Jesus

Sweet Assurance (Philippians 1:6)

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Since this is the first Global Pandemic I have ever lived through, I can’t make sweeping generalisations. But, from my observations thus far, Pandemics have a way of polarising people if you were to categorise them according to their reactions.

  • You get the nonchalant type, who’s in denial or is just ignorant
  • The paranoid person petrified even to make a phone call for fear that 5G might transmit the virus
  • The conspiracy theorists who seem to abound right now
  • The well-read, and so the wisely cautious person
  • People looking to make a quick buck off the whole thing
  • And, then, of course, there is always the nutjob with a smartphone willing to record themselves to share their nutty ideas with the whole world …

You get the idea! Sadly in Christian circles, we see all of these varieties and then some. As a pastor, I have been inundated with videos/articles sent to me from all the types of people listed above.  

The sender typically wants my read on what’s contained in the piece. And, it is no exaggeration to say that they have ranged from the sublimely insightful to the utterly ridiculous.

World shaking events like COVID19 and the ramifications emanating from the unprecedented strategies implored by national governments to try to contain the virus and mitigate the risk of loss of lives have unsettled many people. And Christians are not exempt from this all.

All of this has gotten me thinking a lot about assurance, and the unshakeable faith and confident security; I believe Jesus wants us, believers, to experience even in times like these.

Just the other day we were reading Mark 13 – an unsettling passage about the end times with people being led astray (vs5), a forewarning of false Christs (vs6), wars, earthquakes, famines(vs7-8), persecution of believers, being hated for being Christ-followers(vs11-13), something called the abomination of desolation and great tribulation (vs14-24) and the call of Jesus’ to be on guard and awake (vs23 & 37)…

I was struck by one of Jesus’ commands; “Do not be alarmed” (vs7)! It stood out like the first flower pushing up in a field after the veld has been burnt, almost out of place in the surrounding desolation. 

Jesus wanted His disciples, Jesus wants you and I who have trusted in Him not to be alarmed by even tumultuous events and experiences. Jesus wants us to be assured, at peace, secure. Jesus wants us to trust Him who not only made everything but is the One who holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17) 

John records similar last moments with Jesus and explodes this theme of what Jesus wanted the disciples to experience in greater detail in the first verses of chapter 14;

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

Jesus didn’t want the events of the days that would follow to unsettle His followers. He wanted them to contend for peace in their hearts and minds. Jesus wanted them not to let their hearts go to the place of anxiety and stress that they would go to if not restrained by faith.  

Jesus wanted His disciples to believe, to trust Him, to trust the Father’s goodness and power. Jesus wanted them to see the final picture; these disciples could be assured that they would dwell with Him for eternity in His the Father’s house. That future hope was something to believe because it could not be seen. However believing it would produce something in the disciples – assurance, peace & security in spite of tumultuous days that would follow.

Assurance for the believer in Jesus is a strong theme in the New Testament, and it is found in our passage for today’s reading (we are reading Philippians + some Psalms in August for our Bible Reading Plan).

I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

Paul wanted the same thing for the Philippian believers that Jesus wanted for those first Christ-followers: assurance.

Yes, they might have faced tough circumstances, challenges to their faith, struggle and hardship, but God wanted them to be assured IN IT ALL.

That the God who initiated their faith would be the One who would bring it to completion as well, God doesn’t start our Jesus journey and then let us go to walk on our own like some parent teaching their child to walk hoping they will get the hang of it.  

No, rather God alone was both the author of their faith and would be the One to bring it to completion too (Hebrews 12:2). The confidence of these believers wasn’t to be in anything or anyone else other than their Saviour who both initiated and would complete their faith.

Friend if you know that have put your trust in Christ Jesus. If you know that you truly are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone then you can be and should be, God wants you to be the most assured person on the planet. You and I are utterly secure, having believed in Jesus, He will save us completely (Hebrews 7:25).

You are immortal until the Day Jesus returns or the Day He calls you home to be with Him. You need not fret or worry, trying to discern the times and work out what not even Jesus knew when He walked on earth (Mark 13:32)!

So do not be alarmed even in the middle of a Global Pandemic, don’t stress yourself with worry when Jesus’ command to you is not to be alarmed and not to let your heart be troubled. Jesus wants you to sleep secure, live at peace knowing whom You have trusted your life to – and not just this life, but eternal life to.

Speak to Him now in prayer. If you have already believed in Jesus, simply ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to cast off fear with His perfect love and peace. Know this, Jesus wants you to experience the incredible peace that comes from knowing whom it is you have entrusted your present and future eternal life to – so live in the good of the assurance He purchased for you.  

But, if you haven’t yet believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the salvation of your soul, don’t feel any assurance or peace until you have believed in Him. So, call out to Him right now! We really do not know whether any day is our last day, and so as Matthew Henry resolved; live every day as if it was your last day.

And if you know friends who have not yet put their faith in Jesus – don’t delay speak to them share the love of God with them, appeal to them in love to believe in Jesus while they still can.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

A Day Like No Other (Mark 15:1-32)

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From the time of Jesus’ instructions to the disciples to find a place to prepare for and then celebrate the Passover with a meal we now call ‘The Last Supper’ to Jesus death is a period of just 24hrs.

And yet, these 24hrs take-up 92 verses in Mark, 103 verses in Matthew, 74 in Luke 74 and a massive 225 in John’s gospel. The gospel’s all slow down at this focal point of our faith. So much happens in this one 24hr period of Jesus’ life;

  • Preparations for the Passover
  • The Last Supper
  • An agonising prayer in the garden
  • Jesus’ betrayal and arrest
  • Peter’s denial & the abandonment of all Jesus’ followers
  • An unjust trial before the Chief Priests utterly alone
  • A night of mocking and mistreatment by soldiers
  • A hearing before Pilate & the crowd
  • A hearing before Herod
  • Pilate’s capitulation to the blood-thirsty mob releasing Barabas and sentencing Jesus
  • Scourging Jesus by the whip
  • The walk to Golgotha through the streets
  • The crucifixion & death

So, what was the joy in the heart of Jesus that sustained Him through this most terrible 24hrs?

We know from Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane that Jesus’ passion was to please Father God in all He did. Jesus desired to obey God the Father and fulfil the will of the Father. We know this because Jesus prayed; 

“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) 

Therefore we can say that the greatest joy in the heart of Jesus, the joy that sustained Jesus was the joy of pleasing the Father, fulfilling the plan and the will of the Father.  

Jesus’ whole life, His coming to earth as an incarnate human being, His 24/7 life and obedience and His death was all fueled by this same passion. Jesus prayed in John 17:1-4 that the Father would glorify Him ‘so that the Son might glorify’ the Father and He prayed saying that He had ‘glorified the Father on earth, by accomplishing the work the Father had given Him to do.

In addition to this, we also know that Jesus endured all that happened in these 24hrs because He also had another joy in His heart. Hebrews 12:2 reveals to us that part of what sustained Jesus through these horrific 24hrs was His longing for you and me.  

“Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.” (Hebrews 12:2 in the NLT)  

Brothers and sisters, you and I were in Jesus mind’s eye when He endured all of this pain and suffering. The joy awaiting Jesus was us! It was our being reconciled back to a right relationship with Him, which was only possible because of what He was doing by suffering in our place for our sin.

This means that as we see, as we contemplate the ghastly ordeal Jesus endured in these 24hrs we should feel the love of Jesus in each injustice committed against Him, in every droplet of spit sliding down His face, in every strike of the whip tearing flesh from His back, in every agonising step being led like a lamb to the slaughter in silence (Isaiah 53:7-8), in every thunderbolt of pain from the nails in His wrists and the crushing suffocation of the crucifixion. This is love!  

“This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10 in NLT)

Why don’t you pause now and pray? Contemplate these 24hrs Jesus endured, bring the details to mind and know this, He did this all out of love for you! Bask in that incredible love of Jesus’ for you! And then love Jesus back in this moment, love Him with your whole life, don’t give Him the left-overs give Him everything. What a Saviour!

Two T’s and a World Pandemic! (Mark 12:13-17 & 38-44)

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Taxes, Tithing and COVID19 – what a combo! We are living in unprecedented times of financial hardship. In South Africa, our statistics are that more than 3 million people have been retrenched in the last three months. So we can safely say that for the majority of people we’ve never faced a time like this. In addition to this, many have had salaries reduced, or people’s businesses are under severe strain. Unemployment and uncertainty are at all-time highs.

And then our bible reading plan comes to this little section in the gospel of Mark that seems to have a bit of a mini-focus on money from Jesus as a result of some of Jesus’ interactions. 

But is it insensitive to write about money at this time? No, I don’t believe it is, after-all in times of financial pressure or lack we need to speak more not less about money. 

Taxes & Tithes

In Mark 12:13-17 Jesus teaches us to be faithful in paying our taxes making our contribution to the governance and upkeep of the country in which we live and in the same moment Jesus teaches us that similarly, we ought to give ‘to God the things that are God’s’ – tithes (Mark 12:17).

Bear in mind that the Roman authority over the Jewish people of the time would have been seen as an oppressive authority by most Jews. This was not a government the Jewish people welcomed, agreed to or voted for! Yet referring to tax, Jesus says that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

Now for most people, tax is normally a grudge expense! It is not common to find citizens who just can’t wait to pay their taxes. However, taxes are necessary for civil society to function and when taxes when are administered well they provide things like physical infrastructure, policing, a justice system, healthcare, education and social services for the poor and vulnerable.

Before you understandably interject about corruption in South Africa and you’d happily pay taxes if you knew they would be stewarded well – may I remind you of who Jesus was telling the Jews to pay their taxes to!  

The rule and authority of the Roman Empire was an authority that was not invited but imposed through military force. Yet Jesus tells His Jewish hearers to pay to that authority the tax it was imposing. 

Let’s be clear, corruption and mismanagement of public funds are sinful, corruption ought to be lamented over and exposed wherever possible. However, corruption does not release Christ-followers from paying our taxes.

Although I can’t claim to have ever been excited about paying tax. I have tried to shape my heart and my thoughts by thinking about two things;

  1. My taxes are my contribution to all the good things that taxes enable; it is nation-building.
  2. And reminding myself that if I’m paying tax, it means I have a job and an income and that is something I never want to take for granted!  

I’ve found that these things have helped me in paying tax with a good heart. Jesus doesn’t stop there but goes on in Make 12:17 saying that similarly just like Caesar is owed taxes, it is right for us to give to God, the ultimate authority, our tithes.

A Wonderful Example:

Jesus comes back to the issue of money when He does a remarkable thing. Jesus sits Himself down in the temple opposite the offering box and ‘watched the people putting money into the offering box’ (Mark 12:41).  

Since becoming a church leader, for the past 17yrs, I have always kept myself from knowing what people are or are not tithing, but Jesus did the exact opposite! Jesus sat there, watching. People are coming and placing their tithe offerings into the box in the temple, some tithes are large, and some are tiny in monetary terms (Mark 12:41-42).

Jesus watches one poor widow approach the tithe box. She doesn’t have much, that is obvious to see. She isn’t dressed in fancy apparel like the rich people and the scribes (Mark 12:38). 

We don’t know much about her other than that she was a widow and that she was poor (Mark 12:42). We do also know, however, that what she put into the offering box as her tithe impressed Jesus more than any of the other offerings given that day.

You see, in the maths of heaven, her two little coins (worth probably less than ten Rands) meant more to Jesus than the great sums of money given by others. 

Why is that? 

Well in the maths of heaven what makes your gift substantial is the heart with which it is given not the amount that is given. What matters is the wholeheartedness of the gift in relation to what that person has been entrusted with financially by God.

And so, it didn’t matter one iota to Jesus that she only had two coins to give! What mattered to Jesus was her heart of generosity with which those two coins were given. Giving is all about our hearts. Jesus taught that where our treasure is our hearts are too (Matthew 6:21), and I have found the reverse to be true as well – that where our hearts are there our money flows too.  

This poor widow teaches us that giving to God is not about affordability but is about our heart’s condition. Her offering was small, but it was large, relatively speaking when compared to what she had – so she had given much. Jesus knows this and so says to the disciples (I think in her presence to honour her);

“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

She had ‘put in more’ than all the others with their big monetary values! Because her heart of generosity and or love for God overcame her state of poverty. Her heart for God leads her into giving wholeheartedly in rich generosity with faith. We know that she gave in faith because having given she then needed to trust God for the rest of her needs (see vs44).

And because of her example, Jesus makes much of her and honours her above all those giving large monetary amounts but giving gifts that proportionately presumably weren’t generous or sacrificial at all.  

Were these others’ tipping’ God rather than tithing? 

It seems likely. They were all about appearances, but their hearts were not like hers, seemingly. I think to consider tithing as simply giving to God 10% of the income God has entrusted to you is a really helpful thing. 

It is helpful partly because the maths is so easy. It is also helpful because giving a percentage of your income in a church like ours where some people earn more than R100 000/month, and some people earn only R1000/month giving 10% honours everyone’s giving equally. 

What matters is not the Rand amount, but that you are willingly faithful with whatever amounts of income God has entrusted you with. And so, whatever your tithe’s monetary amount is it is valuable to Jesus!

We have an older single woman in our church, who actually reminds me of this widow. She is actually supported by our church every month and has been for some time. During the lockdown, she made more effort than anyone else I know to tithe on the money we had given her for her provision! She made a big effort each month to make contact and make arrangements for her small offering in monetary terms but big offering in proportion to be given to God! Amazing.

This is what matters that even amid COVID-19 we have hearts that are wholehearted like the poor widow in Mark 12, that we give from whatever it is God has entrusted to us financially even if that amount entrusted to us is less during this time. And, that we give the whole tithe, that we give with faith and with joy in Jesus. 

Jesus seems to like to watch what we are giving and wants to commend us for our wholehearted and faithful consistent giving to God in bringing in the whole tithe. Let’s not be like these rich people Jesus rebuked in Mark 12:38-44 who appear to have been tipping God not tithing and so got rebuked.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Genie? (Mark 12:28-34)

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Jesus had caused a stir in towns like Capernaum and Nazareth. His teachings and actions astounded and angered the religious establishment (Mark 3:6).  

But he was now having come to Jerusalem, riding in on a donkey in what felt something like the inauguration of a promised Messiah king (Zechariah 9:9/Mark 11:1-11).   

And having walked into the headquarters of Jewish religion, tearing up the place, effectively pronouncing judgement on the state of affairs at the Temple -Jesus had pulled the proverbial trigger that would lead ultimately to His death on the cross.  

His reputation had proceeded Him, but since arriving in Jerusalem at a high point in their religious calendar, His actions had enraged the Jewish religious leaders.

And so, Jesus had the full attention of all the various religious groups who came to Him in unrelenting waves trying to expose Him, or trap Him in the public space with their crafty questions and wanting to arrest Him (Mark 12:12).  

But one Scribe who most likely shared the angst of his fellow religious brothers was intrigued by Jesus’ handling of the various tricks and traps set by his associates.

Something about Jesus drew him towards Jesus. Mark records that he saw “that He answered them well” (Mark 12:28) and so he decided to risk asking Jesus a real question. One that wasn’t designed to lure Jesus into a trap but to learn; “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28)

Often when Jesus was asked a question with a warped motive, He would answer in an obscure way or would tell a parable exposing the bad heart motive of those asking or even pronounce judgement on those asking. But this man’s question must have felt like a relief to Jesus after the barrage of tricks and traps.

He actually wanted to know Jesus’ answer. And so Jesus gives a succinct answer that helped not just him but helps you and me as Christ Followers to understand what matters most to God. Quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 Jesus replies;

The God of the Bible is the only One worthy of worship, adoration and praise. And so we are to;

  • Love God with all our HEART (our emotions/desires)
  • Love God with all our SOUL (our entire body & life)
  • Love God with all our MIND (our thoughts)
  • Love God with all our STRENGTH (our energy)

Almighty God is worthy of nothing less than our wholehearted worship. Every facet of our humanity (Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength) is to bow to God in loving worship that is to be expressed to fullest since facet of our lives is prefaced with the word “all” by Jesus.

There is a holy discontent in my heart, soul & mind. Brothers and sisters, we live in distracted days that seem so at odds with Jesus’ commandment here in Mark 12:31.  

Love for God, worship of God by even those who call themselves Christ-followers is so commonly lukewarm, so partial rather than wholehearted.  

For so many God is like a ‘Genie-in-a-bottle.’  God can stay in His corner of our lives ignored like the Genie concealed in its container until we need him.  

And yet when we have some desire or desperate need, we pick up the bottle and rub it in prayer summonsing God to answer us and act as we desire.  

Lockdown and a Global Pandemic, today again is an opportunity for us to hit the RESET button if we have slipped into such a form of spirituality.

Jesus’ answer to the Scribe reveals God’s desire for us all; it defines what true Christ-followers lives will look like. And it is radical; it is wholehearted. It is the only way to really live, and living this way will never result in regret.

Jesus wants all of YOU, all of ME. Are you distracted, are you lukewarm, are you acting like a consumer rather than a wholehearted worshiper of God?

This is the greatest commandment – love God with all your affections, love God with all your thoughts, make God the centre of your attention, love God with your whole being, your physical body and all the energy you have been given by Him.  

Don’t hold anything back, expend it all, don’t waste your time and energy and focus on anything or anyone else, expend it all on loving and worshipping God. You will never regret that decision!

So, do you need to hit the RESET button today? The Scribe knew that Jesus’ answer to him contained the truth. And that truth of Jesus’ answer is still powerful to transform your life in the present and your experience of life in eternity. It is still powerful to shape your life and to fill your life with that which is truly valuable.

Jesus continued in vs31 to add a second bonus answer to the Scribes question. He had asked for the ‘greatest commandment’ and Jesus answered him, but as a bonus Jesus went further to explain that obedience to the greatest commandment would lead to something else…

True and wholehearted love for God would result in another love – love for other people. You see, love for God transforms who we are and transforms how we treat all other people God made.  

It is utterly inconsistent, therefore to claim that you truly love God if you don’t love all people.  

And, therefore it is also utterly inconsistent for Christ-followers to be complicit or silent about things like racism or Gender-based violence or injustice since all of these evils are rooted not in love but in a lack of love for individuals God created in His image.

To love God fully & to love people sums up all the commandments. We can easily make following Jesus overly complicated, but Jesus makes God’s will exceedingly clear.

As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states; “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” 

This is our purpose, to love, to honour, to glorify God in all we do. And here in Mark 12, Jesus connects this with how we treat others. If we truly love God, our hearts will be soft toward God, and the Holy Spirit will lead us to love others as God has loved us. This is the whole message of Galatians 5:16-24.

Loving God leads to loving people, being compassionate, merciful, forgiving as we have been forgiven. That’s true godliness, true holiness, the Jesus journey! 

And the only way to get to a life that truly looks like that is to have a life that is overtaken with love for God. And the only way to love God more deeply is to see God more clearly, to see who He is and what He has done for us and to live out your whole life as a response.  #moreinawe

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Life Intersections (Mark 10:46-52)

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I love how in the Bible, we have a record of people just like you and me who encountered the living God. From these encounters, we can learn all sorts of things about God, faith and ourselves. In Mark 10:46-52, there is an encounter between Jesus and a man called Bartimeaus. 

Jesus and his band of followers, plus the usual crowd of onlookers arrive in Jericho. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem with the events of the Passion ominously on the horizon.  

They stop in at Jericho, and as Jesus was leaving a man called Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 

47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

Two paths intersecting 

Here we have two people’s paths intersecting! This happens in life all the time – people on different life journey’s, who share a moment when their life-journey’s collide.

In this intersection we have Jesus, incarnate Son of God, the centre of a crowd for the past three years, famous or infamous depending on how well you knew Him, passing Jericho on his way to Jerusalem to die for the sins of all of humankind and rise again!

And we have Bartimaeus, a seemingly insignificant resident of Jericho. This man’s name is a shocker! Bartimaeus means; ‘son of unclean man’! Not exactly flattering is it – sounds like his dad didn’t have a good reputation. More than this, Bartimaeus is identified in Scripture simply as a “blind beggar”, sitting by the roadside – what a complicated, painful identity.

But on this day recorded in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and Bartimaeus’ life-journey’s are about to intersect! Seemingly insignificant, helpless, hopeless Bartimaeus is about to have his best day in a long time if not ever!  

He is about to meet God.

What about your life journey and God?

  • Do you maybe identify a little with Bartimaeus?
  • Do you feel insignificant, like people and life are passing you by?
  • Do you feel any sense of shame or remorse, regret?

Each of us has our own story. But today might even be your unique moment where you and God – intersect in a remarkable moment! I think of all my friends who don’t yet know Jesus, a day like today could be THEIR DAY!

Moving from knowing to encountering

Bartimaeus had heard about Jesus; he knew of Jesus. He knew his name, some of His titles. But now all of a sudden, Jesus was actually there, right in front of him! There are moments in our lives like that aren’t there?  

Mine was at age 8 in my bedroom praying and giving my life to Jesus. Then again at age 12 on a youth camp, during worship being prayed for and being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and then many times since…  

Christ-followers are people who have all had a moment and then subsequent moments where knowing about Jesus became KNOWING HIM & ENCOUNTERING HIM personally. Knowing Jesus is right there with you, knowing you can call out to Him and that when you do He will answer you personally.

In a country like South Africa, there are many people who know about Jesus – much like Bartimaeus did. But, knowing about Jesus is never enough to save you from your sin. What’s needed is not just more knowledge but rather a personal encounter with Jesus.

If you are already a Christ-follower, call out to Jesus again today, you can know that He wants to encounter you again and again.

Bartimaeus calls out (vs47)

Bartimaeus believed something about Jesus. We know this because if he didn’t believe something about Jesus, then calling out to Jesus as he did would not have made any sense.

After all, it makes no sense appealing to someone to help you if you don’t believe they have the ability or power to help you.  

If I need help with woodwork I don’t call my friend Antony; I call Warren! I don’t call out to my friend Robert for medical advice – no, I call Wade or Nkanyiso two of the specialist doctors in my life…  

When we decide to call out to someone for help, intrinsically there is embedded in that call a hope or even more likely a belief that they can help us in our need or else it is pointless.

We don’t know precisely what Bartimaeus knew about Jesus, but what He knew was enough for Him to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” vs47

‘Jesus’ is the name God told Joseph to give the child Mary miraculously carried from God. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Jesus’ name is also His role, His mission; it’s what Jesus came to do. He will save people from their sins – that’s what His name means. When you call on Jesus, you are calling out to the Saviour of the world.

Bartimaeus also called out using the title, ‘Son of David’ – a title that points to the fact that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (deliverer) promised hundreds of years before.

By calling out to Jesus using these names and asking Jesus for ‘mercy’ reveals something of WHO Bartimaeus believed Jesus was.

Bartimaeus had a need, but he also knew that he didn’t deserve anything. So Bartimaeus appeals to Jesus for Mercy – undeserved favour.  

Like Bartimaeus, none of us can say that we deserve anything from God! Not even on our best days are we good enough to deserve anything. Our need unifies us, and what we all need is grace and mercy from God! 

The GOOD NEWS I have for you and I today is that as Jesus Himself said; that He didn’t come for those who thought they’d done well in life or those who thought they were ‘good with God’ because of their exceptional behaviour. No, Jesus came for those who knew they needed MERCY.

Christ-followers are those who have had an encounter with God and who know that God hasn’t accepted them because they are good enough, but rather that God has accepted us because we cried out to Jesus for MERCY!

So if you need help, firstly you need to call out to someone who CAN HELP, but secondly, you also need to be sure that they WANT TO HELP you. After all, no one wants to be left hanging, rejected in public.

Bartimaeus heard Jesus was close by, and He cried out to Jesus for mercy! He had heard enough about Jesus to make him believe that not only COULD Jesus help him but also that Jesus WOULD WANT to help him…

Maybe he had heard about the woman who reached out to touch him in the crowd or the centurion who wanted his servant healed or the dad who wanted his son set free…

He believed Jesus wouldn’t leave him hanging, leave him on the side of the road rejected. So Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus loudly!

But many rebuked him (vs48)

Those around him didn’t like Bartimaeus’ calling out to Jesus! He was told to “shut up” basically, shunned, frowned upon…  

You know, often for you to get to Jesus, you have to push through some opposition. This opposition can come from one of three sources:

  • Your own voice (doubts/fears/ungodly beliefs)
  • The voice of others (unbelievers, mocking, media, the age we live in…)
  • The voice of the deceiver and enemy of your soul

But Bartimaeus wasn’t having any of it – ‘But he cried out all the more’ it says. What about you? Will you press past the obstacles between you and Jesus? The opinions of others? Your own internal obstacles to faith in Jesus, the questions you have, your fears? Will you press past the Devil’s stumbling blocks designed to keep you from calling out to Jesus?

Be like Bartimaeus. Cry out to Jesus, don’t stop, press past the opposition, you won’t be disappointed.

Jesus stops (vs49)

I love this part of this God-encounter. Jesus stopped.  

He stopped, for the seemingly insignificant, blind beggar crying out to Him at the moment that their journey’s intersected.

51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. 

Today you need to know that you matter to God. Jesus will stop if you call just out to Him. Those around you who don’t yet believe in Jesus need to know this about Jesus too! That if they just call out to Him, He will stop for them.

More than that, in His incredible gracious generosity, Jesus will not just stop, but He will ask you what He can do for you – what love and what authority! Jesus is not limited in any way He can offer to do whatever is needed.

Bartimaeus’ most apparent need was his blindness. We often have needs we are most aware of. For you maybe it is a job, finances, a true friend, a husband or a wife, or for someone you love to be healed.

And yet, Jesus knows our greatest need. Our sin & shame to be dealt with once and for all taken away

So that we can have a life-giving relationship with Him!

All He asks from us is for FAITH in Him. Not even’ lots of faith’ just faith… Even a little faith. Because it is not your faith that saves you, heals you, but WHO that faith is in!

Bartimaeus’ life journey intersected with Jesus in a moment. He called out with faith to Jesus, and Jesus stopped, and offered to meet His need and did exactly that in an instant.  

And so, Bartimaeus was healed physically but more than that He was also healed spiritually & so he became a Christ-follower from that day onwards. (vs52)

Every Christ-follower is a little like Bartimaeus. Each one has in their own unique way had an intersection moment with Jesus, has called out to Jesus, has put their faith in Jesus and has found Jesus stopped for them and answered their call. And Christ-followers don’t stop there but like Bartimaeus follow Jesus from that point onwards in their lives.

Today might well be a moment where your life journey and God intersect with each other either once again, or even for the very first time.

Will you call out to Him who will STOP & will MEET YOUR DEEPEST NEEDS?

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

The Cancer of Sin (Mark 9:42-50)

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With regard to sin, take drastic action! – Jesus  

When it comes to certain things in life, what is needed is decisive drastic action. Time wasted deliberating is counter-productive if not life-threatening.

A few years back, in quick succession, I had a lump on my back that my General Practitioner didn’t like the look of, and then one on my cheek that was reddish and would bleed with the slightest touch and didn’t respond to the non-invasive treatments prescribed.  

As you know, cancer is a horrible result of the curse that has devasted so many people’s lives and brought so much heartache. And because of this, cancer is not to be messed with and so in both instances with the advice from the Doctor’s involved it was easy to decide to undergo surgery to cut out what turned out to be cancerous tissue on both my back and face.  

Operations and surgery are not pleasant experiences, and my face and back will forever show the scars. But that is a small price to pay for a cancer-free body. No one in their right mind hearing that they had cancerous growth that can be removed surgically would say; ‘I’ll just see how it develops Doc…’

In my case, drastic action was necessary, temporarily painful invasive surgery was prescribed, but it was worth it 1000 times over. How many people have much more serious cancer in their body who would love to know that their cancer could be surgically removed.

In our passage today, Jesus is the great Surgeon. Jesus knows that sin is not something to be messed around with, not something to be treated lightly. Drastic intentional invasive action is needed for sin’s deadly progression to be halted.

Now let’s be clear, in Mark 9:42-50, Jesus is not advocating body mutilation as a solution for sin. Of all people, Jesus knows that the problem with sin is not external but rather a heart issue, a fallen humanity issue that can’t be fixed by us. Sin can’t be dealt with by removing external body parts!

Jesus knows this because, after all, this is why Jesus left heaven and came to earth. To do what we could not do ourselves, to take the drastic action that was needed to halt sin’s deadly progression in our lives.  

So what is Jesus teaching in Mark 9:42-50?

I think we can understand Jesus’ teaching on at least two levels.

  1. Jesus is teaching that sin is serious and that if one sees the seriousness of sin, then one will see that drastic action is entirely reasonable. Don’t play around with sin thinking you’ll be ok, thinking you’ll be the exception! So if you are a Christ-follower but you know of some sin or compromise that you have in your life right now – treat it like cancer.  Cut it out!  Delaying only worsens the prognosis and allows the sin to spread impacting more areas of your life and the lives of others. So where you know you have sin, take drastic action, stop, repent to God, change your life patterns, change your friends if you have to, change places you frequent, speak to a fellow Christ-follower and confess or speak to a leader in the church, but do it now, don’t delay.
  2. Know your limitations!  If you don’t know Jesus as your LORD and Saviour yet, know this – you can’t deal with sin on your own. That is why Jesus came, to live the life you and I could never hope to live and to die in our place for our sin and shame so that He could offer us forgiveness for our sins and redeem us from slavery to sin, Satan and ultimately death and hell. So put your trust in Jesus today, ask Him to forgive you of your sin and to exchange your shame and sin for His glorious love and forgiveness. In this passage, Jesus talks plainly, chillingly about hell. Hell is real, and hell is the only destination for those outside of true faith in Jesus Christ. Randy Alcorn said; “No man can get out of hell, but each man can keep out of it.” How? By acknowledging and repenting of the cancerous sin that is inside of us and asking Jesus to do what we could not do. Jesus took drastic action on our behalf; Jesus didn’t just have the cancer of sin cut out of Him; Jesus sacrificed His whole life to give you a sin-free eternal life. So put your trust in Him alone!

No one would turn to the Doctor who has just diagnosed them as having cancer and charge them of being unloving and harsh. With the terrible realities of a disease like cancer, honesty, facts & potential drastic solutions is the language of love.

Some would read this passage about the seriousness of sin and the reality of hell and baulk at Jesus’ words thinking; ‘I don’t like what Jesus said!’ But love speaks frankly about life-threatening situations, and this is what Jesus is doing here, loving us by speaking truthfully about the certainty of sins progression if left unchecked.

Thank You, Jesus, for loving us enough, to tell the truth about sin and hell and for loving us enough not just to diagnose our sin problem but to choose to take the drastic action you did to die in our place for our sin, for you to suffer so that we could be set free!

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. Thank you, Jesus.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Four Spaces (Mark 9:2-13)

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Six days after Peter’s revelation about WHO Jesus was and Jesus’ announcement about WHAT He had come to the earth to do, Jesus went up a mountain and took with Him just three; Peter, James and John.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider the different layers of relationship around Jesus; because the layers we see around Jesus are the same layers we see in our lives and church.

Proxemics is the study of the different concentric layers of relationship that we all have and which exist in any group of people. 

Looking at those around Jesus I see the four layers of relationship described in proxemic theory as ‘spaces’;

  1. Public Space: (Crowds) Jesus often had a crowd with Him comprised of both expectantly inquisitive people & those in opposition to Jesus. These people knew of Jesus, were intrigued by Jesus, or they opposed Jesus. But, these people hadn’t yet committed their lives to Jesus in faith.
  2. Social Space:(Church) By the time Jesus ascends to heaven, there is a defined group, a community of faith of about 120 people in the upper room (Acts 1:15). Their faith in Jesus had established new secondary relationships with one another – this is the embryonic pre-Pentecost church, a community of faith in Jesus.
  3. Personal Space: (Community Group) Within that community of faith, Jesus had 12 who were with Him on a deeper level – the disciples. He had chosen them (Mark 2:13-20). So within the followers of Jesus, there was this small group, a subset of the whole community of faith. Jesus wanted these 12 to be in a special and close relationship with Him so that He could share his life and teachings more deeply. They lived with Jesus 24/7; they walked with Him daily; they shared meals & experiences – they shared life on a deeper level. Their relationship to Him brought them also into a deeper relationship as a small group of followers centred around Jesus. 
  4. Intimate Space: (Trios)  Four times in Mark’s Gospel Peter, James & John are found to be with Jesus in a setting the wider group didn’t share in; 
  • Peter along with James and John are the only ones to witnesses Jesus raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37)
  • Peter ends up having the revelation of Jesus’ as the Messiah (Mark 8:29)
  • Peter witnesses the Transfiguration with James and John (Mark 9:2-13)
  • And Peter stands up on the Day of Pentecost to preach at what was the genesis moment of the church (Acts 2:14).
  • James was one of that first group of disciples and part of Jesus’ inner circle. James was martyred for His faith by Herod (Acts 12:2)
  • John also part of that inner-circle in his own Gospel describes himself as one that Jesus loved four times (John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:20)
  • John seemed to be the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:6 & Galatians 2:9) before moving to Ephesus and becoming the last of the 12 apostles still to be alive in the late first century.

In our passage today, we see how this inner-circle in Jesus’ ‘intimate space’ got to see more of Jesus than anyone else. Jesus was transfigured before their eyes, and He begins to glow with a radiance reminiscent of Moses’ face, which shone after encountering God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29-30).

Jesus unapologetically interacted with the people in these four spaces differently. Jesus revealed more of Himself, explained more to his twelve than the wider group and then even shared even more to his tighter group of three.

Jesus responds to our willingness.  

Jesus responds to willingness. Peter is an example of someone who just always seems willing. He always seems to be asking questions, pressing in to know more, see more. I believe that Jesus was drawn to that willing eagerness and responded to it and showed Peter more as a result.

Likewise, John had a special relationship with Jesus. Was it that he listened more than the others, made sure he was close by to Jesus? Jesus seems to have responded to John attentiveness, and so John writes of himself that he was a favourite of Jesus’ (see texts above). John testified about Jesus’ existence in his epistle from those personal experiences with Jesus; 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

Jesus had these four layers of relationship/spaces with those around Him, and the closer people were to Jesus, the more intentional or willing they were to spend time with Jesus, the more He revealed Himself to them and the more they, in turn, did for Him with their lives!

So what does this have to do with us and our followership of Jesus?

  1. God wants to move all people from the CROWD to the COMMUNITY: 

This is the mission of the church and of every follower of Christ, to share the good news about Jesus with everyone we know so that they can move from spectators to believers and followers. [Who is there in your life who might be interested in Jesus as a man but is yet to believe in Him as God? Pray for them now, and keep asking God the Holy Spirit to give you opportunities to point them to life-giving faith and relationship with Jesus.]

  1. The Gospel always creates a COMMUNITY of faith, the church: 

Our journey’s of faith lead us into a community; God’s family brought into relationship with one another through our common relationship to Jesus. A diverse new people who once had not been a people at all, but now through God’s choosing are the people of God (1 Peter 2:9-10). I love how those thousands who were saved on the day of Pentecost were saved and added (Acts 2:41), they became a community of faith that was not just devoted to Jesus but to one another sharing life and their possessions (Acts 2:42-47)! We were not made for walking alone. There is no such thing as biblical Christianity without commitment to a local church.

“There is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers. You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.” – Keller

“Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of his greater presence better than scattered individuals.” – Dallas Willard

“You must be deeply involved in the church, in Christian community, with strong relationships of love and accountability. Only if you are part of a community of believers seeking to resemble, serve and love Jesus will you ever get to know Him and grow into His likeness.” – Keller

  1. Healthy Church communities will have three of the different ‘spaces’ Jesus had around Him within each congregation:  

Each of the three spaces within a church community plays a different role in the life of any Christ-follower. 

  • The whole church gathered (social space) for worship, sacraments, prayer & preaching has a significant role in catalysing faith, community and corporate vision.  
  • Small groups of 6-20 (personal space) gathered around God’s word, prayer, care, fellowship and for mission ensures that everyone in the church is caught up in life-giving relationships that spur them on in their faith and give them contexts in which to serve and bless others too.
  • And finally, even smaller groups of 2-4 Christ-followers meeting (intimate space ‘TRIOs’ in RRC) allows for greater intimacy and intentionality. Peter, James & John’s experience with Jesus should provoke us to want what they had!  

The pattern I see in the Gospels is like one big parable. The parables Jesus told, bemused the crowds but to those who pressed in with faith and intentionality – Jesus revealed more!  

Those who intentionally pressed in became a community of faith (the church). Yet, there were those who pressed in, even more, and Jesus formed them into a small group to whom He revealed even more.  

And then there was Jesus’ inner-circle, the TRIO of Peter, James & John to whom Jesus revealed the most. They experienced more of Jesus than anyone else, and correspondingly also accomplished amazing things for Jesus.

This is like a parable to you and I. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to stay just in the CROWD. But instead to be added to the COMMUNITY (the church).  

More than that, I believe Jesus doesn’t want anyone to stop there with some connection to the COMMUNITY.  

Instead, Jesus wants us to join ourselves to a SMALL GROUP (Community Group in RRC) so that we can grow close to some fellow Christ-followers whose relationships with one another are all centred around Jesus Christ.  

And for those who truly wish to grow in God, to press in even further adding themselves to an even smaller group – a TRIO. Two to four same-sex Christ-followers who have committed themselves to an intentional spiritual friendship focussed on helping one another to follow Christ and His mission for their lives and the church. 

Oh, that more people would want to move from merely being in the CROWD of admirers around Jesus to the COMMUNITY. And that they wouldn’t be satisfied to belong just to the wider church community but that they would press in towards greater connection in the personal and intimate spaces, and as a result would encounter more of Jesus and accomplish more for Jesus!

How are you responding to the parable of the spaces?

Jesus’ parables bemused and offended some and drew others in. And those who pressed in more got more, got closer had more revealed to them and as a result did more for God with their lives.

We live in a self-saturated age. This whole blog has been about relationships, a community of faith that all flows from the Gospel. This global pandemic, when we are restricted from meetings, can be a healthy moment for self-reflection.

How am I responding? Have I believed the lie that my relationship with Jesus is just a personal thing when in Scripture, that is never the case?

The Gospel creates community, and those who press in more to Jesus and to the community get more & do more for God.

So I challenge you. If you are a Christ-follower, don’t be satisfied to be part of the CROWD of onlookers, or even just being an isolated attendee in the COMMUNITY of the church.  

Press in, join a small group and pray for an intimate band of friends (TRIO) who like Peter, James and John end up seeing more and doing more than they could ever have imagined! You will never regret that decision. Amen.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Turning Point! (Mark 8:31-38)

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Mountain tops and valleys! One moment Peter is exclaiming; “Messiah!” (Mark 8:29), the next Jesus is bursting Peter’s messianic bubble, saying that He “must suffer many things…and be killed!” (Mark 8:31)

Keller writes in his excellent book (King’s Cross) how from Peter’s earliest memories learning from his parents would have been hearing that the Messiah would come and defeat evil and injustice.  

Now the Messiah was telling Peter; “Yes, I’m the Messiah, the King, but I came not to live but to die. I’m not here to take power but to lose it; I’m here not to rule but to serve. And that’s how I’m going to defeat evil and put everything right.” (Kings Cross pp95)

Bewildering! What is remarkable is that Jesus while referring to Himself says; “the Son of Man (a divine title from Daniel 7) must suffer…and be killed”

Why MUST Jesus the Messiah suffer and be killed?  

Well, in one sense He doesn’t have to at all. He is not obliged in the slightest. After all, He has never sinned, and so deserves no wrath against sin or punishment. He is God, and so His will is not constrained in any way.   

But because of His love for You and I – He must suffer and be killed. Because there was no other way for our sin, guilt and shame to be dealt with and the wrath of God propitiated.  

I am reminded of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in agonizing prayer asking the Father if there was any other way (Mark 14:36), and the Father said nothing because nothing could be said because there was no other way but the cross and calvary.

Jesus had to die; the Messiah must die if our sin was to be atoned for, and if we were to be ransomed and reconciled back to a right relationship with God. What love, what sacrifice for you and me!

This is the turning point of the whole Gospel, WHO Jesus is has been the main idea, now Jesus has just introduced the focus of the second half – WHAT Jesus came to do for you and for me!  

This is the lamb of God who came to take away, to atone for the sins of the world by dying as our substitute sacrifice – John recalls in his Gospel (John 1:29)

Peter is horrified and rebukes Jesus (the same word for Jesus’ treatment of demons) but ends up being the one rebuked as Jesus refuses to be tempted into believing there is an easier way. Jesus presses through the resistance with clear conviction and begins again to teach those gathered around.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

Jesus’ teaching makes sense since it follows what He has just revealed about His own purpose (Mark 8:31). Since the Messiah is going to lay His life down, those who choose to follow Him are called to do the same. Jesus’ purpose shapes our purpose.

Jesus literally dies. Most Christ-followers don’t necessarily have to die literally, but we are all called by King Jesus to die to our old way of living. We die to a life that has ME, MYSELF & I at the centre of it all.

Who is really at the centre of your life? Who is the focus of your attention? Is it yourself or is it King Jesus?

We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the One who died for us, and in response decide to live the rest of our lives no longer for ourselves but rather for Him who for our sake died (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

We live like this, believing that what Jesus said is true! We live believing that this is really the only way to live. We believe Jesus when He warns us that spending ourselves collecting things and experiences in this present life trying to satisfy ourselves will only leave us empty.  

We believe Jesus who urged us to live our whole lives as a whole-life response to His love for us. Making pleasing Him and sharing His Gospel our whole life’s purpose, believing Him that living like this will result in us enjoying life that’s truly worth having, having satisfaction that is immeasurable and eternal!

You will never regret believing Jesus’ advice on how to live your life. At no point will you look back and think, ‘I really wish I hadn’t trusted Jesus’ advice!’ The Psalmist declares of the ancients of the faith; “They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. ” (Psalm 22:5 in the NIV)

Since Mark 8 records the turning point in this Gospel that is so focused on WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do, I pray that it would be something of a turning point for you too. Meditate on Jesus’ words captured here to you in Mark 8:34-38, don’t gloss over them let their eternal wisdom go deep into your soul and begin to produce a life wholly pleasing to King Jesus. The One who went before You and lovingly laid down His life for you and rose again victorious (Mark 8:31).

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

The Jesus Journey (Mark 8:27-29)

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Every person on the planet will one day essentially have to answer to one question from Jesus; ‘Who do you say I am?’ (Mark 8:29)

All through Mark’s Gospel, we have had front row seats to the ‘Jesus Journey’ of the disciples, the crowd, the scribes and Pharisees.

Mark’s Gospel started with an announcement! This book is; “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). It’s a whole book dedicated to the announcement of WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do on the earth.

John Mark’s account of the life and person of Jesus concerns itself with this journey of discovery that Jesus’ disciples and others were on during the 3yrs of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

And so, the Gospel is arranged in such a way that WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do for you and me is the BIG IDEA.

John the baptiser was preaching in the desert about One greater than him who was to come. One whom John was merely preparing the way for (Mark 1:4-8 & Matthew 3:11) – who is this?

Then at Jesus’ baptism, the sky was split open, and God the Father spoke from heaven saying; “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove (Mark 1:10-11) – who is this?

Jesus then starts preaching about a kingdom that has both come and is still imminent, one that requires a personal response of repentance and faith (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus preaches with such authority and conviction that everyone who hears is astounded – who is this?

On one occasion, a man in Synagogue who is under the influence of a demon cries out in the Synagogue. The demon says it knows who Jesus is – “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24) – who is this?

Then Jesus begins to heal sick people and deliver people from demonic oppression wherever He goes. Simon Peter’s mother in law is healed, and almost the whole town gathers as many get healed and delivered that night (Mark 1:29-34). Jesus has authority over sickness and the demonic realm – who is this?

Jesus encounters a leperous man and is moved with empathy by the suffering of this outcast of society. Jesus restores his humanity and dignity by listening to him, engaging with him and then healing him (Mark 1:40-45) – who is this fearless, compassionate One?

Jesus then claims He can forgive a paralysed man’s sins and to prove He can forgive sins, Jesus heals him of his paralysis in front of everyone! (Mark 2:1-12) – who is this that can forgive sins & heal?

Jesus seems to be entirely free from the constraints of tradition, and the heavy burden of the interpretative religious regulations of the religious hierarchy of the day. He re-writes the rule book on fasting & scandalously re-interprets the Sabbath (Mark 2:18-3:6)! – who is this?

As some people are delivered from demonic influence, the fleeing demons cry out; “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:12) – who is this that the demons seem to know of yet writhe on the floor before?

Jesus teaches in parables about life, spiritual things and a kingdom that is both mysteriously powerful and appealing. The parables of Jesus both draw people in and also simultaneously confuse others (Mark 4:1-33). – who is this that teaches like this?

Jesus calms a violent storm on the lake with just a sentence from His lips & then again with merely a few words of authority brings peace to a diabolic demonised man ranging about the tombs and countryside (Mark 4:35-5:20) – who is this?

Jesus heals a woman that no doctor could help who doesn’t even speak to Jesus but simply touches His garment and then raises a little girl back to life (Mark 5:21-43) – who is this?

Jesus returns to His hometown, to the place and people that know Him simply as ‘Mary’s son’, the carpenter… They can’t see past Jesus’ humanity and so Jesus marvels at their unbelief (Mark 6:1-6) – who is this man?

Jesus then sends His band of followers out, giving them authority to do what he has been doing – preaching, healing people and setting captives free from demonic influence. Jesus’ delegated authority causes them to do things they probably never imagined doing as demons flee, and people are healed as they pray for them! (Mark 6:7-13) – who is this man who can delegate such authority?

Jesus multiplies food to impossibly feed 5000 men and probably even more women and children, walks on water and calms another storm and then heals myriads of people some of whom only touch His clothes (Mark 6:30-56) – who is this man?

The big shots from Jerusalem come to call Jesus to account and bring Him into line on minor issues of law and tradition. Jesus boldly stands up to them unintimidated by them, denouncing them from the Scriptures they were supposed to be experts of and turns to His followers and explains true spirituality (Mark 7:1-24) – who is this man?

A gentile woman breaks societal normas and approaches Jesus asking for a miracle, and in the end, she is not disappointed! A deaf man and a blind man are healed, and once again, thousands are fed with impossibly little (Mark 8:1-26) – who is this man?

All along, the disciples are on their own ‘Jesus journey’ witnessing all these things together. I can hear their questions and conversations. Jesus has been revealing Himself in all His glory, the Godhead in flesh and blood, a man they can see, touch, engage with…

And in what is the pivot point of the whole Gospel, Jesus turns to them and asks them; “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) Jesus knows that the crowds, scribes, Pharisees and the disciples to varying degrees are all wrestling with the same question.

And then Jesus focusses the question on those gathered around Him, those who have seen it all, heard Jesus explain the parables that dumbfounded the crowds and the Pharisees, those who had private encounters no one else knows about on the lake – “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)

This is the question every person on the planet will face one day – “Who do you say that I am? Do you believe that I am God, the Messiah – Jesus? Did you believe the Gospel, the announcement about WHO I am and WHAT I came to do?” (see 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10)

Those who like Peter (see Mark 8:29) believe that Jesus is God the Messiah and repent – will be saved from their sin and will be welcomed into eternal glory with Jesus as their King.

This point in the Gospel is the hinge on which the whole Gospel turns; this exclamation of faith by Peter is the culmination of all the experiences He had had with Jesus. From this point onwards the focus becomes not so much WHO Jesus is but WHAT He came to do.

I am encouraged that Peter saw so much, experienced so much revelation of Jesus before he reached this point of believing. I know my Jesus journey has been similar! In His grace, God revealed Himself to me when I was 8, but I encountered Jesus powerfully when I was 12 and kept encountering Him throughout my teenage years. I know I believed when I was 8, but my faith has grown stronger through the years as I have seen more and experienced more of Jesus through so many life experiences.

I am encouraged that as I pray for friends that don’t yet know Jesus, that Jesus will keep revealing Himself to them. They are on their own ‘Jesus journey’, and I get to walk with them and point them to Him – but He is in control, always has been and always will be.

I can identify with the disciple’s experience outlined in this Gospel of Mark, can you? And I know that having reached my Mark 8:29 moment many years back, I don’t want to stop now. Instead, I want to keep growing in my knowledge of Jesus and my love for Jesus. I want my faith to become more and more robust as I see more of Jesus in my life. After following Jesus for more than 30yrs, writing Scripture and planting churches, the apostle Paul wrote; “I want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10). I want the same!

This is what I call the Jesus journey. Every day, seeing and experiencing more of Jesus and having those experiences transform me to become more like Him. Join me in the journey so that one day when Jesus looks into your eyes and says; “Who do you say that I am?” you will look back into His eyes with love and wonder saying; “My LORD & my God!”

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Spiritual Supermarket? (Mark 4:21-25)

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Jesus’ parables are mysterious, ambiguous, surprising, and sometimes they raise more questions than answers.

We know from Mark’s gospel that Jesus spoke in parables all the time to the gathered crowd but then explained everything to his inner circle of disciples (Mark 4:33-34).

Once again, in Mark 4:23-25, Jesus implores the people listening to Him to listen well, to press in and to enquire about what He is teaching them.

Jesus is encouraging intentionality, persistence & eagerness in His hearers encouraging them, that the revelation and understanding they will receive is directly proportional to the degree to which they enquire.

If they listen much, listen well, they will receive much, perceive well! Listening intently and persistently is like an investment that guarantees a return in equal proportion to the amount invested.

So many of us live in a world of ease. Our food comes from the supermarket; it is generally not the result of careful preparing of soil, sowing, watering, weeding, harvesting, but rather a simple transaction involving money.

But for a subsistence farmer, Jesus’ words ring true. There is a straightforward relationship between the degree or measure of effort and intentionality invested by the farmer and the result, the joy and fulfilment and nourishment enjoyed as a result.

This is what Jesus is urging those who are around Him listening. God’s kingdom is like this. As a pastor, I meet people who sometimes lament that they don’t know their Bibles as much as Mr X or Mrs Y. They wish for a deeper love for God, a more robust faith, a life-giving prayer life or heart of worship. But so often they are looking for a ‘spiritual supermarket’ where they can transact for it, go and get it.

But Jesus tells us here that His kingdom, growing in revelation, growing in love for God and relationship with God is not a transaction, there is no ‘spiritual supermarket’ but rather the measure you press into God will be the measure you grow in God.

This is not an earth-shattering revelation, it isn’t complicated, but it is profoundly true.

Those who pay close attention to God’s teachings, to His Word (the Bible), those who invest the time to listen to His voice in daily life – they will receive much from God in terms insight and wisdom into the things of God. That is the person who will grow in God and have a life-giving relationship with God, who will know the joy of faith that is robust and prayer that is vital and powerful.

Brothers and sisters, the measure with which we press into Him is the measure by which we will receive from Him.

This is such an encouragement to keep reading our bibles, to keep going to our Father in prayer, to keep meeting for church on Sunday’s and in small groups, to sit under God’s Word together…

I have found this to be true in my life – the more I diligently seek God, seek to know His ways and His will, the more I come alive spiritually. And as a pastor for many years, I have also found this to be true in others over and over again.

Who wouldn’t want a vibrant spiritual life full of spiritual fruit and abundance, joy, peace, hope and fruitfulness?

Everyone wants that surely. Jesus is telling us, press in, keep investing in your relationship with me, the rewards will never disappoint you.

In closing, the incredible encouragement is that Jesus explained everything to His disciples, His inner circle. Many left after these teachings bemused, but His disciples had personal extra-lessons with fuller explanations and Q&A! Brother or sister, if you have believed in Jesus you have Jesus with you always by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit – you are in the inner-circle as it were, you are part of the group Jesus will explain everything to! So be encouraged and keep pressing into Jesus by devoting yourself to His Word and to prayer and fellowship with the saints. Amen.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Listen (Mark 4:1-9)

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Jesus starts this well-known Parable of the Sower with the following single word; “Listen!” (vs3) Jesus is calling for those around him to take note, to give him their ears, to hear intelligently, to pay attention. 

Human beings are outstanding at filtering out noise all the time. Sound waves, vibrations transmitted through the air reach our ears continuously. There is an overwhelming cacophony of sounds assaulting your ears continually, and your brain is continuously filtering out listening to it all to help you work out what you do and do not need to be aware of. 

And yet, right now if I tune in to try to notice all the sounds I can hear, I can hear the fan in the photocopier in our office, I can hear Sindi speaking to Sithabile about something that doesn’t need my attention, I can hear the truck on the road and the chicken from Bhekulwandle that still thinks its dawn, the click of Sithabile’s water bottle top being clicked closed, Rob’s phone rumbling to notify him of a message, the Hadeda crowing as it flies past our building again, someone at our office table scratching their leg, the keystrokes on my keyboard, my breathing …. You get the idea.  

Jesus was calling those around Him on that day recorded in Mark 4 to focus their attention on Him and on what He was saying. Later in vs9, Jesus says again; “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” It’s like Jesus is saying; ‘Use those sound-catching-appendages on your head and give your wilful attention to what I am saying’.  

Jesus’ words hint at the importance of the will in listening and hearing. Having ears is not enough; having the ability to hear is not enough. To listen requires a decision to give someone your time, it requires the cessation of speaking and a will that desires to hear the person speaking. You could say it requires a humility that gives enough value to that other person’s perspective that it will be heard and considered.

I know Mark 4 is about the Parable of the Sower, but I am fixated on Jesus’ desire that those around Him would listen. I guess I’ve been sensitised to this is because of the race riots in the USA, the flood of #blacklivesmatter social media posts and reactions and the protest marches that have engulfed many cities of the world. As a white South African male, I have sadly heard many varied reactions to what has been happening some of which is rooted ignorance, fear, lack of empathy, lingering sinful racist attitudes most of which shut down the conversation or render it illegitimate – and this all makes me sorrowful. Sad that the desperately necessary conversations, the learning and healing needed in our nation and church, isn’t possible without honest, open conversations, expressions of lament and importantly the listening that is required for this all to be possible!

Just last night, a Zulu son of mine (Ntokozo Mkhize) and I met to talk openly about what he was feeling, how he has engaged with the newsfeeds of late. It was enriching to listen, to probe with questions so as to understand better his emotions and reactions. To really keep quiet and learn. And to do all this because I love him, and so what he thinks and feels matters to me and I believe matters to our church and country. I left feeling, I/we need more of this. We left not having solved anything but feeling mutually drawn together and hopeful. That encounter required intentionality and a desire to share and to learn, and it required the belief that there is hope in Jesus, otherwise talking would make no difference.

Truly hearing is a decision; it’s an action. We all have ears, but will we hear? Jesus exhorts us to hear, it’s an action we are able to take, it’s something we can do, but it is not guaranteed whether we will do. I want to urge all of us to listen more, some of us need to be brave enough to speak more, but all of us need to listen more.

We need to listen to one another; we need to listen to those with a different perspective from ours and value their perspective and humble ourselves so that we can learn and grow closer together and see healing from hurt.

And even more than this, we all need to listen to Jesus. Jesus will help us to listen to others, Jesus is the only One who can truly re-shape our hearts and heal us so that we are willing to share with one another and have hope for the future.  

On this day recorded in Mark 4, Jesus wanted those gathered around Him to listen, to give Him their full attention. Jesus still wants this from you and me today and every day. We like to refer to ourselves in Reconciliation Road Church as Christ-Followers, but we can only refer to ourselves as Christ-Followers if we are those who are listening to Christ so that we can follow Him.

Those around Jesus that day had to decide to listen, to hear Him truly, make that same decision today – to lean in daily, to listen to and to hear Jesus through a habit of a devotional life, through the habit of reading the Bible with your ears tuned to God’s voice, through prayer that is listening not just speaking and through an awareness of God in the midst of your everyday life.

I believe that listening to Jesus; He will urge you to also then listen to others around you. To be intentional about validating and valuing all people in your life. Even looking for new relationships with people that are different to you, people with different life experiences and perspectives that can enrich your life as you listen to them and honour their life and story.

Listen more.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Gathering Dark Clouds (Mark 2:18-3:6)

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There are three groups of people always with Jesus. His growing band of disciples, the astonished crowds and those who were increasingly opposed to Jesus.  

As a Roman-occupied territory, Palestine was littered with many diverse groups of Jews working out a complex religious & political response to the circumstances they were under as subjects of Rome.

Jesus’ arrival on the scene in and around Galilee, and His words and actions both threatened & angered at least three of these groups in the Jewish religious & political landscape.  

In Mark 2:1-3:6 those opposed to Jesus have four points of conflict that crescendo in Mark 3:6;

  1. Jesus forgives the paralysed man of his sins (blasphemy) (Mark 2:1-12)
  2. Jesus socialises with sinners (associating with the ‘wrong’ people) (Mark 2:13-17)
  3. Jesus breaks the mould regarding fasting (Jesus doesn’t follow the norms) (Mark 2:18-22)
  4. Jesus disregards existing ‘Sabbath’ regulations & re-interprets them as one with authority (Mark 2:23-28)

Jesus’ actions have so angered and threatened the various groups with their perspectives and agendas that by Mark 3:6 two of the Jewish groups who were not customarily aligned (Pharisees & Herodians) are so united by their opposition of Jesus that together they begin to plot how they will ‘destroy’ Jesus.

The dark threatening clouds of opposition are already gathering against Jesus right from the start of this account of His life and ministry. We’ve seen the Devil himself, Scribes, Pharisees & now the Herodians all against Jesus and angered by Him. 

However, all of these enemies of Jesus will ultimately do what the Father had planned (Acts 4:28), because Jesus came to die as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29) by allowing these groups of people to kill him in their place for their sin and yours and mine!

What an incredible Saviour we have in Jesus. How hard it must have been for Jesus to deal with the injustice of it all, the irony that sinful people were plotting his murder while thinking they were doing right.

As we keep reading this gospel of Mark, those plotting and planning are always there in the crowd. Jesus’ suffering didn’t start in the week leading up to the crucifixion, Jesus endured multiple years of this type of opposition and threat all for you and for me. Praise Him, worship Him!

May we never be surprised when following Jesus leads us into testing times. He faced much opposition, wasn’t always understood, had his motives questioned, was falsely accussed… Jesus promised that following Him would not be easy but full of trials (Mark 13:13).

So when next you feel like people are plotting against you, speaking your name behind your back, don’t be shocked, rather remember Jesus. He knows your angst and the pain of injustice. Thank Him that He understands and empathises with you, thank Him that He is always there for you and ask His Holy Spirit to make you more like Him. Amen

Calling all Misfits! (Mark 2:13-17)

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Imagine the scene, Jesus has told a man He never met; ‘your sins are forgiven’! No one spoke like that; the scribes from the Synagogue are fuming – after all, only God can forgive sins. Outrageously, Jesus then says to them and the whole crowd that is listening and watching on; 

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” 

In these early moments of His ministry captured in just the first two chapters of Mark, Jesus is revealing His authority over all created things. His redeeming power and love to overturn the effects of the curse of sin on people by granting people freedom from oppression and remarkable displays of healing from physical suffering with just His words. Jesus teaches with authority like none other, grants people forgiveness of sins, is feared by the demonic realm and rules over sickness and disease.

In the small fishing town of Capernaum, it is hard to think of anyone who hadn’t heard about Jesus and what He was saying and doing yet. Much like today’s opinions about Jesus, the opinions must have ranged from thinking; 

  • Jesus was a delusional madman with a blasphemous illusion of divinity, 
  • Or that Jesus a conman trying to trick people 
  • While others must have remembered what John the Baptist had been saying about Jesus, and what had happened when the heavens opened when Jesus was baptised, and a voice was heard; “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) wondering is this truly the Messiah?

What was universal was astonishment. Astonishment at the things Jesus was doing and saying and so a crowd followed Jesus like moths drawn to a light. Jesus walks away from the scene of the healed paralytic man and goes down to the sea of Galilee, maybe because it’s calm and peaceful there.

As he walks to the sea, Jesus passes the booth of the tax collector, Levi. This is a man who would have been despised by his community since he is a Jewish man working for the Roman state, enforcing its taxes and using the position to personally profit as well. This is a man that has made a choice that has benefitted him financially but has left him ostracised, separated out from his community as an outcast.  

Jesus passes this despised and probably ruthless man who probably keeps thugs as friends to impose his authority, and Jesus does something unpredictable to the crowd of onlookers. The crowd knows that Jesus has an inner-circle of followers (disciples), but they can’t predict what’s about to happen.

Jesus calls out to Levi and invites him to follow Him just like He did to Simon, Andrew, James and John! The crowd is as stunned and perplexed as Levi. Levi is such an unlikely candidate for Jesus to invite into His inner circle of disciples.  

In the first chapters of Mark’s gospel, we have witnessed Jesus’ authority, supernatural power and magnetism, but here we encounter Jesus’ grace and mission. Levi is not deserving of love and acceptance according to the crowd. Levi hasn’t seemingly even been with the crowds drawn by Jesus; he is still at his post collecting taxes. And yet Jesus graciously invites him to join Jesus’ inner-circle with the same life-transforming words; “follow me” (Mark 2:14).

Sidebar thought: I am fascinated by Jesus’ choice of who was going to become His 12 disciples. So far we have four fishermen, and the man who’s tax booth by the sea probably meant that he had been the one taxing them and their fishing businesses! The taxed working class and the tax collector on the same team – remarkable diversity unified in Jesus. Those gathered to Jesus have always been diverse people who would not have associated if it were not for Jesus who transforms them into beloved brothers. What hope we have for our divided world struggling with racism! Jesus is the only One who can bring true unity out of diversity.

Amazingly, Jesus’ gracious invitation sees Levi (Matthew) immediately dropping everything as Levi rises and follows Jesus (Mark 2:14). As Levi gets up to follow Jesus he is leaving all he has known, leaving his income generation behind, Levi doesn’t even know where he is going, and surely doesn’t know what will happen next.

As they walk and talk Jesus surprisingly leads Levi to his very own home. When Jesus invited Levi to follow Him, I doubt Levi thought they would be going to his house. I wonder why Jesus takes Levi from his place of work, his place of oppression of people and corruption and takes him to his home?

Was Levi’s house bought or built with the proceeds of corruption? Was Jesus confronting Levi with his sin and compromise and yet graciously loving and accepting him despite it? We don’t know, but what we do know is that Levi throws a great party (Luke 5:29) for his friends who were ‘tax collectors and sinners’ (Mark 2:15). Jesus is unlike any other religious leader, and the church is to be like Him.

Jesus loved to socialise with people who were ostracised by society; Jesus is drawn to them. And in this account Jesus tells us why that is so;  

16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” 

Jesus announces His mission here in Mark’s Gospel, His purpose. Jesus came for messed up people, for those who acknowledge they are wrong, that they have an incurable problem. Jesus didn’t come for pious religiously proud people who think they are ok!

As we survey the Gospels, we see that Jesus was almost magnetically drawn to people like Levi, broken, sinful people, and they were drawn to Jesus too. It is remarkable that broken messed up people weren’t reticent to come to Jesus despite His teaching with authority with a challenging message that was calling people to acknowledge and to turn from their sins and to believe in Him; “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15)

These people knew that Jesus would accept them and love them, despite His uncompromising message. Jesus was a compassionate truth-teller. True love doesn’t skimp on truth. May we Jesus’ followers, may we the church be more and more like Jesus was. May we be accused of being friends of sinners, may broken people feel magnetically drawn to us not judged by us. May we also be compassionate truth-tellers for that is true love. May we love people in such a remarkable way that even though we don’t join them in compromise or sinful actions may those around us experience Jesus’ love for them so that God can do something radical in their lives because of our close proximity to them.

Thank you, Jesus, that You came for those who know they don’t have it all together, thank you, Jesus, that you came for people like me! People who are broken, people who have made mistakes, and people who still make mistakes and still disappoint themselves and others, people who’ve got a shameful and chequered past like Levi. But thank you, Jesus, that Levi’s story is our story, and that just like you called him to follow You, so too You are calling me to do the same and just like You helped Levi to reach his broken friends I pray that You Jesus would help all of us to reach ours too. That we would become more and more like You, ridiculously compassionate truth-tellers. Amen

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Authority, Demons & Healing (Mark 1:21-34)

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Authority

Authority, who has it and how they use it is a massive topical issue right now.  

In the USA, we have sadly witnessed the murder of George Floyd by a man supposedly in authority. In shocking moments like this, countries look to people in all the various realms of authority (politics, community, business, churches…) to say something or do something. In addition, we have witnessed that if a country or community believe those in authority have misused their authority – they are prone to rebel against all authority.

In our own South Africa, late yesterday, we heard that the judicial authority in our country had declared our Government’s authority in promulgating Level 3-4 regulations unconstitutional as the Bill of Human Rights has been compromised. Here we have Government trying to use its authority for the good of our nation, but citizens appealing to the judicial authority to resist or reform the Governing authority.

Authority! It’s a big issue and always has been. In Mark 1:21-34, we see real authority on display, good authority being exercised, the authority that blesses individuals and a community.

Jesus walks into ‘church’ (a meeting in the Synagogue actually) and stands up to teach the congregation who are present. Those who teach from the Scriptures have some authority as they help people to understand and apply the authority of God’s word for their lives.

But when Jesus starts preaching, which is something very normative in this context, all those present that day are astonished. There is something very different about this teacher; Jesus is unlike those they are used to hearing. Their position or role, their activity is the same as Jesus’, but He is preaching ‘with authority.’ (vs22)

I’m so glad this wasn’t my church. The contrast drawn by the congregation that day was between Jesus and their normal teachers – gulp. And, the contrast was notable as Mark’s Gospel records; ‘And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes’ (vs22)

Good authority used well isn’t repulsive to human beings, quite the contrary. These people were drawn to Jesus’ authority even though the things He was saying weren’t all affirming and cushy! Remember what Jesus was preaching; “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” (Mark 1:14-15)  

Jesus wasn’t a people-pleaser saying what people wanted to be said, that’s not what drew people to Him. Real authority often has to make decisions or lead in ways which are for the good of those they are leading but won’t always be liked.  

When we encounter good authority, I believe that we are drawn to it, and it brings us peace and security. These people willingly gave themselves to Jesus’ authentic authority and therefore listened to His teaching.

In a church context, church leaders (elders) have authority;

  • If they have been called & gifted by God to lead.
  • And if that local congregation have recognised that calling and gifting as God’s gift to that local church and their personal lives
  • If they teach and always lead from the fountain of authority that is everlasting – Scripture
  • And if those elders use the authority that God’s entrusted to them for the benefit and blessing of God’s people and not for any personal gain

Pray for your church, pray that God would bless your church with leaders who are truly called not just placed in their position by some organisation, but hand-picked by God and called by God to lead and to teach and to love and care for your church. Pray that they would not say what itching ears want to hear, but that they would stand on the authority of God’s Word, always faithful to the Scriptures and in so doing will protect and bless that church for generations to come.

Lastly, a short exhortation from Scripture to anyone who is in a church; “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) 

The demonic realm and demonic influence

Those present on that day didn’t just hear a great sermon which came with authority because it was rooted in Scripture; they witnessed power over the demonic realm.

I have always been fascinated by this guy sitting in ‘church’ with a demon influencing his life. He was sitting there not entirely free but in some form of demonic influence or bondage. How did this demonic influence manifest itself in his life? Was it a perpetual fear or a constant struggle with depression… What we know is that it doesn’t seem to have been too obvious otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been welcome in the meeting.

But on this day when Jesus, the King of kings, walks into the room immediately that under-the-radar-demonic-influence in his life suddenly surfaces! The guy who’s probably never said a word in ‘church’ (Synagogue actually) suddenly shouts out; “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

Yikes! I have had a few moments like this in church when someone blurts something out that is socially not cool in what suddenly becomes a very public and awkward moment. I wonder whether this guy was the most surprised of everyone!

Authority. The demon or demons influencing this guys life know who Jesus is, and they know that Jesus has real authority. The people listening to Jesus’ teaching have just encountered His authority in His bold proclamation, but the demon(s) knew Jesus and knew his power.

We know this because of what they say to Jesus. They know who Jesus is, they know where He came from, they; know Jesus has the power to destroy them; they know that this man standing teaching these people is GOD! They know that He is the King of kings with absolute and total authority over them.

And so Jesus uses His authority to bless this man under the influence of the demonic realm and sets him free with just these words; “Be silent, and come out of him!” (vs25) Real authority doesn’t have to shout.

I love the fact that there is no show-down here, no titanic battle. Jesus’ authority so far outstrips any power of the demonic realm that they have to obey and leave the man alone – free at last.

There is so much we could say about the demonic realm and Jesus’ authority which He has now invested in us His followers to relieve people from demonic influence but time & space doesn’t permit.  

However, in summary, may we see how much authority we have in Jesus’ name to set people free from all forms of demonic bondage and influence (John 14:12-14). May we not be blind to the demonic realm, and may we not be fixated on it either. May we simply be in awe of Jesus and ready to proclaim Jesus’ authority in lives and situations that need it for people to be free indeed.

Healing

Lastly, in Mark 1:29-34, we see Jesus’ authority over sickness as He heals Peter’s mother in law and then many in the town of Capernaum.

News of Jesus’ teaching with authority and Jesus’ act of supernaturally and simply setting the man free from all demonic influence spread like wildfire so that by the time evening came ‘the whole city was gathered together at the door’ (vs33)!

What drew them? Fascination no doubt, but I believe that for the sick and struggling and those suffering under the various physical and psychological maladies resulting from demonic influence what really drew them to Jesus was hope. Hope that was awakened because Godly authority was present. They had hope that they could be freed from their sickness and bondages.

Mark’s Gospel records what must have been amazing scenes. Just imagine the whole city outside a house, a gathering of onlookers and those suffering greatly. Picture Jesus, coming out the house, and speaking to people one by one simply with no histrionics but with his real authority as King of kings being displayed for all to see. Picture the tears and exclamations of joy as MANY are set free from their pain and sorrow and oppression.

What a joyful time it must have been! This is a moment when we see the coming Kingdom breaking into the present. This is what we ought to pray for an expect every day, people being released from pain and suffering in the authority of Jesus name. Amen

Juxtaposition (Mark 1:11-20)

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Life is full of contrasting experiences! One moment we are celebrating something the next we can be plunged into hardship by a phone call or some unexpected trouble.  

In Mark 1:11-12, Jesus has a thoroughly human experience. One moment Jesus is basking in the love and affirmation of Father God, the next He is being sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan – juxtaposition.

You know the feeling, don’t you? Sunday you’re lost in worship, basking in the love of God, or you’ve just had a great time of personal devotion with bible reading prayer and worship and then BAM! 

Someone rear-ends your car in traffic, or something hits the news on the radio that plunges you into despair, or your cell phone buzzes with a message you really didn’t anticipate or need – juxtaposition. 

When this happens, we need to remember that our faith is not feelings. We know the God we were worshipping, delighting in and listening to. We know who has loved us and who had proclaimed that love. Feelings are fickle; they come and go, rise and fall, but our faith is anchored by something greater than feelings.

What anchored Jesus in the midst of this sudden change of atmosphere and experience?  

  1. Jesus knew WHO He was, and Jesus knew WHOSE He was. At His baptism, God the Father had confirmed this in an emphatic way through His words to Jesus (vs11).
  2. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1)
  3. Jesus knew Scripture and quoted it when Satan tempted and tested Him (Luke 4:9-13)

And what will anchor you when your life is thrown a serious curveball? I pray that it will be anchored by the same three things that anchored Jesus in his moment of contrasting circumstances.

Verse 12 reveals another surprising contrast. How can Scripture say that the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (see also Matthew 4:1)?  

We prefer to attribute bad or hard things to our own agency or the sinful agency of others or Satan himself. We are happy with language that places God with us in trials or working in trials, yet all synoptic Gospels ascribe Jesus’ guidance to the Holy Spirit!

God doesn’t just work in all things; God is sovereign over all things. God, the Holy Spirit, lead Jesus into this challenging time for the sake of the purposes of God in and through Jesus. Being tempted by Satan and being without food for 40days could not have been easy or pleasant at all for Jesus. And yet it was God Himself who sovereignly lead Jesus into those circumstances.

At present we are facing a world-wide pandemic, economies are shaking, people have lost their jobs in thousands, businesses are struggling, people are sick, and many have lost their lives. There seems to be hardship on every side, and yet one of the keys to thriving in this world-wide crisis is; “knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it.” – John Piper

Sometimes I think we want to let God off the hook for our tough life circumstances. We feel it is too conflicting to know that God could have been involved in our circumstances or don’t want God to be blamed for not relieving them. But then you can’t have it both ways! “If we try to rescue God from his sovereignty over suffering, we sacrifice his sovereignty to turn all things for good.” – John Piper

The Gospels report without any apology or embarrassment that God the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into this time of hardship and discomfort and testing by Satan, and God sustained Jesus in it too! Luke records also; “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (Luke 4:14). God, the Holy Spirit, never left Jesus from the time of His baptism, strengthening Him through his trial and temptation, and empowering Him in all His ministry (Acts 10:38).

Likewise, God will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5-6)! No matter what you face, no matter what He leads you into for His sovereign purposes, God the Holy Spirit will always be with you to enable and equip you to do God’s will in it all.

So in these times full of juxtaposed experiences, good things and hard things know this – God is sovereign in it all and God loves you and me with an everlasting love.

Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you again today, knowing; “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.