27. Freeing an Epileptic Child               5/20/13

Overcoming the Power of the Enemy

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit who has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and dumb spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer (and fasting–KJV).” – Mark 9:14-32

The day following the Transfiguration, Jesus, James, John, and Peter made their way down the mountain. Like Moses after his conversations with the Lord on Mount Sinai, Jesus’ face was still radiating light. The glory of God was so bright on him that the people “were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.” As Jesus approached the scene, he saw the Scribes confronting his disciples, so he questioned them as to the reason for this. These ‘pillars of society’ refused to answer him. They didn’t want to admit they had been trying to discredit the disciples in order to make their Teacher look ineffective. The boy’s father stepped up to provide the answer to Jesus’ question: his disciples had not been able to cast the evil spirit from his son. Listening to the father’s explanation, Jesus knew the Scribes had once again been trying to undermine his authority. Instead of engaging in a verbal battle with them, however, he recognized them for what they were, representatives of an unbelieving generation. His true enemy was the spirit that had possessed the child.

The father’s request that Jesus help his son ‘if he was able to do so’ was a humble and honest admission of his lack of faith in light of the severity of his son’s condition. Jesus’ response, “everything is possible for him who believes,” was a revelation of a fundamental kingdom principle, the same one he had been teaching his own disciples in feeding multiplied thousands. In freeing the son, Jesus freed the father of his unbelief as well. After Jesus cast out the evil spirit, the disciples wanted to know why they had not been able to accomplish this, since they had successfully delivered people in the past. Jesus’ answer, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting,” does not mean that this was some particularly heinous type of demonic spirit. It was an acknowledgement of the degree of control it exercised over the boy. That the spirit was deeply entrenched in his soul was apparent from the child’s behavior; that’s why Jesus asked the father how long his son had been that way.

Though believers are not subject to demonic possession, we sometimes fail to acknowledge that the enemy can gain a ‘foothold’ in us through sin (Eph 4:27). Like bad habits, our sins can pile up until they become entrenched in our behavior, affecting our character and even our personality. The longer we continue in a sin, the greater the faith will be required to prevail in the spiritual battle to overcome it. A parallel can be found in uprooting a small sapling versus trying to accomplish the same task after it has become a tree. Yet, with faith, all things are in fact possible. Prayer and fasting are the “power lines” of the kingdom of God that strengthen our faith so we can realize the freedom that only Christ can provide. Through faith, we have the power to overcome every temptation of the enemy, and the sin that so easily besets us.

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” – (James 4:7) “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” – (1Cor 10:13)

26. The Transfiguration                           5/13/13         

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John, and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen [NTMS: “Chosen One”–another name for the Messiah]; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen. –  Luke 9:28-36

After healing the blind man at Bethsaida-Julias, Jesus and the disciples continued on their journey north toward Caesarea Philippi. Situated about halfway between Tyre on the Phoenician coast and Damascus to the northeast, this region comprised the far northeastern portion of Israel. As they traveled, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say [think] that I am?” Peter, usually the first to speak and act, responded that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus confirmed the truth of this statement, but admonished the Twelve not to tell anyone.

To the disciples this meant that Jesus would drive out the Romans and make himself king over Israel. However, Jesus immediately corrected their misunderstanding. He told them plainly that instead of coming into power, he would be rejected by the Sanhedrin, put to death, and raised back to life. He then explained the foundational truth of discipleship—that just as he would give up his life for others, his followers must give up their lives to follow him. Anyone who shared in his sufferings in this life would also share in the glory of his kingdom. Although Jesus’ coming death and resurrection meant he was not going to establish his kingdom on earth in their lifetimes, there was a silver lining to this dark cloud: “Some of you who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God (Luke 9:27).” This promise was fulfilled about a week later, in one of the more spectacular events of Jesus’ three-year ministry. Jesus chose his closest friends, Peter, James, and John to witness the miracle of his transfiguration, appearing with Moses and Elijah in the glory of his coming kingdom.

In Judaism, miracles were important for two reasons. First, they made a big difference in people’s lives, conferring a supernatural physical or spiritual blessing. More importantly however, they were a sign that confirmed God’s anointing on whoever performed them, testifying to the truth of his message. Jesus’ numerous miracles had already proven at the very least that he was a prophet sent by God. They were the primary reason why the religious leaders were unable to discredit him. And despite the evidence of these miracles, they stubbornly refused to believe in him. At times they even demanded he perform a sign from heaven to prove he was truly sent by God, in the same way Satan had urged him to throw himself off the highest point of the temple (Matt 4:5-7). The transfiguration was just the sign they demanded but would never receive. If it had occurred with a large crowd present, the people would have taken him by force and made him king. In God’s wisdom, no one was there except for Jesus’ three closest friends, and they obeyed Jesus’ charge not to tell anyone about it.

Scholars have long debated the reasons why it was Moses and Elijah instead of other Old Testament figures, such as Abraham or King David, who appeared with Jesus. The New Commentary offers the explanation that “Moses stands as the representative of the Law, while Elijah represents the prophets.” More important than who appeared though, is why they did so. The explanation is to be found in the discussion among the three men: Jesus’ upcoming departure was the sole recorded subject of their conversation. The word for departure in the original Greek is “exodos,” from ex: a going out or leaving someplace; and odos: a road, figuratively indicating going on a journey. Both of these men had taken this journey before Jesus, so they could speak from their own experience on the rewards of faith and obedience.

In the final analysis, the Transfiguration occurred because a loving and merciful Father wanted to encourage and strengthen his Son for his upcoming ordeal. The glorified presence and testimony of Moses and Elijah was a sure witness to Jesus that his suffering and death would be eclipsed by the glory and joy that awaited him in the kingdom of God. Because Jesus’ Father is our Father as well, he has made a similar provision for us. Hebrews 11 lists the examples of numerous witnesses who endured the trials of this world, choosing to live for the promised resurrection rather than the rewards of this life. Hebrews 12 explains why God provided us this list:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” – Heb 12:1-4

25. Healing a Blind Man in Bethsaida      5/6/13   

Finding God’s Strength in our Weakness

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.” – Mark 8:22-26

This miracle occurred at Bethsaida-Julias, located at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had previously fed a crowd of 5,000 people in a remote location near here, but had spent relatively little time in the area. As he did on many occasions, he brought this individual aside, taking him outside the city in order to avoid creating a sensation. This was not the time for attracting another large crowd—he was intent on getting to Caesarea Philippi to keep a divine appointment.

The most interesting aspect of this miracle is that the man was not completely healed of his blindness at first. How could the Son of God, who along with the Father had created all things, not get it right the first time? He had already accomplished much greater works than this, demonstrating his power over spiritual forces, the human soul and body, the wind and waves—even over death. Some commentators suggest that Jesus was intentionally trying to teach a lesson to future Bible readers that sometimes we need a second touch from God. Yet one gets the sense that this explanation seems somewhat contrived. Regardless of the cause, Jesus must have been aware there was a problem, because he asked the man if he had been healed: “Do you see anything?”

The context of this healing may offer some insight into Jesus’ emotional state at the time. Due to his recent confrontation with the Pharisees in Dalmanutha, he had cut his preaching short and left the area (Mark 8:11-13). He was nearing the end of his ministry, and he was troubled by the refusal of some cities to repent at his preaching (Luke 10:13). He may have been thinking about the tribulation that lay before him in Jerusalem, since he was on his way to meet with Moses and Elijah to talk about this very subject. As a man, Jesus had the same physical and emotional concerns and limitations we do. At various times he experienced frustration, weariness, and sorrow, especially over people’s stubborn refusal to repent from their sins. He became angry when the temple was profaned by greed. However, regardless of his feelings and experiences, Jesus’ own faith never faltered. He successfully resisted every temptation, trusting and obeying the Father in all things, even under the torture of the cross. 

It may therefore be more useful to examine the faith of the blind man to discover why he was not healed at first. Since it was believed that leprosy and other infirmities were a result of one’s sin, his conscience may have been burdened by a sense of shame or guilt that interfered with his faith—and thus with the work of the Holy Spirit. In the only other recorded instance where Jesus’ miracle-working power was hindered, it was caused by the lack of faith of the people in Nazareth. One can safely conclude that it is our own emotional and spiritual state that results in unbelief and our need for ‘a second touch’ from God.

The lesson here however is not found in the blind man’s faith, or lack of it, but in the persevering faith of Jesus, regardless of circumstances. Like him, we are subject not only to our physical limitations, we are also affected by the ups and downs of life. Yet, like Jesus, we do not have to let our emotional response to these things undermine our faith. And while our emotions may sometimes hinder our ability to function as we think we should, they are what define us as God’s children, created in the likeness of his being. If we are to serve the Father, we need to let go of our pride and minister to others out of our weakness, because we have not yet been perfected in Christ. Faith gives us the ability to endure our humanity and persevere in the trials of our discipleship walk, confident of God’s love and provision for us, both now and in the kingdom to come.

“In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who though faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” – (1Pet 1:3-6)

24. Feeding Four Thousand                   4/29/13

A Life Lived for Others

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “”Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. – Mark 8:1-13

This miracle occurred in the racially and culturally blended area of the Decapolis east of the Sea of Galilee, soon after Jesus and the disciples returned from their journey up to Tyre and Sidon. Before leaving on that trip, the disciples had fed more than five thousand people near Bethsaida-Julias; now they were faced with a similar situation. Jesus had taken to spending more time here, perhaps because he was repeatedly confronted and his disciples harassed by the Scribes and Pharisees on the other side of the sea. Yet this area was not without its own trials. Here in this mixed religious and ethnic population, Jesus’ popularity had soared. Lately, whenever he and his disciples entered a town, they had been recognized and besieged with countless requests for healing.

They had therefore been avoiding large population centers. Probably no more than a few of Jesus’ disciples went into cities to buy food for the small group. However, word soon spread that they were once again in the area, and a great crowd of people followed them out into the hilly grasslands far from town. It had been hundreds of years since a prophet had been seen in Israel, and the people were spiritually hungry. This crowd had been with Jesus for three days just to hear his teaching, going without food so they could spend time in the presence of God’s anointed one.

Faced with a crowd grown weary from hunger, Jesus gave his disciples another chance to learn the lesson he had been trying to teach them about the power of faith. Once again he posed the problem of the need to feed such a large crowd. Their response was hardly encouraging; they were still thinking in terms of doing things man’s way instead of God’s. So Jesus made it more personal for them, asking them to give up their own meager store of bread and fish to feed the crowd. The result was the same as the previous time; the disciples fed thousands of people, and again there was food was left over.

Afterward, when they rowed back to the western shore of Galilee south of Capernaum, Jesus’ authority was aggressively questioned by a group of Pharisees. On hearing their renewed demands for a sign, he ‘sighed deeply.’ This is an even stronger form of the Greek word stenazo Mark used to describe Jesus’ emotional state when he healed the deaf mute (7:34). Though burdened by the incessant demands placed on him on the western side of the sea, he must have felt all the more so by the constant opposition he encountered on the eastern shore. The irony of the situation is apparent. When Jesus traveled in the religious and culturally diverse area of the Decapolis, he was besieged by people of faith seeking freedom from the results of sin and spiritual oppression. Here in his own ethnically and religiously ‘pure’ home province of Galilee, he was confronted by the unbelieving religious spirit of the age. Rather than engaging in another fruitless debate with the Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples walked back to their boat and rowed north to Bethsaida-Julias.

We tend to think it would be a great blessing to be spiritually gifted with a miraculous healing and teaching ministry like Jesus had. Yet such a ministry would not be quite the blessing we believe. Even for Jesus, his work became a burden that grew heavier during his last year of ministry. Nearly everywhere he went, he was besieged by crowds and challenged by religious leaders at home and in Jerusalem. Though he had come to set people free from sin, many just wanted to be free from their problems. He knew that a lot of those he healed would not use their new-found freedom to serve God, but would instead continue to seek their own pleasures and interests in life—but he healed them anyway. In fact, he healed everyone who came to him, requiring only their faith, not pure motivations.

Although Jesus was motivated by empathy and compassion for others, he did not often experience these qualities in return. Instead, those who had known him before his ministry rejected him. After feeding the five thousand, many wanted to take him by force and crown him king, not because they wanted a closer walk with God, but so he could continue to provide for their needs, perhaps even deliver them from Roman rule. And those who opposed him on religious grounds continued to question his authority and motivations, not in honest debate, but looking for an excuse to discredit and even kill him. Yet because he truly loved people, he faithfully continued to do the work the Father had given him—even when he was weary from dealing with a thousand complaints or preaching for hours on end in the hot sun, or from having to deal with the false accusations of the Pharisees. It is an example we would do well to consider when our efforts to serve others don’t bring us quite the positive results we believe we deserve.

23. Healing a Deaf Mute                          4/22/13

Freedom in Christ

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought a man to him who was deaf and who could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”) At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”  – Mark 7:31-36

Sidon is situated on the Mediterranean coast about 25 miles north of Tyre, so Jesus intentionally extended his disciples’ journey before heading inland and following an old trade route south to Israel. Passing to the east of the Sea of Galilee, this road provided entry to the Decapolis, a confederation of scattered cities under direct Roman rule, but still a part of greater Israel. This large area held a mix of Greeks and Jews, many of whom had adopted Hellenic culture during the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes. Matthew records that when Jesus came back into this region he was once again besieged with requests for miracles. Mark’s gospel records just this one.

Jesus’ miraculous ministry was not limited to one method of operation. The centurion’s servant and the Canaanite woman’s daughter, both Gentiles, were healed without even being seen by Jesus. While most of his miracles were in response to a request, some were not. He healed a man with a withered hand in the synagogue and the paralytic by the sheep pool, and brought the widow’s son back to life on his own initiative. The woman with an issue of blood was healed when she merely touched Jesus’ robe, without any intentional word or act by him. Mostly though, people were healed when Jesus touched them and spoke a word of faith. By this time people knew about his ‘healing touch.’ That’s why they begged him to put his hand on this man.

Mark describes the details of this miracle, including Jesus putting his fingers in the man’s ears and placing saliva—which was commonly believed to contain medicinal properties—on his tongue. Both actions would have inspired faith in this man as he submitted to Jesus care. However, verse 34 reveals more than just the ‘how’ of this miracle; it offers some insight into why Jesus did it: “He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him ‘Ephphatha!’” It is commonly held that he looked up because he was, as usual, communing with the Father. The suggestion is sometimes made that Jesus was praying for this miracle to be accomplished. These explanations might account for the heavenward look, but not the deep sigh that accompanied it. It is in this small detail that we come to appreciate Jesus’ motivation, gaining some understanding of the man behind the miracles.

During his ministry Jesus healed all those who came to him in faith.  He did so not because it was his job, but because he had an abiding sympathy for all those who had been emotionally and physically affected by the results of the fall and spiritually afflicted by the powers of darkness. His deep sigh and glance heavenward was indeed an unspoken communion with God. However, it was not a plea for faith or the power to accomplish this healing, because Jesus already had this within himself. It was instead an intimate sharing between Father and Son of their great compassion for the fallen and besieged state of mankind in general, and God’s chosen people in particular. A parallel can be found in Jesus’ shared grief with Lazarus’ family and friends, when he ‘groaned in spirit and was troubled,’ even though he knew he would shortly raise Lazarus back to life.

Jesus’ many miracles of freeing people from captivity to sin and from their spiritual, psychological, and physical infirmities were only a small down payment of the work he would accomplish on the cross. Because of his sacrifice, all who come to him by faith are spiritually freed from the power of sin. But Jesus suffered and died not only to restore the spiritual relationship with God lost in the fall, he also bore our emotional and physical infirmities. “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases (Matt 8:17).’” Because of his compassion and self-sacrifice, we receive the grace we need to overcome the results of the fall in us, and to come into maturity in the body of Christ. “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore he says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’ And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:7-13).”

Someday we will be free from all sickness, suffering and sorrow, and even death. When Jesus returns to establish his kingdom on earth, the curse that resulted from Adam’s disobedience will be removed. All things will be made new in the physical as well as the spiritual realm. ‘God will dwell on earth with men, and wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev 21:4).’ Until that time, the Lord patiently bears with us as we struggle to walk in the spiritual freedom that is already ours, and he still sighs deeply at the suffering of his children. “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved (Rom 8:23-24).”

22. Healing a Demon-possessed Girl      4/15/13

Grace and Truth

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Then Jesus told her, “(Woman, you have great faith! – Matt 15:28) For such a reply you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. – Mark 7:24-30

Word of Jesus’ increasing popularity had apparently reached a very concerned Sanhedrin after the feeding of the 5000, because a contingent of Scribes and Pharisees set out from Jerusalem and traveled north to investigate him. However, they had no evidence against Jesus, and they were aware that local religious leaders had always come out on the losing end of previous theological debates with him. So instead they confronted him over his disciples’ not washing their hands before eating, as tradition required. His response was decisive; he rebuked them for putting tradition above keeping God’s commandments, offending their sense of righteousness and self-importance. This was the last year of Jesus’ ministry, what some term ‘the year of opposition.’ Perhaps Jesus thought it best to let things cool off a bit, because shortly afterwards he left Israel altogether, traveling north with his disciples into the country of Phoenicia near the cities of Tyre and Sidon.

There were a couple of additional benefits of this ‘vacation,’ both of which concerned his disciples. The round trip between Galilee and Jerusalem was about as far as most of them had journeyed. And few Galileans ever left the safety of the Jordan River road to venture through the hill country of Samaria, preferring not to associate with Samaritans due to their mixed ethnicity. However, that was the first place Jesus took his disciples after starting his ministry! Because he would later be tasking them with taking the gospel of the kingdom “to the ends of the earth,” this trip was another opportunity for them to gain the confidence they would need to do that. It also gave them a much-needed break from the ever-growing crowds. When Jesus and his disciples had recently sought some ‘alone time’ in a secluded spot near Bethsaida-Julias, they had been followed by more than 5,000 people. Unable to locate Jesus the next day, the crowd requisitioned every available boat and pursued him across the lake to Capernaum. It’s no wonder Jesus wanted to keep his presence in Phoenicia a secret.

However, news of his miraculous ministry had already reached far beyond the borders of Israel, and word soon spread that Jesus and his disciples were in the area. The woman who came to the house where he was staying was a Gentile, born in Phoenicia. Like many others she had heard the rumors that Jesus might be the Christ, the Jewish Messiah. Even though she was not a Jew she called out to him using the Hebrew title “Lord, Son of David” — the name for the Messiah that only someone conversant with the Scriptures would have used (Matt 22:42). She was representing herself as a Jew even though she wasn’t, most likely attempting to manipulate Jesus into seeing her.

Jesus knew in his spirit of her deceit. She was seeking God’s grace, but circumventing the truth. His intentional snub in quoting the popular proverb about giving children’s bread to their dogs was designed to get her to acknowledge the truth about herself. It was a test not only of her honesty, but her character as well. Most people would have been offended, as the Pharisees were when he had recently confronted them with the truth about themselves. Yet she was not. Her response, “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs,” conveyed a great deal of information about her. First, it was a humble admission that she was not a Jew, a confession of her attempted deception. Second, it was an acceptance of the fact that as a Gentile she had no relational standing to request anything from the Jewish Messiah. Third, it conveyed perseverance in the face of his initial denial, one of the hallmarks of faith. Even after his reprimand, she did not give up. The foundation of her belief was a confident trust in Jesus’ mercy. She knew enough about the religion of the Jews to believe that their long-awaited Savior would have compassion on her, because she believed that God is above all good and merciful.

The gospel of John states that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (1:17).” There is some degree of tension between truth and grace, between justice and mercy—yet our worship must be based on both spirit and truth (John 4:23). Like the woman of Phoenicia we need to come clean about who we really are, approaching God in humility, as sinners in need of his grace. We have no right to expect anything of him based on our accomplishments. Our expectations are based on a knowledge of who he is, informed by our relationship with him. We know that our requests will be heard because we are indeed his children. Some people, even believers, have the impression that God is somehow like a stern Wizard of Oz, standing behind the curtain and pulling the strings of life. But the truth is that he is our Father, ever compassionate towards us and always pleased when we abide in his love. When we approach him in truth, he will provide the grace we need in order to be “conformed to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29 KJV).”

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:31-32, 34-36

21. Healing Many in Gennesaret               4/08/13

Maintaining Spiritual Health

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout the whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And everywhere he went—into villages, towns, or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplace. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed. – Mark 6:53-56

How different this passage is from the account of Jesus’ visit to his hometown of Nazareth, recorded earlier in the sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel. None came out to greet him on his arrival, and no one rushed to bring the sick to him for healing. People did not crowd about him or try to touch him. When he taught in their synagogue, people did not expect much; in fact “many who heard him were amazed.” They had no idea where he got such wisdom, or, if the rumors were true, the power to do miracles. He was merely the son of a local carpenter, “and they took offense at him.” For his part, Jesus was amazed as well—at their lack of faith.

The contrast between the people of Jesus’ hometown and those of the region of Gennesaret could not have been more pronounced. The reason for this was their perception of who Jesus was and their expectations of what he could do. To the people of Nazareth, Jesus was “Joe and Mary’s boy, the journeyman carpenter.” They expected him to build things with his hands, not to speak with the wisdom of God and work miracles. However, to the people east of the Sea of Galilee who had lunched with the crowd of 5,000 or heard their testimony, Jesus was the coming prophet foretold by Moses, the anointed Son of David. The mere sight of Jesus prompted an expectation of wonderful miracles. This, however, did not mean they were necessarily a great deal more ‘spiritual’ than the people of Nazareth. When they sought Jesus out, he confronted them with their true motivation: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (John 6:26-27).”

In other words, their priorities were: first, the basic necessities of life; next, physical healing that led to greater enjoyment of life, and third, an occasional word of truth. The question has to be asked: Are we any different? Some light may be shed on the answer by estimating the amount of time we spend daily in reading and meditating on the word of God, and then comparing this to the amount of time we spend enjoying breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and basking in their warm afterglow. Granted, we are human beings, with the need to eat in order to sustain health and life. Yet we are also spiritual beings, born of God’s Spirit, with a need to eat spiritually healthy food on a regular basis. We can no more rely on having made a decision to follow Christ to keep us spiritual healthy, than we can discontinue eating because we once ate a great steak dinner!

Just as we must work in order to buy groceries, we need to spend time with Jesus and apply his word to our lives, eating the bread that nurtures and fortifies our spirit. Working ‘for food that endures to eternal life’ means coming to Jesus daily to learn from him—through prayer, in studying the Bible, in learning from the example he left of how to relate to others. Much to the crowd’s dismay, Jesus described ‘believing in him’ as the spiritual equivalent of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him (John 6:56 NKJV).” To abide in Christ is to maintain a close personal relationship with him, loving him more than anybody or anything, and putting his glorification above all else that we desire.

If we are to abide in Christ, we need to sustain our spirit through his word. Just as the food we eat comes from living plants and animals, the word of God is spiritually alive, able to change our hearts so we can bring forth a spiritual harvest: “The kingdom of God is like... a man [who] scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how (Mark 4:26-27).” The more serious we become about bearing a spiritual harvest for the kingdom, the more time we will devote to memorizing and meditating on God’s word so we can conform our lives to it. Yet just as food is merely a means to sustain our bodies so we can live, the word of God is only a means to maintaining our spiritual health. Our true life is found in Christ himself: “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me (John 6:57).” If we want a special relationship with Christ must actively seek it. Those who are willing to give up everything to seek Jesus will find their life in this world, and have a rich inheritance in the next.

20. Jesus Walks on Water – Part 2              4/03/13

Walking Through Life’s Storms

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, and walked on the water to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” –  Matt 14:22-33

Matthew’s account is almost identical to Mark’s, adding only the incident of Peter getting out of the boat to meet Jesus. We tend to remember it as Peter’s sinking into the sea, but that doesn’t give him much credit for what he actually did that night: “Peter got down out of the boat, and walked on the water to Jesus.”

When they first saw Jesus walking on the waves, all the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost. But when Peter heard Jesus’ voice, he overcame his fear. To appreciate what happened next, it helps to know that Peter was an impulsive action-oriented guy. It was Peter who wanted to erect monuments at the scene of the Transfiguration, and it was he who cut off a man’s ear in the garden of Gethsemane defending Jesus. Peter wasn’t looking to experience the thrill of walking on water that night so he would have a story to tell. He just wanted to be with Jesus, and he was willing to do whatever it took to achieve that goal. It was the same desire that drove him to jump into the water and swim to shore when he saw Jesus on the beach after his resurrection.

It wasn’t just Peter’s motivation that made it possible for him to walk on water that night. First and foremost, it was his understanding of faith. Impulsive as he was, he didn’t just vault over the boat’s gunwale and head out on his own. He asked Jesus to tell him to come to him. Peter was the only one of the Twelve who truly understood the lesson of feeding the crowd with only two fish and five loaves of bread. He realized that the reason they had been able to feed thousands of people that day was because Jesus had told them to feed them. He knew enough about how faith works to understand that the Lord gives us the grace to do what he commands. When Jesus gave the order, “Come,” Peter knew Christ’s will for him in that situation. He was certain at that moment that the impossible was in fact possible for him. He made it nearly all the way to where Jesus was before he became afraid, so close that as he began to sink, Jesus was able to reach out and pull him up.

Jesus’ question to Peter as he began to sink goes to the underlying question of why our faith sometimes falters. His intent was not to admonish or deride Peter; he was trying to get him to examine the cause of his doubt: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew gives us the answer: “But when he saw the wind he was afraid.” Doubt is basically a lack of trust—in God’s love and will for us. Doubt was the root problem here, but it was brought on by the emotion of fear. Both fear and its twin sister worry are faith killers, causing us to mistrust our ability to do what the Lord has asked of us. That is why, over and over again in the Gospels, Jesus says: “Do not fear, take courage.” In his letter to the Philippians, Paul elaborates on this subject: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7)

The chronology of events of that night and the lessons they teach about faith can be summarized as follows:

1. Peter overcame his initial fear of seeing what he thought was a ghost: Much of the time the things we are afraid of do not pose quite the threat we believe them to be.

2. Peter wanted to be with Jesus out of love for him: What is our motivation when we pray for things, even spiritual things? Do we desire Jesus for himself rather than what he can give us?

3. Peter asked Jesus to tell him it was okay to come to him so he would know it was his will for him to do so: When we pray, do we ask the Lord to let us know his will so we can respond in obedience? Are we willing to search Scripture to discover his will?

4. Peter got out of the boat and walked on water, almost all the way to Jesus: If we act immediately on the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

5. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the wind and the waves: Instead of looking at the difficulties of our circumstances, we need to keep our eyes on Christ. If we focus on what we are able to do in his grace instead of what we cannot do in our own ability we will be able to stay on top of developing situations.

6. Peter became afraid, leading him to doubt whether he could make it: The mind cannot hold two contradictory beliefs at one time. We either trust and believe we can do what Christ has asked us to do, or we doubt our ability to do so, which inevitably leads to the doubt, and then the belief that we cannot.

7. Peter ‘began to sink’: Worry and fear do not overcome us all at once. They start by eroding our trust in God. Becoming anxious about our circumstances weakens our resolve to do God’s will.

8. Peter cried out to Jesus to help him: Jesus was close enough to catch Peter right away because Peter had made the effort to get close to Jesus. How far we sink correlates to how far away from Jesus we are when we need help, because the persistence of our faith is related to how close we are to God. Dire situations can show us just how much we need Christ, and cause us to reach out to him in our time of need.

9. Jesus reached out his hand, enabling Peter to overcome his fear and re-establish his faith. They walked back to the boat together in the midst of the wind and waves: Jesus understands the struggles we have with trust and doubt. He is always there to help us get back on track when circumstances draw our focus away from him and the things he has asked us to do. If we cry out to Jesus, he will reach out and pull us up out of our sinkhole of fear and worry, offering us the chance to regain our footing and walk with him in obedience.

10. When they got back into the boat, the wind abated and the waves calmed down: When we are in the midst of our trials, it can seem like things will never change. We may wonder why Jesus doesn’t immediately release us from our trying circumstances when we ask. The answer is that, like Peter, we need to learn to overcome our doubt and fear so we can walk with Christ through life’s storms. At some point we will make it back to the boat and the weather will change.

20. Jesus Walks on Water – Part 1            3/25/13

Trust: An Essential Element of Faith

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went into the hills to pray.

When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. – Mark 6:45-52

Matthew, Mark, and John report different aspects of this day, each with his own emphasis. Mark’s account emphasizes Jesus’ concern for his disciples. They had gone out by twos to minister throughout the towns of Galilee, and when they returned Jesus suggested they take a break by going on a short ‘boating holiday.’ However, on their arrival at a secluded spot near Bethsaida-Julias, (located at the northernmost point of the Sea of Galilee), thousands of people were already there waiting for them. Jesus taught about the kingdom of God for the rest of the day, and the disciples fed everyone, starting with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Afterwards, Jesus told the Twelve to sail back to Bethsaida (near Capernaum) so they could go back to their homes, while he made sure the crowds got safely on their way.

However, Jesus’ intention of giving his disciples a break was thwarted for the second time that day as another windstorm blew in from the west, roiling the Sea of Galilee. They were making little headway, having struggled for hours against the wind. Jesus went out to them sometime between 3 and 6 AM, walking on the surface of the water. Although the storm was still blowing, they must not have been in any real danger, because he started to pass them by. It was only when they became afraid that he stopped to reassure them he was not a ghost. Mark conveys the disciples’ sense of disbelief, relating that they were “completely amazed, because they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”

During their missionary journeys earlier that week, the disciples’ preaching about the coming kingdom of God had been confirmed by miraculous signs; they returned with new-found faith because of their authority over demonic spirits and diseases. Through the miracle of the loaves and fish, Jesus had tried to teach them that the same faith that gave them power over spiritual and physical affliction was also effective over the elements of the earth. Apparently they had not fully grasped the lesson. Now Jesus was reinforcing it: Through faith, anything is possible. When Peter got out of the boat and walked out to meet Jesus, the point was driven home: If they had faith, nothing would be impossible for them. What Jesus did, they could do also. At the Last Supper, he would tell them this plainly: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” True to his word, miraculous signs and wonders have followed the spread of the gospel wherever it has challenged the dark spiritual powers of this world.

For most believers, however, the spiritual battles we face are not in the public arena, but the private one. Each one faces his or her own ‘impossible’ situation that can only be walked through by faith. This faith is defined in song as ‘trust and obey’: we must learn the first before we can do the second. To do this, we need to let go of those things we have come to rely on—our abilities, beliefs, and habits that make us feel secure—before we can truly trust in Christ. It is our nature to rely on ourselves instead of God, in what we see instead of what we cannot perceive with our senses, in what we have always believed we can do instead of what we could do if we relied wholly on God’s grace. Like Paul, we must come to the point of believing that, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13 NKJV).” Every day, the Holy Spirit calls us to step out of our comfort zone so we can exceed our limited beliefs of what we can accomplish for the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ description of the twelve disciples, “O you of little faith!” truly applies to us as well. However, the Father knows how we are made, and he has given us his Spirit to help us grow in trust so we can walk in the power of faith. Jesus understands our struggles with fear and doubt, but does not judge us. Only one disciple mustered the faith to get out of the boat and walk on a storm-tossed sea, yet three years later even he was overcome with fear to the point of denying he knew Jesus. However, true to his character, Jesus forgave and restored him. Each time our own faith falters in the face of a seemingly impossible challenge, he restores us also so we may learn to believe.

19. Feeding Five Thousand                    3/18/13

Accomplishing the Impossible

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place.” they said, “and it is already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of men who had eaten was five thousand. – Mark 6:30-44

The twelve had just returned from being sent out on their own as an exercise in discipleship. Jesus had tasked them with doing the things he did: teaching about the kingdom of God and freeing people from their spiritual and physical infirmities. When they returned, they were excited about their ministry but also tired and hungry. Jesus suggested they take a boat trip so they could get some much-needed rest. But the crowd had grown quite large, possibly because word had spread that the disciples had been doing miracles. The people watched the direction the boat was taking, figured out where it was going, and ran ahead to meet it. As they hurried to the northern point of the Sea of Galilee through the small villages along the way, the excitement spread and many more joined them. By the time Jesus and the disciples arrived at their ‘secluded’ getaway spot, there were more than five thousand people waiting for them. (It was actually more than that, but due to the customs of the day, this number included only the men.)

Instead of being upset at having his plans frustrated, Jesus felt compassion for the people. Like sheep fed on poor pastureland, they were starved for the rich green grass of God’s grace and truth. So Jesus taught them about his favorite subject: the Father in heaven who loved them and wanted to bring them into the kingdom of God. Toward late afternoon, the disciples came to Jesus, concerned that the people had nothing to eat. Since they had just come back from their first missionary journey full of joy and faith, Jesus decided to continue their education. He put their new-found faith to the test, saying, “You feed them!” This was an obviously impossible task, since they had neither food nor the money to go buy the amount that was needed. Although they had cast out demons and healed the sick, Jesus’ command was a seemingly impossible challenge.

Jesus taught them another lesson about faith, once again by way of demonstration. Instead of looking at the impossibility of the task before them, he asked them to find out what they had to work with. Going through the crowd, they came back with an answer. There were lots of empty food baskets, but only five loaves of bread and two fish. It was a pretty meager collection considering the size of the crowd, but it was a start. The first thing Jesus did was to thank God for this small provision. It was all that was needed, because he trusted that his Father, motivated by compassion, would honor his faith.

According to the synoptic gospels, it was not Jesus who fed the people or even multiplied the loaves and fishes. He merely separated them into small pieces and gave them to his disciples. His direction to have the crowd sit in small groups was a Mosaic practice that enabled the appointment of group leaders, making the disciples’ task easier. He probably suggested they use baskets because it would take awhile to feed everyone. It was the disciples who fed the people, just as Jesus had said, “You give them something to eat.” The twelve started off into the crowd, each one having less than half a loaf of bread and a fifth part of a fish. Each time they gave away food though, more miraculously appeared in their baskets. They were able to feed the entire crowd because they were willing to obey Jesus’ instructions, despite their own misgivings about the impossibility of the task. And after completing their work, they had enough to feed themselves as well.

How many things does Jesus ask us to do that are seemingly impossible? Lots! He asks us to overcome the world and its claim on our pride; to tithe to the local church even though we may be struggling to meet our own obligations; to deny ourselves and take up the cross daily, putting our desires for the things of this world to death; to count our trials as joy instead of sorrow; to be kind to others regardless of how they treat us. Instead of looking at the seemingly impossible task of following Christ, faith teaches us to examine what we have available to work with. He blesses whatever we bring to him, no matter how small it may be. As we live for God and minister to others out of our limited spiritual and physical treasure, the little that we have grows as we give it away. Paul well understood the possibility of accomplishing the impossible when he wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13 NKJV).”

18. Healing a Man who Couldn’t Talk       3/11/13

Our Own Worst Enemy

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been dumb spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  – Matt 9: 32-35

Unlike the crowds that came to Jesus, the Pharisees were not there to learn from his teaching or see the glory of God. Instead, they hoped to catch him in the commission of a crime. They operated much like the religious police in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran do today: alert for the smallest infraction of moral and cultural rules of behavior. However, as Jesus became ever more popular, they dared not move against him openly. They were aware that to do so might result in a possible riot and even physical harm to themselves. They were reduced to standing at the edges of the crowd, making malicious comments and plotting among themselves how they might bring about his untimely demise. They had been unsuccessful at this self-appointed task though, and as Jesus’ fame grew, they became increasingly marginalized and resentful. This was not the first time they had tried to discredit Jesus by accusing him of casting out demons with the help of the prince of demons. This time, guided by the Spirit, Jesus did not let them distract him from the work he had been given to do.

Jesus was well aware of both the benefits and drawbacks of his widespread popularity. When he first demonstrated his miraculous power during the Passover feast in Jerusalem, the crowds immediately believed in him. Still, “he would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men (John 2:23-24).” Just like the Pharisees, their approval could turn into rejection, and even murderous hostility when sufficiently provoked. Jesus understood well the fallen nature of mankind and the wickedness of the world’s dark spiritual forces that operated through men. He had grown up with the knowledge of his family’s flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of children in Bethlehem. He knew that that some people would truly believe in him, while others would have hidden motives. Because of this, he was careful in both his speech and his actions, placing his faith in God and relying on the Holy Spirit to guide him in every circumstance. 

Shortly after this miracle, Jesus sent out his twelve disciples to teach others about the kingdom of God. Before they went, he warned them, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. But be on your guard against men... A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! (Matt 10:16-17, 24-25).” Like the twelve disciples, we have been commissioned to minister the grace and truth of the kingdom of God to others. We need to be aware that as children of God and ambassadors for Christ, we will encounter spiritual opposition. Persecution always comes in one form or another against those who live for the kingdom of God. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2Tim 3:12).”

Opposition from others however is not usually the primary challenge we face in following Christ. Because we are all born with a sin nature, we are virtually our own worst enemy. The reality is that we are no different from the Pharisees in our self-righteous judgment of others, especially the unwashed and unsaved. We can be as consistent in our Christian walk as the crowds that loved Jesus one moment and were offended by him the next, and as slow as the twelve disciples to put Jesus’ teachings into practice and walk in the power of faith. That is why salvation is not just a one-time event, but a lifetime-walk. Although we become a new creation when we are born again, it is only as we daily seek to please the Father and submit to the leading of the Spirit that the character of Christ is worked deep into the soul.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will (Rom 12:2).”

17. Healing Two Blind Men                     3/04/13

Ambassadors of Christ

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. – Matt 9:27-31

Fame is a powerful thing. Those who achieve it are admired, followed and photographed, even idolized. It is human nature to be attracted to those who have earned some sort of significance through their achievements. People naturally want to get close to the Rich and Famous (the two usually go together) because they want to be like them, to revel even for a brief moment in their glory so they can tell others about their experience. The frequently requested autograph is proof of such an encounter.

Jesus never sought fame. Instead, he did his best to avoid it, often directing those he healed not to tell anyone. Yet these two blind men, along with numerous others, ignored his admonishment. They spread the news about Jesus and his miraculous healing power to anyone who would listen—because that’s what people do when their lives are radically changed for the better. Despite his desire to escape celebrity status, Jesus quickly became famous throughout the whole country. Crowds followed him everywhere, listening to his teaching and hoping to see a miracle.

The dictionary definition of a miracle is “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.” Jesus’ miracles were an essential part of his work. They proved he was ‘a divine agent’ sent by God, and they testified to the truth of his message of repentance, faith, and forgiveness. Yet these miracles were just a deposit on uncounted millions of miracles to come. Every time someone is saved and delivered from the power of sin and death, this is no less a miracle than a person being healed of blindness. It is a much more significant one, because spiritual blindness has far greater consequences than its physical counterpart. In fact, the gift of salvation, which ‘cannot be explained by natural or scientific laws,’ could be considered the greatest miracle of all.

When we are saved, not only are we delivered from the darkness of spiritual blindness, we are ‘sealed’ with the Holy Spirit: “God... anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2Cor 1:21-22).” The most famous man who ever lived has autographed us with his Spirit, proof that we know him and belong to him. Instead of admonishing us to keep quiet about it like the two blind men, our Lord has commissioned his followers to tell others about him and the difference he has made in their lives. This is part of the work we have been given as ambassadors for Christ. Even as Jesus confirmed the truth of his message by his many miracles, our testimony about Christ is proven true by the miracle of a life transformed by the saving grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2Cor 5:17-20).”

16. Raising the Daughter of Jairus        2/25/13

Faith, Our Shield Against Fear

Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. Just then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house, because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. [v. 43–48: Jesus healed the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.]

While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher any more.”

Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him, except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”

They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened. – Luke 8:40-42, 49-56

Jesus had just returned to Cana from a visit to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee when Jairus approached him. Jairus was a powerful individual, one of the two men who ruled over the local synagogue. Yet when he came to Jesus, his own importance was as nothing to him. He had come on behalf of his daughter, who was already close to death when he left his house. He humbled himself at Jesus’ feet, his emotions a mix of fear and the eternal hope that parents have for their children.

When the news came that the daughter had died, Jesus immediately countered Jairus’ fear with an encouragement to believe. They arrived at his house to find the professional mourners and flute players already at work. Playing their funeral dirges and wailing up a storm, they sought to show the family and community just how loved the little girl was. When Jesus claimed that the girl was just sleeping, the mourners laughed at him—the Greek describes scornful, contemptuous laughter. How foolish they thought Jesus was not to understand that the little girl was already dead! Such derision was proof that they were not really grieving at all, for what kind of grief turns instantly to mocking laughter at another’s expense? Jesus knew them for what they were: actors in a subculture of death designed to portray caring for the departed, but missing the mark of true compassion. Matthew records that he had them all put outside before proceeding further.

Jesus had spoken the truth. The little girl was in fact asleep, just as believers will sleep in Christ until we return with him to receive our new bodies at the Resurrection. As he awakened Jairus’ little girl from the sleep of death, Jesus knew he would have to go through that same lonely passage himself, trusting the Father to raise him to life by the power of the Spirit. He didn’t know exactly what his death would entail, but he knew he would be executed as a criminal, and the devil would take his revenge in the process. It was a foreboding thought. Yet rather than dwelling on this, he focused instead on seeking and doing his Father’s will each day, spreading the light of the kingdom.

We are all touched at one time or another by suffering and even death. However, because we are in Christ, we need not worry about what life will bring us. Instead of becoming preoccupied with life’s challenges, our focus should be on trusting Christ each day and sowing seed that will reap a kingdom harvest. “What was sown on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (matt 13:23).” Jesus has promised to abide with us, even as we abide in him through his Holy Spirit. And he is always there to encourage us when our hopes are disappointed. What Jesus said to Jairus he says to us as well: “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

15. Healing a Woman of her Bleeding    2/18/13 

Suffering for the kingdom of God

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see people crowding around you,” his disciples answered, and yet you can ask, “Who touched me?”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” – Mark 5: 24-34

This miracle took place while Jesus was on the way to Jairus’ house. Some of those following had come alongside, while others went on ahead to get a better look at Jesus. He was virtually surrounded by a crowd of people when this woman came up from behind and touched his robe. The state of medical science being what it was two thousand years ago, her condition had grown worse instead of better over the course of 12 years, probably due to the increasingly bizarre nature of her treatments. Her last hope for healing now lay in Jesus. She approached him cautiously, surreptitiously, because her condition made her ‘unclean’ under the Law. It was a violation for her to touch even the hem of his robe, because this made him unclean as well. That was why she was afraid to come forward when he stopped and asked who had touched his clothes.

Those who suffer from a medical condition struggle not only with their pain, but with their faith as well. Why doesn’t Jesus heal the faithful? Believers seek medical treatment, respond to altar calls, are anointed with oil and have others lay hands on them, praying for God’s intervention. Yet most remain in the same condition, or even get worse over time, despite temporary remissions. At times we question why God allows us to suffer if he truly loves us. Or why some people are afflicted with physical and emotional problems, while others seem to go through life with few apparent problems.

We all have physical bodies and minds beset by sin, subject to emotional and physical infirmities, illness, aging and death. Some suffer while others remain fairly healthy because of differences in genetic makeup, our experiences, pollution in the environment, and our own life choices. All this is the result of Adam’s fall and the corrupting work of sin that Jesus came to rectify. However, even though we are saved and forgiven, we are still subject to our earthly estate, because redemption is a two-stage process. Jesus came the first time as a mortal man to pay the price for sin, sharing in our grief and sorrow, and suffering a painful death. It is not until his return that those who follow him in this life will receive new bodies and minds, no longer subject to the effects of sin and death.

A unique aspect of this miracle is that Jesus did not intentionally heal this woman; he didn’t even know she was seeking a healing from him! Since he was limited in his day-to-day knowledge, he didn’t know who had touched his robe, and the Holy Spirit did not revealed the answer to him. Yet the woman was healed—not by faith itself, but by her faith in Christ. Faith cannot exist in a vacuum; it must be invested in something, or someone, outside of ourselves. Otherwise it is just self-confidence masquerading as faith. Only two people in this crowd even knew a healing had taken place: Jesus and this woman. He could have continued on his way, but he stopped and insisted on finding out who it was. Why? Because being healed is not nearly as important as personally knowing Jesus and being known by him. Salvation is not about lessening our suffering in life, but coming into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

While healing miracles still occur today, as a general principle we are all called to endure suffering as part of our Christian walk: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Rom 8:17).” Peter addresses the issue squarely: “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin (1Pet 4:1).” God’s priorities are first the spiritual, then emotional, and then the physical, while our priorities tend to line up in the reverse order. The closer we come to God, the more our priorities change to reflect his, and we increasingly come to understand the eternal value in suffering (1Pet 4:12-19).

The Lord is preparing a people who will be fit to serve as his representatives in the coming kingdom of God. In order to be transformed into sons and daughters that bear the image of his love and righteousness, we need to willingly endure whatever suffering God allows into our life so we may learn to seek his kingdom above all else. This comes about through trials that strengthen our faith, so that Christ may take the place of self. Suffering is the cocoon that transforms willingness into obedience, obedience into glory.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2Cor. 4:16-18)

14. Freeing a Demon-possessed Man      2/11/13

Victory in Jesus

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. – Luke 8:26-39

The subject of demons is not a very popular one in today’s society. Since science takes into account only what can be seen and measured, scientific minds don’t believe that demons exist. Others believe they are part of the past, something that happened to those poor people in Jesus’ time who were somehow going off and getting themselves possessed. Surely demons don’t exist in today’s world of enlightened reason! The Bible, however, suggests that they are more common than science and reason would dictate.

The spiritual reality of the situation is that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1John 5:19).” When we turn away from the world to follow Jesus, we become children of the light (Eph 5:8), called to walk in a manner worthy of him (Eph 4:1). Since we become citizens of the kingdom of God, his enemies become our enemies, because darkness hates the light. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).” While Christians cannot by definition be ‘possessed’ by demons, we can be tripped up by their nets of doubt and fear, and fall victim to their schemes and temptations.

Because the sin nature still resides in us, we feel the tug of temptation, the swelling of pride, the anxiety of fear, the fierceness of anger, the shame of guilt, and the downward pull of discouragement. The more we yield to these things, the stronger the enemy’s influence becomes in our lives. The rulers of this world are always at work to attack us in our areas of weakness. If they can keep us preoccupied with our problems and weigh us down with worry, they can steal away the peace of our faith in Christ, the joy of the hope of our salvation, and our confidence in the Father’s love for us. The good news is that we have been given everything we need in order to overcome in the spiritual warfare continually being waged against us.

It is important to remember that we are engaged in just a small part of the great war that has been taking place in spiritual realms since before the fall of mankind. The greatest battle took place on the cross, where Jesus purchased victory for every believer. Unlike earthly combat, spiritual victory does not come by focusing the enemy’s movements and responding to them. Instead, we are called to keep our focus on Jesus. Staying close to the Lord through prayer, reading the word of God, and being aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence helps keep our mind on Christ. This is essential to our spiritual growth, because the battle is fought in the mind, the seat of our thoughts and emotions. We are urged to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2Cor 10:4-5).” We should not become discouraged at the continuing struggles we face, but trust that God will bring us through to ultimate victory as we continue to fight the good fight of faith: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Jesus Christ took hold of me (Phil 3:12).”

Paul described the spiritual provision that God has made for believers to overcome the power of the enemy, likening it to spiritual armor. Putting on the full armor of God enables us to protect ourselves as well as those God has entrusted to our care. Ephesians 6:10–18 likens the weapons of spiritual warfare to the armor worn by the Roman soldiers of Jesus’ day: The belt of truth that enables us to perceive the enemy’s deceptions; the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness that protects us from condemnation; the sandals that enable us to walk in God’s peace instead of fear; the shield of faith that protects us from the arrows of doubt; the helmet of salvation that gives us hope; and the sword of the Spirit, the word of God to wield directly against the powers of darkness. We just need to put the armor on each day in our morning prayers, and rely on it as each new challenge unfolds.

As we learn to keep our thoughts and emotions focused on Christ in the midst of our daily affairs, we draw near to God, and he, in turn, draws nearer to us (James 4:8). The more we abide in Jesus, the more his light shines in us, pushing back against this present darkness. Only in this way can we change the world: one thought, one act, one day at a time. Our words and actions are the visible witness of the light of Christ in us. Every day brings opportunities to engage in battles that test our obedience, enable us to defend the weak, and encourage those who are struggling along the way.

Jesus’ Miracles

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