By J.R. Miller
The first Christians
The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." Acts 11:26
The lives of the converts were so different from their unbelieving neighbors, that they were called Christians. It is supposed that the name was given them in mockery or contempt by the heathen people of Antioch. But the name stuck, and is now used universally to describe those who follow Christ. It may not be the very best of names.
Perhaps disciples is better--disciples means learners, followers. We should all be disciples of Christ and should ever be learning of Him, growing in grace and likeness of Him as we follow Him.
Perhaps believers is a better name. It carries in itself the thought that we are saved by believing on Christ. It is faith which works the victories in this world.
Perhaps followers would be better. To follow Christ is to receive Him as Master and to cling to Him in obedience and devotion wherever we may go.
But the word "Christian," given at Antioch as a sneer--is now used everywhere. It is full of meaning. Those who are Christians should be like Christ--"little Christs". They should represent Christ in the world. Those who see them--should see the image of Christ in them!
Matthew Henry says, "Hitherto the followers of Christ were called disciples, that is, learners, scholars; but from that time they were called Christians. The proper meaning of this name is, a follower of Christ; it denotes one who, from serious thought, embraces the religion of Christ, believes His promises, and makes it his chief care to shape his life by Christ's precepts and example. Hence it is plain that multitudes take the name of Christian--to whom it does not rightly belong! But the name without the reality--will only add to our guilt. While the bare profession will bestow neither profit nor delight, the possession of it will give both the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."
In the midst of all the wild scene--Stephen fell asleep!
When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him! But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look!" he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" When he had said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7:54-60
To Stephen, dying was only breathing out his soul into the hands of Jesus Christ! He knew it was not death--but life, which was before him. His body was being mangled and broken--but his spirit, his real self, could not be harmed. Beyond the strange mystery of death--Jesus waits to receive the departing spirit. Death is only a gateway through which the soul passes--and then life and glory burst upon the vision of the emancipated spirit!
Very beautiful is the picture of death which is given here: "He fell asleep." Sleep is death's new, sweet name! What a picture of peace the word suggests, right here in the heart and fury of the mob! In the midst of all the wild scene--Stephen fell asleep!
We think of a tired child creeping into the mother's bosom and falling asleep. Sleep is not a terrible experience; it is nothing to be dreaded. We sleep when we are weary--and we awake refreshed. Sleep is not the cessation of life. We expect to awake, after we have slept. As we part for the night, we do not say, "Farewell," but "Goodnight," for we expect to meet again in the morning.
This beautiful Scriptural designation of death tells us, therefore, of life beyond, of resurrection, of immortality. We shall awake from this sleep of death--and our life shall go on again. We shall awake refreshed, lying down weary--and rising strong; lying down sick, or old, or deformed, or worn-out--and rising well, young and radiant in heavenly beauty!
After you are dead
Did you ever sit down quietly and seriously consider where you will be, and what you will be--after you are dead?
It is appointed for people to die once--and and after that, to face judgment." Hebrews 9:27
Then the King will say to those on His right: Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!" Matthew 25:34
Then He will also say to those on the left: Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!" Matthew 25:41
Is that all we need to do?
Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" Luke 10:36
That was the Master's question. The lawyer could not help answering, "The one who showed mercy to him."
Then came the application, "Go--and DO likewise." Luke 10:37
It is not enough to hear good lessons, or look on good examples. When we have heard and seen--we must go out and DO the good things which are so beautiful, which our judgment commends.
It is not enough for the artist to have lovely visions in his mind--he must get his visions on the canvas, where they will be blessings to the world.
It is a precious privilege to look at noble lives and to read heavenly counsels. But we must reproduce in disposition, in act, in character, in our own lives--the excellent things we read.
Now we have read and understand the story of the Good Samaritan. Is that all we need to do? No! We must, "Go--and DO likewise!"
You say that you want to be like Christ
The art of photography is now so advanced, that a whole page of a newspaper can be taken in miniature so small--as to be carried on a little button, and yet every letter and point be perfect.
Just so, the whole life of Christ is photographed in this one little phrase, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28
He did not come to be served--if this had been His aim, He would never have left heaven's glory, where He lacked nothing, where angels praised Him and ministered unto Him. He came to serve. He went about doing good. He altogether forgot Himself. He served all He met, who would receive His service. At last He gave His life in serving--He gave it to save others, to redeem lost souls.
You say that you want to be like Christ. You ask Him to print His own image on your heart. Here then, is the image: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."
It is not a vague dream of human greatness which we are to think of, when we ask to be like our Master.
The old monks thought that they were becoming like Christ--when they went into the wilderness, away from men, to live in cold cells. But surely, such a dream of uselessness is not the thought which this picture suggests. "To serve--to give our life" that is the Christ-like thing! Instead of fleeing away from people--we are to live with others, to serve them, to live for them, to seek to bless them, to do them good, to give our lives for them--that is the meaning of the prayer for Christ-likeness.
We begin at the lowest grade
Learn from Me--for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11:29
All of Christian life is a school. "Learn from Me," said the Master. We are only beginners when we first become Christians, and enter Christ's school. We begin at the lowest grade. We do not have to wait until we know a great deal before we begin to attend school. School is not for finished scholars--but for the most ignorant. We may come to Christ when we know almost nothing. He is the teacher--and all believers are learners.
"Learn from Me--for I am gentle." Gentleness is a lesson which we are to learn. It will probably take us a good long while to learn this lesson--but we must learn it because it is in Christ's curriculum for all His students.
Contentment is another lesson which we must learn. When he was well along in life, Paul said, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." It was a long and difficult lesson for him to learn.
Patience is a lesson that has to be learned. An impatient person is not a complete Christian.
Thoughtfulness is a necessary lesson. There are a great many thoughtless Christians. They are always blundering in their interactions with others. They say the wrong word, they do the wrong thing. They are always hurting other people's feelings, giving pain to gentle hearts. Yet it is all from thoughtlessness. "I didn't mean to offend him. I didn't mean to be unkind. I just never thought!" There are few lessons in Christian life that more people need to learn, than this of thoughtfulness.
We have to learn to trust. Worry is a sin. It is probably as great a sin as dishonesty or profanity or bad temper. Yet a good many Christian people worry--and one of the most important lessons in Christ's school, is to learn not to worry.
Kindness is a lesson we must learn. It takes many years to learn the one little lesson of kindness.
Joy is a lesson to be learned.
Peace is another.
Humility is another necessary lesson.
Praise is a great lesson.
All of life is a school, and it is in learning these lessons--that Jesus says we shall find rest for your souls. Christ Himself is our teacher, and with Him we should never fail to learn, though it be only slowly. Then as we learn our lessons, our lives will grow continually more and more into quietness, peace and Christlikeness.
Their religion was all a pious farce!
Go to Bethel and sin! Go to Gilgal and sin yet more! Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings--boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do!" declares the Sovereign LORD. Amos 4:5-6
"Go to Bethel and sin!" cried the prophet. Bethel was their place of worship--but every time they came there, they sinned because their worship was sin. Instead of bowing before the true God and adoring Him, they bowed before idols and gave them the honor which belonged to God alone. The more devout they were, therefore, the more they dishonored the Lord. Their great zeal, as shown in their sacrifices and tithes and free-will offerings, only multiplied their sin and heaped up sorer judgment against them!
Their religion was all a pious farce, and the more there was of it--the more of an abomination it was unto God. God cannot be pleased with mere forms of worship and with ceremonials. The more we multiply these, the more do we grieve Him--if our heart is not in them.
We may say that we have no idols now in our churches; but are we sure of this? Do we truly worship God in our church services? When we sing the hymns--are our hearts fixed upon God? When we pray--are we really talking to God? When we confess sins--is the confession sincere? When we sit in God's house--are we truly in God's presence, breathing out our heart's love and worship to Him? If not, what or whom are we adoring, praising, worshiping? Empty religious forms--must have some idol at the heart of them!
The prophet told them very plainly what was in their hearts. "This is what you love to do!" You love this! You love to make a great display in your religion. This display of piety--is just to your taste. You like to cover up your sins--with forms of worship, appearing as saints before the world, though in secret cherishing and practicing all manner of wickedness!
This is God's own picture of these ancient 'worshipers'. We need to look honestly at it--to see if it is OUR picture. God looks at the heart! No external appearances are of any value--unless they are genuine expressions of what is in the heart! Pirate ships carry reputable flags--to cover their dishonorable character. Religious hypocrisy often puts at its masthead, the colors of devout saintliness. But God cannot be deceived.
The object in putting these verses in the Bible
Malachi 1: The LORD Almighty says to the priests: "You have despised My name!"
But you ask, "How have we ever despised Your name?"
"You have despised My name by offering defiled sacrifices on My altar!"
Then you ask, "How have we defiled the sacrifices?"
"When you bring blind animals for sacrifice--is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals--is that not wrong?" says the LORD Almighty.
The Jewish law required that every sacrifice offered unto God, must be without blemish. No lame, blind, or diseased animal would be accepted. It was an insult to God to bring to His altar anything that was maimed, blemished or worthless. Yet the people had been taking the best of everything for themselves, and then bringing the refuse--the blind and lame animals--as offerings to God!
Well, how is it with ourselves? The object in putting these verses in the Bible--was not to get us to condemn the people who lived twenty-three hundred years ago! It was to make us think whether WE are doing this base thing ourselves!
Do we give God the best of all we have--our best love, our best gifts, our best service? Or do we take the best of all for ourselves--and then give God the blind and the lame?
How many people in the church, when the collection plate is being passed, pick out the smallest bit of money--to put in the plate! We give our strength to our own work or leisure, and then have only our weariness to bring to God. We save our best things for ourselves, and then have only worthless things to offer our wondrous King! What kind of service are we giving to our glorious Lord?
The Lord's answer to the arrogant defense of the priests is startling: "Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered! I am not at all pleased with you--and I will not accept your offerings!"
What do WE bring to God--when we go through the forms of prayer, when we sing the sacred words of our hymn, when we make our offerings, when we sit down at the Lord's table? If there is only words, words, words in all our worship--no heart, no love, no real presenting of ourselves to God, no laying of our best on the altar--God has no pleasure in us and will not accept our offerings at our hand!
Now these things occurred as examples to keep US from setting our hearts on evil things as they did." 1 Corinthians 10:6
These poor swine!
A man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet Him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones!" Mark 5:2-5
In this demoniac, we have a sample of the work of Satan--when he gets full control in a man. He destroys every beautiful thing in the life, and leaves only ruin! No chains could bind this demoniac. When sin is on the throne, all other influences and constraints become like spiders' threads in comparison! No chain is strong enough to bind the man--who has yielded himself to the sway of the Evil One! The love of a godly mother is a strong bond--but many a child tears off this holy chain and rushes into wayward and evil paths! Home ties are strong--but these too are broken asunder, by the victim of Satan's ungodly rule.
We see that the demoniac cut and gashed himself with stones. This illustrates what in many ways, Satan's captives do. They may not literally go about cutting their flesh with knives or bruising their bodies with stones; but they do gash and bruise their souls! Sin always wounds the life--and one of its fearful consequences is the self-destruction it works. Every sin one commits leaves an ugly scar! We grieve God by our wrongdoing, and we harm others when we sin against them; but we always injure ourselves--by every evil word we speak, by every wrong act we commit, even by the evil thoughts we think in our hearts. The self-hurt of sin is one of its saddest consequences!
Demons find their pleasure in working mischief, and in ruining lives. Godly men count that day lost--in which they have done no act of kindness to another. Demons count the day lost--in which they have stained no pure soul or led no one into sin!
We ought to tear off Satan's mask and show him as he is! Evil comes to us pretending to be a friend. It holds flowers in its hands and whispers entrancing words, promising rich rewards: "Only do this--and it will bring you pleasure, honor, wealth and joy!" That is the way sin talks. But this is all false. Sin is never a friend to man. It never does good to anyone--but always harm. However plausibly Satan may present his temptations under the guise of pleasure--his secret aim is to destroy the soul he tempts. Nothing gives the Evil One so much pleasure--as to see a fair and beautiful life--stained and debauched!
It is most comforting to us, to find that Christ is able to dislodge even the most obdurate and persistent demon! No one could bind this demoniac, nor resist his superhuman strength. But at His word--the foul spirit was compelled to leave the man he had possessed for so long. No human hand can break the chains of sinful habits. No mere resolution can free one from Satan's bondage. Only Christ can set the devil's captives free! Those who have long been trying in vain to reform, to break away from evil practices--see in Christ, the Friend who alone can deliver them and save them. No demon-power can resist His command. Only Christ can free the poor slaves of Satan, and save them from his terrible sway!
The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the swine. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned!" Mark 5:13
In the swine, under demoniac possession, rushing down the steep cliff and perishing in the lake--we have another illustration of the end of all Satan's ruinous work. It is with men--as it was here with the swine. It never yet has been known that Satan impelled anyone upward to a better life or to anything noble and lofty; he always drives down sin's steep ways--into choking floods. God's ways leads upward--it is always uphill to Christ and to heaven. But the devil always drives downward. These poor swine, demon-possessed, rushed down the steep bank, into the lake--and perished. Just so do human souls, demon-possessed, rush down sin's precipitous course and perish!
It would be well to keep this dreadful picture in our mind when we are tempted in any way by the devil; for if we follow him--this is the way it will surely end with us!
This is not an easy lesson to learn!
Christ did not so much give rules for special cases--as principles to govern all conduct.
I tell you who hear Me: Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you." Luke 6:27
Loving enemies is not a natural affection.
This is not an easy lesson to learn!
It is never easy to be a Christian.
The easy way does not lead toward heaven!
The lesson of love continues, "Bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you." Luke 6:28
These counsels are intensely practical. In answer to men's cursings, revilings and insults--we are to return words of peace, kindness and love. Those who mistreat us--we are to pray for, instead of uttering threats against them, or imprecations upon them.
We remember how Jesus Himself lived out this law of love. There were many who cursed Him and reviled Him--but He never lost the sweetness of love out of His heart. He never on any occasion returned a word of cursing or anger or even of impatience--in response to the bitterest revilings of His enemies. "When He was reviled--He did not revile in return; when suffering--He did not threaten, but committed Himself to the One who judges justly." 1 Peter 2:23
That is the example for us. We are to be silent when others speak evil of us or to us; or, if we speak, it is to be the soft answer that turns away wrath. We need not worry ourselves about the deserts of those who treat us unjustly, feeling that we should see to their punishment. We are to leave that to God--who judges righteously and who will take care also that no real harm shall come to us, from the wrongs which others inflict on us, provided we keep ourselves in His love and in an obedient spirit.
The lesson has its ideal exemplification in our Lord's prayer on His cross for His murderers. His only answer to the driving of the nails through His hands and feet was, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!" That is the way He wants us to answer the cruelties and injuries which others may inflict upon us!
We must be ready to endure not one--but many injuries from the others. We must be unresisting, like our Lord. No wrongs from others--should ever turn our love to hate. Christ's own life was an illustration of this. He was treated wrongfully at every step--but His heart never lost its sweetness, its gentleness, its patience, its desire to bless others and do them good.
Our words and deeds are irrevocable
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken!" Matthew 12:36
We cannot recall any word we have spoken. It may be a false word or an unkind word--a word which will blast and burn! Instantly after it has been spoken--we may wish it back and may rush after it and try to stop it--but there is no power in the world that can unsay the hurtful word--or blot it out of our life!
It is just so with our acts. A moment after we have done a wicked thing, we may bitterly repent it. We may be willing to give all we have in the world to undo it, to make it as though it never had been. But in vain. A deed done takes its place in the universe as a fact--and never can be recalled.
We should be sure before we speak a word or do an act--that it is right, that we shall never desire to have it recalled--for when once we have opened our lips, or lifted our hand--there will be no unsaying or undoing possible.
Our words and deeds are irrevocable. We cannot recall anything we have done, neither can we change it. But by other words and deeds, we may in some measure modify the effect of that which we cannot blot out. Paul could not undo his persecutions of Christians--but by a life to devotion to Christ's cause--he could in a sense make reparation for the terrible harm he had done.
Just so, we cannot undo the wrong things we have done--but we should strive to set in motion other influences which may at least compensate in some sense for the harm they have wrought. We cannot unsay the sharp word which wounds our friend's heart--but we can by kindness and loyal devotion--yet bring good and blessing to his life.