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?