FREE THEME DAYS: Evidence for the Risen Jesus
Growing Throughout the Year
Do you ever find yourself thinking “I’ll believe it when I see it?” It’s easy to slip into the mindset of doubt. We live in a broken world, and we may have gone through painful experiences that cause us to lose our trust in others. For this reason, faithfulness, a fruit of the Spirit, can be a challenging trait to possess. Faithfulness comes from a place of trust and loyalty. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is a confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” As a Christian, it is important to be faithful to God. It is one thing to simply believe in Him, but another to be faithful to Him. When we are truly faithful to God, this shapes the way we live. Faithfulness requires us to submit our ways to God.
Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” We are to be faithful to God, because He is faithful to us. In the Bible, the story of Abraham demonstrates the importance of faithfulness. Abraham and his wife Sarah struggled to trust God, but learned the value of faithfulness when they submitted to Him. For example, Abraham and Sarah waited many years for God to fulfill His promise of giving them a son. Because of her lack of faith, Sarah insisted upon Hagar, her maid, giving birth to her son. This resulted in pain and conflict. However, when Abraham and Sarah put their faith in God, Sarah was able to give birth to Isaac despite being past childbearing age. Ultimately, the story of Abraham shows how God blesses those who are faithful and trust in His plans.
So, how do we grow in our faithfulness? We can grow in our faithfulness by having a personal relationship with God. If we are truly faithful to Him and obey His commands, this will be evident in our lives. My challenge to you is this: Think about the ways you show your faithfulness to God. Are there things that are getting in the way of your faithfulness? What areas of your life have you not given over to Him? Through spending time in prayer, ask God to make these things clear to you, so that He can grow you in your faithfulness.
It’s been another fun week of digging through scripture to hear the word that God is speaking to us today. When we dive into the Word and start investigating the trail of inspiration and hope that it has left throughout the years, we are engaging in a vibrant conversation with the living God. We are engaging the One who is alive and active still. This week, our look at Mark 9-16 has brought out a number of themes that I’d like to just tie together quickly for us.
First, the gospels are texts that were written to be heard and to be engaged with as a whole – much like a novel. Like any good author, Mark is weaving together numerous strands of thought and repeating patterns for us to pick up on as we engage with the story of Jesus’s life. Knowing this, we can bring together the various things that Mark is trying to teach us.
In Mark 9, we are encouraged to acknowledge and embrace the places where we question and have doubt. It’s a part of the life of faith. We are pushed to not just accept our unbelief, but to express it and call out for a grace that will see us through it. In Mark 10, the request for help is answered. With the end of the messianic secret, Jesus restores sight and illuminates the darkness (the darkness of unbelief). In Mark 11 & 12, Jesus starts turning over tables. He challenges injustice and urges us to do the same. We are called to use our new sight to break the cycles of brokenness in the world and give all that we have to aid those who are in need. In Mark 13 & 14, we are urged to be on the alert. To remain vigilant in our new sight and be prepared for the suffering that will come our way. In Mark 16, Mark urges us to new life beyond suffering and tells us to go out into the world to find where Jesus has already gone and is currently waiting.
Mark’s gospel lays out a call to life that is tangible, realistic, and filled with hope for believers. My hope for you is that your life is filled with as much grace and love as this gospel commands.
None of Scripture was intended to be read. Although that may seem strange to us today, the ability to read was incredibly rare. For today, it’d be like having a doctorate. There are a number of professor’s out there, but you don’t run into them every day. Reading just wasn’t something most people needed to be able to do to get through their day. The agricultural and craftsman lifestyles didn’t need to keep many notes themselves. As a result, the writings, when they were used, were usually read aloud in a collective setting – and this is key. Because Scripture is meant to be heard – not read! All those with EARS, let them HEAR.
Because of this, there weren’t any of the nifty little headings that we find in our Bibles today. It was just one long story without breaks or chapters. So, the nice breaks that we often get around stories didn’t exist except for the past few hundred years. For today’s reading, both of these things are really important.
These two vignettes in Mark 9:14-32 (the healing of the child and the misunderstanding of the disciples) come back to back and would have been heard that way by Mark’s original audience. So, what I’d like you to do is try it. Take just a second to read these verses out loud. If you’re somewhere public, just try whispering if you want. But read it out loud and see what sticks out to you. I’ll wait here and I’ll do it too…
So, how was it? Awkward? Weird? Probably a little. But when I did it something new really stood out to me about this passage. In the first story, a man comes to Jesus asking for healing for his son. Jesus responds ‘oh you faithless people…how much longer do I have to put up with you. Bring me the boy.’ The father, distraught over Jesus’ seemingly kinda cruel response, cries out – ‘I want to believe! Please help my unbelief!’ He wants to save his son and will do whatever it takes to save him.
The next story is between Jesus and his disciples. He’s teaching them about what’s going to happen to him when he reaches Jerusalem. But they don’t get it. They don’t have belief/faith, just like the dad in the previous story. However, instead of putting aside their pride and asking for Jesus to help their unbelief (lack of understanding), they stay silent.
Here, in these few verses, a man from “this faithless generation” reaches out, pleads, and finds Jesus meeting him in his unbelief while the ones who are part of Jesus’ own inner-circle remain unmoved in their faithlessness. And this at a time when Jesus’s time with them was literally drawing short.
The problem with this is never unbelief. The problem is how we respond to it. We won’t have all the answers. We will doubt and question. Jesus doesn’t lament our struggle – it is one that he himself walked through (for he shared in all things but without sin). Embrace the places where you are unsure. Lean into the spots where the struggle is the most real and you are shaken like the son in the story. Push forward and call out for a help, a grace that will fill us in our uncertainty and bring healing.
Saul fought Christ in every way possible throughout his life up until this point. He was the most unlikely Jesus follower. He loved God and served God and thought he was doing His will. But he thought that Jesus had been a false teacher and liar and that everyone who followed and spread Jesus’ teachings needed to be stopped. There are people today who think they are doing God’s will but instead are ignorant of the truth, possibly because, like Saul, they don’t understand who Jesus is.
And then came the light! Following the spectacular flash of light and the great voice of Jesus, Saul was led to Damascus where he was blind and did not eat or drink for three days. I imagine this was a time of tremendous wrestling and questioning and perhaps doubting everything that he thought he had known about his whole life’s work and about Jesus.
Enter Ananias. In a vision, Ananias, a follower of Jesus, is given specific directions to find Saul and place his hands on him to heal him. Ananias answers, telling the Lord what a bad guy Saul is and how dangerous this could be. Has the Lord ever tried to send you in one direction and instead you had your list of reasons why it didn’t make sense? God’s work and His will doesn’t always make sense to us, and it doesn’t ‘have’ to make sense. Our list of excuses and reasoning is worth nothing in comparison to God’s plan and desire for us. So the patient Lord once again told Ananias, “This man (Saul) is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15). How might you also be the Lord’s chosen instrument? To whom has he prepared and designed you to carry His name? Perhaps not to kings, but maybe to your neighbor and facebook friends and co-workers?
So, with no more excuses left, Ananias went to Saul and placed his hands on him to give him sight. Ananias told Saul he would be filled with the Holy Spirit. With the Lord’s powerful light, three days spent questioning what he had thought he had known, and Ananias’ faithful intervention, Saul realized the mistake he had made in his life and he was healed and baptized. Just like Saul, anyone can change their life and follow Jesus. God can set anyone straight. Keep praying for those fighting against Christ and consider how He wants you to carry His name to others?
Wednesday, April 26
Have you ever tried reasoning with someone who just doesn’t get it? After reading Malachi that’s exactly how I felt. At this point the temple is built and the Israelites are settled back into their traditions and way of life. They are now waiting for the prophecies of their Messiah to be fulfilled. But with this wait and settling in came the return of sin, doubt and once again a disconnection and separation from God.
The Israelites began to sacrifice improper animals, they were withholding tithes, they were marrying outsiders, they weren’t obeying and honoring the covenant they had with God. With all this corruption going on they refused to see themselves as the problem. Instead they put the blame on God questioning his very love for them (Malachi 1:2) . Almost desperately God points the finger back at them, reminding them of his great love and his promise of a messiah. He urges them to take responsibility for their actions and remember to obey the covenant they have with Him.
I found it interesting that the last book of the Old Testament left me with a feeling of desperation. You felt the need for the Messiah and I almost couldn’t wait for him to come, then I realized: wait, Jesus did come! Today we have a new covenant with God, one that is fulfilled by grace through Jesus Christ.
I hope you get it.
Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash and Scott Cash wrote a powerful song titled “Whom Shall I Fear” – with the alternate subtitle “God of Angel Armies”. Perhaps 2 Kings chapters 6 & 7 offered some inspiration as they were writing this song. The Arameans are attacking Israel and are extremely flustered because it is as if someone keeps telling the king of Israel the battle plans of the king of Aram, foiling his plan of attack time after time. They are tipped off that Elisha, the prophet of God, just might be the informant and so a large force is sent during the night to surround Elisha’s town to capture him. In the morning Elisha’s servant is dismayed to see such a large posse ready to pounce. But this is what the prophet Elisha says,
“Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:16,17
Wow! What a sight! And, sure enough, there is NOTHING to fear when you are on the side of God’s Angel Armies! The Aramean army is struck with blindness and Elisha leads them – right into the presence of the Israelite king.
In the very next chapter the LORD causes the attacking Arameans to be scared away by the sound of a great army – a great heavenly army with many horses and chariots. (7:6,7) Wow! What a thunderous sound! And sure enough, there is NOTHING to fear when you are on the side of God’s Angel Armies! The long siege on Samaria, which had brought starvation and hyperinflation, is suddenly and miraculously over as the Arameans high-tail it out without looking back. As an added bonus the Israelites plunder everything the retreating army left behind.
Does it sound too good to be true? Some thought maybe. While the city was still surrounded and in the throes of despair Elisha predicts that by the very next day food would once again be abundant and affordable. One of the king’s officers voices his doubt that this could ever happen – because it indeed did not seem humanly possible. Elisha said, “You will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat any of it.” (7:2) And, sure enough, the doubting officer with a negative attitude was serving at the city gates the very next day when the Israelites celebrated the end of the siege and the joyous mob ran out of the city to get a share of the plunder. He saw it – and was trampled in the gateway before he had a chance to eat of the bounty. The doubter did not reap the rewards.
You likely will not find yourself facing an attacking foreign king or a city under siege today, but perhaps you will be up against depression, temptation, a negative spirit, a difficult relationship, or struggles at school, work or home. There is a lot to fear when you get sucked into becoming the doubter who sees things in only human terms – and misses out on the rewards. But there is nothing to fear when you are on the side of God – and His Angel Armies.
Maybe you have limited your line of sight to what is humanly possible or worldly acceptable. Pray that your eyes will be opened, and your ears unstopped so that you may see and hear God at work and follow His leading. He might choose to show you a whole army of angels – or maybe he will show you a wise Biblical counselor to help steer you through a crisis, or a verse to give you direction, or a neighbor for you to share hope with. May our eyes be opened to see all of the ways God guides and provides!
(Another great “Angel Army” is heard in 2 Samuel chapter 5 – and will actually be retold in our readings next week in 1 Chronicles 14. Don’t miss it – follow God’s Angel Armies!)