Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 30, A Gentile Woman Displays Great Faith And Declares Jesus Messiah And Lord

In yesterday's study Jesus paved the way for Jewish believers to accept believing Gentiles as equals. To prove He practices what He preaches, in today's passage Jesus heals the daughter of a Gentile woman.

"Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet He could not keep His presence secret." (Mark 7:24) We don't know whose house Jesus stays in, but since He is in a Gentile region He does not publicly announce His presence. He doesn't march through town openly with His entourage of disciples. Jesus loves Jews and Gentiles equally, but He would simply be giving the Pharisees more fodder for the fire if it were publicly known that a Jewish rabbi like Himself was lodging among Gentiles. He has work to do in Tyre and He does not want it hindered by His enemies.

Nevertheless, word of His presence quickly spreads by word of mouth, and a woman with a desperate need comes to Him for help. "In fact, as soon as she heard about Him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter." (Mark 7:25-26) The gospel writer Matthew quotes the words the woman spoke at Jesus' feet, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly." (Matthew 15:22) What a statement of faith this is, especially coming from a first-century Gentile! She would have been brought up in a pagan religion containing a pantheon of gods, and yet we can tell from her words that she believes Jesus is both Messiah and God. Many of the religious leaders at Jerusalem, who should have recognized the identity of Jesus from the Scriptures, rejected Him. Yet this woman, whom the religious leaders would have considered an unclean heathen, recognizes Him by faith.

Jesus gives an unusual reply to her request. "'First let the children eat all they want,' He told her, 'for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs.'" (Mark 7:27) We must keep in mind that Jesus intends to help her and that His words are not meant to be cruel. In fact, I would dare to suggest His main purpose in coming to Tyre is to heal this woman's daughter. After performing this miracle we will find Him departing from the town, and that suggests to me that Jesus intentionally makes a trip to Tyre for the express purpose of healing a specific person. This is the same thing He did when going to the Gentile region to heal the man known as "Legion". This is the same thing He does when He goes through Samaria in order to meet up with the woman at the well. Jesus makes His peculiar reply because He has an audience and He wants to use this situation as an opportunity to teach the audience that He does not consider it beneath Him to associate with Gentiles. In His remark He displays the belief of the Jews of His day that Gentiles are as unclean as an unclean animal....a dog, for example. He says something like, "I've come to help the children of Israel. My ministry in Israel is not finished. Am I to take the children's bread (their instruction and healing) away from them before they are full and cast it to the dogs (the pagan Gentiles)?"

He asks this question because He knows what she will say. He asks this question because His audience needs to hear His question and her reply of faith. In one sentence she will brilliantly sum up God's intention to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and to include them in His family. "'Lord,' she replied, 'even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.'" (Mark 7:28) Because Jesus will be largely rejected by the religious leaders of Israel, and because persecution of Christians will become intense in Judea, the gospel will spread to the Gentiles. The Gentile woman understands this. I believe it has been revealed to her by the Holy Spirit. She is saying something like, "Yes, Lord, I know You have come to Your own people Israel. But just as the dogs under the table eagerly scarf up the crumbs that fall to the floor, we Gentiles will eagerly scarf up the gospel that so many of Your own people will reject."

"Then He told her, 'For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.' She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone." (Mark 7:29-30) Matthew tells us that Jesus also says, "Woman, you have great faith!" (Matthew 15:28) She has the faith to believe Jesus is Messiah and Lord. She has the faith to believe He can help her. She has so much faith that, instead of insisting Jesus come with her to the house to make certain her daughter is healed (just in case more needs to be done for her), she accepts what He says and goes home expecting to find her daughter healed. If only we all had such faith! It makes me ashamed how often I fail to possess the type of faith this woman displays. She takes Jesus at His word. She simply believes. She doesn't rationalize why she believes in Him or harbor doubts in her mind or talk herself out of going to see Him. All she knows is that she has a problem only the Lord can fix, so she does the only thing that seems sensible to her: she goes to Him.

In the chapter known as the "Hebrews Hall Of Faith", the Apostle Paul sums up for us what faith is and he reminds us that faith is the only way to please God. "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) We have problems that only Jesus can fix. As Lord, He is able to fix them. Help us, Lord Jesus, to have more faith. Help us to take You at Your word. Make us like this Gentile woman who came to You in faith expecting to be helped. We all have problems that no one else can fix. Help us to trust You with them. Amen!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 29, It's What Comes From Within That Defiles Us

Yesterday we found the Pharisees criticizing the disciples for not observing ceremonial washing before eating. Jesus called them hypocrites because they were ignoring laws of God and observing laws made by man. He continues His charges against them today and He explains to us what truly defiles a person.

"And He continued, 'You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.' But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)---then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." (Mark 7:9-13) Jesus is making the statement here that the laws handed down to the people by Moses were given to Moses by God. But over the centuries the Pharisees and teachers of the law had invented ways to circumvent God's commandments.

Corban means "that which is brought near", meaning an offering brought to the Lord. The vow to bring this offering was irrevocable, for the religious leaders would not allow a person to recant. If a son did not want to take care of his parents in their old age, he could declare corban over the moneys or goods that could have been used to support them. If that son later regretted his vow and wished to devote the moneys or goods to his parents rather than to the temple, he would not be permitted to do so. This is yet another example of the Pharisees and teachers of the law giving greater importance to rules made by man than to rules given by God. These leaders are essentially saying, "Our tradition of declaring corban supersedes the commandment to honor your father and mother. You can't take back your vow. Your vow must be kept even if it breaks a commandment."

"Again Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, 'Listen to Me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.'" (Mark 7:14-16) Jesus is addressing the accusations of the Pharisees concerning ceremonial washing. These men consider the disciples defiled because they ate without washing first. But Jesus points out that what truly defiles a person is the wickedness in his heart. That wickedness comes out in both words and deeds, which is why He states that it is "what comes out of a person that defiles them". He isn't saying that we can't harm ourselves physically by taking in substances that are bad for us, but He's saying that what defiles us spiritually is having an attitude that is contrary to God's.

"After He had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples asked Him about this parable. 'Are you so dull?' He asked. 'Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.' (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)" (Mark 7:17-19) In the New Testament we find the Jewish Christians being allowed to eat all meats, even those which were previously considered unclean. Some Bible scholars believe that the distinction between clean and unclean meats in the Old Testament symbolizes the distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Following the death and resurrection of Christ, all the Jews and Gentiles who believe in Him belong to the same family and no distinction is made between them. They are all "clean" in the eyes of God. Therefore, when the Lord tells the Apostle Peter to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, He sends him a vision in which He states that all meats are clean for him, symbolizing His intention to add the Gentiles (formerly considered too unclean to associate with) to the family of God. From that point on, the Gentiles who convert to Christianity are not forced to follow Jewish dietary laws, and the Christian Jews are not required to continue to observe the dietary laws if they do not wish to. This allows Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles to freely eat together and to enjoy each other's company. This allows Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles to visit each other's houses in friendship and to be considered equals as they work together for the kingdom of God.

Jesus now provides a list of things that do defile us, and they are things that proceed from wickedness in the heart. "He went on: 'What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come---sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.'" (Mark 7:20-23) If we eat food with dirty hands, the dirt enters our bodies along with the food and eventually makes its way out. It cannot make our souls dirty. But sin makes our souls dirty. It's the wickedness we think up in our minds and the wickedness we commit with our hands that makes our souls dirty.

I've thought things, said things, and done things that have made my soul dirty. But thanks be to God, through the Lord Jesus Christ I can be considered clean again in the eyes of God. I can be considered clean because faith in Christ has regenerated me on the inside, thus making me clean on the outside too. Jesus cleans us from the inside out, because it's the inside that really matters, as He points out when discussing the washing of dishes, "First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean." (Matthew 23:26) If we are clean on the inside, our outward lives will show it. I'm still a work in progress, as we all are. God works in us daily to conform us to the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29) But as we walk through this life with Christ, we are ever becoming more like Him and less like our former selves. He is making our hearts more and more like His.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 28, The Disciples Accused Of Unrighteousness For Not Washing Their Hands

Jesus is so popular that in today's passage the only thing the Pharisees can find to criticize is that His disciples haven't observed ceremonial washing before eating.

"The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of His disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they return from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)" (Mark 7:1-4) Mark explains ceremonial washing for the benefit of those of us who are Gentiles. Most cultures observe hygienic washing before a meal, but that isn't what's going on here. The Pharisees of Jesus' day valued rules and traditions more than they valued compassion. Remember how they wanted to prevent Jesus from healing on the Sabbath because they felt it constituted working on the Sabbath? In that instance they cared nothing for the needs of the man with the withered hand or his probable inability to make a living due to his handicap. In the same way they feel no compassion for the hungry disciples. If the Pharisees are so bothered about the washing, why didn't they supply water for the disciples? Furthermore, why do they never supply food for the disciples when they see them going hungry?

"So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, 'Why don't Your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?'" (Mark 7:5) This washing is a tradition made up by man ("the tradition of the elders"), not by God. It is not a commandment. Yet they use this rule to subtly accuse Jesus and His disciples of being unrighteous men. They don't dare come straight out and make an accusation, for the crowds love Jesus too much, but the suggestion they make is that no one who eats with unwashed hands can be trusted.

Jesus answers His accusers in the same way He answered Satan: with Scripture. "He replied, 'Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: 'These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions." (Mark 7:6-*) Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 29, a chapter that sets forth God's intention to allow Judah to be defeated and taken captive. In the book of Isaiah the Lord accuses the people of turning things upside down and of having replaced His laws with man's laws until they can no longer understand godly wisdom.

It's not just the people of Jesus' day who had to be on guard against allowing manmade traditions to take precedence over God's commandments. We are all in danger of allowing this to happen. Services in our churches and synagogues tend to follow a particular order and we tend to do a lot of the same things every week. We have to be careful that we don't end up simply going through the motions. It's possible to attend every service and to sing all the songs and to put money in the offering plate without feeling close to the Lord. We also have to be careful not to allow our sense of "this is how it has always been done" to blind us to the needs of our fellow man. For example, a person who feels the need to come to the altar and accept Christ as Lord shouldn't have to wait for the prayer time of the service; he or she should be free to do so during any part of the service. No one should hinder anyone from coming to Christ. No one should tell a person to sit back down and wait for the altar call. Such a thing would be a terrible sin, and Jesus is likening the attitude of the Pharisees to such a sin. They are hindering the needs of their fellow man by insisting that rules and traditions made up by men be followed. If the Pharisees wanted to fulfill the laws of God, they should have been supplying the needs of the hungry disciples, not criticizing them for failing to do a ceremonial washing. The disciples probably would have observed the washing if they'd had water or if they hadn't been so hungry they couldn't wait to wash.

God clearly shows us His heart in today's passage. He cares deeply about the needs of human beings. He is merciful and compassionate. He intends for us to have a servant's heart, just as Jesus had, and to supply the needs of our fellow man. We cannot claim to love the Lord if we don't also love the human beings that the Lord created. There is no better way to demonstrate our love for the Lord than to be like Him and to do the things He would do.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 27, Jesus Walks On The Water

When we left off last week we found Jesus feeding the five thousand. Everyone is full now and there are twelve baskets of leftovers. Jesus knows it's time to make a quick departure for, as the Apostle John tells us, He realizes that the people "intended to come and make Him king by force". (John 6:15) The people who witnessed the miracle and were fed by the loaves and fishes likely do believe Jesus is the Messiah, but their desire is for Him to be king of the nation, not king of their hearts. Rome is a harsh taskmaster and Caesar extorts heavy taxes from the citizens of Judea. The people want nothing more than to throw off the yoke of Rome and to embrace a leader strong enough to make a bid for David's throne.

Suppose this had actually happened. Suppose the people had laid hold of Jesus, crowned Him, thrown a robe over His shoulders, and marched Him into Jerusalem while blowing the trumpets and shouting, "Long live King Jesus, the King of the Jews!" All those who were discontented in Judea would have joined the mob and an uprising against Rome would have ensued. But what then? Would Rome have come and destroyed Jerusalem and have imprisoned Jesus or put Him to death by the sword and not by the cross? Or would the uprising have been successful and would Jesus have found Himself in possession of David's throne at the wrong time and in the wrong way? Our salvation is at stake in the passage we're studying today! There is no other path to the throne for Jesus but through the cross. There is no other path to salvation for us but through the cross. He lived every moment of His life with these things in mind and, when He reads the thoughts of the five thousand, He knows it's time to make a hasty exit.

"Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into a boat and go on ahead of Him to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd." (Mark 6:45) Jesus also reads the minds of His disciples. They are becoming carried away by the charged atmosphere. They sense something big is about to happen and if the crowd wants to declare Jesus king, the disciples are all for it. The NIV simply says Jesus "made" the disciples get into a boat, but the original text indicates He had to do so quite forcefully. He had to tear them away from the situation. Things were about to get out of hand and the disciples were going to be caught up in the fervor if Jesus didn't separate them from the crowd immediately.

Jesus needs some time alone with the Father. "After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray." (Mark 6:46) Did Jesus feel any temptation to allow Himself to be made king? Did bypassing the tortures of the cross seem attractive to Him? Did a crown of gold appeal to Him in His humanness more than a crown of thorns? I tend to believe that Satan incited the desire of the five thousand to make Jesus king; this was yet one more temptation brought about by the evil one. I also tend to believe that many scholars and theologians downplay Jesus' humanity. The Bible wouldn't tell us Jesus was tempted and tried if He never felt the pull of straying from His mission, but at the same time He was incapable of sinning. You and I can hardly imagine what a strain this must have been on Him. You and I, as completely human, can relieve the pressure of temptation by either walking away from it or by giving in to it. Jesus had neither of these options. He had to endure onslaughts of Satan on a level none of us will ever experience. He likely endured these attacks on a daily basis. It wasn't in Him to give in, but He couldn't escape Satan's offers for Him to avoid the cross and go straight to the throne. You and I wouldn't be able to stand up to such spiritual attacks. Only the Son of God was able to say no to saving His own life in order to say yes to saving our souls.

"Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought He was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified." (Mark 6:47-50a) Why did He allow them to go through a long night of hard work and anxiety? He did it because these men need to get their minds off the idea of Jesus seated on David's throne and of themselves serving as His top officials. This is not the path Jesus is taking and the disciples have to get in step with Him. The kingdom Jesus has been preaching about is of a spiritual nature, not a political nature. He wants to save the people of Judea, but not from Rome. He wants to save the people of the world, but not from any particular ruling authority. Jesus' purpose is to save souls. Someday He will rule the world from David's throne, and someday He will be crowned with many crowns, but that time has not yet come.

The long night is over and the men have gotten their minds off dreams of glory and are concerned only with getting the boat to shore. Now is the right time for Jesus to step into the situation. "Immediately He spoke to them and said, 'Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.' Then He climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened." (Mark 6:50b-52) Mark clearly tells us here that Jesus allowed the men to endure a night of hard rowing because their hearts were hard. They were beginning to envision an earthly kingdom rather than a heavenly one. They were perfectly willing to have Jesus installed as king and for Him to bypass His intended mission on earth. They were in essence saying to the Lord, "Not thy will, but ours, be done."

"When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard He was. And wherever He went---into villages, towns or countryside---they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged Him to let them touch even the edge of His cloak, and all who touched it were healed." (Mark 6:53-56) Jesus healed tens of thousands of least. The gospel writers never supply us with numbers, likely because they couldn't possibly keep track of how many were healed, but just picture Jesus walking through enormous crowds of people lying on stretchers. Just the brush of His cloak is enough to make them instantly whole. The healing work Jesus does helps the disciples to focus more on His mission than on their daydreams of glory. The disciples see Him serving mankind, not being served by mankind. What king has ever walked among the lepers? What king has ever touched those that society considers unclean? What king has ever laid down his life for his subjects? No king of an earthly kingdom! But the King of the heavenly kingdom came to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Message For Thanksgiving, And Especially For Those Who Are Hurting

Today our key verse is coming from Psalm 31:7 which says: "I will be glad and rejoice in Your love, for You saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul."

The Thanksgiving holiday is this week and Christmas isn't far behind, but not everyone feels happy at this time of year and I want to recognize all those who are hurting due to troubling circumstances. In my own family we have had holiday seasons that made us feel too sad to celebrate. There can be all kinds of causes for this: the death of a loved one, financial problems, relationship problems, illness, loneliness, and many others. When things in life aren't going right it seems like the holiday season makes us feel even worse. At those times it can be easy to feel very depressed when we look around us and see all the merriment going on. Right now the TV is showing movies with happy families enjoying each other's company. The stores are full of bright and happy decorations. Wherever we go, it looks like the whole world is rocking around the Christmas tree and having a holly jolly time. But when things aren't going right in our personal lives it's hard to feel merry. There have been times in my household when we would have been happier just to ignore the holidays altogether.

Not feeling like we are in step with the rest of the world during this season has a tendency to make us feel lonely and isolated. Like David in Psalm 31, we feel afflicted and anguished and as if no one knows what we are going through. In Psalm 31 David says he is in distress but at the same time he says to the Lord, "I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul." David had made up his mind to focus on the one thing he knew for certain in an uncertain world: God loved him. And on top of that, God knew and felt the anguish in David's soul. David knew he wasn't alone and that only one person, the Lord Himself, knew exactly how broken and sad he was. Anytime we feel like there is no one in the whole world who knows how we feel, we can be certain that God knows. He sees our affliction and He is is not ignoring our pain. He is with us, loving and holding and supporting us, like a good father.

David says in verse 22 that during the worst of his distress and alarm he cried out, "I am cut off from Your sight!" He felt like his troubles were so awful and so overwhelming that the Lord couldn't even see him. David was going by his feelings in that moment of panic instead of relying on what he knew to be true, that God did see him and that God was with him and that God was going to bring him through this terrible time. In the midst of his depression, David suddenly remembered this and got hold of himself. We know he did because he went on to say, "Yet You heard my cry for mercy, when I called to You for help." We can't rely on what we feel because our own distressed minds will lie to us and tell us that nobody cares and that no one is going to help us and that nothing will ever get better. Our feelings can't be trusted. But the word of God can be trusted and we have to tell ourselves that He hears our cries for mercy. He has not abandoned us, no matter what our fearful thoughts are telling us. Jesus never says for us to depend on our feelings but instead He says in John 14:1, "Do not let your hearts be troubled."

Psalm 31 is considered one of the Messianic psalms because in verse 5 we find the words Jesus spoke while on the cross, "Into Your hands I commit My spirit". After carefully studying this Psalm I feel that quite a few of the verses could apply to the Lord Jesus because in Luke 22:44 the Bible tells us that Jesus was in anguish while praying earnestly in the Garden of Gethsemane. So we see that Jesus too could say along with David that God saw His affliction and the anguish of His soul. Jesus had asked the disciples to watch and pray with Him but they fell asleep and left Him all alone. He was let down by His closest friends in His greatest hour of need. In fact, the disciples were about to run away and leave Jesus to face the trial and the torment of the cross alone. He knew this ahead of time because He says in John 16:32b, "You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me." There are dark watches of the night when no one but the Lord is with us, but He will be enough. He was enough for Jesus. He has been enough for me. He will be enough for you too.

No one in the whole history of the world ever had more reason to feel alone than the Lord Jesus Christ, but we see Him standing firm on the truth that God is with Him. God saw the anguish of the Son and He sees yours too. God loved the Son and He loves you too. So no matter how alone you may feel at times, or how difficult the holiday season may be this year, God is with you and He loves you. Not only that, but God is going bring you through this difficult season in life and there will be better times up ahead, even though you may find it hard to believe today. Remember, we walk by faith and not by sight. We stand firm alongside Jesus Christ on the foundation of God's love and promises, no matter what we feel in our worried minds at times. We stand on the truth, not our feelings. In the midst of David's troubles he goes on to say in Psalm 31:19, "How abundant are the good things that You have stored up for those who fear You, that You bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in You." Even though David feels cast down in spirit and lonely and afraid, his trust is in God and he believes that God has good things stored up for him in the future. No matter how bad David's circumstances look right now, he is standing firm in faith. David concludes Psalm 31 by saying, "Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord."

Today, no matter how we feel inside, let's take courage along with David and speak the truth of God's word. God loves us. God sees us. God feels the anguish in our souls. We aren't alone. He has better days ahead for us. We have no need to feel hopeless and depressed, for the Maker of the universe knows us by name. He thought we were worthy dying for.

Please join with me in prayer:
"Father, we thank You for Your many blessings. They are more than we could ever count. Not only have You provided for us and kept us alive to study Your word today, but You have made salvation possible for us through the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate blessing! While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Even at our worst, He loved us. Help us never to doubt that love, for if Christ thought we were worth dying for when we were at our worst, why would He fail to come through for us now that we are children of God?

Lord, we thank You for the good times and we thank You that in the bad times we are not alone. We thank You that even when we can't feel them, Your fatherly arms are around us. Even when we feel alone, You are watching over us. When we feel unloved or unlovable, we remind ourselves that You have proven Your love to us in ways that no one else ever has. Our faith is based on facts, not on feelings. Our faith is based on what the word of God says, not on what our fearful minds tell us. Help us to stand firm on the truth no matter what comes at us in this fallen world.

Father, be with those who are not having a happy holiday season. There are those who are finding it difficult to take any joy in the merriment going on around them because of troubles in their lives. We ask that You give these precious souls an extra measure of comfort. Help them to feel Your loving presence. Fill them with the joy that comes from knowing You, the kind of joy that the world can't give, the kind of joy that doesn't depend on circumstances. Lord, I remember several holiday seasons when all the merriment going on around me made me not even want to crawl out of bed in the morning, but while meditating on Your word You filled me with joy through the Holy Spirit. You overwhelmed me with Your love in a season when I didn't feel very loved. You were the solid foundation under my feet when it seemed like my whole world was falling apart. I ask You to do the same for all the hurting hearts this season. I have been as frail and fearful and doubtful as anyone has ever been during troubled times, but You helped an ordinary and mistake-ridden person like me, and I know You are able to help anyone else who calls on You.

Help us to remember that You will never leave us or forsake us. Help us not to feel alone. You have promised to be with us always. As David knew, Your eyes are ever on the faithful, and along with David we pray this prayer, 'But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in You. Surely, Lord, You bless the righteous; You surround them with Your favor as with a shield.' (Psalm 5:11-12)

You are surrounded by the Lord's favor. You have the right to sing for joy. I pray that the Lord makes you able to do so this holiday season. We ask for this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the reason for our joy. Amen!"

Below is a link to a song that assures us, on the authority of God's holy word, that we are not alone.
"O My Soul" by Casting Crowns

(I will be going out of town today for Thanksgiving and will return Sunday evening, so we will temporarily suspend the blog posts until Monday. In the meantime, I wish you every blessing in the Lord!)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

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

The Lord performs two miracles in today's passage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 19, The Parable Of The Growing Seed/The Parable Of The Mustard Seed

Jesus is speaking to an agricultural society and He often uses parables and examples that involve seeds or crops. Today we look at two parables involving seeds.

"He also said, 'This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.'" (Mark 4:26-27) This is a beautiful passage for anyone who shares the gospel. Christ commissioned us to sow the seed of the gospel. (Mark 16:15) God will do the rest. Our main concern should be in getting the message out, not in counting how many people have converted because of our testimony. If anyone has ever converted because of my testimony, I certainly don't know about it, but that's God's business. The seed we sow in someone's heart today may not sprout today, just as seed sown in the ground doesn't sprout on the same day. It may be weeks or months or years before the tiny seed we planted ever takes root and begins to grow in a person's heart. We may never even hear about it if and when that person comes to Christ. That's okay, because our duty is to be obedient to our Lord and to share the good news of the gospel, not to count converts. If we start focusing on how many people have come to Christ through our testimony, we will start focusing on ourselves instead of on the power of our Lord. We will become disheartened and discouraged. The parable of the growing seed assures us that we need only concern ourselves with sowing the seed. God is in charge of everything else. Like a farmer who plants seeds in the ground and then has to depend on the sun and rain to be given by God to make things grow, we merely plant the seed of the gospel and then leave the rest up to Him.

"All by itself the soil produces grain---first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come." (Mark 4:28-29) The harvest represents the souls who have come to Christ. The seed of the gospel has borne fruit: these believers. We may sometimes feel as if we are telling the gospel in vain. It may appear that no one is listening to us. But we are to keep on doing what Christ has commissioned us to do. The Apostle Paul endured so much hardship and persecution and rejection that we couldn't blame him if he'd ever become discouraged about sharing the gospel, yet he never did, and he encourages us with these words, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9) The harvest will come at the proper time. It will come in God's time. That's not our business. Our business is to keep doing what He's told us to do.

"Again He said, 'What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.'" (Mark 4:30-32) The mustard seed, while not literally the smallest of seeds, was probably the smallest herbal seed the people of Jesus' time and location planted in their gardens. The mustard seed was often used in hyperbole to represent something exceptionally tiny, and this is the way in which Jesus uses it in this parable. He isn't saying something false when He says the mustard seed is the smallest seed on earth; He's using the slang or the "urban dictionary" of His day. He's using an expression the people listening to Him would have easily understood.

The point He's making is that the kingdom of God starts out very small, like that one tiny mustard seed planted in the garden. But over time it sprouts and spreads out and provides protection and shade for all who want to gather under its branches. Some scholars believe the birds gathered in its shade represent unbelievers who benefit from the church without being a part of the church. Since birds often symbolize wickedness in Biblical examples and parables, this interpretation is possible. The church ministers not only to its true members but to the community at large and even to the world; therefore, believers and unbelievers alike receive aid and comfort from the church. That's as it should be, for who knows how many may come to faith because they first came to the church for other reasons? Perhaps the seed of the gospel will be planted in their hearts while they're there.

"With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when He was alone with His own disciples, He explained everything." (Mark 4:33-34) The parables Jesus taught were intended to cause those with a heart for the Lord to want to dig deeper and learn more. The parables were entertaining, informative, and practical. In other words, they had something for everyone if only everyone were interested. Some, like the disciples, wanted to learn as much as they possibly could. Others had no interest in the gospel no matter how Jesus presented it. This is why to people like the disciples the Lord gave further explanation. To those who want more, He gives more. In teaching parables Jesus wasn't trying to hide the truth from anyone. The parables separated the sheep from the goats, so to speak. The parables made a distinction between those with a hunger for God's word and those with no interest in Him whatsoever. Jesus has never turned away anyone who sincerely wants to know Him.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 18, The Parable Of The Lampstand

We are going to look at the parable of the lampstand today which tells us that the light is meant to reveal what is hidden. Mark's gospel is not always given to us in chronological order, for he likes to group similar things together, such as the parables contained in Chapter 4. There's nothing wrong with this; all four of the gospel writers arrange the material in their books in the order that best suits the point each of them makes about the identity of Jesus. Jesus said what He said, so the order in which these four men present His sayings is not what's important. Besides, all four gospels come together in a tight timeline of agreement when we get to the final week of Jesus' life. Up until then they are at liberty to group the parables together or to group the miracles together, but no such liberties can be taken with the arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus presents to us the parable of the lampstand. "He said to them, 'Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand?" (Mark 4:21) Light is meant to illuminate the darkness. There's no point in lighting a lamp only to hide it. Jesus, the light of the world, is present. He is illuminating the darkness. But just as lighting a lamp in a dark room reveals everything in that room whether good or bad, Christ reveals what is in the heart of mankind whether good or bad.

"For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." (Mark 4:22) Sin that we try to hide from ourselves and from God can't be healed. When the Lord reveals to us that we are in the wrong, the thing we must do is bring our sin out into the open before Him, confessing it and repenting of it. The Lord doesn't reveal our sins to us to beat us down with them but to set us free of them. Just as the alcoholic or drug addict must first admit he or she has a problem and needs help, we must first admit to ourselves we are sinners who need help. Here is another example: if a doctor took an x-ray that reveals we have a cancerous tumor that needs to come out, it would be foolish of us to pretend the tumor doesn't exist. We aren't going to get healed like that. When Christ the Great Physician reveals to us that there is sin in our hearts that needs to come out, it's equally foolish for us to pretend the sin doesn't exist.

Jesus gives a stern warning about taking what He says to heart. "'Consider carefully what you hear,' He continued. 'With the measure you use, it will be measured to you---and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.'" (Mark 4:24-25) He promises to bless the one who eagerly hears His word with better and better understanding of His word. The more we love the Scriptures and study them, the more God will speak to us through them. The Lord honors the one who hungers for His word. But there are those who have no desire to understand the Scriptures or to have a relationship with the Lord, and of those He predicts they will grow more foolish over time, spiritually speaking, until eventually they stand before God with no excuse for how they have lived their lives and with no defender to speak up for them. The Apostle Paul compared such non-spiritually minded people to the heathen Gentiles of his day, "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts." (Ephesians 4:18)

Today's passage gives us a couple of clues about what we should include in our daily prayer lives. First, we ought to pray for the Lord to reveal to our hearts anything we need to repent of. It's much better to willingly allow Him to bring these things into the light so we can deal with them and get it over with than to have Him chastise us for them later on through unpleasant circumstances. Believe me, I've been there! There have been things I refused to deal with until the Lord put me in such unpleasant circumstances that I couldn't keep shoving my wrong attitudes under the rug and pretending they didn't exist. I shouldn't have let the situation get so bad. It would have been far less painful for me if I'd repented of these things when the Lord first shined a light on them.

Second, we ought to pray for the Lord to give us such a hunger for His word that we can't go through a day without it. The more we want to learn from it, the more the word will speak to us. Jesus promises this in today's passage! He will honor our desire to grow in our relationship with Him. In fact, since we can't outgive God, in verse 24 Jesus promises to reward us with even more than we expect. Like a parent who lavishly blesses the child who is obedient, the Lord lavishly blesses us with His presence far beyond what we ever imagined.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 17, The Parable Of The Sower

Jesus uses some unconventional methods in His preaching. He's going to speak from a boat again today and I would be willing to bet that His countrymen never saw a rabbi teach from a boat before. But Jesus wants to reach as many people as possible every time He speaks, so it makes sense that He would preach in locations that have no walls. The message of the gospel never changes, but the method used to get the gospel to the world must change with the times.

Take the internet for example. When people started using the internet to share the gospel, I actually heard several folks say that the gospel didn't belong there. They said things like, "The internet has been used for bad things! There's all kinds of filth on there. You can't put the gospel on it!" But the Bible tells us, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21) Using the internet to share the gospel is a perfect example of overcoming evil with good! The apostles Peter and Paul often spoke to crowds of thousands, and if they'd had the ability to teach millions of people from the internet I don't think they would have scoffed at the idea. I don't think Jesus scoffs at it either. We have to be willing to embrace new methods and new technology if these things help us reach more people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has commissioned the church to "go into all the world and preach the gospel" (Mark 16:15) and the internet helps us tell the gospel to people we may never have the opportunity to meet in the flesh.

"Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around Him was so large that He got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in His teaching said: 'Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.' Then Jesus said, 'Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.'" (Mark 4:1-9) The sower is walking through the fields, reaching into his bag of seed and scattering the seed in an arc before him. Some of it will land in places where it will not flourish, but this is not the fault of the seed. It is the fault of the place where the seed lands. The seed of the gospel flourishes in soil that is ready to receive it, but the seed of the gospel does not flourish in the soil of a stony heart or in a heart concerned only with this world.

"When He was alone, the Twelve and the others around Him asked Him about the parables. He told them, 'The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.'" (Mark 4:10-12) Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, repeating the words God spoke to Isaiah on the day He called him to be a prophet. When commissioning him as a prophet, God clearly warns Isaiah that his message will go unheeded by many and that the people will refuse to repent and that Babylon will come and destroy Jerusalem and take the people captive. In quoting from Isaiah, Jesus isn't saying He doesn't want everyone to be forgiven. He wants everyone to be saved, but not everyone is willing to be saved. He's saying that those who have no heart for the gospel are not going to take the parables seriously and learn anything from them, just as those who had no heart for God in Isaiah's day didn't take Isaiah's message to heart and learn anything from it. The disciples have what it takes to learn from the Lord, so Jesus is going to help them understand the parables. All who believe in the Lord Jesus have the capacity to learn from Him. But "those on the outside", as Jesus refers to the ones who have no heart for Him, hear the words but find them meaningless.

The Apostle Paul met with the same type of listeners as he preached the gospel, and he said of them, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:4) Paul says, "Satan has blinded them. They are more concerned with the cares of this world than of the destiny of their souls. 'The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.'" (1 Corinthians 2:14)

The disciples appear confused by the parable of the sower, but since they earnestly desire to understand it, Jesus explains it to them. They are a bit slow to catch on but Jesus is patient with them. I'm glad He's patient with all of us! I'm slow to catch on sometimes too, but I want to learn, and Jesus never turns away anyone who wants to learn. "Then Jesus said to them, 'Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop---some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown." (Mark 4:13-20)

Jesus' explanation tells us why some are able to listen to the word of God without it having any lasting effect on them. But thankfully all the disciples but Judas are fertile soil. The seed of the gospel will take root in them and will spread out to the world to bring others to Christ.