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Continuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.
Jesus Cleanses a Leper
12While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
Before going into today’s miracle, it might be useful to recap the past few passages from Luke’s Gospel.
In Luke 4, Jesus drove the demon out of a man at the synagogue in Capernaum then adjourned to Simon’s house, where He healed the future Apostle’s ailing mother-in-law. When Sabbath ended that day, families brought their infirm relatives to Him for healing. The following day, Jesus left the city to seek solitude. The people from Capernaum begged Him to stay, but He told them He had other places to visit in order to ‘preach the good news of the kingdom of God’.
As Luke 5 opens (a Lectionary reading, incidentally), Jesus was preaching ‘the word of God’ (Luke 5:1) along the shores of the lake of Gennesaret — the Sea of Galilee. As the crowd was too great for Him to be seen and heard, He got into Simon’s fishing boat and urged him to sail a distance from the shore to better address those who had come to hear Him. Afterward, He told Simon to cast his net into the water to catch fish. Simon objected; he had already gone fishing there the night before and caught nothing. However, Simon relented and cast his net. The resulting catch was so great that it began to sink not only Simon’s boat but that of his partners, brothers James and John. Simon sensed his own sinfulness at the wonder of this miracle and told Jesus he was not worthy of being in His presence. Yet, Jesus told his new Apostle not to fear; soon he would be a fisher of men. This is Luke’s account of Jesus’s taking on three Apostles, who ‘left everything and followed him’ (Luke 5:11).
This brings us to today’s account of the leper who humbly asked Jesus to heal him. Whilst this is a creative miracle in that He made the man new again, it is also a call for us to recognise our sin and ask for spritual cleansing, particularly in light of Peter’s recognition of his own sinfulness just a few verses before. Matthew Henry describes it this way (emphases mine):
What we must do in the sense of our spiritual leprosy. (1.) We must seek Jesus, enquire after him, acquaint ourselves with him, and reckon the discoveries made to us of Christ by the gospel the most acceptable and welcome discoveries that could be made to us. (2.) We must humble ourselves before him, as this leper, seeing Jesus, fell on his face. We must be ashamed of our pollution, and, in the sense of it, blush to lift up our faces before the holy Jesus. (3.) We must earnestly desire to be cleansed from the defilement, and cured of the disease, of sin, which renders us unfit for communion with God. (4.) We must firmly believe Christ’s ability and sufficiency to cleanse us: Lord, thou canst make me clean, though I be full of leprosy. No doubt is to be made of the merit and grace of Christ. (5.) We must be importunate in prayer for pardoning mercy and renewing grace: He fell on his face and besought him; they that would be cleansed must reckon it a favour worth wrestling for. (6.) We must refer ourselves to the good-will of Christ: Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst. This is not so much the language of his diffidence, or distrust of the good-will of Christ, as of his submission and reference of himself and his case to the will, to the good-will, of Jesus Christ.
Verse 12 tells us that the leper approached Jesus in one of the Galilean cities. According to law, lepers were required to live outside the city limits in order to not spread their contagion. John MacArthur said in his sermon that leprosy was really examined only in the second half of the 19th century thanks largely to Gerhard Hansen, a Norwegian epidemiologist. It is sometimes called Hansen’s Disease because of his efforts. It still exists today in the third world, principally in parts of Africa and southeast Asia. We are familiar with stories about skin lesions and extremities falling off, but leprosy also damages the nervous system. This causes a loss of feeling which can lead to other infirmities. MacArthur tells the story of a leper who went blind because, not being able to feel pain, he habitually washed his face in scalding water which eventually damaged his eyes permanently.
Now back to the leper before Jesus. He approached Him with deep humility: ‘he fell on his face’ (verse 12). Then he ‘begged’ Jesus, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean’. This was a broken man, indeed.
Note that Jesus responded immediately with a complete cure via touch (verse 13). This post describes how Jesus healed people — thoroughly, at once, with no recovery time.
Jesus then asked the man to observe Jewish law with regard to leprosy (verse 14). In Mosaic Law, lepers were required to fulfil certain obligations if they were healed. MacArthur describes them:
… if you have the time you might want to read through the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus and you will note there the careful way in which a person was to be diagnosed by the priests. Remember now, the priests were the officers of the theocracy. They were the senate and the congress and they were the governors and the mayors, they were the people who were the officials and at the inspections of people from the medical side to protect the society was to be done in front of the priests and prescriptions were given them in the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus as to how to conduct those kind of examinations. The worst situation, leprosy as we know it, Hansen’s Disease, caused for the person to be stamped “unclean.” In the forty-sixth verse of that chapter, Leviticus 13, this person shall remain unclean all the days in which he has the infection, he is unclean, he shall live alone, his dwelling shall be outside the camp. Immediate, permanent isolation unless in some rare conditions the disease abated and disappeared and they could be introduced back into society.
…in Leviticus 14 when somebody did have the disease abated, when somebody through whatever means was cured of the disease, there was a process by which the person could enter back into society. They had to go back to the priest and it was an eight-day procedure that involved amazing rites of cleansing and sacrifice. And God through the machinations of all that ceremony that lasted eight days and all those sacrifices and all those purifications and blood was put on the right finger and the right ear of the individual, and all of that, all that was showing that as serious as the disease of leprosy was, a far more serious disease existed in the heart of man and that was sin. All that whole ceremonial system, all those sacrifices for all the various reasons that they were prescribed in Leviticus were pictures of sin and the need for the cure of the heart. So even in the Old testament leprosy was a picture of sin. And there were times when God actually gave people leprosy, Naaman the Syrian, Uzziah, the king 2 Chronicles 26, Azariah. And so, if you had leprosy not only did you have the most socially stigmatized disease possible, but you could also bear the stigma that maybe you had that disease because God had cursed you …
Leviticus chapter 14 says this is what you have to do, it was the priests in chapter 13 who did the diagnosis and it is the priests in chapter 14 who have to affirm the cure. So He says, “Before you just go running off telling everybody, you need to do what’s right so that the healing can be affirmed and that you can have the certificate that was given at the end of the eight days.” It may well be that he had to go to Jerusalem for this, that would take a few days, a few days down, eight days there, a few days back. Not only would he be doing what the law of Moses prescribed and making a very important testimony to the priests about the power of Jesus, but he would be buying Jesus some time because a miracle of this massive kind would just generate more crowds, more people and become potentially debilitating for Jesus. The crowds were already so big He had to go off the shore in a boat or they would have pushed Him into the water, as you know. So He says don’t tell anybody, that’s so hard.
However, was there silence about this creative miracle afterward? No. Verse 15 relates that word went out far and wide about this miracle. Luke does not say by whom. Matthew Henry offered this analysis:
Though the leper should altogether hold his peace, yet the thing could not be hid, so much the more went there a fame abroad of him. The more he sought to conceal himself under a veil of humility, the more notice did people take of him; for honour is like a shadow, which flees from those that pursue it (for a man to seek his own glory is not glory), but follows those that decline it, and draw from it. The less good men say of themselves, the more will others say of them. But Christ reckoned it a small honour to him that his fame went abroad; it was much more so that hereby multitudes were brought to receive benefit by him. [1.] By his preaching. They came together to hear him, and to receive instruction from him concerning the kingdom of God. [2.] By his miracles. They came to be healed by him of their infirmities; that invited them to come to hear him, confirmed his doctrine, and recommended it.
MacArthur says that this leper was the same as in Mark 1:40-45. Note Mark’s statement that the man himself told others:
Jesus Cleanses a Leper
40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
Both accounts indicate a divine Jesus who, in His humanity, must have been drained of energy after a day of preaching and healing. We cannot imagine what that must have been like. The more we read the accounts of miracles and withdrawal, the more we can appreciate the loss of physical and spiritual energy Jesus must have felt.
It is no wonder then that Jesus needed to withdraw from time to time to pray (verse 16). He felt refreshed after time alone in prayer. So many of us are reluctant to communicate with God. Yet, our Lord found it restorative and the Gospels set His example as one for us to follow.
Henry offers us this advice:
Note, Secret prayer must be performed secretly; and those that have ever so much to do of the best business in this world must keep up constant stated times for it.
Next time: Luke 5:17-26
Some readers may be awaiting an operation in hospital.
Others might be suffering from depression or a downturn in fortune with regard to employment.
It is easy to allow these physical, mental and material factors to overshadow the big picture, especially with regard to faith.
The Revd Timothy Shockley Sr recently offered good advice about what we see in ourselves and the larger spiritual plane of faith:
We focus on our illnesses or the depressed thoughts that are weighing us down and neglect to mention the many blessings God has promised us. These promises have a much greater impact on our lives than our physical diseases and our emotional struggles. If someone asks you how you are doing, tell them that you’re blessed. You might not look like it, but God’s blessings are in you somewhere. And each time that you say you are blessed, the blessings within you grow. Eventually what you say and what you see will match …
“Faith is being sure of what [you] hope for and certain of what [you] do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
Too many of us are preoccupied by what we know to be tangible. When the tangible is negative, we often respond by neglecting prayer — our hotline to God and His Son. Instead, we navel gaze and put our faith in someone or something which can never match the blessings that grace and faith bring.
However, we cannot ‘feel better’ without asking for that increased grace and faith — God’s blessings.
Look at your blessings right now: living independently, a roof over your head, your family and friends — even the ability to surf the Net and communicate with others around the world.
We are blessed. Why don’t we believe it? Let’s not allow our temporal shadow to shade spiritual light.
As Pastor Shockley says, if we say (and believe) that we are blessed (instead of moaning), what we say and what we see will match.
Pray for faith. Pray for grace. Pray for blessings.
Believe and they will be yours.
Are some of us navel-gazing instead of helping to proclaim the Gospel?
No, we were not among the original eleven Apostles (Judas was out of the picture) to whom Jesus spoke these words (Matthew 28:16-20, emphases mine):
The Great Commission
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
No, not all of us are meant to be ordained. However, that does not absolve us from showing more of the Christian example in our speech and deeds.
Yesterday, I excerpted a sermon from the Revd P G Mathew, a former scientist turned Reformed clergyman. This is what he had to say about putting our own preoccupations aside more often and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance and fortitude as Christians:
What if you are already a Christian, but you have only been speaking about your cars, about your children, about your back pain–about everything else but the gospel of Jesus Christ? Would you this day determine and purpose to be filled with the Spirit so that you may proclaim Jesus Christ to a sinful person? Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to come upon you with such power and might that you may be filled and speak forth the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world. If you pray like this, God will help you. Amen.
That doesn’t mean we cannot talk about our personal lives or secular reflections, only that sometimes they can monopolise too much of our thoughts. And what we think about, we talk about.
What are people mainly hearing from or seeing in us? Our personal aches and pains, our materialism or the comforting life we live in Jesus Christ? One to ponder, especially during this lengthy season of Pentecost (‘Ordinary Time’, sadly, for post-Vatican II Catholics).
We live in a fallen world.
No matter how unbelievers try to paint things, we will not know a temporal utopia, either corporately or personally.
The academic year is drawing to a close for American students, some of whom are preparing for university in the autumn or for graduates looking for a job.
Anyone who has been through those experiences, no matter how long ago, remembers the associated vulnerability and anxiety.
Those going to university might well have received rejection letters from some institutions before getting the prized acceptance envelope. Some might wonder how it was they were not accepted at their first choice. Sometimes, no matter how well we do on tests or interviews, there are certain kinds of student a university looks for. (Sorry about the preposition there.) Some young people will fit in better than others — ideologically, especially.
The same is true of companies interviewing candidates on the ‘milk run’. By all means, prepare to the n-th degree for an interview, but be aware that no matter how well you do, there is always the possibility that — through no fault of yours — someone else might get that prized job.
I was struck by a graphic from Inspiration Boost which enumerated the failures of one of America’s most famous presidents — Abraham Lincoln:
My heart goes out to atheists, agnostics and struggling Christians whose experience with prayer has been negative. Typically, they gave it a try, and nothing happened. No answer. Just silence.
I wish to gently suggest that in many cases, nothing went wrong. You just need to keep praying. The Bible talks directly and indirectly about persevering in prayer.
It is important to remember that even successful people fail. Some might fail a lot before becoming successful.
Failure’s best mates are Loss, Betrayal and Rejection. Excessive Introspection is also in Failure’s circle of acquaintances.
We can prepare only so much for universities, jobs and — later on — promotions. Some are meant to be ours and some are not.
Some years ago I found the rejection letter I received from a famous American university a few decades before. They were my first choice. I was heartbroken.
When I reread the letter more recently, it turned out to be an occasion of thanksgiving for me. Had they not rejected me, I would not be leading the life I do today — including writing this blog.
I did pray at that moment and thanked God for that failure. It might have made all the difference to me, including finding my treasured and beloved SpouseMouse.
In closing, whilst I would advise every young person to humbly be the best he can be — a ‘world beater’, as the phrase was a few decades ago — we need to be cognisant that not everyone will find our qualities and characteristics useful or admirable.
It doesn’t matter. Something better always lies just around the corner.
So, to borrow Pastor Ashcraft’s phrase –
pray, pray, pray again.
In reading any Telegraph article about the Church which is open to comments, invariably one finds militant atheists astroturfing it.
Among the astroturf comments are those which condemn prayer as being ‘stupid’, ‘useless’ and worse.
Yet, Catholics and Protestants alike see the power of prayer at work in their daily lives. Prayer for some is a sincere and short plea for help. For others, it might be a 15-minute conversation with the Lord, petitioning, thanking and praising Him. A good clergyperson tries to spend at least a half-hour, if not more, of the day in prayer. The Lord’s Prayer often comprises part of these prayers.
The more one prays the more comfortable one feels in opening up oneself to the Trinity — our real worries, sincerest hopes and grievous faults.
We pray to God, to Christ and to the Holy Spirit — depending on the context.
We recall past prayers unanswered — to our minds — which God in His infinite wisdom often answered in a dramatically different and better way than we had envisaged at the time we made our heartfelt petitions.
Prayer does change believers. Even in adversity, many Christians believe that God will not fail them and trust in Him to help them.
Sometimes people fall away from regular prayer. We assume that, because God is omniscient, He knows our situation in life. True, He does.
However, the greater question is — do we know our real situation in life? By articulating our prayers silently, we begin to refine our requests and our gratitude. We see the adversity He has saved us from and the many blessings He has bestowed on us. Keeping that in mind helps us fine-tune what we pray for and how we pray for it.
In 2000, an American film Pay It Forward made the rounds. Its message was to pass on good things — a kind word, a bit of help — onto the next person. As I recall — and I only saw it once — it started in a school between teacher and student. The teacher (Kevin Spacey) asked his class to think of practical, simple ways to improve the world. The student (Haley Osment) came up with the idea of doing three favours for three different people. After each good deed, Osment said, ‘Pay it [the favour] forward’, which the recipients duly did by helping someone else. They, too, said, ‘Pass it forward’. And, so, this rather gentle yet pleasing chain of events involving different deeds, circumstances and people took off from school into the wider community, including the family home.
Although it was secular, that film illustrates common grace at work. The Holy Spirit’s common grace doesn’t discriminate between believer and non-believer; it is for all humanity.
The thing that struck me, however, was that every character in the film who ‘passed it forward’ felt a real desire to do something considerate for someone else, often someone they did not know well.
This idea, which isn’t new but was nicely portrayed on screen, evolved into ‘Pass It On’, the name of a number of different networking programs involving churches, private charities (9/11-related) and socio-political causes.
The point here is that the more frequently Christians pray, the more God’s grace works through them to accomplish the same ‘pass it on’ effect.
If all Christians took prayer seriously, what a difference it would make in our fallen world.
If negativity is contagious — if we put someone in a bad mood because of our own demeanour — then, surely, feeling the urge to do a good deed must also be contagious. I emphasised ‘urge’ there to demonstrate that I am not talking about works-based ‘merit’, rather fruits of faith. Perform good deeds because you feel driven to do them, not because someone says so. That is a sign that God’s grace is working through you.
Prayer is one of the Christian’s greatest assets. The further one is moved towards prayer, the better one’s life will be. A good spiritual outlook can help to mitigate much adversity and evil in this world.
An intense, private prayer life can make our immediate circle much happier and balanced. This goes against the worldly, postmodern grain, but so be it. In other words, amen.
The Book of Common Prayer (1662) is 350 years old. It is the only book other than the Bible which any Anglican should ever need for faith.
Cranmer’s version was, certainly, older (1549, 1552), however, the 1662 version was the revised version which Charles II introduced shortly after the Restoration following the English Civil War. It remains the official prayer book of the Church of England, despite the more frequent use of Common Worship, new this century replacing The Alternative Service Book of the 1980s, which the satirical magazine Private Eye still lampoons.
This book has been revised in the United States, most recently in 1928 and 1979, the latter being a departure too far for some.
Here in England, the BCP is largely disregarded as a relic, even — perhaps especially — because it contains the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion which are the tenets of the Anglican faith. Every faithful Church of England adherent should study them carefully. Too many have departed from them.
The Revd Roger Salter recently wrote a beautiful article on the BCP for Virtue Online. Excerpts from ‘Thomas Cranmer’s Portable Spiritual Director’ follow, emphases mine:
The Book of Common Prayer is largely a compilation of extracts from Holy Scripture arranged for public worship and private fellowship with God, and the material from other sources is derived from meditation upon Scripture and consonant with it. Cranmer has bequeathed us a compendium, not entirely of his own creation but skilful organization, from a multiplicity of sources that is a true and comprehensive guide to godliness in thought and life, and a handbook to holiness. It is not the exclusive possession of Anglicanism but a precious gift from the 16th century English Church to all believers who care to use it. It is a catholic treasure available to all, encapsulating the substance of the true Catholic faith.
An Anglicanism that stays close to the BCP (1662), whatever other developments there may and should be, will not stray from the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and will weather the storms of novelty and deviant doctrine. In Cranmer’s liturgy and confessional statements we have a sure guideline for orthodoxy crafted by many minds, both those of his godly predecessors and wise contemporaries.
The role of the BCP is not only public and “denominational”. Frequent personal use and growing familiarity will soon prove its pastoral effectiveness in daily life and discipleship. Perhaps in this dimension its benefit has not been fully appreciated and commended. As a part of one’s daily walk with God the Prayer Book becomes a beloved companion, an aid to understanding and worship, a mentor in prayer and meditation, and, in effect, a cherished spiritual director. Its various liturgies and services span the course of our lives marking all events, normal and extra-special, assisting us to prepare for, experience, and review them. The Litany, Collects, Intercessions, and other prayers touch, so deeply, our personal concerns and expand our concern both for the Church of God and the world he has created and governs. It is impossible to employ the Prayer Book without taking others to heart and holding them before God. It amply nourishes our interior life but it takes us out of ourselves as well – something private devotions do not always achieve.
Praying and pondering the BCP, under God’s good hand, purifies the mind, warms and encourages the heart, and expands the soul. As was the archbishop’s intention, it draws the spirit to God and focuses the inner eye upon him, and then we are enabled to participate in his perspective upon the condition and affairs of men, beseeching him to work powerfully and redemptively in a desperate and declining world. The Prayer Book cultivates our individual communion with God but it counters the dangerous individualism that debilitates the life of the church and which hampers our corporate witness and ministry to the world. What a joy to hold daily in our hands Cranmer’s choice volume that affords constant and inexhaustible spiritual direction for the people of God.
Let us pray that the BCP’s use experiences a revival in the years to come. It is sorely needed in today’s Anglican worship and private devotions.
Now that the Obama administration is being rocked by the scandal of Gen. David Petraeus’s resignation, it is unclear whether the General will be able to shed light on what really happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, in which the highest levels of government allowed one US Ambassador and two Navy SEALs to die a slow, tortured death — unaided.
Just a few days later, another four-star general, William ‘Kip’ Ward, was embroiled in an expenses scandal and was stripped of one of his stars.
Whilst scandal and corruption need to be rooted out wherever they occur, particularly in public life, the left-wing White House must see how this works in their favour by undermining the American military in the eyes of the public. At the same time, television adverts have begun appearing for Obama’s citizen’s army, which is seeking recruits. The PUMAs have also noticed this discredited military versus civilian army theme:
BASIL99: Like rabid dogs[,] the press … After not laying a finger on [Obama] for the past 5 years they’ve turned all their restrained venom on military heroes.
… at least they have tried to serve the country, with mixed results, while [Obama], Holder, Rice, [Jarrett], Harris, Jackson, all want only to destroy the country.
It’s almost as if [Obama] were conspiring with mideast jihadists to humiliate the military is the most public way possible …
It’s clear [he] is willing to sacrifice our soldiers to his nefarious ends. Looks what he did to Stevens and the other 3 servicemen.
Alinsky rule – eliminate and discredit the military and put [yes-men] in place. Same with the “citizen army” we have heard about and which I have now seen ads for.
Yes. It is scary … This is [Jarrett]’s revenge. This is an attempted coup and coopting of the military and the entire government. Doubt if anyone in the American media will even notice.
I recall many moons ago when the US military was largely discredited during and after the Vietnam War. The peace movement and campus protests against the war had completely overshadowed the sacrifices that American servicemen were enduring with increasingly less support from home. Looking back now, it seems as if that was when the media began to change. After all, if one stayed at university, one did not have to be drafted for service. Unfortunately, this put the idea into many young people’s heads that the combination of middle class status and intelligence became synonymous with peace whilst being poor and notionally unintelligent was associated with military service. Of course, that is far from the truth, however, it shows the power of the media. Beware of propaganda!
UPDATE HERE WITH PHOTO: Woman makes obscene gesture at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. Hmm.
The American military swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, not a President. This is important to remember. Heaven only knows what sort of oath Obama’s civilian army — Americorps — takes.
The American military fight to uphold the Constitution and freedom. What follows is a poem by a United States Marine Corps chaplain. With Thanksgiving coming up in a couple of days it is worth remembering and communicating to younger family members whilst praying for American servicemen and women wherever they are in the world:
It is the soldier,
not the President who gives US Democracy.
It is the soldier,
not the Congress who takes Care of US.
It is the soldier,
not the Reporter who has given us Freedom of Press.
It is the soldier,
not the Poet who has given us Freedom of Speech.
It is the soldier,
not the campus [community] Organizer who
has given us the Freedom to Demonstrate.
It is the soldier,
who salutes the flag;
who serves beneath the flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
that allows the protester to burn the flag.
~ Father Dennis O’Brien, US Marine Corp. Chaplain
All best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving to America’s armed forces, those currently serving as well as their retired comrades.
Our free world would not exist without them. May God bless them today and always.
A week ago at this time, many of us were hopeful for America’s future — the first time in four years.
As it transpired, the election result, whilst close in the popular vote with a 2.2% difference, looked stark in projected Electoral College votes: 303 (Obama) to 206 (Romney).
Much media soul searching has gone on between Wednesday morning and now, but this election wasn’t about image or message. It carried much deeper implications.
Whilst reading my favourite political blogs last week, two readers’ comments stood out for me. Both explained the wider implications of the result. I hope that their authors do not mind my sharing excerpts of them with you.
The first comes from an immigrant who commented on a post at The Ulsterman Report. I have left the spelling and syntax as in the original (emphases mine):
I have seen this one before in my life and left my country of origin anticipating exactly what has happen there since.
I am glad to have live in America because I experienced freedom at least for a while in my life …
Not adding up with the results. I think a close look comparing the results in counties controlled by different voting machines will tell the tale.
So here we go marching towards a cliff …
For now there is a big sadness in my soul.
As there will not be any Benghazi, any empeachment, any fast n furious. They will all disapear from the radar. They will be burry by the press even more than now.
We did not get the Senate back …
Sad, so sad. And afraid of the future …
… I need to think about what it all means for me personnaly. This game just became extremely dangerous.
This was, as it should have been, the most important election of our lifetimes and a distinct choice …
The re-election of Obama stands for a system of government that the majority of people in this country want, have had, and want to see fulfilled.
Here are two forms of government:
1. A system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single party holds power; state controls business ownership. Ownership of property or capital while claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people.
2. A state in which the powers of the central government are restricted and in which the states, retain a degree of self government, and ultimate sovereign power rests with the People.
The latter was the system of government created by the founders of our country and was inscribed in the U.S. Constitution. The former has become the system of government we have increasingly lived with since the New Deal …
Obama unabashedly said he sought to redistribute wealth, that individuals did not create their own success, and that the central government was best to run our economic and social institutions.
… this was a course first set during the Great Depression where that generation accepted a new direction for the United States which was to have the central government take care of our problems and make life easier for us. It was based on policies that FDR’s advisors saw in communist Russia and thought would work for us. FDR was the Barack Obama of his time.
FDR got re-elected by creating divisions in this country and enticing groups to become reliant on government and therefore on him. Obama has done the same. The New Deal never resolved the economic depression and in fact extended it so that it became the new norm. Obama has done the same.
That path was never reversed by the baby boomers and was instead enlarged by Lyndon Johnson and then by Bill Clinton. For all the folklore, Ronald Reagan did little or nothing to make a dent in that inevitable trajectory.
Obama is just finishing the job and over the next 4 years Americans will realize their federal republic is no more and will learn to live and accept the socialism with an [in]evitable path toward communism brought by Obama.
Nixon defeated LBJ/Humphrey because of foreign policy (Vietnam) – not because of domestic issues. The same with Reagan over Carter. While the phrases may have been poetic, Carter lost because of foreign policy (Iran hostage crisis). And George W. Bush won because Al Gore was a jerk (and still is) and not for any policy reasons.
This may have been a close election but there can no longer be any dispute that the majority of Americans want government to control our economic and social institutions. There are still states who still seek a federal republic but they are growing smaller with increasing population of people who want government reliance.
In the end our financial systems will be heavily controlled by government which will limit capital risk which will continue the stagnant growth as well as place limits on entrepreneurialism. Our religious institutions will be subject to government mandates that may step on religious freedom but under Obama the Bill of Rights has been treated as a pesky impediment to his goals. Our judicial system has already been corrupted to empower the executive branch’s goals. Our education system will be completely controlled by the federal government and we will, within a few years, have a fully nationalized healthcare system that will severely reduce our quality of care. And as far as the fourth estate, we have already seen that they are and will remain a tool of socialism.
Beginning with the New Deal th[e] people of this country have chosen a path toward collectivism and away from individualism …
This is what our country is now and it is something that will not be reversed – certainly not in our lifetime.
… This election solidified the fact that this is not and never again will be the United States that the founding fathers created. The next four years under Obama will cement that.
It is often said that we get the leaders we deserve. A year and a half ago, I wrote that, in order to rectify our churches, society and government, we would need to lead more orderly lives.
One thing I noticed this election cycle were the numbers of politically involved yet lapsed Christians who have been returning to prayer over the past few months. Mitt Romney’s good personal example and clean campaign partly inspired them. Like many others who watched the debates, I shall not quickly forget the Romney family on the dais together afterward: the love and devotion they have for each other which has extended not only to their friends and associates but also generously to strangers.
In the dark days to follow, may more Americans find themselves in continuing prayer, repentance and humililty. One by one, they will find they can take their country back in time. Also something we Europeans — as well as Antipodeans — would do well to consider.
Last week’s post on St Mark’s Gospel concluded with the story of St John the Baptist’s death, which, strangely, does not appear in the standard Lectionary used for public worship.
Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
Today’s passage follows Mark’s account of feeding the 5,000, which John MacArthur tells us was actually more than that (emphases mine):
That really is a misnomer, it is really a feeding of the 25 thousand, Matthew’s adds plus women, plus children, not just men. We can easily estimate 25 thousand people were fed by Jesus when there was no food, so He created enough food, not just to feed them minimally, but to make them all literally gorged, is the Greek word that is used, and there were twelve baskets left over to feed the Twelve Apostles.
Matthew Henry describes the food:
The provision was ordinary. Here were no rarities, no varieties, though Christ, if he had pleased, could have furnished his table with them; but thus he would teach us to be content with food convenient for us, and not to be desirous of dainties … The promise to them that fear the Lord, is, that verily they shall be fed …
Mark’s account is as follows (Mark 6:38-44), starting with Jesus’s enquiry of His disciples:
38And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42And they all ate and were satisfied. 43And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
St John’s account includes additional detail (John 6:8-15):
8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
You can read the continuation of John’s version here.
St Matthew tells us (Matthew 14:17-21):
17They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Hence MacArthur’s estimate of 25,000.
Those who partook of this impromptu feast — one of Jesus’s most creative miracles — were of no faith or an imperfect faith. Some followed Him to listen to what He had to say. Others thought Him the prophet who would save Israel from oppression, an earthly king. Many more were hangers-on and wanted to see what everyone in the region was talking about. There was more unbelief there than imperfect faith. Recall that the next day, Jesus lost many disciples after telling them this (John 6:25-40):
25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
We read this today and find it reassuring. Yet, at the time, those listening to Jesus did not receive His words well and ‘many’ stopped following Him (John 6:60-69):
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
At the time of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, MacArthur tells us:
It is … the peak of His popularity. He’s two years into His ministry, over a year of ministry in Galilee, He has basically gone through Galilee twice, He’s now gone through, or starting to go through Galilee a third time. He has multiplied Himself by empowering the Twelve Apostles to preach His message and to do His miracles so there is an explosion on this third tour through Galilee, the power of Jesus is seen and experienced over and over again in the 200-plus towns and villages that are stretched across that densely populated small region that we know as Galilee.
However, between this marvellous creative miracle and the anti-climactic aftermath in which we see Jesus’s (and, by extension, our own) precarious fortunes in this life, there was the violent tempest on the sea that evening. Exhausted, Jesus had told the Apostles to sail on ahead; He would catch them up later after He spent time alone on the mountain to regroup and pray.
Jesus prayed a lot. He set us the example to follow. Many of us — myself included — have resisted prayer in the past. God is too busy to listen, I always said. Yet, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit want us to ask for their help. They welcome that continuous and open communication. Of Jesus’s prayers, Matthew Henry says:
Observe, 1. He prayed; though he had so much preaching-work upon his hands, yet he was much in prayer; he prayed often, and prayed long, which is an encouragement to us to depend upon the intercession he is making for us at the right hand of the Father, that continual intercession. 2. He went alone, to pray; though he needed not to retire for the avoiding either of distraction or of ostentation, yet, to set us an example, and to encourage us in our secret addresses to God, he prayed alone, and, for want of a closet, went up into a mountain, to pray. A good man is never less alone than when alone with God.
Meanwhile, the Apostles were on the sea in a wooden boat. During the storm, which lasted several hours, they feared for their survival whilst trying to stay afloat. Henry analyses the situation:
This was a specimen of the hardships they were to expect, when hereafter he should send them abroad to preach the gospel; it would be like sending them to sea at this time with the wind in their teeth: they must expect to toil in rowing, they must work hard to strive against so strong a stream; they must likewise expect to be tossed with waves, to be persecuted by their enemies; and by exposing them now he intended to train them up for such difficulties, that they might learn to endure hardness. The church is often like a ship at sea, tossed with tempests, and not comforted we may have Christ for us, and yet wind and tide against us; but it is a comfort to Christ’s disciples in a storm, that their Master is in the heavenly mount, interceding for them.
Christ did not reach them until ‘the fourth watch’ (Mark 6:48). MacArthur does the timings for us:
Watch number one was six to nine, watch number two was nine to twelve, watch number three was twelve to three and watch number four was three to six. It’s three to six in the morning. If it’s five in the morning and they left at eight in the evening, they’ve been out there nine hours. They’re in some serious trouble. It’s deep darkness all night long in the fourth watch of the night.
Therefore, the storm’s purpose was to strengthen them — to make Olympian evangelists out of them. They were in training for the divine, as are we when God sends us hardship and extended periods of difficulty. That is the time to turn to Christ and ask for help, not once but every day.
Matthew’s account gives us the dramatic episode involving St Peter. Just moments before, they thought Jesus walking on the water was a phantom, a ghost. Matthew 14:27-33:
27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ”Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Muslims often say that nowhere in the New Testament does anyone say that Jesus is Lord or the Son of God. Matthew 14:33 and John 6:69 clearly disprove that error. Let us commit these verses to memory. I do not know what Bible version our Muslim friends read but it appears to be annotated.
These events bring us to this week’s passage, which occurs at the same time as John 6:60-69 above but with a different emphasis. John’s record of events shows the people for the shallow followers they were. Mark’s makes this point more subtly.
The morning after the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the tempest, Jesus and His Apostles land at Gennesaret (verse 53), not far from Capernaum and Bethsaida, the original port of call (Mark 6:45). (This Bethsaida is different from the Pool of Bethesda or Pool of Bethsaida in John 5. The port of Bethsaida is along the Sea of Galilee. The name means ‘fish house’, so fishing was probably the primary local ‘industry’ there.)
John’s account tells us that people followed them there. More came from Capernaum. So, again, our Saviour and the Twelve were surrounded by crowds (verse 54). This time, however, the newcomers sought healing (verse 55). MacArthur says that Gennesaret is a scenic spot which is much identified with the Sea of Galilee, sometimes referred to as the Lake of Gennesaret.
Mark 6 ends by stating that Jesus healed many people, not only that day and before, but in the days and weeks that followed. MacArthur says that Jesus healed all who approached Him or touched His garment. This illustrates the Lutheran and Calvinist principle of common grace, which benefits both believers and unbelievers:
This is the greatest exhibition of visible manifest common grace you will ever see. No discrimination, no questionnaire about who gets healed, you don’t have to go into a pre-room to be screened. Anybody and everybody whether you believe or don’t believe, whether you love or hate, this is for everybody. This is common grace. This is the compassion of our God.
Henry would acknowledge that, no doubt, but in his commentary he points us to the physical preoccupations of the crowds over the spiritual:
We do not find that they were desirous to be taught by him, only to be healed … But it is sad to think how much more concerned the most of men are about their bodies than about their souls.
How true, in Jesus’s day, in Henry’s 17th century and in the 21st. It is a sad state of affairs. This includes today’s relentless health campaigns. We would do well to think more of pursuing excellence in faith rather than unproven agenda-driven physical regimes.
In closing, I covered Mark 7 two years ago. One of the verses deals with health and forbidden foods issues. Whilst the context is Old Testament dietary laws, today’s application can be against health propaganda. This is what Jesus said in Mark 7:18-20:
18And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, ”What comes out of a person is what defiles him.”
Those are more verses to commit to memory the next time a secular expert or a misguided churchman tells you to comply with the latest state diktat on health. Why end up a whited sepulchre?
Next time: Mark 8:1-10
Some people — secularists included — have observed that Christians are being discriminated against, even if courts and employment tribunals decide otherwise.
As I’ve said before, there are two types of Christianity. One is based on Scripture and biblically-derived doctrines and confessions of faith. The other — far more vocal and visible — is experiential, legalistic and, to be polite, eccentric.
There are also some American politicians who have not done the Christian faith many favours in their effusive embrace of an evangelicalism which seems alien to many.
However, there is no doubt that the Church is no longer held in the high regard that it was when we were growing up. We shall have to decide how to face this challenge in our own lives.
The harder Christians push back against issues like abortion and homosexuality (along with worldliness in general) the more intense the hatred and loathing of Christianity will become. That the Christian faith is the only true faith is proven by the increasing intolerance towards it while other almost barbarian religions are tolerated more and more. This will make it increasingly difficult to be a ‘closet’ Christian. We will either have to openly confess our faith in Christ or live a lie, both alternatives having eternal consequences.
… We in America are fortunate to have enjoyed a long period of relative quiet with regard to persecution but I think those days are ending, and soon. I must emphasize strongly that the persecution of which I speak is for the sake of Jesus and because of our loyalty to Him, not some bizarre, out in left field (like snake handling) activity or off the wall prediction of the world’s end that heaps ridicule on, but not hatred of, Christians. In other words, sometimes what we think is persecution is merely people reacting to our stupidity and unpreparedness to deal with their questions or hypocritical living by talking about Jesus but not living for Him.
… The question is whether we will push back when the time comes in our little part of the world or just keep silent and get pushed around. Anesthetized is the word, a numbness, a dullness, like being filled with novocain, this is what a Christian becomes if they allow an anti-Christ culture to bully them into submission. Not much chance of push back from these people.
If you don’t feel strong enough to endure this kind of battle you are in a great place because by ourselves none of us is up to the task. Push back anyway and know that “… in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) All you need to do is push and the strength of the Lord does the rest.
The last paragraph in particular is something to keep in mind as the world turns against us.
Yet, even from within we are attacked. We lack the many good role models we used to have in clergy, religious and laypeople.
It wasn’t so long ago that I could confidently recommend a church or a denomination to an enquirer. Today, I would advise them to exercise caution and to shop around before making any commitments. It’s no surprise that with destructive legalism on one hand and politicised communitarian pronouncements on the other, many faithful feel the need to drop out and pursue their Christian studies at home with the help of online resources.
Of course, that is not a desirable permanent solution, particularly as it deprives them of the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. However, sometimes needs must.
Whether in church or out, we will no doubt be required at some point to stand firm for the faith in ways we might not have imagined only a few decades ago.