Monthly Archives: November 2014

Today’s Scripture – November 25, 2014

Mark 11:27-33 (NIV): They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’….” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Jesus was not in the least surprised when He was accosted by the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders, demanding where He got off believing that He had any authority to do the things He had been doing. This was more than just a challenge to His clearing out the temple. That was just the final straw.

They were still seething about the triumphal entry, with the crowd declaring as their Messiah someone that they were completely unwilling to endorse, and Jesus not doing anything to stop them. After all, they were the ones who were experts in the Holy Scriptures, especially those having to do with the Messiah. The regular people were ignorant and easily swayed by charisma and appeals to their emotions.

The cleansing of the temple, of course, was particularly galling to them. They had approved all of the activities that were taking place in the Court of the Gentiles, activities that Jesus violently denounced as outright affronts to God and His agenda. And that basically amounted to a denouncement of themselves.

And then there was the fact that Jesus was teaching the crowds that gathered around Him by the hundreds, even in the temple complex. Jesus had no credentials, no diploma, but the people flocked to Him rather than to them, even calling Him Rabbi. And you could add to that that His teachings were far too often aimed directly at them!

With all of those things burning in their minds, they challenged Him to state before everyone around Him the source of His so-called authority to do those things. They had credentials, they had tradition on their side, since they held the office of religious leadership.

This was not, by the way, just an idle challenge. It contained a very clever trap. Jesus, they knew, could produce no credentials from any of their approved institutions, so He could not claim that as a source of His authority. And if He said that God had given Him this authority, they were ready to pounce. How could He prove that? Anyone could say that. And those whom God himself had assigned to positions of leadership (themselves) definitely did NOT agree that He had any authority from God to challenge them, to change things, to stir up dissention. When Jesus was left speechless in the face of this logic, as they were sure He would be, all of those listening to His teachings would abandon Him at once, pulling His fangs, and leaving Him vulnerable, without popular support.

But, of course, Jesus knew their hearts, and cleverly saw the trap that they were laying out for Him.       So He redirected the whole debate.       If it was a matter of authority coming from man or from God, He would challenge them on the same issue: “John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men?”

All eyes expectantly turned back on the leaders. They were unwilling to admit that John’s baptism was from heaven, especially since so many of John’s denunciations of sin were aimed right at them. (cf. Matthew 3:7-12) But the people believed that John was a prophet sent by God, and a martyr to boot! If they told Jesus directly that they believed that John had no heavenly authority, that he was a charlatan, not a prophet, misguided, not a martyr, these people, some of whom had been baptized by John, would rise up and stone them!

They wouldn’t give John credibility by proclaiming him a prophet; they wouldn’t put themselves at rick of losing credibility (or even losing their lives) by denying it. So they ended up seeing the trap so carefully laid out for Jesus snap closed around their own heads. And they were reduced to a feeble, “We don’t know,” which, of course, released Jesus from the game.

Father, how much simpler it is to trust You than it is to fight against You; simply trusting in Your word for the truth that it is. All through history, no one who sets themselves against You or Your Messiah ever came out on top. And they still don’t today. Even when they succeed in taking out some of Your people, they still lose.       You and Your kingdom still reign supreme, and those whom they killed are still alive with You forever. Praise Your glorious name! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 21, 2014

Mark 11:20-26 (NIV): In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Even though the disciples had no idea of the real meaning of Jesus cursing the fig tree, they could clearly see the results. In less than 24 hours, the tree had completely withered – dried up from the roots.

Then, as now, people frequently delivered curses on everything from obnoxious neighbors, to misbehaving children, to stubborn donkeys. But those were figurative in the minds of most people. They never really expected the curse to DO anything! But Jesus had cursed this tree, and now, the next morning, the tree was absolutely dead.

Jesus pointed out that the secret was not in magic, or some mysterious power, but simply faith in God.       Many people try to define faith as a belief that originates in themselves. They take Jesus’ words, “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours,” as meaning that if they can make themselves believe strongly enough that they have something, that God will be forced to give it to them. But that interpretation completely ignores Jesus’ first words: “Have faith in God!”

The truth is that Jesus never did anything on His own (cf. John 5:19). He was constantly listening to God’s voice, and continually obeying everything that the Father told Him to do. If Jesus healed someone, it was because God told Him to do it. When He spoke to the people, it was the very words of God that He spoke. And when Jesus cursed the fig tree, it was the Father’s idea to do it.

The faith part for Jesus came into play when He obeyed what the Father told Him to do. If the Father told Him to heal a blind man by spitting on the ground, making mud out of the spit and dirt, and then putting that mud on the blind man’s eyes (John 9:6-7), He could have thought, “That’s a really weird way of doing things. I’ve never done it that way before. What if I do this and it doesn’t work?” And nothing would have happened, because He didn’t have faith enough to just do what the Father had told Him to do, exactly the way He was told to do it.

But Jesus NEVER responded that way. Whatever the Father told Him to do, no matter how improbable it seemed, no matter how strange the methodology that He chose, He always instantly obeyed to the letter.       His faith was perfect, because He never second guessed, never wondered if God could actually do what He promised.       He obeyed completely, believing that what God had told Him to do was a done deal. And miracles happened!

Of course there are a couple of things that will stop the process cold, because they put a separation between a person and God: unforgiven sin in us, and unforgiveness of people’s sins against us. And these two are closely interrelated. Jesus cautioned His disciples to never let a sin against us go unforgiven, because it will prevent our own sins from being forgiven (cf. Matthew 6:14-15, 5:23-24). That will cut us off from hearing God’s voice clearly. Which means that we won’t be able to hear what He wants us to do. Which means that we won’t be able to exercise dynamic faith in His ability to do what He has told us He wants to do. Which means no miracle.

Father, it is good to be reminded that the real secret to miracles is that they originate in Your own heart. And our faith even originates in You too! When you give us command, even a command to do something miraculous, we can rest assured that You are right there enabling it, if we will only respond in faith, and obey. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 17, 2014

Mark 11:15-19 (NIV): On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
When evening came, they went out of the city.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem that morning, He already knew what had to be done, because He had looked everything over the previous day (Mark 11:11). So there was no time wasted – He headed straight to the temple.

The temple was a magnificent structure, over 500 years old, and the subject of a nearly 50-year-long refurbishing and beautification project by the Herod dynasty. The average person could never go into the temple itself to see the holy place where the golden oil lamps burned, and the golden tables were stacked with the bread of God’s presence every week. Even fewer, only the high priests, were allowed to go into the Most Holy Place where God’s presence and glory were resident. Regular people could not even go into the courtyard where the sacrifices were made. Instead, they were restricted to a series of outer courts, where they could see the outside of the building and worship the true God.

The Court of Israel was the closest of the courts, and was for the Jewish men. They would bring their sacrifices to this point, and hand them off to a priest or Levite. Then they could watch as those people took their animal into the courtyard and actually made the sacrifice.

The Court of the Women was farther away. From there the women could not actually see the sacrifices being made, but they could see much of the temple façade, and worship from there.

The Court of the Gentiles was even further away, and was separated from the temple complex by a wall on which were signs engraved in three languages, warning gentiles not to approach any closer under penalty of death. This far outer court was the only place where a gentile seeker after the true God could come to worship and learn more. In a sense, it was the one place where an evangelistic connection could be made.

But what Jesus found was that the Court of the Gentiles had been turned into a marketplace. This was where the sellers of livestock and of doves had set up their stands. It was where the money changers had their tables, exchanging Roman coins, contaminated by figures of gods and of Caesar, for “clean” Jewish shekels, which were then able to be taken into the temple for contributions.

Booths and tables filled this whole area with the stench of livestock and the loud voices of the sellers and traders, to the point where nobody could worship or seek God effectively.       This one place where people from outside could come and worship, this one place that could literally serve as ‘a house of prayer for all nations,’ had been transformed into a market, filled with livestock pens, and noise, and haggling traders – ‘a den of thieves.”

And so Jesus cleaned house, driving out the animals and those who sold them, and overturning the tables of the money changers. He also stopped those who were carrying merchandise through the court, sending them back the way they had come.

Of course, this did nothing to win over the chief priests and teachers of the law. The temple was THEIR area of responsibility, their purview and, in their opinion, Jesus had no right to barge in and change things around like that.       They looked at things from their own viewpoint: what was most orderly, most convenient, and most profitable. But Jesus saw things from God’s viewpoint: what was needed to bring the most people into His kingdom.

Father, sometimes I admit that we, Your people, still look at things in our churches from the standpoint of what is most orderly, most convenient for us, most to our liking, and ,yes, even what is most profitable.       But, Lord, those are not Your priorities. You still want to reach out through us to those who are far away, and bring them close to You. You are still primarily focused on seeking and saving what was lost. Help us to look at ourselves, our churches, and our procedures with YOUR priorities in mind. And help us to clean our own houses anyplace that is needed, so that we can once again be houses of prayer for all nations, drawing them in, showing them Your love, and leading them all the way into Your kingdom through the one way of Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 13, 2014

Mark 11:12-14 (NIV): The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

Many point to this event as showing Jesus being peevish and even unreasonable. After all, it was too early in the year for figs, being barely into April. The leaves would be out on the fig trees, but no fruit yet. So why would Jesus curse a tree that seemed perfectly normal, just because He looked for fruit and was disappointed?

Jesus never did anything without a clear reason, and He was never peevish or unreasonable. Instead, He was painting a picture for His disciples, much like the prophets of old. (cf., Ezekiel 12:1-14; Jeremiah 19:1-15) Jesus was hungry, just like the world was hungry for the truth of the Lord.       Jesus went to a fig tree for food, just as the people of the world looked to the Jewish people to hear God’s word.       (After all, they claimed to be “God’s chosen people,” didn’t they?) But Jesus found only leaves – all show and no substance. And that is what the world found when they looked for God’s truth among the leaders of the Jewish religion – all show and no substance. They did a lot of showy things, like making their sacrifices by the hundreds and thousands every day, and all of their rituals and celebrations. But when the people looked beneath the leaves, the “show,” they found no real fruit; no people with a powerful relationship with God Almighty.

In Jesus’ final act here, the cursing of the fig tree for its fruitlessness, He was speaking for God the Father. Just as the tree was cursed to never bear fruit again, so God had pronounced judgment on the religious leaders of Israel: that they would be fruitless. God was even preparing at that moment to remove the “show,” their temple, their sacrifices, and all of their grand celebrations in Jerusalem. (That removal would happen in AD 70, when the Romans would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple.) God was planning on doing this because the leadership of the Jewish people were, at that moment, plotting against Jesus, to take His life. And a plot against Jesus is always a plot against God the Father.

That is not to say that all of the Jewish people had rejected God and His Messiah, or that everyone among them was under that same curse (just as every fig tree in the area was not cursed by Jesus). The curse was for those who had rejected God by rejecting Jesus. It fell on those whose religion was only an outward show, and who were so confident in their own righteousness that they rejected the One God had sent to save them from their sins.

Father, this makes sense. It is easy to see that much of the leadership rejected Jesus, falsely accusing Him before Pilate, and even threw You under the bus in the process (“We have no king but Caesar!” John 19:15)! They bribed the guards to lie about Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:11-15), and the whole time celebrated the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread with what they believed were clean hands. They really were whitewashed tombs, and trees with showy leaves but no fruit! Father, help us to never fall into that same trap. Help us to keep our hearts open and soft before You, so that You can help us to bear abundant fruit, day and night, every day of the year (cf. Revelation 22:2; Psalm 1:3). Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 12, 2014

Mark 11:8-11 (NIV): Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

As the crowd of disciples moved along with Jesus, those who went ahead of Him laid their cloaks on the road in front of His donkey, an ancient sign of commitment to a king (cf. 2 Kings 9:12-13). And they began singing songs that pointed to the coming kingdom that they all felt was right on the cusp:

  • Hosanna! – This actually means “Save us!” and is a call of subjects for a king to intercede on their behalf.
  • Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! – This is an excerpt from Psalm 118 (verse 26). The original context of this verse was doubtless in the minds of the disciples. It follows two pertinent sections of the Psalm, the first of which talks about entering the gate of the temple through which only the righteous may enter (verses 19-21); and the second of which talks about the rejected stone becoming the capstone (verses 22-23), a section which Jesus applied specifically to Himself shortly afterwards (cf. Matthew 21:42). This verse also comes immediately before a section that talks about joining a festal procession with tree branches in hand, a procession that goes right up to the horns of the altar (verse 27) where the sacrifices are made.           All of this context made this single verse more appropriate for the occasion than any of the disciples ever dreamed.
  • Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! – This shows that the disciples still believed that Jesus was coming to fulfill the popular Messianic ideas of the time. That His coming signified His intent to become the earthly king of Israel, to reestablish the Davidic dynasty, to remove the Roman overlords, and to restore the glory of Israel, making her once again a free and sovereign nation. This view had only one spiritual dimension to it – that all of this would demonstrate that God was once more looking with favor on His people.

All of these shouts, which grew and spread among the people all along the way into the city, were received by Jesus (cf. Luke 19:38-40) even though they fell far short of the reality behind His triumphal entry. The people would, one day soon, understand what was really happening – but that would only be on the other side of the horrific and miraculous events that were fast approaching. Until then, this would have to do. This step had been accomplished. Not only had one more significant prophecy been fulfilled to the letter, but Jesus had put everyone on notice that He was making His move. The end game had begun. Tomorrow He would take the next steps.

Father, it is clear that Jesus was so focused on His mission, the mission that You had sent Him to accomplish, that all of this adulation, all of this popular opinion didn’t even turn His head. He had the power and, at least for the moment, the popular support to actually take over the throne if Israel right then. But He had already turned down an earthly kingship once (Matthew 4:8-10), because a worldly kingdom was not Your plan. He had come to establish YOUR kingdom on earth, not through honor and acclaim, but through His suffering, death, and resurrection.             And He wasn’t going to let anything sidetrack Him. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 11, 2014

Mark 11:1-7 (HCSB): When they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples and told them, “Go into the village ahead of you. As soon as you enter it, you will find a young donkey tied there, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here right away.’”

So they went and found a young donkey outside in the street, tied by a door. They untied it, and some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the donkey?” They answered them just as Jesus had said, so they let them go. Then they brought the donkey to Jesus and threw their robes on it, and He sat on it.

A seemingly meaningless event to Jesus’ disciples, and to most of those standing by. Jesus had walked into Jerusalem many times before; why did He need to ride this time? And if He wanted to ride, why pick an unbroken colt instead of a mature donkey that had experience as a mount?

But for all of this, there was only one reason: Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (HCSB)

Up to this time, Jesus had been reluctant to identify Himself as the Messiah, because the term had accumulated a myriad of political overtones that only caused confusion about who He really was, and what He had come to do. But the time for all of that was now past. The Passover would be here in five days, and it was time for Jerusalem’s true King to make His ultimate appearance, in complete fulfillment of the prophecy written about Him 450 years before.

Everything was ready.       Jesus knew exactly where the donkey would be tied, and He knew the words needed to get those watching over the colt to release it into His care. The disciples experienced everything that Jesus said that they would, and it all worked perfectly. When they got the colt back to Jesus and spread their cloaks over it, Jesus got on and started over the hill to Jerusalem.

The disciples that went ahead of Him and those who followed behind had no idea what kind of reception they would get. They knew that a lot of very important people in Jerusalem would like nothing better than to see Jesus dead and buried. But Jesus knew exactly how the people would respond to Him, and went forward to greet the cheering crowds with His eyes wide open, knowing that in five short days, those cries of acclamation would be replace by shouts calling for Him to be crucified.

Father, in this episode we can see so clearly Jesus’ complete trust in You. He knew by heart every prophecy that You had ever made about Him. One by one they had been fulfilled – some purposefully, by Him, but many that were beyond His physical control orchestrated by You, so that everything would find its fulfillment in Him. That way there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind, not in ours, and not even in the minds of those who were, even then plotting His execution, Who He really was. Help us, Lord, to have that same trust in You, that same reliance, and that same willingness to march into whatever situation You lay out for us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 8, 2014

Mark 10:49-52 (NIV): Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Baritmaeus’ passionate cries had the desired effect. They stopped everything until he had a chance to bring his request before the Lord. Jesus had called him into His presence, and Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, and strode right up to Him, confident, because he had been invited.

Jesus’ question was simple:       “What do you want me to do for you?” There was no need to wonder about Bartimaeus’ faith – he had demonstrated that abundantly by calling out, and by coming into Jesus’ presence when invited. All that remained was for Bartimaeus to speak his request, and the miracle would follow.

There was no hemming and hawing. There was no long list of wants that Bartimaeus brought with him to Jesus. He didn’t ask for money or resources. He didn’t ask for good health or long life.       He had only one shot with Jesus, and He had to make it count. So he brought only a single request, the very desire of his heart: “Rabbi, I want to see.”

Jesus didn’t touch him; He spoke no specific words of healing; there was no show of power, no lights flashing, no hairs being raised on the back of necks. He simply told Bartimaeus to go – that his faith had healed him. And immediately he could see! He could see everything! It was amazing! Wait until his family and friends found out!

He turned to thank Jesus, but saw that the whole crowd was movin on, out of the city, and toward Jerusalem. Bartimaeus didn’t even pause a moment t think about what to do. He knew what he HAD to do. He followed Jesus out of the city.

Father, how often when I come to You do I come with a long list of requests? And not just my own, but numerous requests from others as well. How often do I rattle those requests off to You like reading a laundry list, bringing them before you with neither passion nor power? Lord, help me always to remember what a huge privilege it is to be invited into Your presence to bring my requests. What an amazing thing it is to hear You ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” Help me, Lord, at that moment, to focus all of my heart and mind on You, and to make that one request that is at the very center of my heart; the one request that will make all of the other things fall into place. I know that it will take me some time and some careful consideration to understand what that one thing is, but I believe with all my heart that it will be well worth it. Amen.

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