You are not far from the kingdom of God

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
(Mark 12:28-34)

Mark 12 records a great deal of the confrontations that the Jewish leadership had with Jesus on that last week before His Crucifixion.

In this section we see a scribe having a moment of honesty and reflection. What did this man understand? He concluded that loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself were the two greatest commands ever. He also understood that doing these two things matters far more than any “sacrifices” we can offer to God.

To which Jesus replies, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” If we all could understand those two greatest commands then we can really get down to the foundation of what God’s kingdom is really all about.

So, for today, let’s apply this concept to our marriages. If we as men have as our foundation the desire to follow these two commands of Jesus, then how will that help our marriages today? Most of our marriage “problems” are not that complicated, most are pretty simple to sort out (once we calm down all our emotions and attitudes!). It usually comes down to in some way we are not following God’s two basic commands. What is marriage all about in the kingdom of God? It is fundamentally built on the two greatest commands. If you love God with all of your being, and if you love your wife as you love yourself, you are building a kingdom marriage.

You are quite wrong

Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”
(Mark 12:24-27)

“You are quite wrong,” Jesus told them. Other versions say, “You are therefore greatly mistaken.”

In order to be wrong, something has to be right. As C.S. Lewis said, “…a man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” Jesus, in handling this doctrinal controversy thrown at Him by the Sadducees, called their views and conclusions “quite wrong.” There are wrong doctrines and wrong conclusions when it comes to Scripture. Jesus stood up and said, “You are wrong.”

There are many caveats that are brought out at a time like this which caution us to speak the truth in love and to be patient, tender and loving. Yes, that’s true, but I believe many of us at times have avoided saying what needed to be said because we felt as if it was wrong to say someone was wrong. We’ve been so conditioned in this politically correct and “tolerant” culture that many of us have cowered away from standing for the truth.

There is truth, and there is error. There is right and there is wrong. Jesus knew the difference and called it out.

He also spoke to these men as to why they were wrong.

First of all, they were wrong because they did not know God’s word. They may have thought they knew God’s word, but they were not using it correctly. According to Jesus, if they would have properly understood the “I Am” passage in Exodus, then they would have come to the right conclusion about the resurrection. The Bible doesn’t make every conclusion for us, but gives us all the information we need to come to the right conclusions. Jesus expects us to do the same thing that He expected out of the Sadducees. We, like they, can come to wrong conclusions because we don’t know the Scriptures as we ought.

Secondly, they were wrong because they did not know the power of God. Maybe they did not believe that God could raise someone from the dead. Maybe they did not believe that God’s power created a spiritual being that outlasts the body. It might be that they did not believe in God’s power to change the order of things, including marriage, in the resurrection. Whatever it was, they did not know the power of God. This is the same kind of reasoning people will use to say, “What about someone who dies on the way to be baptized?” Well, if God truly believed and commanded that a person is to be baptized, why would He not in His power preserve such a person so that they could obey His commands? Do we struggle in our Biblical conclusions because we don’t know God’s power?

So, get in the book, and stay in the book. Let’s find out what the truth is, and stand for it.

Not swayed

And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”
(Mark 12:14)

What did these Jewish men recognize about Jesus?

  • That He was true.
  • That He did not care about anyone’s opinion.
  • That He was not swayed by appearances.
  • That He taught the way of God in truth.

Of course their motives were sinister and vindictive, but the character of Jesus was clearly known to them.

Men, will others be able to say this about us?

  • That we are true (sincere, not fake, genuine)?
  • That we don’t get all worked up by what others think?
  • Do others see that we don’t cave in to peer pressure? Do they see us as those trying to keep up appearances?
  • Do others recognize that what we say comes from the truth of God’s word? Do they see us as not standing on the sand of our own opinions and desires but on the rock solid foundation of God’s word? They may not agree with our conclusions, but they can see what we believe is our source for our answers.

When we down to the core of what a real man or a real woman should be, it needs to include this list of qualities that others clearly saw in Jesus. Even as they were trying to destroy Jesus, they could not deny these aspects of His character.

A few Scriptures about demon possession

Today I wanted to write down a few thoughts about demon possession. One of my kids asked me about this yesterday, so it got me to thinking. Right now I am preaching through the book of Mark and immediately in Mark chapter 1 you see Jesus confronting the demonic realm and casting out demons.

Here are a few observations from Scripture about it. This is not intended to be an exhaustive answer on the demonic realm and demon possession. But hopefully the passages and thoughts below can prove helpful.

Demon possession was temporarily allowed to demonstrate Christ’s dominance over Satan and the power of darkness. The Devil is the “strong man” in this parable of Jesus in the following pasasge. Jesus was disarming Satan and showing His power over Satan by casting out demons. Through this, Jesus clearly demonstrated that the kingdom of God has come.

Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.
(Luke 11:14-22)

It seems like those possessed by demons were overtaken without an invitation. The demons just came in them and overtook them. The host was unable to resist and powerless to do anything about it. This took a miraculous intervention by someone with divinely-given authority. Others tried, but the demons knew who had that miraculous power (Acts 19:15).

A demon was cast out miraculously and promptly. There was no long drawn out exorcism that lasted for days. Jesus and the apostles said, “Get out!” and they did. If Jesus didn’t want a demon to speak, He rebuked it and made it silent (Mark 1:34).

After the book of Acts, you do not see the church receiving instruction on how to deal with demon possession. You see a limited blast of demonic possession in Matthew through Acts, but it was just that…limited.

Those today who are “taken captive” by Satan do so by invitation, and the escape is through receiving the invitation to follow Christ. We invite the Devil into our heart. And the way to “exorcise” Satan is through the teaching of the word of God. In the passage below, the way we escape from Satanic captivity is through listening to and obeying the truth of Scripture.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
(2 Timothy 2:24-26)

Sometimes we can get enamored by the intrigue of this topic, and look for complicated answers to today’s questions. People are acting “possessed” today, and that is for sure, but the simple answer is they need the word of God, not an exorcism.

Corban

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)– then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
(Mark 7:8-13)

Here in Mark 7, Jesus is having one of many run-ins with the Jewish leadership, and during this encounter He exposes their hypocrisy in how they are using their religion as a convenient excuse to mistreat their parents.

Here are a just a few quick thoughts for today.

One command of God does not offset another. They were to honor God and to give to God, but they were also to honor their parents and give to them. God does not give us contradictory commands. He does not put us in a dilemma where keeping one command would cause us to violate another.

Man’s tradition does not go before God’s commands. The Jewish leadership, not God, came up with the “corban” concept that if something was dedicated to God they could not afterward use that money or property to help mom and dad.

Honoring mom and dad involves our finances, not just our words of support. Maybe these Jews would tell mom and dad they loved them, and maybe these Jews convinced themselves they were doing God’s will, but Jesus said they were dishonoring their parents by not supporting them financially in their time of need.

Pearls and Pigs

When you think of pigs, what do you think of? Well, I’m hungry so I’m thinking bacon. But we see the Bible talking about pigs being the lowest of the low, like dogs. Gentiles were considered to be pigs and dogs. The picture of a pig is not like the cute and cuddly Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web. Pigs stink and roll around in the mud. If you have ever fed hogs you know they don’t have manners. They will knock you over to get to their food.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
(Matthew 7:6)

Jesus told us to have discernment in order to determine when to cease teaching someone. As Christians, we can learn when it is time to move on. As God’s children, we can begin to recognize when we are casting pearls before swine. We have to be careful about it, and pray for God’s love and mercy. We don’t want to move on when God wants us to stick it out and keep teaching. But we also probably have experienced times in our life when we spent way too much time and tears on someone who could have cared less.

The Lord taught us that we must develop discretion and learn when it is time to move on. Sometimes you are just laying down fancy jewelry on the ground for a pig who could care less about pearls. If the pig does happen to swallow the pearl, it will just pass through if you know what I mean.

Here are several passages from Scripture that teach us God’s wisdom about learning to move on. There are some people that will eventually display to you that it is not worth beating your head against the wall for them.

Look at the contrast Jesus gives between his disciples and the crowd. The crowd, for the most part, didn’t really want to learn, nor did they really see Jesus as the source of eternal life. The disciples on the other hand, were always asking and begging to learn and understand more.

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
(Mark 4:10-12)

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
(Mark 4:33-34)

You see, Jesus knew when to take time to explain things. He also knew when it was time to “shake the dust” off His feet.

And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.
(Matthew 10:14)

Some are constantly learning and never coming to the knowlege of the truth (2 Timothy 3:6-10). They get an “A” in book smarts but an “F” in wisdom. The Scriptures warn us that if we focus so much on casting pearls before swine, then we may get trampled by the pigs.

Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
(Proverbs 9:7-9)

A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.
(Proverbs 15:12)

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.
(Proverbs 23:9)

Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool. Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, a curse that is causeless does not alight. A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence. Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools. Like one who binds the stone in the sling is one who gives honor to a fool. Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools. Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard. Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly. Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
(Proverbs 26:1-12)

Meditate upon these things today. There are people around you who are hungering for the word. Teach them. There are others who will fight you on every point. Teach them too, but know there is a time to move on and let the seed that was planted do its work. God’s word will do exactly what He designed it to do in their heart. You could be driving yourself crazy with someone who is acting like the fool of Proverbs while someone else is really hungering for the word and you have not given them the attention and time they need.

Think about it.

Son Your Sins Are Forgiven

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
(Mark 2:5-7)

In Mark 2, we read of a paralytic man that four friends let down through the roof to get to Jesus. Jesus saw their faith and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This statement sent shock waves through the religious elite in the crowd. They knew their Bibles.

Who can forgive sins but God alone? Great question. I have another question, who can forgive sins but the one offended?

So let’s say my brother comes up to me and punches me in the face and breaks a few teeth, leaving me on the ground bloody and toothless. A stranger then comes by and looks at my brother and says, “I forgive you.” I’m going to say, “What? You forgive him? I’m the one with blood and teeth coming out!” That person was not the one offended, I was.

Jesus was the one offended. He is God. It was the sins of the paralytic that hurt Jesus. Jesus was the one with blood and teeth coming out. Whatever sins that paralyzed man committed were directly against Jesus, and only Jesus could be the one to release him from that debt.

…But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
(Isaiah 43:24-25)

The Lord God (Jesus) is speaking here in Isaiah saying that the sins have burdened Him. God was the one offended, beaten up and saddened by what we have done.

So think about what happened in Mark 2 with this paralytic man. This man had a problem bigger than not being able to walk. He had sinned against the Lord Jesus Christ. But look at the mercy of the Lord, Jesus could have said, “You deserve not to walk for what you did to Me.” Jesus gave him two incredible gifts that day, but one was infinitely more valuable. That day the man walked, and that is great, but that day his sins against Jesus were released by Jesus.

What a merciful and amazing Lord we serve!

In Me You May Have Peace

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33)

I was thinking about this verse this morning. There are two “in’s” in this passage:

  • In the world you will have tribulation.
  • In Me you may have peace.

How do those two concepts coexist? Tribulation, meaning we are under pressure like grapes being crushed to produced juice. That is what happens to us in the world, according to Jesus. But then he also says that we can while under pressure and anguish have peace.

“In Me you may have peace.” We are physically located in the world, but our hearts and relationships are tied to the eternal Christ. This is how Jesus slept in a boat on the storm. He was physically located in the storm, but His heart was resting safely and quietly in the Father.

I really need this right now. Maybe you do, too. May we come to Christ and to His words (and to His people) for the peace that passes all understanding. The peace that only comes through Jesus Christ.

…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6-7)

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
(John 14:27)

 

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 5

We continue our consideration of whether Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was a “new” teaching. Were concepts like turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love your neighbor uniquely Christian concepts that were foreign to the Law of Moses? No.

Let’s look into this further.

In the Old Testament, was it okay for the Jew to repay eye for eye and tooth for tooth? (Matthew 5:38-42)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
(Matthew 5:38-42)

Remember first of all that Jesus is not fighting against or correcting the Law of Moses but correcting the hypocritical and carnal applications of the Law taught by the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:17-20). The Law would be fulfilled and nailed to the cross by Jesus, but He was not in this Sermon trying to correct or improve upon it.

In the Law of Moses, God made clear distinctions between murder, accidental death, self-defense, vengeance, capital punishment, etc. Not all killing was murder. But God did teach very plainly that the mindset that should guide His people is to love their neighbors and their enemies, and not to take vengeance for themselves.

The Law of Moses did say, “eye for and eye” and “tooth for tooth,” but in context God was teaching about how civil authorities were to administer punishment and fines for crimes. The Law of Moses in this case was not telling individuals that they could personally dole out retribution, but apparently that is how some, for carnal reasons, had applied it.

Notice the passage below. See the context of “eye for eye” was “as the judges determine.” It was the congregation as a community that administered punishment, not the individual (Leviticus 24:16-23).

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.
(Exodus 21:22-27)

This principle is very consistent with the New Testament. The Christian, just like the Jew,  is not allowed to take vengeance, because that is God’s realm. Sometimes, many times, that punishment comes through the hands of civil authorities.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
(Leviticus 19:18)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, Paul is quoting from I believe Deuteronomy 32:25).

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
(Romans 13:1-5)

You can see from these Scriptures, God (Jesus) expected the Jew to keep from retaliation. Vengeance was to be left up to God, and punishment was to be left up to the authorities. Jesus was not introducing a new standard of conduct that He did not always expect from His people.

More to come later..

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 1

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 2

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 3

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 4

 

The Father and the Son

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:9-15)

The Father was well pleased with His Son. The next verse says the “Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” He was there for 40 days. No food. Wild animals. Oh, and He went face to face with Satan. It was certainly a hard 40 days. Don’t minimize that. God drove His son into the wilderness to face the worst Satan could throw at Him. God was well pleased with Son, and He led Jesus down a very hard road. His love includes training and adversity.

The Father sent angels to minister to His Son. While Jesus was in the wilderness with wild beasts and Satan, He was not alone, was He? The angels ministered to Him. That same thing is said of all Christians – Angels are ministering spirits sent to help us (Hebrews 1:14). During our times in the wilderness facing wild beasts and the Devil, we are not alone. We are never alone when we walk with God. He sends us help, sometimes visible, sometimes invisible, but He is helping us.

The Father’s message was proclaimed by the Son. At the end of this passage, we see Jesus proclaiming the gospel of God. There is a reason God allows us to be refined through trials and temptations – through that process He is glorified and His message is preached.