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.
Abraham is often referred to as the Father of the Faithful. The first patriarch, he is a model of faith and steadfast trust in God. God called Abraham to leave everything he knew and to lead a nomadic life, all the while believing that God would fulfill the promises He had made to him. In Abraham's life, we read about four important altars.
Abraham built his first altar to God after God had made the first part of His covenant with Abraham. He built this altar in a place called Sichem, a name that means shoulder (strength). The name of the place reflected the situation Abraham found himself in. He had a journey ahead, the journey of a lifetime, in fact, and he needed strength from God to continue on the pathway.
There is something so powerful about an altar. While we often think of the altar as a place to repent (and indeed it is a wonderful place for repentance), the biblical altar is so much more. In Abraham's case, the altar he built to worship was not built out of shame for a sin he had committed, but rather it became a place for him to gain strength. In living for God, it is vital that we have altars in our lives. It is at the altar where we receive strength -- for the day, the week, the year, and beyond. It is where we gain courage to face the struggles of life. It is where our weakness meets God's might, and we gain all that we need to continue on the path He has set before us.
In the articles to come, we will explore the remaining altars of Abraham and how they continue to impact our lives today.
The timeless hymn, "Love Lifted Me" offers a beautiful reminder of how Jesus can save from even the stormiest seas life can throw at us.
He saved Noah from the raging waters through preventative measures. Noah built an ark and never had to experience the feeling of being overtaken by the waves.
He saved Peter from the raging waters even as the disciple walked to Him across the sea. Peter stood in a place of transition, partly atop the waves, and partly under. And yet Jesus still was able to reach him.
He saved Jonah from the raging waters even though he had fallen far beneath the ocean's surface. When Jonah thought he had fallen too far, that he might never see the sky again, God prepared a fish to keep him safe even in the deepest and darkest waters until he could find a place of repentance and mercy.
We experience the same raging waters on many levels in our own lives.
Sometimes we are able to prevent falling prey to the flood. Sometimes we are walking on top of the water, making our way to Jesus. Sometimes we make mistake after mistake and feel completely inundated with the stormy seas of life.
We worry that we have fallen too deep, as if God's arm cannot reach quite that far. But Isaiah 59:1 offers us the beautiful reminder, "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear."
God sees us, and He can save no matter how far above or below the storm you may be.
In these few lines I want to explore some things that the Bible states that God is looking for. John 4:23,24 tells us that God is seeking true worshippers. What is a true worshipper? Verse 24 declares that they worship in Spirit and in truth. This is balanced worship, Spirit and Truth, the two mighty wings with which we soar into His presence!
1 Samuel 13:14 God is looking for “a man after His own heart.” Another verse says that man look on the outward appearance but looks on the heart. The proverb declares “as a man thinketh in his heart so is he.” There is a sure link between our thoughts and our heart. God is looking for people with a pure and compassionate heart like His.
John 15: 8 God is seeking fruitful Christians. Matthew 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Ezekiel 22:30 God is looking for intercessors, prayer warriors that break through Satan’s and sin’s barricades to snatch the lost from death and destruction. Prayer is powerful! (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
Luke 19:10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. The entirety of the Bible is the love story of redemption, how God came to restore His lost creation and save lost humanity through Jesus Christ. He came here seeking for you!