Give me a sign

Read: Numbers 24-27, Mark 8:11-38

Mark 8-11-12.jpg

It seems a little bit contradictory that Jesus would say this right after performing some of the most spectacular miracles of his ministry. This would be like asking an Olympic gold medalist to repeat their performance to prove they were good enough and have them refuse. The evidence for their athleticism already exists in the form of the gold hanging around their neck. For Jesus, the evidence of the wonders he had done was all around in the form of the thousands of people Jesus had healed, set free, and fed.

By refusing to perform a sign from heaven for the Pharisees on command, does this mean that Jesus didn’t want to do the miraculous anymore? Of course not! He knew that, if the evidence already available to these men wasn’t enough, one more miracle wasn’t going to do the trick.

He who is not convinced of the value of unseen things from a knowledge of the personality and spiritual message of Jesus will be unmoved by the most spectacular miracle.

J. Newton Davies, The Abingdon Commentary

I’m so confused! Do we want miracles or don’t we?

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

Mark 16:17-18 (NIV)

These were some of the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before ascending into heaven. I think it’s safe to assume that this message was an important one.

But why are miracles for some people and not for others? Harper’s Bible Dictionary says this:

The miraculous healings and exorcisms, then, were unique personal experiences of the salvation brought by Jesus.

As much as miracles prove the existence of a loving God, they are not for unbelievers, but those who believe. Notice that when Jesus healed someone, he often told them that their faith had made them well. Jesus didn’t heal them to make them believe, he healed them because they believed.

It then begs the question: why isn’t the church as a whole seeing miracles?

Do we really believe?

Rebellion or revival

Read: Numbers 16-17, Mark 6:33-56

In today’s reading, we see two very different accounts. Israel has just recently made the decision to not go into the Promised Land. Ten of the twelve scouts that were sent to scope out the land came back saying it’s good, but we can’t overpower the people already living there. We’re better off where we are. So they decide to stay in the desert and are then upset about it! They don’t like the food. They don’t like the dirt. They don’t like their leaders. They don’t like much about their situation, even though they’re in it because of the choices they made.

The Israelites said to Moses, “We will all die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the Lord will die. Are we all going to die?”

Numbers 18:12-13 (NIV)

Flash forward to Mark. Jesus has been working with his disciples for some time now. They’ve already been out on missions trips. Crowds find and follow them wherever they go. Even though they’ve seen miracles and have been a part of working miracles, these twelve guys still don’t have it all together. They don’t understand everything that’s happening, but they seem pretty keen on being a part of it. They may question some of Jesus’ methods, but they work, so in the end the go along with him. They’re seeing sick and lame healed, dead raised, and people set free. And they’re in it because of the choices they made.

And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

Mark 6:56 (NIV)

Israel lived in fear while Jesus’ followers lived in awe. Israel refused over and over again to obey, yet they still expected the fulfillment of God’s promises. The crowds that followed Jesus chased after him and experienced miracles. Do you see the connection?

Rebellion will never lead to revival.

Israel was a giant flock of lost sheep. God had given them a shepherd, but they didn’t like him. They didn’t want to follow all of the rules. They wanted to have their own way. Instead of walking straight from bondage into bounty, they wandered and they died. Only two men who stepped out of Egypt walked into the promise—because they saw beyond the problem.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Mark 6:34 (NIV)

Here’s another group of lost sheep. But these sheep chose to trust their shepherd and they were greatly rewarded for it.

Rebellion leads to restlessness, while following leads to freedom.

Square peg

Read: Number 14-15, Mark 6:1-32

You may have heard the term, like fitting a square peg into a round hole. No matter how hard you try, those corners are not going to magically round off so that the square peg can fit into a circle. Sometimes, the way we minister is the square peg and those we’re ministering to are the round hole. No matter what you say or how you say it, the message isn’t going to get through. Jesus had some advice for his disciples for such a time as this.

And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.

Mark 6:11 (NIV)

As I’ve been turning this verse over in my mind throughout the day, I’ve come to several conclusions.

  1. This is not an excuse to leave when things get difficult. There is a difference between difficult and not being received altogether. Sometimes ministry—our Christian lives—is hard. A lot of the time it’s hard. But that doesn’t mean we’re just supposed to give up. Welcome and comfort are not always equal. My pastor said this morning that complacency is the greatest stifler of the church. When we get all cozy, we do nothing.
  2. Leaving someone or some place that doesn’t welcome you is not giving up. Notice that Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that they had to stay in one place until everyone accepted the Good News. He didn’t expect them to stay in an unwelcome place. He wanted them to be where the Gospel would be received.
  3. The Gospel spreads faster where it is welcome. Our Great Commission as believers is to share the Gospel with every nation. That doesn’t mean we have to start with the hardest ones first. I think Jesus actually wanted his disciples to start with the easy ones. Do you want to know why? More people get saved in the easy ones and the more people who are saved, the more people will get saved. I believe that some of those cities who scoffed at the disciples, after hearing of the miracles that followed them wished they’d have been more welcoming.

Mark 6-12-13.jpg

The disciples went where they were welcome, where they were made to fit. They didn’t stick around as square pegs in a round hole trying to make something work.

If God has told you to be where you are, stay. I don’t want to tell someone that, because something is hard, they should leave. Sometimes God asks us to stick around through very difficult situations and I believe that He can and will work through them.

And I’m also not saying that the path of least resistance is the one we should all be taking. The Bible is full of seemingly contradictory teaching and it is up to us to read through it carefully and depend on the Holy Spirit to help us discern what is right for each of us.

Sometimes that peg will never fit. Sometimes the peg needs to be whittled down to fit. Sometimes the hole need to be chiseled to accommodate. And sometimes, we just need to light it all on fire with the power of the Gospel.

Little faith. Big things.

Read: Exodus 7-8, Matthew 17

Have you ever tried to teach a child something that seems so simple, but they just can’t seem to grasp the concept? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? I think Jesus felt that way sometimes with his disciples. They listened to him teach. Walked with him. Talked with him. Watched him perform miracle after miracle. Yet when it came to simple things, they just couldn’t seem to get it.

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”

Matthew 17:17 (NIV)

In my mind, Jesus sounds like an exasperated parent. Will I never be able to leave you alone to take care of yourself? Left on their own, the disciples couldn’t even cast out a lowly demon. Jesus calls them out on their little faith. And this isn’t even the first time Jesus has accused the disciples of having little faith. It must have been really small.

Matthew 17:20

I don’t think that Jesus was necessarily speaking to the size of their faith—we have all been given a measure of faith, but rather the potential of it that they failed to realise. If faith the size of a mustard seed has the potential to move a mountain, just how small was their faith?

While Jesus walked with them, the disciples had their issues, but once Jesus had ascended into heaven, suddenly things changed.

Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

Acts 2:43 (NIV)

They couldn’t perform a miracle when Jesus was right there, but once he was gone, no problem! So what changed?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…

Acts 1:8 (NIV)

I believe that the Holy Spirit within us reveals the potential of our faith. It is the partnership of knowing who we are in Christ and what he has made us capable of along with the help of the Holy Spirit that allows us to use our little faith to do big things.

 

They are blind

Read: Genesis 49-50, Matthew 15:1-20

No one enjoys being called out on their wrong-doings. Generally, if we’ve sinned, we’d rather deal with it quietly rather than have it made public. But when it came to the Pharisees, Jesus almost seemed to enjoy bringing their failures to light. And I’m willing to bet that, when his disciples pointed out how upset the Pharisees were, he already knew they were offended.

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

Matthew 15:12 (NIV)

This being the fact that the Pharisees were trying to call out Jesus and his disciples as unclean because they hadn’t washed their hands before eating while the Pharisees blatantly refused to honour their fathers and mothers claiming whatever help [they] might otherwise have received from [us] is a gift devoted to God (Matthew 15:5). They used their religion as an excuse to disregard the command to honour their parents. Their words made them more unclean than eating with unwashed hands and, when Jesus pointed out this fact, they were offended. He beat the Pharisees at their own game and they didn’t like it.

If you, like the Pharisees, find yourself offended when truth is brought to light, chances are that you are the one who may need to make some changes. Often our own initial response is the best gage for the veracity of a statement.

On the giving end, it is our duty as followers of Christ to proclaim the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). On the receiving end, it is our duty to verify the truth according to the Word of God and make any adjustments necessary to bring ourselves into line with that truth.

We may not be able to control how others see the truth.

Matthew 15:13

… whoever is offended by a plain, seasonable declaration of truth, we should not be troubled at it.

Matthew Henry

But we can control how we receive it ourselves.

You of little faith

Read: Genesis 46-48, Matthew 14:22-36

Most of us know or have at least heard the account of Jesus walking on the water. He’d had a busy day. Lost his cousin to beheading. Healed a bunch of people. Fed a bunch of people. He needed some time alone. So he sent his disciples ahead of him across the lake in a boat. By evening, the boat was way ahead of him and a storm had blown in. So he does what any sensible person would do and walks to the boat. On the water. Eventually the men in the boat see him and, after deciding that he isn’t a ghost, Peter calls out to Jesus over the sound of the wind and waves.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “Tell me to come to you on the water.”

Matthew 14:28 (NIV)

Jesus does and Peter does. Of the twelve, only one decides it’s worth it to get out of the boat. He does okay for a while, but soon realises where he is, takes into account the storm around him, and begins to sink.

Matthew 14:31

We can have one of two responses to this story:

  1. Discouragement. Peter did exactly what Jesus told him to do—step out of the boat and on to the water—yet he still began to sink. This point of view would likely prevent any one or all of us from ever pursuing the miraculous. If all we’re going to do is fail, why bother, right?
  2. Encouragement. Peter did exactly what Jesus told him to do—step out of the boat and on to the water—and he did! I don’t know if Peter was brave or stupid, but whatever he was, we could use more of that in our Christian circles.

What I find most encouraging about this account is that Jesus told Peter that he had little faith. Most of us would see that as an insult, but I would take it as a compliment. If a little faith is all it took to get out of the boat to stand on the waves, I’ll start with that. Oh, that we would all have the little bit of faith Peter had. His only mistake was to take his eyes off of Jesus.

Jesus hasn’t told me to do anything like that. Oh, but he has!

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 14:12-14 (NIV)

Every miracle Jesus performed while he walked the earth is an example for us. Through our faith in him, we should be doing what what he did and even greater. Even if your faith is only enough to get you out of the boat, it’s a start. And once you start, don’t take your eyes off of the One who called out.

It’s okay to be of little faith—to begin with. Don’t let one failure stop you from getting out of the boat again and again. Keep your eyes on Jesus and soon, you’ll be living on the water.

It doesn’t matter

In a world where everyone wants something to matter, there are a few things that don’t matter at all when it comes to our Commission as believers.

1. It doesn’t matter where you are.

Matthew 14:13

Bono had it right when he penned these words:

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And now you can’t get out of it

We can get so caught up in our doing that we don’t notice that Jesus has gone somewhere else and we’ve failed to follow. The crowds that followed knew that Jesus had something they needed. It didn’t matter that he was in a boat and they were on land. They followed.

There are times that we may be hesitant to leave what we’re doing because we have so much time, energy, and resources invested. But is it really worth missing Jesus? We must all learn to keep our eyes on him and follow at a moments notice.

2. It doesn’t matter how you feel.

Matthew 14:14

Jesus had just received news that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded in prison. He wanted to be alone. Yet the crowds followed him and, even in his grief, he had compassion, ministered to them, and healed the sick. Whether we feel like it or not, our call to minister doesn’t go away or get put on hold. Jesus didn’t say, “When you feel like it, maybe go across the street and tell someone about me.” He said, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

How we feel is not included in our call. In the following verses we will see that, even in one of his darkest moments as a man, Jesus was able to perform a great miracle and reach thousands of people. Perhaps by going ahead, especially when we don’t feel like it, God is able to accomplish more through us.

3. It doesn’t matter what is (or isn’t) in your hands.

Matthew 14:19

If you’re a pastor or a leader in your church and 10,000 people show up one Sunday and want to stick around all day, what would you do? Feed them or send them off with an invitation to return and hope they’ll come back? If the disciples had their way, they’d have sent away the crowds. Their hands were empty. Jesus had been performing miracles all day and the men who were closest to him still didn’t see that just because their hands were empty, it didn’t mean they had nothing.

Whether we feel qualified or equipped to fulfill the Great Commission is irrelevant. What’s in our hands doesn’t matter. It’s probably even better if our hands are empty because then we have no other recourse than to depend on what’s in Jesus’ hands.

When Jesus handed off the bread and fish to the disciples, they then handed it off to the people. And then it came back—far more than what they’d started with. Every hand that touched the food was a part of the miracle and as more people handled it, the greater it became.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

1 John 4:4 (NIV)

The message of Jesus is completely counter to our culture. We cannot maintain popular ideals and still be effective in ministry.

He must become greater; I must become less.

John 4:30 (NIV)