For many of us this year has been anything but kind. Some of you have lost jobs, some have lost loved ones, and all of us have learned to live with the anxiety of this unknown virus. Back in March, God showed me Isaiah 51:12-16 as kind of the antidote for the COVID 19 pandemic…and I urge you to take a few minutes today to read it, for it’s just as timely today, if not more, than it was back in March. We need to be leaning on the graciousness of God more than ever today…knowing that it is His help and deliverance that will pull us through. We may not have any power over the circumstances, events, and things that will occur over the course of the next few months…but we do know Who’s still in control and showing His gracious kindness to all who call upon His name. “I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5)
These Scriptures illustrate a heart of stone vs a heart of flesh…of reading the Word of God, but not being changed by it…of hearing the Word of God, but not applying it to our lives. It’s not until we embrace the Word, that the scales will fall from our eyes and we will see clearly that all the religious ceremonies, and man-made traditions we’ve sought to adhere to can’t set us free from our sins. And it’s only when we turn to Jesus Christ can we know the truth…the saving, redemptive truth of the Word of God and be spiritually transformed by it. Therefore, as we abide faithfully in the truth of the Word, we are changed more and more into His image…and in doing so, become a reflection of Him to the world.
I found this amongst a huge pile of old craft projects I was going through yesterday. I was so encouraged by it, especially this crazy year, that I wanted to share it with you. Just think, you’ve been chosen. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” said Jesus in John 15:16. And that’s why no matter how you feel, you are not here by chance and your life matters to Him. Just think, you are God’s workmanship. “Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” Psalm 100:3 tells us. So remember, who you are as a person today is because of His workmanship within you. Just think, in God’s eyes you are special. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession.” (Deuteronomy 7:6) Just think, you lack nothing. “Fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.” (Psalm 34:9) Finally, and especially because of this year, the end of this writing I found incredibly profound. Just think, God chose this very time in history for you to be alive and available to Him for His greater plan and purpose. Or as it says in Esther 4:14, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
The world is full of oppression…of a unjust and cruel exercise of power and authority in many nations. But to the Believer there is always hope beyond the current situation of ruthless suffering they are forced to endure. For the wicked will not prevail…even when the pain becomes physical. That’s because the Lord is righteous and for us, or as Psalm 124:2 states, “If the Lord hadn’t been on our side when men attacked us, they would of swallowed us alive.” Believers will continue to be greatly oppressed… as long as they claim Jesus Christ as their Savior…but they will also remain confident in their hope…”For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” (Psalm 37:9)
This concept is first spoken about in Leviticus 19:18, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” But now a days seeking personal vengeance and/or holding on to a deep seated resentment against another is a commonplace occurrence. There are families that have been torn apart by grudges that are so old no one really knows how they got started…or even what the original offense was! But if you want to be honest about it, no one really ever “gets even”. Rather, it becomes this ongoing battle with no one winning in the end…and all parties being destroyed (mentally, emotionally, or spiritually) in the process. Instead, when we commit the person/problem to the Lord, we allow Him to work…all the while being assured that all wrongs will be righted on Judgment Day.
Let’s just admit it…no human has ever been able to keep the Old Testament Law perfectly. (that is except Jesus) Let’s also agree that the whole world is a prisoner of sin. So what these verses are showing is that the Law’s purpose was to essentially silence us, leaving us unable to defend ourselves against the charge of sin, while recognizing our guilt before God. So the Law’s objective was to lead us to acknowledge our sin and trust in Jesus Christ. Or as it tells us in Galatians, ” Know that a man is not justified by observing the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ.” And, “The righteous will live by faith. The Law is not based on faith…” Bottom line is…The real function of the Old Testament Law was to make us not only realize our own sinfulness, but then lead us towards repentance….which then leads us to faith and trust in Jesus.
Jesus and His disciples were walking between Jericho and Jerusalem…with a large crowd following them. This road was well traveled and used frequently, so it wasn’t surprising there were beggars sitting by the side of the road hoping for a few coins to come their way. In this story, two blind men sitting together hear from the crowd that it’s Jesus who’s passing by them…and they begin to yell to get Jesus’ attention. They didn’t just shout His name, but rather called out with a divine insight only the Holy Spirit could have given them. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Now I seriously doubt either of them had gone to Hebrew School and learned the Torah as children and we know because of their blindness they hadn’t been able to read the Torah…yet they almost quoted Isaiah 23:5-6, “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which He will be called: The Lord our Righteousness.” What they were yelling is probably the reason why the crowd reacted the way they did…for they confronted them harshly and probably used the crude vernacular, “Shut up!” in an attempt to silence them. But it says the blind beggars shouted all the louder! It’s at that time Jesus steps into this screaming match and asks them the question, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Now for the crowd it was a no-brainer…they’re blind beggars and why couldn’t Jesus see this. But this question Jesus asked was very important, for it sought to discover their level of faith. They replied to Jesus, “Lord, we want our sight.”…and immediately their faith in Jesus healed them and they could see.
In this Chapter of Mark, Jesus made it very plain…man-made religious rituals, ceremonies, and rites that go against the Word of God are wrong. Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 when He replied to them, “They worship Me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” He went on to say, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” For anytime we exalt emotional, feel-good rituals, past experiences of others, or opinions from Church leaders that go against or are not found in the Bible, we are placing traditions and the teachings of men above those of God. That’s because, man-made religion will never stand up to the soundness of His Word.
So what does take up your cross and follow Me really mean…and why is it so hard to do? First, let’s look at what the cross meant to Jesus. It was total obedience to God the Father, it entailed suffering, shame, rejection and humiliation. Finally, it was absolute giving up of Himself for the greater good. Well doesn’t that all sound like a fun time! No wonder we find this commandment difficult…our fleshly desires and need for immediate gratification go completely against denying ourselves anything, let alone placing others above our wishes. But it’s necessary in order to follow Jesus with that abiding fellowship of faith we must have. For bottom line is…it’s about selfless love…or as I John 3:16 says, ” This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
This unnamed woman had just broken an alabaster jar of nard, allowing its essence to cover Jesus and to fill the house with its heady fragrance. But no one saw it as an act of devotion, but rather as a shameful squandering of much needed resources…and they rebuked her sternly for “wasting” the perfume on Jesus. The world will look at many things you do as “wasting” your time/talents/money on Jesus. You may even wonder yourself at times if it’s worth it to keep reaching out to that unsaved friend, or visiting that elderly neighbor down the block, or loving that unlovable family member. Is it just a “waste”? Am I even making a difference? Let me allow Jesus to answer these questions for you…for He responded to their criticism of the woman by saying, “Leave her alone, why bother her? She has done a beautiful thing to Me.” So anytime you do a good work in the name of Jesus, it will never be a waste, for God can use it for His good.