Mark 11

Mark 11 has Jesus continuing to teach the Twelve and minister to the people.  He comes into Jerusalem in style, riding on a donkey with people preparing the way along His route with palm branches and much noise.  As “he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons”.  This has been going on for years, but Jesus isn’t about leaving the status quo alone.  He is about moving people toward obedience and God.

You can imagine how that went over with the establishment of religious leaders.  Not only was He challenging their methods and approach, He was messing with their money and how they created income.  So “the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching”.  The religious leaders could sense their control was slipping away, and they wanted no part of watching that erode.  So they begin to focus on removing the threat whom they deemed to be Jesus.

He teaches his disciples about the power of prayer as they were walking along the road.  He used a fig tree to get their attention.  Then He makes it crystal clear.  “Have  faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”.  If you wonder what power is available through prayer – it’s limited only to the level of our faith.  Jesus gave us the keys to the kingdom when it comes to prayer.

But there is one more thing He teaches about prayer.  “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that  your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses”.  Prayer is a matter of the heart.  First it is about faith and believing that God is in control of all things and not only can but will do what He says.  But secondly, it is about relationship and making things right with others.  We have to be willing to forgive to truly set the power of prayer loose in our lives.  That’s often where people struggle.  They think hanging on to past wrongs puts them in a place of power over someone.  In face, it limits our prayer life and hurts us.  We need to forgive and set people free so we can receive that same forgiveness from the Father!

Mark 10

Mark 10 has Jesus addressing the way that we need to come to faith in Him.  “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it”.  Faith is not about anything more than a heart that believes that Jesus is the Christ and came to save us from our sin.  There was a young man who came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to be saved.  “You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother”.  Jesus starts by telling the young man that obeying God’s commandments is the foundation.

The young man says “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth”.  This was a guy who was keeping track of how he lived and was intentionally following the law, at least to the best of his ability.  But that isn’t the only requirement.  “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me”.  Being saved is about more than just keeping the law.  No one can truly do that.  So that means we have to have a saving relationship with Jesus.  He alone can set us free from the penalty of sin.  He alone is our way to eternal life.

The young man was unwilling to give away his stuff and follow Jesus.  He was trying to go through the motions of the law without the heart.  “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions”.  Following Jesus is an all or nothing thing.  You can’t sort of follow Him.  It takes complete trust, belief and a willingness to give up self. Jesus tells his disciples a very difficult truth.  “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter  the kingdom of God….It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter  the kingdom of God”.

The disciples were arguing about who would get to sit next to Jesus when they entered heaven.  Jesus rebukes them for their focus on self and teaches us the truth of servant leadership.  “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be  slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”.  Servant leadership is all about who is being served, not the person who is leading.  It turns traditional leadership thinking upside down but putting the person or people being served above the leader who is doing the serving.

Mark 9

Mark 9 begins with Jesus and His three closest disciples up on the mountain where Elijah and Moses appear.  It was quite a shock to their system, but after they were gone God tells them “This is my beloved Son; listen to him”.  Here is some great advice – we need to listen to and obey Jesus.  Seems pretty basic but we often struggle with the simple stuff.  Jesus was sent by God to this planet for a specific purpose – to provide a way for us to deal with our sin problem that will lead us to eternal separation from God someday if not addressed.  We need to listen to Jesus and the Words He shared in scripture.

The disciples come down with Jesus from the mountain and see a crowd gathered with the scribes and other disciples engaged in an argument.  Jesus comes along and asks what is happening.  The issue seems be around a young child who had a demon possessing him that the disciples couldn’t cast out.  The father pleads for Jesus to help.  “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us”. He doesn’t hesitate and “Jesus said to him, If you can….All things are possible for one who believes”.  There is power if faith.  We need to recognize that the limit is us, not Christ!

As they left this place and were traveling down the road, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among them.  Sounds like something normal people might do.  Jesus asks “What were you discussing on the way”?  It wasn’t that He didn’t know, but He wanted them to verbalize it.  “But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest”.  They knew they were talking about the wrong things, but they weren’t about to admit it.  So Jesus gives them the truth about their discussion: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all”.  You don’t get to the top of the heap by claiming to be greatest and rushing to the front of the line.  Greatness comes from serving others.

Jesus gives them another principle as this chapter closes.  “Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?  Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another”.  As Christ Followers, we are to be the salt of the earth.  But in order to do that, we must be careful we don’t lose our saltiness.  You and I, as Christians, are called the salt of the earth because our lives enhance and give meaning to this existence we call life. Before salvation, we were like grains of sand, too numerous to count. But after receiving Christ, we were transformed – no longer a piece of sand, but something distinctive in taste, texture, and aroma.  We need to remain different than the world from which we came.  We need to be salty!

Mark 8

Mark 8 has Jesus once again having compassion on a group of people – 4000 men this time plus their families – and instructing His disciples to feed them with the seven loaves of bread and a few fish just like they had previously with the 5000.  The disciples were again surprised that Jesus expected them to do this, as their plan was to send them away.  It’s amazing how short the memory was of the disciples.  They had witnessed Jesus’ ability to do whatever was needed to care for the people around him.

They again demonstrate their inability to understand as they are traveling with Jesus.  The group was short on food – with only one loaf of bread between them.  They are having a discussion about what to do when Jesus intervenes.  “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?  Do you not yet perceive  or understand?  Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke  the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And  the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand”?

Are we different than the Twelve when it comes to realizing the power Jesus has?  Unfortunately we probably aren’t all that different.  We forget that there are no limitations to what God can do.  Jesus begins to teach the Twelve what is coming as He began to teach them that the Son of Man must  suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again”.  This had to be a huge revelation and not something they expected.  In fact, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him”.  Peter would have none of this teaching.  But Jesus turns the tables and “he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”.

Jesus goes on to talk about what was expected for anyone that wanted to follow Him.  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and  take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul”?  Jesus makes it clear that following Him is not about us, but it’s all about Him.  We have to be willing to give up ourself to be a Christ Follower.  The cost is great, but the outcome is even greater!

Mark 7

Mark 7 has Jesus dealing with the Pharisees and Scribes about their traditions.  They observed the disciples not following some of the things they had long held as sacred, and they ask Jesus why He allows them to do that.  “Why do your disciples not walk according to  the tradition of  the elders”.  This became a big deal for them, and they want Jesus to explain why or put a stop to it.  They open the discussion and Jesus is very clear that in fact, they are the problem.  “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men”.

Jesus calls out a big priority issue with the religious leaders.  Over the centuries prior, they have taken God’s truth and created all sorts of things that were held as sacred that were not really things God had defined or said at all.  They had made those laws equivalent to God’s laws and projected those on everyone. Many of these man made laws were actions and tasks that had nothing to do with God at all. Jesus not only rebukes them for that, but makes it clear that it isn’t the things outside of us that makes us sinners.  It is what comes from within. Jesus tells them “the things that come out of a person are what defile him”.  It is the condition of the heart that God cares about.  Not the nit picky human laws that were too numerous to count.

Just to make sure they didn’t miss it, Jesus gets very specific.  “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”.  That’s quite a list of things that Jesus makes clear are truly sin because they are choices made in the heart to disobey God’s true law.  And the difference between these sins, and those against manmade laws is day and night.  When we fall short of God’s law, we face eternity without Him.  God alone has the power to judge and declare us guilty.  We will all stand before Him someday and face those words.

That’s really the whole reality of sin.  It doesn’t really matter what we think about sin.  We don’t get to set the standards.  Nor did the religious leaders 2000 years ago during Jesus’ time.  He makes that clear – that they could try and set the standard for sin as much as they wanted – but God has already set that in stone.  It is His standard we’ll face.  And unfortunately we’ll all come up short.  Unfortunately, when we stand before Him on Judgment Day we’ll be condemned.  That is, unless we receive the provision God has made for our sin through Jesus death, burial and resurrection.  That is our only hope for eternity with God.

Mark 6

Mark 6 has Jesus back in His hometown teaching and healing a few people.  But those who knew Him were unwilling to accept Him.  “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon”?  They just couldn’t wrap their head around the idea that this young man they had watched grow up right before their eyes was not a great teacher and capable to doing miracles.  It just didn’t compute for them and “they took offense at him”.  It wasn’t merely amazement.  They were unwilling to accept Him and what He did.

Jesus points out a truth that remains in many cases even today.  “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household”.  Change is hard for everyone.  And changing how we see others based on our history with them and understanding of who they are makes it difficult for most to accept a significant change in people.  It is still very true today.  But it seemed to catch Jesus a bit off guard as “He marveled because of their unbelief”.  Then He teaches a very important lesson.  “If any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them”.

That is one of the hardest lessons about life and ministry that I’ve had to learn.  We tend to think we can change everyone we set out to help improve their life.  But we can’t save people that don’t want to be helped – we can’t save people from themselves.  For years I spent countless hours trying to ‘force’ change in the lives of others.  It was clear as could be what needed to happen – destructive behaviors that needed to be changed – bad relationships that needed to be left or turned around.  Yet those involved were sometimes unwilling, even when it was clear, to do what had to be done to change.  And no amount of effort or prayer moved that needle.  Then God made it clear to me that we have to invest our time, energy and treasure in places where we can make an impact and move things forward.  We can’t just continually beat our head against the wall hoping it will be different.

Mark tells the story of how the crowd of 5000 were listening to Jesus teach and it was growing late in the day.  They came to the Master asking Him to send them away to get something to fill their stomach. I love His response to the ‘problem’ they brought Him.  “You give them something to eat”.  That was not the outcome they expected.  They immediately panic and question that decision.  So they challenge His request.  Jesus focuses them on what was available to work with – “How many loaves do you have? Go and see” – which was five loaves and two fish.  Then He shows them how to address the problem.  On the surface it looked hopeless based on their own ability to take five loaves and two fish to feed 5000 men and their families.

But that was the point of this teaching experience for His disciples.  It was not about them and their ability.  It was about God and His ability.  As humans we tend to create a very narrow view of how to approach overwhelming situations and often forget that God is able.  “He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass….by hundreds and by fifties”.  Jesus organized the crowd and then let God deal with the problem.  “And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people”. No big production, just God.  The outcome was as only God could deliver: “they all ate and were satisfied….they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish”.  More than enough, with plenty to spare.  God is able in every situation to meet the need!

Mark 5

Mark 5 has Jesus doing miracles of healing and setting people free from their tormented lives.  It begins when He arrives across the sea and is greeted by a guy who was possessed by evil.  He had lived this way for years and was widely known as uncontrollable.  The evil “Legion” within him immediately recognizes Jesus and begs that they not be sent away but allowed to enter some pigs feeding on the hillside.  “And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea”.  Jesus sets this man free from a life of torment.

But the people from around the area came rushing to see what had happened as news traveled fast, even in those days.  “And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs”.  There were plenty of eye witness reports of how Jesus had cast out the demons and set this guy free and rather than being a ranting and out of control lunatic, he was now sitting quietly and calmly in their midst.  But the people weren’t focused on that, but rather the one thing that causes us to often miss the important – fear. “And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region”.  Jesus had just done an amazing miracle and the response of the crowd was to ask Him to leave.  Seems like a poor decision given His power to do good, yet the crowd mentality wasn’t focused on the positive but the unknown.

So Jesus does exactly what they ask and climbs into the boat and goes across the water again.  This time, as He lands and is greeted, “one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly” to come save his little girls life.  Jesus immediately agrees and they begin walking toward his house.  As they went, a woman who had a medical issue for over a decade managed to get close enough to touch Jesus’ clothes and was immediately healed.  She knew it, and so did He.  So Jesus asks who touched Him and she sheepishly fessed up.  “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well”.  There is power in Jesus and His name.  This woman demonstrated it.  We need to latch onto it.

They continue toward Jairus’ house and the group is greeted by someone from his house who told them his daughter had died.  Jairus tells Jesus He can change direction as it was too late.  But Jesus teaches us an important lesson here – it is never too late for the power of Christ.  He tells them “The child is not dead but  sleeping”.  That seemed a bit crazy given the fact that many who were at the house knew the kid was dead, at least from their perspective.  But Jesus enters with a few chosen people and takes the girl by the hand and she gets up.  A miracle by any standard, and “they were immediately overcome with amazement”.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  His power is still alive and available.  We merely need to seek Him and believe!

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