Sunday, December 27, 2015


This morning I preached from Mark 2:1-12.  This is the story where Jesus heals a man who is paralyzed.  The story unfolds like this:  Jesus is preaching.  Four men bring their friend to Jesus but the place is too crowded to get inside.  So they take him up to the roof, pull the roof apart to make an opening, and then lower their friend through the hole, directly in front of Jesus.  At this point in the story Mark writes:

 "And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'"

There are some experts in Jewish law present.  They may not have been listening closely while he was preaching but these words by Jesus catch their attention.  According to Mark they are thinking this:

"Why does this man speak like that?  He is blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

Blasphemy.  The high crime of all Jewish religious crimes.  And Jesus, for all practical purposes, has committed the worst form of this crime and put himself into the place reserved for God.  A place held by God alone, with no part shared with anyone else.  Ever.

The religious experts are right in their understanding of the law, but they are also on very thin ice.  God, and only God, can forgive a person's sins.  Jesus could just be a man, a man like any other man, a man claiming the place of God.  And if that is the case then he is indeed committing blasphemy.

But what if Jesus isn’t quite who the experts think he is?  What if the power of God runs through him, because he is indeed God?  If that is the case then the ice that the experts have stepped out on won’t thick enough, won’t be strong enough, to hold their weight.  And as Mark tells the remainder of the story that proves to be the case. 

As the experts crash through the ice they are faced with this fact:  If Jesus is God, then he cannot be ignored.  That fact, and its implications, continues to confront anyone wondering about the identity of Jesus today.

If Jesus is God then we have to take what he says seriously.  Everything.  We may want to pick and choose among the things he says and the way that he calls his followers to live in the world, but that really isn't an option.  Not when the one speaking to us speaks with the authority of God, because he is God.

Ponder that thought.  Pray over that thought.  What is Jesus saying to you?  Where is he calling you to follow him?  This somewhat unlikely man, preaching to a crowd in a small town in Galilee, truly is God, and as the gospel unfolds we see how good of a thing that fact truly is.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Cast out no more

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent, the last Sunday before Christmas.  This morning I preached from Mark 1:40-45, where Jesus heals a leper.  To be a leper, or to have what in some translations call a "dreaded skin disease," meant to be cast out, completely, from the culture.  According the rules concerning leprosy in Leviticus 13:45-46, persons with this skin disease wore ragged clothing, had unkempt hair and they had to cry out a warning to others that they were approaching, so that they didn’t make direct contact with someone else and transmit their uncleanness to anyone else.  Verse 46 ends, "He shall live alone.  His dwelling shall be outside the camp."

Imagine waking up one morning with an itch on your skin, looking at your skin and knowing as you see it that you have this disease.  Immediately, everything in your life is changed.  Perhaps you are a mother or father, and instantly you are torn from your spouse and children.  You had a family and a home and now you are separated, watching them from a distance, at best.  And perhaps this situation goes on for years and years.  

This is the desperation of the leper as he approaches Jesus.  He comes and asks for Jesus to radically restore his life, believing that Jesus has the ability to do so.

"If you will, you can make me clean."

The response of Jesus is to reach out and touch him, the untouchable person, and say,

"I will; be clean."

Mark then says,

"And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean."

Just like that, at the touch of Jesus, the man is made clean.  He is no longer cast out from society but is in a place to be fully restored. 

This is a picture that helps us to see the work of salvation that is done as we come to have faith in Jesus as Savior.  When we come to Him in faith he reaches out and touches us, giving us the salvation and restoration with God that we long for but can’t do on our own.  He removes our sin, our uncleanness, every last bit, so that we can be in the presence of God. 

We may not understand our situation as clearly as the leper did his, but it is every bit as desperate.  Sinners, we are cast out from the presence of God, never to come in, unless there is some sort of miracle.  And that miracle is what we celebrate on Christmas.  The only one who can possibly heal us, who can possibly make us clean, comes into the world for exactly that purpose.   

May you know the saving touch of His hand in your life today, a hand that, when it touches you, holds you now and forever.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Without Beginning or End

I like to run.  Over the past 37 years the past I have run many, many miles.  And every one of them without the "benefit" of musical accompaniment.  No radio, Walkman, ipod or MP3 player.  Just myself, perhaps a companion and some conversation, and the sounds of the environment I'm running in, wherever that may be.  And the thoughts moving in and out of my head.

Today I was running east of Dulce.  It was about 40 and warm enough for shorts.  I had reached my turn-around point, a bit more than six miles from home, and was just starting to make my way back.  Twelve miles today seemed like a good idea when I left and I felt good on the out-bound leg.  But with nearly the entire trip back ahead of me I was beginning to wonder a bit.  Too late to do anything about it today, but maybe next time I should consider both my ambition and my energy level.

Without music my mind wanders pretty easily and the next thought was of a piece of scripture I'm trying to memorize.  It is Hebrews 13:20-21.  Truthfully, I memorized it a number of years ago but it has faded and I'm trying to bring it back.  It says:

"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,  equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."

As I thought about those verses two words seemed to jump out at me.  

Eternal covenant.

In 1 Corinthians 11:25 Paul is talking about the meaning of the Lord's Supper and he says that Jesus told him this:

"This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me."

I happened to be reading something over the weekend that said we should understand what Paul wrote to the Corinthians as meaning not an entirely new covenant between God and His children, but a new way of looking at the same covenant.  The blood of Christ is what has always brought salvation to sinners.  It is anticipated in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament.  This is also brought out in the Hebrews passage, "the blood of the eternal covenant."

But thinking as I ran this morning I had a new understanding of eternal in relation to the covenant.  We often think of eternal as "having no ending."  The Christian promise of eternal life is a promise that the person with faith in Jesus will one day go from this life into a never-ending life in the very presence of our Savior and Lord.  That is a pretty good promise, one that really has no equal.  There is not one thing compares to that promise.

And it is a promise that is based upon an eternal covenant, and eternal means so much more than merely everlasting.  The promise that God makes is a promise without a beginning and an end.  It is a promise that has always existed.  It is a promise that precedes the very act of creation.  It is not just an "everlasting" promise.  At the same time it is both a "has always existed" promise and a "will never end" promise.

May this promise, this eternal promise of God, be the promise you find rest and comfort in, now and forever.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.