The Friend At Midnight

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Luke 11:5-10

The resurrection of Jesus is almost a hidden event. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead to prove to those who had crucified him that they had made a mistake or confound his opponents. Nor did he rise to impress the rulers of his time or to force anyone to believe. Jesus’ resurrection was the full affirmation of his Father’s love. Therefore, he only showed himself to those who knew about this love. He made himself known as the risen Lord, only to a handful of his close friends. There is probably no event in human history that has had such importance, while remaining, at the same time, so unspectacular. The world didn’t notice it; only those few to whom Jesus had chosen to show himself, and whom he wanted to send out to announce God’s love to the world; just as he had done.

Friends and friendship are often mentioned in the Bible, which teaches the beauty and value of good and true friends. An old Arab proverb says of friendship: “The beauty of being at peace with another.” Jesus said of friendship (John 15:13) “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And we know that is precisely what Jesus does, lay His life down for us. I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

The friendship of David and Jonathan is among the best known in all literature. First Samuel tells the story of the friendship between David and Jonathan. Jonathan was the eldest son of Saul, king of Israel. By the time Saul is made King, Jonathan is almost an adult. The king had forbidden any to taste food until the evening. Ignorant of this command and its accompanying curse, Jonathan ate some honey while passing through the forest. Saul would doubtless have fulfilled his vow and have sacrificed Jonathan, but he is popular with the people and they intervened in his behalf (14:16-45). Jonathan is introduced to us when David comes to live in the palace. Their friendship began on the day of David’s return from the victory over Goliath and was confirmed by a solemn covenant, which was ratified by Jonathan’s giving his friend his robe, sword, bow, and belt (1 Sam 18:1-4). Shortly after this he pleaded with his father on behalf of David and secured a reversal of the royal decree against the latter’s life (19:1-7). The friends met by the stone of Ezel and entered into a second covenant, pledging themselves to strive for each other’s safety and David swearing to show kindness to the family of Jonathan when he should be delivered to his enemies. Jonathan was a man of daring who was not afraid to place himself in the greatest danger for the sake of his country. But his most noticeable characteristic was his ardent and unselfish devotion to his friends, which led him to give up his hopes of the throne and even expose himself to death for the sake of those he loved. When Jonathan is killed in battle, David cries and admits his great love for Jonathan and the great loss he feels.

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ We understand the dilemma, because we all have had unexpected guest drop in on us. In the middle east, hospitality is very important. To not show hospitality could bring death by stoning or at the very least isolation from the community.

“Then the one inside answers, `Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ The poor Palestinian house consisted of one room with only one little window. The floor was beaten earth covered with dried reeds. About a 1/3 of the room was raised above the rest and on this the family slept around a charcoal fire. Families were large and they slept close together. Palestinian’s would bring the livestock, chickens, goats, etc., into the house at night. For one to rise was inevitably to disturb the whole family.

“In a circle of true Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares about any one else’s family, profession, class, income, race, or previous history…That is the kingliness of Friendship. We meet like sovereign princes of independent states, abroad, on neutral ground, freed from our contexts.” That is why the man from inside is comfortable in saying, “Go away.”

I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Remember the hymn, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus?” “…all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

This parable tells us about the friendship God offers us. The parable is not encouraging us to be persistent in prayer. It is not encouraging us to beat on the door until someone answers. But it is telling us that God is a much better friend then those who we think and consider friends. In this parable Jesus placed prayer on the basis of personal friendship with God.

The main business of friendship is to sustain and make bearable each other’s burdens. We may do more of that as friends than we do anything else. Getting through the tough times, offering encouragement when the other desperately needs it, shoring each other up to face the unfairness of existence — the main work of friendship consists of just such homely tasks.” Remember Job’s three friends? Job 2:11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.

To be a friend and to have friends is one of the noblest goals for which we can aim. There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved. Friends are angels that lift us to our feet when our wings forget how to fly. Love heals people; it heals the one who gives it, and it heals the one who receives it.

God showed us how to be a friend. Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” Too often we change jobs, friends, or spouses instead of changing ourselves. To find a friend simply means being a friend.

“O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

The Lord’s Supper

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First Corinthians 11:23-32

Each September in the country of Malaysia, Chinese people celebrate the Mooncake Festival. It is observed at a time when the moon is very bright and supposedly closer to the earth. The festival is filled with superstitions and pagan ideas. Mooncakes are round meat pies, stuffed with eggs, pork and bean paste. At the end of the 13th century in China the Chinese people planned an uprising against the ruling Manchu dynasty. Messages were hidden in mooncakes and circulated throughout the country. That gave the signal for the revolt. This is believed to be the ancestor of the fortune cookie.

There is a message in the bread of communion, too. It is not a message written on paper. Some eat the bread with no idea that the message is there. But to the discerning there is a deep spiritual message in communion bread — and that message is the very reason for Communion. The message is that Christ died for our sins, and we must now pledge our allegiance to him.

Let’s look at the Lord’s Supper! The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus on the night before He died. For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” It was a typical Jewish Passover meal. A short table is in the middle of an upstairs room. Jesus and the twelve are “reclined” at the table. Probably in this setting there are servants providing the meal. In the tradition of the Passover meal the bread at the meal would have been unleavened; hard and tasteless. The bread would have been the centerpiece of the meal used for sopping up the food. Jesus takes the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” “This is my body,” is a connection to the incarnation of Christ. Jesus is both God and human at the same time. Our participation in eating this bread means that we confirm, He is God! Jesus holds up the bread and breaks it! In the Passover meal a lamb was roasted whole – no broken bones. It was eaten whole – no broken bones. When Jesus dies on the cross, the two thieves legs are broken, but Jesus’ side is pierced – no broken bones. However, at this point, Jesus breaks the bread. The Devil could not defeat Jesus. The world could not destroy Christ. But God could break Himself for each of us.

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” The “new covenant,” means that the “old covenant” is gone. The Law required that blood had to be shed for the sinner to live. That is why a sacrifice was required at the Temple. No longer would this be necessary. A perfect sacrifice (a perfect Lamb) had been found in Jesus. The cup reminds us of that gift in Jesus Christ.

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The Book of Acts reminds us that every time the believers came together in worship, they always “broke bread.” It is a meal that all of us partake in, until Jesus returns and calls us home. We do so to be reminded of the saving acts of God. To remember the price that Christ paid on the cross. To remember the words and events leading to and away from the cross.

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

The examining of ourselves is so often misunderstood. Unworthiness does not refer to the person of the one partaking, but to the manner of his partaking. All are unworthy always. There must be preparation before participation. Many abstain because they feel that they are sinners. It is because we are sinners that we partake in this meal. It is when we don’t feel we need God, that we are not worthy of this meal.

The Sunday School teacher asked her class, “What did Jesus and the disciples do when they finished the Last Supper? One young fellow in the class reluctantly answered, “They asked for separate checks?” No, Jesus paid the whole price.

The Vision In The Valley

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Ezekiel 37:1-10

Patience with others is love, patience with self is Hope, patience with God is faith. The first candle on the Advent wreath is a candle that represents “hope.” Did you hear about the college student who got into trouble? He went to see his advisor. His advisor heard him out and said, “Why don’t you talk to your priest?” The young man replied, “But I’m not Catholic.” “Oh,” said the advisor. “What are you?” He said, “I’m Unitarian.” “Well, then,” he asked, “why don’t you talk to your math teacher?”

Hope is a projection of the imagination; so is despair. Despair all too readily embraces the ills it foresees; Hope is an energy and arouses the mind to explore every possibility to combat despair. In response to hope the imagination is aroused to picture every possible issue, to try every door, to fit together even the most heterogeneous pieces in the puzzle. After the solution has been found it is difficult to recall the steps taken — so many of them are just below the level of consciousness.

EZEKIEL (God will strengthen)-a prophet of a priestly family was carried captive to Babylon in 597 B.C. when he was about 25 years old. His call to the prophetic ministry came five years later. He was married to a woman who was “the desire of his eyes” (24:16). One of the saddest notes of his life was the death of his wife. In Ezek 24:1-2, the prophet was told that on the very day he received this revelation, his wife would die as the armies of Babylon laid siege against the holy city of Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s sadness at the death of his wife was to match the grief of God at the sin of Jerusalem. Ezekiel was commanded not to grieve her death; he was to steel himself for this tragedy even as God had prepared Himself for the death of His beloved city (24:15-22). Perhaps no other event in the lives of the Old Testament prophets is as touching as this. The harshness of God’s command to His prophet emphasizes the Lord’s grief over the fate and sufferings of His rebellious people.

Believers in God have been called upon to suffer many indignities through the ages, but in the suffering of Ezekiel, we learn something of the suffering of God Himself. Ezekiel shows us just how ugly and serious our sin is. Our rebellion brings grief and hurt to God, against whom our sin is directed. Perhaps this is why God acted so dramatically in dealing with the human condition-by sending His Son Jesus to die in our place and set us free from the bondage of sin.

The spirit of the Lord takes Ezekiel, in a prophetic ecstasy, to the valley strewn with the dried bones of human bodies. Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the bones the promise of life. I will cause breath to enter into you. The Hebrew word ruah is translated “breath”, “winds” and “spirit”. Breath is a sign of life, identical with wind or air, and becomes, in this prophecy, the living principle itself, spirit.

By the vision of dry bones coming to life, the Lord, through Ezekiel, proclaims to Israel the coming resurrection of her national life. He foretells by the symbolic act of joining two sticks the future union of the two kingdoms under one head. This act of prophecy gave Ezekiel, HOPE.

All of us need hope, but hope calls for waiting upon God. Humanity waited 2,000 years for the coming of Christ. Almost 1,400 years before Christ came, Job wrote: I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; (Job 19:25) After Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, the Church almost lost heart because of the wait. We discover that God’s timing is not our timing. That Jesus’ words of “soon” are a part of God’s plan. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:8)

Waiting is the rule rather than the exception of life. Isaiah writes this beautiful piece, Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isa 40:28)

Isaiah understood the truth about patience. To wait means to stretch in order to become strong. Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength – they soar like eagles!

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) To wait upon God is to rest. To rest spiritually. To rest physically, to rest emotionally, to rest mentally. God knows our needs even better then we know our needs and sometimes He forces us to rest.

With God there is a perfect timing. I resign my soul into the hands of the Almighty who gave it in humble hopes of his mercy through our Savior Jesus Christ.

Victory Over Death

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First Corinthians 15:50-56

An elderly woman had just returned to her home from an evening of religious service when she was startled by an intruder. As she caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables, she yelled, “Stop — Acts 2:38 — turn from your sin!” The burglar stopped dead in his tracks. The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done. As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, “Why did you just stand there? All she did was yell a scripture to you.” “Scripture?” replied the burglar, “She said she had an AXE and two 38’s!”

My grandfather was an undertaker. As my mother was growing up, she would set on the steps (undertakers lived upstairs of the mortuary). An obviously uneducated, country preacher shouted, fumed and flailed his arms around over the casket. “It’s too late for Joe,” he screamed. “He’s dead. It’s all over for him. He might have wanted to straighten his life out, but he can’t now. It’s over.” Then the preacher pointed his finger at the congregation and shouted, “But it ain’t too late for you! People drop dead every day. So why wait? My Mom agreed that it was tacky, manipulative and callous. But then she said, “Of course, the worst part is that it’s all true.”

A little girl’s cat had died. Her mother attempted to console her by saying, “Tabby is in heaven now.” The little girl looked up and asked, “Gee, Mom, what would God want with a dead cat?”

I went in to visit a man who was in the hospital. That morning the doctors told him they had found cancer and that the prognosis was not good. His first question to me was, “What is it like to die?” All of us ask that question at some point in our lives. The patient in the nursing home that knows time is not on her side, asks that question. The young man in battle, asks that question. The grieving parent that has just lost a child, asks that question. “What is it like to die?”

By the time Paul writes this letter to the Corinthians more then 30 years has elapsed since the departure of Christ. Christians have expected for Christ to return and take them to Heaven. Christians are dying, most by the sword. If Christ isn’t going to return soon, then what is it like to die? Job asked the question, “If a man dies, will he live again?”

The Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul, but they did not accept the resurrection of the body. To them the resurrection of the body was unthinkable in view of the fact that they held the body to be the source of man’s weakness and sin. Death, therefore, was very welcome, since by it the soul would be liberated from the body; but resurrection was not welcome, because this would constitute another descent of the soul into the grave of the body. The believers had accepted the resurrection, at least in the case of Christ; but under the influence of Greek thought, some doubted the bodily resurrection of Christians. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

As Paul writes to the Church at Thessalonica he tells the same story. Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“…the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Eccl. 12:7) John writes, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2) One of Ernest Poole’s characters in one of his poetic novels says, “History is just news from the graveyard.” The best news of all the world and all the years is from that garden graveyard outside Jerusalem with a tomb that was empty, and one who had lain there standing before all humanity for all time with the assurance: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

The pastor was visiting one of his congregants who lay dying in the hospital. The pastor leaned over the bed and asked the man, “Is there anything I can do to ease your pain; do you have any final requests, my beloved friend?” The man tried to prop himself up but could not do so. As the dying man fell back to his bed, he gasped, “Yes, Pastor, there is one thing you could do; could you please stop sending these pledge envelopes?”

Writing in Southern Living magazine Jennifer Greer recounted a visit she made to the old family cemetery in Nelson County, Kentucky. She had talked with her cousin who cared for the cemetery as a volunteer just as his father and his uncle had done before him. But he was worried that the next generation might not keep up this labor of love. He said, “The younger ones, they don’t realize that a cemetery is a part of life. I guess it’s a part of life they don’t want to hear about. One could substitute the word death for the word cemetery. Dying is a part of living. We know that, but we don’t want to hear about it; we don’t want to think about it, and many don’t want to do anything about it. It is not something to be feared, but it is something to think about, and something for which to be prepared.