If I were to ask you to name all 12 apostles, I am sure some would struggle. We could remember the well-known ones: Peter, James, John, Judas and perhaps Matthew or Thomas, and then we would begin to falter.
I have often wondered why the others were not so widely known. Twelve men had left everything to follow Christ. They wouldn’t have been considered part of the group if they had not committed everything to God. Did they go back on their commitment? Did they retire from any visible service after the Crucifixion? Or did they all go on working for Christ until the end? Their names are listed in Matthew 10:2-4:
‘First, Simon (also called Peter),
Then Andrew (Peter’s brother),
Matthew (the tax collector)
James ( Son of Zebedee),
James (son of Alphaeus),
John (James’s brother),
Simon (the zealot),
Judas the Iscariot'
Some had more prominent roles than others. Some of the apostles wrote letters to the churches or individual people, which have caused their names to be remembered through the centuries. But there were others we know very little about.
Bartholomew, for example, was only mentioned in the four lists of the twelve apostles in Matthew Chapter 10, Mark Chapter 3, Luke Chapter 6 and Acts Chapter 1. Apart from that, there is no record of him. But the fact he was a member of this group of men meant he was a significant leader in the early church. He must have worked hard to spread the gospel, although his work is not recorded in the Bible.
Perhaps he was overlooked by the others, or he may have been happy, quietly working away in the background; we don’t know. But we know that Christ had accepted him, and Bartholomew would have been privy to the private conversations between Christ and His disciples. Bartholomew wasn’t working for fame or power but as a faithful servant to God.
Whether others acknowledge what you do for Christ is irrelevant, He will see it. Your devotion must be, first and foremost, to Him. He will never overlook your work for Him or take you for granted. Your name may not be recorded anywhere in a book on earth, but it will be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life if you walk faithfully with Him.
There will always be people who are better known than you. People who can do the things that you do quicker, more efficiently, even more effectively. But our job is not to compare ourselves to another; it is simply to walk faithfully and obediently in the way our Master has set out for us. One day, we will lay our crown at His feet. Whether you are well-known like Peter or hidden like Bartholomew, remember He looks down from heaven and He alone knows your heart.
Meekness is not a quality we often seek. In today’s society, we are taught to believe in standing up for ourselves and shouting about our human rights. Even children in schools are taught about the Rights of the Child; and I have known, on more than one occasion, a child insisting they have a right to play when it is time to learn!
I wouldn’t want to return to the old-fashioned ways of being seen and not heard, but an arrogant and opinionated attitude is fast becoming the norm in our society. This is a godless way.
Whatever our attitude to life, we should adopt an inner spiritual humility when in prayer to God.
“Meek spirits are in high favour with the Father.” CH Spurgeon
If we are in need, we have the promise of His leading and being taught in His ways.
“He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way.” Psalms 25:9 NLT
There is no better path than the one God has chosen for you to walk. It is where you will be happiest, find the blessings along the way and be closest to God.
Never forget, no matter how militant the world becomes about its rights, keep an inner attitude of humility and teachability before God.
“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.” Psalms 25:5 NLT
After Mary had used expensive perfume to anoint His feet, the Lord Jesus told His disciples that He would not always be with them. The anointing she had given Him signalled her love and affection for the Master. Mary had taken the best of what she had and poured it out as an offering for Him. In verse 7, Jesus explains that Mary had done this in preparation for His burial. What a privilege and an honour! If she had stalled, it would have been too late; she would have missed her opportunity. It would never have come again. The days were passing, and soon, He would be taken away.
Some among us love the Saviour, but we have never used the opportunity to give the finest years of our lives and offer them at the feet of Christ. The days are passing quickly. All too soon, our youthful years, energies, health and strength will have gone, and we will have missed opportunities that will never come again.
Let us choose to give the best of what we have to Him. One day, we will be too old and frail to serve Him as fully as we want. Whilst we have our health and strength, let us offer our services to the church and the King of Kings. Recognise, like Mary, the privilege and honour it is for you to give with all your heart, soul and mind. (Matt 22:37) She didn’t let anyone or anything stop her. Be as determined as Mary. You will not regret it!
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15 NLT
The importance of time alone with God cannot be stressed enough. It’s good to develop the habit when spending time with your Father of making it the same time and place every day.
Make sure you return to the same familiar place to read and pray. And when you return, make sure you rest. We can rest physically, but our minds are still overactive. This is where we have to train ourselves to be quiet.
Like every child, I sometimes had difficulty getting to sleep. I remember feeling too excited mentally, or my body wouldn’t rest. My father used to come and sit with me. He would encourage me to relax by talking about quietening each part of my body. It used to work! I was never fully asleep when he left the room, but I don’t remember lying awake afterwards.
Life can make us hyper and stressed; we need to return and rest in the quiet of God. That’s where we will learn to be confident in God and know His will. We need to sit quietly and ask our Father to come and sit with us. Ask Him to teach you to rest in Him.
Then, when you feel unsure of the way ahead or anxious about a situation, return to God, rest in Him, and quieten yourself. You need to still your soul by being in His presence and reading His word. Wait until He speaks to you and absorb His word deep inside. Let His words saturate deep into your soul. Like Jeremiah said:
“When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.” Jeremiah 15:16 NLT
Then you will rise and go forth with the courage of a lion! When we know He has spoken, we need never feel afraid.
“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8 NLT
“Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” Matthew 8:2 NLT
Here is a perfect example of how we should approach and present ourselves to the Lord Jesus.
To be a follower of Christ means we serve Him, therefore becoming a servant.
“Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am.” John 12:26 NLT
This leper came with a servant attitude. Not only did he approach carefully, kneeling before Jesus, but he also did not demand his own way.
Imagine having a terminal illness and asking Jesus if He would heal you by saying, “If You are willing!” Most of us would be desperate to be healed, not caring if it was His will! We would cry out to God, heal me!
But this leper demonstrates a godly attitude and one we must learn to practice until it becomes a natural way of life. I don’t believe in being a doormat to everyone, but we can be lower than a doormat to Christ.
We, like John the Baptist, should adopt the attitude:
“I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.” John 1:27 NLT
John was saying he wasn’t even worthy to untie this man's sandals, let alone wash his feet.
It would save a lot of the bickering, arguing and being offended in the church if we adopted this attitude and sought to serve rather than to be served.
Few are born with a servant's heart, but we can learn to practice it. Look for ways in which you can serve to be a blessing to others. This is the way to find favour with God. Paul, the greatest of the apostles, had learned this lesson. He said,
“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35 NLT
‘Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone.’ Matthew 8:34 NLT
This verse comes at the end of the story, where two men possessed by demons were set free. The Gospels give slightly different accounts, but some facts remain the same. We don’t know whether there was one man or two, but however many there were, they were in a terrible spiritual state and violent. Mark’s Gospel describes it like this:
‘He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.’ Mark 5:3-5 ESV
The man lived in a cemetery, more at home with the dead than the living, and no one could go through that area. The local villager who wanted to go and mourn his dead quietly couldn’t visit those parts because he was terrified.
Jesus, on arriving in the locality and in a short space of time, had miraculously cast out the troubling demons and set the man (or men) free. The demons had come out with loud protestations, and our Lord had given them leave to enter a herd of pigs, which proceeded to run terrified down a steep hillside and straight into the sea. They were all lost. The herdsmen fled, not into the sea, but into the local town, telling everyone what had happened. The entire population of the local village came out in force and begged Jesus to leave. They would rather have their demon-possessed violent men living in the local cemetery, preventing villagers from visiting the graves and burying their dead in peace than have this peaceful man who controlled demons amongst them. Why, we ask?
It is the old story of the familiar against the unfamiliar. We don’t like change. Here is a story full of the glorious changing power of God. We read later in the Gospel that the villagers found the demoniac:
‘sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.’ Mark 5:15 NLT
We love the old rather than the new. I hear of lives, again and again, having difficulties at home after they have been converted. They have stopped drinking, swearing, or being a bigot, but their partner has preferred the old person to the new person. It is strange and doesn’t make sense.
Christ makes all things new. He makes everything better, fresher, cleaner, happier, clear and whole. We must learn to welcome the new. We must demonstrate the changes in our lives with joy so that others may not be afraid and ask Jesus to leave them alone. What responsibility is upon us to transmit the joy of salvation!
“When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he instructed his disciples to cross to the other side of the lake.” Matt 8:18 NLT
Jesus did the opposite of what many modern-day evangelist would do. Most love to gather a crowd. We would advertise big-name speakers, put up posters, and use social media to promote outreaches.
But when Jesus saw the crowd coming around Him, He made arrangements to cross the lake. He wasn’t there to please the people or whip the crowds up into a frenzy. He didn’t seek to be the centre of attention.
Instead, He listened carefully to the voice of the Holy Spirit. He wasn’t so overwhelmed by the crowds that He missed the gentle prompting that came to Him to cross to the other side of the lake.
The centre of His being was focused on God. Nothing would move Him from this position: no crowds or flattery or adulation. Jesus was moving in a dimension that the thousands who followed Him were unaware of.
And so it was, when He crossed to the other side of the water, that miracles happened, and souls were changed forever.
The Good Shepherd had left the ninety-nine to search for lost sheep. The deep soul-searching cry of two men had reached His spirit. On the farther shore, He found the two in a terrible state.
‘When Jesus arrived on the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gadarenes, two men who were possessed by demons met him. They came out of the tombs and were so violent that no one could go through that area. They began screaming at him, “Why are you interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before God’s appointed time?” Matthew 8:28,29 NLT
Jesus had left the thousands, crossed the lake, and taken control of a violent storm to answer the cry of two men. Before long, they were set free and at peace.
Never forget no matter how troubled a soul is, if they desire to be free, He will hear their cry and come to their aid.
No street pastor, big-time evangelist or even kindly neighbour was involved, but because these men wanted help, Christ came and found them and healed them of all their sickness and disease. He knows our hearts and will respond quickly if we sincerely desire to be changed.
“Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.” Mark 11:22,23 NLT
We all face mountains of difficulties from time to time. Thankfully, few face them all the time; but when we have difficulties to face, we tend to turn our molehills into mountains. They can seem overwhelming, dominating our lives and causing us to lose sleep. But in the eyes of God, they are small and insignificant.
Jesus said our problems can be removed. All we need to do is to say to this mountain of a problem, be removed, and it will. It is hard to believe life could be so simple!
We are not meant to live in the shadow of our mountain of problems. We are not to be depressed and oppressed by life's difficulties. We are to be free and carefree. We are meant to consider the lily and the life of the sparrow.
I must admit that my problems don’t seem to suddenly pick themselves up and throw themselves into the sea, even when I want them to. I wish they would! But what I have learned is not to live in the shadow of them. We must learn to live in the sunshine of His presence where possible.
When you are in worship, whether in church or at home alone, or out walking in the countryside, come out from under the shadow of the mountain of problems to stand in the light.
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7 NLT
Let your problems disappear, and enjoy being in the presence of God. Let all the strain and stress roll off your shoulders, enjoying the moment of praise and communion with God. For that short time at least, let your problems be removed and cast into the sea.
By taking your mind off your problems for a while, the mountain may seem less significant than it did before. After spending time with your Lord, your problems will have rolled into the sea. Try not to allow them to surface again too quickly! They may return eventually, but that only gives you another opportunity to take the mountain and cast it into the sea again.
Only by continually looking up will come victory and peace. Only by practising this will we be established in Christ.
“Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Hebrews 12:1b,2a. NLT
“And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world – from east and west – and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 8:11 NLT
You have received an invitation from the King of Kings to a fantastic banquet. And best of all, it's all free of charge! Transport is laid on for you, and you won’t even need to worry about how to get there. Someone will come and collect you when it is your time to go. When you arrive, you will be given brand-new clothes made of the best pure white linen. You will receive a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands the significance of except you. Perhaps it will be placed at the table where you are to sit. You will meet the most amazing people, who are renowned from all over the world for their fame. Not only will you meet them, but you will be sitting down with them at the same meal.
Now, only a fool would refuse such an offer! This invitation is extended to ‘many Gentiles from all over the world’ and I’m guessing that includes you, the reader of this text. You might be sitting near Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. Can you imagine the questions you might want to ask? Or you might hear them recounting some fascinating story of old.
But best of all, you will be in the presence of Jesus. The One who is called the King of Kings. The Bible tells us:
“Assuredly, I say to you that He will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.” Luke 12:37b NKJV
Now, this is mind-blowing! How can it be that He who died for us on the Cross will send for us to attend the finest banquet ever, provide transport free of charge for us and will Himself serve us? And to top it all, He calls us blessed!
“Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. And if He should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.” Luke 12:37a,38 NKJV
Even if it be the twentieth watch, let us go on waiting and watching for one day we will be granted entrance into the King’s palace and participate in the most exquisite banquet of all time and eternity.
These are words spoken after Jesus had got into a boat with His disciples and started to cross Lake Galilee. The lake is renowned for its sudden and violent storms because of its location. The wind can come suddenly over the eastern mountains onto the water. On this occasion, a fierce storm broke out, and the water began to pour into the vessel.
Now, some of the disciples were expert fishermen, so it must have been some storm for them to feel so afraid. We read they went and woke Jesus, who was fast asleep, and shouted to Him.
Jesus almost seems to have responded in surprise!
“Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!”
When the storms of life hit us suddenly and take us by surprise, we can feel alarmed, afraid and almost panic. Our automatic response is not to reach out to God and believe but to expect the worst. It can take a few moments, or even days before we begin to find our bearings in such a time, but we must endeavour to do so. Our God is the same yesterday, today and forever.
He knew the storm was coming. It was no surprise to Him. There must be times when He wonders why we have such little trust; our first response is to be afraid.
Let us learn to trust even if Jesus is sleeping and hasn’t yet answered our cries.
Have we not known the miraculous in our lives? Have we not seen again and again the action of God on our behalf? Then trust He will do it again.
Lift your eyes beyond the waves to the God who hears and answers prayer. Put your faith in Him. Let Him see no fear in your eyes but a simple and childlike trust. Quieten yourself, and wait for the waves to die and the winds to still. Suddenly, all will be calm.