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.

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