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Archive for the ‘Mark’ Category

The literary structure of Mark 6:14-29

We’re in Mark 6:14-29 today, if you would like to turn there. Last time we saw how Jesus sent out the twelve to do the work of the kingdom: to preach repentance for the kingdom of God is at hand, to heal the sick and to cast out demons. We also saw how they came back to report to Jesus and he called them to rest from their kingdom work.

Well, in between the beginning and the end of this story; the working and the resting – Mark tells the story of John the Baptist’s death. And as I said last week, there’s a reason for this; there’s a link between these stories, which we’ll look at in a moment.

John raised from the dead?

14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.

King Herod here refers to Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, the one who tried to kill Jesus as a baby. When Herod the Great died his territory was divided into four parts and four of his sons took over one part each. Herod Antipas was given rule over Galilee and Perea.

So in our verse we learn that Herod Antipas heard of the mission of the disciples. They went out in Jesus’ name and have now made him even more well known. As we’ve seen, Jesus’ fame has been increasing and here even the political leaders of the day have heard about him.

Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”

This is the first indication in Mark that John has died. Last we heard back in 1:14 he had only been arrested.

Although not really plausible, since John and Jesus are about the same age and were together for a time, some think that Jesus is just John raised from the dead. And it’s because he’s raised that he now has these miraculous powers.

5But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”

Elijah, or someone like him, was prophesied to return in Malachi (3:1; 4:5-6). But as we will learn later, Jesus identifies John as this Elijah (9:11-13).

Others thought Jesus was a significant prophet, since they compare him to prophets from the Old Testament.

16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

Herod declares his opinion that Jesus is John raised from the dead. He here also confesses to killing John, “John, whom I beheaded.” And perhaps there’s a connection between his guilt over killing John and the fear that John has now come back with even more power to haunt him.

Having told us that he died, Mark now gives us a flashback and tells us –

How John was killed

17For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Herod Antipas was not known as a devout man by any stretch of the imagination. In this case, John has be criticizing his marriage to his second wife Herodias. She was previously married to Herod’s half-brother Philip.

So Herod married his brother’s wife, while his brother was still living. This is strictly forbidden in Scripture. In fact, it’s considered incest (Leviticus 18:16; 20:21). Herod and Herodias have broken a basic boundary that God has laid down for sexual relationships.

And this plays into why John was arrested. Apparently Herod didn’t care too much about it but arrested John “for the sake of Herodias.” And this makes sense. After all, John was calling into question her marriage and thus her power. So she would have wanted him silenced.

But not only this –

19And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death.

Her response is straightforward and brutal.

But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

So even though Herod is not a devout man, who here flouts biblical teaching on incest, he’s still fascinated by John and is afraid to do more than arrest him. Indeed he protects John from his own wife. He even went to listen to him from time to time.

21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23And he swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”

Herod throws a birthday party for himself and all the bigwigs of Galilee and Perea are there. And no doubt it was a lavish event.

Herodias’s daughter, most likely from her first marriage, dances. And she does such a good job that Herod promises to give her anything. He even swears an oath to give her “up to half my kingdom.” (The word here in v. 23, sometime translated “vowed,” does mean he made an oath and not a vow.)

The phrase “up to half my kingdom” was a proverbial saying that just means – whatever you want (1 Kings 13:8; Esther 5:3, 6; 7:2). He couldn’t give his kingdom away even if he wanted. He was a client ruler under Rome’s power.

24And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

This was the moment Herodias was waiting for and she does not hesitate she wants John’s head. And notice her daughter’s grisly addition “on a platter.”

26And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.

It’s not that Herod is suddenly concerned about righteousness and keeping oaths, it’s that all the important people in his realm heard him and so he feels he has to come through on his foolish and rash oath. Even though he personally didn’t want to kill John.

27And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.

Herodias got what she wanted all along. Herod kills John, a person he knows to be “a righteous and holy man” – v. 20. A man about whom Jesus said, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater” than John. And he was killed for the most petty of reasons, so that Herod could save face in front of his guests.

Notice the contrast in this story and Jesus calling the twelve to go out. The same word “sent” is used in both. Jesus sends out the twelve to preach and heal and cast out demons (v. 7). Herod sent to have John arrested (v. 17) and sent the executioner to kill him (v. 27). There is a contrast in kingship here between Jesus the true king and Herod the worldly king. Jesus bring peace and blessing. Herod kills the most righteous man up to that point in history. (Perhaps this is why Mark uses the language of “king” for Herod even though he was really only a tetrarch).

[There are some interesting parallels between this story and the story of Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah. Except in this case “Jezebel” gets to kill God’s prophet]

29When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

The story begins with Herod hearing about Jesus’ disciples, and it ends with John’s disciples coming to honor their teacher by giving him a proper burial.

Let me end by highlighting three truths from this passage:

1. It’s not enough to hold Jesus in high regard. You can have a very high opinion of Jesus; that he’s a prophet – whether Elijah or John or another great prophet. And many people today do have a high regard for Jesus. If they don’t hold the church or Christians in high regard, and tragically too often with good reason, they do respect Jesus.

But Jesus is not just a prophet or a good man. He’s much more. Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. And it’s a faith in this Jesus, not in Jesus as a prophet or good man, that saves.

Jesus himself tells us that there will be many on the final day who even call Jesus “Lord” to whom he will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” Luke 13:27

2. God sets the boundaries for sex and marriage, not us.

The world says, as long as sex is adult and consensual – it’s fine; there’s no problem. But Herod and Herodias were both adults and their relationship was consensual and it was incest and it was wrong, as John the Baptist made clear. (See also 1 Corinthians 5:1-2)

Likewise a same sex sexual relationship can be adult and consensual. But it’s still wrong. And two people living together outside of marriage can have adult and consensual sex. But it’s still wrong. For Christians, God sets the boundaries, and those boundaries are found in Scripture.

Just like Herod and Herodias in their day, the world today can seek to silence us. But you know what? Even if it does, sexual sin is still sexual sin. And that’s because God sets the boundaries for sex and marriage, not us.

But certainly the main point of this story is that 3. Working for God’s kingdom will cost you. I believe this is why the story of Jesus sending out the disciples to do kingdom work and this story are intertwined in the way they are.

John’s death for his work of the kingdom forebodes the persecution and death that awaits Jesus and the apostles and even the opposition that awaits us – as we work for the kingdom. Are you ready for this?

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[An earlier version of this message was preached in May 2004 in a Church of God congregation in Zurich, Switzerland.]

I want to talk to you about what it means for us to take up our cross and encourage you in your practice of this. Turn in your Bibles to Mark 8:34-35 – Jesus said,

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

First of all, there are a couple of misconceptions about what it means for us to take up our cross that falsely limit its application in our lives. The truth is that –

To take up your cross will affect every part of your life

Let’s look at these misconceptions. Some people say that taking up the cross is a only an inner, spiritual experience, something that takes place in our hearts – an inner cross where we die to our selfish desires.

Well, there is some truth in this, for there is something called an inner cross. For instance Jesus had to struggle within at Gethsemane in prayer, when he prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.” He had to deny himself and put God’s will first.

But it wasn’t just about his inner attitudes. Because after Gethsemane came Golgotha. No, Jesus had to take up his cross with real life actions – his suffering and death on the cross.

Yes, the cross has to do with what goes on within you, but it is also about your outward behavior. For if you die to your desires within this will show up in cruciform behavior and actions without. As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). What is within your heart, is what will come out in your deeds.

Some people say that taking up the cross is only about suffering persecution, so that it only applies to a particular part of our lives, when we suffer for our faith.

Well the cross certainly does refer to persecution and followers of Jesus must literally suffer and do at times literally give up their lives.

But Jesus himself connects his call to take up the cross in Mark 8 with self-denial, something we are to practice in everyday life. Also in Luke 14 he connects the cross to something as practical as surrendering our earthly wealth to God. No, the cross has to do with all that we do in this world as followers of Jesus. Suffering for sure, but also helping a neighbor, doing ministry, serving someone a meal, etc..

Now I want you to get a sense of what it looks like to take up your cross. I want us to look at the –

The cruciform pattern of Jesus

 Paul talks about this in Philippians 2:5-11 and I want us to read this.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

There is in these verses a “cruciform pattern” to Jesus’ life – in two stages:

First of all, there is a downward movement. Jesus lowered himself. And he did this in two steps:

First, Jesus became a servant. Though he was at the highest place in all of creation, he lowered himself to serve the needs of others. He denied himself, he lost his life by setting aside his place, his privileges and his prestige in order to lower himself to serve. He did this as he healed others, taught, set people free, loved them, and in general gave of himself to others.

But not only did Jesus serve, when his humble service was rejected he lowered himself even further. Jesus endured suffering and death. In this case his self- denial led to the literal loss of his life as he sacrificed himself on the cross for others.

Then, there is an upward movement. When he was as low as one can go, Jesus waited upon God and God raised him up. God raised him from the dead and seated him at the highest place in all of creation – at his own right hand. He was blessed and honored.

So this cruciform pattern has two stages – a lowering stage and a raising stage.

Now let’s look at –

How this works out in our lives

We are to live out this cruciform pattern. As Paul says, “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” – 2:5. It is not just about Jesus, it is about us following Jesus. “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus said.

  • We are lower ourselves to serve others’ needs, and we are to accept suffering from those who reject this. As we do this, we sacrifice and die to our life here on earth; we deny ourselves and lose our lives.
  • And then we are to wait upon God to raise us up to new life.

– This is to be the pattern in our life considered as a whole – that we lowered ourselves and then God will raise us up at the resurrection.

– And this is to be the pattern of our daily walk, as we take up our cross “daily” (Luke 9:23) and “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:21) to ourselves, and God makes us new in our heart and actions.

This then is what it means “to take up your cross.”

But as this phrase indicates, our focus in to be on the downward movement. Jesus focused on the lowering stage. Paul said, “he made himself nothing.” The raising stage was left for God to accomplish. Jesus trusted that God would raise him up.

We too are to focus on the lowering stage – serving other’s needs and choosing to endure suffering and rejection for this. And then we trust God to raise us up from our lowliness at the right time in this life and then at the resurrection.

The downward movement is necessary. Everyone wants the second stage, right? Who doesn’t want to be raised up, to be honored, to be recognized, to be blessed?

But the first stage, the path to this – lowliness, who wants this? We want to skip right to the second stage. But you can’t have the one without the other. Without the lowliness, there is no exaltation.

In Jesus’ words in Mark 8:35, if we seek to save our lives, that is, to hold on to what we have in our earthly lives; to have earthly honor now, we will lose our lives. We have to lose our earthly life – the lowering stage – before we gain our lives, being raised up by God.

Since this is so, you can see that –

The way of the cross is not easy

It takes real humility to put others first, to lay aside your privileges, rights, status and comforts for others. And to suffer rejection and ridicule for this.

It takes real love for God and others to deny yourself and to sacrifice in this way for the needs of others day in and day out, not heroically (being noticed by others) but obscurely.

It takes also endurance. Enduring lowliness, times of despair and times of weakness. It involves waiting upon God when it doesn’t seem that he will act. Remember Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

So let me end with –

Some words of encouragement

When you feel like giving up, remember we have Jesus’ clear words of promise from Jesus that we will one day be raised up. As he said:

  • Those who are last, will be first
  • Those who humble themselves, God will raise up
  • Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, will find life in the Kingdom of God
  • Those who lose their lives, will find their lives

And not only do we have Jesus’ words, in the midst of our lowliness we must remember the clear example of Jesus’ life. He proved his words and promises to be true through his own life and actions, because God came through for him.

He endured the greatest lowliness, despair and weakness, but God raised him up. And just as God came through for him, God will come through for you as well.

And so in the words of Galatians 6:9 – “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

William Higgins

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Well, perhaps you’ve heard of the groups that have been proclaiming that Jesus will return on May 21st – which is this Saturday. They seem to be everywhere. They’ve been talked about a lot in the media, and they have a robust presence through their signs, websites, RV caravans in the U.S. and even missionaries going to other countries to spread their message.

This is all based on one man who feels he has been given special insight into Scripture; insight that has been withheld for centuries. [familyradio.com/PDFS/nmk_en.pdf] He uses cryptic numbers and dates to find hidden messages in the Bible. For instance, he gives a speculative date for Noah’s flood and then using symbolic numbers he forecasts the end of all things.

Many have bought into this, and some of these have even left jobs and spent their savings because everything will end this Saturday, so, ‘Why bother with worldly concerns?’

This man also preaches that people in churches – like us, who don’t listen to and respond to his teaching about the end will be judged and condemned by God on the 21st.

This is nothing new. In fact this very man predicted the end would come on September 6, 1994. As one news article says, “On September 6, 1994, dozens of . . . believers gathered inside Alameda’s Veterans Memorial Building to await the return of Christ, an event [he] had promised for two years. Followers dressed children in their Sunday best and held Bibles open-faced toward heaven. But the world did not end. [He] allowed that he may have made a mathematical error. He spent the next decade running new calculations . . ..”  [sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/01/01/BA8V1AV589.DTL&feed=rss.news]

And there have been other groups that have set dates like this. The most famous example in American history is called ‘The Great Disappointment.’ The date was set for October 22, 1844. Some left jobs and responsibilities behind. But, of course, it didn’t happen. And people were certainly disappointed.

I want us to think about this today, and especially this group that says that Saturday is the big day – because this is an object lesson for us about listening to Scripture, and about how seriously we can get ourselves in trouble when we don’t.

First, let’s listen to the Scriptures, which teach that –

No one knows when Jesus will return

Turn to Mark 13, if you will. Jesus address this topic here head on. Speaking of his second coming he says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” – Mark 13:32. The phrase “that day or that hour” speaks to the issue of timing, when Jesus will return. And then he says clearly “no one knows.”

And then the next part I teach in the catechism class (it’s so basic and clear that beginning Bible students know it):

  • If the angels don’t know the time, you can be sure that neither you nor anyone else knows.
  • And if the Son, that is, our Lord Jesus, doesn’t know the time of his return, you can certainly be sure that no human knows.

Are we really supposed to believe that anyone knows more than Jesus – about his own return!!! Only the Father knows the time.

Moving down to v. 33, Jesus says, plainly, “You do not know when the time will come.” And then look at v. 35. Speaking of his coming, Jesus said,  “. . . you do not know when the master of the house will come.” This man says he knows. Jesus says to him and everyone,  “you do not know.” In the space of 3 verses Jesus says this three times – “no one knows” “you do not know,” “you do not know!”

And think about it. This last verse comes from the parable of the servants. The master goes away and puts his servants in charge. The point of this parable is to teach us to be ready and alert for Jesus’ return. Why? Precisely because we don’t know when Jesus the master will return. These people think that if we know a particular date it promotes being ready. But this is the opposite of Jesus’ message.

If you know the exact date, why be ready until the day before? Live your life like you want. The servants can sleep all they want, as long as they wake up on the day they know their mater will return. Their teaching undoes the very logic of the clear message of Jesus to be ready and awake at all times because it can happen at any time.

As if this were not enough, Jesus also teaches us that we should not even try to find a date. He warned us ahead of time that some would try. In Acts 1:7, regarding the coming of the kingdom, Jesus says, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” So why do people try – when Jesus says, don’t? There is no possible reason to nullify our Lord’s word. As he said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” – Mark 13:31.

So after all the calculations and corrections and charts from this man, as my title says today, we still don’t know when Jesus will return.

So let me say to you today with utmost confidence that there is nothing to what this group is saying about Saturday. Not because I know – no one does. I can’t rule out May 21, or any day for that matter. But Jesus did say “the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” – Luke 12:40. So therefore May 21st is an unlikely day for Jesus to return.

The serious consequences of not listening to Scripture

When we don’t listen to Scripture and make it our standard we are susceptible to false teaching. This is a reminder to us that false teaching is alive and well. And we are called to avoid it. But we are vulnerable when we don’t listen to Scripture or when we give that responsibility over to some teacher and we just listen to what they say.

Jesus himself said concerning the coming of the end, “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” – Matthew 24:11. He knew people would take advantage of others with regard to his second coming. And so we are to be careful.

Jesus gives this warning in Luke 21:8 – “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.” We have already seen the Scripture is clear that no one knows when Jesus will return. And any time someone sets aside the clear teaching of Scripture – the very words of Jesus – they take up the role of a false teacher.

  • These people say, “the time is at hand” – this Saturday.
  • But Jesus warns us and says, “Do not go after them.”

And as your shepherd I am reminding you of your Lord’s teaching and warning you, “do not go after them.”

Also, when we don’t listen to the clear teaching of Scripture we become a stumbling block to others. Most of those swept up in this don’t know much if anything about the Scriptures. They are just following someone that they think does know. And they will be greatly disillusioned when nothing happens on Saturday. It will cause them to question their faith; to doubt Jesus; to doubt the Scriptures.

What I am saying is that the leaders of this movement are causing these believers to stumble; to fall off the path; to lose their way.

Jesus talked about this, and the seriousness of this in Mark 9:42. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Let me just say that drowning is not the way I want to die – and certainly not with a large stone around my neck. But Jesus says that it will be a worse judgment than this.

This reminds us of what James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my sisters and brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” – James 3:1.

All who don’t listen to Scripture and then, as in our case, set themselves up as the teacher that everyone should just listen to, and mislead others with false teaching will be judged. This is very serious.

Finally, when we don’t listen to Scripture, and then act on this, as in this case setting a date for the end against Jesus’ clear warning we defame God’s holy name.

Here I am talking about unbelievers. As Christians we are not to “misuse God’s name.” This is the third of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:7). Rather, Jesus teaches us to pray every day for God’s name to be “hallowed” or honored (Matthew 6:9).

And we bear God’s name. We are called by his name. And when we act in ways that bring ridicule to our faith, we bring ridicule to the Name that we bear.

Israel did this (Ezekiel 36:22). As Paul said, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” -Romans 2:24. And Christians have done this. And now these people are doing this. For when nothing happens on Saturday in the eyes of many, Christian faith will have been shown to be foolish and false. “Here we go, once again. Those Christians are sitting on hills waiting for Jesus. Don’t they know by now that it won’t happen.”

It gives God a bad name, even though God is not behind this and Jesus forbids it. Indeed, there are already Atheist parties planned so that they can celebrate when nothing happens and mock the faith of these people, and Christian faith in general.

This is a serious thing. For the third commandment ends with these words – “The Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name” – Exodus 20:3 (NRSV).

The message

So as I said this is a kind of object lesson for us, of what not to do. And what will happen because of it. In this particular case it has to do with the return of Jesus and the resurrection. But it could play out in other areas of our faith as well.

The lesson is, listen to the Scriptures! Listen to Jesus. Because when you don’t, it gets you into all kinds of trouble. And you will see this play out this very week. As it does, remember what we have looked at today from the Scriptures.

William Higgins

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Today is Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus entered into Jerusalem. And it marks the beginning of holy week.

We are going to look at a story from the Gospel of Mark, sometimes called the widow’s mite, or we can call it the widow’s offering. This story is a part of the holy week drama. It is Jesus’ last public appearance in Jerusalem as a free man, a few days before he’s killed. And this is a story that will challenge some common assumptions that we have about giving.

I would like to acknowledge the middle school Sunday school class who studied this passage with me for the last few weeks and helped me with this message.

Alright let’s break down the –

The Story

v. 41 – “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.”  The “he” is Jesus. And he is in the Temple complex.

“The treasury” probably refers to one of the 13 trumpet shaped chests that were used to collect offerings (not a building; see also John 8:20). The box would have a trumpet shaped opening to receive the offerings. (Something like an old gramophone?) It’s called “the offering box” later in our verse.

These offerings were most likely free will offerings given for sacrifices and the upkeep of the Temple.

This scene took place in the court of women, or the outer precinct of the Temple complex. Jesus was in this area sitting and watching. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I like to sit in the Mall and watch people. And like a mall, there would have been crowds in this place moving about, doing various things.

In v. 41 it says literally that the people were “throwing” their offerings in the box. And this would have made noise as the coins went into the metal trumpet shaped opening of the chest. Maybe like the sound when you throw change into a toll booth receptacle.

vs. 41-42 – “Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.”

Jesus takes notice of the “rich” giving offerings. They were probably well dressed. And they put in a lot. He would have heard this by the sound made as they threw their coins in.

And then he notices “a poor widow.” Widows were typically poor. They relied on their children or charity for whatever they had. Her clothing would have reflected her poverty. She put in very little. Again, Jesus likely would have heard the slight sound of her offering.

How much did she give? The “two small copper coins” she gave were two Lepta. It was the smallest denomination of coins in Israel at this time.

  • Each Lepton = 1/64 of a denarius – or a day’s wage for a laborer.
  • Her two Lepta equaled one Roman penny.

Now admittedly it’s hard to do accurately, but to put it in our terms, based on the cost of bread then and now, if my math is right, she gave something like 8 US cents; eight of our pennies. In her day, she could have bought 1/3 of a loaf of bread. [A loaf of bread cost 8 Lepta. (1 loaf bread = 1 As; 4 quadrans = As; two Lepta = a quadrans). Today a loaf of bread is around $2.50.]

v. 43 – “And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.’”

The disciples were probably close, but Jesus is getting their attention. He wants them to take notice of the poor widow. She is an example to them.

The phrase, “Truly, I say to you,” or it can be translated, “Amen, I say to you,” is unique to Jesus. He uses it 13 times in Mark.

First of all, no other Jewish teacher used “amen” like this. When it was used, it was used the way we use it. The “Amen” came at the end of statements or prayers. It means “yes,” “that’s right,” “so be it” or “truly.” You are making the statement or the prayer your own when you say “amen.”

The whole phrase “truly, I say to you” means something like, this is really important! It’s a way of invoking divine authority. It’s like in the Old Testament when the prophet said, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ but it’s more direct and powerful.

And then Jesus says something that is quite amazing. He tells us that she put in more than all the others combined. How much did all the rich people put in? Thousands and thousands of dollars? She only put in 8 cents. But it was more than the thousands and thousands. How can this be? Jesus tells us in –

v. 44 – “’For they (the rich) all contributed out of their abundance, but she (the widow) out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

The contrast is clear. The rich gave out of their abundance. They gave much more in total, but it involved no sacrifice to them. They still had lots more left over. More for food. More for clothes. More for shelter. And good food, clothing and shelter at that.

She gave all she had. The repetition makes the point clear, “everything she had, all she had to live on.” Once she gave, she had nothing left for food, clothing or shelter; even lousy food, clothing or shelter.

[How does he know that this was “all she had to live on”? Not sure. He knew her; he asked her; supernatural knowledge; perhaps the attending priest asked her, “Is that all you have?” and Jesus heard this.]

Jesus teaches an important lesson here. It’s not how much you give that matters. It’s how much you keep that matters; how much you have left over after you give, that you keep for yourself.

The widow gave more because she gave sacrificially. In fact, she gave everything. She held nothing back from God. The others did not give sacrificially.

Now this widow is not just an example to the 12; she is an example to us. So let’s look at –

Some lessons for us

1. Our assumptions about giving are often wrong. In this story we have yet another example of how God’s ways are different than our ways. And how the coming of the kingdom turns things upside down from the way we naturally think.

When giving to the Lord, we think it’s all about how much you give. And we are quite impressed with people who give large gifts. We honor them and we name buildings after them. We say, wow, they gave more than anybody else!

But as we learned in this story it’s not how much you give, it’s whether you gave sacrificially. So when the person gives thousands of dollars to the church  out of their abundance – that’s great, don’t get me wrong – but the poor person who gives very little money, but gives sacrificially, has given more.

And, in contrast to our way of thinking, it is this one that Jesus takes special notice of and honors, just as in our story.

Connected to this we can ask 2. How generous are we? And what is your standard that you measure this by? Is it tithing or giving 10%?

Now there isn’t anything wrong with using the tithe as a guide. But if that is all we use we are missing the true Christian standard. We should measure our generosity by how much it costs us.

The problem is that most Christians don’t even tithe. Churchgoers give under 2.5% of their income (CT 2/11). So to tithe would be an act of faith for most.

But we can’t conform the teaching of Scripture to our failings; so that we lower the standard. We need to conform our behavior to God’s truth. The true test of generosity is giving sacrificially.

3. We can give sacrificially in other ways. Rightly understood, this woman foreshadows Jesus on the cross, a few days later. Just as she gave sacrificially, Jesus will give “everything he has.” He will do what this widow has done with his life.

This shows that this principle of giving sacrificially goes beyond just giving money. We can give sacrificially in many ways: our time, our homes in terms of hospitality, sharing other things we own, and our lives – serving God and possibly persecution or death.

Here are some examples mentioned in our Sunday School class:

  • Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. Even the son of promise. He held nothing back from God.
  • Steve Kimes, who has a ministry to the homeless and mentally ill, and who invites them to live with him. He and his family have given up much to minister to them – time, privacy, their home, their lives.
  • Gary and Denise Williamson, who have given six years of their lives to go and live in Africa in a different climate, and culture and without most of what we take for granted in our country. They left family and friends behind. And it has been hard at times.

Finally, is God calling you to give sacrificially to him? Your money, your time, your possessions, your life? What might God be calling you to?

William S. Higgins

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We are back again in Mark 8:22-26, the story of the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida. Let’s read this to refresh our memoires.

“And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’”

Last week we saw a couple of interesting things about this story. First, this is one of three times that we have Jesus using spit to heal someone. Second, this is the only healing recorded in the gospels that takes two tries, or has two steps.

Today I want us to take another angle on this story. It’s one that is pointed out by many commentators, and I think there’s something to it.

To do this we need to understand how this story fits into the larger story that Mark is telling us about Jesus. So, first we look at the story right before ours –

The blindness of the disciples – Mark 8:14-21

This is where Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. And the disciples think that he’s talking about them not bringing along enough bread.

Jesus gets frustrated. He asks, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? . . . And do you not remember?” – Mark 8:17-18. To even talk about a lack of bread betrays a deeper misunderstanding on their part. Not only do they not get his figurative use of bread, they haven’t gotten who Jesus is.

Jesus goes on ‘Don’t you remember the feeding of the 5,000, and the feeding of the 4,000?, and all the bread that was left over?’ ‘Why would I be concerned about a lack of bread?’

The disciples don’t understand that he is the one who can multiply bread. The fundamental issue Jesus is asking in all of these questions is this, ‘Don’t you know by now who I am?’ As he ends in Mark 8:21, “Do you not yet understand?”

And in the middle of all this, in v. 18, he calls this lack of understanding blindness and deafness. He says, “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” This is a common metaphor that we still use today. One who, figuratively, can’t see (or hear) lacks perception, or understanding. Jesus is saying, ‘You just don’t get it! You just can’t take it in, can you?’

Next, we look at the story just after ours, which I label –

Peter’s partial perception of who Jesus is – Mark 8:27-33

As they left Bethsaida they started on their way North to Caesarea Philippi. But the trip would eventually lead South to Jerusalem and the cross.

And so Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” – Mark 8:29.  Notice the same focus on the identity of Jesus in both stories. And finally, Peter gets it! He says, “You are the Christ” – Mark 8:29. All the clues and signs; healings, exorcisms and teaching. Perhaps he moved from a suspicion that this might be so, to a hope that it was true, now to a clear confession of faith, ‘You are the Messiah.’

Peter understands. He can see! And presumably the other disciples as well. But, right away we find out, that this vision is still quite blurry. (Remind you of our story??)

Just after Peter’s confession, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed . . ..” – Mark 8:31. But Peter rebukes Jesus – 8:32. Don’t talk like that Jesus! That’s not who you’re supposed to be. You’re the Messiah. What do you mean suffering? What do you mean getting killed? No, no, no Jesus. The kingdom of God comes when the Messiah unveils his power and leads God’s people in triumph over all the nations, defeating them in war and ruling over them.

Peter understands partially, Jesus is the Messiah. But he doesn’t yet understand how Jesus is to be the Messiah. He doesn’t understand the cross.

So Jesus rebukes Peter – Mark 8:33. Be quiet! Your thinking is all messed up. Then he teaches that not only must he go to the cross, anyone who wants to be his disciple must take up their cross and lose their life – Mark 8:34-35.

Jesus is saying, the kingdom comes through the cross (and then the resurrection). It doesn’t come through earthly power, war and politics (which is why Jesus didn’t pursue these). It comes through lowliness, suffering love, and then trusting in God to come through for you. It comes through the cross and resurrection.

Peter sees partly, but his understanding is till fuzzy and blurred. He doesn’t get the part about the cross and suffering love being the way that the kingdom is brought into reality in this world.

Now, let’s look at –

The healing as a prophetic object lesson

Our story comes right between the two we have just looked at. And our story comes at the turning point of the gospel as a whole, where Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, and then where Jesus shifts and begins to teach them that he must suffer and die.

It comes right before we see that Peter needs two steps to understand who Jesus is:

  • Step one: Peter sees that Jesus is the Messiah, but he is confused about what this means, especially the cross. He is no longer blind but his vision is blurry, like the man in our story.
  • And then, after the resurrection, comes step two: He sees that Jesus had to die and then be resurrected to bring in the kingdom of God. It was then that he saw clearly, like the man in our story. After the second step.

I believe that Jesus may have used two steps to heal the blind man in our story to prophetically look forward to a similar process in his disciples’ understanding of his identity. So in answer to our question last week, ‘Why didn’t Jesus just heal him right away?’ It may have been intentional for this very reason. And they could look back on it and understand that he knew what was going on ahead of time.

And even if this is saying too much, that Jesus did this intentionally, I believe that Mark arranged his story in such a way that it highlights the symbolic nature of the healing of the blind man – to foreshadow the process of the disciples coming to an understand who Jesus is.

The prophetic object lesson is this – the disciples’ understanding of who he is will come in two stages. But also the message is there that Jesus is able to bring them to clear vision, just like with the blind man.

Alright, let’s apply this to us with some –

Lessons

In general we can say that we often move from blurry vision to clearer vision. We don’t fully understand everything about Jesus and the Christian life and so we need time. We are on a journey. And we have to grow and mature.

And, of course, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Even our clearest vision in this life, will be made more clear when the kingdom comes in its fullness.

More specifically, I ask, ‘Is your vision of Jesus and the kingdom and the cross blurred?’ Oh sure, we know that Jesus had to die. We came into the picture thousands of years after he already did. But we often don’t understand how the cross works for us.

The same Jesus who said he had to go to the cross, also told us to take up our crosses. The same Jesus who was teaching Peter that the kingdom of God comes, not through worldly power, but by suffering love, also teaches us the same. Just as Jesus brought forth the kingdom through the cross, we are to advance the kingdom through the cross.

But most of us are like Peter. Most Christians are still in step one! Our vision is blurred; we are confused about all this cross stuff. We have a veiled and partial understanding of Jesus and the kingdom. But Jesus calls us to follow him, not to take a different path. We are also to expand Jesus’ kingdom by means of lowliness and suffering love, and then calling on God to come and act, just like Jesus did. We are to follow the same path. This is how the kingdom of God is made manifest in this world.

Finally, our story gives us hope, because in it we see that Jesus is able to cure our blindness. Just as he healed the blind man in two steps, he was able in two stages to show the disciples who he is, and how the kingdom works. He gave them clear vision.

And he can do the same for us. He is able! If we are open to it. He can deal with our blindness, and give us clear sight and understanding. Ask him to open your eyes!

William Higgins

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We are looking at the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida today. As the title says, this is ‘an unusual healing.’ Although, having said that, it does have some parallels to the healing of the deaf mute in Mark 7 (and both of these are only found in the gospel of Mark). Let’s look at this as we get started and see what this might mean. [For more on this story and why it has two stages – The blind man of Bethsaida – Take two.]

Introduction

Read through Mark 8:22-26 and Mark 7:31-37 and notice the following similarities:

1.       A place reference begins the story

2.       The person is brought by others

3.       They beg of Jesus

4.       They want Jesus to touch him

5.       There is a concern for privacy

6.       Jesus uses spit

7.       He speaks to the man

8.       The man is healed

9.       There is a concern for crowds

[Nearly all commentators note parallels here. This is my own construal. For more see – Parallel healing stories]

These parallels serve to connect these two stories together. And these two healings look back to Isaiah 35:5-6, which refers to the coming of the kingdom and the Messiah. [See also Isaiah 29:18. The broader passage seems to have several parallels with Mark 7-8.] It says, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” So right off the bat there is an embedded message – the kingdom is here and Jesus is the Messiah.

Alright, now let’s look in more detail at –

Our story

v. 22 – “And they came to Bethsaida.”

The name means “house of fisherman.” This is where Peter, Andrew and Philip were originally from according to John 1:44.

The city is on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, just to the east of where the Jordan river comes into the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus meets the blind man.

v. 22 – “And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him.”

These “people” must have recognized Jesus. It was, most likely, not far from here that Jesus had fed the 5,000.

Like others in the gospels, they bring someone they know, who has a need, to Jesus for help. This is an expression of faith on their part (Mark 2:5). They wanted Jesus “to touch” the blind man, for they knew that the touch of Jesus brings healing.

In that day, the blind would be the ones begging for alms from the people. Here the people are begging for him, for healing from Jesus.

v. 23 – “And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village . . ..”

Jesus takes him by the hand and leads him away. This is kind of tender. He does it himself, not using a disciple. As far as we know, everyone else is left behind and it is just Jesus and the man, with perhaps the disciples.

Why out of the village in private? Jesus is concerned about the crowds. He is always being mobbed by them. Yet he came for something more important than healing as many people as he could before he collapsed and died of exhaustion.

And as well he was beginning his journey to Jerusalem and the end of his earthly ministry. So he had much work to do with his disciples, teaching them and preparing them.

Step one of the healing. This is the only healing in the gospels that has a two step process. [Although notice that the casting out of the demons in Mark 5 is a two step process]. Let’s look at this.

v. 23-24 – “ . . . and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’”

Jesus uses an odd process here to heal the man. Most often it is simply with a command, or no details are given.

Here Jesus spits on the man’s eyes and then touched him. (I have never seen a faith healer do this today. I mean, would you go forward if you knew he was going to spit in your eyes?). Jesus uses spit in two other instances – Mark 7:33 and John 9:6-7. The saliva of some was considered to have healing properties. Perhaps this is why Jesus does this.

Also unique to this healing story is that Jesus asks the man a question – “Do you see anything?” [Although, again, see Mark 5 when Jesus asks the demons a question].

The phrase about trees is hard to make sense of. Literally it says, “I see people that like trees I see walking.”

  • This can mean that he sees people that look like trees.
  • Or, he can only tell the difference between people and trees in that people move.

It would appear that the man is not blind from birth, because he knows what trees look like.

If we ask, ‘Why wasn’t the healing complete the first time?’, it is true that some thought healing a blind person was especially hard. And there are no examples of this in the Old Testament. But it is also true that later, in Mark 10, Jesus heals another blind man right away.

The reason for the two stages may be an object lesson that Jesus is giving, which I hope to look at next week. So we’ll save that.

Step two of the healing.

v. 25 – “Then he laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

Jesus doesn’t stop with the man only barely seeing. He touches him “again” and he is able to see clearly.

The completeness of the healing is emphasized by three phrases – “he opened his eyes” or he looked intently; “his sight was restored”; and “he saw everything clearly.” This makes it clear that Jesus was successful.

v. 26 – “And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’”

Again, Jesus seems to be concerned about the crowd that could form if people knew what happened. He is trying to focus on his going to Jerusalem and his disciples.

Alright, let’s draw out some –

Lessons

Like the people who brought this man to Jesus, and many others in the gospels – We should bring people to Jesus who have needs. Who do you know that fits this bill?

Too often we get caught in trying to fix people ourselves, when what we need to do is bring them to Jesus. He is the Messiah, not us. He is the one who makes people whole.

Let Jesus do his work. Sometimes Jesus worked in weird ways, at least to us. Here he went outside the village, he spit on him and there was a two stage process for the man to be made whole.  But the man went along in faith, and he received God’s blessing.

We too need to let Jesus do his work. And in faith go along as well, even if we don’t understand everything that Jesus is doing with us. Jesus knows what he’s doing.

Next we learn some things about who Jesus is from this story. Jesus is the Messiah. We saw the connection of this and the story in Mark 7 to Isaiah 35:5-6. By healing the deaf and mute man and the blind man, we are pointed back to the Scripture. And so Jesus is showing us that the kingdom is here and he is the Messiah, by doing what this passage talks about.

These healings are a sign for those who have eyes to see. In a story a few verses before ours, the Pharisees in Mark 8:11-13, still wanted a sign. But they have had more than enough signs, if they wanted to see them. And so Jesus ignores them.

In the story just after our story, in Mark 8:29, Peter finally gets it. He confesses to Jesus, “You are the Christ” or Messiah. He got the message.

Finally, we see that Jesus is God’s Son. Psalm 146:8 says of God, “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.” Jesus, once again, shows us that he is like God, his Father. He too can open the eyes of the blind. Like Father, like Son. He is indeed the Son of God.

Next week, Lord willing, we will look at this same passage again in the context of the flow of the story of Mark and the object lesson of the two stage healing of the blind man.

William Higgins

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[rewritten]

Let me begin with a question – What sins are you struggling with? You know, things you know are wrong, but continue to choose to do. Is there one in particular?

Perhaps you feel like you don’t even have control over it anymore; that you are a slave to your sin. Like Paul says in Romans 7:19 – “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want, is what I keep on doing.”

In the next few weeks, I want us to look at five specific steps that you can take to be free; to overcome your sin. These steps come from looking at Jesus as he faced the cross -primarily from Mark 14:26-72. Here he was tested as to whether he would stay true to God and go to the cross. And we learn from his example, how to overcome in our own areas of struggle.

We will also look at Peter as a contrast case. He was tested to see whether he would stay true to God by standing with Jesus, even if it got him killed. He did not overcome. We can also learn from, and identify with him.

I encourage you to keep in mind the area of weakness you have identified and as we go through this, apply it to your situation.

We begin with –

Step #1. Understanding what God’s will is, acknowledge your weakness to do what God says

We learn what God’s will is primarily through studying the Scriptures. As Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” We especially need to learn from Jesus and the New Testament, since Jesus gives us the complete and final revelation of God’s will for us.

Once we begin to understand God’s will, it will become apparent that we don’t measure up.

It’s just like Jesus said, “The flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. Weak that is, in terms of doing God’s will. We sin very easily, especially in a time of testing when we are put under pressure.

In humility we need to recognize this. As Paul said, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” – 1 Corinthians 10:12. As Proverbs says, “Pride goes before a fall” – Proverbs 16:18. Our pride will kill us.

But if in humility we are rigorously honest with ourselves – God can help us.

Peter’s failure. He was confused about God’s will. Before he got to Gethsemane, he didn’t think Jesus had to die on a cross. In fact, he rebuked Jesus when he said he had to die – Mark 8:33. Despite hearing Jesus’ repeated teaching, he thought Jesus would be a warrior Messiah and he would fight alongside him.

But not only is he confused, he was overconfident. He saw himself as strong. He said to Jesus, “Even though they all fall away (the other disciples), I will not.” – Mark 14:29. And he said, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” – Mark 14:31. Peter doesn’t acknowledge his weakness.

Jesus’ example. He knew God’s will for his life. Before he ever got to Jerusalem he told his disciples, “The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.” – Mark 10:33-34. (In our story Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7 – Mark 14:27)

And Jesus was upfront that this would be hard. Just as he said to Peter and the others, “The flesh is weak” – Mark 14:28. Jesus didn’t want to die the shameful death of a criminal on the cross. He didn’t want to be abandoned by God. He didn’t want to come under the judgment of death. Mark tells us that he “began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’” – 14:33-34. He knew it would be hard.

Step #2. Remain alert in prayer for times of testing and temptation

At Gethsemane Jesus told the disciples “keep alert and pray that you might not enter into testing” – Mark 14:38.

As we saw last week, Satan comes before God requesting permission to test us. He wants to test us in order to cause us to sin, so that he can condemn us before God. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that he “prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour.”

So, since we know that we are weak and the enemy is trying to destroy us, we should look to God in prayer (Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2) and specifically we should ask to be spared testing and temptation. We need to counter Satan, by asking God, “do not lead us into testing but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13), as Jesus teaches in the Lord’s prayer, and as he told the disciples in our story. We are saying, ‘God, the enemy is powerful and I am weak. Have mercy on me. Don’t let me be tested, lest I sin against you.’

Now sometimes in mercy God will answer our prayers and we will be spared. And who doesn’t want to be spared going through difficult situations? Why wouldn’t we be praying this all the time?

But even if God allows us to go through testing, because he knows we can handle it, and he wants us to grow in character and godliness – we will be ready, being alert and prayerful. We will recognize what is going on when it confronts us.

Peter’s failure. He was not spiritually alert to what might come his way. In fact, he was literally asleep – Mark 14:37. Jesus found him asleep three times.

Although Satan had obtained permission to test him, as Jesus said in Luke 22:31, he didn’t ask God to spare him testing, asking for God’s mercy.

The final time that Jesus woke Peter up he said, “The hour has come” – Mark 14:41. It was too late to get ready. There Peter was in the test of his life – confused and unprepared.

Jesus’ example. Jesus was alert and knew what was coming. And so he prayed to be spared. He prayed that “the hour might pass from him” – Mark 14:35. He prayed fervently, three times, “remove this cup from me” – Mark 14:36, which is another form of the prayer “do not lead (me) into testing.” He asked for God’s mercy.

And when God didn’t intervene to offer up another way, he was ready and accepted the test.

Now sometimes in mercy God will hear us and answer our prayers. But God will not always spare us testing, as in the case of Peter and Jesus. They were both tested. When this happens, if we have watched and prayed ahead of time, at least the test will not catch us off guard. We will be alert and prayerful as we enter into it.

Let me end by asking –

Are you ready for a time of testing?

Are you acting ahead of time knowing that there will be tests and struggles ahead? So many times the battle is lost before we even get to the test, because we haven’t done what we could have done ahead of time.

  • Do you understand what God’s will is?
  • Are you aware of your areas of weaknesses in doing God’s will?
  • Are you alert in prayer?

These are specific things that you can do before a test, before Satan pressures you and entices you to give in to the weakness of your flesh. I encourage you to put them into practice this week.

William Higgins

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