202. God’s Concession

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 202. God’s Concession

Mk 10:5-9   “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…. they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

We live in a Fallen World where second best has to prevail. We also live in a world where I marvel when I hear people say that God is hard. Think about what we find in our verses today. Jesus acknowledges that the Law did speak about giving a certificate of divorce, but then he gives a devastating reason why Moses gave that Law, presumably at God’s behest.

This law allowing divorce came as a concession from God because He knew that people’s hearts would be hard and that divorce would be a preferable option to the alternative – whole scale adultery. Hardness of heart is the only reason for divorce ultimately. Let’s examine that.

A person with a hard heart is set on the course they have determined. In Christians circles divorce should never occur. Temporary separations maybe, but divorce never!  Why do I say this contrary to the modern trend where I am told there are as many divorces inside the church as outside it?  Within the church we are supposed to be a community committed to God and open to God’s grace and there for one another when we get into difficulties. So why do couples part? Mostly, I suspect, it is either because one party is committing adultery or the couple have allowed themselves to get into such a place of hostility that they seem unable to makeup.

Adultery is understandable because people fall to temptations. that is not to excuse it for it is sin and utterly wrong. If we, the modern church, believed the word of God, we would excommunicate such a believer as Paul did (1 Cor 5:1-13, esp. vo13) with the objective of bringing him to his senses and repentance. The grace that is then needed is for the partner receiving him (her) back.

But what about the hostile couple?  How did this come about? It came about because of a shallow relationship with Jesus and with the church and the couple allowing, bit by bit, division and dissension to build up. Grace is needed to restore this relationship and it is only a hard heart that refuses the wisdom and grace of Christ that comes through the elders of the church.

So when there is a refusal to receive counsel, a refusal to receive God’s grace and healing and repentance, then there is hardness of heart and thus divorce follows but, says, Jesus, God’s desire is that the couple stay together and (implied) resolve all the difficulties that has brought them to this point.

201. God’s Will

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 201. God’s Will

Mk 10:3,4   “What did Moses command you?” he replied.  They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

For the Jews of Jesus’ day, God’s will was encapsulated in the Law given by God through Moses, so if you wanted to know what God’s will is, you referred to the Law. So when the Pharisees come and ask Jesus about divorce, his immediate response is, well what is God’s will on it, what does the Law say about it?  Do you remember when Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness by Satan? How did Jesus deal with Satan? By referring him to God’s Law again and again as it came in different forms in the Old Testament.

Which raises the question, when we want to know right and wrong, to what do we refer? Is it, indeed, to God’s word? I am of the impression that for many Christians today God’s word does not carry the authority it used to – it should! Maybe it is the work of the crusading atheists attacking the Bible, and modern Christians’ inability to bring good answers, that this is so.  I am sure most churches hold Bible Studies and preach from the Bible on Sundays, but I am still left with the impression that the modern Christian is not well equipped to answer the challenges that come, and don’t, therefore, see the Bible as the ultimate authority of what is right and wrong, what God’s will is.

So Jesus refers them to God’s Law and like well taught Pharisees that they were, they were able to come up with what the Law said. Now bear in mind what we said previously: these Pharisees were here to put Jesus in an awkward position. They were, the text says, out to test him. They have not come to learn. In fact, if you asked them, they would almost certainly have viewed Jesus as inferior to them on knowledge of the Law, which is perhaps why they have come to ‘test’ him as well as get him into trouble with Herod. Just a reminder, in passing therefore, that not everyone who comes asking questions, comes with the heart of a learner. There are a lot of varying motives for asking questions!

So, they come up with a correct answer. Yes, in the Law we find, a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce…” (Deut 24:1). The points of dispute were over the meaning of ‘something indecent’. One school took it to mean marital unfaithfulness and the other referred to the earlier part of the verse and made it anything that displeased the man, a much more liberal approach. But what was God’s intent behind it? That is the big question which Jesus is going to point them towards.

200. Dubious Questioning

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 200. Dubious Questioning

Mk 10:2   Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

We pondered in the first verse of this new chapter the motivation of the people who came to Jesus. A significant point that we did not pick up previously is that Jesus has moved down into Judea and what is now taking place in Herod’s jurisdiction. Now we know that Herod had had John the Baptist beheaded and it was mainly because John had denounced Herod for wrong marriage practice: Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mk 6:17,18)

It is probably therefore that these Pharisees came asking this question because they wanted to stir up trouble for if Jesus also denounced Herod’s activities either directly or by implication, it might cause Herod to seize Jesus in the same way.

Thus when we read they “came and tested him,” it is probable that it had more behind it than just checking to see if Jesus conformed to the Law, although would surely have been part of it. So if indeed the people came with mixed motives how much more were the motives mixed of these legalistic Pharisees who came seeking trouble for Jesus.

Divorce was not a contentious matter as such for the Jews for, as we shall see, Moses had regulated it. The only areas of dispute, which the Pharisees would have been aware of, were the grounds permitting divorce and different schools taught different things. In many ways this was a minefield, and whatever way you look at it they were seeking to put Jesus in an awkward position.

In this we observe the same sort of reaction or response to Jesus that we so often find in the world. Questions are asked about Jesus or God or the Bible or the Christian Faith, not simply to genuinely find answers, but to sow discord and disharmony and to try and reveal each of these subjects in a bad light. The enemy’s tactic is to ridicule or scorn these things and thus turn the unbeliever even further away, and concrete them even more securely in their unbelief, while sowing doubts in the mind of the believer.

Never be afraid of questions about the faith because there are always good answers but check the motivation for such questions. What is the heart of the questioner? Are they genuine seekers or do they come, like these Pharisees, to bring discord, disharmony and doubt?  Questions in themselves are not wrong, but it is what is behind them which is important.


199. Seekers?

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 199. Seekers?

Mk 10:1    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.

We, all of us, have mixed motives. Is that why the prophet wrote, The heart is deceitful above all things”? (Jer 17:9) Now I say this because in this verses we have crowds coming to Jesus and him teaching them, and we might assume that the two things are linked by the seeking hearts of the people and I simply wonder if that is true?

Were the crowds flocking to Jesus to hear his teaching or for some other reason? It does seem that whenever they came in large numbers he did teach them, so it must have been something they had come to expect. These are just simple wonderings that I find I have when confronted by such a simple verse, a factual verse with no explanation built into it.

Certainly when Jesus first started teaching, the people had been amazed at the authority with which he spoke and acted (e.g. Mt7:29) and without doubt it is good listening to someone who is able to speak with authority (which is so often lacking even in our own day).

It may have also been true that, as we have noted a number of times in other meditations, the signs were that until John the Baptist came, Israel was at a spiritual low with sickness and demonic activity prevailing, and so the people had a hunger for something different, which is why they seemed to initially flock to John the Baptist and then Jesus. They had been through four hundred years of spiritual darkness since the prophets last spoke and yet still believed that they were God’s people.

Yet I have this slight nagging wonder in the back of my mind. Is that all there was to it? Again, when large crowds came to Jesus he seemed to heal large numbers (if not all) of them, and that particularly seemed to draw people. After the feeding of the five thousand we find, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15)  That large crowd had realised that here was someone who could look after them, someone with miraculous powers.

So here is my question: did these people come to Jesus, and do we come to Jesus, for what we can get from him, or do we come to him with open seeking hearts that yearns to know and do God’s will and wants Jesus to instruct us and guide us and bring us understanding so that we can more fully walk in that will?  Do we come for what we can get to make us feel good by healing us up, or to be brought into God’s goodness through doing His will. Both would be good!

198. Saltiness

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 198. Saltiness

Mk 9:50    Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.

Jesus brings this discussion and teaching to an end in quite a dramatic way. Possibly we are familiar with these verses, and so familiar that they have lost their tremendous significance. Now we didn’t follow verse 42 to the end of that section because of the repetitive nature of it, but it was a dramatic passage: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off,” (v.43), “if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off,” (v.45) “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out,” (v.47) and in each case he says it’s better to do that than end up in hell (v.44,45,47). That is dramatic language.

The whole of that might be summarised as, if you don’t deal with the causes of sin, they may continue to cause you to sin and grow and grow until eventually your faith is zero and you have abandoned Christ and your destiny is hell. That is how important Jesus makes failing to deal with sin and so important is it, that he repeats the challenge four times in those verses.

Now he comes to the pinnacle of the challenge which in its simplicity is devastating. We come to it through, again, another chain of word uses. In speaking of hell he warns of it being a place of fire (v.48) and then he says, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” (v.49) Now commentators tend to agree that the meaning of this is unclear, but what is fairly obvious is that the reference to ‘salted’ means purified. Now whether hell is a place where every being is purified and the ‘old man’ or old nature is purged by fire, is not clear. Perhaps Jesus means that each one of us who are destined for hell will be purified on this earth.

The word of God should have a purifying effect upon us, bad circumstances have a purifying effect on us, and of course the working of the Holy Spirit has a purifying effect on us, so all of these things will be working to change us.

But Jesus, in other areas of his teaching has said that WE are to be salt, having a purifying effect upon this world: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Mt 5:13)

Now here is the terrible thing: if we fail to heed all of Jesus’ warning in these verses we will lose out salt-effect and once that happens there is nothing you can do to restore it. You may think that you can get away with it, but if you don’t deal with your sin it will eventually overcome you and there is no hope of return!

197. Harsh Dealings

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 197. Harsh Dealings

Mk 9:42    If your hand causes you to sin, 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

We said in the previous meditation that this all started with the subject of servant-heartedness, but Jesus has taken it on as an opportunity to teach more widely on discipleship, because that is what all these verses are actually about.

He’s just previously spoken against divisive superior attitudes and the need to be open to all and sundry, the mature and the not so mature and then suddenly, it appears, he makes this apparently incredibly harsh statement. If this is what discipleship is about, it is not comfortable.

To catch its full meaning we really do need to see it in the context of what has gone before. Remember what we’ve just said, it’s been about servant heartedness and openness to others and those are attitude things that have outworking in behaviour towards others.

But Jesus is a realist and he knows what we are like. Have you ever noticed this particular thing? We can be a good Christian, fully committed we think to God, doing all the right things, but then in one little corner of our lives we have this area of vulnerability, whether it is in respect of a particular temptation or it is a particular attitude. Let’s see it in respect of relationships. We re outward going, loving and caring, but suddenly we recognise that in our thinking there is one particular person who drives us crazy, who annoys us, upsets us and makes us angry – just one person, but they are there for some reason as a little dark corner in our lives.

Or perhaps it is the case of a single action. Normally we are a good Christian, loving and caring and righteous, and then one day we are confronted by a circumstance and we handle it badly – just like the disciples and the man with the deliverance ministry. it may be a sign of an underlying wrong attitude that needs dealing with or it may just be a one-off failure.

Now our temptation is to be gentle with ourselves and write it off as something of no consequence, but Jesus knows otherwise. Jesus knows that if we don’t deal with these wrong attitudes, or even wrong failures, they will grow and be repeated and if we allow them to do that, they may eventually bring about our eventual complete downfall.

Thus Jesus says these shocking words, words meant to convey the seriousness. Does he want us to do this literally? No, but he wants us to realise how incredibly important this is, this dealing with things so that they don’t grow and bring us down. Think on these things and act.

196. Simple Believers

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 196. Simple Believers   

Mk 9:42    And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

What we have here is part of the ongoing flow of action and conversation that goes right back to 9:33,34 where we read,They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  They were back in Capernaum where Jesus had challenged them on their discussion about who was the greatest. He had then challenged them to be servant-hearted (9:35) and, taking a little child from the group in the house, challenged them to be childlike in how they respond to others (9:36,37). John had somewhat defensively leapt in and basically said, but surely we’re not to accept everyone, like the guy we stopped working in your name (9:38). To this diversion Jesus had simply said isn’t it better having him on our side than against us? (9:39-41).

Having dealt with one case of the disciples rejecting people, he now turns back to the little child and basically says, “And if you cause one of these little ones to turn away from me you will be in big trouble!” This is a direct follow on. They had just caused a believing man operating a deliverance ministry to stop ministering (and who knows what that left him thinking and feeling!) and so he now brings the child to the fore again and says, don’t let anyone of you turn an innocent believing child away from me.

Now I think that could be applied to life situations in a variety of ways. Where there is a believing child or young person, who in the simplicity of their thinking has come to faith, Jesus warns parents, teachers and anyone else for that matter, if you try and dash their simple naïve faith, you are in trouble!  It doesn’t matter if they are simple and it doesn’t matter if they are naive in their faith. If they believe in Jesus that is enough (they will have plenty of time as they grow up to mature their faith and come to greater understanding).

But then there are young Christians generally who, again, may appear simple and naïve in their beliefs and you wish that they would mature, but don’t do or say anything that will quench their faith, because Jesus accepts them just like they are and he’s quite happy that at this moment they appear to take everything on face value without thinking or questioning anything. Their time for developing, changing and growing up will come, so don’t decry them or say things to put them down that might destroy their faith and leave them cynical doubters. Love them as they are.

195. Unifying Principle

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 195. A Unifying Principle

Mk 9:39-41    “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

As we previously contemplated the situation that arose and caused the disciples concern, we noted our tendency to be isolationist when we have entered into blessing. This is what this is all about, isn’t it? We’ve come into relationship with Jesus, we’ve had our lives transformed, and for some of us that transformation has really been dramatic, and therein lies the danger – we look down on those who have not had the same experience, those who might (in our eyes at least) have a lesser faith, who cannot talk so clearly about the dramatic change of being born again.

Now intriguingly, Jesus does not categorise the man who had been delivering people and does not vindicate his position, but simply lays down a principle that unifies all who do good in Jesus’ name. This may not be the ultimate answer about the man’s state (or whether some of our friends are genuinely saved or have only had a limited experience) but it does help bring us to rest and leave it in God’s hands.

Look, says Jesus by implication, we have enough trouble with those who are openly against us and criticise us. If there is anyone who does good in my name, or even go as far as performing miracles in my name, you can be sure that having done that one minute, the next minute they are not going to be turning round and criticising us. If they are not against us – and they won’t be if they use my name – then they will be for us, and surely that is a plus!

Look, he goes on, if anyone does good towards you knowing you are my disciples, even just giving you a drink of water, knowing you are mine, my Father will reward and bless them for it so, (by implication) don’t be all stressed out by those who don’t seem to be completely one with us. If they are on our side, on the side of my Father, even if they have not yet had the same experiences as you, don’t get stressed about them!

There is within all this an important principle. When we encounter other people who appear to have some level of belief, do we look for things that will unify us with them or do we find negatives that distinguish us from them or them from us, things that put a divide between us. Not all believers will have had exactly the same experience as you. That is God’s grace, but they may still be believers, even if young ones or ones with limited experience. Don’t reject them!

194. What about…?

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 194. But what about…?

Mk 9:38    “Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

Before we get to Jesus’ response we need to observe something of the query that John brings to Jesus. Note it is John who, in those days, was also called a Son of Thunder (Mk3:17), obviously a fiery sort of individual with his brother James. The disciples, obviously apart from Jesus, had come across a man who had been delivering people from demons and he had been doing it in Jesus’ name – but he wasn’t one of the ones called by Jesus to follow him.

Now all of us tend to be suspicious of people who don’t come from ‘our group’. Some of us are deeply suspicious of others who are not qualified like we are. The disciples had already taken on a proprietary feel about Jesus and we suspicious and perhaps looked down on others who wanted to do the same as they were doing but not with them. It’s fairly understandable because we’re all a bit like this. If you’re a trained counsellor you are suspicious and maybe even critical of those who counsel other without credentials. If you are a lawyer you would definitely be critical of unqualified people giving legal advice.

And so the disciples take it on themselves to rebuke and challenge this man even though he was obviously successful in delivering people! (There wouldn’t have been any questions if he wasn’t achieving anything!) We don’t know what they said but we could hazard a guess: “How dare you use our master’s name; you’re not part of our group. Stop doing what you are doing!”

Now the fact of the matter was, as I’ve already just suggested, that people were getting delivered. Now there is no magic involved in deliverance. it is simply the power of God coming against the power and presence of the powers of darkness and dispelling them from human beings. Deliverance is God using an individual to deliver another individual and so if deliverance had been taking place through this man, we have to assume that it was God working through him, because as Jesus said in another context, Satan wouldn’t cast out his own people (see Mk 3:23).

No, this had to be a work of God going on even though it was not being done directly by Jesus. This man was obviously a believer in Jesus to some extent because he realised the power and authority that came with the name of Jesus; he believed in Jesus and was just getting on doing what obviously came natural to him and we must suggest it was because God had prompted him.  All of this had obviously passed the disciples by as they get caught up in their defensive action to preserve the apparent integrity of their ministry. Missed it!

193. An Example

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 193. An Example   

Mk 9:36,37    He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “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.”

‘Important’ people, big people, famous people, like meeting with and encountering similar people. Previously I commented on the number of TV dramas that focus on life a hundred years ago and particularly the distinctions of ‘upstairs and downstairs’, the nobility and the servants. That time may have passed away but still today in every society there will be these social distinctions.

The disciples have just been chided by Jesus about their need for servant-heartedness. Now he makes the teaching more general and he does it by taking a small child. Look what we are told. He gets a little boy and brings him into the group where they are all sitting. But more than that, he gathers this little boy up into his arms. Now before we come to the teaching, note this. Whether or not this little boy knows Jesus, we aren’t told, but he obviously feels sufficiently secure to let Jesus pick him up. Was there a mother in the background watching what was going on?

But Jesus is teaching his disciples. They had been talking about leadership among themselves, who was the most important. Important people deal with important people is the way of the world – but not in thekingdomofGod!

Little children aren’t important, they contribute nothing to our social standing but they ARE people in their own right and God loves them and if He does, then so should we.  So, says Jesus, if you welcome one of these little insignificant people into your life, you will be pleasing me and welcoming me and my values into your life, and if you welcome me and my values, then you will be welcoming my Father in heaven into your life as well.

The challenge has to be, are there people who we consider too insignificant to bother with. Do we put people into categories and, for whatever reason, exclude some of them from our interest. Over the past year I have been involved in a community project that seeks to reach out and touch people in every walk of life (it doesn’t, but certainly a wide spectrum of people) and as I have been doing this I have come to appreciate ALL people I have encountered in the community.

Jesus isn’t impressed with ‘special’ people or ‘important’ people; he is open to all people and loves all people – significant and insignificant and he challenges our hearts to be just the same – and it is a big challenge!