What kind of personality do you think Jesus had while He was on Earth? It is interesting to see the way that people portray Him in movies and such. Sometimes I think they make Him out to be more one-dimensional than He really was. Yes, He was peaceful and loving. He protected the woman caught in adultery from being stoned. (John 8:3-7) He healed many. He spent time with people that others would have ignored or judged unfairly. But Jesus wasn’t wishy-washy. He overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. (Matthew 21:12) He called the Pharisees hypocrites. (Matthew 23:13-29) He didn’t back down from a debate. He must have been an excellent public speaker because crowds would follow Him and go without food just to listen to His words. (Matthew 14:13-21) He didn’t always speak in simple declarative sentences either. He spoke in parables and used other literary devices such as hyperbole.
One example of Jesus’ use of hyperbole is found in Mark 9:43-48. He is speaking to the twelve disciples, those who would be charged with the task of spreading the gospel to the rest of the world. Just before this passage, Jesus had rebuked them for arguing about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:33-35) He then went on to explain what was really important. In these verses He tells them that it would be better for them to cut off an arm or a leg, or pluck out an eye, if it caused them to sin. I assure you He didn’t mean that literally. If He had, we would all be hopping around on one foot, balancing with one arm and going in circles because we could only see out of one side of our head. For we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) No, Jesus most certainly believed in the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14, Luke 1:76-77, Matthew 6:14-15) Not long before this, He had also explained that sin comes not from outside a person, (Mark 7:15) but from the heart. (Mark 7:21-23) The answer to changing your heart is to allow Jesus to transform you.
So, why did Jesus suggest cutting off limbs? By this time Jesus was used to boiling things down to the basics for His disciples, but He still wanted to emphasize the seriousness of His point. And His point was that eternal life with Christ was so much more valuable than any temporal pleasure we could be lured into. We have a choice to make between what we see as valuable or enjoyable on this Earth and following Jesus. He wanted His disciples, and us, to know, that whatever suffering we have to endure for His sake now is temporary, and it will be worth it. In Mark 8:35, Jesus told the disciples, along with the crowd, that they must deny themselves in order to follow Him—that if they are willing to forfeit their life for His sake, they would save it. If we are not willing to deny ourselves and our earthly desires for His sake, if we choose the world instead of Him, we will be exchanging those small pleasures for eternal suffering. That’s important news, and it is worth a little hyperbole.
As I was writing Wednesday’s post, I thought of The Vow. The movie opened last week. I have not seen it, so this is neither a review nor a recommendation. I am, however, familiar with the story behind it, the story of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. I don’t know if the movie accurately recreates their story, but the book written by the Carpenters themselves is available for anyone who wants a more accurate representation.
This is their story in a nutshell. Kim and Krickitt met over the phone, got to know each other, fell in love and got married. Ten weeks after their wedding they were driving to Krickitt’s parents’ house for Thanksgiving. She was at the wheel. There was a terrible car accident and Krickitt went into a coma. When she awoke four months later, Kim was by her side. She didn’t know him. She didn’t have any memory of the previous 18 months, and she still doesn’t. She didn’t know that she was married. When she saw her wedding pictures, she recognized herself as the bride, but she had no memories of that day or any part of the relationship that she had built with Kim. So many things could have happened at this point. Krickitt didn’t remember Kim, and she wasn’t the same woman that Kim had married. The accident had changed her personality, and she had to relearn the most basic things. For many couples, this would be enough to justify divorce. Okay, it didn’t work out. You go your way, and I’ll go mine. That was not the case for the Carpenters. Kim and Krickitt stayed together, not because they were experiencing the warm and loving relationship that prompted them to get married in the first place, but because they had made a vow. Kim honoured the vow that he had made to Krickitt and before God even though Krickitt was not the same woman that he had married. Krickitt made the choice to learn to love Kim again, not because she felt the emotions, but because she had made a commitment.
God intended for marriage to be a serious commitment. When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce, (Mark 10:1-9) Jesus explained that divorce was never God’s intention. Moses allowed divorce because he was dealing with humans in a fallen world, and insisted on the provision of a certificate of divorce to protect the woman who was deserted by her husband. A woman would be in a very vulnerable position in that society if she could not be married. Today, as then, the point is not what the legal documents say; it is the condition of your heart that matters to God. Marriage is a symbol of Christ’s relationship to His people. We are His bride. How would we feel if He didn’t take His commitment to us any more seriously than we take our commitment to each other? What if He decided to leave us because He just didn’t feel the love anymore? We can be thankful that God is more loving and forgiving than we are, but we should also strive to be keep our vows.
I often read other people’s blogs and comments. One comment I read recently was on the topic of food laws of the Old Testament, and if we weren’t willing to obey them, should we just ignore all the other laws of the Old Testament, such as the ten commandments, as well? I’ve heard comments similar to this before. If this was a cultural issue and doesn’t apply to us today, then does any of the Old Testament apply? I find it interesting that (a) people think that it has to be all or nothing and (b) people are willing to follow the rules without understanding the underlying principles. This is what the Pharisees did.
The Pharisees were very religious, and they were so strict about following the Law that they made up more rules to add to it. Before long it was more about the rules than it was about pleasing God. Jesus had offended the Pharisees by not observing their Sabbath laws, (Mark 2:23-3:6) so they began to watch for any reason to accuse Him. An opportunity came when the disciples didn’t follow the rules for ceremonial washing before a meal. (Mark 7:1-5) This ritual was not intended for physical cleanliness, but for moral cleanliness. So when Jesus responded to them, (Mark 7:15) He also was talking about moral cleanliness. In doing so, according to Mark, He declared the end to food restrictions. (Take note that Jesus did not speak those exact words, but Mark came to that conclusion from what he had learned through Peter in this passage and in Acts 11:1-10.)
The disciples had grown up with these Pharisaical traditions, and didn’t know any other way. So when Jesus said that people could not be defiled by what they ate, the disciples were confused and asked for an explanation. (Mark 7:17-23) I’m sure that Jesus did not intend for us to never wash or to eat anything we wanted without regard to our health. But He was more concerned with our spiritual health than with our physical health. He was more concerned with the condition of our hearts, because that is the source of sin in our lives. If we will concentrate on keeping our hearts pure, our hands and mouths will not do anything to defile us.
I’m a small town girl who was recently in New York City for the first time. From the moment I entered the subway station, people started asking me for money. In the time it took me to walk down the steps, four different people had asked me for amounts ranging from four dollars to five cents. Even combined it didn’t total very much, but it was a bit overwhelming to be stopped every few seconds. God loves a cheerful giver—that’s what it says in II Corinthians 9:7—but I wasn’t giving too cheerfully by that point.
In Mark 12:41-44 Jesus watched people putting their donations into the offering boxes. He was not watching because he needed their donations, for after all He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and everything else in all creation. (Psalm 50:9-12) What He was watching for was the attitude with which the donations were being given. He was concerned with the condition of people’s hearts. He knew that it was not the amount they gave, but the amount they withheld that was the measure of their generosity. The wealthy gave a large portion, but it was not a large proportion of what they had. The widow, a member of the poorest and most vulnerable segment of society, gave all she owned. The wealthy depended on their wealth to provide for them, but the widow depended on God. She trusted God to meet her needs. It was not her money that she gave to God, but her heart, her whole being.
When God tells us that he want us to give cheerfully, He means that what is important is the condition of our hearts, our motivation for giving. He doesn’t want us to give because people keep asking, or because we feel pressured by public opinion, or to get a tax rebate. He wants us to give because we love our neighbour as we love ourselves, and because we love Him and trust Him to provide for our every need.
Do you ever feel lonely? I spend a lot of time alone, but that is not necessarily when I feel the loneliest. Sometimes I feel the most lonely when I am in a crowd--when I am surrounded by people, but none of them are talking to me or seem to care about me at all. Do you ever feel that way? Jesus knows how you feel. He was surrounded by people who mocked and tortured Him, and He had no one on His side.
When Jesus was arrested and then sentenced to death, His disciples all fled from Him or denied Him; the people, the Pharisees and the experts in the law were all against Him, but as He hung on that cross, nothing hurt so much as being separated from His Father. (Mark 15:34) God had to turn His back on Jesus, His Son, even though they had lived in communion with each other since before the world began. Because God is holy, He could not accept us who are unholy into His presence. Only the life of His perfect Son could be an acceptable sacrifice to atone for the sins that have been inbred in us since Adam and Eve fell to the temptation of Satan in the Garden of Eden. While our sin was on Christ, He was separated from His Father. That was the greatest rejection in history, and yet Christ chose to endure it so that all people since then could have a personal relationship with God. We can be adopted into God’s family, and Jesus can become our brother and our friend. Even when we do not have any other person around us that we can talk to, when it seems like no one understands us, we still have Jesus. We will never be put into the position that Jesus was put in. Because of Him, we will always have someone to turn to. Hebrews 4:14-16 tells that Jesus understands everything we have ever been through or will ever go through, and the invitation is extended to come to Him boldly when we need help. We are invited to cast all our burdens on Him because He cares for us. (I Peter 5:6-7)
The next time you are feeling lonely, take time to talk to Jesus. Ask Him to help you through your time of sadness, and to know that you are not alone. Lay all your cares at His feet. He understands.
Where is your heart? What do you rely upon to feel fulfilled, successful? For some it is their high-powered job, their talented or academically gifted children or their luxury home. Many feel successful as long as they are doing better than their neighbours. What is it that is the most important thing in your life?
Mark 10:17-27 tells the story of the rich young ruler. This wealthy young man enthusiastically approached Jesus to ask Him how he could receive eternal life. I expect that he was used to getting whatever he wanted, because he had seemingly endless financial resources. Jews at that time believed that monetary wealth was an indication of God’s blessing. This is not what Jesus said. Jesus recounted several of the ten commandments, which the young man declared that he had always wholeheartedly obeyed. He apparently missed the first commandment though (Exodus 20:3), because he chose to keep his money and to rely on that instead of God. How much he must have loved his money! Remember that his conversation with Jesus started with his asking how he could have eternal life. Jesus gave him the answer, and yet he chose to give it up in order to keep his money.
You will notice that as the young man walked away, Jesus did not run after him. Even though Mark 10:21 tells us that Jesus felt love for him, Jesus let him make his own choice. We can all make our own choice about what or whom we will rely upon.
It is also interesting to note that Jesus did not tell all wealthy people that they must give away their wealth in order to be saved. It is not the having of wealth that is the problem, and it is not the giving away of it that results in salvation. The issue is who we give our allegiance to, and whom we rely upon in our time of need. It is difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:25) not because God’s grace is not available to them, but because they have so much more to give up. We cannot buy our way into heaven, nor earn our way by giving to the poor. We cannot save ourselves; we can only accept God’s gift of salvation which we are offered because Christ was willing to give up everything for us.