Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Anna’s service

Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.  – Luke 2.36-38

We get to meet one more ‘minor character’ in Luke’s gospel before we move on to the life of Christ in earnest.

Here we read of Anna the prophetess. She was old. Depending on how we read the passage she was either 84, or had been a widow for 84 years. She might have been over 100. Either way she was really, really old considering when she lived.

I think most people today would have considered Anna a bit odd. She was that sweet old lady who was always at the Temple fasting and praying and talking about Messiah coming. I think most of us can think of someone like this. I remember a little old lady when we lived on Hillsboro Road in Huntsville back in the late 60s. She went to the nearby Baptist church and she called by every Saturday to visit us and invite us kids to Sunday School. If mom wasn’t home we used to hide from her. But there she was week after week after week. She had a burden for that houseful of kids. I am certain in retrospect that she backed up those visits with prayer.

That is kind of how I have always imagined Anna. The sweet old lady who, every time you went to the Temple would say something like ‘Did you know Messiah the Redeemer is coming?’

The Temple workers knew about her – she was the only lady who spent all day fasting and praying. She had lived a long time and had been doing this forever. I am sure the naysayers would have wondered why she stayed at it.

But suddenly it all changed! She ‘just happened’ to come in when Jesus was in the Temple. ‘He is here! Messiah had brought redemption to us!

Praise God for Anna’s faithful ministry of fasting and prayer. Ministry is not always at the battlefront. It is not always in the pulpit. It is rarely in the limelight. May each of us be challenged by her example. 

And lest I forget - praise God for that dear sweet saint on Hillsboro Road who kept up a faithful and thankless ministry to six little Parrow children. 

Monday, 30 July 2012

A light for all peoples

For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel." – Luke 2.30-32

Simeon’s blessing on Jesus is an amazing account to read. He says a lot, but he says a couple of things that astonish Mary and Joseph.

We have to understand the setting. The Jews considered themselves God’s people and only they were God’s people. The very thought that God would have anything to do with non-Jews would have shocked them. Many of the Jews of that day were racists and considered the Gentiles as no better than dogs.

And yet here Simeon said that God, through this infant, had prepared for the salvation of all people. He prophesied that this baby would bring a light of revelation to the Gentiles and that He will be the glory of all Israel.

This may seem like a minor event or an insignificant prophecy, but for those who are not Jews it is huge. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians about 50 years later he would write about how the ‘wall of partition’ between Jew and Gentile was broken down in Christ. From this time on the whole world could be recipients of the light. We know that as a rule Jesus’ own people, the Jews, were not going to accept Him. The gospel is ‘to the Jew first’ but it is ‘also to the Greek.’

I am so grateful that it was part of God’s plan from the very start to give light to us – without that Light we would have no hope! 

Sunday, 29 July 2012


And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation – Luke 2.25-30

I enjoy looking at the lesser known people in the Bible. They just come along, make their appearance, and then they are gone.

Simeon is one of those characters. We are told that he was a ‘man in Jerusalem.’ We know that he was just, and devout, that he was waiting for Messiah, and that the Holy Spirit was upon him. We also know that the Holy Spirit had told him that he would not die before he had seen the Christ.

Simeon was the perfect picture of peace. Even before he saw Jesus he trusted that he would see the Christ. When he saw the maybe Jesus, long before Jesus started his earthly ministry, he knew that he had seen God’s salvation.

What impresses me though is his faith. He realised that the baby Jesus would one day be the salvation of the world. Faith does not require seeing the result. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Simeon understood that and exercised that kind of faith without sight.

That ought to stir our hearts. I find myself sometimes not content to trust the promises – I want to see the result. All Simeon had to do was see the baby, and his faith kicked in the rest. ‘He departed in peace.’

We have the complete word of God for our evidence. We know that the story doesn’t end with the baby in the manger.

If Simeon could find peace why is peace so rare for God’s people? 

Saturday, 28 July 2012

They made known

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. – Luke 2.15-17

Several years ago we were in the Dayton, Ohio area in the run up to Christmas. We were invited to attend a ‘Living Bethlehem’ with some folks at a local church there. It was a marvellous experience. We had all the sights and sounds (and smells) of the ancient city. Shopkeepers called out from their stalls. There was a hustle and bustle of people in modern western dress and replicas of ancient eastern dress. There were food samples in the stalls.

Suddenly two or three men came rushing through the crowd. They were dressed in rough looking robes. They were bearded and had scruffy hair. As they ran through the crowd they grabbed people and proclaimed something like ‘Hurry, you have to come and see! The Messiah is here! He is a baby, but He is the Saviour, He brings good news to all men! Hurry, come and see Him!’

That incident has stuck in my mind every time I read this passage. ‘When they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.’

Every time I remember that night and this verse I have to pause and consider how much I am doing to ‘make widely known the saying’ about my own encounter with the Saviour. Do I make that news known abroad with the same kind of fervour? Indeed, do I make the news known with any fervour at all? Even more thought provoking – do I make known the news of my encounter with the Saviour at all?

How about it folks – are we ‘making widely known’ the news about the Saviour we have encountered? 

Friday, 27 July 2012

No room for Jesus

And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. - Luke 2.7

Joseph the carpenter and his young wife Mary were in a bit of a fix. Mary was quite pregnant with her baby Jesus when they received news they had to make a trip to Bethlehem. An edict had been issued that all families had to return to their family homeland to be counted and pay taxes. For Joseph and Mary that meant 110km as the crow flies. With the winding trails it was probably much further than that. It would be at least a four day journey.

By the time they got to Bethlehem they were exhausted, sore, and dirty. Imagine travelling four days by foot with a nine months pregnant woman without showers or hotels or restaurants along the way. Chances are that they camped every night along the dusty roads.

When they got to Bethlehem they looked for a room. But, probably due to the census, the town was full. There were no rooms anywhere. Along the way someone offered them a place in a stable.

Imagine this young husband desperately trying to find a place for his wife to give birth. But there was no room anywhere. There was no room for the baby Jesus.

Sadly, that wasn’t the last time that there was no room for Jesus. Jesus came unto His own, but His own would not receive Him. He was a man of sorrows, despised and rejected of men. He is the cornerstone rejected by the builders. Even today, some 2,000 years later, there is no room for Jesus.

What is even sadder is the fact that Christians can often be just as guilty. Often our days get so busy and hectic that we just fly into the day without pausing to give our Jesus any thought. Sometimes we may only give Jesus a thought at church on Sunday, maybe.

I think we need to ask ourselves if there is any room for Jesus in today’s schedule. Or like the town of Bethlehem, is there no room for Jesus today? 

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Dayspring

To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace." – Luke 1.77-79

‘With which the Dayspring from on high as visited us…’

What is this ‘Dayspring?’ It is not a word we use much anymore. I love the word though. I wish we still used it.

It really is a descriptive word. It is a poetic word for dawn, or daybreak. It is that instant when the sun springs over the horizon and illuminates the sky bursting forth in all its radiance. I love walking at that time of day. It is almost mystical to see the sun break forth and dispel the darkness. Instantly the path is clearer and you feel like there is fresh new hope for the new day.

This is the perfect word to describe what Jesus did when he came from on high to visit us. He brought the gospel light of hope to a dark and dying world.

He visited us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He gives light to guard our paths.

‘It’s a troublesome world, all the people who are in it, are troubled with troubles almost every minute.’ (Dr Seuss, ‘Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?) Those troubles make the way dark and difficult to navigate. It is like walking a trail in the dark. We can’t see what is causing us to stumble.

But the Dayspring has visited us to light our path. We need no long stumble in the darkness of sin. The Light of the World is Jesus. 

Where would we be today without our Dayspring? 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The knowledge of salvation

To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace." – Luke 1.77-79
John is over often overlooked in his important ministry. Because he is not in the Old Testament and his name doesn’t sound like a prophet’s name to us we often don’t think of him as a prophet. Because he preceded  Christ and never preached the full gospel of Christ we don’t really see him as a New Testament preacher. He is somewhere in between.

His message was to bridge the gap between the Old and New Testaments. Here Zechariah prophecies that John will ‘go before the face of the Lord’ and prepare the way for Him.

Part of that preparation was to ‘give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins through the tender mercy of God.’

While Jesus was preparing for His earthly ministry, John was preparing the world to hear it. He began preaching a new concept – that salvation was not from keeping the Law, but by the remission of sins by the tender mercies of God.

Imagine what a difference that made. Before Christ the Law was supreme in the remission of sins. In Christ mercy was the basis of remission.

Praise God for John’s embryonic gospel message. John is a great example of the kind of witness we should be for the now completed gospel. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Serve Him in Holiness

To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. – Luke 1.74-75

We saw yesterday that we can serve Jesus without being afraid of the presence of sin. We have been freed from its penalty of sin and the power of sin. Apart from that truth we could never, ever do what comes next.

‘That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him…in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives.

We all know ourselves. We know the thoughts and intents and spiritual battles that we face. We all know how unholily we can think and act at times. How then can we serve the Lord in holiness and righteousness and how can we do it all the days of our lives?

We certainly can’t do it on our own. The most holy and righteous of us will fall short of God’s standard of holiness and righteousness.

But we can be holy and righteous. We can do that only because Christ’s holiness and His righteousness are imputed to us. We can serve Him all the days of our lives because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever and He will never leave us or forsake us.

All of that would be impossible without Him. Praise God He visited and redeemed us. 

Monday, 23 July 2012

Serve Him without fear

To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. – Luke 1.74-75

As a result of God’s visitation and His redemption there are some things that need to follow. Remember, the Jews didn’t know it yet, but that visitation and redemption was not to be for them alone, but for all mankind.

Like most prophets Zechariah probably did not know the full extent of what he was saying. Sure, one day the Messiah who John would announce would deliver Israel from her enemies. But we know in retrospect that Jesus did not deliver Israel from Rome and her other enemies during His first earthly ministry.

So I think there is an application for us that Zechariah and the hearers of this prophecy did not understand. We do know that there is an enemy that Jesus did defeat while He was here the first time.

Apart from Christ sin reigns supreme. I will look at that a bit more tomorrow, but for now we know that in Christ sin no longer has dominion over us. Sin was our enemy, but it has been vanquished. We were delivered from both the penalty and power of sin at salvation (more on that tomorrow). However, we still have to deal with sin in our lives. The penalty and power are gone, but the presence of sin remains.

That could be scary for the believer. We are supposed to live for Christ, but sin still dwells hidden and lurking in our flesh? You can almost see a scary film being made here with darkness and shadows and eerie music.

Sin is real. It resides in the body of our flesh. If not controlled it will act and make us do things we would never do otherwise.

But we need not be afraid of sin. The penalty has been paid. The power has been vanquished. Sin need no longer reign in our bodies because greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.

We need to reckon these things as true. We need to know that sin needs to be recognised, but not to be feared. It is sort of like electricity. When a person understands electricity he always respects its power, but he does not need to be afraid. The same is true with sin, when we understand the fullness of Jesus visitation and redemption we will always recognise the danger of sin, but we need not fear it.

If we try to serve in fear we will be powerless – if we recognise what Jesus has done we do not need to be afraid. 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

He has visited and redeemed

Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, - Luke 1.68-69

From Mary we move on the Zechariah, John’s father.  John's job was to go ahead of the Messiah and prepare His way. Zechariah was silenced for not wanting to name his son John. But once his lips were opened he was full praise filled prophecy for his son and the One who would follow.

There had been about 400 silent years for Israel. No prophets had spoken. Every week the words of the prophets were read in the Temple and the synagogues, but there was no fresh prophecy. John would break that silence.

And what would John’s message be? ‘Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people…’

God would visit His people. What an astounding thought! Not only would the Lord God visit His people – He would also redeem them.

We have to remember that we are still operating on Old Testament ‘rules’ here. The gospel was still a mystery, but not for much longer. Part of the mystery was that God’s visitation and redemption would not be only for Israel but for the whole world.

God came down to visit a humanity that was in utter rebellion against Him. He knew that they would reject, but He still came to redeem those who would enter through the narrow gate and accept.

He came to the world and the world would not know Him. But He still came to redeem us. Praise God for His visitation and His redemption. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

He fills the hungry

He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. – Luke 1.53

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.’ Long before Jesus spoke these words His mother used them to describe the God she worshipped as the One who fills the hungry with good things.

It is an interesting verse. It is obvious that God does not force feed anyone. He feeds the hungry but turns away the rich empty. The baby Mary is carrying at this point will one day teach how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

Tragically the rich far too often are so dependent on their own resources and full of their own efforts that they don’t even realise that they are hungry. They tend to miss out on God because they don’t even know they need Him.

But praise God He fills the hungry with good things. Praise Him that when we finally realise our spiritual needs He will fill us.

Let’s get our appetites sorted. If we hunger after the earthly things we will never be satisfied. If we hunger after righteousness He will fill us. 

Friday, 20 July 2012

Mercy and strength

And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. – Luke 1.50-51

We could almost write a theology book based in Mary’s beautiful song of devotion and worship. Virtually every phrase describes more about the character and actions of God.

I love the image of mercy and strength tied together. It shows that God has the strength to do whatever He wants, but He tempers His strength with mercy for those who fear Him. God can be both strong and merciful without it being a contradiction.

God’s strength allows Him to deal with sin. It allows Him to carry out His perfect, holy, righteousness judgement. It means that nothing is stronger than God and that our victory is secure. It means that one day all will be right.

But His perfect mercy means that he provides a way of escape from that judgement. All the good that we have is based on His mercy. His mercies are new every morning. His compassions never fail.

Praise God for His mercy that extends from generation to generation to all those who know God for who He is and put their faith Him.

And praise God for the hope. Because of His merciful strength we can rest assured that it will all be okay one day! 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Blessed Mary

And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord,  And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. – Luke 1.46-49

I love Mary’s sweet and submissive spirit. She didn’t just accept this impossible task, she embraced it.

Once she submitted we really get to see her heart and her walk with God. Here we have her ‘Magnificat’ or her song of praise.

My soul magnifies my God
My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
My God has regarded me in my lowly estate
My descendants will call me blessed
My God is mighty
My God has done great things for me
My God is holy

Wow! What a list of truths for us to remember.

Mary chose these thoughts at what might have been a time of great fear and doubt. Instead of focusing on the impossibilities and the repercussions she chose to focus on her God and who He is.

Here is the balance. Some would tell us that Mary was born into sinless perfection – that she, like her son, was sinless and did not need salvation. Here, however, she says ‘I rejoice in the God of my salvation.’ Mary needed a Saviour just like everyone else who has ever lived.

But what I really like is that when challenged with a task that seemed impossible she chose to draw on what she knew about her God.

May I have the faith to remember who my God is the next time I am faced with what seems like an impossible task. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Absolute faith

Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.  - Luke 1.38

Jesus’ mother Mary can pose a bit of a dilemma for non-Catholics. Catholics vary in their views of Mary. Some honour her, some venerate her, and some worship her. The most radical view holds that she is deity along with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I would have grown up and served in churches for most of my life that handled Mary by just ignoring here. A lot of folks were afraid to talk about her at all for fear of being seen as ‘pro-Catholic’ or ‘soft on Catholicism.’

That was just plain silly. Acknowledging Mary’s role in the plan of redemption is to not fully preach the word of God.

Luke tells us the most about Mary. We get to know her pretty well. And from what we get to know I am impressed by this amazing young woman. Remember who she was. She was just a plain simple Jewish girl. She was probably quite young for our culture, possibly 14 or 15 years old.

She just heard an angel tell her that she was going to give birth to God’s Son without having sexual relations.

I don’t think any of us can possibly imagine what young Mary felt at that moment. I can’t imagine the gamut of emotions. The angel calmed her with the words ‘with God nothing will be impossible,’ but still…

But look at Mary’s faith response ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your words.’

Don’t you wish that we all had that kind of faith? It is the kind of faith that says ‘I am going to trust God no matter how ‘crazy’ it sounds. Really now, and young virgin is going to give birth to God’s Son and still remain a virgin? How many of us are challenged with that kind of situation?

Do we have the kind of faith to say, no matter what, ‘Behold the maidservant (or manservant) of the Lord. Let it be to me according to God’s will?’ 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Father turned His face away

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, My God, what have You forsaken Me?" – Mark 15.34

This must be one of the most mysterious passages in all of scripture. It doesn’t seem to make sense when we read it.

‘How,’ we might ask, ‘can God forsake God?’

Jesus was forsaken by His disciples. Now He was forsaken by His Father. Jesus, the very Son of God and Saviour of the world, was all alone.

But why? How could this happen? How could the perfect lovingly heavenly Father turn His back on His son?

The answer is sin.

Here we have Jesus, God incarnate, hanging on a cross for one reason. He is there to bear the burden of my sin. When He took our sins on His shoulders God could no longer bear to look at Him because ‘He is of purer eyes than to behold evil.’

Stuart Townend captured the great truth in his hymn ‘How Deep the Father’s Love For Us.’

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

On the cross the Father turned His face away to bring you and me to glory. What a sacrifice! 

Monday, 16 July 2012

Not enough to give?

Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood." – Mark 12.41-44

The story of the widow's mite is one of those that always sticks in our minds. It is a beautiful example of what real giving is.

The setting is this. Jesus was standing near the Temple treasury watching as the people passed by dropping their money into the treasury. A lot of rich folks dropped by and as they did they dropped in huge wads of money. They had plenty of money and they were not afraid to give it. Everyone knew they were big givers.

Then a poor widow walked in. She reached into her purse and took out two tiny coins. Each coin was worth half a quadrans, A quadrans was worth about six minutes of a common labourers wage. In 2012 Ireland that works out to about 85 euro cent.

What possible good does eighty five cent do in the offering? Why did she even bother if that was all she could do? Those guys with the big donations were valuable givers, but not this lady. If there was a list of ‘The Temple’s Biggest Givers’ she would surely be at the bottom of the list.

Or would she?

That’s not what Jesus said. He said that she gave more than all these guys, because she gave out of her poverty. She was actually the Temple’s biggest giver. She put in everything she had. She gave it all.

Years ago Mary and I were teaching in a Christian school in Alabama. I think it was 1986 or 1987. Like most Christian schools we struggled financially. As a fundraiser they sold simple Christmas tree ornaments which were placed on a Christmas tree in the school foyer. We walked in one day and say that one of the ornaments had ‘Jay Parrow’ written on it. We were shocked. Jay was 5-6 and didn’t really have any money to give apart from a little birthday money.

When we asked him about we found out that he had given $5.00. We knew that was all he had. I don’t remember what he said when we asked him, but he was very matter of fact and clear that the money was no big deal. The school needed money and he had some, so it just made sense. In his childhood innocence Jay had the same mind-set as this poor widow.

We all live in tough economic times. For many of us money is short. However, most of us still find a way to do the things we want to do within reason. Church giving is dropping. Church budgets are getting desperate.  Missionary support is being cut. They doesn’t seem to be enough because people think they can’t give like they used to.

Too poor to give? Really? God honours giving out of poverty because it proves that we trust Him with the results of our giving. Jesus honoured this poor woman for giving in her poverty. We would do well to remember her the next time we think something like ‘I don’t have anything to drop in the offering this week.’ 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Prayer and forgiveness

"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." – Mark 11.25-26

While we often get caught up in preferences and choices and styles and methods of worship and practice Jesus made things very simple. Sadly it is the simple things that we too often forget about.

Jesus said this about prayer – ‘If you are praying and have anything against anyone forgive him so that you can have your own sins forgiven.’

It really only makes sense. If I am God’s child there is no way I can measure up to Jesus’ level of forgiveness for me. How then can I not forgive others?  

True faith and unforgiveness are not compatible. It can’t happen. If a person has an unforgiving spirit there has to be a question about whether or not they have ever experienced Christ’s forgiveness.

It doesn’t do much good to pray if we don’t know how to forgive. If we can’t forgive it is time for a serious heart check. 

Saturday, 14 July 2012

He taught them

Then He taught, saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.'" – Mark 11.17

I can only think of a couple of times when we see Jesus angry. Once was when Peter denied that Jesus should suffer and die and Jesus rounded on him and said ‘Get behind me Satan!’

The other is here when Jesus walks into the Temple and finds a marketplace. Men are extorting people at scalping prices to buy doves and other sacrifices. Others are operating a foreign exchange to rip the people off who don’t have the right coins.

In response we see Jesus rushing in, overturning their tables, and throwing them out.

But I love what comes next – ‘then He taught them.’

Jesus didn’t just lose the head and rage – He did what needed to be done, and He taught them.

The lesson of people who try to make merchandise or ‘peddle the word of God for profit’ is one worth looking at. For now though I am interested by the fact that Jesus didn’t just react – He took the time to teach.

I think there is a lesson there for us. Too often in dealing with people, even our own kids and grandkids we are quick to correct and try to set things right, but slow to take the time to lovingly teach.

Even the seeming worst circumstances can be an opportunity to teach. We need grab to deal with what needs dealt with, but then take the time to teach. 

Friday, 13 July 2012

Do what we want Jesus

"Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again." Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask." – Mark 10.33-35

We saw yesterday that the disciples did not know how to handle the news that Jesus was going to have to die and they were afraid to ask about. So what did they do? They changed the subject to something that they could understand. Instead of dealing with Jesus’ death they turned their focus to who would be doing what in Jesus’ kingdom.

Jesus had just said ‘I am going to be betrayed. I am going to be condemned and turned over to the Gentiles. I am going to be mocked and scourged and spat on and killed. And the third day I am going to rise from the dead..

And how did the disciples respond? ‘Teacher, we want You to do whatever we ask.’

Huh? Did they really just say that after what Jesus said?

Jesus was talking about His crucifixion and all James and John could think about was how important they would be in His kingdom. Did they totally ignore what He just said?

It probably shouldn’t, but it gives me comfort when I see how much like us these guys were. All they could think about was their own status in the here and now. They didn’t have a clue and were not to upset about what Jesus said about His own death.

Isn’t it sad how we can get our own minds on the earthly and temporal things around us and forget about the eternal? James and John’s example it pretty dramatic, but aren’t we in essence doing that same thing anytime we put our own interests above eternal matters?

It’s kind of like knowing that our family and friends and neighbours and co-workers are lost and bound for a Christ-less eternity and us saying ‘What can I do to better my lot in life? What can I do to get more stuff?’

It’s time we wake up to what is really important folks a quit seeing what we can do to make things better for us. 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Afraid to ask

But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him. – Mark 9.32

Mark does a good job of letting us know how often Jesus told the news of His death. We also get a glimpse of how the disciples responded to the news. In the previous verse Jesus said ‘I am going to be delivered to men. They are going to kill Me, and then I will rise on the third day.

We need to remember that these guys were just regular people like you and me. When Jesus said this they didn’t know what to make of it. They were thinking He was the Messiah that they were all expecting. They though the time was right for Israel to throw off her Roman shackles and that soon the mighty kingdom of David would be restored.

But now He said that he was going to be arrested, and killed, and rise again.

Of course the disciples ‘did not understand.’

But the interesting thing is that they ‘were afraid to ask Him.’

I don’t have a great theological truth here, but maybe just a practical observation for us today.

These men had no need to be afraid to ask. God’s word never tells us not to ask questions. If anything it tells us just the opposite. We are told to ask and seek and inquire and learn.

We need not be afraid to ask. When we don’t understand something we should not ignore it because we are ‘afraid to ask.’ The reasons may vary. We may be afraid of looking foolish. We may be afraid of the response. We may be afraid of what we are to find out.

Too often we spend many years with questions and problems about things we don’t understand. When we have question let’s be sure that we read and study and research and do the best we can to find answers. There are times when we still won’t get and have to live by faith, but it is far better than living in doubt and uncertainty. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Ashamed of Jesus?

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." – Mark 8.38

Several times in his gospel Mark reports Jesus’ prophecy of His death. In this incident, when He did so, Peter and the others protested. After correcting Peter Jesus went on to talk about the cost of discipleship. He talked about the importance of keeping one’s soul instead of gaining the world.

He then went on to talk about being ashamed of Him. ‘Whoever is ashamed of me; the Son of Man will be ashamed of him in the presence of God the Father.’

Ashamed of Jesus – what a horrible concept. It reminds me of where Paul wrote to the Romans, ‘that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.’

Apparently it is impossible to be truly saved and not be willing to confess Jesus with our mouths. Those who truly believe will not be ashamed of Jesus.  

Christians who find themselves ashamed to talk about Jesus need to examine their hearts. Being ashamed of Him and being His are incompatible. That means that, at best, one who is ashamed of Christ is acting like a lost man.

Do our lips reflect our faith, or deny it? 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

What made Jesus sigh?

Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him.  But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation." – Mark 8.11-12

Mark seems to have a knack of giving us an insight into the heart of Jesus. Several times we are told how he felt or what moved His spirit.

He Jesus once again faced the opposition of the Pharisees. They were always out to get Him, to trip Him up, or to make Him fail.

Despite seeing miracle after miracle and so many mighty works they still came to Jesus asking Him for a sign to prove that He really was Messiah. They wanted another to test to see if Jesus was who He said He was.

In response to their incessant demands Jesus ‘sighed deeply in His spirit.’ This is that deep groaning, dispirited, almost painful sigh that we all know when we are spiritually and emotionally moved by discouragement and disappoint.

Jesus wanted these men to come to Him by faith. It broke His heart that they kept demanding another sign. Looking for sign after sign is an indication of weak faith. Just having Jesus was not enough – they wanted something more.

People don’t change that much. People still find themselves in situation where Jesus alone is not enough. Instead of acting by faith we can just keep looking for one more sign or one more proof that we are supposed to serve Him or be a witness or take a stand.

We don’t need a sign – all we have to do is trust and obey.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Why we do what we do

And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man – Mark 7.20-23

We have to wonder sometimes how this world can be so wicked. Man does not have a great history. The cruelty of man is borne out even with a cursory look at history. We only have to go back 60-70 years to see the cruelty of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany. In the 1980s and 1990s vicious genocide took place in the Balkans. Unbelievable wickedness is reported on a wide scale basis. Only a few weeks ago the story of a naked man eating the face of another man made world news.

Just Saturday night a show in Phoenix Park turned violent with all kinds of fights, nine stabbings, and one (probably three) dead of drug overdose.

I could of course go on and on and on, but I think we have the point.

Many try to tell us that man is basically good and that there is some kind of ‘spark of divinity’ in everyone. How is ‘good’ man capable of such horrors?

We have a hint back in Jeremiah when he write ‘the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.’ The writer of Proverbs tells us to ‘guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.’

Here Jesus repeats the same truth – ‘from out of the heart comes evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, and foolish. They come from the heart and defile man.’

When we get saved we still have to deal with that heart. Even though we are dead to sin it still dwells in our flesh. That is why we think the way we do, do the things we do, and respond the way we do without the Spirit’s control.

We still have those hearts. It is incumbent on us to guard our hearts with all diligence by watching what we let into our lives and have a firm reliance on the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for the task.

We often hear the phrase ‘trust your heart.’ We need to remember instead to ‘beware of your heart.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Traditions and doctrine

Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?"  He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me  teaching as doctrine the traditions of men.' – Mark 7-5-7

Whenever I read Jesus’ attacks on the scribes and Pharisees I get a little bothered. Sure, Jesus was preaching pre-church and He was preaching to Jewish religionists and not Christians, but there are lessons and principles that are timeless. I get bothered and convicted when I find myself thinking like a Pharisee.

Here is one of those lesons. In addition to worshipping God with their lips and not their hearts the Pharisees worshipped Christ in vain because they taught the traditions of men as doctrine.

The context was still the disciples and their failure to wash their hands according to a legalistic ritual that some of the Jews had come up with. The Pharisees saw that as a way to determine whether or not someone was spiritual or close to God.

The disciples failed their test, so Jesus dealt with the issue.

It never was about what men actually do – it is all about what is going on in our hearts. We can make up all the rules and standards we want and they can eventually become part of what we teach.

There is nothing wrong with standards and traditions. They can often be good things. The problem comes when we equate them with scripture. We then can make the traditions so important that they become the judge in place of God’s word.

We need to examine our churches and our own lives to check out whether our teachings are based in the word of God, or our own traditions.

Let’s be sure we don’t get the two confused.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Lips and hearts

Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?"  He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me  teaching as doctrine the traditions of men.' – Mark 7-5-7

The scribes and Pharisees were really hung up with getting religion right. The disciples had missed some aspect of ritual hand washing before they ate. The Pharisees asked Jesus why they did not follow the right procedures.

His answer was short and clear as He quoted Isaiah when he was dealing with the hypocrites – ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.’

The Pharisees knew how to do all the right things and say the right things. They did know how to play the religious game. Everyone would have thought they really were godly examples. They knew all of the ‘praise the Lords’ and ‘amens’ and ‘hallelujahs.’ Anyone who worshipped with them would have tried to follow their example.

But there was as a problem.

Their problem was that their lips did not match up with their hearts.

That is not a problem unique to the Pharisees. There come times when we all have an issue with our lips matching our hearts. We go to church and take part in the worship. Depending on our church we sing, shout, dance, amen, praise the Lord, hallelujah, close our eyes, nod our heads, raise our hands, or any number of things that we do in our church. That is probably the easiest time to go along with the crowd. Sometimes we can sing things and say things and do things that are not really from our heart. It is much easier to look and sound spiritual than it is to be spiritual.

Let’s just be sure that the our hearts match up with the words we speak.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Moved with compassion

And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. – Mark 6.34

Rest is all well and good. It should be a priority. Jesus knew that and even instructed the disciples to pull away for a while.

The problem is that it doesn’t always work. There are sometiems things that are still more important than our rest.

As Jesus and the disciples tried to get away the crowds pursued them. I know that my response would probably have been frustration and irritation. I would have said, or at least thought, something like ‘why can’t they leave us alone?’

But Jesus didn’t respond that way. He didn’t say ‘Sorry folks, we need to take a little break here. Come back tomorrow.’

Jesus was ‘moved with compassion’ and His compassion for the shepherdless flock overrode the disciples and His need for rest.

So they picked themselves up. Jesus taught the crowd. Later in the day they took the time to feed the people instead of sending them away.

There is not much to say here. Rest is important. We need to take the time to get away. We need to prioritise it. It is vital.

But we also need to be aware that sometimes there are things that are more important that taking a break.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Take a break

When his disciples heard of it [John’s death], they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb. then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. – Mark 6.29-31

This was a tough time for Jesus and the disciples. Things had not gone well in Capernaum. Jesus had sent them out on a special ‘faith mission’ where they were told to just go and trust God to meet their needs. Then they got word that their friend and Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod. They had gone, retrieved the body, and buried him.

Then they came to Jesus and told them about everything that had happened.

They were in a situation that we might find ourselves. They were physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained. There was nothing left.

And yet the people kept coming. They came so often in fact that they didn’t have time to eat.

There are many today would equate busy with spiritual. They would tell us that we need to keep our nose to the grindstone and just keep plugging away no matter how tired we get.

But that wasn’t Jesus’ advice – ‘Let’s go aside to a quiet place and rest a while.’

Jesus knew the importance of rest. He knew we needed that time apart and told the disciples to take that time. We need to be sure that we plan and take time apart to rest and recharge our batteries.

But sometimes, as we will see tomorrow, things still get in the way.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Jesus - a failure?

Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marvelled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching. – Matthew 6.5-6

I am a bit familiar with this passage, but saw something today for the very first time, I love the living nature of God’s word that makes this possible.

Jesus’ ministry back home was not working out. The people there knew Him. They remembered Him growing up there. They knew His family. He was ‘the carpenter.’ A friend suggested in a comment to yesterday’s post that perhaps they rejected Him because they saw Him as an ‘illegitimate child.’

Anyhow, Jesus could ‘do no mighty work there.’

Wait a minute – Jesus could do no mighty work there? Jesus’ ministry at home was a flop? He must have been doing something wrong?

But He is God – so He can’t fail and He can’t do anything wrong.

If He were a missionary in a difficult field His churches would have been talking about dropping His support or sending someone over to sort Him out.

Jesus could not do many great works. Jesus marvelled at their unbelief. Jesus does not make people follow Him. He doesn’t force people to turn to Him, He tried, He preached, He healed a few, but nothing big happened there. Revival didn’t break out after He preached.

In our world of success measured ministry He would have been a failure.

I don’t think a whole lot more needs to be said. There are times and places where people are so hard hearted that even Jesus Himself could not reach them.

But it is the end of verse six that caught my eye. There is a truth here that I had never noticed before.

‘And He went about among the villages teaching.’

Jesus could do no great works – but He went on teaching.

What a lesson for all of us. What an encouragement to those who struggle in the areas of unbelief.

Serving in a difficult place? Not seeing any ‘great works?’

Keep on teaching and preaching and sharing.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Offended at Jesus

Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him.  And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, "Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?" So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honour except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house." - Mark 6.1-4

Jesus’ entire ministry at home is interesting. It really gives us a unique look at His humanity. It is fascinating to see how the people who knew Him best responded to Him.

When He came home he had the chance, as a Jewish male over 30, to teach in the synagogue. He teaching shocked them ‘Where did this man get all this? Where did he get this wisdom? How does He do these great works? Isn’t he the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s boy? Isn’t he the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?

I like the fact that we get to see that Jesus grew up like anyone else. Those who knew Him knew Him as ‘the carpenter.’ They knew His mother and His brothers and sisters. They were offended and bothered by the fact that this local boy was trying to tell them how to live. They were even bothered by His wisdom and His miracles.

So they chose to be offended. The original meaning of this Greek word was scandalised. But what bothered them. They had not been bothered when He was ‘the carpenter.’ They were offended when He taught in the synagogue.

Apparently it was not Jesus Himself who offended them – it was His message. ‘Who does he think he is to talk to us like that?’ seems to be their attitude.

I think we need to glean something from this. We need to be sure that what was true of Jesus is true of us. Some Christians seem to take great delight in causing offence then claiming persecution. I just read of a group of Christians who marching into the middle of a Muslim celebration with hate filled signs and provocative slogans. When the Muslims responded by throwing rocks and bottle the Christians claimed that they were being persecuted.

It wasn’t the message that was offensive that day; it was the foolish actions of these people.

We can expect our message to bother people. The gospel flies in the face of what people believe.

However, let’s be sure that we don’t cause offense with our attitudes and actions – that will get us nowhere.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Why are you afraid?

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!" – Matthew 4.37-41

Fear. We all know it. We all know its power. We all know its debilitating effect on us. Fear can stop us from getting started and it can stop us dead in our tracks. It can keep us awake at night.

Fear is also a natural response to the unknown. We fear because we feel that we cannot control the situation. Fear is nothing new. Adam and Eve were afraid of God when they sinned in the garden.

The disciples were not immune to fear. They were in a storm on their fishing boat. Jesus was asleep when a storm blew up. I have never been there, but from what I have heard and read the storms on the Sea of Galilee are serious storms. The disciples were afraid and could not believe that Jesus would just lay there asleep while they were in such danger.

‘Jesus, wake up, don’t you care that we are going to die?’

He woke up and simply said ‘Peace, be still’ and the sea went calm. He dealt with their immediate fears before He dealt with their hearts. I like that because it reminds me that there are times when Jesus does something to deal with the cause of our fear. Sometimes He has lessons for us in the storms, and sometimes He will deal with the storm itself.

Then He dealt with their hearts. ‘Why are you afraid? Is your faith so weak?’

God is not the author of fear. He may give us wisdom or discernment or common sense, but He does not give us fear. He is the author of power, and love, and of soundness of mind. When we are afraid of our situation and we don’t choose to trust though the fear it is because we are weak in faith. When we stay afraid we are not trusting God.

We have young children in the house again. Just like our kids when they were little when they are afraid they run to us to be held and cuddled. When they are afraid, they trust us to sort things out. They have enough faith vanquish their fear in our arms.

I wonder how often we have that kind of childlike faith to trust our heavenly Father when we are afraid.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Jesus’ kin

And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You." But He answered them, saying, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?" And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother." – Matthew 3.32-35

Sometimes it is easy to forget that Jesus had a very real earthly family. He had a mother, a foster father, and brothers and sisters. He grew up with them. It must have been hard to comprehend that the boy who grew up in their house was the promised Messiah and the Son of God. Obviously Mary remembered the encounter with the angel, but for about thirty years things had carried on basically like any other family. This was her son. That didn’t change when He reached adulthood. A mother’s children are always her children.

Jesus had returned to His home region of Capernaum. Everyone back here remembered Him as the carpenter’s son. They would have known Him with sawdust in His hair and callouses on His hands.

One day Jesus was meeting with His disciples when His mother and brothers came to see Him. That is a natural thing for family to do. When the crowd saw it they told Him that His family was there. His response was interesting – ‘Who is my family? Those who do the will of God are my family.’

At first this may seem that He was not being kind to His earthly family, but I don’t think that was the point at all. The point is that His family was so much bigger than just his earthly mother and brothers. His family is expanded to all those who submit to and do the Father’s will.

What a blessing to know that we truly are a part of Jesus’ family, as much as His mother and brothers. This wonderful worldwide family of God is a source of such joy and fellowship and family unity. Praise God that Jesus sees us as kin.