Saturday, February 29, 2020

200301 Miracles

We have seen Jesus come onto the world stage at the baptism of John the Baptist. From there he gathered the fellowship together. Out of the hundreds and thousands that followed him he chose twelve! His purpose for them was threefold. First, that they might be with him. Second, that he might send them out to preach. Third, they would have the authority to cast out demons! (Mark 3:13-15)
Jesus’ miracles were not just show and tell. They were absolute demonstrations of Jesus’ authority ruling over the physical and spiritual worlds. His miracles were life changing events for many people. Even his opponents recognized that he was something more than just a teacher. We will look at some of his miracles and see what we can learn from them.
His first miracle occurred in the village of Cana and was recorded by John the disciple (John 2:1-11). Jesus and his disciples had been invited to a wedding along with his family. We are not told why they were invited but we can assume they might have been relatives on the human side. Cana was located just north of Nazareth in Galilee. This region is where Jesus spent much of his ministry. As far as I can tell the wine of Jesus’ day, if it were the season of ripe grapes, would have been fresh or, if not in season, reconstituted grape juice.
Jesus was approached by his mother who said to him, “They have no wine”, notice she did not ask him to do anything! She simply presented him with the problem. I believe our prayer lives would be better if we followed the same pattern. Instead of asking for a particular result we should just present the problem to God the Father in the name of Jesus. He will know what to do.
Jesus’ response certainly would not have been acceptable in our day. Because he said, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” I would have never used the word “woman” in addressing my mother! Mary certainly did not take offense instead she simply told the servants to do what Jesus said.
Jesus had them take six stone water jars and fill them with water! Then he told them to take some of the water, now turned to wine, to the master of ceremonies. He immediately called for the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”
John 2:1-11. John did not call this a miracle he called it a “sign”. Later Nicodemus said to him, “We know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him” (John 3:2).
Again he uses the term “sign”. Clearly, the miracles were designed by God to authenticate Jesus’ ministry. A true miracle gives evidence that God is at work. A second similar purpose of miracles is to demonstrate that the kingdom of God has come into the world. Matthew recalls Jesus saying, “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” Matthew 12:28.
Jesus’ miracles were designed to show the beneficial nature of God’s kingdom. Jesus clearly believed that he was there to usher in the kingdom.
What would seem to be the primary reason for miracles — to help needy people — was just a fringe benefit!
One day Jesus and his disciples were crossing the lake and a storm came on the lake. This gave Jesus an opportunity to demonstrate his authority over nature. Mark recalled incident. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:37-41.
That miracle on the lake enabled him to demonstrate his power outside of the territory of the Jews.
After the windstorm they came to the other side of the lake. When Jesus stepped out of the boat he was confronted by a man with an unclean spirit. He made his home in the cemetery. The people of the territory tried to bind him with shackles and chains. He ripped the chains apart and broke the shackles. Nobody could control him and the people were afraid of him. Let’s look at Mark’s account of the event.
“And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.” Mark 5:6-13.
The pig farmers did not rejoice in the man’s healing. Instead they ran through the region telling everyone what had just happened. People from all over the surrounding area came to see the man for themselves. Instead of rejoicing over his healing they asked Jesus to leave the territory. Mark doesn’t tell us what their motive was! I believe they were more concerned about the loss of their bacon than they were the healing of the demon possessed man.
The man who was healed begged Jesus to take him along. Jesus would not permit him to come. Jesus had a better plan. Jesus said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Mark 5:19.
On returning to Jewish territory Jesus was confronted by a man named Jairus who was very agitated. He fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” Mark 5:23. Jesus went with the man and a great crowd surrounded them as they traveled.
There was in that crowd of people a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years. The medical establishment in the area had used up her financial resources and were unable to help her. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Mark 5:27-28. She was immediately healed and Jesus stopped and said, “Who touched me?” Mark 5:30. His disciples told him that the crowd was pressing in on him. There was no way of telling who had touched him. Then the woman came forward and admitted she had touched him. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:34.
While Jesus was taking care of the woman some came from the ruler’s house with the message that his daughter had died! Jesus instructed the ruler of the synagogue not to fear, only believe. Taking Peter, James and John with him he came to the house where the little girl was. The crowd surrounding the house were weeping and wailing loudly. Jesus entered the house and sent the mourners away. Then he took the girl by the hand. He told her to get up and she did! Jesus told her family not to tell what had happened. He then instructed them to get her some food!
Each one of these incidents brought a different message. Jesus asserted authority over the world he had created when he calmed the storm. He went into the Gentile world and delivered a man from a legion of demons. When the woman came and touched his robe he demonstrated that her faith did the healing. Then, Jesus demonstrated his power over life and death in healing the dead girl.
Another time Jesus left the Jewish territories and went to Tyre and Sidon. He was again outside Jewish territory.
When he entered a house he was approached by a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit. She fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged him to set her daughter free. Again he demonstrated his power over non-Jews. In order to make it very clear Jesus told the woman, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Mark 7:27. She chose not to be offended by the reference to “the dogs”. She said, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Mark 7:28. She went home and found her daughter lying in bed free from the demon.
Time will not allow us to look at all the miracles. The miracles I’ve chosen show us some of the ways that God works beyond our understanding. You see, a miracle is a less common kind of activity by God in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.
Throughout the Bible signs and wonders is used as a standard expression to refer to miracles. We are shown throughout the Bible that God is the one who does great wonders. The song of Moses in Exodus 15:11 states:
“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
terrible and glorious deeds, doing wonders?
This informs us that the signs Moses did were given to convince the people that God has sent Moses. When Jesus healed people and cast out demons there is no question that these were miracles! They were remarkable to the people to cause them to acknowledge God’s power at work!
In the New Testament, Jesus miraculous signs proves that he came from God. Nicodemus said it best, “No one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him” John 3:2. This was the obvious reaction of the people to Jesus’ work. Later Peter, preaching the first Christian sermon, would say Jesus was, “a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst” Acts 2:22. He did not claim anything that the people did not already believe. He sent his disciples out preaching that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and he told them, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (Matt. 10:7–8). They could not do this without seeking God for miracles everywhere they went. Jesus’ command required them to seek for miracles to happen. Should we seek miracles?
Our faith that God will work in powerful and even miraculous ways is far too small. We must beware of being infected by a secular worldview that assumes that God will not answer prayer, very seldom, if ever. And we should certainly not be embarrassed to talk about miracles if they occur—or think that a non-miraculous answer to prayer is better! Miracles are God’s work, and he works them to bring glory to himself and to strengthen our faith. When we encounter serious needs in people’s lives today, it is right for us to seek God for an answer, and where miraculous intervention seems to be needed, then to ask God if he would be pleased to work in that way.
Remember Mary’s request at Cana? She simply presented the problem Jesus. What he would do would be up to him. We need to present our problems to God and leave the answer in his hands.
 All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

200223 Building the Fellowship

We saw in last week’s message Jesus leading his disciples to Capernaum and demonstrating his authority over unclean spirits. Also, he demonstrated his willingness to minister to people on the Sabbath.
He left the synagogue that day and went to Bethsaida. I believe that to be correct because they entered the house of Simon and Andrew which, according to John, was located in that village.
When they entered the house they found that Peter’s mother-in-law was very sick. Jesus rebuked the fever and she was so perfectly healed that she began immediately to take care of her guests. (Luke 4:38-39).
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the account of choosing the fellowship of twelve who are called “Apostles”! In fact, these three Gospels contain many of the same stories. However, they are not always in the same order. So, today I will try to harmonize the three accounts enough for us to understand something about God’s purpose. Luke’s account tells us that Jesus spent the entire night in prayer before he chose the twelve. I have no doubt that he might have spent many nights alone with the Father. But the Bible doesn’t say exactly that. In fact, Luke tells us there were times when Jesus prayed alone even though he had disciples with him. (Luke 9:18) Jesus’ prayer life was certainly much higher than that of his disciples (or ours) because of his unique relationship to the Father. I can’t imagine Jesus calling on Peter (or me) to pray. Luke tells us that the one thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray! (Luke 11:1) They must’ve recognized that all of Jesus’ other powers grew out of his prayer life. I believe we too must recognize the power of prayer and exercise it carefully and regularly. Now let’s look at Mark’s account.
Mark 3:13-20 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
It seems that going alone in the evening to some high ground might have been Jesus’ choice of the time and place to pray. It could be as simple as the crowd was not surrounding him in the evening allowing him time to be alone with the Father.
This time, Luke tells us that Jesus went to the mountain to pray. After this all-night prayer meeting, he called a group of disciples to come to him. We don’t know how many there were. We do know that from that group he chose the fellowship that would be called “Apostles”.
After having prayed all night he appointed twelve as Apostles. Today, we would be more inclined to appoint people all night after praying for a few minutes.
Jesus prayed all night and after spending the night with the Father he could appoint twelve to fill the new role of Apostle. After training, these men would be used by God to speak and write words some of which became the “words of God”. These men would exercise authority that is unknown today. Among the dozen men Matthew, John, and Peter would write material that would be included in the Bible.
Let’s look back at Mark’s words. The book does not name an author. Tradition tells us that Mark, who’s other name was John, was the author and that he may have based his gospel on Peter’s preaching. Mark tells us that Jesus chose the ones he desired. And having chosen them his purpose for them was threefold. First, that they might be with him. Second, that he might send them out to preach. Third, they would have the authority to cast out demons!
Oh to be in a group that Jesus desired. Wait! if we are true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ he desired us enough to die for us. I find that hard to comprehend. That he would choose to die for our sins. Certainly not for my sin! Yet it is true if we put our faith in Jesus Christ it is because he desired us to be part of his fellowship. But not the Fellowship of the Twelve!
There are four lists of the names of Apostles in the Bible. They are contained in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts.
There is one thing that is common to all four accounts. The lists all begin with Peter and John and James and Andrew. It is believed that John, the brother of James was the youngest of the Fellowship. We have no way of knowing who the oldest might have been. We do know that these four were present at most of the important events in Jesus’ ministry.
We know that there were two sets of brothers Andrew and Simon Peter and James and John. There may have been a third pair. James the son of Alphaeus and Levi the son of Alphaeus who was also named Matthew. (Mark 2:14; 3:18). Half the Fellowship was related by blood! When someone meets the Messiah, for example, Andrew and John were introduced by John the Baptist to Jesus. As quickly as they possibly could they hurried to find Simon Peter, Andrew’s brother, and James who was John’s brother. This demonstrates to me that very often the first persons we are spiritually concerned about are family members. Or consider the case of Nathaniel who was the first person Philip spoke to after coming to faith in Jesus. Philip had been a neighbor to Andrew and Simon Peter in Bethsaida.
Why are we not encouraged to be eagerly telling family and friends we have found the Messiah? That certainly was the pattern of the first church. Only after witnessing to family and friends did the early followers of Jesus turn to the larger circle of neighbors!
Now Peter was not the first to be chosen but he was often the first in line and the first to speak up even if it was inappropriate. He was introduced to Jesus by his brother, Andrew. Apparently, Peter and Andrew, as well as James and John, returned to their fishing jobs immediately after meeting Jesus. True, they were not yet appointed as apostles. They would be part of a larger group usually referred to as disciples. As he walked along the shore Jesus called them to follow him. Note, not a single one of the twelve was called from Bible school. (Luke 5:1-11)
Luke points out the fishermen had been drawing their nets all night and they took nothing! Remember, these were professional fishermen. I doubt very seriously that they ever fished all night and took nothing until this night. Jesus told Peter to move out into the deep water and let down his net. When he did the net filled with fish. Of course, it filled with fish they had been moved away from the net all night. Possibly (I’m guessing now) angels had been busy setting the scene so that the boats would be filled at Jesus’ command. Looking at the catch that day Peter fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” When they brought their catch to land those fishermen left everything and followed him!
All three synoptic Gospels record this event and include similar wording. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” His goal for them is not to be net-filled fishermen but to be fishers of men! Let me be clear — there’s nothing wrong with being a fisherman unless you’ve been told to be a fisher of men. In that case, all resources should be directed at bringing men and women to faith in Jesus. After all, fishing might be included in witnessing.  
Let’s look at Simon Peter and his relationship with Jesus over the next three years.
After he appointed the twelve Jesus gave them instruction and sent them to teach, preach, and heal (Matthew 11:1; Mark 6:12-13; Luke 9:1-6). Peter would have, of course, been part of that group.
While John the Baptist was being imprisoned and executed Jesus carried on his ministry followed by large crowds and his apostles. One of the first events they saw after they came back from their preaching assignment was a great crowd gathered around Jesus. This was a crowd that had no catering trucks or hotdog vendors. When it was brought to Jesus’ attention that they were hungry he said, “You give them something to eat”. They were amazed! It would take an amount of money equal to a year’s wages for a laborer to feed that crowd! Jesus’ question was “How many loaves do you have?” They came back and said, “Five, and two fish.” When John recalled the event (John 6:8-9) he remembered that a boy had come with his lunch to offer to help feed the crowd. That boy went first to Andrew who then took this lunch to Jesus knowing it was impossible to feed the crowds. That lunch was five barley loaves and two fish. Barley was the cheapest kind of bread available.
After feeding a crowd of 5,000 men -- plus women and children. There were 12 baskets full of leftover bread. The crowd immediately identified him as the Messiah. They would make him king. If he remained with them. In order to get away, he withdrew to the mountain alone.
(Matthew 14:22-32) He first sent his disciples across the lake to Bethsaida. Jesus went up on the mountain to pray since he was alone there was no one with him to record what he prayed. I believe I know. He was praying up a storm. Peter and his crew, in the meantime, were struggling against a storm and were about to lose the ship.
Jesus came to them walking on the water. When he spoke to them they knew who he was. Peter hears his voice and said, “command me to come to you on the water”. So, Jesus said, “Come”. And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus. Suddenly, Peter knew what he was doing was impossible and he began to sink. Jesus took him by the hand and said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt? We are usually pretty critical of Peter because he failed the test. I say to you he did not fail because he walked back to the boat on the water. When they reached the boat the wind immediately stopped and they were at their destination. Time will not allow us to tell all that the Bible records about Peter. Let me take you to one more story.
Matthew 16 beginning with verse 12 is one of the places where Peter really shines. Jesus asked, “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” They said one thing and then the other and then Peter spoke: “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God”. “And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
This passage is often used by the Roman Catholics to claim that Jesus said that the church would be built on Peter! Actually, this does not say that. The Greek word for “Peter” is “petros” meaning a rock. The word used when Jesus said, “and on this rock” is the Greek word “petras” meaning a massive ledge of rock. The two words sound similar but do not mean the same thing. I believe Peter’s confession “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God” is the rock on which the church is built!
Then Jesus began to explain that he would be crucified and raised again on the third day! And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.
The man who proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah was also the man who, just afterward, said “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Three times Jesus said that he would die and be raised again. Luke tells us that they did not understand.
Often we find ourselves in the same situation. We are so wrapped up in this world that we do not understand when God reveals to us His will for our lives.
We have all sinned and are separated from God. The pay for our sin is spiritual death! But, the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. So, if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead we will be saved!
 All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.