“There was Eli, sitting on a seat by the wayside watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God” (1 Samuel 4:13).
The word “tremble” as it is used here means to be in anguish, as travailing. At this time in his life, Eli was old and infirm, his eyes had grown dim, his spiritual leadership was diminishing, and his own sons were corrupt priests. Things all around him looked hopeless.
Eli was watching the Ark of the Covenant being taken away — God’s glory was leaving the camp — and he was largely responsible. As the high priest, he had overseen the offering of sacrifices, but it was all ritual with no real spiritual significance. The fear of the Lord was no longer in the hearts of the people and Eli knew that without the presence of God, all was lost. Recognizing what was happening caused his heart to tremble.
But there is another kind of trembling, that which emanates from joy. The Spirit of God shocked his church when he told them, “For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods” (Hosea 3:4, NIV). In other words, God was taking away all their large buildings of worship and stripping them of all that they depended on.
But then God promised, “Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days” (3:5, NIV).
Imagine if your church had no more eloquent preachers or even buildings to meet in. What would you do? Well, if God replaced all these things with a heart to seek him, it would be worth it all. If we don’t have Jesus, we have nothing! Ask God to give you a heart that trembles at his Word, to give you a longing for his presence.
“When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them” (Luke 7:36-38, NIV).
In Jesus’ day, when you invited a dignitary to your house for dinner, members of the whole town could attend. While they did not have preferred seating, they could stand against a wall and observe without participating. Into such a setting came a woman who desperately wanted to see Jesus. This woman, a prostitute, was willing to endure the stares and mumblings of the other attendees in order to approach Jesus, this Man she had heard could give her a new life.
Let’s look at first century society for a moment. Three kinds of people were never to be touched: a leper; an immoral person; and a corpse. The leper had to shout out a word of warning to others, “I’m unclean” and everyone would back away. The immoral person would be put out of one’s sight. And it was felt that an infection, be it spiritual or physical, might come upon you if you came in contact with a corpse.
Jesus was not bound by the customs of his day and he defied all three of these social constraints:
When you and Jesus are in the same place, great things can happen! Only he can close the chapter on a tough past with immediate forgiveness — forgiveness that lasts for eternity. Today, our Lord is still available to heal, restore and give eternal life.
Pastor Tim pastored an inner-city congregation in Detroit for thirty years before serving at Brooklyn Tabernacle in NYC for five years. He and his wife Cindy presently pastor in Lafayette, Louisiana.
One of the most often-heard phrases in the church is, "God answers prayer!" Yet that is only half the truth. The whole truth is, "God overanswers prayer!"
Take the children of Israel, for example. Essentially, Hosea prophesied to Israel, “You’re backslidden but you’re still God’s people. Now, return to the Lord and pray.”
“Take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously’” (Hosea 14:2). Their prayer was simple; all Israel asked God to do was have mercy on them. God responded, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon” (Hosea 14:4-6).
The dew of heaven is the presence of the Lord. Up to this point, there had been drought; everything was dying because God’s favor had been taken away. But now, because of true repentance and a heartfelt prayer, God said he would cause life to spring up on all sides. Israel would not only be forgiven, but revived. They would grow, become well-rooted, spread out and thrive. All they asked for was mercy, forgiveness and acceptance. But God opened the windows of heaven and poured on them blessings they dared not even hope for. God largely over-answered their prayer!
Beloved, God has done the same for you. When you repented, all you asked for from God was a clean heart, forgiveness and peace. Yet look at how he has answered you. He gave you a hungering heart and a thirst for more of Jesus. He gave you eyes to see, ears to hear, and a love for him and his people.
Jesus has become your morning dew and he waters your soul daily with his Word. You are growing — not dead or dying — and are very much alive in him. Hallelujah!
“Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth. Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers … Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:6-8).
Fowlers were professional bird-catchers in the days before firearms. They captured birds by spreading a net on the ground and attaching it to a trap or snare. They would sprinkle corn on the ground near the trap and then, when the birds ate the corn, the trap would spring and the net would fly over them and capture them. Fowlers sold the captured birds for various purposes — as pets, as sacrifices, as food.
Throughout the Bible we see our souls likened to birds: “My heritage is to Me like a speckled [bird of prey]” (Jeremiah 12:9). So if we are “birds,” who then is the fowler? According to the Bible, the fowler is the devil himself. Satan is absolutely determined to overthrow every believer who walks in holiness and complete devotion to Jesus Christ.
Since the devil is not omnipresent and cannot be everywhere at once, he commands multitudes of demonic beings, principalities and powers of darkness. These demonic powers are at work laying traps for Christians. In fact, Satan also uses wicked people to lay demonic traps: “The wicked have laid a snare for me” (Psalm 119:110).
The psalmist writes: “Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have purposed to make my steps stumble. The proud have hidden a snare for me … they have spread a net by the wayside; they have set traps for me” (Psalm 140:4-5).
While it is true that Satan has an army of some of the most crafty, skilled fowlers on earth, the good news is that none of his attacks will succeed against the devoted child of God. No matter what your failure, your hardship or your trap, rest assured that God is on your side. Even when you’re weak, you can cry out to him and he will come and tear away the net. Just stand still and see his salvation!
As the shepherds gazed on the Babe in the manger, they saw a Savior who would redeem all of humankind. When the wise men beheld him, they saw a King who would conquer death. And when the prophets looked ahead, they saw an Emancipator who would open prison doors, unlock chains, and set captives free. They all had their vision of who Jesus was and why he came.
Christ was born into a world of unbelief, when God’s people lived under the terrifying grip of the Roman Empire. Israel’s religious leaders did not offer much hope. The Pharisees believed salvation was achievable through works, thereby convoluting God’s laws into a rigid system of impossible performance. And the Sadducees didn’t even believe in resurrection. In fact, very few people had any vision of an eternal existence. This was the darkness Jesus entered.
As we look into the manger, we see Christ as the bridge between earth and heaven, crossing over the abyss of death that separates temporal life and the eternal. One day we are going to cross that bridge and it will take place in the twinkling of an eye: “We shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
We could ponder such mysteries, but the truth is, our imaginations simply cannot fathom the glory and power of God. Our brains are too finite. But we can be sure of this one thing: because Jesus came to earth, there is a new world coming. A world without sin, poverty or disease. Our Savior was born to bring life — everlasting life — so this Christmas season, let us keep a resurrection frame of mind. A mind and heart filled with hope of the life that is available to us because of the Christ-child born in a manger.