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Mark 9 – Help my Unbelief!

Jesus takes his inner circle with him up on the mountain where he would be transfigured before them. Peter doesn’t know what to make of this event so he just says what he thinks is best. What better place to be then with Elijah, Moses, and the Messiah! While Peter is fumbling over his words, God gives him a divine “SHHHHH!” and then confirms that this is His Son so they should listen. There is a lot of speculation as to what is going on here in this passage. There may have been debates between the early church and the Jews about Elijah’s appearance before the coming of the messiah and this story addresses that. One thing I take away from this story is that while there is a lot of emphasis placed on Moses and the Prophets, God emphasizes that it is His Son that they should be listening to. After the cloud lifts, Jesus remains and the others are gone again. We need to know the voice of Jesus well and listen for it. We need to continually listen to what is being said about Jesus and make sure it lines up with who Jesus is.

Why couldn’t the disciples drive the demon from the little boy? They didn’t pray. I don’t think Mark is giving us a formula for exorcisms but is reminding us that faith and prayer have to go hand in hand. We continually see Jesus modeling both in his life. When Jesus questions the father on the boy’s condition the father says, “If you can do anything…” Jesus’ reply is great! “If you can?!” Jesus then reminds the man that all things are possible for one who believes. The man then replies with something we should all remember, “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” We all live and function under the impression that we believe. The reality is that if you take a moment to examine you’re life you will find that your dependence is in a lot of things other than Christ. Help our unbelief! We continually worry about each day as though God does not exist in our day. Help our unbelief! We worry about the economy. Help our unbelief! We fail to see those around us in need because we are concerned about our own well-being. Help our unbelief! We worry about governing authorities forgetting that we have a King and a Kingdom that the gates of hell will not overcome. Help our unbelief!! We have a God who spoke everything into existence, who has not given up on His creation, and who has conquered death for us yet we continue to live terrified of death and do our best to figure out of to get out of this life alive. Lord, help our unbelief! We need to continue to live out our lives in faith and continually pray allowing our interactions with God to shape who we are.

From there, Jesus separates himself with his disciples from the crowds so that he can teach them. All throughout the Mark’s gospel, and in the other gospels as well, there is an emphasis that Jesus wants his disciples to understand what he is teaching even when they are in the minority of understanding who Jesus is. This is a good reminder to Christians who are continually in the minority. Jesus calls us to live a certain way that puts us in the minority of understanding. This way of life is embodied in his death. Jesus is a different kind of king. He is the servant king who came to destroy Rome by allowing himself to be crucified. This is the life Christ calls his followers to live out. The disciples demonstrate their struggle to understand this through their arguing over who is the greatest.

Jesus talks about welcoming “little ones” and not causing them to stumble. Between these comments about the “little ones” John tells Jesus that someone was driving out demons in his name but they were told to stop since they weren’t part of the Jesus club. Jesus, still holding on to the child, reminds them that the kingdom is for everyone and not just his special group of disciples. If they are doing the work of Christ then you should be careful to not get in the way. If you do cause someone, a follower of Christ, to stumble then it would be better for you to take on a milestone and drop yourself in the sea. We need to be careful of our arrogance in dealing with others who bow their knee to Christ.

This last bit about cutting off limbs that cause us to stumble is a hard one that I’ve heard a lot said about at different points in Bible classes. We don’t take it literally but often use it as analogy for how we should get rid of things in our lives that cause us to stumble. This time when I read this passage, it occurred to me that the context seems to be about the Christian community and how we respond towards one another. Could Jesus be saying that it would be better to remove those who are causing others to stumble from the community? The hope would be that they would realize that their actions are wrong and change. Is it better for some to be cut off from the church so that they don’t drag others down? These would be drastic circumstances but should they be considered?

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2013 in Bible Blog, Mark

 

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Matthew 18 – Kids, Confrontation, and Forgiveness

It’s not very surprising in America today to say that children are important.  Families in our culture sacrifice everything in order to make sure their kids get the best.  That hasn’t always been true.  In fact, in the world Jesus is speaking in, children were considered secondary citizens.  The family did not work it’s decisions or schedules around what would work best for the kids.  So to us, Jesus’ words about children confirm what we already believe to be true: children should be treated well and not hindered.  But to his audience, Jesus was saying, even these little ones that you often push to the side must be brought in and treated well.  You must not hinder even children from the Gospel.  This is not happy-go-lucky children’s ministry promotional stuff.  This is a bold extension of Jesus’ ministry to the most disenfranchised and overlooked in the community.  His message is one of ultimate inclusion.

The text shifts here to talking about confronting those who are living in sin.  Begin by confronting them in a manner that is discreet and respectful.  Don’t begin with gossip or building coalitions against them.  Rather, go to them and lovingly address their sin issue.  If you can resolve it there then you have found a solution that is best for both of you and the community of believers.  However, if they still won’t listen, slowly escalate to include a few other reliable witnesses who can confront them about their problem.  If that doesn’t work, then the community of believers must be brought in.  This is not intended as punishment, but to show that the family of Christ takes a unified stand against sin and that it won’t tolerate disobedience.  This is done first to bring about repentance in the sinful brother or sister and second to make sure that the church does not become casual about sin in its midst.

Finally, this chapter shifts to talking about forgiveness.  It is no accident that the passage about confronting

sin is followed by a teaching on forgiving.  At a later time Paul will instruct the Corinthian church to follow Jesus’ instructions for confronting sin and actually disfellowship a sinful brother.  Later, when he repents of his sin and desires to be back in the church, the church is reluctant to forgive him.  Jesus recognizes that successful confrontation of sin must lead to forgiveness rather that judgment or self-righteousness.  The parable ends with the potentially alarming statement that God will forgive us and treat us as we forgive and treat those who owe us a debt.  That’s a pretty humbling concept.

So the questions at the end of this chapter are: Who is the person of little value who Jesus wants you to include in his family?  Who needs you to lovingly confront their sin?  Who has changed or apologized and is still hoping for your eventual forgiveness?  Surely all of us have one of these questions we need to stop and prayerfully consider.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Matthew

 

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