Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Startling Encounter with Jesus

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

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

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

Again right at the beginning of this passage we are reminded that Jesus' priority in life is to be about His Father's business. As the people find that Jesus has returned home and the crowds gather hoping for a chance to encounter the popular healer and teacher, what do we find Jesus doing? Taking up an offering? Enlisting an army to lead a revolution and make Him king? No, He is preaching the Word of God., proclaiming His truth, announcing His coming kingdom, and expanding His glory. May our hearts be set so singularly on God's purposes as well! 

Into this typical scene (i.e. Jesus teaching a crowd) comes a disruption. Four men make an opening in the roof of the house and lower their paralyzed friend through it. Their determination to get their friend to Jesus reveals their faith in His ability to bring healing. Their faith is even noted by Christ and in some way accounted for in His decision to heal the paralytic. May we show the same determination to bring our friends to Christ for the healing they need!

As surprising as this interruption must have been, Jesus' response had to be even more surprising. He says to the man, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Jesus' statement must have seemed "inappropriate and even irrelevant to the immediate situation" (Lane, p.94). This man has come for healing not for forgiveness. Please understand that Jesus is not saying that this man's paralysis is God's punishment for some specific sin he has committed. (Jesus clarifies that not all health issues can be traced back to specific sins in John 9:1-7.) Rather, he is making the point that all health issues are symptomatic of sin's general stain on creation. So it is because of sin that this man is paralyzed. If there was no sin in our world then he would not have been paralyzed. However, it is not necessarily because of his own sin that he is paralyzed. Again Lane is helpful. "Sickness, disease, and death are the consequence of the sinful condition of all men. Consequently every healing is a driving back of death and an invasion of the province of sin" by the advancing kingdom of God. 

Not only is Jesus' audience startled by His response but it becomes a source of conflict. Believing that Jesus is merely a man, the scribes accuse Him in their hearts of blasphemy. But Jesus corrects them in a most astonishing way. He proves His power to forgive sins by healing the man on the spot. The same paralytic that was lowered into the room through the roof walks out of it carrying his mattress under his arm. And the Bible says that all of them (presumably even the scribes) were amazed and praised God because of Jesus' great work. May the kingdom of God advance in us in miraculous ways that bring startling change to our lives and drive people to praise God! 

For further reading...
  • Romans 2:16, II Timothy 4:1, & Acts 10:41-42- Jesus has the power to forgive sin not only because of His death on the cross, but also because He is the final judge of the living and the dead. One day we will all stand before Jesus and have to give an account for how we lived our lives. 
  • John 9:1-7- Although sickness and disease is the result of sin, it is not always causally related to specific sins in the life of the ailing. In other words, sickness is not always God's punishment on people for their sin. Sometimes sickness is simply a symptom of living in a fallen world. 
  • Mark 14:61-64- It is the same charge, i.e. blasphemy, which sends Jesus to the cross later in His ministry. 

*Lane, William L., The Gospel of Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, MI. 1974. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
Mark 1:40-45

In the Old Testament and in life we get a clear picture of the way that contamination works. From experience we know that if you toss a piece of clean white linen into the mud, the mud doesn't miraculously become clean. On the contrary, the linen is soiled. That's the direction that contamination flows. Dirty things mar clean things. The Old Testament tells us that, much like that mud, sick people contaminate well people. This is why God gave the Israelites a lot of specific instructions on how to handle leprosy (Leviticus 13 & 14). I don't know of anywhere in the Old Testament where it says that the leprous man should touch something or someone who is clean, and upon doing so he will become clean. In fact, the Old Testament had a lot of instructions for how leprous people were to avoid coming into contact with anyone who was healthy. Leviticus 13:45-46, for example, requires certain lepers to live outside the camp and cry out "Unclean! Unclean!" to help keep people away.

But in this passage Jesus reverses the flow of contamination. When Jesus touches the leprous man, He is not contaminated with his leprosy. On the contrary, the leprous man is contaminated with Jesus' cleanness and health. Jesus has power over this illness. He has the power to remove and to restore and to make whole again. And what is perhaps even more interesting is that Jesus doesn't have to touch the man to heal him. He could have simply said, be healed. He heals from a distance elsewhere (Matthew 8:5-13). But Jesus chose to heal him by touching him. We cannot imagine what this must have meant to this man. His leprosy has placed a stigma on him. No one touches him anymore. No one hugs him, or comes near him, unless they also have the disease. But the maker of the universe walks over and enters into his uncleanness...his sickness and takes it away. What a beautiful example of God's love and of how Christ humbles Himself to enter into our circumstances to show us that love. It is downright incarnational.

Jesus has this same power over all illnesses, all weaknesses, and all sin. It is only Jesus who restores and makes clean and whole. It is only Jesus who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. It is only He who can restore you to right relationship with God. Whatever your problem, whatever your illness, whatever you are lacking, rest assured that Jesus is the answer. This doesn't mean that He will do exactly what you want Him to do. Or that all your problems will go away immediately. But Jesus will set you free from your sin if you ask. He will give you the perseverance and strength to face your struggles and be victorious over them. Sometimes, He chooses to heal people through death, setting them free from their disease by leading them home to heaven. At other times, He heals them right here and now and sends them off to live for God in this world. Don't get me wrong, Jesus isn't going to pay all your bills, and beat up all your enemies, and get you a raise at work. But He alone is the storehouse that can provide for all your needs, and He alone has the wisdom to discern when to simply meet your needs and when to help you as you struggle against them. Come to Jesus. Bring your illness, your disease, your sin, and let His Spirit touch you and heal you today. And then go out and help others carry their burdens the way He has carried yours.

For further reading...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Who Do You Live For?

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Mark 1:35-39

Jesus has just healed a great many people the night before. He is beginning to gain momentum and build a name for himself in this town, and what does he decide to do? Leave and go to the next town, because "that is why I have come." Jesus could have stayed and been famous! But He doesn't do that because He knows that isn't what He has been sent to do. You see right at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry He has a chance to grab at personal glory, but He walks away. Jesus decides that He will not settle for personal notoriety and success. He will live His life for God's glory, not His own. Now this may seem like an odd thing to say about one of the most famous people in the history of the world, but you must remember that in His lifetime Jesus was not considered that significant. He never married. Never had kids. Never owned a home. He traveled, but not really very far. (Paul traveled much further than Jesus did.) Yes, at times Jesus had a large following. But this wasn't God's ultimate purpose for Him. This is evident from stories like the one we find in John 6:22-71 where Jesus loses many of his followers because of a hard saying. Jesus didn't shy away from saying difficult things for the same reason He found it so easy to move on from town to town. His purpose wasn't to build Himself up, but to announce the coming of the kingdom of God to the people of God. His greatest desire was obedience to God not increasing His own following.

What is your greatest desire? Better yet, what are you living life for? If you are anything like me, each week feels like a marathon. You barely make it day to day, getting done all that you have to do. You just make it to the weekend...a weekend which rarely affords you enough rest to feel ready to head into the next marathon week. How true God's Word is when it says, "Each day has enough trouble of its own!" (Matthew 6:34) If you are living like this, expending all this effort, what are you living like this for? For more money? For a bigger office? To hear your kids say thank you one day? Or are you doing, whatever you are doing to obey God, to enlarge His glory, His name, and His pleasure. Or let me put it this way, who are you living life for? Are you trying to make your parent's proud or your spouse happy? Are you trying to provide enough stuff for your kids so they don't feel out of place at school? Or are you living solely for the One who created you and who loves you (even when you rebel against Him in sin), the One who took on flesh and experienced the pains of everyday living in order to save you from your sin, and the One who is drawing you to Himself even now? Who are you living for? Choose today. Will you live for yourself, for other people or for God? (Hint: you should really choose God!)

For further reading...
  • Philippians 2:1-11- Jesus didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped.
  • John 6:22-71- I love Peter's line, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
  • John 12:42-43- Two of the saddest verses in all of the Bible. These men chose to live to please other people.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Be Thankful: Serve!

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
Mark 1:23-25, 29-31

In the above passage, Jesus shows His hearers, in very tangible ways, that the kingdom of God has truly come. He does this by driving demons out of those they possess and healing illnesses. Though I wouldn't quite call activities such as these routine, they were a quite common part of Jesus' ministry. The reason for this is quite simple. The Bible tells us what the kingdom of God will be like (Isaiah 29:18, 35:5-6, 53:4-5, 61). It's the world as it should be. In the kingdom no one is demon possessed, sick, lame, blind, or deaf. So one way that Jesus can prove that the kingdom of God has truly come in Him is by driving out demons and healing the sick. So this is exactly what he does! And Jesus is able to do this because He has the authority to do so. Jesus is God incarnate, God in human form, the God/man, Immanuel (God with us). He has authority over demons and over disease and so He goes about setting His children free from these shackles that sin has placed on them. 

I love that the Bible records the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, because in such an understated way she shows us how we should react to this shackle-removing work of Christ. Once Jesus heals her, what does she do? She immediately sets out to serve Him and His disciples. Our response to Christ's work really is that simple. When Christ sets us free from what entangles us, whether that be sin, illness, demon possession, or something else, the appropriate response of a thankful heart is faithful service. Thus, in Peter's mother-in-law we have an excellent picture of what all of us as Christians should be doing. Are you thankful for what Jesus has done for you? If so, have you found your place of service in the kingdom? Since Jesus is no longer on this earth, the best way we can serve Him now is by serving His bride the church, and through that service to aid the church in bringing more and more people to a saving knowledge of Him. Are you showing your thankfulness by serving the people of God?

For further reading...
  • Luke 10:9, 11:20- Notice the close connection between the healing of the sick and the driving out of demons with the acknowledgment that the kingdom of God has come near.
  • Matthew 11:2-6- Notice what proof Jesus gives to John the Baptist's disciples that He truly is the Messiah.
  • Isaiah 29:1835:5-653:4-561- Read some Old Testament Passages about what kind of kingdom the Messiah would bring with Him.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Handling Money God's Way

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
I Timothy 6:9, 10
Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.
Proverbs 3:9, 10
 Guest Blogger: Ben Lutz with his family
Money is one of the most common topics in the entire Bible. In the book of Proverbs alone there are over 100 references to money or wealth in some fashion. God clearly understood that money would play a significant role in human history. So what does His Word say about money? Well, like many topics in the Bible, on the surface there appears to be some conflicting messages. In the verses above for example, we read that the love of money is a root of evil but honoring the Lord with your wealth is good. So how are we to understand this? The truth is, money itself is neither good nor evil. Money is simply an instrument, much like a tool or a weapon, to be used for whatever purpose the holder intends. The Scriptures are actually very detailed on this topic, and cover a number of items including debt, investing, insurance, tuition, inheritance, retirement, lending, and more. I guess you could say that God is the first and greatest financial counselor the world has ever seen. In fact, if you handle money the way God teaches in His word, money can truly becoming a blessing in your life and in the lives of those around you as well.
To handle money God’s way, you must first understand that everything that is given to you, money or otherwise, belongs to God (Haggai 2:8). God entrusts us with his wealth, with his knowledge, and with the ability to use these things to glorify Him. To make this concept more real, think about if a family member was leaving the country for a few years, to go into the mission field. They have always been very smart with their money, and they leave you their entire nest egg to manage in their absence. How much differently would you treat this money than if it was your own? How much more would you seek their advice on the best way to invest or spend this money? And if instructed, how much easier would it be for you to give this money to those in need? This is exactly how God wants us to handle His money, seeking his wisdom with every significant decision, making choices that see his investment grow, and giving effortlessly and generously. [For more on this see Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and His Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:12-28).]
In Proverbs God tells us how we can use the wealth He has given us to truly glorify Him. The first thing you need to do is have a plan: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5). You need to be intentional about what you are doing with God’s money; develop a plan and be patient. Avoid debt: Of all the references to debt in the Scriptures not once is it mentioned favorably. In fact in Proverbs 22:7 it reads, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lenders slave.” Christ died for our sins so that we could be free from slavery, bondage, and sin. God wants His children to flourish and succeed in the same way we that want for our own children to flourish and succeed. Save and invest: Sometimes the best thing you can do with money is nothing at all. Putting money aside, or investing it wisely, is a biblical principle that is far too rarely practiced these days. Proverbs 21:20 says “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” Give generously: Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” The amazing thing about giving away what God has given you is that with the right intentions and attitudes it can be an absolute and total blessing in your life. Even though after giving you may have less, the kingdom of God has more. You see when God’s children give God’s resources to advance His kingdom it allows us to accomplish things that we literally couldn’t accomplish on our own. With one gift, hundreds of lives can be affected. But before this is possible, you must develop a plan that will allow you to give more than you ever thought possible.
I know some of you may be saying “That’s great, but I feel like God hasn’t given me enough to even get by, let alone to give away and to help others.” God isn’t asking you to give so much that you can’t even provide for your own family. In fact, the Bible tells us that we have a special responsibility to care for the needy in our family first. In first Timothy 5:8: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Financial struggles are not new to the world. In fact, if you live in America and have a roof over your head, you are far richer than most of the people throughout history have been. We are so rich, both in our finances and our freedoms, and we don’t even realize it. That being said, that knowledge alone doesn’t help pay the bills, or keep the debt collectors from calling and harassing us. God wants us to be at peace financially, and not have money (or the lack thereof) weighing on us and taking our focus off our true goal of living for Him.
One of the hardest financial goals to master in life is to be content with whatever God has given you. Never allow your desire for success to convince you that somehow you deserve more, or that God isn’t providing what you need. God knows your heart. He knows if you are capable of handling extreme wealth His way, or if your love for money will steer you off course. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.” Take the knowledge of the Scriptures, and use that knowledge to increase what God has entrusted to you. Use your tools to build up God’s kingdom in heaven, and here on earth.
Additional Scriptures: