(For previous segments on this series, go to our blog, www.joemckeever.com, and scroll back.)
16) The leper who broke the law when expressing his great faith. Matthew 8:1-3 and Mark 1:40-45.
It’s so easy to run right past great scriptural blessings. Take this tiny incident….
According to Leviticus 13:45, lepers were to withdraw when healthy people drew near. They were to call out “Unclean! Unclean!” lest the person accidentally brush them and become ceremonially tainted, or worse, catch something contagious. But look at this leper. He spots Jesus and runs toward Him. Falling to his knees in front of the Lord, he calls out, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Interesting way of putting it: “I know you are able; what I don’t know is whether you are willing.”
Both Matthew and Mark tell us Jesus reached out and touched the man. Remember, lepers were called “untouchable” for good reason. But Jesus touched him.
Gotta love Jesus. (I do!)
When I reached out to touch the massive Frederic Remington sculpture of the Bucking Bronco inside the front entrance of Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, the guard approached. “Sir, you are allowed two touches. The first gets you a warning, and the second gets you out.” When I apologized, he explained that the human skin carries oil which contains acid. “The acid eats away at the bronze. In time, the sculpture would be ruined.” A few years later, in St Peter’s of Rome, I saw just that. Taking in the towering bronze figure of St. Peter seated on a throne, I noticed that Catholics who have been kissing his big toe over the centuries have literally worn it away! That’s what the touch of man does, even when driven by love and adoration. Man’s touch defiles and subtracts and erodes. Then, there is the touch of the Master’s hand….
The Lord told the man, “I am willing,” and healed him. We serve a willing Lord. “Not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9). “God so loved the world….” (John 3:16). “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
We do not serve a reluctant Savior, friend. He is far more on your side than you have ever been in all your days. He wants more for you than the prosperity-preachers have ever imagined or promised or claimed.
Then, something strange. After touching the man and healing him, our Lord sternly warned the fellow to “keep this to yourself.”
Only Mark tells the rest of the story.
“However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city….” (Which was the point of the Lord’s telling him to keep it quiet in the first place. The crowds got in the way. There would come a time, later, when believers were to tell the whole world. Just not yet.)
Here’s a paradox worth some thought: Jesus told him to keep it to himself and he went out and told everybody. He tells us to share it with the world and we go home and sit down and tell no one. Something is badly amiss.
This is one reason Psalm 1 celebrates meditating upon the “Law of the Lord,” a reference to His word. We make a mistake when we read huge segments at one time without pausing to think about small insights. I’m all in favor of reading the Bible through in a year, but I encourage people to “do that a couple of times, then never do it again. Focus for a year on one or two books of the Bible. It will be life-changing.”
17) Believing in Jesus is not enough by itself; the question is whether He believes in us! (John 2:25)
“Many believed in HIs name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of men, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).
The verbs are the same word: These people believed in Jesus but Jesus did not believe in them.
It’s not enough for me to ask someone, “Do you believe in Jesus?” or “Do you know Jesus?” The operative question should be “Does Jesus believe in you?” and “Does Jesus know you?” At Judgment, Jesus will say to some extremely religious people with excellent records of achievement: “I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23)
I want the Lord to believe in me. I want Him to know me. 2 Timothy 2:19 assures us “the Lord knows those who are His.” I want Him to call me by name (see John 10:3) and to be found trustworthy by Him.
The Lord knows what is in man. He needs no testimonials or letters of reference. Whether that is encouraging or threatening says a lot about us. One thing sure, no one will con Him! He knows people. And yet, listening to us pray and speak of the Lord, you get the impression that we’re trying to pull a fast one over Him, like a guilty fellow in the dock trying to convince the judge that “I meant well.” This is the One Judge who needs no witnesses, accepts no alibis, and requires no letters of reference. We do not want to mess with such a One.
The Lord Jesus Christ knows the human heart. And if that does not humble us, we’re not paying attention.
18) They’re standing right there at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. (John 4)
You and I read a Bible story and try to imagine the setting. Sometimes, the Lord’s discussion with a citizen took place at the very scene of a great event 1500 years earlier. Such was the case here….
Jesus was resting at Jacob’s Well while the disciples went into town to find lunch. The town, Shechem in the Old Testament days, Sychar in New Testament times, is called Nablus now. It was a thrill for my wife and me to stand on that spot during our one visit to the Holy Land. (In fact, on the ground not far from the well, I found a tiny shard of a broken pottery vessel. It rests in my rock cabinet now. I have teased that the woman was so excited when she left the Lord, she dropped her water pitcher and it broke, and I now own part of it.)
Encountering a Samaritan woman who came for water in the hottest part of the day, Jesus began to draw her to the Water of Life, that for which she had been thirsting all her life but without knowing it. She told Him, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain,” pointing to Gerizim, just behind them as they spoke. “And you Jews say Jerusalem is the place.”
Press the ‘pause’ button.
Gerizim. Ebal. Both mountains were right there, just as they are today.
Many centuries earlier, when Joshua led God’s people into the land called Canaan, they paused here at this spot for a massive demonstration. One group of priests stood on Gerizim and read God’s promises of blessings to the faithful. Another group stood at the base of Mount Ebal and read the cursings God promised for the wicked. This is recorded for us in Deuteronomy 27-28.
As a young student, I decided to remember which mountain was which by Gerizim = good and Ebal = evil. Interestingly, today, Gerizim is green and lush while Ebal is mostly barren and rocky. Rather dramatic depictions of blessing and cursing.
Our Lord moved on with the Samaritan woman to explain to her that worship is not a matter of geography but “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Soon, she was to discover that the Stranger at the well was the Savior of the world. And that leads us to the next point….
19) There is a fascinating (and small) aftermath of this story of the Samaritan woman. (John 4:39-42).
Many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”
I find it interesting how the early part of the John 4 story–Jesus’s encounter with the woman of Samaria–sucks all the air out of the story, and so little attention is given to the rest of the saga. It’s a fascinating account.
Here is what I find interesting. The townspeople admitted that “at first we believed because of what you said.” This, we would call second-hand religion. I believe in Jesus because of what my mama said, my preacher preached, or I read in a book.
But it’s not salvation until we meet Him for ourselves. “We ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ.” This is the moment from which it’s the real deal.
Know anyone with a second-hand religion? That’s not all bad. In fact, it’s a necessary step to get to the genuine article. We hear a testimony of one who met Jesus and we believe them enough to be attracted to hear more or inquire more deeply. But what we must not do is to set up shop at the second-hand level. As the old preachers used to say, “God has no grandchildren.” No one gets to Heaven by the faith of a parent.
“We must be born again.”
20) Where Jesus reversed some of His commands. Matthew 10 and Luke 22. (This puts a demand on us to know the Word.)
A famous newspaper columnist was ranting about some preacher who was living more highly upon the swine than he the writer thought wise. So, he quoted the Lord Jesus as having told His followers, “Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey….” (Matthew 10:9).
That settled it for the columnist.
There is a problem however.
Jesus later reversed that. “And He said to them, ‘When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?’ So they said, ‘Nothing.’ Then He said to them, ‘But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it; and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one” (Luke 22:35-36).
Quoting scripture is easy. Anyone can do it, and does it all the time. But getting it right requires us to do more than find a neat quote and insert it. We must know the whole teaching of Scripture in order to understand its context (asking, “Does this say what it appears to say?”) and its full meaning. What else did Jesus have to say on this subject which sheds a light on this truth?
This is why “no scripture is of private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Whatever else that means, it surely means we must not take a verse out of its context and make it say more than it does. And I believe it means we should sit down with the Body of Christ–i.e., other mature believers–and discuss a scripture. It’s amazing how much insight some of God’s people have into the Word and how much even the most unlearned Bible student can teach us preachers if we would sit before them and listen.
God give us hearts to hear what the Spirit says.