He is just a boy, a lad, a child. Yet he holds in his hands the making of a miracle. Looking shyly into the face of the rabbi, he intuitively understands this is not a Man who will forcefully take anything from him. He’s not so sure about the Man’s friends though. But he feels safe in the presence of this strange teacher the whole world has seemingly come to see. And so he surrenders his little cargo of loaves and fishes. Five thousand plus were fed from one tiny meal that day. (Jn. 6:1-14)
We know little about this boy but the original language denotes a young child rather than an adolescent. What were the circumstances that brought him to the mountain that day? Was the food for his own consumption or had he been sent by his mother with food for older siblings, or perhaps his father? Was he a servant delivering a meal for a senior household member? Or was he perhaps hoping to sell his small bounty to some hungry traveller?
Whatever his situation, who apart from God could have foreseen the outcome of his decision that day to surrender his insignificant food supply to Messiah, trusting Him to bring only good from his small offering? It was a risk but it was his decision, and he took it. He yielded his treasure to the Man. And something quite unexpectedly beautiful followed.
A woman, trembling, kneels before Jesus. She is being healed of a cruel, longstanding ailment that has stolen her life. We know little about her background but we do know this: she is desperate. Deeply. Achingly. Desperate.
Her desperation has driven her into the crowd – a dangerous place to venture. Her desperation has compelled her to reach out and touch the hem of the Teacher’s clothing. She approaches Him from behind, sure no-one will notice, including Him. But He does notice. “Who touched Me?”, as His eyes search the crowd. It seems a ridiculous question given He is surrounded by hundreds, pushing, shoving, grabbing. But He knows deep has called to deep and now He is asking for her. How much easier to cover her face, slip back into the crowd and become hidden once again in the backstreets of the city than to risk exposing her shame! (Mark 5:25-34)
And what does this woman risk if she is exposed? She risks death by stoning. She had broken the nation’s Laws and one word from the Teacher would turn this excited crowd upon her in fury (Lev. 15:25). Her illness had meant isolation, humiliation and heartache as the taboo on touching her extended to all aspects of society from closest family, to neighbours, to strangers. And she had endured her shunning for twelve long, lonely years.
Yet she makes her way, trembling and fearful, to the Teacher. “It was I”, as she tearfully blurts out, publicly, her story. His next words will mean either life or death for her. But a miracle of healing, extended with unbounded grace and compassion, is extended. That day Life triumphed over death. That day on a noisy, crowded Jerusalem street Love manifested and her misery was banished. That day she was healed and restored to her family and her community. Fighting back the shame and fear, she yielded both life and death into His hands. And something extraordinarily beautiful happened.
A man, his face bloodied and swollen, limbs twisted and broken, falls to his knees praying for forgiveness for those in the process of murdering him. We know next to nothing about how the first church martyr, Stephen, became a disciple of Jesus. Perhaps he had watched silently in the crowd as people were healed; perhaps he had heard from a passing stranger about a man who fed 5000 with five loaves and two small fish; or perhaps he had come upon one of the apostles preaching the Christ in the temple.
Whatever the case the scriptures tell us Stephen was one of seven, full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit, chosen as servants to the young church’s widows. How then had he come to find himself in the midst of a seething crowd of violently angry men furiously hurling sharp, lethal stones down upon his flesh?
The signs and wonders wrought by his hand drew Stephen to the attention of those who opposed this new upstart religion. So powerful was his ministry several of the Jewish priests had become believers in Christ. As a result, and under false accusation, Stephen was brought to trial before the Jewish authorities for blasphemy. He was fully aware of the possible consequences. Surely the most prudent thing to do would be to try reasoning with them, deny the charges, and challenge the false witnesses whose testimony was needed to convict him? After all a powerful ministry lay before him. Surely he could do more for the young church alive than dead?
That’s not, however, what Stephen did. Stephen yielded his fate entirely to the Holy Spirit. He opened his mouth and recounted to his nation’s religious leaders their own history, showing them how their revered ancestors had always rejected those sent by God – from Moses, to Joseph, to the prophets, to Jesus the Christ. Enraged and inflamed they drove him to the city’s edge and executed him. Yielding had cost Stephen his earthly life. (Acts 6, 7).
Standing by that day, minding the clothes of the executors and approving their murderous actions, was Saul, later to become Paul (Acts 8:1; 22:30). We may wonder why outer garments were removed? Well, stoning someone is a messy business and blood on your clothing is not a good look for a Pharisee. We may also wonder if, in his transformed life from Saul to Paul, this man often thought of the day he watched Stephen die for the name of Jesus Christ.
Paul knew well the cost of following Christ, for he had seen it with his own eyes, more than once. Yet such was the power of his conversion he wrote to the church in Corinth “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). Something beautiful, the sacrificial life of the apostle Paul whose letters still edify and encourage us today, was wrought from something unspeakably ugly.
It was the twentieth century martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, murdered at the hands of the Nazis, who famously wrote: “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.” Following Christ is a risky business. It will cost you in ways you do not expect. Everything is placed on the altar when you follow Christ, no exceptions. Close relationships, career, dreams and aspirations, family plans, lifestyle, political and religious allegiances, culture, ministry – all these and more may be candidates for total surrender to Christ.
If we are honest with ourselves, the thing we find most difficult to yield to the Lord is absolute control of our lives. We think we have done so until the Spirit pinpoints an area – it may be small, it may be large – that is not yet fully His. The choice is before us. Do we hold on to our little loaves and fishes – our comfort, our identity, our treasure, our questionable habits, our idolatry, our reputation, our shameful secret, even our physical lives – or do we yield?
What does it mean to us to die daily? Denying ourselves is often not so much about enormous life changing sacrifices as it is about small daily surrenders of the most intimate nature.
Young disciple, if you are reading this know that you cannot have the world and Christ as well. You will have to choose, and not to choose is to choose. Friendship with God means the world becomes your enemy, not an enemy to hate and fear, but an enemy to distrust (Ja. 4:4). You want signs and wonders in your life, you want to do great things for God, you are full of zeal and determination. Learn first to yield to the Cross of Christ, every day of your life. Otherwise you will almost certainly fall prey to the deception of a false gospel and follow a false Christ. Any gospel that leads us away from a personal application of the Cross is a false gospel.
Older disciples, ask yourself, how has the Cross been applied to my life? Have I experienced it? Have I carried it? And have I yielded? Am I seeking to die daily? If your life has not known the fellowship of His sufferings, you are following a false Christ and believing in a false gospel.
Our hearts should be full of grief at the false gospels and the false Christs that abound in this world, but even more should it grieve us that they abound in what is known as the Christian church. And if our hearts grieve, how much more does the Lord’s heart grieve?
Christ is currently perfecting a faithful, spotless, many-membered Bride for Himself. He is bringing forth something exceedingly beautiful, in which you and I are invited to participate. This is not a day or hour to resist the Holy Spirit.
It was once said of Jesus: “whatever He says to you, do it” (Jn. 2:5). Let me add a word for the current hour in which we find ourselves living: whatever He requires from you, yield it. It may be something that seems insignificant to you. Or It may be something that looms large. No matter. For some of our brothers and sisters in various parts of this world even their physical lives, and the lives of their loved ones, are on the line. There may be tears, there may be a soul-wrestling to undergo, we may have to yield whatever it is several times until we’re done with it – but you and I both know He is worthy of whatever He asks of us. And His grace is always more than sufficient for that which He requires of us.
And let us be sure of one unquestionable truth: He is making something eternally and profoundly beautiful.
It’s what He does.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2020 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.