A Miraculous Sign – Mark 8

            I was watching TV the other night. One of the characters, in justifying his lack of respect for local religious customs, said, “I only believe what I see, and even some of that I don’t believe.” What a sad statement about the times in which we live. But was it any different in Jesus’ day?

            The religious leaders were constantly challenging Jesus about His disciples not following the religious traditions. The religion, which began with God’s miraculous rescue from Egypt, had become just rules, regulations and traditions. I’m reminded of the movie “The Fiddler on the Roof” in which Tevye explains that their traditions govern what they eat, how they work and even what clothes they wear.

            In this instance in Mark 8, the religious leaders come to Jesus and ask Him for a sign from heaven. I would have rolled my eyes, heaved a sigh and given a sarcastic, “What do you think I’ve been doing?” But verse 18 gives Jesus response, “He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.’” (NIV) In Matthew’s account of this encounter, he quotes Jesus as saying, “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be fair weather for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” (Matthew 16:2-4 NIV) And in Matthew 12:40 He says, “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (NIV)

            They had all of Scripture, the law, the Psalms, the prophets, and yet were blind to God’s Miracle standing right in front of them. And even after His resurrection, they refused to believe.

            Are we any different in the 21st century? “I only believe what I see, and even some of that I don’t believe.” This is not uncommon in our day. “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20 NIV) “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” (Psalm 19:1 NIV) He is showing miraculous signs every day throughout creation if we just stop for a moment and look around us. Open your eyes and see!

Advertisements

He has done it! – Psalm 22

Have you ever been lost? It’s terrifying! Felt utterly alone? Forsaken by everyone? The last one standing on your principles? You’re in good company. David felt that way. Jesus felt that way. Stephen experienced it in Acts 7. Many Christians throughout the ages have felt that way, but we are never alone. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”(KJV)

            There are quite a few familiar phrases in this Psalm, starting with verse 1: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (NIV) Verse 8 says, “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: ‘He trusts in the Lord, let the Lord rescue him. Let Him deliver him, since he delights in Him.’” (NIV) Verses 16-18 give an exact picture of Christ’s death on the cross.

            But then David changes his focus to praise. “In the congregation I will praise You.” (vs 12 NIV) This reminds me of Paul and Silas sitting chained in a dark, dank Philippian jail cell, arrested for preaching the Gospel. Then in the middle of the night they just started singing praises to God and praying. The story in Acts 16 says that there were other prisoners there as well hearing the prayers and praises. And what was God’s response? And earthquake, deliverance, and a chance to share the Gospel with their jailer.

            I don’t know what David was suffering through at the beginning of the Psalm, but somehow in the midst of it God gave the strength to praise. And when David’s focus shifted, he saw his Deliverance. He understood that no matter what man did to him, “Dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over nations.” (vs 28 NIV)

            When we quit focusing on the waves crashing around us and lift our gaze instead to God, we see that He is in control and will lead us through the trials we currently face. In the end “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him.” (vs 27 NIV)

            Turn your eyes upon Jesus

            Look full in His wonderful face

            And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

            In the light of His glory and grace. (“Turn you eyes upon Jesus” by Helen H. Lemmel)

            As you adjust your focus and give Him praise, you can say with the Psalmist, “He has done it!” (vs 31 NIV)

Where is your trust? – Psalm 20

Fear. Nightmares. Day-mares. The daily news shows our reality. Another school shooting. More death. More horrors everyday, everywhere.

When 9/11 happened, our youngest son was 2 1/2 years old. We had to finally turn off any news coverage of the events if he was awake, because he was terrified that those bad guys were going to crash an airplane into our house. We had to keep reminding him that we weren’t near the big cities where it happened. And we prayed everyday for God’s protection for our family, our nation and our President.

In Psalm 20, David is doing the same thing. In verse 1 he prays, “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you.”(ESV) What is the day of trouble? A financial crisis? A marriage falling apart? The sickness or death of a loved one or even a child? Where do you turn for answers in these times of trouble? “May He send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion.”(vs 2 ESV) Do you cry out to God in those times of struggle, of pain, of loss?

I love verse 7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”(ESV) I’ve heard people say, “Might is right” or “Only the strong survive”, but still God’s chosen people survive. Even with the Hitlers, the Inquisition, the pogroms of Russia and Eastern Europe, they survive; they thrive. Even with the persecution, the martyrdom, the ridicule His Church survives and grows. Why? “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed.”(vs 6 ESV) God protects. God provides. God comforts. God answers. God saves.

“We trust in the name of the Lord our God.”(vs 7 ESV) There is no name higher! “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”(Acts 4:12 ESV) “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.”(Philippians 2:10-11 ESV) That name! I trust in that name for my salvation, for strength in time of trial, for comfort in grief, for my eternal life. Where is your trust?

Children’s Bread – Mark 7

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Jesus and His disciples, always being surrounded by crowds wanting something from the Lord. It must have been exhausting! Being the mom of four boys, I know how taxing it was for me when they were younger and all wanted my attention at one time. Jesus had hundreds and even thousands making demands of Him at any given moment.

In Mark 7:24 we see that, “He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden.” (NKJV) He’s tired and wants some rest a break from work,but He had a ministry to perform.

A woman, a Gentile, comes to Him, begging Jesus to remove the demon from her daughter. I Matthew’s account, Jesus responds to her, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”(Matthew 15:24 NKJV) He’s been sent to bring Israel back to repentance.

But the woman persists in begging Him to remove this demonic oppression from her daughter. Once again Jesus responds, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”(vs 27 NKJV) We may think this is cruel, Jesus seemingly comparing this woman and her daughter to dogs. But He is making an analogy. He was sent to do a job: minister to Israel, prepare their hearts, die, commission His followers to spread the Gospel throughout the world.

This woman and her concerns were outside of that plan. But her answer to Jesus touched His heart of compassion; “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”(vs 28 NKJV) That is faith! Jesus had encountered faith like this in another Gentile: in Luke 7 we read of Jesus healing a centurion’s servant and Jesus says, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel.”(Luke 7:9 NKJV)

Jesus responds to this woman’s faith by saying, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”(vs 29 NKJV) He responded to her faith.

Even now, Jesus responds to our cries of faith. “Lord, I’m unworthy, but I believe You died for me!” “Lord, I believe!” “Lord, forgive me!” He hears every heartcry. He loves us and will meet our needs. Cry out to Him now, to meet you where you are and heal your hurting, searching, longing heart.

John, Herod and Jesus – Mark 6

A nursed grudge. A festering wound on the heart. Satan uses these for his purposes. A bullied student comes to school with a gun. A disgruntled fired employee blows up his former employer’s car or business. Grudges are evidenced on the news and crime dramas nightly.

            Jesus – the name on everyone’s lips caught Herod’s attention. He was scared. People were saying this was John the Baptist raised from the dead and that was why he had miraculous powers. Others said He was Elijah or another prophet. But Herod was sure that it was John come back from the dead and coming after him, because he’d given the order to have him executed.

Herodias, Herod’s wife, was furious with John because of his condemnation of their marriage, after all who cared if she’d been married to Herod’s brother and that was against God’s law (see Leviticus 20:21). Because of her anger Herod had John arrested. Herodias wanted him executed, but Herod was afraid to do so and besides he liked to talk to him and listen to him. So the anger Herodias held festered and grew in her until it became all-consuming.

One night Herod held a feast for his commanders and other high-ranking officials. Herodias sent her daughter out to dance for them. Herod was so pleased he offered her anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom. After conferring with her mother she said, “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (vs 25 NIV) Herod did it, because of his promise.

I wonder how long Herodias gloated over her victory over John. I wonder how soon her guilt and hatred once again consumed her. We know that Herod was haunted by his fear and guilt. He had known John to be righteous and holy. He knew that it was wrong to execute him.

What grudges do you hold? Are they festering and eating away at your joy? In Matthew 6:12 & 14 Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” If you want peace, let go of the grudges; forgive your brother or sister and begin once again to feel the peace that passes human understanding and the joy of the Lord. Let it go and be freed.

Talitha, Koum! – Mark 5

            Do you have a favorite Bible story? Maybe you love hearing about Joshua and the wall of Jericho, or maybe David and Goliath, or Jesus birth. I loved hearing my mom tell the stories from the Bible; she was my favorite Sunday school teacher. I especially loved hearing her talk about some of her favorites; Ruth and Naomi, Elisha and the Shunamite woman, Dorcas. But my favorite is this story of Jesus and Jairus’ daughter.

            Jesus stepped out of the boat and was immediately surrounded by people. Out of the crowd stepped Jairus, a ruler of the local synagogue. He fell down at Jesus feet and begged Him to heal his daughter who was very ill. Jesus agreed to go with him.

            As the crowd around Jesus pressed in a woman who had been suffering from a debilitating bleeding disease, which had cost her not only her health but also her livelihood and all her money, stepped close enough to touch Jesus clothing. She thought, “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.” (vs 28 NIV) Jesus stopped and looked around the crowd knowing what had happened and asking who had touched Him. The woman stepped up and confessed what had happened. Instead of condemning her, Jesus replied, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (vs 33 NIV)

            At that point, some men approached Jairus and told him that his daughter had died and there was no longer any point in bothering Jesus. Jesus turned to Jairus and said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (vs 36 NIV) Jesus made everyone but Jairus, Peter, James and John stay behind as they went on to Jairus’ home. Upon arriving, Jesus told the mourners that “The child is not dead but asleep.” (vs 39 NIV) They laughed at Him but stepped out of His way as He, the parents and the three disciples entered the girl’s room.

            I can just see the look of tenderness in His eyes as He looked on this little one, who He loved, and can hear the love in His voice as He gently took her hand and said, “Talitha, koum!” (Little girl, arise!) And she opened her eyes and got up, alive and well.

            That’s the kind of God we serve. He has power over sickness. He has power over death. He has compassion on us, especially in our time of greatest pain or need. He loves us and always wants what is best for us. Throw yourself at His feet; tell Him your need, your fears, your pain, and then watch for Him to heal your hurting heart and work His will in your life. Prepare to be amazed!

The Sower – Mark 4

We live in farm country, the nation’s bread basket, surrounded by fields of wheat, corn, molo, soybeans, sunflowers and hay. It is so interesting to see each of those growing, going from dirt rows, to seedling, to stalk, to grain, to harvest. And each is ready to pick at a different time. Yet the farmers know what to do and when, which field to plant what in, and which seed produces the highest yield. It’s fascinating!

            In Mark 4:3-20 Jesus talks about a farmer going out to sow seed. As he tosses the seed around the field, some lands outside the tilled, prepared ground. Some lands on the path, which is hard from many feet walking on it and packing it down. The birds see this seed and take it. Some seed falls on rocky ground, where it can’t take root or get the moisture and nutrients it needs to grow. When the sun comes up and the wind blows, it withers and dies. Some seed falls into weeds, which grow and choke out the struggling plant. But some seed falls on the ground that is soft and ready. This seed grows, thrives and produces a crop of thirty, sixty or one hundred times the amount that was sown.

            As often happened, after the crowds went away, Jesus disciples asked Him to explain the parable. He explained that the farmer was sowing the Word and the soil was people’s hearts. Some had hard hearts and Satan came and took the seed of the Word before it could penetrate. The rocky soil are those who hear the Word and at first are excited but never put down roots of reading the Word, praying, and spending time in fellowship. So, when trouble comes, they have no root to stand on and fall away. The weedy soil is people whose hearts are so full of other stuff, worries, cares, focusing on finances, work, promotions, keeping up with their neighbors, getting ahead in the world, that there’s no room for God. Then there’s the seed that is sown on the good soil. That’s the people who hear God’s Word, read it, pray, fellowship with God and His people and in turn go out and tell others, bringing more people to the Lord.

            What type of soil are you? Are you producing fruit for the Lord. Today, make God a priority and spread the news of His kingdom? I’m going to heaven, but I don’t want to go alone; I want to take as many friends, family, and others with me as I can.