A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
Two things get me about this. One is my own impression, one is a point I heard somewhere (can’t remember where to give credit where it’s due).
My impression is that this is a glimpse into the caring and loving nature of Jesus. He was filled with compassion. This poor guy was sick with a highly contagious, incurable disease and no one else would have dreamed of touching him. Jesus didn’t hesitate. Do you realize this may have been the first time in YEARS that this man was touched by another human being?
James 4:2 You do not have, because you do not ask God. I wonder about the leper. Going by other passages in the Bible, like the Jewish leaders berating the formerly blind man and accusing him of being steeped in sin from birth, it is likely the leper believed his disease came about by sin. It is almost certainly true this is what others believed about him. He might easily not have approached Jesus, thinking, “I don’t deserve to be healed,” or, “He won’t want to talk to me.”
I know from reading the gospels that Jesus NEVER just went up to people and healed them (My only beef with Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but that’s another story). He healed in response to either someone coming to him, or someone coming to him on someone else’s behalf (the only exception I can think of is the soldier in the garden but that is a totally different context). So that guy could have sat around wishing Jesus would heal him until the cows came home and nothing would have happened. He was risking public humiliation and maybe worse by approaching Jesus when lepers were generally shunned from society. But what he got from Jesus was love, and kindness.
I pray for other people all the time but have a hard time praying for myself. Not because I’m so angelic and selfless but because I don’t think I have any right to expect God to listen to me. Even after all these years—all the things he’s done in my life, all the times he’s proven his love for me, individually, I still don’t approach him with confidence. I’m in a lather about taxes this year because of the health insurance tax credits. I’m expecting a big tax bill and have no clue how to pay it. I’m seeing my tax person tomorrow and I’ve been in knots over this for weeks. It only occurred to me this morning to lift it to the Lord in prayer. Why? Because I’m a sinner who deserves to get a mammoth bill when I don’t have the money to pay it. I deserve whatever I get.. . . Oh, wait, I forgot: His blood washed away my sins, the temple curtain has been torn, and I’m allowed into the holy of holies. I get to talk to my Heavenly Father one-on-one.I was missing my earthly dad this morning, then remembered I have a heavenly one who is far more capable than even my own excellent father was.
Maybe I’m not the only one. Maybe if you’re reading this you feel the same way — unworthy. Just talk to him, anyway.Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.– James 5:7.
I’ve read up through Matt 5:12 (the Beatitudes) so far. Can’t believe how much happens in just a few pages when you’re paying attention.
Matt 2:1-2: Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the East [or: when it rose] and have come to worship him.”
Okay, fodder for a million Christmas pageants, but listen to what’s going on here! We take from this that GENTILE scholars read the HEBREW scriptures (Daniel 9, Jeremiah 23:5, Numbers 24:17), did the math, and knew that the time of the Messiah was at hand. These Gentiles not only read the scriptures but believed them, so when they saw the “star” they knew what it was and traveled a great distance to greet the King they knew would be there.
But then read on to verse 3: When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. A) Why were they disturbed? And B) Why weren’t they looking or expecting for their own scripture to be fulfilled?
A) Well, why Herod was alarmed is obvious—he would hate and fear what he saw as a threat to his throne. We know that he was an Idumean (Edomite) and so had little if any Jewish blood, so he wasn’t a descendant of David and had no real right to the throne. He was really just a puppet king installed by Rome for their own purposes. So he wouldn’t feel secure on his throne, and we know from history he was paranoid and even murdered his own sons.
Why was all Jerusalem also disturbed? My guess is it wasn’t because they loved Herod so much. More likely they feared what Rome would do if it caught wind of a possible uprising. But we also see here that they weren’t looking for prophecy fulfillment and were taken by surprise. The chief priests and scholars hadn’t pointed out the star or what it meant, and did nothing until Herod asked them where the Messiah was to be born. Herod found out about the star from the Magi, not the Jewish scholars.
Side note: This ain’t no ordinary star! It moved ahead of them and stopped over the place where Jesus was (2:9). Reminds me of the presence of God in Exodus, that moved ahead of the Israelites in a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, leading them where it wanted them to go and stopping when it wanted them to stop. Whatever the star was, it likely wasn’t a giant ball of gas billions of miles away.
The Magi — foreigners — were overjoyed. They worshipped Jesus and gave him expensive gifts. Up to this point no one had worshipped or felt joy at the presence of Jesus, except Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her unborn baby John.
The history of the Jewish people is, in my opinion, a reflection on all of humanity at our best and our worst. And especially about how thick, stubborn and even ridiculous we can all be. We see it here. The entire history in the Bible of the Jewish people follows this same basic path: Rescued by God>Prosperity>Rebellion>Punishment>Repentance>Restoration. Repeat ad nauseum. After the return from the Babylonian exile the Jews were no longer idolators, but they got so caught up in obsessive observance of every letter of the law that they missed the big picture. They were for the most part oblivious to the greater truth of God in their midst, his purpose, and what he really wanted for them.
Which, if they had only realized, was more beautiful than anything they could have imagined in their wildest dreams.
What my NIV notes say about Matthew: Most likely written by Matthew (Levi), the tax collector and disciple of Jesus, somewhere between 15-40 years after the Resurrection (how they got these dates I don’t know).
Nabeel Qureshi, Christian apologist and former Muslim, on the first time he opened the Bible for guidance: “I went to Matthew Chapter 1. The first thing I saw was a bunch of genealogies, so I skipped ’em! Don’t judge me, Christians, I had an excuse!”
I don’t have an excuse and have come to believe that every word in the Bible is there for a reason, so I did read the genealogy. My favorite is “Ram the father of Amminidab.” That just sounds great. Wonder what their story was.
What I take from the genealogy:
1) It is demonstrating the undeniability of Jesus’ Jewish ancestry.
2) Jesus is a descendant of David, from the kingly line through Solomon. That would make him a rightful king of Judah, so why is Herod–an Edomite–on the throne? (Side note: I wonder how many other descendants of David were alive at that time? Just curious. David and Solomon both had like a gazillion kids each).
3) Women are mentioned in this genealogy, unusual since women in Jesus’ time were regarded about the same as women in strict Shariah-ruled Islamic countries are today. We see Tamar, who tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her, Rahab the prostitute, Bathsheba the adulteress (although she is only mentioned as the wife of Uriah), and, of course, Mary.
4) Comparing Matthew and Luke (Spoiler Alert! They’re not the same.) I’ve read from different sources that scholars generally agree that one genealogy traces Jesus’ line through Joseph, and the other through Mary. Matthew traces the Davidic line through Solomon while Luke traces it through Nathan. Both were sons of Bathsheba, not one of David’s other wives.
Now we get on to the story — Mary is already expecting by the Holy Spirit. Engaged but not yet married to Joseph. He finds out she’s pregnant. We aren’t told his personal feelings on the matter but we do know he isn’t about to go through with marriage to a girl he now considers an adulteress. But he’s a decent fellow and doesn’t want her exposed to “public disgrace” (i.e., stoned to death), so plans to divorce her quietly.
Then an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, gives him the scoop, then assigns him the task (privilege?) of naming the baby. …”you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save the people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21). “Jesus” is the anglicized Greek form of the Hebrew “Yeshua,” which means “Salvation.”
Matthew is all about showing how Jesus fulfilled OT Messianic prophecy, and here is the first one: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’– which means, ‘God with us.’ “ (Mt 1:22-23, referring back to Isaiah 7:14)
So what do I take from this? Matthew is establishing the basis the rest of his book will be built on — Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and Jesus is God.
This isn’t what I had planned on posting. And it isn’t about caregiving, or dementia. Oh, well.
September 16, 2017
About a year and a half ago I became interested in Christian apologetics. It occurred to me that I have absolutely no tools with which to defend my faith. Truth be told, I don’t have the tools to defend why breathing is a good idea and everyone ought to try it. I am beyond non-confrontational. I am more the “hurl one accusation at me and I freeze solid” type. So, to try to remedy that, I started listening to what the apologists have to say. It sent me on a journey I never expected, one that I now feel has only really just begun.
C.S. Lewis was the obvious first choice. For many years, I believed that Christian apologetics began and ended with him. I had no idea anyone else ever did it. He is the best and the brightest (please, please read Mere Christianity no matter what your personal beliefs are. You won’t regret it), but I learned he’s not the only one. I’d heard Ravi Zacharias on the radio, and through him discovered other great modern Christian minds, including John Lennox, Andy Bannister, and a convert from Islam named Nabeel Qureshi.
Nabeel especially captured my attention. Young, handsome, passionate and charismatic, he was captivating to listen to. He gave many lengthy talks on his journey from Islam to Christianity (as well as writing books, including Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, and No God but One), and from him I gained many insights on Muslim thinking and way of life. He was a gifted teacher with a bright future ahead of him. Then he was diagnosed with incurable stomach cancer. For the past year he has released many video blogs of his cancer journey, from chemo, to radiation, to more chemo, to immunotherapy, as well as the other treatments, surgeries, and procedures he endured along the way. It was hard to watch, and pretty much obvious from the get-go that his healing would only ever come from divine intervention. Many thousands of people, including myself, prayed for him throughout this past year and waited on a miracle from God.
Nabeel died today. I will never understand this side of eternity why an all-powerful God said no to our prayers. I don’t know what the answer is. I do believe his ministry will continue to bear fruit; if nothing else, I know the effect it has had on my own life. I also know that Jesus never promised us an easy life. In fact, quite the opposite. In John 16:33 he tells the twelve disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.” Which they did. One committed suicide, ten were martyred, and only one died of old age. But he followed up that statement with, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
What exactly does that mean? To an outsider, it’s just hot air coming from a deluded nut job who duped his buddies into enduring hell on earth for however many years before dying. A few days ago I posted a request on Twitter for prayer for Nabeel. Some guy who wouldn’t use his real name (I’ll call him Poison Pen), responded with a bunch of vitriol against Nabeel and God. We had a discussion on Twitter that was interesting for a couple of days until he abandoned his arguments and kept throwing “God is a psycho” around and not responding rationally to anything I or anyone else on the thread had to say. Before things deteriorated, Poison Pen kept circling back to how could a loving God let people die, focusing on the millions who died in the Flood. It is the age-old question. The answer boils down to Free Will, pure and simple. Without the opportunity to rebel against God, we could never be rational creatures capable of thought, creativity, love, or anything else worth having. That statement opens up millions of avenues for discussion, and people far cleverer than I have devoted volumes to the topic.
It doesn’t, however, explain why a 34-year-old God-fearing man with a wife and daughter who need him, just died from a disease that usually attacks people far older. Poison Pen, a self-described atheist, apparently speaks on behalf of all Muslims, for he told me that Muslims believe Allah cursed Nabeel for abandoning the faith. (I asked him then what do Muslims believe when a young Muslim gets cancer? He just told me to go ask a Muslim. Pointless arguments are such fun.) Anyway, I don’t understand why Nabeel has died; I do believe God can and does cure people. My neighbor, a cancer survivor, was told her cancer had returned and spread to her bones about the same time Nabeel received his diagnosis. She opted for no treatment, is currently in remission and just finished a program at the local college and recently welcomed her first grandchild. Is God brutal or weak because Nabeel died? Is he gracious and strong because my neighbor is alive? Or is it maybe that we just live in a miserable, fallen world where people get cancer, shot, ran over, overdose, choke on a cherry pit, or eaten by piranhas, every single day? Shit happens.
What the whole point is, ultimately, is what happens after. Whether you die at 5, 34, or 117, the fact remains that sooner or later you’re going to die. No one gets out of here alive (except Enoch and Elijah, but that’s another topic). What happens after? It is eternity that counts. Life on earth is short. Eternity lasts for, well, forever. Poison Pen couldn’t get that concept through his head. He kept telling me how Nabeel’s legacy is ruined and his life was pointless. He wouldn’t understand that Nabeel’s life was well-lived and defined by integrity, faith, and love. His thirty-four short years on earth were precious, and this very afternoon I am sure he heard the words all believers long to hear when we meet Jesus face to face: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
How has Nabeel’s life changed mine? For one, he helped to kickstart my prayer life. He encouraged me to fervently seek God in prayer and the word. He bravely demonstrated consistent faith in and love for God in the most trying circumstances imaginable. He fought the good fight, he ran the race, he kept the faith. Now there is in store for him the crown of righteousness. (2 Timothy 4:7-8) Nabeel is partying right now! He is with the Lord, he is enveloped in love and peace, and he will never know sickness or pain again. He is reunited with a child he never got to meet on Earth when his wife miscarried last year. The tragedy is for the ones left behind, not him.
I want to be like Nabeel: that brave, that bold, that passionate. He is a huge inspiration to me. I will never be an apologist, but I was able to answer Poison Pen intelligently and kindly, two things that would have been beyond me a year ago. I have a lot of questions, and wish this isn’t how Nabeel’s earthly story would have ended. But I know he affected my life. He helped me draw closer to God. I know his legacy will live on, in his family and his testimony. I know I will meet him in Heaven. And I know that, someday, I will fully understand the age-old problem of why we endure pain and suffering.