Levi, A Despised Sinner!

Mark 2:13-17

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Our Pastor Matthew delivers a great sermon each Sunday. I take notes because there is hardly a single presentation from which I don’t learn something new! Most of the time I heartily agree with him. Last Sunday, his featured Scripture was Mark 2:13 through 17. There is only one point he made about which I would differ. It was a point that did not affect the sound preparation my pastor put into that sermon. But I thought that difference just might make for a good Gem subject.

Here is a shortened version of Mark 2:13 through 17:

     ...[Jesus] went out again by the sea [of Galilee], and all 
     the multitude came to Him, and He taught them.  And as He 
     passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the 
     tax office, and said to him, “Follow Me.”  And he arose and 
     followed Him.  Now...as He was dining in Levi’s house...many 
     tax collectors and sinners sat together with Jesus....And 
     when the scribes and Pharisees saw...they said to His dis-
     ciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collec-
     tors and sinners?”  When Jesus heard it, He said to them, 
     “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those 
     who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous, but 
     sinners, to repentance.”

First, let me highlight what Pastor Matthew preached, some of which I hadn’t thought about before:

  • Verse 13 (this point was new to me) – “[Jesus] went out again by the sea [of Galilee], and all the multitude came to Him….But not all the multitude was there! For Levi (also known as Matthew – see Matthew 9:9) was still …sitting at the tax office.” (Matthew 2:14).
  • This call of Levi took place in Capernaum (see Mark 2:1). Capernaum, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, was the home of Peter and Andrew, and (apparenlty) James and John (see Mark 1:29), for “…they were partners with Simon [Peter]….” (Luke 5:10).
  • Their partnership business was fishing, because the Sea of Galilee was a body of water full of fish!
     Mark 1:16 – “As [Jesus]...walked by the Sea of Galilee, 
         He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into 
         the sea, for they were fishermen.Mark 1:19 – “When He had gone a little further from there, 
         He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who 
         were also in the boat mending their nets.
  • A tax collector was in the employ of the Jews’ hated overlords, the Romans! The tax collector himself was a Jewish man who had bought the office from Rome, which entitled him to collect taxes from his fellow Jews. But whatever he could collect (swindle) above and beyond the required Roman taxes, was his to keep!
       Many, if not most, tax collectors were wealthy.  They 
         had made their money at the expense of their fellow 

     Consequently, tax collectors were classed with the worst 
         of sinners, and hated by those they exploited! (see Mark 
         2:16; Luke 18:9-14).
  • (This point was also new to me.) Most likely, there was a tax, a duty on the fish caught in the Sea of Galilee when they were brought to shore. So Levi (Matthew) had probably collected taxes from Peter and Andrew, and James’ and John’s father Zebedee, who ran the family business!
     ✞   Levi was probably initially despised by these four dis-
         ciples who were called by Jesus just before He called 
         the tax collector to follow Him.

      Did the other disciples have to learn to forgive and 
         accept Levi?  Do we have to forgive and accept some 
         people who have wronged us, but now are brothers and 
         sisters in the Lord with us?  What did Jesus say?

     Luke 17:3-4 – “Take heed to yourselves.  If your 
              brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he 
              repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you 
              seven times in a day, and seven times in a day 
              returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall for-
              give him.John 13:34, 35 – “A new commandment I give to you, 
              that you love one another; as I have loved you, 
              that you also love one another.  By this all will 
              know that you are My disciples, if you have love 
              for one another.✞   No wonder...the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase 
         our faith...! (Luke 17:5).
  • Levi threw a big party at his house! Remember, as a tax collector He could afford it.
     The party was to honor Jesus, and to celebrate the new 
         direction Levi’s life had just taken – following the 

     Mark 2:15 – “...in Levi’s house...many tax collectors and 
         sinners sat together with Jesus and His disciples....   ➔   Levi invited those with whom he regularly asso-

         ➔   Shouldn’t we do the same?  “Hey, come and see what 
              I have found – eternal life, full life in Jesus!”

Now, let’s get to the one point in my Pastor Matthew’s Sunday morning sermon on which I disagreed:

  • He thinks the reason why Levi did not join the multitude to hear what Jesus was teaching, but sat in his tax office, was because Levi was totally taken up with his business of collecting taxes and making himself rich! He could not be bothered with distractions! That is a possibility, but…
  • I believe Levi was so ostracized by his fellow Jews, he was not about to put himself in a position to be looked down upon and reviled as a terrible tax collector and sinner! I think he was deeply ashamed of his profession, and didn’t want to be reminded of who he had turned out to be!
  • Then there is this in the Gospel of John:
     John 1:4 and 5 (Literal Translation of the Holy Bible) – 
         “In Him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of 
         men; and the light shines in the darkness, and the dark-
         ness did not overtake it.John 3:19 and 20 – “...this is the condemnation, that 
         light has come into the world, and men loved darkness 
         rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For 
         everyone practicing evil hates the light, and does not 
         come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

But “…the light of the world…” (John 8:12; 9:5) came to Levi and called him, personally! And by responding to God’s call, the despised tax collector found light, life, cleansing, purpose, and direction! According to tradition, Levi ministered in Judea, then to Ethiopia (south of the Caspian Sea, not the country in Africa), Persia, Macedonia, and Syria. He may have been martyred in an eastern country, but that is more legend than fact.

What legacy did Levi give for Christians today?

  • A wonderfully informative Gospel, the first book in the New Testament!
  • The model of a faithful disciple of our Lord Jesus!
  • An example of one who did not allow the negative perception of himself to deter him from finding light and new life in Christ!

Little Sinner, Big Sinner!

Romans 3:9-18

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Paul doesn’t pull any punches! He tells it like it is! Such is the case in Romans 3:9 through 18:

     ...both Jews and Greeks...are all under sin. As it is 
     written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is 
     none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. 
     They have all turned aside; they have together become un-
     profitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. 
     Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they 
     have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their 
     lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their 
     feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are 
     in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. 
     There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

The phrase “Jews and Greeks” is simply the New Testament way of saying, “Everybody.” ‘Greeks’ is a term that means everybody who isn’t a Jew! So the apostle is saying, everyone is a sinner! And he’s not the only one in the Bible who states that truth! A sampling:

  • Ecclesastes 7:20 – “…there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.
  • Isaiah 64:6 – “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses [the very best we can do] are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
  • Romans 5:12 – “…death spread to all…because all sinned….
  • Galatians 3:22 – “…the Scripture has confined all under sin….

So we are all sinners! But, you might say, nobody is perfect! The problem is, I have met people who make light of sin, who might tell me, “Oh yes, I have sinned. Why I remember that in fourth grade I stole a pencil off the desk of another student!It makes me want to scream,Is that it? Is that the only sin you have ever committed? Have you been sin-free ever since?

Jesus had been invited to dine with a Pharisee named Simon. The meal was served in the courtyard of Simon’s house, a courtyard that was generally open to all who wanted to stop in, even if it was just to see what was going on or who was there.

  • The position assumed by those at the tableis important. For the ‘table’ was most likely a large clean cloth spread on the floor of the courtyard upon which the food was placed. Around that ‘table’ those dining would recline on their left side, supporting their head with their left hand and arm, and eating with the fingers of the right hand. Their feet would be out behind them, away from the ‘table’.
  • Luke 7:37 and 38 – “And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.
  • Luke 7:39 – Pharisees tended to be self-righteous! And Simon was no different!Now when [Simon]…saw this, he said to himself…, ‘This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’
  • Jesus knew what Simon was thinking! (see John 2:24, 25). So He spoke this parable to him:
     There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One 
     owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when 
     they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave 
     them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love 
     him more? (Luke 7:41, 42).
  • Simon gave the right answer: “I suppose the one he forgave more.” (Luke 7:43).
  • But Simon, apply it now to yourself!
     Jesus...said..., “Simon..., Do you see this woman? I 
     entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, 
     but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped 
     them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, 
     but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since 
     the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with 
     oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant 
     oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, 
     are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little 
     is forgiven, the same loves little.” Then He said to 
     her, “Your sins are forgiven....Your faith has saved 
     you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:40-48, 50).

The picture at the top of this Gem represents how we often see ourselves, compared to what we really are, that is, how God sees us!

  • We are good and saintly people………in our own eyes!
  • But in Jeremiah 17:9, it says from God’s point of view, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?

We dare not tell only the Pharisee Simon to correct his thinking! We must also apply this truth to every one of us! I am not a little sinner! NO! I am a big sinner!

  • I have sinned greatly before God!
  • I have caused pain to the heart of God!
  • I, as much as anyone else, have wounded Jesus Christ!
  • I cost Him His death on the cross to pay for MY sins!
  • Jesus Christ died for ME!

Paul, in Romans 3:19 and 23, adds this piercing statement of conviction: “…that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God….for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…. He does not paint a very pretty picture of who we are, but he gives an accurate view! We are sinful human beings – big sinners! – when we are measured against the righteousness of God! (see Matthew 5:48).

We are told in the Great Commandment of Mark 12:30 to “…love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

  • But if we are only forgiven for a few little sins, we will love God only a little bit!
  • And since Jesus challenged us in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My command-ments.” Or, “If you love Me, obey Me…,if we are only forgiven for a few little sins, we will obey the Lord Jesus Christ only a little bit!

The woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed His feet with precious oil had a lot to be forgiven, for she was a big sinner! But, she heard His words,Your sins are forgiven….Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Luke does not tell us who this woman was. But one thing we can for certain know: Thereafter, she loved Jesus, the Lord her God, with all her heart, with all her soul, with all her mind, and with all her strength – following Him and obeying Him!

Little Sinner, Big Sinner!

Little lover of God, Big lover of God?

Where are you in all this?

Finding God’s Perfect Peace Philippians 4:6, 7

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

It was Saturday, April 7th, 1973. I remember that date clearly because it was the night before our daughter was born. I had been called to pastor the First Baptist Church of Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania just six months earlier, my first pastorate. Hope and I moved into the parsonage two blocks down the hill from the church. That April evening, she was very near delivery of our first child. I left her at the parsonage around 10 pm and walked up to the church to practice delivery of the next morning’s sermon. As I was preaching the sermon to a congregation of empty pews, Hope poked her head into the sanctuary and nervously stated, “The pains are two minutes apart!” I grabbed the sermon copy off the pulpit and ran down the vestibule stairs following my wife to where she had parked our 1963 Plymouth Fury. Saint Mary’s hospital was about 9 miles away over the mountian following Route 255. Heading over the peak and down the other side, I glanced at the speedometer – 110 miles per hour!I’d better slow down,” I muttered to myself. But I didn’t want to help deliver our baby on a dark road in the middle of the night! However, we made it to Saint Mary’s Hospital, and Bethany was born just after midnight on April 8th!

But there was a problem – or several problems:

  • Hope had a mild condition of what may be called Purpura (lack of platelets in the blood that can cause abnormal clotting). A person with severe purpura can bruise easily, capillaries breaking under the skin with the mere touch of a finger on an arm. Hope’s case was so mild that it went undetected.

But under the stress of the birth, when the doctor ordered her to “Push!” she didn’t hold back, and capillaries burst! The reddish dots that covered her face and chest made it look like she had a bad case of measles!

What the doctor didn’t know at the time was that my wife had just burst a thousand capillaries in her brain! She had a thousand mini strokes! Hope was experiencing debillitating headaches! She could not hold her eyes open to the light or lift her head from the pillow without excruciating pain!

  • The doctor did not figure out the problem at first. He could not even tell me if my wife was going to live! And there I was, with a brand new infant daughter, a wife who might be dying, new in town, and far from family! We felt we had little close support, though the church folks tried.
  • Our daughter had been conceived when I was in Bible seminary. We had no medical insurance! Day after day Hope was in a private hospital room, away from light and noise; and Bethany was in the nursery where I could only see her through the class partition.

My pastor’s salary was $96.15 a week, with housing and utilities provided by the church. We had learned to get by on that amount. But what we owed to the hospital was increasing by a hundred dollars a day – a lot of money back in 1973!

For three days after our daughter’s birth, I lived and moved as if I was in an overpowering fog! As a pastor, I tried to do what needed to be done, but my heart was not in it! I was overwhelmed with worry and sadness!

One of the men in our church, Alan, suffered a debilatating stroke some months before I arrived at First Baptist. He had been very active as a church member, and in general happy in an acticve life, but the stroke had left him discouraged and depressed! I would visit Alan and his wife Dorothy often those first six months, trying to encourage and uplift this now sad man. One of the Scripture portions I had committed to memory months before was Philippians 4:6 and 7:

     Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and 
     supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made 
     known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all 
     understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through
     Christ Jesus.

I shared these two verses more than once with Alan and Dorothy, explaining how it applied to life, especially to the hard times of life, such as that which Alan was experiencing:

  • Verse 6 – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything….” A negative followed by a positive – this covers anything we might face in life…..even a debilatating stroke!
  • Verse 6 – “…by prayer and supplication….Prayer, in this case, covers praying for the needs of others; while supplication means praying for one’s own needs!
  • Verse 6 – “…with thanksgiving….We are instructed to thank God in everything! Thank God even when it hurts? Why?
     ✞   God’s purpose for all Christians is “...to be confomed to the image of His Son...” Jesus Christ! (Romans 8:29 – see also II Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:21).

      Romans 5:3 through 5 (Bible in Basic English) tells us that we grow good and Godly attributes through troubles:

             And not only so, but let us have joy in our 
             troubles: in the knowledge that trouble gives 
             us the power of waiting; and waiting gives ex-
             perience; and experience, hope: and hope does 
             not put to shame; because our hearts are full 
             of the love of God through the Holy Spirit 
             which is given to us. 

     James 1:2 through 4 teaches us much the same thing:  

             My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into 
             various trials, knowing that the testing of your 
             faith produces patience. But let patience have its 
             perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, 
             lacking nothing.

The only One perfect and complete is Jesus Christ! So various trials, when dealt with properly, make us more and more like Jesus!

  • Verse 6 – “…let your requests be made known to God….” We are to thank God when we make our requests, even before we have an answer to (or a reason for) what we are facing!

Verse 7 – “…and the peace of God…, which comes from God only, so He is the only One who can give it!

  • Verse 7 – “…which surpasses all understanding….” By all our human comprehension, we should not have peace in the midst of what we are particularly facing!
  • Verse 7 – “…will guard your hearts and minds….” In Jewish thinking of Bible times, hearts and minds covers all the emotional and mental workings of an individual. That one would be guarded by being held in divine perfect peace!
  • Verse 7 – “…through Christ Jesus.” A related bold statement (and also something implied) is found in James 1:17 and 18: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” The implication is that all of God’s good gifts are because of Jesus Christ, as well as through Him! (see Romans 8:31, 32).

I knewall this concerning Philippians 4:6 and 7, but in my current situation I was certainly not experiencing, …the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding…! I was feeling (and acting) more like a zombie than a dedicated believer held in miraculous peace!

By the end of the third day, when nothing at the hospital had changed, and the doctor still couldn’t give me assurance that my wife was going to live, I had had it! I knelt at our bedside, and laid my Bible on the bed, opened to Philippians 4:6 and 7. I read those two verses again, and then I battled it out with God!

     God, here I am with Hope and our baby in the hospital, and 
     I don’t even know if my wife is going to live!  How am I 
     supposed to take care of my newborn daughter by myself?  
     And we don’t have insurance, and the bills are piling up!  
     And, God, I’m new here, in town and at this church.  I real-
     ly don’t know anyone very well.  And family is far away.

     Lord, I have been telling Alan about this verse, and how 
     one can have peace in hard situations.  But God, I don’t 
     have any peace!  And if this isn’t true for me also, why 
     is it in the Bible? 

     God, if You don’t give me Your “...peace which surpasses 
     all understanding...,I am never going to tell anyone 
     about this verse again!

And I battled on for about the next hour!

Finally, I crawled into bed……and just lay there and grinned! God’s peace had so encompassed me, that it didn’t matter if Hope lived or died! Of course I wanted my wife to live, but I knew God was in control, and He was going to take care of me!

The next several days, I went about my pastoral duties and my family life with a light heart, confident God was taking care of everything! And…

  • He did give my wife back to me! She had a long recuperation from severe headaches and feeling exhausted. But we will celebrate next November 53 years of a wonderful marriage!
  • Our hospital bill was $800! But the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board of our denomination stepped in and paid half the bill!
  • I have shared with many people in many situations that it is true – the promise of …the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus…. And God’s promises can be trusted!

But sometimes you just have to battle for it!

You Gotta Be Kidding God!

I Thessalonians 5:18;

Philippians 4:6, 7

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Today’s photo is a five part conglomeration of some of the trials and tribulations the world is facing today:

  • Raging fires often concentrated in our westernmost state of the lower 48.
  • Protest marches too often turned into riots and looting.
  • The Corona virus pandemic that has taken over three million lives worldwide.
  • North Korea’s nuclear threat led by dictator Kim Jung Un.
  • The tragic death of George Floyd that has unleased so much civil unrest.

It is just a sample of some of the problems people face – because, if all the possible trials and tribulations of life were represented, the photo would be a mile long……..or more!

There is a children’s book around our house entitled Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. I had one of those yesterday!

  • A very restless night that, although I was quite tired, produced no sleep at all!
  • A slightly upset stomach that just would not go away!
  • Computer problems! I still cannot figure out why my printer will not print from either of my computers! By the way, I spent almost two hours trying to solve the problem the evening before – to no avail!
  • I finally found, after much searching, a long USB cord to bypass my bluetooth hookup to the printer to see if that will make the stubborn thing print! Upon trying to connect the printer to the computer, I discovered I did not have the needed USB cord, but a useless something that only looked like what I needed!
  • I called for tech assistance from a local computer store. The tech was out, but the store manager promised to have him call ASAP! He never called!
  • A misunderstanding with a friend only added to my aggravation!

And now to our featured Scriptures:

  • Philippians 4:6 – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God….

Well, yesterday I got the first two words right –Be anxious…! And I did shoot a few prayers to God, letting my…requests be made known…”! However, I stopped way short of the next two words: …with thanksgiving…!

     You mean to say, Lord, that in everything – EVERTHING! – I am 
     supposed to include thanksgiving?  And I am supposed to do this 
     even before my prayers (desperate pleadings) are even answered, 
     with no idea of how You are going to respond?  You gotta be 
     kidding, God!
  • I Thessalonians 5:18 – “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

There are those words again, “In everything….” And the last half of the verse that Saint Paul penned (remember, according to I Corinthians 11:23, II Corinthians 12:1 through 4, and other Scriptures as well, the apostle had some pretty impressive direct connections with God), the last half says to…give thanks…[i]n everything…is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you…,for ME! And I can’t escape another verse I have preached to others as, “the most important prayer a Christian can pray.” (see April 29, 2013 Gem). In Luke 22:42, as Jesus faced the imminent crucifixion, the torture of the beatings, whipping, being nailed to the cross – plus the pure and holy Savior being made sin for us (see II Corinthians 5:21) – He prayed, “Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.

In everything give thanks..., not just some things that are 
     presently pleasant? “...give thanks...” even for the stuff 
     that hurts, that is frustrating, that is humiliating, that 
     breaks my heart, that is just downright nasty?  You gotta be 
     kidding, God! 

No, I am not kidding!” And in the verses following our featured Scriptures, as well as others throughout the Bible, God tells us why He is not kidding!

  • Philippians 4:7 – “…and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” I learned this truth early on when our daughter was born and my wife almost died. I will write a Gem about what happened and what I learned sometime in the near future.

You see, the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds can be much more important than the answer to our most desperate prayer! The answer may be on its way, but our lives could be in great turmoil before the answer arrives! Often such peace surpasses all understanding.Wow! Nothing has outwardly changed! God hasn’t answered my prayer…yet! But I have this perfect peace, and I know it will be ok! I don’t know why or how, but I have peace about it!

  • Philippians 4:9 – “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.Never mind that it doesn’t make sense to our finite minds! We do what we are instructed to do, and God will do what only He can!
  • I Thessalonians 5:12 through 17 and 19 through 22 – These ten short verses surround the featured Scripture of verse 18 (above) with a lot more instruction for Christian living than “In everything give thanks….
      And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor 
      among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 
      and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's 
      sake. Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, 
      brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the faint-
      hearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that 
      no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue 
      what is good both for yourselves and for all....Rejoice 
      always, pray without ceasing, Do not quench the Spirit. 
      Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast 
      what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.  

So how are we supposed to fulfill all this stuff? I have enough trouble with just verse 18! Well, there is one more important verse, I Thessalonians 5:24, “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.We don’t have to generate all that which is listed in the twelve verses from I Thessalonians 5:12 through 22!He…will do it…! This reminds me of another of my favorite verses featured in the March 13, 2013 Gem, A Little Help Here, Please!” Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.He gives us the want to do itas well as what it takes todo it! And nothing is that hard to do when we really want to do it!

So, Chip (yes, that’s me reminding myself), the next time you have Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, give thanks to God for even the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad things going on! Because…

God doesn’t kid around!

Tear Down This Wall!

Ephesians 2:11-15

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech in front of Berlin’s, Brandenburg Gate. In that speech, the president uttered this famous line: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! Withthis wallCommunism had separated the people of East and West Berlin since August 13th, 1961! On November 9, 1989, 29 months after Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate speech, the Berlin Wall came down! On the History.com website, from the article on the “Berlin Wall ”:

     Starting at midnight that day...East and West Berliners... 
     flooded through the checkpoints....People used hammers and 
     picks to knock away chunks of the wall–they became known as 
     “mauerspechte,” or “wall woodpeckers” — while cranes and 
     bulldozers pulled down section after section. Soon the wall 
     was gone and Berlin was united for the first time since 1945.

In the photo above, a young man peers through one of the holespeckedthrough the wall!

There is another “Tear Down This Wall” that is desperately needed today, and it has already been accomplished! Here is what Saint Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:11 through 15:

     Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh — who 
     are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision 
     made in the flesh by hands — that at that time you were with-
     out Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and 
     strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and 
     without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once 
     were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 
     For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has 
     broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished 
     in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments con-
     tained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man 
     from the two, thus making peace....

There was a problem in the New Testament Church:

  • On Pentecost Sunday, the Church was born in Jerusalem when three thousand Jews responded to Peter’s sermon and were saved! (see Acts chapter 2).
  • Just a day or two later, either two thousand or five thousand more Jews (depending on how you interpret Acts 4:4) became believers in the Lord Jesus Christ!
  • According to Acts 2:47, “…the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

These early believers were all Jews! It wasn’t until perhaps months later that the gospel spread first to the Samaritans (see Acts 8:5-8, 25); then to the Romans (see Acts chapter 10). Under Paul’s missionary ministry, salvation was preached in Crete, Asia Minor, Greece, perhaps Spain, and Rome! All this followed Jesus’ prophesy given in Acts 1:8, just before He ascended into heaven:

     But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come 
     upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, 
     and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. 

But the Jews thought they were special – the only people chosen by God two thousand years before when the LORD called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees! In the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), God gave Israel many laws concerning living holy lives before Him. In Leviticus 20:26 He gave this reason: “And you shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. The Jews were a special and chosen people…….special and chosen to show the world who God was, and what it was to look like living under His Lordship! They failed miserably! For when …the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world…to the Jews first…” (I John 4:14; Romans 1:16) – They rejected the Savior and crucified Him!

But that ‘specialness’ was so ingrained in the Jewish mind, they just had a hard time believing God would also call to Himself the “…Gentiles…who are [derogatorily] called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision [Jews]….” (Ephesians 2:11). Rabbinical teaching layered many manmade rules upon God’s laws, even superceding what the LORD had declared! (see Matthew 23:15-24). This is evident in what Peter told the Roman Centurion Cornelius in Acts 10:28:

     You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company 
     with or go to one of another nation.  But God has shown me 
     that I should not call any man common or unclean.

There is no such strict law given by the LORD anywhere in the Old Testament! This was a rabbinical addition to God’s laws which directed the Israelites not to form contractual alliances, intermarry with, or enter into idolatry with the surrounding pagan nations. The Jews were to be a holy people, separated unto God! But…it is…unlawful…for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation…?! Apparently God had work to do to change the Jewish prejudicial mind set!

That’s why the Apostle Paul taught that Jesus had torn down the dividing walls!

  • Read again the featured Scripture of Ephesians 2:11 through 15.
  • Continue on with Ephesians 2:16 through 22:
     ...and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body 
     through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And 
     He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to 
     those who were near. For through Him we both have access by 
     one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer 
     strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints 
     and members of the household of God, having been built on the 
     foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself 
     being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, be-
     ing joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in 
     whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place 
     of God in the Spirit.
  • Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Why have I bothered to research and present all this from God’s Word? Because there is such division in the world today, and it seems to be ever widening!

  • Racial tensions – We are being indoctrinated in the teachings of systemic racism! If someone is of the Caucasian race, they are too often made to feel ashamed that they are inherently racist!
  • Political tensions – Many conservatives (and, yes, I am a conservative!) are hesitant to say where they stand on issues lest they be condemned (or worse)!
  • Educational tensions – Our children are being educated against the greatness of America! The country’s history (we can learn from both the good and the bad) is being cast down and/or rewritten, and our democracy is being more and more undermined by Socialism!
  • Financial tensions – There is an effort to reduce the gap between the haves and have nots by involuntary redistribution of wealth! Capitalism, which has so added to the greatness of America, is under increasing attack!
  • Identity tensions – Especially among our youth, God’s view of man and woman, husband and wife, family structure, social order, and the definition of life is being ripped apart (since Roe vs. Wade, over 63 million babies have been torn from their mothers’ wombs)!
  • Religious tensions – Secularism and humanism is drastically on the rise, and the Lord’s right to order our lives according to His mind is more and more belittled!

We could go on and on! But in Jesus Christ the walls come down! At the foot of the cross we are all the same…

Sinners in need of the Savior!

And once we belong to the Savior, we are all the same…

God’s children, saved by His grace
through faith in Jesus Christ!

We are one in Him!

A short delay…

Due to surgery on my human body, and surgery on my computer to remove malware, I have been delayed in posting new Gems for the last week and a half. I now have a new computer, and I am having fun trying to figure out all the computer stuff! So bear with me, and I will soon be back to posting new Gems.

Beginning, Middle, End – III Romans 8:28-31

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Once more, here is Romans 8:28 through 31:

     And we know that all things work together for good to those 
     who love God, to those who are the called according to His 
     purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be 
     conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the 
     firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestin-
     ed, these He also called; whom He called, these He also 
     justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. 
     What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, 
     who can be against us?

In the last two Gems we have discussed the beginning and the middle of the Christian life shown in these four verses. What is the end of it all? The end is found in verse 29, describing the purpose to which every Christian is called!For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Conformed to the image of Jesus! Wow! For me to act like Jesus, talk like Jesus, think like Jesus, love like Jesus, be like Jesus………..God has got a long way to go! He’s got His work cut out for Him! How will He accomplish this end?

Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to
those who are the called according to His purpose.

  • First, let’s define what the good is toward which all things work together. Because a lot of thosethingsdon’t seem all that good when we are in the midst of them! But God’s idea of good is that we …be conformed to the image of His Son….There is no higher good than this!

Here are other Scriptures that support being “…conformed to the image of His Son…:

      Genesis 1:26 – “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in 
           Our image, according to Our likeness....”  This was 
           God’s original purpose for man, to perfectly reflect 
           who the LORD is.  However, sin so marred that like-
           ness into something that was almost unrecognizable!  
           Jesus Christ came to restore that image!

     Psalm 17:15 – “As for me, I will see Your face in 
           righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in 
           Your likeness.Matthew 10:25 – “It is enough for a disciple to be 
           like his teacher....John 13:34, 35 – “By this all will know that you are My 
           disciples...[when] you love one another as I have loved 
           you.I Corinthians 11:1 – Paul challenges us, “Imitate me, 
           just as I also imitate Christ. Ephesians 5:1, 2 (Bible in Basic English) – “Let it be 
           your desire to be like God, as well-loved children; and 
           be living in love, even as Christ had love for you.... Philippians 2:5 – “Let this mind be in you which was also 
           in Christ Jesus....I John 2:6 – “He who says he abides in Him [Jesus] ought 
           himself also to walk just as He walked.

However, the problem with being conformed to His image is that because of sin, so much of that image has been lost! So God has a lot of work to do in the likes of me and you to fulfill His purpose of making us like Jesus!

  • In the Gem, Beginning, Middle, End – II, I focused on II Corinthians 3:18: “…we…are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” That phrase “…from glory to glory…” shows a process, sometimes a very slow process! Paul could have added some glories:from glory to glory to glory to glory to glory….! For the process isstep by step by step by step by step by step, becoming more and more like Jesus!
  • There is another passage in James 1:2 through 4 that speaks of this process to fulfill the purpose of God:
     My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various 
     trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces 
     patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that 
     you may be perfect and complete lacking nothing.
 First I want you to know that James is using a book-
           keeping term when he says, “...count it all joy....”  
           He does not mean that when trials come into your 
           life you are to jump up and down shouting, “Oh goody!  
           Another trial!”  The idea is that you have a ledger 
           with two pages, the left hand page for ‘joy’, and the 
           right hand page for “Oh #&@%*, another trial!The 
           trial probably doesn’t feel good, but we are to mark 
           it down on the joy page!  

     ✞    Why?  Because God is producing faith > patience > that 
           you may be perfect and complete lacking nothing!  And 
           the only One I know who is perfect and complete lack-
           ing nothing is Jesus!  Trials may not feel good, but 
           they are making us more and more like God’s Son!
  • Back on March 8, 2013, I wrote a Gem called, What’s God’s Purpose for Me? In it I gave an illustration of what it might feel like for this purpose of God to be worked out in our lives:
     It is a lot like what I experienced while working in an 
     electrical contact manufacturing plant many years ago. We 
     made large commercial contact components out of metal. The 
     process involved die-stamping them out by a drop-board forge 
     and then finishing them to specs by further processes such 
     as grinding off the rough edges. I would stand before the 
     grinding wheel for hours smoothing off the roughness of 
     these contacts. If those pieces of metal had voice, I would 
     imagine them screaming out as I ground away, “Ow! That hurts! 
     Stop! Don’t! That’s painful!But if the rough edges were 
     not ground off, the contacts would not fit the order specs, 
     and they would be virtually useless for their intended pur-
     pose. I guess the contacts did have some worth in their 
     rough state: They could always be sold for scrap metal!!!

     It may hurt to have our un-Christ-like edges ground down 
     so we can be made to conform to the specs God has for us – 
     to look, to be like Jesus! But if God does not orchestrate 
     the process, and/or if I fight tooth and nail against the 
     pain of His working in my life, I will not become like 
     Jesus, and I will not be of full use to God! I would rath-
     er bear the pain of His manufacturing process and come out 
     looking like Jesus – useful unto Him – than be sold for 
  • And this work of being conformed to the image of His Son is life-long – all our mortal life-long!

This is the middlework of the Christian life!

What about the end? The end of the process is described in…

  • Romans 8:29 – when we are fully…conformed to the image of His Son…!
  • Romans 8:30 – when we, in heaven with our Lord, are…glorified…as He is!
  • I Corinthians 15:49 through 54 – “…as we have borne the image of the man of dust [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man [Jesus]. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on im-mortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
  • Philippians 3:20, 21 – “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
  • I John 3:2 – “Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He [Jesus] is revealed , we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (see Revelation 19:11-16).

What Adam lost for all mankind through sin,
God will restore for us in Jesus!
This is the glorious ‘end’ for every Christian!

What is this knowledge ofthe endsupposed to do for us now? Is it just a happy ending to a sometimes rough earthly story? It is much more than that! For we are told in I John 3:3, “And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He [Jesus] is pure.This doctrine of being made perfect and holy like Jesus in the end should encourage us in our growth in holiness now, in the middle!

Beginning, Middle, End – II Romans 8:28-31

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Romans 8:28 through 31 shows the Christian life – the beginning, the middle, and the end:

     And we know that all things work together for good to those 
     who love God, to those who are the called according to His 
     purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be con-
     formed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-
     born among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these 
     He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and 
     whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall 
     we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against 

The Beginning is shown in verses 28 and 30:

  • Romans 8:28 – “…those who love God…those who are the called according to His purpose.

When I became a Christian, I was 19 years old and in the Air Force, stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi Mississippi. I knew very little of Christianity and the Bible, for my family was not Christian. My friend Jerry had converted to Catholicism from a fundamental Protestant religion, and I wanted to know why. We talked about his decision, and since I had no religious background to speak of, I decided I would become a Catholic.

Soon after I had made my Catholic decision, I experienced something that changed my life. I knew little of the Christian faith, but I became sure about three things concerning Jesus Christ:

1. I knew that He was real!

2. I knew that He was alive!

3. I knew that He loved me!

…and I fell ‘head over heels’ in love with Him!

I loved God! I was called according to His purpose! That was the beginning!

  • The beginning of the Christian life is also reflected in Romans 8:30, “…whom He called….I did not find God! He found me! He called me to Himself, and I began my Christian life at age 19!

The Middle: I said in the last Gem, the middle is where the hard work begins! And that work is reflected in Romans 8:29: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Predestination is a hard concept to wrap our minds around. But in verse 29, the concept of predestination is made simple: God predestines every Christian to become more and more like Jesus! Yes, it is simply said, but it can be very hard to be conformed, (to grow up into) the image of His Son, Jesus!

How is this conformation to be accomplished? Basically, in two ways:

  • God Himself takes up premanent residence in our bodies!
     In Him [Jesus Christ] you also trusted, after you 
           heard the word of truth, the gospel of your sal-
           vation; in whom also, having believed, you were 
           sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is 
           the guarantee of our inheritance until the re-
           demption of the purchased possession, to the 
           praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13, 14).

     ...do you not know that your body is the temple of 
           the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from 
           God, and you are not your own? For you were bought 
           at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and 
           in your spirit, which are God's. (I Corinthians 6:
           19, 20).
  • The Holy Spirit’s job is outlined in Philippians 2:13: “…it is God [by His Holy Spirit] who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.He gives us not only the do it, but also thewant to do it! This is important because much of what the Lord calls us to do is very often not what we want to do!

With the Spirit’s help, we are called to practice what Jesus showed us in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before He was crucified: “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42). “…nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.The Holy Spirit within us will help us seek God’s will more and more, as we grow to be more and more like Jesus!

It is a process, this work of themiddle!

  • II Corinthians 3:18 – “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
      After he came down from Mount Sinai, having received the 
           Law, including the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:1-17), 
           Moses’ face glowed with God’s glory, after having been in 
           the LORD’s presence for forty days. The Israelites were 
           frightened to even approach Moses! So he put a veil over 
           his face so the glow of the glory would not frighten peo-
           ple away. (see Exodus 34:29-35).

     ✞    The veil has been removed in every Christian’s case! We 
           have the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ! So we 
           must keep our unveiled eyes upon Him! We are told in 
           Hebrews 12:1 and 2, as we run this race of life, we must 
           always be...looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher 
           of our faith....But it says in II Corinthians 3:18 that we are seeing 
           Jesus...as in a mirror....”

          ➔    Back in New Testament times, glass was hard to 
                come by, and glass mirrors were extremely rare! It is believed that mirrors made of metal-backed 
                glass were first produced in Lebanon in the first 
                century A.D....” (https://aleteia.org/2019/03/28/

          Mirrors were made of polished metal, and they could get 
          scratched and marred, making the reflection a bit hazy.  
          This is the kind of mirror Paul is using as an example 
          in II Corinthians 3:18.

          ➔    We behold Jesus by faith, not by sight! (see II 
                Corinthians 5:7).  And faith often is like that 
                first century mirror – it presents a rather hazy 
                picture!  I have never seen Jesus in person, and 
                you probably have not either.  (There are credible 
                cases of seeing the Savior in visions, especially 
                in Muslim countries).  

          ➔    We are told in Romans 10:17, “...faith comes by...
                the word of God.Reading and studying your Bible 
                builds up your faith!  And that same Bible is like 
                a mirror that presents Jesus!  That’s how we get 
                to see Him and know Him!  The more we are into our 
                Bible, the stronger our faith becomes, and clearer 
                is the image of our Lord!
  • And the more we see Him and know Him,…we…are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (II Corinthians 3:18). That phrase “…from glory to glory…” shows a process, sometimes a very slow process! Paul could have added some glories:from glory to glory to glory to glory to glory….! It is step by step by step by step by step by step, becoming more and more like Jesus!

No, it is not easy, this Christian growth to become more and more like Jesus!

  • We have to die to ourselves to live for God!
     Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever desires to come 
           after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, 
           and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life 
           will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake 
           and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit 
           a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own 
           soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” 
           (Mark 8:34-37).

      ...reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive 
           to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let 
           sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it 
           in its lusts. And do not present your members as instru-
           ments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves 
           to God as being alive from the dead, and your members 
           as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall 
           not have dominion over you.... (Romans 6:11-14).
  • But we have been given all we need to accomplish this Christian task!
     His divine power has given to us all things that per-
           tain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of 
           Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have 
           been given to us exceedingly great and precious prom-
           ises, that through these you may be partakers of the 
           divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is 
           in the world through lust. (II Peter 1:3, 4).

The middleis not easy! It is a life-long committment to walk with the Lord, becoming more and more like Him! But it is the only way that at the end we will hear Jesus’ words…

Well done, good and faithful servant.

(Matthew 25:23)