Jun 042011

Just try to trick Jesus

It has been two days since Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Yesterday, He cleared the temple of all the robbers.  Today, He would teach, and in the process tell the “caretakers” of the temple, the chief priests, scribes and elders, that their days were numbered.  They probably couldn’t believe that Jesus was back after yesterday’s tirade, and they were probably still really ticked off at Him — after all, Jesus drove out one of their biggest sources of income.  Today, they wanted to trap Him somehow so they could stone Him.  Let’s see what they did.

The Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus by asking Him: “Who gave you this authority to do these things you are doing?”  Jesus cleverly said that He would not answer them unless they first answered His question: “Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men?”  If the Jewish leaders said “from heaven,” then Jesus would say, “then why did you not believe.”  If they said “from men,” they would be beaten to death by the mob.  They could not answer, so neither did Jesus.

Jesus could have stopped right there, having achieved a “victory,” but He then told a parable that even the Jewish leaders could understand — and it was about them.  In this parable, God was the owner of a vineyard (Israel, the place that God dwelled) that was very well protected and held every advantage.  He rented the vineyard to some vine growers (the Jewish leaders).  At harvest time, he sent a slave (a prophet) to collect the produce.  The caretakers beat him up and sent him on his way.  The owner sent another slave with the same results.  The caretakers either beat up or killed everyone the owner sent.  Finally, the owner sent his only son (Jesus).  Surly, they would listen to him.  The caretakers, upon seeing the son thought, “Great, if we kill him, we can keep this place!”  They killed him in their shortsightedness, because they did not realize that the owner would then come and destroy all the caretakers and give the vineyard to someone else.

This was not just a parable, but also a prophesy.  Jesus WAS killed by the Jewish leaders and God did come, via the Romans, in 70 AD to “clean house.”  The Romans leveled the temple and killed or scattered the Jewish leaders; and the “vineyard” was transferred to new owners, the Christians, at Pentecost.

Jesus then ended with a quote from Psalms 118:22-23.  A rough translation goes something like this: “The stone (Jesus) that was cast out (by the Jewish leaders) became the cornerstone (of the “new” church).”  What the Jewish leaders rejected, Christians embraced.  Jesus became the foundation of our church.

The Jewish leaders couldn’t do much but grumble at this point, so they left and began to plot Jesus’ death.

What an awesome responsibility we have as the new caretakers of God’s vineyard.  We need to grow good fruit (lift up Christians, and be a witness to others) and we must be ready for the harvest when Jesus comes again.  Pray today that we can be ready when the Son of the Owner comes, and that we will not reject Him, His plan, or His purpose for our lives when he arrives.

Jun 042011

Restore that tree!
Mark 11:20-26

After a nice evening in Bethany (just outside Jerusalem), Jesus and His disciples walked back up to Jerusalem.  On the way, Peter found the fig tree that Jesus had cursed the night before.  The tree was withered from the roots up through the branches.  If, as we learned last time, the fig tree represented the Jewish people, what does this mean for them?  While I have no doubt that the tree was actually there, and that Peter and the disciples saw it, the almost total disconnect between Peter’s exclamation and Jesus’ response tells us that we’re in allegory mode again.  Jesus thinks different.  If Peter says, “Wow, look at that tree!  It’s all dried up,” you would expect Jesus to say “Yep, sure is” rather than “Have faith in God, pray, and forgive.”  Jesus was really saying “Watch this!”

Jesus was really saying “Watch this!  That tree can be restored, and you can help me restore it.”  If the tree, which is actually the Jews, was withered from the roots up, we might surmise that the entire lineage of the Jews (the roots), and future generations (the branches) were accursed.  But Jesus says “Take heart.”  The Jews might appear dead now, but God is faithful.  The Jews are still God’s chosen people, and they’ll serve many important functions in fulfilling God’s kingdom, whether they know it or not.

Jesus then tells us to pray in power and belief.  Does this mean that if we want a car or a house that it will be delivered to us once we have prayed?  Well, maybe — I wouldn’t put anything past God — but mostly we are to pray that God’s will be done.  This is what we should seek in prayer.  Our own personal needs and wants should come as a distant second.  God, after all, has already promised to take care of us.  (Read Matt 6:25-34 and see that this is not so!)

We are also called to forgive.  Forgiving others, and asking for forgiveness, brings us right with God.  It is then, with a pure heart and a renewed spirit, that we can pray for the “right” things ( that God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven).

Rest assured, God’s will will be done whether we pray for it or not, but wouldn’t it be great to be a part of God’s will, AND know that it is God’s will?  If we are “right with God,” we can expect this blessing if we ask for it in prayer.  The Jews, even now, are a very important part of God’s will, they just don’t know it — they’re a bit withered from having rejected Jesus as their Messiah.  The same holds true for our non-Christian friends.  We need to pray that these people find that living water that will grow them again in Jesus Christ.

Lift up all the non-Christians of the world today, that they might find Jesus; and ask God for direction in your own life.  Be a part of His plan today.

Jun 042011

Jesus gets upset
Mark 11:12-19

A day has passed and now it’s Monday on the week leading up to Jesus’ death.  Today’s section of scripture might be called “Jesus gets upset” (so I titled this devotional “Jesus gets upset”).  Now, for those of you who say: “Jesus would never get angry, that’s a sin,” well, you may not have read the Bible too carefully.  Jesus (being fully God and fully man) was a man of passion, and Jesus had a lot to be angry about on this day

Is it a sin to get angry?  Psalm 4:4a tells us that we can be angry, so long as we do not sin.  That has often confused me, being that anger is one of the “7 deadly sins” of the medieval church.  On this particular day, Jesus was cursing trees and knocking over tables which shows that some aspects of being angry must be OK.  Jesus was without sin.  If the cause is a just cause, then it’s OK, and Jesus shows us two examples of what some call “righteous indignation” (being upset for a right reason) in these verses.

In part one, Jesus goes to find fruit on a fig tree and when He doesn’t find any, He curses the tree.  Mark clues us in that it is not fig season, so if there were figs, they’d be growing out of season.  Matthew 21:18-19 further tells us that the tree in question had leaves on it, and since figs and leaves always grow together on fig trees, Jesus expected to find some fruit, even out of season. When there wasn’t any fruit to be found, Jesus got upset.

OK, I’ll grant you that things are probably as clear as mud so far, so I’ll tell you why this story was included, and why Jesus was mad.  The answer is that this story is not just about figs; this story also serves as an allegory, or an illustration, about God and the Jewish people.  The Bible is full of these allegories, so if a Bible story doesn’t make sense on the surface, you need to think allegorically.  The fig tree represents the Jewish people; and this fig tree, like the Jewish people, was so well taken care of, that it/they were able to sprout leaves out of season.  Despite every advantage given them though, the Jewish people turned away from God and became “fruitless,” much like that fig tree.  That’s why Jesus was mad — His own people had rejected him, and very soon would kill him.

Part two makes more sense: no allegory.  Jesus gets mad at the moneychangers and merchants in the temple court.  Why?  God commanded the Jewish people a long time ago to sacrifice animals during the Passover in the temple of Jerusalem.  The people were still willing to do this in Jesus’ day.  Those who didn’t bring an animal to the temple could buy one in the temple court, but at gouge rates and only with “temple money” that needed to be converted from all other currencies; also at gouge rates.  The Pharisees were no doubt getting a kickback from these transactions.  Since this annual event was mostly mandatory, the traffic was high and so were the profits.  Jesus went a little berserk because these “robbers” were fleecing the people who came to seek God and in the process, were turning His house of prayer into a den of thieves.  The Pharisees did not like what Jesus did (turning over tables, releasing animals) or what He said (robbers!) and began to devise ways of killing Him.  He was ruining their profitability!

Jun 042011

A triumphal entry into Jerusalem
Mark 11:1-11

As I mentioned in the beginning of this series on Mark, a third of the book deals with Jesus’ last week on earth.  Today we are there!  So, why devote such a chunk of the book to one week?  It is because Mark (man of action) wants you, the reader, to get to the exciting, important bits.  It is in this last week of Jesus’ life that we find joy, sorrow, important teaching, some really thick plots, death, and salvation for all of mankind.  This is exciting stuff!

At this point in the book, a countdown begins.  Mark 11:1-11 is titled “Sunday – A triumphal entry into Jerusalem.”  What is this countdown?  It’s a countdown to the death of Jesus.

We learned in last week’s lesson that Jesus, knowing full well what was about to happen (because He knew God’s plan), ran towards Jerusalem, the city of His fate.  The countdown begins as Jesus enters the city gates on the Sunday before Passover.

Early on in chapter 11, Jesus asks some of His disciples to go get a donkey that He might ride in to the city.  In doing so, Jesus fulfills a very important prophesy that is found in Zechariah 9:9:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Zechariah predicted this 500 years before Christ.  Yes, for you devil’s advocates, Jesus probably did know about the prophesy, but Zechariah was dead-on about the coming of Alexander the Great as well 100 years before that event happened (Zech 9:1-8), so either he actually saw these events coming, or he was a really good guesser.  I’ll say that Zechariah saw this event in Jesus’ life 500 years before it happened. (By the way, Jesus also fulfilled some prophesies that he couldn’t possibly have “rigged” like where He was born [Bethlehem; Micah 5:2-3] and of what lineage [from the line of David; Isaiah 9:6-7].  In all, Jesus fulfilled at least 109 prophesies, and possibly as many as 300+ depending on who’s counting.  The odds of that happening are immeasurable).

Anyway (now stealing liberally from the thoughts of Ray van der Laan), The crowd knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and they were shouting Hosanna (Save us!) despite orders from the Jewish leaders and the Romans to keep the peace.   The people were also waiving palm branches — the national symbol of Israel.  This was the triumphal entry of a new king who would kick out the Romans, not the entry of the Savior who would forgive everyone — even the Romans.

Pilot, the Roman ruler of Jerusalem at the time, was charged with keeping the peace during Passover at the cost of his life — he would not have tolerated any dissension — certainly not the fervent shouts for a new ruler.  Jesus was a marked man from this point on, but Jesus was also not the king the people were looking for.  Jesus came to save the world, not just to save the Jews from the Romans.  No wonder some of the people turned on Him when He turned out not to be the conqueror they sought.  The countdown begins.  And thank God for the eventual outcome!

Jun 042011

Mark 10:32-52

I see this section of scripture as a trilogy – three stories with a continuing flow of thought.  In verses 32-34, Jesus predicts His death; in verses 35-45, John and James ask for the best seats in the house; in verses 46-52, Jesus heals a blind man.  OK, maybe the connection isn’t so easy to spot, but it’s there, and the theme is “servanthood.”

In our first section of scripture, Jesus and His disciples, plus many others, were hiking from the Jordan valley (below sea level) to Jerusalem (about 2,500 feet above sea level) and Jesus is way out in front.  Understand this — Jesus knew that going to Jerusalem would mean his humiliation and death — yet He was far ahead of the disciples, not because he was better at hiking uphill, but because He was determined to complete God’s plan.  Jesus had a purpose: to save all mankind, and He was running towards that goal.  Jesus came to serve God and man by doing God’s will, which was dying on a cross so that all men could be forgiven and come into a relationship with Him.

In part two, James and John wanted to ask a favor of Jesus — to sit at his right and left in heaven.  Jesus replied with “You don’t know what you are asking!  Are you willing to suffer and die as I am about to do?” (which is what Jesus was really saying).  Their response was, “Sure Lord, we don’t really know what you just said, but we can do this.”  To that, Jesus replied, “Well, those seats are predetermined by God and I can’t change that.”  Overhearing this, the other ten disciples got mad because they wanted seats of honor as well.  Jesus stopped the bickering by telling them what they must do to get the “good seats” (v 43-44):  “Whoever wants to be greatest must be a servant, and whoever wants to be #1 must be a slave to all.”  Then Jesus revealed his purpose on earth to the disciples (v 45): “Even I (Jesus) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give My life as a ransom for many.”

In part three, a blind man named Bartimaeus wanted to ask Jesus for a favor (big day for favors, huh).  Bartimaeus knew who Jesus was because he called Him “Son of David.”  This is important because the Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David.  In saying “Son of David,” Bartimaeus was proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah the people had been looking for, and he knew it.  And never let it be said that Jesus didn’t have a sense of humor, for when Bartimaeus was brought to Him, Jesus said, ” So, what do you want Me to do for you?”  “Duh!, I’d like to dance like Solome.”  OK, Bartimaeus really didn’t say that, he said, “Rabboni (Teacher), I would like to see.”  Jesus’ response was “Your faith has made you well.”

Because Bartimaeus had faith that Jesus could do something, he regained his sight.  In loving this man and healing him, Jesus demonstrated that servant attitude that He was just talking about.

If we want the good seats, we must follow Jesus’ example and serve.  Ask God today where He might want you to serve, and go out of your way today to serve others.  It will make God smile.

Jun 042011

Oh, to be a kid again!
Mark 10:13-31

If you are reading this, I can assume that you are an adult with a “big” brain.  Why then, with all our obvious accumulated knowledge, would Jesus tell us that we need to become like a kid to get into Heaven?  Does He want us to regress in some way?

God calls us to become childlike in our faith — not immature, but accepting.  Children easily accept the impossible as fact because they lack any “reference” in their mind that tells them that something is impossible.  As adults, we have experienced many things that lead us to certain conclusions about what is possible and what is not.  We think we know it all and in doing so, we put God in a box.  God becomes defined and limited in what He can do for us, and we become self-reliant as a result.

The example in Mark is of a man who called Jesus “Good” (a term reserved for God only), and claimed that he had obeyed the 10 commandments since his youth.  Jesus “loved” this man (had compassion for him) and asked him to go sell all he had and follow Him.  The man went away sad, for he was rich.  Jesus then went on to say that it is impossible for rich men to get into heaven.  It would be like fitting a camel through the eye of a needle.

Impossible?  Jesus really said “hard,” but really now, can you fit a camel through the eye of a needle?  Go ahead, try it.  I’ll wait…  OK, you probably already know that, having seen the size of a camel and a needle, you might automatically conclude that this task would be impossible.  So there! — that’s the end of it — it’s impossible.  Where does Jesus get off saying that it’s merely “hard?”

The answer is found in verse 27b:  “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”  Jesus was not saying that rich people don’t go to heaven, but rather, he was illustrating that wealth generally leads to self-reliance.  Rich people generally do not need the kind of trust in God that a poor person needs in order to survive.  How can you have faith that God will take care of you when you are already taking care of yourself?  Yet we are called by God to trust Him and have faith in Him and to obey Him.  Wealth often gets in the way, as does our “knowledge” of what is possible and what is not.

If you are not tied down by your possessions, and God is first in your life, congratulations!, you are obedient to God and He loves you for it (He loves you anyway).  This does not mean that life on this earth will be pleasant for you however.  Jesus does warn us that our faith may lead to persecution, but He also states that our eventual reward will be eternity in heaven.  Isn’t that worth much more than earthly possessions?  Jesus also did the impossible by dying on a cross for us.  There was no way we were getting to heaven on our own, but through Jesus, it is now possible.  Praise God for that!  That was the other message contained in Mark 27b.  Jesus died for us so we could spend eternity with Him!

If you ask a two year old if a camel can go through the eye of a needle, they’ll probably say, “sure, why not.”  Why then wouldn’t we?

By the way – A line in a song really caught my attention this morning as I was driving to work about a millionaire who lost all his wealth, became homeless and now lives on $1.50 a week, and decided that he was better off for it.  The song is called “Don’t worry” by Rebecca St. James.  I love it when God sends me a clear message.  I think I’ll look at my own priorities today.

Jun 042011

I need God too!
Mark 10:1-12

Is divorce a new issue?  Not really.  It has been an issue of debate for a long time — since recorded history!  In today’s passage, Jesus was asked about divorce, and in His response, He did not mince words. . .

Wow, this is a tough passage.  It’s a touchy subject because it deals with divorce.  It was a touchy subject in Jesus’ time too.  The Pharisees who asked Jesus the question about divorce did so for a reason — they were sharply divided on this issue.  Some Pharisees allowed divorce for any reason, others did not allow divorce for any reason.  Rather than say “you are right and you are wrong” to the Pharisees, Jesus asked what the Bible said.  They replied that Moses allowed divorce.  Jesus answered by saying that the law of Moses was put in place because the people had hard hearts and did not always respond in love.  Jesus went on to state that God’s original plan was that a man and a woman should be joined in marriage and become one; never separating.  This implied a monogamous relationship, which was also an issue in Jesus’ day — The Pharisees were sharply divided on the subject of monogamy versus polygamy as well!  In any event, God’s perfect plan of a lifelong monogamous marriage in love went awry with the fall of Adam and Eve.

In this passage of scripture and in Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus mentions that divorce causes people to commit adultery (except in the case of divorce for the reason of unchastity because, well, the unchaste person has already committed adultery).  This was as harsh a statement by today’s standards as it was in Jesus’ time, but Jesus also understood that without perfect love for God and others, this marriage thing was going to be difficult.  Nothing has changed either in our relationship with God or with our spouses in 2000 years.  We need that grace and forgiveness that Jesus gave us when He died for us as much as ever (grace that extends to those who have divorced as well).  We need God in our marriage relationships – He is that perfect love that we lack, and He is often the glue that keeps our marriages (or any other relationships) together.  My suggestion is that if you are married, or thinking about it, start to pray together as a couple regularly and see where God takes you.  If God is first in your life, the rest of your relationships, especially marriage, will work much better.

Jun 042011

Humble, obedient servants get the good seats
Mark 9:30-50

Jesus and His disciples were walking back to Capernaum.  On the way, Jesus predicted his death a second time.  I’m sure they were shocked.  Knowing now that Jesus might soon be gone, what did they do?  They started vying for power as Jesus’ right-hand man!

After Jesus predicted His death, the disciples spent their time deciding who among them was the greatest.  When they get to Capernaum, Jesus asked the disciples what they were talking about, since He wasn’t with them the whole time.  They remained silent because they knew that Jesus would be mad at them if He knew what they were talking about.  Jesus, being God, of course already knew, so he gave them His answer to their debate; “Whoever is to become the greatest must be the least on earth and a slave to all”  To further emphasize His point, Jesus then grabbed a child and said that anyone who received a child in His (Jesus’) name received God into his heart.  This “receiving” of the child involved recognizing the child as an equal, and since children were without status, as were lepers, prostitutes and to some extent women, this would have involved a great deal of humility and attitude adjustment.  Jesus was asking a lot from His disciples!

Wanting to deflect this issue, John mentioned that someone was casting out demons in Jesus’ name who was not a follower of Jesus.  Jesus responded with “That’s great!  Once that person sees the power of God, he won’t speak against us.”  Jesus then stated that famous line “For he who is not against us is for us.”  Jesus further elaborated that the man casting out demons, or anyone else doing work in Jesus’ name would receive his reward in Heaven.

Wow, that was a lot to take in, but Jesus didn’t stop there.  He then stated that NOT doing the will of God could cause them and those around them to stumble into sin and wind up in hell.  Hell is a bad place AND it’s eternal.

Jesus then finished up with a note on preservatives: salt.  All of us will be preserved for eternity somewhere.  Those who wind up in hell will be salted with fire.  Earthly salt doesn’t last forever and isn’t much of a preservative — it leads to that “hot salt.”  Jesus would rather have us be preserved in His grace which dwells in us, gives us peace, and lasts forever.  While on earth, we must try to preserve as many people as we can by using the power of God and by being servants to all.  That’s the “good salt” that will preserve us for a heavenly eternity!

Jun 042011

When will they get it?
Mark 9:14-29

Jesus, after having quite a mountain top experience, descended back to the valley and into a situation.  While He was gone, a crowd had gathered around His disciples and asked them to heal a demon-possessed child.  They could not.  Jesus slapped his forehead and said “You unbelieving people; how long do I have to put up with you.  Bring me the boy.”

The boy came and Jesus asked the father how long the boy had been possessed to which the father replied, “most of his life.”  The father then asked, “Can you do anything about this situation?”  Jesus, who was probably shaking His head, maybe slapping it again, because the people just didn’t get it said, “All things are possible if YOU believe!”  The father replied “I do believe!”  Jesus told the demon to go away and it did.  Later, His disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast out the demon.  Jesus replied, “because this kind of demon can only be removed through prayer.”

Wow, there’s a lot going on in this section of scripture.  First off, did you know that demon possession is real?  It’s not just in the movies — it’s real and we as Christians can do something about it.  In verse 23, Jesus empowers us to take action if this situation ever comes up.  Actually, the statement “all things are possible if you only believe” gives us carte blanche to take action in any situation through our belief in God (and only through God’s power, not our own!).  He then gives us a “tool” in verse 29 that we are to use if action is required; He states that some demons can only be removed though prayer.  Was this a statement of fact (yes) or was Jesus softly telling His disciples that they forgot to include God when they tried and that’s why they failed? (probably)

Aah, prayer… how often, when given a situation, do we try to handle it ourselves, fail, then pray as a last resort or give up without seeking God at all?  I’m sure the disciples had the right words to say when rebuking the demon, but without God, it was just a useless incantation.  Perhaps they even had the faith required that told them that casting out a demon was possible.  Without seeking God first through prayer however, the disciples failed because God was not a part of what they were doing.  We can apply this to our own lives, and for any given situation as well.

Philippians 4:13 says that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, and it’s the truth; Jesus told us so in Matthew 9:23.  Remember though, it’s only THROUGH Christ that we gain our strength.  We must first believe that God can handle it, then ask Him to handle it.  It’s not about anything we can do, and so often, that’s why we fail.  Apart from God, we can do nothing (John 15:5b).  Ask Him to help you in your situations today through prayer.

Jun 042011

A blinding light
Mark 9:1-13

Only recently, Peter recognized that Jesus was the Messiah that the people were looking for.  Now that Peter and the other disciples knew for sure, Jesus took on the task of preparing them for what was to come — Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Jesus started discussing His death, resurrection, and the glory of heaven with the disciples so they wouldn’t miss it when the actual events occurred.  Some of His disciples would be writing about these happenings and all of them would be telling others — Jesus wanted them to get it straight.

As Jesus and the disciples headed to Mt. Hermon (or Mt. Tabor), He mentioned that some of the disciples would see heaven before they died.  Was Jesus talking about the ‘end times’ that were prophesied in the Old Testament?  Well, no, not in this case.  Jesus needed to connect with His heavenly father and six days later, Jesus took Peter, James & John to the top of the mountain and suddenly heaven surrounded them.  Jesus became blindingly white with energy.   Moses and Elijah were right there with them.  The Gospel of Luke tells us that Moses, Elijah and Jesus were discussing ‘the plan’ about Jesus’ upcoming crucifixion then resurrection.

Frightened to death and right in the middle of it all, Peter exclaimed ‘let’s build three tabernacles (churches) here,’ implying that the three Holy people might reside on that mountain as God resided in the temple at Jerusalem.  Not wanting Peter to miss the uniqueness of all this, God exclaimed ‘This is my son, you listen to Him;’ and with that statement Moses, Elijah, and heaven disappeared leaving Jesus there all alone.  Peter’s desire to build three churches had also implied that Moses, Elijah and Jesus were of equal status in heaven.  God wanted to make it clear that Jesus stood alone as the top guy.

On the way back, the three disciples had some questions like ‘what does being raised from the dead mean?’ for Jesus had just mentioned it, and ‘I thought Elijah was supposed to come before you Jesus; did we miss him?’  Jesus would answer the first question later, but for now, he answered the second.  Jesus said ‘Elijah did come, and the rulers abused him just as it was written.  They will also abuse the Son of Man (Jesus).’  Elijah had come and his name was John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus.

Can you imagine being caught up in heaven like Peter, James and John were?  What a wonderful place that must be!  I’m glad Jesus went through with His plan so I can see heaven some day.  Praise God!