Sunday, November 2, 2014

If Your Right Eye Causes You To Sin

Mat. 5.27-30
You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

When Jesus taught about the sin of adultery, doubtless there were people there who were proud that they were not like those sinners. But looking lustfully at a woman is committing adultery in our hearts? That’s different. How can someone be blamed for what their eyes do? Jewish teaching was that external things, such as the parts of your body were the cause of defilement. Jesus challenged that idea by saying, “If you really believe that your eye is causing you to sin then pull it out.” Wallace made this observation about the passage: “The condition thus has a provocative power seen in this light. Just the opposite of Jesus’ affirming that appendages cause sin (as many have assumed, since a first class condition is used here), he is getting the audience to sift through the inconsistency of their own position. It is not the hands and eyes that cause one to sin, but the heart.” (DB Wallace, Greek Grammar, 1996, p. 693).

We may be amused by the idea of someone blaming their eyes or their hands for their sin, but are we so different? Haven’t we at some time said something like “I have wandering eyes,” “he has wandering hands,” “I couldn't help myself,” or “I’m only human.” There are whole doctrines built around the idea that our bodies are the cause of sin. To that idea Jesus says if you really believe that than cut it off. Nobody took him up on the challenge then and no one is doing it now.

The purpose of this study is not to decide who is to blame, but to decide where the problem lies. There are two things you have to do if you have a problem: First you have to admit there is a problem, and second determine what is causing the problem.

If we admit that we have a problem with sin then we need to determine where is the temptation is coming from. Jesus taught that our bodies are not to blame. Perhaps God is to for the situations we find ourselves in?

James 1.13-15
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

James used words for hunting and fishing. You have to draw out the animal you want to catch. “Dragged away” is too strong a phrase. You have to lure it out of it’s hole. Where does the desire come from? It comes from us. Where does the will to act on the desire come from? It comes from us. When we combine our will with our desire it produces sin. “Sin is the union of the will with lust” (Robertson, Word Pictures p.18).

Sin gives birth to something too. It gives birth to death. The world likes to talk about the joy and pleasure of living a life without rules or bounds. Sin is pleasurable, but the world doesn't talk as much about where you end up.

Luke 15.11-16
There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

The younger son had been safe in his father’s house. Satan dangled a pretty shiny lure in front of him. Who forced him to go off to a distant country? Who forced him to spend his money on wild parties? Nobody forced him to do any of that. He did it because he wanted to do it. He had fun. He did whatever he wanted to do. He lived by his own rules. He had a great time until the money ran out. He had been a gentleman of wealth and privilege, but in that country he was worth less than a pig.

What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of. Those things result in death!

Luke 15.17
When he came to his senses…

What did he realize when he came to senses?

Let’s not delude ourselves, our sins come from us. God is not the source of our temptation. But God is the source of something:

James 1.16-18
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.

1Cor. 10.13
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Temptation is something that we do not have to face alone. Jesus not only died that our sins could be forgiven, he is at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf.

Temptations will come. There is nothing we can do about that, even Jesus was tempted. But God promises that they will never be more than we can handle.

Different temptations are handled in different ways. For example, in Gen. 4.6-7, when Cain was angry about his sacrifice being rejected God said to him “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” The desire Cain felt was something he had to master. But other temptation are different.

In Job 31.1 “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” Job knew that lust did not come from his eyes, and the problem was not that the girls were too pretty, it came from his own desire. His solution was to avoid gazing at them.

Finally, 2Tim. 2.22 “Flee the evil desires of youth….” Sometimes the best thing to do is to leave when you are tempted. If it is something you haven’t been able to master, and you can’t just look away, leave as quickly as possible.

Jesus understands what it is like to be tempted, because he suffered that way too. The idea that Jesus was tempted is a strange concept; he was perfect and sinless. But to be the perfect high priest he had to know what it was like to suffer and to be tempted.

Heb. 4.15-16
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. Think about a time when you sinned. Did you have to do it? Was there no way out? Could you have made a different choice? It wasn't the fault of your hands, or your eyes. We sinned because we wanted to sin.

Jesus was not teaching that we are to pull our eyes out or that we are to cut off our hands to keep from sinning. What he was doing was pointing out the logical conclusion of the belief that the cause of sin is our bodies. The idea that sin is built into our bodies has some comfort; there is nothing we can do about it, so we can go on living the way we are. But that is not what the bible teaches. Sin comes from us acting on our own desires. There is a way out of sin, run from it and run to God. God assures us that we will never be tempted more than we can resist, and Jesus is always there to intercede and to help us.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Seven Days of Creation

One of the basic rules of interpretation is that you understand something literally unless that meaning is repugnant to logic or silly (Terry, p. 247). It is not a great rule. What is obviously figurative to me maybe obviously literal to you, but it is a place to start. However, there are words and passages that we can all agree are figurative: James, Peter and John were not literally pillars even though they are called “pillars” of the church (Gal. 2:9), the world is not flat even though we read about the four corners of the earth (Rev. 7:1), and we know the sun does not go around the earth even though we read that “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky…” (Joshua 10:13). But, when we apply this rule to whether the days in Genesis one are 24 hour periods of time we are not so sure.

Understanding what the “days” are in Genesis one seems simple: we keep reading the phrase “there was evening, and there was morning,” so it must be referring to 24 hour days. But when we think about it they could not have been 24 hour days. In order to have a 24 hour day we need our planet spinning on its axis while orbiting around the sun. On the first day the earth was without form and there was no sun and there were no heavens. How could there have been a 24 hour day? The problem continues when we ask “When did the first day begin?” God created light without creating the sun, and He did not separate light and darkness until some later time in that “day.” So, at what time did the first day begin?

God created the sun and moon and the stars on the fourth day for the purpose of marking “...seasons and days and years…” (vs. 15). We know a day has 24 hours because God gave us the rising and sitting of the sun. If there was no sun until the fourth day the way God gave us to mark time did not exist. These days must serve a different purpose in this passage than as markers of time. Early Christians also saw these difficulties: Origen (184-253 AD), in his book On First Principles, wrote “What person of intelligence, I ask, will consider as a reasonable statement that that the first and second and the third day, in which there are said to be both morning and evening, existed without sun and moon and stars, while the first day was even without a heaven?” Whatever chapter one of Genesis is, it is not a literal account of how God created the earth and heavens.

The Genesis one account is highly structured and based around the seven day week, with six days of work and one day of rest. This is a concept that easily understandable to us, and to people thousands of years ago. We can think of it as a parable. There are certain questions that are pointless to ask about parables. For example, in the parable of the sower, is the sower a literal person, is the grain literal grain, and what kind of grain was sown? Those questions are pointless because they do not bring us any closer to understanding what the parable means. In the same way asking if the days in Genesis one are 24 hour days does not bring us closer to understanding what the account means.

The purpose of the Genesis chapter one is stated in the first verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Verse one functions “...both as a superscription and as a summary” (Hamilton, p. 117). Genesis one is an account teaching that God created the heavens and the earth. It is not an account of how God created the heavens and the earth. It can be divided into two panels: Days one, two and three are days of creation and Days four, five and six are days of populating (Youngblood, p. 46).

Creation Populating
Day One: Light Day Four: Lights
Day Two: Firmament (sky and seas) Day Five: Inhabitants (fish and birds)
Day Three: Dry Land, Vegetation Day Six: Land Animals and human beings

God is portrayed like someone building a house. He lays the foundation, raises the walls and the roof, and when the house is finished he fills it with all the things his family will need. When the house is ready he brings in his family. This is an illustration that I can understand.

In Genesis one God states that He created earth and the heavens. The chapter is very strongly “antimythical” (Hamilton, pp. 127-128). We find no other gods there. There was no battle or conflict. The sun and moon are not gods, they were created by God to serve us as “signs to mark seasons and days and years” (Gen. 1:14). They are not even given names, only the greater light and the lesser light. Stars were made by God, to mark the seasons, they have no control over our fates. God made the earth, plants and animals, and everything He made was good. All of these concepts are taught in Genesis one in the simple form of a seven day week.

We have invested a lot into this chapter. We have called it the foundation of the bible, and that if it falls the whole bible falls with it. We have taught that there in only one way to interpret Genesis one and if you do not follow the literal 24 hour days then you are not a real Christian. I have taught those things. I was wrong. I put a stumbling block in front of good people who had the honesty to say that they disagreed. I am a believer. I believe God created the heavens and the earth. I believe Jesus Christ is the son of God. Whether the days in Genesis one are 24 hour days makes no difference. The bible reveals God’s saving message to mankind. It is about about salvation not science.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Hebrews 11:1-3


Hamilton VP. The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. 1990, Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Terry MS. Biblical Hermeneutics. Academie Books.

Youngblood RF. The Genesis Debate, Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood. 1990, Baker Book House.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Mystery

Mat. 13.10-17
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’

16But blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear. 17For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

This passage has always bothered me. Jesus seems to say that he does not want some people to understand the gospel and be saved, and only his 12 disciples are intended to really understand the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus died to save the world. He did not want anyone to be lost, so what did he mean here? The key to understanding this passage is understanding what he referred to as “secret.”

The word translated secret, or mystery in other places, is from the Greek word musterion (μυστήριον). It refers to something that is hidden or secret. It does not mean something is unknowable, but rather that something is unknown at that time. Today we would say it is “classified.”

The word translated secret or mystery is used 28 times in the New Testament, but Mat. 13.11, Mark 4.11 and Luke 8.9 are the only places in the gospel accounts where it is used. However, Paul used it 21 times. He used it to refer to various things, such as in Rom. 11.25 he refers to the mystery of the partial hardening of Israel’s heart, in 1Cor. 15.51 he uses the word to describe our transformation at the resurrection, but it is in reference to the gospel message that we will find our key to understanding “the secret of the kingdom of heaven.” Notice how he refers to the message that he was commissioned to teach:

Col. 1.24-28
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness - 26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but now disclosed to the saints. 27To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches to this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.

Paul taught the complete message from God. There was something that at one time was hidden, but it was revealed to the saints and Paul revealed it to the Gentiles. The thing that used to be a secret was Christ. Look at what he wrote in the next chapter:

Col. 2.2-3
My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

You can not take the New Testament and cut out Christ and still have the gospel message. The Good News is Jesus is the Christ. Paul wrote that Christ was what he taught:

1Cor. 1.23 “...we preach Christ crucified….”

1Cor. 2.2 “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Don’t overlook that Paul is using the word “Christ.” We say “Jesus Christ” so much that we forget that “Christ” is not his last name. Christ is a title, it means that Jesus is the anointed one of God.  This was the “secret of the kingdom of heaven.” The disciples knew Jesus was the Christ, but the Jews did not believe that.

John 10.24-26
The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
25Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, 26but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”

The Jews said “tell us plainly” because Jesus spoke to them in parables, he never said “I am the Christ.” These were the people Jesus was speaking about when he said in Mat. 13.15, “...they hardly hear with their ears and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” The Jews might believe that he was a prophet, but they didn’t believe that he was the Christ. This was not because Jesus taught in parable, it because they chose to ignore what the miracles clearly indicated: Jesus was the Christ.

The disciples, however, believed that Jesus was the Christ.

Mat. 16.13-17
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14They replied,
“Some say John the Baptist;
others say Elijah;
and still others
Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15“But what about you?”  he asked,  “Who do you say I am?”

16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

Verse 20 “Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.”

And in the next chapter:

Mat. 17.1-9
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”
5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7But Jesus came and touched them, “Get up,” he said, “Don’t be afraid.” 8When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

This was the secret that was revealed to the saints, but it was not revealed to the world. The world would not be told that Jesus was the Christ until after they had killed him and God raised him from the dead. Paul explained why this had to be done.

1 Cor. 2.6-8
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Jesus told his disciples not to tell people what they had seen until after he was raised from the dead. On the day of Pentecost Peter stood up and told the people what they had done.

Acts 2.36-37
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

When Jesus answered his disciples in Mat. 13.10-17, he told them that the reason he taught in parables was that “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (verse 12). As we have seen, Jesus did not openly reveal that he was the Christ, that was done by the apostles after he had been raised from the dead (Mat. 17.9 and Acts 2.36-37). But for those who were not one of his twelve disciples he taught in parables and showed his miracles. This was ample testimony that he as the Christ: “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, 26but you do not believe because you are not my sheep” (John 10.25-26).  Many did believe, “Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him” (John 8.30) and “‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him,’I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world.’”

To those who believed more would be give, but to the ones who refused to believe, even what they had would be taken away. When the Sanhedrin was told that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead they did not deny it or the other miracles “...Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11.47-48). Despite their vast knowledge of the scriptures they refused to believe what their own eyes showed them. Even what they did have would be taken away.

Even now, 2,000 years after the secret has been revealed most people do not understand that Jesus was more than a good man, and his words are more than amusing stories. There is nothing wrong with their eyes or ears to keep the message from them. Just as people did back then they choose to ignore who Jesus is. Those who do believe do the same thing that people 2,000 years ago did. We confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Monday, March 3, 2014

How Not To Give A Lesson

Once upon a time we had a guest speaker where I attend church.  He started off with the obligatory comments about how awful the weather was. Then he made a few comments about standardized testing and how much he dislikes the common core standards. Then, finally, he started his lesson about how Jesus was a hero. Our brother compared Jesus to Greek heroes in mythology and heroes in his state history.  He also told a funny story from when he was in high school; I’m not sure what it’s purpose was. To become better teachers we often study well prepared lessons, but sometimes it is useful to examine poorly prepared lessons.  We will do the latter this time.

Illustrations are used to help our students understand an unfamiliar concept. We take something that not familiar and relate it to something that is familiar. Jesus was the master of this method: “The kingdom of heaven is like….” Paul also used illustrations: “Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life” (Gal. 3.15).  As a general rule, illustrations should be simple, brief and lack details.They don’t need to be complicated and detailed, because they are examples from everyday life: “A farmer went out to sow his seed” (Mat. 13.3) or “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour…” (Mat. 13.33). Our brother’s illustrations were poor because they were unfamiliar (Greek mythology and Texas state history) and detailed (We learned a lot about the battle for the Alamo). We came away knowing more about Heracles and the Alamo than we did about Jesus.

Giving a lesson is like taking a roadtrip: We have a place we want to reach and we have to pass through certain places to get there. When we are preparing our lesson we must ask if this illustration is going to help us reach our goal. If it doesn’t help us reach our goal it needs be cut from the lesson. Because, if it doesn’t help us get where we are going it is just a distraction.

We also need to be honest about why we are using our illustrations. Why did our brother include the story about his bad shaving experience in high school? He said it was to show us how once we get used to something bad it doesn’t hurt to do it anymore, and this is what happens when we keep sinning. Remember, the topic of his lesson was how Jesus is a hero, not about sinning. This illustration didn’t help us get where we were supposed to be going. It was just a distraction.  So, why did he include it? I suspect because it was a funny story that he wanted to tell.  So he figured out a moral point it could illustrate and forced it into the lesson.

Everybody likes to get the audience to laugh. Everybody has funny stories they want to tell. If you have a need to tell funny stories join Toastmasters, or go to the comedy club down the street. Don’t delude yourself that the gospel message will be better with the funniest thing that happened to you on the way to work.The pulpit is not the place to be a comedian. Pause for a moment and ask yourself how many funny stories Jesus, or Paul, or anybody in the bible told? They were busy teaching the gospel, so they don’t have time for getting the audience laughing.

What about the obligatory comments about the weather, education and politics? Well, that is to “warm the audience up.” Why does the church need to be “warmed-up”? Yes, many professional speakers and politicians chat and joke before getting to the main topic. They are entertainers and the people are there to be entertained. We are at church to hear the word of God. If the comments about the weather and politics don’t get us to the goal of what you are teaching leave them out. They are a distraction from the message.  

How did our brother’s lesson turnout?  When he was done speaking one of our elders got up to give the closing comments and this elder was so excited about the history of the Alamo that he told some of his own stories from Texas history. After the service was over I heard many of the men telling their own bad shaving stories. If our brother wanted people to be thinking about our hero Jesus he failed. He did, however, succeed in being entertaining.

Teaching the word of God is a serious business. It is not about us and it is not about making the audience laugh, it is about teaching the word of God. That is why James wrote that “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3.1). We should think about this verse every time we step into the pulpit.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Anointing of Jesus at Bethany

While Jesus was in Bethany a dinner was given in his honor at the home of Simon the Leper.  Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, reclined at the table with him and Martha served.  Mary came to Jesus with an alabaster jar of nard, a very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head and feet. She then wiped them off with her hair. John wrote that “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12.3).

When Judas saw this, he was outraged (John 12.4).  Why this waste?  The perfume was worth a year’s wages.  It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.  Jesus told them to leave her alone; they would always have the poor to help, if that was their desire.  But Mary had done a beautiful thing, she had prepared his body for burial.   “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mat. 26.12-13).

This event is recorded in Matthew. 26.6-13, Mark 14.3-9, and John 12.1-8.  I have two questions:  What was “beautiful” about what Mary did, and what was so outstanding about it that the world needs to know about it?

When Mary anointed Jesus with nard and wiped his feet with her hair, Jesus said that she had done a beautiful thing by preparing his body for burial.  How was this a “beautiful” thing to do?  If I came up to you during dinner and started measuring you for a coffin would you think that was a “beautiful” thing for me to do?  Hardly, you would think it was creepy, and so would I.  

Let’s start off by admitting a couple of things:  First, it was a beautiful act, even if we don’t know why at this moment.  What Mary did was an act of love that grew out of her faith in Jesus.  Second, we don’t understand what was going on.  How can something that, under normal circumstances would be creepy, become something beautiful?
Jesus wanted what Mary did to be known wherever the gospel was preached (Mat. 26.12-13).  Why?  Others had displayed great faith, what was so special about Mary’s act?  

Look at the faith of the Centurion (Mat. 8.5-13).  When Jesus agreed to come and heal his servant the centurion said it was not necessary for him to come to his home.  He was a man under authority, and he had people under his authority.  He told them to go and they went.  He believed that Jesus needed only to give the command and the servant would be healed: “When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’”  As great as this display of faith was Jesus didn’t say that it would be proclaimed wherever the gospel was taught.  What was so special about Mary’s faith?

Mary listened to what Jesus taught. Jesus once said to her sister Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her”  (Luke 10.41-42). Mary listened and believed something that no one else believed.  Mary believed that Jesus would be killed. What is special about believing that? Jesus had told his disciples many times that he was going to die. Yes, Jesus had told them many times that he was going to die, and they didn’t believe it, because it didn’t fit with what they wanted to believe. They believed that Jesus was a “chosen one.”

Look at Luke 24.13-21. Jesus has risen from the dead, the women who had gone to the tomb had told the disciples that Jesus was alive, but still they didn’t believe it. Two disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and Jesus joined them, but they were kept from knowing who he was. Jesus asked what they were talking about. They told him about Jesus, who they thought was a prophet.  The authorities “...handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hope that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24.20-21).

What happened that they no longer hoped that Jesus “was the one who was going to redeem Israel”? He died. The Chosen One can’t die. Yes, Jesus was the anointed one of God, but that wasn’t what they were looking for. They were looking for their own kind of hero. We all know the “Chosen One”  doesn’t die.  He faces overwhelming odds, but he doesn’t die.  If he dies, then he wasn’t the chosen one.

But Jesus taught them many times that he was going to die.  That is correct. How well did that go? Look at these three occasions in the book of Mark that he did that:

“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Out of my sight Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men’ ” (Mark 8.31-33).

Just before this, in verse 29, Peter had stated he believed that Jesus was the Christ. What happened? Peter’s mind was filled with the ideas of men; he believed that the “chosen one” could not die.
Jesus tried again in the next chapter Mark 9.31-32: “ ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.”

And again in the next chapter Mark 10.32-34:Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priest and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’ ”

Three times in plain, open language Jesus told the disciples that he was going to be killed in Jerusalem, and his closest disciples couldn’t get past their own understanding of how things worked. Finally, in the garden of Gethsemane Peter tried to kill a man to keep Jesus from being captured (Mark 14.47).

Mary was different. Our sister Mary wanted nothing more than to sit at the master’s feet and learn from him. She listened and she believed: The Messiah had to die. The disciples heard the same message and they didn’t believe, because this truth didn’t fit their view of things. Mary simply believed. Doubtless seeing her brother raised from the dead made her belief greater; who could witness something like that and not be changed by it.

Why did she prepare Jesus’ body for burial? Wasn’t it enough to believe? Belief demands action. Jesus had told Martha that if she believed she would see the glory of God (John 11.40). Martha believed and had the stone rolled away from the tomb. Mary believed and prepared Jesus’ body for burial. She knew that it would be a violent death at the hands of the leaders. She might not be allowed to care for his body. So, when she could, she did that final act that we do for those we love, she prepared his body for the grave.

That is why, wherever the gospel message is taught, Mary is praised.  She is an example to all believers. She didn’t climb some holy mountain, lead an army, or die a martyr, she just trusted Jesus even when what he said didn’t fit what people said was true.

You believed. And like Mary you have experienced the power of God in your life. But there are cares and troubles in you live, and there are so many pleasures and distractions.  It is easy to forget what we believe. It is good to remember Mary and believe.