You Can’t Sit on the Fence

(Mark 11:22-33)

This is a classic lesson that Jesus taught the chief priests and scribes and which provides a warning to all of us. The Lord hates fence sitters. Here is a perfect example of the way he dealt with them.

fenceThe chief priests and scribes came to Jesus asking by what authority was he doing the things he did and who gave him such authority. It should have been evident to them by what authority he was doing these works for it was certainly obvious to the people. They knew that his authority was from God and they recognised he was working by the authority of God. In fact even the Pharisees knew he was from God, but they refused to admit it. Nicodemus, who was a ruler of the Jews and a Pharisee said, “This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” (John 3:2) So they knew full well where Jesus was from.

But in order to find some reason to condemn him they asked him these questions to try and trip him up.

But Jesus was aware of their malice and so he answered them with a question saying, “I will ask you a question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men? Answer me.” (Verses 29-30) The chief priests and scribes were in a quandary as to how they should answer. They mulled the question over but could not come to a decision for any way they answered they would be shown up for their lack of faith. So they took the easy way out…they sat on the fence and said, “We do not know.” (Verse 33)

And because they sat on the fence Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Verse 33) They had refused to answer his questions so why should Jesus answer theirs? They knew where his power emanated from but they chose to ignore it, and worse, they opposed him. But the issue here was that they sat on the fence.

God hates fence sitters. There is no place in the kingdom of Heaven for fence sitters. In all situations there is a need for a decision one way or another. You can see how much he hates fence sitters and indecision in Revelation 3:15-16 speaking to the church in Laodicea, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”

Jesus also said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30) If you are not with the Lord you are against him. There is no middle road. There is no way to have a bet both ways. A decision must be made either way and if the choice is not for the Lord, it is against him.

Why does the Lord despise fence sitting in these scriptures? Consider what a fence sitter is like. They are indecisive and cannot come to a decision. They are tossed to and fro depending which way the wind blows. They are attempting to please everyone and so will compromise themselves so as not to upset people. And you don’t know where you stand with a fence sitter as you have no idea which way they will turn.

We must learn the lesson he showed the chief priests and scribes in this section. They came to him with a questions, but because they sat on the fence they did not get an answer. If we come to the Lord with a question but are indecisive in our own minds and not fully on board with the Lord, should he answer our requests? Certainly if we are seeking the Lord for an answer we will get it, but if we are not being true to the Lord and are sitting on the fence we will not receive anything from him.

The lesson is to seek out the truth when you are in a place of indecision. Look to the Lord fully to open the door and give you insight. Open your heart and mind to receive his truth. Humble yourself under his hand and don’t waver in doubt or apprehension. As it has been written, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silva’nus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20)

In Christ there is no vacillating. There is no humming and harring but there is the definite “Yes” in him. He does not sit on the fence and does not want his people to either. Go to him and find the yes that he has promised.

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Have Faith in God

(Mark 11:20-26)

The lesson of the fig tree was covered a few posts ago. We see an additional lesson here when the disciples note that the fig tree is withered and they point it out to Jesus.

move-mountainsThe disciple were amazed that the fig tree had withered after Jesus spoke to it. But Jesus’ response was, “Have faith in God.” (Verse 22) He said to them that if they have faith they could say to a mountain to be cast into the sea and it would be done for them. In essence he was saying that when you ask God anything in prayer and you have faith, it will be done.

How often do we take the Lord literally at his words? How often do we doubt the power of God? It is not uncommon for Christian to doubt, but the lesson we need to learn is that there is no need to doubt. God through Jesus Christ is able to do anything we ask, and more. It is our doubt that limits us in what the Lord can and will do for us. We are the limiting factor, not God.

Consider the “faith” chapter in Hebrews chapter 11. It opens with this line, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) Whatever you hope for you will receive if you have faith and the assurance that the Lord will bring the thing you are hoping for to come to pass. You cannot see the thing you hope for because it has not yet come to pass. That is why faith is so important because it is through faith that we receive the conviction to carry on so that we will receive the things we are hoping for.

Faith is essential is we are to come to God and please him. The writer in Hebrews 11 continues on to say, “…without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Heb 11:6)

That is why faith is so important. Faith is the key to coming to God and to receiving his promises. You must believe to receive. You must believe to be able to enter God’s kingdom for the entry is vai faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other way than by faith for faith is spiritual not physical.

Does it work? Absolutely! Look at the rest of Hebrews 11 and you will see how faith enabled the prophets and people of God to do many mighty things, “…who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life.” (Hebrews 11:33-35)

There is much more that can be said on the subject of faith and we will cover those scriptures over tiem as I continue to work through the New Testament. For now it is enough to say that faith is the key and anything you desire to receive from the Lord is possible if you will believe, pray and ask for it and hold firm your faith.

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Driving Out the Merchants and Money Changers from the Temple

(Mark 11:15-19)

Jesus came to the temple in Jerusalem and saw the merchants and money changers carrying on their business. He made the point saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (Verse 17) And with that he drove them all out, overturning the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling pigeons.

driving-out-the-moneychangersNow let’s fast-forward a couple of thousand years to today. In many churches there is an inordinate amount of focus on selling stuff in the church. There are stands for books, CD’s of sermons, music CD’s and so on. In addition there are bumper stickers, costume jewellery, bracelets, necklaces, scripture verses, bookmarks with scriptures on them, coffee mugs, pictures and all manner of things that are sold under the banner of “Christian.”

Now the Bible says that it is fine for those who work in the Lord’s service to earn their living from that work. The scripture says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

But I cannot see how the marketing of these things above, especially the bracelets, CD’s, coffee mugs, jewellery and so on has anything to do with the ministry work of God. Selling these things is no different from the movie or music industry who sell all this same kind of paraphernalia for profit pure and simple. Films and music may make a lot of money, but the marketing of these toys and trinkets is where the real bucks are, and the marketers know it. The licensing of names and brands is where the real money is at.

So has the church sold out to capitalism? Is the dollar the almighty rather than the Almighty God in their minds? Has the love of money and the greed for gain turned them aside from the path of the truth?

My point is this. Jesus drove out the money changers from the temple because they had turned it into a marketplace rather than a place of worship. Today there are some in the church who are using Christianity and the name of Jesus to market goods for the purpose of making profit. This is not about making their living, unless making a living means having the fanciest houses, the finest clothes, expensive cars and a lifestyle of the “rich and famous.”

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24) Who are these preachers who have focussed their energies and preaching on wealth creation serving? They have replaced the truth of the gospel with the lie of this world. Money will not buy you security, it will not give you happiness and it will not commend you to God so as to gain entry to his Kingdom.

When I see tele-evangelists who spend more time and energy promoting their latest books or some other trinket, supposedly in the name of Jesus, rather than preaching the word of God, I wonder who they are serving. The marketing is slick and polished and designed to get you to put your hand in your pocket to give them money. The only thing missing is the classic infomercial line, “But wait! There’s more! With this trinket you get six steak knives!”

What does the world see in this? Do they see anything better in the church when they see this kind of marketing than what they see in the world? Do they see Jesus in this kind of thing? No. It is no kind of witness but is a sham and it turns people away from the truth.

But the churches and people doing this, and I must add it is not all churches but just a very high profile few, are blind. They do not see the error of their way and believe they have reached the penultimate of Christianity. Their proof? They believe the Lord has blessed them with wealth. But what does the Bible say of them? They are like the church of Laodicea described in Revelation 3:14-19.

14 “And to the angel of the church in La-odice’a write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!
16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.
17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.
19 Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent.

They think they are rich, but they are spiritually impoverished. They think they need nothing, not knowing they have nothing. They are pitiable, poor, blind and naked for they are clothed with righteousness. They are neither cold nor hot because they don’t want to rock the boat. When you rock the boat in this world, you upset the marketing and you don’t make money, which is why they are lukewarm, following the dollar. The message to them is to go and find the truth and to repent of their self-serving ways.

There is a lesson here for all of us. For if the churches who do this kind of thing are seeking your money, then what is the quality of the teaching. Which master do they serve, God or mammon? And more importantly, what truth will you get from those who promote such a ministry?

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The Barren Fig Tree

(Mark 11:11-14)

The teaching about the barren fig tree is an interesting one. Each time I look at it I find things that are more and more interesting in it.

The first time I read this section of scripture I thought the Lord was being harsh and vindictive. He basically cursed the fig tree so that it would die and never produce fruit again. To all intents that seems a very harsh thing to do, but there are lessons we can learn from this when we understand what the Lord is showing us.

barren-fig-treeFirst we should understand that the Lord expected there to be fruit on this tree and there was none. This can be likened to Christians who have been with the Lord some time. After a period of time, typically years, the Lord could expect Christians to bear fruit. The fruit of the Spirit should begin to flourish in the lives of those who profess Christ as Saviour and there would be a natural expectation that a Christian should mature and grow as they walk with Christ. I covered this aspect of this scripture in some detail when I looked at it in Matthew 21:18-22

But there are other messages in this scripture too.

This tree was supposed to provide something of value. It had a utilty and purpose. It was supposed to have fruit. When it did not have fruit it became worthless and was of no value. If it is of no value, then is it wrong or harsh to destroy the tree? Is it harsh to curse it and have it wither when it has no use? No it is not. Ask any farmer what they do with crops or trees that do not produce what they are supposed to. Ask them what they do with stock and animals that have lost their value. They do not save them for “old times sake.” No, they are removed and replaced with stock that will provide a benefit.

This tree was no different. It was of no benefit so the natural course of things would be to remove it and replace it with something that will provide benefit. The benefit the fig tree gives us is the lesson of growth, amturity and utility.

Furthermore we see that Jesus was no “tree-hugger.” He had no qualms about destroying a tree that was of no use. He certainly did not put it up as being anything special or of any importance other than in its ability to provide food. When it did not or could not do that, it was removed.

Not that I am suggesting the wholesale destruction of the earth’s resources is a good thing. Far from it. But I am saying things need to be put into perspective. It is wrong to swing too far either left or right on any matter, including conservation and those things held dear by the green movements around the world. When the earths resources are destroyed purely for the sake of gain, it is wrong. But likewise when emphasis is put on saving resources to the exclusion of the needs of people, that too is wrong. The challenge is in finding the balance between these two extremes. But I am straying from the essence of the scripture now.

Jesus followed this message later, which I will cover in the next one or two posts about the need to have faith and the power of faith. We can do anything if we have faith. There is tremendous power in faith, and indeed without it nothing can be achieved. Nothing would even be atempted if we did not have faith. Who would commence anything if they did not ahve a grain of faith that it could be done?

We will come to that in mor detail soon. For this section though, there are messages of faith, and the need to grow in the Lord to produce fruit. If we do not produce the fruit of Christ, then we need to beware lest we are uprooted like this fig tree and cast away from the Lord. It is a sobering thought and warning to all Christians.

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Hosanna in the Highest

(Mark 11:1-10)

From the mouths of babes the Lord brought perfect praise. This is what Jesus said in another version of this section of scripture. As he rode on the colt of an ass (which was to fulfil prophecy) the people laid down leafy branches and and their garments when he rode to Jerusalem.

hosanna-in-the-highestJesus entry into Jerusalem could not be hidden. He had come ready to die at the hands of the chief priests and scribes as it was written of him in prophecy hundreds of years earlier. He was the king, or rather is the King of Kings, but he was to be rejected finally by those who should have recognised him but did not.

The interesting scripture that caught my eye in this section was verse 10. It reads, “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming. Hosanna in the highest!”

What is interesting in this scripture is the fact that the people seemed to recognise that the kingdom was not here yet. They said it “is coming” indicating a future kingdom.

That kingdom has now arrived even though we do not see it with our eyes. The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom and it will be a physical kingdom at the second coming of Christ. For now though, we have the ability to enter the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ.

He said, “I am the door.” (John 10:7-9) It is through Jesus that we go into the Kingdom of God and we have that entry available to us now.

How do we enter the door that is Christ? When we are baptised into the name of Jesus Christ we are baptised INTO Jesus. We go through a symbolic death and resurrection as we are immersed in the waters of baptism and then lifted up from the waters. Through faith the Lord tells us to recognise this symbolic death as our real death and rebirth as new creations in Jesus Christ. It is by this method that we enter the kingdom of God.

But then there is more for it is not enough to simply go through the door and stand at the threshold. We must be prepared and changed in preparation to meet the Master. We must be clothed in the robes of righteousness that will give us access to the wedding feast he talks of in Matthew 22:1-14. That work then follows on after we enter into the Kingdom of God through the working of the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit is to transform us into the image of Christ. We are given righteousness through faith when we are baptised and set free from sin and the law. But to live with God we must become like God. We must have the nature of God, for God cannot sin and he cannot live in the presence of sin. Thus it is the work of the holy spirit to transform us into the likeness of God as it shows in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

So when the people were saying Hosanna in the highest and talking of the kingdom of David that is coming, little did they know at that time that it was closer than they realised. They were expecting Jesus to reign as a king on earth, but his kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. What he has given us is the opportunity to enter that kingdom now and begin the work of transformation that will take us one day into the presence of God.

Now that is something worth shouting about and saying, “Hosanna in the highest!”

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