Why Standing Stones?

Why Standing Stones?

In ancient Israel, people stood stones on their end to commemorate a powerful move of God in their lives. It was a memorial to something God spoke or revealed or did. Often these standing stones became reference points in their lives. Today, we can find reference points in the written Word of God. Any scripture or sermon can speak something powerful into our lives, or reveal something of the nature of God. In this blog I offer, what can become a reference point for Christians, taken from God's ancient word and applied to today's world.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Riding in the Wheelbarrow

There is a story of a famous tightrope walker who came to Niagara Falls and stretched his rope across the thunderous currents from Canada to the United States. Before the breathless multitudes, he walked, then ran, across the falls. He did the same blindfolded, with drums rolling. Then, still blindfolded, he pushed a wheelbarrow across the falls. The crowds went wild, and the aerialist shouted to them, “Who believes I can push a man in this wheelbarrow across these falls?”

A gentleman in the front waved his hands, shouting, “I do! I believe!”
"Then,” said the walker, “come and get in the wheelbarrow.”

To no one's surprise, the man’s intellectual assent failed to translate into personal belief. In other words he had seen the proof that it could be done but didn’t have the faith to get in to the wheelbarrow himself.

If you’re Christian that’s spent any time at all witnessing to people, you have probably come upon people who just do not believe. I’ve had people tell me, “I just can’t believe that.” That’s why the Bible tells us that the Gospel is foolishness to them that perish. But to those of us that are saved it’s the power of God.

Paul preached to the Greeks about the Unkown God, but when he began to speak of the resurrection, there were those who refused to believe.

Acts 17:32
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.”

Those that mocked were the ones who were unable to believe what was preached. There is no doubt that we have all encountered people like that. They don’t necessarily ridicule you, and they don’t have any argument as to why it’s wrong or unbelievable. They just can’t believe it. You tell them what the Bible says and they say, “Oh…well I just don’t believe it.”

But guess what…unbelief isn’t confined to sinners. There are Christians who don’t believe. Maybe it’s a little subtler, but it’s there nonetheless. Obviously, we believe in Jesus. We wouldn’t be Christians if we denied the Christ, but there are aspects of our salvation with which we struggle. Do you believe that Jesus can heal the sick? Do you have faith that Jesus can heal you? If so then why do you still suffer with sickness?

It’s a pretty common thing that we have faith that God can heal others but we don’t have faith for ourselves. That’s a symptom of unbelief. In this post I want to examine that.

Luke 24:13-33
13 Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem.14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened.15 So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them.16 But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.17 And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?”18 Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?”19 And He said to them, “What things?” So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,20 “and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.21 “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.22 “Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us.23 “When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive.24 “And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!26 “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?”27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. 28 Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther.29 But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,

Unbelief isn't Just for Sinners

In our text we see two men walking to Emmaus. They are obviously disciples. They have spent time with Jesus. They would have recognized Him if their eyes had not been restrained. They had heard His preaching and, no doubt, knew Him and believed Him to be the Messiah.

And yet just as obviously they didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. If they believed that He had risen from the dead, why were they sad. Another translation said they had faces “full of gloom.” A third one says “faces drawn with misery.” These are not men who expected that Jesus would rise from the dead. They’re not saying, “See this proves it. Who else but the Son of God could rise from the dead.” Instead threy’re saying, “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.”

The resurrection of Jesus is fundamental to Christian Theology, even to the Gospel itself.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

According to Paul, this declaration that Christ died, was buried and rose from the dead on the third day is the Gospel by which we are saved. Think about this for a moment. If Jesus had died and remained in the grave, His death would have been no different from any other Martyr from any other belief system in the world. He would have left us nothing better than a philosophy to live by. But it is His resurrection that puts weight behind his death. We can be redeemed from sin because God, Himself, paid the price for it. His resurrection is proof of who He was.

Thomas Jefferson went through his Bible and he removed every reference to miracles. He removed the changing of water to wine, the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, the calming of the storm, the Gadarene demoniac, all of them. And in doing this he also had to remove the resurrection of Christ. So his Bible ended with the crucifixion, Jesus forever on the cross. He has denied the supernaturality of Jesus, that God is able to transcend our abilities. Jesus is no longer God in his Bible he is only a man. He has reduced the scriptures to a philosophy. By doing this he removes God’s ability to redeem us, and we are forever stuck in our sin, because that redemption in itself is miraculous.

Thomas Jefferson considered himself a believer in God. Otherwise he never could have written about rights given to us by the Creator in the Declaration of Independence, and yet, because of his unbelief, he has reduced Jesus to a mere mortal, by discarding the miracle of resurrection.

These two men were followers of Jesus. They were there when Mary Magdalene came and told them what Jesus had said outside the tomb that morning. And no doubt they thought like Peter and the others when they called them “idle words.”

Do you believe that God will provide for all your needs? So you never worry how the bills will get paid? Do you believe that God can heal the sick? How about Cancer? We can all have faith for backaches, but Cancer's different, right? The point that I’m making here is that there is an element of unbelief that is apparent in the lives of most believers. Many times it is that unbelief that keeps us from seeing the faithfulness of God. Our unbelief doesn’t inhibit God from being faithful, but it restricts our ability to accept God’s provision. If we don’t have faith that God will be able to deliver us from whatever tribulation that we are enduring, then we will seek for ourselves some other method of deliverance. We’ll go looking for our own answers. If we do that without God’s counsel the chances are we will make it even worse. Look at this:

Joshua 9:14-16
14 Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the LORD.15 So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them. 16 And it happened at the end of three days, after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were their neighbors who dwelt near them.

The Israelites were in the battle for the Promised Land. God had sent them to destroy those who lived in that land so that they could live there and serve God in peace. But there was an element of unbelief here.

No doubt they were tired of fighting. It was natural that they’d be looking for allies as they faced the inhabitants of the land. But they did it without God’s counsel. They looked for deliverance on their own and they short-circuited what God was trying to do. Think of all the things Israel endured at the hands of its enemies in the Promised Land. These were the Ammonites the enemies of God throughout Israel’s history and all of this trouble could have been avoided if they believed that God would deliver the Promised Land into their hands: If they hadn’t looked for deliverance on their own.

The men on the road to Emmaus are Christians, the people of God. Joshua and his men were the people of God. All of these suffered unbelief, and we are also susceptible to that. All Christians occasionally suffer from doubt and unbelief.

We Have a Responsibility to Overcome Unbelief

Do you realize that unbelief is contagious? We can catch it from each other. Jesus warns his disciples about this in Mark 8:15

Mark 8:15
15 Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

What is Jesus talking about here? He’s talking about unbelief.

Mark 8:16-21
16 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.”17 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened?18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?19 “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.”20 “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.”21 So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”

Jesus is reminding them of the miracles that he did in their presence: That he fed the five thousand and the four thousand and had leftovers. These were powerful miracles and yet the Pharisees kept asking for a sign that He was the Messiah. The Pharisees didn’t believe and here in this moment He's warning the disciples that they also are suffering from unbelief.

But it interesting, the word he uses here. Leaven. Leaven is basically yeast. It’s used to make bread rise, but it can also cause infection. Unbelief is an infection that can grow in us and spread to others. Unbelief doesn’t come from God and unbelief can spread to the whole group.

If you have ever kept an aquarium you are no doubt familiar with the disease Ick. Ick is a disease where the fish gets a number of small white lumps on their body and eventually they die. The thing about Ick is that it is extremely contagious. By the time you notice the disease on one fish it has often spread to all the others in the tank. And if you are not careful to eradicate it, it will kill all the fish.

It’s the same with unbelief. It’s extremely contagious. If one has it, it will spread to others. Look at our text in verse 23 and 24:

"When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive.24 “And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.

Mary Magdalene and the other women go to prepare the body of Jesus. He meets them in the Garden and tells them to go tell Peter and the disciples what she has seen.

Luke 24:8-12
8 And they remembered His words.9 Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.11 And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.12 But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.

Peter doesn’t believe them when they tell him, so he goes to look for himself. And when he finds the tomb empty, he marvels, “Gee I wonder what happened to the body.” But Jesus had told him what was going to happen in Luke Chapter Nine.

Luke 9:20-22
20 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” 21 And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one,22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”

But Peter doesn’t believe and his unbelief will no doubt be transferred to the others. He’s the leader; it is human nature for them to trust his judgment. If I have an interpretation of some event, and I talk to someone I trust, someone in authority over me, and they have a different interpretation of that event, I’m going to question my own interpretation. It’s human nature.

So if there are a gropup of people, and Mary comes with this news they are going to look to see what is the leader’s reaction. If he doesn’t believe then what will be the result? Most likely the others won’t believe either. These men were there when Mary came and gave her account. Remember they said, “And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb." They heard the report and saw Peter’s reaction. They still didn’t believe later in the day when they were on the road to Emmaus.

Peter heard Jesus say, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day,” and he didn’t believe and here’s these two men on the road to Emmaus that were with him and they didn’t believe either. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe there’s an influence at work here. Maybe Peter’s unbelief is rubbing off on them. They even make this amazing comment, “Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.” “This is the third day after his death and there’s no proof that he’s risen from the dead, we can’t even find his body.” That’s what they’re thinking. No wonder Jesus calls them slow witted, they ARE slow witted. Unbelief restricts our ability to see the truth for what it is. Sometimes it even causes us to aggressively seek to keep that truth from other people.

For example, if you honestly examine the arguments of Evolution you must be struck by the lack of evidence of its truth. There are a number of holes in the proofs of evolution. For one thing there is not one documented proof that men evolved from apes. All of the so called missing links have been proven to be hoaxes or errors. And yet this belief is so powerful that it is taught in the school not as a theory but as fact. How many times have you been called ignorant because you don’t believe it? There is an aggressive campaign to keep the creation spoken of in the Bible away from our children. Believers of Evolution are so convinced that the creation story of the Bible is false that they fight to keep it out of the schools…A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

The Antidote to Unbelief

Luke 24:30-32
Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”

What was it that brought these men back to faith? What was it that convinced them of who he was? Jesus in the meal takes the role of the father. It was the Jewish custom of the time for the father to ask the blessing over the meal. The father is the spiritual leader of the household. Here is Jesus assuming that role. He is the spiritual leader of the group. The scripture says in that moment their eyes were opened. They recognize His authority in that. When I go to lunch with my pastor I always defer to him to ask the blessing over the food. It’s natural because it's a recognition of his authority in my life. Jesus is taking that authority in this situation. If we extend this to give Jesus real authority over our lives then we will overcome unbelief, as well.

As children we all believed our teachers when they taught us something in school, didn’t we? Why? We believed them because of their authority in that subject. If Jesus has authority in your life then His actions will carry weight with you. As children we learn from our parents for the same reason, they have authority in our lives.

When my children were very small they asked me endless questions, many of them that I couldn’t possibly answer. “Daddy, why does that man want to drive a red car?” I couldn’t possibly know that. But if I'd just made up an answer they would have believed it. They would have taken me at my word, on faith. God has given us His word in the Bible. If you give the word of God authority in your life then the answers to unbelief will be found there, because you will take God at His word, by faith.

Secondly, look at what these men said, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” Their faith was re-ignited by the spoken words of Christ. There is an impartation that takes place when words are spoken.

I once had a roommate who wrote little notes to himself on his bathroom mirror. Things like, “You are going to make wise decisions today”, “You are a creative and intelligent engineer.” And the idea behind these notes was that he would read them aloud to himself. The words would be spoken. It was called affirmation.

It’s the same when we hear the words of the Gospel spoken. Faith comes by hearing. Unbelief is dispelled by the spoken word of God. It is an affirmation of our faith. Prayer, for the same reason, strengthens faith. We pray aloud. It is an affirmation of our belief in God.

The problem with unbelief is that it destroys our ability to receive from God because it is a rejection of what God tells us is the truth. We make God a liar and what’s that? It’s sin. We need to do what’s necessary to increase our faith, like the father who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus to be healed. Jesus told him, “If you believe he can be healed.” The father prayed a prayer right there on the spot. He prayed, “I believe, Lord help my unbelief.” That should be our prayer as well.

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