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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

THE LORD OF HOT WATER

Pixaby (Public Domain)

Mark 1:35-39, 6:45-46, Luke 6:12-13

When the Lord chose the twelve to whom He would become Rabbi and mentor, He did something very important before He did the choosing. It isn’t described in Mark, who only says, “Jesus went up into the hills and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:13, 14).  But more detail is given to us in Luke as to what He was doing up there in the hills.

One of those days Jesus went out into the hills to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he designated apostles” (Luke 6:12, 13).

It boggles my mind that someone as busy as Jesus had time to come apart to pray. He was always on the move, hardly ever away from His disciples and hardly ever away from the demands of the crowds that followed Him. He taught, healed, and traveled from morning to night.

Luke tells us that He prayed through the night, and implies that that prayer was about the men He was going to choose as His inner circle, His intimates.

He prayed about who He needed to be with, and who needed to be with Him.

Now as we come to Mark we find Jesus after a very busy day. It’s the day after the Sabbath, Sunday morning. On the Sabbath He had taught in the synagogue and cast out a demon. Then He had gone to Peter’s house, healed his mother-in-law, and spent time with her, James, John, Andrew, and Peter. By the time the Sabbath was over at sunset that evening, Mark says “The whole town was gathered at the door” because everyone had brought the sick to Him to be healed. We have no idea what time He went to bed that night. Mark simply says: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). He prayed before He chose His inner circle of disciples. But what was the focus of His prayer this time?

A whole town had brought their sick and demon-possessed to Him. He could have put out His shingle and stayed there—surely there would have been plenty for Him to do. Mark goes on to say: “Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’” (Mark 1:36, 37).

There was much more that could have been done in the city of Capernaum. But it appears that Jesus might have been praying to His Father about the next steps in His ministry. There was, and always would be, a need in Capernaum. Jesus may have surprised His men with His reply to their implied request: "Everyone is looking for you." Everyone was looking for Him, needed Him, wanted Him. “Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (Mark 1:38, 39).

No doubt He talked to His Father about the people of Capernaum, but in His intimate conversation with the Father, the next step was clear—there were others who needed to hear and so He must go to continue the mission He had come to fulfill.

He prayed about where He needed to be to best fulfill the mission God had sent Him on.

When we get to Mark 6, we find another incident where prayer is a major part of the story. Jesus has just spent the day hearing reports from His disciples and then has taught and fed several thousand people.

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went into the hills to pray” Mark 6:45, 46.

What was He praying about now? No doubt He prayed for all the people to whom He had been ministering that day, but there was something else about to happen that I am sure He was talking about with His Father.

Mark continues: “When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake and he was alone on land. He saw his disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; they hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:47-52).

The fourth watch of the night is the time just before dawn. Jesus knew what was going on with the disciples. He saw them straining at the oars in the evening, but He left them struggling until almost dawn. Then He came to them. My guess is that He was praying for them all that time. 

He prayed for His “peeps” as they are called today: for perseverance, for strength, for courage, not just to face the wind on the lake, but for everything that they would have to face as His followers.

Why did He wait so long? We don’t know, though perhaps He was waiting for them to call for help from Him instead of trying to do it all themselves—which is one of the most basic of needs met through prayer. They would never know the strength of their faith until it was tested. They would never know how utterly they depended on Him until they were faced with situations that they could not handle.

Jesus modeled both our dependency on prayer as well the constancy that needs to characterize prayer. What He did is what He wants us to do as well.

In Gethsemane, as we are told in Mark 14:35, 36, He prayed for Himself. And we need to do that too!

The Lord never asked for an easy path for Himself or His followers. He chose difficult men to become His inner circle. He chose to stay on mission when He could have stayed put. He chose to challenge His followers and thus, build their faith. He chose a cross for Himself.

We might pray for an easier path. But the Lord knows that easy is not necessarily the way to get the best from us.  Jill Briscoe shares this little poem in her book, Prayer that Works.

Am I like a tea bag
waiting to know,
what flavor I am
when in hot H2O?

Am I like a tea bag
soggy and wet?
Am I asking the Lord
just how hot it can get?

I want to be able
to give out for sure
a fragrant aroma
that makes folks want more.

But that means hot water
that hurts my deep pride,
that cleans out my life
till I’m tired inside,
of a fragrant-less life
that knows not how to sing—
So dip me in water,
but keep hold of the string!

Amen.

Prayer is a constant reminder of our dependence on Him. It is a renewal of our commitment to Him and our submission to His will. It is the place where courage buds and faith blooms. It is not only a good place to be, but an essential place to be. It was a place where Jesus went often and from His example we have much to learn.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

THE FIRST FEW FOLLOWERS

Pixabay, Public Domain
Mark 1:14-20

When Jesus began His public ministry, He was 30 years old. In the religious system of which He was a part this was the time when spiritual leaders were considered mature enough to BE spiritual leaders.

After Jesus was baptized by John, the Scriptures tell us He was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness and there He was tempted by Satan. Right from the beginning the battle between good and evil raged. Satan tried his best to run Jesus off the rails of the mission He had come to accomplish. These temptations, and the others that surely followed even though they aren’t recorded, remind us that Jesus, the man, understands every temptation we face. As the saying goes, He's "been there" though He's never "done that." And because He knows, and yet never sinned by yielding, He can help us resist the temptations that will dog our footsteps all through our lives. This is the truth written for us by the author to the Hebrews who said: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin” (4:14, 15)

After leaving the desert where He was tempted, Mark tells us this:

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.

19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.


Some years ago I taught a series of studies on the twelve disciples. It was based on a book by John MacArthur called The Master’s Men. If there were ever a group of people least likely to succeed as followers of Jesus, as His inner circle, as His primary trainees, this was it! Contrary to all the modern, popular teaching about how to choose your team, Jesus broke just about all the rules. He chose the undereducated, the rough, the rebellious, the despised, the timid, the doubters, and the downright evil. It was a motley crew. But what better material through which to demonstrate His grace, and His power to change lives.

Mark records, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’

This was the same John who participated in Jesus' commissioning as He began His public ministry. John was also Jesus’ cousin. You will remember that after the announcement the angel made to Mary about becoming the mother of Jesus, Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who was about six months along in the pregnancy that produced John the Baptist. John’s ministry as an adult lasted about six months and then the king, Herod by name, put John in prison. The king did not appreciate John's message—most people don't like to be confronted with their sin. When John was imprisoned, Jesus came into Galilee and basically carried on with the message that John had delivered: “Repent and believe.”

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus chose His inner circle, those he would walk and talk with for the next three years or so. In those days there were other Rabbis, or religious leaders, going around with their followers, so what Jesus was doing was not all that unusual. In the first chapter of Mark, we learn, “…he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for there were fishermen. ‘Come follow me,’ Jesus said…he saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John…he called them.” In Mark 2, we discover Jesus calling Levi, or Matthew, who was a tax collector. In Mark 3, Mark tells us that “Jesus went up into the hills and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee, and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, son of Alphas, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

From this we get the impression that Jesus called other followers besides these, but these were to become His inner circle, His leaders-in-training. 

He was calling His disciples to do what He was doing and to say what He was saying. “Repent and believe the good news!” and He backed up the truth of what He was saying by doing miracles and by gifting His disciples with the ability to do miracles also.

There are several words in Mark’s record that are impressive when it comes to what happened when Jesus called these unlikely leaders-in-training to His side. Mark says that when Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, they went “at once,” leaving everything behind. The same happened when He called James and John. The same happened when He called Matthew from his tax collecting table.

There was no question, no weighing the pros and cons, no asking permission of anyone, no worrying about the consequences or about what others would think, no concerns about pensions, benefits, or working conditions, or where following Jesus might take them.

He commanded obedience and they responded immediately.

Luke (9:57-62) describes a time in Jesus’ ministry when several people came up to Jesus to volunteer as disciples, but none of them were prepared to pay the price of discipleship, a price basically summed up this way: “all in or not in at all.” Even when Jesus invited them to follow Him, they came up with excuses as to why they couldn’t do it right away.

But what is particularly significant to me is Jesus’ choice of followers.

Paul describes it this way in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’ When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1:26-2:5).

And that’s the point behind who Christ chose. He chose those who would know that it wasn’t them, but God, who was at work. They had little in themselves to recommend them, but they believed in a God Who had absolutely everything to recommend HIM!

They were Davids facing a giant with only a slingshot and a few stones. They were Gideons hiding with fear and trembling and then given only 300 men, a few jugs, a few torches and a few trumpets, to face far superior forces. They are Moses' facing the Red Sea in front and the Egyptians behind. They are Joshuas marching around a city in silence, trying to figure out how such a strategy could possibly be effective.

All they needed to do was respond immediately to God’s call and then let God do all the rest.

And that’s all God wants from us today. No excuses, no delays, no preening or patting on the back. Just simple obedience, humility, and faith.