Day 65: The Final Discipleship Lesson

Numbers 34-36; Mark 10:32-52

Key Verses

Mark 10:42-45
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. He was resolute in his mission. You can almost see the crowds pulsing behind him – amazed and afraid. If anything was going to happen, it would happen in Jerusalem. If he was going to become King, it would happen in Jerusalem. Yes. He would be King.

Jesus took the twelve aside and tried this third and final time to explain that he would not be crowned King in Jerusalem, but rather he would die. He tried to paint a vivid picture of his suffering…  using words like “mock,” “spit,” “flog” and “kill.” But they remained spiritually blind.

James and John revealed their misunderstanding by choosing this moment to ask to sit at his right and left hand in “his glory.” The other disciples were “indignant.” They were filled with ambition and jealousy… The Spirit had not yet come. Their eyes remained closed.

But Jesus knew his time was short. He trusted that the Spirit would bring understanding…later. He endured their misunderstanding and pressed on with his teaching – the all-important teaching:

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).

He would become King – but not with the usual fanfare – only by enduring great suffering. His life was and is our ransom.

The disciples would not remain blind; the change would come. But only after his death and resurrection. Then the Spirit would come and they would understand the call to suffer, the call to sacrifice. Their eyes would be opened. Understanding would come. The Spirit would not fail.

Just like the disciples, we require the Spirit to understand and obey this hard teaching. Sacrifice does not come naturally, rather it is a slow, painful work of the Spirit that brings great reward. Ask the Spirit for understanding and the power to obey. The Spirit will not fail!

Day 64: A Picture Lesson in Discipleship

Numbers 32-33; Mark 10:1-31

Key Verses

Mark 10:29-31
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Have you noticed that Jesus’ discipleship lessons center around one topic… Sacrifice.  Today’s reading illustrates the importance of sacrifice in the story of the rich young ruler. I’m borrowing today’s post from my personal blog (which details my journey as a mom to a disabled child). I hope you enjoy it :)

An Unfair Exchange May 18, 2012

Remember the rich, young ruler? He wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus asks him to sacrifice the one thing he loves most – his possessions. The man can’t and leaves broken-hearted. His disciples are incredulous. “Who can be saved?” they ask. Jesus gives the good news. “With man this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).

I cannot muster the ability to sacrifice from within myself.

I have dreams you know… And they aren’t selfish desires. They are good desires, but for now, I can’t pursue them because of the time it requires to care for my disabled daughter. I have it easy actually. God has given me a clear choice.

  1. Pursue your own desires and let someone else care for my daughter. OR
  2. Sacrifice and care for her myself.

Like I’m going to choose not to care for my own daughter.

But here’s where the mystery is revealed. Here is the paradox that I could have never uncovered on my own. You know what you find when you sacrifice your own desires and wants and dreams? And I don’t mean the “sacrifices” that make us feel better about ourselves. No, I mean the gut-wrenching, I HATE THIS kind of sacrifice. Because that’s how I feel most of the time. I HATE THIS.

You know what I’ve found. Do you know what’s at the bottom of the deep well of sacrifice? What’s waiting when you really let Jesus be the King and surrender to that horrible thing he’s asked you to do – the thing you could never do by yourself? Do you know what’s waiting for you? Satisfaction.

As gut-wrenching as the sacrifice is, the satisfaction on the other side is… well, it’s other-worldly. Jesus doesn’t ask us to sacrifice because He wants to make our lives miserable. He does it because He knows that it is the only way to find true, soul-filling satisfaction in this world. He asks us to sacrifice because He loves us.

And Jesus, looking at [the rich young ruler], loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

The rich, young ruler couldn’t. And neither can I. Yet, somehow in the letting go and asking for help, Jesus does the impossible and sacrifices through me – and I get to experience that joy that surpasses all understanding. It’s not fair actually. I definitely don’t deserve it. But I’ll take it :)

Day 63: The 2nd discipleship lesson

Numbers 30-31; Mark 9

Key Verses

Mark 9:35-37
And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Mark 9 is very similar to Matthew 17… They both begin with an account of the Transfiguration, and then as Jesus comes down the mountain he is confronted with the boy with an unclean spirit.

Jesus then predicts his death for the 2nd time. And he follows it with his 2nd lesson on discipleship found in today’s Key Verse.

The disciples were seeking glory and power. They were arguing over who would be the greatest in the new Kingdom… except that they thought that the new kingdom included Jesus overthrowing the government and becoming King over a new, powerful Israel.

But instead, Jesus suffered and died – and ushered in a Kingdom whose currency was humility and servanthood.

I know a lady. She would never be considered young. She has two daughters in college. She supports her family by working in my daughter’s school as a teacher’s aid. She also volunteers at her church to work with special needs kids. This woman takes care of my disabled daughter at school. Her job is to help her… with everything. She helps her write. She makes sure she eats her school lunch. She wheels her through the school halls. She hugs her and teaches her to read.

This woman is more valuable in God’s Kingdom than ten presidents. Our world doesn’t place much value on weakness… But Jesus does. Jesus essentially says, if you want to be great in my Kingdom… take on lowly tasks that don’t get much fanfare – like caring for people with little status in this world… care for the homeless, the incarcerated, the elderly, the widow, the single mother, the victim of sex trafficking – or the disabled child.

Jesus doesn’t want your status. He doesn’t care about your title. He wants humility. He wants your sacrificial service.

Day 62: The 1st Discipleship Lesson

Numbers 28-29; Mark 8:31-38

Key Verses

Mark 8:34-36
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Many scholars teach that Mark’s gospel can be split into two sections… The first 7 chapters show Jesus in action… healing, teaching, traveling and performing miracles. We are now entering the 2nd half of Mark’s gospel where Jesus narrows his focus to the training of his disciples.

We see Jesus begin this hard work in his disciples, and just like us, they are blind, hard-hearted and not easily changed. As I mentioned yesterday, today’s passage begins a section in Mark that contains a pattern. We see Jesus predict his death three times. Each time, the disciples refuse to believe, and Jesus responds with a discipleship lesson. This section in Mark is book-ended by two episodes of Jesus healing a blind man… highlighting the disciples’ spiritual blindness.

Let’s look at Jesus’ lesson in Mark 8 found in today’s Key Verses: Mark 8:34-36

Denying oneself, dying to oneself and following Jesus is the essence of discipleship. He demands our all – our very lives. This isn’t just a one-time surrender. Rather it is a daily battle with the self. Will you follow your self’s desires or Jesus’? Will you walk in the way of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction or will you give up your rights and freedoms to walk in the way of the Savior?

This battle is impossible to win alone. We need the power of the Spirit to do something as gut-wrenchingly hard as sacrificial obedience. This journey into sacrifice is paradoxically beautiful…

At the bottom of the deep well of obedience is inexpressible, unquenchable – JOY. A joy that is other-worldly and powerful. It wraps you up in its warmth and lifts you effortlessly. It sustains you and fills you in a way that following your own will can not. But it takes work to find it…hard, painful sacrificial work. “Is it worth it?” you might ask… Oh, yes. It’s worth it.

Day 61: Setting the Stage

Numbers 25-27; Mark 8:22-30

Key Verses

Numbers 27:15-17
Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.”

Mark 8:29
And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”

The people are at Shittim – the last stop before they cross the Jordan into Jericho. Except for a major hiccup in Chapter 25 where Israel was “whoring with the daughters of Moab,” the rest of the book of Numbers outlines how God prepares the people to enter the land…

  • First, another census was taken to count how many men could go to war… but also to determine the size of the land inheritance. The larger the tribe, the larger the land allotment (Num. 26).
  • Second, Moses asked for a successor to lead the people, since he was not allowed to cross the Jordan into Canaan. Joshua was named Moses’ successor (Num. 27).
  • And finally, in the remainder of the book of Numbers, Moses summarized the law (Num. 28-30), defined the borders of Canaan (Num. 34) and introduced cities of refuge (Num. 35).

For the next few days, I want to turn our focus to Mark, mainly because the upcoming chapters in Mark are my absolute favorite :)

This section of Mark (8:22 – end of chapter 10) begin and end with Jesus healing a blind man. This is significant! Because within these few chapters, we see a pattern emerge that vividly illustrates the disciples’ blindness.

This pattern begins in the last verses of Chapter 8.

  • First, Jesus predicts his death (vs 31-32).
  • Secondly, the disciples show (in some way) that they do not accept or believe that Jesus will die (vs. 32-33), and
  • Third, Jesus gives a profound lesson in discipleship (vs. 34-38).

We see this same sequence of events occur three times (in different contexts) over the next 2 1/2 chapters. Repetition in Scripture is usually a sign of importance so we will concentrate on Jesus’ messages of discipleship over the next few days.

I apologize for today’s textbook-ish post, but we’ll dig deeper into this section of Mark tomorrow! Happy reading :)

Day 60: The Man Who Tried to Outwit God

Numbers 22-24; Mark 8:1-21

Key Verses

Numbers 23:19
God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

Mark 8:17-18
And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “[…] Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”

The King of Moab was scared. He watched as his neighbors were destroyed by those people – the Israelites. He knew he couldn’t defeat them in battle because He had heard of the power of their God. Instead of doing physical battle, he chose to do spiritual battle… He called upon the great pagan seer, Balaam. Surely, the seer could curse those people, and he, Balak, King of Moab, would stand victorious….

Ha! This king actually thought he could outwit the living God as he tried to manipulate the circumstances to his favor. The story that follows in Numbers 22-24 mirrors the absurdity of the Moabite king!

What do we learn from reading about God opening the eyes of the donkey and closing the eyes of the seer? Or opening the mouth of the donkey and watching the seer grovel on the ground? What do you think about God using the pagan seer, Balaam, to speak truth and blessings upon Israel?

Now contrast Balaam’s spiritual insight to the disciples in Mark 8. Their eyes had not yet been opened! They failed to see the spiritual truth in Jesus’ words about the leaven. How do we make sense of all this?

I’ll tell you what I learn… God can and will do whatever he wants whenever he wants. God also has ultimate control over spiritual understanding. He opens eyes to see and ears to hear. He does this in His own time and in His own way to accomplish His own purposes.

I’ll be frank… I’m sympathetic to the Moabite king… because just like Balak, I don’t like my circumstances! My days are spent caring for my brain-injured daughter. This is not the life I signed up for – but what can I do about it? Can I outwit the living God? No. The only thing I can do is throw myself at his feet and beg for mercy. I ask him to open my eyes to see his purposes. I ask him to give me ears to hear his Word. I ask for spiritual understanding and grace to serve my daughter with patience and compassion. I am at his mercy. And thankfully, He is a merciful God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones (Proverbs 3:5-8).

Day 59: On the move

Numbers 20-21; Mark 7:24-37

Key Verses

Numbers 20:24
“Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah.”

Mark 7:37
And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Three days ago we read at the end of Numbers 14… that because of unbelief, the people would have to wait 40 years to enter the land. Numbers 15 begins with, “When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you…” In other words, God was gracious and reaffirmed that despite the 40-year delay, He would, in fact, give the people the land.

The next 5 chapters (15-19) described how the Israelites should observe the law – in the land. Their life in the promised land would be different from life in the wilderness – the changes in the law reflected this change.

Today, we come to Numbers 20, and the 40 years are almost complete. The people gather together in the wilderness of Zin – which is just south of Canaan and happens to be the same area the spies first crossed on their way into Canaan years earlier. But that generation has passed away and we see that their children – though still rebellious, are not quite as bad as their fathers… Rather, the focus switches to Moses’ and Aaron’s rebellion. The consequences for their disobedience are severe, as Aaron dies and Moses is prohibited from entering the land.

We also read of the Israelites marching northward through the Transjordan (the land East of the Jordan River) and we see God’s favor return to His people as they defeat the kings of the Transjordan.

It’s an exciting time :) We are on the verge of seeing God fulfill a promise He first made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier!

But ultimately, all of God’s promises are fulfilled in the person of Jesus – who we find traveling to Jews in the outer most regions of Tyre, Sidon and the Decapolis in today’s reading from Mark. This may sound trite, but I love Jesus. I love watching his movements and actions. I LOVE reading about his healings. I can almost imagine myself being pressed on all sides by the crowds – hoping to catch just the glance of his eye…  When I read Mark’s gospel, I feel like I’m watching personified compassion on the move :)

Until tomorrow… when the plot thickens ;)

Day 58: The Real Life

Numbers 18-19; Mark 7:1-23

Key Verses

Numbers 19:20
“If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean.”

Mark 7:14-15
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

These two passages seem to be in stark contrast to one another. Numbers restates and adds to the cleanliness laws – while in Mark, Jesus chides the Pharisees for their hypocritical observance of the cleanliness laws. Who was right? Well, both of them were…

Remember… God was establishing a people with a law that was a physical representation of His future spiritual kingdom. Cleanliness was a HUGE deal to God. The people were taught through the word pictures presented in the law that uncleanliness was connected with death – whereas cleanliness was associated with life. This is why a person was deemed “unclean” when touching any animal or person that was dead.

Jesus teaches that it is not the physical things that make a person unclean – but rather it is the sinful actions of the heart that defile a person. Our hearts are unclean… which means they are associated with death – spiritual death.

How do we reverse the spiritual death in our hearts? Our hearts must be made clean! …But how? We know that the blood of animals is insufficient to cleanse the heart! But listen to the writer of Hebrews…

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14)

Jesus’ once-and-for-all-sacrifice makes life possible – not just the physical representation of life – No! His sacrifice opens the way for us to have true, spiritual life. The real life – the forever kind of life! I don’t know about you, but I want some of that life!! I find it in Jesus…

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Day 57: The Judge & The Healer

Numbers 15-17; Mark 6:30-56

Key Verses

Numbers 15:37-41
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”

The people needed a reminder… a daily, visual cue – to obey the Lord. Their hearts were prone to wander – to lust after lesser gods. We see it in Numbers 16-17 – how the people didn’t trust Moses, how the people rose up against the priesthood – how they wanted to be their own god.

God didn’t care much for the rebels. They died in a public display of power as the earth swallowed them whole. They obviously didn’t remember to regard their tassels that day! ;)

The tradition of wearing tassels continued into Jesus’ day. We read in Mark 6…

And 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 (Mark 6:56).

The Greek word for fringe is the equivalent of the Hebrew word for tassel. Jesus wears the tassels – but instead of being a reminder to obey, they were a source of healing.

God is both the Holy Judge and the Tender Healer. So, Come… Bow to touch the fringe of his garment and rest in the arms of your Savior.

Day 56: The Tragedy of Unbelief

Numbers 13-14; Mark 6:1-29

Key Verses

Numbers 14:11
And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?

Mark 6:5-6
And [Jesus] could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

God does not work in the midst of unbelief…

In today’s passage in Numbers, we read of the gross unbelief of the Israelites. Except for Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb… the rest of the people refused to trust in God’s promises, and therefore they disobeyed God’s good word. The consequences were severe… no one would enter the land – except Joshua and Caleb and the children. God promised that in a span of 40 years, everyone in the current generation would die.

The people, hearing the harsh judgment, immediately backtracked and made a half-hearted attempt to take the land. But God was not with them, and they were brutally defeated.

This is a hard lesson. God does not work in the midst of unbelief. If we are actively disobeying Him, can we expect Him to work in our lives?? Even Jesus, in the midst of his hometown rejection, could not perform the usual mighty display of miracles. His power was limited in the face of rejection.

Ultimately, God’s promises are always fulfilled. The people of the next generation inherited the land. But those who disobeyed missed the blessing! God will accomplish his good plans for the world – with or without us…

God, please help me to obey. Help me to trust in your good word, and give me the faith to choose your ways over my own desires and plans. Please God, don’t let me miss the blessing! Oh God… “I believe; help my unbelief!”