Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Credit God

-Jesus is accused for healing a blind and mute man by the power of Satan.
-Jesus says for Satan to allow that would be absurd.
-Jesus says to continue to make untrue claims about the Spirit’s work will not be forgivable.
-When we miss what God is doing around us, we will ultimately miss the opportunity to know God.
-We must look for opportunities to give credit to God and help others to do the same.
-The better we know God’s Word, the better we will recognize what He is doing and who He is.


Have you ever given credit (good or bad) where it was not due? For instance, perhaps someone did something especially nice for you and when you went to thank the person, they are unaware of what has happened. Or perhaps, something bad happened, and you go to confront the person responsible, only to find out that the person whom you have blamed was not involved at all? We have a word for these moments – “Awkward.”

Both examples happen with some frequency and although we may feel awkward, the situation can usually be resolved. But what if we were to accuse Jesus? I am not talking about accusing Him for what He has done, but for how He did it. That is the focus of this post. Let’s take a look.

Understanding the Accusation (Mark 3.22)

Matthew and Mark both provide an account of this story. Because of the importance to the Jews, Matthew covers the story in more detail. But Mark provides a couple of important aspects that Matthew omits as well. While we are going to look at Mark’s account, we must see the context for this accusation which is found in Matthew 12.22 – Jesus healed a blind and mute man. So why the charge against Jesus that He was doing this by the power of Satan?

Well, the easy answer is that Jesus was doing things that went against the religious tradition. Many times we follow tradition over truth, especially when we can’t see the truth clearly. The same was true for the Scribes and Pharisees, which is why they had such a hard time with Jesus. But for them, it was more than just any tradition, it was THEIR tradition. However, the Pharisees were not the intentional enemy of Jesus originally; rather they were trying to protect the people from turning from God. They charged themselves with protecting the flock from false messiahs. Unfortunately, they missed the very signs that should have been obvious to them. But they did have a process (a set of guidelines) to use to determine how to respond to a newcomer. One of the rules in place was how to conduct an investigation against a person. The process to investigate had three components.

1. Observation (Mark 1 and 2).  The Pharisees had observed Jesus. No doubt, many Scribes and Pharisees would have been in the synagogue on the Sabbath day that Jesus cast the demon out as we saw in Mark 1.25. But notice, there is no charge made against Jesus here. This event certainly would have put Him in their sights as someone to watch to see what else He might do or say. Notice in Mark 2.7 and 2.16, they have questions, but do not question Jesus directly. Jesus answers their questions because He perceived the questions (v. 8) and overhears their conversation (v. 17). But the religious leaders were still in observation mode, and thus they didn’t question Him – yet!

2. Interrogation (Mark 2).  The second phase was to interrogate. The leaders had observed Jesus healing and teaching. And now it was time to get a better understanding of why He did what He did. Although they questioned Him indirectly (referring to His disciples), ultimately their intent was to question His position on why they did what they did. After all, they were His disciples! The questions related to:
Fasting – 2.18 “Why don’t your disciples do what the others are doing?”
Sabbath – 2.24 “Why are your disciples not doing what they should be doing?”
But, Jesus has also been observing these leaders, and turns the tables on them in Mark 3.4 where He questions them: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm; to save life or to kill?” This question brings them to the point of wanting to destroy Jesus. The observation stage had been completed earlier and now the interrogation stage is done. He has failed their test – “This Jesus is a problem.” So it is time to bring a charge against Him. And now we turn back to Mark 3.22.

3. Accusation (Mark 3.22).  The previous steps are fairly easily identified, but even if we didn’t know the specifics of their observation and interrogation, we might infer it from Mark’s statement that these Scribes came from Jerusalem. The inference is that they had gone to report what was known about Jesus and now came to do something about it.
(A quick note about the Scribes “coming down.” Galilee is actually north of Jerusalem, but in the ancient world the terms up and down were based upon the topography of the land. Jerusalem is in the hill country and thus is up. It is also about a 3-day walk to Galilee from Jerusalem.)

When these men arrive, they are seeking a reason to accuse Jesus. They need to make the charge public in order for the people to make their decision about this man public. The decision that was made was not because they didn’t like Jesus. It is because they didn’t trust Him. Their basis for this distrust is based in Scripture, specifically Deuteronomy 13 and 21. Again, this group is trying to protect the people – at least, that is what they are thinking in their minds. They fear Jesus is leading the people astray. This group is also trying to protect their power. If people follow Jesus, then they will no longer follow the Pharisees, the Scribes, or other religious leaders of the day. Therefore, they came from Jerusalem ready to make their intent known, and they were looking for an opportunity to do so.

Remember, this incident began because Jesus healed a blind and a mute man (Mark 12.22). The reason for the accusation was not that Jesus healed the man, but that He was able to heal a mute man. Exorcism was reasonably common in the first century, a fact recognized by Jesus when He asks what power the sons of His accusers use to cast out demons (Matthew 12.27). For the Pharisees, to cast out demons was a three-step process which will help us understand their charge against Jesus.

1. Communicate with the demon (the demon would respond by moving the vocal chords)
2. Determine the name of the demon
3. Use the name to drive them out from the person

(We might note that Jesus follows this process in Mark 5, although Legion asks to be removed rather than Jesus having to cite some “magic incantation.”)

Remember, the leaders have been observing Jesus, and in Mark 1.25, Jesus doesn’t get the name to drive out the demon nor do we see Jesus asking for the name in other instances. Jesus doesn’t need to for He has, and is, the authority! However, the key in this situation is to remember that the man was mute. He could not speak. Thus, Jesus cannot communicate and cannot get the demon’s name. Yet, He heals the man anyway. Thus, by the thought process of the Scribes and Pharisees, this must only be possible by one who is a part of Satan’s domain. But as Jesus reveals, their logic does not make sense, nor does it match their theology. Each of the next two sections help to clarify this.

Strong Man, Stronger Man (Mark 3.23-27)

The charge of the Scribes was that Jesus’ power came from Beelzebul, which is the same reference as Beelzebulb, only with a slightly different meaning. Beelzebulb, means “lord of the flies” and became a name of mockery that many Jews used to refer to the false god that many worshiped. But the proper name, which Mark uses for a very obvious reason, is Beelzebul which means “lord of the house” – typically as in a “royal palace.” This is significant because Jesus refers to the differences in kingdoms and the strong man of the house.

In a very real sense, Jesus is on trial. And so, He gives His defense by asking how can Satan drive out Satan? In essence, to be strong is to be united. Jesus, then, gives three scenarios to appeal to the logic of His hearers.

1. If a Kingdom is divided, it will not stand.
2. If a house is divided, it will not stand.
3. If Satan is against himself, he is divided, and cannot stand.

This is pure and simple logic. And the Scribes would have understood this well. But then Jesus provides a conclusion that makes the matter even clearer. Jesus refers to Satan as the strong man. Satan created a stronghold and he was lord over the house (Beezebul). Thus, it would take someone stronger than Satan to defeat him. A servant of Satan could not defeat Satan, which was the exact accusation that the Scribes made against Jesus. But Jesus says, only one who is stronger can be the victor. Only one who is stronger (has more authority) can bind the current lord of the house. And once the strong man is bound, then the stronger man can plunder that house.

That is what Jesus was doing. As the stronger man, Jesus had bound Satan and was freeing people from the oppression of the demonic realm. Jesus was plundering Satan’s kingdom by removing demons from people and removing people from Satan’s grasp. And Jesus words to His accusers were, in essence, “I am not doing this as a servant of Satan, I am greater than Satan!”

And now it was time for the Scribes to make their choice. Would they continue in their accusations or would they choose to be a part of God’s true family? Remember this story is sandwiched in between the contrasting families of Jesus – His biological one in v. 21, and His eternal one in v. 35. If these leaders followed Jesus, their accusation would be forgotten, and they would be forgiven. However, if they chose to press on and fight Jesus, the results would not only be perilous for them, but for an entire generation of Israel!

An Eternal Warning for Israel (Mark 3.28-30)

In the last verses of this week’s text, two important elements must be highlighted.

1. It is not too late. The line had not been crossed. The leader had committed a grave error which would be unpardonable if they continued. The sin committed here was blasphemy which can be against mankind, but is usually considered to be against God. But the Greek word here is in a form that means to do and to keep on doing. Thus, it is one thing for the Scribes to suggest that Jesus is acting by the power of Satan. It is another to continue to make that suggestion. Over time, doing so will lead to destruction. We can refer to this as “the hardening of the heart” which is, infamously, seen in the account of Pharaoh in Exodus 7-12).

2. This warning is meant specifically for the people in Jesus day. (A lesson exists for ours as well.)
These people were witnessing the Messiah and crediting Satan. It was a common teaching among the Jews was that the Messiah would heal the mutes! Thus, the people see the possibility of something great when they ask, “Can this be the Son of David?” which was a title used for Messiah (Matthew 12.23). The leaders step in with their answer. “No, this man is operating by the power of Satan.” So, in this moment, they abandon their belief of what Messiah will do. Why? Because to accept Jesus and His purpose, would be to forgo their power. They thought the choice was that they could follow Messiah, or they could lead others. But Jesus does not make such an ultimatum. He does say, “Follow Me” but that is so we can better lead others!

Thus, this warning was meant for a covenant people who lost their chance to see the kingdom. Twice before Israel (as a national people) did not give God the proper credit and committed a sin which was utterly costly. One sin kept the people from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 13 and 14); the other removed them from it (2 Kings 23; 2 Chronicles 34). So, Jesus is now warning the nation of Israel not to commit this type of sin again, lest they forsake the kingdom which Jesus was instituting among them. Again, their theology recognized Messiah would perform this sort of miracle. The people even believed, for a moment, that perhaps, Jesus was Messiah. But the leaders proclaimed it to be the work of Satan. And because people did not think for themselves, not only did they not get to usher in the kingdom of God, but their beloved temple and city (Jerusalem) fell in 70 AD.

An Eternal Principle for All

The particulars of this story may be related to Israel and their reaction to Jesus, but the principle from the story is pertinent to people throughout all of history. That principle is that when we do not recognize what God is doing around us, we miss the opportunity to know Him better. Jesus was directly in the midst of these people. He was doing the very things they expected Messiah to do when He came. And yet the entire nation missed Him because of the agenda of their religious leaders which was to protect and preserve their power by claiming to protect the people.

For us, we may not be able to commit the unpardonable sin in the same way, but if we reject the Spirit leading us to know God better, like the Israelites, our hearts will harden and we will find ourselves adrift from God, then fully separated from God not only in the present, but for all of eternity.

I believe the adage is true, if you wonder if you may have gone too far in ignoring God, or that you may have committed the unpardonable sin, you haven’t, for you heart is still receptive to God. The truth is that Jesus died for all sin, thus the only way to not be forgiven is to not embrace the truth of what He did – for me, for you, and for everyone for all time.


That is why our JOURNEY letter for today is:  R – Revere.

Do you recognize Jesus? Do you recognize when God is at work around you? Do you see Him in the big and the little things in life? Jesus promise, according to John 12.32, is to draw people to Himself if He is lifted up. The statement was made of His literally being lifted on the cross, but can apply to us lifting Him up in our lives and praising Him in His glory.

Opportunity:  Many will give credit where credit is not due, or refuse to give credit where it is due. When we have an opportunity to share the truth about what someone has done, we should take it, especially when that Someone is Jesus!  

Our opportunity this week includes speaking out for others around us, but I am using the next steps to maintain our focus on the passage we reviewed today.

Learn God’s Word.  If we are going to recognize what God is doing, we need to know what He has already revealed about Himself. The concern for our time is not that people give Satan credit for what God is doing, but that people give God credit for what Satan is doing. So, read the Bible, study the Bible, and do so with others. If you don’t know how, don’t worry. I will say more about this in a moment.

Live on the lookout. Every day, each one of us likely experiences God at work in some way. In God Squad and VBS, the children learn that these are God Sightings. In our world of skepticism, many will dismiss such God Sightings while others view many matters as luck. Whether the moment is big or small, as we learn to see God at work, we will notice Him even more. And as we begin to notice God at work, we can help others to see Him better as well.

Love the truth. In a prayer, Jesus said, “Your Word is truth.” Realize that the same Holy Spirit that guided Matthew, Mark, Paul, and others to write the Bible (see 2 Tim. 3.16-17) is the same Spirit living within you if you are a follower of Christ. As such, He will teach you to know it and to love. If you are not already connected to a church, find one that loves God and His truth. If you don’t know how to study the Bible, don’t be intimidated, just find someone who does and have them show you. What is important is to learn God’s Word and then apply it – and doing so in community with others. Living in community under the authority of God is basically what the Bible is about – from Genesis to Revelation.

Lead by correcting. When others misunderstand or misapply the work of God, we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4.15), and to speak the truth, we must know it (see steps Learn and Love). Jesus used simple logic to disarm His adversaries, and that may work for us at times as well. But God’s Word provides our basis. We may not change someone’s mind, but God can. However, our words and approach can help to plant or water a seed so that God can grow it.

Monday, June 27, 2016

"Beelzebul", A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

Key Scripture:  Mark 3:22

“And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, he hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.” (KJV)

“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, he is possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (ESV)

“And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, he is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (NIV)

Similar References

Matthew 12:24 “But when the pharisees heard it, they said, this fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.”

Luke 11:15, “But some of them said, he casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils.”

Looking at this verse, what stands out or jumps out at you?  Yes, the big word Beelzebub.  And we’ll get to that in a minute.

As I stated last week, word had gotten back to Jerusalem about Jesus ministry, not only to Jesus’s family, but to the religious leaders as well. The words “to come down” is used regularly in the Bible for journeying away from Jerusalem which is situated in the hill country. Here we have the big wigs traveling a great distance from Jerusalem to hinder what Jesus was doing. The distance from Jerusalem to Capernaum is about 120 miles.  So it would take several days to travel over the hilly terrain. Since Jerusalem is the capital city, these scribes would probably be more educated and would probably have more influence over the religious leaders around Capernaum and once again starting a suggestion that Jesus was possessed by a demon named Beelzebub.

Ok, now the big word “Beelzebub” which is also spelled “Beelzebul”. Beelzebub was a Philistine god worshipped in the city of Ekron (per the Old Testament).  The word Beelzebub is the Greek spelling of Baal-zebub meaning “lord of the flies”.  Baal was the Cannanite fertility god and “zebub” is Hebrew for flies.

Remember that the religious leaders and the people would only have the Old Testament to study and read from, where as we have both the Old and New Testaments. The leaders could have read from 2 Kings 1:2, “And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick: and he sent messengers, and said unto them, ‘Go, enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease.’”

It was believed Baalzebub had command over disease.  Flies congregate around corpses of the dead, and spread disease from the dead to the living and his role was to tempt men with pride.  So you can probably see why Ahaziah wanted to inquire of this god. According to demonology, when Satan first rebelled he recruited several powerful seraphim, Beelzebub among them, to fight at his side.  Once he took up his new residence in hell, Beelzebub learned to tempt men with pride. When summoned by witches or sorcerers, he appeared in the form of a fly, because “lord of the flies” was his fictitious name when he performed this role. Beelzebub came to be regarded as the leading representative of the fallen gods, even referred to as the devil himself as we see in Matthew 12:24.

Thus we have the scribes acknowledging that Jesus is performing unusual miracles and doing them by supernatural power, but they suggest His power was demonic.  Therefore they were claiming Jesus was demon possessed.  They were insinuating that Jesus had Beelzebub on his side, was in league with him, and by the prince of the devils cast out devils.  They were attributing the work of Jesus to the work of Satan who is very subtle in his lies.

But there is a “fly in the ointment.” Satan is not cast out, he usually only goes out by consent. However, we can see that this is not the case when it came to Jesus casting out devils, Jesus did it with authority. The demons knew who Jesus was, and when Jesus spoke to drive them out, they left immediately.  No trying to negotiate. Wanting more time or maybe we will. Jesus had authority over them and it happened.

Unlike our society today.  The secular world and even in some Christian areas God is underestimated. The secular world doesn’t believe that God is so mean that he would send anyone to hell.  If you’re good, you attend church, help others you will go to heaven. But the Bible tells us differently.  When Jesus returns, there will be no second chances.  There will be no negotiating.

What should be do?

1. Read and study God’s Word.  This is our sword that we can fight against Satan.  This sword is double edged and cuts going in and coming out.  We need to attack Satan with it.  The best defense is offense.
2. Be ready for opposition.
3. Be ready with your testimony.  Your testimony means more to people than just trying to persuade someone.
4. Look for opportunities.
5. Do it!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Lead

As we resume our study of Jesus life and ministry as recorded by Mark, our emphasis will be to continue trying to understand the culture in which Jesus lived and how He fulfilled His role as Messiah despite not meeting the people’s expectations. In this week’s post, we will see four principles of Jesus’ leadership that we must practice as well.

Leaders must know themselves (Mark 3.7-12).

Mark 3.7 begins with the words, “Jesus withdrew.” Why? Well, in the previous section which we reviewed a couple of weeks ago, Jesus has instigated the religious and now political leaders of the day who were teaming up to destroy Him. Thus many people believe He withdrew in order to escape persecution. And that may be. But Jesus also had just been through five tests (see Mark 2) and needed a break. Thus, I believe a part of the withdrawal was for Jesus to recharge. It wasn’t that He was trying to escape from reality, but Jesus knew that an important moment in His life and ministry was drawing near and He needed time to reflect and gather Himself.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as verse 8 reveals that people came from all around – north, east, south, and west. People came, but not to follow Him. Rather, they wanted to experience Him and see what He might do next. In verse 10, the idea of pressing in on Jesus is best understood as people bumping or jostling Him – anything to get close enough to touch Jesus. In our day, we might say they were falling all over him. In the next verse we see the contrast because the demons were falling down before Him. Man and demons, one way or the other fall in the presence of Jesus. This should remind us that, as Paul, says, one day every knee will bow.

Again, Jesus sought to get away, but the people followed. So he retreated further, this time not to the sea, but to a mountain. When we are busy, and especially when facing a major decision, we must take time to reflect. We must find a place to find some solitude. Jesus did this in Mark 1.35 by getting up early in the morning. Here, he does it by finding a place people would no longer follow. That Jesus chose a mountain is significant because God often spoke to people on the mountain – Abraham when he was prepared to sacrifice Isaac, Moses when God gave the law, Elijah when He fled Jezebel, etc. And now, Jesus goes there to hear from the Father in this ministry-defining and world-changing decision. What is that decision? To call Twelve to partner with Him.

Leaders must invest in others (Mark 3.13-19).

Jesus appointed Twelve. While Jesus had many disciples, the reason He chose twelve relates to the 12 tribes of Israel that God had established in the OT. These Twelve were called both disciples and apostles (Mark 3.14). As disciples they were to learn (disciple means one who learns); as apostles they were to go (apostle means one who is sent). By calling them, Jesus was to be their teacher and the sender. But Jesus did this in a manner different than they typical rabbi. In that time period, disciples chose their rabbi. A young boy, at age 12 would choose to follow a teacher of his choice or return to learn a trade (usually that of His father). But Jesus didn’t wait for others to choose Him. Why? They would have chosen Him for the wrong reasons. Like this motley crew of people who were doing all they could just to touch Jesus, many might choose to follow Jesus for awhile, but when times became tough, they would abandon Him. In fact, it has already happened. Notice that everyone followed Jesus to the sea, but when He went up the mountain, He had to call for people to follow.

In Luke 6, we are told more specifically what happened when Jesus went to the mountain. He did so to pray. We can infer that this prayer was about whom Jesus was to call to serve alongside Him in the kingdom work. In fact, in John 17.6, we can find more certainty as Jesus says to the Father that the Father gave these men to Him. But now for the key word in this section. In verse 14, Mark uses a from of the Greek word poieo, which means “made”. The KJV uses “ordained” but that word has additional connotations in our day. These Twelve were special, yet they were ordinary. There is nothing about these Twelve that suggests any affiliations to the elite – religious, political, social, etc. – in any way, yet Jesus chose to make them. He was making something new!

Rest assured this was a new beginning of sorts. Something new was coming, something new was here, and that something would come through these men that Jesus will make. What Jesus was making new is evident because this word “make” represented by the same word in Genesis 1.1 when God made the heavens and earth.

But here is something else. What Jesus makes of us is formed from who we are. For instance, in Mark 3.9, Jesus asked for His disciples to prepare a boat for Him so He can distance Himself a bit from the crowd while He teaches. Where did they get the boat? Likely, it is a boat of one of the fishermen. So, while Jesus transforms us in the present, He also made us in the past. He will use our gifts, our passions, our skills, and even our experiences for His glory. Whatever might be useful to God in His kingdom, He will use to do the work.

That is what the calling of the Twelve represents. Jesus is the leader, but the crowds are limiting where He can go and how much He can do when He gets there. So Jesus commissions others to do the work. Leaders must ask for others to be involved. But, as Jesus shows us, He does not leave them to fend for themselves. He molds them (literally, makes them), by being involved with them and investing Himself in their lives. But I want you to notice one more aspect from these verses. Twelve names are listed here (and in the other lists where their names are given). But most of these names are never mentioned again outside of the lists. (I am aware the names are different in other lists, but this is most likely explained by nicknames.) We hear a great deal about Peter, James, and John. But very little about Andrew. We have a couple of mentions of Thomas. The story of Levi being called, but otherwise, apart from Judas Iscariot, the rest are nameless elsewhere in Scripture. Does that mean that they are not important? Does that mean that they did not follow Jesus faithfully and serve Him well as an apostle? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. How do I know? Revelation Chapters 4 and 5 mention the twenty-four elders surrounding the throne. These twenty-four are almost certainly representing the twelve tribes or Israel and the twelve apostles, all twenty four of whom were ordained, so to speak, by God. So, many great servants will not ever be known on this earth. But what does that matter if our true reward is in heaven?

Leaders must avoid distractions (Mark 3.20-21).

These next two points are a part of what is called a Markan sandwich. Mark uses this technique frequently in His writing to build suspense or allow something to develop. This is the first direct instance in this book, although I would argue that Mark 1.1 and Mark 15.39 form a full-size sandwich given the use of the Christological title, the “Son of God.”

Family is important to many today, but nothing like it was for the Jews of yesteryear. Consider these two questions. Where did your ancestors live in the year 700 AD? Will your descendants still live in the same area you do in the year 3300? No, and you wouldn’t expect them to. But the people that lived in Galilee, Jerusalem, etc. in Jesus day were the descendants of Joshua, Caleb and the other Israelites that had come across the Jordan despite having been taken captive and removed from the area for a time.

Jesus family had the incentive to protect their name as well. (Reggie has taken a closer look at v. 21 here.) If Jesus was out of his mind, then His arrest could bring trouble for the family as well, especially if Joseph were dead (a possibility given verse 31). But their intentions would serve as a distraction. If He goes home to Nazareth, what happens next? Do the disciples go with Him? The last time we know He was in Nazareth, the people tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4.29). So what would happen now? (The answer comes in Mark 6.) Furthermore, Reggie pointed out the main concern was that Jesus was acting a little bizarre (which is a decent translation here). And Jesus just had challenged the religious authorities in their own place of worship apart from the temple in Jerusalem (Mark 3.1-6). Earlier in this post, I mentioned that Jesus went to get away to regroup and recharge. Regardless, for Jesus this was a distraction. Jesus had just prepared for a major transition in His ministry, and the attacks started coming from without (such as we will see next week) and within (his family). And it is here, that Jesus turns everything on its side.

Leaders must first learn to follow (Mark 3.31-35).

Again, the idea of family was extremely important to Jews in the first century. It is important to realize that Jesus does not negate the family’s importance in these verses; rather He redefines the family’s composition. The old adage, “Blood is thicker than water” shows that family ties are blood-based. What we will learn by the end of Mark is that God’s family is based upon the blood of Jesus, but we have many months before we will arrive at that point of our study. What we know now is that Jesus defines family by those who do the will of God. In other words, those that have a common purpose are truly a part of God’s family. And, let’s face it, we all have a “black sheep” right? But not God’s. Sure, I know the argument that Judas perfectly carried out the will of God by betraying Him, but that is not what Jesus means here. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. We do not see anything recorded about Judas that relates to love, except His love for money. So, the will of God, at least in part, must include following the two great commandments – love God and love others. For those who do, they are His family.

This is absolutely remarkable! See, no one can be biologically added to a family after being born. Certainly, adoption is possible – and adoption is an important concern of the New Testament, including here. Who gets adopted into the family of God? Any who do His will!
  • Is Jesus’ biological family welcome? Yes, if they do the will of God, even if they do think Jesus is crazy!
  • Are Jesus’ disciples welcome? Yes, if they do the will of God, even if it takes them a while to develop their faith!

In fact, what Jesus has done here is taken the concept of the family kingdom and expanded it to God-sized portions. The Jews considered the father the ruler of “his kingdom.” That meant he had rights over the children, any servants, and his wife. Those who followed the rule of the father were welcome. Jesus took this concept and made it true of the heavenly Father. All who did His will were welcome – including women (see v. 35).

But let’s not overlook one important piece of this. Jesus could lead others because He knew who was leading Him. Jesus is welcomed by the Father because He did God’s will. Many verses indicate this, but let me give a few. John 5.19 says that the Son only does what He sees the Father doing. John 17.4 says that Jesus accomplished the work the Father gave Him to do. And, most famously, Jesus asked for the Father’s will to be done even against Jesus’ own desires (Matt. 27.39). Thus, like a good and loving older brother, Jesus modeled for us exactly what it means to do the will of the Father, in this case, our heavenly Father.

Why Leaders Fail

Ultimately, what we see in Jesus is a leader who was more concerned about being and doing right than doing what was popular. He was more concerned in leading those who desired to follow God than He was in being with the crowd. Jesus set a high standard, but this passage clearly shows why so many leaders fall today. Simply, they lose their focus. Many leaders lose focus because they:
  • Forget to follow and come to believe they are the one worth following.
  • Allow distractions to keep them from the primary goal.
  • Begin to demand more from others than they invest in them.
  • Seek to appease the crowd rather than stay true to themselves.

Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus wouldn’t do that. Only people who seek their own will end up falling prey. And the best way not to fall prey is simply to learn, to keep watch, and pray.


That is why our JOURNEY letter for today is: O – Observe.

Jesus said that His family consists of those who do the will of God. He doesn’t want individuals who are more interested in building their own kingdom. He is interested in people who will help Him expand His.


Our opportunity this week comes from the idea that people need to be lead, and Jesus has called all of us to lead at some level. How can we respond to the tasks to which we are appointed?  

Learn God’s will. If we are to do the will of God, and lead others to do it as well, we better know it. This week’s prayer guide speaks directly to this – ask, seek, knock.

Live as an example. Dr. Jim says it this way. “We must follow in His steps (1 Peter 2.21) and follow those who follow Him (1 Corinthians 11.1).”

Love others. Living as an example means others will watch you, but including them in your life, and further, investing in their lives is the mark of a disciple-maker. That cannot be done once a week in a building such as this. It must be done throughout the week, in homes, places of business, etc.

Lead intentionally. Know yourself – both strengths and weaknesses. Invest in others. Avoid, or at least, limit distractions. And follow God.


Jesus set an example of what good leaders must do. Four of those qualities are:

  • A leader must know themselves.
  • A leader must invest in others.
  • A leader must avoid (or minimize) distractions.
  • A leader must know who to follow.

Monday, June 20, 2016

"Out of His Mind", A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

Key Scripture:

Mark 3:21

“And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, he is beside himself.” (KJV)

“And when his family heard it, they went to seize him, for they were saying, he is out of his mind.” (ESV)

“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, he is out of his mind.” (NIV)

Has there ever been a time in your life when someone, a parent or a spouse or a friend, said to you: “Have you lost your mind?” or “Are you crazy?” or “Are you out of your mind?” because you were passionate about getting a project done. Maybe it was restoring an automobile or working for a cause like Relay for Life; or doing research, or remodeling, or showing compassion on a mission trip?

And you know when you have gotten into these situations, sometimes you don’t want to take time to eat or maybe sleep, you don’t really take care of yourself. You may have been staying up until midnight, or 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.
This is what we have here with Jesus. He has so much compassion for the lost, He is almost doing something 24/7.  Remember back to chapter 1:35, I talked about Jesus getting up early to get alone to talk to his father.

Now let’s dissect this verse a little.  In the King James Version it says “When his friends heard of it” and in the English Standard Version and the New International Version say “when his family heard it”.  We get family from verse 31 when it says Jesus’ mother and brothers came.

Now what they were probably hearing was about Jesus ceaseless activity of preaching and teaching and healing and questioning the religious leaders. He was taking time for himself, not even to eat as we see from verse 20.

The next part of the verse, “they went out to lay hold on him,” or “they went to seize him.”  Jesus family went there with the intentions to seize him and force him to return to Nazareth with them. At this point, just like the disciples, Jesus family hadn’t grasped who Jesus really was. Don’t we react in the same way? We don’t see or hear of it much anymore, but what do you think of the preacher who stands on the corner? We may walk past and whisper to ourselves, “That man or person is crazy. He’s just not right. Someone may call the police to take him away.”

Jesus’ family may have been concerned about his health, but they were probably more concerned about the family’s reputation.  In their estimation or thinking, Jesus was acting in a fanatical and insane way.  To the Jewish people one’s name and reputation were like a badge of honor.  Don’t we react the same way about our own family? When we hear someone has done something, we may say, “He’s not like that. He would never do something like that.”  We see this in the news regarding how family and friends react to the news of a family member doing something drastic.  In the case of Jesus’ family, the son of Joseph is teaching and preaching with authority and in conflict with religious leaders.

In the last part of the verse, “He is beside himself” or “He is out of his mind.”  And we can see what the religious leaders are saying about Jesus in verse 22.  They may have started the suggestion, “He is out of his mind. That Jesus, He’s crazy, He’s out of his mind. Someone needs to do about Him.”

Regardless of what others may be saying about us, we have to decide who to follow when looking for opportunities.  Will you follow Jesus or will you follow the crowd?


1. Be ready for opposition.  Anyone who goes out in zeal and compassion to do the work of God will be met with opposition from any number of people or groups - religious leaders, from friends, from family, the enemy, etc. - and you must be ready for it.

2.  As a church, we need to come along side pastor Andy and Susan who are passionate about serving God and help them and do our part in serving. Also, we as a church need to be sensitive to pastor Andy and Susan’s needs and make sure that if they need time to regenerate, get away, go to a seminar, that we give them that time.

3.  Jesus looked for opportunities and we must also.

4.  When those opportunities arise, do it!!!  Don’t worry about what people are going to say to you or about you or if they think, “they’re out of their mind.”

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Calendaring of Easter and Passover

The history of the calendar is quite interesting. Quick: How many legs does an octopus have? Eight, right! Because “oct-” is the prefix meaning eight. Then why is October the tenth month? (And, “sept” means seven, “novem” means nine and “dec” means ten, as well. Why does February have 28 days? Well one legend says it is because one Caesar couldn’t dream of allowing another Caesar to have more days in the month named after them (July is named for Julius and August for Augustus). And the doozy of all calendar issues, in my mind, is that our first president never had his twenty-first birthday. He was 20 and the next time the calendar date came around to the date of his birth, he was 22.

But how we view the calendar affects some key dates for those who believe the Bible. This last week, our church, following the Jewish calendar celebrated Pentecost (or the Feast of Shavuout (or Weeks) as it is called in Leviticus 23), while many churches celebrated this day on May 15. The reason for this difference is because of the dates related to Easter (this year on March 27) while Passover fell on April 23-24. If Jesus, as the sacrificial lamb was killed with respect to Passover (He was, see Matthew 26.17-19, Mark 14.12-16, Luke 22.7-15, and John 18.28, 39 and 19.14), and His resurrection is celebrated on Easter,* then how can this discrepancy be? Well, the answer is relatively simple (man tried to make a system that works), while also being complex (the simplest way to say this is that most calendars are based on a solar calendar while the Jewish calendar operates on a lunar calendar).

*This post is about the dates of celebration, not the attempts to mix holidays such as the birth and resurrection of Jesus with traditional pagan holidays that were celebrated at the time. That post must wait for a later day.

First, let us see how the dates are given. Passover (Pesach) is always on the 15th day of the seventh month, or 15 Nisan. (The Jewish new year changed dates which made the first and seventh month switch places after the Law was given in Leviticus 23. Again check how our calendar changed in the date of the new year from the spring in 1752 to January 1 in 1753 – an eight month year for comparison with 11 missing days in Sept. of 1752 to sync calendars between the British Empire (Church of England) to a change made in the Roman Catholic Church in 1582.) The problem is that just like the calendar you may use daily, the first day of the seventh month of the year changes year after year after year. For instance, this year the first day of our seventh month (July 1) is Friday. That would make the 15th of July on Friday as well. But last year July 1 was on Wednesday (remember this year is leap year) and next year July 1 will be on Saturday. Thus, July 15 obviously moves as well.

This would be no problem except that Jesus rose on the first day of the week (Matthew 28.1, Mark 16.2,9, Luke 24.1, John 20.1,19). According to the calendars of that day – which must serve as the context for working from that statement – the first day of the week was Sunday. Thus, the idea is that we celebrate Easter always on Sunday. But if Jesus was killed on or near 15 Nisan, and rose three days later, what happens when 15 Nisan is on a Monday? Are we to celebrate Easter mid-week?

And thus the challenge. So, in 325 AD, the Church, meeting at the Council of Nicea decided on a few pertinent matters for the church. One such matter was to settle a long debate on when Easter should be celebrated. The decision was that it should always be celebrated on a Sunday (following the idea that Jesus rose on the first day of the week) and thus created a formula that Easter would always fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal (Spring) equinox. Thus, Easter’s date will fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21. This year, the first full moon after March 21 was on March 23rd, so Easter was March 27. (We should realize that some, like the Eastern Orthodox Church does not follow this convention – they always celebrate Easter after Passover.)

As for the Jewish calendar (and this is simplified), because they use a lunar calendar (again, simplified), which has 29 to 30 days each month (instead of our 30 and 31 in most cases), they have fewer days each year which produces the need to have a leap month every three years or so to ensure that Passover (Pesach) is in the Spring (which the accompanying feast must be at the Spring harvest). This 13-month year is referred to as a pregnant year because of the added month. This may sound odd, but recall my first paragraph for how we have arbitrarily manipulated the calendar. However, the Jewish approach has been consistent for thousands of years even if not always as scientific as it is today.

So, should when should we celebrate Easter? Well, technically, the Bible doesn't say we should, however the greatest event in history does deserve something, doesn’t it? While I think the early Councils were beneficial for various reasons, I think they erred on this issues. We celebrate the birth of Christ on a certain date regardless of day, so why not the resurrection? Sure, it would change the meaning of Good Friday, but it didn’t look good on that particular day, and it likely was Thursday anyway (again, another post – around Passover next Spring).

I hope I haven’t confused the issue further, but again this is both a simple and complex issue. Ignore the complexities if you must and just realize that different calendaring systems will produce different dates for differing holidays celebrated by different faiths. But for those that want to dig a little deeper, this issue may just be scratching the surface for you. Dig deeper if you will, but don’t overlook that the most important fact is that Jesus did die and He did rise regardless of the dates we choose to celebrate.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Feast to Remember (3000 souls of wheat)

This past Sunday was the beginning of the Feast of Shavuot. This feast is also known as the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Pentecost (which means 50). I know many churches celebrated Pentecost on May 15, but the difference in dates must wait for another post (which I plan to do in a post on Friday). You can find more about Shavuot (pronounced Shah-voo-oat) on my previous post here. In this post, I want to provide a little more depth on what happened at Pentecost!

It was on the day of this feast that the Holy Spirit descended as tongues “as of fire” on the disciples’ heads (Acts 2.3-4). Peter then gave a message imploring many of the same people who were responsible for having Jesus crucified, to now put their trust in Him, And they did! In Acts 2.41, we are told that 3000 souls were added to their number on that day. But why 3000? Well, the Bible has an answer, and it is found in Exodus.

Many people know that there are 10 Commandments, whatever they might be. Most of these people probably know of the incident with the Israelites making a golden calf. This calf was formed while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Law from God and was made because the people did not know what had happened to Moses and therefore did not know if he was coming back. When Moses (and Joshua) came down they heard the camp and then saw the golden calf.

After confronting Aaron, Moses called for all who were on the side of the Lord (Exodus 32.26). He then instructed these men to kill his brother, his neighbor, and his companion. The number that was killed was about 3000 men. What is also important to note is that Jewish tradition says this happened during the time which would become Shavuot.

Now, if we also understand that Shavuot was one of the three feasts where every able-bodied Jewish male was to go to Jerusalem (see the church’s blog), then on the day of Pentecost most of the people gathered there would have been Jews. (The term Jew is derived from the name of the tribe of Judah, and became common after the captivity in Babylon. Judah was one of the 12 tribes of Israel, so the Jews were direct descendants from the Israelite tribe of Judah (and Benjamin)).

So, at the time the Law was given, 3000 Israelites lives were removed from the community. But on the day the Spirit came, 3000 Jewish souls were added to God’s Kingdom!

But why should we consider these souls as wheat? This has to do with further understanding the Jewish Feasts as given by God in Leviticus 23. Shavuot is named because it begins 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits. While Shavuot takes place in the late Spring, Firstfruits takes place at the time of the early Spring harvest – a harvest which consisted of barley. According to 1 Corinthians 15.20-21, Jesus was THE firstfruit (the first to be resurrected).

Next comes the Feast of Shavuot during the late Spring and consists of wheat. The 3000 souls were a part of this harvest, as a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit as are all believers since until the great harvest to come in the future at the Feast of the Tabernacles (see Zechariah 12.10). This becomes clear when we see what was said about Jesus regarding the types of baptism He would bring – Spirit and fire. In Matthew 3.11-12 and Luke 3.16-17, this comment is made by John the Baptizer about Jesus. John then says that Jesus will separate the wheat from the chaff with the wheat being preserved (because of the Spirit) and the chaff being burned (by the fire). So, what, or, more correctly, who does the wheat represent? Souls that have been saved. We must recall that John’s father was a priest so John was well accustomed with the Jewish feasts, though he likely did not realize how prophetic these words would be.

Let me boil it down succinctly adding in Passover.

  • On Passover, Jesus was the Passover Lamb which was slain.
  • At the Feast of Firstfruits, Jesus was resurrected representing the first born from the dead.
  • At the Feast of Shavuot, after the wheat harvest, 3000 souls were saved.
  • The 3000 saved souls replaced the 3000 individuals killed according to Exodus 32.28.
  • The souls, from the harvest of wheat, match the statement made by John the Baptizer about Jesus winnowing the wheat after they were baptized by the Spirit.

So, what is the point? The Holy Spirit is still at work in the world today continuing to harvest the “wheat” until the Lord returns again. And for those who call themselves Christians, it is not enough to be harvested. We are to follow Jesus and thus we are not only be a part of that harvest, but we are to harvest as well. For Jesus said, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9.37-38).

The question is, how will we respond?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Feast of Shavuot

During this year-long review of the gospel according to Mark, one of the main intentions is to better understand Jesus in the culture in which He lived. One fundamental aspect that most certainly paints a picture of the Jewish world is the celebration of the various feasts. Fairfax Baptist Church has decided to study, and even participate, in each of these feasts (as best we can) over the course of this year. As such, we took a break from our current study to focus this past Sunday (June 12) on the Feast of Shavuot, otherwise known as the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. (Many churches celebrated Pentecost on May 15th, which corresponds to seven weeks after Easter. But Shavuot is seven weeks after the Feast of Firstfruits, not Easter. I will detail this difference in a separate blog later this week.)

Leviticus 23.15-22 describes The Feast of Weeks, which is the second of the three “solemn feasts” that all Jewish males were required to travel to Jerusalem to attend (Exodus 23.14-17; 34.22-23; Deuteronomy 16.16). These feasts were:

  • Passover, in early spring, included firstfruits from the first harvest, barley.
  • Shavuot, in late spring, included firstfruits from the wheat harvest. Among the many offerings given, was a “wave offering” of two loaves of leavened bread. This was the firstfruits offering.
  • Sukkot, in the fall, was the final harvest and included firstfruits of olives and grapes.

Shavuot is named because it starts seven full weeks after the Feast of First-fruits. Because it takes place fifty days after the previous feast, this feast came to be known, especially to people today, as “Pentecost” (which means 50.) Many Jewish traditions relate to this day although some of the traditions began after the time of Christ. Some of these traditions include:

  • Moses received the Law from God on Mount Sinai during the time that would become Shavuot.
  • King David is believed to have been born and to have died on Shavuot. 
  • The book of Ruth is read on Shavuot because she was an ancestor of David, and because of God’s command to not reap the harvest to the edge of the field (Lev 23.22) being given in relation with this feast.
  • The waving of the two loaves (as commanded in Leviticus 23.16) has come to mean one of two possibilities: 1) one loaf represents the Jewish people, the other Gentiles. 2) each loaf representing one of the two tablets Moses brought down from Sinai.  

The Bible says that is was on this day that Peter preached according to Acts 2 and 3000 souls were saved on that day. I will have more to say about this on my personal blog later in the week. Three common themes can be found in each of the Jewish feasts. These themes are God’s protection, God’s provision, and God’s promise. Related to the Feast of Shavuot, we see each of these as follows.

God’s Protection

  • Acts 2.27-28, 31 reveal that God did not abandon Jesus.
  • And that those who believe on Jesus will not be abandoned.

God’s Provision

  • Acts 2.17-18 speaks of God’s renewal of man.
  • Acts 2.32-36 speaks of God’s salvation for man.

God’s Promise

  • 2.30 reminds us that God promised David a descendant would sit on the throne forever.
  • 2.39 shows that God’s salvation is for all people – whether near or far.
  • 2.41-47 fulfills the beginning of the promise to build the church (Matthew 16.18). In fact, this portion of Acts is known as the birth of the congregation (Hebrew, kehilah).

I hope this brief article helps to pain a clearer picture of this feast. As for how the harvest of Shavuot relates to the other firstfruit harvests and Jesus baptizing by Spirit and fire, I will cover these in another blog tomorrow, and then on Friday, I hope to post about the difference in the dates for celebrating Pentecost (which ties back to when and how the date for Easter is calculated).

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"Follow Me"...Beyond the Law

One word that really stirs up most people in many churches is the word “change.” I believe many churches would use their bylaws to ban the word if they only thought about it. Now, the reality is that word is not so bad. You probably change your clothes daily, and perhaps moreso. But some changes are even welcome. For instance, we have had many advances (that is, positive change) in the technological realm. How about telephones? Does anyone want to return to the party-line? Most people would say they don’t even want a cord! What about medically? Many people now have a “minor surgery” related to your heart (e.g. replacing a battery for a pacemaker), Considering something related to the heart as minor would have been inconceivable thirty to forty years ago. So some changes are, indeed, welcome.

But what about in the world of religion (or church)? If you attend some place of worship, you likely know who sits next to you, behind you, in front of you, etc. The truth is that nothing is wrong with that because some habits are ok. Some traditions or customs are fine. Some even have a biblical basis. For instance, many churches ask the congregation to stand when Scripture is read. Why? Because that is what the Jews did when Ezra began to read according to Nehemiah 8. But Ezra and the others with him taught all day. Today, people complain if “we aren’t out before xxx.” Take away the air conditioning (how is that for positive change?) and the exit time will be much earlier!

The truth is people have always been this way. Some truly thrive on change. Others do not.  But in the religious realm, change is often offensive. For a church that uses a bulletin, people are less concerned if a change to the order of service is printed, especially if an explanation is given. But, Jesus didn’t provide a bulletin. Nor did His adversaries. However, as we have already established, in Mark’s account of the gospel, the next bit of action is always imminent.

Last week's post shared of two people that Jesus restored. Both instances – the paralytic man and Levi – caused others to question Jesus. This post unpacks two encounters where the actions of Jesus followers caused a stir among those who were observing Jesus with a close eye. Then Jesus pushed the envelope causing two disparate groups (the Herodians and Pharisees) to join forces to find a way not just to discredit Jesus, but to destroy Him. We turn to these three encounters now.

Jesus Introduces a Change in Timing (Mk 2.18-20)

Jesus’ ministry was continuing to gain notoriety. Mark 1.28 mentioned His fame spreading, but since then, He has healed a man with leprosy, healed a paralytic man, and associated with a tax collector and many of his friends. The leaders were looking for a reason to discredit Jesus, but His popularity would have made this difficult. In their eyes, He has done some suspicious things like associating with sinners and tax collectors, and perhaps committed blasphemy  (which was punishable by death) when He told the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven. But this incident and the next incident are indirect attacks at Jesus. In this text, “the people” note that Jesus’ disciples do not fast like the disciples of John the Baptizer and the disciples of the Pharisees.

The question here comes from some unknown group – the text merely says “the people”, but make no mistake, it was a people with an agenda. The question was about the disciples. “Why are they not fasting?” The underlying question is, “Jesus, if you are in charge of this group, why don’t you make them fast like other leaders?”

Jesus responds to this by stating that the time is not appropriate to fast. Jesus uses the analogy of a bridegroom at His own wedding. Such would be the time for a feast. The time for Jesus disciples to fast would come soon enough, but now is not that time.

This is important because Jesus doesn’t discredit fasting. He simply states that this isn’t the time for those that recognize what is happening. The Pharisees often fasted (every Monday and Thursday) because of tradition and in hopes that God would restore His people. Well, God sent Jesus to restroe the people, so there was no longer reason for the Pharisees to fast. John’s disciples, on the other hand, were likely fasting because he was imprisoned. In fact, Jesus suggests the same idea and more will happen to the bridegroom. Such an event will require fasting to begin at that time. Let me explain.

In the Jewish culture a wedding celebration lasted seven days for a virgin bride and three days for a widow. In such a case, who does the leaving? The guests. The bridegroom stays to be with His bride. But here Jesus says the bridegroom is “taken away” meaning the bride (His followers, the church) will naturally fast when that occurs. (Another mention of fasting by Jesus is in Matthew 6 where He teaches, “When you give...When you pray...When you fast.” We are given instructions on the how, so that implies that we do. But not out of ritual or custom, but out of love. As both Jesus (Matt 5.16) and Paul (1 Cor 10.31) state, what we do should be for the glory of God.

This leads to the next encounter. In the next short story, it is the Pharisees, this time, asking the question. They question Jesus (like the previous group had), but again the question is about the disciples. “Why do they do what they do on the Sabbath?” The most obvious reference is to plucking heads of grain. But Jesus and his disciples are walking, and no more than one-half mile was permitted. Any greater distance was work. (The Pharisees had written on 39 separate instances regarding what was proper or illegal on the Sabbath.). Here, the issue isn't timing, it is understanding.

Jesus Presents A Change in Understanding (Mk 2.23-28)

Jesus did not argue their interpretation, but rather its application. He cites an example from the Old Testament where David and his men were hungry and ate from the bread designated only for priests. Jesus use of this story is particularly interesting because David lies (twice) in this sequence to get what he wants (1 Samuel 21). But Jesus uses this story not merely because of a tie to food, but because of the similar nature of David’s life at this point. David was the chosen king, but had to wait until Saul, who was trying to kill him, was no longer in charge. Likewise Jesus was the chosen Messiah, but the leaders of the day were out to kill Jesus. In both cases God would vindicate His chosen one at the appropriate time.

It is here that Jesus makes His stunning statement that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Again, such a statement may be logical to us having nearly 2000 years of reflection. But again, let me provide you with a quick review of something I covered a few weeks ago – the 1st Century understanding of the Sabbath.

The Sabbath had come to mean more than just a day of rest. It was the representation of the complete rest that would be realized when the Messiah came. No more disease, no more hunger, no more meaningless work. It was the true and complete rest, which is later written about in Hebrews 3. And Jesus fulfilled this. He healed disease. He miraculously fed many. And He offered rest from a “works-based” salvation, by instead offering the grace of God (see Matthew 11.28-30).

Jesus celebrates the principle of the Sabbath. In fact, He epitomizes the principles of it. And, in doing so, He crushed the legalism of it. That was part of the problem. A true Jew could be proven externally – by circumcision and by observance of the Sabbath. To break the Sabbath was to break the covenental law of Moses. But Jesus established a new covenant – one that could not be so easily observed externally, but was to be realized internally. Jesus also calls Himself the Son of Man here, and says He is Lord of the Sabbath. Then, He proves it!

Jesus Adopts A Change in Tactics (Mk 3.1-6)

After the first two episodes of having others indirectly question His authority and integrity, Jesus goes on the offensive. It is the Sabbath, and presumably the same Sabbath day from 2.23-28. Jesus and those with Him have gone to the synagogue with Pharisees following closely behind. Why? The Pharisees did not go to worship God. They did not go to listen to Jesus, or even a Scribe, expound on the tenets of Scripture. No, they went to see what Jesus would do on the Sabbath. Specifically, verse 2 says they watched Jesus to see if He would heal a man.

Now, let us go back to Mark 1 where Jesus cast several demons out of a man. The Pharisees said nothing about this. Perhaps, because casting out demons was not considered work. Or perhaps, He was simply under observation and had not offended the religious order of the day by that time. By this time, however, as we have reviewed from Mark 2, Jesus had presumably committed blasphemy, eaten with tax collectors and sinners, not observed the customary fasts, and allowed his group to “harvest” on the Sabbath while potentially walking more than the allowed distanced. Furthermore, Jesus did not show any remorse for these acts. Rather, He challenged those who confronted Him.

Again, lest we think we are better than the Pharisees, consider that without the New Testament to guide us, we might struggle to follow this man. If I had not been a Pharisee, I likely would have been cheering them on. What this man, Jesus, was doing was seemingly counter to everything the Scriptures had taught. Or were they?!?

Regardless, Jesus instigates this incident. He asks the man to come to the forefront. In the synagogue of the day, the seats were typically around the edges, so for this man to come forward made him visible to all. Imagine you are the man. You don’t want attention, you merely slip in to be compliant with the requirements of the day. And now, though you don’t know what is specifically happening, you have become a major character – one that the world will never forget – in a scene between the great protagonist and all of the antagonists there on that day. But realize also that you, acting as the man, have stood. That act required some matter of faith. And because of that faith you are about to be healed!

Again, the man visible to everyone, and Jesus now asks a question that would have been well understood to each one present on that day. The question is from Deuteronomy 30.15 and relates to doing good or evil. This question is in the last of the major speeches of Moses and is just after the Israelites have pledged their faithfulness to God at the expense of being cursed. The question demands a choice. “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill.” Everyone was silent! Jesus knew their intentions. Jesus knew their hearts. The Pharisees knew that any answer would put them at odds with either the people or Scripture. But remember, they didn’t come here on this day for God. The synagogue was the place where people came to celebrate God. But, on this day, the religious leaders had come with intent to do harm. In fact, verse 6 says that it was this moment that led the two groups who largely despised one another, the Pharisees and the Herodians, to begin to plot to kill Jesus. In the very place God was to be honored, they began to seek to destroy His Son. Do evil or do good? The question is answered quite loudly here. Jesus did good, and they did evil!

We are months from reviewing the passage when Jesus summed up the law (Mark 12.29-30). The summation: Love God and love others. Well, isn’t that what Jesus did by healing the man? He showed God’s grace by healing another. But that really isn’t the issue. The issue was not the healing, it was when He did it. It was the Sabbath, and it was permissible to save someone’s life on the Sabbath, but not to heal (another part of the 39 guidelines to the Sabbath). This man had a withered hand, which we should not perceive to be life-threatening, otherwise, Jesus actions would have been accepted by others. We don’t know what time of day this happened, but if it is the day that Jesus was walking through the fields, then it must be mid-morning. For arguments sake, let's assume the time was 10 a.m. Realize if Jesus had waited approximately eight more hours, this healing would not be an issue. But loving God and loving others can’t wait until it is convenient. It must be done when the situation demands it, not when the sun is in a certain place in the sky.

This sums up the whole of Jesus coming and is the heart of what Jesus spoke in the two verses I skipped over earlier. Something new was needed. And something new was here.

Jesus Demands a Change in Association (Mk 2.21-22)

The approach Jesus brought to earth was radically different than what had been seen and tried before. Part of it may have been appealing but only those that didn’t interfere with the religious traditions. For instance, the Pharisees might have been willing participants in helping people find Jesus to be healed if Jesus wasn’t speaking about forgiveness or doing it on the Sabbath. But He was; and He did.

What Yeshua (Jesus) brought was not a patch to put on a garment that was old and just needed a little work. What He brought could not be contained within the old framework of Judaism. No. What Jesus brought was new. It was completely different and needed to be accommodated as such. Patches and old vessels wouldn’t work. In Revelation 21.5, Jesus says, “I am making all things new.” That began when Jesus first entered history, and it continues today. Just like the people of Jesus day, many people in our time like the idea of what Jesus can do for them, but only if it doesn’t mean changing who they are. And while we do participate in those changes, it is Jesus that does the work. It is He who began the work, and will complete it in due time (Philippians 1.6). We just have to be willing to allow Him to work. And while we must share this good news with others, we must let Jesus do the work on others as well.

The fact is we cannot hold on to the old and then add the new to it. Following Jesus requires us to abandon the past and look to the future with a different understanding. As Mark records Jesus saying in 1.15, “Repent” – turn from the old, and “Believe” – turn toward God. The problem is, as I stated last week, you and I struggle to accept the concept of grace. Jesus loves people. We like that, especially related to us and those like us. And because of His love and grace He will save them, so we think, if they will….go to church, read their Bible, pray, sing with more conviction, not work on Sunday, etc. But those things aren’t in the Bible. They are a part of our tradition. And though none of those are inherently wrong, the gospel isn’t Jesus + x. The gospel is Jesus. The issue is people will want to do those things BECAUSE they know Jesus, but they don't have to do those tasks TO know Jesus.

Identity vs. Identification

That is what makes you and I so different from Jesus. Most of us tend to see people for what we think they are, but Jesus sees them beyond their appearance and beyond the law. He sees who they truly are and who they can become. Truly it is a problem of identity versus identification. Identity is who we are, identification is how others see us and, sometimes, even how we see ourselves. For instance, our society today is concerned with gender issues, marriage issues, and bathroom issues. I really don’t think Jesus is worried about these matters. These are symptoms of something deeper. These are issues where people are claiming a false identification not holding to their true identity. That is the real issue. People are trying to change the norms of society, but only for the purpose of feeling better about themselves. The truth is we all do that. And the Pharisees did that too. Prohibitionists did it 100 years ago. The Make Love, Not War movement did it 50 years ago. And now, the current generation has made the issue Gender Identity, but not really Identity, rather Gender Identification. We cannot change identity. We can cover it, mask it, lie about it, etc., but we cannot change it. Only God can do that.

Jesus was less concerned about the customs of His day than He was with the truth of the Kingdom. And my suspicion is that if Jesus were physically here right now, He would be less concerned about which restroom people use rather than why they have created a false identity for themselves. Again, the bathroom isn’t the issue, the identity is. Like the Pharisees, we can make a law to observe which bathroom people use, but it doesn’t fix the problem of who the person is, or who Jesus could help them become. Ultimately, any bit of the false identity prevents a person from experiencing true intimacy – with others and with God. That is just as true for the Christian as it is for the religious, or for someone who has never heard the name of Christ.

That is why our JOURNEY letter for today is: E – Evoke.

It isn’t about the inclinations that others have for themselves. It isn’t about our own wishes. It is about Jesus and the need for us to consistently point others to Him showing what He has done and what He can do for them. The truth is that people need change. We do too. Until we stand before Jesus in all of His glory, we are still being molded and shaped, not by the law, but according to His grace. That is why I stand here weekly. That is what makes me tick most hours of each day. And yet I know I have further to go than I have already come. Because I am practical, and I like results, I prefer to set objective measures. But that is the way of the Pharisee. And grace is the way of Jesus. So, with that in mind, what about our next steps?

Opportunity: We must look beyond the law (religious and otherwise) to be able to address the real needs of others – needs which can only be filled by Jesus.  

Note: The steps are the same as last week. The points behind them are a little different however.

Learn God’s ways. Don’t get stuck in the customs and traditions of judging people for where they are. Help others to discover an identity in Christ (see Ephesians 1) and become what God wants them to be.

Live mercifully. Look beyond what the rules say and determine how to make someone’s life better by granting mercy to someone who needs it today.

Love grace. You and I have received plenty of grace (getting what you don’t deserve) from God. As we better appreciate it, we will find ways to love others by extending it to them as well.

Lead graciously. Everyone you guide will make mistakes. Some will not be appreciative. A few may even be resentful. However, many of us have had guides that we appreciate for their gracious leadership. Most importantly, we should all be thankful that our true Guide, Jesus, has not focused on our mistakes nor our lack of appreciation and enthusiasm at times. May we be an example to others of His grace to us.