Sunday, December 10, 2017

Our Savior's Seed Scattering Secret

A Horticultural Hot Mess

My relationship with my lawn is…well…complicated. On one hand, I dream of having a perfect emerald carpet that’s a cross between the golf course like Augusta and the infield at Busch Stadium. Lush. Thick. Green.

But the reality is quite the opposite. My yard is the poster child of what you DON’T want. It’s a crazy combo of crabgrass, clover, and bare spots of clay. You might find a teeny bit of grass fighting for its life in a few spots. Talk about a horticultural hot mess.

Not Bullets and Bombs

That being said, I’m NOT the one who needs to be giving advice about winning the neighborhood yard of the month. But I know just the Guy who is. Jesus of Nazareth. In His biographies, He gives us a detailed description of just what to do when it comes to agriculture and crop production.

But here’s the deal. His tips for getting a massive harvest aren’t really about lawn care or farming at all. They’re actually a picture of how His Dad’s kingdom will come about. Some countries conquer using bullets and bombs. Jesus tells us how God uses seeds and soils to win His victory (Mk 4:1-20).

Going Viral

Let’s set the scene. It’s around 30 AD in the boondocks of northern Israel. Jesus is teaching next to a big lake we call the Sea of Galilee. Crowds are building rapidly to check out the new radical Rabbi/Carpenter from Nazareth. He’s all the rage. He’s gone viral.

And why wouldn’t He be? He actually has the guts to claim that He’s the Christ. That’s New Testament language for Messiah, the long awaited Hero God has promised to send to His people for thousands of years.

But that’s not all. Nobody has EVER heard teaching like this before (Mk 1:22, 27). He also performs jaw-dropping miracles like healing people from sickness, disabilities, and disease (Mk 1:30-31, 34, 40-42; 2:8-12). Jesus even exorcises evil spirits who’ve tortured their victims (Mk 1:23-25, 34).

Rocking Their Boat

In Mark’s bio of Christ, the writer tells us the crowds get so big one day near the lake that the Lord actually preaches from a boat (v1)! The Rock in the boat is about to rock their boat with a message from God.

Jesus’ Favorite Teaching Tool

For the first time in Mark’s story of Jesus, our Savior uses a brand new tool from His teaching tool box. “He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables” (v2). Before the Son of God is done, it will become His favorite way of teaching God’s truth.

So what exactly is a parable anywhoo? The Greek word (Gr. παραβολη/parabole) literally means “to place (Gr. -βολη/-bole) alongside (Gr. παρα-/para-).” Think of it as a figure of speech where you put two ideas next to each another in comparison.

Painting Word Pictures

A parable is a metaphor, an illustration, an analogy, or an allegory. It’s a relatively short story with symbolic meaning to something deeper. In other words, Jesus uses something everybody can understand to help folks figure out something they couldn’t otherwise.

The Lord draws on all sorts of stuff from First Century pop culture to make His points. He uses stories about servants, Samaritans, coins, oil lamps, and agriculture. Lots of agricultural analogies. We’re talking goats, sheep, barns, mustard plants, and vineyards.

Connecting with Pop Culture

If Christ shows up to tomorrow, I’m guessing He’ll use a completely different set of parables. Wouldn’t you love to hear Him comparing the kingdom to stuff like the internet, video games, and smart phones?

It’s a great reminder for teachers to utilize things people know to help them understand the truth of God’s Word. Don’t be afraid to use illustrations, analogies, and metaphors from pop culture…Jesus sure did!

The Real Dirt on the Soils

This time, Christ teaches the crowd what happens when the farmer starts throwing seeds around willy nilly. Birds eat some that land on the path (v4). Some sprout and wither without roots (v5-6). Weeds choke out some (v7). But what does grow delivers a ridiculous harvest (v8).

So this particular story is all about seeds and soils. But here’s the real dirt. The original text never actually uses the word “seeds,” and drops a term describing dirt a single time. Yet we call it the Parable of the Seeds. You can’t make this stuff up.

Spreading It around

A literal translation of the Greek goes a little something like this. “A sower went out to sow” (v3). And here’s the crazy thing. Both “sower” and “sow” are just slightly different forms of the very same word (Gr. σπειρω/speiro).

The word means to scatter (usually speaking of seeds), spread around, throw around, disperse, disseminate, or broadcast. In other words, the spreader went out spread. The thrower went out to throw. The broadcaster went out to broadcast.

Remember, in ancient times they didn’t have high tech tractors and farm implements. They simply plow behind an ox or mule and throw the seed around by hand. It’s certainly not an exact science. More on that in a moment.

Jesus Drops the Mic

At this point, Christ ends His seed spreading story by saying, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand” (v9). Huh? This is Jesus’ way of saying there’s more than meets the eye to this story. There’s a lot more here than seeds and soil. A whole lot more.

The Lord tells His listeners that only those God wants to understand will understand. Only true followers get the privilege of knowing what Jesus means. The Message puts it this way. “Are you listening to this? Really listening?” (v9 The Message).

It’s almost like Jesus drops the mic and walks away. You can almost picture the people scratching their heads and wondering what He’s talking about.

What Is He Talking about?

Feeling the same way yourself? You’re not the only one. As a matter of fact, His closest follower really didn’t have a clue what He was talking about. “Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked Him what the parables meant” (v10).

Can’t you just see it? When everybody leaves this lakeside lesson, Jesus’ own posse starts asking each other what He means. I can’t figure it out. What do you think He’s talking about? Why don’t you ask Him? No, why don’t YOU ask Him?!? Nobody wants to admit to Him they don’t understand.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

We don’t know who finally gets up the guts to ask. Maybe it’s Peter since he’s the so-called leader of the Dirty Dozen. Maybe John steps up because he’s alleged to be Jesus’ best friend. Or maybe it’s not one of the Twelve but somebody else.

Don’t miss the mini-lesson within the bigger story. Don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation when you don’t understand. Too many times I don’t want to look like a knucklehead. Too many times my pride gets in the way. Humility is a big part of being teachable and coachable. That means asking questions.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Which brings us to the turning point of the entire passage. Jesus begins His explanation of metaphor. “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders” (v11).

The Lord basically says that He’s hiding the truth of God’s kingdom in plain sight. There’s something about one of His parables that allows some people to see it while others can’t.

Cracking the Code

Sounds kinda like one of those freaky Magic Eye pictures. Remember them? At first glance, they seemed to be images of random blobs and goofy patterns. But some people were able to stare at it long enough and suddenly see a 3D image of a unicorn or a great white shark.

For big chunk of the big crowd, the secret is encrypted despite being right in front of their eyes. What’s the key to cracking Christ’s code? What do His followers have that give them the ability to see the deeper truth of His illustration that the larger audience didn’t?

Trust Unlocks the Truth

Faith. More specifically, faith in Jesus. They may not have Him all figured out (then again, who REALLY does?), but at the deepest level they trusted in Him as their Lord and Savior. They took Him at His word and believe what He says. Trust unlocks the truth.

The rest of the crowd couldn’t understand because they refused to trust Him. They don’t get it because they don’t want to get it. Those who don’t think they have a problem and don’t think they need a Savior can’t wrap their heads around what He’s talking about.

Heart Condition

At this point, Jesus dusts off a piece of prophecy from the OT book of Isaiah to explain why He does this. “When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to Me and be forgiven” (v12).

This is His way of saying He’s using the story of the seeds and soils as a way to test the spiritual responsiveness of the individual hearers. In other words, what’s the condition of their hearts when it comes to God? What sort of soil are they?

The other interesting thing here is that Jesus clearly sees Himself as fulfilling a 700-year-old prophecy which God spoke directly to Isaiah. So much for those who believe He was just an itinerant Jewish teacher who never saw Himself as Messiah.

Parables 101

So Jesus teaches a quick lesson. Call it Parables 101. “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables” (v13). Decoding this illustration will go along way in helping His followers figure out the rest.

He backs up, slows down, and explains each section of the seed story. What a great lesson in learning from the greatest Teacher who’s ever walked the planet. If you have the privilege of teaching, make sure you go back over something when it’s clear the folks you’re serving don’t get it.

You may have a killer lesson plan and use all the techie toys at your fingertips, but if the students don’t understand, you’re wasting everybody’s time. You accomplish the mission when the message is heard, understood, and acknowledged. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everybody’s time.

The Satanic Seed Stealer

Jesus starts His review at the very beginning, explaining exactly what sort of seed we’re talking about back in verse 3. “The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others” (v14). Specifically, this is spreading the Good News of grace by faith in His Son Jesus anywhere and everywhere.

Christ then unpacks verse 4. “The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away” (v15). In other words, some people’s hearts are as hard as a cement sidewalk. That’s when the devil dive bombs and snacks on the unused seeds.

Spoiler Alert!

Jesus wants us to know we have a real enemy who’s out to steal, kill, and destroy (Jn 10:10). Some people see a demon under rock. Others make just as big a mistake in thinking Satan is some goofy cartoon character in a red suit with a pitchfork.

He’s very real and very dangerous. John the Apostle says our world is currently “under the control of the evil one” (1Jn 5:19). SPOILER ALERT! I’ve read the end of the book. When it’s all said and done, Jesus and His team crushes the devil and his toadies in the most lopsided victory in history.

Getting off to a Good Start

Jesus moves from the sidewalk to a thin layer of dirt hiding rocks that He first mentioned back in verse 6. Seeds landing in this area get off to a good start and show early signs of life.

“The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word” (v16-17).

Rainbows, Unicorns, and Skittles
He’s talking about folks who are initially stoked to hear the Gospel. They experience an emotional response and things look promising. But the problem is below the surface. Inches below the surface, there’s nothing but rocks. These seeds never stood a chance.

Our Savior says the rocks are a picture of troubles and trials. There’s no long-lasting growth because of it. Too many people try to tell you the Christian life it’s nothing but rainbows, unicorns, and a lifetime supply of Skittles.

Here’s the deal. Following Jesus is hard. When the going gets tough, these folks get going alright…in the opposite direction!

Getting Choked out

The Lord goes from problems underground to those above. “The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all to quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced” (v18-19).

A closer look at the original language tells us that “crowded out” is actually the Greek verb συμπνιγω/sumpnigo. It means to suffocate, overwhelm and cause to die. Think of MMA fighters like Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar who take out their opponents by choking them out.

The Problem of Prosperity

The thorns are heartier and healthier than the tender seedlings. Despite some early growth, this one was over before it started. These stickers dominate and destroy the delicate new sprouts. Good night. Game over. Drive home safely.

Instead of persecution, Jesus says the problem here is actually prosperity. You can easily translate the phrase “worries of life” as “distractions of this age.” Earthly wealth and success take precedence over eternal riches. The now steals our focus from the forever.

Three bleak scenes. Absolutely zero crop production. The farmer has spread a truckload of seed on people’s hearts and has been shut out to this point. 


Before you think there’s no hope, Jesus tells us that some of the seed of the Good News finds thick, rich dirt. “And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (v20).

Here’s something I had never noticed before. It’s pretty obvious that there are three kinds of soils WITHOUT a harvest. What I hadn’t seen was that there are THREE soils WITH A HARVEST! If this is a game of three-on-three, it’s not even close.

Outrageous Output

One area produces a return of 30:1. Another tract doubles that at 60:1. Then there’s one final field that blows them both away with an outrageous output of 100:1!

If you’re like me, you probably have no idea how good these harvests are. According to John MacArthur, the average harvest in First Century Galilee was 8:1. In a great year, it was 10:1. So the kind of production Jesus is talking here is mind boggling!

God’s Fruity Goodness

What sort of harvest is the Lord talking about? I think we can look at it a couple of ways. First of all, Paul writes to Galatian believers about the kind of fruit the Holy Spirit produces in our lives. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).

The more we allow God’s Spirit to change us from the inside-out, the more He produces God’s fruity goodness in our lives. Who couldn’t use a lot more of these?!? For some of us, it’s a massive harvest!

Disciple-Making Disciples

The other way of looking at it is from the perspective of Jesus’ famous last words to His followers. He tells them to make disciples (NOT just converts!) of folks from every demographic group on the planet (Mt 28:19-20).

In other words, He calls each one of us to be a disciple-making disciple. If His process stops with us, then there’s no harvest. We’re to keep passing on God’s grace with the idea that it keeps on going. The Gospel is certainly the gift that keeps on giving!

Another Perspective

The usual way of looking at this particular parable is that Jesus is talking about the receptivity of four different kinds of people. Nothing wrong with that. But maybe, just maybe, there’s another way to understand these seeds and soils.

Is it possible that Christ could also be talking about four different times in one person’s life? Or could it be that we have different kinds of soil conditions in different parts of our lives?

For instance, do I have fertile dirt when it comes to serving but lots of rocks when it comes to generosity? Maybe I’m crazy about my small group but never tell anybody about Jesus. Let’s do what we can to have rich soil in every part of our lives.

Start Spreading the News

So what do we do with this parable? How do we apply it to our lives a couple of thousand years later?

Well just like the farmer, the followers of Jesus have the responsibility to spread the Word. Anyone. Everywhere. Don’t worry your pretty little head about where it lands. We just need to understand and explain the message as creatively and effectively as possible. In the words of ‘Ol Blue Eyes, “Start spreading the news.”

It Doesn’t Happen Overnight

We need to remember that our job isn’t to produce the crop. Just to spread the seed. Leave the production to God. We’ll recognize the folks who receive the seed and grow a harvest. It will be obvious. VERY obvious.

Don’t be discouraged when we don’t see immediate results. Just like in agriculture, the process of planting, growing, and harvesting spiritual produce takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. Seed that’s been planted in soil may look unproductive now. That can change quickly when God is involved. Be patient. Expect a harvest. A very BIG harvest!

I’m still not sure there’s much hope for my lawn. In the meantime, why don’t we all start spreading some seeds? 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

It Runs in the Family

My New Grandson

My new grandson looks just like Winston Churchill. Okay, not anymore. But just after his delivery, Jackson was a carbon baby copy of ol’ Winnie. Round face. Chubby cheeks. Button nose. Puffy eyes. The only things missing were the hat and cigar.

Over the past seven months, he’s thankfully taken on a strong resemblance to several members of his family. People see his mom’s eyes. Other folks make out his dad’s smile. Some even say Jackson has his grandpa’s dazzling personality. But is that REALLY my place to say?

Some families have strong physical traits that run powerfully through their descendants. You know what I’m talking about. There’s the legendary Kennedy chin. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have apparently cloned themselves in their children. And the Kardashians are famous for their…well, um…fame.

Jesus’ Closest Relatives

Did you know there was a day when Jesus talked about His family resemblance? Mark writes all about the day our Savior was hanging out with a bunch of His followers when His mother and brothers show up to see Him (Mk 3:31-34).

When Christ gets word they are outside, He suddenly drops a bomb on His nuclear family in front of the crowd. He says His closest relatives include a lot more people than just His human parents and siblings.

It Runs in the Family

Jesus says they all share a strong family resemblance. What could it be? Full head of hair? Strong nose? The ability to water ski without a boat? Possibly.

But there’s one distinguishing trait that makes Jesus’ true family members unmistakeable. His true mom, His real brothers and sisters are the folks who love to obey their heavenly Dad.

In other words, obedience to God’s will runs in the family.

Rocky’s Story

We find Christ’s description of His spiritual next of kin in the third chapter of an ancient document we call the Gospel of Mark. This is actually the personal account of Jesus’ life from Peter’s perspective, the man our Savior chose to lead His team.

Many of the Lord’s followers back in the early church were totally convinced Pete is the source. The apostle Jesus nicknames Rocky shares the Son of God’s story with his young friend John Mark. That’s how we came to know it as the Book of Mark.

Insane or in Satan?

The scene Mark describes here is, shall we say, “messy.” For those of you who think the Bible is a collection of well-edited and whitewashed stories that make everybody look like squeaky clean, think again.

Mark has already told us that Jesus’ closest family members have shown up outside the crowded house for an intervention (Mk 3:20-21). It’s time to take their big Brother home. They’re convinced He’s not so much the Christ but cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Don’t believe me? Read it for yourself.

While they wait outside, Jesus has an interesting little debate with a team of religious muckety-mucks from the home office in Jerusalem (Mk 3:22-30). They don’t think Christ is cray-cray but instead accuse Him of collaborating with the enemy. And when I say “enemy,” they mean Satan.

Mary Calls a Family Meeting

Once Jesus sets the scribes straight, it’s time to deal with His family. “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see Him. They stood outside and sent word for Him to come out and talk with them. There was a crowd sitting around Jesus, and someone said, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for You’” (v31-32).

Mary and her boys don’t come inside. Maybe it’s too crowded. Maybe they don’t want to embarrass Jesus in front of His closest friends and followers. For whatever reason, send Him an invitation to chat in the front yard.

His Brothers Don’t Believe Him

Mark has already made it uncomfortably clear how they’re questioning the Messiah’s mental health. His closest family members have serious doubts about all His talk of the kingdom of God. At this point, His own brothers don’t believe Jesus (Jn 7:5). They even openly tease Him (Jn 7:3).

Okay, so Christ’s kid brothers aren’t buying what He’s selling. Is that such a surprise? What would it take for your siblings to believe you’re God? How about walking out of the cemetery after your own burial? That certainly did the trick for Jesus’ brothers.

A Teenage Pregnancy

And what about Mary? You remember her story, don’t you? She gets a surprise visit from an angel named Gabriel who tells her how her teenage pregnancy will result in the Son of God (Lk 1:26-38).

The next thing you know she and her hammer-swinging husband Joe on the road to Bethlehem where they turn a barn into a birthing room (Lk 2:1-7). They get a visit from some smelly shepherds who tell a crazy story about an angelic light show announcing news about their newborn Son (Lk 2:8-20).

Mary’s Treasured Memories

Eight days later, the happy couple take their brand new Baby to the temple in Jerusalem for His bris, that rather delicate surgery done on little Jewish boys (2:21-38). There they meet Simeon and Anna who understand this Child is the one God has been promising to send for thousands of years.

While Mary certainly treasures these moments forever (Lk 2:19, 51), she apparently can’t wrap her maternal brain around all of who Jesus is and what He’s sent to do. And seriously, who can blame her? Do you know any other mother who’s given birth to the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Second Person of the Trinity? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

An Amber Alert for God’s Son

Probably the best example of her misunderstanding her Son happens when Jesus is twelve. When Joe and Mary pack up the fam and head home from Passover, they don’t notice that their oldest Boy isn’t with them until they stop the next night (Lk 2:41-51).

His human parents hustle back to Jerusalem and look for Him everywhere for three days. Imagine hearing of an Amber Alert for the Savior of the world? Eventually they find twelve-year-old Jesus in the middle of a Q-and-A with the greatest Jewish scholars of the day.

Joe and Mary tell Him they’ve been worried sick. Their Son wonders why they didn’t come straight to the temple or in His words, “My Father’s house” (Lk 2:49). That went right over their heads. “They didn’t understand what he meant” (Lk 2:50).

A Crowded House in Capernaum

Fast forward twenty years later to the scene at the crowded house in Capernaum. Has Mary somehow forgotten all these amazing memories? No, but maybe doubt and time began to corrode her trust in God since then.

Don’t think that’s possible? Pretty sure that could ever happen to you? Ever hear the story about God miraculously leading the Israelites out of Egypt with a fiery funnel cloud while splitting apart the Red Sea for a shortcut?

Frosted Flakes and Doubting Thomas

No way they could ever doubt God after that, right? Wrong. It wasn’t long after that God’s chosen people were whining about the free Frosted Flakes He served them every morning (Num 11:6).

Then there’s our old buddy the Apostle Thomas. Here’s a dude who has a front row seat to watch the Son of God perform one miracle after another for three years. Yet Tommy Boy has serious doubts about his friends’ bizarre story of Jesus’ resurrection when he’s not there to see it for himself (Jn 20:25).

Jesus’ Mom Needs a Savior

Maybe you come out of a faith tradition that puts Mary on a pedestal as the perfect mom. She never doubts or questions her oldest Son. But the truth is that Jesus’ own momma was very human. She needed a Savior just like the rest of us (Lk 1:47; Rom 3:23; 6:23).

When it comes to her faith, I’m guessing she’s a lot like you and me. She had her good days. She had her bad days. There were times when her trust in what God was doing through her family ran deep. Other times not so much. This appears to be one of those days of doubt.

When Your Faith Wobbles Wildly

Do you freak out when your faith wobbles wildly? Hey, I’m not afraid to admit it. But the most important thing about your faith is the object of our faith. A weak faith in something or, in this case, Someone strong makes all the difference.

A strong faith in a weak object is a total waste of time. For instance, I might believe with every fiber of my being that I can dunk in my Nike LeBrons.

The Ultimate Object

There’s just one little problem. Me. I’m 5’ 10” and could barely touch the rim when I was in high school. Forty years later, my hops have not improved. No matter what I believe about a pair of high dollar kicks, they won’t do the trick.

But trusting in Jesus is always a sure thing. It’s why Paul tells his friend Timothy, “If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful” (2Tim 2:13). Whenever we place our weak faith in the ultimate Object, it’s a slam dunk!

Jesus’ Family Tree

Back inside the house, Christ doesn’t get up and go outside to talk to His family. Instead He asks the standing room only crowd a couple of questions. “Jesus replied, ‘Who is My mother? Who are My brothers?’” (v33).

One of the favorite pastimes in Galilee is taking a chainsaw to Jesus’ family tree. He didn’t exactly come from the good side of the tracks. It’s an easy target. Even Nathanael, one of His own disciples questions, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46).

Critics in His own hometown love to bring up Jesus’ blue-collar background and trailer park tribe. “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And His sisters live right here among us” (Mk 6:3).

A Strong Resemblance

If I’m in the room, my answer to Jesus’ question about the identity of His family would be those folks outside. But Jesus’ isn’t looking to see who might have His family roster memorized. In reality, Christ wants to know what marks somebody as one of His close family members. Who shares a strong family resemblance?

Before anybody in the house can answer, the Lord fills in the blank for them. “Then He looked at those around Him and said, ‘Look, these are My mother and brothers’” (v34). Matthew tells us that Jesus points to His dozen disciples when He says this (Mt 12:49).

Jesus Connects the Dots

The Message makes it clear. “Right here, right in front of you—My mother and My brothers” (v34 The Message). You gotta figure folks are scratching their heads when He says this. Mother? Brothers? WHAT?!? I thought Your fam is in the front yard? These knuckleheads don’t look anything like You!

That’s when Jesus connects all the dots. “Anyone who does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother” (v35). In his version of this very same story, Dr. Luke quotes Christ as saying that His closest family members “are those who hear God’s Word and obey it” (Lk 8:21).

Notice that obeying the will of God means not just hearing it but doing it. Our obedience to God is in the application, not just the head knowledge of what He says. According to Jesus’ kid brother, knowing what to do without actually doing it is a waste of time (James 1:22-24).

Looking Like Our Heavenly Dad

Jesus wants us to know that obedience to our Father in heaven is what gives us the unmistakable family resemblance. Forget hair color, height, or sense of humor. We suddenly look a whole lot like the Son of God when we do what His Dad says.

As a matter of fact, the Lord is saying that the ties to our spiritual family are WAY stronger than to our blood relatives. That’s certainly great news for anyone who’s human family puts the funk in dysfunction. In case you’re wondering, that would be all of us.

The Savior’s Spiritual Family

The writer of Hebrews talks about our Savior’s amazing spiritual family. “So now Jesus and the ones He makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them His brothers and sisters” (Heb 2:11).

A guy named Paul backs that up in a letter to believers in Rome. He says that God the Father personally selects His kids in advance to become like His Son. And that Jesus is “the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom 8:29).

Our Ultimate Big Brother

If we’ve placed our trust in Christ, He’s our Big Brother. Not only that but our Dad is making us look more and more like our oldest Brother every single day. Let that sink in. We participate in that process every time we do what God says.

Jesus tells the packed house that doing what God wants is what really makes His followers favor the family. That means there’s nothing that we can do to resemble our Big Brother and Heavenly Dad more than willing submission and obedience.

Loaded with Laws

Just what does that mean? Have you seen the Bible? It’s loaded with laws and commands. Jewish scholars have counted 613 commandments in the OT. According to some, the NT has another 1,015 rules and regulations.

If that’s not intimidating enough, Jesus’ little brother James goes so far as to say that if we break one law, we’ve broken all of them (James 2:10). I don’t know about you, but I won’t make past breakfast.

The Top of the To-Do List

That’s what makes the Good News such great news. “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent” (Jn 6:28-29). At the top of our Heavenly Dad’s to-do list for us is this: Place our trust in His Son.

Jesus is the only one who’s ever lived to have a perfect record of obedience to His Father’s rules. He batted 1.000. Got ‘em all right. Every single do and do not. Christ did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

Jesus’ Perfect Obedience

Our Savior invites us to place our trust in His perfect obedience. He lived the perfect life that we’ve failed to live. He died the death for our sin and rebellion that we should have died. And if that’s not enough, He rose to a glorious new life that we don’t deserve.

Trusting in Jesus also means following His leadership. We unlock that overflowing life He made available (Jn 10:10) by doing what He says. Guess what? The more we do, the stronger our family resemblance to our Big Brother and Heavenly Dad.

Love God and Love People

A couple of different times, folks approach the radical Rabbi/Carpenter and ask Him to what obedience to God looks like. The Lord responds by summing up God’s law in two simple commands: Love God and love people (Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-32). Notice I said “simple” and not “easy.”

Just before He heads home to heaven, Jesus doubles down on the command to love. “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples” (Jn 13:34-35).

Did you catch the way we are to love? “Just as I have loved you.” Our Savior loved us by serving us (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45). Paul tells his Philippian friends how the King of Kings left the heavenly throne room to became a slave in order rescue you and me (Phil 2:6-8).

To Love Is to Serve

God calls me to love others by serving others. That means putting their needs ahead of mine. It means forgiving them since God has already forgiven me of SO much. Showing them the same kind of amazing grace God’s shown me. Hey, it runs in the family.

It also includes sharing the incredible message of our awesome Big Brother with others. Remember, nobody’s good enough to get into God’s family on their own. We all need a Savior. God the Father is always looking to adopt new kids to reshape into the image of His Son!

It Runs in the Family

Meanwhile back in the Galilean living room, imagine the reaction to what Jesus has just said. The Lord has just given everyone there a sneak preview of His Dad’s soon-to-be growing family.

Jesus’ closest kin is not limited just to blood relatives. It will include those who do what His Father wants. You see, obedience to God’s will runs in the family.

Jay Jennings

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Holy Home Invasion

Tied up at Gunpoint

There’s a HUGE crash as the front door flies open! Before anyone knows what’s happening, a handful bad guys have you and your family tied up and at gunpoint.

I don’t pretend to be a victim of a home invasion and certainly never hope to be. I hate it for anyone of you who may have been.

But did you know that Jesus actually talks about one of these attacks in Scripture (Mk 3:22-30)? Not only that, He’s actually the One who pulls it off! I’m telling you, there’s some wonderfully wild stuff in the documents we call the Bible. Do yourself a huge favor and read it for yourself.

An Accusation from the Home Office

Interestingly, the Lord shares this story while He’s at a residence in the fishing village of Capernaum in Galilee. A team of religious leaders from the home office have arrived. They think they’ve figured out how the radical Rabbi/Carpenter is kicking some serious demonic tail.

According to them, Jesus has the ability to exorcise evil spirits because He’s actually playing for Satan’s team. They accuse Him of being a mole or a plant. Their theory is that demons do what He says because it’s all part of the devil’s con game.

Our Savior tells these so-called experts to pump their brakes. They’ve got it all wrong. He’s got supernatural connections alright. But it’s with the Holy Spirit of God. They’re on an eternally slippery slope when they accuse Him of collaborating with the very one He came to defeat.

Wild Reports out of Galilee

As we mentioned earlier, this is at a home in Capernaum. It’s either the house Peter and Andrew share or the Son of God has His own place. It’s actually the same location and same moment when Jesus’ family comes to take Him home because they believe He’s lost His mind (Mk 3:20-21).

Not only have Mary and His brothers arrived. Some religious honchos have come to town to get to the bottom of all the wild reports they’re hearing from Galilee. Chances are local scribes and Pharisees made a 9-1-1 call to Jerusalem after Jesus handed them their lunch five times in a row (Mk 2:1-3:-6).

Jumping to Conclusion

A team of Jewish lawyers have already come to their conclusion before they come to town. Christ isn’t crazy. According to them, it’s worse than that. He’s controlled by Satan.

“But the teachers of the religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, ‘He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where He gets the power to cast out demons’” (v22).

Jewish Bible Scholars

In the original language, Mark describes these teachers using the Greek word γραμματευς/grammateus. It literally means one who writes. Back in the day, this is somebody who works as a clerk or specializes in written documents.

In this case, those documents are the Scriptures. And at this time, we’re talking about the Old Testament since it is the ONLY testament around in the early First Century. They’re big-time Bible scholars.

Did You Hear the One about the Lawyer?

These religious teachers are experts in God’s Word and its application. They are seen as lawyers when it comes to God’s Law. So apparently lawyer jokes go back a few years. These attorneys will soon find out the joke’s on them.

John Mark has mentioned scribes on three previous occasions (Mk 1:22; 2:6, 16). But this is a new crew. These are the big dogs who’ve made the 85-mile trip from Jerusalem to put an end to this nonsense in north.


They cut to the chase and make their charge. “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons” (v22). The translators of the NLT have tried to do us a favor and do the heavy lifting for us from the original Greek. But there’s some cool stuff going on here.

“Satan” is actually “Beelzebul” (Gr. Βεελζεβουλ/Beelzeboul). It’s the proper name for a Philistine deity, a variation on “Baal-Zebul” which mens “Baal the Prince.” The Israelites liked to twist it into Beelzebub, a putdown that means “lord of flies.”

Savior from Heaven or Trojan Horse from Hell?

Beelzebul is the handle they gave the devil as the demonic boss of all evil spirits. Just about every appearance of this title is in connection with this same story in the first three Gospels (Mt 12:23-32; Lk 11:14-23).

Their point is that Jesus casts out evil spirits because their satanic supervisor has told them to go. “That’s where He gets the power to cast out demons” (v22). According to them, Christ isn’t our Savior from heaven but a Trojan horse straight from hell.

A Teachable Moment

But whattaya know…the Son of God graciously sees their vicious indictment as a teachable moment. “Jesus called them over and responded with an illustration” (v23). He invites them over to explain.

The Lord doesn’t light them up. He doesn’t throw them under the bus. Instead He takes a moment to teach. There’s a lesson for all of us. His response is compassionate and caring.

Jesus begins by asking these scribes a question. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” (v23). Okay, boys. Since you’re the religious experts, tell Me how this works. He asks them to explain how in the devil’s name this would happen.

Gotta tell ya, the first thing that came to my mind is that scene in “Liar, Liar” where Jim Carrey beats the stuffing out of himself.

Civil Wars and Family Feuds

The Jewish teachers have got nothing. It’s almost like they haven’t thought their theory through. Jesus follows with a couple of examples of why their idea doesn’t hold a drop of water.

First He says, “A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse” (v24). A nation with that level of turmoil will destroy itself from the inside out. Its own citizens are its worst enemy. That even goes for Satan and his evil empire.

Secondly, the Son of God explains, “Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart” (v25). Okay, do I really need to explain this one? I think we all know families that are more than ready to play the feud…and I DON’T mean with Steve Harvey! Of course, I don’t mean yours. Heaven forbid.

Closing the Loop

With after drawing those examples, the Lord closes the loop and tells them how ludicrous their assumption is. “And if Satan is divided and fights against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive” (v26).

Again, nothing but crickets from these Jewish hotshots. Don’t you just wonder what this moment must have been like? How long does Jesus wait in awkward silence before He continues?

Holy Home Invasion

At some point, Christ continues. “Let Me illustrate this further. Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house” (v27).

Here’s where we get to the home invasion. Let’s break it down so we understand who’s involved and what’s going on.

Satan’s Turf

Jesus uses the strong man’s house as a picture of Satan’s turf. Thanks to our sin and rebellion, we’ve opened the front door to the devil so he could walk right and rule our fallen world.

Our Savior tells His team how “Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out” (Jn 12:31). Paul warns the Corinthians how the evil one “is the god of this world” (2Cor 4:4). In other words, the strong man’s house is our fallen world.

Our Hero to the Rescue!

There’s only One who has the muscle and authority to break in and take the devil down. You get three guess as to Who that is and your first two don’t count. Yup. Jesus. I knew you could do it.

But there’s more to this holy home invasion than just overpowering our enemy. Jesus will “plunder his goods” (v27). What in the world does the devil have that the Lord would want? Us.

That’s right, Christ crashes through the front door in order to free us from the power of Satan, sin, and death. We’re the stuff He’s come to steal! Our Hero has come to our rescue!! This scene makes “Taken” look like a fairy tale.

Tweet This

Just in case these religious teachers have missed His point, Jesus sums it all up. And to do so, He makes sure their paying attention by dropping the phrase “I tell you the truth” (v28).

This little expression is Jesus’ way of telling everybody He’s about to say something important. VERY important. No, it doesn’t mean that He’s been playing fast and loose with the facts up till now. This is His way of saying this is the bottom line of what we’re talking about.

“I tell you the truth” (v28). This is the first time of the fourteen times the Lord uses these words here in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 6:11; 8:12; 9:1, 41; 10:15, 29; 11:23; 12:43; 13:30; 14:9, 18, 25, 30). Each time He does, it’s His way of getting everyone’s attention. If there was social media back in the day, He might say, “Tweet this!”

No One Is Beyond God’s Reach

Okay. Everybody listening? Listen up. “All sin and blasphemy can be forgiven” (v28). Whoa. Picture jaws on the floor all around the room. Think about what Jesus has just said. There’s nothing you and I can do that can’t be forgiven.

There’s no sin and no slander that God won’t forgive. Not adultery. Not armed robbery. Not murder. Not suicide. That includes breaking any or all of God’s Top Ten (Ex 20).

How’s that possible? Because of one incredibly important fact. Jesus is a better Savior than we are sinners. No one, and He means NO ONE is beyond the reach of His rescue.

One Very Important Exception

Apart from one very important exception. The Lord spells it out. “But anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences” (v29).

What in the wild world of sports does this have to do with the scribes accusation of Jesus playing for Satan’s team or His point about the holy home invasion? Turns out, everything.

Rejecting His Rescue

To blaspheme (Gr. βλασφημεω/blasphemeo) is to defame, slander, insult, speak evil against somebody. It’s intentionally trashing someone’s reputation. In this case, slandering the Spirit of God.

It goes a little something like this. The Holy Spirit’s job is to open our hearts to God’s goodness. We insult Him when we reject His offer of rescue in the form of the Son of God.

Sawing off the Branch

When we turn our backs on Jesus, we give God’s grace the Heisman. That’s when we blaspheme the Holy Spirit. You can’t shake your fist at your Forgiver while at the same time accepting His forgiveness.

Or as the Message puts it, “You are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives” (v29 The Message).

Evil Spirit or Holy Spirit?

Mark tells us this is exactly why Christ connects the dots for the scribes. “He told them this because they were saying, ‘He’s possessed by an evil spirit’” (v30).

Possessed by an evil spirit? Are you kidding me?!? Not even close. Jesus isn’t possessed by some evil spirit. He’s baptized by THE Holy Spirit! As a matter of fact, all three Members of the Trinity were there at the Jordan River that day (Mk 1:9-11).

It was an amazing moment when His Heavenly Dad gave His Son the ultimate “attaboy,” while the Spirit gave Him the supernatural ability to carry out His unbelievable search and rescue mission of sinners like you and me.

Evil spirit, no. Holy Spirit. Yes!

Tied up in Knots

So what do we do with all this talk of demonic possession, religious accusations, holy home invasions, and slandering the Spirit of God? I admit that it can get just a little confusing.

What has you tied up in knots? What has a hold on you that won’t let go? A sin? An addiction? A temptation? A self-destructive behavior. No matter how much you try or struggle, you can’t get free.

Let Him ALL the Way in

The great news is there’s Good News. There is Somebody who can cut you loose.  Jesus is able to punch demonic forces in the throat because He has the unlimited power of God’s Spirit at His disposal.

Only when we allow the Son of God to enter our lives do we have any hope of taking out the evil we’ve allowed in. Let Him in. I mean ALL the way in! Let Him do what He does best.

Do you need a holy home invasion? To be honest, we all do at some point.

Jay Jennings