Re:Verse passage – Mark 2:18-22 (day three)
“One puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Across the Old and New Testaments, the witness of the Bible is that God shatters the understanding of what’s possible. God is “going to do something new;” he’s “created a new thing on the earth;” the Lord is “making all things new.” And when the Bible says new, it means new: the insignificant soaring to greatness, the weak confounding the strong, the meek inheriting the earth, the blind seeing, the captive tasting freedom, and ultimately, the dead rising to life. What do all these new possibilities require? A place to take root. If God were to confront you with a new possibility – which often looks like something you would least consider to be a work of God – would you recognize it? It’s likely he’s confronting you all the time. Take a second look.
Re:Verse passage – Mark 2:13-17 (day three)
“He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth.”
Jesus saw Levi (called Matthew in the other gospels), but it wasn’t merely an instance of line-of-sight, x-y axis perception. He saw “Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth.” Here was a person with a name, a familial context, a social circle, a skill set, weighed down with the burden of living and working in two cultures – one Jewish, one Roman. That’s far more than “human in field of vision.” What could happen to this man and to the world if Levi turned his interests, his knowledge, his abilities, his influence, his physical presence, and his energy toward eternal realities? It was with that kind of whole-person thinking that Jesus looked at this individual. Jesus will teach us to consider others with such whole-person thinking as well.
Re:Verse passage – Mark 2:1-12 (day three)
“Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
There’s a perverse logic at work in the kind of reasoning that claims the act of forgiveness is above one’s pay grade. If forgiveness is the domain of God alone, you don’t have to bother with cancelling the moral debt of people who’ve wronged you. Let ‘em take it up with God. But Jesus doesn’t just show us what forgiveness looks like. He tells us that unless we forgive those in our debt, no life with God is possible (see Matthew 18), and that the way we treat one another has eternal consequences (“Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” – again, see Matthew 18). To say “some things only God can do” is often a very clever way to dodge the kind of life that our Lord calls us to live.
Re:Verse passage – Mark 1:36-45 (day three)
“Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
Theories differ as to how miracles happen. Some say they result from a suspension of the laws of nature: molecules of water vanish from existence and molecules of wine appear in their place. Others say no, miracles result from a mastery of the laws of nature: an enormous amount of energy is brought to bear to break the water’s molecular and atomic bonds and reassemble them into the molecules for ethyl alcohol, etc. At issue, though, is not the method of Jesus’s miracles, but rather their meaning. Without meaning, a miracle will carry no soul-healing power. Jesus told the man that only the fellowship of God’s people would teach him this miracle’s place in the purpose and potential of his life.
Re:Verse passage – Mark 1:21-35 (day three)
“Immediately on the Sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and began to teach.”
Jesus would have delivered the brief homily that members of the community or itinerant rabbis were encouraged to give after the reading of the scriptures. Brief indeed. Mark doesn’t present that sermon here, but the one that Luke records in chapter 4 of his gospel amounts to less than 130 words in English. “No one’s ever heard a bad short sermon,” goes the old saying. The congregation in Luke apparently disagreed; that sermon ended with the attempted murder of the preacher. Words have power. No one knew this better than Christ himself, through whom all things were made with a word. The words Jesus preached were met variously with anger, elation, fear, hope, puzzlement, and faith. At issue is not whether a person will respond to Christ’s words, but how.
Re:Verse passage – Mark 1:16-20 (day three)
“Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
Jesus had stirred in Simon and Andrew a curiosity about a world larger than the one they inhabited. That’s not to say they considered their society unenlightened or that they longed for “freedom” in the way we would think of that concept today. Spiritually, they would not have yearned for an end to religious rules. They weren’t looking for “grace” so they could be “freed from the law.” Such ways of thinking are later developments that came through Holy Spirit-inspired reflection on Christ and his work. But Simon and Andrew were curious about what Jesus knew of the world. What did his words about God mean? Where did he get his confidence? How did he exude such peace? He wasn’t calling people who would give answers. He was calling people who would ask questions.
Re:Verse passage – Mark 1:9-15 (day three)
“…and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are my beloved Son, in you I am well-pleased.’”
When this Advent season closes, we will look on toward the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds: “On earth peace, good will towards men.” There is a kinship between the shepherd announcement and the baptism announcement – namely, God’s favor toward human beings. Writing later in his gospel, the apostle John announced, “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son…” Jesus pleased God like no man before had ever pleased him, and God loves human beings like no one but God could ever love us. God’s favor spills over from Jesus to us. When we receive the Lord Jesus into our lives, we will know that favor the way Jesus knew it when he emerged from those baptismal waters.
Re:Verse passage – Mark 1:1-8 (day three)
“… preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…”
The Pharisees didn’t listen to John, so they weren’t going to listen to Jesus. Pharoah didn’t listen to the nine plagues, so he wasn’t ultimately going to listen to the tenth. The family of the rich man in Jesus’s parable of Lazarus hadn’t listened to the prophets, so they wouldn’t listen to a resurrected Lazarus. Do you see a pattern here? God has designed reality in such a way that the now can prepare you for the next. You can refuse to accept the now, or you can turn and face it and let God’s Spirit teach you and form you. Is today inviting you to get ready for tomorrow? Probably.
Re:Verse passage – Philippians 4:10-23 (day three)
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Who did God make when he made you? Let’s review Jesus’s invitations to human beings: “Come to me on the water;” “You give them something to eat;” “Strengthen your brothers;” “Cast out demons;” “Go reveal the news of my resurrection;” “You’ll do greater things than I’m doing.” That’s an awful lot of astounding capacity for entities who are “only human.” But you’re not “only human,” if by that you mean flawed and ill-suited for life in the universe. The “only” adjective actually insults God’s handwork. Patterns of body, mind, and spirit that fall short of the mark of God’s vision for you have taken up residence in your soul. But God made you with capabilities that would shock you. Paul learned from the Lord how to realize those capabilities. And so can you.
Re:Verse passage – Philippians 4:1-9 (day three)
“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.”
There are parts of you that never forget the emotional wounds you’ve sustained. They fight to protect you from further pain. Those parts – the skeptic, the critic, the self-medicator, or the one who just wants to disappear – they all work to protect you, but they end up causing more harm than good. Paul knew this reality in his own life (see Romans 7). Rather than berating these troublesome parts, or trying to destroy them, he simply says, “The real you that God made isn’t reactive, but courageous, calm, confident. The more you open your eyes to the Lord’s availability – his nearness to you – the more he will teach you who he’s made you to be: one who can bring healing to your inner wounds and comfort to those around you.”