Acceptance

   I.      Introduction

We’re continuing in the Book of Acts, and last week, Theresa gave a great lesson that touched on Peter’s character.

I like Peter.  He’s messy.  When I study Peter, I find I’m often studying myself.  Peter’s growth isn’t clean and neat, it’s random and backsliding and lurching forward.   It’s full of mistakes.  And yet, Jesus loved Peter.

II.      Acceptance of Peter

As I was studying the life of Peter for this lesson, I found that many scholars believe that the book of Mark could have possibly been called the book of Peter.  Mark wrote the gospel, but many indications are that Peter dictated his life experiences to Mark who wrote them down.  One indication that Peter dictated the book of Mark was that Mark was a constant companion of Peter and they were very close.  1 Peter 5:12-14, Peter ends his letter like this:

Slide2This is the same Mark, and so close to Peter that Peter calls him his son.  Then, one of the most telling indications that Peter dictated the Book of Mark is from the Transfiguration of Jesus, let’s take a look quickly at Mark 9:2-4 –

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So Jesus Peter, James and John were all alone.  So where was Mark?

Some of the confusion, I think, comes from thinking that Mark is one of the twelve apostle, which he is not.  The word “apostle” implies “sending forth,” while “disciple” implies “following.”   Mark was certainly a follower of Jesus and a close friend of Peter, but Mark was not one of the apostles.

Peter was a fisherman.  Fishermen were gruff, sometimes vulgar.  They used colorful language.  They had tempers.  They smelled like old fish.  And yet, when Jesus said “follow me” in Luke 5, Peter dropped everything to follow Christ.  Jesus accepted Peter, smelly fish deodorant and all.

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Peter still made mistakes.  In Mark chapter 8, Jesus is telling his disciples that the Messiah would suffer and die for their sins, and Peter rebukes Jesus.  And Jesus turned, looked at Peter, and said, “Get the behind me, Satan!”

It’s not the only time that Jesus looked directly at Peter.  In Mark 14, Jesus tell his disciples that they will all fall away from him, like sheep they will be scattered.  And Peter, “Even if all the others fall away, I will not.”  And Jesus tells Peter that this very night, Peter will deny him 3 times.  When the rooster crows for the third time, Luke 22:61 says, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.”  Can you imagine what “the look” looked like?

And yet, there’s hope for Peter.  When Jesus asks His disciples in Mark 8:29, “Who do you say I am?” Peter blurts out – Peter blurts a lot of things – “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”  After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter was the first to “raise his voice” at Pentecost, the day the church came into being.  Peter was “the rock” that Christ founded His church. 

And today, in Acts 10, we see both sides of Peter.  We see his stubbornness and we see his leadership at the same time.  He’s already founded the church and our smelly fisherman is now preaching to the church.

III.      Acceptance of Food

Let’s start with Acts 10:9-15 –

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We’re going to look at our scripture today from a couple of different viewpoints, but first I want to point out that Peter is still a mess, but he’s learning.  Peter’s initial response to his vision is basically this:

“Lord, no.”

 If the Lord asks us to do something, our response shouldn’t be “no.”  Is He Lord or is He not?  If He is Lord, then our only response should be “yes”.  But like Peter, I seem to have a hard time learning this lesson.  Sometimes my response is something like, “Good idea, Lord.  I hope somebody does that.  Soon, too.”

God tells Peter that it’s ok to eat that which was previously considered unclean.  Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 defines what is unclean, things we should not eat.  Things that are unclean include fish that do not have scales, a mammal that that does not both chew the cud and have a divided hoof, flying insects that walk instead of hop.   It’s a pretty complicated list.  Most carnivorous creatures, so some birds like vultures and seagulls.  Interesting that though the list of unclean foods goes back thousands of years, science is starting to show that “unclean” foods are not the healthiest things to eat, and some are very unhealthy.  So under Old Testament Law, the Jews were prohibited from eating unclean foods.

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http://www.uncleanfoodsdietarylaws.com/clean_unclean_food_list.html

The list of clean and unclean foods was quite extensive.

Peter was a devout Jew.  He didn’t eat unclean foods.  But remember that, while we learn a lot about God’s character through the Old Testament, we do not have to obey the 613 mitzvots.  We can if we want to, but two scriptures tell us that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Law, and that such obedience doesn’t save us anyway.  We cannot work our way into heaven.  First is this statement from Jesus in Matthew 5:17 –

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

 Christ didn’t delete the Old Testament; He fulfilled the Old Testament.  It is finished.  Galatians 3:24-25 says –

So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

 Now Peter is still trying to live under the law and refusing to eat unclean foods, when God tells Peter that these rules regarding unclean foods have also been fulfilled in Christ.  God tells Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

IV.      Acceptance of Gentiles, You and Me

Jew Acts 10 goes on to say that Peter was wondering about the meaning of this vision when a Roman Centurion named Cornelius summons him.  The Holy Spirit tells Peter to get up and go with them. 

Now, this was something Peter wouldn’t want to do as a devout Jew, so when Peter arrives at the centurions, he says in Acts 10 verse 28,

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This is important to us as follower of Jesus.  God’s plan of salvation was originally for Israel alone.  However, especially in the book of Matthew, we see that the Jews rejected the Christ, and salvation was opened to the gentiles as well.  Peter is sort of clumsily getting this message – in fact, one of Paul’s letters to Peter was to rebuke Peter for his duplicity.  When Peter would go to a new town, he would go to the synagogue and observe all the Jewish rituals and traditions.  Peter would be a very devout, orthodox Jew.  But then Peter would preach that there was only one plan of salvation, and that was to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ.  It was gift of grace, and nothing we could do would earn our salvation.  Paul’s letter essentially asked, “Well, which is it?  Why are you following the law if it is by grace alone that we are saved?”

Peter’s vision was about unclean food, but he realizes that the message is for Jews and gentiles, too.  God created gentiles, and it was not for Jews to judge God for His plan of salvation for the gentiles.  And it is good news indeed that God accepts gentiles like you and me.

I make mistakes.  To that extent, I’m a lot like Peter.  And the more I study, the more I realize what a slow learner I am.  Even this week, during a visit with somebody very close to me, I attempted to make a funny.  But it didn’t come out funny.  It came out vulgar and crude. It came out ugly.  It came out like a fisherman’s deodorant.

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And I realized that, though I try to walk in the light and live my life according to the riches and the grace within Christ Jesus, I still walk in the flesh.  I’m still a mess.  And I am so, so very thankful that, despite my deodorant, I am accepted.  I am loved.  I am a child of God.

  V.      Acceptance of Others

In Acts 10:34, Peter offers this observation,

Slide16 Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  Not just the Jews.  Not just people in Judea.  Christ is Lord of all.  Jews, gentiles, you, me, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton. 

The thing is, that nobody who we are, Jesus Christ will accept us.  When Jesus asks us to follow Him, He doesn’t ask us do run some sort of spiritual obstacle course before we’re allowed to call ourselves Christians.  When He calls us, He meets us where we are.  We might own our own company, we might work for somebody who owns their own company.  We might be a world traveler; we might be a homebody.  There are no prerequisites, Jesus accepts us as we are.  If we accept Jesus into our hearts, then we begin a lifelong journey of understanding love, forgiveness, acceptance, sacrifice.  But we don’t start at the end of that journey, we start at the beginning.

Accepting Jesus is easy.  Living for Jesus is a lot harder, but don’t confuse the two.  Accepting Jesus gives us a gift to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Living for Jesus gives us the abundant life He promises us, now and eternal.

For those of us who have accepted this gift, we begin a new relationship.  Of all the gospels, the Book of John is written to the gentiles.  The purpose is to evangelize a lost world and call the gentiles to the love of Christ.  In John 1:9-13, let’s read the message to gentiles –

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Let’s parse this a little to understand it.

  • “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”  Who is John talking about?  John is talking about Jesus, the true light that shines in a dark world of sin that we were born into.  Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, that has come to fulfill God’s plan to take away the sins of the world.
  • “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”  Jesus was born in this world, but John 1:3 says that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  In other word, though Jesus was responsible for creating our world, the very world He created didn’t know who He was.”
  • “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”  Jesus came as the Messiah to save the Jewish people, but the Jewish people didn’t now accept Him as the Messiah.  Instead, they taunted Him, they scourged Him, they crucified Him.  They killed Him.
  • “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”  And here good news for the gentiles – if we receive Jesus Christ, our lives are changed forever.  Where once we were enemies of God, now we are His adopted children.

I think it’s important for us to recognize where we are in this world before we accept Jesus.  We are children of God now, it says.  But before, well, let’s look at John 8:42-44 –

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Like it or not, before we are adopted by God, we are children of the devil.  The destination for the children of God is heaven, the destination for those who do not accept the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus is to accept the wages of sin, and the wages of sin is death.  John 8:23-24, Jesus says,

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It’s more than sad that those that die in their sins are one profession of faith from eternal life.  But when one rejects God in this life and chooses not to follow Jesus, God grants their ultimate wish.  If they do not want to be with Jesus, then forever more they will be away from Jesus.

We are children of God; they are children of the devil.  We are in this world; they are of this world.  But God’s instructions to us as followers of Jesus is to be like Christ Jesus.  We do not – cannot – condemn those who reject Jesus.  Instead we pray for them and live our lives with the light of Jesus Christ within us.  They are one profession of faith away from being our brother or sister in Christ.

I’ve been going to a bible fellowship every other Friday night, and for the last year, one of the group has asked us to pray for her brother.  She had accepted Christ, her brother had not.  And every time she brought up Jesus to him, he shut her down, told her he didn’t want to hear of it.

He developed cancer, and it advanced rapidly.  He went into hospice 2 weeks ago, and he would let his sister read from the bible, but other than that, would not discuss it further.  She continued to ask the group for prayers.

And then, this week, he died.  As John 8:24 says, he died in his sins, no evidence that he had accepted the free gift of salvation that was right in front of him.  No matter how he had lived his life, he would have been accepted all the way to the last breath.

 

VI.      Conclusion

Everybody wants to be accepted by somebody.  I once read an essay that everything we say and do can be summarized by just one goal:  We want to matter to somebody. 

Love and acceptance is available to us in abundance if we just know where to look.  Christ loved Israel.  Christ loved the gentiles.  Christ loves the world.  Christ loves you and me, and accepts us just as we are.

We’re called to be like Christ, which means we are to love those that do not yet love Christ.  To let them know they are accepted.

And we can be at peace, that despite our deodorant, Christ accepts us.  Turns out, we do matter to somebody.  We are adopted children of God, and we matter to Jesus.  We matter so much that He gave His life so we can be saved.

Have you made an error you regret?  Something so icky you would never talk about it with friends or family?  And is it coming between you and God?  Don’t be afraid that it’s too icky for God.  God saw death on a cross, and scourging and crucifixion is icky.  Whatever it is, acknowledge it to God and talk to Him about it.  God separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west.  God is accepting and does not hold it against you.  You shouldn’t hold it against you, either.

Let others know that this love and acceptance is available to them, too.  It doesn’t matter who they are, where they came from, what they’ve done, salvation is available to everyone who asks. As it says in Galatians 3:26-28,

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To God be the glory.

Praying About Difficult Decisions

I. Introduction

From time to time, we all come to a big decision in our lives. I’ve lost my job; what should I do now? I have a medical issue; how should I treat it? Is this person right for me? Should I compromise, or should I stand my ground?

We are faced with decisions often. Yearly, monthly, daily. Some of the decisions we face are very mundane. Should I wear this tie today? Some are more serious. Should I go to church and bible study today? And some are serious indeed: job, family, friends, moral choices. Many times, the choice affects not just you, but several or many people.

Several years ago, I had made a decision to get Lasik surgery to get rid of my very thick glasses. I read up the procedure, became familiar with the different types, selected a doctor and had the examinations and evaluations. And then the day finally came for me to have the operation. It was only a 10 minute operation, max, to treat both eyes.

There was a small hiccup. Apparently I have small pupils, but they had to be very dilated before the surgery could begin. So while it took 3 different treatments of those drops they put into your eyes, so they kept slipping my treatment later and later waiting for my eyes to dilate. I had time to walk around the doctor’s office.

Now, this doctor had a glass-walled operating table. I could see a patient laying on the table, bit computerize contraption over their head as the doctor began to work. And he also had a television monitor outside so you could see the surgery up close. And I watched an extreme close-up of an eye sliced open and lasered. And my appointment was next.

I don’t recommend that for anybody. I had been calm, cool, collected up until this point, but watching an eye sliced opened and lasered ten minutes before this butcher, Dr. Frankenstein, would do his science experiment on me filled me with anxiety. What was I thinking? What if something went wrong? Would this hurt? What if I was blinded? Can I change my mind? Can I get a refund? You know, now that I think of it, coke bottle glasses aren’t so bad after all. I mean, I had a lot of anxiety about this decision.

I can hardly imagine the anxiety Jesus faced with His most important decision. Jesus’ decision would make would affect the world and he would suffer serious pain, humiliation, and then death. How did Jesus get through this decision? That’s what we’re going to study today in Mark 14.

II. Mark 14, The Ministry of Jesus

First, let’s summarize where we are in history. Jesus has been teaching us parables, teaching us behaviors, and teaching us scripture and prophecy. But the end of the chapter of Mark is coming, and with that is the climax, the purpose for Jesus Himself. Soon, to fulfill prophecy, Jesus will suffer and die on the cross.

Mark 14 has a series of disappointments for Jesus. His ministry is nearly complete, and those closest to Him let Him down. Let’s look at a couple of quick verses –

Verse 1. “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.” These are the pastors, the deacons, the bible study teachers of Jesus’ time. They studied God’s Word looking for His purpose, and instead of recognizing Jesus for who He is, they plotted to kill Him. There are two very serious problems here – one, despite all their studying, they don’t accept the Messiah that fulfills prophecy. Were they really studying, seeking God’s purpose? I think one could answer that by the second problem, they sought to deal with Jesus by trying to kill Him.

How many commandments are there? Do one of the commandments deal with killing people you don’t like? So these leaders either weren’t really studying and didn’t know, or they were so full of their own self-righteousness that they believed the law didn’t apply to them.

And in verse 17, the disciples are all eating supper together, the Passover meal. And Jesus knows He is having supper with Judas Iscariot, His betrayer. A man who has spent the last 3 years studying and traveling with Jesus. Verse 43, Judas leads a mob from the Sanhedrin to arrest Jesus.

And in verse 53, the Sanhedrin put on a sham trial in order to convict Jesus who was innocent of any sin. And between the mob and the trial, one of His closest disciples who promised never to deny Jesus did exactly that in verse 68. And Mark 14 closes with Jesus alone, abandoned by His friends and convicted by those who wanted to kill Him.

Jesus knew all these things would happen. How do you think Jesus felt? Knowing all these things were to happen, Jesus was hurt, troubled, distressed, and even scared. Jesus is God, but Jesus is also man. He was about to suffer for who He was.

So the night before Judas leads the soldiers of the High Priests to Jesus to arrest Him, Jesus has to make a decision. What steps did Jesus take to make sure He was making the right decision?

III. The Prayer of Jesus

Mark 14:32-35 –

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.

How would you describe Jesus’ emotions this night?

Why do you think it was important for Jesus to take some disciples to the garden for prayer?

When people face a difficult decision, what type of person do they turn to?

What’s the first thing Jesus did when faced with a difficult decision?

The garden of Gethsemane was most probably an olive garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Other scripture indicates that Jesus came here more than once with His disciples; it was probably a peaceful, quiet place. Jesus took His closes friends – Peter, James, and John – with Him for support.

The NIV says Jesus was troubled; the NASB version translates this word as “horrified.” His human self and sense of self-preservation was now at battle with His spiritual side. It had all come down to this. Three years of walking among the people, healing them and teaching them, offering a chance to know and accept Him and knowing that they would reject him. Before the next 24 hours were complete, Jesus would offer himself up for the world and for you and for me. The worst part must have been the anticipation, the anxiety of knowing that tomorrow He would die, and die painfully. Julius Caesar once said, “It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than it is to find those willing to endure pain with patience.

And with those thoughts in His mind, Jesus fell to His knees and began to pray.

It is easy to forget the power of prayer. Our prayers are shallow. Somebody tells us about their pain or their anxiety, and we put our hand on their shoulder and say, “I’ll pray for you.” And I suspect most of the time we don’t. We return to our own life and forget our promise to pray. What are some of the reasons we don’t pray? (No immediate gratification, we’re too busy, we doubt the prayer will be answered.)

Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer in Mark 14:36 –

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.

a. Prayer Depends on Our Relationship

The normal method of prayer for Jews is a standing position with palms up and open to address God. Jesus’ prayer is radical for the time; first, he’s not standing. He fell to the ground. He is in a position of pleading, making an urgent request. And His first word is…. Abba. This is not the musical group Abba of the 70’s. Abba is a term of endearment, a child’s word. Children in our culture might say “Dada;” the Jewish children said “Abba.”

And the first thing we know about Jesus’ prayer is that He knew who He was praying to. He had a relationship with God, a close, personal relationship. “Abba” is used three times in the New Testament. The second time is Romans 8:15 by Paul –

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

And the third time in Galatians 4:6, And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father, Abba.

When you pray, who do you pray to? A concept? A belief? The Force, like in Star Wars? Some vague deity somewhere in the sky? God wants more from you. He wants you to know Him as He knows you already. He wants an intimate, personal relationship. That sounds great. How do I do that?

If we are going to pray to God “the” Father then it better be to God “our” Father. He only becomes our Father when we become his children. How do we become a child of God? John 1:12, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And as His Children, do we have any chores to do? Philippians 2:15, “You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them.” This relationship should be evident to others; 1 John 3:10, “So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.”

You are a child of God if you have believed in Jesus and accept him and you live clean innocent lives and obey God’s commands. Then you can call out to Him, Abba.

b. Prayer Depends on Trusting God’s Power

Jesus also knew the power of God. Everything is possible for you. What’s the point of praying if you don’t believe God has the power to answer your prayers? We have to understand and have faith that with God, everything and anything is possible. The biggest stumbling block to believing that is everyone who prays has unanswered prayers. I prayed and God didn’t answer.

What we need to understand is that God does not always answer prayers the way we expect. In my experience, most but not all my prayers are answered in ways I didn’t expect. God doesn’t always answer our prayers; I don’t know why. Some of my prayers I’m glad He didn’t answer. Some of my prayers I didn’t wait for an answer and took matters into my own hands. Some of my prayers, well, I prayed for God to make somebody else do something.

It’s like this – I can pray that God make everybody I know be sweet and loveable. But God doesn’t force His will on anybody. But it’s not because God is not able. The angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

c. Prayer Depends on Asking

So Jesus prayed to His daddy, believing that God can do anything and everything, and then… Jesus prayed for himself. I struggle with this, I don’t know why. I feel guilty, praying for myself. I should be praying for others, and I’m selfish if I pray for myself. But we shouldn’t feel guilty; if we can call God “Abba,” what father doesn’t want His children to be happy? And wouldn’t it make a father happy to give His children what they ask for?

Think for a second about the Lord’s prayer. How much of that prayer is for us? Our father, give us our daily bread, forgive us, keep us from temptation. It’s not wrong to pray for ourselves, to ask God to take care of us and provide for us and protect us. Jesus once asked in Matthew 7:9-11, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

d. Prayer Depends on Surrendering

So it’s ok to ask for things for ourselves. But here’s the hard part – letting God decide what is right. The fourth part Jesus’ prayer is the hardest. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” How do you know the will of God? To me, the most incredible part is that God’s will for me has, for the most part, already been written in the bible. It’s already been revealed, I just have to seek it out.

The key, I believe to seeking it out, goes back to Jesus’ example. Troubled and anxious and in need of God, Jesus went to a quiet place to pray, to be alone with God. I confess I don’t always have the best quiet time with God. I tend to shortchange prayer in my life, I pray when I’m driving or showering or studying or something. Setting aside prayer for the sake of prayer is something I need to work on. I study often, especially when it’s time to teach, but that’s only half of what it takes to understand God’s will. Jesus set an example that prayer is needed, it is necessary, and it is comforting to pray to our most powerful heavenly Father.

Jesus didn’t want to suffer, and Jesus prayed for release from the events about to occur. But He added a “yet.” Yet not my will, but your will. Our prayers are most effective when we are not seeking to change God’s will, but by asking God to change us.

What does Jesus’ prayer reveal about His trust in God?

How can our prayers reveal our trust in God?

Why was it important for Jesus to declare His commitment to God’s will?

How can a person’s actions demonstrate a commitment to follow God’s will?

IV. Conclusion

The best way we can begin dealing with a difficult decision is in prayer. Pray. Focus on God’s will. Choose God’s will. Then do God’s will.

Jesus gave us a four part prayer example for when we are faced with a difficult decision. Know who you are praying to, know that He has the power to answer prayers, ask specifically what you need, and surrender your will to the Creator of the Stars.

How to Develop Your Faith

I. Introduction

Forgive me ahead of time; it was difficult to focus this week on preparing a lesson. We had plumbing leak #4 this past Sunday and our study was damaged by the leaking pipes. We were already working on a solution to replace the ancient galvanized piping with the newer PEX tubing which was going to be expensive, but I was waiting until after taxes and IRAs and stuff. But the leak rushed us into a fix, and 3 big sweaty guys spent the week in our house tearing out sheetrock in every single room in the house to get at the plumbing. Our little peaceful sanctuary of home has been a demolition zone this week. So it was hard to focus.

Before we dive into this week’s lesson, let’s put it in context. Back in Mark 6, Jesus had fed 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm that was frightening the disciples. Around this time, the popularity of Jesus was growing as word of his knowledge, compassion, and miracles spread. The knowledge of the disciples was growing, and Jesus had drawn the attention of Pharisees. In Mark 7, Jesus clashed with the Pharisees over the the ceremonial cleansing of hands before a meal; Jesus pointed out that it wasn’t the food that a man put into his body that defiled him but the wickedness that comes out of a person’s heart that defiles him. Jesus was pointing out that empty rituals of cleansing and diet did nothing for God, it was a right relationship with God that He desired.

Now, many years later in Acts 17, Paul went to Berea and was questioned. It says in Acts 17:11, ” Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

So the Pharisees questioned Jesus, and the Bereans questioned Paul. Were the Pharisee considered noble for questioning Jesus? What’s the difference between the way the Pharisees and the Bereans questioned God?

II. Mark 8:1-13, Little Hope

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

The Pharisees had closed their minds to Jesus. Jesus had already performed dozens of miracles by this point in view of the Pharisees, including feeding the 5000, feeding the 4000, raising a little girl from the dead, healing a paralytic, healing a leper, calming the storm, walking on water. But they wanted Jesus to perform on demand.

We must resist the urge to do this today. When we are scared or when we are weak or when we are troubled, we pray to God. We want Him to answer now, on our terms. And when He doesn’t answer on demand, our faith wavers. Who is our God that He couldn’t or wouldn’t do this for me?

But faith in our God cannot depend on Him being a magic genie in a bottle. God does not bend to our will. Instead, God asks us to surrender our will to him.

Today, People still have a choice to accept spiritual truth or reject spiritual truth. Why would one reject it? I don’t know, but the Pharisee sure rejected the truth in front of them. They wanted a sign from heaven right now. What authority did they have to demand miracles from God?

I talked to an old high school friend this week who’s an avowed atheist. He believes that Jesus was a good person, but religion is bad and the supernatural stuff didn’t happen. I believe the supernatural happened and is still happening today. Everything around us is a God-given miracle, from the giant glowing ball of fire in the sky that warms our planet to the tiny blood cells that carry oxygen from my lungs to the tips of my fingers. If you believe that to be a miracle, you can see God’s work everywhere. Or if you’re like the Pharisees, you say, “oh that giant glowing thing that warms our planet is just a natural occurrence of nuclear fusion. That’s not a miracle.” The point is that nature and science doesn’t have to act this way at all, and that the very existence of nature and science is in itself a miracle. If you exclude miracles from everything around you, then you don’t see God anywhere.

Did the Pharisees really want a sign? If they really wanted a sign, would they have seen one?

Jesus said, “No sign will be given.” Jesus does not force belief on anyone. Be honest for a moment. Is there a particular miracle you want God to perform for you right now? I know I do. And if God doesn’t answer to us on our timetable the exact way we want him to, does that affect our faith in Him? But to demand that God perform a miracle to justify our faith in Him isn’t faith. Trust without proof is faith.

Jesus left the Pharisees to move on to others who wanted to understand. Why did Jesus enter into a dialogue with the disciples, but refuse to enter into a discussion with the Pharisees? Weren’t the Pharisees men of the synagogue, the peak religious people of the time?

III. Mark 8:14-21, Some Hope

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Jesus listened to the disciples and I find it interesting He allowed their confusion. Perhaps the disciples were arguing about who was supposed to bring food. Their attention was on physical food. Jesus redirected the question to what they needed spiritually. It’s important spiritual nourishment comes first, before physical nourishment.

Jesus challenged them about having eyes that do not see or ears that do not hear. Just like the Pharisees. Just like OT Israel. Just like you and me if we aren’t diligent. A lack of spiritual maturity can manifest itself with eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear. Because of our traditions, or thoughts and feelings, we alone decide what is “right” and disregard the scriptures, disregard the word of God in our hearts. Just like Jesus’ disciples, we have the capacity to understand, but we must be careful not to become deaf and blind as those who were antagonistic toward Jesus.

So Jesus equates the physical bread to the spiritual bread to make a point, that the disciples should keep in mind the miracles of Jesus in their lives. Jesus points out in verse 19 (loaves for the 5000, leaving 12 loaves) and in verse 20 (loaves for 4000 leaving 7 loaves). This is not an encouragement to work on our arithmetic.

Jesus sounds a little exasperated when he asks, “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asks them to again think about what those miracles meant. It’s a lot more than just providing food for hungry people. It confirms Jesus’ supernatural power to provide for all of our needs and Jesus asks us to look beyond the material.

In order to open our eyes, open our ears, we must learn to look beyond the material moment. High gas prices. Loneliness. Anger. Messy homes with leaky piping and sheetrock damage. Job loss. Sickness. Among all of these shortages in our life, Christ provides constant spiritual care.

Has something material diverted your attention from God? How can you use this opportunity to focus on God instead of being diverted?

Who watched the Texas Alabama game this week? University of Texas playing against Alabama for the National Title. The quarterback, Colt McCoy, missing out earlier this season on the Heisman Trophy, trying to win a national championship. And in the very first series, he hurt his shoulder. Can you imagine the disappointment, not being able to play and watching from the sidelines as your team loses?

At the postgame interview, he was asked how it felt to watch from the sidelines, and he sort of struggled to talk at first, then he explained how much he really wanted to play but his arm felt dead, like it was asleep. But in his suffering, he congratulated Alabama for obtaining the dream he so badly wanted to win, and then proclaimed that God is in control of his like and that He trusts in God’s purpose even when he may not completely understand it.

IV. Mark 8:22-33, More Hope

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.”

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

I think the next miracle in Mark 8:27 is indicative of the lesson Jesus was trying to teach; he heals a blind man just after asking the disciples if they did not have eyes to see. Then he asks, “Who do people say that I am?” It’s interesting how many people have a response to this question. Whether a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an atheist, everybody seems to have something to say about who Jesus is. A prophet, a good man, a teacher, a wacko, a god, everybody has an opinion. The disciples said that some thought he was John the Baptist, others as Elijah, other as a prophet. While Jesus was indeed a prophet, it’s only a small part of a larger truth. Jesus was God’s son, sent to fulfill prophecy, to become a living sacrifice so that all may become children of God.

Peter’s response of “You are the Messiah” was also interesting as all the disciples knew that he was the Messiah. They just didn’t understand what that meant. The Jews expected “a” messiah with a little “m; literally, an anointed one or a deliverer. The Jews at the time also believed in a conqueror that would set them free from foreign occupation.

These preconceptions, whether from what we’ve heard from others or what we heard as a child can hinder our faith, like the Pharisees preconceptions hindered theirs. What are some of the misperceptions about Jesus today?

In verse 30, why do you think Jesus warned them not to tell anyone he was the messiah? The messiah meant many things to many people. using the title messiah would certainly lead to confusion. Not even the disciples understood the implications. The idea of a military-political leader would rally the Jews to rise up against the Romans, a purpose for which Jesus did not intend to fulfill. Therefore, claiming to be the messiah caused problems. Peter spoke the truth – Jesus was the messiah, and he did fulfill the hopes and dreams of a nations, but Jesus needed to refine this understanding.

In verse 31, Jesus began to teach the disciples about who he was as the messiah. This teaching would last far longer than 1 or 2 lessons; it took most of Jesus’ energy for the rest of his ministry on earth. Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” to challenge the disciple’s faith. The disciples knew who Jesus was, but did they really know who he was? Many Christians today can say that they know Jesus is their savior, but they do not know how to explain to somebody who he is.

Who do you say Jesus is? If Jesus appeared today and asked you to explain who he was, what would you say?

When you listen to the Word of God, what sort of questions challenge your understanding of Him?

Jesus instead referred to himself instead as the Son of Man, probably because of the misconceptions regarding the word messiah. This title is found mostly in the books of Daniel and Ezekial. The title referred to a man who drew strength from the spirit of God to judge the people, a purpose for which Jesus the Messiah fulfilled.

Jesus says some shocking things about himself. He says the anointed one must suffer. The disciples didn’t understand that the suffering fulfilled God’s intention, both physical suffering but also the suffering of being rejected by the Pharisees, the elders, the chief priests, the scribes, the people that were supposed to be in tune with God’s revelations. But these very religious people were so certain of what God’s will was and who the messiah was supposed to be that they would not open their eyes and ears to what Jesus had to tell them. We run that same danger today. The misconceptions we already talked about hinder people coming to Christ.

Jesus also said he would be killed. This was so shocking, Peter tried to rebuke Jesus. The messiah, the conqueror, the deliverer, would be tortured and killed? What kind of messiah is that? But again, the misconceptions of Jesus interfere with our ability to see and her who Jesus really is.

V. Conclusion

Learning to keep your eyes and ears open is our lesson, something to practice daily so our hearts do not become as closed as the eyes and ears of the Pharisees. Challenge yourself to find out who Jesus really is and what His death means to you and to all men. If our eyes are closed and our ears are closed, then our minds are closed and we cannot develop spiritually. Look away from the material things that Jesus provides and look to the future that Jesus provides. If we are open to receiving spiritual truth, we will recognize it with new eyes and ears not bound by our past misconceptions.