Amazing Things – Mark 5:1-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting Our Hands Dirty – Mark 4:1-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who’s Your Family? – Mark 3:20-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When Ministry Interrupts Our Plans – Mark 2:1-13

I don’t like interruptions, do you? I make my plans and schedules. I know what work I want to do and when. I set up and live my routines. And then, something happens to interrupt my well-laid plans. Let’s not forget that my planning comes after praying for God’s direction. OK, maybe sometimes I make my plans and ask God to bless things then, but even doing that, something happens to distract me from my original goal. In today’s passage, Jesus is interrupted in the middle of His teaching with a request to bring healing. He healed the man, and so much more! Then, He went off to the sea side to get away from everyone, and a crowd descended upon Him, interrupting His alone time with God. Jesus took advantage of the interruption to teach the people. What would happen if we saw interruptions in our lives as opportunity to minister to people in need? I think it would change the world!

1. And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. 2. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them.

After traveling throughout the region of Galilee, Jesus came back to His home base of Galilee. Word got out that He was at home, and the people flocked to Him. The crowds gathered inside the house and spilled into the area around the house so that anyone who might have wanted to get in would have no way of breaking through the crowds. Jesus preached the word of God. I don’t know if they came to see Him perform miracles and heal people, but for whatever reason they came, Jesus proclaimed the message of the Kingdom of God and the people didn’t leave. I’m reminded of the discussion we had in a class I was in where people were criticizing some of the methods other churches were using to get people to come to their church. Our professor listened for awhile and then made this profound statement: “Whatever you do to get people to come to church, make sure that they hear the good news of Jesus Christ.” In our lives, no matter what we do to gain an audience whether it be in person or on social media, we must make sure that we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. 4. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.

And now we see the point of the story. Four men were bringing a man “sick of the palsy” (more modern translations describe the man as paralyzed) to be healed by Jesus. As I imagine the situation, one of the friends heard that Jesus was in town and decided this was the perfect time to get Jesus to heal his paralyzed friend. Perhaps he hadn’t heard about Jesus and been able to get to Him in the crowd after Peter’s mother-in-law was healed. Maybe he came the day after only to find out that Jesus had left town. He knew that he had to act fast, so he rounded up the other three friends who gathered at the home of the paralyzed man and then carried him through the streets so that he could see Jesus. Only, because it took them so long to get everything ready and to walk through the streets, by the time they got there, the crowd was outside the door. There was no way to get in. It would have been easy to give up at that point. (Have you ever been so frustrated by circumstances that you want to give up on something you really want?) These friends came up with an alternative solution. Houses in those days had flat roofs. Sometimes, people slept on the roof. Most houses had outside stairs to the roof and this house was no different. They carried their friend up the stairs and after a few calculations to figure out about where Jesus was standing, they dug a hole in the roof that was large enough to let their friend down. (Just note that the construction methods of the time would make repairing the roof a little easier than it would be today.)

I imagine that digging sounded like scratching at first. Perhaps it was even unnoticeable in the beginning. As the friends got closer to digging through the roof, things got louder and then, I imagine, debris started falling down on those who were closest to Jesus, maybe even on Jesus Himself and the digging became a distraction, an interruption to the teaching. As riveting a teacher as Jesus must have been, people started looking up at the sound of the digging and tried to figure out what was happening, Then, a small hole appeared that eventually grew large enough to let the man down on his mat and these friends lowered him until he was on the floor in front of Jesus. Mark tells us that story in one sentence, and while I added some imagination to the story, I believe something like that happened. And what does Jesus do?

5. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.

Jesus forgave the man who was paralyzed. He granted him total forgiveness for his sins. Let’s go back to the imagination again. I can’t help but wonder about the guys on top of the roof and what they were thinking. “What did Jesus say? Is our friend walking yet?” “Jesus forgave him of his sins.” “What? What good does that do? We wanted him to walk again.” Sometimes we come before God with a preconceived notion of what He needs to do to satisfy us. Then, God deals with our biggest need and it doesn’t seem to take care of our immediate need and we wonder how God got it so wrong. Again, some of this comes from speculation, but it makes sense to me. Am I way off on this idea? As to how the people in the house reacted, read on.

6. But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7. Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?

Oh those scribes. They were there, even in Capernaum. Maybe they didn’t have the big names that the scribes in Jerusalem had, but they had the same attitude. They knew how God worked and they “knew” that God didn’t act like that. Perhaps they came to learn from a new teacher. Perhaps they came to critique and judge this new teacher. For whatever reason they were there, they heard Jesus proclaim forgiveness and they didn’t like it. They accused Him in their hearts of blasphemy. They had no thoughts for the paralyzed man, they were just upset that Jesus would dare to forgive sins since that was God’s job, not some unknown teacher’s job. They didn’t say it out loud, but they had made their verdict: this Jesus was not a teacher from God because He was trying to do what only God could do.

8. And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? 9. Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? 10. But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11. I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house.

Have you ever been in a situation where it seems that someone can read your mind. It’s a bit uncomfortable when someone looks at you and repeats what you’re thinking. Jesus not only perceived what these scribes were thinking, He called them out on their thoughts. He said, in effect, “Why are you accusing me of blasphemy because I forgave this man’s sins? Which is easier to say, ‘your sins are forgiven?’ or ‘take up your mat and walk?’” Both things are easy to say, but what makes them difficult is to say them with effectiveness. Of the two, you wouldn’t notice a difference if someone was forgiven. If I say I forgive someone, you wouldn’t notice a change in their appearance or abilities, even if I was able to actually forgive them completely. Jesus had that power to forgive all of this man’s sins. While the effect couldn’t be seen outwardly, it lay the groundwork for that man’s life after Jesus’s next act which was to heal Him. And, Jesus told the scribes point blank that the truth of His ability to forgive sins would be that the man would be able to pick up his bed and walk out of the house. And then, Jesus told the man to pick up his bed and walk home. I don’t know if there could have been any teaching after this miracle. Perhaps this miracle actually was a culmination of the day’s lesson.

12. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.

So what happened? The guy didn’t wallow in self-pity and tell Jesus it would be nice if he’d be able to do that some time in the future. He obeyed. Immediately. His response was something along the lines of “Jesus told me to do it, so I’m going to do it.” He got up, picked up his bed, and left the building. The people in the house had the right reaction: they were amazed and they glorified God. Their words were simple: “We’ve never seen anything like this before!” I don’t know about you, but I’m still amazed when I see God working, and even more so when He answers a specific prayer. Sometimes that amazement borders on disbelief. It’s not that I don’t believe God will work miracles, it’s that I have a hard time believing that He’d work those miracles in my life. The miracle began with the forgiveness of sins, and sometimes, even though I “know” that I’m forgiven, I don’t feel forgiven. I should note that the problem is mine, not God’s. Because I don’t feel forgiven, I don’t feel worthy of having God act in my life, and thus, I’m astounded when He does act miraculously. I pray that I would never lose the amazement when I see God work, but that I would also experience God’s complete forgiveness and live so that others would experience that same miracle.

13. And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them.

In modern terms, we could describe the guy walking out of the house, carrying his bed, as a “drop the mic” moment. Jesus left the city again and went to the sea side. (The Sea of Galilee.) One of the benefits of living in Corpus Christi is that we can go to the water and either drive by or walk along the bay. There’s a sense of calm and peace, especially when a lot is on your mind. I love the experience of watching the birds in the area. Jesus probably enjoyed the calming effects of the sea. But, people, the multitude, found out where He was and they flocked to them. Jesus didn’t run away when He saw the people coming, He recognized this as another chance to teach them about the Kingdom of God and He took advantage of that to teach them. Jesus needed His alone time with God, which is a good reminder for us to spend time alone with God, but He took advantage of opportunities to teach the good news to the crowds who interrupted that time. I don’t know about you, but I tend to let interruptions to my plans and my schedule upset me. I wonder what would happen if I took advantage of life’s interruptions to share the good news of Jesus with others.

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Spreading Out With The Message – Mark 1:32-45

My wife overheard me as I made this video and noted that I made a BIG mistake. (Theological error) Rather than redoing the video, I decided to give you the chance to take advantage of my mistake. If you let me know what my mistake was, I’ll put you in a drawing for a free set of my devotional books. That’s one set from all the different social media groups I post this to.

As we finish Mark 1, we begin experiencing what scholars call “The Messianic Secret.” Jesus prevented the demons from telling who He was, but also sought to persuade those He helped to avoid mentioning what He had done. There was no healer greater than Jesus, but His mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God. As soon as people found out that they could be healed if they met Jesus, though, He’d spent a lot of time healing. We see the beginning of the spread of the message of the Kingdom of God as Jesus deliberately follows His call to proclaim His message instead of settling for a ministry of miracles and healing.

32. And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. 33. And all the city was gathered together at the door. 34. And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.

As we look at the continuation of the story that began in the synagogue and carried over to Peter’s house, we see an interesting time shift: evening – when the sun set. Why was that important? The Jewish day goes from sundown to sundown. The Sabbath begins when most of us in the western world would simply recognize a beautiful sunset on Friday. It continues until sunset on Saturday. When the sun set, any Sabbath restrictions on travel and work would no longer be in effect and people could travel, help those who were sick, or do any other work. In this situation, we see that not only are the people seeking to observe the Sabbath, they avoided putting Jesus in the place of working on the Sabbath. Would Jesus have healed people if they had come on the Sabbath? Probably, but by waiting until sun set, the people didn’t put Jesus in what they would have considered an awkward situation. Once the sun set, though, the crowds gathered bringing those who were sick and demon-possessed. It may not have been hyperbole when Mark proclaimed that the whole city showed up at the door. And Jesus took the time and the effort to heal those who were sick and cast demons out of those who were possessed. I always found it interesting that Jesus wouldn’t let the demons tell everyone who He was. I guess that getting the imprimatur of demons might not have looked good as Jesus ministered to the people. Later, He would be accused of casting out demons with satanic power (e.g. Luke 11:15) so getting their endorsement might have made things a lot worse. At the same time, it was one thing to be recognized as a teacher who could perform miracles, but having people see Him as Messiah would up the expectations and lead people to expect a military leader. As the disciples began to realize that Jesus was Messiah, they implied that they expected some kind of military move to overthrow the Romans.

35. And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. 36. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him. 37. And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee.

Martin Luther is said to have prayed two hours a day in the morning. Unless he had reason to believe that he was dealing with great difficulties: then he spent three hours a day. Disclaimer: I can’t imagine doing that! Yet, the example we see from Jesus is that He spent a great deal of time in prayer. In this instance, He rose early in the morning, got away from everyone, and prayed. Simon (Peter) and the other three disciples looked for Him because everyone else was looking for Him. When they found Him, it was almost like they rebuked Him for going off and praying. They wanted Jesus to know that people were looking for Him: maybe newcomers who had heard gossip about the healings, maybe people who had heard about His teachings. Whatever the case, they wanted Jesus to strike while the iron was hot and they had a hard time understanding why He would spend time in prayer when there was so much to do. Our world has a similar attitude. In the church we have people who feel bad because all they can do is pray, not realizing that prayer is vital to the life and work of the church. We have people who don’t have time to pray because they’re too busy working for God. Outside the church, people laugh behind our backs that we believe that prayer makes a difference. Our response to those inside and outside the church who would disdain prayer as vital to our being as followers of Christ should be to begin by praying for them, remind them how much Jesus emphasized prayer, and then pray for them again.

38. And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth. 39. And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils.

Jesus’s response was not what they were expecting. Perhaps they were thinking that Jesus could set up a nice business for Himself, healing all those who were sick or demon-possessed. If He had done that, He wouldn’t have needed to make house calls, since, as people heard about Him, they would flock to Him. Jesus let them know immediately that God had a different idea. He was called to go to other places and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. Because of that, He walked throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and casting out demons. I have no doubt that if Jesus was looking for a nice, calm life, He could have set up shop in any of these towns, but that wouldn’t have fit in with God’s call. He found God’s call on His life by praying, and He lived each day gaining power to fulfill His call by praying.

40. And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 41. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. 42. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.

While Jesus was traveling between preaching areas in Galilee, a leper stopped in front of Him and asked Jesus to make him clean. We take this action in stride, but what the leper did in this situation broke all of society’s norms for proper behavior by a leper. A leper was supposed to wear rags, let everyone know that he or she was unclean, and maintain social distancing. Instead, this leper got within arm’s length of Jesus and begged Him to cleanse his disease. He asked Jesus by noting that if He wanted to, He could make that leper clean. The NIV describes Jesus as being indignant while the King James describes Jesus as being moved with “compassion.” If indignant is the correct translation, I can only imagine that Jesus was indignant at the way lepers in general were treated. I think, though, that Jesus being moved by compassion is much more in line with the nature of Jesus. He was so moved with compassion that He reached out and touched this man and brought cleansing to him. The minute Jesus touched him, he was no longer a leper, he was a man, an individual, someone important in God’s eyes. The reminder for us is that all people are important in the eyes of God and rather than label them, we should embrace them with His love.

43. And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away; 44. And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. 45. But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.

Leprosy was a dangerous, frightening disease which led to the precautions that included isolating people with leprosy and the requirement to verbally warn people that they were around. Being healed of leprosy was a great event that involved verification by a priest and special sacrifices with the ritual prescribed by Moses himself. When Jesus healed this man, He told him to follow the Law. He also told the guy not to say what happened to those around him, but to make sure that he did things decently and in order: by the book, if you will. The guy’s joy was too great and he told everyone he met what Jesus had done for him. The result was that Jesus couldn’t go into a city without being mobbed. The mobs would focus on His healings instead of the message He had from God and that would derail His mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God. So, He started teaching in various spots around the desert and people still flocked to Him. While we can criticize this guy for not doing what Jesus said, we can’t fault his enthusiasm. In fact, we should have the same enthusiasm in our world today as we share the love and grace of Jesus with others; as we share what Jesus has done for us. Has Jesus made a difference in your life? If your answer is “yes” how can you avoid sharing with the same excitement this man had. If the answer is “no” please contact me and I would love to share how He will.

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Calling the Disciples and Ministering in Capernaum – Mark 1:16-31

Mark moves Jesus’s story into Galilee quickly. In these 16 verses, Jesus calls His first four disciples, teaches in a synagogue, casts out a demon, and heals Peter’s mother-in-law. There are some interesting side trips along the way as we think about Zebedee, Peter’s wife, Jesus’s authority, and social media. Join me as we continue this wild ride through the life story of Jesus.

16. Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 17. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. 18. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. 19. And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. 20. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.

When Jesus went to Galilee, we see from verse 15 that He began preaching. According to A.T. Robertson, the book of John reveals a year of ministry between His baptism and His ministry in Galilee. By the time verse 16 rolls around, it’s likely that Jesus was becoming well known. Jesus went everywhere to proclaim the Kingdom of God and here we see Him walking by the sea, finding these fishermen. Robertson notes that Simon (later Peter) and Andrew, and James and John were all partners. Based on my understanding of the nature of teachers in that time, and the nature of Jesus, I believe that Jesus deliberately went to this location looking for those four. Jesus, as a teacher of those days would, was looking for disciples. His mission was obviously greater than any of the other teachers, because Jesus would be preparing His disciples to proclaim the gospel to the whole world. Again, based on the the nature of those times, I believe that all four of those fishing buddies/partners may have sought to be accepted as disciples by other teachers of the day and were rejected. Giving up on their hope of becoming rabbis, they worked together as fishermen until Jesus came and promised that they would become fishers of men. Paul described that situation in 1 Corinthians 1:28. While I could be wrong in my understanding, I can’t help but think that Paul might have had the same belief.

It’s interesting how quickly James and John left the family business. Again, I think that adds strength to the idea that they had wanted to connect with a teacher and had been rejected. I think their father understood and his love for his sons meant that he didn’t do anything to stop them from following their desire and commitment to God. Years ago, when I went into the ministry, my Father could have tried to urge me to join the family business of real estate. He encouraged me to follow the path that God was leading, even though I could have eventually inherited a business with my name already on the sign. We sometimes forget that parents have dreams for their children that are waylaid when they seek to follow Jesus. So, praise God for those parents like Zebedee and my father who encouraged their children to follow God’s call and pray for those who might have difficulty dealing with that call.

All my speculation aside, the most important truth of this passage is that Jesus picked these four men specifically to be His disciples and they answered the call. There is no doubt in my mind that they had heard of Jesus, and were ready to follow Him without hesitation.

21. And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. 22. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. 23. And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24. Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.

Jesus and His four disciples went to Capernaum. Luke and Matthew tell how His hometown people in Nazareth had rejected Jesus (both in chapter 4 of their gospels) and Capernaum is recognized as His home base. There is even talk that the synagogue where Jesus taught there has been discovered and could be restored. I wonder if that would make that place a shrine, ultimately an idol of some sort, where people went to worship the location instead of marveling at the Savior. It is obvious that Jesus was with His fellow Jews in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. It is evident that He had been recognized as a teacher in that they allowed Him to teach. The amazing part of His teaching is that He taught with authority. The teaching method at that time involved invoking the names of past, well-known rabbis to verify what they themselves were teaching. Paul studied under one of the rabbis that Jewish teachers quoted, and we see Gamaliel play a part in the early days of the church. He may have been an adversary, but he was honest. Teaching would include the phrase “As <insert famous rabbi’s name here> said…” They wouldn’t use their own authority as they taught. Jesus didn’t quote the rabbis or give them attribution. In the Sermon on the Mount, He uses the construction of “You have heard it said…but I say…” This is the authority that He taught with. This is the authority that the Pharisees questioned Him about. This was the authority that amazed the people.

In the middle of His teaching, trouble popped up. A man with an evil spirit cried out interrupting His teaching. It’s interesting that the evil spirit knew his enemy and knew his enemies mission. He wanted to be left alone, he knew that Jesus would destroy that evil, and he knew that Jesus was the Holy one of God, the Messiah, God the Son. It sure did interrupt the synagogue teaching, though, and Jesus didn’t want to deal with the crowds and the political expectations the people had for the Messiah. His mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God was much more important than all of that.

25. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. 26. And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.

As I read this, I thought of a character who, in some situation comedy that I can’t remember, used to say, “Shut up your mouth.” I know Jesus didn’t say that, but even His politely worded rebuke was powerful. The evil spirit damaged the man somehow, perhaps leaving him convulsing on the ground and came out of him screaming. Evil leaves its mark, and even though the man was now free of that evil spirit, I have no doubt that people in future years would remind him of the time that he interrupted Jesus while he was teaching in the synagogue. We often hear people wondering why Jesus came at the time He did and not now. Let me just say that if this happened in today’s world, just about everyone in the synagogue would have captured the encounter on their cell phones and uploaded the video to their YouTube accounts and the man would have become infamous. For those of us who follow Christ, though, our reaction shouldn’t be to look at and admonish or mock the one who had been demon-possessed. We should look at how Jesus released that man from the stranglehold the demon had on him and freed him from his sin making him a new creation.

It saddens me today when people, especially those who have achieved some measure of fame, come to Christ and those who follow Christ at skeptical. Rather than welcoming those who have joined the family of God, they bring up the new believer’s past. They doubt the sincerity of the change. They browbeat them so much that when the new believer looks to get away from the persecution, they often end up among those who would lead them back into their old way of life. We need more people like Barnabas, who opened the door for Paul to enter into fellowship with the Christians in Jerusalem.

27. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him. 28. And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.

If the people were amazed that Jesus taught with His own authority, how much more did this display of spiritual authority astonish them. Not only did He neglect quoting all the “experts” who had guided the teaching of their rabbis as long as they could remember, He had shown a spiritual authority over evil, over unclean spirits. The evil spirits knew who He was and they obeyed Him. And, even without computerized social media, His fame went viral. People all over the region heard about Jesus and wanted to know more. In the verses that will begin next week’s passage we’ll see that people from all over brought those who needed to be healed to Him as soon as the Sabbath was over. His fame began spreading on the day when people weren’t allowed to travel more than a certain distance.

One of the problems I have is that I’ve been a follower of Jesus for so long, I’ve lost that sense of wonder and awe when I see miraculous works of God. I expect them. Our pastor will often ask us, “What do you see God doing these days?” I usually don’t have much to say, not because God isn’t working, but I’ve grown accustomed to that from God. If I had one prayer today from this study it would be that God would remind me of the wonder in the way He works even in the simple things and that I would be struck with awe as I recognize His presence and His work.

29. And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30. But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her. 31. And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.

When the men left the synagogue and went home, the expectation was that the women had prepared an afternoon meal for them. Women weren’t required to follow some of the rules of the Sabbath if it involved preparing a meal. Jesus and the other four went to Simon and Andrew’s home, only to discover that Simon’s mother-in-law was sick. As an aside here, I wonder if one of the reasons Capernaum became the base of operations Jesus used was so that Peter and Andrew could keep in touch with their family. I also wonder what happened to Simon’s (Peter’s) wife. We learn about his wife here, but only hear about her later on by implication when Paul asks about whether or not he had the right to bring a wife along on his journey as Peter (among others) did. There is an extra-biblical account that Peter’s wife died a martyr and that Peter rejoiced about her life in Christ and her call home. But, in this passage, it’s Peter’s mother-in-law in charge of the cooking, and she was sick and things hadn’t been done. They told Jesus and Jesus went in to see her, took her hand, and she was healed. She was healed so quickly that she got up and served them.
Please note: Jesus didn’t heal her so that she could make lunch. He healed her because she was sick. She got up and ministered, or served them, because that is what she enjoyed doing. We’ve all known those ladies who find ways to ply us with food whenever we visit. My mother always sought to make sure that we had something to eat when we visited her, even in the last years of her life when she was bedridden. The message here is that Jesus releases us from the sickness, the evil spirits, or the chains that bind us so that we can do those things we’re called to do in God’s Kingdom. No job in His kingdom is so small that it should be overlooked, no job is so great that it can’t be done, as long as we’re serving God in obedience to His call on our lives. Our responsibility is to discover what God’s called us to do, and then to do it cheerfully, whole-heartedly, serving God rather than men.

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The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – Mark 1:1-15

As I thought about what book to study next, I decided upon the gospel of Mark. It’s always important to study the gospels, and one of the things I like about Mark is that it moves so quickly and focuses on what Jesus does. There’s no long introduction in Mark, there’s no long genealogy. So, in that same spirit, let’s look at Mark starting from the beginning.

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;

This is Mark’s introduction. I think it’s an interesting commentary. If you take this introduction as applying to the whole book, Mark makes it clear that the resurrection is part of the beginning of the gospel. If that’s true, then we are living in the continuing story of the gospel. The gospel story begins, according to Mark, with the preaching of John the Baptist. It still hasn’t ended. Some would see this as a commentary on the story of John the Baptist, noting that his story began the story of the gospel. Whatever the case may be, Mark reminds us that this is gospel or good news, and that the good news is the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That designation isn’t up for debate in his mind, that’s just truth. How often do we get caught up in debates over issues that aren’t productive. Mark didn’t debate the issue, he proclaimed it and then wrote the story that explained why he believed that.

2. As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 3. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

Some translations mention Isaiah as the prophet, but verse two is actually a quote from Malachi 3:1. Verse three is found in Isaiah 40:3. Whatever the source for these verses, they’re being used to indicate the coming and the task of John the Baptist. John’s job was to help prepare the people for the coming of Jesus. He was to be a voice from outside calling on people to clear the way spiritually for the Messiah to come. I hate to make this comparison, but I’ve been to concerts and they always have a “warm-up” band. Their job is to get people in the right frame of mind to enjoy the main band. If, as they go off the stage, you think, “that was great, how can it be better?” then they’ve done their job, especially if you answer your own question after the first couple of numbers with “Now I see.” John had an amazing message of the need to repentance. He never sought the glory of Jesus and always pointed people to Jesus, but many wondered if he was the Messiah. (How can it get any better, John?) John told them again and again that he was nothing compared to the real Messiah who was coming.

4. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

Where did you find John? In the wilderness. He made it hard for people to find him, and yet, find him they did. People flocked to him, coming from all over the Jewish area of influence to hear his message. We wouldn’t call his message “seeker-friendly” to use today’s terminology. John let them know what was wrong and what they needed to do. He baptized people and told them that they needed to be baptized to bring about forgiveness of their sins. Now, a couple of things are interesting here. Baptism did not originate with John. Whenever a non-Jew wanted to accept the teachings of the Jewish faith and become a Jew, they were baptized. When John called on Jews to be baptized, it was almost like saying, “You have strayed so far from God that you should no longer be considered a Jew, you should be considered a pagan.” If I were to go into any Baptist Church and make statements like that, they’d probably run me out on a rail. The Jews flocked to John in spite of that. Perhaps they did that because they really were hungry for a prophet, since it had been hundreds of years since God had sent them a prophet. When John talked about the need to be baptized for remission of sins, I would take that to mean a symbolic washing away of sin because of the confession of sin and the accompanying change of heart. If baptism actually washed away or forgave sin, we could live as terrible people, just so long as we made sure to be baptized to get forgiveness. That’s contrary to the demands God places on the lives of believers.

6. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;

OK. I’m gonna say it. As a Baptist, we often identify with John the Baptist. But if John the Baptist came into many of our churches today, looking like that, bringing meals to a church potluck like that, and demanding that we confess our sins and get re-baptized, he wouldn’t last long. As Christians, we’ve become so sophisticated that we can judge the spirituality of people by the way they look, what they eat, and how they talk. (OK, that was sarcasm.) John would definitely not fit in with most of our churches. That should remind us not to look at outward appearances, but learn to listen to the heart of those we interact with.

7. And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

As well as people received John’s message of repentance, which probably surprises most of us, he made it a point to remind people that one who was truly great was coming. When John compared himself to the coming Messiah, he told them, in effect, “You know the lowest servant in the household? The one who unties the shoes (after the master came in from walking on the streets shared by camels, donkeys, sheep, and other animals, if you catch my drift)? I’m not even worthy to be that slave in comparison to the one who’s coming.” John probably pointed at the Jordan River and noted that he baptized with water – a common everyday thing; the coming Messiah would infuse them with the power of God.

9. And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11. And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

I would guess that John proclaimed the coming of the Messiah every time he preached. I would also guess that he was so sensitive to God’s Spirit working in him that when Jesus came, he recognized Him immediately. Other gospels describe John balking at baptizing Jesus. In the end, John did that, and then amazing things happened. Jesus came out of the water, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, landed on Him, and a Voice from Heaven proclaimed Jesus to be God the Son. Even though Jesus hadn’t started His ministry yet, the Father proclaimed that He was well pleased with the Son. Whether that refers to a) Jesus’s life leading up to this point, b) Jesus submitting to baptism, or 3) a proclamation of all that would be, the Father was pleased with the Son. And, in this amazing transition, we move from talking about John and his message to focusing on Jesus.

12. And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness.13. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

If you’re familiar with the other gospels, you understand why I said that the gospel of Mark moves fast! We’re about 1/3 of the way through chapter one and we’re already at the part of the story that opens up the fourth chapter in both Matthew and Luke. Both of those gospels give us details on the last part of Jesus’s temptation. Mark just noted that Jesus followed the impulse of the Spirit, went into the wilderness for forty days and then, after He dealt with the temptations of Satan and the wild beasts, angels ministered to Him. We should be reminded that while we pray not to be led into temptation, being tempted isn’t a sin in and of itself, giving into temptation is. At the same time, God cares for us and sends messengers to minister to us throughout our days as we deal with those everyday battles against temptation and the wiles of the devil.

14. Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,15. And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

I think this part of the timeline is interesting. Does verse 14 imply that Jesus didn’t begin His ministry until after John was put in prison, or does it mean that Jesus moved his base of ministry from Judea to Galilee in response to the arrest of John. Was there a period of time after the temptation before Jesus started His ministry? Was John arrested immediately after Jesus was tempted in the wilderness? My guess is that John was arrested not long after the temptation, because when Jesus came, John started pointing people to Him. As people turned to Jesus, John’s crowds dwindled and it may have been safer for Herod to arrest John. Then, Jesus recognized the unrest in the area and went back to Galilee to minister there. He preached the gospel: the good news. That good news contains the ideas that the kingdom of God was at hand, people still needed to repent, and that people should believe in the good news from God that we have forgiveness for our sins. It’s a message that still rings in our hearts and still calls people into the kingdom of God today.

While I will refer to the other gospels occasionally in what I write, I invite you to compare what happens in Mark with what happens in the other gospels and when things happen. I believe the more we know about our Savior, the more we can appreciate what He did while here on earth. Through learning about Him and appreciating Him, we get to know Him better.

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