Bible Versions and Permissions

Up until January 1, 2018, verses used in each devotional were from the New International Version of the Bible.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

I will be going back and adding this passage to each page that used an NIV quotation per their website

I will be using the New Century Version in 2018.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved

I am using the New King James version in 2019

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Fit For a Spy Novel!

It’s been an “interesting” week, but most of our issues have been “First World Problems.” This week, we look at the Triumphal Entry and I saw it through the lens of a spy thriller. I hope this makes sense and helps you grow in your faith.

1. And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples, 2. And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. 3. And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.

As we read these verses, we’re entering into the last week before the crucifixion. This appears to be the one prophecy of the Messiah that Jesus deliberately fulfilled (cf. Zechariah 9:9) Perhaps more interesting is that this reveals what we should have suspected: there was a lot going on in the background that not only did we not know about, the disciples who were with Jesus all day long, every day, didn’t know about. We’ll see this same pattern later before the Last Supper, but I have no doubt that Jesus had arranged for one of His followers, who remained nameless, to provide this colt for Him to enter Jerusalem. Jesus sent the disciples to pick up this colt and it’s interesting that He knows that no one has ever ridden on this animal. It’s also interesting to me that Jesus didn’t tell them to contact anyone, perhaps to spare them harm should inquiries be made by the Pharisees or the Sadducees later (?), but to see this colt, untie him and bring him to Jesus. While Jesus told them not to initiate contact, He gave them would would be considered a countersign to let the owner know that the right people were taking this colt. It’s fitting that the beginning of the end of this mission from God should have some old-fashioned spycraft at the start of things. The promise “send him hither” was a promise to send the colt back after He had entered Jerusalem.

4. And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him. 5. And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? 6. And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.

I should remind you that when I speculate like this, I could be wrong. I expect you to read the verses for yourself and come to your own conclusion. I’m sharing my beliefs of what these verses mean, but you should always seek God’s guidance as you read to find what He wants you to find. That disclaimer aside, the unnamed disciples went into town and there at the crossroads was a building and the colt, the donkey colt, tied up just like Jesus had described. As they went to untie him, a few people came up and asked them what they were doing. Again, I’m speculating here, but I think the owner of the colt arranged for people to be watching to make sure the colt went to whom it was supposed to go. I also think that this verse indicates that it was a pretty large group that could take out any donkey thieves who weren’t intended to claim it. The crowd melted back when they realized the right people were picking it up.

7. And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him. 8 And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way. 9. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: 10. Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.

They brought the colt to Jesus, and I tend to believe that He was waiting outside the city gates, and they cast their garments on the colt. I tend to believe that this was a makeshift saddle, especially since the colt had never been ridden. I have no doubt that Jesus could have calmed any donkey or horse He rode, but the garments protected the donkey as much as they protected Jesus. A crowd had gathered, perhaps spurred on by those who followed Jesus that we don’t hear much about, but were always around – for example, remember the criteria for picking a new apostle in the early chapters of Acts. Perhaps other disciples passed the word that Jesus was entering the town. Whatever the reason, a contingent of people large enough to upset the Pharisees showed up and laid palm branches, clothes, and straw along the path crying out in praise ahead of Him and after Him. In short, they were causing a huge ruckus and their shouts let everyone know that they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. I believe that they still had a different concept of what the Messiah would be like, but they were enthusiastic in their welcome.

11. And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve. 12. And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: 13. And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. 14. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He went to the Temple and looked around. I don’t know if, in His humanity, He realized how bad things had gotten in the Temple or if He went into the Temple to engage in surveillance for planning the next day’s response, but I have no doubt that Jesus was disturbed that the Temple had become a place where thieves gathered to fleece those who came to worship. Perhaps He had come to pray and the scene disturbed Him so much that He couldn’t pray. They went back to Bethany, I believe to the home of Lazarus, and set out the next day. Jesus was hungry and He went to a fig tree He saw along the way. When He saw that there was no fruit to satisfy His hunger, He cursed it in front of the disciples, and went on His way.
I’ve got to be honest with you, this story seems so unlike Jesus that I’ve had trouble dealing with it. I do believe, as we will find out next week, that Jesus did this as a parable of what was about to happen at the Temple and what the results of the Resurrection would be. This story is the first slice of a “Markan Sandwich” that we will finish next week.

 

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Seeking Jesus and Learning To Minister To Others

So, the video doesn’t show right in the draft and edit mode, I tried to preview to see if you could see the appropriate opening screen…no can do. So, I’m flying blind today, folks. I hope this works and that God speaks to you as you go through this.  

35. And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. 36. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you?

As we look at these next few verses, it’s important to remember that Jesus has just told them about His upcoming crucifixion and resurrection. Perhaps this question was asked in light of the promised resurrection, but I doubt it. I believe that James and John heard what Jesus said, but refused to acknowledge His words. Were we to include the thoughts behind the words, and, again, this is my speculation, it would sound something like, “Sure Jesus, not going to happen. We know what’s really going on and we want you to do whatever we ask.” Notice the wisdom in Jesus’s response. Most of us, when someone asks for a favor respond with “Sure, what do you want?” Jesus answered by asking, “And what is it you want?” He refused to commit Himself until He knew the question. We would do well to respond in a similar manner. When we don’t, we’re either locked into an action we don’t want, or we’re pressured into doing something we don’t necessarily want to do. The rule to remember is clarify expectations before committing to action.

37. They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. 38. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? 39. And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: 40. But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.

James and John didn’t know what they were asking for. They thought they were asking for the two favored seats of power when Jesus, as Messiah kicked the Romans out of Israel and became King of Israel. They still thought the glory of Jesus was to be found as king of a small backwater country. Jesus knew that they didn’t know what they were asking for and that the decision was out of His hands. James and John saw these places as seats of glory, in truth, the earthly seats on the right and left hand of Jesus in His glory were actually occupied by the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. As to Jesus’s heavenly realm, we have no earthly idea who will be in those seats, if those seats even exist. Jesus seemed to set standards for those who might occupy those seats: drinking the cup He drank and being baptized like He was. Remember that this is the cup that Jesus prayed about in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed for it to be taken away, but it wasn’t. His “baptism” for this answer was His death on the cross. Jesus knew that He would experience the cup of God’s wrath and the cruel death on the cross, James and John had no idea what was coming for Jesus when they let Him know that of course they could endure His cup and baptism. As we read the words that tell James and John that they would endure that cup and that baptism, it should remind those of us who follow Jesus shouldn’t expect an easy life, but that in the midst of dealing with the evil of this world our hope is in Jesus Christ.

41. And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John.

The other ten weren’t happy with James and John. I wonder if they were displeased because they hadn’t thought to ask Jesus for those honors earlier. From the outside, it looks like they were just unhappy with James and John trying to influence Jesus by asking that question. I think their inner thoughts were displeased that James and John had asked for the seats that they felt like they deserved.

42, But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. 43. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: 44. And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.

Jesus understood that the indignation of the other ten disciples dealt more with their thirst for honor and power than with concern for the sake of the kingdom, and He gave them an example they could understand from real life. When Jesus talked about the Gentiles here, I have no doubt that He and the disciples knew He was talking about the Romans who exercised their power according to their position on the political pecking order. It seems to be the same today, whether it be found in politics, business, or any other social organization – and I would include the church in that description. Those higher up will exercise their authority, and the power flows down with people exercising as much power as their position allows to show how important they are. Those who would go beyond the bounds of their power often run into problems with their “superiors.” Jesus taught them to stop thinking about and playing those power games, instead, those who want to be great in God’s Kingdom will find ways to serve others. Those who want the positions of power in God’s kingdom will only get them as they recognize that they’re called to serve. True power is found in God’s Kingdom when we forget about power and find ways to serve others.

45. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Jesus finished this teaching by giving them the example of His own life. They knew that He was the Messiah, although they had different expectations of Jesus once He owned that title than He exhibited. He pointed out that His ministry, His service showed His power and that His coming death would free people from their sins.

46. And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. 47. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.

As Jesus continued His journey, He left Jericho. On the road out of town, He and the crowd that followed Him ran into Bartimaeus who was begging by the side of the road. Bartimaeus was blind and begging was an honorable profession for those with disabilities back in those days. It gave the Jews a chance to give alms and thus practice their religious beliefs. When Bartimaeus heart that Jesus was walking by, he made the decision to call out and get His attention. He cried out for mercy, which could have many different meanings to someone begging.

48. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me.

The crowd reacted by telling him to shut up and stop making a fool of himself. I imagine they tried to remind him that Jesus was a busy person and He wouldn’t have time to talk to a blind beggar by the side of the road. Bartimaeus wouldn’t be dissuaded from his goal of seeking an encounter with Jesus, no matter how disgusted the crowd might be. He shouted louder.

49. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. 50. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.

Jesus heard the calls of Bartimaeus and, echoing His previous words to the disciples about serving all people, stopped and called for the people to get Bartimaeus to come to Him. In one of the greatest reversals of mob behavior in history, they stopped telling Bartimaeus to shut up and urged Him to go to Jesus. Bartimaeus didn’t waste any time. He threw off his garment and rushed to see Jesus.

51. And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. 52. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.

Jesus’s response might seem familiar: “What do you want me to do?” In other words, Jesus was asking Him what this mercy that he was calling for looked like. Did he want a blessing, a prayer, money, food, or what? Bartimaeus responded immediately – he wanted to be able to see. He wanted to be able to see the beauty of creation. He wanted to see his way around the town. He wanted to see his family. He wanted to become a useful member of society – which difficult for people with disabilities to become then. His wish was a statement of faith, knowing that Jesus could restore his sight. Jesus recognized and honored that faith by healing him. Jesus healed Bartimaeus who then followed Jesus in the way. I take this literally in that I think Bartimaeus walked with Jesus. It could mean, however, that he lived in the way that Jesus would teach people to live. Whatever the situation, Bartimaeus was a new person in Jesus Christ. This story reminds us that we need to reach out for Jesus, no matter what others around us do and we need to be specific in our requests. As you pray today and in days to come, seek God and ask Him specifically for what you want.

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The Perils of Wealth and the Wealth of the Resurrection

I got an unpleasant surprise when I came to my blog today, the Word Press company changed the editor completely. I’m still trying to figure things out. In their attempt to make things easy, everything’s become more complicated. Sounds like life these days, doesn’t it. Anyway, today we learn how worldly wealth can lead us away from God. There is a peril there. True wealth comes from our relationship with God and that begins with the Resurrection.

17. And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? 18. And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

As Jesus continued walking, a man, whom we later discover to be wealthy, ran up to Jesus, knelt before Him, and after calling Him “Good Master” (or good teacher) asked Him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus made a point of noting that this one had attributed to Him a quality that belongs only to God. Jesus didn’t deny that He deserved that mention, I think He was pointing out to those around that this man had recognized this quality of God in Him. We recognize this truth as taught in Psalms 14:1 and later expanded upon by Paul in Romans 3:12. Goodness, in it’s full understanding, applies only to God. Jesus pointed this out in His question to this man. While this man receives a lot of negative comments because of the conclusion of this conversation, note that this was a wealthy man, who realized that money wasn’t enough for fulfillment in life, and was willing to humble himself enough to kneel before a country rabbi, who admittedly had done some amazing things, and ask Him how to obtain eternal life.

19. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. 20. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

Jesus then gave him a shortened list of the ten commandments. It’s interesting to note that these six commands are the six that involve dealing with other people. The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, the last six deal with our relationships with others. This is my speculation, but perhaps Jesus did this because we really can’t talk about those first four if we don’t have the last six down. I should note that I’m equating Jesus command “Do not defraud” with the last commandment that says don’t covet, because if you covet something, you might be willing to defraud someone to get it. That, of course is speculation, but all the other things Jesus mentioned fit in with the list of the Ten Commandments. This rich guy, without much thought apparently, looked at his checklist and said, “Yep, I’m good there.” He claimed to have kept them from the time he was young. I don’t know how true this man’s answer was, but I have no doubt that he believed he had been doing right.

21. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

More important than following a written list of rules and regulations, is the attitude of the heart. Jesus recognized that this man had a heart problem related to his wealth. He trusted in his wealth instead of trusting in God, and so Jesus gave him an outlandish suggestion: sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor to gain treasure in heaven, and then, take up his cross and follow Jesus. In other cases, Jesus told people why they shouldn’t follow Him, or He told them not to follow Him. Here though, He recognizes that this man’s heart issue was that he trusted in his possessions instead of trusting in God. Taking up his cross, being willing to follow Jesus to the death, would test his faith in ways that he would never have imagined. He wasn’t willing to do that. He left sadly, because he didn’t like the answer Jesus gave him. His possessions were more important to him than trusting God and developing a relationship with Him. This young man isn’t much different than many of us, me especially. Too often I find myself seeking to know the will of God so that I can consider it rather than follow Him no matter where following Him may lead.

23. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 24. And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus pointed out a fact that goes contrary to what most people believed at the time, and that many still believe: entering the kingdom of God is almost impossible for people who are wealthy. The issue, of course, isn’t the amount of money they have. The issue is where they place their trust. I’ve known some wealthy people who recognized that their wealth was a gift from God that involved the responsibility to use that wealth to further God’s kingdom. I’ve also known people both wealthy and not so wealthy who worried so much about money: how to get it and how to keep it, that it was obvious that what wealth they had was more important than their relationship with God. Jesus recognized that attitude in this rich young man, which is why He gave him that command. It’s not a command for all people, it’s a command for those who have placed money and things above God. Notice that when Jesus talked about the difficulty in entering the kingdom of God He said that it was hard for people who trust in their riches to enter the kingdom of God. I’ve heard many people seek ways to take verse 25 literally and explain what Jesus meant by the phrase “eye of a needle.” While it’s possible that Jesus was referring to a literal situation, I believe that He was using hyperbole to make His point. The obvious take from what Jesus was teaching is that we shouldn’t let anything interrupt our relationship with God.

26. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? 27. And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

While we see what Jesus said and nod, this was an astonishing teaching back in those days. According to beliefs at the time, wealth was obviously a sign of God’s favor so that if a person was wealthy, not only had God blessed them, there was no doubt that they were bound for an eternity with God. So when the disciples responded to the teaching that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, their astonishment was real because Jesus had just turned what they believed upside down. It’s said that the teaching of Lazarus and the rich man was a flip of a contemporary teaching where the traditional story had the rich man enjoying the luxuries of heaven and Lazarus served him. Entry into the Kingdom of God, salvation, is not a function of wealth, or lack thereof. Those are signs that men impose and Jesus said that doing things man’s way make it impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The only way anyone can enter the Kingdom of Heaven is through God. He provides that entry by His grace through Jesus Christ. That’s what makes it possible to enter into God’s Kingdom.

28. Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. 29. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, 30. But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. 31. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.

I think the disciples were flustered. I think their beliefs were shattered. Peter tried to pick up the pieces. He asked, in effect, since they had done what Jesus had asked the rich young man to do, were they OK? Jesus let him know that it would be worth it in the end. They may have left land, houses, fishing gear, and family to follow Him, but they would be blessed. They would endure persecution, but they would receive far greater than they gave up, including eternal life. Many people have made great sacrifices for their faith. Some have given up their lives to follow Jesus. The one question every single one of these people had was “Is the sacrifice worth it?” I have no doubt that anyone who has made those sacrifices would say that they gave up nothing to gain everything. As to the last sentence in that passage, I think it refers to those who would seek to show themselves better than others, those who think they have special privileges, those who would sacrifice others to gain preeminence in this life. They may be first here, but they will be last in the Kingdom of Heaven – if they even make it. I believe this statement is a call for humility in the church and a teaching to focus on serving others instead of seeking to be served.

32. And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, 33. Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: 34. And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.

I’m going to be honest here. There are parts of this passage that I have difficulty understanding. What do we know? Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and was leading the way for the disciples and a number of other followers. What I don’t know, is why the disciples were amazed and I don’t know why the people following were scared. Were rumors flying around about what might happen to Jesus? Were the disciples amazed because they saw Jesus advancing to Jerusalem in spite of the threat of arrest? Were they amazed because of the resolve they saw as Jesus made His way to Jerusalem? Were the people worried because of the rumors or because they were sure that what they saw in Jesus was bound to lead Him into conflict with the Pharisees and other religious leaders or even with Rome? Whatever the situation, there was a lot of tension and uncertainty among the disciples and the others who followed Jesus. Jesus told them exactly what would happen, but that didn’t make them feel any better. He explained that He would be delivered to the religious leaders in Jerusalem who would then deliver Him to the Gentiles after condemning Him to death. He foretold the mocking and the scourging He would endure and noted that they would ultimately kill Him. He added that He would rise again, which the disciples never did fully comprehend would happen until after it happened. All of us are like that when people tell us things we don’t want to hear, or when they tell us things that seem too unbelievable. After the resurrection, it all made sense, but at this point in time, the disciples just didn’t get it.

As we read these verses, we’re reminded that the resurrection wasn’t an afterthought of the disciples used to explain why they still followed Jesus after He was crucified; it was a pivotal teaching of Jesus. He taught them about it again and again. If the disciples were trying to sugar coat things, or make themselves look good, they would have written gospels that showed their faith in the resurrection and not the doubt and confusion at the cross. Vignettes like this that are seen in different places in the New Testament show the credibility of the gospels in telling the story of Jesus. Sometimes, it’s not the pure faith of the disciples that convinces me of the truth of the gospel, it’s the expression of their doubts and fears and the continuing love of Jesus in the face of that doubt and those fears. How often do we act as if we need everything to be going right around us so that people will believe our message. Maybe, others are just as messed up as I am and when I’m honest about my fears and failures, they can relate to the good news of Jesus because they’ve seen the real me when I’ve gone through the bad times.

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Dealing With Divorce and the Importance of Children

The County Courthouse – where wedding dreams begin, and too often die. Divorce is a touchy subject these days. What does Jesus say about marriage? About divorce? I don’t have all the answers, but I think God’s plan always includes grace!

1. Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

Reddit does this thing where well known people will have an “AMA” session. AMA means “Ask Me Anything.” In our church we occasionally take Wednesday Night services to have a “Grill the Pastor” night where we can, as might be expected, ask him anything. I think that’s how Jesus did most of His teaching. We usually see the questions the religious leaders ask, but I think that Jesus may have started teaching the people, but as He taught, they interrupted Him with questions. While many people focus on the miracles of Jesus in the Bible, most of the miracles grow out of His teaching or provide a platform for Jesus to teach an important lesson. And sometimes, the teaching got sticky.

2. Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3. “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

This is one of the sticky questions: divorce. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? The first thing to note here is that the woman is not taken into consideration here. They didn’t ask if it’s lawful for a woman to divorce her husband. That’s part of the cultural situation where women were not treated equally. In today’s world, we could expand the original question to ask if a woman is permitted to divorce her husband. Jesus turned the question around just enough to make te Pharisees uncomfortable when He asked what Moses commanded. The Pharisees didn’t answer the question Jesus asked, probably because they knew that there was no place in the law of Moses that commanded divorce for any specific situation. Instead, they continued trying to get their point across by noting that Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.

With that, Jesus and the Pharisees clarified two things about divorce: the first is that there is no situation where divorce is commanded; the second is that divorce is permitted. While it’s permitted, we should recognize that the certificate of divorce was actually an important law designed for the protection of the women who were divorced. A woman who had that certificate, while unable to marry in certain circumstances, would generally be allowed to remarry. It would also show that her separation from her husband was legal and she was not a wanton woman who was looking for one night stands. Woman who committed adultery were liable to be stoned, see John 8, and a man who had written such a certificate could not claim that his ex-wife was actually engaged in adultery.

5. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8. And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Jesus’ answer reminds us that what is allowed, may not always be good. What is lawful, may not be moral. What is permitted, may not be good. The principle is an important principle in today’s world. As followers of Christ, we should never resort to legal wranglings to justify our behavior; our ultimate goal is to follow God instead of following the law. In some cases, we follow the law because God commands us to respect civil authorities and there is no specific word from God on some issues. There are other situations, though, where we must choose between obedience to God and obedience to man’s laws. In those cases we must follow God.

Back to the issue of divorce, though. Rather than talk about specific issues of specific marriages, Jesus reminds us of God’s plan. God created male and female for companionship and union. It is NOT good for man to be alone. This does not mean that everyone is commanded to be married, but it does remind us that marriage is a part of God’s overall plan and the marital union is so sacred that it should never be entered into lightly and it should never be ended lightly. A Christian marriage is one man and one woman joined by God so that the two people become one flesh. One flesh, while it refers to sexual union, it’s a reminder that the unity of marriage is so strong that it should never be broken lightly. Are there reasons for divorce? Yes. It’s permitted. But note that Jesus said that it was permitted because of hardness of heart, or sin. We’ll discuss possible reasons for divorce in a bit. The most important thing to remember, though, is that since divorce involves sin, forgiveness is always available whether the divorce was caused by one person’s sins, or by both person’s sins. As followers of Christ, we should never act as if divorce is the unforgivable sin.

10. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

Once they got back to the house, the disciples were able to explore the question privately and asked Jesus what He really meant. Jesus made it clear that if a person divorces their spouse and marries another person, they’re committing adultery against them. In other situations Jesus pointed out that unless the person was put away because of adultery, divorce and remarriage caused a person to commit adultery. If they had already committed some sexual sin, then the divorce didn’t cause them to commit adultery. While many take Jesus’s teaching on this issue to say that sexual sin could be a reason for divorce, Jesus never commands it. I believe, that if you look at those passages closely, He’s not saying, divorce someone if they commit adultery, He’s saying, that you make them commit adultery if you divorce them, unless they had already been committing adultery.

So, what would be grounds for a divorce? Is adultery a reason to divorce a spouse? Yes, but the truth of the matter is that there are ways to work through that sin and bring reconciliation between the husband and wife. It would never be easy to gain full trust again, but based on the testimony of people who have been through that healing process, it’s possible. That being said, while my general rule would be to help people work through problems in a marriage, I would never advise either spouse to stay in a situation when they and/or their children were in danger of physical harm from their spouse. Is it possible to work through that issue with counseling? I don’t know. But if you are committed to working through a problem of abuse like that, don’t stay in the situation where the abuse occurs.

While my teaching may not apply to your specific situation there are a couple of things that are general principles. The first, Christian marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman that leads to oneness and unity under God’s leadership. It should not be entered into lightly. It should not be dissolved lightly. There are underlying sin issues in any divorce but there is never a reason for Christians to have a judgmental attitude towards people who are divorced. Forgiveness for any and all sins is possible with God. His forgiveness cleanses us and gives us the power to forgive others. Forgiving others does not mean that you treat the other person as if nothing has happened. Sometimes you can forgive, but need to stay away from the other person.

13. And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

There’s a popular meme theme people use: “Things Jesus never said,” where they use that phrase and then quote a popular saying or even a Christian teaching that isn’t in accordance with the words of Jesus. A saying that would fit in this meme is “Children should be seen and not heard.” The rationale behind that phrase is that while children may be cute, their ideas and their words are unimportant. And here’s the logical conclusion to that statement: if their ideas and words are unimportant, they are unimportant. That was the popular opinion in the days Jesus walked the earth. It’s still a pretty universal opinion among many people. I think the disciples thought everyone believed that, except the mothers of those children, and when these mothers brought their kids to Jesus, they wanted to spare Him the embarrassment of saying, “Go away, kid, ya bother me.” (Yes, said in the voice of W.C. Fields) The disciples gave these mothers attitude and sent the kids away. Only, Jesus saw it, and He was ticked. The first rule of following a teacher, any teacher but especially Jesus is, don’t tick off the teacher. Jesus let them know in no uncertain terms that they should let the children come to Him and they should stop preventing them from seeing Him.

Then, Jesus made a remarkable statement: if you don’t receive the kingdom of God “as” a little child, you won’t ever receive it. I don’t believe the word “as” there means when, I think it means with the qualities of a little child. What are the qualities Jesus has in mind? Realizing that I am only guessing on this issue, I think Jesus recognized the innocence of the children. Do children do wrong? Of course, but often they don’t realize why something is wrong and they do things with a good heart. They have a true sense of joy, unless someone robs them of that spirit – and Jesus had words for people like that. Their carefree and don’t worry, in general, what people think of them. As we grow older, our innocence fades into cynicism; our joy is tempered by the problems that overwhelm us, and our carefree attitude is swept away by our desire to fit in with the crowd. Again, I may be completely wrong in my understanding of what Jesus had in mind, but when we come to Christ, we do need to lose our cynicism, our fears, and our desires to be popular and trust God to take care of those concerns in our lives.

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The Cross, The Team, and Avoiding Hell

If you look at the titles up there, you’ll realize I stil have work to do to learn how to fix things up. Anyway, last Saturday night, I realized that I hadn’t posted. Sunday I was worn out from church activities (yes, even with most stuff online) and then, the week went downhill in a hurry! But I’m back today.

30. And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. 31. For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. 32. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.

When I first read verse 30, I thought what Jesus didn’t want men to know was the story of what had just happened. While that fits in with the idea that Jesus didn’t want people seeing Him as an exorcist or a miracle worker instead of hearing the message of the Kingdom of God, further study leads me to believe that He wanted to travel incognito so that He could spend some time teaching the disciples. People mobbed Jesus wherever He went, and I wonder if He was concerned that He wasn’t teaching the disciples like He wanted to teach them. If you’ve ever tried to accomplish a task, or spend a few minutes relaxing, and had people interrupt you constantly, you’ll understand how Jesus felt. Everything that Jesus did was good and necessary, but He needed to focus on the disciples. Not that this time did much good because as He revealed what would be happening, they were like the people described in Isaiah 6:9 – ever hearing, but not understanding; ever seeing, but not perceiving. Jesus taught them again and again that His near future held no throne, nor hope of overthrowing the Romans; His future was the Cross and the Resurrection. The disciples heard His words, but tried to spiritualize them instead of taking them at face value because the idea of the cross was too horrendous to imagine and the concept of resurrection was so outlandish that it didn’t make any sense. Jesus told them the unvarnished truth about His near future and it was so clear, that because it was so outlandish the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying.

33. And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? 34. But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

Once they got home, Jesus hit them with a question: “What were you arguing about along the way?” Here’s a hint: Jesus knew exactly what they were arguing about. If you’ve ever been around children, you know that kids will start arguing about silly things and that one way to stop them is to ask what they’re arguing about. You know what they’re arguing about, but they’re too ashamed to admit it. Jesus knew what they were arguing about and it must have particularly grieved Him because this argument happened immediately after Jesus taught them that He was destined for the cross and not the crown. I’ve got to admit that if I were in that situation, I might have exploded in anger. I would have shouted something like, “Do you mean to tell me you STILL don’t get it? Stop arguing about who’s the greatest and what seat you’ll get in the Kingdom because it’s not coming and if it were coming, you wouldn’t get to choose anyway!” They kept quiet, and Jesus proved why He is Messiah and people like me are not.

35. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. 36. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, 37. Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.

Instead of yelling, Jesus taught them in an amazingly calm manner. There is perhaps no greater tenet in the Christian Church than the understanding that greatness is found in service. Perhaps we should add that there is no more ignored tenet than this either. Like the disciples, we pride ourselves on our place in the Kingdom of God and begin to think of certain tasks as being beneath us. Jesus not only taught them that the Kingdom grew through service, He gave them an example by taking a child in His arms. In this culture, at this time, women and children were low on the social scale. Real men wouldn’t worry about children or women, instead, they’d focus on more “important” issues. Jesus noted that if you wanted to receive Him, you’d care for the children. In modern terms, we might say that if you want to receive Jesus, care for the homeless and the outcast. The result of that is growth in our relationship with God because when you receive Jesus, you receive and welcome the fullness of God.

38. And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. 39. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. 40. For he that is not against us is on our part. 41. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

John, as all good students have learned to do changed the subject to avoid the uncomfortable nature of the discussion. He did it by bragging on the group and their commitment to doctrinal purity. Apparently, someone who had either heard of or encountered Jesus recognized the power in His name and was going around casting out demons in an unauthorized manner, because he wasn’t a follower of the group. John was telling Jesus that even though they didn’t care for children, they were making sure to maintain the exclusive nature of the group by letting people know that only they could use the name of Jesus to cast out demons. We have a lot of denominations who seem to think that they’re the only right denomination and all the others are terrible people who shouldn’t even be called followers of Christ because of <insert reason here>. I believe that the different denominations have unique perspectives on some issues, but I don’t believe any denomination, especially the one my church belongs to, is perfect. I don’t need to try to stop those other denominations or make them conform to what I believe. Jesus made it clear that the battle we should be fighting is the battle against evil. This man, who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name was on their side in that battle and Jesus told the disciples that since he wasn’t against them, he was for them. It’s easy to forget what battle we’re fighting and the purpose of our fight if we start worrying too much about our place in the Kingdom of God rather than about our call to serve in the Kingdom of God. Our call is to battle evil. If someone’s working on our side, rather than rebuke them, we must work with them. Jesus also noted that anyone working miracles in His name, could not speak evil about Him. It wouldn’t make sense for someone to say something like, “I rebuke you demon in the name of that fraudulent teacher named Jesus.” If one is to use His name in the battle against evil, one must recognize who He is as Messiah, as God the Son. And in that final section, Jesus notes that even something as simple as a cup of water given because of the name of Jesus is worth a reward. Of course, giving a cup of water back then wasn’t as simple as it would be now. Now, we have all kinds of sources. We can go to the tap, or we can go to the store and buy bottled water. We can keep it cold or at room temperature. Back in Jesus’s day, water came from a well. The well would have to be uncovered and the person getting the water would have to drop a bucket into the water and then pull it back up just to have water to give. Sometimes we forget about the extent of sacrifice needed for some people to do what seems to be a simple act of ministry. Jesus noted that they would not lose their reward in heaven for that ministry. Ever think God misses the things you do to serve others? He doesn’t and you will not lose any rewards for serving Him.

42. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.

It’s important to remember that in these next few verses, Jesus is not offering a prescriptive punishment as a solution for the wrongdoing that might happen. He is instead pointing out the eternal consequences of earthly actions. He began this section by, once again, reminding us to care for and nurture children. So often, while their faith is innocent, there’s a profundity in the midst of their simplicity. When we think about not offending children, it’s easy to look at those people who lack any kind of faith and seek to keep others from having faith – those who would belittle any show of faith and embarrass children for having such faith. What’s more difficult to see is that we offend little ones when instead of taking their faith seriously, we patronize them by calling their faith statements cute without following up and encouraging them. When we don’t encourage our children in their faith, when we’re afraid to challenge them to grow in their faith, when we ourselves live in such a way that children can’t see how our faith has impacted our lives, we are offending their faith. While it’s not a prescriptive solution in that we need to tie a bunch of millstones around people’s necks and cast them into the sea, Jesus basically said that our lives weren’t worth living if we cause little ones to stumble and lose faith. Let’s face it, if Jesus were to have made this as a literal statement, we’d have a millstone shortage. If you’ve done this in the past, and I can guarantee that I have, there is hope in the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

43. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 44. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 45. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 46. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 47. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: 48. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Let’s face it: as Christians we don’t like to talk about hell and eternal punishment. We love to talk about redemption, forgiveness, grace, and the eternal joy of heaven. But the reality is that Jesus talked about hell. His teaching is that hell is so terrible that it would be better to be a one-eyed, one-handed, one-legged person in heaven than it would be to have a complete body in hell. The torment in hell is endless: the worm doesn’t die and the fire isn’t quenched. I don’t know how literal this discussion of hell is, because I believe Jesus is using hyperbole to make His point, otherwise, we’d have a lot of one-eyed, one-handed, one-legged people hopping around, and I would be one of them. What’s the point then? While some people would say that hell itself is part of the hyperbole and insist that it didn’t exist, I think that Jesus is telling us that hell is real and that we should do anything we can to avoid it for ourselves and others. Some use the phrase “Go to hell,” in a very flippant way, but if we understood the horrors of hell, we would do anything to avoid it ourselves AND we would do anything we could to help others avoid it. The only message by which men can be saved from the fires of hell and be saved from their own sin is found in the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus us commanded us to share the gospel and if love for others doesn’t compel us, fear of hell for others should cause us to proclaim His love and grace.

49. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. 50. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.

If you want to have fun, look at the commentaries talking about verse 49. There is a lot of confusion about the meaning of this verse. I believe, and am willing to be shown how wrong I am, that in verse 49 both salt and fire refer to the purifying process and preservation from corruption. Ultimately, the choice of how we’re purified comes down to the question of will we be purified by the baptism of the fire of the Holy Spirit or will we endure the endless purification in the fires of hell. Every sacrifice is accompanied with salt because salt purifies and protects from corruption. If hell is real, and I believe it is, then the fires of hell are meant less as punishment and more as purification. If that’s so, I wonder what people in hell are being purified for? Is there a second eternal chance? See how this verse can confuse. I don’t believe that hell purifies us for a second chance to enter into heaven, but this is one of those verses where I have to say that I trust that God will do what is right in His eyes and we will all praise Him for it. You can see how difficult it is to interpret the meaning, though. Then, we see a verse that shares a concept in other gospels. As good is, if salt loses its flavor, or saltiness, what good is it? There is no good to salt that has lost its saltiness. Jesus then said to have that salt, that purifying power that protects from corruption inside ourselves and have peace with each other. In today’s terminology, when we call someone “salty,” we tend to think that the person is abrasive and on the edge of civil behavior. When Jesus tells us to be salty, He’s talking about that sense of peace that comes from a pure life. When our lives and our hearts have been purified by God, we will live at peace with others.

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From The Mountaintop to the Valley – a Healing Story

Today we look at the heights of a Spiritual Journey as Peter, James, and John head to the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, at the opposite end, in the depths of spirituality is the loving father who cries out “I believe, help me in my unbelief.” Both situations are authentic expressions of faith by imperfect people. Thank God that I don’t need to be perfect to follow Him!

1. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

This verse is a bit of an orphan as we see it now. Verse two begins another story and it doesn’t seem to have much context – unless you put it into the context of Mark 8:34-38 (and add 9:1). I think it makes sense to include it with those previous verses, because after Jesus gave them the “Do you really want to follow me?” speech where He discussed the hardships and sacrifices of following Him, He let them know that they would realize that following Him was well worth it. Around the world were followers of Christ are persecuted to the point of death, this is the kind of verse that gives believers the hope that following Christ may cost everything, but that everything is nothing compared to the joy and power of knowing Jesus. This verse is a reminder that no matter how bad things may appear to be, there’s an ultimate joy in following Christ through all circumstances.

2. And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. 3. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. 4. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.

If nothing else makes it seem like 9:1 should be read with the preceding verses, note that we have a six day hiatus in the action. It’s obvious, of course, that we don’t get a minute by minute, day by day recital of the story of Jesus, but we don’t see mentions of time like this often in the story of Jesus. I can’t tell you why we see it here, but six days after the call to give up everything, Jesus got Peter, James, and John off by themselves and took them up a mountain. I can imagine the three disciples trying to get a preview of what they were doing: “Where we going?” “Why is it just us?” “What’s going to happen?” I can also imagine Jesus ignoring the questions and continuing His trek up the mountains, or perhaps answering by saying, “You’ll see.” Once they got to the top of the mountain, amazing things began happening. Jesus changed right in front of their eyes. No longer was He wearing the road worn every day robes they were accustomed to seeing,now, His clothes were so bright that they couldn’t imagine an earthly launderer doing the cleaning. His clothes were so bright they made “whiter than white” seem dull and dingy. And once He was prepared, along came Elijah and Moses. Two of the greatest, most important figures in Jewish history had come back to talk to Jesus. Imagine how this must have affected the disciples! They were speechless. It must have been hard for them to imagine the honor it was for Jesus to meet them.

5. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 6. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.

You know that person who always feels compelled to speak when nothing needs to be said? Yeah, that’s Peter. Peter may not have always said the right thing, but he always said something. It’s possible that this event happened during the Feast of Tabernacles, which is why the idea of the tabernacles presented itself to Peter. Perhaps he was trying to find a way to make this experience continue, because they were in the presence of the greatness of the past with Jesus. Whatever happened, he didn’t know what to say, but he had to say it. Sometimes, we need to experience the events of life in silence, and only speak of them while reflecting back on them instead of spoiling the moment with words. Peter had a lot of great qualities, but knowing when to shut his mouth was not one of them! Sadly, I tend to be that same way.

7. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. 8. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.

I think there was an awkward silence when Peter blurted out his idea. Maybe Jesus gave him a questioning look. Perhaps Elijah and Moses chuckled as they looked at him. Then a cloud covered the mountain, making it impossible to see anything or anyone. Speaking from the cloud, God let the three disciples know that they needed to listen to the guy who was His beloved Son. I can’t help but imagine them wondering whether it was going to be Moses or Elijah. I imagine that they were excited that Jesus had brought them along to meet God’s beloved Son. When the fog cleared literally, the fog in their brains cleared figuratively: Jesus was God’s beloved Son. Moses and Elijah were great, but they were nothing compared to Jesus. It may have taken a few seconds for the truth to hit home. It may be that they had some problems fully comprehending that truth because this was Jesus, they guy they hang out with all the time. Whatever happened, though, they knew deep down that all the stories of the greatness of Moses and Elijah that they had grown up with were nothing compared to the understanding that Jesus was far greater.

9. And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. 10. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.

Then, it was time to come down from the mountain. Let’s face it: these three guys experienced one of the most wonderful things imaginable – but they couldn’t stay at the top of the mountain. They had to get back to every day life. And, lest they wonder about contacting their agents to get book contracts and TV appearances, Jesus told them that they couldn’t say anything until He was risen from the dead. As much as Jesus mentioned that, you’d have think it would have made sense to them, yet, while they talked among themselves they tried to figure out just what Jesus meant by that. Maybe they thought Jesus was using hyperbole to mean that they could never tell anyone about this event. Maybe they thought He was talking figuratively and they tried to imagine what “risen from the dead” might really mean. Whatever the situation, they knew they couldn’t talk about it with anyone else. If they took Jesus literally, they probably thought they would go to their grave not being able to talk about this amazing experience, little knowing that in a few short years, they could proclaim it to the world.

11. And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? 12. And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. 13. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.

As they were talking and discussing the idea of Jesus as God’s Son, they came up with an objection. “Wait a minute. The Scribes tell us that Elijah has to come before the chosen one. Why do they say that if, well, you’re here?” (Elias in the King James is equal to Elijah.) They weren’t ready to take this Jesus rising from the dead thing literally, but Elijah had to come back from the dead in their understanding. And, even though they had just seen him, no one else had, so that couldn’t count as Elijah coming back before the Messiah for everyone. Jesus responded by letting them know that Elijah had come back. He was, of course, referring to John who preached a message of repentance and a return to God. Jesus said that he put things right. Then, Jesus asked them a question: why do the Scriptures say that the Son of Man must suffer many things? It was common practice in that day to see the passages where the Messiah was to be a conquering hero as truth, and ignore the passages that talked about the Messiah suffering. Jesus reminded them that those passages were important to understand. This seems to be a common practice among Christians even today. We camp out on the passages we like and ignore or explain away the passages that are too tough. Jesus then told them that when Elijah came back, in the person of John, they abused and eventually killed him as well. Just in case you were wondering, one does not accept Christ and then live happily ever after with no problems. We all have problems. We all have issues that cause us to struggle with our faith. At the same time, we have a God who continues to love us and uphold us in our worst times as well as our best.

14. And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. 15. And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him. 16. And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them?

And then, the mountaintop experience was over. When they got back to the disciples, they were engaged in a full blown argument with the scribes. I have no doubt that they weren’t having a scholarly discussion. They were yelling and attacking each other over the issue we’re about to look at. When the people saw Jesus, they ran over and greeted Him, breathlessly waiting to hear what He would say. Jesus looked at the scribes and asked them what their beef with the disciples was.

17. And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; 18. And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.

The problem: one of the people in the crowd had a son who was possessed by an evil spirit that not only prevented him from talking, it caused him to self-inflict wounds, foam at the mouth and grind his teeth, and to act like he was dead or dying. Since Jesus wasn’t there, he brought them to the disciples and asked them to cast out that demon and they failed. I imagine the scribes were attacking the disciples over the veracity of Jesus because He couldn’t teach His disciples to cast out demons the right way – even though they had done so in previous instances. Mind you, the scribes response wasn’t to say, “Move aside and let us show you how that’s done,” because they couldn’t do that either, but they enjoyed attacking Jesus as a fraud because His disciples couldn’t do the job. We still see that type of criticism of Christians, and Christ, today, don’t we.

19. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.

Who was Jesus chastising here? Was He attacking the disciples for their failure to cast out the demon? Was He attacking the scribes for attacking the disciples when Jesus wasn’t around? Was He attacking the father? I don’t know. Given the way Jesus dealt with people who were hurting, I don’t think He was attacking the father, unlike current members of so-called faith movements who blame sick people for not getting healed because of their lack of faith. Jesus reserved His criticism for the religious elite, the leadership who should have been able to handle such situations under God’s leadership. My guess is that He was directing His attack at the Scribes, but may have included the disciples. When He asked how long he had to endure them, I wonder if He wasn’t thinking to Himself, “Not much longer. Only a few more months!” He then told the father to bring the boy to Him.

20. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. 21. And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. 22. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. 23. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. 24. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

They brought the child to Jesus and the demon put on a show. I have this picture in my mind of Jesus watching this for a while while stroking His beard before He turned to the dad and asked how long it had been happening. The answer was shocking: the kid had been like this since he was a young child and was known to throw himself into the fire or jump into the water to destroy himself. (Under the control of the demon, of course.) I have no doubt that the child was in such physical and emotional pain that he was doing anything he could to get rid of that pain, even if it meant ending his life. His loving parents did all they could to keep him alive, and then came Jesus and they, for once, had hope. Imagine their disappointment that they met first with the disciples, and only later did they meet with Jesus. I want you to take a minute now and think of the parents of children with physical or emotional disabilities that consume all their energy. Their lives are consumed in the care of their child. Often, they have no hope of improvement, but they continue their care with hearts full of love. You know parents like this. Stop reading this for a second and pray for them. Ask God to give them strength. Ask God to show them hope.
As the man described what the demon did to his son, he ended by showing how hopeless life had been for him by asking Jesus to show them compassion and help them IF HE COULD do anything. Jesus was his last hope, and he was so afraid of getting his hopes up that he spoke as though there was no hope; but there’s always hope with Jesus! Jesus looked at him and said, “IFI can? Of course I can. All things are possible to one who believes.” And then the man made the most honest statement of belief in the Bible through his tears. I can’t help but wonder if those were tears of frustration, despair, or joy because of the glimmer of hope that Jesus gave him. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” I think what he meant was, “Lord, I believe in You. I really want to believe, but the idea that my son could be healed is too good to be true and I just can’t believe he could possible be healed. Help my unbelief.”

25. When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. 26. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. 27. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.

And now the crowd was getting into the action and they came running. Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, commanded him to get out and stay out. The demon came out with one last attack on the boy and he lay there on the ground as if dead. While all the people were murmuring that the child had died in this exorcism, Jesus walked over, took him by the hand, and lifted him to his feet. The boy was healed and he went off with his father. We must never forget that two were healed that day, because the father was healed of his unbelief as well. Should he ever have reason to doubt the goodness of God, he could look at his demon-free son and realize that God had not only touched his son, He had touched his heart.

28 And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? 29. And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.

Later, back at the ranch, so to speak, the disciples were perplexed. They couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t been able to cast the demon out. Jesus answer was simple, straightforward, and mind-boggling: this can’t happen except by prayer and fasting. (Some versions leave off the fasting reference.) Why is that mind-boggling? Perhaps Mark didn’t include the full story here, but we didn’t see Jesus stop and pray, let alone fast in that situation. He came into the midst of the argument, whereupon the promise presented itself. Jesus dealt with the problem. End of story. When did He have time to pray and/or fast in that encounter. We didn’t even see a perfunctory, “Father, let them see Your glory,” type of prayer. Jesus was talking about a lifetime of prayer and constant communication with God. Jesus was talking about regular times of fasting to learn to depend on God. And I’m going to add my own editorial comment here. (That’s me saying that this could probably be wrong, but I’m going to say it anyway.) I think the disciples were so focused on the mechanics of the situation and how to get rid of the demon to heal the boy, that they forgot about the father. When Jesus healed the boy, He ministered to the father through the experience as well. Sometimes it’s easy to get so focused on the major problem, that we forget to be concerned about everyone involved. My sister reminded me of that this week (as of the writing.) When talking about how my wife has been doing in the hospital, she sent me a text with a simple, but powerful question: “And how are you?” She showed concern for me as the caretaker and I believe that Jesus showed that same concern for the father of the child where perhaps the disciples didn’t. Anytime people are dealing with issues, there are other problems associated with the situation, and we need to find ways to minister to people in all areas of the problem.

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What’s God Up To Anyway? Mark 8:22-38

If you’ve ever wanted to know what God was doing, and why, don’t feel like you’re all alone. This week, I wrestled with that question a lot. I think the disciples did also. Ultimately, of course, I know that God has a plan. I just wish He’d give me a few hints now and then.

22. And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. 23. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.

This story starts off in a typical fashion, people bringing someone who needs healing to Jesus, and takes an amazing turn almost immediately. Jesus took the guy out of the city and then He spat on the man’s eyes and then put his hands on him. I’m going to be honest with you here – I have trouble with this story. Normally, spitting in a man’s face like that would be considered an insult. I can’t imagine anyone here not agreeing with that statement, but if you do disagree, go ahead and see how people react when you spit in their face. One commentator I read talked about fluid from Jesus’s body bringing healing,like the blood cleanses us from all sin, but that seems almost sacrilegious to compare the two events. The only way I can deal with this story is to say that God works in ways that we don’t understand. That hits home personally this week. I’m not understanding a lot of what God is doing, which I talk about in the video that accompanies this study. Here’s where the story takes an even weirder twist. Jesus asked the man if he could see clearly.

24. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.

Normally, when Jesus applied the healing touch, it worked immediately. We’ve even seen cases where Jesus didn’t even need to touch someone to bring about healing – just say the word. In this case, Jesus spit on the guy and then touched him with His hands, and that still wasn’t enough. He saw men like trees, walking. I’ve never studied J.R.R. Tolkien and his works in depth, but I know that he was a Christian and I wonder if this verse was the inspiration for the characters known as Ents? In any case, either the touch of Jesus wasn’t enough, or Jesus had a reason for only healing the man half-way. I won’t say that it’s safe to trust Jesus on this or any issue, I will say that it’s best to trust Jesus – especially when things look their worst.

25. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. 26. And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.

Jesus repeated the process by touching the blind man one more time. This time, the healing was complete and he was able to see clearly. I have no doubt that the whole process was part of the plan, but I don’t understand why the guy had to be dealt with twice. It’s interesting that Jesus not only performed the healing away from the prying eyes of the town, when He sent the man home, He told him not to go back into town or tell anyone from the town, Bethsaida, about what had happened. Scholars label this situation as the “Messianic Secret,” but I don’t think that Jesus was worried so much that people knew that He was the Messiah as that He wanted people to discover that He was the Messiah under His own terms, terms that focused on the Good News of the Kingdom of God instead of Jesus as the miracle worker.

27 And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?

I don’t think that Jesus was worried what people thought about Him. He wasn’t taking a poll to see if He needed to change the way He was doing this messiah thing. If Jesus knows all things, He knew what people were thinking about Him. I believe that this question was designed to force the disciples to confront their understanding of who Jesus was by seeing Him through the eyes of others and then confronting that very question for themselves, as we see in the continuing discussion.

28 And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. 29. And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. 30. And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.

I wonder if people calling Jesus “John the Baptist,” or “Elias,” (Elijah) meant that they thought Jesus was a prophet like these two or one of the other prophets or if they thought that Jesus was that prophet brought back to life. Those who considered Him to be Elijah, or a prophet like him, understood that the presence of the Kingdom of God was near, since Elijah, or a prophet like him, was to be the forerunner to the Messiah. Jesus noted that John fulfilled the job of the prophet like Elijah, as noted in Malachi 4:5, in Matthew 17. Meanwhile, Jesus brought out the point of His original question: Who do YOU say that I am? Peter, as usual, was jumping up and down, raising his hand saying, “Pick me! Pick me!” Peter answered for the group, and he was correct: Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. Again, Jesus told Peter and the rest of the disciples not to go around telling people that He was the Messiah. He wanted people to discover that on their own as they heard His message. Obviously, we’re called to tell the world about the Messiah these days, because Jesus commanded us to go to all the world with the good news. Realize that today, people will never hear the gospel message without our proclamation; back in the days of Jesus, He was there to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The other problem was that the Jews had a misconception of what the Messiah would be like and equating Jesus with that picture would make it difficult for Jesus to teach about the Kingdom of God.

31. And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Now that the identity question was out of the way, Jesus began to teach them what being the Messiah meant in God’s plan. Jesus was not going to be the conquering hero who overthrew the Roman government and brought freedom to Israel again, instead, He would suffer and die, and then conquer death by rising again. Ultimately, the message of Jesus conquered the Roman Empire, but that message did so peacefully – well, as peacefully as anything happened in those days. Jesus told them that as Messiah, He wouldn’t be working with the Jewish leadership, but instead, they would reject Him leading to His crucifixion. Those were hard teachings to swallow, and as the story continues, we’ll see the disciples showing that they completely misunderstood what Jesus was saying to them, ultimately acting as if the crucifixion was the end of the story, and not the beginning of an amazing new story!

32. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. 33. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.

If you want to know why Jesus kept that whole Messiah issue under wraps, Peter’s example is why. As soon as Jesus started explaining what being the Messiah meant in God’s plan, Peter took umbrage and rebuked Him. Let’s face it, all the Jews knew that the Messiah would be a conquering military man who would overthrow the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel to the glory that David had given to the people. And let’s face it, the people who worked with the Messiah, could expect seats of honor, power, and wealth. When Jesus taught them God’s plan, Peter, and the others, saw their hopes and dreams of power and wealth fade away. When Peter tried to talk some sense into Jesus, so to speak, Jesus rebuked him and brought to mind the temptation of Satan for Jesus to be a powerful political leader and king. The common teachings of who and what the Messiah would be were wrong and Jesus contrasted those teachings with God’s teaching and plan. The Messiah, as Jesus taught, would not seek to be served, but would serve humbly while caring for people. Jesus practiced that during His whole earthly life.

34. And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. 36. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37. Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

And if that rebuke to Peter wasn’t enough, Jesus made it clear to anyone around: following Him would not give you power; following Him would lead to death. If you wanted to follow Jesus, you needed to stop worrying about your own comfort, your own hopes and dreams of greatness, and be willing to die. If you sought to save this temporal life by not following Jesus, you’d lose your eternal life. On the other hand, if you were willing to lose your life, figuratively or literally, and follow Jesus and proclaim the gospel message, you’d save your eternal life. The message was clear to anyone who really heard Jesus – His messiahship, and His Kingdom, was not of this world. If you want the wealth, riches, and power of this world, Jesus isn’t the one to follow. On the other hand, if you seek what God desires in this world, be ready to throw it all in and follow Him. We talk that way about our health and the modern proverb is that man forsakes his health and works hard so that at the end of his life, he’ll have enough wealth to take care of himself when his bad health catches up to him. What would you give up your good health for? At the same time, a more important question is what would you sell your soul for? Would you sell it cheaply for the things of this world, or would you place it in God’s hands and trust Him for all you need?

38. Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Will you follow Jesus, or will you slink away because the teaching is hard? Would you hide any affiliation with Christ because of what people might think or do people recognize that you are a follower of Jesus by your words and actions? Jesus made it clear that while there is a better world coming, when the Son of Man (Himself) will come in glory, we have a call to live each day as His ambassadors in the midst of this sinful world. The saying about some people is that they’re so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthly good; in truth, those who follow Christ should be so heavenly-minded that our lives bless all we come into contact with and draw them to the goodness of God – even when we don’t understand all that we want to about God’s ways and God’s plans.

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Dinner Parties, Legalism, and Politics – Mark 8:1-21

After Jesus fed the four thousand people, they took their boat across the lake and ran into some Pharisees who confronted Jesus and asked for a sign. Jesus rebuked them, and then got out of town with His disciples. On the trip back, He warned them about the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. I see that as legalism and power – especially political power. That warning is especially appropriate today, especially when those in power would seek to impose their religious legalism as the law of the land. This isn’t an attack on political leaders in general, because God has ordained government and can work through any kind of government, but it’s a reminder for followers of Jesus not to become enamored of the power found in politics.

1. In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, 2. I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: 3. And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far.

Today begins with the story of Jesus’s second dinner party for the crowds. It was a smaller affair with only four thousand guests (as seen in verse 9) but Jesus charged His disciples once again to feed the people because they had been with Him for three days and He didn’t want to send them out only to faint from hunger on the way home. A lot of people had come from far away, and the journey home would be difficult if the didn’t have anything to eat. You would think that the disciples would consider this an easy task, since they had been involved with the feeding of the five thousand earlier.

4. And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?

The appropriate question, or reaction, to His command might have been something like “So, are you going to do like you did last time when we fed five thousand people?” Instead, even thought they had seen Jesus deal with a similar situation previously, they doubted. They lacked faith. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, or heard said, “If only I could walk with Jesus in person…” I have no doubt that if I had been one of the disciples walking with Jesus and He asked me to feed four thousand people, I would doubt and lack faith also. The reaction of the disciples was natural. “How in the world are we going to feed all these people?” Lack of faith is normal. Trusting God when He asks us to go beyond our comfort zone, or do something miraculous is abnormal – or perhaps a better word to use would be supernatural. God doesn’t call us to normal or natural faith, He calls us to have a supernatural faith that trusts Him implicitly and immediately. We like to be normal and fit in with the crowd. If we truly follow Jesus, we stand above the crowd. But we don’t always do that. Don’t feel bad, though, neither did the disciples.

5. And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. 6. And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. 7. And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. 8. So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. 9. And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away. 10. And straightway he entered into a ship with his disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha.

Jesus took stock of the situation and discovered what they had to work with. I don’t know about you, but if I were in that situation, I’d be worried and sweating bullets. Jesus wasn’t worried, though. He gave thanks for the seven loaves of bread they had, as well as some fish, and then started passing out the food. God has provided abundance from lack on other occasions: Elijah blessed the widow of Zarephath with a supply of oil and wheat that lasted the duration of a drought; Elisha had a woman fill containers with oil from a tiny jar that kept pouring until she ran out of containers. Jesus had no reason to worry. I think about the situations that cause me to worry and I realize that God already knows how He’s going to work on things – He isn’t worried. I note, cynically, to others that God’s luck that He has me around to do His worrying for Him. I’m sure that life would be better for me if I could learn to give thanks for what I have rather than worry about the things that I don’t have.

Once He had given thanks, He passed the bread and the fish out to the disciples, who then passed it out to the people. There’s an important point to notice as we think about that: the disciples were giving to others from what God had given them. I’m a firm believer in helping other people. I’ve learned that the best way to help others joyfully is to recognize that all that we have is God’s and when we help people, we aren’t doing anything ourselves, we’re imitating the nature of God and giving from His resources, not ours. The disciples passed the food out to the people and they ate, and, once again, there were left overs – this time seven baskets. Once the people had eaten, Jesus sent them on their way and then He and the disciples set off for Dalmanutha. Where is that? Who knows? When I looked it up it was described as the unknown destination of Jesus and the disciples in this story. The NIV just says, “the other side.” I like the idea that it’s an unknown destination. There’s a spirit of adventure in that idea. To paraphrase a popular TV show, Jesus was going boldly where no man had gone before. That may be a bit of hyperbole, but sometimes we forget the adventure of living a life in tune with Jesus Christ. It’s easy to get set in our ways and not listen for God’s call. My question to you is where is God calling you? To what is He calling you? Where, or what, is your Dalmanutha?

11. And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. 12. And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. 13. And he left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side.

No matter where your Dalmanutha is, you’re going to run into opposition. Jesus ran into Pharisees there who sought a sign. I have no doubt they had heard of Jesus. My guess is that they didn’t walk around asking people if they had a sign from heaven on a regular basis. They had heard of Jesus and they recognized who He was. And they wanted a sign. They were tempting Jesus to reveal who He was before it was time. They were tempting Jesus to give them control over His life in a small way by demanding that sign. We still have people seeking signs today. I’ve seen and heard people talking about seeking a sign of what God wants them to do by using the phrase, “I laid out a fleece,” referencing the story of Gideon’s Fleece in Judges 6:36-40 as if it was a sign of their great faith. When we take a good look at that story, Gideon had so little faith in God’s direction that he laid out the fleece and asked God to perform a miracle to show that He was speaking, and then, after getting what he asked for the first time, asked God to do the same thing, but in reverse. Sometimes God gives us signs that we recognize, but demanding a sign from God doesn’t come from faith, it comes from a lack of faith and a desire to control God. “If you want me to do this God, you’d better do that or I’m not listening.” We should seek wisdom and an understanding of God’s will rather than a sign. An example my pastor uses deals with mission trips. He tells us that when people respond to an offer to go on a mission trip and they respond with “Let me pray and see what God says,” they’re already forgetting that Jesus told us to go! (Matthew 28:16-20) Instead, we need to be ready to say “Yes, unless God shows me otherwise.

Jesus wasn’t happy about the request for a sign, and He lamented the question. In other, similar stories, He referenced the story of Jonah relating to His own resurrection – a sign that most Pharisees refused to believe. After rebuking the Pharisees, He got out of town and went back to the other side of the lake.

14. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf. 15. And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.

I can imagine the conversation on the boat, given these verses. “Shopping? I thought YOU were supposed to buy the bread.” “Me, it was your turn. I can’t believe you forgot!” And so on. Whatever was said, they appeared to have had a bit of discussion on the fact that they only had one loaf of bread. Jesus broke into the discussion and reminded them to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. You’ll get a wide variety of opinions on what “the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod” is if you look that phrase up. Rather than recounting all the different possibilities, I’m going to share my understanding knowing that it’s possible that I’m wrong, or, that my answer is one right answer of many. The Pharisees were so enmeshed in the study of the Law of God, that they forgot about the heart of God. They were legalistic and defined how one stood with God based on their adherence, or lack thereof, with the Law. While God’s directives are important, Jesus came to show the heart of God and the love He has for all people. The Pharisees would take the warm, loving relationship God seeks to have with people and reduce it to a system of laws and punishments for obeying those laws. When Jesus talked about the leaven of the Pharisees, I have no doubt that He was trying to get people to focus on their relationship with God rather than trying to follow a set of laws, fearful that He would zap them if they stepped out of line. We still have that battle today. The leaven of Herod is the desire to control others – in this case, politically, but control can happen in numerous ways. One of the problems Christians have in politics is that we come into political power, and then we seek to write laws to make everyone behave like we think they should. While some laws are necessary, to protect people from others, lawmaking is not an alternative to evangelism. We should always seek godly leaders. We should always pray for elected and appointed officials. But we should never think that God needs a certain form of government to act or that making a law will help people know God. If the government wrote a law forbidding people from praying, most Christians would be upset – and some would keep praying anyway, like Daniel. At the same time, I think that if the government wrote a law saying that all people should read one chapter of the Bible every day, there would be a lot of silence from Christians, as if such a law could help people get to know God. We should seek neither religious authority like that of the Pharisees, or political solutions to faith like Herod sought.

16. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread. 17. And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? 18. Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? 19. When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. 20. And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. 21. And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?

The disciples, as usual, didn’t understand Jesus. They focused on the physical bread, rather than the spiritual truth of what Jesus was saying. Instead of recognizing that Jesus was talking about two belief systems that could draw them away from God, they focused on the bread. “So Matthew, the next time you go to <insert name of your favorite grocery store here>, make sure you avoid the Pharisee brand and the Herod brand. Jesus, what brand should Matthew look for?” I’m going to give you a true statement as a (retired) teacher: sometimes students can be exasperating. Jesus’s disciples, His students, were exasperating at times, and this is one of those times. In the midst of their worry over physical bread, they overlooked the meaning of the teaching Jesus was giving them. God will provide. Think about all the leftovers they had from just those two dinner parties. God’s going to take care of physical needs. What they needed to watch for was anything that drew them away from God. In this case, Jesus was concerned that an undue emphasis on physical needs could get in the way of their relationship with God, just a a focus on works, as in the leaven of the Pharisees, or a focus on power, as in the leaven of Herod, could do. Instead, we should seek to deepen our relationship with God as we come to know Him better each day. The best way to get to know Him better is to spend time with Him. What does that mean? I can’t give you a definite answer. Why not ask God to show you as you go through each day.

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Race and Disability Overcome by the Grace and Ability of God

Today’s video was filmed at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center in Corpus Christi. Not only has this place, and the people who work here made an amazing difference in our lives, one of today’s stories is about Jesus healing a deaf man. My wife started volunteering here with senior citizens, learned to be an interpreter under the tutelage of Susan Tiller, for whom the building is named, and has since gone on to the highest level of certification as an interpreter in Texas with a medical interpreting certificate added. She now teaches sign language and interpreting and interprets our worship services at Second Baptist Church (http://2bc.org) with our daughter. I noted in the video that she will be going through hip replacement surgery on Monday, August 17 and I asked you to pray for us as I renewed my offer to pray for you. We also look at a story that deals with the problem of racism and the healing of a deaf man. May God bless you as you read.

24 And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. 25. For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: 26 The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.

Jesus spent a lot of time away from the Jewish areas of the land. I think He must have gotten tired of religious people. When I say “religious people,” I’m not talking about people who are in a close relationship with God and spread His love and grace to others; I’m talking about those people “have God on their side” and are ready to correct everything “wrong” that you or anyone else is doing. Recently there was an exchange on Twitter when an author responded to a person’s interpretation of their work, pointing out that they had it wrong. The person responded angrily, “Have you even read that book?” That’s the reaction Jesus got from the religious Jews of His time and He needed a break from the continuous confrontations – and – He also knew that He needed to be in Tyre and Sidon fo a specific reason, or so I believe. He tried to go there anonymously, but they didn’t have sunglasses back in those days, and it wasn’t long before people found out who He was and where He was staying. A Gentile (Greek) woman from Syrophenicia whose daughter had an unclean spirit found out about Him and begged Jesus to cast the demon out. Here, the story takes an interesting twist.

27 But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.

Jesus’s response was simple, straightforward, and insulting. He said, in effect, “I need to take care of my people, the Jews, and not deprive them to take care of the dogs.” Yes, it was a parable and if you want to be kind, you might try to sanitize the word “dogs” in the explanation, but I think that Jesus chose that wording deliberately. The question is, “why?” Did Jesus believe that anyone but Jews were “dogs?” I don’t think so. When a Roman centurion came to Him for help, Jesus not only gave the help, but He marveled at his faith. Did this women’s request show any less faith? I don’t think so. Did Jesus hate women, or perhaps just foreign women, and He insulted her to let her know that she wasn’t worthy of being in His presence? Again, I don’t think so. That doesn’t sound at all like Jesus who helped numerous women throughout His time on earth. My belief is that Jesus knew this woman’s heart and that she, in the past, had used similar language to describe Jewish people. Despite those comments, she sought help from a Jewish rabbi when her daughter needed help. I believe Jesus confronted her racism by throwing it back in her face and caused her to realize how wrong she had been.

28 And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. 29. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. 30. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.

Again, this is my speculation on the rationale for the insult Jesus delivered, but the woman recognized her own thoughts thrown back at her, humbled herself, and implored Jesus to heal her daughter once again with a request based in humility, not pride. Her response showed that she understood what Jesus said, why He said it, and was a request couched in the language of the parable. We have a dog, and our dog goes for every crumb she can, under the table or on my shirt. Jesus never hated this woman, He loved her enough to heal her racist attitude and cast the demon out of her daughter. When He recognized that her heart was changed, He announced that her daughter’s demon was gone. I don’t know if the woman left in faith, or if she left skeptically, but we see that her request was granted and that her daughter was healed. Racism is always ugly and sometimes, the only way to deal with it may seem brutal, but Jesus thought that this lady deserved to understand how wrong she was and experience God’s love and grace when she was confronted with her attitude. Let me say this one final time: this is my understanding of this passage. Anytime someone shares their understanding of a passage it may a) be the only correct way to understand the passage; or b) be completely wrong; or c) be one of many possible correct ways to understand the passage. I would hope that c) is the answer in this case.

31 And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. 32. And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.

Jesus left after this encounter, and I can’t help but wonder that He made the trip to Tyre and Sidon just for that woman. He went to the Decapolis region where some of the people brought a man who was deaf and, in the words her, had an impediment in his speech. These people asked Jesus to heal him. A quick note on the “speech impediment” here. There are qualities about the speech of people who are deaf that may sound like a speech impediment when, in actuality, they come about because a deaf person can’t hear their own speech correctly. The New International Version (NIV) puts a title on this encounter that said that Jesus healed a “deaf and mute” man. The text doesn’t describe a person who is “mute” so much as a person whose speech is different because of his hearing loss. A person can be mute, unable to speak, without being deaf, and most deaf people are able to speak and thus, should not be described as mute. Often, they don’t speak because people make fun of their speech because it exhibits qualities that relate to their deafness. Two lessons to make of this: 1) don’t call Deaf people “deaf and mute,” and 2) show respect to any person who is different, sounds different, or has different abilities because of their physical nature. These people must have loved their friend who was deaf so much that when they heard that Jesus was in the area, they brought him to Jesus. (Personal note: I have been involved with the Deaf community in one way or another for over forty years. I was certified as an interpreter for the Deaf for a short time and my wife has been involved in the community as an interpreter for all of that time. Even so, I may not have been completely accurate in my analysis above and I apologize in advance for any mistakes and welcome anyone in the Deaf community to call attention to my mistakes.)

33 And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; 34. And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. 35. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.

I would love to see a picture of this scene, but apparently, none of the disciples had their cell phones with them at the time. Jesus took the man and put His fingers in his ears. I find the issue of spitting here interesting. I imagine He spat to the side and not on the man. Then, Jesus touched the man’s tongue. It is possible to touch a person’s tongue when you have fingers in their ears. I checked it out. Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed. Again, why a sigh? When I write fiction, I imagine my characters doing a lot of sighing and I try to find alternative words for sighing. I think this might have been describing a deep breath. Whether I’m correct in this understanding or not, I think the sigh/deep breath included a quick, non-verbal prayer. Then Jesus told the man, “Be opened.” The man’s ears were opened and, he was able to speak without any perceptible difference. At first glance, that might show that my earlier interpretation of the “speech impediment” was wrong and it is possible, if not probable, there was a physical impediment to clear speech. Wrong or not, though, the explanation is a reminder to treat people who are different with respect. It’s also possible that when Jesus healed the man of his hearing loss, He brought healing to the speech patterns. We could argue about the details, but the simple fact is that the man could now hear and speak just like anyone else in the crowd.

36. And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; 37. And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

Jesus gave them a charge – they weren’t supposed to tell anyone what had happened. One of the scholarly debates is why Jesus tried to keep this “Messianic Secret.” I’m not a scholar, but my understanding of the reason Jesus told those He healed to keep quiet is that He wanted people to experience the Kingdom of God as opposed to coming to Him just for the healing. This question is one of those questions I’ll be able to answer for you in a hundred years or so. This was a command that they couldn’t follow, because they kept spreading the news about the man who was deaf being healed. Note here: “dumb” is also not a term you should use for the Deaf community. People are not “deaf and dumb,” they are deaf. The NIV uses the term “mute” in their description. The miracle is that a man who could not, or would not, speak suddenly began to speak clearly. I wonder sometimes if we don’t teach evangelism all wrong. We tell people to go and tell and they stay home and stay quiet. Jesus told people to stay home and be quiet, and the people decided to go and tell. Since we know the rest of the story already (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the Bible before or haven’t heard the news) that Jesus died and rose again, we have a much more amazing story to tell in our world about the crucified and resurrected Savior. I don’t think Jesus was using reverse psychology here, and neither will I, since Jesus told us His response to the situation after His resurrection. Go and tell this amazing story to friends and loved ones: “He forgives sins, empowers His people, and He’s conquered death.”

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Do Our Traditions Replace The Word of God? and Need Prayer?

You’ll notice if you listen to the video, that I’m asking you to let me pray for you. The video gives a better explanation of how I want to do that, but the simple fact is that I want to pray for you in a format I’m calling “drive by prayers.” If you want me to pray for you, you can just respond on the comments. If you have specific needs that you want kept confidential, then you an send my a direct message on Twitter, my handle is @rockyfort, or on Facebook. The group I’m using is called “Daily Enduring Truth.” (Imagine that!) If you’re already my friend on FB (rockyfort) feel free to message me there as well. Just to make it clear: I want to pray for you.

1. Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. 2. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. 3. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 4. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.

As Jesus continued in His ministry and His popularity began to grow, the Pharisees showed up to check Him out. While we’ve seen them a few times, specifically in Mark 2 and 3 in the biblical account, they always seem to show up whenever too many people start following Jesus. And, much like today’s internet tradition that the person losing the argument starts picking on grammar, they attacked Jesus on what most would consider a non-essential religious practice: hand-washing. Note that when the Pharisees talk about washing their hands, they’re not talking about basic hygiene, they’re dealing with a religious ritual designed not only to remove the physical dirt from their hands, but also the spiritual dirt of those they might encounter in the market place: both Gentiles and Jews who weren’t as observant as they were. It’s not that they were “germaphobes,” in today’s terms, so much as they were spiritual germaphobes who sought to prevent the possibility of anything unclean sticking to them. There was an elaborate ritual Pharisees followed to make sure that they had washed off the dust of the masses, so that they might be spiritually clean. And because washing their hands wouldn’t take care of other things, they had a symbolic washing of all of their eating sites and utensils. What did they see among Jesus’s disciples? They didn’t follow that ritual, and if Jesus didn’t teach them that basic practice, what kind of a real teacher was He?

5. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? 6. He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Make no mistake about this question: the Pharisees don’t care about what the disciples are doing. When they pointed out this spiritual faux pas, they were doing so to attack Jesus for His shoddy teaching, or so it seemed to them. Jesus shot back at them by calling them hypocrites, which was an insult of course, and then quoting from Isaiah that while they sought to honor God by their words and even their actions, their hearts were far from God. They were going through the motions of their faith, without having their hearts in line with God’s heart. This is just a quick aside, but earlier this week, I saw someone aghast that Christians were insulting other Christians because it was unChristlike. While I seek to avoid such insults myself, Jesus used accurate descriptions of those who opposed Him which could be considered insults. The quick lesson, as followers of Christ, we should always season our speech with salt, as it were, but never be afraid to describe actions and their implications accurately. The problem the Pharisees had was that they had worked so hard to develop just the right way to do everything, that they had lost all sense of relationship with God. Worship had become a mechanical process of following the rules that they had created rather than a process of seeking God through their lives.

8. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

One of the great things about the different denominations we have is that we have many different forms to use as we seek to honor God. Whether we relax in quiet contemplative worship built on the traditions of the past, revel in the hymns and contemporary music of our day, or rejoice ecstatically while we jump and dance to wild music, we can seek God in many different formats. The key is the freedom to seek God as He directs and leads us. The Pharisees had reduced God to a set of rules and regulations. The sad thing about many of our denominations is that we reduce God, and the search for God to our expression of worship. We look down on those who seek contemplative worship because we can’t imagine not being excited by the presence of God; we criticize those dealing with hymns and some contemporary music for eschewing the traditions of the past and only indulging in half-hearted worship – afraid to really let loose; we’re aghast at those who would get so excited in their worship while completely forsaking the traditions of so many years of faithful believers. The truth is, God isn’t blessed by the form worship takes so much as the heart of the person worshiping. We should never have the same attitude that the Pharisees had that their way was the only right way. Jesus pointed out the flaw in their system in that it focused on following man’s interpretation of what God said rather than allowing people to seek God with all their heart.

9. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. 10. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: 11. But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. 12. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13. Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

Jesus ripped into the Pharisees here with an example that showed that while they may have originally been seeking to honor God as they developed their traditions, some of their man-made traditions are a direct contradiction to God’s commands. He gave examples related to parents. The word of God says that we’re to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12) and that whoever curses their father and mother shall be put to death (Exodus 21:17). Please note that in this time, it was the duty of a child to honor their parents not just with words, but by caring for them and meeting their needs. Once a parent was no longer able to work, they needed support since there were no safety nets in those days. Cursing a parent also was not just a word thing, a child who didn’t help meet the physical needs of their parents were curses instead of the blessings they should be. With that biblical background and cultural understanding, Jesus attacked the tradition of “Corban.” What was Corban? Corban was the idea that funds or resources were dedicated to God and could not be used for secular purposes. The practice that Jesus attacked was when Pharisees would designate some, or all, of their resources as Corban so that they could avoid taking on the responsibilities they had as children to care for their parents. While Jesus didn’t deal with this issue, I think it’s an important reminder for us in our day that we are our brother’s keeper and that we need to be careful when dealing with the resources God blesses us with so that we can find ways to bless others.

14. And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: 15. There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. 16. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.

This is one of those amazing statements of Jesus that flies underneath the radar. Jesus turned from the Pharisees and called to the people who had seen this interaction. The Pharisees had complained about the disciples defiling themselves by eating with unwashed hands. Jesus not only refuted that, but broadened the statement in an amazing way. It isn’t what goes into a person that defiles him, it’s what goes out. This not only addresses unwashed hands (ceremonially) , but also begs the question of what does this have to say about the dietary laws? Dietary laws were one of the distinguishing features that separated Jews from the world around them. There is something to be said about how they enhanced the physical health of the adherent. While some Jewish groups no longer adhere to those laws, they still have an impact. At the same time, some Christians, recognizing the health benefits of those laws, still seek to follow them. The message of Jesus makes it clear, to me anyway, that it isn’t whether or not you wash your hands and it isn’t whether or not you follow the dietary laws, it’s whether you’re right with God. Your relationship with God isn’t measured by what you eat or drink, it’s measured by what you say or do. Jesus offered a more in-depth description of His meaning in the next few verses. He called on those who could hear to hear, and to understand.

17. And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. 18. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; 19. Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?

Often the disciples asked Jesus to explain what He taught because they didn’t understand what He was teaching. I believe, in this case, that the disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing and they asked Jesus about this teaching because they wanted to make sure that they had heard Him correctly. Jesus made it plain. You eat, the food goes through the digestive system, and then is eliminated from the body. That food doesn’t affect the heart or the character of the person eating. The NIV makes the last phrase a parenthetical thought noting that Jesus declared all food clean. While we know that the disciples, for the most part, still followed the dietary laws that went so far as separating themselves from Gentiles while they ate, based on Paul’s description of the situation in Galatia, they still seemed to understand this teaching when Jesus explained it.

20. And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22. Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

What defiles a person is what comes out of their mouth, their actions, their writings, their overall attitudes. If you eat all the “right” foods, but your words, your thoughts, and your deeds give place to anything on the list of evils Jesus described, your heart is defiled in front of God. On the other hand, if your eat all the foods on the “forbidden” list but you don’t entertain those evil thoughts, words, or deeds then your heart is pure before God. We could spend a lot of time focusing on those evil deeds while realizing that this list isn’t exhaustive, but perhaps better would be to consider a list of some of the things we should be doing if our heart is right with God. We should see sexual purity and faithfulness in marriage, we should see a respect for life, for all life. We shouldn’t seek to accumulate wealth, but find ways to give it to others. We should deal honestly and fairly with all people and we should seek to honor God with all our words and deeds. While we depend on the forgiveness of God, we should not seek to give God numerous reasons to forgive us.


							
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