Meditating on the Commands of Christ (78): Weep Not

Jesus wept, so why did he tell the widow of Nain to “Weep not!”? Was Jesus being unfeeling or unkind? You know—”Keep a stiff upper lip and show no emotion!”? Luke records that “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.” (Luke 7:14). Therefore, Jesus’ response was not rooted in harshness, but in love. He wanted her to feel hope rather than despair, because he was going to restore her son to her!

“Resurrection of the Widow’s son from Nain”
Lucas Cranach the Younger (c. 1569)

There are so many points that could be made about this passage, but there are three I can’t resist making, so please excuse me. First, Jesus was doing something new. This is the first instance in the New Testament of Jesus raising someone from the dead. Those of us who know the Bible well realize that Jesus raised several people from the dead, so we lose the impact of the supernatural nature of this event. It reminds me of a missionary who recounted to me a (true) story of returning from a village deep in the heart of China. When he arrived, one of the Christians told him a member of their church had died but then had been raised from the dead. The missionary exclaimed in amazement, “How did you do that?!” to which the young man responded (with just as much amazement), “What do you mean? You’re the minister! We just prayed like Jesus did. What else?”

“Miracle at Nain” by Mario Minniti (1620)

There is no power outside of Christ that can raise people from the dead. No other great spiritual leader, be it Buddha or Mohamed, or anybody else, has had a ministry of raising people from the dead. (I do know a few Christians who prayed over a dead person who came back to life, but just once in each case, not as a verifiable practice.) The fact that Jesus raised several people from the dead (and rose from the dead himself), sets him apart from any other religious leader in his authority. No one else ever claimed, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). First point? Jesus was unique in his ministry and claims. Either he was a shyster, or he was whom he claimed to be: The “only begotten” Son of God.

The second point I want to make is that “Nain” is a real place. “Nain” means “green pastures” or “lovely,” and is associated with the little village of Nein, still in existence today on the northwestern slope of the Hill of Moreh and overlooking the Plain of Jezreel. Specifically, the GPS is: 32°37’48″N, 35°20’47″E. Up a steep hill, about half a kilometer away, there are tombs cut into the side of the mountain. People can (and do) go to visit the little Franciscan Church there, which is (according to tradition) said to be built on the site of the widow’s home.

So what? So, the Bible is full of exact names and places that can be found in time and space. Christianity is a religion tied firmly to this earth and is unique in this. According to Dr. Barry Beitzel, geographical places are mentioned between 1,100-1,200 times.* Hundreds (though not all) of those places can still be traced today (at least the remains thereof). So, you may not believe the miraculous events recorded in the Bible, but at least appreciate that earnest people saw and recorded actual events in time and space that they believed were true miracles.

Altar in the Church of Nain. Israel

Jesus’ kindness in raising the widow’s son not only occurred at a particular time and place, it happened under the purview of many people, including “many of his disciples went with him, and much people” (Luke 7:12).

This wasn’t done like a magic trick by sleight of hand. All sorts of people knew the widow’s son had died and must have felt such compassion for her that they were attending the procession taking the bier up to the burial site. Nobody was challenging the mother about whether or not her son was really dead! Jesus’ action was so miraculous that “there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people” (Luke 7:16).

“Widow of Nain” by James Tissot

Third point: If this account happened in a real place, at a real time, observed by many people who responded by glorifying God and understanding that God had raised up a great prophet and was in fact visiting his people . . . wouldn’t you want to know this great prophet, also known as “Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23; see also Isaiah 7:14)? Jesus rose from the dead, is alive today, and welcomes you to get to know Him!

Jesus can deliver us from death, through death, or in death, but always with compassion, and if we put our trust in him, he will always bring us safely to heaven! So, like the widow of Nain, let’s learn to “Weep not!” Jesus is able to resurrect us, just like he resurrected the widow’s son! “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:1-6).

Text for this meditation:And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.16 And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people” (Luke 7:11-16).

“Christ Raising the Widow’s Son.” Painting in the Franciscan Church at Nein in Israel

Credits: *Dr. Barry Beitzel, ed. The Lexham Geographic Commentary of the Gospels. I learned this from a fascinating interview between Dr. Beitzel and Dr. Armstong:

https://www.aqueductproject.org/unitas-fidei

**Also, I found several of the pictures and the best geographical information on a site called “Seetheholyland.net.” I don’t know anything about their religious views but very much appreciate their carefully detailed information. Thank you!

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (77): Finding Rest in the Yoke

In India, I learned some striking lessons about being under the yoke! “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Although I’d memorized those verses years ago, I must have stopped at the “and I will give you rest” without paying attention to the rest of what Jesus directs us to do. This isn’t just an offer for a life of ease!!

Riding on an ox cart in Lumbini, India

Jesus does offer us rest, but he’s not promising us a life of rest per se (i.e.—freedom from labor). He is challenging us to find rest for our souls while laboring with Him (rather than without Him). A yoke is not a pillow! It’s a wooden bar laid over the neck of beasts of burden so that they can pull together and share the load.

Most all of us labor “and are heavy laden,” although if we try to carry all our burdens alone, it can be unbearably grueling at times.

Sometimes, we are tempted to make our burdens lighter by teaming up with those who do not share our faith, but we are warned against this: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

The offer Jesus gives us is to partner with Him! He is the Light of the world, and when we walk with Him, we will always know where to go! “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). I’ve found that Jesus often carries me altogether, but even during the hardest times when I feel like I can hardly keep going, I know He is with me, also bearing my load and walking beside me.

Although we may find it initially hard to surrender to being “under the yoke” with Jesus (and indeed—a yoke is a sign of surrender to someone else’s authority), the best news is that by partnering with Christ, we have a new master! We’re no longer bond slaves to sin, but rather we become spiritually free! God becomes our Father— the one to whom we are ultimately surrendered . . . and who provides lovingly for us!

In India, the ox cart driver guides his team by putting pressure on their tails. This makes me think of our sweet Holy Spirit, who also puts pressure on us. We may resist at times, but ultimately his promptings help us know which way to go, and because we know He loves us, we can trust his counsel.

Once we surrender to Him, he sets us to work caring for others and bearing one another’s burdens: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). We might be tempted to fuss and fume—or rebel altogether and run away, but the beauty of living with Jesus is that we eventually begin to love others supernaturally, so helping them becomes a burden we want to bear: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). In fact, we discover that it actually makes us happy to help others! “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Haven’t you noticed that?

I think if we can only keep practicing these verses—learning to come to Jesus and find our rest in Him—then we will discover what it means to want to partner with him . . . to become “meek and lowly in heart”. . . to find rest for our souls . . . to share His yoke . . . to accept the burdens He gives us and experience them as “light” because He is pulling with us.

Text for this meditation: Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). However, to understand the context more fully, here is the entire passage: “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: 21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. 23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. 25 At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. 26 Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. 27 All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. 28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:20-30).

Two Brahman Bulls Yoked Together

(*A special thank you to Yongsung Kim for permission to use these two wonderful portraits of Jesus. http://Havenlight.com )

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (76): Amazon Adventures—Can You Hear What I Hear?

What to know how to catch a caiman with your bare hands? Just ask Jefferson!

Jefferson seemed to know just about everything about everything on the Amazon— I guess from his twenty years of serving in the Brazilian military.

So, on our trip down the Amazon River last fall, I loved having Jefferson as our tour guide.

There were passengers from all over the world, who spoke many different languages, and there were about a dozen different guides, so I felt like we really “lucked out” to end up with somebody who was a veritable fountain of wisdom and knowledge.

There were groups who spoke Spanish, Portuguese, Italian . . . I’m not even sure what all, but when it came time for a tour, each guide would call out the names of those assigned to be in his group.

It didn’t take long before I stopped listening to the long litany of names, even though more than one of the groups was English speaking.

Alan and I would sit quietly reading while we waited our turn, but as soon as we heard Jefferson’s voice, we’d both perk up, smile at each other, and listen for our names.

YES! It was out turn to climb into a smaller boat (from our larger cruise ship) and go on an adventure!

Black-collared hawk along the banks of the Amazon River

We saw all sorts of fascinating wild life.

We tried lots of new foods!
And, we passed on a few possibilities
(although on one of the tours people could fish for piranhas)!
(These are NOT piranhas.)
We walked on some rickety old bridges
to reach some unsavory shorelines to start jungle hikes.
But, we were always pleased with what we saw, and we never did get eaten alive by mosquitoes (or anacondas, or scorpions, or . . . or . . . or . . .)

By the end of each day, we felt really excited about all we’d learned. Even if we were hot, tired, and dirty, we would reaffirm that it had been “worth it all!”

I’ve reflected on our adventures many times, and each time I remember Jefferson calling out our names, I think of Jesus, who said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

Once you know and trust Someone to be your Guide, you’re really excited to launch out on new adventures, even though you might not know exactly what’s going to happen.

On your journey through this life, wouldn’t you like to have a guide who’s an expert and can teach you what you need to know?

Wouldn’t you like to meet some new people and make some new friends?

Maybe learn some new skills?

Jesus also taught: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).

Jesus doesn’t ask us to catch caimans (the way Jefferson did), but he does call us to be fishers of men!

How? Just by sharing what you know about Jesus. If you don’t know Jesus yet, you can find out about him by reading the Bible, which God has given us as a compass and guide for life.

There were times on the Amazon when I was a little insecure about whether or not we’d make it safely back to the mother ship before a storm broke, but Jefferson always got us home in time. That made me think of Jesus, too! In all my 50+ years of following him, he has always gotten me safely home “in the nick of time.”

Life isn’t always a party! (Because of the COVID pandemic, I haven’t been shopping for over a month, so this tray of fresh fruit looks awfully appealing!) The Apostle Paul reminded us, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:12). There will be times of plenty and times of want, but through it all, God is faithful and will take care of us IF we trust and obey him.

Are you willing to listen for his voice and follow him? Can you hear him calling you? Jesus lived and died for you and me (and everyone in this world), and he’s calling your name! He wants you to follow him! Do you have ears to hear? You may get hot and tired and dirty, but at the end of your life, you will know that it was so worth it all!

Texts for this meditation: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children” (Matthew 11: 15-19). See also Luke 7:24-35.

“It Will Be Worth It All”

(Photo Credits: I took all the photos on our trip last October, except for the three of the caiman, which were very kindly shared with me by Guenther Distler. Thank you, Guenther and Ilse! We loved getting to know you!!)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (75): Go and Show

Have you ever found yourself doubting whether or not Jesus really was the Son of God? Let’s face it—maybe you’re among the many who even doubt whether or not Jesus really lived. Do you relegate him to the status of myth? Did you know that there are more extant written records concerning Jesus existing as a real, historical person than there are for King Tut . . . or probably any other famous person from antiquity? If you accept that Buddha, Julius Caesar, Muhammad, and Genghis Khan were real people, then you should not doubt that Jesus Christ was a real person who lived and died in space and time here on earth. He was legendary but not a legend.

But, who was Jesus? Was he really the Son of God as the Bible claims, or was he simply a good man who went about miraculously healing people and speaking words of wisdom? Even his cousin, John the Baptist, began to experience doubts about Jesus while sitting confined in prison. John became so discouraged that he sent two of his followers to ask Jesus, and I just love the answer Jesus gave them: “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matthew 11:4-6).

If you are not sure whether or not Jesus really is the Son of God, then I would like to encourage you to make a scientific study of the evidence. I’m just finishing an excellent book called Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for Christianity, by J. Warner Wallace. Detective Wallace mentions one mysterious case where a woman disappeared and became a “cold case” until he picked it up years later. He gathered so much evidence that he was able to convict the true killer—who turned out to be the woman’s husband—even though the family could not believe the husband was capable of killing his wife. At the sentencing, the husband finally confessed to killing his wife, even telling the court where her remains could be found!

The remains of Jesus will never be found, because he rose again from the dead, but that’s not my real point. My real point is that there is so much evidence pointing to the reality of Jesus’ life of miraculous healings, his death by crucifixion, and his resurrection that I think an honest study would bring most people to believe there is enough evidence to “convict” Jesus of being whom he said he was: the Son of God. In the book of John, we read this discussion about the person of Christ, “There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:19-21).

What do you think? Have you met anyone who could actually restore sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, heal the lame and lepers, raise the dead, and preach the gospel? IF someone really did this, wouldn’t you tend to want to follow him . . . to figure out who he was and how he got his power? Wouldn’t you be likely to believe him when he said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:9-11).

If you’re feeling confined at home during this COVID-19 pandemic (maybe just a little like John the Baptist was 2,000 years ago), this might be the perfect time to investigate the claims of Christianity and make sure of your faith! Several of J. Warner Wallace’s books are available on Amazon, or if you have Scribd, you can listen to them as audio books. I would like to recommend these three:

Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels

God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe

Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for Christianity

Once you’ve confirmed your faith, then you’ll be in a position to follow Jesus’s admonition: “Go and show!”

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 11:2-6 “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. ” Also from Luke 7:18-23 (although I’ll only quote verse 22 here): “Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

*Photo credit: The beautiful painting by Yongsung Kim is used by permission of Haven Light Ministries:

https://www.foundationarts.com/yongsung-kim

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (74): Go Believing and Receive

Here’s one amazing promise Jesus made to someone that I wish we could all claim today during this COVID pandemic: “And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour” (Matthew 8:13).

Of course, the mighty military leader didn’t demand that Jesus heal his beloved servant, he humbly “beseeched” (earnestly begged) Jesus. In fact, it doesn’t actually say that the centurion even asked Jesus to heal his servant! He only got so far as to explain his predicament—that his servant was suffering terribly, and Jesus intervened, offering to come and heal him. The centurion, however, was so respectful of Jesus’s time that he quickly asked simply for Jesus to “speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8).

This seems like the perfect example for us as we pray for our loved ones. I think our natural tendency is to ask for a miraculous healing on the spot, or an end to COVID world-wide (which I definitely find myself doing), but perhaps the better way is simply to bring the situation to Jesus. What do we want? Relief for our loved ones (and frankly, for those who are suffering everywhere). Like all our burdens, Jesus wants us to bring them to him and let him deal with them as He sees fit. Do we have enough faith in Jesus and in his wisdom to simply bring our troubles to him without demanding a particular solution?

Of course, Jesus went above and beyond what the centurion was hoping for in providing relief, but Jesus did give the centurion this imperative: “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee” (Matthew 8:13). If we are to follow the centurion’s example, this puts significant pressure on us! Our job is to “carry on and keep believing.”

What does this look like? I think it incorporates a lot of the “Carry On and Keep . . .” ideas—keep calm for sure, but perhaps even more. As we are carrying on, I think Jesus also wants us to be strong in our faith and never give up hope!

To be patient and prayerful.

To be happy because we believe that God is good and will work everthing out in the end for good—not only in our lives, but also in the lives of all who love him.

Finally, Jesus came so that we could live an abundant life even in the midst of suffering . . . casting all our cares on him, knowing that he will take care of us (1 Peter 5:7). This may be relatively hard or easy for each of us, depending on the depth of our sufferings and the strength of our faith, but this is what God wants for each of us, and He is worthy of our trust!

Text for this meditation: “And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour” (Matthew 8:5-13).

And, for those who are ill . . .

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (73): The Acid Test for Prophets

It’s almost springtime, and although our woods won’t really be filled with apple blossoms for another two months, I can almost smell their fragrance. Have you ever looked forward to something that never came to be? Have you ever trusted someone who bitterly disappointed you?

Jesus gave us a stern warning in Matthew 7:15-20, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

The AntiChrist and the Devil by Signorelli, Public Domain

I would like to tackle this issue today: How can we discern between true and false prophets (and friends!) so we aren’t misled, disappointed, and possibly destroyed?

Moses at the Burning Bush by Sébastien Bourdon, Public domain

True prophets were men appointed by God to receive divine revelations and communicate them to people. God often gave these prophets information concerning future events, and in a few rare instances also endowed them with miraculous powers to establish their credibility. Moses is the perfect example of a true prophet. Moses was not seeking enlightenment or special revelation (and he didn’t solicit for funds to operate his “ministy”). Rather, God appeared to him and commissioned him to lead the Israelites back to the Promised Land. Moses led an extremely difficult life of self-sacrificing service, never amassed money or property, and died humbly.

Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, and Samuel are other prime examples of true prophets in the Old Testament. When Samuel died, he asked the people: “Behold, here I am: witness against me before the Lord, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you” (1 Samuel 12:3). True prophets were paid by God (usually via tithes and offerings) to do God’s work, and there is not one time recorded in the Bible where the prophets asked for financial help. On the contrary, prophets refused all gifts from individuals so there would be no conflict of interest (see 2 Kings 5:15-16, “But he said, As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused“; Acts 8:18-20, “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money”).

Christ carrying the cross by El Greco, ca. 1577-87. Public Domain

Jesus was not only the Son of God, he was also the greatest prophet who ever lived and is the best example to us of a true prophet. He only spoke the truths he heard from God, always did His Father (God’s) will, and died after bearing our sins on the cross. He lived and died a selfless (and I suspect penniless) life.

There are at least 62 named male and female prophets in the Bible, another 15 who had prophetic experience, seven unnamed prophets, and 11 named false prophets. The Bible makes it clear that the difference between a true prophet and a false prophet is whether or not they have been truly commissioned by God and are speaking God’s truths by His command.

Prophet by Swiss -French artist Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, 1902.
National Gallery of Art, London. Public Domain

The Bible has many warnings about false prophets. Jesus taught that false prophets “shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22). So, having miraculous powers does not prove that a person is a true prophet. Nor does the ability to know secrets, as we see illustrated at various times in the New Testament, where people under the influence of Satan could prophesy (see Acts 16:16-23).

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

False prophets can imitate true prophets both by (at times) performing miraculous signs and (at times) knowing information that is not common knowledge, so we cannot equate the use of supernatural powers with validity. Still, we must learn to discern false prophets and avoid them: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

For a starter, if anybody is making a profit from their prophecies, you can be sure they are false prophets just out to make a profit: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). But, greed and extortion is still not the acid test. 2 Peter 2:1 adds: “There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” False prophets do not believe in Jesus Christ as the LORD God. They may profess that he is a good man, or a good prophet, but they will not confess that He alone is the Lord and Savior who was sent by God to redeem the world. They will not worship Christ as the Messiah or bow before him as Doubting Thomas did, who came to the realization that Jesus was, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:27-28, emphasis mine).

However, here is the acid test that Jesus gave us: These ravening wolves who come to us in sheep’s clothing are corrupt, barren, and cannot produce good fruit. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).

What are the good fruits by which you will know those who are likely to be speaking the truth? The fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires(Galatians 5:22-23). “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Where we see pride, greed, arrogance and sensuality, we can know that we are listening to the words of false prophets and false friends who are selfishly motivated and producing “corrupt” fruit: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

So the “acid test” if you will is this: It has to not only look like an apple and smell like an apple, but it has to taste like an apple, and not a dark, rotten, mushy, holey, worm-infested, sour apple! Those who are led by the Holy Spirit will not strike you as acidic and bitter; they will be firm, but they will be holy, health-giving, and sweet. Their fruit will be good!

Beloved, let’s be discerning ourselves, and let’s help others discern good from bad and truth from falsehood.

Matthew 7:15-20, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (72): Finding the Strait Gate

I cannot read Jesus’ admonition to enter the “strait gate” without thinking of “every man” from Pilgrim’s Progress.

This man was so burdened by what he’d read in the Book that he left his hometown in search of the Celestial City.

However, he quickly discovered that he had to enter through a special gate before he could find the narrow path that would actually lead him to the great city.

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus explained it this way, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Have you found and entered the Strait Gate that leads to heaven?

In Pilgrim’s Progress, a man named Evangelist points “every man” to the gate where he can be relieved from his burden.

But, it’s a difficult climb to get to the gate, and along the way, he meets a man named Obstinate, who refuses to make the climb, choosing rather to attempt reaching the Celestial City by traveling one of the many easier, wider, less restrictive paths.

This part of the story is very sad, of course, because no one can actually get to the Celestial City unless they are willing to pass through the Strait Gate first. It’s not that the gate is hard to find, or that people won’t be allowed in after they find it. All they have to do is knock, and the gate door will be opened, but most people are too proud to ask, and so they wander off trying to find some other way across the chasm of death to everlasting life.

My father became a believer shortly before he died, but for most of his life, he preferred quoting this poem:

Invictus
—William Ernest Henley, 1875

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

“In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

It is with great relief and joy I can share with you that just a few years before he died, my father decided to enter in through the Strait Gate, drop his burden of sin at the foot of the cross, and begin his journey to the Celestial City. As his youngest daughter, and the one who had the privilege of pilgriming beside him during those last years, I observed that he was a much more peaceful, pleasant companion after he gave up trying to be the captain of his own soul.

Is your head still “bloody, but unbowed”? If so, will you bow your head today and let Jesus forgive your sins and heal your heart? Will you join with the millions of us who are pilgrims on the narrow road that leads to life everlasting? Don’t be angry with God! He loves us. He provided a way for us to be reconciled to him through the blood of Christ. He offers eternal life for “whosoever will” believe. Will you take him at his word and begin your journey through the Strait Gate to the Celestial City?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

Text for today’s meditation: Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.