Gospel of Mark
This is our last sermon in the Gospel of Mark and we’re going to end with a bang, covering the entirety of chapter 13. Let’s begin by reading it together:
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13 ESV)
Some of you are very excited by that chapter because you love apocalyptic theology, end times information, and talking about what will happen when Christ comes. Others of you might see no value in talking about last things, because it doesn’t affect your daily life. You’re tired of the endless talking and controversy and can’t stand it when preachers try to sound like they have any idea what they’re talking about when it comes to Judgement Day and the Coming of Jesus Christ. Others of you were just confused by all of the strange language and have no idea what Jesus was talking about and dread the idea of a sermon that even tries to explain it – and you’re not alone because I feel that way too!
In truth, my intention today is not to try to explain the end times to you. Books, blogs, movies, television and radio shows have been dedicated to trying to figure out the end of the world – and I don’t intend to try to summarize all of it in one sermon. What I want to do today is address a few important things about how we talk about Apocalyptic (meaning “prophecies about the end of the world”) things.
Predictions & Timing
Let’s start with the first and most obvious question that people seem to want to know and have invested gallons of ink into: When is the end of the world?
Our modern times are inundated with supposed prophets who, through various weird and wonderful means, pull dates out of the air and get people stirred up about the end.
You probably remember Harold Camping who recently predicted that Jesus would come back on May 21, 2011. A bunch of people thought he was right, got really excited, took to the streets, and then – he wasn’t right. When the May 21st date didn’t happen, he said that it was actually a spiritual judgement and that the physical rapture would happen on October 21st. It didn’t. He was also wrong the previous time either when he predicted that Judgement Day would be on September 6, 1994.
If you’re curious about this stuff, there is a wiki-page keeping track of all the predictions that people have been making – and there are six more on the list to come. One of them that has some people riled up about today is the “Four Blood Moons” theory put out by Mark Blitz and John Hagee. His date is September 28, 2015, so we have that to look forward to in the Fall.
I don’t want to get into the details of why these guys are wrong, because they’re not worth my breath. I really wish that Christians would read their Bibles more so they can debunk these guys, but I sympathize that they really want Jesus to come back.
Remember, that at the beginning of Jesus’ talk about the end it says, “Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?’ And Jesus began to say to them, ‘See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.’” (Mark 13:3-6) and then later in vs 21, “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.” (Mark 13:21-23)
No matter how much fascination there is with details and dates, Jesus Himself declared that He didn’t know when it was going to happen, and that a lot of people will come and lie about it. Everyone who has said they have figured it out has so far, been wrong. Add to that that the kind of language we find in scripture regarding the last days of earth is almost always figurative, illustrative, word-picture-type language that is very difficult to interpret, even for the best scholars.
Some of these people making predictions about the end are false prophets, sent by Satan to distract the church from their mission and get people arguing, majoring on the minors, instead of loving God and people. They’re going to sound really good, and even look very spiritual, but their whole task is to lead people astray. But not all of them. There have actually been many, many people throughout history that have been absolutely certain about the date that all the end-times prophecies of scripture would come start and Jesus would come back.
It goes right back to the days when Paul was writing. In 2 Thessalonians 3 Paul has to command the church to tell some of their people to get back to work because they had quit their jobs thinking that Jesus was coming back soon. When it didn’t happen, they came to the church asking for support. Paul tells the church not to help them, but to command them to go find a job.
A couple generations after the Apostle John finished the biblical Book of Revelation, a man named Irenaeus – who was a disciple of Polycarp, who knew the Apostle John personally – made a prediction that the world would last for 6000 years from the time of Noah.
Saint Augustine of Hippo, a great 4th century theologian and philosopher, famous for his works City of God and Confessions, one of the most influential figures in early Christianity, still read and studied by serious theologians today, was convinced that Jesus would return by 650AD – for him, 250 years in the future.
After the Protestant Reformation, when the Bible was translated into common language and the Gutenburg press made it available to everyone, predictions starting coming out everywhere. And as the Reformers watched corruption of the Catholic church and the rise of the Islamic empire over Europe, they started to feel that the end was near.
Martin Luther, on Feburary 16th, 1546 wrote:
“I hope the last Day of Judgment is not far, I persuade myself verily it will not be absent full three hundred years longer…. God neither will nor can suffer this wicked world much longer, but must strike in with the dreadful, and punish the contemning [to treat with contempt] of His word….” (Luther’s Divine Discourses, Captain Henry Bell, Pg 7-8)
And so it continued for the last few hundred years. Good preachers and false teachers falling into the trap of trying to predict the second coming of Jesus. Some out of evil motives, others out of a loss of hope and a desire for the end to come. A lot of Christians feel the way Luther did as we watch more corruption in the church, the rise of more evil in our culture, and see pagan religions grow in popularity and number – and yet, God has continued to be patient with this world, holding back His hand of judgement year after year.
It is Not for You To Know
When it comes to people predicting the dates and circumstances of the coming of Jesus I often turn to Acts 1:6-8, the last words of Jesus before He Ascended. They knew Jesus was about to leave and they had a final question. It says,
“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” In other words, “When are we done? How long until you finish the job once and for all? When are you going to destroy all the enemies and renew this land?” It’s the same question all believers ask themselves eventually. But Jesus answered them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
He tells them not to worry, that God the Father has it under control and knows what He’s doing, and that they don’t need to know “times or seasons”. What do they need to know? They need to know that they have a job to do. They will be given the power of the Holy Spirit to go into the whole world to share the Gospel.
It’s as though Jesus says, “Don’t get stuck on days, dates and details about my second coming. You have bigger fish to fry. Get out there and be My people, be My Church, raise up more disciples, spread my love and message, and let God worry about the end times.”
Two Important Things
Why then, did God send prophets to tell us about what will happen in the end? If it’s none of our business, then why tell us anything? It’s not because He wanted us to spend our hours trying to decipher the minutia of every detail, but to give us two important reminders.
First, that God is in charge of everything, right from the beginning, and already knows what’s going to happen. We look at how the brightest theologians that Israel had to offer read the Old Testament prophecies and we realize that most of them got it wrong. They didn’t figure out who Jesus was, what His mission was, how He would conquer their enemies, or that He would die. It was all there, but they didn’t understand it clearly until it was done. Sure, they had some figured out – like the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, of the tribe of Judah, spend time in Egypt… but they didn’t have the full picture. Not even close.
It’s the same today. We have fuzzy details about the future, and some interesting predictions, but we don’t exactly know how it’s going to happen. The biggest lesson of these prophecies is that God is trustworthy and has everything under control. That no matter what we see around us, no matter how troubling, there aren’t any surprises to God.
In fact, the Book of Revelation, the greatest source of Apocalyptic prophecies in the New Testament wasn’t primarily written to tell us about the end times. It as written to encourage Christians to resist the temptation to give up their faith in the face of great hostility and persecution. It was to tell them that persecution was coming, that trial was coming, and that it was going to get worse before it got better – and that they needed to remember that God was in control and they needed to remain faithful to Jesus as their only Saviour.
If you’ve read Revelation then you know that there is a LOT of worship music in it! It’s a book mean to point us to the greatness, the power, the authority of God, the wonder of His presence, and the amazing life that awaits all those who persevere in their faith until the end. Nothing compares to Him!
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!… “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev 4:8,11)
Some people wanted to compromise and give into Emperor Worship and allow pagan practices into the church because it would be easier – and John, in the book of Revelation says, “NO! Sand fast, don’t be corrupted! Perilous days lie ahead and you need to remain faithful to the only one who can get you through them! It’s not worth compromising! Jesus is the only one worth following! He’s the only one who can save, the only one who can break open what God has sealed and bring us through to the end.
“Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:1-5)
We may not know exactly what’s going on there, but we do know one thing: Jesus is the only one, the only way, that has the right and the power to do what is necessary to save us.
The second reminder that we are supposed to get from this kind of writing in scripture is that we need to be ready. Jesus describes our current troubles as “birth-pangs” (13:8)– the pain before the big event. He says in verse 28 that what we are seeing is the branch getting ready to produce fruit. He is coming back, and there will be signs of His coming, but those signs aren’t meant to cause you fear or to distract you – they are meant to tell you to get ready. Over and over, along with all of the talk about what will happen, Jesus gives us warnings to be ready.
- Vs 5: “See that no one leads you astray.”
- Vs 9: “Be on your guard.”
- Vs 11: “Do not be anxious.”
- Vs 23: Be on your guard. I have told you all things beforehand.”
- Vs 33 “Be on guard, keep awake.”
- Vs 35: “Stay awake.”
- Vs 37: “Stay awake.”
Why does he say that over and over? Because we are all in danger of falling asleep. He will take a long time coming, and it will be easy to forget that He’s ever coming back, and therefore we will go to sleep. His final parable was a story about a man who goes on a journey, leaving his servants in charge. That’s Jesus. He ascended to heaven and left us to tend to His work. A diligent servant realizes his master might be home anytime and keeps the place clean, sets the table each night, prepares His food, and has the house ready for him. A poor servant does that for a time, but after too long starts to think the master will never come back – so they stop cleaning as much, they start to sleep in the masters bed, they treat it as their own, pretending to be the master of the house, and they sleep later and later into the day, they get lazy, and they sleep all the time instead of doing they work they are intended to do.
Until the master comes home. Then judgement has come.
That’s the second reminder: Stay awake. Continue to be ready. Keep proclaiming the Gospel. Keep enduring the great trials. Keep patiently waiting for the Master to come back. A lot of the New Testament is written to churches who are suffering or about to endure suffering. It’s part of the Christian life, and should not be a surprise. That’s why the book is there for us. To give us hope, wisdom, encouragement, correction, training and a reminder of all that has been done for us.
The Story of “It Is Well With My Soul”
In a moment we are going to sing the song, “It is Well with my Soul” which is a perfect ending for today’s service. Some people get sucked in by the false prophets, or start to obsess about the end times, because they lose hope. They see and experience bad news, and lose hope that this world has a purpose, and begin to wonder if their faith is worth all the suffering they are enduring. Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe there’s an easier path. Maybe God’s not in control anymore. Maybe Jesus has forgotten them. Maybe something’s gone wrong.
Let me close with the story of this important Hymn. I’m not sure where you are at this morning, but I know that there is a message for you here. The first verse says this:
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
This hymn was written by a man named Horatio Spafford in the year 1873. As a young man he met and married a young woman whom he loved, had 5 wonderful children, became a successful lawyer, and had invested heavily in Chicago’s real estate market. It’s easy to believe that a song called “It is well” would be penned by a man like this… happy and successful, rich and well known… but this song wasn’t written during that time in his life. And that’s what makes the message of this song so powerful.
After a few good years of success and happiness, Horatio’s life began to fall apart. First, his 4 year old son died of scarlet fever. Then a year later, the great Chicago Fire destroyed all of his real estate, ruining him financially. He was a believer in Jesus and, since he had nothing tying him to Chicago anymore, he decided to bring this family to Europe to help his friend Dwight L Moody with his missionary work. Unfortunately, he had to send his family on ahead while he stayed back to deal with some paperwork. While crossing the Atlantic, their ship collided with another vessel and all four of Spafford’s daughters fell overboard and were lost at sea. Only his wife Anna survived, telegraphing a letter back to Heratio about what had happened.
With a heavy heart Spafford boarded another ship to meet his wife across the ocean. During the voyage the Captain came to him and told him he knew what had happened to his family and that the ship was now passing over the spot where his daughters had passed away. He walked to deck of the ship, looking overboard at the water, and began to weep. For him, after so much tragedy, he wondered how he could ever go on. He watched the billows of water roll against the sides of the ship, and pictured his young daughters in his mind’s eye.
Everything was not “well with his soul”… and he began to pray. He turned to God for comfort and for help… and the Holy Spirit began to speak to him. In those moments Horatio Spafford was taught that God keeps His promises and He really does draw close to those who are broken hearted. He will not leave you, nor forsake you. He really is in control, even during the storms. He will see us all through to the end.
In response to God’s touch, the heart-broken, but Spiritually sustained, man wrote a poem, which later became a beloved hymn of the church, helping everyone who sings it remember the eternal hope that all believers have, no matter what pain and heartache may befall them on earth. He wrote:
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control,That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”
No matter what happens in life, those who are in a relationship with Jesus are able to sing along with Mr. Spafford saying, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
Many people wonder where they I get real hope and comfort when they are “walking through the valley of the shadow of death”? How can I find a way for it to be “well with my soul”… “when sorrows like sea billows roll”? It almost sounds foolish to think that it can ever be “well” in a world where there are so many things going wrong.
But if our hope is in the things of the world, then it can never be well. A Christians hope isn’t in the world, or the things of the world, it is in the one who created the world, who sustains the world, who saved the world. The only way we can have peace in the middle of problems, suffering, fear and even death is because of Jesus Christ.
The most famous verse in the Bible tells the story of how Christians can say “it is well”. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God loves you and me so much that he was willing to send His Son to save us. Jesus died so that anyone who puts their faith in Him would live forever with Him, have access to amazing grace and divine peace, and know true joy. He gives us that as we live with Him today, and will give it to us ultimately when He finishes His work and brings us all to Him in the final days. Jesus is our hope and our strength.
The last verse of “It is well” closes the song in a prayer that talks to God about that day. Today there is grief. Today there is loss and sickness and darkness, enemies and pain. But one day, for those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Saviour, all of that will be done with!
Horatio Spafford said it this way:
“And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul.”
So my conclusion today is to remind you of the message of all of scripture: that it’s all about Jesus. He is our source of strength and hope, our anchor in the storm, the motivation of our life, our Saviour and our Lord. He is the reason we are here, and the greatest pursuit of our life. He loves each of us, individually, with a great passion – so much so that He was willing to die on the cross for our sins.
No matter what occurs in our life, Jesus will see us through if we are willing to submit ourselves to Him. So listen to Him, read His word, talk to Him, study His life, obey His commands, follow His word, join His church, discover His purpose for your life and live it out, and trust that He will keep you, always.
The Joy of Bible Study
When I do Bible study (and perhaps this happens to you), I often have one of three experiences –each flowing from one to the next.
I usually start out by feeling like a hunter, an archaeologist, or a prospector… wandering about, fairly sure that there’s something good there, but not exactly sure where yet. So I take a few samples, smell the air, set up a camera, do some digging around … in other words, I read over the passage a few times, talk to God about it, mull it over, find a study bible or two and read the notes.
Then, I suddenly strike something. Sometimes it comes quickly, other times it takes a little while, but it always happens. Suddenly there’s a moment when something jumps off the page. I scout for long enough and find that set of tracks, that artefact, that nugget… and I start to dig. And that’s when my experience switches, I now become a miner.
I get out my shovels and pickaxes – fire up my commentaries, bible translations, dictionaries, studies, fact books, etc. and start to dig and dig to get under what I’ve just found. I want to know where it comes from, how it got there, what it’s made of, what it’s worth, what I can do with it… and it gets very exciting. That’s my favourite part.
Now, just to clarify my illustration, when I’m preaching through a book of the bible, like I am now, it’s not like I approach the verses with a specific idea in mind. That would be like showing up with a my own bones, some gold nuggets, or a bag of my own scat, spreading it around and calling it a sign. No, when we come to Bible Study, our job isn’t to pull things out of scripture, or worse, put things into it, but to simply find what God is saying and then listen to and teach that.
But, that’s not the end of the Bible Study journey for me. Now, maybe I’m alone in this one, but I assume I’m not. There’s usually a third part to my experience where I go from blissfully mining out truths to feeling like I’m drinking from a fire-hose. All of a sudden I realize, once again, that no matter what the truth is, God has been saying it to generations of people, over and over, for millennia.
I start to realize that when the Bible speaks, it speaks consistently with a voice that agrees with itself, that the Holy Spirit has declared every word of the Bible. I see Jesus in every verse, the mercy of God in every chapter, as the few verses I’m reading point to more and more verses in scripture – in Genesis, Proverbs, Psalms, the Prophets. As I learn the historical context of the verse I realize how important it was at the time, but how universal it is for all times.
Suddenly, the truth God wants to tell me that day, comes clear and I realize a few of its implications. I come face to face with my own sin, and the sin of the world around me, and how woefully short I fall in God’s eyes. I get a glimpse of Jesus’ true nature and realize how high and deep His mind is compared to mine. I start to realize that His ways are so much more different than mine, and that His thoughts are so much better than mine. And it gets overwhelming. I dig in and find there’s too much gold, too many jewels in the mine for one person to ever study or carry himself. Too many tracks to follow for even a thousand hunters to track. And it brings me to both elation and despair. Elation as I experience the living and active Word of God, sharper than any double-edges sword, penetrating and dividing my soul and spirit… and despair as I realize that I will never, ever be able to fully explain, even that one verse, in my whole lifetime. There’s too much there.
I hope you’ve experienced that. I get to do it all the time, and it’s the greatest part of being able to do what I do. Perhaps you’ve even experience a little of that on these past Sundays as we’ve gone through the Gospel of Mark together and you’ve studied at home.
So Many Hot Topics
I say all that because I feel like we’ve covered a lot of big, “hot-topics” over the past while. In a short time we’ve covered gender identity, homosexuality, submission to leadership, stewardship, keeping our relationships together, suffering and martyrdom – that’s a lot! Last week we covered the questions of “What is most important to God?”, “How do I find my life’s purpose?” and “How can I love people who make it hard to love them?” That’s enough to chew on for a lifetime, and here we are again about to cover something else!
I don’t think anyone would blame us if we feel a little overwhelmed by all the amazing things that Jesus spoke in the final days of His life. The questions come fast and furious, and when He answers them He doesn’t use long sermons and explanations, but short, powerful, bullet like answers, piercing straight to the heart of the issue. And so, when we read these sections, and try to take them more slowly, we invariably find that they are incredibly condensed.
Jesus Fires Back
That’s true about today’s passage too, of course, so let’s give it a read and see what God has for us today. First, notice that today’s passage is different than our last bunch in that it’s not motivated by a question asked by someone else, but comes about because Jesus decides to point it out Himself.
Remember last week where, in verse 34, Jesus had answered the Scribe’s question and “no one dared ask him any more questions.” After the Pharisees and Scribes stopped talking, Jesus went on a bit of a walking tour of the Temple area. It says in verse 37 that a “great throng”, or a “large crowd”, followed Him around, listening to His teaching, captivated by His every word – much to the annoyance and vexation of the Sanhedrin.
In our passage today, Jesus takes a walk from steps on which He had been confronted by the Sanhedrin a little further into, perhaps the Court of the Gentiles, the place that He had made quite the scene the day before. As He walks, He begins to speak and teach.
Let’s read from Mark 12:38:
“And in his teaching he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’ (Mark 12:38-40)
What we are reading here is a summary, a condensed version, of what Matthew 23 calls the “Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees”, which is a much more lengthy and specific indictment of Israel’s teachers. There, the phrase he repeats over and over is the word “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”, and then calls them out for burdening people with extreme rules that go far beyond God’s law, for their belief that they are above others, for their two-facedness and total lack of understanding of their place before God, for their lack of care for the poor, for their narcissistic, shallow, superficial, conceited, vanity, and the hate they had in their hearts for God and His Christ. It’s an extremely powerful, entire chapter of scripture that Mark condenses into a few verses.
Here you see vain men who walk from place to place clothed in the garb of aristocrats, white, flowing robes symbolizing their religious purity. They were meant to be work during religious duties, but these leaders had taken to wearing them all the time, even in the marketplaces, to remind people how important they were. They would seek out crowds of people, in synagogues and feasts, and expect special treatment for who they were. They loved the perks that came with the job.
And they had a lot of power, which they would use to abuse people. A scribe was forbidden from being paid for their teachings, so they had to either support themselves with a secular job – like the Apostle Paul did as a tentmaker – or be dependent upon the gifts of others. This situation easily led them to start to expect gifts whenever they would teach, which led to finding out which were the most generous / gullible of those they were meant to be helping. Like the bad lawyers and religious shysters today, they would ingratiate themselves to some of the widows, hoping to get into their wills, or look for loop-holes in the law which would allow them to take over people’s possessions. This was especially effective against defenceless widows who had no one to advocate them – because they were the ones abusing them.
Picture lawyers, walking around the grocery stores, church groups, potlucks, restaurants – always clad in their best power-suit. Attending funerals and looking for grieving, trusting, people who are in mourning, passing out business cards, using their charisma and knowledge to steal their homes, take their money, and leaving them destitute.
Is it any wonder Jesus says, “They will receive the greater condemnation.”
The Widow’s Offering
As Jesus is walking and teaching, firing back at the Sanhedrin that had blocked His way to the Temple and tried to trap Him with questions, He’s making His way to the Court of the Women. There stood a series of boxes with trumpet shaped tops for people to place various offerings and their temple taxes. There He will sit down and make another, extremely important point.
“And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’” (Mark 12:38-44)
Jesus sits and turns his eyes towards the contribution chests, the trumpets, and for a time he says nothing. It’s the Passover and Jerusalem is at its busiest, and there are a lot of people paying their taxes, and making the required and voluntary offerings to God. The whole crowd with Him watches person after person come to the box and drop in their offering.
The trumpets are made of metal and each coin that goes in makes a clanging noise – and there are some people that make a lot of noise! I remember reading at one point that some people would have their offering turned into even more coins so they could be seen – and heard – pouring more and more into the noisy receptacle. Some even throwing their coins into the coffers from a distance – for maximum clang!
Notice the contrast between these two stories. In the first we have Jesus giving a warning and a description of the Scribe. “Beware the Scribes” — the hypocrites, the play actors, the religious pretenders, the ones who loved the show, but were just white-washed-tombs, dead looking good on the outside, but dead and disgusting on the inside (Matthew 23:27-28).
Then He points to the polar opposite: a poor widow, beneath anyone’s notice. She’s poor, which means she, likely, doesn’t have anyone taking care of her. No family, no help, n protector, no social services, no legal recourse. Was she a victim of one of the Scribe’s – we don’t know – but we do know that she is in extreme need.
She has come to the Temple humbly, without advertisement, in obedience to God’s call to give, in need, with an absolute trust in God. How do I know this? Because Jesus says she put in two small coins, two LEPTA, one 64th of a day’s wages, and it was all she had.
A little math and conversion says: If the minimum wage in Ontario is $11.25, and one works an 8 hour day, then they have $90. Divide that by 64 and you have $1.40. By today’s standards, this poor widow had less than a Twoonie to her name.
It was too small to be the Temple Tax, and must have been put in the box for the voluntary gifts. This was a gift given out of both obedience and love. She didn’t have to put both coins in. She could have kept one. She needed to bring an offering, and she looked at her coins, and knew that she needed God’s blessing a lot more than she needed that single coin.
Now we make the contrast. Jesus pronounced judgement and doom on the rich scribe, who looked amazing in the outside, had wealth, connections, a fancy degree, got the best seats to all the events, and was respected by all the elites in the city. And He commends the widow for giving to God, willingly.
But it’s not about the money, it’s about the heart! Jesus calls over His disciples and says, “this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing…”. How was it more? Because everyone else had given out of their riches – and she gave out of her poverty, she gave it all.
It’s not about the amount we give. God couldn’t care less about the amount, because He doesn’t need any of it. God owns everything and wants for nothing. He can raise people out of mud. He invented gold and jewels. It’s not about God wanting our riches – He wants our heart. And the Widow’s very small gift proved that she loved God, needed God, thanked God, obeyed God, and trusted God more than she trusted anyone or anything else.
She gave beyond what was convenient, beyond what was safe, beyond what was expected, and gave it all. It was one of the few – perhaps the only – gift accepted by God that day. Sure, the contribution boxes were full, but there were only two little coins that God found value in – the Widow’s offering. She gave “all she had to live on”, literally translated, “her whole life”.
Those wealthy Scribes foolishly thought that riches were something to be accumulated on earth, and spent their life amassing them. The Widow knew that there was more to life than having a coin in her hands. The Scribes found security in their wealth and used their power to crush anyone who they could. The Widow found her security in God, knowing that He is the highest authority.
Let me draw a couple applications here:
The first is that we must get our priorities straight.
This is an old application, but it’s relevant to every age. We talked about “Loving God” and “Loving our Neighbour” last week, and we get a very similar reminder this week. We have to ask ourselves what our priorities are, because if they don’t line up with God’s, then we are in trouble: trouble in facing God’s judgement for disobedience, and trouble in not being able to flourish under His rule.
If we have the priorities of the Scribes: Pride, Position, Power, Prestige, Wealth, Worldly security, then we have it all wrong. And this is where it starts to feel like drinking from a fire-hose, because every book of the Bible condemns this life. It doesn’t condemn the wealthy, but the love of wealth.
- Jesus in Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
- The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
- The Apostle John in 1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
- The author of the Proverbs (30:8) begs God to give him enough, but no more saying, “…give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” and, in it’s wisdom, looks square at us and simply says, “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist.” (23:4)
- The Psalmist says, “For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, And the greedy man curses and spurns the LORD.” (10:3)
Seeking wealth and worldly security is absolutely incompatible with loving God and others. A life committed to pursuing gain and comfort, dependant on appearances and applause, will always, always, always corrupt one’s soul, distract them from God, and cause them to use people rather than serve them.
The second is to answer the question: “What are you holding back?”
We see a picture of Jesus in the Widow. She trusts God, obeys at great cost, and gives her life for the sake of others. That’s Jesus.
The Widow put in two coins, though she could have kept one. Jesus gave His whole life to save us.
- What are you holding back?
- What have you not given God permission to have in your life?
- What has God asked you to do and you’ve said no?
- Is there something you are supposed to do, to give, to trust God with, that you are still holding in your hands, keeping control of, because you simply can’t trust him with it?
- Are you tithing? Are you giving generously to the work of God, first at church and then to other people who need it? Or are you refusing to obey God in that way?
- What about your daily obedience in bible reading and prayer? Are you holding back your time from God because you believe it’s yours? Do you give God a little time, when you find it, and have nothing better to do?
- Is there a sin or a habit that you know you’ve needed to give up, but won’t?
Jesus has terrible words to say to religious pretenders who look like they have it all put together, but are, in fact, corrupt on the inside. He calls them “Hypocrites!” Let us be free from hypocrisy and give God everything, no holding back.
What are you holding back from God?
Our current mini-series has been covering the questions that Jesus was asked as He entered the Temple the day after He cleared the Temple courts by driving people out, overturning tables and releasing the animals. As He came up the stairs he was confronted by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, who had some questions about his motives, and had hopes of publically embarrassing Him and trapping Him in His own worlds. They wanted Him gone, and if they could get him to publically admit that He believed Himself to be the Messiah – or better yet, God, and then accuse Him of blasphemy and arrest Him. Or, if they could get Him to say that He was doing these things by His own authority they could accuse Him of being the crazy leader of an insurgence, a megalomaniacal fanatic, who the Romans needed to arrest and kill as a rabble rouser and a traitor.
None of their plans worked, of course, and they end up walking away dejected and angry, bewildered as to what they will do about Jesus – until Judas comes to them offering to sell out Jesus so they can arrest Him in the middle of the night only a few days later.
The Final and Biggest Question
“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’ And the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.’” (Mark 12:28-34)
The last question Jesus is asked is an ironic one. It’s ironic because it comes from, what appears to be a good guy! After rafts of men came trying to embarrass and trap Jesus, one man comes up in the midst of the fray and asks Jesus a question that wasn’t manipulative or loaded – but genuine. It says that this scribe – who was basically a lawyer – was sitting on the periphery listening to the conversations and was very impressed with Jesus answers. He came to Jesus after “seeing that he answered them well”. By Jesus’ own admission this man was “not far from the kingdom of God” so perhaps that means His journey to find God’s will had finally led him to Jesus.
This last question is a great last question because it is the most important one of all. And, funnily enough, it comes on the heels of a really dumb question about a woman who was widowed seven times and who would be her husband in the afterlife. Even Jesus says that they ask a dumb question.
But after telling them how dopey their question was, Jesus turns around and sees a man standing there with a very important question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
This sounds like a no-brainer to us, but that’s only because we’ve heard the answer so many times. When this scribe asked Jesus, they had identified 613 separate commandments they believed God wanted them to obey, 365 of which were negative (do nots) and 248 of which were positive (do this). They had even divided them into “heavy” and “light,” commands, ranked by which ones were more important and less important. So, seeing that Jesus knew what He was talking about, the scribe brought this important, and relevant, question.
Jesus is more than happy to give the answer, but He does so in a special way. He takes two of the items on their list of 613 and joins them. They were normally separate, from different scriptures in different locations, but Jesus joined them together. Jesus’ view of the Law of God wasn’t about lists, but about lifestyle of love.
The first part of His answer is of no surprise to anyone. It is the first part of the “Shema”, a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the centrepiece prayer of Jewish life, said in the morning and evening every day:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
This was a reminder to all that the love of God is based on His oneness, His singularity, His exclusivity – He is the Only One. Since God is one, our love for Him must be undivided. This is repeated in the first commandment: “You shall have no other God’s before me.” (Exodus 20:3)
It piles up the terms “heart,” “soul,” and “mind” and “strength” reminding us that God doesn’t just want part of us, but our whole being. God wants to the be the greatest, all-consuming love of our life. Why? Because He is our Lord and our God – He alone.
The second of Jesus’ answers comes immediately after, without a pause: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Later 1 John 4:20-21 explains how these commandments are tied together:
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
These are not two commands, but one. God loves us, and in response we love God… and that love flows from Him to Us to Others. We don’t have one or the other. We cannot love God and hate people – that’s incompatible, even if we sometimes wish it wasn’t.
True Love Hurts Sometimes
We do, don’t we? Sometimes we really wish that we could just say, “I love God, love Jesus, love my family, and love my church… but the rest of everyone can go to heck.” We’ve all thought it. Why? Because loving people is hard. People make it hard to love them sometimes.
The kind of love that Jesus is talking about, the one that loves our neighbour, is a sacrificial love. It requires sacrifice and commitment, a denial of self, a picking up of our cross and following Him, living as a disciple of Christ.
We sometimes think that “taking up our cross” (Matthew 16:24-26) means facing persecution and martyrdom, being killed for our faith and our love for Jesus. And sometimes it does, but we have to remember how Jesus said it. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” That means we stop living for ourselves and live the way that Jesus lived.
It means that we define love the way that Jesus does. It means we expand our love beyond ourselves, beyond those we love, beyond just us and God –deny ourselves and choose to love the people that God puts in our lives, even the ones that make it hard to do. That is a Christ like, sacrificial thing to do.
In books, movies and tv shows we are presented with only one kind of love – love that feels good and comes easily. And, thank God, that’s true sometimes. It’s usually pretty easy to love babies, our own children, our friends, our parents… people that are kind, generous, helpful, and nice. Those people are easy to love. But that’s only one side of love. Sometimes love hurts.
Many in our western world today have bought into this one side of love. If you feel love towards someone, and it’s easy, and you’re swept off your feet, and it gets all misty and gushy when the person is around – that’s love. But when that person becomes hard to love, when the feelings leave, when they hurt you, when they disappoint you, when they stop loving you – or when you start having gushy feelings for someone else – then you are no longer in love and it’s time to go somewhere else. That’s not love, that’s using people. Real love is different.
Loving Like Jesus
Real love sometimes involves suffering. Real love sometimes hurts really bad. Real love requires a decision, commitment, and fortitude. The Bible defines love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 saying:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
That is not emotional language – those are words of decision.
I choose to be patient when the one I love keeps messing up. I choose to be kind when the person is unkind. I choose to be love others that are better off than I am. I choose to not say rude things and place myself before the one I love. I choose to forgive and not hold resentment. I will bear with them. I will believe in them. I will hope for them. I will endure suffering with them. I will finish my life loving them. True love requires hard choices and sometimes feels like suffering.
Just as Jesus’ love for His Father and for us meant that He had to take up His cross so He could suffer and die – so sometimes it is required of us to pick up our cross, obey God, and suffer and die as we love our neighbours as ourselves.
Jesus blows the doors off of “one sided love” when He teaches that God’s version of love goes beyond our family and those who are easy to love, but extends to difficult people – even those who treat us badly! He says:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48)
Jesus injunction to “perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” brings us full circle to the question that the scribe asked Jesus. The scribe asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” That’s another way of saying, “If God had only one thing to say, what would He say? What does God want from us most? What is the most fundamental, most central, most critical thing in the universe?” It could almost be restated, “How can we be perfect like God is perfect?” The answer Jesus gave was to love God with our whole being and to have that love spill over onto the people around us – even when it hurts.
“Eye for an eye” makes sense to us. “Turn the other cheek” doesn’t. Jesus says, if someone hurts you, do not answer hatred for hatred, but love instead. If someone has it out for you and wants to take revenge even after you’ve tried to work it out, answer their vengeance with generosity. Value your hard earned things less then people who you don’t even know! Pray for people that hurt you. The great reward of love, true love, comes as you love those who don’t love you back.
Finding Our Purpose
People are always worried about their purpose. Anyone who has been on the planet for more than 3 years is often asked “What are you going to be when you grow up?” and the question never seems to end. Just this week I heard of an older man, almost a hundred years old, who was asking about his purpose in life.
Everyone wants to know their purpose and they ask, “God what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? What is the plan for my life?”. The answer if far more clear than they want to believe – but they resist because it’s not specific enough.
Look at what happens in the passage we’re looking at today. Someone walks up to Jesus and basically asks, “What’s the most important thing God wants me to know?” That’s a big question! And then notice that Jesus’ answer is phrased as a command: “And You Shall…” Older translations will say “Thou Shalt!… love the Lord your God… ” “Thou shalt! Love your neighbour.”
God’s answer to “what should I do with myself” and “what is my purpose” is that we start there. If you want to know your purpose, ask yourself this question: Am I constantly showing love for God and others? Start with that, and I promise that the rest will flow naturally.
God says, “Love me with all your heart, soul mind and strength AND love your neighbours as much as you love yourself… and then the rest will come together.”
Consider what Jesus said in Matthew 6 when he shoots down all the people who want specific answers:
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [or Where shall I go? What should my job be? What school should I attend? What about the future? What about this issue, or that problem, or that opportunity…] For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
We hear Jesus saying, “Hold on, hold on! Before you worry about all the detailed wither-tos and why-fors of your life, let’s get the first things first. Do you love God and the people around you?” Are you “seeking first the kingdom and His righteousness?”. That’s like asking, “As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, are you doing what is most important to the King?” Which, again, brings us back around to the same answer as before: Are you loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength and loving your neighbour as yourself?
Loving Our Neighbour
The priority of getting this right first is the consistent testimony of scripture. So let’s do a little application and see what this looks like practically, and we’ll work back to front: First, what does loving our neighbour look like? It’s actually pretty simple, when you think about it for a minute.
Jesus gave us the answer in Matthew 7:12 with what we call the Golden Rule:
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
“I don’t know how to love others! I’m not a very loving person! I don’t know where to start!” we say. Jesus’ answer to that is, “Start here: Can you look inside and ask yourself, ‘How would I want people to treat me?’” Of course, we all can! For example:
When you are depressed, what do you want people to do for you? Think about it. Do you want them to leave you alone in your dark room with your dark thoughts, sinking deeper and deeper? Or do you want them to keep calling you, keep caring about you, keep inviting you, keep showing up and reminding you that they love you and that God loves you? Do that to others.
When you are new to a place, what do you want people to do for you? Judge you by how you’re dressed, how you talk, your family situation, and ask you about all of your obvious problems? Probably not. You want them to love you for who you are, be kind, introduce you to the group, and cut you some slack. Do that to others.
When you are struggling with sin or addiction, what do you want people to do for you? Pretend it doesn’t exist, never ask you about it, leave you alone to wallow in your muck, falling into it over and over again? Or, come along side you, get involved in your mess, ask how they can help, love you in your failings and hold you accountable, forgiving you when you blow it again… but never giving up on you. Do that to others.
When you are blind to your own pride, greed, rudeness, argumentativeness, and are offending people and losing friends – but have no idea why, what do you want people to do for you? Make excuses for you, avoid confronting you, or just avoid you alotgether, and let you self-destruct all your relationships? No, you want them to take you aside, buy you a coffee, ask what’s wrong, why you’re lashing out, and then tell you gently, but truthfully, that you are hurting people – and say that no matter how bad it gets, they’ll still with you. Do that for others.
When your marriage is on the rocks, or your kids are a mess, what do you want people to do? Mock you behind your back, criticize you to others, spread gossip about you, and stand around hoping it’ll finally blow up in your face so they can watch the fireworks? No… you want them to come along side you, weep with you, put their arm around you, understand that you are struggling – that you’re not blind but you are at the end of your rope and have no idea what to do – to be a friend, trustworthy confidant, and prayer partner. Do that for others.
If you are struggling with your weight, what do you want people to do? Make jokes about you, leave clothing store coupons and Weight Watchers pamphlets around, suggest diet plans, and heap shame on you because you obviously don’t know that you have a problem? No. You want them to love you for who you are and care more about your insides than your outsides – and then, maybe, after becoming really, really good friends, and you’ve talked about lots and lots of topics… offer to walk with you in your struggle.
If you have a handicap, what do you want people to do? Exclude you because you’re too much trouble? No. You want them to help you become part of what’s going on.
It goes on and on and on. And it’s really not that hard to figure out if we just take a minute to think about it. And having God on our side, and the ability to pray and ask for direction, means that the Holy Spirit will speak to us and help us to do this even better!
It’s All About Jesus
So how do we grow in love for others – even our enemies? It comes back to Jesus’ first answer: We love God. Remember, it’s all about Jesus. You will love God when you understand the love that He has for you, even when you were His enemy. His love was shown in what He did in Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:31-39 [see also Romans 5:6-11])
Once you begin to understand the love of God for you found in Jesus Christ – how enormous, how sacrificial, how beautiful and perfect it is – then you will be able to love your neighbour sacrificially, beautifully, and with a greater depth than you ever thought you had in you.
Growing Our Love Muscles
That’s why the fathers of our faith have always emphasized consistent scripture reading, prayer, and worship as indispensable to the Christian life.
Reading scripture reminds our feeble and forgetful minds about the depth of God’s love and about how He wants us to live in this world. It tells us about how far He came to save us, what He saved us from, and the loving boundaries He set around us so we can flourish under His rule.
Prayer connects us to the very heart of God. That consistent, daily, hourly, relationship, allows us to go beyond a mere intellectual understanding of our faith and to realize we have a living, breathing, existential, relationship with a real person. As we pray, meditate and listen, we experience the presence of God, the love of Christ, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Daily worship, and faithful attendance to Sunday Worship, reminds us of our place in the universe – that He’s God and we’re not. And reminds us that though He is Holy God, He’s not a distant God. Our singing, giving, obedience, fellowship, evangelism, service, thanksgiving, and religious activity all remind us that God interacts with us as our Creator, Sustainer, Saviour, and Friend. Worship deepens our love for God.
If we are going to be people love others, then we must start by loving God.
A Reminder to Our Souls
Let me close by reading Psalm 103. In Psalm 103 David does something that we all need to do sometimes; He reminds himself why God is worthy of our love, and why he needs to keep worshipping God – and how that is the foundation for everything else. Let this be a reminder to our spirits as well:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Psalm 103:1-5 ESV)
Today we’re going to study Mark 7:31-8:33. At first these stories are going to seem disconnected, but as we read them, hopefully you will see a theme developing. I also want you to listen for similar phrases and events. It’s set up as a sort of sandwich where we see a couple of similar events, and then something different, and then a couple of similar events.
Top of the Sandwich: Ears to Hear
“Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” (Mark 7:31-37)
So there’s the first section. What did we see? Jesus goes somewhere, meets someone in need, Jesus looks to heaven to pray, heals that person with a sigh at the hard heartedness of the people and the effects of sin on humanity, and tells them to keep it quiet after performing the miracle. Let’s move on to the next event, which happens a few days later.
“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.’ And his disciples answered him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?’ And he asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.” (Mark 8:1-9)
Ok, so what do we see there? Another display of power. This time Jesus goes somewhere, sees the need (rather than having the need brought to him), deals with the unbelief and sin of the disciples (I wonder if he sighed here too), prays, and works the miracle. That’s section one. Two displays of power a similar and simple theme: Jesus can work amazing miracles.
The Middle of the Sandwich: Deaf Ears and Blind Eyes
Now we move to section two, the middle of the sandwich – the bacon of the sandwich, the reason for the existence of the sandwich!
“And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.” (Mark 8:10-13)
So here, Jesus goes somewhere and comes across a group with hard hearts and no faith. This group of Pharisees likely wasn’t around for the previous miracles, but they had heard of Jesus’ reputation and came to “argue” with, and request miracles from Jesus. “Show us! Let us see with our own eyes” they demand. Now, with that in our minds, let’s read the next section:
“Now they [that is, the disciples] had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ And he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’” (Mark 8:14-21)
Do you see similarities? Jesus goes somewhere, but this time the group that has hard hearts and low faith are his disciples. Unlike the Pharisees, they had witnessed the miracles, and yet still didn’t understand the truth about Jesus. Our Key Verse for this whole section is found in verses 17-18, and they shine light on the rest of the whole section: “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” Do you not see? Do you not hear? Do you not understand? Hopefully you’re seeing the connection. If not, you will after we read the next section.
The Bottom of the Sandwich: Jesus Gives Sight
“And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’” (Mark 8:22-26)
Jesus performs another miracle where he takes someone who has a blockage of perception – before it was hearing, now it’s sight – and performs a miracle so they can see. And He goes through a similar pattern as with the deaf/mute, though this time it takes two steps.
Now, from the context, we’re beginning to see that Jesus healing the deaf and the blind is about far deeper than merely restoring earing and eyesight. This blind man is a picture of what Jesus wants to do for His disciples, and for all of us. He wants His followers to see – but, like the man, though they have been touched by Jesus, at first, they are only seeing dimly… blurrily… a little bit of light, but not enough to understand what’s really going on.
And how do we know that? Because of the final section:
“And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” (Mark 8:27-33)
Peter is our great example here. Peter was like the blind man, unable to see. Then He met Jesus, and began to see something… that Jesus was the Christ… but Peter wasn’t seeing clearly yet. How do we know? Because of what Peter did next – he rebukes Jesus for talking about his crucifixion! “You’re the Christ, Jesus! You’ll never suffer! You’ll conquer!”
Like the blind man, Peter saw a little light about Jesus, but his spiritual vision was still blurry. He needed more from Jesus in order to understand the rest of the truth about Jesus. And that would come after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples and they finally understood all that Jesus said.
Two Blind Groups
Hopefully I’ve explained well enough the connections throughout this section. Deaf and Blind people meeting Jesus and needing healing. But it’s more than physical blindness and deafness that Jesus has come to heal – it’s spiritual blindness and deafness. Jesus shows He has the supernatural power to overcome any kind of perception problem, and goes even farther to show He can provide food out of thin air for thousands of people.
But then, in the middle of these stories of healing, we see two groups that are both presented with Jesus’ claims and evidence of His power — but who react very differently to them: The Disciples and the Pharisees.
The Disciples saw miracle after miracle, had heard message after message, and had seen bread come out of nowhere to feed thousands – and yet, as they sat in the boat, when Jesus began to teach them in a parable saying, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They completely missed it. They thought they were in trouble for forgetting to bring lunch. They thought Jesus was hungry and wanted food. They showed their complete lack of ability to perceive spiritual things – they were stuck in the physical realm.
Jesus rebukes them:
“Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17-18)
“Guys! I just miraculously provided thousands of people with bread, and you were left with baskets and baskets of it! Do you really think that I’m mad at you for not bringing enough lunch? Do you really think I’m telling you to beware of the actual, physical bread that the Pharisees make?!?!”
They’d seen so much, but they’d forgotten and couldn’t see the truth about Jesus. Were they really unwilling to believe that Jesus would provide bread to them? Their shortsighted, small minded, easily forgetful ways, showed they were like the deaf man – unable to hear what Jesus was saying. They were just like the blind man – unable to see what was happening right before their eyes. At least the deaf man knew he was deaf and needed Jesus to help him hear.
Jesus kept His disciples around, showing them miracle after miracle, sharing teaching after teaching, giving them example after example, answering question after question… training them to have faith in Him. They wrestled with unbelief for years as they walked with Jesus… but eventually, after they had walked with Him for a while, witnessed His Resurrection, and were touched by His Holy Spirit, they became men of strong faith.
The other group, however, didn’t. The other group that we see in the bacon of these stories is the Pharisees. Like the Disciples, they are also deaf and blind – but they don’t know it. They’re bumbling around, unable to see spiritual truths, hurting themselves and others in their ignorance. Like a deaf person, they shout out unintelligible nonsense that sounds right to them, but is just noise. They are presented with the same evidences, the same Jesus, the same claims, and are given the same opportunity to follow.
The Pharisees had heard of Jesus’ reputation, and may have even witnessed some miracles – at the very least they knew of Jesus’ reputation from many witnesses – but they didn’t come to seek light and truth or to ask questions and listen to Jesus. Why did they come? 8:11 says, “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.”
The difference is their attitude. No matter what Jesus would have said, they hadn’t come to listen, they came to talk. They were deaf. No matter what Jesus would have shown them, they wouldn’t have seen it, because they had their blinders on.
It reminds me of when the Deacon Stephen was martyred by this same group of people. These are the last words of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and they are addressed to the Sanhedrin:
“‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.’”
[Now look at their reaction.]
“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.” (Acts 7:51-58)
They, like the Pharisees who had come to Jesus that day, weren’t there to listen, but to argue, make demands, condemn and test. They put themselves above Jesus, as His judges. He needed to prove Himself to them! They were the experts. They were the holy ones. They were the ones who knew God – and they expected Jesus to toe the line.
How to Deal with Unbelief
We all struggle with doubts and unbelief at times – some more than others. Even the most faithful Christian has moments when they wonder about what God is doing. We all ask questions like, “God, do you still love me? Are you in control of this? Will you help me? Do you hate me? Is this in your plan? Where are you? Can I trust you with this difficult thing? Are you worthy of putting my faith in, or will you let me down? ” We all have moments of doubt.
The question is how we respond. The difference between the Disciples and the Pharisees, though they both struggled with blindness and deafness, was that one group had a relationship with Jesus and the other didn’t. One had been chosen by Jesus and was willing to stick with Him. They kept walking with Him, paying attention to Him, seeking after Him, waiting for Him, asking Him questions, talking to Him. And their wiliness to do that meant they continued to see miracles, hear from Jesus, and were mightily used by God.
The Pharisees didn’t walk with Jesus. They came to argue with and test Jesus. They wanted Him to submit to them. They wanted God to bend to them – and therefore, even after meeting Jesus, they still walked away blind.
I guess the key word that describes that attitude is humility. Both groups were messed up. Both were blind. Both didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. But only one of the groups were willing to humbly walk with Jesus as their Lord. The disciples didn’t demand Jesus prove Himself, they just walked with Jesus wherever He went and saw Him in action. They got the proof, but not on their terms.
The Pharisees came at their own convenience, ordered Jesus to do things for them, and when He didn’t, they walked away. One group showed humble discipleship, the other arrogant presumption.
Sometimes we hear people say things like, “If God is real, why doesn’t He just show Himself! If God wants me to believe in Him, then He can just write it in the sky. Just one little miracle and I’ll believe Him. If God wants me to follow Him, then He’ll do this one thing for me. God, I’ll make a deal with you, I’ll start praying if you work this miracle.”
God wouldn’t be much of a god, if He performed like a trained seal and submitted to the whims of His creation, would He? God doesn’t operate like that. He shows Himself to people who come to Him in humble faith, in need, who desire truth, and who are willing to submit to Him as their God! God doesn’t submit to people who come demanding a performance.
We Experience Jesus in Different Ways
That being said, God is amazingly willing to meet us where we’re at and perform miracles for we who don’t deserve it. Like in the scriptures we’ve read today, different people meet Him in different ways, and God does some amazing things for them. But there’s a common theme behind all of these folks that met Jesus.
Jesus said as much in Matthew 13:44-46 where He said:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
You see, we don’t create our own treasure, God does — and we all come across it a little differently. Some people are like the man who stumbles across it. The somehow come across Jesus – maybe through their parents, or a friend, or a vision, or another way they didn’t go looking for – and Jesus opens their eyes, their ears and frees their tongue to worship Him.
Other people are like the man searching for pearls – they look all their life for that one, great treasure, and when they meet Jesus they completely sell out to Him. They’ve searched and now they’ve found.
The deaf man and the blind man were brought to Jesus to be healed. They didn’t get there by themselves. The treasure was found by others. And all of the 4000 people that Jesus fed that day didn’t ask for it, Jesus just had compassion on them and fed them. We meet and experience Jesus in different ways.
Their healing was unique too. Many people had been brought to Jesus, but these are the only ones we read about where Jesus uses spit – and in the Gospel of John we read that he made mud from the spit – and used it to heal the person. No one seems to know why Jesus did that, but we can take away from it that – for whatever reason – Jesus uses different methods to meet different people’s needs.
Jesus healed the leper by laying on hands. The Centurion’s servant and the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter was healed form a distance. We don’t know why, but Jesus uses different methods on different people.
That’s part of the lesson of humility too, isn’t it? We come to Jesus, like the blind man, the deaf man, the disciples – humbly following and hoping for something – and then we allow Jesus to do it however He wants. Or, we try to come to Jesus like the Pharisees, demanding Jesus do it our way, in our time, using our methods. Jesus doesn’t respond to that. He responds to humility.
Sometimes Jesus chooses to heal immediately and fully. I just heard someone tell me this week about an addiction they had that God cured like that. Boom! One minute they couldn’t put it down, the next they couldn’t pick it up.
Sometimes God uses a little spit and mud to get it done. We need to take the medicine, go through training, work through the suffering, get dirty, face the temptation every day, exist in that situation for a while.
Sometimes, as we learned from the blind man, Jesus heals in stages. What we might call – progressive healing. We know that’s true spiritually. It’s something we call “progressive sanctification” the process of living our lives in such a way that we get closer to God and more like Jesus every day. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” In this world we don’t really understand everything. Christians experience and understand many things we didn’t before we met Jesus, but we don’t know it all yet – which is why we struggle with doubt sometime. But we’re only in the first stage of healing.
Sometimes Jesus heals us in stages too. Sometimes we need to bear the burden for a little while, see dimly, and only get – what we see as – part of the miracle. The question is: Are you willing to humbly submit to following Jesus where He wants to go, do what He wants to do, in His timing, healing you as He sees fit, in the way He sees fit? Because that’s how we experience the presence of Jesus.
Let me conclude with these thoughts. We’re all deaf and blind sometimes, and we know people who are deaf and blind to the things of God – but Jesus has the power to break through that blindness and give us light. He can break through the deafness so we can hear His voice. He can unbridle our tongue so we can speak the truth.
Jesus is the only one who can break through spiritual blindness and deafness. We can’t demand it of Him, but we can ask. God’s hand of grace moves when we humble ourselves before Him. If we want God to prove Himself, trade miracles for faith, and submit Himself to our wills, we will be sorely disappointed. He doesn’t play that game. He’s God, we’re not. Satan does play that game, however. He’s happy to give you enough rope to let you hang yourself. God doesn’t want that. He wants the best for you, and He wants you to realize that He knows what is best – and He gives you the ability to choose whether you will trust Him.
If you want to experience the power of God, then come to Him in humility and faith, trusting He knows what is better, with confidence in His love, His sovereignty, His compassion and His power. Remember who you are talking to.
And Remember what He has said. He said to the disciples, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”
Let us be the ones who remember!
We ask, “God do you love me?”
He responds, “Of course! Don’t you remember that I sent my son to die for you?”
We ask “Are you in control?”
He responds, “Yes, I’ve shown my faithfulness to you already, and I’ve proven that my thoughts are higher than your thoughts, my ways are higher than your ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Remember that I know what I’m doing.”
We ask, “Will you help me?”
He responds, “Yes, and I already have. Remember that I’m with you. I’ve given you every breath you’ve ever taken, and the strength for every step you’ve ever made. I’ve promised never to leave you. I’ve promised to give you all you need to do everything you need to do. Just follow me and I’ll lead you where you need to be.”
The Story of the Reluctant Doctor
Once upon a time there was a doctor of medicine. This doctor was somewhat controversial, in that, though his patients were cured, he used extremely unconventional, even odd ways to cure them – he also had a bit of a mouth on him. He tended to offend people when he spoke, to the point where the city officials and other doctors began to dislike him. At one point he said some things so offensive that they chased him out of town. He left and went all the way to the border, stepped across, taking his staff and his special medicines with him.
He found a house to stay in, but he knew he wasn’t supposed to practice medicine in another country, so he sat in the home, teaching his medical students. One day there was a knock at the door.
A young woman had heard that he had come to their country and was desperate to find him. She had a very sick little daughter who needed him. She’d tried all the doctors of her country and no one could help, but she had heard of this man’s amazing ways and was desperate for him to come and try.
She banged on the door, yelling for him to come out. “Please, I need you help! My daughter is very sick.” The doctor heard from the inside – and did nothing. She kept banging on the door. She looked through windows and saw that he was there – and when they met eyes, he got up and moved to a different room. She wouldn’t relent. She knew that he was her last hope.
She banged on the door even harder, wailing and weeping, calling for the doctor to come and help.
The doctor got up silently, looked at his medical students, and walked out the back door. He had decided to go home. The woman didn’t see him leave, but when she looked through all the windows in the house, she realized it was deserted, and began to run down the road in the hopes of catching him.
Finally, she saw him on the horizon and called out, “Please, help me!” She ran with all her might to catch him, and threw herself down at His feet so he couldn’t take another step. Panting and out of breath, she coughed out the words, “Please… please help me. You’re the only one that can heal my daughter.”
The medical students had had enough. Some were sick of her noise, others were moved to compassion, but they all began to ask the doctor to help the woman’s daughter so she would stop crying and leave them.
The doctor looked down at the woman at his feet, and said, “Why should I help a dog like you? You’re not even from my country. I am saving my medicine to use on my people first.”
She replied, “I may be a dog… but even dogs get to eat scraps from the table. All I’m asking for are some scraps.”
The doctor laughed out loud, lifted the woman from her feet, dug into his medical bag, pulled out a vial of medicine, and handed it to the woman, saying, “You’re right. Here’s the cure to your daughter’s sickness.” She thanked him and they parted ways.
What would you say about that doctor? Is he a good one? Would you call him compassionate? Kind? Loving? Helpful? What words would you have for this man? What do you think Jesus would say to him about his actions?
Jesus is The Reluctant Doctor
“ And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.  But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet.  Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.  And he said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’  But she answered him, ‘Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’  And he said to her, ‘For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.’  And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.” (Mark 7:24-37)
Does it surprise you that the doctor from the story is Jesus? This is such a difficult to understand passage to understand, isn’t it? Why would Jesus do that? Why would He say those things? Why did He treat the woman that way? Before we start thinking we know better than Jesus how to handle His affairs, let’s go through the text together and see what’s going on.
Jesus Among the Gentiles
In verse 24 we learn that Jesus leaves His homeland and walks to the border, and beyond, into the gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon. Remember, he’s just had a massive confrontation with the Pharisees about the hypocrisy of their hearts, and, perhaps, that was a good time for a little trip to let things cool off.
When Jesus gets there, He finds a house and though He doesn’t want anyone to know about His presence, even there His fame precedes Him. His plan wasn’t to spend a lot of time ministering to the Gentiles because, He knew He was, first and foremost, “sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24).
The Syrophoenician Woman
In verses 25-26 we see the plot thicken. We don’t know how she heard of Him, but we do know that when someone we love gets sick, we all keep our ears open for any chance of helping them, don’t we? This mother was desperately searching for someone who could help her daughter, when she heard that Jesus – the famous Jewish healer, the one who claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah – was near her.
By now, Jesus and the disciples are used to random, desperate people interrupting Jesus everywhere He goes to ask for help and healing. This story is special because of where it takes place. Mark makes the point to his readers that this woman wasn’t a Jew, she was a Gentile.
The question in the minds of all who would read this for the first time would be: What would Jesus do? How would He react to a gentile in a gentile land? He’s already shown He was willing to interact with Romans who had faith, but they were on Jewish soil. He even talked to Samaritans – but they were a people who held to a form of Judaism. This interaction would be totally different. This is a full-blooded gentile, woman from Syria.
Matthew’s account ups the stakes a bit by reminding his readers that she wasn’t just a gentile, but was, in fact, born and lived among the “Canaanites”, meaning she wasn’t just a gentile, but was from a nation that was an enemy of the Jews, a people that Joshua and the Israelites were supposed to wipe out, but didn’t. Their existence was a mistake and caused trouble for the Jewish people. What would Jesus do with her?
Her reaction to Jesus is surprising. She falls before Jesus, prostrate in grief and reverence. She worships Him. Matthew expands Mark’s telling of what says saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” This was a woman of faith among the Gentiles. She knew who she had come to see. She knew Jesus by reputation, and had worked out that Jesus wasn’t just another miracle worker, but was the Messiah of the Jews. She calls Him “Lord”, submitting herself to Him, and begs for his help.
A Strange Response
Verse 27 is where things go strange. Remember, Mark’s Gospel are the recordings of the sermons and stories of the Apostle Peter, and they are always written in a more action packed way, written to a Gentile audience, skipping some of the details to get right to the heart of the matter. Matthew, on the other hand, gives his Jewish readers a bit more context and a bit more detail so they can see the story in a way that is more meaningful to them.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus does something before he answers her. It says, “But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” (Matthew 15:23)
Consider the implications here. This hurting woman came to his door, begging for help, crying and weeping outside the house in which Jesus sat – and for a while He did… nothing. If you extrapolate from the different versions of this story in the Gospels, we see that Jesus not only ignored her, but in fact, left the house without talking to her. He basically snuck out the back door and she caught Him as He was trying to get away. He was heading home when she came crying behind him.
Even more strangely, Jesus didn’t automatically turn to her out of compassion – as we read about Him doing so many times in other parts of scripture – but it was Jesus’ disciples that seem to convince Him to deal with her.
The question is: Why? Why would Jesus do that? Why would He say those things? Why did He treat the woman that way? Let me give you a couple reasons:
First, this is not so much a miracle story, as it is a teaching story. Jesus doesn’t jump straight to the miracle because He needs to teach His followers something. His intention is to open the eyes of His followers to see the pain of the gentiles. He wants them to begin to understand His heart for the lost, hurting, demonized people that exist everywhere in the world – not just among the Jews. In that moment, Jesus was using that woman to test and expand the disciples hearts.
How? This woman is a representative of all gentiles. She is hurting, broken, demonized, in need of help from God. The question was, “Did the Jewish disciples really care?” and the answer was “No.” See how long it took for them to act. They, like most Jews of the time, thought, “Let them rot in their pagan ways. God has forsaken them, and so shall we.”
But Jesus brings His disciples face to face with an actual gentile woman, that had an actual need, and who desperately wanted help from the God of the Jews – and He waits for them to react. He wants their heart to break like His does. I don’t want to extrapolate from what’s not there, but I would imagine that this teaching time was hard on Jesus. Of course, His instinct would be to heal the daughter of a woman that had faith in Him for help – but there was a bigger plan in place, a bigger lesson to be learned.
It takes the disciples much longer than it should for them to come to Jesus to ask for the healing of this foreigner. She has to cry out, over and over and over, finally falling down in front of them so they can’t take another step, before they begin to feel her plight and start to petition Jesus on her behalf. It says, “…his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’”
For some, it was done out of pity, for others exasperation, but what Jesus wanted them to learn was finally learned. They finally looked at Him and said, “Lord, just do something for this poor woman! It doesn’t matter that she’s a gentile. It doesn’t matter that’s she’s different. It doesn’t matter the history between us. Can’t you see her pain? You must do something. Deal with her. Show her mercy. Give her the grace you’ve given us. Please!”
A Heart for Evangelism
Jesus does for the disciples what He must do to us too. Brings them face to face with lost people. The Salvation Army had a brilliant campaign a while back called” We See What Most Don’t” They see it because they are looking. Jesus needs to teach us to look.
Our heart will not hurt for people only unless we actually get to know people. Our passion for evangelism and missions work will only happen when our hearts break for the lost. And as long as we sit quietly and comfortably, not knowing them, not seeing them, not caring, it’s very easy to forget about them. And as long as we couldn’t care less about them, as long as our hearts remain unmoved, we are never going listen to their cries or share our hope with them.
Most of us will never go to where the hurting and lost people are. We will never bring ourselves there because it is uncomfortable and frightening, and because we have prejudice in our heart. We, like the disciples will never go to where they are – so what does Jesus do? He brings His disciples there. He forces them to go out of there way, out of their comfort zone, out of their country, to be around people the don’t know and don’t understand. Why? So they can actually see, feel, hear and touch, the broken hearted that before, they couldn’t care less about.
Most of us will never listen to the lost. We write them off, ignore them, chastise them, drop tracts off on restaurant tables, argue with them – but how many of us truly listen to them? The disciples couldn’t hear that poor woman. She banged on the door, she pleaded, she ran after them, she dropped at their feet, begging for them to bring her to Jesus – and they didn’t hear. Their prejudice, racism, discrimination, intolerance, preconception, and bigotry made them outright refuse to have anything to do with this broken hearted woman. How long did Jesus have to let her cry before they could actually hear her? How long did the disciples have to stare at her tear-stained face before their hearts were moved?
Not only did Jesus have to bring them to where the hurting and lost were, but he also had to let her suffer right in front of them for a long time, before their hard hearts started to crack.
Most of us don’t go to the lost. Most of us don’t listen to the lost. And most of us don’t act on their behalf. How long did Jesus have to wait before someone stood up on behalf of the hurting woman? The disciples, perhaps like many of us, assume someone else would do it. If Jesus wants to save her, let Him – I don’t want anything to do with her. If Jesus wants to deal with those kinds of people, let Him – I’m staying out of it. If Jesus wants to get involved with someone as messed up and troubled as this, let Him – I’ve got better things to do.
Jesus tells us to go to the hurting and lost, listen to them, help them , and plead for their needs and souls. But just like the disciples – many of us don’t.
The task Jesus gave to the disciples, and to us, in in Acts 1:8 was to be “[His] witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But that won’t happen unless our heart breaks for the hurting, broken, demonized and lost first. God knows we won’t get involved unless we feel it. We must begin to ask God to give us His heart for the broken and lost – even if it requires us to leave our comfort in order to get to those people.
I was convicted about this in my own life as I read the words of Charles Spurgeon this week who, though he pastored thousands of people, led dozens of ministries, wrote prolifically, and suffered from great bouts of sickness and depression, still agonized over lost and hurting people. “He was consumed with the glory of God and the salvation of men.”
He once said:
“I remember, when I have preached at different times in the country, and sometimes here, that my whole soul has agonized over men, every nerve of my body has been strained and I could have wept my very being out of my eyes and carried my whole frame away in a flood of tears, if I could but win souls.” ()
Neither was Spurgeon ever satisfied with the amount of people that were saved under his ministry. “The year he turned 40 he delivered a message to his pastor’s and teacher’s conference with a one-word title, ‘Forward!’. In it he said,
‘It is all very well to write essays, but what souls have you been the means of saving from going down to hell? Your excellent management of your school interests me, but how many children have been brought into the church by it? We are glad to hear of those special meetings, but how many have really been born to God in them? Are saints edified? Are sinners converted? To swing to and fro on a five-barred gate, is not progress; yet some seem to think that it is. I see them in a kind of perpetual Elysium, humming over to themselves and their friends, ‘We are very comfortable.’ God save us from living in comfort while sinners are sinking into hell! …. In every minister’s life there should be traces of stern labour. Brethren, do something; do something; DO SOMETHING. While Committees waste their time over resolutions, do something. While Societies and Unions are making constitutions, let us win souls. Too often we discuss, and discuss, and discuss, while Satan only laughs in his sleeve, … I pray you, be men of action all of you. Get to work and quit yourselves like men… Our one aim is to save sinners, and this we are not merely to talk about, but to effect in the power of God.” (From Desiring God and Spurgeon)
I admit that I have never felt about the lost the way that Spurgeon felt… and that is a shame to me, and it isn’t right. And I have sought God’s forgiveness for it. We must pray that God gives HIS a heart for the lost, just as Jesus tried to do for the disciples.
A Test of Faith
Jesus’ words and actions in Mark 7:27 obviously have meaning to the woman too. He said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” That sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? “Dogs” was a common name that Jews would call Gentiles, and the gentiles knew it.
The meaning of what Jesus is saying is that the Jews took precedence over the gentiles during Jesus’ earthly ministry. He came for them first, just like in a family, the children get fed before the dogs do. The children are the Jews, you and I and all the gentiles, are the dogs. Paul repeated this in Romans 1:16 when he said that the Gospel was “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile”. If it makes you feel better, some translations will use the word “puppies”, implying a house pet rather than a dirty, scavenging, street-dog. Not much better though, is it?
The harshness of Jesus words were not an accident, nor were they racist. This is the second reason Jesus said what he did: His words were a test the woman’s faith in God, understanding of who Jesus is, and her place in the Kingdom of God. It was a short, but very meaningful conversation.
Our problem though is that sometimes Jesus’ claims, words, and plans cause us to rankle. His words are not comfortable, not politically correct, and go against our human wisdom. He annoys us with His exclusivity – why can’t He be more open minded? He frustrates us with His timeline – why can’t He be quicker? He says things, and tell us to say things, that get us into trouble – why can’t He just let us fly under the radar? He tells us to do things we don’t want to do – why won’t He just let me do things my way?
That’s all true – but the answer is: He’s Jesus, we’re Not. God is God, and I am not. His question is, “Even if you don’t agree with me, even if you don’t like it, even if you think you’re way is better, how will we respond to what I’m saying? Faith, fight or flight?
Her response in Verse 28 is what our response should be when Jesus says something difficult to us. What would you have done? Honestly? Called Him a sexist jerk? Walked away saying, “Well, if you’re going to be like that I don’t want your help!”? Lodged a formal complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission? Sued him for slander?
What does she do? She doesn’t argue, but instead, response with humility. She actually accepts her place as a gentile, second to the Jews. She humbles herself, calling Him Lord and herself a “dog”… but yet keeps asking for help.
That’s the kind of relationship that God desires we have with Him – and it causes us no end of frustration, because it means that we have to admit that He is Lord, and we’re a dog that is begging for scraps. It means we have to admit that we don’t deserve His grace. It means we have to humble ourselves before Him, prostrate on the ground– and yet stay persistent in prayer, asking for His help, because He’s the only one who can. We want to manipulate Him, force Him, make Him explain Himself – but we can’t. He’s God, we’re not.
We don’t turn away from Him, but keep knocking on His door, asking for salvation, asking for mercy, asking for a miracle because He’s the only one that can do it. There is nowhere else to turn!
Can you pray that prayer? “Yes, Jesus I know I don’t deserve to have you around me. I know you don’t belong here because you are holy and I am not. But I also know that You are good. I know I don’t deserve it, but I also know you are merciful, and I need your help. “
That kind of humility, the admission that we are dogs, sinners, undeserving, barely worthy of the crumbs off a Jewish family’s table, goes against our nature –even as Christians. We’re so used to the Bible verses that tell us we are loved, chosen, desired, predestined, children of God… but we must, must, must remember where we started. Our ancestors rejected God, God’s people, God’s law, and God’s prophets. We rejected Jesus when He came to earth – most of us to ignorant to care, others had ancestors that were involved in His crucifixion. We who sit here today belonged outside of God’s people – but God invited us inside. We deserved nothing, He offered us eternal life.
In the account in Matthew it says that when she caught up to him, she fell at his feet and said three words, “Lord, Help me.” Similar words were spoken by the tax collector who refused to look up to pray, but looked down low, beat his chest and said, “Have mercy on me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) Words like these were spoken by Isaiah who looked at the holiness of God and said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) These are the words of Peter who saw the glory of Jesus and fell down before Jesus saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)
It is that kind of heart that Jesus wants, that Jesus saves, that moves God’s hand.
In verses 29-30 we see Jesus’ response to her humility. He commends her for her humility and works the miracle she has asked for. She goes home to a healed child, and Jesus heads back home.
This is a difficult to understand story at first, and a difficult interaction for us to read – because of the pain of the woman, the hard hearts of the disciples, the patience of Jesus watching her suffer and waiting to help her – but hopefully we see that God used this moment in time for so much good. It’s hard watch God allowing someone to suffer, isn’t it?
Sometimes our troubles seem to make no sense to us. We ask the same questions that woman must have asked: Why would God allow this child to be demonized? Why would God allow one of our loved ones to suffer? Why would she have to travel so far to meet Jesus? Why doesn’t God just come to us where we’re at, instead of making us come to Him? Why would Jesus walk away from her, make her chase Him down the road, weeping after Him, insult her when she finally catches up, embarrass her in front of the disciples, and then test her resolve, when all she wanted was to have her baby back? Why does God put us through so much trial and trouble?
I can’t answer that question for your situation, but hopefully this story helps us to be able to trust that God knows what He’s doing.
This woman was put through all that trouble:
- So a group of disciples would learn compassion and be affected by her plight – and the plight of all lost souls and hurting people. It allowed them to understand a portion of Jesus’ heart for the hurting and the lost, something they didn’t have before. Because of her suffering many, many more people would be saved through the compassion of those same disciples.
- To show the disciples, and all believers that would read the Gospels, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not bound by borders and race. God’s plan for salvation would expand far beyond the small land of Judea, and our small corner of the world. Because of this woman’s journey, and her daughter’s suffering, we can learn that God detests racism and that His love is all-encompassing.
- She had to wait for so long, and go through so much to get His attention, so that the testimony of her humility would be an example to all people for all time for how we are to pray and keep praying. Her persistence in asking, seeking and knocking (Matthew 7:7) would be an example to all believers in their prayer life.
- Her tears were not wasted, nor was her daughter’s pain. Through it Jesus’ was able to show His power over demons, demonstrate His ability to heal over great distances, increase the woman’s faith, and deepen the disciples understanding of who Jesus was.
- And through her story, condemnation was brought upon the sins of the Jewish Religious experts, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Elders, and Scribes who claimed to know God, but didn’t understand Jesus 1/100 as well as this gentile mother did.
“Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:1-23)
Here we see Jesus, out walking and talking with a group of disciples – probably with a larger crowd of people around them listening in, when they are interrupted by yet another group of religious experts who want to question Jesus. This time we have local group of Pharisees who have decided to bring in some big-shot scribes (or lawyers) from the city of Jerusalem.
Think of it like having the Beckwith Township hire a group of law professors from McGill or U of Toronto to come and interrupt our church picnic so they can ask us some questions about ways that they believe we are are engaging in civil disobedience and breaking local standards of conduct. The day would go from pleasant to extremely dramatic in very short order.
Mark gives us some back-story on what’s going on here, explaining to his readers (who were probably gentile Romans), why the forthcoming conversation about washing one’s hands was such a big deal. It would be easy to wonder why Jesus said what He did, if you didn’t know the background of the story.
Now, if you know me, then you know that I have a love-affair with hand sanitizer. My brain no longer associates the smell of lemon and pine with clean – now it’s the nostril stinging scent of hand-sanitizer that smells like clean! Mmm Purell.
But what the Pharisees are talking about is far more than just washing one’s hands before they eat. Mark uses some very specific language to describe what they are doing. He says they don’t eat unless they “wash their hands properly”. That literally translates to “wash their hands with a fist (or “using a fist” or even “up to the elbow”), holding to the tradition of the elders”, which probably describing some kind of hand-washing ceremony that was decreed by human teachers, and is not in the Law of God. Think of the sign you see on the wall in a hospital or restaurant that tells you how to wash your hands – and now imagine that sign was enforced by the laws of the city.
Then Mark he goes on to say Jews “do not eat unless they wash”, – which literally means “baptize (or purify) themselves”, and has a very religious meaning. This goes for everything – cups, pots, serving dishes, everything. For them, cleanliness wasn’t next to godliness – it was godliness!
But this conversation with Jesus wasn’t merely about washing hands. Jewish religious teachers had added hundreds of religious traditions to God’s laws, which they saw as important and inviolable as God’s Law itself. Common people didn’t follow the rules as strictly as the Pharisees, which made the Pharisees look and feel morally superior. It also helped to keep them in power since anyone who challenged their rules was – by their definition – challenging God Himself!
The problem was that their moral superiority and hard-core commitment to their religion actually became a barrier between them and God. Their rules became blinders where instead of being a path to, and reminder of, their God, they became short-sighted and saw only the ritual and tradition. Their practice actually prevented them from seeing what God really wanted from them. They started with a concern for honouring and obeying God, but as they created more man-made rules, forms and functions for their religion, they began forgetting about the God they were supposed to be worshipping. This wasn’t a new problem for the Jews, but is spoken about multiple times in the Old Testament too. (Isa 1; Micah 6:6-8).
Jesus, however, disregards their oral traditions and rituals and speaks only of what is in scripture. This confused and aggravated them, because they thought that if Jesus really was sent from God, and a good, Jewish Rabbi, then He would have to follow their rules and teach it to His followers. But Jesus’ followers were clearly disregarding it! So, naturally, they had ask Him about it. Clearly Jesus hadn’t spent enough time explaining the most important things about God – like how to wash one’s hands – to His followers, and they wanted to correct Him.
As usual, Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush, but cuts to the heart of the issue. He knew that hand washing wasn’t about having clean hands. They were trying to look holy, keep up religious appearances, show how unlike the dirty gentiles they were, and trying to out-do each other and the common people in their devotion – not to God – but to their religion. And so Jesus called them “hypocrites!”
We know a hypocrite is someone that says one thing and does another, but in Greek, the word literally describes a “play-actor”. Someone who is merely pretending to be something he is not for the sake of the show. That’s exactly what these people were doing and Jesus nails them to the wall for their hypocrisy.
During His last days, before His crucifixion, Jesus sat in the Temple teaching many things. One of the most passionate teachings He gave was the “Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees”, where over and over He called them “hypocrites”.
Matthew 23 gives us an even better view of what Jesus is talking about.
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.’” (Matthew 23:1-4)
In other words, these teachers do read and speak the words of the God whenever they read the Bible – so listen to what they say – but don’t do what they do. They teach the Word, but don’t listen to it. They memorized it, but didn’t apply it. They could quote it at will and have hours of debate about it, but never listened to what they were saying. They could teach for hours on any passage, but learned nothing. They were amazing at keeping the law and the traditions, performing their religious ceremonies – bit it was all mean to impress God and everyone else with their devotion. They were play actors who looked the part, but their hearts were far from God.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:23-28)
Jesus says, “Sure, you tithe, right down to the penny! But you don’t love people – you’re a hypocrite! Sure you perform religious ceremonies, show up in public with clean hands, but you full of sin on the inside – you’re a hypocrite! Sure, you have the reputation of a solid believer, righteous before all, a pillar of the community – but God knows you are dead inside – you’re a hypocrite!”
Over and over, throughout His ministry, Jesus warned His disciples and the crowds about the dangers of thinking like a Pharisee – and Paul did too. Why did He have to warn them so often and so loudly? Because hypocrisy – pretending we are something we are not – is infectious and comes so naturally to us.
Religion can be an easy source of hypocrisy. If we check the religious boxes, we can look and sound like a good, successful, godly, happy person. But we’re sinful creatures who fail to live up to the standards of God, and often the standards we set for ourselves, so when we fail to walk the talk of our religion, it’s so much easier to fake it than to admit it and ask for help.
The Pharisees couldn’t afford to show a crack in their religious armor. They couldn’t admit that their rules were too hard. They couldn’t admit that they didn’t really understand what God wanted – so they became professional, religious, play-actors.
The Heart of the Issue
Back to Mark 7:14. Jesus gets to the heart of the issue of hypocrisy by making sure that everyone knows the truth about what it means to be clean before God – and it has nothing to do with what happens on the outside of our bodies:
“And he called the people to him again and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.’ And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, ‘Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’” (Mark 7:14-23)
Jesus tells them that He is far more concerned about what is going on inside a person’s heart than what is going on with their body. Just like Jesus said of the Pharisees: A person can be like the Taj Mahal, called the Crown of Palaces, the Jewel of art in India, white marble and precious stones glittering in the sunlight for all to see and be amazed at – but inside is merely a tomb full of dead bones. Repulsive to all who can see inside.
Again, just like handwashing isn’t just about handwashing, Jesus talking about food isn’t just about food. The Pharisees accused the disciples of washing with “defiled” hands – a religious and ceremonial term speaking more about their character and relationship with God than the amount of dirt on their skin. They spoke as though the tiny bit of dirt you may have on your hands would be what created the sin inside of a person – that if you washed your hands, performed your religion, followed the rules, executed the right maneuvers, then you would be sure to keep the sin from getting inside of you.
Jesus says that thinking is all backwards. The religious actions on the outside are not what changes your heart on the inside – it is what is on the insides that gives meaning to the religious actions. Jesus isn’t against clean hands, He’s against hypocrisy and the belief that God is more interested in religious activity than personal purity. The Pharisees were amazing religionists, but terrible people.
His issue is that we need to realize where sin comes from – it comes from the inside. People do not get right with God and grow in righteousness because they perform a ceremony and live by a certain ritual – that’s where many Catholics get it completely wrong. The ceremony may have some value, but only inasmuch as it reflects what’s going in inside a heart. Going through the ceremony doesn’t fix your character or make you clean or forgiven – that requires a change of heart.
Baptism, Communion, Public prayer, church attendance, singing songs together are all godly and good only inasmuch as they are done with a heart turned towards God. That’s what God wants – a heart turned to Him. Jesus’ bottom line is that we don’t become pure by changing our actions – we need to have our insides changed first. And the only way to change our insides, know we are pure, and feel clean in God’s eyes, is when we recognize ourselves to be sinners, hate our sin, turn our hearts to God, and ask for forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ. Then Jesus, forgives us, cleanses us, renews our minds and begins the process of transforming us into His image. That inward change affects our outward behaviour.
Jesus said to his followers, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees.” (Matthew 16:5-12) because their thinking will grow invisibly among believers just like yeast grows invisibly in bread – it’s infectious. Let me ask you a few questions to see if some of their yeast has gotten into your heart. We have to keep watch, because it’s very, very sneaky.
In what ways have you elevated a manmade systems to the status of God’s Word?
Maybe it’s a diet, a favourite book or author, a financial system, a religious practice, a system of rules for living, or a tradition, but for you it’s just as important as anything God has ever said. Is there something that you have elevated to the status of scripture, even though it’s a human idea?
Have you ever rejected someone’s thinking because you didn’t like their background, training or personality style?
It doesn’t matter what they say, you’re not going to listen because they’re wearing the wrong shirt, drinking the wrong drink, hanging out with the wrong people, or using the wrong words. The Pharisees certainly did that to Jesus. They didn’t listen to Him because He wasn’t like them. No matter how much truth He spoke, they wouldn’t listen because of their pre-formed bias against Him. Let us be careful not judge by the outsides.
Do you ever perform religious ceremonies so you can feel superior to others?
You can do this by attending church services, singing songs, praying publically, or fasting. Instead of having that religious activity bring you closer to God, you use it to one-up fellow believers. You attend more, sing louder, pray longer, and fast harder than anyone! You Facebook about your devos so others will know how holy you are. Religion has value when it is done with the right heart, but not if you’re trying or impress God or others.
Do you ever try to indoctrinate people into your version of your religion, rather than trying to introduce them to Jesus?
You need to come to my church, to listen to my pastor, and read this book, and do this devotional guide, and sing this song, and pray this prayer, and give this much money… because that’s how you come to God. Or do you introduce them to Jesus and let God work on their heart?
Those are just a few ways that Pharisaical thinking can sneak into our hearts and religion can start taking over our relationship with Jesus.
The Story of Two Men
As an application, I want to close with a story. I think it will help us understand the difference between hypocritical religion and a heart turned to God:
Two men are full of anger, bitterness, and jealousy. They both hate their lot in life and grumble incessantly to anyone who will listen. They live alone now, after messing up a dozen relationships and spend most evenings and the whole of Saturday surfing for porn and defiling themselves. Their current girlfriend comes over that evening, and they fight with her until midnight, when she final has enough and leaves crying. The next day, they get in their cars to get to church. The only reason they are going is because they volunteered to do something and are the only ones who can do it. They protest and complain the entire way, thinking themselves stupid for ever getting involved with God or His church in the first place. They walk into church, see each other, shake hands, do their job, and then sit down for the beginning of the service. Thankfully, no one else bothered them.
Now consider these two options. The first man sits near the front, in his usual spot. He greets the folks around him with a big smile on his face, even prays for one of the ladies who says she’s having a rough day. The songs start and he stands up before anyone else. He closes his eyes for one of the songs, raises his hands, and starts to sway. On the next song, he’s the one that leads the clapping. When it’s offering time, he realizes he’s forgotten his chequebook, and lays a twenty on top of the envelopes, giving the usher a wink and a nod.
During the sermon, His “amen’s” are always the loudest, though after 20 minutes, he starts to check his watch, counting down the seconds until the preacher is supposed to be done. After 30 minutes the pastor is still going strong, when he lets out a bit of a cough, and tries to catch his eye – to no avail. His foot starts to tap, and he’s anxious to get to the closing song. On the way out, he lets everyone know that he wishes he could stay, but has to get going because he made some plans he can’t get out of — tells the pastor that he did great, thanks the pianist, and pats the hand of the elderly ladies who stand by the door. Everyone smiles and waves at him as he walks away – and one of the people on the Nominating Committee whispers to another, “We really need to ask that guy to be a deacon!”
The second his hand hits the steering wheel of his car he lets out a big sigh. As he leaves the parking lot, his brow furrows, his lips curl downward, and he mutters under his breath, “Great. Late again. Now I’ll never get a good seat. Stupid service is always late….”
Now let’s move to the second man. He doesn’t sit in his usual spot, but finds a place near the back – he doesn’t want to shake anyone’s hand. He feels miserable. Guilty. Ashamed. He considers leaving, but when he stands the music starts and something compels him to stay. He remains seated for the song, arms folded, his eyes fixed on the powerpoint slide – he doesn’t want to make eye contact with anyone. But he can’t help but read the words. By the second song, the knot in his stomach is really starting to hurt. The third song is one of his favourites, and he starts to quietly sing along – and the words wash over him like never before. He starts to choke up and can’t sing. He doesn’t even notice when the usher misses him with the offering plate. Unbeknownst to even him, he’s started to pray: “God, why am I such a mess? I hate feeling like this. Why am I here? I shouldn’t be singing this. Why am I stuck in this vicious cycle? I need some help.
When the sermon starts, it feels like the pastor is talking to him. At the beginning he feels exposed, as though the preacher was sitting in his house during that week, and the shame washes over him again. But as the preacher continues, He speaks of the love of God, forgiveness in Christ, hope of purity and strength. He’d been coming for months now — why hadn’t he heard this before? The man feels the break happen inside his heart – light starts to flood inside. He talks to God and says, “I want that.” That’s it. It starts with three words. “I want that.” Then two more. “I’m sorry.” Then two more. “Help me.”
The preacher begins to wrap up his talk – where did the time go! – and encourages anyone who wants to, to stay behind to talk, pray and share with God’s people. The man knows something has changed inside him because instead of wanting to bolt from his seat, he wants to know more, to listen to more. It’s like he’s hearing it for the first time.
Instead of leaving his seat at the end of service, he just sits there – he’s not even really thinking. He just doesn’t want to leave. The sanctuary starts to empty and he stands up to walk out with red eyes and a wearied expression. The preacher shakes his hand at the door, asking if everything is ok and wondering if they can get together this week. He says sure. He walks past the musicians, past the elderly ladies, past everyone on the way to the parking lot. He doesn’t return their smiles and one of the people on the Nominating Committee whispers, “What’s his problem?” He sits in his car for a full five minutes, in silence, before driving away.
Now, I ask you, which one of these people went away from church closer to God? But on the outside the first guy looked so much better, didn’t he? That’s Jesus’ point.
“He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6:1-6)
Jesus Goes Home
There have been a huge amount of miracles in the past couple chapters. Jesus has been going back and forth from crisis to crisis, performing amazing miracles, even raising the dead! But now it’s time for Jesus to make a stop at home. If we look back to Mark 3:31-35 we read about Jesus’ family coming to try to get Him to come home, so He might be returning at the request of his mother and siblings. And after coming into his hometown, hanging out with his mother, brothers and sisters…. as is the custom in the Synagogue… Jesus the traveling teacher is asked to give the reading and the message during the Sabbath service.
Now, he’s already gained quite the reputation in the area. The parallel account of this event in Luke 4:16-29 gives us a bit more detail as to what was happening there.
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” (vs 16-20)
You can already see the parallels between Mark and Luke. Jesus is asked to give the reading and message, but instead of keeping with the lectionary and reading whatever passage was supposed to be read that day, it seems that Jesus grabbed the scroll of Isaiah and opens it to a very specific passage outlining the mission of the coming messiah to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, preach repentance and salvation, heal people physically and spiritually, and free people from their oppressors. Then, as is the tradition of the day, he sits down to give the sermon.
Jesus Gives a Sermon About Jesus
Keep reading in verse 21:
“And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.”
Luke only gives us the title of Jesus’ sermon, but we can tell that there was a lot more explaining done by Jesus about what this passage meant and how it would be fulfilled.
Can you imagine getting a sermon from Jesus Himself? Can you imagine sitting in church and having Jesus Christ Himself sit down in front of you, open the prophet Isaiah, and explain to you about all the things that came before, how the prophets spoke of His coming, and then to explain His mission and what He would do? What an amazing sermon that would be.
It reminds me of what happened to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Jesus had died, had rose again, and these two disciples were walking down the road, talking together, trying to figure out what had just happened in Jerusalem, when Jesus comes up behind them (though they didn’t know it was Him at first), calls them dumb for not being able to figure out what had just happened, and then teaches them (again!) about the mission and methods of the Messiah.
After Jesus leaves them they look at one another and say, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)
We would imagine that’s what it would be like to sit and listen to a sermon by Jesus Himself, right? Who wouldn’t repent and become a Christian if Jesus Christ Himself explained the whole Bible to them?!? So here is Jesus giving a sermon explaining Jesus to everyone. That should be a done deal!
Well, let’s keep reading at the end of verse 22:
“And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’”
Mark gives us a bit more of what they were saying:
“Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2-3)
They are absolutely blown away by His powerful teaching, and also His claim to be the Messiah! Now, this passage can be read two ways, right? It can either be”
“Wow! Isn’t this Joseph’s son?! Amazing! What a wonderful young man! How delightful to see Him grow up into the Messiah!”
“Wait, Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Where does He get off claiming to be somebody? What tricks does He have up His sleeve? This guy is a carpenter, not a preacher. He should stick to woodwork because He sounds crazy!”
It’s more likely the second one because look what comes right after in Mark 6:3, “And they took offense at Him.”
That word, “offense” is an important word because it comes up a lot in scripture. It’s the word SKANDALIZO which is where we get the English word “scandal”. A scandal, by definition, is “an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.” Outraged. Why is this word so important? Because it can also be translated “stumble”. And it is that word that describes why these people turned on Jesus and why people hate Christians today.
The Stumbling Stones
In Romans 9:30-33 we read,
“Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
What is “the stumbling stone”? Thinking that salvation is about works. Thinking that we can work our way to heaven. We stumble when we believe that our relationship with Jesus is all about the physical and not the spiritual. Jesus was preaching that salvation was found by faith in Him.
There’s a lot of ways that people stumble over Jesus’ message and methods, getting worldly ways mixed up with His. People love the idea of Jesus saving them and giving them abundant life, and joy, and love, and peace – all the benefits of being a Christian, but they stumble over how He does it.
Let’s turn back to the scripture in Luke 4:18-19 where Jesus tells us about Himself and His mission, and see how many ways people stumble over Jesus.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Stumbling over Exclusivity
He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”. Their first stumbling block is Jesus’ exclusivity. That Jesus is the “the way, the truth, and the life, [and that] no one comes to the Father except through [Him].” (John 14:6)
When He said “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”, He was saying, “I’m here. I’m the Messiah. Salvation is found in a relationship with me as your Lord and your Saviour. Follow me, trust me, put me in charge. I’m your God, you’re my people. I’m Creator, you’re creation. I’m God, you’re not. I have been ‘anointed’, chosen, set apart, and am uniquely equipped to accomplish what I have come to do. There is no other God besides My Father. There is ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’ (Acts 4:12)”
People today really struggle with this claim. They might like Jesus, but they also want to be able to set their own path. And therefore, when Jesus claims to be the only way, they react the same way as the people of Nazareth did. They “take offence” at him. They want a God of their own design and a Saviour of their own choosing. They want to have the assurance that their good works earned them something. They want to know that their wealth, or creativity, or sacrifice makes them better than others – more worthy of God’s attention.
They like parts of other religions and want to mix them into Christianity. They disagree with some of the tough things that the Bible says about sin so they want to be able to pick and choose what is right and wrong. Though they want to go to heaven and get all the benefits of knowing Jesus, they are not willing to conform their concept of God to who Jesus revealed Himself to be.
Many people are so offended by His exclusivity that they create a different Jesus. One they like better. A nicer Jesus. A more politically correct Jesus. A less offensive, less divisive, less demanding Jesus. They cut the parts out of His Word that they don’t like and write in their own. They make arguments about how Jesus would have moved on from His archaic thinking and would be more like them today. They invent a new Jesus because the real Jesus is too hard to get over. They stumble over the real Jesus.
Stumbling over Humility
The next thing Jesus says is that He has come “to proclaim good news to the poor.”
Just like the original hearers, many people perk up when Jesus says this! The payoff! Jesus wants to make poor people rich! He just said so, right? That’s “good news”! What better news could there be then that Jesus would make us all economically secure. Money equals happiness, right?
People really stumble over this. False teachers twist and turn the scriptures so that they say exactly the opposite of what Jesus means. A lot of people come to Jesus because of this reason – they want wealth and financial security. But that’s not what Jesus promised.
The good news of salvation is not merely for the financially poor, but for those who are “poor in spirit”. Jesus says in the beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
Jesus cares for the poor, but He does not save them by making them economically happy. Instead, Jesus saves people who understand that they are spiritually poor and have nothing can offer God. Another word for that is Humility. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) He’s not looking for people who think they can save themselves, or believe that God cares about how rich they are. Jesus saves people who know they are sinners, completely spiritually bankrupt, and who are desperately in need of His help to be saved and forgiven.
This is such a stumbling block for people because people hate the idea of being humiliated and love the idea of being exalted. So when Jesus lays out the path of salvation as one that happens on your knees, they are offended. Praying a salvation prayer like David did in Psalm 51 is a remarkable act of humiliation:
“Have mercy on me, O God,… Purge me… wash me… create in me a clean heart… Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation… For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51)
“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” is true… as long as your realize that the “wonderful plan” God has for you includes discipline, suffering, sacrifice and humiliation. Most people wouldn’t call that a wonderful plan – but then most people don’t see things the way Jesus does.
A lot of Christians still stumble in this.
- Every time we come to Jesus with an ultimatum, we are making the same mistake as the people of Nazareth, and the Israelites that Paul was condemning.
- Whenever we say, “If it’s God’s will, then the doors will open and the path will be easy.” we are making the same mistake.
- Whenever we look at our church or our ministries and say, “God, your job is to make this grow financially and numerically or we’ll quit.” then we are falling into the same error.
- When we come to Jesus and say, “Ok, I’ll give you my heart, as long as you heal my family member, take away all my addictions, give me a good job, and make my life easier…” we are showing that we are stumbling over humility.
A Christian prayer says, “Our Father in Heaven, we worship and hold your name up high. You are the king, we are part of your kingdom, we put ourselves under your Lordship. We also put ourselves under your provision and ask for our daily bread. We will not fight, or steal, or hoard, or go into debt to get it… we’ll trust you to provide for our needs. We come to you to for forgiveness because we cannot forgive ourselves. Salvation is found in you alone. We choose to forgive those who have wronged us because their debt to us is nothing in comparison to our debt to you. (Matthew 18:21-35) And we come to you for spiritual protection because you are Lord of everything – the created world and the spiritual. We are nothing without you. We have nothing without you. We will be humble because you have told us to be and showed us how.”
Think of the words of Philippians 2:1-8 which say,
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Stumbling over Lordship
Next Jesus read that “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives…to set at liberty those who are oppressed…” Jesus did miraculous healings and dramatic exorcisms to prove His Lordship over Satan. And He proclaimed people forgiven by God to show his ability to release people from the bondage of sin.
The people listening thought that Jesus would deliver them the way that God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt or Babylon, but He showed that the proclamation of “liberty to the captives” was not about political prisoners who were captive to human oppressors (which the Jewish people really wanted) but about releasing people from the greater captors of sin and Satan.
But those He was talking to, and many people today, are to short sighted to see that. They stumble over the idea of switching their masters. Jesus said in John 8:34-36,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Master and Slave is the language the New Testament uses to describe people’s spiritual condition. People want to be free from their sin, but they don’t want to admit that they are enslaved by it. And they especially don’t like the idea of submitting to Jesus as Lord. Jesus doesn’t allow for half measures though. This life isn’t about being either a slave or a free person, but about which Master you will serve. Jesus comes to “proclaim liberty to captives” by saying, “I’ve saved you and now you are mine!”
In Romans 6:16-19 says it this way,
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”
You can’t be a citizen of both the Kingdom of God and the World. This ties into what we’ve already been talking about. It’s about Jesus’ exclusive claim to be the only way. It’s about humbling ourselves and making Jesus our Lord.
Yes, we believe that salvation is a free gift from God. Our salvation has been purchased by the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, and we can do nothing to add to that. Our faith in the saving work of Jesus is what allows the Great Exchange of our sin for Jesus righteousness to happen. But along with faith in Jesus as our way of salvation is the belief that He is God and worthy of being Lord of our Life.
People today hate this whole idea. They hate the idea of admitting that they are slaves to sin. They hate the idea of having to come under the Lordship of Jesus.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We were captives of the kingdom of death, sin and Satan, and Jesus purchased us with His blood. Now we’re His property.
A slave can’t have two masters and doesn’t get to make their own choices. Christians don’t say, “No, Lord, I won’t.” Christians can’t worship God and idols. We can’t trust God and at the same time put ourselves into debt. We can’t go to someone else for provision. We are not our own highest authority. Jesus Christ is.
My body isn’t mine to do with as I want – it’s God’s. It was destined to burn in Hell and Jesus traded His blood for me, and now I’m His – Heart, Soul, Mind and Body. Instead we “Submit ourselves to God.” (James 4:7) because we believe what the rest of the Philippians 2 passage says:
“God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
Christians are the ones who bow first – knowing that at some point, ever other knee will bow too. People hate to bow. So they hate Jesus.
Can you see now why listening to a sermon from Jesus resulted in Him being rejected by His hometown? It’s the same reason people hate Him today. They didn’t want Jesus the way Jesus wanted to give Himself to them. They wanted what Jesus could do. They wanted His miracles, not Him, not salvation through Him. And He wouldn’t perform for them.
Jesus knew what was on their hearts, and He knew why all these people had come to the Synagogue that day. They wanted to see Him perform. They wanted miracles. In Capernaum Jesus was presented with a paralyzed man who was lowered from the roof, right in front of Him. And Jesus, in view of everyone, proclaimed the man forgiven of his sins and then healed him so he could pick up his mat and walk out the door! Both of those are miracles. To touch someone who is paralyzed and make them walk is a miracle! And to be saved and forgiven from sin, cleansed before God and fit to live forever in His presence is also a miracle!
Guess which miracle the people wanted from Jesus?
They didn’t come to be saved. They didn’t want to hear that Jesus was the One sent by God to save them from their sins. They wanted Jesus to do miracles. They didn’t want Jesus to bring them from Satan and Death. They wanted healing from their diseases, freedom from their troubles, food for their hunger, and deliverance from their oppressors. They didn’t want to make Jesus Lord of their life, they just wanted Him to make their life better. They didn’t want Him as Master. They wanted Him to fix it so they could live without discipline, suffering, sacrifice and humiliation.
And so, we read in Luke 4:28-29,
“When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.”
That’s the reaction people have to the real person and message of Jesus. Jesus won’t play their game and be their Santa Clause, so they are offended. They fill with wrath, they drive Him and anyone who proclaims Him out of anywhere they can find Him. They harm, persecute, crush, punish, and try to drive Him and everything He says off of the nearest cliff.
That’s happening in Canada and the US. You’ve probably felt it. You can feel the noose tightening around believers in North America. It’s certainly happening in Iraq and Syria and many other places in the world. We should be outraged, saddened, and broken hearted for our brothers and sisters… but we shouldn’t be surprised.
Jesus says in John 15:18-23,
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also.”
And 1 Peter 4:12-19 says,
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
The Recovery of Sight to the Blind
Yes, there have been a lot of people who have done some horrible, even hateful things in the name of Christianity, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people who hate Christians who act like Christians. They hate Christians because they hate Jesus.
- They hate that He says He’s the only way.
- They hate that He calls them to humiliate themselves before Him.
- They hate that they have to admit that they are slaves to sin and Satan.
- They hate that Jesus says there is nothing they can do to save themselves.
- They hate that Jesus is God and won’t do what they want Him to do.
- They hate that Jesus doesn’t choose their kind of people.
- They hate that His salvation doesn’t equal earthly happiness.
- They hate that they have to believe they are absolutely wrong about a lot of things.
- They hate having to put themselves under God’s Word.
- They hate that Jesus forgives all kinds of sin, even the people they don’t like, even the people that hurt them.
- They hate that He doesn’t give preferential treatment to their people, race, nation, or group.
- And they hate anyone associated with Him and His ideas.
But Jesus came as the Anointed Messiah of God to “to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind…”. Jesus showed in His miracles that He could cure the physically blind – even those blind from birth – and it was a way to show that He had the power, not just over physical blindness, but spiritual blindness.
We must remember that these people who hate Jesus and His people so much are spiritually blind– just as we once were. They “walk in darkness” and are blinded by Satan (John 8:12; 1 John 1:6; Romans 1:18-32, 2 Corinthians 4:4) .
“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Ephesians 4:18)
But Jesus can make the blind see and release the captives! That has to be our prayer. We want them to see, just as we see, and that is a miracle that God has to work. 2 Corinthians 4:6 says,
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
And that’s the only thing that is going to help. We need Jesus to shine His light into the hearts of these people, just as He has ours. We need to love them as He has loved us. Forgive as we’ve been forgiven. To grant them mercy just as He has granted us mercy.
Let us pray this for our unsaved family members and friends, and for our enemies and those who are persecuting the church. And let us pray for ourselves, that we will continue to live in the light. Trusting in Jesus alone, humbling ourselves before Him, and making Him our Lord every day.