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Last week we began looking at Mark 7:1-23. In vs. 1-13 Jesus pointed out the problems of man-made religious rules; the traditions of the elders. This week we will focus on the other point of dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees –

The issue of impurity

Now, this isn’t the most exciting topic, but it is  important for understanding this passage. So here we go. In Scripture an object or a person becomes ritually impure by contact with a corpse, through various bodily discharges (which I will spare you listing them), or by touching someone who has these.

This creates a problem because God is holy and completely pure. So, if you are impure, you can’t come near to God. You can’t come near the temple, you can’t offer sacrifice (a real concern for priests) and also in some cases you had to stay away from other people. But you could be made ritually pure again by undergoing the proper ritual, which often involved water.

The Pharisees especially emphasized ritual purity. And in their traditions the rules for purity multiplied greatly and they were applied broadly to everyone. The Pharisees’ goal seems to have been for regular people to maintain the highest possible state of ritual purity. Mark 7:3-4 says they “do not eat unless they wash their hands . . . and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.”

The Pharisees and those who were influenced by them, thought that this was what the people of God needed; this was the agenda for moving forward for renewal and for once again receiving God’s blessing.

This bring us to –

Jesus’ parable on impurity

v. 14 – “And he called the people to him again and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand.’” He has a message for the crowd. And he begins by saying hear and understand. This is important.

But also he is saying – this is going to be difficult to understand! It’s called “a parable” in v. 17, and it is meant to be a cryptic statement. So you have to put some effort into understanding it. v. 16 is not in the earliest manuscripts, but it emphasizes this point as well, “if anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Here is the parable: v. 15 – “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Notice that there are two parallel halves to this. And each half contains a series of contrasts with the other. There is:

  • a contrast between the outside, and the inside
  • a contrast between things that go in from the outside, and things that come out from the inside
  • a contrast between what cannot defile (what goes in), and what does defile (what comes out)

So this much is clear. But what else in the world is he talking about?? Thankfully we have –

Jesus’ explanation

vs. 17-18 – “And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, ‘Then are you also without understanding?’” Like in other places in the gospels, Jesus explains his teaching in private to his disciples.

First, he deals with the first half of the parable. v. 18-19 – “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and goes out into the toilet – cleansing all foods?”

We are reminded of the bigger context here. Jesus is talking about food. But then something happens. When he tells us why the food doesn’t defile, he talks about how “it enters not his heart.” This is odd until you realize that Jesus is shifting the conversation from one on ritual purity, to one exclusively about moral purity – with a focus on the human heart.

This is the key to understanding the parable. He’s not saying whether food does or does not defile someone. He just doesn’t address this. Rather, he’s saying – no food can make someone morally impure. Hold on to this. We will come back to it.

A digression: At the end of v. 19 we have a dangling participial phrase that is difficult to make sense of, and it shows up differently in different bibles. In the earliest manuscripts it says literally, “cleansing all foods,” which can be construed in different ways. (The phrase, “thus he declared . . .” is not in the Greek text. It’s simply one way to make sense of this). Just briefly, my view is that it’s best to see it as the conclusion of Jesus’ point here. The digestive process cleanses all foods, keeping the good and expelling the bad.

[I take it as a grammatical oddity – an anacoluthon. The KJV and NKJV are based on later manuscripts which also connect the phrase to the digestive process, but by means of a change to the word “cleansing”).] [What is certain is that Jesus is not doing away with Mosaic food laws for Jews. He has just skewered the Pharisees for not holding to and nullifying the commandment of God through Moses. How could he then turn around in the very next breath and say that a large portion of Mosaic commandments are nullified? The issue of obedience to Mosaic Law for Gentiles was dealt with later in Acts 15 with the apostolic decree.]

Next, Jesus explains the second half of the parable. v. 20 – “And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him.’” Also notice v. 21, “for from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts . . ..” And as well v. 23, “ . . . evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” So food can’t make someone morally impure, but the evil that comes out from the heart does defile.

Again, Jesus isn’t  talking about ritual purity. He has shifted to a conversation about moral purity or impurity. Why? Because the real issue for Jesus is not ritual impurity but heart impurity or defilement.

[The rhetorical move is indicative of his substantive position.] [This means he isn’t giving a ruling here on whether Jews should maintain the teaching of Moses on this – although he did know that soon the temple would soon be destroyed and so ritual purity would be impossible to maintain.]

Having heard his explanation, here is a paraphrase of his parable: There is no food that you take in that can make you morally impure. But the evil things that come out of your heart do make you morally impure. 

Next, Jesus goes on to talk at some length about –

The evil of the human heart

vs. 21-23 – “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

In v. 21 he speaks of “evil thoughts” and in v. 23 of “evil things.” And in-between these there are 12 things that Jesus mentions. The first six are actions that are forbidden by the ten commandments. The second six are more evil attitudes or dispositions of the heart. (See outline)

Jesus certainly agreed with the words of Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”

Let’s step back now and look at the bigger picture and –

Jesus’ central point

The Pharisees’ agenda for renewal is about outward rules of purity. They focus on ever more detailed rules for how to stay ritually pure. And they say that this is how God’s people will be renewed; this is how Israel will find God’s favor.

But yet as Jesus said in Mark 7:6, even with all this “their heart is far from God.” And that’s because the real problem is an impure heart. That’s why he doesn’t even talk about ritual purity. This is all beside the point. As he said, the food doesn’t touch the heart. Since ritual purity or impurity doesn’t deal with the moral impurity of the heart, there is no way that a focus on this can solve the problem. The Pharisees have the wrong agenda for renewal.

In contrast, Jesus’ agenda for renewal is the giving of a new heart. This is what was promised in the prophets. For instance in Ezekiel 36:25-27. The Lord says,

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

This is what God’s people need!! Something that deals with the evil of the human heart – the problem. We need a new, clean heart, given by the Spirit; a heart that has right desires.

Now, he doesn’t talk about the positive part of this in this passage, just what the real problem is. But this is Jesus’ whole mission in coming to us:

  • He died so that our sins might be forgiven; our moral defilement cleansed.
  • And he was raised so that we might receive the Spirit and a new heart that obeys the Lord.

Well, again, it’s easy to pick on the Pharisees –

But what about us?

We don’t have ritual purity rules like in Jesus’ day. We have rules for purity, but they are more about hygiene than blocking one’s access to God. But we do sometimes try to be transformed by focusing on the outside, without dealing with our hearts.

Here are some examples:

  • Going to church just because you think mere attendance will bring about a spiritual change in you.
  • Dressing in a certain way, having good manors, or not saying “bad” words, because we think if we look like our life is together on the outside, it will fix what is on the inside.
  • Going through certain religious rituals, maybe it’s fasting for Lent, as if being more disciplined outwardly will deal with our heart issue.
  • Doing good deeds – volunteering, helping out in the community as the fix for our inner evil heart.

None of these things are bad, and with a new heart they can be helpful for sure. But like the Pharisees we can think the outward is the key to spiritual renewal; that we should begin with the outward without first dealing with our evil hearts.

Jesus is teaching us to deal with the real issue within: our impure, evil heart. Do you want a new life with God? Do you want to overcome a habitual sin in that you continue to struggle with? Start within!

– Let Jesus cleanse away the defilement of your heart.

– Let Jesus give you a new heart.

And then once you are renewed within, the outward can follow.

William Higgins

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Our text today is often called the parable of the two sons. I think parents with teens will relate to it. It’s about a father trying to get his kids to do chores. One kid is rude about it and the other doesn’t do anything.

But in all seriousness, it’s an important Scripture because it gives us a very clear understanding of what God wants from us.

It comes right in the middle of a fairly long confrontation between Jesus and the leaders of Jerusalem – the chief priests and the elders of the people (21:23). And this is the first of three parables intended to give them a message.

First, let’s work at –

Understanding the parable

Jesus initiates this stage of the conversation with a question. v. 28 – “What do you think?” They had just refused to answer a question he posed, but as we will see in what follows, this parable forces them to answer him.

Now before we move on, let me say here that in some ancient manuscripts of the New Testament the order of the two sons is actually reversed. So if your Bible has this you will know what is going on. For instance the older New American Standard Bible. I am using the ESV as always.

The first son. v. 28 – “A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’” The word translated as “first” can also mean “older,” as in the oldest son. Some translations take it this way.

“Sons” is actually the word for “children.” And when the father says, “son, go and work,” it is actually “child, go and work,” a more affectionate way of putting it. He is asking him to do some work on the family farm.

v. 29 – “And he answered, ‘I will not.’” The son’s response is rude and disrespectful. In its culture this would be seen as rebellious and unacceptable. And it’s a real contrast to the father’s affectionate address to him.

The story goes on, v. 29 – “but afterward he changed his mind and went.” Although he said no, he does work.

The word behind the phrase, “changed his mind” can also be translated as ‘he regretted it’ or ‘he thought differently about it,’ or even ‘he repented.’

This part of the parable has some connection to Luke 15 and the parable of the prodigal son, the only other parable of Jesus that involves a father and two sons. The first son here is quite similar to the prodigal son. And both show us what repentance looks like. They changed their minds and acted differently.

The second son. v. 30 – “And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir.’” This is a very respectful answer, in contrast to the first son’s words to his father. The word “sir” is actually the word for ‘lord’ or ‘master.’

v. 30 – “but did not go.” He said yes, but he was full of hot air.

Now let’s look at –

Jesus’ interpretation

v. 31 – “’Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.’”

  • From this we see that the father represents God.
  • The first son represents the tax collectors & prostitutes. They said no to God initially, but when they heard the message of the kingdom, they changed their minds and began to do God’s will.
  • The second son represents the chief priests & elders. They said yes to God, but when they heard the message, they did not act.
  • And most likely the vineyard represents Israel – the people of God.

The point of the parable is clear. Those who refuse God but later repent and obey, like the first son, will go into the kingdom. And they will go in before those who say yes, but don’t obey God, like the second son. (Indeed the leaders won’t get in at all unless they repent.)

Jesus gives his strong affirmation to this lesson when he says, “Truly I say to you.” He is saying, ‘take note!’ ‘This is absolutely the truth.’

Finally, notice how Jesus forces them to answer. The only possible answer to his question is that the first son did the father’s will. Yet the first son undeniably represents well repentant sinners – those moral outcasts that these leaders looked down on.

And the leaders look very much like the second son, in that they did not take heed to the message of the kingdom. So they, in effect, condemn themselves.

Now this parable can be applied quite broadly, but in this context Jesus applies it specifically to –

John the Baptist’s ministry

– the subject of the argument at this point between Jesus and the leaders of Jerusalem.

v. 32 – “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him.” Even though they had said yes to obey God, they did not believe John was from God. So they didn’t do what he said.

Although John came in the way of righteousness, that is, he was righteous and preached a righteous message from God, they rejected him.

v. 32 – “but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.” Even though they had said no to God, they believed John and repented.

Finally, Jesus says, v. 32 – “And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” Even after they saw others respond, they rejected him, and would not change their minds about him, and heed his message of repentance. They blew it twice with John, just like they were blowing it with Jesus as they spoke with him.

Lessons for us

1. We learn what God wants from us. God wants us to believe and respond to the message of the kingdom. And how do we respond? We are to respond by obeying God. To say it another way, God is looking for a change within that leads to obedience; so that we come to do our heavenly father’s will, instead of ours or anyone else’s.

This is the bottom line of what God wants from us.

2. Don’t be the second son. As Christians we have said “yes” to God, and so we are reminded in this parable that we need to come through on our commitment. We need to make sure we are working in the vineyard, doing God’s will; using our gifts and doing all that God tells us to do.

Now, the second son echoes Matthew 7:21. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Both use the address of “Lord,” and both don’t obey the will of the father. And both are, as Jesus interprets the parable, excluded from the kingdom of God. (Davies & Allison)

This is a word to us not just the ancient leaders of Israel. We must come through on our commitments to God.

3. Don’t be self-righteous. We need humility so we don’t become like the leaders of Jerusalem.

Think about it. Who are the ones who will never repent? Rank sinners? No. There’s a chance for them. The ones who will never repent are those who think they don’t need to repent; who don’t see the need; who think they are in the right.

Paul says, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” – 1 Corinthians 10:12. This is a warning for us. You never get to a place where you can’t receive God’s message to you; where you don’t need to be open to repentance.

4. The gospel is great news for sinners! So if you are here today and you have sin in your life – I mean even really bad sin; you have made terrible and shameful choices – it isn’t too late.

You haven’t done God’s will so far? Jesus teaches that you can change your mind! You can have a change within so that you believe the message and start to obey your heavenly father. It isn’t too late.

And if there is anyone here today who wants to do this very thing I invite you to come forward . . ..

[Note: This is not an example of the first and the last from 20:16. In this last verse the first and the last has to do with equalization, not reversal – both the first and the last were made equal.]
 
[Note: Literary structure of the parable.
A. Question/two sons: What do you think? A man had two sons.
B. First son: And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went.
`B. Second son: And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.
`A. Question/two sons: Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”

William Higgins

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The church is an amazing thing. It’s made up of all kinds of different people – male and female, rich and poor, people from every tribe and tongue, and people with all different personalities. And these realities are true among us to some degree as well. We have different backgrounds and points of view that we bring with us into this congregation.

But according to Scripture –

We are all made one in Jesus

“Jesus is our peace,” having broken down the barriers that divide us (Ephesians 2:14) Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28).

So now, although we are many different people, we are one body in Christ and members of one another. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5).

And now, although we are from many different families, we are one family of brothers and sisters in the Lord.

  • Jesus teaches us that it is his disciples who are his true family (Matthew 12:48-50). These are his “brother and sister and mother.”
  • Paul says that we are “of the household of faith” – Galatians 6:10.

But we almost have to say these things by faith. For in truth –

We still have conflicts

This is why the New Testament talks so much about conflict and the need for peace. Those apostolic congregations needed it. Listen to these admonitions:

  • “Be at peace with one another” – Mark 9:50
  • “Be at peace among yourselves” – 1 Thessalonians 5:13
  • “Live in harmony with one another” – Romans 12:16
  • “Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building” – Romans 14:19

And there are others references that could be added. All of these calls for peace give the distinct impression that this is not something that just happens. Peace is something we have to work toward. It is something we have to work hard toward.

But also notice that in these verses the call is to peace, not just trying to cover over our conflicts so that no one thinks we have conflict, which is hypocrisy. Peace means being honest about it and working through our conflicts in love, so that we all have good relationships with each other and live in harmony.

We are to work hard at this so that we can work together as one body, and so that we can get along as one family.

Now, if I may say so, the problem today is that if there is conflict, instead of being at peace with one another, we just leave and go to another church down the street. We avoid conflict. We don’t do the hard work of loving each other enough to hang in there and sort things out.

Let me say more. I wonder what it would be like if there wasn’t a church on every corner. What if being committed to a church was like being committed to a marriage – where you have to work things out?

This is what God calls us to do. So let’s look at some ways to do this.

1. Grow in your love for others

This is a commitment each of us needs to make.

To remind us what love is, here are some phrases from 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is kind. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Love is not irritable or resentful.”

And then in Colossians 3:14-15, Paul tell us to – “. . . put on (this) love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”

Love is the source of our peace. Let your love for each other grow cold, and you will see our peace disappear.

Here’s a different way to look at all this. God has put us together for a reason, so that we can grow in our love for each other. So maybe that person you can’t get along with is specifically here to help you grow. Maybe that person that rubs you the wrong way is here for your benefit; a gift of God to you, to help you learn to love more deeply.

And so if you go off to another church in order to avoid them (thinking perhaps that other churches don’t have such problems), maybe you are really running from God. And who knows? Maybe God will put someone just like them in the new church you go to – for your benefit.

Does the person annoy you? Ask God for more love. And ask God to give you his eyes for that person so that you can see what is good about that person and why God loves them. And pray for that person. This not only is a blessing for them, it is a tremendous way to change your heart and your attitudes toward the person.

We’ve got to grow in our love for one another.

2. Let love break down relationship barriers

We have to be careful not to let our differences divide us. For instance, those who are older and those who are younger – generational differences. Or those who live in the city and those who don’t. Or even something as simple as the youth letting what school they go to divide them.

We can’t just go off and be in our comfortable clicks, around those we like and who are like us. Such partiality is not consistent with the call to love each other. As James 2:8-9 says, “If you really fulfill . . . ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

Love should push us to be with others. And our love should pull others into our circles. We are all a family here, brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is what defines us, not our differences.

3. Bear with one another

This is a particular part of love that I want to highlight here. 1 Corinthians 13 also says, “Love bears all things” and “Love is patient.” Paul says in Colossians 3:12-13, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another . . ..” We need all these things, but I am especially focused on patience and bearing with one another.

People can rub us the wrong way. And so we need patience. Patience means longsuffering, or the ability to suffer for a long time – in this case with other’s weaknesses. We need to learn to bear with each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies (and of course, hope and pray they bear with ours).

A part of this is learning to overlook minor issues. Proverbs 19;11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” So don’t get angry over every little thing that happens. Be able to discern what is a minor issue and what has to be dealt with because it is truly important.

When there is real conflict –

4. Deal with the person involved

This principle is taught in Matthew 18:15. Go to the person in private to talk. Often the conflict is based on misunderstanding and can be settled easily.

This also makes sure we avoid two really big mistakes. 1) Judging by appearances. We assume we know what is going on based on what we can see from a distance. And we usually assume the worst of motives in others. But we don’t know the whole story. In John 7:24 Jesus says, “do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” You can’t do this until you talk to the person to find out what is going on.

2) Gossip. Don’t involve others inappropriately in the conflict. The issue is between the ones in conflict and so don’t go around telling everyone your point of view so that people start taking sides.

Both of these are real temptations, but we must learn to deal with the person face to face.

Also, when there is conflict –

5. Hear the other person’s point of view

It’s easy only to focus on making sure others know where we are coming from. But love compels us to seek to understand where the other person is coming from.

James 1:19 says in part, “Know this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak . . ..” Quick to listen to others, slow to say what we think. This isn’t something that comes naturally.

Finally, when there is conflict –

6. Find a way to work through the issue

If you need to, find a compromise. Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” It’s not just about us and getting what we want, there is also a concern for the other and their needs and desires.

If this fails, let some mature believers help. 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 tells us first of all, don’t take each other to a secular court! Then he asks in v. 5, “Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers . . .?” Surely God has given congregations those who can help settle disputes. And we need to be open to a mediator or even an arranged settlement that puts an end to a conflict.

 

So these are some ways that we work at living in harmony with one another. I encourage you to act on them as there is need.

And remember, what makes us different from the world is not that we never have conflict. It is that we love each other enough to work through our issues and that we do this in a loving way. This is our witness to the world – that Jesus makes a difference in how we live.

William Higgins

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For an updated version of this teaching: The difference between faith and presumption

 

 

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As we begin this service of baptism, let’s remember the words of our Lord, who said,

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus teaches us to baptize those who choose to follow him. And this is what we’re doing here today.

As we get started, let’s review again the symbolic meaning of water baptism. We begin with –

Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea

On the diagram below notice Egypt as the place of slavery and then Mt. Sinai – the mountain of God. And in between these two are the waters of the Red Sea.

Remember, as the Israelites tried to escape their misery and slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh’s army came to kill them. And the waters of the Red Sea blocked Israel and they were about to be destroyed. In Hebrew thought the deep waters are evil. They represent judgment and death.

God, however, acted to deliver Israel from judgment and death. He divided the sea, making a path for Israel to make it to the other side; to fully escape their old life.

There are five parts to this event.

1. Israel left Egypt behind.

2. Israel was set free from judgment and death. They went through the waters of destruction safely to the other side.

3. They had a Spirit experience. As the came up on the other shore they sang prophetic songs by the Spirit.

4. They became a new people. As they came up on the other side, they were no longer a ragtag group of slaves. They were the people of God.

5. They committed to obey God. After they came out of the waters, they traveled to Mt Sinai and committed to obey God’s Law.

Christian Water Baptism

Well there is a parallel between this Red Sea crossing and Christian water baptism.

Like we just saw, the waters here also represent judgment and death. But God has intervened for us. Through Jesus, God delivers us from judgment and death. He makes a way for us to cross over to the other side.

And there are five parts to this.

1. When we come to the waters of baptism, we portray that we have left behind our old life through repentance. Just like Israel left Egypt behind, so we leave our old, sinful life in the world behind.

2. When we go through the waters of baptism, we acknowledge that we are set free and forgiven. Just as with Israel, judgment and death can’t touch us anymore. We testify that our sins are forgiven (or washed away). That’s why we can go through the waters and not be harmed.

3. As we come up out of the water “on the other shore,” as it were, we acknowledge that we have received the Spirit. Just like when Israel came up on the other shore and they had a Spirit experience, so we testify that we have received the Spirit who gives new life.

4. When we come up out of the waters, we acknowledge that we are now a part of God’s people. Just as Israel became God’s people, we show that we have left the world behind and we are now a part of God’s people; that this is our true community.

5. When we come up out of the waters, we acknowledge that we are committed to follow Jesus. Just as Israel went on to Sinai and committed to obey God, we show our commitment to a new way of life; to doing God’s will from now on, just as Jesus has taught us.

Baptism is a symbolic testimony that this is all true in our lives. And this is the testimony of each of these who will come forward today.

William Higgins

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

Introduction

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

1.       A place reference begins the story

2.       The person is brought by others

3.       They beg of Jesus

4.       They want Jesus to touch him

5.       There is a concern for privacy

6.       Jesus uses spit

7.       He speaks to the man

8.       The man is healed

9.       There is a concern for crowds

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

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

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

Our story

v. 22 – “And they came to Bethsaida.”

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

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

Jesus meets the blind man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step two of the healing.

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

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

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

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

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

Alright, let’s draw out some –

Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Higgins

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Anger is something we all struggle with, and it can really damage and destroy our relationships with each other. It also is a false substitute for the process of dealing with those who have offended you. Instead of going to the offender in love and seeking peace, as Jesus teaches, we go in anger to verbally (or otherwise) punish them. So today we look at the danger of anger and next week, Lord willing, righteous anger.

James 1:19-20 says, “Know this, my beloved sisters and brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Anger is meant to lead us to righteousness

Anger is a God given desire for justice; that things be done rightly and fairly. This is the way that God has made us to function. It arises when we think that we or others have been wronged in some way. And it prompts us to act to make things right. God gave this to us to promote righteousness. It is meant to lead to the pointing out and correction of injustice

However, our anger often leads us to sin. There is a paradox here, for even though it is meant to promote righteousness, our anger often does not promote true righteousness. As James 1:20 says, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Why? 1) Anger is difficult to control. It is explosive, like a fire that quickly rages out of control. As Proverbs 27:4 says, anger is “overwhelming.” We become angry but can’t control our anger. 2) Our anger is often guided by our own distorted sense of what God wants us to do. It stirs us up – but to do what? We often have a warped understanding of justice that turns our behavior into hateful vengeance. And as Christians, we often forget the way of Jesus and ignore God’s call to mercy, love of enemies and forgiveness. Instead, in our anger, we seek to punish others.

So, in the hands of self-centered, weak humans (like all of us) anger leads us not to do God’s righteousness – but to do our own unrighteousness. Proverbs 29:22 says,  “one given to anger causes much transgression.” Psalm 37:8 says, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”

Examples of how anger often leads us to sin against others

1) Instead of loving others – it can lead us to murder – Genesis 4:5-7. Cain felt he had been wronged when God did not accept his offering, but did accept his brother’s. This made him angry. He did not control his anger and it led him to murder his brother. 

2) Instead of building up others – it can lead us to tear down others with our words – Matthew 5:22. “. . . Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Jesus teaches here that angry words that tear down, simple insults and expressions of judgment, are also a form of murder. They are also a breaking of the sixth commandment

3) Instead of living in peace with each other – it leads to quarreling and strife.  Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered person stirs up strife.” Anger often leaves in its wake wounded people and broken relationships.

4) Instead of kindness to others – it leads us to be cruel in our words and actions – Proverbs 27:4. Our anger makes us say things and do things that are extreme and cruel to others – things we wouldn’t do and say if we were not angry.

5) Instead of being willing to love and forgive – it leads us to hold on to bitterness. Bitterness is an unwillingness to forgive. Ephesians 4:31 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you.” Notice the connection between bitterness and anger is this verse.

6) Instead of acts of love for others – it leads us to do acts of malice. Malice has to do with acts of hatred towards others. This also comes from Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Not only does it destroy our relationships with others . . .

Unrighteous anger destroys our relationship with God

We cannot be in right relationship with God, when we are not in right relationship with others. This is a principle that the NT teaches. We see this in the following.

1) It blocks our ability to be in relationship with God.  I Timothy 2:8 says, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” It is inconsistent to pray when there is quarreling and unresolved anger – as if nothing is wrong. Matthew 5:24 teaches us to first be reconciled to the one you have offended by your angry words, before you come to worship God. We must deal with those we have wounded through our anger first

2) It leads to our condemnation before God. Galatians 5:19-21 teaches that outbursts of anger are works of the flesh. It then goes on to say, “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Colossians 3:8 says, “But now you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath . . ..” These things are a part of our old life that is to die. In verse 6 Paul says, “on account of these things the wrath of God is coming.” Our sinful anger lead to an outbreak of God’s righteous anger. Matthew 5:22 teaches that even simple words of angry insult like “you fool,” will lead to our condemnation before God as a breaking of the sixth commandment.

The danger of anger

What I’m saying is that anger is so hard to control, so easily corruptible, so easily leads us to sin, and the consequences are so grave – we must beware!

1) Anger is so dangerous . . . If we are angry, we must be very careful for sin. As Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry, but do not sin.”

2) Anger is so dangerous . . . We should not befriend someone who cannot control their anger. Proverbs 22:24 says – “Make no friendship with a person given to anger, nor go with a wrathful person.”

3) Anger is do dangerous . . . We should be careful not to provoke others to anger – which could cause them to stumble into sinful anger.  Ephesians 6:4 says,  “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger . . ..” This admonition can certainly be more broadly applied in other relationships.

Conclusion

Next week we’ll talk about righteous anger – What anger looks like when it is not out of control; when it has not forgotten Jesus’ call to love our enemies; when it is not busy destroying our relationships with others and with God. But for today I want us to hear, and take home, and ponder the serious warnings in the scriptures about the dangers of anger – that we should beware!

William Higgins

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