WALKING IN FAITH
On the heels of an incredible miracle of healing for Aeneas, the eight-year bedridden paralytic, the apostle Peter is seen again following in the footsteps of his teacher and acting much like an Old Testament prophet. A key to understanding these miracles is their purpose in turning people to the Lord and beginning to walk in faith. Physical healing stands penultimate to the spiritual healing of eternal salvation. How would Peter approach the situation when he is called upon to pray for one who is dead?
I. An Unusual Woman
On the surface a casual observer may think that Dorcas was simply a woman in this story who serves only the purpose of being the object of a miracle accomplished through Peter. She was more than just a handy corpse, however. Verse 36 describes her as a disciple (this is the only occurrence in the New Testament of the feminine form of the term for disciple). To be described in the story with passing reference is notable enough, but she is classified as a disciple—that is, a follower in the Christian faith. Her ministry is described as doing good and helping the poor. She was not a follower who continually received ministry; she was a disciple who practiced ministry.
Her ministry was marked apparently among the widows of the area. They loved her dearly because of her many acts of kindness. She apparently made them robes and various articles of clothing since they were poor. Her ministry was one that was desperately needed by these widows. When she became ill and died, the women as well as all the believers were at a loss.
II. The Faith of Friends
An interesting point to this story is that after it was clear that Dorcas had died, her friends still urgently called Peter to come. They believed that Peter could have reversed the death process. Certainly this was part of the description of those who would follow in Christ's ministry, but it would also be a possibility for a prophet to accomplish such a miracle.
In her helpless state, Dorcas's resurrection depended on the faith and action of her friends. Here is the power of the Church as a corporate body. There can very well be times in which we find ourselves in a helpless state, and the body of Christ functions to edify or build up those who are helpless and lifeless. There will come times for most believers when they will need to lean heavily upon the faith of brothers and sisters to bring them through.
III. The Faithful Disciple
Peter appears to be touched by the grief of the mourners and takes the initiative to do something about it. How simple it would have been to just attempt to comfort them and help them accept the new reality of the loss of their friend. Peter swallows hard though to move toward the miraculous. No doubt, he has some direction from God for what miracle should occur and obeys the Lord's command.
The greater miracle may not be the resurrection. God had certainly proved this act is as simple as speaking the words "Come forth." No, the real miracle would be the movement of faith in Peter's heart. Is this not the man who denied Christ three times? Is this not the man who returned to his fishing trade when it appeared Jesus was dead? Now look at him praying to resurrect a dead saint!
The change in Peter's disposition and faith to bring the intervention of God to hurting people—rather than taking the easier way out—is clearly a miracle that is within reach for us. Our miracle is to respond to God's call and direction faithfully; to open the doors that untie the hands of an omnipotent God. (Joseph Byrd )
A CACOPHONY OF PRAISE
Whose side is God on anyway? During America's Civil War, pulpits in both the North and South evoked the name of God. All prayed asking for victory, assured that their side was right and just and the other side was wrong.
Our world today is rife with division and strife. We see ethnic cleansing, culture wars, and religious battles being waged in the name of that which is good and right. We have failed to understand the unique gift of diversity and the glorious truth that one day humankind will be united in praise and worship of God through His Son and the Savior of all, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I. An Incalculable Number
The first eight verses of Revelation 7 refer to the 144,000 of Israel who will be saved. The symbolic richness of the Apocalypse is evident. The number 1,000 is one of the highest in the Hebrew language and symbolizes a great or large number. There were 12 tribes in Israel, multiplied by 1,000 one gets 12,000 per tribe. This multiplied by 12 equals 144,000. The church is built upon the foundation of a complete number of the children of God. We are told in these verses (9-17) that the scene before the throne of God includes a "great multitude that no one could count."
In other words, we do not need to speculate on who or how many will get into heaven. We may well all be surprised at the great throng of humanity united before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus referred to having other sheep and prayed for "all who would believe" through the word of the disciples. The great multitude before the throne represents every nation, people, and language. Truly in Christ there is no east or west. Serbian, Bosnian, Protestant, Catholic, black and white and every color of the human rainbow are united. Many languages and dialects with one voice praise God.
I was in Moscow, Russia worshiping in the great Central Baptist Church. We sang the great Lutheran hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." The cacophony of voices, mostly in Russian with a few of us singing in English, was more impressive when one realized that this was heard as a unified word of praise by our great and powerful God.
II. A Renewed People
The multitude before the throne of God are arrayed in white robes symbolizing their spiritual purity because of the sacrifice of Christ in their behalf and their faithfulness in response to Christ. In a day of fallen heroes it is good to be reminded that God is purchasing a people for himself. These will remain faithful to the end and thus they stand in testimony to the faithfulness of God. Their enduring through tribulation is a poignant reminder that the child of God is not immune to difficulty. Their word of praise is "salvation belongs to our God."
As the great British missionary William Carey was dying, one of his close friends, Alexander Duff, talked to him at length about Carey's active life of service to the Lord. After prayer Carey said, "Duff, you have been speaking about William Carey. When I am gone say nothing about me—speak only about my Savior."
III. Ultimate Victory
Have you ever watched the rebroadcast of a favorite team winning a game over an arch rival? It is so much more relaxing to watch a game when you already know that your team has won. Injuries, penalties, and the ebb and flow of the game are not a threat when you know ahead of time the final score.
The throng before the throne provide us a glimpse of the ultimate victory of people of God. Notice all of their needs are met as the Lord fulfills His function as their shepherd. Also note that none of the hymns of praise in Revelation are solos. We are assured ultimate victory as the people of God.
In a day of radical individualism we need to reclaim the corporate dimensions of our faith and be a faithful part of the flock and not simply one in a herd. Jesus promises a special sense of his presence where even two or three are gathered in his name. This should encourage us to corporate participation in the worship of God. As Augustine said, "Apart from the Church there is no salvation." (L. Joseph Rosas, III)
ARE YOU LISTENING?
It was a cold, wintry day in late Chislev (December) and the Jews were celebrating the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). On the east side of the Temple, in Solomon's Colonnade, Jesus walked. The colonnade protected him from the cold east wind but not from the cold stares of the people who were with him. The people were there for a reason. They wanted to know and they were clamoring for an answer. They pushed in all around him and they were in his face. "Are you the Messiah? If so, tell us plainly!"
Jesus looked them straight in the eyes and said quietly, "I did tell you but you didn't believe me."
"When did he tell us," someone murmured, "I never heard him actually say that he was the Messiah!" Soon others echoed the same words and the murmuring grew louder.
Jesus replied to the crowd in answer to the murmuring, "The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I protect them and give them eternal life. And my Father, the greatest power of all, also protects them and keeps them safe. The Father and I are one in this purpose."
"Sheep? Listen to your voice? Who do you think we are that we would follow you as if you were some great shepherd. We are not sheep but men!" one of them shouted angrily. And they picked up stones to stone him. . . .
One wonders, weren't they listening?
* * * * * * * * * *
It was a beautiful day in the middle of spring. The sky was blue, the trees were green, and the sun was a warm yellow. Two friends were enjoying the outdoors by sitting at a picnic table in the park eating lunch. "Do you really believe that stuff about Jesus?" one friend asks. "I mean, do you really think that he is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord, Savior, and all those other names I've heard him called?"
"Yes," came the simple reply.
But Susan pressed on. "But why? Why Jesus and not someone else? I'm not even sure I believe in God, much less Jesus."
Adam thought for a moment and then answered, "Because of the things he taught, the miracles he did and still does, because he died for all of us, and because he was raised from the dead. No one else has ever done those things before, or since."
"I don't know, Adam. It seems to me that Jesus was a good man, a great man for that matter. But the Son of God? I don't think so. It's just too weird."
As Adam started to say something Susan picked up a chicken leg and made a gesture with her hand that clearly indicated that the subject needed to be changed. . . .
One wonders, will Susan ever listen?
* * * * * * * * * *
It was a rainy Sunday morning in early fall. The worship service had just ended and people were standing around in small groups talking among themselves or gathering their family members together so that they could go eat lunch. No one took notice of the stranger standing in the back corner of the sanctuary. But if they had noticed they would have been struck by the impression that he was listening to the many conversations going on, all at the same time.
One angry-looking man said vehemently, "I don't care if it's okay to do it, it's different and I don't like it. We've never done it that way before and I, for one, won't stand for the change. If they insist on changing the worship format I am going to raise hell!" Another man in the group added, "Those young people, all they want to do is turn worship into a feel-good experience. They have no respect for worship as reverence and awe."
At the same time, a young man in another group was saying, "Why can't they see that we are dying spiritually and that our worship services need to be more exciting? They are just so stuck in the past that they won't change. Well, if they won't change then I'll just go somewhere else. I don't have to put up with their sanctimonious and overbearing attitudes!"
It occurred to the stranger in the corner that the meaning of the teaching, "love one another," had been lost to those people.
In another part of the sanctuary a businesswoman was scheming in her head about how to close on a deal with a customer who really didn't need what she was offering. In fact, she was pretty sure that the customer was thinking he was getting something that would, in reality, not live up to his expectations. "But that is not your concern," she consoled herself. She needed the commission this sale would bring. So what if the customer was mistaken about the full potential of her product. Was it her fault that the customer hadn't done his homework properly? As she left she shook the preacher's hand and said, "Good sermon this morning, John." A smile was forming on her face, not because of anything the preacher had said, but because she had just decided on the sales strategy she was going to use. It was going to work and she knew it. "That commission has my name on it," she told herself, as she drove away.
The stranger just shook his head and thought, "Is that what it means to do to others what you would have them do to you?" And he knew that while she faithfully attended church, she had, at least for the time being, chosen to follow the voice of another master.
Finally, the stranger lifted a scarred hand to wipe a tear and said out loud, to no one in particular, "Are they really listening to my voice? I sometimes wonder."
Are you listening? (Michael M. Jones)