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Mark 16

Today’s reading is Mark 16.

After Jesus was crucified, Matthew 27:57-61 records that Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who became a disciple of Jesus, received permission from Pilate to bury Jesus’s body. Remember that Jesus died on Friday and that, in the Jewish world, sunset marked the beginning of the next day. That sunset meant the start of Saturday and if they had taken time to properly embalm Jesus’ body, they would be breaking the Sabbath command. So, Joseph (with the help of Nicodemus, according to John 19:38-40) wrapped Jesus’ body in a clean cloth with some spices (Jn 20:40) and placed it into the tomb Joseph had purchased for his own burial place. In today’s reading from Mark 16, three women came on Sunday morning to do the job right (vv. 1-3). The stone in front of the door to the cave seems to have been a standard practice since the opening to Lazarus’ tomb was also covered by a stone (Jn 11:39). The women were concerned that that no one would be there to roll the stone away for them (v. 3) but that turned out to be a non-issue. Jesus had risen from the dead (vv. 6-7) and angels were waiting to give the news to the women and the disciples.

This is how the gospel according to Mark ends--with the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection and a record of the fear the women experienced. It seems like a strange ending which is why other verses were added by well-meaning Christians in later manuscript copies. But Mark is complete as it is, ending at verse 8 because ti records the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Christ is just as essential to his story and our faith as his crucifixion is. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 15 that, without the resurrection, there is no forgiveness of sins (1 Cor 15:17) there is no hope of eternal life (1 Cor 15:17), our faith is a lie (1 Cor 15:14) and the apostles are all liars (1 Cor 15:15).

Fortunately, Jesus did rise from the dead as we read here in Mark 16. The fact that his disciples were willing to be persecuted and even martyred for Jesus is a key point on the subject of the resurrection. These were the same men who abandoned him and fled when he was betrayed. Peter, who denied him three times, later gave his life for Jesus as did many other early disciples. They were willing to do that because they saw the resurrected Lord. Having seen him, they knew that his testimony about himself was true and that promises he made guaranteed eternal life to those who believed in him. As 1 Cor 21-22 says, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

This is the hope that will sustain you through the trials and problems of life. It will encourage you when those you love die and it will calm your fears when the time comes for you to die. Jesus rose from the dead and he promises to raise each of us from the dead when he returns. There is no fear, no problem in life, nothing that is bigger than that. It is a promise that you can hold to and that will hold you no matter what life has in store for you.

Mark 15

Today we’re reading Mark 15.

Yesterday, when we read about Jesus’ arrest in Mark 14, we read these words in verses 48-49, ““Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Christ was pointing out how absurd it was to be arrested by so many men who were so heavily armed. Jesus was a peaceful man and a public man who could have been arrested easily many times.

The reason for the precautions, of course, was the miraculous power he displayed. If you were Judas and had seen him casting out demons and walking on water, you’d bring an army to arrest him, too. Had he chosen to resist, of course, all the armies in the world could not have detained him. Although he had shown miraculous power, it was never violently directed. Though Christ arrived in Jerusalem like a king and exercised authority, he never attempted a military coup.

Barabbas did, though. As we read today in Mark 15:7, “A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” Not only did Barabbas try to overthrow the government, his group killed a man while doing so. Yet, when given the choice to release either Jesus--the merciful healer or Barabbas, the violent revolutionary, the crowd wanted Barabbas, not Jesus, released.

Why?

Because of how dark the sinful heart of humanity is. Given a chance to kill God, the author of life, humanity jumped at the opportunity to rid the earth of him. Only the sinful heart of man would think it was better to have a killer like Barabbas on the loose than the merciful son of God.

This illustrated why we needed Christ’s redemption. Humanity longs for god, but not not the true and living God because he is holy and we are accountable to him. In order for any one of us to be reconciled to God, God the Son allowed himself to be taken into the hands of sinful men so that he could die as our substitute. Due to his death, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” giving those who believe in him free and open access to God the father. This is something to praise God for; it is also something that should draw us in to speak with God in prayer. The way is open, the channel is clear, and God is listening because of the atonement of Christ.

What will you asking him for today?

Mark 14

Today the schedule calls us to read Mark 14.

Some people are just really dependable. Hopefully, each of you reading this has multiple people in your life that you can count on no matter what. In our hearts, we probably all aspire to be someone who can be counted on by others. Maybe you would go so far as to say that you are someone that others can trust to be there in any situation.

Peter did. He had a close friendship with Jesus and a fierce determination to stand with Jesus no matter what. Christ warned the disciples, “You will all fall away” in verse 27. He even quoted scripture (Zechariah 13:7) to prove his point. Peter spoke right up to say, “Not me. Not me, Lord. You can count on me, no matter what.” Or, to quote rather than paraphrase verse 29, “Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’” Jesus pushed back and said, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times” (v. 30). Instead of pleading with Jesus for his grace to prevent that from happening, Peter raised his promise to say, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (v. 31).

Of course, Jesus was right and in verses 66-72 Peter did exactly what Christ had prophesied. Instead of standing and dying with Christ, Peter did everything he could to distance himself from Jesus. The reason, of course, was fear that he would also be crucified with Christ--exactly the thing he told Jesus he was ready to do. But, when “it got real” as they say these days, Peter’s bravado didn’t hold up.

One reason why this passage was given to us is to show us the tender mercy of Jesus. Peter failed Jesus but Jesus loved him and restored him anyway. Perseverance in the faith is taught in scripture and is an important doctrine for believers to understand. But most, if not all of us, will fail to stand for Jesus in some way or other at some time in our lives. Either we will be ashamed of something in his word that the world ridicules or we will not identify with his people because of fear. If this has happened to you and you feel the shame that Peter felt in this passage, take heart! Jesus is loving and forgiving even when we don’t follow him perfectly.

How does this passage square with the doctrine of perseverance? Remember, perseverance is the truth that those who are truly regenerated and belong to Jesus will follow him from the time of their salvation until the end of their lives, continuing and growing in faith and good works. How do Peter’s failures not contradict this doctrine? The answer is that Peter did not renounce Christ in his heart; he allowed fear to keep him from honestly affirming what was true. Peter did not genuinely fall away from Jesus; he distanced himself from Jesus because he was afraid, even though he still believed in Jesus.

Perseverance does not make us immune to failure. It means that we will, by the grace of God, grow strong enough to overcome our failures and stand for Christ as we grow in maturity. This happened to Peter. In the very text where Jesus restored Peter (John 21), he also prophesied that he would die for Christ someday (John21:18-19. This prophecy of Christ was fulfilled, too. God was gracious to Peter and strengthened the man who failed until he became the dependable disciple he aspired to be in Gethsemane.

May God continue this growing, stabilizing work in our lives, too. Confess and forget your failures to stand for Christ and call on his grace to strengthen you in the future when you are put to the test for him.

Mark 13

Today’s reading is Mark 13.

I enjoy architecture and appreciate a well-designed and good-looking building. Don’t get me wrong, I know nothing about architecture; I just like places when they are done right. At least one disciple of Jesus shared this quality with me. According to verse 1, “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’” If he’d said that to me, I would have said, “I know! Aren’t they cool! Herod has his problems, but he did build us a nice temple!”

Jesus, however, was not impressed and he told that disciple not to get too attached to that building. In verse 2 he said, “‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’”

Ahem.

Well, at least Jesus called the buildings “great.” Though..., maybe he just meant large.

Peter, James, and John--his closest disciples--asked Jesus privately about this. Peter’s brother Andrew also got in on the discussion, according to verse 3. What Jesus said in the rest of this chapter is called “The Olivet Discourse” because Jesus spoke these words on the mount of Olives while overlooking the temple. Going into what Jesus taught in this chapter is beyond what I could cover in a devotional, but there is a message here for us just in the first two verses. The magnificent temple that awed at least one disciple was gone within 30 years or so after Jesus said these words. It happened during the lifetime of these men. Long before the temple was destroyed, though, it stopped mattering to these men. On the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit moved powerfully and saved thousands of people. And he kept moving and kept saving men, spreading his work throughout the rest of the world in waves that ripple out to us. No longer did they need a great building to have a spiritual experience with God. They had their memories of Jesus and his words, the Holy Spirit’s work, and thousands of disciples to nurture. Buildings are impressive and incredibly useful but if we love the building more than God or the souls of men, we’re doing it wrong.

Suzanne and I were part of a few church plants before we came to Calvary so we know what it is like to use someone else’s building. One thing that does for you is make you thankful for the building you have when you get one. I like our building here at Calvary and I’m so grateful that the Lord provided the funds we needed to fix the leaky roof and (finally!) carpet the upstairs. But this building will be destroyed someday--hopefully a long time into the future, but someday. The impressive monuments in Washington and the stately buildings there will not last forever. Someday everything we know will burn up and be replaced by a city made by God where righteousness dwells. We can’t take any buildings with us to that city, but we can take people who hear the gospel message and are rescued from an eternity apart from God.

So, let’s be thankful for the stuff we have--our church building and grounds, our homes, clothes, cars, etc. But don’t fall in love with those things; use them to reach and disciple and love people for Jesus Christ.

Start with your own family and you’ll be on the right track.

Mark 12

Today’s reading is Mark 12.

Last year, a man on the University of Michigan’s board of regents and his wife offered to give $3 million to help build a multicultural center on campus. The university accepted their offer (of course) and offered to name the building after them. Students, however, objected because the building was to be named after another man and it would have been the only building on campus named after a minority--in this case, an African-American. In response to the objections, the university changed their plans and decided to keep the original name. And, the couple who offered to donate the $3 million changed their minds and rescinded the offer. Strangely, however, they claimed publicly that getting their names on the building was not a condition of their offer. They also claimed that they usually give privately to philanthropy. If these things are true, then why not leave the original $3 million pledge in place since it was not, they claim, pledged on the condition of having the building named after them?

I dunno; but its seems strange, doesn’t it?

Regardless of how they came to their decision, you and I both know that wealthy people like to get their names on stuff when they give a lot of money. So many buildings on U of M’s campus are named after wealthy people who donated money to the university. Some of the amounts given by these people is extraordinary. That’s why the university wants to honor them by putting their name on something.

Here in Mark 12, however, Jesus was not impressed by the people who paid a lot to the temple (vv. 41-42). Instead of being impressed with the “large amounts” (v. 41b), Jesus was impressed by the small amount given by the widow (vv. 42-44). Although her amount was small in absolute terms, in relative terms her gift was incredibly generous because it was “everything--all she had to live on” (v. 44). It was generosity that made an impression on Jesus, not the absolute dollar amount.

Why is that? Because it takes a lot of faith to give all the cash you have in the world to the Lord’s work. Though others may have given huge amounts, their amounts were much smaller when compared to the percentage of their overall income. It was a genuine sacrifice for this woman to give as much as she did; for everyone else, it didn’t hurt at all.

Have you ever given extravagantly like this woman did--not in the total dollar amount you gave but in the percentage of your income you gave? If not, learn the lesson from today’s passage. God doesn’t need your help or mine to care and provide for his work; instead, he invites us by faith to be part of it so that he can reward us for our faith in him. So trust him with your money and invest in God’s work.

Mark 11

Today’s reading is Mark 11.

In verse 23, did Jesus really mean that you could order a mountain into the sea if you prayed with enough faith?

The short answer is yes, he really meant it.

But...

It is important to keep some things in mind here when we look at this text, or one like it.

First, Mark 11 is a strong kingdom text. It began with Jesus entering Jerusalem on a colt, fulfilling the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9b, “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” See Matthew 21:5 also. This entire week--the passion week before Christ was crucified--was designed by God to show Israel that the true Messiah was here. So Jesus did some very unusual things (even for him) to demonstrate his identity as Messiah. For instance, Jesus’ “triumphal entry” (vv. 1-11) was not the way he normally entered Jerusalem... or any other town for that matter. Also, the way he unilaterally cleared the temple (vv. 15-17) was unusual, too, though he probably did it once before. The way Jesus cursed the fig tree was also unusual; not that he used his divine authority as Lord to do a miracle but that he cursed something rather than blessing it. Furthermore, this miracle had no other function than to demonstrate his Lordship to the disciples (vv. 12-14, 20-21). Jesus could have ordered the fig tree to immediately make figs and that would have happened. Instead, he cursed the tree for not making figs so that his disciples would see--again--that he had authority over everything, including nature. The curse set up his teaching on faith and prayer here in verses 22-25 that we’re thinking about in this devotional today. Preparing the disciples for that teaching was the point of the curse but the entire of this chapter was to show us Jesus acting in a more overtly king-like, Messianic way. He was rejected and crucified--all according to God’s plan--but not before he gave everyone a look at what an authoritative king he would be. This text on faith was for the disciples to show them that his kingdom power would continue to work as they acted according to his will for the promotion of his kingdom. If moving a mountain was necessary for the promotion of his kingdom, the disciples would have been able to do it by faith in God’s power. But if they just wanted to re-arrange someone’s backyard by getting rid of that pesky mountain, well... there’s no good kingdom reason for that.

A second consideration is that Jesus often spoke using a literary device called “hyperbole” which means wildly overstating something for a powerful communication effect. We do this, too, when we say that we called someone “a million times” when we really just called twice. Jesus spoke this way often, such as when he told us to cut off a hand that causes us to sin. I’m not saying that Jesus was insincere about the power of “mountain moving faith” but I am saying he chose that image to show us how much power God would place at our disposal if we believed him and used it in service to him, not so that we could rearrange the world’s topography on a whim.

So, did Jesus really mean that you can order a mountain into the sea if you have enough faith? Yes, he meant it. But, the people who needed that power most were the original disciples, not us. If this miraculous power is for us, no only do you need faith without a doubt, you also need a good kingdom reason for it. If a mountain stands between you and a mission God gives to you, I think you can use Jesus’ authority to move that mountain. But, let’s face it, a lot of our prayer requests aren’t kingdom or mission focused. They are for our comfort more than for God’s glory. God does not tire of hearing people ask him to help them through routine surgery, but I wonder if he is saddled that we never ask him for anything else.

If you want to live for God in this world, you will need God’s power for spiritual things--forgiving someone who has sinned against you bigly, overcoming an addiction, praying for an opportunity to witness to someone for Christ, asking God to help someone else who is stuck in sin, grace to accept something you wish he would change (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). If we believed God in these areas and asked him to move those metaphoric mountains for us, can you believe that we would see him working more powerfully in our lives and in our church?

Mark 9

Today’s reading is Mark 9.

Because we are sinners, it is easy for us to tolerate the existence of sin. If someone sins against us, that can be tough to take, but if we see one person sin against another or we sin against someone else, it is easy to excuse it. We don’t condone it, necessarily, but we say to ourselves, “I’ve sinned too” or “I’m capable of doing that” or “I’ve been tempted to do that” or the ever-present, “Nobody’s perfect.”

Jesus coached us to be much harder on sin than we are. Not to be hard on the sin of others, but to be hard on ourselves. We read about that in verses 42-48. In verse 42, he warned us not to cause someone else to “stumble.” Stumbling means to fall into sin; ultimately, we cannot force someone into sin but we can tempt them to sin or put them in a position where they will be tempted to sin. I can’t make an alcoholic drink; but I could invite him to go bar-hopping with me. That one compromise--I’ll go along, but not drink, will put him in an environment where it is easy to drink one glass and hard to say no. One glass may lead to two and, pretty soon, he’s falling down drunk. It was his choice, but I laid down in front of him and said, “Don’t trip and stumble over me!”

Jesus said that someone who causes one of his children--a believer--to sin will receive harsh punishment from God. He said it would be “better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” That sounds like a terrifying way to die, drowning to death and unable to stop it. But Jesus said a person who drowns that way will be better off than the person who causes another believer to sin.

In verses 43-48, he went on to warn us about causing ourselves to stumble. His advice was to deal radically with our sin. If it is your hand that causes you to sin, cut it off! Why? Because it is better to deal with the horrible wound of amputation and the disability of that amputation than to go to hell. Same with your eyes; if one of them causes you to sin, get rid of it so that you won’t go to hell.

What do we make of this warning from Jesus? Is he suggesting that some sin could cause us to stumble so thoroughly that we lost our salvation? No; salvation does not depend on our efforts but on the grace of God. The point of these verses is not to teach us how to deal with sin. Our hands and eyes don’t actually make us sin; it is our hearts that lead us to sin. A person with no hands or feet or eyes or hearing still has a heart that desires evil things.

And that’s the point of these words--to teach us that nothing we can do would be radical enough to rid us of the sin tendencies that will condemn us to hell. Only God’s righteousness, credited to us in Christ, can get us forgiveness for the sins we have committed and will commit. And, only his grace through the Holy Spirit and the new nature within can change our evil hearts so that we actually learn to say no to sin and yes to righteousness.

So the person who believes they will be saved on the day of judgement but who is careless and callous about his or her sin should read this text and realize how much trouble they are in. They should feel the desperation of a certainty in hell and fall on the mercy of God, asking him to save them from the eternity they deserve.

And God will be there; he will answer that prayer of faith with full forgiveness and the power to change without amputating your limbs. God sees the true danger of sin and wants us to be much harder on it than we tend to be, calling out for his grace and help. If you’ve never trusted Christ, this is what you need to do because cutting off your limbs won’t stop you from sinning. If you have trusted Christ, you need to pursue holiness in your life, asking God to cleanse you when you sin but also to purge from you the desire to sin, replacing it with a passion to be holy like he is.

Mark 8

Today we’re reading Mark 8.

Do you remember the Judiazers from passages we’ve already read in Acts, Galatians, and Colossians? They were a group of people who called themselves Christians but tried to impose Old Testament ceremonies on the Gentile believers who came to Christ and became part of the church in the cities where Paul traveled. Here in Mark 8:15, Jesus forewarned the disciples about them when he said, “‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees....’”

It seems surprising that Jesus would need to warn the disciples about the Pharisees. They were a constant problem for Christ during his ministry on this earth, so I would expect that the Twelve would be wary about them. Maybe they were; however, we need to remember that the disciples grew up in synagogues that were dominated by Pharisaic leadership and interpretation of the Law. While they may have distrusted the Pharisees based on their experiences with Jesus, they were probably sympathetic to the outlook on life and spirituality that the Pharisees had.

Jesus warned the disciples that the teaching of the Pharisees (and Herod, but that’s a different story) would be like yeast. I don’t know anything about baking but I am told (like, here) that a small lump of yeast will grow and spread throughout an entire batch of dough. A little Pharisaism, then, in the church would grow and permeate the whole congregation. So Christ warned the disciples not to let them and their rules into the church.

There are some groups of Christians who would like to bring the church back under observance of the law. Our church, however, is more likely to be infected with Pharisaic attitudes than classic Pharisaic theology. We might never tell a newly converted man that he needs to get circumcised and stop eating ham. But we might be tempted to try to impress others with our pious words in prayer or with our extravagant giving to the church. We might never try to revert to observing the Sabbath, but we might judge someone for not wearing the right Christian uniform.

Do Christians need manmade rules to keep us from sinning? Maybe and we shouldn’t judge another believer who has different convictions about this or that than we do. But we also shouldn’t judge other Christians if they are living obediently to God’s word but apply it specifically in different ways than we do. That is a Pharisaic attitude and once it infects our hearts and our church, it will grow and spread until it permeates the whole congregation. fThis is true of all false doctrine, actually. How much error is good for your Christian life? How much false teaching can a church tolerate and still be healthy? According to Christ, not much because it spreads so we need to know our theology well and never dabble in or tolerate bad theology in our lives our our church family.

Mark 7

Today’s reading is Mark 7.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were careful to observe the ceremonial washings that other men had created (vv. 1-4) and they were offended when Jesus and his disciples did not follow that tradition (v. 5). Jesus used their complaint to charge them with hypocrisy for holding religiously to man-made traditions while looking for religious reasons to avoid doing God’s will (vv. 6-13). Christ used the specific example of “Corban” to illustrate this sinful choice. One of the Big 10 commandments was to “honor your father and mother” (v. 10). We talk about this command to children and of course it applies to them. But the command was originally given to adults which suggests that there were responsibilities that adults had to their parents. If a man is going to honor his parents, that may mean giving them financial assistance as they get older. In a society without a concept such as “retirement” and no financial way to prepare for getting older, an elderly person would have to work until he/she died or live on the support of their children. Jesus applied the commandment to honor your parents to this kind of financial support. To Christ, if you want to honor your parents, you’d better share your home, your food, and/or your income when they have needs. This is a very logical application of the commandment to honor your parents.

The most religious people in Jesus’ society found a way to use their religious rules to render themselves unable of helping their parents. They would take a portion of their income or some of their assets and vow an oath to give that to God (someday). If it were devoted to God, then it would be morally wrong for them to give it to someone else, even their own elderly parents. They applied God’s word, then, in ways that helped them avoid the difficult applications of other portions of God’s word. In the words of Jesus, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (v. 9).

Do we do that? Do we ever apply scripture in ways that let us off the hook for obeying other passages of scripture? If we use the truth of God’s electing grace as an excuse not to share the gospel, then we are doing something like the Pharisees did. What about if we buy a large house for the good of our family but can’t tithe and pay the mortgage at the same time? What about if we volunteer to serve in one ministry in order to avoid getting into a small group or coming to the worship service?

These are just a few things that come to my mind at the moment. The human heart being what it is, I’m sure there are other ways we do something like what the Pharisees did here. If something comes to mind for you, consider what Jesus said about this practice of the Pharisees: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ’“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”’” Don’t apply one command so favorably that it helps you avoid obeying another command. That reveals a heart that is distant from God, not one that wants to honor and obey him.

Mark 6

Today’s reading is Mark chapter 6.

If you live long enough, at some point someone whose birth and childhood you remember becomes someone important--a judge, a doctor, a professor, your governor, maybe even your pastor. Some people have a hard time respecting the accomplishments of someone they knew as a younger person. It might be hard to let someone take out your appendix if you remember changing that kid’s diapers.

Jesus faced this kind of credibility crisis here in Mark 6 when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth. On one hand, the wisdom Jesus had was undeniable. As they said in verse 2, “What’s this wisdom that has been given him?” They never saw him apprentice with a rabbi, so how could they trust the things that he said? Likewise, his miracles were impressive. Again, verse 2 recorded the question, “What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?” Some might remember that time he got lost in Jerusalem; how is he now capable of restoring people’s limbs and returning sight to their blind eyes. He was just a simple carpenter and they knew his whole family (v. 3), so it was difficult to accept that God’s power was on him so clearly. Verse 3 ended by saying, “...they took offense at him.”

Of course, this is all an expression of unbelief. To believe that Jesus was the Messiah or even a great spiritual leader would require some humility. It’s a lot easier to retain your pride and cast doubt on Jesus’ legitimacy than it is to humbly accept that little Jesus, now grown, was really being used by God. The result of their faithlessness was, according to verse 5 that “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” The people who should have been most proud of him were his biggest skeptics. Their skepticism--aka their unbelief--meant that God’s power in their village was restrained. When verse 5 says that “He could not do any miracles there” it isn’t saying that it was impossible for him to do miracles. Jesus had the same power that he always had. The point is that he couldn’t do miracles because people who needed healing would not come to him for it. They would rather keep their dignity in place than admit they needed Mary’s kid for anything. Verse 6 says, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Faith, of course, is a response to God’s word, a positive reception of God’s promises and revelation. Although Christ is not physically here to do miracles for us, he has made many promises to us. I wonder how many times our unbelief keeps us from asking God to save someone we love, or to turn a wayward friend to repentance. I wonder what God would do in our church if we came to him more often for help and asked him to work in our lives or the lives of others. I wonder how much our Lord wants to do for us and in us and through us if we would just show our faith and ask him.

What do you want to ask him for today?

Mark 5

Today’s reading comes to us in the form of Mark 5.

At the end of Mark 4 yesterday, Jesus calmed the storm and caused the disciples to ask themselves, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41). Here in chapter 5 the answer emerged from an unlikely source--namely a man possessed by a large number of demons. This man “the demoniac of Gadara” knew exactly who this man was and he called him, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (v. 7). After Jesus liberated this man from his demons (vv. 8-13), the word about Christ spread and people in the town came out to see for themselves. They found the man “sitting there, dressed and in his right mind” (v. 15) He was most likely listening to Jesus teach.

This man had terrorized this region (vv. 3-5), yet after Jesus released him, the people in the town “were afraid” (v. 15c) and “began to plead with Jesus to leave their region” (v. 17). After Christ did what nobody else and even the strongest metal chains could not do, I would expect them to want Jesus to stay. Wouldn’t you want to more about this powerful man? Wouldn’t this demonstration of his divine power make you want to know more?

But that didn’t happen in this case. The people were not in awe of Jesus, begging to be transformed by his power. They were afraid of Jesus and wanted him to leave. Scripture does not specifically tell us why they did not respond positively to Jesus but given the truths about the human heart we read in other passages of scripture, it seems likely that they had sins they did not want to turn away from. While nowhere near as sinful and scary as the demon possessed man, they still had things they wanted to hide from God. Maybe the man Jesus delivered made them feel better about their own sins since they could easily point to someone who was “worse.” But if Jesus could transform a man who was that sold-out to Satan, what excuse could the average sinner have for not receiving Christ in faith and repentance?

Have you ever seen someone transformed by Christ and felt odd about being in that person’s presence? Does someone else’s testimony of spiritual growth or deliverance from sin make you feel exposed? When you see God dramatically transform someone else, does your heart cry out for that kind of transformation too or are you more likely to stay away from that person and hope they don’t rub off on you. The people who asked Jesus to leave there region were not Christians. That’s why they asked Jesus to leave--they didn’t want to become his children. But even we Christians sometimes are repelled by someone else’s spiritual transformation, so much so that we put some separation between them and us. Don’t do that! Rejoice whenever God saves someone or sparks a work of dramatic growth in their lives. Then, humble yourself and ask God to work in your life, too.

Mark 4

Today we’re reading Mark 4.

This chapter contains some of Jesus parables about the kingdom (vv. 1-34) followed by the incident where Jesus miraculously calmed the storm (vv. 35-41). Some of these parables explain the same truths I taught in yesterday’s message. The parable of the soils here in Mark 4:1-25, for instance, describes how failure to receive the gospel is due to the hearts of people, not the seed or the sowers. The parable in verses 26-29 also teaches one of the truths I’ve talked about the past two Sundays. Jesus said in verses 26-27 that the kingdom of God is like a farmer. He scatters the seed into the ground and.... that’s it. He just leaves it there. It doesn’t matter how else the farmer spends his time for verse 27 says, “whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed spouts and grows.” Once he has done the work of sowing, the land and the seed take over the work and work together. Verse 27c even says, “...though he does not know how.” The farmer knows that process of sowing and reaping works, but he didn’t know why it works. He has no idea how the process of germination happens. Neither did I until I read this hideously ugly webpage about it. Once the seed is planted, the process works “all by itself” (v. 28a). If the farmer waits patiently, he will reap the results.

Although the farmer didn’t know how the seed germinates, he knew that it would germinate if he planted it. He did not have to understand the process to benefit from the process. So what was Christ teaching us about his kingdom here? He was teaching that God will sow the gospel into the world and then it will bear fruit. You and I, the sowers, don’t need to understand how it works nor do need to anything else but plant the seed. We don’t need to “know... how” (v. 27c); God uses the gospel to his work “all by itself” (v. 28a).

As I mentioned in yesterday’s message, many of us never witness for Christ or we stop witnessing for Christ because we fear failure. But the only way to fail is not to plant or not to reap. If we stay in the farmhouse, we will fail. If we plant the seed of the word, Jesus said it would work “all by itself” (v. 28).

When was the last time you tried to invite someone to church? When did you last open a spiritual conversation with someone and tell them about Christ? The kingdom is growing and when Christ returns, the harvest will come. Are you planting anything?

While we’re on this subject, some of our church members are involved in campus ministry and they will be attempting to share the gospel with thousands of incoming students. Pray for them to find the good soil and plant the seed of the word. And, if you have time to help and want a bootcamp in evangelism, contact Bryce or EJ and volunteer to help them.

Mark 3

Today we’re reading Mark 3.

In Mark 2, which we read yesterday, Jesus told the Pharisees that he did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Jesus’ statement could be read to imply that he believed the Pharisees were righteous. Although nobody seems to have reached that conclusion, here at the beginning of Mark 3, Jesus made it clear that he did not find the Pharisees to be righteous men. The setting was Saturday (aka “the Sabbath”) at the synagogue (v. 1). A man with a useless hand was there and the Pharisees were watching (v. 2). Makes you wonder if they saved a seat for that man near Jesus just to set him up, doesn’t it?

Verse 2 told us that they were “looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.” This statement reveals that they had already rejected Jesus and his message and were now seeking to discredit him publicly. Healing on the Sabbath would give them the weapon they needed against Christ. In the days of Moses, God commanded his people to stone a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath day (Num 15:32-41). That’s a pretty strict definition of “work.” It suggests that “work” meant more than just how you make a living; it meant any kind of productive physical activity. To prevent anyone from exerting themselves, then, the rabbis defined how much physical activity a person could have. They even went so far as to restrict how many steps you could walk on the Sabbath day.

If someone were wounded on the Sabbath and needed to stop the bleeding, or put their shoulder back into the socket, it would be done without any thought that the Sabbath law had been violated. But this man had been without the use of his hand for a while, so his situation hardly qualified as an emergency. Regardless, Jesus felt that relieving his suffering would be a positive way to celebrate the Sabbath, not a violation of the commandment (v. 4). So, Christ healed the man, though it is noteworthy that the man did all the “work” by extending his hand. Jesus used divine, miraculous power to restore him, not any kind of human physical activity. But the Pharisees were incensed by Jesus’ healing, so much so that they began “to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (v. 6). Their response showed that they not truly zealous for God and his holiness. Their “obedience” to God’s law was about making themselves look righteous for their scrupulous observance. It was also about controlling others, getting everyone in the community to conform to their application of scripture.

Imagine how much better this man’s life instantly was the moment that Jesus healed him. If there was any pain in his shriveled hand, that pain was instantly relieved. If he wasn’t in pain, he certainly had to work harder than everyone else to do basic life tasks. How much longer did it take him to dress himself? How much harder was it to earn a living with one hand that was useless? What would it mean to him to be able to pick up his child for the first time since that kid was a baby? Jesus could have waited until Sunday to fix his hand but why should he? The Sabbath command was given to make people rest so that they didn’t work themselves to death out of envy or fear of starvation. Wouldn’t it be less work to have two good hands on the Sabbath day than just the one? God also commanded observance of the Sabbath to give humanity space in their lives to worship him. Do you think this man ever worshipped God more fervently than he did on the Sabbath when he was healed? By healing the man on the Sabbath, then, Jesus broke the manmade rules created by the rabbis. At the same time, he allowed the man to fulfill the intentions God had for the Sabbath law in the first place. The miracle Jesus performed in this passage accomplished many good things. It showed his deep compassion, displayed his unlimited power as God, and asserted his Lordship over the Sabbath. But it also confronted the ways in which the self-righteous Pharisees used their application of God’s laws to control others.

My church background growing up was very good. I learned God’s word, was reached by God’s good news, and discipled in the faith pretty well. But there were some pretty strong legalistic streaks in all that goodness, too. Under the guise of modesty, what we wore was strictly defined. That was especially true for the girls. There were also clear criteria for what kind of music was “worshipful” and what kind was worldly. There were colleges that were approved of, some that were tolerated, and the rest were off-limits. I could go on. Sometimes these rules were given as genuine applications of scripture. The problem was that these “applications” were then treated as if they were the commandments and principles of scripture. Too often it felt like the leaders wanted to control us more than they wanted us to draw close to God. The Pharisees were not concerned with the worship of the shriveled-hand man; they wanted to use him to neutralize Jesus and control God’s people. I’ve met Christians who do much of the same thing. They forbid anything they don’t like by labeling it as a violation of some command or other from God’s word. When people are controlled in this way, always worried about whether others will approve of their outfit or their actions or whatever, they have little mental or spiritual space left to focus on worshipping and pleasing God.

Applying God’s word is a good thing and clarifying how to apply it can be helpful. But don’t ever act as if your application of scripture is scripture itself. Instead, remember the goal is to live a life that glorifies God. If the Pharisees had been focused on that, they could have rejoiced with the man as his body was made whole again. Don’t make the same mistake.

Mark 2

Today’s Bible reading is Mark 2.

Who is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel?

You and I both know the right answer to the question, “Who deserves to be saved?” The right answer is “nobody” because we’re all sinful and guilty before a holy God. But who among us guilty sinners most deserves to hear the gospel message? If not everyone on earth can receive the gospel witness in his or her lifetime, then who should we evangelize first?

Jesus answered that question here in Mark 2:17 when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This statement of Jesus was in response to the Pharisees’ criticism that Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus explained that these sinners received his attention because they needed it the most.

At this point in his ministry, a disinterested observer might argue that Jesus should have spent his time with the Pharisees because they had already demonstrated a clear interest in spiritual things. The sinners he chose to be with, by contrast, had turned away from God’s word. They had heard it in their homes and synagogues growing up but had chosen to live a different kind of life. For these reasons, the Pharisees would appear to have been a more receptive audience to Jesus than the tax collectors and other sinners. But the key word in that last sentence is “appear.” The Pharisees were all about appearances and their spiritual interests were about appearing righteous before others, not really becoming righteous. Sinners, by contrast, had the appearance of righteousness ripped from them when they sold out to become tax collectors, or thieves, or prostitutes, or whatever. The benefits they had received at first from their sinful lifestyles were diminishing when Jesus came into their lives and they were now experiencing the heavy costs of a sinful lifestyle. In a society as judgmental and rigid as theirs, it would be impossible to reverse course, stop collecting taxes, and become a respectable man again. These companions of Jesus--these sinners--were ripe for the grace of repentance and faith. That’s why Jesus wanted to be with them.

Who then is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel? Well..., all sinners need it, of course, so we shouldn’t be picky when opportunity comes along. When it comes to who we intentionally try to reach, however, we should think like Jesus did. So many churches have started in our area recently. How many of them are seeking to reach the poorest areas of Ypsilanti. How many are attempting to reach the working class family that’s out of work or the single mother on welfare? How many of them are reaching out to the Muslims who have moved into our area? How many have created prison ministries or outreaches to addicts?

How about our church? Literally surrounded by corn, we are a church located where the suburbs and the farms meet. That’s where God put us so we should try to reach those around us. But God also put us right around the corner from the only women’s prison in our state. We have a ministry to that prison called Bridge Builders, but they can always use more servants who will go in to share the gospel. In addition to the Bridge Builders ministry, there are women entering that prison every week who are willing to meet and talk with someone personally. Would you be willing to talk to them about Christ? They are as ready to listen as anyone you may ever meet.

We have poor people around us, too, that we serve through our food pantry. There are addicts and alcoholics in every place--urban, suburban, and rural--so we have those around, too. Have we done as Jesus did and looked for people who may be ready to hear about true hope in Christ?

Mark 1

Today we’re scheduled to read Mark 1.

If you had a terminal illness or a permanent, disfiguring, disabling injury, how far would you travel to be healed? Would you travel a long way if the chance of being healed was 50%? 20% 1%?

My guess is that just about everybody would travel as far as necessary even if the chances were slim. This explains the remark at the end of Mark 1, verse 45 that, “As a result [of the cured leper’s blabbing to everyone], Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.” Jesus had forbidden this man whom he healed from talking about it (vv. 43-44), but he talked about it anyway. So, people who were desperate, with no hope, kept looking for Jesus until they found him. They were undeterred by how difficult he was to find or how arduous the journey to him would become. The hope of healing compelled them to find Jesus. When they did, Jesus was gracious to heal them.

There were many purposes for the healings that Jesus performed. One was to fulfill prophecy and another was to demonstrate his love and compassion for people and their sufferings. But the biggest reason why Jesus healed was to demonstrate his power. The healings authenticated his message and gave a taste of the perfections of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. Those of us who know Jesus by faith can read about these healings with hope. Jesus did not come to remove all human suffering in this age; he came to call us to trust him for a better age. The people he healed during his life on this earth are a demonstration of his absolute power over ever human problem. They also serve to remind us that one day we will be made whole when we enter his kingdom eternally.

Until we enter it eternally, we are citizens of it by faith but we live in exile, waiting for our true home. If you are suffering today and wondering if Jesus cares, take heart. He may not choose to heal you in this life but imagine the joy and thanks you will have when your sufferings are over and your body is glorified, perfected, and eternally protected from harm.

I trust this truth gives you hope today, no matter what you face.