Stand Your Ground: “A Day with the Master Artist” – Mark 4:1-5:20

In Mark 1-3 Jesus demonstrated a successful stance against the constant attacks of the enemy. I believe it won’t surprise you to know that if you keep reading the Gospel account, Jesus continued to be attacked and continues to achieve victory. Spiritual warfare is real. It is happening now just as it was then. Standing your ground is, in part, an issue of identifying the enemy’s strategy and practicing for the day he turns the darts on you. Yet, that isn’t ALL there is to learning to be a disciple of Jesus. The story continued…

In the account we call Mark’s Gospel, most of us believe we are reading the organization of the earthly work of Jesus that was originally preached by the Apostle Peter and then carefully recorded and spread to the churches by a leader in the younger generation than the Apostles, one named John Mark. He was a contemporary of Timothy, and a follower of Paul and the other original missionary groups. Mark emphasized the WORK of Jesus, and if you follow his account closely you will see how the Master accomplished His mission, and (by example) how God works in our lives to shape us to be like Jesus.

I have a confession to make as we begin: I cannot sculpt, nor can I use modeling clay to make anything anyone else would call “art” but I love to watch it being done. It is fascinating to see an artist take some lumps of refined earth and make them into something beautiful. If we can, I would like you to observe an artist making clay into the representation of a young woman.

(During video) If you watch closely, you will notice that in order to make the bust of this young woman the artist worked in three deliberate steps:

• First, she started with a rounded base approximating the head and added to that base some lumps that built up the underlying structure.

• Second, the artist pressed in or cut away any additional material that was not desired. That “extra” would have marred the face and shape – so it was taken away.

• Third, the artist carefully and gently smoothed the surface, healing any tiny breach while filling over any wrinkle. By this step the artist allowed the material to take its final shape.

This isn’t an art seminar, but I want you to consider something – this is the same way God adds to our life truth as He models us to be like Jesus. He puts us into situations where we can gain truth from Him, then scrapes across our life with troubles to remove the excess. Finally, if we allow Him to do it, He shapes us with His own artistic hand. Let me show you an example from Mark 4 and 5. Remember the underlying truth…

Key Principle: Believers are shaped by three important works from the Master: Divine instruction (adding), daily problems (scraping) and God’s dramatic re-shaping power.

The day recorded by Mark started with a sermon, brought the disciples to fear for their safety, and ended with a shocking display of raw power… It was a day to remember…

First, let’s look at the teaching of Jesus that added truth to the disciple’s lives (4:1-34).

God doesn’t just call us and then start using us to give out His message. We are like the round clay with very little shape when we come to Him. He adds truth that helps us look more like the Master, and people who know us see the change in us as the truth is put on our lives. Let me show you an example in Jesus adding to the disciples long ago…

We are using the account that Mark collected of the teachings of Jesus to set up the day’s events. Remember, Jesus didn’t only say things once, and sometimes He repeated an illustration but changed its meaning – that was the way of teaching familiar to the crowds of that time. The text opened:

Mark 4:1 He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down, and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. 2 And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching…

Let’s make a quick note of three things:

• First, Jesus was already well-known and popular at the time of these teachings. This wasn’t His first sermon, and people knew His style and liked it very much.

• Second, let’s stipulate this was the dry season (because the rainy season was too cold and wet for a large crowd) and that it was early morning (since you can fry an egg on a rock in that area by mid-day in the dry season).

• Third, Jesus used a teaching method called a “mashal” or parable. This brought the truth of Heaven into bite-sized earthy chunks.

Five Truths

As we get into the meat of the teaching, Jesus taught five truths to His disciples.

Truth #1: The hearer is responsible for hearing.

Here is the first, a simple parable about a man throwing seed on the ground:

Mark 4:3 “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 as he was sowing: Some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. 6 And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. 9 And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

In this teaching, Jesus referred to agriculture on terraces. The ground on the terrace covered a slope of bedrock. The edge had (and still has) a rocky wall filled with weeds and thorny bushes whose roots hold the wall fast. There is often a path through the center of the terrace used as a walkway by those passing through. The good seed would normally be cast between olive trees and yield varying amounts, depending on where the seed fell. Keep reading for a moment:

Mark 4:10 As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. 11 And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.” 13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?

Note the fact that when they got alone, they quizzed Jesus on WHY He was teaching in parables instead of plain speaking.

To understand His response, you must realize one of the most basic tendencies of a disciple is to leave following Jesus and work at figuring out Jesus.

Many of us are tempted to spend time counseling Jesus on how He should be running things. This was true at the beginning as well. The disciples didn’t fully appreciate Jesus’ choices for packaging the truths He put in front of them. Perhaps they fancied crowd-pleasing tidbits and tempting promises. That wouldn’t be unusual for a large crowd of this sort… but Jesus wanted to show them the people that don’t stick aren’t entirely the problem of presenter nor of the presentation – the recipient bore some responsibility to receive the truth openly.

Don’t forget that when you communicate God’s Word to people. Some won’t receive it, and it ISN’T your fault. They have to want to hear what God said in His Word.

It is worth noting that Jesus’ primary concern wasn’t to make His preaching as easy as it could have been. He expected something from the hearer – a heart open to Him! Let’s be clear: People have to surrender and engage, not pick through the words for self-serving promises.

The truth is we will accomplish more of our mission with 100 surrendered and engaged Jesus-followers than we ever could with 10,000 disengaged spectators or 1000 mildly-engaged fair weather friends.

Jesus made clear He wanted the crowd to follow, but only if they were willing to hear what He truly had to say and engage it in their lives! Don’t forget – the soil didn’t HEAR if it DIDN’T BEAR fruit. Look at His explanation:

Mark 4:14 “The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word, which has been sown in them. 16 In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”

In the lesson, Jesus observed there were different kinds of people that were listening to Him:

• Hard Hearts: There were those who were present when the Word was sown, but they did not take it in at all. They came because someone told them to be there and they were not interested enough to allow the Word to sink in.

• Troubled Temporaries: There were those who seemed to respond to the message of Jesus, but they didn’t add a life of surrender to Him. In Jesus’ explanation, when the pains and problems of life or persecution rose, they didn’t think the message was worth sacrifice– so they bailed out.

• Choked Christians: Some follow, but they get distracted by demanding work in their child-rearing age and challenging golf tournaments in their retirement. They never seem to get around to making an impact with the message. They always meant to, they just didn’t do it.

• Harvest Christians: There are those who followed, surrendered and became fruitful in life.

In the end, Jesus said, “You are responsible for listening to the truth and letting it change your behavior.”

That is convicting, and piles on truth, but that wasn’t the whole sermon. That was just Jesus’ opening illustration! Mark continued:

Mark 4:21 And He was saying to them, “A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? 22 For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

In essence, Jesus told them an essential truth: the real and the fake would all eventually show themselves. No one can truly hide from God. He knows who is honestly surrendered and actually following. He knows who is not!

As a form, religion allows the unrighteous to act out in ways that temporarily cover their emptiness.

Yet, here is the truth: A relationship with an all-knowing God precludes faking it to the finish line. It is a really dumb idea to think we can trick God into thinking we have surrendered our life to Him when we haven’t.

Truth #2: When you truly grasp the truth, it changes you. If you didn’t change – the truth slipped past you.

Honestly, the end goal Jesus gave us isn’t to get people into the church to hear the truth but to get the truth into the church and send changed people into the world. Our prime turf of engagement isn’t under a steeple but in the town square. If you aren’t doing that, you aren’t getting the mission Jesus sent us to fulfill. Mark continued:

Mark 4:24 And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. 25 For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.”

Truth #3: The primary assignment of a Jesus isn’t to run around trying to measure the life and faith of other people (but we will be tempted to do it!).

In most every religious group, some feel called to run around and decide the faithfulness of others and offer a grade to ones that measure up and those who do not seem to meet their standard. Jesus wanted His followers to be introspective, but not obnoxious about the inspection of others. We must remember that when we create a standard of judgment, it is only valuable if we are truly living by it ourselves! The account went on:

Mark 4:26 And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; 27 and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. 28 The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. 29 But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

By way of reassurance, Jesus offered a word of deep encouragement to the disciples.

Truth # 4: Followers don’t need to understand how everything God does truly works (but they will often want to and claim to!).

He told them that the Kingdom was able to grow and become effective without the need for them to really know all the progressions involved because the process was as natural as vegetation growth. What a word for any of us who have dear ones that live far away from us – God can reach them and grow in them the Word planted long ago! We don’t have to understand WHO God will use or HOW; we just need to understand He is able. Jesus continued:

Mark 4:30 And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, 32 yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR can NEST UNDER ITS SHADE.” 33 With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; 34 and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.

Truth #5: God often works to meet different ends than we are watching.

While the weed that was planted in the garden appears to have been a waste, it was really successful from the standpoint of the need of the birds! We have to recognize that Kingdom growth meets God’s ends, not always ours. Therefore we need to be humble. We may not be qualified to judge well what Jesus is doing in those around us.

That was a long day of teaching! Jesus added five truths to His followers and built up the base from which they could be formed to look like Him. The additions are the only way to form us to be more like Jesus. There is something else…

Second, look at the scraping that came with the troubles Jesus took His disciples through (4:35-41).

Scraping involves shrinking. It involves painful struggle. It isn’t pleasant, but it shapes us. Mark recorded and example:

Mark 4:35 On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. 37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. 38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. 40 And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

Great teachers give students an opportunity to learn the truth by LEARNING ACTIVITIES. In this case, Jesus placed the disciples in an awkward and needy position to move their eyes from judging the current crowds to looking beyond the small world of their ministry to a lost world that struggled all around them in the grip of the evil one. He snapped them to attention by:

• Taking them where they felt unsure

• Giving them a problem while appearing unconcerned

• Letting them draw conclusions about His love: “Master don’t you care?”

• Solving their problem and amazing them

The point of the exercise was to get the men ready! God always has a point for our suffering, though we don’t often know what it is.

Why do “bad things” happen to “good people”? I can think of five reasons without really working very hard at it:

1) Sometimes it is the result of MY SIN.

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

2) Sometimes it is because I live with choices of other sinners.

Romans 3:10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE...”

3) Sometimes it is because I live in a fallen world.

Romans 8:19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

4) Sometimes it is so that God can test me – that I may see who I am and who I am not.

Dt. 8:2 You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.

5) Sometimes it is so that God can prepare me to comfort others.

2 Cor. 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

The disciples in this story were being prepared for a great lesson – that God has work going on well outside the places they considered. God is at work in a battle against both a brutal and vicious enemy, and a fallen world that does not work the way He created it to work. It is fallen and struggles against what God intended.

If only the disciples had recalled the work of God in the Exodus, they would have understood exactly what God was doing. He was giving them the rocking boat because that is what they NEEDED to get ready for what was coming.

More often than not, troubles come into our lives to set us up for the place God wants us to be effective if we will learn from our pain. The scraping of the artist pulls the extra from our shape and makes us more like our Master’s image.

Third, the artist transforms the work by smoothing the surface, allowing us to understand His re-shaping work (5:1-20).

In the case of Mark’s account, the disciples needed to see the transforming power of the Master to understand what He was doing IN THEM. Mark wrote:

Mark 5:1 They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. 6 Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; 7 and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore Yo u by God, do not torment me!” 8 For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. 12 The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea. 14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. 17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region. 18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. 19 And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

The elements of the story present the “Perfect Storm” – a nightmare from the Jewish perspective:

• They went to an unclean area filled with pagans after dark (5:1).
• They were met by a demon-empowered man who was living in the constant defilement of tombs (5:2).
• He was uncontrollable with broken chains hanging from him (5:3-4).
• He was gashed and bleeding (5:5).
• He ran abruptly toward them (5:6).
• Demons spoke from his throat (5:7-8).
• Pigs were eating along the nearby slope (5:11).
• The healed man wanted to come home with them (5:18)!

The storm on the sea prepared the men to follow Jesus into the storm on the land – a struggle against barriers of fear to fight the enemy openly. Jesus was able to defeat the enemy’s minions, and the men saw the transforming power of Jesus.

In the end, these stories returned to the fight of Jesus in spiritual warfare against His enemy.

Step back and put the three pieces together:

• Jesus taught and added truth to them.

• Trouble scraped and extracted self-assurance from them.

• Transformation showed God’s ability to re-make people.

After I have followed Jesus for a long time, it is easy to forget how powerful, magnificent and life-changing time with Him truly is! Many of us have found ourselves secretly questioning what God is doing in our lives. We don’t like pain and we don’t want trouble. We are focused on the wrong things… Remember:

Believers are shaped by three important experiences: God’s instruction, life’s problems, and God’s shaping power.

Don’t kick against any of them – they are making you into what God intends you to be!

Resurrection Sunday: “The Evidence” – Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 21-22

Resurrection Sunday is a time of celebration every follower of Jesus anticipates. I think it is easy to say this is the single most significant day on the calendar of Jesus followers. Each year on this Sunday we recall some stories of a forty-day period of time that took place in and around Jerusalem some two thousand years ago – all that began with a sad trip to a cemetery just before sunrise on the Sunday morning following Passover, during the days of Unleavened Bread. When you hear the report put that way, it doesn’t sound all that compelling… but if you will allow us a few moments of exploration from the Christian Scriptures, you will easily see why those days are remembered to this day.

At the heart of the assertions of Jesus is the one where He claimed to be the One and only way to the Father in Heaven. Jesus openly exclaimed He was ONE with God. He claimed to SPEAK for God. He claimed to be the EXCLUSIVE DOOR to God. If those claims are found to be true, they cast aside literally millions following other religions and other truth claims about the afterlife and reduce truth down to one option. That sounds pretty heady, and such a claim requires more than just blind acceptance.

Just because His followers have long bought into those claims – that doesn’t prove them. Many who live in our time do not agree. Let me politely but pointedly ask: “What are the chief evidences for those claims?” The evidence couldn’t matter more when you make claims that affect the life, death and eternity of someone! Let me illustrate in a small way, if I can:

Anyone in our country who was alive or even semi-conscious in the 1990’s knows the face of OJ Simpson. Orenthal James Simpson was born on July 9, 1947, and later was endowed with the nickname “The Juice.” He was a talented and accomplished American football running back, a well-known broadcaster, a Hollywood actor, and now he is inmate number 1027820 at Loveland Correctional Center in Nevada. He is serving time as a convicted armed robber and kidnapper. In the eighties, Simpson rode high in public life and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Retiring from football, Simpson began new careers in movie acting and TV football broadcasting. In 1994, Simpson was dramatically chased and arrested after the body of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and that of her friend Ronald Goldman were discovered. A lengthy and internationally publicized trial (referred to by some as a “circus in court’) followed. Simpson was acquitted in criminal court, but the families of the victims filed a civil suit against him, where the court eventually awarded them a $33.5 million judgment against Simpson for the victims’ wrongful deaths. Because the threshold of evidence in civil court was considerably less than that of the criminal court with a jury, American jurisprudence found him both innocent and guilty. In one court, there was insufficient evidence to convict. In the other, there was more than enough and he was held liable. In both cases there were counter stories, but in the final analysis, it is still not completely clear what exactly happened. The point is that evidence matters. What the court allowed submitted mattered. The threshold of judgment used matters.

If you cut out half of the evidence from submission at trial, the verdict will probably change. If you require every submitted testimony to match “word for word” in order to be included as part of the case, the verdict will likely change.

This is one of the great problems with how people evaluate the Resurrection claim.

It is a fact that some who looked at the evidence presented of the Resurrection have concluded that Jesus was not raised. Some call it a hoax. Others simply dismiss the record as old and religious – inherently unreliable. The challenge of the Resurrection message is this: it is incredibly hard to believe a dead man was raised if we don’t see proof. What evidence should be offered? Clearly a missing body is not enough. The chief evidence of the Resurrection cannot be merely an empty cave. It cannot be merely a few witnesses of some unexplained events. That is enough to keep a conspiracy theory alive… but not enough to change an Empire.

I submit to you the confirmation of Jesus’ Resurrection is overwhelming, if you allow us to include all the key evidences and you are fair with their examination. The Gospel writers tell us of an empty tomb, but they tell us much more. In fact, they leave us with this truth…

Key Principle: The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.

The evidence for the Resurrection was found in changed hearts and transformed lives of thousands who remained steadfast in the face of tremendous pressure and persecution to deny what the claim.

Go back to the beginning of the story…The Bible records many post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus of Nazareth. The collected accounts stand squarely against the idea of some “mass hysteria” or that His followers cleverly fabricated evidence concerning the risen Jesus. They go to that first Sunday morning, to the earliest appearances recorded to have been on the first day of the week after the Passover in what we celebrate as “Resurrection Day.”

Before we look at the story, it is worth thinking about what would have been the “normal” course of events for one who died as a Roman criminal, as Jesus did in the first century story.

Most Romans were cremated after death. Jews, normally rejecting cremation, buried in an “articulated burial,” that is, they buried the whole body in a shroud in the ground. They didn’t all get their own hole, but rather a hole was opened to place the body into a plot where others were buried beneath them. Through the past of humanity, most people were “gone without a trace” of them. Jews prepared a body for swift decomposition by spicing and wrapping a body in degradable oils which caused the body to break down faster.

Jesus was in a borrowed tomb. He didn’t belong to the 5% of the wealthiest that had rock-cut rolling stone tombs, and His family tomb would have been in Nazareth or Bethlehem – certainly not in Jerusalem. The fact is, the women who went to spice the body after they borrowed Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, thought His body would be placed in the ground at another spot. God interrupted their plan.

Four Writers Blended

Because there are four accounts, I took the time to piece together all four and carefully connected the sequence of the story in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. It appears to be this:

The Soldiers

It was the first day of the week after the Sabbath. Matthew’s account recalls the first people to know something was wrong were the guarding soldiers. A severe tremor shook the ground, and the stone was dislodged and seal broken on the tomb. After being paralyzed with fear, the guards apparently fled the scene. The tomb had likely been sealed with a large stone that was “cork-shaped” and wedged into position, as opposed to a massive rolling stone. The archaeologist Urban C. Von Wahlde pointed out for the readers of Biblical Archaeological Review a few weeks ago:

It may very well be that people rolled the ‘cork-shaped’ stones away from the tomb. Once you see the size of a ‘stopper’ stone, it is easy to see that, however one gets the stone out of the doorway, chances are you are going to roll it the rest of the way.

The Women

A bit later, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome, and a few other women brought spices and came to the tomb having left home while it was still dark, but arriving just after sunrise. They were discussing how to unseal the tomb (Mark 16:3) when they arrived and discovered the stone already moved. The women entered the outer chamber where the body should have awaited spicing, but the body was not there (Luke 24:2). About that time Mary Magdalene decided to go and tell Peter and John something was wrong, for the body of Jesus had been removed from the tomb (John 20:1-2). After she walked away from the ladies, Jesus’ mother and the other women stepped outside the tiny chamber, shaken by the missing body and the open tomb. It didn’t make sense! Something attracted them, perhaps a light flashed inside the chamber, and Mary and the women looked back inside and were greeted by two angels who appeared inside the preparation chamber where the body once lay (Mark 16:5-7).

Initially they fell down before the angels because of their terrifying brightness (Luke 24:4-5), but after a recovery time, they composed themselves and were instructed to go and tell the disciples what had transpired. Further, they were to tell them to meet together, and in a few days journey to the Galilee as Jesus had previously told them (Matthew 28:4-7). The careful explanation of the need for the Crucifixion and Resurrection helped the women to understand what they had just passed through, and why it was essential (Luke 24:7-8). A little while later, the women departed while pondering all the words that were spoken and offered no words for passers-by, for they were utterly astonished at what they just encountered (Mark 16:8). They returned to the disciples with the angel’s message (Luke 24:9-11).

Mary of Magdala

During the time the angels were instructing the women at the tomb, Mary Magdalene (who had already departed) started toward the disciple’s common chamber, but slowed because she was apparently overtaken in emotion. She began to weep and sob. There had been so little time for grief, and she didn’t want to upset the others. While she cried, she was approached by a man she thought to be the gardener and talked with Him for a few minutes. Jesus revealed Himself to her and she grabbed Him and cried for joy! After a few minutes with the Savior, she ran to the men to tell them she saw Jesus (John 20:13-18).

At the Disciples’ Chamber

Staying away from sight in Jerusalem, the disciples were hurting and trying to figure out what the Crucifixion meant for their future. The women returned from the tomb astir from the scene and rattling off the words of the angels. Mary Magdalene returned claiming she saw the Lord in person. It all sounded like nonsense; some of the disciples decided to add a rational voice to the mix.

Peter and John at the Tomb

Peter and John chose to run to the tomb and see for themselves. They arrived at the tomb and saw the grave wrappings, but no body (Luke 24:11-12). They apparently left without seeing Jesus or an angel, and Peter went to his own lodging (not back to the disciples gathering) perplexed by the scene (Luke 24:12). It wasn’t until much later that day the Lord chose to show Himself to Simon Peter, without the other men around (Luke 24:34).

At the Temple

Likely in the temple precincts, the soldiers of the temple guard reported what they saw at the tomb. Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, the captain of the guard decided it best to pay a sizeable bonus to the men to withhold their account and begin a false story about “body theft” at the scene (Matthew 28:11-15).

On the Road

On a road leaving Jerusalem to a nearby hot spring, (Emmaus or Hammat mean “hot spring”) two disappointed men journeyed to the house of Cleopas (one of the two) and were joined by a stranger who seemed “out of touch” with the sadness of the past few days. Cleopas invited the man home and He shared the meaning of the events (Luke 24:13-35). When He prayed, they knew it was Jesus, and He disappeared from them. They reported the scene back to the disciples.

The Twelve

By nightfall that Sunday of the Resurrection, the news was spreading. Some were saying Jesus had risen. Others were saying (because they were paid to spread the news) that His body was stolen. Mary Magdalene saw Him, but the disciples (apart from Simon Peter) had not. Jesus came to Peter, but we have no information as to what happened between the two of them. The men gathered in a room to try to discern the next steps, and Jesus appeared to the ten of them who were present. (Luke 24:36-48 and John 20:19-24). Thomas was missing at the time (John 20:24). Jesus asked to eat with them, and shared with them the meaning of the events of that week.

Over the Next Month

Jesus came again to the men some eight days later, when He appeared while Thomas was with them. The Master had a conversation with Thomas in front of all the others (John 20:25-28). The men were told to leave Jerusalem and go to the Galilee, probably back to Capernaum.

A few days later, Jesus again appeared. Over the next month, He was seen a number of times. On one occasion, the eleven were assembled privately on a hill where Jesus had previously instructed them to gather, and Jesus met them. He offered to them the words of the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-19). Other accounts tell of a few times Jesus met individual followers like His half-brother James and some others (1 Corinthians 15:7). On some occasions He met large crowds and was seen of them – like the five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:6). Another important occasion is recorded to help us see how Jesus mended the fractured group of disciples when seven disciples met Him after fishing on the Sea (John 21).

His final appearance was forty days later… Jesus then appeared again in on the Mount of Olives before the disciples (Lk. 24; Acts 1) at the Ascension.

Those are the accounts.

There were virtually no rich people, no people of profound political influence, no incredibly famous first century people who were included in the story. Jesus was seen repeatedly, and taught a number of recorded lessons – but no one of influence was a part of the whole account. That begs the question…

“How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the Roman world?”

Three hundred years later, all the Empire proclaimed Jesus as their true King! How could such a message spread? Consider what we DO have…

First, the tomb guards knew the truth; for they saw what happened at the tomb was not by human hands (Matthew 28:1-4).

Even though the enemy planted early counter-stories, the message would not die.

Matthew included both sides of the story of the guards. First, he reported what happened:

Matthew 28:2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.

A few verses later, he made clear how a counter story was started:

Matthew 28:11b “…some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.

These men were Roman guards, but likely attached to the local High Priest. That wasn’t a unique arrangement. The Romans tried to intertwine their authority structure with the local one. The bottom line was this: they were told to lie. Money changed hands. They knew what happened, and they knew what they were told to say. Which do you think lasted until THEIR death bed? In the end, if the men had any sense and thought what they saw could help them in eternity, the lie wouldn’t last. As the message of Jesus spread, the widespread stories about His appearances led people to suspect a cover-up. Like many seedy such affairs, the truth won out.

Second, the women who loved Jesus knew the truth; for two angels carefully explained it to them (Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:7-8).

How could one explain Mary, the mother of Jesus, moving from such painful despair, to peaceful confidence right after His death? She changed because she saw something. She had confirmation that He was the very One Who was promised by the angel at the beginning of the Gospel story.

Even though the scene of the Crucifixion, with its gore and disgust, made little sense to people at the time, the truth fit the prophecies. Can you not see how Mary would read these words and think of the hours spent with her little boy, long before she saw Him wince at the piercing of the nails. She knew these prophesied verses:

53:1 “Who has believed our message? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground…3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief …4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried… 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

Those words came from a prophet seven hundred years before Jesus was born. Mary knew them. She knew the troubles would come. She knew because she heard the whole prophecy given to her. Do you remember? She was walking, so long ago, with Joseph into the Temple. Jesus was a baby in her arms. An old prophet named Simeon stepped out and said over the baby:

Luke 2:34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Mary knew Jesus would bring about change. She knew her heart would be broken. She knew God would unmask the cruelty of her religious leaders and her political superiors. She DIDN’T know that God would demonstrate life-giving power like that of the Resurrection! She heard about Lazarus, but now she saw this power for herself. Her eyes dried. Her confidence returned. Her ears listened and her heart was full. Her Son was not dead!

Third, Mary Magdalene, who followed and honored Jesus knew the truth; for she saw, touched and spoke with Jesus (John 20:13-18).

Even though it seemed like the followers of Jesus were abandoned by God, He would show them tenderness and care and help them keep going. She grabbed Him, and He told her that He had a mission to complete from His Father in Heaven. She came that day expecting to wash Him, placed on His broken and lifeless body the spices. She came to mourn. She came to finish something. Then she met Him. He wasn’t done! He had things to do, and she needed to get busy.

Imagine the posture she had walking toward the tomb early that morning. Imagine the sadness in her heart, the redness in her eyes. Imagine the bewilderment as she tried to discern what, if anything, was the forward plan? BUT… then she saw Jesus! She grabbed His robe. She heard His voice! She KNEW He was alive. The gate of her walk changed. Her smile returned. Her heart was mended. Anyone who saw her later that day saw a new woman… Her Master was STILL at work!

Fourth, the traveling Cleopas and his friend knew the truth; for they visited with, and prepared to eat with Jesus in their home (Luke 24:13-35).

Even though it seemed like none of the events worked toward a bringing people to God, it could all be carefully explained if people would listen to Jesus. Cleopas got a front row seat to God’s seminar on the need for the death and new life of Jesus. Imagine finding a follower who was in the city, but didn’t seem to know what happened! As people scurried about, the man must have walked unconscious of the day. How could that be? Yet, the stranger Cleopas met on the road didn’t seem to have a clue about his sadness. Here is the thing: the man knew the events – but he didn’t agree that they were sad ones.

The death of Jesus, as gruesome and horrid to watch as it was, offered life to the dead. The Lamb died, but the followers could now live. This was not an end; it was a new beginning. God gave access directly to Him apart from the Temple, the priests and the altar of burning flesh. The Lamb died, once for all.

Fifth, His disciples knew the truth; for Jesus appeared to them to answer their questions and eat a meal with them (Luke 24:36-48, John 20:19-24).

Even if it felt like there was no one who could carry the movement forward, Jesus had a plan. At first it was just Peter who saw Him. Then James the half-brother of Jesus met with the Risen Savior. By nightfall, all the Disciples save Thomas (who must have kicked himself for being busy and missing the meeting) saw and heard the Risen Master. He ate with them. He had the marks of death, but the look, feel and sound of life! The movement wasn’t ended… it was just the beginning!

Finally, great crowds of followers knew the truth; for the Lord especially appeared again to show Himself to them (1 Corinthians 15).

Jesus appeared to the crowds a number of times to validate the message that He was alive! He didn’t want the whole proposition to rest merely on a handful of encounters. He was public about His power. People saw Him. They learned from Him again…but that only explains the encounters. That isn’t the whole story….

How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the whole Roman world? If it weren’t by people of influence, how did the message spread?

In short, it spread by means of people who were so certain of what they saw, no one could talk them out of it – no matter the bait or the threat to them.

First, the people were changed by encountering the Risen Jesus.

Years ago I shared with our study a story about a woman who had a son fighting for his country. One day, much to her horror, the War Department chaplain showed up and her door and told her never to expect him in her arms again. He was gone. Her heart was broken. Friends began to gather, when another chaplain showed up and asked to speak to her alone. She sat out of the porch, a house full of friends inside. The chaplain told her that her son was, in fact, alive. He was part of a prisoner exchange that was to take place two days hence. She could not tell anyone or her son and the whole of the exchange, would be uncovered and perhaps scrapped. To save his life, she could not let on her son was alive. In days, he was home. Newsmen came and stood on her front steps as she told the story and said: “The hardest part was continuing to appear to mourn when I knew he was alive!” I have never forgotten that story! It is hard to mourn when you know the truth. Dear ones, the Son is alive. He is alive INDEED.

Second, His followers clung to one another and shared all that Jesus taught them.

Perhaps at no other time in Christian history did love so completely characterize the church as it did in the first years. Tertullian reported that the Romans would exclaim, “See how they love one another!

Justin Martyr wrote:

We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.

Clement of Rome described the believer:

He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother.

Third, each follower felt responsible to share with anyone they could the life changing truth of the Risen Savior!

When a plague devastated the ancient world in the third century, Christians felt themselves the only ones qualified to care for the sick (since it only carried the risk of physical death).

Read the history of people changed by encountering the message of Jesus, and His transforming power. They reached their neighbors…

• They did it by caring for the sick.
• They did it by helping the poor.
• They did it by intense learning and searching of the Word.
• They did it by living out the truth in their families.
• They did it by offering Him their lives.

Let me close with a story that may help illustrate what I am saying… It isn’t a new story, but it makes plain what Jesus does in a man or woman who meets the Risen Christ.

Theodorot was a fourth century bishop from Syria, and he wrote a number of commentaries and stories. One of them was the incredible story of a monk named Telemachus…President Ronald Reagan told the story at a Prayer Breakfast in 1984, and since he was a better story teller than I will ever be, I will just quote his version:

[There was a] monk living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance – [his name was] Telemachus, [he lived] back in the fourth century. Then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome, and believing that he had heard, he set out. Weeks and weeks later, he arrived there, having traveled most of the way on foot. It was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths, and he followed a crowd into the Coliseum, and then there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, “We who are about to die salute you.” He realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. He cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!” and his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Coliseum. As the games began, he made his way down through the crowd, climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, “In the name of Christ, stop.” They thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first, they were amused. Then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry. As he was pleading with the gladiators, “In the name of Christ, stop,” one of them plunged his sword into his body, and as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, “In the name of Christ, stop.” Suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Coliseum. Then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. In the dead silence, everyone left the Coliseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Coliseum. Never again, did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd. One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult, “In the name of Christ, stop.”

In a few years, the message of Jesus went from being despised to being accepted. How?

It happened when people LIVED the change Jesus made in them. It happened when the truth that He conquered death led them to listen to what He taught them, and become unashamed to testify, despite the tainting and persecution. The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.

Mother’s Day: “The Mother of the Perfect Child” (Mary in the Gospels)

Mothers-DayToday we openly thank God for the one person in life that was most used to form the body we live in – our mom. We celebrate the office of mother, even if some of us lost mom long ago to eternity, and even if some of them were not all they could have been in our lives.

When a first child leaves the womb, two people are born. First, there is the baby. Second, there is a young woman who leaves being all that she was, and becomes a mom. She faces painful challenges bringing the baby into the world, and those pains are but a tiny reminder of the pains she will have in her heart over her life as she cares and nurtures her child, desperately trying to prepare them to face a world that is not always hospitable and kind. Let’s admit it: Motherhood is both a blessing but it is also an incredible challenge!

I remember someone relating the story from another Pastor about a mom he saw in the market:

This dear mom was pushing a shopping cart through “Stuff-Mart.” Her daughter was riding in the shopping cart but continually screeching and screaming. Apparently there was something the child wanted and mom denied the request. The mom kept offering words in a soothing voice: “Now Calm down, Ellen. It will be all right, Ellen. It’s almost time to go home, Ellen.” One of the checkout clerks observed the scene and how the mother remained calm in the face of the child-storm. To encourage the mother, she said: “Ma’am, you are to be commended! I am amazed at how patient you are with little Ellen.” The Mom looked up from the child and said to her: “Lady, I’m Ellen!”

We would be kidding ourselves if we tried to project motherhood as some kind of state of loving bliss. If you hang out with moms, you know they can have the angelic voice of one who whispers Brahms’s lullaby to a baby drifting into sleep, but can shout down a crowd at a baseball game when her child is at bat. Being a mother includes developing a range, both of abilities – and of octaves and decibels.

Year after year, motherhood changes. It is always in a state of change…because a child grows and changes how they relate to their mother. Someone wrote:

• At age 4, we say… “My mom…. can do anything!”
• At age 12, …”Mom doesn’t know Everything.”
• At age 14, …”Mom doesn’t know Anything!”
• At age 18, … “Mom is out of step with the times.”
• At age 25, ….. “Well, mom…. knows a few things.”
• At age 35, …… “Before we decide, let’s get Mom’s opinion.”
• At age 45, …… “I wonder what mom would say ……about this?”
• At age 65, …. ” I wish I could talk ….. with my mother.”
(Original author unknown).

In some ways, motherhood is a test to learn to see the unseen. Good moms develop great intuition. In my experience with the two women I have known best – my mom and my wife (the mother of my children) I know this: It is difficult to get something past mom. There is an old saying: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool mom.”

Let’s talk about Mary

Today I want to look briefly at the story of one of the most famous moms ever to live on the planet. Her task was unbelievably difficult. She was the mom of a perfect child, but she wasn’t a perfect mom. She appeared in about a dozen passages in the Gospels, and they reveal a truth that I trust will be an encouragement to you in this lesson. Here is the truth of God’s Word…

Key Principle: God can use anyone who is willing to be used. Even the mother that bore a perfect child wasn’t a perfect mom – but God used her mightily.

We have much material on Jesus’ mother. Mary was specifically mentioned in a dozen scenes in the Gospel accounts.

What Mary Became in Church History

Though obviously a wonderful woman used of God, it is important to recognize that Biblically speaking, Mary was a part of the fallen human race, not somehow born immaculate (without the curse of the sin nature) and not given the ability to somehow remain sinless throughout her life. In fact, in the “Magnificat,” the song recorded in the Word, she sang the word, “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior!” I think it is fair to say the familiar national salvation (a staple theme of her people) seemed to include a personal need to be rescued in her words.

Titles for Mary like “The Door of Heaven”, “The Queen of the Apostles, Confessors and Martyrs” or “Queen of Heaven” and the like appear nowhere in the Bible. They are a later invention of what appeared to be a wayward church that eclectically bonded fertility cults of ancient Rome into the traditions of Christianity. If you take the time to search the Scriptures carefully, you will find that Mary never magnified herself, but pointed ever to her Lord. Further, the early record of the Book of Acts doesn’t place her as some kind of door to eternity, but as part of the group of early Jesus followers. Let us satisfy ourselves with this portrayal of the mother of Jesus: she followed the words of her Son who that man has access to God only through Him and His work (John 14:6).

Who Mary was as seen in the New Testament

Just over half (seven) of the stories that are prominent in her life include the early Gospel accounts in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2 and the pre-ministry “growing up” experience of Jesus. Most of these were events are very familiar to most students of western culture because of the artistic renderings of the Renaissance – and are well-studied parts of most students of the Gospel accounts. We talk about them, sing about them, and occasionally, like in this lesson, stop to consider what the snapshots teach us:

The Annunciation

Take a moment and consider the lessons from the earliest record of Mary in the text, the story of the Annunciation (Lk. 1:26-38) when Heaven broke into the life of a young woman and Mary was told by the angel Gabriel Messiah would be born through her womb. Luke recorded:

Luke 1:26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. …34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you…37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

In that snapshot of this young woman, we see several important traits that God viewed with great favor in a woman. We cannot claim we don’t know what makes God happy – since He made it clear both by instruction and in models. Here are a few things you may notice about her:

• Verses 26 and 27 show us that she appeared to be at the wrong stage of life to be used by God for the task to which she was assigned. Unmarried virgins don’t normally get tapped to be mother to God’s promised ones. Yet, verse 28 makes clear God wanted to use her. She was God’s choice.

• Verse 29 and 30 remind us that she didn’t feel emotionally prepared to take on the task God assigned – since her first responses were perplexity, pondering and fear. Yet, verse 31 makes clear that God has a plan. She was God’s called.

• Verse 34 and 35 clarify the fact that she wasn’t gullible. She didn’t just take what made no sense and flitter off in fanciful belief. She questioned how such a thing could happen. Her faith needed more than fanciful promises – she needed facts. Yet, verse 37 explained that God was at work. She promptly listened and prepared to be obedient. She was God’s container.

To people who don’t know God, the idea that we would surrender even the most intimate parts of lives seem like an affront to our freedom and individuality. That is because they define absolute freedom as selfishness, whereas the Bible defines freedom as the opportunity to become what we were made by God to be. Mary knew that. She wasn’t perfect, but she was used by God because she willingly INVITED Him to do so. Let me ask you something. Has God heard from YOUR lips words like: “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” as you invite Him to use your life, your choices and your things? If not, that is the place to begin!

The Visit to Elizabeth

Next, Luke recorded Mary’s journey shortly after her pregnancy to visit her second cousin Elizabeth (Lk. 1:39-45) near Jerusalem. Her song that followed was later termed by the church as the “Magnificat” (Lk. 1:46-46) and may be the only portion of Scripture actually stemming from her own heart – perhaps composed by her and passed to Luke for publication. Some scholars think this was the fruit of her pondering in her heart the truths shared by Gabriel. Mary’s song is about what she learned about God!

She praised God for WHO GOD IS in the giving of the great gift. That is the heart of one who has met and experienced God. She praised God for HIS UNIQUENESS.

God is HOLY. Never does the Bible say God is love, love, love. Never does it say God is light, light, light, truth, truth, truth, mercy, mercy, mercy, wrath, wrath, wrath. But it does say that He’s holy, holy, holy.

To “be holy” means to be separate – utterly distinct from all others – unlike any other. Mary understood this according to the record of her ancient lyrics. She knew God was distinct.

1. She proclaimed that His PERSPECTIVE is unique – He is an “All-seeing God” (1:48a). God saw Mary differently than anyone else in her day.

Luke 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.

In truth, no one and no place is God forsaken, He misses nothing on earth… and He rates IMPORTANCE in an entirely unique way.

From where God sits, people are measured:

• By their surrender, not their victories.
• By their brokenness not their power
• By their belief what He says, not their influence in what others do.
• By their giving, not their accumulated wealth.
• By their compassion, not their accomplishments.

Truly, God’s view is not man’s view, and God’s measure is not man’s measure.

2. She understood His PATIENCE is profound (1:50).


Consider this: God observes and recalls those who are faithful in their worship and walk – so be not weary in well doing! Yet, even more…

  • God is faithful even when His people do not obey Him.
  • God is faithful even when they turn their faces to other agendas that are not His.
  • God is faithful – because that is an essential part of His nature.

3. She proclaimed that His POWER is unique – He is an Innovative God (1:51a).

Luke 1:51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm;

We must constantly recall that God is not limited to the options we can see or even conceive of! (God loves to make surprise endings!) He can and does reverse the normal order of things!

4. She recited that His PROMOTIONS are unique – for He is a Just and Gracious Judge (1:51b-52).

Luke 1:51b “…He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.

God is ready to bypass those who are proud but elevate those of humble estate. This little story on the dangers of PRIDE made me smile: Pastor, I have a besetting sin, and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I ought not think that, but I can’t help it. I want you to help me with it.” The pastor replied, “Mary, don’t worry about it. In your case it’s not a sin. It’s just a horrible mistake.”

5. She made clear His PROVISIONS are unique – He is a Merciful God (1:53).

53 “HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; And sent away the rich empty-handed.

Isn’t it true that God fills those who hunger but have been left by another unsatisfied (cp. Ps. 107)? It is the one who does not count on themselves to provide fulfillment that receives serenity from God!

6. She loved the fact that His PROMISES are unique – He is a Faithful God (Covenant-keeping God, 1:54-55).

Luke 1:54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy. 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

God always does what He promises, no matter how long it takes or how hard the circumstances. He overcomes the ages and the dark clouds. He gets it done… EVERY TIME! He promised a Messiah would be:

• An actual man – not just an age or movement: (In Genesis 3:15, He said the seed of a woman would be wounded by the enemy, but crush the enemy’s head.)

• A tiny village: Micah 5:2 promised His coming to Bethlehem of Judah

• A specific lineage: God promised Messiah through Abraham’s loins (Gen. 22:18 “In your seed will all the nations.”)

• In that same way, God promised a specific kind of mom for Messiah: Isaiah 7:14 He would be born of a virgin.

Mary celebrated God’s promises because Mary trusted God’s direction. May I ask you: “Are you truly looking for God’s direction in your life?” If you are, have you been asking Him for it, or inviting His approval of your own self-made plans? Can you honestly celebrate where you are going, because God is taking you there?

The Birth of Jesus

I wish we had opportunity in this lesson to deal with Mary from the infamous story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, where she plays an obvious star role. (Mt. 1:18-25; Lk. 2:1-7). The visit of the shepherds on that very night was no doubt an important authentication of her thoughts to help settle her.

Let us simply recall this one well-established fact from verses you have known since Linus recited them on the TV Christmas special for us: God placed Mary in a very uncomfortable and easy to be misunderstood position in order for the Holy One to bring about His plan. Let no one pass by that story without recalling this truth: When you surrender to God your life, your plans and your body – your comfort is part of the package. Many are willing to follow Jesus as long as He leads them to swift victory, easy riches, and fulfilling relationships. The question is this: “Does God have your permission to lead you into the uncomfortable places to serve Him?”

The Presentation of the Baby Jesus

A fourth story is told of Mary when she took Jesus for His first visit to the Temple in Jerusalem when He was just over a month old (Lk. 2:22-38) for the Baby’s presentation and her purification. A month of living with the family of Joseph, who likely still struggled to believe Mary and Joseph’s word that the Baby was implanted by God’s Spirit gave way to the story of a trip that validated the Child’s identity through the prophetic voices of the elderly Anna and Simeon (Luke 2:22-38).

Simeon said: 2:29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.

Mary and Joseph stood there amazed, the text recorded. Was she amazed that God was doing what He said through Gabriel? I don’t think so. I believe she was amazed that God was busy telling other people what He told her. Call is one thing; blind confirmation is yet another. Mary learned that when God called her, comfort may fleet away for a time, but God has a way of adding strength and confirmation in what He called you to do.

Let me ask you to do something as you seek God and believe He has given you direction. Spend intentional time with wise people who know God well. God’s direction and confirmation will more often be found in the voices of God’s friends – not in places that do not acknowledge Him. Are you taking the time to listen to the confirming voices of wise saints of God? You should.

The Visit of the Magi

Mary’s fifth appearance can be found in the story of the visit of the Magi (Mt. 2:1-12). Do you remember the story of the time when the Baby Jesus was an older infant or perhaps even a toddler, still living in Bethlehem, and God brought astrologers from the east seeking the new “King of the Jews?” God provided through the gifts of the Magi the means for Joseph and Mary to take the journey to Egypt when the time came.

We cannot take apart the verses in this brief pass over Mary’s life, but can we not readily see the truth: Where God guides, God provides? His provision may come from afar, but that is not something too tough for God. How long will we worry and not seek God for guidance and provision? The Magi are a good reminder that our answer comes from God, not our resources. He can supply in ways we cannot imagine. Would I be off base if I suggested that Mary probably didn’t think she would get such a visit the day before it happened, nor did she know what God was preparing for her. A journey was coming, and God was bringing in the money to pay for the ticket.

The Flight to Egypt

Obviously the next (or sixth) story where Mary appears is that very story of the Holy Family’s evacuation to Egypt. Joseph’s obedience to the warning he got from a dream pressed him to flee to Egypt (Mt. 2:13-18) with Mary and Jesus.

Here is a story where momma needed to follow daddy’s fervent following of God’s direction. Men, she could do it because he didn’t lead her in rash and selfish ways. Ladies, she did what was hard – and isn’t that lesson enough? It isn’t easy to follow a man in a marriage – but in God’s economy that is what a marriage produces – people who submit to one another and listen as God tugs the heart of your partner!

Losing Jesus at the Temple

The seventh story was the tale of the family’s visit to the Temple when Jesus was near His “coming of age” (Luke 2:41-52) – an uncomfortable account of the time Jesus was left behind by His parents. The story began with simple words that remind of an important principle:

Luke 2:41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast…

Can you see it? The words “every year” capture the principle. Mary and Joseph consistently came to worship together as a family, year after year.

“Big deal!” you might say. After all, it was only an annual thing. Actually, it wasn’t. There were three times they needed to come to Jerusalem to keep up with the command of Deuteronomy, or they could pay a stand in for that purpose. That isn’t the point. I could say something like: “One hour and a half a week!” and you would feel differently about it. The point is this: Worship and obedience to God’s Word was a priority that drove their choices That is either true of you, or it is not.

Personally, I find it difficult to accept as authentic those who claim a vibrant faith but don’t show it in their life choices to obey the Scriptures. I am not able to determine who has real faith – but I am able to see who has no clue how to show it if they really do have faith. For instance: How FRUSTRATING it is to see those who post in social media a wonderful “Jesus is Lord!” statement, and then follow it up with posts that show blatant profanity and ungodly actions as “liked”. Consistent choices of honoring God produce children that know the appearance of true obedience. If you raise them perfectly, they may NOT follow God, but they will see that such a walk is possible and choose whether or not to follow what they have seen. Remember, we don’t do right to get the results we want – we do right because it honors God.

People do wrong often because they don’t know what the pattern of doing right truly looks like. If more parents did right consistently, more children would have a fighting chance to make a good choice. You never choose comfortably from a menu if you have never seen the product. Good choices normally have to be modeled first – and Mary and Joseph accomplished that well.

Motherhood is an opportunity to live the Word and model a life. Mothers can leave a wonderful imprint on the lives of their children.

Four pastors were discussing the merits of the various translations of the Scriptures. One liked the King James Version best because of its simple, yet beautiful English prose. Another liked the New International Version because of its modern language. A third preacher liked the “Message” Version even better and felt more relevant teaching from a simple paraphrase. For a while in the little debate, the fourth pastor was silent. When asked to express his opinion he replied: “I like my mother’s translation best.” The other ministers asked, “Your mother translated the Bible?” He replied: “Oh Yes, she certainly did! My mother translated the Bible into her everyday life and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw.

The balance of the stories capture views of Mary during the ministry of Jesus. They include the wedding at Cana (#8), the Saviors’ spurning by Nazareth (#9), His refusal to meet Mary and His brothers (#10), and the shattering day she watched Jesus suffer on the Cross (#11).

After the Gospel accounts were ended, rounding out the dozen actual or inferred appearances, there is a mention of Mary after the Resurrection of Jesus, as one who was binding together the followers of Jesus after the Ascension. She was one of those devoted to prayer and unity in the upper room (Acts 1:14) who heard Peter’s call to replace Judas and begin to organize the group.

All of these stories are powerful but our time is limited. Let’s look for a few moments at one more brief account – this one at the wedding scene in John 2, where we can gain some insights into Mary the MOTHER.

The Wedding at Cana

The eighth account of Mary in the Gospels came from the early period of the ministry of Jesus, when He performed the first recorded miracle of John’s Gospel – turning water into wine (John 2). Look at the beginning of that story for the interaction between Jesus and His mom:

John 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus *said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus *said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Look at the description of the event, and it will be apparent that there had been a wedding at Cana, and Jesus’ mother was already in attendance when Jesus arrived with His first followers (2:1). Jewish tradition suggests that weddings were most often set on the third day of the week, when God said twice in the Creation account, “It is very good!” This day has been considered the “double good day” perfect for marriages.

This was the first introduction of Mary in the Gospel of John, but she was well-known to the people to whom John was regularly preaching. John understood the encounter at the Cross to mean that he was to care for her for the rest of his days. At Ephesus the “House of Mary” tradition is relatively recent, but the notion that John and Mary were attached in a familial way at the Cross is an old one.

Jesus and His family and friends were all invited (2:2), but Jesus was delayed and arrived (apparently) at the end of the customary seven day wedding feast. It was due to His late arrival and the fact that He did not come alone the host ran low on wine provisions. When the wine ran out, Mary called upon Jesus to address the problem (2:3), explaining they had run out of wine. She was evidently confident that Jesus was able to meet the need in some incredible way.

Jesus got there and there was a problem. It was Mary his mother’s problem, or at least she felt it was her problem…Watch in the text what she did. She identified a problem and then she thrust HER PLAN for the problem on Jesus. Now I realize that Jesus was, at least from an earthly perspective, her son. Yet, think carefully about what the story can show us about the way we, as believers, act toward Jesus in our lives and with our problems.

Did you notice the text doesn’t reveal that Mary dropped to her knees and sought God concerning the difficulty? In fact, she didn’t even consult Jesus on what should be done. MARY HAD A LITTLE PLAN and she wanted her plan cared for by Jesus.

Can I ask: “Did you ever do that?” Did you ever decide that you knew what God SHOULD DO about something and then tell Him how it would honor Him? She was a good mom, but not a perfect mom.

Yet, here should be a note of warning… We dare not tack Jesus on the plans we have. We are called to make Him our Master, not our Holy errand boy. We don’t tell Him – He tells us! I recognize the problem of her being his mother makes this lesson more strained than many, but I trust that you recognize the tendency of a believer to fit God into his plans, and not wait on God to direct the plan. Have you ever wondered: “Why didn’t she ask Him?” I think the reason she didn’t ask is a familiar one – because she is like all of us who believe we have a plan so good that even God should recognize it.

She wasn’t perfect, but she was willing to be used by God. Remember the key principle of this lesson…

God can use anyone who is willing to be used. Even the mother that bore a perfect child wasn’t a perfect mom – but God used her mightily.

I don’t know what you remember of your momma. I don’t know if, like me, you think of screen doors banging in the summer time, the wafting aroma of cookies or bread out of the oven, or the smell of our potato soup on the stove. Those, in my mind, are the smells of love and acceptance, protection and being loved.

Mom made home that way. Few things are more powerful than the tears and the prayers of a mother. Few things are more tender than a mother’s hug. Few things are more healing than mom blowing on a skinned knee. Mom doesn’t have to be perfect to be just right for us. Sometimes it is their ornery nature that we cherish the most…

A little girl was sitting and watching her mother wash the dishes at the kitchen sink. She looked closely at her mom and noticed that her mother had several strands of grey hair sticking out that she never saw before. Inquisitive, she asked: “Why are some of your hairs white, mom?” Mom replied, “Every time you do something wrong one of my hairs turns white!” Looking across the room, she smiled and asked “If that is true, then why are ALL of Grandma’s hairs white?”

Happy Mother’s Day (2016)

Following His Footsteps: “Cracker Jack Surprise” – Mark 14

CrackerjackIn a less complex time than today, a simple “surprise” toy in a box of breakfast cereal or perhaps a little surprise inserted into a molasses-coated popcorn and peanut snack box was a delight for a child. Unless there is an electronic chip in it, I doubt it would keep most “first world” children occupied now – even for a moment. Yet, some of us are both old enough to remember but still young enough to access our memories of the “Cracker Jack” box – with the “surprise” inside. The name was registered in 1896, and many consider it to be the original American “junk food”. The old label was bought by Frito-Lay’s parent company Pepsi-Co in 1996, some one hundred years after it was first hitting the shelves of tiny grocery stores and corner candy shops.

The Cracker Jack box historically included a small “toy surprise” inside. Old ads boasted: “Candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize”. In fact, they came in every box since 1912! Prizes included baseball cards, rings, plastic figures, booklets, stickers, temporary tattoos and even “secret spy decoder rings” – which no doubt worried the Russians a good bit “back in the day”. Keeping up with the times, in 2013, some prizes became ‘download codes’ to redeem electronic “nostalgic” games on the Cracker Jack app through Google Play. Yes, the simple times have left us and have morphed into their more complex android cousins.

What is surprising about the Cracker Jack box is that it was never that appealing on its cover for a candy. In fact, it seemed busy and wholly unattractive. On the outside were “mascots” – sketches of one dubious “Sailor Jack” and his dog “Bingo” who were on the box since 1918. The actual image of “Sailor Jack” alone has a bit of a morbid tale – it was an image of Edward Rueckheim who died of pneumonia at the age of 8 shortly after his image appeared on the first box. That image became so important to the founder of Cracker Jack that he had it carved on his tombstone. The dog, incidentally, was an image of a stray found in Chicago in 1917. There you have it: America’s junk food started in a promotional package with the images of a deceased child and a stray dog – yet they sold millions of boxes. In the end, they proved that looks can be deceiving. Sweet things can come in ugly boxes. Secret spy decoder rings can be purchased – disguised as mere junk food.

Interestingly enough, the truth proved by the package is the same one we see in our text today…

Key Principle: Appearances can be deceiving – but only to us. God always see what is under the surface.

In this lesson, we want to look briefly at four literary “snapshots” of people, taken from the week before the Cross at Calvary. Each of these snapshots is admittedly incomplete, but they are sufficient enough to help us see what God captured in His holy lens – and how it differed from what men saw:

Snapshot 1: Pious Men gathered in Priestly Garb (14:1-2)

In our study following the life and ministry of Jesus, we have finally come to His entry to Jerusalem and the “Passion Week” – the time of the Pesach (Passover).

Mark 14:1 “Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth and kill Him; 2 for they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise there might be a riot of the people.”

If the first day of Unleavened Bread (immediately following Passover) began in conjunction with the Sabbath (Friday night) that year, as has been traditionally recalled, the story opens this chapter with either a Tuesday or Wednesday meeting. Classical artists seem to always capture the men gathered in the night, though that is not clear in the passage. On the bright side, some may use this to Biblically endorse “Wednesday night Prayer Meeting” (just kidding!) but that isn’t what brought these men together.

A careful examination of the first two verses yield a reasonably clear picture of what was happening among these learned men. The men were clearly PLOTTING (zeteo: deliberating an action). They were trying to determine a way to gain control (krateo: to bind) over Jesus by using trickery or a trap (dolos: baiting). Most striking is the reality that this ensnaring was clearly for the purpose of killing Jesus! They appeared to have concluded this was the right way, or at least the most effective way to answer His rising popularity and open questioning if their authority. All of these details come from the beginning of Mark 14.

Look at the second verse, and more detail emerges. What slowed down their plan was not a pang of guilt, but a scheduling glitch. With Passover coming on, they seemed to agree that capturing Jesus when the crowds of Galilean followers, among whom He was remarkably popular, would have ended in a riot (thorubos: uproar, uncontrolled mob reaction). Since this follows the “Palm Sunday” story, it appears Jesus was equally aware of the possibility the “rocks would cry out” if He hushed the crowds. It looks, from the record, like the Temple leadership ironically agreed with Jesus’ earlier assessment.

Mark carefully revealed that these men knew what they wanted to do, but fear of the loss of control over the crowd shut them down – at least for the moment. In some ways, it appears they were afraid to lose STANDING in the eyes of the crowd. They knew the local people would follow them, but this was a time when people came into the city by the tens of thousands, and they were happy to hear Jesus. They didn’t mind His criticism of the Temple leadership. He likely said things others thought of themselves! The Talmudic memory of the household of Hannan, from which Annas and Caiaphas came, was less than sparkling. Jesus wasn’t the only one that noticed the Temple wasn’t working in ideal ways.

These men rose through the ranks probably believing they could serve the God of Jacob. They likely didn’t start out craving power, it just seemed to turn out that way. You can sympathize just a bit, can’t you? They were charged with “keeping the people in order” by their Roman masters. The problem was, they were charged by God to do something higher – that is to teach people the TRUTH. Their call from God got tied up in their power struggle to hold what they only got because God granted it. When we try to desperately hold on to the position or power that we have, we tip our hand to our real belief – the mistaken idea that we EARNED the place we have.

This is the “FAME trap” – we try to keep the lights blaring on our performance long after it is clear we aren’t as special and we have come to believe we are. Only those who are oft reminded by God that all they possess is truly His, and all they attain was by His grace- will be able to place His will higher than that of any earthly master. The FAME trap can happen in anything that leads people to believe they have become a celebrity – no matter what are of life they find it in. God sees it even through religious garb – those who look like they are serving Him to control other people, or to be important among them.

Snapshot 2: A man hiding under a clean cloak (Mark 14:10-21; 42-46)

Drop your eyes down in the passage to Mark 14:10. Instead of a group of garbed priests, we want to focus on a lone figure who is fidgeting and seems out of place in an important meeting…

Mark 14:10 “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. 11 They were glad when they heard this, and promised to give him money. And he began seeking how to betray Him at an opportune time. 12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?” 13 And He sent two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ 15 “And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there.” 16 The disciples went out and came to the city, and found it just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover. 17 When it was evening He came with the twelve. 18 As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me.” 19 They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, “Surely not I?” 20 And He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips with Me in the bowl. 21 “For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Drop a few verses below to a man who came late to the meeting. He was not invited, but the men in the meeting were DELIGHTED to see him come in. Judas snuck off from the other Disciples who were staying in Bethany with the Master. The text is clear, Judas came willingly to the priests (14:10) and made the offer to deliver Jesus to them. Their gladdened reaction showed that Judas’ proposal relieved them of the burden of finding a way to snatch Jesus (14:11). Judas was now seeking a “good time” (eukairos) to deliver Jesus to the priests. How ironic that he would look for a GOOD TIME to do a BAD thing.

The verses that follow that scene may seem like Mark is going on in the story, but He is not. Mark 14:12-16 explain why Judas was unable to deliver Jesus quickly, before the late night prayer session of Jesus in the “Garden of the Olive Press” (Gethsemane). Mark 14:12 set the time for these verses two days after the plot against Jesus by Judas and the chief priests. Jesus came with the twelve on Thursday evening for their Pesach celebration but withheld the location from Judas and the other Disciples – they did not know where the meal was to be eaten. Jesus appears to have pre-arranged the meal with some men beyond the knowledge of His Disciples, and therefore offered detailed instructions to Peter and John (if all accounts are combined) to follow a man with a water pot to a furnished upper room to make the feast observance ready.

Reclining around the three sided banquet table (a triclinium), Jesus openly remarked about the plot that Judas was hatching behind His back. Mark 14:18 offered the detail that it was someone on the inner circle of the twelve, and verse 20 pressed the case by stating it was one who was eating from the same dish as Jesus – the common bowl placed before the group surrounding Him closely. It is impossible to see this as anything less than an excruciatingly uncomfortable moment for the disgruntled Judas, who had to have felt exposed. Listen again to the words that Jesus used concerning Judas:

Mark 14:21 “For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Jesus made it clear that the plot would be successful, but the plotter would be ruined in the process. Perhaps nowhere in the Gospels are harder words recorded as coming from the mouth of the Master! Judas had to have been quietly humiliated and angered, as the enemy pressed him to further betrayal. Mark makes no note of Judas’ departure from the meal, but combined accounts show that Judas left after a small exchange between Jesus and himself. Out into the night, tormented by the searing words of Jesus went the betrayer. We don’t see him appearing again until Mark 14:42.

Mark 14:42 “Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!” 43 Immediately while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs, who were from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44Now he who was betraying Him had given them a signal, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him and lead Him away under guard.” 45 After coming, Judas immediately went to Him, saying, “Rabbi!” and kissed Him. 46 They laid hands on Him and seized Him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me, as you would against a robber? 49 “Every day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me; but this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures.” 50 And they all left Him and fled. 51 A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. 52 But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked.”

Jesus was aware of Judas’ arrival before the Disciples, and He urged them to awaken and stand ready for the time of His arrest at the hands of Judas (14:42). A crowd, including some Roman soldiers and Temple guard, as well as a rabble gathered by the chief priests had entered the olive grove at Gethsemane where Jesus was praying and His derelict Disciples were fast asleep (14:43). Judas told the guards to watch for the One that he offered the “kiss of peace” and arrest Him alone, so the guard and rabble were either confused by the darkness or may not have been wholly familiar with Jesus’ appearance. Judas was close to Jesus – one of the inner circle who “kept the purse” according to John’s Gospel, and Judas would recognize Jesus. Mark reveals that Judas kissed Jesus, and the men arrested Him (14:45-46). Resistance began, with a strike at the head of a guard by what appears to have been Peter (14:47) but the Disciples were outnumbered, bewildered and afraid. Jesus boldly challenged the cowardly way He was being taken, but the guards were not stopped by this (14:48-49). The Disciples fled into the night, one of them slipping out from his top cloak and running shamefully uncovered (14:51-52), Judas had finished his work.

Though Mark says little about the reason of Judas defection, the other Gospel accounts offer other small details that help sharpen our view of the events. John records that Judas was one who specifically complained about the anointing of Jesus’ feet with the valuable spikenard. Matthew reminds us of the “thirty pieces of silver” (the price of redemption) some three times in Matthew 26 and 27. Clearly the Disciples recalled later that Judas’ motive was at least in part financial. Judas wanted FORTUNE to help him gain a sense of control over his life. How many people are willing to compromise principle for this very same reason? The man under the cloak thought he could act in darkness, hiding, deceiving and then disappearing. The problem with the okay was that he had to take himself along on the journey, and life lived in compromise of one’s core values is desperately hard. God saw under the cloak of Judas, and his motives were exposed from the very mouth of his Master.

Judas probably joined the ranks of the Disciples because the words of Jesus touched his heart. I don’t know how deeply, but he is not so unlike many in the church today – who came with deep hurt or a broken heart – some intractable relationship or financial distress. They came believing they could find peace and solutions in the God of Jacob. Then came the problem; the day God’s Word said something they really didn’t like. The day God offended them deeply. They truly believed their own sense of right and wrong was more flawless than the Creator’s – and they just weren’t willing to give up a relationship of love that the Word clearly showed was off limits; or stop a practice that they loved so dearly they thought it beyond God’s right to ask them to give it up. God can be so offensive when He tries to tell the pottery why it was made thus.

When we try to hold God to our standard, we forget who He really is, and who we really are. This is the POWER trap – we try to keep Him at bay from the most important rooms of our hearts. Only those who are oft challenged by God to surrender the key to every locked room- will be able to surrender control and see God powerfully work beyond their abilities. The POWER trap can snare us when we use some inner marker of desire to replace God’s objective standard in His Word. God sees through our proximity to the believers and even to Jesus – and examines the heart. He warns of two paths – one of surrender and one of self-guided nonsense.

Snapshot 3: A boisterous follower of Jesus (Mark 14:27-42; 66-72)

Peter helped to put the meal together, along with John. He was not an EVIL man, like the picture we have of Judas and of the priests we have spoken about to this point in our story. He was DECIEVED. Deception is the “cousin” of EVIL – that leads good men to bad judgment.

Look closely for a moment at the Disciple Peter. He demonstrated some critical flaws that came from a failed power struggle with his ego. They are helpful, particularly to those of us who have fought Jesus’ control in our own lives…

Flaw One: He was Untrusting.

Mark 14:27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP SHALL BE SCATTERED.’…31 But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also.

When Jesus told all the Disciples that they would scatter and fall down, He made the particular point to mention that God’s Word had settled the subject ahead of time (14:27). At first Peter denied that this could be a part of his future, and later “insisted” (14:31) that could not be the case. These points of argument yield a truth about the EGO battle… The ego battle is essentially a deeply held belief that I know better than God and His Word. It is masked and often polite UNBELIEF in God’s knowledge.

Flaw Two: He was Self-exalting.

Mark 14:28 “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 29 But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.”

When Jesus promised that He would be raised up (they probably thought to the throne, not from the dead, though He had revealed His death to them before), Peter emphatically promised that HE would not leave Jesus, in spite of all the other followers. It is remarkable how EGO separates us from the rest of the pack. We truly come to believe that we are DIFFERENT in essence than all others. It offers us a deceived view that allows us to believe we have inordinate personal endurance.

Flaw Three: He was Hardened.

Mark 14:30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.”

When Jesus contradicted Peter, there is no record that Peter believed of accepted the conviction of the words of the Lord. Jesus clearly said it WOULD HAPPEN and that he would not have to wait to see it happen! Yet, when we become deluded with our own EGO, we truly close our ears to both the WARNING and CONVICTION of God’s Word.

Flaw Four: He was Overconfident.

Mark 14:32 They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” 33 And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. 34 And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” 35 And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. 36 And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” 37 And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 Again He went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. 41 And He came the third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 “Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”

Jesus led the men to the place of the public oil press, with its nearby camping places in the olive grove. He asked the Disciples to pray, and it is clear they could see that He was under great pressure. Peter was taken with those of the inner circle and asked repeatedly to pray, but found himself falling asleep. Ego constantly overestimates its strength and underestimates the costs of disobedience. The scene that began with Peter’s arrogant proclamations of being the ONE who would do right, end with him skulking and weeping.

Flaw Five: He was overpowering.

Mark 14:66 As Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Nazarene.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are talking about.” And he went out onto the porch. 69 The servant-girl saw him, and began once more to say to the bystanders, “This is one of them!” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders were again saying to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean too.” 71 But he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” 72 Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he began to weep.

After the arrest of Jesus, the weeping Disciple teamed up with John who was known to the High Priest and his family. John was able to get into the front gate, but Peter was questioned at the door. A few minutes later the intuitive woman pointed our Peter before others. When confronted a third time, Peter CURSED JESUS and claimed no knowledge of Jesus. One Gospel writer simply said that as Jesus was being led away, “Jesus looked on Peter”. Ego can’t seem to slow down the train even when it is going toward a head on collision. It is a powerful force of false control – and it leads to our own ruin.

Peter came to Jesus because the words of Jesus made sense, and Jesus had great power. He saw the command Jesus had over the Word of God and the manifest presence of God in miracles. He believed that God was at work in Jesus. He was on board when the swords were handed out. He wanted to bring in the Kingdom with POWER. The problem with the power method, is that it is very SELF EMPOWERED and lacks the meekness Jesus calls upon in us. When we try to reach people with the POWER of our own PERSONALITY, we are often showing ourselves to me more in love with ourselves than our Savior! This is the EGO trap – we try to make God successful and elevate ourselves at the same time!

The EGO trap holds us when we believe that God got a bargain when He got us. It came manifest itself in a legalism control, or an overt and desperate need for constant affirmation in our walk and work for Jesus. In the end, it attempts to lead people to US and not JESUS.

Snapshot 4: A Broken Crying Woman (Mark 14:3; 6-9)

The final little snapshot is found in the earliest part of the chapter. We skipped over a woman (John 12 suggests it was Mary of Magdala) who was sacrificing to Jesus by pouring an expensive and cherished ointment on His feet, to allow her story to linger in our hearts as the final part of the teaching from Mark 14. Look briefly at her story:

Mark 14:3 While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. 4 But some were indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted? 5 “For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they were scolding her.6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. 7 “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. 8 “She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9 “Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

Jesus was pleased with the sacrifice of a woman who FELT SMALL, but gave what she had to be used of Him! She BROKE the vase of what she had to offer, and gave every drop to His use. There can be no more complete snapshot of surrender. She is in this story what the woman with the last coin of her home was in the previous study – one who gave all. How did Jesus respond?

First, He rebuffed those who criticized her action for their own cloaked motives and self-righteousness, protecting her with His words. “Let her alone” (6a). Next, He noted that her sacrifice was “a good deed” to His standard (6b)! Third, He identified her insights and priorities as the CORRECT ones (14:7). Fourth, He again showed the size of the sacrifice was the true gauge of her heart (14:8a). Fifth, He carefully identified that her work fit with God’s plan (14:8b). Finally, He promised that her act would be ever recalled by followers of Jesus in times to come (14:9).

Mary came to Jesus out of a broken heart and a failed life. His words set her free. His love unlocked the deep pain of her heart, and empowered her to serve by surrender and sacrifice. She understood the meekness Jesus called for – because her only hope of eternal life was found in His grace. She saw no goodness in herself. She had little, but she was unwilling to keep any of it for herself!

When we recognize our own deep sinfulness, we are ready to thankfully surrender to the One who gave all for us! This is the SURRENDER KEY– the key that opens us to be used of God for powerful tasks that last for the ages to come! The SURRENDER KEY allows Jesus access to all that we have, and all that we hope to accomplish. It is the gift God most wants. It smells of perfume, but is really not about the physical world – it is a spiritually open heart.

The truth is often beneath the surface.

Maybe you are hiding who you are beneath a cloak. There is danger in not considering the truth that God sees what no one else can.

I am told that there was a rock on the North Sea, just off the Firth of Tay, Scotland. This rock proved very dangerous to many ships, because when the high tide came in, the rock was hidden just below the surface. There was a warning bell attached to the rock by the Abbot of Aberbrothok, so when tide came in the hugh warning bell floated and rang out a warning to all ships that passed: there was hidden danger. This warning bell was stolen by a sea pirate. History records about a year after the said warning bell was stolen, there was a terrible pirate ship crash at this rock, and the pirate perished in the icy waters. It appears the pirate that stole the warning bell, perished on the hidden rock one stormy night. Why? He forgot that what was hidden could still be very dangerous.

Following His Footsteps: “Highly Intensive Training” – Mark 8:27-9:50

body1I know that most of you will find this shocking, but I have never been a body builder. This picture is not me. In fact, the only muscles that I am fanatical about using and developing beyond my typing finger muscles are those that help me fill my mouth, chew and digest food. I admit it, I am a foodie – and weight gain has been a struggle over the past years. I do know some things about muscle growth – though it is obvious I am not invested in growing them. It isn’t that complicated at all. Muscle building, a therapist friend of mine says, is about consistent, low volume but regular workouts which are based around the universal laws of overload and progression. The fundamentals of strength training make clear that in order to reach goals of increased muscle mass and strength, one should train regularly and then give the muscles adequate rest and proper nutrients. By doing this week after week and increasing the weight or repetitions – the muscles will grow. Body builders also have times of “highly intensive training” to burst to new levels of output and build muscles in an accelerated way.

Disciple making isn’t body building – but it has distinct similarities. As we follow the ministry of Jesus and His Disciples, we see times of intense workouts of a few of them – and this lesson will follow one such short period. It was intense training – so it was intended to be more stark and more powerful – and that is one of the great benefits of carefully studying this time. Don’t get me wrong: Peter won’t look that much more fit after the intense training than he did going into it. At the same time, his experiences were designed to help him grow in critical areas – and the record of them will help us grow in those same places.

Here is the truth that Peter and the boys needed to learn…

Key Principle: We can grow in the work of ministering for Jesus – but we will never be self-sufficient in the role.

We will constantly need God’s direction and sometimes we will require His gentle correction (or, for some of us, a swift kick in the pants). In our study of the portion from the Gospel of Mark for this lesson we encounter a series of “snapshots” of a few disciples who left the record of their failures and lessons in growing to maturity. Careful study of them might save us the pain of the same mistakes.

Pick up your observation of the story of Mark at the scene of the “final exam” of the disciples at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus has pulled the men away, and He is having a very important conversation with them.

Graduation Day: Peter gets an answer that seems to separate him from the pack.

The first snapshot is the scene of the examination of the disciples by the Master. Jesus was asking the questions, and the disciples were answering orally – or trying to blend into the background so as to not get called on by the Teacher. Mark recorded:

Mark 8:27 “Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others [say] Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.” 29 And He [continued] by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And He warned them to tell no one about Him.”

In the eighties, Americans were still wrestling with the removal of prayer from public education, as secularists pushed hard to get God separated from education in the name of “science”. During that time there was a popular bumper sticker that said: “As long as there are Math tests, there will always be prayer in schools.” Though people have tried to remove any sense of a deity from “smart people” in our society – the fact is that people long to know there is help when they are in trouble. I found an interesting comment by Ravi Zacharias concerning modern man’s recognition of the existence of God – and it made me smile. He reported:

The eminent scientist and atheist Dr. Richard Dawkins was on a radio program in April of 2012 with the Rev. Giles Fraser on Radio 4’s Today in England where he was again “bashing Christians”. He said they were “basically very unintelligent people”. The minister dialoguing with him questioned him on that point. His evidence was simple. He said that if you asked many Christians they couldn’t even tell you an interviewer the proper names of the four Gospels. Rev. Fraser replied: Dr. Dawkins, can you name the full title of the “Origin of the Species” by Darwin? The actual title was: On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life . Dawkins fumbled a bit, and then the preeminent atheist said, “Oh God, I know it is longer than the way we say it…” Funny, even an atheist calls on God to tell him the name of the book that helped him explain away God as Creator! How can you not smile!

Back in the text, Jesus wasn’t dealing with secularists, but with observant, synagogue educated Jews of the first century. They believed in the God of Abraham, and were raised with a Biblical world view – admittedly with some significant additions by rabbis who confused some of the ideals of the Scriptures. When Jesus pulled the men aside, He knew them well – even what they were thinking. John’s Gospel noted that Jesus “knew what was in the heart of man”. Because that is true, we can surmise that He wasn’t asking a question out of some deep inner need to be affirmed, so that He could feel good about Himself. If I asked my closest friends, “What do people say about me?” it would be blatant sign that I was needing to be pumped up and affirmed – but that wasn’t what this record was about in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus wanted the disciples to verbally affirm His position in front of one another– so He could take them to the next level of understanding.

We normally use the term discipleship to refer to the training of believers, those who have asked Jesus to be their Savior and take over their life. In Jesus’ case, the discipleship of His men began before the men understood Who Jesus truly was. If you think about it carefully, in some ways, discipleship still does include this time of discovery. Terms like “pre-evangelism” have been used to describe the hours spent with a man, woman or child that has yet to make the decision to follow Jesus. But in another sense, hardly anyone begins their walk with Jesus recognizing His full identity and much of what a relationship with the Master and Creator truly entails. Most of us decided to follow a Jesus we barely knew, and we didn’t grasp the full depth of that choice until much later – and that isn’t wrong. God opened our hearts and took up residence, and the “learning curve” of the relationship began for us – like a newly married couple learns to be a new family.

Go back to verse twenty-seven (8:27) and you will note that Jesus was very far outside His normal territory; He was finally alone with His disciples. The place Jesus took the men could was a strange area to them – well off the beaten path of the kosher villages near the Sea of Galilee. The area of “Caesarea of Herod Philip” was a highly-developed pagan city with an acropolis (upper city) of pagan temples set on a raised area against a cliff. The city was surrounded by a lush valley in the far north of the country at the southwestern foothills of Mt. Hermon, near the ancient city of Dan (that marked the northern border of Israel in the United and Divided Kingdom periods). The uplifted pagan cultic precinct of the city appeared to extend on a platform out of the rocky face, in front of an in-dented escarpment with a deep cave that could be seen from far away. Both the cave and the acropolis became a sacred precinct with a Temple to Caesar Augustus and a shrine to the god Pan.

Many pagan cities had such an acropolis, but this place was one of a handful of places that had a unique identity. The cave was recognized by ancient pagan worshipers as one of several mystical entrances to the underworld (Hades), where one would enter the abode of the dead and cross the River Styx under the watchful eye of Cerberus, the three-headed dog. The cave shared this identity in ancient society along with the caves near Cumae at the Bay of Naples – where the Cumaen Sibyl told fortunes, another at Cape Matapan on the southern tip of Achaia – where Hercules accessed the underworld in legend, and the Ploutonion (Pluto’s Gate at Hierapolis) – a city Paul mentioned in his letter to the Colossians. In short, this was one of the “gates of hell” in pagan mythology – and that identity was well-known in the time of Jesus.

Don’t skip past the fact that Jesus asked them the most significant question that He ever presented to them – truly the single question they should have been prepared to answer after the last years traveling together. The question was, in essence: “Who am I?” Mark made plain the answer was offered by Peter, who finally got a right answer in the record of the Gospels. Since Mark’s material was likely based on the preaching of Peter much later, the dialogue between Peter and Jesus is much shorter than that found in Matthew 16 where the Gospel recorded:

Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Some scholars rightly point out that Jewish use of the term “gates of Hades” appears to be related to the prohibition of observant Jews to be a part of the pagan festivities of the defiled cities. Entering a pagan town was like entering Hades itself. If that is the sense in which Jesus used the terms, verse nineteen (Matthew 16:19) may have offered a prophecy that Peter would be called on to enter the gate of a Gentile city (ironically another city called Caesarea – but at a different location) and offer the Gospel to a Gentile (Cornelius in Acts 10). The phrase “keys of the Kingdom” may have been a reference to the fact that God “unlocked the Gentile world” to the Gospel through the vision of the sheet in Jaffa in that passage in the Book of Acts. At the same time, one cannot help but note that the city was built against a cave that was known as a “gate of Hades” by the Gentiles who lived near it. The ironic truth of the passage is this: Jesus was making plain the open gate to the afterlife with Him passed through a recognition of WHO Jesus is.

Elsewhere, Jesus made plain that He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except by Him.” His words were both exclusive and restrictive. He claimed that He is the gate in the wall that separated man from God, sinners from righteousness. Entering the relationship with the God of Abraham can only be accomplished by means of the Door – Jesus Himself. Jesus said “I am the Door”. Here is the truth: Jesus is the gate that made the door of physical death lead to the Father – and not simply to a permanent separation from God. Jesus paid for sin, and when I acknowledge Him as Savior and yield my life to Him, physical death is a move to be in God’s presence, awaiting my permanent home with Him.

Despite the seeming complexity found in the answers to life’s purpose and breadth, the questions that must be faced by each of us at the heart of the meaning of life are exacting and simple: Were we made by a “Being of intelligence” or are we here without any intention by random chance? If we were made by an intelligent Creator, did that Being make only the physical world, or is there a metaphysical existence beyond? If there is a metaphysical existence, is participation automatic or is there any evidence that a Creator Being expressed specific requirements to participate in and enjoy the time after this life? To each question Jesus was clear in His answers as we have them recorded in the Gospels: God created both a physical and spiritual world. Man sinned and was separated from God. God sent a Savior whose payment for sin each man or woman must acknowledge and a Lord to whom each man or woman must submit.

When Peter gave the right answer, Jesus instructed them to keep His identity to themselves, because He wanted to spend more time alone with them, and didn’t want new crowds to form in that place. Several exciting events were yet to unfold. Peter’s pronouncement and Jesus’ encouragement that he would be a “man of promise” for the future seemed to immediately cause a swell of pride within Peter. The story continued…

Owning the Part: Peter “instructs” Jesus on public presentation.

Peter felt like he was singled out as a heir apparent by Jesus – an honored future to which he devoted himself. Mark recorded:

Mark 8:31 “And He [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 33 But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” 34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 “For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Peter passed the final oral exam, and he seemed to do very well! Ironically, just after the story of his promotion to “future leader” the Gospel writers record a story of a public correction of Peter before the same group of disciples. It seems that Peter thought his right answer entitled him to a greater immediate role, and he dove into it! Jesus foretold of His suffering and death, and Peter felt it was an appropriate time to pull Him aside and set Him straight on what He was saying. Have you ever done that?

Don’t be too hard on Pete – this mistake is just one in a long line of them. He meant well. Like many of us, we think that God is great enough to create all things, but He might need our advice as to how to present Himself to people. The God whose name is “Ever Present One” – the NOW God – is often mistakenly viewed by His own people as the God of History and yesterday – but not necessarily “up” on the way things are done today. The Bible presents a God that isn’t stuck in the past and doesn’t sport rotary dial phones in Heaven. He is the God of NOW – always. He knows what people need. He knows how to get the message to them. The resistance of the world is not truly caused by the antiquity of our message – it is caused by the deep-seated rebellion to which men and women relentlessly cling. They don’t have God, because they don’t WANT God.

Jesus explained His coming death and resurrection, and Peter made it clear to Him that was a message that wouldn’t sell. We’ve seen it and heard it many times. Telling people they are LOST without Christ won’t work. Telling people they are SINNERS should be softened – or it will drive people away. Telling people that a righteous God doesn’t fool around with our sensuality nor play around with a sense of the truth probably sounds terribly offensive to the tolerant generation. Yet, truth doesn’t change because it is unpopular, and history is clear that most of the time, most of the people are wrong about how they view things. Jesus told Satan to back off – as He peered at Peter who was spouting nonsensical instructions to the King of Creation.

The words that followed showed Jesus’ insight into what was motivating Peter’s speech. Peter wanted his faith to be about his own satisfaction. Jesus answered that his faith MUST BE about surrender of his life, goals and even personal physical security. He urged Peter in front of the disciples to plan to lay down his life, and not to become embarrassed about Jesus’ coming arrest and death. People that make their life about themselves leave little place to featuring Jesus at the center of their lives – because they take up the whole room. Time after time, the Bible offered models of those who “gave up their lives to God” and were satisfied. It also included ample examples of those who held their own lives tightly and lost the significance of God’s powerful work through them.

The short view of the story is simple: Peter thought that since God was going to make him a significant figure in the future, Jesus needed his counsel in the present. The God Who made man needs no counsel from His Creation on this or any other matter. Arrogant men think their objections should make God change His plan, or at least explain it in ways they can readily understand. God is not under the impression that He needs our vote to run the universe. If that sounds harsh, consider the reality that if it is absolutely true, how it touches our emotions is largely irrelevant. Peter may have thought he was right to correct Jesus – but he learned the hard way.

Grouping Jesus: Peter thought Jesus was One among many.

The correction was immediately followed by another story of failure for poor Pete. Mark recorded in chapter nine:

Mark 9:1 “And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” 2 Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; 3 and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 4 Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. 7 Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” 8 All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. 9 As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead. 10 They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant. 11 They asked Him, saying, “[Why is it] that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12 And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And [yet] how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 “But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.”

The story of the Transfiguration is another story of disciple failure. Jesus guaranteed them a glimpse of the Kingdom and its power, and less than a week later, three of the disciples – Peter, James and John – got the view as promised. They were alone with Jesus, and they were amazed at the sight of Moses, Elijah and Jesus together. The King shone in glory, and former servants came to revere Him. The disciples were amazed, but didn’t really grasp what was happening. They saw Jesus as an amazing and powerful PART of what God was doing.

Peter moved to the front of the three, as he normally did, and offered to honor all three with the same prize – a sukkah (tent) or temporary shrine. He had no idea that His Master was not to be placed on the same plane with other servants of God. God interrupted from Heaven to make the point that no other voice was Jesus’ equal. They needed to really LISTEN to Jesus. They didn’t need to exalt others to be equal – they weren’t equal. Jesus, and His Word are not “one among many”.

The late Father Richard John Neuhaus (Canadian priest) said before his death a few years ago: “The dismal reality is that the church’s native language of sin and grace, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, is in danger of being displaced by the vocabulary of psychology, law and public relations.” The fact is that the Word of God is being increasingly withdrawn in favor of words that seem to hold “reasonable equivalence” in Christian schools of higher learning and now in the very pulpits of our churches across the west. Let me say it clearly: Jesus is not one among many. Today, it is necessary to say it again clearly: God’s Word is not “a truth” among many. Jesus is preeminent and God’s Word presents absolute truth. Nothing is a reasonable facsimile of the truth but the truth and no one is equal to God but God. Jesus spoke, not as a voice among many, but the voice before Whom every other knee shall bow. Peter and the boys blew it again.

Failed Faith Healing: The disciples can’t get the job done!

Pete was having a tough week! He got the right answer concerning the identity of Jesus, but followed it up with two significant failures – cautioning Jesus to change the message and positioning Jesus as One among other “hall of famers” for God. Mark wasn’t done – the record continued, but this time the pressure seemed to shift to other disciples that were also failing. Mark wrote:

Mark 9:14 “When they came [back] to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and [some] scribes arguing with them. 15 Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and [began] running up to greet Him. 16 And He asked them, “What are you discussing with them?” 17 And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it slams him [to the ground] and he foams [at the mouth], and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not [do it].” 19 And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” 20 They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he [began] rolling around and foaming [at the mouth]. 21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 “It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” 26 After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and [the boy] became so much like a corpse that most [of them] said, “He is dead!” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. 28 When He came into [the] house, His disciples [began] questioning Him privately, “Why could we not drive it out?” 29 And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”

A careful look at the verses reminds us that Jesus had only a few of the disciples, and He left the others for a time. When Peter, James, John and Jesus returned from the Transfiguration, they came upon a disappointed family, some embarrassed disciples and some argumentative scribes. The disciples were obviously out of their depth, and Jesus stepped in to rescue them.

Jesus began by asking what the trouble was all about. A man who brought his son to be healed made clear the disciples couldn’t pull off the healing. Jesus then healed the boy. In the exchange with the man before the boy’s healing, He made clear that He was not wondering of His own ability to do the work – regardless of the failure of the disciples. Jesus commanded the demon, and the demon obeyed. After the event, the disciples were obviously unsure of what they did wrong. Jesus offered a single word they missed: “Prayer”. They tried “command” but not “prayer”. Why not? The air was filled with the perfume of the self-sufficient, and the disciples went into the exchange believing they could follow what they had seen Jesus do, and what worked for them when Jesus sent them out empowered – but this time it didn’t work. Transformation of people isn’t like running a franchise or painting by numbers – it is a work of God performed in His power by those who feel entirely unable to do anything apart from His hand at work through them. God seeks those who know they cannot but believe that HE can.

Correcting the Failed Followers: Jesus offers some gentle instruction.

It was disheartening, I am certain, for the disciples to fail in public – but it was a warning to pay closer attention in the coming days. Jesus told them about His coming death and resurrection yet again (9:30-32). The point of recalling this in the text we are studying is simple: Jesus was telling them He wasn’t going to be around forever – so they needed to learn what they could while they could. Mark shared:

Mark 9:30 “From there they went out and [began] to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know [about it]. 31 For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” 32 But they did not understand [this] statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.

Ironically, it doesn’t appear the disciples really grasped what Jesus was saying at all. They were confused, but they also continued to act out in ways that were not what Jesus taught them. The disciples argued about self-importance, but were embarrassed because they knew the whole discussion wasn’t right (Mark 9:33-37).

Mark 9:33 They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He [began] to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which [of them was] the greatest. 35 Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.”

Jesus sat a child in front of them and make clear that they needed to listen and obey the way a child does. They needed to trust that He knew what He was saying, when He told them SERVANTHOOD was their true calling.

I cannot prove it, and I must be careful, but I have a sneaky suspicion that what caused the argument was the memory of the time at the region of Caesarea Philippi some weeks before when Peter was told that he would be a key to the future of the work. How could it be otherwise? I think it is highly likely that the pronouncement left some bitter taste of jealousy in some of the other men – another sign of self-sufficiency. Disciples aren’t supposed to be jealous, but that is a common side effect of those not relying on God’s empowering.

If you keep reading Mark’s account, you find disciples BECOMING DEFENSIVE about what others are doing – yet another sign of those followers of Jesus who set out on their own path – and were not relying on the work of the Spirit of God. The offended disciples “defended Jesus” by shutting others who were not part of the group down! Mark recorded (9:38-41):

Mark 9:38 John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. 40 “For he who is not against us is for us. 41 “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as [followers] of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.

The grammar is not wholly clear, but it appears the men felt that anyone who wanted to represent Jesus needed to travel with their group. How many a denomination has made the same claim in the generations since Jesus! Disciples out of step with God feel like they need to protect God’s reputation and keep things carefully controlled. They don’t need to worry; God is able to keep the ship from sinking. A defensive spirit is often a side dish to piping hot jealousy.

The snaphots close in a passage where Jesus was remembered as offering some teaching. Three specific areas are recalled at the end of the chapter:

First, Jesus addressed their reputation. They needed to be careful about how their testimony could affect those who observe them and follow them. If they allowed something, those who followed them would easily allow it as well. If they abused something, those who followed them would also themselves be abused by their faulty lifestyle. Jesus said it this way:

Mark 9:42″Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.

Second, Jesus addressed their rebellion. They needed to be careful about continuing behaviors that harmed their walk, and starved their yieldedness to God. It is easy to be distracted by some desire and feed a rebellion against God. Nothing is worth dishonoring God in a disciple’s behavior! Jesus said:

Mark 9:43 “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44 [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED]. 45″If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46 [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED]. 47 “If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.

Third, Jesus addressed their relationship with one another. He warned the men that they must work hard at standing together. Troubles would come that would easily divide them – but they needed each other. They needed to recognize the value of loyalty and do their best to keep the lines of communication and love open. When dirt and contamination is allowed into the disciple relationships, it becomes nearly impossible to get back the bonding and continue together. Jesus said it this way:

Mark 9:49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty [again]? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Our world doesn’t think like the Master Who created it. In fact, the lost world celebrated self-sufficiency with ideals like: “Blessed are the movers and the shakers, the successful, the rich, the famous, the powerful, and the self-confident.” Jesus celebrated the broken who found their completion in Him. Charles Spurgeon was reported to have once said, “Our imaginary goodness is harder to conquer than our sinful behaviors.” Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:1 and again in verse four (3:4): “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, more than lovers of God.” Do you find that hard to believe? I don’t! Most of us realize that man has no difficulty loving self; his real problem is truly loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength – enough to follow Him. That is true of Christians as well.

That is tough news, I know. Even as we grow, we must remain open to God’s continued work in us. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring! This little reminder made me smile:

A doctor called one of his patients into his office to deliver some very important news. “I have received the results of your tests and I have some bad news and some good news”, said the doctor. The patient was quiet for a moment, sensing the severity of the announcement. “Let me have the good news first, doc”, said the patient. The doctor took a deep breath and said, “You only have 24 hours to live.” “Oh my goodness”, shouted the patient, “If that’s the good news what could the bad news possibly be?” The doctor replied, “I was supposed to tell you yesterday.”

We need God at work in us daily. We need to need God daily, and know that we need God daily… We can grow in the work of ministering for Jesus – but we will never be self-sufficient in the role.

Following His Footsteps: “I Can See Clearly Now” (Part Two) – Mark 7-8

optical shimmeringwavesDid you ever see one of these “optical illusion” pictures? I saw one recently that looked like wavy lines, until I looked at it much more intensely – and then I could actually see a face peering through the lines back at me! It was a bit unnerving, but it reminded me of an important truth… our eyes can play “tricks” on us. We cannot always trust what we see…Did you ever have someone you trusted do something that was unbelievably hurtful, and you found out they were actually being deceptive? If you have ever hurt over such a broken relationship, then you have experienced the painful “learning curve” that taught you to put away the lie that “seeing is believing” – because sometimes it is NOT. Clearly we live in times where “image sculpting” occurs in advertising – changing the literal dimensions of a face or body to offer us an “ideal” that isn’t the model at all. We see it in the political world, where a bill passes that is given a snappy title that is often the very opposite of what the bill contains. As voters, we are increasingly treated to fashioned images of leaders that are carefully choreographed by consultants and pollsters.

As web users, we encounter people who make avatars, or personal icons, and then sculpt an image of their “identity” that bears no resemblance to who they are in real life. Look further, and you will see that study after study shows that online identity is significantly and often deliberately different than actual identity, and dating sites in particular have been repeatedly found to be filled with lies by those looking for someone with whom they would like to connect. Closer to home for most of us, let me ask a question in a room full of believers about how many have been ‘stung’ by passing on information that originated from a satire site that someone reported as a ‘real’ news site” – and the room will be filled with painful groans.

Recently a number of friends contacted me about the “great new archaeological finds by the Egyptian antiquities authority of some ancient chariots in the Red Sea”. The story began with a satire site that deliberately posts items on the web to trap people into looking stupid online – a way to mock the “naivety” of people who would believe the Bible in the first place. Thousands of believers chimed in to share on Facebook how excited they were about the find – but it was a deliberate hoax – and many were embarrassed. The bottom line is this: We live in a time when we must recognize that what we see may not be the truth.

This is not a new problem. We noted in our previous lesson following the life of Jesus that the Savior was surrounded by people who did not see Him clearly, and did not recognize Him for Who He is. He didn’t sculpt His image – they just see Him clearly. They didn’t see each other clearly either. They saw only part of what was truly right in front of their eyes. We noted the first two of seven stories that help us recognize an important truth. It is so important, we broke the seven stories into two lessons – but both offer the same insight…

Key Principle: In order to represent Jesus well, disciples need to see some things clearly – the depravity of the world (the extreme neediness of people) and the complete sufficiency of the Savior.

Our world has been irreparably broken since the Fall of man – it could not right itself. The immeasurably powerful Creator was our only hope – and He saved us!

The truth is that not everyone is blind to these truths. Some people are able to see their need of a Savior, and their desperate condition– though they aren’t often the people we would expect to be able to do so. We noted that in Mark 7:1-23, neither the Pharisees, nor the disciples of Jesus could reliably see that man was so desperately broken inside – and that Jesus was their only hope. Pharisees thought they could change the inside of men by making them conform to religious cleansing and behavioral practices. The disciples bought into the same idea (because their world view up to that point overwhelmed their mind to prejudice them about what Jesus taught), and they needed to be corrected by the Savior. You would think that a doctor in the Law would be able to pick out the truth about the inner problem of man – but that isn’t true – because proximity to truth doesn’t guarantee understanding. A scientist can look at the extremely well-ordered structure of a cell in a microscope, but still conclude that it happened by random forces without any purpose – it happens in laboratories all over the western world today.

At the same time, proximity to those who carry the truth, though positive, is no guarantee that one will think correctly. Some of the greatest opponents of the church are those who grew up in one. The disciples remind us that you can spend significant time near to Jesus and His Word, and not see things more clearly. It takes an open heart that leads to a transformed mind to recognize what God is doing.

Here is the surprising part…As the passage continued, Mark showed the most unlikely people often see things more clearly than those who we think “ought to see”. Let’s observe one who DID see the truth…

The Syrophoenician woman saw things clearly (7:24-30).

Mark recorded:

Mark 7:24 Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre . And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice. 25 But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.” 29 And He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” 30 And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.

Let’s look a bit more closely at these verses for a moment. As we do that, note that Jesus left the region of the kosher villages of Galilee, and set off north and west to the coastal regions of what today would be southern Lebanon. He made His way to a “retreat” or “withdrawal” with the disciples, and made an attempt to do so quietly – without any fanfare or crowds. The Master apparently saw the “handwriting on the wall” with the Pharisees and recognized His disciples needed to be removed from their midst in order to have their default ideology reshaped.

Mark was careful to identify the woman who approached Jesus as a local Gentile woman. He was careful to identify the need she presented as well. Her daughter was afflicted by a demonic presence and the mother begged to have Jesus send it away. The very first thing we see about the woman is her IDENTITY, but the next thing we learn is her BELIEF SYSTEM. Our last story about the Pharisees and the disciples made clear that those who had the right identity didn’t necessarily have the right belief system – and this story is a direct contrast with that one. This woman trusted that Jesus was able to deliver her child. She knew desperation – but she believed in hope. When Jesus resisted because she was a Gentile (and salvation was of the Jews), the woman replied that she was not under the impression Jesus was there for her, but humbly would accept any scrap the Master may throw in her family’s direction. Her voice rang with humility, in direct contrast to the Pharisaic voices of presumption. One of the problems of living around so much Biblical truth is that we begin to be puffed up and presume that our knowledge of God is actually a way to control His actions – and that is wrong.

The Syrophoenician woman made clear that she saw the people Jesus came to reach as the children of the message, but she was willing to accept whatever He gave her family – and the Master gave her what she craved – the child was freed. Mark reported that she left Him, but went home to discover the child made well, free of the demonic presence. Let me posit a thought: the hesitation to heal the child was both to make clear Jesus’ message and ministry, as well as to keep His ministry quiet in the region. When the child was made well, the whole area heard and began to respond, forcing Jesus to move to another location to do what He planned – to spend alone time with the disciples. He needed time to teach them quietly, and the enemy did everything possible to keep that from happening. We will see that unfold in the next story, as Jesus tries to stay quiet and instruct the disciples…

The healed didn’t recognize obedience clearly (7:31-37)

Changing from his approach in this series of stories on understanding through “eyesight”, Mark dropped in a story about a man that couldn’t hear, and when his ears were unblocked, he still couldn’t hear in his heart well enough to obey the Master. It was still a “truth perception” issue, but this time through the hearing. Mark wrote:

Mark 7:31 Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. 32 They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. 33 Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; 34 and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” 35 And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. 36 And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. 37 They were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Like the last story, this one began with a journey. He left the region of what is now southern Lebanon, and proceeded past Galilee into the east side of the Sea of Galilee, where the Gentile cities of the Decapolis were located – an area He was less well known and a place He was looking again for some quiet time. Some of the people of the region had heard of the Nazarene, and brought to Jesus man who could not speak well, because he was deaf. They asked, just as the Syrophoenician had, for a healing. Jesus took the man to a secluded spot because He wasn’t trying to call attention to His work – that wasn’t why He was there. He miraculously healed the man’s hearing, as well as his speech impediment – and the man was changed.

After not being able to hear for an extended period, the Master spoke to him directly – and the first clear sentences he heard were those that ordered him to keep quiet about the Healer, so that Jesus could spend time there is seclusion. The man heard the words with his renewed ears, but disregarded them because his heart was not new. He promptly disobeyed what he was told – probably thinking he was serving a “good purpose” by ignoring the word of Jesus and doing what he “thought” would please God.

In our day, we see this all the time. We see a buckling from standing by the expressed word of God for some “compassionate reason”. We see people ignoring the written text and violating the standard “for love” or “for outreach”. What is essential for us is simple humility: We don’t know more than God, and we aren’t more compassionate than He is. If He gives an instruction, we may not understand all the reasons why He did – but ours isn’t to evaluate God’s abilities – just to obey God’s Word. The man didn’t obey – and he will ever be remembered for that response to God’s goodness.

The Disciples didn’t readily recognize the Savior’s ability to provide (Mark 8:1-10).

As Mark continued to show us “some who perceived truth and many who did not” – he offered another story about the disciples in the string…

Mark 8:1 In those days, when there was again a large crowd and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples and said to them, 2 “I feel compassion for the people because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 “If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a great distance.” 4 And His disciples answered Him, “Where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” 5 And He was asking them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” 6 And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the people. 7 They also had a few small fish; and after He had blessed them, He ordered these to be served as well. 8 And they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces. 9 About four thousand were there; and He sent them away. 10 And immediately He entered the boat with His disciples and came to the district of Dalmanutha.

The scene, by now, is all too familiar to us. People were in a place where there were no kosher bakers – they weren’t far from cities – but they were Gentile cities. Jesus ministered and crowds came. They loved hearing His words, and they wanted to spend time near Him – but they didn’t bring sufficient food with them. Truthfully, away from home there was little they could do to keep food preserved well, so a bit of bread, some olives and some dried fish may have been the best they could hope to get. This time, people were there for three days – at least some of them. They were out of food and hungry – and Jesus didn’t want to send them home with stomachs empty, for fear they would collapse along the way from hunger and exhaustion.

Jesus saw hungry people on a hillside – and so did His disciples. What Jesus did next is what He often did; He drew the disciples into the situation, so that He could include them in His solution. The remarkable thing is that problems are often God’s way of blessing us – because He invites us into His miraculous power to solve issues we cannot. Jesus deliberately enlisted the help of the men, for this is what God does. He could have simply sent a full-grown man as Messiah, but He enlisted a young unmarried girl who had “never known a man”.

The only kind of people God truly wants working for Him are the people who don’t think they are worthy, and clearly don’t have the ability to solve the issues apart from the empowering of God. People who are arrogant repel the Spirit of God. People who see themselves as self-sufficient make themselves ineligible to be used. The great mystery of God is that He chooses to use most mightily the humblest and least able among us. That is how we can so easily see His fingerprints on what is accomplished in and through us.

The disciples did exactly what many of us would have done – they looked at the physical assets and concluded they didn’t have an answer. What they forgot – what is so easy to forget – is that they were ADDRESSING THE ANSWER. Jesus didn’t point out the problem because He needed consultation on how to fix the problem. He called them to see the problem so that He could show them what was on his heart, and how they could be used of Him. That is why Jesus directed them back to the loaf count. He said in 8:5: “How many loaves do you have?” They had seven, and Jesus told them to have the people sit on the ground, and to give the loaves to Him. In the Bible, God sometimes brings water from a rock, or drops manna from the wind – but most of the time He asks us to bring what we HAVE first, and let Him use whatever that is to solve the problem. As they were serving the bread, they discovered some salted fish, and Jesus told them to add them to the day’s menu!

The people were fed and were satisfied, and the four thousand were then sent home. Jesus traveled by boat across the Sea of Galilee to the area west of Capernaum called Dalmanutha. On the trip back, I am quite sure the disciples reflected on what Jesus did through them and for them. The lesson had much more impact and was deeply personal – because they participated in the miraculous distribution. Herein is the great privilege of the work.

We don’t save people – but we bring the message that can. We don’t heal marriages – but we offer the family-saving, living Word that is able to light the broken path for the hurting couple – even if the wounds are self-inflicted. We can’t conquer addictions, but we can watch God bring power to a person once resigned to weakened victimization. We can’t break the stubborn heart and turn it to God – but the kindness, power and piercing truth of God’s Word can do all of that work – and we get the opportunity to share it. The only requirement God has for us is that we do all that we can not to hinder the work of the Spirit by adopting the world’s attitudes, and by participating in the lost world’s unholy actions. When we present ourselves to Him – the collaboration begins, and the lessons we gain from the participation are deep.

Mark wasn’t finished… there were two more short illustrations about the ability to see clearly…

The Disciples didn’t see how the Pharisees’ teaching hurt them (Mark 8:11-21).

Our world has an impact on us, and the world view of the teachers who have attempted to teach us about life and its purpose have left an etching on our heart. Sometimes they have done this to our benefit. Often, they have done it to our hurt. Let me show you through something Mark 8 shared long ago…

Mark 8:11 The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. 12 Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”13 Leaving them, He again embarked and went away to the other side. 14 And they had forgotten to take bread, and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them. 15 And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 They began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? 18 “HAVING EYES, DO YOU NOT SEE? AND HAVING EARS, DO YOU NOT HEAR? And do you not remember, 19 when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” 20 “When I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?” And they said to Him, “Seven.” 21 And He was saying to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

The story opened with a conflict – an argument the Pharisees raised with Jesus – a demand that He produce a sign to validate the words that He taught. Jesus flatly refused to be led by them, and took the disciples away from them. The disciples didn’t know this was going to happen, and the trip came upon them suddenly. As a result, they forgot to pack bread, as they rushed to the boat and out onto the water. Jesus turned and told them: “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” When He finished teaching them, they were quietly chatting amongst themselves about what the Master was talking about, and Jesus corrected them.

Here is the truth: The world around us IS having a devastating impact on the modern believer, just as the Pharisees – with their wrong world view – was having an impact on the disciples of Jesus in the beginning. We are all very susceptible to the world’s standards. We laugh at what our world does. We hunger for the foods prepared in a fallen world. Not everything is wrong, false and harmful – but much of it is. Worse yet, it is all prepared on a foundation at enmity with God.

John later wrote these words from the Spirit of God: 1 John 2:15 “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and [also] its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.

Don’t misread what John wrote in those words. He didn’t say, “Hate the people of the world.” He said that the “world” he was speaking of was three prevalent attitudes that exude from the broken world system led by fallen men. First, there was the “lust of the flesh”. Second, there was the “lust of the eyes”. Finally, there was the “boastful pride of life”. What are these attitudes? If we are to refuse to love them, to coil away from them and refuse to let them lead us – we must know more of them.

• The “lust of the flesh” is: the word “lust” is “epithumia” – and denotes an intense desire or a burning hunger for something. This is something that captures the mind and intensely yearns to be satisfied. It is a want, a desire, and in most cases it is something that masquerades as an immediate need. The term “flesh” is “sarx” – a Greek term that isn’t necessarily a negative one at all. It is the word for “things of this world” or “material things”. The whole phrase simply means this: “A burning hunger to satisfy one’s self with things that are entirely of the material world.” No believer is to frame satisfaction from things found here, apart from their direct connection to the God that made them. Food is good, but it cannot satisfy us for more than a few hours, and must not become the focus of our life beyond celebrating God’s provision. Every desire of a physical nature is to be placed under the Spirit’s control and not to drive our behavior. We must be controlled in thought and action. We must be submitted to God and ready for His approval and call to service. Let me say it simply: “Don’t intensely yearn for things of the flesh, or they will lead you away from the things of God.” Be careful how much time you allow yourself to dwell on the pleasures of this world – because we are easily trapped into feeding our flesh while starving our soul.

• The “lust of the eye” is: Like the intense burning after all things physical, the lust of the eye is a creative idiom for a covetous, greedy or self-consumed mind. We “see” things that we want all the time (that is what a buffet line is for!) – but this is about craving things not given to us. This is about dwelling on things we want but cannot afford, things we dream of “owning” but could easily become “owned by”. This is the automobile that you buy that costs more than you can afford, so you enslave yourself to extra hours at work to get. It is about the house that you “simply must have” that swallows up your life. It is the boat you dream about, until it becomes the time-sucking idol of every sunny day.

• The “boastful pride of life” is: the term “boastful” is a translation of the Greek term “alazoneia” (al-ad-zon-i’-a), which could be accurately termed “an arrogant display”. The idea is one who lives the values of our day arrogantly, boastfully and without hesitation. If Jesus’ followers were called to be humble and meek (strength under control), those living the “boastful pride of life” would be living the opposite values.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, he summarized a great many of us: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (Lewis, C.S., The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. San Francisco: Harper Collins).

There is yet one more short story – the end of the series of “clear sight” that may be the most obvious example of all.

It may take MORE for some men to see clearly (Mark 8:22-26).

Mark capped off the set of stories with a “two-stage” healing – the only one in the Gospels of this kind when he wrote:

Mark 8:22 And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. 23 Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” 25 Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. 26 And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.

Someone brought a blind friend to Jesus to have his sight restored. Jesus took him aside to a quiet place and spit on His eyes, laid hands of him and asked him if he saw anything. Notice, Jesus didn’t ask if he saw things clearly, only if he could see something at all. Jesus was healing, but He was also teaching. The man replied that he saw people walking around, but they were fuzzy, unfocused… in fact they looked more like trees. Jesus touched his eyes a second time, and clarity came. The scene ended with Jesus telling the man, as He told others before, to be quiet about it – but this time He went the extra step of telling him to go somewhere other than the village he was brought from – so Jesus could get more time to be alone with His disciples.

The “two stage” healing was purposeful – not for Jesus, and not for the blind man – but for the disciples. The whole series of stories has been about their inability to see Jesus clearly. They listened to the Pharisees and didn’t truly grasp Jesus’ teaching. They avoided Gentiles, and didn’t see that some of them were more in tune with what Jesus was doing than His own countrymen. They watched Him multiply loaves for crowds on a number of occasions, and yet they seemed unsure of how they would face a lack of bread on an afternoon boat trip. They didn’t see clearly. They thought Pharisees were holy and Gentiles were useless. They thought that a lack of bread was a big problem for the One Who could calm the seas and feed the masses.

The truth is that many believers don’t really see things as they are. They don’t see lost people as truly and perilously facing a Christ-less eternity and a horrible end. Their next door neighbor seems so good and moral – they forget that depravity is a state of being that cannot be breached by good behavior – or the Messiah need not have died. Believers panic privately and online that sickness may overtake them or senseless evil may befall them – while they forget the Jesus is standing by watching over them.

Beloved, we must pick up the truth of the Word and see it clearly, while we proclaim it unceasingly. We must represent the Gospel as it truly is. Man is lost – good men and bad men – for the standard isn’t “goodness”, but “righteousness”. That cannot be attained by religion, right behavior or wrestling with self-discipline. There is no hope for the brokenness of the human condition apart from Jesus.

In order to represent Jesus well, disciples need to see some things clearly – the depravity of the world (the extreme neediness of people) and the complete sufficiency of the Savior.

Many years ago, Pastor John Piper gave an illustration that is worth considering when thinking about our need of a Savior…

Picture two people in a car out for a drive along the north shore. The rider knows that there is a time bomb in the trunk and that any second might blow the car to pieces. The driver doesn’t believe there is one, and thinks that his rider is insane. The state patrol has been alerted that the car is indeed loaded with a bomb that will soon go off. They begin their search and pursuit. The rider suddenly sees the State Patrol far in the distance to the rear racing toward the car. His heart leaps with hope for possible rescue! If you are the rider who knows that there is a bomb in the trunk, the flashing red lights in the distance are very precious, and the closer they get, the more precious they become. But if you are the driver and you don’t think that there is a bomb in the trunk, the flashing red lights are a threat.

Many in our world don’t believe the time bomb is set to go off – but the Bible is clear. They are running out of time. They are losing time with each beat of their heart – facing a certain end. The whole planet is running out of time. The rider who knows must do all he or she can to make that clear – the danger is certain and the Rescuer is ready to deliver them.

Following His Footsteps: “I Can See Clearly Now” (Part One) – Mark 7-8

digital watchIf you liked the old clunky digital watch, and you have a special place for the songs from the musical “Grease” in your heart, you probably lived through and remember 1972. That was the year that video games entered our American homes, and PONG became all the rage! The Swedish group “Abba” was formed that year, and it was also the year Johnny Nash wrote and performed the song “I Can See Clearly Now”. It reached all the way to the number one position on the Billboard top 100 chart. The song was optimistic, and said: “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright), Sun-Shiny day.” What a nice thought…Who can’t get excited about seeing obstacles move from your path and sun light up your way?

I mention the song, because the title sets up a series of stories from the life of Jesus that are about that very concept – seeing clearly. As the popular ministry of Jesus was waning by the time recorded in Mark 7 and 8 the disciples were still seeing Jesus in a “blurry way”, and the people in the society – especially leaders like the Pharisees, were still utterly blinded when it came to recognizing Jesus. Our text offers seven short snapshot stories (in this lesson we will see two of them), each that show something important about clear sight and recognition of Jesus.

Key Principle: In order to represent Jesus well, disciples need to see some things clearly – the depravity of the world (the extreme neediness of people) and the complete sufficiency of the Savior.

The first two snapshots of the passage indicate that neither the religious leaders nor the disciples of Jesus saw the utter depravity of people – and these two are what we want to examine in this lesson. It is an essential idea for the Gospel to make sense – people must know they are LOST to recognize the need to be SAVED…

Story One: The Pharisees couldn’t see depravity clearly; they thought they could “fix” people from the outside.

This is the common problem of religious people. Religious people honestly believe that if they change the behavior of people, they can get access to their heart and can make real and lasting change. Look at how the Gospel records the issue:

Mark 7:1 The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, 2 and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) 5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” 6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 7 ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ 8 “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” 9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 “For Moses said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER ‘; and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH ‘; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”

As you scan the passage, look at the Pharisees closely. What do you see? First, you will probably notice they were intensely watching what other people were doing, and they were all too ready to get offended at behaviors to which they didn’t agree (7:1-4). Though some could argue that these men felt particularly responsible for other Jews as leaders, the way they handled the situation demonstrated they were more concerned with being offended than correcting behavior. If you have been around religious people often, you may recognize that impulse.

As believers, we need to be very careful not to emulate this. It would be easy for us to waste our energy scanning the internet to get enraged by bad behavior. We may actually believe we are “staying informed” when we are, in fact, staying “unbelievably grumpy” because we hit the “enraged button” a hundred times a day. I encourage you to get up and talk to real people in your life. More people are changed by what you are FOR than what you are against, if you communicate it with passion and maintain a more positive sense of people. In every age since the Garden man has lived in a continual state of rebellion, and it is not healthy for you to keep binoculars focused on sinners so that you can be sufficiently upset at the “darkness of our times”.

If you keep reading, you will note that verse five (7:5) the question on the heart of the Pharisees was directly exposed when they asked Jesus a question, but the words were laden with presuppositions. The words were: “Why don’t they wash their hands?” That is safe enough. It is the end of the sentence that betrayed their thinking when they said: “Why do they eat with impure hands?” In other words, they spoke as though Jesus agreed that if they hadn’t washed their hands the way the Pharisees taught, they were eating with impurity. The truth is, they hadn’t made their case. They assumed that what they believed, because they believed it strongly, was evident to everyone – but it wasn’t.

In this, we also need to be careful not to mimic the ancient Pharisees. Frequently on Facebook or Social Media, I notice that a Christian will enter a discussion and throw their “Bible verse” into the discussion as if it is evident to all that if the Bible says it is true, everyone else agrees to that idea. The truth is that in our society most people don’t think the Biblical answers are any more than interesting ancient anecdotes. That isn’t my view, and it is probably not your view – but it is MOST people’s view. When we speak as though the verse we believe ends the discussion – they look at us with a puzzled face. I would argue that we aren’t connecting with them when we do that – but rather we sound dissonant, judgmental and bossy. Because the Word is true doesn’t mean everyone sees it that way – so we will need to remember the other ingredient in our presentation: “speaking the truth in love”. Bible verses that settle issues in our midst don’t settle issues in the local PTA.

There other way – far more effective and every bit as true – is to use care and grace to explain why what the Bible instructs has proven to be effective at making society work. Remember, you will always reach many more people with grace than with a dogmatic sound.

Take, for example, this story passed to me the other day. A woman wrote a story about a sad song Garth Brooks sang about motherhood. It was a real tear-jerker – and if you have seen it I know you agree. They posted a YouTube of the song on a morning show. Beneath it, someone wrote a comment that said something like: “I hate this. I grew up without a mom, and I am just fine. I wish people wouldn’t shove that in our faces like we all need something they think we need. I didn’t and I don’t care what he thinks!” Well… Christian friends…start your engines… Out came the Bibles. She was scolded for mocking God’s design. She was derided for whining. She was “set straight” by many who had good moms. What no one did was stop and write to her and ask her what was hard about the experience. What no one did was show her LOVE and offer her GRACE. At the end of the discussion, the Christians scored all the points on the board, but the woman was not reached. I submit that Satan kept his grip on her life, and the Christians did little but pat themselves on the back that they “held the fort of truth”. Can you see the Pharisee in the story?

Jesus answered the “Kosher Police” with a few words that are worth the time to really soak in. In verse six he quoted a prophet from long before and told them their mouths were doing a better job of sounding pious than their heart was doing actually BEING PIOUS. Can anyone relate to that problem? Would you love me less if I admitted that I live with that problem every day? I can teach truth much easier than I can live truth – how about you? Jesus’ words sting me often: “THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.”

The Master went on to make plain that these men did more than live as hypocrites (since we all do that!). They elevated their own teaching to the level of God’s Holy Word – and that emptied the value of their worship – since God desires obedience over any ritual men put together. He made clear that while they emphasized their own teaching, they neglected the teaching of God’s commands, and even felt comfortable “setting aside” the commands of God when they didn’t fit into their lives comfortably.

In verses ten to thirteen, Jesus used an illustration of exactly what they were doing. They were commanded to honor their parents and care for them. Some of them, when they made money, instead of caring for their parent’s needs, gave large gifts and set aside large endowments in the public eye to get better positions and be affirmed as “benefactors” by men. They traded what was good for their parents for what was good for THEM and THEIR REPUTATION – all the while looking like it was for a reverent cause.

Jesus said they were, in effect “invalidating the word of God by their tradition” and that they were guilty of “many things such as that.” Here is another important lesson for the believer of our time. We may believe some pretty detailed theology. We may have a very good chart that explains what we believe and how we came to that point. What we cannot do, what we MUST not do – is forget to keep the main things central to our teaching and our behavior. Red-faced screaming of theological truth is invalidated by our method of delivery. You can say the right thing the wrong way – and it will become useless and vain.

The Pharisees cloaked their selfish desires for importance and affirmation in religious robes – but God was not fooled by their pious sound. Believers who truly want to please the Master must be warned – for there were several things the Pharisees didn’t seem to see that Jesus made plain.

First, purity doesn’t come from cleaning only the outside of anything. Sin is an issue of the heart, not the hands. You can be an effective sinner while paralyzed from the neck down. All you need to be able to rebel against God and His Word is a mind set to do so. Wash the outside of the hands and thoroughly clean the pots – that will deal with behavior and conformity – but won’t change the heart. That requires INSIDE cleansing of the spiritual variety – and God alone can effectively do that when we surrender to Him.

Second, no human tradition, no matter how carefully constructed, matters like obedience to the principles found in God’s Word. King Saul’s biggest post-Amalekite barbeque couldn’t make up for simple, clear disobedience. God isn’t interested in vast and elaborate religious displays made by un-surrendered people. Many people in the history of the church could just as well have stayed home as opposed to the production they put on to curry the favor of a God they didn’t worship nearly as much as they did their own appetites.

Third, the amount of rules we keep don’t equate to simple heart surrender – just religious busyness. It is possible to be incredibly busy serving a God you have little or no relationship with – people in church do it all the time. We have an elder who will tell you he was incredibly busy in church, serving for years a God he did not personally know. Serving replaces loving when serving is all we have to show with our lives.

Fourth, it is entirely possible to use religious tradition to hurt people, while ignoring my Word completely. In the case of the Pharisees, they literally took from their own parents to feed their own ego and gain in public popularity. “What kind of person would do that?” you might ask. The kind that would rather work the extra hours that spend time with their children, because their kids are “such a pain to deal with” – they would be the type we are reading about.

The bottom line was that Jesus knew what the teachers of the Law didn’t know – men weren’t innocent until ruined by society, or left behind simply by insufficient teaching on righteous practices – men and women were born irreparably damaged – apart from a move of God! The brokenness is referred to as utter depravity. The passage moved past the Pharisees, but it is clear that the disciples had learned what the Pharisaic culture was teaching well….

Story Two: The Disciples couldn’t see depravity clearly.

Look at the way Mark made clear the disciples didn’t get the picture any more clearly….

Mark 7:14 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. 16 [“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”] 17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. 18 And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated ?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy , slander, pride and foolishness. 23 “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

When you read the account of Jesus’ words – you must be very careful. Remember that the one problem with Jesus’ sayings are that they were likely translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic forms that had poor construction for COMPARATIVES. In other words, when one wanted to say, for instance, that “Mary chose the better part” by sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha served the meals – the way to phrase it was “Mary chose the good part” – as if Martha was somehow deficient for keeping the place together instead of letting the pot boil over as she listened to Jesus. Semitic language doesn’t have the variety of ways of constructing comparatives. As a result, Jesus will urge people to love the Lord and “hate their mother and father”, when all He wanted people to do was love the Lord with so much more intensity than any earthly relationship. This passage is another comparative problem…

The truth is that there is MUCH that can go into a man or woman to defile them – and any clear reading of the Law would force you to conclude that. Jesus wasn’t actually trying to argue against those laws – only to say that the problem is minor by comparison to the HUGE PROBLEM people already have – the rebellious heart inside. Pharisees thought external practices could fix internal rebellion – but that doesn’t work. There are no rules that can be applied to a rebellious person that will make them truly obedient – only compliant. They may do what you ask because they don’t want a hassle over it.

Just like you “can’t make someone love you if they don’t”, so you “can’t make someone submissive to God if they won’t”. You can make them do what you want, but that isn’t the same thing as relieving them of the burden of a rebellious heart.

When Jesus went inside, He explained again the saying to the disciples – because they still could understand what He was truly saying. When you have been brought up in a world of religious externals, simple spiritual truths can be hard to grasp. Jesus told them the problem wasn’t defilement of the life through the stomach, but defilement by means of things that enter the heart that encourage its continued rebellion. He went on to say that even without outside help, the heart could pump out its own sewage.

Jesus taught that man was NOT basically good; he was not then subsequently ruined by poor social models and an improper upbringing. He didn’t simply “lack opportunities” that caused him to behave so badly. Jesus made clear: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts…” that we are going to see described. In other words – “the troubles between men come from the troubles within men”. Sinners don’t become sinners because of what they do – they do what they do because of what they already are. We all have sinful and rebellious inner natures – and so we rebel as naturally as we breathe. To learn to do otherwise requires the Spirit’s work of transformation.

Jesus spelled out the things that men have seeping out of the cracks of their stubborn heart in twelve sad symptoms. Look at the ways the sin nature shows:

1. He began with the term “fornications”, translated by Mark with the Greek word porneia. That term means promiscuity or if it is used in imagery it can mean idolatry. It is essentially selling myself to something that has become more important than a relationship with God. Jesus said people will easily put their sexual desires before a love for God.

2. Jesus said the sin nature causes “thefts” – the word “klopay” comes from a word that means “sneaky or under cover” and is usually used to mean dealing someone out of what is rightfully theirs. Jesus said people will try to trick people to get stuff that they didn’t rightfully earn.

3. The Master used the term “murders” and made clear that intentional, unjustified homicide came from a sinful heart. Men and women have an unbelievable capacity for cruelty to one another. Jesus said people will kill just because they can.

4. The Savior used the term “adulteries”, a word that means a casual breach of the marriage covenant – and there is little I need to say about this. Jesus said people will trash their most carefully worded commitment for a short season of pleasure because they are broken inside.

5. Jesus used the term “deeds of coveting” (pleonexia) which is a the term that comes from “counting numerically more” but is really about unbridled greed. Jesus said people will make a voracious appetite for “more” something to be admired – because of their sin nature.

6. The Savior used the terms “deeds of wickedness” (ponayria) to denote people who will deliberately causing pain and suffering. Jesus said human torture came from the rebellion in the Garden, and that we have it in the human condition because of our fallen state.

7. Jesus used the term “deceit” (dolos), a term that means deliberate “baiting” or “hooking” of people into something that will cause excessive emotional pain. Jesus said the weak would be trapped by the stronger because of the sin nature.

8. The Master spoke of “sensuality” (aselgia), which is a term for outrageous lewdness that rejects restraint. Jesus said people would become more and more vulgar and brazen about sin because they are broken inside.

9. The Lord spoke of “envy” (opthalmos: the word for the eye) by using an image word that meant excessive “gazing” at other’s things. Jesus said people will watch what everyone else has and be jealous if they don’t think they got as much – even if they don’t work for it – because we are sinners.

10. Jesus mentioned “slander” (blasphemia) which is an interesting term. Literally it is taken from the word “slow” (sluggish) to call something “good” (that truly is good). In the Christian Scriptures it is used for “switches” as in “right for wrong” (and wrong for right), i.e. One who calls what God disapproves, “right” which “exchanges the truth of God for a lie”, as in Romans 1. Jesus said people will make their own rules and trash God’s law – because they are sinners.

11. The Savior used the term “pride” (huperayfaneia)- a term that literally means “excessive shining” – but He used it to mean self-exaltation and self-absorption. Jesus said people will put themselves first because their heart is broken from the Fall of Man.

12. Finally, Jesus used the term “foolishness” (aphrosune), which is sometimes used to mean “impiety” but often should be thought of as a “lack of perspective”, emphasizing its quality (foolishness). Jesus said people will give their whole lives to things that don’t really matter because their sin nature blinds them.

He finished by making clear to the disciples the problem was already inside. In verse twenty-three (7:23) He said: “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.

Stop and consider what the Lord was saying for a moment. Jesus wasn’t under the impression that if we offered people enough social programs, spent enough money on education and made everyone prosperous, we would live in utopia. People still would not be made well. Spiritual change – inner cleansing was absolutely essential to outer peace and harmony. People can be cruel and will be cruel until they are fixed inside. Let’s be absolutely clear: Jesus didn’t have an optimistic view of humanity apart from God’s intervention and transformation.

Another very important point to make before we close this lesson is this: The disciples were not much clearer on the true source of sinfulness than were the Pharisees that taught them in the synagogues as they grew up. That is a TREMENDOUSLY IMPORTANT TRUTH for followers of Jesus even today. We must RECOGNIZE man’s brokenness inside – it is the backdrop of all that we do.

Because of the Fall of man and the truth that we are all sinners, we must ever recognize that we aren’t good – even as followers of Jesus. We cannot trust in ourselves to fix ourselves or anyone else. Believers who forget their own sinfulness get haughty and hard to live with. Pharisees of old have nothing on Christians of the present. Some of us act as if we never have sinned when we deal with the co-worker who is obviously floundering, or the brother who has clearly fumbled their testimony. We do well to remember that we are among the sinners Jesus was speaking of when He talked about the fallen condition and its symphony of sounds.

There is another reason we should recall the sin nature that is just as important, and related intricately to our mission. We must not see the lost as our enemies but as victims of God’s enemy chained to their own fallen nature and in need of the key that will open the lock – that will keep our presentation gracious. When we see ourselves as broken, we don’t talk down to the lost – but across to them. We whisk with a cool and refreshing wind of freedom instead of stifling the room with fetid condemnation.

In order to represent Jesus well, disciples need to see some things clearly – the depravity of the world (the extreme neediness of people) and the complete sufficiency of the Savior.

We have mentioned much in this passage about the PROBLEM of man – the brokenness of his heart and the wickedness that lurks beneath the surface of the masks that we wear – but we would be remiss if we didn’t speak of the GOOD NEWS. God has broken the curse of sin in Jesus!

Paul told the Galatians:

Galatians 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

• The law leaves me with a need to perform, and I am not consistent.
• The law leaves me with atonement – a covering – but not truly clean. The dirt is under the covering.
• The law leaves me needing to do right things again after I do wrong things – it never stops.

Then came Jesus. He became the curse. He embodied it. He grabbed it and wore it for me. He was a condemned man – even though none of the punishment was for His own wrongdoing. He was ME.

Now I can have what I couldn’t manufacture – His righteousness. His complete cleanliness of spirit. His child-place in the Father’s house.. because of Jesus.

There was a certain old recluse who lived deep in the mountains of Colorado. When he died, distant relatives came from the city to collect his valuables. Upon arriving, all they saw was an old shack with an outhouse beside it. Inside the shack, next to the rock fireplace, was an old cooking pot and his mining equipment. A cracked table with a three-legged chair stood guard by a tiny window, and a kerosene lamp served as the centerpiece for the table. In a dark corner of the little room was a dilapidated cot with a threadbare bedroll on it. They picked up some of the old relics and started to leave. As they were driving away, an old friend of the recluse, on his mule, flagged them down. “Do you mind if I help myself to what’s left in my friend’s cabin?” he asked. “Go right ahead,” they replied. After all, they thought, what inside that shack could be worth anything? The old friend entered the shack and walked directly over the table. He reached under it and lifted one of the floor boards. He then proceeded to take out all the gold his friend had discovered over the past 53 years – enough to have built a palace. The recluse died with only his friend knowing his true worth. As the friend looked out of the little window and watched the cloud of dust behind the relative’s car disappear, he said, “They should have got to know him better.

In order to represent Jesus well, disciples need to see some things clearly – the depravity of the world (the extreme neediness of people) and the complete sufficiency of the Savior.

Following His Footsteps: “Taking a Punch” – Mark 6

take punchOne of the most important things a boxer needs to know is how to “take a punch”. Without that knowledge, the rest of his or her boxing abilities won’t amount to much just after the “ding” of the bell at the beginning of round one. It isn’t only about how to deliver a blow to the opponent (though that will help score points for the judges), it is about how to receive a blow and remain standing. Judges take a dim view of boxers who take naps during the fight, and there are no famous narcoleptic boxers. In opening our lesson from the life and ministry of Jesus today, I don’t have in mind the sport of boxing, at this moment, as much as the way this truth about “taking a punch” plays in everyday life. I especially like the words of Bill Cosby, when he said: “Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” Humor is certainly one great way to cope with the troubles and tough situations of our lives – but there are others. Sometimes the punch hits so hard, laughing isn’t really an option.

In this lesson, we want to look at another way to cope – one taught by Jesus to His Disciples before His departure from them. Jesus helped the men learn endurance in the face of bad news and rising troubles – and He did it primarily through His example. He modeled endurance and poise when bad news arrived so that His disciples had ample opportunity to see how to face adversity and its accompanying fear with a sober but positive spirit. The setting in the Gospels is a time nearing the end of the “Popular Ministry” and the beginning of a series of “withdrawals” of Jesus to the regions further afield from the shores of the Kinnerret (the Sea of Galilee). The stories from this period of ministry can help us understand what a disciple needs to see and experience in order to be matured and ready for a life of service to Jesus – and that is the point of the record. In this section of the Gospel of Mark (found in chapter six), five stories were deliberately strung together to help us examine even further how Jesus trained the Disciples for the work they had ahead in the face of devastating news. None of them knew the scope of the work of the Kingdom – but Jesus did. He knew how to prepare them, and how to leave a record behind that helps us understand how to prepare the “diamond in the rough” follower of Jesus and make him or her into an ambassador for the King of Kings. This string of accounts led to a singular truth…

Key Principle: Real ministry looks past the personal hurt of bad responses to faithfully represent God’s message to people. Some will respond positively, others will not. Our work is the representation – not the outcome.

Let’s face it, that is easier to say than to do. We all want to be affirmed by people around us. At the same time, Jesus didn’t train the men to do what they would naturally do, but what was counter-intuitive. Look at the “training stories”:

Story One: Jesus Returns to Nazareth

After refusing to go out and see His family while preaching in Capernaum, Jesus probably expected a “chilly reception” back in Nazareth – but He went for another visit:

Mark 6:1 Jesus went out from there and came into His hometown; and His disciples followed Him. 2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man [get] these things, and what is [this] wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? 3 “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his [own] relatives and in his [own] household.” 5 And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He wondered at their unbelief. And He was going around the villages teaching.

There are three parts to the story recorded in these short verses, and each part offers a practical lesson to the modern believer:

The Learning Situation (6:1-2)

The first part of the record recalls the teaching work of Jesus for His Disciples: Jesus intended a learning situation and the disciples were observers of the lesson (6:1). They observed the way people responded to Jesus, because in the future they would need to recognize proper and improper responses. In this case the responses were (6:2-3):

• They were amazed but not open: “From where did He get these things?” They weren’t in disagreement as much as in disbelief of the source.

• They saw wisdom but not its source: “What is this wise teaching given to Him?” They acknowledged the wise words, but not as from God.

• They saw power but it was blunted by familiarity: “What are these miracles wrought by His hands?”

People readily admitted what Jesus said and did caused marvel beyond their expectation. Yet, they assumed He must have taken His teaching from somewhere (or someone) else, as if to discount the message. Here is the truth: One of the oldest methods the enemy has used against truth is to “tag” the bearer with some deficiency (which is usually easy) and thereby discount the message they bring. This is effective against the church – because, after two thousand years of both good and bad works, with both true but errant followers as well as some hucksters that claimed to be followers – there is plenty to complain about in Church history. In modern witness for Jesus, most people aren’t offended at Jesus and what He taught – but rather the flawed and ragged witness of the church over time raises their complaints.

What can we do? Some proclaim the church must somehow make greater strides to “adjust the message of Jesus” to make it more palatable – especially when Jesus doesn’t offer sound bites that fit into the current flow of tolerance laced thinking. Yet, I believe that isn’t the solution at all – because it is focuses on the wrong problem. Let the church focus more on the “proclamation with clarity” of the actual message of Jesus as He gave it, and the world will have opportunity to be invited to Him or offended at Him – that is their choice. In other words, our job isn’t to make the message easier to receive – but nor is it to make it more difficult by living in conflict with His words. The believer must make his or her life choices stay out of the way of clear proclamation of Jesus and His Word. As a result, the believer who lives for Jesus quietly may well help remove an obstacle for the Gospel, while the loud believer who shouts from the street corner the Gospel but does not live in harmony with God’s Word actually detracts from the Gospel. The lesson for the first part of the story is that we must not be derailed when someone attempts to push aside the message of Jesus because someone they know has lived out Jesus badly. We must insist on making the message about what Jesus said and did – for therein is the Gospel. The truth isn’t always found in the church (sadly) but it is always found in the Savior.

The People Reacted (6:3)

The second part of the story recalled the people’s reaction to Jesus. Don’t forget the Disciples were watching and learning from the Master’s responses. The objections to listening fully to His message were simply about His “familiarity” to them. They couldn’t accept that the spectacular words and works were a result of anything His family could have taught Him since they knew His father and mother, sisters and brothers; and they were nothing special. This was instructive, because the Disciples needed to know that it would happen to them in the days ahead – people would see deep truth in their message, but write it off out of familiarity.

It is easy to miss the mistake in the people’s thinking, but critical that we do so. The issue was the identification of the SOURCE of the power and proclamation of Jesus. The people of His town rightly discerned that neither came from Jesus’ family or upbringing (though there is no suggestion that Mary and Joseph hindered the development of Jesus’ righteous path). The issue was one of assumptions on their part. The people didn’t believe GOD was at work in the room where Jesus was – and couldn’t see past their human connections. This was, and is, a common mistake. When one wants an explanation for the Person and work of Jesus – they must look beyond the earth and into the Heavens. The Gospel of John reminds us that “The Word (which was always with God and from the time before time) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.” Jesus wasn’t a man who discovered God or Divine power – He was God who put on human skin. His coming, according to the New Testament, was deliberate and purposed. The source of His power wasn’t Mary or Joseph – quite the opposite. The “parents” were given the opportunity to participate in the work of the Son- not the other way around.

The Savior Responded (6:4-6)

The third part of the story highlighted what the Disciples truly needed to see – because they would experience the same response later in their respective lives on their different fields of mission. In a word, that is “rejection”. Instead of following Jesus, Mark recorded four details:

1. “The people of Nazareth took offense (Gr. skandalízō – properly, set a snare (“stumbling-block”); (figuratively) “to hinder right conduct or thought; to cause to stumble” – literally, “to fall into a trap”) at Jesus.”
2. “Jesus could do few miracles, only a few healings for the sick.”
3. “Jesus wondered (Gr: thaumázō: in this case a proper translation may be – “He was stunned”) at their unbelief.”
4. “Jesus left them and traveled, teaching in other places nearby.”

The words are much clearer in Greek than in English. The people didn’t merely ignore Jesus, they actively hindered His work among them – so Jesus took His work elsewhere. Perhaps they heckled Him, it isn’t clear. Maybe they told Him they didn’t want “His type” in their town. We simply don’t know what was involved, but we know that rejection by people you love is always painful. In fact, that was the story of Jesus’ whole life. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not,” the Scriptures remind. At His birth, He was rejected by some of Joe’s family as illegitimate. Now He was rejected as working from and in the power of God by His family friends.

Though what the people did isn’t clear, one of the important truths that IS clear, is that the people did not understand is that Jesus was not pushy – and He still isn’t. He offered life, healing and comfort – but He didn’t shove it down their throats if they didn’t want it. When people didn’t want Him – He withdrew. Consider this: That is the tragedy of our time – that we have seen America open its doors to false thinking and dismiss Jesus from our public square. His exit won’t change His power or His Person – but it will change our public square. It will reduce our ability to spread freedom – for that comes as a byproduct of peace within. It will increase our turmoil as a state, and draw out the most degraded passions of men and attempt to legitimate them as palatable and acceptable. If He stays true to past form, Jesus will quietly move off the scene and take His message to people who want to hear it. The difference between God accomplishing incredible work in your midst and not doing so often comes down to this: Will we see our lives from His perspective and live as though what He said is really true?

We press to keep that message here by inviting Jesus to live in us and through us. We show that we are serious about our desire when we live with Him as our Master. We want to so live, that men and women will see our good works and “glorify our Father in Heaven” – because that is what Jesus told us to do. At the same time, if Jesus withdraws, it will be because the nation asked Him to do so. He will withdraw our sense of moral clarity. He will withdraw our ethical certitude and clear thinking. In our arrogance, we will make arduous rules that will nag us with their basic unfairness. Nationally, we will be reduced to bickering, division and dull thinking in regards to the challenging moral issues of our day. Consider this story from the news this week:

Lizzie Deardon of the British publication “Independent” wrote: “Germany’s national ethics council has called for an end to the criminalization of incest between siblings after examining the case of a man who had four children with his sister…Sexual relations between siblings or between parents and their children are forbidden under section 173 of the German criminal code and offenders can face years in prison. But on Wednesday, the German Ethics Council recommended the section be repealed, arguing that the risk of disability in children is not enough to warrant the law and de-criminalizing incest would not remove the huge social taboo around it. The chairman of the council, Christiane Woopen, was among the 14 members voting in favor of repealing section 173, while nine people voted for the ban to continue and two abstained.”

Notice the word “taboo”, because you will be seeing it more and more as we fade away from “right” and “wrong” thinking, and into the morally relative “stigma” thinking. That is what happens when the truth is dismissed and lies are adopted. The writer doesn’t ask WHY the west has upheld in her past rules on human relationships, because they know the answer – it is in the Bible, and was taught by the church for generations.

Now, when we recognize the direction, we needn’t despair. God sees the hearts of His people, hears our prayers, and knows what we do not! The darkness of a society that embraces lies as truth will set up a clearer distinction between those who follow Jesus and those who do not. God is watching! Consider this story:

One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.” But the boy protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.” The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters.” (Story as told by Donner Atwood).

The simple fact is that some people will reject Jesus – we need to expect this. They did it in front of Him, and they do it now. The Disciples saw it, and they needed to recognize that it wasn’t a rejection of THEM, but a rejection of God’s work among them.

Story Two: The Twelve Sent Out

Continuing with the training of the twelve, Mark explained that after a bad reaction of His hometown crowd, Jesus made His way into the surrounding region with His Disciples watching Him as He taught the crowds. After a short time, He called them together. Mark put it this way:

Mark 6:7 And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; 8 and He instructed them that they should take nothing for [their] journey, except a mere staff– no bread, no bag, no money in their belt—9 but [to] wear sandals; and [He added], “Do not put on two tunics.” 10 And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. 11 “Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.” 12 They went out and preached that [men] should repent. 13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.

The Disciples were in need of some personal training on the ground, and some of the personal affirmation and excitement that came from participating in care ministry that allowed God’s power to flow through them. Jesus knew what the men needed, and He prepared them to go out with an added endowment of power – for them to have the thrill of God using them (6:7). At the same time, it was necessary to instruct them further in how to prepare themselves. Those instructions included

• Take only a staff to help you walk.
• Don’t take extra food, an extra bag, or extra money.
• Put on your sandals, but don’t take an extra cloak.
• Stay in a home where you are invited.
• Don’t push in a place where your message is not wanted, shake it off and move on.

The men went out. They were preaching a message that sounded like the one some of the men heard from John near the Jordan River some time ago – a message of life change in anticipation of the coming of the King to them. The men validated that the message was “from God” by the signs God empowered them to do in the spiritual realm, as well as the healing God did through them. They were exhilarated by the experience, but more training was necessary.

• They had seen the Master rejected by some and accepted by others.
• They were empowered and saw God use them – but there was more they needed to learn, and Jesus was ready to teach them.

In addition to seeing that some would reject Jesus (in the first story), the Disciples needed to see that some would recognize the power of Jesus, and they would be used of God to lead them to Him!

Story Three: Bad News

Mark 6:14 And King Herod heard [of it], for His name had become well known; and [people] were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.” 15 But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” And others were saying, “[He is] a prophet, like one of the prophets [of old].” 16 But when Herod heard [of it], he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!”

When Jesus sent out the twelve to spread the news of the Kingdom, King Herod Antipas of Galilee heard about the movement that was spreading from the northwest shore of the Kinneret, and now was being preached in communities around the Galilee region. Villages were being stirred in a way they hadn’t seen since Jesus’ cousin preached repentance with dramatic fervor – and I am certain that Herod was having a few “déjà vu” moments as he heard about the work of Jesus. Crowds were gathering and lives were being changed, and that got his attention and started him wondering about the rising teacher’s identity. His relationship with John probably made that interest even more intense. Bleeding through the narrative of Mark 6:14-16 were the three critical issues:

There seemed to be a sustained fame for this popular teacher: “…King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known. (Mark 6:14). Second, speculation about the identity of Jesus was becoming problematic to Herod Antipas, because it was “rattling old skeletons” in his royal closet as the “bones of John the Baptizer” haunted his memory. Finally, there seemed to be a rising suspicion about the intent and message of Jesus, especially as it regarded Herod and his immoral actions (Mark 6:14b-15).

We will not take the time to delve into the “back story” Mark explained in Mark 6:17-32, because the lesson learned by the Disciples is what we are following. In truth, Mark explained the reference to John the Baptizer in a “parenthesis of historical notation” (a story to clarify past events about John and his arrest, etc). The account includes the sad story of “corrupt” parent and a child who became a pawn for a parent’s sick purposes. Mark recorded four important historical notes:

First, John had been illegally arrested some time before by Herod. Mark 6:17 For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Second, the scorn of Herod’s wife was a major part of the motivation. Mark 6:19a Herodias had a grudge against him…”

Third, there was a rift in the couple because of John which was just the “tip of the iceberg” from what we know of the history: Mark 6:19b “…and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; 20 for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.

Fourth, the King’s new wife waited for a perfect TIME to make her request – when her husband was feeling particularly macho, and perhaps a bit sensitive about his fear of John. See Mark 6:21: “A strategic day” came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. Note the awkward terms “strategic day” for his birthday. The unfortunate terms lead a reader to conclude something more than a party was planned. The term “eukairos” was simply “the right time” – a sign that John’s murder was premeditated by the wife before the celebration, but not the husband.

John’s head was delivered as a part of the promise of the King, not for any true state purpose (Mark 6:22-25). The King was wealthy and powerful, and appeared to believe the lie that fame and power dismissed them from living by the rules all others have. This is a phenomenon we can observe in powerful and famous people even now. The royal couple was offended that John spoke out and called their sin what it was. They used their power to quash criticism, because they wanted to play by their own rules. They could read the Torah, but they didn’t feel subject to it. What is more, they didn’t want others to have the right to use the Biblical rules to in any way criticize what they were doing. Ultimately, they wanted the freedom to change wrong into right, and force those who knew it was wrong to shut up and start accepting it. They were happy to use the “justice system” and prisons to press their point.

Herod Antipas’s standards were made by what pleased him. You can see that in the stealing of his brother Philip’s wife, by the relative protection he afforded John for a time, and the deal he made with his adopted daughter. People who are led by their appetites are people who weaken any resolve to consistently do right.

The news was heartbreaking to Jesus and was sure to discourage and intimidate His followers. The disciples needed to know that some – particularly people of power – wanted to hear of Jesus, but not to yield to Him. Perhaps they wanted to control His message, or even co-opt it to further their own acceptability.

Story Four: Five Thousand Fed

Another story is dropped into this string:

Mark 6:32 They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves. [The people] saw them going, and many recognized [them] and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. 35 When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But He answered them, “You give them [something] to eat!” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them [something] to eat?” 38 And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed [the food] and broke the loaves and He kept giving [them] to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. 44 There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.

The Disciples felt they needed to take “alone time with Jesus” to face the news as well as to share the experience they had just come through, but the crowds met them at the retreat place – and that disheartened them further. Tired from travel and ministry, discouraged over bad news, and promised a day off – the boys were captured in this little story uttering the words: “Send them away!” as if it was FOR the crowds they offered that advice. It wasn’t. They wanted rest. Jesus, on the other hand, gave them a job – meeting the needs of the crowd! The twelve baskets gave the disciples what was LEFT OVER, when they truly desired what CAME FIRST.

The Disciples needed to recognize that though some were rejecting God’s message (like King Herod Antipas) there were still many who were desperate for the touch of God – but they were the people that were often overlooked because they came with needs and at a personal price to the bringers of the message.

Story Five: Jesus Walks on the Water

To drive that message home graphically to the disciples, Jesus sent them into the boat to go home, while He made a plan to pray alone on the hills of the northeast slope of the Sea. Everything changed when the men got in trouble:

Mark 6:45 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of [Him] to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. 46 After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. 47 When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. 48 Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. 49 But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” 51 Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, 52 for they had not gained any insight from the [incident of] the loaves, but their heart was hardened.

The end of the story tells the key truth instructed in the event. Jesus was going to walk across the Lake on His own and meet them, but they needed help – and that need was given to them to remind them not to look past the needy, and not be arrogant about having God use their hands and feet in the lives of others. They were people – only people – and they could be imperiled in a moment. The Disciples needed to recognize that Jesus came for the needy – and they were needy at their core as well.

Story Six: Healing at Gennesaret

The final account offered a quick snap shot of Jesus back at the grind of ministry:

Mark 6:53 When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. 54 When they got out of the boat, immediately [the people] recognized Him, 55 and ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was. 56 Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.

Why include this last little story? The issue was that the Disciples needed to see the ministry didn’t change – just their perspective on people did. They were learning, as we are, that people matter. The “easy to bypass because they are so needy” types abound in our day – but they matter to God. He wanted those who wanted Him – and He still does.

Disciples who know His love and share His love will find there are people who hunger for His love – even if they have been cast off by others who represented Jesus poorly. Consider this lesson about showing the world the Master:

“Many years ago, an evangelist by the name of Jakov arrived at a village in Serbia. He met an elderly man there named Cimmerman, and Jakov began to talk to him of the love of Christ. Cimmerman abruptly interrupted Jakov and told him that he wished to have nothing to do with Christianity. He reminded Jakov of the dreadful history of the church in his town, where church leaders had plundered, exploited, and killed innocent people. “My own nephew was killed by them,” he said, and angrily rejected any effort on Jakov’s part to talk about Christ. He told Jakov, “They wear those elaborate coats and crosses, but their evil designs and lives I cannot ignore.” Jakov replied, “Cimmerman, can I ask you a question? Suppose I were to steal your coat, put it on, and break into a bank. Suppose further that the police sighted me running in the distance but could not catch up with me. One clue, however, put them onto your track: they recognize your coat. What would you say to them if they came to your house and accused you of breaking into the bank?” “I would deny it,” said Cimmerman. And Jakov countered, “‘Ah, but we saw your coat,’ they would say.” But the analogy annoyed Cimmerman, and he ordered Jakov to leave his home. Even so, Jakov continued to return to the village periodically just to befriend Cimmerman, encourage him, and share the love of Christ with him. Finally one day Cimmerman asked, “How does one become a Christian?” Jakov taught him the simple steps of putting his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Cimmerman got down on his knees and surrendered his life to Christ. As he rose to his feet, wiping his tears, he embraced Jakov and said, “Thank you for being in my life.” And then he pointed to the heavens and whispered, “You wear His coat very well.” (Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? Word, 1994).

Real ministry looks past the personal hurt of bad responses to faithfully represent God’s message to people. Some will respond positively, others will not. Our work is the representation – not the outcome.

Following His Footsteps: “So Close and Yet So Far” – Mark 4 and 5

harum1The eighteenth century brought our world a number of revolutions, including the one that formed our own “American experiment”. In addition to country creation, the British colonists (who seemed to have some extra time on their hands) also busied themselves by creating new English terms. One of the words that caught my attention was the word “daredevil” from that period (which makes me want to know what they were doing that was so much fun way back then). The term first showed up in the middle of that century. Another one was inaugurated in about 1751 – the phrase “har•um–scar•um” –which means “irresponsible” or “reckless”. Some may know this term, because they recall the comedy made by Cecil B. DeMille with Elvis Presley that was called by that name.

This comedy movie, “Harum Scarum” was released in 1965 and was supposedly set in Baghdad (but was actually the used set of the blockbuster movie “The King of Kings”). Those were different times. Baghdad was a place you could still laugh about, and Hollywood was making movies celebrating Jesus. The movie was about an American movie star named “Johnny Tyrone” who traveled to the Near East and Persian Gulf to premiere his newest picture. He met a slave girl who was actually the king’s daughter in disguise. Johnny saved the King and married the princess – and then whisked her off to Las Vegas with a whole entourage of the princess’ dancing girls. I confess to you that nothing about the movie plot sounded even vaguely interesting to me, so I didn’t even think of watching it! Yet, there is a movie clip that floated past me on YouTube of Elvis singing a heartfelt song called “So close and yet so far” to Paradise. It was shot through the window of a barred cellar room. Inside sat a misty-eyed and singing man who gazed out of the barred window dressed like a cross between Sinbad the Sailor and Prince “Ali of Babwa”. Apparently he was longing to hold the object of his affection in his arms, because, it seems, when she was in his arms, the world around him was transformed into the Garden of Eden…along with other “mushy” sentiments.

I mention the song because the truth is that we all know what he meant when he said “So close and yet so far!” …The runner that missed the gold by .001 seconds, the pitcher that threw the curve just outside the strike zone – they know what it means. Some things can’t be “close” – they have to be exact. “Almost” works well in horseshoes and hand grenades, but not so much in surgery or anything that has to do with the accounting area. Today’s lesson is about a group that stood next to Jesus, but hadn’t quite understood the role of taking on the ministry after Jesus was gone. They were an “almost” group of disciples – a “half-baked” kosher dozen not yet ready to take over. Jesus was wrestling on a number of fronts, and they weren’t being terribly helpful on any of them – partly because they really didn’t seem to understand what they were supposed to do. Let’s stroll up to the campfire and sit beside them for a few minutes and see if we can get a good view of what was happening with them. This was a group “so close” to Jesus, and yet “so far away” from His purposes, from possessing His heart for the world… BUT WAIT… perhaps as modern disciples we still are in this condition… Many of us have seen Him redeem us; yet we still carry so many problems with us! Follow this truth through the stories we will look at together…

Key Principle: Disciples need to recognize that we serve our Master, we don’t lead Him, and we don’t always understand what He is doing – but we must learn to listen and trust Him. That is what a real disciple does.

In our last lesson (in Matthew 12 and 13) we saw parallel stories of Jesus having a series of Sabbath controversies, and feeling pressured by His family to step out of the limelight, while His disciples struggled with what appeared to be falling numbers and some muted grumbling in the crowds. We pick up the story in Mark’s account explaining the end of that day, as Jesus is tackling a series of problems – all at the same time…

Problem One: Disciples can be more tuned to earthly acceptance than to spiritual truth (Mark 4:33-34).

Mark 4:33 With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; 34 and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.

This connects us to last study in Matthew. Jesus is tired, and His teaching has been going on all day. The crowd has been pressing Him and people have been watching, not only His teaching, but His demeanor. The disciples were unhappy because He didn’t seem to be immediately responsive to what they told Him about the parables and the lack of comprehensible teaching. They wanted Him to LISTEN to them, and get the crowds back on a growth curve by speaking “straight talk” and doing miracles. They weren’t following everything, so they were pretty sure the crowd wasn’t understanding everything either. Jesus pulled them aside and explained His message again, but that didn’t make it clear to the crowd.

Problem Two: Disciples can conclude trouble is a reflection of some lack of care on the Master’s part. (Mark 4:35-41).

While the Master still hadn’t addressed how He was going to adjust His public presentation, He told them to get into the boat. Maybe they thought He would explain there, but He was tired, and He found a pillow on the elevated platform at the stern and took a nap. The text noted it this way:

Mark 4:35 On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. 37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. 38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. 40 And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

Trouble struck. Look how the disciples reacted! They immediately exclaimed: “Don’t you care about us?” How like us they were! The lack of faith appeared to be in Jesus’ ability and in His goodness – and that is at the heart of much of our sin. When we don’t believe God is looking out for us, we start doing it ourselves – and we do a lousy job.

I want to stop and consider something, because we all seem to be at a time of significant worries. The fuel for worry, abundant today in the news, is only active when we burn it inside. We have a choice – we can let it consume our hearts or cast it out to the fire pit through prayer. My God offers a place I actively cast my fears, and face life with His peace. The truth is that my peace isn’t found in the fact that I will be kept from the fires of trouble, but rather from the realization that I will not go into the fire without Him, and cannot be tossed there by any force without His Divine stamp of approval. That is just one of the many great resources of God’s Spirit that is easy to overlook in our day as we succumb to the deception that because something is happening somewhere, I need to stop and fixate my life on it.

For most of the history of the world people didn’t know what was happening all around the globe. The digital age has left people more informed, but doubly stressed. They are convinced they must become everything from qualified CDC consultants to Supreme Court experts – when they have little to do with the outcome of any of those bodies. Let me say it kindly: many of us need to stop. We need to do what we can to be sufficiently informed in prudent behavior – to do what we can to be safe and not stupid, but we need to leave the rest in the hands of the One Who controls what we do not. If I am not part of the solution, then I need only enough information to inform my ‘knee mail’ time.

So, full of worry, the boys took the matter to the Master – but they did it with ATTITUDE. “You don’t care, do You?” Where did they get that idea? I suspect it was because He wasn’t jumping through their hoops before they got on board. He wasn’t changing His presentation, and now they were struggling and He was snoozing.

Note three things about these verse and Jesus’ response:

First, He didn’t bat an eyelash at the trouble before He told it to “knock it off” and the wind and water obeyed. We must say it again and again: “He’s got the whole world in His hands!” We cannot forget that God has not lost control!

Second, Jesus looked right into the eyes of His disciples and called them out: “Why are you afraid? After all we have been through, how can you STILL not believe things are the way I say they are!” Oh how we need to remember, the REAL NEWS doesn’t come on cable or satellite, but from the King of Glory. Things are what HE says they are. Platitudes aside, He isn’t taken by surprise by disease, desperation or desert maniacs.

Third, Jesus let the men alone as they re-gathered their thoughts, and they decided they hadn’t really understood the depths of their Master. That is a good thought for the next time we want to hit the panic button. Perhaps we should stop and ask: “What is God doing right now about this? If I am in distress, my Father is doing something. Have I not considered His power to deliver me? If He doesn’t, what may He be doing? When believers face problems, the test tells them how far they have truly come in their walk with Jesus.

Problem Three: Disciples bring deep and negative prejudice to our walk and don’t see the real issues of contention that are more often in the spiritual world (Mark 5:1-20).

The waters flat and the winds quiet, they arrived at their destination – a Gentile side of the Lake where they never wanted to be after dark.

Mark 5:1 They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. 6 Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; 7 and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” 8 For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he [began] to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. 12 [The demons] implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand [of them]; and they were drowned in the sea. 14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And [the people] came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and [all] about the swine. 17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region. 18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. 19 And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and [how] He had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

When we studied the Gospel of Mark together, I made note that: “Great teachers give students an opportunity to learn truth by DOING SOMETHING. Jesus placed the Disciples in an awkward position when He told them to move their eyes from judging the current crowds to looking beyond the small world of their ministry to a lost world. Jesus shook up the boys by doing four things in this passage:

First, He told them to go to a place they felt unsure about as the evening was coming on – the Gentile side of the Lake.

Second, He allowed them to face a problem without appearing to be concerned at all (He was asleep).

Third, He let them draw their own mistaken conclusions: “Master don’t you care?”

Fourth, He solved the problem by addressing using His Word.

The point of the whole exercise was to get the men ready! God always has a point for our suffering, though we don’t often know what it is. Why do “bad things” happen to “good people”? I can think of five reasons without really working very hard at it:

• Sometimes it is the result of MY SIN. As Galatians 6:7 reminds: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.”

• Sometimes it is because I live with other sinners and they mess up. Paul noted in Romans 3:9 “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;”

• Sometimes it is because I live in a fallen world. No one was TRYING to fail, and no one did anything in particular that was wrong, but the fallen world is broken. Consider Rom. 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

• Sometimes it is so that God can test me – that I might see who I am and who I am not. Think of passages like Deuteronomy 8:2 “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”

• Sometimes it is so that God can prepare me to comfort others. Paul noted in 2 Corinthians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

The Disciples in this story were being prepared for a great lesson – that God has work going on well outside of the places they may have considered. God was at work in a battle against both a brutal and vicious enemy, and a fallen world that does not work the way He Created it to work. It was, and still is, fallen and struggles against what God intended.

Follow the progression of Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac for a moment – because it is the closest thing to a “Jewish nightmare” that you will find in the Gospels!

• They went to an unclean area filled with pagans after dark (5:1).
• They were met by a demon-empowered man who was living in the constant defilement of tombs (5:2).
• He was uncontrollable with broken chains hanging from him (5:3-4).
• He was gashed and bleeding (5:5).
• He ran abruptly toward them (5:6).
• Demons spoke from his throat (5:7-8).
• Pigs were eating along the nearby slope (5:11).

And my absolutely most favored part of the story…

The healed man wanted to come home with them (5:18)!

The point of the sequences of the stories of the “storm on the sea” and the “cemetery demoniac” was this: One story set up the trust that the men needed to place in Jesus so that when the second situation occurred – an open struggle against the enemy – Jesus’ men would be “with Him” and more confident. The disciples needed to have confidence in the power of God before they could see the power of the enemy face to face in a place far from home’s security.

With little time to reflect, Jesus turned them around and pushed them to the next encounter…

Problem Four: Disciples get excited when “important people” seem to get on board with the Savior, but don’t understand that to Jesus, everyone counts (Mark 5:21-43).

With only a little nap before He wrestled with demons, Jesus hit the shore again running…Jesus stepped on shore and was met be a crowd, in short order He was approached by a hurting and desperate dad.

Mark 5:21 When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him; and so He stayed by the seashore. 22 One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and on seeing Him, fell at His feet 23 and implored Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live.” 24 And He went off with him; and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him.

When you look at the story of Jairus, don’t look at it in theory – look at this man. He was one of the synagogue leaders of Capernaum, but he was not like many of the religious elite of his day.

There was no pride in him as he came to Jesus: The words of 5:22 “and on seeing Him, fell at His feet” say it all – Jairus was a broken man; just as the demoniac the night before had been. All ego was sidelined because of a gaping wound – his precious little girl laying on a bed.

He counted on Jesus’ power: The words of 5:23 “come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live” show that he was completely clear about what he thought could and would happen. He believed, hoped, and was relieved that Jesus came back to Capernaum in time to save his little girl!

He was give reasons to waver in his belief: If you skip down to Mark 5:35, you will note that the news that came that would have made even the close followers of Jesus (like Mary and Martha later) doubt “While He was still speaking, they came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore?”

His peers didn’t really share his confidence in Jesus: Only a few verses later, Mark reminds us that the NEWS was bad, but their friends and peers were a second reason they easily could have doubted. Mark 5:40 They began laughing at Him. But putting them all out, He took along the child’s father and mother and His own companions, and entered the room where the child was.

Jesus encouraged the man to believe in spite of the appearances, and later in spite of the crowd. Mark recorded that when the bad news came, Jesus countered it:

Mark 5:36 But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.” 37 And He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the synagogue official; and He saw a commotion, and people loudly weeping and wailing.

When the man’s peers jeered, Jesus countered: Mark 5:39 And entering in, He said to them, “Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep.”

Don’t miss the point in all the detail. Jesus offered HIS WORD, and the belief in HIS WORD and HIS PERSON are all that separated the powerful event from the wounded parents. The parents were surrounded by people who didn’t believe Jesus could raise the child to new life. Jesus raised the child off the sick bed because the parents saw the world the way God said it was – they recognized Jesus as God’s powerful changer. I am making NO STATEMENT that implies that everyone who recognizes the Jesus is Lord will be healed. Nor am I saying that the parent’s belief that God could raise their child was the only factor in the child’s raising. What the passage teaches is this: Jesus is in control of the story of my life – because it isn’t really MY life at all.

We live and die to tell the Master’s story. There is no other greater purpose than to be what I was called to be. When I recognize that God alone has the right to give and take my life – then I can rest in the face of disease and death. I am not absolved of maintaining my body, but in the end neither I, nor any sickness is the master of my life – Jesus alone is. I do not leave the earth one minute before God intends that I should. When we see the world through the Master’s eyes – we see it correctly and His power becomes more obvious to us.

Remember these words…“Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace”. ~Oswald Chambers in Run Today’s Race.

Jesus closed the incident with instructions to the family. Help the girl; get her food. Maintenance of the body is still important even though life is given by Jesus.

Mark 5:41 Taking the child by the hand, He said to her, “Talitha kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl got up and began to walk, for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were completely astounded. 43 And He gave them strict orders that no one should know about this, and He said that something should be given her to eat.

You haven’t yet reached the HEART of the story.. I skipped over it in the reading:

Go back to the broken woman we passed by in the street on the way to Jairus’ house… The woman had a traumatic twelve-year bout with illness, was now financially broke and had nothing more she could pursue on her own. Her description was a graphic one:

Mark 5:25 A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26 and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse—

Look at the verbs in that verse: ENDURED, SPENT, NOT HELPED, GREW WORSE. The bleakness of her plight draws a dark shadow over her story.

She approached the Master from behind: Mark 5:27 after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. 28 For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.”

Because of her status in the society, she dared not approach Him directly – she was ceremonially unclean. She believed God left her the way she was – and she tried her best to deal with that understanding. Mark used the word “touched” (‘epsato, fr. ‘apto) in reference to Jesus’ garment. There are a half-dozen Greek words translated “touch” in English in the New Testament (Vine). ‘Apto is the word used when a burning lamp or candle is used to ignite another that is unlit. This isn’t simply a passing glance, but a deliberate reaching that continued for a time.

She grabbed a part of His garment called in Greek the “himátion” – His outer cloak; the outer garment worn over the xitōn (“the under-garment worn next to the skin”). Many scholars believe that she was reaching for the tassel of His garment, for it was the symbol of His authority. It may have been that “power” that Jesus recognized He was missing – His tassel that acted also as His ability to charge against the clan’s name and account. The effects were immediately apparent.

First, the woman experienced a healing and recognized that she was now well. Mark 5:29 records: “Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.”

At the same time, Jesus also recognized something – that He was missing something! The Gospel writer recalled: Mark 5:30 Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” 31 And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32 And He looked around to see the woman who had done this.

The story in Near Eastern terms may indicate that she accidentally removed the tassel from His garment, and needed to return it. She didn’t mean to take the tassel, but Jesus needed to have it returned. Mark doesn’t elaborate enough to tell for sure, but the story simply offers in Mark 5:33 “But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.”

Now the point of the story, and the reason it is included… the response of Jesus. The answer is in Mark 5:34 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”

The woman had a choice to cynically reject another opportunity for healing – but she came to Jesus. She could easily have hidden from her answer and protested to God in her pain – but she came to Jesus. She could have acted like she was not the one who grabbed Him out of embarrassment and a sense of shame because she was unclean – but she came back to Jesus. She believed He could transform her if she could just get close to Him – and He did. It wasn’t PROXIMITY that changed her – it was belief.

Jesus made it clear – it was not the tassel, the top coat of His tunic, or any powerful aura around Him that made the difference – it was her absolute belief in His power and person that made the whole thing work. Jesus was exactly who the Father declared Him to be. He was exactly who He claimed to be. She didn’t need to know HOW Jesus did what He did. She needed to come close and trust Him.

The disciples that saw the whole exchange needed to see it. They were CLOSE but still so FAR from understanding…Maybe this story will help make it clearer:

David, a 2-year old with leukemia, was taken by his mother, Deborah, to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to see Dr. John Truman who specializes in treating children with cancer and various blood diseases. Dr. Truman’s prognosis was devastating: “He has a 50-50 chance.” The countless clinic visits, the blood tests, the intravenous drugs, the fear and pain–the mother’s ordeal can be almost as bad as the child’s because she must stand by, unable to bear the pain herself. David never cried in the waiting room, and although his friends in the clinic had to hurt him and stick needles in him, he hustled in ahead of his mother with a smile, sure of the welcome he always got. When he was three, David had to have a spinal tap–a painful procedure at any age. It was explained to him that, because he was sick, Dr. Truman had to do something to make him better. “If it hurts, remember it’s because he loves you,” Deborah said. The procedure was horrendous. It took three nurses to hold David still, while he yelled and sobbed and struggled. When it was almost over, the tiny boy, soaked in sweat and tears, looked up at the doctor and gasped, “Thank you, Dr. Tooman, for my hurting.” ~Monica Dickens, Miracles of Courage, 1985.

There is no way the little boy understood the reasons for the medical treatments and the pain they caused – he didn’t need to. He needed to trust the one who DID understand what he needed to go through.

Disciples need to recognize that we serve our Master, we don’t lead Him, and we don’t always understand what He is doing – but we must learn to listen and trust Him.