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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

The literary structure of Mark 6:1-6

Today we’re looking at Mark 6:1-6 and the story of Jesus visiting his home in Nazareth. This passage is interesting for several reasons. One is that it tells us more about –

Jesus’ personal life

First, about his family. In chapter 3 we learned a bit about his mother and brothers when they tried to stage an intervention to take Jesus home. Here in v. 3 we learn that he is “the son of Mary,” which is an unusual phrase since one would normally make reference to the father. This might indicate that Joseph died some time ago.  Also four brothers are mentioned as well as several unnamed sisters. So Jesus had at least six siblings.

Also he worked as a carpenter – v. 3. This is what he did before he began his ministry. This is the only place in Scripture that says this.

Now this doesn’t mean exactly what it means today. It refers to someone skilled at working with wood, metal or stone. So it could also mean he was a blacksmith or a stone mason or some combination of these. Joseph was also a carpenter and Jesus, no doubt, learned the trade from him (Matthew 13:55).

Also, just to note, his job was considered to be a skilled one. So he would not have been dirt poor, at least when he was working as a carpenter.

Let’s look more closely now at –

The story

– to see what else we can learn.

1He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue . . ..

Nazareth is about 25 miles from the Sea of Galilee, where he was previously. (Nazareth as his hometown – 1:9, 24).

Jesus had become famous in other parts of Israel and beyond and now he has come back to his hometown. There’s a bit of the ‘local boy does good’ dynamic here, and so they’re curious to see what’s going on.

. . . and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?”

Mark uses the word “astonished” several times to refer to people being amazed and impressed by Jesus. Here, however, it is used in a negative way. People are shocked.

When they ask about his wisdom, this is related to his teaching ministry, which they have just experienced. When they ask about mighty works, this is related to his healing-miracle ministry that they would have heard about. Their concern is with the source of these things. He must not have taught or done miracles before he left Nazareth and so this is all new and shocking. Where did he get this stuff from?

They continue asking questions in v. 3 –

3“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

If the previous questions focused on “where,” these focus on “who.” Who does he think he is? He’s just one of us.

  • Some of us changed his diapers when he was a baby.
  • Some of us played games with him as a child.
  • He did carpentry work on our house.
  • The rest of his family is still here and they aren’t special!

 Who does he think he is going around teaching and trying to heal people? What has gotten into his head? Jesus couldn’t grow up to be someone so important!

And the result of all these questions comes out at the end of v. 3 –

And they took offense at him.

 They were shocked; they were appalled. They weren’t able to get past their knowledge of Jesus as a normal person; an average guy. And so they certainly weren’t able to recognize him for who he was – the Messiah, or, as we will see, to receive what God was doing through him. They didn’t believe.

We can do this too. Every great man or woman of God is a normal person; they grew up and had a family. They don’t just drop out of heaven ready made with a halo over their head. And sometimes because we know them, we can’t receive from them; what God wants to say and do through them. We put them in a box.

But we should be open to receive from any person that God chooses to speak through. This is true of leaders and also as we seek to minister to one another with the gifts and callings that God gives to each of us in the body of Christ. We need to be open.

4And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

Jesus acknowledges what’s going on. They know him as just one of them, not as a prophet or as the Messiah.

As the proverb says, prophets are typically honored, except in their hometown, by those who can’t see them as prophets. Today we would say, “familiarity breeds contempt.” And so the town rejected Jesus.

And the last part of the saying, “his relatives and in his own household” shows that even Jesus’ family didn’t accept him or his ministry. This would have included Mary, his mother and James his brother, later the leader of the church in Jerusalem (John 7:5). They had expressed their unbelief earlier in Mark 3:21 when they came to him because they thought he was “out of his mind.” And now they reject him when he comes home.

This story is a reminder that rejection by others is a part of serving God. Even by friends and family. Jesus said in Luke 6:22, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” He also said in Matthew 10:36, “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

Jesus didn’t just teach this, he experienced it, as we see in this story. And if Jesus experienced this, who are we to think that we won’t have a taste of it?

5And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6And he marveled because of their unbelief.

 I have always been intrigued by these verses. In chapters 4-5 of Mark:

  • Jesus shows himself to be the great teacher, giving the parables of the sower, the mustard seed and the harvest.
  • He also shows himself to be the Lord of nature, calming the stormy sea. In 4:41 the disciples ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”
  • He also shows himself to be the Lord over all evil when he casts out a legion of demons and sets the man free.
  • He is the great healer, who cured the woman whom no doctor could cure.
  • And to top it off he shows himself to be the Lord of life when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

This is a portrait of Jesus as victorious in every way. No obstacle is too big for him – nature, demons, sickness or death.

But then he comes home and he’s stopped in his tracks. And what is the obstacle that stopped him? He is stopped by their unbelief. This unbelief keeps him from being able to do what he wanted to do and what he could do among them. It limits him and his ministry to them.

If they were astonished at him at the beginning (and not in a good way), in the end he is amazed at them (and not in a good way) – for their lack of faith.

The story ends with the phrase –

And he went about among the villages teaching.

Jesus moves on to another place to do his work, looking for people that will receive him and his ministry with faith.

I would like to end by highlighting what I think is the message for us today from this passage –

Our lack of faith can hinder God’s work

This story is a warning to us. Do you get the message? We can stop Jesus in his tracks even though there may be much he wants to do in us and through us; in our lives and in our congregation.

Did you know that you have such power? This is the way God has set things up. We have a role to play if God is going to do all that he intends – to help us and bless us. We have to believe to receive.

There is no limit to what God can do if we allow him. Jesus said in Mark 10:27, “all things are possible with God.” But we have to believe. We have to open up our lives to him in faith and rely on him to do it.

 

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The literary structure of Mark 522-24a; 35-43

Parallels handout

We’re back in the Gospel of Mark this morning, with the story of Jesus raising a girl from the dead – Mark 5:22-24a; 35-43. This story is sandwiched around what we looked at last time ,the healing of the long suffering woman. There are some interesting parallels between these stories, which you can see on your handout.

Let’s set the scene. Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee to the Eastern shore. On the way over he calmed the stormy sea. And when he arrived he cast out the legion of demons from the man in the cemetery. And now Jesus has come back across the Sea of Galilee to the Western shore and a large crowd has gathered around him (v. 21).

Picking up in v. 22 . . .

The story

22Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24And he went with him.

A synagogue ruler was a lay person who was in charge of organizing the worship service each Sabbath, making sure there were Scripture readers and teachers and so forth. They also took care of the synagogue building. They were highly honored and also Jairus seems to be well off.

He falls at Jesus’ feet and is imploring Jesus. You can see his faith here and also his father’s heart for his dear child. We don’t know what her ailment is, only that she’s to the point of death. Put yourself in his shoes. Can you feel the emotions he must have been feeling?

These verses show us that not all Jewish leaders are opposed to Jesus. And as we see here, Jesus is more than willing to go to heal his daughter.

In the verses that follow, which tell of the healing of the long suffering woman, time has elapsed. And we learn in v. 35 something bad has happened in the meantime.

35 While he was still speaking (to the woman he has just healed), there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

Jairus believed that Jesus could heal his daughter, even though she was near to death. But who would think that Jesus could do anything once the child has died? This is the clear assumption of the messengers. Don’t trouble Jesus anymore. It’s too late! The situation is hopeless. Sure, Jesus may well be able to do many things – but not this.

36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

The word “overhearing” can also be translated as “ignoring.” However it’s translated Jesus does hear what the messengers say and he does ignore it. And he instructs Jairus, “do not fear.” Fear is the opposite of faith. Jesus is saying, don’t be afraid with regard to what they are saying about your daughter. “Only believe” that is, in him. Continue believing that he can help, even in what seems to be an impossible situation.

37And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.

This is Jesus’ inner circle (which also sometimes included Andrew.) They’re selected to witness what’s about to take place.Presumably the rest of the disciples are left to attend to the crowd that has been following Jesus; to keep them from bothering or overwhelming the family.

38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.

Things have to move quickly since in the ancient world dead bodies have to be buried in a timely fashion. And so there are already people gathering to mourn – before Jairus and Jesus arrive.

This crowd would have included professional mourners. These were hired by families, even poor ones, to show how much the family is grieving their loss. In this case there seems to be a number of them, indicating Jairus’ wealth.

These professionals would weep and wail, as it says here. And they would play musical instruments and beat their chests and so forth, until the body was buried.  

39And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him.

Jesus confronts the professional mourners.

Sleep is often used as a metaphor for death in the New Testament. What Jesus seems to be saying here – is not that the girl is literally asleep and not dead, but that her death is temporary, like sleep, and he is about to wake her up.

They respond by ridiculing him. See how quickly these actors move from weeping to laughter.

But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was.

Jesus takes charge of the situation. Those who don’t believe; those who ridicule are excluded from seeing the work God is about to do. Everyone has to leave, except his three disciples and the parents.

41Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

Talitha cumi is an Aramaic phrase, the common language of Israel at this time, which means, “lamb, arise.” Lamb is a pet name for a child.

Jesus does what is impossible by all of their standards. He has healed many people, he has cast out demons, even 5,000 at once. But now he has raised someone from the dead. He simply speaks and she is alive again. At the end of v. 42 it says literally, “they were amazed with a great amazement.”

43And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Jesus is back in Israel after having been in Gentile territory on the East side of the Sea of Galilee, so he once again tells them to be silent about this. This seems mostly to be about crowd control. Jesus doesn’t want to be so swamped by crowds that he can’t move or do any ministry.

Although, how this could remain hidden is hard to say. Many saw the girl dead and now she is alive and healthy – and hungry. Maybe this is just to give him time to move on to another place.

There are a number of things that can be highlighted from this story: First of all, Jesus can do the impossible. And he can do the impossible because he is God’s Son, come to bring salvation to the world. So we learn again about the identity of Jesus; who he is.

We also see a picture of this salvation that he is bringing in the raising of this girl from the dead. She was resuscitated and will have later died again. But it points forward to a day when, once again, Jesus will simply say the word (John 5:25) and the dead will be raised. This time to live eternally.

So our deaths are also only like sleep – in that it is temporary. And Jesus will “wake us up” on the final day. Jesus is lord even over death itself.

But I want to focus on Jairus’ faith, because what Jesus says to him is –

A good word for us today

Do not fear, only believe.”

I believe this is God’s word to us today. I hope you will receive it.

It must have been a big risk for him to come to Jesus in the first place, while other Jewish leaders were rejecting Jesus. But he did come. And he believed that Jesus could cure a deadly sickness.

But then things changed. His daughter died. All is lost.But Jesus indicates to him that God still wants to heal his daughter, when he says, “do not fear, only believe.”

What will Jairus do? I mean, that’s impossible! And everyone around him is saying, ‘that’s impossible.’ Leave the teacher alone and come bury your child. What do we do when we have a promise from God, but it seems impossible to us and to everyone else around us?

Well, Jairus didn’t give in to fear, but acted in faith. He brought Jesus to his home anyway. And he didn’t intervene when Jesus started doing things that could cause him social disgrace – like rebuking the mourners whom Jairus and his family are paying, and throwing them out of his house.

He had bold faith in Jesus and because of this he experienced what was considered to be impossible – his daughter was raised from the dead. Jesus came through for him.

When we find ourselves in an impossible situation, will we freeze up with fear or will we be able to look beyond the circumstances all around us and move forward in faith in God’s promises to us? Will we look at our circumstance or to Jesus and his word to us?

I encourage you this morning to have the faith that Jairus had so that you can receive God’s grace and mercy through our Lord Jesus.

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The literary structure of Mark 2:1-12

We’re back in Mark. Today we enter a new section of the book – “five stories of conflict” which runs from chapter 2 through chapter 3:6. These stories demonstrate that although Jesus is loved by the crowds – mostly for what he can do for them – his message and his display of authority created opposition from many, especially the Jewish leadership.

In our story today, the first of the five, the conflict is over Jesus’ authority to forgive a person’s sins.

Mark 2:1-12

1And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.

Last time we saw how Jesus expanded his ministry into all of Galilee (1:38). And now “after some days” he returns to Capernaum, his home base. But he does so quietly because of the press of the crowds (1:45). Nevertheless word gets out and he is once again swamped by a crowd. The house, most likely Peter and Andrew’s, is packed with people.

We also saw last time that his priority is preaching (1:38). And this is what he’s doing in the house, “preaching the word.” As stated in 1:15, he proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

3And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.

So this man is so disabled that he can’t walk or otherwise get to Jesus, but must be carried by four friends. The word used for “bed” here refers to a poor person’s mat or mattress.

Well, on their way to Jesus they encounter an obstacle, the crowd around Jesus is blocking their way. Undaunted they make their way up the outside staircase onto the flat roof – both typical features of a Palestinian home at this time.

It says literally that they “unroofed the roof” and they were “digging it out.” That is, they removed the material between the roof beams to make a hole for the man to be lowered through. (Luke says there were tiles involved – 5:19)

Can you imagine the mess that would have fallen on those below? And I wonder what Peter and Andrew thought of their new sun roof? Whatever others were thinking, Jesus saw faith.

5And when Jesus saw their faith. . .

When Jesus says “their faith” this includes the faith of the disabled man, who is surely a participant in this quest to get to Jesus.

And here is a lesson on faith from these five men. First, it overcomes all obstacles to get to Jesus. Faith is persistent and doesn’t give up. And also it can be seen. Our verse says, “Jesus saw their faith.” He could see it because faith is not just about words, but is demonstrated in actions that can be seen.

. . . he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

This is surprising to us. He came for healing not forgiveness. But this would not be surprising to a Jewish audience. In Scripture, sin and sickness are often connected (Deuteronomy 28:25ff; Numbers 12:9-15; 2 Chronicles 26:16-21; Isaiah 38:16-17; James 5:14-16;1 Corinthians 11:27-30; Psalm 41:3-4; Psalm 103:3; Psalm 107:17; Isaiah 33:24). There’s a connection in general – sickness is a part of a fallen world marked by sin. But also an individual’s specific sins can bring sickness upon them.

Now, Jesus is clear that there is not always a direct connection, as he points out in the case of the blind man in John 9:3 (See also Luke 13:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7; Galatians 4:13-14; and, of course, the book of Job). But this doesn’t mean that sometimes there isn’t a direct connection (See John 5:14). And there is a direct connection here, according to Jesus. None of this would have been controversial to his audience.

 What’s controversial is that Jesus personally forgives the man’s sins. (The phrase “your sins are forgiven” could be interpreted as a divine passive so that Jesus is saying, “God forgives yours sins.” But this wouldn’t be controversial (2 Samuel 12:13). The conflict that follows and Jesus’ further statements only make sense if he is personally forgiving this man’s sins. See also Luke 7:48-49) In Scripture, only God forgives sins. How could someone who is not God, a mere human, do this for God?

6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Scribes are experts in the Law of Moses. Their response is understandable. It is true, only God can forgive sins. (The phrase “God alone” can also be translated “except the one God” – a reference to the Shema). Forgiveness is a divine prerogative or right. And for a mere human to claim this is to blaspheme. And the penalty for blasphemy is death by stoning – Leviticus 24:10-16. (He is later executed based on this charge – Mark 14:63-64.)

Now notice that they do not say these things out loud, they think them in their inner person.

8And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?

Jesus has already displayed the ability to know what is in a person’s heart when he knew what the disabled man’s sins were and forgave them. Now here he knows what the scribes are thinking. But they take no notice of this.

Jesus continues in his response to their thoughts.

9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?

 The argument Jesus is making is from greater to lesser. He’s saying, if he can do the more difficult thing, this guarantees that he can do the easier thing. It is easier to say “your sins are forgiven” because there’s no way to see that the person is or isn’t forgiven. But the results of saying “be healed” can be seen. The person is either healed or is not healed. This is harder.

So his ability to heal the man, the harder thing to say, shows that he can also forgive the man, the easier thing to say.

And in context these two things are connected. Since Jesus sees the man’s ailment as a consequence of his personal sins and the others would almost certainly agree his healing would demonstrate his forgiveness. God would not heal the man unless his sins were forgiven. So the fact that, as we will see, he is healed shows that Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness was indeed effective. It becomes a visible evidence that he’s forgiven.

And finally, God would not honor the words of a blasphemer. But here the man is healed.

10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”-

The phrase Son of Man is how Jesus characteristically refers to himself in the Gospels. Jesus seems to like this title because it concealed his identity to those not interested in following him, but revealed who he is to those who were.

It conceals in that in the Old Testament it mostly just means “a human” or “a mere person” – in contrast to God (Psalm 8:4; Ezekiel).  And Jesus is talking in the 3rd person. So the outsider would ask, “Who’s he talking about?”

But for his followers they know he is talking about himself and he is referring to Daniel 7:13-14, which refers to a human being who is given “authority  which will not pass away . . ..” (LXX) and who is involved with God in the judgment of the nations.

Jesus is saying, “This is who I am; and I have this divine prerogative to forgive – not just on the final day in the courts of heaven, but also now ‘on earth.'”

To demonstrate that he has this authority, picking up the end of v. 10 –

he said to the paralytic— 11“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all . . .

So he gets up off the ground, then bends over to pick up his bed and then walks home – a clear demonstration of his healing. If he had trouble getting through the crowed before, I bet he doesn’t now!

And after this it goes on to say about the crowd –

. . . so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

The crowd is astonished and gives praise to God. They have never seen a man forgive sins like God does and then prove it by healing the person.

Let me end with 3 more brief lessons from this story.

Jesus has all authority. As we have seen he has authority or power to teach new things; to cast out demons with a word; to heal people by simply speaking; and now we see that this includes forgiving people their sins. Jesus has all this power.

And we learn about Jesus’ unique identity in this story. He tells us that he is the Son of Man of Daniel 7; the somewhat mysterious, exalted figure who is with God when the nations of the world are judged on the final day.

And even more than this he is the Son of God in human form. In answer to the question of the scribes, yes only God can forgive sins, which is why Jesus can forgive sins. Here we see again Jesus’ divine identity.

And then finally, in all this Jesus is making the kingdom of God present. He does this when he sets people free from Satan – exorcisms; when he brings new life – through healings and making people whole; and here when he forgives sins, extending God’s mercy (Jeremiah 31) and bringing people into new relationship with God.

(Now, he forgives, not by saying sin doesn’t matter, but on the basis of his coming death which atones for sins (Mark 10:45; Mark 14:22-24.) This is the basis of all these kingdom blessings. And his death is alluded to in our story. For the charge of blasphemy is a capital offense and is indeed why he was eventually executed on the cross (Mark 14:64).)

Jesus makes the kingdom real in people’s lives.

As we think of who Jesus is and what he does in this story, we too should respond as the crowd does by giving praise to God.

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Last week we began looking at barriers to effective prayer, things that keep us from getting our prayers answered, and also how to overcome these obstacles. Today we look at several more, and we begin with –

4. Wrong relationships with others

What I’m saying here is that we can’t be in right relationship with God, if we’re not in right relationship with others, or at least having done all that we can to be in right relationship with them. Our horizontal (as it were) relationships with other people, affect our vertical relationship with God. They are interconnected. And so broken relationships with others, hinder our relationship with God and thus our prayers to God.

Here’s an example that Jesus taught about, when we wrong someone. Matthew 5:23-24 – “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come offer your gift.” He’s talking about coming into the temple to offer a gift, to worship, to pray to God. And if while you’re doing this you remember that there’s a broken relationship with others, and the context here is that it’s broken by your angry, hurtful, damaging words, go make it right with the other person first, and then come to relate to God. Why? Because it affects your ability to pray and worship.

Another example is mistreating your spouse. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:7 – “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman . . . so that your prayers may not be hindered.” What’s he saying? If you’re mistreating your wife; if you’re harsh in your words or violent in your actions, your prayers will be hindered! [See also 1 Timothy 2:8 speaking to husbands]. And this certainly applies the other way around as well, wives don’t mistreat your husbands.

Indeed, it applies to all our relationships with others, family, neighbors, coworkers, strangers, enemies. How you interact with them can affect your prayer life – if you are treating them wrongly. And so to be effective pray-ers; to be in right relationship with God, so that your prayers are heard you must tend to your relationships. Make sure you are in right relationship with others. And if there’s a problem, do all you can to make it right, from your end of the relationship.

5. Asking God for things, that we don’t give to others

We say, “Oh God, I need your help with this and that. I need your mercy; I have done wrong. Lord, I need you to provide for my material needs.” But then, when others come to us and say “I need your help, I need your mercy, I need assistance with my material needs” – we say “No way!”

There’s a principle here, God won’t give us, what we won’t give to others. God doesn’t tolerate such double standards.

A clear example of this is asking God for forgiveness. Jesus said in Matthew 6:15, “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  We can ask God for forgiveness all day long, but if we’re not giving it to those who have done harm to us and have come to us seeking mercy – we will not get it from God. As the passage says, “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

But the promise in Matthew 6:14 is that, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” If you give mercy to those who seek it from you, God will give you mercy when you seek it from him.

This principle that, God won’t give us, what we won’t give to others, is also true in other areas. Take for instance asking God to provide for your needs. Proverbs 21:13 says, “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” If you’re someone who turns away others who come to you with legitimate needs, God will not hear you in your day of trouble; God will turn away from you.

But on the other hand, the psalmist says in Psalm 41:1– “Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble, the Lord delivers him.” If you help the one in need, God will help you in your day of need. So we should give freely to others, mercy and help, and God will give generously to you.

6. Doubting God and God’s promises

God gives us, in the words of 2 Peter 1:4, “many great and precious promises” that God will care for us; that God will give us his mercy. James 1:6-8 talks about one such promise, praying for wisdom from God. It says, “But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” When we doubt God and God’s promises, it makes us unable to receive what God wants to give us.

Here’s an example of doubt as a hindrance to receiving what God want to give us. Turn if you will to Mark 6:1-6.

1He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6And he marveled because of their unbelief.

Faith in God and God’s promises is what opens the door for God to work in our lives. So if we want our prayers answered we need to lay aside doubt, and choose to have confidence in God and God’s promises; to rely on God, who is more reliable than anyone. As 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

7. A lack of persistence in our prayers

Jesus talks about the importance of this in Luke 18:1-8. This is the story of the woman who kept coming to the judge to ask for justice, who finally received an answer because of her persistence. Luke tells us that Jesus taught in this parable that “we ought always to pray and not lose heart” – v. 1. He taught us in this story “to cry out to God day and night” – v. 7

It’s one thing if God says no, and in biblical tradition you can press God up to three times when he says no – e.g. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Paul praying about his thorn. But if there isn’t a no, go for it!

Why is persistence important? Firs of all, God wants to see where our heart is. Deuteronomy 4:29, says, you will seek and find the Lord, “if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Is this a casual thing, or are we really seeking God for an answer? Our heart is made known in the persistence or lack of it in our prayers.

And also, we are involved in spiritual warfare. There’s a third party involved, and Satan and the powers of evil resist God’s will being done on earth. And our persistent prayer plays a role in overcoming this spiritual opposition.

So let’s not give up as we seek to have God’s will come to pass in our lives and in our congregation.

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We’re talking about something very practical today and for the next few weeks. How can I know I’m saved? How can you know that you’re saved? It’s a pretty important question.

Can you know for sure that God has forgiven your sins; that you are saved, right here and right now and that you are an heir of God’s eternal blessings? Or are you just hoping for the best?

Is the Christian life one that is characterized by confidence in where you stand with God?Or are we to always be insecure in our relationship with God?

We are talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. And let me say that I believe very strongly that you can know, and that you should know. We can have security in Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t have occasional times of struggle or doubt. This is a part of a life of faith.

And certainly we are not to have a sense of assurance when we are knowingly and willfully rebelling against God. In the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New, words of assurance are given to those who are walking with God and finding forgiveness when they fail; assurance is given to those whose hearts are set on God, even though it’s hard.

But words of warning and judgment are given to those who choose the path of sin. So beware of false assurance. Beware of those who say, “Peace, peace – when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Who say everything is OK, don’t worry – even though you are choosing a lifestyle of sin.

But beyond this, yes, Christians are to be characterized as those who have great confidence and joyful assurance of their standing with God.

  • John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” – 1 John 5:13. We can know.
  • The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

So, for the next few weeks, I want us to look at this topic and specifically three interconnected bases for our assurance of salvation. And today we begin with the assurance of God’s word.

And so, first of all, we need to know –

God’s promises or word to us regarding salvation

 Let me summarize these from the preaching found in the book of Acts.

1. God promises to forgive our sins. Peter says in his sermon on the day of Pentecost that God offers “the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. Later, he says it this way, “that your sins may be blotted out” – Acts 3:19.

So this is good news! Our sins, which separate us from God and bring us death can be taken away! We can have a fresh start with God, and in life, because of what Jesus has done.

2. God promises to give us the Spirit. Peter speaks of this promise from God to his listeners on the day of Pentecost, when he says, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. And we see this gift bestowed in several of the stories in the book of Acts.

  • The Spirit gives us new life: we are born anew, we are a new creation in Christ, we are raised to new life in Christ, we have eternal life.
  • And the Spirit also gives us power to live differently.

So these are God’s promises of salvation to us. But it is also important that we hear God’s word about what is required of us. God’s promises often come with things we must do. And if we don’t meet the conditions, then we are being presumptuous with God’s promises.  Two things stand out here, from the book of Acts:

1. We need faith in Jesus. We need to believe that he is indeed the Messiah, who has brought us God’s salvation. Peter said to Cornelius “everyone who believes in him,” that is, Jesus receives salvation – Acts 10:43. Paul preached “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” – Acts 20:21.

2. We need to repent. Peter talked about “turning . . . from your wickedness” – Acts 3:26. Paul’s message was, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” – Acts 26:20.

So this is God’s word to us, both promises of salvation and what he asks of us. Now we look at –

How God’s word gives us assurance

 Let’s suppose that you are here today and you don’t have confidence in your relationship with God; you don’t know that you have eternal life. Maybe it’s that you don’t feel saved. Maybe it’s that you are going through some difficult circumstances which make you question where you stand with God. Maybe someone is telling you that you need to do something beyond God’s word to be saved, and it raises doubts for you.

Here’s what you need to do – 1. Hear God’s word, just as you have today. God’ word says that when we come to Jesus in faith and repent of our sins, we will indeed be forgiven our sins and receive new life by the Spirit of God; we will be saved.

Hear God’s word on this, not just in your head, but deep in your heat. Let it come into your heart right now.

2. Agree with God’s word. And this is not just an intellectual thing in your mind. God’s word testifies to us of its truth in our hearts. Agree with this in your heart. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is alive and active.” It has a vitality and power to it. And when we receive it in our hearts, it comes alive and God speaks to us through it. God’s word speaks to our hearts with convincing and convicting power. And so we need to agree with this. “Yes, God. Your  word is true.”

What I am really saying is that God’s word creates faith within us, if we choose to agree with it, as God speaks in our hearts. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

How do I know I’m saved? Because I know from God’s word that when I have faith in Jesus and repent of my sins, my sins are forgiven and I have new life and a hope for the future. I accept and agree with what God says about me through his word.

3. Hold fast to God’s word. This means that when we don’t feel saved, or when our circumstances are difficult, or when others say things that don’t agree with God’s word that make us doubt our salvation – it means that we make a choice, and it is a choice, not to live by these feelings, circumstances, or the words of others. We choose to live our life based on God’s word and truth.

Does your assurance seem weak?

Perhaps this is where some are this morning. Well, then keep God’s word in your heart and mind. Read it, study it, meditate on it, confess it, act on it. For it is God’s living word that builds faith within us. And so absorb its powerful testimony and align yourself with it.

Yes, if you focus on your feelings, your circumstances, or what others say – your faith will be weak. But the more you let God’s word into your heart, the more your faith will grow, which means your sense of assurance will grow as well.

And then, finally –

Apply God’s word to any other concerns you might have

 Here are some examples . . .

Do God’s promises apply to me? Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” – John 6:37. Are you coming to Jesus? He will not turn you away. You will be accepted. Paul said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” – Romans 10:13. The promise applies to all, including you.

Am I too sinful? Of course you are, that’s the point! But Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” – Mark 2:17. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . ..” – 1 Timothy 1:15. Believe and repent of all your sins and the promises are yours, regardless of your past. 

Will God fail me? Impossible! Paul said, “He who calls you is faithful” – 1 Thessalonians 5:24. This is at the core of God’s identity – faithfulness to his word and promises. As Paul also says, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” – 2 Timothy 2:13. This is simply who God is.

Let God’s word be the foundation of your assurance with God. Know with confidence where you stand with God, based on what he says! And if you don’t have a relationship with God today I encourage you to hear his word and act on it, even now.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:19-14:23

Our story today is a continuation of what we looked at last week. Jonathan, Saul’s son, began a revolt by defeating a Philistine garrison. Saul then went to Gilgal according to the instructions of Samuel the prophet, given all the way back in chapter 10:8. But Saul went on to disobey God’s command by not waiting for Samuel to come. As a result, he is judged. He will no longer have a dynasty. And he is left without instructions as a massive Philistine army is poised to attack. Today, we look at what happens next.

battle scene 1

Just to get you oriented, this is a close up of the battle scene.

Michmash and Geba are about a mile apart. The wadi is a seasonal river/creek bed. On either side of the wadi in the East there are steep canyon walls, but at the pass there is flat land.

 

Our verses today begin with some important background.

1 Samuel 13:19-14:23

Israel’s difficult situation.

19Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.” 20But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, 21and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads.

So Israel’s Philistine overlords, as a part of their strategy to keep them subservient, forbade all metal working. And then they charged the Israelites exorbitant rates to sharpen their farming implements, which kept them economically disadvantaged.

The result shows up in v. 22.

22So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan, but Saul and Jonathan his son had them.

We already saw how Israel was outnumbered. Saul had 600 soldiers and the Philistines had “troops like the sand on the seashore” (13:5) along with 6,000 horsemen and 3,000 chariots.

This brings us to the beginning of the conflict.

23And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.

 They are positioning themselves to come to Geba and fight.

 14:1One day (that is, that day) Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” But he did not tell his father.

Remember it was Jonathan who took the initiative in the first battle with the Philistines, not Saul. And so it is here.

The fact that he didn’t tell his father may mean that he doesn’t trust him, or perhaps he thought Saul would forbid him from going.

2Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah in the pomegranate cave at Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the LORD in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.

Here we have a reappearance of the line of Eli – his great grandson, Ahijah is Saul’s priest.

Jonathan’s attack.

4Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side. The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.

battle scene 2

Here we see the Philistine advance to the pass and Jonathan’s attack to the East on an outpost. Bozez appears to be (a past of?) the northern canyon wall and Seneh the southern canyon wall.  Bozez means “the shining one” and Seneh “thorny one,” perhaps because there thorn bushes on it.

 

Michmash terrainPicture of the scene from Bibleplaces.com.

Michmash cliffs

Picture of the canyon walls that Jonathan climbs down and back up on the other side, which would have been no easy feat. Bibleplaces.com.

6Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” 7 And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”

Now, according to natural thinking this is a suicide mission. But Jonathan is acting in great faith. He believes in God and hopes that God will work through him.

Although his father is very focused on counting his soldiers, Jonathan is very clear that what matters is that God is with him, not how many people he has. God can save “by many or by few.”

Now, Jonathan doesn’t know for sure what God will do, as he said, “it may be that the Lord will work for us.” So he suggests a sign.

8Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. 9If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. 10But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the LORD has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.”

“The Lord has given” is what Jonathan’s name means in Hebrew.

11So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.” 12And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.”

Notice how Jonathan’s sign puts them in a more difficult scenario. They give up the element of surprise and the Philistines are left with the superior position. They have to climb up the steep rocks to get to them.

And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.” 13Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. 14And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land.

And then God intervenes in a powerful way.

15And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a panic from God. (ESV note)

This is God working, causing an earthquake and putting fear into the hearts of the Philistines.

16And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold, the multitude was dispersing here and there. 17Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Count and see who has gone from us.” And when they had counted, behold, Jonathan and his armor-bearer were not there.

18So Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.” For the ark of God went at that time with the people of Israel. 19Now while Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”

Saul is seeking to discern God’s will. But circumstances were moving too fast.

He says to the priest, “withdraw your hand” because the previously mentioned ephod had a pocket in it that contained the Urim and Thummin, which were like dice, and used to cast lots to discern God’s will (Exodus 28:30; 1 Samuel 14:41). He’s saying stop, take your hand out of the compartment to get the Urim and Thummin.

20Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle.

So it took a while. He counted the people to see who was missing, and he tried to discern God’s will. But finally Saul gets into the battle, although really after God has defeated the Philistine army himself.

And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion.

So the Israelites have no swords? That is not a problem for God. Confusion and fighting against one another are common ways that God defeats an army.

battle scene 3

 

In this map, we see how Jonathan’s attack caused a panic that spread to the main body of the Philistine army which made them begin to retreat.  And then Saul comes into the battle.

 

 

Reinforcements.

21Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan.

So here we learn that that some in Israel were fighting on the Philistine side, but turn against them as the battle went on.

22Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle.

These were those who previously “hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns” (13:6).

23So the LORD saved Israel that day.

What do we learn from this?

We learn what faith looks like. There is a contrast in these verses between Saul and Jonathan. And it is Jonathan that is the example of faith for us.

The Philistine raiders are out and their army has assembled for battle, but Saul is not acting. So Jonathan takes the initiative in the moment of crisis.

And he does so against overwhelming obstacles as we saw. The Philistines had swords and chariots and horsemen and a vast army. But he takes the initiative. And when God gives him guidance through his sign he acts boldly. He climbed treacherous rocks, fought the enemy and God used him to defeat the entire Philistine army. This is an amazing portrait of faith in action, risking it all for God.

We also learn that nothing is too difficult for the Lord. Are you facing a massive army? No problem! In 14:15 God caused the huge army of the Philistines to be terrified. In 14:20 God confused them and they turned on one another.

The battle wasn’t won because of Saul, who came late. And it wasn’t won by the reinforcements who came even later. As 14:23 says, “the Lord saved Israel that day.”

To put this all together, if you are here today and you are facing difficult obstacles, even really difficult ones, step out in faith like Jonathan and God will fight for you and save you as well. For no situation is too hard for God.

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Follow the link – Summary of teaching on faith in God

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