Sometimes it’s tough to serve God in the shadows. You show up faithfully. You contribute your part, but no one seems to notice. Matthias may have felt that way.
Ever since John the Baptist had prepared the way for the Messiah, Matthias had followed.
- He had walked in Jesus’ footsteps from the Jordan River to the rugged hills of Galilee.
- He had followed the Savior with passion and persuasion.
But without recognition. Matthias was a willing unknown.
In those moments we beg God to rescue us from our insignificant lives, believing nothing important is happening with us, Matthias reminds us that just the opposite is true.
His name is a byword for betrayal. But it never began that way. “Judas” is the Greek form for the Hebrew name Judah—a common designation in ancient Israel.
(Painting: “The Judas Kiss” by Gustave Doré, Public Domain, via Wikimedia)
Judas’s treacherous betrayal came as a complete shock to all who knew him. On the surface, he appeared as dedicated as all the other apostles.
- Chosen by Jesus.
- Worker of miracles.
- Even entrusted as treasurer.
So when Jesus foretold His betrayal at the Last Supper, no disciple at the table pointed and said, “Aha, Judas! I knew there was something about you!” The whole group remained clueless. Each one, in fact, asked, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22).
Strangely, even Judas asked. Don’t you wonder why?
Sometimes what you expect is not what you get. You come to a situation that promises one thing, but you get another. Monday of Passion Week proved that way for Jesus.
The day before that Monday, on Palm Sunday, Jesus hopped on a donkey His disciples had borrowed from Bethphage (meaning “house of unripe figs”).
After His Triumphal Entry on the colt, Jesus entered the Temple area and found the Court of the Gentiles—the area for Gentiles to worship God—filled with markets and moneychangers. Jesus promptly cleaned house, saying:
It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer;” but you are making it a “robber’s den.” —Matt. 21:13
Monday morning, Jesus returned to Jerusalem along the same road He had traveled before. He saw a fig tree in leaf, which typically indicated that it would have unripe figs to eat. But the tree offered only leaves. No fruit for breakfast.
So Jesus cursed the tree. And His disciples heard Him. We should hear Him too.
His words indicate what Jesus is looking for in our lives.
It’s always easier to react to life rather than to shape it. To go with the flow rather than to dig a new trench. Obviously, we want to respond well to what life throws at us. It’s assumed we should do that.
But I believe God gives us help to choose the direction of our lives. To live intentionally for Him. I don’t mean we choose what happens to us, but rather, that God has given us the freedom to make significant choices in spite of our circumstances.
Jesus’ example shows us what choices to make to live intentionally for God.
Two questions can help us do that.
We are more than physical creatures with physical needs. Notice in most prayer meetings that you’ll hear requests for God to help with the tangible needs. That’s fine, except it often ends there.
We don’t always realize how desperate our need is for truth beyond the tangible.
The trouble is, when we face temptation, our challenge is anything but physical—even when the temptation appeals to a physical needs or desires.
Overcoming temptation begins long before temptation.
Jesus shows us how.
Life is full of moments that expose our doubts. In spite of all the Scripture we’ve learned and all the past victories the Lord has given us, occasionally something will happen that causes serious doubt.
Maybe it’s a financial situation that undercuts future security. It might be a miserable marriage. Perhaps it’s a pastor or a leader who has failed. Maybe it’s our own failure.
Whatever the reason, seasons of doubts and confusion can come even to the most committed followers of Jesus:
- John the Baptist struggled with doubts about his own beliefs about Jesus (Matt. 11:2-3).
- The apostle Thomas found the resurrection of Christ something he had to see before he’d believe (John 20:25).
- Some of the disciples had doubts about Jesus’ appearing to them, even at the Great Commission (Matt. 28:17).
I confess, I’ve had my doubts as well. Sometimes circumstances literally demanded I doubt God.
I will never forget one evening during my first few days in Jerusalem. A simple walk gave me an essential reminder that helped relieve my doubts.
Many people have never lived a day without knowing the name of Jesus. They grew up with the hymns and knowing the gospels. Others have taken their knowledge of the Savior further through intensive study, Bible school, or even seminary.
Although many years of knowing Christ often carry with them the danger of familiarity—i.e. complacency—not everyone falls prey to the threat. There is, in fact, another danger.
All of Jesus’ disciples grew up knowing their Bibles. They lived in anticipation of the Messiah. And finally, they had found Him.
- By the time Jesus brought His disciples to Bethsaida that day, they had followed Him for more than two years.
- They carried with them the admiration of the crowds.
- They were leaders, promised by Christ to reign with Him.
What else was there to gain? They had gone as high as they could. Many of us might slip into the same error of thinking.
For the faithful follower of Jesus, there is another danger beyond complacency.
Of all the questions leveled against Christianity, few others cause such heated controversy: “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” For many people, Jesus’ words equate exclusivity with arrogance:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. —John 14:6
The exclusivity of those words is unmistakable. Millions question: “How can Jesus be the only way to God? That’s not fair. It leaves out too many people.”
But if you think about it, the real question isn’t, “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” but rather we should ask, “Is God holy”?
Here’s why that’s the real issue.
One of the biggest surprises to Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem occurs when they step inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection falls short of the expectations of many Christians accustomed to Western worship.
Gold drips from icons. Chanting fills the spaces. Incense rises between cold stone walls. Six sects of Christendom betray jealous rivalries over the goings-on within. Territorial fistfights even occur on occasion.
Without proper mental preparation, a Christian pilgrim may see only the distracting depravity of religion that has affixed itself to this site like barnacles on sunken treasure.
But if we look past today’s traditionalism to history’s tradition, we find an unbroken connection to the central event of all time—the redemption of the universe.
For in this place, Jesus Christ died for your sins and rose again.