Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Christian's Role in Government


Is Christianizing the government God’s thinking or is it man’s thinking?   At the time of the composition of this article (June 2012) many believers are highly incensed by statements and actions of the chief ruler and other leaders of this country.  We are in the midst of a national election cycle.  Some believe that Christians are to enforce the Kingdom of God on the government and to Christianize the government.  Often many think that those who are not Bible-believing Christians should not be rulers or if a person has a believable testimony he/she is automatically qualified for an office.  However, experiences from the past have often disappointed the hopes of Christian citizens.  Many other Christians believe in a separation of the government from religion; i.e., government is to be a secular exercise while religion belongs to a sacred and private arena.
Attempts to enlighten the role a Christian should play are often ambiguous.  The Word of God shines  light on this subject.  It is the light of God’s word that gives direction and clarity to our path (Psalms 119:24, 105).  
God’s intention in the beginning was that all civil government operate under the governmental philosophy of His kingdom as suggested in Genesis 1:28.  God commanded the blessing of subduing an earth that was filled with the fruit of man.  The Hebrew word translated “subdue” is consistently used to speak of ruling people.  That was the purpose for which God created man but something occurred that removed that blessing from Adam.  When Noah and his family exits the ark (Genesis 9:1) God reiterated the blessing-command given in Genesis 1:28 with one major exception.  He says to Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”  These three imperative verbs are the same as in 1:28 but in 9:1 the fourth imperative verb has been deleted.  The only explanation for this deletion is found the fall of man.  The right to rule the governments of man was the estate granted to Adam.  He was to manage all government for God using God’s philosophy of authority, rule, and the value of man.  Adam sold that right for a bite of forbidden fruit.  Satan took advantage of man’s abandonment of his destined role in regards to government and usurped that role.  That is, he set up his kingdom to guide man’s government through a philosophy of government that is hostile to the Kingdom of God and God’s people.  The scripture refers to the philosophy of government instituted by Satan’s kingdom as “the kingdom of this world” (Revelation 11:15).
There will be a time when the “kingdom of this world” is subjected to our Lord and His Christ.  It occurs as the last action in the opening of the seven-sealed scroll in Revelation.  When the seventh seal is broken seven trumpets sound their messages.  The message of the seventh trumpet is the declaration that the kingdom of this world is now a part of the Lord’s kingdom.  This transition will not be the results of human effort but is the result of the Lamb taking the book found in Revelation 5 and breaking the seals thus opening the book.  It has never been God’s intention that His people set up His kingdom by forcing people to choose to live under God’s grace rather than God’s law (1 Timothy 1:9).
Influence is the key word to consider when thinking of the Christian’s role in government.  At the current time the role God’s people are to play in government is more implicit than explicit in scripture.  We are to seek to influence government leaders through the Spirit by prayer.  Paul exhorts God’s people  to pray for their rulers (1 Timothy 2:1-2) so that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives.  
Throughout history God has placed people in spheres of influence in kings’ courts.  More than once, their  elevation to that sphere of influence was precipitated when the counselors of the king were darkened in their understanding.  The enlightened insight the king needed was provided by God’s man or His woman.
Joseph was a slave in prison but when the advisors of Pharaoh could not provide insight into his dreams the butler remembered how Joseph interpreted his dream.  Pharaoh asked Joseph if his reputation as one who could interpret dreams was true.  Joseph replied, “It is not in me, God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:16).  After Pharaoh related his dreams Joseph had this insight to offer him, “God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (41:25).  Joseph proceeded to offer the king wise counsel and as a result he was elevated to the chief overseer and manager of the land.  All of this was so God’s people may be preserved.
Daniel interpreted dreams for Nebuchadnezzar and advised both Babylonian as well as Persian monarchs.  His status in those kingdoms was a direct result of God granting him this large sphere of influence.  Esther was informed by her uncle that her sphere of influence was something God had arranged in order that she might preserve the people of God.
God gave Daniel a vision of what would transpire among the people of God from Daniel’s day until the first coming of the Lord.  The vision trouble him so he requested help from the Lord.  He fasted 21 days until the Angel of the Lord appeared to him.  This is recorded in Daniel 10.  The Angel explained that the “Prince of Persia” had fought him and the delivery of the interpretation of the vision sent by God.
In the last two verses of chapter 10 the Angel informs Daniel that he will deliver God’s reply to Daniel’s prayer, but he was going to return to the battle for he said, “the Prince of Greece is coming.”  Furthermore, no one came to his aid in the battle except Michael, the Prince of Israel.  He continues the dialog in Daniel 11 and into chapter 12.  In 11:1 the Angel continues to speak of himself by using personal pronouns.  The Angel said that during the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede he stood up to confirm and strengthen him.
How did the Angel of the Lord do this?  God normally speaks to rulers and authorities through human intermediaries.   In fact, that is the method that Satan uses to get his message and agenda to those rulers and authorities as well.  People use their spheres of influence to motivate rulers to accept and implement their agendas.  The only legitimate agenda the people of God can have is the welfare and promotion of the Kingdom of God.  It is unimaginable that the Angel the Lord could call for help and only Michael show up for the battle.  In the war with the dragon reported in Revelation 12 we are told that Michael and his angels waged war.  Where are his angels?  Perhaps it was not angels that was to come to the war.  Maybe he expected help from God’s people.  The Angel stood up for the king and strengthened him through Daniel and Daniel’s friends.
God calls His people to exercise any influence they might be able to exert on their rulers so they may be guided to enact rules and laws that will be beneficial to the Kingdom of God and God’s people.  For most of us our primary sphere of influence is our vote.  We are to vote for those candidates that are most sympathetic to the cause of Christ and Christians.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Author's Books

In the right column on this page under the title PRODUCTS AVAILABLE, I have listed two books that I have written.

  1. Leviticus: A Study of Holiness is a workbook designed to help student gain helpful insights for their life from the Book of Leviticus.  It was published in 2006 by Vision International, Pomona, CA.  The chapters on the "Law of the Leper" will be helpful in understanding God's path to recovery for Christians who have fallen and have been snared by sin.  This paperback book can be purchased through Amazon.com.
  2. Redemption Concluded: A Commentary on Revelation is brand new, published earlier this year (2/9/2012) by Friesen Press.  You can also buy the book at Amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble.  Look in the Amazon and Barnes & Noble sites for the book by its title.  It is available in hard cover, paperback, and digital formats.

    This commentary will challenge your thinking about eschatology as it is currently perceived.  Students who sat my course on Revelation will testify that it is challenging, beneficial, and encouraging.
Put these powerful tools in your Bible study toolbox.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Personal Revelation of the Gospel

Sometime in the early 1980s I met with my fellow elders of the church of which I was the Senior Elder (Pastor) in a December to pray and talk about direction for the coming year.  We came to a conclusion that the people needed teaching about spiritual warfare.  I begin preparing the first lesson for a series on the subject.  The first lesson was a discussion of Ephesians 6:10-20.  I spent some time researching and studying the passage for exposition.

The church, Bethany Church, was meeting at that time on Sunday afternoons as we were using the building of another church.  Early in January of the year following the December mentioned above I went to the pulpit to expound the lesson.  As I read my text, Ephesians 6:10 the Holy Spirit spoke explicitly to me in my spirit and said, “You will never exercise more authority than you stand in.”  When this was spoken to me I was filled with something much like liquid poured from a pitcher into a vessel.  I physically felt I was being filled from my waist up to the top of my chest.  The feeling lasted about two weeks.  I knew that God had actually spoken something into me, but I lacked comprehension of what it was.  I perceived it was a “word” God had spoken into me.

Within a week of this experience I met at my home with about four leaders from the Body and related to them what had happened.  The feeling of fullness persisted and great joy poured out of my inward man, but I had no comprehension.  I asked the brethren to pray for me that I might be enlightened.

Two weeks following the filling I was preparing my message on a Monday for the following Sunday.  I was impressed that I was to speak on the passage in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “I have determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  I was certain that this was the passage God wanted me to speak.  I wrote the scripture in longhand at the top of an 8½ by 11 inch notebook paper.  My mind then drew a complete blank as to what I was to say about the scripture.  I could not even think thoughts about it.  The page remained like my mind, blank, all through the rest of the week.  On Sunday I had a chat with the Lord about the problem.  I told Him that if He did not give me light about the verse all I could do was read it and dismiss the congregation.  Somehow, I thought that it would threaten God into releasing information to me, as I was certain He would not desire such a short message.  Why I had such a foolish thought I cannot tell you.  However, God said nothing to me.  I sat through the praise time, nothing, and during the announcements and offering God was silent.

It was time to go to the pulpit and again I informed the Lord that I was fully prepared to read the passage and dismiss the people for I could not speak as He had not informed me of what I was to say.  I began to read the 1 Corinthians passage and suddenly the Spirit spoke to me.   In what must have been a nanosecond I had a full conversation with the Lord.  He first asked me, “Reckon what Paul wanted them to know about the crucifixion.”  My mind was immediate filled with recollections of the gist of sermons I had heard about the cross.  The main point was descriptions of the sufferings of Christ on the Cross.  It was effective to elicit emotion from the hearer.  But, I perceived that could not be Paul’s goal. 

The Corinthians were a people subjugated by the Roman Empire.  Rome used crucifixion to intimidate the conquered.  Paul’s hearers had observed crucifixion and no one needed to tell them of joints pulled apart or of suffocating pressure on the chest.

The implication hit me like a hammer.  If Paul was not telling them about what they could see, he must tell them about what they could not see.  It was as if I stood in the heavens and the curtain of time was opened and I viewed the crucifixion from heaven’s point of view.  From that perspective Jesus was not bound to the cross, but spiritual adversaries surrounded Him.  His hands freely wielded a sword and He delivered a mortal blow to His enemies.  Those enemies had names like “addiction,” “greed,” “lust,” and so forth.

I cannot recollect the rest of the sermon but for a period of nine months the Spirit illuminated the scriptures to me.  One scripture that was especially meaningful to me was 1 Corinthians 1:18, “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness: but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”  There is a great difference between producing emotion and producing power.  I do not remember hearing a preaching of the cross that was the power of God to me.  I thought that preaching of the cross was the power of God to them that perished.  Here Paul proclaimed that it was power to those, which are saved.

The great insight to me was that the good news was not that Jesus died, was buried and rose again; i.e. the good news is not just a collection of facts.  The good news is what Jesus accomplished in my behalf when He died, when He was buried, and when He rose again.  That is powerful news.  He made me the righteousness of God.  He defeated once for all time those spiritual powers that harassed me.

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God for salvation to every one that believeth.  Only believers profit from the work of the cross.  That is the message of the cross Paul was determined to make known.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Three Valleys

Joyce Reba Rambo, better known as Dottie, wrote a song about a metaphor of life when one experiences a "valley."  I do not know when or how the metaphor of a mountaintop experience entered in the conversation about the Christian life, but it is well entrenched.  The mountaintop experience indicates a spiritual “high” as well as a sense of wellbeing.  The valley indicates trial, even heartache.  Dottie expresses the value of valley experiences in her song, “He Restoreth my Soul.”  She wrote:

When I'm low in spirit I cry Lord lift me up
I want to go higher with Thee
But nothing grows high on a mountain
So He picked out a valley for me.

And He leads me beside still waters
Somewhere in the valley below
And He draws me aside to be tested and tried
In the valley He restoreth my soul.

There are three very important valleys that God desires that His people experience. 

The Valley of Baca (Psalms 84:6)
Psa. 84:5        Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
                        in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6          As they go through the Valley of Baca
                        they make it a place of springs;
                        the early rain also covers it with pools.
7          They go from strength to strength;
                        each one appears before God in Zion. ESV
According to the commentary by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown the significance of the Hebrew word “baca” is that of “weeping.”  Most sources say the word speaks of a tree or scrub like mulberry or balsam.  The difference between the Hebrew word meaning “weeping” or the word meaning mulberry/balsam is the last letter of the word.  The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary points out the berry of the plant indicated here when pressed “yields a juice like a tear-drop, which it derives its name.”  Either way the word as interpreted contains the idea of tears—the valley of weeping. 

What one does when he enters the desolate dry vale of Baca is very important.  When one’s life becomes spiritually dry and bitterness is pressing.  Discouragement is the threat that must be defeated in this valley.  Dig into the word of God in that dry place.  The showers of God’s blessings will come and convert your dry and bitter experience into an oasis of blessing for others.  This is how one can “go from strength to strength” and he will find himself in the presence of the Lord in Zion.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalms 23:4)
Psa. 23:4        Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
                        I will fear no evil,
                        for you are with me;
                        your rod and your staff,
                        they comfort me. ESV

If the valley of Baca is where discouragement presses upon those in that valley, the valley of the shadow of death is where they face fear.  This is not the valley of death, but rather the valley of the SHADOW of death.  A shadow is not a real thing nor is it an exact threat of a real thing.  Small children can be frightened by shadows because they do not understand they are no real threat.  The more distant the real thing casting the shadow is from the light source the more exaggerated is the shadow.  We often enter the vale of shadows.  Our adversary constantly launches threats of failure, loss, ruin and death against God’s people like fiery arrows.  

How do we survive here?  His rod and staff comfort us.  These were the two main tools carried by Hebrew shepherds.  The rod was carried at the belt.  It was used to pass the sheep under it when being counted and inspected for parasites, harmful things stuck in the wool, and for wounds in the flesh of the sheep.  This is how the shepherd shows which sheep are his.  Jesus cares for his own.  What comfort there is in knowing that He cares when we are threatened.

The shepherd’s staff was essentially his walking stick.  With it he guided and protected his flock.  It was a symbol of his care for the weak ones.  He used his staff to fight off hostile animals bent on devouring a sheep.  David took his staff in his hand when he faced Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40).  Isaiah speaks of the Lord “lifting up His staff against” Assyria in behalf of Israel (10:24).  In the valley of the shadows we consider that the Lord is present and has His staff to ward off our enemy.

The Valley of Achor (Hosea 2:15)
Hosea 2:15     And there I will give her her vineyards
                            and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
                        And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
          as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. ESV
Achor (trouble) was where the troubler, Achan, and his family was stoned to death for violating God’s ban at Jericho and for not admitting to the violation.  So, it is the valley of trouble.  Most of us have frequently been in this valley. 

Gomer, Hosea’s unfaithful wife, was confused about the source of her provisions.  She mistakenly thought strangers supplied her and she pursued their alleged love.  Gomer is a metaphor for Israel.  God’s plan for curing the unfaithfulness of Gomer and Israel involves sending them to the valley of trouble.  The valley of trouble is actually a door of hope for Gomer, Israel, and us.  When God shuts the way to sources of false hope it is meant to force us to return to the true source.  That is where the hope lies.  The Lord is our answer for all trouble.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Random Thoughts

I have always published articles on a particular subject, but I thought I would publish some seed thoughts for your consideration.  These are thoughts that have come to me usually when listening to a sermon or teaching someone is giving.  They are not fleshed out yet.

Condemnation

Condemnation is who I am according to my failures.
Conviction is who I can be according to God's grace.
>>>>>>--------

Faith

Lessons from the raising of Lazareth.
Mary and Martha said, "If you had been here..."  Jesus replied, "I am the resurrection and life."

Faith is about believing who He is, not about what He can do.  Note the difference, Jesus did not exhort the sisters to believe He could raise the dead.  Rather, they must believe He is life.  What He does is a product of who He is.

He said to the woman at the well in John that if she knew who He was she would ask for the water of life.
>>>>>>------

The Gospel

The ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19) is that "He who knew no sin was made to be sin that we might be the righteousness of God in Christ."  Any preaching that does not lead the hearer to an identity of righteousness is no gospel at all.

Redemption is concerned with making sinful man fit for standing before God's throne.  Righteousness makes one fit for God's presence.
>>>>>>------

Security

No weapon formed against you shall prosper.  The weapon may not be removed, but when its threat is meaningless to us it ceases to prevail.
>>>>>>------

Built for Conflict

God created Adam and gave him an assignment that required him to be ready to do battle.  He put Adam in the garden and commanded him to cultivate and keep (guard) it.

If God gives an assignment He must give the tools and equipment to do it.  That is what grace is all about.
>>>>>>------

ET

All things were made by Christ and without Him there was not anything made.  If there is an ET it must be created by God and could not be  a higher degree of being in creation since man was created in the image of God.  If an ET was created in the image of God it would be a human.
>>>>>>------

Enjoy and do what you will with these ideas.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

If You Can

“Consider Him (Christ) who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you do don’t grow weary and lose heart” Hebrews 12:3 NASV. This challenge by the writer of Hebrews would, I believe, form a fitting introduction to the Book of Mark. These two books have a certain affinity in that it appears the readers Mark has in mind are in similar conditions as those to whom the Book of Hebrews was sent. The church of Mark’s day was witnessing the rise of persecution by the Roman government and had been experiencing rejection and persecution by mainstream Judaism. As the pressure mounted against Christians many were faltering in faith (Hebrews 4:1-2; 10:23), and were even considering renouncing the faith (Hebrews 10:32-39). Their solution, according to the author of Hebrews, was a serious contemplation of the person and work of Jesus Christ, to study Him thoroughly until the mind can perceive clearly (katanoeoo).1

Mark, like the other Evangelists, makes a specific consideration of Christ. Each is diverse in aims and purposes. Therefore, the events and teachings from the life of Christ are streamlined to fit the aims and purposes of each Evangelist’s contemplation of Christ. In other words, each Gospel writer presents particular traits and characteristics of Jesus the Christ they wish their readers to consider. This is one reason why harmonization of the Gospels is so difficult, if not impossible. Each writer’s perception of Christ must be carefully noted and allowed to remain within the context of the writer’s purposes.

Though the initial readers of the Gospels are not identified, one may draw a composite picture of them from the major themes and special considerations of Christ presented by each Evangelist. That the writer had specific situations and a specific audience in mind could hardly be challenged. It would be highly doubtful that the Gospel writer thought he was writing scripture for future generations. Hence, rich insights into Jesus Christ, His mission, His message, and His church await the individual who can tap the writer’s concern for his own church community.

Whatever good could have been said of Mark’s church family, he has strong words for them, particularly concerning their lack of faith in times of difficulty. They evidently were in the midst of what may be labeled a “faith crisis.” This theme is clearly mirrored by Mark’s pictures of Jesus chiding His disciples for their fear, lack of understanding, and lack of faith. A parallel of the Gospels will easily illustrate that the Jesus of Mark is harsher in His rebuke of the lack of faith and understanding in His disciples than the Jesus of either Matthew or Luke. For instance, in Mark alone Jesus questions the disciples as to why they do not understand His parable of the sower (Mark 4:13 cp. Matthew 13:18-23 and Luke 8:11-15). After quieting the storm Jesus, in Mark, asks the disciples why they have “no” faith (Mark 4:40). Matthew softens the statement to “little” faith (Matthew 8:26), while in Luke Jesus only asks “where” their faith is (Luke 8:25). Mark reports a much longer rebuke of the disciples than does Matthew regarding their misunderstanding of Jesus statement about the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod (Mark 8:17-18 cp. Matthew 16:9, 11). Only in Mark does one find it said that the hearts of the disciples were hardened (Mark 6:52; 8:18). The theme of the rebuke of the lack of faith and a more urgent theme of building faith seem to imply that Mark desires to address the same issues in his own church. It is as if he is saying to his own community, “Listen to what Jesus is saying to these people and apply it to yourselves.”

As harsh as Mark seems to treat the disciples, at least in the first eight chapters, in the later chapters there is a surprising gentleness and tolerance of their weaknesses. As an illustration one might note Mark 14:3-9, the narrative of the anointing at Bethany. Mark hides the identity of those who were indignant about the use of the ointment. Matthew, however, clearly shows that the disciples were the objectors (Matthew 26:8). Here Mark demonstrates he is not bitter at heart with the Christians to whom he writes, nor is he, by nature, a harsh person. Rather he is corrective in his aim as he highlights the faith crisis of the disciples.

A faith crisis is, as it seems to me, at the heart of Mark’s consideration of Jesus. Jesus, as Mark shows Him, is a very busy person. He has places to go, people to see, and things to get done. He seems to hardly have time to rest. Sometimes Jesus is too busy to eat to the extent that some of His kinsmen thought He was losing control and that they should take custody of Him (Mark 3:20-21; 6:31). According the KJV Jesus in Mark is doing things “straightway.” Jesus is the one who is active immediately in Mark. Mark wants his readers to see a dynamic, powerful miracle Worker who knows no obstacle except unbelief or lack of faith.

The solution to this crisis of faith, as I hear Mark’s message, is to move from paralyzing fear to aggressive faith in a God for Whom there are no impossibilities. Mark seeks to motivate his hearers by use of explicit exhortations, “Have faith in God” (11:22) and “All things are possible to him who believes” (9:23). He also seeks to encourage their faith by enumerating several miracles performed in people who were not sought by Jesus, but rather, occurred as the result of people aggressive seeking for Christ’s help. The second point here brings me to the statement that sets out the purpose of this article. Mark alone, in the narrative of Jesus walking on the water (chapter six), reports that Jesus “intended to pass by” His disciples.

That statement has captured my attention. As I considered Mark’s portrait of Christ this statement seemed to me to be the center thread interwoven in the beautiful tapestry handed to Mark’s community to stimulate their faith. Mark’s fellow believers, like the disciples of Christ, struggled in the winds of adversity. Perhaps they felt Christ was, if not absent, certainly inactive. So busy doing for others He had no time for them. Like the disciples they seem to see Jesus walking by them on the rough waters of their lives. What should they do?

Mark’s answers were, in keeping with his style, subtly hidden in the illustrious works of Christ’s life. According to my count there are about twenty-three miracle passages in Mark. Some are full narratives; some receive only passing mention; still others are summaries. Of these passages two-thirds (15) are accounts of people specifically seeking Jesus’ help. In other words, Jesus is the initiator in only about two-thirds of the miracle passages.2 In effect, Jesus was “passing by” most of the people who needed His help. It is as He attended other business, such as teaching in the synagogues, or on His way to some other place that people reached out in their own initiative for His help. So I see Mark encouraging his own fellowship to arise from their fear and in faith believe that this same Jesus can accomplish in their behalf what might seem to them to be impossible.

There are so many illustrations of this theme in Mark it would be impractical to list them all. The old Southwestern Bell commercial, “Reach out and touch somebody,” could be the theme of many miracle illustrations in Mark. Mark records three occasions when people are reaching out in faith to touch Jesus. The Greek word haptomai is one of Mark’s theme words. It occurs eleven times in Mark. The only other word translated touch in Mark is the Greek preposition peri. Haptomai presents the idea of clinging or grasping rather than one of mere touching. Mark appears to have in mind a deliberate act of touching, whether it is Jesus touching a leper or someone else touching His garment.3

Of the three passages in Mark that describe people purposefully touching Jesus, two are summary statements. Mark 6:56 states that wherever Jesus went, people were laying their sick in the market places and were entreating Him to allow them to touch the fringe of His cloak; “and as many as touched it were cured.” Between this passage and the first summary statement including touch in Mark 3:10, there is an explicit illustration of a person who actually touched Jesus’ garment as He passed by and was healed (Mark 5:26-34).

This is the story of the woman with the “issue of blood,” and is interwoven with the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter to life. Both of these stories uniquely convey Mark’s message to his community. Both Jairus and the sick woman seek Jesus. Jairus came to Jesus while He was teaching the multitude and requested Him to come and pray for his daughter (Mark 5:21-22). The sick woman sought Jesus as He was making His way to Jairus’ house. Here again is the theme, “He intended to pass by them.” The number twelve plays a prominent role in each of these stories. Jairus’ daughter is twelve years old and the woman has been sick for twelve years. Perhaps twelve is Mark’s way of representing the disciples and by the figure of synecdoche all disciples. The woman had suffered much under physicians care. She had lost her resources while seeking a cure. The physicians may represent, at least, the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and more broadly, Judaism itself. It may be that some of Mark’s church were, as some in the Book of Hebrews, considering returning to Judaism (Hebrews 10:19 ff). Mark’s message would be for them to remember that it was Christ that blessed them, while the religious leaders placed heavy burdens on them. The physicians not only did not help the woman but (emphatic in the Greek) made her worse. However, after she touched Jesus in faith, without money she was healed. Turning back will only hurt Mark’s church. Only by aggressively seeking to touch Jesus through faith can there be healing and wholeness.

Mark’s message now becomes clearly visible. The woman had a disease for which a cure was not humanly possible, but she did not allow the prognostications of humans to deter her from believing and acting as if Jesus could do something for her even if He did not touch her or even see her. She acquired this faith after “hearing about Jesus” (Mark 5:27); after she considered Jesus, she believed. Was that not what Mark was doing for his church—telling them about Jesus?

The theme continues in Jairus’ story. Messengers arrive and tell Jairus that his daughter is dead. Another totally impossible situation, but Jesus tells him not to fear, only believe. Then He proceeded to raise the girl from death.

Over and over Mark drives his point home. Jesus is preaching in Galilee and a “leper came to Him, beseeching Him, and falling on his knees before Him …” (Mark 1:40). Another impossible case, another one passed by, another one reaching to Jesus in faith with the same results—a miracle. Again, Jesus is teaching in a house at Capernaum. The place was packed out. Outside was another impossible case, a paralytic. Four of his friends calculate where the Master is sitting; they pull back the roofing and let the man down by Jesus. These four refused to see the impossibility of their friend’s condition for they believed the only hindrance was getting him to Jesus—they exercised their faith (2:5).

The Syro-phoenician woman refused to be excluded from Jesus’ help. She found the crumbs from the table. The deaf and dumb man of Mark 7:32 and the blind man of 8:22 found help when Jesus applied spittle to both. Both refused to believe their cases were impossible. Both believed that Jesus could and would do something for them. Then there is the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. Forever doomed to the blackness as his culture supposed. Jesus had not come to see him; in fact, He was on His way out of town when He was passing Bartimaeus. Faith leaped in the heart of the blind man. He cried out to Jesus only to be warned by those around him to keep quiet. Bold faith seized him and aggressively he cried louder—the result was he begins to see (10:46-52). That is the message from Mark to his church—impossibilities are God’s opportunities. This picture of Jesus Christ as the dynamic active miracle worker should motivate Mark’s readers to respond in faith as they “consider” Him.

There are two important questions about Jesus at the heart of the faith crisis. Is Christ willing to help me? And, can He do it? Mark addresses these two questions in two stories. Firstly, faith assumes that Christ is willing to help people as demonstrated in the healing of the leper in 1:40 ff. The leper seemed to have no fear about Christ’s ability to heal him, but he did not know if Christ was willing to do it. Considering the life of a leper in the society of his day, one can speedily see why this would be his question. Without hesitation Jesus assured the leper of His willingness to cure him. His willingness to help the helpless is vividly illustrated by many people who were healed without obtaining the permission of Jesus, such as the woman with the blood problem. She did not even approach Him from His front, but rather from the rear and yet she was healed. Mark’s message is that God does want to help, just believe.

The second question is even more vital. What can Jesus Christ do? This issue comes to a head in Mark 9. The first twelve verses recount the transfiguration of Jesus. With Him are Peter, James, and John. The other disciples are unsuccessfully attempting to cast an evil spirit out of a lad. A large crowd had gathered, including some scribes who were debating the disciples. The subject matter is not given, evidently the scribes sought to take advantage of absence of Jesus and the failure of the disciples to belittle Jesus and His power. I draw this conclusion from the reaction of amazement by the crowd when they see Jesus approaching. The father attests that the debate concerned the boy. Jesus is returning from the mountain where His departure was the focus. What would the people do without Him? So He rebuked the crowd for their faithlessness, “How long shall I put up with you” (Mark 9:19). If the rebuke for the disciples, they would not have asked later for the reason they failed to cast out the evil spirit.

At Jesus command the boy was brought to Him. The boy was suddenly taken with a seizure. The father informed Jesus that the boy had been having the attacks since he was a small child and that they had often jeopardized the boy’s life. Then the father voices the major question of Mark’s gospel, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (9:22).

The reply of Jesus is somewhat strange and difficult. The KJV attempts to clarify by adding the word “believe” to the clause. The New International Version (NIV) translates, “What do you mean, if you can.” The Greek may allow the NIV such liberty translating to ei dunei thusly, but I think it places undue stress on the article. I agree with the RSV and the NASV—“if you can.” Meaning that the problem lay not with Jesus’ ability, but with the father’s faith. Faith not only assumes that He is willing, but He also is able to do it. To emphasize and clarify “if you can,” Jesus adds, “all things are possible to him that believeth.”

Though these words were addressed to the father and the crowd, the disciples are the ones who are to learn and ultimately be benefitted. The disciples did not seem to think Jesus was addressing them for they later ask for the reason why they could not cast out the spirit. The implication is that they believed they could cast out spirits.

It seems to me that Mark’s theme crystallizes during this narrative—can you believe, all things are possible to the one believing. Be aggressive in your faith in Christ. If one is really a believer he may remove the word “impossible” from his vocabulary. Can you see the Jesus of Mark doing, working, giving, dying, and rising again? He will help you.
This faith, the one in which one believes for solutions to impossible situations, is a faith in Someone; a Someone who can do all things. Jesus made use of this fact in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed, “Abba Father, all things are possible for you.” There is nothing impossible to the one believing because all things are possible with God (Mark 13:36).

One final brief word about the faith as seen in Mark. Faith is the practical preparations necessary for a miracle to occur, as in the case of the friends of the paralytic (2:3-5). Jesus “saw their faith.” Faith is an inner motivating force that drives an individual to seek to be in “touch” with, or “to cling to” Jesus Christ (Mark 5:34). Whereas, the lack of faith effectively thwarts the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit (Mark 6:5).

I believe that the faith Mark wants his church to operate finds its clearest definition in Mark 11. “Have faith in God,” is the exhortation Jesus gives to His gaping disciples as they marvel at the withered fig tree that Jesus had cursed a few hours earlier. The Greek phrase, echete pistin theou, may be translated, “have the faith of God.”4 Faith is given to us by God and is in agreement with what God believes and says as shown in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The process of faith is further defined in chapter 11. When one asks in prayer for anything, he must believe he has received and then it shall be granted to him. Faith perceives something accomplished before it actually occurs. The woman with the blood problem visualized herself who before she touched Jesus’ garment. Faith speaks to the mountain; it addresses the problem. Do you have a problem, speak to it in faith. All things are possible to him that believeth.

Endnotes
1 W. E. Vine. An Expository Dictionary of the New Testament. (1956) Fleming H. Revell: Old Tappan, NJ.

2 The miracle periscopes in Mark
1:23-30 Peter’s mother-in-law is healed
1:23-25* unclean spirit cast out of a man in the synagogue
1:32-34* summary
1:39 summary
1:40-42* healing of a leper
2:1-5* paralytic healed
3:1-5 withered hand healed
3:10* summary
4:35-41* Jesus quiets the storm
5:1-20 demonic healed
5:21 ff* Jairus’ daughter
5:25-34* woman with the issue of blood
6:4-5 a few healings in Nazareth
6:35-44 feeding of the 5,000
6:45-52* walking on the water
6:56* summary
7:24-30* Syro-phoenecian woman
7:32 ff* deaf healed by spitting
8:22 ff* blind healed by spitting
8:1-10 feeding of the 4,000
9:20-25* evil spirit cast out of a boy
10:46-52* blind Bartimaeus healed
11:12-26 fig tree cursed

(*) those miracle passage where the one in need is the initiator. I have arbitrarily excluded the events at the Mount of Transfiguration, the incarnation and the birth of Christ, or His resurrection. They are certainly transrational and supernatural, but I have tried to select only those miracles that directly effected those acted upon. By my count 15 of the 23 have an (*) or about 2/3 of them.

3 The use of peri in Mark 12:26 is in the sense of reference as in the statement, “Now, touching upon that point …” So, in actuality all of Mark’s references to touching are to imply purpose and not incidence. For further study please see W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

4 The Pulpit Commentary. n.d., eds. H. D. M. Spence and J. S. Exell. 23 Vols. Wm. B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI. Vol. 16 pp. 16-123.

Bibliography
Baxter, J. Sidlow. Explore the Book. (1960-70) Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI.

Kittel, Gerhard and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. 10 Vols. Eerdmans Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI.

Shepherd, J. W. The Christ of the Gospels. Eerdmans Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI.

Spence, H.D.M. and J.S. Exell, eds. The Pulpit Commentary. 23 Vols. “Matthew and Luke” Vol. 16. Eerdmans Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI.

Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. Crusade Bible Publisher, Inc.: Nashville.

The Zondervan Parallel of the New Testament in Greek and English. (1975) Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI.

Vine, W.E. Expository Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 1. Revell: Old Tappan, NJ.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Maturity: liquid or solid food

I find that many have no idea how to distinguish those who are spiritually mature. Yet, spiritual maturity is vital to the health of a church, especially, to its leadership. A spiritually immature person is not to be accepted or promoted to church leadership (elders). 1 Timothy 3:16 explicitly forbid ordaining a person who is a “novice” as an elder, with the explanation that novices have not learned to deal with pride. Often, church problems can be traced to immature leadership. Maturity has nothing to do with the physical age of the person and everything to do with the person’s spiritual age.

It is God’s desire that all of His people grow into spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-14). How can one know when that has occurred?

There are markers that clearly distinguish the spiritual age of a person. In Ephesians 4:14 Paul states that children are characterized by consternation resulting from “winds of doctrine.” That is, diverse or contradictive teachings reduce the spiritually immature to internal upheaval. Children have difficulty in resolving personal conflicts biblically. 1 John 2:18ff informs that those that are little children need understanding of the abiding anointing in order to withstand false teachers and prophets.

It is the marker in Hebrews five that is the primary subject of this brief article. Heb 5:11-14 speaks of a contrast between the diet of the immature (babes) and that of a full-grown man.
11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. ESV
The context is the introduction of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and its relationship to Melchizedek. The writer says that it is difficult to explain this concept to them because they have grown dull (sluggish, lazy) in their hearing. The verb implies their hearing was once sharp and has deteriorated. Their difficulty in hearing had already occurred and the result was that their perceptiveness was lost.

Their lack of spiritual maturity was inexcusable. Sufficient time had elapsed and the investment of teachers in their lives made it their duty to mature to the point where they could train others in the “word of righteousness.” But, that was not the case with them; they still needed someone to teach the first of the basic principles of the utterances of God. Then the judgment; you can only handle a liquid diet (milk) not one of solid food. The Authorized use of the word “meat” did not necessarily mean flesh at the time of that translation but would mean all types of food.

The metaphor is explained, spiritually, those who live on a liquid diet (one’s share in ordinary feeding) is a babe. He is unskilled or inexperienced in the word of righteousness. Full-grown persons, those who have reached the end of normal growth, may drink milk but their ordinary feeding consists of solid foods.

Spiritually, adults are those who have trained their perceptions to the point they can discern between that which is good for them and that which is not profitable to them. The outcome of the habitual use of one’s power of perception is the ability to observe different teachings and take only that that is consistent with the word of righteousness.

These Hebrew Christians understood the basic principles of priesthood. They kept up with the teacher as long as he taught about the priesthood of Aaron. Melchizedek priesthood threw them a curve. It took perception to chew on this food. Their lack of aptitude for the word of Christ had limited their spiritual diet. Evidently, they had in past times foregone the pain of the exercise of thought and discernment and were now locked into the diet of the one not yet able to converse.

When we refuse to examine a fresh understanding of truth and dismiss it out-of-hand we are like these immature Hebrew Christians. The diet of a spiritual adult can require the eater to discard some things such as bones.

The diet marker Hebrews five is a good way of distinguishing spiritual maturity. Things one does not understand do not upset the mature. They are willing to chew on it and make judgments about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.