Archive for January, 2013

January 31, 2013

Healing, Crowds and Skepticism

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Mark 3:7-10
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 32; Mark 3

Crowds: There were always crowds around Jesus. He attracted them because he healed people wherever he went. The link between healing and crowds is made in all the sources. Here, in Mark 3, we read: “When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him” [1].

Scoffing: Skeptics have always scoffed at these stories. N.T. Wright, however, offers a few quick responses to their objections. First, there are reports in the gospels of opponents accusing Jesus of being in league with the devil, “but those who loved and worshipped Jesus wouldn’t have invented tales of his being involved in dark arts” [2]. Second, “the explanation Jesus gave for what was going on was that something new was happening – something powerful, dramatic, different. If all he’d been doing was encouraging people to feel better about themselves and not actually transforming their real lives, there would have been no sign of anything new. There would have been nothing to explain” [3].

Skepticism: Ultimately, however, Wright says we should be skeptical about skepticism itself: “In Jesus’s own day, there were plenty of people who didn’t want to believe his message because it would have challenged their own power or influence … Skepticism is no more ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’ than faith. It has thrived in the post-Enlightenment world, which didn’t want God (or, in many cases, anyone else either) to be king. Saying this doesn’t, of course, prove anything in itself. It just suggests that we keep an open mind and recognize that skepticism too comes with its own agenda. We should be prepared to follow where the story leads and see if these initially surprising bits of it make sense with the rest” [4].

Prayer: Lord, We confess that sometimes we avoid following Jesus because we, too, know that his message challenges our own power and influence. Yet we long to see what the crowds saw in his day – who he was, what he was like and what kind of kingdom he was promoting. Therefore, open our eyes and show us how much we need him to heal us so that we press around him to touch him. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 32 (4:59 minutes) – here

Mark 3 (4:03 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Mark 3:7-10 ESV  |  [2] N.T. Wright. Simply Jesus. Kindle version. P. 58  |  [3] Id.  |  [4] Id. at 59.

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January 30, 2013

Personal Forgiveness vs. Public Justice

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Mark 2:8-11
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 31; Mark 2

Justice: There is a difference between personal forgiveness and public justice. While personal forgiveness is concerned with the relationship between victim and offender, public justice is concerned with the relationship between public and offender. Sometimes, however, the line gets blurred. In our criminal justice system, for example, victims can present evidence at sentencing hearings to convey the harm they have experienced as a result of the crime in question [1]. Although some of them express their personal forgiveness at these hearings, the criminal justice system does not encourage it because, regardless of how the victims may feel, the public has an interest in making sure justice is done.

Forgiveness: The Jewish scribes of the first century may not have used our judicial terminology, but they did understand the difference between personal forgiveness and public justice. This is why, when Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven”, they were outraged. As Mark tells us, “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?’” [2]. They understood that Jesus was not talking about personal forgiveness; after all, what had the paralytic done to him? The scribes understood that Jesus was offering public justice; he was speaking on behalf of God the Judge himself.

Authority: Jesus knew it, too. He said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home” [3]. This was God-in-charge in a new dimension. His kingdom was not just about healing physical ailments; it was also about something much more crippling – namely, the forgiveness of sins.

Prayer: Lord, Our sin is our biggest problem because you love justice. In your holy presence, we confess our sins and acknowledge that our hearts are prone to sin and consciously yield to it. Yet Jesus bore our sin on the cross and, thereby, satisfied your requirements of justice. Therefore, he is able to declare, “Your sins are forgiven.” Lift up our eyes to him, as we rejoice that your kingdom is about healing our crippled bodies and souls. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 31 (8:02 minutes) – here

Mark 2 (3:59 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991) (holding that victim impact statements are constitutionally admissible in court so that the victim is seen as an individual).  |  [2] Mark 2:6-7 ESV  |  [3] Mark 2:8-11 ESV

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January 29, 2013

You Are a Revolutionary

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Mark 1:15
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 30; Mark 1

Christian: When you tell someone that you are a Christian, what are you really saying about yourself? Some people think that being a Christian means putting “John 3:16” under your eyes. Others think that it means believing in fairy tales and absurdities. But how often do you think about the fact that, when you say that you are a Christian, you are saying that you are a revolutionary?

Proclamation: When Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee, he went around saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” [1]. Those of us living in modern democracies are used to the idea of a new government taking office, but imagine what it was like for those who heard this proclamation of Jesus. They had been living for years under the vicious and repressive rule of a foreign tyrant. In the north, the Roman-appointed ruler was Herod Antipas, who was nearly as brutal as his father, Herod the Great. In the south, the Roman-backed leader was the high priest, who ruled along with the chief priests. The Roman Empire used these rulers to collect taxes and keep the population under control.

Campaign: Then came Jesus, announcing that the God of Israel was becoming king. There was no election. No official mechanism for changing the government. He just proclaimed that a new kingdom was at hand. Yes, Jesus was a revolutionary. He was starting a campaign. And this campaign, as we will see over the next few weeks in the gospel of Mark, was ushering in a kingdom of healing and joy, a kingdom of truth and hope. Therefore, when we follow Jesus, we become revolutionaries, too. We pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdom of man.

Prayer: Lord, The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Although we live in this world and pray that our city prospers, our hearts belong to you, our king. In the midst of the sadness and confusion of this world, we are revolutionaries, proclaiming your kingdom of faith, hope and love. For we believe that there is one Lord, one faith and one baptism. Therefore, we pray, “May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 30 (6:20 minutes) – here

Mark 1 (5:08 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Mark 1:15 ESV

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January 28, 2013

What Is Jesus Doing Today?

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Matthew 28:18-20
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 29; Matthew 28

Where: At this very moment, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the throne on high, which is the place of cosmic authority and ultimate favor with the Father. He left his disciples, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” [1]. Jesus may have all authority and be with us always, but what is he doing?

What: The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is praying for us constantly: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them[2]. In other words, the Son is going before the Father and lifting us up in prayer minute-by-minute. And he is able to do this because he purchased the right of intercession with his blood on the cross. This is astonishing … Yet what is he praying?

How: Perhaps the most fundamental thing that Jesus prays for us is that we would continue to draw near to God. That our desire to be with him would not weaken or grow cold. That our faith may not fail. This is the type of disciple that his parting words are calling us to make. For we are like Peter, who was told by Jesus, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” [3].

Prayer: Lord, We approach your throne through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives to intercede for us. You have given him all authority in heaven and on earth and, instead of using that to rule with an iron fist, he uses it to be with us always and to pray for us constantly. What manner of love is this! Today, in our sin, remind us that we have an advocate before you. That he prays for our faith not to fail. That we may have a calm courage to make disciples of all nations. For our great security and hope in this world is that Jesus our Lord is our high priest before you. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 29 (4:43 minutes) – here

Matthew 28 (2:37 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Matthew 28:18-20 ESV  |  [2] Hebrews 7:25 ESV (emphasis added).  |  [3] Luke 22:31-32 ESV

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January 25, 2013

You Are Going to Die

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Matthew 25:13
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 25; Matthew 25

Inevitable: Although we know that all of us will die eventually, many of us avoid thinking about its reality and inevitability. Recently, in The New York Times, Tim Kreider reflected, “We hospitalize the sick and old for some good reasons (better care, pain relief), but I think we also segregate the elderly from the rest of society because we’re afraid of them … Death is a lot like birth (which people also gird themselves for with books and courses and experts) – everyone’s different, some are relatively quick and painless and some are prolonged and traumatic, but they’re all pretty messy and unpleasant and there’s not a lot you can do to prepare yourself” [1].

Preparation: We may not be able to avoid death, but we can prepare for it. Here, in Matthew 25, Jesus says that, at the end of this age, when all of us have passed from this life, he will separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Who will be the righteous? By illustration, he says that they will be those who have invested, not hoarded their resources [2], and those who have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and the prisoner [3].

Watchfulness: When will this happen? We do not know. As Jesus says, “Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” [4]. We do know, however, that our time is passing. As Kreider continued, “You are older at this moment than you’ve ever been before, and it’s the youngest you’re ever going to get. The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent” [5]. Death may be inevitable, but its sting is not. For those who trust in the righteousness of Christ and whose lives demonstrate that reality, the sting of death has been swallowed up in victory on the cross.

Prayer: Lord, Unless you return in our lifetime, we will face death, and it will likely be pretty messy and unpleasant. Yet we worship Christ, who put death to death in his death. In him, the perishable is cloaked with the imperishable. Therefore, let us not fear the sting of death, which paralyzes how we live today. Instead, let us invest our talents and serve others, as an expression of our faith in you. Let us be steadfast and immovable, knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain [6]. Amen.

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FAQs

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 25 (4:11 minutes) – here

Matthew 25 (5:17 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Tim Kreider. “You Are Going to Die.” The New York Times. 20 January 2013.  |  [2] Matthew 25:23 ESV  |  [3] Matthew 25:33-36  |  [4] Matthew 25:13 ESV  |  [5] Supra at 1.  |  [6] See 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.

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