Monday, March 25, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 14–15; Mark 6–7; John 5–6

Come Follow Me - Matthew 14–15; Mark 6–7; John 5–6

Image result for come unto christ

I've discussed some of the events previously on my blog, here:
and here:

For this lesson, I wish to focus on a couple other events.

Feeding the 5000

People were flocking to Jesus, causing him to have to teach in the wilderness, where there was space and less pressure from the Pharisees and Sadducees in the cities. Thousands flocked to him to be healed. Later, he fed them from a few fish and loaves of bread. Jesus showed that he was able to provide for the needs of the people. He could feed them, even as God fed the people of Moses with manna. He could heal them, even as some of the greatest prophets, like Elijah, had done. This is the beginning of Christ showing forth his grace, by showing he is able to provide the necessary things to his people. 

Jesus Walks on Water and Grace

Jesus sent his disciples off by boat to other other shore of the Sea of Galilee. Only later, would he go to join them. When Jesus walked on water during a tempest, he displayed several important aspects of his power. First, he has power over the elements. The boats were stalled due to the storm, but were quickly able to make it to shore once he climbed aboard.

John adds an event that the synoptic gospels do not contain. In this story, Peter asks Jesus to let him climb out and walk with him on the water. Jesus permits it, and Peter is able to miraculously walk on the water towards Jesus. However, as Peter loses his focus, and sees the tempest brewing around him, his faith waivers and he begins to sink. "Master, save me!" is his plea. Jesus mildly chides him for losing his faith, but reaches down and lifts him up, taking him back to the boat.

In this event, we find one of the best descriptions of the Grace of Jesus Christ, how it applies in our lives, and our role in receiving the grace. Jesus calls out to us to "Come unto me." In doing so, he provides the power for us to do so. We have only a couple things to do: have sufficient faith and step out from the safety of the boat.

Jesus can heal and provide bread and water. He can cause us to walk on water and provide true safety. But we first must have the faith to come to him and move in his direction. No works of our own can save us. Even though it feels safe, the boat can sink in the storms. In this case, the disciples were unable to make it to shore because of head winds causing a strong current against the boat. Without Christ, all their efforts to make it to shore were in vain. So it is with us. Our efforts, without Christ's grace, are in vain.

As with Peter, only when we focus our minds and hearts fully on Christ, can his grace be activated in our lives. We must be moving toward Jesus. Just standing still and seeing the fearful waves of life crashing around us will not bring forth his power in our lives. In our daily lives, we must increase our faith, repent, and walk towards Jesus steadily. In doing so,, his grace is sufficient. 2 Nephi 25:23, Nephi tells us, "it is by grace we are saved after all we can do." The question then is, what is "all we can do?"  In this case, the story of Jesus walking on water illustrates the answer: we can have faith, we can repent, and we can come unto Christ.

We cannot walk on water, get our own boat to the safety of the shore, or even move forward against the storm. The power to overcome the tempests of life, to save and rescue, to give power to walk above the storms, and to bring us safely to shore, all come through the Grace of Christ.

Rejecting Christ

Those whom Jesus had fed, crossed the sea and flocked to see him. Did they seek to adore him? No. They only wanted free food. When Jesus told them about the Bread of Life, they asked for fish and bread. When he told them to believe him as Messiah, they asked for signs. Yet, they had seen healings and the miracle of the bread and fishes just the day before. When he told them that God provided manna through Moses as a temporal blessing, but he offered eternal life, they weren't interested. They did not understand his parable of partaking of his flesh and blood, thinking he was asking them to be cannibals. They left him, because he would no longer satisfy their fleshly desires.

So it is today. Many people stay with Jesus while the blessings are coming. However, when Jesus calls us to come unto Him on His terms, we often begrudge him and turn away. In doing so, we may be able to temporarily satisfy our own flesh, but the spirit dies from hunger. Only in coming to Christ and continuing in Christ, can we receive his Grace.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 13; Luke 8; 13

Come Follow Me - Matthew 13; Luke 8; 13

My previous blogging on this lesson is here:


In this lesson, Jesus gives many of his parables. The word "parable" comes from the Greek, "parabole" which means a comparison of parallel things. In this context, Jesus' parables take every day events and compares them with the Kingdom of Heaven - the promise that heaven would come to earth for the Millennium. Unlike fables, which often give animals human characteristics and include magic, parables are ordinary and mundane normal events that have a spiritual meaning. The Hebrew form of the word, "mashal"also suggests something hidden, as in a riddle.

Here we have several parables, some long, others short. Each with a particular lesson. The parables were designed to have a hidden spiritual meaning, which only the true followers would understand. For the Pharisees, the parable of the sower would only seem like a story of someone planting a garden. For the believer, it would have far more important connotations, telling them what kind of people accept the gospel and retain that faith in their hearts.

In the same sense that these parables were hidden to the nonbelievers, so it was with the kingdom Jesus was building. The kingdom was hidden, initially being found only in the person of Christ. Only later would it expand to engulf much of the world through Christianity. In this instance, as with the good seed of the sower, some Christian faith would yield 30, some 60 and some a fullness (hundredfold - the full Restoration of the Gospel).

Framing the Parables
In chapter 12 of Matthew, Jesus encountered opposition by the Pharisees. They insisted he was healing by the power of Beelzebub (Lord of the Flies). Jesus countered that a house divided cannot stand, and so Satan could not heal and remain Satan. They then asked to see a sign, of which he only gave them the sign of Jonah (3 days in the fish/ground), calling them vipers, snakes that lie in wait to strike and poison.

It is in this context that Jesus begins speaking in parables. Even though the Pharisees had seen miracles, they still demanded a sign. When he did show miracles, they insisted it was from Satan. While miracles are sacred, Jesus' teachings were even more sacred. He was not about to throw his pearls before the swine. Instead, he taught openly through hidden means, parables. In this way, true disciples would understand through the Holy Ghost, while unbelievers would remain clueless.

Finishing his parables, Jesus is rejected by those he was teaching. They were amazed at his authoritative teachings and miracles, but in a bad way, "And they were offended in him" (Matthew 13:57).

Even speaking in hidden forms, the people were offended and rejected Christ. Mormon had similar results from the Nephites, in writing to his son Moroni, he noted:

"Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them." (Moroni 9:4)
 Now, think of those who proclaim to follow the Savior today, but who reject the teachings of living prophets. Even among the membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are many who reject the apostolic warnings against modern sins and worldliness. When the prophets speak in parables, or quietly and kindly, they are ignored. When they speak with strong words, they are condemned for being the white male patriarchy.

Christ explained the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth in parables. For us, with all the commentaries and books on the New Testament, we are able to see many hidden teachings without pondering on the things of the Spirit. Yet, that knowledge doesn't help us anymore than the Pharisees and people seeing the miracles Jesus performed, and then rejecting him.

As in the parables, we must seek Him diligently as did the widow seek her coin, the man sought to obtain the pearl of great price, or in leavening our own spiritual bread. As the seed in the story of the sower, we can let it land in a good heart, or allow our hearts to be hardened as rock.

Previous blog post on this lesson:

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 10-12; Mark 2; Luke 7; 11

Come Follow Me - Matthew 10-12; Mark 2; Luke 7; 11

The Twelve are Ordained
In discussing Matthew 10, 19th century Bible scholar Matthew Henry noted:

This chapter is an ordination sermon, which our Lord Jesus preached, when he advanced his twelve disciples to the degree and dignity of apostles. In the close of the foregoing chapter, he had stirred up them and others to pray that God would send forth labourers, and here we have an immediate answer to that prayer: while they are yet speaking he hears and performs. What we pray for, according to Christ’s direction, shall be given,

 In chapter 9, Jesus implored them to pray for laborers/missionaries to share the gospel. Immediately, the Lord now is preparing the way by setting apart his 12 apostles. They have been told to follow Jesus, and would be "fishers of men," and now will have the authority to do so. Jesus teaches them their role as apostle: preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and preparing a people for the coming of Christ.

Previously, there was no established process to develop an organization of prophets. The Old Testament mentions a school of prophets, but rarely do we see how a prophet is called, especially to replace the previous one (Moses-Joshua and Elijah-Elisha are the main examples). Usually, we just see that a prophet is called of God, and he proclaims himself as such. Now, Jesus is establishing an organization that will plant the seed for his message to go throughout the world, and not just stay in Israel. Without a quorum of 12 apostles, there would have been no mission to the Gentiles, and the mission of Jesus would soon have failed after his crucifixion, as there would have been no witnesses to tell the tale of Christ's triumphant mission and resurrection.

Is It Easier to Heal or Forgive?

In the story of the palsied man who is let down through the roof to Jesus, we find an interesting teaching moment by Jesus. Instead of just healing the man, he first states that he forgives the palsied man of his sins. When the Pharisees murmur about blasphemy (for who can forgive sins, except God?), Jesus then responds with a question.  Which is easier: forgiving or healing?

Our first thought, and that probably of the Pharisees, was that forgiveness was easier. And in some ways it probably is easier. Forgiveness only requires an emotional effort towards empathy. Healing requires faith and the power of God. However, in today's world, we find that mankind can now do an amazing amount of healing through technology and nutrition. Yet, it becomes harder and harder for us to forgive those around us, those who offend us (intentionally or not). We are eager to condemn others and hold onto grudges for decades, instead of seeking to forgive, as Jesus so freely offers to all of us.

Would it be more important to us to be healed of a long term illness, or to receive forgiveness of God and those around us? Yet, we will jump at medical miracles to heal us of aches, pains, and rejuvenate our skin through plastic surgery. Meanwhile, we move much slower in forgiving others, even though Jesus proclaimed in teaching the Lord's prayer that we must forgive others, so that God will forgive us our trespasses.

Healing is a miracle. Forgiveness from God is an even greater miracle.

The Disciples of John the Baptist

John is imprisoned. His disciples understand that he may not have long to live. John sends them to Jesus with a question to ask, not for himself, but for his disciples to hear: Art thou the Messiah?  They needed to be weaned off John and onto Jesus, who was the Promised Savior. They did not need to look any further for a Messiah. Jesus' answer was clear, he was doing the works that were foretold the Messiah would do: healing the sick and afflicted, and proclaiming the gospel.

Humans tend to connect to their leaders, seeing them as saviors. This can include modern politicians, philosophers, singers, actors, and even modern day prophets. Listening to and considering what they have to offer is a good thing. But when it comes to true discipleship, we must ensure we are not following John the Baptist, while Jesus is available. We do not want to love a dead prophet so much, that when the Lord speaks something new through his living prophet, we stick with the old discipleship of dead prophet worship. Whether John the Baptist lived or died, discipleship to his being a prophet should have been overshadowed by discipleship to the Messiah.  John understood this, which is why he frequently sent his disciples to join Jesus.  Because of John's devotion to leading people to Christ, Jesus could not say enough good things about him. He was definitely among the greatest of prophets, who allowed himself to diminish so that Christ's role as Messiah could increase in the faith and lives of all Israel.


Matthew Henry:

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Come Follow Me - Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Image result for jesus healing lds

Matthew and the Miracles
Many scholars believe that most of the events in Matthew 8-9 probably occurred prior to the Sermon on the Mount. However, Matthew combined them. As the 3 chapters on the Sermon on the Mount focus on the spiritual teachings of Jesus, these two chapters focus on the miracles Jesus performed.

Each of these miracles suggest a particular power that Jesus possesses. The first miracle, likely occurring immediately after the Sermon, was the healing of the leper.

This healing is very important, because leprosy was viewed differently than any other disease. Under the Law of Moses, leprosy was an uncleanness that reached to the very soul of the person. A leper could not dwell in Jerusalem, attend the temple, and clean people quickly learned to avoid them to avoid being contaminated themselves. In healing the leper, Jesus showed that he had power over clean/unclean, righteousness/sin.

While Matthew has Jesus asking for discretion on not broadcasting around his miracles, Mark seems to encourage it, as when he tells a young man he cures to return to his family and tell them of the miracle.

The Centurion
Jesus not only heals the unclean, but also gives time and consideration to the Gentiles in the area. A Centurion was a Roman military man in charge of 100 soldiers. While it is possible this was a centurion under Herod Antipas (and thus, a Jew), it is more likely to have been a Roman centurion. He notes that he is not worthy of having Jesus enter his house, as he is forced by Caesar's decrees to worship Caesar and other deities, as well as perform some terrible military actions. In this healing, Jesus shows that he is not only the Messiah of the Jews, but of all the Roman world. He is to be worshiped and believed in, even though the world forces down terrible paths. Even when we deem ourselves unworthy, Jesus is there to heal us when we call upon him.

Jairus' Daughter and the Woman with the blood issue
In this dual story, we find Jesus healing a rich and powerful man's daughter, and a poor woman considered unclean. This story shows the power of faith, as Jairus' daughter dies as Jesus is en route to heal her. The faithlessness of those mourning her death and mocking Jesus was palpable. But so was the faith of Jairus and his wife. It was a living faith that sent Jairus perhaps several miles to seek a miracle. Jesus raised a girl from the dead, so he had power over life and death. Jewish belief was that the spirit remained with the body for 3 days, and so was recoverable by a miracle as this. Later, Jesus' bringing Lazarus back from the dead on the fourth day, will show he has complete power over death.

For the woman with a blood issue (a menstruation cycle that never stops), the woman was considered unclean. Women were unclean during their menstrual cycle, and had to go through a cleansing period afterward, so they could be considered clean to enter the temple, to touch others, and to be accepted into all of society. For this woman, her issue was as bad as being a leper. She could never become clean. The scripture notes she saw many physicians, to no avail. Given how terrible medicine was practiced back then, it could have been painful, embarrassing, and harmful to go through the prescribed treatments. In this instance, only faith was sufficient to heal her. Unlike the leper, who walked through the crowds up to Jesus, this woman quietly sought a secret healing and then to go on her way. Having felt his power heal her, he stopped, even though the crowds pressed on him and his disciples. Jesus didn't have to stop. He could have continued walking. But the woman needed a moment to be recognized by her Savior, who looked upon her lovingly, saying her faith made her whole.

"Peace, Be Still"

In going by water to cross the Sea of Galilee, Jesus made an interesting choice. He could have easily went around by land. The storm that occurred would seem to have awakened the average person, but Christ continued sleeping on his pillow in the back of the boat, even while the others struggled to keep it afloat. The waters came in and the boat began to founder. Only then did they awaken Jesus, afraid they would perish. In saying, "Master, we perish," were they pleading for him to save them, or were they informing him that all, including Jesus, were about to meet a watery grave?

In commanding the storms to be still, Jesus showed that not only did he have power over disease and do over the elements. Taming the waters of a great sea is reminiscent of Moses controlling the Red Sea. Jesus, then, showed he had the same power and authority that Moses had. He was not just a prophet, but a new Moses. In the Sermon on the Mount, he replaced much of the Mosaic Law with the Christian Law. As with Moses, Jesus performed many miracles. Now he tamed the waters.

"We are Legion"

Arriving on the opposite shore in the land of the Gadarenes, Jesus encounters two men (one man in Mark), who are possessed by several demons. They are powerful, being able to break fetters and chains. Upon seeing Jesus, the demons proclaim who he is, and pray he won't torment them.

I've pondered without success, why demons would go out of their way to approach Jesus and proclaim him as the Son of God? Why didn't they go hide in a cave or elsewhere, until Jesus departed a few days later? What invisible force caused them to come before him?

Interestingly, those who had fought against God in the war in heaven, now came to Jesus for mercy. They did not want to be cast out of the country they were in, but to be cast into some swine instead. What did it do for them to enter the swine, when the swine immediately ran over a cliff into the sea? The swine were probably being raised for the Romans and other Gentiles in the area to eat, as Jews wouldn't have come near them even to care for the pigs. So, the town people likely were not Jews. Seeing a Jew with such power as to heal the possessed, while also destroying two thousand pigs (possibly one of the town's major livelihoods), would have unnerved those not accustomed to such power. Was the slaughter of the pigs partially due to the Jewish cleanliness laws, which taught that swine were unclean?  What does it mean when an unclean demon enters into an unclean swine? What is the symbolism beyond Christ seeking to cleanse the land of all uncleanness?

We do learn one important thought from this story. Jesus does not remain long with those who reject him. As the Gadarenes asked him to leave for killing their swine, so Jesus will not remain long with us when we ask him to depart from us, as well. We can use whatever reason we have to reject the Lord,  and he will not force himself upon us. Whether through sin, or a conscious demand to have him out of our lives, Jesus will not remain where he is not wanted. Still, he is not far off. Christ did not threaten them, brush his feet off as a testimony against them, nor anything else. He simply left at their request.

Yet, we also learn from those he healed, that when they came to him and asked him to bless them, he was ever ready to lift them up. He forgave sins, healed the sick, raised the dead, calmed the storms, but only when the people first sought him and then exercised faith in Christ. As we turn to him in faith and ask him for his blessings, we will not be turned away.