Monthly Archives: September 2014

Today’s Scripture – September 26, 2014

Mark 9:25-29 (NIV): When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Jesus noticed that a whole crowd of people were running toward where He was speaking to the demon possessed boy’s father, drawn by the noise and violent action of the young man’s convulsions. The time for talking was over; the time for action had come.

Jesus’ technique in dealing with demons was always simple and effective.       In this case, all He had to do was speak a command (“I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”), and the demon left with a shriek, and a final spasm. There was no wrestling with the demonic forces, no incantations, no ritual. Jesus didn’t need any of that. The demon already knew that he was doomed as soon as He saw Jesus.       He understood that he had no power over the Son of God. And the smoke screen that he tried to throw up by convulsing the young man didn’t sway Jesus even the smallest bit. One command, and out.

Those who saw the young man lying motionless on the ground after the violent shriek and final convulsion, could be excused for believing that the final attack had left him dead. But Jesus knew better. It was only the violence of the actions immediately before the demon left that made his normal quiet seem like death; his normal shallow breathing seem like no breathing at all. But when Jesus pulled him to his feet, the young man stood strong before them in full health.

The disciples were silent as they went into the nearby house. Jesus had made this exorcism seem so simple, but they had been completely unable to pull it off. So they asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” After all, they had driven out many demons not long before, when Jesus had sent them out ahead of Him, two by two. What had gone wrong?

Jesus’ answer in Mark’s gospel is different than in Matthew’s, but the two versions are complementary. Matthew (who was one of those who had tried to drive the demon out and failed) remembered most clearly the part of Jesus’ answer in which He said, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20 NIV) Mark’s version, remembered by Peter, who had been coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus while the original failure was happening, is much shorter, and seems to go in an entirely different direction: “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

So how can it be that these two answers are complimentary? Prayer and faith go together hand-in-hand, each being indispensable to the other. Jesus’ response that this kind of demon can only be cast out by prayer (especially when there is no record in any of the gospel versions of this event of Him praying as part of the exorcism), is really talking about what we would call today being “prayed up.” The disciples had approached the exorcism by just doing what they had always done to cast out a demon, relying on their own power, their own skill, their own techniques.       Jesus never did that. Instead, He was always “prayed up,” always intimately connected to the Father, and always relied on God’s direction and God’s power, not mere human technique. Faith is closely related to this. When a person spends consistent time in prayer, he or she is able to clearly hear God’s voice guiding and directing them in every situation. Whether faced with a demon or an illness, or even a person who has died, a person who is consistent in prayer, and who has stayed “prayed up” throughout the day, can easily hear what God’s plan is for the situation, and then act in faith to do what God has directed them to do.

Father, it is so easy for us to let our focused prayer time with You to get pushed to the side by our schedules, our agendas, our general busyness. But when we do that, we can so easily end up unable to hear You as You try to guide and direct us through the events of our day. Help us, Lord, to be more consistent, to spend regular time with You in prayer – QUANTITY time, not just what passes for a small amount of quality time.       Then, when you speak, when we hear, we can move forward in faith to move mountains. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 24, 2014

Mark 9:20-24 (NIV):  So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“’If you can’?” said Jesus.  “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

They didn’t even get the boy to Jesus before the evil spirit caught one look at Him, and threw the boy into a convulsion.  He was rolling around on the ground, foaming at the mouth, and making a huge scene.  The noise and the disturbing sights made the people who were nearby back away from the scene.  It was an impressive display of power, dismaying to the disciples, who had been completely powerless to do anything to remove the demon.

Jesus questioned the father.  This was not something that had just started happening; it had been a normal occurrence with this young man since he was a child.  The doctors hadn’t been able to do anything (it wasn’t, after all, a physical ailment, but a demon that was causing the problem), and the father had eventually given up hope, figuring that sooner or later the demon would end up destroying the boy.

But then the man had heard about Jesus, and that He had been able to cast demons out of people, freeing them body and soul.  But when the man had gotten to where he had been directed, Jesus wasn’t there.  In hope he had approached the disciples with his sad tale, but the disciples ended up being as ineffective as the doctors had been.  It was this additional frustration and disappointment that caused the father to blurt out his nearly hopeless plea:  “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

Jesus’ response was almost indignant, but has been widely misunderstood:  “’If you can’?  Everything is possible for him who believes.”  This has been taught as pointing an accusing finger at the man, as if it was his lack of belief that had cause the failure of the disciples.  But if there was any accusation at all, it was pointed directly at the disciples who had failed to dislodge the spirit.  The man was not looking for a reason why the previous attempt had failed, but he was wondering out loud if Jesus was actually able to do anything to help.  “If you can…”

Jesus answer pointed out that OF COURSE He could.  He believed, and EVERYTHING (and the Greek word here means EVERYTHING) is possible for the one who believes.  Jesus had no doubt that would get in the way of His evicting this demon.  There was no hesitancy, no doubt, no needing to test how strongly the spirit was lodged in the young man.  (Remember, Jesus had already cast out a whole legion of demons and sent them into a herd of pigs with a simple word. Mark 5:1-13)  Since Jesus believed, getting rid of this demon was going to be no problem at all.  It was the disciples lack of belief that had led to their failure.

The father’s follow-up statement, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” has led some to establish a doctrine that only those with adequate faith can receive healing.  Of course, if someone doubts that God can heal them, or someone that they care about, they won’t be able to pray effectively for that healing.  But, in this instance, Jesus is not talking about the faith of the victims (after all, the boy, the actual victim here, was currently rolling around on the ground in the midst of a demonic convulsion, completely unable to exercise faith of any kind!).  He’s not talking about the faith of the family members (who weren’t the ones who were going to have to cast out the demon).  In this case, He was talking very specifically about the belief, the faith, of the one who was doing the casting out.

Matthew’s version of this event includes a fuller response to the disciples’ later question (“Why couldn’t we drive it out?”) than Mark’s does, and verifies this conclusion:  “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:19-21 NIV)  The disciples’ belief was weak.  They had doubted that they could remove the demon, so they ended up being powerless.  Jesus had no doubt at all that He could cast out the demon, and so the demon would be gone.  It was a foregone conclusion.  EVERYTHING is possible for him who believes!

That is still the lesson for the disciples of today.  God still calls us to action.  And when we have full faith in God that He will help us to do whatever it is that He has called us to do, whether that is speaking a word of healing, casting out a demon, or sharing the gospel with someone who is lost in the darkness of sin, nothing will be impossible for us.

Father, this father’s prayer needs to be OUR prayer far too often:  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”  There are so many times when we know beyond a doubt that you want us to speak a word of healing, a word of encouragement, or a word of salvation to someone, but we let our doubts stop us cold.  If we do manage to struggle on and do what you have prompted us to do, we do it haltingly, with great fear and trembling, and without the mountain-moving faith that our strong relationship with You should engender.  And, all too often, we fall flat because we have so little faith.  Help us to realize that EVERYTHING really IS possible for us if we will only believe, have faith, not in our own ability or power, but in Your ability, Your power to accomplish through us whatever you have called us to do.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 22, 2014

Mark 9:14-19 (NIV): When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

Jesus, Peter, James and John had just spent time in a heavenly scene, a genuine mountain-top experience. Now, as they came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, they were confronted with a scene, not just of earth, but a scene with the demonic smell of sulfur all over it.

The first thing they noticed was the argument. On one side were Jesus’ disciples; on the other were the teachers of the law. And around them stood a crowd of onlookers, watching and listening. This was no polite theological discussion, but appeared to be a heated argument.

When the people in the crowd saw Jesus walking toward them, they instantly lost interest in the argument, and ran to Him. It was Him, after all, that they had come to see. The disciples came too, red in the face from the emotion of the argument.

Jesus had frequent disagreements with the Pharisees and teachers of the law, but on His side it never devolved into an argument. He simply stated where they were wrong, and told them what the truth was. But whatever the issue that the disciples were “discussing” with these teachers of the law, they obviously went very deep on one side or the other to result in the scene Jesus had just witnessed. So He asked, “What are you arguing with them about?”

The answer came not from the disciples or the teachers of the law, but from the man at the center of the controversy: a father who had brought his demon-possessed son so that Jesus could heal him. The spirit had made the young man completely unable to speak, and from time to time it sent him into convulsions. The disciples had tried to cast out the demon themselves, but had been completely ineffective. And their inability to cast out the demon, their lack of power, was what had started the argument. They were emotionally involved because their own reputations were at stake.

Jesus’ outburst was directed at His disciples: “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”       After three years with Jesus, after watching Him work, after being empowered themselves to cast out demons, they were completely powerless in the face of this one challenge. As strong as this demon might be, as frightening as the convulsions that it caused were, the disciples, working in God’s power, should have been able to cast it out easily. But they hadn’t been able to. They had been totally defeated.

Jesus’ frustration stemmed from his keen awareness that these were the men in whose hands He would be leaving the future progress of the kingdom of God in just a few short weeks.       But instead of their faith and power growing stronger, here they were trying to defend their inability to cast out this demon.

But ultimately the demon was just a demon. The father had brought the young man to Jesus for restoration, and his faith would be rewarded. Jesus’ simple statement, “Bring the boy to me,” marked the transition point of the whole event.

Father, I sometimes wonder if Jesus gets just as frustrated with us as He got that day with His disciples. We are, after all, the ones who are currently tasked with growing Your kingdom by making disciples of all nations, including those right in our own back yards. We are the ones tasked with allowing Your power to flow through us to heal the bodies and souls of men. And we have not done a very good job. We have allowed ourselves to get distracted by our games, and our shows, and our recreations, allowing the work of the kingdom to fall far down on our list of priorities, so that when we are called upon to respond to the deep needs around us, we are reduced to praying feeble prayers and hoping for the best. Lord, this is far from the vision that You paint for us in Your word – far from the promises of power that You have given us. And the fault lies in us, in our lack of focus, our lack of devotion, our lack of passion for Your kingdom, and the compromises we make that restrict Your power in our lives. Forgive us, Lord. Help us to recapture, or even to capture for the first time, a real passion for You, and for the kingdom work that You have called us to do in Your power. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 20, 2014

Mark 9:9-13 (NIV): As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”

Teachings that people have received in the past, even false or erroneous teachings, are terribly difficult to modify or remove. And new teachings, even if they are absolutely correct and biblical, often have a hard time working into people’s hearts, especially if they challenge or contradict non-biblical teachings that are already there. And Jesus’ closest followers were no exception to this rule.

There were many teachings about the Messiah that were popularly believed in Jesus’ day. But since the Jewish Scriptures about the Messiah were scattered throughout the various books, and since some of them were ambiguous until Jesus fulfilled them, these teachings were sometimes accurate, and sometimes incomplete, or completely false.

Many of the people knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem from the line of David (cf. Matthew 2:4-6, 22:41-42), but some believed that He would just magically appear, and that no one would know where He had come from (John 7:27), which led to some rejecting Jesus right off the bat. Most people believed (correctly) that the Messiah would live forever (John 12:34), but few were willing to accept the Scriptures that He had to first be tortured, killed, buried, and rise again (cf. Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

So it was understandable that Jesus’ disciples were confused about what Jesus was now telling them.       The whole idea that the Messiah would have to die and then rise from the dead before He would live forever had no place to take root in the traditions that they had received. It mystified them.

Jesus swore the three disciples that had witnessed the transfiguration to silence, because the experience alone could lead them to false assumptions, which would then be shared with others right along with the narrative of the experience. After Jesus rose from the dead, this would all make much more sense to them, and they would have a much more solid context from which they could accurately share what had happened. But in the meantime, they were still troubled by all of this talk about “rising from the dead.”

They were also troubled by the seeming non-fulfillment of the teaching that the Messiah would be preceded by the return of the prophet Elijah. They had now see Elijah in the (glorified) flesh, and realized that he had not come yet – at least they hadn’t seen him before. This teaching about Elijah was actually solidly based on Scripture (Malachi 4:5-6), but the fulfillment was a little different than the literal reading would suggest. Jesus knew that John the Baptist (who actually dressed like Elijah and spoke as boldly as he did – cf. 2 Kings 1:7-8 & Matthew 3:4) had already fulfilled that role, preparing the way for Jesus. John’s father, Zechariah, had been told by Gabriel before John was even conceived, “And he (John) will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17 NIV)

All of these new teachings were strange to the disciples, and it was difficult for them to find a place for them among the potpourri of Messianic teachings that they had already received. But it was critical that they begin to see and understand how the things that God had actually spoken about through the prophets were being fulfilled right before their eyes, so that, after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended back into heaven, they would be able to teach others accurately.

Father, it is a sad truth that bad teachings about the Scriptures can actually close people’s eyes to the real truths that are right there before them. That is probably why You point out that “we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1 NIV). Help us all, Lord, to be open to all that You want to show us from Your word. Help us to root out of our hearts any teachings that are not in accordance with the full counsel of Your word, and replace them with the actual truth, so that we can show those same amazing truths to others.       Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 19, 2014

Mark 9:2-8 (NIV): After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

Jesus’ time was now short.       It was time for Him to start heading south, and soon it would be the Passover, when His final journey would end in Jerusalem. Jesus often prayed alone, especially before the major transitions in His ministry, and this was definitely one of those times. He wanted to tag up with the Father to make sure what His next steps would be.

The transfiguration that the three disciples saw was for their benefit, not for the benefit of Jesus.       And what they actually experienced was a brief look “behind the curtain,” a glimpse of Jesus’ glory that was ensconced in His human flesh. (John saw this glory even more clearly on Patmos – cf. Revelation 1:12-18.) Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus specifically about His departure (the Greek word Luke used is “exodus”) that He would shortly be undergoing in Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:30-31). These two people had great symbolic significance to the disciples.       Moses stood for the Old Testament, the Law that Jesus had come to fulfill through His life, death, and resurrection (Matthew 5:17). Elijah stood for the Prophets, and was also prophesied to come to usher in the Messiah (although this was fulfilled not in this limited appearance, but through the ministry of John the Baptist – Matthew 17:10-13.)

As wonderful as all of this was, and as privileged as these disciples were to be there to experience it, they were mostly just terrified. Peter was so overwhelmed by the glory of these three people that he felt that something should be done to honor them, but he had nothing to do it with. So he came up with the idea of at least building shelters for the three of them. That was where God the Father stepped in, covering them with a cloud of glory, and speaking directly to them. It was not important for them to DO anything. What was important was for them to see clearly and understand who Jesus was, the Messiah, the beloved Son of God, and to listen to Him. Their time with Him was coming quickly to an end, and events were just over the horizon that would make them doubt what they had so strongly expressed just a few days ago. Now was the time to drive the truth deep into their hearts.

Father, sometimes we get overconfident in what we think we know.       Peter, James, and John knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but they really had no idea all that that meant. Even this small glimpse of His real glory terrified them. In the same way, all that we know of You, all that You have revealed of Yourself through Your word, is really just the edge of Your garment. We want to see Your glory, but even seeing a small bit of You as You truly would be enough to completely overwhelm us. Help us, Lord, to simply rest in what we do know of You, and of Jesus. Help us to hold Him up always as Your beloved Son, and to really listen to Him. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 18, 2014

Mark 9:1 (NIV): And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

Jesus had just shocked His inner circle by predicting His death at the hands of the Jewish leaders, and a whole crowd by insisting that those who wanted to follow Him must be willing to consciously lay down their own lives, to take up their own crosses.       In essence, all of Jesus’ followers must be willing to follow Him all the way, even if that way lies through the valley of death.

The mood was pretty somber as they all processed this news. It was a lot to think about. But then Jesus made this announcement that turned their minds into another channel altogether:       “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

Many have taught that Jesus was referring to the transfiguration that was to occur six days later, and which comes immediately after His statement in all of the synoptic gospels.       But there are a few problems with this view. First, Jesus’ statement strongly implies that at least one of His followers would die before the event that He was predicting, and there is no hint of that death anywhere in the gospels. Second, only three people, Peter, James, and John, were witnesses to the transfiguration, whereas Jesus seems to be predicting something much larger.       Finally, although Jesus’ transformation was stunning to those who witnessed it, it cannot be said that anything appreciable changed that would be able to be described as “the kingdom of God coming,” or that any additional power was evident afterwards. The miracles that Jesus did after the transfiguration were of the same quality as before; His teachings were of the same kind and on the same subjects.       The only reason that the transfiguration comes immediately after Jesus’ statement in the gospels is not that it was the fulfillment of that promise, but it was the next significant event to happen.

So what was Jesus pointing to with this statement? On the day of Jesus’ ascension, He told the gathered disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV)   This promised power filled the disciples (120 of them) on the day of Pentecost, and in a matter of hours, God’s kingdom exploded onto the scene and grew to over 3000 people (Acts 2).

This fits Jesus’ predication much better. Although the kingdom of God, the people who follow God as their Sovereign in the new life of the Spirit, awaits its final consummation at Jesus’ return, it definitely began and started its exponential growth on the day of Pentecost. It also came with the power that Jesus promised.       From that day on, signs and wonders, miracles, and powerful witness that brought dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people at a time into the kingdom, were all experienced by the Church. But all of Jesus’ disciples did not live to experience this coming of the kingdom of God with power. One of them had indeed tasted death before the kingdom became a reality. Judas had hanged himself in remorse over betraying Jesus into the hands of His enemies, just as Jesus Himself had predicted.

Ever since that day, the same Holy Spirit comes into the hearts of those who trust in Jesus for salvation, providing the same power to be a witness everywhere we live, everywhere we work, everywhere we go. Since that day, all of us who have come to the Lord by faith have come into His kingdom.       We have become His subjects, doing His will. And we wait eagerly for the final consummation of the kingdom when Jesus returns.

Father, thank You for this truth. A single sentence from Jesus, but it points us to a powerful reality that we get to experience in our own lives. Help us, Lord, to live as the people of Your kingdom. Help us to serve You every day with our whole hearts. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 17, 2014

Mark 8:34-38 (NIV): Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Peter was disturbed that Jesus was talking about His upcoming crucifixion. Jesus was disturbed that Peter was disturbed. But the problem lay in the fact that most people’s understanding of the kingdom of God differed markedly from the reality that Jesus had come to inaugurate.

Jesus’ twelve disciples especially had a vision that was wide of the mark. They doubtlessly pictured Jesus marching into Jerusalem at the head of a massive throng, throwing out the Roman governor, and then all of them participating in His coronation as king. From then on, it would be marvelous! All twelve of them would become the heads of the new government, making up Jesus’ privy council, and enjoying all the perks that went along with it.

But Jesus saw a much different picture, and He knew that it would be His picture that came true. He knew that, even though many in the crowds would cheer Him into Jerusalem, five days later He would die on a cross and be buried in a borrowed tomb. Even though He would rise on the third day, and ascend back into heaven a few weeks later, He would be leaving a massive and difficult job in the hands of these disciples. They would be tasked with taking the gospel to every corner of the globe, with confronting the forces of evil and darkness, and pushing forward the kingdom of love and light. And He knew that as they did this, darkness and evil would be constantly pushing back against them. He knew that their paths would lead them through dark and treacherous valleys, and that suffering and pain would dog their steps. He knew that often they would have to choose between obeying God and their own safety.

Jesus’ word was not just for the twelve. He gathered all of the people around them to hear. Anyone who wanted to follow Him, to be counted among the people of the kingdom, must be willing to deny themselves – to put all of their plans, not just on the back burner, but off the stove altogether. Jesus’ disciples don’t live out their own lives, but His life.       They no longer own their hopes and dreams. Instead they take up God’s plan, pursue His vision, and take up His goals as their new hopes and their dreams.

Anyone who wants to follow Jesus cannot shrink from the cross. Instead, they must take up their own cross willingly; be willing to die rather than turn away from the task that Jesus has called them to. Anyone who denies the gospel to save their life will ultimately lose their soul. But anyone who lays down their life for the sake of the gospel will save their soul for eternal life.

It was vital that Jesus’ followers understood this. If they were shrinking back now, when Jesus’ suffering on the cross was only an idea in their minds, what would they do when the choice had to be made for themselves – surrender or suffering; compromise or condemnation; denial or death? Jesus wanted His words to stick in their minds and hearts for the rest of their lives. He knew that on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit would give them the power that they needed to be witnesses. But even then, the decision to obey regardless of the cost would have to originate in their own will.

Father, the standard is still the same today. There are a thousand ways in which we can deny You each day instead of pushing boldly forward with the gospel; a million little compromises and ways of holding back so that people won’t think poorly of us. But we are not our own. We have been bought with a price, and our lives are now to be lived as Your life. Help us to receive Your word deeply into our hears, and to make our decision to follow you now, no matter where the path leads, so that when the time comes, we will respond with boldness – no shame, no compromise, just obedience. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 16, 2014

Mark 8:31-33 (NIV): He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

The preconceived notions of who and what the Messiah was to be ran deep in the hearts of God’s people, even among the inner circle of Jesus’ twelve disciples. After Peter’s confession that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, Jesus began to share with them all that that actually meant.

Jesus saw very clearly, and had known for some time, where His path would lead. He knew that he would be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, the very ones who were most eagerly awaiting His arrival. He didn’t even have to be omniscient to know that this was true, because many of them had already rejected Him as the Messiah because He didn’t fit what they had been taught that He should be and do. But Jesus knew that an even deeper rejection was just over the horizon – one that would result in those leaders condemning Him to death.

Jesus knew that He must be killed by those very leaders whom He had come to save, and that the death He had to die would be inconceivable to anyone else. Not only would it be gruesome, shameful, and excruciating from a physical standpoint, it would also include all of the suffering for all of the sins of mankind. It would even include having the Father withdraw His presence from Him, something that Jesus had never experienced from all eternity past.

But Jesus could clearly see beyond the suffering and shame, and even beyond the separation from his Father that He would have to endure. He understood that all of that would last only a few hours, and would then be followed by a glorious resurrection. He would be restored to the glory that He had with the Father before the world began (cf. John 17:5).

But Peter never even heard the part about the resurrection. He was appalled at Jesus’ prediction of rejection and suffering, and when Jesus spoke about being killed, he simply stopped listening and began to move toward Jesus, to pull Him aside, and to convince Him that this was not the path that He should follow. After all, there were a sizable number of people who adored Him, enough to make up a small army. Surely there were more than enough of them to prevent even the whole Sanhedrin from taking Jesus away and killing Him.

But Jesus immediately recognized the spirit behind those words. In them He heard an echo from His time in the Judean wilderness. Three times satan had tried to get Him to turn aside for God’s plan, to follow the “easier” and “safer” path of self-satisfaction, self-aggrandizement, and self-preservation. Satan had promised that if Jesus would only turn aside to HIS path, all of His goals could be met without any pain or suffering. But all of that was a lie then, and it was a lie now. God’s ways are not ways that make sense to the enemy, or even to most human beings. Tainted by self-interest, most people shy away from the path of self-sacrifice that God lays out before them. But, just as in the wilderness, one sharp rebuke put an end to this temptation, and provided an opportunity for the disciples to really hear what Jesus was trying to tell them.

Father, we do tend to shy away from the hard paths, the hard choices, even when we know that those paths and choices are the ways that You have laid out before us. How much time have we wasted trying to explain to You that our way is better?       How many opportunities have we missed while wavering and second guessing Your clear commands? Forgive us, Lord, and help us to yield ourselves more fully to Your complete will for our lives. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 13, 2014

Mark 8:27-30 (NIV): Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus’ time was growing short, and it was just about time for Him to start heading to Jerusalem for the last few scenes of His life. By this time He had invested about three years into the lives of His closest followers, and He was disturbed that they had shown so little growth in their understanding of Him and of the kingdom which He had inaugurated, and which He would soon leave in their hands.

Jesus knew that there were diverse opinions as to who He really was, so He started this critical conversation with a “soft ball” question: “Who do people say I am?”

Many people believed that Jesus was John the Baptizer raised from the dead. This opinion was most prevalent among those who had not seen John, but had merely heard about him. Jesus’ message of repentance and the kingdom of God was similar to John’s, and people saw his miraculous restoration to life as a reasonable explanation as to why Jesus Himself was able to do miracles.

Others believed that Jesus was the great prophet Elijah. The Jewish people had been awaiting the Messiah for centuries, but they believed (based on Scriptures like Malachi 4:5-6) that Elijah would reappear first to prepare God’s people for His coming. Elijah had done a few impressive miracles, so Jesus’ miraculous abilities seemed like reasonable evidence that He was, in fact, Elijah, and that the Messiah must be near.

Still others saw Jesus as a mighty prophet, like those written about in the Old Testament.       Prophets were not always foretellers of the future. Rather they were spokespeople for God. And some of them, like Moses, and Elijah, and even Isaiah, did miracles. It had been more than 400 years since a mighty prophet had arisen,. So many saw Jesus as a spokesman for God, a mighty prophet who would help them to know how God wanted them to live.

Then Jesus asked the critical question: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter acted as spokesman for the group when he answered: “You are the Christ (the Messiah).”

Jesus’ disciples knew that He wasn’t John the Baptizer. They had been with Jesus while John was still in prison, and several of the them had originally been followers of John. Besides, they had seen that Jesus was far above John in every way. As John himself had said, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” (Mark 1:7 NIV) They knew that He was not Elijah come to earth again. He had done things far greater than Elijah had ever dreamed of doing.   And they knew that He was not merely a prophet, even a great prophet. Jesus spoke and acted with all of the authority of God Himself; not like one with delegated authority, but as if He were God in the flesh.

To the disciples there was only one logical answer to the question: Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. He was the long-promised deliverer who would save them and set all things right.   They had seen His power at work, they had listened to His teachings, and there was no doubt at all in their minds that He was the One.

Jesus was relieved. It wasn’t all that He hoped for at this point, but it was a step in the right direction.   However, He swore them to silence, because most people (the disciples included) had a distorted view of the Messiah in their minds. They saw Him as a political deliverer; one who would set up an earthly kingdom and a new dynasty of Davidic kings. But He still had a few weeks to help them to understand.

Father, people still have varied ideas as to who Jesus is. Some see Him as a good man, a great teacher, perhaps even a prophet.   But He clearly declared Himself to be the Messiah, the Savior, the very son of God. Help us to know Him for who He really is, so that we can clearly show Him to others. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 10, 2014

Mark 8:22-26 (NIV): They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.”

This event stands out strongly among all of Jesus’ miracles, because it seems to have not been entirely effective at first. In no other case in the gospels did someone require a second touch for the healing to be complete.

This miracle happened during a brief stopover in Bethsaida (“House of fishing”), the hometown of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1:44) on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. We are told very little about the blind man, except that He did not live in Bethsaida proper (cf. verse 26). But it’s important to note that what looks at first like a failure on Jesus’ part was actually right in line with God’s plan. We know that Jesus understood that His first touch would not restore the man’s sight completely simply because of His question:       “Do you see anything?” In every other recorded miracle, Jesus merely touched the person, or spoke the word, and the complete healing immediately followed.       He never asked the person if the healing had worked.

Some think that the man’s faith wasn’t strong enough to be healed completely. But the man’s faith (or lack of it) was never addressed by Jesus.       Others wonder if this case was just very complicated. But it was no more complicated than that of the man who was born blind (John 9:1-7) where the healing was completed with a single touch.

It is the context of this miracle that helps us to understand what was going on. It immediately followed Jesus’ chastisement of His disciples over their inability to understand God’s working and Jesus’ teachings (Mark 8:14-21). On the way over to Bethsaida, Jesus had accused them of having eyes but failing to see, and of having ears but failing to hear. And then this blind man is brought to Jesus for healing. (Coincidence? I think not!)

Jesus took the man out of the village, away from the crowds. There He spit on the man’s eyes and laid His hands on him, all of which His disciples had seen before, and either of which should have resulted in an immediate healing. But to the disciples’ amazement, while the man could now see, his sight was defective – blurred to the point that the disciples looked to him like trees walking around rather than men. To complete both the healing and the lesson, Jesus placed His hands on the man’s eyes, and his sight was instantly perfected. Everything was now crystal clear. Jesus then sent the man home, telling him not to go back into the village.

So what was the point that Jesus was trying to make with all of this? Most of the disciples had been with Jesus for a couple of years by now.       They had heard Jesus teach so many times, they had experienced so many miracles (including doing some themselves), that they believed that they were quite spiritually advanced. But in reality, even though their spiritual eyes had been opened, their vision was blurred and indistinct, to the point that they were missing some things that should have been obvious to them, and many things that they did see, they misinterpreted.

Jesus knew that what they really needed to help them to see clearly was a second touch, a touch to their hearts and minds that would take away the fuzziness and make everything crystal clear.       That second touch would come, but not until the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would enter into the very core of their beings, and would transform them from the inside out. He would not merely give them power, He would also clarify their sight and enhance their understanding, so that everything would become clear. Until then, Jesus would have to deal with their shortsightedness and their lack of understanding.

Some might be critical of Jesus for “using” this man to make His point, but they shouldn’t be. The man was neither harmed nor inconvenienced in this miracle. Instead, over the course of 2 or 3 minutes he went from total blindness to completely clear vision. The fact that it happened in two steps didn’t bother him a bit.

Father, it seems the easiest thing in the world to convince ourselves that we can see clearly, especially in the spiritual realm, when the whole time, even though our eyes have been opened, we are so nearsighted that we are practically blind. (cf. Revelation 3:17-18) Until we are actually given real clarity of sight and understanding, it is difficult to see just how blind we really are. Open our eyes, Lord, so that we can truly see everything clearly. Amen.

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