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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Gospel of Mark

Facepalm Jesus

Some people just don’t get it. They SHOULD get it but, for whatever reason, they simply don’t get it.

The disciples are those kinds of people. Even though these are the guys who follow Jesus around and are his closest companions, the Gospel stories show time and again that they just.don’t.get.it.

I can imagine Jesus dealing with them. They say or do something so ridiculous he can’t sokkahelp but facepalm. We see one of these instances in Mark 8,

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

Here we start the facepalm. The scenario is eerily similar to the earlier story where Jesus fed 5,000 people with loaves and fish. This has led some people to conclude that there were two versions of the story circulating in Mark’s time, and that Mark mistakenly included both. While this might be a viable possibility for some people, it fails to account for two things: 1) the standard Christian understanding of the inspiration of Scripture and 2) the differences between the stories actually set up different points/purposes of each narrative.

As to our understanding of inspiration, our belief that the Bible has Divine origin and spark within it means that there is a godly intentionality that underlies the text. Our concept of inspiration is not something that can be proven or disproven by science – it’s a statement of faith. If you don’t believe it, I can’t convince you otherwise.

As to the different points of each narrative, that is more easily demonstrable. The first story highlighted Jesus as a new Moses. The people sat in groups in the wilderness just as Moses and the Israelite nation split into various groups/camps in the book of Exodus. Jesus providing his crowds echoes God providing for Israel in the desert.

By the time we get to the second story here in Mark 8, the story is set against the first story, almost as a check on learning for the disciples. Picture Jesus saying, “You were with me the first time. What’s gonna happen here and now?”

But the disciples fail the quiz. “Where can we get enough bread?!?”jesus-facepalm

And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

In addition to some of the numerical details being different in the stories (numbers of bread, fish, and people) Jesus is in a different location. While he spoke to Jewish people in the first narrative that had echoes of Moses and the Exodus, here Jesus is working in a Gentile area. Jesus’s ministry and blessing extends beyond the Jews and is for Gentiles as well. That Jesus extends his ministry to non-Jews is brought up previously when the Syrophoenician woman approaches him for help. Just as before, Jesus is able to abundantly bless and provide for those who follow him.

And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

Cue the facepalm. Immediately after performing this incredible things, the religious leaders come and ask for a sign. When Jesus says that no sign will be given, part of me wonders if he’s really saying, “There’s not sign that you will recognize.” Jesus HAS been giving signs, but people are too blind to see what is right in front of their faces.

And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they flatbreadbegan discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? 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? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

And the disciples continue in their blindness. They have seen Jesus provide in times of need, and they continue to fret about their lack. So Jesus warns them about being like the Pharisees. “I’m giving you stuff, but are you going to stay blind, too?!?” So Mark gives us a miracle story that acts as a living parable, illustrating his whole point.

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

After his initial encounter with Jesus this blind guy sees, but only in part. It’s kind of like the religious leaders and disciples. They should be able to see Jesus clearly, but clearly they can’t! Jesus might as well be a walking tree in front of them. So Jesus touches the guy again and he finally sees clearly. Cut to the disciples:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

FINALLY! Peter’s vision is clearing up and he sees Jesus for who he is.

He.Is.The.Christ.

This is the Gospel message for Jews and Gentiles alike. This Jesus is the one who came to provide abundant life, even when we’re in the wilderness. This Jesus is the one to lead the new exodus, taking these slaves into the spiritual promised land. Don’t miss the signs that are right in front of you. Don’t mistake the people for trees.

Here is our King.

How to Tell When You’re Obsessed

Do you remember what it was like to obsess over the girl you used to like? That guy you had a thing for?

“She didn’t smile at me when we passed today. Why didn’t she smile at me?”

“We had so much fun, but why hasn’t he called back? It’s been 12 hours – why hasn’t he called me? Should I call him? Easy – don’t want to seem too anxious. Should I have my friend ‘bump into him’? Why hasn’t he called?”

Maybe you never obsessed over a guy or a girl. But I bet that at some time in your life you’ve obsessed over something! What are some things you’ve obsessed over in your life? There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with collecting comic books. Every month had a visit to the comic shop to get the latest editions to see what Superman, Batman or the X-Men were going to do next.

What price were you willing to pay to satisfy your obsession? You can always tell how valuable a thing is to us by the price we are willing to pay for it (or the price at which you’re willing to let it go). The real value of an object isn’t given it by the seller. The real value of the object is given it by the buyer – how much is it worth to you? Look at some of these crazy items. What would you pay for some of these gems?

picture1
3-Pack of Name-Brand colored toilet paper
picture2
Name-Brand leather flying disc (okay, a frisbee)
picture3
A leather, silver, and gold Monopoly set
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A genuine crocodile skin umbrella

1. Colored Toilet Paper (3-pack) = $20
2. Leather Flying Disc – Single Frisbee = $305
3. Leather, Silver, & Gold Monopoly set = $7,570
4. Crocodile Skin Umbrella = $50,000

Now YOU might not pay those prices for those “luxury” items, but that’s the selling price! People can become obsessed with silly things. Christian writer Ted Dekker writes in his book Obsessed:

Life is hardly worth living without an obsession. God himself is obsessed. With His creation. With humans. With the love of humans. You think he created with nonchalance? Let’s throw some mud against the sky and see if any of it sticks? Not a chance. We are created for love, for obsession. So we do indeed obsess, though usually not over the right idea.

God himself is an obsessive God, obsessed with his love for his creation, for us! I mentioned that the value of something isn’t determined by the seller’s price, but is determined by the price the buyer is willing to pay. In His obsession for us, he couldn’t have paid a higher price than he did – the cross. This is the kind of obsession we need to have towards God – a single-minded fixation that puts no limits on the cost. When we understand this kind of obsession some of the crazy stories in the Bible don’t seem so crazy. When you’re obsessed with Him you’d be willing to build a big boat in the middle of the dessert. Noah did. When you’re obsessed with Him you’d dance in worship without caring what your wife thought of you. King David did. Jesus himself even talked about obsession for God in Matthew 13. He told his disciples a parable about a man who discovers a treasure buried in a field. Wanting that treasure more than anything, he re-hides the treasure, sells off everything he owns, and goes to buy the field. Unethical – maybe a bit – but the point is that we need to be fixated on finding God.

That’s all well and good, but how do we get to that point of obsession? It’s not like we can simply turn it on at will. True, we can’t turn it on at will. But I believe that this ties into my last sermon about going deeper with God. A friend once said to me, “I’ve been a Christian for a while. I’ve read the Bible. I know what I’m supposed to think and what I’m supposed to do. But what’s next?” I think that this sums up where many of us are. We know what we’re supposed to know. We’ve heard sermons and been to Bible studies. If someone asks us what it takes to build your Christian life we can faithfully recite the answers without even thinking about it: read the Bible, pray, fellowship, obey. We know all that. So what is next? How do we get to the deep end? How do we discover that obsession within our souls?

It comes from an encounter with Jesus. For the cripple at the pool of Siloam it was encountering Jesus that made his legs whole. For blind Bartimaeus it was encountering Jesus that gave him sight. It is encountering Jesus that breaks our addictions. It is encountering Jesus that restores our relationships. We need to have a face to face encounter with the Living God! This is the story we come upon in Mark 5, and in this story we find 2 lessons and 2 questions. Let’s read:

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

There are few images in the Bible that are as unsettling as this. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is a troubled soul. Jewish teaching held that there were 4 tests for insanity: 1) a mad person sleeps in graveyards, 2) a mad person tears his clothing, 3) a mad person walks around at night, and 4) a mad person destroys anything given him. In this one person we find all 4 tests fulfilled – what we have here is a madman, and every word of his description emphasizes his pathetic condition. Here is a man who is made in God’s image and the unclean spirit causes him to horribly distort that image. It makes one ask, “Is there anything happening in my life that distorts God’s image in me?” Though we here may not be struggling with actual demons, we do struggle with things that distort God’s image in us – anger, hate, jealousy, or lust, to name just a few.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”

At this point of the story we see several interesting things happening at the same time. Look at what the demon is saying to Jesus – he addresses Jesus by name and says, “I adjure you by God.” In Jesus’ time, if one wanted to perform an exorcism, one needed to know the name of the spirit. When you knew its name you had power over it. Then you could command it under oath (adjure) to leave the body it inhabited. What the spirit is doing here is trying to exorcise Jesus! “I know your name – you are Jesus. I command you by God, leave me alone!” The irony is rich. He thinks he can take on Jesus in a power encounter. But it’s all talk – no one can outdo God.

No one can contain Jesus Christ. If you’re taking notes, we now find our first lesson: (1) It doesn’t matter who you are or what’s going on in your life, Jesus is ready to encounter you! This man came from the tombs. He was considered unclean and untouchable, but Jesus doesn’t stop this encounter he welcomes it. That’s encouraging news for us. No matter what our problems, our flaws, our addictions, or our demons, Jesus stands ready to encounter us. But will you run to Him and fall at His feet?

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

The name “Legion” has ties to the Roman army. A Roman legion was made up of anywhere from 3000-6000 troops. And you thought you had problems! Of course, this could be one final attempt on the unclean spirit’s part to put a scare into Jesus! But it’s evident who is in control. The person in control doesn’t beg, and the demon has been begging Jesus since Jesus arrived. They beg permission to go into the pigs and Jesus permits it. And the first thing they do upon overpowering the pigs? They destroy the herd.

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well.

When God starts to do stuff, people can’t help but talk about it. This is part of the power of personal testimony. I saw God do something and you’re not gonna believe it! If God starts doing something and we tell people about it, you’d better believe they will come out to see for themselves what’s happening. So the pig herders go to tell the town and countryside what they saw – when everyone returned they see the whacked-out crazy guy sitting by Jesus, clothed and sane. And here we see our second lesson: (2) When they encounter Jesus, people do change. Before, this man had been in an unbreakable grip of destructive evil; now Jesus has shattered the grip of evil and restored him to full human life. It is encountering Jesus that heals the sick. It is encountering Jesus that breaks addictions. It is encountering Jesus that restores relationships. We need to have a face to face encounter with the Living God! God may love you the way you are, but that doesn’t mean God wants you to STAY the way you are. An encounter with Him means you’re going to change.

But not everyone is happy with what has happened. The response of the people is fear – not of the once crazy guy – they fear Jesus! He has demonstrated supernatural power and an authority over the spiritual and natural world. If he cast the demons out of all of the sick people, there wouldn’t be enough pigs and livestock to hold them all. Every farmer and rancher would go out of business! The locals are apparently more concerned with their way of life than for the life of this man or the Lord of Life standing before them. This brings up our first question: (1) Are we more interested in “business as usual” or the power of God to deliver our disordered lives and the lives of those around us? Sometimes we can start to see God as a concept, an idea by which we should live our lives. It’s when we start to think like this that we begin to care about business as usual. But God is not an abstract thing – God is the creator and giver of life and His power can deliver our disordered lives and the lives of those around us. Oh, how we need an encounter with Jesus.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

What a life turn-around. He goes from being demon-possessed to being Jesus-obsessed. He has had an encounter with Jesus Christ and is forever changed – he becomes obsessed. And Jesus sends him out to spread his obsession to others, and all the people were amazed. Our second question brings us back full-circle: (2) What is your obsession? Do you have a single-minded fixation on God? I believe that the church knows what it needs to know – at this point going deeper is going to mean developing the personal experience of God and his love and power. We need a fresh encounter with the Lord of Life, so that we can be healed, restored, set free, and set loose to obsess about God and spread our obsession everywhere we go. The demoniac would not have had his encounter with Jesus if he hadn’t run to Jesus and fallen at his feet. That’s where we need to be. Seeking God and asking him to encounter us, to intervene in our lives. The Christian band Skillet writes in their song My Obsession,

You’re my only infatuation…My purpose, my possession, live and die in my obsession, my obsession.

– It doesn’t matter who you are or what’s going on in your life, Jesus is ready to encounter you!

– When we encounter Jesus, we do change.

– Are we more interested in “business as usual” or the power of God to deliver our disordered lives and the lives of those around us?

-What is your obsession?

Narcoleptic Christ

sleeping-1717576_1920I love sleep. I find it interesting to hear all of the different things people do in order to sleep. I prefer to have it pitch black. My wife wears earplugs so that no noise bothers her (like my snoring, I suppose). I’ve talked to people who need white noise. Some leave the tv on all night long. All of it comes down to our preferred method for achieving peace.

Peace is the natural state for sleep. We also talk about the unnatural sleep and say it was “fitful.” You’ll hear people say, “I didn’t sleep well at all,” meaning that there wasn’t the normal peace and rest that we all KNOW IS supposed to accompany sleep.

There’s a story about Jesus sleeping when normal people wouldn’t be. It goes like this:

The same evening, Jesus suggested they cross over to the other side of the lake. With Jesus already in the boat, they left the crowd behind and set sail along with a few other boats that followed. As they sailed, a storm formed. The winds whipped up huge waves that broke over the bow, filling the boat with so much water that even the experienced sailors among them were sure they were going to sink. Jesus was back in the stern of the boat, sound asleep on a cushion, when the disciples shook Him awake.

Disciples (shouting over the storm): Jesus, Master, don’t You care that we’re going to die? He got up, shouted words into the wind, and commanded the waves.

Jesus: That’s enough! Be still!

And immediately the wind died down to nothing, the waves stopped.

Jesus: How can you be so afraid? After all you’ve seen, where is your faith?

The disciples were still afraid, slowly coming to grips with what they had seen.

Disciples (to one another): Who is this Jesus? How can it be that He has power over even the wind and the waves?

Pretty cool. It’s almost like something out of an X-Men movie. There is such power in nature. Storms can be intensely scary and downright dangerous, as parts of the world have just experienced recently with hurricanes. So it’s perfectly normal for the sailors to be in panic mode. And there is their leader – their rabbi – sleeping in the boat! And so they call him out. “Don’t you care about us? Why aren’t you helping us?!?” And Jesus responds in a way no one else could. He exorcises the storm.

beach-768587_1280That is to say, Jesus addresses the storm the same way he addresses unclean (evil) spirits in other encounters. And every time it’s a power encounter – a battle to see who has superior power and strength. When the evil spirits say, “What do you have to do with us? We know who you are!” Jesus responds, “Silence! Be gone.” The spirits leave. Now before the powerful storm, Jesus comes back with, “Enough! Be still!”

He is powerful. He is decisive. There is no power that is a match for Jesus. The same God who spoke mother nature into place by the power of his Word (Genesis 1) now silences mother nature by that same power.

Nothing is too great for God.

So here are some things to keep in mind – some things that this story reminds us about:

First – Storms are going to come. It’s always amazing to me to find non-Christians who think we follow Christ to have the easy way out, as though Jesus is the golden ticket for escaping the problems and storms of life. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Christianity doesn’t promise escape from trouble. In fact, Jesus PROMISED that there would be trouble in this life!

We’re not promised escape, just that God would be with us through it. The world-famous 23rd Psalm states:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me….

God isn’t pulling us from the valley – He’s walking beside us through it.

Second – Jesus sleeping isn’t him abandoning his guys, but it shows his complete trust in God. When we go through storms we often react like the sailors in the story: GOD, WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?!? DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME?!? I’M DYING HERE! Just because Jesus is at peace and resting doesn’t mean he’s abandoned the ship. Remember, sleep is ultimately about peace. Jesus is at peace even in the middle of chaos. He knows who has control. He knows who has the real power. He isn’t disturbed by a mere storm.

Even though you may be going through a tumultuous time and cannot see Jesus working in the boat with you doesn’t mean you’re alone. It doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. Perhaps Jesus is at peace in your storm because He knows the real power at work – the winning power – isn’t the storm and chaos; it’s God.

Finally, Our faith in Jesus should bring us peace in the midst of chaos and stormsThe Bible talks about “peace that passes understanding.” That means that we cannot comprehend it. We cannot understand it. It shouldn’t be there. Can’t you see the storm raging? Yet there is peace. I’m not saying it’s easy. I am saying that our peace reveals our faith. If we believe that WE have to be in control, that WE have to figure things out, that WE have the power to get through things, then there’s no faith. We’re ignoring the Power that created the cosmos and putting ourselves in its place. Genuine faith says, “I may not understand what’s going on, but I know God holds me and I know He holds tomorrow. The storms may rage on, but Jesus is in the boat with me, and we’re chill.”

Whatever storm you’re going through, or whatever storms lie ahead of you, it is possible to have peace in the middle of chaos.

Remember who is in the boat with you.

On the Campaign Trail With Jesus

usa-806576_1920Have you been following the debates and primaries around the nation? I have – like a nut. While I don’t promote any single candidate, I do very much care to see what happens and follow the process closely.

Have you noticed what happens after the results of every primary? What does the winner do? He throws a big party. Usually there’s a speech involved. What does the crowd do? They go BANANAS. The cheering, screaming, and chanting is something else. But in the midst of all the chaos we need to be asking ourselves three questions:

1) Are we following the right guy?
2) Are we following for the right reasons?

3) Are we willing to live with the consequences of following this guy?

This isn’t new to our political era. The scene has been the same throughout human history. From the beginning of time, we cheer and roar when our guy wins and comes out to celebrate. This is EXACTLY the scene we have at Jesus’s triumphal entry, the time we call Palm Sunday.

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

The scene is an identical scene – a carbon copy – of the triumphal entry from many years before when the Maccabees defended Israel and defeated their enemy. And any Jew who knew his history COULDN’T have missed the parallels with Jesus’s entry. It’s no wonder people were going nuts.

The new Messiah was riding in the same way Jewish victors had in the past. In a nation occupied by Rome, the huge crowds saw a geo-political hero who was coming to set Israel free from Roman oppression. They had question 1 right – they were following the right guy (the Messiah) but they missed question 2 – they were NOT following for the right reasons.

humble-732566_1920They wanted a new political leader. They wanted to make Israel great again. They thought Jesus was the guy to make that happen. But their reasons for following were not Jesus’s reasons for showing up. Jesus wasn’t about geo-political power. He has NEVER been about geo-political power. Jesus is far too humble to care about such nonsense. In fact, when other leaders would march into town for their victory parade on a mighty steed, Jesus comes in riding on a donkey. Even in victory he is the epitome of humility.

When we make the decision to follow Jesus and understand the right reasons (vs. the wrong reasons) for following, we’re then forced to come to terms with question 3 – are we willing to face the consequences of following Him? It’s not an easy road. In fact, Jesus promised that in this world we WILL have troubles. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that Christianity is the easy way out. But even when we go through hard times we have a God who walks alongside us to comfort and care for us. The road following Christ may not be easy, but the rewards are eternally immeasurable.

Are you following the right person?
Are you following for the right reasons?
Are you willing to face the consequences of following?

No Touchy! Though We Shudder, Jesus Touches the Untouchable.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“If they knew this about me, they’d never talk to me again. I don’t know how I could handle seeing them again in church if they touched that part of my life.”  Thoughts like that fill all of us. It’s part of the human condition. It’s something that we all have to deal with. There are parts of us that we think no one can help us with that no one can or will want to touch. We keep parts of ourselves on the outskirts of our faith. Have you ever thought, “I don’t think God likes this part of me” or wondered if he could work with you as the big mess that you are?

On the flip side of the same coin, there are some of us who don’t want to touch people in their messiness. “I don’t want to touch him. His uncleanness might rub off on me. Such was the attitude of Christians towards blacks in the 1800’s. This was the attitude of many conservative Christians when AIDS really came on the scene in the 1980’s. I say this is a human condition because it doesn’t affect only Christians.

In India the whole social structure, their caste system, is based on who is or isn’t touchable. People in the lowest caste are called untouchables. Refusing to touch something unclean and have it rub off on you even became part of the religious practice of God’s people. One of the laws in the old covenant simply said, “Or if any one touch any unclean thing, whether it be the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean cattle, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and it be hidden from him, and he be unclean, then he shall become offensive.”

Many Christians feel the same way about the world in general. We are often concerned that, if we interact too much with the world, we will be defiled and made unclean. That leads many of us to limit our interaction with the world to “only as necessary” encounters. We do what we can to avoid contact with the world around us. But we cannot be clean without being touched by Jesus. And we cannot followers of Jesus and not touch the world around us.

Touch is an important aspect of communicating with someone. There is something intimate and close about touching other people. Maybe this is why touching is taboo in many settings – the intimacy is too much for some people to take. In terms of OT religion, the intimacy of touch made the uncleanness of one person rub off on another. In some cultures, touching is a way of showing solidarity-of being connected with someone else. I used to work in the public high school system and it was not uncommon to see two girls walking down the hall holding hands. Not the boys, of course, because American men don’t do that!

There is something intimate in touch, and our culture has said that it’s just not right to see men acting in that way. In the middle east and Asia you can see men walking down the street holding hands. They aren’t lovers – they are simply relative or close friends who are connected to each other. Everyone who sees them knows that to mess with one means taking them both on. Touch communicates intimacy and connection. So it’s a big deal when the spiritual leaders of God’s people said that unclean people had to remain outside of populated areas. It’s an even bigger deal when someone decides to break these taboos! One time, as Jesus was walking along:

A leper came to him, begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:40-45)

This is the attitude most people have with diseased people. No touchy! Stay away. I’d rather not come into contact with you. And here this man with some sort of skin disease approaches Jesus. You can just imagine the horror on the faces of the original audience 1900 years ago…. “So a leper came to Jesus….” “What!?!? Oh, no he didn’t!” It’s shocking. He should know better.

But still he comes to Jesus. And he’s got nerve. “If you wish, you can make me clean,” he says. Skin diseases can be serious things. They aren’t easily cured. Years ago I had a skin condition that I could not identify. I was red, splotchy, and itchy. It freaked some people out to look at me or be near me. They kind of kept their distance. Even one of the doctors I went to walked in the room and looked at me from afar. Then he took me to the dermatologist who diagnosed me in 10 seconds (don’t worry, I’m fine!). Not even my doctor wanted to get to close without knowing what was going on! Rabbinic opinion stated that it is as difficult to cleanse a leper as to raise the dead! Good thing this leper came to the right guy!

The amazing part of this story is not that the man with a skin disease came to Jesus. The amazing part is Jesus’ response. Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the diseased man. And immediately the man became clean. Here’s the neat thing – Jesus doesn’t become unclean by touching the leper; the leper becomes clean by Jesus’ touch. The filth that is in one person does not stick to others, nor does outward uncleanness defile people who are clean of heart. So [Jesus] touches him in his untouchability.

If Jesus doesn’t blink before touching a scabby, diseased man, how does Jesus look upon me? We’re all untouchable in some way. None of us is perfect. The apostle Paul admits that when he says, “It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already become perfect. But I keep pursuing it, hoping somehow to embrace it just as I have been embraced by Christ Jesus.” So there is something in all of us that appears untouchable to others. We struggle with addiction. We struggle with past sexual abuse. We struggle with slander. We struggle with impurities of every kind that, if people could see the real us, would keep others far off at a distance. We would live away from others and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” And Jesus reaches out his hand and touches us in our untouchability.

In the Gospel of Mark this healed man is the very first missionary! Should we be quiet about Jesus? No. When Jesus touches us in our uncleanness the only appropriate response is to go out and tell others! When was the last time God touched you? When was the last time you told someone else about God touching you?

After the healed man went back into town and told about what happened, so many people swamped Jesus that Jesus wasn’t able to go into town any more. There’s an ironic reversal between Jesus and the diseased man. Initially, the man is forced on the outskirts and Jesus can travel in and through the towns. Then Jesus touches and cleans the man and the man can now go into town and Jesus is forced to stay on the outskirts because of the mobs of people and has to remain in the deserted places.

Similarly, Jesus has done a role reversal with us – he has taken our place on the cross. The disease of sin that would have been our undoing is now undone as he takes it on himself. This is the good news that we need to be sharing with others! “Hey, Jesus touched me! Let me take you to the foot of the cross so he can touch you too!”

There’s an old Gaither song that goes, “He touched me, oh, he touched me. And oh, the joy that floods my soul. Something happened and now I know, he touched me and made me whole.” Are you willing to let others know how God has touched your life?

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