Tagged encouragement

the shoreline of perspective

[cross-posted to www.kimberlygallagher.com]

[VIDEO CLIP]theshorelineofperspective

Standing on the shore, looking out at the expanse of water and sky – nothing but water…sun…clouds…and the whooshing sound of the waves as the tide goes in…and out.

Breathing in salty air…breathing out life.

Clearing my mind.

Clearing my soul.

Gaining perspective.

Sometimes God places us on the shore – to rest and retreat away from the crashing waves of chaos that push and pull at us: – that space of creative silence where we can’t generate content or pour ourselves out. That place of perspective and discernment where we don’t speak, but instead tune into what God is speaking to us.

This unexpected shore of perspective might be a job change, an illness, a shift in family dynamics…some life event or situation that causes us to step back and take stock of the situation, to reprioritize and reconnect with what is important.

“Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)

Sometimes we feel sidelined on the shore.

Sometimes we feel passed by on the shore.

Sometimes we feel alone on the shore.

But the shore is a vital part of our walk with the Lord. If we live our entire lives walking on the busy, crowded water of our mission, or tossing in the chaos waves of the storm, we will miss what the Holy Spirit can only say to us in the quiet, decluttered spaces.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

Stillness, retreat and silence are all necessary parts of our relationship with God. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily details of the task or mission, and even easier to make those details about the things we want instead of what God wants for us. Spending time in stillness and silence draws us closer to our Creator, deepens our faith, strengthens our relationship with Him, and reminds us that His plans are greater than what we can understand in our limited knowledge.

Time on the shore of perspective is time to allow God to bring the components of our lives into focus so that we can head back into the water with His Purpose, to let Him accomplish what only God can do.

Save

Save

beyond the tree

someday: beyond the tree

[cross-posted to www.kimberlygallagher.com]

Recently, I was cleaning out the unfinished side of the basement which involved reorganizing and digging through stacks of boxes. As I unwrapped a pile of framed items to investigate, I rediscovered something special: a framed picture of tree tops against a sunrise.  These trees belonged to a neighbor’s yard a few doors up and I could see them out the side door window of the house I grew up in. About 30 years ago when I took this picture with a film camera, I titled it “Sunrise Through My Favorite Tree”.

Now, as I pulled this framed photo out of its aged, faded newspaper, I remembered what that fluffy tree on the right represented, and I realized that all along it was my “Someday” picture.

How many seconds added up to minutes,
added up to hours,
staring at that fluffy tree,
marveling at the sunrise or the sunset or the pretty clouds or swirling stormy skies.

How many hours added up to days,
added up to years,
looking out the window past the tree tops,
knowing there was an entire world waiting.

There were days when that waiting world seemed impossibly far away, as if it would never arrive — but those days where tempered by the ones when the eager anticipation of hopes and dreams would swell in my chest and fizz through my body to the point that I felt like I could fly over the trees into my destiny!

This treed view out my side door window contained no ordinary foliage. This view was filled with all of the joy, sorrow, and ups and downs experienced up to that point mixed with all of the anxiety, anticipation, hope, excitement and unknown of the future I longed for.

Someday…

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
(Jeremiah 29:11).

At some point, the future (a.k.a. “Someday”) arrived and it has been beyond my wildest expectations. That’s not to say there haven’t been rough times, disappointments, etc., etc. but what God has planned is so much more incredible than anything I could plan on my own.

What about you?

Do you have a “Someday” picture tucked away in a box somewhere? Or maybe it’s a memory buried deep in your heart…?

“Someday I _____________” (fill in the blank)

Do you realize that “Someday…” is now?

If you’re an adult, the future has arrived. God has a plan for you and He’s waiting for you to take the first step toward a deeper relationship with Him, and journey with Him on this wild, exhilarating ride that life can be.

What is stopping you?

Someday is NOW.

unexpected

expect the unexpected

This week…

Live out your mission…Walk the path God has planned for you whether it’s overgrown with brush, clogged with mud, or barren and less traveled.

Expect the unexpected…When you step out and start walking, each step with your eyes fixed on Jesus, your whole body leaning toward Him, your heart open, you will journey deeper and be drawn closer to the heart of God.

trust jesus

forward in love and worship

[cross-posted to www.kimberlygallagher.com]

We step forward in love

…Our hearts overflowing in thankfulness for the mercy and grace we’ve been given. Rescued from the pit of death we deserved, we have no choice but to say, “Yes God. Use me.”

We step forward with our gifts and talents

…Using everything we’ve been given to point people to Jesus. We sing, we sweep floors, we take tickets, we serve coffee, we design buildings, we engineer sidewalks, we direct traffic, we run companies, we discover new formulas, and we take every opportunity to say, “It’s not me. God makes it all possible.”

We step forward in faith

…Pushing past the blinding fear of failure and mockery. Our heart beating out of our chest, palms sweating, we make the phone call, we put in the application, we set up the meeting, we take the class, and we say, “OK God – I trust You.”

We step forward in worship

…Our hands lifted high, with all that we are, we surrender and we worship our King, our Redeemer, our Savior. We say, “I love you God.”

 

gifts and talents

explore

Happy Friday from all of us at step forward! Approaching the weekend can be exciting or daunting depending on your schedule. Often, our days are crammed with activities making space and silence a hot commodity. As we wrap up this week, our prayer is that you will have an opportunity to spend time in conversation with God so that you can be spiritually refueled for the days ahead. We also pray you will have time to explore your gifts and talents and consider how God wants you to use them for His Glory.

 

how do I deal with discouragement? (Reading the Beatitudes Forwards, Backwards & Inside-Out) (Burning Questions Series #3)

[cross-posted from www.ArtOfTheChristianNinja.com]

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burning-questions-3-dealing-with-discouragementThis World is Getting Worse (And There’s Nothing We Can Do About It)

Last week we said that this world is not our home. Has anyone felt that they just want to get off this planet and be with Jesus this week? To reach our final destination:

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

We all have times like that, don’t we? When we are suffering, discouraged or in pain – or watching someone we love that is suffering, discouraged or in pain – it is a constant reminder to believers that we aren’t where we are supposed to be. Hebrews 13:14 echoes what we talked about last week with Augustine’s two cities: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

That’s one of the feelings that happens when hard times come, isn’t it? We feel that way, don’t we? Our feelings of “This isn’t right! It’s not supposed to be like this!” are actually fairly accurate. You’re right – it’s not. The original intention of this place we call “Earth” was that we would be happy, productive, free and walk in the presence of God. But because of the effects of sin, we are not happy, productive, free and connected to God. No, instead we are unhappy, work much harder than we should have to, are bound to temptation and destruction, and there is a veil between us and God.

That’s the bad news – but it’s true. And there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s no technology we can build, no pill we can take, no food we can eat, no politician we can elect, no doctor we can see, no scientist we can fund, that will be able to make this world all better. Sure, God has put some amazing people on this earth who have done some amazing things to help bring peace, healing, humour, comfort, and wonder to more and more people – but they’re all just a stop gap. For every medical breakthrough, there are a thousand more diseases. For every scientific innovation, there are a million unanswered questions. For every great politician, there is a despotic dictator. For every comedian there is are a hundred naysayers. For every Mother Theresa there is a terrorist or suicide bomber. For every family willing to pursue adoption, there are hundreds more who would rather kill the baby instead.

I’m not saying this because I’m a pessimist – I’m saying this because it’s true. Those outside of these walls, who believe in the “triumph of the human spirit” or “the amazing potential of mankind” are only fooling themselves into believing that there is a bright day in the future where we will have conquered death, disease, famine, plague, and natural disasters. It’s a pipe dream. This world, for all its joy and wonder, is a terribly messed up place – and there is nothing we can do about it.

The Question of Discouragement

And so, today’s question become extremely pertinent: “How do I keep from getting discouraged when I continually fail in certain areas of my life?” I appreciate that question, but I want to expand it a little further to simply asking the question: “How do I keep from getting discouraged?” Whether it’s personal failure that we bring upon ourselves or a natural disaster that happens to us, I believe the response is fairly similar, so that’s what I want to address today.

Turn with me first to Psalm 37:1-9 we can find a very practical list of ways to react when we become discouraged. Let’s read the whole thing together and then, over the next couple weeks, we’ll take it apart into five different parts.

As a quick intro, this Psalm is written as a sort of proverb set to music. It’s chock full of practical truth about how things are supposed to work. They are in alphabetical order (in the Hebrew language) and each build upon one another. One writer in the 16th century said, “They hang together not unlike many precious stones or pearls, which are strong on one string in one necklace.” (Amyrald):

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.”

So the five steps we see there are “Fret not”, “Trust in the Lord”, “Commit your way to the Lord”, “Be still before the Lord.”, and “Refrain from anger.” We’re going to talk about the first one today.

1. Fret Not Yourself (Take Control of Your Thinking)

The first thing that the Psalmist tells us to do when we come face to face with evil – which for him are evildoers, but it could just as easily be the evils of temptation, sickness, struggle, tragedy, heartache – is to “Fret not yourself because of evildoers…” This has everything to do with preparing our mindset before the tragedy comes – or steeling ourselves against it when it arrives.

For the Psalmist, the problem is “evildoers”. He says, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.” In other words, he’s looking at wicked people doing wrong things, and yet they are still prosperous. This theme happens a lot in the psalms as the good guy bemoans the fact that he’s being good and suffering, and yet the bad guys are all having a great time. It bothers him greatly, so here we see him talking to himself and also talking to others about it. He’s taking control of his out-of-control thinking.

This is the first thing we have to do for ourselves too when evil comes upon us. This is the first step in the battle against discouragement – to take control of our thought life. This is actually found quite a lot in scripture.

  • Psalm 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
  • 2 Corinthians 10:5 says we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ”.
  • 1 Peter 1:13 says, “…prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
  • Last we read Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”
  • (Also Romans 12:2, Mark 7:20, Philippians 4:8)

This is a practical action, a step of obedience, that we are given to do in scripture, given to us to combat the temptation to become discouraged. These are active commands, something we are supposed to do. It doesn’t just happen – it’s something which we must choose to participate in.

As an exercise in how to do this, to take control of our thoughts, turn with me to Matthew 5 and let’s read one of the most famous passages in scripture, called the Beatitudes. These are a great source of encouragement, and a great place to find right-thinking about the difficult times that we face in our lives.

Reading the Beatitudes Forwards, Backwards & Inside-Out

But I want to do something a little different today – I want to read them forwards, and then backwards, and then inside out.

Starting at verse 3, forwards we read

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Now let’s read that backward: “The Kingdom of Heaven is for people who are poor in spirit. It is the poor in spirit that are blessed.”

Now let’s read it inside-out: “Wretched are those who believe they are spiritually self-sufficient, for theirs is the kingdom of Hell.”

That puts a different spin on it, doesn’t it? What is a sure path to discouragement? To believe we are spiritually and emotionally strong enough, in and of ourselves, to deal with what this world has to offer. How can we feel wretched? By trying to attain the Kingdom of Heaven by our own strength.

To gain the blessing of the Kingdom of Heaven, we must realize that we cannot, ever, be strong enough to deal with the weight of the world on our own. Sin is too big, the troubles of this world are too big, and our personal problems are too much for us. We are designed to need God, need Jesus, and need other believers. Once we realize that and seek out other sources of strength outside ourselves, we will begin to see blessing and understand “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.

Whenever we feel like we can handle it, that we don’t need God or our Christian family – we need to take that thought captive and realize it for what it is – a demonic temptation toward the pride of thinking we are sufficient, and a ploy to get us alone so we can be attacked more easily. Don’t fall for it.

Mourning & Denial

Forwards, verse 4 reads, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Backwards that reads: “To feel the comforting of God, one must feel sorrow.”

Inside-out that reads, “Wretched are those who deny the tragedy of sinfulness, for they will be troubled.”

Discouragement comes to those who are unwilling to admit that they are sinners that do evil for which they will accountable for. If you walk around believing that nothing is your fault, everything bad is someone else’s responsibility, that you never make mistakes, and that if everyone would just listen to you then life would be better – then you are setting yourself up for a world of troubles.

However, when we allow ourselves to mourn, grieve, and accept the fact that sin is real in this world, and in our own hearts – that our personal sin is a contributing factor to the suffering of this world – then we can finally come to the place where we will turn to God for comfort. As long as we are living in denial that anything can go wrong, or that anything is our fault, then we will never accept the comfort of God.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m so discouraged because things keep going wrong around me, and I’ve got nothing to do with it! Everyone around me is always wrong. I’m surrounded by incompetence. I deserve better!”? That’s a person who refuses to mourn for their sin and will never feel the comfort of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It’s only when we admit we are sinners, that we are guilty of sin and responsible for our actions, and that we need forgiveness – when we mourn our sin – that we will be met by the amazing grace of Jesus.

We must take this thought captive – that we are faultless – and come to God for forgiveness.

Another side to this, more obviously is that in order for us to feel the need for God’s presence, we must feel His absence. Sometimes God will put us through times of grief, that drive us to mourning, so that we will understand what life without Him is like.

Take this thought captive as well – when we think that God is punishing us through suffering, remember that He already punished Jesus and that that which we are mourning is meant to drive us to God, not away.

Meekness & Self-Centeredness

Verse 5, when we read it forwards says: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Reading it backwards we see: “The ones who will gain the most, are the ones who are willing to give up what they think they deserve.”

Reading it inside-out we read: “Wretched are the self-centred, for they shall be empty.”

This is kind of the opposite of the first one. The first reminder was that we shouldn’t be alone but this is the flip-side. Sometimes when discouragement, troubles and disaster comes, it’s really easy to get self-centred. Everyone wants to know what’s going on with you, you are the centre of attention, they’re reading your posts on Facebook, you’re getting phone calls, visits, emails, nice cards, flowers, casseroles. It’s easy to start to get used to it and think you deserve all that you are getting – that the universe revolves around you. Ironically, the attention we sometimes get when we are in the midst of suffering, can puff up our pride.

Have you ever met a “drama queen”? This is a person who is in the habit of creating and responding to situations in an overtly overdramatic, melodramatic, exaggerated way. Something goes a little wrong – they forget to pay their credit card on time, their favourite tv show is cancelled, they have a fender bender, someone gives them a negative comment – and the curtain rises and the performance starts!

Their lip quivers, the tears roll, the vague Facebook posts start flowing, “People are so rude! I’ve never been treated so rudely as I was today! Who do people think they are?”

They call you up and start with “You’ll never believe what happened to me today!” And then start to tell you of the many, horrible things that occurred that day. The only issue is that they ALWAYS have problems and all of them are huge! Everything is about them, all the time. The world revolves around them and their problems. They don’t know what to do with themselves if they’re not the center of attention and getting pity from as many people as possible!

The word “meek” means someone who is “gentle and humble”. So long as we have the world revolving around us – there is no way that we can inherit it from the One whom it truly does revolve around. (Tweet this quote) Put it this way – when we are using our sufferings to draw attention to ourselves and puff up our pride, we are wasting our sufferings, because we they are meant to draw us to our knees, build our humility, and cause us to be more dependant on God.

The other side of this is that we end up forgetting that other people have problems too. Sometimes our problems make us blind to others. A meek, gentle, humble person who is going through a hard time – is still concerned for others. It is the meek who God promises will inherit the earth, because even in their suffering, they are still thinking about how they can love others.

So, we must take captive the thought that our suffering is a way to gain attention for ourselves and forget about others. When we dwell, only on our own sufferings and refuse to help, serve, and pray for others, or draw closer to God, we are on the path of spiritual destruction. We are wasting the suffering, and can’t help but end up feeling discouraged.

Wretched are the Uncommitted

Let’s do one more Beatitude. Skip down to verse 11.

Forwards it reads: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Backwards that reads: “They persecuted all the prophets in the Bible, all the ones who believed in me before you. Because of your relationship with Me, they are going to falsely accuse you, speak evil of you, persecute you, and hate you. The only way you will be able to rejoice and be glad in these times is if you remember that your blessing and reward is in heaven, not here on earth.”

Inside-out that reads: “Wretched are the uncommitted, who drop their relationship with Jesus when it becomes inconvenient, and who think the Christian life is an easy ride, for their destination is Hell.”

Again, as I said, this is about right thinking. A friend of mine reminded me this week that all of the apocalyptic, end times, Revelation parts of the Bible are there to remind us about our ultimate goal—to experience the presence of God in Heaven.

Scripture reminds us that people are going to hate us, Satan will attack us, our bodies will fail us, the nations will be at war, the very ground beneath us will shake and break up – and it is all a reminder to us that we are not home.

Last week I reminded you that we are “aliens and sojourners” in this world. Even this environment around us is toxic. Our home is in heaven, but we’re not there yet. This life is merely a fraction of all eternity, and even though it feels all-encompassing now, the suffering we will endure only a moment in time.

If our Treasure is truly in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), where moths and vermin cannot destroy it, and where thieves cannot break in and steal it, then – and only then – can we rejoice in our sufferings. Why?

Because suffering causes us to press closer to God, depend more on Him, long for His presence, weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn, share in the suffering of others, see the poverty of our spirit and desire the Kingdom of Heaven, hunger for righteousness instead of worldliness, show mercy because we have received it, and because it is a way for God to clear our minds of all the fluff and nonsense of this world.

As Romans 5:3-5 says:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

But even more than all that, when we think rightly of our sufferings, we realize that we are being made more like Jesus, who suffered more than all of us, so we might be free from suffering forever.

Don’t waste your suffering. Don’t allow it to discourage your faith – instead, allow it to push you into the arms of God, so you might know the hope that comes from God’s love poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Unfortunately we’re going to have to pick up the other steps of Psalm 37 next week, because we’re not going to have time today. I think it’s really important that we cover this first part of “taking every thought captive” or “fretting not” because it is so critically important that, when suffering and discouragement comes, that we begin with right thinking about it. That’s the most critical first step.

So we’ll end there for now, but until we come back next week, I encourage you to read the rest of the Beatitudes forwards, backwards and inside-out (to practice right thinking) and meditate on Psalm 37:1-9 (for practical ways to combat discouragement).

what are you holding back from God? (The Widow’s Offering – Mark 12:38-44)

[cross-posted from www.ArtOfTheChristianNinja.com]

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gom-42-the-widows-offeringThe Joy of Bible Study

When I do Bible study (and perhaps this happens to you), I often have one of three experiences –each flowing from one to the next.

I usually start out by feeling like a hunter, an archaeologist, or a prospector… wandering about, fairly sure that there’s something good there, but not exactly sure where yet. So I take a few samples, smell the air, set up a camera, do some digging around … in other words, I read over the passage a few times, talk to God about it, mull it over, find a study bible or two and read the notes.

Then, I suddenly strike something. Sometimes it comes quickly, other times it takes a little while, but it always happens. Suddenly there’s a moment when something jumps off the page. I scout for long enough and find that set of tracks, that artefact, that nugget… and I start to dig. And that’s when my experience switches, I now become a miner.

I get out my shovels and pickaxes – fire up my commentaries, bible translations, dictionaries, studies, fact books, etc. and start to dig and dig to get under what I’ve just found. I want to know where it comes from, how it got there, what it’s made of, what it’s worth, what I can do with it… and it gets very exciting. That’s my favourite part.

Now, just to clarify my illustration, when I’m preaching through a book of the bible, like I am now, it’s not like I approach the verses with a specific idea in mind. That would be like showing up with a my own bones, some gold nuggets, or a bag of my own scat, spreading it around and calling it a sign. No, when we come to Bible Study, our job isn’t to pull things out of scripture, or worse, put things into it, but to simply find what God is saying and then listen to and teach that.

But, that’s not the end of the Bible Study journey for me. Now, maybe I’m alone in this one, but I assume I’m not. There’s usually a third part to my experience where I go from blissfully mining out truths to feeling like I’m drinking from a fire-hose. All of a sudden I realize, once again, that no matter what the truth is, God has been saying it to generations of people, over and over, for millennia.

I start to realize that when the Bible speaks, it speaks consistently with a voice that agrees with itself, that the Holy Spirit has declared every word of the Bible. I see Jesus in every verse, the mercy of God in every chapter, as the few verses I’m reading point to more and more verses in scripture – in Genesis, Proverbs, Psalms, the Prophets. As I learn the historical context of the verse I realize how important it was at the time, but how universal it is for all times.

Suddenly, the truth God wants to tell me that day, comes clear and I realize a few of its implications. I come face to face with my own sin, and the sin of the world around me, and how woefully short I fall in God’s eyes. I get a glimpse of Jesus’ true nature and realize how high and deep His mind is compared to mine. I start to realize that His ways are so much more different than mine, and that His thoughts are so much better than mine. And it gets overwhelming. I dig in and find there’s too much gold, too many jewels in the mine for one person to ever study or carry himself. Too many tracks to follow for even a thousand hunters to track. And it brings me to both elation and despair. Elation as I experience the living and active Word of God, sharper than any double-edges sword, penetrating and dividing my soul and spirit…  and despair as I realize that I will never, ever be able to fully explain, even that one verse, in my whole lifetime. There’s too much there.

I hope you’ve experienced that. I get to do it all the time, and it’s the greatest part of being able to do what I do. Perhaps you’ve even experience a little of that on these past Sundays as we’ve gone through the Gospel of Mark together and you’ve studied at home.

So Many Hot Topics

I say all that because I feel like we’ve covered a lot of big, “hot-topics” over the past while. In a short time we’ve covered gender identity, homosexuality, submission to leadership, stewardship, keeping our relationships together, suffering and martyrdom – that’s a lot! Last week we covered the questions of “What is most important to God?”, “How do I find my life’s purpose?” and “How can I love people who make it hard to love them?” That’s enough to chew on for a lifetime, and here we are again about to cover something else!

I don’t think anyone would blame us if we feel a little overwhelmed by all the amazing things that Jesus spoke in the final days of His life. The questions come fast and furious, and when He answers them He doesn’t use long sermons and explanations, but short, powerful, bullet like answers, piercing straight to the heart of the issue. And so, when we read these sections, and try to take them more slowly, we invariably find that they are incredibly condensed.

Jesus Fires Back

That’s true about today’s passage too, of course, so let’s give it a read and see what God has for us today. First, notice that today’s passage is different than our last bunch in that it’s not motivated by a question asked by someone else, but comes about because Jesus decides to point it out Himself.

Remember last week where, in verse 34, Jesus had answered the Scribe’s question and “no one dared ask him any more questions.” After the Pharisees and Scribes stopped talking, Jesus went on a bit of a walking tour of the Temple area. It says in verse 37 that a “great throng”, or a “large crowd”, followed Him around, listening to His teaching, captivated by His every word – much to the annoyance and vexation of the Sanhedrin.

In our passage today, Jesus takes a walk from steps on which He had been confronted by the Sanhedrin a little further into, perhaps the Court of the Gentiles, the place that He had made quite the scene the day before. As He walks, He begins to speak and teach.

Let’s read from Mark 12:38:

“And in his teaching he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’ (Mark 12:38-40)

What we are reading here is a summary, a condensed version, of what Matthew 23 calls the “Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees”, which is a much more lengthy and specific indictment of Israel’s teachers. There, the phrase he repeats over and over is the word “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”, and then calls them out for burdening people with extreme rules that go far beyond God’s law, for their belief that they are above others, for their two-facedness and total lack of understanding of their place before God, for their lack of care for the poor, for their narcissistic, shallow, superficial, conceited, vanity, and the hate they had in their hearts for God and His Christ. It’s an extremely powerful, entire chapter of scripture that Mark condenses into a few verses.

Here you see vain men who walk from place to place clothed in the garb of aristocrats, white, flowing robes symbolizing their religious purity. They were meant to be work during religious duties, but these leaders had taken to wearing them all the time, even in the marketplaces, to remind people how important they were. They would seek out crowds of people, in synagogues and feasts, and expect special treatment for who they were. They loved the perks that came with the job.

And they had a lot of power, which they would use to abuse people. A scribe was forbidden from being paid for their teachings, so they had to either support themselves with a secular job – like the Apostle Paul did as a tentmaker – or be dependent upon the gifts of others. This situation easily led them to start to expect gifts whenever they would teach, which led to finding out which were the most generous / gullible of those they were meant to be helping. Like the bad lawyers and religious shysters today, they would ingratiate themselves to some of the widows, hoping to get into their wills, or look for loop-holes in the law which would allow them to take over people’s possessions. This was especially effective against defenceless widows who had no one to advocate them – because they were the ones abusing them.

Picture lawyers, walking around the grocery stores, church groups, potlucks, restaurants – always clad in their best power-suit. Attending funerals and looking for grieving, trusting, people who are in mourning, passing out business cards, using their charisma and knowledge to steal their homes, take their money, and leaving them destitute.

Is it any wonder Jesus says, “They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The Widow’s Offering

As Jesus is walking and teaching, firing back at the Sanhedrin that had blocked His way to the Temple and tried to trap Him with questions, He’s making His way to the Court of the Women. There stood a series of boxes with trumpet shaped tops for people to place various offerings and their temple taxes. There He will sit down and make another, extremely important point.

“And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’” (Mark 12:38-44)

Jesus sits and turns his eyes towards the contribution chests, the trumpets, and for a time he says nothing. It’s the Passover and Jerusalem is at its busiest, and there are a lot of people paying their taxes, and making the required and voluntary offerings to God. The whole crowd with Him watches person after person come to the box and drop in their offering.

The trumpets are made of metal and each coin that goes in makes a clanging noise – and there are some people that make a lot of noise! I remember reading at one point that some people would have their offering turned into even more coins so they could be seen – and heard – pouring more and more into the noisy receptacle. Some even throwing their coins into the coffers from a distance – for maximum clang!

Notice the contrast between these two stories. In the first we have Jesus giving a warning and a description of the Scribe. “Beware the Scribes” — the hypocrites, the play actors, the religious pretenders, the ones who loved the show, but were just white-washed-tombs, dead looking good on the outside, but dead and disgusting on the inside (Matthew 23:27-28).

Then He points to the polar opposite: a poor widow, beneath anyone’s notice. She’s poor, which means she, likely, doesn’t have anyone taking care of her. No family, no help, n protector, no social services, no legal recourse. Was she a victim of one of the Scribe’s – we don’t know – but we do know that she is in extreme need.

She has come to the Temple humbly, without advertisement, in obedience to God’s call to give, in need, with an absolute trust in God. How do I know this? Because Jesus says she put in two small coins, two LEPTA, one 64th of a day’s wages, and it was all she had.

A little math and conversion says: If the minimum wage in Ontario is $11.25, and one works an 8 hour day, then they have $90. Divide that by 64 and you have $1.40. By today’s standards, this poor widow had less than a Twoonie to her name.

It was too small to be the Temple Tax, and must have been put in the box for the voluntary gifts. This was a gift given out of both obedience and love. She didn’t have to put both coins in. She could have kept one. She needed to bring an offering, and she looked at her coins, and knew that she needed God’s blessing a lot more than she needed that single coin.

The Contrast

Now we make the contrast. Jesus pronounced judgement and doom on the rich scribe, who looked amazing in the outside, had wealth, connections, a fancy degree, got the best seats to all the events, and was respected by all the elites in the city. And He commends the widow for giving to God, willingly.

But it’s not about the money, it’s about the heart! Jesus calls over His disciples and says, “this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing…”. How was it more? Because everyone else had given out of their riches – and she gave out of her poverty, she gave it all.

It’s not about the amount we give. God couldn’t care less about the amount, because He doesn’t need any of it. God owns everything and wants for nothing. He can raise people out of mud. He invented gold and jewels. It’s not about God wanting our riches – He wants our heart. And the Widow’s very small gift proved that she loved God, needed God, thanked God, obeyed God, and trusted God more than she trusted anyone or anything else.

She gave beyond what was convenient, beyond what was safe, beyond what was expected, and gave it all. It was one of the few – perhaps the only – gift accepted by God that day. Sure, the contribution boxes were full, but there were only two little coins that God found value in – the Widow’s offering. She gave “all she had to live on”, literally translated, “her whole life”.

Those wealthy Scribes foolishly thought that riches were something to be accumulated on earth, and spent their life amassing them. The Widow knew that there was more to life than having a coin in her hands. The Scribes found security in their wealth and used their power to crush anyone who they could. The Widow found her security in God, knowing that He is the highest authority.

Two Applications

Let me draw a couple applications here:

The first is that we must get our priorities straight.

This is an old application, but it’s relevant to every age. We talked about “Loving God” and “Loving our Neighbour” last week, and we get a very similar reminder this week. We have to ask ourselves what our priorities are, because if they don’t line up with God’s, then we are in trouble: trouble in facing God’s judgement for disobedience, and trouble in not being able to flourish under His rule.

If we have the priorities of the Scribes: Pride, Position, Power, Prestige, Wealth, Worldly security, then we have it all wrong. And this is where it starts to feel like drinking from a fire-hose, because every book of the Bible condemns this life. It doesn’t condemn the wealthy, but the love of wealth.

  • Jesus in Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
  • The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
  • The Apostle John in 1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
  • The author of the Proverbs (30:8) begs God to give him enough, but no more saying, “…give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” and, in it’s wisdom, looks square at us and simply says, “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist.” (23:4)
  • The Psalmist says, “For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, And the greedy man curses and spurns the LORD.” (10:3)

Seeking wealth and worldly security is absolutely incompatible with loving God and others. A life committed to pursuing gain and comfort, dependant on appearances and applause, will always, always, always corrupt one’s soul, distract them from God, and cause them to use people rather than serve them.

The second is to answer the question: “What are you holding back?”

We see a picture of Jesus in the Widow. She trusts God, obeys at great cost, and gives her life for the sake of others. That’s Jesus.

The Widow put in two coins, though she could have kept one. Jesus gave His whole life to save us.

  • What are you holding back?
  • What have you not given God permission to have in your life?
  • What has God asked you to do and you’ve said no?
  • Is there something you are supposed to do, to give, to trust God with, that you are still holding in your hands, keeping control of, because you simply can’t trust him with it?
  • Are you tithing? Are you giving generously to the work of God, first at church and then to other people who need it? Or are you refusing to obey God in that way?
  • What about your daily obedience in bible reading and prayer? Are you holding back your time from God because you believe it’s yours? Do you give God a little time, when you find it, and have nothing better to do?
  • Is there a sin or a habit that you know you’ve needed to give up, but won’t?

Jesus has terrible words to say to religious pretenders who look like they have it all put together, but are, in fact, corrupt on the inside. He calls them “Hypocrites!” Let us be free from hypocrisy and give God everything, no holding back.

What are you holding back from God?

answering life’s biggest questions: love, purpose & priorities (Mark 12:28-34)

[cross-posted from www.ArtOfTheChristianNinja.com]

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gom-41-the-most-important-things-answering-lifes-biggest-questionsOur current mini-series has been covering the questions that Jesus was asked as He entered the Temple the day after He cleared the Temple courts by driving people out, overturning tables and releasing the animals. As He came up the stairs he was confronted by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, who had some questions about his motives, and had hopes of publically embarrassing Him and trapping Him in His own worlds. They wanted Him gone, and if they could get him to publically admit that He believed Himself to be the Messiah – or better yet, God, and then accuse Him of blasphemy and arrest Him. Or, if they could get Him to say that He was doing these things by His own authority they could accuse Him of being the crazy leader of an insurgence, a megalomaniacal fanatic, who the Romans needed to arrest and kill as a rabble rouser and a traitor.

None of their plans worked, of course, and they end up walking away dejected and angry, bewildered as to what they will do about Jesus – until Judas comes to them offering to sell out Jesus so they can arrest Him in the middle of the night only a few days later.

The Final and Biggest Question

“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’ And the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.’” (Mark 12:28-34)

The last question Jesus is asked is an ironic one. It’s ironic because it comes from, what appears to be a good guy! After rafts of men came trying to embarrass and trap Jesus, one man comes up in the midst of the fray and asks Jesus a question that wasn’t manipulative or loaded – but genuine. It says that this scribe – who was basically a lawyer – was sitting on the periphery listening to the conversations and was very impressed with Jesus answers. He came to Jesus after “seeing that he answered them well”. By Jesus’ own admission this man was “not far from the kingdom of God” so perhaps that means His journey to find God’s will had finally led him to Jesus.

This last question is a great last question because it is the most important one of all. And, funnily enough, it comes on the heels of a really dumb question about a woman who was widowed seven times and who would be her husband in the afterlife. Even Jesus says that they ask a dumb question.

But after telling them how dopey their question was, Jesus turns around and sees a man standing there with a very important question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

This sounds like a no-brainer to us, but that’s only because we’ve heard the answer so many times. When this scribe asked Jesus, they had identified 613 separate commandments they believed God wanted them to obey, 365 of which were negative (do nots) and 248 of which were positive (do this). They had even divided them into “heavy” and “light,” commands, ranked by which ones were more important and less important. So, seeing that Jesus knew what He was talking about, the scribe brought this important, and relevant, question.

Two Answers

Jesus is more than happy to give the answer, but He does so in a special way. He takes two of the items on their list of 613 and joins them. They were normally separate, from different scriptures in different locations, but Jesus joined them together. Jesus’ view of the Law of God wasn’t about lists, but about lifestyle of love.

The first part of His answer is of no surprise to anyone. It is the first part of the “Shema”, a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the centrepiece prayer of Jewish life, said in the morning and evening every day:

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

This was a reminder to all that the love of God is based on His oneness, His singularity, His exclusivity – He is the Only One. Since God is one, our love for Him must be undivided. This is repeated in the first commandment: “You shall have no other God’s before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

It piles up the terms “heart,” “soul,” and “mind” and “strength” reminding us that God doesn’t just want part of us, but our whole being. God wants to the be the greatest, all-consuming love of our life. Why? Because He is our Lord and our God – He alone.

The second of Jesus’ answers comes immediately after, without a pause: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Later 1 John 4:20-21 explains how these commandments are tied together:

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

These are not two commands, but one. God loves us, and in response we love God… and that love flows from Him to Us to Others. We don’t have one or the other. We cannot love God and hate people – that’s incompatible, even if we sometimes wish it wasn’t.

True Love Hurts Sometimes

We do, don’t we? Sometimes we really wish that we could just say, “I love God, love Jesus, love my family, and love my church… but the rest of everyone can go to heck.” We’ve all thought it. Why? Because loving people is hard. People make it hard to love them sometimes.

The kind of love that Jesus is talking about, the one that loves our neighbour, is a sacrificial love. It requires sacrifice and commitment, a denial of self, a picking up of our cross and following Him, living as a disciple of Christ.

We sometimes think that “taking up our cross” (Matthew 16:24-26) means facing persecution and martyrdom, being killed for our faith and our love for Jesus. And sometimes it does, but we have to remember how Jesus said it. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” That means we stop living for ourselves and live the way that Jesus lived.

It means that we define love the way that Jesus does. It means we expand our love beyond ourselves, beyond those we love, beyond just us and God –deny ourselves and choose to love the people that God puts in our lives, even the ones that make it hard to do. That is a Christ like, sacrificial thing to do.

In books, movies and tv shows we are presented with only one kind of love – love that feels good and comes easily. And, thank God, that’s true sometimes. It’s usually pretty easy to love babies, our own children, our friends, our parents… people that are kind, generous, helpful, and nice. Those people are easy to love. But that’s only one side of love. Sometimes love hurts.

Many in our western world today have bought into this one side of love. If you feel love towards someone, and it’s easy, and you’re swept off your feet, and it gets all misty and gushy when the person is around – that’s love. But when that person becomes hard to love, when the feelings leave, when they hurt you, when they disappoint you, when they stop loving you – or when you start having gushy feelings for someone else – then you are no longer in love and it’s time to go somewhere else. That’s not love, that’s using people. Real love is different.

Loving Like Jesus

Real love sometimes involves suffering. Real love sometimes hurts really bad. Real love requires a decision, commitment, and fortitude. The Bible defines love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 saying:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

That is not emotional language – those are words of decision.

I choose to be patient when the one I love keeps messing up. I choose to be kind when the person is unkind. I choose to be love others that are better off than I am. I choose to not say rude things and place myself before the one I love. I choose to forgive and not hold resentment. I will bear with them. I will believe in them. I will hope for them. I will endure suffering with them. I will finish my life loving them. True love requires hard choices and sometimes feels like suffering.

Just as Jesus’ love for His Father and for us meant that He had to take up His cross so He could suffer and die – so sometimes it is required of us to pick up our cross, obey God, and suffer and die as we love our neighbours as ourselves.

Jesus blows the doors off of “one sided love” when He teaches that God’s version of love goes beyond our family and those who are easy to love, but extends to difficult people – even those who treat us badly! He says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48)

Jesus injunction to “perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” brings us full circle to the question that the scribe asked Jesus. The scribe asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” That’s another way of saying, “If God had only one thing to say, what would He say? What does God want from us most? What is the most fundamental, most central, most critical thing in the universe?” It could almost be restated, “How can we be perfect like God is perfect?”  The answer Jesus gave was to love God with our whole being and to have that love spill over onto the people around us – even when it hurts.

“Eye for an eye” makes sense to us. “Turn the other cheek” doesn’t. Jesus says, if someone hurts you, do not answer hatred for hatred, but love instead. If someone has it out for you and wants to take revenge even after you’ve tried to work it out, answer their vengeance with generosity. Value your hard earned things less then people who you don’t even know! Pray for people that hurt you. The great reward of love, true love, comes as you love those who don’t love you back.

Finding Our Purpose

People are always worried about their purpose. Anyone who has been on the planet for more than 3 years is often asked “What are you going to be when you grow up?” and the question never seems to end. Just this week I heard of an older man, almost a hundred years old, who was asking about his purpose in life.

Everyone wants to know their purpose and they ask, “God what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? What is the plan for my life?”. The answer if far more clear than they want to believe – but they resist because it’s not specific enough.

Look at what happens in the passage we’re looking at today. Someone walks up to Jesus and basically asks, “What’s the most important thing God wants me to know?” That’s a big question! And then notice that Jesus’ answer is phrased as a command: “And You Shall…” Older translations will say “Thou Shalt!… love the Lord your God… ” “Thou shalt! Love your neighbour.”

God’s answer to “what should I do with myself” and “what is my purpose” is that we start there. If you want to know your purpose, ask yourself this question: Am I constantly showing love for God and others? Start with that, and I promise that the rest will flow naturally.

God says, “Love me with all your heart, soul mind and strength AND love your neighbours as much as you love yourself… and then the rest will come together.”

Consider what Jesus said in Matthew 6 when he shoots down all the people who want specific answers:

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [or Where shall I go? What should my job be? What school should I attend? What about the future? What about this issue, or that problem, or that opportunity…] For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

We hear Jesus saying, “Hold on, hold on! Before you worry about all the detailed wither-tos and why-fors of your life, let’s get the first things first. Do you love God and the people around you?” Are you “seeking first the kingdom and His righteousness?”. That’s like asking, “As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, are you doing what is most important to the King?” Which, again, brings us back around to the same answer as before: Are you loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength and loving your neighbour as yourself?

Loving Our Neighbour

The priority of getting this right first is the consistent testimony of scripture. So let’s do a little application and see what this looks like practically, and we’ll work back to front: First, what does loving our neighbour look like? It’s actually pretty simple, when you think about it for a minute.

Jesus gave us the answer in Matthew 7:12 with what we call the Golden Rule:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

“I don’t know how to love others! I’m not a very loving person! I don’t know where to start!” we say. Jesus’ answer to that is, “Start here: Can you look inside and ask yourself, ‘How would I want people to treat me?’” Of course, we all can! For example:

When you are depressed, what do you want people to do for you? Think about it. Do you want them to leave you alone in your dark room with your dark thoughts, sinking deeper and deeper?  Or do you want them to keep calling you, keep caring about you, keep inviting you, keep showing up and reminding you that they love you and that God loves you? Do that to others.

When you are new to a place, what do you want people to do for you? Judge you by how you’re dressed, how you talk, your family situation, and ask you about all of your obvious problems? Probably not. You want them to love you for who you are, be kind, introduce you to the group, and cut you some slack. Do that to others.

When you are struggling with sin or addiction, what do you want people to do for you? Pretend it doesn’t exist, never ask you about it, leave you alone to wallow in your muck, falling into it over and over again? Or, come along side you, get involved in your mess, ask how they can help, love you in your failings and hold you accountable, forgiving you when you blow it again… but never giving up on you. Do that to others.

When you are blind to your own pride, greed, rudeness, argumentativeness, and are offending people and losing friends – but have no idea why, what do you want people to do for you? Make excuses for you, avoid confronting you, or just avoid you alotgether, and let you self-destruct all your relationships? No, you want them to take you aside, buy you a coffee, ask what’s wrong, why you’re lashing out, and then tell you gently, but truthfully, that you are hurting people – and say that no matter how bad it gets, they’ll still with you. Do that for others.

When your marriage is on the rocks, or your kids are a mess, what do you want people to do? Mock you behind your back, criticize you to others, spread gossip about you, and stand around hoping it’ll finally blow up in your face so they can watch the fireworks? No… you want them to come along side you, weep with you, put their arm around you, understand that you are struggling – that you’re not blind but you are at the end of your rope and have no idea what to do – to be a friend, trustworthy confidant, and prayer partner. Do that for others.

If you are struggling with your weight, what do you want people to do? Make jokes about you, leave clothing store coupons and Weight Watchers pamphlets around, suggest diet plans, and heap shame on you because you obviously don’t know that you have a problem? No. You want them to love you for who you are and care more about your insides than your outsides – and then, maybe, after becoming really, really good friends, and you’ve talked about lots and lots of topics… offer to walk with you in your struggle.

If you have a handicap, what do you want people to do? Exclude you because you’re too much trouble? No. You want them to help you become part of what’s going on.

It goes on and on and on. And it’s really not that hard to figure out if we just take a minute to think about it. And having God on our side, and the ability to pray and ask for direction, means that the Holy Spirit will speak to us and help us to do this even better!

It’s All About Jesus

So how do we grow in love for others – even our enemies? It comes back to Jesus’ first answer: We love God. Remember, it’s all about Jesus. You will love God when you understand the love that He has for you, even when you were His enemy. His love was shown in what He did in Jesus Christ.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:31-39 [see also Romans 5:6-11])

Once you begin to understand the love of God for you found in Jesus Christ – how enormous, how sacrificial, how beautiful and perfect it is – then you will be able to love your neighbour sacrificially, beautifully, and with a greater depth than you ever thought you had in you.

Growing Our Love Muscles

That’s why the fathers of our faith have always emphasized consistent scripture reading, prayer, and worship as indispensable to the Christian life.

Reading scripture reminds our feeble and forgetful minds about the depth of God’s love and about how He wants us to live in this world. It tells us about how far He came to save us, what He saved us from, and the loving boundaries He set around us so we can flourish under His rule.

Prayer connects us to the very heart of God. That consistent, daily, hourly, relationship, allows us to go beyond a mere intellectual understanding of our faith and to realize we have a living, breathing, existential, relationship with a real person. As we pray, meditate and listen, we experience the presence of God, the love of Christ, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Daily worship, and faithful attendance to Sunday Worship, reminds us of our place in the universe – that He’s God and we’re not. And reminds us that  though He is Holy God, He’s not a distant God. Our singing, giving, obedience, fellowship, evangelism, service, thanksgiving, and religious activity all remind us that God interacts with us as our Creator, Sustainer, Saviour, and Friend. Worship deepens our love for God.

If we are going to be people love others, then we must start by loving God.

A Reminder to Our Souls

Let me close by reading Psalm 103. In Psalm 103 David does something that we all need to do sometimes; He reminds himself why God is worthy of our love, and why he needs to keep worshipping God – and how that is the foundation for everything else. Let this be a reminder to our spirits as well:

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Psalm 103:1-5 ESV)

how to deal with doubts and unbelief (Mark 7:31-8:33)

AOTCN_DealingWithDoubt

Today we’re going to study Mark 7:31-8:33. At first these stories are going to seem disconnected, but as we read them, hopefully you will see a theme developing. I  also want you to listen for similar phrases and events. It’s set up as a sort of sandwich where we see a couple of similar events, and then something different, and then a couple of similar events

Top of the Sandwich: Ears to Hear

“Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” (Mark 7:31-37)

So there’s the first section. What did we see? Jesus goes somewhere, meets someone in need, Jesus looks to heaven to pray, heals that person with a sigh at the hard heartedness of the people and the effects of sin on humanity, and tells them to keep it quiet after performing the miracle. Let’s move on to the next event, which happens a few days later.

“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.’ And his disciples answered him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?’ And he asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.” (Mark 8:1-9)

Ok, so what do we see there? Another display of power. This time Jesus goes somewhere, sees the need (rather than having the need brought to him), deals with the unbelief and sin of the disciples (I wonder if he sighed here too), prays, and works the miracle. That’s section one. Two displays of power a similar and simple theme: Jesus can work amazing miracles.

The Middle of the Sandwich: Deaf Ears and Blind Eyes

Now we move to section two, the middle of the sandwich – the bacon of the sandwich, the reason for the existence of the sandwich!

“And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.” (Mark 8:10-13)

So here, Jesus goes somewhere and comes across a group with hard hearts and no faith. This group of Pharisees likely wasn’t around for the previous miracles, but they had heard of Jesus’ reputation and came to “argue” with, and request miracles from Jesus. “Show us! Let us see with our own eyes” they demand. Now, with that in our minds, let’s read the next section:

“Now they [that is, the disciples] had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ And he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’” (Mark 8:14-21)

Do you see similarities? Jesus goes somewhere, but this time the group that has hard hearts and low faith are his disciples. Unlike the Pharisees, they had witnessed the miracles, and yet still didn’t understand the truth about Jesus. Our Key Verse for this whole section is found in verses 17-18, and they shine light on the rest of the whole section: “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” Do you not see? Do you not hear? Do you not understand? Hopefully you’re seeing the connection. If not, you will after we read the next section.

The Bottom of the Sandwich: Jesus Gives Sight

“And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’” (Mark 8:22-26)

Jesus performs another miracle where he takes someone who has a blockage of perception – before it was hearing, now it’s sight – and performs a miracle so they can see. And He goes through a similar pattern as with the deaf/mute, though this time it takes two steps.

Now, from the context, we’re beginning to see that Jesus healing the deaf and the blind is about far deeper than merely restoring earing and eyesight. This blind man is a picture of what Jesus wants to do for His disciples, and for all of us. He wants His followers to see – but, like the man, though they have been touched by Jesus, at first, they are only seeing dimly… blurrily… a little bit of light, but not enough to understand what’s really going on.

And how do we know that? Because of the final section:

“And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” (Mark 8:27-33)

Peter is our great example here. Peter was like the blind man, unable to see. Then He met Jesus, and began to see something… that Jesus was the Christ… but Peter wasn’t seeing clearly yet. How do we know? Because of what Peter did next – he rebukes Jesus for talking about his crucifixion! “You’re the Christ, Jesus! You’ll never suffer! You’ll conquer!”

Like the blind man, Peter saw a little light about Jesus, but his spiritual vision was still blurry. He needed more from Jesus in order to understand the rest of the truth about Jesus. And that would come after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples and they finally understood all that Jesus said.

Two Blind Groups

Hopefully I’ve explained well enough the connections throughout this section. Deaf and Blind people meeting Jesus and needing healing. But it’s more than physical blindness and deafness that Jesus has come to heal – it’s spiritual blindness and deafness. Jesus shows He has the supernatural power to overcome any kind of perception problem, and goes even farther to show He can provide food out of thin air for thousands of people.

But then, in the middle of these stories of healing, we see two groups that are both presented with Jesus’ claims and evidence of His power — but who react very differently to them: The Disciples and the Pharisees.

The Disciples saw miracle after miracle, had heard message after message, and had seen bread come out of nowhere to feed thousands – and yet, as they sat in the boat, when Jesus began to teach them in a parable saying, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They completely missed it. They thought they were in trouble for forgetting to bring lunch. They thought Jesus was hungry and wanted food. They showed their complete lack of ability to perceive spiritual things – they were stuck in the physical realm.

Jesus rebukes them:

“Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17-18)

“Guys! I just miraculously provided thousands of people with bread, and you were left with baskets and baskets of it! Do you really think that I’m mad at you for not bringing enough lunch? Do you really think I’m telling you to beware of the actual, physical bread that the Pharisees make?!?!”

They’d seen so much, but they’d forgotten and couldn’t see the truth about Jesus. Were they really unwilling to believe that Jesus would provide bread to them? Their shortsighted, small minded, easily forgetful ways, showed they were like the deaf man – unable to hear what Jesus was saying. They were just like the blind man – unable to see what was happening right before their eyes. At least the deaf man knew he was deaf and needed Jesus to help him hear.

Jesus kept His disciples around, showing them miracle after miracle, sharing teaching after teaching, giving them example after example, answering question after question… training them to have faith in Him. They wrestled with unbelief for years as they walked with Jesus… but eventually, after they had walked with Him for a while, witnessed His Resurrection, and were touched by His Holy Spirit, they became men of strong faith.

The other group, however, didn’t. The other group that we see in the bacon of these stories is the Pharisees. Like the Disciples, they are also deaf and blind – but they don’t know it. They’re bumbling around, unable to see spiritual truths, hurting themselves and others in their ignorance. Like a deaf person, they shout out unintelligible nonsense that sounds right to them, but is just noise. They are presented with the same evidences, the same Jesus, the same claims, and are given the same opportunity to follow.

The Pharisees had heard of Jesus’ reputation, and may have even witnessed some miracles – at the very least they knew of Jesus’ reputation from many witnesses – but they didn’t come to seek light and truth or to ask questions and listen to Jesus. Why did they come? 8:11 says, “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.”

The difference is their attitude. No matter what Jesus would have said, they hadn’t come to listen, they came to talk. They were deaf. No matter what Jesus would have shown them, they wouldn’t have seen it, because they had their blinders on.

It reminds me of when the Deacon Stephen was martyred by this same group of people. These are the last words of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and they are addressed to the Sanhedrin:

“‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.’”

[Now look at their reaction.]

“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.” (Acts 7:51-58)

They, like the Pharisees who had come to Jesus that day, weren’t there to listen, but to argue, make demands, condemn and test. They put themselves above Jesus, as His judges. He needed to prove Himself to them! They were the experts. They were the holy ones. They were the ones who knew God – and they expected Jesus to toe the line.

How to Deal with Unbelief

We all struggle with doubts and unbelief at times – some more than others. Even the most faithful Christian has moments when they wonder about what God is doing. We all ask questions like, “God, do you still love me? Are you in control of this? Will you help me? Do you hate me? Is this in your plan? Where are you? Can I trust you with this difficult thing? Are you worthy of putting my faith in, or will you let me down? ” We all have moments of doubt.

The question is how we respond. The difference between the Disciples and the Pharisees, though they both struggled with blindness and deafness, was that one group had a relationship with Jesus and the other didn’t. One had been chosen by Jesus and was willing to stick with Him. They kept walking with Him, paying attention to Him, seeking after Him, waiting for Him, asking Him questions, talking to Him. And their wiliness to do that meant they continued to see miracles, hear from Jesus, and were mightily used by God.

The Pharisees didn’t walk with Jesus. They came to argue with and test Jesus. They wanted Him to submit to them. They wanted God to bend to them – and therefore, even after meeting Jesus, they still walked away blind.

I guess the key word that describes that attitude is humility. Both groups were messed up. Both were blind. Both didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. But only one of the groups were willing to humbly walk with Jesus as their Lord. The disciples didn’t demand Jesus prove Himself, they just walked with Jesus wherever He went and saw Him in action. They got the proof, but not on their terms.

The Pharisees came at their own convenience, ordered Jesus to do things for them, and when He didn’t, they walked away. One group showed humble discipleship, the other arrogant presumption.

Sometimes we hear people say things like, “If God is real, why doesn’t He just show Himself! If God wants me to believe in Him, then He can just write it in the sky. Just one little miracle and I’ll believe Him. If God wants me to follow Him, then He’ll do this one thing for me. God, I’ll make a deal with you, I’ll start praying if you work this miracle.”

God wouldn’t be much of a god, if He performed like a trained seal and submitted to the whims of His creation, would He? God doesn’t operate like that. He shows Himself to people who come to Him in humble faith, in need, who desire truth, and who are willing to submit to Him as their God! God doesn’t submit to people who come demanding a performance.

We Experience Jesus in Different Ways

That being said, God is amazingly willing to meet us where we’re at and perform miracles for we who don’t deserve it. Like in the scriptures we’ve read today, different people meet Him in different ways, and God does some amazing things for them. But there’s a common theme behind all of these folks that met Jesus.

Jesus said as much in Matthew 13:44-46 where He said:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

You see, we don’t create our own treasure, God does — and we all come across it a little differently. Some people are like the man who stumbles across it. The somehow come across Jesus – maybe through their parents, or a friend, or a vision, or another way they didn’t go looking for – and Jesus opens their eyes, their ears and frees their tongue to worship Him.

Other people are like the man searching for pearls – they look all their life for that one, great treasure, and when they meet Jesus they completely sell out to Him. They’ve searched and now they’ve found.

The deaf man and the blind man were brought to Jesus to be healed. They didn’t get there by themselves. The treasure was found by others. And all of the 4000 people that Jesus fed that day didn’t ask for it, Jesus just had compassion on them and fed them. We meet and experience Jesus in different ways.

Their healing was unique too. Many people had been brought to Jesus, but these are the only ones we read about where Jesus uses spit – and in the Gospel of John we read that he made mud from the spit – and used it to heal the person. No one seems to know why Jesus did that, but we can take away from it that – for whatever reason – Jesus uses different methods to meet different people’s needs.

Jesus healed the leper by laying on hands. The Centurion’s servant and the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter was healed form a distance. We don’t know why, but Jesus uses different methods on different people.

That’s part of the lesson of humility too, isn’t it? We come to Jesus, like the blind man, the deaf man, the disciples – humbly following and hoping for something – and then we allow Jesus to do it however He wants. Or, we try to come to Jesus like the Pharisees, demanding Jesus do it our way, in our time, using our methods. Jesus doesn’t respond to that. He responds to humility.

Sometimes Jesus chooses to heal immediately and fully. I just heard someone tell me this week about an addiction they had that God cured like that. Boom! One minute they couldn’t put it down, the next they couldn’t pick it up.

Sometimes God uses a little spit and mud to get it done. We need to take the medicine, go through training, work through the suffering, get dirty, face the temptation every day, exist in that situation for a while.

Sometimes, as we learned from the blind man, Jesus heals in stages. What we might call – progressive healing. We know that’s true spiritually. It’s something we call “progressive sanctification” the process of living our lives in such a way that we get closer to God and more like Jesus every day. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” In this world we don’t really understand everything. Christians experience and understand many things we didn’t before we met Jesus, but we don’t know it all yet – which is why we struggle with doubt sometime. But we’re only in the first stage of healing.

Sometimes Jesus heals us in stages too. Sometimes we need to bear the burden for a little while, see dimly, and only get – what we see as – part of the miracle. The question is: Are you willing to humbly submit to following Jesus where He wants to go, do what He wants to do, in His timing, healing you as He sees fit, in the way He sees fit? Because that’s how we experience the presence of Jesus.

Conclusion

Let me conclude with these thoughts. We’re all deaf and blind sometimes, and we know people who are deaf and blind to the things of God – but Jesus has the power to break through that blindness and give us light. He can break through the deafness so we can hear His voice. He can unbridle our tongue so we can speak the truth.

Jesus is the only one who can break through spiritual blindness and deafness. We can’t demand it of Him, but we can ask. God’s hand of grace moves when we humble ourselves before Him. If we want God to prove Himself, trade miracles for faith, and submit Himself to our wills, we will be sorely disappointed. He doesn’t play that game. He’s God, we’re not. Satan does play that game, however. He’s happy to give you enough rope to let you hang yourself. God doesn’t want that. He wants the best for you, and He wants you to realize that He knows what is best – and He gives you the ability to choose whether you will trust Him.

If you want to experience the power of God, then come to Him in humility and faith, trusting He knows what is better, with confidence in His love, His sovereignty, His compassion and His power. Remember who you are talking to.

And Remember what He has said. He said to the disciples, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”

Let us be the ones who remember!

We ask, “God do you love me?

He responds, “Of course! Don’t you remember that I sent my son to die for you?”

We ask “Are you in control?

He responds, “Yes, I’ve shown my faithfulness to you already, and I’ve proven that my thoughts are higher than your thoughts, my ways are higher than your ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Remember that I know what I’m doing.”

We ask, “Will you help me?

He responds, “Yes, and I already have. Remember that I’m with you. I’ve given you every breath you’ve ever taken, and the strength for every step you’ve ever made. I’ve promised never to leave you. I’ve promised to give you all you need to do everything you need to do. Just follow me and I’ll lead you where you need to be.”

attacked on all sides (Passion Week Series)

[cross-posted from www.ArtOfTheChristianNinja.com]

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passion-week-tuesdayA couple weeks ago we started a series going through the final week of Jesus life His resurrection on Easter Sunday. We’ve already covered the events of Palm Sunday and Monday where we saw the Triumphal Entry, the Cursing of the Fig Tree and The Cleansing of the Temple. Today we will talk about what happened an even more eventful day – Tuesday.

Many people call the this time in Christ’s life “Passion Week”. It is so named because of the passion Christ showed during His march toward the cross to pay for the sins of His people.  It could be argued that it was during Passion Week that Jesus preached the most stirring, emotional, difficult, and controversial teachings of His entire ministry. But He wasn’t the only one showing passion – so were His enemies.

Royal Rumble

I’m a child of the 80s and 90s, so the events of Tuesday remind me of when I used to watch the Royal Rumble during WrestleMania as a kid. For the uninitiated, the Royal Rumble is when they take a whole bunch of very large men, dressed in tights and other forms of weird clothing (and who call themselves “wrestlers”), stick them in one ring and let them pretend to beat the tar out of one another until one man remains. The rules were that two men would start in the ring and then every couple of minutes they send in wrestler after wrestler, 28 more, until one man stands victorious.

That’s what Tuesday is to Jesus. He’s taking on all comers. We read about group after group lining up to try to trick, trap and publically scandalize Jesus through all sorts of devious questions. But when the day comes to an end, He’s the only one standing.

Mark 11:20-13:37 give us the events of events of Tuesday, but I would like to park on the section where Jesus is confronted in the Temple, starting in verse 27. Before we dig into any application, I want to look at the attacks that come against Jesus, and who from:

“And they came again to Jerusalem. [that is, Jesus, His Disciples, and probably a growing group of followers] And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him…”

What we see here is the group called “The Sanhedrin”, which was the Jewish executive, legislative and judicial council. It consists of 70 members, plus the High Priest. Now, this wasn’t the entire Sanhedrin, but probably a delegation sent from it. They met every day (except on Festivals and the Sabbath) and had a lot of power in Jerusalem. They were the ones to whom all questions of the Mosaic law were finally put.

To understand what’s going on here, picture Jesus walking into church only to find a delegation of lawyers, judges and politicians, sent from the Supreme Court of Canada, standing in his way. Remember, Jesus had just caused a major scene the day before by throwing out the merchants and money changers from the day before. This was a group of powerful, angry men who were sent to question Jesus regarding His actions.

The First Volley

We already know from verse 18 that this group was planning on killing Jesus, but they couldn’t figure out how to do it since they were afraid that the crowds would turn on them if they did. Jesus was still immensely popular. They needed to turn the crowds against Him before they could eliminate Him.

“…and they said to him, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?’” (vs 28)

Jesus has only taken a few steps into the Temple, surrounded by a group of disciples that is growing every minute, when these men stop Him and ask Him for His credentials. There’s almost no doubt that after Jesus’ actions of the day before, they had convened a council to try to figure out what to do with Him, and they had come up with a plan: publically discredit Him so most of the crowds would stop following Him, capture him during the night when no one was watching, and then trump up some charges against Him – a plan that eventually succeeds, with Judas’ help.

Their first attempt was a well-laid trap. They wanted Jesus either to publically admit that He believed He was the Messiah, the Son of God, and that His authority came straight from God so they could accuse Him of blasphemy which was punished by death – or say that everything was by His own authority so they could accuse Him of being a megalomaniacal fanatic.

But Jesus knows their hearts. He knows they couldn’t care less about what authority Jesus speaks and performs miracles by and so He turned the question back on them to expose their cowardice. Verse 29:

“Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.’ And they discussed it with one another, saying, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘From man’?’—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’” (vs 29-33)

He reveals their motives and weakness to everyone around, and then Jesus goes even farther. Keep in mind that they aren’t in a private place with only 12 disciples and the delegation from the Sanhedrin. They are surrounded by a large, and ever growing, crowd. Jesus was already very popular, and now he’s in a Title-Fight with some of the most educated, influential and powerful people in their whole culture.

Remember high-school when kids would start to pick on one another, and then one would push the other? It wasn’t too long until the whole school found out and came running. Imagine Jesus vs The Sanhedrin. That would draw a crowd.

The Parable of the Tenants

“And he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’” (12:1-6)

It’s almost impossible for the crowds and the delegation to miss the point of this story — this is a parable of judgement. As soon as Jesus says the word “vineyard” they know that Jesus is talking about all of Israel, because it was a well-known metaphor in the Old Testament.

Jesus uses this story to not only to illustrate the tension between Him and the leaders of Israel, but to break it wide open. This story is a condemnation of all of them, and a prophecy of what would happen in only days.

The Landlord who planted and owns the vineyard is God – and it’s a good one. It is protected by a stone wall, built by the owner himself. He cultivated it and made it fruitful enough to need a winepress. He set up a tower as a lookout for trouble and a shelter for those who gathered the grapes. The owner of the land knows what He’s doing, and has created a great vineyard.

He steps aside and leases it to some tenants to run for a time. He’ll be back, but until then He wants them to care for and grow His vineyard – which should be pretty easy since He’s already done all the hard work. All they have to do is keep it up.

And they do. They sit back and enjoy the fruits of the owners labour. Sure, they had to pull some weeds, but it was the owner’s wisdom and strength that made it grow so well.

And when all the grapes were ready to be picked, and the owner comes back to collect some, the tenants won’t give it up. Those who remember the story of the cursing of the fig tree know what the fruit is meant to represent here: worship and obedience.

They want the grapes. All of them. The tenants, who here represent the Sanhedrin and other Jewish religious rulers, won’t give them up. They want the worship that is due to God. They want the praise. They want the power. They want the glory. They want to be obeyed. They want to have what God is rightfully due – the worship of His people.

God sent His angels, prophets, kings, judges, to tell them to give up what is only for Him, but they won’t have it. Finally God sends the Messiah, the very Word, the voice of God, the face of God. The One whom Hebrews (1:3) calls “…His Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” And soon, they would reject and kill Him.

Jesus looks them in the eye and knows their heart. He looks at the leaders of Israel and knows what they have been plotting. He says in verse 7:

“But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?’” (vs 7-10)

The Sanhedrin, the elders, teachers of the Law, Pharisees, Sadducees, and the entire crowd catches on. Jesus says that “the vineyard”, which represents all the promises God made to Israel, will be taken from them and given to non-Jewish people. He will come and wipe out the Temple, the Sacrifices, and the Old Laws, and give the entire blessing “to others”.

Why? Because they rejected Him. He offered salvation – a sharing of the fruit – if they would humble themselves. But they saw Jesus as a stone that was in their way, that needed to be removed so they could build what they wanted to build. Jesus said, “No, I’m not in your way… I’m the cornerstone… and unless you build on me, everything you build will fall apart.”

If you read the accounts in Matthew and Luke you can read even more parables that Jesus told them, where He speaks of God as an enraged King who will dispatch His troops to destroy the leaders of Israel and invite gentiles into His wedding feast. Over and over Jesus issues warnings to the people and the Jewish leaders that they are on the edge of hell, and warns them against rejecting God’s plan of salvation through God’s chosen agent – Him.

See their reaction:

“And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.” (vs 12)

Exasperated and defeated, they walk away – but they’re not done. Their cronies are going to spend the rest of Tuesday playing the same hand over and over, trying to discredit Jesus and make him trip over his words. Just like in the parable, they are going to throw fist after fist, stone after stone, trying to get Jesus out of their way so they can take over the vineyard – but it’s not going to work.

Attack after Attack

“And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk.” (vs 13)

Next they send in the B-team of wealthy businessmen try to discredit him – the movers and shakers of the community. They thought they had come up with a great trap about paying taxes to Rome, where they thought they could get Jesus arrested as a traitor for saying not to pay taxes, or rejected by the people as a Roman sell-out by saying you have to support Rome. But it doesn’t work and they scurry away defeated.

Next they throw out a Hail-Mary by sending in the least credible of their ranks – the wealthy, aristocratic, smart-mouthed, materialist-minded politicians: “And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question…”. (vs 18) But their question, which was about who would be married to whom after the resurrection, is so ridiculous, and so poorly framed, and so unbiblical, that Jesus easily points out to everyone that they knew “neither the Scriptures nor the power of God”. (vs 24)

Finally, we see one man, a scribe, which we would call a Lawyer, who had been impressed with Jesus’ answers, come up and asked: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (vs 28) Jesus answers Him, and they have a discussion about the importance of loving God and loving our neighbours, and it goes well, but this man still lacked something. He knew the right answers, was an expert in the scriptures, and understood God desired not only obedience but love – but had not yet put His faith in Jesus. “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” (vs 34)

I think Jesus spoke tenderly to him, rather than with the intensity He had been showing defending Himself to the other groups. This lawyer was almost there, but had yet to take the step of faith in Jesus that would lead Him to the Kingdom. And Jesus was pleased with Him, but wanted Him to know that He wasn’t there yet.

Mark says at the end of verse 34: “And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

“Ding-ding! Knockout! Presenting the undisputed, heavyweight champion of the woooorld!” Delegations from every Jewish leadership group had come to Jesus with some incredibly tough questions, and He faced them all down. Their efforts had been fruitless and they had been the ones who ended up looking foolish. Their hatred grew and they would have to come up with a revised plan for how to kill Jesus.

And that plan would be handed them on a silver platter in only a couple of days as one of Jesus’ own followers, who had had enough, came to them to sell Him out.

Application

When I think of what applications we can pull from what was going on in Jesus’ life on this Tuesday, I can see two important things for us to remember:

First, Jesus knows what it’s like to be under attack from all sides. Remembering that helps us in our prayer life.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

The people and families in our little church are under attack these days – and from many different angels. Jesus was challenged about all sorts of matters from all sorts of people, so we are also being challenged. Some are struggling with physical temptations to sin with their bodies. Others are being attacked by their family and friends. Some are under spiritual oppression that is trying to drive them into a dark place. Some are feeling it financially. Other are beset with fears of loss, confusion over the future, anxiety over decisions, or the pressure to be perfect.

The first application I see here is to remember that Jesus knows what it’s like to be hit on all sides. He was tired, had only ever done good and told the truth – but they were still attacking Him. Why? Because He was Son of the rightful owner of the vineyard. Just like you are.

If you’re a follower of Jesus, then you are going to be under attack. You are a son or daughter of the king, and you are hated by His enemies. In His final meal with the disciples before He is arrested and crucified, Jesus says to them,

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And that’s the second thing to remember. No matter what came at Him, Jesus overcame all of His adversaries. Even in the end when they crucified Him, He came back from the dead. There was no temptation, no clever trick that, no theological or religious question that he couldn’t perfectly answer.

The message of the world is “Try harder, work more, be better, and you will over come the world.” The message of Jesus is, “I have already overcome them all. Trust me. Listen to Me. Follow my Words. Those who are in my Kingdom are already victorious.”

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…. If God is for us, who can be against us?…we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  (Romans 8:28, 31, 37)

That requires us to depend on Jesus. To put down our own wisdom and strength and pick up His. He is stronger, wiser, kinder, more loving, and more helpful than anything else we can turn to. Not only does He know exactly what you’re going through, but He’s been through it Himself, and He knows the way out — and He’s willing to share it with you, if you’d only submit yourself to His Lordship and listen. He will forgive you because He loves you. He will guide you because He is good.

To the scribe He said, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” because he had knowledge but had not exercised faith. I implore you to allow your relationship with Jesus to take that eighteen-inch journey from your head to your heart and to make Him your true Lord and Saviour – in all areas of your life. Go to Him with everything.