Blessed are the ordinary
Throughout the millennia, martyrs who never saw Jesus, died in service of the Gospel. They were ordinary people living ordinary lives, like us.
Let’s skip politics and war today. Oh, and before I forget, I want to remind our readers that The Racket News is an editor-less enterprise.
What you read here is the product of whoever wrote it. Sure, there are times when we read each other’s pieces, and upon request, make edits. But there is no editor who assigns topics, writes headlines, approves drafts, and corrects spelling or grammar. What you see is what each of has wrote. I like it this way, because many news organizations look for an agenda, to pull audience, retain advertisers, attract paid subscribers, etc. Then you end up like the guy at CNN who had to explain why his pitch deck for CNN+ streaming service predicted 15 million paid users and delivered less than 10,000 daily viewers.
That thought went deeper into the rabbit warren than I expected. My main point is gratitude. Thank you all for reading, and returning. And now on to the topic for today.
If you want a TL;DR version of the history of the Jews from inception to the birth of the Church with Christ at its head, read Acts chapter 7. That’s the speech Stephen gave to the Sanhedrin, when he had been brought up before them on blasphemy charges. I want to look at a few verses.
15 Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. 16 Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.
17 “As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased.
The time between verses 16 and 17 was 400 years. For perspective, 400 years ago, the Pilgrims had passed their second winter in the New World. In the first winter, they lost fifty percent of their number. If it wasn’t for more colonists arriving from England, the ultimate survival of Plymouth Plantation would have been very much in doubt. It took 400 years from the time Jacob arrived in Egypt until Moses.
Generation after generation of ordinary people were born, lived, and died in Egypt, though the promise of Abraham never left the Hebrews. At first, while Joseph was honored as a savior, the Hebrews were given the choicest land and treated as respected guests—even heroes. As time marched on, the memory faded, and eventually the Hebrews were enslaved.
Moses fled Egypt not because of the Egyptians, but because his own people rejected him.
35 “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.
37 “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ 38 He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.
Stephen exposed the rebellious history of the Jews—his own people—and ended with a scathing accusation.
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
After that, they stoned Stephen. Attending the execution was a “young man named Saul.” Saul had never met the resurrected Christ in his glorified body. He had not seen the signs, wonders and miracles performed by the apostles. He did see the rapid growth of a troubling sect who follow this Jesus and call him God.
Stephen was given the reward: the death of a martyr under an open heaven. He was received into his eternal joy. For many years, Saul persecuted the followers of The Way. While Thomas was able to put his finger into the side of Jesus, where the Roman soldier’s spear had pierced him on the cross, Saul only heard a voice, which was also heard by those traveling with him. He saw a light from heaven, heard a voice with nobody around, and believed.
Stephen was full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit. Saul was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1). Stephen delivered what could have been the most concise summary of the history of the Jews, and was immediately killed for it. Saul, as Paul, was given the lifelong task of writing two thirds of the entire New Testament, building and guiding the Church, filled with sinful men and women, along a stony, painful path toward God’s promise.
For two thousand years, the Church has endured, while sinful people within it have advanced God’s cause regardless of their imperfections. The world has been waiting for the next salvation. First there was Abraham’s promise, and Moses’ deliverance. Then there was Moses’ promise, and Jesus’ deliverance. Now there’s Jesus’ promise, and He himself will deliver. In the waiting times, there are ordinary people called upon to believe in extraordinary faith.
I heard a story from one of our pastors at my church. A well-known pastor and teacher she personally knows had an instance of angelic appearance during a meeting. They appeared like lights over the preaching platform. Hundreds of people witnessed it, but some smaller number never saw the lights, though they were sitting among the larger group. Some who saw the lights thought it was a trick. One told the pastor he believed the lights were theatrical lights projected from a nearby building, but the pastor reminded him that the windows were all covered and only his knowledge of the existence of the other building supported his claim since you could not see out.
As the meeting ended, the pastor asked those who didn’t see the light to meet him at the front of the room. He told them they were blessed and highly favored, since God chose them to be the ones who could testify they didn’t see the miracle, but believed anyway. The miracle itself was validated by those who didn’t see it. If everyone had seen it, then the argument of the skeptic who thought it was a trick—whether his explanation was technically correct or not—would have merit. There are plenty of ways to fool people. But when a hundred people see the lights and ten don’t, how does anyone explain it except to say it is what God intended: a sign.
Abraham settled in Canaan and God promised that his progeny would be uncountable. Then God moved Jacob and his family—the twelve tribes of Israel—to Egypt. For 400 years, the Hebrews increased, and as many as a million left Egypt, led by Moses, into the wilderness. For 40 years, they wandered, and then Joshua led them across the Jordan. It took 25 years for the Jews to retake the land of Canaan.
After the Kingdom of Israel ascended and declined, God’s prophets were silent for 400 years, until Jesus was born, fulfilling the prophecies of David, Asaph, Joel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and others. Over 600 specific prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, and His death.
On the day we call Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem, hailed as a political savior, one who comes “in the name of the Lord,” with signs and wonders and power. By the end of the week, many of those who shouted “Hosanna!” were shouting “crucify him!” and “give us Barabbas!” If Jesus wasn’t going to save them from the Romans, right then, they wanted no part of him, just like the Israelites leaving Egypt rejected Moses when they realized he was leading them into the desert when they had food and homes as slaves in Egypt.
Jesus died only to show that He had conquered death. He took on the sin of all humanity only to show that He had the power to forgive all sin. He rose to show us that the promise is real. None of us saw any of it. We are in the waiting time, as ordinary people doing ordinary things, living ordinary lives, like the generations in Egypt between Joseph and Moses. Or like the generations in Israel between David and Jesus.
For two thousand years, we have been waiting—all creation has been groaning—for the return of the King and the fulfillment of the promise made between the cross and the grave and the resurrection. Hundreds saw the risen Jesus. Every apostle, save John, died violent deaths. Stephen was stoned. Paul didn’t witness the risen Jesus with his eyes, but he heard and was given books and epistles to write.
Throughout the millennia, martyrs who never saw Jesus, many who never had a vision of Him, or heard his audible voice, but only believed, died in service of the Gospel. They were ordinary people living ordinary lives, like us. I could not say it better than the writer of Hebrews 11.
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samsonand Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
The promise is not for our lives. We are but a wisp, a dandelion seed blowing in the wind. We are here and gone in an instant. Those who focus on receiving the promise for ourselves, miss the point entirely. Liberty comes in the Spirit of God, which is given freely to those who believe. We are being preserved until the time when mercy will no longer operate, but justice and redemption will come.
We are just ordinary people living in the waiting time between the Savior’s coming and His return. As Hebrews 11 concludes: “since God had planned something better for us so that only together would they [the martyrs] be made perfect.”
How blessed we are to be the ordinary, and to believe.
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