Friday, March 29, 2013

A Good Friday Meditation: The Bread that Must Be Broken

Reading: Mark 8  
Remember the first time you went to Universal Studios and saw some of the sets and props from your favorite movies? Were you as shocked as I was at how fake they looked. How fake Jaws looked. Or, with the advent of DVD and the extras bonus feature, you watch a movie like K-9 Widowmaker, the story of a Russian nuclear sub, and after being emotionally dragged through the ringer, watching the movie, you see that it was only a model sub in a large tub. It felt so real!
This 3rd section of Mark (6:6–8:30) is dominated by talk about bread/loaves—enough bread, not enough bread, where to get the bread. It is as if Jesus has been saying, “Hey guys, let me show you the behind the scenes. Those loaves that you labor for, they are just props—plastic models. They really won’t satisfy you. But there is a bread, that will satisfy. There is a reality, but it’s not part of the set, it’s not part of the theme park, it’s not in the movie… it's bread that satisfies forever.”
However the 12 aren’t hearing. He keeps demonstrating it, and they keep missing it. Twice Jesus feeds the multitude in the wilderness; but they don’t understand. The similarities between the feeding of the 4,000 and the earlier feeding of 5,000, are striking and obvious; the differences are also important, but not so obvious. Here are a few of those:
  • Feeding the 5,000 was in Jewish territory; the 4,000 in Gentile territory.
  • Feeding 5,000 followed a few hours of teaching; 4,000 a few days.
  • With the 5,000 there were 12 baskets left over enough for a remnant from the twelve tribes; with the 4,000 there were 7 very large baskets—the kind used for long journeys.
Right before the feeding of 4,000 in a Gentile region is an account in which we learn that one crumb from Jesus' table is enough to cure a Gentile woman's daughter (Mark 7:28-30). Now there are enough broken pieces (crumbs) left over from Jesus’ feast in the wilderness to feed the nations of the world.
Both feedings are followed by a boat scene—these are the “behind the scenes” looks into how the feedings happened. Let’s get into the boat with the 12 and listen. The questions Jesus asks are important. Jesus asks his disciples a whole series of questions about bread.
"Why are you talking about having no bread?” “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?
And don't you remember?” “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” "Twelve," they replied. 20 "And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" They answered, "Seven."
Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:17-21)
Interestingly, the disciples don't think they have any loaves/bread (Mark 8:16); but the narrator, Mark, lets us in on a little secret. “They had forgotten to take bread and had only one loaf with them in the boat.” (Mark 8:14) That's odd. If you forget to take bread, you usually don't have any. In this case, they forgot to take all but one loaf. I'm not sure how you do that. “I am going to bring this one loaf. But I am not going to remember to bring any more.” How do you remember one but no more? And why don't they realize they have it? Shouldn't they be talking about having only one loaf of bread rather than talking about having no bread? Unless, of course, you don't realize that the bread you have is bread. Then you might not think you had any.
Is Jesus really asking them, “Why are you arguing about having no loaves? Do you still not see or understand the loaf you do have?” You see only the audience is aware of the one loaf because Mark told us, but not the 12. Of course, Jesus is aware but isn't bringing it up. Someone might object, “But one loaf isn’t enough to feed them.” Sure it is—if 5 loaves can feed 5,000, and 7 loaves 4,000; surely one can feed twelve. But I don't think that Jesus is rebuking them for not knowing how to do math. That takes no spiritual insight.
However, if the twelve don't realize they have the bread, even the one loaf, then his question isn't about math. It is about whether or not they understand what real bread, the bread of life, is. Behind the scenes on the boat, the bread they are arguing about is a plastic model that doesn’t satisfy. However, if they pay attention, they realize that Jesus is the bread that satisfies—the only bread that satisfies! And, Jesus is the only bread they have in the boat. He is enough. Do they still not understand?
Jesus is the bread that was sleeping on a pillow in their first boat ride (Mark 4:38), walking on the water in the second (Mark 6:49) and staring them in the face in this one! He is the bread of life.
They are beginning to see... but, as in the healing of the blind man (Mark 8:22-25), they see men as trees (or they see Jesus, but not clearly). This is demonstrated in Peter's declaration of who Jesus is (Mark 8:29) but not understanding that He had to suffer and die (Mark 8:31-33). As the bread of life, he must be broken and distributed to feed the masses (Mark 14:22). Until Peter understands that Jesus is to be broken, suffer and die, he can't understand that he too must take up his cross and be broken (Mark 8:34-35). And so must we. Do we still not understand? This Good Friday we should contemplate the bread of life which was broken for us; and consider the call we have to pick up our cross and be broken for the life of the world.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Prayer: The Voice of Faith

Reading: 2 Corinthians 4; Psalm 16   
Paul didn't preach promoting himself or his ministry, “but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:5). As a minister of the New Covenant, he had been given the transforming knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as a treasure that he was proclaiming and presenting wherever he went. He was holding forth the truth of Jesus plainly by the preaching of the Gospel. Then Paul describes some of the ways he suffered as a servant of Jesus.
7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)
He goes on to say we “are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake...So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:11-12). How did Paul do it? How did he endure such suffering over such a long period and not throw in the towel? He tells us in the next chapter, “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), which is indeed the secret. But how does one maintain faith through such affliction? How does one hold onto faith when affliction is screaming in our heads, “God has forsaken you!” (Undoubtedly Paul faced times when he wondered why God wasn't hearing him. See 2 Corinthians 12:8.) Paul points us to the secret of maintaining faith when it seems only “death is at work in us.”
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak... (2 Corinthians 4:13 ESV)
At Gulf Coast Community Church, where I have the privilege of serving as a pastor, I often say, “When we see the Old Testament quoted in the New Testament we must go back to the Old Testament and read the quote in its context and understand what it meant in its context, and then return to the New Testament reading the quote with that understanding.” If we do that here, it will give us great insight into how Paul responded to these afflictions, and why he wasn't crushed and destroyed.
Psalm 116 is a psalm about prayer—about the prayer of someone in a desperate state. No wonder Paul quotes from it when describing how he responds to desperate crises. No wonder it was on Paul's mind as he contemplated his own afflictions. He may well have used the words of the psalm in his own prayers. In Psalm 116 we see the following references to prayer:
1...he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. 2…he inclined his ear to me... I will call on him as long as I live.…4Then I called on the name of the LORD: "O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!"...10 I believed, even when I spoke: "I am greatly afflicted" …17I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:1, 2, 4, 10, 17 ESV)
And the following make it clear that these prayers were being lifted up by a man in a hard place, a very difficult place.
1...for mercy....3The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.4…deliver my soul!" 6...when I was brought low, he saved me.... 8For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling... 10 "I am greatly afflicted" (Psalm 116:1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 ESV)
In Psalm 116 the psalmist was crying out to the Lord during times of great affliction. He was pleading for mercy and was definitely hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, but because he called on the Lord he was not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned and not destroyed. When the psalmist declared, “I believed, even when I spoke: "I am greatly afflicted" he was saying, “When I was crying out to you in my affliction saying, 'I am greatly afflicted,' I was doing so because I believe, because I trust in You, Lord.”
The psalmist prayed because he was walking by faith. Prayer is the voice of faith. Faith turns us to the Lord in our affliction. Faith cries out to Him in prayer. Faith doesn't deny our affliction (when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”), faith brings our affliction to God and asks for intervention! That is what the psalmist did, and evidently that is what Paul did.
Why did Paul cry out to the Lord in difficult times? Because Paul knew that God would use those prayers to bring about deliverance (2 Corinthians 1:9-11). When we look at the psalms, we find not only prayers to bring to God when we believe, but prayers to bring to God when our faith is being assaulted and feels like it is about to crumble. And when we take these words with us to God they often help us return to a place of trust in God.
To the praying soul there becomes possible the faith which is the grasp of the human spirit upon the realities and verities of the unseen world. (A. T. Pierson)
So why do we pray? Because we believe, and because without it our faith would fail. Prayer is the voice of faith and without it, faith is silent.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,