Rebuking Jesus

Peter is one of my all-time favorite Bible characters, I think because he’s so incredibly human. He often had a hard time keeping his mouth shut. He sported incredible doses of bravado one minute and was slinking away the next.

Do you ever stick your foot in your mouth?

Welcome to Peter’s world.

Here’s one of those “What was he thinking?” moments:

And [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:31-33).

It’s almost funny thinking about Peter’s having the audacity to whisper something like this in the Lord’s ear:

“Lord, can I talk to you alone for a minute?”

“Sure, Peter. What’s on your mind?”

“Well, I don’t know exactly how to say this, but I’m very uncomfortable with all this talk about suffering and being rejected and dying.”

“Why, Peter?”

And perhaps this is when Peter felt it was perfectly appropriate for him to “rebuke” God. Where did he get the nerve?

There’s no doubt Peter had good intentions—he didn’t want Jesus to go to Jerusalem and get Himself killed.

Of course what he was missing was the main reason Jesus came to earth.

There’s a lot of talk this week about the birth of Jesus, and it’s exciting to know that people are thinking about Bethlehem.

But the mistake we don’t need to make is to romanticize His birth and miss the reason He blessed Mary’s womb.

Few people have a hard time with baby Jesus, this Lord of the Nativity.

But some people—like Peter—stumble over a beaten, bloody, suffering, humiliated Christ. They love Jesus in the manger, but shun the Christ whose execution shows how ugly our sin is.

We need to remember–we’re saved at Calvary. There we learn that the key to discipleship is joining Jesus in His humility.

Jesus was born to die, so we dare not stay in Bethlehem and miss Golgotha.

Thank God for the manger, but remember the cross.

Who is he to you?

At the end, only one thing really matters: Who do you say that Jesus is?

Over the course of your lifetime, you’ll be asked thousands of questions, but none as important as this one.

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him (Mark 8:27-30).

Most people didn’t know what to think about Jesus. His tell-it-like-it-is approach reminded them of John. His passion and fire made them think of Elijah or one of the other prophets.

But He didn’t fit their expectation of the long-awaited Messiah, the military conqueror who would free them from foreign domination.

No, this Jesus spoke too much of humility to be the Messiah, right? He talked about kindness and love and crosses.

They wanted to hear more about strength, domination, and control.

But a grain of understanding was beginning to form in the hearts of a handful of Jews—the ones Jesus had selected as His special band of followers. Almost certainly Peter didn’t fully understand what he said, but at least he got it right: You are the Christ.

Later he would embrace that confession wholeheartedly and give his life for it.

Now, two thousand years later, the Lord asks the same question: Who am I to you?

Our pluralistic world really wants you to soften your answer.

He was an incredible teacher.

He worked amazing miracles.

He died an agonizing death.

But they don’t want you to call Him Christ, because that’s too exclusive. That means you think He’s God’s final revelation, that there’s only one way.

Which is exactly what Jesus taught: the way to God is through Him, the Christ, the Messiah, the unique Son of God.

You are the Christ.

Have you confessed that?

Are you living it?

He’s still workin’ on me . . .

I think for pretty much everyone reading this devotional, there’s sometimes a sense of frustration with where you are spiritually.

You know where you want to be, perhaps where you ought to be, and then you recognize where you are. It can be discouraging.

But that’s where this interesting story about Jesus comes in. Mark is the only one who records it, and it’s given scholars fits over the years.

Read it carefully, and then let’s reflect on it:

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him.  And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village” (Mark 8:22-26).

The tough question here has always been, Why did Jesus perform a two-stage healing? Couldn’t He have done it all at once?

I think the answer goes back to what had just happened.

Jesus had mildly chastised the apostles for their slow spiritual growth: “Do you not yet understand?” (v 21).

And then He heals this blind man, but He does it in stages, which He had never done before and never did again.

Why?

I think the answer might be that He did it as an object lesson for His discouraged disciples.

They were frustrated at how slowly they were gaining spiritual insight.

By healing the blind man in steps, Jesus showed His disciples that spiritual growth often works the same way.

God heals our spiritual blindness, but the vision develops gradually.

If this interpretation is right, it says a lot about our struggles, and it ought to help our frustration.

God has begun His work in us, but He isn’t done yet.

And He won’t be finished until He sanctifies us completely when He comes back.

So don’t be too hard on yourself. Some days you’ll see clearly, and other days your vision will be murky. It’s all part of God’s continual working in our lives to bring us to perfection in the end.

As the children’s song says,

He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars,
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be, He’s still working on me.

Frustrating Jesus?

I know God doesn’t have human emotions, but Jesus sometimes experienced something very close to exasperation–part of His humanity, perhaps?

I wonder if we ever make Him want to throw up His hands in frustration?

Here’s one time that it happened:

Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive for understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

It’s almost funny how off the mark the disciples were. Jesus mentioned the “leaven” of the Pharisees and of Herod, and they really thought He was talking about bread.

How could they be so obtuse?

They were hung up on the physical instead of the spiritual. They were in so many ways spiritually shallow and short-sighted, and Jesus struggled to get them to think more deeply.

As easy as it is to point fingers at the disciples, perhaps we’re all guilty of it.

Sometimes we get caught up in the day’s minutiae–what we’re going to eat, wear, and do. We think about 401(k)s and stock portfolios and getting the leaves raked and the trash taken to the road. After all, life’s ridiculously busy.

There’s nothing wrong with that kind of “leaven,” of course. Chores have to be finished, and to-do lists need to be conquered (or at least started).

But I think what frustrates Jesus is when we stay at this superficial level, when that’s our life’s focus, when we obsess over things that ultimately don’t really matter.

“Do you not yet understand?” He asked the disciples.

That’s probably a question we all need to consider.

God whispers, but doesn’t shout

God isn’t pushy.

When trying to win your heart, He whispers but doesn’t shout. He offers convicting evidence of who He is, but He won’t force Himself on you.

It’s interesting that some of Jesus’ contemporaries wanted Him to do something more . . . always something more.

Here’s one of those requests:

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side (Mark 8:11-13).

Jesus had already done amazing things, of course, but the Pharisees wanted something different. But whatever Jesus did would never be enough, not for them. They didn’t want to believe.

Jesus probably meant something like this when He told the story of the rich man and Lazarus. In a place of suffering the rich man wanted Lazarus to return to earth to convince his brothers, thinking that someone coming from the grave would persuade them.

Abraham said, “If they won’t believe the word of God, a resurrection won’t convince them either.”

Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t do something spectacular to convince all the world’s skeptics that He exists?

Because that wouldn’t convince them either.

For those who want to believe, there’s overwhelming evidence. For those who don’t, there will never be enough.

We should ask God to help us be the kind of people whose faith helps us hear Him whisper more clearly and feel His gentle touch more often.

To those who believe, His signs are everywhere.

If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you . . .

If you have children, you know that for some reason they don’t always learn what you’re trying to teach them the first time. And maybe not the second time either.

As much as I’d like to believe that we grow out of that, I’m not sure we do.

Take the apostles, for instance. Do you remember when Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish? The disciples were quite impressed.

That was in Mark 6.

Now read the first paragraph of Mark 8:

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha (Mark 8:1-10).

So Jesus had already miraculously fed a big crowd once in front of the disciples, and here they’re faced with a similar situation.

Huge crowd, mealtime, not much food.

Surely one of the disciples will remember the last time and say something like, “Well, this won’t be any problem for Jesus. You guys remember what He did a couple weeks back, right?”

Not exactly.

Instead, one of them asked, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

In other words, What in the world are we going to do?

My initial response to this is, How in the world could they be so slow-witted?

But then the Lord reminds me that I’m just like them.

Are you?

I’ve seen the Lord bail me out of innumerable difficulties, but I’ll wring my hands in despair the next time I face another one.

He’s always provided for my needs, but I still struggle with uncertainty about the future.

Intellectually, I know He orchestrates my life according to what’s best, but I still worry.

Why is that?

As it turns out, I need Jesus to remind me again and again that He’s still the Lord, and He’s still in control. I need to be convinced—almost daily, it seems—that God is sovereign and omnipotent and compassionate.

The next time you say to your kids, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times!”, pause for a minute and remind yourself that that’s exactly what the Lord has to do with us.

Will God ever fix this place?

This world is one messed up place, isn’t it?

Sure, there’s beauty, and there are many good, selfless people.

But then we also have cancer and heart disease and genetic defects, as well as tornadoes, hurricanes, and forest fires. Not to mention corruption, deceit, and violence.

All the more reason to look forward to the day when God fixes it all.

That’s what Mark is pointing to when he includes this saying about Jesus: “He has done all things well.” Read the story here:

Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Mark 7:31-37).

He has done all things well. Doesn’t that sound great?

Many of Mark’s readers would’ve immediately thought of this verse: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31).

Mark is hinting at the fact that Jesus’ ability to remove some of the “messed up” parts of this world—curing people of hearing, speech, and visual impairments, raising the dead, etc.—points to His role as the Messiah, the One who came to set things right.

In Genesis 1 God created everything to be perfect. We broke it, of course, but then Jesus—God in the flesh—came to earth to bring perfection back to God’s creation.

Now, of course, we still live in a messed-up place, but we’re fully confident that He’ll come back to create the “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13).

When we read about Jesus’ healing the sick, we should see more than evidence of His deity, though that is there.

It should remind us of a coming world that’ll be restored to the way it’s supposed to be: no hearing or speech problems, no cancer, no natural disasters, no sin, no violence.

He has done all things well, and heaven will be perfect.

I can’t wait to see what it’s like, can you?

Did Jesus insult the Syrophoenician woman?

Some stories about Jesus bother me, and Mark includes one of them in today’s passage.

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone (Mark 7:24-30).

Was Jesus mean-spirited? An initial reading of this text may point that way, but if we can get past the apparent harshness, there’s actually a nugget of rich, spiritual truth in this story.

But first, here are a couple of relevant facts:

  • The woman was a Gentile, and Jesus’ primary mission in His earthly ministry was to the Jews (Matthew 15:24: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”) The church would take the gospel to the whole world after the resurrection.
  • The word “dog” was a common word used by Jews to refer to Gentiles. It was obviously not a term of endearment.
So it seems like Jesus treated the woman unkindly.

But there’s more to the story than what we see at first glance.

Jesus uses a diminutive form of the word “dogs,” which could be translated “puppies,” and it might “refer to house pets rather than the scavenger of the streets” (Brooks, NAC, 121). In other words, we shouldn’t necessarily take the word “dogs” as a strong insult.

We should also understand that Jesus would occasionally use a question or statement to test the genuineness of people’s faith. How badly did this woman want Jesus to help her daughter?

It seems to me here that Jesus merely reflects the well-known tension between Jews and Gentiles. He uses a common expression to test the Gentile woman’s faith, and it did not suggest that He believed the Gentiles were inferior to the Jews.

In fact, I think Jesus’ actions imply the opposite. In His healing the woman’s daughter, Jesus foreshadowed His concern for all the nations, not just for the Jews. This concern would be fully realized when the apostles obeyed the Great Commission and took the Lord’s message to “all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Here’s something to reflect on today: God wants salvation to go to every house, every class, and every people group.

We sometimes think—perhaps subconsciously—that a typical Christian looks a lot like us, whatever that is.

But we should remember that Jesus died for everyone—the peasant in Asia, the sultan in the Middle East, the farmer in Africa, and the factory worker in Detroit.
So don’t let Jesus’ interaction with the Syrophoenician woman put you off. He actually treated her in a way that reflected an important undercurrent in Scripture: God offers salvation to everyone.

What Jesus says about our diet

People like talking about food. We talk about what we love to eat, or maybe we talk about what we’d love to eat if we weren’t trying to drop a few pounds.

Others talk about synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and additives and then extol the life-saving virtues of organic food.

And quite a few of us don’t talk about food much at all; we just eat whatever we see . . . and reap the consequences.

Jesus said it doesn’t really matter.

Of course He didn’t say it’s wrong to eat organic or gluten-free or low-fat or whatever your preference is, but He did say there’s something that matters much more:

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:14-23).

Because of their Law, the Jewish people were very conscious about what they ate, and they had developed other dietary and hand-washing laws that they obsessed over.

Jesus changed all that. As a result, we’re not bound by dietary laws that restrict what we eat or how we wash our hands before we eat.

There’s something much more important than what’s on your plate.

It’s your heart.

Jesus wants us to think more about the center of our volitional and spiritual life than our abs or waistline.

There’s nothing wrong with being health-conscious—it’s “of some value” (1 Timothy 4:8).

But it’s sad to see so many people spending thousands of dollars and untold numbers of hours to look a certain way while almost completely neglecting the part of them that will exist eternally.

The heart, Jesus says, is what determines who we are, what we do. When we slander or lust or lie, we’ve got heart problems.

If we hurt others or put ourselves above them, something’s wrong inside us.

And when we become believers, Jesus Christ grabs our hearts, and then He changes our lives.

Ultimately, that’s what really matters . . . much more than the superficial things that often consume us.

Legalistic hypocrisy

Few things angered Jesus more than hypocrisy, and legalism was a brand of hypocrisy that He particularly despised.

The dangerous thing about legalism is that it especially attracts those of us who are religious . . . who want to please God.

Read what Jesus said to some very religious folks in His world:

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:9-13).

That story’s a little confusing, but apparently some of the Pharisees had found a way of getting around God’s commandment to care for their aging parents.

Here’s how they reasoned: God has commanded us to take care of our parents, but He’s also told us to keep our vows. So, if we have goods that we could use to help our parents, we can avoid it by vowing these possessions to God or God’s temple.

“Mom and Dad, I have the means to support you, but unfortunately I’ve already devoted what I have to God. You know I can’t break my vows, so you’ll need to find help somewhere else . . .”

The catch here is that they could keep whatever they owned and use it however they wanted, and presumably it would go to the temple when they died.

Amazing, isn’t it? How could religious people be so hard-hearted?

But of course the first-century Pharisees weren’t the only ones guilty of it.

We should ask ourselves: do we elevate the letter of the law above the principle behind the law? Do we use Scripture to support unloving, unkind words or actions?

Jesus expects us to obey Him, of course, but He especially wants us to honor His nature—love, mercy, compassion, kindness, equity. If we ever interpret the Bible in a way that supports something else, we ought to recheck our interpretation . . . and our hearts as well.

Legalistic hypocrisy angers the Lord.