This week’s reading is found in Mark 16:7. Jesus had risen from the dead and a few ladies had gone to His tomb. When they arrived they found the tomb empty. Then an angel told them that Jesus was alive. The angel instructed the ladies to go back to the disciples and tell them that Jesus had risen and that He was going to meet with them. But it is interesting that the angel said, “Go tell the disciples AND PETER.” Why did he single out Peter, since he was already one of the disciples? I think this was said to help Peter deal with his utter failure on the night that Jesus was betrayed. Peter had denied three times that he ever knew Jesus. You can be sure that Peter was feeling pretty bad about this! He probably was thinking that this was the ultimate failure and that he was finished.
Have you ever felt like you let God down? Have you ever done something that every time you remembered it, you were ashamed? We all have, and that is sad. But this passage should give us hope. This was God reaching out, especially to Peter. God was speaking through this angel letting Peter know that he was still one of the gang! God is not surprised by our failures. He does not get all upset when we let Him down. He already knows our shortcomings. He is saddened when we let Him down, but He never gives up on us. He is our Father and no matter what we do, He will always love us and will never stop reaching out to us. How awesome it that!
This week’s reading is from Mark 14:8 where Jesus said, “She has done what she could.” He was talking about the lady who came and anointed Him with oil. Those who were around her were mad at what she did, because they thought she wasted a lot of money by pouring this oil on Jesus. This oil was apparently worth a lot of money, about a year’s salary for a working man! Jesus, though, saw it differently and told them to back off! He said, “She did what she could.” She did not even realize that she was anointing Jesus for His burial, she just felt impressed to do it so she did it! Jesus was so impressed by her actions that He said from now on whenever people share the gospel of the Kingdom of God, the story of what this lady did would always be remembered! Do you ever feel like what you do is just not enough? Don’t let those thoughts hold you back. Jesus looks at our hearts. This lady did what she could. When she poured that perfume on Jesus’ head, some thought she did a stupid thing. But Jesus rebuked them harshly, and said, “Leave her alone. She did what she could.” Others may not understand us, and maybe some of the things we do for Jesus are a bit unusual, but Jesus understands and that is all that matters. We can only do what we are able to do, but inspired by the Spirit, it is always a beautiful thing in Jesus’ sight. The opportunities to be special in God’s Kingdom are unlimited. All that is required of each of us is that we do what we can. How do you want to be remembered? Are you doing what you can?
This week’s reading is found in Mark 11:13-14. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and He noticed a fig tree. He was hungry so He went to get some figs, but He found the tree barren. So Jesus cursed the fig tree! What? Did I read that correct? Why would Jesus curse a fig tree? Did He lose His temper and in a fit of anger just curse that fig tree? I have to admit sometimes Jesus did do some strange things, and this surely seems to be one of them. But I believe there was a lesson here that Jesus was trying to teach.
Fig trees are for making figs, just like apple trees are for making apples. It might be fair to ask what good is a fruit tree that does not produce fruit. You might as well cut it down or curse it like Jesus did here. In the Old Testament the fig tree was often used as a symbol for the nation of Israel (See Jeremiah 8:13 and Hosea 9:10). It is important to remember that this cursing of the fig tree occurred on the same day that Jesus kicked the religious leaders out of the Temple. They had turned God’s house into a ‘den of thieves.” They were ripping God’s people off by selling animals for sacrifices at exorbitant prices. Cursing this fig tree was Jesus’ way of saying that that whole nation of Israel had become spiritually barren, especially the religious leaders. They had the form of religion but not the reality. They knew all the right words to say, but their hearts were far from God.
If there is one thing that makes God mad it is religious hypocrites. People who pretend to be religious but in fact their hearts are far from God. People who pretend that they are holy and righteous because of all of their good deeds. God says in Psalm 34:18, “The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” But we are told that God resists the proud, especially the religious proud. Pray that God keeps us humble and that we never get lifted up in pride.
This week’s reading is from Mark 9:43-48. Jesus seemed to talk a lot about Hell and in these passages Jesus tells us that we should do whatever it takes to avoid going there. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out!” Jesus was purposely being very graphic here because Hell is a real place. Even though I don’t think our hand, or our eye or our foot actually causes us to stumble, if they did, Jesus said, “Get rid of them.”
Is there something that is in your life that is leading you down the wrong path? Is your job causing you to stumble? Quit? Are your friends causing you to make bad decisions? Get rid of them? Are sports or watching TV becoming an idol? Cut them off. Nothing is too costly when it comes to avoiding Hell. Jesus did not fool around when He talked about the horror and the reality of this place. “Where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” No one likes to think about spending eternity in a burning inferno or being eaten by worms but Jesus brings it up because many people will actually go there. He came to bring us life and to show us the way to Heaven and how to avoid going to Hell. Don’t let anything get in your way on your spiritual journey. “To Hell, no, we won’t go!”
Many Christians are confused about the connection between being a citizen of heaven and a citizen of a country. Some feel that they are mutually exclusive. They are not and using your citizenship to advance righteousness is very Biblical. Read in Acts 16:36-38 and also 22:25-29 where Paul used his Roman citizenship to advance God’s kingdom. You will see that using your citizenship can be very helpful. Paul had been beaten uncondemned, which was illegal since he was a Roman citizen. Paul made the political rulers come to him personally and apologize for what they had allowed. I believe this was a good thing for Paul to do. He did not do it for his own personal gratification but you can be sure that these politicians were careful not to do that again. This at least brought some protection for Christians who might be preaching the gospel and upsetting the crowds.
I believe there are times when we can use our citizenship as well as our wealth to help advance God’s kingdom and His righteousness. One simple way to do this is to be intentional about where you chose to shop. If you find out about some company doing something that you feel is contrary to God’s ways, you can chose to not shop there. This is called ‘boycotting.’ This is what Nehemiah did when he was governor of Jerusalem, in Nehemiah 10:31. You are not obligated to contact the company to let them know, although that might help make your boycott more effective. You are not obligated to boycott EVERY company that is doing something contrary to God’s laws. You can pick and choose as you feel the Holy Spirit’s leading. Don’t let the ‘talking heads’ badger you about being arbitrary or being inconsistent. You have the right to shop where you wish and if you choose to stop shopping at a particular business because you do not like what they are doing as a business you have my permission and my blessing as well as God’s to do so!
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
This week’s reading is in Mark 8:34, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” What did Jesus mean when He said for us to take up our cross and follow Him? Oftentimes, you will hear people say, “Well that is my cross to bear,” as though the cross is some burden or hardship God has given us to carry through life. I don’t think that is what Jesus meant when He talked about us taking up our cross. In the following verses Jesus clarifies what He meant when He said, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Taking up our cross is not about bearing a burden through life. It is more radical than that! It is talking about ‘dying to self.’ What Jesus is saying, is that if we really want to become a follower of Him we are going to have to die to ourselves. This means that we all have to come to a place where we willing surrender full control of our lives and our wills to God. This is not an easy thing to do and it is probably part of a life long journey. It is way too easy to say we surrender our wills and then change our mind when God calls us to do something we don’t want to do. But it is not an option. The beautiful thing about this call to carry our cross is that it is really an exchange that is being offered here. Jesus says that if we die to ourselves, then and only then will we really find life. So it is not as though we really lose anything by dying to ourselves. We actually gain life when we surrender our lives to God. Have you taken up your cross yet? Don’t wait any longer, surrender your life, your will, your desires, everything to Him today. Real life is waiting for you when you do.