Day 76: Matthew 9:9

Follow me.

As someone who was raised up in Sunday School during the 1950s and 1960s, these words are ingrained in my very soul.  Prime directive: Follow Jesus.  But part of this journey that I’m blogging about is to question everything.  What is Jesus really saying to Matthew, the author of this Gospel, when he offers him this personal invitation?  What does it mean to “Follow Jesus?”

Strong’s Concordance says that the original Greek word is parakoloutheó: to follow closely, to investigate.  The expanded definition is “accompany, follow closely, characterize, both literal and metaphorical; investigate”  (http://biblesuite.com/greek/3877.htm).

According to the Greek word, Jesus is asking Matthew to accompany, characterize, and investigate him.

What Jesus is asking of Matthew requires time, effort, discernment, reflection, discovery, evaluation, and practice.  It is not something quick or easy.  He is asking Matthew and all the rest of us to accompany him, and dedicate our lives to investigating and characterizing him.

People dedicate their lives to many different pursuits – family, property, work, sports, fashion, crafts, literature, education, hobbies, nature, movies, theater, music, charities, and many other things. They know a lot about these things that are foremost in their minds.  They study them in depth.  While we are certainly capable of seriously pursuing our passions, we often want to take an easier route when it comes to our pursuit of Jesus.

What comes to mind when I examine “follow me” and its definition are some of the things Jesus does NOT ask Matthew to do:  “worship him”, “obey him”, “surrender to him”, or “love him”.  This isn’t what Jesus is talking about when he says, “Follow me.”  This is not the kind of relationship he wants to have with this disciples.

Does Jesus really want us to tag along behind him mindlessly singing his praises?  Even pagans can worship Jesus – just one more god.  The more the merrier.   No, Jesus worships God and wants his disciples to do the same. Jesus doesn’t believe in legalism so blind obedience is kind of antithetical.  He wants our reasoned, informed, emphatic assent and acceptance.  Jesus doesn’t want to enslave anyone so surrender isn’t necessary.  He doesn’t want a lot of mindless zombies trailing around behind him.  He wants us to follow him with our eyes wide open and our brains fully engaged. As for love, he wants us to love everyone the same. He wants to be loved in all of his enigmatic, intense, luminous, brilliant, intuitive, and sometimes bewildering complexity. What he wants is our attention.  And our time.  And open minds.  And maybe even a little respect and consideration for what he has to say.

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Another giant Jesus statue under construction. Ahem. Looks a little “graven” to me.

Jesus says, “Follow me.”  It’s not an appeal to our emotions; Jesus wants to teach us essential truths about ourselves, our God and our world.  It’s easy and even fun to worship a celebrity, but it takes a lot of time and effort to actually know Jesus of Nazareth, to test him, to understand why he does what he does and says what he says.  What does he say about God?  How does he treat other people?  How does he see religion?  How does he look at justice?  Idol worship is mindless, useless, and self-serving.  Only if you seriously investigate Jesus can you decide whether or not you want to worship him as he really is, or whether you are worshiping an idol that has been created by the church or your own imaginings.

Jesus says, “Follow me.”  Watch what I do, hear me out, test me, give my way a chance. Accompany me, investigate me, imitate me. Check out what I say and do and see if my way is the right way. See if it makes sense.  See if it works.  See if you believe that what I demonstrate and teach will bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Jesus says, “Follow me.”  It’s not a command; it’s a challenge, an invitation, an open door to God’s heart.  That’s what he says, that’s what he wants us to do.  Let him do his job.  Let him show us the truth that God sent him to reveal, teach us what we need to learn, and instruct each of us about how we are supposed to live our lives.  Jesus wants to reveal to each of us something about the heart of God, the hearts of others, and the deepest longings of our own hearts as well.

And ultimately in all that he says and does, he reveals something of his true identity to each of us in a highly personal and intimate way.

I am ending with one of John’s favorite quotes, by Albert Schweitzer:

“He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, he came to those men [and women] who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow me!’ and sets us to the tasks that He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And, to those who obey, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings that they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 75: Matthew 9:6

Get up, pick up your bed, and go home!

The Story of Jesus and the Paralyzed Man (Part 4 of 4)

This is the last installment in a 4-part story, so here is a recap.  Some people bring a paralyzed man to Jesus to receive healing.  Jesus doesn’t heal the man; instead he says “Your sins are forgiven.”  When he does this he challenges the necessity of the sacrifices and offerings required in the Law of Moses, as well as the necessity of the priests to forgive sins.  The religious authorities are disturbed by this proclamation, and Jesus further aggravates the situation by saying that anyone has the authority to forgive sin.  Furthermore, the prevailing view was that all sickness or infirmity was caused by sin, so healing and forgiveness of sin were inextricably linked. (For more details about these concepts you might want to see Days 72-74 and also Day 65).

On Day 65 I described how people in Jesus’ day were treated when they got sick.   They were cast out by society.  Before they could be reintegrated into society they had to make a sin offering because of the link between sin and sickness.  Under Jewish law sin and sickness were formally linked, despite Biblical evidence to the contrary in the Book of Job.

Now, here in this scripture, Jesus now proves that sin, which is supposedly the root cause of all disease, can be forgiven by an ordinary man by saying these words to the paralyzed man – “Get up, pick up your bed, and go home!

Of course, the man is healed.  He picks up his mat as Jesus has instructed.  There it is, proof.  If the disease is healed, then the sin that caused the disease must have been simultaneously forgiven.  Sin and healing are incompatible.

Proof positive.  Sin – gone!!!!!

So in case you are reading this and you think that maybe I have it wrong about the “Son of Man” referring to “any ordinary man;” if you think, like some have supposed, that it is instead a reference to a divine being, a messiah, then you need to look carefully at the next scripture:   When the people saw it, they were afraid, and they praised God for giving such authority to men. (Matthew 9:8).  Not a god or messiah.

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Look at that carefully. Matthew and all who heard Jesus knew that he wasn’t talking about himself; he was talking about all of them.  When he said, “Son of Man” they heard “Everyman” (See Day 74).  They knew that he was saying that ordinary people have the authority to forgive sins and heal diseases.  How do they react to this?  Predictably – “When the people saw it, they were afraid” (Matt. 9:8).  Of course, they are afraid.  They are always afraid, but why? Afraid of the miracle?  Afraid of the possibility that they have the power to heal disease?  Afraid that if they don’t need the priests and the temple system that their way of life will be turned upside down? Afraid of the responsibility and implications of such great God-give authority?

I think that if humankind wants to move forward we have to stop being afraid of things we don’t understand.  We need to stop being afraid of change. We need more faith and less fear.  For example, we believe in aspirin even though no one knows how it works, and we’re not afraid of it. We just know it works.  I think we need to believe that we have the power to heal bodies and relationships through a strange and miraculous authority that God gives ordinary people.  We need to start using all of the power that Jesus says we have been given to heal the world so that our prayer for the Kingdom of God to come can be a reality. We need to stop waiting for someone else to do it for us, or for the Kingdom of God to fall out of the sky without any effort on our part.  We need to do what Jesus says we can do, and we need to start now.

Of course it’s really God who does the forgiving, and God who does the healing.  Jesus simply wants us to remind everyone of these words in Old Testament: “Praise the Lord, my soul, and do not forget how kind he is. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3).

All we need to do is remember what was revealed in this psalm, centuries before Jesus was born:  God forgives all our sins and heals all our diseases.  No sacrifices or priests or messiahs are necessary.  All we need is faith, courage, and wisdom to ask God.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 74: Matthew 9:5-6

Is it easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say “Get up and walk?”  I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.

The Story of Jesus and the Paralyzed Man (Part 3 of 4)

Some teachers of the Law accuse Jesus of blasphemy because he has told a paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven.  This is his response – and it’s a bomb.

ImageKa-boom!

In Jesus’ day there was a belief that sin and infirmity are always interconnected.  The assumption is that if you are sick or injured, it is because you have sinned.  They did not believe that bad things happened to good people.

In the Law of Moses there are no rules regarding healing ministry or healing prayer. Healing is a little questionable because of the link between sickness and sin. There is a possibility that if Jesus somehow caused someone to get well he may in fact be interfering with God’s punishment.  Nevertheless there was no law against Jesus healing the paralyzed man.  He could have simply healed the man and walked away and it wouldn’t have been against the Law of Moses (a sin).

Forgiveness of sin, however, is an entirely different matter.  Sins, under the Law of Moses, can only be forgiven by a priest after all of the appropriate sacrifices and offerings have been performed.  When Jesus tells the man that his sins have been forgiven, he is then overstepping his boundaries. According to the Law he has no authority to do this.  Only a priest can do this, and only after proper procedures.

Now, here’s the kicker.  He says he is going to prove that the “Son of Man” has the authority to forgive sins.  So what does that mean, “Son of Man”?  It means Jesus, right?  The Messiah, the Christ, right?  The Anointed One.  The Savior.  The Lamb of God.  Jesus.  That’s what I thought until I did a little research.

Not so.  The term Son of Man is used throughout the Old Testament.  Here is the definition according to the Jewish Encyclopedia:

The rendering for the Hebrew “ben adam,” applied to mankind in general, as opposed to and distinct from non-human relationship; expressing also the larger, unlimited implications of humanity as differentiated from limited (e.g., national) forms and aspects of human life.

Here’s another definition from Wikipedia:

The Hebrew expression “son of man” (i.e. ben-‘adam) appears one hundred and seven times in the Jewish Bible. This is the most common Hebrew construction for the singular and appears 93 times in Ezekiel alone and 14 times elsewhere. In thirty two cases the phrase appears in intermediate plural form “sons of men”. As generally interpreted by Jews, “son of man” denotes mankind generally in contrast to deity or godhead, with special reference to their weakness and frailty.

And a little more from Wikipedia:

“Among Jews the term “son of man” was not used as the specific title of the Messiah. The New Testament expression is a translation of the Aramaic “bar nasha,” and as such could have been understood only as the substitute for a personal pronoun, or as emphasizing the human qualities of those to whom it is applied. That the term does not appear in any of the epistles ascribed to Paul is significant.”

In the Gospels the title occurs eighty-one times. Most of the recent writers (among them being II. Lietzmann) have come to the conclusion that Jesus, speaking Aramaic, could never have designated himself as the “son of man” in a Messianic, mystic sense, because the Aramaic term never implied this meaning.

For centuries, the Christological perspective on Son of Man has been a natural counterpart to that of Son of God and just as Son of God affirms the divinity of Jesus, in many cases Son of man affirms his humanity.

When Jesus talks about the Son of Man he is specifically stating that he is NOT special, that he is NOT anointed.  “Son of God” is divine, but the “Son of Man” meant all mankind, in all of its frailty.  When he refers to himself as the Son of Man, it says that he regards himself as an ordinary man, a regular guy – Everyman!!

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Therefore when Jesus says that he is going to prove that the Son of Man can forgive sins, he is saying that anyone (or everyone), including an ordinary guy like himself, can forgive sins.  That’s what he’s saying.  Not just priests.  Not just messiahs.  You, me, everyone.  All humanity in all of its frailty.

To me, this is an important distinction.  He is saying that if he (Jesus) can forgive sins, so can you and I and everyone else.  He is saying “power to the people!”  Ka-Boom!

So he says he is going to prove that this is true….how is he going to do this?  We find out tomorrow.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 73: Matthew 9:4

Why are you thinking such evil things?

Jesus has just told a paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven, even though Jewish law says forgiveness can be officially pronounced only by the priests.  Some teachers of the Law witness this and are shocked by this blasphemy.  Jesus perceives what the teachers of the Law are thinking, and he challenges them with these words.

So who were these “teachers of the Law,” sometimes referred to as “scribes” in other translations of the Bible?  The teachers of the Law were kind of like today’s lawyers.  They were experts on the Law of Moses and they made a living drafting legal documents for things like loans or sale of property. Every village had to have a scribe.

Jesus knew the teachers of the Law were watching his every move.  He knew they heard what he said.  The scripture also says Jesus knew their thoughts.  Some think this is a sign of Jesus’ supernatural psychic powers.  I think it was probably pretty obvious.  Jesus knew that they would disapprove of what he just said because he was fully aware that he had made a shocking, rebellious, illegal, inflammatory statement.  He had just challenged the whole sacrificial system. (See Day 72).

Then, instead of just ignoring these legal experts who weren’t saying a word or interfering in any way, he called out to them.  He said, “Why are you thinking such evil things?” He challenged them.  This is confrontational, antagonistic behavior.  He was on the attack. He was ready to debate what he’d just said.

Of course they didn’t think they were thinking evil thoughts.  They were thinking what they had been trained to think.  Their automatic response to Jesus’ apparent blasphemy was disapproval and offense.  It was a trained response.

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I think Jesus wasn’t necessarily condemning them or accusing them.  He was trying to get them to think and question their training.  He was, I think, trying to get them to understand that their thoughts were flawed because their training was flawed.  The system was flawed.  The institution was pagan. And…. evil.  He wants them to see beyond their indoctrination.  He wants them to engage their brains and stop operating on auto-pilot; he is trying to deprogram them.

He wanted them to see beyond the Law, beyond their programming.  He wanted them to see a paralyzed man in need of forgiveness and healing.  He wanted them to see this man through God’s eyes, a man in need of restoration, a precious creation worthy of love who had endured great hardship and shouldn’t have to suffer for another minute.

Jesus believed that it was wrong for institutional religion to position itself between this man and God.  Jesus knew that forgiveness was freely available from God.  He was ready and willing to debate this issue with all of the religious authorities of his day.  He wanted to trash the system and its remnant pagan practices and let forgiveness and healing flow unfettered.

So how will the teachers of the Law respond?  What will happen to the man?  What will happen to Jesus?   What next?

We’ll have to wait and see what tomorrow brings.  If the suspense is killing you, you can always pick up your Bible and check it out.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 72: Matthew 9:2

Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.

This is known as “Jesus and the Paralyzed Man” and is the first of 4 installments on the words that Jesus uses in this incident.

Some people bring a paralyzed man to Jesus and he is moved their faith.  Instead of telling the man that he is healed, Jesus tells the man that his sins have been forgiven. 

Why does Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven?”  Isn’t that a little non sequitur? Didn’t the friends bring the man to be healed?  Why doesn’t Jesus just heal him? 

Ah, but there is a method to his madness.  From the very beginning people have believed in the relationship between sin and infirmity.  The ancient pagan view is that if you are sick it’s always because you did something wrong.  This is the subject of the book of Job, supposedly one of the oldest books in the Bible.  Job experiences sickness and hardship through no fault of his own.  His friends all accuse him of sinning, but God ultimately rebukes the friends, exonerates Job, and restores all that had been lost.  God makes it very clear that the friends were wrong for making judgments about Job and his situation.

Despite the story of Job, the Jews continued to believe that every illness or infirmity was the result of a person’s sin. It was viewed as God’s punishment, so atonement –and therefore the possibility for healing – was available only through the sacrificial offerings that were performed by priests. That was the whole point of performing animal sacrifice – to keep God happy so he would bless the community with prosperity and health.  Over and over again very specific instructions for sin offerings are described in the Book of Leviticus. Here just a couple of the many examples in Chapter 5:

When you are guilty, you must confess the sin, and as the penalty for your sin you must bring to the Lord a female sheep or goat as an offering. The priest shall offer the sacrifice for your sin. If you cannot afford a sheep or a goat, you shall bring to the Lord as the payment for your sin two doves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. You shall bring them to the priest, who will first offer the bird for the sin offering. He will break its neck without pulling off its head and sprinkle some of its blood against the side of the altar. The rest of the blood will be drained out at the base of the altar. This is an offering to take away sin. Then he shall offer the second bird as a burnt offering, according to the regulations. In this way the priest shall offer the sacrifice for your sin, and you will be forgiven. (Leviticus 5:5-10).

 

If any of you sin unintentionally by breaking any of the Lord’s commands, you are guilty and must pay the penalty.  You must bring to the priest as a repayment offering a male sheep or goat without any defects. Its value is to be determined according to the official standard. The priest shall offer the sacrifice for the sin which you committed unintentionally, and you will be forgiven. (Leviticus 5:17-18).

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When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven” he is bypassing the whole temple system.   He wants to put the priests with their fancy outfits out of business because they are a legacy of pagan practices that preceded Judaism.  This is both heresy and blasphemy according to the letter of the Law of Moses.   The interpretation of the Law was that forgiveness of sin could be accomplished only through the priestly sacrifices, and that the unforgiven sin of any individual endangered the entire Jewish community. They believed that their salvation, prosperity, health, and future as a God’s chosen people depended on strict adherence to the Law of Moses – especially all of those sacrifices. (For more on animal sacrifice see Day 18).

So “your sins are forgiven” is a highly inflammatory statement, kind of like impersonating a priest.  Or worse yet, playing God.  Jesus, what have you done!  How will the Jewish authorities respond?  What will happen to the man?  Are his sins really forgiven?  Stay tuned, same time, same place, tomorrow…..

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I end this with Thomas Blackshear’s beautiful painting entitled Forgiven. One of my favorites.  I never really noticed that the guy could indeed be paralyzed.  Probably has something to do with this scripture. 

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 71: Matthew 8:32

Go.

Jesus is met by two men who have demons in them and are scaring people.  The demons scream at Jesus then ask to be driven into a herd of pigs.  Jesus says this single word – Go – and the demons enter the pigs, which subsequently jump into a lake and are drowned.  The people who witness this react with fear and ask Jesus to leave their territory.

Ahhh….Deliverance.  It’s one of those creepy things most people don’t want to think about, but in ministry it’s one of those things you have to deal with occasionally.  We have taken many classes over the years on deliverance ministry and have had a few opportunities to put our knowledge into practice.  There was a woman, for example, who we prayed for at an out-of-town conference because she complained about voices in her head that told her to do self-destructive things.  We ran into her years later and she said that she was very grateful because those voices left that night and never returned.  It was very interesting to me because I remembered her and how I really didn’t want to pray for her because it was late in the evening and I was tired; and I remembered that I didn’t believe her when she said the voices were gone.  I figured she was just tired of people praying for her, but I was apparently wrong.  Never underestimate the power of prayer, even when it doesn’t feel like anything’s happening.

Anyway, deliverance is really just healing ministry.  It’s exactly the same thing – praying for people to be restored to good health.  Whether the cause is infection, injury, bad neurological connections, chemical imbalance, emotional pain, geriatric issues, or demons it’s still sickness and restoration to health through prayer ministry or other means is always possible.  With God all things are possible.

At those deliverance classes they always give you a lot of instructions about the best ways to get rid of demons.  It’s kind of like going to garden club meetings where people share stories about their success with Japanese beetles, or the kind of fly swatter that works best for them.

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Usually at these classes they give you a handout with a lot of instructions, which generally include some things that you should say.  I have been known to use a little prayer suggested by Francis MacNutt, a Catholic priest who is famous for his healing and deliverance ministry.  We went to one of his classes.  Actually with this prayer you don’t have to say anything.  You just deliver the prayer on a sheet of paper to the afflicted person and ask them to read it out loud.  It goes like this:

“In the name and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command satan and all evil spirits to release me so that I can be free to know God and his will for my life.  As a child of God who is seated with Christ in the heavenlies, I command every evil spirit to leave my presence and to go straight to Jesus Christ to dispose of as he will, never to return again, harming no one along the way.”

Compared to “Go” this is pretty long.   However, here’s one that I was given last year when I went to a deliverance class:

“Lord Jesus Christ, you are the root of David and the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Alpha and Omega.  It is you and you alone to whom I wish to be eternally wed and tied.  I renounce, forsake, sever and remove by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth Who Came in the Flesh, all of the following ties to our ancestors and others: blood, soul, spirit, physical, emotional, heart, sensorial, intellectual, hatred, and very person.  I also cancel the power of and remove by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth Who Came in the Flesh, all of the following originals, backups, replacements, double portions and exponential combinations of the following curses and spells: regular, special, generational, physical, spiritual, religious, perverted, voodoo, astral, satanic and demonic, time bomb, self-propagating, time, occult, unique, multiplicity, and witchcraft.  I also sever, cancel, and remove every seal, mark, ancestral and ritual vow put upon us –by birth, marriage or the call or God – by our ancestors, others, and by those demons inhabiting our bodies. I affirm that this is now accomplished by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth Who Came in the Flesh.  I claim total and complete ownership by the Lord Jesus Christ, and I now send all of those ties, curses, spells, seals, marks, and vows to the foot of the cross to be dealt as the Lord Jesus Christ deems fit.  I ask you, Lord to cleanse us with your blood, and I ask the Holy Spirit to purify and fill us with his light and fire.  Amen.

[Eye roll].  Personally, I think the demon would probably enjoy all this legalistic language, especially if you do it with a lot of arm waving. No one enjoys a good performance more than a demon.  Probably wiser to just do what Jesus did and just say, “Go.”

Yes I believe in angels, and I believe in demons.  I saw a demon once, in the middle of the night in my bedroom.  It wasn’t particularly scary.  It was kind of pathetic.  It seemed like it didn’t want to be there.  I told it to leave and it did.  I don’t know what I said.  I think it was something like “Go.”

So what gives you the right to say “Go” to a demon?  All you need is faith that God wants that critter to go.  All you need to believe is that good triumphs over evil and that they can’t occupy the same space at the same time. You are simply affirming that there isn’t any room for demons in the Kingdom of God.  After all, it’s part the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil.”  It’s a valid prayer.  The Kingdom is here right now so all demons must go. Now.

So if you run into something you think is demonic, just say “Go.”  You don’t even have to say it out loud.  The demon will hear it.  If you mean what you say it will obey.  It’s just spiritual extermination, getting rid of unwanted pests.  Shooing away the flies.  If that doesn’t work John and I will come over and see what we can do about it.  And if that doesn’t work maybe we can get Francis MacNutt to come – he’s a professional exterminator.  But give it a try yourself first.  No worries.  God’s got your back. Anyone can say, “Go.”

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 70: Matthew 8:26

Why are you so frightened?  What little faith you have!

A storm rocks the boat where Jesus is sleeping. The disciples wake Jesus up because they fear for their lives.  After saying these words, he calms the storm and everyone is amazed at this miracle.

I can really relate to this one.  I’m right there with those disciples waking Jesus up so he will rescue me.  I can just see Jesus saying these words to me.  Why are you so frightened of this storm?  What little faith you have!

For much of my life I was terrified of storms.  When I was 5 years old a small tornado hit in the middle of the night and did some damage to our house and property.  I slept right through it, which freaked me out.  While you peacefully sleep your whole house could be blown away along with your entire family!  A couple of years later one of my little girlfriends insisted on staying on the bus and coming to my house rather than getting off at her own house. When we arrived at my house there was a tree lying on our roof.  Needless to say my mom was not happy to have to deal with a wayward child as well as one of her beloved trees in my sister’s bedroom. From that time on I was afraid of storms and every time the sky clouded up I was very fearful.

So I finally found a good use for my Dad’s nuclear fallout shelter – I would go down there and hide out with the dog whenever a bad storm hit.  As a college student I had another bad experience with what I think was a downburst.  I was all alone when all of the windows blew out of my house and all I could do was dive for the closet because there wasn’t a basement.

My fear of storms lingered into adulthood.  Here’s a picture of one that really freaked me out when we were vacationing in Michigan.  This giant rolling cloud was positively evil-looking, and the storm that followed was serious.  And again there was no basement to retreat to. In my opinion, when you see a giant steam-roller cloud coming at you full of lightning and thunder and strange colors, you will be afraid.   It is normal to be afraid of something like that.  The issue in this scripture is how you respond to your fear.

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I wish someone would have told me about Psalm 107.  When Jesus calms the storm in this scripture he is simply demonstrating Psalm 107: 26-30.

The ships were lifted high in the air
and plunged down into the depths.
In such danger the sailors lost their courage;
they stumbled and staggered like drunks—
all their skill was useless.
Then in their trouble they called to the Lord,
    and he saved them from their distress.
He calmed the raging storm,
    and the waves became quiet.
 They were glad because of the calm,
and he brought them safe to the port they wanted.

I used to think that Jesus rebuked the disciples because of their fear; that if they had more faith they would have been more courageous, more macho.  Now I read it differently.  I don’t think Jesus reprimanded the disciples for being afraid of the storm; I think he scolded them for being afraid of God.  I think the issue is that while the disciples have faith that Jesus can calm the storm, they don’t have faith that they are empowered to do the same thing.  They are afraid to call out to God themselves like the sailors in Psalm 107.  They don’t believe that God hears their cries.  They want Jesus to do it for them; it’s like they have faith in Jesus but not in God himself, the source of Jesus’ power.  What is Jesus’ response?  Affirmation because they believe in him and humbly acknowledge their own inferiority?  No – Jesus reacts with……irritation!!!

The disciples are his students.  Jesus wants them to stop treating him like a priest (a mediator with God).  Or a savior.  Or a god.  Jesus wants them to start following him and stop worshiping him. He wants them to go directly to God, not him.  He wants to show them how to use the power that has been given to each of them by God.  I think that’s why he’s irritated.  They don’t want to have a personal relationship with God.  Jesus doesn’t want them to be powerless slaves, held hostage by the priests and prophets and intermediaries who take advantage of them.  He wants them to grow up and accept their God-given role as world changers.

This problem goes way back.  In Exodus God told the Hebrews that he wanted all of them to serve him as priests, communicating with him directly (Exodus 19:6).  God instructed them to purify themselves so that they would be ready to meet with him at the top of Mt. Sinai.  They did everything they were instructed to do, but when God gave the signal to come up the mountain they were afraid, so they sent Moses up alone to be their mediator (Exodus 20:18-20).  They were afraid that God would kill them.  Sadly they missed the opportunity to meet with God face to face like Moses did.  It doesn’t say it in the Bible, but I’m sure Moses was thinking the same thing that Jesus said in this scripture – “Why are you so frightened?  What little faith you have!

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Moses on Mt. Sinai by Jean-Léon Gérôme

So mankind has a long history of fearing God and wanting someone else (a priest or prophet) to talk to God for them instead of knowing him personally – either because they are too frightened or too lazy.  All relationships take time, effort and courage. Throughout most of history Christianity has encouraged people to passively rely on priests and pastors or other “special” people to deliver God’s word instead of communicating with God directly.  And Christians have enjoyed being passive participants, depending on others to talk to God for them.  Jesus would not approve.  Jesus says that God wants us to know him personally (See Day 62).

Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount to “ask-seek-knock;” he says that you can ask Father God for anything without fear of punishment (Days 57-58).  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Ask God to calm the storm.  He will keep you safe.  Have faith.  Don’t depend on Jesus.  He’ll just get irritated with you.  He can get pretty grumpy, especially when he hasn’t had enough sleep.

What does this scripture say to you?