These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.25) NRSV
Eternal life is not only desirable, it is essential! When Jesus promised us that we may have “life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), then surely this is an offer too good to pass off. Yet how do we secure it?
This therefore was the question asked by the lawyer in today’s reading: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.25). Jesus’ response was that he should keep the whole law of God. In other words that he should love God and his neighbour with all that he has. Of course this standard was too high! He therefore tried to “justify himself” (v.29).
The fact is that none of us is able to enter eternal life by our own effort. As Jesus told his disciples, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). No one can save himself by trying to pull himself up by his own bootlaces. The whole essence of the Gospel is that God (in Christ) reaches down to us; he takes the initiative, and he gives us the power to respond.
Paul puts this point very clearly when he writes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9).
Therefore, when Jesus told the lawyer to be saved by keeping the law, he was merely enabling him to see that he needed help! It is only when we admit our need that God can begin to help us. Jesus came to the sick, not the righteous. That is, he came to those who knew they needed help, not to those who thought they were okay.
This story of the lawyer is paralleled by a similar one involving a rich, young ruler (Luke 18:18 and Mark 10:17). And what did he have to do to inherit eternal life? He had to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. Could he? No. We all need God grace in order to be saved and to enter eternal life.
Lord, I am weak but you are strong. The good I would I do not. Save me by your gracious power. Amen.
“Everyone who has left … will receive … and inherit eternal life” (v.29) NRSV
Last week we mentioned that those who leave all for Christ’s sake will inherit “the earth” (Matthew 5:5). But this week’s emphasis is different. The expression “eternal life” (v.29) has an emphasis on quality rather than place. It is also to do with depth and not length; that is to say, it is not so much about ‘everlasting life’ as about ‘eternal life’.
As John tells us in his Gospel, we have already passed from death to life; eternal life (the new age) has already begun for those who believe in Jesus (e.g. John 6:47). John’s emphasis is on the here and now, rather than some distant future. The quality of life, abundant life begins now. We are already, as St Paul puts it “sit(ting) with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).
This is what the resurrection of Jesus brings to us. This is what salvation is: eternal life. This is a life in fellowship with God and with one another; it is a life where we are provided for and in which ‘shalom’ reigns. Shalom is that community experience of peace, harmony, health and wholeness. It is the best possible description of the life, abundant life that God brings.
This is the Kingdom in which God reigns and things are brought into submission under his good and kindly rule. Unfortunately this is far from apparent at this present time. It has however begun where God has been enthroned in the hearts of his followers.
Eternal life is not easily entered. It means that we have to lose our life! As Jesus said, “He who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). This does not mean literal martyrdom, but a yielding of our ‘self’ so that we can say, “not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42).
O Lord, save me from holding onto the things of this world and so losing my soul. May I trust you with all that I have and all that I am. Amen.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (v.5) RSV
The promised inheritance of “the earth” (v.5) is slightly problematic. The idea is raised again at the end of the Bible: “and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth” (Revelation 5:10). The ‘earth’ that is being referred to seems to belong to “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1), and not so much to the present time.
However, Jesus did promise Peter and the other disciples that those who had forsaken all to follow him would “receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses … and lands … and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30). God will provide both in this life and the next all that is needful. Anyway, ‘inheriting’ does not necessarily mean possessing!
But whatever is precisely meant by “the earth” we are clearly instructed that it is the “meek” who will inherit it. Entrance to the inheritance is not automatic. Indeed, speaking pictorially, the entrance is low and narrow. Just as the camel could not go through the eye of the needle, so we cannot go through into God’s blessing unless we have ‘shrunk’. The meek have learnt humility (not self-loathing or self-deprecation).
The prime example of meekness was Moses: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). Moses was not a mild and mealy-mouthed man. He was strong and courageous. His meekness, like all true meekness, was his dependence on his God, and his obedience or submission to the Lord.
However, meekness does sometimes involve mildness and gentleness. As Paul said: “I … entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1). Jesus could be tough and confrontational, but he was humble and lowly of heart, never arrogant and strident – that is meekness.
Grant me a humble and teachable spirit, and teach me to be gentle with others, ‘specially the awkward ones. Amen.
This week’s allotted portion of scripture comes from the fifth of the thirteen ‘lessons on wisdom’ which fill the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs. They all start with the words “My son”, and follow with sage advice for earnest disciples.
The fifth ‘lesson’ has various unconnected words of wisdom, which are summed up with the words: “The wise will inherit honour, but fools get disgrace’ (v.35).
So far this week we have considered inheritance in terms of material wealth and also in terms of the Spirit (power to serve). Today we see another type of inheritance: honour! Wisdom does not seek honour and does not try to curry favour. Bur rather, wisdom seeks to serve others, to speak the truth in love, and to do the right thing. This way of living may or may not win friends, but it will always achieve respect and unless there are jealous and corrupt people who despise and abuse you, you will be honoured.
Mind you, Jesus warned us that there tends to be one place where we are not honoured, and that is home. People who know us, or who think they know us, are less inclined to give us honour. Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house” (Matt. 13:57). You may remember that he was unable to do many mighty works in Nazareth because of their unbelief.
However, normally honour follows a good and godly life. This is not only true of professing Christians (if they live up to their profession!), but also of all wise people. Martin Luther King, Billy Graham and Mother Theresa are examples of honoured Christians. But equally honoured are Nelson Mandela and (by some) Mahatma Gandhi.
Let us seek not so much to be honoured, as to live a life worthy of honour. Let us live with integrity and courage.
Thank you Lord for Jesus who is truly honoured throughout the world. May I, with courage, follow him. Amen.
“let me inherit a double share of your spirit” (v.9) RSV
Inheritance is by no means only to do with money. In this week’s reading we see that Elisha is keen to inherit from his mentor, Elijah, a double portion of the Spirit. He doesn’t desire this for his own aggrandisement, but for the ministry that lies before him. For years he had followed Elijah and seen great works performed through him. He had also heard his fearless preaching. He was now awestruck at the responsibility of taking over this ministry. Elijah was about to be taken up to heaven and Elisha would be left on his own. How desperate he was that the same powerful Spirit that had enabled his master, should now enable him.
Is this not rather reminiscent of the imminent departure of Jesus who was about to ascend from the Mount of Olives? His disciples were about to be left behind to continue his ministry, but without his presence and his powers they were desperate that he should leave them his Spirit. Of course Jesus did just that. He had already breathed into them in the Upper Room at the Last Supper (John 20:22).
As he left them they saw him “lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). This was a sure sign that he would send the Spirit to them. How similar this was to Elisha’s experience. He too was promised the spirit of Elijah as long as he saw that prophet being taken up into heaven with “the chariots of Israel and its horsemen” (v.12). He did see it, and as a result he received a double portion of the Spirit.
Elisha returned home with the mantle of Elijah – the sign of authority. With it he parted the waters of the river. He then cleansed some foul water with salt (2 Kings 2:19-22). The signs and wonders continued from that day on. This too was the experience of the disciples of Jesus. They continued their Master’s ministry in the power of the Spirit that he sent them on the Day of Pentecost. That same Spirit is essential for our ministry too.
Lord, without you I not only am nothing but can do nothing. Grant me the fullness of your Spirit that I may live my life out and out for you. Amen.
1 What will the Spirit of Jesus enable us to do?
2 What did the disciples have to do after Jesus’ ascension?
“Bid my brother divide the inheritance with me” (v.13) RSV
People have come into their worldly inheritance in many ways. Some simply receive it through the Will of their parents. Some have seized it by force. Some have caused a small inheritance to grow exponentially. Some families are torn apart by wrangles over their inheritance.
Our reading today tells how one brother approached Jesus, aggrieved that his brother was not spontaneously sharing the inheritance with him. Jesus’ response was to say that he had no authority to settle the matter; that was a matter for the law of the land. However, his advice was not to be consumed with inheritance and justice, but to adopt a spirit of trust in God’s provision.
We may or may not be ‘lucky’ in what material abundance comes our way. We may seem to miss out and others (no doubt less deserving!) get all the ‘luck’. But we are not trusting to ‘luck’ but to providence. That is to say, we trust that God will provide (which is the meaning of ‘providence’) all our needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus. We are not dependant on the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, as Shakespeare put it, but on the promises of God.
Jesus was not interested in fair play, that was up to the law court. He was concerned that no one is distracted by greed for, or dependence on, wealth. It may even be better to let go that which was legitimately ours, so that love and generosity may be maintained. The health of our soul is more important than the health of our bank balance.
So whatever we have received and however it has come our way, we have to be sure that we are not dependant on it for our security, but rather, dependant on the goodliness of our God. And if we have an inheritance, we are responsible to use it wisely and not to squander it.
Thank you Lord for all I have. I trust you with what I have lost. Teach me godliness with contentment, for I know you have promised to provide all my needs. Amen.
1 Who tricked his brother out of his Birthright and Blessing?
“They were distressed in rowing … he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.” (vv.48-51) RSV
We draw today to the end of coping with the storms of life. This story follows soon after the calming of the storm (Mark 4:35-41) that we have been studying. But this is different. Jesus wasn’t even with them in the boat since he had sent them on ahead of him. They were fulfilling his will and walking in obedience, so the storm was not because they were out of God’s will.
When Jesus did arrive – across the water – he was at first not welcome: a ghost! Why did the disciples not recognise him and welcome him into their boat? It was not just because they couldn’t see or that his arrival was unexpected. The answer lies in the text, though it is not obvious at first, “For they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” (v.52). Earlier in the day they had witnessed and had taken part in the miracle of the Feeding of the 5000, yet they had ‘hardened their hearts” in ignorance and unbelief.
Such an attitude of heart means that they were not growing in faith and awareness of Jesus. It meant that they were starting to follow Jesus and his commands in their own strength. Their discipleship was starting to become an uphill struggle. Their joy and energy was gone and they were “distressed” (v.48). The result was not that they were in danger (there was no storm), but that they were going nowhere fast.
When our faith shrinks and we baulk at what Jesus has done, we too will not recognise him. We will mysteriously be bereft of his presence. Indeed we may think he is a “ghost” and a threat. If he comes into the boat he may rock it! How foolish can we become? Very, it seems. Spiritual blindness quickly follows hardness of heart. They were exhausted and struggling. Discipleship had become an uphill slog.
Lord Jesus Christ, you know that we are struggling to row the boat of life. Forgive us for striving in our own strength. Come and bring your ability to calm us and to calm our surroundings. With you alone can we make it to the other shore. Amen.
“… take heart … for this very night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong.” (vv.22-23) RSV
The story of Jesus calming the storm may give the impression that God always wants to and will stop our crisis and make things calm once again. That is not necessarily so. Today’s story about Paul being shipwrecked on the island of Malta (Acts 28:1) is just such a case.
Prayer does not always give us what we think we want/need. Paul did not have his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) taken away, and Jesus did not have his crucifixion taken away. Both of them started off their prayers requesting those things, but both came to understand that the highest purposes of God would not be fulfilled that way.
So, with the ship being in severe trouble Paul set about praying. During the night he had a visitation – an angel. Lucky man, that sort of thing doesn’t happen to most of us! Yet, maybe it does and we don’t recognise an angel when we see one (see Hebrews 13:2). Anyway, one way or another God spoke to Paul. The message was good news and bad news, the good news was that no one would die, but the bad news was that the ship would be lost.
Paul, amazingly, had such an authority and calm awareness of what was going to happen that he was more or less given a free hand to tell the crew and the soldiers what to do. God will give us authority when we listen to him and move in the Spirit. Hearing God is the key to life. Did not Jesus say: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”?
The storm in our lives may not always end up altogether happily but with God there will be a constructive and positive outcome. Sometimes our beloved possessions may have to be jettisoned. Sometimes the outcome puts us in a different place than we were before e.g. Malta! Travelling with God is not necessarily a smooth passage, but whatever happens, He is with us, and all things will work together for good.
Thank you Father for the excitement and unpredictability of life. And thank you that you are in it with us – a steady hand at the helm. Help us not to wrench it away from you. Amen.
Explore More – Genesis 39
1 What ‘storm’ of temptation did Joseph encounter?
2 What was the cost to Joseph of overcoming the temptation?
Last week’s thoughts may have been a bit of a bombshell to your understanding of the Christian walk. Indeed it may have even seemed blasphemous. But remember that Jesus was accused of blasphemy by the received theology of his day. It is a shock to many a devout believer that we are not mere servants who don’t know what our Master is doing, but are heirs, sons, princes. We have the authority of the Master to do his work, yes, and even greater works!
We have been looking at the calming of the storm (Mark 4:35-41), but Jesus applies this same authoritative use of words of command in all his ‘miracles’, whether it be over demons or nature or sickness. Today we have read about the healing of the 12 year old daughter of Jairus (a ruler of the synagogue). The request is made, and the situation deteriorates with the delay caused by the pressing need of the women with a 12 year old flow of blood (vv.25-34). But Jesus is undaunted.
When he arrives at the home of the ‘dead’ girl he puts out all the unbelievers who only confirm that the little girl is irreversibly dead. He takes with him the girl’s parent together with his strongest disciples: Peter, James and John. In the room, he does not kneel down and ask his Father to heal her, but as his Father’s ambassador he speaks on behalf of God, indeed, as the mouthpiece of God, and gives instructions to be obeyed.
Faith needs commands. Are we prepared to take authority and command? “Little girl, get up.” She responds, and rises. How often have we spent ages, even years praying for something or someone, and have had no apparent response. Why? Perhaps it is because God has been whispering in our ear. “You do it. I’m not going to do it for you.” Are we prepared to speak to the weather, or to our child, or work colleague, or to a disease? If so, then we need to hear what God is saying. It’s not a matter of forcing (and failing!) to make our own will come true. Pray and listen. What is he whispering? When you know, go and do it.
Father, this seems too much to believe. Help me to digest this new aspect of ministry. Help me to listen to you, and then to be bold enough to act upon it. Amen
Matthew, Mark and Luke all say that Jesus “rebuked the wind and the sea”, but only Mark records what he said: “Peace! Be still!” He did not pray. In fact he had been asleep and was to all intents and purposes unprepared. He was woken suddenly by panic stricken and accusatory disciples and told to sort it! (v.38)
What would we have done? Become annoyed? Told them that God doesn’t control the weather just for us? Entered into intense and fervent prayer? Or would we have spoken to the elements? God wants US to have dominion of the earth. He has given us that authority. It is faithless to keep on banging at Heaven to get God to do something about it. He has (in Christ) given US the tools to do the job.
Desperate, pleading prayer can be an act of faithlessness! Yes, that may seem a bold statement. But Jesus prayed in order to see what God was doing and then to do it. And he prayed in order to hear what God was saying, and then say it. Prayer is not so much to get God to act, but rather to be so in tune with Him that we do his work with him. We are meant to be growing up to be His co-workers, not to remain His dependants.
It is by “saying the word” that God created the world, and similarly it is by “saying the word” that Jesus performed his ministry. We are to follow in his footsteps and continue his works. Remember how the Roman Centurion wanted Jesus to heal his sick servant? He sent messengers to bring Jesus to his house, but before he arrived he sent out others to stop him: “I am not worthy that you should come into my house. Say the word only and my servant shall be healed.” Jesus extolled this man for his great faith.
Are we prepared to take courage, and having first heard what God is wanting to do, bring it to pass by speaking the word?
Lord this is awesome news. Help us to take up the weapons that you have given to us. Your word is powerful and active, and is the means by which you achieve your purposes. Keep us from wrongful and selfish use of this authority, but forgive us when we fail to take responsibility and to take charge. Amen.
We come to another of the unique insights that Mark alone records. The cry of the disciples is not an example of faith, despite the fact that Jesus answers and calms the storm! No, it is an example of fear, panic and accusation. No wonder Jesus commented when it was all over “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
The disciples have been ‘caring’ for Jesus. They’ve been doing their stuff and are probably feeling quite good about themselves. Now suddenly the tables are turned and their first reaction is to blame Jesus. How can he let this happen? Why isn’t he immediately making everything okay? Why doesn’t he care for us? This is an attack on Jesus and his love. Amazingly Jesus never reproaches them for this blasphemy.
And who were the “we” that the disciples were anxious about? Did “we” include Jesus, or just themselves? We, too, are often quick to blame God. We think that it probably wasn’t his ‘fault’ that the storm came, but we find fault with him for not sorting out the problem immediately. How dare he allow us to be upset, frightened and endangered. Doesn’t he love us?
It is pressures and crises that reveal what lies within us. We can be rather good Christians when we are in control and all is going moderately smoothly. But put the squeeze on us and, oops, something rather unpleasant comes out from us.
Jesus is looking for the sort of faith that is not frightened whether we sink or swim. The faith that trusts God come what may. St Paul was able to say, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” Now that is faith. Next week we shall see, in fact, exactly the sort of faith that he was looking for from his disciples.
Thank you Lord that you never leave us nor forsake us, and that we are within your protection. Forgive us when we fear and shout at you. Help us to praise you and rejoice in all circumstances. Amen.
The cushion at the rear of the boat was reserved for the honoured guest. Jesus did not needlessly turn down help and comfort when offered. There was no false abasement here. He had worked hard all day and now needed and accepted the best place to rest. He slept the sleep of the just. “God gives his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). He laid down his head with human tiredness and in perfect trust in his Father’s “everlasting arms”.
Jesus was at perfect peace in this dark world of sin. We too can know this “peace of God which passes all understanding” (Philippeans 4:7) if we truly believe that God has not only got the whole world in his hands, but in particular you and me.
He allowed the disciples to look after him, to minister to him. The disciples were only too happy to do this; it was something they felt able to do, and it lay within their power. We too are mainly happy to serve God, worship him, and keep his House in order. We even tend to feel empowered and useful.
There’s nothing wrong with that, unless we can only serve yet are unable to trust or receive help when we are weak.
How do we feel when in the hands of unreliable Christians who like helping but let us down when the going gets tough? And how do we feel when afloat on waters that are liable to churn up into a cauldron of swirling froth fit to drown us without any warning? Our lives are sometimes like that. All can seem to be going swimmingly until there is a stock market crash or an accident or ill health or our spouse goes off with someone else! What then?
Is our trust in ourselves, in fellow Christians, calm waters, or ultimately in God? Our trust at all times (good and bad) must be in the promises and presence of God. He will never leave us nor forsake. We can always sleep easy with Him.
Lord help us to trust whether waking or sleeping. May we be ever mindful of your good promises, and that with you we need never be afraid or anxious. Amen.
1. What enables us to sleep peacefully?
2. Are there times when you should not be able to sleep?