When Life Puts You in a Press – Mark 14:32–42

This is more or less a transcript from a Facebook Live video that I provided to my church yesterday morning. I hope you find it to be an encouragement during trying times. Bold formatting indicates main points and Scriptural quotations from the ESV.

Imagine being pressed from all sides in life, find yourself in a somewhat isolated location, have only a few people with you, and even they do not quite give the encouragement that you wish.

That’s Jesus in Gethsemane. I’m going to be speaking from Mark 14:32–42.

Mark 14:32–42 (ESV)

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Gethsemane (14:32) means “olive press” in Hebrew and was a garden just past the brook Kidron where Jesus often met with his disciples and thus known to Judas (Luke 22:39, “And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives”; John 18:1–2, “…there was a garden… Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples”).

In the New Bible Dictionary, the entry for “Olive” states, “The oil was usually extracted from the berries by placing them in a shallow rock cistern and crushing them with a large upright millstone. Occasionally the berries were pounded by the feet of the harvesters (Dt. 33:24; Mi. 6:15), but this was a rather inefficient procedure. After being allowed to stand for a time the oil separated itself from foreign matter, and was then stored in jars or rock cisterns.”

Jesus was “in the press,” so to speak—this was the night before His death, and His disciples would desert Him. In Mark 14:27, referring to their response to His looming arrest, He told the twelve “You will all fall away.” Besides this, He who knew no sin would become sin for us and be separated from His Father for a time on the cross.

What might you be facing today? Has the temporary halt in our economy hit your wallet yet? Are you about to snap because of the time you’ve been sheltered in your place? Do you have other concerns that are weighing you down on top of this? Are you a single parent trying to figure out when to see your child? Are you elderly and wanting to see your grandchildren but have to wait until April 7?

Imagine this: I have a sister-in-law who is a nurse with 4 young children, and she may have to work on a floor helping those with COVID-19. If nothing else, just walking into the hospital is going to increase the risk for her (and thus her children) receiving the virus. Added to this, her husband in the army was just deployed to help our country with the situation as well.

Whatever our concerns may be, Mark 14:32–42 is an excellent passage for us today for multiple reasons:

  • We can learn from the example of Jesus how He persevered through a time of suffering.
  • In keeping with greater point of Mark, we can be encouraged as believers to remember what it was for our Savior to suffer for us.
  • For anyone who is not a Christian, this video will give you an explanation for how you can know Christ, find eternal life in Him, and know that you will one day see His face and be with Him and the Father in heaven forever.

Getting to our passage, Mark 14:32–42 records a series of “threes”: (1) Jesus tells the three (Peter, James, and John) to pray and watch with Him three times (Mark 14:34, 37, 38); (2) the three sleep three times (Mark 14:37, 40, 41); and (3) Jesus prays three times (Mark 14:35–36, 39, 41).

Let’s walk through this cycle of “threes” one by one, and we will close with some applications for our lives at the end.

Jesus prays the first time (Mark 14:32–36).

As noted, Jesus is in Gethsemane (Mark 14:32) where He took with Him only Peter and James and John, sometimes referred to as “the inner three” of the twelve disciples. They were with Him at the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37), the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2), and, with Andrew, the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:3).

From Mark’s description of Jesus and his record of Jesus’ words, Jesus was very much “in the press.” Notice these descriptions:

  • He… began to be greatly distressed (Mark 14:33). Distressed (ekthambeō) is translated “amazed” in Mark 9:15 to describe the crowd’s reaction to Jesus. It is translated “alarmed” in Mark 16:5–6 to describe the women’s shock as they came to Jesus’ tomb and found an angel instead of Jesus. One lexicon defines ekthambeō in this way: “to be moved to a relatively intense emotional state because of someth. causing great surprise or perplexity, be very excited” (BDAG). In context, distressed is an appropriate translation—Jesus is intensely emotionally aroused over the thought of His coming betrayal, trial, torture, and crucifixion.
  • He… began to be… troubled (Mark 14:33). The word for troubled (adēmoneō) is used to describe how the Philippians were “distressed” that Epaphroditus was ill, almost to the point of death (Philippians 2:26–27). Comprehending His own death, Jesus was just as troubled and more.
  • My soul is very sorrowful (Mark 14:34). Sorrowful (perilupos) is a word used to describe how Herod was “exceedingly sorry” when forced to behead the imprisoned John the Baptist (Mark 6:26). The rich young ruler was “very sad” to contemplate giving up his love for riches in order to put his love and trust in Christ (Luke 18:23). As mentioned above, Jesus was sorrowful to think of what was coming His way.
  • He fell on the ground (Mark 14:35). Jesus’ posture matched His inner turmoil. He could only throw Himself down to pray.

And pray He did. Jesus prayed that the hour might pass from Him, the hour when the Father would pour out this cup of wrath against sin on Him on the cross (Mark 14:35–36). Hebrews 5:7 tells us that Jesus prayed “with loud cries and tears . . . and he was heard because of his reverence.” Nonetheless, Jesus submitted to what the Father would will, drinking from the cup as God desired, and would provide a means of salvation for you and me (Mark 14:36).

In commanding the three to remain here and watch, He was asking them to stay with Him and pray as well (Mark 14:34).

Jesus prays the second time (Mark 14:37–39).

Unfortunately, instead of heeding His command, the three were sleeping instead (Mark 14:37). Practically speaking, they had eaten a big meal in Mark 14:17–25. It was also late and when they usually slept. However, this was a special time for the willing spirit to watch and pray and thus not enter into temptation by succumbing to one’s weak flesh, that is, a tired body (Mark 14:38). This temptation for them was to fall away as Jesus prophesied earlier in Mark 14:26–31.

For a second time, Jesus prayed the same words (Mark 14:39).

Jesus prays the third time (Mark 14:40–42).

After praying, Jesus returned and again found them sleeping, with heavy eyes, unable to answer Him (Mark 14:40). That He came the third time back implies that Jesus went prayed a third time as before (Mark 14:41). At this point, the hour for Jesus as the Son of Man had come to be betrayed into the hands of sinners with the betrayer at hand (Mark 14:41–42). With this arrest, the most intense parts of the suffering of Jesus would begin.

Some Applications for Us Today

For Christians…

  • Just as Jesus did, take your trial to God in prayer. It may be that He takes it away, but we should be willing to go through the trial in order for Him to test and strengthen our faith.
  • From Jesus’ admonition to the disciples, remember that prayer is part of the means for you to persevere. They did not pray, and thus they fell away during Jesus’ hour of trial. Jesus prayed, God gave Jesus strength, and Jesus persevered.
  • Fight your flesh and persevere in prayer. It’s easy to be lazy. It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to do something else. But prayer is hard work, and we should be diligent to pray.
  • Your Father will never abandon you, even when others are inattentive at the least or flee from you at most. The disciples slept. The disciples ran away at Jesus’ arrest. But Jesus knew the Father would see Him though it all. Stay close to Him in prayer.

For everyone…

This intense time of prayer was just the beginning of what Jesus would suffer for us. He would be mocked, beaten, and eventually crucified on the cross—all within the next day. In doing so, Jesus as God and man died for the sins of you and me. And in doing so, He died sinlessly in perfect obedience to the will of His heavenly Father. Jesus did not deserve this death, so God raised Him from the grave and thereby vindicated that Jesus was true.

When we truly see our sin as God does—as something worthy of God’s wrath and eternal death—and when we see Christ as we must—as the One who paid the penalty for our sin and who provided the perfect obedience that we cannot—only then will God declare us forgiven, righteous, and holy in His sight. We must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and no one else for our salvation. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Salvation from eternal death is through no other Name, and no man will be in heaven with the Father apart from believing in His glorious Son.

When Jesus died, God miraculously ripped the 40-foot curtain of the Jerusalem temple from top to bottom, as if to say, “My Son has provided a new and living way for you to come to Me” (see Hebrews 10:19–22). A Roman centurion watched the curtain tear and exclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:38–39). We must truly believe and say the same!

Closing Thoughts

For those of us who have echoed the centurion’s words with saving faith in Christ, we know that, whatever this world may bring our way, Christ suffered for us, and in doing so, He left us an example for how to suffer as well. If you find yourself “in the press” today, trust in Christ, take your distress to the Father in prayer, and rejoice to know that your suffering will be over when you are one day with Him.

Should Christians Get Tattoos?

These are my notes from teaching some teens on this topic in my church. This is a debated issue, but I believe Scripture is sufficient to answer whether or not Christians should get tattoos. Here is what I believe Scripture says about the matter:

  1. At the very least, tattoos or any other modification of our anatomy should not be identified with paganism or worldliness (Leviticus 19:28; cf. Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1–2). Sometimes physical alterations were allowable but had a distinctly God-given purpose (Genesis 4:15; Exodus 21:1–6). Even shaving one’s hair was temporary, as would be the mourning with which it was associated (Job 1:20; Isaiah 22:12).
  2. Though speaking to women concerning clothing and hair, 1 Peter 3:3–4 and 1 Timothy 2:9–10 give a principle for all Christians—God is more concerned with our hearts and actions than our outward, physical appearance. Good works and words are what best adorn the temple of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:20). Bringing the eyes of others to look at something else is simply a distraction.
  3. The Bible speaks against worldliness (1 John 2:15–17). Historically, it is not Christians who have originated and advocated for tattoos. This is a worldly enterprise. Unbelievers typically get tattoos to show what means most to them. Why would we take a pagan practice and attempt to Christianize it (by, say, tattooing a verse to your arm), especially when the Bible commends what matters most to us (Christ, God, the Bible, etc.) to simply be visible as a way of life (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:11–12)?
  4. Referring again to 1 John 2:15–17, the body itself is passing away (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16). This makes much of our body, something to be bettered at our glorification. However eternal the message of a tattoo may be (even if it is a Bible verse, a cross, etc.), it will eventually be marred by fading or be disfigured by aging skin. Do we want to represent what is most important to us with faded ink on wrinkles?
  5. What do you your parents say? Do you even want to do something as an adult that would permanently disappoint your parents? What about a spouse? See Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Proverbs 1:8; Ephesians 6:1–3.
  6. Tattoos are not a wise use of money. It costs a bit to get tattoos and even more to remove them. The bigger and inkier the tattoo, the more expensive, time-consuming, and painful it will be to have it removed.
  7. Because of their permanent appearance, tattoos imply an absolute commitment to whatever the tattoo says or symbolizes. Your tattoo thus boasts of something. But the Bible commends us to boast in the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23–24). And, if there is anything worth nothing about ourselves, it should be from another person, unprompted by us (Proverbs 27:2). Our words and actions should be commitment enough to whatever the matter of commitment may be (James 5:12).
  8. The only physical symbol that the Bible commands of us is baptism. And even this is not something that permanently attaches itself to our physical bodies everywhere we go.
  9. At the very least, getting a tattoo brings attention to something debatable among Christians, permanently marking yourself as controversial in this regard. Not only does the tattoo boast of whatever its message may be, but the tattoo in and of itself boasts of a willingness to do what many Christians have chosen not to do, something the Bible discourages (cf. Romans 14:6b, 22).
  10. Some people have been taught and believe differently, being Christians who get tattoos. Some people have tattoos and then become Christians, later regretting their tattoos. Either way it happens, we should not judge someone by their immediate appearance but come to understand why they received their tattoos and evaluate their faith by their words and works as a whole (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).

A couple of blog posts on the matter helped me to collect my thoughts (click here and here), and then I added some of my own thoughts as well.

Ezra, an Excellent Example of Resolution for the New Year

“On the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia” (Ezra 7:9).1

When Ezra set out on this journey, he was resolved to see it through: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10 ESV). He had been tasked by God and even a pagan king to lead thousands of people to Jerusalem, deliver gifts from Babylon, and set the worship of the temple in order (see all of Ezra 7–8). In doing so, he had to be ready to teach after finishing what would be a four-month journey (cf. Ezra 7:9). From Ezra 7–8, here are a small handful of resolutions that all of us should make.

Be prepared, be in the Word, and do what the Word commands.

Ezra was “scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given” (Ezra 7:6). He was “learned in matters of the commandments of the Lord and his statutes for Israel” (Ezra 7:11). He was known as “Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven” (Ezra 7:12, 21). There is no way Ezra could have asked for what Israel needed for the nation’s temple worship if he had not studied it and known it in advance (cf. Ezra 7:6). Having studied the Law of the Lord (cf. Ezra 7:10), Ezra was prepared to ask for what was necessary, deliver it, and even lead thousands of people along the way. The more we ready ourselves for God’s service through being in the Word and in prayer, so also can we be used in a mighty way, whatever the task may be.

Teach the Word to others.

Ezra was uniquely born into the priesthood and commissioned to teach others to obey the Law. While not all of us might be skilled to teach in front of others, we are all responsible for the Great Commission to one degree or another, making disciples as we are able, teaching  them to observe the commandments of Christ (Matt 28:18–20). This may be indeed like Ezra, formally teaching the Word, or it may be by example or personal conversation, naturally as relationships are formed in the church (cf. Titus 2:1–8). In knowing and living the Word, we will be able to example and teach it to others.

Be courageous.

Ezra “took courage,” knowing the favorable “hand of the Lord God” was on him (Ezra 7:28; cf. 7:9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31). He asked bold questions (Ezra 7:6), led God’s people through difficulty (Ezra 8:21–23), and took full advantage of the faithfulness of God. Likewise, as we see God clearly laying good works before us in the year ahead, may we be courageous to do what God has given us to do.

What will your new year hold for you? How will you be in the Word? What will you do for God? As you are resolved to serve the Lord, be courageous to do His will!

  1. All quotes ESV. []

Special Times Without Special People: Hope for the Holidays When You Grieve for Those Who Have Passed Away

Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and other special days to remember—these days and their memories bring grief to those who have shared them with loved ones who have passed away, especially if their passing is around or on one of these days.

The grief is all the greater if the one now passed never knew the Lord. In such a situation, we know that, as biting as the grief may be, the Son of God came from heaven, suffered for our sins on the cross, and was raised so that we by faith in Him might be with Him forever. After His coming, God Himself “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 ESV). For those of us who know the Lord, there is at least the hope that our suffering will one day end.

When we grieve for believers who have gone to be with the Lord, we are encouraged that their absence “from the body” means that they are “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8 ESV). We are also encouraged that we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14 ESV). When Christ comes again, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 ESV). We are to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18 ESV).

Suffering will be no more. We will be reunited with the dead in Christ who are now more alive than they have ever been before. Right now, these believers are in the presence of Christ, anticipating with us when He will call us all to Himself, reuniting us to be with Him forever.

These are words of hope for any time when you grieve for those who have passed away, and especially during those special times that you once shared with these special people. If you have lost a spouse, parent, child, relative, or friend, may the Lord give you comfort today from these encouraging truths.

 

Why I Will Not Watch the Joker or Movies Like It (and Neither Should You)

Should you be tempted, there are several reasons not to see the newly-debuted Joker (or movies like this one). I’m sure that if I were to watch it, I could offer a hundred more. (And while some choose to be the filter for others by watching movies like this one and warning them of the content therein, I would suggest that Spirit in us as Christians is the better “filter,” leading us not to watch this kind of thing to begin with. Cf. Galatians 5:16–26.)

Here are at least three reasons not to watch the Joker:

First, Hollywood has no design for your edification as a Christian. This is said for even “better” movies that seem to have fewer objectionable scenes and themes for your mind’s consideration. To intentionally put one’s mind for 120 minutes towards a movie that entertains and climaxes on one sinful moment after another seems to be anything but obedience to passages such as Romans 12:1–2 and Philippians 4:8.

Second, it offers as entertainment the very violence it says that the film is supposed to condemn. One is supposed to abhor the violence that makes a man into being the villainous Joker. But then the movie is said to revel in his revenge through violence upon those trod him down. I read in the news that the lead actor left an interview because he was asked if the movie actually promoted the very violence that it says to condemn. He apparently didn’t know how to answer the question. Besides this actor’s naively playing such a role and apparently (at least initially) not being able to care less as to what impact his production has upon you as the viewer, the very fact that the question was asked betrays that the answer is, incidentally at best and intentionally at worst, yes. In the end, yes, you as the viewer will be tempted or told to glory in the Joker as he robs the Lord of vengeance and sinfully retaliates against his aggressors.

Third, there are better ways of redeeming the time before the coming of our Lord (cf. Ephesians 5:15–16). Do something intentionally Christian. Or enjoy the natural things of this world with a view to glorifying God in His creation. Read a good book. Spend some time with your family. Or at the least, for the few that are out there, maybe just choose a movie that has some wholesome qualities.

What I’ve said of the Joker above could be said for thousands of movies besides. Please know I write these things as one Christian to another and as a pastor who simply desires that we glory in what is truly worth our affection. Whether we eat or drink or watch a movie, we should do all to the glory of God, but only in a manner that is truly glorifying to Him.

Conquering Jealousy Through Christ: Our Example and Help in the Time of Need

Every Christian can struggle with the sin of jealousy, wanting something that is not ours and being displeased with God for holding it back. God gives us the life that we have, and, being displeased with it, the sinful jealousy in us wishes for another, whether slightly or significantly altered, thinking God wrong to have granted us what we have. Our affection is for something that is not when it should be for God Himself, thanking Him for what we have. If we are His children, we have Him, and whatever we have in this life besides is ultimately an expression of His sovereignty, wisdom, and love for us.

Stephen Charnock, in The Existence and Attributes of God, describes the inner workings of sinful jealousy in this way: “We are unwilling to leave God to be the proprietor and do what he will with his own, and as a Creator to do what he pleases with his creatures. We assume a liberty to direct God what portions, when and how, he should bestow upon his creatures. We would not let him choose his own favorites, and pitch upon his own instruments for his glory; as if God should have asked counsel of us how he should dispose of his benefits. We are unwilling to leave to his wisdom the management of his own judgments to the wicked, and the dispensation of his own love to ourselves” (p. 131). In this jealousy, “Man would make himself the rule of God, and give laws to his Creator” (p. 127). What a sin this jealousy is.

In reading Charnock, my own thoughts went to Christ as our example and help in this matter.

First, when Christ was offered the kingdoms of this world, He quoted Scripture to withstand the temptation of the devil (Matt 4:8–10; Luke 4:5–8). Though He could have had it all in the here and now, He chose the Father’s will and thus has everything for eternity.

Second, when He went through His suffering, though asking for something else if possible (Matt 26:36–46), He nonetheless endured His affliction, thinking it nothing when compared to the joy that was to be His (Heb 12:1–2). Though tempted to avoid the pain, He obeyed and has joy forevermore.

In both of these matters, He was sinfully jealous for nothing and wanted only the Father’s will, choosing neither wrongful gain nor an escape from His suffering. So, even in our jealousy, Christ can sympathize with our weakness and minister grace to us to overcome this sin in our time of need (cf. Heb 4:14–16).

Do you struggle with jealousy today? Learn from the example of Christ. Ask Him to give you the grace of being content with the infinite riches of salvation. And, in not having what you might desire, thank God for teaching you that, when you have nothing else, you do have Him, and He is more than enough.

Liberty, Limits, and Love: An Example for Us Today in the Prohibitions of Acts 15:20

In Acts 15:1–35, the Jerusalem Council concluded that requiring Gentile believers to be circumcised and obey the Law was wrong (Acts 15:2, 5, 10, 19). Salvation is only “through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11).1

At the same time, James did ask to “write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). While sexual immorality is obviously wrong (and worth mentioning because of its frequency among the Gentiles), it seems that the other three matters were somehow related to the law. The reason for their prohibition involved what was “read every Sabbath in the synagogues” from the Law of Moses, something done “from ancient generations” and “in every city” by “those who proclaim him” (Acts 15:21).

Using the Law, then, to figure out why these other three matters were forbidden, Leviticus 17:10–13 clearly forbids both the eating of blood (Lev 17:12, “No person among you shall eat blood”) and the eating of animals that had not been drained of their blood (Lev 17:13, “Any one… who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood”). This last prohibition seems to be the point of reference for “what has been strangled” (Acts 15:20). If an animal died by strangulation, it would not have been drained of its blood. If its meat were eaten, it would have been with the blood still in it. Thus, whether eating blood directly or in the meat of an animal, both were forbidden by the Law.

As to “the things polluted by idols” (Acts 15:20), this is also a matter of food, synonymous with “what has been sacrificed to idols” (Acts 15:29). While Paul would give further instruction on the matter in 1 Corinthians 8–10, James’s present concern (to which Paul gave no objections) was probably along the lines of Romans 14:15: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (cf. Rom 14:13–23). In other words, if the Gentiles really loved their Jewish Christian brothers, they would not eat things that the Jewish Christians denied and offend their sensitive consciences. The Gentiles would give up their liberty to eat these things so as not to hinder their fellowship (cf. 1 Cor 9:19–23).

In learning from how James led the church then, we see that one’s liberty is not a matter of license to do as one pleases in the presence of all. Rather, Christian love limits certain practices for the sake of fellowship with others. When it comes to something questionable, the church should always be more careful than not. Limiting one’s liberty is not necessarily legalism. If done correctly, it is an act of love.

  1. All quotations are from the ESV. []

The Doctrine of Winter

Where I live, we just had several inches of snow. Not only does the Bible say a few things about snow itself, but it also uses several wintry analogies to teach us truths and lessons to live by today.

Winter’s Origin, Purpose, and Duration

God created winter (Gen 8:22; Ps 74:17) so that we would marvel at His infinite power and might (Job 37:5–6; 38:22–23; cf. 40:1–6) and give Him praise (Ps 148:7–8). Winter will continue at least until the end of the earthly reign of Christ (Zech 14:8–9).

Bible Events That Took Place During Winter

Events both good and bad mention and/or take place during the Bible’s many winters. In the Old Testament, during winter, snow was used for washing (Job 9:30), Benaiah killed a lion all by himself (2 Sam 23:20; 1 Chr 11:22), the evil king Jehoiakim burned Jeremiah’s scroll (Jer 36:20–26), and Jesus claimed to be the Messiah (John 10:23, 31–39).

In the New Testament, during one of his travels, Paul experienced Euraquilo, a violent north-eastern winter wind that became so dangerous that he and his shipmates abandoned their ship (Acts 27:13–14, 42–44) and safely swam to the shore of an island named Malta (Acts 28:1) where they had to wait three wintry months before they could travel again (Acts 28:11). Knowing the dangers of these winter winds, Paul made his travel plans accordingly (1 Cor 16:6; Titus 3:12) and urged others to do the same (2 Tim 4:21).

In the future, God will punish Israel by destroying her winter (and summer) houses in the great day of His wrath (Amos 3:15)—a time during which Jesus tells believers to pray to not have to flee persecution during winter (Matt 24:20; Mark 13:18).

Winter Helps Us Understand

Pristine whiteness and unforgettable coldness are two aspects of winter that the Bible uses as analogies to describe something or teach a lesson.

As to descriptions, Moses’ hand (Exod 4:6), Miriam’s whole person (Num 12:9), and Elisha’s wayward servant Gehazi (2 Kgs 5:27) were leprous and looked white like snow.

The Bible also gives snowy language to teach the lessons we see below. 

Be faithful. Dependable people and cold air from snow on a hot day have something in common—they are welcome blessings to those who receive them. As dependable people bless their superiors by faithfully completing their assigned tasks, so also does a wintry wind refresh a tired worker (Prov 25:13). Snow is mentioned by Jeremiah along these lines as well but in a negative context. Quoting the Lord, he points out that Israel was more sure to abandon her God than snow was to abandon the mountains of Lebanon (Jer 18:13–14).

Give honor to whom it is due. Honoring fools and experiencing snow in the summer have something in common—they are both activities that should not happen. In other words, just as we would not expect snow in the summer, so also should honor not be given to the fool who has done nothing to deserve as such (Prov 26:1).

Encourage believers who suffer for reasons other than sin. Unlike the friends of Job, we should be careful not to give cold and icy criticism to friends in their time of need, especially when they have done no wrong. Rather, we should give them words of warmth and kindness (Job 6:14–16).

The fire of Hades will indeed be felt by those who go there. As easily as heat consumes the snow, so also does Hades consume unbelievers (Job 24:19).

God’s abundant words give us joy and peace. God’s words to His people are plenteous as the snow, frost, and ice—like Israel in this Psalm, so also we will never exhaust what He has to say to us (Ps 147:16–19). Furthermore, just as God intended rain and snow fall from heaven for the purpose of causing vegetation to grow, so also does God give His word to believers intending for us to have joy and peace (Isa 55:10–12). 

As God is pure, so also are believers. Daniel had a vision of God the Father, “the Ancient of Days,” as pictured with snow-white clothing, likely referring to God’s absolute moral purity and wisdom (Dan 7:9). The apostle John likewise saw Jesus Christ with snow-white head of hair, perhaps figurative of His moral purity and wisdom as well (Rev 1:14). The angel who rolled away the stone in from of our Lord’s tomb also had clothing that was white like snow (Matt 28:3). Just as elect angels, God the Father, and Jesus Christ are sinless, so also does God see believers as sinless and morally pure, that is, white like snow (Ps 51:7; Isa 1:18; Lam 4:7).

God has always been King.

This entry is part 1 of 20 in the series Virtue and Vice: Lessons from the Kings

On Wednesday nights, I will be leading my church through a series entitled “Virtue and Vice: Lessons from the Kings.” In this study, we will examine the kings of Israel, one by one. For this post, we will begin to lay the foundation for this study by examining God as King. After that, we will see His expectations for Israel’s kings in Deut 17:14–20.  Thereafter, our study will begin with Saul and end with Israel’s anticipation of the greatest King of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In response to Israel’s asking Samuel for a king, God told Samuel that Israel had rejected Him as King (1 Sam 8:7; cf. Judg 8:22–23; 1 Sam 10:19; 12:12). Israel had no formal, human king up to this point in her history. God had been her King.

Consider a few points as to the nature of His rule as King…1

  • God had always ruled as King over all beings, places, and things (1 Chron 29:12; Ps 103:19). His kingship is eternal (Ps 29:10; 145:13; Jer 10:10), and His creation carries on mostly by providence (Ps 148:8) but by occasional miracles as well (Dan 6:27; cf. Ps 135:6–9).
  • God may be internally accepted and verbally acknowledged as King (cf. Ps 44:4; 74:12; 84:2–3), but the existence of His kingship and kingdom does not depend upon the assent of men (cf. Ps 75:4–7). It is not that His kingdom lives in them but that they live within His kingdom (and hopefully happily so).
  • The kingdom of Israel and the church of Christ fall within this overarching universal kingdom of God.
  • Like His Father (1 Tim 1:17), the Son is over eternity (Isa 9:6) and is the great Administrator of this kingdom (Col 1:17; Heb 1:2), upholding all things by the power of His word (Heb 1:3; cf. Col 1:17). He shares the Father’s throne even now (Rev 3:21).

A Point of Application

Just as God identified Himself as Israel’s King then, so also King Jesus shares the throne with the Father even now. Let us take hope in what we see of Him with the eyes of our hearts and not repeat Israel’s mistake of putting our ultimate trust in someone we can presently see. No other king or ruler will do, and we will see our Lord soon!

  1. For this section, see Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN; BMH Books, 1974), 22–36. []

Seven Simple Lessons from Numbers 13–14

Numbers 13–14 records Israel’s failure to initially take the promised land. Concerning this story and others from Israel’s history, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction” (1 Cor 10:11; cf. 10:5, 10). While the list below is not exhaustive and does not delve into the larger story of redemption, it is nonetheless a handful of points that can be instructive and helpful for us today.

Our God is a God of the impossible.
Though Israel’s enemies were numerous, physically imposing, and dwelt in fortified cities in the midst of a difficult terrain (Num 13:28–29, 31–33), God could have easily removed their protection (Num 14:9) and eventually did so when Joshua led Israel to conquer Canaan. 

We follow God by faith so that He can do the impossible through us.
This generation of Israelites despised God and refused to believe in Him (Num 14:11). They were exhorted to overcome the enemy, and if they had believed, God would have delighted to grant them victory (Num 13:30; 14:6–8). Caleb and Joshua would see this lesson come true in time. 

If the leadership languishes, the congregation will crumble.
The twelve spies were chiefs of Israel’s tribes (Num 13:1–14). In bringing back a bad report, ten of the spies incited chaos and a rejection of Moses and Aaron (Num 14:1–4; cf. 13:25–33). Israel even wanted to stone Caleb and Joshua who opposed this bad report (Num 14:10). If only these ten had believed with Caleb and Joshua and led their fellow Israelites to do the same.

God holds leaders to a higher standard.
As to those ten who disbelieved and gave a bad report, God killed them immediately (Num 14:36–38), a different punishment than simply letting a generation die away over the next forty years (Num 14:26–35). 

The prayer of a righteous man avails much.
God was initially ready to strike the whole nation down with the pestilence, disinherit them, and make a new nation from Moses (Num 14:11–12). As Moses did before (cf. Exod 32:7–14), he interceded for Israel, and God pardoned Israel from such a fate (Num 14:13–20). 

Watch your mouth—you might just get what you wish for.
Fearing their foes, Israel wished that they might have died instead in the wilderness (Num 14:2). God granted them this wish as a punishment for their unbelief (Num 14:28). 

Unbelief can delay the blessing of God and bring disaster at worst.
Israel would receive the Promised Land sooner or later because God always makes good on His promises. For this generation of Israelites, they did not believe and follow God, so He changed His plans for them, giving them forty years and death in the wilderness instead of receiving the land (Num 14:25, 32–35). Yet worse, they then chose to go contrary to this new plan and tried to take the land without His help, resulting in defeat, death, and disaster (Num 14:39–45).