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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