Friday, February 28, 2014

A WITNESS TO CALVARY (Mark Chapter 15)

Amidst the mob scene that attended the crucifixion of Jesus, the Centurion was there apart from any particular motivation.  Some were there because of their hatred for Jesus (i.e. the religious leaders), some were there because of their love for Him (i.e. His mother and some of His followers), some were there because they had no choice (i.e. the robbers), but the Centurion was there simply to do his job.

As a centurion he was a non-commissioned officer of the Roman army, a man of authority having charge nominally of 100 men (Cf. Matthew 8:9).  He was tasked with overseeing the execution of Jesus.  He was a soldier and was used to doing what he was told.  That was what he was there to do.  One might suppose that he’d witnessed his share of the horror of human brutality, but nothing could compare with what he saw and heard that day.

He was a part of a larger contingent of soldiers that were there.  An entire cohort (usually about 600 men) had been called together (Mark 15:16).  And soldiers from that cohort had much to do in crucifying Jesus.  Of the specific activities of the Centurion we are given no account, but we know that he was there and that he saw what happened.

What happened?  It was a chaotic and macabre scene.  The three cursed crosses towered over the crowd that was gathered below.  Amongst the ordinary sounds accompanying such a large gathering were the poisonous taunts of the mocking.  And in glorious contrast, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness, salvation, and victory. 

It was no ordinary day, and God would mark the occasion in special ways.  Luke’s account speaks of the darkness that beset the scene from about Noon for three hours.  Then as Jesus’ breathed His last, a number of things happened all at once.  “The Life of Christ in Stereo” (A harmony of the gospels) gives the following interwoven account (1-Matthew; 2-Mark; 3-Luke; 4-John): “Then 4Jesus therefore on receiving the wine 1cried out again with a loud voice, 4’It is finished!’  And he bowed his head, 3and said, ‘Father into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”  And having said these things, 4he yielded up his spirit.  3Now the centurion 2who stood confronting him nearby, when he saw that he (cried out) thus (and) expired, 3glorified God by saying, ‘Truly this was a righteous man!’  1And behold, the veil of the temple was wrenched in two from top to bottom.  And the earth was shaken, and the rocks were rent and the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep arose; and they came forth out of the tombs after his resurrection, entering into the holy city and appearing to many.  And the centurion and those who were with him standing guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that took place, were struck with fear and said, 2 ‘Surely this was the son of God!’”  (Matthew 27:51-56; Mark 15:38-41; Luke 23:45b, 47-49; John 19:31-37).

What did the Centurion see?  He saw the manner in which Jesus died.  One would suppose that he had witnessed other deaths and typically a person dies because their time is up and they cannot help it.  But Jesus didn’t die like that—He yielded up His Spirit.  No one took His life from Him, He laid it down of His own initiative (Cf. John 10:10:18).  The Centurion’s response?  “Truly this was a righteous man!”  Then he saw the veil of the temple torn from top to bottom, and then the earthquake, and then the tombs opened and people coming forth from the tombs!  His response?  “Surely this was the son of God!” 

He had gone as ordered that day to do his job, but it was no ordinary day and the man on the cross was no ordinary man.  We have no information about what happened afterwards in the life of the Centurion, but seeds of truth were planted and it’s quite possible that they bore fruit unto salvation.  He proclaimed important truths regarding Jesus’ identity and was a firsthand witness to Jesus’ saving work.  His impartial witness to the events of that day lives on.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

GOD ON TRIAL (Mark Chapter 14)

Mark 14:55, “Now the chief priests and the whole Counsel were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none.”  Mark 14:61, “But he remained silent and made no answer.”

The trial of Jesus was a sham.  Jewish law set forth certain legal requirements for such trials:

  • No trials were to be conducted at night.
  • The admission of conflicting testimonies was not allowed.
  • The use of false witnesses was not permissible.
  • Witnesses were to be interviewed separately.
  • Charges were to be based on a plurality of corroborating witnesses.
  • The judges were to act impartially.
But in a frenzied passion of hate-inspired abandon the Counsel abandoned all judicial restraint.  The truth was irrelevant and would not deter them from their cause.  Jesus’ crime was that He had committed no crime.  His righteousness nature and deeds had exposed them in their religious hypocrisy.  The only solution—put Jesus to death.

Behold the audacity of sin!  Sin entered into the world via the Devil’s deceitful indictment of God.  He undermined the truth and planted a seed of doubt regarding God’s integrity and love (Cf. Genesis 3:1-5).  That seed of doubt bore an ugly and damning fruit in the lives of Adam and Eve and all their kin (Romans 5:12).  We are sin-rebels all.  In Adam born to an innate hostility towards our Creator God (Cf. Colossians 1:21; Romans 5:10).  The audacity and full measure of man’s depravity was vividly put on display for all to see at the trial and cross of Jesus.  But that same cross demonstrates both the extent and depth of God’s great love and mercy.

That Jesus willingly subjected Himself to such injustice is a matter of profound wonder.  He who heard nothing but eternal praise from an angelic host, was subjected to the taunts and false accusations of a murderous mob.  The Lawgiver Himself was indicted by the lawless for imagined crimes.  He who would judge the living and the dead allowed for His own interrogation and condemnation.  God was on trial, and He made no defense!

Jesus willingly subjected Himself to it all.  Why?  1 Peter 2:22-24 explains, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him how judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

“Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).  In complete subjection to the Father “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).  God was tried and found guilty.  Condemned, the “just” died for the “unjust” that “he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).  He remained silent so that He might work to rescue rebel sinners and unleash their sin-bound tongues to sing a better tune!  “Amazing love!  How can it be?  That Thou my God shouldst die for me!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

HIS TRUSTWORTHY WORD (Mark Chapter 13)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” Mark 13:31.  Some things are more reliable than others, only a few are absolutely so.  The context of this verse has to do with Jesus’ second coming, but the truth of this verse applies to all that He taught.  His Word is utterly and eternally reliable.

Eleven years ago tomorrow, my mother, Marlene, exchanged her earthly tent for a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1).  I am so very thankful that she had learned to “take Jesus at His word” before she died.

My Mom was born in Minnesota but grew up in the greater Portland area.  Her teenage years were spent on a farm in Mountaindale (not far from North Plains).  Grandma was experiencing some personal struggles at that time, so Mom was frequently left to care for her eight siblings.  She learned about responsibility at an early age.  Those life-lessons served her well when later she ascended, over a period of 30 some years, from an entry level job at Tektronix to manage the printer division.

Mom was a Catholic growing up.  Married at age 17 to my father, Chester, in the Catholic Church, Mom had agreed to raise us in the Catholic faith.  Somewhere I have a certificate of baptism commemorating my infant baptism at St. Matthews Catholic Church in Hillsboro.  Mom would drag us to church on Sundays and to catechism classes on Saturday.  I despised those classes as they kept me from doing what I really wanted to do—go fishing with my Dad.  Mom even took me to some weekly Catholic home meetings.  I was a reluctant participant in these things.  I didn’t understand, at all, what it was all about.  Over the years, Mom apparently lost either interest or resolve—our attendance waned.  But Mom remained a Catholic at heart—she had a faith in God via the Catholic Church, but it was not trustworthy.

Years ago, my brother, Bruce, died.  Years of drug abuse had taken a physical and mental toll and then, without warning, he took his own life.  My siblings and I sometimes made poor choices.  But Mom was always there for us.  She loved us and tirelessly worked to put back together the broken pieces of our humpty dumpty lives.  But there was no helping Bruce.  He was gone from us and Mom was devastated.

Mom didn’t know where to turn or what to do.  Her Catholicism bore to her no comfort or help.  She had wondered about her brothers, Pastors Frank and Bob, and the form of “religion” they were involved with.  Likewise, she did not quite understand the nature of the beliefs of non-denominational church that I was pastoring.  She called me, desperate for answers.  She began to read her Bible.

She also began attending Helvetia Community Church in Hillsboro.  She involved herself there.  She began to understand the truth of God’s reliable Word and that salvation was not obtained by being religious or doing good works.  She heard the gospel message—that salvation is by faith in Christ who had died for our sins.  Somewhere along the way she placed her faith in Him.  She was born again.  Her new relationship with Christ did not take away the pain of her loss, but Jesus brought to her forgiveness, comfort, and assurance of salvation.  That assurance would soon play an essential role in her life.

In the year preceding her death Mom was diagnosed with cancer.  She had a tumor that could not be surgically removed.  Radiation and chemotherapy treatments were undergone but to no avail.  As the weeks went by she got progressively weaker.  Her pain increased until it grew to unbearable levels.  An internal pain pump was installed to help her cope.

2 Corinthians 5:16 reminds us that “Though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”  That truth became readily apparent in her life.  She faced death with an inspiring, God-given courage.  She arranged a meeting with her Pastor and me.  We sat in the living room—in the house of my upbringing—and planned her funeral service.  She offered to us suggestions regarding hymns and Bible verses.  She gathered the family together in her room and exhorted us all to love one another.  She met with each of the grandchildren individually and passed on to each a special message.  She met all of these challenges with a firm reliance on Jesus and His Word.

It was a day before her passing.  The family was all there.  Uncle Frank and Bob and her other siblings were there.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  We wheeled Mom out to the garden in the back yard.  The garden she had spent so many hours dutifully maintaining.  The sun was shining in her face.  It was a glorious setting.  And it was Frank, who made the comment—weakened as she was by cancer, Frank said she looked “glorious.”  She did!

For years, when I worked at Trojan Nuclear Plant, I had a picture I had hung on the wall in my office.  The picture was of the sky and some clouds and the sun shining through.  Underneath the sun’s glorious rays were these words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  A lot of things “pass away,” only a few things will last.  God’s word is amongst those things.  It is absolutely trustworthy and dependable and “able to give…the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).  I am so thankful that it did that very thing for Mom!  Like a ray of sunshine through a cloud-filled sky the enduring Word bears a message of hope to this sin-weary and darkened world (Cf. 1 Peter 1:23-25; 2 Peter 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-18)!  It’s a good thing to take God at His trustworthy Word!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

HAPPY, YOU SEE (Mark Chapter 12)


The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection (Mark 12:18).  That was why they were “sad, you see.”  Sorry, I know, you’ve probably heard that one before.  But it is the truth.  It is a sad religion indeed that offers no heavenly hope.

The Sadducees were made up of aristocrats.  They held power in the Sanhedrin.  Their wealth and power contributed to their primary concern to keep their nation peaceable and thereby avoid trouble with the Romans.  They denied the resurrection.  D. A. Hagner commented on this: “It is immediately obvious how this denial intensified an already this-worldly perspective which the Sadducees had by virtue of their position.  If a  man must be content with the present life alone, he is bound to capitalize on any present advantages he may enjoy.  And this appears, in fact, to have been the practical philosophy of the Sadducees.  It may be added that the Messianic hope played no role in the Sadducean perspective.”

Much of what is peddled as Christianity today is of the same nature.  There is a lot of “earth-bound” preaching and teaching that goes on.  Religious liberalism focuses on improving society.  The health, wealth, and prosperity gospel is concerned with how to improve one’s lot in this life.  Self-help messages speak about “how to be a better you.”  The Reconstructionist movement emphasizes the need to work to restore our country.  Much religious effort is expended, in the name of Christianity, in a “this-worldly” in focus.  While many in these movements would not deny a future resurrection, they show little concern for it.  While the visible church concerns itself with earthly affairs, the gospel is set aside, dust-covered and irrelevant.  The gospel is a heaven-sent message that speaks of a heaven-sent Savior who saves sinners from hell to heaven.  There is no question that Jesus works to improve the earthly estate of the born-again, but the ultimate focus of His saving work is heavenward.

It was earthly concerns that contributed to the Sadducean antagonism towards the Lord Jesus.  He was a threat.  So they asked Him a question.  An unlikely scenario was suggested.  A wife had seven consecutive husbands.  Whose wife then, in the resurrection, would she be? (Mark 12:23).  Jesus answer: “You do not understand the Scriptures, or the power of God…For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25).  The Scriptures declare the resurrection.  God’s power is demonstrated in the resurrection.  We are raised to a radically transformed environment.

The believer in Christ is to be a heavenly minded person.  The church in Corinth was confronted with false teachers who likewise denied the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:15-19).  But Paul affirmed both the truth and importance of it.  Christ has been raised!  We, as believers, shall be too (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).  False teachers “set their minds on earthly things,” but “our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:2-21).

Happy indeed is the believer in Christ who has his sights set on “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13)!  No journey will meet with a finer end, than the heavenly one (2 Timothy 4:18).  No home will be better furnished, than the one that God has prepared (2 Corinthians 5:1).  No sight will be more glorious (1 John 3:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:10), no reunion more joyous (2 Thessalonians 4:17), no occupation more rewarding (Revelation 5:13-14)—than that which we will experience in His presence.  Happy, you see, is the believer who has his mind set on such things!

Monday, February 24, 2014

THE TEMPLE-CLEANSING JESUS (Mark Chapter 11)

Jesus entered the temple, drove out the buyers and sellers, overturned the tables and chairs, and put an end to all of commerce (Mark 11:15-18).  In righteous indignation He zealously intervened to cleanse the temple from all such activities.  What are we to make of this account?  Jesus Himself explained His actions: “My House shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17).  The temple was for worship, they were using it for their own evil ends.  He cleansed the temple at the start of His ministry (John 2:14-17), He cleansed it again in the end.

Temples are for worship.  The priests were to lead the people in worship.  The sacrifices were to be offered in worship.  Humble prayer was to characterize such activities.  Worship of God was to happen there (Psalm 84:1-4).  Simeon and Anna knew that (Luke 2:25-37).  Others too, no doubt, but the religious leaders had no heart for worship (Matthew 15:8-9), and they wielded much influence (Matthew 27:20; 23:13).  The temple was as worthless to its purpose as a fig tree without figs (Mark 11:12-14).

Jesus’ activity in the temple is not at all inconsistent with all else that He did in His ministry.  He is in the temple-cleansing business.  A. W. Tozer, “Why did Christ come?  Why was He conceived?  Why was He born?  Why was He crucified?  Why did He rise again?  Why is He now at the right hand of the Father?  The answer to the question is, “In order that He might make worshipers out of rebels; in order that He might restore us again to the place of worship we knew when we were first created.”

God created each of us to worship Him.  That is the reason for our existence.  What is the chief end of man?  “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Rebel sinners have no heart to worship God.  The heart of the rebel sinner merchandizes in sin.  Much activity goes on, some perhaps under the guise of religion, but it never constitutes true worship.  A cleansing work of one’s heart is necessary.

That God desires such worshippers should encourage us.  John 4:23-24, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  A thorough cleansing by Jesus takes place at the moment of saving faith: “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14).  A cleansing of the heart from dead works coincides with a renewed desire to serve the living God.  Jesus alone can do such things!  And He works such a change with the same zeal he revealed in the cleansing of the temple.

Many would prefer a more tolerant Jesus, a Jesus who might wink at sin or excuse and tolerate it.  But one lesson we should take from this account is that Jesus is zealous to cleanse from sin.  The born again believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), a living stone in “a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:12).  The temple, His Church, exists for the purpose of worshipping Him.  To this purpose we are called (Ephesians 1:6,12,14), to this eternal occupation we are destined (1 Timothy 1:17).  We have been cleansed for this purpose and are being cleansed still (Ephesians 5:26).  The Holy Spirit who indwells us is zealous in this cause (James 4:5-8).  Jesus cleansed the temple.  He cleanses them still.  One day soon there will be no further need for cleansing—in that place “where righteousness dwells,” (2 Peter 3:13).  The redeemed with gather round the Throne and worship the Temple cleansing Jesus.

Friday, February 21, 2014

THE WORLD PASSES AWAY (By Horatius Bonar)

The things that are seen are temporal.
Ours is a dying world, and here we have no
continuing city. But a few years, it may be
less, and all things here are changed.

Like a dream of the night, the world passes
away. We lie down to rest; we fall asleep; we
dream; we awake at morn; and lo, all is fled
that in our dream seemed so stable and so
pleasant! So hastes the world away. O child of
mortality, have you no brighter world beyond?

Like the mist of the morning
, the world
passes away. The night brings down the
mists upon the hills, the vapor covers the
valleys; the sun rises, all has passed off,
hill and vale are clear. So the world passes
off, and is seen no more. O man, will you
embrace a world like this? Will you lie down
upon a mist, and say, "This is my home"?

Like a shadow,
the world passes away.
There is nothing more unreal than a shadow.
It has no substance, no being. It is dark, it
is a figure, it has motion, that is all! Such is
the world. O man will you chase a shadow?
What will a shadow do for you?

Like a wave of the sea
, the world passes
away. It rises, falls, and is seen no more.
Such is the history of a wave. Such is the
story of the world. O man will you make
a wave your portion? Have you no better
pillow on which to lay your wearied head
than this? A poor world this for human heart
to love, for an immortal soul to be filled with!

Like a rainbow
, the world passes away.
The sun throws its colors on a cloud, and for
a few minutes all is brilliant. But the cloud shifts,
and the brilliance is all gone. Such is the world.
With all its beauty and brightness; with all its
honors and pleasures; with all its mirth and
madness; with all its pomp and luxury; with
all its revelry and riot; with all its hopes and
flatteries; with all its love and laughter; with
all its songs and splendor; with all its gems
and gold, it vanishes. And the cloud that knew
the rainbow knows it no more. O man, is a passing
world like this all that you have for an inheritance?

Like a flower
, the world passes away.
Beautiful, very beautiful; fragrant, very
fragrant, are the summer flowers. But
they wither away. So fades the world
from before our eyes. While we are looking
at it, and admiring it, behold, it is gone!
No trace is left of all its loveliness but a
little dust! O man, can you feed on flowers?
Can you dote on that which is but for an hour?
You were made for eternity; and only that
which is eternal can be your portion or your
resting place. The things that perish with the
using only mock your longings. They cannot fill
you; and even if they filled, they cannot abide.
Mortality is written on all things here;
immortality belongs only to the world to come.

Like a ship at sea
, the world passes away.
With all its sails set, and a fresh breeze blowing,
the vessel comes into sight, passes before our
eye in the distance, and then disappears.
So comes, so goes, so vanishes away this
present world, with all that it contains. A few
hours within sight, then gone! The wide sea
over which it sailed as calm or as stormy
as before; no trace anywhere of all the life
or motion or beauty which was passing
over it! O man, is that vanishing world your
only dwelling place? Are all your treasures,
your hopes, your joys laid up there? Where
will all these be when you go down to the
tomb? Or where will you be when these
things leave you, and you are stripped of all
the inheritance which you are ever to have
for eternity? It is a poor heritage at the best,
and its short duration makes it poorer still.
Oh, choose the better part, which shall not
be taken from you!

Like a tent in the desert
, the world passes
away. They who have traveled over the
Arabian sands know what this means. At
sunset a little speck of white seems to rise
out of the barren waste. It is a traveler's tent.
At sunrise it disappears. Both it and its inhabitant
are gone. The wilderness is as lonely as before.
Such is the world. Today it shows itself;
tomorrow it disappears. O man, is that your
home? Will you say of it, "This is my rest," when
we tell you that there is a rest, an everlasting
rest, remaining for the people of God?

THE WORLD PASSES AWAY. This is the
message from heaven. All flesh is grass, and all
the goodness thereof as the flower of the field.

THE WORLD PASSES AWAY.
But God ever lives. He is from everlasting to
everlasting; the King eternal and immortal.

THE WORLD PASSES AWAY.
But man is immortal. Eternity lies before each
son of Adam as the duration of his lifetime.
In light or in darkness forever! In joy or in
sorrow forever!

THE WORLD PASSES AWAY.
What then? This is the question that so deeply
concerns man. If the world is to vanish away,
and man is to live forever, of what importance
is it to know where and what we are to be
forever! Life is no plaything, and time is no
child's toy, to be flung away. Life here is the
beginning of the life which has no end; and
time is but the gateway of eternity.

THE WORLD PASSES AWAY.
What then? You must, O man, make sure
of a home in that world into which you are
so soon to pass. One who had lived a worldly
life at last lay down to die; and when about
to pass away he uttered these terrible words,
"I am dying, and I don't know where I am going."
Another in similar circumstances cried out,
"I am within an hour of eternity and all is dark."
O man of earth, it is time to awake!

In the cross there is salvation; nowhere else.
In the day of darkening prospects, of thickening
sorrows, of heavy burdens, of pressing cares;
when friends depart, when riches fly away, when
disease oppresses us, when poverty knocks at
our door; then the cross shines out, and tells
us of a light beyond this world's darkness,
the Light of Him who is the light of the world.


HEADED FOR TROUBLE (Mark Chapter 10)

Why did Jesus die?  Who killed Him?  What difference does it make?  People have a lot of different opinions regarding the cross.  To the unsaved, the cross is a foolish thing, but to the saved, it represents the power and wisdom of God (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24).  Many suppose it to be the tragic and premature end to a good man’s life.  But that’s not what happened.

That which occurred upon the cross represents the most significant event in the history of man.  At the cross, the true nature of God is revealed.  Through the cross, salvation has been made available.  What you think about the cross matters!

The cross was no accident.  It was according to the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God (John 3:16; Acts 2:23).  The Father purposed to send Jesus to the cross, Jesus fully submitted Himself to the Father’s plan.

The events of Mark 10:32-34 occurred sometime after the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  That amazing and undeniable miracle caused quite a stir.  Many of the Jews who witnessed it believed in Jesus (John 11:45).  The chief priests and Pharisees convened a council and decided from that day to plot together to kill Jesus (John 11:53).  They gave orders “that if anyone knew where (Jesus) was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him” (John 11:57).  They even took counsel to put Lazarus to death (John 12:9-11).  So deep was this hatred of Jesus that even disharmonious foes—the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees—found common ground in it (Matthew 22:15-16, 23).

So as Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem the disciples were “amazed” (Mark 11:32).  Why were they amazed?  They were amazed, knowing full well the hazards associated with Jesus’ return to Jerusalem, that Jesus was purposefully headed there.  The others who were accompanying Jesus “were afraid” (Mark 11:32).  The disciples were amazed and the crowds of people were afraid but Jesus was undeterred.  He typically walked amongst his disciples, but here he is out front leading the way.  According to Luke’s gospel, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

Perhaps, you say, he was unaware of what lie ahead?  He knew.  Mark 11:32, “And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles.  And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.  And after three days he will rise.”  He had told them before, and He told them again of that which awaited Him in Jerusalem (Cf. Mark 8:31-32, 9:31-32).  He knew full well the extent of the sufferings He would face.  He had said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished” (Luke 12:50).  He would later say, “My Father, if it be possible, let his cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

In making His way to the cross Jesus courageously and obediently purposed to fulfill the Father’s will.  The cross was no accident.  He was aware of His betrayal before He was betrayed.  He acquiesced to the arresting mob, though He had the power to collapse them all to the ground (John 18:6).  He could have called on “twelve legions of angels” to rescue Him, but how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled (Matthew 26:53-54)?  He remained silent when questioned and “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23; Cf. Isaiah 53:7).  He “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” Philippians 2:9).  All this to rescue lost sinners (1 Peter 2:24-25, 3:18)!  “He left His Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite His grace!  Emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race!  ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free, For, O my God, it found out me.  Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!”  He knew full well what lay ahead, but in loving obedience and compassion for lost sinners, He deliberately headed for trouble.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

TRUE GREATNESS (Mark Chapter 9)

I
ME
MINE
MYSELF
 “Those four words stood out in bold print.  They appeared as if they were forming an enormous monument, each letter seemingly chiseled out of granite.  At the base of this strange “monument” were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people with their arms held up high, as if worshipping at a shrine.  And then in very small letters, this caption appeared at the bottom of the editorial cartoon: “Speaking of American cults…” (Chuck R. Swindoll; Improving Your Serve; 1981 Word Publishing, p 28).

Self-worship is the norm to which we all gravitate.  Sin is the cause.  The lust of the flesh, the lust of eyes, the boastful pride of life—demand attention.  They tell us to always do that which is best for “self.”  “Looking out for number one (i.e. self)” is the mantra of lost humanity.  “As sinfully and culturally defined, pursuing greatness looks like this: Individuals motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency pursue selfish ambition for the purpose of self-glorification” (C. J. Mahaney; Humility: True Greatness; c 2005 Sovereign Grace Ministries; p. 44).

The disciples couldn’t understand what Jesus’ was talking about when He spoke of His pending sacrifice (Mark 9:32).  He was their Master—what were these words of suffering and death?  They had heard Him speak of the same things before. That was when “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” (Mark 8:32).  But they did not understand and remained ignorant until after His death.  They were not setting their minds on God’s interests (Mark 8:33).  They were not thinking of things from God’s perspective.  Jesus’ servant-minded manner of life and ultimate act of self-sacrifice are diametrically opposed to the spirit of this world.

Jesus was teaching His disciples about sacrifice, they were arguing amongst themselves about greatness.  They had a discussion about it (Mark 9:34).  On a future occasion, after He humbly washed their feet and shared a supper, partaking together of symbols which spoke of His pending sacrifice, they would argue again about the very same thing (Cf. John 13:1-15; Luke 22:14-24). 

What criteria did they espouse as a basis for measuring such a thing-- Good looks, intellect, strength, cleverness?  How are we to measure true greatness?  Our society puts forth movie stars, rich folks, athletes, and famous people as the truly “great” people.  Children are taught to aspire to greatness in these ways.  The world says that greatness is found at the top.    What does God say? 

Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”  True greatness is measured in terms of God’s standard and was revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  He, the greatest of all, came as the servant of all (Mark 10:45).  He left His Father’s throne above and came to dwell among lost and needy sinners.  The way up was down.  In God’s economy true greatness is serving others to the glory of God.  Jesus has worked, through His death, to save self-centered sinners that they might be forgiven of sin and transformed to walk in newness of life.  His greatness is made manifest in their lives as they follow in His steps, taking on His same self-sacrificing nature.  Donald English, “At the source of all Christian service in the world is the crucified and risen Lord who died to liberate us into such service” (Cf. Philippians 2:3-5).  Jesus died and rose again to deliver and transform sin-selfish rebels into God-glorifying servants.  True greatness is measured and founded in the One who came to serve.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

FINDING BY LOSING (Mark Chapter 8)

Jesus had some tough words for would-be followers when He told His disciples and the multitudes, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

The context of this statement is important.  Jesus had previously asked His disciples about the common opinions regarding His identity (Mark 8:27).  And they replied with some of the more popular conclusions that people had come to.  He then asked His disciples what they thought (Mark 8:29).  Peter responded with the correct, Father-revealed truth, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29; Matthew 16:16-17). 

Jesus then began to teach them about His pending sufferings and death (Mark 8:31).  He was stating the matter plainly (Mark 8:32).  Peter was right about Jesus’ identity, but did not understand how Jesus, the Christ, could suffer.  “Peter took (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke him” (Mark 8:32).  In a dramatic turn of events Peter, having just been proclaimed “blessed” by Jesus (Matthew 16:17), was rebuked and called “Satan” (Mark 8:33).  Jesus went on to explain: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).

Peter had his mind set on the things of man.  He was thinking of things in “man” terms.  He had thought that Jesus had come to establish His Kingdom (Cf. Luke 24:21).  He was thinking of an ever increasing scope of ministry culminating in Jesus’ reign over all.  Peter was not alone, none of the disciples could understand Jesus’ in His “cross-talk” (Cf. Mark 9:31-32).

How foreign is this life and work of Jesus to our natural way of thinking about things!  As Martin Luther once said, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.”  That Jesus, the Divine Son of God, would purpose to be born in lowly circumstances, that He would live the life of a servant, that He would allow Himself to be betrayed, arrested, unfairly tried, and brutally beaten, scorned, and crucified—these matters transcend our understanding because they are foreign to our way of thinking about things and about God (Cf. Isaiah 55:8-9).

It is in that context that Jesus offered His invitation.  Adam’s kin are all, by nature “broad-path” travelers.  “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13).  The broad way is easy, travelers face few obstacles and little opposition.  The gate is wide, no limitations are put upon the wayfarers.  They can believe whatever they want to believe and do whatever they want to do.  Broad way travelers encourage one another along the path in a hell-bent pursuit of fame, fortune, and fun (Cf. Romans 8:32, 1 John 2:15-16), na├»ve as to the path’s ultimate destination—destruction.

Jesus was a narrow way traveler.  He marked out the path for others to follow.  The “way is hard,” but it “leads to life” (Matthew 7:14).  It is contrary to man’s way, and therefore “those who find it are few” (Mark 7:14).  Jesus’ invitation to His disciples and the multitudes was to join Him in the path He was on. 

The narrow way is not an easy path, it involves self-denial.  To deny self is to disown or dis-associate self with regards to one’s own prerogatives.  It is to abandon self-effort, self-confidence, self-agendas, and self-will.  This hard way also involves suffering.  The people of Jesus’ day knew about crosses, they’d seen many of them.  To follow Jesus is to embrace the prospect of suffering, with the realization that to lose one’s life in the physical sense, is to find one’s life—spiritually speaking--with God (Mark 8:35; Philippians 1:29).  The cost of discipleship is high, but what is the alternative?  A man’s soul is of such value, that nothing on earth should hold him back (Mark 8:36).  The demands of the narrow way are difficult, but Jesus died and rose again to save and empower His followers to walk in the same manner in which He walked (Cf. 1 John 2:6; Galatians 2:20).  In the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”  It is in losing one’s life, in following Jesus, that true life is found (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Romans 12:1-2).

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

HEART HEALTHY (Mark Chapter 7)

Much attention is given in our day to the need to live in a “heart healthy” manner. Some say that it is imperative for us to eat “heart healthy” foods and maintain a “heart healthy” exercise regimen. A myriad of drugs are advertised and available to improve our heart condition. Doctors have countless procedures that they utilize to deal with a plethora of heart problems.

There is another problem of the heart that is usually left undiagnosed. And even if diagnosed, wrong treatment options are typically applied. The misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment of this particular heart problem is at the heart of man’s problem.

The Jews of Jesus’ day were careful to wash their hands. They washed other things too including their “cups and pitchers and copper pots” (Mark 7:4). They did so religiously and methodically. Their hand-washing was done according to a carefully prescribed pattern. A particular method and exact amount of water was prescribed. These traditions were not about cleanliness (a good thing), they were a part of their religious ritual—they did such things to keep from defiling themselves (Mark 7:15, 18). They supposed that the careful adherence to their religious rituals could somehow make them righteous before God.

The Great Physician diagnosed their condition (Jeremiah 17:9-10). It was far more serious than they had supposed. The heart of the problem is the heart itself. Adam sinned against God and unleashed a contagion of sin (Romans 5:12). Hereditarily, a “heart condition” has been passed on to every man (Romans 6:19).

The symptoms of the heart problem are alarming and touch on every part of our being—evil thoughts, deeds, and words flow forth from the heart in a myriad of damning and ugly vices. Dishonoring to God and destructive to others, a sin-contagion flows from the heart and infects the whole being. No amount of religious exercise can restrain it. And man has tried them all. They are all but “fig-leaf” religions and are of “no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:23).

A heart transplant is what is needed. A complete rebirth.  That is something Jesus alone can do. It is what He prescribed to Nicodemus (John 3:7). No one but Jesus can heal us of all “our soul’s diseases.”  He is of sin the “double-cure.” Through His work on the cross He grants, to the believer, both forgiveness and heart-change. Sin’s power is broken. The heart is changed and renewed and made healthy in Him (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10).

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). The new birth is a wonderful thing! Christ Himself takes up residence in the heart of the believer. And His glorious presence there shines forth in wonderful ways. Sinful words and deeds are put off, supernatural virtues take their place. By a work of the Spirit these Christ-like virtues usher forth from within the born-again believer. A host of damning vices are replaced by glorious and compelling virtues (Galatians 5:22-23). The good heart bears good fruit (Luke 8:15).

We are all born with a heart problem.  Countless remedies are suggested and applied to no avail.  The Great Physician is both willing and able to diagnosis and treat the problem.  He alone can make us “Heart Healthy.”

Monday, February 17, 2014

TO TELL THE TRUTH (Mark Chapter 6)

“There came a man sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6).  That God-sent man had quite a ministry!  As the forerunner of Christ he was sent “before the Lord to prepare His ways” (Luke 1:76; Matthew 3:3).  He preached in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:1).  His message?  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  His manner?  He wore “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4).  But he had a huge following: “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5).  Thousands were baptized by him, including Jesus Himself (Matthew 3:16).

John “was a righteous and holy man” (Mark 6:20).  All indications are that he fulfilled his God-given ministry to the fullest (Matthew 11:11).  And he was bold in his preaching.  He did not shrink back from declaring the truth.  And so, when King Herod was to be married to his brother’s wife, John spoke up, saying, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife (Mark 6:18).”  To appease his angered wife, Herodias, Herod “sent and seized John and bound him in prison” (Mark 6:17).  For a time Herod kept John safe in prison—he was glad to listen to him, though perplexed by what he heard (Mark 6:20).

King Herod celebrated his birthday with a banquet.  He invited all of the VIPs.  Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod and the guests and pleased the King.  He then offered to her a gift, “up to half of my kingdom” he pledged.  She went and asked her mother what to ask for.  Herodias held a grudge against John the Baptist—he had had the nerve to speak the truth about her illegal marriage.  She was embittered against him and wanted him dead.  She seized the opportunity and instructed her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head—on a platter.  Reluctantly, Herod ordered it done.  And that gruesome gift was then presented to the daughter and then to Herodias.

It is a sad end to the remarkable life of one of the Bible’s most important characters.  It is hard to come to terms with the injustice of it all.  Herodias got her way.  Her bitter hatred was assuaged in that despicable act (though later both she and her husband would both be exiled).  But what about John the Baptist?  How are we to come to terms with his fate?  It is important for us to keep in mind that there is more to this sad story than mere human drama or intrigue.  John was a warrior in the battle for truth.  He served on the front lines.  He did not shrink back from declaring his message.  He was unwilling to compromise and even challenged the King. 

His story reminds me of the account of Hugh Latimer’s sermon before King Henry VIII.  King Henry was greatly displeased by the boldness in the sermon and ordered Latimer to preach again on the following Sunday and apologize for the offence he had given.  The next Sunday, after reading his text, he thus began his sermon: "Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou are this day to speak?  To the high and mighty monarch, the king's most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life, if thou offendest.  Therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease.  But then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest--upon Whose message thou are sent?  Even by the great and mighty God, Who is all-present and Who beholdeth all thy ways and Who is able to cast thy soul into hell!  Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully." 

John the Baptist and Jesus shared much in common.  Both came to proclaim the truth.  Both were conspired against.  Both suffered punishment by the hand of the King.  Both were put to death, though neither had done anything to deserve it.  In all these ways, and Jesus preeminently so, they exemplify what happens when light confronts darkness.  John the Baptist died at the pleasure of an earthly king but served and was rewarded by God Himself.  Likewise heaven’s reward awaits all of those who speak and contend for truth in His name (Cf. Acts 20:27, 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Jude 3; Revelation 1:9, 6:9).

Friday, February 14, 2014

WHAT DOCTORS CANNOT DO JESUS CAN (Mark Chapter 5)

I love some of the names of the churches I have visited in the Masaka Region of Uganda.  Names that speak to a Biblical truth, like People of the Way Church, Victory Church, and Jesus Loves You Church.  One of my favorites is “What Doctors Cannot Do Jesus Can Church.”  It’s kind of a long name, but it’s clever, and speaks to the truth of the passage before us.

The account of the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage is sandwiched between the report of Jairus’s daughter’s illness and Jesus’ raising of her to life.  The woman suffered with some sort of 12 year-long chronic bleeding problem.  We are not given the exact cause or nature of the bleeding, but one would suppose that it was both physically debilitating and emotionally embarrassing.  Beyond that, according to OT Law, it also caused her to be considered “unclean” (Leviticus 12:3-8; 15:19-27).  She would not have been allowed to go to the synagogue or temple.  Anyone she touched would have been deemed unclean.  She had been an outcast for 12 years.  One can hardly imagine how desperate she must have been for help.

Apparently she tried everything she could.  She “had suffered much under many physicians” (Mark 5:26).  Given the state of medical expertise in those days it is likely that the many physicians did more harm than good.  She “had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” (Mark 5:26).  In her desperation to be healed she had pursued every possibility and exhausted all her resources.

But “she heard the reports about Jesus” (Mark 5:27).  She had no doubt heard of how others had been healed.  A flicker of hope gave rise to a plan born out of her desperation.  She thought, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well” (Mark 5:28).  Her plan was not without obstacles.  She was not accustomed to touching or being touched, she would encounter both in making her way through the crowd.  She was unclean, others would be rendered unclean in the process.  More than that, what would Jesus say were He to know that an unclean woman touched His garments?  So the goal was to touch Him serendipitously.

All went according to plan, she “touched his garment” and “immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (Mark 5:27,29).  But Jesus perceived that power had gone out from Him.  He “turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments’ (Mark 5:30)?”  The woman heard him.  “Knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth” (Mark 4:33).  She trembled in fear wondering about his response—would he rebuke her?  Would he undo what had been done?  How precious then must have been His reply, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34).  By faith in Jesus she was made well.  In so doing she marked out a path for other desperate souls to follow.

Jesus healed many of all kinds of physical afflictions and those healings spoke to the truth of who He is—“He is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).  He came not just to heal broken bodies, but to give life to dead souls (Cf. John 3:16, 10:10).  He is the only one who is able to do that.  As the hymn says, “There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus; No not one!  No not one!  None else can heal all our souls diseases; No not one!  No not one!”

I was walking down a road not far from “What Doctors Cannot Do Jesus Can Do Church,” when a strange looking car approached, driving fast along the narrow dirt road.  Music was blaring from the huge loudspeaker that was mounted on its top.  I turned to my friend Paul and asked him what the car was doing.  He told me that it was a man driving from house to house in order to sell a medical tonic that he touted as being able to impart health and healing.  And as Paul was speaking the car stopped at a house and a transaction was made.  Snake oil salesmen still exist.  But for unclean, desperate sinners there is only One place to go.  Jesus heals from “all our soul’s diseases” with power and compassion.  He can do what doctors cannot, He can cause lost sinners to be born again to a living hope (Cf. 1 Peter 1:3)!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

DO YOU NOT CARE? (Mark Chapter 4)

In 1986 two brothers, both fishermen/amateur archeologists, found remains of a buried boat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  A drought had receded the shoreline and exposed the long-hidden remains.  The boat was determined to be of the New Testament era—the same kind of boat that would have been used by Jesus’ fishermen-disciples.  Once uncovered, it was examined and determined to be 27 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.3 feet high.  It was of shallow draft and flat bottom that it might be able to get close to shore while fishing.  Great for fishing—not so great for surviving a big storm at sea.

Jesus was in such a boat with His disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee.  “A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling” (Mark 4:37).  Those disciples were experienced sea-men.  They knew how that sea was prone to such sudden changes.  And they knew what to do on such occasions.  But this storm was too great.  And their boat was about to sink.  They feared for their lives.

It was at this point that they cried out to Jesus: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing”(Mark 4:38)?  They were anxious.  He was sleeping.  “How can He sleep in the midst of this gale?” they must have thought.  Doesn’t He care that we are about to capsize and sink to the depths?

“Do you not care?”  They may not verbalize it, but Christ’s followers are oftentimes prone to such thoughts.  “Sin and despair like the sea-waves cold threaten the soul with infinite loss.”  Too often our response is to curse the storm and try by any means to escape.  The disciples were fortunate to have Jesus in their boat.  The believer in Christ has Him too.  He merely spoke a word to the wind and the sea and there was “a great calm” (Mark 4:39).  Their fear of the storm was exchanged for “a great fear” that caused them to ask amongst themselves: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him” (Mark 4:41)?

Does He care?  He has proven that He does (Romans 8:32; 1 John 3:16).  Does He care?  He pleads for us to bring our cares to Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).  Does He care?  Yes indeed!  He may not quiet the adverse winds and waves, but He can impart to our hearts and minds a quiet “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Storms happen.  They touch on every part of the planet.  And the troubles and trials of life touch every soul.  God has a purpose in them—to elicit faith in Him.  The disciples had no need to fear—having Jesus, “the master of the seas,” in their boat.  But they remained anxious ‘til they asked Jesus for help.  The believer in Christ is indwelt with the “great Savior.”  God’s purpose in our troubles is that we might turn to Him for help.  If you have Jesus in your life you have no need to fear.  He knows about your troubles.  He can bring peace to your heart if you but trust Him.  He is trustworthy.  And He cares!

“I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore; Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more; But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry, From the waters lifted me, Now safe am I.”

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

OUT OF HIS MIND? (Mark Chapter 3)

The DSM-IV manual, the U.S. standard reference for psychiatry, includes over 300 different manifestations of mental illness.  Generally speaking a person is deemed mentally ill if their thinking or behavior lies distinctively outside the “norm.”  And especially if there is concern that they might cause harm to self or others.

Jesus’ family had no DSM-IV manual to consult, but they heard of the way Jesus was behaving and they deemed Him to be “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21).  What led them to arrive at that conclusion?  A great multitude, from all the surrounding regions, was following after Jesus (3:7-9).  They had heard of all that Jesus was doing (3:8).  Some had experienced His healing power (3:10).  The crowds grew so large that He and His disciples could not “even eat a meal” (3:20)!  His family heard of what was taking place.  They went to take custody of Him for they were saying he is “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21).  At this particular point in Jesus’ ministry His family members were not believing (Cf. John 7:5).  But not only were they not believing, they deemed Him crazy.  His thoughts, deeds, and words were so out of step with this world, that those who knew Him best thought Him to be mad.  They cared about Him.  He seemingly had no concern for His own welfare, and spent all His time and energy in concern for others.

It should be noted that there is a sense in which we are all mentally ill.  Sin is at the root of it.  Sin is an insanity.  That we, God’s created, should live in a state of rebellion against our all glorious and benevolent Creator is insane.  That we, despite all the evidence to the contrary, should deny His existence is sheer madness (Cf. Psalm 14:1).  That we would enslave ourselves to damning and harmful vices that inflict harm on ourselves and others is crazy (Cf. Romans 6:21; 1 Peter 1:18).  That we would “give approval to those who practice” such damning behaviors speaks to the depth of our sin-rooted folly (Romans 1:32).  The world is a mental ward, and every sinner is condemned to it lest God intervene to affect one’s release.

Jesus is the answer to the question: “What would happen if God Himself were to come into this world to dwell among us?”  Being empty of sin and full of righteousness, His manner of life was utterly distinct from anyone born before or since.  He was untouched by sin’s insanity.  He refused to partake of the banquet fare of worldly delights, but was a glutton when it came to doing the Father’s will (Cf. John 4:34).  This world has been ever filled with sin-selfish souls greedily longing for more.  But He came not to take but to give.  He emptied Himself of all but love and gave all that He had.  When He had nothing left to give He gave Himself (Philippians 2:5-8).  He purposed to do so to save sin-crazy souls (Mark 10:45).  His family thought Him crazy, but God was indeed well pleased with His Son (Cf. Matthew 17:6).  When it comes to determining who is normal and who is nuts it is God’s opinion that matters.

Amongst the 300 various mental illnesses listed in the DSM-IV manual you will not find any associated with Jesus’ condition.  It is a condition so foreign to the world’s way of thinking that it defies human diagnosis or comprehension.  By the Spirit alone is a man born again and enabled to understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Sin’s insanity can only be cured through the mind-renewing work of the Spirit (Romans 12:2).  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).  Don’t be surprised if the world deems you “out of your mind” for the choices you make in serving Jesus (Cf. Matthew 10:25).  It is a good thing to be “out of one’s mind” if it means having “the mind of Christ.”  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

FAITH FINDS A WAY (Mark Chapter 2)

It is the nature of faith to take risks and overcome obstacles.  Faith finds a way when there isn’t any way apparent.  Such was the case in the case of the paralyzed man we read about in Mark Chapter 2:1-12.

We are not told how long the man had been paralyzed, it had likely been for many years.  It would be difficult for most of us to relate to the severity of his need. Legs were made to walk, arms to do many things—but his were immovable and worthless to him.  He was dependent on others for all things and that was, no doubt, the hardest part of his experience.  One would suppose that he had long ago abandoned any hope of regaining his mobility.

But he and his friends had heard about Jesus and the healings He had performed.  And he thought—they thought—that maybe Jesus could heal him too.  But everyone else had heard about Jesus also, such that “people were coming to Him from every quarter” (Mark 1:45).  And though Jesus had come to town, there was no way “to get near Him” (Mark 2:4).  The multitudes were there.  “Pharisees and teachers…from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem” were there (Luke 5:17). The home was filled, and so was the doorway.  It would be hard enough for a man by himself to make his way through such a crowd, let alone a group of friends carrying a paralyzed man.

But true faith finds a way when there isn’t any way.  It deems its object trustworthy.  It looks past the obstacles and fixes its gaze on its object.  Someone came up with the plan, it could have been one of the friends or the paralyzed man himself—but no matter whose idea it was--they all concurred.  “What if we let him down through the roof” they thought.  But there were still difficulties.  To carry their friend on his bed, to bring the bed onto the roof, and then let him down—it would not be easy!

His friends cautiously made their way to the roof, then “let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, right in the center, in front of Jesus” (Luke 5:19).  “Seeing their faith, (Jesus) said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20).  A debate then ensued between the religious leaders and Jesus regarding that matter, but the end result for the man was the same.  “He said to the paralytic—‘I say to you, rise, and take up your stretcher and go home” (Luke 5:24).  “And at once he rose up before them, and took up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God” (Luke 5:25).

They had believed that if they could make their way to Jesus, their friend would be made well. Their faith devised an elaborate plan and propelled their laborious efforts.  “Their faith” (Luke 5:20) was rewarded and their friend was healed body and soul.  Immobile hands and feet were given new life and steps were taken and all was changed.  The crowds “were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this’ (Mark 2:12).”

To problems great and small Jesus is the answer.  Sometimes Goliath sized fears and mountain sized obstacles work to immobilize us.  “Sin and despair, like the seawaves cold, threaten the soul with infinite loss.”  But faith says: “He is Able!”

Sin works a spiritual paralysis in us.  Who hasn’t experienced discouragement or defeat?  But Jesus is able to forgive and restore!   Good friends direct and encourage their friends to look to Him (Cf. Romans 1:12).  Sometimes as burden bearers, sometimes as burdens borne (Galatians 6:2).  In either case, let us be careful to make our way by faith in the One who is alone able to heal and forgive (Cf. Hebrews 4:16).