Saturday, January 28, 2017

Mark: Rich young man and the only perfect God-man, plus all of us

Mark 10:17-30

This is the story of the rich young ruler and Jesus's discussion with his disciples afterwards.  Something dawned on me this week from re-reading commentaries on this passage.  Although this passage addresses riches and idols, it is not the main point of the passage.

First, the young guy comes to Jesus and calls him "good teacher."  He asks, "what must I do to be saved?".  Somehow, the man has an idea that there are good people and that goodness can be attained through some act or deed.  Jesus truly is the only good human ever to live.  However, the man did not know that, and Jesus was helping him to consider why he would consider anybody good.

Next, Jesus names some of the commandments but not all.  The guy has kept those commandments, but he knows he still is missing something.  He has not kept all the commandments.  He loves things and possessions and influence more than God.  He has made graven images.  He has taken the Lord's name in vain.  Even the slightest sin is permanent and deserving of eternal punishment in hell.  And the man has committed sins.

Then, Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and to follow him.  He also shocks his disciples by telling them that it is easier to get a huge camel through a very small needle's eye than it is for a rich person to get into heaven.  The disciples, in their Jewish culture, grew up believing that riches were a sign of God's favor and blessing!  Even a seemingly blessed person cannot get to heaven.  Why?  Because people in their own power cannot save themselves from their sins.  Somebody else, somebody perfect has to save them and correct them into holy living.

The story is not about idolatry and riches.  It is about everybody and their desperate need for a Savior.  And there is only one Savior.  The perfect man who was also God, Jesus Christ.  Only God can forgive sins, and only a human could atone for human sins.  So only the God-man can save you.

At first the rich young man walks away disappointed.  But the story doesn't say if he came back or not.  Some traditions say that this is John Mark himself, the gospel's author.  I believe that since the text says that Jesus loved the man, that he came back and followed Jesus.  Jesus is so patient with us and always giving us chances to turn to him and to put away our idols.  Would you do that today?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Mark: teachings that should cause teachers to tremble

Mark 9:42-10:16

Jesus is going through a lengthy discourse.  He had just finished telling his disciples to stop arguing over who is the greatest and encouraging them to be like children.  Then he says that if anyone should cause a child to sin, it would be greater for him to be tied to a millstone and thrown into a sea than to face whatever he will face in hell should he not repent.  This should cause teachers and ministers everywhere to tremble.  I know I have not been the best example to the kids that I lead at all times and I hope that I will never cause them to fall into disbelief or sin.

Then he talks about divorce.  The popular thing to do in that day was to take God's word that had permitted divorce to protect a woman should a man's heart get so rebellious against God and using it as an excuse to just divorce a woman because he had grown tired of her and she wasn't hot anymore and her cooking was bad.  It's just like today when teachers twist God's word around to allow homosexuality and gay marriage.  God has never approved of such things or allowed them, and he most certainly doesn't approve of people using his word to marginalize women.  God meant marriage to be permanent and only to be broken after adultery happened.  And, of course, men and women must guard against adultery in the first place and remember that when they married, it was for life.

Now, I know many divorced people and remarried people with kids from previous marriages.  What's done is done.  You can't do anything about it now.  But from now on, honor the Lord more than you honor your feelings.  I find it especially interesting that in Mark, the divorce teaching is sandwiched between teachings about children.

And now, Jesus reminds the people to let the little children come to me.  People in support of infant baptism would use this as a proof text.  I support infant baptism, but I don't see it there.  My main support is that it replaces circumcision which was done to 8-day-olds.  Certainly not old enough to understand, which is the point.  We need to start considering our children as part of the church and dedicating them, not just the parents, when they are born and long before they understand so that when they do start to understand, they're already there.  And infants are members of the covenant community along with their believing parents and need to be baptized.  And we should not treat them as a different level of existence than the adult members of the church.  I think we'd worry less about our kids and not push for professions of faith before they are ready.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sunday School reflection: When you are tempted

1.    Satan told Jesus that if he was the Son of God that he should turn stones in to bread.  It wasn’t wrong for Jesus to turn stones into bread, but it would have been wrong for him to doubt his status before God.  Jesus did not give in.  When we are tempted, we need to remember that nothing can change our status before God.  He will always love, and Jesus will always intercede for us
2.    Satan took Jesus on top of the temple and told him to jump down because angels will prevent him from striking his foot on a stone.  Satan quoted Psalm 91.  The best way to stop temptation is to know Scripture, but also know that the enemy knows Scripture and people who claim to be Christians will always be leading you astray if you don’t know Scripture better than you do now.  Make time for it.  You don’t have time not to.
3.    Satan offered Jesus all the mountains and the world if he would only worship him.  But Jesus already had the world and the mountains.  He’s God.  He made them all.  When Satan tempts you, remember that you already have everything you need in Jesus. 

So when you are tempted, remember to not fight in your own strength.  If you want to be violent because, you are angry, stop and pray.  If you are tempted to steal something, remember you have all you need.  God will fight your battle.  Jesus will intercede for his elect, you need to know Scripture, and you already have all you need.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mark: I am not enough, but he certainly is

Mark 9:25-41

In this point, Jesus was about to heal a demon-possessed young man at the request of his father.  The disciples could not do it and the dad was losing faith.  He had to ask Jesus to help his unbelief.  Jesus healed the boy and then declared that the evil spirit can only come out through prayer.  Meaning, that only looking to God, can we ever hope to accomplish his will.  Not through our own means.

Next, Jesus reminds his duh-sciples again that he will die and then rise again on the third day.  They don't get it.  In fact, they ignore it and argue among themselves who is the greatest and try to hide it from Jesus.  Jesus has to tell them that the rest of the world can fight for greatness.  We as his followers are not to do that.  Then Jesus took a child and said we have to be like that.  Simple, believing, and obedient.  Not naive or childish, but childlike.

This reminds me of someone who doesn't like to lose games.  Often I will ask Tim to play a game with me, then he wins and I get mad at him.  I want to be the greatest.  I want to do things my own way and always win.  But I must remember that I am not great.  In fact, without Jesus, I am not enough.

I had to talk to someone who declared that she can't control her anger.  Was she despairing or making excuses?  I don't know.  But I know that in my own power, I can't control my anger or my thoughts.  I certainly cannot cure people of demons.  But I need to constantly pray to the Lord for his guidance and even his control.  He needs to change me so I think his thoughts after him and think less of myself.  I am not enough, but he certainly is.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mark: Transfiguration, man with a demon, me musing on autism again

Mark 9:1-24 in which Jesus goes up a mountain with three friends, gets transfigured to what he looked like before he left heaven, scares his friends, and then he comes back and gets ready to heal a man with a demon.

I wrote the following a couple years ago as I still try to develop a theology around special needs.  My brother has autism, and so I have a huge heart for autism and aspberger's and anyone on the spectrum.  It is different in everyone and ranges from people who mostly function in society independently to folks like my brother who probably will not do so.  It is not to label or offend people: just to muse.

One specific Bible account displays a young man who could have autism.  In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus meets a man with a demon possession.  Here are words Matthew Henry uses to describe him: “possessed with a dumb spirit”, he cannot talk, “is speechless”, “the spirit tears him”, “he foams at his mouth and gnashes with his teeth,” “he pines away, is worn to a skeleton, his flesh is dried away.”

Andrew relates to this guy because he does not talk.  For most of his life, he never had a seizure, but in 2015 he began to have them.  He does not waste away.  He eats plenty and gets good exercise.  If he had no restraints, he would probably walk out into traffic or into a proverbial fire.

Matthew Henry wisely explains that the demon-possessed man and Andrew are no different than anything else.  The man’s father told Jesus that he has had the demon since childhood.  “We are all by nature children of disobedience,  and in such the evil spirit works, and has done so from our childhood.”  He quotes Proverbs 22:15, “foolishness is bound in the heart of the child.”  “Nothing but the mighty grace of Christ can cast it out.” 

All people play with demons and follow into sin.  All sickness is a result of Adam and Eve’s fall.  You called Jesus to come heal a more visibly sick man, but you and the whole human race need healing, too.

John MacArthur preached a sermon on this passage.  It is archived on  He titles the sermon “All Things Possible.”  Jesus told the man’s father that, “all things are possible to him who believes.”  The dad tells Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

People live in a world where God is invisible, inaudible, and all they can see are the calamities, catastrophes, and tragedies brought about by death and destruction.  It takes divine intervention for people to believe that God has a plan, planned this from the beginning of creation, and will bring it to perfection in his timing.  I praise God for his patience as people ask him if he can heal knowing fully that he can.  The grace poured through Jesus helps people to believe in the most hopeless circumstances.

MacArthur cites many verses.  2 Corinthians 5:7, “We walk by faith not by sight.”  Galatians 2:20, “We live by faith in the Son of God.”  Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”

That last verse convicts because before God saves us, we do not have faith, and we cannot please God.  We must ask Jesus to supply our belief, or we will never please God.

It is good to note that this episode in Jesus’s life immediately follows his trip to the Mount of Transfiguration.  This was the first time Jesus enjoyed the privilege of seeing his complete heavenly home since Mary gave birth to him as a baby.  He had not seen his home in more than thirty years, and now God the Father granted him the privilege to bask in an environment free from sin and imperfection before he made the trek toward his gruesome crucifixion.  He also got to talk to glorified saints: Moses and Elijah.  In his mercy, Jesus allowed Peter, James, and John to experience this glimpse into perfection.

In Chapter 8, Mark recalls the episodes where Jesus had to rebuke his disciples for their hard hearts.  During their days of learning under Jesus, they still struggled with trying to be the greatest and not believing that Jesus could feed 4000 even after he had already fed 5000.

He took Peter, James, and John, and opened up the heavens for them to erase any doubt from their minds that any of them would ever be as great as Jesus.  He brought them down the mountain only to see that the rest of his disciples still argued about being the greatest.  On top of that, a distraught father wanted them to heal his son.  In their self-perceived greatness, they could not do that, and they gave the Pharisees present more reason to doubt their Messiah and his power.

Here we are again, in Jesus’s absence.  He lives in heaven.  Many people who love Jesus have gone with him to enjoy that world.  We are left here to help the sick and cure people from their demons.  We cannot do that because we do not believe that Jesus can heal them, and we keep trying to look to our own greatness, and greatness that we do not have.  We do not have the faith to please God. 

I know in my own life that I have never healed Andrew.  Like the man’s father, I doubt that Andrew will find healing before Christ returns to earth.  When Jesus does come back, I know that he will bring Andrew to perfection.  Until then, I interact with Jesus’s followers.  Some do try to help but look to worldly methods for answers that only God has.  Others sit by and count Andrew as a mistake and useless to society.  Everybody knows Andrew, even if he goes by another name and even if it is not the same person that I write about.

In conclusion, the people who do work to help people with special needs should ask Jesus how they can look to Him in their quest.  How can we do that?

The people who do not see the least of these as worthy of their attention, especially ones that claim to follow Jesus, need to reevaluate their relationship with the Lord and see that our perfect Savior takes time for these people.  His true follows do the same.  Why do you not value life and consider yourself any less disabled than those?

John Calvin said, “God will never forsake us, if we keep the door open for receiving his grace.”  ( I hope that those words will encourage everybody who reads this.  God’s grace is available for both the Pharisee and the well-meaning disciple.