93. Desperation (2)

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 93. Desperation (2)

Mk 5:23,24 My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

We have just been considering the desperate state of this local religious leader as revealed by his behaviour. Now he tells Jesus the cause of his desperation – his young daughter is dying. His ‘little’ daughter suggests she is still quite young – and he’s her father. Father’s have special feelings for daughters in the same way that mothers do for sons.  No wonder he is distraught. Perhaps this is one of those situations where you cannot understand this unless you are a father and you have a young daughter. I have one daughter and five grand-daughters. My daughter is obviously grown up now so I don’t have the same protective and gentle feelings for her as I used to – her husband now has those and that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Our human bodies are our greatest point of vulnerability and when there is something seriously wrong with them, our whole existence is threatened and that challenges the most basic instinct (survival)  in us – but we are powerless. Some things we can do things about – lose weight, take more exercise etc., but other things we know we are powerless to deal with and so today we put ourselves in the hands of doctors. Yet sometimes they too are powerless and death looms on the horizon. At that point we start calling on God.

The fact that this man knew his daughter was dying suggests that he had had the local physicians in and they had diagnosed a hopeless case. The bottom of his world is falling out – and there is nothing he can do.

And then Jesus arrives back from a trip across the lake. Jairus’s understanding of who Jesus is and what he can do is strictly limited. He’s heard he is a preacher and he knows the crowds have been flocking to him and he’s heard of his reputation for being a healer and maybe he’d even witnessed some of the things that had happened. Somehow Jesus had a power that he was able to convey by laying his hands on people.

When you put it like that, it almost becomes an impersonal power that just flows through Jesus. Jesus is merely the channel through whom it flows. There’s nothing great about Jesus, it’s all about the power. Jairus is about to learn that the greatness IS Jesus. Watch and learn!


22. Woman of Tyre

People who met Jesus : 22 :  The Woman of Tyre

Mk 7:24-26 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

Now if you have a map in the back of your Bible, you will see that Tyre is in the far north. This is another of those parts of the Bible where you wish more was said. For instance we don’t know why Jesus travelled there. We don’t know whose house it was that he went to and we don’t really know why he went there and why he didn’t want others to know he was there. Perhaps part of the reason will come out in the story. But why he went to this particular house in the far north is a mystery, and yet Jesus always did things with a purpose. Some might say he went so as to meet the woman we’re going to consider but a) he still had to know the person whose house it was and b) why didn’t he go directly to the woman’s house if his Father was sending him to her? No, he has travelled north to see the people in this home for a reason – they are important to God! What a beautiful thought, that Jesus travelled all that distance just to visit some people who were important to him!  Had they been south previously, and invited him to come up and use their home as a retreat for a rest sometime? That’s a nice thought as well!

Anyway, Jesus gets to Tyre and his friend’s / acquaintance’s house but somehow someone either, sees him arriving and recognises him, or someone gossips. Whatever it is the word gets to this lady who has a need. Now I have to say I have a problem with her need. My understanding of demon possession is that it can only happen when someone has opened themselves seriously to Satanic / occultic things. This suggests that this family has a dark background, yet the woman has become so desperate that she recognises that she needs help. She knows what is wrong and she knows she needs someone with a deliverance ministry and the word on the street, from those in the know, is that this is what Jesus does. As frustrating as it sometimes is, we have to sometimes wait until people do become desperate about their situation, sufficiently desperate that they will seek out help and sufficiently desperate that they will receive the help being offered.

So she comes to Jesus but it is the way Jesus responds to her that is significant. We find a dialogue opening up: “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (v.27) It is normally accepted that Jesus is speaking enigmatically about his calling. The ‘children’ are God’s children, Israel. The trouble with Scripture is that it doesn’t convey the tone of voice or look on the face. It is possible that Jesus was speaking ironically here, saying what the Jews usually thought of others who were not Jews, when he referred to dogs. Now I think if that is so then it is quite possible that he says it with a grin on his face so that the woman knows he is really making fun of Jewish snobbishness. She obviously understands it and almost banters back, “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (v.28). If it is banter, note that there is nevertheless respect in it, for she calls Jesus “Lord” which is the only time it appears in this Gospel. It is a term of respect. I think banter fits far better here than any form of hardness in Jesus. He knows she is in need, he knows she is desperate and he knows she has come in faith. If he wants to test her commitment to belief he doesn’t have to be hard. I know how he has always dealt with me and although it has often been firm and distinct, he always speaks with the fruit of the Spirit – gentleness! How we so often lack this in the Church.

His response to her is to simply reassure her that her child is now freed from the demonic influence. “Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” (v.29,30) Now we may read this so easily but do we realise the incredible authority that is being exercised here. In the Creation account we read, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) i.e. God simply speaks and it is done. That is what we find in this account here. Jesus simply says it is done – and it is!  How staggeringly different this is from some of the deliverance ministry that is seen today that is noisy and prolonged. When Jesus is present, exercising his will, it is simply done with no great fuss. This is yet another expression of the kingdom of God on earth, with His authority being seen even more powerfully.

Note in this account that there is no great theological dialogue about belief. The woman simply comes, obviously in faith that Jesus can deliver her child and so after a little preliminary banter that makes her declare her belief in him, he delivers the child simply by the statement that it is so. This is Jesus, saviour of the whole world, not merely of the Jews. Yes, he came to them first, but he is saviour of all people who will come to him – with no exceptions. Hallelujah!

17. Jairus

People who met Jesus : 17 :  Jairus

Lk 8:41,42 Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.

Being a parent can be a mixed blessing. On one hand it can be one of the most wonderful things that can happen to you; on the other hand it can be a real heartache or a real worry. Yet as I weigh the pros and the cons, I know which side I come down on. I feel sad for those who choose to put career before having a family, and even more sad for those unable to have children. The truth is that children cost – they cost your whole being. As I watch my children with their children I wonder, oh my goodness, did I do this, did I lose my life for the sake of these as infants, for that IS what you do? Oh yes, there are those today who have children and then try to ignore them and then wonder why they have so many problems in the years that follow. No, having children is life giving; you give yourself for these new little people, and if you are wise, you keep on giving of your life and your time and your energy as it is needed for however long. If you are a real parent your heart will be totally knit with that of your child, which makes it all the more difficult when things go wrong.

And that brings us to Jairus. He is a respected member of the local community, one of the leaders in the local synagogue; he’s probably got a nice house and he has a daughter. It is quite probable (although we don’t know for sure if the practice had yet come about for Jewish boys and girls) that his daughter had recently, on becoming twelve, been welcomed in to the synagogue at her coming of age. He would, no doubt, have looked on his daughter with all the signs of her becoming a young woman in every sense. Yes, life had been good, and then suddenly something goes wrong. She is ill. He calls for the physicians but they seem to be able to do nothing. She declines. She is obviously very unwell. In fact, now, she looks like she is dying. The bottom is falling out of his world!

I can remember the times with our own children when we’ve had a crisis, when our son who was very young climbed (he was always climbing) onto the front gate and then pitched head first on to the pavement outside. In the rush to the hospital your prayer life takes a leap. At such times you feel utterly helpless. God, if you are there, can you turn up please for this little child. You pray and sometimes they get better – but sometimes it seems they don’t. You weep and you anguish. Jairus is probably at this stage – and then Jesus turns up in town.

Now he has a dilemma. He is a respected leader of Judaism as a synagogue leader, one who is supposed to be an example to the community. What does he know of this itinerant preacher who seems most unorthodox?  He’s heard that has upset a number of the teachers of the Law and seems to disdain the religious orthodoxy of the Pharisees. Yes, they say he heals people, but surely I can’t go to him. But then love kicks in, love for his daughter. At that point all the niceties of local social customs and expectations go out the window! My daughter is dying and no one here seems to be able to help. Maybe, just maybe, this travelling preacher might be able to help. The stories they tell of his ‘miracles’ are incredible. If half of them are true, then there is hope!

He goes to where Jesus is and, in desperation and anguish falls before him, pleading for him to come and heal his daughter. Jesus smiles and says, yes of course, and Jairus leads the way. The crowds are thick but Jairus only has his thoughts on the little woman back at home who looked so pale and weak when he left the house. We must hurry. But then there is some confusion and Jesus seems to have stopped. Oh no, what is going on? He’s looking round the crowd and asking “Who touched me?”  Jesus, there are hundreds of people here; dozens of people will have touched you. But a woman comes forward and he speaks to her, smiles again and then turns backs to Jairus. “Sorry, Jairus, just something I had to attend to.” Yes, I know it’s not there in the text of your Bible but surely that’s the sort of thing that probably happened.

They start off again, pushing through the crowd only to find one of the servants from his house pushing towards them from the opposite direction. He brings bad news: Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher any more.” (v.49) His heart breaks. He was too late. If only I could have got Jesus to come earlier. As if reading his thoughts, Jesus reached out a reassuring arm and quietly said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” (v.50). What? But she’s dead! Didn’t Jesus hear what the servant said? But then as he looks into Jesus eyes he sees something there that makes him stop. There is total confidence, total assurance – and it’s catching! Can it be that he can even raise the dead?  He quickly leads them on. His mind is full of doubts and questions.

When they get to the home everyone is weeping and wailing for the loss of the little one. Jairus looks at Jesus questioningly. “She is not dead but asleep,” the preacher says. (v.52) Again there is total confidence, total assurance and it is believable. Jairus takes Jesus up to the little girl’s room. Jesus walked over to the body and tenderly took hold of one of her hands. “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.” (v.54,55) Tears were now pouring down Jairus’s face. The disciples with Jesus were also weeping with big smiles. Jairus didn’t know what to do or say. Perhaps you might like get her some food, Jesus suggested. Jairus called for his wife and servants. Tears turned to tears. Tears of anguish turned to tears of joy. It was a time for celebration.

Now yes, I have made some assumptions in telling this story but I think they are all reasonable ones that just fill in the gaps of the simple Gospel accounts. This is a story of anguish that turned to joy. I have sought to get us into the mind and feelings of Jairus. When this sort of thing happens to us, we too know anguish. We too know the sense of helplessness and we too will take whatever help is there. Let’s make sure it is God’s help for nothing less will do. That surely has got to be one of the main and obvious lessons from this story. Jesus is totally in control and can be there for us in this Fallen World where things go wrong. But he’s not only there for the crisis times; he’s always there for us!

4. Adopted

Ephesians Meditations No.4

Adopted for Praise

Eph 1:5,6 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

In the previous meditation we focused on the fact of us being ‘predestined’ by God but verse 5 also contains another word that is very important – adopted. See the parallelism with the previous verse: “he chose us…..to be holy and blameless in his sight…. he predestined us to be adopted as his sons.” (v.4,5) There we have two initiating acts of God in His choosing us and predestining us, and two outcomes – holy and blameless and adopted sons. Before we rush by, do you regularly praise and thank God for the wonder of these truths, that you are holy and blameless in God’s sight NOW, and you are an adopted son.

What does ‘adopted’ mean? It means that God has taken legal steps to declare you legally part of His family. Jesus is The Son of God by his very nature, he is God, but we are sons of God because God has declared us legally so. In case this is new to you, take it in. The ‘legal action’ that God took was first of all Jesus dying on the Cross to take your sin. Your ‘signing the legal document’ was you surrendering your life to Him, confessing your sin, seeking forgiveness and committing your whole future life into His hands for Him to be your Lord (which took place at what you call your conversion). God’s seal of the legal adopting agreement (as we’ll see later in this chapter) was Him putting His Holy Spirit into you so that you were ‘born again’ (Jn 3:3), but He did that so that you too are not only adopted by ‘legal action’ but are now a being who also is a son by nature, because you are a God-person, a person with God in you!

Those who are sensitive about gender might say, why a son? Why can’t I be a daughter? Well of course you are, but the imagery of being ‘sons’ goes back to the life of the Old Testament people where a ‘son’ was the one who inherited the property and, more importantly, took on the father’s business, together with all the responsibilities that went with it. Thus when we are adopted as ‘sons’ it indicates that we are not only part ‘part of the family’ but we are also inheritors of the Father’s business, which of course is to bless mankind!!!

Note also that here we have the sixth reference to Christ in these opening verses. We are what we are ONLY because of the work of Christ on the Cross, and thus we are “adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” Jesus made all this possible and without him it is not possible; that is how important he is in history.

But Paul adds a further rider to all this: “in accordance with his pleasure and will.” He is very much aware that this is all because of God, not us! It was because God initiated all this, even before He created anything. It was part of His plan right back then. Note that it wasn’t a hard thing. He didn’t say, “Oh dear, I suppose I’ll have to do this.” No it was a pleasure. He saw that with free will and with the presence of Satan, sin would come into the world with all of its consequences and that would mean that man was separated from Him, yet He had created mankind to enjoy them and have pleasure from them (us). Are you not sure about that?

Read Solomon’s revelation in Proverbs as he personifies wisdom, which was in reality Jesus, the Son, sharing in the creation work with his Father: “Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) Isn’t that beautiful! Jesus was not only delighting in his Father’s presence but he also delighted in the wonder of the first man and woman that they had made. But all that was lost when sin separated us from them, and so the work to reinstate that relationship was a pleasure to the godhead.

Listen to what Jeremiah heard: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and …. I will rejoice in doing them good ….” (Jer 32:40,41) This is God’s plan for His redeemed people, this is His pleasure and His will. Similarly Zephaniah caught something of the Lord’s delight when His people return to Him: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph 3:17)

So God rejoices over us, takes pleasure in us. How wonderful! What is the other side of the coin, our part? Paul says it: “to the praise of his glorious grace.” Praise is the natural response to all of this. Remember we said earlier in a previous meditation that praise is the acknowledgment of achievement. Praise is a sign of relationship, of recognition of goodness. Paul had started this paragraph with praise: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.3) and the paragraph is all about what we have to praise God for. This is all about His grace, and when we ‘see’ it, we cannot but help praise Him for the wonder of it. If need be, read back over this paragraph in Paul’s letter and take in the wonder of what we have seen so far and then praise the Lord for it all. Don’t let it be academic, let it move your heart.