Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 August 2017

 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.  He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.  Hebrews 11, verses 17-19.

So much to unpack here.

Devotion.  Are you amazed by Abraham’s devotion to God?  And even his devotion to Isaac?   Our modern interpretation of the Bible can pain Abraham in an unkind picture.   “He was willing to murder his own son.”  Admit it:   you’ve thought that; so have I.   How could Abraham MURDER his child?  Our society (rightfully) looks at that as heinous.  Here comes the part you won’t like (because it’s uncomfortably true):   Abraham wasn’t told to murder, nor did he try to murder Isaac, nor did he have the heart for murder.   God commanded Abraham to SACRIFICE Isaac to Him.  God was saying to Abraham “commit to Me everything about what you love most.   Be willing to give even your son’s life to Me because you trust Me.”  A murderer thinks otherwise (if he thinks at all).   Abraham was willing to kill his son, his most precious family member, if it meant dedicating that person’s life and his own to his Father.   Devotion like that is rare even in the Bible.   Would you or I be that devoted?

Foreshadowing:  “He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son” could have been written about the Father Himself.   From the moment of man’s fall, God had promised to redeem mankind from the sin we accepted and made our own.   This included Abraham and Isaac, who were sinful people not unlike you or I.  Abraham had trusted that God would keep His promise to give him a son and God kept that promise.   God then commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, that firstborn son and the heir of all Abraham had or would be.  Can you see how, in all of this, God was foreshadowing to Abraham (and us) what He Himself would do with Jesus?   What’s more, God promised that it was through Isaac that all this would happen, that Abraham’s offspring “would be reckoned.”

Reason.  Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead.  He didn’t just FEEL it:   Abraham REASONED.  He thought it through.   He quickly but logically, cogently deducted that God had kept His prior promises and that God was powerful enough to do anything He wanted.   Abraham reasoned that, if God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God would bring Isaac back from death.   It wasn’t an emotion, and it wasn’t being caught up in the moment, though both of those probably happened.  Instead, Abraham intellectually deduced this honest conclusion about God.

That brings us to our final point:   resurrection.   Abraham deduced that God could resurrect Isaac, so he prepared to end his son’s life.   It was the action of faith that Abraham took in response to the action of faith God had already offered to him.   God foreshadowed yet again that Isaac’s death could be overcome by God.  He promised Abraham that the sacrifice would be worthwhile because it was to God Himself.   That sacrifice could only be completed in resurrection, which was how God ultimately completed the even greater sacrifice of faith that took place on Calvary.  Death could only be reasoned, only be accepted, only be tolerated, only be made right through resurrection, through Divinely restoring life to lifelessness because spiritual death was true lifelessness.   Abraham grasped that thought as he held a knife to his son’s throat.   And that’s when God stayed the knife.

Like you and I, Abraham and Isaac wandered in this world.   Abraham perhaps more than any of us because he lived as a nomad, residing most of his life in tents as he traveled from place to place.   He knew that God would bring him home, and he knew that God would always abide with him no matter where he wandered.   Yet in this greatest test of his life (and perhaps ours), God called him to account and asked him “what do you REALLY believe?”   It was for Abraham’s benefit, not God’s.  Abraham wasn’t a super-human:   he was just a man, albeit one of good character.   But he was simply a man, like you or me.  How amazing is it that God chose to reveal these things about His character and ours through the life of this ancient patriarch.

For further reading:  Genesis 22:1-10, James 2:21, Geneses 21:12, Romans 9:7, Romans 4:21, John 5:21.

Lord, thank You for the willingness of Abraham to commit everything to You.  

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 31 March 2016

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.  Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. Mark 16, verses 9-14.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most eye-witnessed events in antiquity.   More people gave corroborating eyewitness accounts of seeing Him alive after He was dead than people who witnessed the assassination of Julius Caesar, William Wallace’s victory at Stirling, the driving of the Golden Spike, or even the attack on Pearl Harbor.   Legends don’t have that kind of evidence.   Legends aren’t spoken of by multiple unconnected sources within a generation, but the death and resurrection of Christ was.

All too often people couch their unbelief (or dis-belief) in Jesus by saying “there’s no proof” yet I hope you’ll see that this just isn’t the case.   There are more post-resurrection accounts of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than there are of the ancient kings of England, yet nobody disputes there were kings before the Anglo Saxon invasion.   In the four gospels there are more corroborating proofs of the life, death, and post-death life of Jesus than there are descriptions of Abraham Lincoln’s mother.   In the words of those who saw Him up close, there is more convincing evidence of the real existence of Jesus the Christ than there is existing evidence that proves who shot JFK.

Yet we don’t doubt any of these things while so many people doubt Jesus. What more proof do you need?

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, according to my study Bible, the earliest versions of Mark don’t contain these last few verses.   They may indeed have been added later, and they may (or may not) have been added by John Mark himself.   Like so much else in the world, we don’t know. If this bothers you, perhaps ask yourself why.   And consider this:   Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence most likely didn’t say “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Lincoln’s first draft of the Gettysburg Address may not have said “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Over a thousand years ago, at the council of Nicea, it was decided by scholars of the day that (today’s) ending of Mark fit with the rest of the book.   That’s good enough for me.

Yet when you boil down the story of Jesus’ resurrection, the proof isn’t the majesty and beauty of it.   The proof is that, by faith, you receive the miracle of His redemption.   For that no proof is needed.   It’s proof enough of itself.   Legal evidence is impeachable and potentially corrupt. Jesus isn’t.  He proved it so.

Lord Jesus, I believe in You because You are who You say You are.   Nothing more is needed.

Read Mark 16, verses 9-20.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 29 March 2016

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. Mark 16, verses 1-8.

Put yourself in the shoes (ok, sandals) of those women.   In the same way Luke described the shepherds who saw Jesus on the day He was born, “they were sore afraid.” These poor women were grieving, and they had come to the garden tomb after the Passover Sabbath to anoint Jesus’ dead body.   It’s true that they had revered Him as their Lord, the promised and hoped-for Messiah, and the one who would make all things new.   But He was dead now.   The Jewish priests had arranged for His murder.   The all-too-willing Romans had carried out the murder.   The disciples were hiding, afraid for their lives.   And Jesus’ body was buried in a stranger’s fresh tomb.   They had contemplated this thing, probably talked about it, all through the long Saturday Sabbath. Very early on a cool Sunday morning, these three followers of the wandering rabbi went to the cemetery to do their duty.

Imagine their surprise.   Imagine their shock.   Imagine being overwhelmed at what they were witnessing.   Imagine that they were probably scared to death. All they had expected to find was the big stone in front of the tomb, maybe a Roman guard there to make sure nothing was out of place.   Out of place indeed; it was a whole new level of that.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said the angel.   Would you be alarmed if a brilliantly dazzling supernatural man told you not to be?   I’d be speechless. And as if that wasn’t alarming enough, the angel gives them the greatest news since God said “let there be.” “He has risen.”

“He has risen.”

Would you be surprised, shocked, overwhelmed and terrified?   It would be sensory overload, something racing too fast for your brain to fully absorb, like something you dreamed could happen but didn’t really think ever would.   I mean, let’s be real.   The Messiah had been talked about for thousands of years; it was almost like a legend, even in a time when legends were still popularly believed.

And yet here it was, happening in front of their eyes.   Put yourself in their place. How would you feel?

Lord Jesus, I confess I would be scared and overwhelmed like the women were that Easter morning.   Forgive my unbelief and help me to understand more of Your supernatural power.

Read Mark 16.  

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 March 2016

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.  In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.  It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. Mark 15, verses 40-47.

It seems a bit anti-climactic to talk about things that happened on Good Friday when today is the Monday after Easter, yet please indulge me a bit while we do.   It’s good news.

Awhile back, my pastor friend, Mark, exhorted our congregation to be “Easter people.”   Yesterday, during Easter service, he reiterated this theme in a slightly different way.   We should be people who live joyfully knowing that God Immanuel, Jesus our Savior, kept His promise and rose from His murdered death.   He was killed, embalmed, and put in a grave on Friday.   On Sunday morning, Jesus was back in action, just as He said He would be.  It means He is exactly who He said He is, and that our believing in Him means we’re eternally set free from the overwhelming guilt over our doing unholy things.   I can let them go; you can let them go.   God doesn’t see our sins any more.   He sees us perfect because He looks at us through the window of Jesus and His perfect life and death.

The Good Friday lesson to remember is that we get to lay our sins in the grave.   Jesus took them away.   They are dead; they have died, gone away, and are no more for us.   Yes, notice the dedication and devotion with which Jesus’ followers still pursued and believed in Him even as He died.   They loved Him; they did right by Him even after He was gone and their hopes apparently crushed.

But don’t lose sight of the fact that, with Him, all our sins are dead forever. We no longer have to be burdened by them.   We are part of eternity here and now, and because of what He did, we GET TO start fresh.   To truly repent, to change, to adjust, to make amends, and best of all to forgive.   To forgive and then move forward knowing that, no matter what tough things the world has in store for us, we’re Easter people who know that we can’t ever be truly destroyed.

Most of all, death itself is destroyed. God didn’t create death, but He allowed it as the consequences of our free will to choose things other than Him.  Death is the absence of God because God is life.   Death is un-love because, the opposite of death is God, who is all love.   God didn’t create us to die:   He created us to live in harmony with Him, our loving, Holy, and just creator.  When our ancestors (and later we) chose differently, God respected our choices knowing that our choices carried the penalty of death.   God hates death so He Himself, Jesus, the God-man, came, lived, and died to destroy death.   He died on Good Friday to restore balance to mankind’s destiny, then He began a new destiny for us on Easter Sunday by rising, living, and moving forward in a world that could finally see Him for who He was and is.  Jesus hated death; He hates it still.   So He offered Himself as the cure for the common death.   On the Monday after Good Friday and the Easter to which it gave way, this is the best news of all.

Risen Lord Jesus, bless You for all You did in dying and living for us.   I’m so thankful for all You’ve done!

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.  

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 September 2015

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” Mark 10, verses 33-34.

Why did Jesus tell the Disciples these things?   You know, couldn’t He just have let it happen without making a big deal about it?   It was traumatic enough for those who witnessed it, especially if the real crucifixion was anything like “The Passion of the Christ.” And for those who lived through it, afterwards everything changed and the Apostles spent most of the rest of their lives being hunted as criminals.   Why did Jesus tell these men about how He would die?

If you haven’t considered it before, there are several very good reasons.

First, He needed to tell them He was fulfilling prophecy. In doing so, they would know without a doubt that He was who He said He was and that all He had said and done was true.   There are HUNDREDS of individual prophecies about the Christ in the Bible (meaning in all of Jewish antiquity).   Mathematically, it is nearly impossible for them all to be fulfilled in one person, yet that is what Jesus was saying would happen in Him.   He knew these (relatively) uneducated men wouldn’t understand or remember every prophecy but they would know enough (just from their upbringing) to see how Jesus was identifying Himself as the one and only Messiah. He told them what would happen so that they would know, without a doubt, that He was that Messiah.   They would know this was a miracle and that He was the one true God.

Then, He needed them to be prepared for when it actually did happen (which was only a few days away).   If you care for someone and you know something bad is going to happen, then you try to prepare them as much as possible for it, right?   That’s what Jesus was doing. I mentioned the movie “The Passion of the Christ.” The Jews of Jesus’ day were familiar with crucifixion and how it was used only for the most rebellious and vile of criminals. If the act was as gruesome as Mel Gibson portrayed it then the Disciples would have been familiar with it and would have been shocked, even disheartened, at seeing their Teacher subjected to it. Jesus told them these things to prepare them for the shock of His death…and then for the even bigger shock of His resurrection.

But I think, most of all, Jesus told His closest friends these things just because He loved them. Yes, it’s an act of love to prepare someone, and to identify Yourself as Messiah.   Yet I think Jesus was doing more than just telling these men a simple truth.   I think He told them just because He loved them.   Peter, John and the rest all mattered to Him, enough to die for in fact.  After all, why does He tell us, especially after all these years?

It’s love.   Jesus told them – and us – these things simply because He loves us.

Lord Jesus, I thank and praise You for Your unending love.   I love You too.

Read Mark 10, verses 35-45.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 27 July 2015

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. Mark 9, verses 30-32.

Have you ever been afraid of an answer?

When the Powerball or Mega Millions lotto drawings get big, I usually buy a ticket.   I know: it’s a form of gambling and a voluntary tax all in one.   But it’s also a huge return on investment.   If I win anything, even if it’s only $5, it’s a return on my initial investment in the percentage of hundreds; can you imagine the return if I ever won the real jackpot?   Yet I’m always reluctant to check on the numbers after each drawing.   It’s as if I’m fantasizing about my life as a millionaire and I don’t want reality to pop the bubble.

And have you ever asked your spouse or significant other a tough question that you just knew you didn’t want answered (even though you knew you needed an answer)? “How much did it cost?”   “Are you angry with me?”   “Is it love or something else?”   Forget the lotto:   these are the real hard answers to hear, these are the times when it gets tough to live in the real world.

Jesus was leveling with His disciples.   He was telling them plainly what was soon going to happen to Him. Before this, He had mentioned His passion and resurrection, but had seemed almost oblique, mysterious.   This time, while they were walking through Galilee, He spoke plainly with them. No sugar-coating, no extra adjectives, no poetic language:   Jesus spoke plainly and told them the priests would take Him, murder Him, and watch Him bring Himself back to life.

The disciples’ reaction: huh?

They were afraid out of ignorance.   Or was it that they were afraid out of ignorance and real fear?   Jesus was challenging their entire belief system by saying the leaders of their church would murder the very person they had come to know as God Immanuel. If I’m Peter, James, or John, my reaction would have been, “say that again, Jesus.   Would you mind repeating that please?”   And that was their reaction.   They didn’t know what to think or say. In part it was out of just plain not understanding, and let’s give them the benefit of the doubt in how they learned of this news.   They had watched Him drive out nasty demons, then went on walkabout.   They’re befuddled, busy, and even burdened with weariness.   And now Jesus is predicting His death at the hands of the very people entrusted with teaching God’s chosen people about God’s love.

Huh?

But let’s keep it real too.   They were afraid.   This was tough stuff to hear, much tougher than wondering if I won the Powerball or how much that new car would cost. If what Jesus was saying was true, then everything God’s people knew would be thrown on its head.   Faith, religion, law, society, economy: toss them all around and something new would result, something unknown. If that didn’t scare them, what would?   If it doesn’t give you trepidation as well, what will?

Have you ever been afraid of an answer?

Lord, I am sometimes afraid of what You tell me.   Comfort my fear and overcome them in me.

Read Mark 9, verses 30-36.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 1 July 2015

They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. Mark 9, verse 10.

We’ve debated this same thing since the day the three Apostles first did so.   It’s one of the fundamental justifications that folks who struggle with faith give for why they do struggle. Do we really, truly believe that Jesus rose from death?

Join the club if you’ve ever doubted that anyone could do this.   We’re in good company.   Jesus’ Apostles debated it as well as evidenced by verse 10.   When Jesus kept referring to His rising from the dead, they simply didn’t know how to take it.   As we’ve discussed in the past, these were men who were familiar with the stories of Judaism.   Perhaps they had even had minimal training in the synagogues, but it’s doubtful they were highly educated. Scholars they weren’t but they still knew the stories of the Patriarchs, Moses, Elijah, and all the miracles God had performed for Israel over the millennia.   And yet they didn’t know quite what to do with this new information.

I’ll admit:   sometimes I don’t know what to do with it either.   See, I fully believe in Jesus.   I believe everything He said, everything He did, everything He said He would do.   The miracles?   I believe they happened.   The virgin birth?   I believe it happened.   The crucifixion and the resurrection?   Yes, I believe they actually happened.   Still, I’m sometimes stuck in the same moment as Peter, James and John, wondering what Jesus meant when He said He had to die and rise from that death. Why was it necessary?   I know the ecclesiastical book answer but isn’t there something more?   Why a death for a life, or a death for all lives?   It’s the question of the ages.

Right now it’s a good time to remind myself that “it’s not about me.” Jesus was predicting these things so that all of us, not just me, could have a permanent, eternal relationship with Him. That’s all I need to know. Even though we struggle with how He would do this, He did it for us anyway. Yet each of us needs to eventually decide one way or another:   do we truly believe?   If you’re like me, even after you decide in the affirmative (something I did so long ago that I don’t even really remember when it happened) you still sometimes find yourself doubting that anyone could actually do what Jesus said He could, would, and then did.

When those doubts come, I take comfort from known that we are indeed in that good company.   Even the Apostles didn’t always understand Jesus and they walked, talked, ate, and lived with Him in person for years. Not only, but (later Apostle) Paul later reminded believers that they needed to be renewed in their faith, by God, every day; see Ephesians 4:23. Doubt is human; questioning is natural.   The illogical in the face of the illogical is still illogical and sends us into questioning.   Yet we should always remember that faith is the beginning of reason when we realize that Jesus is the ultimate source of all truth and the truth behind every answer. Even when we doubt His truth or His miracles (like the resurrection) He is always present to renew us through faith in Him and give us the faith knowledge to press onward.

Lord Jesus, forgive my doubts, and let me find all answers in You.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.