It truly was the saddest season of my life. Everything had come crashing down. We had believed in Jesus. We had followed Jesus. We loved him! We knew that He would bring peace to Jerusalem and to our people. And yet, he died. He was brutally murdered.
My name is Cleopas. My friend Thadeous and I had just left Jerusalem for Emmaus. We were talking about the past seven days. Last Sunday we were cheering and rejoicing over the Nazarene as he rode into the city on the back of a donkey. A week later, with the afternoon sun casting long shadows along the rocky path, we argued back and forth about a very bleak future without Jesus. Our shoulders were slumped. Our gait was slow. We kicked up the dust as we shuffled along.
A stranger approached us as we walked west among the rolling foothills. He asked what we were talking about. I looked at my friend Thadeous as if this man was crazy. He encouraged me with his eyes and so I queried the outsider: “Are you the only man alive in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what just happened?” His blank stare in reply prompted a nervous babbling. “Surely you know,” I stammered. “About Jesus. The prophet. He did many miracles. With great power. We believed he would free Israel. But our leaders handed him over to be killed. And now it’s the third day…”
“Calm down,” he motioned to me with his hands. Then starting with Moses and all the prophets, this very ordinary looking man patiently explained everything ever written in the Ancient Text about the Messiah and how he must suffer.
We invited the man home for supper. He asked if He might offer the blessing. He lifted his eyes to heaven, broke the bread and began to pray. “Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melekh ha’olam ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.” Praised are you, Lord God, King of the universe, who brings froth bread from the earth.
We took a piece. And at that very moment we realized it was the Master. Jesus! The loaf fell to the table as he vanished.
Oh, how our hearts burned inside us as He explained the scriptures. He was so graceful, so patient. It showed His great love for us.
The Story IS true. It has happened indeed, just as it was written in the Canticles of old.
Some of the words, actions and thoughts perhaps of Cleopas and Jesus, from Luke 24.
Corrie ten Boom used to say, “When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out? Of course not. You sit still and trust the engineer to get you through.” Why did Jesus tell the story to Cleopas and his friend? So they’d know the Word is true. They could trust that God is in control. He says: “I’ve got you.”
You can trust Him, too.
Once they realized it was Jesus, the two ran back to Jerusalem. Knowing the story changed everything! Knowing that Jesus was alive, just as He said, meant every other promise in the Word is true! They lifted up those slumping shoulders and their slow gait became a sprint.
Looking back. I was so arrogant. The Lord had called me to a great task: Preach a message of repentance against the great and despicable city of Nineveh. These people are the hated enemies of the nation of Israel. They would surely not hear the message. In fact, I believed they might even do something awful to the messenger. Me.
So despite my love for God, I fled from Him and His assignment. I climbed aboard a freighter headed for Tarshish, the city that was at the other end of the Mediterranean Sea… as far away from Nineveh as possible. Silly, isn’t it? Thinking I could run or even hide from God.
The Lord used three things, then, to get my attention. A great storm. Sailors. And a fish.
One of the most violent storms ever to come across the Sea descended on us. Lifelong sailors were actually afraid for their lives! I just knew that this was God’s way of getting my attention. The sailors cast lots to see who on board was responsible for the raging waters. I knew the lots would point to me. Sure enough. They roused me from sleep, peppering me with questions: “Who are you? Where did you come from? Why are you causing all this trouble for us?”
I had to acquiesce. No hiding here. I told them of my assignment. That I worshiped the Lord, the God of heaven. And that I was running from Him. And that my presence on their ship was indeed the cause of the tempest. I assured them the only way to calm the storm was to throw me into the waves. They rejected this solution at first, desperately trying to row to shore. But the winds actually increased and tossed the vessel more violently. Finally, they cried out to God in unison: “Forgive Us!” And with one final glance to the raging heavens, they pitched me into the icy water.
As I began to sink into the depths, the sea became amazingly calm. I tried to surface with the goal of swimming to land. Suddenly a great fish scooped me up! It was putrid inside the dark, slimy belly. There was seaweed wrapped around my head. My ears popped as the ocean mammal dove deep and then surfaced above the breakers. The gastric juices of the fluids swirled inside the finback. But I was still alive! Oh, how God has such a fantastic sense of humor! It was dark. But He gave me life. For three days I existed in the dark depths. With each breath, I gave Him praise! I cried out to Him day after day, hour after hour. Minute after minute. Time. Time for me to replay the events of leading to how I got here. Time for me to be reminded that salvation comes from God and God alone.
I kept thinking of the people back home in Israel. And those sailors. And the people of Nineveh.
Finally, God saw fit to spare my life. The whale spit me out on the eastern shore of the Great Sea. With haste I headed for the city gates of Nineveh on the banks of the Tigris River. My urgency to the assignment fresh. I knew His grace must be made known to these people. For three days I went house to house, up and down every street, warning the people and encouraging everyone to call on the grace of God.
The people responded with faith, fasting and repentance. I wondered aloud, “Why? Why would God – slow to anger and abounding in love, God – why would He be so gracious to such a hated and despicable people?”
I’m sure that many wonder of my arrogance. Even I shake my head at God and ask, “Why would you still love me?”
And then the Lord reminds me: He is abounding in love! In the midst of storms. In the midst of misunderstandings between people. In the midst of our arrogance and pride.
And for that, I’m extremely thankful!
Some of the actions, words, and thoughts perhaps of Jonah, from the Old Testament book that bears his name.
They call me the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved…. Well, actually, I’m the only one who called me that. But, oh, how I loved our Jesus, our Messiah. It’s been decades since we watched Him ascend into the Heavens. But that hasn’t stopped followers from following. There are communities of faith throughout the region. From Rome to Babylon. Sadly, I believe I’m the only one of the 12 left. All the others were martyred for our faith in Jesus. Some days, because of the pain of this island prison, I think I’d rather be dead, as well.
You see, I’m exiled on this lonely, desolate isle called Patmos. There is not another soul in my life who loves the Master or follows the Way. I, too, have been cast out by the authorities for proclaiming the Good News that Jesus is the Light of the World. He loved us so. There are days when I am so consumed by His great love that I can hardly move. I remember those final hours like they were yesterday. The way the crowd jeered. The beatings and lashings. The public humiliation. The pain when He cried out from the cross. And the final exclamation, a weary, “It is finished.”
We were all stunned to think that a man would lay down his life for us like that… oh, how He loved us! But He was not merely a man, He was and is our Lord and our King!
My name is John. And the other day when I was praying and fully enveloped by the Holy Spirit I saw a vision… well, many visions, actually. And Jesus was in the midst of them. And He told me to write it all down. Messages of the future, the end of the earth as we know it. Challenges to churches. And a picture of the glory of eternity.
I saw Heaven in this dream. Oh, it is a beautiful place. The streets are paved with glistening gold. There is a river that flows through it; it sparkles like crystals. The gates never close for there is nothing to keep out. There is no evil here. There are no tears, no sorrow, no pain. And there is no darkness in Heaven, for the King, Jesus… He is the Light! And He sits on the throne in the center of Heaven. And from the throne there are flashes of lightning, and peals of thunder. And all around the throne I saw leaders, the elders, each one themselves worthy of commendation. But each one bowing low before Jesus. And day and after day, they worship the great King! They say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty. Who was, and is, and is to come again.”
And in my vision, I finally understand the answer to the question: “Why, why did Jesus have to die?” You see, many years ago, on that hill called Golgotha, all I understood was that He loved me. And in God’s grand plan of eternity, Jesus had to die for me. But in my vision, it all became crystal clear. He, Jesus, is the Passover Lamb, the final and ultimate sacrifice. As the Baptizer said: “He’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Ever since the Garden of Eden — when God slaughtered an animal to give its skin to clothe Adam and Eve, to surround them with love and to restore them — God has required blood, shed on behalf of each of us, for the forgiveness of our sins and for our salvation. In the days of Abraham and Moses, it was the blood of bulls and rams. And every year people had to offer God many animals to cover their many sins. But Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice. It was His blood that was shed. And He became the Passover Lamb, slain and sacrificed. No lamb or bull ever volunteered for that assignment.
His love for me was so great… He voluntarily laid His life down for me! For you. Jesus had to be the Passover Lamb, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. Jesus, fully human, fully God, was the only solution to be the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
And the compassion He showed to others? The world could not hold a library full of books detailing His great actions and love for the people we met together.
And God rewarded Him. We saw Jesus alive in this world after the resurrection… and I know for certain that He lives in Heaven and sits on the Throne for all eternity!
In my vision, He once again said: “It is finished. It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” On the cross He cried out, “I am thirsty.” And now, in the glory of eternity, Jesus is the one who says: “To the thirsty I will give water from the spring of the fountain of life! Come and drink!”
He has shown me the New Jerusalem. And three times He told me that He is coming back… He is coming soon!
And to that, I say: YES! Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, come!
Some of the words, and perhaps thoughts, of the Apostle John, the writer of Revelation and the one whom Jesus loved.
From the Journal of Miriam (Mary), the mother of Jesus:
I’ll never forget that night. It wasn’t all that long ago. Ah, the little boy is growing up. Just turned two at his last birthday.
So, that night… Jacob, oh my, had been running crazy. We had to get to Bethlehem for the Census. His family is from this region. The four day journey on that donkey? Yes, of course, I grumbled and complained almost non-stop. I told him we couldn’t go to Bethlehem for the baby was due any day. He told me we had to do what the law required. And so, we went. Dear sweet Jacob. We looked all over town for a suitable place. And at each door we knocked, the pain only intensified. The contractions were closer and closer. The hour was later and later. Jacob was at his wit’s end. “Oih vey, it wasn’t supposed to be this way,” he said over and over mostly to no one in particular. And when he finally found me a place, it was really not a suitable place at all. Of course, I told him it would be fine, but inside my head I kept thinking, “No, no, no! This is not what we had planned.” The air was damp. There was a cow and her nursing calf less than ten feet away! The place smelled! All we had was a single candle, we could hardly see.
The agony of the labor. The challenges of the delivery. I had no mid-wife. Unless you consider Jacob. But he was venturing into places few husbands ever go. This was the hardest thing I have ever done! And yes, there was much pain, and much blood. And even though Jacob held my hand, I felt very much alone. But all of that changed in an instant. When that little child was born… it was all so worth it! It was amazing. You wouldn’t believe the little glint in his eyes or the turned up smiled of his pursed lips.
Oh dear Yahweh! I kept thinking, “How am I going to be able to be the mother to this child, Your son? He’s so perfect. And we are so not perfect. I mean, look at this place where he was born. Such an awful, smelly place! And we are so ordinary people. We are obviously not wealthy. Where was I to put him to rest? In the cow’s manger, the feed trough? Really?” I wrapped him in the only cloths we had and laid him down and he went fast asleep. Jacob said we are to give the boy the name Yeshua, “Yahweh saves.”
Some shepherds came to visit us. Who knows how they found us? I’m reminded of the prophet Micah who said that Messiah will come from Bethlehem and will shepherd his flock in the strength of Yahweh.
Even now, I wonder how Yahweh will use this sweet child? Will He be a mighty warrior like David?
This has been such an amazing experience! I continued to ponder and treasure every moment as I watched him rest that night in that unlikely crib. “Impossible,” I thought. But then I remembered the words of the angel nine months prior – the message of the manger: “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Have you ever seen an angel of the Lord? I have. In the midst of a season of complete disobedience by the people of Israel, an angel visited me and told me that God was with me.
With me? With my people? If that is so, then why has Jehovah let the Midianites completely ruin us?
The angel called me a “mighty soldier” and said that God would make me strong… Strong enough to defeat them?
“Right,” I sarcastically agreed. “Sir, I am Gideon,” I told him. “I am from the lowest family of the lowest tribe of all of Israel’s sons. And, quite frankly, I am considered the lowest son of the family. How will I defeat the hordes of Midian?”
It was then that I realized that I was not merely talking with an angel of the Lord, but rather, I was speaking with Jehovah directly. He assured me that He would be with me and it would be His strength that would bring about this conquest. How did I know it was God? His presence consumed my offering right before my eyes.
God then gave me my first assignment. I believe He was testing me. He told me to destroy my father’s false idols to Baal and Asherah. I was nervous, to say the least, but I did as the Lord commanded. When the villagers wanted my head the next day, I was surprised that my father came to my rescue, defending my actions. That gave me hope that if I could bring about change in my own family, maybe God was indeed with me.
And yet, I wondered… when I saw the armies of Midian and the neighboring nations gathering, I doubted, for their victory against us appeared to be guaranteed.
And yet, God had promised… so since He had tested me, I decided to test God. I laid a lamb’s fleece out on the threshing floor one night and asked God to allow it to be covered in dew, while the ground around it would remain dry. Sure enough it happened as I had asked. The next morning, I wrung out a whole bowl of water from the lambskin.
And while it was obvious that God had answered me, something in my head thought to test God again, just to be sure it wasn’t merely a coincidence. This time, I asked Him to make the fleece dry and the dust around it, wet. Again, the Lord had patience with me and did as I asked.
Surely, now I knew for certain that nothing was impossible with God.
The battle with the Lord’s army was on, and I was His newly appointed commander!
I put out the call and 32,000 troops of Israel reported for duty to defeat the Midian army. But God knew my heart. He knew that I would brag about my own strength if these men crushed our enemy. So He told me to send home any who were afraid. Two thirds of my men left me.
Again, God challenged my heart and He culled my troops down to a mere 300 fighting men.
God had a plan to ensure our success and His victory.
Later that night, I snuck into the enemy camp. I crawled passed a fire of still glowing embers and overheard one man describe a nightmare he had just had to another. The interpretation of this bad dream? I couldn’t believe my ears as the man’s tent mate said: “This can only mean one thing. Gideon is going to massacre us all!”
With renewed hope, I returned to my 300 men with a battle plan. We surrounded the thousands and thousands of Midianites. There were so many of them we couldn’t begin to count the camels, much less the foot soldiers!
It was just past midnight. I took 100 of our militia men to the outer edge of the Midian camp. There were another hundred of our soldiers on a second hill, and the final hundred on a third knoll overlooking the site. Oh, and the weapons we had with us for this battle? Trumpets and lamps. Yep, we looked more like worshippers than an army. Maybe that was God’s intent?
First, my unit blew our trumpets and broke our clay jars so the light would burst forth into the dark night. The other two units followed our lead and did the same. With trumpets blasting and lights brightly shining and coursing through the smoke of campfires we shouted “For the Lord and for Gideon!” The Midianites were thrown into complete confusion.
Panic ensued. And you wouldn’t believe what happened next. The men of Midian began killing their comrads of Amalek. And they slaughtered each other from one end of the camp to the other while we watched and cheered from the distance. It was pandemonium.
We didn’t do anything really. God did it all. A few hundred men defeated an army of thousands. He was surely with us.
In the days that followed, the generals and leaders and kings were chased down and killed one by one. The Midianites have never recovered. Our land is at peace.
And the men of Israel wanted me to be their king.
No, I could never be their king, nor would my son. The Lord, Jehovah, is our King!
This is the first-person story of Gideon from Judges 6, 7 and 8. It’s applicable as we approach 2014. Are you willing to let God use you in an extraordinary way? To use tools of worship, like trumpets and lights, to defeat the enemy?
Paul says in Romans 8:2 that “the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed us from the vicious circle of sin and death.”
That was the same circle of the children of Israel. They drew close to God, then they began to sin and worship other gods, then they would repent and draw close to God again. In Gideon’s story, it was only when Gideon first destroyed his father’s man-made gods of Baal and Asherah, that began the process at that time of God delivering His people from the Midianites.
And I believe that is what the Holy Spirit helps us do today… He comes along side of us to comfort us, to give us boldness to share the hope of the Gospel message and He helps us destroy the idols of the world that are in our life. And in doing so, it draws us back to Jesus. So let me ask you, what idols do you need help destroying as you enter a New Year?
Just like Gideon routing the thousands of Midianites with just a few soldiers, God will bring tremendous victory to you as well. A victory for you that will bring glory to Him!