Thanking God: Mark 8:1-10

Focus Passage: Mark 8:1-10 (NLT)

About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them, “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples replied, “How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?”

Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”

“Seven loaves,” they replied.

So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd. A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.

They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. There were about 4,000 men in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten. 10 Immediately after this, he got into a boat with his disciples and crossed over to the region of Dalmanutha.

Read Mark 8:1-10 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While reading Mark’s gospel where he describes Jesus feeding the crowd of 4,000, a detail stood out to me that seems obvious, but it was one I had never picked up on prior to this reading. This detail is very easy to miss, because it gets lost in the other details of the verse it is included in.

After receiving the bread from the disciples, Mark tells us, “So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd.” (v. 6)

The phrase that stood out to me as I read this verse was the four-word phrase “thanked God for them”. Jesus thanked God for the seven loaves of bread (and later on, He thanks God and blesses the few fish when they were found).

This detail is significant because Jesus thanked God before any miracle had happened. Jesus thanked God for the tiny, insignificant number of seven loaves of bread before distributing them. Jesus didn’t wait for God to multiply the seven loaves into 700 baskets of bread before giving thanks.

We can learn from this detail that we should be thankful and grateful for the things God has blessed us with, regardless of whether the blessings are large or small, and we should trust that God can multiply these blessings to be as impactful as is needed. Jesus was thankful for just a tiny amount of bread, and God multiplied it into a satisfying meal for over 4,000 people!

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Belief vs. Doubt: Mark 9:14-29

Focus Passage: Mark 9:14-29 (NIV)

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Read Mark 9:14-29 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While Jesus was coming down from the mountain where He revealed a glimpse of His glory to the three closest disciples, we find an event that began the day earlier with the rest of the disciples. During the time Jesus was up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, the remaining disciples were being met by a father who was possessed by an impure spirit.

When Jesus comes down from the mountain, we learn that the disciples who were there were unable to cast this particular spirit out of the boy. It is worth noting here that the disciples had been successful in previous events, and Jesus had sent them out in pairs where they were able to cast out demons.

I’m not sure whether the father was losing hope because of the failure of Jesus’ disciples but when Jesus learns about what has happened in his absence, He replies by saying, “You unbelieving generation. How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” (v. 19)

All three of the gospel writers who include this event include Jesus saying the exact same reactionary response. Each of these gospels record Jesus first commenting on the unbelieving nature of that generation. While we later learn from Mark’s gospel that prayer is a necessary ingredient for removing this sort of impure spirit, when we look at this event in Mark’s gospel through the lens of belief and unbelief, we get a picture of something powerful.

First of all, the disciples had belief that they could cast out this spirit, but I am fairly certain they had been neglecting prayer. Because they only had half of what they needed in this case, they failed. Perhaps Jesus knew this was the reason for the disciples’ failure and that is what prompted His statement.

However, just a few verses later, when asking the father more about the boy’s condition, the father hints at his own growing doubts by saying, “if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (v. 22)

Jesus immediately challenges the doubt in this statement head on, and by doing so, He pushes the boy’s father to share what sort of belief he has. Mark tells us that, “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (v. 24)

This is enough belief for Jesus. Even a simple acknowledging that there is belief present – even if it is mixed with doubt – is enough for Jesus to work with. What matters in this statement is what we are focusing on.

Are we focusing on our doubts, or are we focusing on our faith? We cannot focus on both at the same time! Jesus challenges this father and those present to focus on whatever faith they currently have and then He uses this amount of faith to perform the miracle.

The same truth about faith, doubt, and belief that Jesus draws our attention onto in this passage is true for us today. While culture as a whole is perverse and unbelieving, this is because that is where they have placed their focus. Jesus’ challenge to this father is a challenge to everyone who calls themselves a believer of Jesus: Will we focus on our doubts, or will we focus on our faith? Jesus can only use one of these things for His glory, so we should be intentional about what we are focusing on!

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Dying to Finally Live: John 12:20-36

Focus Passage: John 12:20-36 (NIrV)

20 There were some Greeks among the people who went up to worship during the feast. 21 They came to ask Philip for a favor. Philip was from Bethsaida in Galilee. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew. Then Andrew and Philip told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Son of Man to receive glory. 24 What I’m about to tell you is true. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only one seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it. But anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it and have eternal life. 26 Anyone who serves me must follow me. And where I am, my servant will also be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “My soul is troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, keep me from having to go through with this’? No. This is the very reason I have come to this point in my life. 28 Father, bring glory to your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven. It said, “I have brought glory to my name. I will bring glory to it again.” 29 The crowd there heard the voice. Some said it was thunder. Others said an angel had spoken to Jesus.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now it is time for the world to be judged. Now the prince of this world will be thrown out. 32 And I am going to be lifted up from the earth. When I am, I will bring all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show them how he was going to die.

34 The crowd spoke up. “The Law tells us that the Messiah will remain forever,” they said. “So how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light. Do this before darkness catches up with you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in it. Then you can become children of light.” When Jesus had finished speaking, he left and hid from them.

Read John 12:20-36 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Many times throughout the gospels, Jesus shares something that is simple, profound, and challenging. In this journal entry’s passage, Jesus shares an idea that is all three of these characteristics, and it has layers of meaning hidden within it.

Immediately following the news that some Greeks came to see Him, Jesus shares the following words in verse 24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only one seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” There are multiple ways we can understand this idea, and the context of Jesus’ words allow for multiple meanings.

The first and most basic understanding is the literal one. Only when a grain of wheat has fallen to the ground, and its connection to the stalk has been broken, can it then become a plant of its own, capable of producing many more seeds. As long as the grain stays connected to the original stalk, it remains only as a seed – and its full potential is never realized.

Taking the grain of wheat analogy to the next level of understanding, we can see Jesus foreshadowing His upcoming death, burial, and resurrection/rebirth. Just like a grain of wheat needing to fall to the ground for it to realize its full potential, Jesus can only become the full revelation of God’s amazing love for us by giving up His life for us. The rebirth/resurrection that happened launched the early church movement, powered by the Holy Spirit, and united by the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.

But the hardest analogy for us to handle with the grain of wheat illustration is when we apply it to our own lives. It is only when we give up our life and submit ourselves to God’s will that we will ever be able to realize our full potential. Many people have displayed extraordinary amounts of potential and achieved amazing things in our world today, but if any of them are living outside of God’s plan for their lives, they are stopping short and are only living as one seed when God would have them be seed-makers.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only one seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (Verse 24)

Only after Christ died on the cross were we truly able to see how much God loves us, and only after we die to ourselves and let God resurrect us into the life He created us to live will we be able to walk the plan that leads us into the men and women He created us to be – a life that starts now and leads directly into the promised eternal life when Jesus returns!

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The Promise in a Warning: Luke 12:1-12

Focus Passage: Luke 12:1-12 (GW)

Meanwhile, thousands of people had gathered. They were so crowded that they stepped on each other. Jesus spoke to his disciples and said, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees. I’m talking about their hypocrisy. Nothing has been covered that will not be exposed. Whatever is secret will be made known. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. Whatever you have whispered in private rooms will be shouted from the housetops.

“My friends, I can guarantee that you don’t need to be afraid of those who kill the body. After that they can’t do anything more. I’ll show you the one you should be afraid of. Be afraid of the one who has the power to throw you into hell after killing you. I’m warning you to be afraid of him.

“Aren’t five sparrows sold for two cents? God doesn’t forget any of them. Even every hair on your head has been counted. Don’t be afraid! You are worth more than many sparrows. I can guarantee that the Son of Man will acknowledge in front of God’s angels every person who acknowledges him in front of others. But God’s angels will be told that I don’t know those people who tell others that they don’t know me. 10 Everyone who says something against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But the person who dishonors the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

11 “When you are put on trial in synagogues or in front of rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say. 12 At that time the Holy Spirit will teach you what you must say.”

Read Luke 12:1-12 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During one of the times Jesus was teaching the disciples, a large crowd was present and listening in. Within this teaching that focused in on warning the disciples about the dangers of hypocrisy, Jesus tells them something about how God relates to each of us that is powerful, challenging, and incredibly fair.

In the middle of this teaching, Jesus comes out and says that “I can guarantee that the Son of Man will acknowledge in front of God’s angels every person who acknowledges him in front of others. But God’s angels will be told that I don’t know those people who tell others that they don’t know me.” (v. 8-9)

This short two-verse message is incredible to think about. In essence, Jesus basically tells us that He will recognize everyone who publicly acknowledges Him in front of others, while those who keep their faith a secret and don’t share Him with others are at risk of losing out. While Jesus says that He will tell the angels that He doesn’t know the people who say they don’t know Him, there is little difference in openly telling others that you don’t know Jesus and simply not saying that you do.

Jesus’ words in this verse might be challenging for some people to face, but I see this as one of Jesus’ most amazing promises. While this is a warning for those who want to keep their faith a secret and those who don’t want to acknowledge they are followers of Jesus, in the words of this warning Jesus basically gives us the easiest way to be sure we are recognized by Jesus and the easiest way to be known to Him. All we have to do is share Him publicly, and to tell others that we are on God’s/Jesus’ side.

When challenged by those opposed to God, will we let them ridicule us into denying our faith, or will we stand firm even if we don’t know all the answers. Jesus promises us that He will “acknowledge in front of God’s angels every person who acknowledges him in front of others” and we can claim this promise when faced with the decision whether to publicly live for God when faced with opposition.

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