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?

Mark 3

Read Mark 3.

In Mark 2, which we read yesterday, Jesus told the Pharisees that he did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Jesus’ statement could be read to imply that he believed the Pharisees were righteous. Although nobody seems to have reached that conclusion, here at the beginning of Mark 3, Jesus made it clear that he did not find the Pharisees to be righteous men. The setting was Saturday (aka “the Sabbath”) at the synagogue (v. 1). A man with a useless hand was there and the Pharisees were watching (v. 2). Makes you wonder if they saved a seat for that man near Jesus just to set him up, doesn’t it?

Verse 2 told us that they were “looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.” This statement reveals that they had already rejected Jesus and his message and were now seeking to discredit him publicly. Healing on the Sabbath would give them the weapon they needed against Christ. In the days of Moses, God commanded his people to stone a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath day (Num 15:32-41). That’s a pretty strict definition of “work.” It suggests that “work” meant more than just how you make a living; it meant any kind of productive physical activity. To prevent anyone from exerting themselves, then, the rabbis defined how much physical activity a person could have. They even went so far as to restrict how many steps you could walk on the Sabbath day.

If someone were injured on the Sabbath and needed to stop the bleeding, or put their shoulder back into the socket, it would be done without any thought that the Sabbath law had been violated. But this man had been without the use of his hand for a while, so his situation hardly qualified as an emergency.

Regardless, Jesus felt that relieving his suffering would be a positive way to celebrate the Sabbath, not a violation of the commandment (v. 4). So, Christ healed the man, though it is noteworthy that the man did all the “work” by extending his hand. Jesus used divine, miraculous power to restore him, not any kind of human physical activity.

But the Pharisees were incensed by Jesus’ healing, so much so that they began “to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (v. 6). Their response showed that they not truly zealous for God and his holiness. Their “obedience” to God’s law was about making themselves look righteous for their scrupulous observance. It was also about controlling others, getting everyone in the community to conform to their application of scripture.

Imagine how much better this man’s life instantly was the moment that Jesus healed him.

If there was any pain in his shriveled hand, that pain was instantly relieved. If he wasn’t in pain, he certainly had to work harder than everyone else to do basic life tasks. How much longer did it take him to dress himself? How much harder was it to earn a living with one hand that was useless? What would it mean to him to be able to pick up his child for the first time since that kid was a baby?

Jesus could have waited until Sunday to fix his hand but why should he?

The Sabbath command was given to make people rest so that they didn’t work themselves to death out of envy or fear of starvation. Wouldn’t it be less work to have two good hands on the Sabbath day than just the one?

God also commanded observance of the Sabbath to give humanity space in their lives to worship him. Do you think this man ever worshipped God more fervently than he did on the Sabbath when he was healed?

By healing the man on the Sabbath, then, Jesus broke the manmade rules created by the rabbis. At the same time, he allowed the man to fulfill the intentions God had for the Sabbath law in the first place. The miracle Jesus performed in this passage accomplished many good things. It showed his deep compassion, displayed his unlimited power as God, and asserted his Lordship over the Sabbath.

But it also confronted the ways in which the self-righteous Pharisees used their application of God’s laws to control others.

My church background growing up was very good. I learned God’s word, was reached by God’s good news, and discipled in the faith pretty well. But there were some pretty strong legalistic streaks in all that goodness, too.

Under the guise of modesty, what we wore was strictly defined. That was especially true for the girls.

There were also clear criteria for what kind of music was “worshipful” and what kind was worldly.

There were colleges that were approved of, some that were tolerated, and the rest were off-limits.

I could go on.

Sometimes these rules were given as genuine applications of scripture. The problem was that these “applications” were then treated as if they were the commandments and principles of scripture. Too often it felt like the leaders wanted to control us more than they wanted us to draw close to God.

The Pharisees were not concerned with the worship of the shriveled-hand man; they wanted to use him to neutralize Jesus and control God’s people. I’ve met Christians who do much of the same thing. They forbid anything they don’t like by labeling it as a violation of some command or other from God’s word. When people are controlled in this way, always worried about whether others will approve of their outfit or their actions or whatever, they have little mental or spiritual space left to focus on worshipping and pleasing God.

Applying God’s word is a good thing and clarifying how to apply it can be helpful. But don’t ever act as if your application of scripture is scripture itself. Instead, remember the goal is to live a life that glorifies God. If the Pharisees had been focused on that, they could have rejoiced with the man as his body was made whole again. Don’t make the same mistake.

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?

2 Kings 5, Jonah 3, John 2

Read 2 Kings 5, Jonah 3, and John 2 today. This devotional is about John 2.

This chapter shows us two sides of Jesus’ power. The miracle in Cana shows his miraculous power (vv. 1-11) and the cleansing of the temple shows his authoritative power (vv. 13-22).

Jesus’ first miracle, “water to wine,” was different from the others he performed. Jesus’ other miracles relieved the suffering of others through healing or provided for their human physical needs (feeding of 5000). But this miracle merely saved a young couple from social embarrassment. To run out of wine as they did (v. 3) was bad form in Jesus’ society. It indicated either poor planning or poverty or stinginess–none of which was good. This miracle saved the couple from losing social status but it didn’t restore anyone’s limbs or life.

So why did Jesus do it? His mother (indirectly) asked him to do it (v. 3) so it honored her. But, more importantly than that, it “was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (v. 11b). Disciples were already following Jesus (v. 2a); this miracle–which was mostly private (v. 9)–showed his miraculous power to the disciples. This display of power authenticated Jesus’s message and called for faith from those who were following Jesus.

That was the purpose of all the miracles–to show the truth of Jesus’s message. Those who had already believed his message (or were getting close to believing it) saw divine power that matched the inner conviction of their spirits to his message. Those who disbelieved Jesus’ message discounted his miracles. Their choice to reject Jesus would not be overturned, even in the face of great, miraculous power.

Although we don’t expect to see miracles ordinarily today, you have seen God work in your life in powerful, unexpected ways. Others around you might explain that work of God as coincidence or be unaware of it altogether. But if you’ve seen God answer specific prayers you’ve prayed, you know that he’s real and powerful.

Likewise if you’ve seen God act in some other way in your life. Have these works of God in your life stimulated in you to even greater faith?

John 9

Today, read John 9.

Peer pressure–the desire for social acceptance–is a powerful driver of human behavior. Sometimes this is a good thing; when something that is evil is also unacceptable socially, the fear of being exposed and shunned will help people to resist temptation and make good moral choices. But peer pressure is often a bad influence in people’s lives. It suffocates righteousness by embarrassing someone for doing the right thing.

This is what we saw in John 9. Jesus healed a man born blind (vv. 1-17). Because the Pharisees had their own moral and political reasons for rejecting Jesus, they pressured the man and his parents not to glorify God for this miraculous work but to be quiet about what Jesus did. His parents submitted in fear (vv. 20-23) but the man himself did not. Ironically, the Pharisees told him, “Give glory to God by telling the truth.” But then they told him the “truth” they wanted to hear: “We know this man is a sinner.” This is what pressure groups do. They create their own version of “truth,” spinning out lies that empower them and using the natural human desire to fit in against everyone.

We see this happening in our society as well; more and more, powerful pressure groups seek to silence our witness for Christ and get us to back down from what we know is right. They will be successful with many people, too, because it is hard to resist the flow of social pressure. But those who trust the Lord instead of conforming to the expected in this world have Jesus with them (vv. 35-38). There is a cost to following him, but the freedom and benefits of knowing him are far more valuable.

John 3

Today read John 3.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Actually, it is a big ugly secret but I don’t think most Christians know about it. The secret is: envy and jealousy are not sins that church members struggle with only. Pastors and ministry leaders struggle with them, too. I have–more often and more recently than I would like to admit.

On the outside, we pastors are glad for the ministry success of others. And, when we’re thinking biblically, we are genuinely glad for God’s blessing on other churches. I really don’t think that we are in competition with other churches. Our competition is entertainment, relaxation, sleeping in, working extra weekend hours, materialism, secularism, and all kinds of other noise that distracts people from church attendance and, ultimately, from the gospel message.

I want all my friends to succeed and I want other gospel preaching churches in our area and elsewhere to be reaching people in salvation, baptizing them, discipling them and, therefore, growing in numbers and in spiritual life.

But I want our church to prosper as well. I want us reaching people and baptizing them. I want to see the people who attend and are members of our church to be showing up enthusiastically ready to worship and grow on Sunday. I want to see you bringing friends, too, and to see others coming for the first time.

So, when our church attendance is up and down but others I know are adding additional services to accommodate all the growth, it is hard not to want what they’ve got. So the latter half of John 3 is just for me today. John the Baptist’s disciples were concerned about Jesus’s success. They were alarmed that Jesus was preaching and baptizing and that “everyone is going to him” (v. 26d).

John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived–apart from Jesus, of course–had a godly response: “ To this John replied, ‘A person can receive only what is given them from heaven’” (v. 27). Jesus’s success–anyone’s success–results from God’s blessing. John was happy to see Jesus doing well because he understood who Jesus was (vv. 28-30). John served faithfully in the role that God called him to fill. Now that role was nearing completion (v. 30) and John couldn’t have been happier about the attention Jesus was receiving.

Are you jealous of anyone, envious of anyone else’s life? There is a lot that could be said about that. On one hand, appearances are not always reality and, when that’s true, reality always emerges eventually. Also, there is the whole matter of “sowing and reaping” and sometimes our struggles result from what we’ve been sowing.

But we all need to remember the sovereignty of God over this life. He has different purposes and plans for each of us. If we are faithful to what God commands us to do and calls us to become, if we are sowing good seed and doing it consistently, then we need to trust God with the results.

Mark 6

Today’s reading is Mark chapter 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 might remember that time he got lost in Jerusalem; how is he 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?

Mark 3

Today we’re reading Mark 3.

In Mark 2, which we read yesterday, Jesus told the Pharisees that he did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Jesus’ statement could be read to imply that he believed the Pharisees were righteous. Although nobody seems to have reached that conclusion, here at the beginning of Mark 3, Jesus made it clear that he did not find the Pharisees to be righteous men. The setting was Saturday (aka “the Sabbath”) at the synagogue (v. 1). A man with a useless hand was there and the Pharisees were watching (v. 2). Makes you wonder if they saved a seat for that man near Jesus just to set him up, doesn’t it?

Verse 2 told us that they were “looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.” This statement reveals that they had already rejected Jesus and his message and were now seeking to discredit him publicly. Healing on the Sabbath would give them the weapon they needed against Christ. In the days of Moses, God commanded his people to stone a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath day (Num 15:32-41). That’s a pretty strict definition of “work.” It suggests that “work” meant more than just how you make a living; it meant any kind of productive physical activity. To prevent anyone from exerting themselves, then, the rabbis defined how much physical activity a person could have. They even went so far as to restrict how many steps you could walk on the Sabbath day.

If someone were wounded on the Sabbath and needed to stop the bleeding, or put their shoulder back into the socket, it would be done without any thought that the Sabbath law had been violated. But this man had been without the use of his hand for a while, so his situation hardly qualified as an emergency. Regardless, Jesus felt that relieving his suffering would be a positive way to celebrate the Sabbath, not a violation of the commandment (v. 4). So, Christ healed the man, though it is noteworthy that the man did all the “work” by extending his hand. Jesus used divine, miraculous power to restore him, not any kind of human physical activity. But the Pharisees were incensed by Jesus’ healing, so much so that they began “to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (v. 6). Their response showed that they not truly zealous for God and his holiness. Their “obedience” to God’s law was about making themselves look righteous for their scrupulous observance. It was also about controlling others, getting everyone in the community to conform to their application of scripture.

Imagine how much better this man’s life instantly was the moment that Jesus healed him. If there was any pain in his shriveled hand, that pain was instantly relieved. If he wasn’t in pain, he certainly had to work harder than everyone else to do basic life tasks. How much longer did it take him to dress himself? How much harder was it to earn a living with one hand that was useless? What would it mean to him to be able to pick up his child for the first time since that kid was a baby? Jesus could have waited until Sunday to fix his hand but why should he? The Sabbath command was given to make people rest so that they didn’t work themselves to death out of envy or fear of starvation. Wouldn’t it be less work to have two good hands on the Sabbath day than just the one? God also commanded observance of the Sabbath to give humanity space in their lives to worship him. Do you think this man ever worshipped God more fervently than he did on the Sabbath when he was healed? By healing the man on the Sabbath, then, Jesus broke the manmade rules created by the rabbis. At the same time, he allowed the man to fulfill the intentions God had for the Sabbath law in the first place. The miracle Jesus performed in this passage accomplished many good things. It showed his deep compassion, displayed his unlimited power as God, and asserted his Lordship over the Sabbath. But it also confronted the ways in which the self-righteous Pharisees used their application of God’s laws to control others.

My church background growing up was very good. I learned God’s word, was reached by God’s good news, and discipled in the faith pretty well. But there were some pretty strong legalistic streaks in all that goodness, too. Under the guise of modesty, what we wore was strictly defined. That was especially true for the girls. There were also clear criteria for what kind of music was “worshipful” and what kind was worldly. There were colleges that were approved of, some that were tolerated, and the rest were off-limits. I could go on. Sometimes these rules were given as genuine applications of scripture. The problem was that these “applications” were then treated as if they were the commandments and principles of scripture. Too often it felt like the leaders wanted to control us more than they wanted us to draw close to God. The Pharisees were not concerned with the worship of the shriveled-hand man; they wanted to use him to neutralize Jesus and control God’s people. I’ve met Christians who do much of the same thing. They forbid anything they don’t like by labeling it as a violation of some command or other from God’s word. When people are controlled in this way, always worried about whether others will approve of their outfit or their actions or whatever, they have little mental or spiritual space left to focus on worshipping and pleasing God.

Applying God’s word is a good thing and clarifying how to apply it can be helpful. But don’t ever act as if your application of scripture is scripture itself. Instead, remember the goal is to live a life that glorifies God. If the Pharisees had been focused on that, they could have rejoiced with the man as his body was made whole again. Don’t make the same mistake.