Saturday, September 26, 2015

Seeking a Miracle

Read Mark 7.

Those who minister to people can identify with Jesus and how there is no end to the needs.  As far back as chapter 3, there was a physical concern that Jesus should take a break and rest.  Yet, even when He moved on, the crowds followed.  Here, in verse 24, He left the land of Israel with the apparent motive of being away for a while.

Tyre and Sidon were seaport cities of Phoenicia.  It could have served as a place for a quiet coastal retreat.  "But immediately" (v.25) Jesus was recognized by an unnamed Gentile woman.  We may all learn from her desperation in seeking Jesus' help and the test of her faith.

God performs miracles when there is a great need and individuals cast their complete dependence on Him.  It is true in salvation.  Eternal life is given to those who cast their faith in Jesus alone.  In praying for God's intervention in this life, He will often wait until we feel the great need for Him.  Then, He will wait until we are willing to only trust Him for the answer to that need.  Along the way, there will be tests of disappointment, even rejection, and waiting.  But our hope is in none of those things.  Our hope must be solidly kept in the trustworthiness and goodness of God Himself.  And, then, we have the wonderful privilege of seeing the power of God move.

In principle and in prayer, we identify with this woman.
1. Boldness.
Jesus may have wanted to stay "hidden", but she burst right into His presence.  "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

2. Dependence.
She cast herself at the feet of Jesus, begging for His help.  It was the cry of a mother who had reached the end of herself.  She realized that there was nothing she could do to fix the problem.  "Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you." (Psalm 55:22)

3. Spiritual.
She recognized that the real battle she and her daughter were facing was spiritual.  Treating symptoms would not solve the problem,  Somehow, one of Satan's minions had taken possession of this girl.  No human power could help.  God's intervention was needed to change her life.

4. Intercession.
Her request was specific and urgent.  She literally and spiritually stood in the gap between her daughter and the Lord in order to bring them together.  She sought the help of Jesus when her daughter either could not or would not.

5. The Test.
On the surface, the response of Jesus sounds harsh, uncaring, and offensive.  It was not meant to be derogatory but Gentiles were not His main mission.  In Matthew's account of this scene, Jesus said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 15:24).  When He sent our the twelve, Jesus instructed them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 10:6).  Though, at this time, Jews were His main mission, the good news was not limited to them.  Individual non-Jews did put their faith in Israel's God in the Old Testament and in Jesus in the Gospels.

For the woman, this was a test of her faith in Jesus.  She was unmoved by His seeming rejection.  Indeed, Jesus was moved by how she responded.  It began with the submissive words, "Yes, Lord."  Jesus could do anything.  All she desired was a crumb of His blessing.

6. Miracle.  
The story is not about the pain but the process.  We all want the miracle without going through the school of prayer.  Someone once said, "If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it."  Trust Him.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Jesus-Who is He?

Read Mark 6.

Throughout the Gospels there are statements of how people responded to Jesus.  His identity was never hidden.  Prior to His birth, the angel's announcements were clear.  Jesus is God in the flesh, the long awaited Messiah, the One who would save people from their sin.  However, the human realization of that truth varied, as it does today.

Jesus taught the Scriptures in the synagogues and in public with authority.  This was in great contrast to the religious leaders of the day who spoke, instead, of various opinions about the Scriptures.  Jesus called for people to repent.  The religious leaders only asked people to comply with rituals.  Jesus physically healed people, including raising some from the dead.  The religious leaders of His day spurned the infirmed as guilty of sin.  He cast out demons and entered into direct spiritual warfare against evil.  The religious establishment had no answers.

One would think by hearing Jesus and seeing what He was doing, the light would go on inside.  Everyone would understand and come to Him in worship for forgiveness.  But such was not the case.

1. Some felt offended by Him. (vv.1-6)
After all He had said and done, the people who knew Jesus best rejected Him.  This may be a basis for the folk proverb, "Familiarity breeds contempt."  They had no respect for this carpenter's son of questionable birth that they had known all His life.  They knew He was not educated by the local rabbi, nor did He teach as one.

2. Some thought He was John resurrected. (v.14)
When Jesus performed miracles over sickness, disease, death and nature, some jumped to conclude that somehow John, the Baptist had come back to life.  This superhuman being was displaying God's power and His preaching reminded them of John.

3. Some concluded he was Elijah, as promised. (v.15)
It was well-known according to Malachi 4:5 that Elijah would come to prepare the nation for Messiah.  John, the Baptist, appeared in the spirit of Elijah to pave the way for Jesus.  The description of one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 looks like Elijah before the return of Christ.  But, Jesus was not John and He was not Elijah.

4. Some concluded He was like one of the Old Testament prophets. (v.15)
His preaching style reminded them of what they had heard from the Old Testament.  Jesus was a powerful preacher, delivering God's word for that generation.  But Jesus was more than a good preacher.

5. Some were burdened by their guilt. (v.16)
Herod had imprisoned John, the Baptist, for no reason other than the guilt of his own sin.  To heap heinous sin upon sin, Herod made a foolish decision and order John to be executed.  When Herod heard of Jesus, he thought that John had come back to haunt him.  He chose to keep running from the truth, from God, and the only source of spiritual relief from condemnation.

In Matthew 16, Jesus quizzed the twelve as to His real identity.  They echoed some similar responses.  Then, Jesus asked the most important question in the universe.  The answer changes one's eternal destiny.  "But who do you say that I am?  Simon Peter replied, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'" (Matthew 16:15-16)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The most powerful evidence we have to Share

Read Mark 5.

One of most graphic encounters of Jesus' ministry is found in this chapter.  The man was dangerous and uncontrollable.  People feared for their lives around him.  They tried restraining him in chains, but that did not work.  With superhuman strength he broke the chains.  He became an outcast, living in a place where no one would bother him-the cemetery.  Perhaps, the only future he could foresee for himself was there among the dead.  Then, Jesus came.

Knowing all things, Jesus looked beyond the man's behavior to the root of his problem.  At some point in his life, either through practicing some false religion or engaging in some evil activity, he had allowed demons to take over his life.  The inward pain and oppression of evil became unimaginable.  So much so that he began hurting himself in response.  He, obviously, did not do anything to end his life but felt he needed to something to counter the inward pain.  He cried out for help, but no one could help him.  Then, Jesus came.

The demons knew and announced Jesus' real identity.  As God in the flesh, Jesus has power over the Satanic representatives.  At His command they were removed from the suffering man's life.  How Jesus changed this man's life in an instant.  No longer running around in a panic but peacefully "sitting there."   No longer naked but "clothed."  No longer insane but "in his right mind."

One would have thought that the townsfolk would come rejoicing that their nightmare was over, that this man had been miraculously changed, and worshiped Jesus.  But instead they became even more afraid and rejected Jesus.  Why they were afraid is a matter of some speculation.  Most likely, they were more concerned about the loss of the pigs than they were of the deliverance of the man.

Jesus could no longer minister the good news in that region, but this changed man could.  There is no greater witness of the power of God than a transformed life.  "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you."  Sharing that simple message is something every true follower of Christ can do today.

The Apostle Paul had been a persecutor of the believers, even overseeing the murder of Deacon Stephen.  In his testimony he wrote, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, thought it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me." (1 Corinthians 15:10)

John Newton famously stated concerning his own changed life in Christ,

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Monday, September 14, 2015

Questions when you feel Threatened

Read Mark 4.

After an overloaded stint of teaching, with no time rest, Jesus and the twelve set out across the Sea of Galilee.  It was evening, but this journey of a few miles for the professional fishermen aboard should not have been a problem.  Then, the problem came.

A violent windstorm came up.  The waves crashed over the bow and the boat began taking on water.  The men feared for their lives.  In great contrast, Jesus had fallen asleep and never woke up in the storm until aroused Him.  Their question in verse 38 is full of terror.  "Do you not care that we are perishing?"

In the previous chapter, He called them to be with Him and to serve Him.  It seemed fairly easy to be with the crowds and listening.  They were in the boat and then in the storm because God wanted them there.  They were in the exact will of God.  But when the pressure was on them, fear caused the twelve to question the very character of Jesus.

Later, the Holy Spirit would move the Apostle Peter to write: "...casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7).  God's character does not change.  It is never in question.  In the middle of problems, it is our faith in  Him that is being tested.

Jesus rebuked the storm and calmed the sea with the simple yet commanding words, "Peace!  Be still!"  Then, Jesus had a couple questions of His own.

"Why are you so afraid?   Have you still no faith?"
Matthew recorded that upon selecting the twelve, Jesus addressed the subject of fear with them.  "So have no fear...And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell....Fear not..." (Matthew 10:25-33)

The night before the crucifixion, Jesus comforted them with these words: "Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me...Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives, do I give to you.  let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:1 and 27)

It is human to have questions.  Yet, the follower of Jesus can rest in the peace of God, even in the middle of life's storms.  It is not because we have all the answers but because we trust the One who is in full control of all our circumstances.  To us He speaks, "Peace!  Be still!"