Tag Archives: theology

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

Standard

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.

Advertisements

23. Jesus Casts Out a Demon

Standard

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.

22. Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

Standard

Today we will read a short passage. At first it may not seem very important but I think there is much we can learn. This passage is only found in Matthew-

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. (Matthew 9:27-31)

First, let’s look at the text itself and then later we will discuss the implications of this section. Ok, the first major thing I want to look at is what the blind men call Jesus. They say, “Have mercy on us, Son of David,” (verse 27). That is a Messianic title. To understand it we have to go back to King David. He was promised long ago that 1. someone from his line would always sit as king over Israel and 2. the Messiah would come from his descendants. Every king of Israel was therefore a son of David, but only the Messiah would be the Son of David. He would be the greatest and final king to sit on David’s throne and he will rule not just for as long as he lived, but for eternity. His rule is perfect and just. That the two physically blind men used this title to refer to Jesus shows that they could spiritually see clearer than most people of their day.

So these two blind guys are following Jesus, crying out for mercy (which, like grace is an undeserved gift) and what does Jesus do? He goes inside. Now at first that seems harsh. But I think Jesus has two reasons for doing this. The first is because he wants to see the perseverance of the men and second I think is because they are identifying him as the Son of David, he doesn’t anyone to hear them. Jesus knows that if the general public got word of his Messiahship now, they would try to make him king of Israel by force. That wasn’t the plan though. The plan was for Jesus to die on the cross and even though that would be difficult, to say the least, Jesus was committed to doing God’s will. This is why in verse 30 he warns them not to tell anyone about what happened; he didn’t want the word that he was the Messiah to get out… yet.

That’s about it for the actual text. Short passage, short entry. But lets spend some time talking about how though the men’s eyes were blind, spiritually they could see perfectly. I can’t help but to think of a friend of mine. He is not a Christian. In fact, I would go so far as to say he is almost anti-Christian. His life is a mess and he knows it. He spends time seeking advice from Buddhism, Hinduism and just about any other -ism out there but he is still unhappy. I would even venture to say he is miserable most of the time. His marriage is falling apart, he drinks… a lot. He is lonely even in a crowd. Now, I don’t mean to beat up on the guy but I want you to understand the situation… Here is a guy that is running from the very thing that can save his very soul and is seeking for answers every where else. He is spiritually blind. The Bible has something to say about this, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Here is a man who has good physical eyesight but is spiritually blind. He is seeking but never finding. If only he would start to seek the one who could open his eyes! Yet, like I said he is anti-Christian and is angry at God, if there even is one (in his opinion).

He is just one of many people that are seeking but never finding because they are blind. I believe we are poised on a point of revival if only God would open the eyes of the masses. People are seeking. People want to know peace. They just need God to open their eyes and soften their hearts. Will you join me in praying for our nation? Will you join me in praying for the scales to fall from the eyes of America? Will you join me in praying for revival, for a movement of God’s Spirit?

Lord, we pray for another Great Awakening of our country. Please, please start opening eyes and softening hearts. Use us to start this change. Give us courage to speak and the right words to move people. Call us to repentance, to healing and to a closer relationship with you. In your great and powerful name, Amen!

21. The Woman Who Touched His Coat

Standard

There is no delicate way to talk about this one… There was a lady who had a bleeding problem for twelve years. Twelve Years! Let’s read about her:

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:25-34)

The placement of this account is interesting. If you remember from the last study, it occurs in the middle of another story. A man named Jairus had come to ask Jesus to heal his dying daughter. Jesus was on the way to his house when he notices someone touched his clothing. This is where we pick up our study today. What was so special about this woman that three Gospel writers included her in their accounts? We are reading from Mark this time because he provides the most details.

Let’s take a look at the woman and her condition… She had some kind of continual hemorrhage, although scholars are unsure, it was most likely uterine related. This had some serious implications… 1- The woman would have been very weak and tired most, if not all, of the time. 2- She would have been considered unclean according to Levitical laws for twelve years (Read Leviticus 15:25-33). That’s a long time to be separated from family and loved ones. We learn from the text that she tried to get better by seeking doctors. In fact, she “had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse,” (verse 26). What were some of these treatments she sought? I’m glad you asked… They were far from the scientifically sound treatments of today. One cure said to carry the ashes of an ostrich egg. Another involved carrying barley corn obtained from the dung of a white female donkey around the neck. Yummy. The point is that she was desperate for a cure and nothing she tried helped. Then she heard about Jesus, perhaps she heard about him from other formerly unclean people who had been cured by Jesus. We don’t know but somehow this woman heard about the Healer. She had a problem though… no self respecting rabbi would knowingly touch a woman let alone an unclean woman. So she says to herself, “Self, if I just touch his clothes, I will be healed,” (verse 28). Now, many Bible Scholars say that this showed she thought there was something magical about Jesus; that she was a bit superstitious about Jesus’ power and had a very weak faith. I don’t think this is the case at all. I think she had great faith to think that just touching Jesus’ clothes would provide healing. Again, I think the reason she doesn’t confront Jesus and ask him for help is because a normal rabbi would have turned her away. I think it took great faith to think that Jesus was so powerful that all she had to do was touch him. Also, Jesus himself says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering,” (verse 34). Her faith healed her. Not her lack of faith. All I’m sayin’ is who am I to argue with Jesus. If he says her faith healed her, then it was probably her faith that healed her, lol.

So she touched Jesus’ clothes and immediately her bleeding stopped and her whole body felt healed- in other words, there was no recovery time. She was instantly restored to complete health. Jesus then asks an question, “Who touched my clothes?” There were crowds pressing in on all sides. The disciples thought it was ridiculous of Jesus to ask, “Who touched me?” because everyone was touching him. Jesus knew, however, that one person in particular had received healing by touching him. Now, this brings a couple of questions to mind and I don’t know that I have the answers to them but they are worth asking any way…

  1. Did the woman really take Jesus’ power without his authority and in a sense steal his power?
  2. Did he really not know who touched him?

As to the first question, I don’t think that the woman took power from Jesus without his authority. I think he probably knew about what was going on and granted the healing. Which brings me to the second question- He also knew who touched him but was giving the woman the chance to publicly announce her complete restoration. I don’t know why he didn’t just point her out unless he was trying to be gracious in allowing her to ‘fess up. But I don’t think he was ignorant of the facts.

Oh, to have the faith of this woman! How often do we talk about having faith in Jesus but then don’t take our problems, no matter how small or big, to him. We try to fix things on our own, we ask others for help, but we fail to go to the one who can help us. I think this is a problem more with the little things in life. I almost always remember to ask God for help with the big stuff but God is in the details too. I think I mentioned this before, but one way I’ve started stretching my faith is when I lose something. I ask God to help me find whatever I’m looking for and within moments, I have found it. God has yet to leave me floundering for something. In how many more ways could we trust God yet we overlook them? My challenge to you this week is to pick one time to trust God in a way you have never done before. Running late for an appointment? Trust God to make it work out somehow. Lose your keys? Ask God to find them for you. Low on cash? Ask God to give you your daily needs. But here’s the kicker… you have to actually believe that God will come through for you and be ready to pray like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego- Lord, I know you can do this but even if you don’t I will still praise you!

The End.

20. Jesus & Jairus

Standard

In this Bible Study we will read about the first recorded time that Jesus raised anyone from the dead. This time it happens to be a twelve year old daughter of a synagogue ruler. It’s a longer passage because there is a story within a story. Don’t worry though, I will break these stories into two studies so don’t get overwhelmed:

Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands onher so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:22-43)

Alright lets back up a moment. Jesus is still at Matthew’s house having dinner. John the Baptizer’s disciples have just asked Jesus why he doesn’t fast. You can read about it here. While he was finishing his discussion with John’s disciples, a man named Jairus comes in. Jairus was synagogue leader or literally synagogue “ruler”. He is a man with a problem- his daughter is sick. In fact, she is dying. This brings me to my first observation- In general synagogue rulers, Pharisees, etc didn’t care for Jesus. It makes me wonder what Jairus’ opinion of Jesus was before his daughter became sick. Was he a hard nosed, anti-Jesus critic or was he more like our friend, Nicodemus- genuinely curious about this God-man? We don’t know but it makes me wonder none the less. Either way, we see a desperate Jairus coming to Jesus… falling at his feet, begging him to come and heal his daughter. If Jairus was your typical religious ruler, imagine what it meant for him to fall at Jesus’ feet. How bad must his situation have been for him to humiliate himself like that? He was a very prominent man, after all, and now we see him at the feet of someone who was controversial to say the least. It easily could’ve been a first century scandal.

So to recap the story… Jairus has a dying daughter (about twelve years old), he asks Jesus to, “come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live,” (Mark 5:23). Jesus goes with Jairus. On the way, Jesus has an encounter with another sick female. I don’t want to spend too much time on her right now because I plan on studying her next time with more detail. But it is important to mention that while Jesus was still talking to her, word comes that Jairus’ daughter had died. If only Jesus had been faster in getting to her! If only he hadn’t stopped to speak with the other woman! Didn’t Jesus know how seriously ill she was? Can you imagine Jairus? He just completely humiliated himself in front of an audience of his peers (remember the Pharisees were at Matthew’s house) for nothing. His daughter is dead. His reputation is potentially ruined. But then… (You gotta watch out for the big buts in the Bible, lol). But then Jesus leans over to Jairus and tells him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” I love this line and I have clung to it often throughout the years when I have faced trouble and and strife. “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” It seems so simple doesn’t it? Yet when you have nothing left… when all else gone… all you have is faith and if you don’t have faith in anything then you have nothing. It’s sad really. And how many people have nothing? I think that’s why we see people who don’t normally believe in God and/or Jesus asking for prayer or talking to God directly. They realize they have nothing else so they fall on God.

Jesus takes only Peter, James, John and Jairus with him as they get closer to the house. As they approach, “Jesus saw a commotion.” Jewish mourning customs back then were different then our current American customs. Professional mourners were hired to “grieve” the departed. Even the poorest family was required to hire at least “one wailing woman and two flute players”. Jairus being of a respectable profession could have afforded more than the bare minimum. I love Jesus and his ways. I imagine Jesus just looking around with a slight smile on his face when he asks, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep,” (verse 39). He knows the child is dead, he knows everyone else knows the child is dead. What they don’t know is that Jesus isn’t just a healer… he is life itself. It’s as if the little girl is merely sleeping because Jesus is about to “wake her up”. Jesus is going to completely restore her. Of course the people thought Jesus was nuts and even laughed at him. Even if they knew about his healing powers, it didn’t matter to them because to them the girl was beyond healing. But nothing is impossible with God!

Jesus kicks everyone out except for Jairus and his wife, Peter, James, and John. Once again, you’ve got to love Jesus’ style- he takes the girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (verse 41). He is so gentle and caring!  Oh, to be that little girl- to have held Jesus’ hand and be brought to life! The text says she immediately got up and started walking. Then Jesus tells them to feed her. I guess it’s hungry work being dead, lol! To say everyone present was amazed would be an understatement. Can you imagine? I’ve been to several funerals where I have thought about this passage and how crazy it would be to have the dead person just stand up and start talking and walking as if nothing had happened. Freaky right? Yet this is exactly what happens here. Jesus, with just a touch and a command, conquers death.

All this made me think about a couple of life application points:

  1. How often do people approach God like Jairus? They go through life as if they have it all together on their own and then something terrible happens… then all of a sudden, when there is no where else to turn, they come begging to Jesus. Now there is nothing wrong with coming to Jesus this way if you leave a different person. What I find interesting about Jairus is that we never know how this healing of his daughter affects him. Does he go back to his typical synagogue ruler ways or does he allow the miracle to change his life? I hurts my heart to see people in desperate situations cry out to God for a miracle, get the miracle and then continue to live their life as if nothing ever happened. Like I said, we don’t know whatever happened to Jairus, it just makes me go hmmmm. The next time you ask God for anything- healing, finding lost keys, new job… whatever it is, and he pulls through 1. Don’t forget to thank God for the miracle. 2. Come out on the other side of the miracle a different person! Allow it to change your life and then tell others so it can change their lives, too! We don’t know what happened to Jairus, but we can write our own endings to our stories. How will yours end? Will you go back to your regular life or will you live a life changed by God?
  2. Sometimes bad things happen so that God can get greater glory. It’s not an accident that the girl died. Whether it was because Jesus was waylaid by the bleeding woman or whether something else would’ve happened, the girl was going to die anyway so that Jesus could be glorified greater than ever before. If she hadn’t died then Jesus would have just been a healer. Now people knew a deeper facet of his glory… his power over death itself! The next time life doesn’t go your way, instead of pouting about it, ask God to use the situation to bring himself the greatest glory and watch what happens! For example, my step-mom was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. While I pray that God would heal her with a miracle, I also pray, earnestly, that whatever he chooses to do, that his glory will be made known. Do I have to like what he does? Nope. But I pray it anyway. Already I have seen family members hearts soften towards God and that, my friends, is a miracle.
  3. Only Jesus has the power over death! This is why believing in him is necessary if you want to live eternally. What does it matter if we live eternally or just die? I’m glad you asked 😀 Life after death and death isn’t as cut and dry as it seems. When you die you don’t just cease to exist. You will either live eternally or die eternally. It’s not a once and done thing. Eternal death is the process of being eternally separated from God. The absence of God is Satan or Evil. So eternal separation from God means an eternal presence of Evil and Satan. Sadly, this is what awaits those who don’t choose God. Fortunately, Jesus overcame death by overcoming Hell so that we don’t have to go there. This is the Good News of the Bible! Jesus has overcome sin by overcoming death itself and we who believe in him have also overcome death through Christ. This is why we can have hope when things are going bad. Jesus has overcome and we are going to spend eternity in heaven with him. It doesn’t get any better than that even if we have to muddle through the muck of this world to get there.

The End.

19. To Fast or not to Fast… that is the question.

Standard

We pick up in the same place we left off last time. Jesus is at Matthew’s house dining with sinners and tax collectors. The Pharisees have been standing around asking Jesus’ disciples why their teacher is hanging out with undesirable people. And now we have another group of people starting to ask questions. Let’s read:

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17)

We now have John the Baptizer’s students on the scene. We don’t know how long they had been there before they started to inquire of Jesus. They could’ve been there for the Pharisees’ questions or they could have just popped in. Either way, It may be helpful to back up and talk a little about John. John was Jesus’ slightly older cousin. He was born into a sacred mission- to prepare the hearts of Israel for the coming Messiah. He was an outspoken evangelist and would cry out to anyone who would listen to him. He was a bit of an eccentric character- he lived in the wilderness, wearing camel skin clothing and eating locusts. I imagine him to a very self-disciplined person and we know he fasted and spent a lot of time praying.  Now we see John’s disciples asking Jesus why he doesn’t fast too.

We don’t know why John’s disciples asked- were they genuinely interested or were they calling into question Jesus’ righteousness? In either case, that they were asking in the presence of the Pharisees would have fueled the Pharisees fire. I imagine them standing around disgruntled because Jesus just put them in their place when he says, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,'” (Matthew 9:13). Now they have a renewed spark in their eyes as they think, “Yes, why don’t you fast?” But why was fasting so important anyway? God ordained only one day that required fasting- Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. The Pharisees, however, required fasting on Monday and Thursday every week. They said it was to commemorate the days that Moses went up and came down Mt. Sinai. In short, they made fasting a means to prove one’s righteous as opposed to a means to grow closer to God. While it is unclear if John’s disciples practiced this Monday/Thursday fasting, we can assume that they fasted regularly.

So they ask Jesus why he and his disciples don’t fast and he responds with a line about marriage. What is that all about? I’m glad you asked! In the Old Testament, the covenant of marriage is often used to describe the covenant between God and his people. God is the groom who promises to love, honor, and cherish Israel, the bride. Unfortunately along the way, Israel strays like an adulterous wife but instead of divorcing her, God is faithful to his part of the covenant even when Israel is not. There was correction and even punishment at times, but God always remained faithful to his covenants. This picture of marriage was well known to all the Jews so to them; Jesus is not making an abstract statement. He is referring to himself as God, the bridegroom!  We see Jesus referring to himself as the groom and the current time as the wedding feast, or a time of joy! And who fasts during a time of joy? Nobody! In fact the only day God requires fasting for, the Day of Atonement, is a day of sadness during which Israel is to remember her sins and make atonement for them. For the short time that Jesus is alive on earth, the people should be joyful that God is physically with them because there is coming a time when the “bridegroom will be taken from them” (Matthew 9:15) and then they should be sad and fast. As you may have guessed, Jesus is referring to his impending death here. The original word for the the verb “will be taken” has a violent connotation to it. I don’t know if Jesus knew at that point he was going to die on a cross but he at least had an idea that his death was going to be brutal.

Then Jesus seems to have another random thought as he jumps from weddings to clothes and wineskins. Jesus says that if you sew a new, unshrunk patch on an old piece of clothing, it will tear and make the hole bigger once the garment is washed. The old piece of clothing is the the law and Jesus is the patch. There were some holes in the Mosaic law- for example, you had to keep sacrificing when you sinned. There wasn’t a one time fix that covered any sin. Jesus was going to take care of that. In other words, the law served it’s purpose at the time, but now it needed to be interpreted through Jesus colored lenses. The old law needed to become a new garment so that when Jesus was sewed on, the patch and the garment would hold together, so to speak.

The wineskin metaphor is the same. Old wineskins became hard and brittle, but new wineskins were soft and supple. They needed to be because the new wine would ferment and cause expansion. If you but new wine into the hardened wineskins, they would burst and the wine would spill out everywhere. In both examples, Jesus gives, the message is the same, Jesus is making everything new. This doesn’t mean that the Old Testament is invalid or irrelevant- it means that it needs to be interpreted through Jesus, who was about mercy, grace, redemption and most of all love.

The End.

18. Jesus Calls Matthew

Standard

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.