Meet God in the Morning – Use this Free eBook to help

A lot of times, people take stock of where they are spiritually at the beginning of the year. They make resolutions to do different things that will help them draw closer to God throughout the year. Have you ever stopped in the middle of the year to evaluate how well you’re doing in meeting that goal? That’s an easy goal to let go of and forget because there are so many distractions. If you made that kind of goal at the beginning of the year and you’ve fallen behind, take heart. Our God gives second and third and fiftieth and one hundredth chances. If you want to begin to work on that again, let me introduce you to my devotional book series. I’d like to offer you a free eBook where you can spend five to ten minutes a day reading and contemplating God’s presence in your life. This site won’t even collect an email address! If you don’t know how to send a book to your Kindle, I can help you do that. Gain a habit that will enrich your every day life.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts

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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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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Finishing the Story, Feeding the Five Thousand, and Finding Healing – Mark 6:30-56

After you’ve read the Bible through a number of times, it’s easy to become jaded and think that you’ll never find anything new. I wonder if that happened to the disciples and that’s why they didn’t learn the lesson of feeding the five thousand. As I prepared for today’s Bible study, two things that I had never considered before jumped out at me. So, keep reading God’s word and keep expecting Him to speak to you in new and amazing ways each day.

30. And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. 31. And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.

As we move on from the story of John the Baptist, we’re reminded that Jesus had sent the apostles out on a mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God, teach, heal those who were sick, and cast out demons. Now, to complete the “Markan sandwich,” we get the report. The apostles came back and reported what they had done and what they had taught. I imagine it was a bit of a circus atmosphere, with the disciples all trying to talk at once while the crowds surrounded and pushed in on them to see and hear Jesus. They didn’t have the time or a decent place to grab a bite to eat. That’s when Jesus told them it was time to blow this joint and find some place in the desert where they could have peace and quiet, rest, and then talk about what had happened.

32. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. 33. And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. 34. And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.

They found their boat and headed off to a different place. The problem was, these early forerunners of the paparazzi realized what they were doing and followed Jesus and His crew. Some ran around the lake. Some may have had boats there to follow, but these people were so desperate to hear the word of God, to be healed, to be delivered from their demons that Jesus’s plan for peace and quiet turned into a mob scene at a different place with most of the same people. If it were me, I might have told everyone to get lost. I might have asked if they had family somewhere that needed them. I used to tell my brother or sisters, even littler neighborhood kids, if I needed a break from them, “Go tell your mother she wants you.” Jesus had compassion on them. He came out of the boat, and there they were and He realized that they needed to experience the love and the grace of their Father God. He realized that they, like sheep, were wandering around aimlessly in life and they needed someone to shepherd and guide them. Because of that, rather than making peace and quiet His priority, ministry and grace became more important. He started teaching them.

35. And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: 36. Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.

The disciples recognized a problem that they thought that Jesus hadn’t considered: it was late, they were in a place so deserted that there were no fast food joints around, and people were bound to get hungry. So they went up to Jesus and suggested that He send the people away so they could forage for food themselves. My opinion was that the disciples, having just come back from their missions, wanted some down time alone with Jesus. I have no doubt that they couldn’t think of anyplace where people would be able to buy bread, but it was a convenient way to get the people out of there. Jesus had a different solution, though.

37. He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? 38. He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.

The solution Jesus had in mind was ministry. The disciples recognized the problem with that right away. As my pastor puts it, “Ministry is spelled M-O-N-E-Y.” Jesus told the disciples to minister to the people by feeding them and their objection was that it would take half a year’s wages to do that. (That would be about 200 denarii in the coin of the day.) They knew not only that it would cost money, but if they were going to buy that much bread, they’d have to make a lot of different stops, given that most people prepared their own daily bread and not much more, and that by the time they got back with the bread, the people would have missed their meal anyway. In short, the disciples saw the problems with the only solution they could imagine – it was impossible to do as Jesus asked. Jesus suggested a different approach to the problem – find out what resources they might have. So the disciples went out and canvassed the thousands of people gathered around and after all the asking, they found out that they had access to five loaves of bread and two fishes. According to other versions of the story, it was a little kid sharing his own lunch. I don’t know how good at math you are, but I’m guessing that it would be difficult to feed that many people with such meager fare.

39. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. 40. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. 41. And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. 42. And they did all eat, and were filled. 43. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. 44. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.

When Jesus had figured out their resources, He organized the disciples and the people for action. They sat down in smaller groups of fifty and a hundred. Yes, I typed “smaller” with a straight face because we discover later in this passage that there were five thousand men there and we’re not sure if “men” was generic for people of if they didn’t count the women and children. Jesus took the resources, looked out on the people as they were organized, and then thanked God for His provision. With that, He gave the disciples the food they had scrounged, and sent them to distribute the meal. I’ve heard some people try to minimize this miracle by noting that the people probably carried their lunches, just like the little boy, and when the food started getting passed around, they decided that maybe they’d better share their provisions, after being shamed by a little boy. While I believe that this miracle was more than that, if this is what happened, all these people who hid their food when the disciples were looking for it, suddenly changed their hearts and began sharing. If you think that isn’t a miracle, imagine what would happen if God’s people shared their resources with a needy world, especially in times of disaster. If you believe that this was a miracle of sharing, instead of a miracle of food multiplication, then my question to you is, “How are you sharing the resources that God has blessed you with?” I believe that just as God miraculously provided quail and manna to the Israelites during the Exodus, God the Father provided for his children with a miraculous duplication of food, engineered by God the Son. Could it have been a “combined miracle” with multiplication of food and sharing? Perhaps. If so, that would explain the leftovers, since in the miracle of manna and quail, there were no leftovers. However you believe this happened, the miracle is that starting with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, about five thousand men ate that day.

Now, one thing I’ve never heard anyone talk about, is what happened to the leftovers. The next verses may explain why we didn’t hear about them, because I don’t think the disciples took them. I think that Jesus asked people to take the leftovers and distribute them to people in the region who might not have a meal that day. I think the fact that there were 12 baskets full was significant, as each of the disciples picked up a full basket after the meal was over – notice that there were twelve. I don’t think that the disciples kept the food for future use, for we see later where Jesus told them not to worry about eating. I haven’t seen other explanations of what happened to the leftovers, but knowing the nature of Jesus, I couldn’t imagine that He would let the food go to waste and I can only imagine that He used it as an opportunity to give an even greater lesson on sharing by asking those who were there to find someone to share with. This is all speculation of course, but what do you think happened to the leftovers?

45. And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. 46. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.

Jesus sent the disciples away immediately after they picked up the leftovers, which may be why we never hear what happened to them. He told them to get in the boat and head to Bethsaida. While they did that Jesus took care of sending people back home. Then, as the disciples were headed away, He went to a nearby mountain to pray. We don’t hear what Jesus prays about often, but I can’t help but wonder that He had the hearts and souls of those He had fed that day on His mind. My prayer in such a situation would be that the people understood the spiritual food they had received as much as they appreciated the physical food.

47. And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. 48. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.

So, Jesus finished praying and walked back to the shore. Their boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was by Himself on the land. He could see them rowing and not making progress because they were rowing against the wind. Jesus put His head down into the wind and caught up to them by walking on the water. He would have walked past them, but they noticed Him. It’s interesting that Peter’s tale of joining the Master on the water isn’t included in Mark, who is reputed to be a close associate of Peter. Perhaps Peter showed some humility by not talking about His adventure to his friend. Perhaps he was humiliated by his lack of faith that only allowed him to take a few steps before sinking. Whatever the situation, we don’t find that story here. It would be interesting to read Peter’s side of the story.

49. But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: 50. For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. 51. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. 52. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.

The disciples knew the science of the day. They knew that people couldn’t walk on water, so they came to the only logical conclusion about what was happening when they saw Jesus: they screamed like frightened teenagers because they figured that what they saw had to be a ghost. I imagine that seeing someone do something like walk on water would be troubling to anyone, especially when they were already exhausted from fruitless labor. Jesus put their minds at ease immediately by telling them to cheer up because it was really Him. The disciples were afraid of someone doing the unknown or seemingly impossible, Jesus told them not to be afraid. Maybe that’s a good lesson for us. We need to look for Jesus acting in our world today and then not be afraid when we see Him acting.

After calming the disciples down, He got permission to board the ship. When He did, the storm stopped. The next sentence and a half is a mind-boggling statement. They had seen Jesus walk on the water and they had seen the storm stop when He got on the ship and their minds were blown. What would seem to be a normal reaction to such an event, is criticized. Mark said that their hearts were hardened because they hadn’t considered the miracle of the loaves. We’ve seen Jesus calm a storm before when the disciples woke Him from a nap to take care of them. The most amazing thing they saw in this story was Jesus walking on the water. What does the miracle of the loaves have to do with that? I believe that the point of this last sentence is that they didn’t understand who Jesus really was. We get a clue to resolving the reason for the rebuke the disciples got here from a story in John. If we look at John 6:30ff we see a woman asking for proof of who Jesus was and she used the example of the Israelites eating manna in the wilderness. While Jesus answered diplomatically, I can imagine Him saying, “Lady! What did you just eat? I produced enough bread to feed ten thousand people because I am the Messiah, I am the Son of God, and you’re trying to tell me that’s the kind of sign you want? I did it, and you’r still asking for a sign! The disciples had been with Jesus and seen so much, they shouldn’t have been surprised by any miracle they saw. They shouldn’t take it matter of factly, of course, but they shouldn’t be astonished to the point of fear.

53. And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore. 54. And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew him, 55. And ran through that whole region round about, and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard he was. 56. And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.

According to one commentator I read, the fact that the disciples arrived in Gennesaret rather than Bethsaida was because the storm probably blew the boat off course. Given that there are no accidents in the way Jesus works, I have no doubt that He wasn’t surprised by the detour. Perhaps they thought, “well, at least no one will know us here in this Gentile land.” They knew Him. The news that Jesus had arrived spread like wildfire and wherever He went, people ran to see Him bringing their sick friends and relatives along so that He could heal them. They wanted to touch the hem of His garment so that they might be healed, and as many as touched it were healed.

We first see the idea of touching just the clothes of Jesus in chapter five of Mark. The woman with the flow of blood that had been going on tried to touch Him anonymously, but Jesus healed more than her body, He healed her soul by calling attention to what happened to her and letting everyone know that she was also a child of God. I’m going to be honest with you. I can’t tell you where around the Sea of Galilee this was because I get lost in the comings and goings of Jesus across that sea. But I’m going to throw out a wild, hare-brained idea. I wonder if the people of Gennesaret knew this women or heard that story about Jesus from others who were there and decided that healing came when someone touched His robe. Was it a cultural thing for people who healed in those days where people just touched their clothes? As I ponder this story, there’s something even more interesting to me than the reason for touching the hem of the garment. It strikes me that touching the clothes would be somewhat impersonal and just as Jesus wanted the woman, and those around her, to know God’s love and presence in their lives, He wanted to have personal interactions with all who were sick. Because they followed a story they heard about Jesus, rather than coming face-to-face with Jesus Himself, the missed out on a far greater blessing by settling for physical healing instead of getting to know God the Son.

 

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Hometown Heroes, Spreading the Word, and the Death of John – Mark 6:1-29

Today, I was waiting for the hurricane, but it slowed down. We have not had any troubles so far while others have lost electricity. We’re grateful. The video includes a link to a video from East Africa Energy Solutions. The link I included with their name is to their gofundme page. I expect great things from this ministry and I want to call your attention to it.

1. And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. 2. And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? 3. Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.

After all the previous events, Jesus came back home from Nazareth. He came with His disciples. I know that Jesus knew everything, but if it were me coming home, I might expect some applause as a conquering hero. Jesus taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath and the people were astonished. But they were astonished for the wrong reasons. Instead of marveling at His teachings and the miracles He had performed (elsewhere) they blew Him off because they remembered how He was as a little kid. They knew His brothers and sisters. They weren’t impressed by His teaching, they were offended by it. “Who did this Jesus think He was?” was the question on everyone’s mind.

4. But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. 5. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. 6. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.

Jesus made the observation that still holds true today. Greatness doesn’t seem to be recognized by those who knew you growing up, or by those among whom you live. In some cases, even competence is ignored by the people who know you. A while back, I offered my services to an organization that I’ve supported over the years. At the time, I was trying to raise awareness of my devotional books. When I offered to come and pray with the organization, the person I talked with gave me a look that said, “Who do you think you are?” I, obviously, am not in the same league as Jesus, but I was just another home town guy trying to work with a home town ministry who was rejected. When I worked with the school district as a teacher, we joked about what we needed to do to be recognized as an expert: you had to be from out of town, with a briefcase and a big fee. Even though Jesus had performed many miracles and shown great teaching while out of town, when He came back to town, their lack of faith hindered His work. I do get a chuckle though when Mark mentions that He couldn’t do much that was great, except for healing a few people. Seriously, how would you feel if someone described your bad day as only being able to heal a few sick folks. Two of the things that caused Jesus pause were great faith, and lack of faith. Nazareth amazed Jesus because of their lack of faith. What Jesus didn’t do because of His discouragement was give up. He continued going around to other villages teaching. He didn’t try to win the people of Nazareth over by working harder. He found the Father’s plan and continued following it.

7. And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; 8. And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: 9. But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.

In addition to His own teaching, He sent His disciples out to teach. He gave them the power they would need and He gave them marching orders to teach and depend on those who would hear the word to support them. They had the clothes on their back and a walking stick. He forced them to become better teachers and to live by faith.

10. And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place. 11. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

They were to teach by entering the first house that welcomed them. They were to stay there until it was time to leave. That may seem strange to us, but it kept the disciples from going some place, preaching, and then taking a better offer which would make it look like they were in it for the money. There was no doubt in Jesus’s mind that some would reject the disciples as they taught. They wouldn’t be received in a home; their teaching would be ridiculed. The natural inclination would have been to seek to convince the skeptics of how wrong they are. That’s how we react today. If someone disagrees with us, we seek to convince them of the error of their ways. Jesus told them to shake the dust off their feet and move on. That dust shaking was a major statement in that culture and Jesus highlighted the severity of rejecting them and their message by noting that they would be in worse shape than Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment if they rejected the message.

12. And they went out, and preached that men should repent. 13. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.

The disciples knew what to do, because they had lived it with Jesus. They preached that men should repent, and men did repent. They cast out demons. They anointed many who were sick with oil and healed them. They had heard Jesus teach, and they were able to share the same message. They had seen Jesus cast out demons, and they were able to do so also. They had seen Jesus heal others, and now they were able to do so themselves. As I think of this story, I think of Jesus, Peter, James, and John coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration to the demon-possessed child. I can’t help but wonder that these disciples who had been effective in casting out demons before, were suddenly impotent in that area. Perhaps they forgot that they went out in the power of Jesus here, and they depended on their own power at the foot of the mountain. We must remember to do all that we do in the grace and power of Jesus Christ and not depend on our own strength.

14. And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. 15. Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. 16. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.

I don’t think I’ve ever thought about this before today, but it’s interesting that Herod’s first thought when he heard about Jesus was that He was John, risen from the dead. Apparently the idea that someone could rise from the dead wasn’t totally foreign to the culture of the day. Perhaps Herod thought of Jesus as more of a ghost, than a resurrected being, but he was convinced that Jesus had been dead, and was now hanging around, perhaps just to get back at him (and his guilty conscience.) Others saw Jesus as the return of Elijah, or just another prophet, but Herod was convinced that Jesus was John, risen from the dead.

17. For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. 18. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. 19. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: 20. For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

Why might Herod have a guilty conscience regarding John? It seems like John understood what it meant to speak truth to power. He let Herod know, in no uncertain terms, that what Herod did was wrong when he took his brother’s wife as his own. The wife, getting what she must have thought was the better, more powerful brother, didn’t like what John was saying, so Herod arrested John. Herodias wanted John dead, but didn’t have the power. Herod knew that John was just and holy, and, I imagine, right, so he didn’t execute John and still arranged to hear his message in spite of the truth that John spoke.

21. And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; 22. And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. 23. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.

Then, Herod had a birthday bash. All the chief officials, anyone who was anyone in Galilee showed up. Herodias’s daughter, Salome, danced for the party and Herod, who probably had imbibed a little too much alcohol, offered Salome (we learn her name in another gospel) up to half of his kingdom. Those dance lessons really paid off. Salome, given the opportunity to gain amazing riches, wasn’t sure what she should ask for.

24. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. 25. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.

With the offer of immense wealth before her, Salome went to her mother and said, “What should I ask for?” Herodias saw her chance and told Salome to ask for John’s head on a platter. Girls were different back then. Salome didn’t look at her mom and tell her how gross that was. She decided that it was a cool beans idea and went to Herod and relayed mom’s wish as her own.

26. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. 27. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, 28. And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.29. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.

Herod was stuck. He didn’t imagine that Salome would ask for John’s head. But he didn’t see a loophole without embarrassing himself in front of his guests and disappointing his daughter, so, rather than telling her what a ridiculous request this was, he indulged his daughter and had John beheaded in prison. The executioner arranged the head on a platter and brought it to Herod, who gave it to Salome, who gave it to Herodias. I’ve often wondered what Herodias did with it. We don’t see that here, but it’s possible that his head was buried with John’s body. I say that because no one told Herod that Jesus couldn’t be John because He still had his head. John’s disciples didn’t give up when John was put into prison, and, even in the midst of tragedy, they showed love and respect enough to bury the body of John. And even in his death, John continued to speak to the conscience of Herod.

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The Story Within – Mark 5:21-43

Mark used a literary device that my pastor likens to a sandwich. He began a story, he interrupted the story with a different story. Then, when the second story was finished, he went back and finished the first story. This emphasizes the story in the middle and we see in that story today, so much about Jesus’s compassion and care for people. I hope you experience God’s presence as you study today’s lesson

21 And when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side, much people gathered unto him: and he was nigh unto the sea.

Jesus had done what He came to do among the Geresenes, and He went back to the other side of the sea – back to His starting place. As might be imagined, a crowd gathered around Him almost immediately when He got out of the boat. People wanted to see and be around Jesus and they tracked His movements so they could find Him and experience His presence. We would do well to learn how to be with Jesus all the time.

22. And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet, 23. And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live. 24. And Jesus went with him; and much people followed him, and thronged him.

I imagine, given the attitude shown by most of the religious leaders of the time, that up until the time his daughter got sick, Jairus didn’t have much use for this back woods hick teacher named Jesus. When his daughter got sick, though, and traditional methods failed, he ran to Jesus and paid homage while asking for her healing. Jesus didn’t hesitate and left with him immediately. The crowds left also and Mark says that they thronged Him. Here’s where the story gets interesting and we see, once again, a situation where the story starts, is interrupted with another story, and then the original story finishes. I think I already told you that my pastor calls this story structure a “Markan sandwich.”

25. And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years,26. And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, 27. When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. 28. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.

In the midst of the crowd was a woman who also had no other hope than Jesus. She had been dealing with an issue of blood for twelve years, spent all the money she had on doctors and instead of improving, she got worse. She had an amazing attitude of faith, believing that all she had to do was touch His garment and she would be healed. Let me take a sentence or two to point out that, given the normal Jewish practices, she should never have been in the area. She was unclean by the standards of the Law. So not only was this woman sick, and unclean, she was willing to flout the Law to get healed. She had heard about Jesus and His healing power and risked shame, embarrassment, and public revelation of her condition for this healing. She didn’t want to bother Jesus because she didn’t feel worthy to do that, she just knew that He could heal her.

29 And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.

And so it happened. She touched His robe and the healing came. Now, she had but one desire: she wanted to get away from the crowd and celebrate her new found health.

30. And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? 31. And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? 32. And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing.

This lady had a problem with her getaway plans. Jesus realized what had happened. He turned around and looked, and then asked what the disciples thought must have been a ridiculous question: “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples were taken aback by the question, because to them, the answer was obvious: everybody. They reminded Jesus that He was in the midst of the crowd and anybody who could was reaching out to Him. The difference, though, was something the disciples couldn’t see or feel. Jesus knew that someone had intentionally touched His robe for the express purpose of being healed. Jesus felt power leave Him, and Jesus wanted to know who had sought this power, this healing, or, rather, I think He knew and wanted the person to come before Him so He could bless them.
33. But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. 34. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.

The woman was caught in the act. I have no doubt that Jesus may have asked the question one more time, staring directly at her. Then, she had to face the truth. She could either flee, which would let everyone know that Jesus was talking about her and create quite a few rumors, or she could kneel before Him and confess what had happened. In an immense show of courage, she fell at His feet and confessed the whole story. Perhaps she was afraid that Jesus would be angry. Perhaps she was worried about what the crowd might think. Whatever her fears and concerns, she overcame them and confessed everything to Jesus. Instead of wrath, she received grace; instead of condemnation, she experienced the love of Jesus as He commended her faith. Jesus assured her not only that her symptoms were gone, they were gone forever and she was now whole again, freed from her suffering.

35. While he yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further? 36. As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe. 37. And he suffered no man to follow him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James.

Once His encounter with this woman was finished, the news came, and it must have hit Jairus hard: his daughter was dead. The people from his house came and told him to stop bothering Jesus. This may seem like a quick turn of events. Would Jesus have made it to the house in time to save this child if the lady with the flow of blood hadn’t interrupted Him? I don’t think so. My guess is that she had already died prior to that event. When I read this story and think about how quick the time came from “Go get Jesus!” to “Don’t bother the Master any more,” I think of the day that my mom died. I was heading to the bank and got a text from my sister imploring me to pray for my mom who was on the way to the hospital. I started praying, and as I walked into the bank, I sent her a text letting her know that I was praying. Seconds later, while I was in line, she called me to tell me that my mom had died. Life, and death, happens that quickly. Believe me, I’ve troubled the Master a lot since then as I’ve prayed through the pain. The people in Jairus’s house didn’t understand the power of Jesus, or they never would have told him not to bother Jesus any more. Jesus was blunt: don’t be afraid – just believe. In his grief, Jairus didn’t respond, but we know that He followed Jesus, who told everyone else to stay away except for Peter, James, and John.. This is the band that headed to Jairus’s house.

38. And he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly. 39. And when he was come in, he saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. 40. And they laughed him to scorn. But when he had put them all out, he taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him, and entereth in where the damsel was lying.

When Jesus and His group arrived, the mourners were already there. We should note that these mourners were probably professional mourners whose job it was to weep at the house of someone who had died. Death was their business, and they were good at the weeping thing. They could probably convince most people that they were really broken up over the death of this person that they would never have encountered otherwise. Jesus cut through their facade by letting them know that the young girl wasn’t dead. They didn’t just laugh at Jesus, they scorned Him. They probably let Jesus know that they knew what dead was and this was dead. Then Jesus ran them off and brought mother, father, Peter, James, and John into the room where the body was.

41 And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. 42. And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment. 43. And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat.

Jesus reached out, took the girl’s hand and used the ancient Jewish form of “Wake up you sleepyhead,” as He told her to rise up. The One who had power over life and death proved it to this family and to the disciples once again. Why did Jesus say that she wasn’t dead earlier, when she really was? He knew her heart and her spirit and He knew what would happen. She might have been clinically dead, but by saying she was just asleep, it allowed the family not to tell what really happened, which was what Jesus wanted. His mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God was so important that He couldn’t let His time be taken up performing resurrections and healings, although He did that when necessary. There were people back then who recognized Jesus for His power, but not for who He was. We still have people like that today. Jesus was, and is, God the Son with power over life and death, power over sickness and disease, and power over the sin that enslaves us. He continues to proclaim the Kingdom of God, making a relationship with God available for all people.

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Amazing Things – Mark 5:1-20

Many years ago, my previous pastor had the opportunity to exercise one of his great loves and took part in a Shakespeare play. I believe it was Hamlet. While he did that, I had the opportunity to share during our Wednesday night services. I did a series called “Wednesday night at the movies,” where I took stories and imagined them as different movie genres. I used the passage we look at in this post as an example of a horror story. While I didn’t emphasize that in my study today, the most intense horror was that the people of the town were so scared of Jesus that they asked Him to leave. Today, think about all the amazing things that happened in this story and use those thoughts to reflect on the love and grace of God.

1. And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
I believe that this story is a continuation from the end of chapter 4. After crossing the Sea of Galilee, which featured Jesus calming the storm, they arrived in the country of the Gaderenes, an area on the eastern side of the sea.
2. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3. Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: 4. Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. 5. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.

They arrived close enough to a graveyard, an unclean place, that a man who lived among the tombs came out to meet them. It would be easy to guess that he wasn’t welcomed in polite society, given his residence, but the description shows someone with almost superhuman strength, because of the unclean spirit that indwelt him. Chains and fetters couldn’t hold him, he couldn’t be tamed, and he was the guy you hear about in the ghost stories, howling at the moon and cutting himself with stones. In short, he wasn’t the kind of person anyone wanted to be around, which was why the town’s folks drove him out to the graveyard. One question about this situation that I’ve never heard discussed, but that came to mind is, did Jesus land there by accident – driven off course by the storm of the night before, or did Jesus plan to arrive there to care for this man? My belief is that this was a deliberate encounter, arranged by God, to bring the good news of the Kingdom to this man. If you’ve ever been in an uncomfortable situation, that might be a good question to ask, although, if the situation has come about because of your sin, or someone else’s sin, that might temper your response. For example: “I found all this money,” might be because God was blessing you, but, if you found the money because you broke into a bank vault, I wouldn’t attribute that to God.

6. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, 7. And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. 8 For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. 9. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. 10. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country.

When the demons who infested the man saw Jesus and recognized who He was, they caused the man to run to Him and worship Him. I find it interesting that demons recognized the divinity of Jesus. Living in the spiritual realm, they recognized who the spiritual powers were and they realized who Jesus was. Their worship wasn’t church worship with songs of praise and an amazing sermon; their worship was to run to Him, and, recognizing His spiritual authority, they bowed their knee. At the same time, while they recognized who Jesus was and His position of authority, they sought separation. They demanded, in the name of God, that He should leave them alone. This, apparently came after Jesus had commanded them to leave the man. They weren’t going to give in too easily. Then, Jesus asked the name of the demon. Back then, the idea that knowing a person’s name gave you power over them. Even today we recognize the power that’s in a person’s name and how knowing it can change a relationship. Even though the demon recognized who Jesus was, knowing His name and His association with the most high God, they sought that separation and we see that in the demon’s response: “My name is Legion: for we are many.” He didn’t give a real name, just a description – perhaps meant to intimidate Jesus? I don’t know about that for sure, but he sought to deny Jesus’s authority over him by noting that he and his buddies were strong. Of course, the fact that he begged not to leave the country showed that he recognized who Jesus was and His authority over him (them?).

11. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. 12. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. 13. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.

If the proximity to the tombs weren’t bad enough, this land was close to a herd of swine. I don’t know about you, but I think this part of the story is hilarious. The demons prayed and Jesus answered their prayer. The result of this answered prayer, though, was their destruction. Their prayer was, “don’t leave us wandering in a spiritual netherworld, send us into the pigs so we can inhabit them.” Jesus told them, in effect, “Go for it.” He answered their prayer. (I just want to emphasize that.) The bad news for the demons was that their presence drove the pigs to do something to escape that possession and they ended up jumping into the sea. I don’t know if the man had been inhabited by two thousand demons, or if the minute one pig got possessed, it started a stampede, but while the pigs were unclean to Jesus and the disciples, they were made even more unclean to each other and they stampeded to their death.

14. And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. 15. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. 16. And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine.

Though pigs are unclean to Jews, they were a food source to the Gentiles and some had been watching over them as they fed. The swineherds ran back into the city, and started talking about what had happened. I can just imagine the conversation between the herdsmen and their owners: “Uh boss, you’re not gonna believe this, but the pigs stampeded, jumped off the cliff, and drowned.” That caused a bit of commotion and some of the town’s folks came out to see what had happened. When they came out, they found the pigs gone and Jesus and the wild guy sitting having a nice conversation. As they tried to figure out what had happened, some of the swineherds must have been babbling about the events, and that caused a reaction. They feared the power of Jesus, who did for this man through love what their force could never do. They were, perhaps a bit angry about the financial loss of the herd of pigs, giving no thought to the man freed from demons. They might even have been worried that Jesus might punish them for the way they treated this guy who now seemed like a friend by sending the demons back into them. Whatever the case, they decided to take action.

17. And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts. 18. And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. 19. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. 20. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.

In the mind of Jesus, the life of one man was more important than the lives (and economic impact) of two thousand pigs. The town’s people weren’t too sure about that and they begged Jesus to get out of town. So, after a short stay that involved healing a man possessed by demons and killing a couple thousand pigs, Jesus and the disciples went back to the boat. The guy formerly known for being demon-possessed asked Jesus if he could join with them. Perhaps he thought that he’d be unwelcome in the town because of his association with Jesus. Whatever the reason he had for wanting to walk with Jesus, Jesus gave him a different job and told him to go back home, perhaps in the face of opposition, and tell people what God had done. In short, he was to tell of the goodness of God, the one true God, to people who considered Jews to be dogs. The guy went back to his home area and started talking about Jesus. Amazing things happen when we talk about Jesus and the people who head the story of the amazing things that God had done and the grace that He showed this man were amazed. Perhaps they were ready for the good news of Jesus that the disciples spread after the resurrection.

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Understanding Teaching and Events in Life – Mark 4:21-41

The video today deals with our cancel culture and the way God deals with cancels because of our sin. He cancels in direct contrast to the way society cancels people. The Bible Study today deals with Jesus teaching in parables and using the events of life to teach the disciples. The picture for this Bible study, by the way, is the flower I talk about later.

21 And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? 22. For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. 23. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.

So, to remind us of the scene, Jesus taught the people using a parable. The disciples asked the meaning and Jesus told them in effect, “you should be understanding parables.” Then, He explained the parable and continued His explanation – with more parables. He talked about having a candle. Candles, or lamps, back then were little containers of olive oil with wicks in them. You wouldn’t want to waste the light of the candles. I imagine Jewish dads of that time went around the house blowing out the lamps that the kids left lit when they didn’t need the light. Jesus compared it to lighting the candle and then hiding it. There would be no purpose in that. The meaning, I believe, relates to our relationship with God. Why would God redeem us and fill us with His Spirit, only to keep us hidden. A lot of people act like they’re undercover Christians with the light of Christ burning in them, but hidden from the world so that no one will ever know who they truly are. That’s ridiculous and completely contrary to God’s purpose for us and call on our lives. In another situation Jesus reminded us to let our light shine before men so that all will see the glory of God in our lives. We can try to hide things from the world, whether it be the light of Christ in our lives or our personal failings and sins. The truth will come out.Conspiracies fail, because the truth will come out. I believe that Jesus was reminding His followers that if they try to hide their faith, it would come out anyway, so they might as well be open about it and share with others. Jesus finished this short piece with a saying He used often. I think that what He means is, if you can hear, then you should seek to understand. (Note: a lot of times you’ll read me talking about what I think while dealing with parables especially. I realize I could be wrong, and so I invite you to examine the meaning for yourself and compare what you think it means with what I think.)

24 And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. 25. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.

Jesus cautioned the disciples to be careful who they listen to. It’s a good reminder for us today. The disciples could listen to Jesus, they could listen to the Pharisees and other religious leaders, or they could listen to the people. Who they listened to would develop who they were as people, and how they dealt with others would be how others would deal with them. Today, we have all kinds of voices from all kinds of sources trying to get our attention: radio, TV, videos, social media, newspapers, blogs, friends, family, and we could continue to list all of those vying for our attention. I think Jesus would remind us to keep our focus on God and on His word. All those other distractions will take away from our relationship with God, but the more we listen to Him, the closer we’ll draw to Him; on the other hand, the more we let other sources guide us in life, the less faith we’ll have and even that will be taken from us. I think there are a lot of different ways we could look at these two verses, but the explanation I like best is that we need to treat others with God’s grace and we need to keep our focus on Him and our faith in Him.

26 And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; 27. And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. 28. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. 29. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

I have often joked that I have a brown thumb. Any plants I try to grow seem to die. But this year, for a variety of reasons, I decided to try and plant some sunflowers. I didn’t do a lot of planting: 2 packets of seed. One variety of sunflower is colorful and the other is the yellow we normally expect when we hear the word “sunflower.” I planted carefully and followed instructions, mainly. About half of the seeds that I planted from the different variety grew; most of the seeds from the yellow sunflowers did. Why? I don’t know. The green stems and leaves came from the ground first and just this week, the colorful sunflowers started blooming. Eventually, I hope to harvest seeds from the colorful and the yellow sunflowers. Jesus used that whole process as a parable to describe the process of evangelism. He began this section with a similar parable about the one who sowed seeds. Evangelism is like the planting process. We sow the seeds, we don’t know how it happens, but we see changes in the lives of those who have been affected by the word of God. Then, the time comes when they’re ready to commit their lives to following Jesus Christ and we work with them immediately to help them commit their lives to Christ. At the same time, we’re reminded that when seeds don’t germinate, when they begin to grow and don’t endure, those issues are usually out of our hands and we can’t accept blame for that. Our job is to be obedient to God by planting, watering, fertilizing, nurturing, and harvesting through His love and grace. Paul used that same illustration in the book of 1 Corinthians to remind us that evangelism is a team effort.

30 And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? 31. It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: 32. But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.

And, the parables kept coming. Jesus told this one specifically about the kingdom of God, and again, He used an example that related to growing plants, something most everyone in the agrarian society could appreciate. In this case, Jesus talked about the mustard seed and the mustard plant. Scientists are quick to point out that there are smaller seeds than mustard seeds, but as I think of who Jesus was talking to and what they did with seeds, perhaps this was the smallest seed that they dealt with. Whatever the case, the mustard seed is small: 1-2 millimeters in diameter. When it germinates and grows, it becomes a great plant; so great that birds can perch in the shade. What was Jesus teaching His disciples here? I think He was reminding them, and us, that even though our efforts to share the kingdom of God may be small in our own eyes, the potential is great in God’s eyes. The story is told that Charles Spurgeon was looking for a church to learn how to be saved. Because of a snowstorm, he changed path and went into a Primitive Methodist Church. The pastor couldn’t make it because of the storm, and the fifteen people there weren’t sure what to do until finally one of them stood up and preached from Isaiah 45:22: “LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH” Because he wasn’t prepared, and because he wasn’t trained as a preacher, the sermon lasted about ten minutes, but Spurgeon had hope. Then, the makeshift preacher looked at him and confronted Spurgeon with his need for Jesus. It seemed such a small thing to most there, who knows how many went home that day joking about the sermon and how they couldn’t wait for the real pastor, but that was the day that Spurgeon was saved. It seemed like a small thing, but what an amazing history grew from that small seed.

33 And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it. 34. But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.

Jesus taught them for a long while, and the whole time He taught them with parables. Knowing how people are, some of them were understood immediately, some were food for thought that the people understood later, and some may never have been understood. The disciples, though, had a fringe benefit. Jesus explained the parables to them. I think that this whole passage is a parable on life. There are a lot of things that happen in life that we don’t understand, but as we grow closer to Jesus, we understand the things we need to because Jesus teaches us, and the other things don’t really matter.

35 And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. 36. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. 37. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. 38. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?

When the sun set and evening came, Jesus told them that they needed to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They sent the multitudes away, got on the boat and took off, apparently followed by other little boats. Then the storm hit. It’s interesting that we don’t hear about the other little boats after the previous verse. My guess is that they saw the storm coming and went back to shore. The disciples were following what Jesus told them to do, and, because Jesus was sleeping, He hadn’t given them other instructions. Finally the storm got so bad that they woke Him. Yes, teaching others is tiring and Jesus slept while the rain was falling on Him and the ship was tossed to and fro. The water rose in the ship and the disciples decided it was time to wake Jesus up. Their call to Jesus was much like my prayers when times get tough: “Lord, don’t you care about me? Don’t you see what’s happening? Don’t you care that we’re all going to die?” Faith falters when trouble comes because, much as we want others to think our lives are perfect, we are imperfect and our faith is also.
39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?

I try to imagine what these scenes would look like. I imagine Jesus, soaking wet from the storm and the water rising in the boat, stretching with a giant yawn as He stood up, saying something like, “Come on wind, did you really have to wake me up?” and then looking at the sea and saying, “Cut it out. Peace. Be still.” Then, He turned to the disciples and said something like, “Dudes, it’s cool. Why are you so afraid. I’m right here. Do you think any of these things will harm me? Have some faith.” And then, I imagine that Jesus, still exhausted, went back to His pillow and fell asleep. Obviously, that’s speculation, and there are some word choices that would have been different, but I think it captures the spirit of this part of the story. If anything amazed Jesus, it was either an awesome display of faith by those who didn’t seem to have reason for that faith, or an egregious lack of faith by those who should have known Him and trusted Him. In this case, the disciples showed a lack of faith. I’m not going to say anything bad about them, because I have no doubt that I would have been waking Jesus a lot earlier in the process. I also know that even though I’ve seen Him work in my life and have read what He’s done in the Bible, I still cry out in times of trouble from a lack of faith.

41. And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

What’s scarier: a horrendous storm or a person who can calm the storm by their words? Like I said, I believe Jesus went back to sleep after dispensing with the storm. Meanwhile the disciples were standing on the boat looking at each other and mouthing ‘Did you see that?” and other such exclamations of surprise. I think they did it soundlessly, lest their amazement wake Jesus and subject them to another discussion of their lack of faith. They couldn’t believe what they had just seen, and they probably wondered what they were in for as they followed a guy who had power over the wind and the sea. They hadn’t gotten to the point where they took Jesus for granted, and to be honest, Jesus kept them off balance the whole time He walked with them. We need to be sure that we never lose our sense of awe at the work of God in our lives and in the lives of others. I pray, expecting God to work in those situations. And just like the disciples asked Jesus to help them in the storm, He will often do far more than I imagine as He helps me through difficult times. I hope that I’ll never lose that sense of awe and wonder at the amazing work of God in my life. In our land, we’re going through some figurative storms right now. It may seem that the boat is swamped and there is no hope. I keep crying out to Jesus to heal our land. I pray that when He does, I’ll still be amazed at how He does it.

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Getting Our Hands Dirty – Mark 4:1-20

I’ve never been a gardener, but I’ve done some this year. I’m trying to detoxify a patch of soil in our backyard and I heard sunflowers would do a good job of that. So, I got my hands dirty and prepared the soil, planted the seeds, took out the weeds, well, some of them, and watered the plants to make them grow. We live in a toxic world where hate and anger seems to flow from everyone, including Christians. We need to get our hands dirty and show people God’s love and grace – prepare the soil to carry the metaphor further – and openthe door for ourselves and others to share the word of God with those who have been oppressed by that hate. So, get your hands dirty and show people God’s love, every day.

1. And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.

If you talk to any Realtor, you’ll discover that the value of any property is based on three principles: location, location, location. In other words, getting the right place for your home and/or business will be the make or break factor in whether or not your business survives and your house grows in value. Jesus didn’t follow that maxim, though. When He went out to teach, He went by the seaside as He proclaimed His message of the Kingdom of God. Society’s rules, as always, didn’t apply to Jesus. People heard where He was and they flocked to see Him, to hear Him, perhaps even to be healed by Him. As the crowd pressed in on Him, He got into a ship and taught those who had gathered.

2. And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,

At this point, we see Jesus using parables to teach the people. He had used parables before when talking to the religious leaders. Now, He was teaching the multitudes using parables. As we’ll see later in the lesson, not only were these parables difficult to understand for the average man on the street, the disciples had difficulty understanding them. Confrontations with the religious leaders were great. The healings were miraculous and appreciated. The parables left people puzzled, but they made people think. The disciples pried the meaning out of Jesus later that day, but those who didn’t get that inside insight may have pondered them until some event triggered their understanding and they realized the meaning behind Jesus’s words. And now, the parable.

3. Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: 4. And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. 5. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: 6. But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. 8. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. 9. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

I would guess that most, if not all, of the people who gathered, understood the story behind this parable. They had, most likely, all planted crops at one time and they knew that the process was to sow the seed indiscriminately and wait for it to grow, knowing that not every seed would grow as desired. I’m not a farmer – not even a gardener. This year I planted some sunflowers. Without getting into the whole rationale for that, I can tell you that the instruction on the package were very explicit about how far apart each seed should be planted. The farmer in the days of Jesus didn’t have those kinds of instructions. They went out into their field, grabbed a handful of seeds from the bag, and started throwing their seed around as they walked. Oh, they aimed for the soil they had prepared, but the seed spread onto all kinds of soils. As Jesus told this parable, I would guess that there were plenty of nodding heads from those who recognized what was going on. I don’t know if Jesus had prefaced this with the phrase we see at other times: “the Kingdom of God is like…” but I have no doubt that the people were expecting some kind of teaching related to God’s work, and Jesus told them a parable from everyday life. He finished with the phrase “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” I believe that the meaning of that last sentence is that if a person can hear His words, they should discern (really hear) the meaning behind His words. We use that understanding of “hear” today. Some people hear words, but don’t hear meaning and we ask them if they even heard what we said. They might be able to repeat what we said word for word, but they don’t understand why we said what we said.
10. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. 11. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: 12. That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

The disciples were a mixed group that included fishermen and tax collectors. Perhaps they didn’t know what Jesus had taught for themselves, although I doubt that. They had been with Jesus for a little bit of time, though, and they were confused about the meaning and they asked Jesus about that. Before Jesus explained the parable though, He reminded the disciples that they had a special purpose in the Kingdom of God. He wanted them to know the parables, but others wouldn’t get the meaning. Later, of course, Jesus had to explain the parable to them. Meanwhile, Jesus echoed the words from Isaiah 6 that defined his mission. Just as Isaiah would preach a message that people couldn’t understand because their hearts were hardened, so would the message of Jesus fall on hearts that were calloused against the word of God. As it was then, so it is today. The disciples were already being groomed for the mission that they would undertake after Jesus’s death and resurrection.

13 And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? 14. The sower soweth the word. 15. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17. And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. 18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, 19. And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. 20. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.

Jesus probably wouldn’t get the best evaluations were He teaching in today’s public classrooms. Notice the first words out of His mouth when actually discussing the parables could be translated as “You guys didn’t get the easy one? We are going to have some real trouble when we get to the other ones – the hard ones.” As we see, however, Jesus did explain the meaning, and we see a powerful story of how the word of God spreads. First we realize that the sower is spreading the word of God. Is Jesus speaking of Himself or of someone else. The answer as I see it is, “Yes.” While Jesus walked the earth, He spread the word of God and had all the results He attributed to the sower. At the same time, this parable applies to anyone who’s sharing God’s word. When we sow the word, we don’t, as mentioned earlier from my experiences, carefully place each seed so far apart. Our job is to spread the word indiscriminately knowing that even as the words of Jesus often fell in the bad areas of “soil,” so will the words we share. Our job isn’t to judge the soils before we sow God’s word; our job is to spread God’s word and let the “soil” respond as it will.

The first group Jesus talked about was the seed that fell outside the fallow area of soil. This seed probably fell on the paths hardened through the years by people walking all over that area as they developed a path to work in the fields. To add my interpretation to this part of the parable, these are people who’ve had the ways of the world pounded into them throughout the years. As soon as the word hits this soil, it’s snatched away by Satan. It’s not so much that these people reject God’s word when they hear it as that they’ve been conditioned to reject His word before they hear it. These are the people that we want to reason with. These are the people we want to prove wrong, not realizing that the very act of attacking the error of their thinking is exactly what they expect.

The next group that Jesus mentioned were those who get excited when they hear the word of God and become converted immediately. They get excited enough to share the word of God. Maybe they recognize areas in their lives that need to be changed and they work on it. When these people come to Christ, probably with lots of tears, we look at them and marvel at their instant conversion and growth, only to see these people burn out before too long when they run into a roadblock. Some kind of a personal crisis happens and rather than look at circumstances or their own actions they blame God and their faith shrivels and dies. These are the people who will respond to you if you share God’s word with them by telling you that they tried religion and it just didn’t work.

After that, Jesus talked about people that He dealt with, and Paul dealt with, and we’re still dealing with today who are really dangerous. The seed falls in pretty good soil, but so have some other seeds: seeds from thorns and weeds. The plant seems to grow, but rather than being able to focus on God’s word, the worries and cares of this life choke the plant and it becomes unfruitful. Without mentioning any names, some of our most well-known preachers fall into this category as well as a lot of other people. We see that happening when things other than the gospel become important in their lives. When success, privilege, money, personal rights, or anything else becomes equal to God and spreading His word, their message and their faith is choked by those weeds. In the section of plants that I’m growing, I dare not even call it a garden, we have some pretty purple flowers. As beautiful as they are, though, I didn’t plant them, so I have had to work on weeding them out, lest my sunflowers be choked off from the food and water they need.

Finally, we get to the soil that Jesus called the good ground. This is the ground that was ready to receive God’s word and the plants grew and produced more fruit, or seed which allowed the cycle to continue. Before corporate farming bought designer seed on a yearly basis, a farmer would sell his crops while retaining some of the seeds for the next year’s planting. And the next year, the farmer would go through the process again. When our hearts are ready and we hear and receive the word of God, not only do we rejoice in it, we share that good news with others. If we try to plant one seed at a time, we find many who aren’t “good ground,” and it’s easy to get discouraged. The way to overcome that discouragement is to make a habit of spreading God’s word wherever we go and with whomever we meet. We will run into people who have been prepared for God’s love by the work of others and be blessed by the privilege of sharing the gospel with them. At the same time, we need to live in the power of God’s love which will prepare the soil of those we know for others to share the word of God. The good ground that Jesus talked about was the ground that the farmer had plowed, watered, fertilized, and otherwise prepared for the planting time. Our lives, our words, and our love should be preparing others to experience God’s love at all times. So, keep sowing the seeds and keep getting your hands dirty preparing the soil, knowing that our work for God is never in vain.

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Who’s Your Family? – Mark 3:20-35

The picture above is from my family reunion at my mom’s 90th birthday. Family is important to me, but as important as my family is to me, following God’s will is the most important thing in my life. I’ve been blessed in that following God has never forced me to choose between my family and His will, but many have been forced to make that choice. In today’s story, Jesus has to make that very choice and He lets people know that His real family are those who do the will of God.

20. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.

Jesus and His disciples came back into town and entered a house (v. 19). As happened with Jesus most of the time, His presence drew great crowds. People flocked to Him and the press of the crowd was so great they couldn’t even eat. I’ve visited a culture where the dining areas were set up in the same style that Jesus probably practiced for eating. The person dines by reclining on their left side while eating with their right hand. It would be hard enough to fit thirteen people around a table like that, but when the crowds showed up and pressed on them, it would be impossible to eat. Yes, all things are possible with Christ and He could have cleared the crowds away with a word or a gesture, but I don’t recall any time that He chased people away for His own convenience. Jesus took time to be with people – especially those hurting or in need. The King James describes the people who came to take Jesus away from the crowds as friends. Most other translations describe them as His family or His people. Whoever they were, they were close to Jesus personally and when they saw what was happening, they set off to the house to rescue Him from the crowds in the misguided belief that Jesus didn’t know what He was doing. (In short, they thought He was acting crazy.)

22. And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.

The scribes had another explanation for Jesus and His actions: they thought He was demon-possessed. As they thought about the power Jesus had over the demons, and I’m guessing from this exchange that Jesus had actually cast out some demons on this day, they decided that since He couldn’t be from God, since He didn’t fit their understanding of what a teacher from God would do, then He must have that power because He himself is possessed by a higher demon and that He was using His power over these lesser demons to cast them out of people and fool them into believing that they should follow Him as a teacher from God. (Sounds convoluted, doesn’t it?) The scribes reasoned that since they knew that they were following God, Jesus couldn’t be, and they wanted to get rid of this false teaching. In short, they considered anything that took away from their influence must be demonic and they didn’t want people to be tricked into falling away from their influence.

23. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? 24. And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. 27. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.

I think Jesus might have had a good laugh at people thinking that He was demon-possessed. At least at first. Then He made it clear that this idea was ridiculous. Would it make any sense for evil forces to be fighting against each other in their quest to battle against the Kingdom of God? As I read Jesus’s response, I can’t help but think of what happened in Russia during World War 1. Factions in the Russian empire went to war against each other, and the result was that the Bolsheviks/Communists were able to take over. The kingdom couldn’t stand both the “civil” war and the Bolshevik Revolution. If certain forces of Satan was warring against other forces of Satan, the end result would be good for the Kingdom of God. At the same time, I wonder if Jesus wasn’t warning the scribes that if God’s people warred against each other, then evil would triumph. The last verse in this section really isn’t meant to give instructions for robbing a house. I believe that Jesus is pointing out that if you’re going to mess with something evil, you don’t nibble around the edges, you go for the guy who’s in charge. When police officers seek to break up a drug ring, they may arrest the “small-fry” first, but they do it to seek information that will lead to the head honcho. Obviously, Jesus wasn’t talking about drug problems here, but, it’s an example of going after the guy in charge. Satan wouldn’t go after the demons, who were on his side, he would go after the leaders of God’s Kingdom. And, because we know the full story, we realize that the “strong man” in the Kingdom of God is Jesus. Perhaps this was even a back door slap in the face for the scribes who sought to discredit Jesus.

28. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: 29. But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. 30. Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.

If you want to get a lot of discussion going among Christians, just ask what they think the unforgivable sin is. And, since we’re dealing with that section now, as Mark talks about it, I’m going to ask your opinion, as well as giving my own. What do you think the unforgivable sin is? Based on the context of this story, I believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin, is attributing the work of God, the work of the Spirit, to the power of Satan. I’m going to go out on a limb here and note that this sin is unforgivable at the end of life. Here’s my example: Suppose John Doe doesn’t know or understand the gospel. He sees Christians doing something that he thinks is wrong and he lets people know that what they’re doing is evil, even though they are following the leadership of the Holy Spirit. That would be blasphemy of the Spirit. Can John Doe later realize the truth of Jesus Christ, repent of his sin, and then be forgiven? I believe he can. If, however, he never comes to know Christ and rejects who He is, how can he be forgiven? That is how blasphemy of the Holy Spirit would be unforgivable as I understand it. I could be wrong and I welcome your input on the discussion.

All that being said, Jesus is making it clear that by attacking Him, and attacking the source of His power, the scribes are walking a dangerous line. The sad thing is that even though they’re walking that dangerous line, so much more in life can be forgiven. The key to forgiveness, though, is that we must seek the One who forgives, rather than seek to be forgiven. If we want to live forever in the presence of God, we should seek to know Him early in the process, and not as a last resort.

31. There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. 32. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.

And now, the family, that group of people who set off in verse 21, have arrived. My pastor has described this literary device as a Markan sandwich. The main story begins. There’s an interruption for a teaching that Mark wants to emphasize. Then we get the rest of the main story. Here, we’re told that His family thinks that He’s crazy and they set off to rescue Him from Himself. While they’re traveling, we get an important teaching about the power behind His teaching and the limits of forgiveness. Then, we get the end of the main story. So His brothers and His mother show up to take Jesus out of there. They can’t even break through the crowds. Notice that the crowd may pass His family’s message on to Jesus, but no one got out of the way to let them pass. I think their message was something along the lines of “Come on, Jesus. We need you back at the house. There’s carpentry to be done.” They may have thought He was crazy, but I don’t think they wanted to embarrass Him. I think we find that attitude from the world when we seek to serve God. We may be flying on a spiritual high, walking with God and sharing His love with others when well-minded people who don’t understand seek to bring us back to earth. The multitude sought to emphasize the importance of this message by noting that it came from His family.

33 And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? 34. And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 35. For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.

I can’t imagine how Mary, James, and His other brothers felt when Jesus said that. There’s an echo of Jesus’s teaching about being willing to leave family to follow the will of God in this answer. If we boil this incident down, what Jesus is reminding us is that our real family are those who seek to follow God along with us. If someone would seek to keep us from following God, they really aren’t family, no matter what the blood relationship might be. If someone follows someone other than God, they aren’t really family. Family are those who do the will of God. And, how do we know the will of God? The Spirit working in us teaches us God’s will. If someone would tear us away from following God’s Spirit, then, in a sense, they’re committing blasphemy against the Spirit of God. That brings the story full circle in our understanding. We must do the will of God no matter what others say. We mustn’t let family, religious leaders, or political leaders keep us from following what God has called us to do.

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Healing the Afflicted and Afflicting the Powerful – Mark 3:1-19

I ripped off the title from the old joke about a preacher’s job being to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. When you read about Jesus’ Ministry, though, He did just that. The Pharisees and other religious elite always left Jesus feeling afflicted. those they afflicted with their religious superiority, left comforted. We see one of the rare instances of Jesus getting angry in this passage. He never got angry at someone caught in their sin or afflicted by illness or evil spirits; His anger was reserved for the religious elite who showed no love or compassion for those they were to care for. Enjoy this study!

1. And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. 2. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. 3. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. 4. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.

On the Sabbath, you would find Jesus in the synagogue. There was no question about whether or nor Jesus would go to the synagogue. Even though He is God the Son and deserved the worship of everyone in that synagogue, He honored the Sabbath by going to the synagogue and taught, and got into trouble with the religious elite.This Sabbath’s reason for trouble was a man with a withered hand. Scholars would tell us that it had withered because of an accident or illness, not as a result of a birth defect. I can’t help but wonder if this guy had some friends who encouraged this man to show up at the synagogue so they could test Jesus, while he was their unwitting pawn. They were hoping Jesus would give them reason to attack, accuse, or even arrest Him. They knew that the nature of Jesus was to show compassion for people, even if it meant breaking their man-made interpretations of Sabbath obligations to show that compassion. Jesus saw through their treachery, though, and after asking the man to stand forth, He turned the tables on the men by asking them a question that put them on the spot. “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil?” The good that Jesus was alluding to was healing this man; the evil would have been inaction. These religious leaders knew they’d been trapped, and so they shut their mouths. They didn’t answer Jesus. They held their peace.
We learn two very important lessons from this story. The first is that we should be gathering with God’s people to study, learn, and worship on our day of worship. The second is that if we are able to do good, we should do good. If we’re able to do good and we don’t do it, then we’re complicit with evil.

5. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

Jesus was angry. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like the only people Jesus got angry at were the religious leaders who should have known better.They showed no compassion for this injured man, they saw him not as a person, but as a means to an end to attack Jesus. These religious leaders who should have know the love and grace of God and shown it to this man, instead, focused on protecting their religious fiefdoms against this uneducated carpenter turned teacher. Their hearts were hardened, calloused, against the needs of one of God’s children. They used a person to maintain their power instead of using their power to restore a person in need. As angry as Jesus was, His anger came from the love He had even for the religious leaders. He grieved that they were this way. He grieved that they had missed this opportunity to show God’s love. Then, He showed God’s love and compassion by healing the man with the withered hand. I think it’s important to realize that while many of the miracles of healing that Mark wrote about happened on the Sabbath, there were most likely many more healings that happened during the rest of the week. Those didn’t cause controversy, though, since they didn’t fly in the face of religious orthodoxy. The more we’re concerned about growing in our relationship with Jesus than we are about following some man-made religious orthodoxy, the more trouble we’ll get into and the more joy we’ll have from that relationship.

6. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.

This simple little verse shows the amazing power of Jesus as opposition to His teaching united two warring political factions in their opposition. While we could try to make application to some of the controversy we have in our world today, let me see if I can explain the magnitude of this by drawing from fiction. Harry Turtledove writes in a genre called Alternative History. He writes from a historical perspective, only, somehow, history was changed. He has a series based on World War II. In this series, in the midst of the fighting in World War II, earth is invaded by aliens from outer space. With all of humanity threatened, all of humanity worked together to fight against these creatures. US and Japanese forces worked together. British, German, and Russian forces combined to eliminate the threat to humanity. While the tensions between these countries still existed, and it’s easy to see that the alliances were temporary, they allied to fight the threat to their existence. Jesus was a threat to the existence of the Pharisees and the Herodians and they got together for the express purpose of destroying Him. I have no doubt that the common people who must have felt oppressed by the Herodians and their alliance with the earthly powers, and belittled by the Pharisees must have thought that Jesus must have had something going for Him to cause the political and religious leadership of their time to unite against Him.

7. But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judaea, 8. And from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and from beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they had heard what great things he did, came unto him.

As Jesus left the area to avoid any possible confrontation before His time on earth was fulfilled, the common people followed Him. They came from all around: Galilee, Jerusalem, Judea, Idumea, the other side of the Jordan and from the northwest pagan areas of Tyre and Sidon. They heard what He did. They heard about His teaching. They followed Him. I believe that people have a natural hunger for God. They want to know Him. They want to be in fellowship with Him. After a lifetime of experiencing the condescension of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, they found a religious leader who cared about them and showed them God’s love. They didn’t realize that Jesus was God the Son at this time, they experienced God’s love and wanted to be around Jesus.

9. And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship should wait on him because of the multitude, lest they should throng him. 10. For he had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon him for to touch him, as many as had plagues. 11. And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. 12. And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.

As the people pressed in on Jesus, He healed them. Everyone wanted to touch Jesus: people who were sick, people who had unclean spirits. The press of the crowds was so great that Jesus made sure that His disciples had a boat ready so that, if necessary, He could be removed from the pressure of the crowds, but still be near enough to teach. The prime ministry of Jesus was to teach about the Kingdom of God, but those in the greatest need of healing – the sick and the demon-possessed – discovered His healing power and desperately sought relief from their afflictions. And Jesus, while preparing a place to escape the press of the crowds, kept healing and casting out the demons. As people with demons, or unclean spirits, were freed from that oppression, the unclean spirits revealed who Jesus really was. Jesus made it a point to silence them, which revealed His power over them. Scholars call this response by Jesus the “Messianic Secret.” Just as Jesus didn’t want to be seen as a threat to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, at least at this time, He didn’t want the people He served to seek to turn the message of the Kingdom of God into a popular movement to rebel against the Roman authorities because He knew that His kingdom was not of this world. When Jesus said those words to Pilate at His trial, He wasn’t teaching a new doctrine, He described the ministry that He had practiced for three years.

13. And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. 14. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, 15. And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: 16. And Simon he surnamed Peter; 17. And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: 18. And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, 19. And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.

Jesus left the sea of Galilee and headed up to the mountains. As He went up, He called twelve men to follow Him and commissioned them not only to learn from Him by being with Him, but also to go forth to proclaim the Kingdom of God. At the same time He gave them power to heal those who were sick and to cast out demons. Among these were the five we had already seen, with the understanding that Levi was also called Matthew, along with other people whose names we’ve come to know. Mark made a point of describing Judas as the one who would betray Jesus. If he were writing this story today, people would criticize him for not giving a spoiler alert. I think Mark made this point here because he believed that Jesus knew what Judas would do even as He called him, yet He still called Him so that His mission would be fulfilled.

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Tax Collectors, Parties, and the Religious Elite – Mark 2:14-28

You know how it is if you’re not with the “right” people, the “in” group. They look at you funny, if they look at you. You’re ignored, forgotten, overlooked. Levi was one of the “wrong” people – a tax collector who collaborated with Rome. Jesus looked at him and saw a man who could help change the world – and he did. He began by throwing a party, inviting all of his tax collector friends and others ignored by the religious elite, and Jesus noticed and cared for them. Then, Jesus dealt with the Pharisees who seemed to thrive on letting Jesus best them in their debates. May God speak to you in His word.

14. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.

The NIV includes this as part of a story beginning with verse 13. I see it as the beginning of the next story. I think that because I don’t imagine a tax booth out on the beach – not enough people to tax, at least back in those days. Whatever the situation, as Jesus is walking along, He saw Levi sitting at a place where he collected taxes. If you asked most of the “righteous” Jews at that time who the worst people in the world were, tax collectors would be in the top three along with gentiles and Samaritans. Again, that’s my opinion and it’s possible, if not probable, that I’m wrong. Jesus looked at this tax collector and saw not a traitor, working with Rome, but a man who had suffered the rejection of his fellow Jews who could be redeemed by God’s love and become a redeeming force to those who needed God’s love. He invited Levi to follow Him and Levi left his tax collecting gig and followed Jesus. By the way, if something about how Jesus saw Levi speaks to you about how we should see others in these difficult times, good.

15. And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. 16. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? 17. When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

While Levi followed Jesus, the next thing we see is that Jesus is eating at Levi’s house. I’m guessing Levi led the way there, so, while in his spirit he was following Jesus, physically, he led Jesus to his house. While it’s a small distinction, I think great leaders understand when to let others take point in the work to be done. So Jesus sat down to eat at Levi’s house and oh! what a party it was! Tax collectors and other sinners were all invited. I’m guessing tax collectors, in general, had money to throw around, so it was probably a little wild. As to the word “sinners,” that generally meant anyone who wasn’t part of the religious elite: scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, etc. Jesus and the disciples – about five now if my memory is correct – were eating with all of Levi’s friends. I have no doubt that Jesus taught as He ate and that He showed everyone of them God’s love. You know who shows up when there’s a party, though. In Israel, those people were the scribes and the Pharisees who sought to put a wet blanket on anything Jesus did. They hated what He was doing there and let Him know in no uncertain terms that any good righteous man would never eat with people like that. Tax collectors (publicans) and sinners were anathema to real Jewishness and didn’t deserve anyone’s time, especially that of a teacher like Jesus. Their attempts to shame Jesus boomeranged, though and Jesus threw it back in their face when He said that because they were whole, they didn’t need a physician, but these who were sick needed one. Jesus noted that anyone who was righteous didn’t need to hear His call, only those who were sinners. And I’ll be honest with you. I have no doubt that Jesus’s words were loaded with sarcasm. Yet, in all that, we can note that Jesus stayed focused on His mission.

18. And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not? 19. And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.

Not content with losing in round one, the scribes and Pharisees resorted to Plan B: asking about fasting in the middle of a dinner party. In some versions, John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting at that time. In the King James the discussion about fasting seems to relate to an ongoing, regular practice. To paraphrase the question, they asked Jesus, “If you’re so in tune with the Almighty, why is it that your disciples don’t fast while John’s disciples and the Pharisees do fast?” Isn’t it interesting that those of us who seem to be leaders in a religious setting seem to think that we all have to do things the same way. We want that “Old Time Religion” that was “good enough for Paul and Silas” not only as a guideline for our own lives, but also for the lives of others even if they have no knowledge of God. I have a friend who is not a Christian after some hurtful things happened to her from “church” people very early in her life. She’s a writer and now some religious people are reinforcing her rejection of Christianity by attacking her for the things she writes and letting her know that she’s going to hell because of what she writes. That’s old time religion seeking to impose their values on others. The truth of the matter is anyone who would make the claim that someone is going to hell because of something they write, the way they sing, the way they dress, the way they dance – I could go on – would fit right in with these Pharisees. Our hope of heaven is NOT found in how we act! Our hope of heaven is found in the forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for all my sins on the cross. Going back to my friend, if she changed how she wrote and all of her books had amazing themes of Christian living and all of her current critics were to feel comfortable buying them and reading them to her children, it would not change her eternal destiny. The only way to heaven is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who forgives all of our sins.

Jesus was blunt in saying that fasting wasn’t the key indicator of a relationship with God and noted that His disciples were spending time with Him. Fasting was a sign of mourning and His disciples would have no cause to mourn until He was taken away. Of course, that makes things interesting for us today. For the disciples, Jesus died and was buried. There were two days when He wasn’t with them. Then, He came back and stayed with them for forty days. (Acts 1:3) Then He ascended into heaven whereupon ten days later, the Holy Spirit came and dwelt among them and He still dwells among us. So, if Jesus is with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit, do we as Christians need to fast today? While I think fasting is a great spiritual discipline designed to help us focus on our relationship with God, I see the act of fasting as a decision a person makes with God. Old Time Religion would have us live with their rules and attitudes; our relationship with Christ should have us seeking His presence and guidance in our lives each day. We should always be showing His love and grace to others.

21. No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. 22. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.

Jesus didn’t seem enamored by the idea of “old time religion” either. He was letting the scribes and the Pharisees in on a major secret. Those who followed Him would be doing something new. It would be so new that the old containers of religion wouldn’t be able to coexist with this new thing. They didn’t get it. To be fair, the disciples didn’t get it until after Paul began teaching and living it. Jesus used the example of mending a garment. If you sewed a new piece of cloth over the hole in the old garment, eventually, that new piece would shrink and tear an even bigger hole in the garment. If you had new wine, you wouldn’t pour it into old bottles because eventually the new wine would cause the old bottles to explode. Why? New wine would begin to ferment and the gasses would expand. The old wineskins would have lost their elasticity. As a result, as the wine fermented and bubbled, the gasses would stretch the wineskins to the breaking point and destroy them. The point that Jesus was making was that it was impossible to fit His followers into the old religious mold of the Pharisees, or the scribes, or even the Sadducees. Instead of a life of following rules and living in fear that God was going to zap people for breaking the least of these rules, righteousness became a product of our relationship with God as He extended grace and forgiveness to all who would believe.

23. And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. 24. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?

The Pharisees were worried about Jesus and His influence. In this next story, Jesus and the Disciples were walking on the Sabbath. We see in verse 24 that not only were the Pharisees there, they were watching the goings on very carefully and they weren’t happy. Perhaps the first task of the Pharisees was to make sure that Jesus and His followers didn’t walk too far and thus, violate the rules against travel on the Sabbath. Then, they caught the disciples in an egregious sin. They were picking the grain from the field they were walking through and thus, performing work on the Sabbath. Traveling on the Sabbath might be a gray area, but working on the Sabbath like that, harvesting the grain was straight out of the “go to hell, go directly to hell, do not pass go, do not collect 200 drachmas” playbook. The Pharisees were livid. They wanted to know why Jesus didn’t control His disciples. Let’s face it, He must not be that good of a teacher if His disciples are deliberately breaking the rules.

25. And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? 26. How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?

There’s an old saying that you should never bring a knife to a gunfight. I think of that every time I read about the Pharisees trying to attack Jesus, only they weren’t that well armed. It’s like they brought a spitball shooter to a nuclear conflict when they try to confront and ridicule Jesus. Jesus didn’t need to ridicule or belittle His critics, although I think He may have used sarcasm. “Have you not read…” Of course they had read that story. These were the pious Jews who knew their Bible stories because they studied all of God’s word intensely. The example Jesus gave was when David first ran from Saul and he ended up searching for bread as well as looking for Goliath’s sword, which Ahimelek gave to him. He and his men ate the consecrated bread reserved for the priests. The law said that it was just for the priests, but Ahimelek realized that the need was so great, he should pass the bread to David. In the ensuing slaughter, Abiathar escaped from Saul and joined David’s forces. The point Jesus was making, as will be seen from the verses to follow, is that human needs come before human interpretations of God’s law.

27. And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28. Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

One of the reasons the Jews of Jesus’s day had so many rules for the Sabbath was that when the Jews were conquered by Babylon and sent into exile, the fall of Judah was attributed to their lax attitude toward the Sabbath. The Pharisees were formed after the return of the Jews from exile and they were determined to never let anything like that happen again. So, they studied the Law and they looked at different aspects of the Sabbath and developed an oral law designed to keep Jews from breaking the written law. They lived as if they were made to follow the laws of Sabbath. There’s a certain nobility about that concept, but Jesus tore that practice down when He changed the emphasis and focus of the Sabbath. Instead of the Sabbath being the source of laws designed to burden the people of Israel down as they sought to keep it perfectly, the Sabbath was to be observed as a gift to all mankind. It was to be a day of rest, of rejuvenation. While the Pharisees had focused on the Law and upholding the Law, they had forgotten that the reason behind worshiping on the Sabbath was that God Himself rested on that that day. Some would still keep Saturday as their Sabbath. Many Christians do so on Sundays. Others choose other days to observe their Sabbath, but the principle is not, set Saturday aside, the principle is for us to take time to be with God during our Sabbath as we take advantage of the opportunity God gives us to rest.

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