Jesus went to the home of Peter, where he found that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with fever. He took her by the hand, and the fever left her. Then she got up and served Jesus a meal.

That evening many people with demons in them were brought to Jesus. And with only a word he forced out the evil spirits and healed everyone who was sick. So God’s promise came true, just as the prophet Isaiah had said,

“He healed our diseases
and made us well.”

When Jesus saw the crowd, he went across Lake Galilee. A teacher of the Law of Moses came up to him and said, “Teacher, I’ll go anywhere with you!”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests. But the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to call his own.”

Another disciple said to Jesus, “Lord, let me wait till I bury my father.”

Jesus answered, “Come with me, and let the dead bury their dead.” (Matthew 8:14–22)

After Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, crowds of people came to be healed. Many of those who came wanted to become his followers, believing that the Messiah would solve all their physical, financial and political problems. Jesus had to correct their misconceptions.

First, a teacher of the law approached Jesus. Such men were respected and prosperous. Jesus warned him that there were no material benefits for following him. Next, a man asked Jesus if he could follow Jesus later, after he buried his father. Was the disciple’s father a corpse awaiting burial? Unlikely. The Jewish people usually buried their dead immediately, within hours of death. Rather, the father was very old, and so the man wanted to wait until after his father had finally died, so he could take care of the obligations for proper burial and the distribution of the inheritance. So Jesus told him that there were plenty of people that would be able to see to those end of life details. But deciding to follow Jesus was not something that could wait.

Jesus did not tell these two individuals that they could not follow him. Jesus simply clarified how much it would cost. As high as that cost might have seemed to those two men, the price we pay for following Jesus is actually a bargain. We gain far more than just petty physical rewards or wealth that fades and can’t possibly last: we gain eternity.

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Sex and Lies

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:27–37)

Jesus pointed out that even if we avoid actually breaking any of the ten commandments outwardly, there is still the little matter of what is going on in our skulls. We must be careful, however, not equate mere temptation with actual guilt. It is one thing to be tempted, it is another thing to have sinned. Jesus himself was tempted, but without sin.

There is therefore, more to what Jesus said than simply warning against being tempted by another person. The problem Jesus confronted was not just sexual desire. Rather, the issue was misplaced sexual desire combined with making plans. Adultery is the desire to steal someone who is not and never can be ours. Adultery, by definition, is an act counter to love. Rather than being concerned about others, the adulterer is concerned only with his or her own satisfaction, regardless of the cost to his own spouse, the spouse of the other person, and the friends, family, children and loved ones of everyone involved. Adultery is a remarkably selfish act.

It is one thing for us to be tempted. It is another thing altogether for us to begin planning to do it.

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Jesus set out for the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house there where he didn’t think he would be found, but he couldn’t escape notice. He was barely inside when a woman who had a disturbed daughter heard where he was. She came and knelt at his feet, begging for help. The woman was Greek, Syro-Phoenician by birth. She asked him to cure her daughter.

He said, “Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.”

She said, “Of course, Master. But don’t dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?”

Jesus was impressed. “You’re right! On your way! Your daughter is no longer disturbed. The demonic affliction is gone.” She went home and found her daughter relaxed on the bed, the torment gone for good. (Mark 7:24-30)

There is no pattern to how Jesus relieves people of demon possession. There isn’t a special ritual that must be performed in order for a demon to be successfully expelled. In fact, the only thing that all the demon expulsions of the New Testament have in common is one thing: the involvement of Jesus. The method of expelling demons, however, varied from situation to situation. Sometimes we see Jesus talking to the demon, getting its name. Other times we see him rebuking the demon. But with the Greek woman from Tyre, Jesus never even sees the little girl who was possessed, nor does he talk to the demon. Instead, all his attention is directed toward the little girl’s mother, with whom he has a discussion about whether he should even bother to help her at all.

He makes no gestures, he utters no words of rebuke to the demon. Instead, he simply granted the mother’s request. Jesus tells her that the demon is gone and her daughter is fine.

God is not limited in how he solves the problems facing people. He can do it with a word or with no words. The reality is that Jesus can do whatever he wants to do. He is not limited by his location, by his proximity to the problem. There is not a formula for solving the problems, either. Jesus isn’t waiting for us to utter a certain phrase before he acts. He isn’t waiting for us to get to a special place, to do or not do a special thing. When Jesus agrees—or more accurately, when we agree with Jesus—then Jesus will simply do what he wills.

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On that day, when evening had come, He told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” So they left the crowd and took Him along since He was already in the boat. And other boats were with Him. A fierce windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But He was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. So they woke Him up and said to Him, “Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?”

He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Then He said to them, “Why are you fearful? Do you still have no faith?”

And they were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:35-41)

The disciples went from being afraid of a storm to being afraid of Jesus. After leaving a crowd of people, Jesus and his disciples got in a boat and headed across the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is a harp-shaped, freshwater lake in the northern part of Israel about seven hundred feet below sea level. Thirteen miles long, It is surrounded by hills over a thousand feet high. Because of them, abrupt temperature shifts occur, leading to sudden and very violent storms on the lake. Just such a storm blew up while Jesus and his disciples were attempting to cross the water.

The storm scared the disciples. They were experienced fishermen who had spent their lives on the lake and they knew that many men had perished in its deep waters. But when they awakened Jesus, rather than joining their panic, he simply made the storm stop.

Where they had been terrified of the storm, they suddenly became terrified by Jesus. The disciples knew from the Old Testament that only the creator of the world had the ability to start and stop storms. For the disciples, it was their first realization that Jesus was more than human. Jesus wondered at their lack of faith. The disciples realized with his spectacular miracle that Jesus had good reason for his wondering. Faith comes from understanding, from knowing, who or what we are putting our faith in. Fear was the beginning of such knowledge for Jesus disciples. The longer they were with Jesus, the more their faith would grow. The same will happen to us, too.

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When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went out to teach and preach in towns throughout the region.

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say,

‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way before you.’“ (Matthew 11:1-9)

Did any prophet prosper? Was any prophet widely praised in his own lifetime? John the Baptist had proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus proclaimed that John the Baptist was the Elijah that everyone had been hoping would usher in the Messiah’s coming.

John was in prison awaiting his inevitable execution. Did he begin to wonder if perhaps he’d made a mistake? John was a man, no different than any other human being. It is only natural to imagine that your problems might be God’s way of telling you that you’re going the wrong way.

But Jesus reassured John, as he reassures us. Look at the bigger picture, beyond today’s trials. Did you hear from God? Is God at work? Did God’s people, doing God’s work, ever have an easy time of it? Can you tell from trouble or its lack that God is in it? Certainly not. John had done precisely what God had wanted him to do. He was in the center of God’s will. And yet he was in prison and would soon die for a frivolous reason. God’s will is more than the sum of our own experiences. And it is not just about us.

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Love is patient and perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7). But human beings are very poor at judging what is actually in their best interests. We become overwhelmed by the gratification of our pleasures today and fail to reckon with whether it’s really in our best interests tomorrow. We’ll eat the cake now and regret the weight gain later. Patience is the ability to recognize what is actually in our best interests. Patience comes from realizing that waiting is not a punishment and that what we endure now will only benefit us later. “And we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete. He endured the shame of being nailed to a cross, because he knew that later on he would be glad he did. Now he is seated at the right side of God’s throne!” (Hebrews 12:1-2 CEV)

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It’s Not Their Job

The Lord and his disciples were traveling along and came to a village. When they got there, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down in front of the Lord and was listening to what he said. Martha was worried about all that had to be done. Finally, she went to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”

The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

What does Jesus want us to do? Once we know, we shouldn’t worry about what our neighbor is doing or not doing. Just because Jesus has us doing something and just because it is vitally important, doesn’t mean that we need to force someone else to join in our task.

Mary and Martha, with their brother Lazarus, lived in Bethany, a village on the slope of the Mount of Olives, barely two miles east of Jerusalem. They became good friends with Jesus.

But Martha makes at least three mistakes in her relationship with her sister. First, if she wanted something of her sister, then she should have talked to her sister. Why go to someone else? Second, Jesus may have been a man, but he was not Mary’s brother or father or any other male relative. Based on the prevailing custom of the time, Jesus had no authority over Mary’s behavior. And finally, Martha was the one who believed that there was work that needed to get done around the house. Well and good, but why should Mary have to have the same concerns that Martha did?

What was more important than whatever Martha was doing was the guest that she was ostensibly doing it for. Martha forgot that Jesus was more important than the preparations. Mary, in contrast, had chosen to focus her attentions on the guest, rather than on preparations for the guest.

While people might appreciate the meal and a clean place to be, what they really appreciate is the time they spend with us. People matter more than anything else.

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Fear Not

The Sabbath was over, and it was almost daybreak on Sunday when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. Suddenly a strong earthquake struck, and the Lord’s angel came down from heaven. He rolled away the stone and sat on it. The angel looked as bright as lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards shook from fear and fell down, as though they were dead.

The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was nailed to a cross. He isn’t here! God has raised him to life, just as Jesus said he would. Come, see the place where his body was lying. Now hurry! Tell his disciples that he has been raised to life and is on his way to Galilee. Go there, and you will see him. That is what I came to tell you.”

The women were frightened and yet very happy, as they hurried from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and greeted them. They went near him, held on to his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid! Tell my followers to go to Galilee. They will see me there.” (Matthew 28:1-10)

The first person to know that Jesus was the Messiah was a woman. Likewise, the first person to know Jesus had been resurrected was a woman. That women are the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection is significant. Had the gospel writers been just making up the stories, they would never have chosen women the first witnesses. In the first century, in both Greek and Hebrew society, women were not regarded as reliable witnesses. No man would have ever picked them as the leading characters in the foundational event of Christianity.

It makes sense that the first words from the angel to the two women were “Don’t be afraid.” Everything they thought they knew had been overthrown. They’d just experienced an earthquake that had shaken the land, but the resurrection of Jesus was an earthquake in their souls.

The women left the angel happy, but still frightened. That was when Jesus met them. Suddenly they had not just the words of an angel, but the words of Jesus himself. Any doubts they might have still harbored were gone.

Though the angel told the women to not be afraid, they were still frightened. But when Jesus came, their fear finally went away for good. Jesus can take away what scares us. He is alive again and ever with us.

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Another Day in Paradise

The soldiers also mocked him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!”

Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”

But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”

And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:36-43)

Jesus knows what it’s like to be mocked. He knows what it’s like to be bullied. And he knows what it is to suffer. But he didn’t let even the most extreme circumstances stop him from doing what he needed to do or focusing on the needs of someone else instead of himself. Two criminals hung on crosses with Jesus; one joined in mocking him, the other accepted his fate and rebuked the mockery.

The thief on Jesus’ right did not have the time or opportunity to do any good works, to make restitution for the crimes for which he’d been condemned. He could not join a church, he could not tithe, and he could not get baptized. He didn’t walk an aisle or even express repentance. He did not call Jesus Lord. All he did was address Jesus by name and ask him to remember him when he came into his kingdom. He had simple faith, and made a simple request.

And on the basis of those few words, Jesus told the criminal—who remains unnamed—that he would join Jesus in Paradise that very day. The word “Paradise” that Jesus used had originated with the Persians. It referred to the pleasure gardens belonging to the Persian king. Why that very day? Because before the sun went down that evening, both that criminal and Jesus would be dead.

All human beings are like that criminal on the cross, unable to save themselves or do anything at all to improve their situation. Jesus did everything and gave everything so that sinners who do nothing can join him in Paradise.

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Dying Like a Man

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. (Mark 15:33-41)

Jesus did not always enjoy doing his Father’s will. When Jesus was dying, he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Why did Jesus say that? Some have suggested that when God put all the sins of the world on Jesus, for the first time ever Jesus experienced separation from his Father.

But that explanation forgets that Jesus was a man. He had been betrayed by one of his closest friends. Most of the rest of them had run away. So he died like men die when they’re on a cross: in agony and alone. How could he feel despair? He had the same feelings, the same needs that all the rest of us have.

Jesus loved life and he experienced its full range of emotions. And human beings were created in God’s image. As God he already knew those feelings. And feelings simply are, like the blue in the sky, or the wet in water. Some people seem bothered by Jesus’ cry of despair when he died. Rather, we should be bothered only if he hadn’t.

If you ever think that God doesn’t understand the pain of being human, the sometimes despair of it, then you don’t know God. He understands. He’s been there. Sometimes there is reason to feel despair. It is not a sin to feel bad, any more than it is to feel good. Like Jesus, we can rejoice when times are good, and cry when times are bad.

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