beliefs

A Pitiful Man

The gospel of John is different than the other three gospels. It only has 8 miraculous signs while the others recount many. Each miracle in John is a sign illustrating the Lord’s ministry—why God became human (John 20:30-31). Each one is part of a larger story and context.

As with many stories of Jesus’ interaction with people, some deeper insight is needed to understand all that takes place. The Mosaic Law and religious cultural restrictions are a major part of this story, along with Israel’s history. It revolves around a sick man laying beside the pool of Bethesda who encounters Jesus.

This man was part of a crowd gathered around the pool to receive healing. These people believed the first person to enter the pool when an angel came from heaven and stirred up the waters would be healed. Their hope was in a legend.

Jesus saw this man who’d been sick for 38 years and approached him with a simple question—Would you like to get well? But the man doesn’t answer Jesus directly. Instead, he gives Jesus an excuse for why he can’t be healed. His response is the first indicator of how pitiful this man is, which becomes more clear as you read the whole story.

Scripture

Later, Jesus went to Jerusalem for a Jewish festival. Near Sheep Gate in Jerusalem was a pool called Bethesda in Hebrew. It had five porches. Under these porches a large number of sick people—people who were blind, lame, or paralyzed—used to lie. 

One man, who had been sick for 38 years, was lying there. [vss 1-5]

Jesus saw the man lying there and knew that he had been sick for a long time. So Jesus asked the man, “Would you like to get well?”

The sick man answered Jesus, “Sir, I don’t have anyone to put me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I’m trying to get there, someone else steps into the pool ahead of me.”

Jesus told the man, “Get up, pick up your cot, and walk.” The man immediately became well, picked up his cot, and walked. That happened on a day of worship. [vss 6-9]

So the Jews told the man who had been healed, “This is a day of worship. You’re not allowed to carry your cot today.” The man replied, “The man who made me well told me to pick up my cot and walk.”

The Jews asked him, “Who is the man who told you to pick it up and walk?” But the man who had been healed didn’t know who Jesus was. (Jesus had withdrawn from the crowd.)

Later, Jesus met the man in the temple courtyard and told him, “You’re well now. Stop sinning so that something worse doesn’t happen to you.”

The man went back to the Jews and told them that Jesus was the man who had made him well. [vss 10-15]

(John 5:1-15 GW)

Key phrase—

“Would you like to get well?”

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What stands out to you about the beginning of this story?

  • Who is gathered at this pool? Who does Jesus approach and what does he ask this man?

  • How does the man respond to Jesus’ question and why do you think he says this?

  • What does Jesus say to the man and how does He say it? What takes place immediately?

Reflection...

Over the years, Jewish rabbis reinterpreted the fourth of the ten primary commandments of the Mosaic Law, as they did many other laws. Successive interpretations added restrictions to what a person could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. These added laws distorted God’s original purpose for the Sabbath.

When Jesus spoke healing to this pitiful man, it came in the form of a command to do three things—get up, pick up his mat, and walk. Not long after his healing, the pitiful man is rebuked for carrying his mat as Jesus directed him to do.

Imagine you’re this man—what would you do? Whose command would you follow? Here we see the pitiful state of this man and his weakness. His response and actions illustrate the weakness and futility of following religious laws.

Religion itself has no power to transform a person compared to God and His power. It comes down to where a person puts their trust. Do we trust in our own efforts to transform ourself through religion? Or…do we trust in God Himself and His transforming power?

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Do you understand all the dilemmas this man faced?

  • Can you see how and why this man is so pitiful?

  • Have you found yourself in paradoxical situations where you don’t know what to do?

  • Do you get caught up with what others expect of you? Do you struggle with trusting God with the dilemmas of your life?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Our confidence needs to be in God rather than our own efforts or religious regulations. The Lord calls us into a personal relationship of trust rather than following a rigid set of rules. God intended the Sabbath to be a restful blessing not a restricted religious day.

Prayer Focus— As you consider present or previous dilemmas you’ve faced, ask God to give you insight and direction for how to move beyond these struggles by trusting in Him. Be honest and specific in your prayer and spend time listening and waiting for His guidance.

©2019—Word-Strong

Something Special

How does something become valuable? What makes one thing worth more than another? Some things have value and worth only for a short time, while other things seem more special and their value and worth endures.

Perhaps things like precious metals and stones come to mind. Tangible things like assets and property are also seen as valuable items. The more special or rare they are, the more their worth increase.

Value and worth can also be attributed to intangible and intrinsic things like beauty or talent. But such things fade with time or their value changes with variations in culture and trends.

Internal qualities, such as character, integrity, spirituality, and wisdom, are more timeless in their value and worth, as is faith. Genuine, godly faith has eternal value and worth. It's also rarer than you might suspect, which makes it special.

Scripture

Faith caused the people to go through the Red Sea as if it were dry land. The Egyptians also tried this, but they drowned. Faith caused the walls of Jericho to fall after the Israelites marched around them for seven days. Faith led the prostitute Rahab to welcome the spies as friends. She was not killed with those who refused to obey God. [vss 29-31]

What more should I say? I don’t have enough time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. Through faith they conquered kingdoms, did what God approved, and received what God had promised. They shut the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, and escaped death. They found strength when they were weak. They were powerful in battle and defeated other armies. [vss 32-34]

Women received their loved ones back from the dead. Other believers were brutally tortured but refused to be released so that they might gain eternal life. Some were made fun of and whipped, and some were chained and put in prison. Some were stoned to death, sawed in half, and killed with swords. Some wore the skins of sheep and goats. Some were poor, abused, and mistreated. The world didn’t deserve these good people. Some wandered around in deserts and mountains and lived in caves and holes in the ground. [vss 35-38]

All these people were known for their faith, but none of them received what God had promised. God planned to give us something very special so that we would gain eternal life with them. [vss 39-40]

(Hebrews 11:29-40 GW) [Context– Hebrews 11]

Key phrase—

God planned to give us something very special

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • Who are mentioned as people of faith? How are they commended for their faith?

  • What are the many things spoken of that were done in faith?

  • What stands out to you regarding what they endured and the nature of their faith?

  • How can these people be known for their faith yet never receive what was promised?

Reflection...

This record of faith, people who trusted in the living God of Israel, reveals the nature of true faith. It is far more than a belief system or ideology these people held in common. This kind of faith is personal and based in a relationship of trust with God. It's a faith of substance and depth intrinsic to their lives.

Today, thousands of people live by this same faith in God but are persecuted because of their faith. They endure oppression and even die for their faith. What motivates them? Why do they remain so faithful?

As it says in another version of this text, "the world was not worthy of them" (Heb 11:38 NIV). Yes, we need to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith, but we need to emulate their faith. We need to have this same faith. But how?

What was the "something very special" God planned for all who have this genuine, enduring faith? Not just the hope of eternal life but the very presence of God living in us through the Holy Spirit.

The presence of God's Spirit living in them is the distinct difference between the Old and New Covenant. When we have a personal trust relationship with God through His Son Jesus, He promises to be present in us—in our innermost being. That is special!

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Why didn't the world "deserve these good people"? What made them "good"?

  • How is the faith of the people in this Scripture text different than a set of beliefs or ideology?
  • What is the "something very special" that God gives true followers of His Son Jesus?

  • Is your life of faith governed by the Old Covenant Law or have you received this "something special" in a New Covenant relationship with God?

©2017—Word-Strong


Here's a free introduction for the book of Hebrews— Intro to studying Hebrews

Far Sighted

When faith is reduced to an abstract concept, a spiritual dynamic, or positive thinking, it becomes blind. Approaching faith in these ways strips it down to an impersonal and human-based belief-ism.

True faith in God must be personal. It is based in relationship with God not beliefs about Him. Are theological beliefs important? Of course! But they are what we believe about God.

Faith is a personal trust in God Himself. Who He is and what He's promised in response to our trust in Him (Heb 11:6).

This is the faith Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph had that enabled them to see beyond their own lives. It was a faith focused on God whom they trusted with confidence. Their trust in God opened their eyes to see what other did not see.

Scripture

When God tested Abraham, faith led him to offer his son Isaac. Abraham, the one who received the promises from God, was willing to offer his only son as a sacrifice. God had said to him, “Through Isaac your descendants will carry on your name.”

Abraham believed that God could bring Isaac back from the dead. Abraham did receive Isaac back from the dead in a figurative sense. [vss 17-19]

Faith led Isaac to bless Jacob and Esau. While Jacob was dying, faith led him to bless each of Joseph’s sons. He leaned on the top of his staff and worshiped God.

While Joseph was dying, faith led him to speak about the Israelites leaving Egypt and give them instructions about burying his bones. [vss 20-22]

(Hebrews 11:17-23 GW) [Context– Hebrews 11]

Key phrase—

While Joseph was dying, faith led him to speak about the Israelites leaving Egypt

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What are we told faith led Abraham to do? How could faith lead him to do this?

  • Why was Abraham willing to sacrifice his son after waiting 25 years for Isaac to be born?

  • Who blesses whom and what do each of these blessings have in common?

  • What did Joseph tell the Israelites to do and why? Why was this important to Joseph?

Reflection...

Many people can't get beyond wondering why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his son. They imagine God as barbaric. Why? Because they can't think beyond their own feelings and reason. I spoke about this in another post— A Father's Sacrifice.

Faith is a matter of trust not reason. When we can't see beyond our own feelings and logic we can't trust. This makes us spiritually blind.

The nature of faith enables us to see beyond what is obvious and observable by others. It is not blind but sees God and trusts in Him. So, is it risky to trust in God? It depends on how you view God and His nature.

God's legacy is seen in those who trust in Him with their lives. Those who trust in Him without reserve like Abraham are the true offspring of God.  Each person has a legacy not of themselves but of those who are their offspring—both natural born and spiritually born.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How is the testing of Abraham's faith relatable to the original hearers (readers) of the book of Hebrews and us now?

  • How are the blessings Isaac and Jacob spoke related to the promise of God to Abraham?

  • What is your legacy of faith? How has and does your faith influence and impact others?

  • In what ways do you trust God beyond your fears, doubts, and human reasoning?

©2017—Word-Strong


Here's a free introduction for the book of Hebrews— Intro to studying Hebrews

A Personal Issue

Faith is not a concept or an abstract belief nor is it a spiritual dynamic. It's a personal issue—a personal trust.

Most every religion holds to a set of beliefs that define it as a religious faith. But even then, holding to a set of religious beliefs requires a personal trust.

The Christian faith is based on a personal trust in a personal living God. This reaches back before the appearance of Jesus Christ—God's only Son—when God became human and lived on the earth (John 1:1, 14).

The essence of faith as a personal trust in God goes back to the first humans on earth and is seen in their descendants up to and beyond the time of Christ. Faith is and always will be a personal issue. 

Scripture

 Faith assures us of things we expect and convinces us of the existence of things we cannot see. God accepted our ancestors because of their faith.

Faith convinces us that God created the world through his word. This means what can be seen was made by something that could not be seen. [vss 1-3]

Faith led Abel to offer God a better sacrifice than Cain’s sacrifice. Through his faith Abel received God’s approval, since God accepted his sacrifices. Through his faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

Faith enabled Enoch to be taken instead of dying. No one could find him, because God had taken him. Scripture states that before Enoch was taken, God was pleased with him.

No one can please God without faith. Whoever goes to God must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him. [vss 4-6]

(Hebrews 11:1-6 GW) [Context– Hebrews 11]

Key phrase—

Whoever goes to God must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • How is faith explained or defined at the beginning of this Scripture text?

  • How is faith connected to creation and the way the world came into existence? [Gen 1:1-3]

  • Who are two people God was pleased with because of their faith and why?

  • What is needed to please God? What two things are required to please God in this way?

Reflection...

Faith is a two-way relationship. True faith enables a person to see what others can't see who don't have faith.

This is not blind faith. It is a relationship of mutual trust. We trust God and He trusts us with His acceptance and approval.

Do you want to please God? Trust Him! Trust Him with all your heart and with all your life each day of your life.

Pleasing God isn't about living a good or nearly perfect life. That only leads to self-righteousness and eventual failure and disappointment.

God is honored and pleased by our trust in Him above all else and our confidence that He will reward our trust in Him.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Do you struggle with efforts to be good or good enough to be accepted by God?

  • Have you learned the difference between trust and belief?

  • Why do you trust God or do you trust Him? Do you believe He honors your trust in Him?

  • How are you currently learning to trust God in a deeper way?

©2017—Word-Strong


Here's a free introduction for the book of Hebrews— Intro to studying Hebrews

Set Apart for God

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Religion, by definition, is a set of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods. The Latin root of this word carries the idea of constraint and practice, even to restrain or tie back.

Many religions are noted by their adherence to traditions, rituals, and rules along with other implied expectations. A religious person practices these things with the hopes of becoming more spiritual and acceptable by whoever or whatever is worshiped.

Sacred is a common term related to religion. It describes a sense of holiness or devotion. Something that is sacred is devoted or set apart for service or worship. It can also refer to people who are set apart for service or worship.

In Christianity, this is expressed as being holy or sanctified. When applied to a person, the process of becoming holy is called sanctification. All of this religious stuff sounds pretty exhausting and intimidating, doesn't it?

Here's some good news. Jesus has set His followers free from all this effort, once for all! Not so we can do as they please but to free us to live a life that pleases Him.

Scripture

We have been set apart as holy because Jesus Christ did what God wanted him to do by sacrificing his body once and for all.

Every day each priest performed his religious duty. He offered the same type of sacrifice again and again. Yet, these sacrifices could never take away sins. [vss 10-11]

However, this chief priest made one sacrifice for sins, and this sacrifice lasts forever. Then he received the highest position in heaven. Since that time, he has been waiting for his enemies to be made his footstool. 

With one sacrifice he accomplished the work of setting them apart for God forever. [vss 12-14]

(Hebrews 10:10-14 GW) [Context– Hebrews 10]

Key phrase—

With one sacrifice he accomplished the work of setting them apart for God forever

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What made it possible for believers to be "set apart as holy"?

  • What did the priests under the Law do over and over yet not able to accomplish?

  • How is what Jesus did as a chief priest contrasted with the other priests?

  • What do you see is the major emphasis of these few verses? [hint– it's repeated three times]

Reflection...

Why keep repeating the same thing over and over if it isn't effective and has little lasting value? This is the nature of religion.

No religion, no effort at goodness, no philosophy or system of discipline can make a person better or more righteous than what Jesus did once for all.

Why try to improve on perfection? Our own efforts at goodness are futile. Why not choose what is perfect and guaranteed for eternity?

Christian believers—followers of Jesus—are set apart as holy by the work of Jesus on the cross and through the power of His resurrection living in us. It's the Holy Spirit's transforming work in our hearts and minds that makes us holy.

True righteousness and sanctification are not the result of good behavior and good intentions but is based on a genuine, personal relationship of trust.

Exchanging our effort for Jesus' perfect work is wise. What will you choose today?

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How would you describe the idea of being holy or set apart (IYOW)?

  • Why do you think we all seem to default to some type of religious effort?

  • Have you experienced the conflict between effort and trust in your own life?

  • How are you currently learning to trust Jesus and His perfect work in your daily life?

©2017—Word-Strong


Here's a free introduction for the book of Hebrews— Intro to studying Hebrews