Monthly Archives: May 2017

Mark 2:18-22

18Now the disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting, and they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 19And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. 20But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21No one sews a new patch of cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear is worse. 22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine bursts the wineskin and both the wine and the skin is destroyed. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

 

 

The disciples of John and the Pharisees approach Jesus with a question: why don’t Your guys fast like everyone else? Aren’t they also religious? There was only one day in the entire year when the observant Jew was required to fast, and that was the Day of Atonement, when every citizen was to repent. The Pharisees, ever the example of carving out self-serving legalism from the holy Law, fasted on two days every week—Mondays and Thursdays from 6 AM-6 PM. Seeing Jesus’ disciples NOT fast was jarring to them; they seemed rather irreligious in their merriment. Jesus’ response in verse 19 is a prophetic look ahead to the Cross that He knows He will endure. In the first century, a newly married couple didn’t leave on a honeymoon; they stayed around the house for a week-long party with their closest friends. It was the happiest week of the groom’s life. These closest friends were known as “children of the wedding hall,” which is the actual, literal translation of οἰ υἱοἰ του νθμφωνος. Jesus is likening His merry little band of disciples to such friends, and predicts that the time is coming when there will be plenty of opportunity for fasting. Then He begins to make a greater point about the inherent goodness of the Mosaic ritual.

 

Jesus employs two metaphors to do this. The first metaphor is that of sewing a patch. When mending clothing, a new piece of cloth had the disadvantage of not having been shrunk yet; in the rain, it would shrink and tear the old garment if applied as a patch. What was needed in such a situation was not a patch, but a completely new garment. The time for patching was over; the time for the creation of a brand new garment was upon the wearer. The second metaphor concerned the wine and the wineskins (there were no bottles in those days). New skins had elasticity; as the wine fermented and gave off gases, the new skins could yield with the pressures. Old ones were brittle and would burst. In such a situation, the time for patching was over; it was time for a new wineskin. Both of these metaphors describe the Law and its attendant rituals; the Law was holy (since it was given by God), and had its purpose—to point to the coming Messiah. Now that He was here, the “patching” that the Pharisees did to the Law was no longer necessary, since it was now fulfilled. Something new was being created. Jesus Christ, Who makes all things new, was pointing to this elasticity of the mind as a good thing: the ability to accept the new thing that God is doing.

 

There is a time and place for fasting. Perhaps you feel led to fast and do without some pleasures in life so that you are certain that you are their master and not the other way around. Perhaps the discipline of fasting heightens your prayer life. But the ritual of fasting is only as effective as it draws you closer to the New Thing that God has done for us: the giving of the Messiah. Is your mind elastic enough to accept a new way? As you grow spiritually, are you able to accept the new thing that God is doing in your own spiritual walk? Or are you so married to “how I’ve always done things” that you cannot imagine a different path? The Lord makes all things new, and that includes you.

 

Be prepared for the new work that God is completing in you. Be prepared to infuse your religious ritual with a heightened attention to the things that God is accomplishing in you.

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Mark 2:13-17

13And He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was with Him, and He was teaching them. 14And passing by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me,” and he got up and followed Him. 15And as He reclined at table in his house, there were many tax collectors and sinners sitting with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many who followed Him. 16And the scribes of the Pharisees, seeing that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17And when Jesus heard it, He said to them, “It is not the well who have need of a doctor, but the sick have need. For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

 

This small pericope demonstrates a pattern of Jesus in His ministry; He defies convention for the sake of showing God’s love to all people, not just a few. Once again, like we saw in 2:2, the context of the narrative is the Lord teaching again. He was minding His business, teaching the people, when the story begins. He sees Levi the tax collector, and doesn’t just walk past him like every other Jew. The traitorous tax collector was hated in the mind of the 1st-century Jew, and would have been a total social outcast. Jesus specifically calls to Levi, and in this simple act we see the narrative of salvation again: He approaches Levi, not the other way around. Moreover, Levi’s response is immediate: he abandons his post and follows Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees (the Greek has it “scribes of Pharisees”) cannot understand what Jesus is doing with this man and others like him. They have built a bubble around the observant Jews, and such observant Jews are not to hobknob with the likes of as Levi. Perhaps they had even signed a card at synagogue stating that they would not eat or drink or socialize with disreputable people because they were called to be “holy” and “separated” from the world. Jesus quickly disabuses them of that separatist principle with His quick teaching on the distinction between the “sick” and the “well.” Though no human is “well” in the hamartiological sense, the scribes and Pharisees certainly thought of themselves as well and in no need of correction or a doctor. In addition to defying the separatist convention of His society, Jesus also is making a statement about the basic need that every human being shares—all while giving them the choice of rejecting it.

 

Does any of this sound familiar? It wasn’t that long ago that anyone who became a member of an Assembly of God church had to sign a card stating that they wouldn’t go to movie theaters or bars or places where disreputable people gathered. In fact, those whom we train for ministry at our flagship university still sign such agreements. Though the Lord has called them to minister to the lost, they are carefully placed in separatist bubble wrap for four years so that they never have cause to run into anyone who is actually lost. And even though we don’t require this sort of nonsense at our church, many of us still feel a compulsion to live like this—we don’t really know any lost people, because we have created our own Christian bubble. How sad for the Levis of the world! While we’re busy thinking of ourselves as “well,” those who are honest with themselves about their sinfulness respond immediately and powerfully to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Separatism leads to condescension, every time. You simply cannot bubble yourself away from the world without an underlying feeling that you are uniquely “well” when the world is not.

 

We are all sick, and we all need the Doctor. You’ve been justified before Him, but He’s working on you, sanctifying you over time. Why are you here? Because all around you are Levis, waiting to hear this message. Do you really consider yourself so much more righteous than they? The only difference between you is that you have received the gift of justification and they have not. As long as you are breathing, don’t just pass by the tax booth. Be the light that shines, not the one hidden under a bushel. Engage the world around you—the world He came to save. This is what God’s love looks like.

Mark 2:1-12

1And when He came again into Capernaum after some days, it became known that He was at home. 2And many gathered so that there was no room, not even at the door, and He spoke the word to them. 3And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4And when they were unable to bring him through the crowd, the removed the roof above him, and when they had dug an opening they lowered the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5And Jesus, seeing his faith, said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there and questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does He speak thus? He is blaspheming! For who is able to forgive sins but God alone?” 8And immediately Jesus, knowing in His spirit that questioned thus among themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9For which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘rise and take up your mat and walk?’ 10But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11“I say to you, rise: take up your mat and go to your home.” 12And he rose and immediately took up his mat, leaving in the sight of them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

 

Jesus comes “home” from His travels to Capernaum, and we may take it that the “home” He entered was that of Peter’s mother-in-law again. But there was no hiding from the crowds, and they jammed the street and area around the house and the house itself, desirous of hearing Him speak. He taught them, being the ultimate Rabbi, and while teaching them a strange thing happened. A paralyzed man was brought to Him on a stretcher. Verse 3 shows us the significance of friendship; these men were willing to move heaven and earth to bring their friend to the miracle-worker. Cessationist expositor J. Vernon McGee tut-tuts the tendency of people to look toward God for miracles rather than salvation, but that is exactly what these men were doing; they knew nothing of salvation, but they were certain this One could heal. In the process, the Almighty delivered both salvation and healing. Moreover, these men had a faith that “laughed at barriers,” in the words of the great William Barclay. When Jesus saw this extraordinary belief, He said the most intriguing thing to the paralytic: “your sins are forgiven” (5). He refers to him as a “child” (although I have taken the liberty of providing gender in my translation, as do many English expositors)—exactly the way that God Almighty would have seen the man. He didn’t see him as an outcast to be avoided, but as a child bearing the divine image of his Creator. By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus is clearly trolling the scribes in the audience; no observant Jew would ever claim the power to forgive sins, and He knew He was more or less signing His own death warrant with such a claim. Right on schedule, the scribes begin flipping out over this sentence, and Jesus is then able to complete His ultimate teaching. He asks the rhetorical question to end all questions, then physically heals the man. In this episode, we see the same connection between sin and disease—between healing and forgiveness. We saw this in the book of Numbers 21, when Moses held up the snake and the people’s diseases were healed and their sins atoned for. Jesus wasn’t drawing a line of connection between a specific sin and the man’s disease, however; He was connecting the presence of disease and sin through the original Fall of Adam and Eve. The man was suffering because this is a broken and fallen creation, and Jesus cut right through all of that with His divine power. And in explaining Himself to the people, He knew that any charlatan could have said “your sins are forgiven,” and there would be no way of verifying that claim. So the physical healing of the man drove home the point: the Son of Man has authority to do all that only YHWH can do. This was the ultimate theology lesson.

 

In reading this story, I am tempted to ask: do we have stretcher-bearers among us? Do we have friends who have the faith to tear off a roof and go to extraordinary lengths to intercede on our behalf? There is simply no way to make it through this world without those…and, more to the point, we are called to BE those guys. If we are to have a practical, situated love for one another—as Jesus commanded and the New Testament teaches—then we must become stretcher-bearers with a faith that laughs at barriers and obstacles. We must also never lose sight of the fact that Jesus was all about the healing of the complete being—body and soul. He didn’t stop at “forgiving sins,” but healed the body as well. Our anthropology (“the study of man”) must never divide spirit and body in a false way, but must always embrace the enfleshed existence that we have been given. The Lord, having never changed, is still in the business of forgiving and healing. Are we introducing Him as such to those around us?

 

There is no reason to attempt to ascertain the reason for illness; only to reach for the Great Physician. In our own sickness, let us have the faith that seeks the Healer. And in our wellness, let us be the stretcher-bearers with a faith that laughs at barriers. He still heals, and He still forgives. And we are alive for the sole purpose of showing others this fact.

Mark 1:35-45

35And rising very early in the morning, He left and went out into a desolate place; there He prayed. 36And Simon and those with him searched diligently for Him, 37and they found Him and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” 38And He said to them, “Let us go elsewhere into the next town, in order that I might preach there. For this is why I went out.” 39And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

 

40And a leper came to Him, imploring Him and kneeling, and said to Him, “If You are willing, You are able to make me clean.” 41And moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and touched him and said, “I will, be clean.” 42And immediately the leprosy left from him, and he was made clean. 43And He strictly warned him and immediately sent him out, 44and said to him, “See that you do not tell anyone, but go show yourself to the high priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for evidence to them.” 45But he went out and began to preach freely and spread the news around, so that He was no longer able to go openly into a city, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to Him from all directions.

 

 

Despite Jesus’ busy day, we may well note that He makes time to rise early the next morning for an important appointment: the one with His heavenly Father. He removes Himself to a desolate place and prays; as Barclay puts it: “If Jesus was to first meet men, He must first meet God.” Moreover, Jesus did not “set up shop” and remain motionless in that place; rather, He went on a preaching tour, bringing the power of God to them. This is symbolic of salvation, in which He makes the first move toward us. Notice the mention of demonic activity in verse 39; there is a great, cataclysmic battle going on in the spiritual realm, and Jesus was mindful of it. Everywhere He went, He preached AND healed. He matched His words with actions. He cared as much about the body as He did the soul. Essentially, he married what the Latins called “credo” (creedal confession—or that which is true teaching) and “praxis” (practical application of those things).

 

Next, Jesus encounters a leper along the way. Leprosy was a significant health risk in the first century, and had been for many centuries. The book of Leviticus describes the disease and the Mosaic treatment of it. A leper would have to learn to live without human touch for a long time; he was separated from the community and banished to the desolate places. Note that Jesus meets this most desperate of human needs with understanding and compassion. He is “moved with pity” (41) and physically touches the man. This is a display of great love as well as power. He further instructs the man to keep the purification ritual described in Leviticus 14; Jesus was a faithful Jew, and was faithfully observing the Law. Some people teach that Jesus was a deliberate desecrater of the Law, a rebel—but this is not true. He has joined His powerful teaching with wisdom, and is instructing the man to undergo the purification ritual God gave to Moses. He also mentions that this can serve as evidence for both the miracle and the purification. Though Jesus tells the man to keep this under his belt, of course he can’t. When one meets the Christ, one can’t shut up about Him.

 

There are three fine applications of this text for us today. First of all, we must learn to prioritize prayer as Jesus did. He frequently withdrew from society to the “desolate places” and prayed. He prioritized hearing God’s voice. We must also learn to delegitimize the extraneous voices clamoring for our attention and prioritize our time with the Maker. If setting aside time for concentrated prayer was a priority for Jesus, how much more is it for us! Second, we must learn to respond with understanding and compassion to the human needs that appear before us. Do we recoil in horror at AIDS? Do we receive with love those who suffer from disease, mental defect, or suffering? Or do we show apathy to them? Are we too busy to respond to human need with pity and compassion, like our Lord? Third, are we as excited about introducing others to Jesus as this healed leper? I know that he was disobeying the Lord’s command, but once you’ve met Him you can’t shut up about Him. Until society teaches you to do just that…..have we learned to keep Him under our belt? Or does talk of Him bubble forth from us at every juncture?

 

Pray today—diligently and frequently. Set aside time for it. Listen as well as speak to your Father in heaven. Respond to the human need in front of you with compassion, understanding, and the love of Jesus Christ. And re-learn how to open your mouth and introduce others to Him.

 

Mark 1:29-34

29And immediately He left the synagogue and came to the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. 30And Simon’s mother-in-law was lying in bed with a fever, and immediately they told Him about her. 31And coming to her, He took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her and she served them. 32That evening at sundown, they brought Him all who had sickness and demons, 33and the whole city was gathered at the door. 34And He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases and cast out demons. And He would not let the demons speak, because they knew Him.

 

Once again, Mark moves the narrative along with his use of “immediately.” Moreover, his childish grammar is littered with coordinating conjunctions such as “and” that connects sentences and thoughts. This causes the text to feel scattered and somewhat rushed, rhythm-wise. But we also notice that Mark heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and she immediately gets up to serve people. This is telling; many of the people and possibly even the disciples are following Him for the wrong reasons: to get something. But Peter’s mother-in-law seems to be healed so that she can arise and serve others. What a powerful story!

 

Jesus has delivered us from darkness to light; we have crossed over from death to life. And to what purpose? It is true that we are to enjoy this gift of life that God has given us; but we also have a greater purpose than our own pleasure. That purpose is to serve others. As John says in his first epistle to the church, the willingness to serve others and place them ahead of the self is the mark of a true follower of Christ.

 

You have been delivered in order that you might follow Jesus’ model of ministry: the service toward others. Are you doing this today?

Mark 1:21-28

21And they came to Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He went into the synagogue and was teaching. 22And they were amazed at His teaching, for He taught as one having authority and not like the scribes. 23And immediately in their synagogue there was a man with an unclean spirit, and he shouted, 24saying, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know Who You are, the Holy One of God!” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, shaking him violently and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27And they were all amazed so that they discussed it among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! For He orders unclean spirits, and they obey him!” 28And the news of Him went out immediately everywhere into the whole surrounding region of Galilee.

 

 

A key word in this text is the Greek εὐθυς, which is “immediately.” It appears three times (21, 23, 28), and Mark is clearly employing it to move the narrative along at a good clip. But equally interesting is the context for all this immediacy: Jesus has just returned from a Spirit-imposed retreat of solitude and contemplative reliance on the power of God Almighty to prepare Him for this ministry. Immediately, He is in a synagogue teaching. From His Elijah-esque moment by the brook, with the wild animals, clearly prioritizing the voice of His Father, Jesus now heads to Mt. Carmel (figuratively) to face the enemy directly. He is immediately in the synagogue, doing the thing He was destined to do. And He is immediately opposed by a spirit of antagonism. And when He reacts with the authority of the One Who had been strengthening Him in the wilderness, the news of this authority immediately spreads to the surrounding region. The word “immediately” connects these incidents: solitude in contemplative retreat, authoritative teaching and actions, the spread of the news of signs and wonders. This is the paradigm of the spread of the gospel. Those disciples, fresh out of the fishing boat, got a chance to see what it would really be like to follow Christ: an immediate spirit of antagonism, throwing cold water on the proceedings. And then they saw that the power of God Almighty is greater than the spirit of antagonism, and they learned that their destiny was to walk in that power and authority.

 

The gospel is still spread this way. Those charged with its pastoral spread are to set aside time for contemplative retreat—prioritize the voice of the One Who called us ahead of the clamoring voices competing for our attention. We are to walk, teach and act in the authority of that same One. And when we do, the Spirit causes signs and wonders to follow. The news spreads. When we decide to follow God’s call and love His people, we will always be opposed by a spirit of antagonism. But our contest is not against flesh and blood, so we are not to take it personally on those in whom such a spirit thrives. We are, rather, to react and behave in the power of the Lord. The enemy would dearly love to cut short the “retreat-authority-news” pattern…he would love to oppose us and get us off track, feeling sorry for ourselves and shrinking back from our duty. After all, opposing a spirit of antagonism can be interpreted by some bystanders as a form of antagonism itself; such people might prefer that no reaction take place, allowing the spirit of antagonism to flourish and remain. But just as Jesus opposed the spirit of antagonism, so are we called to stand up in the power and authority of the name of Jesus Christ. And the miracle of the gospel continues to spread, instead of dying in the midst of a congregation that is divided.

 

The spirit of antagonism is still alive and well. But so is the good news of Jesus Christ. So if we prioritize the hearing of His voice, we may immediately behave in His authority. Let’s make that our pattern today. The spirit of antagonism was weak in this text, and it is weak today. All that is required to defeat it is the authority of Christ, Who still moves mightily among us. Be fearless and confident in this authority.

 

 

Mark 1:9-20

9And it happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth into Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10And immediately upon coming up from the water, He saw the heavens split open and the Spirit descending on him as a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well-pleased.”

12And immediately the Spirit drove Him out into the wilderness. 13And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan, and He was with the wild animals, and angels ministered to Him.

14After John was arrested, Jesus sent into Galilee, preaching the good news of God, 15and said, “The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news.”

16And passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew Simon’s brother casting nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” 18And immediately they left the nets and followed Him. 19And going on a little further, He saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother and they were in the boat mending nets, 20and immediately He called to them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers and followed after Him.

 

 

This passage is actually four pericopes, but they deal with the same thematic material. Any thinking person should have an initial problem with the concept of a baptism for Jesus; after all, if baptism is about repentance and purification (see yesterday’s devotional), then why would the Son of God need this? But Jesus’ baptism was more about His identification with humanity than it was anything else. Moreover, the spectacular display of Trinitarian identity helped ordain Jesus as the Christ at the beginning of His ministry. We might note, however, that the same Spirit Who descended on Him in the hour of power also drove Him to the wilderness to answer an hour of temptation. It is frequently thus in life; the greatest victories are often prologue to the darkest moments. Like John the Baptist, He is in the wilderness—a dark, terrifying place outside the community. In the Levitical law, it is the place where the scapegoat was sent out with sin…it is a lonely place, free from the distractions of other voices. There is a parallel here with Elijah the prophet again: a man who lived a temporarily ascetic existence in order to hear God, and communed with God and the animals in a relational sense as He became stronger through trial. Verse 13 tells us that the beasts were His companions; rather than being part of the trying time, they were His friends. This is an interesting touch to the story that many of us hadn’t considered before, perhaps. Verse 15 shows Jesus employing the word “repent,” which we take from the Greek μετανοέω, which means “a change of mind.” It is telling that, in an evangelical community in which we devalue the mind in favor of the physical experience, Jesus is commanding people to change their minds. The calling of the disciples in 16-20 reveals that these were ordinary men; they were not among the aristocracy or the established leadership of the culture. They were not of the educated classes or the military leadership. They were ordinary guys, and they were hard at work minding their business when the Lord called them. Think about that: going about the tasks that they had been assigned, they were being diligent in their work. And THAT’S the moment they heard the voice of Jesus—Who offered them another task to do. Their personal reaction to Him is powerful; they are more than willing to pay the heavy cost of following Him—and we see in the text that there is a cost.

 

There are so many voices clamoring for our attention today. Facebook, Twitter, television, movies, our overly busy schedules….all contain voices that invade our minds. We willingly invite them into us, and we relegate God’s voice to a couple of minutes at the beginning of our day or a couple of hours on Sunday….or even less. Perhaps Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus were onto something: maybe it’s not a bad idea to cut off some voice and prioritize His voice. I’m not suggesting a complete reversion to ascetism as a permanent way of life; Jesus didn’t do that, either. But what could it hurt to begin “fasting” some of this stuff? To begin to back-burner some less important voices clamoring in our minds and prioritizing the voice of the Anointed One? Since Jesus commanded people to “change their minds,” wouldn’t this be one way of doing that?

 

I’d like to challenge you to go about your business with diligence and faithfulness today. After all, this is where Jesus speaks to us. And how will you hear Him? Perhaps it’s time to spend more time with Him and less with every other voice shouting at us.