Series Theme: Short meditations through Marks Gospel
This Page: CHAPTER 7
Overview of all
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Notes: These meditations are particularly short for easy digestion. To go to a chapter use the table above. To go to a verse use the contents on the left of each page which has been simplified by showing only every third meditation. Please go to nearest number and scroll up or down.
128. Discerning People
Mk 7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus
This is one of those times when, if you didn't know any better and hadn't read any more of the Gospel, you might have thought, “Wow, even these people have travelled all this way just to see Jesus; they must have heard about his wonderful teaching and his amazing healings and want to come and see and learn for themselves. How good is that!”
Yes, you might have thought that if you hadn't read anything else, but actually this is more like a gathering of vultures looking for a kill. They have come all the way from Jerusalem not to praise and compliment Jesus but to criticise him.
Now it is very easy to take a verse like this for granted but it should make us pause and ponder on why people came to Jesus, for it wasn't always with good motives. It should make us look beyond the surface of what is happening. Now we shouldn't go through life constantly questioning the motives of all and sundry that we meet, but there are times when a little discernment is a good thing, if we are to avoid disappointments and hurt.
Discernment is like having a spiritual sense of smell. A sense of smell can be really helpful in finding when food has gone off, say. A little sniff nd we know instantly that this food is not for eating! Discernment can be like that. When we are spiritually attuned to the Lord, when we encounter people, we can suddenly catch a sense of the ‘motivation' behind them, especially when it is malign.
I'm sure it was like that with Jesus for he ‘knew' all men and knew what was in their minds. Thus, no doubt the first time when the Pharisees turned up the disciples might have thought it good that they were consulting the Master, but Jesus knew better. Jesus knew that he was a threat to these men and that knowledge would become a key ingredient in bringing the divine plan for his death and resurrection to fulfilment.
Final question: do we look on the outside and fail to discern those who are critical of our Lord? Are we ‘impressed' by people's stature in the world, by their affluence or the power that the world has given them? God may not be so impressed.
129. Kingdom Values
Mk 7:1,2 The Pharisees …. gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were ‘unclean', that is unwashed.
How do you distinguish yourself or your family from others? Is it by the clothes you wear, or the clothes you buy for your children, or is it by the manners you teach them and the manners you have yourself? Or is it by the inner attitudes of love, acceptance and caring, from which your actions and words flow?
You see the truth is that you can look good on the outside, even speak with a refined accent, but actually be a spiteful, critical, self-centred individual who is thoroughly unpleasant. As Jesus was to teach, it wasn't what was on the outside that was important, but what was going on inside.
So here come these conservative religious zealots, who have come up all the way from Jerusalem and they gather round Jesus, not to be blessed by him, but to find fault with him. As they look around they see his disciples coming in from outside and simply gathering up food and eating it without any ceremonial washing of their hands. For these zealots that was terrible. Wasn't ceremonial cleansing something that marked them out from other peoples? Wasn't it their holiness that made them different?
Hold on! What does holiness mean? For these religious zealots it meant obeying every minute detail of the law and the interpretations that they had placed on the law. Actions were what made someone holy. But God IS holy even before He says or does anything. Holiness is a state. Yes, it has to do with perfection but that is not outward perfection but inward. When we truly reflect the Lord Himself, we will be holy. Today, because we Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit, we ARE holy. It is more about being different in a godly way.
What are two characteristics of God? Grace and truth. The apostle John wrote of Jesus, “ We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) If you like substitute the word grace with the word love for John also tells us that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) If these Pharisees had been full of truth and love they would have been holy, but they weren't. They had a different set of values and those values allowed them to come and criticise Jesus and his disciples.
130. Unclean World?
Mk 7:3,4 The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.
Underlying this practice of washing is a negative attitude towards God's world. Yes, we live in a Fallen World, but it is still the world that God designed and it is good and made for our enjoyment.
Now these Pharisees stretched the Law. In the Old Testament we find, “ He placed the basin between the Tent of Meeting and the altar and put water in it for washing, and Moses and Aaron and his sons used it to wash their hands and feet. They washed whenever they entered the Tent of Meeting or approached the altar, as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Ex 40:30-32) Now this was the priest going into the very presence of God, to emphasise the holiness of God's presence. Yes in the Law there was washing to cleanse things but this was not taken to include cleansing from daily life. And yes there was washing where certain specific things were declared ‘unclean', but these were health issue things, NOT things about daily life.
So the Pharisees had stretched the Law and had, therefore, declared all of God's world unclean. If you have been to the toilet it is wise to wash your hands. If you have been working in the garden and come in with mud on your hands then of course it is wise to wash them, but to see everything in Creation as unclean leads us to become neurotic individuals who live in a state of fear.
Now I suggest that this is particularly pertinent in today's age when many people – without a relationship with God through Jesus Christ – live their lives in a state of fear. Is there a link in all this to the incredible number of allergies that many children today are suffering? Is the latest generation growing up in a state of fear because of the fear and faithlessness of their parents?
When we focus on foods, and particularly the prohibitions of certain foods which excluding our relationship with Almighty God, is it any wonder we live in a society where fear prevails. Nutritionists sometimes become the new witch-doctors. I have watched the changing of fads over the years as laid down by nutritionists, and the only health guarantee I can give, is a relationship with the Lord!
131. Unwise Temerity?
Mk 7:5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the Law asked Jesus, “Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with unclean hands?
Arguing with God is a futile exercise. Telling God off is even worse! But of course the Pharisees did not realise that this is who they were confronting. Our problem, along with theirs, is that we see God as too small. When we read about Jesus we see this man ministering in Israel and forget that this is the Son of God. I suspect that when we think about God, rarely do we think of His enormity, filling all of existence, His power that is limitless, as is His knowledge and wisdom. No, we scale Him down. I am sure we do for otherwise we would never dare challenge Him, argue with Him or criticise Him. These Pharisees just don't know who they are messing with.
We've already covered the folly of their thinking and their following man-made traditions (although we will need to think about that again soon) so we won't go there again. No, it is the folly of arguing with God that stays before me here. If you know your Bible you will know that doesn't give straight answers. His answers always provoke us to think bigger. Job suffered and three friends made it worse. In his anguish Job questioned God. Did he get answers? Essentially the pages of God's response could be summarised as, “Who do you think you are, little man, to question almighty God?” You see rarely do we ask for information; mostly our questions come with a barb of criticism and there is our folly because God is perfect and God never does wrong. Everything He says and does is perfect.
The times when we ask for straight forward information, if it comes as a plea for help, receive God's attention. James, in his letter, promises us that God will grant us wisdom when we ask, and wisdom is simply the knowledge of ‘how to'. God always gives answers to His children who come humbly seeking help, help to enable them to be able to move on in their walk with Him. That is the clue to getting answers from the Lord – coming with a desire to do His will.
Of course these Pharisees aren't coming like that. They come desiring Jesus to conform to their will. Sadly that is how so m any of us come to God. Really we don't want to bend our will to conform to His, we want Him to agree with us that what we are thinking and doing is all right. That is a form of self-righteousness and that is what these Pharisees come with and so they doomed to failure. Learn from this passage!
132. Slap in the face
Mk 7:6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites
As we commented previously, God doesn't do answers – well not straight forward ones anyway! So Jesus doesn't answer these Pharisees with a straight forward explanation which, if it had been us, would have been more of an excuse: “Well you know how it is, they are only early disciples and they really haven't learnt the fine points of the Law yet.” No, he doesn't feel like that. He doesn't need to make excuses for his disciples. The issue that is at stake here is the bad attitude of the Pharisees and Jesus is not going to let them get away with it!
Now so often we think of Jesus as ‘meek and mild' but his response here is nothing like that; it is more a slap in the face! We may focus on the fact that he is about to quote from Isaiah but then we miss how he describes the Pharisees to their face: “you hypocrites.” This is not one of those occasions that we find in the Gospels where he challenges them starting off “You hypocrites!” No, this is almost worse. It comes at the end of the sentence as a simple judgment, a simple description. It is worse than an outright attack; it is a straight forward denunciation of what they are like.
Now the original meaning of the word ‘hypocrite' was a play actor, someone who put on a mask to appear in a part and from that we mean someone who is two-faced. Now those of us who have read the Gospels many times probably take this denunciation for granted but it must of stung. None of us likes to be accused of being two faced. We tend to pride ourselves in being true to ourselves, real, straight-forward, honest and true – and right!
So, when Jesus slaps these Pharisees in the face with this low-key challenge, he is really saying, “How dare you two-faced individuals pretend to hold the high moral ground, pretend to be THE upholders of the Law, and how dare you therefore find minor faults with my disciples when really, behind your spiritual masks, you are something quite different, people who have bigger faults than you are speaking of!”
That is what is going on here, that is what is behind those two simple words, “you hypocrites”. Now, of course, there is a challenge here for each one of us. Are we real, true and honest or do we put on a spiritual mask to make ourselves look better than we are. Are we hiding behind our mask of respectability a particular failing that shouldn't be there?
133. Lips v hearts
Mk 7:6b These people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me
Is quoting someone else less powerful in impact? I don't know, but that is what Jesus is now doing. We're actually on him now quoting Isaiah 29:13. There is more in the quote but we'll look at it in the next meditation. For the moment we'll focus on this damning declaration. Originally of course this is what Isaiah was saying, speaking out God's words about the people of his time, but now Jesus takes those words and applies them to these Pharisees who have come questioning him.
There are two parts to this so let's take just the first half of it to start with: “These people honour me with their lips.” This must come as a wake-up call to every believer: is this me? We honour God with our lips every Sunday morning, and indeed every time we pray and even whenever we testify about Him. In the Christian world we use a lot of words about God, even more when we sing about Him. Now this half of the declaration looks really good because he says we honour God. The words sound good and right. To anyone listening it really does sound like we are honouring God.
Now I don't want to be unkind or critical but the evangelical world, the charismatic world and the Pentecostal world are all ‘good' at saying the words, speaking out about the greatness, the goodness and the grace of God, we really are. In fact my experience, limited though it may be, of America , is that Americans who are in these groups are more vocal than Christians in my own home in the UK , and the more we are vocal the more we need to check ourselves out. I am sure that there may be many who might take exception to what is coming, but bear with me.
The condemnation that comes with these verses comes in the second part: “but their hearts are far from me.” Now as I have said, I am sure that there will be many in the three groups I've named above who may initially take exception to this but let me apply Scripture plainly: Jesus said that only those who OBEY him, who DO what he says are his followers and the implication must follow that unless we are APPLYING his teaching in our lives our hearts are NOT with him. We may think we are but that is deception. Now I don't want to go imparting guilt and would rather not start listing things that are contrary to Jesus' teaching, but if we are not loving, caring and accepting LIKE Jesus, we fall short. Much to think about here!
134. Manmade worship (1)
Mk 7:7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
So we come to the second part of this quote from Isaiah that Jesus uses to rebuke these hard hearted Pharisees. I suspect many of us would consider that these verses could not possibly apply to us, but actually there are many who used to “attend church” and who no longer do so, because they feel these things are true.
What can it possibly mean, to worship God in vain? Surely it means that what we do in our worship is pointless. Perhaps nowhere in Scripture is this more vividly portrayed than in Isa 58. Consider what Isaiah says they were doing: “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways…. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.” ( Isa 58:2) Is this not what so many of us would say we do in our ‘worship'? “we fasted,' they say…. we humbled ourselves.” (v.3) but the Lord said, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (v.6,7)
In other words, you can perform ‘worship' but if you neglect the rest of your life and there are things that are clearly wrong about it, then it negates the worship, it makes it meaningless. Jesus taught that we need to obey his words: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21) and “go and make disciples of all nations…. teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19). Obedience is crucial to validate worship and without obedience our worship is in vain. I wonder in how many churches is there “vain worship”?
But Jesus also rebuked them for following “rules taught by men.” I wonder how many of the standards of our churches are in fact standards that we have imposed and actually go further than the word of God goes or interprets it in what not intended by Jesus? Do we lay down lots of “you must not” rules that actually aren't found in Scripture or do we elevate our practices into ‘laws' that we consider right so that if others do not agree with what we practice then we deem them wrong? How many ways there are to pervert the words of God!
Mk 7:8 You have let go the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men
Some people say prayer is the most important thing in the Christian life, while others say worship and others witnessing. We come up with the thing we're probably best at and most comfortable with, but I would suggest obedience is, in fact, THE most important thing of all. We started to touch on this in the previous meditation and we need to continue with it as we move on in these verses.
When God gives commands or laws – whether in Old or New Testaments, it is to provide guidance and direction to us on how to live the best way, according to the way He has designed us. As the psalmist says, His laws are perfect because they accord with His design at Creation which was “very good” (See Gen 1). Whenever we think about the commands or laws of God, we need to start off from the point of Creation, of God designing this world with a purpose and according to what we call natural laws. Things ‘work' best when they work according to the Designer's original design. His laws are simply guidance to help us live in conformity with that Design.
The temptation of fallen man is to reinvent the rules, to substitute the rules with human ones that omit God. Jeremiah spoke out, “ My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13) The sin of the people was only that they had forsaken God but that they had substituted their own resources for God's. Religious people do it as well as secular people.
The Pharisees had done it by seeking to expound the Law and by breaking it down in such a manner that their interpretations became more important than the Law itself. What the great teachers said was more important than the word itself. Thus their followers focused more on the things added by the interpreters than on God's straight forward words.
We dare risk suggesting that throughout Church history men have added to the simple faith laid out by Jesus. One might even suggest that every division of the church and every subsequent division or denomination is an expression of men adding to the simplicity of the Church life and Christian faith revealed in the pages of Scripture. What do we do in our church that has added to that?
136. Displacing God
Mk 7:9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions
The reason I have been taking these verses only one at a time is that I believe they are so significant for the day in which we live I feel we need to look at them in detail even if it means a certain measure of repetition. The verse above is almost a retake of the previous verse: “ You have let go the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men” and we considered in Jeremiah the way we not only reject God but replace His laws with our own ideas.
Jesus is being ironical as he says “you have a fine way of…” It's like he might say more straight forwardly, “You do a good job at throwing out God's instructions and replacing them with your own.” Of course if Christians do this, they are, in fact, reverting back to the ways pf the world. How many things that we do, I wonder, are nearer to the ways of the world than they are of God. Some things, I believe, are very obvious – though not to those doing them. The classic one, to my mind, is the separating and divorcing that takes place in Christian circles.
In America at least, according to research companies, divorce rates within the church are as bad as those outside it. How did we let this happen? I know we have tolerated, in some circles, couples living together without getting married even after they have come to Christ. Again, in some Christian circles, there are young Christian women getting pregnant outside of marriage and in our endeavour to show grace, we smile instead of weeping. We fail to care for our elderly, and we tolerate bad relationships. In all these and probably many other ways, we tolerate and even approve a standard of Christian living far lower than that on Jesus' heart.
Some will even put aside God's commands by saying that the Law no longer applies to us. Well, the Mosaic laws of the Pentateuch (apart from the Ten Commandments) may not be applicable often because we are neither an agricultural, nomadic or God-led people, and the sacrificial laws have now been superseded by the death of The Lamb of God, but that does not mean to say we can ignore all of the instructions that fill the New Testament. The rules of the New Testament, whether spoken by Jesus or by the apostles in their letters are there to be obeyed. If we try to make excuses and ignore them we join the Pharisees
Mk 7:10-12 For Moses said, “Honour your father and your mother” and “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death” but you say that if a man says to his father or mother: “Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban (that is a gift devoted to God, then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother.
Our verses today underline how we get away with unrighteous behaviour – we make excuses for ourselves! Very simply here, the Law required respect for parents which should be turned into practical help where necessary. If parents, as they got older, faced hardship, then the children, who may now be the main family earners, should provide for those elderly parents. However what the Pharisees did was say that their money was put aside for God and therefore not available to help their parents. What a cop-out! Jesus uses this to demonstrate how they put aside the command and intent of God to bvenefit themselves!
We may think that such things don't apply to us, but if we spend more time on church activities and ignore our families – children or elderly parents, perhaps se are acting in the same way as these Pharisees. It is all too easy to get embroiled in ‘religious' activities and fail those closest to us. How many wives of Christian leaders live an impoverished life because they never see their husbands who are given over to serving everyone else except their family?
But if such a thing applies to Christian leaders, how much more does it apply to business men and women who sell themselves to their work so their families rarely see them. That is not wholesome Christian living and the excuses we make for such lifestyles are just the same as the excuses the Pharisees made.
Of course we use such fine-sounding phrases as needing to cover expenses or ‘pay the bills' but what we mean is maintaining a lifestyle that unnecessarily high. Buying the bigger house “because the family is growing” often means working longer hours to pay the mortgage. A bigger house means higher rates. While we're here, our car looks rather dated compared with the new neighbours' cars, so we're better get a new one…. and their children go to a private school so I wonder… and it all adds up to longer working hours and a poorer quality of family life, and then we wonder why we have problems with our children. It started when we started making excuses!
Mk 7:14-16 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
Interestingly now Jesus seems to turn away from the Pharisees to the general crowd, the general people who no doubt had been standing in the background listening from a slight distance to what had been going on between these Pharisees and Jesus. He doesn't want to leave this a a petty disagreement; he wants to turn it into a proper teaching opportunity.
The Pharisees had been concerned about the apparent failure of Jesus' disciples to follow the Law or, to be more accurate, to follow their interpretations of the Law. It had been about their failure to wash their hands. Well, apart from that conflicting with the rules of the Pharisees, what was wrong with that? Did the possibility of a little bit of dirt on the hands of the disciples make them ‘unclean'? Was the fact that it was going into them particularly matter? The reality is that everybody has a little dirt on the outside of them; that is why we wash – to remove it.
So what was so special about a little bit of dirt accidentally entering a person when they ate? That is silly, is what Jesus basically says when we read, “ Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them ” That is of no importance, says Jesus, when it comes to considering the things of God. No, there is something else that is far more important – it is what comes out of a person that is important – and he isn't referring to them going to the lavatory! (Sorry, if we're going to cover all the possibilities we need to say that!)
If it is not that, then what can it refer to? What else comes out of a person? Their words! The apostle James wrote: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (Jas 3:9,10)
Here were the Pharisees worrying about dirty hands but not being careful about the sort of words that came out of their mouths. How careless are we about the things we say? A need to be careful!
Mk 7:17-19 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
If we believe this Gospel was directed by Peter, the verses here suggest that this occasion was well imprinted on Peter's mind. The Master had called them dull. Put another way, he was calling them slow witted or obtuse! It's a bit unfair really because the disciples were only taking the opportunity of being with the Master to clarify their understanding.
However, we need to realise that Jesus has expectations of us. He expects us to use our brains and think about things and if we plead, “Well, I don't understand it,” he replies, “Well, have you really thought about it?” By his words here he clearly expects the disciples to have understood what he had just said to the crowd. Now this is a real challenge. It places responsibility on us so that God will not excuse our tardiness.
Now what Jesus was now saying to them was really quite a step forward in understanding of God's purposes. The Old Testament Law had clearly decreed for the people of Israel that some foods were ‘unclean'. This simply meant that they are not to be eaten. Now we cannot be certain why some foods were clean and others were unclean but we may make suggestions.
There may be health implications that we don't fully understand. For Israel in their early years as a nation, and especially in their times of wandering, it may well be that the forbidden ‘unclean' foods were a health risk. In addition it is possible that the Lord instituted these dietary rules specifically to make Israel constantly aware that they were a special people, a people of God who were different from the rest of the world.
With the coming of the Church Age and the advent of the period of the Spirit life, such distinctions are no longer necessary. In these words to the disciples, Peter observes, Jesus is freeing his followers all over the world from rules to do with eating. If we impose new rules prohibiting certain foods we go backwards.
140. The Wonder of it
Mk 7:17-19 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
So significant is Jesus' teaching at this point, and so needful in the modern church that we need to hold on to these verses a moment longer and give more consideration to what he is saying. We need to understand the length and breadth of this otherwise we might go over board on this teaching.
First the key thing Jesus is saying is that, contrary to the teaching of the Pharisees, being holy has nothing to do with what goes in your mouth. Now that was a sharp move away from the teaching of the Old Testament Law that spoke about clean or unclean foods, and about the need to wash. For the Israelites living first in the desert and then in an agricultural economy, health and hygiene were key issues. They still are but not in the same measure. Holiness for the Israelite came first because they had encountered and been called by God and the second because they were living a lifestyle that took them back to the Maker's design and that was different from the rest of the world.
Part of the problem for the Pharisees of Jesus' day was that they equated hygiene actions with holiness, as it indeed had been in a measure, but Jesus comes along and basically challenges them to think about WHY God gave those laws in the first place. Keeping the Law was a RESPONSE of a people who were ALREADY holy, for the reasons we've just given, and their actions should have been an expression of where their heart was.
Having encountered God at Sinai and then having known His presence and blessing through the centuries, if they were really awake to the wonder of this, then their lives would be an outworking of that wonder and not some formal keeping of rules. Similarly for us, if we hold on to the wonder of who God is and what he has done for us, then we will realise we are loved and will automatically respond to that love. Our actions are not to be formal church-rule-keeping, following practices by habit, but a daily and weekly response to His love, and to do that we will need to ask Him to send His Holy Spirit to remind us again and again of that wonder.
141. Pushing the Point
Mk 7:20-23 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
If we hadn't caught on before, we ought to now, for Jesus reiterates what he has been saying. The point is now made very clear. What ‘defiles' a person is what comes from within them, not what they take in from outside. The truth is that we are defiled by things that come from within that show we are not what would like to be and Jesus identifies these things as ‘evil thoughts' but the implication must surely be that they go on from being thoughts into actions.
The things he lists don't just stay in the mind; they are sins that are seen by action. Sexual immorality is an action; theft, murder, adultery and greed are actions that impact other people. Greed and malice etc. may again start as things in the mind but they soon are seen in the way a person behaves. Things may start as ideas but they soon turn into actions. You may say, “Oh, they are only things I think, but I never get around to doing,” but they are still ideas that we have, about us committing sin and once they are established, it doesn't take much for them to develop into actions.
Now something we haven't done is note in detail what Jesus says these things do: they defile us. Defile means to mar and spoil, to pollute make impure. Christians are meant to be temples of the Holy Spirit and are thus meant to be pure and holy. If we allow these ideas to pollute our minds then we are no longer pure.
This, of course, was also true of the Pharisees that Jesus had originally been speaking to, and now his own disciples. Any person seeking to claim some sort of spiritual life, must surely want to be holy, and if we allow our thoughts to be polluted by the sort of things Jesus lists here, then we are far from holy!
True spirituality is not about performing religious rituals; it is about genuinely being holy, and that is only possible as we come to Christ confessing our guilt and allowing him to cleanse us (1 Jn 1:9), and then fill us with his own Holy Spirit who is holy by definition. Without this happening then we will allow our minds to be dominated by the sort of things Jesus speaks of here. May that not be!
Mk 7:24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre . He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.
There are often times in Scripture when I am left wondering about things that have not been said and this is definitely one of them! Jesus travels all the way north to Tyre and we aren't told why! Now whether Jesus knew that he had a divine appointment set up by his Father with the women who eventually comes to him, or whether he simply wanted to see someone else up there, is unclear.
John records Jesus as saying he only did what his Father was doing (Jn 5:19) and I think we can safely assume that Jesus was in complete command of what he did and knew why he wanted to go wherever he went, so I think there has got to be a specific purpose in everything he did, and now this must be true of this specific trip north.
But that raises the issue of Jesus telling us what he is doing – or not! I think I would be right if I said that I am fairly sure that most Christians, if you asked them, would not be able to say what Jesus was doing in their life at the present moment. The answer to this may simply be found in Paul's words, that we are called to walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)
At the present time I am very much aware of God's specific calling on my life to do a certain thing, but beyond that I have no idea how God is going to open up things in my life, or how He wants to use me beyond the one thing He's given me to do at the moment – even though I am sure there will be other things that He has on His agenda for me.
This is it, isn't it? We walk in faith, trusting the Lord to open up the way ahead of us. I suppose it is possible that Jesus, at his Father's leading simply ‘felt led' to go north, but the fact that he was able to stay in a specific home would suggest he knew who it was he was going to, perhaps someone he had met elsewhere previously.
Whatever it is that brings about this incident, the fact is that Jesus is in a new town and although he may want to remain anonymous, (which suggests he wants to see someone specifically alone), the word does get out that he is there. Moreover, as we will shortly see, people up there clearly knew about him and his ministry and had sufficient knowledge to put their trust in him! Watch this space!
143. Why again
Mk 7:25,26 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia . She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
In the previous meditation we suggested that often there are things in Scripture, and indeed in our walk with God, that are not clear. It is so easy to read Scripture and not think about the significance of what we see before us. We see the basic facts but rarely think beyond them. For instance, the basic facts in this particular story are that shortly after Jesus arrived in Tyre , the word got out that he was there and a Greek woman with a demon possessed daughter came to seek Jesus' help to rid her daughter of the demon.
Now immediately our minds are drawn to the woman and her concern for Jesus to deliver her daughter. She has obviously heard about Jesus and is sure he can do it. That much is good.
But now I come to the thing that troubles me: she has a “little” daughter, a young girl. How does a young girl get demon possessed? One only gets demon possessed when you are involved in occult activity and basically surrender your life to the enemy, with a lifestyle that makes the individual vulnerable to being over come by the enemy. But is also seems that family members can be vulnerable to the enemy when he has large sway in an adult in the family. Has this mother been the source or is there an unmentioned husband who is the source of the enemy attack on the young girl?
So here is something strange. The cause of this girl's possession is not made clear and, in fact, Jesus does not seem bothered to find its cause. As we will go on to see, he simply deals with it. Is there an implication that the woman had been the source of enemy attack but has subsequently repented of it? Does Jesus see this and so does not bring it up? This is a story with big questions, but we aren't given answers.
Surely there must be an implied warning in this story, a warning to us not to get involved in anything that may subsequently make our children vulnerable to attack. When ever we have done such a thing repentance is required and that may be visible in the way an individual seeks Jesus for help. If Jesus is able to look into us and see a repentant heart then the way is open for him to move.
Mk 7:27,28 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.”
Does Jesus always answer our prayers? Sometimes or always? Perhaps the answer should be always but sometimes the answer seems to be “Not now,” or even “Are you sure that is what you want?” In other words his answer may not be what we are initially looking for. If this incident had been today, then we would call her plea, prayer, and in that case Jesus' response to her bears thinking about.
If the conversation is as bald as Mark reports it, then Jesus' response is very enigmatic. He doesn't give a simple, “No,” but he puts it in picture language that implies that. Why would he do that? To test her heart. In fact I am convinced that God often speaks to us in ways that test our heart. He wants us to reveal what we're really like. The likely interpretation of Jesus' words is that the children refer to the people of Israel and ‘dogs' refers to all other nations and thus he would be saying, “Let Israel receive from all that God provides for them through me, for it is to them that he sends me.”
Now many of us would give up at this point and turn away, annoyed at this apparently rude rebuke, but it is designed to see how sincere she is, how persistent she will be on behalf of her daughter. What Jesus wants to see in this sort of situation is, will our concern override our pride? For the sake of our children or others close to us in need, are we willing to humble ourselves, and will we persist in seeking him until we get a satisfactory answer? How many of us give up seeking the Lord too easily? It is the sign of a shallow heart.
The woman will not be put off. She passes the test, she prevails and persists, and she does it using the same language, the same analogy as Jesus has used. It's like she says, “Very well, that may be so, but if we are onlookers to all you are doing with Israel , can't we get some of the droppings from your ministry? If you are around in my town, can't I still get some benefit from your visit? And for this she is rewarded as we shall soon see.
So here is the challenge: when we pray for needs, how sincere are we when we ask? How easily are we put off by apparent delays in Jesus answering? He is looking for persistence.
145. Gentle Deliverance
Mk 7:29,30 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
In these various meditations, over the years, I have had cause to comment upon ‘deliverance techniques'. I have been around when people have scream and shouted at demons to get them to leave a person and I've never felt good about that. This poor person has got to live with this in the days to come and to be made the object of much discussion in the days to come, is demeaning, and I don't think Jesus does demeaning!
I think that's why I like these verses so much for the reveal what must be the most low-key deliverance in history. This is the power of God at its best. Jesus has approved the woman's persistence for she has also displayed faith and faith opens doors for God to move. I'm not sure why sometimes, but it does!
Did you know that God delights in perseverance, especially when it is in respect of Him blessing us? Do you know why I can say that? Because of Jacob who wrestled with God throughout the night and was given a new name, Israel which, the footnote in your Bible will tell you means, “ he struggles with God,” which is confirmed by the text, “ Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." (Gen 32:28) Jacob was commended for struggling or persevering with God and so the second most famous name in the Bible constantly reminds us to press on with God! This woman did that with Jesus and so he rewards her by giving her what she asked for – the deliverance of her daughter!
But the way he does it! If you don't see the power in this, put it into a modern context. It could be Jesus o n the phone and he says, “OK, it is done,” and it is! Or perhaps he might text or e-mail the message; it doesn't matter how he communicates it but he is at a distance when he does it. he doesn't speak out any formula, he doesn't do or say anything impressive; he just says, “Done!” and it is.
This is Jesus' authority at its best. It's the same as was seen at the beginning of the Bible: “Let there be light!” and there was. Done! When God speaks, it is done. It is that simple, because He is God, and this is His Son doing the same stuff. Good isn't it! This is God being God and in so doing we realise He is unique. Hallelujah!
146. Further Travels
Mk 7:31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon , down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis
Again I find myself thinking that we often read Scripture with little thought, and if we did we'd be asking more questions. These aren't questions of doubt but of enquiry. Oh no, we're not doubting God in any way when we ask these questions, but we're just expressing our desire to know more.
For example, at this point, having gone north, Jesus now continues on in a sweeping arc that took him back down south again but further to the East than he usually went. So here the questions arise: why? What was he doing? Did nothing happen of any great significance that Mark has nothing to record apart from the places he went to?
But the moment we start thinking like that, we realise afresh that the Gospels are only minimalistic accounts of what happened. Near the end of his Gospel John wrote, “ Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.” (Jn 20:30) and then a little later added, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25) Yes, this is the truth; what we have here is almost only a bare outline of what happened.
Why so little recorded? Possibly a twofold answer is needed. First because there was too much to write down and, second, they didn't have laptop computers in those days and writing was a much greater effort than it is today. So why record anything? Because some is better than nothing, and the ‘something' that we have is sufficient for us to build faith upon. What we have is very adequate upon which to build faith.
So, the Bible doesn't tell us everything but it tells us sufficient for us to come to a place of belief. Often, as in our verse today, we may be left with big gaps in our knowledge but they are not the sort of gaps than undermine faith. This gap in knowledge here does not bring doubt to the rest of what we do know; it leaves us wondering.
That is quite a healthy position to be in. We don't know everything but we do know sufficient upon which to establish our faith, and where there are gaps, that is fine for they don't undermine our faith.
147. Committed Friends
Mk 7:32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.
It is often said that when someone eventually comes to the Lord, it was the result of a chain of people, people who had been concerned enough to share God's love with that individual. Jesus is in the area to the east of Galilee and there he is met by some concerned people, people who are friends of a deaf almost-mute.
Yet again we have a situation where I would love to know the details but we aren't given any, but there are two things that suggest themselves to me. First these people must have had some sort of meaningful relationship with this man. They didn't just know him, they had strong feelings for him, for we are told that when they came they ‘begged' Jesus to act. You only do that when you have strong feelings for someone. It would appear from the Gospel accounts that, for whatever reason, there seemed to be a number of people around who were afflicted with deafness or who were mutes but this one stands out – he has concerned friends, people (maybe family even) who were so moved by his plight that they wanted to do something about it. That is what brought them to Jesus when he arrived in their area.
Now on to the second thing: these people had clearly heard all about Jesus and about what he did and believed in him, at the very least, as a healer. All they know is what they have been told and it gave them hope. It is always possible that they had been over to the other side of the lake of Galilee and had seen Jesus operating. Whatever their background, they believe.
Now we bring the two things together: people who are concerned for a loved one, and people who see in Jesus the answer to their loved one. The outcome is simple – they bring him to Jesus and beg Jesus to do something.
Now to translate this into personal application, are there people who are close to us who have needs that Jesus could meet, but about whom we have grown complacent? Do we perhaps need to pray that Jesus will ‘draw near' as he did to these people, so that our faith may be stimulated to ask (or beg) with a believing heart? How easy it is to pray and apparently not get an answer and then give up. May we never do that!
148. Unusual Healing
Mk 7:33-35 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!"). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly
OK more questions! What is Jesus doing here? Why is he doing it like this? Is it just to give commentators a field day of speculation as we all come up with different and varied interpretations of why he is doing it like this?
Well the first lesson, I believe, that comes through these verses is that healing is not a mechanical thing. There is no ABC of healing, there is no ‘method' that applies to all cases. If it was a case of simply taking random Scriptures and applying them mechanically, I am sure I would have come across some ministry somewhere that prayed for every deaf ear by spitting – but I haven't! No, whatever else these verses say, they say that every person and every situation is unique and the question that must arise is, “Lord, how do YOU want to do this?” Healing is not something we do; it is something God does and if He is going to use us in it, we have to let Him lead, which means we have to learn to listen to Him and be sensitive to His leading. Let's see just what happens here.
To start with Jesus takes the man away from the crowd that had obviously gathered. Sometimes it seems Jesus healed with a word (as we saw recently) but other times it seems it took something more. This seems one of those times and it seems Jesus doesn't want to make this man a spectacle and so moves him out of public vision. Then he does a number of strange things.
First he put his fingers in the man's ears. Why? I don't know. I'm not told. Second he spat, presumably on the ground. Why? I don't know. Third, he touched the man's tongue. Why? I don't know. Fourth, he looked up to heaven. Why? Possibly as a sign of relying on the Father? Then he sighed. Why? Perhaps out of his weariness with the effects of sin in the world around him. Then he speaks words of command and the man is healed.
I had to say to a questioner the other day that sometimes I think we try to appear clever and have answers where there are none. This is a healing without explanation. Live with it! Rejoice in it.
Mk 7:36,37 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.
Here we are, yet again, more questions! If you don't have questions of verses like this, you aren't thinking! Please understand, as we said a little earlier, these aren't question of doubt or of arrogance or of challenge; these are questions that simply seek to understand. Again and again commentators seek to come up with solid sounding solutions but we cannot be sure unless we are told – and we aren't. This doesn't in any way diminish or weaken our faith; if anything it strengthens it. The Lord is never afraid of the truth. But it's not truth that is at stake here; it is simple information.
Now you may not have understood the questions hanging over these verses so let's get on and face them. Here's the first one: Jesus, who knows people through and through must have known that these people would talk about what has happened so why does he tell them not to tell anyone? The obvious answer is because he doesn't want to get overwhelmed with crowds but that doesn't answer what I have just said. But here's the second question: why did he go on exhorting them not to tell when it was obvious they couldn't keep it in.
These people were seriously blessed. This must be the people who came with the deaf man because Jesus had taken them away from the crowd. These people, we have previously noted, must have had strong feelings for this man, the way they came and begged Jesus to act. Now when the man is healed they are overjoyed and nothing but nothing is going to stop them going on about it, so thrilled are they!
So why does Jesus row against the tide? There can only be one answer: Jesus is always right. The right and better way would be for these men to say nothing to anyone and that way the crowd won't grow and the pressure on Jesus won't grow. The outcome of the refusal of these men to obey Jesus will be that a big crowd will grow, and will stay and will produce another need for divine intervention. Was the feeding of the four thousand, that follows, down to these men? Might it not have happened if they had kept quiet? Whatever we may think, Jesus power was up to coping with whatever would come. He might have preferred it worked out in another way, but nevertheless, his compassion and grace, we will see, was up to the situation.