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Saturday, January 30, 2010

1/31/10- Matthew 12:1-14 Jesus and the Sabbath

(Healing of Man with Withered Hand; Mosaic Cathedral Monreale)
1/31/10 Matthew 12:1-14

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath." 3 He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven't you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that one [a] greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." 9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" 11 He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." 13 Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Calvin abridged: This passage shows how how malicious the Pharisees were and how superstitiously they were attached to outward and slight matters. They blame the disciples for harvesting corn on the Sabbath. The keeping of the Sabbath is holy, but not in such a manner that they imagined. They were hypocritical in being so exact in trifling matters. Elsewhere Christ rebuked them for paying a tithe of mint and cumin but neglecting the important matters of the law (Mt 23:23). Hypocrites allow great liberty in important things while being rigorous in the observance of ceremonial and outward things. Christ has five arguments against them: 1) David’s necessity enabled him to eat holy food. 2) the priests break the Sabbath by sacrificing, circumcising, and temple upkeep; 3) Ceremonies were meant to help people; 4) Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath; 5) The Sabbath was made for people not people for the Sabbath. Jesus then heals a man on the Sabbath. He reminds them that sheep are cared for on the Sabbath, so why shouldn’t humans be cared for.

Thoughts: Christ allows for two things here on the Sabbath- things of necessity and things that help others. It is a given that the Sabbath is to be kept. Jesus kept the Sabbath numerous times (Lk 4:16 says it was his “custom” to go into the synagogue on the Sabbath). Yet over and over again he allowed for people to be helped on the Sabbath- by eating and by healing. In our day and in our culture we have completely desecrated any idea at all of a Sabbath. We are twice as productive as we were in 1949, live in houses three times as big, with smaller families, and our working hours as a nation have increased 247% since then. We worship work and the things work provides (money and things). We really have a hard time keeping a real Sabbath on the Lord’s Day. When our country was founded every colony had Sabbath laws but small Rhode Island. Now the Sabbath laws are virtually useless, and merely symbolic. The Sabbath is clearly for our good- to give us rest and to draw us closer to each other and especially God. The reasons given for the Sabbath are that God rested (Ex. 20) and that we should not be slaves to work (Deut. 5). In our day we have become slaves to our work. Keeping a Sabbath is a check to selfish use of time and things; It is a giving of these things to God. The recession we are in is a lesson in over-extension of our loans, our credit, and our time.  It is amazing that God offers us rest, and we refuse it. 

Prayer: Lord, all my time is a gift from you. Today, on the Lord’s Day, I give you one day back to you.

1/20/10- Mt 9:10-17 New wine skins

Matthew 9:10-17-

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' [a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." 14 Then John's disciples came and asked him, "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?" 15 Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. 16 "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."

Calvin abridged: The scribes attacked Christ’s disciples trying to get them to rebel against him. It was as if they were asking, “What use is it that they should follow him, it he did not withdraw them from the majority of people to lead a holier life? Was he leading them into licentiousness and wickedness?” The disciples acted properly by going to their Master with the question. The scribes erred in two ways: 1) They misunderstood Christ’s purpose- he came to help the sick. The healthy sometimes look down on the sick, but a physician sees the sick differently.; and 2) they overlooked their own vices seeing only what they despised in others. To this Jesus replied that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” We should not flatter ourselves that we are not sinners or “sick” ourselves. “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). The grace of Christ is no good to us unless we come to him humbly for mercy. John’s disciples were probably enticed to cause a division between them and Jesus disciples by the Pharisees. This is a warning to us to not let the wicked divide us over trivial differences. 15- “Can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?” This may be a reference to Jesus as the bridegroom by John (Jn 3:29). Fasting and extraordinary prayer are for hard times, but this is a time of joy. Then Christ gives two comparisons that contrast the disciples with a too-strict discipline. The meaning is that all should not be compelled to live in the same manner, as some are weak.

Thoughts: One of the main differences between Jesus and John is that John was encouraging the people just to repent, while Christ was trying to get them both to repent and to experience the joy of the kingdom. For Christ the “kingdom’s coming” is not just about wrath on the wicked, but also joy for the lost who are found. To try to make these disciples who had great joy- knowing the messiah has come to go back to a state of repentance and waiting on the messiah makes no sense. It is like taking what is better and trying to make it like the old just because it was old. It would be like trying to take away the hybrid Fords of today and say everyone needs to go back to model Ts. Some today long for the good old days and cannot appreciate the good in the present. Jesus did not criticize John’s repentance or say it was not necessary. He only indicates the present has something better.

Prayer: Help us, O God, to see your hand at work now. Keep us from worshipping the past, but help us to build on what others have done before us.

Friday, January 29, 2010

1/29/10- Luke 7:1-10 Healing at a Distance

(Paolo Verenese 16th century)

   Capernaum synagogue today                                                      1/29/10- Lk 7:1-10 (pp. Mt 8:5-13)

1 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." 6 So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." 9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Calvin abridged: Matthew and Luke do not differ in substance. The only perceived difference is whether the centurion came to him (Mt) or if he sent some Jews in his name (Lk). There are not two miracles here, for the manner of speaking in that day was your representatives spoke on your behalf as if you were there. The band of soldiers under the centurion’s command were no doubt in Capernaum. It is clear he exposed himself to some risk by building a synagogue for the Jews; It is also clear that he loved the nation because he worshiped their God. The servant was very dear to him, indicating this was not an ordinary slave of that time. There is a question about whether those who spoke so highly of the centurion, commending him to Christ- also accepted his grace. The centurion requests Christ to not trouble himself, and also recognizes his power to accomplish things without not necessarily being present. There was astonishing humility in exalting so highly above himself a man who belonged to a conquered and enslaved nation. The good man, having been informed about the uncommon and truly divine works of Christ, simply acknowledged in him the power of God. He ascribes his power to a word- not of moral man, but of God. Jesus exclamation that he had “not found such great faith even in Israel” is because he knew little substance but still was able to have great trust.

Thoughts: Today you can see part of the first century synagogue in Capernaum that the centurion built and in which Jesus spoke. One of the great things about this miracle is that it did not require Jesus’ touch, formula, or even presence. Luke and Matthew differ about the centurion’s presence because in Roman thinking your representatives made you in effect present. And so Jesus also became present through his mere word to the servant. Jewish rules forbade them to enter into a Gentile’s house, and the centurion was respectful of that rule. Ironically, the centurion had built a house for the people of God (shadows of 2 Sam. 7 when David said he would build a house for God and God said he would give David a house- ie. lineage). The centurion’s ability to put tremendous trust in Jesus though he knew little about him and never really got to know him; along with his belief in Jesus’ power to heal even at a distance is a lesson for us today. We have become a semi-gnostic society- believing that knowledge is power, and giving little room for faith. We feel that we must know the answers to hard questions (why is there evil, how does predestination and free will work, how can God be three yet one, etc.) before we will put our faith in the Lord and in his power. Blessed is the one who can trust Jesus even though they cannot understand everything first (and who really can?). There is a point where knowledge ends and faith must make a leap. For the centurion, this point was very early. For most of us, it is very late in our journey, and we still want more information.

Prayer: Say the word, Lord, and your help will come to me. Come to me today in the presence of your Spirit. Use me to bear fruit for you, and help me to deeply trust in you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

1/28/10- Luke 4:14-30 Rejected in the Hometown

(Mt. Precipice- Cliffs in Nazareth where they threatened to throw down Jesus)
1/28/10- Lk. 4:14-30

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked. 23 Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself!' And you will tell me, 'Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.' " 24 "Truly I tell you," he continued, "prophets are not accepted in their hometowns. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian." 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Calvin abridged: Christ did not address the people only in the open streets and highways but also in the usual order of worship. One great thing stood and that was the reading and explaining of scripture. So we see the true meaning of the Sabbath. It was not to refrain from work just to rest, but also to worship. We continue the Sabbath’s meaning by our observance of worship on the Lord’s Day. Christ chose this passage in Isaiah because he alone, by the power of the Spirit, performs and grants all the blessings here. The persons God restores are called the poor, the broken, the captives, the blind, and the bruised. Here God cheers us from terrible and overwhelming evil and misery by his light. “The acceptable year of the Lord” – some say this refers to the Jubilee or time of redemption. The time of redemption depends on the good pleasure of God. 20- Those listening to him were astonished. 21- “Today is fulfilled” – Christ did not merely read this scripture, but applied it to his life. Instead of marveling that God raised Jesus up from Joseph and glorifying God, they raise this as an objection and are offended by it. Many grasp frivolous excuses to disobey and not hear God’s voice. We make our own hindrances.

Thoughts: This is an amazing passage. One would expect the hometown boy made good would be welcomed back, but instead the local elders saw themselves as above Jesus and his carpenter adoptive father. Human snobbery and pride get in the way of listening and obeying God. Jesus saves an important announcement about his ministry for his home base, but they refused to listen- to the point that they tried to kill him. At this point Jesus must have known the cross was his earthly destination. Yet He was also aware that the Spirit anointed him (“Christ” or “Messiah” meant anointed one), so he was saying he was the Messiah and had much to do. He was sent not to hurt people with wrath, but heal, strengthen, and encourage people.

Prayer: Thank you for coming and showing your great mercy and faithfulness to us, O Lord.

1/27/10- A Spiritual Parable About Falling Away

(William Blake- Dante's Inferno
1/27/10- Mt. 12:43-45 (pp. Lk 11:24-26)

43 "When an evil spirit comes out of anyone, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation."

Calvin abridged: Here he speaks of scribes and hypocrites who despising the grace of God turn to join the devil’s side. Whenever God comes near to us in Jesus, the hope is to rescue us from the tyranny of the devil. The devil is said to go out of those to whom Christ shows himself to be Redeemer. The devil has a grasp on the whole human race until Christ comes and makes us a temple for his presence. We also see a description of Satan’s nature. He never stops trying to harm us, and when he has been vanquished by Christ it only tends to whet his rage more. The punishment addressed to that generation is that they despised the grace of God, extinguishing the light of faith, and banishing the desire to be godly, became profane.

Thoughts: For people who have been exposed to God and then turn away, this is a terrible warning. The warning is that it will be worse for them than if they had never heard. It is a spiritual parable of sorts, that has been proven true in life over and over- those who fall away after climbing to a height fall harder than those who never climbed. In Jesus’ own inner circle, Judas would be an example. In America and Europe there are millions of examples. When we trade having a purpose and meaning for no purpose or meaning the fall is usually accompanied by terrible immorality because the barrier that kept that immorality at bay is gone. The churches in America are not only not keeping up with the population, but they are in general shrinking as millions leave. Seventy-five percent of the churched youth do not go to church in college, and then half of those are not coming back ever. This is a very, very sad parable for our age, and explains the rampant drifting, meanness, gang-violence, drug use, and sexual obsession of our age. In response to this we should resolve to be faithful and pray for those who have drifted into our post-modern apostasy.

Prayer: Today, Lord, I pray that you will keep me from ever falling away. I pray for those who have fallen or drifted- that they would come back to you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

1/26/10 Matthew 12:15-21 Jesu enjoins temporary silence

(Jesus appears before crowd Alexander Iwanow 1850s)
1/26/10- Mt. 12:15-21 (PP: Mk 3:6-12; Lk 6:11)

15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 18 "Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. 19 He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. 20 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. 21 In his name the nations will put their hope."

Calvin abridged: Jesus fled the plots of the Pharisees not by fear (later he voluntarily presented himself to die); he could have easily protected himself by a miracle, but chose to submit to our weakness by taking flight. Thus this was part of his “emptying himself” (Phil. 2:7). He delayed his death because it was not the appointed time (Jn 7:30; 8:20). This was also why he silenced the crowd and the demons- so that his time would not come too soon. He wanted his miracles and teachings to take root in order to produce fruit.

Thoughts; “If you don’t toot your own horn, nobody else will.” [British and Aussie- “Blow your own trumpet”] I don’t think that quite fits in here. Then there’s the book, “Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It!” The idea is basically, humility is okay for church, but not for getting ahead in the workplace- don’t leave it to God to lift yourself up- pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Jesus was not only not tooting his own horn, he was quieting the horns of others here. When the greatest comes, we do not need to have great PR in order to get ahead. In 2003 Chris Rock starred in a movie, “Head of State” in which a lowly alderman became president despite terrible PR. In the 2008 election roughly 2.5 billion was spent on the presidential election alone, and this leads to the idea that only the rich can be elected to any office. This past week much ado is made about nothing by the democrats and Limbaugh over the un-limiting of corporate spending limits. If we are so dependent on advertising, then the worst candidate may win. I believe facebook, twitter, and free internet and web will limit the effects of newspaper, cable TV and sign advertising. Regardless, Jesus shows us to entrust our future to the providence of God. Certainly there is a time for advertising- Palm Sunday’s parade was an advertisement for Jesus. Yet consumption with being a celebrity and always on the news is an evil, proud thing. Spin and hype are not nearly as important as substance in the end.

Prayer: Lord, give us grace to lift up ideas more than our own reputations. Give us a passion for humility in a world that worship celebrity.

Monday, January 25, 2010

1/25/10 Matthew 9:1-8 Carriers of the Cot

(Jesus Healing the Paralyzed Man- Bernard Rode 1780 engraving)
1/25/10- Mt. 9:1-8 (pp. Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26)

1 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." 3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!" 4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? 6 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." So he said to the paralyzed man, "Get up, take your mat and go home." 7 Then the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to human beings.

Calvin abridged: “his own town” refers to Capernaum which became his base because of his frequent visits. Luke adds to Matthew that scribes were present to witness the miracle and that Christ healed a number of people ( he uses the plural “them”). This miracle is remarkable in that this man’s limbs were totally useless- lying on a bed, lowered with cords, and suddenly rises with vigor and agility. Another reason this miracle was outstanding was that Christ used this miracle as a visible sign and a seal of his claim that he could forgive sins. 2 “their faith”- God alone gives them faith, but they showed their faith by going through so much trouble because they were confident of the success of their efforts. As Christ granted the healing to the paralytic based on “their faith”, the question arises about how much the faith of some affects others. Abraham’s faith was an advantage to his posterity- as he entered into a covenant with God and his descendants. All believers’ faith, by God’s grace, is an advantage to their children and grandchildren even before they were born. For adult unbelievers the faith of others has an indirect influence for their salvation through prayers. Also earthly blessings are given to unbelievers for the sake of the godly. “your sins are forgiven” seems to promise something different than what the man requested. But the cause of the man’s lack of health needed to be removed. The only way of obtaining deliverance from all evils is to have God reconciled to us. Sometimes the wicked are freed from their distresses while God is still their enemy, yet his chastisement may remain on them (Amos 5:19). From this we should not simply pray for the relief of the symptoms of affliction, but we should also pray for forgiveness and reconciliation to God. Christ proved his divinity and authority to heal the eternal soul as well as heal the temporal body. Matthew says the people were astonished, but Luke adds that they were amazed and fearful. They glorified God “who had given such authority to human beings”- but in this they are partly mistaken. Though they saw a man with their eyes, they should have perceived something higher than a man (1 Tim 3:6).

Thoughts: One of our church members at LMPC, Martha Wheeler, and my now deceased mother started a ministry at the Presbyterian Home for the elderly called “Carriers of the Cot” based on this passage. The people who lived in apartments would visit the people who were in the infirmary- unable to walk and read scripture to them, pray with them, visit them, and make sure they were brought communion (if that was suitable for their condition). In our culture, in which we so value independence, we sometimes forget our friends who are unable to come to worship. The faith of these friends was so amazing that it brought healing to the man- whether he had faith or not (the scriptures do not say). His faith was shown in that he allowed them to carry him, and did not wallow in his misery. Too many do not think of bringing others to Jesus in their pain. But it is their pain that should be the loud alarm clock that wakes them up to their need for the Lord’s help. I think today of those who have gone, inspired by faith, to Haiti to help those in need who cannot get out of rubble or get the basics of life.  They are like the carriers of the cot today.

Prayer: Today, Lord, give me eyes to see those who need to be brought to you physically or spiritually. Help me to be a blessing to someone today who is in need.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

1/24/10 Matthew 8:28-34 Caring for the Desperately Different

1/24/10- Matthew 8:28-34 (pp.Mk 5:1-20; Lk 8:26-39)

28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" 30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs." 32 He said to them, "Go!" So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Calvin abridged: Matthew mentions two while Mark and Luke mention one demoniac. Augustine (and I agree) that there were two, but the one demoniac so far outshone the other that the other two writers do not mention the second man. This man was kept among the dead by an unclean spirit. Mark says that the man could not be bound with chains implying that the evil spirit empowered him to break them. The devil does his part when God permits him. When Christ summons them, they appear before him, and Mark says they reluctantly worship him. “What do you want with us- do you wish to torture us before the appointed time?” With their pride they still breathe nothing but rebellion against God; yet though they never cease to struggle against God’s government, they are compelled to yield. “Legion”- Christ had compassion to save this man from a multitude of demons- a thousand deaths. “Swine”- It is certain that the devils wanted to stir up the residents there against God because of the loss of their pigs. For those who think that the demons are not real, but only depraved affections of people, they need to answer how covetousness, ambition, cruelty and deceit enter into swine. Though we are not tortured by the devil, yet he holds us as slaves until the Son of God delivers us from his tyranny giving us a sound mind.

Thoughts: Here was a man desperately losing his mind, wandering naked, uncontrollable among the tombs. I remember a similar story with a sadder end from my grandfather about a “wildman” in the mountains of South Carolina who ran around unkempt, long straggly hair, long nails, acting wild- staying away from people. Whenever he would stray into town people would scream and yell and the police would try to catch him. He died at an early age. But this Wildman in the Gerasene- the non-jewish region on the north of the Sea of Galilee had a better end. He ran into Jesus, who helped his mind, his body, and his spirit. The horrible thing here is that the people of the area cared more about their pigs (which were unclean to the jews) than this human being. One of the political candidates for governor for our state tried to discourage giving food to the needy- lest they become too dependent-like feeding a stray animal. I doubt this fellow has really been hungry, for the alternative to not feeding them is to starve them (especially in an environment where there are no new jobs). When Jesus saw the 5,000 he had compassion on them and made bread when there was none. Hungry people are desperate people, and I don’t think this politician wants food riots or rampant begging or stealing, or people dying on the streets. The people of Gerasene cared more about their pigs than they did about their neighbor- because he was different. But Jesus had compassion, and we all are called to have compassion. This doesn’t mean to not develop long term means to help the hungry- that is just as important. But to not feed them at all would be harsh. Churches will help the hungry (like through our local food pantry- We Care), but the 45% who do not attend church regularly need to play a role too, and that is done through the government. It is for everyone’s good that we do not have stealing or begging. In many other countries, begging is the order of the day and is everywhere. These men came to Jesus with their demons, and Jesus did something to help them. Yesterday an ex-marine died after he saved five people from a boarding house set on fire by arsonists. We do not need to be the arsonists in this story. We need to seek to rescue those from the fire. How can we turn away from those who have mental, physical, or spiritual needs pretending they are not there?

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your compassion on the hurting. Help me to have compassion too.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

1/23/10- Water to wine

(Left stone water jar in Cana church today)
1/23/10- John 2:1-11

1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." 4 "Woman, [a] why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples put their faith in him.

Calvin abridged: There are many reasons for us to look at this miracle, but as this is the first miracle of Christ it becomes even more important to pay careful attention to it. While there are several Canas in Israel, this Cana was in Galilee near Capernaum and Nazareth and was part of the northern tribes of Israel. It was probably one of Christ’s close relatives- for Jesus and his disciples were also invited. The person who was married did not come from a wealthy family or they would not have run out of wine after inviting so many. Yet this poor person was more concerned about friendship than he was running out of food or drink. The passage indicates it was towards the conclusion of the banquet that they began to run out. All this was regulated by the Providence of God so that a miracle might occur. Mary had compassion on the situation, and she may not have expected a miracle from her son. Christ’s answer to his mother was in part to show he did not perform the miracle simply because she asked him to do so. Christ’s rebuke of Mary (calling her “woman” and not “mother”) is also a warning to not superstitiously elevate Mary above Christ. When Christ says, “My hour has not yet come” he was telling Mary it was not quite the right time for the miracle, but he was also concerned about the situation. After he says this, Mary now expects something to happen and tells the stewards to do what he says but does not address him any further acknowledging that she did not have the power but he did. We are taught by her words “do whatever he commands” to depend upon him alone, look to him, and serve him. The purpose of miracles is stated here- that he would be glorified and that his disciples might believe in him.

Thoughts: Mary had no wedding that we know of, yet she really enjoyed the celebration of this one. Jesus did not get married yet, he celebrated marriage by performing his first miracle there. The pots were large ones (see picture above). God was continually providing for his people in unexpected ways. This miracle reminds us in part of Elisha’s miracle of the oil continually being poured from the jar and providing for the poor widow (2 Kings 4). But this shows that God is not just concerned with the basic necessities of human life, but also with the joys of human life- marriage, and wine. Christ was no ascetic- unlike John (Lk. 7:33,34). It is silly to argue about the alcohol content in this wine- the wine was not water, but as Proverbs speaks of wine “gladdening the heart” so Jesus sought to gladden the hearts of those at the wedding. Ecclesiastes says “wine makes life merry.” Like any of God’s gifts it may be abused. Calvin was not an abstainer from wine, nor was he one who promoted celibacy. Rather he promoted the enjoyment of life with moderation- not getting drunk and keeping sexuality confined to the bounds of marriage. In our day, we do not need to over-react to the abuses of the world (while at the same time being sensitive to those with addiction problems). But Christians, above many, are called to enjoy life and the good things God has provided.

Prayer: Thank you for the joy you put into my life, Lord. Help me to be joyful today.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

1/22/10- Matthew 4:23-25 Miracles for All

(Nicolas Colombel 1682 St Louis Art Museum)
1/22/10- Matthew 4:23-25

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Calvin abridged: (pp. Mt 9:35). Christ performed innumerable miracles in many different places, so it is expected that this be mentioned two or three times. The kingdom’s good news meant that an eternal happiness was being established and not just prosperity and joy in this life. “Healing every disease” really means healing every kind of disease. Christ proved his divinity because he healed these diseases that were not naturally healed.

Thoughts: Jesus had a three-fold ministry that complimented each other- preaching, teaching, and healing. My seminary mentor, John Leith, used to say that if every minister concentrated on these three things- their ministry would likely be successful- preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. People followed Jesus because of his power—probably the power to help them now- in this life. The early crowds followed because of the miracles like feeding the multitudes and healing others. It is important that even at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was reaching beyond the Jews (Syria, Decapolis and beyond the Jordan were Gentile places). All people were drawn to him, for he answered a deep human need. Today there are Christians in every country in the world we are the first and only religion to be able to say that. Jesus said at the end of his earthly ministry: “and this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come” (Mt. 24:14). Of course we remember, “Go into all the world and make disciples.” His world-wide appeal and the fulfilling of the vision that “earth would be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea” started here.

Prayer: As you had a heart for all people, Lord- give me that same heart.

1/21/10 Mark 9:14-29 Believing in God's Power

(left- Three Rich Hours- Exorcism- Duc de Berry Musee Condee, Chatilly)
1/21/10 Mark 9:14-29 (pp. MATTHEW 17:14-18; LUKE 9:37-43)

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 "What are you arguing with them about?" he asked. 17 A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not." 19 "You unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me." 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. 22 "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." 23 " 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for one who believes." 24 Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." 26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. 28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" 29 He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer.

Calvin abridged: “if you can”- In Christ is found an inexhaustible fountain of power provided the faith which you bring is large enough. It is not the Lord that prevents his benefits from flowing to us in great abundance, but it must be part of the limits of our faith. Often the cause of our lacking is because we disparage the power of God by our unbelief. 24- “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” These two statements may appear to contradict each other, but each of us has experienced this. As our faith is never perfect, it follows that we are partly unbelievers. But God forgives us and recognizes us for the small amount of faith inside us. It is our duty, in the meantime, to shake off any remnants of infidelity, striving and praying against them, flying to Him for help.

Thoughts: the key verses in this passage are 22-24 in which faith and the power of God are inextricably linked. The boy’s father had some faith and hope or he would not have brought him to Jesus. But he was so discouraged from having to face the day in day out heartache with his son, that it seemed there was no help- even from God. Many of us today are like that. We still come to God in worship, but our expectations are brought low by our daily burdens and problems, so that we forget the power of God to help. Jesus says something that the angel told Mary at her annunciation (Lk 1:37): “Nothing is impossible for God.” Jesus echoed this later with the sending of the 72 “with humans this is not possible, but nothing is impossible with God” (Mk 10:27; Mt 19:26); Jesus says in Matthew (17:20) that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed we can move mountains because nothing will be impossible for you.” In a sense one of the great missions of Jesus was to open the minds of people beyond the probable and interject the power of God to help and to love into the situation. We desperately need this today. Too many put their hope only in western medicine-which is a tool of God based on His creation. Today (unlike twenty years ago) many are turning beyond science to eastern religions and homeopathic medicine. But too many are not truly bringing their burdens to Jesus. We believe, but we are not asking Jesus to help our unbelief. We need to open the door to the possibility of God’s answered prayer and the power of God.

Prayer: Lord, I believe, but my faith is limited. Help me to believe more, and trust in you more.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

1/20/10- Mark 1:40-45 Reaching out to the Unclean

1/20/10- Mark 1:40-45 (PP. MATTHEW 8:1-4;LUKE 5:12-16)

40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." 41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. 43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

Calvin abridged: This was a striking display of divine power over a devastating disease that was difficult to cure and from which it was rare that any person recovered. There was nothing human about this miracle. The leper kneeled before him in either respect or worship, but at least acknowledging the divine power in Christ to heal. When Christ claimed “I am willing” he shows he was making a divine claim for himself. 41- “he reached out his hand”- under the Law, to touch a leper was infectious. But Christ’s purity repelled all defilement so that he doesn’t pollute himself with leprosy nor break the law. So when Christ reached out to us- descending from heaven even to hell, he did not lose his innocence; and took away all our impurities.

Thoughts: Calvin is brilliant in his pointing out that the healing of the leper is similar to Christ’s healing us from our sins. As Christ reached out to the leper, so Christ reaches out to us. Our sins were horrific, yet he still became flesh for us. The real difference is that Christ suffered for our sins on the cross, whereas the leper’s healing only risked suffering. Christ could have healed the leper (as he healed others) without touching him. Yet his touch was a touch of love, grace, and sympathy for a man who had probably not felt a human touch in years. The leper could not contain his joy, even though Christ asked him to do so. As a result, Christ was limited in his ministry. In contrast, Jesus now tells us to go into all the world, and tells us to let others know the good news, but we are silent. Now it is our silence which limits our ministry. God’s power to heal and help is still around, but we are silent as a stone. The Christian effort in Haiti is not going unnoticed now. But it is not an earthly king or president that is ordering us to go to touch those who are at risk. Rather it is the King of kings whose love and example compels us to give, to aid, and to pray. The world needs to know what motivates believers.

Prayer: Lord as you reached out to the leper and to us, help me to reach out to others with your love.

1/19/10- Mark 1:21-29- Miracles and Gratitude

1/19/10- Mark 1:21-39- Ministry in Capernaum

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil [a] spirit cried out, 24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" 25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. 29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. 32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out any demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. 35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!" 38 Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Calvin abridged: In this miracle Christ gives his disciples an illustration of his grace. The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law of a great fever was proof of his divine power. At a single touch he removed a powerful and horrible disease. He might have done it by simply willing it, but he touched her hand to make his affection or to use an outward sign of his power for his disciples to see.

Thoughts: Today you can go to Capernaum off of the Sea of Galilee. It is clearly marked, and the ruins of the synagogue in which Jesus spoke are visible (Mk 1:21). Archaeologists have identified a large house that has traditionally been labeled Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. The Roman Catholics built a huge church hovering over the ruins in an effort to preserve it from further damage (picture above). Capernaum appears to be the place where Jesus did many miracles (Lk. 4:23). While the people there accepted the miracles Jesus did, they did not combine them with faith- but after the miracles rejected the messiah (see Mt. 11:22-24 below). It is a dangerous thing to be blessed by God and not recognize his blessing. It is a dangerous thing for God’s hand to be at work on us and then reject that hand. To have God answer prayer so strongly and then not to acknowledge God is the height of ingratitude and takes away from God’s glory. If God has created us for his glory, and we are taking away from that glory, then we need to turn around. America today is in danger of ingratitude. God has blessed us- even now (compare our blessings to Haiti). Yet many are busy trying to explain God’s miracles and answered prayers away.

"Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." (Mt. 11:21-24).

Today, if you go to Capernaum, Bethsaida, or Chorazin- there are literally wild animals there and ruins, a few signs and little else.  Mostly destroyed by earthquakes and deserted by people.

Prayer: Let me live a grateful life to you today, O Lord. Help me to see and acknowledge your hand upon my life.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Luke 10:25-37 The Good Samaritan

(Left- Good Samaritan- Rembrandt)
1/18/10 Martin Luther King Day

Luke 10:25-37

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27 He answered, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' [c]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself." 28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' 36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" 37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

C.H. Spurgeon abridged: Our first observation is that the world is very full of affliction. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.” We are never secure from trouble it meets us around the family hearth and causes us to suffer or our family to suffer. Frequently the afflictions are not the fault of the sufferer- neither their vice or their folly causing it. This is the kind of distress which above all others demands Christian sympathy. There is a lot of distress caused by the wickedness of others. Second, we should see that there are many who never relieve affliction. Our Savior mentions two here, but he could have mentioned two dozen and still only one good Samaritan- for they are few in number. The priest and the Levite were brought to this spot by God’s providence. The wealthy are sent into our city on purpose that they may have compassion on the sick, the wounded, the poor, and the needy. God’s intent in endowing any person with more than they need is that they may have the delightful privilege of relieving want and woe, not just for excessive luxury or hoarding. Some would roll a stone over the mouth of the well when thirst is raging all around? Who dares to allow the sufferer to writhe in agony uncared for and the sick to moan into their graves unnursed. The priest and the Levite had been to worship- they had been near to God, but were not like Him. They were bound by their profession to have compassion, but they had multiple excuses. The priest was doubtless in a hurry to his wife and children for he had been away for a month on his tiring duty in Jerusalem. I never knew a person who refused to help the poor who didn’t have at least one admirable excuse. This parable gives a model for helping others. The Samaritan was not of the same faith as the Jew he helped. Yet he was a wounded man- bleeding and dying. The poor wounded man had no strength to be prejudiced or mean or to repay the one helping him. He was a total stranger too. He could have asked why he should help since he was rejected by his own people. Many make excuse saying the hurting should be helped only by their own people. He also models us the spirit in which he did his work. He asked no questions nor did he hesitate or sign some liability or compensation form. He also did so without any though of his own safety- as thieves could have also fallen upon him. Jesus also models the good Samaritan- except that our wounds are our own fault, and Jesus did suffer for helping us.

Thoughts: On this Martin Luther King Day- it perhaps is most important that we think of how we might love our neighbor. Jesus gave the concrete example in this story- and also in his life- of not ignoring those who are in need but sacrificing for the hurting neighbor. We are to care for those who look differently, believe differently, live differently. Any human being- rich or poor, Christian, unbeliever or someone who believes differently, deserves human love and respect. They are made in God’s image- they are our neighbors- and in God’s providence we are put here for such a time as this- to show love to them in God’s name. This is true in Haiti today- do not harden your hearts at the sadness (as the Levite and priest did). This is true of caring for the hurting around us. Look for a way to love your neighbor, and maybe even go out of your way to speak or help those who look or believe differently from you today. When Christians love- we follow in Christ’s footsteps. When we build walls to protect our faith and ourselves we are giving into the world’s ways and fears.

Prayer: Today, Lord, let me give myself away as the good Samaritan did, as you did. We pray for the people of Haiti. Give us wisdom to help them best. Give us eyes to see our hurting neighbor today.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

1/17/10 Matthew 17:14-21 Combining Prayer with Faith

1/17/10- Matt 17:14-21 Combining Prayer with Faith

14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 "Lord, have mercy on my son," he said. "He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him." 17 "You unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me." 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" 20-21 He replied, "Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Calvin abridged: A father here appeals on behalf of his only son and urgently and humbly appeals to the compassion of Christ. Christ does not rebuke the disciples or the father, but the religious leaders of the day. It is probable that the scribes asked the disciples to help if they had any power. The disciples made an attempt but were not able to help the child. It is likely that the scribes then claimed victory and ridiculed the disciples. It is also likely that the man was made deaf and dumb not naturally but by a spiritual malaise. “Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt. “All things are possible to him who believes”).

Thoughts: The key to spiritual healing is to come to Jesus or let Jesus come to us. To think we don’t need Jesus cuts us off from God’s power to help us. The reason the boy could not be healed was that unbelief was prevalent. When most pray for God’s help they don’t really expect it. Like when the disciples were praying for Peter to get out of prison- when he did they didn’t believe it was him (Acts 12). Too many look for an excuse to not believe God can help them. Too many don’t want to believe He can-- lest He disappoint them and they somehow lose their faith. In our day we separate faith from everything—even prayer! Several years ago there was an article in Time Magazine about prayer. It talked about how so many in America pray- more pray than actually profess to believe! The article even featured prostitutes praying (separating prayer from obedience), But effective prayer in scripture combines prayer with obedience and with faith (“If I had cherished sin in my heart the Lord would not have heard me” Ps. 66:18). We become God- if God always has to say yes to us. Yet, we should not be afraid to pray- with faith and obedience- and let God filter out the yeses. A spam filter- filters out the things that are useless or not good for us. God does the same with our prayers. We should not be afraid to ask- and ask believing. Perhaps we are an unbelieving generation worst than the one in Jesus’ day. We should learn from the past to pray- and pray with faith.

Prayer: Help me to have faith and use me to move mountains- making this world a better place- and glorifying you today. Bless the worship service today, Lord. Bless those who come and those who lead.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

1/16/10 John 6 Deserting Our Source of Life

(Jesus refusing the crown- shortly afterwards they forsook him)
1/16/10- John 6:52-54, 59-71- Deserting our Source of Life

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 Jesus said to them, "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them." 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." 70 Then Jesus replied, "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

Calvin abridged: 65- “No one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him”- Faith is an uncommon and remarkable gift of the Spirit of God. Jesus noted this so that we may not be astonished that the Gospel is not received in every place and by all people. No one, however wise, can ever arrive at faith by their own wisdom- for all are blind until they are illuminated by the Spirit of God. 66- “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” It is a dreadful and monstrous thing that so kind and gracious an invitation of Christ could have alienate so many- even those who professed to be followers of him. We should be careful that none fall away because of our own fault. Yet, we should not be afraid to preach the true doctrine of Christ, even if it offends many (Isa. 8:14). If many are offended because of God’s word, we should not be disgusted at the word of God, but let us rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15), and advance boldly in the midst of those who are offended. 67- “You do not want to leave too?” As they were likely to be discouraged by such a great number leaving, and only a small remnant remaining, Jesus turned his attention to them. In asking this, Jesus was exhorting them to not be the companions of the apostates. If faith is founded on Christ, it will not be dependent on the response of people. Every believer should seek to follow God though they should not have a companion. 68- “To whom shall we go- you have the words of life”- Peter answered that his doctrine was good and life-giving and that if they left Christ there remained for them nothing but death.

Thoughts: Today in America, there is an avalanche of people turning away from faith- as I have said before (10% in 10 years). Turning away (apostasy) is nothing new (see passage above). I disagree with those who say it is healthy that people leave because now we see the true Church. Christ was obviously disheartened that people turned away- yet he still would not dilute God’s Word for them. He also noted that the Church was not still pure- one would still betray them (vs. 71). I went to Cuba in 1993 on a trip to visit the Presbyterian Churches there on their 100th anniversary. There had been a great turning away after Fidel Castro started taking names of those who attended church and said they could not send their children to college or buy new houses or cars, or get the best promotions. Church attendance dwindled to 10-20%. In our passage above, many were willing to follow Christ when he fed the 5,000 and 4,000 (which occurred in John right before this falling away). But when he started teaching the deep truths that he was their source of spiritual nourishment and life- they turned away. The narrow claims of Christ offend many in a day of wickedness and total tolerance. Large crowds will follow Christ if they believe he will do something for them now. The mistake was made in the seeker-friendly churches of trying to make discipleship easy to attract people- taking down crosses (lest they offend), speaking only of the appealing parts of the gospel. Yet. Jesus was continually talking of the cost of discipleship (Mt. 8,10; Lk. 9, 14). In Mainline churches there is a danger in seeking to only meet the physical and mental hunger (food, education) and not the deep spiritual hunger. In Pentecostal churches there is a danger to only heal the body and not the soul. Jesus was concerned about the whole person- all of their life that God have created and given them- physical (he healed), mental (he healed and taught), and spiritual (his sacrifice and boldness in proclaiming truth). In a day in which the Christian faith is losing its popularity in America, we should focus on Jesus- the author and perfector of our faith- who has the words of life for us.

Prayer: Though all fall away, help me to remain close to you. Though times are tough, help me to keep my soul, Lord. Use me today as an anchor to those who are drifting away into the depths of sin.

Friday, January 15, 2010

1/15/10- Calamity and God Luke 13:1-5

1/15/10- Luke 13:1-5

(Left- picture of Hati houses in ruins after the quake)
1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

Calvin abridged: This passage is highly practical, in that we have a natural disease of being too rigorous and severe in judging others and too quick to flatter down our own faults. The result is that we censure with excessive severity the offenses of our fellow Christians, and whenever they have a calamity we condemn them as wicked and evil people. On the other hand, every person that is not facing a calamity by the hand of God slumbers in the midst of their sins, as if they had God’s favor and peace. This is a double fault, for when we see God chastising anyone- he is warning us of his judgments that each of us may examine ourselves and consider what we deserve. If he spares us for a time, we do not need to take that kindness and forbearance as an opportunity to sleep spiritually, but should regard this as an opportunity for repentance.

Thoughts: It was a common thought in Jesus’ day that when a calamity happened the people were especially under God’s wrath. Eliphaz said a similar thing that was refuted in the book of Job (4:7; 22:5). A few days ago Pat Robertson said, "Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," Robertson said on his Christian Broadcasting Network show. "They were under the heel of the French . . . and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.' "True story. And the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal,' " Robertson said. "Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another."
     I am not one who believes God does not wake people up through calamity or disaster, or that God does not use such things. I am also one who doesn’t believe we should not mention God at such a time as this. In fact, we should call out to God for help. Many of those who are answering the call with their time, effort and money in Haiti today are believers who are giving sacrificially during this recession to help those who are devastated. To rule that God has nothing to do with this is naïve, and is an effort to absolve God of anything while leaving the situation totally chaotic. It is not that God is sovereign over everything but the problems of life. Jesus did not indicate that in this passage. We are too quick to shrink God and kick him out of our lives. There was purposeful human evil here- Pilate killed some while they were worshipping. There was also an “act of God” in that a tower fell on others. While Sodom and Gomorrah are examples of God’s wrath (which we are not heeding- by the way); so any calamity should help us cry out to God for mercy and protection; while at the same time we should use such opportunities to do all we can to help those in need But we should indeed be slow to condemn. There is always some sin we have in our past that we could dredge up and point out we deserve God’s wrath. In fact, we all deserve God’s punishment and should be surprised at His blessing. This is where Robertson missed the mark. We all are under the devil’s domain until we come to God. Jesus reminds us, “Unless you repent you too will all perish.” . We should be slow to judge and quick to help and also quick to repent. This should be our response to Haiti- to pray for them- calling out to God, to give for them, and to ourselves turn to God.

Prayer: Today, Lord, help the people of Haiti. Give strength to the workers there. Show me how I might help. We pray that you will spare us from such tragedy, and so we turn to you for mercy and grace.

You may give through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance DR000064 ( for more info. or through Lake Murray Presbyterian Church.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

1/14/10 Matthew 9:35-38 Pray for Laborers

1/14/10- Matthew 9:35-38
He had compassion- Harvest is plentiful- Pray for laborers

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

Calvin abridged: the priests were lazy in their care of the people, but Christ was moved with compassion. Even now Christ has not stopped caring for his church, but looks after his wandering sheep, and gathers those chased by the wolves. 37- The harvest is plentiful- Many people are ripe for receiving the gospel. No one is a faithful minister or teacher by themselves, but the Lord raises them up and endows them with gifts of the Spirit. Whenever there is a scarcity of pastors, we need to raise our eyes to him to bring a remedy.

Thoughts: Jesus saw the problem that we all need to see. We all need to have his eyes to see people as harassed and helpless- bandied about by the weariness, problems, and hassle of life. Our eyes should be focused on those around us- seeing them not for their looks or their money, but their need for the Good Shepherd- for the Lord. Christ’s solution was to pray- ask for God’s help. Not for, as you might suspect, more followers, but for God to raise up laborers. Laborers are the key, and the key to get laborers is not to labor but to pray. Leadership is not a matter of reading a manual only, but it is also a blessing of God. The church needs good leaders today. We are missing a godly Billy Graham or Dwight L. Moody. There is no real leader in the American church today and it shows. People need God- we need to pray for leaders and workers.

Prayer: Today, Lord, raise up leaders who have integrity, compassion, and a great love for you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

1/13/10- Matthew 8:18-22 The Cost of Following Jesus

1/13/10- Mat. 8:18-22- Cost of Following Jesus

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." 20 Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." 21 Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 22 But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

Calvin abridged: Some here were prepared to become disciples of Christ but whose vices prevented them from doing so. It might seem strange that Christ sends back those who offer to immediately follow him. The scribe had been accustomed to a quiet and easy life; enjoying honor, and ill equipped to endure reproaches, poverty, and the cross. He wished to follow Christ but thought of an easy and agreeable, convenient life. But Christ’s disciples must walk among thorns, and march to the cross amidst uninterrupted afflictions. The first lesson is to deny ourselves and take up his cross (Mt. 16:24). “Foxes have holes”- The Son of God was describing his life, but also telling his disciples what kind of life they might expect since their master lived this way. 21- “Lord first let me go and bury my father.” This person had the opposite fault. He was prevented from following Christ by the weakness of thinking it a hardship to leave his father. Probably his father was very old- for “permit me to bury” implies he had but a short time to live. He does not refuse the calling; he only asks for a leave of absence to discharge a duty which he owes to his father. Christ implies that human duties should give way to the call of God. All ought to consider what God calls them to do as individuals lest their earthly parents prevent the highest claims of the highest and only Father of all. 22- “Allow the dead to bury the dead” He speaks of those who only seek to please people and forget God- for they are like the dead.

Thoughts: Years ago a couple joined a church I served because “it’s the right thing to do.” They had been coming every week for four months, and then after they joined they disappeared. I went to see them and they said that after they joined the church everything in their life went wrong. Their roof started leaking, their car broke down, their jobs became harder, and they felt like the devil was after them for joining the church- so they quit! They never came again. They were right, only the devil didn’t just pursue them, they let him catch them! Jesus told a parable about the seeds and the soil some fell on the path, some on rocky soil, some thorny soil, and some fertile ground. Jesus wanted all who truly followed him to not be surprised that some give up the faith when times get hard. Ten percent of Americans have given up the Christian faith in the last ten years. Why? Some give into their pride and think they can live without or know better than- God; Some have given into sin and do not want to repent; but there is no good reason to give up on the Creator and Redeemer. We should watch ourselves that we make sure that we remain faithful. The path that Christ leaves us is a path that is not an easy one and leads to the cross- but beyond the cross to His eternal presence.

Prayer: On the long, hard road, Lord, may I find your presence and grace leading me through. Give me grace for today to be faithful to you though all around me may fall away.

Monday, January 11, 2010

1/12/10- The resurrection affects the disciples

(Resurrection appearance to the women- San Marco Convent Florence- Fra Angelico and school 1440-1)
1/12/10- Mark 16:1-8 Resurrection

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' " 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Calvin abridged: In Christ’s resurrection he obtained  righteousness for us, opened up our entrance into heaven, and ratified our adoption, proving himself to be the Son of God. He began with the women and not only showed himself to them, but commissioned them to speak to the apostles- instructing them. This was to chastise the indifference of the apostles- who were half-dad with fear. Matthew says the two Marys came, but Mark adds Salome and Luke says many women came. But it is customary when a great number are involved for the gospel writers name only a few. The women were commissioned to go and tell the disciples- but especially Peter (because of his crime). Jesus had not cast him off, though he had fallen wickedly.

Thoughts: Jesus cared for his disciples when they had let him and themselves down. Calvin rightfully reminds us of the place of the women in spreading the good news. Similarly, Lydia was the first Christian convert recorded in Europe. God does not care who shares- what they look like, how they were respected by others. He just cares that the good news is passed on. Those who say Christianity has kept women down, naively forget the break-through role of women that really started with the news of the resurrection. From here on- it is not just males who are initiated (through circumcision- as in the Old Testament), or even females initiated in one way (baptism) and males in another (circumcision). But after the resurrection all- male and female are baptized and welcomed in. Jesus showed an amazing care for Peter that he would be restored with hope. God today does not despise the contrite heart.  The disciples were afraid, and the women were brave enough to go to the tomb.  God uses those who are brave enough to trust in Him.  After the resurrection, the disciples were changed and lost their fear.  They went from cowering in a locked room to being martyrs around the world.

Prayer: Today, Lord, may my heart be humbled and honoring to you. May I experience your living presence in my daily tasks today. Help me to look for an opportunity to tell someone else of your amazing life-giving power.

1/11/10- Forecast of Betrayal by a Disciple

(Judas as a disciple- receiving betrayal money-top); c. 1308 Duccio di Buoninsegna)
1/11/10- Mark 14:17-24- Forecast of Betrayal

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me." 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" 20 "It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." 22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." 23 Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them.

Calvin abridged: “One of you will betray me.” The treachery of Judas was even more detestable because he was thinking of betraying him while he sat with him at the holy table. This was no stranger, but an intimate friend. 21- “just as it is written”- Christ meets this offense by declaring that all of this takes place only by the will of God and in accordance with scripture. The sacrifice of Christ was appointed by an eternal decree of God. So let us always remember the providence of God, lest we think our lives are determined by chance. Let us remember this providence which Judas himself, and all the wicked- though it is against their wishes, and though they have another goal in mind, are forced to obey. Yet Christ also affirms here that Judas was responsible. God directs people by an unseen bridle to an unknown destination (cf. Acts 4:27,28 27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”). “Better that he not be born”- Here Christ emphasizes the terrible punishment awaiting the wicked. Yet this life, though short and full of distresses, is an invaluable gift of God. Yet the wicked ruin this gift and head toward their own destruction, so that it would have been better for them if they had not tasted this goodness of God. Yet even this is for God’s glory as Proverbs 16:4 says, “The Lord made all things for himself, even the wicked for a day of disaster.”

Thoughts: Jesus called the twelve, yet he apparently knew ahead of time and predicted one of them would betray him. Yet, he did not let even the possibility of betrayal keep him from calling the twelve and delegating the message to them. Since the beginning, there have always been those who want to ignore these words of our Lord and say that Judas was really a good guy who perhaps was misled. The rock-opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, for example, portrayed Judas in a positive light. Such theories make for good fictional reading, but go against what the Bible says. The Bible indicates Judas was the treasurer of the group, yet he sometimes embezzled from the treasury (Jn 12:6; 13:29).  His love for money was apparently one of the motivations for his betrayal (30 pieces of silver).  He betrayed Jesus with a dishonest kiss- which in itself has become infamous.  The scripture indicates Judas met a terrible and early end not long after his betrayal (Mt 27”1-10), and “went out and hung himself” (though there are some who make a great deal of exactly how this happened- the scriptures give diverse but not necessarily contradictory accounts). Jesus words here show disapproval (uniformly agreed to by all the writers- even the later and diverse (John- 13:18-29) and the words of recorded in Acts (1:15-20) indicate Judas was viewed by all in his day as treacherous and evil. Yet in our evil day, in which we wish to downplay the scriptures and up-play our own proud theories in their stead, we try to portray evil as if it were good. But there is a difference in recognizing that there is evil in people and remembering that God in his providence may turn the worst evil into a greater good. Certainly this is true of Judas, the mocking, scourging, and crucifixion of Jesus. We should remember that our hardships, and even those who speak evil or do evil against us are not the last word.

Prayer: Thank you Jesus, for choosing disciples even though they would betray you. Thank you for calling all of us to follow you. Help us to follow with integrity. Keep us in the faith- preventing us from betraying you. Help us to see your providential hand leading us.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

1/10/10- Mark 10:32-45 Jesus Predicts Suffering

(Gethsemane- where Christ prepared for his death- Warner Sallman)
1/10/10- Mark 10:32-45 (pp My 20:17-19; Lk 18:31-33)

Jesus predicts his death for the third time

32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 "We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." 36 "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. 37 They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory."

Calvin abridged: The apostles had been previously informed about the kind of death that awaited our Lord, but he repeats it again. He sees his death near and is ready to offer himself as a sacrifice, but he also sees the disciples not only afraid, but overwhelmed- blinded by alarm. So Christ encourages them to be steady and not yield to temptation. Christ fortifies them by foretelling what is going to happen, and also forecasting the resurrection. When the sons of Zebedee asked for a place of honor, they timidly asked that Jesus would grant them whatever they asked. This implied they knew this was a wrong-headed question.

Thoughts: Doubtless, this was a sad day for Jesus. He knew he would be leaving his followers, and entrusting the gospel to their care. Yet they were afraid, and also asking for a place of greatness as kind of a last request. This was part of the suffering of Christ. Yet God worked through them despite their frailty to accomplish his purposes. This passage tells us how Jesus faced reality. He could have just spoken about the resurrection- that all will be well in the end. But he also wanted to help his disciples see the bumps in the road ahead, so that they would not be discouraged. It is not un-Christian to recognize the problems of life. Some of the problems we face- suffering, apathy toward our exciting message, even persecution should be faced head on. We should be prepared to set our face like flint- toward our crosses. Yet we also need to not forget who is ultimately in control, and who will win in the end. Perhaps, during this NFL playoff season- an analogy might be we are the smallest player on the team. We will get pushed around a bit, even knocked down because we are so weak. Yet, our team is so much better we are assured of a win.

Prayer: Today, Lord, I may face heartache or suffering, for I am not fully in your presence yet. But keep me strong, and help me to remember the victory that is ours because you faced the cross and are alive.

Today is the Lord's Day.  Look for ways to give the day to Him- the good and the bad.

Friday, January 8, 2010

1/9/10- Mark 9:30-37 Jesus predicts his death and welcomes children

1/9/10- Mark 9:30-37- (pp Mt 18:1-5; Lk 9:46-48)

Jesus predicts his death a second time- become a servant/child

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered over to human hands. He will be killed, and after three days he will rise." 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all." 36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."

Calvin abridged: Those who desire to become great by rising above their peers, will be so far from gaining greatness that they do not even deserve to occupy the lowest corners. It is humility alone that exalts us. A little child is a symbol of humility, but not at all points. Children do not know about contending for the highest rank. The least among you shall be great- We are not called to think more highly of those who deserve to be despised, but of those who divest themselves of pride, and are perfectly willing to occupy the lowest place.

Thoughts: There is a contrast here. Jesus is speaking of his death, and the disciples were arguing about elevating their status. Their pride seems so trivial at such an important time. Pride is indeed the greatest illusion. It is the thing we work for, strive for. We want to be admired by our peers, and be on top of the ladder. But pride is buried with us in death- it does not last. So Jesus elevates children- who are trusting and naïve. Children are dependent on someone else to feed, clothe, love, and care for them. So we are called to depend on God. We are also called by Jesus to welcome children. A little children will lead them (Isaiah says), and so we may learn from the dependency and trust of children.

Prayer: Lord, help me not to seek great things for myself, but great things for your glory.