Distressed & dispirited in the face of disease & despair?
We lost sheep can cling to a simple truth through grim days:
“I AM the way.”
My spiritual gift is teaching. In Greek, that’s διδάσκω, didaskó, from which we get our English didactic! Perhaps that explains my penchant for auguring into esoteric detail. 🤔 By contrast, I’m struck by how straight-forward Yeshua’s message often was.
“I AM the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt 9:35-36)
“Distressed and dispirited” in the face of disease and sickness. Another translation renders it, “harried and helpless.” Isn’t that the condition of our day?
Lost sheep don’t need a twelve-point sermon. The message here isn’t complex or elaborate. They need something simple. Something REAL to trust.
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 10:7)
“Sheep without a shepherd.” “Harried and helpless.” We cast about for guidance, but it all conflicts. The death toll is mounting. No, it’s a hoax, or “just” the flu. Last week, the C.D.C. is adamant: don’t wear masks. This week, we’re dusting off our sewing machines to make them at home.
Many say the government is overstepping. Others cast blame—it hasn’t done enough. IMO, both are probably true. This crisis is not fake, but you can be sure despots all over the world have plans to leverage it. Either way you’re inclined to see it, there’s plenty to make us “distressed and dispirited.” “Harried and helpless.” Fearful for the future.
What did Yeshua do for the poor, defenseless sheep?
Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”
Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness…. These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them…. “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ ” (Matt 9:35 – 10:7)
He sent his disciples out with power to meet physical needs, and with a very simple message.
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 10:7)
Or, in other words: “Look up, for your redemption draws nigh.” (Luke 21:28)
The Lord had a tremendous plan for that generation–like the amazing plan He has for our generation (Matt 24:34). He put those plans in place at the dawn of time (Gen 3:15). But the “lost sheep” of our Lord’s day didn’t know the details of that tremendous plan. And maybe many were too sick and weary and harried to care. Many followed Him around the countryside for pragmatic reasons—He was their only hope of healing. He gave them their fill of bread and fish (John 6:2, 26).
There’s encouraging reason to think the Lord is using today’s big shake-up to open the hearts of sick and weary and harried people to His truth. Here are results of a recent survey here in the U.S.:
44% of Americans say virus a “wake up call” to return to God. Nearly 1/3 believe we are living in “what the Bible calls the last days,” according to a survey by nationally respected pollsters McLaughlin & Associates. Fascinating if surprising results in exclusive poll released by The Joshua Fund.
And in today’s headlines:
‘A Longing to Connect with God’: Bible Sales on the Rise as More People Turn to God’s Word for Comfort, Guidance
Let’s pray the Lord sends workers (us!) into that harvest! Yes, it’s hard to have “beautiful feet” when they’re in bedroom slippers, but He’s got a plan for that too.
The followers who just wanted their bellies filled fell away when the message got tougher, leaving only those who sought the “words of eternal life” (John 6:66-68). At the Last Supper, which was a Jewish Passover Seder meal, only Yeshua’s inner circle remained. And they stood on the eve of events that would rock the world.
There, too, the message was simple—although it befuddled the disciples because it defied their expectations. After Yeshua washed the disciples’ feet and Judas departed, He shocked them all with this:
“Where I am going, you cannot come.” (John 13:33)
He broke Peter’s heart by prophesying that Peter would deny Him, but went on to reassure his dear friends. Things were going to look grim—desperately grim. But all would soon be well.
“You cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later…. Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places… I go to prepare a place for you…. And you know the way where I am going.”
Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:1-6)
What did those heartbroken and bewildered sheep need in that moment? To know the Way, the Truth, the Life!
After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matt 26:30)
Ancient olives in the Garden of Gethsemane
Did you know this? We’re reasonably confident we know what hymn Yeshua and the disciples sang as they started for Gethsemane (Matt 26:30, Mark 14:26). An ancient Jewish rite for many festivals, including the Passover, is to sing the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). Check out these words that close out Psalm 118!
Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord,
Through which the righteous shall enter.
I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation. (“salvation”=לִֽישׁוּעָֽה. Yeshua!)
The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone….
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord;…
The Lord is God, and He has given us light;
Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I give thanks to You; (Psalm 118:19-22, 26-28)
It blows me away, honestly. How prophetic is this? On the way to Gethsemane, they sang out their proclamation that Yeshua was THE gate (or “way”), their salvation, THE rejected stone, THE festival sacrifice, and the living God! (And yes, portions of that hymn had also been sung by the crowd on Palm Sunday [Matt 21:9], in unknowing anticipation of what Yeshua was about to do for them!)
May the Lord use these present trials to cause many to pass through the Gate of Righteousness (John 10:9), recognize the Chief Cornerstone (Matt 21:42), understand that the Lord has become (the verb here is related to the divine name, יְ֝הוָה) their salvation (in Hebrew, Yeshua), and cry out, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:26, Matt 23:39)!
The Seder meal also reminds the Jewish people that it was God Who made their way through the wilderness, granting His shekinah glory as a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day (Ex 13:21). The cloud and the fire are identified with the Angel of the Lord—the pre-incarnate Christ (Ex 23:20-21), “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb 1:3). Here again, Yeshua is THE way!
We watched Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments a couple days ago. It struck me again how many times, humanly speaking, the Hebrews’ situation was impossible. And Who was THE way for them? Yeshua, their cloud and fire!
Also from the Hallel, the hymn Yeshua and His disciples sang on the path to Gethsemane:
I shall lift up the cup of salvation*
And call upon the name of the Lord….
(* which they just did, during the Passover meal, and Yeshua declared it “the new covenant in My blood” [Luke 22:20])
Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His godly ones.
O Lord, surely I am Your servant,
I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid,
You have loosed my bonds. (Ps 116:13-16)
From my distress I called upon the Lord;
The Lord answered me and set me in a large place.
The Lord is for me; I will not fear… (Ps 118:5-6)
Passover Seder: “The new covenant in My blood…” (Luke 22:20)
Does your situation look impossible?
Got bonds you need broken?
An order for bricks without straw?
A sea that needs parting?
Hungry and thirsty in the wilderness?
Wait for it…
Yeshua is THE Way.
But He isn’t leading us through this wilderness just to bring us back to our old “leeks and onions and garlic.” No way. He’s leading us into a new and better kingdom.
And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. (Heb 11:15-16)
A couple of fabulous observations, from my friend and frequent guest blogger, Lauren Crews: (PSSST: Lauren’s first book, Strength of a Woman, releases on April 13! Hurry and check out the special preorder pricing today!)
Yeshua proclaimed that the words He spoke were the Father’s word of truth (John 14:10). Yeshua was fulfilling the position of meturgeman. As a rabbi read aloud the Torah, a meturgeman would stand beside him and translate his Hebrew words into the language of the local people. The meturgeman did not speak for himself, but only what he was told, the truth of God’s word. Jews during the time of Christ were familiar with the actions of a meturgeman.
As truth, there was no difference between who Yeshua was, what He said and what He did. His actions perfectly reflected God’s word.
In Hebrew, truth is the word emet, spelled, Alef, Mem, Tav which are the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. God’s Word was made flesh and God’s Word encompasses truth in all things from the beginning through the end.
One more thing! If you remove the Alef from the word emet, you’re left with the Hebrew word for death. Alef represents God and His preeminence. If we remove God, or if He is not first in our lives, we are left with death.
Life is a fundamental promise that pervades scripture, from the Torah of Moses (Deut 30:15-16) through the Revelation to John (Rev 22:1-2). Yeshua is our source for that life. He pledges to be our conduit of living water (John 4:10-14, John 6:54, John 7:37). Before that Last Supper, He promised life twice in His previous I AM statements.
And He powerfully demonstrated the validity of these claims by raising people from the dead (Mark 5:41, John 11:43-44).
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. (John 5:21,24-27)
Note that the verb translated “has passed over” is “perfect active” that expresses completed action: “this one has already crossed over from death to life.” In other words, the gift of eternal life is a “done deal,” though it is only experienced as we truly surrender to the love and grace of God from a heart of faith. The “basis” of life is now radically new and of a different order.
The bottom line?
Even in something as awful as a plague—or a series of them—our God reigns. There is a plan and a purpose. As the disciples sang on their way to Gethsemane,
“God is FOR you” (Psalm 118:6), and you needn’t fear—even death—IF you know Him.
As Jeremiah encouraged the Israelite people who’d been dragged into exile in Babylon:
‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.’ (Jer 29:11)
Or as Paul encouraged the nascent church under persecution in Rome:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us….
We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose….
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
If you don’t see the signs of the times exploding around us, you aren’t looking.
In Matthew 24 and Luke 21, Yeshua warned that “birth pangs” would attend the final days of this world system. We’ve been seeing those for decades, but in the past weeks, do you have a feeling they’ve intensified? If so, you’re not alone. This article documents how events have evolved, even since Jan 1, related to wars and rumors of wars, spiritual deception, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, etc. And his list is already a little dated. There’s more to add now. Earthquakes, unprecedented weather patterns, killer hornets in Washington state. We even have a pretty good candidate for the “mark of the Beast” (see this, with this, or for edgier reporting, see this).
We are the generation that has seen the fig tree put forth its leaves (Matt 24:32-35). God’s timepiece is wound and the clock is running down. I’m not sure exactly what “short” means, but I know time is short.
I looked at this in more here detail here, but briefly, Yeshua told His disciples:
Now learn the parable from the fig tree. When its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matt 24:32-34)
Yeshua had caused the fruitless fig tree to wither just a few hours earlier, in Matt 21. It symbolized the Jewish nation’s impending destruction. So when he spoke of the fig tree blooming in Matt 24, many Bible scholars believe it represents the Jewish nation’s rebirth.
I’m convinced we are the “this generation.” The generation that heard Jesus’ Matt 21 prophecy saw it take effect in 70 A.D. Even so, the generation that witnesses the rebirth of Israel “will not pass a way until all these things” described in Jesus’ end-times discourse in Matthew 24-25 take place.
How long is a generation? Eighty years? Ninety? And are we counting from 1948, when Israel was established by the U.N., or 1967, when the Israelis won back Jerusalem? The answers to these questions aren’t clear, but any way you do the math…
If the widely-held interpretation that the budding fig tree in Matt 24 represents Israel’s rebirth is correct,
The clock is ticking. Time is short.
One final thought from John J. Parsons:
In the Greek New Testament, the wording of Hebrews 13:5 is highly emphatic: Οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ, οὐδ’ οὐ μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω: “Not ever will I give up on you; no, not ever will I leave you behind.”
If you haven’t yet acknowledged your “calling according to God’s purposes,” if you haven’t yet made the decision for Christ that will make you part of God’s remnant for whom “all things work together for good,” which He will never forsake or “leave behind,” I urge you. Hesitate not a minute longer.
Lovely figs nearing harvest.
If you’ve never opened God’s free gift of salvation through Yeshua (Rom 3:23, 6:23), please please please be persuaded to do it now! It’s simple. Just tell God from your heart that you admit you’re a sinner that needs a Savior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23) that you’re done running your own life, and that you’re ready to make Jesus Lord of your life.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:9-11)
The decision that saves you is that simple!
Simple… But no one said living it out will be easy. Especially now.
For this and my previous post, I am blessed to include insights from teacher extraordinaire, author and speaker Lauren Crews, a regular guest here at Five Stones and a Sling. It was Lauren’s study on Yeshua’s “door” statement that got me interested in studying how His I AM statements relate to the Feasts of the Lord. Thanks, Lauren!
As a Bible teacher and speaker, Lauren is excited to encourage Christians to explore and understand the Jewish roots of their faith. She lives in north-east Florida with her husband and two chocolate labs, who have them both well trained. She is represented by Credo Communications and working toward the publication of her books The Strength of a Woman and Jesus: The Alef and the Tav. The Strength of a Woman releases on Monday! Hurry and check out the pre-order pricing! You can connect with Lauren on the web at www.laurencrews.com.
Here are the previous posts in our series on the Life-Giving I AMs of Jesus: