Mark 10:17-22

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
(Mark 10:17-22 NIV)

Jesus was on His way from Capernaum to Jerusalem and stopped in Judea. The Pharisees posed a question to Jesus in hopes of tripping Him up or finding fault with Him. Their question centered on marriage and divorce. The Pharisees asked the “what” question; Jesus answered with the much deeper “why”.  Jesus then blessed the little children that had gathered around Him and said that we must come to God as little children to be accepted into God’s kingdom.

In today’s passage, Jesus is ready to resume His journey to Jerusalem.  Before Jesus leaves, a young man comes and kneels before Him and wants to know how to inherit eternal life.  This is not a trick question like that of the Pharisees – this man is asking a serious (but seriously flawed) question of Jesus.

The young man calls Jesus “good”; Jesus responds and says that goodness is reserved for God alone.  In this young man’s eyes, goodness is focused on his performance.  Jesus’ answer redefines goodness as part of God’s character, not on man’s works.

Jesus then prompts the man to give a performance-based response focused on the second half of the Ten Commandments that deal with human interactions.  The man says he has kept all of these commandments since his youth – just the reply Jesus expected.

Mark then tells us that Jesus looked at the young man in love – not in anger, or in judgment, or in pity – but in love.  Jesus told the young man to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and then come and follow Him.

Mark records that the man went away sad because he loved his money and possessions more than eternal life.  The young man had kept all the second half of the Ten Commandments, but he had broken the first and foremost commandment – making money and possessions his god.

In the next passage, we will see Jesus process what happened with His disciples, and what it means to us.  Until then, let’s stay focused on what we can learn from today’s text.

First, note that Jesus’ challenge to this young man was unique to his situation.  Not everyone has great wealth or clings to their possessions more tightly than they hold on to God.

The question still persists, though:  What are we holding onto instead of holding onto Christ alone?  Holding onto Christ alone requires both hands – we can’t hold onto Jesus with one hand and hold something else in the other hand.  It’s an all-in commitment or no commitment at all.

Remember this scene from the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”?

>>> Click here to watch <<<  (apologies if ads jump in before the video clip)

What are some other things we might be holding onto?

  • maybe money or possessions, like the young man in today’s passage?
  • maybe power or influence?
  • maybe reputation or being liked/accepted by others?
  • maybe pride or self-sufficiency?
  • maybe our educational degrees or our career?
  • maybe our health or well-being?
  • maybe our looks or the clothes we wear?
  • maybe our beliefs or traditions?
  • maybe our family or friends?

Are we willing to give up and let go of anything and everything but Christ?

What is stopping us from letting go of the other things or people and holding onto Christ alone?

If we’re not holding on to Christ with both hands, eternity is at stake.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 10:13-16

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
(Mark 10:13-16 NIV)

Jesus was on His way from Capernaum to Jerusalem and stopped in Judea.  The Pharisees were the ever-present naysayers in the crowd; they had posed a question to Jesus in hopes of tripping Him up or finding fault with Him.  Their question centered on marriage and divorce.  The Pharisees asked the “what” question; Jesus answered with the much deeper “why”.

As we step into today’s passage, we see Jesus continue to deal with the family, namely, children.  People in the crowd were bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed by Him.  It was normal for mothers to bring their children to a well-known rabbi for his blessing upon them.  While verse 13 uses the vague term “people” to describe the ones bringing the little children to Jesus, some scholars suggest this could have also included fathers as well as other children bringing their younger siblings to meet Jesus.

When Jesus’ disciples saw what was going on, they tried to intervene and move the kids away from Jesus.  The disciples probably thought that Jesus was far too important to be bothered by the likes of little kids swarming around Him.

Jesus saw what His disciples were trying to do, and became indignant toward them.  Once again, we see Jesus’ emotions coming forth, expressing His frustration with His disciples for their lack of understanding and their hard-heartedness.

Jesus’ emotion was not wasted, however.  Jesus used the opportunity to teach His disciples, the crowd, and us about the kingdom of God.  So what can we learn from Jesus’ teaching?  Why did He say the kingdom of God belongs to the likes of little children?  And why do we have to receive the kingdom of God like a little child?

  • Children are helpless – they have no intrinsic ability to generate value or worth.  Their condition is just like ours before God – we bring no redeeming qualities, no righteousness before a holy and just God.  Our worth, value, and redemption are a gift from God alone.
  • Children receive a gift with humility and without suspicion or doubt.  They don’t reject a gift given in good faith and pure motives because of pride or the feeling that they must earn it.  So we must come to Christ and accept His gift of eternal life by faith.  We can’t earn our way into heaven; we can never be good enough to merit God’s favor.
  • Children respond to simple expressions of love.  Gentle words, a smile, a hug, the kindness in someone’s eyes, and an open spirit all communicate love to a child.  While their parents or older siblings may have brought the little children to Jesus, the little ones experienced His abundant love for them firsthand and flocked to Him.

As the children gathered around Jesus, He proceeded to lay His hands on them and pronounce blessings upon them.

While we may be adults, may we have the same child-like response to Jesus’ love and care for us.  Jesus is not a cruel taskmaster or relentless judge, demanding that we get our lives in order before we come before Him.  Instead, He offers eternal life to all who will come to Him and accept His free gift of eternal life; He accepts us as we are, broken, hurting, and dirty with the sins of our attitudes, choices, and actions.

If you have not accepted Jesus’ free gift of eternal life and humbled yourself before Him and given Him control of your life, what is stopping you?  If you come as a little child, He will not turn you away.  While I can tell you that this is true in my life, you don’t need to take my word for it – Jesus said so Himself.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 10:1-12

10 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
(Mark 10:1-12 NIV)

Jesus has been teaching His disciples on the road to Capernaum, having quite a bit of alone time with them on the road and at Peter’s home while in Capernaum.

In today’s passage, Jesus and the disciples are on the road again, this time headed for Judea in the south, and ultimately Jerusalem.  As was His custom, when the crowds showed up to see Jesus, He used the opportunity to teach them.

And wherever there was a crowd, there were Pharisees among them to keep tabs on Jesus and His disciples.  This time, the Pharisees were not there to register a complaint or to watch and see if Jesus would violate their oral traditions that they considered to be “law”.  Instead, the Pharisees were on the offensive, to test Jesus, to look for valid reasons to shut down His ministry.

The Pharisees asked Jesus their question – it concerned the subject of divorce.  This was not a random question – this was a strategic ploy.  Now that Jesus was back in Judah, this was Herod’s domain.  Remember that Herod had divorced his wife and married his brother-in-law’s wife.  John the Baptist had spoken to Herod and told him that what he did was wrong.  Herod had John arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately killed.  The Pharisees were undoubtedly hopeful that they could get Jesus to say something incriminating about divorce, then get Herod to do their dirty work of arresting and silencing Jesus also.

While the Pharisees were using this topic of divorce to try to test Jesus, the topic was indeed a critical issue of Jesus’ day.  There were two schools of Jewish thought around divorce.  The burning question was the meaning of the word “shameful” or “displeasing” in Deuteronomy 24:1.  Was that term to be applied to sexual sin only, such as adultery, or did it have wider applicability, basically to anything and any situation?

The first school of thought was proposed by the Jewish rabbi Shammi.  He thought that divorce was only in cases of adultery.  The other school of thought, proposed by the Jewish rabbi Hillel, was a lot more lenient in its view of divorce – basically that a man could divorce his wife over anything, including preparing a meal he did not enjoy, the way his wife looked, or anything else that displeased him.

So the Pharisees asked their question:  “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  Jesus, in true rabbinic fashion, answers their question with a question:  “What did Moses command you?”

The Pharisees, experts in the Law, were quick to answer “Yes”, and recited the process from Deuteronomy 24:1.  The Pharisees responded with the “what” and “how”; Jesus then responded with the “why”.

Jesus goes back to Moses, then proceeds further back to Genesis and to creation and answers “no” to their question.  Jesus’ reasoning was that God made the bond between the two people in the marriage, between the man and the woman.  Only because of humanity’s hardness of heart were they trying to break God’s bond.

Remember that divorce was God’s way to protect and provide for women.  In Moses’ day, women were considered property or “things”, not people made in God’s image.  This was not God’s view of women and not His plan in His original design for the family.  God knew the hardness of some of the Jewish hearts and wanted to protect women from being treated like animals.  The man could not just throw his wife out of the house; there was a formal divorce process, and the man had to provide for his wife financially.

Later, Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus what He meant when He answered the Pharisees.  Jesus explained that the sin of divorce is compounded by the sin of adultery when the man or woman who initiates the divorce gets remarried.  The reason is that the people are trying to undo the bond that God has made over the marriage – a piece of paper written by a human cannot undo what God has decreed on that marriage.  The sinful act of adultery is the only way to undo the blessing and union God has created in a marriage.

May we remember that marriage is first and foremost a spiritual bond made by God; it is a physical bond second.  Thus, as a spiritual bond, marriage is a responsibility entered into by the man and the woman to God and to each other first; pleasure and fulfillment are second.

May we see our spouse as God sees them, and treat them as if God gave our spouse to us on loan while here on this earth, knowing that we will have to give them back to God at some point and answer to Him on how we have treated them and cared for them.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 9:43-50

43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. [44]  45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. [46]  47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
    and the fire is not quenched.’

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
(Mark 9:43-50 NIV)

In our last section, we saw Jesus teaching His disciples about our effect on others – both positive and negative.  In today’s passage, Jesus digs deeper to find the root cause for our sin – ourselves.

Jesus then asks a very tough question:  Is any sacrifice too great to avoid the finality and pain of hell?  Even the loss of a hand, a foot, or an eye is a small price to pay vs. a life without Christ.

We need to be careful here and understand Jesus is not suggesting self-mutilation in order to earn our way to heaven.  There is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation.  Jesus is, however, teaching His disciples the eternal consequences of those who reject Christ.

Jesus is not teaching His disciples to identify sinful people in their midst and excommunicate them from the fellowship.  The enemy is not outside ourselves, but rather within ourselves.

Verses 49-50 are three separate sayings involving the common subject of salt.  In Old Testament times, animals were sacrificed and their blood was a covering for the sins of the people.  The meat had to be salted before it was cooked; in fact, any offerings made to the Lord had to be salted before it was offered to God (Leviticus 2:13).

When Jesus said that everyone would be salted with fire, He was talking about being preserved (with salt) and being purified (with fire).  In the hot climate of the Middle East, the only way (before refrigeration) to preserve meat was to salt it.  Fire was used to heat precious metals such as gold and silver so the impurities might be removed.  Jesus was teaching His disciples (and us) that we will be salted like a sacrifice and purified in the fiery trials of life.  This salting and burning away of the impurities of our life is part of the refining process God uses to make us more like Him, to hold His pure essence, His “saltiness” that the world craves.

In verse 50, Jesus reverts back to more domestic references to salt in everyday life.  Salt with impurities can become rancid and lose it “saltiness”, the essence of its usefulness.  Jesus is saying that disciples of Christ are what preserves society at large.  As such, we have a responsibility to keep pure and maintain our “saltiness”, our Christ-likeness, which is our redeeming quality that preserves society.  Jesus is not talking about impurities from the outside, the defilement of our outer selves, but rather, keeping pure on the inside, in our hearts and minds.  We are to be in the world (to be salt and light) but not of (like) the world.

Jesus has talked about our witness in the world; now He finishes by talking about relationships among His followers.  This whole dialogue had started back on the road to Capernaum, where the disciples had been arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest.  Jesus now comes full circle and says that we must have that “saltiness” with other followers of Christ as well as the unbelieving world around us.  We must preserve our saltiness, our Christ-likeness, in order to maintain peace among the followers of Christ.

By ending with this last admonition to His disciples (and us), Jesus is saying that our worth is not measured in the number of deeds done for Christ, nor in our rank in the church or other organizations, or the size of our bank accounts or our prestige in the community, all the things that His disciples were likely using to compare themselves to one another.  The only thing Jesus looks at is our focus on and commitment to Him, and to serving one another.

When we all focus on Him, we have peace with other followers of Jesus.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 9:38-42

38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.  42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.
(Mark 9:38-42 NIV)

On their journey back to Capernaum, the disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest among them.  Jesus questioned them about the argument; there was only silence, embarrassment, and shame.  Jesus then picked up a small child as a living illustration of what it means to be His follower – to be the last and least is to be first in God’s economy.

As we open today’s text, Jesus and His disciples are still in the same conversation, still in Peter’s home.   John, the youngest of the disciples, hears what Jesus says in verse 37 about discipleship and takes it literally.  John (along with the other disciples) erroneously thought that the calling to follow Jesus and the power to cast out demons was exclusive to them because they were followers of Jesus, His disciples.

John and the other disciples had seen someone outside the Twelve casting out demons in Jesus’ name.  John tells Jesus that they had told the man to stop because the man was not Jesus’ disciple and therefore was not authorized to use Jesus’ name.

Ironically, the man was successfully casting out multiple demons, whereas they had been unsuccessful in casting out one demon from a young boy just a few days before (9:14-18).  The man’s faith in Jesus, obedience to God, and invoking Jesus’ name to perform the exorcisms were what differentiated this man from the disciples’ earlier attempts to do the same.  The disciples had faith in Jesus but were attempting to perform the exorcisms under their own power.

In verses 39-40, Jesus corrects the disciples’ false presumption that they alone had the power and authority to act in Jesus’ name.  Jesus shows His love, generosity, and authority by telling the disciples not to forbid this man from acting in Jesus’ name.  Jesus gives a simple but clear principle by saying “whoever is not against us is for us.”

In His simple statement, Jesus redefines tolerance and warns against exclusivism and bigotry.  Jesus points out that there are only two positions – either for or against Him.  There are no shades of gray, no factions, no subdivisions, no splitting of hairs.

In verse 41, Jesus extends the principle of verse 37 to anyone who is recognized as a follower of Christ.  If someone shows hospitality or kindness to another because they are a follower of Jesus, then it is as if they are showing hospitality to Christ Himself.

Likewise, verse 42 points out the negative of this same principle.  Anyone who causes a little one to stumble in their faith invokes the wrath of Almighty God.  Jesus says it would be far better for us to have a massive weight strung around our neck and be drowned in the in the depths of the sea than to face God’s righteous fury for our harmful words or actions.

As Jesus held the small child in His arms (v. 36) and the child snuggled against Jesus, the disciples’ hearts had been touched.  Imagine that this little child, this toddler, had snuggled up against Jesus, wrapped its little arms around Jesus, and felt so safe and secure that it had fallen asleep.  As Jesus continued to discuss these matters with His disciples, He tenderly held this sleeping little one in His arms.  To accept Him was to be like this little child; to reject Him was to try to rip this little one out of the arms of God.

May we always remember that God’s ways are bigger than our ways, that His Providential workings are often hidden in plain sight as He moves throughout history for His glory and our good.  While we are to combat the forces of evil in Jesus’ name, may we give grace to those who name the name of Jesus and follow Him in obedience.

May our actions match our words as we follow the Savior in humble obedience, as a child.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 9:33-37

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
(Mark 9:33-37 NIV)

Jesus and His disciples had just walked from the unnamed mountain where Jesus was transfigured to Capernaum via the remote regions of Galilee.  Jesus had been teaching them along their journey about His upcoming betrayal, death, and resurrection.  The disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying, nor did they want to understand.

As we step into today’s passage, we see that Jesus and His disciples have arrived in Capernaum, presumably at Peter’s house.  After they arrive and are settled, Jesus follows up on something that happened along the journey.  The disciples had been in an argument, and Jesus wants to know what the argument is about.  Jesus actually knows what they were arguing about; He wants them to admit it.

The disciples were obviously embarrassed and ashamed of their prideful boasting and petty jealousies that brought about the argument.  Mark records that no one said a word.

Jesus said that anyone that wants to be first (the greatest) must become the very last, even the servant of all, the lowest of the low.  To Peter, James, and John, the conviction must have been overwhelming.  They had seen Jesus reveal His glory and speak with Moses and Elijah.  For them to even think about greatness after that experience was absurd.

Jesus pushes the point further as He took a small child (maybe one of Peter’s kids) and used them as a living illustration of humility and love.  Jesus did not call a servant into the discussion, but rather, a child.  As servant can perform tasks and obey orders; a child is helpless and needy.  As Jesus held the small child in His arms and the child snuggled against Jesus, the disciples’ hearts were touched.

Jesus used His words and the example of a child to dismantle the mindset of the disciples of what Messiah meant and what their roles were to be.  The Jewish mindset of Messiah was that of a religious and military leader who would overthrow the Romans and restore the promised land and self-rule.  The disciples were arguing about being among the likes of King David’s “mighty men” (1 Chronicles 11:10-47) with Jesus as their fearless leader.

But Jesus turned the tables and said to welcome a little child was to welcome Him, and not only Him, but the Father who sent Him.

The antidote, the cure for pride, greatness, selfishness, and blind ambition is to be child-like in our dependence upon God.  Jesus had taught that the way up is the way down – that we must take up our cross daily and follow Him (Mark 8:34-38).  This was a reinforcement of that same principle.

May we pause to listen the what the Holy Spirit is saying to us.  As followers of Christ, are we pursuing our own agendas, or are we reliant on humbly Him for everything?

Do the thoughts of our heart and the words of our mouth convey selfishness and pride, or humility and thankfulness?  If the former, may we stop to confess and repent of our sin, express our need for Christ to lead us and provide for us, and ask Him for the strength to be more like Him.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 9:30-32

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
(Mark 9:30-32 NIV)

Summarizing quickly, we saw Jesus reveal His glory to three of His disciples during the transfiguration.  Coming down from that experience, we saw Jesus’ frustration with His disciples when they tried to do ministry under their own power, rather than be fully reliant on God and His might working through them.  Finally, we saw Jesus cast a demon out of a boy while teaching the boy’s father a faith lesson along the way.

As we step into today’s passage, we see Jesus and His disciples on the move again.  Mark tells us that Jesus is headed for Capernaum (v. 33) by way of Galilee (v. 30).  On this trip, Jesus is not ministering to the crowds; in fact, He is avoiding crowds and cities altogether.

Jesus needed alone time, face time with His disciples, to teach them about the coming events.  From this last ministry test with the failure to cast out the demon, the disciples were humiliated, vulnerable, and at the same time teachable.  Jesus used this opportunity to tell them more about His betrayal, death, and resurrection.

When Jesus said “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men”, He was telling His disciples that He would suffer betrayal, mistreatment, and abandonment at the hands of cruel men. Obviously, these disciples loved Jesus and did not want to hear Jesus saying these things.  If you have ever had a friend give you some heartbreaking news, your first reaction is often to not ask any more questions.  You don’t want to know any more information.   And that is where Jesus’ disciples were experiencing.

And yet, as Jesus told His disciples about these coming events, Jesus was telling them that all these terrible things would happen with God’s full knowledge and Divine permission.  This was not just a human act of betrayal, abuse, and death, but the very fulfillment of God’s plan to redeem all humanity.  Jesus was not boasting about His impending martyrdom and hints of death by crucifixion, but rather preparing them for what was to come.   When Jesus closed by saying He would rise again, that was too much – the disciples didn’t understand, nor did they want to understand.

May we not retreat from hard times or difficult circumstances.  May we grasp the full reality of the Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection not just in our heads, but deep in our souls as we seek to live it out in our daily lives.

May we seek to live out the whole Gospel of Christ, not just the parts we like or understand.

Blessings,
~kevin