Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 46, The Triumphal Entry

Today Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem as Zion's king as foretold by the prophet Zechariah, "Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zechariah 9:9) Jesus has visited Jerusalem from time to time, as reported by the other gospel writers, but He has conducted the majority of His ministry outside the city. This is His final journey to the city. He enters it today to the shouts of "Hosanna!", but later in the week His ears will ring with cries of "Crucify Him!"

"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of His disciples, saying to them, 'Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'" (Mark 11:1-3) Critics who say Jesus never claimed to be God have evidently never read the Scriptures properly. He clearly calls Himself the "Lord" here in verse 3. He frequently uses the Messianic title "Son of Man". He refers to God as His literal Father. He accepts worship as if He is God Himself. A person would have to deliberately put blinders on his heart and mind to be able to read the gospels and still assert Jesus never said He was God.

"They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, 'What are you doing, untying that colt?' They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go." (Mark 11:4-6) Kings rode donkeys when they came in peace; horses were for battle. At His first advent we find Jesus meek and lowly, riding on a donkey, coming in peace. But at His second advent we find Him mounted on a white horse, waging war against the enemies of God, "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns. He has a name written on Him that no one knows but He Himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following Him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of His mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. 'He will rule them with an iron scepter.' He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has this name written: King Of Kings And Lord Of Lords." (Revelation 19:11-16)

When God became flesh and dwelt among us, He wore a cruel crown of thorns. But when He comes to dwell among us forever, He will be crowned with many crowns. He will be the head of every nation. He will have sovereign rule over all the earth. Christ Jesus will be the king of all peoples. Like any king who comes to power, He must vanquish His foes and establish His absolute authority. But unlike earthly kings, the kingdom He establishes will be one of righteousness. There will be nothing unfair in it. There will be nothing corrupt in it. He will rule over us with love, the same love that compelled Him to give His life for us.

"When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, He sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, 'Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" (Mark 11:7-10) "Hosanna" means "Save now!" The people are recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, but they want the kingdom to come now. They are declaring Him their king in a political sense. They want Him to rescue them from the power of Rome and to establish His authority over Israel. They quote from Psalm 118, which has Messianic undertones, but interestingly they skip over verses 22-24 (the verses that indicate the rejection of Christ at Jerusalem: He is "the stone the builders rejected") and go straight to the verses which suggest ultimate and absolute victory, "Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." (Psalm 118:25-26a)

Jesus deliberately presents Himself as king to the people. He purposely sets this scene up to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah. The people understand what He's saying and they respond joyfully. They believe Jesus is the Promised One. They are seeking the salvation of the nation more than they are seeking the salvation of their souls, and I can't help but be grateful that the religious leaders of Jesus' day rejected Him, for if He had not gone to the cross, where would be the eternal and perfect sacrifice for our sins? I'd still be lost, "separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world". (Ephesians 2:12)

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 45, Blind Bartimaeus

Jesus is about fifteen miles from Jerusalem now, on a crowded road filled with pilgrims on their way to the city to celebrate Passover. This is a good opportunity for a man like the blind Bartimaeus to sit by the roadside to ask for money. He can't work because he can't see, so he is reduced to begging money from passersby. Considering the size of the crowds going down the road at this time of year, he stands to take in a pretty neat sum. But Bartimaeus is going to get more than he bargained for today. Jesus is passing by, and Jesus will give him the thing he wants most.

"Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and His disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means 'son of Timaeus') was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'" (Mark 10:46-47) Bartimaeus has obviously heard a lot about Jesus, but I bet he never dreamed he'd actually meet Him. Being blind, he isn't able to travel to any of the locales where Jesus has been teaching and healing. He is not as fortunate as some of the characters we've already met who had friends who took them to Jesus. Bartimaeus is able to do nothing but what he has done most of his life: sit by the roadside and hope passersby will have compassion on him. There are no social programs to help him. There are no assisted-living centers to take care of him. Nobody from Meals On Wheels is going to bring him a lunch every day. He's doing the only thing he knows to do in order to keep bread on his table. Imagine how discouraging it must have been for him to have to get up every morning and spend the day asking for money. Imagine how depressing it was for him to think the rest of his life was going to be like this.

But suddenly the unexpected happens. He's used to the commotion the crowds make on their way to Jerusalem, and he knows there are more people on the road right now than usual, but there's an excitement in the air. There is a sense of boisterous joy. He knows something is different about this crowd, so he asks what's going on and is told, "It's Jesus of Nazareth!" Bartimaeus can hardly contain the hope that wells up inside of him. These words burst out of his mouth, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Here is the one person on earth who can help him, really help him!

"Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!'" (Mark 10:48) Some in the crowd who recognize Bartimaeus are probably telling him to shut up because they are thinking, "There's that old beggar who pesters everybody who walks down this road! How dare he bother the Master?" Others who tell him to be quiet may be the religious leaders, who object to the use of the Messianic title "Son of David" being used in reference to Jesus of Nazareth. Bartimaeus doesn't care who they are and he doesn't care what they are saying. All he knows is that Jesus is passing by. All he knows is that Jesus can help him. Because he is blind he can't make his way through the crowd to Jesus. He isn't sure exactly where Jesus is and the crowd would probably block his way. He can't get to Jesus on his own, so he just keeps shouting louder, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Jesus hears his cry for help. He hears Bartimaeus' confession of faith that He is the Messiah. "Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.' So they called to the blind man, 'Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you.' Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus." (Mark 10:49-50) Jesus makes Himself accessible.

"'What do you want me to do for you?' Jesus asked him." (Mark 10:51a) I'm sure Jesus knows what Bartimaeus wants. He can clearly see the man is blind and begging by the roadside. But for the sake of the disciples and the huge crowd, Jesus asks him to make his request. The onlookers need to understand the nature of the problem so they can witness the miracle. In addition, I think it's important that we clearly make our requests of Jesus. We need to confess the desires of our hearts. We don't want to be like those of whom the Lord's brother James says, "You have not because you ask not." (James 4:2b)

"The blind man said, 'Rabbi, I want to see.'" (Mark 10:51b) We don't know whether Bartimaeus was born blind or whether some illness or injury caused his condition. But more than anything else in the world, he wants to be able to see. He wants to be able to live a normal life, to work with his own hands and provide for himself. Sitting by the roadside begging is killing his soul. He feels like less than a man, less than human. He knows he's an annoyance to those he begs from. He knows at at best they pity him and at worst they despise him. He wants nothing more than just to be a regular guy living a regular life.

"'Go,' said Jesus, 'your faith has healed you.' Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road." (Mark 10:52) The first face Bartimaeus sees is that of Jesus! Bartimaeus could have gone his way at this point. He could have been like nine of the ten lepers of Luke 17 who, after being healed by Jesus, went their way without even thanking Him. But Bartimaeus is deeply grateful to Jesus, so much so that he follows Him to Jerusalem. Nothing good awaits Jesus at Jerusalem, but Bartimaeus is willing to follow Him anywhere. He believes Jesus is who He says He is. He wants to go wherever Jesus is going. The fact that a cross is at the end of this road instead of glory doesn't matter to the blind man who can now see. He has decided to follow Jesus. Nothing is going to make him turn back.

Let's conclude our study this morning by singing along with the simple lyrics of the song "I Have Decided To Follow Jesus". The link is below.
I Have Decided To Follow Jesus

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 44, Jesus Speaks Of His Death Again/James And John Ask For High Positions In The Kingdom

During His entire ministry, Jesus has been teaching and healing in the regions round about Jerusalem, saving Jerusalem for last because that is where He will meet His death. Today He heads straight for the city where He will be crucified, and along the way He reminds the disciples that no king's crown awaits Him there. The brothers James and John ask for high positions when Jesus inherits His kingdom.

"They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again He took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to Him. 'We are going up to Jerusalem,' He said, 'and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.'" (Mark 10:32-34) The disciples are astonished that Jesus resolutely sets one foot in front of the other on the road to Jerusalem. He knows what awaits Him there, yet He continues. The entire group following them is filled with a sense of dread.

We spoke earlier in our study about Jesus having set His face like flint, knowing what's ahead of Him but refusing to turn back, and in His statement above we find further references to the same passage of Isaiah who said this of the Messiah, "I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates Me is near. Who then will bring charges against Me? Let us face each other! Who is My accuser? Let him confront Me!" (Isaiah 50:6-9) Jesus' accusers will not be able to find charges against Him that stick; the only thing they will be able to accuse Him of is blasphemy for making Himself equal with God (a thing that is not blasphemy when it's true). Pontius Pilate will find Him innocent. God will find Him innocent. His accusers may hand Him over to the Gentiles who will beat Him, spit on Him, and put Him to death, but He will die an innocent man, guilty only of telling a truth the religious leaders didn't want to hear.

"Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, 'Teacher,' they said, 'we want You to do for us whatever we ask.' 'What do you want Me to do for you?' He asked. They replied, 'Let one of us sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your glory.'" (Mark 10:35-37) The timing of their request is odd. On the surface it appears callous to make such a request while Jesus is foretelling His suffering and death. But on a deeper level their request displays their faith in Him. It proves to us that, though they don't fully understand what Jesus is telling them, they believe Him. They believe He's who He says He is. They believe He's going to die and rise again. They believe He's going to inherit the kingdom of God and someday reign over the world. If they weren't convinced of these things, they wouldn't apply for the positions of Jesus' top officials. William Barclay has this to say about verse 37, "It is amazing that they could still connect glory with a Galilean carpenter who had incurred the enmity and the bitter opposition of the orthodox religious leaders and who was apparently heading for a cross. There is amazing confidence and amazing loyalty there. Misguided James and John might be, but their hearts were in the right place. They never doubted Jesus' ultimate triumph."

"'You don't know what you are asking,' Jesus said. 'Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?' 'We can,' they answered. Jesus said to them, 'You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.'" (Mark 10:38-40) Jesus has been teaching the disciples to have the heart of a servant, to be humble, and to put the needs of others above their own needs. They keep missing the point. They won't always miss it, because following the resurrection they will be willing to risk their very lives to get the gospel to the world, but right now these young ambitious men are busy sizing each other up and vying for promotions. They are still thinking according to worldly standards and behaving according to worldly standards.

Jesus is about to drink a bitter cup. He is about to endure betrayal, torture, and death. He wants these men to think about what they are asking. If they want to hold high positions in His kingdom, they must be willing to endure the same type of persecution He is going to endure. Being a first-century Christian means being in constant peril. Is He worth it to them? They believe He is, at least in this moment while they are still on the dusty road to Jerusalem. They believe He is, right now while He is still a free man. When He is arrested they will flee in terror. But that's alright, because that isn't the end of their story. After seeing the resurrected Christ, they will have the boldness to stand up to anything. They will preach the gospel fearlessly. Jesus speaks the truth when He says they will drink the cup and endure the baptism. James will be the first disciple to be martyred for the faith. John will live a long life filled with persecution and troubles and will die an old man in exile and in prison. It is believed by some scholars that he died of natural causes, while others think he was executed. God will decide who occupies the top spots in the kingdom, but if these men want to be great men of faith in the early Christian church, they can hold nothing back.

"When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John." (Mark 10:41) I don't think the ten are indignant because they feel the request of James and John is inappropriate. I think they're indignant because they didn't think of it first! They're also upset because James and John apparently consider themselves better "leader material" than the rest of the group.

Jesus often has to take on the father role when these "children" bicker among themselves. "Jesus called them together and said, 'You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.'" (Mark 10:42-44) Jesus has made this point before, but He doesn't become angry or impatient. He knows a time is coming when these "children" will grow up and become mighty warriors in the kingdom of God. When we were children, our parents taught us important principles that we would need when we became adults. Jesus is doing the same thing. These men aren't getting it yet, but they will. When the proper time comes, everything He's taught them will make sense, and they will have such hearts for serving others that they will be willing to give their lives to share the good news of the gospel.

Jesus uses Himself as an example for the men to follow, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) If we want to be great men and women in the kingdom of God, we have to follow the example of Jesus. To follow Him is to be like Him, which is why He will say on the night before the crucifixion, "By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 43, Little Children/The Rich Young Man

We study two events in today's passage. One involves humble little children and the other involves a man who values wealth more than he values his relationship with God.

"People were bringing little children to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them." (Mark 10:13-16) The disciples feel it's a waste of Jesus' time to be blessing all these little children, but this is because they have not learned the lesson He taught a few days ago in which He held a small child and warned them never to hinder the faith of a little one. He also pointed out that in order to be great, we must serve even those who can give us nothing in return, and He used the small child as an example. The disciples want to shoo these children away but Jesus lovingly takes them in His arms and blesses them. He is the greatest of the great, yet He has time for the meek and helpless. These small children have no power or influence, yet He treats them with care and respect.

"As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. 'Good teacher,' he asked, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' 'Why do you call Me good?' Jesus answered. 'No one is good---except God alone.'" (Mark 10:17-18) Critics have used verse 18 to make the statement that Jesus is denying that He is God. On the contrary, He wants this man to examine why he believes Jesus has the answer he seeks. Jesus has repeatedly used the Messianic title "Son Of Man" in reference to Himself. Time and again He has claimed God is His Father, and to be the adult son of someone was to be his heir and his equal. He has presented all the credential of the Messiah by performing the miracles that were predicted by Old Testament prophets. If He is not who He claims to be, He is not good. Jesus is asking the man something like, "Why do you call Me good? Only God is good; does this mean you believe I am God? Why have you come to Me for advice on eternal life? Do you believe I can give you eternal life?"

Next Jesus quotes a portion of the ten commandments which have to do with how to treat our fellow man. "You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.' 'Teacher,' he declared, 'all these I have kept since I was a boy.'" (Mark 10:19-20)

This man is telling the truth. He has faithfully followed God's commandments in regard to his interactions with other human beings. But Jesus sees straight into his heart. He knows this man has not kept a commandment that has to do with his relationship with God. He has broken the commandment that says, "You shall have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:3) He has kept the letter of the law, but has lost the heart of it. The law is not merely a keeping of rules, but the building of a relationship. "Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'One thing you lack,' He said, 'Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.'" (Mark 10:21)

The man has put another god before the living God: his wealth. "At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth." (Mark 10:22) Jesus isn't saying that we all must give our earthly goods to the poor in order to follow Him. He's saying we must lay aside anything that hinders us from following Him. That will be something different for each of us according to our individual personalities. In this man's case it was his wealth. Wealth is what he really worships more than anything else, so Jesus urges him to cast this idol out of his life so that God can have the number one spot in his heart.

After the man departs, Mark tells us that, "Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!' The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, 'Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'" (Mark 10:23-25) In ancient times wealth was looked upon as proof of the favor of God. The thinking of the disciples was, "Wow, the Lord has really blessed this man! He must be a pretty good guy. God must be pleased with him to have given him so much money." But as men such as Job and Solomon pointed out, the wicked sometimes prosper in this fallen world while the righteous suffer hardship. Wealth is not proof that God is pleased with a person's life.

The thinking of the world led the disciples to believe this man has a better chance of getting into heaven than they do, but the opposite is true. This man trusts in his riches. This man constantly has his mind on his riches and is always worrying about how to keep his money and about how to make it multiply. He has little time left over to think about God, so his worship has become legalistic. He keeps the law as best he can because he knows right from wrong, but at the same time his heart is very far from God. He's trying to obtain salvation through works, but salvation has never been obtainable by works. Salvation is by faith. Salvation comes through a relationship with our Maker, not through the keeping of rules. God wants our hearts. If we give Him our hearts, our obedience to Him will naturally follow. But obedience is a heavy burden when our hearts aren't in it.

"The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, 'Who then can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.'" (Mark 10:25-27) I bet you've heard the expression, "What can you give the man who has everything?" The trouble with immense wealth is that it has the tendency to make a person believe he has all he needs. In general, who is more likely to cry out to God for help: the person who needs God to put daily bread on the table, or the person who lives in complete comfort without a care in the world? But we find several examples in the Bible of wealthy men who are faithful to God. And we can find many examples in our world today of wealthy individuals who love the Lord with all their hearts. By the standards of a fallen world, such a thing appears impossible, that a person who has all he needs materially speaking would still turn to God for the needs of his soul. But such things do happen, because nothing is impossible for God.

"Then Peter spoke up, 'We have left everything to follow you!' 'Truly I tell you,' Jesus replied, 'no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields---along with persecutions---and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.'" (Mark 10:28-31) Peter is thinking that surely he and the other disciples will be highly regarded in the kingdom of heaven. They've left their livelihoods to follow Him. They've risked their reputations to follow Him. It will soon be a risk to their lives to follow Him. Jesus assures Peter there is a reward for putting Him first. These men who are going to share the gospel with the world will endure persecutions, and some of their family members and friends will turn their backs on them, but at the same time they will gain a new family and friends. They will become members of the ever-growing body of believers. They will also inherit eternal life because of their faith and because they have not put other gods in place of the one true God.

Jesus reminds Peter not to be overcome with pride. It is God's business who holds the highest positions in His kingdom, and it may not be those we expected. It may not be the ones who most visibly served Him or who gave the most money or who devoted the most time to church work. It may be the prayer warriors who knelt privately in their homes every morning. It may be the unsung heroes who worked behind the scenes. God will sort these things out when the time comes. In the meantime, Peter is not to be concerned with who is the greatest, but with how best to serve God and his fellow man.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 42, The Pharisees Question Jesus About Divorce

The Pharisees are at it again. They've come up with a question for Jesus regarding divorce and the question is intended as a trap. Before we get started I want to tell you that you don't need to fear reading today's passage if you have a divorce in your past or if you're currently going through a divorce. Even if you divorced someone for what could be considered non-Biblical reasons, you don't need to keep beating yourself up for anything Christ has already forgiven you for. If you and the Lord have dealt with it, He's done with it.

"Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to Him, and as was His custom, He taught them. Some Pharisees came and tested Him by asking, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?'" (Mark 10:1-2) Matthew reveals to us the true nature of their question, "They asked, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?'" (Matthew 19:3) The law of Moses said a man could divorce his wife if "he finds something indecent about her". (Deuteronomy 24:1) The early rabbis interpreted this as meaning the man's wife has been unfaithful to him, so they said divorce was legal only in cases where adultery has taken place. By Jesus' day the law regarding divorce was interpreted very liberally. A man could divorce his wife simply because the bloom has worn off the relationship and he finds her irritating. He could divorce her simply for speaking with another man in public. He could divorce her for something so ridiculous as burning his dinner. By Jesus' day marriage was beginning to be treated as something disposable according to the whims of man.

Jesus answers the Pharisees' question with a question. "'What did Moses command you?' He replied." (Mark 10:3) Jesus asks something like, "What did Moses actually say? Did he say you could divorce your wife for any old reason that suits you? What is the heart of this law? Was it not intended for the good of the person who has been betrayed, so that this person will not have to continue living with the one who has hurt and shamed them? Or do you think it was intended so that men can continually upgrade their wives, trading in the old for the new?" Jesus has already pointed out several times in the book of Mark that the religious leaders have twisted God's laws to suit their own selfish desires. For instance, they said a man could refuse to support his parents in their old age by devoting the funds to the temple instead. (Mark 7:11) This allowed a man to refuse to honor his parents, which breaks one of the ten commandments, yet at the same time he could feel virtuous about giving a large offering to the Lord. The same thing is going on in today's passage. The Pharisees are allowing men to perpetrate cruelty upon their wives by permitting them to divorce their wives for any reason that pops into their heads. They are allowing men to be inhumane to the women God intended them to cherish and protect.

In their answer, the Pharisees avoid quoting the part of the law which says a man can divorce his wife because of "indecency", and instead they quote the part that tells a man how to go about obtaining the divorce. "They said, 'Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.'" (Mark 10:4) I believe they already realize they've been caught in their own trap. They aren't going to get the best of Jesus; He's going to get the best of them. They thought He would speak words contrary to Moses so they could accuse Him of claiming to be a greater authority than Moses. They thought His answer might put Him at odds with Herod Antipas, whose wife already had John the Baptist killed for criticizing the fact that they divorced their spouses to marry each other. They thought His answer might anger the crowd, which probably contains a number of divorced people, so that they would turn away from Jesus' teachings. But Jesus puts the Pharisees to shame.

"'It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,' Jesus said. 'But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female'. 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.'" (Mark 10:5-9) Jesus quotes a law that supersedes that of Moses: the words spoken by God Himself . God created the laws for marriage. His authority is greater than that of Moses. Jesus has answered in a way that leaves the Pharisees unable to reply. They cannot now attack Him and say, "Who do You think You are by saying divorce isn't lawful? Are You greater than Moses?" Jesus is indeed greater than Moses, but instead of pointing this out, He quotes directly from the word of God. No one in His audience doubts that God is greater than Moses, so the discussion is ended.

In the book of Mark it would almost appear that Jesus is denying there are any grounds for divorce, but Matthew helps us see that this is not the case. In Matthew 5:31-32 and in Matthew 19:9 Jesus clearly states that divorce is permissible in cases of infidelity. This does not mean a person has to divorce his or her unfaithful spouse if there is a way to save the marriage, but it means it is not a sin to do so. Though Mark doesn't specifically say so, I believe we can safely assume that in today's passage Jesus is upholding the heart of the law regarding divorce, which is that a person may divorce a spouse for adultery (the 'indecency' mentioned in the law of Moses), but that He finds all other reasons unlawful.

In the privacy of the house the disciples want to know more. "When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, 'Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.'" (Mark 10:10-12) In this example it seems the man is divorcing his wife because he wants to be with another woman, and the woman is divorcing her husband in order to be with another man. In Jesus' eyes these reasons are not legitimate. He's telling us it's not okay to say, "I've fallen out of love with my husband. I think I may have married the wrong man. If he were the right man for me, I'd be happy, wouldn't I? If he were the right man for me, I couldn't have fallen in love with the guy from work, could I? I don't believe God put me and my husband together. I think God meant for me and this other man to be together instead."

Today's passage is not intended to discourage anyone about what they've done in the past, but to keep us from making mistakes in the future. Today's passage is intended to help us see what is at the heart of the law and to put God's word above man's word, and God's word never said anything about looking for the man or woman who is our "soul mate". I believe the idea of a soul mate is the greatest scam against marriage that Satan has ever come up with. The only soul mate you and I will ever have is Jesus Christ. The only one who will ever complete us is Jesus Christ. The only one able to fulfill us emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually is Jesus Christ. Your spouse is not the wrong person for you simply because he or she doesn't feel like a soul mate. He or she was never intended to be a soul mate but to be your partner in life and your companion on the Christian journey. Once we realize only Christ can fulfill our deepest needs, we are free to love our spouses in the way God intended. My husband of twenty-three years is not Jesus Christ. (There have been many days in our marriage where neither of us resembled Jesus very much, I'm afraid.) Your husband or your wife is not Jesus Christ. Let's let Jesus be Jesus and let's let our spouses be our spouses.

One last point I want to make is this: we can't use the excuse that perhaps God didn't join us together with our spouses. Did you marry the wrong person? Did I? Some of us more than likely did! Some of us chose a spouse who was not the best choice for us, but that's not the point Jesus is making when He says, "what God has joined together, let no one separate". He's not saying God didn't join us with our spouse if we chose the wrong person or that God doesn't expect us to try and make the marriage work. In the original language the joining together means God witnessed our marriage vows and signed His name to the marriage document. This is the same way in which a priest, minister, or justice of the peace would witness our marriage and sign the document. If the minister who witnessed my wedding vows and signed my marriage certificate didn't think I made a good choice, is his signature any less valid? No, and neither is God's. The minister joined us together whether he approved of our choice or not and he expected us to leave the church and try to make a go of it. In the same way, God joined us together and expected us to try and make a go of it.

Any of us could end up divorced, either willingly or unwillingly. I'm not here to judge anyone. I was planning to file for divorce myself at one time. My husband was too. It just so happened that by the time we decided we were done trying, we were also out of money. Neither of us could afford to go downtown to a law office and shell out the sum of money necessary to get the proceedings started. Divorce is something that has the potential to occur in any marriage, but Jesus lays down some principles in today's passage that are able to help those of us who are currently married or those who may someday get married.

Maybe you have a broken marriage in your past, but you aren't living in the past. Maybe your divorce was caused by reasons other than those considered valid in the Scriptures, but if you and the Lord have dealt with this matter, He's done with it. He's not going to keep bringing it up. He's more concerned with where you're going than with where you've been.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 41, More Jealousy Among The Disciples/A Lesson On Hell

In yesterday's passage Jesus told the disciples not to squabble among themselves about which of them is the greatest. The disciples may be willing (for the moment at least) to concede that God views them all equally, but they definitely do not view those outside their group as equals. "'Teacher,' said John, 'we saw someone driving out demons in Your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.'" (Mark 9:38) It's bad enough that some of the disciples lacked the faith to drive a demon out of the boy who was brought to them earlier in Chapter 9, but they hindered the successful exorcism ministry of someone else. The unnamed man's faith in Jesus was powerful enough to do what nine of the disciples together had been unable to do. Yet they forbade him to continue the work because he was not one of the Twelve.

"'Do not stop him,' Jesus said. 'For no one who does a miracle in My name can in the next moment say anything bad about Me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in My name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.'" (Mark 9:39-41) He cautions the Twelve, "Don't stop anyone from doing good in My name. Anything good done in My name brings glory to me and has the capability to draw others to salvation."

I think Jesus is still holding the small child in His lap, the child He used in a teaching moment yesterday, because He goes on to say, "If anyone causes one of these little ones---those who believe in Me---to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:42) The 'little ones' may represent not only children but anyone new to the faith. Jesus says woe to anyone who hinders the faith of new believers. He mentions a method of execution that was actually used by the Romans, in which a large millstone of the type drawn by donkeys across a threshing floor would be tied by ropes to a condemned person before that person was cast into a body of water to drown. He says that a person would be better off to suffer capital punishment at the hands of man than to face a holy God after crushing the faith of a new believer.

Since we will all someday stand before a holy God, Jesus gives more stern warnings about how we are to live our lives. "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be cast into hell, where 'the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.'" (Mark 9:43-48) Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation. He's saying that sin is more disabling than anything else that could ever happen to us. After all, the things that happen to us in this life can only kill us once. No illness or injury can kill our souls. But the sins we commit in this life are able to cause an early death for our bodies and are able to separate our souls from God for eternity. The word Jesus uses for "stumble" indicates a type of falling that is without recovery. We all stumble in the sense of making mistakes from time to time, but Jesus is not talking about the person who messes up, repents, and continues following Him. He's talking about the person who is so deeply entrenched in sin that he doesn't want to be rescued from it. This is a soul that prefers the life of sin and has no desire for the things of God.

Jesus quotes Isaiah 66:24 in which God promises to deliver Israel from her enemies, because Israel's enemies are God's enemies. He says that His people "will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against Me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind." Anyone who lives in rebellion against God's word is His enemy, and if a person lives his entire life in this unrepentant attitude, a fearful judgment awaits him. The English word "hell" has been put in the place of "gehenna", which is the word Jesus uses for the location where unrepentant sinners will be cast. Gehenna refers to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, which is a deep ravine outside Jerusalem where the Ammonites worshiped their loathsome god Molech. It was in this area that the pagan peoples sacrificed children in the fire to their god Molech. Two of Judah's own kings, Ahaz and Manasseh, sacrificed their offspring to Molech. It's unknown how many citizens of Judah did likewise when they fell into idolatry. Because of it's deplorable history, the Valley of Ben Hinnom became a depository for all unclean things, such as carcasses and garbage. By Jesus' day it is believed it had been turned into something like a city dump where fires burned continually to devour the waste and where maggots feasted on rotting food and the flesh of dead animals.

Does this mean hell is a literal place of unquenchable fire? Our passage today is probably where the idea of a burning hell comes from, since Jesus likens the eternal destiny of the rebellious soul to the fate of the detestable things rotting and burning in the city dump. There are other passages which seem to indicate hell is a place of intense heat, one example being the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) where the rich man who went to hell says he's tormented in the flames. The place prepared for Satan and for those whose names are not found written in the Lamb's book of life is called the "lake of fire" in Revelation 20:14-15. But more to the point, Jesus uses the word gehenna not so much because it is a place where fire burns but because it is a place of no return. It's a place that symbolizes destruction. It's the destination of souls who, to their eternal shame, rejected everything to do with God. Gehenna stands for waste and uselessness. It is a destination for things that are unclean and of no value.

What do we do with our household waste? We either have the garbage men pick it up or we haul it to a dumpster, but either way it all ends up at the dump because it's useless and of no value. What is God to do with rebellious souls who have been of no use or value to Him or to His children? They cannot be assigned a place in eternity with His precious children. God will protect those who are His from all eternity from anything wicked or defiled, so He made a separate place for those who have rebelled against Him. What that place will be like, I don't know. Whether it will be a literal place of burning, I don't know. But it will be a place where darkness can never mix with light, where the children of the night can never interact with the children of the day. It will be a location of desolation and hopelessness from which no one will ever return.

The main thing to take away from all this is that hell, whatever its nature may be, is a place we want to avoid at all costs. It is a place we can avoid by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, whose shed blood is the only sacrifice God finds acceptable for our sins. Through Him we can escape a fate of desolation and hopelessness. Through Him we can enjoy a more abundant life here on this earth and an eternal life in His glorious presence.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 40, Another Prediction Of Jesus' Death/How To Be A Humble Servant

Jesus has been performing His ministry in the regions outside of Jerusalem, but the time is coming for Him to make His way there where betrayal, a cross, and death await Him. Again He reminds the disciples that this is the purpose for which He came to earth.

"They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because He was teaching His disciples." (Mark 9:30-31a) He needs some time away from the crowds so He can speak privately with the men who will soon be carrying the gospel to the world. These men must receive enough instruction now to be able to understand the redemptive power of Jesus' death and resurrection when those things come to pass.

"He said to them, 'The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.' But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it." (Mark 9:31b-32) Up until now it's been difficult for me to understand why the disciples didn't grill Jesus with question after question. I'm the type of person who usually has to keep digging until I get an answer, even when I know the answer is going to hurt. I've always said I'd rather be told the truth, even if it hurts, than to be deceived. But this morning I was reading William Barclay's commentary on Mark 9 and he explains the disciples' reaction like this, "They were like men who knew so much they were afraid to know more. A man might receive a verdict from his doctor. He might think the general purport of the verdict bad, but not understand all the details, and he might be afraid to ask questions, for the simple reason that he is afraid to know any more. The disciples were like that."

Mr. Barclay's comments remind me of my mother's behavior upon receiving her diagnosis of terminal cancer. She asked little to no questions. My brother related to me that she told him she didn't ask the doctor how long she might have to live because she didn't want to know. The diagnosis itself was almost more than she could bear; knowing more details wasn't going to make her feel any better. The disciples are faced with news so bad they can hardly bear it. Knowing more details isn't going to make them feel any better. If they don't ask about the "when" and the "how", they can keep pretending Jesus' death is somewhere far off in the future. It allows them to put some distance between themselves and something they don't want to accept.

In order to take their minds off an unpleasant subject, the men indulge themselves in speculating which of them is Jesus' favorite and which of them will hold the highest position in His kingdom. They argue the matter all the way back to the house at Capernaum. "They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, 'What were you arguing about on the road?' But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest." (Mark 9:33-34) Here the disciples remind me of a group of small children. When I was a kid riding in the back seat of the car with some of the other little girls in my family, we'd often do or say things that got us into trouble with the adults in the front seat. All of a sudden one of our moms would turn around and demand to know what was going on back there. We'd all clam up. You could hear a pin drop. We didn't want to admit what the commotion was all about. The disciples behave the same way in verse 34. They know Jesus won't approve of what they've been doing, so they clam up.

Jesus knows why they've been arguing and He demonstrates His knowledge by what He does next. "Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, 'Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.'" (Mark 9:35) What a contrast we find between Jesus' teachings and the teachings of the world! The world says to us, "Step on anybody you have to step on in order to climb to the top of the ladder. Talk yourself up and push yourself forward at every opportunity. Show the bosses you're better than everyone else in the company. Watch the performance of those around you and be ready to stab them in the back with any misconduct you see. You are number one! You have to look out for number one." But Jesus says, "Do you want to be somebody great? Then serve others! Follow My example. I am the crown prince of heaven, yet I came to earth to serve mankind. I could have remained where I was, basking in the adoration of all the angels, seated on a throne beside the Father....but how would that have benefited you? It's My ministry as a servant that benefits you. Go and do likewise."

"He took a little child whom He placed among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the One who sent Me.'" (Mark 9:36-37) The Lord sets a small child on His lap, perhaps one of the children of Peter or Andrew in whose home Jesus is staying. He uses a humble and helpless child to illustrate His point. It's human nature to seek out people with the most influence and to try to impress those who can do the most for us. But Jesus reminds the disciples that every person is of equal value. If we are not willing to serve the weakest and most helpless among us, we do not have a heart like Christ's. He is saying, "If you will humble yourselves and serve even those who can't do anything for you, you are serving Me because you are behaving like Me. If you serve only those who can help you on your way, you are just serving yourselves."

There is no greater way to honor the Lord than to be like Him. Can we truly say we are His if we don't resemble Him in the slightest?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 39, Jesus Exorcises A Demon Too Powerful For The Disciples

Previously in the book of Mark we found Jesus giving the Twelve the power to heal and cast out demons. But a particularly difficult case has been brought to the nine disciples who did not go up on the mountain with Jesus. When Jesus, Peter, James, and John come down from the mountain, they are met with an emotionally charged and confusing scene. "When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them." (Mark 9:14)

"As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet Him." (Mark 9:15) I can just imagine their relief when they spot Jesus, for here is someone who can take charge of the situation.

"'What are you arguing with them about?' He asked. A man in the crowd answered, 'Teacher, I brought You my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked Your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.'" (Mark 9:17-18) This man brought his son to see Jesus, but Jesus was on the mountain with three of the disciples, so the man asked the remaining disciples to cast the spirit out of his son. They were unable to do so, giving Jesus' enemies an opportunity to verbally attack them. These detractors may have said something like, "We thought your Master endowed you with similar powers as His. Didn't we hear you were healing people in the villages of Galilee? Wasn't it reported that you cast out demons in the name of Jesus? We don't see any evidence of your ability to do these things. In our opinion, some form of trickery is afoot, and the reason you have failed today is because you aren't able to cast your heathen spells or work your magic tricks while we are watching you so closely."

It's tempting to believe the man's son is suffering only from a physical malady, perhaps epilepsy. It certainly sounds as if he is experiencing seizures. But I believe this man's assessment of his son's condition is correct: he is demon possessed. If he were not, Jesus would not speak directly to the demon as He does later on in today's passage. Jesus would not play into a false ideology.

In reply to the man's explanation of what everyone is arguing about, Jesus appears exasperated. "'You unbelieving generation,' Jesus replied, 'how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to Me.'" (Mark 9:19) I think most likely Jesus is addressing His enemies who have been berating the disciples and arguing with them until they have become tired and frustrated and confused. He may also be addressing the nine disciples whose faith has not been able to stand in the face of so much opposition. When Jesus sent the Twelve out in pairs in Mark 6, we found them fully able to perform healings and exorcisms. But with Jesus and three of their number on the mountain, they became bogged down in doubts and fears. They endured a crisis of faith while Jesus was on the mountain, just as the children of Israel endured a crisis of faith while Moses was on the mountain.

"So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy's father, 'How long has he been like this?' 'From childhood,' he answered. 'It has often thrown him into the fire or water to kill him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us.'" (Mark 9:20-22) The true intentions of Satan are displayed in the ways the demon abuses this boy, for Satan only wants to "steal, kill and destroy". (John 10:10)

Jesus wants to encourage this distressed father in his faith, so He repeats the man's words back to him, "'If You can?' said Jesus. 'Everything is possible for one who believes.'" (Mark 9:23) Remember how Jesus was unable to heal many people in His hometown of Nazareth because of their lack of faith? The same principle is at work in today's passage. Jesus can make offers of healing to us all day long, but if we don't have the faith to accept His offers, we aren't going to receive our healing. In the same way, Jesus doesn't force salvation on anyone. We must believe He is who He says He is in order to be saved.

May the good Lord bless this unnamed father for saying what he says next! "Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, 'I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24) Don't we sometimes believe and not believe at the same time? I've had to say to the Lord, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief." Thanks be to God that He is able to take what belief we have and make it grow. All we need to do is offer God what we have; He gives the increase. The boy's father cries out, "Lord, I do believe You are able to help us! But a part of me doubts it at the same time. Help me to have enough faith so that I may receive my request!"

"When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, He rebuked the impure spirit. 'You deaf and mute spirit,' He said, 'I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.' The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, 'He's dead.' But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up." (Mark 9:25-27) The boy must have passed out due to the strain on his body that the demon caused as it departed, but at the touch of Jesus he comes around and is completely normal.

"After Jesus had gone indoors, His disciples asked Him privately, 'Why couldn't we drive it out?' He replied, 'This kind can come out only by prayer.'" (Mark 9:28-29) Now we now why these men became so discombobulated by the situation they faced today. They are guilty of letting their prayer life become sloppy. Jesus always takes time to be alone with God in prayer, but these men have not followed His example. There is a direct connection between their lack of prayer and their lack of faith. Had they been diligent in their prayer life, they would not have experienced their humiliating public defeat. How many times have we fallen into despair and defeat as a result of not maintaining our prayer connection with our Creator? I know this has been the cause of much of my own fear and doubt. Let's all resolve to be more like Jesus in our prayer habits. If we would just take a few quiet minutes every day to commune with the Father, I believe we'd meet with far fewer defeats in life. There is power in prayer. It's power that's available to us any time we want it. Let's all try to do better and see what great things our God accomplishes in our lives!

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 38, Jesus Explains A Prophecy Concerning The Prophet Elijah And John The Baptist

God the Father has just commanded from the cloud, "This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!" Immediately after this Mark tells us, "Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus." (Mark 9:8) I think the three disciples were getting carried away by the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Peter already suggested staying on the mountain and building shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah as if these three men are of equal importance. God the Father reminded them that it's the Son they must listen to and follow, and suddenly the Son is the only one with them. There are many voices calling to us in this world. There are lots of things that are capable of taking our eyes off Jesus. But we can remain in the will of God by being focused on Jesus and on His words.

"As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what 'rising from the dead' meant." (Mark 9:9-10) It's easy for us, looking back in time, to wonder why the disciples seem so slow to catch on, but we have an advantage over them. We get to view the completed plan of salvation as a whole, while they had to learn about it a bit at a time. Jesus doesn't overwhelm the disciples with information; He only tells them as much as they can handle for each day. Even on the night before the crucifixion Jesus will say, "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear." (John 16:12) To paraphrase His words, He says, "You can't take in everything right now. You're sorrowful and frightened because I've told you I'm going to the cross. But after My resurrection and after I ascend to the Father, the Holy Spirit will come and teach you all the things you need to know. You will be able to understand then why all these things had to happen."

Why does Jesus tell the three disciples not to share what they've just seen with anyone until after the resurrection? I suppose because no one will be able to understand it until after the resurrection. The three who witnessed it don't understand what they've seen, so the other nine disciples can hardly be expected to make sense of it. In addition, it would only confuse the citizens who believe in Jesus and it would only make Jesus' enemies hate Him more when they hear the claims that the great men Moses and Elijah met with Him in person.

Another thing puzzles the disciples. The prophet Malachi foretold that Elijah would come before the day of the Messiah, yet they just saw Elijah with their own eyes for the first time on the mountain. He has not been going about Judea turning "the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents". (Malachi 4:6a) The three disciples believe Jesus is the Messiah, but they need further explanation, "And they asked Him, 'Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?'" (Mark 9:11) They are asking, "Why didn't we see Elijah before You came on the scene? We believe You are the Promised One, but why has Elijah only shown up now in private? Wasn't he supposed to be preaching to the people and helping them to make things right with each other and with God?"

"Jesus replied, 'To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.'" (Mark 9:12-13) Matthew adds this information in his account of the conversation, "Then the disciples understood that He was talking about John the Baptist." (Matthew 17:13)

By Jesus' day the scribes and the Pharisees and the teachers of the law had come to interpret the prophecy regarding Elijah to mean that he would return from heaven and appear to the nation before the Messiah came. I think we have to understand where they are coming from. There have been four hundred years of silence from heaven since Malachi made his prediction. There has been no prophet in Israel and no fresh word from the Lord. The religious leaders have given up on anyone alive being called to be a prophet, so the only way they can imagine an "Elijah" appearing is if Elijah himself returns. But the New Testament writer Luke makes it clear to us what the prophecy of Malachi really means. When the angel Gabriel appears to the elderly priest Zechariah in the temple to inform him his prayers for a son will at last be answered, the angel says of the one who will come to be known as John the Baptist, "He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous---to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:16-17) John is not literally Elijah himself, but instead as predicted he comes onto the scene in the spirit and power of Elijah. He steps onto the stage looking and speaking like an Old Testament prophet, having the same powerful anointing of God that Elijah had.

Jesus assures the disciples, "The 'Elijah' you were looking for has already come and has fulfilled all that was written about him. The prophecies about Me will come true as well. Just as John has gone to his own death, I will go to Mine."

After witnessing the transfiguration, Peter appeared to be suggesting that Jesus avoid the cross and that they all stay on the mountaintop and bask in the glory of God. It is hard for Peter and the other disciples to accept Jesus' predictions of His death, but He reminds them that the word of God itself predicts His death. If they believe in God, they have to believe that every word spoken by Him is going to be fulfilled. If they believe in God, they should want every word He's spoken to be fulfilled, for that means He can be trusted. They should want the word of God concerning Jesus to be fulfilled more than they want their own wishes concerning Jesus to be fulfilled. God has a plan, and although they don't understand it yet, they need to get on board with it. They need to accept that God knows best and that, through the death of this man Jesus, He intends to offer salvation to the world.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 37, The Transfiguration

Jesus has just finished telling the crowd and the Twelve that anyone who wants to be His disciple must take up his cross and follow Him. Anyone who wants to be His disciple must be willing to die to self in order to live for God. Next He makes this statement, "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power." (Mark 9:1) Jesus is not predicting that the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom will come during the lifetime of some of His listeners. Some skeptics have attempted to assert that Jesus got it wrong, that He promised to return and set up the eternal kingdom during the first century AD, but they are taking verse 1 out of context. Verse 1 is fulfilled six days later, as we will learn in today's passage. We have to always look at the words of Jesus in the context of what is going on around Him at the time He speaks the words. Though the eternal kingdom did not come in the first century AD, the kingdom in one sense has already come because Christ has come, and what happens in today's passage is further proof to three of the disciples that Jesus is truly the Christ.

"After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone." (Mark 9:2a) These three are Jesus' inner circle of friends. He sometimes takes these three along without the other nine disciples. One commentary I was reading on the book of Mark suggested that Jesus has to keep a closer eye on these three because they are the mostly likely to get into trouble when left unsupervised! Although I wouldn't agree that this is the reason Jesus keeps them close, I had to chuckle because these would be the three most likely to do something bold and unexpected. Peter is courageous and he displays great leadership potential but he is also very impulsive. The brothers James and John have been named "Sons Of Thunder" by Jesus, and that may indicate fiery tempers or loud and outspoken personalities. But personally I believe Jesus is closest to these three because out of the Twelve their hearts are the most like His. They have an intense hunger for God. Right now they are a bit unfocused in their fervor, and they are still pretty rough around the edges, but Jesus knows who these three men are going to become. James is the first disciple who will be martyred. He will not only die to self in order to serve the Lord, but he will also lose his life for Him. Peter will become a great leader in the church, will write two books of the Bible and, according to early church tradition, will be crucified for his faith. John will write one of the gospels along with three epistles and the book of Revelation. He will not be called upon to be martyred, but in every other way he will give his life for Christ, ending his years in exile as persecution for his faith.

"There He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus." (Mark 9:2b-4) The gospel writer Luke tells us what Elijah and Moses (who represent the Law and the Prophets) were discussing with the Lord: "They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem." (Luke 9:31) The word Luke uses is the Greek exodus, and I'm thankful Luke uses this word instead of saying, "They spoke about His death, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem." An exodus means leaving one place for another; it does not mean an end to existence. When we die, we don't cease to exist---we make our exodus. We are going somewhere. And because Christ made His exodus from this world by way of the cross, we who believe on Him make our exodus from this life into His eternal presence.

When the gospel writers tell us Jesus is transfigured, they don't simply mean God shined a spotlight down on Him from heaven. The light comes from within Him, for He is the light. The Apostle John will begin his gospel account by explaining to us that Jesus is the light, and I think he gained this insight by witnessing the transfiguration. The late British evangelist Charles Spurgeon points out that the humanity of Christ somewhat conceals His glory within a human body, but when He is transfigured the three disciples get a glimpse of who He really is: "For Christ to be glorious was almost less a matter than for Him to restrain or hide His glory. It is forever His glory that He concealed His glory; and that, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor." In other words, we can't imagine the effort and the power required for Christ to restrain His glory! Except for the working of miracles, when Christ took on human form He was bound by the restraints of a human body. He is not trying to hide Himself from mankind, but is being merciful to mankind. The glory of the Lord is so great it would consume us if we saw it in our natural bodies! This is why we will all be changed when we enter the presence of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:51)

Peter doesn't know what to say when faced with the spectacle of the transfiguration, but as usual he doesn't let that stop him from speaking. "Peter said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters---one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)" (Mark 9:5-6) Peter suggests something like this, "Let's stay on this mountaintop forever. It doesn't get any better than this! We don't need to have any more talk about rejection and crosses and death. Why lay aside Your glory for a cross? Why exchange the crown You should be wearing as the Son of God for a crown of thorns? With power such as we've just witnessed, You don't need to go to any cross! Let's all just stay here."

Peter means well, just as he meant well when he refused to accept Jesus' warnings about His impending death. He doesn't want to accept bad news about Jesus, but in being guided by his love for Jesus rather than by his love for God's will, Peter gives bad advice. His bold leadership style and his impetuous personality likely give him a lot of influence over the other eleven disciples, so God the Father speaks up at this point and overrides Peter's suggestion. "Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: 'This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!" (Mark 9:7) Jesus has said He is going to the cross and He is going; there should be no more argument about it. The disciples mustn't be swayed by Peter who wants to see Jesus installed at Jerusalem as king rather than hung on a cross outside the city. These men are to listen to no one but Jesus, for He is God, and His words are truth. They must be willing to accept what He says even if it hurts and even if they disagree. They must be willing to obey what He says even though they can't yet understand the scope of the plan of salvation or how exactly the cross fits into that plan.

The world constantly calls to us and tries to pull us in various directions. Even well-meaning Christians sometimes give bad advice. This is why it's vital that we study the Scriptures. We have to know the truth in a fallen world that so often distorts it. We are to be led by the words of Christ and we are to obey God's command, "This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!"

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 36, Everyone Must Carry His Cross

In Tuesday's passage the Lord began preparing His disciples for His death. He is going to the cross. Satan has tried to tempt Him away from it. His disciples have tried to talk Him out of it. But He's going to carry His cross up Golgotha's hill, and anyone who wants to be His disciple will also have a cross to carry.

"Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: 'Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.'" (Mark 8:34) Jesus calls the crowd to Him so He can make it plain that anyone is welcome to be His disciple, not just the Twelve. I can be a disciple of Jesus. You can be a disciple of Jesus. But there is a requirement we must meet. The cross symbolizes death, and in taking up our crosses and following Him we are dying to ourselves. Yesterday we talked about how Jesus is determined to obey God's will no matter what, even though it will cost His life. In order to be true disciples, we must be determined to obey God's will no matter what the cost. Most Christians will never be called upon to give their lives for Christ (although in some areas of the world Christians are still dying for their faith) but we will all have to give up something. We will have to give up our "me" attitude and put a greater priority on God's will than we put on our own will.

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it." (Mark 8:35) Jesus is not saying we must die a martyr's death in order to be saved. He's saying something like, "Whoever holds onto what the flesh desires, rather than onto what the spirit desires, loses himself. The one with a "me first" attitude, the one who says "not Your will but mine be done", the one who says "I'm going my own way and making my own choices", the one who says "I am the 'I AM' in my own life, no God will rule over me", forfeits his soul. But the one who gives his life to Me, who loves Me and obeys Me and wants to be like Me, preserves his life. In giving up his sense of self-entitlement and in submitting his will to Mine, he gains life---an abundant life---not only in this world but in the next."

"What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" (Mark 8:36-37) Satan constantly strives to blind the citizens of the world to the truth. He's tried to tell us that the here and now is what matters. He puts stumbling blocks in our paths like greed and self-indulgence and the kind of pride that causes us to think of ourselves as the most important being in existence. One of the biggest lies the devil has ever (successfully in many cases) managed to tell is that there is always tomorrow. He says, "Go on and live for today! You're young. You're healthy. Go out and get all you can get while you can get it. There's plenty of time to worry about all this religious stuff later. You only live once, right? If you give your life to Christ you will have to give up a lot of things to follow Him. Do you want to have to consult the will of God every time you make a major decision? Do you want to stop putting yourself first in order to put Jesus first? What a drag! Don't let Jesus cramp your style, at least not now." But the truth of God's word says, "You aren't promised tomorrow. The very breath in your lungs right now is a gift from Me. What good is it to experience all the pleasures of sin that Satan offers you if it means you lose your soul? Will you be able to pay God any price to bribe your way into heaven? No you will not, for the only price God accepts is the blood His Son shed for you, and you have rejected His Son!"

Jesus concludes His teaching moment with this warning, "If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in His Father's glory with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38) Jesus calls Himself "Son of Man", a Messianic term Daniel used when he foresaw Christ approaching the Father to be given "authority, glory and sovereign power". (Daniel 7:14) He is clearly declaring Himself to be the Messiah, the Anointed One who was promised. But He also says, "If you deny Me, I will deny you. If you refused to deny yourself and carry your cross and follow Me, when you stand in the judgment you will stand alone with no defender. If you rejected the price I paid for you, there remains no other sacrifice for sins."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 35, Jesus Begins Preparing The Disciples For His Death

We concluded yesterday's study with Simon Peter declaring to Jesus, "You are the Messiah." Now that Jesus' identity is becoming real to the disciples, Jesus begins preparing them for His death.

After Peter makes his declaration of faith, "Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him." (Mark 8:30) Matthew puts it this way, "Then He ordered His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah." (Matthew 16:20) Why does Jesus warn the disciples not to publish this information publicly? For one thing, what the people of Jesus' day are looking for in a Messiah is a political powerhouse, someone the majority of the nation's citizens can get behind, a man who can inspire a successful uprising against Rome. This is not Jesus' mission on earth.  If the disciples start shouting, "Jesus is the Messiah!" on the street corners, those who desire political freedom will begin joining forces and calling upon the people to declare Jesus the king of Israel and to rise up against the Roman government. At that point Jesus and the disciples could be arrested for leading a rebellion and executed for sedition. Jesus must go to the cross with no legitimate charges against Him. His accusers must be unable to prove any wrong in Him. Pontius Pilate must be able to find no fault in Him. He is innocent, and when capital punishment is carried out against Him, the only charge that will hang above his head will be these words, "The King Of The Jews". He will not be crucified because of any crime, but because of who He is.

For another thing, Jesus still has much to accomplish in His ministry. It is not yet time to go to His death. He will begin preparing the disciples for His death, but it must come at the proper time. If the disciples begin publishing His true identity far and wide, they will hasten His execution. After the following things take place, then the disciples will be free to tell the whole world that Jesus Christ is Lord. "He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again." (Mark 8:21) The gospel message is not complete until Jesus is killed and until He rises from the grave. Then will be the time to preach the good news of the gospel to the world.

Peter is not happy about the turn the conversation has taken. He has just recognized Jesus as the Promised One and he doesn't want to hear anything about rejection and execution. Jesus, because He loves the disciples, has to be honest about what is going to take place, and Mark tells us, "He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke him." (Mark 8:32) Matthew tells us exactly what Peter says, "'Never, Lord!' he said. 'This shall never happen to You!'" (Matthew 16:22) Peter's feelings are understandable. In fact, he's being led solely by his feelings right now. Jesus has just explained in detail why His death and resurrection must occur. These things have been foretold by the prophets of old. These things are God's will for Him. But Peter, because of his love for Jesus, can't stand the thought of the death of the man who is his friend, his rabbi, and his Lord. Peter is willing to leave God's will undone if it means Jesus won't have to die. Peter's feelings are understandable, but they are wrong, and they have allowed Satan to gain an advantage over him as evidenced by what Jesus says next.

"But when Jesus turned and looked at the disciples, He rebuked Peter. "'Get behind Me, Satan!' He said. 'You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.'" (Mark 8:33) Matthew, one of the Twelve who witnessed this event, adds that Jesus also said to the devil, "You are a stumbling block to Me." (Matthew 16:23) Jesus speaks directly to the one responsible for Peter's impassioned rejection of the idea of the cross. He knows Peter loves him, but He also knows Satan is using Peter's love to tempt Him to avoid the cross and go for the crown.

During Jesus' lifetime Satan is always working to entice Him to abandon God's plan for the salvation of mankind and instead accept man's plan for the salvation of the nation. If Jesus had decided to forego the cross, He could indeed have used His supernatural powers to become the king of Israel. He could have been accepted as Messiah and He could have led a successful rebellion against Rome. He could have restored political sovereignty to His people. He could have ruled over them from David's throne. But in David's own prophetic writings we see the heart of Jesus made plain, for in one of the Messianic psalms we find Jesus saying, "Then I said, 'Here I am, I have come---it is written about Me in the scroll. I desire to do Your will, My God; Your law is within My heart." (Psalm 40:7-8) Jesus has come to do God's will. Though His flesh feels the pull of the easy path, His spirit is steadfast. The prophet Isaiah foresaw the suffering of Jesus, but he also foresaw Jesus' resolute attitude toward accomplishing the Father's will, "Because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame." (Isaiah 50:7)

Jesus hears Peter's words. He feels the temptation to skip the crown of thorns to wear the crown of gold. But then He turns and looks at the disciples and His resolve is strengthened. He loves the Twelve. He loves every human being ever created. If He avoids His own death, He condemns the world. Love is more compelling than the siren song of Satan. Jesus sets His face like flint and says to that deceiver of old, "Get behind Me, Satan! You will not get between Me and the cross!"

Below is a link to a song often used during the Christmas season, and it plainly states why Jesus went to the cross: He did it for love. He did it because He loves you and me.
Love Came For Me

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 34, Jesus Heals A Blind Man, Peter Confesses Jesus As Lord

We find Jesus at Bethsaida today, a fishing town located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. There is a blind man there who is about to be given his sight. The disciples, and Simon Peter in particular, are about to be given new insight into the identity of Jesus.

"They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him." (Mark 8:22) In several cases we've seen the friends of the sick interceding on their behalf. This blind man has friends who care enough about him to get him to Jesus. We must never underestimate the value of interceding for our friends and loved ones. We all know people who need to get to Jesus. It's our duty as Christians to pray for them daily, to show the love of Christ to them, and to live godly lives in their sight.

"He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village." (Mark 8:23a) We don't know why Jesus wants an extra degree of privacy with some of the people He heals. Perhaps these people have something they want to tell Him, something so private that even the gospel writers don't tell us what it is. Perhaps the clamor of the crowd is so loud and the people are pressing in on Him so much that Jesus can't personally interact with the sick person in the way He would like. He doesn't want anyone to feel like just a number in the crowd; He wants to have a personal relationship with every human being. He sees each of us as individuals and He relates to us as individuals.

"When He had spit on the man's eyes and put His hands on him, Jesus asked, 'Do you see anything?' He looked up and said, 'I see people; they look like trees walking around.'" (Mark 8:23b-24) This man has not always been blind. He knows what people look like and he knows what trees look like. He knows they are not supposed to look the same, but in this first moment after being touched by Jesus he sees things in a distorted way. He views the people near him (probably the disciples) as tall, elongated, shadowy shapes. He sees, but not clearly. This is very significant, for in yesterday's passage we found Jesus chiding the disciples for having eyes but failing to see and for being hard-hearted. He scolded them for being slow to understand, not because they lack the intelligence to understand, but because they lack the faith. Jesus is using His interaction with the blind man as a teaching moment for the disciples. Although He drew the man away from the crowd in the village, as usual I believe the disciples are with Him.

"Once more Jesus put His hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, 'Don't even go into the village.'" (Mark 8:25-26) Jesus does not heal this man in two stages because He is incapable of healing him in one try. Jesus normally heals instantly. He even heals people without being in the same location with them. His two-stage healing symbolizes the fact that through their contact with Him so far, the disciples see the truth only in a shadowy way. But through further contact with Him, and through eyes of faith, they will someday be able to see everything clearly. In a moment we will witness what a tremendous impact this teaching moment has on Simon Peter.

Jesus tells the man to go straight home. He doesn't want him rushing back into the village shouting about the miracle that just happened to him. It could be that the man needs some time alone to think about his life, to confess sins and pray to God. Or it could be that it's Jesus who needs some alone time with the disciples, since something of major importance is about to happen.

"Jesus and His disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way He asked them, 'Who do people say I am?' They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.'" (Mark 8:27-28) A great deal of the populace is still somewhat blinded as to Jesus' identity. Many still lack the faith to believe He is the Son of God. Like the blind man who only saw in part the first time Jesus touched him, a lot of people only see Jesus in a shadowy form right now. Jesus knows what people are saying about Him, but He asks the question because He wants to give Simon Peter an opportunity to confess something that has now become perfectly clear to him.

"'But what about you?' He asked. 'Who do you say I am?' Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah.'" (Mark 8:29) Jesus asks the same question of each of us, "Who do you say I am?" Do we believe what He says? Have His miracles, which fulfill the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, proven His credentials to us? If Jesus is not telling the truth about who He is, then He isn't a good man or a prophet or a great teacher. If Jesus is not telling the truth about who He is, then He must either be a fraud or mentally deranged. If Jesus is not telling the truth about who He is, we can take nothing of value from any word He has ever spoken. So what do we do with Jesus? We can't ignore Him. He's not going to go away. We have to find some way of dealing with His claims and with His words and with His miracles. We are left with only two choices. We can be like the populace whom the disciples say believe Jesus is someone other than the Son of God, or we can be like Simon Peter who accepts everything he has seen and heard and can't help concluding, "You are the Messiah!"

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 33, A Little Bad Attitude Is Capable Of Going A Long Way

Jesus has just fed four thousand men, plus women and children, with just a few loaves and fishes. Before He departs the region, those pesky Pharisees show up again to find fault with Him. It's important to note that the Pharisees never deny that any of Jesus' miracles actually happened. They can't; they've seen them with their own eyes and thousands of people have seen them with their own eyes. So instead they seek to discredit Him at every turn by insinuating He's an unrighteous man or that His powers come from the spiritual forces of darkness rather than from God. In today's passage the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign from heaven to prove He is who He says He is.

"The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test Him, they asked Him for a sign from heaven." (Mark 8:11) They want to see something specific come from above. They don't believe Jesus has power to call anything down from the heavens. They are saying to Him something like, "Giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf is not enough proof. Healing lepers and feeding thousands with just a few loaves and fishes is not enough proof. Even raising a little girl from the dead isn't enough proof. So what we want You to do is to call forth something from the heavens. If You are truly God in the flesh, at Your word lightning should fall from the sky. Or You could call forth a rainbow. Or You could tell the sun to stand still in the sky. Yes, we know You've performed earthly miracles, but maybe You've done them through the powers of wickedness. If You are who You say You are, prove it by demonstrating Your authority over the heavens, for they belong only to God. If You cannot call anything forth from the heavens, then You cannot be God's Son."

James Burton Coffman, whose commentaries I've found to be an excellent resource, says of this passage, "By commanding some other type of wonder than the miracles our Lord had so generously performed among them, they were arrogating to themselves the right to decide the kind of proof Christ should provide regarding His divine Messiahship. There was no chance that Jesus would yield to such arrogance. The mighty prophets of the Old Testament had outlined the wonders that would occur when the Messiah came, and Jesus followed that pattern perfectly. The Pharisees were demanding some other kind of proof, but in so doing they placed themselves at variance with their own Scriptures for which they pretended such great respect." Jesus is not going to put on a show for these men. It wouldn't accomplish anything even if He did because they have their minds made up. Furthermore, God spoke in ancient times through the prophets concerning the signs the Messiah would perform, and Jesus is sticking to the script. It would be disobedient of Him to do otherwise. Indeed, the Lord Jesus could call fire down from heaven, but I don't believe for one minute that this would have convinced the Pharisees, for they would have dismissively said, "Elijah did the same, and he never claimed to be the Son of God. Elijah was not the Messiah and neither are You."

In response to the Pharisees' desire for signs from heaven, "He sighed deeply and said, 'Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.' Then He left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side." (Mark 8:12-13) Jesus will provide many signs that prove who He is, but the specific sign the Pharisees want will not be given.

Jesus sighs deeply over the unbelief of the Pharisees. I have a feeling He might want to sigh deeply over what the disciples say next. "The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 'Be careful,' Jesus warned them. 'Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.' They discussed this with one another and said, 'It is because we have no bread.'" (Mark 8:14-16) Sometimes the disciples make me want to laugh out loud. They are often slow to catch on. The reason I find this funny is because I'm often slow to catch on too. There's something so genuinely human about their occasional inability to catch on to what Jesus is doing and saying. If the gospel were just a fable written by men, we can be certain that its authors would have painted the disciples in a much better light, but instead we find them making mistakes and displaying doubts and experiencing fears and moments of confusion....just like us.

"Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: 'Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to understand? And don't you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?' 'Twelve,' they replied. 'And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?' They answered, 'Seven.' He said to them, 'Do you still not understand?'" (Mark 8:17-21) Jesus is telling the men not to be influenced by the Pharisees and their disbelieving attitude. He likens the Pharisees' attitude to yeast because, "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." (Galatians 5:9) If one disciple begins to be swayed by the disbelief of the Pharisees, others may follow. This attitude is capable of working its way through all of the Twelve. When Jesus chastises them for concentrating on worldly matters (actual bread) and for missing the spiritual meaning of His instructions (the 'yeast' of the Pharisees) a lightbulb suddenly goes off in their heads. "Then they understood that He was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (Matthew 16:12)

Jesus asks the men, "Why are you worried about having only one loaf of bread on board? Am I not capable of providing for you? Haven't you already seen Me do it? Don't you remember?" I wonder how many times Jesus has had to say such a thing to me! Whenever a new problem comes along I'm often seized by anxiety, and if I'd only calm down and listen to His voice, I bet Jesus would be saying, "Why are you worried? Am I not capable of providing for you? Haven't you already seen Me do it? Don't you remember?"

Something about today's passage reminds me of a particular song, so I'm including a link to it below. It's a song that calls us to accept on faith, and by the proof He provided, that Jesus is who He says He is. I hope you enjoy it.
What If?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 32, Jesus Feeds Four Thousand

Earlier in the book of Mark we saw Jesus feed five thousand. Today He feeds four thousand. This is not a repeat telling of the same incident, as some skeptics have attempted to prove. There are many differences in these incidents. Mark clearly tells us that these are not the same people, for he says that another large crowd gathers, that it's made up of four thousand people, and that these people have been with Jesus for three days without eating. The five thousand who were previously fed had only been listening to Jesus for most of one day. In today's passage we find Jesus concentrating mainly on His healing ministry, while in the passage regarding the five thousand He appeared to be mainly concentrating on teaching. When He fed the five thousand He was teaching from the lakeshore; when He feeds the four thousand He does so on a mountaintop.

When we left off yesterday Jesus was teaching and healing in Decapolis. Matthew's gospel adds some extra details about what happens next, "Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then He went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to Him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel." (Matthew 15:29-31)

Mark is a matter-of-fact kind of guy. He simply says, "During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, 'I have compassion for these people; they have already been with Me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance." (Mark 8:1-3) People have come from many miles away to see and hear Jesus and to bring the sick to Him for healing. He has fed them with the word of God for three days. His ministry has been more important to them than food for those three days, but now it's time to depart and Jesus is concerned for their physical well-being. I think we can safely assume that Jesus and the disciples haven't had time to eat either, so Jesus is feeling the same growling in His belly as those in the crowd. If He feels that hungry, He knows the crowd does, and He doesn't want anyone passing out on their way home.

Right now we probably expect at least one of the disciples to speak up and say, "Lord, just do what You did for the five thousand. Multiply some loaves or fishes and feed the crowd before You say Your farewells." But they don't say that.....and I can relate to them! The Lord has come through for me so many times, yet the next time a crisis arises I harbor doubts about Him coming to the rescue. Don't we all think that way from time to time? I've puzzled a lot about what the reasons for this might be, and I think one reason is that we have a tendency to assume God's thoughts are like man's thoughts. We project onto Him the human characteristic of getting fed up with things. In the back of our minds we are afraid He is tired of us, and that He has come to our rescue as many times as He's going to, and that we have used up our allotted portion of mercy. I believe we think this way because most or all of us have had someone say to us, "Stop bothering me! I'm tired of you and your problems. I've done all I can do for you. Why do you have so many needs? Why do you keep making mistakes? I'm sick of helping you and I'm done!" But the Lord never says such things to us. Instead we are told, "His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22b-23) God's mercy toward us is new every morning! He will never run out of mercy. He is not going to say to any of His children, "Leave me alone. I've done all I can for you."

The disciples don't even suggest that Jesus perform a miracle, even though they've been witnessing miracles for three solid days. "His disciples answered, 'But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?' 'How many loaves do you have?' Jesus asked. 'Seven,' they replied." (Mark 8:4-5) Jesus does not rebuke them for their lack of faith. He merely sets about doing what needs to be done.

"He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When He had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; He gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present. After He had sent them away, He got into the boat with His disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha." (Mark 8:6-10) Mark evidently counts only the males in the crowd, for Matthew says, "The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children." (Matthew 15:38)

Jesus was willing to repeat a similar miracle because there was a need for it. Won't He also be willing to repeat miracles in our own lives? He hasn't placed a limit on how many times He's going to help us. We haven't exhausted His mercy or His compassion or His patience. Mercy that is renewed every morning is inexhaustible. The Lord asks, "Why do you doubt Me? Why do You assume I've shut my ears to your cries or that I've covered My eyes from Your troubles?" The Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, asked similar questions of Israel: "Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, 'My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God'? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:27-31)