Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Healing the Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12)

Jesus healed and worked miracles on a number of people during his three years of ministry and thankfully, the scriptures record many of these instances. I think a lot of the time as we read these accounts, we become desensitized to the wonderment and marvel of miracles. We have the attitude, "Well, that's just another miracle that Jesus performed." We read over them and think very little about them. But this is a mistake. These accounts are in the inspired scriptures for our benefit, and I believe that we need to examine them more closely to find the hidden lessons.

In Mark 2:1-12, we read the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. Let's read the text before considering it... "And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately, many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the rood where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven you.' And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 'Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?' But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, 'Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, Your sins are forgiven you, or to say, Arise, take up your bed and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins'--He said to the paralytic, 'I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.' Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, 'We never saw anything like this.'"

What I love about this story is the fact that Jesus perfectly emphasized the importance of spiritual needs over physical needs. I'm sure the paralytic wanted to be healed physically, but Jesus knew that he needed spiritual healing first and foremost. Perhaps the man had been paralyzed as a result of sinful living. I don't know. I'd like to think that when Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven that he felt a wave of relief, rather than disappointment (having hoped for a miracle).

Regardless of the paralytic's condition or mindset, Jesus got His message across. Rather than perform the miracle (which would have undoubtedly wowed the crowd), he offered forgiveness to the paralytic, something that ought to be important to all of us.

Our prayers and our thinking need to reflect the right priorities. There's nothing wrong with praying for physical healing (for ourselves or others), but we need to be more eager to receive God's forgiveness, His compassion and mercy; we need to be more concerned about wisdom, self-control and spiritual strength. There's nothing wrong with wanting a good life, physically, but we need to be more motivated to pursue spiritual excellence before God.

Let me put it this way: if you had been the paralytic and you heard Jesus say, "Your sins are forgiven you," would you have been excited...or disappointed? Would you have thanked Him for His compassion and mercy, or would you have lived the rest of your life bitter and full of resentment, hating the Lord for having NOT removed your paralysis?

And today, would you rather the Lord heal your poverty and bless you materially with riches and prosperity, or heal you spiritually?

Jesus proved that He has the power and authority to forgive sins. By healing the paralytic, He proved that He was and is the Son of God. Indeed, God answers our prayers and there's nothing wrong with having physical desires and wishes, but if we learn anything from Mark 2:1-12, it's that spiritual prosperity ought to be our utmost concern.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"These Three Men...Job"

"Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would only deliver themselves by their righteousness" (Ezek. 14:14). These three men are given as examples of righteousness. In this article, let's consider the righteousness of Job.

It is generally assumed that Job lived during the times of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We know very little about him apart from the fact that he was a very wealthy man who lived in a place called "Uz." But these physical details of Job's life are not important; what is important is the kind of man he was spiritually. According to Job 1:1, he was "blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil." So Job was not only physically rich, he was spiritually rich.

But that's not a major accomplishment, is it? I mean, it's great that Job was righteous, but God had blessed Job all around, and so it was easy for him to be righteous. He had a personal relationship with a God who gave him everything he could ever need or want. That was Satan's point: "Does Job fear God for nothing?" (Job 1:9)

We all know the story. Job lost everything. His livestock were stolen by the Sabeans and Chaldeans (Job 1:13-15, 17), his sheep burned by fire from heaven (1:16), his servants slain (1:13-17), and his children killed in a freak accident (1:18-19). Can you imagine the sorrow that must have filled Job's heart?"

And yet the scriptures tell us that "Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped" (1:20). After being stricken with painful boils, his wife told him to curse God and die, but Job replied, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" (2:9-10)

It's true that Job's attitude wasn't always perfect. Like many of the psalmists, he came to question God's judgment. God did rebuke Job, asking him, "Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" (38:1-2) And yet we must conclude that Job passed the test; otherwise he would not be cited as one of the three examples of righteousness! Perhaps as humans it is natural to doubt and to question, so long as we maintain our faith in God and trust that He will ultimately see us through.

If Job could patiently endure (James 5:11), certainly we can endure the day-to-day trials that come our way.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"These Three Men...Daniel"

"Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness" (Ezek. 14:14). These three men are given as examples of righteousness. In this article, let's consider the righteousness of Daniel.

Like Noah, Daniel was a righteous man living in a hostile environment. Babylon was a pagan city full of idolatry and immorality and Daniel was forced to live there after being torn from his home in Jerusalem (Dan. 1:1-6). Again, this must have been quite a burden.

But at least Daniel had other Jews around him who feared God. We read of such friends as Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, better known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. When Daniel desperately needed an interpretation to the king's dream, he turned to his three godly friends "that they might seek mercies from the God of heaven concerning this secret" (Dan. 2:17-18).

Of course, Daniel is well-known by Bible students for a number of reasons. There is the story of the handwriting on the wall as recorded in Daniel 5, and of course there is the story of the den of lions in the sixth chapter. Even though the world was against him, Daniel never backed down.

In the end, His zeal for God was exemplified before several Babylonian and Persian kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus, and perhaps others. King Nebuchadnezzar was a self-righteous idol-worshipper before Daniel came...but through Daniel, God humbled Nebuchadnezzar to the point that he learned to praise God (Dan. 4:34-37). Darius, likewise, was greatly impacted by Daniel's faith (Dan. 6:26-27).

Daniel is so impressive because as a young man, he surely was confronted with all sorts of "youthful lusts" in the Sin City of his day. And yet he refused to conform (Rom. 12:1-2). He was in the belly of the beast, so to speak, but not once did he falter. We would all do well to learn a lesson from Daniel, especially our young people. You CAN overcome the world! "Flee also youthful lusts" (2 Tim. 2:22).

But it wasn't easy for Daniel, and it won't be easy for us. Like Daniel, we must be people of constant prayer (Dan. 6:10) who regularly assemble with others of like precious faith (Dan. 2:17-18; Heb. 10:24-25). We cannot win the war fighting solo. We must, like Daniel, avail ourselves to the many tools and aids that God has prepared for us. Only then will we win the fight.

Thank you, Daniel, for your wonderful example.

And thank you, God, for ensuring that Daniel's story was recorded and preserved in Your holy word.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sheep & Goats

I went to a Livestock auction in Lee City, KY last night with my brother-in-law. We're both looking into getting some goats and we were told that goats are auctioned off every Monday night at the Lee City Livestock Auction.

It was an interesting experience. There were, of course, cows (the main attraction), and pigs, but the goats and sheep had to be the most interesting of them all. As Quinn and I observed the goats and sheep, we couldn't help but think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:32-33, "All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left." In this passage, sinners are compared to goats while saints are compared to sheep (also see John 10:1-30 for more on this comparison).

As we observed the goats and sheep at this livestock auction, the reason behind these comparisons in Matthew 25 became apparent to both of us.

The goats were a wild and raucous bunch. They were constantly fighting, running and trying to mate. When you'd reach your hand in to try to touch them, they'd often look at you with death in their eyes. Goats are known for being stubborn and wily, resistant to authority, independent and mischevious. I've heard stories of them escaping from the pasture, jumping on the hoods of cars, tugging against the lead rope, butting and knocking down little children, attacking their masters, and so on. These goats at the livestock auction were not all necessarily violent, but they were clearly the stereotypical stubborn goats that you hear about.

The sheep, on the other hand, were more gentle. They seemed to stick together and not once did I see them getting into mischief. They didn't challenge the goats on the other side of the bars. Really, they seemed very timid.

Sheep are interesting creatures. They're actually kind of "dumb" and I've heard that they'll do nothing when a predator attacks the flock...they just stand there and get killed. But despite their lack of intelligence, they are absolutely dependent upon the shepherd. Where He leads, they follow. They come running at the sound of his call and are really quite helpless without His protection and guidance. Again, goats are stubborn and resist the shepherd, but sheep are humble and needy.

Too many people are like goats. They may revel in their independence and individuality, and they may enjoy their little escapades out of "the pasture" (in sin). They may feel powerful and self-confident when they resist the leadership and guidance of a loving Shepherd, but in the end, as Matthew 25 indicates, they will be separated from the rest of the flock and destroyed in hell.

Really, we need to be like sheep. We need to give up our own will and submit to the Shepherd's hand. We must recognize our total dependence upon Him by seeking His will in the Bible, studying it daily and applying it to our lives. Others may look at us as weak, dumb, naive, etc...but we can rest assured that in the end, we will be accepted by the Lord.

Which are you?

Are you the stubborn, self-reliant, mischevious goat?

Or, are you the humble, submissive sheep, wholly dependent on the Shepherd, Jesus Christ?