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April 2019

Why Did Jesus Compare Us to Sheep?

Let’s put it into context:

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”  John 10: 14-16

My sheep know my voice.

Jesus referred to us as sheep more times than this. In fact, the entire first half of chapter John 10 is full of references to Jesus as the shepherd and believers as sheep.

I don’t know about you, but it is easy for me to take offense to being referred to as a sheep. They are smelly and needy. Let’s face it; they are not too bright.

But then, the more I think of it, I can start to see the resemblance as I read the parable of the lost sheep.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15: 3-7

What did the sheep do wrong? It was just operating within its natural tendencies. It was looking for greener grass with its eyes cast downward. It had taken its eyes off the shepherd and focused on the pleasures the world had to offer. Does that make the sheep evil? No, it needs grass, but it allowed its need for grass to become its highest priority. It then lost sight of the shepherd and became lost.

I can relate to the shepherd’s perspective. I have a few Longhorn cows. I pay for the pasture, the hay and grain they eat. The cows have little understanding of this. If I walk out into the pasture, they will come up and sniff my hand. If it is empty, they will walk away. If I have a pocket full of alfalfa cubes, they will eat until the blessing is gone. We pray for God’s will to get us out of a problem, then when the problem is gone, we too walk away in search of grass.

I am also reminded of Nathan’s parable to King David.

There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.  2 Samuel 12: 1-3

Isn’t that a wonderful picture of love? The little sheep ate and drank with the master. She slept in his arms. It isn’t in the sheep’s nature to live that way. The master chose the relationship before the sheep did.

I realized I needed Jesus as I was outside of a bar on my hands and knees in mud vomiting blood. I knew that if I kept living the life I had chosen, I was going to destroy myself. Years of self-indulgence was taking its toll. I had to lift my eyes up from what the world was offering me and look for the shepherd, who was already pursuing me.

Just as the man in the parable had purchased the sheep that he would treat as his own child, Jesus had bought me at the price of his own blood.

Although I was a dirty, smelly lost, little black sheep, Jesus had reserved a spot at the marriage table for me.

Baa.

 

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Why Did the Early Church Think Peter was an Angel?

Let’s put it into context:

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.  Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”

When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.  Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”

 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Acts 12: 5-7, 11-16

I love this passage of scripture because it raises so many questions in my mind, but we will only address a few.

While Peter was in prison, the early church was praying for him. How were they praying? Scripture says they were praying earnestly.

The beautiful aspect of this passage is that God answered their prayers in “real time.” It could very well be that while they were praying the words for Peter’s release, God was taking immediate action.

When Peter showed up at the door, Rhoda, a servant girl answered. She never opened the door. All it took to know that it was Peter, was hearing his voice. She got so excited, she left him standing outside.

Rhoda ran to the others claiming that Peter had arrived. Granted, they couldn’t see him, but what was their response? “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. A little harsh.

When Rhoda persisted, they said, “It must be his angel.” They thought he had died.

This brings up two questions:

  1. Why did they think Peter’s angel was at the door? How common was it for dead people to just show up after they died?
  2. If they were just earnestly praying for Peter, why could they not believe he was there?

I think we’ve found the root of the problem, and I don’t think it is limited to the early church. I know there are many times that I earnestly pray for God to intercede with a problem, but I find myself planning how I am going to handle it before I can even get up off my knees.

Those early church goers had just found out that James, who had been arrested with Peter, had been put to death. They probably assumed Peter was next and there was no way he was getting out of there alive, no matter how earnestly they prayed for his release.

So, what does it look like to pray with earnest faith?

I once knew of a two-year-old little girl, who was camping in a tent with her mother. The toddler had recently come to the realization that other children had both a mommy and daddy, but she did not. As the mother and child were settling down for the night, the girl told her mommy that she wanted a daddy. The mother sadly explained that although she was sorry, there was nothing she could do about her request. She told the youngster that she would have to pray and ask God. The child wanted to pray immediately and ask. So, they did. As soon as the prayer was over, the little girl headed for the tent flap and started unzipping it. “What are you doing?” asked the mother. The toddler peered outside the tent and explained, “I’m looking for my daddy!”

If the early church members had the faith of that little girl, Peter would have found them waiting at the door.

As for the little girl, her daddy did come. He came a year later. He adopted her and she has had a mommy and daddy that love her ever since.

I pray that we all would have faith like that little girl. Believing without seeing. Praying with expectation.

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How Could the Centurion Amaze Jesus?

Let’s put it into context:

When Jesus arrived in Capernaum, a Roman army captain came and pled with him to come to his home and heal his servant boy who was in bed paralyzed and racked with pain.
“Yes,” Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”
Then the officer said, “Sir, I am not worthy to have you in my home; and it isn’t necessary for you to come. If you will only stand here and say, ‘Be healed,’ my servant will get well! I know, because I am under the authority of my superior officers and I have authority over my soldiers, and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave boy, ‘Do this or that,’ and he does it. And I know you have authority to tell his sickness to go—and it will go!”
Jesus stood there amazed! Turning to the crowd he said, “I haven’t seen faith like this in all the land of Israel! ~ Matthew 8: 5-10 (TLB)

This question is not a James Lotz original. I heard it in a church service one Sunday morning years ago. The preacher had read the text, and a voice came from the back row. “If Jesus is God, how could He be amazed? It’s kind of like being surprised.”

My first thought was, “That was kind of rude to interrupt the preacher’s sermon.” My second thought was, “But he’s got a good point.”

I don’t remember the preacher’s answer or if he even gave one, but that question has stuck with me.

I once heard it said, “You can’t disappoint God because He already knows what you are going to do.” Granted, He may know everything we are going to do, but I imagine on Judgment Day, when He has to turn people away, He will experience disappointment . . . and heartache, no matter how far ahead He saw it coming.

If Jesus is fully God, wouldn’t He have known what the Centurion was going to say? Jesus knew exactly how and when He was going to die. I believe He knew what he was going to say, because he even knows the source of our words.

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. ~ Matthew 16: 15-17

And a few verses later . . .

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” ~ Matthew 16: 21-23

So, what was the source of the Centurion’s profession of faith? Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Now, Jesus knew what the Centurion was going to say and where the words came from. With all the miracles He performed and other unbelievable acts, why would this one statement amaze Him?

Being a parent, God uses my children to reveal things to me quite often. Watching them take their first steps is always an exciting adventure. I watch them crawl around putting everything they can find on the floor in their mouths. Then they pull themselves up to a standing position and steady themselves against a couch or chair. They shuffle around the room from one piece of furniture to the next. But one day, they let go and take those first steps. Now, I know they have the ability and I expect them to eventually do it, but that first step . . . to see it actually happen . . . is truly amazing.

I believe Jesus knew what the Centurion was going to do. But just like a proud parent, watching that first Gentile child take that first step and walk out a faith he wasn’t even supposed to have . . . in the eyes of Jesus . . . was truly amazing.

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