Archive for the ‘In Their Shoes (Biblically-slanted short stories)’ Category

*This story is adapted from John 8:1-11.


The bruises on Rahab’s arms ached as rough hands dragged her mercilessly through the dusty streets. But more stinging than the fingers that clamped like claws were reproachful stares of those whom she passed as she was forced along. Jeers and insults were thrown at her like barbed javelins dipped in the poison of hate. “Adulteress!” some shouted. “Harlot!” cried others.

She kept her eyes down, partly so that she could focus on not stumbling as she was driven along, planting one cut and bleeding foot in front of the other. But partly she did so to avoid the mocking look in scores of cruel eyes. Occasionally she could not keep from allowing her eyes to furtively look up, searching and pleading for some shred of compassion or mercy. But there was none. Even the one whose arms from which she had been ripped now mocked her and betrayed her with cruelty as he followed along with the others.

Fear gripped her more tightly than the men who half dragged and half shoved her along and a weight of despair hung like a millstone from her heart. They took her to the temple courts where a great crowd had already assembled. A man was waiting just inside the gate, long, flowing robes dragging the dust at his feet. “You have her, I see,” he said in a low voice to one of the men. “Good! Now let’s take this sacrificial lamb and see if this ‘Teacher’ steps into our little trap.” As he laughed a cold laugh, his prayer tassels seemed to quiver in agreement.

“But what if He doesn’t, Abihu?” asked the lover who had betrayed her. “What if He upholds the traditions and says we must stone her?”

no stones came 2

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
Psalm 32:1-2 ESV

The other man sniffed scornfully. “If He does, He does. Why do you care, Achan? You’ve been paid well.” He looked at the woman and sneered. “Besides, she’s just an adulteress. She deserves to die.” He started to turn towards the crowd. “But I don’t think you need to worry about losing your plaything. This Jesus isn’t bound by the traditions our elders passed on to us. He’s spoken all along of the Holy One’s forgiveness and I’ve no doubt that He’ll place His foot right into the snare we’ve laid out for Him… right in front of all these witnesses. And then His blood will be ours!” With that he strode towards the crowd, people parting right and left for him as he purposefully marched to the Man Who had been sitting in the center teaching.


Abihu stood in front of Him, a mocking smile on his lips. He nodded his head and Rahab was dragged to his side.

“Teacher,” he said the word with obvious disdain. “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.” He eyed the gawking people in the throngs around them many of them holding heavy stones in their hands. Oh, this was too fun! Too easy! He was about to tear down the idealism of this… this Messiah and discredit Him. News of His discomfiture would quickly erode His reputation and maybe even stop the madness of the multitudes flocking to His call. “Now what do you say?” he said with pretend reverence (see John 8:4-5).

Jesus looked at Abihu for a moment, His gaze penetrating into his soul. Abihu suddenly felt unsure of himself and took a step backward as if he feared a blow. But Jesus looked away towards the woman standing beside him, her head down, hair spilling messily around her shoulders and her hands clenching and unclenching feebly.

Then Jesus knelt to the ground and began to scratch letters into the dust of the ground. What was He writing? Abihu waited, his anger and impatience growing, like a floodwater rising inside him. He turned his head, trying to look as if he weren’t interested, and finally could make out the words.

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2 ESV).

Abihu felt the sting of those words almost as fiercely as if he had been flailed. “Who does He think He is?” he thought.

“Well-l-l-l?” he finally retorted, ignoring the writing in the dust. Others began to murmur. “Yes,” said one especially loud. “What do you say?” Soon at least a dozen voices began to prod him with variations of the same question.

Jesus stood up and the murmuring was silenced as His deep eyes looked at them. “If any one of you is without sin,” He said, “let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (from John 8:7). He then bent down again and resumed writing in the dust. Rahab gasped and clenched her eyes tightly, her heart pounding in her chest.

But no stones came. She heard a dull thud and dared to look up. An old man had dropped a stone and was quietly slipping away. There was another thud as another stone hit the ground. Another accuser was gone. One by one the stones fell from their fingers and one by one they each left silently until only Achan and Ahiju were left. Achan glanced at Rahab’s face, but then he too dropped his stone and disappeared. Ahiju stood alone, bristling powerlessly. The venomous hate in his eyes was met by the strong and graceful gaze of Jesus Who now looked up at him. Ahiju turned on his heel and stormed out of the temple area.

Rahab stood alone before the Lord. She looked at what He had written. “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing Your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12 ESV).

Jesus stood up and faced the woman. As she stood before Him, she was tortuously aware of all of her past guilt. Her shame clung to her like rags and she could not make herself look into His face. What would He now say to her, this Judge who had judged her judges?

“Woman, where are they?” He asked as if in answer to her thoughts. “Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, Sir,” she quietly replied.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” He declared, a righteous warmth glowing from His face. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (from John 8:10-11). He looked at her knowingly for a moment as she stood blinking in her astonishment. He then turned and quietly walked away.

Rahab also turned and made her way back home, nearly stupefied over what had just happened. She had met something in Jesus she had never known before… something called grace. It was like she had been in a vast bog into which she had willfully wandered, the stench of which was overpowering. Instead of being allowed to just sink into its mire, to be lost forever, a strong hand had pulled her up and out and set her feet on a good path lined with fragrant flowers. This path, she knew, led not to disappointment but to complete joy and peace because it led to God Himself. She realized that she had been given a new life.

There was no doubt in her mind or in her heart: Jesus had truly been sent by God to pull people out of the mire of their sin. He Himself had chosen to not accuse her but to give her another opportunity to know God and be given a second chance. She smiled as she entered her house. She looked around and nodded to herself. Now that He was Master of her life, there were going to be some changes made! And in the knowledge that she had been forgiven, she began to clean her house.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

He has just finished counting the “profits” from the past week when he hears a low murmur from outside. Zacchaeus looks out the window and sees people who normally are busily bustling about their daily business but at the moment seem collectively distracted. Their gazes are fixed on something down the street, beyond his line of vision.

He sighs as he closes up his money bags and then places them carefully in their hiding spot, sliding a basket full of old blankets over them to complete the camouflage. He stands up and runs through the door out into the street wondering what the brewing excitement is all about.

Shorter than most, he can see only the backs of others as they make their way towards their goal. He listens carefully now to those around him and soon hears someone excitedly say to another, “It’s Jesus, the Nazarene!”

“Jesus? Here in Jericho?” A tiny spark of soul hunger is ignited in an aching void down deep inside his soul. As well off as he is, Zacchaeus has yet to feel whole. There still seems to be a missing piece inside. Collecting taxes for the Romans, he has made a profit and contributes to society, yet as the community’s opinion of him has turned from disapproval to dislike and even lately to real enmity, he cares less now about doing something meaningful with his life and settles for simply making a living. Lately, he’s not been able to resist overcharging his clients just a little bit to line his pocket just a little more. So what if his former friends call him a thief? They’ve already made up their minds that he is a traitor.

He draws near to the crowd and finds it so thickly mustered together that he cannot see Jesus as He walks into town. The men and women who notice Zacchaeus pointedly ignore him, muttering something about cheats and traitors. He chews his lip nervously and then spies a large sycamore tree with a few low hanging branches. The faces of the crowd are turned still to the right: Jesus hasn’t yet passed by.

The little tax collector runs ahead, springs up as high as he can and catches hold of the lowest branch. With some animated kicking and clawing, he manages to pull himself up onto the branch. He looks around, wondering if he should be embarrassed but no one seems to have noticed him: the eyes of all are fixed on the Man entering the city.

The tax collector perches on his branch watching the approach of the Man so many have said must be from God. Hmm. He isn’t driving a fancy chariot or riding in on a royal steed. In fact, He seems dressed rather plainly. Yet, there’s something very strange about the Man. There’s a sense of something whole and pure about Him… something holy. Zacchaeus looks upon this Man and realizes suddenly that God is near. He is suddenly a mass of conflicting thoughts and feelings. On the one hand, he’s both relieved that he’s stuck up in a sycamore tree and not along the street. On the other hand, he feels terribly disappointed.

Although he had climbed the tree to see Jesus better, it occurs to him that he is also nearly invisible amongst the leaves. “It’s just as well,” he thinks. “I would have been too embarrassed to talk to Him… too ashamed.” He watches Jesus calmly walk through the crowd gathered about Him. “Besides,” Zacchaeus muses, “there were so many important people around that Jesus surely would never have time for me.”

As Jesus’ walk brings Him close to the sycamore tree, He suddenly stops and slowly turns His gaze upon Zacchaeus seated right above Him. Little beads of perspiration abruptly appear on Zacchaeus’ face and he can feel himself blushing. The deep eyes of the eternal Son peer into his own and Zacchaeus can feel his heart opening up before the Messiah like a book.

The thought takes shape and grows that Jesus will turn away in disgust from the selfishness and sin that He sees there. Zacchaeus’ own eyes shift uncomfortably down to the ground. “I’ve wasted too much of my life,” he thinks. “I’ve stolen from people and cheated them. I’ve been selfish and now I’ve got all this ugly junk in my past and in my heart: He can’t possibly want me now. He can’t even remotely pretend that He really loves me.”

But Jesus’ gaze remains fixed. He calls out loudly, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Zacchaeus blinks for a moment as Jesus’ words sink into his mind. “Stay at my house?” He clambers down a bit clumsily but then hops beside Jesus as they head off towards his house. Others who witnessed what has happened murmur a little bit amongst themselves, as puzzled as Zacchaeus, although their comments are not even slightly favorable. “Humph!” they grumble to each other, just loud enough for both the tax collector and Jesus to hear, “Looks like He prefers the company of sinners!”

Have you found the one missing piece that will bring completion to your scarred heart and aching soul?

Have you found the one missing piece that will bring completion to your scarred heart and aching soul?

But Zacchaeus doesn’t care what they say… not anymore anyway. After all, this One called the Son of God has stopped in the middle of His busy schedule just to come and dine with him! It doesn’t matter that Zacchaeus is short. It makes no difference that Zacchaeus is a cheater, a thief and a traitor. The diminutive tax collector has finally found what he’s needed all this time. He has finally discovered the one missing piece that will bring completion to his scarred heart and aching soul.

They go to Zacchaeus’ house and celebrate even as the tax collector’s life undergoes the great transformation of salvation. What he once was, Zacchaeus no longer is. Those things he once trusted and believed to be true have lost their luster and are finally revealed for what they were all along: fakes, phonies and counterfeits. Money hasn’t been able to fill the empty place in his life; nor has the power of being in charge or the prestige of being a “business success”.

Only experiencing God’s gracious gift of the forgiveness of sins and walking in fellowship with his Creator matters now.

His heart welling up with gratitude and thanksgiving to the point that it feels like it might burst, Zacchaeus means to be sure that there is no going back. He pulls out his hidden treasure and sets it front of Jesus that it might no longer have power over him. “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).

Jesus smiles at the man before Him who is finally free of chains of sin and selfishness. The man has finally found in Jesus Christ the one piece missing from his life. “Today,” says Jesus, “salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

I have heard it said that there is in every human heart a missing piece. This piece has a peculiar shape. It’s neither a square nor a circle. It’s not even a triangle. It cannot be described as a star or a diamond shape and it most certainly isn’t an uneven parallelogram. Its shape defies description.

When that piece finds its home in the center of your being, it brings to you a satisfaction and fulfillment with which nothing else can compete. But when that spot in your heart for which that missing piece is designed remains unfilled, it presents the dilemma of an aching vacuum, a bottomless yearning that leaves you heartsick, thirsting and hungering for something more.

But it is a more mundane thirst that drives a certain village woman to a well in the dry and dusty heat of the middle of the day. When she arrives at the lonely well, she finds only one other person there… waiting. Waiting for her here in a divinely appointed encounter is the only One Who can fill an insatiable longing hidden deeply within her life.

For years she has been looking to men to fit the empty and aching void in her heart. But they can’t do it. The hole in her life isn’t man-shaped. From one relationship to another she’s run, never finding happiness… never finding completeness. But today is different. Today she’s met the Savior.

“There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ …. Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water…. Who drinks of this (well) water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’” (John 4:7,10,13-14 ESV).

Of course, she really doesn’t have any idea what in the world He’s talking about. “Ask You for a drink?” she must think. “I’m the one with the water jar! But hey! If You could give me that water, I wouldn’t have to come back to the well anymore.” No longer would she have to carry that heavy jar all the way to the well and then all the way back home. No longer would she have to endure the venom of the cold and baleful stares of the other women in the village or pretend to not notice the mocking sideways leers of the men she passes in the street.

“…Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:15 ESV).

The tender Savior looks upon her and sees how she has lived. He discerns the choices she’s made and knows the emptiness that still leaves her hurting. In tenderness, He lovingly moves to lay bare all the fruitlessness of her past pursuits so that her eyesight might be cleared enough to let her see real hope before her.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ The woman answered Him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true’” (John 4:16-18 ESV).

Imagine her bewilderment when it finally begins to hit home that something divine is happening. The dawn of God’s mercy begins to pierce the night of her confusion and despair and the music of His grace breaks through the deafness of her mundane sensibilities. “Oh, I get it. You’re a prophet, right?” she seems to say in verse 19. And while she doesn’t quite perceive the enormity of the moment in that God Himself is speaking with her, she knows something unusual is going on. “The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He Who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he’” (John 4:25-26 ESV).

Suddenly the lights come on in the woman’s heart. Suddenly she knows that she has found what she’s been missing her entire life. Not acceptance from a man. Not physical pleasure. Not financial security. The hole in her life is God-shaped therefore only one thing may fill it. All the things in her past to which she’s looked for meaning and purpose are illuminated in the revealing light of truth. All those seem plastic and temporary now. All seem artificial or at least superficial. Here on a day that is otherwise like any other, she finds God reaching out to her, ready to fill the void.

A missing piece

God created us to need Him. So when we turn to other things for purpose, satisfaction & meaning, we are never really complete or whole.

And still ready today to fill the empty space in our hearts, He reaches out to you and me with the one, all-important missing piece: His love. As we turn to Him in faith and confess our sin and repent of going our own way, we can know that as He met with tenderness the guilty yet hurting woman at the well in John chapter 4, He also will meet us at whatever place we find ourselves. He is ready to do a work of grace in your heart today. He is ready to lay bare plastic dreams and synthetic ambitions, but only so that He can give to you living water that will spring up into a fountain of eternal life!

“The LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

For a moment, consider Jesus’ call for you to follow Him as Lord of your life. For a minute, consider how you’d respond if He came to you, placed His nail-scarred hand upon your shoulder and invited you to “get up” and follow Him. Would you do it? Is His eternal love for you sufficient for you to desire to please Him? Is His holy majesty enough for you to bow your head before Him and say, “All right, Lord. Not my will but Your own be done in and through my life”?

Imagine the disciple Matthew’s encounter with the Lord as described in Matthew 9:9. If Jesus is only the carpenter most people who’ve met Him think Him to be, the whole situation would be laughable. “Follow Me,” Jesus says. And not only does this Jesus person have the audacity to just waltz up to Matthew’s table and utter what seems to be the most ridiculous invitation he’s ever heard, the Man also just turns and walks away as if He really expects Matthew to simply hop up from his table and run after Him.

And yet… Matthew thinks of all he’s heard about Jesus. The famous Teacher heals sick people, gives sight to blind men, and even rebukes evil spirits with stern authority. “Yes, there’s something different about this Man,” Matthew muses. “He’s so much more than a carpenter.” He sighs as he looks at the money on the table before him piled up in neat little columns. Beside them are stacks of ledger parchment recording the taxes paid by his fellow Judeans.

The gold just doesn’t seem as shiny to Matthew anymore. Its yellow surface now seems sickly and pale compared to the light that he’s seen in Jesus’ face. He thinks about the direction his own life has taken and he isn’t sure that he likes it. Every day he gets up, gets dressed, comes to work, puts up with difficult bosses and faces down a hostile public. He sighs again. No, he definitely doesn’t like it anymore. What’s more, he doesn’t like who he is anymore either.

Accepting an invitation from Jesus to “get up and go" with Him will alter one's destiny from destruction and despair to that of life and hope.

Accepting an invitation from Jesus to “get up and go” with Him will alter one’s destiny from destruction and despair to that of life and hope.

His eyes slowly raise from where they have long gazed at piles of money on his little table. They now begin to focus on the figure of the only One Who holds the door to change. No, more than just a simple change. A transformation. Suddenly, Matthew’s mind is emptied of any more thought of gold. His eyes remain locked upon the Master, almost unable to look anywhere else. His body now seems to take a life of its own, separated from his previous shallowness, and slowly pushes away from his table and brings him to his feet. Unaccountably, he finds himself in pursuit of Jesus.

He would never have dreamed earlier that morning that he would abruptly be chucking his career to accept an invitation to go out into the wide world alongside the One that some called “Messiah”. On the one hand, it seems like madness. Matthew’s old sensibilities feebly attempt to deter him from what he is about to do. On the other, the rays of love and glory are unmistakable in the glance of Jesus. Matthew cannot now be deterred.

He picks up his pace, rushing through the crowd so that he may walk beside Jesus. Without a single glance behind him, Matthew leaves behind his old life, his old dreams, his sin and selfishness and starts out on a journey that will not only leave him forever a changed man, but will be used by God to change the fates of millions of others in generations to come.

Later, although the scope of what is happening in his life cannot possibly be realized, he knows simply that Jesus has changed his life forever. To Matthew’s mind come the images of his old friends and associates, “tax collectors” and “sinners”. Here indeed are people only too used to dislike, rejection and failure. Do they have any hope of being accepted by God? Morally and spiritually, they were the lowest of the low, traitors to God and to their own people.

But hadn’t Jesus accepted Matthew? Hadn’t Matthew’s faith in this Savior’s grace and authority to forgive sin made a new man of him? “If Jesus did it for me, maybe He will do it for them,” Matthew decides.

In short order, Matthew hosts a party with Jesus as the guest of honor. Matthew’s old cronies and old colleagues show up in force. Aside from the free food, these societal rejects have a curiosity of this Teacher Who doesn’t spurn them or find fault with them. He doesn’t need to point out the sin in their lives for they know it all too well. Instead, they come and, as Matthew had hoped, they find grace.

Oh, but then those who don’t seem to really understand grace crash the party. Matthew bites his fingernails nervously, hoping against all hope that they’ll just go away. Always they look down their long and haughty noses at him and his friends, sniffing contemptuously as if they aren’t even worth looking upon.

“Will they shame Jesus into leaving?” he tortuously wonders. “Will they embarrass my friends? Will my friends turn from God because of this? Will Jesus even forsake me?” A sick feeling emanates from his stomach and he feels himself turning pale, the blood rushing from his head to the bottom of his feet.

But Jesus glances over at Matthew, gives him a quick wink, and then turns to face the prickly party-poopers. “Why do I eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” He says, echoing their question. He smiles at them gently, grace radiating from His countenance to these who will not see it. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick,” He answers. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (from Luke 5:30-31).

His detractors blink stupidly for a moment, wondering if there’s a hidden rebuke in what had just been said to them. While they puzzle over their encounter with Jesus, trying to think of stinging rebuttals, Matthew smiles inwardly for he knows how true are the words just spoken by the Lord. Matthew had been, only a short time before, one of those who are “sick” – sick of heart, sick in their soul, sick both spiritually and morally. Only an invitation from Jesus to “get up” and follow had altered his destiny from destruction and despair to that of life and hope.

Now, as our imagination returns to the here and now, I once again ask you to consider Jesus’ call for you to follow Him as Lord of your life. I again implore you to consider how you’d respond if He came to you, placed His nail-scarred hand upon your shoulder and invited you to “get up” and follow Him. Would you do it? Isn’t His love enough? Isn’t His majesty sufficient?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

Bartholomew walked excitedly along with the other disciples as they followed Jesus out of the village of Bethany on their way into Jerusalem.  As they walked, there came unbidden to Bartholomew’s memory the somber forebodings that Jesus had uttered several days before.  “Hmm… what was it that He had said?  Something about being arrested, flogged, and even being killed” (see Mark 10:32-34).

“Well,” he mused, “whatever Jesus was talking about, He must have been mistaken.”  And as he walked, he smiled to himself, nearly bursting with excitement as his mind was flooded again with the images of the jubilant crowds from yesterday and hearing once again their cries of “Hosanna!  Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9).

“Finally,” he murmured quietly, “everything that is wrong is going to be set right again.  Our people are finally ready for our king.  Our world is finally ready for its Lord.”

And even as he thought those thoughts, Jesus’ strides came to a standstill.  He half turned and glanced back at Bartholomew, a sad smile ever so lightly touching His mouth.  His eyes shifted from the disciple towards a fig tree standing by itself in the distance, its branches in full foliage, the sheen of which announced that it was laden with figs.

“I’m hungry,” Jesus said simply.  He left the road and made His way towards the tree.  His disciples exchanged the sort of look that they did when they weren’t quite sure what new corner of the Kingdom Jesus was preparing to show them.  So they simply re-shouldered their packs and hurried after Him.

When they approached the tree, however, they could see that instead of reaching up for the juicy fruits that the leaves suggested, Jesus was simply looking up at its branches.  When all the disciples were gathered about Him, He reached up, and pulled a branch down so that all could see its lack of fruit.  Again, Bartholomew saw a haunting look of sorrow in the Lord’s deep eyes as they turned to look at him.

The Master released the branch allowing it to spring back into place, its leaves rustling audibly in the heavy air that was quickly becoming hot as the morning progressed.  Jesus sighed heavily and then spoke to the tree in a voice that His disciples could clearly hear, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (Mark 11:14).

At first, Bartholomew was confused.  Jesus wasn’t One for being petulant.  After all, He Himself had corrected John and James when they had suggested bringing fire and destruction down on a village that had given them a chilly reception (see Luke 9:51-56).  The lines on Bartholomew’s forehead deepened as he sought to understand.  “So what is He do-…,” he started to say to one of the other disciples.  But then he realized that, as was often the case with Jesus, there was another point to what was happening.

That same sad smile flickered briefly upon Jesus’ lips as He looked at Bartholomew.  Then He turned and headed again towards the city.  Once they had passed within the ancient walls of the city, Jesus led them straight into the temple, halting in the main entrance to watch the scene before him.  The disciples stood beside Him quietly, sensing something stirring within Him… something that they had felt before but had rarely seen manifested.

As Jesus stood and beheld the people gathered inside the temple’s walls, instead of worship of the Living God, all that could be discerned was the worship of money.  Here where the love for God and the celebration of His goodness should have been wafting through the airs like a sweet perfume, there was only the stale odor of the ordinary pursuits of the world.

Without warning, Jesus suddenly launched Himself forward and began to run from booth to booth, knocking over the tables of the merchants and money exchangers and releasing the animals being sold for sacrifices.  The resulting confusion was astounding.  The voices of some were raised in outrage, while others shouted out in fear and alarm.  The clatter of hooves, the slap of many feet retreating, the fluttering of  wings as doves were set free, and the clinking of piles of coins hitting the ground and rolling across the floor, all added to the confusion.

And then, when the Master stopped and stood still, wiping the sweat from His forehead, He spoke fiercely to those who dared still to approach Him.  “Is it not written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?  But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17).

Bartholomew looked over to where members of the ruling Council stood, observing Jesus’ cleansing of the temple.  While there was neither awe nor love in their expressions, Bartholomew could easily see what they were thinking for their eyes dripped with jealousy and self-righteousness:  “This Jesus is a threat,” their eyes reported venomously.  He could see the murder in their hearts as they balefully watched Him.  Bartholomew swallowed hard and turned away from them back to the Lord Who was now teaching those around Him about the mysterious and amazing love of God.

The next morning, when they again approached the city, Peter stopped and pointed over at the fig tree that they’d visited the day before.  “Master,” he cried.  “Look!  The fig tree You cursed has withered!” (from Mark 11:21).

The leaves of religion were on display, but was there any real fruit? Was there any of the fruit of passionate devotion of God to fulfill the desires of the holy and righteous One that religion professed to honor?

The leaves of religion were on display, but was there any real fruit? Was there any of the fruit of passionate devotion of God to fulfill the desires of the holy and righteous One that religion professed to honor?

Jesus looked at Peter and smiled.  “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.  ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:22-25).

In that instant, Jesus had seized a “teachable moment” in Peter’s life and instructed him about praying in faith, according to the will of God.  He even gently reminded Peter of the need for keeping free from the chains of bitterness and hate, so that one’s intimate fellowship with the Father could remain unhindered and untainted.

But for Bartholomew, it was also a teachable moment.  There had been no fruit on the tree the day before when the Lord came calling.  There had been no fruit though the leaves of the tree suggested otherwise; indeed, they had even advertised it.

What, he wondered, had the Lord found as He had come calling upon His people?  The leaves of religion were certainly on display, but was there any real fruit?  Was there any of the fruit of passionate devotion of God to fulfill the desires of the holy and righteous One that religion professed to honor?

The eyes of Jesus fastened upon those of Bartholomew and gazed sadly at him.  Bartholomew’s heart suddenly filled with a deep ache of regret as he was struck by the horror of what empty worship is to God.  His eyes shifted towards the ground and he found himself weeping.

But then the words of Jesus seemed to whisper again in his mind, “…I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

He looked up at the face of Jesus and spoke, “Lord, I know what I would ask… I ask that there be real fruit in my life and in Your people’s lives.  Let there be the fruit of true worship and loving service.  And may others know, by that fruit, that You are Lord indeed.  That is what I ask.  This is what I believe You will do in my life.”

Jesus smiled but now had no trace of sorrow in His face.  “This is exactly what the Father desires to do for you, Bartholomew.”  Then the hand of Jesus clasped the man’s shoulder and he knew that his prayer was being answered.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

(Part Three: adapted from Exodus 4:1-18)

Although caught inextricably between terror and adoration, Moses yet found within himself holdouts of doubt and self-reproach that refused to completely surrender to God’s invitation to join Him in delivering His people from their Egyptian slave masters. He remained rooted to the same spot on which this curious conversation began, completely oblivious to anything but the flames within the bush which continued to leap up but still did not damage leaf or twig. There was a moment of quiet as if the Lord were giving him opportunity to voice his fears.

“But,” Moses finally said, “what if they don’t believe me? What if they won’t listen to me? What if they think I made it all up and say, ‘The LORD didn’t really appear to you’? I’m not exactly a shining example of credibility.”

The Voice spoke, resonating not only in the air and settling in his ears, but also in the ground on which the man stood. As that amazing Voice again turned Its focus to him, Moses was once again struck by Its “other-worldliness”, shedding into Moses’ dark mind and heart a glow of holiness and glory.

“Moses,” said the Lord. “What is that in your hand?”

Moses glanced down at his hand and saw nothing particularly interesting. It was just a wooden staff, well worn from its years of use as a shepherd’s tool. “A staff,” he replied.

“Throw it on the ground,” God said, as the flames writhed in the branches of the bush. Moses only paused an instant as he wondered over this strange command. Why was God telling him to throw his stick to the ground? Why wasn’t God answering his question? Nevertheless, he raised his arm and cast to the ground the stout wooden staff that he’d been carrying for years.Encounter

The rod clattered to the ground, but even before it had come to a complete rest, it began to writhe and coil. Cold shivers ran up and down Moses’ spine and he began to step backwards, away from his staff. What had once been his staff lifted one of its sinuous ends and stared at him with cold, glittering eyes. It unrolled its coils and began to slither towards Moses as it spread its fanlike hood.

Moses backpedaled and instinctively ran to other side of the burning bush, his heart thumping like an earthquake in his chest.

The Voice of the Lord came to him again. “Moses, everything is all right. Reach out and take the serpent by the tail.”

“The tail?” Moses thought. “I can think of ways to pick up snakes and ways to not do it. This is one of the ways to NOT do it. I can’t see anything that will keep it from coiling up around my arm and biting me… more than once!” But the Lord’s voice prevailed and Moses cringingly found himself approaching its tail.

The viper attentively followed his movement, its head turning to face him, but otherwise didn’t react to his approach. Moses’ hand, beset with tremors of fear, reached slowly out. “Well, now or never,” he thought. His hand quickly grasped the snake by the tail, but instead of cold scales, his hand closed upon the familiar texture of the wood of his staff. He glanced towards the snake’s head and all he saw was the staff that he had always carried to care for his sheep.

“This is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has appeared to you,” said the Lord. “In this same way, I will fill your life with My power and authority, Moses, and you will seize hold of the destiny that I have crafted for you. It’s time now for you to care for My sheep.”

Moses stood numbly staring at the staff in his hand. “I’m so unworthy,” he thought. “I’m a rebel and a murderer. I’m even a deserter. I can’t be the one to send.”

But once again, the Voice spoke and spoke even to the deepest torments afflicting Moses’ heart. “Put your hand inside your cloak, Moses.” The man slowly slid his hand beneath the layers of his cloak until it rested against his chest. An icy chill began to creep into his fingers and the skin of his hand tingled and then settled into a strange numbness. He became acutely aware that he could no longer feel the cloth of his cloak pressing against his hand. He drew it out with a start and gasped in horror: the skin on his hand had turned completely white, pale as corpse’s flesh. “Put your hand back in your cloak,” said the Lord to the trembling man. Moses complied and then withdrew it once more. This time it was normal… as if nothing had happened.

“Unworthy?” he mused. “My past had left me as dead as the flesh on my hand a moment ago. I was mottled and diseased with selfishness, impatience, and murderous thoughts. Can the Lord heal my heart also? Can He cleanse my soul like He did my hand?” The flames in the bush danced and Moses understood that God could indeed heal his heart and restore his soul.

“These miracles will signal for My people that I am with you, Moses,” said the Lord. “They will strengthen them so that they will listen to you. And if these two signs aren’t enough, don’t worry: I will even do greater things than these.”

Moses then voiced his last objection… the only thing he could think of that might still excuse his going back to Egypt. “O Lord,” he said. “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you started speaking to me. I just don’t talk very well.”

The Voice of God spoke again, but there was a subtle change in Its tone, a sternness that unnerved Moses. “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

A stubborn persistence welled up inside of Moses . “O Lord,” he mumbled. “Please send someone else to do it.”

With that, the fires in the bush whirled up and crackled angrily in the branches of the bush. “I have sent Aaron to meet you, Moses. I have prepared him to help you in this assignment that I’m giving you. I will help you both to speak and will teach you what you are to do.”

The Lord spoke with such insistence and majesty that Moses could simply refuse no longer… nor did he want to. After all those years of hungering for more than his marred past and lonely exile could promise him, God had met him in this unexpected encounter and changed the course of his life.

“Moses, take that staff in your hand and go. You’re going to be using it to demonstrate My power and My love to the world.” Moses walked away from the bush, but not away from God. As his feet carried him to the top of the hill, he marveled over his confidence in the Lord’s presence. As he crested the hill, he paused a moment. He took a deep breath and then stepped into destiny that God had waiting for him.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

(Part Two: adapted from Exodus 3:11-22)

Moses raised his head and peered at the blazing bush before him. With the impact of what he had just heard detonating all kinds of feelings of disbelief, terror, and good old-fashioned amazement, he simply couldn’t manage to find his own voice. The Voice of the Lord, however, had just pronounced an unexpected destiny for him and now there simply were no words to adequately capture the jumble of conflicting feelings and thoughts exploding within him.

Encounter“Ah… um,” he finally managed to murmur. “You mean, uh… me? I, uh, well, um, You know that I ran away… don’t You? And also, You know that I killed a man over there… right? I mean, I just figured that You of all people would have known about that…. And besides, who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? They probably won’t even remember that I’m a Hebrew. They won’t just welcome me back, I’m sure. Between them and Pharaoh, who probably still has a bounty on my head, I could get killed!”

There was a stirring sound and the flames within the branches of the bush flickered brighter, swirling out towards him as if reaching to him. The Voice spoke again. “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I Who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship Me on this mountain. When you have done all that I have in store for you to do, you will return here, along with your brothers and sisters, and you will all worship Me here.”

The implication of what the Voice was saying was not lost on the man who cowered before It. God had remembered His people. And He was now intervening in His creation’s mad race towards self-destruction once again and was, at the same time, reaching into Moses’ life. In this incredible encounter, God was announcing promises that would fulfill not only the ones uttered before for the people of Israel, but were personal and specific to Moses’ life as well. It was as if the Lord was squelching any suspicion that could possibly have arisen in Moses’ mind that God could ever forget His promises or forsake those who belong to Him. Not only was God sending him, He was also guaranteeing that Moses would survive, succeed, and then return to this very spot… the place that God had first spoken to him.

But as much as Moses’ heart leapt within him to the sound of God’s voice, little leeches of doubt clung to him and sapped his willpower. “But,” he pondered aloud, “suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ Then what shall I tell them? I just can’t go to them and tell them that ‘What’s His Name” sent me, can I? I know that there’s nothing to the statues, stories, and kings that the Egyptians worship, but they have names for all the idols to which they bow. And as far as we go, our own eyes have been looking inward so long because of our own troubles, that we’ve really gotten out of touch with You. We don’t even remember what You’re like.”

Although the flames were continuing to glimmer patiently in the deep shade of night while Moses was speaking, they seemed to burn a bit brighter and more glorious. God spoke again, but this time with a majesty at which had never even been hinted before in Moses’ wildest imaginations. “I AM Who I AM,” said the Voice. “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

A sense of overwhelming awe came crashing over Moses and he hid his face again. Infinite and immeasurable, the perfect and holy glory of God Almighty flickered through those few words.

Utterly beyond earthly reckoning, they described the essence of the One Who was and is absolutely sufficient within Himself. Ageless, timeless, and limitless in power, knowledge, and love, this amazing and living God was now speaking with him in the back hills of Midian. God Himself was reaching forth His fingers to continue a work that had been begun hundreds of years before when His same Voice called to a man named Abram to set out from the land of Haran to “go to a land that He would show him” (see Genesis 12:1).

“Moses,” the Lord continued, “Tell the Israelites, ‘I AM, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.”

Even as God spoke to him, Moses was struck by how different the Lord was from what peoples around the world thought and believed about the divine. The Lord was so perfect, with such incredible glory, amazing power, and unimaginable compassion! And such REALNESS! God wasn’t simply different from what other peoples in the world worshiped, He was more than even Moses and his people had ever imagined or hoped. The Lord wasn’t just a god for only the part of world from which Abraham had come; He was alive and well in Egypt, hearing His people cry out. He wasn’t just a god of Moses’ ancestors or merely the god of a nation of people, He was here in Midian too and had met Moses, declaring His lordship over even his broken life.

“Moses,” God said. “The king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out My hand and I will do amazing things. Then he will let you go. And after all these years of their working as slaves for the Egyptians, I will even work in such a way that those who have oppressed My people will look favorably upon them and give them silver and gold. Even though they have been slaves, when they leave Egypt, they will not go empty-handed.”

Hope was now thoroughly awakened in Moses. “I can’t believe it,” he thought. “My people are finally going to find release. They’re about to wake up and see that the Lord has remembered them and has a special destiny for them!” But then, a nasty spark of doubt flared up in his mind again. “But why me?” he wondered. “Why do I have be the one? I don’t think I can do it.” But even as he thought these things, he sensed that the contents of his heart were already known to the One speaking to him.

To be continued…

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

(Adapted from Exodus 3:1-10)

The afternoon and evening had nearly spent their allotment of daylight as Moses approached the base of Mount Horeb. He was already closer to the land of Egypt than he’d been in years and he found inside himself a strange and uncomfortable stirring as he drew nearer to where he had grown up. Having lived so long in the country of Midian, Moses had nearly forgotten his former life, but images of his past came unbidden to his mind and a troubled heaviness grew in his gut.

Though he had thought them as good as buried in the past, to his mind arose the images of the swirling desert sands, the cruel rays of the sun beating down, and the crack of a slave master’s whip as it cut open the flesh of a Hebrew slave. He remembered the rage that exploded within him as one of his own people fell to the ground too weak and weary to continue the grueling labor of crafting bricks for their Egyptian overlords. And he saw once again the back of the slave master to him… too easy a target to ignore, and too marked with guilt to pass by. He had thought that no one would know and that no one would see as he himself lashed out and struck the man down, killing him. He had hoped that no one would spy him burying the man’s body, covering the evidence of his loyalties with a blanket of sand.

But the incident had been seen. What he had thought was hidden was somehow known both to his own people and to the people who oppressed them. The Egyptian’s body, like Moses’ memories, proved too easily uncovered and the fact of his crime inescapable. And not only had it been seen, it was also reported, provoking Pharaoh to put a price on his head. Even the people, for whom he’d intervened, lashed out at his impulsiveness instead of rallying around him as a hero. So what choice did he have but to run away?

Forty years later, haunted and bound still by the brashness of that moment, he now tended sheep, spending each day in the effort of finding something green to feed his wooly charges in the parched vastness of the Sinai Desert.

As the glow of the evening sun finally faded and the shadows of night grew in length and breadth, a glimmer flickered over the crest of a small ridge nearby, giving it a red-gold aura.

Wondering if he had led his sheep into the path of other shepherds, he cautiously approached, slowly trudging his way up the incline until his eyes reached the summit of the hill and could see down into the small wadi (gulley) before him. It looked like a campfire… but he realized that it wasn’t; it was a bush ablaze with flame, its dry branches and leaves sighing as if a wind were passing through them. “How strange,” he thought. “It doesn’t look like it’s burning up.” His feet seemed to take on a life of their own and he found himself trudging down towards the bush, like a moth to a candle’s flame. As he drew closer to it a feeling of suspense began to grow inside him. Little did he know that he was about to have a watershed moment far more significant than his having murdered an Egyptian slave master.

As his eyes gazed intently into the flames roaring through the branches of the acacia bush in front of him, an emotion that was both awe and a sense of thrill ran through him and it seemed that he stood at the brink of something extraordinary. Encounter

And then… a Voice spoke. It spoke directly to him and somehow It even knew his name. “Moses!” It murmured. Moses was stunned. Where was the Speaker? In the flames? But how could that be? That was impossible! And Who was it that was speaking to him? “Moses!” the Voice repeated.

Moses finally found his voice and answered in a hoarse whisper, “Here I am.”

The flames in the branches of the bush did not abate, but only reached higher, licking the night sky with their brilliant inferno. Still the bush remained unsinged without even a faint scent of its burning reaching the terrified man’s nostrils. The Voice spoke again. “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Moses reached down hastily, and frantically tore off the thongs holding his sandals in place. He stepped out of his sandals and, with knocking knees, stood before the Voice. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” said the Voice. As what the Voice had said began to sink into Moses’ mind, as well as recognition of just Who this was Who was speaking to him, he began to cower in fear and threw his face downward towards the ground, his arms shielding his eyes.

But even as he did so and the shock of this unthinkable encounter overloaded his mind, there was a tone of graciousness that resonated within its words. “I have seen the misery of My people in Egypt, Moses. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am burdened for their suffering,”

As the message infiltrated Moses’ mind, his heart stirred and leapt within him. His own heart’s burden, shouldered by God? Could He… did He really care? The man, kneeling in the dry and gritty dust, found moisture building in his eyes. A tear ran down his cheek.

“I have come to rescue them,” the Voice soothingly said. “I have come to bring them to a new land, a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey.”

More tears trickled down Moses’ face as he listened to the words of deliverance spoken by the mouth of God Himself. God had remembered His people. God had heard them cry out in their hurt and had remembered His promises to their ancestor, Abraham. After all this time, God was going to deliver His people from their bondage. And not only was He going to save them, He was going to give them a new home and was going to take care of them. Moses could hardly believe his ears. He found that the trickle running down his cheeks had turned into a wellspring of joy and thanksgiving.

“Moses,” said the Voice. “It’s time to go. I’m sending YOU to bring my people up out of Egypt.” Moses choked and his head snapped up in amazement and horror. “Huh?!?” Surely he hadn’t heard right.

To be continued….

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

As they took their blades and cut the gnarled wood of the thorny acacia tree (also called “shittim wood”, see Exodus 25:10-22 and Exodus 37:1-9), the men who had gone out into the desert in the cool of the early morning sighed in relief.

Their search for wood that was usable was a long and arduous one. They had already spent days searching for acacia bushes with wood that was sufficient for their need. Bezalel, the craftsman that God had instructed Moses to appoint as the artisan in charge (see Exodus 31:1-11), seemed impossible to satisfy. At times, he and his assistant, Oholiab, could hear the workmen grumbling. Bezalel would shake his head, bemused by their impatience, but was adamant that the wood that they needed had to be just right: strong, yet flexible enough to yield to his hand as he worked with it; mature enough to actually be large enough to use, yet free of blemish and corruption.

“I think that we are like the acacia bush. Our God could have chosen any other ‘tree’ in the world, yet he chose one with thorns and obstinate branches. Though our thorns prick the flesh of His mercy and His compassion bleeds sorrow as we strive against Him, He forbears our waywardness.”

“I think that we are like the acacia bush. Our God could have chosen any other ‘tree’ in the world, yet he chose one with thorns and obstinate branches. Though our thorns prick the flesh of His mercy and His compassion bleeds sorrow as we strive against Him, He forbears our waywardness.”

The reason, of course, that it was so difficult to find what he was looking for was that this was the Sinai Desert. The only wood that could grow here was the acacia bush and it was dead more often than not from the terrible thirst that lay upon the land even in the wadis (rain gulleys) that offered the barest of shelter from the sun’s blazing rays. Someone had suggested sarcastically that if they needed wood so badly, it might be easier to return to Egypt and get the wood there from the Nile River valley.

Bezalel was glad that Moses had not heard that comment. After the golden calf incident and the tragic events that followed (see Exodus 32), Moses’ heart seemed already to have been nearly broken. No, Bezalel knew what he was doing. Besides, Bezalel reminded them, whatever they used had to be harvested and given freely by those whose hearts were in it (from Exodus 25:2). And after they had searched carefully, taking their time so that their offering would be pleasing to the God who had delivered them from their slavery in Egypt, they found just what they were looking for.

After they had scrutinized the wood that they were going to use for the assignments that God had given them, some of the assistants simply shook their heads. “Perhaps,” said one who had good intentions, “it would have be better to use cedar or oak… almost any other kind of wood would be easier to use. We could trade for it with the Edomites, our brothers.”

“No,” replied Bezalel, “the Lord told Moses that we were to use acacia.” And then he smiled. He realized that he perhaps didn’t know all the reasons that acacia was chosen by the Lord, but he knew that the acacia bush could teach them much.

As they began to craft the wood, they painstakingly stripped the coarse and thorny bark from the acacia limbs. Bezalel and Oholiab scratched their arms and cut their hands so much that their hands seemed always to be bleeding. Sometimes the wood would prove unwilling to comply and so would splinter and crack. At other times they discovered hidden blemishes that compromised the wood’s integrity. But in the end, they were able to craft the wood into the necessary shapes and piece them together until they had completed the chest that God had told them He desired. The ugly, stubborn acacia wood was transformed into a new thing. When they then began to overlay the wood with gold, Bezalel’s assistants began to get excited. He and Oholiab smiled at their enthusiasm, and reminded them what it had cost them to accomplish the job as they held up their scarred hands.

Finally, the chest was complete and the lid, with two beautiful figures ornamenting its surface, was placed atop it. There was an ominous feeling that they were in the presence of the holy, and they were overcome with awe and felt so profoundly humbled that the Holy One had used them and their talents for His glory. “Indeed,” said Bezalel, “it was for this reason that we have been given such talent.” His assistants gazed at the Ark of the Covenant and gave praise to God.

Bezalel then remarked to the men standing around him, “I think that we are like the acacia bush. Our God could have chosen any other ‘tree’ in the world, yet he chose one with thorns and obstinate branches. Though our thorns prick the flesh of His mercy and His compassion bleeds sorrow as we strive against Him, He forbears our waywardness.”

Oholiab, moved to tears, answered, “Yes, He has brought us out of the dry places of sin and given us new life and new purpose that we could never have known had He allowed us to remain in the arid places of our bondage to Egypt… and, more importantly, our bondage to our own selfish ways.”

“Ah, and see what else He has done,” smiled Bezalel. “He has covered us with the glory of His love and presence. Like the gold on the acacia wood, the Lord’s divine calling overlays our people with a beauty that is not native to us.” The men gathered around him could only agree. Bezalel led them in a song of thanksgiving and then led them into the next project that the Lord had given them.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin….  Now may the God of peace Who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen.” (Hebrews 3:12-13, 13:20-21 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

Through the noisy street of the center of the multicultural capital of the world, the man walked. With every stride forward, his eyes flitted back and forth noting with sad interest the little altars to nothing that adorned the buildings in the city.

Altars to nothing? The people who built them up must have thought that they meant something – at least in the beginning. The man scowled as he thought of it. One “god” to whom some prayed was credited for bringing abundant harvests. Another for granting fertility to would-be mothers. And yet another for bestowing health and healing.

In fact, as the man looked up and down the street of Athens, it was abundantly clear that the number of different “gods” worshiped by the residents of the city, as well as its immediate surroundings, outnumbered all his fingers and toes.

“But none of their prayers are ever really heard,” he sighed to himself. None of these supposed “gods” even had ears to hear the supplications of those who cried out to them. Nor had they eyes to see the faces of those who worshipped them. Whether blocks of stone, lumps of wood, or even precious metals like silver or gold, they didn’t have hearts to even care.

These little tables with offerings set upon them? These little stands by which people occasionally pause and pray? They really were altars to nothing.

The man, whose name was Paul, felt heartsick and deeply distressed by the misdirected devotion of the inhabitants of this little corner of the Roman Empire. As he made his way through the town, he could not quite make up his mind whether or not he wanted to grind his teeth in his frustration over the worship stolen from the one, true God; or if he would simply weep at the “lostness” of the people here who were blindly throwing away their lives on spiritual imposters.

During the few days that he waited in Athens for his friends and associates, Silas and Timothy, he was so moved that he finally began to boldly talk with whomever he had opportunity, challenging the spiritual dementia that had beset the city.

He pointed out to some that their ideas of “gods” were little more than people with super powers. They might throw a few lightning bolts around, or give a magical golden touch away, but they had little real control of the physical universe and virtually no control whatsoever over their own passions and prejudices.

“These ‘gods” that you worship,” he explained, “are fickle, spiteful, apathetic and altogether selfish. Even if they were real, why would you pray to them? They would just as likely squash you like an insect as reward you!”

In addition to the abundance of idol worship in the city, there were two powerful schools of philosophy as well, generally contending with one another, but both looking down their noses at the more “ignorant” religions that swirled around them.

The Stoics, on the one hand, were the scientifically minded. Everything has a cause and effect, they decided, and something isn’t necessarily true just because a person believes it to be true. Most Stoics adopted a simple lifestyle, disdaining lazy and purposeless living, and theorized that anything that is genuinely true is also discernable by the human senses. “Whatever is true can be discovered and if it cannot be discovered, it isn’t true.”

The group of Epicureans, on the other hand, said that life was all about happiness and pleasure. They believed and taught that truth was entirely in a person’s perception, and that even a madman upheld truth as long as he truly believed what he said he believed. Ultimately, “pleasure is good and pain is bad” was the mantra of the Epicurean philosophy.

Still, it was Athens, and being what was generally considered the cultural hub of the known world, the one thing that folks who lived there enjoyed was the arguing of ideas. As such, they became very interested (at first) in what Paul had to say. He soon found occasion to share, not only in the marketplace and in the synagogue, but also the biggest meeting place in town: the Areopagus (or “Mar’s Hill”).

So, after they had settled themselves down and were prepared to hear what he had to say, Paul took a deep breath and began. “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD’. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23 NIV).

And proclaim he did. He expounded to them the glory of a Creator Who is not the product of mere human hands or imagination. Indeed, even the great marble temples that dwarfed all other buildings in the city could not possibly house Him for all of heaven and earth could not contain Him.

Paul then declared to them the incomprehensible might and majesty of the One that human senses cannot fathom or absorb. He told them of the One Who is perfectly rational but is also mysterious, cloaked by His infinite transcendence.

And finally he spoke to them about justice, a clear and sharp warning to those in his presence that all men and women were in fact accountable for the choices that they make and the ways they live their lives.

As the idol worshipers, the Stoics, and the Epicureans listened to him, some began to sneer, particularly when he brought up Jesus and His resurrection. They had come to listen, but only to listen – just as they had always done. They had no interest in openness or truth or any message other than their own. They were there only for the entertainment value.

But some found themselves strangely stirred when Truth began to speak softly through the voice of Paul. When he had finished, they approached him and said, “We want to hear you again on this subject” (Acts 17:32). A hunger for more than human wisdom was awakening within them. And when Paul stepped down and started to leave the Areopagus, he found that some were following him. They wanted to know more. They wanted to receive more than just knowledge: they were ready to receive life. Soon Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus council, and a local woman named Damaris who was quite influential, turned from their sin and past selfishness, renounced all former and phony philosophies and religious ideas, and invited Jesus into their lives as Lord and Savior.

Even as they and others became spiritually reborn, Paul could only smile. When he had come, the city of Athens was nothing but a wasteland of moral and spiritual confusion, but here there were now a group of believers who would hold up the true light and life of Jesus Christ.

“God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28a NIV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »