Acts 3:1-10, An Incident of Healing.

1] Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer.  2] And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of those who entered the temple;  3] who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms.  4]  And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.”  5] So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.  6] Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you:  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  7] And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.  8] So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them – walking, leaping, and praising God.  9] And all the people who saw him walking and praising God.  10] Then they knew it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 

Our post today isn’t so much about this man and his miraculous healing, though we look at it, but about the idea of healing and those who claim to have that gift and ministry.  Before we start, I do believe in divine healing.  God can heal any disease or deformity.  He often does.  I just don’t believe in “divine healers,” for reasons given in the post.

In ch. 2:42-47, we have a general statement about the activity of the early church, as well as the attitude of the people and rulers toward it.  We believe chapters 3 and 4 give only one incident out of many which could have been given.

Some general observations:

1. It is obvious that God can, and does, “heal.”  This isn’t in question at all.  What is questionable is the way some approach it as a “ministry.”

2. Whether in the Gospels or in Acts, healing seem to have been given to those obviously and absolutely without hope, humanly speaking, Luke 8:43; John 5:2-5, etc.  The Lord or the disciples never just cured a cold.

3. Perhaps because of this “selectivity,” as well as their obviousness, these healings were indisputable.  The evidence was open and available to all, cf. Acts 4:14.

4. These healings were almost always public.  In our text, it was right in the temple area, a place thronged with people, v. 1.  Even in the raising of Dorcas, Acts 9:36-42, though the actual miracle was done privately, v. 40, there was a public presentation of her immediately afterward, v. 41.

5. From this incident in Acts 3, we note a certain decorum, if you will.  Even though the healings were public, there was a certain restraint.  There was no sensationalism, no “circus atmosphere.”  The early church did not mount an advertising campaign to capitalize on these marvels.  There were none who wanted to be known as “healers.”

6. In line with the above, these healings were spontaneous.  There was no advance preparation, publicity or promotion by the church.  They did not get together a “healing crusade.”  There seems almost to be an “off-handedness” about the whole things, as if “healing” were not preeminently important.  In the case before us, Peter and John were on their way to worship and, if there had been no commotion, would have  simply continued on their way.

7. The healings were done in order that Christ might be glorified and the Gospel verified, Acts 3:13; Mark 16:18.

8. Perhaps most importantly, these healings were healings.  There was nothing like what I heard about from a preacher friend.  One of his friends, in a wheelchair, was complaining of a certain ache.  He went to a “healing meeting.”  When my friend next saw him, still in the wheelchair, he exclaimed, “I’ve been healed!”
“What do you mean?” questioned my friend.
“I don’t ache any more!” was the reply.
If this gentleman had truly been healed after the New Testament manner, he would not have needed the wheelchair!

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Hebrews 11:32-38, Faith: Paradox and Promise.

[32]And what shall I say more?  For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jepthtah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:  [33]who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, [34]quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  [35]Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  
[36]Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  [37]They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword.  They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – [38]of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

Hebrews 11 has been called “the hall of heroes.”  Men and women who did great things for God and were themselves great saints.  Yet this portion starts with men that we might not put into that category.  Here are some men of whom we might say, “What?!  Wait!  Why are they included?”

Gideon did indeed bring a great deliverance to Israel, but then led her into idolatry, Judges 6-8.  Barak, probably the least known of the four, was a man who reluctantly obeyed God, Judges 4, 5.  Jephthah is a man about whom the world and even many Christians have nothing good to say, Judges 11.  I’ve done a post on him if you’re interested.  He certainly isn’t one who is thought to be a “hero.”  Samson, who did do some mighty things, yet is perhaps best remembered for his dalliance with Delilah and his eventual death while a prisoner of and serving to amuse the enemies of his people and his God, Judges 13-16.

Here’s the first paradox.

To have faith doesn’t mean to be perfect and without faults.

There’s only ever been One who was able to say, “I always do those things that please Him,” John 8:29, emphasis added.  All the rest of us fall way short.

God doesn’t deny the faults of His people.

But then, neither does He define His people by those faults….

The second paradox is found in the rest of our text.

Some of God’s people may indeed do great things, vs. 33-35a.  While it’s difficult to know exactly who, if anyone, the author had in mind on some of these things, still, it could be said of Joshua that he conquered kingdoms.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel, even David, received great and wonderful promises.  Daniel certainly is one who stopped the mouths of lions.  His three friends quenched the violence of fire.  More than once, a badly outnumbered Israel turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  At least one grieving woman saw her dead raised to life again.  There are a lot of people the author could have had in mind.

The paradox is this:

Some of God’s people may suffer great things, vs. 35b-38.

We live in a time when, at least in this country, folks on TV tell us that health and prosperity and all good things are the lot of the Christian.  Great ministries have been built on this premise.  The truth is that while these things may and do come to Christians, more often than not their history has been written in their own blood.  This is especially true of those times when “the church” has sat on the throne.  This was true both of Rome and of the Reformers.  And suffering Christians, of whom the world [is] not worthy, live today in a large part of the world, and always have.  We just don’t see it on the 6 o’clock news.

The Apostle Peter put it like this, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you, 1 Peter 4:12, emphasis added.  The word translated “strange” doesn’t mean “unusual,” but “foreign.”  Some folks seem to have the idea that any idea of “suffering,” whether personal or otherwise, should be “foreign” to them.  But you can’t really read the New Testament without seeing that this is not true.

But, if this world is all there is, as some think, or if we’re all headed to “a better place,” as others think, why would people endure such things?  The answer’s found in v. 35, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Now, that word “might” doesn’t mean “might or might not,” as if there’s some question about it.  It speaks to purpose, not just possibility.  Faith understands the paradox, but rests on the promise.  As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God.  Or Peter, We according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells [is at home], 2 Peter 3:13.

For the Christian, this world is neither our home, our heaven or our hope.

 

Naaman, the Syrian

Naaman is the person on the other side of the graciousness of his wife’s servant girl, which we discussed several posts ago.  The story is in 2 Kings 5:1-18.  Scripture paints quite a picture of him.

He seems to have been a lot less willing to receive a blessing than she had been to give it.  Or perhaps it was because he thought the God of Israel, or at least His prophet, was like Burger King:  you got it your way.  Lotta people just like him today.  Turned out he was wrong.

1.  He got the message wrong, vs. 3-5.

The servant girl pointed him to the prophet in Samaria, v. 3.  Naaman went to his own king, and told him what the girl had said, v. 4.  Scripture does say that he told the king what the girl had said.  But the king got it wrong, because he was going to send an embassy to the king of Israel.  Granted, we don’t know all that was involved in this.  Perhaps it was something of a matter of diplomacy.  After all, Syria and Israel were enemies.  (Things haven’t changed much, have they?).

Furthermore, the message to Israel’s king was wrong, as if Israel’s king could heal Naaman.  That’s not what the girl said.  Naaman was to go to the prophet in Samaria.  But the king didn’t mention that.

There are a lot of people today who believe that the answer to our problems is political.  Just get the right people in office and that will take care of it.  However, our problems aren’t political.  They’re not even economic or environmental.  Those problems are the result of our real problem, which is spiritual and moral.  We’ve told God that we’ll do things our way for the last 60 or so years in this country.  God said, “Let’s see how that works out for you.”

I don’t agree with those Christians who can’t be bothered to get involved, even to so much as vote.  But any “solution” that doesn’t deal with the root problem in our society is just a band-aid on a deadly cancer.

The king sent Naaman with an embassy to the king of Samaria, with an expensive gift.  But the things of God aren’t for sale.  A wing for a children’s hospital, large sums spent to better the poor of the world – these might be needful in their place, but they have no spiritual effect, except to make things worse for us, because we tend to trust them instead of God.  Massive amounts of money given to missions might be needful, but what is the mission?

And the king of Samaria got it wrong, too.  He was concerned that his enemy was picking a fight.  It apparently never occurred to him to seek out “the prophet in Samaria” for help.

2.  He got the method wrong.

When Namaan finally got to the prophet, he expected a show.  He thought, “He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over place, and heal the leprosy,” v. 11.

He was furious when the prophet merely sent him a message to go wash in the Jordan seven times, v. 10.  Elisha couldn’t even be bothered to deliver the message in person.  This also made Naaman mad.

He wanted to know why the rivers of his native country weren’t good enough.  I’ve never seen the Jordan River, but I’ve heard that, as rivers go, it isn’t all that impressive.  And I certainly know nothing of the rivers Naaman mentioned.  But Naaman wanted to do things his way.

The Gospel message, in effect, is “Wash in the blood of the Lamb, and be clean.”  Cf. Revelation 1:5.  This doesn’t mean literally, but is a figure of speech.  It means to trust in the Lord’s death for sin and sinners.  It means to put our faith in Him and what He did on the Cross.

Today is Good Friday.  A lot of people will do the things they do on this day without stopping to consider what the day means.  It’s the day the Lord Jesus was put on a Roman cross.  It’s the day that He became the only sacrifice for sin that is successful.  It’s the day that God marked, “PAID” to the sin debt of believers.

Yet a lot of people want to know why their own “rivers” aren’t good enough.  They look to the river of good works, or or some rite or ceremony.  Their mom or grandma or father was a Christian.  They belong to the church.

Etc., etc.

But there’s only one “river” that can cleanse from sin:  the river of blood the Lord shed for sinners on the Cross.  He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me,” John 14:6.  Our times, all about “diversity” and “pluralism,” don’t like what they call such bigotry.  But it’s still true that “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it,” Matthew 7:13, 14.

There only ever has been, and ever will, one way of salvation.

3.  He did get what he was looking for.

It’s a good thing that his servants were wiser than he was.  He was willing to do some great, heroic act to be healed.  His servants wanted to know then, why he wouldn’t just “wash and be clean?” v. 13.

It’s pretty much always been true that God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.

And it’s still true that the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, 1 Corinthians 1:18.

But there are some who, wiser than the intelligentsia of the world, will come to that river and wash in it and be clean.

Naaman was finally willing to do it God’s way.

He wasn’t just healed of his disease.  Scripture says that his flesh was restored like that of a little child and he was clean, v. 14, emphasis added.  Now, here was a man probably in his forties or fifties, a man who’d led a hard life, much of it outdoors and much of it in battle.  He probably bore the scars and evidence of that life.  I don’t want to read into it more than the Scripture says, but it’s possible that those were all gone and his skin was as soft as a little child’s.

He got more than he expected.

Likewise, for those who wash in the river of the blood of the Lamb, we get more than we expected.

Now that doesn’t mean health and wealth and all the stuff prosperity preachers preach.  I believe it’s very likely, considering the way things have gone recently, that it will soon cost to be a faithful Christian.  It already does in a large part of the world.

Things I would never have believed possible not all that long ago are happening, and they’re not going to go away.

But neither is God.

There is coming a time when, as Peter put it, we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, or, is at home, 2 Peter 3:13.

I have very little hope for this present world.

My hope is in God.

 

The Savior and the Sabbath.

And as His custom was, [Jesus] went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read, Luke 4:16 (NKJV).

“His custom”.

One of the websites I visited while researching this series based its whole evidence for the continued priority of the seventh-day Sabbath on the custom of Jesus to which Luke refers.  The implication of this site is that since Jesus kept the Sabbath, so must we.

There was nothing else to be expected of our Lord.  Galatians 4:4 reminds us that Jesus was born under the law, and as such was required to keep the Sabbath.  Our last posts have seen that.  But there was more to what our Lord did than just go to synagogue on Saturday.  By the way, the Jewish Sabbath was, and is, from Friday evening through Saturday afternoon, not all day Saturday.

There are 50 references to the Sabbath in the Gospels.  Their emphasis isn’t just on Jesus’ attendance in the synagogue on the Sabbath, but His attitude toward it and what He did during it.  These 50 references tell of 12 separate incidents in the life and ministry of the Lord, although 6 of the references refer either to what happened immediately after His death or after His resurrection.  Further, several of the incidents are recorded by more than one Gospel.  Some of the parallel accounts don’t specifically mention the Sabbath.  We usually haven’t included them in this post.

His attitude and His actions were what got the Lord Jesus in trouble with the religious leaders of the day, that and His claims about who He was.  As we briefly look at these 12 incidents in the life of our Lord, in the order the first reference appears in the Gospels, we see this quite clearly.

1.  Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-27; Luke 6:1-3:  Picking grain to eat.

This is the record of Jesus and His disciples traveling through some fields of grain one Sabbath day.  The disciples got hungry, picked some of the heads of wheat and ate them, cf. Deuteronomy 23:25.  This upset the Pharisees, who labelled this as “harvesting,” that is, “work,” on the Sabbath. They claimed that what the disciples were doing wasn’t “lawful.”

By the example of David eating the showbread in the Tabernacle is a time of great need and by quoting Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” the Lord showed that sometimes “mercy” takes precedence over rigid legalism like the Pharisees practiced.

Then He made a couple of astonishing statements: “Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the Temple….  For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath,”  Matthew 12:6, 8.  In other words, the Lord Jesus was claiming authority even over the Sabbath and didn’t need the “approval” of the religious authorities for what He did.   I’m sure this didn’t go over well with the Pharisees.

2.  Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11:  healing the man with a disabled hand.

This event seems to follow immediately after the first one, though Luke shows it differently.  The Gospels often don’t follow what we would understand as chronology, but are concerned with connection.  This was true of the literature of the ancient world.  It is a mistake to expect ancient writings to follow modern ideas.  Regardless, Jesus was in a synagogue where there was a disabled man.  Continuing the argument about “legality,” the Pharisees asked Jesus if it were “lawful to heal on the Sabbath”  …that they might accuse Him.  The Pharisees never actually looked at what the Lord did, only that He violated what they thought was right and proper.

The Lord showed their hypocrisy in that they would rescue one of their animals from danger on the Sabbath; by implication, shouldn’t He rescue this man from his disability?  To answer their question – “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Instead of bringing them to repentance, this episode just deepened their rebellion. They resolved to figure out how to destroy Him.

3.  Matthew 24:20:  pray not to have to flee on the Sabbath.

Though Mark and Luke also record this discourse, Matthew is the only one who mentions the Sabbath.  Jesus told His disciples to pray that they wouldn’t have to escape from Jerusalem on the Sabbath because the Sabbath was of primary importance to the Jews, and it would be unusually difficult to escape from the coming judgment on that day.

4.  Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1,9:  Christ rises on the first day of the week.

These are accounts of the women’s discovery of the empty tomb and the resurrection of the Lord.  Both accounts mention that this happened the first day of the week, and Mark 16:9 specifically says that He arose early on the first day of the week.  One could say that His body was indeed “resting” on the Sabbath.  Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.  John 20:10 also mentions the first day of the week, though there is no mention of the Sabbath.

5.  Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31:  the Lord declares and demonstrates His authority.

This account of the early ministry of the Lord shows the difference between His teaching and that of the rabbis and scribes, an example of which we see in Matthew 5-7, with the same result, Matthew 7:28.  It also shows His authority over the spirit world, as He casts out a demon.  Both of these incidents, following each other closely, asserted and emphasized the authority, the uniqueness, of the Lord Jesus.

6.  Mark 6:2; Luke 4:16:  the Lord rejected in His hometown.

This seems to be the first Sabbath episode in our Lord’s “official” ministry in His hometown, though He’d ministered elsewhere, Luke 4:23.   Luke gives more detail as to what happened.  Growing up, He’d been in regular attendance with His parents and family, but this time was different.  Perhaps He’d done the reading before, but this time He applied it to Himself.  Pay attention in Luke 4:18, 19 where He stopped reading from Isaiah 61:1, 2.  His teaching didn’t set well with those who knew Him, or thought they did, and they wound up trying to kill Him, Luke 4:28-30.

7.  Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54, 56; John 19:31:  Jesus buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb.

People assume that “the Sabbath” mentioned was the ordinary weekly Sabbath, so this means that Christ was crucified on Friday.  It’s not our purpose to get into the discussion about where that’s true or not.  However, the Sabbath to which the Gospels refer was the Passover, which, as we’ve seen, could happen any day of the week.  John refers to that Sabbath as a high day, John 19:31,something which he probably wouldn’t have done if it were just another Saturday.  And, as we’ve seen, Matthew 28:1 in the original language refers to “Sabbaths,” plural, as being over.

However, the real point of Mark, Luke and John was to verify that Jesus actually died, and not just fainted or faked it, as some falsely teach.  Remember, Pilate was amazed that Jesus could have died so soon, victims of crucifixion often lingering for several days.  So he asked a centurion, who was well-acquainted with death, if Jesus had indeed died.  This centurion would have forfeited his own life, if he had lied about it, and knew when one was dead, no doubt having seen many dead bodies, in contrast to modern skeptics who may have never seen one dead body, let alone a crucifixion!

What one sees on TV programs as dead people don’t look like dead people.  I had a fellow worker die on the job and he looked entirely different than what’s on TV.  Besides, if you watch closely, those who “die” on TV catch themselves as they hit the floor or ground.

Jesus was dead.

8.  Luke 13:10-16:  healing of the woman with a spirit of infirmity. 

We see again the contrast between the Pharisees and the Lord.  The Pharisees complained that there were six other days to come and be healed, so don’t interrupt the service to do so.  Our Lord again pointed out the hypocrisy as these complainers would have themselves untied their own animals to take them to water; why shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham be similarly untied and freed from her burden?

9.  Luke 14:1-5:  healing of the man with dropsy.

Though this happened in a house, it was still the Sabbath. Luke says, they watched Him closely because there was someone present who had an ailment.  Our Lord asked them, as He had others, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  They wouldn’t answer, so the Lord healed the man.  Then he asked another question:  which of them having a child or an animal fall into a pit on the Sabbath wouldn’t rescue him, thus exposing their hypocrisy once again.

10.  John 5:  healing a man at the pool of Bethesda.

The healing itself isn’t the issue, at least to start with, but the fact that the man was carrying his bed on the Sabbath, v. 9.  Notice a couple of things just in passing:  the man had no “faith to be healed,” but began to point out difficulties when the Lord asked him if he wanted to be healed, v. 7.  The Lord healed him, anyway. Further, there was a “great multitude” of folks waiting to be healed, but the Lord singled out this one man and healed him, when He saw HIM (emphasis added).

What really frosted the Pharisees, though, was the fact that Jesus claimed equality with God, vs. 16-18.  There are many who say that Jesus never claimed to be God, but those who heard Him  knew that was exactly what He was claiming on more than one occasion.  It’s part of why they crucified Him, Matthew 27:43.  See also John 8:58:  The Jews understood full well what Jesus meant when He said, …before Abraham was, I AM.”

11.   John 7:  Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles.

Though you really need to read the whole chapter, we’re looking at vs. 21-23.  Here the discussion once again centers around the fact that the priests themselves “violated” the Sabbath sometimes in circumcising an infant on the eighth day.  What Jesus did was no different and no more a violation of the Sabbath than what they did.

12.  John 9:  healing of the man born blind.

Again, the whole chapter bears on this, and probably through 10:21, but 9:14-16 tells us it was on the Sabbath, which, as always, was what really upset the Pharisees, 9:16.

 

Thus, briefly, we’ve looked at the 12 incidents of confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees which happened because of His actions on and attitude toward the Sabbath.  As we mentioned above, Jesus was born under the Law, and so was required with every other Jew to observe it.  What got Him into trouble was the fact that He wouldn’t do it like He was supposed to.

What does the rest of the New Testament tell us about Sabbath-keeping?  That’s our next post.

The Blessing of Thorns

Someone sent this to my wife several years ago.  I think it still has a message today, even though it may be the “wrong” time of the year.  The original author is unknown.

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her shoes as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door.

Her life had been easy, like a Spring breeze.  Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole that from her.

During this Thanksgiving week, she would have delivered a son.  She grieved over her loss.  As if that weren’t enough, her husband’s company threatened a transfer.  Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called to say that she couldn’t come for the holiday.

Then Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer.  “She has no idea what I’m suffering,” thought Sandra.

“Thanksgiving?”  For what? she wondered.  For a careless driver whose truck was barely scratched when he rear-ended her?  For an airbag that saved her life, but took that of her child?

“Good afternoon, can I help you?”  The shop clerk’s approach startled her.

“I…I need an arrangement,” stammered Sandra.

“For Thanksgiving?  Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the Thanksgiving Special?” asked the shop clerk. “I’m convinced that flowers tell stories,” she continued, “Are you looking for something that conveys ‘gratitude’ this Thanksgiving?”

“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted out.  “In the past five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.”

Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the clerk said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”

Just then, the shop door’s small bell rang, and the clerk said, “Hi, Barbara, let me get your order.”  She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows and long-stemmed thorny roses.  Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped; there were no flowers.

“Want this in a box?” asked the clerk.

In astonishment, Sandra watched for the customer’s response.  Was this a joke?  Who would want rose stems with no roses!  She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.

“Yes, please,” replied Barbara with an appreciative smile.  “You’d think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn’t be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again,” she said as she gently tapped her chest.  And she left with her order.

“Uh,” stammered Sandra, “that lady just left with, uh…she just left with no flowers!”

“Right,” said the clerk.  “I cut off the flowers.  That’s the Special.  I call it ‘The Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet’.”

“Oh, come on!” exclaimed Sandra.  “You can’t tell me someone is willing to pay for that!”

“Barbara came into the store three years ago feeling much like you feel today,” explained the clerk.  “She thought she had very little to be thankful for.  She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, and she was facing major surgery.”

“That same year, I had just lost my husband” continued the clerk, “and for the first time in my life, had just spent the holidays alone.  I had no children, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow for travel.

“So what did you do?” asked Sandra.

“I learned to be thankful for thorns,” answered the clerk quietly.  “I’d always thanked God for the good things in my life, and never questioned the good things that happened to me, but when the bad things hit, did I ever ask questions!  It took time for me to learn that the dark times are important.  I have always enjoyed the ‘flowers’ of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God’s comfort.  You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we’re afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others.”

Sandra drew in a deep breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her.  “I guess the truth is, I don’t want comfort.  I’ve lost a baby, and I’m angry with God.”

Just then, someone else walked into the shop.  “Hey, Phil,” called out the clerk to the balding, rotund man.

“My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving Special – 12 thorny, long-stemmed stems!” laughed Phil as the clerk handed him a tissue-wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.

“Those are for your wife!?” Sandra asked incredulously.  “Do you mind asking why she wants something that looks like that?”

“Not at all…I’m glad you asked,” Phil replied.  “Four years ago, my wife and I nearly divorced.  After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord’s grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem.  He rescued our marriage.  Jenny here,” nodding to the clerk, ” told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her what had learned from ‘thorny’ times, and that was good enough for me.  I took home some of these stems.  My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific ‘problem’ and give thanks for what that problem had taught us.”

As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, “I highly recommend the Special!”

“I don’t know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life,” Sandra said, “It’s all still too…fresh.” 

“Well,” replied the clerk carefully.  “my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious.  We treasure God’s providential care more during trouble than at any other time.  Remember, it was a crown of thorns Jesus wore so that we might know His love.  Don’t resent the thorns.”

Tears rolled down Sandra’s cheeks.  For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment.  “I’ll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please,” she managed to choke out.

“I hoped you would,” said the clerk gently.  “I’ll have them ready in a minute.”

“Thank you.  What do I owe you?”

“Nothing.  Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart.  The first year’s arrangement is always on me.”  The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. “I’ll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you’d like to read it first.”

It read: “My God, I have never thanked you for my thorns.  I’ve thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns.  Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns.  Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain.  Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant.”

Praise Him for your roses; thank Him for your thorns