In 1986, five-year-old Levan Merritt fell twenty feet into the gorilla enclosure of England’s Jersey zoo. As parents and onlookers cried out for help, a full-grown male silverback, named Jambo, placed himself between the motionless boy and several other gorillas. Then he began to gently stroke the child’s back. When Levan began to cry, Jambo led the other gorillas into their own enclosure as zoo-keepers and an ambulance driver came to the rescue. Thirty years later Levan still talks about Jambo the gentle giant—his guardian angel who had acted in a shockingly unexpected way, changing his perception of gorillas forever.
Elijah may have expected God to act in certain ways, but the God of gods used a rock-shattering wind, a powerful earthquake, and raging fire to show His prophet Elijah how not to think of Him. Then He used a gentle whisper to show His heart and to express His presence (1Kings 19:11-12).
Elijah had seen God’s power before 18:38-39). But he didn’t fully understand the One who wants to be known as more than the greatest and most fearsome of gods (19:10, 14).
Eventually, that quiet whisper found fullness of meaning in the powerful gentleness of Jesus, who said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Then he quietly allowed Himself to be nailed to a tree— to deepen our understanding of the Great God who loves us.
In Charles Spurgeon’s many years at his London church during the 1800s, he loved to preach on the riches of Isaiah 49:16, which says that God engraves us on the palms of His hands. He said, “Such a text as this is to be preached hundreds of times!” For, he continued, this thought is so precious that we can run over it in our minds again and again.
Spurgeon makes the wonderful connection between this promise of the Lord to His people, the Israelites, and God’s Son, Jesus, on the cross as He died for us. Spurgeon asked, “What are these wounds in Your hands? . . . The engraver’s tool was the nail, backed by the hammer. He must be fastened to the Cross, that His people might be truly engraved on the palms of His hands.” As the Lord promised to engrave His people on His palms, so Jesus stretched out His arms on the cross, receiving the nails in His wrists so we could be free of our sins.
If and when we are tempted to think that God has forgotten us, we only need to look at our palms and remember God’s promise. He has put indelible marks on His hands for us; He loves us that much.
As we distributed snack food for children at a Bible School program, we noticed a very hungry little boy. After devouring his snack, he also ate the leftovers of the children at his table. Even after I gave him a bag of popcorn, he still was not satisfied.
As leaders, we were concerned as to why this little boy was so hungry. But are we perhaps like him when it comes to our emotions. We look for ways to satisfy our deepest longings, but we never find what fully satisfies us.
The prophet Isaiah invites those who are hungry and thirsty to “come, buy and eat” (Isaiah 55:1). But then he asks, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (v. 2). Isaiah is talking about more than just physical hunger here. God can satisfy our spiritual and emotional hunger through the promise of His presence. The “everlasting covenant” in verse 3 is a reminder of a promise God made David in 2 Samuel 7:8–16. Through David’s family line, a Savior would come to reconnect people to God. Later, in John 6:35 and 7:37, Jesus extended the same invitation Isaiah gave, thus identifying Himself as the Savior foretold by Isaiah and other prophets.
Hungry? God invites you to come and be filled in His presence.
Back at the police station, Officer Miglio slumped wearily against a wall. A domestic violence call had just consumed half his shift. Its aftermath left a boyfriend in custody, a young daughter in the emergency room, and a shaken mother wondering how it had come to this. This call would wear on the young officer for a long time.
“Nothing you could do, Vic,” said his sergeant sympathetically. But the words rang hollow. Some police officers seem able to leave their work at work. Not Vic Miglio. Not the tough cases like this one.
Officer Miglio’s heart reflects the compassion of Jesus, who loved children and had a stern warning for any who would harm them (Matthew 18:6). But Jesus gave us some instructive hope along with that warning. Calling a small child to Him, He told His disciples, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3).
What did Jesus mean? Simply this. We can’t earn God’s favor. Even the toughest and most competent of us needs a childlike faith in Jesus. That’s why Jesus also said, “Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 4).
Earthly families can fail their children. Not so our heavenly Father, who invites us through childlike faith in Jesus to become His sons and daughters.
Riding along with my husband on some errands, I scrolled through emails on my phone and was surprised at an incoming advertisement for a local donut shop, a shop we had just passed on the right side of the street. Suddenly my stomach growled with hunger. I marveled at how technology allows vendors to woo us into their establishments.
As I clicked off my email, I mused over God’s constant yearning to draw me closer. He always knows where I am and longs to influence my choices. I wondered, Does my heart growl in desire for Him the way my stomach did over the idea of a donut?
In John 6, following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, the disciples eagerly ask Jesus to always give them “the bread . . . that gives life to the world” (vv. 33–34). Jesus responds in verse 35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” How amazing that a relationship with Jesus can provide constant nourishment in our everyday lives!
The donut shop’s advertisement targeted my body’s craving, but God’s continuous knowledge of my heart’s condition invites me to recognize my ongoing need for Him and to receive the sustenance only He can provide.
One of the tellers at my bank has a photograph of a Shelby Cobra roadster on his window. (The Cobra is a high–performance automobile built by the Ford Motor Company.)
One day, while transacting business at the bank, I asked him if that was his car. “No,” he replied, “that’s my passion, my reason to get up every morning and go to work. I’m going to own one someday.”
I understand this young man’s passion. A friend of mine owned a Cobra, and I drove it on one occasion! It’s a mean machine! But a Cobra, like everything else in this world, isn’t worth living for. Those who trust in things apart from God “are brought to their knees and fall,” according to the psalmist (Psalm 20:8).
That’s because we were made for God and nothing else will do—a truth we validate in our experience every day: We buy this or that because we think these things will make us happy, but like a child receiving a dozen Christmas presents or more, we ask ourselves, “Is this all?” Something is always missing.
Nothing this world has to offer us—even very good things—fully satisfy us. There is a measure of enjoyment in them, but our happiness soon fades away (1 John 2:17). Indeed, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself,” C. S. Lewis concluded. “There is no such thing.”
Some years ago a traveling companion noticed I was straining to see objects at a distance. What he did next was simple but life changing. He took off his glasses and said, “Try these.” When I put his glasses on, surprisingly my blurred vision cleared up. Eventually I went to an optometrist who prescribed glasses to correct my vision problem.
Today’s reading in Luke 18 features a man with no vision at all; and living in total darkness had forced him to beg for a living. Word about Jesus, the popular teacher and miracle worker, had reached the blind beggar’s ears; so when Jesus’s travel route took Him by where the blind man was sitting, hope was ignited in his heart. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 38) he called. Though without sight physically, the man possessed spiritual insight into Jesus’s true identity and faith in Him to meet his need. Compelled by this faith, “He shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (v. 39). The result? His blindness was banished, and he went from begging for his living to blessing God because he could see (v. 43).
In moments or seasons of darkness, where do you turn? Upon what or to whom do you call? Eyeglass prescriptions help improve vision, but it’s the merciful touch of Jesus, God’s Son, that brings people from spiritual darkness to light.
We found our visit to Christ Church Cathedral in Stone Town, Zanzibar, deeply moving, for it sits on the site of what was formerly the largest slave market in East Africa. The designers of this cathedral wanted to show through a physical symbol how the gospel breaks the chains of slavery. No longer would the location be a place of evil deeds and horrible atrocities, but of God’s embodied grace.
Those who built the cathedral wanted to express how Jesus’s death on the cross provides freedom from sin—that which the apostle Paul speaks of in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7). Here the word redemption points to the Old Testament’s notion of the marketplace, with someone buying back a person or item. Jesus buys back a person from a life of slavery to sin and wrongdoing.
In Paul’s opening words in this letter (vv. 3–14), he bubbles over with joy at the thought of his freedom in Christ. He points, in layer after layer of praise, to God’s work of grace for us through Jesus’s death, which sets us free from the cords of sin. No longer do we need to be slaves to sin, for we are set free to live for God and His glory.
Susannah Cibber gained fame in the eighteenth-century for her talent as a singer. However, she was equally well known for her scandalous marital problems. That’s why when Handel’s Messiah was first performed in Dublin in April 1742, many in the audience did not approve of her role as a featured soloist.
During that inaugural performance, Cibber sang of the Messiah: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Those words so moved Rev. Patrick Delany that he jumped to his feet and said, “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!”
The connection between Susannah Cibber and the theme of Handel’s Messiah is evident. The “man of sorrows”—Jesus the Messiah—was “despised and rejected” because of sin. The prophet Isaiah said, “My righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (v. 11).
The connection between Messiah and us is no less apparent. Whether we stand with the judgmental audience members, with Susannah Cibber, or somewhere in between, we all need to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. Jesus, by His life, death, and resurrection, restored our relationship with God our Father.
For this—for all Jesus did—be all our sins forgiven.