Mark 11

Read Mark 11.

In verse 23, did Jesus really mean that you could order a mountain into the sea if you prayed with enough faith?

The short answer is yes, he really meant it.

But…

It is important to keep some things in mind here when we look at this text, or one like it.

First, Mark 11 is a strong kingdom text. It began with Jesus entering Jerusalem on a colt, fulfilling the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9b, “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” See Matthew 21:5 also. This entire week–the passion week before Christ was crucified–was designed by God to show Israel that the true Messiah was here.

So Jesus did some very unusual things (even for him) to demonstrate his identity as Messiah. For instance, Jesus’ “triumphal entry” (vv. 1-11) was not the way he normally entered Jerusalem… or any other town for that matter. Also, the way he unilaterally cleared the temple (vv. 15-17) was unusual, too, though he probably did it once before.

The way Jesus cursed the fig tree was also unusual; not that he used his divine authority as Lord to do a miracle but that he cursed something rather than blessing it. Furthermore, the fig tree miracle had no other function than to demonstrate his Lordship to the disciples (vv. 12-14, 20-21). Jesus could have ordered the fig tree to immediately make figs and that would have happened. Instead, he cursed the tree for not making figs so that his disciples would see–again–that he had authority over everything, including nature.

That curse on the fig tree set up Jesus’ teaching on faith and prayer here in verses 22-25. Preparing the disciples for that teaching was the point of the curse but the entire of this chapter was to show us Jesus acting in a more overtly king-like, Messianic way. Jesus was about to be rejected and crucified–all according to God’s plan–but not before he gave everyone a look at what an authoritative king he would be. This text on faith was for the disciples to show them that his kingdom power would continue to work as they acted according to his will for the promotion of his kingdom. If moving a mountain was necessary for the promotion of his kingdom, the disciples would have been able to do it by faith in God’s power. But if they just wanted to re-arrange someone’s backyard by getting rid of that pesky mountain, well… there’s no good kingdom reason for that.

A second consideration for interpreting verse 23 is that Jesus often spoke using a literary device called “hyperbole.” Hyperbole means wildly overstating something for a powerful communication effect. We do this, too, when we say that we called someone “a million times” when we really just called twice. Jesus spoke in hyperbole often, such as when he told us to cut off a hand that causes us to sin. I’m not saying that Jesus was insincere about the power of “mountain moving faith” but I am saying he chose that image to show us how much power God would place at our disposal if we believed him and used it in service to him, not so that we could rearrange the world’s topography on a whim.

So, did Jesus really mean that you can order a mountain into the sea if you have enough faith? Yes, he meant it. But, the people who needed that power most were the original disciples, not us. If this miraculous power is for us, not only do you need faith without a doubt, you also need a good kingdom reason for it.

If a mountain stands between you and a mission God gives to you, I think you can use Jesus’ authority to move that mountain. But, let’s face it, a lot of our prayer requests aren’t kingdom or mission focused. They are for our comfort more than for God’s glory. God does not tire of hearing people ask him to help them through routine surgery, but I wonder if he is saddened that we never ask him for anything else.

If you want to live for God in this world, you will need God’s power for spiritual things such as:

  • forgiving someone who has sinned against you
  • overcoming an addiction
  • praying for an opportunity to witness to someone for Christ
  • asking God to help someone else who is stuck in sin
  • receiving grace to accept something you wish he would change (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

If we believed God in these areas and asked him to move those metaphoric mountains for us, can you believe that we would see him working more powerfully in our lives and in our church?

Mark 6

Read Mark 6.

If you live long enough, at some point someone whose birth and childhood you remember becomes someone important–a judge, a doctor, a professor, your governor, maybe even your pastor. Some people have a hard time respecting the accomplishments of someone they knew as a younger person. It might be hard to let someone take out your appendix if you remember changing that kid’s diapers.

Jesus faced this kind of credibility crisis here in Mark 6 when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth.

On one hand, the wisdom Jesus had was undeniable. As they said in verse 2, “What’s this wisdom that has been given him?” They never saw him apprentice with a rabbi, so how could they trust the things that he said? Likewise, his miracles were impressive. Again, verse 2 recorded the question, “What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?” Some of these people might have remembered that time he got lost in Jerusalem. How was that kid now capable of restoring people’s limbs and returning sight to their blind eyes? He was just a simple carpenter and they knew his whole family (v. 3), so it was difficult to accept that God’s power was on him so clearly. Verse 3 ended by saying, “…they took offense at him.”

Of course, this is all an expression of unbelief. To believe that Jesus was the Messiah or even a great spiritual leader would require some humility. It’s a lot easier to retain your pride and cast doubt on Jesus’ legitimacy than it is to humbly accept that little Jesus, now grown, was really being used by God.

The result of their faithlessness was, according to verse 5 that “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” The people who should have been most proud of him were his biggest skeptics. Their skepticism–aka their unbelief–meant that God’s power in their village was restrained. When verse 5 says that “He could not do any miracles there” it isn’t saying that it was impossible for him to do miracles. Jesus had the same power that he always had. The point is that he couldn’t do miracles because people who needed healing would not come to him for it. They would rather keep their dignity in place than admit they needed Mary’s kid for anything. Verse 6 says, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Faith, of course, is a response to God’s word, a positive reception of God’s promises and revelation. Although Christ is not physically here to do miracles for us, he has made many promises to us. I wonder how many times our unbelief keeps us from asking God to save someone we love, or to turn a wayward friend to repentance.

I wonder what God would do in our church if we came to him more often for help and asked him to work in our lives or the lives of others. I wonder how much our Lord wants to do for us and in us and through us if we would just show our faith and ask him.

What do you want to ask him for today?

Acts 28

Today, read Acts 28.

This is the end of the New Testament’s record of Paul’s ministry. Although it is the end of the record, it seems clear that it was not the end of Paul’s ministry. According to tradition, Paul won his trial in Rome (the first time) and was released. He continued traveling for the gospel until he was later captured again and executed.

We read yesterday of his shipwreck; in the early verses of this chapter, we see how God used that to demonstrate His power to the pagan people of Malta (vv. 1-10). Eventually Paul did reach Rome where he received the welcome he had hoped from the Roman believers (vv. 14-15). He was also able to live privately under house arrest (v. 16) instead of in an actual prison. This gave him the opportunities he wanted to share the gospel, starting as he always did, with the Jewish people (vv. 17-23).

Notice the results of teaching the gospel in verse 24: “Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.” This is what will happen whenever any of us shares the gospel. Not everyone will respond to the gospel in faith. That’s one reason why we are hesitant to tell others about Christ–because we know many will reject it.

Here’s the thing about witnessing for Christ: many will reject the gospel message but some will believe. This was Paul’s confidence expressed in verse 28: “God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” Don’t let rejection by some in the past to the truth of Christ shut you down from telling others about Jesus. Rejection of the gospel is part of sharing the gospel but if you faithfully deliver it to others, some of them “will listen!” (v. 28b).

2 Corinthians 12

Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 12.

Paul continued defending his ministry in today’s reading. Remember that this started back in chapter 10 and continued through chapter 11. His defense was necessary because people within the church attempted to discredit him and his ministry. Paul referred to the things he said about himself as “boasting” because he is talking about himself, explaining why the Corinthians should appreciate him and be champions of his ministry instead criticizing and doubting him. Paul hated doing this (v. 11). But he felt it was necessary so that he could strengthen them in their faith (v. 19) and prune the sin from the body (vv. 20-21).

This chapter recounts the revelations he had seen (v. 1) and the supernatural powers that had God had used him to work (v. 12). But rather than truly “boasting” about these things, Paul mentions them as evidence of his apostleship, but also included how God had humbled him by giving him his infamous “thorn in the flesh.” People have speculated what the “thorn in the flesh” might be but Paul never specified.

Maybe he didn’t specify what it was because he did not want people to know; maybe he didn’t specify because the Corinthians already knew what it was. Regardless, Paul used the “divine passive” to describe how he received this “thorn.” The “divine passive” is when someone uses the passive voice to describe something God did. Paul used it in verse 7b when he says, “I was given a thorn in my flesh….” We know that God gave it to him because Paul said he received it “to keep me from becoming conceited.” We also know that it came from God because he “pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (v. 8). Despite the fact that God gave it to him, he called it “a messenger of Satan” which probably means that it limited his ability to do the Lord’s work.

Paul “pleaded” with God to rescue him from this thorn in the flesh three times according to verse 8. Instead of answering his prayer with deliverance, God answered it by promising his grace to Paul to deal with this “thorn,” whatever it was. Although this problem created weakness for Paul physically, it strengthened him spiritually just as God promised when he said, “my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9c).

Do you have any nagging problems in your life? They may not be physical or even visible to others but they discourage you, limit you in some way, and cause you distress. God’s promise to Paul in verse 9 is an opportunity for all of us who know Christ.

The hardship(s) you and I face in life may be the thing that keeps us walking with God, keeps us depending on his power, and calls us to look to him in faith daily. Next time you find yourself pleading with God to take the problem away, ask instead for his grace to endure it and for his power to work in your spiritual life in a greater way.

1 Corinthians 2

Read 1 Corinthians 2.

In this chapter, Paul explained to the Corinthians his approach to ministry. That approach was to rely on the message of Christ (v. 2) and the power of God’s Spirit (v. 4).

Verses 14-15 described the differences between those who have God’s Holy Spirit and those who do not. Unbelievers―those who don’t have the Spirit―cannot welcome God’s truth because God’s truth is spiritual by nature.

Sometimes verse 14 is interpreted to mean that unbelievers cannot understand God’s word. That is not the point of the passage, however. The point of the passage is that an unbeliever is unable to believe, to welcome, to “accept the things that come from the Spirit of God” (v. 14).

Unbelievers may understand every fact of the Gospel or every doctrine of the Christian faith or they may not, but either way an unbeliever can only believe God’s truth if God’s Spirit is within.

This is why our outreach to unbelievers should consist of the pure gospel of Christ rather than persuasive techniques, convincing arguments, or powerful entertainment. Those might bring some genuine conversions–if there is any gospel at all in them–but they will also bring many false professions.

Only the Holy Spirit’s power can change a person’s will so that that person will welcome Jesus Christ and put his or her faith in him. So stick to the gospel message and pray for God to save through his Spirit.

That is the righteous approach to evangelism.

Acts 19

Read Acts 19.

The city of Ephesus occupied an important place in the New Testament, and here in Acts 19 we read about Paul’s first contact with this city. You know about the letter we call “Ephesians” that Paul wrote to the church there. He also sent Timothy there, in his place, later on Paul also wrote and sent the letters we call 1 & 2 Timothy to him while Timothy was in Ephesus. Finally, Ephesus was one of the seven churches in Revelation that Jesus spoke to (Rev 2:1). So we read in this chapter the origin story of what would become an important church in the New Testament days.

Things began powerfully there. Paul arrived in Ephesus and found twelve men (v. 7) who were described as “disciples” (v. 1). They were disciples of John, however, because they had not yet heard of Jesus (v. 4). Still, they were faithful to the truth they did have which was the teaching and baptism of John. God sent Paul to them to complete their discipleship by bringing them to Jesus (v. 4) and, when he taught them the gospel they showed the same signs of faith that the original disciples showed (Acts 2:4) and the first Gentile believers also showed (Acts 10:44-48, 11:15-18).

After three months of teaching in the synagogue (v. 8), Paul faced opposition–first from the Jews who did not receive Jesus (v. 9), then from Jewish leaders who tried to claim Jesus’ power for their own reasons (vv. 13-16), then the idol worshipping Gentiles who saw their livelihood threatened (vv. 17-41). God used Paul powerfully both to do miracles delivering people from Satan’s power (vv. 11-12) and to spread the gospel to the region around Ephesus (vv. 9-10). But, God did all of that in the middle of strong opposition from many sides.

That seems to be a pattern throughout church history; wherever God is working powerfully, Satan is always bringing strong opposition from as many directions as possible. It makes sense–doesn’t it?–that Satan would push back as powerfully as he can where God is working powerfully.

So don’t be discouraged if God is using you in the lives of others. There will be opposition and the enemy will seek to discourage you and derail your faithfulness. Just keep doing what God is blessing and keep praying for his power to overcome the opposition you face.

Acts 17

Today’s reading is Acts 17.

Yesterday we read about Paul’s venture into Greece. While he was there, Paul found people who were ready to receive the gospel and others who were ready to persecute him and his team. As he always did, Paul started presenting the gospel to the Jewish people in every city, then expanded his witness out to the Gentiles (v. 2, 4, 10, 12, 17). Paul went to Athens (vv. 15-34) but not because he was planning to preach the gospel there. Instead, he was waiting there for his teammates Silas and Timothy who were supposed to get there ASAP (v. 15).

While in Athens, Paul did speak to the Jewish people who lived there (v. 17) but he also found a secular audience for his message in the marketplace (v. 17b) and on the hill called Areopagus (v. 19). This passage gives us a glimpse into how Paul presented Christ to Gentile non-believers. Notice that he did not seek common ground with these men; rather, he used their altar “to an unknown God” (v. 23) as a starting point for his message, but quickly moved to direct confrontation by saying they were “ignorant of the very thing you worship” (v. 23b). He told them that the true God, the Creator God, did not reside in manmade structures (v. 24) or need food from human hands (v. 25a). Furthermore, he chided them for thinking that manmade statues had any significance for knowing and worshipping God (v. 29), then he moved to preaching repentance, judgment, and the resurrection of Christ from the dead (vv. 30-31).

Of all the controversial things Paul said, the resurrection of the dead was the one that seemed to create the strongest negative reaction among his listeners (v. 32). This is not at all the only place where people objected to his teaching that Christ rose from the dead. Yet Paul never shied away from teaching that God was invisible, not an idol, or that Christ rose from the dead bodily.

Instead, he went straight to the truths of the Christian faith that would be most controversial. This approach is quite a bit different than the way that many of us talk about God. When we talk about God, we may be tempted to avoid the supernatural and just stick to talking about Jesus and what he can do for you. But the reason that Paul didn’t retreat from the controversial aspects of the gospel is that he knew that believing the gospel required God’s supernatural gift of faith, not a group of secular arguments.

The point for us to emulate here is not to minimize the difficult points of the gospel like the resurrection but to feature them in our presentation of the gospel. When we do that, we are relying on God’s power to save people, not our ability to argue people into assenting that Jesus is the Christ.

Luke 9

Read Luke 9.

This chapter began with Jesus sending out the Twelve to give the gospel and to do miraculous works to authenticate their message (vv. 1-2). Jesus told them to take nothing so that they would learn to rely on God’s provision for everything (vv. 3-6).

God did provide for them and he used them powerfully to serve Jesus (v. 10). But they did not completely learn the lesson. When food was needed for a large crowd, the Apostles wanted Jesus to send the crowds away (v. 12). Jesus challenged their thinking and commanded them to feed the crowds themselves which they protested (vv. 13-14). Christ showed them once again that he had the power to meet every need they had in ministry. But the implication is that, if they’d had trusted him, they could have fed the crowd themselves through his power (vv. 16-17).

When we’re serving God, we can trust him to meet every need we have. He has more than enough power–infinite power, in fact–to meet every need we have and then some. The question is whether or not we look to him in faith to provide for our needs or if we conclude in unbelief that it cannot be done with the present resources.

Ministries and churches–including us–are being tested on this right now. As the precautions against the spread of COVID-19 do damage to our economy, we have the opportunity either to trust God to provide or to freak out about what this will mean.

Will you believe God with me for our church about this? Will you pray and ask God to keep providing money to pay our staff, fund our missionaries, provide for those who have benevolence needs, and continue to pay for our building and other expenses?

Will you trust God to provide for you and your family and keep giving to his work? We have a unique opportunity to see God work and provide. Will you trust him in faith or give up in fear?

Matthew 15

Read Matthew 15.

When I was a kid, all the kids in my neighborhood used to gather and play guns. In my memory*, this game was as vague as “play guns” sounds. We all grabbed toy guns and hid, then tried to sneak up on each other and “shoot” everyone else before they sneaked up and shot us. There were no teams and no real object to the game. After you got “shot” you just kept playing.

Looking for a place to hide, I jumped down into the window well of my neighbor’s house. A window well allows some natural light into a basement that would otherwise be totally underground. Click here to see a picture if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I jumped down there to hide but I accidentally broke the window with my foot. When my neighbor, Mrs. Curtis, came out of the house to bust me, she said, “How many times have I told you kids not to jump down into the window well?”

You’ve heard people say, “How many times have I…” before and, probably, you’ve said those words more than once yourself. It gets frustrating to repeat yourself but, the truth is, most of the lessons we really learn are learned because they are repeated.

Yesterday, we read about how Jesus fed (a lot more than) 5000 people and I suggested to you that the lesson of that miracle and Peter’s walking on water was that we can do the impossible in God’s will by Jesus’s power.

Here in Matthew 14, Jesus fed over 4000 people (vv. 29-38). Before he did so, he told the disciples that he did not want to send the people away hungry (v. 32) suggesting more subtly than yesterday that Jesus wanted the disciples to feed them.

In other words, Jesus repeated the same lesson here in Matthew 15 that he taught in Matthew 14. He could have said, “How many times do I have to tell you that, through my power, you can do whatever I want you to do?”

We need lessons repeated for us before we get the message.

So, let me just repeat yesterday’s application question for us all again today, “Where in your life should you be acting in faith–because you believe in Jesus’s power–instead of standing idly by waiting for… something?”


* My memory could very well be wrong. We moved to a new neighborhood when I was 6 so I was very young when this story happened.

Matthew 14

Read Matthew 14.

Jesus performed miracles for one main reason: to prove his claims to be the Son of Man, the Messiah (v. 32, Acts 2:22).

Here in Matthew 14, Jesus did two extraordinary miracles: He fed over 5000 people using seven small items of food (vv. 13-21) and he walked on water (vv. 22-32). Although a huge crowd benefited from the way Jesus miraculously multiplied the food, the text indicates that really only the disciples knew that a miracle had happened. I say that because verse 19 says, “he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.” That suggests to me that only the disciples were aware of what was going on.

If Jesus did miracles to prove his identity as Messiah and if the disciples had already believed in him, why did he do these incredible miracles that ONLY the disciples witnessed?

The answer is suggested in verse 16 when Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”

And, the answer was actualized in verse 28-31 when Peter walked on the water, began to sink, and was asked by Jesus, “why did you doubt?” (v. 31).

Jesus did these miracles for the disciples who already believed in him because he wanted them to know that he would work powerfully THROUGH them not just FOR them. To be his servants and to do his will, the disciples needed to believe that Jesus would use them powerfully and that, by his power, they could do anything God called them to do.

Primarily, that meant evangelism. The disciples did some miracles in Acts. But they seem to have done far fewer over many years than Jesus did in three years. God’s will was not for the disciples to fix the world’s problems by working miracles but to make disciples by his power (Acts 1:8).

The same is true for us:

  • Could Peter walk on water before he met Jesus? No. [That would have made fishing easier, but no.]
  • Did Peter walk on water when he believed in Jesus? Yes.

Could you:

  • Talk about your faith in Christ with a non-believer before you became a believer? Of course not.
  • Can you talk about your faith in Christ now? Yes, you can. But if you focus on the obstacles and objections and fears you have like Peter focused on the wind and waves

What if Andrew, the disciple who found the five loaves and two fish (Jn 6:8), had asked Jesus to help him multiply the food when Jesus said, “You give them something to eat” in verse 16? Do you think Jesus would have honored that prayer of faith? Do you think he could have multiplied the bread and fish in Jesus’s name just as Simon walked on the water when believed Jesus?

Where in your life should you be acting in faith–because you believe in Jesus’s power–instead of standing idly by waiting for… something?