Monday 30 December 2013

Mark 11:20-33 - Authority questioned

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On the way back to Jerusalem in the morning, the fruitless fig tree Jesus had spoken to had withered. It didn't wither when he spoke to it, nor did it wither later that day (the disciples didn't remark on it as they returned to Bethany in the evening). But now, a day and a night later it has withered from the roots.

Whether or not there is significance in the timing, Jesus explains that faith results in answered prayer. He also mentions the need for forgiveness; perhaps he is saying that in speaking over the tree (which is an emblem of Israel) he also forgives them for their lack of fruit.

He expects fruit and in that sense Israel has failed and must wither like the fig tree, yet she is forgiven, not forgotten. How often do we, too, fail to produce the fruit that is expected of us? This is a lesson for us all, not only for Israel. We need forgiveness because of our failure to produce good fruit. But we must still understand the cost of fruitlessness. What we have done in our own strength and according to our own wisdom will eventually wither away. Elsewhere Jesus tells his followers to lay up treasure in heaven where it will last forever (Matthew 6:14-21).

Back in Jerusalem again, Jesus returns to the temple courts where his authority is challenged. This is a question containing a trap. If he tells the truth and says 'from my Father in heaven' they will accuse him of blasphemy. So he replies with a hard question of his own, a question that also contains a trap. They will not answer, so neither does he.

But we often overlook the truly extraordinary in our eagerness to understand the mundane [Tweet it!]. What is truly extraordinary here? It's this - the Creator of the universe (The Author of existence) is being asked where his author-ity comes from. Mere men who have usurped authority as the leaders of Israel are rudely demanding to know the source of his authority to speak and act. And he listens to them and converses with them.

The fact that he defuses their barbed questions is not surprising, the fact that he deals with them as one man to another is truly astonishing! And he treats us in the same way, face to face, in conversation, as equals even though nothing could be further from the truth. We could never attain the stature to converse with him, so he comes down to converse with us, and love us and make himself known to us.

What a King we have in Jesus! Immanuel, Elohim with us and amongst us!

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Sunday 29 December 2013

Mark 11:1-19 - Things come to a head

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Just a few days before the Passover festival, Jesus and his disciples approach the city and spend several days there, returning each evening to Bethany where Mary, Martha and Lazarus live. It's very likely that Jesus and the twelve stayed with them as they were particularly close friends.

In Mark 11:1-19 we have an account of the first two of these days. Before they reached Bethany and the nearby village of Bethphage, Jesus sent two disciples ahead to collect a young donkey, and he rode upon it as they entered the city of Jerusalem. The crowds cried out 'Hosanna' (save us) and used other words from Psalm 118:25-29.

Jesus spent some time looking around in the temple, but then he returned to Bethany as it was getting late.

In the morning, on the way back to the city, he spoke to the barren fig tree. It represents an equally fruitless Israel. Arriving in the temple courts again he throws out the traders he had seen the previous day. And the chief priests and law teachers were afraid of him and decided to kill him. In the evening they returned to Bethany.

Do you see the deep significance of all this?

Jesus arrives to a modest welcome when the entire nation should have been there rejoicing at the coming of the Anointed One [Tweet it!]. He comes to his own and the great majority of them don't recognise him or welcome him. He enters the temple, raised to glorify the Father, and he sees that it's become a money exchange and shopping mall. The next day he returns to purify the place and on the way speaks to the fruitless fig tree. an emblem of Israel. And the nation's leaders want to kill him.

The scene is set for what appears to be the last act. But it's only the ending of the first half. After an interval of three days the action will begin again when he rises from death and starts a spiritual revolution that nobody expected. Truly he is the One who was promised!

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Monday 23 December 2013

Mark 10:32-52 - Greatest or least?

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It seems that despite all they have seen and been told in Mark 9 and the first part of 10, the disciples still struggle to grasp the idea of a back to front kingdom.

In Mark 10:32 there's a clear distinction between disciples, followers and the Twelve. The disciples are astonished and the followers are scared while the Twelve get extra information.

It seems that the bulk of the crowd (perhaps all of them) are followers. They tag along because they want healing for themselves or someone they know, they want to hear a great teacher, or they want to witness the healings and other miracles. They are hangers-on.

Disciples are more serious followers who believe what Jesus says and want to know more so that they can follow more fully and more closely. They are people who want to see and hear for the purpose of better following, not merely to see wonders.

And the Twelve are chosen, they're called to follow and they get additional teaching and guidance. They are apprentices.

Within the twelve we can distinguish three who are in the innermost circle - Peter, James and John. And perhaps we might even say that John, the 'disciple that Jesus loved' was closest of all.

Jesus tells the three closest to him that he is going to die in Jerusalem and that he will rise after three days.

How disappointing, then, that two of them (including John) ask to sit beside him in his glory! They still don't understand that in order to be great in the kingdom they must give up all status, all power, everything involving self or glory or privilege [Tweet it!]. Here is Jesus in his last few days of ministry, having just explained this very point in the immediately preceding days. And they still don't see it!

Having explained this critical fact again to all twelve they arrive in Jericho. And here Jesus heals Bar Timaeus of blindness. He has just told James and John that he cannot choose who will sit next to him. Now he shows that he will pour out healing on those with the faith for it. It's all about seeing. Bar Timaeus sees, but even at this late stage James and John do not.

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Friday 20 December 2013

Mark 10:1-31 - What really matters

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The current theme (see notes for 18th and 19th December) continues in chapter 10, Jesus is still focussing on the kingdom's back to front nature and the need for his followers to imitate him in choosing the path of humility, emptiness and weakness [Tweet it!].

In Mark 10:1-12 we again see Jesus deliberately contrasting kingdom living with the Law. He answers the Pharisee's question by explaining that the Law exists because of hard-heartedness. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and he sets us free. If we always walked as he does, spoke as he does and lived as he does we would always go beyond the law. By bringing ourselves low and serving one another in our marriages we would avoid the need for any law about divorce.

And in Mark 10:13-16 Jesus again refers to the value of a childlike nature. Young children are inherently trusting, dependent, and straightforward. They are never puffed up with self-importance.

Finally, in Mark 10:17-31, we see the need to become less dependent on physical wealth too. Jesus doesn't mean we should all live in poverty. He is showing us that nothing we have should be more important to us than he is. If our wealth prevents us obeying him and following him we would be far better off without it. The same is true for everything that has value to us. Let it go, it cannot offer you eternal life. It should not be more important than Jesus, if it is it had better go.

Whether we think in terms of law, maturity or wealth, we need to cling to it less and learn to cling to Jesus instead. He is our righteousness.

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Thursday 19 December 2013

Mark 9:30-50 - Selflessness

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In Mark 9:30-50 we get to share in some more of the teaching Jesus gave to his closest followers, the Twelve. Last time we saw Jesus in relationship to five powers and to his disciples; this time we see the greatest secret of his kingdom, something that confuses and ultimately defeats all five. For those who are in the kingdom and know the secret, everything is transformed.

The secret is that everything is back to front. The weak are strong, the hungry are filled, the lost are found and death brings life. If the disciples follow the pattern of the five powers they will fail, so Jesus teaches them about the 'back to frontness' of kingdom living. Notice in verse 30 that he wants time alone with them. He needs to get them away from distractions that will prevent them paying close attention.

He begins by telling them that he will be killed and will rise. Although they don't understand, they will remember this later. The death of Jesus at the hands of the religious and civil authorities is the heart of the kingdom. It is 'back to frontness' at its most extreme. We need to see this for ourselves. It is the greatest possible example for us that the One with ultimate power, the one who created the entire universe, would choose to die. Why? Because through the death of the One will come life for the many.

Jesus knew their hearts, and he knows mine, and he knows yours. They were arguing about which of them was the greatest. If my ambition is to be first I had better choose to be last and least. It's the way of the kingdom and the way of the King [Tweet it!]. He said, 'I am the way'. He illustrated the principle of being least by referring to a small child.

Nor should we be concerned about others doing what we are doing. It's not a competition. If we are doing kingdom work and they are doing what we are doing then they are doing kingdom work too. Let them be.

Nor should we ever cause others to stumble. And we are to get rid of whatever brings about our own stumbling.

Nor should we disagree with one another. The presence of peace between us is a flavour that will enhance everything we do. Jesus doesn't mean that we should never hold different opinions from one another. People differ in character, likes and dislikes, life experiences, woes and triumphs and much more. But we are not to let our differences become strife. Variety cemented by peace is a flavour that we need to have, a fragrance that will leak out into the world. In astonishment, people said of the early church, 'Look how they love one another!'

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Wednesday 18 December 2013

Mark 9:1-29 - Glory and faith

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Mark 9:1-29 explains how Jesus appeared in glory to just three of his followers - Peter, James and John. These three were special friends, the inner circle.

It was a privileged but frightening experience. Peter always had something to say and on this occasion he just came out with the first thing that crossed his mind. He treats Jesus with the same honour as Moses and Elijah who represent the Law and the Prophets, but the voice from the cloud makes it clear that Jesus, the Son, has the pre-eminence. 'Listen to him' implies 'more than to these' or even 'listen only to him'. The Messiah is the fulfilment of the Law and the greatest of the Prophets; he exceeds both as the sun exceeds a candle.

In following him up the mountain, we need to recognise his awesome glory and majesty. He will reveal great and astonishing things to us, but we can't comprehend how far beyond all of them he truly is.

Returning from the high mountain, they find a bit of a commotion going on. Surrounded by a large crowd, the other nine disciples are having a loud argument with the religious leaders.

As soon as the people saw Jesus they ran to him in wonder. This is just as true today as it was then; whenever people truly see Jesus they are filled with wonder and run to him. We can point people in the right direction; we can tell them the stories about the things Jesus did and said; we can tell them how he affected our own lives. But only the Holy Spirit can reveal the living Messiah to a person. And when he does and they see for themselves they always run to him in wonder.

The argument was about a difficult demon that the disciples had failed to cast out. The accepted way to cast out a demon was to ask its name and then use the name to eject it; clearly this cannot be done when the possessed person is mute. But Jesus doesn't need standard methods and does not need to know the demon's name. Although he says that prayer is essential for this kind of demon, he simply commands the demon to leave.

This truly demonstrates his power to the crowd, to the disciples and to the religious leaders too. Nobody can find fault with him. But if the disciples are to deal with a dumb demon they will need to pray and perhaps fast as well. Then they must command the demon to leave in Jesus' name.

We have no power of our own, but because Jesus made us his friends we can speak and act on his behalf. [Tweet it!]

Notice how, in these twenty-nine verses, we see Jesus in relationship with the Law, the Prophets, the religious authorities, the disciples, the world, and the demonic forces. He is greater than all of them, but only his disciples are invited and commanded to join him in his work. Do we really understand what a privilege that is?

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Monday 16 December 2013

John 8:39-59 - Abraham's children

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Jesus, still speaking to the gathered Pharisees and leaders, has just suggested that although they are descended from Abraham, they are acting according to another 'father'. They answer, 'Abraham is our father.'

Jesus just points out again that they are trying to kill him and that's not something Abraham would have done. So now they protest that Elohim himself is their only Father.

'In that case', Jesus tells them, 'you would love me because Elohim sent me.' And he tells them plainly that their father is the evil one. They now claim that he is a demon-possessed Samaritan. They stand before the Mighty One in human form and declare him to be demon-possessed!

Eventually he stops them dead in their tracks by saying, 'Before Abraham was born, I am.' These words were not only nonsense to them, they were also blasphemy ('I am' sounds like 'Yahweh', the Holy Name that may not be spoken) and they started to pick up stones. But before they could throw them, Jesus had slipped away and disappeared into the crowd.

Jesus, the Son of the Most High, has come among them and spoken with them; yet they reject him! [Tweet it!] He explained clearly and straightforwardly who he is, and they tried to stone him. Although the time for crucifixion has not yet arrived, they already hold in their hearts the intention of killing him.

Quite simply, they don't believe him. They don't believe he hears from the Father. They don't believe he is a Jew. They don't believe he is demon-free. They don't understand him or hear him or obey him. They do not believe he is greater than Abraham. They don't believe Elohim is his Father. They don't believe he has seen Abraham. They don't believe he is the Son of the Almighty.

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Sunday 15 December 2013

John 8:21-38 - Who is Jesus?

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Today we are reading John 8:21-38 together.

The religious leaders in Jerusalem have been wrestling with the things Jesus has been telling them, and so far they have failed to understand what he means. And now, speaking in the Temple treasury, he tells them that he is going somewhere, that they will die in their sin, and that they won't be able to follow him. Once again they are puzzled as well as angered.

They want to know who he is. It's an important question for us, too.

Some of them do believe, and to these he says that the truth will set them free. They are puzzled again because they believe they are free, and they claim Abraham as their father.

So just what can we learn from this short passage about who Jesus is? Here are some of the main points.

Verse 20 - He is a teacher and his hour has not yet come. 21 - He is going somewhere and the Jewish leaders cannot follow him. 22 - He is an enigma. 23 - He is from above, he is not of this world. 24 - Those who believe his claims will not die. 25 - He consistently tell us who he is. 26 - He speaks judgement and tells us what he hears the Father say. 27 - He confuses the wise. 28 - He will be lifted up by the Jewish leaders; he is the Son of Man; he does nothing on his own; he speaks what the Father teaches him [Tweet it!]. 29 - The Father is with him; he is not alone; everything he does pleases the Father. 30 - Many believe in him. 31 - He has followers and teaches the truth.

What a Lord! What a King!

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Saturday 14 December 2013

John 8:1-20 - Light of the world

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John 7:53-8:11 is not included in the earliest manuscripts of John. This section may have been recorded or remembered from a real event, but added later. It is certainly a powerful expression of forgiveness and a great example of the action of grace as opposed to law.

In John 8:12-19 we see that as usual, the Pharisees are not happy when they hear Jesus' teaching [Tweet it!]. He uses the phrase 'I am' which in Hebrew sounds very much like the Holy Name that must never be uttered except once each year by the Chief Priest when he entered the holiest place in the heart of the Temple.

Jesus is either saying that Yahweh is the light of the world (using the forbidden Name), or he is saying that he, himself, is. That would also have seemed an outrage to them. Either way they would have been utterly horrified by the statement. Yet both forms of the sentence are true! The Father and the Son are one as also is the Holy Spirit. Together they create light and illuminate the hearts of all who have eyes to see and will follow. Anyone who follows Jesus will have this 'light of life'.

This is not the first time Jesus used the words 'I am' in this way, nor is it the last.

But the Pharisees wanted to challenge the fact that he was witnessing on his own behalf. If a person claims they are 'the light of the world' they had better have some good credentials. Jesus argues that his testimony is valid and is supported by the testimony of his Father. It's pretty clear that they don't understand that he's referring to the Almighty as his Father because they ask him, 'Where is your father?'

As so often, Jesus is speaking spiritual truth when the Pharisees are trying to understand things in a worldly way. They are concerned that he seems to be undermining their authority and so they miss in every sense the evidence that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

We need to be tuned in to the spiritual meaning in everything Jesus does and says.

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Friday 13 December 2013

Introducing Matthew

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Before starting to read and discuss Matthew, here's an overview of the book and its author.

The book - Matthew's gospel was written by a well-educated Jew, probably between 60 and 80 AD [Tweet it!] (thirty to forty years after the events he describes). It seems certain he used three sources; these were Mark's gospel, the text of an earlier account that scholars call Q, and probably his own memories and those of his friends.

This gospel is focussed on Jewish traditions and people, and generally draws on a broad and deep understanding of Jewish society and customs at the time of Jesus. It was probably written for the Jewish diaspora living in Alexandria, Antioch and elsewhere, Jews who would have spoken Greek in everyday life.

The structure of Matthew closely follows that of Mark with the addition of extra material at the beginning (the genealogy and stories of Jesus' birth) and at the end (events after the resurrection).

The purpose of the book is to reveal Jesus as the Messiah, of the royal lineage of David, and the fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures. Matthew is also clear that Gentiles are included.

The author - The book may have been written by Matthew the tax collector (also called Levi), one of the twelve apostles. Certainly this is what the second century church fathers thought. The text itself suggests that the author was fluent in Greek with a good knowledge of either Aramaic or Hebrew (or indeed both).

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Saturday 7 December 2013

Mark 8:22-38 - Seeing, understanding and dying

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What can we learn from this part of Mark 8?

Jesus is happy to heal the blind man, but he leads him away from the village first and afterwards warns him to not even go into the village (Mark 8:22-26).

In the next section, when his disciples declare that he is the Messiah, he warns them not to tell anyone about him (Mark 8:27-30).

In Mark 8:31-33, we see that Jesus is well aware of what will happen to him in the end. He speaks plainly about it. And his criticism of Peter is based on the fact that he's not thinking in terms of pleasing the Father but wants to please people.

And finally, in Mark 8:34-38, he explains to both the crowd and the disciples that all his followers will need to lay down their own lives just as he is preparing to lay down his. If we are ashamed of the Messiah, he will also be ashamed of us [Tweet it!].

What was in Jesus' mind as he made these remarks? Knowing that he had a job to complete, he wanted to avoid becoming too conspicuous too soon. If he had been arrested before the right time, perhaps the disciples would have failed to understand what was happening and why. There would be a right time to be arrested, but that time had not yet arrived.

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Wednesday 4 December 2013

Mark 8:1-21 - Bread and yeast

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The care and compassion of Jesus is displayed again when he feeds the hungry crowd (Mark 8:1-21). They haven't eaten for three days and he knows the journey home will be too hard for them, so he shares out the seven loaves and a few fish that the disciples have at hand.

Bread must have been on the disciple's minds after this, but not in the right way. When Jesus uses the idea of yeast to warn them about the Pharisee's teaching and the politics of Herod, they are puzzled and wonder if he's criticising them for not bringing enough bread for the journey. He reminds them that the quantity of bread they bring is not an issue.

And we are just the same! We get engrossed in worldly issues and worry about those instead of trusting Jesus to supply all our real needs. We talk about football and music and terrorism and the economy, but we forget that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Our minds and hearts are focussed on the wrong things. There's nothing wrong with football or music, and terrorism and the economy are important issues. But having Jesus at the heart of our thinking and speaking and doing should come first. If we are going to be affected by yeast, let it be the yeast that produces the bread of life.

Yeast acts in dough to make better bread. And it acts in grape juice to make wine. Let the yeast of Jesus rise in us and change our spiritual nature. [Tweet it!]

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Tuesday 3 December 2013

Mark 7:24-37 - Amongst Greeks

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In Mark 7:24-37 we see that Jesus is willing to help gentiles as well as Jews. The thing he requires is correct faith, not correct nationality.

Jesus and the disciples were in the region of Gennesaret, on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee. But now they head for the the Mediterranean coast near Tyre and Sidon (today in southern Lebanon). Perhaps they wanted to be away from the crowds for a while (Mark 7:24).

Try to imagine the situation. Jesus and the disciples have been walking all day; they are tired and dusty with aching feet, probably hungry and thirsty as well. They have been dealing with relentlessly pressing crowds of Galilean Jews and arguing with critical Pharisees. They have made a tiring journey to get away from all that, perhaps just for a day or two. They want to gather their thoughts and rebuild their strength through a little rest. Perhaps Jesus needs to spend some time teaching the disciples and explaining things they have not understood.

And now this Greek woman appears, almost immediately on their arrival!

She has come to plead with Jesus to cast out a demon that is harassing her little daughter. And when Jesus tells her that the Jews should have what they need before others, her persistence in faith and her humble but assertive answer was the key to his compassionate heart. Her faith is such that he doesn't need to go with her and see the child. She goes home alone and finds her daughter already free.

Jesus and the disciples head back towards Galilee and into the Decapolis ('the ten towns', another Greek region). And there they ask him to heal a deaf man who can barely speak. Jesus doesn't want to do this in public. He takes the man and his friends away from the crowd to heal him. He sighs deeply. And he tells them not to talk about this healing. They are excited and keep chattering about it, and the more he tells them to stop the more they do it.

Jesus' heart is so open and caring that he gives and gives and gives of himself way beyond what we would see as reasonable. Where there's a need, he meets it, for anyone who asks in faith and expectation.

Are we like that? Are we always patient, always kind, always bringing peace, always good, always self-controlled? [Tweet it!] Where have we heard about such things before? Read Galatians 5:22

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Saturday 30 November 2013

Mark 7:1-23 - Beware of tradition

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Jesus often came up against people who held to tradition even when it opposed what is right. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were particularly likely to cling to tradition, and they were always ready to challenge Jesus when he or his disciples broke with Jewish tradition. Mark 7:1-23 offers us a very clear glimpse of this battle.

But Jesus is not prepared to accept such tradition. Which of our traditions would he accept? Would he accept any of them? What things do we do out of habit and veneration of ancient customs?

The disciples needed help to understand what Jesus meant when he said that we are defiled by what comes out of us, not by what goes in. So what was it that came out of the religious leaders? Jesus provides a long list of items that defile, twelve items that are 'evil thoughts'.

Is tradition evil in the same way as theft or greed or envy? It seems unlikely on the face of it; much tradition may be harmless in and of itself. But the evil thought in the hearts of Pharisees was that tradition was more important than obedience.

We dare not raise adherence to any tradition above obedience to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit [Tweet it!].

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Wednesday 27 November 2013

Mark 6:30-56 - Bread and water

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In Mark 6:30-44 we read about the feeding of the five thousand, while in Mark 6:45-56 Jesus walks on the Sea of Galilee. Both these events are miraculous, both would have been astonishing to the disciples.

Why did Jesus perform miracles, was it just to impress people? No, I don't think so.

Everything he did was in response to the Father's prompting, and almost always it was also in response to some kind of human need. The multiplication of the bread and fish was a compassionate response to a large crowd of hungry men, women and children. Walking on the water was a practical matter of crossing the lake but would also help the disciples understand the previous miracle (Mark 6:52).

Are we becoming more and more like Jesus in that respect? Can we yet say that everything we do is in response to the Father's prompting and/or in response to some kind of human need?

No we can't! We are all too human. But can we say that we are in the process of becoming more like Jesus? If we are following him and our hearts and minds are open to him then, yes, hopefully we can say that we are making progress in the right direction most of the time.

What prevents us growing more like him in our thoughts, words and deeds is usually a self-centred focus on worldly things [Tweet it!]. In the words of the old song, 'Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in his wonderful face. And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.'

See also 'Food for thousands' and 'Walking on water' (Matthew 14) for more on these two events.

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Tuesday 26 November 2013

Mark 6:14-29 - The death of John

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Herod had killed John the Baptist some time earlier, but now rumours reach him that Jesus is John come back from the dead, or perhaps Elijah or a great prophet. And it seems that Herod was spiritually aware and affected by these rumours. He took the view that Jesus was, indeed, a resurrected John. He must have been terrified, and, as a powerful ruler, anxious about the security of his position.

Having shared these details in Mark 6:14-29, Mark winds the clock back and recounts some of the events surrounding John's earlier death. It seems that Herod had not wanted to execute John at all, but actually enjoyed hearing what he had to say.

What can we learn from all this? There are two things, for sure. It's unwise to say what we don't mean, and shame is a powerful emotion that may prompt us to do things we don't want to do.

But apart from those two lessons from Herod's predicament, what else?

We learn that Jesus' fame was immense. Some people thought he was John resurrected. Some thought he was Elijah. Some thought he was a new and great prophet. Those were their best guesses given what they could see at the time. But we know that Jesus is much more than any of these!

Jesus is the essence and substance of the Father, walking amongst us - Immanuel [Tweet it!]. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He was there at the moment of creation and he will still be there at the judgement, sitting on a throne. He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. He is the Bridegroom, the Head of the church, the great I AM.

He is not John the Baptist, he is not Elijah, and he is far more than any prophet. He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the sacrificial Lamb and the Great High Priest. He is the loving Heart of Elohim. And he is our Brother and our Friend.

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Monday 25 November 2013

Mark 6:1-13 - Being sent

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Back in his home town of Nazareth, Jesus taught in the synagogue and performed miracles. But although they were amazed, they also thought they knew who he was - a local building contractor. And they knew his family, so they didn't believe. Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt. (Mark 6:1-6)

Do we all underestimate the value of people we know well? It's quite likely.

And when he sent out the disciples (Mark 6:7-13), he left strong hints for us about the things he expects from us as he sends us out into our contemporary world. Let's see how many we can find.

First of all, Jesus demonstrates what to do before he sends; he took his disciples on a teaching tour, moving from village to village.

Then he says, 'It's your turn now'. And he sends them out in pairs.

He gives them authority. His authority is granted to us so that we can work on his behalf.

They are to go unprepared. Maybe this is a key point that we often overlook. When we are on Jesus' business we should not prepare because he has already done that [Tweet it!]. He knows what situation he is sending you into so depend on his preparation not your own. This makes us nimble and responsive - and dependent.

Stay in the place that is open and receptive. When you're made welcome, don't be hasty to leave.

If nobody welcomes you, move on. Don't flog a dead horse.

Call people to repentence.

Drive out demons and heal the sick. In other words, do what Jesus does.

Is all this complicated? No, it's very simple. Do we find it hard? Yes, because we don't think the way Jesus does. We need to change our thinking, listen, and obey.

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Sunday 24 November 2013

Mark 5:21-43 - Raising the dead

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Sometimes we get focussed on the thing we have decided to do next. But Jesus is always willing to be interrupted. He doesn't get angry or impatient; he is never rude (though he can be very assertive). He always has time for people and he cares about the details of every person's life.

So he listened to Jairus and went with him to lay hands on his dying daughter. But on the way he took the time to identify and speak with the woman who had touched his cloak and been healed of persistent bleeding. It's interesting to note that she was perpetually unclean because of the bleeding, and touching Jesus had now made him ritually unclean too. But Jairus, who has a position of religious authority and must have seen and heard what happened, ignores the ritual aspects. We need to get our priorities right! Jairus' priority was to see his daughter healed.

Taking only the girl's parents, Peter, James and John, he held the twelve-year-old's hand and simply told her to get up. And she did!

See how Yahshua cares about the 'little' things. We think they're little, to him they are important [Tweet it!]. He insists on finding the woman and tells her to go in peace (wholeness); he tells Jairus not to be afraid at the report of the girl's death, and he tells them to give her something to eat. We are called to care in the same way, to really care about the little things as well as the great things.

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Saturday 23 November 2013

Mark 5:1-20 - Many demons

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After the calming of the storm on Galilee, Mark 5:1-20 tells the story of the man with a legion of demons. Jesus and his disciples arrive on the opposite shore of the lake, probably a Greek area. The harassed man falls to his knees before Jesus and the impure spirit in him asks not to be tortured.

In those days asking a demon's name was part of the standard formula for casting them out. Jesus seems to be following normal methods in doing so. This legion of demons asks permission to enter a nearby herd of pigs; these were unclean animals, so perhaps an acceptable home for unclean spirits, and Jesus grants their wish. The pigs end up in the lake.

When the townspeople hear what happened and the see the man acting normally they are very much afraid, and when they hear how it was done they plead with Jesus to leave. As he turns to go, the released man asks to go with him, but Jesus tells him that instead he should tell his story to the people living near his home.

There's a lot here for us to grapple with. As his disciples in our own era and culture we need to see the extent of Jesus authority [Tweet it!]; understand his willingness to work amongst non-Jews; know that we, too, should throw ourselves at his feet; be willing to follow him in ejecting unclean spirits; want to accompany him but be willing to accept whatever instructions he gives us; and be ready to tell others what he has done for us.

That's a lot to take on board, and some of it is very challenging. How will you go forward with this? Where will you begin?

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Friday 22 November 2013

Mark 4:21-41 - Groups small and large

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Mark 4:21-41 explains that Jesus always used parables when he was talking to the crowds, but he explained what they meant to his disciples. And Mark includes outlines of several of these parables about the kingdom.

He says that Jesus used 'many parables' and that he told the crowds 'as much as they could understand'. The stories were not intended to hide things from his hearers, but to enable those 'with ears to hear' to grasp spiritual truth. Deep theological teaching is not the best way to reach ordinary people; that's as true today as it was two thousand years ago. But a good story grabs everyone's attention and if there's spiritual truth wrapped up in the story, some people may get it.

Even the disciples needed help, but that required face to face conversation within a small group or even individually. Jesus alone could never have reached large crowds in that way. But through us, his gathered people, he can today reach the entire world through individual and small group contact.

Not only did Jesus speak to the crowds and to the disciples about the kingdom of heaven; he demonstrated the kingdom in action as well. For the crowds this often took the form of healing the sick and throwing out demons. For the disciples different demonstrations were appropriate.

Mark describes one occasion when Jesus had finished speaking, and they headed across the lake and were caught in a fierce storm. Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves and was obeyed. This frightened the disciples but also prompted them to ask themselves, 'Who is this?'

Like Jesus, we too need to interact differently with groups of various sizes [Tweet it!]. That's why it's good to meet regularly with one or two close friends, but it's also good to meet in groups of between eight and twenty and in exciting, crowd-sized events too. And it's also why we need to demonstrate his love, his authority and the good news about the kingdom to individuals and groups of various sizes.

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Thursday 21 November 2013

Mark 4:1-20 - Sowing seeds

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This is the famous parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20). We probably all know it quite well, but here's something to try. Whether you just read it again now or not, try repeating the story in your own words; maybe jot down the main points as you go along. Then check, what did you get right, what did you leave out?

We can see that the crowds are still pressing in to get close to Jesus. He uses a boat as a speaking platform so that he has a little room and can be heard by larger numbers.

Later, when the crowds have dispersed, Jesus tells his followers what the parable means. They are unable to work it out for themselves; they understand the story well enough (in a farming and fishing community, everyone would have understood how seeds need the right conditions to flourish), but they can't see any application beyond the literal meaning.

He tells them that the secret of the kingdom of Elohim has been given to them. In the early days, he almost always has to explain the secret. But later, they will begin to look for spiritual meaning for themselves. They are slow but they are going to get better at it.

Perhaps we are just the same. There is spiritual meaning everywhere we look - in the natural world, in the way people think and act, in the stories we tell. The question is, are we receiving that meaning? Are we tuned in? Think about the last film you watched or the last novel you read; think about what you saw last time you went for a walk. Can you find spiritual meaning in those places? If you have ears to hear and eyes to see, the meaning will be there. So look for it!

See how patient Jesus is. He is always patient. So in addition to looking for spiritual meaning in everything around us, we also need to be patient with one another and with everyone we meet. We need to grow in grace and wisdom until we attain the full stature of Christ [Tweet it!] (Ephesians 4:13). Does that sound impossible? Yes it does! But with the Almighty, all things are possible (Mark 10:27).

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Wednesday 20 November 2013

Mark 3:20-35 - A spot of bother

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Mark describes how Jesus deals with those who think he's utterly lost it. First his family think it's time to take him in hand, and then the religious leaders decide he must be possessed. He declares them both to be wrong.

His mother and brothers want to take him home for his own good. They're concerned about his sanity and his safety, but he declares that his family consists of those who are following him and doing the will of the Father.

The religious authorities are not concerned for him in the slightest way. They're far more concerned about the challenge to their own authority. They believe Jesus is throwing out evil spirits by the power of a more powerful evil spirit. In a way this makes good sense because there are hierarchies in the spiritual realm; both angelic and demonic forces are inherently hierarchical. This is particularly clear of the demonic where there is always a strong power at the top. But believing the Holy Spirit to be evil comes from a dangerously confused mind. And Jesus tells them plainly that such an attitude cannot be forgiven.

We need to understand that we follow a Jesus who owes no allegience to either the world or to the forces of darkness. He refuses to be pinned down by either. If we are going to follow him he will lead us into all the truth, and he says that the truth will set us free. We will be as free from domination as Jesus is, but it will demand our total focus on him. [Tweet it!] And, just like him, this will make us an affront to worldly people who would tame us or control us.

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Tuesday 19 November 2013

Mark 3:1-19 - Finding followers

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We're only in the third chapter of Mark's Gospel (Mark 3:1-10), yet already the religious leaders are trying to find a way to get rid of Jesus. Although he doesn't say to the man, 'Be healed' (Mark 3:5), they still take the fact of healing as a case of working on the Sabbath.

Jesus' healings and other works are now attracting large crowds and he heads for the Sea of Galilee. And after this he heads up the hillside, calls those he wants, and he chooses twelve to work closely with him.

This is important. Notice that Jesus discriminates between the crowd and his followers, also between them and the twelve. The crowd is interested in what he does and many come because they want something - healing or relief from demonic oppression. Those he wants are looking for much more than healing. They are prepared to climb the steep hillside to hear him, they are committed. And the twelve are the ones he will involve in the details of his work; he will explain the parables to them, send them out to share the good news, to heal, and to throw out demons.

Which group includes you? Are you just looking for some benefit from Jesus? Are you willing to follow him wherever he goes, even when it's hard? Or has he selected you to be a leader?

Well, perhaps it's not quite like that after all. Might it be that we all have an opportunity to pass through these stages in our spiritual lives? Do we begin to show an interest because Jesus is attractive, then believe in him and follow him wherever he goes to see and hear everything he does, and finally work with him under his direction?

Not only is it possible to engage in all these ways, it's also possible to get stuck along the way. Press on for the full adventure with Jesus! [Tweet it!] And where others seem to be stuck, see if you can encourage them on to the next stage.

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Monday 18 November 2013

Mark 2:18-28 - It's the Law

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Jesus is questioned twice in Mark 2:18-28. The first question is about fasting and why Jesus' followers are not fasting like those of John the Baptist and those of the Pharisees. The second question is about working on the Sabbath.

The important point here is that the Pharisees were concerned that the Law be obeyed strictly, completely and in every detail. But Jesus has a different view, saying that fasting is no longer appropriate and that the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.

It's not that Jesus disapproves of the Law. But the Pharisees are more interested in form than they are in function. For Jesus it is the purpose and spirit of the Law that is important, not obedience to it in every minor detail, particularly not when to do so would go against kindness or peace or anything that is part of the nature and character of the Father.

So it makes sense to fast when the relationship with the Almighty is broken, but not in the time and place of its restoration! And it makes sense to have a day free of heavy workload, but not to avoid a relaxing walk while snacking on whatever is easily available.

Jesus is Lord! And he is Lord of everything, even of the Sabbath.

And what about us? Are we going to insist on rules and regulations and spend our time nit-picking and finding fault? Or are we going to rejoice in the One who has already fulfilled the Law, walking freely with him in the great field of life, finding everything we need along the way?

Go out in the world with Jesus, meeting people, blessing them, encouraging them, being a friend, bringing peace and reconciliation [Tweet it!]. Let's be joyful as we do it, not weighed down by meticulous adherence to rules.

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Sunday 17 November 2013

Mark 2:1-17 - Forgiveness

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Here in Mark 2:1-17, we see Jesus forgiving, healing, calling and eating. None of this is accidental, everything he did was based on what he saw the Father do, and everything he said was based on what he heard the Father say. So we should pay close attention to the things he did and the things he said.

So let's do a little noticing in this passage.

Notice that when the paralysed man was let down from the roof, Jesus saw their (plural) faith. It may not be my faith by which I come to forgiveness, sometimes it may be the faith of those who bring me into his presence. Had you seen that before? I hadn't!

Notice also that Jesus treats forgiveness and healing as equivalent. Our healing is our forgiveness. And those we forgive are also healed in a sense, set free to stand up and walk, healed of the paralysis of our unforgiveness. Have you ever noticed the lightness of heart and the peace of mind that passes over a person's face in the moment that they know you are no longer angry or disappointed towards them?

And notice how easily Levi was called; Jesus used just two simple words, 'Follow me'. There's a whole relationship in those words. The first word tells Levi what to do, the second tells him who to focus the action upon. It's the same call we all receive from Jesus. 'Follow me.'

And notice finally that Jesus is willing to interact socially with those the world regards as disreputable. He wants to get to know them and he wants them to get to know him too.

Now let's do as Jesus did. Let's go out today and forgive somebody, heal somebody, call somebody to follow Jesus in some way [Tweet it!], and let's socialise with people who might be regarded as the dregs of society. Quite some challenge for you and me I suspect. But these are some of the first things Jesus did when he began his work.

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Friday 15 November 2013

Mark 1:21-45 - Knowing and communicating

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Mark loses no time in getting to the core of Jesus' life and work. So in Mark 1:21-45 we read how he ejected an evil spirit from an oppressed person, healed many, went away early and alone to pray, and healed a man from leprosy.

The last of these acts is particularly remarkable as the only leper healed in the Old Testament was Naaman, a Syrian. Healing a Jew of leprosy was something that the religious authorities believed only the Messiah would be able to do. When the man said, 'If you're willing you can make me clean' he was either ignorant or he thought Jesus was the Messiah. And if he had done what Jesus told him, the priest would have understood that the Messiah had already arrived on the scene.

These verses remind us of Jesus' power and authority over demons and illnesses. They show that he is the Promised One, the Messiah. And they also show us the value of prayer and the importance that Jesus attached to communicating with the Father.

If we don't get these basic things right, how are we going to be part of what Jesus is doing? [Tweet it!] If we don't know who he is, how will we understand him, honour him, or obey him? And if we don't understand that prayer was essential for Jesus, how will we ever see that we also need to communicate with the Father through the Son?

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Wednesday 13 November 2013

Mark 1:1-20 - Making a start

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Here we are at the start of Mark's gospel, we'll begin with the first twenty verses, Mark 1:1-20.

Mark's opening is a quote from Isaiah 40:3 which he then explains as foretelling the coming and work of John the Baptist. John was clearly very popular and attracted large crowds. But he himself states clearly that he has come to prepare the way for someone much greater. And that is Jesus the Messiah who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus came to John for water baptism and right away he was identified as the Son by a voice from heaven and went out into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one.

John the Baptist was imprisoned, but Jesus headed for Galilee and began proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven. And he called his first followers, four fishermen on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

Mark packs all of this into just a few verses; he's keen to get started on the events of Jesus life. But already there are useful things to notice.

He is predestined and foretold and he arrives at the right time. We are like him in this; the Bible says that we were chosen before the foundation of the world. Father has spoken life into us and we each have a unique spiritual life to live. We are called and chosen to glorify the Father and the Son. We are here for a reason.

Jesus was baptised and received the Holy Spirit in a visible way and the Father spoke and said that he was pleased with him. Again, this is true for us too. When we believe we should be baptised and we also receive the Holy Spirit as our teacher and guide and counsellor. And, in Christ, the Father is also pleased with us. It's not that we have any righteousness in ourselves, but we are covered in Christ's righteousness. We have the Father's love and affection, not because we have earned it but because he has chosen to give it. It's not about what we have done for him, it's all about his nature.

Jesus is in the wilderness for a long time and is tempted and resists. We are like him in this too. Sometimes life seems like a wilderness experience and we need to be patient and persevering. We will be tempted, and we need to learn that, when we resist, the evil one will run from us.

And what does Jesus do next? He proclaims the good news of the kingdom and makes disciples. Once again, we should do exactly the same things. It is what he commands us to do. It's what we were made to do.

Are you living a life that imitates or follows the pattern set by Jesus? By the end of the twentieth verse of Mark, Jesus has already demonstrated how we should live! [Tweet it!]

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Monday 11 November 2013

Introducing Mark

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We'll begin working through Mark's gospel in the next post, but first we'll take a brief look at the book's background and history.

The book - Mark's gospel was probably written in Rome (or possibly Syria or Israel) between 55 AD and 70 AD. It was written in Greek for people unfamiliar with Jewish customs, so Mark puts some effort into explanations of these when necessary. Mark's aim is to draw his readers into becoming disciples in relationship with a living Jesus.

Mark want his readers to have no doubts that Jesus was the Son of the Most High, that he cares about our well-being and the details of our lives. He is not remote or distant or uninvolved. And Mark also wants us to know that we need Jesus, that without him we are helpless [Tweet it!] and can achieve nothing of lasting value.

This gospel doesn't include any details of Jesus' birth (and the account of the resurrection may have been added later), but it focusses especially on the last week of Jesus' life which he spent in Jerusalem.

Mark's Old Testament quotes are not taken from the Hebrew text but are from the Septuagint, a Greek translation. Matthew and Luke were written later and both of them draw on information from Mark.

The author - Mark was an associate of Peter and would have heard first-hand accounts from him about the things that Jesus did and said. Some of the material in the book may have been obtained from accounts by other people.

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Saturday 9 November 2013

John 7:25-53 - Affecting people

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People were still discussing whether Jesus was, in fact, the promised Messiah. Some thought that he could not be, many were sure that he was because of the miracles he did. Some wanted to arrest him, but nobody made any move against him. There was confusion; people couldn't agree how to respond to his teaching. (John 7:25-53)

It's just the same today, isn't it? Some people believe that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. That he is Elohim in human form, the Son of the Father and the sender of the Spirit. People like this accept that he performed wonders and still does so today through his people who call on his name. Some, also believing him to be the Messiah, are of the opinion that although he is King of kings and Lord of lords the time for signs and wonders has long passed.

Some say that he was a great teacher from Galilee, but he was only an ordinary human being. Still others deny he even existed, believing all the gospel accounts to be myth. Some are offended by him and persecute his followers. The people are still divided 'because of Jesus'. (John 7:43)

Jesus had an enormous impact on those who met him. Even the Temple guards sent to arrest him returned empty-handed, saying, 'Nobody ever taught like this man does!' Nicodemus stood up for Jesus, but they just ridiculed him and accused him of lack of learning.

Jesus produces all sorts of reactions in people. Pay attention to your friends, neighbours and colleagues and you'll find this is true. But notice that Jesus accepted these differences. He gave counter-arguments but he didn't try to persuade anyone who didn't choose to be persuaded. So be prepared to tell people what you know about Jesus and demonstrate his nature in the way you live. But approach people as Jesus himself did; encourage people to be persuaded, but remember that in the end they must persuade themselves. [Tweet it!]

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Friday 8 November 2013

John 7:1-24 - At the festival

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In John 7:1-24, we read about Jesus visiting Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. He went despite the fact that he'd been avoiding Judaea and had therefore stayed in Galilee, further north. He travelled to Jerusalem secretly after telling his brothers that he was definitely not going.

Did he lie to them? That seems out of character! Paul Young suggests that Jesus was just listening to the Father and being obedient. His brothers say, 'Come to the festival with us'. Father says to him, 'Don't go, your time has not yet come'. So he tells them, 'I am not going'. After they have left, Father says to him, 'Now go'. So he goes. He made this quite clear himself on other occasions when he said, 'I only do what I see the Father doing' and 'I only say what I hear the Father say'.

We would do well to follow his example. Sometimes we say, with pride, 'I am a person of my word'. But how much better to be a person of the Father's word, a person guided moment by moment by the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Part way through the festival in Jerusalem he started teaching in the Temple courts and the religious leaders were amazed at his knowledge and wisdom. The subject of healing on the Sabbath comes up again, but at this point they seem not to have realised that he is the Galileean that they have been planning to kill.

Jesus' teaching is from the Father; he only says what he hears the Father say. [Tweet it!]

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Thursday 7 November 2013

John 6:52-71 - Outrageous teaching

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In the final section of this long but significant chapter (John 6:52-71), some of Jesus' followers abandon him because of the difficulty of his teaching.

The difficulty is not in what he meant, it's in the words and ideas he uses to put his meaning across. To receive meaning we must hear, listen, understand, and accept (See 1, 2). If something interferes with one of those steps we are unable to accept what is said.

What part of the process failed for the Jewish religious leaders? (John 6:52) What part failed for 'many of [Jesus'] disciples'? (John 6:66). And why did the twelve continue to stay with Jesus?

We are no different from the people who rejected his teaching at that time. When we don't understand something we are unable to accept what we hear; it makes no sense or seems outrageous. [Tweet it!]

It's interesting (and important) to consider which of Jesus' many teachings we are still not accepting. Can you identify some in your own life? What can you do to understand more clearly? Hint: the Holy Spirit might have a role here. Ask and you will receive.

See also
  1. Are you listening?
  2. The need to listen

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Tuesday 5 November 2013

John 6:35-51 - Bread, flesh, life

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John 6:35-51 continues the conversation about bread. The crowd are impressed by the way Jesus had fed so many with so little, and have asked him to give them this bread always. So he explains that he, himself is the bread that has come down from heaven. The religious leaders (John calls them 'the Jews') were unhappy to hear him say that he came down from heaven; they began grumbling about it.

And then Jesus adds, 'This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world'. And the grumbling went up a notch. The religious leaders couldn't understand how he would give them his flesh to eat. It sounds like cannibalism. It was abhorrent to them. It would break all sorts of Mosaic Law.

Jesus is saying that we must feed on him, not literally but spiritually. [Tweet it!] The manna that the Israelites ate in the desert saved their lives, yet they still eventually died. This spiritual bread on the other hand is sustenance that will save lives eternally.

So are we looking for ordinary bread that we buy in a shop or bake in an oven? Or are we looking, as the crowd did, for miraculous bread that becomes more and more as necessary? Or are we looking for what Jesus really offers, for the spiritual bread, his body, the bread that brings eternal life? He is the true bread that has come down from heaven like the manna. And he gives himself for us so that we may live.

If we are going to be his disciples we need to begin by understanding these mysterious truths. It's not just that he gives life or brings life, but truly he is life.

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Saturday 2 November 2013

John 6:16-34 - Crossing the lake

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This section, John 6:16-34, does not stand alone. It's just a part of one story that we've broken into small sections to read daily. After the miracle of the bread and fish, Jesus went into the mountains alone to escape the crowd. Now it's getting dark and he's still not come back, so the disciples get the boat ready and as night falls decide they'd better head home.

And in the middle of the night, Jesus turns up. He's walking across the lake towards the boat. The disciples are understandably freaked out by this strangeness, but when Jesus speaks they recognise him and welcome him into the boat.

Astonishingly, although they'd been struggling at the oars for hours, once Jesus steps into the boat they arrive immediately at their destination.

The crowd eventually realise that Jesus has gone and set out to find him on the other side of the lake. When they do they are full of questions about the miraculous meal and about who Jesus is. They want to know when he arrived. (They're still puzzled about it.)

Jesus doesn't answer this question, instead he tells them why they've been trying to find him. (He knew what was in their hearts.) And he begins to tell them about spiritual food. They respectfully ask him to always give them this food.

We see here how Jesus deals with people on so many levels.

The disciples have an easy relationship with him. They are not abandoning him, they know he's not predictable or tameable, and they already understand it's OK to do what they think best when he doesn't give them direct instructions. And they're quick to accept him despite the strangest of circumstances and a bit of a fright on the lake at night.

The crowd is less clear. They still think they can control him, perhaps by making him king. He doesn't answer the questions they ask, but instead he answers the harder questions that they did not ask.

We're all on a journey. Are you more like one of the disciples or one of the crowd? [Tweet it!]

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Friday 1 November 2013

John 6:1-15 - Feeding the hungry

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John 6:1-15 is the fourth of the signs in John.

Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, but in doing so himself he reveals his power and authority over the natural world. He has collected a large following by this time; people who have seen the miraculous healings want to know more or perhaps want healing themselves. And they are very determined followers, tracking him across great distances.

Philip points out they don't have enough money to buy bread to feed everyone. Andrew mentions that there's a boy with a little bread and fish, but clearly a woefully inadequate supply for so many people.

Jesus ignores both remarks and just goes ahead with the preparations for an ultra large picnic. The people sit on the grass. Jesus gives thanks and passes around the food. When everyone has eaten their fill they tidy up, [Tweet it!] collecting leftovers that far exceed the amount of the original supply.

The people were convinced by Jesus' powerful demonstration and wanted to make him king, but he slipped away quietly and alone.

Notice that Jesus doesn't make a great show of this miracle. He does it quietly, but everybody there that day would remember it for the rest of their lives. We should work that way too. All of the glory should be his, not ours. We are like the disciples, stumbling along thinking that the problem is too great to be solved. So when Jesus deals with it in a quiet but unexpected way, we are astonished.

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Thursday 31 October 2013

John 5:31-47 - Testimonies

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Jesus continues speaking to the Jewish religious leaders in John 5:31-47. And it would have been rather uncomfortable to have been on the receiving end of this stuff.

Jesus speaks of the need for independent witnesses. It is not sufficient for a person to testify on their own behalf. John the Baptist testifies for Jesus, but the work that the Father has given him is a far greater testimony. [Tweet it!]And not only does Jesus' work testify for him, so also does the Father who sent him.

Jesus tells them plainly that they study the Old Testament thinking it's the source of eternal life. But all the time they fail to see that the words they read allude to Jesus' own arrival and work. And he also criticises then for glorifying one another yet failing to search for the glory from Elohim. Jesus tells them that Moses himself will accuse them. They don't believe what Moses wrote so how will they ever believe what Jesus says?

We need to believe what Moses wrote and what Jesus says. Do we?

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Tuesday 29 October 2013

John 5:16-30 - Jesus explains

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It's clear that the religious leaders were offended by Jesus and wanted to silence him. They were offended mostly because people were following him and hanging on his every word. They were upset by his authority, or rather, they were upset at being eclipsed by him. They were looking for justifiable criticisms that would prove he could not be the Messiah.

One of these was that he broke the Law. Working on Shabbat was not allowed and Jesus had been healing people without regard to this day of rest. As upholders of the Law they were representatives of Moses and thought themselves responsible for keeping everyone in line. Jesus was blatantly disregarding their teaching, he was undermining them. They saw him as an arrogant upstart.

And what Jesus says to them in John 5:16-30 makes it even worse! He claims to be the Son of Elohim. He claims to have been entrusted with judgement. He claims to deserve the same honour as the Almighty. He claims that hearing him and believing him is a matter of life and death.

The religious leaders (most of them) reject all of this as dangerous nonsense and a direct assault on their authority.

Everyone faces the same choice that they did. Jesus is either who he says he is or he is a fraud. [Tweet it!] He speaks the truth or he is a dangerous liar. He comes from beyond this world or he is delusional. What he is not (and never claimed to be) is what the Victorians sometimes made him - gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

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Monday 28 October 2013

John 5:1-15 - Another healing

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John 5:1-15 tells the story of another sign, another healing and another pool in Jerusalem. At the Pool of Bethesda there was a tradition that the first person into the water after it was disturbed would be healed. This is from verse 4 which is not present in all the ancient manuscripts.  We don't what what caused the disturbance, it might have been bubbles rising from the bottom or the wind stirring the surface. But whatever the cause, the important thing was to be quick to jump in. This would be difficult for anyone with a physical disability.

Jesus asks a simple question, "Do you want to be healed?" But the man doesn't say "Yes", instead he gives an excuse. He does want to be healed. Who wouldn't? But he thinks there's only one way for it to happen - and he's just not fast enough.

For Jesus it's much simpler than that!

Does Jesus care about following methods and traditions? [Tweet it!] Does he worry about healing someone on the Sabbath? No. He is a rule breaker because he came to set us free from rules. Therefore, neither does he give us new rules to follow. Instead he explains that there is only one rule, the rule of love, and that is enough. (See Deuteronomy 6:5 and Mark 12:28-34)

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Sunday 27 October 2013

John 4:27-54 - Spreading the word

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In John 4:27-54 we have a perfect example of our role as disciples of Jesus. The Samaritan woman set an example for us, and no doubt it was an example for the disciples too. They were not there when Jesus spoke to the woman, though he clearly told them about it as otherwise John could not have written it down. But they certainly witnessed what happened next.

The disciples were curious about the conversation, and perhaps once the woman had gone back to the village Jesus might have shared it with them. The water jar would have been heavy and awkward to carry, why do you think the woman left it there at the well? Maybe it was no longer the thing most on her mind, or perhaps it would have delayed her.

For whatever reason, she left it by the well and rushed back to the village. She told them about Jesus and how he'd known all about her, and they all came to see for themselves. [Tweet it!] This is a crucial step in reaching people; tell them about Jesus until they're intrigued enough to come and see for themselves. While she's away Jesus tells the disciples that what really sustains him is doing his Father's will.

After a couple of days listening to Jesus, the villagers know who he is.

Back in Galilee, Jesus heals the royal official's son without having to see him or touch him, and this is the second sign in John.

Bringing people to meet Jesus, and healing people in his name are two of the most effective ways we can reach people in our own day and culture. We should therefore pray for the church to be doing these things and we should be open to be doing them ourselves. The first needs a little courage, the second needs a spiritual gift, both are useful and can have a profound effect on people.

Jesus said, "I'm with you to the end of this age. So go and do similar things." He means you and he means me.

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Saturday 26 October 2013

John 4:1-26 - Living water

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On the way back to Galilee, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. With the disciples busy shopping, a most amazing conversation takes place. (John 14:1-26)

The normal times to draw water are when it's cool, early morning and late evening. This woman is at the well at midday, probably because she doesn't care to meet the other village women. Jesus asks for a drink thereby breaking all sorts of taboos.

Talking to a woman alone was bad enough, and the fact she's Samaritan makes it even worse. Samaritans were ritually unclean to Jews, so technically, drinking from her jar would make Jesus unclean too. It's just not what any self-respecting Jewish rabbi would do. Self-respect - did Jesus have self-respect? I suggest he did not, at least in the sense we usually think of it. He is always other-centred, never self-centred.

Living water is flowing water (rivers of living water, a spring of water welling up). Still water, such as well water, was not regarded as living water. And Jesus brings a word of knowledge for he always knew what was in a person (John 2:25). The woman now knows he's a prophet.

Then there's a discussion about the most fundamental difference between Jew and Samaritan. Jews worshipped in the Temple, Samaritans on a local mountain. Jesus says that this isn't important, it's not where we worship that counts, but how we worship. [Tweet it!]

She mentions the Messiah who 'will explain everything'. The One who has just explained everything says he is the Messiah. How extraordinary that perhaps the deepest, clearest and most self-revealing conversation Jesus has with another person is with a Samaritan woman! Anyone who thinks that race or gender matters to Jesus should put this conversation in their pipe and smoke it. And what does not matter to him will not matter to anyone who truly follows him.

We see the fundamental nature of Jesus very clearly indeed in these verses. Soak them up, dwell on them, read the passage through again and again. Pray that you will become more and more and more like Jesus in your own thinking and living. There are also very useful hints here on how to approach people in the world. Show them compassion, ask them to meet your need, pique their curiosity, and reveal the Messiah's nature.

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Friday 25 October 2013

John 3:22-36 - The Baptist's view

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John the Baptist was very clear about who Jesus was. Both in his own mind and in what he said to others, he fully recognised that his task had been to introduce the main act. He knew that his was a preparatory and supporting role and that Jesus was the One who had been promised through the prophets. John 3:22-36 covers these ideas.

There was a lot of baptising going on at that time. John was still baptising those who came to him, but meanwhile Jesus' disciples were baptising people too. When one of the Jewish religious leaders debated ritual washing with some of John's followers, John told them plainly that you can receive only what you are given.

I think that is a key teaching for us, certainly for me. Sometimes we want to be or do more, we are ambitious and restless. That's a good thing, by the way. But we cannot become what we are not. We can receive only what we are given. [Tweet it!] However, when it comes to receiving the Holy Spirit we should always have an abundant supply. John made this very clear when he said, "For the One sent by Elohim speaks words from Elohim, because El gives the Spirit without limit".

John was referring here to Jesus as the One sent, but it's also true for all those who follow Jesus. We, too, are sent by the Almighty. We too speak his words. And he has freely and abundantly given us the Holy Spirit too.

Let the Baptist's words sink deep into your being. He is writing about Jesus' nature. We know where he comes from. We know that he speaks the truth. We know he gives us his Spirit without limit. So there is nothing to prevent us receiving the Spirit fully and so going out daily in power and truth and love and joy, sharing the good news with all who will listen.


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Thursday 24 October 2013

John 3:1-21 - Nicodemus

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We know that on the whole the Pharisees were very critical of Jesus. They were concerned that the Law should be kept at all costs and in the smallest detail. Yet there were some Pharisees who were sympathetic towards him and wanted to understand his teaching. One of these was Nicodemus.

Perhaps he didn't want his colleagues to know what he was up to because he came to see Jesus after dark. Nonetheless he came. And he had questions. They were 'I want to understand' questions, not 'I want to catch you out' questions.

Jesus explains that he is offering people something that is like a second birth, a new beginning. [Tweet it!] It's not a bodily beginning but a spiritual one. Although Nicodemus has little chance of really getting it, Jesus explains the whole deal pretty thoroughly.

People have been bitten by the evil one who is like a poisonous snake in his dealings with us - just look at the way he deceived Eve in the garden. We are doomed as a result of Adam and Eve's disobedience (and our own). But all we have to do is look to Jesus and we will live.

Now read Numbers 21:4-9 and see the parallel, Nicodemus would have known these verses well and would have understood, at least in part. (We have the benefit of hindsight and understand what Jesus means when he says the Son of Man must be 'lifted up'.)

In the end, Nicodemus did get it. See John 7:45-52 and John 19:38-42.

Jesus came to reach everyone who would accept his message and believe in him. In principal he is not opposed to anyone, but not everyone chooses to follow him. All we have to do is turn to him and look upon him and we will live. And seeing this, shouldn't we also accept anyone and everyone who will come?

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