192. A Serving Principle

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 192. A Serving Principle

Mk 9:35   Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

I’m never quite sure if wanting to be the greatest is a sign of being egomaniacal or of insecurity. Few of us would admit to it, I suspect, but the truth is we’d like to feel we’re ‘top of the pile’ although there are lots of us who struggle with the fact that we clearly know that we’re nowhere near the top of the pile.

Self-esteem and self-worth are tricky things and, as we quoted previously, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things’. In other words we kid ourselves about our motivation. But the disciples had been discussing this as they walked along the road, and now Jesus had pulled them up on it. What goes on in the world and what goes on in the kingdom of God are often diametrically opposed to each other.

Jesus sat down. He took on the teacher-role, for teachers in those days always sat when they taught. Sitting is also a sign of anchoring our attention. I’m not going anywhere. You want to hear what I have to say? They stay here, be still and listen! He knew what they had been arguing about. OK, he says, let’s take this head on: if any one of you wants to be first – as you clearly do – then you need to recognise in my Father’s kingdom those who are ‘first’ or who are considered to be important, are in fact those who have put themselves last. You want to be recognised first, served first, dealt with first, acknowledged first, esteemed first? OK, go to the back of the queue and see what needs people have there.

To be ‘last’ means you are going to take on the attitude and lifestyle of a servant, willing to serve and bless others, and so often the people most in need are those who are some way down the social ‘queue’ or who have been banished to the end of the queue.

You want to be a ‘somebody’ in God’s kingdom? Then become a servant. We seem to have an increasing number of ‘old fashioned’ dramas on TV, often portraying life “upstairs” and “downstairs”. The good servant is the one who sees what needs doing and does it. There’s no question of ‘my rights’. They just know what their job is and part of that is seeing what needs doing and doing it! It is thinking about the needs of others and seeing how you can ensure those needs are met.

Now in the church, this is a very real and very practical thing. It means never looking down your nose at other people but seeing yourself as called to serve and bless other people. What do they need?  What is their need, whether they are aware of it or not? How can I bless them and serve them. Back of the world’s ‘queue’, front of God’s!

191. Argument

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 191. Argument

Mk 9:33,34   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.

Sometimes we say or do things that we think we get away with, but God has a habit of waiting until the time is right before confronting us with our misdemeanours! The truth is that God loves us and so at some point WILL confront us with our bad attitudes or our wrong thinking. On a bright sunny day when everything is going well, we may think we’ve made it, that we are good Christians perfect in every way. Well, the Bible does say the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9). So there we are thinking that everything is fine when the Lord turns up with circumstances that face us with our bad attitude etc. and we suddenly find we are having to face an unpleasant truth about ourselves and repentance is the only way out.

As the disciples had travelled along the road, I can only assume that Jesus was either a bit ahead or behind the main group of them, perhaps talking with someone while the rest of them talked about things that had happened. Whether Peter, James and John had been basting about being special, having been chosen by Jesus to go up the Mount of Transfiguration with him, or whether there were other instances not recorded where different ones had been ‘used by God’, we just don’t know, but we do know that they had argued about who was the greatest.”  The more we are involved in what we glibly call “Christian service” the more there is the temptation to think we are different, special, above others who are only doing “secular jobs”. There is always a grace temptation in the kingdom of God to compare ourselves with others – and to elevate ourselves. When God turns up and uses us in some particular way so that we have a special ‘testimony’ there is this same temptation to elevate ourselves above others. We can carry on thinking like this, thinking that we are special until one day Jesus has the conversation with us. “Oh, by the way, my son or my daughter….”

And when Jesus asks a question, such as, “What were you arguing about on the road?” realise that he already knows the answer! So why is he asking the question? That’s his gentle way of confronting you with the problem you have in your life, it’s his way of getting you to face it, because the moment he asks, you know the answer, and the moment you know the answer, you know that the thing was wrong. You may have covered it up or settled with the idea, but suddenly, now Jesus has asked, you know it was wrong. Time for repentance.

190. Explanation

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 190. Explanation

Mk 9:31,32   He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

We said in the previous meditation that the gospels don’t tell us what Jesus taught his disciples in such times away from the crowds but that is not strictly true – we just aren’t told much! What we are told is that on this occasion he started to tell them about what was going to happen to him when they reached Jerusalem, although he doesn’t actually mention Jerusalem but we now in hindsight that that was what he was referring to.

Note the clarity of Jesus’ understanding. He hasn’t just got this vague feeling that he is going to have to give his life; he is quite specific. His death will come about because he will be betrayed and given over to the authorities. That implies that someone is going to give him up to them. We say the ‘authorities’ because no one else had the power to take life and this doesn’t have the feel of just, “I will be murdered by lawless men.” No, this will be carried out by the authorities and they will kill him. But it won’t end there: after three days he will rise from the dead. Now if the first two statements – betrayal and death – were amazing enough, talk of resurrection was just way too much.

Whether it was the talk of resurrection or of the whole concept of being betrayed and then being killed, the disciples just couldn’t cope with this. After having watched him for three years being God’s blessing to that country, and being in total command of every situation, whether it meant walking away from hostile people (Lk 4:29,30) or calming storms (Lk 8:24), Jesus had been in control. There was no way this was all suddenly going to go pear shaped and get out of his control.  It takes quite a lot to comprehend how difficult it must have been for the disciples to understand this.

Perhaps we need to make this very personal. How often do we find it difficult to accept things that God says? If we live in the part of the Christian world that doesn’t believe in prophecy or ‘now’ words, this won’t apply to us, but how many of us have received words of love and acceptance from the Lord and thought, “Surely not.” Or how many of us have received words that spoke of great things in the future for us and thought, “Surely not, they must have got the wrong person.”

Jesus speaks of the things he plans to do in the future and, of course, they are things that only he can do and bring about and we need to remember that so that our answers may be like Mary’s, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38)

189. Being a Disciple

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 189. Being a Disciple

Mk 9:30,31   They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples.

We sometimes forget that the key aspect of the life of a disciple was to learn what the Master has to teach. Jesus call to the disciples had been to follow him and that meant being with him and learning through him who he was and what he was capable of and why he was doing what he was doing – so that they could do the same and continue doing what he was doing (Jn 14:12)

So there has been activity and the disciples have even had cause to ask Jesus to explain what had been happening but now he takes them away through Galilee in such a way that the crowds don’t know where he is – and all this with the intent of teaching the disciples without interruption. Now what is interesting about the Gospels (and frustrating?) is that we occasionally have these references to Jesus teaching his disciples but are not actually told what he taught them. I wish one or more of the disciples had kept notes of what he said, but even if they did, for some reason they never share it. The nearest we get to it is in, for example Acts 1:3 where “he spoke of the kingdom of God”. I suppose ultimately all of Jesus’ teaching could be summarised as that in some form or other, but we aren’t told just what he said at these times.

But the fact is that Jesus realised that one of his key roles was to prepare this bunch of men (and women) to carry on when he had gone. His plan was not to carry on for years and years to follow, but after his resurrection and a short period of reassurance, to leave the disciples and return to heaven. His primary goal is for us, his followers, to continue the work that he begun – to share the good news of God’s love with all mankind.

But part of that, quite clearly from the Gospel accounts, was to also teach his followers to minister the power of God in the same way to bring healing and deliverance. A large part of Jesus’ ministry was not only to input to the mind, but to also impact the physical side of our lives as well. Being a disciple isn’t merely knowing a lot of information; it is also applying that into practical, everyday life. When Jesus gave the disciples what we call the Great Commission, it also included the instruction, “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20) Obey means do.  So we may not know what Jesus actually taught on these occasions, but we know that it would be imparting information and teaching them to put it into practice. May we do the same!

188. Explanation

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 188. Explanation   

Mk 9:28,29   After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

First of all note here the benefit of being a disciple – you can ask Jesus things when they aren’t clear while the rest of the world remains in confusion. So after they leave the crowd the disciples ask Jesus why it was that they had struggled and failed.

Now the problem with Scripture sometimes is that it appears as only brief notes with little explanation so when Jesus says, “This kind” we don’t know whether he is simply referring to demons in general or to a specific type of demon.

One of the things that is clear though from his answer, is that driving out demons is not a mechanical things, with an a,b,c,  set of rules. When Jesus says “only by prayer” he is saying that you can only do this when you have a relationship with the Father and are being led by the Spirit. This should apply to the whole Christian life really, but it does so especially in the case of deliverance ministry. How does God want you to deal with this? How does the Holy Spirit want to guide you in dealing with this particular issue?

The assumption appears to be that the remaining disciples were sitting around at the bottom of the mountain while Jesus, Peter, James and John had gone up, when this man and his son came along and either recognised them or was told about them and naturally assumed that they could help because they were part of Jesus’ band and that is what had been happening. They likewise assumed they could help and just dived in and spoke words of apparent authority to get the demon out – but found they were being resisted. Too much assumption!

If they were like most of us, they would just try harder or shout louder but still they were resisted. Why? Because this demon was being attacked by human resources and one thing that is clear is that they do not respond to mere human authority. It is only the authority from heaven that they appear to respond to and that comes when the deliverer is in clear contact with heaven and becomes a channel of power and authority from heaven. Then and then only does the demon have to submit.

It is such a simple lesson that comes out here that we can hardly believe it is that simple. When confronted by a difficulty – pray – and listen to the Father. Find out how heaven wants to deal with this situation, receive the direction and authority from heaven to deal with it, and then perhaps, we will not be like the disciples, standing round and looking lost and defeated.

187. Finishing Off

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 187. Finishing off

Mk 9:26,27   The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

The result of the demon coming out of the boy was that it left him lifeless. The power source that had dominated him for so long was gone and it appeared that he now had no life, so much so that the onlookers starting declaring that he was dead.

Now there is no indication that Jesus then had to impart power into him to enable him to live, merely that Jesus helped him to his feet. This young man had life and had had life from birth; it was just that that life had been subjugated by a spirit power. Now that power was gone the life was free to live, but the experience of having had the demon cast out had left him exhausted it seems.

I have known a number of people who, after similar types of spiritual experience, have felt very weak and we’ve had to say to them, “It’s like you’ve been through an operation and are now in recovery.” We need to be aware that when people have been through major spiritual traumas or great spiritual warfare, they are often left in a weak state and that weak state may be physical and/or emotional. Remember the example of Elijah who on Mount Carmel went through a great battle with four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal (1Kings 18). It was a great victory and yet very soon afterwards he was praying that he would die (1 Kings 19) such was his state of weakness.

We might expect a person who had just been delivered by Jesus to be feeling absolutely wonderful but the truth is that they have been through an (unwitting) battle, or rather their body has been a battle ground and after the deliverance they feel trampled upon. This doesn’t need supernatural empowering, just gentle care and understanding.

So Jesus simply takes him by the hand and gently helps him to his feet so that he is now able to stand on his own. Remember, he is likely to be feeling dazed because for the first time for a long time he is not being pushed around from inside by this demon who had had power over him. Suddenly he is a free person and it is a feeling that perhaps he feels he’s almost never had before. It must have been a strange feeling. Whether it is healing or deliverance this is something that we perhaps never think about. With healing especially we get so caught up with the excitement of the wonder of the healing that we fail to think about what the healed person is now feeling. Wonder and excitement certainly, but also a sense of strangeness for they are no longer struggling under the burden of the sickness or affliction. Freedom can be a funny feeling when you haven’t had it for so long!

186. Deliverance

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 186. Deliverance

Mk 9:25,26   When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out.

This is one of those occasions when the vague believer is put on the spot. Will you believe what you read or will you decide against it for some emotional reason. This incident allows for no room to make excuses to either deny the supernatural or, to be more specific, to deny the reality of demon possession.

The time for talking is over. So far there have been a limited number of people here but as the word gets out that Jesus is back and that something is going on, people start running to the scene. Jesus, not wanting to make a spectacle of the boy or his father, gets on with the deliverance. How many church leaders will ensure that deliverance is done quietly and out of the public gaze where possible, to spare the individuals concerned?

Jesus simply addresses the spirit by the symptoms that are exhibited, thus naming it, and commands it to leave the boy. That of course is what everyone wants – the spirit to be out of the boy. But he also adds to the command that the spirit will never return. Now that suggests a vulnerability of the boy and the possibility of that happening – which Jesus does speak about elsewhere. So it is not only deliverance that is required but ongoing deliverance!

Now when Jesus commands, the spirit responds by shrieking and then by violently shaking the young man, but it does come out. There is a clear sequence of linked events here: Jesus commands, the spirit responds and the boy is free. There is no way to explain this except by the straight forward explanation that is given.

What does this account tell us? First that there is a dimension beyond the purely material, there is a spirit world and some aspects of that spirit world are evil and destructive. Second, it says that human beings can become prey of such spirits which, we would suggest, can only happen when that individual or their family are deeply into the occult.

Third, it says that Jesus clearly had authority beyond anything the disciples had. There is nothing spectacular about this and no super spiritual words. It just simply was a straight forward command that leaves no room for misunderstanding. No melodramatics, just simple authority. This is the Son of God and what God says, especially in the spirit realm, happens! The warning from this passage is not to give the enemy any grounds for having power over us (because normally he only has what we give him). Don’t!

185. Required Belief

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 185. Required Belief

Mk 9:23,24   “`If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

We considered previously the “If you can” element of these verses but there are two other aspects of them that stand out. There is this apparently incredible statement of Jesus’ that, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Everything?  What is implied by everything? That I will win the National Lottery?  That I will have an expensive car? That I will have a house with ten bedrooms and a swimming pool? No, that’s not the tricky bit, I realise. It is the “believing” bit!

I don’t do the lottery because I realise the odds are so enormous so however much I tell myself I will win, deep down I don’t believe it. I may envisage driving a £250,000 car but deep down I know that that will never be and similarly with the big mansion.

Now I realise that what I’ve just said is really running alongside what the man says, “I do believe,” but he doesn’t stop here for he realises that one half of him wants to believe but there’s this other half that says, “This isn’t going to happen.” It is the unbelief that is the problem and unbelief comes when we measure our past experience and wisdom with the circumstances before us. I know that when I look at my income and outgoings, the big car and big house aren’t going to happen. It would take a miracle for that to happen.

Ah!  Perhaps there is the crux, for I immediately think, “Miracles are God’s province, and does He want me to have a big car and big house?” and deep down I get an answer, “No.”  Belief here, in this context, is equated with faith. Faith is the assurance of what will happen. And how did we say that comes? When Jesus turns up and speaks.

I have a feeling that sometimes when Jesus was ministering there would have grown a group sense of faith, that as you watched him heal person after person after person, you found a growing sense within you that Jesus wanted to heal everybody and that includes you. Yet, for whatever reason, this man wasn’t in that category. He was coming to the disciples out of desperation, having heard of Jesus’ ministry, but found that they seemed powerless and if he had had any doubts beforehand they were now reinforced. The disciples had unwittingly added to his unbelief.

And now comes the realism. The man recognised he now had another need and so ASKS Jesus, “Help me…..”  That is what it always comes to, recognising we need Jesus help even to be helped. We’d love to be full of faith, but we even need him for that.

184. Limited Appeal

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 184. Limited Appeal

Mk 9:21,22   Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

We have commented before that Jesus, as the Son of God, had all knowledge and yet it seems that sometimes it isn’t obvious, or he asks questions to draw out answers from people. Whether or not this was the latter case we don’t know but the answer from the man shows us that this has gone on for a long time, and what that says is that there was obviously no one in the land with the authority of God to be able to deal with demons. We did see it earlier in Mark but here is that same thing again – no one can help this boy!

We also see here the destructive nature of demonic activity. Where he has the opportunity the enemy will seek to destroy so that individuals no long have opportunity to become children of God before they die.

But then we see the man’s limited faith. Note his words: “If you can do anything.”   If?  Of course Jesus can do something.  If you’d followed him around the countryside you would have seen his power at work and known that Jesus can do anything. But when you have a demonic boy perhaps you don’t travel around the countryside! Now, of course, he has watched the attempts of the disciples to no avail, so perhaps his tentative words of Jesus are not so surprising. He appeals to Jesus’ sense of pity – please feel for us and help us, for no one else can!

It is easy to be critical of this man but one thing I have found is that when I or someone close to me is in physical need, it is not always easy to be full of faith. When you have been plagued with pain, or when there is something else that has gone on and on, just like this man with his young son, it is not easy to feel full of faith.

Faith comes when Jesus turns up and expresses himself in some one. At that point something can rise within us, but it does need a sense of him coming first. Faith, the New Testament says, comes from hearing the word of God or word from God. When we are confronted by something hard or difficult or long standing, we really do need to catch a sense of God’s heart of us.

I cannot emphasise this enough, because so much is said about healing and sometimes we are made to feel really bad about our lack of faith, but it is simply that we haven’t yet heard from God. We can read the words if the Bible even, but if the Holy Spirit hasn’t come and quickened them in us, they don’t have the power to release faith that says of God, “I KNOW you can do this and want to!”  Until that happens we are left waiting and wondering.

183. Demonic Response

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 183. Demonic Response

Mk 9:20   So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

In verses 17 and 18 we saw the power that this demon exerted over this boy. There was nothing he, nor his parents, could do about this. Neither could the disciples! Some of us may put this down as an epileptic fit but Jesus accepts it as demon inspired and demon controlled. Now what is most intriguing about this situation is that there is no hint as to why this boy is like he is and, even more, Jesus doesn’t seem bothered by the reason either.

Very often we tend to feel we need to get to the root cause of something before healing or deliverance can be brought, but again and again the records of Jesus healing and delivering people seem completely devoid of ‘cause hunting’. It is almost as if Jesus is saying to us through these things, “I haven’t come to condemn and make you feel awkward, but to heal and deliver you and my power and authority does not depend on the cause being dealt with.”

Our experience would suggest that someone only becomes demon possessed when they give themselves to the enemy through occult activity. The cause of this boy’s predicament is far more likely to be the father but perhaps Jesus sees that the man actually bringing his son to Jesus to be delivered is an indication of his repentance and willingness to be confronted with his sin. Whatever is the truth here, Jesus is not waiting around to diagnose the original cause – because he will know it anyway because he is God!

So they bring the boy over to Jesus and immediately the demon throws the boy into convulsions, a further suggestion that this is not merely fits. Again and again when Jesus was faced with a demon, the demon acted defensively, knowing who Jesus was. The demon’s actions are not to hide because it knows it cannot be hidden from God’s eyes, but it does cause the boy to fall into a state where he is unable to communicate with Jesus. Perhaps it feels if the boy is unable to communicate, Jesus will not be able to do anything. It was wrong!

There is a general point here that I have observed over the years and it is this: often when we have prayed for healing or deliverance, the ‘symptoms’ of the person being prayed for appear to initially get worse. If it is a demon, then its activity gets noisier and more violent and a command to be silent is appropriate. If it is a sickness, the symptoms simply seem to get worse. This is not a sign to give up praying but a challenge to keep on praying. The issue is not how bad the symptoms are but how sure we are that Jesus wants to heal this person. Don’t let the symptoms put you off!