Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cross 101

The disciples did not understand Jesus’ way or his purposes.  They were committed to him, but they didn’t really know who they were following.  Jesus tried to build their faith, again and again, but they just didn’t understand.  Sometimes they understood a bit, and then they would show that they didn’t understand at all.  Finally, Jesus told him the most important message of all—and they showed that they understood that least of all.

Another day, another crowd.  This day it was four thousand men, not counting the women and children.  They had followed Jesus far away from any community, and they were hungry.  Jesus said to his disciples, “This crowd is hungry and I feel sorry for them.  If I sent them home, they would collapse before they ever got there.  What do you think we should do?”  
Jesus was saying this to test the disciples.  Unfortunately, they didn’t even know there was a pop quiz. “Who could possibly get enough bread for this huge crowd,” they responded.  
Jesus asked, “How many loaves of bread do you have?”  
They replied, “Seven.”  
Again, Jesus told the disciples to sit the crowd down.  Again, Jesus gave thanks for and divided the bread.  Again, there was enough for everyone to eat, and seven baskets of bread leftover—one basket for each loaf there was to begin with.

            Immediately after this, some of the Pharisees came up to Jesus and demanded, “Give us a sign in the heavens to let us know you really have authority.”  Jesus looked straight at them and said, “This rebellious generation doesn’t deserve a sign.  You don’t believe even with what you have—you will get nothing more.”

            A little later that day, Jesus was in the boat with his disciples, and they were going across the lake.  Jesus told his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees.”  The disciples, though, weren’t really listening—they were concerned with how much bread they had.  “We’ve only got one loaf,” they said, “That won’t be enough for all of us.  Perhaps Jesus is mad because we don’t have enough bread.”

            Jesus heard this and was extremely frustrated with them—“Why are you always concerned that we don’t have enough bread?  Are you pursuing stupidity?  How is it that you don’t understand?  Look, remember the first time I fed the five thousand—how many loaves were there?”  
      They shyly said, “Five.”  
      “And how many baskets did you pick up?”  
     “And when I fed the four thousand, how many loaves were there then?”  
     They sheepishly replied, “Seven.”  
     “And how many baskets were left over?”  
     “Why don’t you get it?  Haven’t you learned the lesson yet?”

            A couple days later, Jesus and his disciples were in the villages surrounding Ceseria-Phillipi.  As they were going along the way, Jesus asked the disciples, “So, you’ve been listening to the crowds.  Who do they think I am?”  One replied, “Some think you are John the Baptist risen from the dead.  They think that’s why you can do the miracles you do.”  Another disciple said, “Some think you are Elijah, just as Malachi promised that he would return before the day of the Lord.”  Another disciple said, “Most people think you are just another of the prophets.” 

Jesus said, “That’s interesting.  What about you?  What do you think about me?”  All of the disciples were silent.  They didn’t know what to say—and they were afraid to say the wrong thing.  Simon, however, opened his mouth and said, “You are the Messiah—the King of Jerusalem and the Son of God.”  Jesus smiled and said, “You are blessed by God, Simon.  For you didn’t figure that out in your thick skull—you learned that from God himself!”

Then Jesus got serious.  “Look, starting the kingdom of God is more difficult than anyone thought.  Some thought it would start if the Messiah gets the agreement of all the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.  Some thought that if they got an army blessed by God that the Messiah would conquer Jerusalem.  Let me tell you the biggest secret— the Son of Man is the Messiah, and he will go to Jerusalem.  The Son of Man will be rejected by the chief priests and Sanhedrin, and they will condemn him to death.  Then they will hand him over to the Romans and he will be killed.  And on the third day, he will be risen from the dead. This is how we will win Jerusalem.”

Simon took Jesus aside, where the rest of the disciples couldn’t hear him and said, “Look Jesus, this simply can’t be true.  A dead man can’t rule Jerusalem.  We won’t let such a thing happen to you.  All you have to do is to convince the Sanhedrin that you are on their side, then we can gather up an army…”  “Shut up!”  Jesus yelled.  “Get away from me, Satan!  You are tempting me with pleasing words—but you do not know God’s will, only what man desires!”  Jesus stomped away, over to where a crowd was gathering to listen to him.

“Listen to me, all of you,” Jesus announced.  “If you want to follow me, recognize that I am leading a revolution.  If you want what I have—my healing, my salvation—then set aside your dreams and ideals and get ready to be executed! 

“If you want to save the life you have—get ready to lose it.  But if you are willing to lose everything you have and everything you are for my sake and for the teaching of God’s coming kingdom—that’s the only way you will gain any life!  What good is it for anyone if they have their present life, but throw away any future they have!  What will you trade for an eternal future?  A few dollars, a house, some land?  What about your whole life—that’s what I’m offering.  Trade in the life you now live for an eternal future.  If anyone is ashamed of me or of my words before men, then I will be ashamed of them before the Father on the final day.  
"Make your choice—choose me and lose your life, or choose your present life and lose your future!”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Live a Miracle

Jesus did an amazing number of miracles.  Feeding 5000 people with fives loaves and two fish, that was pretty good.  Walking on water is classic.  Water into wine is famous.  Calming a storm is excellent.  Healing people born blind, healing lepers, raising the dead... all of them amazing works.

Most people see the miracles of Jesus as something that he did to prove his divinity.  He is the Son of God, so he could do all of these amazing works that no one else could do.  This is indicated by the popular bumper sticker, "Next time you think you're perfect, try walking on water!"  Jesus was perfect, Jesus could walk on water, you can't therefore you aren't.

But Jesus would weep at how we see his miracles.  He didn't see them as signs of divinity at all.  He fully expected his disciples to do miracles as well.  When the 5000 were hungry he said, "YOU feed them!"  When he calmed the storm, he yelled at the disciples for their lack of faith, as if they should have been able to do it themselves.  He sent his apostles out to heal and even to raise the dead.

The deciding factor is this:  Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father." (John 14:12)

Jesus didn't do miracles to show he was divine.  He did miracles to teach others how to do them.  Heck, even imperfect Peter walked on water.

So how do we do miracles?

1. We need the right situation.  God doesn't do miracles for everyone or for every situation.  But he will do a miracle when the poor are in need or when a person who was far from God begins seeking Him.  God will also do a miracle when His name is on the line. The miracle is not for ourselves, but it is an extension of us loving others or loving God.

2. We need faith.  Or the balls to ask (or demand) a miracle.  We need to stand up and declare that the miracle will occur.  And we need to have faith in Jesus.  It is Jesus' power that does the miracle, not our own, and so declaring one in Jesus' name works wonders (literally).

3. We need prayer.  We need to declare a miracle and ask for it.  This is so we remember that it is not our power that does a miracle but God's.  Any miracle that is done is God's grace alone, like a present.  He doesn't have to give it, but He will, if we are gracious and give thanks.

Finally, some of the greatest works that are done are not technically "miracles" at all, but are works of community.  We can feed 5000 people and more.  Every day.  We can heal the sick, and make the blind see and help people weather out storms and do greater works than Jesus was ever able to do, on a broader scale.  All because we have Jesus' love in our hearts.

Let us never think that we cannot do Jesus' work.  We must, and we will.

A Really Busy Day

In everything he did, Jesus was showing his authority—his ability to command the spirit world.  He commanded demons to leave his presence, he commanded fevers to disappear.  He pulled a little girl out of the power of Death, an evil spirit.  This authority was given to him by the Father, and the disciples were constantly amazed at his abilities.  He also showed that he could pass this authority on to his disciples, for they also were able to heal and cast out demons by using Jesus’ authority.  But they were still to be amazed by him.

After the disciples had returned to Capernum from one of their missions Jesus sent them out on, he looked at them and said, “You look worn out.  Let’s get away from the crowds and get some rest.”  That sounded good to the disciples, so they all piled into a boat and traveled to another part of the sea. 

            As they were leaving, there were many crowds watching them go, all of them hoping that they would be able to be helped by Jesus—some wanted healing, some wanted to hear his teaching.  They were all disappointed to see that they were going away, and they watched them drift to the middle of the lake.  One of the crowd said, “Hey, I see where they are going—come on, let’s follow them!”

            The disciples and Jesus arrived at a secluded place and was prepared for some well-deserved rest.  But no sooner had they arrived than the crowd they had left behind them in Capernum arrived, waiting for assistance.  The disciples groaned, but Jesus saw how desperate these people were.  They were without anyone to help them, without anyone to lead them to God.  Because Jesus had compassion on them, he began to teach them.

            After a few hours of teaching, the disciples went to Jesus and said, “Well, these people must be hungry.  They’ve walked all this way, without food, so please send them home.”  Jesus just looked at the disciples and said, “You feed them.”  The disciples were stunned and replied, “Even if we worked for six months, it wouldn’t be enough to feed this huge crowd,” for there were more than five thousand people.  So Jesus said, “Well, how much food do we have?”  A disciple found a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish, “But that’s all we have,” the disciple whined.  Jesus said, “That will have to do.”

            Jesus took the food they had, and blessed it by offering thanks to God for it.  Then he told the disciples to organize the crowd into groups of 50.  Then he broke the bread and gave it to the disciples to distribute to all the people.  He gave it to the disciples, more and more—and the five loaves of bread and two fish didn’t  stop coming.  Jesus kept giving and giving, until all of the five thousand had enough to eat, and more.  After everyone had eaten, Jesus sent the crowds away, and the disciples picked up the leftovers—and there were twelve baskets of bread left over.

            Jesus was exhausted by then, and felt that he needed to pray.  So he told the disciples to get into the boat and to go back to Capernum, and he would catch up with them later.  They left, and Jesus went up a hill to pray.  In the midst of the sea, however, a great wind came up and the waves were strong against them.  The disciples recognized that a spirit of the waters came against them, to attack them.  They didn’t know what to do, and they were afraid they were lost.  The strained against the oars, trying to get to shore, but nothing could be done.

            Jesus saw them struggling, and he determined to help them.  Using his authority over the spirits of the sea, Jesus walked on the water, to the middle of the sea where the disciples were.  The disciples weren’t expecting anyone, of course, so they thought that Jesus was a spirit coming to attack them, and they yelled out in horror.  Jesus yelled back, over the wind, “Don’t be afraid.  It’s me.”

            Peter yelled back, “Is it really you, Lord?  If it is, tell me to come out to the water with you.”  Jesus smiled at his brashness and said, “Come on out.”  So Peter climbed over the side of the boat and was walking on the water to Jesus.  Suddenly, Peter noticed the waves again, and he became afraid and began to sink.  Peter immediately called out, “Lord, help me!”  Jesus grabbed Peter and they both climbed into the boat. 
            Immediately, the wind died down and the sea was calm.  The disciples all stared at Jesus and said to each other, “What kind of man could he be, to have authority over the winds and sea?”  Suddenly, they were at Capernum.  Later, the crowds that had followed them also came to Capernum.  They saw Jesus and the disciples there and asked, “How did you get here ahead of us?  We left first.” 

            Jesus said to the crowds, “Why are you seeking me?  For me, or for some more food?  Work for the food of heaven, not of earth.”  They replied, “What shall we do to work for God?”  Jesus replied, “This is the work of God: to have faith in the one whom God has sent.”