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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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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The literary structure of Mark 1:35-45

We’re back in Mark, and as we’ve already seen Jesus has established a home base in Capernaum, has started his church by choosing leaders and beginning his first house church and has displayed his authority in his teaching, healing and exorcism ministries. In our passage today, 1:35-45, he struggles with the crush of the crowds. Word is getting out about his power to heal and the press of people is overwhelming. We see in our verses how he hopes to counter this, but in the end fails.

Let’s begin with the first few verses that talk about –

Jesus’ purpose in coming: Mark 1:35-39

35And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

Remember, Jesus has just spent a very long day preaching in the Synagogue, casting out a demon there, and then healing Peter’s mother in law. And then that evening, which in the Jewish reckoning is the next day, many of those in need in Capernaum came to Jesus to be healed and helped; a crowd gathered at the door of Peter and Andrew’s house.

So Jesus likely hasn’t gotten much sleep. And yet he’s up very early in the morning. He does this so that he can find time to pray.

He gets away from the weight of the needs around him to get alone with God. “A desolate place” here doesn’t mean a desert. It means somewhere where people are not. (See also Mark 6:46; 14:32-39 for Jesus at prayer.)

This leads us to the first of three lessons I want to highlight for you today: #1. The importance of prayer. Jesus depended on it as his source of strength and guidance. He needed his power replenished by the Spirit and wisdom as he is about to make a big decision. And if he depended on it, how much more do we need it!  And he models for us that when things get hectic and stressful, this is not the time to cut prayer out of our lives to make things more simple for us. This is precisely when we need prayer the most.

36And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.”

You can just imagine that early in the morning the crowds came back to Peter’s house looking for Jesus with the sick and needy. And so Peter and Andrew and then the other disciples wake up and are like, ‘Hey where’s Jesus?’ And they begin frantically searching for him.

38And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Instead of staying in Capernaum and healing everyone who had a need there, after prayer, he decides to expand his ministry throughout Galilee.

And notice the focus, Jesus didn’t come to heal every person. Jesus came to preach the word of the kingdom. As chapter 1:15 says, he proclaimed “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” Healing and miracles are intended to draw attention to the message; to verify that it is true. But they aren’t the end all and be all. They aren’t the point in themselves.

But now in Capernaum the crowds are focused on these signs and not necessarily on responding to the message of the kingdom with belief and repentance.

This brings us to the second lesson from our passage: #2. The Word is more important than healing and miracles. In terms of Jesus’ ministry, he didn’t come to fix people’s earthly needs, even though compassion for needs is important. He came to call people to faith and repentance. And remember all the people he healed, eventually still died. But those that came to faith and repentance experience new life into eternity.

It’s the same with us. We can pray to God for healing, but it’s not God’s purpose to heal everyone now. It’s his purpose to call all to faith and repentance. On the final day we will all be healed. Yes, God heals now and we should pray for it. And God answers, I believe, especially as a sign that the message is true. But he doesn’t always heal now.

And as a church we need to remember this lesson on priorities. Some churches practically abandon preaching the word and seeking a response to show compassion to those in need. Yes, we must show compassion. But our purpose in everything is to call people to faith and repentance.

So along these lines, Jesus goes to other towns and synagogues to minister there, hoping people will respond to his message – not yet being focused on his healing power. But then something happens that messes up his plan.

Jesus heals a leper: Mark 1:40-45

40And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”

Leprosy here refers to several skin diseases, not just what we call leprosy, which is Hansen’s disease. It could even include things like psoriasis and eczema. To have leprosy was to have a serious skin disease, but it was also to be a social outcast, since you would be classified as perpetually ritually unclean (and probably contagious as well).

Leviticus 13:45-46 says this about a leper: he “shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ . . . His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

According to Numbers 12:12 the leper was seen as similar to a corpse. They were the walking dead. And it was held that only a miracle from God could cure a leper. It was like raising someone from the dead (2 Kings 5:7).

Although lepers were to stay away from others, in this case the man ‘understandably’ breaks the rule, because this is not a normal situation. Here is someone who can make him clean. And so he comes right up to Jesus and kneels before him. He has faith that Jesus can heal him, the only question is if Jesus wants to heal him and make him clean.

41Moved with compassion, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

 [More people are now accepting the textual variant “Jesus was indignant” (NIV 2011). If this is the correct reading it would mean either that Jesus was angry at the ravages of the disease on this man (Edwards, Judges 10:16) or that he is angry because he knows his plan to focus on preaching and to get away from the crush of the crowds will now be upended by healing him.]

Jesus has compassion on the man. Clearly this was a terrible life he was living. He didn’t turn him away out of revulsion for his condition. He consented and healed the man. He made him clean from his leprosy. Again, Jesus’ amazing healing power is evident. He can heal what others think is impossible to heal and he can do so “immediately.”

Jesus’ compassion is displayed in that while most would run away horrified, he touches him. Now, normally if you touch a leper you become ritually unclean. Becoming ritually unclean wasn’t wrong, it was just a part of life. And as long as you follow the Law to be cleansed you’re fine. But here it’s probably better to say that Jesus transmits his cleanness to the man, rather than saying that the leper transmitted his uncleanness to Jesus. (See also Mark 5:41 ff.).

Our final lesson is: #3. Jesus’ great compassion. Even though the man is an outcast, loathed by all and even though healing the man will make his life harder because he will be mobbed by even more crowds, he does so because he’s moved by concern for the man’s problem.

And we need to remember that Jesus is ever the same. He has the same compassion on us in our times of need and suffering; when we are revolting and filthy. And we can come to him knowing what his heart is towards us.

And in turn we are to have the same compassion on others in need. Even if it makes our lives more difficult. Even if they are people that are considered unclean or outcasts, we are to allow Jesus to touch them through us.

43And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

Leviticus 14 outlines the process of being declared clean from leprosy by a priest. Remember it was not just about being healed, he had to be certified as clean by a priest in order to reenter society. Jesus wants this to be a witness to the priests and all involved in this process that Jesus and his message are true.

Notice Jesus’ concern for the details of the Law of Moses. Some portray Jesus, especially in Mark, as indifferent to the Law, but this is wrong as we will see.

v. 43 says that Jesus “sternly charged” the man to tell no one. He’s really serious about this. Perhaps he thought that by the time the leper completed the process of being declared clean, a minimum of 8 days, plus travel to Jerusalem and back for sacrifice, he could finish his preaching tour without being mobbed by crowds looking for healing.

45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Before, the man understandably disobeys the Mosaic rules to get to Jesus. And now he ‘understandably’ disobeys Jesus’ instruction. How can he keep quiet about his healing? He’s not only healed, he has a life again. For sure, it’s not right to disobey Jesus here, but we can understand it.

And what he does is not bad in itself – he becomes a proclaimer of Jesus; he spreads the word. It’s just that it derails Jesus’ plan to be able to preach throughout Galilee without the crush of crowds seeking healing.

Finally, notice how Jesus and the leper trade places. The leper was not able to enter any town. But now that he is healed he can. At least once he’s certified as clean. But since he told everyone about this, now Jesus is not able to enter any town. At least not openly. The problem Jesus had at the beginning of story remains. He has to go out to desolate places to escape being mobbed by crowds.

Let’s remember together our 3 lessons:

1. The importance of prayer, especially when life is crazy.

2.  Preaching the Word is more important than healing and miracles or more generally helping meet people’s earthly needs.

3. Jesus’ compassion. Even though the man is an outcast, even though it will make his life more difficult, he helps the man.

Let me end with a question: Who might God bring across your path this week that he wants you to have compassion on,  even if the person is repulsive to you and even if helping the person will make your life harder. Keep your eyes open!

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Series: Markan prologue

The literary structure of Mark 1:1-15

(Rewritten)

We’re beginning a new series today on the Gospel of Mark. A few things about Mark to begin with. It was most likely the first gospel written. And it likely contains the stories and teachings of Jesus that the apostle Peter passed down [Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses] and John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13-14; 15:37-40; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11) later wrote out. These things are likely, I think, but they’re not from Scripture.

With regard to the Gospel itself, a few observations:

  • It’s fast paced. “Immediately” seems to be one of Mark’s favorite words.
  • Its stories are usually longer with more vivid details than Matthew or Luke.
  • And yet it’s the shortest Gospel, because it has less teaching material in it than either Matthew or Luke.

We begin with Mark’s introduction which covers the first 15 verses of the book. Notice that it’s bracketed by the phrase “good news” (or Gospel) in v. 1 and in vs. 14-15 (2x). And both of these sections have elements of timing in them – “the beginning” in v. 1 and “the time is fulfilled” and the kingdom is “at hand” in vs 14-15.

The whole introduction turns on the first three verses, which contain a prophetic word that a messenger is to come first, and then the Lord will come. [This sequence is reinforced in v. 7 by John’s message, “after me” he will come.]

Alright, let’s jump in.

Mark 1:1-8

The first phrase

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus, the anointed one, the Son of God –

When Mark says, “the beginning,” this has to do with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, following John the Baptist’s work of preparation [see Acts 10:37]. But it can also refer to the whole Gospel. Mark is saying, this is how the Christian movement began.

We learn several things here about who Jesus is. 1) He is the “Christ.” This is the Greek version of the Hebrew word which means “Messiah” or more literally “the anointed one,” which is what I’m going with. This refers back to the Old Testament practice of anointing someone with oil when they are commissioned by God to do something. It was especially connected to the expected son of David who would come as the anointed one, to save God’s people.

2) Jesus is the “son of God.” This phrase is most often associated with the kings of Israel (2 Samuel 7:13-14; Psalm 2:7; Psalm 89:26-27), and sometimes Israel itself (Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 31:9, 20). It can also refer to divine beings or angels (e.g. the sons of God in Job). Basically it means one who rules, although we will see that Jesus is God’s son in unique and special way (e.g. Mark 1:11; 14:61-62).

3) Finally the phrase “good news” tells us something about Jesus. In Isaiah it refers to the coming of God to save Israel and to establish his rule or kingdom (Isaiah 40:9; 52:7; 61:1). In the Roman world it was used to announce the success of an Emperor or the birth of a new Emperor. In both contexts it is a royal announcement. And so this tells us that Jesus is a king.

By means of his introduction Mark gives his readers the privilege to know a good bit about who Jesus is before the story begins, while the people in the story struggle to understand who Jesus is, to the end.

The prophecy

2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

This is the only place in all of Mark that he quotes Scripture. And, of course, this happens right at the beginning of his Gospel. So this is really important.

Although Mark says, “as it is written in Isaiah,” he is actually quoting two (or more) passages. This is just how they sometimes did things at this time, combining passages like this and just using one name.

Let’s look at the two key quotes here in reverse order. Isaiah 40:3 says in part, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God.’” (LXX). In context this refers to the announcement, by the voice, of the end of exile in Babylon and God’s promise to bring Israel back to its land. This is framed by Isaiah as a second Exodus from Babylon to the land of Israel. [The path here is God’s, but like with the original Exodus, it is God and his people who journey together to the land. The Isaiah Targum speaks of the way of God and the congregation of our God.] [Mark’s quote here can also be translated to match the parallelism of the Hebrew version – “A voice cries ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Witherington]

And then we have Malachi 3:1 which says in part, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” [Mark’s version is a little different, which we will look at later]. This person is further identified in Malachi 4:5-6 as Elijah, who is commissioned to bring about repentance in Israel before God comes to visit them.

In Mark’s narrative, John the Baptist is the messenger, as we will see today. But also Jesus is the Lord who comes. In both passages God comes after the messenger. This, then is an amazing statement about Jesus’ divine identity, which we will come back to in a later message.

Now, by quoting these passages we get Mark’s insight into what’s going on with the coming of John the Baptist and then Jesus. As I said, Isaiah speaks of a second Exodus out of exile back to the land. And several prophets spoke of how things would radically change; how God would reign in glory in a splendid temple and Israel would be established in the land and at peace. Well, the people came back, but they struggled, still under Gentile rule, the Persians, and still with no sense that anything had really changed. So there was disillusionment.

Well, the book of Malachi picks up in this context. He tells the people that the holdup on the fulfillment of the promises is due to their sin. And so he predicts that God will send a messenger, Elijah to prepare Israel for his coming in power to reign. And he is to prepare them by calling them to repentance so that when God comes, it won’t end in further judgment. [I am indebted to Rikk Watts for this construal of Malachi’s role.]

So Mark is saying – this is what’s going on with the coming of John and then Jesus. God is working to bring about his kingdom; to fulfill his promises to his people of salvation and blessing.

The fulfillment – John in the wilderness 

After the prediction of the messenger who will first prepare the way, John shows up doing just this.

4John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Now, not everyone came, of course, but Mark is emphasizing his success.

The connection between the messenger and John is clear. The messenger is to prepare the way, which includes calling for repentance on the part of Israel (Malachi 4:15-16). And John calls the people to repentance.

Also, the messenger is associated with the wilderness as is Elijah.  Well, John is in the wilderness and he is telling people to prepare the way.

And then we have v. 6.

6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.

The messenger is identified as Elijah in some sense and John looks just like Elijah. In 2 Kings 1:8 someone describes Elijah in this way: “He wore a garment of hair with a belt of leather around his waist.” As Jesus says later in Mark 9:13, “Elijah has come” and he is referring to John the Baptist. (See also Luke 1:17).

Notice how what John is doing fits with Isaiah and Malachi’s vision of the need to prepare the people for the coming of God. In the first exodus, Israel crossed through the Red Sea. And then with Joshua the Jordan river. John is symbolically having Israelites go through the waters again (here the Jordan river.) So John is calling Israel to be reconstituted as a new people, ready for the coming of God. And since the leaders in Jerusalem rejected him, he is calling out a remnant to make them ready for the Lord. All of this points to the fulfillment of the promise of the prophets about Israel’s salvation. It all fits together.

The fulfillment – John’s message

7And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

A key part of John’s ministry was calling people to be ready for the coming one (Matthew 11:3, Acts 13:25). He describes him as the mighty one.

There’s a Jewish saying that a disciple is to act as a slave to their teacher, except for taking off their sandals (b. Ketub. 96a). But here John is saying he is not fit even to do this slave work for the mighty one.

John also speaks of the coming one as the Spirit baptizer. The one who will inundate people with the Spirit, like he does with water.

This has reference to several promises God makes to his people in the Old Testament:

  • Joel 2:28-29 – “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”
  • Ezekiel 36:27 – “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
  • Isaiah 44:3 – “I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”

John’s water baptism was preparatory. The coming One’s Spirit baptism brings the reality of the promises.

What do we learn?

This teaches us about God’s plans. They are from of old. This was all pointed to by the prophets, Isaiah and Malachi and repeated by John. God’s plans are orderly. The messenger come first to prepare and after this comes the Lord to bring salvation. God’s plans are sure and true. It came to pass just as it was supposed to, which is the story Mark is telling us about. This should lead us to trust in God’s full outworking of his plan to bring it all to completion, as we wait our Lord’s second coming.

And speaking of his coming, we need to continue to be prepared for God’s coming to us. Are we single mindedly focused on God and serving him? Or are we off following the world, waiting time, focused on this life and not finishing the mission he gave us to expand his kingdom? Are you prepared? He could come at any time.

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For me it is interesting to note the different emphases of the various gospel writers. For instance, Mark is the shortest gospel, but when it tells stories about Jesus they are usually the longest and most lively. Matthew and Luke are longer gospels, but have shorter stories and then use that space to record more of the teaching of Jesus.

And then there is the contrast between the emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of Luke compared to that of the Gospel of Matthew. Luke has quite a bit more material on the Spirit. Yet, having said that we have in Matthew two statements about the presence of Jesus with us that do not show up in Luke or anywhere else and have to do with what we understand to be the work of the Spirit, that is, making Jesus present to us. (more…)

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I want to share with you briefly on Joy and Christmas-time. Joy is certainly central to the message the angel spoke to the Shepherds in the Christmas story.  Luke 2:10  says, “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.’”

Christmas is a time of joy, right? Time off work; enjoying family; giving gifts; special meals; special events with friends; sentimental associations from childhood and a time to set aside one’s problems for a while. All we need to do is hear the Christmas music and  see the decorations to be joyful and happy.

Yet, as you know, for some, Christmas can be a time of real sadness. If many have time off work, some don’t have a job or are working several jobs with no time off. If many enjoy family, some have family brokenness or even no family. If many give and receive gifts, some don’t have the money to do this. If many have special meals, some can’t afford this either. If many go to special events with friends, some don’t have friends to go out with. If many have sentimental remembrances, some didn’t have a good childhood and so it can bring back bad memories. If many are able to set aside their problems – some are reminded of specific tragedies that have happened at this time of year, or losses from the past year.

So for one or more of these reasons, simply to hear the music and to see the decorations brings sadness or even depression. You can’t seem to enter in and be happy, and it makes you sadder when you see others experiencing joy, when you can’t.

So does this mean that we shouldn’t talk about Christmas joy since we might make someone feel worse? No. We simply need to remember again why we have joy at Christmas. And we learn this from the angel who spoke to the Shepherds in Luke 2:11 – “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Notice, the angel said nothing about time off work; family; gift giving; meals; special events with friends; sentimental associations from childhood; or a special time to set aside problems for a while. This is the cultural part of Christmas; the human traditions that have accumulated around our celebration of Christmas.

Think of Mary and Joseph. They were obeying an imperial edict to be registered in a census. I’m sure they weren’t excited about having to do this at the very time when Mary was due to give birth. I don’t think it was fun to have to put Jesus in an animal feed-trough because there wasn’t enough room for them in a home or an inn. They certainly weren’t enjoying what we associate with celebrating Christmas.

Think of the Shepherds as well. They took a brief break from their work to go see the baby and then went back. They had none of the trappings of our cultural traditions.

The angel said we can have joy because of something else. We have to keep vs. 10 and 11 together. v. 10 speaks of “good news of a great joy.” v. 11 tells us why – “for unto you is born . . . a Savior”

Our Messiah and Lord has come someone who can save us. Someone who can help us in our difficulties, provide for our needs, and give us the promise of a better future. And this is what gives us both hope and joy.

This is a message precisely for those who are sad and who don’t have what they want at this time of year. And it’s for all of us who have problems. You don’t need a savior if you have nothing to be saved from, right?

The true meaning of Christmas can give us all joy precisely because we do have problems, pain and brokenness.

Jesus is the savior. He has come. And he can help us. And this is what we celebrate. So let’s celebrate with vigor and great joy! A joy that cannot be taken away no matter what our circumstances are.

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[updated]

We are looking at Luke 10:38-42, which tells the familiar story of Martha and Mary and a dinner party.

This story has a lot to say, from several different angles. But I would like for us to be pretty specific in our focus. And that focus is what this story has to say aboutsetting aside our frantic pace of life in order to have time to be with Jesus.

Let’s begin by working our way through –

The Story

 v. 38 – “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.”

As Jesus and his disciples traveled around Israel, they were at various times taken in and given hospitality by those in the villages where they ministered. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 10:8, giving instructions to his disciples. He says, “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.”

To welcome Jesus or his disciples was a sign of acceptance of the message of the kingdom of God, which is what they were preaching. To receive the messenger is to receive the message. So this verse shows us that Martha is a supporter of Jesus. She is doing a good thing, welcoming him into her home.

v. 39 says, “And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”

So Jesus has come into the house and here we see Mary learning from him.

Now, to sit at a teacher’s feet was the position of a disciple, or a student (2 Kings 4:38; Luke 8:35; Acts 22:3). So, this was quite unusual for that day. That is, that Mary, a woman, takes up the position of a disciple who learns from a master teacher. This was reserved for men.

The Mishnah, an ancient collection of Jewish teaching says, “Let your house be a meeting place for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst.” So again, sitting at the feet of a teacher is the position of a disciple. But then it goes on to say just after this, “but talk not much with womankind.” (M ‘Abot 1:4;5).

In contrast to this, here, Jesus welcomes Mary as a woman disciple (as he does with other women in other places). And even though Martha, as we will see, tries to force her back into the traditional domestic role that women filled in that day – Jesus does not allow it.

We could say more on this part of the story, but our focus for today is on Mary as one who “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”

v. 40 goes on, “But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’”

The portrait that we have here shows that Martha is very busy serving. And this is understandable given that the disciples were probably also in her home. She has quite a crew to feed and take care of. She is, no doubt, trying to keep up with the social expectations of the day for how you treat honored guests. And hospitality was a much bigger deal in ancient culture than it is in our day.

The word – “distracted” means “being pulled away” by something; to be overburdened with a matter. She was overburdened with all the work she had to do.

And this causes her to complain to Jesus – ‘Mary should be helping me with all this work! Tell her to get busy!’

vs. 41-42 end the story, “But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’”

Here Jesus also takes note of Martha’a busyness. He says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things.” But instead of rebuking Mary, as Martha wanted, he gently admonishes her.  He teaches her that there is one thing that is necessary. What is this one thing? It is the “good portion” that Mary has chosen – sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teaching.

This story gives us a lesson in priorities. Serving the needs of others is good, but listening to and learning from Jesus is better. Now, there is a time and place for both, and we are to do both. But here Martha has given higher priority to service, rather than listening to Jesus. This is her mistake.

Let’s step back now and look at the big picture. We have here –

Two sisters, who represent two approaches to Jesus

We have Martha who is busy. She is doing a good thing, but she has become overwhelmed by it all and her busyness produces some negative results:

  1. She becomes self-focused. Even though she is trying to serve others it comes back to her. ‘Jesus don’t you care about me? All the work I am doing by myself?’ You can see it in the pronouns – “Me, me, me.”
  2. She demands from Jesus, telling him what he should say. ‘Tell my sister to help me.’ Fix my problem with all this busyness that I have going on.

In contrast we have Mary who is not busy. She is not overwhelmed. And this bears forth good results:

  1. She is focused on Jesus. She is able to give Jesus her attention. Indeed she probably had forgotten all that needed to be done, because of her single-minded focus on listening to Jesus and soaking in his presence.
  2. She listens to what Jesus wants to say. Not telling him what he should be saying from her perspective. But listening to what he wants to teach.

I share all this with you today because, I think –

We are very much like Martha

1. We are “anxious and troubled about many things.” As Americans we value producing things; getting things done. We don’t value rest, calm, or being still. At least not as much. We always want to be doing things; things that produce results in a tangible or an economic way.

  • And so we are always busy with activities. There is always something going on, or better, multiple things going on which we have to choose between, or try to do both. Multi-tasking is standard fare now. These activities are connected to family, kids, work, school, our various social commitments, including church; a constant barrage of events.
  • We are busy going places. All of these activities require time spent traveling. We are always on the move.
  • We have busy minds. This has to do with keeping all of our commitments and schedules together, plus all that we take in from TV, radio and the internet. We are always plugged in. We become saturated with information, which leaves our minds spinning to try to process it all.

We are indeed “anxious and troubled about many things.” And we become “distracted” by all this from focusing on Jesus himself.

2. These are good things we are doing. It’s not like we are out wasting our time, being frivolous or useless or worse. Beyond what others may do, we also give our time to serve Jesus to work in the church and to serve the needs of people.

Again, just like Martha who was welcoming Jesus into her house, we are doing what is laudable; what is commendable. But . . .

3. The result of all our busyness is not good. Besides stress, sleeplessness, headaches and other physical symptoms – we become like Martha; we get overwhelmed, so that like her:

  1. We can become self-centered; only seeing what we have to do in the swirl of our activity and in our world. Even when we are trying to serve others. And we also try to include others in our busyness so that they are now anxious and troubled, like Martha tried to do with Mary. Our busyness and anxiety is contagious.
  2. We can become demanding of the Lord. We are too busy, but instead of fixing the problem of our over-committed lives by making better choices, we want the Lord to compensate for us to make things all work out right.  ‘Lord, fix this!’ We actually pray this way. We don’t act to fix the problem, we just want help to sustain or even increase our ability to be busy.

Instead of all this –

We must learn to be like Mary

She had her priorities straight. Out of all the things that she could have been doing, and by social expectation should have been doing –

  • she “chose the good portion” – v. 42
  • she got “the one thing” that is “necessary” – v. 42

She “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” – v. 39. She spent time in the Lord’s presence and just took it in.

Be honest. How often in the busyness of your life do you truly sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching? Where you enter into the Lord’s presence and learn his way? Is there time in your busy schedule? When there is a small bit of time are you really there, or still busy of mind?

This is a question of priorities. As good as all that you are doing may be, nothing is more important than being with the Lord and learning from him.

If you don’t have time to sit at Jesus feet, then you need to reevaluate your life, because your priorities are out of order. To say it simply –  if you are too busy for Jesus, you are too busy!

May we all learn from Mary’s example and Jesus’ teaching and act to make things right. So that we make the hard choices we need to make to spend time with Jesus.

William Higgins

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camelAccording to Jesus it is hard for those who have more than they need to receive God’s Kingdom salvation. Indeed, it’s impossible, like trying to get a camel through the eye of a sewing needle (Luke 18:24-25). It’s impossible because what God demands is so hard for us to do. Here is what Jesus and his apostles teach about what God demands.

1. Give up greed

Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Jesus warns us against every kind of greed. Wealth is so dangerous that we should not seek to have it (Mark 4:18-19; I Timothy 6:9). Why is this?

  • First, when we store up earthly treasures we are led to trust in them rather than God (Matthew 6:24).
  • And second, when we store up earthly treasures we are led to enjoy comforts while others suffer (Luke 16:19-31). In other words, seeking wealth leads us to hate God and our neighbor, the opposite of the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Rather than this we are to trust God for our provision (Matthew 6:25-34). We are to be content with what we have (Hebrews 13:5), simply praying for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). We know that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

2. Give up all you possess

Jesus said, “none of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Here are some things to note about this command:

  • It applies to all who have possessions.
  • “Give up” can be translated “renounce.”
  • This covers “all” our possessions, not some.
  • This command primarily has a vertical focus. It has to do with our possessions and God.
  • This command is interpreted by Luke in Acts 4:32, “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own.”

It means that we accept that our possessions are no longer ours. We renounce them. We give them up to God. They are God’s now. Jesus tells us why we must renounce our possessions. “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

3. Give to the needy

Jesus said, “sell your possessions and give to the needy” (Luke 12:33). Here are some things to note about this command:

  • It is addressed to all who are not themselves needy. (But sacrificial giving on the part of the needy is highly commended – Luke 21:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:3).
  • This command has primarily a horizontal focus, giving our resources to the needy.
  • This has to do with our excess possessions, including our accumulated money, not necessarily all our possessions and money. In Luke 12 the context of this command is the farmer’s surplus crop. Jesus is not saying here “become needy” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).
  • All such giving is to be done voluntarily and freely (2 Corinthians 9:7). Ananias could have kept what he pretended to give (Acts 5:4).
  • Sometimes an initial dispersion of wealth happened at conversion. Zacchaeus gave half of his possessions to the needy (Luke 19:8).
  • This giving is to be continuous, however. As Paul said, “each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn” for the purpose of meeting needs (I Corinthians 16:2). As long as there are needs we are to keep giving what we can.
  • This command is interpreted by Luke in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:34-35. When there was a need in the community of believers, those who had would give to those who had need.
  • The giving can be done one on one, or it can be given to the common fund of the church to be distributed to the needy (Matthew 6:2; Acts 4:35; 6:1-4).

4. Who are the needy?

There are three categories of the needy:

1) Those who are needy because of God – evangelists, missionaries, pastors and those who are persecuted. These have sold all they have (Luke 18:22), or left it behind (Luke 18:28-30), or have given up earning money (Luke 10:7; I Timothy 5:17-18) or have had their possessions taken from them (Hebrews 10:32-34) – all for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

2) Those who are needy among the people of God – the sick, the oppressed, widows, and orphans (James 1:27; Galatians 6:10). If we are not needy, our salvation depends upon giving to these two groups of the needy (Luke 16:19-31; 6:24). For we cannot love God and ignore a needy brother or sister (I John 3:16-17). When we do give, they will welcome us into the Kingdom of God (Luke 16:9).

3) We are also to give to those who are needy among the unbelievers (Luke 10:30-37; Galatians 6:10; Luke 6:33-36).

We are not to give to the idle, those who choose not to work. Rather we are to teach these to work hard, earn their own living and help others in need (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; I Thessalonians 4:11-12).

5. How much should we give?

There is no set requirement of how much we are to give; no percentage is given. Those who give much, however, like Barnabas, are honored (Acts 4:36-37).

Love for God and our neighbor should control our giving. Those who give out of love are willing to give sacrificially for others in genuine need. They are not concerned about percentages, but helping the needy. Paul said, “each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). But remember this, “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6). How much treasure do we want in heaven (Luke 12:33)?

6. Caring for family

None of this giving to the needy excludes us from our responsibilities to care for our family. It is evil to neglect this (Mark 7:8-13; I Timothy 5:3-8). Caring for family can involve storing up resources for our parents in old age (Mark 7:9-13), and for our children’s needs (2 Corinthians 12:14). Caring for family, however, should not be used as a pretext for greed so that we can live in indulgence.

7. Sharing all that we possess

Jesus said, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13). Whatever is not used to support family needs and to give to the needy is still God’s and must be used for God’s purposes. This means being hospitable and sharing what we own.This means blessing the needy with our resources. Philemon had a room for Paul to stay in when he traveled through his area (Philemon 1:22). Gaius allowed his large home to be the meeting place for the church in Corinth (Romans 16:23).

8. Doing the impossible

What God demands of us is impossible because we are evil. We store up treasures for ourselves because we do not believe that God will take care of us. We store up treasures for ourselves so that we can live in comfort while others suffer; because we think it’s alright if others suffer lack as long as we don’t.

But there is hope for us. Jesus tells us that with God all things are possible (Luke18:27). If we truly desire it, God can change our evil hearts. God can enable us to give up all our possessions and be generous with all that we have.

William S. Higgins – 2003

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