7. A New Trust In God

A central part of our new relationship with God through Jesus, is that God is our heavenly Father. (We saw this in our lesson on prayer). Since God is our Father, we can trust God with all of our life problems.

The focus verse is from Matthew 10:31:

“Fear not.”

We do not need to give in to fear and anxiety. God will take care of us.

Jesus calls us to trust God for our material needs

He talks about this in Matthew 6:25-34:

[25] “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? [26] Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [27] And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? [28] And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, [29] yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [30] But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31] Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [32] For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. [33] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. [34] “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Jesus focuses on this issue because it causes us to be so fearful. Lets look at how this works. It starts with the fact that life isn’t easy. As Jesus says in v. 34, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” And this includes issues of providing for our material needs. So Jesus isn’t naïve in his call to give up anxiety. The problem is real.

What happens is that all this trouble creates fear in us, which is the essential problem Jesus is addressing here, especially anxiety over tomorrow – v. 34. Jesus focuses on such basics as food and clothing, but there are more things that we fret about: housing, providing for children, having enough to care for our health needs, retirement and more.

The bigger point of Matthew 6:19-34 is that given these troubles and our fears our natural response is to store up lots of resources to calm our fears. Jesus refers to this in Matthew 6:19 when he talks about laying up “treasures on earth . . ..” We want control over the future, to try to ease our fears. And the way we do this is by laying up resources for ourselves for the future – more than we need (see Luke 12:16-21).

If we don’t have enough to lay up, we are fearful. And even if we do have enough to lay up, we fear that it will be taken away somehow. So, we are fearful either way!

So what happens is that this seeking after and storing up of resources becomes the focus of our lives. Jesus says in Matthew 6:32, “For the Gentiles seek after all these things.” Jesus is saying that they are anxious for tomorrow and make protecting against future troubles the focus of their lives – storing up resources, or striving hard to do so.

The result is that our fear leads us to begin to trust in money to take care of us instead of God (Matthew 6:24), which is a breaking of the most important commandment – to love God alone. And it also leads us to stop being generous with others in need, since we need to cling to our resources to calm our fears (Matthew 6:19-20). This is a breaking of the second greatest commandment to love our neighbor.

In this passage Jesus calls us to give up anxiety that causes us to focus on, trust in and hoard our resources. And he calls us to a faith that frees us to focus on and trust in God, and to be generous with others.

Why should we give up our fear and trust God? 1) Because life is about more than our material needs. Jesus says in v. 25, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” In other words, even if we are ‘dirt poor,’ with only food and clothing, we still have our life and can have joy in serving God. (Remember, Jesus was ‘dirt poor’).

And also, in v. 33 Jesus teaches us that life is not about seeking after material things, but about seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness. We can’t let our fear lead us to get focused on what is not important. What is important is God. And we can have God without material possessions.

2) Because our anxiety doesn’t solve anything. Jesus says in v. 27, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” In the parallel passage in Luke 12:26 he adds a second question, “If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” If our fear can’t add a single hour, how can it help us with providing for our material needs? Our fear and worrying about tomorrow is futile. It doesn’t actually help us.

3) Because God will provide for our needs. Jesus teaches us that God provides food to the birds, and we are more valuable than birds – v. 26. Also, God clothes the lilies, and we are more valuable than grass – vs. 28-30. As Jesus says, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need” material provisions – v. 32. And so we should not be those of “little faith” – v. 30. This is how we break free from our fear, and all the problems it leads to. We break free of fear by choosing to trust in God.

The promise Jesus gives us is this: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness . . . (give yourself fully to God, focusing your life on what God wants for you) . . . and all these things (the material provisions you need) will be added to you.” – v. 33.

Jesus calls us to trust in God in difficult circumstances

He says in Luke 12:11-12:

“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

The specific situation here is one of persecution for your faith. You have been brought before the authorities to give an account of why you believe in and follow Jesus.

Again, we are told “do not be anxious.” It is not because it is not a fearful situation. It is because God is there with us to help us. As the passage says, “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what to say.”

Now, certainly, if God can help us in such a difficult circumstance, God can also help us in less difficult ones. No matter where we find ourselves, in a dangerous or a difficult spot, God is with us, and God’s Spirit can help us with our need and give us the wisdom to do and say what is right.

Jesus calls us to trust God with our very lives

Jesus says in Matthew 10:29-31:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Jesus is talking about death. As he says right before our text in v. 28, “do not fear those who kill the body.” Again, the context is one of persecution, where we might be killed for our faith.

Jesus teaches us that God watches over even small animals. And not one of them dies without his knowing about it and allowing it to happen. He also tells us that God knows how many hairs are on each of our heads. God knows all about our situations; all the details. Jesus makes the point in the parallel passage in Luke 12:6 that we are not forgotten before God.

So Jesus tells us, “fear not.” God is always watching over us. God loves us and is concerned about us. And if we are walking in God’s way, we are not going to die, unless its time for us to die (even if people are trying to kill us -Luke 4:28-30). We are more valuable than sparrows, who do not die apart from the Father. We can trust God with our very lives.

William Higgins

8. A New Community

Jesus came, not just to call individuals to new life, but to form a new community. And he calls us to be a part of this.

The focus verse is from Matthew 16:18:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

This teaches us, among other things, that Jesus will build his new community on the basis of the apostolic testimony that Peter had just confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).

An overview of what the church is

1. It is the assembly of the people of God. This is what the word “church” means – “a regularly assembled political body.” Just as in the Old Testament, God had his own people or nation, apart from all the nations of the world, so the church is God’s people; God’s distinct nation (Matthew 21:43).

2. It is the remnant of Israel, the people of God. Only a portion or remnant of Israel in Jesus’ day responded to him. From this remnant he re-formed the people of God. Just as there had been 12 tribes, now Jesus symbolically chooses 12 apostles to signal this.

Jesus said to the leaders of Israel who rejected him, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” – Matthew 21:43. This “people,” or “nation” is the church, made up Jews and Gentiles who have responded to Jesus.

3. It is Jesus’ new community. Here is a comparison of the people of God before and after Jesus:

Moses was the leader

Jesus is the leader – “my church” (Matthew 16:18)
The exodus was the foundational event Jesus’ exodus through death to resurrection is the foundational event
The temple/festivals as a focus for worship Jesus as the focus of worship – the Lord’s Supper, his resurrection, etc.

Jesus is the foundation and focus of God’s people now.

4. It is made up of those who choose to do God’s will as Jesus teaches this. Jesus said his community is made up of “whoever does the will of God.” – Mark 3:35. He said it is made up of people from all nations who observe all that Jesus has taught – Matthew 28:19.  Jesus calls out a remnant from every nation. And we all find a new identity in the nation of Jesus.

So this means you can’t be born into Jesus’ community. It doesn’t matter who your parents are. You have to make the choice yourself! And as Matthew 28:19 indicates, this choice is made through the act of  baptism.

An overview of what the church does

We gather together to worship:

  • We pray together. We pray “our Father” – Matthew 6:9. We pray as a community.
  • We remember, celebrate and recommit to Jesus in the Lord’s supper – Mark 14:22-25; I Corinthians 11:23-26.
  • We baptize new Christians – Matthew 28:19.
  • We learn the way of Jesus – Matthew 28:20.

We love and support each other. This shows up in the familial language. We are Jesus’ family – Mark 3:33-35; we are all “brothers and sisters” – Matthew 23:8. And as Jesus’ family we love and care for each other:

  • We humbly serve each other – Mark 9:35.
  • We forgive each other – Mark 11:25, Luke 17:3.
  • We work hard to be at peace with one another – Mark 9:50.
  • We are careful not to cause others to stumble – Mark 9:42.
  • We help each other with needs – Luke 12:33.

We hold each other accountable to our commitment to Jesus. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus taught: “If your brother (or sister) sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

If someone is not interested in doing God’s will anymore, then they aren’t seen as a part of the community anymore (“a Gentile and a tax collector”). This is determined through the three stage process outlined by Jesus of lovingly calling the person to repentance.

We work and witness for the kingdom. As the parable of the talents indicates, Jesus gives each of us tasks to spread the gospel and build up the kingdom community (Matthew 25:14-30).

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” – Acts 1:8. We share with others what Jesus has done for us. This is about inviting people to become disciples of Jesus, as he said, “make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19

And this is not just an individual thing. Jesus said to his community, “You (as a community) are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” – Matthew 5:14. We bear witness to the world of a different way of living and treating each other.

Being a part of Jesus’ community is not optional

To truly follow Jesus you need to be a part of Jesus’ community. Following Jesus is not a private, individualistic experience. This is everywhere assumed by Jesus. For instance:

  • we can’t serve one another, if we are isolated by ourselves.
  • we can’t help each other with needs, if we aren’t in relationship with each other.
  • we can’t be accountable to others, if we don’t belong to the community.

We need the support and help of fellow Christians in order to be faithful in a world that doesn’t follow Jesus and would seek to have us give up our commitment to him. Without others to come alongside and help us, we become weak and give in to the peer pressure around us. We just blend back into the culture and society out of which we came.

Portraits of the early church

Luke records for us in Acts several descriptions of the apostolic church and they present for us an ideal for what the church should be like:

Acts 2:42-47: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Acts 4:32-35: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

Jesus’ promise regarding his church

This comes from our focus verse, where Jesus says, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” He is saying, death itself will not destroy his community. Just as Jesus overcame death and was raised to new life, so we will be raised and live on as a community in the coming kingdom of God. We will be the only community that will survive death intact and continue on.

Although for now we seem small and insignificant. Then we will reign. Speaking to his disciple community, he said, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3. He also said, “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5.

William Higgins

9. A New Life Focus Of Serving God

A key part of our new life in Jesus is that we have a new life focus and orientation. We live now to serve God and work to advance God’s kingdom. We don’t live for ourselves, or others, or anything else.

Our focus verse comes from Matthew 25:21:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

This is the response of Jesus to those who have worked hard to serve God with their earthly lives – when they see him on the final day.

This comes from a parable in Matthew 25:14-30 (sometimes called the parable of the talents). Here it is:

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

‘Take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For those who have will be given more, and they will have an abundance. As for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” (TNIV)

We’ll come back to this text. Let’s first notice that . . .

Jesus was a man with a mission

He worked hard to promote the kingdom, to make it a reality on earth. As Matthew 9:35 says, “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”

Jesus gave himself to this completely and constantly. Serving God was his life focus and orientation. As he said in Luke 4:43, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

The Gospels tell us that Jesus

  • taught God’s way
  • healed the wounded
  • loved the loveless
  • and served the needy

He served God in all these ways in order to spread God’s kingdom message and to build up God’s kingdom community.

Jesus also calls others to be a part of his mission

During his earthly ministry he frequently said to people, “Follow me.” Now this phrase included in it an invitation to repentance and faith in him – but most especially it was a call to ‘Come and work with me to advance God’s kingdom.’

One example of this is found in Mark 1:16-20:

“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”

Jesus called many people when he walked this earth. And now that his earthly ministry is over, Jesus calls us to serve God; to work hard to spread the kingdom and finish the mission he began.

So we will draw now on our Scripture reading, as well as other passages where Jesus talks about this, and see what. . ..

Lessons we learn from Jesus about serving God

These are things we can take away from these Scriptures that will help us, encourage us and equip us for the task of working for the kingdom.

1. Each of us are given tasks to do. Just as the servants in the parable were to take what was given them from their master and increase it, so we are each given kingdom responsibilities and we are to advance the kingdom in those areas. We all have responsibilities, according to our ability. Some have heavier duties, some lighter, but we all have something to do.

2. These tasks can be anything that further God’s kingdom. Just as with Jesus’ example, we can

  • teach God’s way
  • heal the wounded
  • love the loveless
  • and serve the needy

Whatever God assigns to us to spread his kingdom message and to build up his kingdom community.

So, find out what it is that God wants you to do. Look at the gifts that he has given you – natural talents or gifts of the Spirit. Find out what brings you joy in serving God. And then get busy at it!

But also, help out with whatever needs to be done, even if you don’t feel tremendously gifted, or called in that area. In any Christian community there are things that just need to be done for the community to work. And you don’t need a heavenly vision or a warm and fuzzy feeling to do it. Just a servant’s heart. Give of yourself in these areas as well.

3. The focus of all our work is bearing witness to Jesus. It is about testifying to the coming of the kingdom with Jesus; it is about sharing who he is and the salvation he gives. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” – Acts 1:8.

  • We do this as individuals, sharing as we have opportunity about what Jesus has done in our lives; inviting people to church.
  • And we do this as a community. Jesus calls us “a city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:14). As a community, we live by a different standard than the world around us, and this is a witness to Jesus.

Let’s remember that Jesus tells us – don’t put your lamp under a basket, but let your witness shine before others – Matthew 5:14. We don’t need to be fearful. And he tells us don’t be ashamed of him before the world – Mark 8:38. We are to share our faith in Jesus boldly with others.

4. The goal of our work is to make disciples of Jesus. In the words of the great commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20. We are to bear witness to Jesus so that people will begin to live a new life in Jesus for themselves and be a part of the kingdom of God. We are not just sharing information about Jesus, we seek to lead them to commit be disciples of Jesus as well.

5. Jesus calls some to give their whole lives to working for the kingdom. They may have to leave family and career behind, to help finish the work that Jesus has begun. As we saw in Mark 1:16-20, the first disciples did this. And in Mark 10:29 Jesus speaks of those who leave family and homes behind “for my sake and for the gospel.”

And God might well ask some of you to do this. Are you open to hear what God has for you? Perhaps God will call you to be a missionary or a pastor or to give your life fully to work for the kingdom in some other way.

6. Jesus calls others to stay in their place in life and work for the kingdom. To the healed demoniac who wanted to be a traveling missionary with Jesus, he said in Luke 8:39 – “’Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” It was God’s will for him not to go, but to stay home and serve and witness there.

7. We are to support those who give themselves fully to working for the kingdom. Jesus said, speaking of these, “the laborer deserves his wages.” – Luke 10:7. They can’t do what they are called to do without your support.

8. God’s Spirit gives us the power to work for his kingdom. Just as Jesus was empowered by the Spirit, so are we. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . ..”

We can’t do anything in our own strength. We need God working in and through us to accomplish something for the kingdom, whatever our gifts and callings.

9. Be prepared to give an account. This brings us back to the parable  in Matthew 25. We have each been given tasks, and we will have to give an account for how we have done. The parable is meant to impress in our minds the exacting nature of our master.

It teaches us – don’t be lazy, doing nothing to increase God’s kingdom; doing nothing to finish Jesus’ mission. For those who do nothing, will not enter the kingdom on that final day when Jesus returns. And the parable ends with this ringing in our ears in order to make an impression on us.

Rather, find out what God wants you to do and work hard! Give your all for the work of God. Be a man or woman with a mission, just like Jesus.

And if you do, you will be blessed to have joy with Jesus for eternity, as our focus verse says. This is a reward that far surpasses anything we give up to work for him; anything we have to sacrifice to advance God’s kingdom.

A final thought

All of our lives are so busy today. It is a part of our culture that we are always doing things. There are so many things, good things, to do. The challenge for each of us is to have a “a final day perspective” on what we choose to do with our limited time. In other words, what will God really care about, in terms of all you do, when you stand before him on the final day?

What I am saying is, of all your many commitments, make serving God and working for the kingdom the top commitment. And schedule the rest of your lives around that.

William Higgins

10. A New Courage To Suffer

In this lesson we are talking about a willingness to suffer for our commitment to Jesus and the kingdom of God. A willingness to give things up and to go through hardship because of our faith.

The focus verse comes from Mark 8:34:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Jesus is saying that anyone who follows him will be persecuted. So you have to be prepared to deny your self-interests and take up your cross – an instrument of death.

From Jesus’ point of view persecution is a certainty. He says, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” – Luke 21:16-17. So lets look at . . .

How persecution works

1. We follow Jesus. We do what Jesus teaches and models for us. Specifically:

  • We confess Jesus as Lord. We bear witness to him as the Messiah and the Son of the living God and the one who has given us salvation.
  • And we live according to Jesus’ teaching and example; by his standards and values.

2. People in the world don’t like this and so they respond in negative ways. As Jesus says in Matthew 10:24-25, it won’t be different for you. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you when you follow me.

  • We are persecuted for confessing Jesus; for witnessing to others about Jesus. In Matthew 10:17-18 Jesus says to those he sent out to be his witnesses – “they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.”
  • And we are persecuted for living according to Jesus’ teaching and example; for obeying Jesus’ moral code. In Matthew 5:10 Jesus talks about being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake;” for doing what Jesus says, instead of what the world or a particular government says.

Persecution comes in many forms

It doesn’t always mean death (certainly not in our context). There is, rather, a scale of negative reactions that can come our way:

  • You can be slandered – Matthew 5:11. Jesus talks here about how they will   “. . . revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” In Matthew 10:25 this can include being called “Beelzebub” or Satan.
  • You can be excluded socially – Luke 6:22.
  • You can receive various expressions of hatred – Luke 21:17.
  • You can be taken to court for your faith (where it is illegal to be a Christian) – Mark 13:9.
  • You can be put to death – Matthew 10:21.

So there are different levels of  persecution, from something as simple as ridicule, to being put to death.

But there is good news  . . .

The Spirit gives us the courage we need to stay true

In these situations Jesus tells us not to be ashamed of him and his words – Mark 8:38. He also tells us not to fear those who can only kill you, that is your body and not your soul – Matthew 10:28.

But he doesn’t leave us alone. As Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . ..” – Acts 1:8. The Spirit helps us, where we would not be able to do it in our own strength. Although we would give in to our fear, or shame, the Spirit gives us the courage and boldness we need.

The difference that the Spirit makes can be seen in the example of the disciples. When Jesus was persecuted and eventually killed, they were cowards. They abandoned Jesus, ran and hid in fear. But after they had received the Spirit, they were willing to give their lives (e.g. James – Acts 12:1-2).

The promise of eternal blessings

If we remain true in times of persecution God will reward us. It will be worth it. Jesus said:

“Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” – Mark 8:35.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:10.

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” – Mark 13:13.

If we endure, we will enter the kingdom eternal.

[Follow this link to read some stories of perseuction from the time of the Protestant reformation – Martyr Stories]

[Follow this link to read stories of persecution in the world today – http://www.persecution.com]

William Higgins

11. A New Strength In Difficult Times

As Christians we will go through many kinds of struggles. We talked about persecution last week and that is a big one. But there are other kinds of difficulties that we go through. Just the stresses and struggles of ordinary life, as well as unusual times of pain and suffering that are a part of life.

Whatever kinds of difficult situations we go through, these test us to see whether we will stay true to our faith; whether we will quit, or rather grow deeper in our faith.

The focus verse for today is Mark 14:38:

“The Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

This verse is talking about testing, and we will look at it as we work through our lesson. Lets begin by looking at . . .

Who is involved in testing

1. God allows us to be tested. This comes to us from the Lord’s prayer, where Jesus taught us to pray, “lead us not into testing” – Luke 11:4. If God didn’t lead us into testing, there would be no need to ask for him not to do this. And, of course, there are numerous examples of God testing people in scripture, for instance:

  • God tested the Israelites in the wilderness – Deuteronomy 8:2
  • God tested Job – Job 1-2

Even though God allows us to be tested, it is important to remember that God allows it for our own good. It is not a matter of us doing wrong and then being disciplined by God. This happens, but this isn’t what we are talking about. Even when we do everything right, like Jesus, we are still tested. We are like athletes who train and enter competitions; who strain and hurt, in order to grow and win. God allows us to be tested because God wants us to grow and to succeed.

2. Although God allows us to be tested, it is actually Satan who tests us (or his underlings – evil spirits/demons).

  • He is called “the tester” – Mark 1:13. This is one of his names in Scripture and this is a part of his function in the order of God, to test and then to punish those who sin.
  • He seeks permission from God to test us – Job 1-2; Luke 22:31.
  • His goal is to cause us to stumble and fall. He wants to separate us from God, so that he can condemn us and then destroy us.

So, God wants us to grow. But Satan wants us to be destroyed.

3. And then there is You! In terms of testing, two parts of you need to be pointed out:

testing 1

  • First, there is “the flesh”: This refers to your human weakness. As Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “the flesh is weak.” This is not something alien in you (another nature); it is simply your own human desires, longings and fears. And when we are put under pressure – the flesh makes us vulnerable to give in and take another way than God’s way. (And this is the real source of our test – not God or Satan. Without our weakness we would never be tempted to sin.)
  • Second, there is your heart: This is the seat of your choice or will. We are not simply our fears and desires. There is more to us than that. And in a test we choose which way we will go.

4. God doesn’t leave us alone – The Spirit helps us in times of testing. As Jesus said in our focus verse, “The Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. The Spirit gives us strength in our times of weakness.

So this is who all is involved in testing. Now lets look at . . .

How testing works

1. We are put into a difficult situation. Here are some examples from the O.T.:

  • When you don’t have enough to eat, will you still trust and obey God? Exodus 16; Deuteronomy 8:2.
  • When you have an abundance of wealth, will you turn away from God? Deuteronomy 6:10-12.
  • When tragedy strikes, will you curse God? Job.
  • When an opportunity for sexual immorality occurs, will you take it? Numbers 25.
  • When God asks you to do something that is very hard, will you sacrifice for him? Genesis 22.

2. These difficult situations provoke an inner struggle within us. The trial we are going through puts pressure on us. Our flesh wants us to take the easy way out when God is calling us to take the hard way of righteousness, to self-control, to self-sacrifice. Our flesh doesn’t like difficulty and suffering. Satan appeals to this weakness. But the Spirit is there to help us, as we saw. The Spirit pushes us to do what is right. So our flesh pulls one way, and the Spirit pulls another.

testing 2Which leads us to the point of testing with regard to us.

3. We have to choose. God wants to know what is in our heart – Deuteronomy 8:2. Will we trust and obey God in difficult situations, or will we take the easy way out? Will we stay true to God, or will we be unfaithful?

These situations of testing can be very difficult, so lets look at some . . .

Things that help us in times of testing

1. We can pray to be delivered from testing. Although we are told that we will be tested, Jesus also teaches us to pray regularly, “Lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one” (who tests us) – Matthew 6:13. And this can also be applied when we are already in a test – “Lead us not into further testing.” Give me relief, O Lord; have mercy on me in my weakness!

2. We can find help from other believers. Just before Simon Peter and the other disciples were about to be tested when Jesus was arrested, Jesus said to him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32.

  • Others can “pray” for us, as Jesus prayed for Peter
  • And others can “strengthen” us, as Peter was to do once he came through the test.

Encouragement and support from other believers is crucial and that is one reason we come together regularly as a community. It also speaks to the importance of having Christian friends.

3. You can find strength and focus from the Scriptures. Jesus used the Scriptures when Satan tested him in the wilderness – Luke 4:1-13. Every time Satan tried to trip him up to do the wrong thing, Jesus responded by quoting scripture. Fill yourself with the Scriptures and use them in times of testing.

4. Rely on the strength of the Spirit to help you. We have talked about this, but it is crucial. Pray that the Spirit will give you the strength that you need to make it through the test and to remain faithful to God.

  • Without the Spirit’s help we will fail.
  • With the Spirits help we can endure anything, even being killed.

Finally, . . .

We can have joy in trials

Because we know that God has our best interests at heart, and because we know that God wants to use times of testing to help us learn and grow and prepare us for the eternal blessings he has for us, we can have joy, even as we experience the pain of testing. It is a paradox, but it is true. As Jesus said about the testing of persecution – “Blessed are you . . . Rejoice and be glad . . .” – Matthew 5:10-12.

William Higgins

12. A New Hope In Jesus’ Return

A final characteristic of new life (at least of what we will look at) is hope. The Scriptures teach us that everything is heading toward a decisive change; that God’s kingdom, begun by Jesus, will one day cover the whole earth. So suffering, conflict, injustice and death are not the final word.

And the promise is that if we are faithful to God and our Lord Jesus now, we will enter into the fullness of the kingdom and be blessed in that day. So we have something to look forward to. As followers of Jesus we have hope.

The focus verse for this lesson comes from Matthew 5:5:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Lets begin by looking at . . .

The basics

Now there are lots of things that Christians disagree on about the specifics of what will happen when or before Jesus returns. Here are some things that are more clear:

1. Jesus will return. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father . . .” – Matthew 16:27. He also said, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” – Mark 13:26.

The angels said to the disciples after he ascended into heaven, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:11.

2. It will be a worldwide, public event. There have been several splinter groups or cults that are based on the idea that Jesus has already, in a sense, come in a private or spiritual way. (Usually they set a date, and then when it doesn’t happen, it gets spiritualized). After warning his disciples about false teachers who say, ‘Jesus is over here,’ or ‘over there’ – Jesus said, “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” – Luke 17:24. He is saying, you won’t be able to miss it. There will be nothing hidden or secret about it. When Jesus returns, everyone will see it.

3. No one knows the time. Jesus said, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” – Mark 13:32. The phrase, “that day or that hour” means any time. We simply don’t know the time of his return. And if the angels don’t know, and the Son doesn’t know, that is, Jesus doesn’t know you can bet that no human knows! As Jesus says plainly in the next verse, “You do not know when the time will come” – Mark 13:33.

It is as the resurrected Jesus said to his disciples in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” And if it is not our place, we should stop trying to figure it out!

Closely connected to this is the point that . . .

4. Jesus could come at any time. Jesus said of his coming “ . . . you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning.” – Mark 13:35. He goes on to say in the next verse that he could come “suddenly.” – Mark 13:36. He also says, “the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” – Luke 12:40.

The point of all of this is that the time of Jesus’ return is not known and could happen at any time. (Now, in Matthew 24:14 Jesus said the gospel must be preached to all nations before he comes. But does this mean every person? Or every actual nation? Or every tribe or subgroup? We don’t know. Paul said in his own day that the gospel had been preached to all creation – Colossians 1:23.)

5. Jesus will rule over the earth. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world . . . the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne . . .” Matthew 19:28. This throne speaks to his rule as King over the earth.

Jesus said to the earthly rulers who were judging him at his trial – “. . . you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:62. Jesus will be vindicated and he will one day come and rule over all things, from the right hand of God.

6. We will be raised to new life. We are talking about resurrection here. New bodies that will live forever, without suffering. Jesus said that “those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” – Luke 20:35-36.

In a reference back to Daniel 12:2-3, which speaks of the resurrection and the saints shining as stars, Jesus says, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” – Matthew 13:43.

7. It will be a time of judgment. “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” – Matthew 16:27. Everyone will give an account to him of everything they have said and done (or not said and done that we should have).

With regard to followers of Jesus, 0ur obedience will be judged. Jesus speaks to the final day when we will stand before him – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23.

Also, our work for the kingdom will be judged. This is from the parable we have looked at in Matthew 25:14-30 (the parable of the talents).

  • Those who work hard at serving God and working for the kingdom will hear these words from Jesus – “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” v. 21.
  • But Jesus will say of those who do nothing – “cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – v. 30.

8. All things will be made new. He talks about “the new world” in Matthew 19:28. It says literally, the “regeneration.” Another translation renders it “the renewal of all things.” (NRSV). This is the new creation, when the heavens and the earth will pass away (which Jesus speaks of in Mark 13:31) and then there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

9. There will be a Messianic banquet. It will be a big party, a celebration. Jesus said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 8:11. He talked about his disciples eating and drinking, “at my table in my kingdom” – Luke 22:30.

He said at the Last Supper, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” – Matthew 26:29. He is waiting for us!

Our hope

This is what we have to look forward to:

We will be raised to new life – Luke 20:35-36. You can’t die anymore. Death is defeated. You will have a new body, like Jesus’ supernatural body and like the angels have.

  • We will enter the fullness of the kingdom of God, which will never end. Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
  • We will see God. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” We will be close to God and be able to be in God’s presence.
  • We will have joy with Jesus – Matthew 25:21. We will enter into the joy of our Master.
  • We will be blessed and comforted for persecution and hardships we have suffered – Luke 6:22-23; 16:25.
  • We will be rewarded for our work – Matthew 25:14-31. Hard work and sacrifices will be remembered and blessed.
  • We will “inherit the earth,” as our focus verse says – Matthew 5:5. It is our destiny, not to be in heaven, but to be on the earth in God’s presence.
  • We will rule with Jesus. Matthew 5:9, says “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” This last phrase, “sons of God” refers to those who rule under God. Jesus also talks about how there will be varying levels of rule in the coming kingdom, based on what we have done here now – Luke 19:17, 19; Matthew 19:28.

The call to be ready

Since we don’t know when Jesus will return, we need to be alert and ready. Jesus talks about this over and over again. In Mark 13:33-37 he says,

“Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

The message is clear, we are to be ready and alert, so that we will not be caught off guard and so that we will be able to enter in and receive the blessings.

William Higgins

13. Symbol Of New Life: Water Baptism

The final two lessons look at two important symbols of new life in Jesus. We begin with water baptism.

The focus verses come from Matthew 28:19-20:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

We know from earlier in the Gospels that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and here we see that Jesus wants this practice to continue in his community.

To help us understand what baptism means, we begin with . . .

The background of water baptism: The Red Sea crossing

To get at the symbolism of water baptism we need to understand, first of all, that in Hebrew thought the deep waters are evil. They are about judgment and death, for instance with Noah (Also, Psalm 104:5-9; Psalm 69:15). And although this may seem strange to us, they are often personified as a sea-serpent (variously called Leviathan, Yamm or Rahab, as we will see).

Well, as the Israelites tried to escape Egypt and as Pharaoh’s army came to kill them – the waters of the Red Sea blocked Israel and they were about to be judged and destroyed. God acted, however. He defeated the waters. He divided the sea, making a path for Israel, and then destroyed Pharaoh with the waters.

Here is where the sea-serpent language comes in. Isaiah 51:9-10, speaking of the Red Sea crossing, says, “ . . . Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over?”

Psalm 74:13-14, also talking about the Red Sea crossing says, “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons of the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.”

God acted to save his people. He made a way for his people to pass through the waters. And then five things happen that show us the symbolic meaning of such water crossings in Scripture:

1. Israel left behind their old lives in Egypt. They had already begun this process in coming to the Red Sea, but they completed it because of what God did.

2. Israel was set free from judgment and destruction. They went through the waters safely to the other side.

3. All Israel had a Spirit experience and rejoiced at new life – Isaiah 63:11; Exodus 15:1-21. On the other shore, the sang prophetic songs.

4. Israel became a new people. They were no longer a ragtag group of slaves anymore. They became the people of God.

5. They committed to follow the Mosaic Law. After they came out of the waters, they traveled to Mt Sinai to receive God’s Law, which gave order to their new life as a people.


Now we need to see that . . .

There is a connection between this Red Sea crossing and Christian baptism

It is a historical-prophetic connection. Remember that after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea they went on to fail in their commitment to God in the wilderness. So that generation of Israelites never crossed into the promised land.

Thus when Joshua entered the promised land with the next generation they crossed through “the waters” again – the Jordan river. The waters upstream were stopped and they walked through it on dry ground (Joshua 3). This was a reenactment of the Red Sea crossing. God was symbolically reconstituting Israel after their failure in the wilderness.

And then, low and behold, John the Baptist comes baptizing people in the Jordan river. The symbolism is there to be seen. He is, like Joshua, calling for Israel to be reconstituted, to be made new. In other words, John the Baptist was reenacting Joshua’s reenactment of the Red Sea crossing.

All we need to do, then, is recognize that Jesus continued John’s baptismal practices, and we have an unbroken chain back to the Red Sea crossing:

  • Jesus and Christian baptism
  • John the Baptist and the Jordan river
  • Joshua and the Jordan river
  • Moses and the Red Sea

This is the essential component that helps us to understand . . .

What Christian water baptism means

We also are confronted by “the deep waters.” Like we saw before, these have to do with judgment and death, for our sin. And like with Israel, there is a sea-serpent (Leviathan, Rahab). Satan is the sea serpent who seeks to destroy us. (In fact, this connection is explicitly made in Revelation 12:9; 20:2).

And so, like Israel, we may seek new life and freedom, but “the waters” block us from moving forward. But God intervenes; God acts through Jesus to defeat “the waters.” Because of God’s love for us in Jesus, now there is a way for us to cross through the waters to the other side and find new life. And this is what water baptism pictures symbolically.

This can be spelled out, once again with five themes:

1. When we come to the waters of baptism – we portray that we have left behind our old life through repentance. Just like Israel left Egypt behind, so we leave our old, sinful life behind. This is the commitment that we publicly testify to in baptism.

This connection between baptism and repentance shows up in the New Testament: John the Baptist said, “I baptize you with water for repentance . . ..” – Matthew 3:11. Peter said on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ . . .” – Acts 2:38.

2. When we go through the waters of baptism – we acknowledge that we are free and forgiven. Just like with Israel and “the waters,” or judgment and death cannot harm us anymore. Our sins are forgiven (or washed away). They have no claim on us; they can’t touch us anymore. That’s why we can go through the waters and not be harmed. By going through the waters we testify that God has forgiven us. We have received God’s mercy and grace.

This connection between baptism and forgiveness shows up in the New Testament: Once again, Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38.

3. As we come up out of the water “on the other shore,” as it were, – we acknowledge that we have received new life through the Spirit. Just like when Israel came up on the other shore and they had a Spirit experience, so we testify that we have received new life by the Spirit.

This connection between baptism and new life by the Spirit shows up in the New Testament: John said that when Jesus came, he would baptize with the Holy Spirit – Matthew 3:11. This connects water baptism with new life by the Spirit, or Spirit baptism. Baptism is also associated with receiving the Spirit in Acts 2:38. Peter says, “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

4. When we come up out of the waters – we acknowledge that we are now a part of God’s new people. Just as Israel became a new people, we show that we have left the world behind and we are now a part of the church.

This connection between baptism and joining God’s people shows up in the New Testament: Luke says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls”- Acts 2:41. They were added to the fellowship of believers there in the local church of Jerusalem. Everyone knew they were a part now.

5. When we come up out of the waters – we acknowledge our commitment to follow Jesus. Just as Israel went on to Sinai and committed to obey God, we show our commitment to a new way of life; to doing God’s will from now on.

This connection between baptism and commitment to righteousness shows up in the New Testament: Jesus talks about this, in our focus verse, “ . . . baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” – Matthew 28:19-20. Baptism is connected to obedience to everything that Jesus teaches.


When we accept baptism this is what we proclaim symbolically to all who see. That these five components of salvation in Jesus are true in our lives.

The sum of it all

Jesus spoke of his death and resurrection as a baptism. For instance in Mark 10:38, speaking of the cross, he said, “Are you able . . . be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And this helps us to summarize the meaning of baptism: water baptism is a symbol of death and resurrection.

Jesus went down into and through the waters of judgment and death – the cross. And he was raised up to new life on the other side – resurrection. And He calls us to take up our cross and lose our lives, in order to gain our lives – Mark 8:34-35. Verse 35 says, “whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

So, water baptism is about dying to your old life in order to be raised up to new life through what Jesus has done.

It has to do with all that we have talked about with regard to dying to our earthly life in repentance and laying aside the ways of the world and sin. And it has to do with being raised to a new life of righteousness, prayer, study of Scripture, trust in God, joining a new community, finding a new life focus of serving God, a new courage to suffer, a new strength to endure testing and a new hope in Jesus’ return and the resurrection.

William Higgins