Friday, February 23, 2018

Mark 12 - What Will We Do in Heaven?

Marriage at the Resurrection

18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection[c]whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
There were two major schools of teaching in Judaism in Jesus' day.  The Pharisees prided themselves on keeping the Law, even down to the smallest details.  They interpreted it literally and thought every word should be obeyed, all the time, without questioning it.  On the opposite side of the theological spectrum, were the Sadducees.  They did not believe in miracles, or the supernatural.  They were rationalists.  They believed in God, but gave him no power to do anything like raise people from the dead.  He was a god of their own making who acted within their theological constructs. 
Both the Pharisees and Sadducees were threatened by Jesus, because the people were starting to follow him in droves. Like the Pharisees, the Sadducees tried to trick Jesus when he taught.  In this case, they created an argument that tried to poke holes in the belief of the resurrection of the dead.  They used an example where is a man's brother died leaving no children. In the Jewish law it was the brother's responsibility to marry the widow and bring offspring into the world.  This happened several times, and in the end after seven brothers died, the woman died as well.  They thought they had Jesus in the corner when they asked, "Who will be the woman's husband at the resurrection?" 
But they had missed one thing.  Their rationalism had met an impasse.  Heaven will not be like earth. While marriage is created by God for our good in this life on earth, in heaven there will be a new reality.  Jesus says we will be like, "angels in heaven".  
Therein lies the danger in trying to explain things that we are not meant to understand.  God reveals what we need to know about him and enjoy a relationship with him in this life and the one to come. If he wanted us to know exactly what heaven looked like, he would have revealed it to us.  All Jesus tells us is that we will be like "angels in heaven".  What do angels do?  They worship God!  So it looks like we will be worshipping a lot in heaven.  You better get to church on Sunday to practice! 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Mark 11 - Mountain Moving Prayer!

2“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly[f] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” 

Click Here to Read the Rest of Chapter 11

Here is yet another passage where we need to read carefully what Jesus is saying and what he is not saying.  Importantly, we need to keep in mind the way Jesus taught and the methods he employed.  One of Jesus' favorite teaching tools was called hyperbole.  It was also a common tool rabbi's used to teach in the synagogue.  Here is a brief quote:

"If we are still in doubt that hyperbole is a legitimate way to express truth, we can turn to the example of Jesus. Elton Trueblood shows in his book The Humor of Christ that the most distinctive feature of Jesus’ discourses is their use of exaggeration — the preposterous overstatement in the mode of “our conventional Texas story, which no one believes literally, but which everyone remembers.”6 G. K. Chesterton notes that “Christ had even a literary style of his own.…The diction used by Christ is quite curiously gigantesque; it is full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled into the sea.”

Can you imagine thinking that if you prayed for a mountain to be thrown into the sea and it didn't happen, you did not have enough faith?  It is also good for us to know that in Jewish culture a mountain could represent a challenging situation. 

Barclay says, "The phrase about removing mountains was a quite common Jewish phrase. It was a regular, vivid phrase for removing difficulties.” 

So if we are fairly confident Jesus wasn't literally suggesting that we could throw mountains into the sea, what was he saying?  How might we think of "mountain moving" prayer?  First of all, whenever we pray, we are asking God to do something we cannot naturally do.  And we pray because we trust that because God is all powerful he can in fact do anything He wants.  We pray for people to be healed supernaturally, because many times traditional medicine has not brought healing.  We pray to forgive others as we have been forgiven, because we know we can't do it on our own.  

So in this sense, every prayer we offer in which we expect God do something we can't, is a  "mountain moving" prayer.  What we need most when we pray is faith.  Faith that our mountain moving God will do what is right in answering our prayer in His time and in His way.  Though your prayer may not "literally" move a mountain, it can make something happen that you could never do on your own.  

Mark 10 - Why Jesus Loved Kids!

The Little Children and Jesus

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms,placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Jesus' teaching is consistently challenging the prevailing norms of his culture.  He turns things around so those who think they are special because of their position, and those who might seem like the outcast are lifted up. In this case like his often the case in our society, children were to be seen and not heard.  
So Jesus' disciples thought he was certainly to busy to be troubled by these children. After all, he had some serious work to be doing and they not only thought it was a bad idea for people to bring young children to him, they rebuked them.  But when Jesus saw this he was indignant.  And said "do not hinder these kids from coming to me for the kingdom of God belongs to these." Then he lifts up the children as an example of faith and openness to his kingdom coming.  
What is it about children that Jesus finds so great?  I think the biggest quality about children is that they are trusting, unless they are given a reason not to.  Also children are open to new ideas and still have a sense of wonder.  They have not been hardened by life and closed off to possibility.  Children are another example of those who Jesus uplifted because of their trust in him.  Add children to the tax collectors, the prostitute, the woman with five husbands, the leper and the synagogue ruler whose son was dying. 
We might say Jesus is in favor of the "underdog".  The long shots.  Those who are cast out of society and marginalized.  Jesus saw their potential, drew them to his saving love.  Maybe we might want to think more about this in our missional strategies.  I.e. How do we reach out to the children in our community?  Hey, what a novel idea!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mark 9 - The Mountaintop Experience!

The Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
We often talk about the "mountaintop experience".  It is usually a time we meet God in a powerful way. It is an experience that sticks with us, and is transformational for our whole lives.  Today we read of a literal mountaintop experience for Peter, James and John, the inner circle of Jesus' disciples. Jesus brought them up on the mountain to experience of the glory he had before he came down to earth. Shortly thereafter, when Jesus died and rose from the dead, this mountaintop experience would be one that they would lean on.  
There are three noteworthy aspects of the disciples' experience.  One, the text says Jesus was "transfigured before them".  For a moment the true glory of Jesus shone brightly before them.  Charles Spurgeon the great preacher says this about the nature of the transfiguration,
"This was not a new miracle, but the temporary pause of an ongoing miracle. The real miracle was that Jesus, most of the time, could keep from displaying His glory."
For a moment the disciples saw Jesus' divinity! Then, they saw Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  Most people think Elijah represented the prophets, and Moses the Law.  So, the disciples saw that God's people who trusted in Him and His covenant would also be in heaven.  
Finally, they hear God's voice coming out of the clouds saying, "This is my Son with whom I am well pleased!"  This was what God said to Jesus when he was baptized. 
Mountaintop experiences can happen in many ways, none of them normative for everyone's life or experience of God.  They don't necessarily need to be dramatic but are usually very personal. God works to reveal himself to us in many ways.  For some it is shining light. For others it is a still, small voice.  Some may see visions of grandeur. Many have experienced God powerfully as they have obeyed God's call for their lives. I.e. A mission trip  For me it was a strong experience of feeling his unconditional love for me, which increased as I learned to pray and read the bible.  
My prayer is that you have experienced God in a personal way that has shaped `and transformed your life.  I believe God has not "been tried and found wanting, but wanting to be tried".  God always meets us where are at and invites him to know him through His Son but He will never force himself on him.     

Monday, February 19, 2018

Mark 8 - Get Behind Me Satan!

Jesus Predicts His Death

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
There are many important verses to talk about in Mark 8, but none more important than this one.  In one verse, Peter gets the million dollar question right in answering that Jesus is the "Messiah".  And then 4 verses later when Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross Jesus says to him, "Get behind me Satan, you do not have in the things of God but man." 
I don't think Jesus is saying Peter is "Satan", but that Satan is using Peter as a tool. A few verses earlier God is using Peter as a messenger of the Good News, and now Peter is an obstructor of the true mission of the Messiah.  In Peter's defense he loved Jesus and was trying to protect him.  But, He still had in mind what men wanted Jesus to do not God's purpose for him.  
So how might we intepret this passage?  One might say you don't have to be demon possessed to be used by Satan. The word for Satan means adversary, obstructor, or accuser.  Satan opposes everything God wants for the world and especially his followers. The term Satan is used 18 times in the Old Testament, mainly in Job.  In the New Testament the same word in Greek is used 36 times, 18 of which are in the gospels. 
So Satan is real and not just an imaginary principle.  Satan has been around since the beginning of time when angels were made to worship their creator.  He resisted and became a dark angel opposed to anyone or anything that might worship God.  But it is important to remember that though Satan is real, we don't need to be afraid of him.  Why?  Because, "Greater is he who is in us than he that is in the world." 1 John 4:4
So how can we avoid Peter's mistake?  Peter's mistake was that he had in mind the concerns of man versus the concerns of God.  I don't think having in mind the concerns of man is always obvious.  It may be a subtle shift in our thinking. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2, 
"10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes."  
One of Satan's schemes might be to create in us a heart of unforgiveness or judgment.  And in way this is related to Peter's fault.  He tried to get in the way of the cross.  And when we don't forgive someone or judge them excessively we get in the way of the cross.  So God has given us the knowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, lets make sure to keep our eyes on the cross so we can keep our eyes on the concerns of God and not man! 


Friday, February 16, 2018

Mark 7 How Tradition Can Get in the Way!

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain their teachings are merely human rules.’
Jesus continues to deal with the obstinancy of the Pharisees.  In this case, they cite a tradition that was not in scripture but was passed down by the rabbis.  Though priests were required to wash their hands before they went to perform their duties in the tabernacle according to Exodus 30, they added this additional cleansing for everyday, ordinary meals.  Here is what commentator says about this custom instituted by men, 
"The biblical mandate that the priests had to wash their hands and feet prior to entering the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:19; 40:12) provided the foundation for the wide-spread practice of ritual washings in Palestinian and diaspora Judaism.” (Lane) These washings were commanded by tradition, not by Scripture. The religious eaders knew this, yet they still criticized the disciples for not obeying these traditions."
While church tradition is important is should NEVER trump scripture. The problem with human tradition is that those who created the tradition can become prideful about it.  The Pharisees' irritation with Jesus is partly because they are offended he isn't honoring THEIR traditions.  But Jesus' teaching was not focused on how many times you washed your hands before you ate, but was your heart clean.   
This was a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophesy that the leaders would honor God with their lips but yet their hearts were far from him.  Clearly what Jesus was after was sincerity and genuineness in worship not lip service.  He did not care about how they worshipped, but why they did. Was their motivation to honor and glorify God, or go through the motions to look "super religious".  
It is easy for any church, any Christian, to get caught up in rituals versus a real relationship with God.  If you think about it in relational terms, would you rather have someone speak to you in rote, or truly share with you what they were thinking and feeling.  Why would God be any different?  God desires us not anything else. 


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Mark 6 - The Day When Jesus Could Not Do Any Miracles?

A Prophet Without Honor

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.He was amazed at their lack of faith.
In all three stories in chapter 5, the person Jesus healed or delivered had faith.  The Gerasene demoniac, Jairus' daughter and the bleeding woman all recognized Jesus' power and authority and this was key to what he could do for them.  In chapter 6 we see a different theme.
Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth and as he teaches in the synagogue, the people are amazed at his wisdom.  But instead of responding with positivity and openness, they mock him saying, "Isn't this a son of a carpenter?".  And, "Isn't Mary his mother".  These were not compliments.  This is confirmed when the passage says the people were offended by him.  And the passage concludes, "Jesus was amazed (marveled) at their lack of faith".  Simply put, Jesus could not believe the people in his own town so categorically rejected him despite the evidence they saw in his teaching and miracles.  
Importantly the text says, "And Jesus could not do any miracles there".  This is an interesting statement.  It implies that there is a correlation between Jesus' ability to do miracles and the environment and spiritual temperature of the people he was working with.  Here is how one person put this,
"This was in respect to God’s principle of partnership with man. God may work with no belief, but not with unbelief."
Unbelief is a refusal to believe.  It is an exercise of free will to decline the opportunity God gives to us. Another person put it this way,
"His work was limited in this climate of unbelief. In this sense, Jesus’ power was limited by the unbelief of His countrymen." (Guzik)
It also shows that no matter how much proof some people get of the divinity of Jesus, they will reject him. But on a positive side, it also shows how much Jesus can do in a climate of belief.  After all, he brought Jairus' daughter back to life.
In the Small Catechism Luther gives this explanation in the Lord's Prayer, "God's kingdom will surely come, the question is will it come through us?" This is a good lens from which to look at thihs passage.  Could Jesus do miracles whenever he wants? Yes.  But if someone refuses to believe, he can do nothing for that person.  Jesus had more luck with unbelievers who accepted him, than supposed believers who rejected him.  To the former, he could do great things. To the latter, he could only marvel at their lack of faith!