Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Mark 8 - The exact representation of God

Mark 8

This chapter begins with Jesus performing a repeat of the miracle of loaves and fishes that we saw in chapter six. The crowds followed Jesus into the wilderness and the disciples want Jesus to send them away because it is getting late. There are too many to feed. But Jesus has compassion on them.

It is important to remember here that Jesus behaves exactly as God the Father does. Hebrews 1:3 says: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” John puts it this way: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus is the perfect example of what God would say or do. We can see the heart of God in Jesus.

Sometimes people get a skewed view of God reading the Old Testament. There are many passages in which God is executing judgement and wrath on humanity, and it’s possible to use those passages to create a picture of what God is like. But that would be incorrect. It is so easy for us to take things out of context and get an image of God that is not like him at all. Jesus remedies that situation. He is the clearest expression of God. He is a revelation of God’s heart towards us. Keep this in mind as we continue through the book of Mark.

And he is compassionate on the crowd. When Jesus sees them, he is moved by their needs.  The Father’s heart is one of compassion towards us. He is not indifferent towards your needs. He cares. And when you come to Him, he takes care of you. The scriptures say He “longs to be gracious to you” (Isaiah 30:18).

Later in this chapter, we see the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign. They want something to prove that he is from God. What exactly were they looking for? He had already performed a host of miracles practically everywhere he went. He had healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, and feed the masses. What more evidence did they really need?

The Gospel of Matthew gives some further details of this encounter. Jesus says “a wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign”. They already had all the evidence they needed. They weren’t looking for a chance to believe, they were just trying to find faults.

The picture Jesus paints of the Pharisees is clear in the scriptures. They were hypocritical, concerned with appearance, and not truly holiness. They claimed to be the closest ones to God, and yet they couldn’t recognize Him. Here was Jesus, the exact representation of God, and they wanted a sign. It just shows how far away their hearts were from Him. Jesus warns the disciples about the teaching of the Pharisees. They cared about the outside, the regulations, the traditions, but not the condition of the heart.

Jesus later takes them to Caesarea Philippi, the furthest most north part of the nation. This was a place full of gentiles, a place full of idolatry. And in front of a cave called the “Gates of Hell” he asks the disciples this question: who do you say I am? This is the focus of the entire book of Mark. Who is Jesus? Peter makes the inspired exclamation, “you are the Messiah”. Matthew records him adding, “the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). God has revealed himself to man in the person of Jesus Christ.  

At this point Jesus changes gears. He begins to explain what would soon happen to him. He would suffer, and be rejected, and be murdered, and then in three days be resurrected. This was difficult for the disciples to accept. How could the Messiah die?

Peter cannot take it. He rebukes Jesus. This is odd considering that he just confessed that Jesus was the Son of God. His preconceived notion of the Messiah didn’t fit Jesus version.

Jesus rebukes Peter in no uncertain terms. He calls him Satan. In just a few minutes, Peter has been the voice of both the inspiration of the Father in heaven, and of the devil. In a worldly sense, Peter’s rebuke makes sense. How could the messiah be rejected? How could God die? It was surely improper. It was scandalous. But is was true.

Jesus death and resurrection were absolutely essential to his mission. He was going to be the sacrifice that “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This is the ultimate expression of love. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). This is the heart of God. He gives his very life for you.

Jesus goes even further. He has described his death, now he goes on to describe the death of his followers. Pick up your cross and follow me, he says. In those days, criminals would be required to carry the heavy crossbeam of their cross to the place they would be executed. What Jesus meant would have been perfectly clear. You would carry your cross to your execution. No other reason. When Jesus said, pick up your cross, he meant that following him was a death sentence. There are consequences for following Jesus.

Let’s not water this down. Jesus didn’t say, you’ll have to give up some stuff to follow me. He didn’t say, you’ll lost some of your spare time when you choose to be my disciple. He didn’t say, it’s going to be burdensome to follow me. He said you’d have to give up your life.

He told them he was going to die and be resurrected. “If we die with him, we will also live with him” (Tim. 2:11). To be resurrected, you first have to die. Jesus is not interested in half-hearted devotion. Your faith is going to be tested. Either you give him everything or nothing. You have to decide what he is worth to you. Is he worth your life?

Monday, May 11, 2020

Mark 7 - Dropping the formula

This week I want to revisit Mark chapter 7, specifically the last passage in the chapter. This is story is the story of a healing of a man who is both deaf and mute. The people who bring him to Jesus are from the region of the Decapolis. You may remember them. They are the ones who not long ago asked Jesus to leave their region because of the demons who killed a herd of pigs. Their attitude is completely different now. They were once terrified of him, and now they say “he does everything well.”

Jesus heals this man in a very interesting way. He could have healed him with a word; he had done that before. He could have healed with a touch. Instead, he goes through an elaborate, and frankly gross, ritual. He sticks his fingers in the guy’s ears, spits, and touches his tongue, and says be healed. Why go through this whole ordeal?

Jesus knows the source of our infirmities. He doesn’t heal us the same way as everybody else. He treats every one of us as an individual. Jesus separates the man from the crowd before he heals him. We are not just a number to him, not just a nameless face. The scripture says he has every hair on our heads numbered (Luke 12:7). Jesus personalizes this miracle, I believe, to suit the needs of the deaf man. He does what is needed to address the root of the problem.

There is a connection between the way Jesus heals and the way the Holy Spirit moves in the book of Acts. Jesus worked his miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit. We saw how he began his ministry when the Holy Spirit rested upon him at his baptism. He promised that we would do the same things (John 14:12). The power that was at work in Jesus is at work in us as well.

If Jesus had always healed in the same way, we would have tried to formulize it. We would have made it ritual. We would have tried to take the steps and divorce them from the person of the Spirit. People love formulas. We want things to be a set way, and we want it to work every time. Look at the Pharisees at the beginning of this chapter. Jesus rebukes them for giving more attention to their traditions than the commandments of God. They had turned the worship of God into a series of formulas.

This is the appeal of witchcraft. Witchcraft is a way of getting power apart from God. If Jesus had always said the same words, or always done the same thing, we would have made it into an incantation.

We see an example of this is in Acts 19. The seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, tried to cast out demons using Jesus name, like Paul was doing. “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” The demon possessed person laughed at them, beat them up, tore off their clothes, and chased them off. They were trying to use the formula. They didn’t know Jesus, and they didn’t have the Spirit. They were just trying to use his name to get what they wanted.

But that is not how the Holy Spirit works. He is not some impersonal force that we can bend to our will. We are in a relationship with him. His power is worked in our lives when we yield to him.

Later on, in Acts 19, the people build a huge bonfire with all their books of magic spells. They have realized that the formulas don’t work. Relationship is what is needed.

We can rest assured in God that we are unique to him, and he knows exactly what we need. He is not interested in rituals. He does not care about traditions. He wants a relationship with you.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Mark 7 - clean hearts

Mark chapter seven covers three different encounters in Jesus ministry. I want to do things a little different this week and only focus on the first story. It begins with some religious leaders coming from Jerusalem to see Jesus. Jerusalem was the home of the temple, the capital of the nation. It was, in a word, important.

 Jesus fame has spread now to the religious elite there. When they show up, they are not happy. Immediately they find fault with this miracle worker. His disciples are defiling themselves, eating with unwashed hands.

Jesus defends his disciples and turns the accusation on its head. The disciple’s hands are dirty, but the Pharisees hearts are dirty. What is important to God is the condition of the heart.

There are two things that I want to focus on in this passage. First, is the application of the law. This law was the law given to Moses in the first five books of the bible, also called the Torah. The Pharisees were extremely concerned with following the legal requirements of the Torah which included a host of dietary restrictions. 

Jesus makes this amazing declaration: it is not what goes into you that defiles. He declares all foods clean. This must have come as a real shock to the Pharisees. Was Jesus just throwing out the entire Torah? But Jesus said himself that he didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfil it (Matt. 5:17). This is a question that many believers encounter sooner or later. Why is that we follow some of the old testament laws (i.e., not to murder or commit adultery) but not others (like dietary restrictions)?

There are three types of law in the old testament. The civil law, the ceremonial law, and the moral law. 

The civil law was for the purpose of governing the nation of Israel in those times. These are laws that were not meant to be applied universally but were meant to provide a legal system for the people at that time. This would encompass some of the punishments that were required for certain sins. How can we be sure that this part of the law has passed away? Jesus himself does not follow it. When the woman caught in adultery was brought before him, the law required that she be stoned. Jesus offers her forgiveness (John 8). Mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13).

The second type of law was the ceremonial law. This law was given to teach the Israelites how to worship. They all revolve around the proper way to provide a sacrifice. These were fulfilled by Jesus when he died on the cross. “For by on sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14). There is no longer any need to provide those sacrifices, because Jesus was the perfect sacrifices. That whole sacrificial system was simply a stop gap measure, meant to point us to Jesus. The law “can never, by the same sacrifices continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near” (Hebrews 10:1). But “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

The third type of the law is the Moral Law. The Moral law governs how we treat each other and how we treat God. Jesus summed it up neatly. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. In these laws everything else is fulfilled (Galatians 5:14. Mark 12:30-31). These are binding for all time. The ten commandments are a good example of these laws. Jesus really simplified it for us. Love God, and love others.

God has always put higher priority on the moral law than the ceremonial law. Look at these passages. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). “The sacrifices of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him (Proverbs 15:8). “Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” (1Samuel 15:22).

The Pharisees were concerned about the outward expression of worship, but they neglected what’s on the inside. Jesus calls them out: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…” (Mark 7:6). If you want to really be clean, wash the heart. The ceremony means nothing if we are not committed to following God.

The second thing that I would like to point out here is that traditions can sometimes interfere with the plans of God. The Pharisees had all these terrible traditions that were opposed to God’s rules. The illustration Jesus gives is the “Corban” or gift devoted to God. Instead of supporting your parents, you gave that money to God. And the Pharisees would not let you help your parents after that.

It seems so obvious that this tradition is exact opposed to God’s law, but we have a better perspective than they did. We might well ask: what traditions or habits do we have today that are in opposition to God’s plan? I think we should consider that question carefully lest we make ourselves hypocrites.

To be clear, I am not talking about matters of preference. There has been a lot of division in the church over unimportant things, like the style of music we play. I can not think of any reason why playing either traditional or contemporary music would be opposed to God’s plan. Or the color of the carpet or a million other things that spilt churches. I fear that much of that argument has to do with prioritizing selfish motives. If you are not the one in charge of a particular aspect of ministry in your church, maybe you should leave those decisions to those God has placed in that position of authority.

What I am talking about here is how you follow God. Is your spiritual walk based on what it says in the word of God, or is it driven by habit? How many things do we do that are just going through the motions? Are we just honoring God with our lips? Maybe it’s time to ask God if he wants to make any changes in your life. We need to be flexible with God. 

Remember a few chapters ago, Jesus told the disciples, new wine must be put in new wine skins. If you want God to do something new in your life, you need to be flexible. You need to be yielding. God may need to stretch you.

The washing of the hands was symbolic. It was to remove the defilement. The idea of defilement was that it made something dirty, or filthy, or unholy. It was not longer set apart.

To give an example, I once had a toaster. On morning as I walked up to it, I was shocked to see a mouse jump out of the toaster and run behind the refrigerator. I looked at my toaster and realized I could never use it again. How do you clean a toaster? All I could imagine was the little mouse feet running all over my bagels. I got a new toaster.

My toaster was defiled. I could not use it anymore for the purpose that I had set it apart for. Hand washing was a good symbol for defilement. It was easy to see the grime that was swept away as the hands were washed. But the Pharisees had missed the point. What we really need to be kept clean is our hearts. Our spiritual life needs to be pure, because that is set apart for communion with God.

Today handwashing is particularly relevant. One of the top things the CDC recommends to protect against the spread of the coronavirus is handwashing. It prevents the spread of disease. But even more important is our spiritual cleanliness. We need our hearts to be washed. We need to protect ourselves from spiritual disease. Jesus gives a list of things that defile our spiritual lives: “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, pride, foolishness” (Verse 21-22). Let’s come in repentance to God and let him wash our hearts. Let’s yield to the Holy Spirit and let him work out him his love inside of us.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Mark 6 - Seeing Jesus

The sixth chapter of Mark centers around how we see Jesus. His reputation had spread at this point in his ministry, and people were talking about him. Some said he was a prophet, some said Elijah, some said John the Baptist come back from the dead (verses 14-15). How we see Jesus is important because it determines how we respond to him. How we relate to Jesus is the most important question of our lives. Our future, both in this life and the one to come, is determined by this question: Who is Jesus?

In a series of stories, we see how Jesus was received from a variety of perspectives. The first story in the chapter has Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth. The people are amazed at the change in him since he left. He is preaching with power and performing miracles. But their amazement quickly sours. They know Jesus’s family, his mother and brothers and sisters. He probably grew up in their synagogue. He was a carpenter here not long ago, and now he thinks he’s a prophet? The people take offense at him.

Jesus reputation was spreading. Even King Herod had taken notice. Mark tells us the story of how King Herod executed John the Baptist. He tells that Herod liked to listen to John, but he was puzzled by his words. John told him he was committing adultery and Herod was… interested. He didn’t repent, but he kept calling John back to speak with him. In the end, he has him executed to save his reputation. For Herod, John was a curiosity. Now Jesus is the next side show.

The people love Jesus. They swarm into the wilderness after him. He has compassion on them and feeds five thousand of them miraculously with only five loaves and two fish. In another gospel, we are told that at this point they want to come and make him king by force (John 6:15). The people see Jesus as someone they can use. He will be the instrument that frees them from Roman oppression. He will satisfy their stomachs. For them, Jesus is a just way to get what they want.

Even his own disciples do not understand him yet. That night Jesus walks out to them in the middle of the sea of Galilee (to escape the king-making mob). They are terrified, until he gets in the boat with them. Mark tells us, “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves, their hearts were hardened” (Verse 52-53). Even the disciples didn’t get it. It is not until two chapters later that Peter makes his confession, “You are the messiah.”

The disciples often seem so dense, but it is important to remember that they still had a veil over their hearts. When Peter makes his confession, Jesus responds, “this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). We can’t truly see Jesus as he is unless the Holy Spirit illuminates our understanding. Jesus told us, “No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

So how do you perceive Jesus? Do you find him offensive, like the people in his hometown? Or is he a curiosity? Just an interesting character, a good moral teacher, like King Herod saw? Like the crowds, is he just there to solve your problems when you need him?  Or is he the Messiah, the Son of God, as he revealed himself to his true followers? It’s the most important question.

Let’s look at the outcome of the responses of the people in this chapter. The people in his hometown were offended, and consequently they had no faith. The mighty works he did in other places were not repeated there. There were only a few healings. The people had no faith, and they missed his ministry completely.

Herod gets his chance to finally see Jesus the day he is crucified. He hopes to see a miracle but is disappointed. Jesus is silent before him. His curiosity quickly turns to ridicule. He mocks Jesus and sends him back to his trial.

The crowds are also disappointed. They chase Jesus all over the district of Galilee and eventually track him down. Jesus tells them the truth, that what they really need is spiritual bread and spiritual freedom. He explains that it can only be found through faith in him. Their hope ends in disillusionment. Many of his followers abandon him that day (John 6:66).

His disciples who stay get to see him as he truly is. “The lamb of God takes away the sin of the word (John 1:29). The King of Glory (Psalm 24:9). The Creator who stepped into his creation to redeem it (John 1:3). They receive the Holy Spirit and are entrusted with the gospel message. They are adopted into God’s family (Eph. 1:5). We need the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to us. We need him to transform our minds and make Jesus known to our hearts. I pray that he would reveal Jesus to you in a new deeper way today.

At one point in this chapter, Jesus invites the disciples to come away with him. They had just come back from a missionary trip and there was so much going on they couldn’t even eat. Jesus makes this invitation to them: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” This is the only way to really get to know him. If you want to see him correctly, you must draw close to him. If you want to relate to him properly, you must be in a relationship with him. That invitation still stands. Come away with him. Spend some time with him in a quiet place. Let him refresh your soul.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Mark 5 - Quarterlife Study - Fear

We are in the fifth chapter of Mark this week and Jesus’s ministry is well under way. The chapter consists of three seemingly unrelated incidents: the healing of a demon possessed man, followed by a funeral where a young girl was raised from the dead, with an interruption in the middle where a woman is healed of a long-standing disease. There is, however, a common thread connecting all these events: fear. Let’s explore how this theme is developed in the chapter.

Let’s start by taking a quick trip back into the end of chapter 4. Here Jesus crosses the sea of Galilee with a small group of boats. A storm comes and threatens to overturn the boats, and Jesus is… sleeping. The disciples freak out, and wake him, and with a word he calms the storm. Then he asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Jesus here gives us the key to defeating fear: Faith.

The thread continues in Mark 5. There are four different perspectives of fear given here. The first is the fear of the demons.

The demons come and beg Jesus not to torture them. This is an interesting request. It is obvious they have been torturing this man whom they have possessed. They are afraid of Jesus because he has the power to do whatever he wants to them. They fear their coming judgement. They knew his power, and they trembled. They ask for mercy. And amazingly, Jesus gives it. That astounds me. Even to demons, Jesus shows mercy. They deserved judgement, but he defers it. If Jesus can show mercy even to demons, he will show it even to the worst of us.

Before I started following God, I remember feeling the weight of my sin. I knew that I deserved judgement. There was a paranoia, this constant anxiety that I was going to get what I deserved. But Jesus offered me complete forgiveness. There was a real weight lifted when I accepted his grace. He offers you the same.

The demons beg to go into a herd of pigs nearby and Jesus allows it. They immediately cause the pigs to drown themselves. The people of the community come out to see what’s happened, and they see the demon possessed man now in his right mind.

The people are terrified. Instead of responding with joy at the man’s freedom, they ask Jesus to leave. They are afraid of what else Jesus may do in their region. Sometimes, we get comfortable in our mess. We would rather stay in our brokenness than let Jesus change our lives. We fear change. But change is what we need. The fate of the pigs causes the people to doubt Jesus’s character. What collateral damage will there be if he comes to our city? What collateral damage will there be if he enters my heart?

We need to understand Jesus’s heart for us. He only wants our good. And if there is anything that is going to be destroyed in our lives, it needed to be done. We need to trust him to reorder our lives as he sees fit. Jesus leaves at their request, but he leaves someone there to share the truth about his character. The man who had been freed from demon possession. He begs to come with Jesus, but he tells him to stay and spread the word about what God had done for him.

The next story happens after they cross the lake. The crowds have gathered again. A synagogue leader named Jairus comes to Jesus. His daughter is sick and he wants Jesus to come and heal her. One can imagine this man’s fear, his desperation, as his precious child lies on her deathbed. He is one of the few leaders of the Jews who did not oppose Jesus. Jesus agrees to come but is interrupted in the way.

The interruption is caused by a woman with an issue of blood. She had been bleeding for twelve years non-stop. Besides the pain and weakness this caused her, according to the Law, she was unclean. She was essentially an outcast because of her condition. Not only that, she had bankrupted herself on doctors trying to heal the disease.

What she does have is faith. She believes that if she can just touch Jesus, she will be healed. And it happens. Jesus recognizes that someone was healed by touching him, and he looks for her. Apparently, the woman thought she would just get her healing and slip away. But Jesus calls her out. And she comes, trembling with fear, and falls at his feet and tells the whole story. She is afraid. Why? Perhaps she thinks that Jesus will condemn her. According to the law, she was not even supposed to touch anyone. Perhaps she thinks he will take back the healing. Jesus tells her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Instead of condemning her, he commends her faith.

At this moment, bad news arrives. Jairus’s daughter is dead. There is no need for Jesus to come any more. One can only imagine what is going through Jairus’s mind right then. If only they had been faster. If only the woman hadn’t stopped them. She’s gone. There is no more chance. Despair threatening to overwhelm him. But Jesus, in that moment, gives him hope. “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” These is great significance in these words. Over and over in the scripture we are told not to be afraid. On what basis? Based in our trust in God. He has a plan. He is our protector, our provider, our help. Just believe. Believe in Jesus. Believe that he can reach into your life and resurrect you just like he resurrected Jairus’s daughter.

These scenes over and over reveal people who are afraid. Jesus word to us is the same as to Jairus after his daughter died: “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” Whatever you are facing, Jesus is on control.

I’ll be honest, anxiety is something that I struggle with regularly. I don’t think I am alone in that. I’ve found that in dealing with fear, Philippians chapter 4 is a great help. Paul gives us three things to do when we are faced with fear.

1.       Rejoice

First rejoice. It’s so important he says it twice. “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say: rejoice!” Phil. 4:4. The word rejoice in the Greek is Xiarō. According to HELPS Word-studies it means to “delight in God’s grace”. Remember that God’s favor rests upon you. Take a moment to set your mind on Him. Consider what he has done for you. Delight in his grace. This should be a regular habit for us as believers. Rejoicing refocuses us on him instead of our problems. The very first thing we need to do when faced with fear is rejoice.

2.       Pray

The second things he says to do is pray. “Be anxious for nothing, but in all things, with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” Phil. 4:6. Instead of focusing on our worry, we need to bring our anxieties to the Lord. Let’s let our worries propel us toward God. Prayer is our lifeline to God. He is our ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).

And we are told to pray with thanksgiving. As we pray, let’s thank God for his promises and that he is in control. Remember, he is working it all for our good (Romans 8:28). This is a prayer of faith. It takes faith to thank God even in the middle of the storm. Faith is the fear killer.

In verse six, we are given our part to do. We pray, we give thanks. In verse seven, God tells us his part: “And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” He promises us peace. And not just any peace, but a peace so great it transcends our understanding. We be in such a predicament that we cannot imagine how God could help us or restore our peace, but his peace is higher. His peace is based on his complete understanding of the world. Ours is a limited view. He knows what’s coming. Nothing has caught him unaware. He knew your struggle was coming before you did. He has a plan. His peace guards us. It fortifies our hearts and minds. I am so grateful for that peace that that stands sentry over me.

3.       Focus

Finally, Paul gives us one more thing to do here, that I believe is essential to maintaining our peace. In verse 7, he tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” We need to change our mental habits. When we focus on things that are not true or right or noble, we get dragged back into anxiety. How often have you worried about the future? We are concerned about what might happen. Something might go wrong; our plan might fail. But it’s not true, it’s just a possibility. We lose our peace because of something that may never even come to pass. We need to get rid of these negative thinking patterns. Let us “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). We need to focus on wholesome things. We need to focus on Jesus.

If you are struggling with fear today, I pray that you will turn to Jesus in this moment. He has everything you need. “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3).

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Mark Chapter 4 - The Parable of the Sower - Quarterlife Study

Mark 4 – Quarterlife study

This week we are in the fourth chapter of Mark. We are introduced here to some of Jesus’s parables. Jesus said nothing to the crowds without speaking in parables (Mark 4:34). In the last chapter, we got a glimpse into Jesus ministry style. He had compassion for the crowds, and he would preach to them, but he never gave himself fully to them. He explains this to his disciples by quoting Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10). “…they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven” (Mark 4:12). This is a surprising pronouncement, because it appears as if Jesus doesn’t want these people to be saved. Why wouldn’t he want to restore these people to a relationship with him? Isn’t that the reason he came?

I think the rest of this chapter helps to make it understandable. Remember that Jesus had an inner circle. He explains everything to them (Mark 4:34). Then he says to this to them: “Whatever is hidden is meant to be made known, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open” (Mark 4:22). “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ears, proclaim from the rooftops” (Matt. 10:27). Jesus is committing the gospel to them. He intends to send them out to build the church (Matt. 28:18). They will make known to the world everything he taught and explained in secret.

Now let’s examine the first parable in this chapter in this light. This is often called the parable of the sower. The sower throws out seed on several types of ground, and we see what grows. Jesus explains the that seed is the word of God and the soil is our hearts. The point of the sowing is to produce fruit. This parable gives us insight into several conditions of the human heart. The main obstacle to producing fruit is the condition of the soil.

The only thing that can be done is to work the soil. I believe that this is what Jesus was doing with the crowds here. He was preparing their hearts to be ready to receive the gospel when the apostles went out to preach after his resurrection. He is tilling the soil of their hearts. He performs miracles. He preaches repentance. Just like John the Baptist preached: “repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 3:2). His was the voice of one crying, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3). Get your heart right so that you will be able to receive what God is doing. This word still speaks to us today. I would encourage you to prepare your own heart, so that you don’t miss what God wants to do in your life.

Let’s take a closer look at this parable of the sower and consider how we can apply it to our lives. Jesus explains things to the disciples in verses 13-20. He describes four types of soil: the hard soil, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, and the good soil.

1.       The Hard Soil

The first place the seed falls is on the hard soil. This is the dirt on the path. It has been trampled, beaten down, packed tight. Life has made the heart hard. In these hearts, the word does not even take root. I am reminded of the Pharisees in the last chapter whose hearts were so hard they could not be moved to faith by Jesus miracles or his compassion. There are people out there who have been trampled by life, beaten down so far that they don’t have an opening in their hearts. These people hear the word and immediately reject it. Jesus tells us that Satan comes and steals the word. We should be careful of our hearts that we don’t become callus to his word.

2.       The Rocky Soil

The second type of soil is the rocky soil. These people receive the word immediately with joy. Life starts to grow in their hearts, but then trouble or persecution comes, and they fall away. This indicates why spiritual maturity is so important. Without roots, a Christian cannot last. We need to be constantly growing deeper in our faith. 

Trouble will come. Jesus told us that. “In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:3). It is a fact of life, for the believer and unbeliever alike. But the rest of Jesus’s statement makes the difference: “but take heart, I have overcome the world.” He is with us to help us through the trouble. He came to this earth and endured suffering to endure it with us. The only way to endure, to stand firm, is to have a deep intimate connection with Jesus. If that doesn’t happen, you will be overcome.

3.       The Thorny Soil

The third type of soil produces plants that live but fail to produce. Sadly, I think this describes too many Christians today. Professing to follow God, but with fruit to show in their lives. Jesus explains just what causes this fruitlessness to occur. There are three things that will bring fruitlessness in our lives, the cares of life, the deceitfulness of wealth, or the desires for other things.  

The first is the cares of this life. There are the daily concerns in life that threaten to eat up all our time and concentration. These are things that need to be done. Providing for our families, taking care of kids, doing school or work, all the things that make life work. But it is easy to let these things take over our lives. We can miss our lives trying to juggle all the pieces. Consider for a moment how you measure success. Is it measured by your career? Family? The places you’ve been or the fun you’ve had? We need to be careful when we measure success by earthly things because it leads us to get our priorities mixed up. True success is a right relationship with God.  The problem comes when we get things out of order. When don’t give the proper place to the things of God our spiritual life suffers. These cares choke us when we put them before God.

The second thorn Jesus calls the deceitfulness of riches. Again, this is about our definition of success. The deceit here is the false promise that money will make you happy. If you just can get financially secure, your problems will be over. That is a false dream. Certainly, you need to work, and we need money to survive, but that is not what life is all about. Jesus told us, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Defining success by your wealth is a good way to choke your life. Your possessions will end up possessing you. The only true security is found in trusting God. As Jesus said, “you cannot serve God and money" (Matt. 6:24).

The third thorn that chokes our life is the desire for other things. The question we need to ask is, what do I really want? What is competing with God for your attention?  Jesus wants our hearts. I’ve heard it said that if you want to know what is most important to you, then show me what you spend you time on. God wants to be our greatest desire. David said, “As the deer pants for water, so my soul longs for you.” Like a creature dying of thirst, let us be desperate for a drink of his living water.

God wants to fulfil all your desires in him. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4). He will satisfy all our desires, but the first requirement is that we delight ourselves in him. The word delight is related to the Hebrew word for delicacy. It is like a finely crafted work of art. It indicates not just enjoyment of him, but a surrender to him. “…and he will give you the desires of your heart.” When we have made him our delight, when we have yielded to him, and aligned our desires with his, then we will be fulfilled. That is true success. That is when we will see fruit in our lives. All the desires of our heart will be met, because they line up with His.

4.       The Good Soil

The final soil Jesus speaks of is the good soil. This is a Christian life that produces fruit. It is the life in which we see the evidence of the work of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Eph. 5:22). It is the life that reproduces itself, sharing the gospel with others. We know from agriculture that the fruit also contains seeds. Changed lives should result in the spread of the gospel. Each generation produces another.

And, Jesus tells us, the fruit is produced in varying degrees. Some soils produce thirty, some sixty, some one hundred times as much as was sown. Fruitfulness is based on the condition of the heart. Some lives are more effective than others. We would be wise to ask ourselves why.

I would like to encourage you, take some time to cultivate the garden of your heart this week. Spend some time with God. Let the Holy Spirit work the soil of your heart and produce fruit in your life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Holy Week Mix

This is a mix I put together for Holy Week 2020. These are songs that really speak to me about Jesus's death, resurrection, and the whole passion week. Thought that I would share them. Comment with your favorite Holy Week song. Enjoy!