Tuesday, December 9, 2008

MEGA Faith pt. 1

Jesus and His disciples needed to rest. The demands of ministering to great multitudes of people had already worn down the Lord and His followers. Jesus had stated to the Twelve, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). He had proposed this much needed retreat hot on the heels of the first disciple-led evangelistic campaign and the unjust execution of John the Baptist. The plan was to get away for awhile to rest and recharge. Only, the needy crowds of people would not cooperate. When the boat which carried Jesus and the Twelve landed at what they thought was a deserted place on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee they were met by a throng of thousands. Jesus was “moved to compassion toward them” and ministered to them all that day and into the early evening. His ministration was miraculously concluded by feeding the thousands from a boy’s sack lunch.

That was followed by a private prayer vigil on a mountain that lasted throughout the night and into the early morning; all the while the Twelve were toiling on the Sea of Galilee in a storm tossed boat that had been blown off course. Jesus walked on the water to His troubled disciples, calmed the storm, and when the boat was brought to shore the whole region descended on Him yet again. He healed all that were brought to Him, and we know from John 6 that He preached the landmark message on the bread of life.

That was closely followed by the confrontation with the Jerusalem “fault-finding” commission, and find fault they did because Jesus did not adhere to the traditions of the elders; in this instance, ceremonially rinsing before eating a meal. This confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees led to a public proclamation of the truth that mankind is not defiled from the outside but from the inside. This message was revolutionary in general, and specifically offensive to the Pharisees. Matthew records that the Twelve, during a brief lull in the action, told Jesus: “Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?” (15:12)

Remember, Jesus and the Twelve still haven’t had their retreat! There had been a steady swelling of pressure from three sources: the people who relentlessly hounded Jesus in search of miracles, the Pharisees who sought to ruin His growing influence, and the Herodians who may have desired to silence Him as they did the Baptist. Rest tirelessly eluded the nascent church as the overwhelming demands of the ministry, the incessant religious and personal attacks of the Pharisees, and the danger posed by Herod’s court continually escalated. So it is that we read in Mark 7:24a, “And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into a house, and would have no man know [it].”

Keep in mind that before the foundation of the earth it had been planned that Jesus would be sacrificed on the cross to make atonement for man’s sins. It was the Father’s will that the Son be crushed so that we could be saved. Jesus knew the Father’s will and consistently lived within His will; however, God’s sovereign plan did not absolve Jesus of the responsibility to faithfully and carefully live. Therefore, the Lord briefly moved outside of the religious jurisdiction of the Pharisees and the political jurisdiction of Herod; not because they could possibly thwart God’s plan, but because His time had not yet come.

Since a secluded rest had been repeatedly denied them in Galilee, Jesus led His followers out of Galilee and into the region of Tyre and Sidon; which is modern day Lebanon. He and the disciples were in need of and deserving of a little rest, and since none could be found while in Jewry He led them into Gentile territory. The Jews were less likely to follow Him into “heathen” lands.

The primary purpose for traveling into Gentile territory was to find some rest. This was not an attempt to expand the ministry. Mark told us that Jesus entered a house and did not want anyone to know where He was. While the chief cause for Christ’s visit to the borders of Tyre and Sidon was rest and not ministry, the Lord was well aware of the fertile spiritual soil of this area. From the beginning of His public ministry mean and women from Tyre and Sidon were numbered in the vast multitude of people who thronged Him (Mark 3:8).
But even more indicative of the fertile soil of Tyre and Sidon is found in Christ’s rebuke of the Galilean villages in Matthew 11:20-22: Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
The hearts of these pagan Gentiles were not as encumbered with the empty yet burdensome religious bondage of the Jews.

Even thought Jesus desired anonymity he could not be hidden. Just like you can’t keep a good man down, you can’t keep the God-man hidden. So it is that the last phrase of Mark 7:24 says, “But he could not be hid.” He was discovered by a woman in great need, not for herself but for her daughter. We read about her encounter with Jesus in verses 25-30:
For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.
I think it would be good for us to also read Matthew’s account of this exchange (15:21-28):
Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
There is a lot to unpack in this passage, and we will begin that tomorrow. The key phrase for our discussion will be: “great is thy faith.”

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