13. Calming a Stormy Sea                            2/04/13

Getting to Know Jesus

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side. ” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. So they got into a boat and set out. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.  The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don't you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”  Mark 4:35-41

This miracle occurred at the end of what had been a very long day for Jesus. According to Matthew’s chronology, he had gotten into a confrontation with the Pharisees when he delivered a man possessed by a demon. While he was teaching the crowd, his mother and brothers had come to see him, but he declined to take time out for a personal visit. Since many in the crowd had come a long way, he counted it more important to continue the work he had been given. That same day, Jesus and his disciples left the house where these things occurred and, followed by a large crowd, walked down to the Sea of Galilee. He got into a boat anchored a little ways out from shore so the growing multitude would be able to hear him. He taught the rest of the day, explaining the kingdom of God in stories the people would be able to remember. According to Mark, he told them the parables of the sower, a lamp on a stand, the growing seed, and the mustard seed. There would have been many more. Like many of Jesus’ parables, their common thread was the importance of cultivating a heart that desires the things of God. The more we seek him, the more light we will have, and the greater crop we will produce for the kingdom.

This was the heart of Jesus’ ministry—not to impress people with miracles, but to explain the principles of the kingdom of God. He didn’t teach like the Pharisees did. Instead of looking back to Moses, he looked forward in hope to the coming kingdom, teaching the spirit of the Law rather than its letter. He taught that justification does not come from trying to keep a set of rules, but that a person is made righteous through spiritual rebirth and walking in faith, which leads to right actions. He emphasized the importance of coming to maturity by living for the kingdom instead of the world, seeking to please the Father in all things, and sacrificing ourselves in love to serve others.

As evening approached, Jesus asked his disciples to row over to the eastern shore, to the sparsely populated land of the Gerasenes. Having taught and ministered since morning, he was very tired, and a quick boat trip to the other side seemed the best way to call an end to the day. However, his work was not yet finished.

Situated some 700 feet below sea level, the Sea of Galilee is surrounded by high hills scored by deep ravines that act as wind tunnels. When a storm blows in, the winds are funneled through these canyons, picking up speed as they descend. Any boats unfortunate to be out during such a windstorm are buffeted by whipping wind and waves coming from several directions at once, making progress almost impossible and capsizing a real possibility. Exhausted from the day’s activities, Jesus slept though a storm so intense that waves were breaking over the boat, pitching it about and filling it with water almost to the point of sinking. Afraid for their lives, the disciples shook him awake.

Anyone waking up from such a deep sleep into a tumultuous situation like that is bound to be somewhat disoriented, perhaps even a little cranky. Yet, true to his character, Jesus rebuked the wind rather than his disciples. Only then did he tactfully draw their attention to the disconnect between their fear and faith, wondering that they did not yet trust God's provision for them. He would later tell them, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows (Luke 12:6-7).” It is only by truly understanding the Father’s deep personal love for us that we grow strong in our faith. We are all disciples in a boat on a journey with Christ. If we trust him, we can rest in the peace of God, no matter how hard the wind may blow or how high the waves mount up against us.

Our Father has given us his own Son in Scripture so we may understand his great love and provision for us. Jesus didn’t go through life protected by his divine nature; as a man, he was just as emotionally affected by trials and tribulations as we are. By studying the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, we get to know him better, learning how he responded to challenges. We also become more like him, because we are changed over time into what we behold. If we are faithful to seek the Lord on a daily basis, not just in the midst of life’s storms, we can become the man or woman of God we were created to be.

12. Freeing a Blind, Mute Demoniac      1/28/13    

The power of the spoken word

Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

“Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matt 12:22-37

Nearly everywhere he went, Jesus was followed by crowds of people, numbering at times in the thousands. This was one of the things that irritated the Scribes and Pharisees so much, because in drawing many to himself, he undermined their hold on the people. They had other complaints as well. Jesus taught about the kingdom of God rather than the Law. When they confronted him over this, he criticized them for their hypocrisy. He asked them questions they couldn’t answer, making them look foolish. Where they enforced their power over the people through fear and the demands of the Law, he drew people to himself through grace and a power to do good they did not possess.

When several people in the crowd went so far as to wonder aloud whether Jesus might be the Messiah, the Son of David, the Pharisees’ indignation was aroused. They immediately tried to quash such speculation by accusing Jesus of being in league with the devil. It was the best way they could think of to explain away his miracles and at the same time discredit him in front of the people. Perhaps in their zeal to uphold the Law some of them even believed this was true. They must have been at the edge of the crowd, out of Jesus’ hearing, because Matthew goes to the trouble of telling us that Jesus knew what they were thinking. Although he did not encourage the rumors that he was the Messiah, he did not let the Pharisees’ charge go unanswered. He countered their false accusation with common sense examples, easily exposing the fallacy of their claim. He also pointed out that there were those in Israel able to cast out demons by faith in God (v 27), implying that the self-righteous Pharisees could not do so. Finally, he called them evil, a brood of serpents, the form the devil had taken in the Garden of Eden, and spoke of judgment at the last day.

Jesus took this opportunity to differentiate between the divine and the human aspects of his own nature. Because the Pharisees did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, they would not have been aware that they were blaspheming. Although their list of sins was so long that they could be compared to a bagful of snakes, the sin of blasphemy would not therefore be held against them. However, they were treading on dangerous spiritual ground. The many miracles Jesus had done could only have been accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. They testified that he was, at the very least, a prophet sent by God, so to speak against him was to speak against the One who had sent him and the Spirit that was in him. By accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, they were in a sense accusing him of being the antichrist!

In the spiritual war against evil there is no middle ground. We are either on God’s side or we are against him. If we do not actively serve God, we will serve the world, seeking our own frustrated happiness and missing the joy that comes from being part of God’s family. This is the meaning behind Jesus’ remarks that a tree produces either good fruit or bad, and, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” We are all born into a corrupted world over which Satan holds dark spiritual dominion (John 12:31). Because this corruption affects our souls as well as our bodies, we are by nature aligned with the world against God (Eph 2:1-2). The one way out of this predicament is through faith and repentance—turning away from the darkness of the world and turning to the light of Christ. This is the only way we can produce the fruit of the kingdom of God.

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace, because the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. (Rom 8:5-9)

It is important to note in this passage that even before the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, it was possible to drive out demons by the Spirit of God through faith. Since the Spirit of God lives in us, we have this same power. The Lord provides us not only with the shield of faith, but with a sword as well, giving us authority in the spiritual realm. This authority is not one of the listed “gifts of the Spirit,” because it is the birthright of every born-again believer. It is by the Spirit in us that we are able to overcome in our own lives and discern how to pray for others. We are able to exercise this authority just as Jesus did, through the power of faith and the spoken word.

Our words, like our actions, have the power to accomplish both good and evil. Therefore, we will one day be judged by what we have said as well as by what we have done: “Men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken, for by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.” As disciples of Christ, we are freed from condemnation, but our words and actions still affect our reward in the Resurrection: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2Cor 5:10).” We must be careful therefore that our words reflect our commitment to being on God’s side. As we are transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit, our speech as well as our actions will increasingly come to glorify God and edify those who hear it.

11. Raising a Widow’s Son to Life          1/21/13 

Our Eternal Inheritance

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out — the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, Get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said, “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.  Luke 7:11-17

In Jesus’ time, as in poorer countries today, death was more up close and personal than it is in the West. The body received a ritual washing rather than an embalming, and was dressed at home by family members. It remained in the house for viewing in a crudely built coffin, as extended family and friends visited to offer their condolences. On the second or third day, before the flesh started to putrefy, the coffin was walked through the streets in a funeral procession from the house to a nondescript cemetery outside the city to be placed in the ground. Only the rich were entombed in caves. This is the kind of funeral procession Jesus encountered when he entered Nain, a small village a few miles southeast of his hometown of Nazareth.

The Gospel accounts contain numerous passages that reveal the heart of Jesus, and this is one of them. Luke states: “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her...” This phrase conveys the most salient aspect of Jesus’ personality—his great compassion. Most of the miracles Jesus did were in response to the faith of those seeking a cure for themselves or a loved one. In this particular case, like the healing of the invalid at the pool of Bethesda, no one made a request of him. This woman had previously lost her husband, and now her only son. He was moved to action solely by empathy for her grief and loneliness.

At the start of Jesus’ ministry during a synagogue service in Nazareth, he had read from chapter 61 of the book of Isaiah, a passage describing the work of the Messiah. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor...” This passage goes on to describe Jesus’ continuing work after “the day of vengeance of our God” at the end of the age: “... to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Such is the glory of God that will characterize Christ’s millennial kingdom.

Because Jesus had a divine as well as human nature, he occasionally transcended the constraints of this physical plane. He was not always going about walking on water or restoring life to the dead. On this occasion, however, he reached into heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit and touched the glory of God that would not exist on earth for two thousand years, bringing it into a moment in time and restoring life to the widow’s son. Yet it was not just the son who was set free from the result of Adam’s sin that day; his mother also experienced the glory of the coming kingdom of God. Her despair was turned into praise; instead of mourning she was covered with the oil of gladness. Both mother and son received a small taste of the Life that awaits those who are found worthy to be a part of the Resurrection at the end of the age.

When our loved ones die and their bodies are returned to the earth, we find consolation in one another’s sympathy and shared memories. Those who believe in Christ know in the deepest part of their soul that no matter how painful the loss, it is only a temporary separation. When Jesus returns, all those who have died believing in him will return with him to share in his earthly reign. They will receive glorified resurrection bodies that will never die, for “they will be like the angels (Luke 20:36).” We will enjoy our loved ones for all eternity, never again to be torn by the loss of separation. For believers, every day is a deposit on our eternal inheritance, every trial and temptation an opportunity to rejoice that the Lord is at work in us, conforming us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling as disciples of Christ.

10. Healing the Centurion’s Servant    1/14/13

Cultivating the Character of Christ

When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him. “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men returned to the house and found the servant well. – Luke 7:1-10

There were only two people that Jesus described as having great faith, this centurion and a woman from Phoenicia, and both were Gentiles. This man is therefore worthy of closer examination. A centurion in the Roman Legions was in charge of a hundred soldiers, an enlisted man rather than an officer appointed to command by virtue of his position in society. Having started as a foot soldier when he was a young man, he had risen through the ranks over the years by virtue of proving his courage and resourcefulness in battle, his rigorous self-discipline in times of peace. He knew the importance of submitting to the authority of others as well as how to command and encourage those under his own authority. He would not have approved of the license and corruption that characterized the Patrician class of Roman society. His actions toward the Jews indicate that he was probably impressed by the strict moral discipline of the Jewish way of life and the obedience rendered to the commands of their one true God. Luke describes four additional character traits of the centurion.

The first is that he cared deeply for others. According to the elders who came on his behalf, he loved the people of Israel. He sought healing not for himself, but for his servant. The fact that he ‘valued his servant highly’ does not mean he thought he was worth a lot of money, but that he had a high regard for him. The servant obviously discharged the duties of his position in a manner that pleased the centurion. He was not just any servant, but one highly valued; there was a bond of mutual respect and caring between the two men.

The second quality that commended the centurion to Jesus was his generosity and good works. He had not only taken a liking to the people of Israel, he had given his own money to help build the synagogue in Capernaum: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Jesus knew that this man cared not just for his own bonded personal servant, but for the conquered population over which he had been given authority, where no such bond existed. Jesus would later state, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me (Matt 25:40).” Here was a man who had helped the least of Jesus’ brothers, despite the fact that the Jews were the most troublesome people in the empire, ever resentful of the occupying Roman troops.

Third was the centurion’s humility. As a Roman, he believed that he was not worthy to approach the Son of the Hebrew God. The centurion had served other gods and sacrificed to them, and he would do so again on his return to Rome. This is why he requested those who held places of honor among the Jews, who had proved their loyalty to the Hebrew God, to seek this favor from Jesus. Like the Phoenician woman, he was willing to take the crumbs that fell from God’s table, because he did not have the status of being his loyal servant. He understood his place as a Gentile living among the Jews, just as his bondservant knew his own place in the centurion’s household. 

The centurion’s fourth commendable character trait is the confidence of his faith in Jesus. He had been raised on stories of the Roman gods and their children, the demigods, who had been born of human mothers. Although he believed that there were many gods, he also believed that Jesus was truly the Son of the God of the Jews, capable of wondrous feats. Additionally, this Jesus had traveled about healing others instead of performing deeds of great strength and seeking glory for himself. It was rumored that he had even brought the dead back to life. This God of the Hebrews obviously cared for his people, and his Son cared more about pleasing his Father than serving his own human desires.

It is interesting to note that the things that are commendable in the centurion can be found in Jesus’ own character. He cared for others as much as he did for himself; he was generous, giving of himself to minister to those who sought him; he was humble, having given up his position with God to take on the form of a man to die for our sins; and he had great faith, placing his confidence in the Father’s love. They were alike in another way as well. Both Jesus and the centurion were submitted to authority, determined to walk in obedience. The centurion was submitted to the orders of his commanding officer; Jesus was submitted to the will of his Father. No wonder Jesus was so impressed with the centurion!

These same character qualities should define all of God’s servants. As believers, we are called to care for others. This is so important that Jesus said, “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another (John 13:35).” We are also called to be generous, giving of our time and money: “Give, and it will be given to you (Luke 6:38),” and “God loves a cheerful giver (2Cor 9:7).” We are called to be humble: “In humility, consider [esteem] others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4).” And finally, we are to have faith, which starts with trusting the Father’s love for us no matter what our circumstances: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matt 6:26)” Yet trust is only the start of faith. It is perfected in submission and obedience to the will of God, as well as those he has placed in positions of authority over us: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do (1Pet 1:14-15).” We would do well to learn from the example set by the centurion who believed.

9. Healing a Man with a Withered Hand  1/07/13  

Dealing with Anger

Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. (Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Matt. 12:11-12)

Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. – Mark 3:1-6

Because Israel in Jesus’ day was a theocracy, society could be roughly divided into those who held positions of religious (i.e. political) power and those who did not. To use a pastoral analogy, the priests, Levites, Scribes (teachers of the Law), and Pharisees (self-appointed enforcers of the Law) were the shepherds ruling over the sheep.

The Priests and Levites: This was the upper ruling class. Most of those in this position refused to accept Jesus, for several reasons. He came from Galilee, so he had no connections to the royal court of Herod or to any of the important priestly families of Judea. He had established himself as a rabbi, or teacher with authority, yet he had no formal religious training. There were even questions about the legitimacy of his parentage. Given this background, his reported miracles made no sense, so the logical conclusion was that he was either a charlatan or in league with the devil. Some suspected he might be a zealot, planning to lead another military strike against the Romans. This could only result in the usual retaliation of mass crucifixions and greater Roman interference with their governance of the nation. There were some in the Sanhedrin, like Nicodemus, who believed that Jesus’ miracles were real and he was a man sent by God. However, this minority ruling faction could not openly support Jesus once he had been rejected by the religious establishment.

The Scribes and Pharisees: As Jesus’ ministry grew and his popularity soared, the opposition against him by the ‘upper middle class’ Scribes and Pharisees increased. There were many reasons for this. Instead of teaching about achieving righteousness by keeping the Law of Moses, Jesus preached about the kingdom of God, emphasizing repentance, faith and forgiveness. When they tried to ensnare him with questions about legal or moral issues, he always answered with great wisdom, making them look bad and undermining their authority. When the Pharisees challenged his actions as being in violation of the Law, he challenged them back, pointing out that the rabbinic rules they loved to enforce were not the Law, but merely traditions of men, and he castigated them for their hypocrisy. As Jesus’ popularity grew, their hold over the people was weakened. Where they had intimidated through threats of public shaming or even excommunication from the synagogue, Jesus was liberating the people from fear through his gospel of grace and truth. The initial opposition of the Scribes and Pharisees soon turned into open hostility.

One of their grievances against Jesus was his repeated violation of the rules governing the Sabbath. Of all the commandments of Moses, ‘keeping the Sabbath holy’ was one of the more regulated, and the prohibition against doing any kind of work was zealously enforced. Over the preceding centuries, the rabbinical schools had put a lot of effort into defining exactly what could and couldn’t be done on the Sabbath. Except for a few stated exceptions, any unnecessary effort was considered ‘work’ and therefore prohibited. One could walk only so many steps for example, except to go to the synagogue, before being in violation of rabbinic regulations. Yet Jesus appeared to take pleasure in breaking these rules. He had cast out demons and healed people on the Sabbath, actions that were not specifically allowed under the Law. When they questioned him one Sabbath about his disciples walking through a field picking and eating corn, Jesus had responded that he was Lord of the Sabbath. Clearly, something had to be done!

Jealous of guarding the rabbinic rules and their own authority among the people, the Scribes and Pharisees were watching Jesus closely this particular Sabbath. Healing and casting out demons might be tolerated, as long as one abided by the Law and submitted to their spiritual authority, like everyone else in Israel. They knew about the man with the withered hand in the congregation that morning; they may even have brought him there to force a confrontation they were certain of winning. There would be many witnesses against Jesus that day. If he healed this man, it would be an undeniable confirmation that he was in fact a lawbreaker, a subversive troublemaker who could be brought to judgment and discredited.

The People: Those who had no political or religious status had no vested personal interest to protect. It had been 400 years since a prophet had been heard in Israel, and people responded enthusiastically to Jesus’ call to walk in love and true righteousness. They longed to see him perform miracles, proof that God still cared for them. Most believed that Jesus was a prophet. As his miracles became more widely known and his fame grew, people increasingly came to believe that he was the Messiah, the promised Son of David.

Most everyone would have known about the man with the withered hand at the synagogue service that morning, so there must have been an undercurrent of excitement when Jesus arrived. His great compassion for people and his numerous healings were well-known. They longed to see the love and power of God at work in their congregation. They were aware however that the rabbinic regulations against working on the Sabbath held no exception for healing someone, unless his or her life was in danger. If Jesus healed this man it would be a clear transgression against the established interpretation of the Law. In effect, the rabbinic rules had become the law, just as if our own Supreme Court had defined it. The battle lines were drawn. Jesus had healed on the Sabbath before. If he healed this man today, everyone expected the Scribes and Pharisees to openly denounce him, even bring him up on charges before the local tribunal. What would Jesus do?

Jesus: Even without the Holy Spirit to guide him, the intentions of the Scribes and Pharisees were fairly obvious. When they asked him if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, he proved by analogy and logical deduction that it was in fact lawful, providing the legal argument against any charges that might be brought against him. Since the Law provided an exception for rescuing an animal on the Sabbath even though this was not a matter of life and death, the same exception would have to be extended to healing people, who are worth much more in God’s eyes than animals.

As often happened after he had answered a question designed to entrap him, Jesus responded with a question of his own. He framed the issue in general terms, trying to get them to understand God’s point of view: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” They obviously couldn’t answer that it was lawful to do evil and kill. However, if they said it was lawful to do good, they would have been giving him tacit permission to go ahead with the healing. Unwilling to give up their case against him, they said nothing. Because of their stubborn refusal to repent, Jesus became angry at the hardness of their hearts and their rejection of the truth. He was not going to let their implied threat of legal action dissuade him from doing good or lead him into a rash action. Taking his own counsel to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt 10:16),” he was very careful as to how he healed this man. Not wanting to give the Pharisees any grounds for laying charges against him, he did not lift so much as a finger of work. He merely instructed the man to extend his own arm, and when he did so, his hand was miraculously healed.

Because he was fully human as well as fully divine, Jesus was subject to the same emotional responses as we are, including anger. In itself, anger is not a sin. It is what we do with it that determines the spiritual outcome of any given circumstance. In his anger, Jesus refrained from lashing out at the Pharisees, and did good rather than harm, healing the man with the withered hand. This stands in clear contrast to the anger of the Pharisees, which turned into rage. They “were furious” that Jesus had escaped from the trap they had laid for him, making them look weak in the process. In holding on to their anger they did evil rather than good, and crossed the line—from mere opposition against Jesus to actually plotting his murder.

This Sabbath encounter provides the benchmark by which we can evaluate our own anger, even our ‘righteous indignation.’ Like Jesus, if we refrain from responding with a harsh reply, and do good rather than harm when we are angry, we have dealt rightly with the situation. In order to attain maturity in our walk of discipleship and become like Christ, we must learn to master our emotions as well as our thoughts. As Paul states, “In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold (Eph 4:26-27).” If we are angry because of an offense against us, we ought to forgive; if we have hurt someone in our anger, then we need to seek reconciliation.

8. Healing at the Pool of Bethesda          12/31/12 

Persevering in our relationship with God

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda, and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed–(and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.) One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had already slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later, Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. – John 5: 1-15

The pool of Bethesda was situated close to the Sheep Gate, where livestock were brought into the city for the temple sacrifices. It was the underbelly of Jerusalem, akin to the outskirts of cities in the American old West, with their noisy, smelly stockyards. This pool was continuously fed from the fountain of Siloam, which sprang up in a small cave just to the east of the city walls, high above the brook of Kedron. It was the only source of water for animals awaiting sacrifice.

The more popular Bible translations omit verse four, in parentheses above, which describes the occasional stirring of the waters by an angel of the Lord. However, the man’s response to Jesus, and the reason why he was there in the first place, makes no sense without it. The Jews were God’s chosen people, the flame of the hope of the promised Redeemer who would bring the light of salvation to the world. Despite Israel’s repeated unfaithfulness, and though it had been hundreds of years since a prophet had been heard in the streets of Jerusalem, God had not stopped loving his people. Because of this, miraculous healings still occurred at this pool. God could have picked anyplace to bestow his miracles, but he chose the one location where people of humility and faith—the poor and downtrodden—would not be too proud to be found. The name given to this pool, Bethesda, or Bethsaida, means “the house of mercy.”

On this occasion, led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus went where few in Jerusalem ever ventured. Most of the people situated under the colonnades around the sheep pool would have been pretty low on the socioeconomic ladder. Those who had money had already spent it on physicians, seeking a cure that never came. Isolated from mainstream society by their poverty and infirmities, they probably didn’t know who Jesus was when they saw him. But he knew them, and he knew in his spirit that this particular invalid had been coming there for a long time. Jesus must have been impressed by the faith of the lonely old man that motivated him to keep hoping for a miracle after thirty-eight years of persistent waiting, knowing he didn’t stand a chance of reaching the water in time. 

How easily we become discouraged when God doesn’t answer our prayers after a week, a month, or even a year! To illustrate the need for perseverance in prayer, Jesus told a story about a woman who finally got a judge to act on her behalf, just because she kept coming back day after day. Yet to persuade God to action, we need to seek more than his blessings and intervention on our behalf; we need to seek him—because faith is more than just persistence. Faith grows strong through perseverance founded on a trusting, obedient relationship with God. As Paul noted in the 11th chapter of his epistle to the Hebrews, faith rests on two elements: “He who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” We must seek the Giver if we are to receive the gift: we need to strive to submit to God’s will in our ordinary actions if we are to prevail upon his willingness to intervene in our life in an extra-ordinary manner.

7. Healing a Paralyzed Man                  12/17/12

The Miracle of Sanctification

One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on, and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” – Luke 5: 17-26

One of the lessons we can learn from this miracle is the working relationship between faith, authority, and power. Word about Jesus had spread after the miracles he had done in Jerusalem, so people were now traveling the length of Israel to see him. Many came to hear his teaching, but mostly they came in the expectation that he would perform miraculous healings. For those with infirmities, their faith must have been exceeded only by their hope of being healed. This combination of faith and eager expectation was why the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1 ASV).” It stands in sharp contrast to the spiritual dynamic that existed when Jesus later visited his hometown of Nazareth (Mark 6:5), where he was not able to do any miracles because of their lack of faith in him.

The Pharisees were not being particularly obnoxious that day; this was still fairly early in Jesus’ ministry. They even held their tongues when Jesus forgave the man’s sins, though the Law of Moses was clear that God alone held that power. However, Jesus knew what they were thinking anyway. Was this because he was omniscient, knowing everyone’s thoughts in any given situation? If this were true, he would not have been ‘amazed’ at the centurion’s great faith (Luke 7:5); he would have known about it beforehand. On the contrary, the gospel accounts make it clear that Jesus operated within the same human constraints that we do. However, he had the full measure of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit by which believers are able to discern things that are impossible to know with the five senses. It was his faith, combined with the power of the Holy Spirit, that enabled him to exceed the constraints of the physical world and accomplish great things for the kingdom of God.

The Pharisees’ reaction was hardly unexpected. Because only God could forgive sins, for a man or even a prophet to claim he had the power to do so was in fact blasphemous—unless he was the Messiah, a fact most of the Pharisees would not accept. Yet it was not their thoughts that troubled Jesus; it was their unbelief. Faith is like high voltage power lines through which the power of the Holy Spirit operates. When they start to go down, the effect in the spiritual realm is immediate. Jesus therefore challenged the Pharisees, asserting his authority to forgive sins in the face of their disbelief. It was the same authority by which he healed the sick, the blind, the crippled, restoring them to wholeness. Faith always has the power to overcome our unbelief; it is a matter of trust, of choosing to believe that Jesus will do what he has promised because of his great love for us.

Perhaps the most significant thing about this event is Jesus’ clear priorities. He placed the man’s need for spiritual healing before his physical condition, forgiving him of his sins before curing him. The same priority still holds true in God’s dealings with us. Although many seek physical healing and this does still occur today, the healing of our soul is always more important than that of the body. God wants to heal the emotional infirmities caused by sin and our separation from him so we can walk in the obedience of faith and the joy of love. This is the miracle of sanctification, our gradual transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ, and it is by far the greater miracle. 

6. Cleansing A Man of Leprosy              12/10/12

Cleansing From Sin

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing, “ he said, “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.  Mark 1:40-45

Leprosy is a disease of ancient origin. Its cause was not discovered until the later part of the nineteenth century, and a medical cure was not available until the late 1930’s. It manifests in different ways, some more severe than others. In one form, the flesh rots away and the limbs fall off. Because of its severity and contagious nature, Mosaic Law required that lepers be separated from the general population. They lived in destitution, segregated in villages or outside the walls of cities, wholly dependent on the charity of others. The outer garment was torn as a sign of grief and the head left uncovered, as if one had been cast aside by God. The leper had to announce to anyone who came near that he was “unclean, unclean,” and keep his distance from all except his own kind.

The spiritual stigma was even worse than the physical and social effects of this disease. The Hebrew word for leprosy meant a smiting, or stroke. It was called “the finger of God,” because it was believed that the disease was a selective punishment from him, a pollution of the flesh resulting from one’s sins. This belief was reinforced when God struck Miriam with leprosy after she spoke against the authority of Moses (Num 12). That is why Scripture does not describe lepers as being cured, but rather cleansed. Some skin conditions, such as psoriasis, can have similar initial symptoms, so priests became medical officers, with the power to quarantine an individual until the symptoms either passed or resolved into an identifiable disease. The Law made provision for an individual to show himself to the priests, essentially proving that the condition had not been leprosy after all, because there was no medical cure. Once a person had been afflicted with leprosy, absent a divine healing, they would die from it. It was a disease virtually without hope.

Luke describes this man as being “full of leprosy,” signifying an advanced state of the disease. For him to approach and converse with Jesus was prohibited by the rigidly enforced provisions of Law. He risked rejection and public rebuke for this affront, yet he came anyway. It was not because he had nothing to lose, since the authorities would deal harshly with him in order to protect society. However, he did believe that Jesus had nothing to lose. If Jesus were an ordinary man, he would be afraid of any contact. However, if he was truly the Messiah, then not only would he be unafraid, he would also have the power to remove the stroke of God against him. The leper’s approach proved his faith that Jesus could heal him; his only question was whether Jesus was willing to do so. Since he had been publicly branded by God as an unclean sinner, would the Son of God be willing to give him another chance at life?

Jesus reacted to this request as the Father would, with no trace of fear; rather, he was “filled with compassion.” He knew the heart of man, that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).” He did not focus on this man’s sin, because he came to call the unrighteous to repentance. Instead, Jesus looked on his faith and contrition for his sins. Breaking all social convention, Jesus reached out and actually touched this man! It was not just a healing touch, but the hand of forgiveness that allowed him to be cleansed and restored to health. It is the same with us.

All sin makes a person unclean. Only through forgiveness can we be restored to the wholeness we were created to have as beings made in the image of God. Forgiveness starts with our decision to come to Christ our Savior and make him our Lord. It continues after our spiritual birth, because the truth is that we continue to sin even after we are saved. Though we are delivered from the power of sin in a moment of time, no one is perfected in that instant. We walk a road of discipleship and hope, learning from Jesus so we can we grow in obedience and holiness. Each time we stumble into sin, we have an advocate, who is “able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Heb 7:25).” He not only forgives our sins, but also “cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9).” Jesus is always willing to give us another chance at life. All we need to do is come to him as the unclean leper did, on our knees in faith and humility.

5. A Miraculous Catch of Fish                12/03/12

The Cost of Following Jesus

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret [Sea of Galilee], with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said,  “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’ be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. — Luke 5:1-11

There is no way to determine the exact order of Jesus’ recorded miracles, as gospel accounts vary to some degree. Luke, the only one to describe this event, places it after the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, though some commentators believe that it may have occurred earlier, when Jesus first called his disciples. Though opinions vary, the issue is not an important one. The gospel accounts were written at least a couple of decades after these events took place, so there are discrepancies between them, in the same way several witnesses to an accident offer slightly different descriptions in court a year later. The revelation of the Holy Spirit comes through human beings, so each gospel writer left a different imprint on his account. Matthew wrote to the Jews, while Luke wrote to Gentiles, so their emphases differ as well as some of the details. If The Holy Spirit had wanted the gospels to be identical, he would have ensured that they all read exactly the same. But then the Bible’s detractors would have come up with the theory that three of the accounts were written by men who copied the fourth. Since three cheated by copying, why should the other one be trusted? Significant doubt would thus have been cast on the veracity of all four. The differences and slight discrepancies that do exist between the gospels offer proof that their accounts are in fact true.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this event was not the miracle itself, but that all three men just walked away from the biggest haul of fish they had ever seen. Two boats so full of fish that they were close to sinking probably represented at least a month’s wages. Who among us would have just left everything and followed Jesus in that circumstance? To place the situation in perspective, imagine stopping for gasoline after working all day without making a dime, only to be accosted by a street preacher just as you get to the counter. He tells you to buy several lottery tickets. Complying with his odd request, you scratch off the numbers to discover you’re holding $2,000 worth of instant winners. Then he tells you to leave the tickets on the counter, park your car, and follow him! What would your reaction be, even if you believed he was a man of God?

The answer for most of us is fairly obvious. We want the best of what God and the world has to offer. Even if we followed the man of God, we would surely be pocketing the tickets as we walked out the door, intending to cash them in later. But Jesus tells us that we need to make a choice, putting the kingdom of God first, and submitting everything, even our wealth, to his will. “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:33

Jesus is not telling us that we need to give up working for the necessities of life, because we have a responsibility to provide for ourselves and our families. If he wanted us to give up making money he would have done away with tithing and his call to help the poor. He is simply telling us that we need to make a choice, putting the riches of the kingdom first and trusting God to provide the opportunities we need make it in this life: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need [these things]. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt 6:32-33).”

We need to ask ourselves what we truly value more, the honor and pleasures and riches of this life or the honor and pleasures and riches of God in the next? For the Resurrection will come, and we will receive our reward and our place in his kingdom based on the things we gave up and what we consequently devoted our time to do for the kingdom of God. So we need to be honest about the things we are holding back for ourselves, and why.

What is the Lord asking us to walk away from, and just how difficult is that to do? Sometimes we are unwilling to give up what make us happy, or those things that relieve the pain of our unhappiness. Sometimes, we are like small children who do not fully grasp the concept of giving up something now in order to gain something far greater at a later time. Some believers have trust issues, making it difficult to keep a commitment to live for God, relying on themselves instead of the Holy Spirit. Whatever our issue, it basically comes down to a lack of faith in Jesus and the promises of Scripture. Do we really believe that giving up the pleasures and treasures of this life to live for the kingdom of God will result in a far greater reward than anything we could ever imagine?

If we are to grow in our faith, we need to act on the faith we already have. God expects no more than that. Each act of devotion and obedience makes it easier to hear and trust and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. As we build up a track record of being faithful in small things, our faith is strengthened to handle the responsibilities of the greater things God has planned for us, in this life as well as the next.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. – 1Cor 2:9

4. Healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law         11/26/12

Who is Jesus?

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon (Peter) and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. – Mark 1:29-34

Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was not just feeling under the weather. Luke, a physician, describes her as having a ‘great’ fever: she was seriously ill. When Jesus helped her out of bed and rebuked the fever, she was not just healed of her illness. She was completely restored to health, and began waiting on them, probably preparing the afternoon meal. An examination of the recent events affecting Peter’s household helps us understand the context and implications of this healing.

Peter’s mother-in-law lived with her daughter and Peter, and Peter’s younger brother, Andrew. Peter and Andrew had a successful fishing business with Zebedee’s two sons. When they fished at night, they were home during the day with the family. However, they had recently taken to hanging around with this young so-called rabbi from Nazareth. Peter and Andrew had just returned home from the Passover feast almost a week late because they had decided to go into the baptizing business with Jesus at the Jordan River—instead of earning an honest living fishing on the Sea of Galilee. As anyone could tell you, baptizing did not make ends meet. Not only that, Jesus and his newfound band of followers had spent two additional days in a town in Samaria instead of returning home! Peter’s mother-in-law must have been concerned that Peter was neglecting his work, his wife, and his family responsibilities.

And just who was this Jesus from Nazareth that Peter and Andrew were so attached to? Wasn’t this the same Jesus whose cousin John wore camel hides and wandered around the Judean desert without a drachma to his name—eating bugs and baptizing people? Peter’s mother-in-law may have heard the latest stories coming out of Jerusalem that Jesus had some kind of miraculous healing ability, but she was probably too sick to care. It’s not inconceivable that her worry had contributed to her illness. And now, here was this same Jesus, coming into her house, telling her to get out of bed! It must have been quite amazing for Peter’s mother-in-Law to discover that as soon as she stood up she felt just fine. The change in her attitude toward Jesus was probably as wondrous as her healing. When she looked into those eyes to thank him, she beheld his great compassion. From that day on, ‘her’ house became Jesus’ home away from home.

We don’t know what Jesus and his disciples talked about that afternoon, but in the rest of the houses in Capernaum it is fairly certain that the conversation centered on Jesus’ exorcism at the morning synagogue service. After the Sabbath travel restrictions ended, a crowd began to gather outside Peter’s house in the gathering twilight. Since it was so late, Jesus moved among the crowd by the light of oil lamps, healing the sick. Luke says that he touched each person he healed, so this must have taken quite awhile. Someone may have built a fire for people to gather around when it started cooling off, lending a ‘campfire’ atmosphere to the night. Casting out demons, never a pleasant event because of the spiritual battle involved, would have been even scarier to behold at night, when imagination is heightened and fears are quicker to surface. Jesus forbade the demons to speak, maintaining spiritual control of the situation. It’s likely that no one in Capernaum got much sleep that night, wondering about the day’s events. Was Jesus a prophet? Could he be the Messiah, come to establish the kingdom of God?

These questions still have relevance today. Just who is Jesus to us? To some he is a historical religious figure, whose actions have been exaggerated, even mythologized. To others he is a prophet, a good man who had spiritual insights on how to live. To believers, he is the Son of God: the long awaited Messiah of the Jews and the Christ of the Gentiles come to redeem us from sin and death, through forgiveness and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. (See link: “How can I be Saved?”) If we believe this is true, then we should be living our lives for the kingdom of God. Like Peter’s mother-in-law, we understand that the best part of meeting Jesus is not physical healing, but the transformation of the soul that occurs when we place our trust in him and submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ... And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” – 2Cor 4:6, 3:18

3. Exorcism of a Demon in Capernaum  11/19/12

Exercising Spiritual Authority

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. – Mark 1:21-28

Wherever he ministered, Jesus preached the gospel, or good news, of the kingdom of God. This was a new teaching for the Jews, who were used to hearing about the Law. His ‘sermon’ that Sabbath morning was the first time he had taught in the synagogue since the start of his public ministry. Jesus’ message was straight from the heart of God—full of grace and truth, rather than another dry exposition of legal restraints on human behavior. This new teaching was no pie in the sky idealism either, just basic kingdom principles presented by someone who obviously practiced what he preached. No wonder the Galileans were impressed!

This Sabbath day was a test for Jesus. When he had been tempted in the desert, the enemy had approached him with a carrot, appealing to his human needs and desires. Today he came at Jesus with a stick. When the demonic spirit cried out, it was a direct spiritual attack; the battle against good and evil had moved into a new arena. The demon hated Jesus, because he could not stand to be in the holy presence of the Son of God. Yet he was also afraid, because Jesus could not only cast him out of the man he had found a comfortable home with, he could send him to the Abyss, a place of torment and absolute despair. In fear and hatred he screamed out for all to hear, “You are the Holy One of God!” However, Jesus would not accept testimony from the enemy, so he silenced him. Speaking by faith, Jesus used the authority of the Spirit to evict this demonic spirit from its hiding place.

Whatever tactics the enemy used on our Lord, he will also use on us, for “the disciple is not above his master (Matt 10:24).” If the enemy of our soul cannot draw us away from obedience to God’s will by appealing to our needs and desires, he will challenge us with direct spiritual attacks. It may be a doubt that the Father really loves us, or a fear of suffering if we truly embrace the cross of Christ, or of rejection if we witness for him. Whether we are lured by our desires, undermined by doubt, or intimidated by fear, we can silence our spiritual enemies and send them packing with a word of faith. We have the same Holy Spirit in us that Jesus had in him. We have been given the authority to walk in victory over the spiritual powers of this world, the power to overcome all the temptations and attacks of the evil one. It is only by exercising this authority in our own lives that we can successfully minister to others, becoming truly effective in the work Jesus has given us to do for the kingdom.

“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions, and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” – Luke 10:19

2. Healing the Son of a Royal Official    11/12/12

Following the Golden Rule

After the two days he left [Samaria for] for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they had also been there.

Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick in Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

The Royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”

Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.

This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee. – John 4: 43-54

Jesus and his disciples had just returned from the Passover feast in Jerusalem, where he had performed numerous miracles. Since attendance at Israel’s three annual festivals was mandatory, many had witnessed Jesus’ power. The apprentice carpenter and self-taught rabbi from Galilee had put the nation on notice that his time had come. The news of this miracle worker would soon be carried to the twelve tribes of Israel and beyond. It had already preceded his arrival back in Galilee.

When Jesus arrived in the city of Cana, he was approached by a government official residing in the nearby town of Capernaum. The government at that time was under the rule of Herod the Tetrarch (less than a king but more than a governor), who had gotten himself appointed to this position through political maneuvering and connections in Rome. His administration was the designated Roman puppet government in Israel, and though he did not have the title of king, he was still considered royalty. His appointed local officials were therefore Very Important People. Since part of this royal official’s job was to keep Herod apprised of developing events, he knew about Jesus’ miracles in Jerusalem. As a government official, he was ‘somebody.’ He would not have been personally acquainted with Jesus, a ‘nobody’ from Nazareth. However, from the stories he had heard, he believed Jesus was a man of God, capable of working miracles. He had journeyed to Cana in the hope that his status as a royal official would persuade Jesus to come to Capernaum to heal his son.

It is human nature to try to attain things by impressing others of our worth. Herod, for example, got his throne by manipulation, convincing Caesar of his ability to rule the volatile Jewish province with an iron hand. The royal official came to see Jesus in the confidence he would be seen because he was important. The kingdom of God, however, does not operate the way the world does. Jesus was not swayed by the man’s title or social standing, and looked past these things, evaluating his faith. Because “God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34),” he is not impressed by our abilities or position. The Lord does not care about our wealth or social status, whether we are a lowly street person or placed in high political office. He is concerned with the condition of the heart, and the things that flow out from it. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1Sam 16:7).”

We are like the royal official, evaluating ourselves and others according to our station in life. We look at the clothes people wear, how they speak, where they go, or don’t go to church, and their obvious sins. As believers, we are often less tolerant of people than the world is, judging others according to our own righteous, or ‘godly’ standards of behavior. Although we are to be spiritually discerning and wise in our relationships, we are not called to pass judgment on others. Our attitude should be like that of Jesus, who did not “come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 12:47).” It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin; our job is to lead others to Christ by loving them as he has loved us. Because no one likes to be judged, this starts with following the Golden Rule of ‘doing unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matt 7:12),’ accepting others as they are, especially when they are not like us.

We can find guidance in Jesus’ teaching on the subject, serving others in love rather than judging them, relying on the discernment of the Holy Spirit to guide us through every encounter.

Stop judging by mere appearances. – John 7:24

You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. – John 8:15

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? – Luke 6:41

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged. – Matt 7:1-2

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. – Matt 10:16 NKJV

Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. – Luke 6:37-38

Do to others what you would have them do to you – Matt 7:12

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love [only] those who love you, what reward will you get? – Matt 5:44-46

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. – John 15:12

1. Changing Water to Wine                   11/05/12

Serving Others in Humility

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from ten to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

This is the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. – John 2: 1-11

The first of Jesus’ recorded miracles, this one seems at first sight to be almost gratuitous, a mere party favor at a large wedding feast. Replenishing the depleted wine vats in a wealthy household certainly didn’t demonstrate the higher purpose of alleviating the oppression and suffering of the poor that characterized most of Jesus’ miracles. Perhaps that is partly why he declined at first when his mother requested his help. Jesus may or may not have known exactly when the ‘right’ time would come to demonstrate the power of the kingdom of God, but he was certain this was not it: “My time has not yet come.”

Having just returned from his baptism by John and his temptations in the desert, Jesus had officially “left home,” and was therefore no longer under his parent’s authority. He was on his own, with his own newly formed band of disciples, including Peter, Andrew, Philip, and Nathaniel. Later, he would make his independence from his family very clear when someone told him that his mother and brothers were waiting for him outside a house in which he was teaching. His response was, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother and sister and brother (Matt 12:48-50).” Yet here at the wedding feast after his initial rebuff of his mother’s request, Jesus changed his mind. The question is, “why?” The short answer is that he was compassionate, and he always honored the faith of those who believed in him.

Mary was the very first to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. When he told Mary she was pregnant, the angel Gabriel had told her that her child would be “The Son of the Most High.” At Jesus’ dedication in the temple, two people, Simon and Anna, had given prophecies about him that only the Messiah could fulfill. Mary fully believed that, having been raised without much in the way of the world’s riches, Jesus could sympathize with the embarrassment this would cause the new bride and groom. Even though their need could not be considered great in the grand tapestry of human suffering, Mary was motivated by concern for others and knew Jesus was too. She knew he had the power as well as the compassion to respond to her request. That’s why instead of just accepting her son’s initial unwillingness, Mary’s comment as she left the room was to tell the servants to do whatever Jesus told them. In retrospect, it appears that she appealed to both the divine and human natures of Jesus. As the Messiah, Jesus responded to Mary’s persistent, trusting faith in him; as a devoted son, he honored her according to the commandment, even though he was no longer under her direct authority.

This miracle illustrates two basic principles of the kingdom of God. The first is that our service for the kingdom begins with faithfully serving our own family. In Mark 8:7-13, Jesus rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees for failing to care for their parents. Paul describes the responsibility we have to our families: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything (Col 3:18-20).” The second kingdom principle is serving others in humility. The initial revelation of Jesus’ miracle-working power would have been more spectacular in a public location with a ‘worthier’ need, possibly resulting in a greater ‘splash’ for the kingdom of God. However, the foundation of Jesus’ ministry was to humbly serve others, and Mary’s request was a test of his willingness to do just that. Rather than a grand public display of power, Jesus’ first miracle took place in a back room of someone’s house in the backward province of Galilee, witnessed only by his first four disciples and a few servants.

However, as a result of Jesus’ willingness to serve without recognition in a very small thing, he gained the faith and trust of his first disciples. It pleases the Lord when we serve the least important people in situations involving little or no personal gain. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me... Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me (Matt 25:35-36, 40).”

(Scripture references from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

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