Tag Archives: Sin

28. The 12 Apostles

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Wow! It’s been a long time since I’ve written and I’m sorry about that. We had some family stuff going on that distracted me from writing. But I’m back and my goal is to post at least once if not twice a week.

Enough of that stuff, let’s get into God’s word!

This time we will be looking at the first time the 12 apostles are listed all together. Today’s reading can also be found in Mark 3:13-19 but I am going to focus on Luke’s version of events:

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (Luke 6:12-16 NIV)

I was thinking of all the ways we could approach this reading: we could look at name origins, we could look at what it means to be an apostle… but there is one thing that keeps drawing my attention, “and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor,” (verse 16). It really makes me stop and think because Jesus is God, right? And God knows everything, right? So it follows that Jesus would have known what Judas was going to do so why call him to be a close companion? I mean these are his most intimate friends- his cohorts in crime, if you will. Yet, Jesus purposely called Judas to be one of his closest allies knowing he was going to betray him to the enemy. Not only that but he put him in charge of their money knowing that Judas would steal from them (John 12:1-6). I’m not saying that Jesus should have tried to thwart God’s plan of him being turned over to be crucified but did it have to come from a “friend”? But yet isn’t this what God does for us? Doesn’t he call us to be his close friend knowing we will betray him through our sin? Yes, he does. He invites us into his inner circle knowing we will turn our backs on him. He gives us control of the money bags knowing our propensity to steal. This is the heart of grace. Speaking from personal experience, I am the biggest of sinners. I have turned my back on God more times than I care to tell you about. I am Judas Iscariot. I have taken God’s trust and broken it. Even still, God forgives me. He accepts my sincere apology each and every time and removes my sin. I don’t claim to understand it- I just know it happens even though I don’t deserve it.

My question is this- do we realize how pitiful our situation is? Do we realize how closely we relate to Judas? And because of that do we realize the extent of God’s forgiveness? Do we realize the depths of his love for us despite our poor choices and blatant betrayal? Or do we think that we are doing God a favor by loving him? Do we forget the height from which we have fallen? The danger of forgetting the miserable state from which we came is we become judgmental people who think we are not nearly as bad as others. Yes, God has cleaned me up inside and out but there was a time I was like a rotting corpse. The stench permeated my soul. Then God graciously brought me to new life through Christ. How am I to look down at someone else? Yet this is the danger that faces us. Once saved it is easy to forget the old, embrace the new, and forget how terrible our position was; we forget that we were all Judases at one point. And instead of wanting to share our new found love, we point fingers at others who have “worse sins” than ours.

I know, you never expected all of this from a list of names but it is important to remember that from which we have been saved. Judas always gets a bad wrap for being a bad guy and we tend to forget that we are no better. Never forget that you have God’s grace because you were first a sinner- first class.

The End.

27. Jesus the Servant

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So the last time we left Jesus, the Pharisees were plotting to kill him because he had healed, once again, on the Sabbath. Because of this Jesus was quick to get out of Dodge. Not because he didn’t want to die, but because it wasn’t time for him to die yet. After he left he was followed by a large crowd and Jesus healed everyone who was ill. Not just some, the text actually says all. This account is also found in Mark but we will be reading the account found in Matthew because it includes a bit of Messianic prophesy that is worth checking out:

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”

(Matthew 12:15-21)

I specifically want to look at the bit of prophesy that is given to us. It comes from Isaiah 42:1-4. This particular passage is about someone God calls, “my servant”. This title, “my servant” is a special title of honor that was used to describe the likes of Moses, Joshua and David. It was also used in Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:1-7;50:4-11; and 52:13-53:12. Now Israelites always assumed that they were the servant described but because of their wayward actions and blatant refusal to follow God and instead turn towards idols, they lost this honor of being God’s servants. Instead, these verses describe one person in whom God would find no fault- a perfect prototype of what a follower of God should look like. They are describing the Messiah, himself! The reason that Matthew, whose readership was mostly Jewish, often includes prophesy about the Messiah is to show them how Jesus is the 100% fulfillment of these prophesies. In other words, they didn’t have to keep looking for the promised Messiah because he was here as evidenced by their own Scriptures.

There are three times when Jesus is described by God as, “the one I love, in whom I delight.” The two other times occurred at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17) and at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).

Here’s a little rabbit trail for us to go down. No where in the Bible does it explicitly say that God is triune, or 3-in-1. This is a concept that was presented by early church fathers. One of the verses they use to support this idea (which for the record, I believe in) is verse 18 from our passage today, ” I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.” Here we see the Father conferring the Holy Spirit on the Son. 3-in-1. Three persons of God, in one deity; somehow each unique, yet joined together.

Verse 18, and also 21, is interesting because God is clearly concerned about “the nations”. He is concerned about all peoples, not just the nation of Israel. He came to them first because he wanted them to be his people of promise but because they rejected him time and time again, he opened salvation to the world. This was a foreign idea to the Jews even though it was right there in Scripture. It’s like they picked and chose which descriptions of the Messiah they liked and conveniently forgot about the parts they didn’t. God clearly cares for Gentiles, or non-Jews… which is very good news for me!

The next part, “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets,” refers to his silence during his trial before the crucifixion. Jesus remained silent despite his accusers and their false accusations, despite the fact that he could have said one word and thousands of angels would have been there in an instant to rescue him. He was silent except for a few answers to questions.

Verse 20 is one of great mercy and grace,

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

One of the things the Pharisees never got was Jesus’ unending grace toward sinners. We can learn a lot from Jesus here. His job until he returns is to be gentle and love the sinner. I think here of the Westboro Baptist church. These people are not doing God’s work. God’s work, until Jesus returns, is to love on people. That doesn’t mean we overlook the sin. What Jesus did was look beyond the sin and saw the hurting person underneath. Hurting people are like a reed that is already bent from life’s windstorms or a candle struggling to stay lit. In mercy Jesus sat with these people, took the time to hear and really understand these people. And when I say “these people” what I really mean is you and me. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It doesn’t matter if we’ve wrongly gotten angry or if we’ve killed someone. We deserve a traitor’s death. We are no better or worse than anyone else and to assume otherwise is to fall into the trap of self-righteousness. Thank God, for his mercy and love! Thank God, for his patience with us! This is how he deals with us and this is how we are to deal with each other. Now there is a time when Jesus will come again and reign victorious over Satan and Evil. At that point it will be Jesus’ job to dole out justice to non-belivers and believers alike. It is never our job. It is never our responsibility to judge others. Period.

I’ll step down off my soap box for now. Until next time when we look at the commissioning of the the twelve apostles…

The End.

24. The Healing of the Man at Bethesda- part 2

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Let’s refresh a little from last time. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. Not only did he break the Pharisaical Sabbath laws, he told the man to break them when Jesus instructed him to carry his mat. The Pharisees didn’t like this one bit. Now we see that “because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him,” (verse 16). The verb “was doing” indicates that this is not the first time that Jesus has healed on the Sabbath. Perhaps the Pharisees could have overlooked one infraction but the verb shows that this was something that had happened before and had been happening on a regular basis. This is why the Pharisees are incensed- he continually shows disregard for their laws. Let’s read:

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:16-30)

So because Jesus was breaking the law, the leaders began to persecute him. Now we don’t know exactly what that entailed but they were trying to kill him. Instead of rejoicing over the healing power of God, they would rather pout and complain that their laws were being broken… their laws! We aren’t talking about laws of God, we are talking about laws of man. These were part of the oral traditions, or Talmud, that had been handed down throughout the ages. They are not found in the Torah, or the written Jewish law.

There is coming a time, during his trial, when Jesus will remain silent before his accusers but for right now we see Jesus defending himself. The ironic thing is that his defense infuriates the leaders all the more. Jesus starts by saying, “My father.” Jews had long accepted that God was the Father of all things. But Jesus here shows an intimacy with God that had not been previously known. In fact, by saying that God is his father, he is implying that he is the Son of God, not just a son of God like a regular person. That would make Jesus God himself. “Blasphemy!” cry the leaders. They can’t see that Jesus’ miraculous powers come from God. They don’t understand that Jesus can heal only because he gets his power from the father. They can’t get that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and therefore has the right to do whatever he pleases on it. Instead they have blinders on. They can only see what they have chosen to put right in front of their faces. They were so mad it says they not only wanted to kill him… they tried to kill him!

Jesus says that because God is always working, he, too, must always work. Can you imagine if God took a day off? Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue? With all of the craziness going on in the world, it would be a bazillion times worse if God took a vaca. Even the Jews acknowledged that God was always at work. So if God is always at work and Jesus is God then Jesus is always at work, too. It is a natural progression of thought, if you accept Jesus as God. If you don’t accept that premise then the conclusion is invalid. The Pharisees did not see Jesus as God so in their mind Jesus’ argument was fallacy.

Jesus tries to help them understand that if he wasn’t God’s own Son, then he wouldn’t be able to do the things he does. Jesus says, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does,” (verse 19). Jesus can’t act on his own accord because he would have to act outside of God, and since he is God that is impossible. Jesus can’t separate himself from himself- it’s just impossible. He is God whether they accept it or not. So often in today’s culture we face this: “It may be true for you but it’s not true for me.” Some things are accepted universally as true such as “murder is wrong” though their may be certain instances when people disagree over what murder verses killing is. But other things enter more of a gray area. Because people can not see a physical entity of God, many reject him as real. That doesn’t mean that he’s not real, it just means that they don’t accept him as real. That doesn’t make God any less real though. To put this another way, someone could have discovered a purple people eater in Malaysia. I may not believe them but that doesn’t change the fact that the purple people eater exists. The purple people eater’s existence is not dependent on whether or not I believe in it. Neither is God’s realness dependent upon whether his people accept him as real. God’s realness depends upon himself; he exists because he exists.

Let’s move onto another reason the Pharisees were ticked… this whole idea that Jesus will be their judge. Boy did that cause problems! Let’s reread that section:

Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

If people get nothing else out of this post, I hope they understand this: It doesn’t matter whether or not you accept Jesus as God, the Father as God, or the Holy Spirit as God… what matters is that Jesus will be your judge whether you want him to be or not. I have a friend who doesn’t accept God as God or at the very least accepts that there is a God but that God doesn’t apply to him. The sad fact of the matter is this- Jesus will be his judge and he will be judged according to whether or not he believes that Jesus is God. This man, as of right now, is judging himself straight to hell. You see, it doesn’t matter if he thinks truth is a lie. Truth is still truth. You don’t have to like how God does business, as in the case of the Pharisees, you still need to accept the truth because it is by the Truth you will be judged. Nothing you believe will change that fact.

Now Jews believed that God, the Father, alone would be the judge. So this idea that Jesus was to be the judge was heretical or wrong to them. They knew God was the judge and up to that point all they knew was God as Father. Therefore they assumed that the Father would be the judge. Here comes Jesus, who the most Pharisees don’t accept as God coming to say that he will be their judge. It was all too much for them to handle. I just imagine their heads getting bright red and starting to spin with steam coming out of their ears when Jesus says this, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him,” (verse 23). That statement right there is enough to judge the Pharisees on. They certainly did not honor the Son, so they were definitely not honoring the Father, in other words, by not honoring Jesus, they were not honoring God and that is sin.

There is good news though in all this: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” Amen! Amen! Amen! This is the Good News of the Bible! “A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” This is the joy that is set before us regardless of our struggles now- that we will hear the sweet voice of Jesus and live with him forever and ever! What ecstacy! What euphoria! This is what it is all about! Does this mean we won’t be judged? No. We will be judged and sentenced to die but Jesus has already fulfilled our death penalty. In this way we will be found righteous despite our sin, “God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification,” (Romans 4:24-25). In other words, in the final courtroom of God when we sit in the defendants chair and see all of the evidence presented before us… When we sit in utter disgust because there is no denying the charges or the evidence presented against us… When we are called to stand to hear the verdict… When the judge reads, “GUILTY, ON ALL COUNTS!” When we hang our head knowing that the death penalty is mandatory for anyone found guilty… THEN! then Jesus, the mighty and righteous judge… then he will slowly stand… then he will show his nail pierced hands and feet… then he will come out of the judge’s seat and come over and lift our heads and say, “This one’s debt to God is paid. This one is mine.” The prosecution will squeal with torment as the demons protest, “That’s not fair! That’s a sinner! That one is ours!” Then Jesus will turn and say, “You’re right. It’s not fair. This person is a sinner but grace is not fair.” Grace is an undeserved stay of execution. It is something we can’t earn or buy. It’s not something we can steal or gain illegitimately. It’s something that has to be freely given to us despite our unworthiness of the gift. This is what Christ has done for us. This is why he died on the cross.

The End.

24. The Healing of the Man at Bethesda- part 1

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This is a striking passage about a rather dull man. I don’t mean he was boring,.. I mean dull as in not smart. He’s just not the sharpest tool in the shed, if you ask me. Let’s read about Captain Wonderful. The passage is found in John:

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. (John 5:1-15)

This is actually part of a much larger section, 47 verses to be exact. I am going to break it up into two or three studies so as not to overwhelm anyone, myself included. Now if you notice I left the verse numbers in for you to read. I normally take them out so you can read it without the distraction of verse markers but there is a reason I left them in this time. Reread verse 4. Go on, I dare you! Can’t find it, can you? Ah, and we come to our first observation of the text and a point of controversy.

The reason there is a place marking for verse 4 is because there used to be a verse 4 but more recent translations have edited it out. Why? Excellent question. First we need a basic understanding of how Scripture became accepted as God’s word and how the Bible as we know came to be. The best answer I can give you about the validity of the books in the Old Testament is that Jesus accepted them as truth… and so should we. There is very little disagreement among scholars as to the authenticity of the Old Testament books. But the New Testament was written after Jesus so we can’t rely on Jesus’ stamp of approval on these books. How then did these books become canon and who said so. The easiest answer I can give is that over time and by way of several meetings, holy men decided which books were thought to be the inspired Word of God. The more complicated answer requires noting that different faiths accept different books as inspired because not everyone could agree on everything. For example Roman Catholics accept an additional 7 books over the ones that protestants accept and they also include additions to the books of Esther and Daniel.

In general there were three main standards that had to be met when deciding if a New Testament book was to be Scripture. Number one, it had to be inspired by God. “Now how do you know that?” you may ask. It must not compete or deny anything else that is accepted as Scripture. In other words the Bible can’t argue with itself. Nor can it be contrary to any of Christ’s teachings. Number two: It had to be written by either someone who had been with Jesus or by someone who was close to his apostles. Number Three: the book had to be widely accepted and used for teaching by a wide number of churches. The old “strength in numbers” adage applies here. The idea being that if a bunch of teachers had accepted it as inspired and useful for teaching then it was probably inspired and useful for teaching. Now remember this is just a very basic overview of how books became Scripture, there are whole books written about this topic and I encourage you to read some if this is interesting to you.

Back to our discrepancy over verse 4. Some of the texts that were originally used included a verse 4 that read “—and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.” They were the only copies of this text that early translators had to go on so they translated verse 4. But as archeologist uncovered other earlier copies of this text, they didn’t have this line included. And these newly found copies of Scripture were believed to be older in origin than the copies that did have a verse 4. So what are we to make of this? Somewhere along the line as ancient people copied these stories, someone inserted verse 4 to help make sense of verse 7 which says, “I have no one to hep me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Most likely this idea that angel’s wings stirred the pool waters and the first person to get in would be healed was a Jewish wive’s tail. And this is why more modern translations of the Bible leave this phrase out, though they usually mark it with a little [4] so you know that it used to be there. Some people would use something like this to invalidate the Bible. But I think it just goes to show the commitment of scholars to refine the Bible as new and better evidence comes to light. It is something that could easily have been swept under the rug, but no one is trying to hide this. If it were hidden, then I would suspect shady dealings but this is out there for the world to see- it was there and now it is not. Big deal.

Alrighty then, let’s get back to the text itself. Jesus was in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the main city for Jews. It was the site of the great Temple in which sacrifices and rituals occurred. In fact, Jesus was there for one of the Jewish festivals. Jewish men were required to trek to Jerusalem for 3 annual feasts: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. I forget the reason why but scholars believe it was the feast of Pentecost. The feast of Pentecost was celebrated 50 days after the feast of Passover. It was a time of thanksgiving for the harvest and was also believed to be the day on which God gave Moses the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

I don’t know much about the Sheep Gate other than it was located near the Temple. I found a video you can watch that shows an excavation site of which they think they found this Sheep Gate. The actual site is between :55 and 1:29 on the video if you don’t want to watch the whole thing. It is also called the pool of Bethesda or the pool of St. Anne so don’t let the title of the video confuse you. Basically the pools were trapezoids with steps descending into the water at the 4 corners.

Laying by the pool was an invalid. We don’t know what his malady was exactly but we know he had a hard time getting around and he had been this way for 38 years. That’s a long time to be impaired. Jesus picked him out of a crowd- there were apparently a bunch of other people there with ailments. Jesus, upon learning how long he had been impaired asks him a simple question, “Do you want to get well?” The correct answer to the simple question is a simple, “Yes.” But this guy starts giving excuses as to why he can’t get well. He has obviously put his faith into the wive’s tale about the waters and says that he can’t get in fast enough and that’s why he’s not well. In all of that he never answerers Jesus’ question. Yet, even though this man apparently does not have faith in Jesus- heck, he doesn’t even know it is Jesus- Jesus heals him. Up until now, all of the people we see Jesus healing have been healed by their faith. This guy can’t even answer a question right yet Jesus heals him. I think it was probably the faith of a family member or friend that enabled Jesus to heal him. This brings us to an application. Sometimes, the prayers of the faithful cover the unfaithful. Have you ever prayed for an unbelieving friend or family member? It’s the same idea here. Sometimes God blesses the unfaithful because of the faithful.

So Jesus heals the man and does it by telling the man to, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Now all this occurred on the Sabbath and remember, the Pharisees had very strict rules about what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. Carrying a mat was considered doing work by the Pharisees. Working on the Sabbath was prohibited, therefore this newly healed man was breaking the Sabbath laws. Instead of focusing on the healing miracle he had just been a part of, he sells out Jesus. I mean, come on! I don’t think he did this to be nasty, I think he is just that dumb. Then later, after he finds out who it was that healed him, he went back to the Pharisees and told on Jesus. Again, I don’t think he realized what he was doing. He didn’t even know it was Jesus who healed him at first (verse 13). In fact it was Jesus who sought him out, “Later Jesus found him at the temple…” (verse 14). All I can say about this guys is, “Duh!”

When Jesus found him in the temple, he gave him a stern warning, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Once again, I think the man was dense and needed Jesus to tell him this. I don’t think he would’ve made this connection on his own. Obviously this man’s sinful life caused his invalidity but I don’t think Jesus is saying to stop sinning or you could be even more physically hurt or even die. I think he is saying, “Listen, man- straighten up or your soul is in danger of hell.” This brings be to a couple of points. One, We can not escape the consequences of our sins, except by the grace of God. I’m not talking about going to heaven. Yes, the biggest consequences of our sin is eternal separation from God. However, I’m talking about the consequences we experience in this life. For example, the consequences of divorce or the consequences of stealing or the consequences of driving drunk or the consequences of speeding… etc. etc.  These sins have very serious consequences here on this earth even if we don’t “get caught.” It is within God’s prerogative to remove or keep the consequences for these and other sins. I don’t know how he picks and chooses. I just know that he does. Two, if we receive God’s favor and he removes the consequences and we still choose to remain in sin… well, something worse may happen.

Wow, this was quite long. I’m glad we are breaking this section up, aren’t you?

The End.

23. Jesus Casts Out a Demon

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So Jesus has just healed two blind guys and now we see him confront a demon who is possessing a man. The event is recorded in Matthew:

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” (Matthew 9:32-34)

This time it’s just three little verses but there is a lot going on here. Once again, we have a text that is fairly straightforward. There was a guy who was possessed by a demon and the demon wouldn’t allow him to speak. The man was brought to Jesus, he drove out the demon, and then the man could speak. The crowd was amazed but the Pharisees were angry. See? Straightforward… or is it? I think we need to discuss something here that few Americans are comfortable with- demon possession. Yes, my friends, it is real and I believe that it still occurs today, though we (especially the Western culture that we embrace) tend to ignore or deny it’s reality. I don’t claim to be an expert on demonology but I can tell you what I do know.

Satan and his demons are real. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to feel comfortable discussing it, but you do need to recognize their existence. As surely as God and angels exist, Satan and demons exist. We know from reading in the Bible that there is some kind of hierarchy involved- there are demons that are in charge of other demons. There is even a chief demon, his name is Beelzebul (Matthew 12:24). We know that at least some have names, like Legion (Mark 5:9). We know that somehow they can possess a body. I don’t understand how this can happen or why it happens, I just know that it happens. And without going into too many details, I would venture to say that while I was working in the church, I met one or two people who were at the very least heavily influenced by demons if not possessed. They weren’t physically impaired like the mute from our story, but spiritually there was a darkness surrounding them. There was just something not quite right and they would go out of their way to stir up trouble and dissension- almost as if driven by some force.

I know all this probably makes most of you uncomfortable. It made the Pharisees uncomfortable too. They could no longer ignore the power of Jesus but instead of ascribing that power to God, they said that his power comes from Satan. There’s a big, BIG problem with that. You know that God forgives sins but did you know there is one sin that is unforgivable? “Whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin,” (Mark 3:23-29). Now what exactly does that mean and what does that have to do with the Pharisees? Let’s look at the context in which the verse is written:

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:22-29)

We see that the situation is the same. The teachers of the law were accusing Jesus of getting his power from Satan. Jesus refutes the Pharisees with sound reasoning and then we see the line about the unforgivable sin. So what does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? It means giving Satan credit for that which the Holy Spirit does. That is bad news for the Pharisees. Very. Bad. News. For those that are guilty of this sin, we are lead to believe there is no hope for repentance. That may make some of you very uncomfortable- the idea that God won’t forgive this sin. But if you think about it, if you are to the point that you are denying the work of God and saying that Satan is doing good and casting out demons and healing the sick and raising the dead, then you are probably beyond help.

It may be a few days before I get the next post up. After two shorter passages, we are coming into a long one, 47 verses actually. It’s going to take a lot of prep work so don’t think I’ve forgotten about y’all. I’m just studying and reading up for our next journey together.

The End.

18. Jesus Calls Matthew

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As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)

I love Jesus’ style. He comes from the splendor of heaven to be born in a barn, raised by a common family and then hangs out with sinners and the like. And this is where we find Jesus, once again. These events follow Jesus’ healing of the paralytic. Mark indicates that he’s back by the Sea of Galilee (2:13), probably in Capernaum, when he spots Matthew at a tax collector’s booth. Some scholars think that Matthew was there collecting taxes on fish since his booth was right by the water. Let’s take a minute to talk about tax collectors back in the day. With as bad a rap as modern day tax collectors have, the collectors of Jesus’ day had it even worse… and for good reason. The office of tax collector was purchased by the highest bidder. The winning bid won the seat of collector. There were many different kinds of tax collectors and Matthew was probably in charge of fishing for the area. The way tax collection usually worked was this- the Roman government set a certain amount that had to be charged for taxes and the tax collector added to that amount whatever he wanted. This portion was his salary. If you had a fair tax collector (which apparently were few and very far between) you were charged a reasonable amount. Greedy collectors could charge exorbitant amounts and you had no choice but to pay it. It is because of this corruption and because they were employed by the Roman government that Jewish tax collectors were viewed as traitors.

Yes, Matthew was viewed as a traitor by his fellow Jews yet Jesus walks right up to him and asks Matthew to join him. Up to this point Jesus has called Philip and Nathaniel, Peter, Andrew, James and John. Now we see him inviting Matthew to join the ranks. What is interesting about this line up? The majority of them had jobs that would have made them unclean. We don’t know what Philip and Nathaniel did but we know the other four were fishermen. Because they would not have access to ceremonial water for washing they would not have been able to keep the Mosaic laws about being clean. They would have been considered sinners by the Pharisees and other teachers of the law. Matthew, viewed as a traitor to the Jewish faith, was also considered a sinner. That was just the way Jesus worked. And Matthew responds to Jesus by getting up, leaving behind his lucrative career. We can assume that this was not the first time that Matthew had heard of Jesus. He was after all pretty famous in those parts. How much Matthew knew about Jesus is not known however.

An interesting thing to note about how Jesus calls his disciples is that he tells them to follow himself. Traditionally when a rabbi would take on a new student he would require the student to bind himself to the law. Jesus, being the fulfillment of the laws, requires his students to follow him.

The next scene involves a dinner at Matthew’s house with “many tax collectors and sinners,” (v. 10). I don’t know for a fact but I’d be willing to guess that Matthew, upon dedicating his life to following Jesus, invited his friends and colleagues over to tell them the good news. Dinners in Jesus’ time were a little different than dinner’s we know in modern day America. Women ate separate and served the men. Men reclined at a table, leaning on their left elbows and using their right hand to eat. Also, there were no coverings on the windows so passersby would often lean through the window and join in the dinner conversation. Also, an open front door was a sign that anyone was welcome to come in. It is because of these customs that we see Pharisees watching the “sinner dinner”. Being “righteous” Jews, they were appalled that Jesus was dining with notoriously, “unrighteous” people. Let’s chat about these sinners. I’ll bet when you read that you are thinking prostitutes, thieves and the like. And it could have been that was the case. More than likely though it was people, like the fishermen we talked about earlier, who simply couldn’t maintain the Mosaic laws due to their jobs. People like tanners, fishermen, hunters, and shepherds were unable to do all the washing that was required to stay ceremonially clean. These people were therefore “sinners” in the eyes of the Pharisees. In fact the Pharisees were so put off by Jesus’ association with such riff raff that they said something about it to his disciples. Jesus hears the Pharisees and speaks up, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” (Matthew 9:12-13). When Jesus says, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor,” he does not mean that the Pharisees are ‘healthy’. Jesus came for them too although they clearly think they don’t need a Savior. They are too busy keeping laws to recognize their own need. I think Jesus is being a little sarcastic here. He is playing on their self-righteousness. Then he hits the Pharisees with a sucker punch by telling the learned Pharisees to go learn the real meaning of Hosea 6:6. This had to be an epic slap in the face for the Pharisees. Jesus was teaching the teachers? Just who did he think he was? And the verse he quoted was meant to really drive home a point with the law-blinded Pharisees: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” the rest of the verse says, “and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” In other words, you can keep every blessed law Moses ever uttered, but if you heart is hardened against others you are still lost. It makes me wonder about the modern church. Do we ever overlook someone because we think they don’t fit into our mold? Of course we do. I’m not just talking about race either, I’m talking about social status, economic status, marital status, age, sexual orientation (yes, Jesus loves them too!), mental status and personality. These are all things that I know I have been guilty of looking down on at some point or another. A quick word on the sexual orientation thing… We can totally love a person while disagreeing with how they live their life. It happens all the time just not over something so polarizing as this. All I know is that I know of several divorced people whom God has richly blessed even though divorce is condemned in the Bible. If God can work despite the sin of divorce then he can work despite all sin, even my and your sin.

Now that I probably lost most of my small readership…

Father God, Thank you for loving us despite our ugliness and sins. “You see the depths of my heart and you love me the same. You are amazing, God!” Help us, help me to seek out the least of these and show them the love that you have shown to me- a love without end. May our actions touch not only the ones we show your love to but also be an example to others about how you love us. “By this everyone will know that [we] are [your] disciples, if [we] love one another.” Amen!

The End.

17. The Faith of Four Friends.

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Have you ever had a situation either for yourself or for someone else that you prayed about? I know I pray frequently for my friends and family who don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus. How about you? Do you ever wonder if God hears our prayers? Today we will see a story about four friends who interceded on behalf of a paralyzed friend. They would stop at nothing even when it seemed impossible to reach Jesus. We will be reading from Mark today:

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,“Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them,“Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12)

Let’s take a minute to backtrack. Before this passage we saw Jesus healing the sick either all over Galilee or Judea, depending on whose account you read. Now we find him a few days after his healing tour in Capernaum. Jesus was probably at Peter’s home because we have no record that Jesus actually had his own home. The word about him had spread far and wide and they were gathering in droves to see Jesus. So much so that they had the house surrounded and you couldn’t get in or out and we find Jesus standing in the doorway preaching to them. Who was in the crowd? Well, just about everybody, including some teachers of the law were there. Who were these teachers of the law? We know from Luke that there were some Pharisees present (Luke 5:21). We don’t know what other specific kinds of teachers were there.

Anyway, we see Jesus preaching to a crowd when four men come carrying a paralyzed man. The word paralyzed here is a compound word. It comes from the words “to loose” and “along side”. Some scholars argue that the the man may have had a stroke, paralyzing the one side of his body. Once again, no one really knows but we do know that he was unable to move at least part of his body. Let’s talk about sick people from back in the day. They were pretty much out of luck. As we saw in our last study, Jesus Heals the Leper, sick people were often considered ceremonially unclean and were forced to live alone outside the camp or city. This man’s only way for caring for himself was the kindness of others. But the others weren’t supposed to be around him or they would become unclean, too. It was a vicious cycle really. Let’s get back to our paralyzed man. It would have been remarkable to find even one person who would’ve been willing to help him but to find a group that would be willing to 1. get close to the man and 2. be willing to break the law to bring him into the city was remarkable. Before they even get to Jesus we see that they had faith in his healing power. Why else would they take such a risk. This brings me to my first point. Often, faith without risk is not faith at all. I don’t mean that we can’t have faith when life is peachy keen. Of course we can, but if we are constantly seeking the calm between the storms, if we are content to ride along smoothly in our boat and not get out of it when circumstances call for it then we don’t have an active faith. We may have a saving faith, but it is not a healthy faith. I would say a healthy faith is constantly seeking ways to be used- whether that is praying about the smallest thing or trusting God about a big decision in your life. For example, as I learn more about God and grow closer to him, I have started to call upon him for even the smallest needs. When I’ve lost  something I ask God to help me find it… and I expect him to actually help me. This isn’t a cursory, “God, where did I put my keys now?” You know the kind of thing you just mutter to yourself when you get frustrated. This is, “God, I know you know where my keys are. Guide me to them.” He has yet to let me down. It may be something small, but it is a stretching of faith- it is depending on God in the small stuff. When you allow God to constantly stretch your faith, you allow God to have control. And this is the true calling of a Christian- to give God authority over your life. I could go on about this but that’s a whole separate post.

So we see that the men had faith even before they got to Jesus. Then can you imagine their dismay when they can’t even get close enough to get to Jesus? Some people would be discouraged and go home. But not these guys. Houses back then often had steps that led to a flat roof. The houses were usually wood frames and the ceilings were grass or reeds laid across beams with clay on top. So get this image in your head. Jesus is teaching when there begins to be a commotion coming from the roof. Pieces of clay begin to fall and then dust everywhere as the men really begin to make progress. Sunlight begins streaming into the house as the hole, first just a pin point of light and then the filling the whole house with daylight, appears. Can you imagine Peter as all of this is going on? I can just see him yelling and being his loud impetuous self as Jesus just stands there… watching and smiling. The men lower the paralyzed man down through the hole. Jesus seeing their undaunted faith says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Wait, a minute… What? They didn’t bring him there for this! They brought him there so he could regain use of his limbs. Can you picture the men? I bet they were standing there with their mouths wide open. Not only did they expect Jesus to physically heal their friend but only God could forgive sins. Was their work all for naught?

Let’s take a break from the friends for a minute and focus on what Jesus says. He says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The word son here in the original language was a term of endearment. Literally it means, child. I love that Jesus doesn’t heal the man’s physical disability first. Instead he cuts right to the heart of the matter… The man’s spirit was in need of healing and that is more important than anything else. And isn’t that the case for all of us? What good is being healthy if our souls are bound for Hell? It is better to have a saved soul and a sickly body than a sick soul in a healthy body. In the words of Toby Mac, “I don’t want to gain the whole world and lose my soul,” (Mark 8:36). The Jews knew that only God could forgive sins. It should have been a natural jump that Jesus was God after seeing Jesus perform miracles and his fantastic teaching… you would think anyway. But we know that was not true. The text says, “Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?'” (Mark 2:6-7). They were so close to putting the puzzle together and yet they just don’t get it! Mark goes on, “Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things.'” So not only has he healed the sick and cast out demons (in the past) and is a phenomenal teacher, but he also knows the hearts of men! It’s kinda like reading minds and even with this sign the people don’t get it! If Jesus was on trial today for being the Messiah and all of this evidence was presented, the jury would have to find him guilty as charged! Yet they missed it. With as much faith as the paralyzed man’s friends had, the teachers of the law lacked by as much.

Jesus poses as question to the disbelieving teachers, “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?'” It is easier to say that his sins are forgiven because there is no visible evidence one way or the other that the sin was actually forgiven. If Jesus were to say get up and take your mat and the man wasn’t healed, then the evidence would be obvious. Jesus was not God. But there is no way to prove that his sins are healed… unless Jesus is able to heal the man and then the outward physical healing becomes a symbol for the inward healing that already occurred. This is what Jesus means when he says, “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” He is going to heal the man outwardly to prove that he can also heal the man inwardly. “So he said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home,'” (verse 11). Then the guy got up, took his mat and went on his way in full view of them all. This was not a miracle done in secret like the healing of the leper in our last study. Jesus is announcing to the world that he is God incarnate. He is the long awaited Messiah if only they would have the faith to see it!

There are several lessons we can learn from this passage:

  1. Sometimes God allows times of trouble in order to draw us and others closer to himself. The paralyzed man probably didn’t know it but God was using his circumstance to bring others to a saving relationship with him. Psalm 119: 67 & 71 says this: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” This is why we as Christians can have hope even when things seem to go terribly wrong. God is always working for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). It may not be easy but remember faith without risk is weak faith. During my step-mom’s hospital stay this week this has been my prayer: First and foremost that God would be glorified somehow through her struggles and second that God would use this opportunity to draw our family closer to him. And I can see him working in the hearts of some and I can say with confidence that if it means that our family members gain a relationship with Christ, she would have chosen to go through it all again.
  2. Sometimes our greatest needs are below the surface. The friends thought the man needed physical healing but Jesus looked beyond the broken body to the broken soul. I’ll take it one step further… sometimes people seem to have it all together on the outside. There seems to be no need, they have enough money, a close family, a good job, nice friends, a place to live, their health but deep down inside they are sick. Their soul is dirty because they don’t know they are sinners or they know they are sinners and they don’t want to change or they want to change but they are afraid or don’t know how. There are plenty of people out there that seem to have it made and yet are going to Hell.
  3. The primary reason Jesus does anything is to bring himself glory. I may lose some of you on this one but think about it… Jesus didn’t heal the man so that he could get better and he didn’t forgive the man’s sin so that he could be sinless. This was a means to an end. It was a way to get others to glorify God. Jesus said it himself, “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Why did he want them to know? So that God would be glorified. And this is what happened, “This amazed everyone and they praised God,” (2:12). Everyone means everyone, even the skeptical teachers of the law, at least on this occasion, praised God.
  4. Sometimes God uses “second-hand faith” to act. It never says to much about the paralyzed man. For all we know the paralyzed man could’ve been in a vegetative state. In which case he would’ve been incapable of faith. What we do learn about is the faith of the friends. The faith of the friends enabled the healing of the paralytic. This is good news for those of us praying desperately on behalf of someone else who may or may not be Christian. I think about non-Christian family members that I pray for salvation for. Will God change their hearts? I don’t know but I know he can and if he doesn’t it won’t be because I don’t have faith. I have faith that God is fully capable of drawing them to himself if he is willing. 

I bet you didn’t expect to find all this good stuff when we started this passage. I know I didn’t but I found, once again that God has much to teach us if we just meditate on his Word. Thanks again for being patient while I took care of my family this week and I hope to see you again in another couple of days when we study the calling of Matthew.

The End.