Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits...They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Mark 6:7, 12-13

The disciples choose their message wisely. They are preaching on the cusp of the coming of the kingdom of God, so fittingly their message is one of preparation to receive what God is about to do in Jesus. And what is the preparation they admonish? Repentance. We stand on the other side of the cross looking back over two thousand years at the content of their preaching and yet their message stills rings true. Even now repentance is required of those who would receive the Lord Jesus. Turning to a new life in Jesus is inextricably linked to turning away from your old life apart from Him. Asking Jesus for forgiveness cannot be done apart from an acknowledgement that you are a sinner who has sinned not in a general sense but against God Himself and are therefore in need of His forgiveness. Rejoicing in the righteous standing you now have before the Father in Christ does not happen apart from mourning over the depraved condition you were in prior to Christ. There is no salvation apart from repentance! (Isaiah 30:15, Jeremiah 18:8, Ezekiel 18:32, Ezekiel 33:12Acts 2:37-39II Corinthians 7:10, et al) It has always been and even now remains the necessary preparation for right standing with God.

Is this all there is to repentance though? Is it merely a moment of grief prior to salvation that is then left on the trash heap of forgotten spiritual gleanings for the rest of the Christian life? Certainly not. Repentance is a necessary part of the everyday life of Christians which we must persist in if we are to be conformed into the image of Christ. It is repentance day-by-day in the life of the believer which opens the door to freedom from sin and victory over the enemy.

Few are the men and women who have repented of alcoholism a single time and upon setting down the bottle never pick it up again. The same could be said of many sins, because the habitual practice of sin and the power which it gives sin over our lives is rarely overcome in a moment. Although there are times when the Lord provides us with a supernatural leap forward in our process of sanctification, more often than not we win the war against the sin in our lives one day at a time, one battle at a time. The Christian woman does not miraculously learn to take every thought captive unless she first realizes that she has allowed the enemy into her head, repents and begins to fight her sin in the mighty power of the Spirit. The Christian man does not stand victorious over the power of lust, pornography and masturbation in his life unless he first perceives the exceeding sinfulness of his sin and weeps over it, then upon repenting of it seeks God's power which is more than capable of setting him free. 

Each day there must be a rejection of the love you have for that sin. Each day the faithful believer must take the shame that weighs him down and the thoughts of helplessness and inadequacy and unburden himself of these at the foot of the cross. We must remind ourselves that our sin has been paid for. The charges against us were nailed to that cross and no longer have any merit (Colossians 2:13-15). And then...oh how important this next step is and how often we forget it...then we must remember the resurrection. We must remind ourselves daily that Jesus beat the power of sin when He conquered death.  And because we know that it was by the mighty Spirit of God that Jesus was raised from the dead, and because we know that this same Spirit now dwells in us who believe, we then have every confidence that no sin, no shame, no condemnation, no force (supernatural or otherwise) can claim ultimate power over us. By the power of the Spirit, sin no longer has power over me any longer! I still need to learn how to walk in the freedom of the Spirit, but every sin and every addiction that I struggle with has already been beaten at the cross; I am already victorious in Christ. I must simply learn to apply that freedom to my life and walk in that victory over my sin here and now.

For further reading...
  • Matthew 3:1-2- John the Baptist preached the same message.
  • Matthew 4:17- Jesus did too!
  • Acts 2:37-39- Repentance was fundamental in the sermon preached at Pentecost.
  • Acts 11:18- This is a "repentance that leads to life."
  • Revelation 2- Consider how many times Jesus admonishes the seven churches to repent in his letters to them.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Go in Peace

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace...Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Eph 4:3, 29-32
It is an unfortunate truth that in American culture peace is more often associated with hippie or anti-war gatherings than it is with Christian gatherings. And yet, the Christian who searches the New Testament Scriptures for the word 'peace' will be astounded at not only how often peace is mentioned in the New Testament but also how vital it is to the Christian faith. For example, every one of Paul's letters in the New Testament begins with a greeting that bestows grace and peace on his readers (see Rom. 1:7, I Cor. 1:3, II Cor. 1:2, Gal. 1:3, Eph. 1:2, Phil. 1:2, Col. 1:2, I Thess. 1:1, II Thess. 1:2, I Tim. 1:2, II Tim. 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 1:3). Grace is discussed often in our churches and in our homes, but what about peace? Other New Testament writers also picked up this emphasis on peace in their greetings (see I Pet. 1:2, II Pet. 1:2, II John 1:3, Jude 2, Rev. 1:4). In fact, all in all two-thirds of the 27 New Testament books begin by bestowing peace on their readers. 
While this very well may have been a common greeting of their day, it is clear that it was far from a formality for the biblical writers. They saw peace as such an essential mark of the Christian community and lifestyle that they could refer to God Himself as the "God of peace" (Rom. 15:33, 16:20, II Cor. 13:11,  Phil. 4:9, I Thess. 5:23, Heb. 13:20). Indeed, peace was at the very heart of their understanding of the gospel (Acts 10:36). Through Jesus' death on the cross the just wrath of God against our sin was extinguished. By His sacrifice we now enjoy peace with God (Romans 5:1). This peace with God should permeate our relationships with others. In the New Testament it had profound implications for the relationship between Jews and other ethnicities (Ephesians 2:14). But as today's passage of Scripture points out, this great peace that we enjoy corporately should filter its way down into our individual lives as well. As Christians we are called to be at peace with one another.
Is your life marked by peace? Are your relationships? If Jesus' death on the cross was enough to cover over the many ways that you and I had offended God, then isn't it enough to cover over the offenses you have received at the hands of your family members in Christ? It most certainly is! Today, choose to restore peace. Forgive those who have wronged you. Sure they don't deserve it...that's what makes it forgiveness! You and I didn't deserve it either. And we have no right to withhold what we have been given so freely and liberally. Also, choose to maintain peace. "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
Jesus often spoke this refrain to people whom he had healed, "Your faith has made you whole, go in peace." My prayer is that today, your faith would drive you to forgive and that through that forgiveness, which is made possible only through Jesus, you might go in peace.
For further reading...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Let 'em Laugh

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.
Mark 5:39-40a

We've all been laughed at. Getting a good laugh when you are going for one can lift your spirit and cause your confidence to soar. The same laughter - when directed at you as the butt of the joke - can crush your spirit and lay your confidence in the dust. Yet notice Jesus' response in this passage. He simply shuts their laughter out (v. 40). 

By this time Jesus was a known miracle worker. So much so that the girl's father believed Jesus could save his daughter's life if he could only get Him there in time. Yet, even Jesus the great healer, when He suggests that death isn't the ultimate reality for this girl, is laughed to scorn. How much more will the world laugh at you and I if we dare to take seriously the Bible's teaching on the resurrection! In a culture dominated by scientific logic, what could be more final than death? There are no observable phenomena after death, therefore death is the end. Praise God that it isn't so! 
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (I Thessalonians 4:16-17) 
This is THE great hope of the Christian faith. Though this world is hopelessly marred by sin so that even young children get sick and die, it is not our final destination. No! Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. In the resurrection we will experience the world as God always meant it to be. As Paul says, "if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (I Corinthians 15:19).

If you take Jesus' teaching on this subject seriously and order your life around it, then there is little doubt that you will be ridiculed. And yet, what difference does that make? Their laughter did not prevent the little girl from rising when Jesus said “Talitha koum” (v. 41). Neither will their laughter prevent you from rising on that day. On that day, dear believer, you will be vindicated for believing in the resurrection and you will enjoy the rewards you have laid up before yourself in the kingdom (Matthew 6:20). So, let them laugh, but continue to work all the more diligently knowing the time is short. Let them laugh, but proclaim the truth. Let them laugh, but serve God faithfully. Let them laugh, but pray for their souls. Let them laugh, but continue to believe in the great hope of the resurrection of all the saints in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let them laugh, but fix your eyes on the joy set before you and never, ever, ever change your course. 

For further reading...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Too far gone?

When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Mark 5:2-13

My wife and I recently moved. You never really know how much stuff you have until you move! But moving gave us a good chance to sort through all of that stuff and get rid of anything that was old, worn out, or no longer necessary. Having just gone through this process of purging myself, I can say with confidence that there are two kinds of people. One group evaluates objects based on their inherent worth and all the possible future uses they could have. These people tend to keep more than they throw away. Others evaluate objects based solely on how likely it is that they will be used again. I fall into this latter group, and I am fairly likely to throw a perfectly good item away just to declutter my home. People like me often find it entirely too easy to treat another person this same way though. It's too easy for me to write a person off as "too far gone" and toss them on the trash heap of my mind just to get them out of my hair. Thank heaven that Jesus is not like me! If He was, the story above would have turned out much differently.

If ever there was someone of whom you could say, "He is just too far gone," it would be the man Jesus encounters in Mark 5. The passage reveals that he is possessed by a legion of demons. A legion was the largest unit in the Roman army consisting of 6,000 foot soldiers plus support staff. However, considering that it was the demons themselves who made this statement as they were trying to manipulate Jesus, most interpreters do not believe that it was literally 6,000 demons but rather a very large number (ESV Study Bible). In fact, we know that it was a large enough number to run two thousand pigs off a cliff and into the sea. All of these demons have crammed themselves into this one man with a single purpose: to destroy him. They are out to destroy the good creation of God in this man who (like all people) was created in God's image. The destruction of this man's life by demonic influences takes on some aspects that our culture should find familiar:
  • Cutting
  • A preoccupation with death
  • Isolation and Dehumanization- Lane points out that it is likely the man had been bound by the townspeople to try to protect themselves from him, but since the demons were strong enough to break any fetter, the townspeople had driven him out of town (Lane Commentary).
  • Pain severe enough to make him cry out night and day
  • Killing animals- the demons actually do this after they have left the man. If they are unable to destroy the image bearer of God, then they will destroy other aspects of His creation (ESV Study Bible).

Surely this man lived a cursed life. By Old Testament standards he was triply cursed. Not only was he demon possessed, but he also lived near to pigs and dead bodies both of which caused ritual uncleanness and prevented one from approaching God. So if ever there was a lost cause, it was this poor man. Yet, notice what Jesus does! He doesn't dismiss him as too far gone. He sees beyond all the damage the demons have done and He sees the potential this man has to once again bring glory to God. And Jesus in His mighty power casts out all of the demons at once with a word. And verse fifteen tells us that when the townspeople came to see it, they found this man who so many had been unable to restrain sitting at the feet of Jesus at rest, clothed, and in his right mind (Lane Commentary). This is the power of Jesus!

Certainly this story has good news for all of us. You may see some of your own struggles mirrored in this man. That doesn't necessarily mean that you are demon "possessed," but you can be sure that where the image of God is being destroyed, Satan has been at work. Maybe you feel like you are too far gone or not worth saving. Know that you aren't too far gone! Jesus is willing and able to save the worst of us! I have experienced His redeeming power in my life. So today if you long to be set free from your bondage, turn to Jesus, repent and believe.

For further reading...
  • Mark 5:1-20- Read the whole story.
  • Mark 9:14-29- Another example of how demons seeks to destroy people as ones who bear the image of God.
  • I Peter 5:8-9- The devil wants to devour you.
- ESV Study Bible. Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL. 2008.
- Lane, William L., The Gospel of Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, MI. 1974.