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Category Archives: Mark

Questions Jesus Asked – How Many Loaves Do You Have? Mark 6:30-46


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

The biographers of Jesus regarded the miraculous supply of food for a large crowd as a key event. Apart from the resurrection of Christ, it is the only miracle recounted in all four Gospels.

These miracles shows that God will provide when we are in need. Jesus was not transforming rocks into food, but multiplying bread and fish. He was doing instantly what he does constantly throughout nature. He was not breaking the “laws of nature,” but was demonstrating that he was in control of these “laws.” Christ’s power to feed a multitude, walk on water, and heal diseases all point to his identity as Lord of creation.

We’ve been going through the gospel of Mark, stopping at places where Jesus asked a question. The question before us now was addressed to ambassadors: “How many loaves do you have? What has God given you that he can put into service to himself?”

 Mark 5::30-44 (ESV)
30  The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.
31  And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
32  And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.

The disciples returned from their mission and reported to Jesus. They reported two things: what they had done and what they had taught.

How they had lived and what they had taught were both of vital interest to Christ. He had given them precise instructions in both areas. This report would reveal their obedience to Him, the degree of commitment and effectiveness of each disciple. Jesus needed to know, for the salvation of the world depended on their lives and teaching. He was soon to leave all in their hands.

The pairs returned (apparently at a prearranged time) to Capernaum and gathered around Jesus, giving him their reports of all that they had done and taught. This marked the first time the disciples had gone out on their own, so quite naturally, they were full of excitement upon their return—telling stories, sharing together the thrill of preaching the message and doing miracles in God’s power. This had been their training mission, their “student teaching,” and Jesus to their stories and answered their questions.

Jesus told the disciples to take a break. He knew their weaknesses. There is only so much a person can do physically and spiritually; then the body needs rest and the soul needs refreshment. As if it were a new discovery, sports physiologists and motivational experts now preach the wisdom of hard work, then adequate rest. People who hope to accomplish big goals need this healthy rhythm for success and stamina.

Rest allows time for reflection, meditation, conversation, reading, and prayer. In all your work, take a little time to dream. Walk in the woods. Stare at the stars. Count your blessings. Sing a prayer of praise where only God can hear.

33  Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.
34  When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

A danger is losing sight of people who are as sheep without a shepherd. Again the scene is descriptive. As the boat approached the shore, Jesus stood in the boat watching the multitude clamoring for space on the seashore. He needed rest, and the disciples needed rest even more. But He was not annoyed or irritated with the people. Contrariwise, He was moved with deep, intense compassion because the people were as sheep without a shepherd. He could not turn from them. He could not send them away despite the need for rest. He could do only one thing. He had to meet their need; He had to teach them, so He began “to teach them many things.”

  1. Sheep without a shepherd are bewildered and wander about, not knowing where they are or where they are going. They get lost ever so easily, and cannot find their way back to the flock. So it is with people. People without the shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, are bewildered. They do not know where they have come from, where they are going, nor why they are where they are. They wander about, getting lost in place after place, never finding the way to true life.
  2. Sheep without a shepherd go hungry. They do not have adequate nourishment. They cannot find sufficient food to live. So it is with people. People without the Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, go hungry. They do not have the Shepherd of God to feed and inspire their souls, nor to satisfy their inner longings for peace, love, and joy (Galatians 5:22-23). They have only themselves to depend upon as they seek to meet their craving for life.
  3. Sheep without a shepherd cannot find shelter or safety. The sheep are exposed to all the dangers of the wilderness. So it is with people. People without the Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, are exposed to all that is within the world, and they are doomed. They are doomed because the beasts, the temptations and trials of the world, attack at every opportunity and destroy all who wander about.

Everyone can list a few things in their life which might fit into the category of “impossible.” Jesus had already shown His disciples some pretty “impossible” things; and great crowds of people were beginning to also take notice.

35  And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late.
36  Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37  But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”
38  And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”

In reply to their question about going and spending an extravagant amount of money on bread, Jesus told them first to check out their resources. “Go and see how many loaves you have.” John records that the five loaves (round barley cakes) and two dried fish they found were from the lunch of a young boy (John 6:9). Apparently, in their hurry, no one else in the crowd had thought to bring along food to eat, or they were unwilling to share it. The young boy offered his lunch to the disciples (specifically to Andrew, see John 6:8), but again the disciples could see only the impossibility of the situation.

39  Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass.
40  So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.
41  And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.
42  And they all ate and were satisfied.
43  And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.
44  And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

– From a Human Perspective.

With their limited, human understanding, these weary fishermen can see only a swelling sea of humanity threatening to wash over them. In verse 10 we’re told that this great multitude numbered 5,000 men. Including women and children, this figure could easily have been 8,000-10,000.

– From a Divine Perspective.

From Jesus’ point of view, the crowds weren’t an infringement but an opportunity–a chance to reveal His glory and, at the same time, stretch his disciple’s faith.

`Resources: there are six attitudes toward resources. It takes resources to meet human need. In consideration of this, there is a fact that needs to be acknowledged. Every person has something he can give. Every person can help and do something to meet a need when a need confronts him. The problem is not lack of resources nor a lack of ability or money or time. The problem is attitude—attitude toward the resources which one has.

  1. There is the attitude of questioning one’s ability to give (Mark 6:37). Jesus had just said, “Give them food.” The disciples were shocked and even disturbed with the instructions, for the crowd was enormous and the task impossible. They were already upset over the presence and burden of the crowd. Irritated, the disciples fired back at Jesus, “Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?” This amounted to about six months’ labor for the disciples. They did not have the money, so the request by Jesus was ridiculous to them. There was no way they could give food to meet the need of the crowd. But note something: the disciples forgot two things.
  2. They forgot that they did have something. The need of the crowd in this instance was for food, and the disciples had food for themselves (or at least enough money to buy food for themselves). Yet, they did not think to mention this fact. They were thinking only of what excess, what above their own needs they had to give.
  3. They forgot the power of God. They forgot that God loved and cared for these people as well as for them. They forgot that God would meet the needs of any and all, if only they would put what they had at His disposal. They forgot that God’s power could take little and multiply it.
  4. There is the attitude of checking to see what one can give (Mark 6:38). In response to the disciples’ impatience, Jesus remained cool, asking rather forcefully, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” The disciples checked and reported that they had five loaves of bread and two fish. Note two facts.
  5. They had resources that were overlooked. Why were they overlooked? Because the resources were so little. There was no possibility the resources could ever meet the need. In fact, two fish and five loaves of bread could not even make a dent in the hunger of five thousand men. In the eyes of the disciples it was impossible for the resources to do any good whatsoever.
  6. Jesus did not ask the disciples to check on how to feed all five thousand men. He asked them to check on what resources they had to give. They were to look at what they themselves could give, not at how the whole task could be done. Their eyes and perspective were to be on using what they had, not on the mammoth impossibility of the task. This is a critical point and it should be carefully noted when looking at the vast needs of the world.
  7. There is the attitude of organizing what resources one has so that they might be used (Mark 6:39-40). This is an important step Christ takes and it should be well noted. The hour was late. Darkness was rapidly approaching. Distribution could have easily become a problem. The people had to be organized into small circles or rows which left room for the disciples to walk between them and distribute the food.
  8. There is the attitude of being thankful for what one has and can give (Mark 6:41). What Jesus did was impressive. He took into His hands what they had, and He looked up to heaven and gave thanks for it. It was small; it was insignificant. It looked like it would do little, like it would be insignificant; but He took it anyway and looked up to heaven, and blessed it.
  9. There is the attitude of giving what one has (Mark 6:41-42). After giving thanks, Jesus took the food and gave it to the disciples to set before the people. And a miracle happened! The resource multiplied: all the people were fed and were filled (Mark 6:42).
  10. There is the attitude of being careful in the handling of resources (Mark 6:43-44). Very simply, Christ teaches that resources are not to be wasted. They are to be used day after day. When there is more than enough to meet one need, what is left over is to be gathered up to use elsewhere.

 

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2019 in Mark

 

Questions Jesus Asked (from the gospel of Mark) – Why Are You So Afraid?


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

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

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

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

STORM-TOSSED LIVES

The question Jesus asked is preceded by one that was asked of him, and it too is a provocative question. The disciples on the boat woke the Lord and asked him, “Don’t you care if we drown?

This story not only describes an incident that happened in history on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus and his disciples almost two thousand years ago, but it also illustrates conditions of life that resonate with most of us. There are times when life is overwhelming and treacherous for us, when there are anxious and threatening circumstances.

We petition God, we seek out friends, we read the Bible, we fast and pray, hoping to penetrate to heaven. And it seems as if our Savior and Lord is asleep. The thing we’re most aware of is the hardship, and the thing we’re least sure of is his love.

Human beings live storm-tossed lives. The most difficult question that non-Christian skeptics ask is the question of suffering. How can God be all-powerful and all-loving and allow his people to live in fear and anguish?

The place Jesus ended in this story is the place that everybody who believes has to come to in theology and experience. He asked the disciples, “Do you still have no faith?” In the long run, the problem of human suffering is the problem of faith. It requires that we be persuaded by One whose presence mitigates the need to have our questions answered.

WHY JESUS SLEPT IN THE BOAT

Let’s observe the details of the story. Verse 35 starts out, “…When evening came….” A long day of demanding public ministry preceded this account. Jesus was exhausted. “…He said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side’….”

They set out across the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, leaving the region of Galilee where Jews predominated and going to a region that was mostly Gentile, the Decapolis area. “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.” The words “just as he was” remind us of how tired he was, and indicate why he quickly fell asleep.

It’s helpful to see Jesus unable to keep his eyes open. Have you ever felt that way? We struggle with our weakness and weariness. We wish we could be better parents late in the day, and often we’re too tired to be. Weary husbands and wives have little to offer each other. Making it through the day becomes a major accomplishment.

But it’s encouraging to see Christ in that very same condition, because the words of Hebrews 4:15 come back: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin.”

He knows what it’s like to be human. He’s been in every human place, been pressured by every human pressure, even such a simple thing as weariness from a day’s hard work. The next time you feel that way, remember you have a high priest who will minister to you with sympathy and understanding.

Another observation that’s worth making from this scene is that after a day of teaching, the Lord decided to leave, precisely because the day of teaching was over. It was useful to those he had taught for him to leave. To hear Jesus speak for an entire day, to fill a notebook full of the themes of the kingdom of God, to be given instruction in the truth in wonderful and creative and picturesque ways, and then for him to leave, suggests to us that there comes a point when learning should lead to obedience.

Rather than allowing these people to spend the next day in another seminar, and the next, as if more information were the key to everything, Jesus realized, “I’ve taught them more than they can handle. And it is thinking harder about what they have already been told, deepening their experience with the truth they already have, that this group in Galilee needs. So I’m going elsewhere for a time.” Similarly, the majority of us in this church have more information than we have experience with the truth, we know more than we believe, we’ve been told more than we act on.

THE PROBLEM OF OVERREACTING

Moving farther into the story, we ought to consider the nature of the storm. Mark records this, probably from Peter’s telling of it, as a “furious squall,” as the New International Version translates it. On the Sea of Galilee, which is roughly the size of Lake Tahoe, there are seasons when gusts of wind blow down off the Golan Heights. It’s set in a valley between hills that form a corridor for the winds. This was not a supernatural event; it was a storm of the type that still happens on the Sea of Galilee. It was a very serious storm. It was at night, which made it even more dangerous. The text is very clear that the disciples faced a treacherous set of circumstances.

But the question that we might ask is whether this was the zenith of testing that these disciples thought it was. Were they in the most extreme of conditions? Were they at their wit’s end, completely overcome, with nowhere to turn? Is that what the passage is telling us? Or was this a storm like storms they had seen before? After all, these were fishermen who had spent their life on this lake. I believe the disciples were overreacting, and we can learn why as we hear Jesus’ question to them.

Jesus was never worried about the storm. When he was awakened, he wasn’t shaken by an awful storm-wracked sea. He rebuked the storm the way you would rebuke an overzealous puppy: “Quiet, stop! Calm down!” One translator renders it, “Pipe down!” And he stopped the storm not because he felt lives were threatened, but so he could have a conversation. He was calming noise and confusion. Jesus treated the storm as a difficult test, a demanding set of circumstances, a hard lesson, but not as if all were about to be lost at any moment.

Many of us conclude at times that we are in emergency situations when we are not. Many of us feel overwhelmed by pressures and demands and stresses. We give ourselves permission to throw up our hands and tear our clothes and wail and feel sorry for ourselves and expect others to coming rushing in to help. We declare ourselves to be at the end of our rope and rail at the unfairness of it all. That is essentially a declaration of immaturity.

This was a hard storm, but the disciples’ sense that their lives were momentarily to be forfeit was an overreaction.

Rather than grab Jesus and accuse him of lovelessness in this out-of-control way, they had the opportunity to face the storm with faith, bail out the boat, and work together with the sailors in the other boats in case someone fell overboard. They had the opportunity to trust God and strengthen each other in very trying conditions.

Young Christians often have the mistaken notion that coming to the Lord means the end of life’s troubles. Did you ever think that? And for many, in the earliest months of Christian life there is wonderful provision. Doors open at just the right moment, the sun comes out just when the clouds seem to be gathering, and wonderful possibilities abound. Then the storm strikes. Maturity comes from trusting God when there is no evidence of his presence. Storms are the school in which we learn faith. Emotional overreaction to demanding circumstances is one indicator of how much we have left to learn.

It was, of course, completely legitimate for the disciples to awaken Jesus. A faithful response in waking him up would be to say, “Here’s a bucket-you need to start bailing,” or, “What do you think we ought to do?” or, “These kinds of storms are nothing to trifle with, and we need all hands on deck.” The problem with their response was that they had concluded that Jesus had stopped loving them, and they had given way to panic.

THE WORST FEAR OF ALL

Let’s consider the struggle that elicited their question and Jesus’ question in response. They grabbed him and said, “Don’t you care? How could anyone who loves us treat us the way you’re treating us?” The sleeping Savior, who had performed miracles for others, was unresponsive to their plight.

Job wrestled with some of the same issues: a God who didn’t respond to the suffering of his loved one. What we usually say to God when we’re hurting is this: “I need you to wake up and change the circumstances. If you really care for me, you’ll do something to get me out of the mess I’m in. But at a minimum, if you don’t change the circumstances, at least explain them.” The Lord could act if he chose to. We know his power is great enough, but the fact that we are still struggling, anxious, uncertain, confused, and weighed down is evidence that he doesn’t care.

It is not physical danger or even the prospect of death that we fear the most. The deepest fears are about eternity and the character of God.

The disciples had placed ultimate hope in Christ. They had seen him release sufferers from the power of demons. They had heard him tell them truths that no one else had ever spoken before. They had heard him pray as only he could pray, with a Spirit-given intimacy with God in his prayers that they had no experience with. They had seen him challenge fleshly religion and declare the love of God. They believed that he was a source of hope, that he could be trusted, that life would make sense with him at the center. But now he was asleep in their hour of need, and they were beginning to say to themselves not, “I fear I am going to die,” but, “I fear he is not who he claims to be.”

I have trusted my life to Jesus of Nazareth who lived as no other has and died as no other has and is now seated at God’s right hand. I would be shaken to the core if these things proved to be a hoax. The disciples on the lake were not most afraid of physical death (by drowning). They were deeply shaken by the possibility that Jesus would put them in extreme circumstances and then ignore their plight-that he was not who he claimed to be. “Do you not care…?”

“The boat won’t sink, and the storm won’t last forever.” The gospel won’t “sink”; it will bear all the weight you put on it. The hope of the gospel doesn’t dim over time or fail under pressure. The Lord will supply our needs for every day of this life and for eternity.

But the second phrase is important, too: “The storm won’t last forever.” It is not true that being a Christian is to be assigned to suffer forever and ever. The end of the story is not more suffering. The end of the story is joy, glory, the approval of God, being made like Christ, fellowship with other people who believe, the end of evil.

A HEALTHY FEAR OF GOD

This account has a great ending. “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!'” A moment earlier they had been terrified by the storm; now they were more terrified! They saw the one who, with a word, banished wind and waves.

That’s what it means to have faith: to be more impressed with Christ than we are with the problems, to have a fear of God in the proper sense. This is no one to be trifled with, and when he engages our enemies, they will fall. However we evaluate our circumstances, whatever our feelings tell us-and very often they are negative and hurtful, with no reason for hope-against all these is the word of Christ. We ought to be more impressed with him than we are with our analysis of our circumstances.

Moses preached a wonderful sermon in the book of Deuteronomy. He stood before the children of Israel at the end of their wilderness wanderings. He was at the end of his life, he knew, and he would not be with them much longer. He preached of law and covenant, of the past and future, of blessings and curses. At the end of the sermon, this great patriarch, this great man of faith, the friend of God, used one of my favorite metaphors for thinking about God’s love.

Deuteronomy 33:26-27: “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.The eternal God is your refuge,and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Always underneath everything is the embrace of God, the one who holds on to us. His arms are everlasting; they will not fail. Storms, problems, pressures, failures, inadequacies, anxieties, confusions-underneath them all are the everlasting arms of God. He will embrace us and hold us up.

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun….” That’s what Jesus helped these men in the boat see. Faith that believes that underneath everything are the everlasting arms of God will give us the courage we need, whatever the circumstances.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2019 in Mark

 

Questions Jesus Asked (From the gospel of Mark) – Good Or Evil, Life or Death?


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

In this series of messages we are considering questions Jesus asked in a variety of settings. These questions always prove to be more provocative and important when the context in which they occur is carefully examined.

The question before us now comes from Mark 3. Jesus was addressing Pharisees who were looking for an excuse to oppose him. They were poised to pounce as soon as he did something that contradicted their traditions.

The law, of course, was an expression of God’s heart. So Jesus’ question was, “What would please God on the Sabbath day, to do good or to do evil, to give life or to kill?” This should not be a difficult question. The answer is so obvious that we would easily trust them to correctly answer this question.

However, Jesus’ antagonists refused to answer the question. Eventually they would indicate an answer that defied the heart of God. By the end of this passage we’ll find that they were choosing both evil and death. They were determined to kill Jesus.

Taking a step back

In Mark 2:23-3:6 there are two Sabbath stories back-to-back. For most of us Sabbath activities are not an ethical problem. But we have similar habits and behaviors. Something you’re doing to please God will look foolish or hurtful, if you take a step back and examine it. We are capable of doing the ungodly things in God’s name. Sometimes we need to be asked the sort of simple question Jesus asked: “Why are you doing this? Is this what God really wants human beings to live like? Is this healthy and honoring and sane and wise? Is it right in God’s name to do good or evil? Is it right to kill or make alive?”

Let’s read the first of the two Sabbath stories in 2:23-28:

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?

In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

On a certain sabbath day, Christ and his disciples were passing through a grain field. The disciples, being hungry (Mt. 12:1), began to pluck ears of grain and to husk them with their hands (Lk. 6:1).

First, Christ himself was not directly accused of breaking the law on this occasion. Only the disciples were charged with the violation. But the Pharisees were hoping to hold Christ accountable for the conduct of his students. How many teachers today would be persuaded by such an argument?

Second, the truth is, however, not even the disciples actually violated the sabbath law of the Mosaic system. Hebrew law made provision for those in need to eat when they passed through a field of grain (Dt. 23:25; cf. Ruth 2:2-3). So it was not “stealing” that was the focus of the Pharisaic criticism. Rather, this was the crux of the matter.

Over the years, Rabbinic tradition had evolved a host of infractions (some 39) that, allegedly, violated the law’s prohibition of work on the sabbath. (This matter has been discussed in detail in Emil Schurer’s, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (New York: Chas. Scribner’s Sons, 1891, II, pp. 96-105.)

One of these forbidden acts was “grinding,” which, by a nit-picking Pharisaical stretch, the disciples actions would be perceived to be doing. The activity, however, was hardly that of commercial grinding, as contemplated in the law.

Third, Jesus, in commenting upon the disciples’ conduct, plainly said they were “guiltless” (Mt. 12:7). The Greek term describes one who is not liable to blame in the matter of a crime (see W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary, Iowa Falls: World, 1991, p. 367). The disciples broke no law.

This was not a tense exchange. Jesus’ questioners were clearly disapproving, but this text doesn’t describe them as being angry or antagonistic to the Lord. They asked a real question, and he gave them a very thoughtful, challenging answer. Jesus made powerful claims about the nature of the Sabbath and about himself, drawing on the Scriptures.

The second story, in contrast, is filled with confrontation. Let’s read Mark 3:1-6 (ESV)

1  Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand.

2  And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.

3  And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.”

4  And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.

5  And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

6  The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Here, Jesus was in the presence of enemies. His actions were a clear challenge (“Stand up in front of everyone.”) Jesus was both angry and sorrowful at the hard hearts of traditionalists in this synagogue.  Now, to make sense of these stories, we need to ask, What is the point of the Sabbath? Why is the Sabbath a reason for the difficulties that are in this passage?

SABBATH LESSONS. The Sabbath is an important theme in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The fourth commandment concerns the seventh day, and there were other laws about the seventh and 49th year. There is a simple core to the idea of Sabbath. The word shabbâth, transliterated into English as Sabbath, is the word for rest in Hebrew. It means at its heart to relax, to cease from activities.

YOU CAN REST

There are two different reasons given for the fourth commandment, in which the children of Israel were told to keep the Sabbath holy and do no work. The ten commandments are listed twice, in Exodus and Deuteronomy. First, Exodus 20:11: For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The reason to keep the Sabbath in this case is that God rested, having completed everything that needed to be done. How many of us live with a desperate sense that no matter how much we do, it’s never enough? But, tasks can be finished. Work doesn’t have to go on forever. We aren’t required to carry every burden. Some of us fear that a moment’s relaxing of vigilance will lead to the unraveling of everything. Who knows what horrible things will happen if we relax? But God’s Sabbath calls for us to rest in Him.

Psalm 127:1-2 makes a wonderful point about vigilance:

“Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat- for he grants sleep to [or while they sleep he provides for] those he loves.”

It’s foolishness to imagine we are indispensable. God makes the watchman successful and the builder successful, and he gives to his beloved their sleep. God’s work is done, and he invites us to enjoy a sense of completion with him, not to be distracted and pressed always to do more and more.

The second reason for the Sabbath is that slavery is ended. Deuteronomy 5:15:

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

The Sabbath is a marvelous gift, an incredible blessing. But it is a gift that every generation resists. Sabbath rest is physically refreshing, it encourages community, it makes worship a priority, it teaches us the deep lessons of dependence on God.

The freedom to let go, to relax and enjoy the world God has made, the privilege of setting ourselves aside and gazing at him, the marvel of enjoying each other, of not having to pay attention and keep records and account for everything-it’s an incredible gift. And we resist it. Why is grace so hard to receive?

The law of the Sabbath was undermined quickly in Israel’s history. The questions became, If God says to do no work on the Sabbath day and keep it holy, what is work?

In order for us to do no work, we need some accurate sense of measurement as to who’s working and who isn’t. And since this is a test, not only do I want to get it right, but I want to do better than everybody else. And so the ancient teachers wrote lengthy commentaries, trying to decide what was work and what wasn’t… they came up with endless definitions.

Dragging a stick on the ground was forbidden on the Sabbath as a form of plowing. It was permitted to spit on a rock but not on the ground. If you spit on a rock, the spit would eventually evaporate, but if you spit in the dirt, it might actually make the dirt come together and form some sort of clay, which could conceivably be made into a brick.

Tying a knot was work, so a woman could not tie a knot in her girdle…but if you joined a bucket with a knot in order to draw water from a well…that was OK. (Do you get the idea?)

I have long told my children of a particular issue that arises in our congregations: we have congregations and individuals who are quick to “draw lines” that God did not draw. They seek to ‘legislate’ where they have no authority. This is wrong! We should not “add to” “or take away” from God’s Word. God knows how to instruct His people and God knows what we need. Let’s leave it to Him!

We must also admit that there is also an element in our brotherhood that seeks to “erase lines” that God has drawn. This is also wrong!

We need to avoid the Pharisaical attitudes which Jesus condemned in Matthew 23! We must not “bind loads on people” and do it with no willingness to “lift a finger” on their behalf.

The very commandment that called for joyful rest became an incredible burden. You have to work very hard to keep the Sabbath, as it turns out. You have to plan ahead and do many things on the sixth day, getting everything prepared, in order to be ready for the seventh. So the sixth day becomes especially burdensome. Further, you spend all of the seventh day wary of inadvertent failure: “What if I look the wrong direction? What if I say the wrong thing?”

FREEDOM AND CONFRONTATION

Regarding the picking of heads of grain on the Sabbath, Jesus was asked, “Why are your disciples doing what is unlawful?”

In reply he asked them an important question: “Haven’t you ever read the Bible? God often appoints his servants to break conventions.”

God is interested in love and righteousness. People who hear the message of the Bible will find themselves unable to settle for rigidity and narrowness and negativity. They won’t assume that it’s a good thing to do evil on the Sabbath, to kill rather than to make alive on the Sabbath, because the Bible is not like that.

Finally, note that Jesus said that he is Lord of the Sabbath. Do you think of him with that name very often? He is in charge of dispensing freedom and rest, taking off burdens. We’re not supposed to be driven and desperate and confused.

He intends for us to experience rest and contentment and joy that come from the Spirit. The work has been accomplished, the slaves are free, life is a gift. He is the Lord of the Sabbath, and if he is your Lord, that is his intention for you.

Did Jesus Violate the Sabbath?

First, if Christ “violated” the law of God, then he sinned. Transgression of the law is sin (1 Jn. 3:4). If the Lord sinned, the biblical affirmations regarding his perfection are false (see Jn. 8:29; Heb. 4:15;1 Pet. 2:22).

Second, if Jesus broke the law of God, he would have been unable to function as the spotless sacrifice for our sins (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). Consequently, we would remain unredeemed, and of all men, be most pitiable.

And so, to contend that the Son of God “violated” the sabbath law is a concept that has dreadful consequences. The fact is, such a claim reveals a profound misunderstanding of the circumstances connected with Mark 2:23ff. Let us survey the details of that narrative.

Christ did not intend to let these arrogant, law-making Pharisees usurp the place of God in binding unauthorized burdens upon his men. With brilliant logic he demolished the charges of the opposition.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2019 in Mark

 

Questions Jesus Asked – What Is Your Name? Mark 5:1-20


By any standard, the value Jesus places on each one of us cannot be measured. He did not hesitate to present his own life in exchange for our salvation. The story about the herd of pigs dramatically contrasts the purposes of God and the purposes of Satan for people. To Jesus, the crazed man was worth saving. To Satan, he was a soul targeted for destruction. Upon entering the pigs, the demons immediately revealed the destructive objective of their master. They accomplished in the pigs what they had been doing in the man.

5:1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.NRSV As Jesus had planned, he and the disciples arrived on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. These ten cities with independent governments were largely inhabited by Gentiles, which would explain the herd of pigs (5:11). The Jews did not raise pigs because, according to Jewish law, pigs were unclean and thus unfit to eat.

Whatever the exact location of their landing, the point is that Jesus had planned to go there. This was Gentile territory, revealing a new direction for his ministry.

5:2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him.NIV After they landed and Jesus got out of the boat, they saw a horrible sight. A man with an evil spirit came from the tombs. Most people have difficulty picturing the awful sight of this man, with an evil spirit, bloody (5:5), out of control, and apparently strong and frightening (5:4). The disciples, having just been through a terrifying storm at sea (4:37), were certainly terrified again by the sight of this man.

We have encountered demon possession before. Mark stressed the man’s pitiful and hopeless condition, as detailed in the eyewitness description given in the following verses.

This man cut himself with stones (5:5) and lived in the tombs. In those days it was common for cemeteries to have many tombs carved into the hillside, making cavelike mausoleums. Thus, there was enough room for a person to actually live in such tombs.

According to Jewish ceremonial laws, the man whom Jesus encountered was unclean in three ways: He was a Gentile (non-Jew), he was demon possessed, and he lived in “the tombs.” But Jesus helped him anyway.

The demon-possessed man came . . . to meet Jesus. The man may have rushed out to see who was coming ashore, or perhaps even to apply for mercy. We simply do not know. Mark stresses the confrontation between the demons and Jesus, and in 5:6-7 portrays the defensive nature of the demons’ behavior.

5:3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain.NRSV This demon-possessed man’s condition was clearly hopeless without Christ. He no longer had contact with society, but lived among the tombs. This could refer to a type of graveyard—an area in the low hills that surrounded the Sea of Galilee with caves hewn into the rock. The caves served as tombs for the dead. Such graveyards were often in remote areas. People with hopeless conditions, such as this man, could find shelter in the caves.

The man had also been through the basic “treatment” given to people considered to be insane or demon possessed. People had tried to restrain his violent acts by chaining him up, but the evil power of the demons within gave him almost superhuman strength. Mark brought out the severity of the man’s situation. No one could restrain him or stop him, not even with iron chains (5:4). No one was strong enough.

5:4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.NIV To protect him from hurting himself and others, the man had been chained hand and foot. The verb indicates a job completed and done well. He had been thoroughly chained, with chains around his wrists and irons (fetters) on his ankles. But he tore the chains apart and broke the irons, indicating power not his own, but derived from the demons that held him. In fact, this man was so strong that no one could subdue (or overpower) him. The word for “subdue” (damazo) is used for taming a wild animal. This man probably seemed more like an animal than a human being. The fact that no one was strong enough to restrain him sets the scene for Jesus, the one who had God’s power and authority.

5:5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.NKJV Sent away from civilization off in the mountains and in the tombs, the man’s violence turned in on himself. His crying out was more of a shrieking scream—the voices of the demons (see also 1:26). The cutting of his skin with sharp stones refers to gashing and hacking at his body, leaving him bloody and covered with scars. This may have been either an attempt at suicide or a primitive form of demon worship common in ancient times (see 1 Kings 18:28). These horrible actions occurred always, night and day without stop. He was indeed a frightening creature.

l Satan’s hatred of us. When sent to the pigs, the demons destroyed the entire herd. Satan’s purpose is to destroy. He would love to destroy each of us.
l Satan’s power. The man was possessed with many powerful demons. When we ignore the power of Christ, Satan has free rein.
l Satan’s cruelty. Satan didn’t bring the man greater power and sophistication so he could live a wilder lifestyle as is so often portrayed. Instead, he caused the man to try to kill himself.

5:6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.NIV The man ran to Jesus from a distance, displaying the range of the demons’ power. The man did not run to escape Jesus, but ran to confront Jesus and scare him away as he would do to anyone else who ventured into his territory.

When he came close to Jesus, the man fell on his knees, not in worship, but in grudging submission to Jesus’ superior power. The demons immediately recognized Jesus and his authority. They knew who Jesus was and what his great power could do.

5:7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”NIV These words of the demon were in response to Jesus’ demand that the demons depart.

The demon’s first question, “What do you want with me?” is a request that Jesus leave them alone. A more literal translation would be, “What to you and to me?” or “What do we have in common?” In other words, the demon asked Jesus to leave them alone, for they had nothing to do with each other.

Such a question and statement show the demons’ ultimate rebellion. Jesus and the demons were as far separated as anything could be. Jesus’ purpose was to heal and give life; the demons’, to kill and destroy. But Jesus would not leave this man in such a condition.

Then the demon had the audacity to ask for Jesus’ mercy! The statement “Swear to God” comes from the verb meaning to put under oath. Ironically, the demon appealed to God as it requested that Jesus promise not to torture it. The word for “torture” is graphic and correct.

The characteristics of demons other than the ones given in the outline above are said to be as follows:

  1. They are spirits (Matthew 12:43-45).
  2. They are Satan’s emissaries (Matthew 12:26-27).
  3. They know their fate is to be eternal doom (Matthew 8:29; Luke 8:31).
  4. They affect man’s health (Matthew 12:22; Matthew 17:15-18; Luke 13:16). Apparently, demon-possession is to be distinguished from mental illness.
  5. They seduce men to a false religion of asceticism (1 Tim. 4:1-3).
  6. They seduce men to depart from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1).
  7. They are cast out of people (exorcism) in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 16:18).

First, we see what Satan can do to people.

Satan is a thief whose ultimate purpose is to destroy (John 10:10; and see Rev. 9:11). We are not told how the demons entered these men and took control.

Because of Satan, the thief, these two men lost everything! They lost their homes and the fellowship of their families and friends. They lost their decency as they ran around in the tombs naked. They lost their self-control and lived like wild animals, screaming, cutting themselves, and frightening the citizens. They lost their peace and their purpose for living, and they would have remained in that plight had Jesus not come through a storm to rescue them.

The second force at work on these men was society, but society was not able to accomplish very much.

The man was cut off from society. He did not live among the living; he lived among the dead. He represents the living dead; that is, all men without Christ are “dead in their sins” and are cut off from the society of God.

  • We know what it’s like to rebel against God. We know what it’s like to feel unclean, unworthy of association with good people, to feel as if our life contaminates others.
  • We know what it’s like to be isolated, to try to have relationships with other people and have them retreat from us.
  • We know what it’s like to be out of control, to have habits and pressures and thoughts that make us want to do what we hate doing, and whatever chains we use to use to stop ourselves prove inadequate.
  • We know what it’s like to be tormented and self-destructive. The Gerasene demoniac experienced in the extreme what all of us experience in some degree.

5:8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”NIV Jesus’ first command was to one evil spirit. When that one did not obey, Jesus commanded the demon to give him its name. The demon’s answer revealed that there were many demons.

5:9 Then He asked him, “What is your name?”NKJV The demons attempted but failed in using Jesus’ name in 5:7. Jesus gained mastery over the demon by finding out its name. The demon’s self-disclosure meant it had to submit to Jesus.

And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”NKJV A legion was the largest unit of the Roman army; it consisted of three thousand to six thousand soldiers. This man was possessed by not one, but many demons. There may have been a legion of demons, or this name may be a reference to the telos, a force numbering 2,048 men (thus accounting for the loss of two thousand swine, see 5:13).

5:10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.NIV Mark often highlighted the supernatural struggle between Jesus and Satan. The demons’ goal was to control the humans they inhabited; Jesus’ goal was to give people freedom from sin and Satan’s control. Mark was pointing out that the demons wanted to be with people (in the area) and begged not to be sent into lonely exile where they could not torment people.

5:11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.NIV According to Old Testament law (Leviticus 11:7), pigs were “unclean” animals. This meant that they could not be eaten or even touched by a Jew. This incident took place southeast of the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Gerasenes (5:1), a Gentile area. Pigs were used by Romans for the sacrifices their religions required. Romans also ate pigs. A normal herd of pigs would be 150 to 300 head.

5:12 So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.”NKJV One demon had spoken for all the demons in 5:10; here all the demons chimed in, begging Jesus not to send them away, but to send them to the swine.

5:13 He gave them permission.NIV “Gave them permission” has theological thrust. Satan has no final authority but can do only what God “permits” for the short time he is allowed to be “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4 nrsv).

Jesus stopped their destructive work in people, and particularly the man they had possessed.

And the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.NIV The sight must have been amazing. A rather peaceful herd of pigs feeding on the hillside suddenly became a stampeding horde that ran straight to its own destruction. One after another, the pigs kept running into the lake and drowning.

The demons’ action proves their destructive intent—if they could not destroy the men, they would destroy the pigs. Jesus’ action, in contrast to the demons’, shows the value he places on each human life. Some people might have difficulty with the fact that all the pigs died, but Jesus considered the man to be more important than the pigs.

5:14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.NIV When Jesus performed this miracle, he again gained immediate publicity. Those tending the pigs, astonished at what had happened, ran off and told the amazing story.

5:15 Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.NKJV

The people might have responded in several ways. They may have been overjoyed to see Jesus on their own shore—many people hunted Jesus down and longed to be with him. This popular preacher and miracle worker was available to them. They also may have responded with joy that the demon-possessed man had been healed and would no longer bother them. They may have just been thrilled to have seen a healing of such magnitude with their own eyes. However, Mark used one word for the people’s response: afraid.

What were they afraid of? Perhaps such supernatural power as Jesus had displayed frightened them. Perhaps they thought Jesus would be bad for their economy (losing two thousand pigs in one day certainly cost someone).

 5:16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well.NIV Mark emphasized the eyewitness nature of those telling the story to confirm its reliability.

 5:17 Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.NKJV Why did the people ask Jesus to leave? They would rather give up Jesus than lose their source of income and security. Unfortunately for them, Jesus did as they asked. And there is no biblical record that he ever returned.

5:18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.NIV The people asked Jesus to leave their region, so Jesus and the disciples got back into the boat. The miracle of healing was lost on the crowd; instead, they saw only the destruction of the pigs. The only one who truly understood what had transpired was the formerly possessed man himself. Having been freed, he begged to go with Jesus. Jesus had other plans for him.

 5:19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”NIV

Often Jesus asked those he healed to be quiet about the healing (1:43-45; 5:43), but he urged this man to go . . . and tell what the Lord had done for him. Why the difference? This man was returning to his home in a Gentile region. Jesus knew the man would be an effective witness to those who remembered his previous condition and could attest to the miraculous healing. Through him, Jesus could expand his ministry into this Gentile area.

This is the beginning of the “universal mission” theme in Mark’s Gospel. Here Jesus prepared the way for the movement of the gospel to the Gentiles after Pentecost. This is illustrated in 5:20 where “all the people [meaning the Gentiles] were amazed” at Jesus’ power.

Mark 5:20 (ESV)  And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

The man knew that “the Lord” had shown great mercy to him (5:19), that Jesus had freed him from the demons, and that the Lord and Jesus were one and the same. Though not versed in Scripture or trained in preaching and teaching, the man realized that he had looked into the face of the one true God and had received divine mercy. His heartfelt response was to go and tell others about Jesus.  These sentences spoken together are the doctrine of hell. To have such clear knowledge of the person and status of Jesus, yet believe he’s a torturer-one come to hurt and condemn-is the worst condition of all.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2018 in Mark

 

Questions Jesus Asked (From the gospel of Mark) – Why Are You So Afraid?


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

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

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

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

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

STORM-TOSSED LIVES

The question Jesus asked is preceded by one that was asked of him, and it too is a provocative question. The disciples on the boat woke the Lord and asked him, “Don’t you care if we drown?

This story not only describes an incident that happened in history on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus and his disciples over 2,000+ years ago, but it also illustrates conditions of life that resonate with most of us. There are times when life is overwhelming and treacherous for us, when there are anxious and threatening circumstances.

We petition God, we seek out friends, we read the Bible, we fast and pray, hoping to penetrate to heaven. And it seems as if our Savior and Lord is asleep. The thing we’re most aware of is the hardship, and the thing we’re least sure of is his love.

Human beings live storm-tossed lives. The most difficult question that non-Christian skeptics ask is the question of suffering. How can God be all-powerful and all-loving and allow his people to live in fear and anguish?

The place Jesus ended in this story is the place that everybody who believes has to come to in theology and experience. He asked the disciples, “Do you still have no faith?” In the long run, the problem of human suffering is the problem of faith. It requires that we be persuaded by One whose presence mitigates the need to have our questions answered.

WHY JESUS SLEPT IN THE BOAT

Let’s observe the details of the story. Verse 35 starts out, “…When evening came….” A long day of demanding public ministry preceded this account. Jesus was exhausted. “…He said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side’….”

They set out across the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, leaving the region of Galilee where Jews predominated and going to a region that was mostly Gentile, the Decapolis area. “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.” The words “just as he was” remind us of how tired he was, and indicate why he quickly fell asleep.

It’s helpful to see Jesus unable to keep his eyes open. Have you ever felt that way? We struggle with our weakness and weariness. We wish we could be better parents late in the day, and often we’re too tired to be. Weary husbands and wives have little to offer each other. Making it through the day becomes a major accomplishment.

But it’s encouraging to see Christ in that very same condition, because the words of Hebrews 4:15 come back: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin.”

He knows what it’s like to be human. He’s been in every human place, been pressured by every human pressure, even such a simple thing as weariness from a day’s hard work. The next time you feel that way, remember you have a high priest who will minister to you with sympathy and understanding.

Another observation that’s worth making from this scene is that after a day of teaching, the Lord decided to leave, precisely because the day of teaching was over. It was useful to those he had taught for him to leave. To hear Jesus speak for an entire day, to fill a notebook full of the themes of the kingdom of God, to be given instruction in the truth in wonderful and creative and picturesque ways, and then for him to leave, suggests to us that there comes a point when learning should lead to obedience.

Rather than allowing these people to spend the next day in another seminar, and the next, as if more information were the key to everything, Jesus realized, “I’ve taught them more than they can handle. And it is thinking harder about what they have already been told, deepening their experience with the truth they already have, that this group in Galilee needs. So I’m going elsewhere for a time.” Similarly, the majority of us in this church have more information than we have experience with the truth, we know more than we believe, we’ve been told more than we act on.

THE PROBLEM OF OVERREACTING

Moving farther into the story, we ought to consider the nature of the storm. Mark records this, probably from Peter’s telling of it, as a “furious squall,” as the New International Version translates it. On the Sea of Galilee, which is roughly the size of Lake Tahoe, there are seasons when gusts of wind blow down off the Golan Heights. It’s set in a valley between hills that form a corridor for the winds. This was not a supernatural event; it was a storm of the type that still happens on the Sea of Galilee. It was a very serious storm. It was at night, which made it even more dangerous. The text is very clear that the disciples faced a treacherous set of circumstances.

But the question that we might ask is whether this was the zenith of testing that these disciples thought it was. Were they in the most extreme of conditions? Were they at their wit’s end, completely overcome, with nowhere to turn? Is that what the passage is telling us? Or was this a storm like storms they had seen before? After all, these were fishermen who had spent their life on this lake. I believe the disciples were overreacting, and we can learn why as we hear Jesus’ question to them.

Jesus was never worried about the storm. When he was awakened, he wasn’t shaken by an awful storm-wracked sea. He rebuked the storm the way you would rebuke an overzealous puppy: “Quiet, stop! Calm down!” One translator renders it, “Pipe down!” And he stopped the storm not because he felt lives were threatened, but so he could have a conversation. He was calming noise and confusion. Jesus treated the storm as a difficult test, a demanding set of circumstances, a hard lesson, but not as if all were about to be lost at any moment.

Many of us conclude at times that we are in emergency situations when we are not. Many of us feel overwhelmed by pressures and demands and stresses. We give ourselves permission to throw up our hands and tear our clothes and wail and feel sorry for ourselves and expect others to coming rushing in to help. We declare ourselves to be at the end of our rope and rail at the unfairness of it all. That is essentially a declaration of immaturity.

This was a hard storm, but the disciples’ sense that their lives were momentarily to be forfeit was an overreaction.

Rather than grab Jesus and accuse him of lovelessness in this out-of-control way, they had the opportunity to face the storm with faith, bail out the boat, and work together with the sailors in the other boats in case someone fell overboard. They had the opportunity to trust God and strengthen each other in very trying conditions.

Young Christians often have the mistaken notion that coming to the Lord means the end of life’s troubles. Did you ever think that? And for many, in the earliest months of Christian life there is wonderful provision. Doors open at just the right moment, the sun comes out just when the clouds seem to be gathering, and wonderful possibilities abound. Then the storm strikes. Maturity comes from trusting God when there is no evidence of his presence. Storms are the school in which we learn faith. Emotional overreaction to demanding circumstances is one indicator of how much we have left to learn.

It was, of course, completely legitimate for the disciples to awaken Jesus. A faithful response in waking him up would be to say, “Here’s a bucket-you need to start bailing,” or, “What do you think we ought to do?” or, “These kinds of storms are nothing to trifle with, and we need all hands on deck.” The problem with their response was that they had concluded that Jesus had stopped loving them, and they had given way to panic.

THE WORST FEAR OF ALL

Let’s consider the struggle that elicited their question and Jesus’ question in response. They grabbed him and said, “Don’t you care? How could anyone who loves us treat us the way you’re treating us?” The sleeping Savior, who had performed miracles for others, was unresponsive to their plight.

Job wrestled with some of the same issues: a God who didn’t respond to the suffering of his loved one. What we usually say to God when we’re hurting is this: “I need you to wake up and change the circumstances. If you really care for me, you’ll do something to get me out of the mess I’m in. But at a minimum, if you don’t change the circumstances, at least explain them.” The Lord could act if he chose to. We know his power is great enough, but the fact that we are still struggling, anxious, uncertain, confused, and weighed down is evidence that he doesn’t care.

It is not physical danger or even the prospect of death that we fear the most. The deepest fears are about eternity and the character of God.

The disciples had placed ultimate hope in Christ. They had seen him release sufferers from the power of demons. They had heard him tell them truths that no one else had ever spoken before. They had heard him pray as only he could pray, with a Spirit-given intimacy with God in his prayers that they had no experience with. They had seen him challenge fleshly religion and declare the love of God. They believed that he was a source of hope, that he could be trusted, that life would make sense with him at the center. But now he was asleep in their hour of need, and they were beginning to say to themselves not, “I fear I am going to die,” but, “I fear he is not who he claims to be.”

I have trusted my life to Jesus of Nazareth who lived as no other has and died as no other has and is now seated at God’s right hand. I would be shaken to the core if these things proved to be a hoax. The disciples on the lake were not most afraid of physical death (by drowning). They were deeply shaken by the possibility that Jesus would put them in extreme circumstances and then ignore their plight-that he was not who he claimed to be. “Do you not care…?”

“The boat won’t sink, and the storm won’t last forever.” The gospel won’t “sink”; it will bear all the weight you put on it. The hope of the gospel doesn’t dim over time or fail under pressure. The Lord will supply our needs for every day of this life and for eternity.

But the second phrase is important, too: “The storm won’t last forever.” It is not true that being a Christian is to be assigned to suffer forever and ever. The end of the story is not more suffering. The end of the story is joy, glory, the approval of God, being made like Christ, fellowship with other people who believe, the end of evil.

A HEALTHY FEAR OF GOD

This account has a great ending. “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!'” A moment earlier they had been terrified by the storm; now they were more terrified! They saw the one who, with a word, banished wind and waves.

That’s what it means to have faith: to be more impressed with Christ than we are with the problems, to have a fear of God in the proper sense. This is no one to be trifled with, and when he engages our enemies, they will fall. However we evaluate our circumstances, whatever our feelings tell us-and very often they are negative and hurtful, with no reason for hope-against all these is the word of Christ. We ought to be more impressed with him than we are with our analysis of our circumstances.

Moses preached a wonderful sermon in the book of Deuteronomy. He stood before the children of Israel at the end of their wilderness wanderings. He was at the end of his life, he knew, and he would not be with them much longer. He preached of law and covenant, of the past and future, of blessings and curses. At the end of the sermon, this great patriarch, this great man of faith, the friend of God, used one of my favorite metaphors for thinking about God’s love.

Deuteronomy 33:26-27: “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.The eternal God is your refuge,and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Always underneath everything is the embrace of God, the one who holds on to us. His arms are everlasting; they will not fail. Storms, problems, pressures, failures, inadequacies, anxieties, confusions-underneath them all are the everlasting arms of God. He will embrace us and hold us up.

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun….” That’s what Jesus helped these men in the boat see. Faith that believes that underneath everything are the everlasting arms of God will give us the courage we need, whatever the circumstances.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2018 in Mark

 
 
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