Archive for June, 2017

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!

Mark 4

Mark 4 is a whole lot of Jesus teaching about farming.  He begins talking about the parable of the sower.  He speaks about the four different kinds of soils that God’s truth falls onto:

  1. Hard ground (the path)
  2. Rocky ground
  3. Thorny ground
  4. Good ground

With each type of soil, he describes the outcome:

  1. Hard ground (the path) – the birds devoured it
  2. Rocky ground – scorched by the sun and withered away
  3. Thorny ground – choked out
  4. Good ground – grew and increased and yielded “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and  a hundredfold

The disciples ask why Jesus teaches in parables.  He tells them “so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven”.  The world was not ready to receive the truth yet.  But Jesus does give truth to His disciples, and around the four kinds of soil, He explains them this way:

  1. Hard ground (the path) – Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them
  2. Rocky ground – hey have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away
  3. Thorny ground – the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful
  4. Good ground – hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold

Which kind of soil describes your heart?  Are you hard ground where God’s truth is snatched from you before it can even begin to grow?  Or are you one where God’s truth sits on the surface but will vanish when there is a challenge to it?  Or are you so tied up in the chaos of the world that you allow the truth of God’s Word to get consumed.  God’s desire is that our heart be good soil and grow the huge crop He intends in us.  Jesus explains God’s Kingdom as “a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade”.  God wants to grow a huge harvest in our life.  We need to prepare and tend the soil well!

Mark 3

Mark 3 has Jesus with the religious leaders and a man with a withered hand. It was the Sabbath, and they were testing Jesus to see what He would do about healing this guy. Jesus knows their motives, and He asks them if it is ok to heal on the Sabbath.  Crickets.  They don’t answer at all and just watch to see what He would do.  Of course, He heals the man whose hand is restored and he is set free from his bad hand.  Immediately, Jesus’ enemies plot to get rid of Him. “The Pharisees went out and immediately, held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him”.

Jesus knows His time is limited.  So “he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him”.  Jesus is going to build His leadership team.  He needs to put together the people that would carry forth His ministry after He would be crucified.  Remember He is the Son of God.  He decides to pick twelve men to serve as His disciples.  A disciple is a learner – a follower who learns from another to then carry forth that to others.  So “he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons”.

An Apostle is one who actually spent time with Jesus in person.  That was the method He would use to prepare them – time together in His presence to learn and live life.  “He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him”.  Twelve common guys that were hand picked by Jesus to be His messengers of the gospel.

Jesus didn’t pick the religious scholars around Him.  He picked twelve men who were fishermen, farmers, tax collectors, etc.  They weren’t the group that might be the obvious choices.  But Jesus knew their heart, and the potential they had to not only follow Him but carry the message forward.  They head to the top with Him to receive their call.  As Jesus comes down, the scribes accuse Him of being of Satan.  He tells them “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.  Then indeed he may plunder his house”.  Jesus makes His case that He is of God, not the enemy.  He in fact is the one who will bind the strong man!

Mark 2

Mark 2 has Jesus in a packed house preaching and teaching.  It was jam packed and so full no one else could enter.  Four guys had carried their paralyzed friend to the house hoping to get Jesus to heal him, but they couldn’t even get close.  “And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd”.  We’re talking epic failure here.  They carry their friend to Jesus only to find out they can’t get near Him because of the crowds.  It had to be a huge letdown.

But they don’t give up.  They are determined to find a way and “they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay”.  That’s determination.  They were not going to be stopped from getting their friend to Jesus.  Can you imagine the impact we could have on the world if we were as determined as they in getting those we know to Jesus.  Remember, He is busily preaching and teaching to a standing room only house full of people.  So what does Jesus do?  “Ad when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, Son,  your sins are forgiven”.  He heals him.  Just like that he changes his life forever.  “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home”.  The persistence of his caring friends sets him free from his paralysis.

Jesus was later walking down the road “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, Follow me”.  Remember that Jesus had already gathered four fishermen as disciples – Peter, Andrew, James and John.  And now the invites this tax collector to join them.  Matthew does exactly that, which certainly adds some diversity to the group.  He invites Jesus to come to his house for a meal and the scribes of the Pharisees, “when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners”?

They were beside themselves seeing Jesus mingle with people they felt were unworthy.  They complain that He’s keeping poor company and hanging with people unworthy of His time and attention.  But Jesus makes it clear why He came to earth.  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”.  Jesus didn’t come to earth to spend His time with the religious and righteous.  He came to set sinners free and to have a relationship with them that would lead to salvation.  That’s what Jesus is all about.  He came to save the lost, and that means you and me!

Mark 1

Mark 1 begins the second author’s version of Christ’s life.  Mark begins with John the Baptist. He had a simple message and was doing God’s work in a very powerful and specific way: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” was the purpose of what he was doing.  And in the wilderness he spent his days “proclaiming  a baptism of  repentance  for the forgiveness of sins”.  John was a different man.  “John was clothed with camel’s hair and  wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey”.  He didn’t ‘fit in’ to the mainstream culture of the day.  He lived his way but did God’s work.  His mission was to prepare the way of the Lord.

John 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. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”.  He obviously wasn’t a favorite among the religious leaders of the day either.  But God makes clear who Jesus is as part of John’s work. God introduces His son, sends Him out to be tempted, and prepares Him for the ministry ahead. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased….The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness….he was in the wilderness forty days, being  tempted by  Satan.

When Jesus comes back from the forty days of wilderness time and Satan’s attempts to tempt Him, He reinforces what His mission is here on earth.  He came to lead people to “repent and believe in the gospel”.  Jesus’ life is about leading people from sin to life.  He begins assembling His team that would become disciples or Apostles and would carry the message of the gospel with Him.  He sees Peter and Andrew, and then James and John and invites them with “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men”.  Ten short words that literally change the world forever.  He leads them to the Synagogue in Capernaum, and he began teaching and “they were astonished at his teaching,  for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes”.  Jesus is who they have been waiting for as the answer to their prayers, but they don’t know it.

He begins ministering to people through teaching and healing.  “At once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee”.  People came from all over to see and hear Him, and to have Him heal those who were in need.  The world pressed in on Him, so “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed”.  Jesus didn’t ever lose sight of the fact that His power and ministry were connected to God.  He had the spiritual disciplines in place, and was faithful to stay connected to the Source of all.  He tells His disciples how important that discipline is, and we need to follow it in our lives if we want to walk with Him.

Matthew 28

Matthew 28 tells the story of the resurrection.  “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb”.  Jesus has been in there since Friday evening, and now it is Sunday morning, three days later.  The guards were still there watching the tomb.  A few women came to see the tomb, and as they approached there was a great earthquake and an angel of the Lord rolled back the stone and sat on it.  That had to e quite a sight.

“And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men”.   These were trained military men, but they had never seen anything like this before.  The angel tells the women “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay”.  Jesus had proclaimed that on the third day He would rise from the dead, and indeed He did.  The angel sends them to go tell the disciples and on their way they see Jesus.  The guards go back to town and tell the religious leaders what had happened, and they buy them off and guarantee protection from the governor.  They couldn’t let the truth get out.

Jesus sent the message for His disciples to meet Him in Galilee so they took off to see Him there. As they meet Him, some struggle to believe.  But He gives them their marching orders (which are ours as well).  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.  There we have it – a concise set of marching orders for Christ Followers.

Jesus wants us focused on making disciples.  That’s it.  A disciple is simply a learner.  So our job is to first become a disciple, then to become a disciple maker.  We are to live life as a Christ Follower in a way that others can follow us and end up as a Christ Follower themselves.  It’s about spiritual multiplication.  Jesus didn’t tell His disciples to go make baby Christians.  We are to baptize and teach them, not merely save them and get them into heaven.  The Christlike life is about following Him in a way that leads others to that same lifestyle.  It isn’t rocket science.  It means we have to study and know what that looks like and then discipline ourselves to live it every day in transparency before those in our patch.  Are you a disciple maker?  That is what Jesus has told us to go do.  He says ‘to all nations’ which is the eventual goal.  But it should start with us, then our family, then those in our patch.  He may call us to go further, but let’s start with that!

Matthew 27

Matthew 27 has Jesus arrested and in custody.  “When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death”.  Judas Iscariot has betrayed Him into their hands, and now they want to continue their mission to kill Him and take away His threat to their power.  They drag him before Pilate accusing Him of all sorts of lies.  “Are you  the King of the Jews”?  This was the area they focused on – trying to get Jesus to declare Himself a political rival to the governor.  But “he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed”.

The religious leaders focused on building a frenzy in the people that were there to kill Jesus.  And rather than do what was right, or even what his wife told him to do, Pilate gives Him over to be killed. The chapter describes the details of the crucifixion.  Jesus is put on a cross between two common criminals.  He chooses to give His life freely – not because He has to – but because He chooses to as a fulfillment of God’s plan to save mankind.  When He dies, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And  the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of  the saints who had fallen asleep were raised”.

The impact of His death was immediate.  “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said. Truly this was the Son of God”!  The people couldn’t see that Jesus was God’s Son before, but as His death and the power it has are experienced, they realize that He was in fact not a criminal, but the Son of God.  “Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away”.

The religious leaders were afraid that killing Him wouldn’t end the impact of Jesus’ life. They acknowledged that Jesus had said “After three days I will rise. Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people”,  They were concerned that somehow the disciples would steal the body and create a problem where Jesus’ body was gone and thus He had done as He said.  So they go to Pilate and ask for soldiers to guard the tomb.  “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.  So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard”.  Jesus’ body is in the tomb, guarded by a group of soldiers.

Matthew 26

Matthew 26 tells the story of Jesus last few days before His crucifixion.  Jesus prepares the disciples for what is to come.  “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified”.  As much as He’s hinted about it up to this point, it now becomes very clear and very real.  For one of the twelve, it becomes an opportunity to line his own pockets.  “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you”?  Judas was in it for his own good, and was going to capitalize on the coming events.

But before that, Jesus wants to spend an evening with His disciples.  Much as He had done with the donkey that carried him to town, He sends His disciples to prepare a place.  “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him”.  Not a lot of detail, but as before, it worked out.  As they sat together Jesus drops a bomb on the group.  “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me”.  Of course, everyone is taken aback.  They ask “Is it I, Lord” and Jesus subtly points out that it will be Judas.  But His main focus is preparing the twelve for the future and establishing the sacrament we know today as communion.  “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my  blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”.

They end their time around the table and Jesus takes them to the Mount of Olives to prepare for what comes next – His betrayal.  Jesus had told them earlier that they would fall away that very night.  But Peter, bold as ever, says “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you”!  We’ll find out soon enough that was an overstatement.  Jesus goes off to pray saying “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me”.  He asks Peter, James and John to go further with Him than the rest and to pray for Him.  “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping”.

He challenges them and says “So, could you not watch with me one hour”?  He asks them to pray once again, “And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy”.  Jesus goes off a third time and when He returns they prepare to meet Judas who is bringing the religious leaders so he can betray the Christ.  The disciples want to fight to protect Jesus, but He tells them to stop.  “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels”?  This isn’t about power, but Jesus’ choice to give His life freely for the forgiveness of our sin.  This is where grace was born!

Jesus knew God’s plan for saving the world, or at least offering the means by which salvation can come.  He was aligned with what God was up to and says “all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled”.  This isn’t accidental or unplanned.  This is exactly as God had intended.  As Jesus is arrested and taken, Peter follows at a distance and then, as he watches from afar, three different people recognize him.  He denies each, more vehemently each time.  And as he denied Christ the third time, “immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly”.  All this happened to fulfill the prophecy that had been given throughout the Old Testament.  Jesus is the Christ, God’s plan for saving us from sin!

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