Being Serious About Salvation

(Mark 9:42-50)

How serious are you about salvation? How serious should you be? Is it the most important thing in your life? Should it be the most important thing?

To answer these questions read this section of the scripture, for it gives us an indication of how serious we should be about this opportunity the Lord has given each of us. We need to also recall the scripture that says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

being serious about salvationJesus said that if we have a problem with any part of our body, we should be serious enough about our salvation that we should cut out the bit that causes us to sin so as to ensure we are saved. That sounds pretty serious to me! It also sounds a bit drastic, but if we have a problem with sin we must be prepared to take drastic measures.

He said if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If you have a problem with lust that could lead you to sins of adultery or fornication, then you need to consider what drastic measures you could take to overcome that passion of the flesh. Likewise if your hand causes you to sin, say through stealing, or if your foot causes you to sin, say through violence, then what drastic measures should you take to overcome these issues? For many people the causes of sin are not from physical issues but are mental or psychological. Clearly you can’t cut your brain out, but there must be some other drastic measure you could take if necessary to overcome the temptation, perhaps to separate yourself from the thing or person that is tempting you.

Sin is the thing that stands between man and God. And sin is the thing that can prevent you from entering God’s kingdom. We cannot be complacent about the desires of the flesh that can lead to sin. That is why the Lord says to take drastic measures to overcome these passions.

Now we are fortunate that the Lord has provided a means of escape to overcome all temptation, if we take it and use it. As he said in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” His method does not require us to maim ourself to overcome passions. He provides a means to overcome the temptations so that we can endure and come through victoriously.

He gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him and when we apply the ministry of walking in the Spirit we have the power to overcome. The process of walking in the Spirit hands the problem or temptation over to the Lord for him to deal with it. In so doing we are following his guidance to, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you.” (1 Peter 5:6) When we humble ourselves we put the Lord in charge and he is able to take control of the situation.

Does this work? Absolutely. Provided we have faith and put our trust in God, we can move mountains.

As I said we are fortunate that he has put this ministry in place in the gospel. Unfortunately not everyone knows about it or uses the power of the Holy Spirit to be able to overcome. Are there other ways to fight temptation? Yes there are, but they are less effective for they rely more upon our own strength rather than the Lord, and we should rely on the Lord. If a person follows the processes outlined by Paul in Philippians 4:4-9 and especially verse 8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Anyone doing this, and the key here is to, “…think about these things,” will have a chance to have the victory over sin for this too is a form of walking in the Spirit. But even doing this we should put the power into the Lord’s hands through prayer rather than rely on our own strength.

But what if you can’t do these things either? Then if you are serious about salvation you will need to find other drastic measures to overcome sin. For as Jesus said, it is better to enter heaven maimed or lame than to miss out. After all, in God’s kingdom our bodies will be restored and all causes of sin taken away. Be prepared to take whatever action is necessary to separate yourself from sin.

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He Who Is Not With Us Is Against Us

(Mark 9:38-41)

The Lord taught the disciples an interesting lesson in this section of scripture. The disciples had come come across a man casting out demons in the name of Jesus, but the man was not following with Jesus and the disciples. The disciples forbade him from continuing to do this work.

But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.” (Verse 39-40)

not-with-us-is-against-usIf anyone is doing a work in the name of the Lord it is a good thing. If they are giving glory to the Lord and to God while doing the work it is a good thing. Clearly Jesus showed that this was acceptable in his sight, for whenever anyone is doing a work for the Lord, the name of the Lord is being honoured and the gospel is being spread.

Does it matter if they are of a different religious following to you or I? Does it matter that they do not follow the Lord in the same way as you or I? Does it make any difference if they are Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Salvation Army, Pentecostal, Independent or any other denomination, sect or section of the wider church?

Well according to this scripture it made little difference to Jesus. For if they are doing a work in his name and if the work gives glory to God, then it is a good thing.

Too often we see arguments in the media, and more so online, between Christians of different groups who try to prove that they are right and someone else is wrong. Usually this is around points of doctrine and often about matters that in the total scheme of things are of small importance. The intellectual discussion can be stimulating and I am the first to admit that I have fallen for this myself on many occasions.

However, whether I am right or whether they are right is of little consequence. It is whether the work being done is glorifying God that is important. The discussion can be had and sometimes should be had, but they must be done in love and without argument or recrimination. They should be based upon the scripture as the final arbiter of what is right or wrong. And both parties should listen to the other point of view as that is how we learn. If the point of view can be justified in the scripture and if it aligns with the broader context of the scriptures, then it has value and may add to what we know. The key is to listen and weigh up, then accept or reject the information based on the scripture. When in doubt pray about it.

But back to the point of this section of Mark 9, Paul shows us that people will honour the Lord and worship God in different ways. This can be based on their level of understanding at that point in time, and they should not be shut down for what they believe when they are working in honour of the Lord. Paul showed this saying in Romans 14:1-6,

1 As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions.
2 One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables.
3 Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him.
4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.
5 One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind.
6 He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

It is weakness in the faith, or a lack of maturity in the Lord that may cause someone to believe or behave differently to ourselves. Then again, we may be the weak ones in some aspect of the faith for the Lord has not yet revealed the matter to us.

Whatever the situation, Paul shows us that we are all servants of the same master and the master, Jesus Christ, will uphold each of us for where we stand at a point in time. He does not expect us to be perfect straight away, but to grow and mature until we become perfected in Christ. Nor are we to judge another person for their beliefs for they are accepted as they are. Paul showed this also in 2 Corinthians 8:12 saying, “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not.”

So if we see someone doing any kind of work or ministry for the Lord, we should not condemn it because we do not agree with them. Certainly if it is destructive it should be brought up with the person and if it is in opposition to the truth of the gospel that is a different matter. But if it is acceptable, then we should not discount their work on the basis that their faith and worship is different to ours.

If they are doing the work in honour of the Lord, then it is acceptable. If it does not honour the Lord, then he will deal with them and show them their error. Jesus said in vs. 39, “…no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.” Jesus will weed out those who are not honouring him when they are doing a work supposedly in his name as he did with the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19:13-16,

13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.”
14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.
15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”
16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

The Lord will work with those who are working in his name and will cast out those who are behaving falsely. Let us remember though not to condemn someone doing a work in the name of the Lord just because they do not follow with us. As Jesus said, he who is not with us is against us.

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Who is the Greatest?

(Mark 9:33-37)

In this world people strive to be the best. To be faster, bigger, stronger, more powerful, richer or more famous than others. It is commonly heard that you have to “sing your own praises” or “blow your own trumpet” because no-one else will.

In this world there are processes and training to enable a person to self-promote. And self-promotion is seen in the world as a good thing because it enables a person to get their head above the crowd and be seen.

the-greatestBut in the Lord and as a Christian, self promotion and self aggrandisement is not the way to go. These things rely upon pride and sometimes arrogance, but in the Lord we are called to humility and obedience to God. Unlike life in this world, God sees us as we are and he knows each one of us individually. So we do not need to promote ourselves to be seen for he knows our hearts and our thoughts.

In this section of scripture the disciples had been discussing and arguing amongst themselves as to who among them was the greatest. This is worldly thinking and is the way men in this world think. Jesus was about to teach them the correct way a Christian should think.

In the world people strive to be the top dog. In business it might be the CEO, in sport it might be to win the championship, in financial matters it might be to top the Forbes or BRW “Richest 100 People.” The epitome of this thinking was personified in the boxer, Muhammad Ali who claimed, “I am the greatest.” For many years he was the greatest boxer in the world, but like all people when he had gone past his prime someone better came along and he lost his world number one ranking. Yet even Ali eventually learned the Lord’s way for he is quoted as saying, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

This is the same principle that Jesus was teaching his disciples. Jesus told them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Verse 35) To be the greatest in the Lord is to be the servant of all. Christians as they progress in the Lord are called to serve and not to be served. This is the exact opposite of the way this world thinks, for in the world people desire to be masters rather than servants.

Jesus again showed the disciples the type of humility required of a Christian. He took a child in the midst of them and taking the child in his arms he said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” In children there is a humility that gets lost as they grow older. But Jesus said that in having humility like a child we become truly great in the Lord’s kingdom. In the end that is all that matters, for this world as we know it will pass away, but God’s kingdom is eternal.

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through stock.xchng.com)

Jesus Speaks of His Death and Resurrection

(Mark 9:30-32)

Jesus had shown on many occasions that he did not want his disciples to be uninformed. In the world today one of the things used by people as power is the withholding of information. But this was not Jesus’ way then and it is not his way now.

In this section of scripture we see Jesus begin to speak to his disciples about his coming death at the hands of the Jews and his subsequent resurrection. At no time did he withhold information from the disciples that they needed to know. He wanted them to understand all things and he kept nothing from them.

jesus-with-his-disciplesJesus showed this desire to ensure the disciples understood all things, for it was not only his desire but the desire of the Father also. He shows this saying, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14-15) Paul also showed this when speaking to the church at Ephesus saying, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20-21)

So it is the will of God that his people are forewarned and forearmed in all matters pertaining to the truth of the Gospel so that they are not left in the dark. It is commonly understood that one of the greatest causes of fear among man is caused by lack of knowledge. But when knowledge comes, fear is taken away. That is part of the reason why the Lord wants us to be fully informed, and that is why he was teaching his disciples about what was to happen to him in due course.

Had the Jews just dragged Jesus off without him having pre-warned the disciples, they would have been in utter fear and confusion. Doubtless they suffered these things to some extent anyway. But when they came to themselves and considered the matter, they knew this was to happen for the Lord had spent much time telling them about it. Thus they could move forward without questioning why it happened and suffering grief and remorse.

Naturally when Jesus was risen from the dead they were greatly comforted. And because he had told them these things and they came to pass, they were further encouraged knowing that nothing was hidden from God and that the Lord had revealed to them in advance what was going on, and more importantly why these things were to happen.

So too we should take encouragement from the knowledge that Jesus is still showing us all we need to know. It is by the Holy Spirit that knowledge is revealed to us today as we study, pray and seek the Lord. And his guidance and leadership helps us to know the paths to take when we listen and follow his direction. We have no need to fear regardless of what may come against us for the Lord has said he is with us and will protect us. It is his desire to show us his kingdom when we learn about him and come to him seeking his knowledge and his ways.

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Casting Out a Deaf and Dumb Spirit

(Mark 9:14-29)

A boy had been brought to the disciples of Jesus for healing. This boy was possessed by an evil spirit that had taken control of the boy and was hurting him badly. The spirit caused him to be cast into fire and water, seized him and cast him to the ground foaming at the mouth and grinding his teeth.

The disciples were asked to cast the spirit out of the boy, but the were unable to do so. When the father of the boy saw Jesus he came to him imploring him to help if he was able.

jesus-heals-boy-with-deaf&dumb-spirit2Here we see one of the keys to healing, both in this and all other cases. There is a question of faith in this section of scripture. The man begged Jesus to help him “If you can.” (Verse 22)

Jesus responded saying, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.” (Verse 23) Here is a powerful call to faith for the people of God. What Jesus is saying here is that for those who have faith nothing will be impossible. If a matter is in the will of God and a person has faith, then it will be done for them. There is no “maybe” in Jesus’ words but a positive statement that through faith anything can be done.

The father of the boy recognising his unbelief, possibly because the disciples had not been able to heal the boy, cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Verse 24) This man was desperate and desperately wanted to believe so that his son would be healed. Jesus took compassion on the man and the boy and rebuked the demon from him.

Now faith is a funny thing. You either have it or you don’t. The disciples once asked Jesus saying, “Increase our faith!” But Jesus replied, “And the Lord said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

What he showed is that you don’t need a lot of faith to be able to do remarkable things. But how do you get faith and then how does it grow? There is no doubt that faith can grow but what is the process by which this happens?

Knowledge is the key, and specifically the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) When a person hears the words of the gospel and they internalise it, that is when faith as a grain of mustard seed is born. As a person continues to learn more about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God, their faith is strengthened. They begin to see the power of God working in their own life and the lives of those around them. That is how faith grows and strengthens over time.

When Jesus healed this boy, faith was born in the father. It is clear from the father’s own comments that he had little or no faith prior to this. He brought the boy to the disciples in the hope that the boy might be healed, but their inability to heal the boy would have crushed the father’s hope until Jesus arrived.

As for the disciples, after the event they asked Jesus why they were unable to cast out the demon. The Lord said here that, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Verse 29) By this he is saying it required the direct intervention of God to cast out this demon.

Jesus had given the disciples the authority to cast out demons, but it is evident that the disciples own faith was weak. We see this in Jesus first statement when told that the disciples could not cast the demon out. He said, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?” (Verse 19) In other versions of this event we see Jesus say to the disciples that the reason they could not cast the demon out was because of their lack of faith, again emphasising that faith is the key to healing. However he also provided the process by which that can be overcome, and that is through prayer.

When our faith to do something is weak, even when we have the authority to do it as the disciples had been given (Mark 3:15), we can always put the matter into the hands of the Lord through prayer. When we come to God in prayer we are humbling ourselves under his almighty power and putting the issue into to his hands. We are laying our burdens at the feet of the Lord for his intervention and resolution. And this is OK for we are told to, “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7).

Anytime we are overwhelmed by the issues of the world or have what appear to be insurmountable problems, let us remember this teaching. Have faith and anything is possible to you. And if it seems too daunting, give the problem to the Lord in prayer for his resolution and in good time it will be resolved.

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John the Baptist – Elijah Who is to Come

(Mark 9:9-13)

Over the years I have often read the scriptures that talk of John the Baptist as being the “Elijah who is to come.” But in all that time I have never stopped to consider why he was called by that name. So I have spent a little time looking at the ministry of Elijah and comparing him to John the Baptist.

The key words used by Jesus were that the Elijah who is to come was to “…restore all things.” (Verse 12) Also in Matthew 11:7-15 Jesus talks of John as being the one who fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare they way before thee.” Even before John was born an angel appeared to his father saying, “…and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli’jah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:17)

ElijahThe ministry of John the Baptist was to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He did this by preaching repentance and the need to turn away from evil and sin. He also upbraided the religious leaders of the day, as did Jesus, calling them a “brood of vipers” and warning them to repent also. (Matthew 3:7) John was also at odds with Herod the tetrarch who had been reproved by John for taking his brother’s wife and all the evil he had done. His wife also bore a grudge against John and it was eventually through her that John was beheaded.

John’s ministry was to bring the people back to the Lord in preparation for the coming of Jesus. In many ways there are similarities with Elijah the prophet.

Elijah lived in the days when Ahab was king over Israel. Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all the evil kings before him, and he considered it a light thing to walk in sin. He took Jezebel as a wife and together they built idols to Baal and made an Asherah to the false gods and Jezebel killed many of the prophets of the Lord. Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord than all of the kings of Israel before him. (1 Kings 16:29-34)

Elijah was at odds with Ahab and Jezebel just as John was at odds with Herod and Herodian his wife. Like John, Elijah was in the wilderness for a time and during that period was fed by ravens and drank only water from a stream. But the main similarities are in the respective ministeries of these two prophets. The most telling scripture in the events surrounding Elijah’s ministry was when he called upon the Lord to bring fire down to light the burnt offering when he challenged the priests of Baal. As Elijah prayed to the Lord he said, “Answer me O Lord, answer me that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:37)

In this scripture we see that the purpose of the Lord in Elijah’s ministry was to turn the hearts of the people back to God and away from all the evil brought on them by Ahab, Jezebel and the worship of Baal. Elijah was the instrument used by God to bring his people back to worshipping the Lord. This was in essence the same as the ministry of John the Baptist, for he was called to, “…turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:17)

Thus we see the similarities in the ministries of Elijah and John and why it is that John was called the “Elijah who is to come.”

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The Transfiguration

Where does the Christian stand in relation to the two covenants? As Christians are we meant to be under both the Old and the New Covenant? The transfiguration scripture provides us with part of the answer to these two questions.

transfigurationMany years ago while still at school I asked a religious education teacher what the difference was between the Old and the New Covenant. This man was a minister from one of the local congregations and so I thought he should have been able to answer this question. He responded saying that the New Covenant was basically just an extension of the Old Covenant.

This is typical of the line of thinking amongst many churches and Christians still today. They tend to believe that while we recognise Jesus and the New Covenant we are still fully under the laws of the Old Covenant. The one proviso is that we no longer have to offer the sin sacrifices since Jesus has died for our sins. I may not have this completely accurate but many churches teach this or variations of this line of teaching.

When I became an adult and studied this matter I found the minister was wrong. The Bible tells us that the two covenants are quite different. It tells us also that not only should we not be under both covenants at the the same time, but to do so is akin to practising a kind of spiritual adultery.

Time for some scriptures to show these distinctions.

In Hebrews 8:8-9 it is written, “The days will come, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I paid no heed to them, says the Lord.” (My emphasis) Note the word “not” in this scripture. We are being told that the New Covenant is NOT like the Old Covenant. It is quite different.

The writer in Hebrews 8:13 continues saying, “In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” With the introduction of the New Covenant, the Old Covenant has become obsolete. The Old Covenant is ready to vanish away for the New Covenant vastly surpasses it in both power and effect.

We see also in Hebrews 10:9 that in Jesus, “…He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.” The first (Old) covenant has been abolished with the introduction of the New Covenant, which was ratified or brought into existence at the death of Jesus.

Now someone will quote to me Matthew 5:17-18 which says, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” And you are correct, the law and prophets have not been abolished, but through Jesus a person can step out of the Old Covenant and into the New Covenant. For those who have not entered the New Covenant through Jesus, who by the way said, “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved,” (John 10:9) for those who have not entered the law and prophets are in full force and effect. It is only through Jesus that we can enter the New Covenant and thus be released from the bondage to law, sin and death that exists under the Old Covenant. He further shows this where Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:15 that in Jesus God was, “…abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances.”

Now Paul also wrote in Romans chapters 6 and 7 Paul shows that as a woman is set free from the law of marriage att he death of her husband, we too likewise are set free from the laws of the Old Covenant through the death of Jesus Christ. When we enter into the death of Jesus by baptism, symbolically we die with Christ and are resurrected as new creations, no longer under the power of sin, no longer under the Law of Moses, but recreated as new creations to serve God through Christ Jesus.

So going back to the beginning, what has the transfiguration got to do with all of this? Well when Jesus went up the mountain with Peter, James and John, he was transfigured and Moses and Elijah appeared speaking with him. The three disciples were naturally terrified by this and Peter, not knowing what to say, said, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli’jah.” (Mark 9:5)

What Peter was doing was to treat all three of them, that is, Jesus, Moses and Elijah, as equals. He was treating them as if they were the same, a bit like the minister I mentioned earlier who believed that the New Covenant was just an extension of the Old Covenant.

But God the Father stepped in to show Peter his error. God spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (Mark 9:7) And as they looked around they saw that only Jesus alone was with them.

Moses represents the law in this event and Elijah represents the prophets. Jesus as the Son of God is the founder and maker of the New Covenant. When the Father spoke to the disciples he did not say “Listen to all three of them,” but he told them to listen to Jesus. In this I believe God is saying that our salvation does not come through a combination of the law, prophets and the New Covenant, but through Jesus only. It is Jesus who gives us life. The law offers only condemantion for it shows sin to be sin, but in Jesus we have freedom from sin.

The transfiguration is a powerful message on getting our priorities right. There is value in studying the law and the prophets for there is great wisdom in those words. After all, they too are the words of God. But we have life only through Jesus Christ. We receive salvation from sin and the hope of eternal life only through Jesus. Thus as God the Father tells us himself, in speaking of Jesus we must, “Listen to him,” and not get entangled in the works of law that will prevent us reaching maturity in Christ. We must serve the Lord under the New Covenant for to try and mix the Old and the New is like mixing oil and water…the do not go together. The Old Covenant brings bondage but the New Covenant offers freedom.

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