Some of my grandchildren do an Obstacles Course as an after-school activity. And we face many obstacles in life. Today we are looking at the most important obstacles in our lives. These are the ones that come between us and God. This post is based on a message given in Sydney, Australia, by Franklin Graham in February 2019. It’s also on video.
Do you have peace with God? Are things good between you and God? Are things settled between you and God? Do you know Him? Do you know who His Son Jesus Christ is? Jesus Christ came to the earth for a reason. God sent Him on a rescue mission.
The Bible tells us that we’ve all sinned, we’ve all come short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). The penalty of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Yet God so loved you that He sent His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, from heaven to earth for the purpose of taking our sin (Jn. 3:16). Because the penalty of sin is death, the entire human race was born under a death sentence. When the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) sinned, sin came into the world. Sin is disobeying God. It’s breaking God’s law. It’s infected the entire human race. We’re all born in this sin. No one had to teach you how to be bad. No one had to teach each of my twelve grandchildren how to be bad. I’ll tell one of them “Don’t do this”, and then they’ll do it! They’ll do it just to defy you. Where did that come from? It’s the sin nature that we’re all born with.
God created humanity, but we’re separated from Him because of our sin. And God planned to redeem (restore) us by sending His Son Jesus Christ to take the death sentence for you and me. And Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth to take our sin. He died on a cross for you and for me. He was buried for our sins and on the third day God raised His Son to life. If you’ve never trusted in Jesus Christ, I’m going to invite you to do this today by confessing your sin to God, and by asking Him for forgiveness. If you do this God will forgive your sins, give you eternal life, and give you a new beginning in your life. The new start is like hitting a reset button on your life. Many people say, “If I could just start life over again”. Well, you can do that today.
The Bible says, “what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mk. 8:36NLT). Let’s look at a man in the Bible who was on the verge of losing his soul.
A new start
Jesus entered Jericho and made His way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came by, He looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” He said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man [Jesus] came to seek and save those who are lost [like Zacchaeus]” (Lk. 19:1-10).
Jesus was passing through Jericho, which is in the Jordan valley about 27 km (17 miles) from Jerusalem. The Romans put a tax collecting office there because it was on a route between Syria (Iraq) and Egypt. Zacchaeus was a tax collector for the Romans who were a foreign occupying government. Zacchaeus was a Jew who worked for the Romans. His people, the Jews, saw Zacchaeus as a traitor. He was working with the enemy. So they didn’t like him. And as a tax collector he was corrupt. He was a corrupt public official. Nobody likes corrupt public officials. They are despised. The Jews couldn’t do anything about it because the Romans were in power. The Romans didn’t care if Zacchaeus overtaxed people. And that’s what he did. He charged too much. He would give the Romans what they required, but would charge the person a little more and put the extra in his pocket. The Bible says that he was “very rich”. And he was despised, the people called him “a notorious sinner”. He was hated. He was a cheat, and a liar. He sinned against his people.
When Jesus was passing by, Zacchaeus wanted to see who He was. He’d probably heard a lot about Jesus. He’d raised the dead. Given sight to the blind. The deaf could hear. Sick people were healed. He just wanted to see who Jesus was. And when Jesus travelled there were always many people following Him. There was a commotion. It sounded exciting. Zacchaeus wanted to see who He is. But Zacchaeus was short. And Jesus was passing by. And Jesus is passing by you as you read this post. If you’re not sure that your sins have been forgiven. If you’re not sure that you have peace with God. You can be forgiven today. You can hit that reset button on your life. You can start your life over again. If you’re willing to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
Obstacles to a new start
So Zacchaeus just wanted to see who Jesus was. But there were obstacles. He was short. And there was a big crowd. He was probably up on his tip-toes. He wanted to look over the top of their heads, but he couldn’t do it. It makes you feel that you’re little in the eyes of God. It makes you feel as though your life isn’t important to Him. That you’re somehow insignificant. But you’re important to God. You have a soul. You have a spirit. God made you and created you. And He loves you. And God wants to have a relationship with you. He wants to talk to you. He wants you to talk to Him. But sin is a barrier between us and God. Sin has to be removed because you can’t have a relationship with God with sin in the way. God loves you. You’re important to Him. The Bible says that “this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son [Jesus Christ], so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
What obstacles prevent you from being reconciled with God? What are the obstacles that prevent you from coming to Christ today? Zacchaeus had that crowd – he couldn’t see over their heads. What’s your obstacle? Sin prevents us from coming to God. Sin blocks the way. Sin is breaking God’s laws and standards. All of us are guilty. I’m a sinner. When I was 22 years old I prayed to God confessing my sins. I trusted that Jesus died to take the penalty for my sins. When I was growing up I didn’t want God running my life. I just wanted to have fun. And I thought that the more fun that I could have the better life could be. But I found out that the harder that I tried to have fun, the more empty my life became. And I finally got to the place in my life where I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. And you might feel like that. So I prayed, “God I have sinned. My life is upside down in such a mess that I don’t know where to go or what to do. Today I surrender. I want to turn from my sins. I believe that Jesus is your Son. I believe that He died from my sins. I believe that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him. I want Him to forgive me. I want a new beginning. A new start. If you just take the pieces of my life, you can have it”. When I prayed that prayer, I meant it. And God forgave me, He’ll do the same for you. We’re all sinners. We’ve all lied (said something deceitful)? We’ve all stolen (taken something that doesn’t belong to us). We’ve all coveted (wanted something that someone else has). If you’ve lied, God will forgive you. If you’ve stolen, God will forgive you. If you’ve coveted, God will forgive you. If you’re guilty of sexual sins, God will forgive you. We’re all guilty and under a death sentence. But God has provided an escape and that’s through the cross. Because Jesus took our sins to the cross, He paid the debt for us.
You may say, “There’s lots of religions in the world”. This is not about a religion. It’s about a relationship with the one true God. You can have that today. But you have to be willing to accept it by faith. The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Even if you’ve kept all the laws, you were still born into sin. And the penalty of sin is death. Now Zacchaeus had this big obstacle. And you’ve got a big obstacle without Jesus Christ. Because the only way that you can come to God is through faith in Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father [God] except through me” (Jn. 14:6). There’s not many roads to God – there’s only one and that’s through the cross of Jesus Christ. Because He’s the one who paid the debt of sin. No one else paid the debt of sin in all of history, only Jesus. None of the religions claim to take your sin. Only Jesus Christ has taken your sin. If you put your trust in Him today, He will forgive your sin. But you have to come by faith.
Now Zacchaeus had this big obstacle. That crowd was in his way. Something was missing in his life. And he was searching. But he probably didn’t know what he was searching for. When Jesus was coming, he wanted to see who Jesus was. I think something was drawing him. When God made and created us, He created a vacuum in everyone that could only be filled by God Himself. The Bible says that “He [God] has planted eternity in the human heart [mind]” (Eccl. 3:11). And when we come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ He comes in and fills that void in our lives.
Overcoming the obstacles
Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. He was pretty resourceful, so he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up a sycamore-fig tree. So he was sitting up there like a monkey just waiting for Jesus to pass by.
Zacchaeus had a great job. He had a licence to steal! He could just overcharge people and the Romans wouldn’t do anything about it. So he had a pretty good job. He had plenty of money. He was successful. Although no-one liked him, that didn’t seem to bother him too much. Maybe you’ve been able to get all the things in life that you have wanted. The career that you’ve studied and worked for. The toys that you’ve always wanted. Maybe the family that you’ve wanted. But something’s missing. There’s a vacuum inside that you’re trying to fill with things. People sometimes try to fill it with work, drugs, alcohol, or sex. But it doesn’t fill the void that only God can fill. Jesus can give you purpose today. He can give you meaning. If you’re willing to trust Him.
So Zacchaeus is in that tree and here comes Jesus. And the Bible says that Jesus stopped. And He will stop for you today. And the Bible says that Jesus looked up and saw Zacchaeus. And He sees you today. He knows everything about your life. He loves you. He made and created you. And Jesus comes to Zacchaeus and He sees Zacchaeus and He calls him by his name. He knows your name today. He called Zacchaeus. And God is calling some of you. You are thinking, this is something that I need to do. I need to get this right today.
Jesus called Zacchaeus by name. And then He said the call is urgent, “Zacchaeus! Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today”. And the Bible says that Zacchaeus responded immediately. He “quickly climbed down” from the tree. He could have sat there thinking, I’ll just wait until the next time that Jesus comes by and maybe I’ll have lunch with Him then. But Jesus wasn’t coming back to Jericho again. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. He was on His way to the cross to die for you and me. He wasn’t going to come back that way again. Zacchaeus wouldn’t have another opportunity. He had to make a choice either to obey Jesus or to keep sitting in the tree and ignore Him. But he responded immediately. And when he climbed down from the tree, He called Him Lord. I think he was converted by the time his feet hit the ground. He called Jesus, Lord.
Now the people began to gripe and complain. “Can you believe that Jesus is going to go to this guys home?”. There was gossip going on. And Jesus heard it. And Zacchaeus heard it. Zacchaeus said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”. That money didn’t mean anything to Zacchaeus anymore. He’d found something worth a lot more. He’d found the Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus said, “I want to come to your house to stay today”. Jesus wants to come into your life and He wants to stay in your life today. Zacchaeus obeyed, and Jesus came into his house. He wasn’t hindered by the people’s criticism, grumbling and griping. We are all sinners. We are all guilty. We all deserve God’s punishment. But God loves you and He’s holding out His Son the Lord Jesus Christ and if you’ll put your faith and trust in Him, God will forgive you. If you’re not sure your sins are forgiven, then confess that you are a sinner. Say you are sorry and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and that you want to trust Him as your Savior.
To do this follow the “Steps to peace with God”.
This post is based on a message given in Sydney, Australia, by Franklin Graham on 24 February 2019. This event was sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It’s also on video.
Written, March 2019
Also see: Steps to peace with God
Jesus Christ talked about moving mountains on two occasions.
Mountain moving from here to there
When the disciples asked why they couldn’t drive a demon out of a boy who had seizures, Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt. 17:20NIV). The reason was also given as “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mk. 9:29).
They lacked faith and prayer. Because of unbelief, they didn’t pray about it. The “mountain” is a figure of speech for the obstacles and difficulties being faced (see Appendix below). They should have exercised their faith in God by praying about the problem. The prayer would be answered if it was in accordance with the conditions for prayer and the commands and promises given in the Bible. Miracles can happen when we pray under these circumstances.
Mountain thrown into the sea
On the Monday before His crucifixion, Jesus cursed a fig tree because it was unfruitful. He then taught his disciples how to deal with the problems of fruitlessness and obstacles and difficulties. Once again the mountain illustrates the obstacles and difficulties. This is described in two gospels:
Mark 11:22-24 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Mt 21:21-22 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
They were to exercise their faith in God by praying about the problem. God promised to answer if they believe and don’t doubt. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition for answered prayer. Such confidence needs to rely on a promise from God or an assurance that the request is according to God’s will. The ultimate source of such confidence is the words of Scripture or the witness of the Holy Spirit. So the prayer needs to be in accordance with the conditions given in the Bible.
We can approach God confidently in prayer because He promises to answer prayers that are “according to His will”. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15). That’s how Jesus prayed at Gethsemane (Mt. 26:39, 42) and how He told His disciples to pray (Jn. 14:13-14). And of course, God’s will is given most clearly in the Bible.
Other conditions for answered prayer include: forgiving others (Mk. 11:25), confessing and repenting of sin (Ps. 66:18), obeying God’s commands (1 Jn. 3:22), right motives (Jas. 4:3), and persevering in prayer (Lk. 18:1-8). They also apply to other passages which may seem to imply that we can get whatever we ask for (Mt. 7:7-8; Lk. 11:9-10; Jn. 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24; 1 Jn. 3:22).
God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them are not unconditional. They also rely on the Bible’s conditions for answered prayer being satisfied. So, how are you praying?
Some other biblical examples of the figurative use of “mountains” to mean obstacles and difficulties are given below.
“What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” (Zech. 4:7). The context of this verse is that the Israelites faced opposition to rebuilding their temple in Jerusalem after they returned from exile (Ezra 4:1-5, 24). Zerubbabel was their governor (civil leader) at that time. The verse is part of a prediction that the temple would be rebuilt after the “mighty mountain” (a symbol of the opposition to the rebuilding) became “level ground” (a symbol of the opposition being removed). The “capstone” is the final stone to be put in place.
“If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). This verse is in a chapter which teaches that the use of spiritual gifts must be motivated by love. In this instance, the spiritual gift is being able to trust God to overcome or remove difficulties or obstacles. If such a gift was only used for one’s own benefit and not for helping other believers, it is of no value.
Written, September 2013