Friday, July 23, 2010

Mark 2:1-5

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.
And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.
And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.
 - Mark 2:1-5

1.  "...he was at home"
  • Greek is, εις οικον εστιν, which near as I can tell is, "in the house he is".
  • "The house"?  Probably Peter's house in Capernaum (reference Mark 1:29).
  • I'm reminded of Matthew 8:20: 
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
  • JFB Commentary on Matthew 8:20 - "Knowest thou whom thou art pledging thyself to follow, and whither haply He may lead thee? No warm home, no downy pillow has He for thee: He has them not for Himself. The foxes are not without their holes, nor do the birds of the air lack their nests; but the Son of man has to depend on the hospitality of others, and borrow the pillow whereon He lays His head."

2.  The paralytic 
This man is being brought to Jesus by four men, presumably so that He can heal him of his paralysis.  But the crowd around Jesus was too large, so they couldn't get the man to Jesus directly.  This is where I just find it baffling - they apparently decide that the next logical step would be to go to the roof of the house, open a hole in that roof, and lower the man down to Him.  Just baffling!  
I can't help but wonder if this isn't a picture of what Jesus was saying in Matthew 11:12:
"From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force."

But perhaps even more surprising than these letting him through a hole in the roof is the reaction of our Lord in verse 5.
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.
A couple things I want to look at here:
  1. Jesus saw their faith
  2. He forgives his sins, rather than physically heals him

First, I think I've usually missed the fact that all of the men in this instance would have had to be complicit in this whole deal.  Each one was exhibiting faith in going along with this plan, and Jesus saw that.  I also think that their faith was displayed by their doing it, by carrying out their plan, rather than just talking about it

These men did not just say, "Well, we tried and we just couldn't get close enough.  Oh sure, we could have tore a hole in the roof and let him down, but that would have been a little too much work.  Yeah, we talked about it, and it maybe it would have worked.  It's just... I mean, how rude would it have been to tear a hole in the guys roof, when if we were really meant to get him healed it would have just worked out, you know?  Obviously it wasn't meant to be and... well, it's the thought that counts, right?"

Sound familiar?  How many times in our daily lives do we have this kind of conversation, either with our selves or with those around us?  If we had put a little more effort into it, or even a lot more effort, it would have happened, but our laziness and complacency wins out and we write it off as "if it had been 'meant to be' then it would have happened that way"??
"Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."                                                                      James 2:18b
My wife pointed out while discussing this passage that parents of a sick child will often go to great measures to get medical help for their child.  True; and I think typically we see their faith exhibited in that course of action.  They believe that they will find help.  Consequently, if they didn't believe it to be so, they'd be fools to spend the energy and resources pursuing an unknown.  
** [Now, I used the word "typically" above because mere observation of human actions and behavior over a length of time has lead many an observer to conclude that people often profess belief in any number of things or ideas without the corresponding follow-up in actions.  For instance, one that smokes cigarettes may say they believe that it will cause cancer and possibly be the cause of an early death.  However, if that was what they truly believed, they would cease this habit. The innate instinct of self-preservation would/should override any addiction to the nicotine.  Yet, if truly pressed, we would have to admit that we are gambling that we'll be that slim minority that appears to not reap what we sow.  Just like the teenager that believes they are immortal, we hang on to our real belief system:  that we're not susceptible to the same forces and consequences as "everyone else".
Another example:  one may profess to believe in the Holy, Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Omnipotent God of the Bible, but pursue a lifestyle that would have to leave the observer concluding the exact opposite.  This is not to suggest that Christians do not ever sin, but our style of life should be one that reflects a striving for godliness and holiness.  The world should observe a marked difference in the Christian's style of life from that of one that does not profess Christ as Lord of their life.  Scripture tells us that this should be, among other things, marked not only by obedience to the commands of Jesus, but more so demonstrated by a love for one another, and especially for God.]
Anyway, these men demonstrated their belief and faith in Jesus to heal their friend.  If they had not had this faith, they would not have gone to such lengths to get him to see Jesus.

Secondly, Jesus shows us His divinity in forgiving sins, but also shows us the priority [spiritual vs. physical].  Scripture is replete with evidence that only God can forgive one's sins.  The following passages touch on this [emphasis mine].

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation."
Exodus 34:6,7
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Jeremiah 31:34
My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
Psalm 25:15-18
LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!
Psalm 85:1-4

Some of the scribes and teachers of the Law are present in the house, and when they hear Jesus forgive this man's sins they immediately accuse Him of blasphemy - because they KNOW that only God can do this.  In fact, I imagine them doing a double-take when they hear this

Let's try to picture what's going on here for a minute.  The people in the house would have been aware of this hole being opened up in the roof for at least a few minutes prior.  I mean, think about it: the people immediately below it had to be picking stuff out of their hair!  I imagine people were causing quite a stir as they watched this spectacle (remember, it was awfully crowded in there, so there isn't much room to which to move, so people are probably stepping on each other... at least some measure of chaos).  Anyway, they're watching as these men let a paralyzed man down on a bed, and at some point they are probably looking back and forth between this man on the bed and Jesus, waiting to see what Jesus' reaction is going to be to this unusual series of events.

Now we read in verse 5 just what Jesus' response is: He said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven".

What?  Now, come on.  You have to admit that this is not anywhere close to the response we would be expecting if we were there watching this unfold.  I think there's much in this passage to teach about the priority of things, what's more important than another.  In this case, the state of this mans soul is of ultimately more importance than the roof of this house.  We could bring this up to today and teach a good lesson on where we place our priority.  How many times do we place greater value on things over the needs of another human being?  However, instead of looking at what Jesus did NOT say, for the purposes of this blog post we want to look at what He DID say.

Jesus correctly diagnosed this man's greatest need to be his need for forgiveness.  In that assessment we can take away so very much.  As my pastor is fond of saying, "Keep the main thing the main thing".  This would be what we see happening in this passage today.  It should also be what the world sees Christ's body on earth, the Church, doing everyday:  keeping the main thing, the main thing.  It is so easy to fall into "mission drift" and focus on meeting people's felt needs, trying to "engage the culture", or mistakenly subscribe to a kind of theology that sees Christians' highest goal to "make the world a better place".  Often, we make elaborate arguments suggesting that every little focus is ultimately lending to the betterment of the "Kingdom", and with each one of these tiny adjustments in our focus we slowly drift away from the Cross, from the Main Thing, until we find that we've completely lost our view of the Cross.

The point:  it's human to see this situation and assess the man's greatest need to be physical healing.  I think I would be correct in saying that this is our flesh talking.  Whether we're looking at our selves, or our fellow brothers & sisters in Christ, or any other person, we should be Spirit-minded and led by the Spirit.  And as we'll look at in the next section, we'll see that when we have our priorities right, our actions will affirm and confirm that Spirit led view.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Being Content with an Ordinary Life

I'm echoing this post from another website.  It spoke to me and I have to imagine that others struggle with this as well.

God is a God of the Mundane: Are You Content with Ordinary?

God is the God of the mundane. 

Though he is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, he is very content living with ordinary people, while engaging them in the ordinary vicissitudes of life. We definitely see this idea in the Gospel. (See Philippians 2:5-11)

This is good news for us because we are very ordinary people and most of each of our lives is characterized by the mundane. Our life's highlight reel will be short:

   1. Birth
   2. Salvation
   3. Marriage
   4. Children
   5. Physical Debilitations
   6. Death of loved ones
   7. Death

Outside of these few events, everything else in life is pretty much normal or ordinary. This is hard for some people to embrace because of our sinful desire to be godlike. (Genesis 3:1-7) We build our towers of Babel, reaching to higher heights, only to be frustrated, but rarely deterred. (Genesis 11:1-9) We are an individualistic culture, largely shaped by the fame we see in sports and in hollywood. Until we find the elusive pot of gold, we will not be satisfied.

Amazingly that "pot of gold" was found in a manger, a cross, and an empty tomb.

Are You Content?

How are you at being content? Are you characterized by contentment? Has the noise of your soul been quieted by a peace that passes your finite understanding of things? (Philippians 4:7) Are you living in the good and satisfaction that the Gospel brings to your life each today?

Typically for me and maybe a few others, who are not satisfied or content with the mundane, it is because of our unbiblical dream chasing, that elusive “pot” at the end of the elusive rainbow. When my thinking drifts from the satisfying simplicity of the Gospel, I become part of our larger world who is made up of individualistic people, who preferentially do not value community, but put self-interest ahead of others. (Philippians 2:3)

These are very small people, living shallow lives, who have re-edited themselves into believing the lie about themselves that they created. Sadly, these folks never seem to come to the truth and personal freedom found in the Gospel. Rugged individualism and self-interest alienates a person from God and others. This is a battle I have to fight each day.

Let Me Introduce You to an Amazing Man

Though Jesus was God (truly great), he entered into our mundane world and gave himself up for us (other-centered), so we could receive the ultimate imperishable, inheritance that will never fade away. (1 Peter 1:4) Like Christ, true greatness is found by pouring your life into the lives of others. Gospel-centered living is life’s best solution for living in the mundane.

Application Questions and Thoughts

  1. Define true greatness? What would you say is truly great? 
  2. When you die, how will you be characterized? 
  3. Do you value the community over your personal desires for greatness? 
  4. Ask your children (or friends) what you are most interested in? Ask them to describe your passion? 
  5. Do the scales of your life tip toward serving others or serving self?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mark 1:35-45

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, "Everyone is looking for you."  And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out."  And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean."  Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, "I will; be clean."  And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them."

But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

(Mark 1:35-45)
  1. Jesus gets up before dawn (still dark), goes away to a private (desolate) place, and prayed.
  2. Since it says that Simon with the others searched and found him, who is the "everyone" that is looking for him?  New people this morning that are looking for the healing that was taking place last night?  Wouldn't he have said, "we have been looking for you", if it had only been them?
  3. In verse 38, Jesus tells us why He "came out": to preach in the towns.
  4. The leper is violating the law by approaching Jesus (a leper came to him).
  5. This leper knows that Jesus can do whatever He wills.
  6. Jesus pities this man because of his condition.
  7. Jesus sternly charges this man to keep quiet, but also keep the Mosaic law regarding this healing, proving to the priests that he is now clean.  Jesus wants the priests to know, but he doesn't want the people to know.
  8. This man, having just been healed, disobeys the Lord, and the news of this prevents Jesus from entering towns.
  1. Who were the people looking for Jesus?  Was it anyone besides the disciples? 
  2. What is the significance of Jesus going away alone?  Could He not have prayed at the house?
  3. What all is wrapped up in Jesus' statement, "...for that is why I came out"?
  4. What exactly moved Jesus to pity this man?  Was this because of something more than the leprosy?
  5. Why does Jesus not want the leper to tell others about this healing?  Why does Jesus want the priests to know?
  6. How did this hindrance of entering towns affect Jesus' ministry?
  1. What can we learn from Jesus' getting up early and finding time alone with His Father?
  2. What do we learn about the motivation of those that seek healing, but then fail to obey the Lord?
  3. What does it mean for our daily lives that Jesus said that He was here to preach?
  4. Is there a lesson about him taking on the reproach that was once the leper's and that consequently, now the leper has the liberty that Jesus had?

Topic #1:  Early morning, private time with God.

We can find all through the Old Testament this devotional act of giving God priority in the early morning [emphasis' mine]:
  • I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. (Psalm 119:147-148)
  • O God, my God, to you I rise early. My soul thirsted for you. How often my flesh longed for you in a barren and untrodden and waterless land. (Psalm 63:1)
  • On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. (Psalm 63:6
The first watch is 6-9pm, the second watch 9-12 midnight, the third watch12 midnight – 3am, and the fourth watch is 3-6am.
  • O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalm 5:3)
  • They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. (1 Samuel 1:19)
  • And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, "It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts." Thus Job did continually.  (Job 1:5)
  • Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! (Psalm 57:8)
  • Then Hezekiah the king rose early and gathered the officials of the city and went up to the house of the LORD.  (2 Chronicles 29:20)
  • Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street.  (Lamentations 2:19)
Mark tells us "very early in the morning" - πρωΐ ἔννυχα λίαν (prōi ennucha lian) - and according to Strong's, prōi is "the daybreak watch", or "the last watch of the night from three to six a.m.", as Robertson's puts it.  Then, ennucha lian is "by night, before day" and "greatly, much"; so this would be the earliest part of that daybreak watch, and while it is still dark out.  By comparison, we can look at Mark 16:2 where it says, λίαν πρωῒ  - lian prōi, or early, but after the sun had risen; notice that the word, ἔννυχα - ennucha, is missing here, showing that it's not still dark out.
So what exactly is Mark driving at here by mentioning this?  I think that this suggests that perhaps Jesus made it a point to rise early.  He did not just wait to meet with God when He happened to wake up, and He obviously did not wait for the sunrise to wake Him.  Therefore, we must deduce that He was awakened by some other means.  I would suggest that perhaps this is related to the thirst that David mentions in Psalm 63, the longing for God, a hunger for that communion with His Father.

Topic #2:  Healed, but disobedient?

So, this man is healed of his leprosy and told to tell no one, but just to appear before the priest to make the necessary sacrifice.  Instead, he tells everyone.  Now more and more people are flooding out into the towns to get near to Jesus. 

My question is what do we take away from this?  On one hand I think the leper couldn't help himself, he was so excited and happy to have been cured of his leprosy that he couldn't withhold the news.  He probably even thought that he was really doing a good thing by telling everyone.  On the other hand, I see a selfish, hastily made decision to spread the news without thought to the consequence.  Perhaps it is both; or neither.

Do I do this?  Categorically, I definitely hold myself in that box where often I think that my good intentioned thoughts, words, deeds, etc. are "helping God out", even though they may very well go against what I know to be the His revealed will, that which is spoken to us through His Word.  Maybe somehow I presume on His forgiveness or mercy, knowingly bending the rules just a little, because "He'll understand... I just had to do/say/think that!"

However, as with the leper, regardless of our intentions, we may be oblivious to the consequences of what we think are harmless (or even in our sinful hearts - excusable) actions.

Topic #3:  "...for that is why I came out."

I thought about this as I was reading it: has anyone ever asked you, "Why did Jesus come to earth to live among us?"  (Or maybe some variation on that question.)  What has been your/my answer?  Do we often say, "To save sinners", or "To heal the relationship between God and man", or "To die on the cross, paying for sin, satisfying God's just wrath, so that believers could be made right with God" ?

I'm not going to comment on those answers, but I do want to just focus briefly on the answer that Jesus gives to this question.  In this context, Jesus has just spent all night healing the sick and possessed.  It's the next morning, His disciples have found Him out in the desert alone, praying - and they want Him to come back with them because everyone is looking for Him.  Instead, Jesus tells them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out."  

To preach; that is why He came.  Not just to heal the sick and demon-possessed.  That is how the Gospel is spread.  It is the God-ordained means by which people are made aware of the good news.  As Paul says later, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).  At this time, even the disciples do not understand the true nature of Jesus' mission on earth, but later they will understand.  It's about preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Romans 10:14-15 -
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Topic #4:  Reproach for liberty?

Lastly, I see in this passage a contrast of sorts.  Or perhaps, maybe something like a picture of the Gospel:

This leper: A man that was previously, by law, not allowed to come near the town, banished to the wilderness, is now free to enter the towns.  I think I was like this leper - unclean, unable to approach God, to come near to Him by anything that I could do... nothing that I can do myself to change my condition before a Holy God.  I need a Savior, One that can heal me, and take away the very thing that prevents me from communing with God.

Christ: He was once free to move about from town to town without little effort, now for the most part is forced to remain in the wilderness.  It seems that He willingly trades places with this man, going from the relative ease of movement to that of an outcast.  Just as He did on the cross, He willingly took on the sins of every believer, making Himself the leper, bearing the reproach before the Holy God, taking the wrath in our place so that we might be allowed to draw near.

Glory be to God!