Mark 7: 31-37: Meeting and healing

Given it was such a short passage at the end of Mark 7, I wondered whether it would have enough to write a blog post about. That was a ridiculous thought, because you could probably write a whole dissertation on a single verse (I’m pretty sure it’s already been done).

In this passage, Jesus is passing through another Gentile area, where a deaf and mute man is brought to Jesus. Jesus takes him away from the crowd. Then he sticks his fingers in the man’s ears, then Jesus touches his own tongue and then touches the man’s. This seems really weird to us. However, one reason that I’ve read about was that the man was deaf, so Jesus had to explain what was about to happen somehow. Jesus was symbolically telling the man that he was about to be healed. Jesus was meeting with the man where he was, responding to his individual condition.

Now, here the verses perhaps have an additional layer for the modern reader. We read about these episodes in term of spiritual deafness and spiritual muteness. Surely, it is my prayer that the ears and tongues of those around me are opened so that they may receive and speak of the glory of Jesus? “Ephphatha!” (“Be opened!”) I also pray it for myself. I am aware that I live a lot of my life in a state of spiritual deafness and muteness.

Also, this passage shows how Jesus wishes to make his healing ministry very much unlike the ministries of tele-evangelists and faith healers. Jesus tried to do it away from prying eyes and the crowds. He also looks to heaven for his power, not to himself. Finally, he asks those who did see it not to talk about it (the efforts of which, were very much in vain). Jesus healed the man for the man’s sake, not for his own fame or glory. Jesus did not want the fame of a faith healer. He wanted to show compassion and he wanted his Father’s glory to be known.

2 Thessalonians 3

The letters to Thessalonians are almost completed, despite having taken me months to complete them (a global pandemic got in the way). I’ve had to read back on what I’ve read in the letters to refresh my memory. It’s been somewhat sobering as I realise I have been doing exactly what James 1: 22-25 warns against doing: hearing and forgetting. The letters had lots of advice ready for me to use in this time of COVID-19 and yet I followed none of it. So, perhaps they weren’t lessons learnt after-all. ()r this was the lesson – who knows?)

Yesterday, I had a zoom prayer session and was blessed by friends on the other side of the world gathering to pray for me. My final prayer echoed the words of verse one: “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you.” I prayed that the message of the gospel may be heard whatever my situation and that Christ be glorified. Verses 2-4 are very encouraging as well. Verse 5 is an especially beautiful prayer.

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

Can I get an amen? I certainly need my heart directed into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. It’s been running a on empty recently and my perseverance has been shaky at best. (Nonexistent at worst and probably at its most honest, too.)

Verses 6 to 15 is a rebuke against idleness. I manage to give an illusion of industry, but I’m probably pretty idle. I like a good nap and I sometimes (daily) put off things I should. I’d like to be a pathetic millennial and say adulting is hard but it’s not, especially in my situation. So, I probably should get a grip a bit more. It also might help me in making some rather large decisions about next steps, when I’m looking to make life easier but probably can’t.

Another consequence of COVID-19 is there is plenty of stress and uncertainty happening. So, again, the Bible is timely and relevant. God is good.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

Yes, Lord, be with me and give me peace at all times and in every way. Amen.

1 Thessalonians 2

Yesterday, I did read my Bible but was so exhausted I went to bed at 8pm. So, here’s yesterday’s reading.

Paul faced opposition for the Gospel. I’m very lucky in that I have not faced major opposition in spreading the gospel at any point in my life (so far). And yet, often I’m anxious when I do it. It seems ridiculous. I know those who have faced opposition but are bold and fearless.

Verses 3-6 are interesting in terms of discussing motives, especially as some pastors have been jailed for fraudulent money making schemes. Paul says his aim was not to trick others, or to gain money or praise. He said he didn’t use flattery or hypocrisy or asserted their authority recklessly. This is also interesting in light of stories about controlling church leaders, even to the point of being called abusive. Paul’s method was like parents tending young children. It was done with delight, love and openness. It was also done with encouragement, comfort and appeals the Thessalonians to live in a righteous way. Paul is also so thankful for those God had put in his care.

Reading about how leadership and discipleship can be done does somewhat condemn how others have chosen to do it as well. However, they are as much under grace as we are.

Paul then writes about the opposition the gospel message has received. The Thessalonians received it as God’s Word and have suffered for it. That still happens across the world today. Even in Cambodia, Christians are sometimes rejected by their families.

But the overwhelming tone of this chapter is joyful and full of love, as summed up by the last two verses:

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

Amos 6

There seems to be two themes in this chapter: pride and complacency. We see that the people of Israel are enjoying life. The drink wine, have beautifully furnished homes, eat delicious food, listen to music, relax and have fun. It all seems great.

But this wealth and status has made them arrogant. They look down on the poor; they have stopped caring about them. It also means they’ve forgotten about God and his desires. Their worldly gain has been their spiritual loss. It’s stopped them doing what is right and good.

And the result we be destruction. The big mansions will be destroyed. Israel will be oppressed. The Lord detests their ways.

Colossians 3

Like in his other letters Paul lets us know what living as a follower of Christ should look like and what it doesn’t look like.

First, he tells us to focus both our hearts and minds on heavenly things. Our desires and our perspectives should be based on higher things than the earth.

Then he tells us what the markers of Christian life are:

  • Compassion
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Forgiving others
  • Love
  • Unity
  • Peace of Christ ruling our hearts
  • Thankfulness
  • The message of Christ dwelling among us
  • Wisdom
  • Psalms, verses, songs to God in our conversation and in our hearts
  • Wives submitting to their husbands
  • Husbands loving their wives
  • Children obeying parents
  • Servants obeying their masters
  • Working as if for God not man

Christian living does not involve these things:

  • Sexual impurity
  • Lust
  • Evil desires
  • Greed (which is idolatry)
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Malice
  • Slander
  • Filthy language
  • Lying
  • Fathers embittering their children

Again, these are quite a list.

But if we do it with our focus upon Jesus in his throne, then we will desire to love and serve him.

Colossians 2

This one will have to be short as my internet is being too slow to write a longer post.

Colossians 2 is much along the same vein of the previous chapter, which is discussing the character of Christ. This is what it tells us:

  • He is the mystery of God;
  • All of God’s treasures are hidden in Christ;
  • The fullness of Deity lives in bodily form in him;
  • He is head over every power and authority;
  • God makes us alive through Christ;
  • All reality is found in Christ.

It also tells us, once again, how we’ve been saved through Christ. Because of Christ’s death, the debt of sin was paid and the powers and authorities over us were disarmed. We died in baptism with Christ.

So, what should we do in response to this amazing news of Christ? Well, Colossians 2 tells us this as well.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭2:6-7‬

Also, because of Christ we can be free from human religious tradition. We should test what appears to have spiritual wisdom, to see whether or not it is truly of God. If it serves to build our lives in Christ, then it is helpful. If however, like circumcision, it detracts or puts undue power in works of the flesh, then it is not helpful.

Colossians 1:13-29

This part of scripture is just amazing. Just read it yourself a few times. Really take it in.

Verses 13-14 tells us of a rescue story. One where people were in the kingdom of darkness but were bought into another kingdom. This is our rescue story!

Then the next section tells us all about Jesus, who he is and what he has done. This is what it tells us

  • He created everything
  • He sustains everything
  • He is eternal
  • He is the fullness of God
  • He rules over every authority
  • He is the head of the church
  • He reconciled everything—that’s everything— to God.
  • He shed his blood
  • He made peace

Then it reiterates how we were saved in verses 21-22:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…”

How amazing is Jesus and the work he has done!

Now Paul tells us his response to this, which is one we should all follow. Paul becomes a servant to this message and proclaims Christ.

Colossians 1:1-12

I love that many of Paul’s letters start with prayers of thanksgiving for the people it’s addressed to. It’s much nice than our usual, “How was your holiday to Majorca? Colossians is no exception in this.

Colossians talks about the gospel and I really love these verses:

… In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world — just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

Verse 6

I love that Paul is talking about the gospel having a power to be fruitful and to grow and spread. I pray that this continues today so that every tongue and tribe may know the gospel of Jesus.

And then again comes a really awesome prayer for the Colossians church.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

Verses 9-12

That is one long sentence. However, those verses deserve breaking down a little bit. So these are things I’ve noticed:

  • Paul’s commitment to praying for believers. Not only does he write these prayers in his letters, but I believe him when he says he hasn’t stopped praying for them.
  • That God gives wisdom and understanding, not Wikipedia or CNN or clever books. We need the Holy Spirit in us for this.
  • This wisdom and understanding serves to glorify and please God. Anything that claims to be wisdom and understanding but doesn’t do that is just fake.
  • God causes our good works to bear fruit – not us.
  • God gives us knowledge of himself.
  • God strengthens us. And not just a little, he strengthens us with all power according to his glorious might. His might is indeed glorious – it made the whole world after all.
  • This power results in patience and endurance.
  • We should give thanks joyfully.
  • God qualifies us; we don’t qualify ourselves through our own efforts.
  • We share in the inheritance of holy people.
  • We belong to the kingdom of the light.

Wow, all that in three verses.

I’ll stop there for now, because the next section of Colossians 1 is great and equally packed. So, to avoid this becoming an essay, I’ll leave it there.

Philippians 1

First, does anyone else have trouble spelling Philippians? Is it two ls, two ps? Oh, you do? Great.

Philippians is a letter to former Roman soldiers who are now believers in the city of Philippi. They have been very supportive of Paul during his time in prison, which perhaps is why he writes so warmly towards them. I love how Paul says “I thank my God every time I remember you” and that when he prays for the he “always prays with joy”. What a lovely thing to say.

Paul also talks about God’s transforming work in believers:

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

verse 6

Paul again speaks of how we are currently redeemed and transformed, and will continue to be transformed until we are with Jesus in heaven. It’s such a hope-filled statement and reassuring to us as we struggle with our sinful natures.

Again, Paul writes a beautiful prayer for his readers:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.

verses 9-11

I pray this prayer for myself as well, and hope that it becomes a reality in my life.

After this, Paul encourages those in Philippi by telling how his hardships have served to advance the gospel. It seems passive at first, that it just sort of happened that way, but it was an intentional choice of Paul. It challenges us today to use our struggles and difficulties to advance the gospel and to proclaim Christ. It’s often the case that during struggles and hardships we become inclined to be self-serving, introspective and somewhat self-absorbed. However, during Paul’s time of immense difficulty, he still considered how this could be used to see Jesus proclaimed.

Such was his desire to see Christ proclaimed, he didn’t care that people were doing it to cause him trouble. He only cared that Christ was being glorified. Often, we question the motives of pastors or preachers. However, rather than focusing on that, perhaps we should pray that Christ is seen regardless.

Paul does not care whether he live or die. In fact, he would rather die because it would mean being with Christ. However, he feels that Christ still has a job for him to do here so that Christ’s glory may be further known. Paul wants to remain so “that through my being with you again your boasting Christ Jesus will abound on account of me” (verse 26). Isn’t it amazing that this is Paul’s first and foremost concern: Christ’s glory.

Because Paul is passionate about this, he extols his readers to live in a way that brings honour to Christ:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…

Verse 27

The “whatever happens” is a bit of challenge. On my bad days, on the days where the whatevers are unpleasant or exhausting or frustrating, I’m not sure my conduct is always worthy of the gospel of Christ. In fact, I’m sure the opposite is true. So, again, I pray that whatever happens, I live a pure and blameless life worth of the gospel of Christ.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Again, Ephesians 5 exhorts us to live carefully and wisely. Here, we follow God’s example because we are dearly loved children. That’s a really beautiful image. We are loved by God, and that love compels us to look to God and obey him and follow him. This very much reminds me of John 14.

In this chapter of John, the idea that obedience and love for Jesus and love for and from the Father are interconnected. Jesus’ words reminds us that we need to love him and that love is shown in keeping his commands.

“If you love me, keep my commands … Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them … Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

John 14:15-24

This passage in John also talks about how Jesus will send the Spirit to be with us. These ideas are also repeated in 1 John 4:

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:13-19

When we reread the first part of Ephesians in light of these verses, it’s easy to be encouraged.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Therefore, it shows the importance of Paul’s prayer in chapter 3 for the Ephesians. So, again I pray that we can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Yes, I pray that day by day I know more and more the love of Jesus and the love of the Father. And because of this knowledge of this love, I can follow God’s example and live a life of love. I pray that, through the power of the Spirit, I know the Father more deeply and completely. May my life be given up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

For the glory of Jesus’ holy name,

Amen.