Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reflections on Mark 8

    Mark 08 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. One day another large crowd gathered around Jesus. They had not brought along anything to eat. So Jesus called his disciples together and said,
  2. "I feel sorry for these people. They have been with me for three days, and they don't have anything to eat.
  3. Some of them live a long way from here. If I send them away hungry, they might faint on their way home."
  4. The disciples said, "This place is like a desert. Where can we find enough food to feed such a crowd?"
  5. Jesus asked them how much food they had. They replied, "Seven small loaves of bread."
  6. After Jesus told the crowd to sit down, he took the seven loaves and blessed them. He then broke the loaves and handed them to his disciples, who passed them out to the crowd.
  7. They also had a few little fish, and after Jesus had blessed these, he told the disciples to pass them around.
  8. The crowd of about four thousand people ate all they wanted, and the leftovers filled seven large baskets. As soon as Jesus had sent the people away,
  9. (SEE 8:8)
  10. he got into the boat with the disciples and crossed to the territory near Dalmanutha.
  11. The Pharisees came out and started an argument with Jesus. They wanted to test him by asking for a sign from heaven.
  12. Jesus groaned and said, "Why are you always looking for a sign? I can promise you that you will not be given one!"
  13. Then he left them. He again got into a boat and crossed over to the other side of the lake.
  14. The disciples had forgotten to bring any bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
  15. Jesus warned them, "Watch out! Guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod."
  16. The disciples talked this over and said to each other, "He must be saying this because we don't have any bread."
  17. Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, "Why are you talking about not having any bread? Don't you understand? Are your minds still closed?
  18. Are your eyes blind and your ears deaf? Don't you remember
  19. how many baskets of leftovers you picked up when I fed those five thousand people with only five small loaves of bread?" "Yes," the disciples answered. "There were twelve baskets."
  20. Jesus then asked, "And how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up when I broke seven small loaves of bread for those four thousand people?" "Seven," they answered.
  21. "Don't you know what I am talking about by now?" Jesus asked.
  22. As Jesus and his disciples were going into Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch the man.
  23. Jesus took him by the hand and led him out of the village, where he spit into the man's eyes. He placed his hands on the blind man and asked him if he could see anything.
  24. The man looked up and said, "I see people, but they look like trees walking around."
  25. Once again Jesus placed his hands on the man's eyes, and this time the man stared. His eyes were healed, and he saw everything clearly.
  26. Jesus said to him, "You may return home now, but don't go into the village."
  27. Jesus and his disciples went to the villages near the town of Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, "What do people say about me?"
  28. The disciples answered, "Some say you are John the Baptist or maybe Elijah. Others say you are one of the prophets."
  29. Then Jesus asked them, "But who do you say I am?" "You are the Messiah!" Peter replied.
  30. Jesus warned the disciples not to tell anyone about him.
  31. Jesus began telling his disciples what would happen to him. He said, "The nation's leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses will make the Son of Man suffer terribly. He will be rejected and killed, but three days later he will rise to life."
  32. Then Jesus explained clearly what he meant. Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that.
  33. But when Jesus turned and saw the disciples, he corrected Peter. He said to him, "Satan, get away from me! You are thinking like everyone else and not like God."
  34. Jesus then told the crowd and the disciples to come closer, and he said: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.
  35. If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me and for the good news, you will save it.
  36. What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself?
  37. What could you give to get back your soul?
  38. Don't be ashamed of me and my message among these unfaithful and sinful people! If you are, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

This chapter denotes a turning point in Mark's gospel and in Jesus' ministry. At the center of this turning point is Jesus' question to His disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" Prior to this, the question of His identity was about "Who is He?" Now, the identity question is about "What kind of Messiah is He?" Along with this later question comes the question of what it means to follow Him. Jesus begins to address both of these questions in the last part of this chapter.

The healing of the blind man in verses 22-26 of this chapter seems to illustrate the mental fogginess of the disciple's understanding concerning Jesus. Prior to this we have read how the disciples repeatedly made little or no connection from one miracle Jesus performed to the next. With each miracle it was as if this were His first, surprising them at what He was able to do. This chapter opens with just such an example. The disciples had already witnessed Jesus' miraculous feeding of a large crowd of over 5,000 people. Now they are surrounded by another large crowd that is in need of food and they seem to have no memory of the previous feeding. Jesus rebuked them for their lack of understanding. And yet, we have to wonder if this fogginess on their part was intentional on Jesus' part. It seems unrealistic that anyone would forget so easily the miracles to which they were witnesses nor fail to recognize that if Jesus fed one crowd He could also feed another.

Jesus' healing of the blind man, as mentioned above, gives an illustration of what was happening with the disciples. As He healed the man, He first spit on his eyes and laid His hands on the man, then asked if he could see. The man said, "I see people--they look to me like trees walking." He now had vision, but it was not clear. Then Jesus placed His hands on the man's eyes and he could see distinctly. It was a two-step process. To this point the disciples could see Jesus, but like the blind man, their vision of Him was not clear. But at this point in chapter 8 when Jesus began to address with them His Messiahship, their vision began to gain clarity.

Once Jesus' identity was clearly defined as the Messiah, He then had to address their understanding of the Messiah. This He tackled immediately. As Messiah, He had not come, as was popularly believed, to establish an earthly kingdom. Instead, He had come to "suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days." (verse 31) Following this Messiah did not place one in a high earthly position either. A follower of Jesus "must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." It was and is a denial of the life one might choose for themselves and an acceptance, instead, of the life Jesus gave them. But the benefits are worth it. By going with the life one might choose for themselves, they might gain the whole world, but in the process would lose their own lives. But by choosing the life of following Jesus, one might lose their life, but in the process gain life eternal. When the Messiah returns in His glory, then will His followers be exalted.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reflections on Mark 7

    Mark 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Some Pharisees and several teachers of the Law of Moses from Jerusalem came and gathered around Jesus.
  2. They noticed that some of his disciples ate without first washing their hands.
  3. The Pharisees and many other Jewish people obey the teachings of their ancestors. They always wash their hands in the proper way before eating.
  4. None of them will eat anything they buy in the market until it is washed. They also follow a lot of other teachings, such as washing cups, pitchers, and bowls.
  5. The Pharisees and teachers asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples obey what our ancestors taught us to do? Why do they eat without washing their hands?"
  6. Jesus replied: You are nothing but show-offs! The prophet Isaiah was right when he wrote that God had said, "All of you praise me with your words, but you never really think about me.
  7. It is useless for you to worship me, when you teach rules made up by humans."
  8. You disobey God's commands in order to obey what humans have taught.
  9. You are good at rejecting God's commands so that you can follow your own teachings!
  10. Didn't Moses command you to respect your father and mother? Didn't he tell you to put to death all who curse their parents?
  11. But you let people get by without helping their parents when they should. You let them say that what they own has been offered to God.
  12. You won't let those people help their parents.
  13. And you ignore God's commands in order to follow your own teaching. You do a lot of other things that are just as bad.
  14. Jesus called the crowd together again and said, "Pay attention and try to understand what I mean.
  15. The food that you put into your mouth doesn't make you unclean and unfit to worship God. The bad words that come out of your mouth are what make you unclean."
  16. (SEE 7:15)
  17. After Jesus and his disciples had left the crowd and had gone into the house, they asked him what these sayings meant.
  18. He answered, "Don't you know what I am talking about by now? You surely know that the food you put into your mouth cannot make you unclean.
  19. It doesn't go into your heart, but into your stomach, and then out of your body." By saying this, Jesus meant that all foods were fit to eat.
  20. Then Jesus said: What comes from your heart is what makes you unclean.
  21. Out of your heart come evil thoughts, vulgar deeds, stealing, murder,
  22. unfaithfulness in marriage, greed, meanness, deceit, indecency, envy, insults, pride, and foolishness.
  23. All of these come from your heart, and they are what make you unfit to worship God.
  24. Jesus left and went to the region near the city of Tyre, where he stayed in someone's home. He did not want people to know he was there, but they found out anyway.
  25. A woman whose daughter had an evil spirit in her heard where Jesus was. And right away she came and knelt down at his feet.
  26. The woman was Greek and had been born in the part of Syria known as Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to force the demon out of her daughter.
  27. But Jesus said, "The children must first be fed! It isn't right to take away their food and feed it to dogs."
  28. The woman replied, "Lord, even dogs eat the crumbs that children drop from the table."
  29. Jesus answered, "That's true! You may go now. The demon has left your daughter."
  30. When the woman got back home, she found her child lying on the bed. The demon had gone.
  31. Jesus left the region around Tyre and went by way of Sidon toward Lake Galilee. He went through the land near the ten cities known as Decapolis.
  32. Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk. They begged Jesus just to touch him.
  33. After Jesus had taken him aside from the crowd, he stuck his fingers in the man's ears. Then he spit and put it on the man's tongue.
  34. Jesus looked up toward heaven, and with a groan he said, "Effatha!" which means "Open up!"
  35. At once the man could hear, and he had no more trouble talking clearly.
  36. Jesus told the people not to say anything about what he had done. But the more he told them, the more they talked about it.
  37. They were completely amazed and said, "Everything he does is good! He even heals people who cannot hear or talk."

The primary focus of this chapter is related to Jesus' conflict with the Jewish religious leaders. From His encounter with them we see the perpetual conflict between man's traditions and God's teachings. This conflict is alive and well today. It begins with an attempt by religious leaders to clarify, for those less learned in the scriptures, the instructions given us in God's Word. Over time these clarifications become common understanding and practice and are ingrained in the traditions of the community. And traditions of any kind carry with them the weight of the community to give them validity along with the pressures of the community to assure adherence to them. Unless one stays closely ingrained in scripture they lose any distinction between the two - tradition and scripture. With this loss of distinction, tradition soon carries more weight than does scripture within the community. This error is especially prevalent in a community that has a hierarchical structure, as in Judiasm of Jesus' day, that exalts the leaders of the religious community as being the only ones of the community qualified to speak with authority concerning the things of God. Thus the emphases is on the laity coming to God through the "priestly" office of the leaders. Their worship of God and their understanding of Him is mediated for them by these leaders.

This describes Judaism of Jesus' day as well as the practice of a number of Christian communities today. Jesus' exchange with Jewish leaders in this chapter points out the error that occurs when tradition trumps God's Word. At issue, in this account of chapter 7, is ritualistic washing of hands. This was not a practice given them in the Mosaic law. It was merely a "tradition of the elders." But it was enforced as stringently as any law God had handed down through Moses. Jesus challenged these Pharisees and scribes saying, "Disregarding the command of God, you keep the tradition of men. . . . You completely invalidate God's command in order to maintain your tradition!" Then, in addition to the ritualistic washing of hands that was already at issue, Jesus mentioned another practice in which these leaders invalidated God's command. God commanded that we are to honor our father and mother. But the traditions of the elders stated that a person could dedicate whatever provisions they had accumulated to provide for their parents in their old age to the temple. By doing this, not only were they not required to use this for their parents, they were forbidden to use it. Thus, their parents were left without any help in their old age.

The traditions of the elders continued to plague the early church, threatening to make it an extension of Judaism rather than following the teachings of Christ. Since then, newly acquired traditions and practices have continued to threaten the teachings of Christianity and the true mission of the church.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reflections on Mark 6

    Mark 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Jesus left and returned to his hometown with his disciples.
  2. The next Sabbath he taught in the Jewish meeting place. Many of the people who heard him were amazed and asked, "How can he do all this? Where did he get such wisdom and the power to work these miracles?
  3. Isn't he the carpenter, the son of Mary? Aren't James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon his brothers? Don't his sisters still live here in our town?" The people were very unhappy because of what he was doing.
  4. But Jesus said, "Prophets are honored by everyone, except the people of their hometown and their relatives and their own family."
  5. Jesus could not work any miracles there, except to heal a few sick people by placing his hands on them.
  6. He was surprised that the people did not have any faith. Jesus taught in all the neighboring villages.
  7. Then he called together his twelve apostles and sent them out two by two with power over evil spirits.
  8. He told them, "You may take along a walking stick. But don't carry food or a traveling bag or any money.
  9. It's all right to wear sandals, but don't take along a change of clothes.
  10. When you are welcomed into a home, stay there until you leave that town.
  11. If any place won't welcome you or listen to your message, leave and shake the dust from your feet as a warning to them."
  12. The apostles left and started telling everyone to turn to God.
  13. They forced out many demons and healed a lot of sick people by putting olive oil on them.
  14. Jesus became so well-known that Herod the ruler heard about him. Some people thought he was John the Baptist, who had come back to life with the power to work miracles.
  15. Others thought he was Elijah or some other prophet who had lived long ago.
  16. But when Herod heard about Jesus, he said, "This must be John! I had his head cut off, and now he has come back to life."
  17. Herod had earlier married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. But John had told him, "It isn't right for you to take your brother's wife!" So, in order to please Herodias, Herod arrested John and put him in prison.
  18. (SEE 6:17)
  19. Herodias had a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she could not do it
  20. because Herod was afraid of John and protected him. He knew that John was a good and holy man. Even though Herod was confused by what John said, he was glad to listen to him. And he often did.
  21. Finally, Herodias got her chance when Herod gave a great birthday celebration for himself and invited his officials, his army officers, and the leaders of Galilee.
  22. The daughter of Herodias came in and danced for Herod and his guests. She pleased them so much that Herod said, "Ask for anything, and it's yours!
  23. I swear that I will give you as much as half of my kingdom, if you want it."
  24. The girl left and asked her mother, "What do you think I should ask for?" Her mother answered, "The head of John the Baptist!"
  25. The girl hurried back and told Herod, "Right now on a platter I want the head of John the Baptist!"
  26. The king was very sorry for what he had said. But he did not want to break the promise he had made in front of his guests.
  27. At once he ordered a guard to cut off John's head there in prison.
  28. The guard put the head on a platter and took it to the girl. Then she gave it to her mother.
  29. When John's followers learned that he had been killed, they took his body and put it in a tomb.
  30. After the apostles returned to Jesus, they told him everything they had done and taught.
  31. But so many people were coming and going that Jesus and the apostles did not even have a chance to eat. Then Jesus said, "Let's go to a place where we can be alone and get some rest."
  32. They left in a boat for a place where they could be alone.
  33. But many people saw them leave and figured out where they were going. So people from every town ran on ahead and got there first.
  34. When Jesus got out of the boat, he saw the large crowd that was like sheep without a shepherd. He felt sorry for the people and started teaching them many things.
  35. That evening the disciples came to Jesus and said, "This place is like a desert, and it is already late.
  36. Let the crowds leave, so they can go to the farms and villages near here and buy something to eat."
  37. Jesus replied, "You give them something to eat." But they asked him, "Don't you know that it would take almost a year's wages to buy all of these people something to eat?"
  38. Then Jesus said, "How much bread do you have? Go and see!" They found out and answered, "We have five small loaves of bread and two fish."
  39. Jesus told his disciples to have the people sit down on the green grass.
  40. They sat down in groups of a hundred and groups of fifty.
  41. Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish. He looked up toward heaven and blessed the food. Then he broke the bread and handed it to his disciples to give to the people. He also divided the two fish, so that everyone could have some.
  42. After everyone had eaten all they wanted,
  43. Jesus' disciples picked up twelve large baskets of leftover bread and fish.
  44. There were five thousand men who ate the food.
  45. Right away, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and start back across to Bethsaida. But he stayed until he had sent the crowds away.
  46. Then he told them good-by and went up on the side of a mountain to pray.
  47. Later that evening he was still there by himself, and the boat was somewhere in the middle of the lake.
  48. He could see that the disciples were struggling hard, because they were rowing against the wind. Not long before morning, Jesus came toward them. He was walking on the water and was about to pass the boat.
  49. When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they thought he was a ghost, and they started screaming.
  50. All of them saw him and were terrified. But at that same time he said, "Don't worry! I am Jesus. Don't be afraid."
  51. He then got into the boat with them, and the wind died down. The disciples were completely confused.
  52. Their minds were closed, and they could not understand the true meaning of the loaves of bread.
  53. Jesus and his disciples crossed the lake and brought the boat to shore near the town of Gennesaret.
  54. As soon as they got out of the boat, the people recognized Jesus.
  55. So they ran all over that part of the country to bring their sick people to him on mats. They brought them each time they heard where he was.
  56. In every village or farm or marketplace where Jesus went, the people brought their sick to him. They begged him to let them just touch his clothes, and everyone who did was healed.

In this chapter Jesus is rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, He sends out the Twelve to teach and heal, there is an explanation of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus feeds the 5,000, and Jesus walks on water. In Nazareth, where Jesus had grown up, people could not get past Jesus' identity as one who was no different than they. But it was not just the people of Nazareth who had a problem of faith. Jesus' disciples, the Twelve, also had difficulty. Following this account Jesus empowered the Twelve to have authority over unclearn spirits and sent them out in pairs to teach and heal. This they did effectively. In addition to this demonstration of Jesus' power through them, they had previously seen Jesus heal many people of various diseases and in various ways. They had also seen Him demonstrate power over nature and raise one from the dead. After their mission going in pairs around the villages of the region, they went with Jesus to a remote place and when they got there they found a large crowd that had anticipated their movements. When the time became late and there was no food to feed this huge crowd, why did not the Twelve consider that Jesus might provide a solution? Why did they reply rather curtly when Jesus told them to provide the needed food? Jesus had empowered them to cast out demons and to heal people, why couldn't He also enable them to feed these people? Obviously He could, but why didn't they recognize that?

Inspite of the lack of faith by the Twelve, Jesus miraculously caused the five loaves of bread and two fish to multiply enough to feed the more than 5,000 people gathered in this place. In the next scene the Twelve were "completely astounded" when they saw Jesus walk to them on the water and cause the strong wind to cease blowing. The passage explains that they were astounded because they "had not understood about the loaves." Why could these disciples not witness Jesus' demonstration of power in one situation and believe He could have similar power in another situation? Concerning the feeding of the crowd and Jesus' walking on water and calming the wind, we are told the disciples didn't understand because "their hearts were hardened." Various commentators explain this hardness of heart as "dullness of spiritual perception," and being "dull to perceive it." In the previous chapter I mentioned the need to reflect on scripture and the teachings of Jesus so we don't lose focus and become Satan's prey. Concerning the disciples I would again emphasize the need for reflection, in this case so they might better understand what they were witnessing. In other words, so they might "connect the dots."

The question of why the disciples could witness Jesus' power in one instance and fail to have faith that this same power might apply in another instance is one we should also ask of ourselves. Before we are too critical of these men we should admit that we are no different. The constant challenge for us is to allow our faith to be dynamic - able to be flexible in response to a growing understanding of God's nature. If we allow our perceptions to solidify, we draw inaccurate conclusions, and thus build parameters around our faith that require God to act according to our understanding rather than adjusting our understanding to how God acts. The big question regarding our faith is, "faith in what?" Is it faith in God or faith in our understanding? Do we build our faith around how we understand things to be and thus determine that our understanding is never wrong? In that case, when God acts differently from our understanding we are not able to respond in faith. I suspect something similar was happening with Jesus' disciples. Their faith was not dynamic enough to adjust to a growing understanding of Jesus. They were being hindered by inaccurate assumptions and perceptions and not allowing Jesus to define who He was and what He could do.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reflections on Mark 5

    Mark 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Jesus and his disciples crossed Lake Galilee and came to shore near the town of Gerasa.
  2. When he was getting out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit quickly ran to him
  3. from the graveyard where he had been living. No one was able to tie the man up anymore, not even with a chain.
  4. He had often been put in chains and leg irons, but he broke the chains and smashed the leg irons. No one could control him.
  5. Night and day he was in the graveyard or on the hills, yelling and cutting himself with stones.
  6. When the man saw Jesus in the distance, he ran up to him and knelt down.
  7. He shouted, "Jesus, Son of God in heaven, what do you want with me? Promise me in God's name that you won't torture me!"
  8. The man said this because Jesus had already told the evil spirit to come out of him.
  9. Jesus asked, "What is your name?" The man answered, "My name is Lots, because I have 'lots' of evil spirits."
  10. He then begged Jesus not to send them away.
  11. Over on the hillside a large herd of pigs was feeding.
  12. So the evil spirits begged Jesus, "Send us into those pigs! Let us go into them."
  13. Jesus let them go, and they went out of the man and into the pigs. The whole herd of about two thousand pigs rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
  14. The men taking care of the pigs ran to the town and the farms to spread the news. Then the people came out to see what had happened.
  15. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had once been full of demons. He was sitting there with his clothes on and in his right mind, and they were terrified.
  16. Everyone who had seen what had happened told about the man and the pigs.
  17. Then the people started begging Jesus to leave their part of the country.
  18. When Jesus was getting into the boat, the man begged to go with him.
  19. But Jesus would not let him. Instead, he said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how good he has been to you."
  20. The man went away into the region near the ten cities known as Decapolis and began telling everyone how much Jesus had done for him. Everyone who heard what had happened was amazed.
  21. Once again Jesus got into the boat and crossed Lake Galilee. Then as he stood on the shore, a large crowd gathered around him.
  22. The person in charge of the Jewish meeting place was also there. His name was Jairus, and when he saw Jesus, he went over to him. He knelt at Jesus' feet
  23. and started begging him for help. He said, "My daughter is about to die! Please come and touch her, so she will get well and live."
  24. Jesus went with Jairus. Many people followed along and kept crowding around.
  25. In the crowd was a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.
  26. She had gone to many doctors, and they had not done anything except cause her a lot of pain. She had paid them all the money she had. But instead of getting better, she only got worse.
  27. The woman had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him in the crowd and barely touched his clothes.
  28. She had said to herself, "If I can just touch his clothes, I will get well."
  29. As soon as she touched them, her bleeding stopped, and she knew she was well.
  30. At that moment Jesus felt power go out from him. He turned to the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"
  31. His disciples said to him, "Look at all these people crowding around you! How can you ask who touched you?"
  32. But Jesus turned to see who had touched him.
  33. The woman knew what had happened to her. She came shaking with fear and knelt down in front of Jesus. Then she told him the whole story.
  34. Jesus said to the woman, "You are now well because of your faith. May God give you peace! You are healed, and you will no longer be in pain."
  35. While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from Jairus' home and said, "Your daughter has died! Why bother the teacher anymore?"
  36. Jesus heard what they said, and he said to Jairus, "Don't worry. Just have faith!"
  37. Jesus did not let anyone go with him except Peter and the two brothers, James and John.
  38. They went home with Jairus and saw the people crying and making a lot of noise.
  39. Then Jesus went inside and said to them, "Why are you crying and carrying on like this? The child isn't dead. She is just asleep."
  40. But the people laughed at him. After Jesus had sent them all out of the house, he took the girl's father and mother and his three disciples and went to where she was.
  41. He took the twelve-year-old girl by the hand and said, "Talitha, koum!" which means, "Little girl, get up!" The girl got right up and started walking around. Everyone was greatly surprised.
  42. (SEE 5:41)
  43. But Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened. Then he said, "Give her something to eat."

Chapter 5 records three powerful demonstrations of Jesus' deity. The first relates to His power over satanic forces. Though it is wise to have a healthy fear of Satan and his forces, Jesus' followers have the constant shield of His protection around them. In every New Testament record of demonic possession, the demons both recognized and feared the presence of Jesus. The presence of Jesus' Spirit in those who follow Him provides a deterrent to these forces of evil. However, Satan is cunning and has many tricks in his arsenal to snare the followers of Jesus. But this reality merely emphasizes the need for Jesus' followers to be continually reflecting on His teachings through scripture and communing with Him in prayer. Without this constant connection we lose our focus and become more susceptible to temptation. Though the presence of the demons possessing this man who lived among the tombs were numerous, their numbers had no affect on Jesus' power over them. They were at His mercy and acknowledged this by asking for mercy.

The second demonstration of Jesus' deity in this chapter was the unusual healing of the woman with the hemorrhage. Her healing was not dependent on Jesus' recognition of her presence or of her desire to be healed, though He may well have known of her presence in the crowd and what she was thinking. Nor did the healing of this woman require a magical formula or incantation. No pattern can be seen in any of Jesus' healings of using a magical formula. God's power was in Jesus and went out from Him at her touch of his robe to heal her. However, it seemed that Jesus' disciples were more amazed that Jesus' sensed the touch of this woman in the press of the crowd than at the healing.

A third demonstration of Jesus' deity was the raising of the synagogue leader's daughter from the dead. In chapter 4 we read of Jesus' power over nature in His calming of the storm. Which is the greatest demonstration of His deity, power over nature or power over death? I'm not sure we can make that distinction. For God, who has made everything that is and thus has power over everything that exists, can power over one thing be greater than over another? The distinction is in man's perception. One person perceives Jesus' power over nature to be greater than His ability to heal. Or another person perceives His power over death to be greater than His ability to know what a person is thinking. Each person is attracted to Jesus by what they perceive to be of greatest value and thus are drawn to respond to Him.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reflections on Mark 4

    Mark 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The next time Jesus taught beside Lake Galilee, a big crowd gathered. It was so large that he had to sit in a boat out on the lake, while the people stood on the shore.
  2. He used stories to teach them many things, and this is part of what he taught:
  3. Now listen! A farmer went out to scatter seed in a field.
  4. While the farmer was scattering the seed, some of it fell along the road and was eaten by birds.
  5. Other seeds fell on thin, rocky ground and quickly started growing because the soil wasn't very deep.
  6. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and dried up, because they did not have enough roots.
  7. Some other seeds fell where thornbushes grew up and choked out the plants. So they did not produce any grain.
  8. But a few seeds did fall on good ground where the plants grew and produced thirty or sixty or even a hundred times as much as was scattered.
  9. Then Jesus said, "If you have ears, pay attention."
  10. When Jesus was alone with the twelve apostles and some others, they asked him about these stories.
  11. He answered: I have explained the secret about God's kingdom to you, but for others I can use only stories.
  12. The reason is, "These people will look and look, but never see. They will listen and listen, but never understand. If they did, they would turn to God, and he would forgive them."
  13. Jesus told them: If you don't understand this story, you won't understand any others.
  14. What the farmer is spreading is really the message about the kingdom.
  15. The seeds that fell along the road are the people who hear the message. But Satan soon comes and snatches it away from them.
  16. The seeds that fell on rocky ground are the people who gladly hear the message and accept it right away.
  17. But they don't have any roots, and they don't last very long. As soon as life gets hard or the message gets them in trouble, they give up.
  18. The seeds that fell among the thornbushes are also people who hear the message.
  19. But they start worrying about the needs of this life. They are fooled by the desire to get rich and to have all kinds of other things. So the message gets choked out, and they never produce anything.
  20. The seeds that fell on good ground are the people who hear and welcome the message. They produce thirty or sixty or even a hundred times as much as was planted.
  21. Jesus also said: You don't light a lamp and put it under a clay pot or under a bed. Don't you put a lamp on a lampstand?
  22. There is nothing hidden that will not be made public. There is no secret that will not be well known.
  23. If you have ears, pay attention!
  24. Listen carefully to what you hear! The way you treat others will be the way you will be treated--and even worse.
  25. Everyone who has something will be given more. But people who don't have anything will lose what little they have.
  26. Again Jesus said: God's kingdom is like what happens when a farmer scatters seed in a field.
  27. The farmer sleeps at night and is up and around during the day. Yet the seeds keep sprouting and growing, and he doesn't understand how.
  28. It is the ground that makes the seeds sprout and grow into plants that produce grain.
  29. Then when harvest season comes and the grain is ripe, the farmer cuts it with a sickle.
  30. Finally, Jesus said: What is God's kingdom like? What story can I use to explain it?
  31. It is like what happens when a mustard seed is planted in the ground. It is the smallest seed in all the world.
  32. But once it is planted, it grows larger than any garden plant. It even puts out branches that are big enough for birds to nest in its shade.
  33. Jesus used many other stories when he spoke to the people, and he taught them as much as they could understand.
  34. He did not tell them anything without using stories. But when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.
  35. That evening, Jesus said to his disciples, "Let's cross to the east side."
  36. So they left the crowd, and his disciples started across the lake with him in the boat. Some other boats followed along.
  37. Suddenly a windstorm struck the lake. Waves started splashing into the boat, and it was about to sink.
  38. Jesus was in the back of the boat with his head on a pillow, and he was asleep. His disciples woke him and said, "Teacher, don't you care that we're about to drown?"
  39. Jesus got up and ordered the wind and the waves to be quiet. The wind stopped, and everything was calm.
  40. Jesus asked his disciples, "Why were you afraid? Don't you have any faith?"
  41. Now they were more afraid than ever and said to each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

Jesus repeatedly emphasizes in this chapter the need to pay attention to His teaching. "Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!" He says. They are not understood without thought and reflection. This is my intent in my "Reflections on Scripture." That is, to give thought and reflection to what I "hear" in scripture so I might better understand the teaching God has for me. The seeds of God's word do not take root in casual hearers. They hear, but without reflecting on what they hear they do not grasp the meaning. Among those with unbelieving hearts, the seed of God's word do not find receptive soil. Jesus' teaching makes no sense to them, for the understanding is hidden from them. As for those with receptive hearts, understanding of Jesus' teaching is given, as Jesus pointed out in 4:11, but their understanding is by degrees. As verse 24 says, "By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you." If one does not use the understanding they are given, their understanding goes no further. Growth is stunted, and the crop yield is diminished. Rather than 30, 60, or 100 times what is sown, as mentioned in verse 8, the yield is much less for those who do not apply the understanding they are given. In fact, verse 25 suggests that if one does not apply the understanding they are given, that understanding will be taken away from them.

Those who insist on understanding before they are willing to be receptive to Jesus' teaching are fooling themselves. Without a degree of receptivity, no understanding will be given. They will "listen and listen, yet not understand." (v. 12) This does not mean blind acceptance. There is a difference between an attitude of "prove it to me," and one of "help my unbelief." To the one whose attitude is "prove it to me," before I will accept it, no understanding will be given. But to the one whose attitude is "help my unbelief," the principle applies which says, "By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you." Though one struggles to believe, if they will respond to each morsel of understanding, more will be given.

Jesus illustrated the growth of the kingdom of God with the parable of the mustard seed. Its beginning, as with the mustard seed, seems small and insignificant. Even now, over 2,000 years later, the kingdom of God may not seem to be of any great significance, but its ultimate outcome will be a following that is greater than any other kingdom. One must be careful that their acceptance of Jesus' teaching be based on its truth and not by the size of Jesus' following. Identifying truth cannot be based popular consent. For the rejection of the truths of the kingdom is based not on their lack of truth but on people's unwillingness to alter their lives to practice those truths.

To provide validity to who Jesus was and the truth of His teaching, this section concludes with a demonstration of Jesus' power over nature. Jesus and His disciples set out in a boat to cross the lake. A fierce storm came up and threatened to sink their boat. With a simple rebuking of the storm, Jesus brought calm once again.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reflections on Mark 3

    Mark 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The next time that Jesus went into the meeting place, a man with a crippled hand was there.
  2. The Pharisees wanted to accuse Jesus of doing something wrong, and they kept watching to see if Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath.
  3. Jesus told the man to stand up where everyone could see him.
  4. Then he asked, "On the Sabbath should we do good deeds or evil deeds? Should we save someone's life or destroy it?" But no one said a word.
  5. Jesus was angry as he looked around at the people. Yet he felt sorry for them because they were so stubborn. Then he told the man, "Stretch out your hand." He did, and his bad hand was healed.
  6. The Pharisees left. And right away they started making plans with Herod's followers to kill Jesus.
  7. Jesus led his disciples down to the shore of the lake. Large crowds followed him from Galilee, Judea,
  8. and Jerusalem. People came from Idumea, as well as other places east of the Jordan River. They also came from the region around the cities of Tyre and Sidon. All of these crowds came because they had heard what Jesus was doing.
  9. He even had to tell his disciples to get a boat ready to keep him from being crushed by the crowds.
  10. After Jesus had healed many people, the other sick people begged him to let them touch him.
  11. And whenever any evil spirits saw Jesus, they would fall to the ground and shout, "You are the Son of God!"
  12. But Jesus warned the spirits not to tell who he was.
  13. Jesus decided to ask some of his disciples to go up on a mountain with him, and they went.
  14. Then he chose twelve of them to be his apostles, so that they could be with him. He also wanted to send them out to preach
  15. and to force out demons.
  16. Simon was one of the twelve, and Jesus named him Peter.
  17. There were also James and John, the two sons of Zebedee. Jesus called them Boanerges, which means "Thunderbolts."
  18. Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus were also apostles. The others were Simon, known as the Eager One,
  19. and Judas Iscariot, who later betrayed Jesus.
  20. Jesus went back home, and once again such a large crowd gathered that there was no chance even to eat.
  21. When Jesus' family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazy and went to get him under control.
  22. Some teachers of the Law of Moses came from Jerusalem and said, "This man is under the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons! He is even forcing out demons with the help of Beelzebul."
  23. Jesus told the people to gather around him. Then he spoke to them in riddles and said: How can Satan force himself out?
  24. A nation whose people fight each other won't last very long.
  25. And a family that fights won't last long either.
  26. So if Satan fights against himself, that will be the end of him.
  27. How can anyone break into the house of a strong man and steal his things, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can take everything.
  28. I promise you that any of the sinful things you say or do can be forgiven, no matter how terrible those things are.
  29. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven. That sin will be held against you forever.
  30. Jesus said this because the people were saying that he had an evil spirit in him.
  31. Jesus' mother and brothers came and stood outside. Then they sent someone with a message for him to come out to them.
  32. The crowd that was sitting around Jesus told him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside and want to see you."
  33. Jesus asked, "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?"
  34. Then he looked at the people sitting around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers.
  35. Anyone who obeys God is my brother or sister or mother."

The minds of the religious leaders were made up concerning Jesus. At this point it would make no difference what He did or what evidence God might provide them, they were on the offensive, not to find evidence that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, but to find evidence by which they could kill Him. What evidence was required for this purpose? Evidence that would warrant capital punishment by the Mosaic law. The first attempt given in this chapter to find such a charge was Jesus' healing on the Sabbath. However, in this case Jesus thwarted their effort to bring a charge against Him by posing a question to them that could only be answered in His favor. "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil?" This was not a debatable question, and the only possible answer to the question, that it was lawful to do good, allowed Jesus to heal the man with a paralyzed hand without accusation by the leaders of the synagogue. But their failure to use this occasion to bring a charge against Jesus heightened their resolve and so they plotted for a better offensive plan.

In contrast to the plotting of the religious leaders was the intense following of the crowds of people. No doubt it was this following that intensified the efforts of the leaders to charge Jesus. Jesus' following was growing to such a rate that it posed a threat to the religious establishment. Though the efforts of the leaders to "destroy" Jesus may appear less than noble to us, they likely found nobility in them by reasoning that they were defending God's cause. Should we find ourselves caught up in such reasoning, feeling we must defend God and that we have just cause to go on the offensive against His enemies, a good indicator of the right or wrong of our cause can be the offensive methods that we try to use. If we find ourselves using intrique and dishonesty and murder to promote our cause, we have reason to question our cause.

Later in the chapter the scribes from Jerusalem came on the scene. Possibly the plotting of the leaders of the Capernaum synagogue led to a request for help from Jerusalem. Their first effort was to discredit Jesus by claiming His power to heal came, not from God, but from Satan. But this charge placed them on dangerous ground. They would like nothing better than to find reason to accuse Jesus of blaspheming God, but it was they who were blasphemous by crediting God's work of exorcism to Satan. Jesus pointed out their error to His followers by asking, "How can Satan drive out Satan?" He went on to point out the dangerous ground on which the scribes stood with such a charge by saying that "whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Reflections on Mark 2

    Mark 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Jesus went back to Capernaum, and a few days later people heard that he was at home.
  2. Then so many of them came to the house that there wasn't even standing room left in front of the door. Jesus was still teaching
  3. when four people came up, carrying a crippled man on a mat.
  4. But because of the crowd, they could not get him to Jesus. So they made a hole in the roof above him and let the man down in front of everyone.
  5. When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the crippled man, "My friend, your sins are forgiven."
  6. Some of the teachers of the Law of Moses were sitting there. They started wondering,
  7. "Why would he say such a thing? He must think he is God! Only God can forgive sins."
  8. Right away, Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he said, "Why are you thinking such things?
  9. Is it easier for me to tell this crippled man that his sins are forgiven or to tell him to get up and pick up his mat and go on home?
  10. I will show you that the Son of Man has the right to forgive sins here on earth." So Jesus said to the man,
  11. "Get up! Pick up your mat and go on home."
  12. The man got right up. He picked up his mat and went out while everyone watched in amazement. They praised God and said, "We have never seen anything like this!"
  13. Once again, Jesus went to the shore of Lake Galilee. A large crowd gathered around him, and he taught them.
  14. As he walked along, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus. Levi was sitting at the place for paying taxes, and Jesus said to him, "Come with me!" So he got up and went with Jesus.
  15. Later, Jesus and his disciples were having dinner at Levi's house. Many tax collectors and other sinners had become followers of Jesus, and they were also guests at the dinner.
  16. Some of the teachers of the Law of Moses were Pharisees, and they saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors. So they asked his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
  17. Jesus heard them and answered, "Healthy people don't need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn't come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners."
  18. The followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees often went without eating. Some people came and asked Jesus, "Why do the followers of John and those of the Pharisees often go without eating, while your disciples never do?"
  19. Jesus answered: The friends of a bridegroom don't go without eating while he is still with them.
  20. But the time will come when he will be taken from them. Then they will go without eating.
  21. No one patches old clothes by sewing on a piece of new cloth. The new piece would shrink and tear a bigger hole.
  22. No one pours new wine into old wineskins. The wine would swell and burst the old skins. Then the wine would be lost, and the skins would be ruined. New wine must be put into new wineskins.
  23. One Sabbath Jesus and his disciples were walking through some wheat fields. His disciples were picking grains of wheat as they went along.
  24. Some Pharisees asked Jesus, "Why are your disciples picking grain on the Sabbath? They are not supposed to do that!"
  25. Jesus answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his followers were hungry and in need?
  26. It was during the time of Abiathar the high priest. David went into the house of God and ate the sacred loaves of bread that only priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his followers."
  27. Jesus finished by saying, "People were not made for the good of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for the good of people.
  28. So the Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath."

Mark recorded in this chapter four incidents between Jesus and the Pharisees that pit Jesus' authority over against the authority of Jewish tradition. Tradition is a powerful thing that brings with it the authoritative weight of not only many years of practice but also the approval of those we respect and whose respect we desire. The Pharisees were holding this authoritative weight up against the supposed authority of an unknown man - Jesus. At least, I suspect, that was how they saw it. However, Jesus accompanied much of what He said and did with an authoritative demonstration through miracles. This should have warranted some consideration on their part that Jesus just might be who He claimed to be.

Consider the first incident in this chapter, for example. The offense to the Pharisees was Jesus' statement to the paralytic that his sins were forgiven. Who had authority to forgive sins other than God? Indeed! That is the question! And Jesus' response to them should have gained some respect and consideration that He might really be the "Son of Man." Jesus' question to them of whether it was easier to say, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "pick up your stretcher, and walk," made the point that if He could do one, He could do the other. The healing was visible and verifiable, so if He could do this they could assume His authority to also forgive sins. And, since only God could forgive sins, they must also consider that He and God were the same. The question concerning their actions is one we must also ask concerning our own actions: what is it that keeps us from taking this or any other step of faith toward God? Is it a lack of verifiable evidence or is it the challenge to our way of life? Whatever step of faith we are faced with requires not only a faith acceptance of the question before us but also a life change in response to the newly accepted truth. If the appropriate life change does not occur then we have not truly accepted the truth.

This, I believe, is the main issue hindering the Pharisees from accepting Jesus and continues to hinder people from accepting Him throughout history. Accepting Jesus is a challenge to our own way of life and the belief systems we have come to accept. The other three incidents in this chapter between Jesus and the Pharisees are further examples of this challenge to the accepted religious practices of the Jews that Jesus posed. In the second incident it was the issue of having contact with supposed 'sinners.' The third had to do with practices of fasting, and the fourth with practices related to the Sabbath. In each of these challenges the real concerns posed by the Pharisees had to do with their own legalistic practices that had been layered on top of the laws God had instituted, thus losing the central purpose of God's intent for those laws. Jesus clearly pointed this out regarding practices of the Sabbath. The Pharisees had made the Sabbath a burden for the people, but Jesus pointed out that the real purpose of the Sabboth was for the benefit of man, not that man should satisfy a bunch of requirements for the day.

Our question always is whether it is better to meet God where He is regardless of the cost to our way of life, trusting that His way of life for us is better and brings with it greater joy, or if it is better to unquestioningly follow a religious system already approved by those for whom we have respect?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Reflections on Mark 1

    Mark 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. This is the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
  2. It began just as God had said in the book written by Isaiah the prophet, "I am sending my messenger to get the way ready for you.
  3. In the desert someone is shouting, 'Get the road ready for the Lord! Make a straight path for him.' "
  4. So John the Baptist showed up in the desert and told everyone, "Turn back to God and be baptized! Then your sins will be forgiven."
  5. From all Judea and Jerusalem crowds of people went to John. They told how sorry they were for their sins, and he baptized them in the Jordan River.
  6. John wore clothes made of camel's hair. He had a leather strap around his waist and ate grasshoppers and wild honey.
  7. John also told the people, "Someone more powerful is going to come. And I am not good enough even to stoop down and untie his sandals.
  8. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!"
  9. About that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River.
  10. As soon as Jesus came out of the water, he saw the sky open and the Holy Spirit coming down to him like a dove.
  11. A voice from heaven said, "You are my own dear Son, and I am pleased with you."
  12. Right away God's Spirit made Jesus go into the desert.
  13. He stayed there for forty days while Satan tested him. Jesus was with the wild animals, but angels took care of him.
  14. After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee and told the good news that comes from God.
  15. He said, "The time has come! God's kingdom will soon be here. Turn back to God and believe the good news!"
  16. As Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew. They were fishermen and were casting their nets into the lake.
  17. Jesus said to them, "Come with me! I will teach you how to bring in people instead of fish."
  18. Right then the two brothers dropped their nets and went with him.
  19. Jesus walked on and soon saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in a boat, mending their nets.
  20. At once Jesus asked them to come with him. They left their father in the boat with the hired workers and went with him.
  21. Jesus and his disciples went to the town of Capernaum. Then on the next Sabbath he went into the Jewish meeting place and started teaching.
  22. Everyone was amazed at his teaching. He taught with authority, and not like the teachers of the Law of Moses.
  23. Suddenly a man with an evil spirit in him entered the meeting place and yelled,
  24. "Jesus from Nazareth, what do you want with us? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are! You are God's Holy One."
  25. Jesus told the evil spirit, "Be quiet and come out of the man!"
  26. The spirit shook him. Then it gave a loud shout and left.
  27. Everyone was completely surprised and kept saying to each other, "What is this? It must be some new kind of powerful teaching! Even the evil spirits obey him."
  28. News about Jesus quickly spread all over Galilee.
  29. As soon as Jesus left the meeting place with James and John, they went home with Simon and Andrew.
  30. When they got there, Jesus was told that Simon's mother-in-law was sick in bed with fever.
  31. Jesus went to her. He took hold of her hand and helped her up. The fever left her, and she served them a meal.
  32. That evening after sunset, all who were sick or had demons in them were brought to Jesus.
  33. In fact, the whole town gathered around the door of the house.
  34. Jesus healed all kinds of terrible diseases and forced out a lot of demons. But the demons knew who he was, and he did not let them speak.
  35. Very early the next morning, Jesus got up and went to a place where he could be alone and pray.
  36. Simon and the others started looking for him.
  37. And when they found him, they said, "Everyone is looking for you!"
  38. Jesus replied, "We must go to the nearby towns, so that I can tell the good news to those people. This is why I have come."
  39. Then Jesus went to Jewish meeting places everywhere in Galilee, where he preached and forced out demons.
  40. A man with leprosy came to Jesus and knelt down. He begged, "You have the power to make me well, if only you wanted to."
  41. Jesus felt sorry for the man. So he put his hand on him and said, "I want to! Now you are well."
  42. At once the man's leprosy disappeared, and he was well.
  43. After Jesus strictly warned the man, he sent him on his way.
  44. He said, "Don't tell anyone about this. Just go and show the priest that you are well. Then take a gift to the temple as Moses commanded, and everyone will know that you have been healed."
  45. The man talked about it so much and told so many people, that Jesus could no longer go openly into a town. He had to stay away from the towns, but people still came to him from everywhere.

Mark, the writer of this gospel, seems to be guided in his writing to give general themes and purposes rather than a great amount of detail. He begins with John the Baptist, connecting Jesus to the old testament prophecy of Isaiah. Though Jesus had not yet come on the scene, John was preparing the way for His entrance. This one, Jesus, would be more powerful than John and would baptize with the Holy Spirit, whereas John used water. Then Jesus appeared and submitted Himself to John's baptism, identifying Himself as the One to whom John referred, receiving the blessing of His heavenly Father. Following the baptism, scripture says Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit. The Spirit had come on Him following His baptism, and this same Spirit led Him to His temptation experience in the wilderness. Was Jesus up to the task He had been given? Was He able to choose the difficult path to accomplish His purpose or would He try to take an easier course that ultimately would not accomplish that purpose? This was His test at the hands of Satan. He proved Himself capable of the task before Him.

The beginning of Jesus' ministry marked the end of John's ministry with his arrest by Herod. Jesus' initial message identified who He was and His purpose, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!" But those who heard Him did not understand. Then Jesus began to call out His disciples, meeting them where they were and inviting them to "follow Me." Though He was addressing those who would become His apostles, I believe Jesus' invitation to any of us is much the same. We are called to leave where we are and go with Him. This does not refer to a change of geographical location so much as a break with our old way of life.

The first thing Jesus did with His disciples was to go to the synogogue to teach. There He encountered a man who was demon possessed. This encounter along with a number of other encounters with those possessed with demons suggests this possession was rather prevalent. Does this also suggest the spiritual darkness present in Israel at that time? Though no one else understood who Jesus was, the demons did. They clearly identified Him as the "Holy One of God." Did this catch the attention of His disciples and the people along with the ruler of the synogogue? Whether it did or not, Jesus' casting out of the demon along with His authoritative teaching did catch their attention and "His fame then spread throughout the entire vicinity of Galilee."

From there Jesus and His disciples went to the home of Simon Peter and Andrew. It is there Jesus began to do various healings beginning with Peter's mother-in-law who had a fever. Then people began to come to Him in droves seeking to be healed of various diseases and to have demons cast out. At this point Jesus modeled for us the need to retreat from the world periodically and briefly to pray and be spiritually renewed. If Jesus had this need, ours is even greater. Moving on to Galilee, Jesus continued to drive out demons and there encountered the first healing of leprosy. Those with diseases of the skin were considered unclean and were not allowed to enter the temple. If they should be healed of their disease, the law prescribed a ritual of cleansing to again allow them entry into the temple and to worship. Jesus instructed this first leper He had healed to present himself to the priest for this ritual of cleansing. The purpose of this was not so much the need to fulfill the cleasning ritual as to give testimony to the priests. It is not clear exactly what Jesus had in mind here, but certainly this testimony gave them a message of who Jesus was. Would they accept who He was? Do we accept who He was and is?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reflections on Matthew 28

    Matthew 28 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The Sabbath was over, and it was almost daybreak on Sunday when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
  2. Then Jesus said, "Don't be afraid! Tell my followers to go to Galilee. They will see me there."
  3. While the women were on their way, some soldiers who had been guarding the tomb went into the city. They told the chief priests everything that had happened.
  4. So the chief priests met with the leaders and decided to bribe the soldiers with a lot of money.
  5. They said to the soldiers, "Tell everyone that Jesus' disciples came during the night and stole his body while you were asleep.
  6. If the governor hears about this, we will talk to him. You won't have anything to worry about."
  7. The soldiers took the money and did what they were told. The people of Judea still tell each other this story.
  8. Jesus' eleven disciples went to a mountain in Galilee, where Jesus had told them to meet him.
  9. They saw him and worshiped him, but some of them doubted.
  10. Jesus came to them and said: I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth!
  11. Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
  12. Suddenly a strong earthquake struck, and the Lord's angel came down from heaven. He rolled away the stone and sat on it.
  13. and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.
  14. The angel looked as bright as lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
  15. The guards shook from fear and fell down, as though they were dead.
  16. The angel said to the women, "Don't be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was nailed to a cross.
  17. He isn't here! God has raised him to life, just as Jesus said he would. Come, see the place where his body was lying.
  18. Now hurry! Tell his disciples that he has been raised to life and is on his way to Galilee. Go there, and you will see him. That is what I came to tell you."
  19. The women were frightened and yet very happy, as they hurried from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples.
  20. Suddenly Jesus met them and greeted them. They went near him, held on to his feet, and worshiped him.

The climax of Jesus' earthly ministry comes in this last chapter of Matthew with Jesus' commission to His followers. Jesus taught throughout His ministry that His role was to serve rather than be served. His commission to His followers is also one of serving. That is, taking the message of Christ's heavenly kingdom to all people that they might benefit as well. Following Christ is not just about personal gain. As Christ also taught, "Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it." (10:39) Life as a follower of Christ is a paradox. Life is really found, not in seeking what will benefit ourselves, but in giving our lives away in serving others on behalf of Christ. This paradox is reflected in Christ's commission to His followers. Go and make disciples of all nations, He tells us, and as we carry out this task, He will go with us.

Skeptics see this commission as a recruiting mission. An effort to build up Christ's "movement," as if His purpose, for some reason, is to have a large following. But His purpose, and thus the purpose of His followers, is to take the benefits of the kingdom to all people that they might enjoy eternal life in the heavenly kingdom rather than eternal death in Satan's kingdom. It is serving - not being served. If we grasp this truth about Christ and understand it about our role as His followers we will cast off such skeptical views.

Those opposing Jesus in this scenario described by Matthew had an agenda as do all who continue to oppose Him. They were willing to lie, kill, and bribe to protect their agenda. They had already lied and killed, now they bribed to perpetuate the lie. Previously the religious leaders voiced concern to Pilot that Jesus' disciples would steal away His body from the tomb and claim He had been raised from the dead. But they now bribed the guards of the tomb with full knowledge that His body had not been stolen away but that He had been raised from the dead. The guards saw and heard the angels. They knew what happened and undoubtedly related it to the Chief Priests. Had there been any thought that the disciples had really stolen the body, a bribe would not have been necessary. One has to wonder at the forces at work to cause a person to perpetuate a lie when they know the truth. They knew Jesus had truly been raised from the dead. He was who He claimed to be! How could they ignore this and attempt to defeat it?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reflections on Matthew 27

    Matthew 27 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Early the next morning all the chief priests and the nation's leaders met and decided that Jesus should be put to death.
  2. They paid it for a potter's field, as the Lord had commanded me."
  3. Jesus was brought before Pilate the governor, who asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Those are your words!" Jesus answered.
  4. And when the chief priests and leaders brought their charges against him, he did not say a thing.
  5. Pilate asked him, "Don't you hear what crimes they say you have done?"
  6. But Jesus did not say anything, and the governor was greatly amazed.
  7. During Passover the governor always freed a prisoner chosen by the people.
  8. At that time a well-known terrorist named Jesus Barabbas was in jail.
  9. So when the crowd came together, Pilate asked them, "Which prisoner do you want me to set free? Do you want Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?"
  10. Pilate knew that the leaders had brought Jesus to him because they were jealous.
  11. While Pilate was judging the case, his wife sent him a message. It said, "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man. I have had nightmares because of him."
  12. They tied him up and led him away to Pilate the governor.
  13. But the chief priests and the leaders convinced the crowds to ask for Barabbas to be set free and for Jesus to be killed.
  14. Pilate asked the crowd again, "Which of these two men do you want me to set free?" "Barabbas!" they replied.
  15. Pilate asked them, "What am I to do with Jesus, who is called the Messiah?" They all yelled, "Nail him to a cross!"
  16. Pilate answered, "But what crime has he done?" "Nail him to a cross!" they yelled even louder.
  17. Pilate saw that there was nothing he could do and that the people were starting to riot. So he took some water and washed his hands in front of them and said, "I won't have anything to do with killing this man. You are the ones doing it!"
  18. Everyone answered, "We and our own families will take the blame for his death!"
  19. Pilate set Barabbas free. Then he ordered his soldiers to beat Jesus with a whip and nail him to a cross.
  20. The governor's soldiers led Jesus into the fortress and brought together the rest of the troops.
  21. They stripped off Jesus' clothes and put a scarlet robe on him.
  22. They made a crown out of thorn branches and placed it on his head, and they put a stick in his right hand. The soldiers knelt down and pretended to worship him. They made fun of him and shouted, "Hey, you king of the Jews!"
  23. Judas had betrayed Jesus, but when he learned that Jesus had been sentenced to death, he was sorry for what he had done. He returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and leaders
  24. Then they spit on him. They took the stick from him and beat him on the head with it.
  25. When the soldiers had finished making fun of Jesus, they took off the robe. They put his own clothes back on him and led him off to be nailed to a cross.
  26. On the way they met a man from Cyrene named Simon, and they forced him to carry Jesus' cross.
  27. They came to a place named Golgotha, which means "Place of a Skull."
  28. There they gave Jesus some wine mixed with a drug to ease the pain. But when Jesus tasted what it was, he refused to drink it.
  29. The soldiers nailed Jesus to a cross and gambled to see who would get his clothes.
  30. Then they sat down to guard him.
  31. Above his head they put a sign that told why he was nailed there. It read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."
  32. The soldiers also nailed two criminals on crosses, one to the right of Jesus and the other to his left.
  33. People who passed by said terrible things about Jesus. They shook their heads and
  34. and said, "I have sinned by betraying a man who has never done anything wrong." "So what? That's your problem," they replied.
  35. shouted, "So you're the one who claimed you could tear down the temple and build it again in three days! If you are God's Son, save yourself and come down from the cross!"
  36. The chief priests, the leaders, and the teachers of the Law of Moses also made fun of Jesus. They said,
  37. "He saved others, but he can't save himself. If he is the king of Israel, he should come down from the cross! Then we will believe him.
  38. He trusted God, so let God save him, if he wants to. He even said he was God's Son."
  39. The two criminals also said cruel things to Jesus.
  40. At noon the sky turned dark and stayed that way until three o'clock.
  41. Then about that time Jesus shouted, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you deserted me?"
  42. Some of the people standing there heard Jesus and said, "He's calling for Elijah."
  43. One of them at once ran and grabbed a sponge. He soaked it in wine, then put it on a stick and held it up to Jesus.
  44. Others said, "Wait! Let's see if Elijah will come and save him."
  45. Judas threw the money into the temple and then went out and hanged himself.
  46. Once again Jesus shouted, and then he died.
  47. At once the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, and rocks split apart.
  48. Graves opened, and many of God's people were raised to life.
  49. Then after Jesus had risen to life, they came out of their graves and went into the holy city, where they were seen by many people.
  50. The officer and the soldiers guarding Jesus felt the earthquake and saw everything else that happened. They were frightened and said, "This man really was God's Son!"
  51. Many women had come with Jesus from Galilee to be of help to him, and they were there, looking on at a distance.
  52. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of James and John were some of these women.
  53. That evening a rich disciple named Joseph from the town of Arimathea
  54. went and asked for Jesus' body. Pilate gave orders for it to be given to Joseph,
  55. who took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth.
  56. The chief priests picked up the money and said, "This money was paid to have a man killed. We can't put it in the temple treasury."
  57. Then Joseph put the body in his own tomb that had been cut into solid rock and had never been used. He rolled a big stone against the entrance to the tomb and went away.
  58. All this time Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb.
  59. On the next day, which was a Sabbath, the chief priests and the Pharisees went together to Pilate.
  60. They said, "Sir, we remember what that liar said while he was still alive. He claimed that in three days he would come back from death.
  61. So please order the tomb to be carefully guarded for three days. If you don't, his disciples may come and steal his body. They will tell the people that he has been raised to life, and this last lie will be worse than the first one."
  62. Pilate said to them, "All right, take some of your soldiers and guard the tomb as well as you know how."
  63. So they sealed it tight and placed soldiers there to guard it.
  64. Then they had a meeting and decided to buy a field that belonged to someone who made clay pots. They wanted to use it as a graveyard for foreigners.
  65. That's why people still call that place "Field of Blood."
  66. So the words of the prophet Jeremiah came true, "They took the thirty silver coins, the price of a person among the people of Israel

It is truly amazing what people will do in the name of religion. But it is also amazing what some will do for God. I differentiate between following a religion and following God. As defined, a religion "is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs." As I make this differentiation, I consider religion to be man-made, and the following of a religion to be a commitment of oneself to a set of human ideas concerning origins and purpose of the universe and of man. In making such a commitment one comes to feel they are defending God when they defend these religious ideas, which has throughout history led to some huge attrocities. Following God, on the other hand, sets one on a course of seeking to understand what God reveals about Himself both through scripture and through prayer. It does not start with our own perception, but with God's. By seeking to understand God's perception, one comes to understand that God needs no defense and that the end does not justify the means when violence is used in the name of God. They understand that there is an inter-relatedness between love for God and love for man and one cannot be violated without violating the other.

The crucifixion events described in Matthew chapter 27 are a playing out of man following religion rather than following God. It is true that God had outlined the practices used in Judaism, but along the way the followers of Judaism came to depend on the practices rather than God. Following God is dynamic in nature. One is not locked into the same practices over and over forever, but dynamically follows God's leading throughout life. Judaism lost this dynamic nature of following God and locked into a set of practices that eventually lost its connection to God. Only this lost connection from God could allow the events of which we read in this chapter. Though I sound critical of Judaism, the truth is that all religious practices are subject to this error of becoming disconnected from God. As we seek to follow God and understand His leading for us, there is a delicate balance we must keep between the avoidance of striking out with an individual and personal interpretation of God's revelations and yet not becoming totally locked in to the "group-think" of organized religion. We are personally responsible for the choices we make. One is not innocent when blindly following the teaching of a religious leader or group. When the teachings of the "church" take precident over that of scripture one steps out on shifting sand rather than the sure foundation of God's revelation.

As the events of Jesus' crucifixion played out, little by little it became evident, at least to some observers, that a great error had taken place with the actions against Jesus. Yes, it was the fulfillment of God's purposes, but this did not excuse the actions of those who brought it about. It did not pass the notice of Pilot that Jesus did not answer the charges against him. Something unusual was happening. The dark afternoon and the earthquake at Jesus' death caught the attention of even the Roman soldiers. They recognized in this that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. If the religious leaders noticed, we are not told. They were primarily interested in protecting themselves, which they attempted to do by trying to assure that Jesus' body would not be "stolen" from the tomb. Regardless of their attempts to control the situation, the outcome of these events were out of their control. Nothing would keep Jesus from escaping the tomb. No one had forced Jesus' death, nor would they hinder His resurrection. Jesus willingly submitted Himself to arrest and multiple trials. He even chose when He would die, voluntarily giving up His spirit to death. He would also choose when and how He would return to this life and reveal Himself to His followers.

Jesus teaches us to follow His example. By choosing to voluntarily give up His life, Jesus provided life for many. We, too, can voluntarily choose to give up our lives because of Jesus and come to find life for ourselves.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Reflections on Matthew 26

    Matthew 26 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When Jesus had finished teaching, he told his disciples,
  2. Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he said: Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing for me.
  3. You will always have the poor with you, but you won't always have me.
  4. She has poured perfume on my body to prepare it for burial.
  5. You may be sure that wherever the good news is told all over the world, people will remember what she has done. And they will tell others.
  6. Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve disciples. He went to the chief priests
  7. and asked, "How much will you give me if I help you arrest Jesus?" They paid Judas thirty silver coins,
  8. and from then on he started looking for a good chance to betray Jesus.
  9. On the first day of the Festival of Thin Bread, Jesus' disciples came to him and asked, "Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal?"
  10. Jesus told them to go to a certain man in the city and tell him, "Our teacher says, 'My time has come! I want to eat the Passover meal with my disciples in your home.' "
  11. They did as Jesus told them and prepared the meal.
  12. "You know that two days from now will be Passover. That is when the Son of Man will be handed over to his enemies and nailed to a cross."
  13. When Jesus was eating with his twelve disciples that evening, he said, "One of you will surely hand me over to my enemies."
  14. (SEE 26:20)
  15. The disciples were very sad, and each one said to Jesus, "Lord, you can't mean me!"
  16. He answered, "One of you men who has eaten with me from this dish will betray me.
  17. The Son of Man will die, as the Scriptures say. But it's going to be terrible for the one who betrays me! That man would be better off if he had never been born."
  18. Judas said, "Teacher, you surely don't mean me!" "That's what you say!" Jesus replied. But later, Judas did betray him.
  19. During the meal Jesus took some bread in his hands. He blessed the bread and broke it. Then he gave it to his disciples and said, "Take this and eat it. This is my body."
  20. Jesus picked up a cup of wine and gave thanks to God. He then gave it to his disciples and said, "Take this and drink it.
  21. This is my blood, and with it God makes his agreement with you. It will be poured out, so that many people will have their sins forgiven.
  22. From now on I am not going to drink any wine, until I drink new wine with you in my Father's kingdom."
  23. At that time the chief priests and the nation's leaders were meeting at the home of Caiaphas the high priest.
  24. Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.
  25. Jesus said to his disciples, "During this very night, all of you will reject me, as the Scriptures say, 'I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'
  26. But after I am raised to life, I will go to Galilee ahead of you."
  27. Peter spoke up, "Even if all the others reject you, I never will!"
  28. Jesus replied, "I promise you that before a rooster crows tonight, you will say three times that you don't know me."
  29. But Peter said, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never say I don't know you." All the others said the same thing.
  30. Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane. When they got there, he told them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray."
  31. Jesus took along Peter and the two brothers, James and John. He was very sad and troubled,
  32. and he said to them, "I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying. Stay here and keep awake with me."
  33. Jesus walked on a little way. Then he knelt with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, don't make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want."
  34. They planned how they could sneak around and have Jesus arrested and put to death.
  35. He came back and found his disciples sleeping. So he said to Peter, "Can't any of you stay awake with me for just one hour?
  36. Stay awake and pray that you won't be tested. You want to do what is right, but you are weak."
  37. Again Jesus went to pray and said, "My Father, if there is no other way, and I must suffer, I will still do what you want."
  38. Jesus came back and found them sleeping again. They simply could not keep their eyes open.
  39. He left them and prayed the same prayer once more.
  40. Finally, Jesus returned to his disciples and said, "Are you still sleeping and resting? The time has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to sinners.
  41. Get up! Let's go. The one who will betray me is already here."
  42. Jesus was still speaking, when Judas the betrayer came up. He was one of the twelve disciples, and a large mob armed with swords and clubs was with him. They had been sent by the chief priests and the nation's leaders.
  43. Judas had told them ahead of time, "Arrest the man I greet with a kiss."
  44. Judas walked right up to Jesus and said, "Hello, teacher." Then Judas kissed him.
  45. But they said, "We must not do it during Passover, because the people will riot."
  46. Jesus replied, "My friend, why are you here?" The men grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
  47. One of Jesus' followers pulled out a sword. He struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.
  48. But Jesus told him, "Put your sword away. Anyone who lives by fighting will die by fighting.
  49. Don't you know that I could ask my Father, and right away he would send me more than twelve armies of angels?
  50. But then, how could the words of the Scriptures come true, which say that this must happen?"
  51. Jesus said to the mob, "Why do you come with swords and clubs to arrest me like a criminal? Day after day I sat and taught in the temple, and you didn't arrest me.
  52. But all this happened, so that what the prophets wrote would come true." All of Jesus' disciples left him and ran away.
  53. After Jesus had been arrested, he was led off to the house of Caiaphas the high priest. The nation's leaders and the teachers of the Law of Moses were meeting there.
  54. But Peter followed along at a distance and came to the courtyard of the high priest's palace. He went in and sat down with the guards to see what was going to happen.
  55. The chief priests and the whole council wanted to put Jesus to death. So they tried to find some people who would tell lies about him in court.
  56. Jesus was in the town of Bethany, eating at the home of Simon, who had leprosy.
  57. But they could not find any, even though many did come and tell lies. At last, two men came forward
  58. and said, "This man claimed that he would tear down God's temple and build it again in three days."
  59. The high priest stood up and asked Jesus, "Why don't you say something in your own defense? Don't you hear the charges they are making against you?"
  60. But Jesus did not answer. So the high priest said, "With the living God looking on, you must tell the truth. Tell us, are you the Messiah, the Son of God?"
  61. "That is what you say!" Jesus answered. "But I tell all of you, 'Soon you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right side of God All-Powerful and coming on the clouds of heaven.' "
  62. The high priest then tore his robe and said, "This man claims to be God! We don't need any more witnesses! You have heard what he said.
  63. What do you think?" They answered, "He is guilty and deserves to die!"
  64. Then they spit in his face and hit him with their fists. Others slapped him
  65. and said, "You think you are the Messiah! So tell us who hit you!"
  66. While Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, a servant girl came up to him and said, "You were with Jesus from Galilee."
  67. A woman came in with a bottle of expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus' head.
  68. But in front of everyone Peter said, "That isn't so! I don't know what you are talking about!"
  69. When Peter had gone out to the gate, another servant girl saw him and said to some people there, "This man was with Jesus from Nazareth."
  70. Again Peter denied it, and this time he swore, "I don't even know that man!"
  71. A little while later some people standing there walked over to Peter and said, "We know that you are one of them. We can tell it because you talk like someone from Galilee."
  72. Peter began to curse and swear, "I don't know that man!" Right then a rooster crowed,
  73. and Peter remembered that Jesus had said, "Before a rooster crows, you will say three times that you don't know me." Then Peter went out and cried hard.
  74. But when his disciples saw this, they became angry and complained, "Why such a waste?
  75. We could have sold this perfume for a lot of money and given it to the poor.

The march of events leading to Jesus' crucifixion pick up their pace. In the first verses of this chapter Jesus again told His disciples of His approaching death, pointing out that it would happen during Passover. It is as if this were an announcement that set in motion the crucifixion events. Soon after this announcement came the conspiracy between the chief priests and the elders to arrest Jesus, then came the woman's anointing of Jesus' body in preparation for His burial. These events were followed by Judas' offer to betray Jesus and Jesus' observance of the Passover meal with His disciples and the first observance of communion in recognition of His broken body and spilt blood "that establishes the covenant . . . shed for many for the forgiveness of sins." (26:28) Next there was Jesus' time at Gethsemane agonizing in prayer over the coming events. Then came Judas' betrayal and Jesus' arrest followed by Jesus' initial trial before Caiaphas, the high priest, and then Peter's denial of Jesus.

It is important to keep in mind that in none of this was Jesus a victim of circumstances. He willingly allowed all of it to be done to Him. The establishment of the covenant by His shed blood for the forgiveness of sins had to be a willing sacrifice, not something forced on Him against His will. It is also important to recognize that there are no innocent players in this scenario other than Jesus. Nor are we today uninvolved observers of history as we read this account. We too have played a part, for it was not just the sins of those in that day for whom Jesus provided forgiveness, but also for the sins of today and for all days to come. Those who carried out the acts against Jesus represent all who reject Him while the disciples who fled from Jesus after His arrest and denied any knowledge of Him, such as Peter, represent all of us who follow Jesus. We all are unfaithful to Him and deny Him at times. And, as with Peter, Jesus is kind and merciful to forgive us when we repent and to still use us in His service. Actually, Peter's denial of Jesus served a good purpose, for it allowed him to see his own incapability to boldly stand with Jesus under pressure. He learned to depend on the Holy Spirit that was given him at Pentecost rather than his own strength. His remorse and repentance over his denial helped to solidify his commitment to Jesus and become one of the early martyrs for the faith.

The same forgiveness and power are available to us today, and we are called to stand with Jesus just as surely as was Peter as He continues to be publicly ridiculed and crucified.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reflections on Matthew 25

    Matthew 25 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The kingdom of heaven is like what happened one night when ten girls took their oil lamps and went to a wedding to meet the groom.
  2. While the foolish girls were on their way to get some oil, the groom arrived. The girls who were ready went into the wedding, and the doors were closed.
  3. Later the other girls returned and shouted, "Sir, sir! Open the door for us!"
  4. But the groom replied, "I don't even know you!"
  5. So, my disciples, always be ready! You don't know the day or the time when all this will happen.
  6. The kingdom is also like what happened when a man went away and put his three servants in charge of all he owned.
  7. The man knew what each servant could do. So he handed five thousand coins to the first servant, two thousand to the second, and one thousand to the third. Then he left the country.
  8. As soon as the man had gone, the servant with the five thousand coins used them to earn five thousand more.
  9. The servant who had two thousand coins did the same with his money and earned two thousand more.
  10. But the servant with one thousand coins dug a hole and hid his master's money in the ground.
  11. Some time later the master of those servants returned. He called them in and asked what they had done with his money.
  12. Five of the girls were foolish and five were wise.
  13. The servant who had been given five thousand coins brought them in with the five thousand that he had earned. He said, "Sir, you gave me five thousand coins, and I have earned five thousand more."
  14. "Wonderful!" his master replied. "You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness!"
  15. Next, the servant who had been given two thousand coins came in and said, "Sir, you gave me two thousand coins, and I have earned two thousand more."
  16. "Wonderful!" his master replied. "You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness!"
  17. The servant who had been given one thousand coins then came in and said, "Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. You harvest what you don't plant and gather crops where you haven't scattered seed.
  18. I was frightened and went out and hid your money in the ground. Here is every single coin!"
  19. The master of the servant told him, "You are lazy and good-for-nothing! You know that I harvest what I don't plant and gather crops where I haven't scattered seed.
  20. You could have at least put my money in the bank, so that I could have earned interest on it."
  21. Then the master said, "Now your money will be taken away and given to the servant with ten thousand coins!
  22. Everyone who has something will be given more, and they will have more than enough. But everything will be taken from those who don't have anything.
  23. The foolish ones took their lamps, but no extra oil.
  24. You are a worthless servant, and you will be thrown out into the dark where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain."
  25. When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all of his angels, he will sit on his royal throne.
  26. The people of all nations will be brought before him, and he will separate them, as shepherds separate their sheep from their goats.
  27. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
  28. Then the king will say to those on his right, "My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created.
  29. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me,
  30. and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me."
  31. Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, "When did we give you something to eat or drink?
  32. When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear
  33. or visit you while you were sick or in jail?"
  34. The ones who were wise took along extra oil for their lamps.
  35. The king will answer, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me."
  36. Then the king will say to those on his left, "Get away from me! You are under God's curse. Go into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels!
  37. I was hungry, but you did not give me anything to eat, and I was thirsty, but you did not give me anything to drink.
  38. I was a stranger, but you did not welcome me, and I was naked, but you did not give me any clothes to wear. I was sick and in jail, but you did not take care of me."
  39. Then the people will ask, "Lord, when did we fail to help you when you were hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in jail?"
  40. The king will say to them, "Whenever you failed to help any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do it for me."
  41. Then Jesus said, "Those people will be punished forever. But the ones who pleased God will have eternal life."
  42. The groom was late arriving, and the girls became drowsy and fell asleep.
  43. Then in the middle of the night someone shouted, "Here's the groom! Come to meet him!"
  44. When the girls got up and started getting their lamps ready,
  45. the foolish ones said to the others, "Let us have some of your oil! Our lamps are going out."
  46. The girls who were wise answered, "There's not enough oil for all of us! Go and buy some for yourselves."

The parables of chapter 25 are a continuation of a discussion between Jesus and His apostles begun in chapter 24 in which Jesus was answering the question, "And what is the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?" (24:3) In response to this question Jesus gave a few indicators of His return and then concluded it with the statement, "Now concerning that day and hour no one knows--neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son--except the Father only." (24:36) Then, beginning with verse 37 and continuing through chapter 25, He told a series of four parables emphasizing our need to be prepared for His return.

We can easily become caught up with the question of when and fail to give attention to the question of what we should be doing in His absence in preparation for His return. What difference would it make if we knew exactly when He would return? One difference it might make is to contribute to our slothfulness. If we knew, we might be tempted to do nothing until near the time of His return. But since we do not know we must be prepared at all times.

Beginning with 24:37, Jesus' series of four parables tell us:
  • We should not become weary in waiting for His return. It is "That slave whose master finds him working when he comes (who) will be rewarded."
  • We should keep a sufficient source of light on hand until His return as with the virgins who had oil enough for their lamps as they waited for the return of the bridegroom. Therefore, darkness did not overtake them in their wait. Evidently the light from the lamps of others was not adequate nor did any others have sufficient oil for their lamps and the lamps of those who ran out.
  • We should put to good use what He has entrusted to us in His absence. On His return there will be an accounting of what we did with what He entrusted to us.
  • We should serve Him in His absence by serving those in need.
What do we learn from these parables? One thing we learn is that we should not be concerned about the question of when Christ will return. The question we need to be concerned with is what we should be doing during the wait. How one handles waiting is one of the most significant issues they will encounter in their spiritual journey. Throughout life, the follower of Christ finds himself at various times to be waiting as he finds one door to be closing or already closed and waits for the next to be opened, not knowing what door will open or when. What we do during the wait will determine whether we will even be aware when a door opens and whether or not we are prepared to enter the open door. Periods of waiting are not periods of doing nothing. The question of when a door will open or when the Lord will return is less about the timing of that open door or of His arrival and more about our readiness. And as these parables teach us, doing nothing fails to prepare us for the open door or Christ's return.

Waiting tests our faith, separating the sheep from the goats as in the fourth parable. Only true believers endure the wait. And endurance is not determined by merely showing up when the wait is over, as in the case of the foolish virgins. It has to do with our faithfulness during the wait. Serving faithfully in the Master's absence, confident of His return, even when it seems delayed.