Central in the Peace Country
By: Pastor Dave Squires
This Week's Message
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THE GIVING HEART
April 18, 2021
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THE GIVING HEART
Mark 12: 41 – 44
April 18, 2021
This morning I am speaking one of the 2 subjects pastors most dread preaching on. Those two subjects are sex and money. Fortunately I am not speaking on sex. But as we work our way through the book of Mark we come today to a passage that has to do with giving. The Bible has much to say about money and giving. Jesus addressed money far more often than he spoke about heaven. He said in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”
When Barb and I were in Indonesia we met a missionary family from Australia who were in language school, preparing to serve in a Christian boarding school in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. He had been a professor of engineering in Australia and they had 4 school aged children. His colleagues thought he was crazy or going through a midlife crisis or something. They were excited for the opportunity to serve where they were going. They were facing massive life changes and sacrifices. They were full of joy with some trepidation. Barb and I felt led to give toward their support and there was something about that decision that I found moved me in ways I hadn’t been moved in giving to other ministries before. It was with unusual joy that we gave toward their support for as long as they served there. Maybe it was in part due to the sacrifices they were making, the costs for their family, their commitment to the Lord, but something about giving to this work of the Lord brought gratitude and joy to me. And I think I was also challenged by their commitment.
READ MARK 12: 38 – 44
Notice the warning about the phoniness of the scribes, about their desire to have all their good works be seen and applauded by men. About their corruption, their mistreatment of widows, taking from them, their doing their works for a show.
A family was driving home after church doing what they usually did, debriefing their morning experience. Lots of complaining. The music was hard to follow. The sound and projector guy had trouble keeping up, did you see what old Mrs. Smith was wearing? The sermon was too long, by quite a bit. Their 12 year old son leaned forward and interrupted, but you’ve got to admit that it wasn’t a bad show for a tooney.
So Just after warning his hearers to be wary of the motives of the teachers of the law, the religious leaders, Jesus sat down, likely in one of the outer courts of the temple, probably the women’s court, an area anyone was allowed to enter. Several of the commentaries I read indicated there would have been spread around that courtyard 13 receptacles into which they could contribute donations. A number of them would have had a sign indicating for free will offering. Others were for specific purposes like the annual temple tax which all men had to pay, or payment for a dove for sacrifice or sin or guilt offering, and so on. The receptacles were made of brass and resembled a trumpet in their shape. Money in those days was entirely coin, no bills. When you dropped a coin in these brass receptacles it made a ting, different tones depending on the size and weight of the coins, and the sounds were more obvious depending on the number of coins deposited.
Jesus sat down and began to watch people, particularly as they came in and put money into the treasury/receptacles. Many rich people “threw” in large amounts. I envision making something of a show, wanting to draw attention to their generous donations. Like we read in Matthew 6, how some do acts of righteousness to be seen by others, for the show.
Then along came this poor widow. To be a widow in first century Roman world was to be impoverished already. Life was hard for widows. Opportunities for employment few. Often had to depend on the kindness and generosity of friends and family to survive. The Old Testament speaks often of God’s heart for widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor. He had given instructions for his people as to how to care for those in need. Mark said she was not just a widow, but a poor widow, likely among the poorest of the widows. Clothing and her demeanour and the fact she came alone would have been indicators she was a widow. She placed 2 small coins of very little value in one of the receptacles. Her coins dropping into the receptacle was inaudible in the din of the crowds, as small and light weight as they were. Her 2 “Lepta’s“ would have each been worth 1/64 of a denarius, 1/64th of a day’s wage for an average man. Worth next to nothing, but all she had. She could have given 1 and kept the other, but she gave both.
Jesus, watching people as they gave, noticed this poor widow, what she gave and how she gave. He saw a teachable moment for his disciples. Remember he’s just 2-3 days away from his execution, but felt this was something to highlight. He called his disciples over to where he was sitting.
“I tell you the truth”—In other words, take note, what I am about to say is important, I want you to remember.
“This poor woman has put more into the treasury than all the others.” More than anyone else, or more than all the others put together?... Really, Jesus? How can that be? They must have wondered.
Anticipating their unspoken questions Jesus continued, They gave out of their wealth/abundance. But she, out of her poverty, put in everything, all she had to live on. If we give so others will see and be impressed, Jesus said in Matthew 6 that will be our full reward, the recognition of others.
LESSONS FOR US:
Jesus is more concerned with how we give than with how much we give.
We are to see a contrast between this poor widow’s attitude and that of others who gave, especially intended for the religious leaders I think; The rich were respected she was hardly noticed by others, because of being poor and a woman The teachers of the law were takers, She was a giver, They were self-centered, she was God-centered, They were full of their own sense of self-importance, she was humble. Mark 10:31 comes to mind, “But many who are first will be last and the last will be first.”
Money isn’t evil. Excessive love and emphasis on money can be sinful, evil.
Note in a church bulletin: “The Lord loves a cheerful giver, but he also accepts from a grouch.”
He really does want for us to give cheerfully, generously, gratefully, understanding that all we have has been given, loaned to us, and entrusted to us as stewards of God’s gracious gifts. We are to be good, generous, wise stewards of the gifts God entrusts to us. This is not limited to money, but would include whatever talents we have been born with or privileged to develop. It would include the time we have; we are to be good and generous stewards of our time. It includes our spiritual gifts, those gifts that make us sensitive to the Lord’s heart and leading in certain areas. Giving opportunity: next Saturday’s church cleaning day.
We are to be generous toward other people, in our estimation of them, in our patience with them, in the grace we give to them, in our forgiveness of them and acceptance of them as people loved by God, regardless of their brokenness.
Giving is an act of Worship. We are also to give sacrificially, as this woman’s example suggests. It is one thing to give some of what we have when we have plenty left over to spare. It is quite another to give sacrificially, until we feel it, until our giving has impact on our spending for ourselves. Giving because we know God has given to us; giving out of gratitude to him.
C.S. Lewis held the opinion that if our giving to the Lord and to the needs of people doesn’t pinch us, if it doesn’t hamper our spending on ourselves, then it is likely that we aren’t giving sacrificially enough. This woman gave sacrificially out of her love for God. Jesus gave sacrificially out of his love for mankind and his commitment to carry out the eternal will of God.
I appreciated a story I read about a multimillionaire who was attending a church reunion of the church of his childhood. He was invited to speak something of his testimony. He shared that when he earned his first dollar as a young boy he decided to keep that dollar for life. But then he heard a missionary speaking about the needs on the mission field and so he gave that dollar into the missions offering. Looking back he thought God had blessed him with so much wealth because as a young boy he had given everything to the Lord’s work. The congregation seemed somewhat impressed with his testimony until a little lady sitting near the front piped up: “I dare you to do it again!”
God wants us to give from our hearts, humbly giving ourselves to him first. READ 2 CORINTHIANS 8:1 – 5. Highlight verses 2 and 5. We are to give ourselves to God first. There is no real advantage in this matter of giving for the wealthy or the poor. We are to give with hearts that acknowledge we belong to him and all we have has been given by him and he wants us to give generously, sacrificially, and joyfully.
We can give without loving, but cannot love God without giving of our time, resources, energy, patience, gifts God has given us.
We don’t have to give; it should be a privilege and a joy to give for the glory of God and so the gospel can be spread, helping those who are in need, leading believers into closer walks with the Lord.
“Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” -Jesus, in Matthew 6:1
I have an idea that many of you are generous givers, that you give to our church and to other missions and you give of your time and energy to people in need. Then this message will only confirm what you already know and encourage you in your giving. Perhaps others need the nudge that some of what I have shared will give you.
I encourage all of us to take the matter of our giving to the Lord. Study further in scripture about giving. Think not just of giving money, but also giving of your time and giftedness and other resources to people within the church and to people in our community.
Give thoughtfully, generously to the church, to missions, to individuals in need, even when no tax receipt will be given. Give anonymously when you can and sacrificially. Give from a heart that acknowledges all gifts we receive come from a great and kind and generous and gracious God who loves us.
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Delighting in Christ
April 11, 2021
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Delighting in Christ
Mark 12: 35 - 44
April 11, 2021
Psalms 37:4: Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” That is an instruction or command with a promise. What kind of things bring you enjoyment? What could you say you truly delight in? Some of my things: spending time with my family, friends; taking note of the funny or insightful things grandchildren say or the new things they are able to do; spending time in our garden; hearing someone testify of something new they have experienced or learned from the Lord, answers to prayer; seeing people make tough decisions about choosing to follow the Lord rather than following the crowd, and the personal experience of God’s nearness, presence, provision and work in my life.
There is quite a lot recorded about the events of that last Tuesday prior to Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday. The 12th chapter of Mark records 3 attempts by the religious leaders, Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and others who came with the intention of finding fault with Jesus’ teaching or actions, hoping to find something they can prosecute him for, hoping to silence him at least, and preferably to convict him of a crime worthy of the sentence of death. They pose a political question, should we pay taxes to Caesar or not, Jesus? If he answered “Yes, pay taxes to Caesar,” the common people who hated to be under Roman rule would be stirred up against Jesus. If he said, “No, don’t pay taxes to Caesar” the leaders could go to Roman officials and report Jesus for inciting rebellion. His answer while holding a coin with Caesar’s portrait on one side was to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. The next delegation came with what they were sure was a tricky theological question that would surely stump him. A hypothetical man died leaving behind a widow with no children. According to Jewish law one of the man’s 6 brothers married her with the intention of having a child who could then carry on the deceased man’s name as well as to provide for the widow’s needs. He too died without children. That scenario was carried on with each of the remaining 5 brothers also marrying the widow with none of them ever having children before passing on and leaving her a widow again. Their question was “In the resurrection whose wife will she be?” Jesus pointed out that they didn’t know the scriptures or the power of God. They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead and he showed them from Exodus that Scripture teaches the resurrection. And he said in the resurrection people will not marry. Then a religious question is posed by a scribe who seems sincere in asking what the greatest commandment is. Jesus answers by giving 2 commandments, to love God with all your being and to love your neighbour as yourself. Verse 34 says that realizing they couldn’t trap him nobody dared to ask him any questions after that. Each time he turned the tables on them and they were the ones left looking foolish.
Who is the Messiah?
In the passage we are looking at today Jesus went on the offensive. He had more he wanted to teach and he wanted to expose the false motives of the religious elite so others wouldn’t fall for their hypocrisy. Same day, as Jesus was teaching in the temple courts. READ 35 – 37 Important question designed to get the people to think about who the Messiah would be.
A quote from Psalm 110:1. Psalm 110 was recognized as a Messianic Psalm by the religious leaders and the common people alike. Why do the teachers of the law say the Christ/Messiah will be the son of David? That much was accepted by the religious leaders as true and accurate. The messiah would in fact come from the line of David, he would be a descendant of David. In 2 Sam. 7:12 God told David that long after he had died he would raise up one of his offspring to succeed him and He would establish his kingdom. Isaiah 9:7 prophesies of the Messiah that “He will reign on David’s throne.” See also Jer. 23:5ff. The scribes/teachers of the law were looking for a national warrior deliverer who would be one of David’s descendants. Rightly so, but unfortunately their understanding stopped up too short. He wasn’t just to be a human descendant of David. He was to be much more.
Jesus quoted the rest of Psalms 110:1 and pointed out that David, speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said what would follow. As inspired Scripture this was important. The Lord says to my Lord (Messiah), Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet. Mark 16:19 says that Jesus was taken up into heaven and sat at God’s right hand. 1 Pet 3:22 says Jesus has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. 1 John 2 teaches us that Christ is in heaven speaking on our behalf, defending us. So this verse is a Messianic prophecy.
But Jesus’ question for the scribes, to get them thinking deeper is Why did David say “The Lord said to my Lord…” if this Messianic human descendant of David is his son/descendant, how can he also be his Lord?
Answer: he can only be his Lord if he is also divine, the Son of God. They were looking only for a human deliverer like David. Their expectations of the Messiah fell far short of who the Messiah would be.
Jesus met all the requirements for the Messiah. He was a descendent of David—see Matthew and Luke’s genealogy lists of the ancestors of Jesus. Both Mary and Joseph came from the line of David. And in this passage Jesus is giving an indication of who he is, son of David as well as Son of God. The messiah according to psalms 110:1 which the scribes acknowledged as a Messianic Psalm, had to be human and divine, not just a human ruler/deliverer. How do you respond to that thought, scribes? No response recorded, but the large crowd loved it, they listened to Jesus’ teaching with delight. I suspect they were delighted both at their new understanding of prophecies about the Messiah, but also at the exposure of the scribe’s hypocrisy.
Beware of the teachers of the law. Read verses 38 – 40
There is a clear description of what most of the teachers of the law were like:
Dressed to draw attention to themselves, to stand out from the crowd, to let others know they were important. Long flowing white robes. Common people dressed in more colourful moderate clothing. The religious leaders loved to be greeted with special greetings in public, expected to be greeted with titles like rabbi, master, or father. They wanted to be seen as important, more important than most. They loved to sit in the important seats in the synagogues, up front and centre. And they cherished the honoured seats at banquets, often being invited when wealthy people put on a banquet and being seated next to the host.
But they “devoured widows’ houses” and make a show of their lengthy prayers. Scribes depended on the donations of the people for their financial support. And it is likely they knew how to twist the arms of widows so that they are convinced that giving to their local scribe will give them special standing before God and they’d be rewarded by him. Taking unjust advantage of widows. God takes this sin seriously. And the whole show of being holy or religious by praying or giving or fasting in ways that will draw attention to the person rather than to God himself, for personal honor and glory rather than for the honour and glory of the Lord, Jesus said, beware of that kind of phoniness. Don’t pattern your lives after them. They will one day be severely punished for their hypocrisy and self-centredness.
Growing up we used to watch televangelists on Sunday mornings and it occurred to me more than once that some of them spent more than half of the program appealing for money from their viewers so they could continue to carry on their important ministries. Some even offered to mail back to all who donate a certain sum little crosses that had been prayed over or handkerchiefs that had been dipped in the Jordon River and/or blessed by the evangelist. Too much like Jesus’ description of the teachers of the law…
But lest we just point fingers at others, we need to ask are we ever like the scribes? Do we feel we are entitled to the best or to more than someone else? Do we expect God to make our lives smooth and comfortable or do we look to him to walk with us through the joys as well as the heartaches of life? When was the last time you or I were offended because someone received recognition for a job done while the service you gave was overlooked? God sees, takes note, will one day give to each of us whatever recognition we might have coming. How easy it is to feel slighted because someone else gets more time with one of your friends than you do. How important is it to me that I am always understood as being right? How threatened do we feel when someone disagrees with what we think or a stand we take? Am I willing to listen to another point of view? How fearful are we of what others think of us? Does it keep us from saying or doing things we know God would have us do or say? How important is it to us to appear godly or holy to others at all costs? One of our greatest fears is to admit we have struggles in some area, spiritually or relationally or financially. Like the scribes Jesus was talking about it is easy for us to go around giving the impression we have it all together, have life all figured out, can handle anything on our own. God wants us to have some humility and to acknowledge we not only need the Lord, but we need each other, we need others who will speak truthfully into our lives, who we can be open and honest with about our struggles and we can pray with and for.
Beware of the teachers of the law. Don’t be like them. Examine scriptures carefully to see what they have to say about the state of your heart. Is my heart soft, open to God’s work and will in my life? Is my life all about me and what I need and deserve? Or am I in a place of growing to understand more and more who Jesus is, to learn from his servant heart, his sacrificial heart, and his loving heart. How are we challenged or inspired by the compassion and humility Jesus consistently showed? Am I willing to think deeply about how I am living the life of a disciple of Christ, considering the needs of others and what my words or actions communicate to them? Do we want to live like so many others in our world, who live for themselves or do we want to genuinely care about others as Jesus did and does?
May the prayers of David at the end of a couple of Psalms be the prayers of our hearts:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalms 19:14
Create in me a pure heart, o God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalms 51:10
THE CENTRALITY OF THE RESURRECTION
April 4, 2021
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THE CENTRALITY OF THE RESURRECTION
April 4, 2021
1 Corinthians 15: 12 – 20
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! I have understood that first century Christians often used to greet each other with these words, and not just on Easter. So central is the resurrection to our faith those early Christians felt it was strengthening to their faith in the face of persecution to remind each other that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead and was/is alive!
A pastor was just starting his children’s story one Easter morning. He looked around the stage which had been transformed to look like the empty tomb from which Jesus had risen. He looked back at the children and asked, “Do you notice anything different about our church this morning?” One little girl confidently raised her hand and then said, “Yes, it is full!” Not the answer the pastor was expecting, but true and humorous nonetheless.
READ 1 Corinthians 15: 12 – 20
There were those in the first century who said there is no such thing as a resurrection. It is impossible and just doesn’t happen. A couple weeks ago when we were looking at the 12th chapter of Mark the passage said the religious sect known as the Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection. To them when a person died that was it, end of story. Apparently that teaching had entered into the church in Corinth and so in his first letter to the Corinthians in the chapter known as the resurrection chapter of the Bible, chapter 15, Paul addressed that teaching head on and at length.
THE CONSEQUENCES IF THERE IS NO RESURRECTION
If there were no resurrection of the dead…
-Then Jesus would not have been raised either. 13 He’d have proven to be nothing more than a dead teacher, no different than anyone else. The things he had taught and claimed would have then been brought into question.
-the preaching of Paul and others would have been useless, powerless 14 because so much was based on Jesus’ resurrection which proved he was who he said he was, the Son of God and he did what he had promised he would do, rise from the dead.
-The Corinthian believers’ faith, and ours, would have been useless, futile, meaningless. 14, 17 Our faith would have boiled down to some pie in the sky teachings by a martyred leader about doing good to others for the short time we have on this earth with no hope for eternity or relationship with a living savior.
-Paul and the apostles would have been guilty of giving false witness about God if he hadn’t raised Christ as scriptures had promised 15. They proclaimed his death and resurrection everywhere they went.
-we would all still be in our sins, condemned, unforgiven, uncleansed, unaccepted by God 17
-those who had already died believing in Christ would be lost. 18 When their life was over that would have been it, that’s all. Nothing for them or their surviving families to look forward to.
-Hope in a dead Christ would make no sense, wouldn’t be worth all the opposition and persecution and sacrifice involved in being one of his followers. 19 If our hope in Christ is only for this life we would of all people then be most deserving of pity because it would all be so empty, meaningless. So later on Paul asks the question, “Why would we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day…” (for my commitment to Christ).
BUT CHRIST HAS INDEED BEEN RAISED FROM THE DEAD! Paul exclaimed.
THE CONFIDENCE PAUL HAD IN THE RESURRECTION
There were eye many witnesses who claimed to have seen the risen Christ. Paul mentioned them in verses 3-8. READ. Many of them were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing and would gladly confirm that they had seen Jesus after the resurrection.
Paul’s own testimony of meeting the risen Christ in a vision accompanied by blinding light, hearing his audible voice inviting him to stop resisting Christ and to come and follow him gave him all the confidence he needed to proclaim the risen Christ wherever he went in the face of all kinds of opposition. Acts 9
The fact that Paul was willing as were the apostles and so many others, to face persecution, imprisonment, rejection and martyrdom for their faith in the risen Christ is the strongest evidence of the resurrection. People would be highly unlikely to be willing to suffer and die for Jesus had they not been certain of his resurrection, which Paul claimed to be a central truth of the gospel, of first importance. V. 3-4 Paul indicated he wouldn’t have gone through the suffering if Jesus wasn’t risen and alive. Verses 30 – 32. He said you might as well live entirely for yourself and get all the enjoyment you can for yourself out of this life if that is all there is. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do your own thing, live for yourself, live it up. The philosophy many live by today. Lee Strobel, author of the book, The Case for Christ among other books, said, “If Jesus was not physically raised from the dead, you are justified in walking away from Christianity.”
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE RESURRECTION
Because of the resurrection…
-Christ has indeed risen from the dead and is alive today.
-Our preaching and teaching has meaning, purpose, substance: Jesus was who he said he was; the same power of God that raised him is available to help us live for him. His death for us had purpose; his resurrection assures our forgiveness and acceptance by God.
-Your faith in him as risen Lord who conquered death, who is who he claimed to be, the Son of God and Saviour makes the most sense. We can trust him and follow him with confidence... We all want our lives to have meaning, purpose, to count for something that will last.
-Our testimony about God and Christ are found to be true because Jesus was raised from the dead.
We can and must speak boldly of the truth of the resurrection. It is essential to our faith.
-We are no longer condemned for our sins. Jesus’ death paid the penalty for our sins; the resurrection guarantees God accepted that payment, and was satisfied with it. Our sins are forgiven and the power of sin over us has been broken with his death and resurrection.
-We can have every confidence that those who have already died believing in Christ have been raised to new life. And we will be raised too. We will see them again!
-we have sure hope both in this life and for eternal life to come. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive gives us reason to take up our crosses daily and follow him, to endure hardship, being ostracized by family or community, being impoverished, persecuted, or even martyred because of our faith in our risen Christ. None of that would make sense or be worth it if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead. We believe in a risen Christ who walks with us, cares for us, provides for us, delights in us, wants to continue to transform us, to be actively involved in our lives. We can encounter him today. He is our source of strength and one day he will right all that is wrong with our world and will rule with truth and justice and love for eternity. That is our sure hope.
An American scholar of the history of Christianity by the name of Jaroslav Pelikan said this:
“If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. If Christ is not risen, nothing else matters.”
I read a story about a well-known British minister/pastor by the name of W. E. Sangster. He became ill and was losing his voice and control of other muscles in the 1950’s due to a muscular disease. Knowing his time was short and recognizing his limitations he threw himself into writing and praying. On the last Easter morning shortly before his death he wrote a letter to his daughter. Included in his letter were these words: “It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice to shout, ‘He is risen!’ But it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout it.”
Christ is risen! He is our sure hope.
LOVE GOD AND LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR
March 28, 2021
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LOVE GOD AND LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR
Mark 12: 28 – 34
March 28, 2021
One of the teachers of the law, a religious lawyer, a scribe, and Matthew’s account tells us he was also a Pharisee. (Matt. 22:34 - 40)
This man overheard Jesus answer the Sadducees about the resurrection and realized Jesus gave them a good answer, that he had silenced them in their attempt to trap him in his words. So he too, an expert in the law, asked Jesus a question, probably a question that had been much discussed by religious leaders who liked to debate theological questions. He asked, “Of all the commandments, which one is the most important?”
In the first 5 books of the Old Testament, according to the rabbis of Jesus’ day, there were 613 laws. 248 of them were commands to do something while 365 of them were commands of things the Jewish people were not to do. Some were considered to be more important than others. So we see here in this scribe’s question a desire to know what Jesus would say is the most important of the 613 laws to obey. Matthew’s account suggests the scribe had come with other Pharisees whose intentions were to find fault with something Jesus would say, hopefully to catch him saying something that would lead to a serious conviction of going against the teachings of Judaism. But as the scribe listened to Jesus answer other religious leaders out to trap him he noted Jesus gave very good answers. His attitude is respectful, even hinting at admiration for Jesus.
LOVE GOD WITH YOUR WHOLE BEING
The first part of Jesus’ answer comes as a quote of Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Jesus included the phrase, “and with all your mind.”)
These verses were totally familiar to the people listening. They quoted these words twice a day, morning and evening. The verses were among some that were written out and placed in small leather boxes and worn on the foreheads and the left arms of conservative orthodox Jewish men during prayer services. Even today conservative and Orthodox Jews still wear these leather boxes with verses written out reminding the people to love God and keep his commandments. But again morning and evening the people in Jesus’ day quoted these verses twice a day.
The first phrase: Hear, O Israel, the Lord is one. This reminded the people that there is none like God, he has no equal, he is unique, incomparable. He is all powerful, all knowing, everywhere present. As such, He is worthy of our trust, honor, praise, and love. This phrase sets the basis for the rest of the command. He is God who loves us like no other. Most people grow up in homes where they experience the love of parents and siblings. Not always the case, unfortunately. But we grow up learning that to be loved is a good thing; we long for it. We may along the way experience the love of friends and eventually that special relationship that may lead to marriage. But none of those relationships are perfect, the love we experience from others has limits, and at times is disappointing. People don’t and cannot give us everything we need. Only God loves us that way, perfectly. 1 John 4 tells us that God showed us what love is by giving his son to die for us, he loves us that much. The passage also says we love because he first loved us. We can only love him in response to experiencing his love for us. We don’t love God before we know he loves us the way he does. WE LOVE BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” What God was saying when he had Moses write this and what Jesus is saying is that we are to Love God with our whole being, with all of our lives. With our hearts, may he be the one we value most; with our souls, our personalities, enthusiasm and self-awareness, who we are; our minds, our intellect and thoughts; and with all our strength, our wills our choices. Love for him is to influence or direct our lives, our lifestyles, everything we do. Love for him is to be all encompassing.
JESUS’ SECOND COMMAND: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF
The scribe had asked what is the greatest commandment and Jesus’ answer included not one but two commandments. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Love your neighbor as yourself, is a partial quote of Leviticus 19:18. That command comes after a lengthy list of commands, including the following: do not reap right to the edges of your fields or go over your vineyards a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen; leave some of your produce for the poor and needy immigrants to harvest. Do not steal, lie, or deceive one another. Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. Do not defraud or rob your neighbor or hold back the wages of a hired man overnight. Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in the path of the blind, but fear God. I am the Lord. Do not pervert justice or show partiality to either the poor or the wealthy, but judge your neighbor fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord. Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you do not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I AM THE LORD
Because he is the Lord and knows what it is we as individuals and as communities of people need, he can tell us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Because he loves each of us and we are created by him, for him, and in his image, he can tell us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He is the Lord.
We are commanded to Love God and to love our neighbors. Because these are commands we can assume Jesus is not just talking about feeling loving toward God or toward others. What he is saying goes further than feelings. It involves choices and actions. Whenever Scriptures speak of God loving us it invariably involves action: he loves so he does; he loves so he gives; he loves so he protects; he loves so he is patient and forgives…
Whatever we invest our time and energy and resources in we usually grow to value and even love. As we invest time and thought getting to know God better by reading his word, discussing who he is with others, talking to him and listening for him to speak to us our love for him grows. If we spend very little time in getting to know him, we won’t grow to love him much; it is like any other relationship in that way, it takes time together to know and love someone. He is our Lord, unique, the one who loves us more than anyone else does. As that truth is allowed to sink in we love him a little more and want to know him more.
Our neighbors: Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan and one of the central truths of that story is that our neighbor is not just those living next door, but anyone God sends across our paths. Our neighbors are not just those who act neighborly, friendly, graciously to us. They may be people who think differently than us, have polar opposite political allegiances from us, live vastly different lifestyles from us, be in different socio-economic brackets from us, but in Jesus’ view they are still our neighbors, people loved by him and we are commanded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In other words we are not just to look out for ourselves, not to be selfish. We are to think of the needs and consider the desires of others. We are to think of what it would be we would like others to do for us, how we would like to be treated and then treat them that way. God would have us be respectful, generous in our estimation of others rather than making quick assumptions about their motives. He would have us interact with humility. To show kindness and grace as we speak truthfully.
These two commandments are meant to go together. Loving God is first, loving him in response to understanding he loves us. But one of the evidences that we love God, indeed one of the strongest evidences is that we will love others as he has told us to do. Matthew’s account tells us Jesus said, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:40 In other words, if you obey these two commandments the other 611 commands of the Old Testament will fall into place in your life.
What Jesus said to the scribe in this story is important. We need to think about it.
He is Lord! He loves us more than anyone loves us. We are to love him because he first loved us. Such love is active and involves choices. Jesus said in John 15:14 if you love me you will do what I command. How are you and I doing at loving God? What are the things in your life, my life that compete for my love for God? Do our choices of entertainment reflect love for who he is? (pure and holy) Do the words we speak reflect a love for God who values truth and kindness and grace? What does the way I spend my time say about how I love him and want to know him better? Do I love him enough to tell others about my relationship with him? Are there things in my life that I value more than my relationship with him?
And about the second commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves…
Is there anyone in your life you have trouble loving? Remember the love God would have us extend to others is not just feelings. It is a choice to do for others, even those who are hard to love: the person who likes to point out your faults or put you down; the neighbor who is rude or crude in the things he/she says or does; the person who seems to make poor choice after poor choice; the one who often lashes out at others in anger, those who are needy; the strangers who serve you at stores or restaurants; the people you do business with. Are we willing if God should lead us, to love others sacrificially?
Do you love these neighbors enough to exercise patience, to give the benefit of the doubt, to forgive when they do wrong to you, to let them know that God loves them, to go out of your way to help them? Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ enough to refuse to speak poorly of them, to defend them, to pray for them, to include them in conversations and activities?
God loves us. We love because he first loved us. To love God is to love others; to love others is to love God.
Our children and grandchildren take note of how we live life, of how we love God and how we love others. May what Jesus said in this passage cause us to evaluate carefully what our lives say about our love for God and for others.
Jesus’ Authority Questioned
March 7, 2021
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Jesus’ Authority Questioned
Mark 11: 27 – 12:12
March 7, 2021
As we have been working our way through the book of Mark we come today to another event that happened the last week before Jesus’ crucifixion. The religious leaders have found themselves more and more upset with Jesus’ teachings and miracles and with the ever increasing crowds following him. The next several encounters Jesus has focus on conflict with the religious leaders.
READ MARK 11:27 – 33
You will recall that the day before this event Jesus had entered the temple and started chasing off everyone who was doing business in the area set aside for Gentiles to pray and worship the Lord. Over the years that area had become crowded with businessmen selling animals for sacrifices, with people haggling over prices, and with people living nearby using the courtyard as a shortcut from one part of Jerusalem to another. Far too noisy and busy for anyone to have a significant time of prayer or worship. Jesus, in clearing the temple declared this was to be a house of prayer, not a den for thieves.
Not that long after the twin towers went down on 911 I was at the Grande Prairie airport standing in the security line so I could board a plane. Just ahead of me was a man who looked to be in his 80’s. He was a real cowboy, cowboy hat, leather belt with a 5 pound buckle, a bandana around his neck, wranglers, a shirt that snapped shut rather than buttoned, and cowboy boots. I watched as the man behind the security counter told the cowboy to remove his hat, then his bandana, his belt and finally his boots. I looked around to see if he had family nearby who could help him with his boots, but no one came to his aid. It all seemed like aggressive overkill to me. You could tell a mile away that this was a cowboy, not a suicide bomber. I could see them asking him to take off his spurs, but his boots? But you didn’t dare challenge the people behind the counter; they had the authority to call the shots. They had the official identification badges, airport uniforms and the no nonsense demeanor. So we waited for this poor old gentleman to get dressed again so we could take off.
It was the day following the temple clearing and Jesus once again went from Bethany a short walk to Jerusalem and entered the temple outer court. He had definitely caught the attention of the religious leaders who were supposed to be overseeing the activities of the temple, especially during the time of Passover week. Some of the leaders likely owned some of the business booths set up for selling to the crowds. So they sent a delegation of representatives from the Sanhedrin, a body of 71 men composed of the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, all the important men having anything to do with Jewish customs, laws, and worship. Undoubtedly having discussed thoroughly what should be done about Jesus’ latest activities, the representatives came to him with a question. Basically they wanted to hear from him what authority he thought he had to do such things. Who gave you the authority to clear the temple, they asked him. They thought they had a fool proof trap set for him; they thought they could anticipate what his answer would be and he’d be found guilty of blasphemy, of declaring in public that he was God and his authority came from being divine. They were totally unprepared for the answer he gave them.
I love reading in the Gospels Jesus’ responses to questions from others. His answers seem so effortless, down to earth, practical and exactly what each questioner needed to hear. On this occasion Jesus answered the question proposed with another question. A method designed to help someone with a sincere question to think their way through to the correct answer, but for the questioner with false motives to be caught in the trap of their own making. Jesus’ question to the officials was, “Where did John the Baptist’s authority come from?” Answer that question and I will gladly answer yours, he told them. The common people from far and wide had gone out in the Judean countryside to listen to John preach and to be baptized by him. They believed him to be a prophet from God and he had declared Jesus to be far superior to himself and called him the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. But the religious leaders had had nothing to do with John. Jesus was implying that his authority and John’s both came from God.
The delegation had to put their heads together so they could come up with the best/safest answer. They debated among themselves how to answer. If we say his authority was from God, then Jesus will say “Then why didn’t you believe him and what he said about me? If we say his authority was only from men the crowd will turn on us… Luke 20:6 says they feared the crowd would stone them if they gave that answer, so strong was their conviction that John was a prophet from God. So they settled on an answer that wasn’t at all satisfying for anyone and it was far from true. “We don’t know where his authority came from,” they lied. How hard it must have been for that group of men to give that answer. They were the experts of everything Jewish: customs, law, religious questions, and opinions. To say, “we don’t know,” was quite an admission, didn’t flow smoothly out of their mouths. But they didn’t dare give any other answer.
So Jesus refused to answer their question which was designed to try to trap him. But he wasn’t done speaking to them.
READ MARK 12: 1 – 12
As you likely know, a parable was another effective teaching method Jesus frequently used. A parable was a story used to help clarify or illustrate a truth to be taught. It was a story designed to make a particular point the speaker wanted to make. It was a story that would stick with the hearers, though they may not right away understand the main point they would remember the unusual story, it would bug them for a long while until there was that “Aha!” moment where the story now made sense and they understood the speaker’s point. Could be days or weeks later. One who was sincerely wanting to understand would think about it while someone not that interested in learning would dismiss the story as insignificant, unimportant.
A few years ago when I was in grade 7 my teacher gave us an optional math problem to solve. She said using each of the numbers from 1 – 16 it is possible to arrange them on a grid four numbers across and four numbers down in such a way that each row across, down, and diagonally would total 34. She challenged us to try to figure the problem out. I liked math and I liked puzzles so I was hooked and I am sure it took me weeks of coming back to this puzzle to try to solve it, simply by trial and error, but one day I did solve it. I don’t think anyone else in our class was the least bit interested but it was my kind of challenge. I checked this week and you can now solve it in about 3 minutes by googling the right question and there is the solution. Not nearly as satisfying as solving it yourself. Parables are for those who are really interested in finding the truth, they catch a person’s interest and stick with them until it clicks.
This parable seems to me more obvious than many Jesus used. The religious leaders knew right away what Jesus was getting at, but it is one thing to understand the point, and quite another to let that understanding impact you, bring about the desired change.
In the Old Testament God often referred to the Hebrew people as the vineyard he had planted. They were his chosen people, those he had chosen to work through to show the world his desire to have a relationship with individuals. The Hebrews were to be a light to the nations around them, revealing God’s gracious love and goodness to mankind. Beginning with Abraham and continuing to work through people like Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and many others, God carefully prepared his “vineyard” (Israel) to follow him and be fruitful. Throughout their history they would follow for a while and gradually they would compromise their faithfulness and begin to wander and adopt the ways of the nations around them. God would send faithful prophets to warn and teach them to return to following the loving owner of the vineyard. READ ISAIAH 5: 1 – 7, THE SONG OF THE VINEYARD.
In the parable Jesus told, God is the vineyard owner, everyone present that day would understand the vineyard to be symbolic of Israel. Even the temple entrance from which Jesus was speaking had carved around the massive gate a grapevine that stretched entirely around it to remind the people entering that they were God’s vineyard. He may even have drawn the people’s attention to the carved grapevine for emphasis. The tenants were the leaders of the nation, both religious and political leaders, who were given the responsibility to look after and care for the needs of the vineyard, both physical and spiritual needs. The servants sent were the Old Testament prophets sent to instruct and warn the people of their sin and their need to repent. Prophets in the Old Testament were often very poorly treated by those in power, whether religious leaders or political. Elijah was chased into the wilderness; tradition says Isaiah was sawn in two; Zechariah was stoned to death; and then John the Baptist was beheaded. All of these prophets were persecuted because of the message God sent them with. Hebrews 11:38, speaking of God’s servants who received such treatment, says “the world was not worthy of them.” And of course the son of the owner sent is Jesus.
So in Jesus’ parable God planted the vineyard; he established a special relationship with Israel, setting them up for success if they were faithful to him. He placed leaders over them to care for the people’s needs but in time the leaders, political and spiritual, neglected the needs of the people and grasped for their own power, prestige, privileges and honors rather than faithfully leading the people in following God. Prophets had repeatedly been persecuted for their messages and some even killed. And yet God, the vineyard owner continued to persist in reaching out to the nation with love and compassion. So finally he sent his son to settle the broken relationship with the tenants and they killed him too. Jesus knew the hatred in the hearts of the religious leaders toward him. He was exposing their murderous intentions toward him. And they heard his message. Though direct and to the point, it was a gracious message from Jesus to the leaders, giving them opportunity to take the message to heart and repent or judgment would surely come on them. They understood his parable was about them, but doubled down on their intention to have him killed. Not at that moment, because they were afraid of the people. Again in their responses they revealed that they were unwilling to accept the truth about Jesus’ authority and their sinful rebellion.
There is a message here for us to day as well. Where does Jesus’ authority over our lives come from? He is the divine son of God. Refer to John 1:1-13 , “n the beginning was the Word (Jesus) and the Word was with God and was God…. “Matthew 28: 18 – 20 “Then Jesus came and said, ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore…’”
He is Creator, all loving, almighty, all knowing, all powerful, Savior, Lord…
He is worthy of our trust and our worship and our obedience
Are more like the tenants…those following faithless tenants?
Or the servants who are willing to go and faithfully speak truth of a Vineyard Owner who loves us so much he has persistently pursued relationships with mankind, even to the point of sending his Son to die… Will you choose to submit to his authority in your lives? Even when you don’t feel like it?
SOME THOUGHTS ON THE CHURCH
February 28, 2021
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SOME THOUGHTS ON THE CHURCH
Acts 1: 1 – 11
February 28, 2021
This afternoon we are having our church’s annual congregational meeting so I thought it might be a good time to speak about the importance of the Church. And I am not referring just to our local church, though it is included. What I am meaning by Church is the universal Church, or believers around the world from the first century until today. I am thinking of all people who have responded to the invitation of Jesus to believe in him, to put their trust in him and to follow him, welcoming him into their lives as Savior and Lord. All who have done so are members of the Church universal.
Around the world the last 11 months of Covid restrictions have significantly impacted the look and practices of church gatherings. Most of our normal programs have been cancelled or at best have been offered digitally rather than in person. Kind of like being served crackers instead of blueberry pie and ice cream for dessert. We’ve been told not to meet together in private homes to limit the spread of the virus. Your personal view about the pandemic and the correct response undoubtedly differs from others in your local church family. Divisions have happened in many churches over those different opinions. Some people have chosen to attend with whatever percentage of the congregation is allowed to gather Sunday to Sunday. Others for a wide variety of reasons have chosen not to attend until the virus is declared extinct or restrictions are lifted. A percentage may choose never to return. We have really missed being able to gather together as entire church families on Sunday mornings and staying long after to visit.
JESUS VALUES THE CHURCH
The Church is important for many reasons. Most significantly because it is important to Jesus. He declared to Peter with the other disciples present, “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18
A number of terms or word pictures are used in the New Testament to describe how Christ feels about the church. The Church is described as his body (Ephesians 4:11), a building He is constructing, being built on Him as the foundation (Ephesians 2: 19 -22), household or family or children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ (Eph. 5:1; Gal. 3:26), the bride of Christ (Eph, 5: 25 – 33; Rev. 19:7 - 8). All of these terms speak of a special relationship between Jesus and his church. He’s the head of his body. We are part of his family. When I think of family I think of family members standing up for one another when facing outside opposition. I think of a time when one of my sons confronted a boy in school who had been bugging one of my younger sons. He made it clear that it would be in that boy’s best interest to stop picking on my son’s younger brother. As the family of God we have many family members. As family we need to defend brothers and sisters in Christ. He loves us unconditionally and protects us and
provides for us the way a husband is commanded to love his bride. Paul admits in Eph 5: 32 that the way Christ loves the church so much is a profound mystery, amazing. The church is important because Christ loves the Church, the people who follow him.
THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH
Jesus commissioned the disciples, and us, to go and make disciples of all nations. Matthew 28:19 – 20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
READ ACTS 1:1 – 11
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples just before he was ascended into heaven. He said when the Spirit would come into their lives they would boldly become witnesses to who Jesus is, to all he has done in dying on the cross for people’s sins. We are to be his witnesses wherever we go, by our words and actions.
That is the mission we have as part of the church, sharing the Gospel, encouraging people to take the public stand of confessing their faith through baptism, and then discipling people, teaching them the Word of God so they can walk in obedience to Christ. It is so easy to get distracted by other things calling for our attention, even very good things. But we need to come back again and again to the purpose of the Church being to tell others about Jesus.
RELATIONSHIPS WITHIN THE CHURCH
We have adopted a motto in our denomination that reads like this: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, charity; in all things, Jesus Christ. In the truths of scripture that we deem to be essential we must remain unified. In other things that we may disagree on that aren’t clearly spelled out in Scripture and are more a matter of preference or opinion, we need to extend charity/love/grace. Or to agree to disagree agreeably. In all things, Jesus is our priority, honoring him with the way we live and conduct ourselves should be our priority.
The New Testament is full of commands as to how we are to function together as a church family. Over 100 times in the New Testament we read of things we are to do or not to do to/for “one another” as fellow believers. Some of them are repeats. I downloaded a list of 30 commands of things we should do for each other and another list of half a dozen things Scripture says we should not do to each other. Google “One another verses in the Bible” to find a similar list with references.
Love one another is found in at least 16 different passages. The other One another verses describe ways we show we love one another. Examples: honor, accept, consider and approach one another with humility. Be patient with, forgive, encourage, comfort, and care for one another. Admonish, teach, exhort and spur one another to love and good deeds. And exercise the gifts God has given you for the good of others. These commands don’t happen outside of contact with one another. As we rub shoulders with each other we will occasionally have misunderstandings or we may offend each other, usually unintentionally but sometimes intentionally. We must remember we are members together of God’s family and he wants us to function as a healthy family. Mercy and grace and forgiveness are often required. We need to rise above the temptation to take quick offense, to take on the victim mentality, remembering God knows us and loves us infinitely. As he forgives us for a great number of things, we can surely forgive others much lesser things.
OUR INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITIES
Covid and its accompanying restrictions will end one day and churches will be free to gather as whole congregations. We look forward to that day. But even now as a believer in Christ you need healthy contact with other believers and others need it from you. Pick up the phone and contact someone you think might need some encouragement. Or if it is you that needs the encouragement, pick up the phone and call a trusted friend who will listen and respond in helpful, truthful ways. Arrange to go for a walk or have coffee and share some time together. As members of Christ’s family we need one another.
Ephesians 4:16 says, “From him (Jesus) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” We all have gifts, abilities, interests that others in the body of Christ need. You have something to contribute. Don’t keep distant. Be involved, be engaged, be creative in how you encourage others in the body of Christ.
Jesus Cleansed the Temple
February 21, 2021
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Jesus Cleansed the Temple
Mark 11:12 – 25
February 21, 2021
Last week we were looking at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey on Palm Sunday. The people were cheering him on as their possible deliverer or even Messiah. Jesus had chosen this time and place to have a very public entrance in which he was so honored by the people, knowing that their cheers for him would in a few days turn into the cries of another crowd to crucify him. This entrance set in motion the events of the last week of Jesus’ life that led to his crucifixion. Many of the remaining events in Mark highlight Jesus’ conflicts with the religious leaders and show their character, fear and opposition to him.
We noted briefly, as Mark 11:11 does that after Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey he made one stop, at the temple. He had a good look around in the temple at all that was going on, but since it was already late he went out to Bethany with his disciples for the night. The implication was that something needed to be done, there was something Jesus saw that needed to be addressed, but it was late and it could wait. It would appear that one of his purposes in coming into Jerusalem that evening was to have a look at the activities in the temple. He went to have a look.
READ 11:11 – 14
Next morning Jesus and his disciples left Bethany, heading the short distance back into Jerusalem. Mark says Jesus was hungry so seeing a healthy looking fig tree in the distance he went to check it out. What he did then has led to considerable discussion among Bible scholars since. He checked the tree over; it was full of green healthy leaves, but there was no sign of any fruit at any stage of maturity. Mark says it wasn’t the season for figs to be ripe. So Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” He basically declared a curse on that fig tree. And the disciples heard him, and must have wondered why he said that. Sound out of character for Jesus? Rash? Harsh? Impulsive? A temper tantrum when his hunger was not satisfied? It could certainly sound like all of these things. But I don’t believe for a minute that Jesus was wildly reacting in anger to his disappointment with the fig tree. He is instead using the tree as an object lesson for his disciples and for what he is about to do next.
This account is another example of what some call a “Markan sandwich”. Mark told part of the story of Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree, then he interrupts the story with another event which he tells completely and then he comes back to finish the account of the fig tree. We are to understand by this method of telling these two stories that the two stories relate to each other. I believe the account of the fig tree is symbolic or an object lesson of the next event, that it sheds light on the next event.
READ 15 – 19
Jesus and his disciples reached Jerusalem and went right back to the temple area where Jesus had stopped the evening before. It had been his intention since he had seen all the activity the evening before. What he found there in the outer court of the temple, an area known as the Gentile court, a place where Gentiles were allowed to enter if they wanted to worship God. There were Gentile converts to Judaism. Gentiles could enter this area, but weren’t allowed to enter any deeper into the temple area. So, the area was a hub of activity. Moneychangers offered a service to those who had come to worship from different places that used different forms of currency. An annual temple tax had to be paid, but it was required to be paid in local currency. So these moneychangers could do that, for a price, likely an exorbitant exchange rate. Then there were booths set up offering the convenience of purchase of animals for sacrifice, animals that had already been certified by the religious leaders as healthy and suitable for sacrifice. People didn’t have to drag their animals for days from wherever home was to Jerusalem for their sacrifices. Promoted as a convenience for the people, the sellers were more than happy to sell anyone a lamb, bull, goat, or dove, for a price, much inflated undoubtedly. It is thought that some of the religious leaders were the owners of some of these businesses. They had control of the market, and could decide to refuse the animal a family might have brought from their own herd, declaring it to be unacceptable for some reason, forcing the person to purchase from the temple sellers instead. The sellers of doves are mentioned. Doves were used for sacrifices by those who couldn’t afford to offer anything greater, the poor who had come to worship. We can assume that even the price for doves was jacked up significantly. Then there was the constant traffic through this court of the Gentiles. It is my understanding that this courtyard served as a shortcut from the Mt. of Olives and the Kidron Valley to the business area of Jerusalem so people were in the habit of cutting through this area designated as the place to which the Gentiles could come to worship God. The result would be constant noise, traffic, movement, smells, and crowdedness, none of it encouraging an atmosphere of worship or prayer.
Jesus immediately went into action, turning over the businessmen’s tables, coins and doves rolling and flying around; he drove out those selling animals and whatever else they might have been offering. And he halted the unnecessary traffic through the courtyard from those using it as a shortcut. And the merchants scattered, knowing they were in the wrong. And the religious leaders were powerless to stop Jesus, they and the people knew he was right.
Why was Jesus so fired up, so filled with righteous indignation, we should wonder? For a number of reasons. For the corruption of selling at an exorbitant price, their ripping people off. For the lack of concern for the Gentile people, for the fact they were being limited in their opportunity to worship God in a conducive environment. For the blatant disregard for what this place was, the irreverence of so many consumed with all the business activity over worship, including those who were using this courtyard for a shortcut. For the false appearance that this hub of religious activity was something pleasing to God. It was all show and pretense, but no substance of spiritual life. Like the fig tree the inside of the temple with its flurry of activity looked healthy, but was bearing little lasting fruit. Jesus Informed the people of his reason which would include all the things I have just said when he quotes from Jeremiah 7:11 and Isaiah 56:7, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations but you have made it a den of robbers.” Signs of life with all the activity, the rituals being observed, large crowds, but hearts that were far from drawing near to God.
I would suggest that the cursing of the fig tree and the clearing of the temple were both aimed at the religious leaders who were in charge of overseeing the temple, conducting the worship practices and making sure the atmosphere invited hearts of Jews and Gentiles alike to draw near to God in dependence on him. The temple was to be a place of prayer, and there didn’t seem to be much of that going on. The religious leaders, filled with anger, looked for ways to have Jesus killed. They were fearful and jealous of his authority and the following he was getting.
READ 20 – 25
The next morning Jesus and the disciples passed by the fig tree again and they noticed that it had completely wilted, dried up from the roots. They were surprised at how it had died so quickly. Jesus encouraged them to have faith in God, to trust in him. Jesus then gives what on the surface may look like a blank check pattern for prayer, that if you just name it and claim it it will happen for you. That you could even ask for mountains to be moved into the sea and it would happen. But such an understanding doesn’t jive with other scriptures and teachings of Jesus. He was using hyperbole to encourage his hearers that God is a mighty and powerful God, able to accomplish his will even in things we might consider impossible, so we should pray for great things that would have lasting impact on his kingdom. That we should pray in keeping with who God is, believing that if it is his will it will happen. There are conditions and we don’t have time here to go into all of them. Some are: it is God who answers our prayers. Our hearts need to be right with him so that we know what we should pray for and so that we pray with hearts submissive to his will. We are to trust him with our lives and with the answers. We pray for his glory and the good of others and his kingdom. We pray with generous hearts, not greedy for our own gain. We pray out of concern for others. And from this passage and others answers to prayer seem to be tied to our willingness to forgive others and a desire to be right with others.
The religious leaders had drifted badly away from that kind of heart response, they honored God with lip service, but their hearts were far from him, Jesus said elsewhere. And they led people away from close relationships with God. So the worship practices during Passover and throughout the year were a mess. The appearance of life, with all the activity and rituals being observed, but all a show with little substance or fruit. So as Jesus cursed the fig tree that wasn’t bearing fruit he was indicating to the religious leaders that their corrupt, ungodly behavior was wrong and they were in danger of judgment.
For us today as his Church, what might be the lessons he would have us consider? How are we doing as his body, his family in our worship together and in our private times of worship and prayer? How is our fellowship with other believers? Do we welcome into our communities, our homes, our lives or our church people different than us, people with big needs? Are willing to forgive and ask forgiveness of others so our prayers won’t be hindered and our hearts be right with him? How is our prayer life, our trust in him as the One who answers our prayers according to his will? Do we care enough for the lost to share the love of God with them? Are our hearts open to him, willing to be convicted by his spirit in areas that he’d like to clear out of our lives? Is your and my number one desire to live for him, for his glory and is our number two desire to love and care for others?
Honoring Jesus the Messiah
February 14, 2021
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Honoring Jesus the Messiah
Mark 11:1 – 11
February 14, 2021
This morning we will continue in the book of Mark. Mark didn’t include the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but John’s gospel, chapter 11, does. It gives us some helpful background info for when we look at the passage from Mark’s gospel we will be considering today. Right after Jesus raised Lazarus back to life some eyewitnesses went to the Pharisees and reported Jesus’ miracle to them. From that point on the religious leaders got serious about finding something they could convict Jesus of that would allow them to have him executed. They basically placed a bounty on his head, asking anyone who knew where Jesus was to inform them. Passover week was near and people began to arrive in Jerusalem. Jesus was all the talk of the pilgrims coming for Passover. They debated whether Jesus would show up for Passover. And as we have been going through the book of Mark we have seen that Jesus was slowly but intentionally leading his disciples and other followers up to Jerusalem. The disciples were concerned for Jesus’ safety, knowing the religious leaders were looking to arrest him.
READ Mark 11:1 – 11
The town of Bethany was about 2 miles from Jerusalem and the village of Bethphage was between the two. Jesus stopped at the Mt. of Olives and sent two disciples ahead into Bethphage with an unusual request. He said that as they would enter the village they would see a colt that had never been ridden tied up. They were to untie the colt and bring it back to Jesus. If asked what they were doing they were to say that the Lord needs the colt and it will be returned soon. They were asked what they were doing and gave the answer Jesus had given them and the people agreed to let them use the colt.
All 4 gospels tell us about the triumphal entry or Palm Sunday as we also call it. I will speak mostly from Mark’s account but will draw some details from the other gospels as well. John 12: 9 – 13 tells us many in the huge crowd around Jesus came to see Lazarus who had been raised from the dead just days before. John tells us the branches that were spread before him were palm branches, a symbol in Bible times for deliverance and peace. Their use on this day indicated the people’s desire for both.
Several details of this story raise questions or perhaps are worthy of a closer look. How did Jesus know there would be a colt tied at a house just as you entered Bethphage? It doesn’t appear that Jesus had been there recently to make such arrangements. There were times when Jesus just seemed to know things he hadn’t been told. When he called Nathaniel to be one of his disciples he first made a statement about Nathaniel’s integrity. Nathaniel asked Jesus how he knew about him. Jesus said that before Phillip called him to come and meet Jesus, Jesus had seen Nathaniel sitting under a sycamore tree. It would appear Jesus hadn’t been anywhere near him at the time and that’s how Nathaniel understood it too. He “saw “the disciples struggling in the storm several miles out on the Sea of Galilee from where he was on the seashore. He just knew what people were thinking or saying quietly about him at various times. Evidence of his supernatural wisdom/insight or communication with the Father and Holy Spirit.
A colt that had never been ridden: in Bible times animals that were set aside for sacred tasks should never have been used previously for ordinary purposes. This colt was set apart for this day. Matthew 21:5 tells us that the colt was the colt of a donkey, connecting this event to the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, “say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘see, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Prophesied almost 500 years before. In King David’s day the donkey was considered a royal animal appropriate for a king to ride upon. Kings would ride on a donkey during a victory parade. A donkey was a symbol of peace that had been won. Sometime after David’s reign horses replaced donkeys as animals suitable to royalty symbolizing the power of the king.
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing in this public entry to Jerusalem. Usually he pulled away from public acclaim, careful not to let the crowds force him into a political leadership role as they would have liked to do. But on this day Jesus not only accepted the praise of the enormous crowd, he seemed to have set it up by bringing the donkey to the entrance to Jerusalem. As soon as the donkey arrived the people spread their cloaks on the donkey and along the road for it to walk on along with the branches as a way of indicating honor to him, like that of a king. The spreading of the cloaks indicated the people recognized Jesus was worthy of walking on their possessions.
The shouts of the people likely went back and forth from those in front to those in back. From up front: Hosanna, meaning “Save”, or “Save us!” Both an exclamation of praise and a request of what they would like Jesus to do.
In response from the crowd at the back: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Quotes from Psalms 118: 25, 26 used on special occasions like coronation celebrations.
Again from the front: “Blessed is the coming of our father David.” A claim or expression of hope that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who it was prophesied would come through the royal line of David.
Response from the back again, “Hosanna in the highest!” Repeated again and again as the people made their way toward Jerusalem.
Luke 19:39 – 44, (READ) mentions that Jesus wept when he came to the place where he had a view of the whole city. 19th century Bible scholar and author Alfred Edersheim says that this was a loud, almost uncontrollable weeping, expressing Jesus’ heart for the people and what they were going to face in their future: the destruction of the city so that you would hardly know anyone had lived there, along with incredible loss of lives. In 66 A.D. it did happen. Rome laid siege to Jerusalem and cut off food supplies until the city became a graveyard, many people dying of starvation. Jesus wept hard at the thought, showing the heart of God for people who have rejected him, gone their own way, not wanting to submit to him as their Savior and Lord. As I live says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn you, turn you from your evil ways… Ezek. 33:11
When they arrived into Jerusalem Jesus made one deliberate stop: at the temple. He had a look around at all that was going on in the temple and because it was late just left and went back to the town of Bethany. The next day would be the time for action at the temple. More on that next week.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in this public way set in motion the series of events that led to his crucifixion. He was intentional about making this public celebration in his honor happen. It fulfilled prophecies like Zech. 9:9.
Jesus was all about timing, the timing God had purposed from eternity past. Whereas before this he didn’t allow the crowds to make him into a national leader, on this day he welcomed their praise and honor of him even though he knew that within 5 days many of these same people would shout with another crowd, Crucify him! Crucify him! The praise of Jesus on this day was appropriate for who he was, the Messiah, even if the people didn’t understand what his mission would look like. The people were praising him for what they thought he would do for them in delivering them from Roman rule, but he came for a different purpose, to deliver us from sin and its consequences. This was his public testimony to his being the Messiah.
This very public display of honoring Jesus pushed the religious leaders to get serious about finding reasons to convict and execute Jesus. They began in earnest to find fault. Within a week they did accuse him, falsely and the mock trial led to his crucifixion, all part of the plan of God for the salvation of mankind.
The way Jesus entered was deliberately planned to identify the kind of kingdom he had come to establish. It wasn’t to be a kingdom won by earthly power, treachery and force. He came to offer peace, purpose, forgiveness, grace. The donkey was a symbol of humility and peace.
People still get excited about Jesus, but some just for a short time. They come to him for a variety of reasons. They think he will fix something that has gone wrong in their lives, a broken relationship, children that have wandered down a dark path, a financial crisis or something else. But if after a short while those things haven’t been fixed to the person’s satisfaction, some people turn away from following him, much like the people who a few days later called out with the crowd, Crucify Him! He will help us in all those areas, but he hasn’t come just to make life comfortable or easy or painless for us. He is still Lord when we experience trouble, trials, unjust treatment.
Jesus came as Messiah, Son of God, Savior and Lord. We need to honor him not just because he died for us, but that is certainly part of it. We honor him because of what his death says about who he is: His love is unmatched; the peace he gives is like nothing anyone else can offer; his grace has no limit; he can do far more than we could ask or imagine. He is the creator and sustainer of life. He alone is worthy of our following. Nothing and no one can compare to him.
There will be a future day when those of us who go to be with him because we’ve put our trust in him will witness this scene, thousands of angels honoring him:
“In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’” Revelation 5:12
Physical Blindness to Spiritual Sight
January 31, 2021
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Physical Blindness to Spiritual Sight
Mark 10: 46 – 52
January 31, 2021
Years ago when I lived in Ottawa I took a bus to Toronto. At the Ottawa bus depot I saw a blind man run into the leading edge of a door that was closing so I went over to see if he was ok. We struck up a conversation and sat together on the bus. At a courtesy stop he followed me holding on to my elbow as I guided him into the café. Not thinking, I took a set of stairs two at a time and he stumbled behind me. We laughed; he was a good sport and we enjoyed the rest of the trip. When we got to Toronto I had no idea how to get from the depot to where I was going, but Gordon knew the way. He faced the subway stairs and directed me down them and he described to me the directions I would need to turn to get to where I was going. In the end he was much more help to me than I was to him and I got a better appreciation for blindness. We kept in touch for a few years and he came a couple of times to teach our church young people how to play “goal ball”, a very active sport for blind athletes. I was grateful for his willingness to teach our youth something of the challenges of blindness. I realize I have a superficial understanding of blindness, having had only very brief encounters with Gord’s world. But he lived life with a passion and fearlessness that puts many of us sighted people to shame.
We will be looking at the story of Jesus’ encounter with blind Bartimaeus today.
READ Mark 10: 46 - 52
Jericho: Jesus and his disciples and a large group of followers were on their way to Jerusalem when they came to Jericho, approximately 17 miles from Jerusalem. Jericho was at that time a very wealthy city. Herod had built a palace there and there were many wealthy people living there. Jericho was situated in a strategic location for trade; 3 Roman roads intersected the city.
Bartimaeus, Son of Timaeus, a blind beggar:
Bartimaeus means “son of Timaeus”. Timaeus means “Honor”. So, “son of honor.” Bartimaeus, son of honor wasn’t living up to his name, living the very difficult life of a blind beggar on the streets of Jericho. There was nothing considered honorable about being a blind beggar. No first name was recorded for Bartimaeus. Just “son of Timaeus.” Perhaps one of several sons. Could it be that his father had abandoned him after it was discovered he was blind? Being blind in those days left you with two poor options. You could survive by begging, reliant on the charitable responses of strangers passing by. The second option was to live life dependent on your family to take care of you. Bartimaeus was left to beg.
There were likely many other beggars living on the outskirts of Jericho with Bartimaeus. They would have been optimistic that the wealthy people passing by would be generous. At the time of this event Passover was fast approaching and crowds of pilgrims would have been heading to Jerusalem via Jericho. The crowd with Jesus was large that day.
There is no indication in the passage as to how long Bartimaeus had lived/begged there outside Jericho. As he sat there begging, his senses must have taken in the smells of the market stalls that lined the road,
the warmth of the spring sun on his face, and the happy sound of excited chatter as Hebrew families made their way to Jerusalem for Passover week. He had his cloak laid out on the ground in front of him to receive any coins that people might have tossed his way as he steadily but pleasantly called out, “Please have mercy on me.” Bartimaeus was likely having a fairly predictable day when the mood suddenly changed. A crowd was coming along the road, the noise of the conversations increased, a definite excitement in the air. Bartimaeus caught the attention of someone going by and asked, “What’s happening? Why all the excitement?” “It’s Jesus of Nazareth,” he was told.
“No way!” Bartimaeus thought. Assuming he had been there for years, he undoubtedly had heard stories about Jesus from people who had seen him. That he was a gifted teacher, that the had cast demons out of people, that he’d healed people with leprosy, others who had been lame, and even that he recently had healed a man born blind, something unheard of! Bartimaeus thought often of such a man and hope had grown inside him. Scriptures spoke of someone like this, the Messiah who was to come who would do these kind of things. Isaiah 61:1:
The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
To proclaim freedom for the captives
And release from darkness for the prisoners. (the blind)
Could this Jesus be that man, the Messiah who had come to deliver and heal and proclaim good news?
He couldn’t contain himself. This was his chance, perhaps his once in a lifetime chance. He began to shout. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He didn’t hold back; Jesus had to hear him. So he shouted again… and again, louder and louder until people started telling him to stop, to be quiet, to shut up! They may have said things to him like, “Hey, you’re making a fool of yourself!” Or, “The Teacher doesn’t have time for the likes of you. Don’t disturb him, he’s got more important things to do!” Or maybe the concern of some in the crowd was that Bartimaeus’ reference to Son of David seemed to them to be blasphemy because that phrase would have been recognized by them as a title for the Messiah that was to come so Bartimaeus was in effect calling Jesus the Messiah. But Bartimaeus wasn’t about to be deterred. He had faith that Jesus could heal him of his blindness and he desperately wanted to see him. Not caring what others might think of him, he persisted, continuing to shout, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” And then…Jesus stopped…and the crowd stopped…and it became quiet except for Bartimaeus’s continued shouting.
“Call him,” Jesus commanded. So those who had been telling Bartimaeus to “Shut up!” now told him to “Cheer up!” There’s some humor in that I think, the sudden change in the crowd’s tone. I suspect that event he disciples had tried to hush the blind and annoying beggar, just as they had instructed the unknown man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name to stop because he wasn’t part of their group. (See Mark 9. )They had also tried to stop mothers from bringing their young children to Jesus so he could bless them. Jesus had told the disciples not to stop people doing good in his name or to stop children from coming to him, he loved them too. And now the people who had been discouraging Bartimaeus had to change their tune to “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you!” Jesus would have his people welcome others into the family of God rather than with words or actions push them away.
Bartimaeus threw his cloak aside as if to say, I won’t be needing this coin collector anymore. He jumped to his feet and rushed to Jesus. All attention was on Jesus and Bartimaeus as Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind beggar, believing Jesus could heal him said, “Rabbi/teacher, I want to see.” Bartimaeus’s request was one of faith: I believe you are the Messiah, that you can heal me of my blindness. Would you do that for me? Jesus said to him, “You can go, your faith has healed you.” He received his sight immediately and began following Jesus down the road to Jerusalem where he would witness some powerful events over the next few days: the triumphal entry, clearing of the moneychangers in the temple, ongoing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders, the teaching of Jesus, and eventually his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.
Some lessons to remember:
The disciples wanted to protect their privileged positions of honor next to Jesus; they weren’t keen to move over to let others crowd them away from Jesus or to share him with others. But Jesus opened his arms to welcome all who would turn to faith in him and trust him. Jesus has time for those others turn away from. Following Jesus means inviting others to follow and welcoming others into his family. Do you and I get excited about inviting others to come to Jesus, to let them know He’s inviting them into relationship with him?
Bartimaeus was transformed that day. Not just in being healed from his physical blindness, but also in trusting in Jesus, he was made spiritually whole. He didn’t care at all what other people thought of him, his faith led him to shout out for Jesus until he’d heard him. He believed Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, Lord, savior. He believed he could heal him and he believed Jesus was worthy of being followed.
Prayers/requests of Bartimaeus that we might consider:
“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” A great prayer for any situation we may find ourselves in.
Or, for us, “Jesus, Lord and savior, have mercy on me!”
“Jesus, Lord and savior, have mercy on me! Forgive my pride, jealousy, anger, bitterness, selfishness, greed, my hard and judgmental heart…”
“Jesus, Lord and savior, have mercy on me! Give me a clean heart, a heart that wants to trust you and to follow you wherever that may lead me.”
“Jesus, Lord and savior, have mercy on me! In faith I ask you to provide all I need. Give me wisdom, patience, compassion, and peace as I deal with the circumstances and people in my life. I ask you to transform the areas of my life that most need it.”
If Jesus were to ask you as he asked “Jesus, Lord and savior, have mercy on me!”, “What would you like me to do for you?” I wonder what we would say. It is a question worth thinking about. He does still invite us to bring such requests to him. What would you ask him for? Would you or I ask for temporal things or for a more comfortable life? would our request be selfish or would we ask for heart change that would lead us to trust him more, that would help us follow him more closely, serve him more faithfully, and have greater love and compassion for others? Would we ask for the kind of hearts and character transformation that would give us greater impact on other people?
Jesus Gives a Lesson on Greatness
January 24, 2021
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Jesus Gives a Lesson on Greatness
Mark 10: 32 – 45
January 24, 2021
I have a number of times heard stories of people who had something very serious or very personal to share with a close family member or friend and it took them a long time to muster up the courage to share it with that person, unsure of the response they might receive. I have been surprised by how many of these stories didn’t end well; the person shared the personal and often painful secret with a friend or relative who just couldn’t face the pain of it, or didn’t know how to respond and so responded inappropriately or simply ignored or changed the subject, only to make the pain the other person was carrying worse. Some of you may have had such an experience. Jesus experienced such a response from his disciples several times.
Jesus, his disciples and a group of other followers were heading up to Jerusalem, a tense gloomy atmosphere seeming to accompany them. Jesus was out front, determination to carry out the will of God evident in his deliberate steps toward Jerusalem. A mix of astonishment and fear came over Jesus’ followers. They knew opposition awaited Jesus in Jerusalem. READ 32 - 34
This is the third time in a short period that Jesus shared with his disciples that in a short while he was going to go up to Jerusalem where he’d be betrayed to the Jewish religious leaders, condemned, delivered over to the Roman officials, who would mock him, make sport of him, spit on him, probably in his face, flog or whip him without mercy, and then execute him. Three days later he would rise from the dead. Still the disciples couldn’t comprehend such a thing happening to their Master.
On previous 2 occasions when Jesus had predicted his coming death Peter had responded to him by scolding him for such talk and then the second time the disciples immediate concern was to decide who would be seen as greatest in Jesus’ coming kingdom. On this third occasion of Jesus’ announcement of his coming capture and execution and resurrection the disciples’ immediate response and actions are equally inappropriate. READ 35 – 44
Notice the first part of James and John’s request: we would like you to do for us whatever we ask. Asking Jesus to sign a blank cheque, to commit himself to doing whatever they want without knowing what it would be. Jesus is wiser than that, and simply asks, “What is it you want me to do for you?” Matthew’s account includes the fact that James and John’s mother is with her boys in this request and in fact seemed to be the one who did the talking. Their request was that when Jesus established his kingdom could they have the prime seats, one just to his right and the other immediately to his left. These would be the places of greatest honor, the seats that would allow them to hear all that Jesus had to say and that would give them access in order to petition Jesus for other things they might desire.
John Piper quotes John Stott, who points out that these 2 disciples request was ignorant, selfish and arrogant. Asked so soon after Jesus’ announcement of his coming death, the disciples seem to be saying, we want what we want. We want our own way, and that would be the best seats, the most important seats. It reveals both an over estimation of their own importance and a misunderstanding of God’s view of greatness. Stott goes on to say that the spirit of James and John is alive and well today. Our idea of who we are, of how important we are, and what makes a person great or important often doesn’t line up with Jesus’ teaching on greatness. We desire status, we seek recognition, and we push for position. Some ways we do so: when we compare salaries or toys, when we feel the need to make sure others know of our children’s achievements, when we feel insecure about someone else’s advancements, and in Christian circles when one of the first questions asked is about the size of our church or youth groups. If we have trouble rejoicing with the news of new converts in other churches, perhaps we are demonstrating something of the spirit of James and John.
Jesus indicated to the disciples that they didn’t really know what they were asking for. “Can you drink the cup I am going to have to drink or go through the baptism I will be baptized with?” He asked them. By cup and baptism Jesus was of course referring to the wrath he was about to endure at the hands of the religious leaders and calloused Roman officials and soldiers. Cup, a metaphor for the realm of a person’s experience of which you have no choice; what life hands to you. The Old Testament speaks of the cup of God’s wrath on several occasions. Isa. 51:17; Psalms 75:8 His use of being baptized carries a similar meaning, that of being overwhelmed by something, often something harsh, troubling, hurtful. The Greeks used the word here translated as baptized to describe overwhelming calamities. Can you face and go through what I am about to go through, meaning his torture and crucifixion. James and John don’t suffer from low self-esteem. We can they answer, full of self-confidence. You will drink a cup of wrath and be baptized, overwhelmed with calamity Jesus predicted, but it isn’t my call as to who sits on my right or left. That is the Father’s decision, Matthew’s gospel tells us Matt. 20: 20 - 28. History and tradition tell us James died a martyr’s death, probably beheaded by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2). John was exiled on the Island of Patmos because of his faith. He spent many of the later years of his life there. That’s where he was when he wrote the book of Revelation. Some believe he was also boiled in oil. They did suffer much for their faithfulness later on.
The other disciple’s attitudes weren’t much better once they heard of James and John’s request. Have you ever found yourself thinking you would ask someone for something they were planning to get rid of only to have someone else you know well scoop you by asking for the item first? How did you feel about it? Angry, jealous, envious? When the other 10 disciples heard about the request made by James and John they became indignant. I’m sure it was almost instant. They were upset, angry, and judgmental that James and John would ask for the privileged seats. I have an idea Peter was more upset than most of the others. He and James and John were the disciples who Jesus tended to spend more time with. You will recall they had been the ones to go up on the MT of Transfiguration with Jesus. He must have wondered if James and John were eager to get to Jesus ahead of him—and they undoubtedly were.
Seeing another teachable moment, Jesus seized the opportunity. He reminded them of how the Roman rulers lord their position of authority over their subjects. They were demanding, harsh, unreasonable, and unmerciful. They felt superior, basing their own importance on the number of people who served them. Their subjects were expected to jump to their commands immediately without question.
Not so with you, Jesus said. That is not the sign of greatness or leadership God recognizes. Instead, he says, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave to all. That’s the kind of greatness and leadership God is looking for. That’s an upside down view by the human standards of that day or any day, including our own. But that is how God sees it, even today. He is wanting his followers to view others as equals rather than as inferior, to reach out to others with grace and compassion, to willingly and cheerfully choose to serve in ways God would have them serve rather than waiting and expecting others to serve them.
Then Jesus gave his basis for this teaching in what is probably the key verse of Mark and one f the key verses of the Bible: V. 45, “For even the son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Son of Man was a favorite title Jesus often used for himself. He the Creator, the sinless Son of God lowered himself to our sinful planet and came serving sinful mankind. He who above all others deserved to be served came serving. And the ultimate extension of that service was carried out when he died on the cross for us, in our place, as a sinless substitute for us dying for our sin. A ransom for us, meaning one who pays the debt owed to free another person or to buy something back. We live in a what’s in it for me world. Too many people assume it is someone else’s responsibility to help those who are in some kind of need or just to help keep things running smoothly.
A couple of posters I have appreciated in the past:
Your mother doesn’t live here. Thank-you for cleaning up after yourself. Sign in a church kitchen.
I can help one person each day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow doesn’t look too good either. Sign that used to hang on the fridge of someone many of you know well.
A young lady from our church was on her way back to school a short while ago. The weather was blustery. She went to get out of her car in a small town and a wind gust swung the door wide open, springing the hinge to the point she couldn’t get it closed. She found a shop and the owner knew an auto body guy who he thought would be able to help. The auto body guy came right over and in minutes they had the door working again, good as new. They wouldn’t take any payment, glad to help. Barb and I have run across people like that from time to time while travelling, people willing to give a hand when seeing someone in trouble and unable to fix their problem on their own. That is the attitude we should have as believers.
Whoever wants to be great in God’s eyes must have a servant’s heart. You may not know, but the motto of the Free Church of Canada is “With a heart to serve.” That’s a lofty motto, a high calling. Its one thing to have it as our motto, quite another to follow through and make it a lifestyle.
Husbands, serve your wives lovingly; wives, your husbands. With cheerful hearts, as unto the Lord, willingly, not begrudgingly.
Parents, serve your children, giving them a godly example to follow. Believers, graciously serve neighbors, strangers, even those who have made poor choices in life.
Believers, serve your community well, in places God has given you abilities and interests. Not for recognition, but to make life more enjoyable for others.
Friends, serve your church family, pay attention to what needs to be done, don’t wait for someone else, don’t complain when nobody notices.
Ask God for grace and patience to serve when it is inconvenient. Ask him to make you aware of the opportunities he gives. Ask for wisdom to know when serving or giving might not be helpful for some, but is reaching into enabling. In those cases ask for boldness to speak to the person of their own responsibility to choose wisely. Praise god for Jesus’ example of serving us, for the fact he still serves us by praying for us, gifting us, revealing to us opportunities. Ask him to give you joy in serving. Pursue greatness, god’s way, in serving others
Those Who Inherit the Kingdom of Heaven
January 17, 2021
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Those Who Inherit the Kingdom of Heaven
Mark 10: 13 – 31
January 17, 2021
I want you to imagine for a couple minutes what kind of person you would tend to think would be the ideal candidate to come to faith in Christ? Or in other words, to be saved, or as Jesus often put it, to inherit the Kingdom of God. Someone who hasn’t yet come to faith, but who you think could easily come? Any thoughts?
A good person, someone with good morals; someone young and full of life; one with a good reputation; middle class; someone who gets along well with others?
Jesus gives us some insights in the passage we will be looking at today as to what kind of person is likely to enter His kingdom.
READ MARK 10: 13 – 16
Parents, were bringing their little children (babies, infants and toddlers) to Jesus wanting him to touch them. It didn’t take long for the disciples to put an end to these parents bothering Jesus with their little rug rats. As I have said a couple times recently, in those days children were considered to have little to offer; it was an adult world. Children were mostly kept quiet and out of sight. The disciples felt Jesus had better things to do than giving attention to children so they turned a lineup of proud parents away.
When Jesus saw what they were doing he was indignant: angry? Righteous indignation? Grieved at the disciples attitudes which were the same as those of the world at the time? Jesus insisted that they not hinder the little children from coming to him, because he said, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” And then he said with emphasis, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And then he took children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Likely he prayed over them a prayer for a bright future in which those children would live lives committed to God walking in obedience to him. Don’t miss the fact Jesus loved/valued little children
What did Jesus mean when he said the kingdom belongs only to people who receive it like children? Much has been said and written about what Jesus meant, about what qualities in children he must have been referring to. He wasn’t thinking of their innocence because it doesn’t take long for a child to reveal a temper, selfishness, a sin nature. I don’t think he was thinking of some of their attractive qualities either: their cuteness or their innate curiosity, as much as we enjoy those qualities in a small child. It probably isn’t even that they simply state things as they see them, their honesty, even though it can come without any tact. One of our boys was 3 or younger when one day Barb had taken him into the ladies washroom. Another woman was in the room and our son observed much too loudly, “Mom, that lady is fat!” As a parent how do you redeem such a comment? Barb responded as well as anyone might, “I’m sure she is a very nice lady.” And she couldn’t exit with our son fast enough. Children state the obvious, truthfully. Children have all those great qualities and more, but I think Jesus was thinking of different qualities seen in small children when he said anyone who wants to inherit the kingdom of God must come like one of these children. I think Jesus had in mind the weakness of a child, a child’s, neediness, the fact a child has nothing to give but himself, his love. And I think he was thinking of a child’s tendency to trust those who he knows love them. A child is very happy to receive what is given to him/her without any sense they have to earn it or pay for it. So I am convinced what Jesus is saying is that a person has to come to God with the faith that humbly acknowledges their neediness, their weakness, and freely accepts the gift of life eternal God alone has to offer. It is a choice to place trust in Christ above anything else.
Read Mark 10: 17 – 31
This young man had great wealth. Luke tells us he had some kind of ruling position. He must have heard Jesus mention coming into the kingdom of God like a child because he fell to his knees and asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. He addressed Jesus as Good teacher and Jesus asked him why, what he meant by referring to him as Good. Jesus said no one is good but God alone. Jesus was perhaps giving the man opportunity to indicate whether he thought Jesus was God?
Jesus went on to respond to the man’s question: You know the commandments, do not murder…commit adultery…steal…give false testimony…defraud…but do honor your father and mother…
The young man was encouraged by Jesus’ response: “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” Undoubtedly felt he had kept these 6 of the 10 commandments pretty well.
Obeying the 10 commandments was a sign to Old Testament Jews that they were committed to following God; a reflection of their faith. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He looked at the young man and loved him, knowing he wasn’t yet a follower of Christ, but curious. Loved him as a human being created in God’s image, wanting him to become a follower/believer.
Jesus hadn’t mentioned the first 4 commandments when he listed 6 of them. The first 2 commandments are “You shall have no other gods before me.” And “You shall not make for yourself an idol…” Exodus 20:3, 4
One thing you lack, Jesus said. Go and sell all you have, give it to the poor and your treasure will be in heaven. Then come and follow me. The young man was interested in eternal life and what Jesus had to teach and wanted what he had to offer. Yet because he was very wealthy he went away sad because he was so attached to his wealth and couldn’t imagine life without it.
Another teachable moment for the disciples. Jesus looked at them, making sure he had their attention. “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” he said. The disciples were surprised at his words. And then Jesus said it again. It is hard to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (impossible) than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
The disciples were even more amazed/confused. They asked, “Then who can be saved?” The people of Israel in Old Testament times and up to the time of Jesus saw wealth as a sign of God’s approval and blessing on a man’s life, indicating that he must be part of God’s kingdom.
Jesus said with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. God has made a way for any person to come into his family, to inherit eternal life, to enter his kingdom through faith in Christ who died for all.
Why is it so hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God?
Because his wealth and his sense of importance have become gods or false idols to him. Martin Lloyd Jones defined an idol as “anything in a person’s life that occupies a place that ought to be occupied by God.” This young man, who had many good qualities had become increasingly dependent on comfort and the good life and the admiration of others to the point he was afraid to give up any of it. He’d become owned by his possessions, his idols. He was a slave to things, comfort, ease. Pastor Ray Stedman said such enslavement “destroys the responsive spirit that is ready and willing to follow Truth wherever it is revealed.”
A person has to come acknowledging his weaknesses, his neediness, like a child. He has to come like a child with an open hand wanting to receive freely what only God has to offer, eternal life through Christ. His money cannot pay his way. He has to drop his sense of pride in his self-sufficiency. He has to come just like a homeless person, nothing to offer to make God accept him. God has already paid the price in the person of Christ when he died on the cross.
Illustration of Mark 8:35 - 37 For whoever wants to save (protect )their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
Jesus said it is hard, but not impossible for God, for a rich man to come to trust Christ over his wealth.
A couple of notes: Jesus is not saying giving up all our possessions is the qualification for every person to gain eternal life. He knew this was this man’s need, to turn from his idol, his trust in wealth and power and instead, to trust in Christ to lead him and provide for him.
All of us have our own temptations, things that could be for us idols that occupy the place in our life that God should occupy. For you or me it might be fear of others opinions of us rather than trusting in God’s opinion of us, his unconditional love for us, his grace and forgiveness. Or it could be we have such a strong sense of fairness that we struggle to get past a wrong done to us, we refuse to forgive or we become bitter or we choose to get even. Jesus tells us to forgive, pray for, do good to those who mistreat us. He wants us to turn the other cheek and allow him to set the record straight and make things right ultimately. Maybe we worry about our future or our health or the health of a loved one. God promises in his word things like, I know the plans I have for you…I will be with you always…I will provide what is best for you, whatever you need to live life for me…I will work all things out for the good of those who love me. Maybe your big concern is for your reputation, you don’t want others to think you are a religious fanatic so you downplay your faith in Christ. Or you are cautious about opening yourself up too much to following the Lord because he may lead you to become a missionary in some poor country without all the conveniences we enjoy here.
Wilbur Rees writes in his book Three Dollars Worth of God:
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk, or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
We are not to just dabble in Christianity, but to be all in in following Christ.
If we were to bow before Jesus and ask, “Lord, what would my life fully committed to you look like?” what would he likely say to you or me? You are a good moral person. You know a lot about me. People like you. But one thing you lack. You are holding on to one or two idols. Turn away from your fear of man’s opinions about you and trust me. Stop worrying about your security, worrying about whether you will have enough to be comfortable in retirement or that you will always be healthy. Stop worrying about your children, their safety or that they will make good choices; trust them to me. The relationship you are in with that one person is keeping you from having a close relationship with me. Turn from the idols of your life and follow me.
At the end of the passage Peter, not sure how to respond piped up and declared, “Lord, we have left all to follow you.” Jesus’ emphatic response was that no one who leaves family, home, comforts, careers or wealth behind in order to follow him and declare the gospel will go unrewarded in this life and in eternity. They will gain a hundred times what they give up in friends, family, purpose, satisfaction, true riches, along with persecutions. Yes, there is a cost to following Christ, a giving up of our idols, experiencing loss, trials, opposition, even persecution, but he promises it is worth it all because of the many other lasting benefits we gain.
THE SERIOUSNESS OF SIN
January 10, 2021
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THE SERIOUSNESS OF SIN
Mark 9: 42 – 50
January 10, 2021
As we have been going through the book of Mark these past few chapters we have seen Jesus teaching about discipleship, what being a disciple of Christ looks like. A disciple can expect to face opposition, trials, persecution, as Jesus did. A follower of Christ’s life is to look different than the life of one who is not a follower.
Earlier in chapter 9 Jesus and his disciples were walking from one area to a different area, a good distance, and ultimately heading for Jerusalem and Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus had very recently predicted for the second time that in Jerusalem he was going to be captured and executed and rise again. The disciples didn’t understand and didn’t want to hear such talk of Jesus’ death so they kind of ignored the subject. Instead, as they walked they argued over who would be the greatest among them in Jesus’ kingdom. When they got to the house in Capernaum where they would stay Jesus asked what they had argued about. Seeing a teachable moment he tells them he who would be the first must be last and servant of all. Then he held a small child and said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me…" In that day and culture children were considered to be insignificant, to be seen, but not heard, others were more important. Jesus saw them as important, significant, valued, even though needy. Then John told Jesus that the disciples had recently seen a man they didn’t know casting our demons in Jesus’ name and they told him to stop because he wasn’t one of them, the disciples. Jesus said they were not to stop one who is doing good things in Jesus’ name/by faith in him. He said even doing small things in his name/ because of your faith in him, like giving a cup of water to one who is thirsty will be rewarded. Then we come to the passage for today.
Turn to Mark 9: 42
1, Be careful not to cause one of the little ones who believe in Jesus to sin v. 42
Little ones: not just children, but them too
Anyone others consider to be insignificant, having little to give, requiring time and patience. Those others pass by, neglect or reject. Young believers, probably with rough edges, lots of room to grow, like all of us. the kind of people Jesus so often reached out to: woman at the well who had had so many failed relationships, Nicodemus who sneaked in to see Jesus, afraid his peers, the religious elite would see him seeking Jesus out, lepers, homeless, demon possessed, outcasts, tax collectors, the unknown man who was casting out demons, those the religious leaders considered sinners. People who recognize their sinfulness and their need of Jesus.
Be careful not to cause one of these little people, these others consider insignificant, these who are easily missed or rejected, be careful not to cause them to sin, not to trip them up, to discourage them from following me, Jesus is saying. Be careful that your actions and attitudes, the way you treat them, your example doesn’t become a stumbling block to these young believers’ faith.
And Jesus is serious! It would be better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck and be tossed into the sea rather than for you to harm them spiritually by your words, attitudes or actions. Millstone: large round stone that would roll around on a cupped base as it is pulled along by a donkey, mule, or ox to grind the grain. Could weigh a ton, literally! Jesus was speaking to a mixed crowd that included children. This statement is quite severe, shocking. Historians suggest that there were examples of insurrectionists cast into the deep sea with large stones tied around their necks in those times as warning to others, so Jesus’ hearers would understand his word picture. Brings to my mind the picture we get in movies of Mafia practices of dealing with the enemy by burying them alive in cement. It is serious business to discourage another person from whole heartedly following Christ. God’s heart is for the outcast, the new believer who has come out of a hard sinful lifestyle, drug or alcohol addicts, street people, homeless, people who have had major failures in life, who have experienced the heartache of loss or rejection, unemployed, or those who are socially awkward. BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERLOOK, WALK PAST, IGNORE OR DO HARM TO THESE LITTLE ONES. Jesus loves them and takes such an offense seriously.
I can think of examples: a board member at a church I was involved in: The Salvation Army ministers to the down and out people of our part of the city. I was shocked to hear him say that. Implication: we don’t need to bother with them. Not what Jesus says.
A group of 20 something’s in another church I was familiar with, about 6 of them who were very content to be just the 6 of them. Not really interested in reaching out to others who might visit the church. a tough group to break into. The youth pastor had to teach and remind them for a long time that Jesus would like them to reach out to others before they finally began to open up to others.
I have over the years heard a few visitors say they found it difficult to break in to our tight knit church family, to feel genuinely accepted. I hate hearing that. Many others who have come have said they really found a warm reception here. It is my hope and prayer that once Covid is over we will see all of our church family return; at present less than half of our church family are attending, for a variety of reasons. So I look forward to those missing to return. But I also am praying that once Covid is over we will see some new people come to the church, people who have been rocked by the impact of Covid on their lives, who have been caught off guard by a sense of uncertainty, or insecurity because of the chaos in our world. Perhaps people who are quite broken by the impact of sin, isolation or loss. And when they do come I pray they will find in us a church family that will warmly receive them and care for them and share with them the message of the grace and love of Christ, both by our words and our actions.
2, Be careful to root sin out of your life, sin that would draw you away from following Jesus verses 43 – 48
Again Jesus’ words are startling, especially considering his mixed audience, including children. But it shows he is serious about sin in our lives. We are not to trivialize our sinfulness.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off
If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off
If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
It is better for you to enter into life and the kingdom of God maimed, crippled, or half blind than to be cast into hell, Jesus said.
Hell: the word translated hell here is Gehenna, or referring to the valley of Hinnom, a ravine outside Jerusalem. Gehenna had a history for the Hebrew people. There Israel’s wicked kings Ahaz and Manasseh had sacrificed children by fire in Old Testament days, a practice detestable to the Lord. Godly king Josiah condemned the practice and declared the valley unclean and it became a refuse dump. It was a foul, unclean place where maggots feasted and the fire never went out. Gehenna became for the people of Israel a kind of symbol of Hell, where the souls of the wicked will be punished and destroyed, an ugly picture for them. See William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark pages 238-239
Jesus is here emphasizing the seriousness of sin on our lives. Pay attention to the sin that would lead you from following him closely. I think of the children’s song we used to sing, be careful little hands what you do…little feet where you go…little eyes what you see…for the Father up above is looking down below—sees us. Jesus is using hyperbole to make his point, sin is serious, deal with it.
Doesn’t really mean for us to cut hands or feet off or pluck eyes out. But we are to deal severely with anything that may lead us down a path of sin or away from walking in obedience to him. We are to treat things, places, activities that would pull us away from him as if they don’t exist for us. We are to refuse to use hands, feet, eyes for practices that would dishonor him. We are to make decisions not go where we will be tempted, not to use hands, eyes, lips to dishonor the Lord or set ungodly example. To avoid gatherings or individuals where gossip and slander and negativity and hate are the flavor of the conversation. Rather we should seek to be people whose conversations build up and point people to Jesus. To stay clear of places or activities that would entice you if you struggle with addictions. To focus rather on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy… Philippians 4:8 We are to live lives of integrity, refusing to pursue dishonest gain. And we are to strive for purity in our lives, which means we must guard what we look at.
I know a young man who was struggling so with pornography that he went into a program designed to help people addicted to porn. In the end he cut off the things that would lead him into that temptation. He even gave up his smart phone, feeling it was better to be cut off from some of the good things available in order to be free from the dark foul things he had been involved in. being a disciple of Christ involves tough choices, giving up some things for what prove in the end to be far better things so that we experience the peace and joy and love of God in all its richness rather than living with a guilty conscience.
Our struggles are different for each of us. We need to pay attention, to ask God to show us those areas that aren’t honoring to Him and are keeping us from walking closely with him. Ask the Lord, “What is there in my life that dishonors you? That keeps me from following you closely?”
Jesus ended this passage by talking about salt. Verses 49, 50 Salt was used in the sacrifices of the Old Testament worship. Salt and fire would remind of sacrifice. It costs us to be his followers, he’s said that over and over already in Mark.
Paul said the same: Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1
Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other. Salt brings out the best flavor in the food to which it is added. Salt also preserves and heals. We are to be salt in our world by the lives we live, the words we speak, the attitudes we adopt, the actions we choose. Have salt, choose to care for the little ones, those others may not see or may consider insignificant. And be careful where you go, what you do and what you feed your eyes so that you don’t turn from following the Lord to pursuing harmful sinful ways.
2020 Archived Messages
July 12th to December 20th.
Pastor Dave Squires Archived Messages
WHAT AMAZES YOU
December 20, 2020
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WHAT AMAZES YOU
Luke 2: 8 – 20
December 20, 2020
I lost the key to my truck this week. Thursday morning. I was outside pushing some of the 5” of snow we got overnight to the snowbank across the road. Thought I’d warm the truck up to go to the post office. Key wasn’t on the key rack. Must have left it in the truck overnight. Not there either. Started getting a bit concerned. Went inside to check all my possible pockets. Occurred to me I couldn’t blame it on Barb because I knew I was the last to drive the truck the evening before. She started helping me look in all the places I might have absentmindedly laid it or accidentally dropped it. Nothing inside the house. Barb might share with you that I can get a bit miserable when I lose something, distracted until I eventually find it. Back outside to look, to retrace my steps of the evening before when I might still have had the key in my presence. Used the big leaf rake to sift through a wide swath of snow around the house to where I plugged in the Christmas lights. Praying by now, not feeling at all deserving, but appealing to God’s grace and kindness and the fact that it is almost Christmas and I’d be willing to consider this my one gift. You may by now be wondering what the big deal is and why I don’t just use my spare key… That would be a good solution, if I had a spare—I will have by the end of this week. After about an hour and a half of fretting and searching I was thinking I might find it in the spring when the edge of my scoop shovel uncovered the black lanyard that my key was attached to. Relieved and excited…I felt like the lady in the parable Jesus told about the lost coin. I had to tell someone, Barb, one of my boys, another person or two.
I’d like you to think for a couple of minutes about a time when you were surprised or amazed by something you saw or that happened to you. Something that caused a sense of wonder or excitement in you. Examples I thought of:
Anatomy and physiology course I took years ago, the segment on the nervous system, the number of nerve connections that have to happen rapid fire in order for us to function in normal everyday activities; the number of connections that happen in split seconds for higher skilled activities like hitting a baseball coming at you at 98 mph or navigating river rapids in a kayak—seeing and deciding and then reacting. Psalms 139: 14, “I praise you Lord for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Friday night’s fireworks. Children oohing and aahing; contagious, enjoyable….
Olympic freestyle skiing, aerial, moguls, etc. The incredible athletic ability is stunning
Someone returning kindness to someone else who has deliberately been hurtful
Children are often filled with a sense of wonder at things they see. They get excited easily waiting in anticipation of something they anticipate is about to happen. They express their excitement freely and want to share it with others. Unfortunately it seems to me that it is pretty early on in a child’s life that they stop feeling so free to express excitement about things. Peer pressure? Modelling by adults? Feeling that being too expressive is uncool? Getting so caught up in the responsibilities of life that we don’t take the time to think or appreciate fully the significance of the events in our lives.
Christmas is one of those times when it seems to be more acceptable to feel excited and express it. It is a season filled with wonder and anticipation. As parents and grandparents we sometimes feel that excitement vicariously through our children and grandchildren. I want to make the case this morning that responses of wonder, awe, and excitement to events in our lives and God’s work in our lives are perfect ways to honor and praise and glorify the Lord.
Read Luke 2: 8 – 20
This passage is full of words that set a tone of excitement to this event:
The angel’s announcement: Good news, great joy, for all the people
A Saviour has been born to you in the town of David.
Suddenly—surprise, unexpected—a great company of heavenly hosts/angels, praising God, saying (shouting or singing?) Glory to God in the highest
The shepherds hurried off to see if what they had been told were true
They spread the word concerning what they had been told about this child
All who heard them were amazed at what they said, and how they said it, excitedly
The shepherds went home, glorifying and praising God
The shepherds were at first terrified at the unexpected appearance of an angel of the Lord; eventually reassured they were going to be ok, that this was a message from God for them. They were captivated, filled with wonder at the news they received.
A Saviour just born in Bethlehem, a manager for his bed, announced by a multitude of angels singing heavenly music…Let’s go quickly and see this thing the angels have told us…and they told anyone and everyone who would listen to them all that they had seen and heard. Praising and glorifying God for this wonderful news…
Isaiah 55:8 – 9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Who but God could ever come up with a plan like this for mankind? God taking on human flesh. Taking on a human body. The Son of God going through the birth process, being born as a baby, dependent on others for basic care, food protection, teaching. The Son of God lowering himself, humbling himself to the point of entering the sinful human race, leaving all that was his as Son of God, the presence of the Father and unlimited power, left behind to come and live among mankind and experience life as we do. Immanuel, God with us, experiencing all the human experiences, hunger, thirst, pain, exhaustion, joy, humor, friendship, temptation and rejection, yet without sin. Who but God would choose to announce this birth first to shepherds, a class of people often looked down upon for their rough edges, lower working class, often uncouth? Shepherds who lived rather routine lives out of the limelight, not normally an excitable lot who you would expect to go and share the news with others. Who but God would plan for his son be born in obscurity to a young lady from a poorer working class and for his first few days to be lived in an animal stable? Who but God would plan for his Son to die on a cross for the sins of each of us? We know him to be God who loves those he has created, loves us enough to go even to these extreme lengths to provide salvation for us. All of this was part of what it meant for Jesus to come to this planet as our Savior—good news of great joy for all people. Something to get excited about and the shepherds did. They hurried off to see this baby the angels had told them about and found it just as they had told them.
Nothing extraordinary in the baby’s appearance; looked like a normal baby, except his first bed was a manger in a stable meant for farm animals. Anything but fitting accommodation for the King of kings, Lord of lords, Creator of the universe. Their excitement was all about the message they’d been given: A
Savior, good news of great joy for all people. Immanuel, God with us… These shepherds would never be the same. They would share this story a thousand times and still speak with excitement about what they had witnessed. Praising God, glorifying him, honoring him by telling what they had experienced that night and what they understood God to be doing.
What have you learned or observed recently or what has God been doing in your life that is an opportunity for you to celebrate, to tell others about to praise God about? I believe it is important to encourage one another to express feelings of excitement as a way of honoring the Lord for the things he has been teaching us or has been doing in our lives. It is important to teach our children to look for ways God is at work and making a difference in our lives by way of answers to prayer, conviction of sin, transformation of our thinking. And it is important to let them know it is ok to get excited about these things.
Have you ever asked someone who has just returned from a holiday how was your holiday and had them respond, “Ya, it was alright.” Kind of a conversation stopper of a response. I feel like saying, “You spent 2 weeks travelling, seeing the sights and you have nothing to share? Check your pulse! You might as well have stayed home and worked.” What are we encouraged by in our lives? What is God teaching us? What is there for us to be grateful for? If we have no answer to these questions I think there is something wrong, we aren’t thinking deeply enough about God’s presence and involvement in our lives. We are caught in a rut he’d like to boost us out of.
I spoke this week with someone who has had a rough go for a couple of years at least. Still some difficult things going on, but the person testified that they have recently experienced the unexplainable peace of God in the midst of the trials. That’s something worthy of getting excited about.
I think of a couple of guys who had a disagreement about something and hadn’t had much of a relationship for quite some time. One of them was convicted it was time to bury the hatchet and seek to reconcile, asking forgiveness. And they did reconcile, both feeling a huge weight lifted off them. Evidence of God at work, reason to get excited. Many other examples could be shared.
I was feeling some frustration this week about some of the impact of Covid on my life and church life and so I vented a bit to someone. Within an hour several things happened that God used to gently remind me that he’s at work and I didn’t need to be frustrated. And I had this thought and I hope it might help someone else:
Since the beginning of Covid there hasn’t been one second in which God has in any way been caught off guard by it. We may be frustrated, conflicted, confused or angry in response to Covid, but He is still sovereign and in control of the universe. He is at work in our world and still has work to do in your life and mine and wants to minister to others through you and me. Our part: to trust him and invite him to keep on teaching and transforming our lives and then to share what he’s doing with others. Be grateful and excited that he loves you and me that much that he wants to keep working in us and through us even when we are slow or resistant to submit.
Merry Christmas and may God help you honor and glorify him by sharing the wonderful message of the savior’s birth and the excitement of things he has done for you and is doing in the lives of others around you.
MARY’S REMARKABLE RESPONSE
December 13, 2020
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MARY’S REMARKABLE RESPONSE
Luke 1:26 – 38
December 13, 2020
It is that time of the year when we celebrate Advent and Christmas, the entrance of Christ into our world in a physical body. As you all are very aware this Christmas season promises to be very different than any we have experienced. People are reacting to that reality in a lot of ways, most of them on the negative side: anger, stubborn resistance, grief, desperation, cynicism and arrogance, to name a few. We are going to look this morning at Mary’s response, beginning with the announcement from the angel Gabriel.
READ Luke 1:26 – 38
Mary’s faith guided response to the announcement that she would give birth to the savior is instructive to us. Mary, pledged to be married to Joseph, a descendant of David. They lived in Nazareth, a village a long way from Jerusalem, the center of Jewish culture and religious life. It was an out of the way place, small, insignificant by the thinking of the day. Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father) and Daniel, some 500 plus years before. With each appearance he announced an important message from God.
By human standards, Mary, a poor, young woman was not the expected candidate for a great responsibility like this.
Gabriel said to her, Do not be afraid. Her fear—understandable at such a scene. You have found favor with God (God is pleased with your life.) Mary proved herself to be faithful, obedient, submissive, as God already knew her to be.
An unexpected message: Prior to that day she never had even a fleeting thought of, “I wonder if God would ever have me give birth to the Messiah, the son of God?” What if God were to send an angel to you with the message, don’t be afraid, you have found favor with God. He is pleased with your life. What, after the initial fear, would your response be? Wow! Me? Are you sure you have the right address? If an angel were to say to you, I have an important service for you to do, great things in store for you. Me? I’m not skilled, I’m from an insignificant hamlet, I’m not well known, not impressive in any way…
That is likely how Mary felt…
Her Question: How will this be, since I am a virgin? Good question; she genuinely wanted to understand.
Angel’s answer was basically, “Nothing is impossible with God!”
Mary: OK! I am the lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said. I am willing to be used of God, wherever, however he leads. With that the angel left her, his mission accomplished.
Mary shows herself to be receptive to the words and invitation of the Lord.
Life was anything but smooth sailing for Mary. Some of the hardships Mary faced, the cost of accepting God’s will for her:
Her poor, humble circumstances. No social safety net available to her.
Suddenly Pregnant, but unmarried
Joseph thought about leaving her
Family friends and neighbors would talk, insinuate unkind things about her “sinfulness”
The census that caused her and joseph’s 70 mile journey while she was 9 month’s pregnant
The harsh Roman rule, unsympathetic to the lowly Jews
No room in the inn when she was ready to give birth.
The humble birth in a stable; unworthy for the King of kings, Lord of lords
How easy it would have been for her to resort to complaining about her uncomfortable or inconvenient circumstances or for her to resist the will of God for her life.
God faithfully sent encouragers to Mary at just the right time. He used several people to inform, prepare and encourage Mary for what this really meant and what lay ahead. Among them::
Elizabeth, a relative of Mary and soon to be mother of John the Baptist. Luke 1: 39 – 45
“Blessed is she(Mary) who has believed all that the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” Elizabeth affirmed Mary’s trust in God.
Joseph, who had intended to quietly break off the engagement. After the Angel visited him in a dream he knew Mary had told him the truth and the child she was carrying was of the Lord. He took her to be his wife. Matthew 1: 18 – 25 How crucial his support was.
Shepherds, shared with Mary and Joseph all that the angels had announced to them: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Luke 1: 10 – 12 They found him just as the angels had said. Mary “treasured” and “pondered” their words in her heart.
Wealthy wise men from the East, brought expensive gifts, honored the baby. Matt. 2
Godly elderly Simeon, said of baby Jesus, Sovereign Lord, as you have promised…my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for the Gentiles and for glory for your people Israel. Luke 2: 29 – 32 H e also indicated that Mary’s heart would suffer pain over her son’s treatment, the crucifixion.
Godly Anna, a prophetess who spoke about baby Jesus to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel. Luke 2:38
Mary’s various responses: treasured, pondered, marvelled, Praised God, submitted… She trusted that what God had said to her through Gabriel would come to pass according to God’s will.
Barb showed me a Facebook post this week written by a distant cousin of hers, Jesse Jost, reposted by Carrie Janzen. I appreciate what Jesse had to say, written in 2016, but with relevance to our current situation:
It is true that we as a human race were without hope (Eph. 2:11) before Christ came. But now everything is different. A church historian put it this way: “While the rest of the world was complaining, ‘Look what the world has come to’, the early Christians marvelled, ‘Look what has come into the world!’” referring to Jesus, Savior, redeemer, all powerful One.
Jesse goes on to say in his post things like: Anger, arrogance, complaining, pessimism, avoidance, cynicism are not the marks of true spirituality. They are rather the marks of a lack of faith and a disbelief in God’s power and promises.
He talked about some of the promises of God found in Scriptures: God promises in Scripture
To complete the work he has begun in the lives of those who place their trust in him Phil 1:6
To keep building his church and the gates of hell cannot withstand it Matt. 18:16
To rule until every last enemy is defeated 1 Cor. 15:25
To work all things out for the good for those who love him. Rom. 8:28
To always be with us Matthew 28:20
To provide all we need Phil 4: 19 and much much more…
A few people have reminded me lately that our hope is not found in technology, earthly leaders, or the goodness in people. Our hope is found in Jesus Christ alone, who rose from the dead after dying on the cross for all. He is the all-powerful God, creator of the universe, and our only Redeemer. He is the Mighty One, Merciful One, Holy One, and the one who lifts up the humble.
Scripture teaches that we are to pray and rejoice continually. Paul taught this in a first century Roman world that was sexually immoral, corrupt, merciless, and abusive to the poor, the weak and other disadvantaged people; slavery and persecution were the lot for the lower economic class of people and for many Christians. And yet we are told the usual faith response of Christians in those first few centuries was, “Look what has come into the world!” rather than, “Look what the world has come to!”
As I was preparing I was reminded of something I have heard a number of times over the years that describes how the Christian response to unexpected or difficult things in life is or should be different than the world’s response.
I googled “the Christian response during first century plague” and came across an article that quoted sociologist and author Rodney Stark from his book, The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion. Stark credits the explosive growth of Christianity in the first 4 centuries in part to how Christians distinguished themselves as they responded to several of the deadly plagues in those early centuries. Christians often chose to lay their lives on the line and show mercy by caring for the sick and dying all around them rather than avoiding contact with the sick and fearfully looking after their own safety as was the response of most around them. It seemed obvious that a high percentage of lives that would have been lost were saved by the simple merciful caring of these Christians. They offered food and water to the sick, actions that gave the sufferers strength enough to fight off the deadly diseases. Stark quotes several historians speaking about the Christians unique response of mercy in the face of deadly plagues in those centuries.
Stark tells of the Roman Emperor Julian who in the 4th century was attempting to restore paganism. He challenged the pagan priesthood to compete with the Christians in their charitable works. Julian, in a letter to the high priest in Galatia urged the distribution of grain and wine to the poor, noting that the impious Galileans (Christians) support not only their fellow believers, but non Christians as well. He indicated that it was shameful that the Christians should show more mercy to the pagan unbelievers than their fellow pagans and priests did.
The difference? The pagan priests had no foundation that would encourage them to show such mercy and compassion, no doctrines or anyone who led by example, no power of the Holy Spirit living in them and guiding them. The Christians, on the other hand, believed in everlasting life, the hope of spending eternity with Jesus. They followed his teaching and example of showing mercy and compassion. Led by the Spirit’s prompting, they were simply living out their faith. Rather than focusing on all that’s wrong with the world their motivation was, “Look what/who has come into the world!” Jesus, Savior, Son of God, Creator of the universe who is alive and offers forgiveness, mercy, and grace to all who will humbly come to him by faith. Like Mary’s response, “I am your humble servant. May it be to me as you have said.” I trust you and will follow you… May that be the kind of response that comes from our lives.
JESUS DEFINES GREATNESS
DECEMBER 6, 2020
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JESUS DEFINES GREATNESS
MARK 9:30 – 41
DECEMBER 6, 2020
Last week we looked at the account of Jesus driving a very destructive demon out of a boy. The disciples, in the absence of Jesus initially had been asked to help the boy, but were unable to do so. Shortly after the exorcism Jesus and the disciples left the area and began to journey through Galilee.
READ Mark 9: 30 – 32
They head quietly along what I assume were backroads of Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone but the disciples to know where they were. His intention was to concentrate on teaching and preparing the disciples for ministry after he returned to his Father.
In recent days Jesus had been gently, but firmly been preparing his disciples to face up to the implications of the cross in their lives. I am thinking first of Jesus’ announcements that he was going to be taken captive, betrayed into the hands of the religious leaders, suffer rejection and abuse at their hands and in the end be killed by hanging on a cross. This is the second such announcement Jesus had made about his crucifixion and resurrection. The response of the disciples is similar to the first announcement, they didn’t understand what Jesus meant and were afraid to ask him about it. Looking back from our perspective, it seems perfectly clear what Jesus was saying. Or they just didn’t want to consider that he might have been speaking literally of his crucifixion and death. So they avoided the uncomfortable subject of his death, pretending not to have heard what Jesus said. They chose for the time to bury their heads in the sand rather than discuss the subject with Jesus. Much like the response some people have gotten when they have informed a loved one of their recent diagnosis of a terminal illness. Not uncommon for a person hearing of a loved one’s diagnosis to go blank, change the subject or respond in some way inappropriately. To awful, too painful to think about so it is easier just to deny you’ve heard the announcement.
But in addition to telling them that he was going to die, Jesus had been teaching the disciples that if their master was going to suffer their lot would include suffering and sacrifice as well. He had said his disciples or followers would have to take up their crosses daily and follow him. He was of course speaking of setting aside our own agendas, being willing to pay a price that might include suffering and sacrifice to really follow Jesus. We prefer not to think of suffering and sacrifice in our lives as his followers of Christ. Far more appealing are the more cheerful prospects of joy, peace, acceptance, love and forgiveness that Christ offers us. The next few verses speak of some of the cost of being a disciple.
READ MARK 9: 33 – 37
The disciples and Jesus eventually reached Capernaum, a fishing village and the home town of Peter and a number of the other disciples. They entered a house, possibly Peter’s home. The first thing Jesus did was ask the others, “So guys, what were you arguing about on the road?”
Silence! Gulps. Busted! The disciples looked down or away, avoiding eye contact with Jesus. What eye contact was made was of the deer in the headlights variety. All of us have been there and we have seen it in our kids at times as well when we are guilty or embarrassed because of something we have said or done. As they were walking Jesus must have been ahead or behind the bulk of the group of disciples enough that they didn’t think he could hear them argue. I’m convinced he knew exactly what their argument was about before he asked the question. Not long after Jesus had told them he was going to be betrayed and killed his disciples argue over who among them is the greatest. A pride motivated power struggle. The passage doesn’t say what started the argument, but perhaps it had something to do with Peter, James and John’s recent road trip up the mount of transfiguration with Jesus. As they walked with the other disciples they wanted to know about their time away. Jesus had warned the 3 not to tell about all they had seen until he had been raised from the dead. Their experience had been both frightening and exhilarating. I am sure they’d love to have bragged of their special privilege of seeing Jesus’ transformation into dazzling brightness, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and the booming voice of God from the unusual cloud expressing his love of his Son and commanding them to listen to him. But they had been forbidden to speak of it. However there may have been sinful pleasure in being able to smugly say, “We aren’t allowed to speak of what we saw.” And the jealousy and childish arguing over who was greatest began.
Jesus saw this as an important teachable moment. He assumed the posture of a teacher, sitting down in front of the disciples, calling them in close so he could teach them what true greatness looks like. He said as clear as can be, “if anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant of all.” Whoa! Where did that teaching come from? It certainly wasn’t the contemporary thinking. In fact it was strictly contrary to human instinct.
What a sobering and challenging statement: “if anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant of all.” God has I believe placed within all of us a strong desire to succeed, to do things well, to improve our skills and our lot in life. I don’t believe Jesus in this statement is nullifying those God given desires. But he does want to adjust the disciples and our understanding as to what greatness in God’s eyes looks like.
Do you want to be great? First? Important? Make a difference? If we are going to be honest, most of us would say yes we do want those things. But Jesus said true greatness is different than the world tends to think. The truly great person is not the one with the most toys, the fanciest car or in Northern AB, truck, the most land, the biggest bank account, the greatest athletic ability, the most famous, the one with the best looking spouse, or the most powerful person. The world equates those things with greatness, but Jesus said that is backward. The person who is great in God’s eyes is the one who humbly but confidently puts the interests of others ahead of his or her own, who is considerate of others as he goes about his responsibilities, the one who has a servant’s heart.
In the passage Mike read Jesus was talking about doing things to receive the recognition and applause of people. Even religious activities like giving to the poor or to the church, or praying or fasting. If our motivation in doing these things is so that others will see us and admire our spirituality, then we already have our reward, that’s it, that’s all—people applaud our works, even though our motives are flawed. But if we do those same things quietly, out of the lime light, anonymously, out of hearts grateful to God and submissive to him, then he sees us as people with godly hearts, he approves and will reward us in his way and time.
Jesus says these things because that is exactly who he was and what he did. Mark 10:45 in a passage teaching that leaders aren’t to lord it over others as if better than others. Instead they are to serve others well. A sign of greatness. “For even the son of Man (Jesus) came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
As a further object lesson Jesus pulls a small child into their circle, held the child and said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me, but the one who sent me.” 37 The dominant view of children in that day and culture: children were seen as insignificant and without social status. Doing something for a child meant you were not going to receive anything in return, hardly worth the investment of time. Welcoming a child in that society was to break cultural norms. It was to lower yourself in order to accept and lift up someone of lower status, thereby risking lowering your status among your peers. An example given by Jesus of what it looks like to make yourself last and the servant of all. A child is needy, has little of this world’s values to give to others, needs to have things done for him/her. In the same way welcoming, reaching out to anyone who is poor or ordinary, without popularity, influence, wealth or power, anyone below your perceived socio-economic standing, is to welcome Jesus and the Father. For you or me it might mean extending kindness or a helping hand to a homeless person or the neighbor that frustrates others, or being kind to the obnoxious kind at school, or refusing to return a poor response to a stranger who has been rude to you. Perhaps for this Christmas you would ask God to lay on your heart someone you know who might struggle with loneliness or might be unlikely to receive a gift from anyone. And God might lay on your heart a desire to think of a creative way to surprise and encourage that person, a gift or thoughtful deed, perhaps even anonymously. To do so as Jesus said in the passage, in his name, because of your faith in Him, your commitment to him. Do it as unto him. He said elsewhere forasmuch as you do it unto the least of these brothers of mine you are doing it unto me. Matthew 25:40
READ 38 – 41 John then thought of something that had recently happened. Teacher, he said, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we told him t stop, because he wasn’t one of us.
What made John think of this? Guilt and the need to confess? Perhaps there had been jealously when this man was successful in driving out demons while they had failed to drive the demon out of the boy a few days before? Or the fact that this stranger was acting in Jesus’ name and Jesus had just been talking about accepting people in Jesus’ name, because of faith in him? I believe he wondered, “Did we do the right thing?”
Jesus said, no, don’t stop someone who is doing great things/miracles in my name. Claiming to believe in Jesus as Lord and savior. Anyone who is not against us is for us. He goes on to say that even small deeds done in the name of Jesus for someone who also claims the name of Christ will be rewarded. Small deeds like giving a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty.
How judgmental and protective people can be. We too soon become threatened by the success of someone who is doing things we are also involved in. We like to maintain control like the disciples in this situation. We can assume we know the thinking and motives of others that are behind something we heard they did, but we don’t know the whole story and we cannot read motives that ell. Jesus reminded the disciples that others who claim the name of Christ and do things in his name should be accepted and welcomed by fellow believers. I am convinced we will be surprised and saddened one day to learn that so many of our assumptions about others were totally wrong. How easily offended we sometimes are, almost expecting others to try to offend us whenever we are with them and so interpreting their actions and words through that lens. It would be far better and more beneficial to give the person the benefit of the doubt about their intentions and motives.
“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant of all.”
How does Jesus description of greatness hit you? Would the lord like to bring certain people to mind who you tend to pass by, avoid or neglect because you think they are less important than you? Maybe that has never been a conscious thought for you, but when you think about it you really don’t give certain people the time of day. Confess that.
Many of you have a heart for people others tend to walk by, don’t see or don’t have time for. God bless you for that. Sometimes it is harder to have a servant’s heart for some closer to us.
Let’s take a few minutes to talk to the Lord individually about our own hearts. Do I have a proud heart that wants to receive recognition for all I do? Do I feel I deserve to be served and am I less inclined to adopt a servant’s heart? If so, talk to God about it. Ask him to soften your heart so that you can willingly and joyfully serve others at home, in school, at work, in the community.
NOVEMBER 22, 2020
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MARK 9:1 – 13
NOVEMBER 22, 2020
I’d like you to think for a couple of minutes about times in your life when you have been greatly encouraged in your relationship with the Lord, or found yourself almost speechless because of something you saw or experienced that reminded you of just how incredible God, our Creator and Saviour is. Ask him to bring some memories of such times to mind.
I can remember as a young boy sitting in church listening to an evangelist share the gospel and at the end asking people to respond to the message by a show of hands or by walking to the front for prayer, expressing a desire to be made right with God. I can remember being so excited that it was like tingling going down my spine.
A totally different experience, but one in which I was reminded of God’s incredible creativity. When I moved to Ontario I drove from Idaho with all my worldly possessions jam packed into a very small Honda Civic. I was driving across Ontario in the fall and the maple and oak trees were in full color and I couldn’t take it all in. I had to look in all directions stunned by the beauty of the red and orange and yellow and green leaves against the clear blue lakes along the highway. I stopped frequently to take pictures of successive best photos of the day. Growing up in evergreen country I had never seen such natural colors displayed and my recurring thought was Wow, God, look what you have made!
During this time of Covid I wonder if there have been times when you have witnessed God’s powerful hand at work in your world? Times when you have needed a shot of encouragement and God gave it to you through something unexpected that happened or through the words of someone else that reminded you God is present, all wise, still at work and in control? As I thought about this question a few such instances came to mind. I thought of our baptismal service this summer. What a blessing to hear from a couple of young men of their relationship with the Lord, how they came to believe in him and their desire to follow him throughout their lives. We celebrated 25 years of being involved with this church family a month ago and seeing photos and hearing people share memories and stories of how God has been at work in Eaglesham over those years was a great encouragement to us.
The disciples were much in need of encouragement where we pick up in our study of the book of Mark.
READ MARK 9: 1 – 13
While walking with his disciples one day Jesus asked them who people thought he was. Their answer: they think you may be John the Baptist resurrected or Elijah returned or another of the prophets of old or one like them. Who do you think I am? Peter answered immediately, “You are the Christ.” The long awaited Messiah promised frequently in Old Testament scriptures. Peter’s answer was correct, but the disciples understanding of what the Messiah would do was not the same as Jesus’ understanding.
A short while later Jesus began teaching the disciples that he would be a suffering Messiah, that he would be rejected by the religious leaders and killed and that he would rise again the 3rd day. He was clear on this. Then he let them know that his followers would also experience suffering because of their faith in him. It would be costly to be a true disciple of Jesus. Peter took Jesus aside and tried to correct his thinking. The disciples were looking for a messiah that would free their people from Roman rule, one who would restore Israel to prominence among the nations, who would bring peace and prosperity for them. The idea of a suffering Messiah in no way fit their picture.
Then we come to Mark 9. Verse 1 has been the focus of much discussion. The question is what event was Jesus referring to when he said some of you will not die before seeing the kingdom of God coming in power? He must not have been referring to his second coming because all the disciples passed away over 1900 years ago. Liberal theologians have suggested Jesus was mistaken, referring to his second coming, but incorrect about his disciples still being alive at the time of his return. Some have believed Jesus was referring to the resurrection and his coming back to life with power; others have suggested he may have been talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost with the power that was demonstrated on that day. Either of those events are possibilities, but I tend to agree with those who believe Jesus was referring to the event that happened next, his transfiguration on the mountain.
Six days after Jesus made the statement about some of his disciples seeing the kingdom come in power he took some of them, Peter, James, and John to be exact, up on a high mountain. Most people believe the mountain was Mt. Hermon which rises to 9200 ft. above sea level. It has snow on the top most of the year. It is not far from where Jesus had been ministering in Caesarea Philippi. Luke’s account (chapter 9) tells us he took them up there to pray. It would have taken them the better part of the day to hike up the mountain, so likely was evening when they got there. Part way through their time of prayer the disciples were very sleepy, Luke tells us. They were suddenly startled and brought fully awake at the sight of Jesus having been transfigured, it says, which means transformed. The Greek word is close to metamorphosis, the process by which a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. Jesus was briefly transformed, changed in appearance. The gospel writers describe his appearance like this: his face shone like the sun; his clothes were dazzling white, brighter than anyone in the world could bleach them; as white as light; as bright as a flash of lightning. Basically, his transformed appearance was brilliant, enough so that you would have to shield your eyes to catch a glimpse, like nothing these disciples would ever have seen before. Out of this world, supernatural brightness.
John was likely thinking of this event when he wrote, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” -John 1:14
Two men appeared with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. We are not told how the disciples knew they were Moses and Elijah; perhaps their names were used as they talked, or maybe Jesus told them afterward who the men were. Luke says they discussed Jesus’ departure, which Jesus had begun to warn the disciples about.
Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were having an intense conversation as the disciples looked on, spellbound. Peter, never one to be at a loss for words even if he didn’t know what to say, offered these words: Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up 3 shelters/huts/mini tabernacles, places for worship, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. The verse even says Peter didn’t know what to say, they were so frightened. Sometimes it is better not to say anything if we are uncertain what to say. Scholars are unsure what Peter’s exact point was. Somehow he was wanting to prolong this mountaintop experience, while honoring Jesus and the other two men. Perhaps he was having another run at trying to distract Jesus from his talk of suffering and death. Whatever Peter’s intentions, he was cut off right away by the voice of God coming from a cloud that suddenly enveloped the mountaintop and the men. Such a cloud appeared prominently in Old Testament history. During the Exodus the Hebrew people were led and protected by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It guided them and provided a barrier from the Egyptians who were unable to see the Hebrews because of the dense cloud. When the tabernacle was set up as a place of worship, a cloud rested above it and represented the presence of God. When the temple was built that same cloud representing the presence of God filled the holy of holies. It was referred to as the Shekinah glory. The cloud on the day of transfiguration may well have been the same cloud. Certainly it represented God’s very presence and he spoke out of the cloud. Likely cutting off Peter’s unprocessed thoughts, God’s voice boomed out, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.” Matthew tells us the disciples hit the ground terrified at his voice. Jesus told them to get up and not to be afraid. And when they got up it was just the 4 of them again, Jesus and his disciples. Jesus told them not to share this experience with anyone until after he rose from the dead. As they came down the mountain the disciples discussed what rising from the dead meant, still not understanding.
What an experience these three disciples had. Why these three and not other of the disciples? During Christ’s ministry with them he on several occasions chose to allow these 3 to experience things or go with him beyond where he allowed the others. Not sure why. These 3 became outstanding leaders in the first century church. Perhaps they were more hungry to learn and grow, to take in all they could of Jesus presence and teaching. Jesus knows the hearts of people and honors a person’s desire to know and walk with Him. Perhaps that is why these 3 and not the others. They certainly remembered this event and it had lasting impact on them: John 1:14 again.
This event was timely. God knew the disciples needed some encouragement following Jesus’ announcement that he was going to suffer and die at the hands of the religious leaders and the Romans.
What these men witnessed would come to mind again and again and would serve as confirmation that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the divine Son of God. They had seen something of his divine glory that up until then had been veiled by the human body he had taken on. That veil was pulled back briefly, long enough for them to see him for who he really was. They had seen Moses who had lived 1400 years earlier and Elijah from some 900 years before, alive and talking with Jesus, encouraging him to continue on with the path God had willed for him. And they had heard the terrifying voice of God declare Jesus to be his son as he had at Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of his ministry. And God said, this is my Son whom I love. Listen to him.
Peter remembered this spectacular event years later as he wrote: 2 Peter 1: 16 - 18
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power,(A) but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.(B) 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”[a](C) 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
And that would have caused the disciples to consider the things Jesus had recently said: I am going to suffer at the hands of the religious leaders and be rejected by them and be killed and rise again after 3 days. Listen to him. It is costly to be my disciple. Listen to him. Don’t be afraid. Listen to him. I will come back to take you to be with me. Listen to him. Trust in me. Listen to him. Love one another as I have loved you. Listen to him. Do not take revenge; forgive one another. Listen to him.
We too are to listen to Jesus, to what he said and did. to listen with hearts that want to walk in obedience to what he has called us to be and to do.
One day we too will see Jesus in all his glory without the limits put on his with a human body and 1 John 3 says when we see him we will be like him for we shall see him as he is. That is the hope we look forward to.
A TWO STAGE HEALING
November 1, 2020
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A TWO STAGE HEALING
Mark 8: 14 – 26
November 1, 2020
A trip to the eye doctor, for some a time to be nervous, unsure what they are going to hear about their eyesight. Whenever I have taken the chart exam, covering one eye at a time I have always wanted to be able to read the bottom line, the smallest letters, which would indicate I have good eyesight, for that distance at least. Pride is the motivator. Part of the exam is to hold the buzzer in your hand and push it whenever you see whatever design comes on the screen that you are to be looking for. You are on edge, not wanting to push it prematurely, but not wanting to miss it either. And you cannot say, oh, sorry I missed that one can we stop and start over? And then the optometrist asks you all kinds of probing questions you aren’t sure how to answer. You don’t want to raise any concerns that might indicate there could be a deep hidden problem with one of your eyes. Really we just want to be able to see well. But healthy eyesight can be dependent on just how honest we are with the optometrist.
Of far greater eternal importance is our spiritual eyesight. In the passage we will be looking at today Jesus heals a blind man using some unusual, even unique methods. It’s a simple story, but I believe there are some spiritual truths Jesus wanted people, especially his disciples at the time, to understand from his actions.
I am going to read part of the passage I spoke on last week first in order to set the context for what our passage for this morning is dealing with.
READ MARK 8: 14 – 21
The disciples and Jesus had gotten into a boat a few days after he had fed 4000 people in a wilderness area from a few fish and 7 loaves of bread. And just before getting in to the boat Jesus had had a confrontation with some religious leaders asking for a sign to confirm who Jesus was. They came at him again with unbelieving hearts, wanting to trip him up, to prove him a false teacher. Shortly after they got into the boat some of the disciples realize they have forgotten to bring lunch; they only have 1 loaf of bread for the 13 people on the boat. They were talking about that problem when Jesus said to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod. Thinking of their physical needs, the disciples assume Jesus is saying something about their having forgotten to bring adequate amounts of bread. But Jesus was speaking of spiritual things, meaning beware of the corrupting influences and teaching of the Pharisees and Herod. Like yeast penetrating a batch of dough, so their influence can corrupt society. They miss what he meant entirely, thinking of their needs rather than of what Jesus wants to be teaching them. Jesus then asked them some pointed questions: Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, but fail to see, and ears, but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? Do you still not understand?...
He’s basically asking them, after all you have seen and heard me do and speak, do you still not understand who I am and what I am capable of? You have eyes and ears, but you are not understanding spiritual truths. You so soon forget? The reality was that the disciples caught glimpses of the truths Jesus was demonstrating and teaching, but so soon they would fall back into misunderstanding and spiritual blindness. They often failed to see what should have been obvious and life changing, much like we can do.
So Jesus’ next step was to give them an object lesson or to act our something of a parable that they would remember and ponder that would help them think about spiritual blindness.
READ 8: 22 – 26
There are some similarities in this story to other healings, but there are a couple of things in the way Jesus dealt with the man that are unusual or unique.
Bethsaida, on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, once again in an area of predominately Gentile population. Some people, likely family and friends of a man who is blind, bring him to Jesus and beg Him to touch the man, so as to heal him. No mention at the start of the man’s desires or anything of his confidence in Jesus’ abilities. Seems it is his friends that have faith that Jesus can heal the man, if he just would touch him.
Jesus turned to the man and does touch him, taking him by the hand and leading him away from the crowd and out of the village. His touch didn’t heal him as sometimes had happened with others. We saw in chapter 7 in Jesus’ healing the deaf man who could barely speak, some similar ways he dealt with both of these men while healing them. His touch, his leading the men away from the crowds, probably so they could speak more deeply of each man’s real inner needs, and the use of Jesus’ spit in both healings. Three times in the gospels Jesus involved spit in the process of healing people, the two men just mentioned and one other blind man for whom Jesus made a salve from his spit and some clay and put it on the man’s eyes. It was generally thought in those days that there were some healing powers in a person’s saliva and perhaps Jesus was just appealing to their understanding that he was about to heal the man with the use of his saliva. After spitting in the man’s eyes and placing his hands on them Jesus asked him, “Do you see anything?”
I am absolutely convinced that Jesus already knew the answer to his question, but wanted to draw the man out, to encourage him to tell what he was seeing, to create hope and a desire for complete healing. Jesus wasn’t just curious or unsure how successful he had been in healing the man. He deliberately gave only a partial healing at first.
The man answered truthfully, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” In other words, I can see a little bit; it is certainly better than it was. I can see light and dark forms or shadows, but it is blurry, not clear. Implication: it could be better than it is.
Why did Jesus perform only a partial healing? Isn’t that strange? Was he unsuccessful? Did he fail initially? This is the only example in all his healings of a 2 stage or partial healing initially. Was his power inadequate to perform the healing in one shot? He touched the man. Led him away from others, spoke to him, spit in his eyes and touched him, all the different things he had utilized in other healings, and yet only partly successful. Was there a darkness in the town of Bethsaida that limited Jesus’ ability to heal the man or was he too exhausted from all the confrontations, the travel, the crowds and constant giving out? I believe the answer to each of these questions is a firm “No!” Jesus consistently acknowledged that the power of his healing ministry was from the Father. The Father is more than adequate to heal anyone, any time, in any way, and any place he chooses.
Then why did Jesus do this in two stages? I can think of a couple of reasons and I believe Jesus had both in mind.
For the blind man’s benefit:
First I think Jesus knew the man’s faith would be jump started by healing in stages. It is likely the man lost his sight in an injury or sickness after having been able to see for part of his earlier life. He recognized that he was seeing people and that because of blurriness they looked like trees walking around. I believe Jesus was giving the man a bit of time to decide whether to trust Jesus enough to speak truthfully about both his improved but imperfect vision and his faith that Jesus could complete the healing. Had the man been less honest, had he said, yeah, my vision has improved, I think I’m good, I will be able to get around better… he’s have shown a great lack of faith and hope. I think Jesus wanted to instill in the man some hope, some excitement, an understanding that Jesus the Messiah was there with him and he could complete the task. I think Jesus was giving the man some one on one time to allow him to get to know who Jesus is, to place his faith and trust in him, to heal not just his physical blindness, but more importantly his spiritual blindness and disillusionment.
Jesus deliberately healed the man in two stages for his spiritual benefit.
For the disciples’ benefit:
What had Jesus been hammering home with the disciples, trying to teach them? That while they were seeing and even understanding some of what he was doing and teaching, they were still spiritually blind to so much. I believe this two stage healing was an object lesson or parable acted out that would stick with them and cause them to think more deeply about where they were blind to truths Jesus had taught. Spiritually speaking they too were seeing people, but they looked like trees walking. They weren’t getting all that Jesus would have them understand. And it wouldn’t’ be until the resurrection that it would come into much clearer focus for them and they would finally see Jesus for who he is, the suffering Messiah. They wanted a ruling King, but he came then to be a suffering Messiah. As we continue on in Mark we are going to see the disciples take some strides forward in their understanding of who Jesus is, but then we will also see them slip back into phases of spiritual blindness. Peter soon will confidently proclaim Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, but right away after he will scold Jesus for speaking about his coming crucifixion and then we know he will deny Christ 3 times and the other disciples will dessert Jesus.
Lessons for us:
Several, briefly. Jesus doesn’t heal or do anything by formula. Rather he does these powerful and miraculous things by the power and authority of his will and his word. He makes sovereign choices in all kinds of matters because he sees the big picture and will accomplish his will in individuals as well as in nations. We shouldn’t expect him to always do things the way we expect them to e done, to answer our prayers the way he has answered others or even the way he has for us in the past. He will do things his way and in his time.
How important it is for us to realize that our spiritual growth and understanding is gradual. When we come to faith in Christ a spiritual healing takes place, a great deal of our blindness is dealt with. But we still have blind spots, areas God wants to work on and for us to turn over to him. It doesn’t happen all at once at the moment of our turning to Christ. It is a lifetime process of our being made aware of spiritual blindness. It requires honesty and humility of us. An honesty that will help us acknowledge blindness that we are made aware of. A humility that recognizes our need of God to keep working in us, that we are not perfect or faultless, that we cannot change ourselves into Christlikeness, it is a work of God. Phil 1:6 “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
God makes help available. That’s the beauty of the body of Christ. As God works in each of us we learn things that can be passed on to others who are open to learning from others. We need each other. We all need someone or some others who we trust to speak truth out of love for us. We need people who will be honest about attitudes or actions they see that are inconsistent with a child of God who wants to live for him. We each need to seek out people who would speak that way into our lives. And as God helps us, as he removes some of the blindness from our spiritual eyes we need to be humbly available to speak into other lives if God should so lead. Sometimes a child is unaware of having poor eyesight. He/she may squint to see what’s on the screen at school, may unconsciously choose a seat at the front. It isn’t until a parent or teacher notices and speaks to the child’s need that they can get help. We need to be willing to be used of God to help each other with blind spots.
Repeat Miraculous Feeding of a Large Crowd
October 25, 2020
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October 11, 2020
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October 11, 2020
A young family was coming home from church one Sunday and the dad was in a bit of a negative mood. He complained that the sermon was too long, noted that the songs that were chosen were unfamiliar, criticized the family sitting behind them for being a little out of control, and was shocked by the political views of one of the men he was talking with
Clean Hands or Clean Hearts?
October 4, 2020
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Clean Hands or Clean Hearts?
MARK 7: 1 – 23
October 4, 2020
Pretending. We all like to pretend at times in order to fool someone else, make them think something that isn’t true. Much of our pretending can be innocent fun, a form of play acting and that is our intention. I think of times when I am playing with my grandchildren and they come only so close to me daring me to catch them. If I look beyond them and ask what is that they turn around to see whatever it is that has supposedly surprised me and then I sneak right up behind them so that when they turn around again I am inches from them and they are easily caught.it never takes them long to try pretending in the same was to fool me.
Then there was the time at Kentucky Fried Chicken before Barb and I were married. Her sister was with us and I had this thing I liked to do where I would be first to enter the building. I would pull hard on the door and bring it to within an inch or so of my nose. One of my feet would be a bit ahead of the rest of my body and the door would bump into my foot but it looked like I just opened the door into my nose and I’d pretend I really smacked my nose. On this particular occasion the door was raised just enough to barely catch the top of my shoe and my big toenail inside the shoe. I actually ripped the nail off to where it was just hanging by some skin. I got a great reaction from those I was trying to impress. Barb and her sister couldn’t stop laughing, at me, not with me. I hopped around in pain for long enough for them to order and almost finish eating. Pretending.
This week I read an article about half a dozen or so disgraced televangelists and other Christian leaders. These people all had one thing in common: they were all pretending to be something they weren’t. Many of the things they were most outspoken about they were secretly involved in when not in the public eye. Eventually each of the people highlighted in the article were caught and if I were to mention their names most of you would recognize many of them. Pretending, play acting.
Jesus often had conflict with the religious leaders of his day and on several occasions he referred to them as hypocrites. The Greek word translated into our English as hypocrites was a word used for those who acted in plays, pretending to be someone they weren’t. Sometimes they would wear masks to make them look like someone else or masks to make them look happy, sad, or surprised. Hypocrites Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees on more than one occasion, as he does in the passage we will look at today.
One of the most common excuses people give for not going to church is that churches are full of hypocrites. Now, I would suggest that none of us live life perfectly or entirely consistently. But then neither does the person using this excuse. I read a couple of good responses when someone declines to come to church because of all the hypocrites: well why don’t you join us; one more hypocrite won’t make much difference. or this one: If you let the hypocrite you are thinking of come between you and God, then the hypocrite is standing closer to God.
TURN TO MARK 7:1 – 23. READ
So we see that a delegation of important religious leaders has come to where Jesus and his disciples were ministering out in a rural area. They have heard about Jesus and the remarkable things he’s done and the crowds that were following him and they want to investigate further. They come with an agenda, wanting to catch him saying or doing something they can condemn him for. They aren’t with him for very long when they find something they think is a serious infraction. They ask why his disciples eat w/o washing their hands in the traditional ceremonial way the religious leaders wash before each meal, as was their tradition.
Now it is important to note they weren’t concerned about hygiene here, it was a religious ritual they were concerned about. Over the generations the religious leaders had added layers and layers of traditions to the laws God had given the people. Some of them came from cases of what would the law have you do in this situation. The leaders would discuss specific cases and come up with a ruling that became tradition and eventually held the status of a law. The traditions became so binding that the leaders deemed them more authoritative than God’s law. If there was a question between a clear commandment of God and a tradition established by the interpreters of laws and traditions, the traditions of the leaders took precedent.
In this specific case a ceremonial washing was expected to happen before each meal. Not just, make sure your hands are clean, but go through the entire ceremony, cup your hands, holding fingers up and pour water over them; then turn your hands over with fingers pointed down and pour water over them. Make sure water gets between each finger and even runs to the elbows. This practice of ceremonial hand-washing was given to the priests to perform before going into the tabernacle or temple to offer sacrifices or perform other services, symbolizing the need to be clean before God, sins confessed, hearts made right. The religious leaders over time had adopted the practice and made it a mandatory practice for everyone at mealtime. They were also to wash, according to tradition, whenever they came back from the market, because they might have bumped into a Gentile or touched something a Gentile may have touched.
Jesus seemed annoyed right away by the religious leaders’ critical attitudes. He’s had run-ins with them before. He was primed and ready. He calls them hypocrites, play actors, as he quotes Isaiah 29:13:
These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.
I don’t know about you, but that verse stops me in my tracks, convicting, a sober warning, something to seriously consider. How often have I given lip service to God while being in an indifferent or apathetic frame of mind spiritually? When was the last time I was really moved by Scriptures I read or a worship song I was listening to or singing, or during a time of prayer? Moved at a greater understanding of who God is and how much he loves me? How often does this verse describe me? As a person who honours God with my lips, but has a cold, hard, indifferent heart? It does describe me sometimes, but I don’t want it to be true of me. I want my words to line up with my heart consistently so that I honour the Lord with my lips and my life from what flows from a heart that is in love with my Saviour and committed to trusting and following him. One example of the hypocrisy Jesus is describing here:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.(A) 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. James 3:9-10
Jesus goes on to give another example: He said, you have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your traditions. Take the 5th commandment for example. Honour your Father and mother. And another verse from the writings of Moses: anyone who curses his father or mother should be put to death. Clear commands of the Old Testament. Honouring parents would include taking care of them when they are in old age or in some way unable to care for themselves; showing them tremendous respect. But over time a provision was made that allowed a son or daughter to dedicate certain of their resources to God and then those things didn’t have to be used to support ailing or aging parents. The devoting of those things to God was called the practice of Corban. It would give the person devoting resources to God or the temple standing among the religious leaders. It would be impressive. If the son or daughter eventually regretted having made such a vow and wanted instead to take the resources and support their parents during unexpected illness or change of life, the leaders would rule that a vow is a vow. That was their tradition. Set in stone. Jesus said a greater commandment trumped your man made tradition, that of honouring and caring for parents. Their problem: they had elevated their traditions above the laws of God.
With that Jesus turned from the religious leaders as if to say we are done here. He turns to the crowd following him and says, nothing outside a man can make him unclean, spiritually, in his relationship with God, by going into him, like food or drink, or eating with unwashed hands. Rather it is what comes out of a man, what flows from his heart, that makes a person unclean. To the crowd: pay attention to this, it is important. Jesus knew people were longing to be delivered from the burdens of their guilt and shame, to be freed form their sinful habits, to experience forgiveness that brings peace. Their real concern wasn’t for religious traditions that cannot transform a life, things like how we should dress, eat, walk, wash or how many times we should pray each day. Jesus taught people to come to him by faith, not by external works.
The crowd is eventually dismissed and Jesus and his disciples enter a house and his disciples ask him about this “parable”, as they call it. He hadn't been teaching with a parable. His words were clear instruction. Are you so dull that you don’t understand he asked the disciples. And then he went on to explain what he had just said to the crowd and the point he had been making to the religious leaders. He said that nothing that goes into a man can make him unclean as the religious tradition had taught. Because it doesn’t enter and impact the heart. The heart in Jewish thinking was the centre of an individual’s personality, thoughts, feelings, decision making. The heart is what determines our response to God. The food that goes into the body eventually exits out of the body. It doesn’t touch your heart’s response to God, doesn’t make you either clean or unclean in spite of what the religious leaders teach.
The real question is what is it that comes out of a person, that comes out of his heart? That determines whether the person is clean or unclean. That is what you should be concerned about. What we are inside is what we really are. Who we are when we think nobody is looking is who we really are.
For from within, out of men’s hearts come evil thoughts, things like sexual immorality/perversions, theft, scheming as to how you can take what belongs to someone else; murder, including intense anger at someone, according to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mt.; adultery, including lustful thoughts; greed, wanting what someone else has; malice, wishing for someone else to suffer in some way; deceit for the purpose of taking advantage of someone else; lewdness, being willing to go even against culturally acceptable norms in demonstrations of rebellious lifestyle, envy, jealous of someone else’s life and advantages, ungrateful for your own; slander, speaking of another person in ways that are untrue or unhelpful or unnecessary in order to make yourself look better; arrogance, prideful, and folly, the person who doesn’t know god and doesn’t want to know him. These things at different times and to different degrees are in all of us. Our hearts need the cleansing that only Christ can give.
Scripture says we all sin and fall short of the glory and standard of God. Romans 3:23 that the wages of our sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ, his death on the cross. Romans 6:23. 1 John 1:7 says it is the blood of Jesus Christ that purifies us from all sin. Hebrews 9:14, his blood cleanses our consciences from ungodly actions. The teaching of scripture is that we are redeemed, made new, forgiven, and cleansed by the shed blood of Christ. It is not by our good works or legalistic observances.
Keeping man made rules will not change or transform a person’s heart. Only a new birth in Christ will change our hearts.
Pastor and author, Timothy Keller said this: The Gospel is this: we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than e ever dared believe, yet at the same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.
How’s your heart today? not the spongy muscle that umps the blood throughout your body, but the centre of your being that responds to God, acknowledging your sinfulness and need of his cleansing,. If you have never invited him to be your Lord and saviour, that is where you need to start, with a heart transformation.
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
Or you may be a believer who has trusted in him for a long time, but it seems to you your heart has grown cold or indifferent, rebellious or distracted. Some of the evil thoughts in the list Jesus gave describe you. Own up to the problem. We need to be saved from ourselves because my biggest problem is me, not someone or something outside me. Reach out to the One who can clean your heart. Pray for heart change
Psalms 51: 10 “Create in me a pure heart, o God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Read also Galatians 5:22 and Philippians 4:8
September 27, 2020
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September 27, 2020
Mark 6: 45 – 56
Highway signs meant to give us the heads up about what we are about to or could encounter don’t always mean what they say. For example:
it is summer and construction season and you have just gone through a construction zone. What does the last sign you see say? END CONSTRUCTION I can’t help saying each time I see one of those signs, I’m in favor of that. Ask Barb. She’ll tell you I can’t help myself.
Or another sign often seen as you are about to enter a construction zone says, MEN WORKING
My unsolicited consistent response? “I doubt it.” Sure enough. Usually about 4 out of the 5 employees of the construction company are not working as you pass by. Several are leaning on shovels watching one work.
One of my favorites: Sometimes when you pass through a small town you may see a sign that says:
SLOW CHILDREN PLAYING. I still find it kind of shocking that people put that sign up. Unkind at best. Surely in our day and age most would consider it politically incorrect to suggest the children playing there were slow. Developmentally challenged might be acceptable, but slow?
In Jesus’ day a sign stating the following would have been accurate much of the time: SLOW DISCIPLES IN TRAINING. It seems from reading the Gospels it took a while and some repetition of lessons for them to learn what Jesus knew was vital for them to learn if, after he would return to the Father, they were to successfully take over the ministry he had begun.
READ MARK 6: 45 – 56
Jesus had just fed the 5000 men plus an unknown number of women and children with the 5 loaves and 2 fish. The disciples had the privilege of helping serve and clean up for this meal; they were witnesses of the miracle of Jesus multiplying the meagre supply of food they had started with.
John’s account in John 6:14 – 15 indicates that the people are beginning to talk seriously about declaring Jesus to be their king. Knowing their intentions, Jesus makes 3 quick decisions: He made his disciples get into a boat and go on ahead of him toward Bethsaida. The language would indicate they were perhaps reluctant to leave without him. Jesus knew the disciples would have been totally on board with the crowd’s desire to make him their king, thinking he would free them from Roman rule.
Next he dismissed the crowd, that’s it for today folks. And finally it says he went up on a mountain to pray. John says he withdrew again to a mountain by himself to pray.
Jesus would have been the perfect and ideal leader for the people, but that wasn’t the will or plan of God for them or for us. So in quick succession he commanded the disciples to head off in a boat, he let the crowd know the party was over and he went off to a quiet place to pray, so he would continue to keep aligned with the will of the Father for him and not get sidetracked by the good intentions of the people.
When evening came Jesus could somehow see that the boat was in the middle of the lake, several miles out in the Sea of Galilee. He was alone on the land, peaceful, I’m sure. But in the boat the disciples were straining at the oars, the wind strong against them. It seemed like deja’vu all over again for them. They had been caught I a stormy sea before, in fear for their lives. Jesus noticed their struggle in the evening, but it wasn’t until the 4th watch of the night, sometime between 3 and 6 A.M. that he went out to them, finding them still straining at the oars. They would have been exhausted working so hard for so long to get to the other side of the lake, but making no headway. And then they all saw a figure in the distance walking on the water toward them and they freaked out, terrified, thinking they are seeing a ghost. Can you blame them? I think we would have all been quite startled at the sight of this figure coming at us in the dark of the stormy night.
Jesus immediately speaks calm reassurance to them. Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid. Jesus got into the boat with them and the winds immediately calmed down. Stunned silence?
Then the verse I want you to think about:
They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
For all the disciples had seen and experienced in the year or year and a half they had been with him they still hadn’t put it all together. They still didn’t understand who he was. They so quickly forgot about the power and authority with which he spoke and acted. He had demonstrated power and authority again and again over illness, demons, and nature. They had been on stormy seas before and he calmed the storm with a word. And just that day he had performed the remarkable miracle of multiplying the food so that 5 – 10,000 people ate from the meal prepared for one. Incredible and awe inspiring. And yet somehow they missed what he was teaching them because their hearts were hard.
What the disciples might have learned and concluded from the feeding of the 5000, which had just happened within the previous 24 hours, is that Jesus can do anything. He can provide what is lacking. His power is without limit. He can be trusted for protection, for provision, and to lead us. But their hearts were hardened. So they had strained long and hard at the oars; they didn’t expect Jesus to come and deliver them, even though he had instructed them to get into the boat and go to the other side. They didn’t trust him even though he had proven himself to be trustworthy again and again.
Several things this passage makes me think about:
Being in the boat in a storm is a good picture of what we can sometimes expect to face in life. There will be trials. Jesus had taught and warned the disciples and the crowds that they would face trials and persecution if they would follow him.
The disciples’ struggle this time was not the result of their disobeying Jesus. He had told them to get into the boat and go across the Sea of Galilee. They obeyed him, and still faced trouble. We are not exempt from trouble just because we are walking in obedience, but he will walk with us.
His eye is constantly on us. He saw the disciples from a great distance in the dark and knew exactly what he was going to do, and when. Not as soon as the disciples might have liked.
He has the power and authority to lead and protect and provide for us. He loves us completely. We can trust him.
He wants to teach us, to help us understand who he is and how much we can trust him. He wants us to look to him for guidance and wisdom.
He wants to speak to us, more than we usually want to listen. He speaks in a wide variety of ways: as we observe his hand at work in our lives we can learn of his love and power. He speaks through the words and encouragement and testimonies of trusted friends. He speaks through his written word. Through the trials we encounter. Through the circumstances of life. Through his Spirit impressing his thoughts on us that are in keeping of who he is and what his word says.
-Jeremiah 33:3 Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and unsearchable things you do not know. He wants to speak to us and will do so more often if we are intentionally asking
Sometimes we repeatedly go through the same kind of uncomfortable experiences, often they are trials or the consequences of our own actions. Like the disciples in the boat facing the storm we may think, here I am again. This seems familiar. Why is this happening again? Perhaps like the disciples we haven’t learned what God is wanting to teach us yet.
Has God ever spoken to you about things like fear or a pessimistic attitude that is common in your life? Or might it be finding yourself regretting angry words you have blurted out in the pressure of life. Has he ever spoken to you about repeating things that you haven’t confirmed? Or that you don’t have permission to repeat? Or that someone has shared in confidence? And you get found out, caught in your inappropriate sharing and the relationship is harmed and God would like to help you with control of your tongue, but it is a hard lesson to learn. And if we fail to take lessons like this to heart, we could be described like the disciples as having hard hearts.
Maybe your struggle is with forgiveness, refusing to forgive one who has wronged you. You know you should, but it is hard.
Blaming others for your errors or things you’ve failed to do might be the thing you struggle with.
Or perhaps like many of us it is simply that I like doing my own thing day after day, without much thought of asking God to lead and guide and transform our thoughts and agendas.
God does want to speak to us, to transform our thoughts and actions and attitudes. He delights in doing so. It starts with us inviting him to reveal to us our sins, weaknesses, mistakes, stubbornness, our need of him and then to acknowledge those things. And to ask him to help us in those areas and then to delight that he is that interested in us, that he loves us that much.
There is a mechanic who, with his wife, owns a small shop in Sexsmith. He specializes in import vehicles. We take our Land Cruiser to him when it needs attention. I had an appointment for 8:30 one morning recently. I arrived a few minutes early and knocked on his office door. I was invited to come in and he and his wife and a couple of mechanics were in the office. They had been praying and immediately continued for a few more minutes. They prayed for wisdom for some of the specific difficult repairs to be made; prayed about their response to customers, even the occasional one who wanted to complain about their bill (I don’t think that prayer was intended for my benefit); and they even prayed for me, for my day and for Eaglesham church. Wow! I was speechless for a bit. The mechanic’s wife walked me to the loaner vehicle Barb and I were going to use in Grande Prairie for the day and so I asked her if they pray together at the start of each day and she said yes and then shared a couple stories of how they had seen God answer prayer. I found the whole experience refreshing and convicting, thinking of how often I charge into my day without acknowledging my need of the Lord, of his wisdom and leading and provision. I don’t for a minute believe they pray with the expectation that “if I just pray at the start of the day, God is obligated to make my day go smoothly, trouble free.” I believe their attitude is more one of humility, of “Lord, we don’t in ourselves have all we need for the day. We come to you asking for you to guide our thinking, give us insight into the problems we have to solve, give us grace and patience when encountering difficult customers, help us to honor you in the ways we conduct our business today.” I am convinced trials still come at them, but they are better prepared to face those trials.
I encourage you to begin your days asking God for a teachable and humble heart, admitting your need of his grace and patience and guiding hand.
There is a Cost to Being a Disciple
September 13, 2020
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There is a Cost to Being a Disciple
Mark 6: 14 – 29
September 13, 2020
Last week we ended with Jesus sending his disciples out in pairs to minister in towns and villages of Galilee. They do so and preach that people should repent of their sins. They also cast demons out of people and healed many of their ailments, much like Jesus had been doing. Mark 6:6 – 13
They don’t report back to Jesus in the book of Mark until verse 30. From verses 14 – 29 we read about “King” Herod, his wife Herodias and the murder of John the Baptist. Another example of Mark’s regular use of a story within a story to emphasize something he’s wanting his readers to think about.
READ MARK 6: 14 – 29
So Jesus has been carrying on a ministry of preaching and healing and exorcisms. Then he sent out his disciples to give them some experience doing the things he’s been doing, and they have success doing so. But Mark doesn’t complete that story until he interrupts with another story:
A look at the characters of this story:
Herod, referred to here as King Herod, though he really wasn’t a king, but desperately wanted the power and prestige of a king. He was more of a governor over part of what had been the nation of Israel, the areas known as Galilee and Perea. He served Rome and was answerable to Rome for decisions he made. There were various rulers by name of Herod mentioned in the Bible and extra biblical literature from that time. Best known was Herod the Great, known for having baby boys from Bethlehem and surrounding area who were two years old and under killed, having heard from the Magi of the birth of Jesus, a new king of the Jews. Herod was ruthless. He disposed of anyone he deemed a threat or who in any way displeased or offended him, even close family members. When on his death bed he had many innocent people held captive in an arena. They were to be slaughtered at the moment of his death so there would at least be mourning when he died, even though he knew the mourning wouldn’t be for him, he had been so cruel throughout his reign.
The Herod in Mark 6 was Herod Antipas, one of Herod the Great’s several sons. He too was a poor leader, a man of inferior character, the product of a very broken and dysfunctional family. Herod Antipas, for the rest of this message referred to simply as Herod, had been married, but fell in love with the wife of his half-brother, Philip. Her name was Herodias, who incidentally happened to also be both men’s niece, the daughter of their half-brother Aristobulus. Herod and Herodias both divorced their spouses and the two were then married, which meant Herod married his sister-in-law who was also his niece. This is the stuff of Hollywood today.
Herodias, the one who wore the pants in the couple’s relationship. Herod was weak and cowardly while Herodias was calculating and ambitious. She held a grudge until she could get even. Her grudge in this story had to do with John the Baptist.
And John the Baptist. There’s quite a bit in the Gospels written about John. His was considered something of a miracle birth, his parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth being beyond what would be considered child bearing years when he was conceived. John was a cousin to Jesus. God had unique plans for John’s life that included taking a Nazarite vow which meant among other things he never got a haircut or consumed any wine. He was to be set apart for service to God and he lived that way. In his adult years he went out to wilderness areas by the Jordan River and began a teaching and baptizing ministry. He taught that the kingdom of God was near and people needed to repent of their sins and get right with God. He was wild looking with his long hair, clothing made up rough camel’s hair, and a leather belt. His diet was Spartan consisting of locusts and honey. He pulled no punches, but spoke as the Lord led him, calling people to repent and calling out the self-righteous religious leaders referring to them as a brood of vipers among other things. At the start of his ministry Jesus went out to be baptised by John, even though John felt it
should be Jesus who baptised him. John was the one prophesied about in the Old Testament as the forerunner or messenger for the Lord, the Messiah to come, with the message, “Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight paths for him.”
John called a spade a spade, and didn’t hold back. Perhaps a bit abrupt or lacking tactfulness, but determined to speak the truth about God, life and sin. On what must have been multiple occasions he reminded Herod that his marriage to Herodias was against the Old Testament law, God’s law, according to Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 which basically say you are not to take your brother’s wife while he is still living. That is considered adultery. Marrying someone who was a close family member, like a niece, was also forbidden by Old Testament law. Considered detestable. Herodias was incensed by John’s bold exposure of their sin and wanted to have him killed.
Herod had a slightly different response to John than Herodias. It says he feared John and he arrested him in order to protect him—from Herodias. He knew John to be a holy and righteous man. He liked listening to John; he made him think, even though he didn’t understand him completely. Herod likely had many people who would say what he would want to hear. They would flatter him and build him up, not necessarily with the truth. He had surrounded himself with “Yes men.” So it must have been refreshing to Herod to hear someone like John speak truth to him. The two couldn’t have been much different: the rough attire of John versus the latest fashion clothing Herod wore. John a man consumed with pointing people to God; Herod consumed with acquiring wealth and power and position. John surviving on a very simple diet while Herod feasted lavishly. John a man committed to truth, Herod committed to image. Herod a fearful man; John fearless, willing to speak truth to power. John, willing to stand for what is right regardless of the personal cost; Herod, attracted to truthful messages, but lacking in the courage or will to take a stand and do the right thing. One wise, the other foolish.
Herodias finally sees an opportunity and takes it. Herod planned a birthday bash for himself, inviting all his officers and military commanders and other important men of Galilee and they eat and drink together of the finest fare. When they had had their fill and probably more than enough to drink Herodias sent in her teenage daughter, believed to have been named Salome, to dance for the men. Her dancing pleased Herod and his guests, not likely for its artistic merit, but for its impure sexual appeal. Think of the kind of person Herodias must have been to send her young daughter in to inappropriately entertain those men so she could arrange for John’s death.
Mission accomplished. Tipsy Herod, pleased that his men have been well entertained, offers to reward Salome with whatever she might ask for. In order to really impress his men as a big spender, he offered her up to half his kingdom, confident she wouldn’t ask for that much. She asked him for a moment while she consulted her mother on what to ask for. Herodias immediately told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Salome came back and asked for John’s head, right now and on a platter, this being a banquet after all. Gruesome! Mark recorded that Herod was greatly distressed at her request. The word for distressed is the word used to describe the distress, the agony Jesus went through as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Herod was caught in a real bind, largely of his own prideful and careless making. He didn’t want John killed, but the peer pressure of having made such an open offer and promise to his step daughter, how could he possibly refuse her now? What would my officers and friends think of me? So being a weakling lacking in moral character, Herod sent an executioner at once and had John the Baptist beheaded. His head was presented to Salome who took it at once to her mother. Nothing in the passage would indicate anyone in attendance or involved recoiled even slightly at the sight or raised any objection about this travesty of justice.
I skipped over the first couple verses in this passage. I will go back to them now. Sometime after John was killed Herod heard about the remarkable things that were happening around Galilee with Jesus and his disciples teaching, preaching, and the miracles that that were happening through them when Jesus sent them out. Herod had no idea who Jesus was, but he was hearing from others all kinds of ideas about who he might be: the prophet Elijah returned as the forerunner to the Messiah as promised in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5. Or another prophet. Or John the Baptist raised from the dead, come in the power of the Spirit of God. Because of his guilty conscience for having had John killed, Herod was convinced the Jesus he was hearing about was none other than John the Baptist raised to life again and having come back to haunt him.
LESSONS AND APPLICATION:
Scholars tell us the book of Mark was written for the benefit of the first century church that was experiencing intense persecution for their faith. Mark’s intention was to encourage believers with his account of the life of Jesus and his followers, showing that just as Jesus was opposed and ultimately crucified for who he was, for what he taught, and that it was the plan of God, so his followers should not be surprised to face opposition when they take a stand for their faith in Jesus. His followers should expect there to be such a cost for being his disciples, just as there was for John to serve God.
I believe Mark intentionally inserted this account of Herod’s guilty conscience due to John’s execution within the account of Jesus’ disciples going out on a mission trip to preach and heal and conduct exorcisms. It has the effect of pointing out that as we live for Christ, as we seek to do the right things, to live with integrity and are determined to speak the truth as John and Jesus did, we can expect to be opposed and persecuted for our narrow message of Jesus being the way to the Father. There will be exciting success stories like the disciples brought back of people turning to faith in Christ, but the road of a disciple of Christ can often be a rough road.
There’s a cost to speaking TRUTH TO POWER. For John it cost him his life. For us it could mean loss of friends or job or facing the anger of a family member if we speak truth to someone who is not ready or is unwilling to hear it. I think often of one of the episodes of the Focus on the Family children’s program called Adventures in Odyssey. A husband and wife who are regular characters in the stories were in a heated argument over something one day, coming down on opposite sides of an issue. Eventually the husband in frustration responds with, “You don’t want my opinion! You want your opinion coming out of my mouth!” We will often choose to say nothing rather than rock the boat or risk experiencing an uncomfortable relationship for a while. In some situations where the issue isn’t that important that may be a wise approach. In others where there is something important at stake, the choice to say nothing may be cowardice. We need to ask God to give us wisdom to know when it is worth taking a clear stand on an issue and when the issue really is just a matter of preference or opinion and not worth a battle. And we can pray for courage to speak when it is important or for patience to exist with differences of opinion.
Far better to live with a clear conscience, to have experienced forgiveness and cleansing than to be tormented by guilt and shame for unconfessed and unforgiven sin. Proverbs 28:1 ”The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”
We must be careful about making hasty vows, like Herod did, often when trying to impress others. We should weigh our words carefully before speaking.
This account reminds us God doesn’t always reward faithful discipleship and service with an easy life. We can sometimes wonder if our lives are having any impact or if the struggle is worth it. John’s life came to an abrupt and in our view an unfair ending. We would have liked to see him miraculously rescued. While in prison John had some doubts about his life and ministry and sent a message to Jesus asking if he really was the Messiah that was promised or if they should be looking for someone else? Jesus sent the messengers back to share with John what they had been seeing, the good news preached and many people healed of all kinds of conditions. Indications that Jesus was in fact the Messiah so John could be encouraged that his ministry did prepare the way for Jesus. We must continue to commit our lives to him, and the result to him, seeking to live faithfully, to follow his teaching. Success in God’s eyes is our faithfulness. We should long to hear from him one day, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.”
Jesus Rejected by His Hometown
September 6, 2020
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Jesus Rejected by His Hometown
Mark 6:1 – 13
September 6, 2020
Class reunions. Have you ever been to one? I went to my 25th class reunion a couple years ago (smile). Is anyone listening? I haven’t kept up with too many of my old classmates. It wasn’t my favourite experience, the class reunion. It seemed to me some people were stuck in the same patterns of living they were in while in high school, thinking of those who couldn’t be in a gathering like that without having a little too much to drink. Some Others seemed to expect everyone to be just like they were in high school, nothing changed in their lives. And some seemed to be envious or jealous of anyone who had had some significant successes in life. And there seemed to me to be a lot of comparing and attempts at oneupmanship going on.
For some people family reunions can also be uncomfortable for similar reasons. Sometimes families expect you to stay in the role that you assumed growing up according to your birth order, whether you were youngest, oldest or somewhere in between. You should also still hold the same political and religious beliefs and values you had growing up. Often not much room allowed for growth. Some people like to keep you in a comfortable little box. They don’t like you rocking the boat.
In our passage for this morning Jesus faced some of these kinds of attitudes toward him and his ministry. He made a second recorded trip to his hometown of Nazareth to reach out to the people he had grown up with and it didn’t go so well.
READ MARK 6:1 – 13
Nazareth, a small village estimated by some to have been home to 150 – 200 people, slightly larger than our little hamlet. Jesus grew up there. Residents were mostly common people, hardworking blue collar types. No record of anything especially significant happening in Nazareth or of anyone famous coming from there prior to Jesus. No mention of the town in the Old Testament. When Philip told Nathaniel about Jesus of Nazareth, suggesting he might be the promised Messiah, Nathaniel’s response was, Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?
Kind of like the response in Corner Gas whenever Wullerton, the neighboring town was mentioned the residents of Dog River always turned their heads and spit.
No one from Nazareth expected anyone to become someone special.
By the time he makes this trip back to Nazareth Jesus had gained popularity in the towns and villages on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. Large crowds gathered when he came into a town in that area. Those who heard him speak were amazed at how relevant he was and at the authority with which he spoke. Recent healings Jesus had performed included raising Jairus’ daughter back to life; the woman with the bleeding issue touched his cloak and was immediately healed; the demon possessed man had been freed of the demons which were sent into a herd of swine which then stampeded into the Sea; and a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee that threatened to capsize the boat Jesus and his disciples was calmed instantly at the command of Jesus. He had his 12 disciples with him at this time.
On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue and was allowed or asked to teach. Many were amazed at his teaching, but they seemed at the same time to be skeptical. “Where did he learn this stuff?” they wanted to know. He hadn’t been to their religious schools and his teaching sounded different than their religious leaders. And he even does miracles! Where does that power come from they wonder.
And then the put downs and insults start. “Isn’t this the carpenter?” they ask. Implication: Who does he think he is trying to teach us. Being a craftsman like a carpenter was an honourable occupation in that society, but certainly not on the same plane with being a teacher or rabbi. They were suggesting Jesus was trying to move up, to step out of his assigned class.
Illus. – One of the great early 20th century leaders of the British Labor Party was Will Crooks who grew up in poverty in England. He started his own working life in a lowly blacksmith’s shop and later became a working-class craftsman. Low though his station was, he ran for mayor of Poplar, a London suburb—and won!
Many people were offended by his election. Crooks overheard a woman say once, “They’ve made that common fellow, Crooks, mayor and he’s no better than a working man.”
Crooks said, “Quite right, madam. I am not better than a working man.” (from a message by a Chuck Sligh, a Baptist pastor serving in Germany)
Next an insult designed to put Jesus in his place: Isn’t this Mary’s son, and aren’t these his brothers and sisters who live among us? And by the context I assume they mean his family live quietly among them, not doing anything out of the ordinary or controversial. This is meant to be an insult because in that day, place and time when you referred to a son you referred to him in relation to who his father was, not who his mother was, even if his father was already dead, as it is assumed may have been the case for Joseph. This response is meant to bring up again the rumor that Jesus was conceived out of wedlock, that he was illegitimately born. It was a slam against his mother and a therefore suggestion that Jesus could never be anyone special.
Then it says they took offense at him. Didn’t matter what he said, how insightful or true or practical. They took offense that he had been one of them and now he would be their teacher? Didn’t matter what kind of power to perform miracles, healings or exorcisms he demonstrated. They were offended at the thought that he who grew up as one of them should now show any authority over them or have anything to teach them. As far as the citizens of Nazareth were concerned Jesus should stay in his assigned role and class position.
I heard a long time ago that the definition of an expert is anyone who carries a briefcase and is from at least 200 miles away. I think at times it can be hard for us as parents to have our kids get out on their own, perhaps go off to school, learn some things and then want to share those things with us? Yes? No?
Farmers here who are working with your sons who come up with new ways to do things, how easy is that? That is something of what Jesus was up against. He was teaching the truth about God and salvation. The religious leaders had strayed from the truth so his teaching was new, revolutionary. The people took offense at him and probably his teaching.
Jesus then said what is likely a known quote of the day: Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour. It’s tough to minister to your own family and people you have grown up with. Doesn’t nullify the truth or importance of the message though. Jesus had the words of life to share with the people. He would have invited them into relationship with him.
It says he could not do any miracles there except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. Much discussion about Jesus’ not being able to do miracles in Nazareth. Does that mean his power had limits? That he is not all powerful? No. I don’t believe that at all. The best explanations I came across were that Jesus will not force people to have faith or to believe in him. His work in our lives is somewhat dependent on our receptivity. If we refuse to believe him or to trust him, if we insist on doing things our own way, his willingness to let us have free will keeps him from doing the great work in us he would like to do. It is a choice he makes based on the freedoms he gives humanity. If a person chooses to take offence or not believe or trust him, whether an unbeliever or even a believer, he will not force it.
It says he was amazed at their lack of faith. Only twice in the New Testament does it say Jesus was amazed, here and in Matthew 8: 5 – 13, where the Roman centurion comes to Jesus asking him to heal a loyal servant who is at home paralyzed and suffering greatly. Jesus said he would go to his house and heal him, but the centurion says he doesn’t deserve to have Jesus come under his roof. Says he too is a man of authority, that if he says for someone to do something it gets done. “Just say the word and my servant will be healed,” he says to Jesus. And it says Jesus was amazed/astonished at this gentile Roman centurion’s faith. He says he hasn’t found anyone in Israel with such great faith.
His next move was to depart Nazareth and go and teach in other villages. There is no record he ever went back there.
Jesus disciples have been able to witness Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry. He was intentionally training them to take over the ministry when he would no longer be with them. Now it is time for him to send them out to get some practice.
So he sends them out in pairs, for support, wisdom and protection. Also that the relationship between the two might be part of their witness. And the Old Testament law required the witness of two people to confirm the truth of a matter, especially in a court case or in a disagreement among people. Sent in pairs so that their teaching might have more credibility with their hearers.
They were told to take nothing but a staff, a walking stick, perhaps. This was to teach them to trust God to lead them and to provide for them. Go with the bare minimum, not dependent on your own ability to provide for yourself and you will see God’s hand at work.
Stay in the first house that you are welcomed into in each village. Don’t be looking around for more comfy digs to stay in. Be content.
If a town refuses to listen to your message of the gospel of the kingdom of God, when you leave there, shake the dust of the town off your feet as a testimony against them. Not in a mean way, but as a testimony that we have tried to give you the message of the kingdom and you have chosen to refuse it. We are not guilty of failure to share the gospel with you; you have made your choice. One more reminder that the choice is each person’s. Jesus may have shaken the dust of Nazareth off his sandals when he left there as a picture for them to remember, that the choice was theirs to make.
So the disciples went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out demons and anointed sick people with oil and many ere healed. They did the kind of things Jesus had been doing. He had taught them and commissioned them and empowered them to teach and have a healing ministry. Undoubtedly they faced some opposition along the way, but it doesn’t say.
He would still have us share the gospel message to others. We may encounter opposition; people can still take offence at the gospel, at Christ, at religion.
Some things unbelievers find offensive:
Jesus being the only way to the Father
That I cannot be good enough to earn my own way to a right relationship with God
That my good deeds cannot outweigh my bad ones
That I am in as great a need of God’s forgiveness as anyone else
That even the “worst of sinners” can be forgiven by God, even murderers or abusers
Some things believers might find offensive or difficult to trust God with:
Turning the other cheek
Forgiving enemies, praying for them, doing good to those who harm us
Remembering who we were, sinners in need of God’s grace and forgiveness; amazing grace
A hurt or grudge that I won’t let go
Doubts or anger I have trouble giving to God by faith
Something on the horizon I am worried about that I don’t want to trust God with
Attitudes of pride, arrogance, judging others, self righteousness He would like to transform, but I resist
Some commitment or ministry opportunity he would like me to take on but I am concerned I can’t do it.
Is God amazed at your or my faith, being humble needy human beings, or is he amazed at our lack of faith given the opportunities we have had to see his hand at work in our lives and in others?
Jesus Encounters the Man Possessed by a Legion of Demons
August 16, 2020
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Jesus Encounters the Man Possessed by a Legion of Demons
Mark 5: 1 – 20
August 16, 2020
Last week we looked at the account of Jesus and his disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm suddenly blew in making it look to the disciples like they might capsize while Jesus slept at the back of the boat. We talked about the various kinds of storms of life we all face and the fact that Jesus promises to be with us through the storms. This storm occurred while the disciples were obeying Jesus’ instruction to go to the predominately Gentile side on the southeast shore of the Sea of Galilee from the Jewish western side. This morning we will be considering the lessons we can learn from Jesus’ encounter with the demon possessed man who ran to Jesus as he landed on that south eastern shore.
READ Mark 5: 1 – 20
Imagine being one of the disciples on this day. They had just come through a fearsome storm on the Sea of Galilee. Afraid for their lives they woke Jesus up from a deep sleep at the back of the boat and accuse him of not caring if they drown. Jesus spoke to the wind and waves, commanding both to be still and immediately there was an eerily quiet calm. This miracle, this demonstration of Jesus’ power and authority blew their minds, frightening them, perhaps more than the storm had. The storm they understood, having experienced many storms in the past, even if none were of the magnitude of this one. But for someone to command the wind and waves to calm down and then to see that happen…never had they ever seen anything like that before. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. The passage said they were terrified to be in his presence at that point.
Then they witnessed Jesus commanding evil spirits to come out of this tormented man, and the spirits were sent into a herd of pigs which then stampeded off a cliff into the sea! Again they must have wondered, “Who is this that has such authority and power, that the demons obey him?”
Let’s look at the story more closely. Consider the poor demon possessed man. He’s in pitiful circumstances. From what we can gather from Mark’s account along with what Matthew (8: 28 - 34) and Luke (8: 26 - 39) reveal we get this picture of the man: he was a real mess. Lived in tombs, caves likely where people had buried some of their dead. He was demon possessed, meaning he was under the influence of 1 or more demons, servants of Satan. The people were undoubtedly terrified by the man. He ran naked through the countryside, shrieking and screaming. He cut himself with sharp stones, likely to distract from the pain of the rejection he felt from others and the tormented thoughts that occupied his mind. He would have been unwelcome in public places, his appearance and unpredictable behaviour and lack of clothing being repulsive to other more together citizens. No real friends other than perhaps other tormented people. Unloved, lonely. The community had often tried to subdue, contain and control him by binding him hand and foot. Even though they used chains and iron they were unsuccessful. With the demonic power behind him he shattered the chains and iron bindings. It doesn’t say so, but human nature being what it is I have an idea that young men who wanted to prove their bravery may have occasionally sneaked out to see him, to see how close they could get to him, close enough to throw stones at him, to call him names and to shout insults at him and mock him and add to his torment. An extremely miserable existence he lived. He desperately needed help.
The evil spirits behind this man’s miserable condition
In some ways it is difficult for us to know what to do with a passage like this. Most of us probably haven’t seen anyone close to this man’s condition and talk of Satan and demons isn’t popular these days. But Satan is a Biblical reality. The Bible has much to say about him, none of it flattering or positive. He’s a liar, deceiver, and the father of lies. He comes to steal, kill and destroy. Demons are the fallen angels who followed Satan in rebelling against God and were cast out of heaven. They do Satan’s bidding, trying to deceive, harass and incite chaos. There is definitely a force of evil in the world that is in violent opposition to Jesus. There are 2 extreme responses concerning demons: those who discount their existence and de-emphasize evil forces and those who see a demon under every rock or who over emphasize their existence and work among us. C.S. Lewis says there are 2 equal and opposite errors we can fall into in regard to the existence of the devil and demons: one is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe in their existence and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. (The Screwtape Letters, p. 9)
Personally I have been asked a few times to pray for a person/family and/or to pray through their house because they feel like there has been an evil presence or an evil spirit. I can’t say I have ever had a very dramatic experience along these lines, but in a couple of the cases I can think of the person or people involved said afterward whatever sense of evil they had been experiencing had stopped. If we could each share I am sure we would relate quite a range of experiences. But I don’t wish to give that kind of time to discussing demons and evil this morning.
In the book of Mark it is interesting how we see the impact of evil or unclean spirits on people intensify as the book goes on. In 1:26 when Jesus commanded the evil spirit to come out of a man it spoke through the man, shook the man and then came out with a shriek. Here in chapter 5 the impact is quite a lot more intense. The man is tormented by the evil inflicted on him; it leads to anti-social and destructive behaviors like cutting himself, isolation, deception and fear. The work of our enemy. In chapter 9:14 – 29 the demon that possessed the boy would actually try to kill him by forcing him into fire or water. The destructive intentions of evil spirits. The enemy’s most often used tactic is to deceive, to get us to believe lies about ourselves or about who God is or about what is most important in life. those lies can lead to harmful destructive behavior and decisions in life.
Several cautions: Mental illness. There are a lot of different opinions about mental illness versus evil spiritual oppression or possession. We need to be careful here. There is mental illness and there is spiritual oppression and possession. It is sometimes difficult to say for sure whether certain cases would be spiritual oppression or mental illness or whether some might be a combination. God would have us pray for healing of mind and spirit.
Not all evil is from evil spirits. We are capable of having evil come out of our fallen hearts. We need Christ to cleanse the evil in our hearts; not something we can do on our own. In Christ we find wholeness and deliverance from all kinds of evil.
There are no hopeless cases. Jesus can redeem anyone.
The people in that area would have considered this man as hopeless. There are no hopeless cases. Christ is in the life changing, life transforming business. Jesus was on a mission that started the night before when he said to his disciples, “Let’s go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.” His whole purpose seemed to be to travel across the water, experiencing the storm along the way as a learning experience for his disciples, and make contact with this desperate man to bring healing and deliverance to him. Jesus and the disciples turn around and go back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee once the man has been delivered and the town’s people asked them to leave. No other ministry took place on that trip. Jesus initiated the contact by going to where this man was.
Jesus always has power over the evil spirits/demons.
The man fell on his knees in front of Jesus after he ran to Jesus. Not an act of worship, but an acknowledgment on the part of the demons of Jesus’ deity, authority and superiority over them. They acknowledged who Jesus is, Jesus, the Son of the Most High God. But they did so begrudgingly. He begged Jesus not to torture him or send him out of the area. Jesus asked the demon to state his name and he said My name is Legion, because we are many, many demons living in this man. A roman Legion was up to 6,000 men and 120 horsemen. Unclear whether the demon was claiming to be part of 6,000 demons or just indicating there were many who had taken up residence in the man, which is most likely.
Finally the demons beg Jesus to send them into the pigs. A very destructive force as seen when Jesus cast them out and into the herd of 2000 pigs, which ran off a cliff and drowned in the Sea.
Main point of this event: Jesus’ power over evil. He rules over Satan and fallen angels. They will obey his commands. They fear him. He has authority, superiority and power over them every time.
Different reactions to what Jesus had done.
Those in charge of looking after the pigs ran to town and the surrounding area to tell all the owners and citizens what had just happened. A large crowd came to see for themselves. When they saw the man who had been possessed, the wild man they had all feared before, the man who had been so repulsive to them because of his appearance and behavior, they recognized him. But he had been changed. No longer tormented by evil, he was sitting calmly, fully clothed, and in his right mind, able to carry on a clear conversation. The dramatic change in the man brought about by Jesus brought fear to the townspeople, just as the calming of the storm had brought fear to the disciples. They begged him to leave the area. Why? Lots of possible suggestions: unlike their pagan gods/idols, Jesus couldn’t be controlled or contained. They were afraid of his supernatural power. They feared the impact Jesus would have on their sinful lives. They were afraid of the changes he’d require of them. The townspeople were more comfortable with the evil forces they knew than with the One who could deliver from the evil forces. And they were likely upset about the loss of the 2000 pigs; more upset by that loss than excited to see this miserable man helped and transformed. Couldn’t even celebrate the miracle of it all. One man is set free but a town full of people were still in bondage. Jesus knocks on every door, but doesn’t knock the door down. Jesus’ transforming work in our lives can be uncomfortable or offensive to former friends or to family members when we are convicted about the things we used to feel free to do or say and our behavior and attitudes change.
Admittedly there is something in all of us that doesn’t want to be challenged to follow where Jesus would lead us. We can be afraid of being where he would take us, of what it would require of us: trust in him, relinquishing control, walking by faith. Am I, are you more concerned about things, about security, comfort, possessions, reputation, control of my life than about the people God would send us to minister to?
The reaction of the man himself… he wanted to go with Jesus. There was a whole lot of begging going on that day, the demons: don’t torture us, don’t send us out of the area, please send us into the pigs; the townspeople, please go away, leave us alone; the man himself begged Jesus to let him go with him. The first two requests were granted. But not the man’s. Previously when Jesus had healed people he usually said, don’t tell anyone. Here he doesn’t let the man go with him but says go home and tell your family all the Lord has done for you and how he has shown you mercy. Not the Jewish area where most of his followers were, but a new area of ministry, a predominately Gentile area. Go and be my light there. To us Jesus would say, Go, be my light, tell what the Lord has done for you of how he has been merciful to you. View people as he does, as unique creations of God, loved by him, needing to come to him by faith.
When nations set God aside things go downhill, the Enemy is allowed to rule, destructive practices take over: pornography, addictions, immorality, violence, corruption, greed, suicide—I know of 2 people who committed suicide this week. Our world needs the transformation Jesus alone can bring.
The demon possessed man was in desperate need of deliverance from the torment he was living. He was being controlled by outside forces. Every person, prior to coming to faith in Christ is in need of being rescued, freed from whatever is controlling him, whether it’s an unsatisfied appetite for things that don’t fulfill, or sinful behavior, or fear of what people think, immorality, or as in this man’s case, the oppression of evil thoughts, believing lies, or a combination of this list and any number of other things we have turned to to try to fill the emptiness of our hearts without Christ. We are all lost without Jesus. We like a god who blesses the things we want to do and who gets us out of the jams we get ourselves into. We aren’t so sure when He wants to be Lord, to lead us, and wants us to relinquish control to him and allow him to lead us into situations we are not comfortable in.
Our enemy would like to keep us there, distracted, discouraged, defeated, or settling for far less than God would have us experience in life with him. There are no hopeless cases, nobody out there so evil or sinful or lost or controlled by something that Christ cannot break into their life and redeem them. We need to remind ourselves of that fact as we interact with others. We can pray that Christ and the truth he brings would break through the lies people believe and live by and that they would experience his love and peace and hope. Jesus is always more powerful than the things that control people. He has power over evil and evil spirits.
Every person who encounters Jesus has to make a choice. Will they choose to trust and believe in him or will they choose to push him away for now out of fear of no longer being the master of their own lives or of what it might cost them to follow Christ. As Jesus sent the delivered man back to his home and family and community, instructing him to tell all that the Lord had done for him, how he had shown him incredible life transforming mercy, so he commissions each of his followers to tell our stories of what Christ has done for us, of the difference of experiencing his grace and mercy has made in our lives.
The Growth of the Kingdom of God
August 2, 2020
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The Growth of the Kingdom of God
Mark 4: 21 – 34
August 2, 2020
Good morning. It is good to be back after 10 days in Ontario visiting Barb’s family. We had an excellent time with great visits with Barb’s family and a few special long-time friends.
I will be continuing in the book of Mark today, chapter 4. Go ahead and turn there to verses 21 – 34.
So far in Mark Jesus has been little by little revealing to those interested who he really is, the son of God, long awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world. His revelation took the form of the miracles he performed, the several healings of a variety of illnesses and conditions, and exorcisms of demons. He also taught with a unique level of authority that was noticed by the crowds. The crowds that came to see him hoping to see a miracle or receive healing grew to great numbers as the days of his ministry turned into weeks and months. We have emphasized that Jesus’ real passion was to be teaching about the kingdom of God.
The last time I spoke 3 weeks ago I spoke on the Parable of the Soils found in Mark 4:1 – 20. Jesus used a parable involving a farmer, seed that was sown and different kinds of soil that the seed landed upon to teach about hearing and acting on the Word of God. Three of the kinds of soil representing different responses or levels of interest people have produced little or no growth and no fruit. These soils represented people who were deceived into rejecting the truth of the Gospel; others whose hearts were shallow quickly turned away from the truth they had heard when trouble or persecution came their way; the third kind of soil/people received the word/seed initially, but soon were distracted by the cares of the world which choked out their interest in following Christ. The fourth kind of soil/people’s response was good fertile soil. These people eagerly accepted the Word of God, the Gospel of Christ, commit their lives to him and great fruit is produced in and through their lives.
In Mark 4 Jesus continues to teach using parables which are true to life stories or word pictures that compare something in life that is familiar to a spiritual truth. Parables are designed to cause people to continue to think about the story, word picture or illustration long after the teaching is over until the Spirit of God reveals the truth to the person’s hungry heart. Those who are eager to learn and grow will mull over the picture and eventually its truth will be revealed. Those truly interested in getting to know God will be rewarded.
Lets look at verses 21 – 34
The lamp is meant to be seen 21 – 25
Obviously a lamp is only useful if it is placed in position to cast light into dark places. You don’t hide a lamp under a bowl, bin, or bed. Lamps are meant to reveal what is really there, what is hidden in the darkness that might be harmful and what is there that might be beneficial.
Scripture and Jesus himself refers to him as the Light of the world, who came for the benefit of those/all of us walking in darkness. He is likely referring to himself here suggesting that he is gradually casting light on the darkness of the world and cultures into which he came. As the Light he reveals our sinfulness and also his love and provision for us. He reveals to us how much we need him. What was previously hidden—who Jesus really is, how sinful we are and how much we need him, is meant to be disclosed, brought out into the open. Jesus had begun to do that very thing.
But I believe there is an understanding here and in the context for sure that we as his followers are to show his light in our lives, to share the light of the gospel to a world walking in darkness. What is hidden from people needs to be revealed, the truth needs to be revealed by our lives and lips as he leads us.
And then he repeats something he’s said before: he who has ears to hear, let him hear. Those who are hungry for truth, a walk with the Lord, listen and hear what Jesus is saying here; receive it and allow it to impact your life. Jesus is the Light in a dark world. He calls us to be his lights, reflecting his light in our corners of the world.
He then talks again about receiving according to how much we invest. With the measure you use it will be measured to you, even more. See verse 20, the good soil …producing a crop, some 30, some 60 some 1oo times what was sown. Meaning? To those hungry to know and follow Christ, they will receive understanding and fruit will be produced in their lives and in the lives around them according to the amount of their interest and investment in following, setting aside whatever would hold them back, sacrifice and service. For those who casually dismiss the teachings of Christ, they are like one of the 3 soils that never produce a crop, the word sown in them doesn’t sprout, is dismissed when trouble comes, or is choked out by the cares of the world and pursuits of other things. Eventually they cease to hear him calling to them to come, believe and follow. How hungry are we to know and follow Christ?
Parable of the growing seed 26 – 29
A note about the kingdom of God. Lots said and written about what the kingdom of God is. My brief, but not exhaustive definition, description: wherever and in whoever Jesus is reigning; in communities, churches, and individuals. The Kingdom of God is made up of those who have placed their faith and trust in him and are allowing him to reign in their lives. They have become part of the family of God and part of his kingdom. Jesus began that kingdom with his coming to earth; it has been growing ever since as more people turn to him by faith. The kingdom of God is not what it one day will be but it is more than it once was too.
This is what the Kingdom of God is like: A farmer sowing seed again; an earthy parable Jesus’ hearers would relate to; it would stick with them and they would think about it for some time. We are to relate to the farmer. We scatter seed, share the Gospel, tell others about Jesus, his love, his death on the cross, and his offer of life and forgiveness to all who would accept it. our job? To scatter the seed/message of Christ. To let his light shine through our words and actions—BOTH.
Scatter the seed and then the responsibility is all God’s. The farmer scatters the seed—his role—and then God’s responsibility is to make it grow, good soil, ample light and rain and the miracle of a seed that dies and life springs from it. Can you explain the process completely? I don’t think so. Eventually harvest comes. Often the growth is much slower than we like, especially in our day of wanting everything to happen right now.
We are called to live with attitudes of dependence on God. To follow Christ’s example and teaching. We are to take opportunities to share the gospel with others, to tell what Christ has done for us, in us. this is part of what it means to sow the seed. Some of what might be considered sowing we aren’t even aware of, the small thing we did or said which came out of God’s softening of our hearts. It may have been said or done without the thought that “this will surely have impact on those who are watching or listening.” Far better if words of kindness, integrity, sensitivity come out naturally in response to God’s good work in our lives. And then he takes those things and the Spirit of God works in people’s lives bringing a hunger to know Him, to experience his peace and purpose. Growth is taking place whether we see it or not. God is bringing it about. It is often happening under the surface in people’s lives that we as believes aren’t aware of. God is at work. Our part: sow the seed. Speak truth to people’s lives, to cultural norms and events. Walk in obedience to who Christ would have you be and what he’d have you do. And do so with all your heart—with whatever measure you use it will be measured to you.
Parable of the mustard seed: v. 30 – 34
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. I read it could take up to 20,000 tiny little mustard seeds to make an ounce of seeds. Among the smallest of seeds, yet it can produce a massive bush or tree.
I read that in the second century planting mustard seeds was against the law in parts of Palestine because of how prolific mustard trees are. Uncontrollable, they spread until they take over the whole area. Much like cilantro or dill or horse radish. Once they get started it is tough to eradicate them from your garden.
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed? At times we may be tempted to get discouraged about the state of the world we live in. But this passage tells us the kingdom of God is growing, even as we speak.
All this from very small beginnings: jesus, born of a virgin, to a poor family in the small town of Bethlehem, without fanfare, very little notice. Jesus began his ministry which lasted about 3 ½ years at the age of 30. He called 12 mostly uneducated, very ordinary people, quite rough around the edges, slow to learn and weak in faith to be his disciples and to carry out the work of the kingdom once he ascended into heaven. They did so, scattering the seed and on that first day of Pentecost 3000 people turned to faith in Christ. Humble beginnings, but the church, the kingdom of god has continued to grow through even the harshest of persecution. Hasn’t and will not be eradicated. One day:
Revelation 7: 9 - 10
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language,(A) standing before the throne(B) and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes(C) and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,(D) who sits on the throne,(E) and to the Lamb
Jesus said “I will grow my church.”
Our role: to be receptive soil, hungry to walk with him, in his steps.
Scatter the seed—share the difference Christ makes
Leave the results up to him; pray for people to trust Christ and follow him; be patient, God may well be working in their lives.
Believe the results are up to God and he is building his kingdom/church/family and it will be enormous in time, the results of people around the world through the centuries coming to faith and following him.
Jesus Teaches About the Four Soils
July 12th, 2020
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Jesus Teaches About the Four Soils
Mark 4: 1 – 20
Going through the book of Mark. Read ch. 4: 1 – 20
Another day. Doing what he was passionate to do, teach and preach the good news. Large crowd had come to see, hear, perhaps receive healing. So large he again got into a boat, pushed out into the Sea of Galilee a bit and spoke to the crowd that sat on the slope of the shoreline.
Taught many things by parables. Parable means to be similar, like something else, to set alongside to compare. Jesus told many parables. Simple story that people can relate to that has 1 main point to be communicated. Sometimes people try to find many points in a parable, so that every little insignificant detail has to them a deeper meaning. Not what is intended by a parable. There is one main point the storyteller is wanting to make with his parable. Careful not to try to find spiritual significance in the bird or bug or color of the sky in a parable. The purpose of the parable can be difficult to grasp, even if the story is simple and comes from everyday life situations. I think often people’s responses to Jesus’ parables went something like, Really? That’s it? Why did Jesus tell that simple story, kind of disappointing, really. I was looking for profound deep truth. But Jesus was a master teacher and his parables were designed to make people continue to think about what he said until they understood the main point.
When I was a small boy I used to like to get attention—I’ve outgrown that need, somewhat. Sometimes to get attention I would pretend to be hurt, fake crying until someone came to check on me. And then I’d immediately stop as if to say, gotcha. I remember my mom telling me a story about a young shepherd boy who would get bored and want company so once in a while he would start yelling Wolf! Wolf! Wolf! Until other shepherds would come running. In time they didn’t respond as quickly, and eventually not at all, thinking he was once again just faking it. So on the day that the wolf did come no one responded to the boy’s cries for help and the wolf got away with a lamb and the boy was dismayed no one had come to his aid. I think when my mom told me that story I thought that was a pretty good story, but didn’t understand it’s clear relevance to my behavior. Then one day we were all outside working in the garden and I was sent to get something from the barn. At the barn I stepped on a board with a nail in it that went deep into my bare foot. Did I ever scream, for real this time. But for a long time nobody came. Immediately I understood the story/parable of the boy who cried wolf in a much more personal way. It’s main message came home to me clearly.
Jesus told stories/parables that had a spiritual truth for his hearers to apply. The point often wasn’t immediately clear, but if they really wanted to understand Jesus they would think about the story, mull it over and maybe even ask him to explain it for them.
So on this day Jesus told this story of the 4 soils. Some call it the story of the sower, but it really is more about the 4 different kinds of soil than about the sower or the seed, which are admittedly crucial to the story, but our focus is to be on the soils.
Listen! Pay attention, this is important, Jesus is indicating.
Farmer went out to sow seed. A bit intimidating to speak about farming to a congregation with so many farmers. What do I know? Not a lot compared to many of you, but I appreciate farmers. Now this farmer didn’t have a tractor. He scattered the seed by hand, making sure seed fell on all of his soil, to the very edges of his land. A number of years ago we had sewer trouble at the manse and had to dig up and replace sewer pipes from the house to the curb. Tore up the lawn so decided to reseed the whole front yard. Greg Heins came with a small tractor to get the dirt smoothed out well and then he started broadcasting grass seed. I think he had one of those bags that fit over your shoulder with a crank that sprayed the seed out ten feet or so and fairly evenly. Fun, interesting, even surprising to watch Greg that day. He spread the seed going north-south and I thought, there we are done. Then he spread some more seed, going east-west, and that may have been it or he may have then gone diagonally. What I clearly remember is he put the seed on thick and then he raked soil so help the seed sink in and get covered. I was surprised how much seed he put on, but the grass came up nice and thick, beautiful.
The farmer in Jesus’ story would have spread the seed by hand, good at it so that it was fairly even, fairly thick, to the edges on all types of soil. Then he’d likely have run a rake or something else over it to work it in a bit. Jesus said some fell on paths, some on rocky soil, some among thorny areas, and some in good soil. The good soil produced a great crop. Then he finished with, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” End of story, you can go home now. We all have ears, but we don’t always listen carefully—children and parents or husband and wife examples of hearing, but not listening. Basically Jesus is saying, if you really are hungry to get to know God, you will listen carefully, think about what I am saying, ask God for help to understand. And god will honor/reward that desire. But if you are not interested, you won’t really hear.
The farmers in the crowd that day think, we see that every seeding to harvest season. So? What’s he telling us that for? The main part of the crowd departed, leaving the 12 disciples and some others who had been following more closely, believing in him. They asked him to explain to them the meaning of the parable. Jesus told them the secret or mystery of the Gospel has been given or revealed to them and they have begun to understand. But to those on the outside, those who are skeptical or in opposition, like the religious leaders who constantly opposed him Jesus spoke in parables. He quoted from the book of Isaiah a passage describing a time when God’s people were living in rebellion and didn’t want to hear or follow God. Because of the hardness of their hearts, Jesus spoke in parables. Those who really wanted to know more would listen and think on what he said, would mull the story over again and again. The spirit of God would reveal the truth to them in time and given the right circumstances of life. Those who had stubborn hard hearts would simply dismiss the Old Testament prophets and in his case, Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:4 says God who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. But he won’t force anyone to listen and accept him into their lives. He allows people to remain hard hearted, resist or reject him.
He seems to indicate that understanding this parable is key to understanding other parables—if you don’t understand this one, how will you understand any other parables?
Then he gives the explanation of the 4 soils.
Some people like the first soil, the hardened soil of the path. Like the approach to a field where there is extra traffic, grain trucks, pickups park there, tractors run over that part entering and leaving the field. Soil packed there. Seed that lands there stays on top of the hard packed soil. Birds eat it. If it sprouts little of it takes root. These people Jesus is saying have little interest and if there is mild interest, Satan will come along and distract them from seriously considering the truth. Don’t feel much need of Jesus. Or have had hurts by Christians in the past, leading to unforgiveness and bitterness toward Christianity. I have on many occasions known people who I or others have had opportunity to share the gospel with and just when it starts to make sense to them, you’ve gotten their attention and then something happens to distract them. Your conversation is interrupted at a crucial moment, and you don’t seem to be able to get back to that kind of conversation again—they’ve lost interest. Or something unexpected happens in their life and their attention is concentrated elsewhere or disappointment takes over. The moment seems to be lost for now.
Seed on the path.
Seed on the rocky ground.
Israel is a rocky country. In many places limestone rocks and slabs are barely under the surface. Some seed fell on such rocky soil, with a thin layer of soil barely covering the rocks. The soil that was there was warm, the seed sprouted, but no depth for the roots to go, cannot reach water underneath. The sprouted seed shoots up and because it lacks nutrition and water soon is scorched and dies. I think of a normal farming year when you see the tops of hills in the fields that don’t seem to produce as well as the lowland due to lack of moisture. A person described as being this kind of soil receives the Word of God with excitement and joy, an emotional response. All in, for a little while. Perhaps they have been poorly counselled that if you believe in Christ all your problems will go away; your ticket to a problem free life. Jesus said elsewhere that in this world you will have trouble, tribulation. John 16:33. Guaranteed. Overall life does get better, but there are still problems to be faced for believers, some of them due to their faith in Christ. This person’s response: this is not what I thought I was signing up for. Persecution? I’m out of here. I thought Jesus would make all my problems go away.
Third kind of soil: soil with thorns growing up that choke out the crop. (trouble with cutworms) These people hear the word, express interest, but the worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come along and choke out that interest in following Jesus. Paying bills, long hours at work, family or marriage difficulties, and other daily things that can distract. Deceitfulness of wealth. A person being deceived is usually not aware that he is being deceived. How much is enough? Just a little more. Need to provide, but excessive pursuit of wealth, a matter between individuals and the Lord, can draw a person away from a close walk with him. Want other things than just Jesus or Jesus first. These people want the gift more than the Giver of the gift.
The soil that Jesus is looking for, good soil. Receptive soil that receives the seed/word. Hears, accepts, and bears fruit. Produces a bountiful crop. This is the test of the soil, does it bear a good crop? The purpose of casting seed is to produce a crop. That’s why we plant gardens, farmers plant crops, Jesus came preaching the good news and died on the cross. To produce in lives fruit that lasts. Starts from the inside out, transformation, growth. Read Isaiah 55:10 – 11 there will be different yields—30, 60, 100 times what was sown. I understand that to be an unbelievable yield. Read that 15 times what was planted is good yield. I don’t know if anyone thinks in those terms these days? Let me know.
Hear, accept with joy, bear fruit. Allowing the message of Jesus to change you. Fruits of the Spirit showing in that person’s life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control. Desire to follow Jesus, not perfectly, but growing in it. Commitment to great commandment, to love god with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Commitment to share the gospel with others, great commission. With life and lips.
What kind of soil am I/are you? disinterested…disappointed by trouble or persecution…distracted by cares of the world, other pursuits… or devoted to knowing and following Jesus? If you don’t know Jesus, that’s where you need to start, asking him to reveal himself to you through his word and the testimony of others. Receptive? Hear, accept, invite Him into your life, allow him to grow fruit in your life.
2020 Archived Messages
Good Friday to July 5th.
Pastor Dave Squires Archived Messages
Jesus Faces Opposition from family and Religious Leaders
July 5th, 2020
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Jesus Faces Opposition from family and Religious Leaders
MARK 3: 20 -35
QUICK REVIEW OF What Jesus has been up to in the early chapters of Mark: Chs. 1 - 3
His passion, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God: teaching and preaching repentance
Called men to follow him, as disciples: Simon, Andrew, James and John; Levi/Matthew, a despised tax collector in whose home he then had supper with other people of questionable reputations The rest of the 12 disciples
Teaching, with notable authority
Cast demons out of people with broken, imprisoned lives; social outcasts, doing self-harm, destructive
Healed: Peter’s mother-in-law; man with leprosy; paralyzed man(after Jesus declared the man’s sins forgiven); man with crippled hand (on the Sabbath);
conflicts with the religious leaders over to fast or not to fast, whether it is ok to pick and eat enough grain on the Sabbath to satisfy hunger;
encountered large pressing crowds of people wanting healings and other needs to be met;
spent extended times in private prayer.
The pressure Jesus experienced doesn’t get any easier in today’s passage READ Mark 3: 20 - 35
A number of times as Mark wrote his Gospel he would start to tell a story and then interrupt the story with another story and then finish the original story. A story within a story, if you will. When he does so there is something about the two stories that are connected, help bring out why Jesus said or did what he said or did. Today’s story within a story: family, teachers of the law, family; both falsely accuse Jesus of something.
Once again a crowd had gathered around Jesus in a house in Galilee, possibly Capernaum, his home base. Crowded and busy to the point he and the disciples weren’t able even to eat. The people were wanting to get the pieces of their lives put back together; looking to Jesus to help them.
Jesus’ family come into the picture, his mother and brothers and possibly sisters
Jesus the oldest, half-brother to the others; no mention of Joseph, thought by most that by this time he had passed away
Brothers mentioned: James, Judas (Jude), Simon, Joseph. All common names of that time. Mark 6:3, Matthew 13: 55 – 56 Sisters are mentioned, but not by name.
John 7:5 tells us his brothers didn’t believe in Jesus during his years of ministry, or at least for most of it. Likely his resurrection was instrumental in changing their minds about who Jesus was.
Acts 1:14 Mary and Jesus brothers were part of the early church that met together regularly following Jesus’ ascension.
James and Jude, authors of the two books by their names are believed to be the brothers of Jesus
But as Jesus’ family come to the house that day, it is with the intention of collecting him and taking him home, thinking he’s crazy or out of his mind. For his protection? For their reputations? Because they have heard of the religious leaders opposition to Jesus? What’s he doing, going against the established laws and traditions of our faith? And claiming the authority to forgive sins? Standing up to the leaders of our faith? He must be off/crazy. And besides he’s not taking very good care of himself, working much too long and not eating well. He’d become a religious fanatic! Opposition of a different kind than he’d met prior. Family.
Then Mark cuts away to focus on another group opposing Jesus, the teachers of the law, who’ve sent a delegation the long trek from Jerusalem to Galilee to accuse Jesus of being possessed by Satan and claiming the power Jesus has comes from Beelzebub/the prince of demons/Satan himself.
Jesus’ response: that’s a ridiculous argument! How could Satan ever drive out Satan?
A kingdom, house, Satan or anything/anyone else divided against itself is doomed to failure, cannot succeed. A marriage divided will end in divorce; a business divided will fail; a community divided will dwindle and turn to infighting and prejudice; nation divided will turn to bitter divisive politics or at worst, civil war; individual lives divided by inner turmoil or uncertainty will not thrive; and humanity divided will fail in all of these areas. And that is what Satan hopes for, but what Jesus has been working against. Jesus has been bringing healing of body, relationships, and spiritual healing. He’s given freedom to some caught in the grip of demon possession. It makes zero sense that he would be doing these things by the power and under the influence of Satan, because the two are working in polar opposite directions. If Satan were opposed to himself, he’d be divided and wouldn’t be able to stand, would fall.
Jesus then gives another word picture of a thief wanting to break in and steal from a homeowner, a strong man homeowner at that. The thief would have to somehow tie up the strong man first before he would be able to take from him. And that is what Jesus has been doing, shutting down more and more of Satan’s power and influence by the miracles and healings and teaching Jesus had been doing. Satan’s power to some degree has been bound and Jesus has been gaining ground in bringing freedom, release to people with brokenness in their lives. This does not happen by the power of Satan. Not his purpose or nature; just the opposite. Ridiculous accusation, Teachers of the law, calling black, white and good, evil.
Jesus closed this interaction with a statement that has caused considerable concern among Believers throughout church history. Jesus mentions an unforgivable sin, also referred to as the unpardonable sin and many believers at troubled times in their lives begin to ask themselves if they could possibly have committed the unforgivable or unpardonable sin.
Note what Jesus said first; I tell you the truth… when he starts with these words its like saying, Pay attention! This is important.
I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven. God is a forgiving God. Jesus has paid the ultimate price for payment of our sins, that we might be forgiven. His death covers it all. People have done some terrible things and He still offers forgiveness.
But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. He’s guilty of an eternal sin. What is that? Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Briefly, crediting the good work of the Holy Spirit to evil forces, the work of Satan. Resisting the prompting, the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and continuing to do so. In the case of the religious leaders, witnessing all the miraculous things Jesus had been doing and closing off any willingness to consider, could this remarkable man be the long awaited Messiah. Stubborn refusal to humbly bow before God, admit our need of him, acknowledge our sin and guilt, repent and ask forgiveness. It is an ongoing hardening of a person’s heart to the call of God on their lives. Continuing to say No to him so long that a person has no desire for God. Seeing the evidence of God’s good hand around you, but refusing to acknowledge he is there and that he loves you. To continue to do so puts a person in danger of never coming to him in faith, trust, submission, obedience. That stubborn refusal to come in humility to God in response to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit can become unforgivable. Sometimes it is a person who thinks he/she is pretty good, better than average and deserves to live for eternity because of how good they are, without the need of Jesus and his payment for sins. A person’s heart can become that hardened that he’d never bend, never admit he needs God.
Sometimes people are concerned that in a weak moment they might have committed such a sin, even unknowingly. I don’t believe that is what Jesus is talking about here. Even his family, who had accused Jesus of being crazy/insane, eventually come to faith and forgiveness If you have such a concern, it would indicate you are sensitive to the Spirit’s conviction, to his wanting you in a heathy relationship with him, that you are still desiring such a relationship. All sins are forgivable, unless a person continues to refuse to acknowledge his need of a saviour. There’s no forgiveness in that case.
Jesus then turned his attention back to his family. 31 – 35 Someone told him his mother and brothers were outside looking for him, still wanting to take him home and deprogram him, likely.
Jesus looked around the room of people who were believing in him spoke of a broader definition of what it means to be family, a spiritual family. Who are my mother and brothers? He asked the crowd. You might think this sounds harsh toward his family. Later we see a tenderness of Jesus toward his grieving mother as she stood at the cross and he indicated to her and john that john would look after her now that Jesus was dying. I don’t think Jesus is intending to be harsh toward his family, would not be like him at all. Rather I think he’s teaching the people assembled that the family of God is much bigger than blood relatives, or people who are like you or me, people who think like us or people from similar social, political or economic status. Jesus’ family is made up of all who trust in him, all who do his will in believing in him, in coming to him recognizing their deep need of him, who come to him with sorrow over their sinfulness, willing to turn from their sin and to follow him. That’s his family and if we are part of that family we are brothers and sisters with all who believe in him and trust in him.
But those who stubbornly refuse to bend to God’s calling on their lives are not yet part of that family. They need to look at their lives, their divided, broken lives and admit they need Jesus. If a person’s life is full of anger, turmoil, broken relationships, lack of peace, they need Jesus’ healing touch. That may be someone here today. If so, call out to him, simply saying something like: “God I have resisted long enough. Life is not working out the way I have been living. Forgive me, cleanse me, heal my brokenness, bring light to those dark places, help me think your thoughts and not those of all the competing voices, replace the conflict in my life with your peace and joy I pray.”
How Jesus handled the Stress of life
June 28th, 2020
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How Jesus handled the Stress of life
MARK 3: 7 – 19
I remember a day when Barb and I were living in Ontario and I was a youth pastor. We had 2 children at the time. On this particular day we had gone over to the local park near where we were living in a community outside Ottawa called Kanata. I was pushing one of the boys on a swing and I remember thinking, wow! I don’t have any church or work responsibilities today, no youth event, youth leaders’ meetings, no preparations for Bible studies pressing, nothing scheduled outside spending time with my family. Then I started trying to figure how many days it had been since I had had a complete day off and it was well over a month. This was a day I had just to spend with Barb and the 2 boys at the time and I recognized that I was tired from trying to keep up such a constant pace and I was convicted that Barb must have been tired from being a single parent for that month as well. When you get into that kind of a rat race pace you operate by reacting to what comes at you in life more than thinking ahead, planning, being balanced, setting aside time for reflection and the things that should be a priority, including spending time with the Lord, which should be at the top of the list. The thought occurred to me that I needed to guard time for family, to set aside time to spend with them and just enjoy them and to be more intentional about setting aside time for my relationship with the Lord. I would guess most of us have a hard time keeping that kind of balance in our lives.
Jesus lived a pressure filled life. He was pressed from many different directions and this morning we are going to look at a passage that helps us understand how he handled the pressure that he had to have felt in his humanity. We tend to think of him handling easily life because of his divinity as Son of God, but he had also taken on human form with all its limitations. Scripture teaches that he was in all areas tempted like we are, that he is very aware and understands our weaknesses and the struggles we experience, yet was without sin. Heb. 4:15 How did he handle those intensely pressured times of life?
Pray, read Mark 3: 7 – 19
The last couple weeks we have seen that the religious leaders have taken note of Jesus’ rising popularity and have confronted him or his disciples on several occasions for not following the letter of the law or the many other traditions the way they thought he and his disciples should. They complain that Jesus’ disciples don’t fast the way they do, twice a week even. Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, breaking the law against working on the Sabbath. With Jesus’ approval the disciples picked grain as they walked along one Sabbath day and snacked on it because they were hungry. The religious leaders pounced on them because of that. He pronounced a man forgiven just before he healed him of his paralysis and they viewed this as blasphemy, for only God has the authority to forgive sins. He experienced the pressure of being constantly watched and judged by the religious elite.
Because of his authoritative teaching and preaching and the miracles he has performed, the healings of long term and severe disabilities and the exorcisms of demons, crowds of people sought him out. Crowds are mentioned 34 times in the book of Mark. Wherever he went he could count on there being a crowd of people closing in on him, wanting him to do something for them or a family member or friend. As we just read once again Jesus had drawn away with his disciples to the lake, the Sea of Galilee, to spend some time with his disciples, but a large crowd of people eventually found him. Some scholars think there may well have been 10’s of thousands of people there that day, but it doesn’t say for sure. Word of all he had been doing spread to regions well over a hundred miles distant and people travelled for days to catch up with him, hoping at least to touch him and possibly then be healed of their disease or injury. The pressure of the crowd was so great that day Jesus instructed his disciples to have a boat ready for him to get into to escape being crushed by the crowd who so wanted to get near him.
Jesus experienced the added pressure of people with evil/unclean spirits falling down before him and calling out to him with shrieking demonic voices declaring him to be the Son of God. He cast out the demons and commanded them each time not to speak or tell who he was. Why didn’t he want them announcing him as the Son of God, which he was? The people recognized the evil or unclean spirits as being opposed to God, destructive, and liars. They had no interest in promoting Jesus, but in confusing his message and casting doubt in the peoples’ minds as to who Jesus really was. If the demons, who were known to be liars were calling Jesus the Son of God, were they then lying or telling the truth? Jesus had his own timetable and ways he chose to reveal to the people who he was and forbid the demons to speak and thereby confuse his message.
Jesus was pressured on every side. Must have been exhausted at the end of each day. How did he handle that pressure, stress, the expectations of the people on him, that exhausting schedule? We see some clues in the next few verses.
He went up on a mountainside.
As he has done already a couple times this early in Mark he intentionally gets away from the crowds by heading up to a mountainside or out into the wilderness where the people didn’t follow him. He set aside some down time. He hit the pause button, turned the noise and activity off, got away from the pressure.
Yesterday Barb and I took part in the National Annual General Meeting for the Free Church of Canada. Due to the restrictions caused by Covid-19 the Conference was replaced by a Zoom AGM with close to 150 people in attendance. Someone from head office had put together a brief video that I would love to have been able to show you this morning. It started by describing some of the things that are going on in our world in the past few months political, racial, economic, and health issues and conflicts that are causing stress in so many people, probably in all of us to some degree. The images flash on the screen with commentary keeping pace faster and faster to a frenetic pitch, and then the voice says something like stop or Breathe! and the images froze and there was no sound for a few seconds and I felt like taking a big breath, relief in being able to take a pause from the pace of it all. And in a few seconds a slower commentary reminding us that no matter what all is going on in our world, God is still in control, we can count on Him, but we need to remind ourselves of that fact over and over, daily.
He got away to pray
We have already seen in the Book of Mark a time when Jesus after a busy day, got up very early the next morning and went off to a private place away from people to spend time in prayer. Luke’s account of this event gives us the added detail that following the previous exhausting day of teaching and healing and being pressured by the crowds Jesus spent the night in prayer. The next day he would call his disciples and officially appoint them as his disciples/apostles.. He needed time with his Father, communion, fellowship, receiving instruction and affirmation about the direction of his ministry. The Gospels mention numerous times when he slipped away to find a private place where he could call out to his Father or listen to his Father or just be in his presence. Sometimes he took his disciples with him.
He recruited others to be with him and eventually to serve with him, to carry on his ministry.
To be with him. And then to serve, to preach, to have authority to cast out demons. 12 men of his choosing. /from what we see in the gospels, very ordinary men. At times all in with listening and following him. Other times lacking in faith, “O ye of little faith” he said of them more than once. Men who at ties were looking out only for themselves, some who struggled with doubts, some who deserted, denied and even betrayed him. They lacked understanding sometimes, felt the pressure of the opinions of the crowds or the religious leaders. They were very ordinary, imperfect people, like all of us. What made them effective and qualified them to carry on Jesus’ ministry that he had begun: they had spent time with Jesus, a little over 3 years of rubbing shoulders with him, watching, witnessing Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry, the authority with which he spoke, the purpose with which he lived. His teaching and character and purpose and attitudes towards people rubbed off on the disciples, it impacted them incredibly.
After Jesus was crucified, risen and ascended into heaven there was a time when Peter and john were seized by the religious leaders and brought before the priest and teachers of the law and other religious dignitaries to explain why they were teaching about Jesus and where the power to heal the cripple they had healed came from. Peter spoke boldly and powerfully of Jesus to them. And it says in Acts 4:13 “And when they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
Nothing really new here, but a reminder I think we all need of the importance to set aside time to be with Jesus.
Bible teacher/evangelist of a couple generations ago, Vance Havner said getting away, coming apart from the busyness of life in order to spend time with Christ is essential to the health of a person’s relationship with the Lord. The exact quote: “If you don’t come apart, you will come apart.”
We all have pressures in life. Things that cause stress. Things that we react to. I don’t know what all of yours are. Among them may be the phone, Facebook posts, news, weather, deadlines at work, people to call or visit, conflict with family or friends, rumors about you that have gotten back to you, political or economic news, Covid-19 restrictions, raising children…
How do you deal with these? How would Jesus deal with them?
He’d get away to a private place. He’d do so regularly. He’d spend time in prayer, in fellowship and communion with his father. He’d call others to spend time with him, to be with him, to feed into their lives what they need to learn, know, experience so they can pass the message along.
Stop! Put down the distractions, the tools, the devices, whatever it may be. Set aside some time, get to a comfortable, private spot. As Psa. 46: 10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Look for your satisfaction in him. Read, pray, be with Jesus, let him speak to you, give the time so your relationship with him can grow, let his heart impact your heart. Don’t just ask for things, but want to get to know him better. Then spend time with others who can encourage you, with whom you can encourage and share what you are learning.
Being Watched June 21st, 2020
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MARK 2: 18 – 36
We are in a section of Mark where we witness 5 encounters Jesus had with the religious leaders that reveal their hardness of heart toward Jesus and his healing, teaching and preaching ministry.
Last week, Jesus healed the paralyzed man after he declared him forgiven. Mark 2: 1 – 12 The religious leaders were shocked that he would declare the man forgiven, believing that only God has the authority to forgive. Jesus explanation was that the healing that he performed right after supported his claim of authority to forgive sins. The religious leaders were unconvinced, but had the awkward, very public healing of the paralytic to contend with along with a crowd that was amazed at Jesus power/authority.
Next in Mark 2:13 – 17 Jesus as he walked along saw Matthew the tax collector sitting in his collector’s booth and he calls out to him to come and follow him. Matthew immediately leaves the booth and follows Jesus. Matthew (Levi) invites Jesus to come to his home for dinner along with a number of other tax collectors and other shady characters who had started following Jesus. Once again the religious leaders took exception to Jesus’ hanging out with such “low life”. He quickly gained a reputation and title with them as being “Jesus, friend of sinners”, to them an insult. To believers this title speaks of Jesus’ heart for all people. He responded to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have come, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Today we will look at 3 more negative encounters Jesus had with the Religious leaders.
The Question of fasting. READ 18 – 22 Some people came to him. In Matthew’s account (8:14 ff.) of this event it says some of John’s disciples came to him. In Luke’s account (5:33 ff.) of this event it speaks of “they”, in the context of Jesus interacting with the Pharisees. No doubt there were Pharisees, teachers of the law and some of John the Baptist’s disciples who approached Jesus on this day and asked him why his disciples were not fasting regularly like the Pharisees and John’s disciples did. Implied in the question: your disciples must not be very spiritual because they don’t observe the long held practice of fasting. You need to get them in line.
Fasting: the Old Testament required fasting for all of the people one day of the year, on the Day of Atonement, when the priest would offer sacrifice for the sins of the nation. The people were to fast as a sign of repentance for their personal sins as well as the sins of the nation. Individuals could also fast at other times, when they or the nation were facing trouble, serious decisions, times of loss, or the weight of a guilty conscience that needed repented of. By the 1st century the religious leaders had added to the OT laws their traditions to the point that they were fasting 2 times a week, Mondays and Thursdays. You will remember the story Jesus told of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the temple to pray and the Pharisee prays to himself, Lord I thank you that I’m not like others, even this tax collector; I give 1/10 of all I get and I fast twice a week. Jesus indicated in the Sermon on the Mt. that hypocrites, as the religious leaders often were described, love to make a show of fasting, praying and giving to the poor, like to do so in public, drawing attention to the fact they are doing these things. Jesus said these religious observances should be done between a person and God and should come out of a heart of humility, gratitude, compassion and a sense of desperate need of God.
Jesus’ response: three pictures to illustrate that something new is in process. It is ok to fast in times of mourning, loss, repentance, or need. But you would never fast at a wedding when the bridegroom is present. That is a time for rejoicing, celebration, partying. And right now for my disciples they recognize the bridegroom is with them (Jesus himself). Several times in New Testament Jesus is referred to as the groom and the church is the bride of Christ. Jesus is introducing himself, revealing himself to the people and the religious leaders as the groom for his people. When the groom is present you wouldn’t think of fasting and mourning and drawing attention away from him. This is a time for celebration, the kingdom of God is near, rejoice.
Then Jesus talks about applying a new piece of unshrunk cloth as a patch on an old worn garment. Not something a person would do back then. As soon as you would wash it the patch would shrink and tear a greater hole in the garment. Another picture to illustrate; you also wouldn’t think of pouring new wine into an old used wineskin. That old used wineskin made of goat hide would already have been stretched to capacity and when emptied would have dried out and cracked. To put new wine in that old dried and stretched wineskin would be to ask for failure. When the wine began to ferment and expand the wineskin would not hold, it would burst and spill out the wine. What is Jesus communicating here? That he’s bringing something new. Little by little he’s revealing to the common people and religious leaders alike through his miracles and teaching that he is the long awaited Messiah. He hasn’t come to prop up or simply repair Judaism with all its manmade traditions added in, with religious leaders that are far more concerned with appearances and following the letter of the law instead of the real purpose and spirit of the law, with the class distinctions that placed the religious leaders on a pedestal and the common folk way down the ladder, a religion that had become a system based on works rather than on faith and commitment to God. Jesus is saying I haven’t come to put a band aid or a patch that will tear on your old worn out religious practices. I haven’t come to use an old wineskin and pour a little new teaching into it. I have come rather to replace the Old Covenant with something new. I have come bringing salvation based on faith, given by the grace of God. A new garment. New wine in a new wineskin. The kingdom of God is here. My teaching is different than you have been hearing or teaching. Not about works or rituals, but about relationship and life. Not legalistic, but about grace. About the heart, not external appearances intended to impress others. Not about how much can I get away with, but about what is the best way I can follow the Lord? To the Pharisees, this is who I am and what I’m doing.
READ 23 – 27 The last two conflict stories have to do with the Sabbath. The religious leaders are by now watching Jesus carefully to see what they can find fault with in his actions or teaching. Jesus and his disciples are walking through a grain field on the Sabbath and his disciples pick some grain to munch on. Pharisees are tagging along and immediately point and shout to Jesus, “Look! Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Jesus answers by referring to an Old Testament event. David and his band of outcast men are on the run from King Saul. David has been anointed as the next king, but hasn’t been crowned yet. His men are hungry and he goes to the priest and asked him for food. The priest gives David and his men some holy bread that ordinarily was unlawful for anyone but the priests to eat and they ate it without judgment coming on them. Jesus, who is much greater than David has come, the King of Kings, but not yet assuming that position in his kingdom. His band of outcast disciples are hungry and I think Jesus may have even said to them go ahead, there’s grain, eat up. Farmers were to leave the edges of their fields for travellers and the poor so this wasn’t considered stealing. The religious leaders objection had to do with this being the Sabbath and their interpretation was that the disciples were harvesting, which was work which you weren’t to do on the Sabbath. Jesus’ further answer: the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath. The Sabbath observances were put in place to remind people they need time set aside to rest and refresh and worship God, so they didn’t burn out and wander away from following him. The Sabbath was made for man, for his good. It was a good thing, a healthy thing to do, to observe the Sabbath. But mankind’s needs still take precedence over the legalistic traditions drawn up over time. And in addition to that Jesus revealed himself as Lord even of the Sabbath, a further revelation of who he was. He had the authority to allow his disciples, even to encourage them to eat some grain as they walked.
The final conflict story. READ 3: 1 – 6 Note that by now the Pharisees were actively looking for a reason to accuse Jesus of a punishable offence. It is a Sabbath day and they are assembled in the synagogue and a man with a shrivelled hand is there. Probably intentionally seated by the Pharisees so Jesus couldn’t help but see him and be tempted to heal him. Entrapment? They are watching Jesus—will he heal the man? If so, we’ve got him for working on the Sabbath. Jesus is not unaware of their thoughts and motives. Tells the man to stand up in the middle for all to see. Then he turns to the Pharisees with a question, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” they refused to answer—trapped again by Jesus. Jesus is visibly upset, angered by their narrow view of the Sabbath, by their hard hearts, by the fact they would rather Jesus not heal the man’s hand, by their murderous intentions against him on the Sabbath they are supposedly guarding. Jesus knows the Sabbath is to be a day to honour the Lord, to do good, a day for healing and restoration of mind, body and soul. They wanted to squeeze the Sabbath down to a day of going through the outward motions of following the law, without any heart change, without any compassion toward others, indeed without much thought of God at all. He told the man to stretch out his hand. He did so and the hand was completely healed. Then the Pharisees left and began plotting how they might kill Jesus. To save life or to kill? Not lawful to heal, but ok to kill--hypocrisy
Jesus is never caught off guard in these conflict stories. Continues to conduct himself with purpose, grace and truth. Continues to reveal to those with hearts to understand just who he is, the bridegroom, friend of sinners, Lord of the Sabbath with the power to heal and the authority and grace to love, forgive and accept repentant sinners.
Contrast his heart with those of the religious leaders, caught up in self-righteousness, the need to grasp onto their power, an unwillingness to see what is right in front of them or to consider what Jesus says in light of the powerful things he does. Unwilling to consider, could this miracle worker and authoritative teacher possibly be the Messiah. Didn’t fit their vision of what he would be and do, so no. he hung out with sinners and didn’t follow all the traditions that had been put in place over the generations so couldn’t be their Messiah.
But Jesus reveals he has come with power and authority, forgiving, graciously accepting those who will come to him in faith, healing brokenness, lifting up the poor, revealing a salvation based on God’s grace and accepted by faith.
The Pharisees had hard stubborn hearts. They were unteachable, set in their ways.
READ Isaiah 58: 3 – 9
The kind of fast or response God chooses, looks for even today: compassion for those in need, support for those others neglect or pick on or abuse, showing others freedom of a relationship with Christ, inward heart change that comes from humble submission to Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit, treating others fairly, kindly, generosity, sharing with others without expectation to be reimbursed, gratitude toward God and being in love with our Saviour.
OUR GREATEST NEED June 14th, 2020
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OUR GREATEST NEED
MARK 2: 1 – 12
Previously, Jesus had healed a man with leprosy instructing him after not to tell it around. But of course it is impossible to keep that kind of good news to yourself and so the man went around telling as many as he could. The result? Jesus could no longer move about freely. Crowds looking for a miracle worker, a healer would flock to him as soon as they knew he was in the area. So at the end of chapter 1 it tells us Jesus moved his ministry out to more isolated places so he could spend more time preaching and teaching, which was his priority over just healing, telling about the kingdom of God, forgiveness, salvation.
Prayer, READ 2: 1 – 12
A paralyzed man and his friends 1 - 4
Back in Capernaum, probably to Simon Peter’s house again. It may have been where Jesus stayed when in the area. If so, not a big house, but a working man’s house. People heard he had come home so they hurried to the house in order to get a seat, more likely a place to stand, so they could see Jesus. Jesus started off doing what he was passionate to do, he preached the word to them, practical, relevant, direct, informative, encouraging and convicting. He was a gifted teacher and story teller, using stories of contemporary situations as word pictures to help make his points clear. No sleeping when he was speaking; he had everyone’s attention.
House is packed, people crowding as close together as they can, right out the door, a crowd outside bunched around the door so they might possibly get to hear him. Some men come to the house, four of them carrying a paralyzed man on what I envision to be a homemade stretcher. Some men came, four of them carrying this paralytic. It reads to me like there were more than 4 men bringing this man, but 4 of them were carrying him as they reached the house; probably took turns carrying him. This man had at least 4 great friends or family members, and I think there were more accompanying them. They quickly realize they aren’t going to get into the house because of the mob ahead of them: “Gonna have to wait your turn, guys, I have a bad leg I want Jesus to look at” a man shouts. “Yea and I’m blind and need to see Jesus too,” says a lady near him; another woman, “and my son has terrible seizures…” and numerous other responses from those ahead of these men and their crippled friend. Most people would have at that point given up and started back home or resigned themselves to waiting at the back of the line hoping to eventually get to see Jesus. But these guys were not quitters. They were determined because their friend was desperate. They check the house out and see stairs going up to the flat roof and somehow manage to wrestle their friend to the roof top. Now what” some of them wonder. But the leader of the pack of friends begins to dig a hole in the dirt roof top. He instructs someone to go look for rope and someone else to ask for an axe. No one blinks or says, “Guys, this isn’t a good idea. We are damaging this house.” These men loved their friend or family member so much that they were persistent, willing to do whatever it took to get him to Jesus, however difficult it might prove to be, creatively thinking outside the box, and I am quite sure willing to pay for the damages or stick around and clean up the mess. This man was in my thinking the richest man in town that day to have such committed friends.
Jesus and the people inside the house 5 – 12
So as the men are digging through the mud and straw layer bits of debris begin to float down on those below. Then they start cutting through the branches of the second layer and bigger chunks fall and they have the full attention of the crowd inside. A range of responses from the cries of protest from the shocked homeowner to the chuckles of the curious miracle seekers standing around to the stern disapproval of the religious leaders arms folded and seated in the honored seats in the house. The man’s friends lower him down as those standing below reach up to receive him and then place him at Jesus’ feet. Once they set the man on the floor you could probably hear a pin drop. What now? What will Jesus do or say, the people, including the paralytic and his friends watching from above, must have wondered.
At the Christian camp where Barb and I met there was a retreat for a church’s high school youth group one weekend before I ever started working there. The camp was privately owned by a couple in their late 60’s. The owners had to go into town that afternoon, but no problem, there were reliable youth leaders in charge of the group. The problem was that they weren’t that reliable. A water fight broke out and before it was over it had moved from outside to inside the lodge, which was quite a nice facility. Water flying everywhere. One young lady planted herself just inside the main wooden doors, prepared to let whoever came in next have it with her pail of water. Problem was the next person through the doors was the wife of the owner couple, having just returned from the hairdresser. The young girl’s aim was perfect, hitting the owner full on. Everything stopped; everyone in shock. The owner didn’t say much, just “clean it up!” and then turned and left.
The crowd inside the house in Capernaum that day watched and listened intently to see how Jesus would respond. Men had torn part of the roof off to get the man to Jesus. Debris had hit everyone in the room, including the religious elite sitting there. Would he address the men on the roof for interrupting his preaching and damaging the house? Would he heal the poor paralytic? What would he do? What he did first was equally surprising.
Seeing their faith it says, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Seeing their faith—the faith of the men who brought him, obvious by their determination and creative solution in getting him to Jesus. Seeing the pleading look of trust on their faces and on the face of the man on the stretcher.
Son, he says. The man must have been young, younger than Jesus. There’s a tenderness or compassion, an acceptance in Jesus’ addressing him as “son.” “Your sins are forgiven.” By this early point in Mark’s gospel we should be getting used to Jesus responding differently each time he is approached by someone wanting healing. Sometimes he just speaks and the person is healed. Other times he touches the person, doesn’t matter if the person even has an incurable contagious disease. There is no exact formula, he doesn’t say “abra cadabra” and poof the person is healed. But Jesus’ response here takes everyone off guard. He comes for healing and Jesus says, Son your sins are forgiven. What a strange response. The guys on the roof must have been somewhat disappointed after all their hard word. The crowd of curious seekers inside would have been confused. And the religious teachers and leaders were immediately infuriated, thinking among themselves, but not verbalizing their thoughts, Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming, claiming to be able to forgive sins, something only God can do.
Jesus knew how these teachers of the law would respond. He in a sense “pokes the bear.” Deliberately sets them up for this. He asks them why they are thinking this way. “Is it easier to say your sins are forgiven or to say, Get up, take your mat and walk?” But that you may know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins…I tell you (the man on the stretcher) get up, take your mat and go home. the healing gives credibility to Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. Anyone can say your sins are forgiven, but they were right that only God has that authority. But Jesus shows himself to have the divine power and authority to heal as proof that he has the divine authority to forgive sins. They are silenced when the man gets up and walks or dances out, carrying his mat.
And the man on the stretcher, what must have been his response a to Jesus’ first words? Son, said with compassion, understanding of his plight, your sins are forgiven. The man came in thinking his greatest need was for physical healing, but Jesus knew better. His deepest need was for spiritual healing, wholeness. It doesn’t say how the man became paralyzed, may have been a disease or something he did carelessly that led to his paralysis. But the man undoubtedly was living with guilt, shame, anger, depression a woe is me attitude that questioned God’s goodness and love for him. Perhaps he wasn’t very nice to those who were tasked to care for his needs, impatient and critical. Whatever was going on in his head and heart, Jesus knew his greatest need was for forgiveness, salvation a new beginning through a relationship with God. Your real problem is not what you think it is, Son. Your real problem is your response to your problem. You need forgiveness and I sense you are hungry for more than healing of your body. Your sins are forgiven.
I think at that point the young man felt a tremendous relief. He could have been carried back out by his friends and still been a changed man. I know stories of others who have had a heavy load to carry in their lives: Joni Eareksen, paralyzed by a diving accident at 17. Young, athletic, vibrant, wanting to be active and on the move. Went through all the emotional roller coaster, expecting God to heal her. God hasn’t healed her, but he’s given her a tremendous testimony of trusting him and a worldwide ministry of sharing her testimony.
But God did heal the man on the mat. He walked out and the people, with the exception of the teachers of the law, praised God. The teachers were the real paralytics present that day, crippled hearts that wouldn’t accept that Jesus was the messiah in spite of the evidence.
God used a tough time in my family to bring us to faith in Christ. My dad almost died in a car wreck and was months recovering. It was very upsetting to all of us. Made me fearful. One day heard the Gospel, how we can trust in God who knows us and loves us enough to send Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. As a 10 year old I already knew I was a sinner, that I did wrong and had a sinful heart. I heard about forgiveness and I wanted it. And I became a changed person. The rest of my family one by one over time came to faith in Christ following that accident. My dad would say many times that accident was the best thing to happen to him because it led him to trust in Christ.
Paralysis led the man in this story to Christ. His friends were witnesses and likely many of them came to trust Christ too. Their greatest need, like ours is spiritual. We need forgiveness. Have you had that kind of encounter with Jesus where you are assured, Son/ daughter your sins are forgiven? We often come to him thinking we need this or that, if I just had financial security or if I knew my children would always be kept safe or if this health issue were resolved or if I just had that perfect relationship then my life would be good, whole, happy.
Jesus would say, no, that isn’t your greatest need. A relationship with e is your greatest need. Forgiveness, salvation is what you need. We need first and foremost a vibrant relationship with Jesus in which we know our sins are forgiven by him, we are trusting him to do for us what he knows we need him to do, what will ultimately be best for us. Can you hear him say to you, Son or daughter, yur sins are forgiven. I love you, you are my child, I will take care of you? take a few minutes to think about that, give thanks or ask for that assurance.
Church Begins Again With Restrictions June 7th, 2020
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Jesus, Full of Compassion June 7th, 2020
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Jesus, Full of Compassion MARK 1: 40 - 45
Q: if I were to ask you what comes to mind when you think of compassion, what would you say? What or who does come to mind first?
We were at the Eaton centre in Toronto with our boys and Barbs mom and dad and sister. Took the subway train quite a distance to get there. While there one of our young sons got sick. He was the one who whenever he got sick he would vomit. Didn’t matter where we were or how inconvenient. Anyway, the vomiting started at the Eaton Centre and we knew we had a long subway ride so asked for and received some paper sacks from one of the stores and he started using them. We had been on the subway for probably half an hour and one bag had received a couple donations. Then what? What do you do? Its paper, likely will become saturated and there are no garbage cans on the subway. So we held it until the next stop. A young man, in his teens probably, walked over and held out his hand and said, I’ll take care of that for you, offering to take our bag of vomit from us and he would deposit it in a garbage can in the terminal. Who does that sort of thing? It took me a bit to realize what he was offering to do. Had I looked around at the riders in our subway car I wouldn’t have picked him to be so kind, compassionate. Looked a little rough in appearance, a young guy, what would people think of him carrying a bag of vomit if they knew? Blew us away. Convicted me for my judgment of him on appearances. Seeing a young family with a small boy being sick with nowhere to deposit the vomit, he had compassion on us and did the totally unexpected.
We are continuing in our series of making our way through the book of Mark. READ 1:40 – 45
Physical impact: In Bible times a range of skin diseases. The most extreme form of what they called leprosy was what is now called Hansen’s disease. It attacks the nerve endings so that they no longer do their job of being the early warning system in our body to warn of danger/injury. Parts of the body become numb, no sensitivity to sharp objects, heat or cold. Injuries happen without notice, followed by infections. Eyelids and eyelashes inflamed and affected. Ears and nose become ulcerated, lose parts of them. Fingers and toes rot off. Face is disfigured to the point of looking inhuman/like aliens in a sci-fi movie. Painful. Painful to look at. I cringe at far less. There was no cure in Jesus’ day. The only preventative measures were to keep those with leprosy away from the public. Luke’s account (5:12) says the man was covered with leprosy, undoubtedly this extreme incurable form.
Social stigma: the physical impact was bad enough and usually led to death within 10 years or so. But for the person with leprosy often the most difficult part was the social stigma. It was commonly thought that a person got leprosy because of some sin in their life. Leprosy was deemed to be a curse from God on the person. His/her family suffered forms of judgment and rejection by the community. The person with leprosy could no longer live in the community, they had to move out to a lonely place and live by themselves or join up with other lepers. The law said they had to keep their hair unkempt and wear torn clothing (not the jeans you can buy these days that are preworn and pretorn). As they got anywhere near healthy citizens they were required to call out, Unclean! Unclean! These measures were designed to protect the healthy public. People would throw stones if the leper wandered too close. Or if they just felt like being cruel. They had to keep a distance of I think I read 100 yds. How would you like that for social distancing? Alone and desperately lonely with a death sentence hanging over their heads. Many would not ever experience the touch of another human in years. No kiss, no embrace, no touch from another at all. Studies have indicated the crucial importance of human touch to a person’s physical and mental health. At first diagnosis once the person with leprosy had moved outside the city, basically homeless, family members might bring food and set it down a distance away and communicate a bit, having to shout to be heard. But the heartache of seeing a loved one in such shape takes its toll and many families slowly cut back on such visits and giving of meals. Eventually loved one is treated as dead.
The leper’s brave request
So this man covered with leprosy comes bravely through the crowd, breaking the law about social distancing, in danger of further rejection and cruelty by the crowd. He humbly drops to his knees in front of Jesus and says, if you are willing, you can make me clean/well/whole. He is desperate, what did he have to lose other than to be further disappointed and ridiculed. But he came in faith: you can make me clean if you are willing. Didn’t doubt Jesus’ ability or authority. Just wasn’t sure if he ould be willing to help an untouchable outcast like himself.
Jesus’ compassionate response:
I love the nest 3 words: “Filled with compassion”
Filled so much he had to act. Filled to overflowing. I am convinced those present could see the compassion in Jesus’ eyes and on his face: sorrow at the man’s pitiful condition, pained expression over the suffering of the world, a softness but also a determination to do something about his condition. Compassion isn’t really compassion unless and until action designed to help the person is undertaken. Without an active response it is only pity, but not compassion. We may think we are filled with compassion, but the proof is in the action we take to help the person.
Mother Theresa was a woman who had compassion.
We know people in Mexico with compassion. Friends of bob and sue Gartly’s we got to know and visit on some of our trips to Mexico. A retired couple who spend winters in Mexico and have a passion for helping people, over the years they got involved in several churches and missions. Eventually they came across a family in need who the Lord clearly laid on their heart to help. Single parent mother, several kids, little income, forced to scavenge at the local dump. They began to address some of the family needs. Set boundaries, didn’t just give money, began to teach health practices, financial management, encourage small business ventures, made requirements for their financial help like requiring the kids to go to school faithfully. They shared the gospel with the family, helped them to understand how much the lord loves them. The Lord used this couple to make a huge transformation in that family’s life to where today they are able to manage on their own, grateful to the couple and to the Lord. Compassion involves action, like the teen on the subway.
Filled with compassion Jesus reached out and touched the man, saying, “I am willing, be clean.” And immediately—Mark’s favourite action word, the man was healed. Jesus’ authority over physical illness of the worst kind demonstrated.
The touch of Jesus. Shocking to the crowd—not supposed to touch a leper. Made you ceremonially unclean, unable to worship until you went through the ceremonial sacrifices for cleansing. Could also contaminate you, thought to be very contagious. But it was Jesus’ health and wholeness that was contagious, not the man’s illness. Jesus deliberately touched him anyway. His touch communicated, among other things, You are a fellow human being, valued by God, by Jesus, I care about you, I accept you, I am willing to help you, I have compassion on you and I am going to help you, first sense of hope the man had had in years.
Jesus’ command to the healed man:
Don’t tell this about. Go directly to the priests, probably in Jerusalem, a distance away. Show them your healthy skin, your restored face and limbs. Make the required sacrifices so you can be declared to be clean of leprosy. It will be a testimony to them, the priests. Isaiah indicated that when the Messiah would come he would do these kinds of things, heal people, free people from bondage, preach to the poor, etc. Isaiah 35: 1 – 6; 61:1. Read Matthew 11: 2 – 7 Evidence to expect the Messiah to demonstrate. Dilemma for the priests—who did this remarkable miracle of healing? How? Lepers haven’t been healed since Naaman, hundreds of years ago. If they recognize the healing, what do they do with Jesus? Dilemma, a testimony to/against them.
But of course the man couldn’t contain himself. He went around telling everyone he had been healed. His chant went from unclean, unclean! To I’m clean! I’m clean! But it had a detrimental effect on Jesus’ ministry. He could no longer enter towns openly because of the crowds seeking a miracle worker who flocked to him. They didn’t want his teaching as much as his spectacular miracles.
Jesus traded places with the man. The healed leper could now move about in public, back in community with his family. But Jesus was forced outside to lonely places where he could carry on his mostly teaching ministry, with his disciples and others who came out looking.
Jesus’ ministry to us has often involved trading places: he left heaven to come to earth so that we who are bound to earth might go to heaven, he who knew no sin became sin for us, he took our sin from us, he paid the penalty of our sin for us, he died in our place. His power changes, transforms us.
When we insulate ourselves from the suffering of those around us, when we don’t see, don’t take notice, don’t respond to the Spirit’s tap on the shoulder to reach out to them, we are the ones who suffer the most. Our hearts become hardened, desensitized. Now I know we cannot address every need we see. But neither should we become so locked in to our agendas that we do not allow God to lead us to those he would like us to befriend and help. Those he would like us to touch. Those whose world he would like us to enter.
Who are the modern day outcasts, untouchables you or I might encounter?
Those with depression or mental illness. Or with substance addictions. Who have experienced severe rejection or abuse—messy. People who think differently than us about cultural or political issues. Those not in your social group or anyone’s social group. Those socially awkward, lonely. Disabled or elderly in institutions.
Don’t you think Christians ought to be the most compassionate people on the planet? If someone comes along this week with obvious need, hurting, needing a kind and compassionate touch—whatever form that may need to be—would you be willing to be Jesus’ hands?
A HEALING, MORE HEALINGS AND PRAYER May 31, 2020
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A HEALING, MORE HEALINGS AND PRAYER MARK 1: 29 - 39
In the passage we will be looking at this morning one of the events we are going to see is the healing of Simon or Peter’s mother-in-law. Imagine being the mother-in-law to Peter, a man with hardly any filter. In the gospels we see him as one who pretty much says the first thing to pop into his head again and again. I am not sure you can tell this story without also including a mother-in-law joke or two.
A young police recruit was taking an exam and one of the questions was was, “What would you do if you had to arrest your mother-in-law?” His answer was, “I’d call for back-up!”
A man and his wife went on a safari with her mother. They woke one morning to discover that her mother was missing. After a few minutes of frantic searching they spotted her backed against a tree with a young snarling lion not too far away. “What are you going to do?” the man’s wife asked. ”Not a thing,’ the husband answered, “the lion got himself into this mess, he’ll have to get himself out of it.”
Finally, my all time favorite mother in law joke: a man asked his buddy, “If you found out you had only 6 months left to live, what would you do?” “Umm, not sure,” his friend answered. “How about you?” “I’d move in with my mother-in-law,” he said. Surprised, his friend asked why he’d ever do that. “It would be the longest 6 months of my life,” he answered.
Now, just in case you think it somewhat inappropriate to tell these kind of jokes, I should tell you my mother-in-law, who I love dearly, and who has a great sense of humor, got the biggest kick out of that last joke. She was one of the first people I told it to after I heard it.
Last week we looked at verses 21 – 26. Jesus was invited to speak on a Sabbath day at the local synagogue in Capernaum. When he was finished a man possessed with an evil spirit came up to him and the evil spirit abruptly demanded, what do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Do you want to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God! Jesus commanded the evil spirit out of the man and the people in attendance, including the 4 newly called disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John, were amazed, in awe of Jesus’ authority, both as he taught and preached as well as in how the evil spirit obeyed him.
READ MARK 1:29 – 39
James and John go with Jesus to the home of Simon/Peter and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law is ill, perhaps quite ill. Has a fever. No antibiotics and no Tylenol in those days, so fevers could be quite serious. Fresh off Jesus’ authoritative teaching about God, about the good news of the kingdom, people responding in repentance and then Jesus’ commanding the evil spirit to come out of the possessed man, Simon and/or his wife tell Jesus about her being sick. In Luke’s gospel account it indicates that they ask Jesus to heal her. Jesus went in to her room and took her by the hand and helped her get up and as he did so the fever left her, a miraculous healing! Luke’s account says Jesus rebuked the fever and it was gone; Matthew’s account says Jesus touched her hand and she was healed. And here in Mark it says he took her by the hand and helped her up as the fever left. All 3 correct, each gospel writer focusing on a different aspect of the healing. Significant that Jesus touched her, took her hand, as he often touched those he healed. We are told we all need physical touch by other people. It communicates compassion, love, acceptance. Jesus often touched those he healed, where their need was.
Now it has been suggested that some might object to Peter’s mother-in-law’s response being to begin to serve the men right away, without taking time to rest, recuperate. Why would they let her do so? Or was it even expected of her? I want to suggest a couple of things that may help. It may well have been that she had a gift or a passion for serving, for being hospitable. When she was so sick as to not be able to get up and meet her special guest and serve as she was used to doing, it probably made her all the more miserable. When Jesus healed her, and completely, the first and best way she could think of to do to show her gratitude was to do what she did best, show hospitality by serving lunch. Not at all considered demeaning in that culture in that day. Now I suppose if she had chosen to sit and listen to Jesus speak, teach and tell stories, as Mary did on another occasion while her sister Martha stewed and eventually boiled over because she felt her sister should have been helping her instead of sitting listening to Jesus. Had she chosen to listen instead of serve as her way of honoring Jesus I believe that would have been a totally acceptable response, based on her motivation. But Peter’s mother-in-law chose to give her best by serving. Jesus later honored servants by stating, the first will be last and the last first, and he who would be greatest must be servant of all. And then his great purpose statement, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 Believers in Christ are to follow Jesus’ example and have hearts that delight in serving him by serving others.
News of her healing spread rapidly as it does in small towns, and that evening after it got dark and the Sabbath day was over and its strict laws forbidding working on the Sabbath are no longer in effect, people from every corner of Capernaum come to Simon’s house with their ill, and demon possessed family members or friends, wanting Jesus to heal them. Mark says the whole town gathered in front of the house. Jesus healed many of various diseases and drove out demons, again not allowing the demons to speak. He was demonstrating his authority over the evil spirits and didn’t need their testimony of who he was so as not to confuse anyone. Jesus was instantly popular for what he could do for the people.
It doesn’t say how late into the night Jesus ministered to people’s needs by performing healings and exorcisms. But verse 35 says that very early in the morning, before daylight, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. No one would have blamed Jesus for sleeping in a bit after the long and full day he had just had, giving and giving to people. Exhausting! But Jesus, as likely was his consistent, probably daily, practice got up early and went to a quiet place, free of the distractions of people and work and responsibilities calling for his attention so that he could talk with his Father, could commune with him. Jesus speaking as well as listening; maybe more listening than speaking. I doubt that Jesus got up because he felt like he should go and pray. I am convinced he got up because he looked forward to that time with his Father. Having taken on a human body with its limitations Jesus longed for encouraging and refreshing and affirming communication with his Father. In these times Jesus received instruction from the Father, perhaps letting him know something of what to expect of the day ahead, telling him where he should be going next. Receiving his marching orders, if you will.
Jesus prayer time is cut short. Verse 36 tells us that Simon and his companions wake to find Jesus is not home. They go out and hunt for him until they find him in a quiet solitary place. “Everyone is looking for you!” they exclaim. Maybe Simon’s influence is seen here in the suggestion that everyone is looking. I think there is a bit of rebuke in their exclamation. Everyone is looking for you, Jesus! What are you doing out here? There’ll be time to pray later. We need to strike while the iron is hot, or in their setting, we need to fish while they are biting. You have drawn a crowd, you are popular, who knows how big your ministry might get? There is power, popularity, perhaps, political influence, maybe even some financial gain to be had. Let’s not waste our time out here away from the action.
This is not the response of true disciples. A disciple watches and learns and does what his mentor or teacher says and does. Again, I think this is Peter’s influence, speaking his mind rather than having a teachable spirit.
Jesus is having nothing of it. “No. Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Another purpose statement by Jesus—I have come to preach. Preach what? Verses 14 -15 give us a clue. Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.
Jesus came as Messiah, to live among people, to teach and show us what God is like. He came speaking about the Kingdom of God, about the plan of salvation that was right then unfolding. Speaking about inviting God to be Lord of our lives, about the need of repentance, turning from old ways of life that don’t work or satisfy to new life found in a relationship with Christ. “Let’s go to the nearby villages so I can preach, bring good news of the kingdom there also, for that is why I have come,” he says. “And my Father has affirmed that purpose this very morning as I spent time with him out here in prayer,” I believe Jesus is thinking.
Jesus has the power and authority to heal. He did so often, and showed compassion by reaching out and touching those he healed helping them to their feet, often touching them where they were hurting. But his greater passion and his purpose was to teach and preach about knowing and following and serving God, finding our purpose in a relationship with him where he is not only savior, but also Lord of our lives.
Peter’s mother in law’s response to set about serving her guests was a perfect response of gratitude for what Jesus had done for her. We are called to serve out of gratitude to Jesus the Lord of our lives.
Jesus modelled such a life of dependence on the father as he took time daily to get away from all the distractions, the work, other people so that he could have communication with and fellowship with the father. It stands to reason that if Jesus needed that kind of time apart, set aside to be refreshed, to be reminded of his mission, then we surely need times like that. Not time we should set aside, but time we look forward to communicating with our heavenly Father, being convicted of sin, convinced of truth, guided in the things he would have us do.
I encourage you as I remind myself, take time to get away of distractions, set work aside, get away from people and speak to God and quietly listen to his still quiet voice as he instructs from the truths of scripture or impresses thoughts he would have for you. when was the last time you/I set aside that kind of time? When life gets busy, hectic, we need that time all the more.
THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS May 24, 2020
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THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS
There are people in all of our lives that we enjoy listening to or hearing from. We can enjoy these favorite “speakers” for a variety of reasons. I’m thinking of four people I have enjoyed listening to, each one for different reasons:
--a man I used to visit occasionally, long ago passed away now, who had a strong British accent and used very proper English. His words were so carefully chosen and he described things so well you could almost see them. I always enjoyed my visits with him because I enjoyed his skillful use of words.
-A second man, just a down to earth cowboy, a real cowboy in my books, not just a wanabee cowboy. His way of stating or describing things often brings a smile to my heart if not my face as well. His stories and illustrations are right out of everyday life, to the point, practical as can be, but stated in such a way as to help you see it exactly as it happened. He has a great sense of humor and a humility that both come out in his descriptions of life events. I enjoy hearing him tell stories of his life.
-A third man many of you will be familiar with. Ravi Zacharias passed away this week. Ravi was a great thinker and a defender of the Christian faith. He was right at home debating with popular philosophers and atheists. He could explain difficult to understand questions of life or theology. His ability to speak to the Christian view on social issues was very helpful and encouraging. He was a gifted speaker and a diligent student of the Bible and of the issues of life. I have often tuned in to hear Ravi if I was driving evenings when he came on Reach F.M. I was drawn to listen to his wise teaching.
-And I think of a few people in our church who aren’t the first to speak out in discussions, whether it is when a group is gathered chatting after church or at events like annual meetings. You’d never describe any of these people as one who loves the sound of his own voice. But on the occasions when they do feel the need to make
their views known, people tend to listen. They are thoughtful, godly and have life experience behind them. I thoroughly appreciate hearing from people like that, who spend some time really thinking before they speak and who have gained the respect of others in their well thought out opinions.
READ MARK 1: 21 – 28 THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS
A. His authority seen in his teaching Mark 1: 21 - 22
The four newly called followers of Jesus accompany him to a town on the north and west shore of the sea of Galilee, where Jesus has recently begin his public ministry. On the Sabbath day they go to the local synagogue. Being quite a distance from Jerusalem, where the temple was located, Capernaum had a synagogue, a building where the community of Jews met weekly for prayers, praise, blessings, reading of the Old Testament and when there was a rabbi or scribe present, a sermon. Visitors who were recognized as having training or ability to teach were often asked to do so. On this occasion Jesus was invited to teach and he did. Mark doesn’t tell us what he taught on this day. It tells us in verses 14, 15 that a few days earlier Jesus was proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” So he could have been announcing again the good news and encouraging repentance from old ways of life and to follow him. Or it may have been something else. Whatever he taught that day, the people were blown away. These were likely common folk, fishermen, merchants, laborers and families. The things Jesus said and the way he said them amazed the people. Now they had likely heard good speakers before, and good explanations of Scriptures and faith, but Jesus proved to be head and shoulders above anyone they had ever heard. Commentator William Barclay says the word translated as amazed should be understood as stronger than we mean it today, more like shocked or thunderstruck.
So how did Jesus communicate authority in his teaching? He didn’t teach like the teachers of the law. I read in a number of places that the teachers, rabbis, and scribes of Jesus’ day would often compare and quote what various other perhaps more famous and recognized rabbis taught on different questions and debatable subjects. They weren’t teaching just what the scripture passage said, but often what someone else said about the scripture passage. Jesus didn’t need to quote anybody else to make a case. He was the Son of God, who was with God in the beginning, was involved in creation, filled with the Holy Spirit, involved in the authorship of scriptures and so had a decided advantage over other teachers. He knew the Old Testament inside and out, both the letter as well as the spirit of the law. He taught with total confidence, communicated nothing but truth. He spoke with conviction, never skirting around the edges of controversy, but zeroed in on the truth. When Jesus spoke, he looked people in the eye, his gaze penetrating. People must have thought he’d been reading their mail, the way he touched on their thoughts, needs, and struggles. The tone of his voice, the conviction and the passion with which he spoke communicated authority. More than anyone else he believed in his message, was passionate about mankind’s brokenness and need of a savior. His teaching was clear, his application practical and his appeal was one of compassion. People often commented on the authority of his teaching. I believe the disciples chose to follow him because of his authority and authenticity.
Jesus placed his words and interpretations on par with the Old Testament Scriptures as he explained the meanings of those Scriptures. A number of times in Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mt., Jesus would start a paragraph with, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago…but I tell you…” and he’d give his interpretation. Examples; Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 34 in John 7 there was an event recorded in which the religious leaders sent the temple guards to arrest Jesus, but he was teaching and many of the people were believing in him. The guards failed to arrest him and when the leaders asked them why, they responded, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” John 7:46 Jesus taught with undeniable authority. People responded to Jesus that day, marvelling at his teaching and authority. They were open to God and responded in faith. Without openness to God their response might well have been one of skepticism, hardness of heart, and rebellion. But they were open to him and responded with faith to the power of his teaching.
B. His authority is seen in his miracles/healings Mark 1:23 – 28
As Jesus was teaching, or just finishing, a man possessed by an evil spirit called out to him, “what do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” It would seem this man was completely under the control of an evil spirit, a fallen angel, one of the angels who followed Satan’s rebellion. Some people don’t believe in demons. In North American Christian circles we don’t talk much about them, but Scripture has quite a lot to say about them. I want to suggest two extremes to be aware of, the first extreme: being embarrassed by mention of evil spirits or demons. Jesus confronted them often in the Gospels and cast them out of people. They were and are real. The second extreme is to blame every evil thing that happens on demons or evil spirits, to think they are behind every bush. The sin in people’s hearts is capable of doing much that is evil, so not all evil is to be blamed on demons. Now to the man who approached Jesus that day in the synagogue.
The evil spirit spoke from the man, likely it was the man’s voice. Note that he recognized who Jesus is. He called him by name twice, using different names for Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth and Holy One of God. Both names were accurate, and Holy one of God would even sound respectful, giving Jesus credit for being divine. The evil spirit refers both to the plural pronoun “us” and the singular pronoun “I” to represent on whose behalf he was speaking. It is thought he was asking if right then was the time Jesus would destroy all the evil spirits (us). And then he switched to “I” when saying I know who you are. It is not clear if the demon is fearful, surprised by Jesus, or defiant; I’ve always assumed it was defiance.
Jesus’ response was short, harsh, direct, 2 firm commands. “Be quiet,” he said, and “Come out of him!” almost like saying Shut up! And, Get lost! The evil spirit obeyed both commands, but not before causing the man to convulse violently and then let out a shriek as he left.
It would appear that the man was completely freed of the evil spirit and well in the end. Again the people were amazed at Jesus’ miracle, they called it a new teaching, that even evil spirits obey Jesus. And again Jesus’ authority is emphasized by the people. News about him and his popularity spread quickly around the whole region.
There are some lessons to be gleaned from this exchange between Jesus and the evil spirit. Evil spirits/demons recognize Jesus, and acknowledge who he is. James 2:19 says that even the demons believe there is one God, and tremble. But they still fear and hate him and know he will one day destroy them. It is possible to know who Jesus is and hate him all the more. Filled with the evil spirit, the man wanted nothing to do with Jesus. But Jesus came to reclaim the man for the kingdom of God, probably the first of many such exorcisms, freeing people from the grip of evil spirits, as well as from the bondage of health issues, of misplaced priorities and lies believed. This was for the four new disciples a sample of what was to come, both in Jesus’ teaching as well as his authority over evil.
People responded to Jesus that day, marvelling at his dealing with the evil spirit and his authority. They were open to God and responded in faith. Without openness to God their response might well have been one of skepticism, hardness of heart, and rebellion. But they were open to him and responded with faith to his power over the evil spirit.
C. Jesus’ authority is available to us Matthew 28: 18 - 20
Following his resurrection and just prior to his ascension Jesus said to his disciples (read 18 - 20) all authority… Jesus had the authority to call people to repentance; to claim lordship, to claim to have, be absolute truth; to claim he is the way, truth and the life and that no one comes to God the Father except through Jesus himself; to claim he alone can deal with mankind’s sin problem. Because of his authority demons tremble, people experience forgiveness and are freed, and lives are changed, transformed.
All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me…go and make disciples…baptize them, teach them…I will be with you…Do this by my authority; appeal to the authority of Jesus’ name as you seek to speak truth into people’s lives, as you pray, as you teach what he taught and commanded, as you live out your faith in him. Know that he is with you as you submit to him. Speak boldly the truth of who Jesus is, of the truth of Scripture, of his love for people, of our need to come to him in repentance and trust. There is hope for anyone in bondage to sin, evil spirits, addictions, or lies believed. Jesus has authority and power over all that would enslave.
Let's Go Fishing May 18th.
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Let's Go Fishing!
Mark 1:16 – 20
May 18, 2020
Greeting and prayer
I had been serving as a youth pastor at a church in Ottawa for 9 years. The ministry was going well, Barb and I were happy where we lived, with what we were doing and with the people with whom we served. Our family was growing; we were expecting our 3rd child. One day, out of the blue I got this overwhelming sense that God was calling me to go back to school, to seminary. That had never been anything I wanted to do. Before that moment if you would have said I would be back in school with 3 kids I’d have said you’re crazy. But the sense that God was leading me to leave what was familiar, comfortable, doable, and enjoyable and to follow where the Lord wanted to lead me was something I couldn’t shake. So I announced my resignation, thinking people would say that’s a crazy thing to do, but people were extremely supportive in their words and some of them financially. God clearly provided in ways that strengthened our faith. We ended up spending 3 great years at Providence Seminary in Manitoba, made great friends, saw God’s hand at work in our lives again and again and enjoyed the experience thoroughly.
Read Mark 1:14 – 20
The Sea of Galilee is 13 miles long and 7 miles wide at its greatest length and width. It is a freshwater lake known for very good fishing in Jesus’ day. I read that on the average day there could be 300 fishing boats on the lake. It was known to be a dangerous lake/sea, with storms coming up suddenly. There are many events recorded in the Gospels that happened on or near the Sea of Galilee.
Very early in Mark’s gospel we see the account of Jesus calling 4 fishermen to follow him. This is a call to believe in him and become his disciples. If there were 300 fishing boats on the water that day and 2 – 4 men in each boat, we see that Jesus handpicked 4 men from 600 to 1200 fishermen. He called these 4 to follow him.
His invitation seems abrupt, out of the blue. But if we look at other gospels we learn that Peter and Andrew had previously been disciples/followers of John the Baptist. Read John 1:35 – 42. Likely these men went back to their fishing after that day and sometime later Mark’s account tells us Jesus was walking along and saw the two of them in their boat casting the net into the water. He invited them, almost sounds like a command, with a promise, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The passage says that at once they left their nets and followed Jesus.
Jesus walked a little farther along the shoreline and saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee, preparing their nets, getting ready to go out fishing. Without delay Jesus invited James and John to follow him too and they too left their Father in the boat with the hired men and they followed Jesus. Strange to us that someone would do that so quickly.
What do we know about these men? They were fishermen. Tough men, used to working hard in difficult, even dangerous conditions. Fishing was a stable industry, they could count on making a steady living for their families.
Andrew is often introduced in the Gospels as Simon Peter’s brother. Less space is given to him than is given to Peter. Less is known of Andrew. According to John 1:41 – 42 the first thing Andrew did when he heard John the Baptist reveal Jesus as the Lamb of God was to go and find Peter and bring him to Jesus, who Andrew believed to be the Messiah. When Jesus fed the 5000 people on the mountainside next to the Sea of Galilee, as recorded in John 6, it is Andrew who brought the small boy with his 5 loaves and 2 fish to Jesus and Jesus then multiplied the meal so there was food left over when all 5000 had eaten. And when some Greeks who had converted to Judaism requested of Philip to speak to Jesus, he mentioned it to Andrew and Andrew and Philip then went to Jesus to request an interview on behalf of the Greeks. So it would seem that Andrew was in the habit of bringing others to Jesus during his time as one of Jesus’ followers. John 12:21, 22. That’s Andrew.
Simon, or Peter, as Jesus soon renamed him, became the self-appointed spokesman for the other disciples. He was quick to reveal what he was thinking. He was spontaneous, impulsive. His mouth got him into trouble on more than one occasion. He along with James and John held unofficial positions as Jesus’ inner three, being allowed to go places and do some things the others weren’t invited to experience. For example, they were in closer proximity to Jesus when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Matthew 17 Jesus took the three of them to a high mountain where he was transfigured, his face shining like the sun and his clothes white as the light. Appearing with Jesus were Moses and Elijah, speaking with him and then the voice of the Father from a cloud said “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” An incredible faith building experience. And Peter, the one who denied knowing Jesus as he stood trial. But he was reconciled to Jesus after Jesus rose from the dead, becoming a great leader of the first century church, preaching a powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to the body of disciples and other believers.
James and John were sons of a man named Zebedee. According to our passage in Mark 1 they were successful fishermen; when they left their father in the boat, there were still hired men in the boat with him. Mark 3:17 tells us Jesus gave these two a name which meant, Sons of Thunder. Scripture doesn’t explain why he gave them that nickname, but most scholars think it had to do with their bold and aggressive personalities. In Luke 9:54 when people of a Samaritan village were unhospitable to Jesus and the disciples, James and John asked Jesus if they should call down fire and consume those Samaritans. Of course, Jesus rebuked them. James and John were the ones who, along with their mother, boldly came to Jesus asking for special positions in his kingdom. John was known as the disciple Jesus loved, had a special friendship with, closer than all the others.
These four, according to Luke 5:1 – 11 knew each other, in fact were partners, at least part time, in their fishing business. The remarkable thing about all of them is how ordinary they were, given that Jesus the Messiah, the Savior of the world, picked them that day out of hundreds of fishermen fishing on the Sea of Galilee. They were blue collar, hardworking, independent, and rough around the edges ordinary men like so many other people in the little villages along the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. They weren’t among the religious elite. Nor were they well educated other than in the skills required to be good fishermen. They weren’t particularly gifted as speakers. And they often didn’t listen carefully either. Jesus told them 3 times he was going to be crucified and they still didn’t comprehend what he was saying. They were not super spiritual or men of outstanding faith. Many times Jesus spoke firmly to them as being men of little faith, slow to understand.
But Jesus initiated, called out to them to come and follow him and he’d make them fishers of men. Come believe in him, become a disciple who matures and grows in faith, a follower of Jesus and he promised He would make them into men who rescued others from lives of sin and desperation, men who introduced others to Jesus as savior and Lord. Jesus invited them to follow, not because they were extraordinary, but because Jesus is extraordinary and loved them. Jesus didn’t call them because of their special abilities or credentials or their popularity, their likability, or their family tree. They received an invitation from Jesus, not a tryout for which they had to qualify based on their good deeds or godly behavior. They were very ordinary people, but they had shown an interest in the possibility that Jesus might be the Messiah. I think Jesus saw in them a humility and faithfulness and an eagerness to learn. And obviously they were willing to follow Jesus because they walked away from successful and secure fishing businesses, in order to pursue something better, someone better, Jesus.
These men had much to learn, they had to grow in their understanding and faith. When they chose to leave the fishing and follow Jesus, little did they know how much their story was about to change. It cost them to follow. Fishing had been their way of life, all they knew. They were born into it, taught it by their fathers and they were good at it. They grew up next to the Sea of Galilee where the fishing was good. They were known as fishermen. They were about to experience some of the pain and struggle that comes with God’s kingdom breaking into the lives of hurting people. For them to leave to follow Jesus involved a willingness to allow their identity, status, and sense of worth to primarily be determined by their relationship with him. And that is what they did, followed Jesus and he made them fishers of people, pointing many to Jesus.
Jesus is promising these men, follow me and I will reorient your purpose for living and your purpose for working. Most Christians do not sense a call to leave their jobs and serve in some full time ministry, but if you do sense that call, you should follow where Jesus leads you. But whether you leave your job or not, the identity of a follower of Christ is not to be based on whether he is a fisherman, a tax collector, a teacher, an engineer or a farmer. We are to be first and foremost a follower or disciple of Christ. He has invited us to follow, not because we are extraordinary, but because Jesus is extraordinary. And if we choose to follow he will bring us opportunities in whatever life work we do to be fishers of people who need to get to know the love God has for them.
Years ago I heard a story told by Dr. Howard Hendricks, long time professor at Dallas Seminary. He was flying on United Airlines one day and in the course of the flight a passenger in front of him had had a little too much to drink. He started becoming loud and obnoxious so a flight attendant came and spoke respectfully, calmly but forcefully to him and convinced him to take his seat and have a little rest. He was well behaved for the rest of the flight. A while later Hendricks walked to the back to speak with that attendant. He gave his name and explained he has a role as part time representative for United Airlines and he would like to get her name so he can commend her to her superiors for how she had handled that difficult passenger. Well, she said, I don’t work for United Airlines she said. Hendricks was caught off guard, what airline is this, I thought I was flying United. Oh it is United, but I don’t work for them. You see I am a Christian and I serve the Lord Jesus and if I did a good job there it is because I recognize it is Jesus I serve.
She was a follower of Christ first, a United Airlines employee second.
To follow Jesus means leaving some things behind, it can mean sacrifice and even suffering. To follow him is to follow his teaching, to treat people the way he did, to follow his example, even if it leads to suffering. But he promises if we follow, he will provide what we need to do what he wants us to do or what he wants to do through us and part of that work for all of us is pointing people to Christ as savior and Lord.
Mother's Day May 10th.
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MOTHERS DAY, 2020 Ephesians 6: 1 – 4
Happy mothers’ Day, Moms! Now I know that Mothers’ Day comes loaded with different emotions, a wide range of responses by mothers and the rest of us alike. This Mothers’ Day will for many mothers be quite different than past Mothers Days due to present restrictions. Others of you will perhaps have a fairly typical celebration. The important thing is that mothers be acknowledged for the absolutely essential and irreplaceable role they play in our families. We honor you mothers today and I believe it is biblical that you be honored, respected and valued by your children throughout the year for who you are and all you do.
Mark One, The beginning of the Gospel May 3rd.
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John the Baptist
Good morning and thank-you for joining us again today. It has been some weeks now since we have been all together and I hope you are doing well, that you are experiencing the encouragement of the Lord’s presence in your day to day life.
Today I am beginning a series on the book of Mark. I start with some important background as to understanding the book and then we will have a look at the first few verses.
Mark is one of the four Gospels, believed by many to have been the first of the four gospels to be written. Each gospel is written with a different audience primarily intended by the author. Most scholars suggest that Mark’s targeted audience was Roman (Gentile) Christians. It was written to encourage them to continue to trust and serve the risen Christ during a time of Roman opposition to Christianity. John Mark (Mark) is the author. He was a young man born into a wealthy family who came to believe in Christ. When Paul and Barnabas set out on their first missionary journey they chose to invite the promising young Mark to join them. He went part way with them, but for some reason he chose to turn back home before the journey was complete. Paul felt he had deserted them. When Paul and Barnabas were planning another missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to invite Mark to join them again, feeling he had matured sufficiently and would not leave them again, but Paul disagreed. They were so divided on Mark that Paul chose to go with Silas and Barnabas went a different direction, taking Mark with him. Later on Peter refers to Mark affectionately as, “My son Mark”, and even Paul eventually commends Mark as a useful and valued colleague (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11).
The book of Mark, as one of the 4 Gospels is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The four gospels include many of the same events and interactions Jesus had with people, but each Gospel is unique in what it includes and what it omits. Mark is the shortest Gospel, but it includes more of the miracles of Jesus than any of the other gospels. Mark highlights Jesus as a man of action. He moves quickly from event to event, joining the events often with the word “Immediately”. He frequently mentions the crowds pressing Jesus, wanting him to meet their needs. Several times he mentions that Jesus was “moved with compassion”. Probably the key verse of Mark is 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus is presented as a suffering servant Savior in the book of Mark.
As we read historical narrative books of the Bible like Mark there are keys to understanding and applying their message to our lives. Mark is more than just an account of the events of Jesus’ life. Readers are intended to be moved to choose to respond to the events and the words of Jesus recorded in Mark as well as other narrative books like the other Gospels. A great question we might ask as we read the book of Mark is, “What would Mark have considered an appropriate response to his writing?” Some keys to answering that question include: noting what seems to be emphasized in the book. Repetition of patterns, events, certain words or details give us a clue of what the author felt was important. For example, 3 times in chapters 8 – 10 Jesus gives the disciples a heads up that he is going to be arrested, crucified and rise from the dead. Each time the disciples right away argue over who is going to be greatest in his kingdom. Then Jesus follows up each time with teaching about what true greatness is. That repeated pattern is an indication that Mark felt this was an important message in his book.
All this to say, Mark has themes and a message he wants his hearers to understand.
Let’s begin. READ MARK 1:1 – 11
The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This emphasizes Jesus ‘divinity.
Gospel—the good news of the life and ministry of Jesus, the suffering, serving Savior. News to be proclaimed, preached, shared.
Then right into introducing John the Baptist, the messenger, herald, forerunner to Jesus predicted in the Old Testament. The beginning of Jesus ministry, John who will prepare the way, introduce Jesus. Note mark doesn’t include the genealogy of Jesus the way Matthew and Luke do. Jumps instead right into John, the messenger who was to come ahead of the Messiah. As I said earlier the intended audience was Roman believers. Romans would appreciate the messenger who would prepare the people for one greater than himself. When a high roman official was about to visit a city to make an important announcement, a messenger would often go ahead of him announcing his coming. And in the providence of God that was what was prophesied in Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. Verses 2,3 “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, a voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” Romans would expect such a forerunner to announce an important person.
John was a rugged character. A young passionate preacher who showed up in the desert region of the Judean countryside. Barb and I saw some desolate desert regions when we visited Israel a few years ago. They were barren, hot dry and dusty. Nothing growing there. I picture John out in such a region beginning to preach to those who would come to hear him. It says he wore clothing made of camel’s hair and a leather belt. This is said to have been the clothing of the poor, not the latest fashion. His food was meager, locusts (grasshoppers) and honey. His clothing and diet would have contrasted sharply with the flowing robes and extravagant feasts of the religious elite which were meant to emphasize their importance. But in his day there was not a more listened to preacher. “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to hear him preach.” His life of commitment backed up his message. And his message moved them. Confessing their sins they were baptized by him.
John’s message and baptism:
John preached a message of repentance. Many people think John just railed on the people. But Ray Stedman suggests he spoke to people’s need, spoke truth, but with compassion. He says that people came in such great numbers, the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem, because John was addressing their greatest needs. He spoke to them about sinful lives, guilt and fear.
The other gospels tell us more of the specifics of what he said to people. To the self-righteous Pharisees he spoke more harshly, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Produce the fruit of repentance.” Matthew 3:7, 8. To the common people, “the man with two tunic should share with the man who has none.” Luke 3:11. He told tax collectors to be fair. Luke 3:13. He warned soldiers to be content and not abuse the people. Luke 3:14
John was bold in preaching repentance, turning from your old way of life. The people were obviously eager to hear what he was preaching because when he finished many were baptized. Baptism was not a practice for the Hebrew people. If a gentile wanted to convert to Judaism he would go through the step of baptism signifying his turning away from his old way of life. it would speak to his being washed clean from the filth of his pagan culture. But before John’s ministry Jewish people were not baptized. But as John spoke to them the Spirit of God spoke to the needs of their hearts and they sensed their need to confess their sin and guilt and their fears of judgment and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
Another aspect of John’s message was his announcing of the coming of one greater than himself, popular as he became. “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” He is referring to Jesus, of course. He is indicating Jesus is far more important than John. So much so that John is not worthy to perform the task of a lowly servant in stooping down and untying his sandal and washing his feet. And yet later in Jesus’ ministry we see him doing that very thing for his disciples, the son of God taking on the role of a servant and eventually giving his life as a ransom for many.
John continues, I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. I can immerse you in water as you confess your sins, but it is up to Jesus to give you the Holy Spirit to cleanse you thoroughly on the inside, to give you Life and transform your life. Jesus’ work will be far superior to mine, john is saying.
Jesus’ baptism by John
Then we see Jesus coming to be baptized by John. Matthew records john’s objection to Jesus coming to him to be baptized. “I need to be baptized by you, but you come to me?” John asked him. Jesus did not need to be baptized for repentance, but chose to do so to identify with the sins of people, a foreshadowing of his taking on the sins of humanity for us.
This is the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry. The Father tears the heavens open and declares, affirms, You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased. The beginning of Jesus ministry, and the beginning of john’s declining popularity. People soon began to go to Jesus rather than to John and John’s response is, “He must increase and I must decrease.
How would Mark have us respond to this portion of his book?
We need to appreciate John’s commitment to be who God chose him to be, a voice calling in the wilderness, in the dry brokenness of people’s lives, sharing the need for people to humbly confess their sin, guilt, fears and need of a savior, to turn from their old way of life to follow Jesus. To remember the message we have to share is not about us, but about Jesus. Our story is of who He is, of how superior he is to any of us. Like John we are not worthy to wash Jesus’ feet, yet he loves us and invites us into relationship with him. Jesus walked where we walk in the trials and temptations of life, yet he was without sin. But he understands us completely. Ultimately he died for our sin and offers us life and the power of his Spirit living in us, as John indicated. Have you repented and invited Jesus into your life?
Signs of Life message April 26th.
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SIGNS OF LIFE
GIVING EVIDENCE OF YOUR FAITH IN WORDS AND DEEDS
April 26, 2020
Good morning! Thank-you for taking the time to read what I have prepared by way of a message for today. I hope you are doing well in the midst of all that is going on in Canada and around the world these past few days and weeks. The terrible events that happened in Nova Scotia this week have touched all of us across Canada. So many lives needlessly taken, families and friends left heartbroken and trying to make sense of it all. Others impacted severely by the Coronavirus, whether by loss of a loved one, or themselves hit hard by coming down with the virus or suffering financially because of loss of income. We live in difficult and uncertain times. As Christians we are convinced that God is still on his throne, in control, the One who can make the difference, even if things around us seem random, chaotic, and broken. There is great need for us to faithfully bring our concerns to the Lord in prayer.
Last week I spoke about the crooked little friendless tax collector, Zacchaeus, who Jesus intentionally
Zacchaeus Message April 19th.
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Zacchaeus, model of Repentance
Luke 19: 1 – 10
April 19, 2020
The story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus is a favorite children’s Bible story because Zacchaeus is short but resourceful. It is a favorite because he climbed a tree and what child doesn’t like climbing trees? And it is a favorite because he eventually got to talk with and even host Jesus in his home.
Read Luke 19: 1 – 10
Matthew, who I spoke about recently, like Zacchaeus, was a tax collector. As I said about Matthew, tax collectors were outcasts to the Jews of Jesus’ day because they served the Romans by collecting taxes for them. They were considered traitors. They also had a reputation for being crooks. They fulfilled contracts they made with Rome for taxes they agreed to collect from their people. Problem was, most tax collectors collected more than they had to submit to Rome, some of them a lot more. Nobody likes to pay taxes, and we really don’t like to pay more than we should legally be required and I suppose if we lived under foreign rule we would really resent paying a government we don’t recognize as legitimate.
Zacchaeus was one of those guys, a wealthy tax collector, in fact a chief tax collector, meaning he had other Jewish men, extortioners really, collecting taxes for him to fulfill the several revenue collecting contracts he held with the Roman government. To the Hebrews of Jesus’ day tax collectors landed on the social ladder just one rung below prostitutes and just above a cockroach. So Zacchaeus wouldn’t have been a respected man nor a man with many friends. He had wealth, but it served as a poor counterfeit for that which brings real satisfaction, peace, and purpose in life.
He is described as being short of stature. He was short on morals as well. By his own admission, he was a cheat. (v. 8) Having few friends, he likely had no one in the crowd who would make room for him to stand with them as Jesus approached.
Like everyone else in Jericho that day, Zacchaeus was curious to see and hear from the man so many were talking about. The religious leaders, trying to be unkind toward Jesus, referred to him as a friend of tax collectors and sinners, a designation that in reality was a compliment. That must have caught Zacchaeus’ attention. Life wasn’t all that he thought it should be, given his incredible wealth. He must have felt he was missing out somehow, finding wealth without friends or self-respect to be quite empty. I think he must also have been carrying a load of guilt around for the many times he had ripped others off. He wanted to see Jesus and he wanted to find meaning and peace in his life.
Zacchaeus’ desperate resourcefulness:
As Jesus got nearer to where Zacchaeus was, he knew he would not be able to see him because of the great crowd. He searched his surroundings and a short way ahead he saw a sycamore tree with its many wide low branches, perfect for climbing and sitting in. Though it was considered undignified in that culture for a man to scamper up a tree, that is exactly what he did. Some must have laughed at him and mocked him, but desperate to see Jesus, he didn’t care what anyone else thought of him at that point.
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EYES TO SEE
Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020
Luke 24: 13 – 35
Christ is Risen! Response: He is risen indeed!
Happy Easter to all of you who are watching today! Again I would say we would rather be able to meet together at the church, and we will again in time and the Lord knows how we would like to worship him gether. My prayer is that this time we have to go through will be used of the Lord to bring growth in each of us, and that we will be responsive to him in that process.
READ LUKE 24: 13 – 35
BACKGROUND: Resurrection Sunday. Afternoon. Two men are walking the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.
The two men don’t recognize Jesus.
The two men had been in Jerusalem, with the 11 disciples and the women and perhaps other followers of Jesus who were grieving together. These two men left Jerusalem to go back the 7 miles to a town called Emmaus. One of the men was named Cleopas; the other is not named in Luke’s gospel. As they walk the two men are involved in an intense, and animated discussion. The passage tells us that the recently resurrected Jesus catches up with them, and begins to walk with them toward Emmaus, and to engage them in conversation. It says they are kept from recognizing Jesus.
Last summer Barb and I went to the Peace Country Wilderness Rodeo. We took a seat and started taking it all in. Lots of kids and young people taking part. And leaders. One guy with a large Mexican sombrero and a big mustache was out in the middle of all that was happening. He had a microphone and was giving instructions for the various games and races, and providing commentary and telling jokes, all the while speaking with a Mexican accent. He was quite funny, great with the kids, and good with the accent. And it wasn’t until he affectionately addressed Kelsey Ryzebol, formerly Kelsey Emerson, as Hon, that I realized who he was. It was an Aha moment. I said to Barb I think that’s Kyle. She asked who and I said the guy with the sombrero. She looked at him, doubtfully for a while, before she agreed. Neither of us had recognized him for a long time. The sombrero, mustache, Mexican accent and quick wit had captivated us, and we just weren’t expecting Kyle for some reason.
Cleopas and his friend didn’t recognize Jesus. Partly because they were not at all expecting to see Jesus alive. They had been discussing all the events of the past few days, from every angle. I think they were genuinely looking for the truth about Jesus. They’d heard the women’s report of the empty tomb along with the vision of the angels telling them he was alive. They’d even heard the reports of John and Peter, confirming the empty tomb. . Apparently they chalked it up his emotional followers just seeing things they wanted to see. In their intense discussion they hadn’t come to the point of believing Jesus had actually risen from the dead. They likely discussed that possibility, but so far had dismissed it. They weren’t expecting Jesus so didn’t recognize him. Another reason they were unable to recognize him undoubtedly was supernatural prevention, God didn’t want them to recognize him yet.
The two men can’t see beyond their unfulfilled expectations:
“What is it you are discussing?” Jesus asks them. His question stops them in their tracks and they look at him in disbelief. Their response is similar to “Where have you come from? How can you not know all the
Good Friday Message
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