Miracles

Courageous Faith (Mark 10:46-52)

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If you think about it, this is quite an introduction we have to the blind man who cries out to Jesus in Mark 10.  As Jesus is leaving Jericho with a large crowd and His disciples in toe, Jesus encounters a man who is introduced in Mark’s gospel as; ‘Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus’ (vs46).  

A little digging reveals that this is not a flattering introduction at all.  This man’s name means ‘son of the unclean or foul one’!  What’s the story behind that name?  Now this extended family was seemingly not into uplifting names as Bartimaeus’ dad’s name means ‘foul or impure’.  And if that’s not enough Mark’s gospel records that this man who is son of ‘the unclean one’ is also tagged as a blind beggar!  He is disabled in his body, and due presumably to his condition he is one who makes a living by begging from others. 

How terrible to have names such as these, tags such as these attached to a person’s identity!  How damaging must that have been to him, how degrading, to feel like all you can do is to sit on the side of the road and call out to people you hear walking past, asking daily for their mercy and alms.

What’s your name?  Do you have a derogatory name or nick name, or a name that tells a sad story that has somehow become your story?

Well for this man, that day recorded for us in Mark 10 is going to be no ordinary day.  That day Jesus the son of God was going to pass by Bartimaeus.  He couldn’t see Jesus but he could hear the commotion, and when Bartimaeus was told who it was passing him by Bartimaeus began to cry out; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)  

We know from Jesus’ own assessment (see vs52) that this cry of Bartimaeus was a cry of faith in Jesus.  Faith is “believing God”, and Bartimaeus believed that Jesus in that moment was worth risking calling out to.  There were crowds with Jesus, self-important scribes and Pharisees.  According to those around Jesus, Bartimaeus did not warrant Jesus’ attention, he was not worthy of bothering Jesus.   But Bartimaeus believed that it was worth pushing through the opinions of others, if it meant he could get Jesus’ attention.  And so Bartimaeus reaches out to Jesus, believing that Jesus can transform his situation and believing that Jesus maybe saw him differently to all the others who could not get past his name, his upbringing, his disability or his way of scrapping a living…

Sometimes we have to overcome obstacles in our heads to get to really encounter Jesus.  When you are in a meeting and you feel like you want to respond for prayer during the worship or after the preached word, you face something milder but similar to what Bartimaeus faced.  “What will other people say or think?”  or “I am embarrassed, and I don’t want anyone looking at me.”  And so often it is possible to feel Jesus’ presence in the room in the moment and to feel like you want to encounter Jesus but you hold back for fear of others and what they will say.

But not Bartimaeus!  Those people who were trying to shut him down and keep him quiet only served to make him louder, insistent and more urgent; “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)  And because Bartimaeus pushed through, Bartimaeus stopped the Son of God, got Jesus’ attention (vs49) and had Jesus ask him; “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs51)

Bartimaeus was healed because he did not allow the thoughts of others to dissuade him.  Bartimaeus was more interested in encountering Jesus than bothered about caring what other people thought of him. 

Resolve today to be like Bartimaeus, to press through the thoughts of others or even just your perception of the thoughts of others – don’t let anything stop you from encountering Jesus, calling out to Him, for He loves to stop for those who seek Him out like Bartimaeus did.  And next time you have an opportunity to be prayed for – take it, take it with both hands, encounter Jesus and have your life transformed like Bartimaeus did.

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9:1 (Luke 17:11-19)

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Ten people all in a desperate situation.  All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions.  Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition.  They all needed God.    

One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives.  Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?  

“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?”  “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?”  “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”… 

It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like; 

“Guys this is our moment!  If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!”  And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)

Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith.  There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment.  But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.

Jesus sees them.  Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society.  Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help.  Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them.  Jesus is amazing!

Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter.  I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal.  A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa).  He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say.  In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness.  Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!

Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14)  They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)

It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith.  Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him.  Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you.  Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed.  They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.

All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.  

Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years.  We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear.  God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).

But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received.  May we be like this guy!  May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him.  After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come.  Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.

Free at last! [Mark 1:21-28, Mark 5:1-20 & Luke 13:10-13]

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Three passages, three encounters that Jesus had with three different people who all had different struggles with the demonic realm.  The constant is Jesus Himself and that the result of each of the people struggling under some demonic influence or another, was that they were instantly freed by Jesus!

 There are two equal and opposite errors we tend to make regarding the demonic:

  1. We give the devil and his demonic minions too much focus, fascination and airtime 
  2. Or we effectively deny the existence of the devil and demonic influence

May we always be way more focused on Jesus and His glorious victory on the cross, focussed on His resurrection and the resultant victory in which He defeated sin, Satan and death and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:13-15)!  You and I as believers have no need to remain in fear, we ought not remain in a state of being influenced by or even bound by demonic forces since Jesus is our Lord.

On the other hand, to deny or to ignore the reality of the existence of Satan and the demonic realm and its ability to influence believers is to foolishly ignore clear warnings and exhortations of Scripture and to potentially allow the enemy to keep impacting you or those you love.  

These three encounters in the Gospels are so helpful as they are all so different.  Because of this, together they help us to have a balanced understanding of the whole range of types & degrees of demonic influence (‘demon possessed’ is an unhelpful translation in the NIV Bible translation as it indicates total control and has no room for degrees of influence) that is evidenced in Scripture.

The Mark 1 man (subtle under the radar influence): It seems likely that this man was influenced by the demonic to a limited degree.  I say this because he was there in synagogue seemingly unbeknown to those around him, seemingly behaving himself in socially accepted ways, until he suddenly cried out because of Jesus’ presence!  He had a demonic presence influencing him but it was undetected until the man came into close proximity with Jesus.  There are lots of things we don’t know about how this influence worked itself out in his life, did he battle with fear, depression, a destructively low-self esteem, panic attacks…….?  We don’t know, but he is helpful to us in that Scripture is clear that he had some form of demonic influence in his life – and so his example helps us to see that some demonic influence could be ‘under the radar’ because it doesn’t appear too bad, or isn’t too socially obvious.  Are there maybe things we just accept as ‘normal’ or ‘this is who I am’ but in fact it is an area in which we as believers are just not free?  The great news is that one encounter with Jesus and this man was delivered and set free from that influence.

The Mark 5 man (overt control and intense demonic influence): This man probably fits your prior notion of what a person with a demonic influence would present like.  This is an extreme case of demonic influence, even a destructive one – the great news though is that one encounter with Jesus and this man is set free and left ‘clothed and in his right mind’ (Mark 5:15) – what a contrast to the description of him just moments sooner!  No demonic influence is beyond Jesus’ instant transformation.

The Luke 13 woman (sickness attributed to demonic influence):  Jesus healed many people of sickness and most times it was not attributed to demonic influence, it was just sickness as a result of the impact of the fall on all of humanity.  However, in Luke 13, Luke (a medical doctor) recorded very specifically that this woman’s ailment had its source as being spiritual not medical, “And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.” (Luke 13:11)  Jesus Himself said; “ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)  In our secular society and in the minds of many believers in the church today – her symptoms would not have been even considered as having a potential spiritual source!  But that is exactly what Jesus and what Scripture attributed her symptoms too a demonic influence.  The great news is that Jesus loosed the hold that this demonic influence had held over her body for these many years in an instant feeing her from her disability and the bondage brought from Satan (Luke 13:16).

Never be looking for a demon under every bush, never get fascinated with the demonic – be enamoured and amazed and secure because of Jesus.  But also never underestimate or deny the ability for demonic influence and the spiritual realm at work in lives, in minds, in bodies.  Know however that regardless of what influence their might be – we have been given all of Jesus’ authority to set people fee (Matthew 28:18-20) just like Jesus did.

They had been with Jesus… (Acts 4:13-22)

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Let’s re-cap for a moment the story thus far…   Jesus spoke to the disciples just before His ascension, ‘wait for the Promise’!  Then the promised Holy Spirit came with a remarkable manifestation of joy & power which resulted in a boldness in the disciples that catapulted them onto Jesus’ mandate and mission for their lives.  

Peter preaches the first sermon and 3000 people put their faith in Jesus on that first day!  The new community formed through the Gospel is a radical one which starts sharing life and possessions and devotes themselves to God in prayer and to one another.

In the days that follow, Peter and John then meet a paralysed man begging at the temple.  However, rather than meeting his financial need they decide to give him the very best that they have to give – faith in Jesus!  They pray for him and this man crippled for 40yrs is instantly healed in public which creates a crowd and a context for Peter to preach again about who Jesus is and what God did through Jesus on the cross in fulfilment of myriads of Old Testament prophecy.

All the commotion, the big crowds and the multitudes professing faith in Jesus (now about 5000 men so more like 10 000-15 000 women children!) raised the ire of the Jewish religious authorities who subsequently arrest Peter and John. 

The next day they are hauled before the council and questioned about under what authority are they acting – Peter full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8) stands up and preaches again proclaiming with razor sharp clarity the Gospel crescendoing with;

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”   (Acts 4:12)

The Jewish council are dumbstruck!  They remark at the incredible boldness and clarity of these everyday men, who are unlearned fishermen and yet proclaiming with clarity and boldness regarding the Scriptures.  They can’t deny the miracle of the healing of the crippled man standing before their eyes and witnessed by the multitudes.  But they want to shut this movement down and so call Peter and John in again and try to intimidate them commanding them to stop speaking about Jesus as if He was Messiah and in authority.

Peter and John boldly refuse to be shut down, and so reply to this command saying effectively; ‘you decide whether we should obey you or obey God!  We cannot stop speaking about Jesus and all we have seen and heard!’

The council threatened them again and then had to let them go because the multitude was praising God for this miracle God had done.

It’s so important to hear the assessment of the Jewish council, Peter and John were ordinary men!  However they had been ‘with Jesus’ (Acts 4:13) and we know that they were now also filled with the power of the Holy Spirit & full of faith in Jesus.  Incredible things are possible if we will walk closely with Jesus in our daily lives, if we will be full of faith in the power of the name of Jesus and if we will be continuously full of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit!

  • What’s God saying to YOU through this passage?
  • What are you going to PRAY for as a result?
  • What do you want to START doing more of?
  • Is there anything you feel you need to STOP?

See, Love, Act (Acts 3:1-10)

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After the rousing sermon that followed the remarkable prayer meeting and the incredibly deep fellowship of the early church all recorded in Acts 2, Acts 3 has an air of normality about it as it starts.

Peter and John are about to enter the Temple complex at around 3pm in the afternoon which was the time of prayer.  The earliest believers had been raised all their lives up to the present of Jews, and the earliest church assimilated it’s new revelations about Jesus with their habitual rhythms (like daily prayer here in the Temple complex).

At an the entrance was a man who was lame, who had been unable to walk since birth.  He was seated at the gate asking people for money considering his state.  

What do Christ Followers do when faced with human needs like; this man’s physical, emotional, financial & spiritual need?

They SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  

Like Jesus with Bartimaeus (see Mark 10:46-52) who stopped for Bartimaeus, Peter and John stop for this crippled man.  They SEE him, they LOVE him enough to acknowledge his presence and this action of SEEING and STOPPING must have communicated value to him. 

They didn’t just toss some coins in the dust although he would probably have been happy with that.  Rather they stopped and looked at him saying; “Look at us… Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

They loved him enough to stop and to see him, to recognise him as a person but then they met a deeper need than even the need he would have identified as his need.  He was asking for money, they saw past that need and saw how being crippled would never allow him to do anything except beg for money and so they reached out and acted with faith speaking life, healing & health into his body all in the name of Jesus!

Having spoken with faith, Peter then reached out in faith with his hands to lift the man up and as he did Dr Luke records that the man’s feet and ankles were immediately made strong.  Peter and John, SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith when confronted with this man’s need.

The way Dr Luke records this miracle and the sequence of events, I can’t help be wonder whether the man would not have been healed unless Peter had had the faith to pray believing God would heal, and then also having the faith to stretch out his hand to lift him up so as to take his first steps ever as a person born cripple.

What life transforming things are passing us by every day?

What would God have you do, small or large that can transform someone else’s life?

Are your ears and eyes open to the leading of the Holy Spirit?

Dr Luke knows this condition was congenital, knows it had lasted 40yrs (Acts 4:22),  and so he records the medical evidence of this wonderful instant healing in response to Peter and John’s faith and their stepping out in faith.  Dr Luke tells us three times that this man was now walking, in fact more than that he was walking and leaping!

Thomas Walker comments, ‘the power was Christ’s, but the hand was Peter’s’.  Peter and John saw, loved and acted on their faith in Jesus and this man’s life was transformed!

What does God want to do through you in the life of others?

May we be those who SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  Amen.

Magnificent God (2 Kings 4)

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Elisha is the one true God’s representative. In a nation divided and filled with the worship of false gods, the call on Elisha is not just to bring messages for God but to reveal who God is through his everyday life, actions and interactions.

In this chapter we see God revealed in numerous ways through a collection of short stories which all put on display God’s nature as the one who sees, a personal God, involved in the intricate details of people’s lives, who is not indifferent to the cries and the pain that individual people endure. These stories reveal God as the one who is able to miraculously suspend or overturn the normal with His supernatural inbreakings of power at any time on people’s behalf.

Short story 1: Debt (2 Kings 4:1-7)
A poor widow in crisis is struggling with mounting debts and the ongoing challenge of providing for her two children as a single woman has the debt collectors at her door threatening to take away her children as slaves as payment for her debt! Crisis. She asks God by asking Elisha and God provides miraculously an abundance of olive oil which she sells and pays off all her debt and as able to live off the rest. God is the miracle working, prayer answering, need-seeing God who intervenes in remarkable ways for poor or rich people.

Short story 2: Deep Longings & Despair (2 Kings 4:8-39)
A wealthy woman is hospitable and honouring of God’s servant, she was rich but used her wealth to bless Elisha & Gehazi not to gain anything (vs13-14). Elisha discerns the true longing in her heart, one she is not even willing to express for fear of her longing being dashed again, and so promises her a child. She is so shocked she can’t receive this good news (vs16) but she does conceive and a son is given to her. Many years later the child falls suddenly ill and dies will in the fields with his father. She rushes straight to Elisha in deep despair, she would have rather not had a son than have one and then loose one like this! Elisha goes with her, and raises the son from the dead and gives him back to her alive. God knows the deepest longings in our hearts, even the ones we dare not speak of for fear of being hurt or disappointed again or opening up the wound… God is able to bring back to life people, marriages, finances – God is good and is so whether you are rich or poor.

Short story 3: Deadly Stew & Multiplication (2 Kings 4:38-44)
There is a famine in the land, Elisha is hosting around 100 of the prophets. He wants to cook for them, but Gehazi is a bad cook or one of the prophets is injudicious in his produce selection and the stew being cooked is bad, so bad it is like death warmed up. They complain. Elisha miraculously cures the pot with a little flour and the food becomes edible to them all. While they are all there, a man brings to Elisha some of his first fruits offering to supply food for Elisha. Elisha tells Gehazi to set it before the men to eat (but there is not enough – vs43). Elisha tells him to proceed and they all ate and yet there was excess and they had food to spare. God is hospitable, able to throw feasts of abundance in the midst of a famine, able to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19).

Our God heals, answers long-lost longings, provides financially and materially. This all makes me think of the song we sung on Sunday;

You’re my author, my maker
My ransom, my Saviour
My refuge, my hiding place
You’re my helper, my healer
My blessed redeemer
My answer, my saving grace
You’re my hope, in the shadows
My strength, in the battle
My anchor, for all my days
And You stand, by my side
And You stood, in my place
Jesus, no other name
No, only Jesus, no other name…

So, cry out to him now!  Tell your Father in Heaven your deepest longings, know that He is good and when you can’t join all the dots of your confusing life, He can and He does and so having asked Him trust Him.

Showdown (1 Kings 18)

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It’s been three years since Elijah told Ahab and Israel that there would be no rain until he said so… God tells Elijah to go to king Ahab.

On seeing him Ahab exclaims; “Is it you, you troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17) This is an important little moment – who is responsible for the suffering in the land? Is it Elijah’s fault because he spoke and the rain stopped? Or is it Ahab’s fault because of his sin?

Elijah greets Ahab back with the following retort; “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.” (1 Kings 18:18). Scripture makes it clear, the famine is the result of God’s judgement on the gross sin and idol-worship of Ahab, his foreign wife Jezebel and his predecessor’s.

Ahab might be king, but Elijah is calling all the shots! Elijah instructs Ahab to gather all of Israel and the 950 prophets of Baal and Asherah who eat at his wife’s table (1 Kings 18:19) at Mount Carmel. Elijah inspired by God, wants a showdown to help Israel choose whom they will worship.

Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Kings 18:21)

Compromise and double-mindedness is massively offensive to God. The Ten Commands start; “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments…” (Exodus 20:1-6)

God wants His people to choose. Either God is God, or Baal is God but they can’t both be God, because God makes an exclusive claim on being God and so makes a rightful jealous call for devoted and exclusive worship and trust. Elijah asks the people to choose therefore, but they remain silent, they say nothing, refuse to choose (1 Kings 18:21).

The stage is set and Elijah (still calling the shots and making demands on the king) tells the 450 prophets of Baal to make an altar, place an offering on it and then to pray for fire… The prophets of Baal cry out for Baal to answer them for hours from ‘morning to noon’ for Baal to send fire.

“But there was no voice, and no one answered” (1 Kings 18:26) “And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation (evening sacrifice), but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:29)

Poignant! No reply, nothing because Baal like all other false-gods is nothing, man made nonsense that can say and do nothing.

Then Elijah makes an altar like theirs, but does even more than them by dousing his altar and offering with copious amounts of water to underline the sign and wonder that’s about to happen.

Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:36-39)

The One true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Israel and Elijah is personal, He speaks and guides and instructs and answers prayer – He alone is God and worthy of trust & worship. He is the God they should have chosen when Elijah challenged them to make up their minds. Now, on the evidence before them, with this contrasting display of power and God’s responding to the prayer of his servant – the nation fell on their faces proclaiming the truth about God.

Baal worship has been exposed as futile, Baal’s ‘prophets’ exposed as charlatan’s and therefore executed.

What relevance does this have for your life and mine?

Confidence – God alone is Almighty God awesome in power & majesty and ready to respond to prayer!

Consider – Am I in any way compromising by being double-minded effectively, putting my trust in anything or anyone other than God?

Repent – If you’ve doubted God in any way or been dabbling with the worship/trust of anything other than God, repent and turn back to exclusive worship of God alone.