Monthly Archives: June 2017

Mark 9:14-29

14And when they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the scribes arguing with them. 15And immediately all the crowd, on seeing Him, were greatly surprised and hurried over and greeted Him. 16And He asked them, “What are you arguing about?” 17And someone answered Him from the crowd, “Teacher, I brought my son to You; he has a dumb spirit. 18And whenever it attacks him, it dashes him to the ground and he foams and the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes stiff, and I asked Your disciples to cast it out, and they were unable.” 19And He responded to him saying, “O faithless generation! How long will I be with you? How long will I put up with you? Bring him to Me.” 20And they brought him to Him. And seeing Him, the spirit immediately threw him into convulsions and he fell on the ground and rolled around and foamed at the mouth. 21And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening?” And he said, “From childhood. 22And often it casts him into the fire or into water in order to kill him, but if you can, help us; have compassion on us!” 23Then Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can!’ All things are possible to the one who believes!” 24Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25Then Jesus, seeing that the crowd was gathering fast, rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter into him again!” 26And with crying out and much convulsing, it went out, and the boy was as a corpse, so that many said, “He is dead.” 27But Jesus took his hand and lifted him up, and he got up. 28And His disciples came to him in the house and privately asked Him, “Why were we unable to cast it out?” 29And He said to them, “This kind does not come out except by prayer [and fasting].”

 

Immediately following the spectacular mountaintop experience of yesterday’s readings comes a moment of frustration: a man has brought his son to be exorcised. Many of the symptoms described seem consistent with epilepsy, though not all. Jesus’ response to the crisis is a little bewildering; it is possible that He was frustrated. He had just experienced the divine communion and validation on the mountain, and now at His descent back to earth He is faced with His followers’ helplessness and ineffectiveness—all with the Cross looming ominously ahead. But the common task of setting free the prisoner was just as important to Him as the atonement He was to achieve as well, and He turns Himself to the work. The exchange between father and Jesus is noteworthy; Jesus implies that faith makes things possible, and the man—long accustomed to being beaten down by the natural world, asks for help in overcoming his own unbelief. Lest we judge him too harshly, let us remember that we are products of Western culture, which has all but ridiculed the notion of miracles right out of our own religion. As Barclay puts it: “Most of us are cursed with a sense of the impossible, and that is precisely why miracles do not happen.” But Jesus came to rectify that, too, and so He does. When His disciples ask Him about it privately, He explains that a bit more work was needed for this particular task. Most of the best early manuscripts do not contain “fasting;” the Greek text leaves it out—hence my own translation leaving it out here.

 

The devil is still tormenting us on the earth today. He doesn’t always have to do so with ostentatious displays of demonic possession; he can do his work more quietly in a culture that doesn’t really acknowledge him. He can sneak in with discouragement, disillusionment, doubt and frustration. He can whisper quite effectively to us in that part of the week in which we are between encouraging “mountaintop” experiences in church and are in the valley. Like the father, many of us are long accustomed to being on the losing end of the natural world. We are unwitting victims of whatever circumstance inflicts itself, and we don’t truly believe. We are, like Barclay said, “cursed with a sense of the impossible.” But Jesus’ words are as true today as they were in the first century: all things are possible to one who believes. His power is supreme.

 

What if we were to be infused with a sense of the POSSIBLE today? What if we were to re-adjust our internal gauges to expect the POSSIBLE because of the One Whom we serve? What if our lives were not lived as victims of circumstance, but as living testimonies to the power of Almighty God on a daily basis? “All things are possible to one who believes.” Do you believe this? As Westerners, we need help with our unbelief. And He is there to do it. At our church, we are seeing Him meet the natural world with supernatural. Like as Americans, we need help with our unbelief.

 

The power is not yours, but God’s, and He’s all too ready to rescue you. All things are possible to one who believes. Do you believe that today?

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Mark 9:2-13

2And after six days Jesus took Peter and James and John up into a high mountain by themselves, and was changed in form [transfigured] before them. 3And His clothes were shining very white, such as one who bleaches on the earth could not bleach. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, talking with Jesus. 5And Peter responded, saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents—one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6For he did not know how to answer, for they were greatly terrified. 7And a cloud passed over them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is My beloved Son; hear Him.” 8And suddenly, looking around, they saw no one but Jesus Himself with them. 9And as they went down from the mountain, He ordered them to not tell what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter among themselves, discussing what this rising from the dead might mean. 11And then asked Him, saying, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12And He said to them, “Elijah must come first and make ready all things; and how is it written that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected? 13But I say to you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they wanted, just as it is written of them.”

 

This is a pivotal moment in the story, because it is pivotal in the life of Peter. Verse 6 tells us an interesting insight into the mind of Peter that only he would have been able to verify: he didn’t know what to say in the situation, out of sheer terror. When these three disciples went up into the mountain, they witnessed with their physical eyes a major change in the form of Jesus. The word used in verse 2 is μεταμορφωθη, from which we take our word metamorphosis. The Transfiguration is a powerful change in His appearance that emphasizes His humanity and deity. His clothes shone in the whitest of white—in fact, the word employed in verse 3 is στιλβοντα—typically used of a glistening gleam of burnished brass or gold, polished steel, or golden glare of sunlight. This was supernatural. This was other-worldly. And then, as if this were not enough, two key figures in Jewish thought physically appeared on the mountain, talking with Jesus. The giver of the Law that the Pharisees allegedly held so dear was there (Moses), as was the prince of all prophets, Elijah. They had seen His coming as the consummation of all they stood and lived for, and are here giving double approval to His decision to head toward Jerusalem to His destiny. It is powerfully symbolic of the mission of the Christ, and when Peter and James and John looked back on it in the years to come the theology of that mission would begin to make more sense as they tied together the Law, the Prophets, and the Messiah. The presence of the cloud was familiar to Jewish thought, too: Moses met God in a cloud, after all. The presence of God came to fill the Tabernacle in a cloud. A cloud filled the Temple when Solomon dedicated it. The presence of YHWH Himself was associated with a cloud, so there was no mistaking Whose voice it was when the cloud overshadowed these observant Jewish men. And the descent of the cloud would have been interpreted by them as the definite coming of the Messiah—something they had already confessed, and for which they are now receiving confirmation. Truthfully, this episode was given as a form of comfort to the disciples. In the days to come, in the shadow of the cross, they will remember the voice of Almighty God calling Jesus His Son. They will remember the power and glory of God surrounding Him. And they will remember that they have seen evidence of a conscious existence in the afterlife.

 

God still rewards our steps in faith with corroborative moments of recognition of His power. We still make the confession and step out in faith first, and then see evidences that our faith was well-placed. We don’t begin from a position of reason and proceed to faith; we begin from a position of faith and proceed from there to reason. Just as these disciples looked back on this confusing and terrifying incident as an explanation that became more full of meaning and truth later, so our current circumstances can become rich in meaning and encouragement later, after we’ve lived through them in faith. It is noteworthy that Peter/Mark put this incident so close to the Christological confession that Peter had previously made; close after acknowledging Him as the Messiah, he now sees confirmation of that.

 

What step of faith is the Lord leading you toward today? What circumstance seems bewildering today but can be a fond and encouraging memory in the hands of a providential God later? Like Peter, James, and John, trust the Lord as you are along for the ride. He is the One in the driver’s seat, not you. His power has not waned, and He still guides, saves, heals and delivers. One day you’ll look back on this circumstance and see the hand of God in it where it is difficult to see right now. He has ways of confirming to you His direction along the way. Listen and pay attention—or, as God put it in this episode, “Hear Him.”

Mark 8:22-9:1

22And they came to Bethsaida, and some brought to Him a blind man and they begged Him to touch him. 23And He took hold of the blind man’s arm and led him out of the village and, spitting on his eyes, placed His hand on him and asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24And looking up, he said, “I see people, walking around like trees.” 25Then He laid again His hands on his eyes, and looked intently, and he was healed and saw everything clearly. 26And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not enter into the village.”

 

27And Jesus and His disciples came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, and along the way He asked His disciples, saying, “Whom do men say that I am?” 28And they answered, saying, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah, and others one of the prophets.” 29And He asked them, “But Whom do you say that I am?” Peter responded to Him, saying, “You are the Christ.” 30And He ordered them to tell no one concerning Him.

 

31And He began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and to be killed and after three days to rise again. 32And He spoke this word plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 33But He turned around and, seeing His disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan, for you are not thinking about the things of God, but of men.” 34And He called the crowd together with His disciples and said to them, “If anyone wishes to follow after Me, let him disown himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever would save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? 37What will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him, when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.” 9 1And He said to them, “Truly, I say to you, that there are some standing here who will not taste death until they have seen the kingdom of God come in power.”

 

 

These pivotal verses bring us to the halfway point of Mark’s gospel. They occur within the context of an ongoing subtheme of “Do you believe?” The disciples have witnessed the same miracle twice and many others. Their attitude toward Jesus is “faith first….seeking reason.” It is the direct opposite of the Pharisees and religious leaders, who demand “empirical sign first….then faith.” On the heels of this contrast comes the blind man in Bethsaida, who is miraculously healed by the Savior. Then it is time for some Jesus-and-disciple time. Cruising through Caesarea Philippi, He has a most interesting conversation with His closest followers. It might be noteworthy to mention that Ceasarea Philippi is the north-most point of His geographical mission; He is turning from there and heading south, toward Jerusalem, where His ultimate destiny lies. It is also telling the Mark includes verses 27-30 in this story, because in it we will see the very first Christological confession from a disciple. Peter states the case plainly and clearly: “You are the Christ” (29). Now “Christ” is not a name; it’s a title. It’s the Greek word (χριστος) for the Hebrew  מָשִׁיחַ (Messiah), which means “anointed one.” When Peter says what he says, he is stating the most central truth in the history of all truth—the central confessional truth that is at the heart of the gospel, from that day to this. It is this confession to which John is referring in his epistle when he speaks of all true children of God being able to make the proper Christological confession. Of course, Peter is a human being with rash and impetuous thoughts, so he can only think of the Messiah in the terms that he was taught as a boy: one who is coming to save the kingdom of Israel from the pagans and set up God’s holy kingdom on the earth. He is rebuked because this is a denial of the same confession he just uttered; if the Messiah’s only mission is socio-political, He is not truly the Messiah, Who must remove the stain of sin that separates man from God. This is the line that orthodox Jews cannot cross: a proper Christological confession that Jesus is truly God and therefore able to do away with sin. We next see that He calls the crowd to be with the disciples for this next little bit of teaching: that their witness to this confession in a hostile world has eternal consequences. They are to remember that at all costs—even their own lives. He makes a bold promise at the end of the pericope that confuses some to this day: “ there are some standing here who will not taste death until they have seen the kingdom of God come in power.” If this is a reference to the Second Coming, there are big problems, since that didn’t happen in the lifetimes of those gathered. But it’s not: there are other more valid interpretations. One comes from Dr. J. Vernon McGee, who sees the answer in the very next pericope: the transfiguration. When Jesus said these words in a mixed crowd, there were standing there several disciples who would soon see that kingdom’s glory and write about it later (2 Pe 1.16-18). Barclay makes the case that Jesus wasn’t a particularly well-traveled man outside of His own country. The spread of the gospel after the Ascension was nothing short of glorious and miraculous, and represents a fulfillment of this statement. Either of these is valid.

 

All of Mark’s gospel is coming down to this central confession of Peter’s. Is Jesus Who He claims to be? Is He the Anointed One of the Old Testament? Is He the Christ? The Messiah? The Savior? If He is not, you will be hard-pressed to explain how such a lie became the hinge on which all human history turns. If He is, that fact alone makes demands on our lives today. We are called to be witnesses of this confession—this central truth of His deity and humanity—to a hostile world. They want us to keep our faith in a box, not wear it on our sleeves. But Christ has called us to be living witnesses to His deity and humanity. He has called us to be sacrifices for this truth. At great personal expense, we are to prioritize this confession, this truth. The power of such selflessness is a mark of the supernatural glory of the kingdom of God. By consistently, habitually standing in witness to Him, we show the world that it is already dominated. It is already conquered. He that is in us is greater than he who is in the world.

 

Are you prepared to be a witness today? To speak, to listen, to behave in a manner that says “follower of the One True God, saved by His Son Jesus Christ”? It will likely cost you something, though at present in our culture that price is cheap compared to what it is around the world. But pay it. And be the witness that He has called you to be.

Mark 8:11-20

11And the Pharisees came and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven to test Him. 12And sighing deeply in His Spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly I say to you, that no sign will be given to this generation.” 13And He left them and again got into the boat and went to the other side.

 

14And they had forgotten to take bread and they had only one loaf that they had with them in the boat. 15And He warned them, saying, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” 16And they discussed among each other that they did not bring bread. 17And knowing, He said to them, “Why do you discuss that you have no bread? Do you not understand? Do you not comprehend? Are you without feeling in your hearts? 18Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you take up?” They said, “Twelve.” 20“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you take up?” And they said to Him, “Seven.” 21And He said to them, “Do you not understand?”

 

This episode is loaded with situational irony. The disciples had just witnessed two separate miracles of multiplication of resources, and still were lacking in some understanding. The religious leaders of the day, who meet and argue with Jesus in this pericope, have also witnessed His great power and still don’t understand. They demand a sign from Him—an evidence of His status rooted in empirical evidence. They cannot bring themselves to take the leap of faith that He is the Messiah; they demand that the Son of God submit to their empirical senses. The disciples have a different attitude; they’re more than willing to believe—but are a little dull in making it to the faithful confession. Jesus’ gentle chiding of the disciples stands in stark contrast to the abrupt exit He makes from the Pharisees: He challenges their slowness by appealing to the same senses that the Pharisees demand: “Did you guys not see this stuff? Did you not catch on?”

 

I remember hearing a professor once define theology as “faith seeking reason.” It can never be the other way around: we do not start from a place of reason and work our way to faith. If this were possible, He would not be God any longer, but our own reason would be God. Rather, all that we are able to reason begins with a leap of faith—there is a God. Once we have accepted that, the rest of our lives are spent having our reason opened to the vast truths contained in that simple statement. Some, like the Pharisees, demand that we start from a place of rational thought and reason our way to the existence of God. But such a process will only yield the “self” as a sort of God, and we all know that there is no power in that. Such a god is false. But when we begin with the simple faith of a child, He opens our minds in a process that takes all of our lives. We begin to learn and know more and more, while still being cognitive of our basic ignorance. This process highlights the significance of the one true God, and the basic fallenness of man.

 

The power of Almighty God is all around you today. He is providing for you. He is multiplying your resources. He is helping you across the rocky path. He is protecting you from a ravenous enemy who seeks to devour you. He is comforting you in a time of anxiety and stress. Believe Him. Believe His word. Believe in His teachings. Believe Him at all costs; believe Him despite what your eyes see and your ears hear from your circumstances. When you do, He will open your eyes and ears to what is truly real—His power, sustaining you and educating you and comforting you and loving you.

Mark 8:1-10

1In those days, when again there was a great crowd having nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and said to them, 2“I have pity on the crowd, because they have stayed with Me three days and have nothing to eat. 3And if I send them hungry to their homes, they will faint in the way; and some of them have come from far off.” 4And His disciples responded to Him, “From where is one able to feed bread here in the desert?” 5And He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” 6And He ordered the crowd to sit on the ground, and took the seven loaves and gave thanks, and broke them and gave to His disciples to distribute and set before the crowd. 7And they had some small fish, and having blessed them, He said that these should also be distributed. 8And they ate and were satisfied, and picked up the pieces, seven baskets full. 9And there were about four thousand people, and He sent them away. 10And immediately He got into a boat with His disciples and went to the region of Dalmathutha.

 

Here we see a repeat of a miracle that Jesus did in 6:30-44. In that episode, He had fed 5,000 with almost nothing. In this episode, there are 4,000 people hungry. Why would Mark include a repeat of the same miracle? Perhaps the disciples’ response to Jesus in this episode gives us a clue. Despite having seen Him perform this already, they still haven’t figured it out, as we can see in verse 4. We might also note that Jesus is moved by compassion and pity on the crowd. Though barely given room to turn around, and certainly no time to rest, Jesus is not annoyed with the crowd, but full of love toward them. And once again, just like before, Jesus gives to the disciples, and they in turn give to the crowd. And once again, as He has proven all throughout history, He satisfies.

 

Sometimes we allow our hearts to deceive us, even when our eyes and ears have witnessed the truth. Those who believe that all truth must be measure empirically do not account for this phenomenon; our five senses simply cannot provide the basis for all truth. Often, God continues to do the same miraculous work. Often, we face the same test, over and over again, until we accept by faith His provision. He never tires of teaching us, and never grows annoyed with our slowness. He responds to us with love and compassion, the same as He always has. And just like He always has, He always satisfies. Whatever our appetite drives us to consider, the truest of all satisfaction is found in Him.

 

Is He feeding you today? Eat and be satisfied. Is He using you to feed others today? Keep your eyes open and learn of His great power again…and again, and again, and again. Look at others with compassion and mercy today. See them with His eyes—love them, practically. He still satisfies; trust Him.

Mark 7:24-37

24From there, getting up, He went into the region of Tyre, and came into a house, wanting to be unrecognizable, but He was unable to be hidden. 25And immediately a woman who had heard about Him, having a daughter who had an unclean spirit, came and fell before His feet. 26And the woman was a Gentile, Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27And He said to her, Let the children be fed first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she responded and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” 29And He said to her, “For this statement, go. The demon has come out of your daughter.” 30And going to her house, she found the child, placed in bed, and the demon gone.

 

31And He went out again from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the sea of Galilee through the region of the Decapolis. 32And they brought to Him a deaf and dumb man, and urged Him to lay His hand on him. 33And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put his fingers into his ears and, spitting, touched his tongue. 34And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” which is, “Be opened!” 35And his ears were opened, and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke clearly. 36And He charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more they proclaimed. 37And they were completely amazed, saying, “He does all things well! He even makes the deaf to hear and the dumb to talk!”

 

Jesus’ journeys through the geographical regions of Tyre and Sidon and the Decapolis tell us something. These were areas in which there was a large Gentile population; as He went through these regions, He was coming into contact with people other than the “chosen of God.” Both of these pericopes have Him involved with such people; the Syrophoenician woman is explicitly described as Gentile, while the man comes from the region and can be reasonably assumed to be Gentile. Jesus, though sent as the Messiah to the Jews, was also keenly aware of His ultimate mission to all of mankind. His words to the woman in verse 27 seem overly harsh; yet we must consider two things. First, what He said was objectively true; the Israelites were God’s people, and the scriptures had foretold the coming of a Messiah Who would deliver them. There is a sense in which He had arisen from them and was sent to them. Second, it’s possible that He’s asking a literarily rhetorical question that only has its proper answer in the readership of this book, rather than characters in the narrative. The fact that Jesus’ power delivers both people in today’s readings demonstrates that He sees Himself as the Savior of the world, not just the Jews. He is looking toward the outcast as well as the chosen. Moreover, His power is untrammeled by geography; He casts out a demon without even being present with the little girl. His astounding power is both a reward to the faith and expectation of both of these Gentiles and an act of mercy from the Creator God to His creation.

 

All of us are made in the image of God. This is called the imago dei. Every one of us bears the image of the Creator. The person driving in the left lane of traffic, the people in the express lane of the grocery store, the man who works for the IRS, the traffic cop with the radar gun pointed at us, the political candidate who disagrees with us, the people next door who can’t turn down their music. All of these bear God’s image. How difficult is it to remember this in our dealings with them? Jesus sought out the outcasts and delivered them. Do we recognize the imago dei in one another?

 

Be the one who loves the outcast today. We are sent to them. We are commanded to love them. And in the final analysis, from the world’s perspective, we ourselves are the outcasts. Let’s make an effort today to recognize the imago dei in one another, and rebut the self-regarding feelings of annoyance with acts of love.

Mark 7:14-24

14And He called the crowd to Him again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. 15There is nothing outside a man that comes into him and is able to defile him, but the things that go out from a man defile the man.” 17And when He was entered into the house from the crowd, His disciples asked Him about the parable. 18And He said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not know that whatever goes into a man from outside is not able to defile him, 19since it does not enter him in the heart but in the stomach, and then is expelled into the sewer? (thus He declared all foods clean). 20And He said, “What goes out of a man, that defiles the man. 21For from within, out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22adultery, greed, evil, deceit, indecency, envy, blasphemy [insulting talk], pride, foolishness. 23All of these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

 

In addition to their “building a fence” around the Law in order to keep people from breaking it (which actually turned out to be a tunnel away from God’s Law), the Pharisees also had made another mistake: a failure to recognize that evil comes from within man, not without. The prohibition of foods, the deliberate ascetism of deprivation—these things didn’t do anything to rid a man of sin. Jesus points this out to His disciples, schooling them for the eventual understanding that food codes from the synagogue weren’t binding.

 

I have seen this mistake repeated time and again in our own movement. There is, among our forebears, a belief that culture is an evil that lurks outside us as Christians. In their view, we must build a bubble around us so that the culture cannot get in and defile us and erase what Christ has done. But this is directly wrong, and even anti-Christian. We were born to live in culture—to engage it, to breathe it, to eat it, sleep it, live it—and there is nothing in it that can truly defile us. All that would defile us is within, not without. So food, drink, movies, band t-shirts, music or anything else that is not specifically prescribed in “Christian” sub-culture cannot change what Christ did in our lives. Those who say such things have a very tiny faith in the atoning power of Christ’s blood. They are today’s gatekeepers—the Pharisees who build fences around what they think is God’s holiness in order to keep others from walking a different path.

 

The Apostle Paul would go on to write that “all things are permissible, though not all things are beneficial”  (1 Co 10.23-24). Don’t be afraid of culture today. You were called to engage it and flavor it for Christ as salt—not hide in a Christianized salt shaker.