Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 26, Jesus Feeds Five Thousand

The Twelve return from their journey and Jesus intends to give them some time to relax, but such a crowd gathers with so many needs that the Lord can't bring Himself to go on to a solitary place where He and the disciples can rest.

"The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, 'Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'" (Mark 6:30-31) The Twelve are on a spiritual high. They don't realize yet how physically exhausted they really are, but Jesus can see it on their faces and hear it in their voices. There is a danger in working so feverishly that we neglect our basic needs, because sooner or later our energy is going to crash, and that gives Satan an opportunity to kick us while we're down. The Lord says something to the Twelve that He whispers to our souls every day of our lives, "Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." We live in a busy world and even though we have nearly every convenience imaginable, we seem to have less and less quiet time. Sooner or later all this activity is going to cause an energy crash if we don't set aside some quiet time to be alone with the Lord.

"So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things." (Mark 6:32-34) Those who should have been the spiritual leaders of the nation have been doing a poor job. They've left the people like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus steps out of the boat to be met by a crowd so hungry and thirsty for the word of God that they came to see Him without packing lunches for the journey. Their spiritual needs are far greater than their physical needs. Jesus puts these people ahead of Himself and spends the day teaching them. Jesus has always put mankind ahead of Himself.

"By this time it was late in the day, so His disciples came to Him. 'This is a remote place,' they said, 'and it's already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.'" (Mark 6:35-36) I suspect the disciples mention dinner because they are hungry themselves. In fact, they might be getting a little "hangry" since they feel bold enough to tell the Lord what He ought to do. I don't know about you, but nothing makes me more irritable and sharp-tongued than having my dinner delayed long enough to make my blood sugar drop to the point of feeling shaky and nauseated. I would probably start giving the Lord instructions too, so due to my own human weakness I can't blame the disciples for their impatience.

Since these men have just returned from a journey in which they healed the sick and cast out demons, Jesus gives some instructions of His own. "But He answered, 'You give them something to eat.'" (Mark 6:37a) Could the disciples have performed the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand?Jesus appears to be suggesting that they can. Perhaps if they'd had the faith in this moment that they had on their journey through the towns and villages they could have done it. After all, they've cast out demons; multiplying loaves and fishes seems minor in comparison to such intense spiritual warfare. But they're tired and they're aggravated by the needy crowds and they just want to be done with the people for now, so they miss what Jesus is saying. "They said to Him, 'That would take more than half a year's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?" (Mark 6:37b) They ask in astonishment, "Do You want us to spend all our money to buy bread for this crowd? But what about tomorrow when another hungry group shows up? What are we going to do then? The crowds that are thronging You now will be nothing compared to the crowds that gather when they learn we're handing out free food."

Jesus is patient with these men and He's patient with us too. He doesn't chastise them for thinking inside the box; He merely gets on with the task at hand. Since they can't stretch their imaginations right now, Jesus gives them a smaller job to perform. "'How many loaves do you have?' he asked. 'Go and see.'" (Mark 6:38a) They can't envision the miracle that is about to be performed, so He gives them something they can do. They count the food on hand and report back to Him. "When they found out, they said, 'Five---and two fish.'" (Mark 6:38b)

"Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to His disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand." (Mark 6:39-44) If Jesus had simply started multiplying the food and handing it out, I think there would have been a stampede. The people would have rushed in upon Him with the attitude, "Every man for himself!" But as if He is presiding as host over a great banquet, He has them all sit down in an orderly fashion to wait to be served. No one displays selfishness or bad manners. Instead the five thousand, along with Jesus and the disciples, are able to enjoy a nice meal together.

Jesus fed the people's souls and now He feeds their bellies because, as we talked about earlier in the week, He treats the whole person. He doesn't just see us as a body or a soul, but as a complex being. He is able to provide our basic human needs and also our mental and emotional and spiritual needs. So many times we go through our days running on empty. We are running on empty because we aren't taking time to see to our basic needs and we are running on empty because we aren't spending time alone with the Lord. As human beings, both these things are vital to our health. Let's take some time to break bread with the Lord, to feast on His goodness both literally and spiritually, and to allow Him to refresh us. He is able to make our cup run over.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 25, John The Baptist Is Beheaded

This morning we learn the sad fate of John the Baptist, the man who prepared the way for the Lord. (Isaiah 40:3, Mark 1:3, John 1:23) I don't know whether John had an inkling how his ministry would end, but he understood and accepted that his ministry was on the downswing while Christ's was on the upswing. The Apostle John tells us of an incident where John the Baptist's disciples complain that many of his followers have gone over to Christ. They said, "Everyone is going to Him." (John 3:26) John the Baptist calmly replied, "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30)

John was already dead when Jesus sent out the Twelve to preach repentance and to work miracles in the passage we studied yesterday. Today Mark he takes us back in time a bit to explain to us what has been going on with John while Jesus' ministry grows. He also tells us that King Herod hears of the miracles of Jesus and fears this is John risen from the dead. "King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. Some were saying, 'John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in Him.' Others said, 'He is Elijah.' And still others claimed, 'He is a prophet, like one of the prophets from long ago.' But when Herod heard this, he said, 'John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!'" (Mark 6:14-16) Herod was not a king, by the way, but was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea....tetrarch meaning "ruler of a quarter"....but he referred to himself as King Herod and the Jews often did so as well, particularly those belonging to the political party known as the Herodians.

The people don't know what to make of Jesus. The gospels clearly show us that many do believe Jesus is the Messiah. Others think he is the "Elijah" of Malachi 4:5, the forerunner of the Messiah. (This "Elijah", of course, we now know was John the Baptist.) Still others believe Jesus is a modern version of an Old Testament prophet, especially now that He has raised a child from the dead as both Elijah and Elisha did. It's hard to imagine anyone believing Jesus and John are the same person unless this belief was held by people who never knew them both and who never heard of Jesus until after the death of John. Herod doesn't hear about Jesus until after the death of John. His guilty conscience causes him to be gripped with fear, wondering to himself, "What if this really is John? I had John put to death! If he has risen from the dead, and if he has this kind of power, what will he do to me?"

Mark now explains to us how John's imprisonment and death came about. "For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.' So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him." (Mark 6:17-20) Herod and Herodias fell in love, or in lust perhaps, and they divorced their spouses to marry each other. John, who apparently had regular access to Herod by invitation, boldly pointed out how sinful the marriage between Herod and Herodias was. Herod does not seem to have been particularly offended by John's opinion, likely because he knows John is right. This doesn't mean Herod feels repentant, but that he is honest enough to acknowledge he and Herodias treated their spouses very poorly and that he mistreated his own brother in the process. Herod is the type of man who is intrigued by the word of God and who is almost persuaded to believe in it, just as Agrippa will be when the Apostle Paul preaches to him. Herodias, however, is the type of person who thinks no one has the right to look on her lifestyle and recognize the sin in it. She feels she is entitled to anything she wants, no matter who it hurts, and all she can think about is how she can rid herself of John.

"Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, 'Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you.' And he promised her with an oath, 'Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.'" (Mark 6:21-23) Other gospel accounts tell us this girl's name is Salome, and we don't know what type of dance she performed, but many scholars believe Herod becomes as inflamed with lust as he is with wine. Because the men at the banquet are overjoyed with the performance and are whistling and clapping and congratulating Herod on such fine entertainment, Herod feels happy and generous. He makes an extravagant offer without considering the consequences.

Salome is shrewd like her mother. She knows she needs to ask for something big, but she is young and immature and needs the advice of her mother before making her request. "She went out and said to her mother, 'What shall I ask for?' 'The head of John the Baptist,' she answered. At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: 'I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.'" (Mark 6:24-25)

"The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her." (Mark 6:26) Saving face is more important to him than saving John's life. When he offered Salome a gift amounting up to half his kingdom, a large material gift was what he intended. He expected the girl to ask for things like costly clothing, jewels, a fine chariot, or even a palace of her own. He certainly didn't expect her to ask for a man's head. But the banquet room is now so quiet you could hear a pin drop. All eyes are on him. He's caught in a trap and due to his inebriated state he can't think how to get out of. He doesn't know how to explain to Salome and the guests that carrying out capital punishment on a man who has committed no crime worthy of it is not what he had in mind when he made his promise.

"So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John's disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb." (Mark 6:27-29) I think Herod is haunted by the knowledge that he had a good man put to death. This is why he is so afraid when he hears the rumor that the miracle-worker in the nation is John the Baptist risen from the dead. He will desperately want to meet Jesus in person, and he will have his opportunity during the trial of Jesus, but he won't find the meeting satisfactory. (Luke 23:8-11) Because Jesus refuses to perform tricks for him, Herod allows his soldiers to abuse the Lord before sending Him back to Pontius Pilate.

The judgment of God does not always seem to come swiftly, by our human way of thinking, but it always comes. Not many years following the crucifixion, in around 39 AD, Herod is accused by Herodias' brother Agrippa of conspiracy against the emperor. This comes about because Herodias pushes her husband to appeal to Rome to be awarded the title of "king" over the territory of Judea. Herodias' brother Agrippa reports to Emperor Caligula that Herod intends to take the crown by force and that he has stockpiled an enormous cache of weapons. (The stockpiling is verified; a conspiracy against the crown is not.) But believing an act of treason is imminent, Caligula takes away Herod's title and wealth and lands and bestows them all upon Agrippa, banishing Herod to Gaul where it is claimed by some historians that he and Herodias committed suicide. Whether Herod dies by his own hand or by natural causes, he dies very soon after being banished to Gaul, after which he meets his Maker. Herod, who eagerly desired the title "King Of The Jews", will have to give an account to God for the way he shamefully treated the true "King Of The Jews" and how he treated the Lord's servant John the Baptist.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 24, Jesus Sends The Twelve To Heal And Cast Out Demons

Jesus has been rejected in His hometown of Nazareth, but He continues on with the work of God's kingdom by teaching in all the villages of Galilee. This should be an encouragement to us when someone doesn't want to hear the gospel or listen to our personal testimony. We can't give up and quit. There are going to be people who will want to hear about Jesus, and for their sake we have to keep sharing the gospel. Very few people at Nazareth wanted to have anything to do with Jesus, but He doesn't become discouraged. He just keeps going from village to village doing what God commissioned Him to do. He knows there are people who will want to hear what He has to say, and for their sake He keeps sharing the truth of God's word.

The prophet Isaiah foresaw the works of Christ and spoke of Christ's refusal to become discouraged, "In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth. In His teaching the islands will put their hope." (Isaiah 42:3b-4) Jesus didn't become discouraged while He walked the earth in the flesh. Now that He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, it is our job as believers to continue His work by sharing the gospel. He didn't become discouraged and we shouldn't either. Because of what Chris did for mankind, and because believers share the gospel, people all over the world will come to faith. This is what Isaiah means when he mentions "the islands", that even the Gentiles who previously never had God's promises or God's laws will put their hope in Him.

"Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to Him, He began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits." (Mark 6:6-7) Jesus can reach more people if He sends the disciples out to share the word of God and to perform miracles in His name. This is still the primary way in which Jesus reaches people: through the sharing of the gospel by believers. The Apostle Paul wisely asks this series of questions in regard to the necessity of the sharing of the gospel, "How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:14-15) You and I and all believers are an essential part of the kingdom of God! Christ has commissioned us to share the gospel with a world that desperately needs it. How can anyone believe in Christ if they have not heard of Him? How can they hear of Him unless we tell them?

Jesus wants the disciples to place their trust in Him. He is going to protect them on their journey through the villages. Just as the children of Israel had to learn to trust God to provide manna for them in the wilderness, the disciples have to learn to trust the Lord to provide for them as they share the gospel. "These were His instructions: 'Take nothing for the journey except a staff---no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.'" (Mark 6:8-11) One of my commentaries shares the information that in those days Jews who had to travel through a Gentile region would shake the dust off their feet as they exited. They wanted nothing from those heathen towns clinging to them, not even grains of sand on their shoes. Jesus is telling the disciples to treat any Jewish village that rejects their message as if it is a heathen village. They are to shake off the rejection and move on, just as Jesus had to (figuratively speaking) shake off His rejection at Nazareth and move on.

Many will accept the message of the gospel and will extend hospitality to the disciples. The Lord speaks of them entering a house and staying there, meaning that in a lot of the towns there will be those who invite them into their homes for the duration of their visit. There will be people who are happy to share their homes and their food with the disciples. A blessing is on those people, in contrast to the judgment that is on those who reject the gospel message.

"They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them." (Mark 6:12-13) If the people were already amazed at the miracles of Jesus, imagine their astonishment when they learn Jesus has given the same kind of power to His disciples. This is further proof that Jesus is who He says He is: the Son of God. No one else could do the things Jesus does, much less bestow such awesome power on this odd group of men whom no ordinary rabbi would have chosen as disciples. The Pharisees have attempted to accuse Jesus of working His miracles by the powers of darkness, but their claim clearly does not hold water. Since when has Satan ever told anyone to repent, as Jesus and the disciples do? When has Satan ever done good works, as Jesus and the disciples do? Did Satan ever tell you to make things right with God? He never told me that either! He tried to pull me further from God. Satan has never wanted to do anything but tell lies to mislead us. (John 8:44) He's never wanted to do anything but steal and kill and destroy. (John 10:10)

But Christ came to give us life! How will the world know they can have life through Him unless we tell them? Let's not become discouraged, no matter how many times people reject the gospel message. Let's not be hurt and offended if somebody dismisses our testimony by scornfully referring to us as "Jesus freaks". Honestly, I can think of no higher compliment than being called a "Jesus freak" because that means someone has seen something of Jesus in me, and if we don't look at least a little bit like Him, then we don't really belong to Him. So keep on doing good. Keep on sharing the gospel. That's what Jesus would do.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 23, Jesus Rejected In His Hometown Of Nazareth

Jesus has been staying in Capernaum at the home owned by the disciples Simon Peter and Andrew. Now He goes back to Nazareth for a visit.

"Jesus left there and went to His hometown, accompanied by His disciples. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed." (Mark 6:1-2a) As we learned previously in the book of Mark, Jesus' fame has become so widespread that His own family heard about it in Nazareth. Everyone in His hometown has heard of His powerful preaching and His mighty miracles, but now He travels the fifteen miles from Capernaum to Nazareth so His fellow townspeople can experience these things for themselves. We would expect the people who have known Him all His life to eagerly receive His words, but just the opposite happens.

The folks living in the small town of Nazareth watched Jesus grow up. They saw Him as a young boy running around behind Joseph, the carpenter husband of Mary, carrying a hammer and nails. They witnessed Him growing tall and strong as He labored with His hands in the carpentry shop. They approved of this young man Jesus with His strong work ethic and His kind and loving personality. But this middle-aged Jesus who walks into the synagogue and begins teaching the Scriptures as if He is a trained rabbi....what do they make of Him? He is one of their own and they consider Him their equal, so they take offense when He preaches the word of God to them. "'Where did this man get these things?' they asked. 'What's this wisdom that has been given Him? What are these remarkable miracles He is performing? Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't His sisters here with us?' And they took offense at Him." (Mark 6:2b-3)

The townspeople say among themselves, "Who does Jesus think He is? He grew up with us. He grew up poor just like we did. He had to learn a trade and work as a manual laborer. His parents couldn't afford to send Him to a religious school. He's nothing but a small-town boy who gained a name for Himself in Capernaum, and now He thinks He can come here and talk down to us! He grew up working with His hands, not studying under a rabbi. What makes Him think He can preach the word of God and tell us how to live? Furthermore, how can He claim to be the Son of God? We knew His father Joseph, God rest his soul. And we know Joseph's widow Mary. And we know Jesus' brothers and sisters. We don't care how many miracles He claims to have performed; He can't be the Son of God!"

It hurts us to think of Jesus' own townspeople being so cruel to Him, but He takes it in stride. He actually expected this to happen. "Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.'" (Mark 6:4) Mark has already told us that Jesus' mother and brothers came to Capernaum to try to forcibly drag Him back to Nazareth, believing He had become carried away and that His mind and His health were in danger. The Apostle John tells us that Jesus' brothers actually ridiculed Him at one time, scornfully suggesting He should make a major appearance at the Feast of Tabernacles and publicly declare Himself to the world, "For even His brothers did not believe in Him." (John 7:5) Jesus' brother James, who will become a leader in the church at Jerusalem after the resurrection of Christ, does not believe in Jesus before His resurrection. Before the crucifixion, James will laughingly say, "Hey, brother, take Your show on the road! Don't just hang around in the small cities of Galilee. You need to go preach at Jerusalem! That's where the action is. If You really want to be somebody, You're going to have to make a name for Yourself in the big city!"

Men going into the ministry today face some of the same opposition Jesus faced. It can be difficult for a man to preach the word of God in his hometown. People who grew up with him and who know everything about him find it hard to listen to him teaching the word of God. In their minds they think He is no better than they are and has no right to instruct them. My own pastor grew up in the same church he now leads, and he has mentioned several times that he was reluctant to preach in a church where people knew everything about him from his birth. He was reluctant not because he didn't want to help his townspeople, but because he feared they wouldn't let him. It's not only preachers who face this type of opposition, but all of us who have been changed by Christ will encounter it sooner or later. Sometimes people simply will not accept our testimony because they can't let go of who we used to be. They recall us as kids playing pranks such as toilet-papering our neighbor's lawn at Halloween. They remember seeing us at the same parties they attended in high school where alcohol or drugs were present. They have seen us make mistakes and they are unwilling to forgive us of those mistakes, even though God has forgiven us. Although Jesus never made any mistakes, His townspeople can't get over the fact that they grew up with Him. If another prophet from another town came and preached at Nazareth, they would listen to him, but they are unwilling to offer Jesus the same courtesy.

Their lack of faith in Jesus prevents them from receiving many blessings from Him. "He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith." (Mark 6:5-6) Mark isn't saying it's literally impossible for Jesus to perform miracles at Nazareth. Jesus is God, and God has the same amount of power at all times and in all places. But Jesus won't force healing on anybody. Because very few people at Nazareth had the faith to ask Him for healing, very few people were healed.

We don't find the Maker of the universe amazed at very much. In fact, the only times the Lord is amazed in the Scriptures it is either at the enormity of someone's faith or at their lack of it. Jesus has demonstrated who He is in both words and power. He is amazed that anyone can witness these things, or hear of these things, and not believe. I'm ashamed to say the Lord has probably been amazed at my lack of faith many times. He's demonstrated His faithfulness to me. He's provided His word to me. He's given His love to me. And yet I sometimes doubt He's going to come through for me. I find myself having to pray, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! Lord, help me so that You will be amazed by my faith and not by my lack of it."

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 22, Jesus Heals A Sick Woman And Raises A Dead Girl

The Lord performs two miracles in today's passage.

"When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around Him while He was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at His feet. He pleaded earnestly with Him, 'My little daughter is dying. Please come and put Your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.' So Jesus went with him." (Mark 5:21-24a) Luke tells us that the sick girl is Jairus' "only daughter, a girl of about twelve". (Luke 8:42) This man and his wife have done everything they can for their daughter but nothing has helped. The local doctor has probably done all he can and has thrown his hands up in defeat. But a Great Physician is down by the lake and Jairus runs for Him.

Jesus immediately goes with Jairus and is pressed upon by the crowd so much that it's difficult to even walk. Jairus must be in an agony of impatience and anxiety as he and Jesus move so slowly through the throng. "A large crowd followed and pressed around Him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak, because she thought, 'If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.' Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering." (Mark 5:24b-29)

Ancient remedies could often be worse than the maladies they were meant to cure. This woman has tried every "cure" available and has spent every penny she had and is worse than she was in the beginning. She has been sick for as long as Jairus' daughter has been on the earth and her need is just as urgent, for she must be terribly anemic by now and she will eventually die if she is not made well. In addition, because Leviticus 15:19 states that a woman experiencing her monthly period is unclean and that anyone who touches her is unclean, the fact that she has had continuous bleeding for twelve years means she is almost as much an outcast as a leper. She can't experience the simple pleasure of having someone put their arm around her or hold her hand or pat her on the arm. This is why she doesn't ask Jesus to touch her, (as Jairus asks Him to touch his daughter), but instead slips stealthily up behind Him.

"At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from Him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, 'Who touched My clothes?' 'You see the people crowding against You,' His disciples answered, 'and yet You can ask, 'Who touched Me?'" (Mark 5:30-31) The disciples say in an exasperated tone of voice, 'Everyone is touching You. We can hardly walk for the crowds. People are pressing in on You from every side. What do You mean by asking who touched You?"

People are touching Jesus for various reasons; some do it just so they can say they did, just as a person in our day might brag about having once shaken hands with a rock star. But there's something special about the faith of the woman whose fingertips barely brushed the edge of His robe. She can't remain unnoticed and Jesus doesn't intend for her to remain unnoticed. Her physical healing has already been accomplished but she needs some emotional healing too. "But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet and, trembling with fear, told Him the whole truth. He said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.'" (Mark 5:32-34) We don't know what this woman expects Jesus to say when she tells Him what was wrong with her and admits she who had an unclean malady dared to touch the garment of a rabbi. But she probably doesn't expect Him to tenderly call her "daughter" or look her in the eyes with more love than she has ever seen. Her outcast situation has made her somewhat invisible to her fellow man for many years, and no one has looked her in the eyes for some time, and certainly not with love. Jesus is in the restoration business and He is concerned with restoring the whole person: body, mind, and soul. The woman needs this interaction with Him to feel like a complete person again. It's possible to go through life feeling unclean because of things in the past, even though we have come to Jesus in faith, and He does not want the woman to go through the rest of her life feeling as if something is still not quite right with her. He doesn't want you and I to feel that way either. When Jesus makes us whole, He makes us all the way whole. We may have a lot of sin in our past, but after coming to Christ in faith and being made clean of our sins, we aren't meant to go through the rest of our days feeling as if we are forever marred by what's in our past. Jesus has made us clean! He has made us new! We are not who we used to be! Experiencing a continual sense of guilt over things we have already repented of displays a lack of faith in what Jesus has done for us. When He pronounces us clean we really are clean. Let's believe it!

"While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. 'Your daughter is dead,' they said. 'Why bother the teacher anymore?'" (Mark 5:35) Now here is something especially interesting. Earlier when Mark told us Jairus' daughter was dying, some commentators feel that the original text indicates she was already dead when Jairus left his house. In the English we usually find it translated something like, "she was at the point of death". When Jairus runs out of the house to find Jesus, his daughter has either just taken her last breath or is about to. It is obvious to everyone present that her life has slipped away or will in just a second. The words of the messengers reveal to us that everyone believed it was already too late when Jairus went for Jesus. They ask him, "Why bother the teacher anymore? It was already too late for Him to help when you set out to get Him. You shouldn't have bothered Him. He's healed thousands of living people, but your daughter is dead, and there's nothing He can do for her. Now get yourself together and come home and comfort your wife and help her start planning the funeral. You need to face the facts. Jesus might have been able to help her if you'd been able to get Him sooner, but what can He do about a dead child?"

"Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, 'Don't be afraid; just believe.'" (Mark 5:36) Has anyone ever told you something was hopeless? Has anyone ever direly predicted your circumstances would never change or get better? I went through a particularly awful time about ten years ago and I had people tell me to give up. One person actually said I should "stop beating a dead horse". I might have fallen for it except I knew God was able to change my situation. I didn't know for sure if He would, but I definitely believed He could. And until God clearly said "no" to me, I was going to keep on believing He just might perform a miracle in my situation. (He did, by the way, to the glory of His name! God had the last word in my circumstances and displayed His awesome power to all those who believed He wasn't going to come through for me.) Jesus says to Jairus, "Don't listen to those who claim I can't do anything to help you! Don't panic! Don't give up! I'm about to turn things around!"

"He did not let anyone follow Him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, 'Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.' But they laughed at Him." (Mark 5:37-40a) Of course Jesus knows the child is physically dead, but He also knows she has not ceased to exist. Her eternal soul is still alive and these people are not merely grieving but grieving like those who have no hope in the resurrection. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) The Bible speaks of the bodies of believers being "asleep" because the death of their bodies isn't permanent. A thing that is capable of rising again cannot truly be dead.

Jesus removes the scoffers and the wailers from the room. "After He put them all out, He took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with Him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, 'Talitha koum!' (which means, 'Little girl, I say to you, get up!'). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat." (Mark 5:40b-43) Jesus tells the three disciples and the girl's parents to keep it quiet because the religious leaders may put their plot to kill Jesus into overdrive if it is known for certain that this young girl was really dead before Jesus came into the house. Jesus cannot be put to death before the proper time. When Jesus later raises Lazarus from the dead after he has been in the tomb four days, the plot against Jesus will enter its final phase. This is probably why Jesus reserved His most famous miracle for the final days of His life. The religious leaders will even want to put Lazarus to death because his presence is a witness to Jesus' power, so another reason Jesus cautions the girl's family to stay quiet may be to protect them.

Jesus has the girl's parents prepare a meal for her. Nothing displays good health quite like a good appetite. He wants the parents to treat the girl like the normal child she is. Her nature has not been changed by what has happened to her. She is not to be worshiped because she was raised from the dead. She is not to be treated like a celebrity. She is not to be handled as if she is fragile because she once passed away. Jesus has restored her life and He has restored this family to do all the regular things that regular families do. There is something so miraculous about the ordinary, isn't there? Earlier in the day, these parents never expected to have an ordinary life again because they were losing their precious child. Earlier in the day, the woman with the issue of blood never expected to have an ordinary life again because she had run out of options and expected to eventually die of her illness. Now they all can go on with their lives and can go about their ordinary daily tasks....but with an extraordinary faith in their hearts.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 21, Jesus Heals The Demon-Possessed Man Known As Legion

Jesus and the disciples have just crossed the Sea of Galilee to reach what Mark calls "the region of the Gerasenes". The name comes from a city known as Gerasa on the eastern shore of Galilee, and its citizens were primarily Gentiles. Some of the citizens may also have been Hellenized Jews (Jews who had adopted the Greek culture).

"They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet Him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, 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 5:1-5) This man has been suffering for quite some time. He lives morbidly among the dead. He has superhuman strength and all attempts to control him have failed. He has been reduced to unintelligible mutters and screams while he practices the self-harm of cutting himself with sharp rocks. The gospel writer Luke provides this additional detail, "For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house." (Luke 8:27) The dark spiritual forces in control of this man have cut him off from family and society and have caused him to no longer observe any of the common rules of decency. Lest there be any doubt that the man is truly possessed and not merely insane, Jesus is going to do something that demonstrates the correct diagnosis.

If the disciples had not witnessed Jesus calming the sea, I doubt they could have stood their ground when the demoniac meets them on the shore. But they remain rooted to the spot while Jesus interacts with this pitifully afflicted man. "When He saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of Him. He shouted at the top of his voice, 'What do You want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God's name don't torture me!' For Jesus had said to him, 'Come out of this man, you impure spirit!'" (Mark 5:6-8) It was an ancient superstition that knowing a person's name gave you power over him. The man calls Jesus by the highest title he can think of in an attempt to gain the upper hand. The demons inside this man force him to his knees, not to worship Jesus, but to beg Jesus not to make them depart their human host. Demons desire to inhabit bodies because they can do more harm that way. They are able to use a body as a weapon, and although I don't believe we should assume most cases of serial killings or mass murders are caused by demonic possession, a small percentage of them likely are.

Jesus now asks the man's name. I am certain He knows the man's name, along with the names of any demons inhabiting him, but we have to keep in mind that there is an audience present. Jesus asks the question for the sake of the disciples and for the Gerasene pig-herders who witness this event. "Then Jesus asked him, 'What is your name?' 'My name is Legion,' he replied, 'for we are many.' And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area." (Mark 5:9-10)

The demons don't want to leave "the area". Satan has a stronghold in this Gentile region where pagan and occult practices abound. He doesn't want to give up any of his territory. Missionaries who have gone into regions of the world where Christ has never before been preached have testified to the heavy sense of intense darkness there, to the displays of demonic activity, and to the dark spiritual opposition to the ministry of the gospel.

"A large herd of pigs was feeding on a nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, 'Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.' He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned." (Mark 5:11-13) Here is the proof that the man was not simply mentally ill. He was possessed by enough demons that at least one of them went into each of the two thousand pigs. The fact that the pigs destroy themselves when the demons enter them shows everyone watching what Satan's true intentions are, "to steal and kill and destroy". (John 10:10) They had almost completely destroyed the man before Jesus got to him and they would soon have finished the job. The pigs, being animals, perhaps lack the strength to withstand the forces of darkness for very long, and they leap to their deaths. Or it could be that, compelled to leave their cozy human host, the demons have a temper tantrum and immediately destroy the pigs in a rage. Either way, allowing the demons to go into the pigs proves to everyone that the man was truly possessed and it proves to everyone that Jesus has power over evil spirits.

"Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man---and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region." (Mark 5:14-17) Can't you just feel the cool freshness of this man's mind? How wonderful it must have been to have all his mental and emotional faculties restored! He is the only person who is happy about the turn of events. The Gerasenes are unhappy about the loss of livestock and about the strange things that have happened. They would rather have demoniacs in their midst than the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus never stays where He is not welcome. "As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with Him. Jesus did not let him, but said, 'Go home to your own people and tell how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.' So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed." (Mark 5:18-20) Naturally the man wants to follow Jesus. Naturally he wants to leave the Satanic stronghold of the Gerasenes. But Jesus leaves him there to be a light to the people, just as He leaves Christians in the world to be a light to the world. The Decapolis is made up of ten Greek cities on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, and the man goes into all these cities preaching about Jesus Christ. The Gentiles of the region may have been able to dismiss Jesus and tell Him to get back in the boat and leave them alone, but they find it difficult to dismiss the living proof right in front of them. The man's testimony no doubt converts many. Lives all over the area are changed because of his testimony. This is still one of the primary ways in which lives are changed: by giving our testimonies in both words and deeds.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 20, Jesus Calms A Storm Sent By Satan

Jesus has been teaching from a boat on the Sea of Galilee. He wraps up His lesson as evening comes and then gives instructions to the disciples. Mark tells us, "That day when evening came, He said to His disciples, 'Let us go over to the other side.' Leaving the crowd behind, they took Him along, just as He was, in the boat. There were also other boats with Him." (Mark 4:35-36)

We don't know who is in the other boats, perhaps the larger group of disciples that are not part of the Twelve. Whoever these people are, they are going to witness something miraculous along with the Twelve.

The point at which the men are crossing the sea is thought to be where it is about five miles wide. When they set out we can safely assume there are no signs of an approaching storm, for the group includes experienced fishermen who know the Sea of Galilee like the back of their hands. Had there been any hint a violent storm is coming, I would expect these fishermen (and Peter in particular, since he is never shy about advising the Lord) to speak up and advise the Lord to wait until the storm passes.

But this is not a natural storm. It has a Satanic origin, and if we harbor any doubts that Satan is capable of influencing the weather, we can consult the book of Job where he sends a tornado on the house where Job's children are holding a feast. (Job 1:18-19) We know this storm on the Sea of Galilee is of Satanic origin because of the passage we will study tomorrow. Jesus is on a mission when He crosses the sea. There's a man on the other side who is possessed by so many demons that he will refer to himself as "Legion". In Jesus' day a Roman legion could consist of anywhere from three thousand to fifty-two hundred men, so this gives us some idea of how strong a hold Satan has on the man called Legion and on the Gentile area where Legion lives. The last thing Satan wants is the showdown with Jesus that's coming, so he attempts to prevent the meeting between Jesus and Legion. I don't know whether Satan thinks he can actually kill Jesus, but killing some of the disciples or the people in the other boats would have the desired effect of putting a stop to the current excursion. Even if all Satan does is shipwreck the boats without managing to harm anyone aboard, he still will have accomplished a delay in the deliverance of Legion.

"A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped." (Mark 4:37) Luke adds this remark, "They were in great danger." (Luke 8:23b)

Where is Jesus while the storm rages? He's sleeping. "Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion." (Mark 4:38a) The Lord whose power created all things is exhausted in the human body He currently inhabits. He's been preaching and healing for days on end, being constantly thronged by the crowds, so busy that Mark previously told us He and the disciples haven't even had time to eat. He's running on empty, physically speaking, and of necessity must sleep during the five-mile journey to prepare for the spiritual battle ahead. While the storm rages, He's sleeping as deeply and calmly as a child who has been put down for an afternoon nap.

In contrast, the men with Him are panicked. Several seasoned fishermen are aboard who have seen just about everything that can happen on the Sea of Galilee, but they recognize this storm as something different. It comes up out of nowhere and it's violent like no storm they've ever seen before. They believe they are in imminent danger of dying. "The disciples woke Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, don't You care if we drown?'" (Mark 4:38b) Have you ever been in a difficult situation and asked the Lord, "Don't You care? Why don't You do something?" I have! I know the frustration and fear and even anger that the disciples are experiencing when they ask Jesus, "Don't You care?" Jesus isn't up doing anything about the storm because He knows everything is going to be alright. His destiny is death on a cross, not death in a fishing boat. He also knows the destiny of each disciple, and none of them is meant to perish in a fishing boat either. Jesus can sleep like a baby because He knows God the Father is watching over all of them.

The men with Jesus believe He can do something to help. I don't know whether they believe He can stop the storm or whether they expect Him to grab a bucket and help them bail water, but either way He is immediately responsive to their cry for help. "He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm." (Mark 4:39) Several of my commentaries make note of the fact that Jesus says the same thing to the storm that He often says to demons He is casting out, "Be still!" This is further proof that the storm is of Satanic origin.

The sea is now as smooth as glass, and Jesus turns to the men with Him and asks a question. "He said to His disciples, 'Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?'" (Mark 4:40) If the disciples at this point had been fully convinced of Jesus' deity, there would have been no room for fear. They would have known that God the Father would not let anything happen to God the Son. They would have trusted Jesus' word when He told them they were going to the other side of the sea. They would have been certain He was going to protect them.

A reverent fear falls on the men when they see Jesus' power over the elements displayed. "They were terrified and asked each other, 'Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!'" (Mark 4:41) These men have already seen Jesus' power over illness and demon possession. Now they see He has power over the weather too. In the gospels the disciples often seem a bit slow to catch on, but since we are all human I doubt we would have caught on any faster. But what they've witnessed on the boat has increased their faith in the One who calmed the sea. They're going to need this extra measure of faith when they are met on the other side of the sea by something even more terrifying than the storm.