Sunday, January 28, 2018

Is Seeing Believing? Mark 8:10-13

Is Seeing Believing?
Mark 8:10-13
Introduction: In His post-resurrection appearance to Thomas, Jesus said, “…Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.” A little further on in this chapter we’ll see Jesus heal a blind man, miraculously granting physical sight. In these short few verses, Mark 8:10-13, the Pharisees are once again revealed as being spiritually blind. Their request, and the intentions of their hearts, reveal that they cannot see what is right in front of them: the promised Messiah was here! It seems to me that one of the truths that we see in the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus is that faith, believing, is taking God at His word, not being convinced by the signs that He did. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Think about the miracles that Jesus did in the Gospels. Healing paralytics and withered limbs, cleansing lepers, casting out demons, giving sight to the blind and opening the ears of the deaf, even raising the dead! The evidence is compelling, but as Paul said to the Corinthians, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned…” (I Cor 2:14). Paul said the natural (unregenerate) human is not able to understand the things of the Spirit of God. The blindness of the Pharisees to what Jesus was doing and saying illustrates this truth, and points us to…
The Maine* Idea: Faith is taking God at His Word, that is, believing who Jesus is and trusting what He did for us.  Let’s look at these verses in their…
Context: After a mission that included miracles in gentile territory (including setting free the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, and healing a deaf-mute in the region of Decapolis…  Jesus fed the largely gentile crowd he had preached to for three days. He then dismissed them. Immediately, He moved on… He had given hope to the gentiles in that region, reinforcing the message of the man who had been set free from the Legion and sent back to his own people. But the work He came to do meant a return to Jewish territory, and eventually a journey to Jerusalem and the Cross. He must allow the lost sheep of the house of Israel to hear and respond to His message. We read in Mark 8:10, “And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.He has reinforced a lesson with this short gentile mission: He came to be the Savior of the world! Soon the disciples will be sent to bring His message to the world!
I. Is seeing believing (11)? Here we read that “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 
       Jesus and the disciples crossed the lake, and arrived back in Jewish territory. The impression is that the Pharisees were looking for Him, because as soon as He lands in Galilee they come. How was He received? The contrast between this arrival, and the ministry He had in Gentile territory in the previous context is striking. The crowds had gathered wherever Jesus went, His reputation preceded Him. In Tyre and in Decapolis they came as well, and apparently eager to hear His teaching, they received Him. But now, back in Galilee, as the Pharisees come, there was no humility, no seeking. They came looking for an argument…
       What was the “dispute” the Pharisees had with Jesus? Remember that they rigorously held to the traditions of the fathers, the man-made rules that the rabbis had developed throughout the intertestamental period. "Tradition! Tradition." They were shocked and offended that Jesus and his disciples did not embrace the system of rules, the “hedge around the Law” that was designed to make personal holiness attainable. Jesus pointed people “Back to the Bible” and He upheld the Scriptures as our infallible guide for faith and practice. Scripture trumps tradition!
       The Pharisees came, not seeking to hear and understand, but to argue and to “test” Him.  They were “questioning him” – Looking to build their case against Him. They weren’t truth seekers, their minds were made up—they would not be confused by the facts! Important to remember: Jesus knew their hearts. He knew their motives. They “disputed” or “questioned” Him, the Lord, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe! As Paul asked rhetorically in his letter to the Romans, “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” They sought a sign rather than seeking the Sign Giver! They didn’t believe Him.  Faith is taking God at His Word, that is, believing who Jesus is and trusting what He did for us.
II. Jesus “sighed deeply” – recognizing the hard-heartedness of the leaders (12a).
12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?”
       The language here might sound familiar. Jesus also “sighed” [Greek=stenazo] back in 7:34 as He was healing the deaf-mute. In that scene there was empathy and compassion as He was dealing with one more example of the results of the Fall and an illustration of the brokenness of the world under the curse. Adam’s rebellion plunged the world into its current state. Jesus looked at the deaf man and “sighed.” The same root word is used here, but in this case it is made more intensive with a prefix added [anastenazo], “sighed deeply.” We see words from this root in a couple of interesting places in the Greek translation (the Septuagint) of the Old Testament Scriptures. For example, we read in Lamentations 1:3-4,
3 Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude; she dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.  4 The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the festival; all her gates are desolate; her priests groan; her virgins have been afflicted, and she herself suffers bitterly.
In context of the Exile, we see groaning and mourning, longing for deliverance and restoration, for the “rest” in the land that God had promised. We see similar language back in Exodus 2:23-24, as the people of God, the descendants of Jacob’s sons, groaned for His help during their enslavement in Egypt…
23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.  24 And God heard their groaning
We see a similar longing for deliverance in Romans 8, from three perspectives: Creation “groans” for restoration, we ourselves groan, and even the Spirit groans within us as He intercedes on our behalf…
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:22-28).
The “groaning” here is a yearning for our redemption, the full and final deliverance from this present evil age into the New Creation that we long to fully enter. It is an inward “sigh” that acknowledges all is not right in the world, at the same time hoping for that for which we were created. It is pictured in Revelation as a return to Eden of sorts in the New Heaven and the New Earth, and a restoration of face to face fellowship with God.  Jesus came to provide that, and the Pharisees in their unbelief, still blind to all that Jesus had done, ask for “a sign from Heaven” to test Him. Instead of a “sign” they get a “sigh.” Their own Messiah stood before Him, and they didn’t recognize Him, they didn’t “hear His voice,” so He “sighs deeply” at their unbelief. J.C. Ryle said,
The feeling which our Lord Jesus Christ here expressed, will always be the feeling of all true Christians. Grief over the sins of others is one leading evidence of true grace. The man who is really converted, will always regard the unconverted with pity and concern. This was the mind of David--" I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved." (Psalm 119: 158.) This was the mind of the godly in the days of Ezekiel--" They sighed and cried for the abominations done in the land." (Ezek. 9: 4.) This was the mind of Lot--"He vexed his righteous soul with the unlawful deeds" of those around him. (2 Peter 2: 8.) This was the mind of Paul--" I have great heaviness and continual sorrow for my brethren." (Rom. 9: 2.) In all these cases we see something of the mind of Christ. As the great Head feels, so feel the members. They all grieve when they see sin. [Mark, Kindle Locations 1613-1619].
Jesus asked, “Why does this generation seek a sign?” The word “generation” [genea] can also mean “race” or “nation.” And it seems that, for the most part, the Nation at that point in time, that generation, would follow their leaders in their unbelief. Jesus “sighs deeply” at the brokenness of the world, and with the weighty realization of what He had come to do. The good news: a remnant would believe. That assurance drove the plan of God forward. Faith is taking God at His Word, that is, believing who Jesus is and trusting what He did for us.
III. Jesus left them in their unbelief, continuing his preparation of the disciples (12b-13).
“…Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”  13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.
       Jesus did not do “signs on demand” for anyone. He could not be manipulated. This was no circus show! He was not a “cosmic genie” there to do anyone’s bidding. It seems that the miracles He did were always acts of compassion. As He met needy people on the way He was touched by their needs and mercifully acted with divine power. The miracles were both “signs” that strengthened the faith of his followers, while also giving a glimpse of the future, a look ahead to the restoration that would come through the unfolding plan of God.  His death and resurrection would be the climactic sign that would both confirm the faith of the disciples and reveal the unbelief of the leaders of the people. John 3:2 shows us that from early in His ministry, some of the leaders were having their minds opened to the Truth.  Nicodemus notably confessed, “We know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do the signs that you do unless God is with him!” Even so, the majority of the Sanhedrin rejected Him, and with increasing hostility revealed their spiritual blindness. Here the Pharisees come and ask for a “sign from heaven.” They had seen His miracles before, and they rejected them as being evidence of the work of God. How could this man be from God when he rejected the traditions of the fathers?  Incredibly, back in Mark 3:22, they claimed that His miracle working power was not from God, but from the devil!   
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.’”
What blindness! Now these Pharisees appear (according to Matthew’s Gospel, some Sadducees with them) asking for a “sign from heaven.” They had seen the miracles of Jesus before, what more did they want? The context here in Mark makes it clear: they were “testing Him.” They weren’t looking for evidence to believe, but confirmed in their unbelief they sought a reason to accuse him! What would convince them? Would perhaps the resurrection be the proof they needed to change their minds? Jesus had predicted their response in a story He told,   
19 "There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,  21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.  22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried,  23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  24 And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.'  25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.'  27 And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house-  28 for I have five brothers- so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.'  29 But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'  30 And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'  31 He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'" (Luke 16:19-31).
What was Jesus saying? They have the written Word, Moses and the Prophets. If they won’t take God at His Word, no evidence, no “sign,” not even someone rising from the dead, is going to convince them. Don’t get me wrong, our faith is “reasonable.” It is not blind faith. The resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact that cannot simply be explained away. The transformed lives of the apostles, after the resurrection and Pentecost, makes no sense unless their testimony is true (see also the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor becoming the proclaimer of truth!). Faith requires divine intervention, it is a gift of God, so no one can boast!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Faith is taking God at His Word, that is, believing who Jesus is and trusting what He did for us.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? If you are reading this and it rings true, if it stirs your heart, it may be that God, by His kindness, is leading you to repentance and faith. Are you hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd, do you feel drawn to follow Him? Mark is telling us who Jesus is, and reminding us what He came to do. God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself! He so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life!  The promise of Scripture is clear: “Confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and you shall be saved!

       It is also true that He came to provide reconciliation and redemption through Christ, our sin-bearer, and He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We’ve been talking over the last couple of years about our calling to be His witnesses in this fallen world, first of all to our friends, relatives and neighbors. And now I’m saying that we have a minor obstacle: no amount of logic and reasoning is going to bring someone to faith. We certainly can’t argue anyone into the Kingdom of God!  Divine intervention is necessary! Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Remember the parable of the soils? Some seed will take root, and bring forth life and fruitfulness. So, keep sowing, and be encouraged, God causes the growth! Jesus is building His church.  AMEN.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Bread of Life! Mark 8:1-10

The Bread of Life!
Mark 8:1-10
Introduction: Yogi Berra died a couple of years ago and even Red Sox fans will have to admit that he had a great career as a catcher for the NY Yankees! He was an 18-time all-star, and played in 14 World Series with the Yankees, of which they won 10 (more than any another player in history). He is also well known for some of the sayings he came up with over the years (OK, most of which are memorable because they don’t make sense!), like… 1) “No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded!”; 2) “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”; 3) “Baseball it 90 percent mental and the other half is physical!”; 4) “The future ain’t what it used to be!”; 5) “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”; 6) “It gets late early out here!” and finally, 7) “It’s like déjà vu all over again!  That is kind of like someone saying, “Christmas Eve is on December 24th this year!” Oh well!
       At this point in Mark’s Gospel, we encounter a story that sounds really familiar, a large crowd, a few loaves, some fish, and a miraculous feeding!  Is it “déjà vu all over again,” or could it be something new?  John tells us that if everything Jesus did was written down, the world could not contain the books that would be written. Why did God inspire Mark to write down another, similar, feeding of a multitude? Some commentators actually say that it is a repetition of the same miracle story we saw in Mark 6. That doesn’t make sense since they are only a couple of chapters apart, and as we’ll see, there are significant differences in the stories. Also in 8:14-21 Jesus talks to the disciples about the two events!  I think that may be a key: the disciples were slow to learn the lessons Jesus was teaching. He shows compassion on the multitude, and patiently He reinforces and deepens some lessons the disciples needed to learn. We never have to hear a lesson twice before we learn, do we?  I do, and often more than twice! Like Yogi, “I learned that lesson before, I just forgot it!” That brings us to…
The Maine* Idea: If we remember what God has already done for us we will trust Him as we face the challenges of life in this fallen world.
Context: Jesus continues to minister in the region of Decapolis, a predominantly gentile area on the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee. The deaf man had his ears opened by Jesus, may He open our ears and our hearts to the message here!
I. Look up and trust in the Lord: He is compassionate and knows our needs (1-3).  As we trust Him, we should learn from His example!
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them,  2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.  3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 
       “In those days” connects this story with the previous context, and tells us that Jesus was still in Gentile territory, not far from where the deaf man was healed, on the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee. The fame of Jesus was spreading beyond the context of Judaism, and even though He came first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, His compassion extended to the nations. From the time Jesus had set free the Gadarene demoniac (chapter 5) and sent him back to his own people with a mandate to tell them what God had done, the fame of Jesus was spreading through the region of the “Ten Cities” (Decapolis). Again, that location makes it highly likely that this crowd was predominantly gentile.  
       A great crowd gather to hear Jesus, and the people apparently didn’t come prepared for a lengthy stay. After three days, it seems that whatever meager provisions they had with them were all but gone. Yet the teaching of the Master was so compelling they stayed, seemingly hungering for the truth more than for physical food. Have you ever been so engaged in something that you forgot to eat?  (Rarely does that happen to me!). Spiritually speaking, remember what Jesus said after forty days of fasting when He was being tempted in the wilderness? “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus knows who is in the crowd. He even knows where they came from. And He knows they will need nourishment for the journey home. It’s another opportunity to compassionately meet a need, and also to continue to teach the disciples. These guys had to be ready to continue the mission without Jesus being physically present!  Their faith needed to be stretched.
       The similar miracle back in chapter 6 had some important differences from this one. The audience was different first of all. The first time the crowd was mostly Jewish. This time it is almost surely predominantly gentile. The first time the disciples came to Jesus with a problem, asking Him to send the people away to get food. Here, Jesus is the initiator. He calls the disciples to himself, and begins to tell them what He is feeling and thinking. He feels compassion for the multitude, and He is concerned that their strength might fail, that they might not have the energy they need to even make it home. Why does Jesus lead the disciples through His thinking process? He knows what He is about to do, He also knows these men need to have a lesson reinforced in their hearts and minds. He is seemingly revealing his thoughts to them, that they might know Him better, and one day, follow His example. It seems they had forgotten, or at least grown a bit dull with respect to who Jesus is and what He could do in this situation. This lesson will help prepare them for the next phase of the mission, as they are challenged to consider their understanding of Jesus’ identity, and to wrestle with what He would soon tell them must happen in Jerusalem (His betrayal, death, and resurrection). 
       We have the whole story, but do our hearts sometimes grow dull?  Do we not even notice the hunger in our own hearts, the longing we have for the Bread of Life? If we remember what God has already done for us we will trust Him as we face the challenges of life in this fallen world. So we Look up and trust and…
II. Look back and remember what God has done (4-5). Don’t tell God you have a big problem, tell your problem you have a big God! Is anything too hard for God?
4 And his disciples answered him, "How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?"  5 And he asked them, "How many loaves do you have?" They said, "Seven." 
       As I read this, I wonder when the disciples might have started to think, “This is déjà vu all over again!” Was it in their minds already when they ask Him the question, “How can we feed these people?” Did it come into their minds as soon as they got out the question, or was it maybe when He asked them how many loaves they had? Did they feel the earlier miracle was unique and that it would be presumptuous to bring the idea up, “Lord, maybe you could it again?” We don’t know for sure. Later Jesus does ask them, “…Do you not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?” (Mark 8:17). Sometimes we too can be spiritually dull.
       A couple of weeks ago, when the temperatures dropped below zero, I got in my car and noticed the “low pressure” light for my tires had come on. I stopped and added some air, but I think the warning light had come on not because the tire had a leak, but simply because the very cold temperatures caused the air to contract and so the pressure dropped. We might look at the disciples here and wonder if they had a “brain” leak to forget so quickly, but it may be that in midst of the mission, their hearts had grown a bit cold to the lessons the Master was teaching them. Maybe, like me and Yogi, they learned that lesson before, they just forgot it! A crowd, a little bread, a desolate place… but little is much when God is in it!
       Before we judge the disciples too harshly, we should each take our own spiritual temperature! Are there any “low pressure” warning lights coming on in your life or mine? Was it hard to get up and out and come to church this morning? Did you come with joy, expecting a blessing, expecting to meet with the Lord?  How is your devotional life going? Do you have a time when you can pick up your Bible and read the Word, systematically, consistently?  Here is a tough one, how is your prayer life? If it is a struggle, don’t despair! Persist, humbly calling on God. You know when I stopped that cold morning and added air to my tires, the pressure warning light didn’t immediately turn off! But as I kept driving, it seems the tires warmed, the pressure increased, and the warning light hasn’t come back on! Like driving in sub-zero weather, the tire pressure will come up as the tires heat up! Keep seeking! Ask Him for ears to hear and eyes to see! The Lord is compassionate, merciful, and gracious. He knows our weakness, and as we seek Him we will have the joy renewed! James said, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…” (James 4:8)! Keep knocking, keep seeking, keep asking.  God is faithful and compassionate.  If we remember what God has already done for us we will trust Him as we face the challenges of life in this fallen world. So we 1) look up and trust, 2) Look back and remember, then we can…
III. Look ahead, knowing He can do more than we would ask or think (6-9!) Don’t doubt what God can do! Little is much when God is in it!
6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd.  7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.  8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.  9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 
       At each stage this scene is different than what we saw in Mark 6. Jesus takes that initiative, pointing out the problem, directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, and asking about the available food.  In the earlier story the disciples had come to Jesus with the problem. In the first miracle, there were five loaves and two fish. Here, there are seven loaves of bread, and then we learn in v.7, a “few small fish.” The word for “fish” is different form, implying something very small, like a sardine or something. It wasn’t much, but little is much when God is in it! From our post-crucifixion / post-resurrection perspective it is hard not to “hear” the language of the Lord’s supper anticipated in Jesus’ handling of the bread…
22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body."  23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it… (Mark 14:22-23).
The blessing, the taking the bread, giving thanks, breaking it, and giving it, the same sequence of verbs that appear in this scene appear also in Mark 8. Only John gives us the extended “Bread of Life” discourse after the first feeding of the 5,000, when Jesus said, “I AM the Bread of Life….” But it may be that Mark would expect us, who have the whole story, to understand what the disciples, at that moment, could not have understood. All of these miracles, including the acts of compassion like we see here, were anticipating the greatest act of compassion, the demonstration of God’s love when Christ would die for us on the Cross. The need for physical bread is real, but there is a deeper hunger, a deeper need, that can only be met by the Bread of Life. The psalmist said,
“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things...” (Psalm 107:9).
     God alone can satisfy the longing soul! Remember that the miracles that Jesus did were glimpses of the future, the blessing of the messianic kingdom breaking into the present. When Jesus fed the Jewish multitude of the 5000 men (plus women and children) we said that was a look ahead to another meal, spoken of in Revelation 19:9,
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.
One day there will be a messianic banquet with a remnant from every race and nation gathered at the Lord’s table! The full realization of the Kingdom is yet future, but as the King reigns in our hearts we see glimpses of the blessings of the Kingdom even as we live our lives in this fallen world. That hope empowers us and deepens our faith!  If we remember what God has already done for us we will trust Him as we face the challenges of life. Look up, look back, look ahead, and…
IV. Look inside, always ask “What is God trying to teach me in this trial?” (10). He had compassion on the crowd and met a need, and He continued the training of the disciples for the mission. As the Lord walked with the disciples and taught them through His works and words, He is also walking with us through life in this fallen world, teaching us through His Word, and through His demonstrated faithfulness. The Scripture tells us, “And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha…” (Mark 8:10).
     Mark tells us that “immediately,” once again, Jesus moves on. The action continues. He gets in the boat with His disciples and heads west across the lake to Dalmanutha, which may have been a small area near Magdala (the home town of Mary Magdalene?). The return to Jewish territory would mean that the conflict with the leaders would be renewed (in the very next scene He mentions the Pharisees!) and that the journey toward Jerusalem, and, according to plan, to the Cross, continues. Jesus is preparing these men to embrace the mission when He is no longer physically with them. They would be called on to preach the message of His grace, with compassion, calling men and women to repentance and faith. 
What is God saying to me in this passage? If we remember what God has already done for us we will trust Him as we face the challenges of life in this fallen world.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Jesus here had “compassion” on the multitude. On another occasion, In Matthew 9:36, we read that “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” He goes on to say in that context that, in light of the plentiful harvest and the paucity of workers, we should “Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest would send forth workers into the harvest.” Remember that in the next chapter, Matthew 10, He calls the disciples apart and sends them out!  Having compassion should move us to prayer, and if we are praying honestly, openly, prayer will move us to action! Are we available? We need to pray realizing that we may be part of the answer! The mission Christ entrusted to the disciples has by extension been entrusted to us, the church. In His providence God has placed us where we are, and we are called, by word and by example, to be light in the darkness! And He is with us always.

        Have you ever looked heavenward and asked, “Is this a test?” If you asked that question, it probably was! But God wants you to learn, to grow through it. Have you ever encountered a situation, maybe a trial in life, and thought, “I’ve been here before! This is déjà vu all over again!” Could it be that God is trying to grow your faith, maybe deepen your understanding of who He is? As He teaches you, do you always get it right the first time? The second?  He is patient with us, and He never gives up, I know I am very thankful for that. He can do exceeding, abundantly, beyond all that we would ask or think. Do you know when you can stop learning? Not in this life. Keep seeking more of Him!   AMEN.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

He Does All Things Well! Mark 7:31-37

He Does All Things Well!
Mark 7:31-37
Introduction: 700 years before the birth of Jesus the prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming of the Messiah. He said “…He will come and save you.  5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy…” (Isa 35:4-6).  The hope that God would send a rescuer at the right time to save His people and set them free was at the core of the faith of Israel in the first century. The nature and the means of that rescue was, however, poorly understood. What would that deliverance look like? At the outset of his ministry Jesus said,
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,  15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
      The time had come and God was sending the Messiah, the Promised One, the long-awaited Savior into the world. But the people were expecting, for the most part, a military or political leader, not a Savior from sin. A little further on in Mark, in chapter 8, Jesus explicitly begins to teach the disciples what was about to happen, what had to happen…
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  32 And he said this plainly… (Mk 8:31,32).
Everything was moving toward Calvary. The climactic confrontation would come in God’s time, for God’s purpose. Jesus’ ministry looked toward what Calvary would accomplish. His ministry was giving the people a glimpse of the future, insight into the curse undone in the New Creation!
The Maine* Idea: The compassionate healing that Jesus did was a glimpse of the restoration and life He came to provide and which we are called to proclaim.
I. The Help of True Friends: Again, we are reminded of the importance of intercessory prayer (31-32).  We see a straightforward request: Some people “begged” Jesus to touch him.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 
       I’ve been impressed as we’ve gone through the Gospel of Mark at the repeated illustration of a principle we’ve tried to emphasize over the last couple of years: That God would use us to impact the lives of the people He has sovereignly and strategically placed in our lives, that is our family and others in our close sphere of influence (our oikos!).  One striking example was across the lake from this scene, back in Mark 2, where we saw how the faith of the friends had a major role not only in the man’s healing, but also in his salvation…
4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:4,5).
       The leaders took exception to Jesus pronouncing forgiveness, and so to make His authority crystal clear, He brought physical healing to the man as well. But don’t miss how the crippled man got there, in front of Jesus. His friends cared enough to persist, they didn’t give up, and the crowd and even the hard clay roof were not going to stop them. And their friend found healing and grace!
       Fast forward to Mark 7. By now maybe a couple of years have passed. Jesus was again in the region of the Sea of Galilee, after taking a rather circuitous route, a trip north from Tyre through Sidon, and then looping back east and south toward the Sea of Galilee. This time rather than Capernaum or Nazareth, He comes to gentile territory on the southeast of the lake, the area called “Decapolis.” And Jesus continues to do works that reveal He is the Messiah. There are several links between this scene at the end of Mark 7 and Isaiah 35. Look at Isaiah 35:4-10,  
…He will come and save you.  5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;  7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way... 10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away
       The miracles of Jesus were a glimpse of the future, the “not yet” of the Kingdom breaking into the “already” of today, because the King was present. Mark wants us to connect what Jesus is doing to this passage in Isaiah. For example, the word in 7:32 that the ESV translates with “speech impediment,” mogilalon, occurs only here in the New Testament. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, it also appears in only one place, Isaiah 35:6. It is a context talking about the coming King and His Kingdom, the undoing of the curse, the promise of the life of blessing and abundance for which we were created.
       So, we see these unnamed friends, “some people,” bringing their deaf and mute friend to Jesus. Their help is expressed by two verbs, they “brought” him to Jesus, and they “begged” Jesus to touch him.  If they were aware of Isaiah 35, they were asking Him for a kingdom blessing, a messianic work, in the life this man who was deaf and mute. The word “brought” is the verb phero, which often has the sense of “carry, bear.” It gives me the picture of these guys hearing that Jesus was there, and grabbing their friend by the hand and leading him to Jesus. And they don’t just drop him off and hope for the best. They begin pleading with Jesus, begging Him to touch their friend.  Another picture of persistent, caring, intercession!  Like the mother pleading for her daughter in the previous scene, these men bring their friend to Jesus, and plead with Him for help. The compassionate healing that Jesus did was a glimpse of the restoration and life He came to provide and which we are called to proclaim.  
II. A Touching Response (33-35) – The Love of Jesus is evident - the man was deaf, so here actions speak louder than words as Jesus, apart from the crowd, “acts out” the healing through touching – no show, just grace!
33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.  34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened."  35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.  
      Mark tells us Jesus took the deaf man aside from the crowd, seemingly so that He could minister to him with a little privacy. There is something “touching” about this scene, as though Jesus wants this man to know that he is not just a face in the crowd, or someone who He reluctantly blesses. He is showing His personal care and compassion.  Just like Jesus taught the mother in the previous scene, and was growing her faith, it seems that Jesus is building faith into the life of the man, as well as the life of the friends that brought him, along with Jesus’ own disciples.
      Do you have, or have you ever had, a deaf person in your life? Communication can be a challenge! When I was young my dad had a young deaf man, George, who worked for him. My dad learned some sign language so they could communicate.  I was impressed that they could seemingly understand one another.  George could make some sounds, but since he couldn’t hear he never learned to speak. I had a student one semester in the seminary in Brazil who was deaf. Later he actually became a teacher of a class on sign language at the school. In my case, he had an “interpreter” that was there with him, signing while I spoke, and translating an occasional question from the student. In our scene in Mark, Jesus is using sign language, letting this man know what He is doing. By touching the ears, He showed the man he was addressing his need. By touching his tongue, he showed him that he would be able to speak. There would be no speech therapy needed! Jesus looks up to heaven, letting the man know from whence comes his help.  Even His “sigh” could communicate His compassion. Someone said at our Wednesday night meeting, that each of the miracles Jesus did was in a sense unique. He knows us, and He understands. He will meet us at the point of our need…
     Jesus “sighed” – Why? (see also Mk 8:12; Jn 11:35).  It certainly showed strong emotion, expressing compassion… One writer called His sigh “An emotional response to the wretched state of fallen humanity.” Another compared it to Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn 11:35, “Jesus wept.”) It seems to me the connection with Isaiah 35 helps us. There we read in verse 10,
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away
Jesus sighed, identifying with the wretched state of fallen humanity. According to Isaiah 53 “He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…” He identified with us, He “sighed” for us, He wept for us, and ultimately He died for us, so we could have life.  The compassionate healing that Jesus did was a glimpse of the restoration and life He came to provide and which we are called to proclaim.
III. A Time for Testimony: Jesus was about God’s will – in God’s time (36-37; cf. 8:30,31).
36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.  37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."
       The word of Jesus may seem a little out of place here.  The last time He was in the region, and he cast the Legion out of the Gadarene demoniac, the man now healed, wanted to get in the boat and go with Jesus and the disciples.  But Jesus had another mission for Him. We read in Mark 5:19-20,  
19 And he did not permit him but said to him, "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you."  20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
That made sense! Don’t come now, you have another mission. Go to your oikos, your friends and family, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you. Be a witness! But wait a minute, now, a year or two later, “tell no one”? It seems to me that the explanation can be found a little further ahead in the Gospel, Mark 8:27-31,  
And on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"  28 And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets."  29 And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ."  30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.  31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
       Why tell no one?  The time was drawing nearer for Jesus to “set his face resolutely toward Jerusalem,” to turn toward the City of Peace where He, the Prince of Peace, would be rejected, unjustly accused, handed over to the gentiles, tortured and executed (Cf. Luke 9:20,21,51).  The hour was coming, but it wasn’t this day, not yet. There was more revelation, and more teaching, that had to happen first. God was guiding this story and everything had to unfold according to His plan and His time. The Gadarene had been told to “Go and tell,” and through his testimony the fame of Jesus had spread already through that predominantly gentile region.  The day of reaching out to the gentiles with the full revelation of the Gospel was still future, so for now Jesus tells them to tell no one. Even so, in their human weakness and excitement they can’t keep the news to themselves! 
       We see an overwhelming reaction in verse 37, And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’"  Utter astonishment! Notice the language that is used, “He does all things well…” The adverb “well” is the same root [kalos] that is translated “good” in Genesis  1:4,10,12,18,21,25, and in 1:30 “very good.” As God brought the creation into existence, He pronounces it “good.” God’s Creation was marred by the Fall. In the light of the context, Mark may be wanting us to think of God’s “good” work in Creation, and to even think of Jesus’ kingdom work as re-creation (see also John 1:1ff. He is the Creator!).  God created, it was all “good,” and now Jesus does all things “well.” When I would pick up my southern Baptist colleague to drive to the seminary in Sao Paulo, Brazil, his wife would often say, “Y’all teach ‘um good!” Was she saying to teach our students well, or did she mean to teach them “good,” that is, God’s truth? I was never quite sure, but either way works! Jesus did “all things well,” and all that he did was good.
       The final phrase in v.7, “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak”—in Mark’s context is clearly alluding to the messianic Kingdom described in Isaiah 35—the curse undone—the life of blessing and abundance God created us to experience! That is Good News! Jesus said, I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly! Think of that—God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and He has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation! And so, as His ambassadors, we urge people on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God!
What is God saying to me in this passage? The compassionate healing that Jesus did was a glimpse of the restoration and life He came to provide and which we are called to proclaim.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Who is Jesus? He will ask the disciples in the next chapter, “Who do men say that I am?” That is an interesting question to ask people today, you’ll get all kinds of answers. But be sure in your heart: Who do you say that He is? If you believe that He is God, the Son, the eternal Word who was made flesh, that means we owe Him our love, our allegiance, our obedience, our worship. Think about this: He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Just as He was doing with His disciples, He is still at work in us, guiding each of us through life in this fallen world, revealing Himself through the Word, using this time to teach us and to grow our faith. There is a lot of pain and suffering in this fallen world. But this isn’t the end of the story (Cf. Jn 16:20)! We can have victory, in Jesus.
       And this, for me, is the amazing part: He has entrusted to us the message of His grace. The unnamed friends in this story brought their deaf and mute friend to Jesus. And it didn’t stop there: they pleaded with Jesus to heal Him. Let’s determine to bring our friends before the Lord, and diligently, persistently plead with God to give them ears to hear the truth of the Gospel!  Write down their names, and keep praying! After all, Jesus is still building His church! AMEN.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Pastor's Report Preview - January 2018

[This is a preview of my report for the January business meeting of Boothbay Baptist Church. SN].
Pastor’s Report – January 2018
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Isa 40:28-29).
       The prophet Isaiah declared the message of God’s covenant faithfulness and called the people to obedience and hope as they put their trust in Him.  In the fullness of time, God sent His Son into this sin-cursed world, revealing His love and making a way for sinners to be reconciled to Him. In light of that fuller revelation of the grace of God we look ahead with a sure hope: God has a plan and He will bring it to pass! As God works out His-Story on the stage of human history, by grace we have been included in the cast. With that assurance may Boothbay Baptist Church continue to be a Lighthouse of God’s grace and truth.
       Once again, this last quarter has been focused on outreach. As I write this report (1/11/18) we are planning to host our annual Word of Life FASCAR event tonight. We have had a new challenge in not being able to pass out invitations in the schools, but we have done our best to hand out invitations and to publicize via social media. The goal is to have a fun night with the children, but especially to have a platform where we can share the gospel and strengthen relationships with parents and kids. Next week we plan to restart our children’s ministry as we invite those attending FASCAR to come back for our Thursday night youth meeting. The quarter began with our biggest Trunk or Treat event yet, as we met this year at the YMCA because of the weather. Having a team from WOL Bible Institute definitely enhanced the outreach. CEF was also there, as well as many of our church people, handing out tracts and looking for opportunities to share Christ.  New this year was our first ever “Journey to Bethlehem” event. Coordinated by Meredith Fowlie, and with help from our friends at Boothbay Region Community Fellowship, we had participation from most of our church family – carpentry, music, snacks, fellowship, greeting, guiding, logistics… it was all-hands-on-deck! We were able to share Bible portions with some who had interest, and hopefully, point many closer to the One who is the reason for season.
       Our church is also participating once again in the community lunches at St. Columba’s in Boothbay Harbor, hosting the soup / luncheon once a month.  We have had excellent participation for the first two lunches, and the people have expressed appreciation for our involvement.  This is a good opportunity for our people to mingle with some folks from the community that we might not otherwise see, and to seek to share our faith with them. We are looking at ways to continue and strengthen our “outward focus” as we seek to love our neighbors and point them to Jesus.
       As I’ve resumed preaching through the Gospel of Mark since completing our Advent series in December, I have been fascinated at how frequently this gospel illustrates the LaserChurch focus we have talked about over the last couple of years. We consistently see people interceding, pleading with the Lord to help their family or friends, even as they bring those friends to Him. When we talk about our mission, we need to continue to prioritize praying for and sharing with the small group of people that God has sovereignly and strategically put in our lives. Some of them don’t yet know the Lord, others perhaps have professed faith, but don’t attend a Bible teaching church. Keep praying, and look for opportunities to give an invitation card, share a tract or Gospel, or perhaps to speak up, and give a reason for the hope you have in Jesus! As we look to the Lord, we can be optimistic that He will accomplish His purpose as we continue to serve Him in 2018!
Your co-workers in Christ,

Pastor Steve and Mary Ann

Sunday, January 7, 2018

CHANNELS of GRACE - Mark 7:24-30

Mark 7:24-30
Introduction: We talked quite a bit in 2017 about our first mission field: the people God has sovereignly put in our lives, that is, our friends, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers.  Our most fundamental responsibility is to love them and pray for them! We see an example of this as we return to our study of Mark. This beautiful scene shows a mother, a gentile woman, seeking Jesus, and pleading desperately and persistently for Him to help her demon possessed daughter. The mother’s love for her child is evident, as is her faith that Jesus could deliver the girl. The story continues to answer the question: Who is Jesus? Who but God could answer the petition of this woman in the way that Jesus does! Why did He come? Implicit in the story is the answer to that question as well, and it wasn’t only to heal and cast out demons. It was to fulfill the promise of a Rescuer who would reconcile us to God, by laying down His life for us.  And what does it mean to follow Him? It means believing Him, trusting Him, taking Him at His word.
The Context: In the previous context Jesus had been disputing with the Pharisees regarding spiritual “uncleanness,” teaching that what defiles humans is not what we eat or drink, but what comes from within. Almost to underscore what He had taught, Jesus travels now into a gentile region, to a place filled with people who would have been considered “unclean” by the leaders of the Jews. Here He continues to teach His disciples, and also a gentile woman who comes to Him on behalf of her daughter.
The Maine* Idea: As we humbly persist in praying for the needs of others, God may be changing us and growing our faith.
I.  Divine Appointments can come in unexpected places and with unlikely people (24-26). We must be always ready to point others to Jesus!
24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.  25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet.  26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter
      Jesus cannot be hidden (24)! It seems that Jesus wanted to disengage for a time from the ongoing conflict with the religious leaders of the Jews. The scribes and Pharisees were seemingly watching every move that Jesus and his disciples were making, and looking for a reason to accuse them.  God had a plan, and a timetable to implement it. There was no doubt that Jesus would have a climactic conflict with the leaders in Jerusalem at Passover, but that time was not yet. So, Jesus withdraws, heading away from Jewish territory to the Mediterranean coast, to the gentile city of Tyre. We’re told he “entered a house,” intending to keep a low profile. The disciples might have thought they were going to finally get the rest they had been waiting for! Several planned retreats had already been cancelled due to ministry demands. Would they have some quiet time on the coast? A nice Mediterranean vacation? No, not this day!
       As happened wherever He went, word got out that Jesus was there. In some ways this scene is reminiscent of the encounter with the Gadarene demoniac, when Jesus walked on the water and then crossed the lake with his disciples.  Jesus sent the disciples across the lake, met them in the midst of the storm, they arrived at their destination, He healed the demoniac, and then wound up getting back in the boat and leaving, after sending the healed man back to his own people. The whole ministry on that trip focused on one person, who would then be a channel of God’s grace in Decapolis! Here, in this scene, as far as we know, as in that case, Jesus seemingly traveled to this region to meet with this one person, this time a woman.  Immediately after this encounter Jesus departs for the region of Decapolis. As far as we know, Jesus never even met the little girl that He frees from the demon! One obvious lesson here is that God is interested in every soul, and He coordinates “divine appointments.” This scene is also reminiscent of the dialog between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4. In that scene, once again, is a context where the Jews fail to recognize Jesus, and a “foreigner” expresses faith. We are being reminded that God’s mission would extend to the nations.
       By the way, it is a good thing, as we are strategically deployed by God in our families and among our neighbors, that Jesus cannot be hidden. He is building His church, and we are His witnesses, laborers for the harvest! As God is drawing people to Himself, opening their hearts to believe, He will use regular people like us, with our flaws and our weaknesses, to bring the Word of Life to those who will believe. Does that amaze you? It should!
      Jesus alone can meet the deepest need of all people (25). Jesus withdrew to this gentile town of Tyre and entered a house. We don’t have any clues as to whether it was a Jewish or gentile home. We don’t know if it was someone who had already met Jesus and at least been intrigued by His teaching, or someone who simply was showing eastern hospitality to some strangers. All we know is that someone opened their home and allowed Jesus and his close group of disciples to enter. Quickly, a mother hears he is there and “immediately” comes seeking help for her desperately needy daughter. Notice that this mother comes pleading, begging Jesus to help her daughter. I think any parent can empathize with the mother here. Her child was possessed by a demon! No one else could help, but she believed Jesus could. So she came, asking, begging, for help, like Jacob wrestling with the angel holding on until she got a blessing.
      God’s grace extends to all nations (26a). “Now the woman was a gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth…” This woman was not a Jew. She is identified as a gentile, a Syrophoenician. All four of the Gospels make it clear that Jesus came first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but also show that the goal of his ministry was always to save a remnant from every race and nation. It was necessary for the children of Israel to first consider, and then reject, their promised Messiah. Don’t miss this: The Cross was not a “plan B,” it was always God’s plan for Jesus to give himself as our substitute, laying down His life so that we could be reconciled to God. As Peter would preach to his countrymen on the day of Pentecost, “…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men…” (Acts 2:23, ESV). As sin extended to all humans by the transgression of Adam (Rom 5:12) so salvation would be offered to all because of the obedience of Christ.
     If the Lord delays in answering our prayers, it may be to allow us to express and grow our faith (26b). “She begged Him…” Some translations say she “…kept asking Him…” which conveys the idea of persistent, ongoing petition. This fits with Matthew’s account of this story in that he reports that at first Jesus did not answer her cries for help. Why would Jesus delay? Why does He delay at times in answering our prayers? Have you heard it said that prayer changes things?  Usually by that statement we mean that God works through the prayers of His people. Both Scripture and experience support that idea. But prayer also changes us. As we cry out to God for help He will use those times to grow our faith, and to show our trust in Him to people around us. It is both “training” and “testimony”! Have you ever had unbelieving friends or family ask you to pray when facing a time of crisis? It is also true that as we pray for people in our extended family, our oikos, that our love for them will deepen. That leads into the Maine* Idea, As we humbly persist in praying for the needs of others, God may be changing us and growing our faith.
II.  The Lord Delights in testing us, to grow and deepen our faith (27-30). God’s mercy and grace overflow to those who recognize their desperate need.
27 And he said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."  28 But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."  29 And he said to her, "For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter."  30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
       Jesus responds to the woman’s pleading with a Shocking Statement (27). First of all, remember that Jesus knows the heart of all people. Even as she falls down before Him and pleads with Him to help her daughter, Jesus knows her heart, and He knows what she needs to learn and grow through this meeting. Yes, to be sure Jesus came first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel!  When Jesus tells the woman to wait, could it be that He is referring to the fact that He came to present Himself first to Israel, knowing that He would be rejected by Israel and handed over to the Romans to be crucified?  The gentile mission was coming, it was part of God’s plan, but it wasn’t yet time for the mission to the nations to begin.  The Jews had to make a decision: What would they do with Jesus? Would they have this man to be their king?  The answer was inevitable… He was, after all, the Passover King, the Servant King, the Righteous Sufferer spoken of by the prophets, the Lamb who would take away the sin of the world.
       But doesn’t His language sound harsh? It was time for the children to eat, it wouldn’t be right to throw their bread to the dogs! Actually, the language was a little gentler than it sounds in English.  Most “dogs” would be scavengers that lived on the streets, wild, and sometimes fierce. The word that Jesus uses it a diminutive form, “little dogs.” It would be used to refer to small, household pets that would be found in some gentile, and even some Jewish homes. It’s only a clue, but I wonder if this might be telling us a little about the setting for this encounter. Remember Jesus had arrived in Tyre and entered a house. We don’t have any information about the family, and know nothing about Jesus’ expression or body language as he dialogs with the woman. Could it be that he spoke with a smile, with a twinkle in his eye, even looking over to some children sitting at the table, and their little dog underneath it by their feet? We don’t know.  It is pretty likely that often as Jesus used parables to teach He referred to things from everyday life, things the hearers could see even as he spoke. At least this woman didn’t feel rebuked or rejected by Jesus’ answer, but she is encouraged to take the analogy a step further!
        The woman, not put off by Jesus’ parable, but somehow encouraged, answers with a Savvy Response (28): We deserve nothing from the Master’s hand. The woman answers Jesus, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.H.A. Ironside reflected on the humility and faith expressed the woman’s response to Jesus…
It was as much as to say, “Lord, I recognize the fact that I am just a poor, outcast Gentile, but, Lord, give me some of the crumbs that the children of the kingdom are refusing; allow me to take the place even of a puppy under the table and so obtain mercy at Thy hand.” Nothing appealed to our blessed Lord more than faith coupled with humility.
There was no defensiveness, she wasn’t offended by the Lord’s words, rather she persisted, humbly accepting the analogy, and turning it into a plea for mercy. 
        Jesus responds with a Show of Compassion (29,30): He is the discerner of hearts, and God delights in blessing humble, persistent faith. Jesus answers, "For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter."  Think about what this shows about Jesus and about this woman.  What was she expecting? That Jesus would go with her to her daughter, and rebuke the demon? We’ve seen Jesus show authority over disease and demons in Mark, but so far, it has always been when He was physically present. Now He tells this woman, “Go, she is free!” It took faith for the woman to leave, what if Jesus was wrong? If she went home and had to come back, Jesus could be gone! But she believed Him. She had faith. And think about the authority of Christ in this scene. He doesn’t need to be there, He doesn’t even need to say anything, He simply wills it, and it is done. He is absolutely sovereign in the spiritual realm. The demon is gone, that is it.
What is God saying to me in this passage? As we humbly persist in praying for the needs of others, God may be changing us and growing our faith.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? One application is clear: renew your commitment to pray for those you love.  We talked a lot in 2017 about being a “Laser Focused Church” as we all commit to pray for, witness to, and invite the people God has sovereignly and strategically placed in our lives. Are you praying daily for the 8 to 15 people in your extended household, your oikos? Don’t give up, consider the example of this woman who persisted in pleading with the Lord to set her daughter free from spiritual bondage!  Maybe there is a prodigal son or daughter for whom you have prayed for years. Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. Maybe it’s a neighbor, that you are not even sure you like, but who desperately needs the Lord. Could it be that the Lord is working on you, growing your faith,  even as you wait to see Him answer your prayers?
       Secondly, be reminded that Jesus came to rescue people of every race and nation. Let’s pray and plan ahead to the seasonal influx of people in the spring and summer. Seasonal workers, snow birds, vacationers… How can we best reach out to this mission field that comes to us? Would that we would see the opportunities God puts before us as He does, that we would see the fields, white for the harvest!

       Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:19  that “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” That reconciliation was made possible through the Cross. As we celebrate the Lord’s table let’s reflect on what He did for us, and rejoice in His amazing grace. God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us! That is Good News, and that message has been entrusted to us. So let’s renew our commitment to love our neighbors, our friends, and our family enough to pray fervently for them, pleading with God for their souls!  AMEN.