Friday, June 22, 2018

The Twelve...Mark 3:13-19

“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired…”

     Charles Spurgeon once said, “I believe in the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love.”
     Mark now records the choosing of Jesus’ disciples.  They will journey with Him, preach news of the kingdom, and display God’s power to defeat Satan.  Bible students have described the surprisingly diverse and generally undistinguished nature of this group.  If most of us had been choosing followers, we would have pursued the best and the brightest.  But Mark writes that Jesus called to him those whom he desired.  Why does Jesus desire them?  We do not know.  As we evaluate their backgrounds and anticipate their failures, we wonder what Jesus is thinking with at least some of His choices.  We are especially befuddled by His selection of Judas because Jesus knew Judas would betray Him.
     Yet this scene is a small version of the great doctrine of election.  If you believe in Jesus, you are the object of God’s electing grace.  Before you chose Him, He chose you.  You only believe because the Holy Spirit has birthed saving grace in your heart, turning you from sin and leading you to faith in Jesus.  You are a child of God not because of your merits, but purely because of God’s mercy.  
     The doctrine of election offends some people, even professing believers in Jesus.  But you must realize that it is clearly taught in the Bible.  You cannot avoid it in such foundational passages as John 10, Romans 8, and Ephesians 1.  Beyond that, you must understand that apart from election, you have no hope.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  This glorious God is perfectly holy and just.  You can receive His favor only if He chooses to give it to you.  Because you cannot choose Him, He must choose you.  And if you love Him as your Father, you know He has provided this great blessing.
     Think again of the disciples.  Could they boast that they were better than others?  Might they say, “Jesus chose me because He saw such potential in me”?  Never.  In the same way, your faith in Jesus should never be source of pride.  The doctrine of election is the most humbling of truths because it gives all the glory to God and none of the credit to us.
     You are not one of the Twelve.  But you still have the glorious privilege of being one of Jesus’ chosen people.  May you daily choose to serve the One who has chosen you.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Crowds and Spirits...Mark 3:7-12

“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea,
and a great crowd followed…”

     “I love you.”  What simpler sentiment can you express?  But are your words true?  How often have you heard someone offer them, then belie them with evil deeds?  How often have I failed to give the love I claim to possess?  
     Do you love Jesus?  If you are taking the time to read this, you may say yes.  Yet the reality is more complicated.  In these verses, Jesus faces large crowds of people and several unclean spirits.  Their interactions force us to address the reality of our love for Jesus.
     As Mark has already described, Jesus attracts an immense following early in his ministry.  Apparently people believe they need only touch the body of Jesus to receive the healing of Jesus.  They press so closely upon Jesus that he must distance Himself for His physical safety.
     Do they love Jesus?  They certainly want something from Jesus, and you cannot blame them for that.  If you were fighting sickness or disease and heard of a miracle worker who could take away all your suffering, would you not seek relief?  The crowds are wise to seek what only Jesus can provide.  But do they desire all He can give them?  They may want the benefits of being with Jesus, but they may not want a relationship with Jesus.  
     Mark then adds a few words about unclean spirits.  They cry, “You are the Son of God.”  But Jesus orders them to be quiet.  We may wonder why.  He is the Son of God, isn’t He?  Although they may not be the best messengers, they seem to have the message right.  Jesus rejects their testimony because it is not a declaration of faith.  They know Jesus’ identity, but they despise His mission.  Their true confession of His name does not reflect a love for the One they profess.  Jesus wants more than correct words.  He wants their hearts, and He knows He does not have them, so He orders these spirits “not to make him known.”
     Do you love Jesus?  The proof is not in seeking some good things from Him or saying some good things about Him.  This scene reveals a deeper call.  Jesus is a King who has come to bring a kingdom.  He is the Son of God who has come to reunite people with God.  He desires and demands your full devotion and loyalty.  Just as you demonstrate your love for other people by the way you act toward them, you display your love for Jesus by the way you respond to Him.  Do you trust Him as the way to reconciliation with God through His life, death, and resurrection?  Are you willing to serve and follow Him with your heart, soul, mind, and strength?
     Your love for Him will always be imperfect in this life, but is it present?  Search your heart.  Ask Him to create and nurture this love in you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Law of the Sabbath...Mark 3:1-6

“And he said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm,
to save life or to kill?’  But they remained silent.”

     Writer Matt Lucas tells the story of stopping at a gas station on a cold night.  He sat in his car while his gas pumped and saw a man behind him looking at a flat tire.  Matt says he thought about helping, but he figured the man could take care of it himself.  Anyway, Matt had to get home.  Then he saw a man do what he knows he should have done.  The fellow walked over to the man and said, “May I help you?”
     How often do you talk yourself out of doing good?  This is the issue we face as Jesus resumes His dispute with the Jewish religious leaders over the Sabbath.  He has declared that He is Lord of the Sabbath, and now He demonstrates the law of the Sabbath.  Jesus enters the synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand.  He is about to heal the man, but first He asks the religious leaders about the law of God.  When it is the Sabbath, should we do good or do harm?  Should we preserve life or destroy it?  The answer is obvious, but the religious leaders know Jesus has revealed the evil in their hearts, so they do not respond.  Jesus heals the man, and the religious leaders begin to plot Jesus’ demise.
     This is a recurring theme in Jesus’ ministry.  We have all sorts of human rules and regulations.  Do this, do not do that, or only do this or that in this or that situation.  These codes may have some value, but when they overtake our hearts, we neglect weightier matters like justice, mercy, and love.  Whether it is the Sabbath or any other day, you may have the opportunity to help someone, but you can use your “law” to excuse your failure to help.  When you do this, you obey the unwritten law of your heart but disobey the clear mandates of God’s law of love.
     Think of Matt Lucas.  He was tired and should take good care of himself.  Maybe his wife and children were at home and waiting for him.  Perhaps he had to go home and read his Bible!  None of those duties justified his neglect of a person in need.  
     But let’s not be too hard on Matt.  We all do this.  Jesus’ words address the Sabbath but affect every day.  Where is your heart?  Are you so devoted to your desires — even good ones — that you neglect the duties of justice, mercy, and love?  Or can you step back, put down your checklist of internal rules and regulations, and find ways to meet human needs with humane deeds?
     This is the heart and law of Jesus.  With the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, follow His example and offer help that honors Him.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Lord of the Sabbath...Mark 2:23-27

“And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
For the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.’”

     My neighbor recently asked for my help in building a structure that would cover his new back porch.  Little did he know that I know little about such things.  Happily, he asked a friend with experience in such matters.  Yet we were all stunned by the complexity of constructing this edifice.  When we laid out all the thousands of bolts, screws, washers and other hardware, we knew we had a long day ahead.
     Sometimes we run to rules for simplicity and clarity, but they have the opposite effect.  This is true with building things and following God’s law.  The issue at hand is the Sabbath.  God’s law clearly calls God’s people to set aside one day as holy.  Yet Jewish religious tradition added numerous new details to God’s law.  People were confused, and the whole point of the exercise was lost in the process.
     In this scene, Jesus and His disciples are walking through a field, and the disciples take some heads of grain.  Is this lawful?  The answer is confusing.  You could take grain from fields, but you were not supposed to harvest on the Sabbath.  But was this harvesting?  Jesus does not answer the question clearly, but he points to David’s hunger and his decision to eat bread that was reserved for the high priest.
     What do we make of this?  Like people who write the directions for backyard equipment, we can dictate every detail of Sabbath existence, but we may miss the point of the day.  Jesus says, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  God did not give us the Sabbath so we could make hundreds of arcane rules to consume all of our energy as we follow them.  The Sabbath is a gift for our physical renewal and spiritual refreshment.  Rules can never regulate or replace the relationship with our heavenly Father that we cultivate and enjoy on the Sabbath.
     Yet Jesus says more.  He adds, So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.  He wrote the Ten Commandments, and we should obey all of them — including the Sabbath law.  But man’s preferences do not direct our hearts.  Jesus does.  As the Son of Man, He rules over nations and hearts, and our call is to follow Him, not the burdensome instructions created by people.  As we will see, certain principles should direct our Sabbath observance.  But they all point us to Jesus — the Author of the command and the Perfecter of our faith.
     Do not put your trust in man-made regulations.  Never base your confidence on your ability to follow such statutes.  Love, serve, and follow Jesus.  His burden His light, and His path is best.  Live not for man’s rules, but let the Son of Man rule you.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Fasting and Feasting...Mark 1:18-22

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the wine will burst the skins — 
and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins.  But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

     How many times have I heard a story like this?  Someone describes their life as a youth in a church as little more than drudgery.  Rules and regulations extended far beyond divine commands and drained the life out of living.  Church culture and people focused so much on duty that they crowded out the delight of loving Jesus and living for Jesus.
     Can you relate to this experience?  Jesus’ words today are for you.  People ask Jesus why His disciples do not fast.  He essentially says, “Fasting is for times of sadness.  But I am with my disciples.  Why fast now?  When I leave, they will fast.  But a new day of feasting is here.”
     There is nothing wrong with fasting.  Sometimes the Bible commands it.  But fasting easily becomes drudgery that removes delight.  Human rules and regulations suffocate the relationship with God that fasting should cultivate.  This is true of any religious obligation.  When the focus is on checking the list and performing the duty, delight gives way to drudgery.
     But Jesus is here.  A new day is dawning.  He offers the images of clothing and wine.  In both cases, old habits will lead to destruction.  The old garment cannot be mended.  The new wineskins cannot hold the wine.  If you live in new days saddled by old duties, delight will always give way to drudgery.
     Which day describes your life?  You say you believe in Jesus.  But have you allowed yourself to be drawn into human obligation that drains the life from your soul?  Has following Jesus become little more than the pursuit of man-made rules that burden your spirit?  Do you somehow live as if your duty will earn God’s delight?
     Embrace the new day.  Maybe you will occasionally fast because sin and sadness still exist.  But do not remain there.  Never live as if religious acts will serve as pathways to God’s favor.  Instead, delight in Jesus and what He has done.  He has perfectly fulfilled all the commands of the Father.  He has freed you from the guilt and power of sin, and He has welcomed you into a new and living relationship with Him.  Life is no longer about serving the whims of uptight people, but it is filled with the joy of loving the Savior who has loved you first, best, and always.
     When you were young, maybe you sang words like this:

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart.

     Jesus is the bridegroom who has invited you to His celebration.  He provides an everlasting joy that fills the cracks and crevices of your life today.  May His joy seep deeply into your heart, and may you know and show such joy as you walk with Him.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Sinners...Mark 2:13-17

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

     This observation is obvious, but this is a reality I must remember.  When I enter a hospital, I remind myself that none of the patients really want to be there.  The exception might be mothers with newborns, but even they are usually anxious to leave so they can bond with their child in the privacy of their home.  No one likes to be sick.  We all prefer health.  But sometimes we must face reality and go to a hospital to receive the help we need.
     This is Jesus’ image as He speaks to the religious leaders who criticize His every move.  Jesus calls Levi the tax collector as a disciple.  Tax collectors were despised in Jewish culture because they served the hated Romans and often helped themselves to a portion of the proceeds.  They were social and religious outcasts because their handling of Gentile money rendered them unfit for the worship rituals of the day.  
     The religious leaders are aghast that Jesus would not only call Levi to follow Him, but would also enjoy a meal with tax collectors and other “sinners.”  Jesus’ words address our attitude toward ourselves and others.
     First, we must always understand ourselves to be the sinners Jesus calls.  Sinners are not just the people around us.  We are as sinful as anyone else.  Our sins may be more socially acceptable than the sins of others, but they are still sins in the sight of a holy God.  We are like people who need to be in a hospital.  We may not like it, but we are infected with the sickness of sin, and we can do nothing to heal ourselves.  We need the ministrations of the Great Physician of our souls.
     Second, we must always approach others as Jesus does.  It is easy to be repulsed by the sins of people around us.  Indeed, sin is terrible.  But when we remember that we are sinners, we will be drawn to help other sinners.  We will go to them instead of running from them.  Imagine a scene where many people have been injured.  Sometimes the most heroic actions are taken by victims who help other victims.  If you know your sin and need of grace, you will humbly seek out people who possess the same sin and require the same grace.
     You do not want to go to a hospital, and you may not want to embrace this perspective.  You would rather believe in the goodness of people.  But Jesus levels the playing field for all of us.  Whether you are a religious leader, a tax collector, or any other kind of person, you are sick with sin.  You need Jesus to call you to the faith that removes your guilt and renews your life.  May this reality transform how you measure yourself and minister to others.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Your Sins Are Forgiven...Mark 2:1-12

“But that you may know that the Son of God has authority on earth to forgive sins —
he said to the paralytic — ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’”

     If you are the President of the United States and want to cause a ruckus, pardon a convict or commute the sentence of a prisoner.  Why?  You have employed your executive power to intervene in the judicial process.  Someone has been charged, found guilty, and sentenced, yet you have chosen to alter the outcome.  Some will praise you.  Others will castigate you.
     In this story, Jesus reveals another aspect of His authority.  We might say He displays His executive authority to forgive sins.  The scene is chaotic.  A crowd is all around Jesus.  Four men want their paralyzed friend to meet Jesus, but the only way they can do it is by removing the roof of the dwelling and lowering the bed into the crowd.  Jesus is impressed with their faith and declares the man’s sins are forgiven.  Many in Jesus’ day saw a clear link between human sin and suffering.  They reasoned that if this man was paralyzed, he must have sinned in some way.  Elsewhere Jesus and the biblical writers dispute this perspective.  While sin may lead to physical suffering, we cannot always assume or assert this.
     Jesus’ pronouncement irritates the religious leaders.  They know that only God can forgive sins, so they realize Jesus’ words constitute a declaration of His divinity.  Jesus decides to reveal His forgiving authority by demonstrating His healing ability.  He addresses the issue on their terms, and He forces them to face His claim to the executive privilege of forgiving sins.
     This is the heart of the gospel.  The forgiveness of sins is an eternally important issue for all of us.  You may not realize that.  Some will deny their need of forgiveness.  Others may believe they can secure forgiveness through good deeds that offset bad behavior.  But the Bible declares and describes a God who is perfectly just.  He will leave no sin unpunished, and nothing good we do can make up for the evil we have done.  Our only hope is if someone arrives to take the penalty of our sins for us.
     This is what Jesus has done.  He can forgive our sins because He will suffer for our sins.  He gives Himself for our wrongs so that He has the right to declare us forgiven.  As Jesus heals this man, His sacrifice is still in the future.  But this declaration and demonstration reveal that Jesus has the right and the ability to reconcile God and people through the forgiveness of sins.
     You have sinned.  What hope do you possess?  You may believe you can heal yourself, but no one has ever done it.  Look to Jesus for forgiveness.  When you realize what He has done for you, rest secure in the grace He has provided.  Praise and love this Judge.