28 February 2010

Jesus Heals the People Who Come to Him

Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!” But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.   Mark 3:7-13

  • By this time, Jesus was known throughout the Palestinian region.  Mark writes here that the crowds gathered from all over.  People came from south of Jerusalem and from north of GalileeWe have just a brief picture here of the measures Jesus took so that he could handle the crowds of people who knew that if they could get close enough to Jesus, if they could touch him, they would be healed.
  • Why do people come to Jesus?  To be healed.  Do we still come to Jesus today to be healed?  People came to Jesus because they knew that there was something terribly wrong and they were willing to leave their home and travel some distance using whatever means were available because they heard about a man who was healing people.
  • Are there greater needs than physical healing?  Certainly.  But physical ailments are needs too.  Please note that Jesus healed people.  He had compassion.  Compassion not defined as mere empathy, not just an acknowledgment of one's condition, but action with the purpose of abolishing or overcoming the ailment.  We live in a broken, fallen world and for those of us who follow Jesus, we must be prepared to proclaim the good news of Jesus to all of us who have all kinds of physical, mental and/or spiritual ailments and be prepared to confront those ailments, not just acknowledge them.
  • From the crowd's perspective, they came to be changed.  They saw something about themselves that they didn't like and put their hopes on a person they had only heard about, that he could change them.  I pray that I do not come to Jesus for a reputation enhancement, but because I know that he is my only hope to be whole and content, to live life as he meant it to be.  How far would I be willing to go for such healing?

25 February 2010

Jesus Is Angered and Grieved by Hard Hearts

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.  Mark 3:1-6

  • Again note the actions of the religious leaders.  Despite going to a place, the synagogue (local Jewish church), where they are to pray and study the Word of God, this is not what was foremost on their minds.  They gathered together to accuse, to condemn.  And they thought this through ahead of time because they were willing to use a handicapped man to do it.  I don't know this for certain, but I doubt the man with the withered hand is well regarded in the town.  Like most men with a condition, they probably looked down on him as cursed.  My guess is the only time they truly regarded him at all was to use him in this "trap" against this upstart rabbi.
  •  By now it is clear that Jesus and the religious class had bumped heads on the Sabbath before.  What is the Sabbath?  The Sabbath was based on when God created the heavens and the earth.  He created the earth in six days, saw that what he created was very good and rested on the seventh day.  The seventh day is the Sabbath.  One of the ten commandments is to "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy." (godly separate)  After six days of living work as all of life is done for the Lord as they were to love them with all of their strength, they were to rest on the seventh day just as God did when he created the world.  
  • The religious class had turned a beautiful rhythm of life remembrance of God's providence into a weapon of judgment.  The Sabbath would help determine who is pure and righteous and who is not.  But, Jesus taught them concerning the Sabbath, "Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath."  The Sabbath was given by a loving heavenly Father who knew that godly, hard-working people need rest.  
  • But, the world does not stop on the Sabbath.  Some work is necessary.  As Jesus points out, if livestock falls in a hole, the owner would pull it out even if it was on the Sabbath.  Why?  Because if the owner doesn't, the animal would become more harmed to the point of probable death.  Jesus was among us for a short time and his Father was busy working and so Jesus was too.
  • As he often did, Jesus turns the accusations against the accusers.  After calling the man with the withered hand to him, he asks, "Is it lawful to do good or to harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?"
  • They were silent.  They could not answer.  Their hearts were so set on accusing Jesus, they would not be deterred no matter the clear wisdom and logic from the rabbi.  "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does God require of you but to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?"  I used to see these as three separate categories.  But, through Jesus I understand these as three symbiotic requirements of our Father.  We cannot do justice or love kindness without walking humbly with our God.  For God is the author of justice and kindness and if we do not humbly come before him in our ignorance seeking his grace, we are incapable of justice and kindness.
  • Jesus' reaction?  Anger.  He was angry and grieved at their hardness of heart.  They had hearts of stone.  They had not asked God for hearts of flesh.  Yes, it is okay to be angry, but we must be angry for just reasons.  And, we must have the proper reaction.  Jesus did not lash out at the religious leaders who had regarded the man with the withered hand as a mere tool.  He kindly regarded the man with the withered hand as a fellow human being with a need.  Jesus saw the need and met the need.  The religious leaders again confirmed their hard hearts when instead of praising God for the man's healed hand, they met with the political class of Israel to see how they could silence this rabbi Jesus once and for all.
  • All of us who follow Christ, when we see a need, we must meet the need.  What religious reasons do we come up with for not meeting needs?  For not bringing the good news of Jesus to all who need it?  For not working together as one body of Christ in order that those who want healing can have healing?  Am I quick to accuse or eager to help?  Am I quick to condemn or eager to show mercy?  I don't want Jesus angry or grieved with me because of my hardness of heart.

24 February 2010

Jesus Knows the Scriptures

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”  Matthew 12:1-8
  • The recorders of Jesus' ministry are giving us a clear picture, are they not?  It appears that early in Jesus' ministry, there was constant tension between Jesus and the religious leaders over the Sabbath.  Jesus was constantly doing things on the Sabbath that drew not only questions from the religious leaders of the day, but their growing anger and hatred as well.  Remember that those who wrote about Jesus' life did not tell us all of what Jesus did because as John said, they simply could not.  What they wrote was for the reader to believe that Jesus is our Saviour and our Lord.   So, there are some things we need to learn from this constant battle over the Sabbath.
  • As any rabbi would, Jesus knew the Bible.  He knew how to read the Bible.  He knew how to teach from the Bible.  His authority combined with his intimate knowledge of scriptures give this amateur teacher pause and causes me to worship him all the more.  
  • Here, he speaks about an account from 1 Samuel 21.  This is the second straight account we read about Jesus using a highly-regarded historical hero to challenge their thinking.  First, he spoke about Moses and now David.  He then points out an obvious "exception" to Sabbath law prescribed in Numbers 28 in which the priests had to work in order to perform the prescribed Sabbath sacrifices.  He then closes his defense with another quotation from Hosea 6.
  •  The religious leaders would have known the scriptures as well.  This demonstrates that knowledge of the scriptures is not enough, but it is how we interpret the scripturesJesus gives us a hint of the interpretive problem, "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless."  God's Law was given so that His people would know Him better.  God's Word was given so that His people would know Him better.  It is clear from the constant friction between Jesus and the religious leaders, that the religious teachers had improperly interpreted the scriptures.  Which led them to "condemn the guiltless".  This is why faulty religious teaching is so dangerous.  Because faulty religious teaching condemns the guiltless and this leads to unjust consequences.
  • So why did the religious leaders interpret scripture wrongly?  They did not know the author.  They focused so intently on the rules themselves and the rules they created so that people would not break God's Law, they forgot that the Laws they were so concerned about were the Lord's, not theirs.  They stopped asking, "What does God want?  How does he want us to live?"  Apparently, God wants us to show mercy to one another more than our constant apologies.  God wants kindness more than spilled blood.  
  • For us to have a proper interpretation of God's Word, we must have a proper understanding of the Author Himself.  This must be the hope of this blog and every other study of scripture:  Who is our Heavenly Father?  What does He want?  How can I serve Him?

23 February 2010

Jesus Is Affirmed by Many Sources

“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God inf you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”   John 5:31-47

So far in this account written by Jesus' disciple John, Jesus has claimed that God is his Father, that his work and his Father's work are the same and that God the Father will give him authority to judge the living and the dead at an appointed time.  Big calls!  The religious leaders of Israel may be right to raise suspicion.
But our loving Lord Jesus never asks us to simply place our belief in Him based on flimsy evidence.  He doesn't ask us to believe him simply because he said toAfter all, anyone can claim anything.
What about the most recent and recognised prophet of God, John the Baptist?  John the Baptist testified to "the Lamb of God" and was constantly testifying to "the one whose sandals I am unworthy to untie".  He had the integrity and respect of Israel not to mention the Lord's hand in his work.  But, anyone can have mere human testimony and loyal subjects who can be completely and utterly wrong.
What about the works that Jesus was doing?  Jesus was healing and helping people like no one had ever witnessed before.  And Jesus just claimed that he would be unable to do these awesome works if he was not doing what the Father is doing.  Not even the enemies of Jesus, during his ministry, ever questioned the miracles themselves.  They would question the timing or the power by which Jesus performed the miracles.
What about God's Word which spoke again and again about the Messiah?  Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, that the scriptures spoke of himself since he is the Messiah, the one who will save Israel.  Couldn't we examine the scriptures to see if Jesus' claim is valid or invalid.  Jesus asks us to search them.
It is at this point that Jesus accuses these religious leaders of spiritual blindness.  Jesus claims that if one searches the scriptures, looking for eternal life, looking for the best way to live, looking for the words of God himself, and don't find the clear testimony about Jesus, we don't know the book or it's Author.  He says that people must come to him for life.  He says that if the love of God is in them, they will clearly accept who Jesus is.
We are so quick to follow people based on popularity, based on who else is following, based on reputation.  In reality, we do not set our standards high enough.  We fall so easily for praise from one another.  Why?  Because ultimately we have no real authority over one another.  Ultimately our judgment amounts to nothing.  Because we can easily fool one another to whatever selfish end we want to seize.
The problem of the religious leaders is the universal problem of the world.  We refuse to humbly seek an intimate relationship with our Creator, our Father, our God.  We have rejected him and have put our trust in something else.  And, everything else outside of God is created.
The religious leaders claimed to be restoring Israel back to its glory days by restoring its purity in the light of the original law handed down by Moses.  But, what about God's servant Moses testimony about Jesus?  Deuteronomy 18:15, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet."  Was Jesus a prophet like Moses?  Yes and he is so much more than Moses.  Jesus points out that if they do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, that they really do not listen to Moses either.  When they invoke the name of Moses, it is not out of genuine love for God, his prophet nor his scriptures.
What do all of these witnesses to Jesus have in common?  They are all from His Father.  It is God's prophets, God's works, God's Word and even God's Spirit that testify to the validity of Jesus' claims.  To reject Christ as the way to life, as the way to know the Father, is to reject the
Father.  But, to believe that Jesus is the way to life, as the way to know the Father, is to accept the Father.

20 February 2010

Jesus and His Father are One

Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.
“Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just 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 execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.   I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me..."   John 5:16-30
  • "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one."  As Jesus explains to the religious leaders why he was healing people on the Sabbath,  (Note again on the religious heart of stone:  their focus is not on what he is doing and whom is receiving help but when he is doing it.) he seems to give an explanation of the Shema, the Jewish declaration spoken whenever they gathered to worship God.  God is not divided. God is not split.  God cannot go against himself.  Even as God shares a wonderous aspect of himself to those he created, those aspects are in holy, loving unity with one another in a way that is hard for his created beings to understand.  Even if part of God empties himself, sheds portions of his divine properties and takes on the form of a servant, the Lord our God is still one.
  •  It's as though he is pleading with the religious leaders to see:  The lame walk!  The blind see!  The sick are well!  It is not the Son who does this on his own, but it is the Father who works through him and with him.  There is amazing things going on that should result in massive rejoicing throughout God's people, but their stubborn hearts are causing them to miss it.
  • As a wonderful example for us through his holy nature, the Son trusts the Father completely.  Even in the midst of plotting and scheming to kill Jesus, Jesus confidently tells them that the Father raises the dead, gives life and the Son will do the same.  Again, Jesus speaks plainly about what will happen to him and the wonderful consequences that will benefit his disciples.
  • Jesus warns them in the midst of their growing distrust, hatred and plotting against the Son that they reveal their own heart toward God the Father as well.  Make no mistake, Jesus is God in the flesh.  Jesus is the perfect, loving message from the Creator to all of His creation.  How we regard Jesus as we come to know him reveals whether or not we love the Lord our God will all of our heart, with all of our soul and with all of our strength.
  • Judging those who deserve life and and those who deserve punishment is the task of God and God alone.  And God has given that task to His Son, Jesus.  Jesus explains that he will judge who will live and who will be condemned.  He teaches that those who have done good will live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.  Seems clear-cut.  But Jesus, I have done so much evil in my life, won't that mean my condemnation when the time comes?  If that is the case, we are all doomed.  Jesus tells us that "whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life". 
  • Here, Jesus explains that judgment is not about what we have done, but it is whether we have allowed what he has done for us to affect how we live the life that he gives to each of us.  If we place our hope in our own goodness, we are doomed.  But, if we place our hope in His goodness that lays the foundation for our own goodness, we will find life.
Thank you so much for your grace, Lord Jesus.  Thank you for your gift of life.  You are our only hope.  Please help us and guide us through your Spirit just as the Father guided your steps.

14 February 2010

Jesus Is Despised even by Someone He Helps

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared ind the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.    John 5:1-18

  • Jesus healed many people.  Not all of those healings are recorded.  When the disciples recorded Jesus healing, there is always a larger lesson to be learned by future disciples.  So why does John tell us about this healing?
  • This is one of the few (if not only) healings we can read about where some kind of faith in Jesus isn't mentioned or inferred.  I think John tells us about this healing to reinforce why faith is necessary for a person to be healed by Jesus.  It is also important to remember that Jesus is far less interested in our physical healing and much more invested in our spiritual healing.
  • Until now, most of Jesus' ministry had taken place in Galilee.  This can explain why the presence of Jesus at a healing pool in Jerusalem didn't precipitate a full-on riot by all those present.  It also explains why the man doesn't know that he is talking to someone who can make him well.  All he wants from Jesus is help carrying him into the pool when the water is stirred up.
  • I can't imagine this man's life.  Can you imagine the kind of existence of a poor invalid stuck by a pool for 38 years?  
  • "Do you want to be made well?This seems like an odd, callous question.  But, no matter how pathetic a life that is lead, sometimes we get used to a certain pattern and we become used to the dysfunction.  So, we may fear the change that we know will come if we are actually made better.
  • The man is healed.  Jesus disappears.  Did he want to thank Jesus?  Not sure.  Did he want to follow Jesus?  He didn't even know who Jesus was, but we have no indicator that in his life change he wanted to find Jesus to see the rabbi who healed him.
  • Here comes another illustration between the heart of the religious and the heart of Jesus.  The man had been at the pool for 37 years.  Surely some of the Jews who confronted him knew who he was.  He surely did not have the clothes or the look of a common Jewish man, but as one who had been down on his luck for years.  When they see him, is their reaction, "Praise God!  This man is healed!" or "Poor man, we need to see what we can do to love this neighbour of ours"?  Sadly, no.  The mind of the religious is obsessed with petty rules that don't matter a hill of beans in the lives of real children of God.   "It is the Sabbath.  It is unlawful for you to carry your mat."  The man explains that the only reason he is carrying his mat is some man healed him told him to carry the mat.  He is unable to answer their callous inquiry as to who told him to break the law.
  • This rule about carrying incidentals on the Sabbath does not exist in the Torah (Jewish Law given through Moses).  It is a hedge law made up by the religious class to ensure the true law given by God that His people will keep the Sabbath holy would not be violated.
  • We don't really know the heart of this man until Jesus encounters him a second time.  We don't know what sin the man has committed, but Jesus knows as Jesus confronts him with it and warns him not to continue sinning or something worse would happen to him.  Sin is our primary problem, but sometimes we don't want to remove our problem because we enjoy the benefits of our sin.  But Jesus warns us time and again that the consequences of any sin in our lives is dire and worse than living off scraps in filthy rags unable to walk into a nearby pool for 37 years.
  • What is the reaction of the man to Jesus' warning?  "Rabbi, I know you are good and from God since you healed me from my crippling state.  I will do as you say.  Could you please help me to live a godly life?"  No.  The man, now knowing who Jesus is, dobs him in to the same people who already demonstrated they couldn't care less about him.
  • The Jerusalem religious class confronted Jesus about healing on the Sabbath and he responds, "My Father is working, and I also am working."  They refuse to see the stamp of authority given by God by his power to heal.  They do not even dispute his ability to heal.  They are enraged by his flouting of their laws.  And it reveals their hearts.  They could care less about their neighbours' well-being.  They only care about their ability to control the lives of the populous by the creation of sanctimonious rules that clearly do not allow them to know their God better.  
 Father, please help us to acknowledge your love in our lives so that we can allow you to create hearts of flesh out of our hearts of stone. 

12 February 2010

Jesus Knows Not Everyone Can Accept Him

Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.‘ Jesus said to them, “You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’ ”  Luke 5:33-39

  • Our Father and His Son wants us to enjoy life.  But, every time we experience injustice, death and suffering, we are reminded that we cannot enjoy life as fully as we should.  What is the problem?  It's because the Father and the Son are not with us fully.  The short time that Jesus made his dwelling among men was just an appetizer for the banquet that is to come.  The great wedding has not taken place yet. Until the bridegroom returns and is ready to celebrate that great day, we remember not only that things aren't the way they should be, but we will trust in the Father's wisdom when to bring the solution.
  •  In the context of Luke's ordered account, we see several instances when the healing, sin-forgiving, eating with 'sinners', calling the wrong kinds of people to be disciples (and he's just getting warmed up) Jesus is starting to grate against the religious leaders.  It isn't outright malice yet, but one can read that the religious leaders aren't exactly comfortable with what is happening.  It is in the midst of these mild confrontations that Jesus tells a parable about old and new things.
  • I'm sure the only begotten Son of our Father took no delight in saying what he was saying.  Because some people are so set in their ways and the way they see and 'interact' with God, they will never be able to handle when their ways are challenged by the truth that is taking place right around them.  Jesus seems to say that one of two things will happen when old thinking mixes with new revelations.  Either the new revelations will be distorted in some way because it must be altered to match old thinking.  And/Or the old thinking will unhealthily shatter under the reality of the new revelation.
  • Anyone who is serious about following Jesus must be willing to leave all of their old ways and thinking at the door (Repentance).  Why?  Because Jesus will force us to honestly challenge everything about our old way of life and this is a very hard challenging process if we do not trust Him fully.  It's all or nothing.  Father, thank you for your patience and grace as we allow you to change us into new wineskins that are ready for the new wine of your Son and Spirit. 

09 February 2010

Jesus Eats With Sinners

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”   Matthew 9:9-13

Eating together is one of the most under-appreciated, peaceful and glorious events we could do.  It is recorded that two of the things the early church devoted themselves to are fellowship (sharing of each other's lives) and the breaking of breadAnd devotion to the apostle's teaching and prayer was intermingled around their tables as they ate together in each other's homes with glad and sincere hearts.  Even one of the church's sacraments established by Jesus involved a meal (although it's hard to see given what the Lord's Supper has been reduced to in many congregations).

What is it about eating together that is so good?  We tend to relax when we eat.  Even the one who serves the meal relaxes when they have time to eat.  I enjoy shared meals where most people around the table bring something to the table to share.  It means the entire burden of serving the meal doesn't fall on one person.  When we relax, we enjoy ourselves.  When we relax, we tend to let our hair down and be more ourselves.  We also tend to focus more on each other, especially when something else isn't fighting for our attention.  It really does bring everyone around the table more together.

This is what is so remarkable about this meal, as evidenced by the religious leaders' reaction, recorded in this passage.  But before I go toward that point, it is important to realise that even though we will read about Jesus eating a lot of meals, he doesn't convene any of them except for the last one. After all, for much of his ministry he is a traveling guest.  In this case, he invites Matthew to be his disciple and Matthew is so happy about his selection, he throws a party with Jesus as the guest of honour.

Tax collectors were the despised of Israel.  (They still are today.  Did you know that in the US, IRS agents are authorised to carry guns?)  They were seen as cheats and traitors of God's holy people.  This is demonstrated by the sadly humourous phrase in the gospels, "sinners and tax collectors".  Yet, Jesus seems to go right for one and declares that this tax collector is worthy to become one of this rabbi's disciples.

To see this account in isolation is strange.  Jesus seems to walk right up to Matthew's workplace, tells him to follow him, and Matthew gets right up.  Huh?  Really?  Understand these true stories have context.  By this point, Jesus was gaining in fame and reputation.  Also understand that in a religious culture, the young boys who were considered the best and brightest were trained by rabbis to become rabbis.  Matthew was obviously not considered the best or the brightest because he is not a rabbi.  Worse, he is working in what would be a polar opposite of rabbi, tax collector.  

We have already seen that Jesus knew the hearts of men.  Matthew knew about Jesus.  He heard about his remarkable teaching and healing.  He maybe even heard about how Jesus called some fishermen to be his disciples.  This was not your typical rabbi.  In his quieter moments, he maybe fantasied about being one of Jesus' disciples, learning from this great man.  Maybe, he even prayed to his heavenly Father to be able to follow Jesus.  With this frame of mind, it makes sense that when Jesus calls him, he leaves immediately to follow him.

Even better, Matthew throws a party.  Who does he invite?  He invites his new friends, Jesus and his new fellow disciples and his old friends.  Israelites who pursued purity and God's favour had very little to do with people like Matthew.  So, all Matthew has to invite are his "less-desirable" friends.  And this gives us the beautiful scene of Jesus eating with the "scum" of Israel.  What did Jesus have in common with these people?  Humanity for one.  They all had families and dreams.  They all enjoyed a good banquet and maybe that was enough for a fruitful time for all.

Do you notice that the religious leaders do an awful lot of murmuring and complaining about Jesus instead of bringing their complaint to Jesus?  This can be a church cancer.  I call it being evilly nice.

But when Jesus hears the religious people complaining about Jesus eating with the wrong people, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."  The Hebrew word in Hosea could also be understood as "steadfast love".  The religious leaders seemed to say, "Why does this rabbi eat with those people?  Those aren't good people.  They won't understand and will never understand how to be in God's favour.  He needs to be with us.  We are the ones who are truly right with God."

This is why Jesus quoting Hosea and challenging the religious leaders to understand Hosea 6:6 is so brilliantly stinging.  Hosea was a prophet who was told by God to marry a prostitute.  God used this dysfunctional relationship to illustrate how Israel had treated him.  God tells Israel of his steadfast love toward his people despite their infidelity.  He informs them that He wants Israel to truly love Him, trust Him, and stay loyal to Him instead of empty rituals that indicate empty apologies to a God they clearly do not love or respect.

The Pharisees saw themselves as the restored people of Israel.  They saw themselves as purer than others and that's how they encouraged others, who still had hope, to be.  They were God's watchdogs, ensuring the people stayed loyal to God.  They would have surely thought that they were keeping the Hosea mandate.  But Jesus informs them that they are not and he knows they are not because of the attitude they have toward 'the sinners and tax collectors'.

Don't think, however, that the tax collectors and the sinners are the good guys and the religious leaders are the bad guys.  Jesus still calls the people he is eating with sick.  They need help.  They need a doctor.  Does this mean the religious leaders aren't sick?  That they don't need a doctor?  Yes, they are sick as evidenced by their increased antagonism toward Jesus up until they succeed in their assassination plot.

"For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners."  The key difference between the tax collectors and the religious leaders?  What would happen if Jesus called the 'righteous' to be his disciples?  Would they exuberantly accept Jesus' call as Matthew did?  Why would they?  They already have God figured out.  They have their own disciples.  What could they possibly learn from Jesus?  But people who have been told their entire lives that they aren't good enough to be chosen by God, what is their reaction to Jesus' call?  They would not only humbly and immediately accept his invitation but throw a party like Matthew did. 

A reformed religious leader Paul in Ephesians:

 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

08 February 2010

Jesus Forgives Sins

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”   Mark 2:1-12

  •  Once again we find Jesus teaching "the word" to a packed house (literally!).
  • What loyal friends the paralyzed man had.  They were probably deeply disappointed that they missed a chance for Jesus to heal him the last time he was in town.  That must have been hard.  Clearly they would not miss the opportunity again.  They wanted their friend healed in the worst way, and they knew that the only way it would happen was if Jesus would have access to their friend.
  • Jesus is a dangerous person to have in your home.  First, there's early morning knockers.  Then, not only is there so many house guests that the house is inaccessible, but now people are so desperate to see Jesus, they dig through the roof.  What strange inconveniences happen when Jesus is in my home or your home?
  • So, the friends who would do anything to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus, go through the painstaking effort.  They carry their friend to the roof.  They dig a hole through the roof.  They find whatever they can to carefully lower their friend to where Jesus is.  That must have been sweet relief when the job was done.  What excitement they must have felt when Jesus stopped teaching and saw the man.  Then Jesus said, "Son, your sins are forgiven."  Huh?  If I was one of the friends, this response would have bewildered me.  Yeah, that's great Jesus, but we didn't go through all this trouble just to have his sins forgiven.  Can't you see that he can't walk?
  • "Jesus saw their faith."  Their faith exhibited in the action they took that demonstrated their belief that Jesus would heal their friend.  Faith isn't head-knowledge, it's belief that guides how we live and act.
  • We have read about Jesus healing many, but this is the first healing we read about where Jesus says, "Son, your sins are forgiven."  Why?  Maybe there is something in the man's life that has to be confronted.  Maybe, Jesus is making a larger point to the friends and the crowd that sin is a larger issue than any physical ailment we have.  We are not specifically told here.  Sin is "missing the mark".  Sins is living against our Father's laws and therefore taking away from the abundant life we were created for.  Sin ALWAYS has disastrous consequences no matter if we see them today, tomorrow, a lifetime from now or don't realise the consequences at all.
  • I'm not so hard on the religious leaders present.  I would have the same questions.  Who is this guy to forgive sins?  But, Jesus is hard on their mental ponderings, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?"  Maybe we should find more joy in sins being forgiven?  It's not as flashy as seeing a blind man see or a lame man walk, but it's so much more important.  To live free of shame and guilt is an awesome feeling. 
  • "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"  Has authority on earth?  Why make that distinction "on earth" if he is merely a really special prophet?
  • Jesus answers their questions about his authority to forgive sins by showing his heavenly power.  And, the crowd has the right response.  They allow the man to carry out Jesus' commands by letting him out of the house and then they gave God the glory.  For every person who follows Jesus, this is the point.  Let every teaching, healing, loving act toward our neighbours point not to us, for who are we anyway?  But, let each of our actions give the response of glory toward our Heavenly Father.

06 February 2010

Jesus Touches the Untouchable

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.   Mark 1:40-45

  • How would I feel having a disease that isolated me from the rest of "civilised" society?  There are no hospitals, nursing, treatment centres.  There had to have been much isolation, shame and dispair.
  • But he has some hope because he has heard about Jesus.  He begs Jesus and in a statement of faith says, "If you choose, you can make me clean."  For those of us who've grown up in families that follow Jesus, the totality of Jesus' power to change lives can be disregarded.  We may fool ourselves into thinking that it is by our own power that we can be clean.  What does it mean to be clean?  To live a life clean of shame, clean of guilt, resentment, hate, loneliness, bitter feelings, and empty pursuits.  We do not have to live this way.  We do not have to settle.  "Jesus, if you choose, you can make me clean."
  • Jesus was moved by the man's pleas and healed him.  As we quickly discover in reading accounts of Jesus, Jesus heals in many different ways.  How does he heal someone that is not supposed to be touched?  He touches him.  How long had it been since the man felt human touch?  How strange and exhilarating that must have felt.  He can now be touched by others without fear and the first one who touches him is Jesus.  May we know the power Jesus gives to those of us who would extend His love and give wisely and freely exactly what people desperately need.
  • Why does Jesus sternly warn the man to say nothing to anyone?  Part of the answer is in what Jesus now has to do because the man, in his exuberance, did not listen to Jesus' instructions.  He has to stay outside of towns because of the great crowds that have come from near and far to see what Jesus could do for them.  

04 February 2010

Jesus Teaches How to Fish for People

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. Luke 5:1-11

  • Jesus sat down when he taught the crowds.  What a beautiful image and posture for a teacher to have with his students.  One time, I preached from a pulpit in a heritage-listed church building.  It was about five feet above and ten feet away from the audience.  I do so much more enjoy studying scripture with people who are sitting together comfortably in a room.  Sometimes, I am very tempted when I'm preaching at a church to just pull up a chair beside the pulpit, read a passage, and ask "Why does our Father tell us about this?"
  • Jesus, non-fisherman, gives professional fisherman, Simon, some fishing advice.  Simon is clearly a touch annoyed, but to his credit, follows the instructions anyway.  Quite often, I am given instructions without knowing what the result or purpose will be.  As someone who likes to understand everything, this makes me quite uncomfortable.  Following Jesus means ceding my need to understand to the one who understands everything.
  • Simon's boat caught so many that he had to call another boat in for help.  In the Kingdom of God, it's okay to ask others to help out with important tasks.  In fact, it's a requirement.
  • Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but Luke calls him Simon Peter instead of Simon when he exclaims his understanding of who he is in relation to Jesus.  Simon was his given name and Peter was the name given to him by Jesus.  
  • Make no mistake, people are what matter to Jesus.  He teaches his disciples how to catch people.  His primary focus is teaching his followers how to lovingly convince others to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
  • "They left everything and followed him."  These four fishermen (three of whom would form Jesus' inner discipleship circle) saw immediately who Jesus is and left everything they had known and ventured off into the unknown.  This is the embodiment of living by faith.

01 February 2010

Jesus Prays

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Mark 1:35-39

Brief observations:
  • Jesus was resting from what was sure to be a long evening.  He healed many from the whole city of Capernaum.  If it were me, I would have given myself a huge pat on the back for a job well done and would have instructed my disciples not to wake me up as I deserved a full night's rest.  Then again, I'm not Jesus.  What did he do?  He woke up before dawn and found a quiet spot outside of the house and prayed.  Apparently rest wasn't a primary concern for Jesus, talking with His Father was.
  • Prayer is communicating with our Father.  Communicating is not just talking to God and we seemed to be well-trained in doing that, but more importantly it is listening to God as well.  How?  He has spoken to us through His Word and His Son and continues to speak to us through His Spirit.  This triune of revelation is all we need to have an intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father.  I suppose that is what part of this blog is about, learning how to discern my Master's voice from all the others.
  • What does the only begotten Son of the Heavenly Father pray about?  We're not told here.  One thing is for sure, He liked to spend time with His Father.  I do believe we are given a clue about part of His prayer by His remarkable response to His disciples.  He prayed for direction as to how to serve today.
  • We can imagine the scene back at Peter's house.  Jesus healed many, but not everyone.  Some didn't get a whole lot of sleep that night.  They were excited.  They had seen long-time friends who ached with various diseases and maladies suddenly healed and the person who healed them is Jesus.  And he's staying at Simon and Andrew's house!  So, probably as soon as sunrise hit, they excitedly knocked on the door.  "I was wondering if the rabbi is willing to heal me this morning."  Maybe a little irritated but understanding, Simon's family goes to where Jesus was sleeping to see if He was awake.  Well, he's awake, but nobody seems to know where He is.  More and more people gather at the doorstep as the disciples look for their rabbi.  They finally find Him and inform Him of the situation, "Everyone is searching for you."  His answer?  "Let us go to the neighbouring towns..."  Wow.  He essentially leaves the needy of Capernaum at Simon and Andrew's doorstep and decides to go to other towns.  What gave him the confidence to make such a ministerial move in the face of sure disappointment?  The directions of His Father received through prayer.  After all Jesus wasn't there just for Capernaum, but for everyone who would believe wherever they are.
  • Jesus again gives his 'mission statement', "so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do."  Came to do?  In order to come, one must have come from somewhere else...
  • Jesus did not come primarily to heal diseases.  He did heal because of His compassion and his longing for people to trust and believe in Him.  But, He was more concerned with proclaiming the message.  What message?  "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."  And so that is what He would do throughout the entire region of Galilee.