The Cross, The Team, and Avoiding Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The Mountaintop to the Valley – a Healing Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What’s God Up To Anyway? Mark 8:22-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Race and Disability Overcome by the Grace and Ability of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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