This autumn we took a trip with others to visit friends in house churches in the US area called 'New England', which is the far northeast section of our country. On our last day we stopped by a favorite spot, the Lobster Shack on Two Lights Road, Cape Elizabeth, Maine. I don't eat lobster or their kind, which I call 'insects of the sea', but Barb likes their lobster roll and the setting is right on the edge of the rocky coast.
I picked up my hamburger and iced tea, and stopped at the little corner table where they had condiments, all in little packets in small compartments on the table; ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and lemon juice. I put 2 packets of lemon juice from that compartment for my tea on the tray, and walked to our table.
I tore open a packet of lemon juice and squirted it into my tea, and then picked up a second packet, tore it open, and squirted the contents into the tea - but to my surprise the packet I thought was lemon juice, was actually mustard! After some laughter I realized the heavier mustard would hopefully settle to the bottom without mixing with the tea, so I proceeded to drink my tea throughout the meal and forgot about the mustard lying in wait to ambush me at the bottom of the cup.
Sure enough, that last gulp of tea was pure mustard, and I laughed again though I nearly choked on it, and it sure cleared my sinuses!
Appearances can be deceiving
It looked like normal tea, but appearances can be deceiving if you didn't know what was added. Similarly, we have a situation in Matthew 8:5-12 that has caused believers a lot of anxiety because it looks like one thing at first glance, but when you check all the 'ingredients' within the story, the real flavor comes through.
Jesus is approached by a Roman Centurion saying this: "Lord, my servant lies at home in bed paralyzed, and is in terrible pain." To which Jesus replies: "I will come and heal him." But the Centurion said "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Just give the order, and my servant will be healed."
This is where many fail to notice the context and understand the culture of the day. This Centurion was not Jewish, yet a believer in Jesus, and understood His authority. When he asks Jesus to just issue a command for healing the Lord makes note that a Gentile can have faith too:
"Truly, truly I say to you, I have not seen such great faith in all Israel. And I say to you, that many will come from the east and the west (from Gentile nations), and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But many of the children of the kingdom (Israelites) will be cast out into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth." (v5-12)
Jesus' reference to 'many will come from the east and from the west' refers to Gentile people coming into the kingdom, as this Roman stood before Him, while children of the kingdom (Jews) will be cast out. We might say it this way; '...children to whom the kingdom belonged but they rejected' will be cast into darkness...
Fear not believers - Jesus was not talking about believers having an uncertain future - He was talking about Gentiles who like the Centurion, would have faith in Christ, and come and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom, while many to whom the kingdom belonged, are cast out due to unbelief in Him.
Stand up, or sit down?
In Acts 7:55-60 Steven is on trial before the elders of Israel, which comes to an abrupt end when Steven is rushed upon and taken outside the city and stoned to death. The whole of chapter 7 is devoted to his trial which seems to be moving along at a crisp pace, only to end so suddenly. It makes the reader wonder what happened to cause such an abrupt and tragic conclusion?
"But he, being filled with the Holy Spirit, looked steadfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And said, 'Behold! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'" Then they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord...and they stoned Stephen...And he kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.' And when he had said this, he died."
Clearly the turning point was when he told the elders he saw The Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. But why?
It is because the Jewish culture of the day taught that God will stand up when He judges mankind, based on Isaiah 3:13-15: "The Lord stands up to contend, and stands to judge the people. The Lord enters into judgement with the elders of His people and their leaders....why do you beat down my people, and grind the faces of the poor says the Lord of the armies..."
Stephen was merely telling them what he saw - Jesus had stood up to judge the elders because they were bringing Steven to trial for his faith. THAT is why they were incensed. The idea THEY, the elders of Israel, were being judged...
The point I want to bring out is this; When Stephen asked the Lord to dismiss charges against them by asking 'Lay not this sin to their charge', the Lord would have sat back down, and on that last day the sin of murdering Stephen will not be brought against them. We have amazing authority before the Lord when it comes to forgiving and releasing a person from their sins against us.
In The Revelation 2:12-17 Jesus has a message for the disciples in Pergamos. He commends them for not compromising their faith though they live in the main city for emperor worship, but also says there are those in their midst who like Balaam did to Israel, have put a stumbling block before the believers in that they hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans, which He says, He hates.
Early church fathers say a leader in the church named Nicolas was the source of the heresy, and the word Nicolaitan means 'power over the people' and when combined with the Lord's example of Balaam who devised a seducing of Israel, we see the teaching of leaders having power over people is a seduction the Lord hates - it leads to 1 voice speaking to the people to tell them what God is saying, rather than staying with New Testament truth of Christ in each believer and therefore equality among the disciples.
Jesus tells the believers in the Nicolaitan teaching to repent, and for those who "...overcomes, I will give him the hidden manna to eat, and I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no one knows except him who receives it."
The hidden manna is a reference to heaven, for you may recall part of the manna Israel found in the wilderness was put into the Ark of the Covenant to be preserved forever by His presence. The Lord is telling the over-comers they will be with Him in heaven itself, the true Holy of Holies.
What is the white stone?
Jesus links the giving of a white stone with the eating of hidden manna. In Roman times white stones were used like business cards, and sometimes as a ticket to get into a Roman event. But the most common use was that when someone took in a stranger for the night, that person upon leaving, would give their host a white stone with that person's name and address on it, so that if they ever come to their city, they would have a home away from home, a place to stay, eat, spend the night.
Jesus said He would give them such a stone. Jesus is saying essentially, "I've made my home in your heart, and now I'm giving you a personalized ticket to gain entrance to my home, for you are in my heart." The fact He personalizes it so that only He and they will know what is on the card, shows us how intimately He knows us, to put a sort of 'code' on that stone only He and we will know. Amazing grace!
The theme for this last in the series is as you can probably tell, assurance of salvation, assurance of our home in heaven. From the Centurion who is no doubt one of the many Gentiles coming from the east and west to sit down with Abraham, to Jesus sitting down as we ask Him not to hold the sins of those who sin against us to their charge, to promises of eating heavenly food and gaining entrance with a ticket so personal only He and you will know what is written thereon - we have an exciting future!
As Ephesians 2:7 says of the Father's good intentions towards us: "That in the ages to come He will clearly show the immeasurable and unsurpassable riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.."
New subject next week, until then, blessings!
www.cwowi.org and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org