Today's Bible Verse...

Laborers Together

Summary: We are laborers together, not singly. Jesus called out disciples and sent them out two-by-two. (Consider Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1.) Together they are a help to one another. And so are we in this time, a team, not “lone rangers,” to share the “blessing of Abraham” to the nations of the world.

Struggling Twins

Journey with me back in time to the biblical days of Isaac, the second son of Abraham. (We're reading the Bible at Genesis 25:19-34.) As we recall from a prior post, Abraham sent his servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for Isaac. And so she was found, Rebecca, among Abraham's relatives, Bethuel and Laban. Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebecca.

Rebecca, unable to have children, Isaac "pleads with the LORD" (Genesis 25:21) on her behalf. The LORD understands and answers Isaac's prayer; Rebecca conceives. In labor she gives birth to twin boys—Esau and Jacob—Jacob the younger. They struggled in the womb, however, and as the LORD knows they would become two rivaling nations (see Genesis 25:23).

Hendrick ter Brugghen,
 Esau Selling His Birthright, c. 1627.
Growing up, Esau becomes a skillful hunter; Jacob is a quiet man, and he prefers to stay at home. One day Esau returns home, famished, after a long day of hunting. He sees his younger brother brewing some stew and asks for some.

Ah, Jacob seizes his opportunity. "Trade me your rights as the firstborn son for some stew," Jacob says (Genesis 25:31).

After a bit of a confrontation, Esau gives in, famished with hunger, and "sells his rights as the firstborn son to his younger brother Jacob" for some stew (Genesis 25:33).

Here we've witnessed a first scheme of Jacob in deceiving his brother Esau. We'll catch a second further forward in considering a later chapter in Genesis. As well, further forwarding we'll see Jacob finding peace with God and with his brother Esau. And he realizes he's the inheritor of the blessing of his grandfather Abraham (see Genesis 12:2-3).   Hence, our labor today, together with our fellow Christ-followers, to all the nations: passing on to all generations the blessing of Abraham (see Acts 1:8, consider Galatians 3:13-16).

Quarreling Church

The Conversion of Saul, fresco
by Michelangelo, 1542–45
Fast-forwarding now to the first century A.D. (we are reading the Bible at 1 Corinthians 3:1-9) we meet Paul (formerly Saul). At first meeting, we see him as a persecutor of Christians, "uttering threats with every breath, eager to kill the Lord's followers (see Acts 7:58; 8:1-2; 9:1-2). 

Then, on the Damascus road, bringing both men and women, arrested and chained, back to Jerusalem a bright light from heaven shining around him suddenly blinds him. He hears a voice, "Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?"

Saul asks, "Who are you, lord?"

The voice responds, "I am Jesus you are persecuting." And then Jesus instructs Saul what to do (see Acts 9:3-9).

Paul the Apostle,
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
c. 1657
Saul's life (now Paul) transformed, and he becomes a Christ-follower himself. Paul's call is realized "to carry [the] name [of Jesus] before the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel" (see Acts 9:15-16). In so going Paul does not go alone; he goes with various companions throughout his travels—Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, to name a few (see Acts 4:36, 12:12, 15:22, 16:1).  Paul gives his life to sharing the blessing of Abraham—the Good News—throughout Asia Minor and into Europe, establishing churches for the assembly of Christ-followers where they too can realize their call to labor together in Christ's cause.

To the church in Corinth, Paul writes, expressing his concern for their apparent infancy in the faith, "There are not to be any arguing (quarreling) and jealousy among you (see 1 Corinthians 3:3). Paul's letter continues, "When one of you says ‘I am a follower of Paul,' and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,' aren't you acting like people of the world, ‘still controlled by your sinful nature?'" (See 1 Corinthians 3:3-4).

"One plants one waters," Paul confirms, "but it is God who gives the increase" (see 1 Corinthians 3:5-6). "We are laborers together [in the faith—passing on the blessing of Abraham—to the peoples of the world]" (see 1 Corinthians 3:9).

Consider further the study guide to 1 Corinthians 3.

No Greater Legacy

James Mills Thoburn
Forwarding again further through time we come to the 19th Century, to 1840, and St. Clairsville, Ohio, U.S.A. Four-year-old James Mills Thoburn welcomes his baby sister, Isabella, to the family. James was born in 1836.

Growing up James graduates from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1857. A year later he joins the Methodist Episcopal Church. The next year he sails to North India. He works in village evangelism and church planting. He labors for a time with William Butler; Butler is the first American Methodist missionary to India. For 13 years, since 1874, James Thoburn served as pastor of the church founded by William Taylor in Calcutta.

Isabella Thoburn, a teacher, persuaded by her brother, joins James and his wife in India in 1870. She's the first missionary appointee of the Women's Foreign Mission Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church to India. Joining her is medical missionary Clara A. Swain, M.D.
Isabella Thoburn

Isabella establishes a girl’s college in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. At first, there were just six girls enrolled in the school but soon grows to 20, despite "bitter prejudice on the part of the Hindus against the education of women," Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya.   Come the year 1857 Isabella Thoburn College opens; it is the first women's college in Asia.

Isabella served many years at home and abroad. Ill health taking its toll, in 1901 she dies of cholera, her body interred in Lucknow. In failing health, too, James returns to Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1908, where he resides until his death in 1922.

Ruth A. Tucker writes, "[the brother and sister James and Isabella Thoburn leave] a legacy of training Indian nationals for the gospel ministry." What more significant legacy to leave than laboring together in Christ's cause passing on the blessing of Abraham?

Jesus answered them, "Don't be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you," John 6:27, NLT

Information on James and Isabella Thoburn gathered from Boston University, School of Theology, History of Missiology, Wikipedia, and Ruth A. Tucker’s From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya.

The End of an Era

Continued from God’s Delight

The Departure of Abraham; the Rise of Isaac
Once again journey with me back in time to the Biblical days Abraham, in particular, we are reading the Bible at Genesis 25:1-18. Abraham is well advanced in years; his time for departure from this earthly temporal realm is near. The era that commenced with him, however (see Genesis 12:1-3), continues on to this day and beyond (see Acts 1:6-8).

At a “ripe old age” Abraham remarries – a concubine (see 1 Chronicles 1:32-33) whose name is Keturah. Through her Abraham fathers six sons: Zimran, and his five brothers – Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.

But to Isaac, Abraham’s principle heir – son of his first wife, Sarah – will go "all of Abraham’s property and authority", from the Life Application Study Bible. To the other sons and grandson, however, and to Keturah, many other gifts from Abraham are given.

Abraham then dies having lived 175 years. “His sons Isaac and Ishmael bury him in the cave of Machpelah, near Mamre, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite … where he had buried his wife Sarah” (Genesis 25:9-10; cf. Genesis 24:17-20). Ishmael’s years numbered 137 then he too breathed his last, and joined his ancestors.

God’s blessing to Abraham is passed on to Isaac, who settles in Beer-lahai-roi in the Negev.


The Era Moving Forward

Let us fast forward now to the first century A.D. in particular to the year of our Lord A.D. 30. We are reading in the Bible at Matthew 27:45-56, 28:1-7, 16-20.

God had come to earth as a man (see John 1:1-5, 10-14) in the person of Jesus, the Christ (Messiah) around 6 or 4 B.C. Jesus begins His public ministry around 30 years of age proclaiming the blessing of Abraham (see Galatians 3:14-15), which is for all generations.

“He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him” (John 1:11). Finally, He is tried. At His trial, He is mocked and ridiculed, and accusations are made against Him. At last, the people cry out, “Crucify Him!” (Matthew 27:22), asking that Barabbas be released instead (see Matthew 27:21).

Though nothing is found against Jesus He is hung on a cross where He dies. Three days later the borrowed tomb where His body is laid is found empty. Early on that third day, the two Marys go to visit the tomb (see Matthew 28:1). Finding the stone rolled away and Jesus’ body gone, fearfully they wonder what had happened. “Don’t be afraid,” the angel said to the women, “I know you are looking for Jesus…. He isn’t here! He has risen from the dead. Just as He said would happen. (Matthew 28:5-6)

“Now go and tell his disciples,” the angel said to them (see Matthew 28:7). “Tell them to go to Galilee; they will see him there.” At Galilee Jesus meets with His disciples one last time on earth. He issued His Great Commission, for the era to move forward: “Go and make disciples of all the nations [peoples]” (see Matthew 28:19).

Consider further, read The Blessing of Abraham

Continuing Through Time

From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya
Fast forwarding now further through time we come to the late 17th century. The year is A.D.1690; the place, Moravia, and we witness the birth of a boy to a devout Roman Catholic family. He is Christian David. Through his youth, he, too, is devoted to Roman Catholicism – zealous in observing rituals, holidays, and adoring the Virgin Mary.

In growing up however he searches to find more meaning to his life, not finding it totally in Roman Catholicism, or among Lutherans, or even among Jews. Traveling about – from Moravia – he searches for the truth. He finds it in the Bible, recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah.

Traveling about David meets hundreds of persecuted Christians, longing for a refuge. That stored in his heart he shares with Count Zinzendorf and together they establish Herrnhut.

Married at the age of 27 and encouraged by his wife, Anna, “he becomes a traveling lay preacher,” Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. Also, Tucker writes that other than Count Zinzendorf, David, too, is most involved in forming the Moravian church.

Johan Hörner, Hans Egede, c. 1745,
Danish Museum of National History
Eager for work in evangelism, he is commissioned, along with other Moravian Christ followers, and sent as missionaries to Greenland. There, in meeting with Lutheran missionary Hans Egede, they work side-by-side proclaiming God’s Good News, which is for all generations – The Blessing of Abraham (see Galatians 3:14-29).

For more on Christian David and Hans Egede read
Ruth A. Tucker’s From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya.

God’s Delight

Continued from A Good Neighbor

A Wife for Isaac

Journey back with me in time to the Biblical days Abraham, in particular, we are reading in the Bible at Genesis chapter 24.

At this time Abraham, living in the land of Canaan, is very old and has been greatly blessed by the LORD. Not long ago he buried his wife Sarah, also well advanced in years (see Genesis 23:19). Now, before he dies, Abraham wishes to find a wife for his son Isaac, but he wishes her not to be found among the Canaanites, but among his own relatives.

Abraham calls for his oldest and most trusted servant, Eliezer (see Genesis 15:2-3), and instructs him how to find Isaac a wife. Eliezer promised as Abraham has asked. Then loading up ten of his master’s camels, and with gifts, he travels to Aram-Naharaim (Mesopotamia), where Abraham’s brother Nahor lives.

Eliezer is obedient, as Abraham had instructed. Arriving at Aram-Naharaim, kneeling before God, Eliezer prays that he would know for certain that the woman God sends his way is the choice for Isaac’s wife. God answers even before Eliezer finishes praying, as is His delight in hearing His people pray (see Isaiah 65:24; Jeremiah 29:12; 33:3; Psalm 50:15; 91:15). Rebekah comes with her jug to dwell water from the well.

Speaking with her, and realizing she is God’s choice, as the culture of that day Eliezer “put a ring on her nose and bracelets on her wrists.” And he meets Rebekah’s father Bethuel and brother Laban. He tells his story of how the LORD had answered his prayer. Hearing the story the father and brother give Rebekah to Eliezer to be Isaac’s wife. In showing gratitude Eliezer then gives the relatives gifts of no little expense.

Eliezer remained overnight with Abraham’s relatives. The next morning Eliezer with his men, Rebekah and her nurse and servant girls, returns to his master Abraham, and to find Isaac.

Isaac is seen walking in the fields, meditating when he is found. Rebekah, properly attired, is introduced to him. She becomes Isaac’s wife; Isaac is at last comforted after his mother’s death (see Genesis 24:65-67).

Consider further, read the study guide A Bride for Isaac.

Peter Miraculously Set Free

Fast forward now to the first century A.D., in particular to the year of our Lord A.D. 44. In the Bible, we are reading Acts 12:1-19.

King Herod Agrippa I is ruler in Judea. He’s a ruthless man, persecuting believers of the Christian faith.  Seeing the Jewish people pleased in his having the Apostle James killed with a sword, he then has Peter arrested and imprisoned, heavily guarded by four squads of soldiers. Herod Agrippa's intent is to bring Peter to trial the next day after the Jewish Passover. The church, hearing of Peter’s imprisonment, however, prays earnestly for him. And God answers even while they speak, as is His delight in hearing His people pray.

Peter sleeps, “fastened with two chains between two soldiers” (Acts 12:6); other soldiers guard the prison gate. Suddenly a bright light shines in the cell; an angel of the Lord stands before Peter. “Get up,” the angel speaks (Acts 12:7). The chains fall off. Dressed, sandals buckled, Peter walks out, not realizing what is happening. The soldiers are undisturbed and unawakened.

Out of prison, Peter realizes what had just happened: “The Lord sent his angel and saved me from Herod and what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!” (Acts 12:11). He then hurries to the home of Mary, John Mark’s mother, “where many were gathered for prayer” (Acts 12:12). Peter knocks at the door. Rhoda, a servant girl, arriving at the door recognizes Peter’s voice. She is so excited, and before opening the door rushes back to the people. “Peter is standing at the door!” she exclaims (Acts 12:14).

At first, they don’t believe her. Peter continues knocking. When the people finally arrive at the door and opens the door they’re excitedly overjoyed at seeing Peter standing there. Quieting them, Peter shares his story of “how the Lord had led him out of prison” (Acts 12:17).

Consider further, read the study guide James is Martyred, Petet is Set Free.

God Knows the Plans He has For Us

Journey on now further through time to the 13th Century, in particular to the year of our Lord A.D. 1232.We witness the birth of Raymond Lull (or Ramon Llull) to a wealthy Roman Catholic family of Majorca an island off the coast of Spain.

Perhaps an unlikely candidate to be considered for missionary service, yet he was the first missionary to Muslims. Though married and with children, he had mistresses on the side. In his own testimony he relates, “I lived a life of utter immorality.”

God, however, had other/better plans for Lull, as He does for all of His people (see Jeremiah 29:11), and brought him to repentance and faith through visions. For one, “the Savior hanging on His cross, the blood trickling down from His hands and feet, and brow, look reproachfully at Lull.”

The vision appears a second time and Lull commits his life to Christ, but not without doubts. “How can I,” he said, defiled with impurity, rise and enter a holier life.” And yet a third time, making him conscious of his responsibility toward others, he considers that his missionary call. That, too, is God’s delight – as the Scripture says, “there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!”  (Luke 15:7, 3-6, NLT).

In yet another vision God convinces him that he was to evangelize the nomadic Muslim Saracens, and he launches on a nine-year study of the Arabic language. Lull’s missionary focus as Ruth A. Tucker states in her book From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, “is primarily that of apologetics – to persuade people to accept the Christian faith because it is true.”

Up in his 80’s Lull continues preaching Christ in Islamic Noth Africa, until he is stoned. He passes from this temporary physical realm on board ship in sight of Majorca.

Consider further, read Raymond Lull, Troubadour for God