Monthly Archives: April 2014

Today’s Scripture – April 30, 2014

Mark 3:13-19 (NIV):  Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.  He appointed twelve–designating them apostles–that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.  These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Jesus had entered the next stage of His earthly ministry.  The crowds were too numerous, and there were simply too many places still for Him to go for Him to do it all Himself.  After spending the whole night in prayer up on the mountainside (Luke 6:12), Jesus called twelve of His disciples, and appointed them to take the next steps alongside Him.  Their job would be to be with Him – to officially leave everything behind and live their lives with Him – and to be sent out to preach (Greek: apostello, the root of our word “apostle”) in the many places that Jesus had not yet gotten to.  Jesus also gave them authority over demons so that they could drive them out.  (This demonstration of God’s power working through the disciples of Jesus would be the hallmark of the early Church after Jesus’ ascension – cf. Acts 1:9, as well as the whole book of Acts.)

The twelve that Jesus chose for the next step are, in some cases, counterintuitive.  Peter, James, and John (and sometimes Peter’s brother, Andrew) are usually accepted as good choices because of the prominent role they played in Jesus’ ministry and in the early Church.  But Jesus didn’t choose them because they were great men; they became great men because Jesus chose them and brought them into intimate relationship with Himself.  The same can be said of the rest as well.

Judas is the one who usually raises eyebrows.  Why would Jesus pick Judas out of all of His other followers (which surely measured in the hundreds at least) to be one of His most intimate companions?  Why not hold him at arm’s length, let him follow at a distance if he had to follow at all?  Some believe that Jesus didn’t know that Judas would be His betrayer, but He knew (cf. John 2:24-25).  Some think it was an effort to win Judas over to Him and prevent the betrayal.  But Jesus already knew where His future lay, and who would play all of the key roles.  No, in bringing Judas close to Himself, inviting Him into intimate fellowship with Him, providing for him, and showing him all of the wonders of God’s kingdom, even though He knew that he would betray Him one day soon, Jesus was showing all humanity God’s love and His grace.  It is God who causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, even though the evil will never acknowledge it, and would spit in His face if He showed up.  It is God who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (cf. Matthew 5:45), even though the unrighteous will claim that the rain that moistens the ground and causes their food to grow is just a natural phenomenon, and will never give Him thanks for it.  And it is God in Jesus who called Judas into intimate fellowship with Himself, allowing him the unimaginable opportunity to associate directly with God’s one and only Son, even though He knew that Judas would use that opportunity to betray Him into hands of sinners to be killed.

Father, it seems amazing that Jesus is that loving and that full of grace.  But He also chose Peter, knowing that he would deny Him.  He also chose Thomas, knowing that he would doubt His resurrection.  And today, he calls people to Himself, inviting them into intimate fellowship with Himself, even though many of them will ignore Him, others will spurn Him directly, and still others will follow for a while and then turn away to follow their own agendas.  But for those of us who accept His invitation wholeheartedly, who choose to follow Him all the way, who remain steadfast through thick and thin, the blessings are inconceivable!  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 29, 2014

Mark 3:7-12 (NIV):  Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed.  When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon.  Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him.  For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him.  Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.”  But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.

At this stage of His ministry, Jesus found it very easy to draw a crowd, but most of those coming to Him were coming for the wrong reasons.  Some of them were sick, or brought friends or loved ones who were.  They came to get in on the healing power that flowed through Jesus.  Others were beset by demons, and knew that Jesus could free them.  Still others came out of curiosity or thrill-seeking; they wanted to see a miracle happen.

These people came from a vast area.  The people from Galilee were from the northern region of the country.  Those from Jerusalem and Judea were from the center part of the country.  Idumea was the extreme south.  But people also came from the predominantly gentile areas east of the Jordan, and from the far northern Mediterranean coastal towns of Tyre and Sidon in Phoenecia.  In other words, they came from pretty much everywhere!  Jesus sometimes used a boat to put a little distance between Him and those huge crowds that would press and crowd Him right into the water, trying to touch Him to receive healing.

Of course, Jesus did heal the people.  He did free those beset by demons.  His demonstration of the reality of God’s kingdom was vitally important.  But He also taught them from the shore and from the boat about God’s reality, His kingdom, and His longing for a relationship with the people He had created.  Without the clear teaching, those people whom He had made whole, would simply go back and continue to live the same kinds of lives apart from God that they had been living, and would end up in a worse place later.  So Jesus healed and He taught.  He freed and He taught.  And he urged the people to turn to God with all of their hearts so that their wholeness, their freedom, could be permanent.

Sometimes when Jesus was casting out demons they would yell out, “You are the son of God” before they left.  That was a fact, but Jesus would shut them up with a word.  It wasn’t that Jesus was afraid of them, or ashamed of who He was.  But the people were not ready for this truth yet.  They still had much to learn about the God who loved them and who wanted to save them.  They still needed to understand who they were in relationship with God before they would be willing to see who Jesus was in relationship to God.  All of that would come out, but Jesus knew that, for it to be effective, it needed to come out at the right time.

Father, we are so privileged to know so much more about You and Your kingdom than the people of Jesus’ day!  But even knowing who He really is, even having experienced His redeeming power and His presence in our lives, it is still tempting to come to Him with our wants and needs in front; to crowd in on Him for a touch, and then not to stay close and quiet enough to learn from Him.  Even the demons fell at His feet and recognized Him as Your Son.  We should not do less any time we come.  Help us, Lord.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 24, 2014

Mark 3:1-6 (NIV):  Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.  Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”  But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.  Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

These Pharisees watching Jesus so closely are some of the saddest cases in the whole gospel story.  To begin with, when they went to the synagogue that Sabbath morning, their focus was not on God, on worshiping Him, or on submitting themselves to His agenda.  Instead, they went in order to see if they could catch Jesus doing something that they could charge Him with.  That morning their hearts were so turned against God that He could have spoken to them through a million loudspeakers and they wouldn’t have heard or understood His voice.  So, of course, when He spoke to them through Jesus, they missed it entirely.

Jesus knew exactly what was going on in their minds.  So rather than doing something in secret, He called a man with a shriveled, paralyzed hand to the front so that everyone could see and hear what was going on.  “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good (as Jesus would do when He healed this man) or to do evil (as these men were plotting right then), to save life (as Jesus was trying to do by confronting the evil prejudices of those schemers) or to kill (as those men were already plotting to do)?  This question should have been a no-brainer.  Of course it was not lawful for God’s people to do evil on the Sabbath (or any other day)!  Of course it was not lawful for them to plot murder on the Sabbath (or on any other day)!  The answer was so simple that a child could have given it.  But their evil hearts sealed their lips.  Jesus had put His finger right on the pulse of the issue:  the Pharisees, who believed themselves to be so righteous as to stand as judges over Jesus’ actions, were now confronted with their own vileness and unlawfulness.  But they shut their mouths, hardened their hearts, and plunged themselves deeper into the darkness.

When Jesus healed the man with the shriveled hand, He actually did it in such a way that nobody but God could be pointed to as the healer!  Jesus didn’t touch the man; He spoke no words of healing.  He simply told the man to stretch out his hand, and when the man obeyed, the healing took place.  This angered the plotters even more.  Even in the face of a clear Sabbath healing they had been robbed of anything that they could reasonably hang on Jesus in a criminal court!  And so they left in a rage, and joined together with the Herodians to figure out how they could kill Jesus.  What they had intended to be a life or death test for Jesus ended up being a test of their own righteousness or wickedness.  And they had failed miserably.

Father, it is really easy to see bad motives and hidden agendas in others.  Help us to keep our eyes open to our own motives and agendas, to keep our hearts soft before You, so that we never fall into the same trap, the same condemnation as those self-righteous Pharisees.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 23, 2014

Mark 1:23-28 (NIV):  One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.  The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?  In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

It is very easy for people to get so caught up in the rules, and by their own supplements to God’s rules, that they completely miss the point.  In this case, the Sabbath rules are the focus.  God’s rule for the Sabbath was very straightforward and simple:  “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.  For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”  (Exodus 20:8-11 NIV)

The Sabbath law is unique among the commandments because it is not merely about a moral or religious requirement.  As God pointed out right in the commandment itself, it was a rhythm that was embedded into the very fabric of creation from the beginning.  God created mankind with that same rhythm of six days of work and one of rest embedded right into our souls.  The Sabbath was designed to be a blessing; a time for us to set aside the tools of our trades and our concerns over our livelihood for one day, and rest, and put our whole focus clearly on our God and Savior for 24 hours each week.

But people complicated the whole thing, adding requirements, “clarifying” this simple rule that God gave us, until the Sabbath had become an incredible burden to the very people it was designed to bless.  They were now told how many steps they could walk before the walking became “work,” what items they could carry on the Sabbath, and a thousand and one other things that were not part of the commandment, or in God’s mind when He gave it.

On this particular Sabbath, the concern of the Pharisees was not the supposed stealing of grain as some believe.  Picking enough grain to munch on while passing along or through a field is expressly allowed in the law (cf. Deuteronomy 23:25).  Instead, they saw Jesus’ disciples sinning in three different ways:  picking the ripe heads of grain they saw as harvesting, rubbing off and blowing away the chaff they saw as winnowing, and chewing the grain they saw as grinding the grain into flour, all of which was forbidden under their additions to the law.  But what the hungry disciples were really doing was eating to satisfy their hunger, which is NOT forbidden by God’s rules.

Jesus’ illustration from Jewish history (1 Samuel 21:1-6) was not to show the Pharisees that God’s commandments were unimportant, but that there is more flexibility in the application of them in times of true need than the Pharisees were willing to see.  In this case Ahimelech, the priest (and father of Abiathar), understood that the loaves of the presence were sacred, set apart for the use of the priests.  But he also saw that David and his men were really in need of food and, with no other source of food anywhere around, was willing to give it to them, provided that they were at least ceremonially clean.

Jesus’ final statement does not get rid of the Sabbath as some claim, but it refocuses it back to its original intentions.  The Sabbath was made for people as a blessing, for our benefit in being able to rest for one full day out of seven.  Mankind was not made for the Sabbath, to be bound by it in iron bands of thousands of additional rules made by people, so that its coming was anticipated with dread.  The actual rule is simple:  take the one day in seven off from our work and from the concerns of providing for ourselves and our families.  Leave those concerns in God’s hands for the day as we rest ourselves and focus on Him and His blessings.

Father, thank You for Your Sabbath rest – a real true blessing.  And thank You for every other blessing that comes to us when we live our lives in ways that are pleasing to You.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 21, 2014

Mark 2:21-22 (NIV):  “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.  And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”

Some take this passage as license to completely throw out the traditions of the Church, and some even take it so far as to believe that Jesus is giving them clear grounds for antinomianism, disregarding the laws of God like the 10 Commandments.  These ignore Jesus’ clear statement that He did not come to abolish the law and the prophets (God’s word in what we call the Old Testament), but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).  And fulfill doesn’t mean get rid of.  Jesus followed up this statement by saying that until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 5:18).  Some take the “until everything is accomplished” to mean until Jesus’ death and resurrection.  But it would be odd for Jesus to be anticipating the requirements of the law going away in less than 2 years, but preceding that statement with “until heaven and earth disappear”!

Jesus’ death and resurrection was the key event in the history of the world, the hinge-point on which everything else moves.  But the end is not yet, because everything is not yet accomplished.  Jesus Himself said that before the end comes the gospel must be preached to the whole world as a testimony to all nations (Matthew 24:14).  There are still billions who have never heard the gospel even once.  Millions in America!  That was why Jesus sent ALL of His followers out to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), to preach the good news to all creation (Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-47).  Until everything is accomplished, God’s people are still expected to live lives of obedience that glorify Him and that serve as a testimony to those around us.

So if Jesus isn’t talking about getting rid of the law here, what is He talking about?  The context of this saying, in both gospels that include it, is specifically the tradition of fasting that many of the Jewish people participated in.  It was believed that those who fasted twice a week were better people, more holy than those who only fasted once a week, who were better people, more holy than those who fasted rarely or never.  And those who fasted in remembrance of the captivity in Babylon were expected to get extra blessings from God.  But God did not set up those fasts; they were not part of His law or His commands.  Jesus was all about obeying the actual commands that God had set in place, living a genuinely holy life in God’s sight, and leaving the mere traditions of men alone, no matter what the men thought of Him.  But this new emphasis, this new focus on following the actual commands of God, could not be contained within the structures and traditions that had grown up and strangled it in the first place.  If Jesus had tried to accommodate all of those traditions, it would only shatter and tear to pieces the old forms, and do damage to the lives of those trying to live with the new focus.

From time to time in the Church, forms and traditions have succeeded in nearly smothering the actual relationship with God that results from real faith.  And, at those times, God’s people are right in throwing those forms off.  But when we do that, we need to make sure that we don’t throw off at the same time the actual righteous requirements of God’s law.

Father, it is sometimes easier than it seems to lose the baby while throwing out the bath water!  Only a solid understanding of Your word and the clear leading of Your Spirit can help us to differentiate between Your righteous requirements for us and the traditions of men that are allowed to grow up into them, sometimes even supplanting them altogether.  Give us discerning hearts and minds all the time.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 16, 2014

Mark 2:18-20 (NIV):  Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.  But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.”

It was taken for granted that the truly pious would observe all of the traditional fast days.  God had only established one period of fasting, the Day of Atonement, but people had added many more to it.  Many of the Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), and some people still fasted in memory of the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon.  To these people it seemed strange, and even heretical, for Jesus and His disciples not to fast.

But Jesus always drew a hard line between the rules that God had actually put into place and those “supplemental rules” that were created by man.  Jesus and His disciples obeyed God’s law, but felt no need to conform to the expectations of people, or to religiously follow their rules.  So when Jesus was confronted over His seeming disregard for “the rules” that even John’s disciples obeyed, it didn’t faze Him at all.

Jesus pointed out that fasting, as frequently practiced, was a sign of repentance or sadness.  But the reality was that Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah had finally come, so sadness and self-denial were out of place.  Instead everyone, including the Pharisees (who were waiting for the Messiah as much as anyone) should have been celebrating, not fasting.  The fact that the Pharisees and John’s disciples who would not follow Jesus refused to join in this celebration, instead placing their focus on the keeping of traditions, showed that they would not accept Him as their own Messiah.

But even at this early stage of His ministry, Jesus knew where His path led.  He pointed to the dark day in the future when He would be arrested, tried, executed, and buried, wrested from His disciples.  On that day they would indeed fast, not because of tradition, but because of grief.

In all of this it is important to draw a clear distinction, just as Jesus did, between God’s real commandments and those things that are merely man-made rules.  Jesus never pooh-poohed God’s laws.  But He was never bound by the rules of man.  As He demonstrated so ably, true righteousness is not holding to man-made traditions, but is living in the ways that God has set forth for His people.

Father, it is easier than it seems to get caught up in man-made rules, and to judge ourselves as righteous because of our adherence to them, while at the same time disregarding the commandments that you have actually given.  Forgive us, Lord, and teach us anew to live by Your word; to follow Jesus’ example in this as in everything else.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 14, 2014

Mark 2:15-17 (NIV):  While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus scandalized the “good church folks” of His day by intentionally associating with tax collectors and sinners, people with whom no “decent” person would ever be seen.  The pious who hung around Jesus believed that those foul people were spiritually unclean, and that their uncleanness could rub off on them – a kind of “spiritual cooties.”  And so they shunned such people, avoiding any physical contact, or even social contact.

But here was Jesus, arguably a holy man, perhaps even a prophet, and He was actually in the house of one of them – a house that was now full to the rafters with sinners!  And He was eating with them, talking with them, even laughing with them as if they were regular people!  They couldn’t believe it.

Jesus had many people who followed Him.  A lot of them were His regular disciples.  A few were occasional followers or thrill seekers, who mostly wanted to be where the action was.  But they were all in and around Levi’s house, eating and drinking, and listening to Jesus.

This was all more than some of the teachers of the law could stand.  There was no way that they were going to contaminate themselves by actually going into Levi’s house to confront Jesus about this unseemly behavior.  But some of His disciples were hanging around outside, so they buttonholed a couple of them:  “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?  He’s supposed to be holy!  Doesn’t He realize that hanging out with those people could corrupt Him?  He needs to keep His distance, and just let those people sink from their own weight without letting them drag Him down with them!”

They didn’t realize how loud they had gotten, or how good Jesus’ ears were.  He heard them and turned toward the door where His disciples were trying to figure out how to answer these men.  His answer was short, but directly to the point:  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

That’s it precisely!  Jesus hung out with sinners not because He craved their company, or, as some people teach, because He found them more “genuine and real” than the Pharisees.  He hung out with them because they were the ones who needed His forgiveness, His salvation.  They did not respond to His teaching with hostility and accusations, but they drank in everything that He said like cool water of life, gratefully listening and responding.  There was no use preaching salvation to those who believed themselves to be holy; there was nothing in them that would respond positively to Jesus’ teachings.  So He went as a physician to those who were sin-sick, and they received what He brought them with great joy.

Even today many of God’s people stay away from those who need the good news the most.  Statistics say that within 5 years of becoming a Christian, the vast majority of us have no close non-Christian friends that we spend lots of time with.  But even though we have a lot in common with people who are already saved, they are not the ones who are most in need of the gospel that we know, and have experienced, and can share.

Father, I agree.  It is sad how little sharing of the good news we do with those most in need of it.  We share our story, our answered prayers, our insights into Scripture, and our testimonies with those how have already been forgiven, when all around us are those sin-sick souls who need so badly the healing balm of the gospel.  Help us, Lord, to follow Jesus in this, too.  To prefer the company of sinners in order to save them, to purposefully spend time with those who need forgiveness so that we can show them where to find it.  Then, when we all get together as Your Church, we will really have something to celebrate!  Amen.

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