Jesus Likes Rush Hour?

“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon.  When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him.  And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.  And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.”  And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.”   Mark 3:7-12

How do you feel about crowds?  What about being stuck in rush hour traffic?  Or when you go to the grocery store and everyone else seems to be there too?

I don’t particularly like being in crowds.  But I’ve also learned to just go with the flow of it and try not to let it bother me.  Sometimes it can be amusing just to do some ‘people watching’ in the frustration of it all.

I’m glad Jesus doesn’t seem to mind crowds.  In this passage, he wisely prepares a boat.  But notice it wasn’t to leave the people.  It was for the sake of continuing his ministry to them.  People from all over the area were coming to Jesus, and they were bringing their problems too.  And one by one, we see Jesus taking the time to help each one.

I want you to notice two very special things about this passage that hopefully will encourage you.

First, notice that Jesus isn’t afraid of crowds.

You may say, “OK, that’s nice, but how does that apply to me?”

Even with all the technology around us, most of us still live very crowded lives.  We have several concerns pressing on us at all times.  The new economic realities force many of us (like myself) to have several jobs instead of just one.  Over and over again, I feel as if my life is very crowded–with little signs of relief on the horizon.

But Jesus isn’t scared by all the clutter and noise.  In fact, he’s very interested and wants to stick around in the midst of it all.  Just tonight I came home from a late meeting and had to fix the toilet seat in our bathroom.  I just wanted to relax, but this was a project that needed my attention–and it needed me now.  And guess what?  Jesus was in that bathroom with me, helping me to fix it.

Second, notice that Jesus took time for each person who came to him.  Now think about this for a second.  He’s God, right?  Of course!  So, he could’ve done a one-for-all magic wave and healed everyone at once.  I can see it now.  Jesus stands on top of a wooden barrel, raises his arms, and does a sign of the cross.  Then he says, “There.  All better.  Now go in peace so me and my homies, I mean disciples, can relax for the rest of the day.”

But that’s not what he did at all.  Instead, he took the time to personally be involved in each and every situation.  Even for those who were troubled by demons (sort of ironic, but notice that even the demons got some attention that day too).

The point?  While we may live cluttered and busy lives, Jesus is not so busy that he has no time for you personally.  This passage is recorded to remind you that God is not too busy for you and your problems.  The real question is this:  Are you too busy to take your problems to Him?

Application Questions:

1.  If you were in the area that day, would you have taken the time to go and see Jesus?  Why or why not?

2.  Do you really believe that your life is too cluttered for God to share His presence with you?  How so?

3.  How does it comfort you to know that Jesus, right now, has time for you?  Go ahead, take some time to just be with him right now.

 

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Jesus Doesn’t Get Along Well with Religious People

“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand.  And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.  And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.”  And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”  But they were silent.  And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”   Mark 3:1-6

It’s hard to believe, but in this story the religious people of the day were actually upset at Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath.  They had believed that the Sabbath meant no work–and somewhere in their tradition and understanding they had classified healing as “work”–and thus prohibited on the Sabbath.

What’s even more tragic is that a genuine miracle occurred right in front of their eyes and they totally missed it.  And to put a cherry on top of their “We hate Jesus” sundae, they united in their opposition against him and started planning for a way to kill him.

Look again and you see a downward slide of three stages:  (1) Religious tradition is more important than people; (2) Religious tradition can blind us to see God’s unique working in our midst–especially when he does so in ways that are ‘outside of the box’ for us; and (3) Eventually you must choose:  either follow some form of religious tradition or follow Jesus–but at some point there is a huge difference.

Now don’t get me wrong.  We all have some form of religious tradition.  For some of us, we go to a church that is filled with ritual and tradition–and it all points to Jesus.  And for others who may attend less formal or less structured services, they still have traditions of how to do things properly and in good working order.

But when we choose to trust our spiritual health to traditions and in our performance of keeping them, instead of trusting in Christ as the One who perfectly kept them for us in God’s eyes–we have crossed a dangerous line.

Now we’ve become people who can mindlessly go through the motions of worship and devotion–and still be hardened in our hearts to the real kind of devotion that Jesus is looking for.  It’s like when you drive the same route everyday–you must be careful that you don’t put things in ‘autopilot’ mode and one day find yourself in an accident that was preventable.

The other thing to learn from this story is that Jesus has a way of going against our traditions.  Just because we’ve always done church a certain way doesn’t mean that God likes it.  Just because we always pray a certain way doesn’t mean God hears it.  Just because we always give the same amount of money doesn’t mean that God is pleased.

On a different note, let’s spend a few moments thinking about this man.

In Bible days, to have a withered hand was a real handicap (even today too).  Since most labor in Bible days was menial, this meant that you were virtually unemployable and reduced to being a beggar.  You couldn’t shake hands with people, do meaningful work, or worship without this stigma (to the Jews who often lifted hands in worship, a withered hand indicated that the person had some kind of secret sin that they were holding onto and that God was judging them for).

Now, this man was free.  He could more freely love and interact with others, reach his labor potential AND worship without any kind of stigma.

You are that man.  And this is what God wants to do for you in Jesus.

God wants you to experience a new freedom in Him, allowing you to have more meaningful relationships with others, reach your potential, and worship Him without anything holding you back.

Take a moment now–ignore the critics in your head–and stretch out your hand.  As you do, pray for Jesus to completely heal your life.  You will never be the same!

Application Questions:

1.  What religious traditions do you keep?  Are they meaningful to you?  How so?

2.  Are you trusting in your religious traditions more than in Jesus?  How would you know?

3.  Is there a part of your life–a hand–that needs the healing touch of God?  Surrender it to Jesus now and see what God does…

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Meet Jesus, the NonConformist

“One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.  And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”  And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him:  how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”  And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.   So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”    Mark 2:23-28

Jesus and his disciples were hungry.  All the restaurants were closed.  So he did some “dumpster diving” with his buddies–and it upset the religious leaders of the day.

Not only was plucking grain a religious taboo on the Sabbath, but for an up and coming Rabbi, this was not something to be tolerated.  In other words, if Jesus could bend the rules slightly in his favor, then everyone else would do the same–and it would be a religious meltdown of Chernobyl-like proportions.

Let’s focus on a couple of thoughts:  one exegetical and one allegorical.

First, Jesus is making a claim to be God.  God had instituted the whole concept of the Sabbath.  God was not to blame for the 612 rules that the Jews had put on top of the idea of keeping Sabbath–but the foundation was still God.  In other words, everyone knew that the Sabbath was a special religious marker separating the people of God (the Jews) from all other cultures and peoples on the earth.

But when Jesus talks as if it was (and is) all designed for his purposes–then he is making a direct claim to be the One behind it all.  He is making a clear statement that he is the Lord God, plain and simple.

This means that all true religion should point to and end at the person of Jesus Christ, plain and simple.

Second, notice that Jesus is walking through the grainfields.  And he has every right to–for if he is truly the Lord, then the fields belong to him.  The fields represent the souls of people–all over–who need the Lord.

All around us, everyday, Jesus is walking in and through people’s lives.  He is at work in every human life, even when we can’t see him.  He is no stranger to your life.  And he’s totally aware of what’s going on in your friends’ and family’s and neighbors’ lives as well.  When you see a person on the street–Jesus is walking through the grainfields of their life.

As his followers, we need to pray that we will faithfully reach the people that he wants us to reach.  We need to ask the Lord of the Harvest how we can join him in walking the grainfields.  Being a follower of Christ means following him through the grainfields of people’s lives.  Not every disciple followed Jesus that day–but for those who did they were used by God to disclose further revelation and truth that sets people free.  And when we live like that, we too can be like Jesus, a nonconformist of epic proportion.

Application Questions:

1.  Do you see Jesus as Lord of All?  as God?  or just a nice, moral teacher or prophet?

2.  Have you ever thought about Jesus walking through the grainfields of your life?  of your friends’ lives?  Are there parts that you would rather him NOT walk through?

3.  How can you become a willing partner with Jesus in reaching other people for him by joining him in the grainfields of the world at large?  How does that change how you view your friends? coworkers? strangers on the street?

 

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God’s Fierce Faithfulness for You

“Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting.  And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”  And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.  No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment.  If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins.  But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”    Mark 2:18-22

As Jesus’ ministry gains traction, this passage helps us see that he is the promised Lord–the God of all who longs to be united to the true Israel in fidelity and passion like a husband to his wife.  Key verses that prophesied this are found in Isaiah 62:1-5 and Hosea 2:19-20.  Both sections describe the coming day when God’s presence will be so intrinsically bound and connected with His people that no other metaphor is sufficient to describe it–hence the husband/wife imagery we see here.  To be certain, in this passage Jesus is making a claim to be God Himself, for this role was for no other than the Lord of His people.

This introduces us to something almost too good to believe.  As a follower of Jesus, God is fiercely committed to you.  Think of it like this:  If you could take all the love, passion, devotion, and faithfulness that every newly wed husband has for his bride from all of human history combined–and bottle it all up and put it in one person, it still doesn’t compare with the amount of love and care that Jesus has for you.

Then Jesus challenges us to live in the light of this reality.  And when we do, we can no longer live as before.  That’s the point about the piece of cloth being sewn onto an old garment; or the new wine being put into old wineskins.  They simply won’t do.

Everything has to be completely different.  In other words, you can’t just “apply” Jesus to your life.  You can’t add him like a patch to your dreams and desires.  He must now be the epitome of your dreams and desires.  Nothing else compares–hence the new cloth and the new wineskins that are needed.

I remember a few years ago a certain car commercial for an SUV.  It showed a man buying the SUV and driving it all over the world in a mosaic of various adventures (think of the desert sands of the Sahara and the jungles of the Amazon).  All the while, his clothes are becoming more and more ragged, his appearance unkempt, and his beard gets longer and longer.  But he’s loving every minute of it–for now his life is complete.  Each new adventure is in answer to a whisper-like call from above that beckons “Go Farther!”

The commercial ends with the man on a make-shift wooden raft floating with his beloved SUV down an unknown river in some forgotten place.  As he’s standing there in complete satisfaction, the voice from above now sounds, “Too Far!” as the man suddenly and unexpectedly nears a waterfall.

I think if we’re honest, most of us are fearful of this very possibility.  We afraid to really risk it all for Christ in reckless abandon, ever seeking to answer the call to “Go Farther!” because we’re fearful that one day we’ll have pushed the limits too far only to find ourselves perilously going over a water fall in hopeless horror.

But when you know God as your Husbandman, things change.  When you can rest in the fierce love and faithfulness that Christ has for you–you can never go too far.  You wake up everyday knowing that no matter happens, you belong to the King.  And He knows how to take care of who belongs to Him.

Go ahead, get in the SUV of your new-found faith in Christ.  Commit yourself in a fresh way to follow him on a path of adventure to who knows where.  You’ll never hear the words “Too Far!”–but one day you might just hear him say, “Well done!”

Application Questions:

1.  On a scale of 1-10, how much of this passage do you honestly relate to?  What would it take to bump it up a notch?

2.  Do you know of anyone who lives by this passage?  What can you learn from them about following Jesus?

3.  What’s holding you back from a fresh faith commitment to Christ?  How is it holding you back?  What is Jesus challenging you to do about that right now?

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The Unseen Guest in Your Stress and Mess

“And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  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?”  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.”   Mark 2:15-17

Imagine you are on a nice, all-expenses paid Mediterranean cruise.  You spend your days with friends enjoying the luxurious surroundings and endless buffets of food.  This is your vacation–you’ve earned it.  Every other day you pull into port and do a little shopping and other fun activities like snorkeling and island adventures as time allows.

Upon one port–the best of them all–the possibilities seem endless.  You look over the menu of activities and are sad that you can only choose two when there are over a dozen listed!  If only you could spend an entire week here!

But to your surprise, your friends decide to do something completely out-of-the-box.  Instead of chasing after fun, they decide to visit the local hospital to spread some good cheer–and they want you to tag along.  You reluctantly agree–even though you’ve always wanted to go horseback riding on the beach and zip-lining through the green jungle.  Instead you now find yourself in the local hospital visiting people who seldom see anyone.  You may not realize it, but you’ve just gone from being a tourist to being a care-giver.

And yet this is exactly what Jesus does–and more–in coming to us.  Giving up the joys of Heaven, he comes to our world and welcomes us sinners.  He opens up his home (his presence) to us–just like he did in this story in Mark 2:15-17.  He shares his presence with us–enjoys life with us–as he draws us closer and closer to himself.

Jesus seemed to go where few others wanted to go.  And he hung around those that religious people despised.  And this is exactly the kind of savior that we need.

Think about it this way.  If we had a savior who made us clean up for him, then he’d be a reformist.  He’d challenge you to do better–to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and try harder.  But that’s not the Jesus that is presented to us in Scripture.

If we had a savior who only hung around certain people, then he’d be an elitist.  He’d always leave you wondering if you were good enough to be in his special club.

And the list goes on.  But notice what Jesus does in this passage.  He invites the outcasts to his home.  He feeds them.  And they fellowship together–much to the chagrin of the religious status quo.

This means that he also wants to do the same for you.  In your mess–in your stress–Jesus wants to be present.  Just let that truth sink in–and no moment will ever be the same.

 

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Two Simple Words That Can Change Your LIfe

“He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.  And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.”  And he rose and followed him.”   Mark 2:13-14

Imagine the scene.  Levi, an established businessman (tax collector), is busy at his trade.  One day Jesus walks up, and with two simple words completely turns his life upside down.  Jesus looks him in the eye, and simply says, “Follow me” and Levi gets up and leaves everything behind.

Notice what Jesus didn’t offer.  He didn’t promise that things would get better.  He didn’t promise that Levi would have a more “successful life” or a nicer house to live in.  There are  lot of things that Jesus didn’t promise Levi.

But notice what Jesus did promise him:  the gift of himself.  Jesus promised Levi a future that was sure of one thing:  Jesus would be in it front and center.  And for Levi, that was enough.

It was enough because it was more than anything else he had.  He had a “career” that was as stable as the Roman government–and that was a sure bet back then.  And, he had money–lots of it.  Being a tax collector was a lucrative career–even though others viewed you as a ‘Benedict Arnold’ traitor because you had joined the other team–the Romans.  But none of that mattered now, because he left it all to gain Jesus.

What would it take for you to give up everything–to quit chasing after “stuff”–so you can really focus on following Jesus?  What would that look like for you?

To be honest–you don’t know.  In fact, none of us know.  When Jesus called him, Levi didn’t really know.

But that’s not the point.  We crave clarity–Jesus wants us to crave trust.  Want clarity?  Then don’t follow Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t promise that — he only promises you the one thing you need the most:  himself.

Application Questions:

1.  At what stage are you in this story?  You’re busy with your career…Jesus is approaching you…Jesus is looking into your eyes…Jesus is challenging you to follow him…you are deciding what to do?

2.  Does Jesus really ask people to give up everything to follow him?  Why or why not?

3.  How do you know if you’re really following Jesus?

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Which one is your favorite?

Don’t fix that leaky roof!

“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.  And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door.  And he was preaching the word to them.  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that?  He is blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”  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!”   Mark 2.1-12

Are you on Facebook?  It seems that most people are these days (myself included).  Essentially it’s a social tool that enables people to connect—to maintain old friendships and to develop new ones.  The average person on Facebook has about four hundred “friends” who make up their list of contacts.

Four hundred friends.  That’s a lot of people who care about you.  But you and I know the truth.  We’d be happy if that list of four hundred translated to just four who would do anything for you.

In this exciting episode in the Gospel of Mark, we see four friends bringing a paralytic to Jesus.  Because of the crowds, they have to get a little creative—and thus lower the man down through the ceiling of the house.

Jesus does his “Jesus-thing” and heals the man—but not before speaking to his real heart condition first.  And notice in this story that before Jesus heals the man he first addresses the needs of his heart.

We don’t know who this man was.  Mark does not give us any background on the kind of life he lived and what caused his condition.  Jesus doesn’t go into any detail either.

But apparently his greatest need was not for physical healing—but for spiritual cleansing.  He was so weighed down by guilt and sin that spiritually he couldn’t walk.

In this story we see for the first time the religious establishment getting upset at Jesus and his assumed authority to act on God’s behalf to forgive sin.  From this point on we’ll encounter a dual tension in the Gospel of Mark—like two magnets repulsing one another we’ll see Jesus on one side and the religious status quo on the other.  And it only gets worse until they nail Jesus to the cross…

This story has many exciting passage ways to explore—but I’d like us to focus on two for right now.

First, notice the four friends who are commended for their faith in bringing the man to Jesus.  I liken these four friends to the four Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Together the four Gospels bring me and you to Jesus.  We are paralyzed in our initial spiritual condition and need the love and forgiveness that only Jesus brings.  By reading the four Gospels, you will be brought to the feet of Jesus over and over again—experiencing deeper healings than you ever thought possible.

Second, this story shows the holistic love of God towards us.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t simply heal the man, nor does he only declare his sins forgiven.  He does both.  Jesus gives a “double blessing” that exceeds everyone’s expectations.

How does this apply to you?  Jesus wants to exceed your expectations.

That’s right.  He wants to amaze you and your friends with new life, energy, and direction.  The key for us is to have an attitude of humble surrender and trust.  The man on the mat didn’t fight and squirm in embarrassment, he simply receives what Jesus so desires to give.

Perhaps it’s time to rediscover the joyous adventure you can have with Jesus—letting him exceed your expectations in ways that catch you by surprise.  Have you ever thought of Jesus like that?  Here’s a simple prayer that can help you move in that direction:

Dear Lord Jesus, I’ve often put you in a box.  As I get busy and hurry through my day, I have often left you in the crowds, forgetting that you have so much to give me.  Help me to surrender afresh in every moment, and like the man in this story, please give me today what I truly need (as opposed to what I think I need).  And in so doing, thank you that you desire to exceed my expectations in ways that I never dreamed—all for your glory!  And help me to bring others to you today as well, so they can experience the “double blessings” you have for them.  Thank you Lord.  Amen.

Application Questions:

1.  Think of the main characters in this story:  the four friends and the man on the mat.  Like the four friends, who can you bring to Jesus today?  Like the man on the mat, how can you “look up” to Jesus in trust and surrender?

2.  Do you believe God wants to amaze you?  If so, how does that tie in with His love for you?  If not, what does that say about His attitude towards you?

3.   Notice the holistic love of God for the paralytic:  God cared about his spiritual and physical needs.  How should the church today take that same approach with the world around us?

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Is there a leper inside each of us?

“And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”  And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.  And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”  But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.”   Mark 1.40-45

Can you remember the last time you saw a leper?  Probably not.  In fact, most of us have never seen lepers—unless you have traveled to a developing nation in which medical care is hardly available and social programs nonexistent.

But we have our own version of lepers in the modern world.  There are various groups that suffer forms of social ostracism, such as people with AIDS, ex-cons who are reentering society, and yes, even registered sex offenders (who often struggle to get a job to support themselves).

Every society, everywhere, in every time has “lepers”.  Maybe you would even count yourself among the lepers of your own community.  With suicide rates at all-time highs today, it would seem that there are many people who feel trapped and in hopeless despair with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Does God care about these broken people?  Does the heart of God break for those of us with broken hearts?  This episode in the Gospel of Mark gives us a resounding “Yes!”  Like a firm handshake, in this episode we see the hand of God firmly grasping a man who is teetering  on life’s razor edge of existence.

In Bible days, the lepers of the world had to live outside the village.  They were vagabonds with a scavenger lifestyle.  Put your trash out at night—and they would sort through it for leftovers and anything they could use to survive.  Broken shards of pottery, worn out cloth, bones from last night’s dinner.  Your trash was their treasure.   And in the grand scheme of things—their only treasure.

Until Jesus came along…

In this episode, we see a leper approach Jesus.  Apparently Jesus was walking with his disciples through a deserted region of the countryside heading to the next village in which to do ministry.  Suddenly this leper approaches—stopping everyone in their tracks.

One can imagine the group frozen in fear at his approach.  If we listen closely we can even hear the gasps and the parents reaching for their children to stay behind them.   Everyone was shocked and repulsed.  Everyone that is, except for Jesus.

Jesus gives a two-sided response to the simple request of the leper to be healed.  Jesus declares his healing — and then touches him.

In Bible days this was a strong “no-no”…  To touch a leper, or anything else unclean for that matter, would make you unclean.  In other words, it would contaminate you.  But not Jesus.

Jesus touches him fully (notice “moved with pity, he stretched out his hand…”).  Jesus didn’t just casually tap him on the shoulder and quickly move on while breathing a sigh of relief that this awkward moment was over.  No, his heart melts in love for this man and he fully touches him—holding nothing back.

Here’s the truth for each of us:  There’s a leper inside of you.  Yes, if you look closely enough, there is a part of you that is unclean—that if fully unveiled to the watching world would be socially awkward—that if fully exposed in the eyes of God’s infinite holiness is downright repulsive.  Call it whatever you want—but this story reminds each of us that if we look close enough, it is there.

But notice the beautiful, proactive love of God!  God knows this about each of us—and yet chooses to reach out to us through Jesus His Son.

Right now, God is reaching out to the deepest parts of you to speak His healing love and concern for you.  He does care about your life and that includes the parts that you don’t want Him to see.

My favorite part of this passage at the end of chapter one is that Jesus does indeed have time for you.  Think about it for a moment.  He’s busy.  He’s on the move.  He’s got people to see and places to go.  But he takes the time to heal this lonely leper.

Frankly, a touch would’ve been more than enough for this leper.  But Jesus always gives more than we expect—he heals the man.  And Jesus wants to heal the broken and hurting parts of your life too–and give you way more than you could ever expect.

Application Questions:

1.  Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by our brokenness and pain.  How can this story assure you that Jesus is “big” enough to handle it?

2.  This leper’s life would never be the same.  In what ways has Jesus touched you—so that you are never the same?

3.  In the Garden of Eden, we were made in the image of God.  God’s handprint is on each of us—and nothing else can fill that handprint but God alone.  In this story, Jesus fills that handprint by touching him.  Pray for Jesus to touch your life in a special way today and see what happens—leave a comment to share with us what happened.

Has Jesus let you down?

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.”  And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”  And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”    Mark 1.35-39

Imagine starting your own business (perhaps some of you have).  After an incredible amount of preparation and diligence, you set sail hoping for the best.  And let’s imagine that your small business is an instant success in your community—meeting real needs and getting rave reviews.

How would you feel if the Mayor suddenly came to you and said, “Thanks for all your hard work but unfortunately it’s time to move on…”

Chances are that you’d feel just like the early disciples must’ve felt when Jesus said the same thing to them.  Despite their huge ministry gains and successes, he broke the news to them that it was time to move on and start over somewhere else.

As we continue following Jesus through the pages of the Gospel of Mark we come to this exact scenario.  Just when things are coming together and everyone is excited about the state of the future, Jesus says it’s time to pull up tent stakes and move on.  We haven’t even gotten out of chapter one yet.  In business terms it’s like Going Out of Business just after your Grand Opening.

Sometimes we enter seasons of life where we feel as if Jesus has let us down.  We have expectations of life (and ministry)–and just when we feel like we are gaining traction and momentum, Jesus changes direction on us.  Following him is an adventure in trust–for our trust  in him will either be ruthlessly pruned to grow stronger–or it will languish in the valley of unmet dreams and expectations.

The sudden decision of Jesus to switch gears on his disciples and move along is directly tied into his prayer life connection with God.  Mark shows us the dogged determination in which Jesus seeks this ongoing union with his heavenly Father.  Notice the four verbal phrases that describe his pursuit of prayer:  (a) “rising” (b) “he departed” (c) “and went” (d) “and there he prayed.”  Mark wants us to see that like the four walls of a house, Jesus’ spiritual architecture was a cathedral of connection to God.  And when Jesus switches gears on us we can rest assured that his decisions are made in the highest counsels of Heaven on our behalf.

Take note of the three descriptions of the circumstances of Jesus’ prayer life:  “very early in the morning,” “while it was still dark” and “out to a desolate place.”  None of these speak of comfort or convenience, do they?

Instead they describe lonely, dark places where few would want to go.  Perhaps there’s a lesson hidden here for us:  True life transforming prayer finds fertile soil in the most acidic of soils.  Jesus prayed when few were willing to do it and where few were willing to go.  This was because he would stop at nothing to reach you and me.  The disciples’ expectations were to stop in this place and build a ministry empire.  But Jesus had more heart-work to do on them–and the only way to access those deep parts would be to move them forward out of their comfort zones.

Think about the interior places of your life—the secret places of your heart.  Could they also be described as “dark” and “desolate”?

Of course Jesus went to these places to pray in order to avoid the crowds.

But he’s also sending a message to us:  It doesn’t matter how far down a person has gone.  Jesus’ love, warmth, and light are deeper still.  He’s not afraid to go to those dark and lonely places in your heart and life—and bring the transforming love of his Father to you.

May he be found in your desolate places today—shining his light that immediately begins to transform everything it touches.

Application:

1.  Do you think Jesus prayed this way every day, or was this just a special occasion?

2.  If you were one of the early disciples, how would you have felt about moving on with Jesus to other places and “starting over”?  How has Jesus crushed your expectations (and in so doing, brought growth to your soul)?

3.  Have you invited Jesus into the dark and lonely places of your heart?  Are you fearful of what he might see?  Or, are you more afraid of what he might show you?

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