In order to establish your tradition!

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

Yesterday I mentioned that there are traditions that the modern day church holds sacred. I thought that I might discuss a few of them and hope I do not offend anyone in the process:
  • Money Changers: Jesus evicted them from the temple. I wonder what he would think about the book and DVD tables that adorn church hallways these days?
  • Communion: Wonder what the Lord thinks about church services that seem to exclusively focus on the Lord's supper and speak of sacrificing Christ each week?
  • Capital Campaigns: What would He who spoke of every stone of the temple being torn down think of the ornate edifices that occupy the poorest of neighborhoods?
  • Suits, Ties and Sunday Dresses: When did church become a place to display your Sunday best? Isn't this emphasis on externals contrary to the gospel message?
I am sure that I could list many more traditions that permeate Christianity these days but the message that I am trying to convey is that we all embrace a bit of Pharisaic hypocrisy in the ways that we walk out our faith. The message is to focus more on the internals of the faith.

Lord help me to find ways to embrace the internals of the scripture.

Their heart is far from me ...

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

I think that there has always been a tension between following tradition and following God because many traditions have their origins in the ways that people followed God. When I look at the church today, and many of the things that we hold as sacred, I wonder about fleshly traditions. Sometimes traditions are fairly recognizable but sometimes they are not. Such is the case here where Jesus confronts the religious leaders with their hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is at the core of the issue because of the way that man made traditions can be followed with the flesh. It is so easy to outwardly follow the rules and keep your heart in check never fully committing it to follow the Lord. But God is not interested in our religious gymnastics. He does not want sacred performances. He wants us! He desires that we seek him and trust him with all of our heart. It has always been God's way. He wants our heart.

Teach me Lord not to lean on my traditions but to follow you with my heart.

Do not be afraid.

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.

He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Do you ever wonder how Jesus knew that he could walk on water? Or why he felt the need to walk so close to  the disciple's boat?  The image of him coming towards the boat captivates one's imagination. In it we see how the Lord was not constrained by natural laws. When the wind stops blowing we are confronted by the idea that He is greater than nature.

I think that the fearful response by the disciples is pretty normal - I am pretty sure that I would have freaked out. Yet I wonder about the commentary offered in that last sentence. Is a fearful response to the miraculous a sign of a hardened heart? Perhaps not but it does make me wonder how much of my fear has its roots in a heart that refuse to believe.

Soften my heart Lord and help me to not be afraid.

You give them something to eat.

And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.

And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.

And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

The disciple's words "Send them away" are echoing in my head this morning. It reminds me a bit of Cain's retort to God when he is questioned about his slain brother Abel. He defiantly replied: "Am I my brother's keeper?" The answer to the disciples tells us that God's answer is "Yes, you are your brother's keeper". When our brother hurts we are often God's answer to his prayer. When he is hungry God calls us to love him with a meal or sack of groceries.

Christ's answer to this need of sustenance is breathtakingly divine. Ever wonder why God didn't just materialize the fish and bread out of thin air? Seems like he could have but instead he took something natural turned it into something supernatural. Perhaps that is one of the messages in the story? Perhaps the answers to our prayers for supernatural intervention begin when take our meager fishes and loaves and give them to the Lord?

Direct me Lord to those who are hurting and need someone to help.

Come away ... and rest a while.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

I have often said that if a person does not take care of themselves they are of no use to others. This was very true in my life when my wife was disabled at the end of 2007 and could no longer walk. For months I continued to work at church trying to hang on to my ministry to the church. Eventually I began to understand that, for my own well being, my ministry focus needed to change to care for my wife. In leaving the pastorate I took care of myself and her.

So interesting to see the Lord's reaction to the throngs of hurting people. He could have become angry at their presence but instead the Lord allowed compassion to arise. The persistence of the crowds reminds me that it is the will of God that we pursue him in prayer and of how He longs to be compassionate on us and show us mercy. I think that persistence in prayer is sometimes the means by which we experience the compassion of Christ.

Help me Lord to understand the balance of caring for myself and for others.

Shake off the dust ...

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

I love the mission that the disciples were given: a simple message of repentance blended with a powerful response of deliverance and healing. What do you think of when you hear the word repent? Perhaps images of religious meetings and activities come to mind? I think of a heart that says a simple yes and turns to the Lord. Such repentance is beautiful and powerful because it comes not from a changed mind but from a soft heart. 

And yet to those who refuse to repent.. those who will not receive the words of God's messengers.. the Lord's instruction is not to tarry with such people but to shake the dust off and leave. This can sometimes be a very difficult thing to do because of our human desire to debate with such people and try to win them with intellectual arguments. Such debate is rarely successful because repentance is not about the head but about the heart.

Help me Lord to understand that repentance is an issue of the heart.

Except in his hometown ...

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.

Anyone who has spent any time in the church understands that there is an unhealthy familiarity that lives in and among those who regularly attend there. Many see it most in the children who have been a part of their parents religious life since birth. For these kids, and many adults, there is no fresh wonder or astonishing awe when they think about God.

Such is the case with the people in Christ's hometown. They had known and seen Jesus all his life. The leaders in the synagogue, like everyone else, watched him grow into manhood and had a difficult time accepting his teaching and understanding his miracles. Because of familiarity their hearts were closed and they did not believe in Jesus or what he taught.

Lord help my faith in you to stay fresh. Please keep me from the sin of familiarity.

Do not fear, only believe.

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”

And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

I can so relate to the words that I have captured in the title of this post. I battle fear on a daily basis when it comes to my wife's health. Just this week fear gripped me as she struggled to get out of bed and I caught her as she began to slip. Fear can be a very real issue when it comes to sickness and healing because of the way that it taps into our past and prevents us from trusting God today.

Thankfully Jesus is not dissuaded by our fear, our tears or even our mocking laughter - back then and today. I love the way that he did not make a production out of this but only brought a few disciples and kept others away. I can only imagine the amazed look on the parents as their child began to arise. Oh my, is there anyone like Jesus? Is there anyone more worthy of my trust than the Lord?

Help me to trust you in the present Lord and to not be hindered by past experiences.

Your faith has made you well ...

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease".

I recently had a long discussion in the comment section of a post titled "Healing and the Will of God". In it we discussed the role of faith in physical healing. My perspective is that our faith should never be "for" something (like healing) but "in" Someone. Such is the case here for the woman's request for healing was only answered because she believed that Jesus was a healer. Her faith was the conduit but it would have been fruitless if placed in another.

Interesting how Christ felt healing flow from his body. Up to now his healing ministry was a cooperative effort where he was actively involved in the process. In this case his involvement was passive. From the text it appears that he did not even know who touched him. Jesus required her to publicly acknowledge the healing teaching us that we must always return thanks and acknowledge God for whatever thing we are blessed with.

Lord, cause me to always to acknowledge you and to give thanks for your many blessings.

Tell them how much the Lord has done for you ...

The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

The response of the people who had witnessed evil in this man is somewhat puzzling? Their first reaction to this powerful deliverance was fear - people fear what they do not understand. Their second reaction was a bit odder - I wonder how many of them had herds of pigs that they felt were endangered? Isn't it strange that none of them gave thanks that this tormented demonized man was at peace? Their reactions were callous and selfish.

On the flip-side sat a man who finally had peace in his life! This man wanted to cling to Jesus and follow him wherever he went but God had other plans for this freed man. Perhaps Jesus knew that this man had the heart of an evangelist? It is interesting how sometimes the Lord would command a leper to keep silent about his healing but in this case he told the man to witness to all he met. And indeed there was cause for great awe and marveling.

I too marvel at the work of your hands Lord! Help me to be one who rejoices with others!

Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him.

And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

This is an amazing story of power and strength. On the one hand there is the man who possessed a supernatural strength that enabled him to break chains. And on the other hand there is One who has power over such a man with his words. I cannot imagine the spectacle that the disciples witnessed as this seemingly insane man approached the Lord. Can you sense the desperation in his voice as he speaks to Jesus about being tormented?

The conversation is so engaging as the man speaks and indicates that he is afflicted by many (a legion was comprised of over 5,000 men) demons. I cannot imagine the agony this man was in and the horror of having so much evil in his life. Also interesting how the demons did not leave when first confronted by the Lord. The story is a compelling one and teaches us about the power of evil and the authority of the One who reigns over it.

Help me to not fear the presence of evil today Lord. Remind me of the power of your name.

Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

This is one of the most fascinating passages. I love how such an ordinary event as a boat ride provides us with an object lesson about fear and faith. A few thoughts about it:
  • Jesus must have been exhausted. Sometimes I forget what a drain on his body it must have been to have been in such demand. Crowds were always chasing after him.
  • The wind and the waves were real and scary. The men on this boat were experienced fishermen and not ignorant of such storms. Their fear was realistic.
  • I have no context for a person who can calm such a storm simply with his words. Jesus is a messiah like no other. His power leaves me in awe.
Lastly, Jesus words about faith so challenges me to trust God when life's storms assault me. Perhaps the lasting message in this story is that storms will come but we should not be afraid because God is with us in it.. he will hear us when we pray.. he will help.

Thank you for your presence in my trials Lord.

It is like a grain of mustard seed ...

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

Thinking about this passage I am reminded of two places where the Lord Jesus used a seed to illustrate a point. The first is where, earlier in this chapter, Jesus speaks of God's word as a seed scattered on all sorts of soil. The second is where he compares faith to a mustard seed. I love the imagery of something so tiny representing something that is so powerful and dynamic. I encourages me to, by faith, receive God's word deep in my heart.

God's kingdom is all about these seeds growing and impacting our lives and the lives of those around us. These kind of seeds are essential because they grow and produce spiritual fruit in our lives. When I consider the journey that I have been on I recall how faith has grown in response to God's word implanted in my heart. So I wonder if it is enough to simply "have faith" if that faith does not result in God's word being sown deep within?

I believe in you Lord. Help your words to penetrate the soil of my heart today.

He knows not how ...

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

When I was younger I craved knowledge and believed that I could figure life out by studying the bible. Now that I am older I have realized that the purpose of the bible is not to explain all things to us. There is a mystery to life and we sell faith short when we reduce it to a quest for knowledge. The scriptures are rife with spiritual truth and much wisdom can be absorbed when we study the pages of holy writ. Yet there is much mystery there as well.

I recently watched a scientist and a man of faith speak about what they learned as they wrote a book together. The scientist said that in the collaboration he learned that science can usually answer the question of how but cannot speak to the issue of why. Often in life we can understand the effects of things on us but we rarely are able to discern why they happened. In these situations we do well to engage faith and allow mystery.

I trust you Lord with my life - both those things I understand and the things I do not.

To the one who has, more will be given ...

And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

As I read these verses I am reminded that the Kingdom of God does not operate under the same principles that we see in the world. The world operates in secrecy and darkness while the Kingdom thrives in the light and transparency. Sages in this age speak to us of being frugal and saving for a rainy day but voices in the Kingdom proclaim that everything belongs to the One that we cannot out give. One is focused inward while the other looks outward.

God is not interested in blessing us with things that we do not need or use. Many desire wealth but they do not use what they already have. Others want gifts of friends but they do not cherish the people in their lives today. Yet to those who made good use of the gifts that they have been given God promises that more will be given. For to whom much is given much is required. It is a principle of His kingdom and one that we do well in following.

Help me to be faithful with the things and friends that you have blessed me with Lord.

Do you not understand this parable?

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Interesting how this passage begins with Jesus thinking that he should not really have to explain this parable to his disciples. It is fascinating because this parable is all about have a heart prepared to hear what God is saying. Could he have been saying that they (and we) would have understood the parable if the soil of their hearts was fertile? Perhaps the message of the parable would have rung clear if not for their shallowness and worries?

The teaching in this parable is so simple that we will miss it if we over analyze it. Jesus is explaining the saying that he often communicates when he says “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  The parallels between the soil and our hearts is so compelling when you consider that the Lord is speaking of how our hearts, like farm land, can be hard and unfit for seed when it is untended. It speaks to me of my responsibility to tend my heart.

Help me Lord to tend my heart and keep it tender and weed free.

To you has been given the secret ...

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

On the surface this appears to be a strange passage. What do you think of when you read about Jesus speaking of insiders and outsiders? I think that he is speaking of the differences between those who follow their fleshly instincts and those who follow their hearts. I think that it is the difference between those who trust and hear with their hearts and those who are spiritually deaf because they lean on their own fleshly understanding.

When I think of the phrase "the secret of the kingdom of God" I am confronted with the idea that there is an invisible realm present in our world that is kept secret from our fleshly senses. God's kingdom is a secret to all who lean on their own senses and are not open to the workings of the Holy Spirit. But to we who have been born spiritually this kingdom is not a secret at all because we have eyes that can see and ears that can hear.

Help me today Lord to trust you not with eyes that see physically but with my inner eyes.

A sower went out to sow ...

Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

There is just somethings about just that captures our attention. Often I find myself lost in thought as i read and consider the things that he taught. His style of teaching was so different than that of preachers back then and even today. He was not content to simply speak in religious verbiage but brought his message down to earth so that everyone could understand and learn. This is why he spoke so much in parables.

Parables like this one have a way of captivating our imagination. As I read I can see the seeds, the rocky ground, the thorns and the fertile soil. Yet I wonder if the crowds really understood what he was trying to teach. Perhaps, unlike me, they had the ability to connect the seed with God's word and the soil with the heart of man? Or possibly the Lord was simply interested in discerning who would be humble enough to ask questions?

Help my heart to remain humble Lord so that I can receive all that you have for me.

Who are my mother and my brothers?

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” ... And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

There is an interesting dynamic going on in the family of Jesus. From these few verses is it is apparent that his mother and brothers are a bit confused concerning this new chapter in the life of their beloved son and brother. How could they, who watched Jesus grow into manhood, understand? These are the ones who thought that carpentry would be, like it was for his father Joseph, his life trade - messianic ministry was not what they had in mind.

Yet in the midst of all of this craziness Jesus says something even crazier. He says that his real family is marked by obedience to God. Hearing something like this would have caused me concern if I was his brother. Yet, for we who read these words now, we understand that the Son of God was elevating our relationship to him. No longer are we outsiders. No longer are we servants and slaves. We are loved and embraced as divine brothers and sisters.

I do not understand it Lord but you call me brother. Help me to live honoring our family.

All sins will be forgiven ...

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

For some strange reason the first part of this long statement is usually passed over in our quest to understand the definition of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In our negative focus we ignore the fact that "all sins will be forgiven" as well as "blasphemies they utter". All and whatever - these sweeping affirmations take my breath away. This is the good news of Jesus Christ. All murders.. every rape.. even tortures can be forgiven by our gracious Lord.

Some believe, because of the context, that the unforgivable sin is limited to a person who says that Jesus had a demon. I think that the sin is much larger in scope. When I think about how a person can reject the convicting presence of God's Spirit I have to believe that this rejection is the sin that will not be forgiven. Blasphemy is not merely an utterance against God. Blasphemy is much more serious because it is a rejection by the heart.

I rejoice that all sins and blasphemies will be forgiven when our heart responds to You.

If a house is divided against itself ...

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

I remember a book that was very popular back in the 1970s that was a detective book of sorts for spotting demons. Many of the folks I associated with back then embraced the idea that demons were all over the place and it was our job to get rid of things (like statues of frogs) that attracted them. It was a weird time. In contrast I recall a time this spring when I prayed for a stranger in a market close to home and sensed demonic activity in his life.

In this passage the Lord Jesus does not refute the existence of demons but instead gives us a peek into the world of Beelzebul. He tells us that this is a spiritual realm that is not divided or stupid. Yet the Lord also speaks of entering the strong man's house and plundering his goods. It reminds me that the gates of hell cannot stand against the prayerful assault of believers and of how we can cast demons out when we discern their presence.

Awaken my heart Lord to discern the times. Help me to not be spiritually ignorant.

Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good?

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

In the previous passage Jesus proclaimed that he was the Lord of the Sabbath and that the Sabbath was made for man. In this passage we see the total perversion that the Sabbath had become to the Jews. Enter in with me if you will to a place of worship where it is not lawful to heal a human being. Can you even relate to a "House of God" where such harness of heart exists. In what universe would anyone tolerate such a display of callousness?

Sadly this type of callous religion exists even today. Society is rife with stories of spiritual abuse by leaders who allow religious rules to trump the well being of those committed to their charge. I think that many things done in the name of religion break the heart of God. In contrast there are many who, like Jesus, do not kowtow to external rules but follow the internal leading of the Holy Spirit. Against such there is no law - even on the Sabbath.

Help me Lord to reject external rules and hear clearly the leading of your Spirit in my heart.

The Sabbath was made for man ...

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?" And he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."

This act of disobedience to the law had to be very troubling for the religious leaders. These men highly esteemed the Sabbath (one the outside anyway). Many today have similar feelings about Sunday being a Sabbath day. Consider what the writer of Hebrews says:
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
In a very real sense the Christian Sabbath has nothing to do with a day. God did not simply replace Saturday with Sunday as a legalistic day of rest. Most Christians actually believe this because Sunday is full of activities and not a day of rest for them at all. Yet if we focus on the day we miss the point altogether. Sabbath rest comes from a relationship with God where we hear His voice deep within us and respond to it with a soft heart.

I need your Sabbath presence in my life Lord. Please speak to me. Help my heart to be soft.

New wine is for fresh wineskins.

Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins--and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins."

Do you find it odd how religious people judge each other with veiled 'questions'? Even today Christians judge each other concerning the ways that they live out their faith. Much of my life I spent inwardly judging those who did not worship like I did. There was an air of superiority in my views of others who were not as gifted or informed as I was. Such is the bitter fruit evidenced when we embrace a legalistic perspective that leaves little room for grace.

Interesting how Jesus seems to make a break from the religious law when he speaks of new cloth and new wine. I believe that he is telling us that he did not come to clarify and improve the legalistic religious order of his day with spiritual patches. My thinking is that he is teaching us that he came to begin something new and revolutionary. This idea of new wineskins is a hard concept to embrace because of the heart change that is required.

Help me to let go of the old wineskins Lord. Help me to embrace you in change.

Those who are well have no need of a physician ...

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

Fisherman, tax collectors and sinners - not the types of people one might expect God to hang around with if he were to come to earth. I mean really, why not hang out with those who have dedicated their lives to the scriptures like the scribes or leaders in the synagogues? What was it about sinners that Jesus found so appealing. Perhaps it was their hearts? Maybe these were the only ones with hearts wide open to the good news?

In truth every one that heard Jesus speak was sick and in need of a healer. Those who criticized Christ for eating with sinners were sick with the disease of self righteousness. Yet those could not be healed because they were too proud to come to the Great Physician. Sadly the hearts of the religious were not open to the message of the healer. Perhaps that is the message of this passage. We all need the Healer. We all need Jesus.

I come Lord. I need to be healed. Have mercy on me and change me.

Which is easier?

And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the paralytic-- "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home." And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"

When you read this passage do you wonder about the man on the stretcher? Do you think about the one who was helpless and needed his friends to bring him to Jesus? When I consider his plight I imagine that he was one without a hope for the future. His world was certainly dark and depressing. Yet he had friends who were willing to help him and that friendship made all the difference. Thank God for the faith of these who greatly loved him.

I love how this passage teaches us about the two types of healing - inner and outer. My wife has been in two rehabilitation hospitals since she came off a ventilator this summer. I have watched her outer body get stronger as the weeks have gone by. And, in a sense, the outer strength simply echoed her inner fortitude. In reality we all have healing needs. Yet the need to forgive and be forgiven often seems to be the greatest need of all.

Thank you Lord Jesus for the forgiveness that you offer. Help me to reflect it in my life.

I will; be clean.

And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them." But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Probably for the first time since he was struck with leprosy this man felt the touch of another human being. That in itself had to be healing. Yet the touch was not a simple display of pity but an expression of the power and desire of God to heal. When a word would have sufficed to heal this man of leprosy Jesus went a step further. The method of healing was so important because of the way that lepers were ostracized from the community.

Interesting how Jesus knew that the news of this healing would hinder his ability to operate freely inside the city limits. I wonder if there were many hurting lepers in that region? I think that it would have been almost impossible to keep quiet about such a miraculous healing. People who knew him would have noticed that leprosy no longer ravaged his body. Perhaps it was lepers who came after Jesus longing to hear the words I will; be clean.

Lord, open my eyes to those around me today who need your touch and mine.

Let us go on to the next towns ...

And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, "Everyone is looking for you." And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out." And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Change can be so difficult to embrace when things are going well. As I read this passage I am reminded of the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis and how he was called by God to leave the comfort of his father's home. In that context I think of how faith plays a predominant role in these events and how the heart of faith is our prayerful relationship with God. Like Jesus, Abraham prayed and from that time of prayer he made a change.

It takes me back to a time of prayer back in May of 1998 when the Holy Spirit spoke to me. I was 48 years old and had received a voluntary retirement offer from my company. I was opposed to retirement until I heard this when I prayed: "Is it riskier to leave or is riskier to stay"? In just a few moments I was convinced that God was leading me to a new and unknown chapter in my life. Such is the relationship between prayer and change.

I am risk-averse Lord. Help me to not be afraid of the change that comes from faith.

Be silent, and come out of him!

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."

Don't you simply love the response of the crowd as they connect Christ's teaching to the demonic exorcism. I wonder what he was teaching that day that so agitated the demon? Perhaps the new teaching was about how the kingdom of God is not about following the law but about loving God and your neighbor? Demons don't mind a bit of legalism and rules - they love to see Christians get focused on themselves and ignore outsiders.

The whole topic of demons is a pretty dicey one to talk about. Some believe that demons do not exist and never have. Some see a demon under every rock. I think that the balance is somewhere in between and spiritual discernment is required to know when demons are influencing a person and how the demon is to be rebuked. In such times it is wise to respond in a simple and direct manner as Jesus did by speaking a word of rebuke.

Teach me Lord. Help me to trust the discernment you have deposited in my life.

I will make you become fishers of men.

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Multiplication, not addition, has been a consistent axiom of the Kingdom ever since Jesus first called these men to a new style of fishing. It reminds me of that old adage:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Do you think it odd that the Lord did not call men familiar with theological matters to be by his side? I wonder what it was in these men that attracted the Lord to them? Possibly the Lord wanted capable men that came to him with a blank theological slate?

What strikes me is how eager these men were to leave all to follow Jesus. One has to wonder if they really understood the cost involved. I guess that is what I love the most about this story. Relatively young and passionate men who were not satisfied with the status quo. Men who in just a few years would turn the world upside down as they fished for men.

Lord, I am not comfortable with the status quo. Help me to hear your call.