Friday, January 15, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 15 - A Tale of Two Blind Men

Today's reading (Gen. 26-27 and Mark 10) includes accounts about two blind men, Isaac and Bartimaeus. Their stories could not be more different. Isaac was a wealthy man; Bartimaeus was a beggar. Isaac was taken advantage of in his blindness; Bartimaeus was miraculously delivered from his blindness.

But perhaps the greatest difference between the two men is their faith in God. I don't want to needlessly disparage Isaac, but in my view, he is not a model of faith in God's word. Even though God told Rebekah that the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob) in Gen. 25:23, Isaac was intent on blessing Esau with the exact opposite intent. To the man he thought was Esau, Isaac said: "Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you" (Gen. 27:29). I suppose you could defend Isaac by arguing that he did not know about the prophecy God made to Rebekah, but the fact that Isaac favored the profane and godless Esau (Heb. 12:16) does not speak in his favor.

By contrast, Bartimaeus had great faith in Christ, the kind of childlike trust Jesus spoke of earlier in the chapter which records his story (Mark 10:15). Bartimaeus insistently cried out for Jesus' help, even when "many rebuked him, telling him to be silent" (10:48). And as soon as Jesus called for him, the blind beggar threw off his cloak, "sprang up," and came to Jesus (10:50). This blind man could see what so many others could not - Jesus was the great David's greater Son, and could heal him of his blindness. His faith made him well (10:52).

May God help us to have the conviction of the certainty of His word, the spiritual vision to spring to our feet in complete willingness to do whatever He wants.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 14 - Notes on the Transfiguration

When I was preaching through Mark a couple of years ago I found some excellent notes in various commentaries on the Transfiguration (Mark 9), and thought I would pass them on today since that is part of today's reading.

Parallels with Jesus and Moses in Exodus 24 & 34
-Both went up on a mountain (Mark 9:2; Ex. 24:15)
-In both account "six days" is specified (Mark 9:2; Ex. 24:14-15)
-Three men accompany each (Mark 9:2; Ex. 24:1, 9)
-Both Jesus and Moses shine (Mark 9:3; Ex. 34:29)
-God speaks in a cloud in both accounts (Mark 9:7; Ex. 24:18)
-People responded with fear (Mark 9:6; Ex. 34:30)

Parallels Between Jesus and Moses and Elijah
-All experienced theophanies on mountains
-All were suffering servants
-All experienced unusual events at end of life (resurrection in the case of Jesus, struggle over body in the case of Moses, translation into heaven in the case of Elijah)

Contrasts Between the Transfiguration and Crucifixion
-Two prophets vs two thieves
-Clothes shining vs clothes stolen
-Presence of three men vs three women
-Presence of Elijah vs. "He is calling Elijah"
-God from cloud "This is My Beloved Son" and Confession of centurion "Truly this man was the Son of God"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 13 - Eyes That See

The New Testament portion of today's reading comes from Mark 8, which contains one of the most unusual miracles of healing Jesus performed. It is the account of the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida, an account which is unusual because the man was not immediately healed. Mark loves the word immediately, and particularly in connection with Jesus' miracles:
  • "Immediately the leprosy left him" (1:42)
  • The paralytic "rose and immediately picked up his bed" (2:12)
  • "And immediately the flow of blood dried up" in the woman with the hemorrhage (5:29)
  • "And immediately the girl got up and began walking" who had just died (5:42)
  • Mark says that in the case of blind Bartimaeus "immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way" (10:52)
But the blind man in Mark did not immediately recover his sight. When Jesus first touched him, his vision was only partially restored - "I see men, but they look like trees, walking" (8:24). Only after Jesus touched him a second time did he see "everything clearly" (8:25).

Why was this healing different from all others? It was surely not because Jesus was having an off day, and it took two doses of healing power to get the job done! But why was this man's sight restored in stages?

As many commentators have pointed out, the reason is to illustrate the stages of the spiritual vision of the disciples. In the paragraph just before the healing of the blind man, Jesus asked the disciples, "Having eyes do you not see?" (8:18). They were spiritually blind. Jesus helped them to recover their sight, but this restoration would also be in stages. In 8:29, Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, which required great spiritual vision. But Peter did not have a clear vision of what that confession really meant, as his adamant opposition to the notion of Christ's suffering demonstrated (8:32). Like the blind man, Peter's vision was blurred. And just as in the case of the blind man, more work by Jesus would be needed until Peter saw "everything clearly."

The great hope that this passage offers for all of us is that Jesus is patient. He does not give up on His people just because they do not grasp everything perfectly from the get-go. And as someone who often has blurry spiritual vision, I am incredibly heartened to know that is the case.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 12 - "This Fellow" Lot

For a long time when I was a kid I wanted to be a lawyer, especially a defense attorney. I loved the character of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and thought it would be cool to be the champion of the underdog, to vindicate someone unjustly accused. And those instincts always re-emerge when I read the story of Lot.

For years preachers have castigated Lot for choosing the well watered plains of Sodom, and for becoming so compromised that by Genesis 19:1 he was sitting in the gate of the city. And from his story we should learn the dangers of becoming too comfortable with the world.

Clearly, we are to guard against worldliness (Rom. 12:1; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). But I do not believe this characterization of Lot is fair, for several reasons:

1) The Bible says he was righteous (2 Peter 2:7). That kind of ends the debate for me!

2) The same passage says he was tormented in his soul by the behavior of those around him, hardly a description of someone flippantly pitching tents toward Sodom.

3) In Gen. 19:9, the men of Sodom testify to Lot's outsider status when they say, "This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge!" Lot may have been sitting in the gate of the city, but he had not found a place in the hearts of the people of the city.

Lot was a righteous man. Lot was moved by the wickedness around him. Lot was willing to stand up to a violent mob, even if it meant risking his life. That is the Lot of the Bible, and we need a lot of people to be a lot like Lot.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 11 - Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?

I was really struck by the contrast between two passages in today's reading (which was Gen. 16-18 and Mark 6).

-"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen. 18:14)

-"And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief." (Mark 6:5-6)

In the first instance, the angelic visitors reassured Abraham (and an eavesdropping Sarah) that God indeed could give the elderly couple a child, even though they would be 100 and 90 years old. But in the second instance, the text of Mark 6 says that Jesus could do very few miracles in Nazareth.

From one perspective, God's power is not limited by man's faith. God can do anything He wants to do. And even though Abraham and Sarah literally fell down laughing when God told them He intended to keep His promise and give them a son of their very own, He kept His word. So God's power is not inherently dependent on human faithfulness.

At the same time, there are some blessings made possible by divine power that God does choose to dispense on the condition of faith. Many of Jesus' miracles of healing fall into this category. Jesus told the woman He healed of the bleeding disease in Mark 5, "Your faith has made you well." His power was the basis of her healing; her faith was the means of her healing.

And that apparently is the reason Jesus could not perform many miracles in Nazareth. It wasn't as if His power suddenly vanished, or that He was thwarted by some evil force. He could not do many miracles there because there were not many believers there - a fact which amazed Him.

Salvation is another example of a mighty work of God that is contingent on our response. God did not have to make salvation conditional - He's God! But He has chosen to give us a choice - to allow us to accept or reject the work of redemption. And how He must marvel at the refusals of a dying world to accept eternal life through His Son.