compassion and wisdom

September 2015 (2)Mark 3:7-12

7 And Jesus with his disciples withdrew to the sea, and a large crowd followed from Galilee, and from Judea 8 and from Jerusalem and from Idumea and beyond the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon a large crowd came to him because they are hearing how many things he was doing. 9 and he said to his disciples that a boat should be made ready for him on account of the crowd in order to not crush him. 10 for many were healed, with the result that those having an illness tried to fall to him in order that they might be touched by him. 11 and the unclean spirits, whenever they saw him, were falling to him and were crying out, saying “you[1] are the son of God.” 12 but he was commanding them strictly that they might not make such statements about him openly.

compassion and wisdom

Jesus is getting to a point in his ministry where his popularity and what people want from him are starting to keep him from his stated purpose. He had told his disciples that his purpose was to preach in all the villages, but everyone was flocking to see his power, not hear his preaching. His first solution was to ready a boat in case he needed to board it in order to keep from being stampeded. His second solution (which we will see next time) is to send out the twelve to preach. The Lord’s compassion compelled him to help people, but his wisdom would not allow his compassion to keep the message from being preached.

LORD, give us your compassion to help the hurting, and your wisdom to find ways of preaching your message while doing it.

[1] emphatic

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ministering in wrath and grief

September 2015 (1)Mark 3:1-6

1 Then he entered again into the synagogue; and a man was there who has a dried up hand. 2 So they were watching him to see if on one of the Sabbaths he would heal him, in order that they might bring charges against him. 3 And he says to the man having the dry hand, “Get up into the middle!” 4 And he says to them, “Is it proper to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to rescue[1] a life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 After looking around at them in wrath, deeply grieved at their stubbornness of heart, he says to the man, “Extend your hand.” And he extended it, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and just then began plotting with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

ministering in wrath and grief

If Jesus had wanted to keep the peace he could have avoided this confrontation. All he had to do was heal the man privately. But Jesus stomped in there and publically performed his ministry, knowing that people were watching him. He not only committed the offense, but did it with a wrathful tone, demonstrating that he was deeply upset with his enemies. He obviously was not as concerned about keeping up a public persona of unity. What he did made his antagonists even more committed to his murder, joining forces with a rival group to plot it.

There will be times when peace and unity will not be the outcome of your ministry. Ministry is spiritual warfare, and battles seldom end with a complete win. If even Jesus could not do ministry without such outcomes, we should expect them as well. We should commit to serve with integrity, even if our enemies use our very service to condemn us.

LORD, we choose to serve you and others in your name, even if we have to do so opposed and criticised.

[1] σωζω (3:4; 5:23, 28, 34; 6:56; 8:35; 10:26, 52; 13:13, 20; 15:30f; 16:16).

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the old ways and the new Lord

August 2015 (31)Mark 2:23-28

23 Then he happened to be passing by the grain fields on one of the Sabbaths, and his disciples began to make their way along while plucking the heads of grain. 24 So the Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not proper[1] on the Sabbaths?” 25 And He says to them, “Have you never read what David did when he had a need and he was hungry, also the ones with him?” 26 how he entered into the house of God at the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not proper to eat except for the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 So he said to them “The Sabbath came about because of man, and not man because of the Sabbath.” 28 “Accordingly, the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.”

the old ways and the new Lord

The disciples has temporarily put aside the tradition of regular fasting, and Jesus defended their doing so. They had kept the tradition of Sabbath keeping, but with a difference. They no longer saw Sabbath keeping as a test of their devotion. If necessary, they could break the Sabbath traditions in order to remain devoted to Jesus as their Lord. They affirmed that Sabbath keeping was a way to express devotion, but the most important thing was not how they showed devotion, but who they were devoted to.

Each of us should examine how we demonstrate our devotion to God. Some of the old ways might need to be abandoned, and some strengthened. The difference is whether those ways actually reflect and encourage a true relationship with Jesus.

LORD, show us how to worship you without worshipping our worship.

[1] εξεστιν (2:24, 26; 3:4; 6:18; 10:2; 12:14).

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the old ways and the new wine

August 2015 (30)Mark 2:18-22

18 And the disciples of John and the Pharisees are fasting; and they are coming and saying to him, “Why are the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fasting, but your disciples are not fasting?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “While the bridegroom is with them, the sons of the wedding hall are not able to fast, are they? As long as they are having the bridegroom with them, they are not able to fast. 20 “But days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 “No one sews a patch of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear happens. 22 ” And No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into unused wineskins.”

the old ways and the new wine

Jesus had been teaching about a new coming kingdom, and his disciples had been seeking that. But the followers of the old ways had a problem. They could not understand why Jesus refused to appropriate their traditions into his. Jesus used three different metaphors to get his point across: the bridegroom, the cloth, and the new wine. His point was that the kingdom teaching was something new, and the old traditions did not fit with it. That was particularly true during the short time that Jesus, the bridegroom/king was present among his people. It was not a time for mourning. The time for mourning would come later, after Jesus returns to heaven.

Living in New Zealand, I have gained an appreciation for ruts. The sheep leave long trails wherever they go, because they follow each other, so a large green hill will have a few chosen ruts which it is obvious the sheep have used over and over again. It is the nature of sheep to do this, and it is also human nature. Jesus did not condemn the people for having traditions: we all do. He did warn them, however, that his coming kingdom could not be reached via the old ways.

LORD, disciple us through your word, so that we do what you have taught us, not just the old ways we are used to.

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choosing patients

August 2015 (29)Mark 2:13-17

13 And He went out again beside the sea; and all the crowd was coming for themselves to him, and he was teaching them. 14 While passing by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax office, and He says to him, “Follow Me!” And after getting up, he followed Him. 15 So he happens to be reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners are reclining at the table with Jesus and His disciples; because there were many, and they were following Him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he is eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they were saying to his disciples, “Why is he eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 So after hearing this, Jesus says to them, “It is not the ones who have strength who need a doctor, but the ones who are having something wrong with them; I did not come to call upright ones, but sinful ones.”

choosing patients

Levi’s occupation was not respectable. He was not one that the average rabbi would choose for a disciple, because of the kind of people who would be attracted to him. But this seems to be the very reason that Jesus chose him. The very next thing we see is a gathering of tax collectors in Levi’s house, and Jesus in the middle of it. The Pharisees could not understand this, because they chose their associates based on what the ones they chose could do for them. Jesus chose his associates based on what he could do for them. He saw himself as a doctor, so he chose friends who has something wrong with them, so he could fix them. That actually includes everyone, because we are all sinners in need of forgiveness. But some will go to their graves unconvinced that there is anything wrong with them.

LORD, we acknowledge our sin, and we admit our need for you. Help us to seek other patients for you as well.

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beyond healing

August 2015 (28)Mark 2:9-12

9 “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are being forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your stretcher and walk ‘? 10 “But in order that you[1] may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins “– He says to the paralytic, 11 “I am saying to you, get up, pick up your stretcher and go into your house.” 12 And he was raised up and immediately picked up the stretcher and went out in front of everyone, with the result that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We never saw this.”

beyond healing

I believe in God’s power to heal, and I believe God can answer our prayers for the sick and injured and restore them to health. But I also believe that even healing by God’s power is not enough, because everyone who is healed – including this paralytic – eventually dies. For faith to really make a difference it must believe for something beyond healing – something more permanent. When we start seeking for that something, that’s when we start understanding who Jesus really is. His right to change things on this planet stems from who he is, the eternal beloved Son of God. As such, his right extends not only to repairing the effects of evil, but to forgiving of sin itself. Jesus’ healing ministry was designed to point people to who he really is.

If you want healing from Jesus, seek it. If you want to go beyond healing to something permanent, believe the gospel.

LORD, make us ministers of your healing, and of your complete deliverance as well.

[1] plural

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the scandal of forgiveness

August 2015 (27)Mark 2:5-8

5 So Jesus, after seeing their faith,[1] says to the paralytic “Child, your sins are being forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and questioning[2] in their hearts, 7 “Why is he speaking like this? He is blaspheming; Who is able to be forgiving sins, except One: God!” 8 So, Immediately Jesus, because he was aware in his spirit that they were questioning this way within themselves, says to them, “Why are you questioning about these things in your hearts?

the scandal of forgiveness

The scribes did not have a problem with Jesus’ healing ministry, per se. But the idea that Jesus dared to banter about with this word “forgiven” on his lips was just a scandal for them. Forgiveness was a theological term, and the scribes saw theology as their realm of expertise, because it had to do with the Bible. How could this popular rabbi dare to interfere with their area of operation? The problem was not really that forgiveness comes from God alone. It was that someone else besides the Bible experts could dare to offer it as God’s representative.

But the excellent message that Jesus taught included the fact that each of us can act as God’s representative, in fact he urged us all to do so. As such, we can dispense his forgiveness just as freely as he did when he gave it.

Yes, I know that Jesus is affirming that he is the Son of God here, and that he has authority to forgive because of his identity as God’s unique Son. The healing of the paralytic happened to show that. But it was also a message to all of us who claim to be experts of what the Bible says. That does not make us the only ones who can forgive. The Lord wants us all to be experts in that.

LORD, make us expert forgivers.

[1] πιστις (2:5; 4:40; 5:34; 10:52; 11:22).

[2] διαλογιζομαι (2:6, 8; 8:16f; 9:33; 11:31).

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faith and inner dialog

August 2015 (26)Mark 2:5-8

5 So Jesus, after seeing their faith,[1] says to the paralytic “Child, your sins are being forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and questioning[2] in their hearts, 7 “Why is he speaking like this? He is blaspheming; Who is able to be forgiving sins, except One: God!” 8 So, Immediately Jesus, because he was aware in his spirit that they were questioning this way within themselves, says to them, “Why are you questioning about these things in your hearts?

faith and inner dialog

Four guys were involved in the roof reconstruction, and the paralytic was their willing accomplice.  Jesus saw their actions and recognised faith in those actions.  Meanwhile, the scribes sat around and dialogued in their hearts.  They had been taught in the fine art of inner theological dialogue.  It was how they were trained to process new doctrines.  They had a closed system of theological belief, and any new assertion or statement that did not fit that closed system was to be tried in the court of their own minds.   Both of these groups were doing what they thought was right, but only the group that brought their friend to Jesus found forgiveness and freedom.

I have been trained to be sceptical and cynical about faith assumptions all my life.  I have heard too many stories of tricksters and corruption in religion to automatically trust anyone from that realm.  When I see faith talk posted on a website or social network, I wonder if the person behind this talk is really a believer.  All too often, I am prone to respond to all things religious as if I am one of these scribes.  And if I do happen to assume something is genuine, perhaps there is an inner voice challenging me, asking me if we I am being naive.   But I trust Jesus.  And at some point in the inner dialogue I tell myself to shut up and let Jesus forgive and set free. 

Everyone engages in inner dialogue.  The difference in people of genuine faith is that their faith has the last word.

LORD, give us faith so strong that it always has the last word over our doubts.

[1] πιστις (2:5; 4:40; 5:34; 10:52; 11:22).

[2] διαλογιζομαι (2:6, 8; 8:16f; 9:33; 11:31).

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when friends let you down

August 2015 (25)Mark 2:1-4

1 And days after coming again into Capernaum, it was heard that he was at home. 2 So many were gathered, resulting in no more room, not even at the door, and he was speaking the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4 Not being able to get to Him because of the crowd,[1] they unroofed the roof above Him; and after opening it, they let down the stretcher on which the paralytic was lying.

when friends let you down

They had let him down the last time, and they knew it. Jesus and his disciples had been residing in Capernaum, using it as the base of operations for Christ’s teaching and healing ministry. But for some reason, his friends did not find the time to bring him to Jesus. Then – all of a sudden – Jesus goes on a tour. They thought that they had lost the opportunity to help out their friend. But, then, someone heard that Jesus was back in Capernaum. Well, nothing was going to stop them from bringing their friend to Jesus now. Crowd – schmoud.

Someone sees the tiled roof and gets an idea. The rest is history. This time when his friends let him down, it is to lift him up. We need friends like that. We need to be friends like that.

LORD, make us friends who overcome obstacles to bring people to Christ.

[1] οχλος (2:4, 13; 3:9, 20, 32; 4:1, 36; 5:21, 24, 27, 30f; 6:34, 45; 7:14, 17, 33; 8:1f, 6, 34; 9:14f, 17, 25; 10:1, 46; 11:18, 32; 12:12, 37, 41; 14:43; 15:8, 11, 15).

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worst kept secret

August 2015 (24)Mark 1:40-45

40 Then a leper came to him, appealing to[1] him [and kneeling], and saying that “if you are willing,[2] you are able to clean me for yourself.” 41 And after being moved with compassion, by extending his hand he took hold of him for himself, and says to him “I am willing!” “Be made clean!” 42 And just then the leprosy went away from him and he was made clean. 43 Then after speaking sternly of himself to him, he quickly sent him away. 44 But He said to him, “Make sure that you say nothing to anyone; just go,[3] show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing that which Moses prescribed, for a testimony to them.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it frequently, and to spread the news around, with the result that Jesus was no longer able to publicly enter into a city, but stayed out in unpopulated places; and they were coming to Him for themselves from all directions.

worst kept secret

One explanation for why Jesus wanted the former leper to keep silent is the so-called messianic secret. The theory’s original proponent taught that “Jesus’ ministry was nonmessianic and that Mark or perhaps his source created the messianic secret motif to cover up or smooth over this embarrassing fact for his church audience.”[4] But if Jesus wanted to keep any aspect of his ministry a secret, he failed miserably. No, what he wanted to do was keep his power from becoming his only purpose. He had other purposes, and getting caught up in a popular healing ministry 24/7 would stifle those purposes. His heart was to share the excellent message, and he had his eyes on the cross even at this point in his ministry. Popularity as a healer could not be allowed to swallow up those higher purposes.

LORD, give us the wisdom to seek your purposes for our lives, and to avoid getting side-tracked with lesser things.

[1] παρακαλεω (1:40; 5:10, 12, 17f, 23; 6:56; 7:32; 8:22).

[2] θελω (1:40f; 3:13; 6:19, 22, 25f, 48; 7:24; 8:34f; 9:13, 30, 35; 10:35f, 43f, 51; 12:38; 14:7, 12, 36; 15:9, 12).

[3] υπαγω (1:44; 2:11; 5:19, 34; 6:31, 33, 38; 7:29; 8:33; 10:21, 52; 11:2; 14:13, 21; 16:7).

[4] Ben Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2001), 40.

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