Monthly Archives: March 2014

Today’s Scripture – March 31, 2014

Mark 1:35-39 (NIV):  Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.  Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”  So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Jesus was very popular in Capernaum, and very much in demand by all of those in the area who had friends or family members who were sick or demon possessed.  And there were lots of them!  If He had wanted to, He could easily have set up shop right there and rode the wave of popularity for years.

But Jesus had not been sent merely to heal the sick and cast out demons, no matter how much the people clamored for more of that kind of thing.  He had a message to bring and a job to do.  Even though the miracles were an important part of both the message and the job, opening the door for people to pay attention to His words, as soon as the miracles became the main thing to the people, Jesus chose to go elsewhere.  The people in Capernaum no longer wanted to listen to what He was telling them; they just wanted to see more amazing healings.  That was why they were looking for Him.  It was time to go.

Jesus faced this problem frequently throughout His ministry.  That was why He sometimes told people whom He had healed, especially those whom He had healed from “incurable conditions,” not to tell anybody.  He knew that the news would just spawn a whole new frenzy in people who cared nothing about His teachings about God’s kingdom, but were only drawn by the prospect of experiencing a mighty miracle.

Some wonder why Jesus even bothered with miracles since they led to this kind of problem.  But the very nature of the kingdom of God brings healing, wholeness, and freedom to everyone it comes into contact with in our broken world.  It can’t do otherwise.  And at that time, Jesus was the focal point, the literal embodiment, of the kingdom of God.  Where there was sickness and brokenness, He brought healing with His touch.  Where there was bondage to demonic power, He set the people free.  But when those things became the focus of the people, He left until things cooled down a bit.  The message was the vital thing.

Father, it is easy to see how signs and wonders and miracles can easily become a double-edged sword – opening the door to our testimony, but also having the potential to blind eyes to anything except the miracles.  In this, as in every area, give us wisdom and discernment, and help us to never choose the easy road of popularity (even when that popularity is gained by Your mighty miracles) over the more vital path of clearly preaching Your message of salvation.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 29, 2014

Mark 1:29-34 (NIV):  As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.  Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her.  So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.  The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

It never mattered what the problem was when people came to Jesus to be healed.  He never had to diagnose the illness in order to cure it.  Whether it was a fever, like Simon’s mother-in-law had, or simply the “many kinds of diseases” that the people had when they were brought to Him that evening, it didn’t matter at all.  Jesus simply healed them.

The reason that it didn’t matter what the people had was that when Jesus touched them or spoke the word of healing to them He didn’t use some kind of magical incantation or spell that had to be tailored to the specific disease.  He simply brought His wholeness into contact with whatever unwholeness existed in the person, and the wholeness that was working and flowing through Him repaired whatever damage had been done by the disease.  Fevers left, lameness was repaired, even leprosy was driven out, replaced by health and wholeness.  And Jesus never had to worry about catching whatever disease the person had, because His wholeness was not a static thing that would drain out of Him, leaving Him open and vulnerable.  Wholeness flowed through Him, like streams of living water, washing clean whatever He touched.  He could touch lepers with impunity, knowing that they would become clean without ever making Him unclean.  He very wholeness of God working through Him simply made them whole in an instant.

We see the same dynamic working through Jesus’ disciples and apostles.  They spent little, if any, time diagnosing the problem.  They simply saw a need for healing (a fever, lameness, even death!), and brought God’s wholeness flowing through them into contact with the brokenness and damage, and it was healed on the spot.  Of course they realized that they did not have any of this wholeness in them to heal people on their own.  It was only available to them because God’s Holy Spirit dwelt in them.  But when confronted by brokenness, and prompted by God’s leading, they did not hesitate.  And people were healed.

Father, thank You for this truth.  Forgive us for allowing ourselves to get so wrapped around the axle, thinking that we have to have so much information before we can follow Your promptings to bring healing and wholeness to broken and diseased bodies, minds, and souls; feeling that some things are beyond Your ability or willingness to heal.  (I mean, if even death was able to be healed by Jesus and His followers, nothing should be too hard!)  Father, help us to stay closely connected to You, obedient and faithful in every way, so that Your wholeness, Your healing power, can flow through us into the sick an broken lives all around us.  Use us to continue Your work of healing bodies, minds, hearts, and souls in our world today.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 28, 2014

Mark 1:21-28 (NIV):  They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.  The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.  Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”  The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”  News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

There never was a fair fight between Jesus and demons, no matter how many, no matter how strong.  Jesus had authority over them that they instantly recognized, and it completely freaked them out.  When Jesus walked into a place, every demon in that area immediately started eying the exits.

This demon in the synagogue at Capernaum is a perfect example.  The demon held his peace while Jesus taught, but finally he could hold it in no longer, and cried out in fear, ““What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?”  This was no idle concern.  Jesus was God in the flesh, and could destroy demons, torture them, or even send them into the abyss (see Luke 8:28, 31).  There was no fight, no resistance, no threats from the demons in Jesus’ presence; only fear, and trembling, and pleading.  Wherever Jesus was, all demons were instantly reduced to begging for their very existence.

Some teach that when the demon said, “I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” that it was the demon’s attempt to exercise some control in the situation, or to try to manipulate Jesus.  But it was actually all part of the same terrified cry.  Even if nobody else in the room knew who Jesus was, the demon did!  And that knowledge filled it with mortal fear.

Notice the lack of “ceremony” when Jesus cast out the demon.  There was no holy water, no anointing oil, no candles, or bells, or chanting.  None of that was necessary.  Jesus had absolute authority over the demon.  One command, “Be quiet,” stopped the wailing.  Another, “Come out of him,” evicted the spirit in an instant.  And the people in the synagogue noticed this.  Jesus taught like no other teacher they knew; He never referred to the great teachers and rabbis of the past, but taught from His heart with an authority that could not be denied.  And He cast out demons like no other exorcist they knew; He never used rituals and tools, but simply issued orders to the demons that they could not defy.

When Jesus sent out His disciples to minister, He “gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Matthew 10:1); the same authority that He Himself had.  And the disciples were amazed that the demons submitted to them in Jesus’ name, just as they did to Him. (Luke 10:17)  We see the same dynamics in the book of Acts, with evil spirits being unceremoniously cast out by Christians (Acts 5:23), and by Paul ordering a spirit out of a slave girl.  In all of these cases (and many more in the gospels and the book of Acts), there were no ceremonies or rituals.  And there was no resistance from the demons.  There was no battle, no collateral damage.  There was simply a command given in Jesus name, with his authority, and the evil spirits, trembling in mortal fear, complied on the spot!  However, it was not the formula “in the name of Jesus” that gave His followers that authority (witness the unfortunate story of the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19:13-16!).  It was the very presence of Jesus living in His followers through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Today many Christians fear demons, and worry about what they would do if they ever came across one.  Books have been written about proper techniques, words, and rituals to cast them out.  But if Jesus lives in our hearts, none of those are necessary.  And if He doesn’t live in our hearts, none of them are effective.  Jesus still has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18).  And when He lives in the heart of a Christian, He still exercises that authority, even over demons, through us.

Father, help us to live in Your presence every moment, so that You can work freely through each of us to bring light to the darkest places, to transform the most lost souls, even to cast out demons, all in the powerful name and authority of the Jesus who lives in our hearts, so that Your name is glorified, and Your kingdom grows.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 27, 2014

Mark 1:16-20 (NIV):  As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.
When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.  Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Like all of God’s promises, Jesus’ promise to make Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John into fishers of men was conditional; it had a condition that had to be met in order to receive the promise.  In this case, that condition was that they had to follow Jesus.

Following Jesus meant way more than simply believing in Him, believing His teachings, or reading about what He did.  To follow Jesus meant to actually leave your old life behind, and to take up a brand new “with Jesus” life.  It meant going wherever Jesus went; being actively engaged in what He was doing; and staying focused, even on the way between activities as He taught.  (Plus, you never knew when a new opportunity or challenge would suddenly present itself on the way!)  It meant watching Him closely as He worked, as He prayed, and as He taught, so that you could become just like Him in all of those areas.  And it meant putting aside self-sufficiency, and becoming completely dependent on God to provide what was necessary for each day.

These men knew all of this.  So when Jesus called them, they immediately walked away from their boats and nets, and began the process of following Jesus.  And the commitment that they were making to follow Him was not for a year, or two, or three.  It turned out to be a commitment to follow Him every day, all the rest of their lives.  Even after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, they continued to follow Jesus’ lead, continued to minister where Jesus was working, and continuing to be molded and shaped by His presence and His teaching.  And as they followed Him, they really did become fishers of men.

Today the call to follow Jesus is the same.  It is not merely a call to believe in Him, learn His teachings, or read about what He did.  It is a call to leave our old lives behind, and be made into new creations, taking up a whole new “with Jesus” life.  It means going wherever Jesus leads, being actively engaged in what He is doing, and staying focused, even between activities.  It means staying sensitive to His leading, and consciously submitting ourselves to the molding, shaping, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, so that we can become just like Jesus in how we live, work, pray, and teach.  And it means putting aside all self-sufficiency, and becoming completely dependent on God for our daily bread, and for all that we need to fulfill His calling on our lives.

And, for all of us who are willing to follow Jesus, we find not only salvation, but joy, peace, power, and an effectiveness in prayer and ministry that most can only dream about.  We too will become bold and effective fishers of men.

Father, these are great promises, and the conditions are clear.  Help us, Lord, to really follow Jesus every day, in every area of our lives, so that we really can bring You glory by becoming effective fishers of men.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 25, 2014

Mark 1:14-15 (NIV):  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

After John the Baptist went into prison, Jesus began to preach the same message that he had been preaching:  “The time has come.  The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!”  (cf. Matthew 3:1-2)  This was the first declaration of the gospel (an Old English word that means “good news.”).

The gospel and the here-and-now reality of the kingdom of God have always been intimately related.  These days, many people associate the good news solely with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and they push back the reality of the kingdom of God to some indefinite time in the future – after death when people go to heaven, or after the return of Jesus.  So the promise of the kingdom has been separated from the gospel in many believers’ minds.

But Jesus was very clear that in Him the kingdom of God had become a reality (cf. Luke 11:20).  And in the vast majority of His parables, the kingdom of God is spoken of in the present tense.  Jesus even promised His gathered disciples that some of them (not all of them) would still be alive when the kingdom of God came in power (Mark 9:1), and that they would see it.  Some teach that this powerful coming of the kingdom of God was the Transfiguration, which happened six days later.  But that would not fit Jesus’ prophecy, since ALL of those standing with Jesus were still alive when that happened, and only Peter, James, and John witnessed it.  Jesus was actually looking forward to the day of Pentecost, just a few months in the future.  On that day, when the kingdom of God was inaugurated among Jesus’ followers by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Judas was no longer alive, having hanged himself six weeks before.  And all of the rest of those who had been standing with Jesus when He had made the prophecy were present to experience it.

Up to the day of Pentecost, the disciples experienced the kingdom of God, its joy, its power, its fellowship, and its miracles through Jesus’ physical presence.  From time to time Jesus even gave the disciples power and authority to heal diseases and cast out demons themselves (such as in Matthew 10:1), sort of a foretaste of what was coming for them.  But on the day of Pentecost, all of the gathered disciples received the poured-out Holy Spirit, and from that time forward they lived in the kingdom of God as a here-and-now reality.  They experienced its joy, its power, its fellowship, and even its miracles as the Holy Spirit changed them, moved them, and flowed through them to change lives everywhere they were (cf. Acts 2).

At its root, the gospel message is still “repent and believe the good news.”  It is still, at its heart about the reality of the kingdom of God.  But now the kingdom of God is not only near, it is here!  And millions of people all over the world are living in it as a here-and-now reality, enjoying its joy, its power, its fellowship, and even its miracles as the Holy Spirit changes them, moves them, and flows through them to change lives everywhere they are.

Father, this is good news indeed!  Thank You that I and the rest of Your people all get to live in Your kingdom as a here-and-now reality.  Thank You for Your Holy Spirit, and for the life-changing, miracle-working power that moves in and through us because of His presence in our lives.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 22, 2014

Mark 1:12-13 (NIV):  At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Jesus’ temptation was not some weird occurrence that surprised either Him or the Father.  It was all part of the plan.  So the Holy Spirit led Him out into the wilderness specifically to be tested.

Jesus started His ordeal with a 40-day fast, just like Moses underwent on Mt. Sinai (cf. Deuteronomy 9:9).  This made Him hungry, of course, but He didn’t merely fast for those 40 days.  Like Moses, He was with the Father for that whole time – hearing His voice, experiencing His presence and His power, and receiving instructions for His public ministry that He would soon begin.  So when the enemy approached Jesus, he did not find a weak and vulnerable man who would leap at his tempting offers of food, prestige, and power.  He did not find someone who was so desperate to succeed that the means to that end didn’t matter.  Instead, he found a man who was strong and powerful, a man from whom the presence of God radiated, and out of whom the strength of God flowed.  So all of satan’s best temptations merely bounced off!

There was a special symbolic element in these temptations as well.  The first Adam, though lacking nothing and well-fed, had buckled under satan’s temptations, causing massive damage to the whole created order.  Jesus, as the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49), the harbinger of a new era in man’s relationship with God, resisted the temptations completely, and began a whole new economy in which mankind would no longer have to exist as prisoners of sin and depravity, but in which we, too, could live in obedience to God’s commands, serving God in holiness and righteousness all of our days (cf. Luke 1:74-75).

Father, thank You for the victory of Jesus over the devil, and for the hope that His victory gives us.  Thank You that in Him we are no longer doomed to be snared by the enemy’s temptations, but that we can be more than conquerors through Him.  (Romans 8:37)  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 20, 2014

Mark 1:5-8 (NIV):  The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.  John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The coming of Jesus marked a qualitative change in the way that God interacted with His people.  John himself was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth (Luke 1:15), but it was very rare for people to experience the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives at all.  Mary was “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35) as the means of initiating her pregnancy, but even she was not “baptized” with the Holy Spirit at that time.

In the days before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would usually “come upon” someone temporarily to enable them to prophecy or do mighty acts.  And then He would go away.  The people longed for the intimacy of communion with God, as well as the practical holiness that His Spirit living in them would bring; an intimacy and holiness that was promised by the prophets.  (e.g., Ezekiel 36:24-27)  But up to that time, no mechanism had yet appeared to make those promises a reality.  A few people still experienced the Holy Spirit’s presence for a time and a purpose, but the long-awaited “baptism” had yet to appear.

But when Jesus was revealed by John’s pronouncement, the mechanism was also revealed.  Jesus did not baptize with the Holy Spirit in the same way that John baptized with water.  In order to bring the Holy Spirit on all of God’s people, Jesus first had to suffer and die to pay the death penalty for sins; He had to rise again to proclaim victory over death and hell; and then He had to ascend to the right hand of God the Father.  It was from there that He finally poured out the Holy Spirit on the gathered disciples at Pentecost, and a short time later on the 3000 that believed in Jesus because of their testimony.  (Acts 2)  Later that same “baptism” was even experienced by gentiles.  (Acts 10)  Being filled with the Holy Spirit became the hallmark of the Christian experience.

All of that had been planned and promised long before it became a reality.  But with the coming of Jesus, the relationship between God and His people took a quantum leap forward, because now He can guide and direct us, even communicate directly with us, from within our own hearts.

Father, I don’t think that many of us really appreciate how amazing the presence of Your Holy Spirit in our lives really is!  Thank You for this massive gift, for Your very presence in our lives, and for Jesus, through whom it all became possible.  Amen.

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