“But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions.”
The writer of Hebrews was communicating to a people that were very familiar with reproaches and afflictions. In doing so, he urged them to recall the days when, “after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions.” The word illuminated means “to shine light on or be made to see.” After they were illuminated, they were faced with great afflictions.
Have you ever experienced something similar? After you experienced some work of illuminating grace in your life – seeing something you had not seen before or seeing it in a different light – you were immediately met by a trial of some sort. This seems to be one of those principles, though perhaps not universal, but nonetheless very common. After you were “illuminated” or enlightened, after you saw the truth, you found yourself in “a great fight of afflictions.”
When God shows us something or gives us light, and we respond by obeying or walking in that light, we should not be surprised if that step of obedience is tested in some way. This often happens when a person is saved. He finds himself facing trials or temptations that he never experienced previously. Because he does not expect this, he may become discouraged or wonder if God is really there for him. The same thing can be true when a believer makes a new commitment to obey some truth that God has revealed or takes back some ground previously surrendered. Almost immediately, it seems that his commitment is being put to the test. TRUTH WILL BE TESTED.
There are numerous examples of this in the Scripture. When Moses announced that the Israelites would be leaving Egypt, things immediately got much worse. After Jesus was baptized, He was led into forty days of intense temptation. Soon after Joseph announced his dream, he was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. You see, it is a very common occurrence.
We should remember that Satan will try to discourage us when we are seeking to step out by faith and obey God. Let’s not allow the affliction to hinder us. Actually, God may be allowing us to be tested to demonstrate that our faith is genuine. When the truths and principles of Scripture are tested and proven in our lives, our faith is strengthened and Christ is glorified in us.
“The LORD hath been sore displeased with your fathers. Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. Be ye not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings: but they did not hear, nor hearken unto me, saith the LORD.”
The spiritual negligence of the nation of Israel is commonly known. They were consistently inconsistent in their devotion to God. They would turn to God when He severely chastised them; soon after, would return to their careless and rebellious ways. God’s message to Zechariah was that He was “sore displeased” with their fathers who “did not hear, nor hearken unto me, saith the LORD.” He admonished the people, “Be ye not as your fathers.”
We know there is a natural tendency to be like our parents. This is sometimes a good thing. Some were reared in solid Christian homes and were taught by godly parents who were great examples to follow. We should certainly thank God for the great privilege of being influenced by parents or grandparents who were sincere believers and proper role models for us. However, many did not have that opportunity. Some were saved as adults or teenagers and knew nothing of a Christian home environment. Others may have had parents who claimed to be saved but were not committed to living for the Lord.
Zechariah’s message, “Be ye not as your fathers,” contains great hope and direction for those who want to live more consistently for the Lord than their parents did. If God tells us that we are to be different from our fathers, we can be assured that it is possible to live differently from our fathers. It is fairly common for people to believe that they are somehow locked into a cycle or pattern of undesirable behavior because of the lifestyle of their parents. This is simply not true.
If we came from a past with no godly heritage, we can be different from our fathers. How is that possible? Zechariah tells us that we must turn from our evil ways, turn to the Lord and hearken to His Word. The Scripture promised that if they would turn to God, He would turn to them, and they would not have to be as their fathers.
“Then went king David in, and sat before the LORD, and he said, Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?
II Samuel 7:18
David had revealed to Nathan the prophet that he wanted to build a permanent temple, or house of God. God instructed Nathan to tell David that the king’s son, who would succeed David as king, would actually fulfill this dream of David’s. God also informed David that his house and the kingdom would be established forever. When David heard these words, his first response was, “Who am I, O Lord GOD?” David was overwhelmed that God had been so good to him, and he knew that he was undeserving of God’s great goodness. Why would God choose David to be the one to be so mightily blessed?
At times, we have certainly felt the same way. Who am I? Why have we been so wonderfully blessed? Who am I that I could be a resident of this great country, and enjoy all the freedoms and benefits associated with that privilege? Who am I that I would be able to be exposed to the Gospel of Christ from an early age? Who am I that I could have in my possession a copy of the very Word of God? Who am I that I could know with absolute certainty that eternal salvation is found through faith in Christ alone and that any other message is a false hope? Who am I that Christ would suffer and die on the cross for my sins? Who am I that I might have the promise that all my sins are forgiven? Who am I that I could be a member of a church where Christ is honored and the Bible is preached and the Spirit of God is working? Who am I that I could have the assurance, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, that one day I will reside in Heaven where there is no pain or sickness or separation? Who am I that I will never experience the reality of hell for even a split second?
It should humble us to think of how good God has been to us. It is not because we merited these blessings because of something we have done. We never earned or deserved any of these great gifts that have been promised to us. We are a most blessed people. Who are we? We are the children of the living God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. We are justified by His grace, redeemed by his blood, and adopted into God’s eternal family. We are mightily and everlastingly blessed, all because of the magnificent goodness of God.
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.”
Amos was a prophet to the nation of Israel. He proclaimed to the rebellious nation that they would be taken into captivity and led out of their homeland. Of course, the reason these people would be taken captive was their refusal to hear and heed the messages God was sending them. Amos announced that a day would come when there would be a famine in the land “of hearing the words of the LORD.”
God was letting them know that the day was coming when God’s Word would be absent from their lives. A famine is a horrible thing. To be without food and starving to death or to be without water and dying of thirst-these are dreadful conditions. For God to be silent or for there to be no faithful proclamation and explanation of Scripture would also be a horrible experience. These, who had rejected the Word of God, would one day be without the message of truth.
This presents a sobering reality, in addition to the historical message to Israel. For those who resist hearing God’s Word and find His Truth an unwelcome intruder, there will come a time when they will no longer have to be bothered by the Bible’s message. Like Israel, who after continuing to rebel against the commands of Scripture and ignoring the warnings of the prophets, eventually found themselves in a world without the “words of the LORD.”
Others will one day find that God has silenced His call for them to repent. Many will one day long for a Bible sermon or an opportunity to turn from sin and selfishness, but in hell there will be a famine “of hearing the words of the LORD.” We also know of nations where the Bible was once preached soundly and believed. However, revival has since departed and churches have accepted formality and ritual instead of preaching. To find a clear presentation of the Gospel or a call for repentance and trusting in the blood of Calvary alone for salvation is a scarcity in those lands.
What about America? Is it not true that the preaching of the pure Word of God is becoming harder and harder to find? Why has old-fashioned Bible preaching been replaced with musical presentations, seminars, drama, and other forms of entertainment? Could it be that we are already headed for such a famine?
“And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.”
Jesus came to this earth to help people. He came to seek and to save the lost and to give His life as a ransom for many. We would say that He was in the “people business.” He healed the multitudes and taught the masses the Word of God, and He also gave individuals His undivided attention. Sometimes He would spend special times of instruction with His closest followers. He was available at virtually all times to tend to the needs of hurting humanity.
Was there ever a time when He was not available to the people? The answer is found in our text. There were times when our Savior would pull Himself away from the seemingly endless sea of people, that He might pray and spend time with His Heavenly Father. “He withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.” If Jesus needed to withdraw Himself from others, seeking solitude for times of prayer and fellowship with the Father, what about you and me? Should we not also withdraw ourselves from time to time? If Jesus needed this season of prayer, we need it more.
There are any number of reasons we fail to make these times of devotion and prayer a priority. Perhaps our schedule gets overcrowded, or we wrongfully feel that we can manage without regular times of spiritual retreat, or other obligations and responsibilities cry out for our attention. Whatever the case, we need to make the necessary adjustments to provide time alone with the Lord.
We notice in the language of Scripture that Jesus “withdrew himself.” He took responsibility and initiative. It was a decision that He made. The same is true for us; we have to withdraw ourselves. No one can make that decision for us. It is an activity that we have to treat as a priority. There were other things crying out for attention in Jesus’ world, but He chose to withdraw for some much needed time of prayer. We must do the same. There needs to be time set aside to be alone with the Lord. Ideally, we should try to reserve some time at the beginning and ending of each day to converse with our Father.
One “built in” weekly opportunity to withdraw ourselves is the Lord’s Day. Here is a day of rest from normal secular demands and a day of worship, study, and prayer. We must recognize the importance of such times and guard them; otherwise, they will be lost in other activity.
“They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”
Jonah was praying to God from within the belly of the whale. Three days of chastisement had been working on the heart and attitude of the disobedient preacher. God heard Jonah’s prayer, released him to dry ground, and gave him a second opportunity to carry God’s Word to Nineveh. In Jonah’s prayer, he stated, “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”
Tremendous truth is contained in his renewed perspective. Lying vanities are empty and deceitful bits of information. Satan is skillful in sending us lying vanities. Jonah had been guilty of observing some of these lies. Examples of lying vanities would be thoughts like, “God is not good,” or “Sin can bring fulfillment,” or “God would never forgive me or give me another chance.” We err when we observe these lies by taking them to heart or believing them. When we believe a lie, there can be damaging consequences.
One result when people observe lying vanities is that they “forsake their own mercy.” It is assuring to know that there is mercy available to us, but Jonah tells us that when we believe lying vanities, we forsake or turn away from the mercy or goodness God has for us. Jonah rebelled against God’s will and fled from the Lord’s presence. In his mind, Jonah must have been convinced that God’s will was not best. He believed things that were not true. When we observe lying vanities, these lies become, in our minds, as though they were true. The more a person believes a lie, the truer it becomes in his mind. We must learn to recognize and reject lying vanities. False imaginations can lead us far from the will and ways of God. Many people have been deceived by these lying vanities, and like Jonah, they paid a great price for their spiritual detours.
How can we recognize lying vanities? We must bring our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ and make certain that the information we believe is in agreement with the Word of God. The standard of truth is the Scripture. If the things we have believed in our minds are not consistent with the Bible, then they are lies. If we can discern lying vanities, we will not observe or believe them. We forsake, or forfeit, God’s goodness in our lives when we observe lying vanities. As we grow in the Lord, may we learn to compare spiritual things with spiritual and reject information that contradicts truth.
“Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.”
Paul, after having been falsely accused, was taken from the temple by a mob that wanted to kill him. Roman soldiers intervened and kept Paul bound until he could answer his accusers the following day. As the faithful man of God was allowed to give his defense before the religious counsel, the high priest took offense to Paul’s words and ordered that Paul be smitten in the mouth. Without knowing the identity of the high priest, Paul reacted with strong words for the way he was being treated. When he was informed that the man was the high priest, Paul was quick to express his regret for his comment. He knew he had been wrong in his response and readily admitted it. Even though the high priest was wrong in the way he treated Paul, Paul did not feel free to treat the leader with a lack of respect.
This is a great lesson for us all. Because we are mistreated does not give us the right to retaliate. Paul was a very special servant of God. He, like few others, had been faithful in obeying the Lord’s will. If anyone deserved respect, it would have been him. Perhaps no individual, with the exception of Christ Himself, would have such an impact on the human race. Through Paul’s missionary work and the epistles that God wrote through him, multiplied millions would be influenced. Yet, he did not feel that he had the right to show disrespect to Ananias. It may very well be that Paul was correct in his assessment of the high priest, but the manner in which he expressed it was not what it should have been.
Sometimes people in places of responsibility or authority will make mistakes. When that happens, how should we respond? Does the fact that a leader has shown his humanity permit us to be disrespectful towards him? Paul did not think so. We certainly want leaders who are sincere and who seek to lead in the right direction, whether in the home, the church, on the job, or in the government. We must remember, however, that at their best, they are still human. It is unrealistic and unwise to expect perfection from any human, even the most sincere of them. When we see that we have overreacted or mistreated someone, like Paul, we must be willing to make it right.
“Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.”
Nehemiah 1:8, 9
Nehemiah, serving in the palace of the King of Persia, had been informed of the deplorable condition of Jerusalem and his people. His heart was broken, and the immediate response was to pray with fasting, beseeching God for mercy and help. God’s people were in bondage as a direct result of their disobedience and rebellion. The Scripture records Nehemiah’s prayer. We hear Nehemiah as he is reminding God of His promise to restore His people when they genuinely turn to Him in repentance. What a merciful God that we serve! He is willing to forgive and to revive when He sees the heart that is truly repentant.
Repentance is vitally important and powerful as it has a profound influence on the one doing the repenting. We know that we do not have the power to effect lasting change in our weak and sinful constitution. We need God’s help in a real way. Repentance includes a change of mind or attitude about our sin. When we are willing to admit we are wrong and regret the sinful way we have lived, it will have an influence on our attitudes and decisions.
Repentance also influences God. God declares in His Word that He is compelled to move in the heart of the penitent. For instance, Psalm 51:17 says, “â¦ a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” True repentance influences us, but it also influences God.
In addition, our repentance can impact others. Nehemiah reminded God of His promise: that if His people were scattered and divided, but would turn to Him in repentance, He would cause them to be delivered and restored. When there is sincere repentance on the part of some, others will be affected. This was the position Nehemiah was taking in prayer. He was confessing and repenting for his nation’s sin and claiming that God would in turn do a work in His people. What might God do if more of His people followed Nehemiah’s example, turning to Him in sincere repentance?
“And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
Ruth 1:16, 17
Elimelech and his wife Naomi, along with their two sons, relocated to Moab because there was a famine in the land of Bethlehem in Judah. While in Moab, both of the sons were married. In time, Elimelech, as well as the two sons, died in Moab. Eventually Naomi received news that the famine was over in Judah and she would return to her homeland. Naomi insisted that her two daughters-in-law return to their families. Ruth was faced with a decision. Would she remain in her native Moab or leave with Naomi, her mother-in-law, and go to Bethlehem? Ruth’s commitment and loyalty to Naomi is recorded in God’s Word and stands for all time as an example of genuine commitment, especially in the area of relationships. Ruth elected to be loyal to her mother-in-law.
The kind of loyalty displayed by Ruth is greatly lacking in our world, even among those who profess to know Christ. There is often an absence of enduring faithfulness to family and friends. Marriages are too easily divided; and friends are too quick to part company when greater commitment and loyalty would seek reconciliation. Members sometimes leave churches over misunderstandings or disagreements that could be worked through and forgiven. How strong is your loyalty to those you are related to by family or friendship?
Ruth also expressed her loyalty to the Lord. She was committing to leave the false gods of the Moabites to cling to the only true and living God, the God of Israel. This decision, to be faithful to the Lord, was a major decision. This kind of loyalty is desperately needed. Some claim loyalty to Jesus, but it is conditional. When a trial comes that tests their faith, or when they see the way the wicked seem to prosper, they turn back to the old way of life. God help us to be loyal to our Savior in good times and bad. Ruth’s loyalty was for the rest of her life, saying, “if ought but death part thee and me.” We would be wise to follow the example of Ruth in remaining loyal to the end.
“For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
Hebrews 4: 15, 16
Jesus knows what we are going through. He is aware because He is the Omniscient God, but He also knows because He walked this earth as Emmanuel, God with us. Our Savior came to this earth to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the whole world. In doing so, He experienced and endured every imaginable temptation and trial, and He did it without ever sinning. He was the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb without spot or blemish.
Because we know that He personally went through so much, we can know that He empathizes with what we go through in this life. All of us have heard someone say, “I know how you feel,” and we have thought to ourselves, “How can you possibly know how I feel?” Sometimes we try to tell someone about our problems, and it becomes apparent that they cannot relate to our difficulties. Jesus is different. He is touched with the feelings of our weaknesses and our struggles. He has been where we are. He understands, and we know that He cares.
Because He knows what we are facing, we can confidently come to Him in prayer. We can “come boldly unto the throne of grace.” Jesus understands when no one else understands. We need not wonder or doubt if our Lord is there for us when we need Him. When we are tempted or lonely, He understands. When we face persecution and betrayal, there is Someone who knows the heartache and feels the pain. It is so comforting when a friend or family member can sympathize with us when we are going through tough times.
Most of us would have to admit that there are times when we need a friend, and we fail to turn to our most understanding Friend. All of us experience those situations when we desperately need help. We need to know that someone cares, understands, will listen, and can help us. Jesus is such a Friend. He is there with mercy and grace. We will never be without our faithful and compassionate Companion and Counselor. All those who know the Lord Jesus can “find grace to help in time of need.”