roll the stone away.
In our own lives, there are hurts and fears that we hide away. We beg Jesus to see us, to help us, and to heal what is broken. There is not a cry that He does not hear or a life He does not want to save, but He asks one thing of us: “Roll away the stone.” Could He do it Himself? Of course. He would have no trouble forcing His way into your heart and into your life. But that simply is not His way.
We often have a lot of excuses as to why we keep our pain hidden away: “My hope is already dead.” “It’s just been too long — I can’t imagine a different life.” “I’m too ashamed." But He sees and loves through every excuse. He can bring new life from even the most hopeless of situations, if only we will roll away the stone.
Asaph was a music minister, musician and composer in the Tabernacle of King David. Among the numerous Psalms attributed to him is Psalm 77. In the third verse of the Psalm he wrote
“…I complained and my spirit was overwhelmed.”
Sometimes what we may call prayer is little more than a spiritual gripe session, a pouring out of our complaints before the Lord. What Asaph is recording is a pity party, disappointment masked as prayer. “Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?” So many questions, so little faith.
But beginning with verse 10 everything changes. “But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High." I will remember the works of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, And talk of Your deeds. Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary… You are the God who does wonders; You have with Your arm redeemed Your people.”
When he complained, he was filled with pity and disappointment, but when he remembered all of God’s glorious attributes and wondrous works, his heart was filled with victorious faith and powerful praise! When we are tempted to complain, instead let us remember our God’s love and mercy and glory and grace!
The last of Abraham’s altars that we will examine is the altar of ultimate sacrifice. At this point, years had passed and much had happened since the first altar at Sichem, and Abraham’s faith had grown much stronger. We should remember that God will not ask for a great sacrifice when our faith is weak, only when our faith is strong.
Genesis 22 records the story of how God asked Abraham to sacrifice his promised son Issac. Abraham moved forward in absolute obedience. Undoubtedly his mind and heart were racked by questions, but his faith moved him forward. As the writer of Hebrews explains, he concluded "God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense” (Hebrews 11:19).
In Genesis 22:5 Abraham made a definitive declaration of his faith when he told his servants, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you." Abraham called this supreme test an act of “worship.” Then he said, "we" (the lad and I) "will come back to you." These statements confirm his profound faith in God. On seeing Abraham’s faith and obedience, God stayed his hand from offering Issac and provided a ram for the sacrifice. Abraham called that altar “Jehovah-Jireh,” which means God sees and God will provide.
Know this: life may bring us to places of supreme sacrifice, but in such times, God is with us, God sees our need, and God will provide.
For the last two weeks we have been exploring four important altars in Abraham's life. Abraham built his first altar in a place of strength and his second altar between the house of God and ruin. It was at this altar where he could return for repentance and renewal after making mistakes. Abraham's third altar was built in a place called Mamre, a place of blessing.
First, the word Mamre has to do with fatness or abundance. Mamre was a place of blessing, and God had indeed blessed Abraham in some incredible ways. This altar reflected those blessings of God. There are moments in our lives when we spend time at the altar simply because we want to worship God and thank Him for what He has done for us. Altars are wonderful places for praise and worship. It is vital that we create altars in our lives where we can acknowledge the great things God has done for us and give Him thanks.
It was in Mamre, the site of Abraham's third altar, that he received a visit from the strangers and where God confirmed that at long last he would receive his son. But before the visitors ever brought him the news, Abraham had already built a place of praise. Sometimes in life we have to praise God not only for what He has done, but for what He is about to do. Abraham's praise preceded his promise. There is something powerful that happens when we praise God in advance.
Last week, we began to explore the first of four important altars in Abraham's life. Abraham built his first altar in a place of strength. As he continued to follow God across the wide lands ahead, Abraham arrived at a new place of rest: a spot between Bethel (the house of God) and Hai (ruin). It was here that he built his second altar.
Around this time, a famine ravaged the land, and Abraham gave in to fear. Instead of trusting God to provide, he rushed to Egypt, lied to the pharaoh, and brought dishonor upon himself and his family. Still, God provided for him and even blessed him beyond measure. After his sojourn in Egypt, Abraham returned to the place of that second altar, the one he had built between the house of God and ruin. Before he ventured any further or attempted anything else in his life, we read that he took a moment at the altar to call on the name of the Lord (Genesis 13:4).
Like Abraham, we will all come to a place between the house of the Lord and a place of ruin. In fact, we spend most of our lives in this space in between. We are faced with a few options. We can give in to ruin, or we can pitch our tents toward Bethel, the house of God, and build an altar there. Even though we may fall sometimes, giving in to the fear and temptation that surround us, we can follow the example of Abraham and make our way back to that altar that we once knelt at, gaining renewed strength in the presence of God.