Friday, February 21, 2020

Friday – Mark 10 – Because He Loves Us


W
HY is a parent demanding of a child? Or better, should a parent be demanding, and if so, why? Oh, perhaps "demanding" is not the best choice of words, but a parent should most certainly set standards and declare expectations. And, the reason? Love! In the words of Solomon, those who fail to discipline their children demonstrate that they do not love them (Proverbs 13:24). What would the opposite equation look like then? Those who do love their children will discipline them. Such is true with God as well. He disciplines us because He loves us. In Hebrews 12:6 we read that because the Lord loves us, He chastens us.

Now, here in Mark 10:21 we see that Jesus loved a certain individual. And, how did He express that love? He laid down the law. The man happened to be rich. So, Jesus charged him thusly, "Sell everything that you own; give it to poor folk and follow Me!" What a strange way to show one's love, or is it? This man needed tough love for sure. He was a hard case. He ran to Jesus - what zeal! He fell on his knees - that was proper. He was certainly coming to the right place with a noble objective - he came to the Savior seeking for eternal life. Yet, he was lost.  He came lost and went away lost still.  This is why we can say that he was a hard case. Jesus loved him... but sadly, this man only loved himself.

This whole chapter points to the great love that God has for us. Even the statement that "God made male AND female" demonstrates His love. It’s a simple reality that is replete with evidence of God's powerful love.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Thursday – Mark 9 – Help My Unbelief


M
ARK 9:24 records a spiritual statement that I have identified with many times. An unidentified man in a crowd of people asked Jesus to heal his son. His boy was troubled by a violent and oppressive evil spirit. When Jesus enquired about this man's trust, the man "cried out, and said with tears, 'Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."' Perhaps this is the heart cry of every humble Christian. Jesus gives us much to believe. From His eternal existence to His holy conception (through the power of the Holy Ghost in Mary); from His miracles to His prophecies; Jesus always makes our dilemma a faith dilemma. This chapter commences with Jesus glowing like an incandescent light bulb while talking personally to men who hadn't been seen for many centuries; one (Moses) who had been very much dead for a very long time. Without God's grace guiding us toward the truth, that story would be unbelievable. Yet, we believe it. Do I also believe that He is alive today, that He lives in my body, that He will take care of my physical needs if I will trust Him, that He will use me to win the lost (if I will proclaim His gospel and preach that He is coming again to receive us up into heaven)? Yes! I believe all of that.... except perhaps the part about Him taking care of my physical needs.  To that I must pray with honest shame, "Lord, I believe... please help my unbelief."

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Wednesday – Mark 8 – Winning & Losing

  
J
ESUS certainly knew how to turn a bad situation into a good one. Having already read of the feeding of the 5000, it is no surprise to us to discover here that in another situation Jesus fed 4000. Jesus, His disciples and the commoners in the multitude were surely winners on that day. But not everyone won that day. There were Pharisees who sought for a sign (or a vindicating miracle) from Christ immediately after He had fed the 4000. Was that not a sign enough for them? What losers! They should have believed, but they didn't. They doubted and denied.

But, before we get all high and mighty in self-righteous disdain for the Pharisees, notice Jesus' strong words against the disciples in this same context. He rebuked them rather soundly for worrying about material things right after they had seen what He could do to provide for the physical needs of His followers. It would indeed be hard to give these guys ribbons or trophies for that day’s deeds.

Sometimes winning requires patience. In fact, starting this paragraph with the word "sometimes" is probably not appropriate. When are winners declared? Winners win in the end of a game or a fight, not at the beginning or in the middle. In Mark 8 we read where Jesus healed a blind man... but at first the success was only partial. The blind man was able to see, but not clearly. So, Jesus repeated the process, this time with complete success. The man could see clearly. It is instructive that neither Christ nor the blind man were in despair after the first step. Christ continued.  The blind man also continued. This is part of winning. The adage is a good one, "Winners never quit, and quitters never win."

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tuesday – Mark 7 – Our Ways vs. God's Ways


T
HERE are 3 sections in this chapter. In one way or another, all 3 sections provide some contrast between the ways of God and the ways of men. The first part deals with the vain traditionalism of the Pharisees and scribes. The second piece of this chapter tells the story of Jesus trying to hide from the public eye. Still, He helped a Gentile woman and her demon possessed daughter instead. Through an account of the healing of a man who had a hearing impairment as well as a speech impediment, the last section of Mark 7 uniquely reveals the good and strange ways of God.

In Isaiah 55:7-9, the prophet wrote a crucially important description of God's ways juxtaposed against the ways of humanity. The long standing practices, habits, customs or "ways" in any culture are referred to as that society's traditions. In every culture there are some people who want to change the set traditions, and others who want to preserve them. Many times, these conflicts are a result of stubborn rebellion. In some situations, changes are desired in order to make legitimate improvements to the status quo. Such attempts are frequently resisted without reason. Then again, there are cases where it really is nothing more or less than a jostling of diverse personalities and preferences. When we encounter these types of conflicts, we would be wise to discern which scenario is at hand

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday – Mark 6 – Covering Some Ground


T
HERE may not be a good way to summarize this chapter. Not only is it a long 56 verses, but Mark 6 covers no less than 6 different events. A listing of the sections of this chapter is a good place to begin. Mark 6:1-6 presents a view of how Jesus' own hometown neighbors refused to believe in Him. Mark 6:7-13 gives us an account of Jesus sending His disciples out on a sort of evangelism blitz. Mark 6:14-29 reveals how John the Baptist was killed. Mark 6:30-44 tells the familiar story of the feeding of the 5000. Mark 6:45-52 includes a description of Jesus walking on the water. And, Mark 6:53-56 covers some of the more obscure miracles of Christ in a place called Gennesaret.

In Mark 6:4 we read that Jesus said, "A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." It seems that this reality weighed heavy on Jesus' heart. Mark 6:6 indicates that Jesus marveled at the unbelief of those who were closest to him. It's a human reality though. Familiarity breeds contempt. If you walked past Niagara Falls on the way to and from work every day, you would eventually be able to walk by without any emotion at all. Although Jesus was perfect, to those who knew him best, He was just too human for them to swallow what their eyes and ears were telling them about Him.  "He's a carpenter!  We know his Mom and His siblings! How can He be anyone great?" These were the kinds of thoughts with which they wrestled.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Friday – Mark 5 – Power


O
NE way or another, we are all amazed by power. In other words, there are things that make us wonder; that inspire us with a sense of awe. It has been said that the only thing that is great enough to always amaze is none other than God Himself. This is one aspect of that proverbial God-shaped hole which exists in the heart of every man. Only God can adequately satisfy the longing of our heart. Only God is great enough, strong enough, powerful enough to stimulate infinite worship (Psalm 139:6).

The greatness of Christ is everywhere to be found in the Scriptures, but I feel a special affinity for chapters like this one in this regard. Having just read (in Mark 4) of Jesus' power to stop a storm, it is fitting that we now encounter His authority over the most ferocious of evil spirits.  The Maniac of Gadara was an unstoppable nuisance in his town. Chains were of no value and fetters were meaningless. He was out of control; wild, dangerous, strange, frightening, violent and vulgar. Yet, when Christ was through with him, He was clothed, sitting, in his right mind and was even a useful witness for Christ. That's power! Christ had power, real power; inexplicable, irrefutable, unduplicable power. With simple spoken words He had the power to heal a crazy man and doom a heard of pigs.

Thursday – Mark 4 – Parables


T
ODAY our attention is drawn more to the method and purpose of using parables than to the actual content of the parables. Why did Jesus use parables? For example, He could have said simply that some people hear spiritual truth and they understand it while others do not understand it. And, for various reasons, though some understand it, they still don't benefit from this knowledge. Why did He instead tell a story (in this instance) about a farmer who sowed seeds in various kinds of soil? It is apparent that the truth was still a complete mystery to many in His audience, even after His many colorful illustrations. Did He simply NOT want these people to know the truth?

The simplest way to describe what Jesus was doing would be to say that Jesus used His riddles as a tool to hide truth from unbelievers and  to  reveal  it  to  believers.   It's  like  His parables were one-way mirrors.  On the one hand, unbelievers (who would not appreciate the truth even if they owned it) looked right through the parables as if they weren't even there. On the other hand, believers were able to see their own reflection in the light of God's truth.

Now, if we are among those who are privileged to comprehend Christ's points, then we are to become His echo. We should be looking for other's who "have ears to hear'' so that we can let them in on the secrets of God (Mark 4:21-22). In fact, both our reception and our propagation of the truth will greatly affect what (if anything) else we are given (Mark 4:24).

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Wednesday – Mark 3 – Reasons to Be Angry... or Not


I
T has been pointed out that we would be hard pressed to show from the New Testament that Jesus ever laughed. We know that He wept, and surely, He must have laughed, after all, He was human; but the Scriptures do not mention it. In any case, He was an emotional man.  He was no stoic walking about with a stone face and a halo. No, He felt with deep responsiveness, and just like with the rest of us, His responses to His circumstances tell us much about what mattered to Him.

In Mark 3:5 we find that Jesus was both angry and grieved because of the hardness of the hearts of His people. In this case, there was a man with a withered hand. Rather than feeling compassion and desiring mercy and healing for this poor soul, Jesus' religious audience was only interested in their interpretation of the law in this situation, and in how they could use it to accuse Jesus (if He helped this man on Saturday). No wonder Jesus got mad and sad. It is incredibly sad just how hard hearted the Pharisees really were. Jesus healed a man's withered hand, yet all these religious leaders could think of was about how they could get rid of Him. They wanted Him dead. Again, seeing their heart, it is no wonder that Jesus was angry with them.

Jesus would not be held down though. He simply moved on to another location and continued His ministry of truth and compassion. He could teach and heal on the seashore just as well as (if not better than) He could in the synagogues. At least out there His audience recognized who He was (Mark 3:11). Again, how sad! The religious leaders accused Jesus of being satanic, and yet it was men who WERE actually satanic who admitted Jesus' real identity. It's pitiful when the world can admit truth, but the religious crowd can't. This too must anger God continually. His (supposed) followers should be the champions of truth, not the doubters and deniers of it.


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Tuesday – Mark 2 – Our Counterculture Christ


T
HERE are 3 events recorded for us in Mark 2. In Mark 2:1-12 we read the story of the forgiving and healing of a man who was paralyzed. In Mark 2:13-22 we find that Jesus and His disciples partied with sinners. And, in Mark 2:22-28 it is evident that Jesus was not swayed by the common definition of the Sabbath day. Now, while these may not have been the most important events of Christ's ministry, they were significant in that they each demonstrate that Jesus Christ lived in opposition to the religious culture that was all around Him.

Of course, Jesus' ability to heal people was a great contrast to the powerless religion of the Pharisees. But beyond that, Jesus was doing many other things that were new and strange. He was preaching the word of God to large (willing) crowds that (for the most part) weren’t in the temple or a synagogue, but in the wilderness and in people's houses. He was surrounded by known sinners, poor folk, hungry folk, uneducated people, common blue collar workers, gentiles, women, children and devout followers; yet, the aloof religious elite could not resist His presence either. They too sat in the crowd listening, albeit critically. It was an odd admixture of society to whom Jesus preached.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Monday – Mark 1 – Jumping Right In


W
ELCOME to the Gospel of Mark! Skipping all the preliminaries, Mark jumps right into the ministry of the Savior. By verse 10 of chapter 1 we already have John the Baptist stepping aside and Jesus being anointed by the Spirit at His baptism. By verse 20, Jesus is through with His temptation and is calling His disciples. By verse 30 we are already reading about Jesus being a locally famous miracle worker. And, by the end of the chapter we find Jesus ministering out in the wilderness in order to accommodate the huge crowds that were following Him. So, Mark gives us no genealogy, no Christmas story and almost no introduction. Essentially, Mark presents John's words and Christ's baptism as the only necessary seals of His role as the miracle working Son of God. It is a simpler view of the gospel.

Whatever Mark's objective, it is obvious that He intended to describe the deeds of Christ in order to point us in the right direction. Certainly, Christ's deeds were different than anyone else’s. And Jesus was indeed a doer. He wasn't just a good teacher, a wise guru or an austere presence. He went about doing good things (Acts 10:38). He was definitely a man of action. He didn't just talk about people's problems, He got involved. He didn't just propose possible solutions, He solved problems. He wasn't a theorist or a philosopher, He was a technician; a spiritual mechanic. One could say that Jesus got His hands dirty. He understood His contemporary culture and was involved with His neighbors. His love was evident; His doctrine, practical and effective.  His ministry touched people's lives. He cared, and it was obvious.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Friday - Matthew 28 - Immanuel - God with Us



W
E usually associate the name Immanuel with the beginning of Christ's life, not with the end; with Christmas rather than with Easter. Yet, the resurrection of Christ is a perfect setting for a discussion about this great name. Truly, at Christ's incarnation the name Immanuel was particularly fitting.  God became a man.  He came to live among us. Yet, more than anything else it is His resurrection that proves His divine nature. And, beyond that, the Gospel of Matthew ends with a record of this gracious proclamation from the lips of the risen Christ, "Lo, I am with you always" (vs. 20). Immanuel, God with us. And, He is still with us. That is the whole point. Jesus was resurrected, and later we will read of His ascension back to the Father, yet He is with us.

Now, the presence of Christ with us could be attributed to His divinity. Especially in His exalted state, He exercises all His divine attributes, including His omnipresence. But there is more to this than just that. He did not say, "Lo, I am everywhere" or "Lo, I'll be everywhere forever."  No, He said, "Look, realize, remember, I am with you wherever you go, forever." He was speaking of His indwelling presence.  We have the Spirit of Christ. He is on us, in us, working through us, doing great things for us and to us.

Matthew 28 presents us with a very basic account of Christ's resurrection. Well, not the resurrection itself, but the account of various people's discovery of His resurrection. Here we are, 2000 years later, still amazed & rejoicing because of this news.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Thursday - Matthew 27 - Bull's Eye


  
I
N Matthew 26 we read of Christ standing trial before the Jewish high priest on the evening of His arrest.  The next morning, He stood trial again, this time before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. While Jesus was being tried in Pilate's hall, Judas Iscariot was out hanging himself. In other words, Jesus and Judas died on the same day - Jesus dying with valiant purpose; Judas with cowardly purposelessness. Such is the nature of good and evil. That's just one example of how violently good and evil clashed together on the day that Christ died.

It can't be a good sign when a defendant's judge in his first trial turns up as the prosecutor in his appeal. This was Christ's situation though (vs. 12). The fix was in. And, Christ didn't even resist it (vs. 14). The proof that the verdict was predetermined is best seen in the release of Barabbas. If Caesar or Satan himself had been incarcerated with Jesus, the Jews would have set either one of them free that day rather than release Jesus. They were determined that He had to die. Interestingly, Jesus had the same perspective, just for a very different reason.  He was destined (and willing) to be the target of God’s wrath.

So, Jesus was tried and sentenced to death. He was mocked and ridiculed. He was treated as a common criminal by the very people for whom He was perishing. But they were so disinterested in Him, in His pain or His identity, that His agony was eclipsed that day by a little competition to see who would get His clothes (vs. 35).