Sunday morning we considered how a bunch of merchants, goldsmiths, perfumers, priests, and governors including men, women, and children joined together to rebuild a wall in ruins in the face of doubt and discouragement in Nehemiah 3 and 4. This story is instructive for us as we consider our own mission and the work God is accomplishing through us in the world. Here are 5 things we can do to combat discouragement, distraction, and doubt:
- Take the lens off yourself. What inherent skill or ability did some businessmen, some religious workers, some department store employees, and community officials (to translate their occupations to the 21st century) to construct a wall that wouldn’t collapse on itself (Neh. 4;3)?! These were not construction workers, architects, or stonemasons. What chance did they have at success? They understood, what we desperately need to grasp: prosperity in our efforts depends on God (Neh. 2:20; 4:14, 15, 20). If our success in our mission hinges solely or primarily on our own ability or resources that is a pretty despairing place to be if we are department store employees tasked with building a fortified wall. Our perspective must not be on what we can’t do but in what He CAN do. Now, this is not to say that we don’t try to improve our resources or abilities to be better equipped for the work- indeed the people didn’t JUST pray that the work would get done they also got busy- but it is to say that our focus and our lens needs to be more on God and less on self. Praying for the mission is a great way to shift our focus from ourselves to our God (Neh. 4:9). Additionally, reading God’s word and reflecting on how He has worked in the past will give us confidence that He will continue to work in our present and future (Neh. 4:14). Perhaps, we ought to find a “mission motivation” verse or passage that encourages us to engage in the work. Memorize it. Internalize it. Recite it often.
- Block out sources discouragement. For whatever reason, it is the voices that vomit negativity that tend to echo loudest in our heads. Therefore, like the people in Nehemiah’s day, we must fight those voices back and block them out (Neh. 4:7-9). Again prayer is vital here as it severs as something of a barrier to insulate us from the negativity (Neh. 4:4-5, 9). But we might also need additional barriers of time and space between us and the negative voices (Neh. 4:13). We must resolve that we will not entertain those thoughts. We just don’t have the time or the energy to expend on those who are going to hinder us from our mission.
- Join together with positive people. We won’t accomplish this work without the help of others who are at least as zealous and engaged, if not more so than we are. We must surround ourselves with people who have “a mind to work” (Neh. 4:6). With all of the negativity, we need some voices that will speak positivity into our circumstances. You know the type. They’re always able to put a positive spin on any situation. For these persons, it is more than a show of superficial spunk. It comes from a place of deep faith, one typically undergirded by a lifetime of experiences of God making something out of nothing.
- Tap into your source of motivation. Perhaps the greatest counter to discouragement, aside from trusting in God, is to remind ourselves why we are engaging in the mission in the first place. For the wall workers, it was to protect their “brothers, their sons, their, daughters, their wives, and their homes” (Neh. 4:14). Our motivation is often much the same. The reason we engage in the mission of disciples making disciples is so that those we love, our friends, our family, our co-workers, and the people we don’t yet know but love all the same will know the peace, joy, love, hope, and blessings that we experience as children of God. Further, we engage in the mission because it is the means by which we begin to transform our families, our communities, and the world around us. Finally, we engage in the mission because through it, God’s wisdom and love are demonstrated and glorified. Perhaps it would be a good idea to write down personalized forms our motivation on a sticky note and place them on the front of our bibles or the corner of our screens, set reminders on our phones, or put them on our walls. Something to keep it in front of us always.
- Strategize. In addition to blocking our sources of doubt, discouragement, and distraction in the moment, Nehemiah also had a strategy to combat these going forward (Neh. 4:15-23). Putting all of this together, perhaps our strategy might look something like: “next time I face discouragement I will 1) stop and pray immediately 2) recite my “mission motivation” verse 3) get away from the source of discouragement 4) reach out to a positive source of encouragement 5) remind myself of why I’m engaging in the mission.
While we are probably more familiar with Matthew’s or Mark’s accounts of this occasion, Luke’s account is fuller and offers more detail of Jesus counterargument.
Jesus offers a two-part counter to the Sadducees argument. 1) the first is to say that there is something different between this life and the next, namely no new marriages are being formed. Jesus goes on to explain this point in a way that might seem strange to us. The reason no new marriages are taking place Is because there is no more death. In order to understand the connection between death and marriage we have to understand something of how the Sadducees thought. In their view, death was overcome, not by a continued existence after this life but by building a progeny/lineage to carry on your name. Hence their appeal to the law of Levarite marriage and the absurd story they construct. Jesus says because there is no more death, there is likewise no need to marry and reproduce, and thus their entire perspective falls short. Further, Jesus grounds His assertion of the difference between this age (one where death rules) and the next age (one where death is no more) in the new nature of our resurrected state, we will be like the angels. (2 important things to note here: 1) we become like the angels in a way but that is not the same as saying we become angels when we die 2) the particular point of comparison Jesus draws between us and angels here is that we will no longer be subject to death as sons of God). We like the angels, will belong to and become like our Father who is the essence of life itself. What matters is not who our earthly parents were but who our Heavenly Father is and because we belong to Him we are children of the resurrection. In summary, there will be no need for marriage, because there will be no more death and thus need for reproduction, because like the angels we will be sons of God and partakers of life.
In the second part of Jesus’ counter-argument Jesus appeals to Scripture the Sadducees would have accepted (it is thought that they Sadducees would have only held Genesis-Deuteronomy aka the Torah/Pentateuch to be inspired. In this He forces them to wrestle with the text rather than to dismiss it offhand as unauthoritative. The story of the burning bush demonstrates 1) that the patriarchs(Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) though having physically died, were still alive in some sense and 2) that God was still their God and was fulfilling His promises to them by delivering the people out Egypt. If the patriarchs were dead as the Sadducees thought, God’s promises would have been limited to the duration of their lifetime. In this Jesus undermines the Sadducees' perception of this life, the afterlife, and their interpretation of Scripture. “They no longer dared to ask him any question.”
The pressing question we often want to know is, “what happens to our earthly relationships?” This text may have something to say about those. 1) I am not at all dogmatic about this point but here is something to chew on. It is often argued, typically from the shortened forms is Matthew or Mark, that we will be like angels, angels don’t marry, therefore marriage will cease. To add a slight nuance - as noted above, the fuller explanation Luke gives us connects our being like angels to being sons of God and thus not dying. It should also be kept in mind that Jesus’ counterargument in context is not against marriage itself but against the function of marriage to produce offspring. Thus, while we typically assume this text says that the marriage relationship will be dissolved, it actually only asserts that no new marriages will take place. Now we might extrapolate from this that marriage itself will be unnecessary and thus done away with but this an assumption, possibly a valid one, but an assumption none the less. The upshot of all of this would be that our relationships, as we experience them now, remain intact in the life to come. 2) Regardless of where one falls on the first point, the second point still stands and of this I can be much more certain: eternity will be better. When we think about our future in the New Heavens and the New Earth, we must keep in mind that it is great gain. If the marriage relationship is dissolved, as good as it may be on this earth, it is because God is giving us something better. We will live in a state, in the presence of God who is love, with no sin and no selfishness. Thus, all relationships, in whatever form they take, will be improved and transformed. We are not losing we are gaining. In reference to earthly bodies, of which the recreation of the world to come is analogous (Rom. 8:22-23), Paul employs the metaphor of a seed becoming a plant (1 Cor. 15:36-49). There are levels of continuity and discontinuity between the seed and the plant. The plant comes from the seed and is an extension of it and yet in the process the seed is destroyed in order to create something better. Nobody, once the rich, luscious, and productive plant is brought to fruition longs for the seed anymore. It has served its purpose. It was destined to become a plant. This is the case with our earthly bodies which will be transformed to glory and immortality, it will be the same with the New Heavens and the New Earth (Rom. 8:22-23, Rev. 21-22), and I imagine it will be the same way with our present relationships in whatever form they take. The good gives way to the grand in the presence of God for eternity.
After having been challenged by the Jewish leadership (chief priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees) Jesus then turns and posses a question of His own about their understanding of the Messiah/Christ (the specific group Jesus is challenging is probably the scribes cf. Lk. 20:39, 45-47). Interestingly He leaves His question unanswered for His original hearers to ponder or perhaps better, for the question to probe the hearers. The scribes might have agreed with Jesus when it came to the resurrection (Lk. 20:39) but their categories of who the Messiah would be and what he would do needed serious tweaking. The question concerns the subject of lineage once again, and the belief that the Messiah was to be a descendant of David. We first encounter this in 2 Sam. 7:12-14, where God promises that He would establish David’s rule forever through His progeny. But Psalm 110, from which Jesus quotes, provides an interesting wrinkle. There, in a text that the Jews commonly associated with the Messiah, David prophetically calls the Messiah his Lord. He says, the LORD (when in small caps in our Old Testament this is inserted for the personal name of God, “YHWH” in most of our English translations) said to my Lord (“Adoni” the typical word for “master” in Hebrew). It was a typical convention for a son to bless and honor his father by calling him Lord, but the reverse was not done. Herein is the puzzle, the Messiah would be a descendant of David but would be at the same time greater than David. This is the point the religious leaders need to understand, the Messiah would indeed be Davidic, but the ultimate category for understanding him was not merely as the son of David but as someone greater than David. The fact that Jesus quotes this text about the greater than David Messiah being given victory over his enemies should not be overlooked in a context in which Jesus is at odds with those who oppose Him and would soon be enthroned over them and all His enemies through His death and resurrection.
Jesus finally turns to their crowds as he publicly rebukes the scribes for their pretense of piety and their religious hypocrisy. A large part of the reason they, and many of the other religious leaders rejected Jesus as the Messiah was that they were most concerned about their prestige and prosperity.
In Paul’s 2nd letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes to encourage his readers to remain steadfast, or as we might sometimes say, “to keep on keeping on.” Part of Paul’s strategy in this is to praise what they were doing well such as their faith which continues to abound and their ever-increasing love for one another. Beyond praise, Paul also prays several times throughout the letter for God to continue to work in their lives. Paul’s understood that both the Thessalonians and God had a part to play in their continued steadfastness. For the Thessalonians’ part, Paul sought to prepare them for the journey. We might split this up into 3 categories: prepared minds, prepared hearts, and prepared hands.
Paul prepared their minds by reinforcing and reminding them of the truths that they needed to keep in keeping on. First, he reinforced to them that their suffering and affliction was not a sign that God had abandoned them rather that it was evidence of His acceptance of them (2 Thess. 1:5-12). They found themselves walking in the shoes of Paul, Jesus, and many other faithful saints of old who faced some level of persecution for following Christ. If we think that God has abandoned us our resolve will not last long. But if we know that He is still with us we have the confidence to keep pushing forward. Are we keenly aware of God’s presence even in the midst of hard times? Do we need to be reminded that God, as the faithful father, is always with us (2 Thess. 3:16-17)?
Paul also sought to prepare their minds by reminding them of the truth and traditions he had already taught them, particularly concerning the Day of the Lord. If they held firm to the teaching they would be prepared for the infinite number of deceptions and false teaching that would otherwise threaten to sweep them off their course. Do we have a firm grasp on what we have been taught? Are we constantly seeking to reinforce and grow in our knowledge of the truth (2 Thess. 2:14-15)?
Further, Paul saw the need to prepare the Thessalonians’ hearts (2 Thess. 2:16-17). He needed to prove their heart’s affections and inclinations because he understood that what we love determines how we live (2 These. 2:11-12). Part of how he hopes to prepare their hearts in this way is by reaffirming God’s love for them (2 Thess. 2:13, 16-17) so that they might reciprocate that same love toward Him and possess the steadfastness of Christ (2 Thess. 3:5). Ultimately it is those who fail to know God who will be separated from Him for eternity (2 Thess. 1:8-10). When the Biblical writers talk about knowing God, they are envision something much deeper than having an academic understanding of God, being able to engage in theological discussions, or knowing the answers to some Bible trivium. “Knowing” someone, in its full idiomatic employment, is how the Bible often expresses an intimate relationship. Do I have this type of relationship with my Father? Am I growing closer to Him each day? Is He at the center of our affections? Just as Paul reaffirmed the Thessalonians of God’s love for them, that love which produces love in us (1 Jn. 4:19), so too must we prepare our hearts by affirming, admiring, and at alarming ourselves with God’s love for us. Indeed, it is the type of love that alarms us, that wakes us from our stupor and excites our affections. Let us reflect on His love, His goodness, His kindness, His mercy, His grace, etc. constantly.
Finally, Paul wanted to prepare the Thessalonians’ hands. In fact, prepared hands, or actions, flow out of prepared minds and prepared hearts. It is those with hearts and minds set on a different course entirely that give themselves over to pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:11-12). Paul’s hope was that as they became steadfast in mind and heart that they would live accordingly (2 Thess. 2:15-17). They were to engage in good works and give themselves over to do what they had been commanded (2 Thess. 3:4-5). Furthermore, they were to continue to labor, doing honest work. This may take the shape of a 9-5 job, but in application, it is so much more than that. In whatever we are busy in, whether we receive a paycheck for it or not, we are to bring honor and glory to God. This was the example Paul and his companions gave the Thessalonians (3:1; 7-9) and it likewise serves as an example for us. Therefore, let us not grow weary in doing good, let us with prepared minds, and prepared hearts, prepare our hands to bring honor and glory to God (2 Thess. 1:11-12)!
Having traveled with His disciples toward Jerusalem since Lk. 9:51, Jesus was finally nearing the city. The place where He would be treacherously tried and condemned to crucifixion. It was the place where many of God’s prophets met their end as the people rebelled against God, and it would be the place of their rejection of God’s Son (Lk. 13:33-35). Why was Jesus so resolute to make such a trip if He knew what would happen (Lk. 9:51, 53; 13:22)? Why not stay in Galilee and continue to have a successful preaching and healing ministry? It is because He came for something much greater, something that is at the same time awe-inspiring and awful. For something splendorous and somber. Beautiful and bloody.
He came to deal ultimately with sin and death and defeat the one who had the power over those things and so doing give liberty to the captives (Lk. 11:14-23; 13:10-17). That was the reality to which His teaching and His miracles pointed. That is why He must go (Lk. 13:33). As Jesus tried to explain this to His disciples a third and final time, it fell on deaf ears as it had before. Maybe they assumed Jesus was speaking in riddles again? Maybe they had that selective hearing impairment many of us husbands have when our wives ask us to do something? Maybe (probably) they had their minds made up about who the Messiah would be, what He would do, and how He would do it, that anything contrary either got disregarded or reinterpreted (cue dangers of living in an echo chamber rant). For whatever reason, they didn’t get it. Luke makes this quite explicit, he says it three times! “1) They understood none of these things 2) the saying was hidden to them and 3) they did not grasp what he said” (Lk. 18:34).
The next scene Luke records is a story about Jesus coming near to Jericho, His penultimate destination before arriving in Jerusalem (Lk. 18:35-43). As he draws near, a blind man sits beside the road begging. Hearing the great commotion the blind man asks what is going. He Is told that Jesus of Nazareth is here. The blind beggar had heard of this man. At this point, who hadn’t. He was the backwoods son of a carpenter turned miracle worker and itinerate preacher of extraordinary things. He had done things no one had ever seen before. At once the blind man anxiously begins to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The people around him rebuked him and told him to be quiet, much in the same way the disciples treated the people bringing children to Jesus just a few verses earlier (v. 15). Didn’t this man know that Jesus had more important things to do than to worry about his plight? He was probably a sinner who deserved it anyways they would’ve likely thought to themselves. And yet he cried out all the more. Hearing his cry, Jesus called the man to Himself. “What do you want me to do for you?” He asked. The blind man responded, not by sheepishly begging for some spare change, or asking for a morsel of bread as he had been asking before, but instead boldly implores Jesus to allow him to recover his sight. Though the blind man, who for the record could not see, had to be told what was going on he immediately understood something of the significance of Jesus’ presence. Though blind he had a clearer vision than the crowds, not only because he recognized Jesus as the “Son of David” (the only person thus far in Luke’s Gospel to do so) but also because he knew the significance of those things. He knew that Jesus came to exalt the humble (v. 14) and set at liberty the captives. The blind man saw what the crowds could not. He begins following Jesus, based on what He knew about Jesus at this point. Jesus declares, “your faith has made you well.”
Immediately, the contrast with the disciples becomes clear. They were the ones who did not understand or grasp the things still hidden to them, while this man regains his vision and recognizes Jesus. All of this anticipates, however, a time when the eyes and minds of Jesus’ disciples would be opened to see Him clearly, to recognize His significance, and to understand His purpose (Lk. 24:16, 31; 44-48). May we ask not only that the Lord provides for our daily needs both big and small (though we should certainly ask for these as well) but may we also ask that He allows us to recover our sight, grants us to see Him clearer, and know Him deeper. And as our vision is made more whole let us, like the formerly blind beggar, rise and begin to follow Him. Lord open our eyes!
In yesterday's lesson, we explored the story of Deborah in Judges 4-5 and made application to women who rise. Here is a summation and some further thoughts.
We often describe the book of Judges as a cycle of Rebellion, Oppression, Crying Out/Repentance/ and Deliverance. This is good as far as it goes. But this is just the surface level of the movement in Judges. As we read the book of it becomes clear that not only is this cycle repeated but there is also a downward trajectory to the whole book. Rather conceiving of it as a two-dimensional circle we should picture it as a three-dimensional cone. A downward spiral. Sort like a toilet bowl. Come to think of it, it is exactly like a toilet bowl. It is a fatal funnel of futility, a dumpster fire of depravity spiraling downward. It starts out bad. But things get much worse. This is a tragic screenplay on what it looks like when people forget their God, fail to teach future generations, and do what is right in their own eyes. But in all of this is a glimmer of light.
Deborah rises up as one of the few bright spots in the book. In a book where the people are often the picture of abject corruption, and many of their judges are deeply flawed individuals who are no better, Deborah serves as something of a steady rock for the people in her own day, and for readers in later generations. Though surely not perfect, she is described as “a mother in Israel” who rises to set right what is wrong among her people ( . 5:7). Deborah is able to affect great change not only because she was someone who rose up, but because she called others to rise up with her. She not only had control over her own self but also a great influence over others. She engaged Barak, the man whom God had appointed to deliver the people, by calling him out and calling him up and getting him started down the path to victory. She empowered him by going with him and giving him the confidence he needed to carry out the task. She encouraged him when the time came to go to battle by urging him to rise up and reminding him that God was with him and would give him victory. Great mothers and great leaders make those under their charge better.
But we encounter another significant woman in this story. She is a different flavor of the same sort. She is likewise a woman who rises to meet the occasion. She too steps up and does what needs to be done. But her role is far messier. Her name is Jael.
Before we ever encounter her, the text has already hinted at her emergence. In Judges 4:9 Deborah says that a woman will get the glory for victory over Sisera, the commander over the opposing forces. Now at first, we are to expect that Deborah is referring to herself and indeed victory does not come without her rising up to raise up Barak. But her last engagement in the plot is her encouraging Barak to go fight before the battle even begins, and then she disappears from the scene (Judg. 4:14). She has risen up primarily through her words, Jael would rise primarily through her actions.
The LORD routed Sisera, his armies and his chariots, by sending a great storm, flooding the Kishon river and turning the plains and the valleys into a marsh (Judg. 4:15-16; 5:4-5, 20-21). This likely caused the chariots to get stuck and break down throwing the armies of Sisera into chaos and confusion as their greatest strength was handicapped. The armies of Barak were then able to descend from the hills upon the Canaanite forces, routing them to the point of retreat.
As Sisera scurried from the battle, he stumbled upon the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber, his ally (Judg. 4:17). This should have been a place of sanctuary. According to the cultural milieu of the Ancient Near East and its attendant social conventions, Jael would have been expected to house and provide for Sisera. Anything less than a hospitable disposition and reception would have brought extreme reproach on her and her husband. All the signs of an amicable and hospitable reception are there. The call to turn aside and find sanctuary in the tent, the proffering of milk to not only quench his thirst but also to calm his mind, the covering with a rug/blanket as he lies down. All of this signifies a motherly reception. Meanwhile, Sisera’s own mother is anxiously waiting for him to come home. “Why is he delayed?” She wonders. “Surely, he’s is ok… Yes,” she comforts herself, “he must be dilly-dallying pillaging their towns and plundering their women. Silly boy. I’ll see you soon.” Little does she know, Sisera lays dead, himself plundered, a tent spike driven through his head. Jael’s hand had done it in act of preposterous betrayal. A treacherous violation of social conventions, Jael’s hands are covered with her ally’s blood. Jael’s “mothering” role is much messier. We are not told what Jael’s motivations were. Was she, unlike her husband, sympathetic to the Israelite people? Did she disapprove of the soldiers and the chariots always about parading the streets? Was she just a cold-blooded killer with a disdain for men with foreign names? The text doesn’t say (we should note that even if her motivations are less than noble God certainly could have used her actions to accomplish His purposes). What the text does say, however, is that Jael “is most blessed of women” as Deborah praised and glorified her for her actions in rising up to do what needed to be done.
All of this points to another a great woman who rose to meet the occasion and became the source of deliverance, not only for her own people or the people in her own day but for all people. We are of course talking about Mary, the one who is likewise described as “blessed among woman” for the role she played in mothering the Messiah (Lk. 1:42). Instead of shying away from the great responsibility, or hesitating due to fear or uncertainty, as we are often wont to do, Mary accepts her role as the servant of the Lord, praises His goodness and submits herself to His purposes (Lk. 1:46-55). She rises in spite of the rumors and the gossip that accompany the scandal of a woman with child and no husband. She rises in spite of the uncertainty of what would come. She rises in spite of what she doesn’t understand about the process and how it would all work out.
May this impress upon us an overwhelming desire in us to rise and allow God to use us. May we go where He sends, may we rise when He calls, may we through our words and our actions, our disposition and our obedience be useful to God, fulfill His purposes, influence the world around us and affect change in our clans, our churches, and our communities! How can you rise up today?
(for another mothering connection, check out the allusion of Mary's song (Lk. 1:46-56) found in 1 Sam. 2:1-10 that Leigh pointed out in our Luke study.)
For more resources on the book of Judges, check out this series of studies by Philip Martin and Jared Saltz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzcQhL3Ryr0&list=PLS5rzDqthZy_gq5Qn9CUP06eihDn8jSsm