• THERE STOOD BY THE CROSS OF JESUS

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    “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.”
    John 19:25

    There has been no darker day in human history than the one described in our text. The Son of God, Emmanuel, Jesus our Savior is suspended between earth and Heaven, as the crucified Lamb of Glory. The powers of darkness are having their day as they do everything possible to destroy the Lord Jesus Christ. The noonday sky grows black as the Light of the World is dying on the cross. While Jesus looks down from Golgotha, what does He see in the way of supporters? “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.”

    Standing by the cross of Jesus was His mother, so near as to hear Him speak. She watched her Son in such agony and saw Him endure such insult and rejection. She herself was exposed to great danger in the midst of this hateful mob. And yet, she “stood by the cross of Jesus.” No doubt she needed to be near Him because He was her Son, but she also needed to be near Him because He was her Savior. Here we find loyalty in its highest form. Nothing could pull these women from the side of their Savior and Friend.

    Where were all of the disciples at this time? Where were those who boasted loud of their faithfulness and promised that nothing could sever them from the side of Jesus? As the Scripture said, all the disciples forsook Him and fled, except John. They ran when the tide of popularity turned against them. They scattered when their King was crowned with thorns and ran when the crowds cried, “Crucify Him!” Yet, “there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother.”

    It might be a somber thing to ask, but perhaps we should consider it. “What would it take for us to abandon Jesus?” Would we remain true to Him no matter what may come? Where would we have been standing on that day of great agony? This scene brings to mind the times we, too, have failed to be loyal to Christ and those who stand with Him. Let it encourage us to be true to our Lord. It is wonderful when family and friends are with us, supporting the Savior’s cause. But it is quite different when those standing with us are far fewer in number. Whatever life brings, may we be found “by the cross of Jesus.”

  • THE PURPOSE OF PRESSURE

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    “Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.”
    Exodus 1:11, 12

    Why does God allow pressure and difficulty to come to His children? We can be sure that He has a purpose, and one of these purposes is seen in our Scripture. The children of Israel lived in Egypt for centuries. Long after the death of Joseph and Pharaoh, a new king came into power that was concerned about the number and might of the Israelites. In an effort designed to slow the growth of the Israelite nation and subdue this people, “they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens.” To bring these people safely under his control, the king would use force. However, the plan of the king of Egypt resulted in just the opposite. Instead of weakening the Israelites, it strengthened them: “But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.”

    Resistance and pressure can actually be a catalyst that produces character. We see the same affect in the New Testament with the persecution of the churches. Rather than destroy the churches, opposition scattered them, only multiplying their message and influence. When the church at Jerusalem was threatened and beaten, they prayed for help and boldness and grew more determined than ever to carry out the Great Commission.

    All of us are going to face pressure and trials during our lives. It may come in the form of persecution, resistance, false accusations, disappointments, betrayal, or any of many other types of opposition. What will that pressure do? Why would God allow it? He uses pressure to make us stronger. He uses difficulty to build character in our lives.

    When we study the history of Baptists throughout the centuries, we see that they were almost always a persecuted people. Every imaginable religious group has hated them. They even faced intense persecution in the early days of our nation. However, these pressures have not succeeded in stamping out the presence of these faithful witnesses. True Christians have historically responded to difficulty with faith and determination. It could be said that pressure is often the thing that actually proves the sincerity of true believers.

  • OUR PRAYER IS HIS DELIGHT

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    “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.”
    Proverbs 15:8

    Is every sacrifice acceptable to God? No, the “sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD.” We can readily think of multitudes of empty rituals and false religions that offer sacrifices that are not pleasing to God. What about those terrorists who slaughter in the name of their religion? Can God be pleased with such? Or, what about those through the centuries who have burned alive those who believed in Scriptural baptism? Are these executioners pleasing to God? We ought to think of those religious hypocrites who insisted on the crucifixion of our Savior. We know that their religious sacrifices were “an abomination to the LORD.” What about the growing numbers of deceived cult members who deny the deity of Christ yet sacrifice greatly for their false doctrine? God is not pleased with the “sacrifice of the wicked.”

    What is it that brings delight to the Lord? We are reminded here, “the prayer of the upright is his delight.” God is delighted in the prayerful communication of those who walk uprightly before Him. The “upright” are those who have trusted in the blood of Calvary’s Lamb as the payment for sin and are seeking to walk in obedience to His Word. God delights to hear our voices lifted up in prayer. The great God of the universe takes special pleasure in fellowship with His children. This fact ought to compel us to make time to commune with Him.

    Could it be possible that God would be delighted in something we do? There is no doubt. He enjoys our time of prayer with Him. He wants us to love Him and spend time with Him. He wants us to need Him and include Him in our plans and decisions. He wants us to thank Him for His guidance and blessing in our lives, recognizing Him as the Giver of every good gift. He is pleased when we praise Him for His greatness and remember His attributes. It delights Him when we look to Him for our strength and wisdom. He is pleased when we come to Him and confess our failings, claiming the cleansing that can only come from Him. He wants us to ask Him to do things and provide things that would be in accordance with His will. He is pleased when we resign ourselves to His care, trusting completely in His love.

  • EVERY MAN

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    “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”
    II Corinthians 9:7

    In some respects, the specifics of God’s will for each of our lives is going to differ. But in other ways, He wants the same thing for each of us. Our text begins with the words, “Every man.” There are certain things that God would have true in every one of us. This passage of Scripture is part of a larger context that gives great instruction on the subject of “grace giving.” Paul’s writing to the Corinthian church explains in detail how each of us is to trust the Lord to guide us as we give. For “every man,” this is a decision to be involved in giving, as stated, “so let him give.”

    Certainly God enables some people to give more than others, but He wants all of us to be involved in giving to His work. If He so desired, God could finance all of His work without our participation, but He has chosen to use us. One of the reasons He uses us as He does is for our benefit. It is good for us to be givers. It is not to our advantage to be selfish or stingy.

    Also, this should be a spiritual decision for every man because our giving should be “as he purposeth in his heart.” We should seek the Lord about it and let Him guide us in our hearts as we purpose to give. Grace giving is not giving what we think we can afford, or comparing our giving to that of others. It is a matter that we trust God to lead us in. Then God would have “every man” give willingly, “not grudgingly, or of necessity.” If a person gives something because he feels forced to, it will not be the offering of love that God desires. He wants our giving to be from a heart that is willing. In addition, He wants “every man” to be a “cheerful giver.” Giving should bring great joy to the heart of the giver. It is an expression of love.

    God wants to include “every man” in His great work. There is something for all of us to do. In our churches, God wants us to be involved in serving and giving. He wants to use each of us individually for the overall good. What a difference it would make if every church member were doing his part! Every person could be praying, serving, giving, witnessing, and loving. This is God’s design. There should be no freeloaders in the Lord’s army. “Every man” has a contribution to make.

  • INSINCERE REPENTANCE

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    “And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD.”
    Jeremiah 3:10

    In the verses prior to this, the Lord is comparing the spiritual unfaithfulness of Israel with that of Judah. He called Israel to repent, to turn to Him, and yet she did not hearken to Him. Our text tells us “Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly.” Judah’s repentance was incomplete. The word “feignedly” means “with falsehood, a sham, or deceitful.” Judah’s repentance was not sincere, but only hypocrisy. It was a show, a display, but not a reflection of what was truly in her heart. She did not turn to the Lord “with her whole heart.”

    We might call this INSINCERE REPENTANCE. The nation of Judah exhibited only half-hearted repentance and did not turn to the Lord completely, only partially. They still wanted their sin. Their hearts were still in love with the idolatry and spiritual adultery that had plagued them. They were not fully persuaded as to the wickedness of their sin and the worthiness of the Lord for their complete obedience. INSINCERE REPENTANCE means that a person is not fully convinced about his decision. He is not completely devoted to God, and he does not fully abhor his sin. Therefore, his repentance is not complete. This person is double-minded or undecided.

    In order for our repentance to be sincere and acceptable, we must genuinely want to forsake our sin and turn to the Lord. A person who still wants his sin more than he wants fellowship with God is not repentant. Repentance includes a change in one’s mind. That change of mind is both toward sin and toward God. He can say the right words and even appear to be repentant externally, but still it is not settled in his heart. A show of reformation is sometimes confused with repentance, but time will reveal the difference. It may look like repentance, but God sees the heart. He knows the difference.

    Repentance does not mean that we have turned from every sin and will never sin again. This would be sinless perfection, which is a state at which we will never completely arrive in this life. INSINCERE REPENTANCE is hypocrisy. It is trying to be one thing before others that is not true in our hearts. God is looking for those who are sincere and whole-hearted in their worship as well as their service.

  • HAVE FAITH IN GOD

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    “And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.”
    Mark 11:22, 23

    These four words carry such profound meaning, “Have faith in God.” Anyone who has been saved for any length of time knows the importance of living by faith. We also learn that the life of faith is sometimes easier talked about than experienced. There are probably a multitude of reasons for that. We have been brought up in a world that relies heavily on the natural senses (sight, touch, hearing) and is not inclined to trust in God and His promises. Also, we have grown to depend on our abilities and resources rather than trust the Lord to work in and through our circumstances and us.

    Our natural instincts seem to be to do all that we can to solve our problem before we turn to God. In other words, God is our last resort, not our first option. Whatever the reasons may be, we do not naturally live the life of faith that God commands of us. This is something we all must work on because it is one of the key components of the Christian life.

    In our text, Jesus was following up on an incident that occurred the day before. He, being hungry, went to a fig tree to gather some fruit. Having found no fruit, Jesus said to the tree, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever”(4). The next morning as they went by this same tree, the disciples noticed that the tree was withered from the roots. Jesus used this occasion to teach the disciples about faith, and spoke the words of our text, admonishing them to “Have faith in God”(22).

    We need to have a stronger, more active faith in God. Jesus had perfect faith. He always knew what the Father wanted to do, when it was to be done, and how it was to be done. One of the things that Jesus tried to get His disciples to understand was the role that faith played in His earthly journey. He lived in unity with the Father. He spoke words that He knew the Father was saying, and He did what He perceived the Father to be doing. He did not act independently of the Father, but in harmony with the Father. This is how He wants us to live, having faith in God.

  • BE NOT AFRAID OF THOSE WORDS

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    “And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.”
    Isaiah 37:6

    When Hezekiah was the king of Judah, Sennacherib the mighty king of Assyria came against Judah. The spokesman for the king of Assyria was Rabshakeh, and his words were blasphemous and disheartening to God’s people. Words can have such a devastating effect on the hearer. When Hezekiah heard these words, he was stricken with
    fear. The king went immediately to the house of the Lord and sent servants and priests to see the prophet Isaiah. These words for Hezekiah came to Isaiah from the Lord, “Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard.” Hezekiah was not to believe the threats of Rabshakeh. What wise and helpful advice this was for Judah’s king.

    Isaiah counseled the king not to be terrified by the words that the wicked Rabshakeh had spoken to him. It will do us good to take heed to this wisdom as well. The power of words is immeasurable, and yet regularly underestimated. Entire movements have been spawned by the simple use of words, and even words that are not based on truth. Positive and encouraging words can give the inspiration to succeed and overcome great adversity. Negative and critical words can demoralize and defeat us before the battle even begins. Isaiah charged Hezekiah not to believe or be afraid of the “words that thou hast heard.”

    Satan’s primary weapon against us is words. He uses words to create fear, confusion, and hopelessness. The enemy’s words are not audible words, but ideas and imaginations. When people believe the lies of the enemy, they can be bound by fear and doubt. Sometimes good people repeat the messages of evil, supposing them to be true, as did Peter when he rebuked Jesus for His plan to go to the cross. Jesus then rebuked Peter, saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23). Peter was verbalizing the thought that actually came to him from Satan. When we believe the devil’s lies, they become like truth to us. Good and capable servants of God can be rendered powerless because they believe the devil’s lies. Faithful, godly leaders have been defamed because of someone believing and repeating false information.

  • RISE UP, LORD, AND RETURN

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    “And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Rise up, LORD, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee. And when it rested, he said, Return, O LORD, unto the many thousands of Israel.”
    Numbers 10:35, 36

    One can only imagine such a scene as this, as the camp of the Israelites marched forward. There were hundreds of thousands of families and multitudes of livestock moving under the direction of God, with the cloud of the Lord over them by day and the fire by night. In our text, we find them departing after being so long at Sinai. The Scripture says, “when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Rise up, LORD, and let thine enemies be scattered.” Thus, Moses was asking God to precede them in their journeys and defeat their enemies. It then tells us “when it rested, he said, Return, O LORD, unto the many thousands of Israel.” When it came time to rest, Moses asked God that He would dwell with them and provide rest at the conclusion of their journey. They needed God to go before them into conflict, and they needed God to sustain them and comfort them in their times of rest.

    What a beautiful picture we see in this of our own need of God’s presence and companionship. We need Him to go forth against His enemies. How can we ever have
    victory without Him? If we are going to find our way blessed, God must go first. This assumes, of course, that our path is the road that God has planned; otherwise, He would not go before us. So if He is to go before us, we are to follow His leading.

    Moses prayed that God would, “Rise up…and let thine enemies be scattered.” What can we learn from this? Should we not likewise ask God to fight our battles for us? What a mistake it is for us to assume that we are sufficient in ourselves for the conflicts and temptations each day might bring.

    We are also reminded that God wants to lead and guide us as we go forward in Him. Then, when the Israelites halted to pitch their tents, Moses said, “Return, O LORD, unto the many thousands of Israel.” Unless God rested with them, there could be no peace.

    Can we not, and should we not, ask our dear Lord to abide with us in our homes and bless our times of rest? We see anew that we need the Lord with us at all times. We need Him in times of conflict and service, and we need Him in times of rest and reflection.

  • REPENT OR ELSE

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    “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”
    Revelation 2:5

    Jesus is speaking here to one of the truly outstanding churches of the New Testament era, the church at Ephesus. This church was commended for its labor and endurance, but they were reproved because they left their first love. The Lord told this church to “repent, and do the first works; or else.” God was giving them an opportunity to repent, but at the same time, He was giving them an ultimatum. If they did not meet His conditions by repenting of their indifference and waning devotion, there would be serious consequences. One can be assured that these were not idle demands. God expected a prompt response, or else they could expect His correction.

    Thank God that He is loving and merciful, but we are reminded in this Scripture that He is serious about sin. He will not let sin go without reproof and correction. He said to the church at Ephesus, “repent…or else.” How much clearer could this be? Where could anyone get the idea that God will not or should not judge sin? It is a notion that is foreign to the Word of God. He judged the world in Noah’s day. He judged Sodom and Gomorrah. He judged Achan and Korah, with their families, for their disobedience and rebellion. He judged David for his sin. He judged Moses for smiting the rock. He judged Miriam for her rebellion toward Moses. He judged those who complained in the wilderness, sending fiery serpents among them. He judged Cain for slaying Abel. He judged Jonah for running from his assignment. He judged Ananias and Sapphira for their hypocrisy.

    God has not changed. He will not ignore disobedience and rebellion in His children. He loves us too much to allow us to continue going in a direction that is harmful to us. Churches should take heed to this warning as well. He told the church at Ephesus in our Scripture that if they did not repent, He would “come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place.” He would not continue to bless them and their ministry. Churches should not think that they can change their message, forsake the principles of the Word of God, and grow cold in their love for the Savior without serious consequences.

  • ADDICTED TO THE MINISTRY

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    “I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth.”
    I Corinthians 16:15, 16

    As Paul is nearing the completion of this epistle to the church at Corinth, he directs the congregation to consider a particular family. He refers to them as “the house of Stephanas.” The church members at Corinth were familiar with this godly family. Paul said, “ye know the house of Stephanas.” They were among the first converts to Christ in the region, “the firstfruits of Achaia.” The apostle Paul mentioned the family of Stephanas in the first chapter of this epistle saying, “And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other” (I Corinthians 1:16).”

    Paul commended “the house of Stephanas” by saying of them, “they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.” They were devoted to the service of Christ and His disciples. The family had given themselves wholly to the work of God. Thank God for families like “the house of Stephanas.”

    Our text has much to say to us about our lives and our families. It tells us about the importance of faithfulness. This particular family, though they were one of the first families won to Christ in Achaia, was still active in serving the Lord. It is a great blessing to see the enthusiasm of new converts, but it is equally encouraging to see the continued loyalty of those who have been in the faith for a long time.

    We also see in “the house of Stephanas” the kind of zeal that God wants in His children and in His churches; “they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.” These people were serious about their service for Christ. Nominal Christianity may be popular in our day, but it does not mean God is pleased with it. We also see that this family served the Lord as a family. Our homes should be dedicated to the work of God. We need God’s help as we try to lead our families to salvation through faith in Christ, and then to teach them to serve the Lord with their lives. Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to respect and follow the example of “the house of Stephanas.” They were exhorted to “submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth.”

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