On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. – NIVUK
When you meet with people what do you talk about?
Do you remember the last time you talked until late into the night?
The Apostle Paul was travelling from Philippi, in Greece, back towards Jerusalem.
His journey takes him through Toras, which is in modern Turkey.
Paul stays there with believers for seven days and there is clearly much he wants to say to them.
If we look at the Apostle’s letters to the churches in the New Testament we can gain an idea of many of the things he might have discussed with them.
We are told about a specific day, however. The first day of the week.
Remember this would be a Sunday, as the Jewish Sabbath was counted from Friday evening to Saturday evening.
It is thought that early Christians would still worship in the Synagogues but then meet the following day to break bread and share their faith in Jesus.
Clearly the act of breaking bread was taken from the Last Supper, but when it is frequently mentioned there is generally no reference to the wine.
The believers come together in the remembrance of Jesus and share food and speak of their lives in faith.
Paul has much to tell them and talks with them until midnight.
Again, referring to his letters, it is easy to surmise that Paul could talk until midnight just by himself, but it is far more likely that he was also being asked questions, perhaps asked for his judgement in matters, encouraged to share more stories of other believers and the works of God.
Think about today or, if it is still early, yesterday.
How many people did you talk to? Was it face to face, or via digital technology of some variety?
What did you talk about?
Were any of your conversations with other believers? How much of your conversations were focused on God?
I am sure that the Apostle Paul did talk about other things than the Faith in Christ, but I bet it wasn’t very long before he brought the conversation back around to God.
Paul tells us in a couple of places in Acts that he was zealous for the Law. The Jewish Torah and the Laws were given by God to the people to remind them of how to stay faithful to God.
Paul is no less zealous for the Faith in Jesus after his conversion on the road to Damascus.
The Apostle knows that God and God’s Word should be at the centre of everything you think and say and do. Jesus was the perfect example of this and Paul is trying to imitate him.
Also remember that the Gospels were beginning to be written around this time (Matthew and Mark in the 50’s AD and Luke more likely the 60’s AD) and it is unlikely that places such as Troas had received a full story of Jesus’ life yet without it being given verbally.
Your conversations with fellow Christians are likely to be more engrained in the Faith, and conversations with other people more societally based.
Paul talked with strangers and told them about Jesus. When he met the faithful, he still talked about Jesus.
It may not always be appropriate to tell people about Jesus, but it is appropriate for us to reference our lives by him. We see this most obviously with sports people who make the sign of the cross or point heavenward when something positive happens.
Consider your conversations and where Jesus and God fits into them.
Talk more with believers, even late into the night as Paul did, about Jesus and faith and living your life in both.
Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ – The Message
Do you love God with all of your passion?
Do you love God with all your intelligence?
As well as teaching those with ‘ears to hear’ in both the Synagogues and in open air gatherings, Jesus was subjected to testing by different groups of the Jewish authorities.
A Rabi being questioned was a natural part of religious teaching and discourse in Judaism.
Jesus was being subjected to something much more rigorous and insidious. They were trying to find ways to catch him out and denounce him as a heretic.
They ignored the effect of his teaching and the miracles taking place.
In this verse, the Sadducees had first tried to catch him out and failed. Now the Pharisees stepped up and sent in an expert in Jewish religious law..
Jesus is asked which of the Commandments is the greatest. This is a fairly simple trick question. All Law and Commandments are from God, so they are, therefore, all equally important.
But remember this was the same Jesus who was in the Temple at the age of twelve debating with the teachers there.
Jesus reminds them of the Shema – Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. This was a kind of creed or statement of faith for the Jewish people.
God commanded the people to always have this passage on their minds, to talk about it, to contemplate it, to recite it when they rose in the morning and before they lay down in the evening.
The next verse in the Shema is the one Jesus quotes here, Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’
I love this Message version of the the verse.
If we were asked if we loved God then we would nod our heads and speak out in the affirmative.
Jesus emphasises something which was lacking in those questioning him, but was integral to their lives, temporal and spiritual.
They would all have nodded in agreement that they loved God with all of their passion – indeed, they would claim that trying to proclaim Jesus as a fake was part of their passion for God.
(We see this Passion in Paul before Jesus appears to him on the Damascus road in Acts, and then we read of his passion for God and the ‘Way’ all through his letters in the New Testament.)
They would agree with prayer – the Shema itself was a prayer – but Many of their prayers were formulaic and rooted in their Phariseetic traditions.
The last instruction may be surprising – with intelligence.
Loving God with passion and prayer fit very easily into our spiritual lives. We know we should pray and our faith in God easily brings passion – I’m not suggesting that we don’t need to check the passion-meter every now and again though!
But to love God with our intelligence?
God never intended for us to be blind in our faith in Him.
Certainly to the Jewish nation he gave them many miracles testifying to his love and devotion to them.
Jesus presented many miracles before the people but many of the religious leaders recognised them and then dismissed the person behind them.
They used their intelligence but for their own selfish needs and gains.
We are to use our intelligence to affirm and strengthen our faith and love for God.
We are to read God’s Word, look for Him in our everyday lives, and express our passion through prayer and our interactions with others.
Passion. Prayer. Intelligence.
‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’ – NIVUK
Have you ever sought something which you thought was lost?
Have you ever felt lost yourself?
Jesus had spotted a man in a tree as he passed through the streets of Jericho and called him by name. The Rabbi invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for supper and to stay the night.
Many of the people in the crowd which thronged alongside the teacher knew who Zacchaeus was. He was a chief tax collector and a sinner.
Like so many times and in so many places before those same people, who didn’t consider themselves to be sinners, grumbled about Jesus spending time in the company of people who clearly were sinners.
Maybe this teacher and prophet wasn’t the Messiah after all.
During the supper, Zacchaeus announces to Jesus that right there and then he was going to give away half of his goods – possessions and money – to the poor. On top of this, if he had cheated anyone in business then he would repay them four times the amount he took from them.
Jesus’ reaction to this declaration is to proclaim, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.’ Luke 19:9
Jesus is declaring that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham not just in heritage, but also in faith.
This chief tax collecting sinner had seen Jesus, and responded to his call for food and lodging for the night, but also as the Messiah calling him to repent and enter the coming Kingdom.
To those guests around him, who may or may not have been whispering unkindly at his declaration, Jesus tells them that his purpose was seek and save the lost.
This is an image which we encounter a number of times in the Gospels.
Seeking out the lost and restoring them.
I am sure we have all lost something – I mean ‘misplaced’ something – precious or not so precious. We are sure we know where we left it or where we saw it last, however, it isn’t there now.
Jesus was doing the same. Seeking out the lost and providing a beacon for them to return by.
Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. He realises he is missing something and this teacher/prophet passing through the city might just be it.
He started looking and Jesus notice as he passed by.
Just like Nathaniel when Jesus calls the disciples, he calls the little man by his name and invites himself – and his disciples – to stay for the night.
Sometimes the thing(s) we misplace, or lose, are more important than an object.
Sometimes the things we have lost is happiness, courage, love, hope, strength.
When Zacchaeus encounters Jesus he has the hope restored in himself that he can become a changed person and live a different life – in this case an honest life.
He makes his declaration of his intention to change and – importantly – how he will change to Jesus.
Jesus’ response is to give him the affirmation he needs to make this change and declares it to those around them.
Jesus acknowledges Zacchaeus’ faith.
When we have ‘lost’ something and we are struggling to ‘find’ it, follow Zacchaeus’ example.
Respond to Jesus’ call to stay with you.
Make your declaration to Jesus on how you intend to change – you don’t necessarily need to give away half of your possessions!
Then hear Jesus remind you that you are a child of Abraham – by faith we are Abraham’s heirs!
Then use that faith for Jesus is waiting to stay with you.
‘and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. ‘ – NIVUK
Have you ever felt like you were in the wilderness?
Have you ever felt tempted or tested?
Jesus has just been baptised by his cousin, John in the River Jordan.
This was a significant event in the life of a Jew, as well as symbolising that Jesus was adhering to John’s cry in the wilderness, to repent for the Kingdom of God was close at hand.
Jesus is then guided by the Spirit of God to go into the wilderness – the wild and remote places – around where he lived.
This was a kind of ‘Bear Grylls’ style spiritual retreat. It is a space where he prays and meditates on God’s Word and will for his life.
This type of behaviour was common amongst many of the prophets, even if sometimes it was because they were being pursued by people trying to kill them because of what they had proclaimed.
As early as the 3rd Century, the Desert Fathers retreated into caves in mountains to better ‘hear’ the voice of God.
There are many tales of Saints and hermits doing similar over the life of the church.
We are told in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus fasted during this time. He ate little and drank sparingly.
Also during this time Jesus was tempted or tested by Satan. We know the three main tests from Matthew 4: the need for sustenance – does God really look out for you? – and the final, I will give you a much better life if you worship me instead of God.
Wild animals came close to him. In Jewish culture, anyone who wasn’t Jewish was classified as a gentile. A foreigner. Unclean and removed from God by religious standards. But as Jesus would show, God welcomes everyone who come close through his son.
Angels ministered to him. Guardian angels, or angels in disguise. The Old and New Testaments have many details about these heavenly creatures sent by God.
Some people make a point of going on retreats to spend alone and quiet time in prayer and meditation.
Some people under take pilgrimages as a period of reflection and coming closer to God.
The Romantic Poets of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries strode the hills and mountain tops, in an effort to experience the God’s purer created world and his creative spirit.
Any quiet and reflective time with God is a time of temptation and testing, whether you are in the wilderness or not.
Try it now.
Spend five minutes being quiet and praying, or reading a passage from the Bible.
Count how many non-focused thoughts you have, how many interruptions you get, how many times you are distracted by your phone, etc.
I often think of the wilderness in this verse as being not a rugged and hard mountainous terrain, but as our normal daily lives.
There are many stony pathways as we go about our daily lives. There are many times when the route we are on is difficult and we doubt our ability to finish the path. There are many times when we meet wild animals and wish we could meet angels.
Our image of wild animals can lead us to think of them being dangerous. This isn’t the case in this verse.
We probably all come to meet wild people during our lives, but how many are actually less encountered or unfamiliar. Like the animals with Jesus these too still may come close to Jesus.
There are many stories in the Old Testament where angels were sent to minister to people and they were not recognised as their true being, or until it was revealed to them.
Think about people you’ve met recently, who were strangers to you. Did any of them say things which particularly resonated with you? Did any of them offer a helping hand?
Remember that in the wilderness Jesus was not without company or help, despite the difficulties he had physically and spiritually.
So it is with us in our daily lives.