“And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and ewhoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.'” (Mark 9:36-37, ESV)
In teaching His disciples a graphic lesson on servanthood, Jesus told them that a servant is to be as a little child. What did He mean by this? Does He expect us to behave in an irrational manner? Does He want us to run, skip, jump, sing, yell and scream at the top of our lungs, and get in the way? Well it wouldn’t be a bad thing for us to behave like kids once in a while. In fact we love to do this. That’s why we like to play with kids. People can feel free to act a little nutty, a little childish, babble and coo and sing silly songs.
In Jesus’ day, little children were on the bottom of the social scale. Not only were they totally dependent on their parents for protection, love, nurture, emotional support, spiritual guidance and physical sustenance, just as it is today, they had to obey their parents and serve them and the family. In addition they had no personal identity or life apart from the family. Continue reading
In this week’s gospel reading we encounter the silent responses of the apostles to some words of Jesus. In the light of the cross, these words clearly indicate to us that Jesus had come to earth the die for our sins, an idea that was obscure and disconcerting to the disciples who expected Messiah to be a military ruler who would overthrow the Roman Empire and re-establish the Kingdom of Israel.
Though we understand the reference to the cross, we may still find Jesus’ words troubling and difficult to follow. This may be because the concept of servanthood runs counter to the self-centered, me-first ideals and norms of our culture. Jesus came to serve others by giving His life as a ransom on the cross. The supreme ruler of the Kingdom of God gave up His throne to humble Himself to die for those He created, for those who were disobedient, rebellious, unworthy and unlovable.
Most people would probably find His sacrifice quite acceptable to them until they find out that He expects the same kind of unselfish sacrifice from His followers. He is fine as Savior, but not as Lord. Our society maintains that the servant is on the bottom of the social scale. It idolizes the leaders, the rich, the movers and shakers, the talented, the famous and the beautiful. Yet the Kingdom of God is filled with those the world regards as losers and reject, exactly the kind of people whom God loves and can use.
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4, ESV)
In the contemporary church we see much of the same adultery which James speaks of, though few would care to refer it as such. Yet the same problems and issues that faced the early church are marks of many modern churches and believers as they embrace worldly standards and values as if they were ignorant of everything that James has written. Pride, boasting and selfishness are the hallmarks of many in the modern church as well as the gospel of fame and prosperity. Many church services today resemble concerts or parties in which individual experience not worship of God is the theme. And all this despite the warnings James has given us. It is no wonder that our prayers go unanswered. We ask with selfish desires and ignore kingdom values.
Many of today’s Christians are following the teaching of Satan rather than Jesus. Thus the solution is for we who are Christians to admit that we are weak and that we are sinners. We are double-minded and selfish people who desire to satisfy the lusts of our flesh. Then we sinners must resist the devil and draw near to God for only in Him can we find the strength and wisdom to resist. We must approach God with humility, repentance and a desire for His wisdom and truth.
“‘But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘”If you can”! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:22b-24,ESV)
The father of the demon-possessed boy complained to Jesus about the inability of the disciples to cast the demon out. Jesus replied with a remark about the faithlessness of the present generation. It is possible that the disciples were the ones lacking faith, weakened perhaps by their pride in assuming they were invincible or that the power was their own. But it is also possible that the father was in large part to blame for the lack of faith. After all, he does confess to it. And he is in turn chastised by Jesus with those well-remembered words of encouragement that, after all, all things are possible for those who believe or trust in Jesus.
This concept of belief in the all sufficient power of God is also reflected in Isaiah 50:7-10. The Lord God can do anything. He can overcome any adversary and that includes Satan as well. But it is not the strength or action or even the faith of the person expressing the faith that is invincible. The sufficiency of the faith does not rest in the person expressing the faith, but in the object of the faith, Jesus. No problem or illness is too difficult for God to handle or remove Jesus proved by casting out the demon. He continues to do the same today by destroying the strongholds and works of the devil. Those who trust in Christ need have no real fear of that adversary as long as they cling to the strength of the Lord alone for help no matter the circumstances.
“But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18, ESV)
In this passage James maintains that faith without works is dead. One cannot have faith without good works. This was misinterpreted by Luther and others in church history to mean that works, not grace through faith, is the basis for justification. This passage was used by the Roman Catholic Church to support a justification by works theology. We too may think it contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture that salvation is by faith in Christ not by works.
Yet the passage properly interpreted does not stand opposed to the doctrine of justification by faith. As the Apology for the Augsburg Confession states about this issue: “From these things it is clear that James does not contradict us. He criticized lazy and secure minds that imagine they have faith, although they do not have it. He made a distinction between dead and living faith. He says that faith that does not bring forth good works is dead. He also says that a living faith brings forth good works.”
In context of the whole Epistle we see that the verses are not a contradiction to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, but an exhortation that reminds believers that the evidence of faith is good works, or works of love, mercy and kindness. The whole focus of his epistle was on urging believing Christians to live lives full of works of love and kindness within the church. These works are evidence of saving faith. A faith that produces no works of righteousness is not faith at all, but mere intellectual assent. No believer can profess faith in Christ and do whatever he or she likes. No believer may treat his brethren with disdain and contempt, but must treat others with respect, honor and love. True faith shows itself by deeds of righteousness not sinful behavior.
“And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.'” (Mark 7:37, ESV)
The gospels record that Jesus healed many who were deaf and mute, usually referenced in a collective manner without specific details. Mark records the only two specific detailed instances of such a miracle. One in chapter 9 is of a man who had an evil spirit which rendered him deaf and mute, while the one here in chapter 7 is of a man with deafness which was the result of a condition, accident or disease which afflicted him probably in his youth and left him with a related speech impediment. Jesus healed Him in a highly unusual but intimate manner which displayed love and great compassion for a man who had, no doubt, suffered much in life.
This miracle is meant to portray Jesus as the promised Messiah by linking us to the prophecy of Isaiah 35 about the deaf hearing and the mute speaking. The people who saw it were quite amazed at what Jesus did and were not hesitant to proclaim it, for they realized what it meant. They also were touched deeply by Jesus’ kindness for this poor man and others. Jesus was bringing great blessing to the poor and oppressed, those whom no one could help.
Today Jesus still blesses the downtrodden with understanding, forgiveness of sin and compassionate love. This love is the essence of the gospel that touches the hearts of oppressed sinners who are looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong places. The peace, love and meaning they seek is found only in Jesus who died for all men. All fall short of God’s glory and perfection. All deserve punishment yet Jesus offers the blessing of unmerited grace and undeserved mercy.