Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church
Message: The Kingdom For Keeps Series – 01 – Blessed Hunger; Date: 13 February 2011
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Jesus began to preach: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17) and then – one day – as he was walking beside a lake in Galilee – he saw the two brothers Andrew and Peter. The Bible records – Matthew 4:18-20: “ … They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.”
I don’t know whether – on the day – Andrew and Peter fully understood what was offered to them. “Fishers of men” are people who do the same as Jesus. They preach like he did: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Later in Jerusalem – at a single meeting – three thousand people would respond to Peter’s preaching and submit their lives to God. Before the very eyes of these two brothers – an entire city was beginning to be changed. Later in Jerusalem – all of Jesus’ disciples would rejoice because Jesus had kept his promise and had made them into “fishers of men”.
Yet – on the day when Jesus first met them – as they were casting a net into the lake – they probably did not have much of an idea what Jesus wanted from them but – (please, take note of this) – they had the one quality which Jesus prized like no other. They were hungry people. They were desperate for more. They had caught a glimpse of God in Jesus which was enough for them – immediately – to leave their nets and follow him (also Matthew 4:22). They had such a heart for more of God that – in an instant – when the chance came – they left everything behind: family, a secure income and sleeping in their own beds at home. They followed Jesus with nothing in their pockets and no backup plan.
However, it was worth it. Jesus modeled success to them. “Fishers of men” do fantastic work and may enjoy a fantastic reception. I read to you the Bible report which follows Jesus’ calling of the first disciples – Matthew 4:23-25: “[As Andrew and Peter were following him,] Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”
This was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams: Large crowds everywhere, fame even in Syria, good news preaching and – then – this stupendous healing power which conquered every disease and every sickness among people. People were simply streaming towards Jesus and he was commanding the crowds like some of his most powerful followers today: Billy Graham, Carlos Annacondia and Reinhard Bonnke.
Wouldn’t you say that if we witnessed some of that power among us and enjoyed the same response from large crowds here in our city and nation, we would be feeling absolutely overjoyed. We would be on a high and so pleased. I am quite certain that Peter and Andrew and the other disciples of Jesus were dancing and being swept away by the excitement.
Yet – then – Jesus did something strange. He took them aside, led them up on a mountainside, sat down and began to teach them. He said – Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” However, what was Jesus saying to them? This didn’t seem to make much sense. Peter and Andrew and the other disciples may have been “poor in spirit” before – when they were back home – when they had such an intense hunger and desperation for more of God that they risked everything and followed Jesus. But that was back home. Surely now, the desperation was gone! With large crowds and growing healing fame – how could anyone remain “poor in spirit” now? Surely, this preaching success was the kingdom of heaven breaking into our world with power. Rejoice everyone.
Only – Jesus knew what he was saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Even today many are making the mistake of assuming that the preaching in front of large crowds and healing crusades will usher in the kingdom of God in the sense that the kingdom of God will be established in a certain city or nation. Yet, this is wrong. You can have fantastic rallyes – thousands in attendance (and more watching on teli), passion in the preaching, the blind seeing and the deaf hearing, glory dust falling on everyone, power confrontations with demons – and still there is no guarantee that anything will change.
Why? There is an answer but – first – let there be no misunderstanding. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the method because Jesus’ method must be our method. He demonstrated how to be a good “fisher of men”. Like him – we preach the kingdom and – then – heal the sick and – yes – large crowds will be drawn by the demonstrations of God’s kingdom power – (and we do rejoice in our work) – but this is only the beginning and does not yet guarantee lasting change and lasting enjoyment of God’s kingdom.
Why? Because after people experience the kingdom of God in healing crusades (where everyone receives the love of God in healing – irrespective of whether they are believers or unbelievers), they must take the next step and submit to God’s reign. They must be willing to belong to his kingdom and obey him. Jesus’ final charge to the “fishers of men” in training was this – Matthew 28:18-20: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”
The goal is not large crowds (that are dazzled by power displays of God’s kingdom) but disciples. The goal is to teach people so that they – together with us – obey everything Jesus commanded us. This is not what we may want to hear (because obedience seems less exciting than driving out demons) but if we want to be “fishers of men”, we better become desperate for the reality of the kingdom in our normal everyday lives. Jesus said – Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And then he spelled out where and how this applies – Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … ” Matthew 5:19-20: “ … whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:28: “ … anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:42: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:43-44: “You may have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:19: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … ” Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 7:1: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
People who continue to be desperate and keep crying out for this kind of kingdom reality in their own lives – righteousness, not looking at another lustfully, giving to the needy, loving even one’s enemies and praying for them, not judging – they will be “fishers of men” that introduce people to the kingdom and then keep them in the kingdom through submission to God’s reign.
Right now – many a time – this is not what we are doing. More than half a century ago (1937) the Lutheran pastor and teacher Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote some stinging words about Lutherans:
“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church … Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares … Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing …
Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins … no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin …
Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace … Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate …
We Lutherans [he could have added other Christians] have gathered like eagles round the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ ... Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical Church ... Instead of opening up the way to Christ it has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience ... The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works ... ” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Cost Of Discipleship, London: SCM Press 1948, p35-47).
Another writer – and this is from 1998 – shares in Bonhoeffer’s lament and puts forward his analysis of the modern Christian faith in the West:
Dallas Willard: The Divine Conspiracy, London: HarperCollins 1998, p43-46: “How does the grand invitation to life sound today? The bumper sticker gently imposes its little message: Christians Aren’t Perfect, Just Forgiven. A popular song of some years ago said that the words of the prophet are written on the subway walls. Where there are no subways, bumpers will do.
Just forgiven? And is that really all there is to being a Christian? The gift of eternal life comes down to that? Quite a retreat from living an eternal kind of life now!
Christians certainly aren’t perfect. There will always be need for improvement. But there is a lot of room between being perfect and being ‘just forgiven’ as that is nowadays understood. You could be much more than forgiven and still not be perfect. Perhaps you could even be a person in whom Jesus’ eternal kind of life predominates and still have room for growth.
Now this bit of bumper-sticker theology has migrated to Christian trinkets. There is a little bookmark adorned with flowers, bows, green sprigs and fourteen tiny pink hearts, with a tassel at the top. In the centre is a wide-eyed teddy bear that looks as if it might have inadvertently just done something naughty. The message below is – as you will now expect – ‘Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven’.
Well, it certainly needs to be said that Christians are forgiven. And it needs to be said that forgiveness does not depend on being perfect. But is that really what the slogan communicates?
Unfortunately, it is not. What a slogan really conveys is that forgiveness alone is what Christianity is all about, what is genuinely essential to it.
It says that you can have faith in Christ that brings forgiveness, while in every other respect of your life is no different from that of others who have no faith in Christ at all. This view so pleasingly presented on bumpers and trinkets has deep historical roots. It is by now worked out in many sober tomes of theology, lived out by multitudes of those who sincerely self-identify as Christians …
On a recent radio programme a prominent minister spent fifteen minutes enforcing the point that ‘justification’, the forgiveness of sins, involves no change at all in the heart or personality of the one forgiven. It is, he insisted, something entirely external to you, located wholly in God himself.
His intent was to emphasize the familiar Protestant point that salvation is by God’s grace only and is totally independent of what we may do. But what he in fact said was that being a Christian has nothing to do with the kind of person you are. The implications of this teaching are stunning …
Can we really believe that God would establish a plan for us that essentially bypasses the awesome needs of present human life and leaves human character untouched? Would he leave us even temporarily marooned with no help in our kind of world, with our kinds of problems: psychological, emotional, social and global? Can we believe that the essence of Christian faith and salvation covers nothing but death and after? Can we believe that being saved really has nothing whatever to do with the kinds of persons we are? … ”
I think that this writer and Bonhoeffer confront us with reality and it is not easy to listen to them but – and this is healthy for us today – they saw something else clearly. Jesus purposed to make us “fishers of men” – (remember how we heard about Jesus calling Andrew and Peter) – but if we reduce the Christian life to the “forgiveness of sins” – that is: entering into the kingdom of God through grace – and pay no attention to the life of a forgiven person – one that now lives in the kingdom of God with kingdom authority – (and we have done that in many places) – then we have nothing that could change a culture. In the same vein – (and I am not coming back to the beginning of this message) – if the first disciples of Jesus – Andrew and Peter – if they had just rejoiced over mass crusades and healing power and not taken in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, then they could have changed no one and there would have never been Christian cities and nations in our history. What we need today – in Toowoomba and the nation – is the kingdom power that is contained in the Sermon on the Mount.
Dallas Willard: The Divine Conspiracy, London: HarperCollins 1998, p49: “A leading American pastor laments: ‘Why is today’s church so weak? Why are we able to claim many conversions and enrol many church members but have less and less impact on our culture? Why are Christians indistinguishable from the world?’
Should we not at least consider the possibility that this poor result is not in spite of what we teach and how we teach, but precisely because of it? Might that not lead to our discerning why the power of Jesus and his gospel has been cut off from ordinary human existence, leaving it adrift from the flow of his eternal kind of life?”
Dallas Willard: The Divine Conspiracy, London: HarperCollins 1998, p64: “Quite possibly. The current gospels … exhibit … practical irrelevance to, the personal integrity of believers … To reiterate, the irrelevance to life stems from the very content of these ‘gospels’ … real life goes on without them …
When Germany was under the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer became desperate for a kind of Christian faith that mattered again. He no longer wanted just forgiveness but also a vision for nation-building in accordance with the kingdom of God. When he rediscovered the Sermon on the Mount, he found a teaching from Jesus – in his mind the only document – that was able to challenge the values and practices of the Nazi regime. Here was the necessary power to overcome an evil government. I give you a few quotes:
Eberhard Bethge: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A Biography, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, p205: “[Beginning of 1936:] … I plunged into work in a very unchristian way. An … ambition that many noticed in me made my life difficult … Then something happened, something that has changed and transformed my life to the present day. For the first time I discovered the Bible … I had often preached, I had seen a great deal of the church, spoken and preached about it – but I had not yet become a Christian …
I know that at that time I turned the doctrine of Jesus Christ into something of personal advantage for myself … I pray to God that will never happen again. Also I had never prayed, or prayed only very little. For all my loneliness, I was quite pleased with myself. Then the Bible, and in particular the Sermon on the Mount, freed me from that. Since then everything has changed. I have felt this plainly, and so have other people about me. It was a great liberation. It became clear to me that the life of a servant of Jesus Christ must belong to the church, and step by step it became clearer to me how far that must go.
Then came the crisis of 1933 …
[January 1935:] … I believe I know that inwardly I shall be clear and honest with myself only if I truly begin to take seriously the Sermon on the Mount. That is the only source of power capable of blowing up the whole phantasmagoria [i.e., the Nazi illusion] once and for all … ”
Eberhard Bethge: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A Biography, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, p462: “I think I am right in saying I would only achieve true inner clarity and sincerity by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. This is the only source of strength that can blow all this stuff and nonsense sky-high, in a fireworks display that will leave nothing behind but one or two charred remains. The restoration of the church will surely come from a new kind of monasticism, which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally people together.”
I don’t know whether I have been clear enough in my presentation because the predicament of the modern church and the situation of the first disciples are not quite the same. The modern church is tempted to avoid the Sermon on the Mount because it is hooked on forgiveness that makes no demands and the first disciples – (and there are some like them today) – were in danger of avoiding the Sermon on the Mount because they seemed to have enough kingdom thrills in mass crusades and healing power. Both times – the modern church and the first disciples were in danger of missing the heart of everything: Unless your life changes, nothing changes. Unless the reign of God becomes real in your life, you cannot actually say that you belong to God. Furthermore, unless the reign of God manifests in your life as obedience to him, there is no power in transforming anyone else.
Preaching with signs and wonders is wonderful but unless there is someone that can disciple the new Christian – unless there is someone that can teach the practical lessons of living in a relationship with God – no lasting salvation is possible. Therefore, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5:13-16: “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world … let your light shine before people, that they may see your good deeds [of love] and praise your Father in heaven.”
“Fishers of men” must be people of good deeds who reflect the love of God to others and demonstrate the loving reign of our Father in heaven. They lead others into this kind of kingdom life.
We learn this from Jesus himself. He did command large crowds and was a popular preacher. He healed everyone that asked for healing, drove out demons, multiplied food and even raised the dead but this was not enough. Yes – people enjoyed the healings and miracles but – often – they neither thanked him nor turned to God. (And this is not much different today.) Even his own disciples ended up betraying him – denying him – or simply running away when he needed them the most. What proved to be most significant was the character of Jesus who lived out the Sermon on the Mount before anyone else. He was righteous, loved his enemies and prayed for those that persecuted him. No maltreatment diminished his good deeds and this is what changed the world.
People respond to love more than anything else and Jesus gave his life on a cross for love. He loved us so much that he gave everything away – his possessions and comfort while he preached with power and in the end his very life. The Bible says – Romans 5:8: “ . God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And his love – then – comes to reside in all “fishers of men” – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
What we do in love counts the most in the kingdom of God. We preach the kingdom with power and heal people in Jesus’ name and we do this because we love God and our neighbor but – then – we back this up further by living out the Sermon on the Mount in our everyday life. We can be sure: The world will taste the salt of the earth. The world will see the light of the world in our good deeds which will make them praise our Father in heaven.
I want to give you one practical example where the preaching and healing alone would not have brought a person into the kingdom of God. It also needed a person that was living out the Sermon on the Mount and loved without counting the cost.
[Abbreviate and retell in your own words.] Reinhard Bonnke: Living A Life Of Fire, Orlando: E-R Productions LLC, 2009, p591-610: “ David Attah had been raised in a Muslim home in Nigeria … He loved the Christian language of new birth, starting over, and second chances … The crusade sermon presented a God of love who had died for the sins of the world … David raised his hand and repeated the sinner’s prayer …
Soon afterward, tragedy struck. As he walked to school, a woman sped through an intersection near campus, striking David down. Police arrived. The woman was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. An ambulance took him away. David knew nothing. He remained unconscious for days with severe head injuries, broken bones and internal bleeding.
… David knew he would not recover in time to finish school with his friends … A nurse checked his vital signs. He decided to ask her the extent of his injuries, but as he attempted to form the words, no movement or sound came from his mouth. This alarmed him … He thought the bandage on his head might be too tight across his jaw, restricting his speech … He struggled to speak to the nurse again. Forget speech – he tried to make a sound, a groan, a moan – nothing happened … Fear swept through his mind like a wildfire.
… In the months ahead, the hard work of therapy began … He … was able to write. But David had totally lost the ability to make his mouth utter – even whisper – a single word. The doctor consulted the medical journals. He returned to tell David that this was a well-documented disorder resulting from a head injury. It was called aphasia …
… the hospital bills … mounted beyond all reason. Nothing was given freely … He was sinking deeply into debt … It seems his old friends had stolen everything … This hit him hard … He began to plunge into fits of depression … David stayed in the hospital. Weeks turned into months. One day a national television crew came and filmed a story about him … It was broadcast nationwide, and David’s name and face was seen across Nigeria …
… the neurosurgeon … suggested a surgery could be done … But the political situation in Nigeria went through a sudden upheaval. The doctor … fled the country … All plans for David’s surgery were abandoned.
Enough was enough. David decided to end the pain. He took advantage of his free access to the pharmacy, stealing a supply of poison. He prepared a lethal dose for himself … He sat down and wrote a letter. He thanked the hospital staff for all of their efforts. He made it clear that his death was by his own hand. In the letter he described the reasons that he would kill himself. ‘Life is not worth living,’ he wrote. ‘I will always be alone. Nothing matters.’
He placed the letter inside his Bible and laid it on the nightstand. Then he lay down. His plan was to wait until the ward was asleep, and then he would take the poison. No one would find him until it was too late.
… A beautiful girl with large, kind eyes, walked into the room. At first David thought he was dreaming. She was not a member of the nursing staff … ‘Can I talk with you?’ she asked. Her voice was soft and warm. She spoke with a steady tone … He wondered, Is this an angel? He stared at her. ‘I know you can’t speak,’ she said. ‘But they tell me that you write very well.’ He sat up and nodded. He took a notepad and wrote, ‘Who are you?’
She came and bent down to read the note. He could detect the delicate floral scent of her perfume. It filled his head with the idea that if he had no reason to live for himself, he might go on living for someone else. Especially someone as lovely as this creature.
‘My name is Rita. I am training to be a nurse,’ she said. ‘So, they sent you to practice on me?’ he wrote. ‘No, I am curious about you. I saw you on television and I wanted to come see you. I have talked to the staff here. They tell me you’re depressed.’ She reached out and picked up David’s Bible. ‘Are you a Christian?’
He nodded. ‘I knew it!’ she exclaimed. ‘So am I.’ … She opened his Bible and saw the note he had just written. ‘May I read this?’ David froze inside. He wasn’t sure why he wanted to give her permission to read his suicide note, but in some part of himself, he did. He nodded, and then watched as her expression changed to one of alarm.
She looked at him, her brows darkly knit. ‘You must never, never do this!’ she said. ‘I want you to promise me that you will not do this terrible thing.’ David looked away. He could not promise her. He could not promise himself. He shook his head.
She became offended, and spoke sharply, ‘Do you really believe in God, David?’ He nodded. ‘Did God give you life?’ … He nodded. ‘Then He will not forgive you if you take this precious gift by your own hand.’ She was pacing back and forth, piercing him with her gaze. ‘It is not your life to take, David. It is His. You will go to hell if you murder yourself. And I do not want you to go to hell.’
David wondered if hell was as lonely as his lie. He took his pad and wrote, ‘My family is gone. My friends have betrayed me. I have lost everything I own. My education has become worthless. I cannot pay my debts. I am alone, and not even God cares.’
As Rita red this, she heard a voice speaking in her spirit: If you want him to make this promise, you must make a promise to be his friend. God was calling her to go beyond anything she had intended when she walked into the room.
Rita spoke slowly, deliberately, ‘God cares very much about you, David. He sent me to you today. If you will promise me that you will never take your life, I will promise you something in return.’
… He had absolutely nothing to lose. Could it be that God had sent this girl to break him out of his silent prison? He reached out beyond himself and decided to make her this promise. Taking his pad, he wrote, ‘I promise you, Rita, not to take my own life.’ ‘Sign your name,’ she said. He signed his name. ‘Date it,’ she demanded. He added the date …
The next day Rita came to his hospital room with a prepared meal. She came the next day and the next. She ran errands for him. She did his laundry. They began long hours of conversation, she talking, he writing his answers …
His debts mounted higher. He decided to sue the woman who had hit him with the car … David’s emotional state went up and down with the legal fight.
Meanwhile, Rita was accepted to nursing school in Enugu, hundreds of miles away. She promised that she would not neglect him … While studying in Enugu, Rita continued her conversation with him in letters, writing every day as the months of her schooling progressed.
In time, she graduated. Her family was happy and excited for her. The wanted her to seek work in … more attractive locations … But she refused … ‘I made a promise to God to be David’s friend,’ she said. ‘I intend to keep it.’
Her family members were not happy about this. They began to despise David … A fine Christian man began to call on Rita at her home … She told the man that there was no possibility of her marrying as long as she remained true to her promise to take care of David.
David learned about this and he was overcome with emotion. He had nothing to offer her, but one day he wrote, ‘Rita, will you marry me?’ She hesitated. ‘God will make it clear if we are to marry … my parents would not approve … I think when you talk again, this will change everything … ’
David’s heart fell … His trust in God had been fragile at best. Now it was broken …
These were the longest years of his ordeal. His life became limited and defined by his disorder … As a final indignity, the government issued him a license to beg for a living …
Meanwhile, Rita continued as always, checking on his condition, bringing occasional meals, running errands. She continued to encourage him in his spiritual life. She prayed with him often and took him to churches and crusades in Makurdi. She took him to Christian counselors. But he continued to struggle in his faith and his emotions. Up and down, up and down.
Eight long years passed. By now everyone who knew David, knew that his aphasia was a real disorder …
… When Rita heard about the meeting [February 2003; Christ For All Nations crusade] she called David and urged him to go. She told him that in her Christian life, she had never seen a miracle, but she had heard that many miracles happened in our crusades. Our publicity posters promised that I would pray for the sick, as I always do. She did not go to the meeting with David. For some reason she felt that this was something he must do on his own. Secretly, she was close to despair over his lack of improvement.
David also felt desperate. He was coming to the end of his ability to keep his promise to Rita and he knew it. Thoughts of suicide were plaguing him again … For one last time he would seek healing from God … He would fast and pray, asking God to heal him at the Bonnke crusade. Failing that, he would find a way to release Rita from her promise. He would do that by breaking his own.
On our opening night in Makurdi, 180,000 people crowded the field. Thousands of sick people came close around the platform. David stood at the perimeter and counted his chances of being prayed for by Reinhard Bonnke at zero. He felt lost in the crowd. At the end of the sermon, as I made a general prayer for the sick, he turned and walked away …
[“Nose bleed lesson”] [The next night] after the salvation prayer, I addressed the sick people in the crowd as I usually do. I asked them to place their hands on the part of their body that needed healing. Then I began to pray.
As Jason describes it, he saw David place his hands on the back of his head and immediately fell to the ground as if someone had cut him down.
David experienced what Jason saw, but in a much different way. His testimony is that he laid his hand on his head and felt the warmth of a strong light shining on him from above. He thought it was a crusade field light. Something told him to look at it. When he looked up, the light shot down around him. It was so powerful it drew him inside. He looked out of the shaft of light at his cousin, John. John obviously did not see the light because he was looking at the stage as normal. David tried to reach out and grab him by the sleeve to get him to look at the light, but he could not reach beyond the light … He felt strangely cut off from reality.
… He was alone with God, and he felt thrilled with his love. A hand came down through the shaft of light and touched the back of his head. It removed something. He immediately felt relieved of a great burden.
The light began to fade, and he found himself on the ground in the crusade meeting. How did he get there? He felt confused and wondered if he had really experienced this light …
At this point Jason Betler reports that he saw David reach to the back of his head again and fall to the ground again. This was the very same reaction as before.
Once again, David experienced what Jason saw, but in a much different way. He said that suddenly the light came back. This time it was even more powerful. He looked again at his cousin John but once again, John did not see the light. The hand returned, touching the back of his head. Once again it removed something, and David felt lighter. This time, however, he felt another sensation as well; he knew that he had received something from God. The light disappeared, and he found himself on the ground.
John helped him to his feet. He seemed baffled and just a bit angry. The crowd was surging all around them. People were praying intently with their hands raised. ‘Who pushed you down, David?’ he asked. ‘Who did this to you?’ David looked at John, and for the first time in eight years, a word in his head found the power to make his mouth respond. ‘Jesus,’ he rasped.
John’s jaw dropped. He stared. ‘Did you say something?’ ‘Jesus,’ David repeated. He felt like he was glowing. It never entered his heart to say any other word than the precious name of the Son of God. ‘Jesus.’
John gasped. ‘David, I heard you.’ ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,’ David repeated … John grabbed him in a bear hug. ‘God has healed my cousin!’ he screamed …
In December we returned … David came again, and this time, no one could stop him from talking. His face bore a new light. He introduced us to a beautiful young woman named Rita, his fiancé, he said … ”
What changed David’s life? Jesus – of course. But more specifically: It was not just the mass crusade of Reinhard Bonnke and the healing prayer. David’s life changed because a young woman – Rita – lived out the kingdom of God according to the Sermon on the Mount and loved this depressed – dumb – young man. She sacrificed living in another city, marriage and much time in order to be a friend to David and love him with unconditional love – God’s kind of love that makes suicide unnecessary and draws people into his kingdom.
How do you feel about this now? The Sermon on the Mount has power to establish the kingdom of God in people, cities and nation. “Fishers of men” preach the kingdom with healing power but then also keep the kingdom by having everyone submit to God’s reign in practical everyday living. Can we do this? No – at least not by our own strength. Therefore, I close with Jesus’ opening words in the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Blessed are you when you become desperate and hungry for the Sermon on the Mount – blessed are you when you become hungry for righteousness and loving even your enemies – blessed are you because the hungry and desperate are not too proud to come to Jesus and beg what they need from him and – then – this is his promise – he will give you what you need – that is: the kingdom of heaven – the power of his reign in your everyday actions as “fishers of men”. Blessed are you when you remain hungry for this. Amen.