Monday, November 27, 2006

Simon's Thanksgiving Day

A Story based on Luke 17:11-19

Simon grew up in a normal, Samaritan home. Each Sabbath, his family would go up to Mount Gerizim to worship, and though it was different from the Jews who worshipped in Jerusalem, it was still theirs. As Simon got a little older, his mom would send him into the buy supplies for the family. Though his mom would say it every time he walked out the door, Simon didn't have to be reminded to be careful as he travelled.

It seems that no matter how inconspicuous he tried to be, the Jewish children would find him and harass him, especially that Bartholomew. He seemed to be the ring leader, and he would get all of his friends to throw pebbles at Simon and yell out racial slurs like "half-breed" or "mut". Simon never understood why they hated him so much. His parents had said it was because of a 500-year-old conflict between the Jews and Samaritans. What does that have to do with me? Simon thought. I didn't do anything wrong.

While he was in Jerusalem, Simon would see families going in and coming out of the temple. Herod had built this temple to be even more glorious than the one Solomon built centuries ago. Simon sometimes wondered about God. Could I actually know him? Is He really compassionate like the Scripture says? Does He really forgive sin? Could He ever be my God? He would peek into the temple occasionally but would never go in. Sure, Samaritans were allowed in the outer court, but who would want to endure that? Jewish eyes staring at you, silently belittling you, and wishing you weren't there. No thank you.

It was around the age of seventeen that Simon came in from the fields and his mother noticed that his skin looked especially dry. Over the next couple of weeks, lesions appeared, and white hairs grew out of the lesions. Concerned, his parents took him to the priest because the priest would know what to do about any skin disease. After seeing the priest, their worst nightmare came true as Simon was declared "unclean", having contracted leprosy.

Tears streamed down his mother's face as Simon was told he would have to leave immediately and go live with other lepers. He could not worship anymore, and he could not go home. He simply had to leave. Once Simon got to his new "home", saw a familiar face. "Bartholomew?" Simon realized he wasn't going to fit in all that well with these lepers. After all, these guys were Jews, and he was still a Samaritan. Because of their common illness, they attempted to get along, but they would still occasionally remind Simon of how wonderful the Jews are...and how horrible the Samaritans are.

Ten years went by in this new, isolated existence. "Healers" came and went, but nothing ever changed. Evenings would find Simon sitting with his nine living companions, staring up to the heavens, and still wondering about God. Simon wondered if he would die like this. He thought, It's bad enough that I'm hated for being a Samaritan, but now I'm an isolated Samaritan because of this disease. What a hopeless life.

One day, Simon heard a shout coming from a distance. "Jesus is coming!" Bartholomew answered back, "We've heard His name...who is He?" "He's a prophet sent from God, and He has been healing thousands of sick people...even lepers." What? He has healed lepers? Could this be Simon's chance at getting his old life back?

The traveling party came through, and there He was...front and center...Jesus of Nazareth. After discussing what they would do, the ten shouted together, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" Jesus looked at them and answered. Simon was overwhelmed. Go to the temple? he thought. Show the priests? There would be only one reason to go to the temple and show the priests...they would be healed!

The ten immediately headed off toward the temple. Simon had never been inside, and he wondered what it would be like. When they arrived, they went straight to the priests, pulled back their sleeves, and the priest looked at their skin. "You are all clean," he said. Clean? thought Simon. I'm clean? I was diseased, and Jesus has made me clean. This man is no prophet. He is the Christ! He cleansed me from my leprosy, and He can cleanse me from my sin.

"Bartholomew! Friends! Jesus is the Christ! Let us go back and worship Him!" Simon called out. Bartholomew looked at him and smirked, "We're not your friends, mut. You do what you want. We're going home." It was as if Simon didn't hear a word he said. When they turned away, Simon turned back and quickly made his way to Jesus. He got to the edge of the crowd, elbowed his way through the sea of people, threw himself at Jesus' feet, and began to sing, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Praise Him all creatures here below! Praise Him above ye heavenly host! Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!" Then he said, "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, my Lord."

With his face to the ground, Simon heard the brokenhearted voice of Jesus asking where the other nine were. They were cleansed, too. Why weren't they here? Then, Simon felt a hand on the back of his head. Jesus now addressed him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." Simon felt a sense of relief come over his soul. It didn't matter that he was a didn't matter that he was a leper. His sins were now forgiven, and it was all because of Jesus, the Christ.

Simon was wrong about Jesus. Jesus didn't give him his old life back. Jesus gave him new life.

Now, the story is over, but there's just one more thing to add. In Matthew 26, there is a story of a woman who poured out an alabaster jar of expensive perfume on Jesus' head. Do you remember th location of this event? The house of Simon the Leper (v. 6). Now, I'm not saying that this is the same leper, but wouldn't it be just like the leper in Luke 17 to host a private dinner party for Jesus and His disciples? If it were the same leper, I could imagine that a warm smile came to his face when the perfume was poured, remembering the first day that his heart poured out in worshipping Jesus.

Has your heart been changed by Jesus? Pour out your life for Him.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

We Three Kings

I's not Christmas time, and this is not a blog on the fact that the Bible doesn't say there were only three visitors to see Jesus. I have to confess, though...the tune is still running through my it running through yours yet? "We three kings of Orient are...bearing gifts we traverse afar...Field and fountain, moor and mountain...Following yonder of wonder, star of with royal beauty bright...Westward leading, still proceeding...Guide us to the perfect light." Now, is it there?

Anyway, I write today to examine the prayers of three kings in the Old Testament - David, Solomon, and Hezekiah. These are three names with which most of us are familiar. If you attend Alta Loma, you are very familiar with David, since we are approaching our seventeenth week looking at his life on Sunday mornings. He was the second king of Israel, and he lived around 1000 BC. Solomon was David's second son born to Bathsheba. You remember Bathsheba, don't you? Read 2 Samuel 11-12 for the full story. Hezekiah was one of the only good kings of Judah, which was destroyed by Babylon in 586 BC.

There are three prayers from these three kings that I find very interesting and instructive for us in the 21st century AD. I actually believe that we can learn a lot about prayer from the three prayers that we will examine in this blog. What will we learn about prayer? By God's grace, our motivation in prayer will be refocused. In other words, we will be reminded of the end to which all prayer must lead.

Let's begin with David. Anyone who has ever taken an Old Testament course in Bible college, seminary, or at your local church should recognize 2 Samuel 7. Some commentators call is the most important chapter in all the Old Testament. It is in 2 Samuel 7 that God makes a covenant with David...a covenant to give him a great name, to build his house, and to establish his throne forever through one of his descendants. Who is that descendant? Jesus Christ. It is Jesus that will reign forever on the throne of David (Luke 1:32). As you can imagine, David is humbled by the promises God is making. He enters the tent where the ark was kept, and he prays (read the full prayer in 2 Samuel 7:18-29). His prayer is essentially, "Who am I that you are making promises to me? You are an amazing God, and there is none like You. You are the Redeemer of this nation, and you are their God." In verse 25-26, David's tone changes. He prays, "And now, O Lord, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever."

Let's recap...David is humbled, he worships the Lord, he declares God's goodness to His people, and then he almost demands that God keep His promise. "Do as you promised..." In fact, this verb is imperative. Why is David so confident and insistent that God keep His promise? Is it so David's throne will be eternal? Is it so people will remember David for generations to come? It is so the nation of Israel will be dominant in world history? No, no...a thousand times no! He says why he is so burdened for God to do these things: "so that your name will be great forever." David's concern in praying is that God's name be great! Remember that.

Next is Solomon...1 Kings 3. Now, admittedly, Solomon is not the best king. He makes alliances with ungodly nations. However, I want to look at one episode in his life. In chapter 3, Solomon makes an alliance with the king of Egypt and marries his daughter. Solomon takes some time and goes to Gibeon, where he sacrifices 1000 burnt offerings. One thousand! Can you imagine the cost? Can you imagine the time it would take for Solomon to sacrifice and worship the Lord in such a way? Solomon was seeking to consecrate himself to the Lord, and the Lord responds to that heart attitude. God comes to Solomon in a dream and says, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you" (v. 5). This isn't just a call to's a promise to answer Solomon's prayer. How does Solomon react? What is his prayer?

Solomon asks for wisdom. He doesn't ask for wealth, he doesn't ask for his enemies to be obliterated, and he doesn't ask for long life. The substance of his prayer pleases the Lord (v. 10). [SIDE NOTE: Notice what Solomon didn't ask, wealth, and protection...what are the majority of our prayer meetings about? Health, wealth, and protection. Aunt So-and-so's kidney, provision to pay the bills, and travelling mercies. It's interesting that Solomon doesn't consume his prayer with these subjects, and it pleases the Lord. That's a blog within a blog.]

Back to our question...why did Solomon ask for these things? First of all, he recognizes that he is young and not a skilled king (v. 7). Then, he makes an interesting argument. He begins to brag on the nation that God has established, and for the good of God's people, Solomon wanted wisdom to govern. It is not for himself, and it is not he will be thought wise. It is for God and His people that Solomon wants to be wise. Solomon's prayer is meant to accomplish the glory of God among the people of God. Seeing a pattern yet?

Finally, we jump to Hezekiah in 2 Kings 19. As you know, the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, and now there is an Assyrian threat on the southern kingdom. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, sends threatening letters to Hezekiah and sends his commanders to convince the people to stop following Hezekiah. When the threat was getting the greatest, Hezekiah went into the temple and laid the letter from Sennacherib before the Lord. Then, he began to pray (2 Kings 19:15-19). He asks for the Lord to deliver Judah from the Assyrians. Why? Verse 19 - " that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God." Hezekiah's concern is for the fame of our God to be spread like wildfire through the nations.

David prayed for God to keep His promise so that His name would be made great. Solomon prayed for wisdom so that God would be glorified in the king's governing of the people. Hezekiah prayed for deliverance for Judah so that God would be famous among the nations. Now, let's look at our prayer list. Let's not concern ourselves so much with the "what" of our prayers right now...let's concern ourselves for the "why" of our prayers.

When we pray for healing in a sick family member, is it so they will be healthy or so that God's glory will shine brighter, as it did in the healing of the blind man in John 9? When we pray for God's provision, it is so we won't have to answer calls from collectors or so that God will be made famous as the one who "adds all these other things to our lives" when we seek His kingdom? When we pray for God to convert our friends and neighbors (do you pray that?), is it so we can have a bigger church? Is it so that our friend will be "in" with the church crowd? it so that the glory of Jesus Christ and all He accomplished on the cross will be magnified by one more soul? If our desire is for God to answer so that He will be glorified, magnified, and made famous, then say it in prayer. Tell Him why you want Him to answer.

I believe that, much like all of life, our prayers are too "me-centered" and not God-centered. If we will focus on God's glory as we ask for His intervention, then we won't just see healed scabs and new jobs. We'll see God and His glory. We won't just talk about safe travel and good weather for the church picnic. We'll talk about God and His glory. The heavens are declaring the glory of God, and I fear that if our prayers don't change...if our lives don't change...then we will begin to hear the rocks cry out His praise. I'll finish with quoting a song we used to do in youth ministry, and let it be our cry: "Ain't no rock gonna cry out in my long as I'm alive I'll glorify His holy name."