What Is Your Problem?

Jesus and his three disciples came down from the mountain and were met by a large crowd. Just then someone in the crowd shouted, “Teacher, please do something for my son! He is my only child! A demon often attacks him and makes him scream. It shakes him until he foams at the mouth, and it won’t leave him until it has completely worn the boy out. I begged your disciples to force out the demon, but they couldn’t do it.”

Jesus said to them, “You people are stubborn and don’t have any faith! How much longer must I be with you? Why do I have to put up with you?”

Then Jesus said to the man, “Bring your son to me.” While the boy was being brought, the demon attacked him and made him shake all over. Jesus ordered the demon to stop. Then he healed the boy and gave him back to his father. (Luke 9:37-42)

Because he loves us, Jesus never gives up on us. Jesus words to his disciples may seem harsh. In the face of the boy’s suffering, Jesus berated them for being “stubborn” and having “no faith.” He then wonders aloud about how long he’s going to have to stay with them and put up with it all.

Where was Jesus’ compassion? Why was he suddenly so cross with them? The context explains it all. Jesus had sent his disciples two by two to preach about the kingdom, with Jesus’ authority to heal and cast out demons. He had fed the five thousand. Peter had declared that Jesus was Messiah and Jesus had predicted his death and resurrection. Then three of his closest disciples had witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain, saw Moses and Elijah, and heard the voice of the Father. It was only after all of that, that Jesus blew up at his disciples when they failed to help a poor man and his son. Nevertheless, Jesus solved the problem, despite the stubbornness and faithlessness around him. He healed the boy from the demon and restored the son to his father.

Jesus may be disappointed by our failure, just he was with his disciples, but he’ll keep working with us, even as he kept working with them. How long did he put up with his disciples? The rest of their lives, and for all eternity. But Jesus more than just puts up with us. He loves us and will be with us always.

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Losing is Winning Sometimes

He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:21-27)

What we think we already know can get in the way of recognizing the truth. Look at what it did to the disciples. Why were the disciples surprised by Jesus’ execution after he had warned them about it so often? Whatever didn’t fit their beliefs about the Messiah—that he would restore the kingdom to Israel— they failed to hear. In common with all human beings, they only paid attention to what reinforced what they already believed. They were like the bigot who only notices the misbehavior of the people he despises because it proves his point about them.

Those who were led to be crucified were forced to bear their own crosses to the place where they would die. They were made participants in their own executions. Jesus told his disciples that he was going to die such a death and that those who followed him would hwave to suffer that same fate.

For many of his disciples, they did indeed follow Jesus in dying violently at the hands of the Roman government. But more profoundly, Jesus was trying to explain to them the significance of his upcoming death. He wanted them to understand that by being his disciples, they were going to participate in his suffering. Because of their faith, Jesus’ death on the cross would save their souls.

Listening to Jesus means that we have to stop listening to ourselves and all the other voices demanding our attention. We must let go of our concerns and listen to the concerns of Jesus, instead. Only then can our deepest concerns, concerns we might not even know we have, find resolution.

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Not Too Late

While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher any more.”

Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”

They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened. (Luke 8:49-56)

Because Jesus is with us, we don’t have to be afraid anymore. Luke repeats the story of Jairus the synagogue ruler, but as usual, puts his own unique spin on things. Writing to a non-Jewish audience, Luke does not bother to insert any of the Aramaic wording that appeared in Mark’s rendition. And when Jesus told Jairus not to be afraid, we discover from Luke that Jesus told Jairus why he didn’t need to be afraid: Jesus promised to heal his daughter.

Jairus had experience with sick people getting well. But when people were dead, it was too late. But Jesus brought something new into the world. As the prophet Isaiah said of Jesus, “by his wounds we are healed.” And what more profound illness do people face than the illness of death?

Why did Jesus tell Jairus to keep the miracle to himself? Because Jesus hadn’t done it for praise or fame. He’d done it out of compassion. And besides, we don’t get excited by the everyday miracles of life. On the first day manna appeared in the time of Moses, people saw it as a miracle. After thirty years of eating it every day, it was no more miraculous than a sunrise—which tells us something about our perception of sunrises. Jesus hoped that we would realize that as unusual as a dead girl coming back to life was, it was really no more special or difficult than the daily miracles of God that we take for granted.

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Diseased

While He was in one of the towns, a man was there who had a serious skin disease all over him. He saw Jesus, fell facedown, and begged Him: “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Reaching out His hand, He touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean,” and immediately the disease left him. Then He ordered him to tell no one: “But go and show yourself to the priest, and offer what Moses prescribed for your cleansing as a testimony to them.”

But the news about Him spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed. On one of those days while He was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea, and also from Jerusalem. (Luke 5:12-17)

Sometimes we say “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot pole,” but Jesus never let poles come between him and the people who needed him. In India, those of the lowest class were called the “untouchables.” The upper classes would have nothing to do with them. In ancient Israel, lepers were the “untouchables.” People avoided them out of fear of becoming a leper themselves. To be a leper meant losing your friends, your family, and everything that mattered to you. You were, for all practical purposes, dead.

But when an unnamed leper begged Jesus for healing, Jesus wasn’t afraid. Jesus touched him. And he touched him while he was still a leper. He reached out to a man that no one would reach out to. He reached out to him where he was, as he was. And then, after he reached out to him, he healed him of his affliction.

As was so common, Jesus told the man to tell no one what had happened, but to simply follow the law of Moses which prescribed how a leper, who had been healed, could have that healing certified by the religious leaders. Once his healing was certified, he could rejoin the society from which he’d been excluded. He could have his life back.

Jesus is not afraid to touch us, no matter who we are or how worthy we may think we are of being forever excluded. Jesus was willing to touch the untouchable. No matter how big a mess we think we’ve made of our lives, Jesus is always ready to reach out to help us clean it up.

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Forgiveness

When evening came, they would go out of the city. As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.”

And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:19-26)

God always gets his way, so if you want guaranteed success, then simply do what God wants. After the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples left and went to the nearby village of Bethany. As they approached, Jesus saw a fig tree and thought to get some figs from it. There were none. So Jesus cursed the tree to permanent fruitlessness.

The next day, the disciples discovered that the tree had died. Jesus took the opportunity to teach them something about faith, which of course had been his reason for cursing the tree. Jesus never did anything by accident.

During his lesson on faith, Jesus suggests that God will give us anything we want if we only have enough faith. Does Jesus therefore mean that the only thing standing between us and a new sports car is our doubt? Not exactly.

What could banish our doubts that a particular mountain would fly into the sea? If God came and told us to ask for it. And there is a mountain that Jesus asked us to cast into the sea. Jesus told us to forgive other people. We can pray for the promise he has given us. Praying for forgiveness is bigger than tossing a real mountain into the sea. The prophet Micah wrote, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19) That’s the mountain Jesus was talking about.

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Belief

He answered and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth.

So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”

And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”

So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:19-29)

Belief can grow from unbelief. The boy’s father, the disciples, the people witnessing his convulsions all had a problem: they suffered from unbelief. Jesus saw the problem for what it was and marveled at it. Had they forgotten who their God was? Was their rescue from Egypt and the words of their prophets that far in the past?

Demon possession appears only in the Gospels and Acts. No stories of demons inhabiting people appear in the Old Testament or elsewhere in the New. The symptoms of demon possession vary widely, ranging from intensified strength, to deafness, to fortune telling. Here, the demon has taken the child’s speech and seems intent on causing him physical harm.

Facing his child’s suffering, the father of the boy was desperate enough to admit to Jesus what Jesus already knew: that he didn’t believe. And rather than continuing to pretend, the father finally asked Jesus for help. He believed that Jesus could help him believe. Even Jesus’ disciples lacked faith. But unlike the disciples, the father asked Jesus to help him overcome his unbelief—thereby acknowledging that he believed Jesus could cure even a lack of faith. Perhaps granting the father faith was the greatest miracle that occurred in this story.

Certainly Jesus healed the boy and removed the demon plaguing him. But more importantly, God restored faith to a father who had lost it but wanted it back desperately.

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Shaking Off the Dust

Jesus taught in all the neighboring villages. Then he called together his twelve apostles and sent them out two by two with power over evil spirits. He told them, “You may take along a walking stick. But don’t carry food or a traveling bag or any money. It’s all right to wear sandals, but don’t take along a change of clothes. When you are welcomed into a home, stay there until you leave that town. If any place won’t welcome you or listen to your message, leave and shake the dust from your feet as a warning to them.”

The apostles left and started telling everyone to turn to God. They forced out many demons and healed a lot of sick people by putting olive oil on them.

Jesus became so well-known that Herod the ruler heard about him. Some people thought he was John the Baptist, who had come back to life with the power to work miracles. Others thought he was Elijah or some other prophet who had lived long ago. But when Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “This must be John! I had his head cut off, and now he has come back to life.” (Mark 6:6-16)

We can have anything we want, when what we want is God’s will. Jesus spent most of his time preaching and teaching in the region around the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel. He sent his apostles out to increase the impact of his teaching. An apostle—or ambassador—does not speak for himself. The ambassador of a nation, for instance, is a stand-in for the government who sent him. He has the same authority as the government. Thus, Jesus’ twelve apostles had the same power over disease and over the evil spirits that Jesus himself did. When they spoke, they were speaking “in Jesus name,” not by invoking the phrase as if it were an incantation, but simply as an ambassador does by nature of being an ambassador. When Jesus’ ambassadors shook the dust from their feet, it was not a judgment, but rather a warning of possible judgment to come, if no repentance was forthcoming.

Just as an ambassador is not about his will, so we are not about our will, but the will of Jesus who has called us by his name. When we act as his ambassadors, we have the same authority, the same power, as Jesus himself—because we are concerned with his will rather than our own and can say “not my will, but your will be done.”

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Desperate

A woman who had suffered a condition of hemorrhaging for twelve years—a long succession of physicians had treated her, and treated her badly, taking all her money and leaving her worse off than before—had heard about Jesus. She slipped in from behind and touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, “If I can put a finger on his robe, I can get well.” The moment she did it, the flow of blood dried up. She could feel the change and knew her plague was over and done with.

At the same moment, Jesus felt energy discharging from him. He turned around to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”

His disciples said, “What are you talking about? With this crowd pushing and jostling you, you’re asking, ‘Who touched me?’ Dozens have touched you!”

But he went on asking, looking around to see who had done it. The woman, knowing what had happened, knowing she was the one, stepped up in fear and trembling, knelt before him, and gave him the whole story.

Jesus said to her, “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.” (Mark 5:25-34)

Jesus doesn’t care about the proper paperwork. It’s not like trying to get the right forms or find the right lines at some government office. Jesus will let you come however you want. All that matters is that you come.

When the hemorrhaging woman heard about Jesus, she decided that he would be able to help her. What was the basis for her belief that touching the fabric of his robe would fix her problem? Had she heard of any similar healings? Were there stories in the Bible about such things? No, but she knew he had the power to heal.

However, according to ceremonial law, if he touched her or anything that belonged to her, she knew that he would be ceremonially unclean until sunset. And he might not want to become defiled like that. But if she merely touched the hem of his garment, then he could be spared such ceremonial defilement.

In fact, she believed that in the press of the crowd, he would never even have to know anything had happened. But when Jesus stopped and made a search for who had touched her, she feared the worst, even though she had been healed. But Jesus didn’t want to publically humiliate her. Instead, he wanted to publically let everyone know about her faith.

Jesus cherishes human faith.

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No Rest

As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed kept begging Him to be with Him. But He would not let him; instead, He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you.” So he went out and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed.

When Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him while He was by the sea. One of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at His feet and kept begging Him, “My little daughter is at death’s door. Come and lay Your hands on her so she can get well and live.”

So Jesus went with him, and a large crowd was following and pressing against Him. (Mark 5:18-24)

Not everyone gets to sit on the front row. Jesus had many followers besides the twelve apostles. There were both men and women following him all over the countryside. Crowds gathered everywhere he went. There were the seventy that Jesus sent out to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom. After his resurrection, a hundred twenty gathered at the time of Pentecost. There was more than one person who could take the place of Judas, people who had been with Jesus from the time of John’s baptism until his resurrection.

But when Jesus healed a man filled with demons who called themselves “Legion,” Jesus refused to let him come with him, no matter how hard he pleaded. How come? Was Jesus’ boat overloaded? Not at all. Jesus had a job that only he could do. Jesus told him to return home and tell the people he knew all about what Jesus had done for him. Like the seventy, Jesus was sending this man off to proclaim the news of the kingdom.

Jesus has many jobs for his people. Some will go to foreign lands as missionaries. Some will become pastors in small churches. Some will be husbands, some will be wives, some will work in factories, some will be fire fighters, doctors, nurses, clerks, bankers, or soldiers. God has a role for you in this life that only you can do. And when people hear what Jesus has done for you, they will be amazed.

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The Ghost

Immediately after, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.

Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”

Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

“Yes, come,” Jesus said.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed. (Matthew 14:22-33)

Jesus won’t necessarily try to fix all the wrong notions that are in our heads. He picks his battles. After a long day of preaching, after feeding the five thousand, Jesus sent his disciples across the Sea of Galilee for some rest and relaxation while he went off to pray for awhile. The wind was against them, and they made very slow progress in their trip to the far side of the lake. Late at night, tired and exhausted, they thought they saw a ghost.

Thanks to the influence of Greek culture, by Jesus’ time belief in ghosts was widespread among the Jewish people. But Jesus did not launch into a theological or philosophical treatise against the notion of ghosts. He merely reassured them that he wasn’t one. Jesus’ concern at that moment was not their false belief in ghosts, which was merely a symptom of something far more damaging: their fear that they were all alone against the world.

Today, we may believe many silly things. But just as he did with his disciples, Jesus doesn’t berate us for those silly beliefs. Instead, he simply tells us not to be afraid. Why? “Take courage. I am here.”

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