Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Folly of Unbelief: Detriment

When faced with the rejection of His hometown folks, Mark records these words of Jesus: “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” Then Mark adds this commentary: “And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed [them]. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.”

There are two incredible expressions uttered in those verses:
1. “Could there do no mighty work”
2. “He marveled because of their unbelief”

Let’s be clear about the first one. He could do no miracles because he would not. Christ determined to do no miracles, but He was not powerless to do miracles. Omnipotence is not omnipotent if it is bound by anything but its own will. It was not physically impossible, but it would have been morally and spiritually inconsistent for Christ to do many mighty works in that place of unbelief. Where the Kingdom of God is rejected it is inappropriate for the King to share its new life and joy.

Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. There are only two recorded incidents in the Gospels wherein Jesus is said to have “marveled”. Christ was amazed at the faith of the Centurion of Luke 7:1-10, and He was equally amazed by the unbelief of the Nazarenes in Mark 6:1-6. How marvelous it is to amaze Jesus with the extent of your faith, but how terrifying it is to amaze Him with your unbelief. Sinclair Ferguson writes:
The people of Nazareth enjoyed so many advantages. The Son of God had lived among them in childhood. He had preached to them with power. He had carried out some miracles. He had returned to them after an earlier rejection. But they were blind to his identity, deaf to his message, and hardened their hearts against him. Mark does not record any further visits to Nazareth. Perhaps there were none. Even what they had was taken from them (Mark 4:25). Let us learn from their sad example.
What are the characteristics and consequences of unbelief?

  • Unbelief is not neutral. It’s not a “fine if you do and fine if you don’t” category.
  • Unbelief is folly. It blurs the obvious, builds-up the irrelevant, blocks the supernatural, and blinds one from the truth.
  • Unbelief is the oldest of mankind’s sins. It began in the Garden of Eden when Eve failed to believe God when He said “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” Instead of believing God she believed Satan who said, “You shall not surely die.”
  • Unbelief bears the worst consequences of any sin. Unbelief brought death into the world, kept Israel in the Wilderness for 40 years, caused Christ to limit His mighty works in Nazareth, and it will condemn you to an eternity in Hell apart from Christ; an eternity of punishment. According to the Apostle John whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
  • Unbelief is the most common of sins.
Not only are those who are openly hostile or indifferent to the Gospel guilty of unbelief, but there are many who profess to be Christians but in practice they are unbelievers. JC Ryle wrote:
The root of unbelief is never entirely destroyed. We have only to leave off watching and praying and a rank crop of unbelief will soon spring up.
Unbelief robs churches of their power. You may add new programs. You may be as busy as time will allow; busier even, but without a believing expectancy in Christ and His power, nothing will come of it. The writer of Hebrews provides this warning:
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God (Hebrews 3:12).
He also reminds us of this:
Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (11:6).
Do you believe that the God of the Bible exists, and that He rewards those who seek Him? Christ was amazed by faith and unbelief. What about you amazes Christ?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Folly of Unbelief: Resentment

Yes, the Nazareth citizenry were amazed at the works and words of Jesus Christ, but their unbelief had blurred them to the obvious and blinded them from the truth. Amazement, however, was not the only emotion on display in the Nazarene synagogue. There was also resentment.

Mark 6:3 reeks of resentment. The people of Nazareth were not happy that a hometown boy was teaching; at least the type of teaching that Jesus delivered. It was not the style of teaching that offended the people as much as the substance of the teaching. After all, who did this “local boy” think he was calling them to repentance?!

Sinclair Ferguson writes:
One can sense the terrible small-town mentality gone badly wrong as they closed ranks in opposition to Jesus. Much of what they said smacks of pride. Other people might be taken in by Jesus, but they knew better.
Here is what the people said about their Messiah, who had been raised to manhood right in their midst: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.” (Mark 6:3)

The Christ was “despised and rejected”, to borrow Isaiah’s phrase, by the hometown crew. The people’s comments drip with denigration and resentment. “Is not this the carpenter?” There is nothing subtle about that remark. It’s as if they had said: “Shouldn’t this guy stick to hammers and nails, and not worry so much about topics and ideas that are beyond him? After all, he’s the town carpenter!”

The observation that he was “the son of Mary” was an even more spiteful statement. That is because Jewish sons were always identified by their fathers, not their mothers, even if their father was dead. If a man’s father were dead he was still his father’s son. Referring to Jesus as “the son of Mary” was a nuanced way of calling Christ a bastard. This was a cheap shot; a low blow aimed not only at Jesus but at His mother.

Christ was despised by those who knew Him best. In that regard, Nazareth was a miniature of many churches today. No one has seen, let alone lived near, the Lord for 2,000+ years, but for the many people who are cultural Christians Jesus is despised. How sad it is to see people who have grown up with Christ in the church either openly or secretly despise and reject Him.

Just as the Nazarene unbelief had blurred the obvious and blinded them from the truth, we see it here build up the irrelevant. Invariably, unbelief will shift away from the main issue of the Gospel and eternity to something that is comparatively irrelevant.

For example, you bring someone to church where the Word is clearly and charitably preached. Afterwards you ask your friend what he thought, and he answers: “The people were unfriendly…awkward…out of style. Their kids wouldn’t talk to my kids. The pews were uncomfortable. I didn’t know the songs. People kept violating my personal space; everybody wanted to shake my hand. The guy in front of me kept moving his head. The kid behind made all kind of noise. The preacher thinks he knows-it-all, and he was too loud…too quiet…too long…too preachy”. Books could be filled with people’s complaints.

For the most part all of the above is a smokescreen. It’s a build-up of the irrelevant to cover-up the important; namely their need to repent and believe. This doesn’t mean that some complaints aren’t valid. It doesn’t mean that churches should be cold to their guests, or proud of an uncomfortable atmosphere, or distracting in their mannerisms. That is not the issue. The issue is that unbelievers (and backslidden believers) will find something that does not matter, attach themselves to that, and make it an issue to divert the focus away from the eternal and onto the temporal.

Christ was not only resented by the people because they were familiar with Him. They resented Him because he offended them. Very plainly Mark tells us, “they were offended at him.” The Greek word translated “they were offended” is “skandaliz┼Ź”. Clearly, this is the word from which our English term “scandalized” is derived. It means “to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; to offend.” The people had no real complaint with Jesus. That was true then; it's true now, and it will always be true. There was nothing in His manner which was offensive, but His message cut people in half. It was (is) supposed to do that. The offense is not, and never has been, with Christ; the offense was, and always will be, with the Cross.

They were scandalized by the message of the cross. They were offended when Christ would preach:
They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, [even] God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? [even] because ye cannot hear my word… And because I tell [you] the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? (John 8:39-43, 45-46)
The people of Nazareth, just like people today, did not need more proof as to who Jesus was and from where His power originated. More evidence is not needed. What is required is a willingness to abandon sinfulness and turn by faith to Jesus Christ. The refusal to believe, then and now, is not rooted in a lack of facts but in an unwillingness to deal with sin.

This is the offense of the cross. In Arnold Dallimore’s brilliant and epic biography of George Whitefield, the greatest evangelist since Paul the Apostle, he has a chapter entitled “The Offense of the Cross”. In that chapter he details how the young minister, who at first was adored by all, including the professional clergy and the aristocracy, started to sour in many minds of the same. Much of the clergy and the aristocracy were offended at Whitefield’s clear, passionate, and faithful proclamation of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. One example is the Duchess of Buckingham who exclaimed in a letter to a fellow noblewoman who admired Whitefield:
It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting, and I cannot but wonder that your Ladyship should relish such sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.
Regardless of your ranking in society, the Gospel is offensive. Not in a rude, crass, or immoral sense (therefore the messengers of the Gospel should not be offensive in a rude, crass, or immoral sense), but the Gospel is offensive because the message of the cross is folly to those who are perishing. Jews demanded signs and the Greeks sought wisdom. Those two groups still exist today, but we are to preach Christ crucified anyway, and that message is stumbling block to some and folly to others.

This unwillingness to believe is a pathetic condition, but it is not hopeless! Hard soil requires plowing; the preparation work of the Holy Spirit. Pray that God will use you, believer, in that plowing process.

Just as we see with the people of Nazareth; until one has his hard heart plowed up and turned over he will not be willing to break with his sinfulness and there can be no believing, seeing, or understanding the things of God. They were amazed by Christ’s words and works, but unmoved by them. They resented this Man, and His lack of formal education and training. They were offended by His message, and we will see tomorrow that this was to their own detriment.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Folly of Unbelief: Amazement

So Christ returned home, not for a holiday but for ministry. The Sabbath finds Him back in the synagogue in which He had grown and from which He had been forcibly removed. Even though Jesus’ last sermon in that place had ended in attempted murder, He is allowed to speak once again. Mark 6:2 records the reaction of those in synagogue that day: “many hearing [him] were astonished, saying, From whence hath this [man] these things? and what wisdom [is] this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?”

Their reaction is one of amazement. The people of Nazareth were amazed at the words and works of Jesus. Who wouldn’t be? No man had ever before taught like this man. No man had ever before displayed such miraculous power on such a scale as He did. Old Testament prophets had done, by the power of God, some astonishing works, but not to the extent that Jesus worked. He virtually eradicated disease from Palestine during His ministry. The signs and wonders accomplished by Christ were unique to Him.

Mark does not indicate from which Old Testament text Jesus preached. That may reveal to us that the specific text was extraneous. Not that Scripture is irrelevant, but that the hard-hearted, obstinate refusal of the Nazarenes made the simple, Biblical, gracious, and powerful message from Christ’s own lips of no effect. These people were no more responsive than they were at the beginning of His ministry; except that this time they didn’t try to kill Him. They were amazed at Christ’s powerful, perceptive, and piercingly clear preaching, but they were unmoved by it.

The examples of Jairus and the woman of chapter five prove that faith is a powerful thing; specifically faith in Christ. The people of Nazareth also prove something: the folly of unbelief. The Nazarenes exemplify that unbelief is likewise as powerful as belief.

Because of their unbelief they were blurred to the obvious and blinded from the truth. They were astonished at His mighty works and marvelous words. They wondered at the source of these things, but that answer was obvious. One of the leading teachers of the Jews understood the source of Christ’s words and works. Nicodemus came to Jesus one night and said, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” (John 3:2)

Divine miracles and wisdom can have only one source: the Divine! The evidence was plain. I find it telling that the people didn’t deny the evidence. There was no suggestion that Jesus was an illusionist. There were no wacky explanations for how Jesus accomplished what He did; except from the jealous Pharisees who suggested that His power was derived from Satan (Mark 3:22). The people could only question the origin of Christ’s power, not the reality of it. This is perhaps the greatest apologetic from the scriptures regarding the deity of Christ. Not only did Christ’s friends, but His enemies did affirm that he performed the miraculous.

Still, one can be amazed at the evidence and not believe it; not trust in the amazing Jesus as Lord and Savior. Just as believing is a choice, so too is unbelief. At Nazareth, in spite of the overwhelming evidence the people refused to believe. They determined not to believe.

Why?! In 1856 JC Ryle wrote:

It is neither the want of evidence, nor the difficulties of Christian doctrine that make men unbelievers. It is want of will to believe. They love sin. (Expository Thought on Mark, Banner of Truth, p. 110)

What was true in England in 1856 was true in Nazareth, and it is just as true today. Listen to what Jesus told Nicodemus during their clandestine conversation:

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:17-19)

Light is visible. The light of Christ will draw some and repel others, but not because there is some defect with the Light. Many are repelled by the light because many love their sin more than Christ. Lack of evidence was not then, nor is it now, the problem. Love of evil is the problem.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Belief & Unbelief

It is always good to be home and to go home. Home is where you are well known and well treated. Home is the place of innocent, fun-filled memories. It’s always good to go home. It's always good, that is, except for when the home-folks try to kill you. During His first trip home, following the launch of His public ministry, Jesus Christ was assaulted by the people of Nazareth who became enraged at His preaching. Luke 4:29 tells us that the Nazarenes, “Rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.”

Consumed with wrath the people forcibly removed Jesus from the synagogue and attempted to toss the Christ over a cliff. It didn’t work. It couldn’t work. Luke says that, “he passed through the midst of them [and] went his way” (v. 30). This is because God the Father did not send His Son to be killed in this manner or at this time. At the divinely appointed time and by the divinely appointed means Jesus Christ would be sacrificed. The appointed time had not yet come, and the appointed means would be the cross, not being tossed over a Galilean cliff. Everything was under control and according to plan, including the murderously maniacal hometown synagogue crowd at Nazareth.

Jesus led His disciples back to that cruel town and synagogue in
Mark 6:1-6. Familiarity really can breed contempt, and it seems like that is truer in the arena of religion than anything else, or, as Philip Brooks has written:

Familiarity breeds contempt only with contemptible things or among contemptible people.

The contempt shown Jesus by the people of Nazareth said nothing about Him and everything about them.

Returning to His hometown synagogue after being forcibly removed during His previous visit was an act of gracious mercy, motivated by a heart that desired His people to look unto Him for their salvation, but they would not. (
Matthew 23:37) In the first six verses of Mark 6 the simultaneously powerful and pathetic truth of John 1:11 is illustrated: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”

The unbelief demonstrated by the citizens of Nazareth stands out in stark contrast to the previously displayed faith of the diseased woman and Jairus. The hearts of the people mentioned in Mark 5 and 6 are graphic definitions and examples of the four types of soils/hearts that were presented in Mark 4.

  • Hard Soil (Mark 4:4, 15) – The people of Nazareth had heart hearts, and were totally unreceptive to the Gospel in spite of the evidence.
  • Stony Soil (Mark 4:5-6, 16-17) – The 5,000 whom Jesus will feed (6:30-44) were overjoyed with Christ’s supernatural culinary skills. They loved to be physically healed and well fed, but there is no statement given as to their repentance of sin and faith in Christ. We do know from John’s account of this miracle (John 6) that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” once He began to preach about the high cost of discipleship. The shallowness of their soil became obvious when they began to hear hard truth.
  • Thorny Soil (Mark 4:7, 18-19) – From the listed cast of characters in Mark 6, King Herod best typifies the crowded heart. He feared the Baptist, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man. He protected him from the murderous designs of his scheming wife (albeit in prison and only for a little while). He was a captivated listener to John’s preaching, but the cares of this world choked out the gospel seed which John had planted.
  • Good Soil (Mark 4:8, 20) – The diseased woman, Jairus, and those receptive to the apostles’ ministry all are representative of the gospel seed falling on good ground and bearing fruit.

The sad but true fact is that not all people who hear the gospel will receive the gospel. According to Jesus, many will reject the message. Christ first taught this to His disciples in Mark 4, and it was made obvious as time transpired. It was never plainer than in Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. As the Lord trained His chosen ambassadors to carry the Gospel to the people; He prepared them (and us) for the rejection that they would inevitably face. Not all who hear the truth will accept and believe the truth.

Praise God that some will!

Friday, July 18, 2008

On Jesse Jackson

Like most people I was disgusted with the (latest) tripe to escape the lips of the (un)Reverend Jesse Jackson. Baptist pastor Thabiti Anyabwile has posted an excellent essay on Jackson's words and attitude at his blog Pure Church.

Perhaps the most helpful paragraph of his post, at least for me, is this:
Jackson reminds me that mine is a public life as well. Every pastor's life is a public life. And perhaps a case can be made that every Christian life is a public life. And we all can fall to depths that make us shudder when we're sober-minded enough to think about it. We are Christ's, but Satan has asked to sift us like wheat, sin lies crouching at our doors. We'd better watch our lives and our doctrine carefully.
Amen and amen.

here to read the entire post. I hope you do.

Monday, July 14, 2008

For the Fun of It

It's all good.

The Diseased & the Dead pt. 2

The Cure

Jesus Christ is the, to quote again Bishop Ryle's Expository Thoughts on Mark,
healer of the broken-hearted, the refuge of the weak and helpless, the comforter of the distressed, the sick man’s friend.
The only hope of wholeness and life rests in Christ. There is no other cure. There is no other way. Praise God that Jesus is not only able but more than willing to meet their (our) needs.

As soon as Jesus landed on the Capernaum shoreline He was thronged by the multitude. Jairus immediately descended upon Jesus and fell at His feet entreating Him to come and heal his deathly sick daughter. This is only speculation, but I’m fairly certain that Jairus was on pins and needles. He urgently desired for Christ to be at his house. He wanted Him there yesterday! Nevertheless, the horde of people had hindered Christ’s travel, and then, to Jairus’ horror, Jesus stopped.

Picture this intriguing scene in your mind. Jesus is in the midst of a mass of humanity. Ahead a few paces is the frantic father who is fearful that every delay could doom his daughter to death. Nearby to Jesus are His frustrated followers. Frustrated because keeping the crowd at arm’s length is difficult enough without Jesus coming to a halt and asking “Who touched my clothes?” (v. 30). Luke tells us specifically which apostle gave Jesus what seemed like the obvious answer. Peter said, “Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, ‘Who touched me.’”

Not far off is a woman whose countenance is a mixture of joy and fear. Warily the woman steps forward, because Jesus will not move until she does. Perhaps Jesus glares at her, being agitated with the one who has seemingly delayed his daughter’s only hope. “The woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.”

The woman was already healed. We are told in verse 29 that “she felt in her body that she was healed of the plague.” The very moment she touched Christ’s garment “the fountain of her blood was dried up.”

Why then did Jesus stop the procession? Why embarrass the woman by making her come forward, and why torment Jairus with this delay? Be assured that there exists good and glorious reasons for all that the Lord did (and does). He is always on time. He is never out of step. Jesus had called this woman forth from her anonymity to teach her and Jairus, as well as the crowd and us, some critical lessons.

Primacy of Faith
First, this lady needed to understand that her faith healed her, and, even more important, her faith in Christ caused her to be healed. Her restoration was not produced by the garment or by her touch. No magic trick, superstition, or mystical happening had staunched her twelve year flow of blood. Christ had the power, not His garments or her touch. Many people had touched Christ that day. The throng had put their weight into Him, but when she had touched His garment strength and power went out of Him (v. 30).

What was the difference? It was her faith that Christ would heal. The flesh presses, but faith touches. Even today many people brush up against Christ, but they go away the same as they came. The difference is faith. Faith is the victory. Christ assured her of this, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole.”

Notice, however, that this woman’s faith was essentially an ignorant faith. Her faith was uninformed, presumptuous, and more than a little superstitious, but it was real and Christ honored her real yet imperfect faith. This is because the critical aspect of faith is not how much you have, how strong or how informed it is. The critical aspect of faith is its object, not the faith itself. Only faith saves us, because only faith draws on the power of Jesus Christ as Savior.

Praise God that He graciously saves those who have virtually no theological understanding. This is why a child can come to faith in Christ. Beginning faith is often, if not always, ignorant, uninformed, and mixed with errors. I said “beginning faith” because ignorance should not always describe our faith; it should ever and always be maturing, growing, and being strengthened.

Christ is so awesome! How wonderful is the Savior?! As David sang in Psalm 8, “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” This woman’s faith was infantile, imperfect, ignorant, and inconsiderate; initially she was more concerned with her health than with the Healer. Yet she reached out with a stumbling faith and Christ perfected it. Her faith may have been as tiny as a mustard seed, but Christ honored it and developed it. He enables us to love Him and trust Him with our lives. As 1 John 4:10 says:
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Public Confession
Christ also taught the importance, the necessity even, of public confession.
Healed souls should make public acknowledgement of mercies received…We are not to be ashamed to confess Christ before men and to let others know what he has done for our souls (Ryle, p. 101).
Jesus does nothing secretly. This woman could not be healed in secret. Even had Jesus continued on as if nothing had happened, people would have known that the woman who had bled for twelve years didn’t bleed anymore. Jesus called her out of the crowd to encourage her to take a stand with Him. She did not need to be ashamed to confess what happened. The sooner she did so the greater would be her joy.

Christ told this woman that her faith in Him had made her whole, and He said, “Go in peace.” That is exactly what she did as she entered a whole new life, both physically and spiritually. She had tried the “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). That day she discovered that none but Christ can satisfy. It was the greatest discovery of her life. She came for healing and she found grace. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

But let’s not forget about Jairus. What was he learning through this whole episode? The answer is: true faith grows by testing.

Purifying Faith
False faith wilts and dies at times such as these (Mark 4:5-6, 16-17). Jairus was already anxious. One can only imagine the pain etched on face when told by people from his house that the little girl had died. Here Jairus’ faith is sorely tested. Jesus was known as a healer, but what could he do with a dead girl? Was Jesus only a teacher, as the messengers suggested (v. 35)? Was He as helpless as the next man when face to face with life’s ultimate reality?

Jesus also heard the message, but He ignored it. With eyes fixed on Jairus He told the devastated man, “Be not afraid, only believe” (v. 36). Even in the face of death, Jairus must continue to have faith alone. Two commands: (1) Fear not (2) Only believe. The first reassured Jairus that death was not stronger than Jesus. The second encouraged him to cling to Christ and implicitly trust Him.

Jairus was utterly helpless, and he realized that Jesus was his only hope. That is what true faith means. Until a person realizes that Jesus is their only hope, such a one does not have a saving faith. Christ is not one of many viable options. He is the only means of salvation.

Like Abraham who was promised a son even though his wife was barren and he was well past the age of fruitfulness, Jairus was challenged to be fixed on the promise God had given him: “Be not afraid, only believe.”

The mourners at his house certainly didn’t believe. The crowd ridiculed Jesus and “laughed him to scorn” when they heard Him announce “the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth.” Faith and unbelief understood that statement in different ways. The crowd was certain the girl was dead and that Jesus was nuts, but to Jairus these were words of hope. In the face of derision his faith triumphed because he trusted in a triumphant Savior. I say again that the object of faith is even more important than the faith itself.

Jesus took the little girl’s hand and said “Talitha cumi” which literally means “little lamb arise.” That is exactly what she did! The total shock on the faces of the apostles and the overwhelming joy of the parents would have been a sight to see. Which makes me wonder, why the secrecy?

Only the parents and the inner circle of apostles – Peter, James, and John – witnessed the first resurrection since Elisha raised the son of the Shunemite woman. Doesn’t it stand to reason that had Christ allowed all the mourners to witness this miracle He would have created an opportunity for thousands to be saved?

No it doesn’t.

Consider this. Those who will not trust Jesus’ word will not trust His deeds. That is powerfully illustrated in the story of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31. The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers to warn them about the torments and pain of hell. Listen to the last three verses of that passage:
Abraham saith unto him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘Nay, father Abraham: but if on went unto them from the dead, they will repent.’ And he said unto him, ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’
Those who will not believe will not believe regardless of what they see and hear; as Jesus taught in Mark 4:24-25, those who refuse to have faith are in grave danger of losing the opportunity to believe.

Powerful Preview
In that room the Son of God touched the hand of a little dead girl. This action made Jesus ritually unclean, just as He had done when the diseased woman touched His garment. Christ shared in her death in order to deliver her from it. On Calvary Jesus would share again in death, but this time it was our death. He became unclean for our sake. He bore God’s judgment on our sin.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In a sense, what Jesus did for this little lamb was a preview of what He would do on the cross, and a preview of what He will do at His return when those who are dead in Christ Jesus will arise!

Jesus Christ and He alone is all powerful. With a word He made the raging sea instantly lie flat, and cast out a Legion of demons. He healed the outcast woman without even speaking a word, and He tenderly called the little girl to life. Is He calling you?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Diseased & the Dead pt. 1

In the course of yet another amazing day in the life of Jesus Christ the Lord had demonstrated His power over nature and the supernatural. Landing once again on the shores of Capernaum, after leaving Gadara at the Gadarenes’ request, Jesus displayed His power over disease and death. The demonstration involved two people from opposite slices of the societal spectrum. The story is told in Mark 5:21-43. In that passage Mark employed a “split-screen” method, a literary device he first used back in 3:20-35. One screen is devoted to Jairus, the ruler of the local synagogue whose twelve year old daughter is deathly ill. The second screen shows us the woman who for twelve years has suffered from a hemorrhage. These two individuals may be from opposite ends of the social scale, but they also have much in common. Let’s first take a look at the contrasts.

The Contrasts

Gender the most obvious difference in the two. Beyond that basic distinction, however, there are more substantial contrasts. For the past twelve years this woman had suffered from “an issue of blood”; most likely a chronic internal hemorrhage. During that exact same time span Jairus had enjoyed and been blessed by his only daughter (Luke 8:42).

For twelve years this woman would have been viewed, because of a condition over which she had no control, as an outcast. She was ceremonially unclean according to Leviticus 15, specifically verses 25-27 which state:
And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation…she shall be unclean…And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean.
Whoever touched this woman would also be considered unclean, and would have to wash his clothes, take a bath, and be unclean until the evening.
Had this woman been married, her husband had most likely divorced her. She was shunned by normal society. Worship in either the synagogue or the Temple was forbidden. Any material wealth she may have had was exhausted in a vain attempt at seeking a cure. John Mark supplies us with a not so subtle glimpse of his opinion of the medical profession. It was not complimentary:
{She} had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse.
“Suffering” is a suitable description for many of the treatments that this poor woman would have endured. Citing the Talmud, Kent Hughes lists in his commentary several “remedies” that would have been attempted.
Take three pints of Persian onions, boil them in wine, and give her to drink, and say “Arise from thy flux.” If this does not cure her, set her in a place where two ways meet, and let her hold a cup of wine in her right hand, and let some one come behind and frighten her, and say, “Arise from thy flux.”

If none of the above failed to work she could always try carrying the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen bag in the summer and a cotton bag in the winter, or she could carry around a barleycorn kernel that had been found in the dung of a white female donkey. (pp. 125-126)
Suffered many things indeed!
This woman had a defiling and debilitating disease which had, for twelve years, cut her off from society and the sanctuary.

Jairus, on the other hand, was not only a respected member of the synagogue; he was the ruler of it. Because of his exalted position he was almost certainly affluent and most definitely influential. He also belonged to the cross-section of Jewish society most opposed to Christ’s ministry. No doubt he was present when Jesus was last in the Capernaum synagogue. On that Sabbath He healed the man with a withered hand, and this so enraged the Pharisees that they immediately conspired with the politicians – the Herodians – on how to have Jesus killed (3:6).

These are two completely different people, but for all that separates them there is more that unites them.

The Commonalties

Jairus and this woman were disparate and desperate people. Unequal in every way: a man and a woman, synagogue ruler and synagogue outcast, respected and humiliated, rich and poor, yet both were in dire need; she for rescue from twelve years of misery, and he for the healing of his twelve year old and only daughter. Desperation is often what drives people to Christ, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Self-sufficient people do not seek a Savior. It is not the healthy who seek a physician but the sick (2:17). One word best describes the shared aims of these two people: desperation.

Seemingly hopeless is another appropriate description. This woman was hopeless, or, at least she was down to her final hope. We know that the woman had exhausted herself and her resources in seeking a cure for her condition, but none was forthcoming. The stigma and humiliation of her physical state was second only to leprosy. Nothing had worked. No one could help her. This despondent woman had suffered unimaginable physical and emotional stress, but she was given a glimmer of hope when she heard about Jesus of Nazareth. This man said and did the most marvelous things. Having heard of His healing powers and His great sympathy, this bleeding, broken, and bankrupt woman came to Christ in her despair. He was her only hope.

Likewise, Jairus was in a seemingly hopeless position. He was learning the hard way what Bishop Ryle wrote in his Expository Thoughts on Mark,
Sickness is a great leveler. It makes no distinction. (p. 104)
Despite his exalted position, the Jewish religion was impotent to fix his situation. Jairus only had one real option open to him. His little girl was menacingly ill, and he knew that she would die unless something miraculous happened. He knew there was only One who was capable of performing a miracle: Jesus of Nazareth.

For Jairus to publicly approach Jesus, bow at His feet, and beg Him to come and heal his daughter would have severely injured his standing with the Jews. When a similar leader – Nicodemus – wanted an audience with Christ he secretly came at night, so as not to draw attention to their meeting (John 3:1-2).

Jairus was beyond concern for his reputation. His little girl was dying. He had no where else and no one else to turn but to Jesus. He may not have been sure about Jesus, but he was sure that Jesus was his only chance. It was not love that drove Jairus to Jesus. It was his desperate need. “Despair,” to quote Hughes, “is commonly the prelude to grace.” (p. 127)

The final and most glorious commonality of the two is that both stood equal before Jesus. Not only equal in essence as human beings despite their disparate positions, but both equally desperate; unable to save themselves or remedy their respective situations. They looked to Jesus as their only hope.

To be concluded.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tony Snow - 1955-2008

America has lost another of her finest journalists, and one of my personal favorites. On this day, Saturday, July 12, 2008 colon cancer has finally defeated Tony Snow. Snow was one of my favorite syndicated columnists. His insight, wit, and clarity made his columns a must read for me. His contributions to NPR were always top-notch, and the Rush Limbaugh show was vastly improved whenever Snow filled in for Rush.

As much as I loved Snow's reporting, it was his engagement with reporters as White House Press Secretary that I most enjoyed. Snow had been a speech writer for Bush I. After making a name for himself in print, on conservative talk shows, and Fox News Sunday, he was asked by Bush II to replace Scott McClellan as White House Press Secretary.

It was most definitely a trade-up in that wing of the Administration. As Peter Baker wrote in today's Washington Post, Snow had not always been easy on Bush II. In his syndicated columns and radio show he had characterized the President as
"impotent" and one who had a "listless domestic policy" who had "lost control of the federal budget." At one point, Snow said, "George Bush has become something of an embarrassment."

When Bush announced Snow's appointment as press secretary, the president made reference to the past criticism. "I asked him about those comments," Bush told reporters, "and he said, 'You should have heard what I said about the other guy.'"
Snow seemed to relish the give-and-take with reporters at televised press briefings. I thought he was the perfect press secretary for an insular, unpopular President who was relentlessly attacked by a largely liberal press corps.

He overstepped his bounds a few times, and stuck his foot in his mouth more than once. That's alright. One can never do something well and not make mistakes in the process.

Tony Snow was from my section of the country. Which was another reason why I liked him so much. He was born in Berea, KY but raised in Cincinnati, OH. He went to Davidson College in NC, the same school that made an improbable run in this year's NCAA tournament. He is survived by his wife Jill and their three children, Kendall, Robbie, and Kristi.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Lone Star

Edinson Volquez, he of the 11-3 record, 2.36 ERA, and 116 strikeouts against 54 walks, will be the lone representative of the Cincinnati Reds in this year's mid-summer classic. I am happy for the young pitcher who was acquired in an off-season trade with the Texas Rangers for CF Josh Hamilton. I'd be even happier if the Reds could have pulled the trigger on that trade while retaining Hamilton, he of the .309 BA, 19 HR, and 84 RBI. As much as I've enjoyed Ken Griffey Junior being a Red, I wish it was he instead of Hamilton wearing a Rangers uniform. But I digress.

Volquez has certainly earned this All-Star appearance. Griffey just missed being voted to the NL starting line-up, and I'm glad that he missed the cut. Like I've said plenty of times before (
here, here, and here for example) I think that Griffey is one of the greatest players ever. Period. But he is not anymore, and to have him start the All-Star game would have been unjust; kind of like Kosuke Fukudome even being an All-Star, let alone a starter.

The only other Red who deserves to be an All-Star is Brandon Philips. Click
here to view Philips' hitting stats versus other NL 2B, and click here to compare the fielding stats. They don't track the most spectacular plays, but if they did Philips would lead all 2B in that category. Chase Utley and Dan Uggla have each hit a lot of homers this year, and their teams are doing better than the Reds. Each is deserving of an All-Star selection; just as deserving as Brandon Philips.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

This Just In...

Indiana University President Michael McRobbie has stated that hiring Kelvin Sampson was

a risk that should not have been taken

With such clear-headed, insightful leadership at the helm in Bloomington I feel reassured about the future direction of IU.

Hiring a risky candidate as coach should have meant that strict and well regulated procedures were established to ensure 100% compliance with the rules. This responsibility squarely falls on the administration's shoulders. They were not up to the challenge, but they are quick to protest their innocence. McRobbie didn't stop with the earth-shattering news above. He had more to say:

Some have said that there is a lot of blame to be shared in all of this, suggesting -- and perhaps hoping -- that there can be a dilution of personal responsibility under some notion of collective guilt. I reject that notion completely and I hope this committee will, as well.

Although it is true that all parties before this committee made some mistakes, there clearly exists a higher level of blame in this matter that we believe should be assigned to coaches Sampson and Senderoff. And we believe the evidence in this case strongly supports that.

The "higher level of blame" does not belong only to Sampson and Senderhoff. The blame also belongs to those who allowed the infractions to happen; specifically Rick Greenspan.

He hired Sampson. He announced that Sampson was legit and had learned from his mistakes. He failed to monitor the coach. He allowed the exact same violations which had been censured in Oklahoma to occur in Indiana. Now he walks away with a thick wad of cash and a possible book deal

Why doesn't the administration just tell this man to take his stuff and leave? Why is he allowed to stay through December?

I guess the good news for IU basketball is that it can't get any worse.

I guess.

I do hope, however, that McRobbie and other IU administrators have read Mark Alesia's story in today's Star. They need to read what Nebraska law professor and infractions committee chairwoman Josephine Potuto recently said. Alesia reports:
She noted that schools often say, "Hey, look, it was the coach. We had no idea he was doing it. We had a compliance system in place that was adequate and reasonably constituted to check violations, and we didn't detect it."

Potuto added, "What's missing from that is institutions only can act through individuals. . . . The university has to be responsible for the acts of those who do things on their behalf or in their name, however much the university would say, 'This is not the kind of conduct I want.' "

The Deliverer pt. 3

The Man’s Commission from Christ – vv. 18-20

Jesus did not stay where he was not wanted. The Gadarenes asked him to leave and he complied. The new man asked if he could remain with Jesus, but he was denied. Jesus has a much better plan for the new man. The plan was to “go and tell.”
And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all [men] did marvel.
Of course, this is what Jesus requires of all his people; to “go and tell.”

This going and telling does not require a degree in evangelism or years of experience. You just have to be turned right side up, and once you’ve been turned right-side up; all the upside down people will enquire as to the change. And you’ll be able to tell them, “I met Jesus. He had mercy and compassion on me. He turned me right-side up!”

“Why did you need mercy?” They may ask.

Your answer should be, “I deserved punishment, but he gave me pardon. I was dead, but he gave me life. I deserved hell, but he promised me heaven.”

That is the merciful compassion of the Savior, and the preoccupation of our lives and our churches should be to go and tell how much the Lord has done for us, and how he has had mercy on us. Let them see the change brought about by the Lord’s grace.
You don’t have to know the answer to every question. That doesn’t mean answering questions is unimportant, but it does mean that the main thrust of all evangelism must be the gospel; must be how the gospel has changed you.

Had this man still been running around au natural, howling at the moon, and mutilating his body then his testimony of change would have rang hollow. People were able to hear the gospel from his lips because they could also see the gospel’s effect on his life. The two cannot be separated. “Before Christ I was a raving madman. He’s changed all that. Yes, I’m still scarred from when I cut myself, but I don’t cut myself anymore. Jesus has had mercy on me.” As the blind man in John 9:25 said, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”

Only Christ can bring about such a transformation. The latest Christian fad cannot make the dead alive. Only the gospel of Christ is able to transform maniacs into missionaries, or a Saul into a Paul. That is why Paul said he wasn’t ashamed of the gospel, because it was and is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.

Fast forward from Mark 5 to Mark 15 and we are assaulted with the image of another naked, mutilated man who is crying aloud in the darkness. Who is this naked, mutilated, and tormented man? It is Jesus Christ as he hangs on the cross, and he has just shouted, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Why is this good man who had helped and healed so many people been beaten and humiliated? Why has he hanging on a cross?

He was on that cross so that I would not have to be.
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
He was lifted up on that cross so “That whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15). He died to silence the screams of the demoniac and to forever break sin’s grip on all those who believe.

There was one more loud cry loosed fro the Lord’s lips before he gave up the ghost. He dried out with a loud voice, “It is finished.” (Mark 15:37 – John 19:30) This was no dying whimper; it was a shout of victory. The work was finished. The serpent’s head had been crushed. All that remains to ask is will you continue as you are, or will you turn by faith to Jesus Christ?

Will our churches fulfill the mission they have been given to go and tell our family, friends, and community how much the Lord has done for us, and how he has had mercy on us?