Thursday, July 7, 2016

END AND BEGINNING

Pixabay (Public Domain)
Mark 15:25-32; 33-41, 16:19, 20

Faith, according to Hebrews is believing without seeing. Without that faith, the author goes on to say, it is impossible to please God. They are words that encourage but also words that condemn. They encourage us because they imply that we don't have to understand, we don’t have to see, for God to be faithful to the promises that He has made. He is Who He is, and He cannot lie. He will do what He has promised to do. Why and how and when He acts is way “above our pay grade” as the saying goes. We are simply called upon to believe, to have faith.

But the words condemn us as well because it is hard for us to believe without seeing. We fail the exercise all the time. So did those who walked and talked with Jesus. One of the example of that spirit of unbelief is found at the end of Mark, just before Jesus died.

Mark 15:25-32
25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the Jews.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left 28 and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “He was counted with the lawless ones.” 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.


To many of those who stood at the foot of the cross and watched the events of that day, the proof of Who Jesus was, which was what Mark was seeking to demonstrate in his record, was whether or not Jesus could save Himself from death. If He could come down from the cross then He must be Who He claimed. They wanted to see before they would believe. That they totally misunderstood the purpose of the cross is obvious to us. The cross was not a symbol of defeat; it was a symbol of victory—the ultimate solution to the problem that had begun in the Garden of Eden centuries before. You can’t have resurrection unless you have death.

But who would have thought that death would be victory? Paul describes it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Those who stood and mocked Him did not understand that what was happening before them was not only the ultimate, the last, sacrifice for sin that would ever be needed, but that it portrayed what happens when we accept the efficacy of that sacrifice for ourselves—we die to our old lives of sin, and are given new life that is then lived for God.

They wanted to see Jesus come down off the cross, but if He had they, and all of us, would have to perish on our own “cross” for our own sins. Jesus was asking them to believe without seeing, to have faith. And for the most part, they couldn’t.

But if they had difficulty believing because Jesus would not come down from the cross, what happened when He died should have helped. What was to happen was something that they could actually see. It would have been terrifying for those who witnessed it personally, and incredible to those who heard about it afterward.

Mark 15:33-41
33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

From other accounts that we have in the Gospels, many strange things happened during these terrible moments in history. The sun was blotted out in the middle of the day. The earth shook. Graves sprang open and the dead came back to life and walked through the city. But perhaps nothing was as momentous, at least as far as the religious authorities were concerned than was what happened inside of the Temple.

“The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”

The Pulpit Commentary tells us that there were two veils - one before the holy place, and the other before the holy of holies. The holy place would correspond to what we call the nave of the church, in which the priests were continually present; the holy of holies would correspond to our chancel choir - the holiest part of the building. This was always kept closed; nor might any one enter it but the high priest, and that only once in the year, on the day of expiation. The veil which was rent at our Lord's death was that which was placed before the holy of holies…It was the duty of the officiating priest, on the evening of the day of preparation, at the hour of evening prayer, which would correspond to the time of our Lord's death, to enter into the holy place, where he would of course be between the two curtains, or veils…It would then be his business to roll back the κάλυμμα, or outer veil, thus exposing the holy place to the people, who would be in the. outer court. And then and there they would see, to their amazement, the καραπέτασμα, the inner veil, rent asunder from the top to the bottom. These veils or curtains, according to Josephus, were each forty cubits in height and ten in breadth, [20 feet long and 30 broad] of great substance, very massive, and richly embroidered with gold and purple.

No one except the High Priest was allowed in the Holiest of Holy. In the ripping of this huge curtain God was telling His people that there was no longer any need for this place. Christ had made atonement for sin. There was no longer any need for sacrifices to be made. There was no longer any need for a priest to stand between God and the people. Christ now stood between God and the people and only through Christ could man now approach the Father. Christ’s death put an end to all that the Jews had practiced for generations. What happened, the impossibility of it, must have terrified them. This destruction of the curtain made such an impression on people that it must have been the first step to what is recorded in Acts 6:7, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

If the authorities believed that killing Jesus would put an end to this “WAY” as it became known, they were sadly mistaken. The signs that came with it, coupled with the resurrection of Jesus, simply confirmed all that the Lord had been and said over the years that He walked the earth.

And all of these events, plus the events on the Day of Pentecost described in Acts, when the Spirit of God came to dwell permanently with the people of God, inspired the disciples to do what Mark records as the mission of Jesus from the time His ministry began.

Mark 16:19, 20
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Mark’s mission when he began to record the events of Jesus’ life was to present the gospel, the Good News, to tell people about Jesus, and to show Jesus as Who He was, the Son of God. When he began that record he introduced us to the first followers, the disciples of Jesus and recorded Jesus’ words to them: “Come, follow me…and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). And they followed Him. As he comes to the end of his record, the events of three years have passed. Jesus has ascended and takes His place where He belongs—on the throne of heaven. Paul would later record that in this way: “…God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and in earth and under the earth. and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). This was prophetic. Jesus returned to heaven, exalted by His Father because He had completed the mission assigned to Him. But the ultimate exaltation will come when He returns the second time and every eye will see Him, and every knee will bow before Him. That has yet to come. Mark doesn’t record what happened when Jesus ascended but Luke tells us in Acts that as they stood looking up into heaven, two angels appeared and said to them, “Men of Galilee…why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

Mark is anxious to get on with the mission and simply records that the disciples did what Jesus had told them to do; they went out and became those fishers of men that Jesus had referred to them as when He called them to follow Him. They preached the Gospel. But what is wonderful is that last phrase: “…and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word…” He was gone, but He wasn’t. His presence through His Spirit, remained with them to accomplish His mission through them. They simply had to go and do what He said. They did what we read in Psalm 145: “…they will tell of your mighty acts. They will tell the glory of Your kingdom and speak of Your might, so that all men may know of Your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom” (Psalm 145:11, 12). And Mark himself, who had failed so pitifully in the beginning, was part of that band of wandering missionaries.

He learned that even those who stumble and fall can experience what other verses in Psalm 145 tell us: “The Lord is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:13b, 14). And the God Who is the same today as He was yesterday, continues to do the same for all those who look to Him.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Value of a Little Thing

Pixabay (Public Domain)
Mark 11:17;12:13-17; 12:14-44


In 1986, the space shuttle Challenger took off. Seventy-three seconds into its flight, Challenger disintegrated. All seven crew members died. It was later determined that the seal on an O-ring had failed leading to a build up of pressure that caused the explosion.

It was just an O-ring, a little thing, but a thing of huge value. Though no one would have praised it for its success, its failure had huge consequences.

Today we are going to look at three vignettes from Jesus’ ministry. They all basically lead us to the same place though they are not particularly connected to each other, except by the fact they all took place in that last week of Jesus’ life before He went to the cross. And they all have to do with little things.

Mark 11:1-7  
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.

There was a huge significance to Jesus riding the colt rather than the mother.

In Matthew’s gospel, the writer says this about the incident: “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me…This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matthew 21:2, 5). Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9. Mark and Luke don’t mention the donkey because Jesus rode the colt.

When the Hebrews wanted to do do something special connected to their homage toward God, (Numbers 19:2, Deuteronomy 21:3), or wanted to handle things that were sacred as in 1 Samuel 6:7 they chose an animal that had never been used before for any other purpose. Its first use would be  for a holy purpose. So when Jesus comes riding on this colt, the statement is made that He is sacred, the special sacrifice.

No one would have paid a whole lot of attention to a donkey. Even less so to a colt. The mother at least was useful. She could bear burdens. She could haul a cart or carry a man. But a colt was just a consumer, not a producer—until Jesus called for it.

Then, all of a sudden, this colt becomes hugely important, not because of himself, not because of his productivity, but simply because he is carrying God.

If I were writing a children’s book, I might put thoughts in that little colt’s head, and words in that little colt’s mouth. What would he be thinking? What would he be saying? Did he start out feeling like a zero because all he did was eat and sleep and was too little, too young, to be of any use? Then along come the disciples and take him from his mother. Would he be afraid? Would he be worried that, because he was useless, something bad was going to happen to him? Then he meets Jesus. A gentle hand is on his head, a soothing voice speaks to him and says, “Don’t be afraid, little one, I have made you for a great purpose, a noble calling, a wonderful experience. You are going to carry God. You are going to take the Saviour of the world toward the place of salvation.”

Then, I might describe how that little colt was feeling, what he was thinking. “Wow, I’m just a little colt, good-for-nothing in everyone else’s eyes. But here I am, carrying God. It just doesn’t get any better than this!”

We know that the colt didn’t think or say all those things. But we often do. We look at ourselves and say: “I’m not important. I can’t do anything. I’m a consumer not a producer. What I can do doesn’t seem to be of any significance to anyone.” That’s when we need to remember the colt. That’s when we need to remember that, as believers, we are carrying God—and that is the greatest task anyone could ever have. I Corinthians 3:16, 17 tells us, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you...God's temple is sacred and you are that temple."

The people who were present for the procession into Jerusalem saw the colt. Many of them understood the significance of the colt. But who did they cheer? The colt? No! They cheered the One being carried by the colt. And that is how it should be. The One being carried is the significant One.

Like the O-ring, our success at being God-bearers might not be noticed, but our failure to be God-bearers, to reflect Him well, could have disastrous consequences. We are little, insignificant, like the colt. But how we bear Him before the world is important.

In the next vignette, integrity comes into the picture.

Mark 12:13-17
13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

The issue here is paying taxes, but it could be just about anything. As image, or God-bearers, what we do, the integrity we show in how we deal with others, becomes important. The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus. They tried to flatter Him in order to ease His suspicions of them. They hoped that once He let down His guard they would be able to trap Him.

What they forgot was that Jesus was indeed a man of integrity. He wasn’t swayed by popular opinion, or flattery. He taught truth because He was TRUTH. And He caught them in their own web. The Jews generally hated the Romans, but the Pharisees supported the Romans because it was to their advantage to do so. If Jesus had said not to pay the tax, they would have reported Him as an insurrectionist. But to simply tell His listeners to pay the tax might have been misunderstood as bowing to Roman authority, which would have included such things as emperor worship. So He covered both bases: Yes, pay the tax, but also do not fail in your reverence to God.

Again it was a little thing. Why take the risk of getting yourself into trouble with those who hold the power of life or death in their hands? Just answer the question and move on. But Jesus answered to a much greater authority than the emperor in Rome—He answered to His Father, and in truth could not betray Himself.

I find it so easy to leave out the little God-related references in ordinary conversation. No one asked a God-related question so why throw in a God-related connection? Why complicate life? Why invite ridicule, annoyance, questions? It’s only a little thing.

But it was, and is, an important thing—like the seal on an O-ring.

Someone might need that one little thing to make a connection to a much larger spiritual truth.

In our third vignette, we find Jesus entering the Temple with His disciples. During His last week before the cross it seems He visited the Temple several times. On this particular occasion He observed this:

Mark 12:41-44
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

The system in the Temple was something like what we used to do in Venezuela. One of the criticisms that was quite common among Venezuelans was directed at the churches. They were always accused of having their hands out, wanting money from people. We didn’t want to be looked at like that, but we also knew that tithing was, and is, part of worship. But if people are not yet worshipers, or believers, then they will misunderstand giving. So to be discrete and still allow our believers to practice this part of worship, we put a box at the back of our meeting room and our people knew that that was where they should put their offering. We made no attempt to watch who put money in and who didn’t because that wasn’t our business.

But Jesus sat down and watched people put money in the offering box in the Temple. I wouldn’t do that but then again I am not the owner of all that money nor the one to whom that money is being offered—Jesus was.

In a previous post we met the rich man who through away eternal gain to hang onto what he was sure to lose anyway. We saw the surprise on the disciples’ faces when Jesus told them how hard it was for a rich man to get unto heaven because it was widely believed that wealth was a sign of favour from God and favour with God.

If the disciples had learned that lesson, they should not have been surprised when Jesus was more impressed by a poor person’s contribution to the offering box than He was with the amount the rich people were throwing in. But in the end it wasn’t the dollar figure that was impressive to Jesus at all. It was the faith demonstrated by the widow that was impressive. She didn’t have much, but she gave it all. Why did she do that? How did she expect to pay the rent, or buy food?

The only reason we can come up to explain the sacrifice of this woman was faith. She gave everything she could—even though it wasn’t much—because she believed that God would honour that, that God would be her Rock, her Fortress, her Deliverer, her Provider, her Shepherd, because she believed that if she put Him first, He would supply everything else she needed.

Others might have laughed at her “little,” but God did not laugh. He saw the faith and appreciated it.

Once again, it could have been anything here, and not necessarily money. It just happens that money was as big a deal then as it seems to be now. Even a little of anything, if it is all we can do, is BIG to God. That’s the point.

Whether it be carrying Him in a way that shows Him to people as He is, or speaking words which will direct people’s thoughts to Him, or giving everything we can to Him believing that even a little means a lot to Him, it is important to Him.

It’s as important as the seal on an O-ring.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

GOOD AND SAVED

Pixaby (Public Domain)
Mark 10:17-31

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” 28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Jesus doesn’t answer the question that was asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (inherit = possess, have). Instead the Lord basically changes the subject, but only to emphasize a point.

Why do you call me good…No one is good—except God alone.

Why did Jesus do that?

The foundation was being laid. If I am good, says the Lord, and there is no one good except God, then you know who it is who is speaking to you now. Be careful with your responses and the choices you make.

The man had come and fallen on his knees in front of the Lord. He was acknowledging something here, but did he fully understand? He was bowing before God but did he really know that?

This man came to Jesus loaded with assumptions.

He assumed that Jesus was good: “Good teacher…” That was a good assumption.

He assumed that Jesus had the answer to his question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That too was a good assumption.

He assumed he had to do something to get eternal life.

Here is where Jesus forces the man to articulate what he means by “doing” something to gain eternal life. Jesus rolls out six of the Ten Commandments: “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.

Notice that Jesus only mentions the six that have to do with our horizontal relationships—how we deal with other people. He doesn’t mention the first four commandments that concern our relationship with God.

The man gives a quick, almost unthinking answer, one that many of us could just as easily give, if we didn’t think too deeply about it. He says: “…all these I have kept since I was a boy.

The man has made another assumption. He has already forgotten to Whom he is speaking—the God Who knows the truth. If he had thought a little more carefully about his answer, he might not have been so cocky. If he had been following Jesus' teachings (and we assume he had or why would he come to Jesus in the first place). The man may not have physically murdered anyone, but Jesus’ definition of murder is to be angry at someone. He may never have committed adultery, but Jesus’ definition of adultery is to look lustfully at someone. He may never have dishonoured his parents by refusing to obey them However, Jesus’ definition of honouring father and mother is to not withhold help from them by lying and saying that the help you could give is dedicated to God, so isn’t available (an excuse which also involves the command against stealing and defrauding—Mark 7).

The man has also assumed that Jesus is going to give him another list of things he can do to earn his entrance into the kingdom. He thinks he is good (first and fatal mistake) and therefore he will do all that he is commanded. Mark doesn’t record the question that the man asked after he claimed to have kept all the commandments the Lord had mentioned. But Matthew does. He records: “All these I have kept…What do I still lack?” (Mathew 19:20).

There is a beautiful phrase that Mark does include in his account of the story: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” But still Jesus asks him the hard questions.

Jesus asks him to do the one thing he is not willing to do and that instruction will be the one thing that proves he is not as good as he thinks he is.

One thing you lack…Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

Jesus had only probed this man on the last half of the commands. Now the Lord probes him on one of the first four of the commands: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Who do you love more? Do you love me more than you love your wealth, and the sense of security that your wealth brings to you?

It could have been anything. In this case it was wealth because this man was wealthy. But any other false god could have fit in the slot. Anything that we value more than we value Him becomes an idol, a false god. In the case of this man who seemed so sincere in his desire for eternal life, his love of his possessions deprived him of the very thing he came seeking.

Why ask the man such a hard question? Why make it so difficult? Often we try to make accepting Christ, becoming a believer, as easy as we can. We sometimes don’t even mention sin, or the need to repent, or to confess and turn from that sin. We don’t want people to turn down the invitation. But the truth is that the only way to come into the kingdom of God, to gain eternal life is to be faced with that which keeps us out of the kingdom—our sin, whatever it is that comes between us and the Lord. We have to face that sin, confess that sin, turn from that sin, and ask the Lord to forgive us for that sin. There is no other way. And as much as Jesus loved this man, He couldn’t provide him with an easier access to the eternal life.

This man seems to have been a pretty good guy. He probably hadn’t murdered anyone, or cheated, or dishonoured his parents. Perhaps he could say, with a clear conscience, that he had kept all the commandments that the Lord mentioned. But to fault in one is as good as breaking them all—only one will keep us out of the kingdom. We all come before the Lord as sinners.

Paul wrote in Romans 3: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have altogether become worthless, there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). And the price of that sin is eternal separation from God. “…the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Mark tells us that the man was disappointed and “…went away sad.”

Why sad? Was he sad because Jesus didn’t take into account the good stuff he had done and cancel out this one little glitch in his performance? Was he sad because he felt that Jesus hadn’t been fair? Was he sad because he really wanted eternal life but the price was too much?

This episode seems to imply that eternal life can be won by obeying the rules, i.e. if the man had sold all his possessions and then become a disciple, he would have been saved. But salvation isn’t based on what we do. Salvation is based on faith—faith in what Christ has already done for us on the cross. By not being willing to do as Jesus asked the man demonstrated that though he may have been seeking an entrance into heaven, he wasn’t seeking the Lord—and there is a difference!

Psalm 24 describes the man who is seeking the Lord this way:

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob” (Psalm 24:3-6).

After the man left the Lord made this statement: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Once again it is not an issue of money per se, but an issue of an idol. But without a doubt wealth is a very powerful idol in which a person may be tempted to put their trust. Jesus went so far as to say that wealth was such an attractive idol that it was “…easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

It shouldn’t be surprising that evangelism is generally easier among the poor than it is among the rich!

The disciples reacted curiously to what Jesus said. They responded to His statement by being “amazed” because it was believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing on a person. They still hung on to the idea that God only blesses with wealth those who are closest to Him.

The Pulpit Commentary says:
The stern teaching of vers. 23 and 24 thoroughly dismayed and perhaps offended them. Temporal prosperity had in their Law been held forth as the reward of righteousness and obedience, a foretaste of future happiness… If the way to heaven is barred to the rich man, how shall the poor pass therein? The difficulty seemed to apply to everybody. All who are not rich are hoping and struggling to become rich, and therefore fall under the same category. If the apostles thought not of themselves in this question, they were grieved at the reflection that, under the circumstances, the majority of mankind were recklessly endangering their eternal salvation. With their views of a temporal kingdom, the apostles probably were thinking of their own prospects.

Who can be saved then, was their concern.

Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.

An idol, whatever form it may take, that stands between a man and his Saviour, seems a formidable obstacle. But no obstacle is so big, tall, wide, or strong that God cannot break it down.

One of the best examples that comes to mind is Paul. When we first meet him, his name was Saul and he was standing alongside the Pharisees and religious rulers of his day, holding their cloaks as they stoned Stephen to death for standing up for Jesus and proclaiming the Truth. We later discover him persecuting the believers, being responsible for putting them in jail and for causing their deaths. We learn that he was proud of who he was, a Jew of the Jews, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, righteous and perfect in his keeping of the laws and the traditions of his people. His idol was his heritage—who he was. But Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, and everything changed with that encounter.

In the beginning the believers were afraid of Saul/Paul. They thought he was a spy trying to catch them at their worship and throw them in jail. They couldn’t believe that it was possible to save someone like Saul. But nothing is impossible for God.

The Lord had asked a great deal of the man who had come to Him with the question. He had asked the man to give up everything temporal in order to gain everything spiritual. Peter got to thinking about what he and his companions had given up to follow the Lord. Compared to this man, they hadn’t given up as much, but they had given all that they had. And Jesus assured him that whatever they had given would be more than returned and that, in fact, they would gain everything anyone could possibly want.

Jim Elliott, who was killed along with his companions in an attempt to reach the Auca Indians of Ecuador with the Gospel, wrote this: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” This quote is most often attributed to Elliot, but is likely his adaptation of a saying of the English nonconformist preacher Philip Henry (1631–1696) who said “He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose.”

The man who came to Jesus and then walked away from Jesus did not understand. He had physically bowed in reverence and submission before the Lord, but in his heart there was another god that he could not release in order to embrace the true God.


His sad story invites us to look within to find what idol keeps us from full surrender to Christ.

Monday, July 4, 2016

SO SEND I YOU...

Pixabay, Public Domain
Mark 6:6-13

There are all kinds of stories told about people who have left home, family, comfort and prosperity to serve the Lord in other places. One of the most famous of these is the one about Sadhu Sundar Singh.

Sundar Singh (1889-1929) was raised as a Sikh but after the death of his mother, he came to a breaking point in his life. "His mother was a loving saintly woman and they were very close. In his anger, Sundar burned a copy of one of the Gospels in public. Within three days Sundar Singh could bear his misery no longer. Late one night in December 1903, he rose from bed and prayed that God reveal himself to him if he really existed. Otherwise -- 'I planned to throw myself in front of the train which passed by our house.' For seven hours Sundar Singh prayed. 'O God, if there is a God, reveal thyself to me tonight.' The next train was due at five o'clock in the morning. The hours passed. Suddenly the room filled with a glow. A man appeared before him. Sundar Singh heard a voice say, 'How long will you deny me? I died for you; I have given my life for you.' He saw the man's hands, pierced by nails."

Sundar surrendered his life to Jesus. His father rejected him and he became an outcast. Sundar realized that the Gospel, considered "foreign" to his people, would be much more acceptable if it was clothed in more traditional garb. So he became a sadhu. He dressed in the yellow robe, lived on charity, gave up every possession, and remained celibate. This freed him to dedicate himself completely to the mission that he felt God was calling him to. The only thing he carried with him was a New Testament.

Sundar traveled extensively, eventually to many corners of the world. In 1929, on a visit to Tibet, he disappeared and was never seen again.

What this humble Indian believer did is basically what Mark tells us that Jesus commanded His disciples to do in March 6:6-13.

6 Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.

8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 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.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.


At this point there were more disciples than just the inner circle of 12. Luke 10 tells us that there were seventy-two who went out as missionaries at His command. Matthew describes Jesus’ instructions to them very specifically in Matthew 10.

He empowered them to do what He had been doing: preach, heal, raise the dead, drive out the demons. They were not to take anything with them but count on the hospitality and generosity of those in the towns they visited who were open to the message.

He told them that they would have to leave everything and everyone behind to serve Him. He warned them that they would be persecuted. Jesus warned them that they would be beaten and arrested for preaching the Gospel but that when they were brought to face their accusers not to worry about what they would say because He would give them the words that needed to be spoken. He told them that people would hate them—even the members of their own families. He described them as “sheep among wolves” and from His instructions we get the famous phrase that encouraged them to be “wise as serpents and as harmless as doves” in their dealings with the people they met.

But He also encouraged them not to be afraid, even in the face of death. And he promised to reward them for their service.

I can’t imagine too many people today signing up to follow the terms and conditions that Jesus set out for His followers. They don’t make too many Sundar Singhs any more.

In Luke’s account of the sending out of the disciples, he described what happened when Jesus followers came back from their mission. How exciting it was for them, despite whatever they had to give up, whatever they had to suffer, to be able to preach and to heal just like like Jesus. Luke says that they came back to report everything that had happened—especially that the demons had submitted to them in the Lord’s name. And Jesus said to them: “…do not rejoice that spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). They were not to think of themselves as being any different from the people to whom they had been sent—sinners saved by the grace of God.

In Matthew’s version of the episode that we have here in Mark, the description of the mission the disciples went on is preceded with this: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’” (Matthew 9:35-38).

For many of us, we will not be doing much “going” at least as far as overseas ministry is concerned. But there is one thing we can do—we can follow the mandate that the Lord set out here for His disciples. He told them to pray. There was a harvest to to gathered, but few to gather it. He, having compassion on those who were lost, instructed them to pray that His Father would call out those who could go to gather this harvest, to be His messengers. That is something we all can do. Because, as Paul reminds us, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the whom of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are send? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-17).

Let me give you a specific example to pray for. I have two friends from Quebec, Susie and Gisele. These two single gals went to Bulgaria ten years ago. They are perhaps a little younger than I am so they went to serve overseas as older missionaries. They have now returned home to retire. During their ten years in Bulgaria, one of the poorest countries of the European Union, they built bridges to scores of people. Their prayer letters have been crammed with photos and names of people with whom they have shared the Gospel and whom they helped physically and materially during those years. They did this work basically alone. Pray for the Lord to send others who will take up the work that they have so faithfully done and now can no longer do. 




For decades our mission has supported a hospital for women and children in Pakistan. In a culture where neither are valued, Shikarpur Christian Hospital has been a place of hope and safety for segments of the population that are basically ignored. But these women and children must be helped by female doctors and nurses, a commodity increasingly difficult to find. On occasions, the shortages have caused the hospital to close its doors to surgeries specifically because of the lack of doctors. Through the hospital countless people have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and many have come to faith.


But the questions remain in Bulgaria, in Pakistan, and in so many parts of the world including our own. Who will go? Who will pray?


Thursday, June 30, 2016

TELL HIS STORY THROUGH YOURS

Pixaby (Public Domain)
Mark 5:1-20

The Lord has had an already busy day—which was a reasonable explanation for why He fell fast asleep when He and His disciples got in the boat to cross over the Sea of Galilee.

But though Jesus took the opportunity to nap in the boat, it was not without reason that He commanded His disciples to cross the sea. He wasn’t just trying to avoid any more interaction with the crowd after a busy day. He had an appointment on the other side. It has always amazed me that despite the fact that our Lord got hungry, thirsty, and weary just as we do, He would reach the end of His life and be able to say that He had done His Father’s will—He had accomplished all His Father had asked of Him. The human frailties and limitations never kept Him from doing, not everything there was to be done, but everything He had been mandated to do.

And so He gets into the boat and catches His breath by taking a nap, knowing because He is still God in spite of His humanity, that there is someone that waits for Him on the other side of Galilee.

Here’s what Mark records:

1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 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. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

The torment described here is more than we can wrap our minds around. This was a man that, in our day and age, would have been assigned to a mental institution, to lock-down, to a padded cell and perhaps a strait-jacket. Someone might have sent for an exorcist. But there was nothing that existed in those days to deal with him. No chains could hold him and obviously he was too disturbed and violent to be allowed around other human beings. So he had been consigned to the dead as one who might as well be dead and it appears that even in his madness he tried to end his misery by cutting himself with stones.

And this was the man with whom Jesus had a divine appointment—what everyone else thought was a lost cause was never, nor is now, a lost cause to the Lord.

We don’t know how this man came into this state, how he became open to demon-possession. I don’t know enough to speculate, but it worries me that we “play” with Satan and then expect not to be influenced by him. So many of our television shows, for example, are centered around him, and I wonder just how much people are opening their lives up to his influence and even to possession by thinking that all this is simply entertainment that doesn’t lead to other, more dangerous things. But we don’t know the backstory in the case of this poor, lost soul. We just find a man in deep trouble.

Mark continues with the story:

6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus was saying to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”

Often in the records of Jesus casting out demons, we find that the demons recognized Jesus for Who He was. They knew He was God. They knew He was more powerful than they were. This is the first time in the Gospels that this phrase: “…the Most High God” is used, though it appears frequently in the Old Testament. The man, or the demons speaking through the man, fall at Jesus’ feet. Barnes writes that even devils must acknowledge Christ and “This was an acknowledgment of his power, and of his control over fallen spirits.” Gill comments: “Devils believe there is one God, and tremble at him; and they confess that Jesus of Nazareth, who was born of the virgin, according to the human nature, is the Son of God, according to his divine nature: and whereas they had no interest in him, as a Saviour, they desired they might have nothing to do with him as God; and since they had no share in the blessings of his grace, they beg they might not feel the power of his hand.”

We say “they” here because of what Mark tells us as part of the conversation between Jesus and the demon-possessed man.

9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

Note the “I” and “we” — perhaps the man struggling with the demons speaks sometimes and sometimes it is the demons who speak through him.

Legion” taken literally means 6,000 of them, taken representatively simply means “lots.” Since Satan is a liar it is possible that the demons were trying to bluff their way out of this confrontation by implying that they were a superior force.

It is interesting that those who torture—the demons—don’t themselves want to be tortured. And since they have already acknowledged Who Jesus is they know what He could do to them. Even the demons didn’t want to go back to hell! Anything was preferable. So they beg Him to be merciful to them even though they had not be merciful to the poor man whose life they had made literally a “hell on earth.”

Mark continues with the story:

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the evil 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.

The demons had asked Jesus not to torture them (as they surely deserved) and then they suggested an alternative. But they couldn’t have known that what the man failed to do—kill himself—the pigs would do! They went crazy! And the demons would end up, we assume, where they didn’t want to go—back where they came from.

One commentator notes that this story shows us that a demon is not everywhere. He has to be in one being or another, in this case in the man or in the pig, not just floating around.

But there is something else we need to note here. The demons may have suggested where they wanted to go since they knew that Jesus could send them anywhere, but it was Jesus who gave them permission. Even demons cannot operate without God’s permission. Many people tend to give Satan more power than he actually has. They tend to believe that Satan is at least as powerful as God, if not more powerful. But for God to BE God He must be supreme over everything, otherwise He is flawed and cannot be God. He is either ALL-mighty or He is not mighty at all. This authority over even demonic forces is mentioned specifically several times in Scripture.

Luke 22:31
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Job 1:6ff
6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Job 2:1-6
1 On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” 4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 6 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

Satan, as Lucifer the angel, was created by God. And as a created being, God controls him. Speaking about Jesus, Paul writes in Colossians 1:16, “For by him all things were created, whether thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities; all things created by him and for him.

This is our assurance that even the worst is still under His control and though we might not understand, as Job didn’t, why what happens, happens, we need to remind ourselves from His Word that nothing happens without God’s permission. And because we can trust God to be both good and just, we can be sure that He will work in us and through us both for His glory and our ultimate benefit.

Mark finishes the story:

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 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. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 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.

This is a part of the story that is both sad and happy. We are happy for the man who has now been restored to his right mind and who will be able to return to a normal life. We are sad because the people of that region did not appreciate what the Lord had done for one of their neighbours and could do for others among them. They were mad about the pigs, about their lost revenue. Pigs before people was their life motto!

But they may have gotten rid of Jesus but they didn’t get rid of the one who had been witness to the goodness of God—the now ex-demon-possessed man! Though he wanted to go with Jesus, the Lord knew that he’d be much more useful to the kingdom if he returned to his friends and family and told them—over and over again—the story of the God-man who had made a special trip across the lake to rid him of a legion of demons.  What a witness!

And he must have done that well because this section of Mark’s record ends with, “And all the people were amazed.”

People like to argue about theology, doctrine, the Bible, and half a dozen other things that have to do with what we believe as Christians. But there is one thing that one can't really argue with—my story and what Jesus did in my life, or your story and what Jesus has done in your life.

So perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from this story from Mark is: tell your story and you never know how many people might be amazed, and even amazed enough to believe for themselves.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

GOING DOWN WITH THE SHIP—NOT!

Pixabay (Public Domain)
Mark 4:35-41

I remember standing at the living room window in our apartment on Montgomery Avenue back in October, 1954. Heavy rain and slashing winds had roared in from the west. Here in Timmins we only caught the tail end of Hurricane Hazel. To the south of us the story was different.

As the story goes: “On October 15, 1954, the most famous hurricane in Canadian history struck Southern Ontario. Hurricane Hazel was projected to dissipate, but instead re-intensified unexpectedly and rapidly, pounding the Toronto region with winds that reached 110 kilometres per hour (68 mph) and 285 millimetres (11.23 inches) of rain in 48 hours. Bridges and streets were washed out, homes and trailers were washed into Lake Ontario. Thousands were left homeless, and 81 people were killed—more than 30 on one street alone. The total cost of the destruction in Canada was estimated at $100 million (about $1 billion today). This storm would change the Toronto landscape forever and mobilize the need for managing watersheds on a regional basis.”

I don’t remember feeling afraid, but I was only five years old. My mother stood beside me and I am sure she was probably feeling something very different from what I was feeling. It was a fierce storm—even up here in the north.

We have no control over nature. I am sure that out in the area around Fort McMurray, citizens and first responders knew the feelings of helplessness, fear, stress, even anger, as they faced the wildfire that recently roared through Northern Alberta—a fire over which they have little control and in fact said that only another act of God—rain—could stop.

Earthquakes, fires, floods, tsunamis, erupting volcanoes, hurricanes, drought—Paul comments: “…the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22) as it waits for redemption, for restoration, for God to put things back the way they were before sin entered the world. 

Those “pains” are scary. 

The disciples of Jesus were no less subject to the anxiety and fear of nature out of control than we are.

Jesus had just finished telling several stories, or parables, to His followers. This had all taken place by the lake. The crowd had been so big that Jesus borrowed a boat and sat in it while the crowd gathered along the shoreline to listen to Him. Here is what happened after He had finished with what He wanted to say.

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”


Recently it was brought to my attention the importance of what Jesus said when He and His disciples first got into the boat.

He said, “Let us go over to the other side.” Now the disciples were still in their training period. They didn't completely understand what they have committed themselves to. They still didn’t “get it.” But we can’t be too hard on them, because we often don’t “get it” either. Their faith was weak, but then again, ours often is as well. If they had “gotten it” when Jesus said that they were going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, they would have known that that was exactly where they were going to end up. They might have understood that the storm they were about to face would be difficult but not life-threatening. This assurance would have been simply based on Jesus' words.

If God says that we are going across the lake, then that is where we are going—no matter what!

The Lord had just finished a long day, and rather than jump out of the boat and be immediately swarmed by the crowds, He called His men to climb into the boat and make their trip by sea. He was tired. Despite being fully God, Jesus had all the frailties of man—He got hungry, thirsty and tired. So He did what anyone who is tired should do—He curled up in the stern of the boat and took a nap.

Several of Jesus’ disciples were seasoned fishermen. They knew about heavy weather and had probably experienced quite a bit of it before. But it seems that this storm was unusually strong.

Just after we sailed on my first cruise, everyone on the ship had to participate in the lifeboat drill. We had to put on our lifejackets and proceed to our designated lifeboat stations and get instructions from the people who, in the event of an emergency, would help us to safety. I paid attention. I am not a fan of drowning. I pay attention when I am flying over large bodies of water. I want to know where my lifejacket is. I am not a fan of drowning. I don’t go into small boats if I can help it. I am not a fan of drowning. I won’t even put my face under water. I am NOT a fan of drowning.

So I can relate to the fear that these men felt.

There are two clues in the story that should have encouraged the faith and banished the fear of the disciples. Jesus said that they were going to cross over to the other side. Jesus was sleeping like a baby in the stern of the boat even in the middle of this wild storm.

But instead of taking what Jesus was doing through all this as a good sign, the disciples were annoyed that the Lord was still asleep and they interpreted that as lack of concern for their well-being.

Sometimes when things go wrong for us, we react in a similar fashion. If God doesn’t respond to our situation, He must be asleep and doesn’t care. So we get annoyed at Him.

They didn’t “get it.” They didn’t see this as the test of faith that it was. They didn’t analyze what they already knew about Him, and then come to the conclusion that if Jesus was in the boat with them everything would end up okay whatever happened. This is God here in this little piece of wood, the One who created and controls all this stuff. This is the One of Whom the psalmist wrote: "O Lord of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them" (Psalm 89:8, 9).

But they didn't "get it" so they woke Him up.

Then comes the kicker: “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”

Have you ever noticed how many times people use the term “Mother Nature?” It’s usually connected with some complaint about the weather. The term has its origins in the worship of female deities who are supposedly responsible for giving life. So the phrase is pagan in origin. The truth is, God controls His creation. The Scriptures are full of descriptions that support this, especially if you read the last few chapters of Job and some of the psalms. For example, Elihu, one of Job’s friends was right when he said this:

How great is God—beyond our understanding!…He draw up the drops of water which distill as rain to the streams [evaporation]; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind. Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion? See how he scatters his lightning about him, bathing the depths of the sea…He fills his hands with lightning and commands it to strike its mark. His thunder announces the coming storm; even the cattle make known its approach…He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth. After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice sounds, he holds nothing back…He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ So that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man from his labor…The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen. He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. At his direction they swirl around over the face of the whole earth to do whatever he commands them. He brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love” (Job 36:26-37:13)

And here in Mark we are reminded again of who controls nature.

The disciples, when they processed what He had done, were “terrified.” Why were they terrified? Why were they not relieved, or grateful or happy or something! Their question “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” leaves us with the impression that they had just come to the realization that this man they had just woken up from a sound sleep and accused of not caring about them, was not just an ordinary man!

I wrote a little note in my Bible after this verse: “Fear of anything or anyone other than God is lack of faith.

Apparently the words “Fear Not!” or something similar, appear 365 times in Scriptures, once for every day of the week. That should tells us something—FEAR NOT!

But, for me, the best story and the best reminder is this one. When I was on staff at Oakwood Baptist Church in Toronto we used to work with the Sunday School to put on some pretty impressive plays. One of the these plays was the Christmas story. Oakwood was quite multi-cultural in those days—still is. The three shepherds chosen for the play were white kids, but the angel was black. The shepherds were to sit around their fire talking and the angel would appear to them with the good news that Jesus had been born. So there they were. The angel appears and says “Fear not!” And according to the script the shepherds shriek on terror at the top of their lungs. You would have had to see it to appreciate it, but this skinny black kid all dressed in white with the gold halo around his head, doesn’t crack a smile. There is a pregnant pause, and then he says with just the right amount of rebuke in his voice, “And what part of ‘FEAR NOT’ do you NOT understand!

It’s a simple statement that is hard for us to grasp. If we have come to faith in Christ, God is in the boat. We have absolutely nothing to fear.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

THE REAL DEAL

Pixaby (Public Domain)
Mark 4:25
Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

Jesus was a master storyteller. And like every good storyteller He began His stories with things with which His audience was familiar. It’s one of the basic principles of teaching—begin with something the audience understands and then take them to something that they don’t yet understand. So when Jesus said: “I am the Great Shepherd” everyone pictured a shepherd because this was sheep-raising country and they understood the image. Having hooked them with an image they understood, Jesus then explained how He qualified as that good shepherd because He wasn’t like a hired man who ran at the first sign of danger, but rather He, as the Great Shepherd, would give His life for the sheep.

But for many in His audience the story of the shepherd was nothing more than a story about a shepherd. They couldn’t make the leap in thinking that would take them from the familiar to the spiritual. They didn’t understand the idea that they were the sheep and that Jesus, as their Great Shepherd, was going to give His life to save them. They didn’t understand because they didn’t have the faith yet to believe. Often Jesus’ stories went over the head of those who were listening to Him because He used these parables often, rather than speaking plainly and saying: “You are sinners and I am your Saviour. The punishment for your sin is death and to provide a way for you to avoid eternal death, I am going to receive the punishment for your sins that you should suffer. And if you accept the sacrifice I am making for you and ask for forgiveness, you will be guaranteed a place at God’s side in heaven.

Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t always “get it,” didn’t always understand the meaning of the parables Jesus told. He would have to explain things to them in private. Why wouldn’t Jesus make things plain to people?

Well, let me tell you a story. I come to visit you. It’s a hot day and you offer me a glass of water because you know that after my long walk to get to your house, I must be dehydrated. But I don’t feel my need for water. I don’t realize I’m dehydrated. And even though the jug is right there, I refuse your offer. Later, you bring out the chips and dip for an afternoon snack. And suddenly I feel thirsty—the salt made me aware of my need of water. The jug is right there. You offer me a drink of water and this time I accept because I now know what I need.

The purpose of the parable was to create the curiosity that responded to the need. Those who didn’t feel the need, the hunger for something, that thirst for something, would simply write off what Jesus was saying as a nice story. Those who felt the need would come to Him and ask Him to explain, as the disciples did. He would then explain the truth behind the story. Those seeking the truth would persevere until they found the Truth—in Him.

In Mark 4 we have the record of several parables or stories that Jesus told. The first one was the parable of the sower. Again, this would be a familiar picture to the audience gathered around Jesus. This was an agricultural land—they understood about sowers and seed. They knew that birds came along and stole the seed before it could take root. They knew that seed was often sown on poor land where the rocks didn’t allow for the roots to take hold and find moisture below the surface. When the sun was hot, the blade that had sprouted would often die. They knew that weeds could choke out what had been sown. They knew that a harvest could produce different amounts of fruit.

Jesus told them a story about a lamp. They understood that for a lamp to be useful it would be silly to hide it under a bowl or under the bed. It had to be somewhere it could be seen.

He told them about the sower who planted the seed and though he doesn’t understand how, that seed produces a harvest which the farmer then gathers.

The Lord explained about the mustard seed—something so small that it might be ignored but something that, despite its size, would grow into a tree big enough to support flocks of birds. They understood mustard seed.

But they didn’t always understand the meaning behind the story. What He wanted them to feel was such a need to understand that meaning that they would come and ask Him. Their “thirst” for truth, that need to know more, would be an indication that the Spirit of God was working in their lives to bring them to faith in Jesus. Those in whom the Spirit was not working would simply say “Nice story” and walk away.

This hunger, this thirst, was what Jesus was talking about in the Beatitudes when He said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

That brings us to something Jesus said while He was telling these three stories. Mark 4:24, 25 tells us this, quoting Jesus: “‘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 he has will be taken away from him.’

Years and years ago when I was in Sunday School, there was a little chorus that we sang once in a while. I couldn't find all the words so am not sure if I have them right, but it went something like this:

You have a talent, use it for the Lord.
You have a talent, use it for the Lord.
If you do not use it,
You will surely lose it,
You have a talent, use it for the Lord.


The simple song kind of illustrates what we have in these two verses from Mark 4:  “‘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 he has will be taken away from him.’

Use it or lose it! The song speaks about talent, but Jesus’ message is what to do about this hunger and thirst that God gives us for Truth, for Him. The idea behind Jesus’ words in Mark is that the more we nurture the hunger and thirst for Him, the more we will hunger and thirst, the more we will persevere in discovering more about Him, and the more He will reveal Himself to us. The less we nurture that hunger and thirst and ask God to fill it for us, the more it is likely that we will lose our enthusiasm for the pursuit altogether.

Let’s go back to that parable of the sower that Jesus told, and that I mentioned before.

1 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. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.

The first “seed” or Gospel that fell, fell on those who were not prepared to hear. The message did not penetrate at all and is described as being taken away by Satan (the birds). In the second description, the seed took root, but there were things that tested just whether or not those roots were deep enough; if there really was true saving faith present. And there wasn’t, and eventually what appeared to be a thriving believer turned out to be a imposter. The third description is of a seed that took root, but here we have a stunted “plant,” a believer who let everything distract him/her from pursuing the Lord. There was little hunger or thirst here for righteousness because other things got in the way, here described as the “worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things” that come in and “choke the word, making it unfruitful." Then we have the last which describes those who “use it and don’t lose it” those who have, want more, and get more of God which only makes them want more and because they want more of Him, God delights in giving more of Himself to them.

Our prayer should be that of the psalmist when he wrote in Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirst for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Are you, am I, more thirsty to meet with God than we were yesterday? That’s the question. The answer needs to be yes. If it isn’t we run the risk of ceasing to be thirsty and hungry for Him at all and then we are in serious trouble.

Friday, June 24, 2016

RESISTANCE AND PERSISTENCE

Pixabay (Public Domain)
Mark 3:20-34

 Things are beginning to heat up! It’s one thing to go around healing people and casting out demons, but it is a whole different thing to go around forgiving sin! It’s just not “politically correct.” The people loved it, but the religious authorities—well, not so much!

They were there in the house when the paralytic was lowered through the roof. They watched Jesus eat with tax collectors and “sinners,” something that they considered themselves too spiritual to do. They caught him picking grain on the Sabbath so that He and His disciples could eat—something prohibited by them—and when they objected He told them that as Lord of the Sabbath it was His right to decide what was done and not done on the Sabbath. He went into the synagogue to teach, and healed a crippled man—something else prohibited by them. And when He rebuked them and reminded them that doing good on the Sabbath was the right thing to do, Mark tells us that “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (Mark 3:6). They hated having their theology corrected, especially in public. They were jealous of His popularity. They were afraid of Him. And since they couldn’t control Him, they had to find a way to cancel Him out.

It’s one thing to have your critics on the outside. Jesus knew what they were thinking and wasn’t the least bit phased by it. He knew who He was. He knew what He had come to do. But as the opposition was growing on the outside, there was some resistance among those from whom we would not expect it. Jesus’ own family began to apply pressure on Him.

By this time it appears that Joseph was dead. He is no longer mentioned in any of the passages that have to do with the family.

Families come in different shapes and sizes. Some are good communities to belong to; others not so much. Every family has its share of tensions. Mothers never cease to be mothers. I went overseas when I was in my 20s. When I came home on Home Assignment I would come back to Timmins and spend some time with my parents. Once in a while I would go out and spend an evening with my friends. My mother would stay awake until she was sure I was safely home. Once, when I was out after 11:00 p.m. she actually called the house where I was to ask when I was coming home. I’m in my 30s by this time, left home when I was 17, have lived on my own in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and she is worried if I’m out after 11:00 p.m. in Timmins! Go figure! Mothers are mothers always.

Well, it turns out that Mary was that kind of mom. She worried about her firstborn. Mark 3:20, 21 puts it this way:

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

He was too busy to eat and mom found out and get worried. He must be losing His mind not to look after Himself a little better than that! So mom needs to take charge. I think the term to describe this today is “helicopter mom” — always hovering. I don’t know if Jesus was embarrassed—I certainly was when my mother phoned my friend’s house to tell me come home!

While they were en route, Jesus had an interesting discussion with the religious authorities about demons. In the previous post I suggested that Satan might have tried to tempt Jesus to concentrate on the healing and casting out demons rather than His teaching about the Kingdom of God. This would have sidetracked the Lord from the purpose of His coming. I suggested that perhaps Satan was willing to have his demons cast out as part of the “show.” Apparently Satan tempted the religious authorities to believe that same story—that Jesus was casting out demons because He was in league with Satan and putting on a show. 

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”


Jesus very quickly dealt with this obscene suggestion. To attribute to Satan what God is doing is very serious stuff.

During this discussion Mary arrives. It is apparent that she and Joseph had other children after Jesus was born. This is one of the passages that mentions the other family members. John tells us more: “After this, Jesus went around Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:1-5).

They thought He was a glory-hound. They did not yet believe that He was the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. It is not until after the resurrection that we discover that Jesus’ family, his half-brothers, had come to faith. Acts 1:12-14, describing what happened after Jesus had returned to heaven, says: “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphas and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

But here in Mark, the brothers come with Mary, not out of belief, but out of a sense of family, to rescue their half-brother from his own folly.

 31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!


For some people, what Jesus says here is offensive. Jesus’ family comes to see Him out of concern for His well-being and He basically ignores them, some might say even to verbally disowning them. That was not His intent. But the message was clear. The mission He had come to complete was more important than anything else. To do the will of His Father in heaven came before any ties that He might have on earth. This is what He taught when He said that those who want to follow Him must love Him more than they love their parents. This is what he taught when He said that those who give up their earthly ties and all they possess for the sake of the kingdom will be rewarded with so much more.

He did not teach when He Himself did not do.

That’s an important lesson for all of us—don’t tell others to do what you won’t! That’s hypocrisy and that was something that Jesus often accused the religious leaders of His day of doing.

We can only image what happened when someone came out of the house and told Mary and the brothers that Jesus couldn’t come because He was busy! Mary might have understood—she knew who He was! But the brothers probably were not so impressed.

The story of the family dynamics here get even more interesting when we get to Mark 6. Jesus was popular with everyone (except, of course, the religious authorities). Well, not exactly everyone.

When he returned to his family home—he hadn’t disowned them or abandoned them at all despite what He seemed to be doing a few chapters earlier—this is what Mark tells us:

Jesus left there and went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them , ‘Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’ He could not do any miracles there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:1-6a).

Not only is His family doubtful about Him, but His former friends and neighbours are doubtful too! Despite what He said and did, His background worked against Him. Jesus grew up in Nazareth and when Jesus first appeared on the public stage and people realized where He came from, many probably responded as Nathanael did in John 1:46, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nazareth was the backwater of the boonies! And it looks like the people who lived there thought so too! People judged Him by his family even though they acknowledged that they were amazed by Him, by His wisdom and and by the miracles that He did. Yet they could not believe because He was a hometown boy. It was as though they had John Piper living next door, but they needed to go to Toronto to hear Timothy Keller say the same thing—a spiritual version of “the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill.”

How sad for the Lord to be rejected by the religious authorities who should have been the first to recognize Him for Who He was. How sad for the Lord to be rejected by His own family members who should have been the first ones whose lives would be positively impacted by Him. How sad for the Lord to be rejected by His friends and neighbours just because He had grown up in their community. How sad that their lack of faith prevented them from taking advantage of His presence among them.

Lack of faith will do that every time. It serves as a barrier between us and Him just like it did during the time He walked among men. The Pharisees and religious leaders couldn’t get past their pride and jealousy. The family couldn’t get past their worry and doubt. The community couldn’t get past their image of themselves and their own sense of inferiority.

What a waste!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

THE GREATER NEED

Pixabay (Public Domain)
Mark 2:1-12

Priorities. We all have to decide between the better and the best. When we were younger we could do a lot more than we can do now and probably in half the time it takes us today. But even back then we had to decide what was most important to us because we were taught to live by the adage which says: “first things first.” It was always a good idea to do the more important before the less important.

By the time we get to Mark 2, we discover that after Jesus left Capernaum and started to visit the other towns and villages in the region, He grew so popular that Mark says, “…Jesus could no longer enter town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to home from everywhere” (Mark 1:45). The drawing card, the thing that brought many people to Jesus was His ability to deal with their illnesses, and to cast out demons.

I wonder if this popularity as a healer ever created an occasion for Satan to try to tempt the Lord. I wonder if Satan ever whispered in Jesus’ ear. “You know, you obviously have this great power. And you’ll never run out of sick people. And, hey, I don’t mind if you shoo my guys out. We’ll just go somewhere else and then you can shoo us out again! It’ll make a great show and you’ll be famous. You can spend your whole life just putting on a show for people.”

But it seems that the Lord never forgot that the miracles were only the medium for the message, and though many came to be healed they also came to hear what He had to say. Mark says that when they heard Him speak they were amazed by what He said. They were also amazed by the authority with which He spoke—why wouldn’t He speak with an authority that no one else will ever be able to match because He was the author and originator of the message which He spoke?

But Jesus did often return to Capernaum, and this is where our story begins.

1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!



Houses in Palestine were small, many only made up of one room. People spent most of their time outside and often only slept in the house. Those familiar with the time period when Jesus walked the earth say that the flooring in the houses was often just packed dirt or small chips of rock and the walls were made of sun-dried brick. Wood was very expensive and precious so it was most often used only for door frames and to provide beams for the roof.

The roofs were flat and the size of the room below was limited by the length of the beam. The beams stretched from one wall to the other and then were covered with a mixture of woven branches and clay, which was smoothed with a roller. They were sturdy enough for people to walk on but easy enough to break apart to do repairs.

So we can picture Jesus in this small house crowded with wall-to-wall people with others hanging around in the doorway and in whatever windows there might be. It would have been dark inside even if it was daylight outside. Mark says: “So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them” (Mark 2:2).

I remember being in a small roughly built house in the hills of Colombia. There was no electricity so we had the meeting basically by the light of a few lanterns. We had a huge crowd that filled the house. Though there were no telephones or any other means of communication, word had traveled throughout the countryside that we were having a meeting in this particular home and thanks to a rather nasty event that had happened the night before to our vehicle, people walked in the dark for miles, mostly out of curiosity to find out what we were about. I remember sitting and listening as one of our Bible Institute students preached a fiery message about salvation.

So I can imagine this crowded dark house and Jesus preaching to the people who had gathered.

When room is limited it is “first come, first served.” And the five men who had arrived late found themselves without a way to get inside the house. And it would appear that no one was willing to give up their place so that they could get in even though one of them was on a stretcher and obviously in bad shape. Mark tells us that the fifth man was paralyzed. So the friends of the paralytic, not to be discouraged by the rudeness of the rest of their fellow citizens, climbed up on the roof. Sometimes people reading this  story make a big deal about the rudeness of these men in wrecking the house owner’s roof, but the roofs were constructed in such a way that they were easily taken apart and easily repaired. As long as they didn’t break a beam their actions wouldn’t have landed them in too much hot water.

Nevertheless, what a surprise to feel that first clump of straw mixed with clay falling on your head as these men created an opening in the roof! Straw dust is annoying! Then the brilliant sun coming through as people looked up to see what was happening! Then the amazement as the stretcher was lowered right in front of Jesus!

But there is a bigger surprise yet to come. We assume that these men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus so that the Lord would heal him. But there is a much bigger issue here than might appear at first glance.

Here is one of, I think, only three recorded cases in the New Testament where sin is directly connected to sickness. One incident is found in John 5 where Jesus heals an invalid and then tells him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14).  A little later, in John 9, the disciples encounter a blind man and they ask: “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” Jesus’ answer may have stunned His audience. “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’  said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’

But this story in Mark is the one where dealing with the sin precedes the dealing with the sickness. And this is unusual because the majority of the time Jesus has simply healed the sick—period. Just a few verses earlier in Mark, for example, Jesus healed a leper without any reference to the man’s sin.

Years ago when I was living in Toronto, a gal who attended Bible College in the city attended the same church I did. One Sunday she took me aside and told me that she had been getting anonymous notes in her mailbox at school. She suffered from a chronic illness of some kind and the notes instructed her to repent of her sins and then God would heal her. She was distraught because she had prayed and asked God to show her if there was some unconfessed sin in her life that might be causing her illness. She had examined her life. She had asked God to show her anything that needed dealing with and she was confident that there was nothing. But what really upset her was that someone ASSUMED that her illness was the result of sin even though they couldn’t name a sin she had committed.

Sometimes illness is the result of personal sin. But much of the time, it isn’t. Most of the time illness is simply the result of living in a sin-filled world and not the result of personal sin.

But in the case we have here in Mark, it seems that this paralyzed man was in the state he was in because of some personal sin. So Jesus dealt immediately with the sin before He dealt with the results of the sin. He dealt with the more important thing before He dealt with the secondary thing.

And He acted on the basis of the faith He saw in all of the men who had take the trouble to lower the paralytic down through the roof. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven'” (Mark 2:5).

I worked for an organization that is heavily involved in social justice issues, in providing emergency relief in time of disaster, in rehabilitation and reconstruction for those who can’t help themselves. But one of the key tenets of what they do is this: there must always be some kind of component attached to helping physically that is directed at helping spiritually. What good is it to help a man to better himself here in this life, which is temporary, and then allow him to die without an opportunity to know Christ as his personal Saviour and Lord and prepare himself for eternity?

Jesus cares about our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. And He graciously meets those needs as He did in the story we just read. But He knows that first things must come first—that our spiritual selves must be a priority, because in the end it is that self which will live on forever somewhere—either in hell or in heaven. And He really wants to welcome up into His heaven.