The Firstfruits

But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ’s, at his coming (1 Corinthians 15:23).

Despair turned to excitement on that first day of the week so long ago when Jesus arose from the dead (John 20:1-31, etc.). In the midst of all the excitement, however, there was one theological conundrum that needed to be addressed.

The idea of resurrection was not foreign to the Jews; the Pharisees believed in the resurrection (Acts 23:8), and no doubt many other Jews did also. But “the resurrection” in which they believed was the resurrection on the last day. That is what Daniel 12:2 seemed to indicate. It certainly was the expectation of Martha when Lazarus died (cf. John 11:24).

But someone rising from the dead in the resurrection before the end? This was not something you would automatically take away from a reading of the Old Testament, nor was it something immediately obvious to Pharisees and others. Perhaps this was part of the challenge the disciples faced in not understanding Jesus’ predictions of the event (Mark 9:30-32, etc.). How could it be that One could rise from the dead before everyone was raised from the dead?

The Holy Spirit, through Paul, would make this understandable. Jesus was the firstfruits of the resurrection!

The idea of the firstfruits comes from passages like Deuteronomy 18:4:

The first-fruits of thy grain, of thy new wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, shalt thou give him.

The firstfruits were the first part of a harvest– the first wheat or barley harvested, the first wine processed, the first of the fleece shorn, and so on and so forth. The Israelites were to devote the firstfruits to God (Exodus 23:19), and God gave them to the Levites for sustenance (Deuteronomy 18:4). After the firstfruits had been offered, the rest of the harvest belonged to the people for their own consumption and use.

The firstfruits image, therefore, helps us understand the relationship between Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection on the final day. Jesus is the firstfruits– the first to rise from the dead, never to die again (1 Corinthians 15:20). He had been given as an offering to God to atone for the people (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 9:1-15). He paves the way for the resurrection to come, the resurrection of which we all take part (John 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 15:12-57)!

There is something obvious about the firstfruits that is important for the resurrection. The firstfruits are not different in kind or type from the harvest that comes later. The firstfruits of wheat are wheat just as the “second fruits” or “third fruits” would be; the same goes for barley, wine, fleece, and the like. So it is with the resurrection: we should not believe that our resurrection will be something different from Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23). The difference involves time, not type or kind. As Jesus died in the flesh but remained alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18), and was then raised bodily from the dead, the tomb being empty, and His flesh being transformed for immortality (Luke 24:1-49), so it goes with those who serve Him. All who have died, and those who will be dead before His coming, remain alive in the spirit, but will then be raised bodily and transformed for immortality (1 Corinthians 15:35-57, Philippians 1:21-23, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)!

In reality, the resurrection is a challenging concept, for one of the few “guarantees” in the physical realm is that once one dies, one is always dead. We do not see people rising from the dead, never to die again.

Yet that is precisely the hope by which the Christian must live (cf. Romans 8:20-25). And we have confidence in that hope because of Jesus the firstfruits. We do not have to wonder whether God can or will raise the dead, for we know He raised Jesus from the dead. If He is able to raise Jesus from the dead, He is able to raise us from the dead also, and He has promised to do so (Romans 8:11)!

The last enemy, indeed, is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). Through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and lordship, believers now can have confidence in their spiritual regeneration in this life (Romans 6:1-23, 8:1-9). The believer is able to be a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), yet we are all still cursed with physical death.

But death will be abolished. The day will dawn when we all will have the victory over not just sin but also death through Jesus Christ our Lord, and on that day the rest of the harvest will be brought in to the praise and glory of God in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:53-57, 1 Peter 1:6-7). We can have complete confidence in this because Jesus gained the victory over sin on the cross and over death in the resurrection, and He is the firstfruits! Let us all serve God so that we may attain to the resurrection of life (cf. Philippians 3:11-13)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Remembering our Creator

Remember also thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, “I have no pleasure in them” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

Many people tend to associate spirituality with mortality– belief about God must have something to do with the afterlife, and therefore, concern about doing what God says is motivated by a desire for a more enjoyable afterlife. If spirituality can be sequestered with dying, then, some would say, it should not be a concern for those who are in their youth, in their prime of life.

This is how not a few people live their lives. They figure that they will not be dying anytime soon. Attitudes in our society reinforce this– as a whole, society does not like talking about death and attempts to ignore that unpleasant reality at all costs. Thanks to medical and technological advancements death is not as pervasive in life as it was just generations before, and this facilitates, especially among the young, an almost complete lack of consciousness of their impending demise– and that it might be sooner than expected.

In reality, as the Preacher indicates, spirituality is more than just about the fact that we will all die. In Ecclesiastes 12:1 he does not emphasize for people to remember their Ultimate Judge in the days of their youth (although that would not be a bad idea, Ecclesiastes 12:14); he says to remember your Creator. To remember the Creator is to remember that you are the creation, that there is a Power out there stronger than you are. To remember our Creator is to remember our creation from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7), and to remember that we are dust is to recognize that our pretensions of greatness are hollow and that the day is coming when we will be but dust again (Ecclesiastes 12:7). While remembering our Creator does remind us of our own mortality, it also compels us to remember that despite our desires we are not the ones really calling the shots. We are a part of God’s great and glorious creation; an important part, yes, but a part, and we would do well to remember our role in praising and glorifying the God who created us (Psalm 148:1-14).

Nevertheless, the Preacher’s words are motivated by his understanding of the imminent demise of us all. Ecclesiastes 12:2-7, often understood as referring to physical decay, probably has the day of death and lamentation as the true referent. In the passage the Preacher invites the reader to consider the day of his or her own death and the results it will bring. Death brings down the strong and mighty; it ends the daily rituals of life; all the pleasures and labor and desires are gone. In the end, it’s all over, and it is all absurd (Ecclesiastes 12:8). Things may continue as before (Ecclesiastes 1:4-8), but not for you.

Many times we hear the advice to “live each day as if it were your last,” and such advice, if directed in ways of righteousness, is certainly sound. But the Preacher wants us to go deeper than that. What will happen on the inevitable day of your death?

Family members will mourn and lament. You would hope that people who know you or know of you would be saddened a bit. There will be plenty of people making money– funeral arrangements, the handling of the estate, and so on and so forth.

Yet, odds are, the sun will go down and then rise on the next day, and everything moves on…without you. All that you are and hope and feel and wish– gone.

This is not meant to depress, although that might be the result. It is designed to be a wake up call. None of us are as important as we tend to make ourselves out to be. We are caught up in this absurd thing called “life under the sun,” and the best time we have is now. We are to remember our Creator in the days of our youth because for so many reasons those are the good days– the days of joy and promise (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10). They are not to be squandered in riotous living. Those who are wise will understand that it does not get any better– days of infirmity, on various levels, are coming, and then ultimately the end, if the end is not untimely, and there is never any guarantee (James 4:14).

Therefore, let us praise God that this is the day of His creation, and we should rejoice in it and in Him (Psalm 118:24). We do not know what will happen tomorrow, but we can remember our Creator today and to seek His will. The day of death and the end of our absurd lives will hasten soon enough. Let us seek God before it is too late!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The End of the Beginning

And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them (Genesis 2:1).

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”: and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit (John 19:30).

We humans seem to be hard-wired for stories. We like stories with beginnings and endings. We often feel cheated or in despair when we engross ourselves in a story that may not have much of a beginning and provides little, if any, resolution in the end.

As readers or hearers we try to be expecting the “beginning of the end” of a story. But what about the end of the beginning?

The end of the beginning is the moment of great hope in a story. In some way, the reader or listener is now introduced to the main characters and/or theme. Possibilities here abound; soon enough, the story will be fixed into a given channel toward its ultimate end.

We have that pause at the “end of the beginning” of the creation. In six days God created all that exists– He provided the beginning for everything (cf. Genesis 1:1-31). The sixth day was the culmination of creation– the creatures of the land and the man and woman in God’s image (Genesis 1:24-31). The possibilities abounded. God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3), and soon enough the story of His creation would unfold.

And then, in a darker semblance, we have the “end of the beginning” with the death of Jesus the Son of God. Jesus had been active in His earthly ministry, healing the sick, casting out demons, and proclaiming the message of the upcoming Kingdom (cf. Matthew 4:23-24). He did this for approximately three years. Over a six day period Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, teaching about the Kingdom while the hopes and dreams of Israel burst forth (cf. Matthew 21-27). The culmination of His time in Jerusalem and His entire ministry came again on the sixth day– scourging, a crown of thorns, derision and mockery, and ultimately death on a cross (Matthew 27:1-50, etc.). And then, on the seventh day, God the Son rested (Luke 23:56).

While there is some controversy over the day of Jesus’ death, the evidence from Luke 23:54-56 and John 19:31 provide strong indications that Jesus did indeed die on what has often been called “Good Friday.” In the Jewish calendar, Friday (really Thursday sunset to Friday sunset) is the sixth day of the week. God created the heavens and earth in six days, with the creation of humans on the sixth day, and rested on the seventh (cf. Genesis 1:1-2:3); Jesus completed His task of fulfilling the Law and the prophets and reconciling God and man on the sixth day (John 19:1-30). In each case, we have the end of the beginning.

Since God rested on the seventh day, so Israel was commanded to rest on the seventh day (cf. Exodus 20:10-11). It should not be surprising to us that the full day of Jesus’ rest in the tomb would be on such a Sabbath.

But then the sun would rise on a new week, the first day of the week. In Genesis this meant the real beginning of God’s Lordship over His newly-formed creation; He would not again be active in the work of creation, but He would rule over what is His and seek its best interest.

God’s reign over the creation continued as it were week after week, year after year, millennium after millennium, until that fateful Passover week in 30 CE. When the sun arose on the first day of the week after Jesus’ death, the end of the beginning had its full consummation: Jesus had been raised from the dead in power by God, now to rule over the heavens and earth as Lord (Matthew 28:1-18).

While it may have seemed as if nothing had changed in the way that the world operates, in reality, everything had just changed. In many respects, it was the “eighth” day of the week: a breaking out from the old paradigm and the beginning of a new creation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). The Kingdom and Reign of God was coming to earth through those who would follow Jesus Christ. As the Resurrected Lord, He represents the firstfruits, the basis of the hope and expectation we all share in Him for resurrection and rebirth (cf. Romans 8:17-25, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58). Jesus’ followers would no longer rest on the seventh day, for the work of God in advancing the Kingdom and bringing in the new creation is not satisfied until we obtain the resurrection (Hebrews 4:1-11). Our greatest loyalty is to the new creation, not the old, and thus Christians came together– and should still come together– on the first day of the week, commemorating the end of the new beginning: remembering the death of the Lord on the day when He arose (Matthew 28:1-10, Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

God has told us the beginning of the story of creation, and He has forecast for us the picture of the end (cf. Matthew 25:1-46, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Those who are willing and obedient will obtain the ultimate reconciliation with God (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 21:1-22:6). In doing so, according to God’s most profound story, believers will find themselves back at the end of the original beginning thanks to the end of the new beginning– man living in full association with God as in the Garden (cf. Genesis 2:4-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6), all thanks to the reconciliation that was made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross (Romans 5:5-11) and the new life that is found in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-57).

We have heard the story of the beginning, both old and new; the beginning has ended, the end may be upon us soon. Our lives, physical and spiritual, are sustained by the beginning of the stories and the end of those beginnings. Let us participate in God’s story so that we may obtain life in the end, be reconciled to God, and enjoy eternal life in the Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rested on the Sabbath

And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. And on the sabbath they rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:56).

It was the day in the middle of the most important events in human history. We can only imagine how it must have been.

Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified and now lay in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:1-55). He was in Paradise as He had promised (Luke 23:43), and perhaps this is the time when He preached to spirits in prison, but there is no basis for being definitive here (1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6).

Those who had sought to put Jesus to death must have been content. They could now enjoy the high Sabbath of the Passover week in relative peace. Another “Messiah” had been executed, no longer to be a threat. They would not miss Jesus’ antagonism. Their vision of Judaism remained as it had been, and in their estimation, all was well.

Since it was still the Passover the Roman authorities would still be on high alert. Mass sedition and riot was avoided over the matter of Jesus of Nazareth, but there could be any number of reasons for a new uprising or threat to Roman power. It is possible that Pilate had some twinges of guilt– perhaps he meditated a little bit about his strange interaction with that interesting Man. But there’s no reason to believe that Pilate was overly disturbed about his conduct. As for Herod, well, there was one fewer antagonist stirring up the people in Galilee. Whereas he took the blame for killing John, Jesus’ death was at least off of his head.

The people who cried for Jesus’ death would rest as pious Jews, looking forward to continuing the Passover festivities. Despite the hype there would be no revolution during this Passover. Another “Messiah” had come and gone, and life continued as it always had.

Yet there were many others who did not consent to Jesus’ death. They would still be smarting from the injustice that just took place. One day He was teaching in the Temple– the next, crucified as an insurrectionist, having been arrested and tried in most dishonest ways. Here was a great hope– a wonderful proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God– and yet again, the forces of darkness seemed to prevail.

And then there were the women who followed Jesus to the very end (cf. Luke 23:49, 55-56). So many hopes seemingly dashed– so much promise now gone. They had seen where He was entombed, and they awaited the morning to finish the preparations of His body that had been hastily begun before the previous sunset.

Finally we have His disciples. A cloud of suspicion was over them– what would they do? Yet they were not a threat. Instead, they were left to wonder what had happened. They had seen Jesus do so many amazing things. He said the words and did the things that the Messiah would say and do. They would remember that He said that He would die– but it still did not make any sense, for He also talked about the coming of His Kingdom. How could a dead Messiah rule over a Kingdom? There was this talk of Him rising from the dead, but the disciples knew that the dead remain dead, and that the resurrection would come on the final day for everyone (cf. Daniel 12:2-3, John 11:24). Now what would they do? How could this make any sense whatsoever?

We know what will take place the next morning, and that from then on, nothing would be the same. Yet, as we consider that high Sabbath day so long ago, perceiving the last day that things had been as they always had been, we understand all the more just how profound the resurrection of Jesus Christ really is.

It has become popular in many circles to believe that the disciples made up the resurrection of Jesus. Such seems almost laughable when we understand the attitudes and conduct of those disciples during Jesus’ final week. It is not as if all the disciples and women are counting down the hours and minutes of the Sabbath awaiting the resurrection. We greatly err if we think that they were so much more “ignorant” or “superstitious” than we are to just expect Jesus to rise again. They knew as well as we that the dead stay dead and that the end of not a few Messianic movements came when the “Messiah” was killed. Even though Jesus had predicted His resurrection (cf. John 2:19-22, Luke 9:22), the disciples were manifestly in no position to understand what He meant or to be prepared for it. It is little wonder that they all disbelieved at first when it happened (cf. Mark 16:11-13)!

We do well, at times, to place ourselves back on that high Sabbath of rest– the moment of pause during the most momentous events in human history. It increases our wonder and awe all the more of the resurrection that will come the next day. Let us praise God that we can have the victory through Jesus’ death and resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Walking as He Walked

He that saith he abideth in [Jesus] ought himself also to walk even as he walked (1 John 2:6).

Why did Jesus live?

It would be entirely understandable if people got the impression that Jesus lived only to die for our sins. A lot of emphasis in preaching and teaching falls squarely on the death of Jesus for sin and comparatively less on how Jesus lived and the lessons of His life.

This is not to say that Jesus did not die for our sins, or that His death was not part of His life. According to Ephesians 3:11 and John 1:29, Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins was understood from eternity and from the beginning of His work on earth. Romans 5:5-11 eloquently expresses the nature of Jesus’ death and its great value for those who would believe in Him. Furthermore, there must be an emphasis on the death of Jesus for sin in the preaching of the Gospel, since it is a significant part of what must be believed, and a good reminder of what was required for us to be redeemed from sin (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Titus 3:3-8).

On the other hand, to believe that the only reason for Jesus to come to earth was to die would be a gross exaggeration and a distortion of what the Scriptures teach. If all Jesus had to do was to die, why did He preach and teach the people for three years? Why not just go quickly to Jerusalem and get it all over with?

Many may point to the fact that Jesus needed to first fulfill the prophecies made regarding Him, and that is certainly true (cf. Luke 24:44-47). Jesus Himself said that all things required fulfillment (Matthew 5:17-18). But are the only reasons why Jesus lived the fulfillment of prophecy and to die?

The Scriptures indicate that Jesus is the Word made flesh– if you see Jesus, it is as if you are seeing the Father (John 1:18, 14:6-11). Jesus came to communicate in word and deed the nature and essence of God. This was not designed to be a mere intellectual exercise or a model attempt!

When we read Scriptures like the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7, the various parables in Matthew 13 or Luke 14-16, or the instructions to the disciples in John 13-17, among other passages, it becomes quickly apparent that Jesus in life is interested in making disciples who will follow Him, live by His principles as He did, and to proclaim His message and advance His Kingdom for His purposes and to His glory.

Under both covenants the command is given to be holy as God is holy (cf. Leviticus 11:17, 1 Peter 1:16). We are to love others as God has loved us, and this is expressed most powerfully through Jesus Christ (1 John 4:7-21). When we stop and think about it for a moment, all of the commands, principles, and exhortations of the new covenant– either regarding clinging to the good or abhorring the evil (cf. Romans 12:9)– are grounded and based upon the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

This is why John is able to express the truth simply: if we will abide in Jesus, we must walk as He walked. We must be imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Granted, there are some aspects of Jesus’ life and teaching that apply to first century Judaism and are not directly relevant for the new covenant, yet this does not change the reality that the foundation of the ethics, principles, and statutes of the New Testament is Jesus and what He accomplished in life.

Did Jesus live to fulfill prophecy and to die for the sins of mankind? Certainly– but His life means so much more. He lived to show us how to live. He became flesh and showed the way through His words and His deeds. He shows us that it is possible to be human and yet be holy and godly, both in what we are doing and in what we avoid.

But how can we walk as Jesus walked if we do not know how He walked? If we believe that we are Christians, then we must claim that we are disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20); how can we be disciples, or learners/followers, of Someone whom we barely know and under whose feet we are not sitting in order to learn? While all Scripture is profitable for spiritual growth (2 Timothy 3:16), the four Gospels should always hold a special place in our hearts, devotions, and study, for they are where we find the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, our Redeemer, Lord, Master, Teacher, and Friend. Let us walk as Jesus walked, growing in His grace and knowledge (1 John 2:6, 2 Peter 3:18)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Following Afar Off

And they seized [Jesus], and led him away, and brought him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed afar off (Luke 22:54).

The night’s confused events were taking place rapidly.

They had all spent the night eating the Passover with Jesus, and they all knew that the time was near. Jesus had indicated that He would not drink the fruit of the vine again until the Kingdom had come (Luke 22:18). He had served His disciples and instructed them in many things regarding His imminent departure (John 13-17).

And then, in the garden, Judas had come with the band of soldiers. Peter felt that this was the time to act, and he cut off Malchus’ ear (cf. Luke 22:47-51, John 18:10-11). Jesus censured him for the move, and healed Malchus. All of the disciples then turned and fled while Jesus was led away (Matthew 26:56).

Soon after, Peter remembered exactly what he had told Jesus and what Jesus had said. Peter said that he would go with Jesus both to prison and to death (Luke 22:33). He could not abandon his Master now, and so he followed from afar.

The pieces were then in place. Peter sat with others and warmed himself by the fire (Luke 22:55). It was in this setting that his courage failed him. He had three opportunities to confess Jesus, and he denied Him three times (Luke 22:56-60). Then Jesus turned and looked at him (Luke 22:61). We can only imagine how Peter felt at that moment!

Thus Peter betrayed Jesus. It was really classic Peter, exhibiting the same type of initial brashness and then wavering as seen when he walked on the water and then began to sink (cf. Matthew 14:28-31). Peter as a man of little faith was exposed again.

That exposure was unnecessary as we can see. The disciples had fled, and Peter could have continued to flee. He could have waited out this tempestuous time away from the danger and would not have had the opportunity to deny Jesus. Yet Peter, as impetuous as always, followed Jesus into the danger zone, and, as usual, failed.

But would Jesus have really wanted Peter to flee and not experience the testing of faith? That is a much more difficult question. As much as Peter’s denials must have pierced Jesus’ soul, Peter was at least willing to suffer the danger of being near Him. The abandonment was not entirely complete, as it certainly was for some of the other disciples.

After Pentecost the day would come when Peter would again step forth into the danger zone, but this time he would not fail– he boldly stood before the Sanhedrin and confessed Jesus as the Risen Christ (Acts 4:1-23). Peter would be the one to stand and preach the first Gospel message to Jews (Acts 2:14-36) and Gentiles (Acts 10:1-48), and, according to tradition, follow his Lord and Master to death by crucifixion (John 21:18). All of this was because Peter was not one to flee but to be willing to, if nothing else, at least follow afar off.

There are many times in our lives when confused events take place rapidly. Times of distress and difficulty come upon us; many times we do not expect them. When our faith is tested, and we feel as if we are going to be bereft of our Lord, how will we respond? Will we be as many of the disciples and run away, attempting to avoid all the possible dangers? There is a time and place for that, assuredly, but not always. Or will we be like Peter, willing to follow even if it is afar off, willing to risk our livelihoods and our lives to follow Jesus?

Perhaps we will find ourselves in that kind of situation and we fail like Peter failed. We should then “turn again” and “strengthen our brethren” (cf. Luke 22:32), repenting and seeking to do better. Or maybe we will succeed and stand firm, proclaiming through our word and deed in distress and difficulty that we are servants of Jesus Christ. Then God receives the glory (cf. 1 Peter 4:11).

We have no reason to believe that Peter the Apostle could have been the force for good for the Kingdom that he turned out to be had he not been Simon the disciple who was willing to follow and yet failed. Likewise, we will never be the disciples of Jesus Christ we can be, and we will not be able to be the force for good for the Kingdom that we should be, if we never take the risk of following Jesus in difficult, distressing times. We might very well stumble and perhaps even fail; the flesh is weak even when the spirit is willing. We can learn from our failures and move on. And perhaps we will succeed and God will be glorified and it will be evident how wise it was to follow and not flee. But that day will never come if we always flee, never taking the risk, never being exposed to the danger.

What kind of disciples of Christ are we? Let us seek to follow Jesus, even when the times are difficult, even when the danger is evident, take the risk, and stand firm for Him and His Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).

Paul’s bold declaration in Romans 1:16 has been popular among Christians for generations. His message is a rallying cry for faith and the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Its message also represents a significant challenge: Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel, but what about us?

V&A - Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens (1515)

Few are those who would directly admit that they are ashamed of the Gospel. We know that we should not directly contradict an Apostle! Our attitudes and actions, however, may tell a different story.

Our confidence and strength in the Gospel message is not tested among Christians in the assembly but out in the world. When we are in a group of people and spiritual matters are brought up, do we take the opportunity to speak of the truth or do we remain quiet? If we are around people who do not believe and are hostile to the truth, and they want to know if we are Christians and what we believe, do we boldly confess Jesus or do we make excuses? In our relationships with people of the world, do we ever find opportunities to talk about their spiritual condition, or are we too afraid that we are going to offend or cause discomfort?

Paul can declare that he is not ashamed of the Gospel because he attests to all the antagonism and violence he suffered on account of its message:

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I more; in labors more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

He stood in the midst of hostile unbelievers and proclaimed the Gospel anyway. He endured beatings and imprisonments because of the message of the Gospel, and he proclaimed the Gospel anyway. Odds are that none of us will experience the kind of persecution that Paul endured; will that lead us to boldness in proclaiming the Gospel or will we become complacent?

Do we really believe that the Gospel is God’s power of salvation to everyone? If we make excuses and justify our fears and do not proclaim the message, we prove that we are ashamed of the message of Jesus Christ.

Consider: what if, during the night, you discover the cure for cancer? You know possess the knowledge that can lead to the end of suffering and death for millions of people around the world! What would you do with that knowledge? Would you keep it to yourself and not be a bother, or would you go out and proclaim it everywhere?

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that you kept it to yourself. What kind of person does such a thing? What would people think of you if they knew that you had, in your possession, the knowledge that would lead to the relief of thousands of people, and yet you did nothing with it? At best, you would be considered heartless and cruel. At worst, you are no better than a murderer!

While it is unlikely that you will discover the cure for cancer, if you are a Christian, you have in your possession the knowledge of how to overcome the most potent illness that has caused the most pain and misery in human history: the problem of sin (Romans 3:23, 6:23). You have the message of the Gospel, the message that can lead to the relief of billions of souls from the pain and slavery of sin and death (cf. Romans 1:16, 8:1-2). What kind of person are you if you keep that message to yourself?

Proclaiming the Gospel message involves personal risk. It will no doubt be uncomfortable at times. It may lead to rejection, insults, or mockery. In some cases, it could lead to physical punishment or even death. Nevertheless, the Gospel message remains the most important message that can be proclaimed, and God seeks people who are not ashamed of that message to send it out to every creature (cf. Mark 16:15-16). While the dangers are great, the rewards are far greater (cf. Romans 8:17-18). Let us boldly affirm and proclaim the Gospel of Christ, and lead those with whom we come into contact to the God who can deliver them!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Do Not Fear; Only Believe

While he yet spake, they come from the ruler of the synagogue’s house saying, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Teacher any further?”
But Jesus, not heeding the word spoken, saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, “Fear not, only believe” (Mark 5:35-36).

The dreaded news had arrived.

Jairus knew that the time was short; he hastened to Jesus and implored Him to heal his daughter, sick near death (cf. Mark 5:22-23). Jairus knew that if Jesus got to her before she died she could be delivered from the illness. But the crowd pressed firmly upon Jesus, and He took time out to hear the confession of faith of the woman healed from the issue of blood (cf. Mark 5:24-34).

Too much time had been taken. The girl was dead.

This news is brought to Jairus; according to those who came from his house, there was no more need to bother Jesus the Teacher. And yet, in the midst of this despair and distress, Jesus provides a compelling message for Jairus: do not fear– only believe.

What would Jairus do?

It would be entirely understandable if he went with conventional wisdom and no longer bothered the Teacher. His daughter was dead. One of the few guarantees in life is that once you are dead, you are dead and finished. Sure, Jesus had healed all kinds of sick people and cast out many demons– but He had not yet raised anyone from the dead. It was a great hope while it lasted– but now all hope was gone. The girl was no more.

Yet, on the other hand, why is Jesus so nonchalant about the matter? Did Jesus not know how close she was to death? Why did Jesus delay? Why does He not pay any attention to the terrible news? Jesus is being hailed as the Prophet, the Son of God, with great authority. And now He says to not fear but only believe.

How many times do we find ourselves in a position similar to that of Jairus? There are many times in our lives when our situation seems bleak and hopeless. According to all appearances and conventional wisdom, there is nothing left to do but lose hope and be afraid. Distress encompasses us. Trials beset us. We have all kinds of reasons to no longer trouble the Teacher and to go on our own way.

And yet the voice of Jesus may still call to us to not fear and only believe.

This message should not be distorted or improperly expanded to indicate that all we ever need to do is just believe. Trust and confidence in God and Christ demand that we do what they say to do– if we do not do the Lord’s commandments, we prove that we are not trusting in Him (cf. Romans 6:16-23, James 2:14-26, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 2:3-6).

But there are many times in life when, if we were walking by sight/appearance, we would lose hope. It is in those times that we must walk by faith– trusting that the Lord is there, that the Lord is good, and that God is willing to do far more than even what we desire (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7, Ephesians 3:20-21). God can do the mighty actions; it is our place to trust in Him.

But there have always been and always will be reason to laugh at that trust. There are always reasons to lose all hope and to be afraid. There is never a lack of political uncertainty, economic uncertainty, medical uncertainty, and even environmental uncertainty. There are always various reasons to doubt God, to be afraid of what is happening to us or what we fear is about to happen to us, and to decide to no longer bother the Teacher.

We can read about Jairus’ choice: he believed and Jesus raised his daughter from the dead and restored her to full health (Mark 5:37-43). God was able to do more for him than he could have imagined. And so it is with us. Whenever we are assailed by doubt, fear, uncertainty, and hopelessness, let us remember the words of our Lord.

Do not fear. Only believe.

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus, Meek and Lowly

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

Humility is a virtue to which society pays lip service but does not really value. People who exalt themselves get exalted. Aggressiveness and assertiveness, with some discretion, are better rewarded than humility. Humility is very often viewed as weakness.

This is not different from the first century (cf. Matthew 20:25), and this is precisely what makes Jesus’ humility all the more astounding. After all, if there ever were a man who could be justifiably arrogant, exalted, pompous, and the like, it would be Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14)! He had great power and spoke with authority (Mark 4:41, Matthew 7:28-29). He had twelve legions of angels at His disposal, if need be (cf. Matthew 26:53). Who else could boast of such things?

And yet Jesus does not boast. Instead, Jesus is meek and lowly. As if humbling Himself by taking on the form of a man was not enough, He also lives a humble life, proclaims humility, and dies a most humiliating death (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus provides the ultimate example of humility.

Jesus’ message was similarly unambiguous: those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:12, Luke 14:11, Luke 18:14, James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:6). Those who would follow Jesus must humble themselves if they desire to be saved (Matthew 18:4, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).

What does this humility require? We must recognize, as uncomfortable as it may be, that we are no better or worse in the sight of God than anyone else (Romans 3:23, Galatians 3:28). We are not superior to anyone for any reason. We all have different talents and different levels of ability, but that is not reason for boasting or deprecation– instead, we are to work together to serve God with all our might, with each of us standing or falling before Jesus (Romans 12:3-8, 14:9-12, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

It is easy for us as believers in Christ to treat humility the same way the people of the world do: pay it lip service and go on as before. It is easier to maintain our old prejudices and to think rather highly of ourselves (cf. Galatians 6:3-5, James 1:22-25). It is easier to maintain the walls that we build around ourselves and justify our prejudices against those who are different from us for whatever reason, be it race, class, education level, form of employment, or even level of spiritual maturity.

Yet, when the disciple looks toward his Master, how can any such prejudice or arrogance be justified? If Jesus of Nazareth humiliated Himself by becoming a man and dying on a cross, how can any form of arrogance or high-mindedness be excused by a disciple of Christ? Who among us has ever been humbled, or ever could be humbled, as much as Jesus of Nazareth was humbled in His life and death?

Humility is a most challenging virtue– there are always temptations to exalt oneself or to denigrate others, and if one begins to think highly of one’s own humility, it is immediately lost! It is extremely uncomfortable to recognize that we are not better than anyone else. Even when we consider our own righteousness, we must remember that but by the grace of God we would be no better off than all of those “nasty sinners” out there, and God desires their salvation as much as our own (1 Timothy 2:4).

In the end, all we need to do is look toward Jesus, our example and model of humility, and realize that if He was able to humble Himself by becoming a man and dying for our sins, we also can humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. Let us humble ourselves so that we too may be exalted!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Feet Bearing Good News

Behold, upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! Keep thy feasts, O Judah, perform thy vows; for the wicked one shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off (Nahum 1:15).

The Assyrian menace had haunted Israel for almost two hundred years. The Assyrians were notorious fighters, renowned for their cruelty. In 732, most of the northern Kingdom of Israel succumbed to their strength. In 722, Samaria was destroyed, and the rest of the northern Kingdom of Israel was ended (cf. 2 Kings 17). By 701, the Assyrians had turned against Judah, and the bloodbath was severe: the fortified cities of Judah destroyed save Jerusalem, spared by God’s intervention (cf. 2 Kings 18-19).

Not long afterward, the Assyrians exiled all of the Israelites out of the northern tribal areas, and imported other people to live there. The Kingdom of Judah, despite escaping with its survival, still had to contend with the existence of the Assyrian power. The Assyrians could come out and make another campaign at any time!

Yet, stunningly, in 621 BCE, the Assyrian Empire was entirely overthrown at the hands of the Medes and Babylonians. Nineveh was destroyed. The Assyrian menace was no more.

Nahum foresees that day and the messenger sent to proclaim the good news to the people of Judah. The great enemy of the people of God has been vanquished! The people can keep their feasts and perform their vows, for the great power that was opposed to them had fallen. One can imagine the festivities and the celebrations that the people of Judah would have enjoyed!

We also have a message of good news that brings peace. There is a menace that has haunted mankind for thousands of years– the menace of sin and death. Almost everyone has fallen prey to sin and death, and they have caused great suffering (Romans 5:12-18, 8:2-9). Yet God has vanquished these enemies through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21-22, 1 Corinthians 15:55-58)! Those who believe in Him and obey His Gospel can share in that victory (John 3:16, 1 Peter 1:22).

Do we consider that message to be good news? Do we now rejoice in our salvation, and seek to do His will, as Judah was to keep its festivals and pay vows? Do we proclaim this message and make it clear for everyone? Are we trying to persuade people to become children of God and gain the victory over sin and death?

In the end, God always vanquishes all that which is opposed to Him. Let us stand with God and not against Him, and proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry