In the gospel of Matthew Jesus was still talking to the crowd about not blaspheming the Holy Spirit and told the story about a person who had seven evil spirits return when his family appeared. His mother and brothers asked to talk with him. Luke said that they could not get to him because of the crowd.
But he replied to the man, “Who is my other, and who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:48 ESV). He then pointed to his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (vs 49, 50). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have one thing in common with this story: this story is sandwiched between Jesus’ speeches about not hiding/squandering their faith.
Those stories include the parable of the sower, the parable of the weeds, the parable of the hidden treasure, the lamp under the stand, and so on. Jesus’ point that those who do the will of God are his family members was reinforced and even magnified by all the parables the precede and follow. It’s clear that Jesus puts the most emphasis on being doers of God’s word. He also makes a strong contrast between those who get “chocked out” of their faith by the worries of this world and those who set their roots down deep and grow. Being doers of God’s will requires tremendous discipline.
Hannah is one of my favorite Bible characters. Her faith in God was unwavering, even when she was mistreated and was barren. Hannah never gave up believing that God would do something incredible in her life. This is extremely challenging to do when our world is being torn apart. When things (and especially when people) are against us, it shifts our world view and makes us feel like the whole world is against us. This is where people can begin to lose hope, believing that nothing will ever change and that their destiny is to have mayhem in their lives.
This would have been an easy conclusion for Hannah to come to, but she remained faithful. One day she was at the temple, deeply distressed and weeping bitterly to the Lord. Hannah made a vow that day: “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV).
Hannah became pregnant and named her son Samuel, which means “God has heard.” She was true to her promise and dedicated Samuel to the Lord, dropping him off at the temple after he was weaned. Samuel was trained by Eli the priest and became one of the greatest leaders of Israel. It was only because of Hannah’s prayers that all of this happened this way. She had the faith that God would hear, and God was faithful in answering.
Consistency is incredibly important. We depend on consistency, and consistent people are dependable. Without consistency we have chaos. Consistency often feels boring and mundane. Often we like to feel accomplished, so we thrive when times are good and deflate when times lack movement. Many people leave churches that are routine and migrate to churches that are full of life and energy. But is this the wisest move?
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he addresses multiple sources of all kinds of divisions in the church. The church was on the brink of extinction because of all the division, and there was not much that was appealing about Christianity in Corinth.
Towards the end of the letter, Paul urges the saints to focus on their eternal destination. He wrote, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50 ESV). He points out that death is swallowed up in victory for the Christian. He concludes: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (vs. 58).
Amen and amen! Paul warned the Corinthians about following the “super apostles.” It’s not about getting caught up in the emotions of these powerful speakers, but about being consistent in living out their faith and serving others.
When Jesus cleansed the ten lepers, there was no hesitation. Luke sets the story up by telling us that Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. This was a “no zone” for Jews who were not from Samaria. They typically would not enter into Samaria, and wouldn’t even associate with Samaritans. But Jesus was probably en route to Jerusalem and did not have any plans to enter Samaria.
As he entered a village, ten lepers met him but stood at a distance. This was most likely because they didn’t want to get near the Rabbi and make him unclean. Luke says they lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13 ESV). Jesus answered, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (vs. 14). Unlike other instances where Jesus touches unclean people, here he chooses not to call them closer. There’s no indication he had any intention of touching them and he did not tell them they would be healed.
They did as Jesus commanded and began walking away. As they did, they were healed. One of the ten, when he saw that he was healed, “turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (vs. 13, 14). The man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked him where the nine were. Jesus asked, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (vs. 18). Jesus then told him to go his way and that his faith made him well.
There are so many lessons that come from this story. But the main point is that it is ultimately God who heals, but our faith is important. It’s also vital to give praise to God when God blesses us. Too many people are like the nine who failed to return to Jesus to give praise.
Before Mark wrote the story of the widow who gave all she had, he prefaced it with a very important contrasting story–namely one of greedy hypocrites “who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:40 ESV). These scribes show boated their faith by walking around in long robes, they liked greetings in the marketplaces, and they had the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at feasts.
Mark introduces a dramatic contrasting scene where Jesus is observing people putting money into the treasury. Mark says that many rich people were putting large sums into the box. “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny” (vs. 42). Jesus told his disciples that the woman put more money into the box than everyone else. His reasoning–“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” (vs. 44).
As we equip the saints for works of ministry, we should teach one another the value of freely giving to others. Some of the religious leaders who are held up by many as heroes of the faith are robbing people blind and padding their own pockets. The real heroes are the ones who faithfully and selflessly give of their own means to bless other people who are in need.
There’s no question that there is a lot of suffering in the world. Many are suffering from poverty, starvation, disease, and thirst. Many are feeling the pain from the recent global pandemic. We’ve been doing a series on navigating the church during COVID. We’re seeing many handle the pandemic well, and many who are not. The Bible has plenty to say about suffering, so we should turn to it for guidance when we experience it.
James says that we should be patient in suffering. In fact, he says, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7 ESV). James calls his readers to be patient and to establish their hearts. Interestingly, he pleads with them to not grumble against each other: “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (vs. 9). This is important because the stress of suffering makes it easy to lash out at those we love. James warns them that they will be judged for doing so. It’s not difficult to imagine the violence and destructive speech that can be seen during times of crisis. James is right.
He continues, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast” (vs. 10, 11). Yes, much patience is needed in the midst of suffering. When patience and endurance keep people steadfast. The church will survive suffering. It always has, and always will. But we must remain steadfast and remember to treat people with kindness and compassion.
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Do you ever think about the circumstances that led Jesus and his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee when they were met by a crowd of 5,000 people? Let’s back up a little bit in the text: “He (King Herod) sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And the disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns” (Matthew 14:10-13 ESV).
John the Baptist had just been beheaded and Jesus’ disciples buried his body. Jesus was attempting to find a desolate place to be by himself to grief and pray. According to Mark, Jesus also told his disciples to find a desolate place because the crowds had been so demanding that they “had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31). John’s account says that the crowds went ahead of him to the other side of the sea because “they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick” (John 6:2).
Jesus and his disciples had just buried John. They were tired. They were grieving. Though they needed rest, the crowds were relentless. They were desperate. People needed Jesus, and Jesus needed to be alone. Jesus was attempting to be alone for the sake of privacy and prayer. But the crowds would not let them get the rest they so badly needed. Jesus, instead of becoming angry, had compassion on the crowds and ended up feeding them all.
As if things couldn’t get worse, the weary disciples were rowing across the sea while Jesus stayed behind to rest. A big storm arose and when they were 3 or 4 miles from shore and Jesus wasn’t there to save them, at least not yet. This seems like a metaphor for just about every lousy situation in life. Just when things seem like we are at rock bottom, a damaging storm comes out of nowhere and threatens to finish us off. Many people are discouraged right now, but there are a few things to remember that should give us hope. First, Jesus is suffering with those who suffer. He too lost his cousin John. Second, even Jesus gets exhausted and needs rest. And third, when the storm comes, he offers his hand, calms the storm, and climbs into the boat. We hope because of who Jesus is.
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